birth of liberation theology
& The Taino genocide (1492-1518)

Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers and acted in many ways as the "religious arm" of those powers. At least these nations pretended that the purpose of their colonial expansion was to save the pagans. Did not Jesus order his disciples to go and preach to the whole nations.  However pupose of colonialism was not the gospel but exploitation of the wealth and labor of other nations.  They went out in the pretext of “the obedience to the Great Commission”.  What happenned in the colonies will bear testimony to that.

Meador, Jake. "Cosmetic Christianity and the Problem of Colonialism – Responding to Brian McLaren". Retrieved 2010-11-17. "According to Jake Meador, "some Christians have tried to make sense of post-colonial Christianity by renouncing practically everything about the Christianity of the colonizers. They reason that if the colonialists’ understanding of Christianity could be used to justify rape, murder, theft, and empire then their understanding of Christianity is completely wrong."

During the Age of Discovery, the Catholic Church inaugurated a major effort to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the Native Americans and other indigenous people. The missionary effort was a major part of, and a partial justification for the colonial efforts of European powers such as Spain, France and Portugal. They took over the land in the name of Jesus carrying a cross literally and then claiming the land for their country just as Columbus did.  

Christian Missions to the indigenous peoples ran hand-in-hand with the colonial efforts of Catholic nations. In the Americas and other colonies in Asia and Africa, most missions were run by religious orders such as the Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans.


In both Portugal and Spain, religion was an integral part of the state and evangelization was seen as having both secular and spiritual benefits. Wherever these powers attempted to expand their territories or influence, missionaries would soon follow. By the Treaty of Tordesillas, the two powers divided the world between them into exclusive spheres of influence, trade and colonization. The Roman Catholic world order was challenged by the Netherlands and England. Catholic nations were particularly guilty of using religion for subjugation.  Portugese and Spanish inquisition stood by them in supporting cruelty.  However there were some Christians who went with the colonialists as missionaries who saw through this fraud. There is one Catholic priest who stood by the christian teaching of liberation from bondage to all the colonies who was with Columbus.

Christian leaders and Christian doctrines have been accused of justifying and perpetrating violence against Native Americans found in the New World 










Adriaan van Oss wrote:

“If we had to choose a single, irreducible idea underlying Spanish colonialism in the New World, it would undoubtedly be the propagation of the Catholic faith. Unlike such other European as England or the Netherlands, Spain insisted on converting the natives of the lands it conquered to its state religion. Miraculously, it succeeded. Introduced in the context of Iberian expansionism, Catholicism outlived the empire itself and continues to thrive, not as an anachronistic vestige among the elite, but as a vital current even in remote mountain villages. Catholicism remains the principal colonial heritage of Spain in America. More than any set of economic relationships with the outside world, more even than the language first brought to America's shores in 1492, the Catholic religion continues to permeate Spanish-American culture today, creating an overriding cultural unity which transcends the political and national boundaries dividing the continent.

The Spaniards were committed, by Vatican decree, to convert their New World indigenous subjects to Catholicism. We have seen this in India where the Roman Catholicism forced the local Thomas Christians to subjugation to accept Roman Catholicism using inquisition.

However, often initial efforts were questionably successful, as the indigenous people added Catholicism into their longstanding traditional ceremonies and beliefs. The many native expressions, forms, practices, and items of art could be considered idolatry and prohibited or destroyed by Spanish missionaries, military, and civilians. This included religious items, sculptures, and jewelry made of gold or silver, which were melted down before shipment to Spain.” Can we say, “the end justifies the means?”

In the Americas and the Caribbean, such a success was only after the total decimation of the Tainos, the original owners of the land. I have been in Jamaica for an year.  My students introduced me to their ancient owners of the land none of whom have escaped death from the Spaniards. They know the history of Spanish who took wagers about how many Indians they can kill with one swing.

Ralph Bauer describes the Franciscan missionaries as having been "unequivocally committed to Spanish imperialism, condoning the violence and coercion of the Conquest as the only viable method of bringing American natives under the saving rule of Christianity."[Bauer, Ralph (2001). Finding colonial Americas: essays honoring J.A. Leo Lemay. University of Delaware Press.] Jordan writes "The catastrophe of Spanish America's rape at the hands of the Conquistadors remains one of the most potent and pungent examples in the entire history of human conquest of the wanton destruction of one culture by another in the name of religion"["In the Name of God : Violence and Destruction in the World's Religions", M. Jordan, 2006,]


Antonio de Montesino

(1475 - 1545)

”I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island.”



FromThe spanish struggle for Justice in the conquest of America by Lewis Hanke (Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1965),

On the Sunday before Christmas in 1511 a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos preached a revolutionary sermon in a straw-thatched church on the island of Hispaniola. Speaking on the text “I am a voice crying in the wilderness”, Montesinos delivered the first important and deliberate public protest against the kind of treatment being accorded the west Indians by his Spanish countrymen. This first cry on behalf of human liberty in the New World was a turning point in the history of America and, as Pedro Henriquez Urefla termed it, one of the great events in the spiritual history of mankind.The sermon, preached before the people of the first Spanish town established in the New world, was designed to shock and terrify its hearers. 


Montesinos thundered, according to Las Casas: 

“In order to make your sins against the Indians known to you I have come up on this pulpit, I who am a voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island, and therefore it behooves you to listen. not with careless attention, but with all your heart and senses, so that you may hear it; for this is going to be the strangest voice that ever you heard, the harshest and hardest and most awful and most dangerous that ever you expected to hear. . . . 


This voice says that you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. 

Tell me,:

by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? 
On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own land? . . .
Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? 
For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day. And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion? . . . 
Are these not men? 
Have they not rational souls? 
Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? . . . 

Be certain that, in such a state as this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks.”

Montesinos thereupon strode out of the church with head high, leaving a muttering crowd of colonists and officials behind him, who were astounded, but not one was converted.  

The colonists gathered at the house of the governor, Diego Columbus,  protested  against  the  sermon       as a  scandalous denial of the lordship of the king in the Indies,and delegated  a group  which went  indignantly to the monastery to exact an apology and disavowal. The vicar, Pedro de Cordoba,  unimpressed by the delegation's threat to expel the offensive friar, assured them that Montesinos had spoken for the Dominican group. He promised, however, that Montesinos would  preach the next Sunday on the same topic. The colonists thereupon retired, believing they had  won their point.Word  of the  expected  retreat spread quickly,and the following Sunday
  most of the leading Spaniards crowded into the church. Montesinos mounted the pulpit
  and announced the disquieting text.


Suffer me a little, and I will show thee that I have yet to speak on God's behalf. Rather than explaining away his previous sermon with dialectic subtleties, he proceeded to belabor the colonists anew, and with even more passion than before, warning them that the friars would no more receive them for confession and absolution than if they were so many highway robbers. And they might write home what they pleased, to whom they pleased. 

These words were soon heard in Spain, even by the King. On March 20, 1512,Ferdinand ordered Governor Diego Columbus to reason with Montesinos. If the Dominican and his brothers persisted in their error, previously condemned by the canonists, theologians, and learned men gathered to deliberate on the problem ten years before, the Governor was instructed to send them to Spain by the first ship so that their Superior might punish them because every hour that they remain in the islands holding such wrong ideas they will do much harm. 

Three days later on March 23,1512, the Dominican Superior in Spain, Alonso de Loaysa, reproved Montesinos in an official communication to the Dominican Provincial in Hispaniola and ordered him to prevail upon the friars to stop preaching such scandalous doctrine. The Provincial was warned that no more friars would be sent if such preaching were permitted to continue.Thus began the first great struggle for justice in the New World

Ferdinand at first referred to the preaching of Montesinos as "a novel and groundless attitude" and a "dangerous opinion that would do much harm to all the affairs of that land." After returning to Spain, Montesinos and his companions were able to persuade the king of the righteousness of their position.

As a result, the king convened a commission that promulgated the Laws of Burgos, the first code of ordinances to protect the indigenous people, to regulate their treatment and conversion, and to limit the demands of the Spanish colonizers upon them.

In June 1526, with Anthony de Cervantes and Las Casas, Montesinos accompanied 500 colonists under the leadership of Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón to found San Miguel de Guadalupe. We know that he died “martyred” in Venezuela sometime around 1545, as suggested by a note in the margin of the registry of his profession in the convent of St. Stephen at Salamanca, which says: "Obiit martyr in Indiis".











Antonio de Montesino ”I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island.”

Copy of the sermon on 21 December 1511
at the bottom of the 1982 statute in Santo Domingo



 Bartolomé de Las Casas’

 Bartolomé de Las Casas’

Bartolomé de Las Casas crossed the Atlantic at the age of twenty-eight, coming to the Caribbean as a priest in 1502 with Governor Nicolás de Ovando. Later, in 1512, he took part in the conquest of Cuba. While there he received an encomienda, a grant by the Spanish Crown to a colonist in America conferring the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the Indian inhabitants of an area. 

Bartolomé de Las Casas was one of listerners of the sermon of  Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos, in 1511. He soon realized that the slaves and their exploitation was part of the system.  Deeply troubled by the system, the actions of the conquistadores and the encomenderos, he renounced his holdings in 1514 and committed himself to defending the Native Americans. Las Casas and his supporters had a major impact on the New World.


He then gave a series of sermons in the Caribbean denouncing the conquistadores as sinful for their actions in the Caribbean. He continued his campaign for Native Americans, even after he returned to Spain later in his life. Las Casas also wrote constantly,appealing to the King of Spain to change colonial practices. He says:

    “Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during tla! past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.”

To the total depopulation of the Indies, De Las Casas includes Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola/ Hiaiti:

    “ They have the healthiest lands in the world, where lived more than five hundred thousand souls; they are now deserted, inhabited by not a single living creature. All the people were slain or died after being taken into captivity and brought to the Island of Hispaniola to be sold as slaves. When the Spaniards saw that some of these had escaped, they sent a ship to find them, and it voyaged for three years among the islands searching for those who had escaped being slaughtered, for a good Christian had helped them escape, taking pity on them and had won them over to Christ; of these there were eleven persons and these I saw. More than thirty other islands in the vicinity of San Juan are for the most part and for the same reason depopulated, and the land laid waste.”

    “We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.”

    The Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetites, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians.

    “And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer. From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands.”







They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house.” – De Las Casas.


Bartolomé de Las Casas1484 CE – 1566 CE

Bartolomé de Las Casas was born in 1484 in Sevilla, Spain.  In 1502 he left for Hispaniola, the island that today contains the states of Dominican Republic and Haiti.   He became a doctrinero, lay teacher of catechism, and began evangelizing the indigenous people, whom the Spaniards called Indians.   He was probably the first person ordained as a priest in America, on either 1512 or 1513. During his first twelve years in the New World, Las Casas participated in various expeditions of conquest in the Caribbean. Due to his service, the Spanish crown rewarded him with an encomienda (a royal land grant including native inhabitants) as it was the custom of the time to pay for the services of those Spaniards participating in the exploration of the new territories.

Like many other Spanish missionaries who had traveled to America and experienced the brutality of the conquest, Las Casas became an advocate for the Indians and a critic of the brutal exploitation of indigenous slave labor and the lack of serious religious instruction.  In 1514, he returned his Indian serfs to the governor of Santo Domingo, and a year later, traveled to Spain to defend the natives and plead for their better treatment. Las Casas sought to change the methods of the Spanish conquest, and believed that both the Spaniards and indigenous communities could build a new civilization in America together.  For this reason, during his stay in Spain he conceived the Plan para la reformación de las Indias (Plan for the Reformation of the Indies). The emperor Charles V appointed Las Casas as the priest-procurator of the Indies, the head of a commission to investigate the status of the Indians, and in 1519 supported his project to found communities of both Spaniards and Indians.   This settlement was located on the Gulf of Paria in the present-day Venezuela.  Las Casas traveled to the new colony from Spain in 1520, but two years later had to return to Santo Domingo after his experiment failed due to the opposition of the powerful encomenderos and the attacks of native communities of the region.


After his failure, Las Casas decided to devote his life to religious service. In 1523, he joined the Dominican order and became the prior of the Convent of Puerto De Plata.   This was the beginning of a very prolific writing period.   During the following years, Las Casas produced his most important works.   In 1527, he began to write the Historia Apologética (Apologetic History), one of his major works, which served as an introduction to his masterpiece Historia de las Indias (History of the Indies).   The work was published by his own request after his death.

Las Casas became an avid critic of the encomienda system.  He argued that the Indians were free subjects of the Castilian crown, and their property remained their own.   At the same time, he stated that evangelization and conversion should be done through peaceful persuasion and not through violence or coercion.  Between 1531 and 1540, he wrote several texts attacking the encomenderos and accusing persons and institutions of the sin of oppressing the Indians.  He also developed a new system of evangelisation that the Dominicans used favorably in Central America. In 1542, Charles V signed the “New Laws” that reformed the encomienda in response to Las Casas and some of his supporters complain. It ceased to be a hereditary grant, and the encomenderos had to set free their Indians. Slaves from Africa who had begun arriving in the 1530s had slowly replaced the indigenous labor force. After the emperor approved these new laws, Las Casas became bishop of Chipas in today’s Guatemala, where he oversaw their enforcement and the evangelization campaigns.  In 1547, Las Casas returned to Spain where he became an influential advisor to the emperor and the Council of the Indies until the moment of his death in 1566.



In 1550, Las Casas debated in Valladolid his views on the American Indians with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in front of the Spanish court.  Sepúlveda, a humanist lawyer born in 1490, was an important figure in the court of Charles V where he served as the Emperor's chaplain and his official historian.  In 1544, Sepúlveda wrote Democrates Alter (or, on the Just Causes for War Against the Indians).  This became the most important text at the time supporting the Spanish conquest of the Americas and their methods.  The text justified theoretically following Aristotelian ideas of natural slavery the inferiority of Indians and their enslavement by the Spaniards. He claimed that the Indians had no ruler, and no laws, so any civilized man could legitimately appropriate them.  In other words, Sepúlveda considered the Indians to be pre-social men with no rights or property. The debate, which continued in 1551, reached no firm conclusion; but the court seemed to agree with Las Casas, and demanded a better treatment for the Indians.


He joined the Dominican order in 1523. Four years later, while serving as prior of the convent of Puerto de Plata, a town in northern Santo Domingo, he began to write the “Historia apologética”.  He then followed it with “Historia de las Indias”.


The Historia, which by his request was not published until after his death, is an account of all that had happened in the Indies just as he had seen or heard of it. The purpose of all the facts he sets forth is the exposure of the “sin” of domination, oppression, and injustice that the European was inflicting upon the newly discovered peoples. It was Las Casas’s intention to reveal to Spain the reason for the misfortune that would inevitably befall it when it became the object of God’s punishment.


He went on to write the “Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias” (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), which he wrote in 1542 and in which he accused : “The reason why the Christians have killed and destroyed such an infinite number of souls is that they have been moved by their wish for gold and their desire to enrich themselves in a very short time.”













King Charles signed the so-called New Laws (Leyes Nuevas). According to those laws, the encomienda (the grant of regions and working taino people who were in the region as serfs) was not to be considered a hereditary grant; instead, the owners had to set free their Indian serfs after the span of a single generation. To ensure enforcement of the laws, Las Casas was named bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala, and in July 1544 he set sail for America, together with 44 Dominicans. Upon his arrival in January 1545, he immediately issued Avisos y reglas para confesores de españoles (“Admonitions and Regulations for the Confessors of Spaniards”), the famous Confesionario, in which he forbade absolution to be given to those who held Indians in encomienda. The rigorous enforcement of his regulations led to vehement opposition on the part of the Spanish faithful during Lent of 1545 and forced Las Casas to establish a council of bishops to assist him in his task. But soon his uncompromisingly pro-Indian position alienated his colleagues, and in 1547 he returned to Spain.


There, he came into direct confrontation with the learned Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, an increasingly important figure at court. Gines has written an apologie for colonisation behaviour in his “Democrates segundo; o, de las justas causas de la guerra contra los indios (“Concerning the Just Cause of the War Against the Indians”), in which he maintained, theoretically in accordance with Aristotelian principles, that the Indians “are inferior to the Spaniards just as children are to adults, women to men, and, indeed, one might even say, as apes are to men.” Las Casas finally confronted him in 1550 at the Council of Valladolid, which was presided over by famous theologians. The argument continued in 1551, and its repercussions were enormous.

The servitude of the Indians was already irreversibly established, and, despite the fact that Sepúlveda’s teachings had not been officially approved, they were, in effect, those that were followed in the Indies. They got an biblical excuse in Gines.



http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-a-short-account-of-the-destruction/#gsc.tab=0 gives this summary of his books:

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies was written with the task of informing the King of Spain about the murder and gold hoarding that was occurring in the New World. The purpose of the expeditions was primarily to convert the natives to Christianity and save them from eternal damnation. However, the Spaniards that were sent did not abide by the rules they were given and killed millions of people for their gold. Only a small percentage of the gold they took was given to the Spanish purse. Christian missionaries such as De Las Casas were also present and did their best to try to bring justice to the lands.














According to De Las Casas and the other friars who were either Dominican Friars or part of the Order of Saint Francis, the natives were the most docile people they had ever met. Every time a Spanish group of men entered their territory they welcomed them with open arms. Most of the time they were too welcoming and were beaten out of their homes. However, this generosity was their custom and the Spaniards could count on it. The soldiers actually used this hospitality as an advantage to pillage the cities and villages since they were faced with less opposition. This allowed them to get the gold, jewels, and slaves that they so desired quicker and with greater ease. The Spaniards massacred millions of natives as a result, raping women and killing innocent children and infants along the way. Those that were not killed were taken as slaves and sold in Peru and Hispaniola where they got the best prices for them. The slaves were used for everything from carrying packs, building large buildings, pearl diving, and even attacking other villages when the Spaniards didn't want to use their own men. Once they were sold they were worked to death within months, sometimes even days because they were overworked and never fed. The majority of the natives died en route to being sold as slaves on the ships and simply thrown overboard.


Theodore De Bry's Illustrations
Bartolome de Las Casas's
Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies ‘

Theodor de Bry (also Theodorus de Bry) (1528 – 1598) was a Belgian engraver, goldsmith, editor and publisher, made a large number of engravingss on European expeditions to the Americas. He was a protestant.  The Spanish Inquisition forced de Bry, to flee his native, Spanish -controlled Southern Netherlands. Here are a few of them.  There are lot more and they are in the internet if you are interested.



They killed even women and children. Even babies: the Spanish threw babies against rocks and into rivers – and laughed. They cut off pieces of Tainos for entertainment. They cut off their heads for practice. They raped women and girls – and brought back syphilis to Europe. They even raped the wife of a king.

The Spanish were kinder to their animals than to the Tainos.
If a Taino killed a Spaniard, the Spanish killed 100 Tainos in return.
They killed Tainos by the thousands, even those who brought them food and gifts. They killed half the people of the kingdom of Maguana outright.

·Strung up and burned alive 13 at a time – in memory of Jesus and his 12 Apostles
Columbus made La Taina, the land of the Tainos, into a living hell. It went way beyond simply killing those who fought Spanish rule. The Spanish had the Tainos: grilled, cut up into pieces like sheep, run down by hunting dogs and torn to pieces,

slow roasting of slaves


Everyone over 14 should bring their share to the Lords







Babies fed to the dogs

On Columbus’ second voyage, he began to require tribute from the Taíno in Hispaniola. According to Kirkpatrick Sale, each adult over 14 years of age was expected to deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months, or when this was lacking, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton. If this tribute was not brought, the Spanish cut off the hands of the Taíno and left them to bleed to death.



In 1511, several caciques in Puerto Rico, such as Agüeybaná II, Arasibo, Hayuya, Jumacao, Urayoán, Guarionex, and Orocobix, allied with the Carib and tried to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was suppressed by the Indio-Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León.   Hatuey, a Taíno chieftain who had fled from Hispaniola to Cuba with 400 natives to unite the Cuban natives, was burned at the stake on February 2, 1512.  When Hatuey was about to be burned at the stake (pictured), a Franciscan brother told him him about the Christian faith to save his soul. When Hatuey found out that most good Christians were going to Heaven, he chose Hell.





According to one estimate, genocide and disease wiped out 3 million of the 3.5 million Tainos – 85%.
Most were already dead when smallpox arrived in 1518.

These were the eye witness stories of attrocities committed by the Spaniards in the west indies.

Unfortunately the the Catholic Encyclopedia do not see him as an Apostle to the Native Indians nor his stories true.  Here is their summary


“With the exception of what he wrote on the Indians of the Antilles, in the "Historia de las Indias", he has left very little of value to ethnology, for the bulky manuscript entitled "Historia apologética" is so polemical in its tone as to inspire deep mistrust. He did almost nothing to educate the Indians. The name "Apostle of the Indies", which has been given him, was not deserved; whereas there were men opposed to his views who richly merited it, but who had neither the gifts nor the inclination for that noisy propaganda in which Las Casas was so eminently successful. Although for over fifty years an ecclesiastic, he always remained under the spell of his early education as a lawyer. His controversy with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda on the Indian question is a polemic between two juris-consults, adorned with, or rather encumbered by, theological phraseology.”


Yet in 1964 when I went to Jamaica as a teacher, there was not even one Taino in the whole island.
















Monument to Bartolomé de las Casas in Seville, Spain.



1492 ->1992 500 year birth anniversary of Fray Bartholome de Las Casas