1685 Copy of the Code
The slave trade was also a system governed by the laws of the nation-states. In this case the law dictated the form of punishment to be meted out to runaway slaves of the Caribbean. Maroons were punished by castration. Such cruelty was meant to suppress rebellion, but the punishment fell short of execution in order to continue to reap the benefits of slave labor. Within one hundred years a “reform” law, “Le Code Noir,” was signed by Louis XIV of France, in 1685. The edict declared that
A Negro who is absent for a month shall have his ears cut off and shall have a fleur de lys branded on his left shoulder. If he again runs away, his knees shall be lacerated and his other shoulder branded. Finally if he runs away for a third time he shall be sentenced to death.
Jose L. Franco, in Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies, 28
1743 Copy of the Code
In effect, native people were children if they submitted and savages if they resisted. In either case, Europeans saw themselves as the superior culture bringing civilization to an inferior culture. The colonial worldview split reality into polar parts: good and evil, body and spirit, man and nature, head and heart, European and primitive. Indian spirituality lacks these dualisms: language expresses the oneness of all things. God is not the transcendent Father but Mother Earth, the Corn Mother, the Great Spirit who nourishes all.
For the European such beliefs were pagan. Thus, the conquest was rationalized as a necessary evil that would bestow upon the heathen Indians a moral consciousness that would redeem their amorality. The impetus which drove the conquistador’s invading wars was not exploration, but the desire to expand empire, not discovery of new land, but the drive to accumulate treasure (gold), land, and cheap labor (slaves). The worldview which converted bare economic self interest into noble, even moral, motives was a notion of Christianity as the one redemptive religion which demands fealty from all cultures.
There were some Christians who were converted to the Indians and slaves. Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas refused the land grant afforded him by the Crown, then preached and cried out against the enslavement of Indians by writing to the Council of the Indies and to the Pope documenting “cruelties more atrocious and unnatural than any recorded of untutored and savage barbarians…[because of] the greed and thirst for gold of our countrymen.” Although de Las Casas lost the argument in which he challenged the European worldview, his prophetic voice earned him the friendship of the voiceless Indians.
The Bishop’s intense written debate with the prestigious jurist Sepulveda, chaplain for Charles V, reveals the supremacist worldview of European colonizers. The Bishop argued for the abolition of the encomienda system of gold tribute which he called tyrannical, inhuman, and an offense to God. Sepulveda said it was a system suited to the nature of Indians who, unlike the Spaniards, were somewhere between humans and monkeys, and thus it was “natural” and an expression of God’s will that barbarians and the unjust should experience punishment.
Spiritual vision informs values. A fundamental difference between the European value system and Indian and African values is centered on relationship to the community of ancestors which includes the living and dead. For Indian people, right relationship includes relationship with all beings, including the natural world which surrounds the human world. The destruction of the environment was, from the Indian perspective, a destruction of spiritual equals.
It is more than a coincidence that the modern age of extinction begins in 1680. It is often cited as the foundation of the Enlightenment….During the Enlightenment, there arose notions of a mechanistic universe and that humankind can use science and technology to shape his own ends subject only to the physical laws….The idea of the sacredness of nature is, however, a strong central theme in many non-Western cultures…..Those cultures tend to see a supportive kind of magic in the process of birth, death, and transformation which recognizes that human beings are part of a wonderful process that can be celebrated and revered….
Respect is not something that can be readily generated through dissection. Scientists can wonder at the complexity of the biology of a leaf, can achieve something approaching awe, and even spiritual reverence, through study of the vast system of the starts, and can even grow to achieve profound respect for the complexity of life, but they have been only marginally successful at creating stories and images which transmit those feelings to young and old alike. They have not been successful, in short, in challenging the element of Western culture which views Nature through primarily materialistic lenses because they are viewing reality through such lenses themselves….
In this short description John Mohawk delineates the radical opposition with which Western and Native American worldviews regard nature, spirituality, and science. But it is the Western European worldview that dominates and thus appears natural.
Because [the Eurocentric worldview]is the one we have grown up with, it is sometimes hard to see it as just that –one of several different ways of relating to reality. Eurocentrrism is distinguished by a kind of one-dimensional seeing—that of a privileged white Western male. It is a perspective that assumes the thinking “I” as the center of the universe. Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” How different this is from the African worldview in which the individual is affirmed as being only in relation to the “we” of his/her community—family/clan—including those not born and those who have departed.
Sheila Collins, “Are the Multiculturalists Politically Correct?” 7
John Mohawk, “Toward a Reverence for Nature,” unpublished paper