Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and the Discourse on Native American Treatment in the Early Spanish Colonial Period
Wyckoff, Preston T.
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In many ways the uniqueness of Cabeza de Vaca' s view as a conqueror desirous of fair treatment of those he conquered parallels the conflicted nature of the broader Spanish conquest of the New World. In a position of unprecedented global dominance, and with the prospect of greater power to be acquired, the deeply connected Spanish views on religion and law, combined with firsthand experience of Native American suffering and Spanish atrocities, caused Spanish intellectuals, religious authorities, and the Crown to question the legality and justness of their conquest. It is remarkable that a. nation benefiting so much from its conquests was self-reflective enough to engage in a conversation with itself over the nature of its subjugation of foreign populations. It the same manner in which Cabeza de Vaca attempted to alter the patterns of colonization and Christianization during his own expeditions, Spain endeavored to alter the great sweep of its own invasions and colonization methods to silence the protestations that had arisen within its collective conscience. With religion as a driving force behind the conquest of the New World and the Christianization of the Native Americans as a major goal of colonization, it was likely unavoidable that objections to native subjugation based upon Christian doctrine would occur. While members of the religious community were the most obvious choice to oppose the violent aspects of Spanish imperialism, Cabeza de Vaca offers an intriguing look at how personal experience and colonial policy could lead a conquistador to attempt an expedition that was at once innovative in regards to native American treatment and, yet, grounded in the military methods of previous conquests.