White-Washing History with Black Legend
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Photo: David Kelly

White-Washing History with Black Legend


According to Wikipedia, a black legend is "a historiographic phenomenon suffered by either characters, nations or institutions, and characterized by the sustained trend in historical writing of biased reporting, introduction of fabricated, exaggerated and/or decontextualized facts, with the intention of creating a distorted and uniquely inhuman image of it, while hiding its positive contributions to history."

Basically, a black legend is a denigrating lie persistently told with the ultimate aims of finding acceptance as factual. Let's keep that in mind. Historically the phrase was most used for painting Spanish exploration of the Americas as being a matter of pure, unadulterated brutality. And while there is ample truth to that, there is substantially more than enough blame to go around.

One of the more positive news stories of recent days concerns the team of an anthropologist and archaeology professor named Donald Blakeslee, who is making major breakthroughs in unearthing from under Kansas soil near the Oklahoma border what is proving to be the lost city of Etzanoa, stretching for miles and home to as many as 20,000 peoples between the years of 1450 and 1700. Not mentioned in the recent mainstream coverage focusing on Blakeslee is that the discovery was actually made by a local teen, who had found a cannonball that traced back to an important battle involving Etzanoa's Rayado Indians recorded long ago by conquistadors.

Says the LA Times of the region's history in regards to the Spaniards:

"In 1601, Juan de Oñate led about 70 conquistadors from the Spanish colony of New Mexico into south-central Kansas in search of Quivira in the hopes of finding gold, winning converts for the Catholic Church and extracting tribute for the crown.

According to Spanish records, they ran into a tribe called the Escanxaques, who told of a large city nearby where a Spaniard was allegedly imprisoned. The locals called it Etzanoa.

As the Spaniards drew near, they spied numerous grass houses along the bluffs. A delegation of Etzanoans bearing round corn cakes met them on the river bank. They were described as a sturdy people with gentle dispositions and stripes tattooed from their eyes to their ears. It was a friendly encounter until the conquistadors decided to take hostages. That prompted the entire city to flee."

So in one mainstream article the claim is made that the area was populated by these natives until approximately 1700, but also that the inhabitants had fled from the Spanish in 1601. But it goes on to say:

"The Spaniards could see more houses in the distance, but they feared an Etzanoan attack and turned back.

That’s when they were ambushed by 1,500 Escanxaques. The conquistadors battled them with guns and cannons before finally withdrawing back to New Mexico, never to return.

French explorers arrived a century later but found nothing. Disease likely wiped out Etzanoa, leaving it to recede into legend."

Yet the article also states:

"Volunteers using metal detectors found three half-inch iron balls under the field. Blakeslee said they were 17th century Spanish cartridge shot fired from a cannon. A Spanish horseshoe nail was also found."

Which infers that the Spanish soldiers did indeed later return to the area.

Elsewhere, we find a separate account of those proceedings written for the spring 2016 issue of the Archaeological Conservancy:

"Oñate’s most eye-popping discovery, however, was yet to come. That fall, his band reached a river located somewhere near what is now the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Its banks were lined with more than a thousand large, thatched-roof buildings, scattered among fields of corn, squash, and beans. Many of the inhabitants had fled before Oñate’s arrival, and astonished scouts reported that the town stretched on for miles. “The end of the houses was not in sight,” soldiers later told Spanish officials, estimating that some 20,000 people lived in the settlement they dubbed Etzanoa.

For centuries, many scholars discounted Oñate’s account of Etzanoa. Conquistadors had a reputation for exaggerating, they said, in order to impress their royal bosses and church officials eager to save souls. Archaeologists and anthropologists also were skeptical. Now, however, some recent archaeological discoveries — and some fresh translations of accounts of Oñate’s journey — may be changing that argument. Researchers say they have found preliminary evidence of Etzanoa in south-central Kansas near Arkansas City."

What actually transpired there over the course of the 17th century and beyond? Just a few short years after the events described above, the Colony of Virginia was established to the east by non-Spanish colonizers, encompassing not only Virginia but also what would eventually become West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the western expansion by English colonials continued. Explains the History Channel's' website on the matter:

"Warfare between Europeans and Indians was common in the seventeenth century. In 1622, the Powhatan Confederacy nearly wiped out the struggling Jamestown colony. Frustrated at the continuing conflicts, Nathaniel Bacon and a group of vigilantes destroyed the Pamunkey Indians before leading an unsuccessful revolt against colonial authorities in 1676. Intermittent warfare also plagued early Dutch colonies in New York. In New England, Puritan forces annihilated the Pequots in 1636-1637, a campaign whose intensity seemed to foreshadow the future. Subsequent attacks inspired by Metacom (King Philip) against English settlements sparked a concerted response from the New England Confederation. Employing Indian auxiliaries and a scorched-earth policy, the colonists nearly exterminated the Narragansetts, Wampanoags, and Nipmucks in 1675-1676. A major Pueblo revolt also threatened Spanish-held New Mexico in 1680."

And in the decades that followed, natives were confronted by encroaching English colonists to the east and French colonists to the north, with the later French-Indian war being a matter of the French and English both using the Indians against each other, with each side evidently promising to make the troubles worthwhile. And, in King George III's Proclamation of 1763 was it declared that all lands west of the Appalachian Divide, encompassing Etzanoa, be off-limits to colonial settlers. While the proclamation was rendered null following the American revolution, the lands forbidden by King George III would eventually comprise the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, where they were bought by the American government, supposedly long-cleared of natives by the Spanish and French so that Americans could conveniently build new homes for themselves throughout the hundreds of miles of territory.

Even were it only a rare moment of humanity, King George III likely based his proclamation on the obvious, that after centuries of belittling abuses the natives had every right to fight tooth and nail from having anymore of their tribes completely wiped out by land-hungry settlers. And for such a view is he rewarded today by descriptions of madness. Because the black legend persists. Regarding the role of race in the historiography of Colonial Spanish America, Wikipedia has this to say as a given truth:

"The study of race dates to the earliest days of the Spanish empire, with debates about the status of the indigenous – whether they had souls, whether they could be enslaved, whether they could be Catholic priests, whether they were subject to the Inquisition. The decisions steered crown and ecclesiastical policy and practices. With the importation of Africans as slaves during the early days of European settlement in the Caribbean and the emergence of race mixture, social hierarchies and racial categories became complex. The legal division between the República de indios, that put the indigenous population in a separate legal category from the República de españoles that included Europeans, Africans, and mixed-race castas was the crown’s policy to rule its vassals with racial status as one criterion."

The peoples of America today are meant to believe that while they live on this land now, the original inhabitants were predominately slaughtered by anyone other than their own ancestry; the French, the Spanish especially, or even by the natives themselves through infighting or disease-inducing poor hygiene in an archaic usage of victim-blaming.

But contrast that with this other story, in the here and now. In the 1960s and 70s, after swapping self-appointed rights with the British, the US government forcibly displaced the inhabitants of a 60-island chain in the Indian ocean on the other side of the globe. To build a military base on its largest atoll, Diego Garcia. Survivors of those removed have spent the last 5 decades fighting for their rights to return to their ancestral home. Reports the Hastings-Tribune concerning the islanders:

"The U.S. Navy arrived in Diego Garcia in 1971 and began clearing beaches for construction.

Two years later, a crowded cargo ship, its decks slippery with vomit, carried the last 125 deportees into port in Mauritius. The passengers refused to disembark for days until the Mauritian government agreed to provide them with housing  —  which turned out to be in shanties of the capital, Port Louis.

“There was no water, no toilets,” recalled Eliane Moutien, who was then a teenager. “We used gunny sacks to cover the windows because there was no glass.”

They were granted Mauritian citizenship, but the sad conditions, lack of jobs and discrimination they faced from locals  —  who taunted them as savages and mocked their accents  —  contributed to a profound longing for their homeland.

Some exiles fell into poverty, alcoholism, gambling and prostitution."

And in regards to the US Navy installation itself as it stands today:

"The base has since grown to house an estimated 1,700 military personnel and a roughly equal number of contractors. It includes all the comforts expected by today’s U.S. service member and more: a swimming pool, nine-hole golf course, spin classes, massage services, an outdoor movie theater, even windsurfing lessons.

The Navy’s website touts “unbelievable recreational facilities and exquisite natural beauty.”"

All of which sounds awfully familiar. But unlike what remains of the Native Americans, their story will go before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, next month.

Author: Richard Caldwell