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The Cruelty Of The Spaniards To The Indians
by [?]

Never were a people more terribly treated than the natives of America under the Spanish adventurers. The often told story that the Indians of Hispaniola were annihilated in one generation after the settlement of that island is sufficient evidence of the frightfully inhuman treatment to which they were subjected. The laws of Spain provided for justice and humanity in the dealings with the Indians, but the settlers, thousands of miles away, paid no attention to these laws, and the red men were almost everywhere reduced to slavery, or where free and given political rights, were looked upon as far inferior to the whites. In every district Spain placed an official called the “Protector of the Indians,” but it does not appear that they were much the better off for their “Protectors.” It is our purpose here to say something about the cruel treatment of the natives in South America.

The Spanish settlers had three terms which applied to their dealings with the Indians, the encomiendo, the mitad, and the repartimiento, each indicating a form of injustice. The conquerors divided the country between them, and the encomiendos were rights granted them to hold the Indians for a number of years as workers in their fields or their mines. Under these grants, the natives were converted into beasts of burden, and forced to do the hardest work without the least compensation. They were obliged to labor all day long under the burning tropical sun, to dive into the sea in search of pearls for their masters, or to toil buried from the light of day in the depths of the mines. It is not surprising that these miserable slaves, accustomed to a life of indolence and ease, perished as if exposed to a killing plague.

The mitad was a law formed for their protection, but it soon became one of the worst of the abuses. Under it every man from the age of eighteen to fifty was required to render bodily service, the natives of each mining colony of South America being divided into seven sections, each of which had to work six months in the mines. Every mine-owner could demand the number of Indians he needed. In Peru alone fourteen hundred mines were worked, and labor of this kind was in constant demand.

As to the kind of labor they had to do, we need only say that when any man was called upon to work in the mines he looked upon it as a sentence of death. Before going he gave all his possessions to his relatives, and they went through the funeral service, as if he were already dead. They well knew the usual end of labor in the mines. A mass was said for him at the church, and he had to take an oath of fidelity to the king. Then he was sprinkled with holy water and sent away to his deadly service. Deadly we may well call it, for it is said that scarcely a fifth part of these miners lived through their term of labor.

Lowered from the light of the sun into the deep underground shafts and galleries, and passing from the pure air of heaven to a pestilential atmosphere, excessive labor and bad food soon robbed them of strength and often of life. If they survived this, a species of asthma usually carried them off during the year. We may judge of the results from the calculation that the mitad in Peru alone had eight million victims.

The law limited the mitad to those living within thirty miles of a mine, but laborers were often brought by force from hundreds of miles away. As for the small wages paid them, the masters took part of it from them in payment for their food, and usually got the remainder by giving credit for clothes or liquor or in other ways. In fact, if by good fortune the Indian had not lost his life at the end of his term of service, he might be brought into debt which he could not pay, and thus held a slave for life.