Thursday, 9 October 2014

Happy Las Casas Day!

This week I'm seconding a motion by The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman to see Columbus Day repurposed as Bartolomé de las Casas Day. Las Casas, originally a conquistador, repented of his horrific sins, became a Dominican friar, and evangelised Mesoamerican First Nations during the period of contact. Unfortunately for Power, he turned out to be a Christian Claude Anshin Thomas, decrying the mind-numbing brutality and utter lack of respect for human life that characterised the European invasion of the Americas. Worse yet he documented them, first in Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (also available in English) and then the more comprehensive Historia de Las Indias.

In the sordid history of colonialism, Las Casas stands out as one of the few Christians who practiced what he preached. (Literally.) He's a favourite of mine because he experienced (and again, documented) personal spiritual growth over his lifetime; convictions he adopted early on – such as supporting the African slave trade by way of avoiding the enslavement of his own flock – he soundly and publicly rejected after further meditation. I've found that this capacity to delve and change, even if it means admitting transgression, is the highest morality, and those who practice it are the most trustworthy of people.

Rather than repeat Matthew's case here, I'll just link to his own excellent and highly readable proposition. As a history nerd I can tell you that his characterisations of Christopher Columbus, the other conquistadores, and the good friar himself are historically accurate, as is his description of how Columbus Day became a thing in the United States and many Latin American countries. (Thanksgiving immunised us against it in Canada; one of the things I give thanks for on this day.)

Therefore, in emulation of Seattle and Minneapolis (though I don't much care for "Indigenous Peoples Day"; Las Casas Day is short, inclusive, and to the point), I encourage all jurisdictions to convert this holiday into a tribute to the courage and conviction of a man who stood against the tide and practiced his true religion in the face of overwhelming opposition.

May we follow in his footsteps.

(Photo of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, by Felix Parra, courtesy of Alejandro Linares Garcia and the Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City.)
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