Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The "White Man's Burden"

Bernal Diaz del Castillo wrote the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico in which he describes the relationship the Europeans had with caciques. The caciques had joined forces with Hernando Cortes to defeat the Montezuma and conquer the Aztecs. The caciques were loyal to the Europeans because one day they had been conquered by the Aztecs and they now wanted to get their land back. Bernal Diaz writes that the Caciques offered the Europeans women, friendship, loyalty and treasures. Bernal Diaz explains that the Europeans were not to accept any of these gifts if they Caciques didn't leave their Gods, idos, and sacrifices behind. "[that] When he could see those cursed things thrown on the ground and an end put to sacrifices that then our bonds of brotherhood wold be most firmly tied." To the Caciques these religious sacrifices were sacred and necessary to please their Gods. The tone in which Diaz described the necessity of the Caciques to leave "those idols which they believed in and worshipped, and which kept them in darkness" made the Europeans seem like kind men who were genuinely interested in the well-being of the cariques. In reality the Europeans united with the cariques to obtain as much information about the Montezuma as possible in order to defeat them. Yet, this ambiguous reason to unite with them was just an acceptable reason to conquer the rest of the country, by murdering hundreds of men.
This "acceptable excuse" reminded me of a poem called The White Man's Burden. This poem was written by Rudyard Kipling, during the 19th century when imperialism was acquired by the United States and it describes the social necessity for White men to take on the burden of spreading imperialism to the rest of the "ignorant" world. This "White Man's Burden" gave an "acceptable reason" for white men to kill in order to fulfill their mission, or in other words their "burden" of spreading imperialism to the other countries. It was their responsibility to enlighten their fellow countries, as it was the responsibility of the Europeans to enlighten the Natives into abandoning their lifelong religious beliefs. Whether or not both of these groups of men were right or not, they convinced themselves into believing they were doing the right thing, for the right reasons even if it involved achieving it through the wrong ways like the Europeans did through murder and torture.
Once again this becomes an example of how history gets distorted by hearing it only through one perspective, like in the Columbus story of which we have been reading and writing about thus far this semester.

1 comment:

A. Mattson said...

A good discussion. The conquest of Mexico is a great subject to discuss in relation to the debate over Columbus and the conquistadors who followed after him.
Kipling's poem is a classic warning about the nature of imperialism, the great costs and obligations that came with empire.

Are there lessons in the poem that might have applied to the Spanish conquest of Mexico?

With conquest came great wealth and the pillaging of native civilizations. What 'burdens' did the Spanish acquire in exchange for this flow of gold and silver back across the Atlantic? At what cost to the people of Spain did these colonies become Spanish? How did becoming a great trans-Atlanic empire change life in Spain?