Bartolome de las Casas (1484-1566) was one of the earliest Spanish settlers in the West Indies, arriving on the island of Hispaniola (shared today by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1502, only ten years after Columbus. He became a slave owner but soon became appalled at the treatment of indigenous peoples by Spanish invaders. He was the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in the New World and then he became a Dominican friar, giving up all his property, including his slaves. From then on he campaigned for the rights of indigenous peoples, writing a famous book entitled A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which he sent to the King of Spain. He managed to persuade the...
king to abolish slavery of Native Americans. This excerpt from his book describes what happened to a certain chief from Hispaniola named Hatuey who fled that island and went to Cuba. Before his own change of heart, de las Casas had participated in the Spanish invasion of Cuba, but now he wrote about that invasion with great sorrow for the results of Spanish brutality.
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies:
“In the year of our Lord 1511, the Spaniards passed over to Cuba, which is well furnished with large and stately provinces and very populous. The Spaniards proceeded against the people of Cuba with no more humanity and clemency, but with great savagery and brutality. Several memorable actions worth observation passed in this Island. A certain chief, named Hatuey, had not long before fled Hispaniola to Cuba to escape death at the hands of the Spaniards. Understanding that the Spaniards intended to steer their course toward Cuba, Hatuey made this speech to all the people assembled together.
‘You are not ignorant that there is a rumor spread abroad among us of the Spaniards’ arrival [in Cuba], and ar e sensible by woeful experience how Hispaniola and its inhabitants have bee n treated by them, that they design to visit us with equal intentions of committing such acts as they have hitherto been guilty of. But do you know t he cause and reason of their coming?’ ‘We are altogether ignorant of it,’ they replied, ‘but sufficiently satisfied that they are cruelly and wicked ly inclined.’ Hatuey said, ‘They adore a certain covetous deity, whose cravings are not to be satisfied by a few moderate offerings, so that they m ay in their adoration and worship demand many unreasonable things of us, and use their utmost endeavors to subjugate and afterwards murder us.’ Then taking up a cask or cabinet near at hand, full of gold and gems, he proceeded in this manner: ‘This is the Spaniards’ God, and in honor of him, if you think well of it, let us celebrate our Arcytos [certain kinds of dances]; and by this means this deity being appeased, so he will impose his commands on the Spaniards that they shall not for the future molest us.’ The listening people all unanimously with one consent in a loud tone made this reply: ‘Well said, Well said,’ and thus they continued skipping and dancing before this cabinet, without the least intermission, till they were quite tired and grown weary. Then the noble Hatuey resuming his discourse, said, ‘If we worship this deity, till ye be worn out, we shall be destroyed, therefore I judge it convenient, upon mature deliberation, that we cast it into the river.’ This advice was approved of by all without opposition, and the cabinet with the gold and gems thrown into the river.
When the Spaniards first touched this island of Cuba, this chief, who was thoroughly acquainted with them, did avoid and shun them as much as he could, and defended himself by force of arms, wherever he met with them. But at length being taken, he was burnt alive, after fleeing from so unjust and cruel a nation, and endeavoring to secure his life against them, who only thirsted after the blood of himself and his own people. Now being bound to the post, in order of his execution a certain holy monk of the Franciscan order, discoursed with him concerning God and the articles of our faith, which he never heard of before, and which might be satisfactory and advantageous to him, considering the small time allowed him by the executioner, promising him eternal glory and repose, if he truly believed them, or otherwise everlasting torments. After Hatuey had been silently pensive sometime, he asked the monk whether the Spaniards also were admitted into heaven , and he answering that the gates of heaven were open to all that were goo d and godly, the chief replied without further consideration, that he would rather go to hell then heaven, for fear he should cohabit in the same mansion with so bloody a nation. And thus God and the holy Catholic faith a e disregarded by the practices of the Spaniards in America.”
Reflection for Modern Missions in Christian Ministry (Part 1):
Hatuey believed that the God worshipped by the Spaniards was that of material riches such as gold and gems. Hatuey reasoned that such riches were the God of the Spaniards as the Spaniards had acted out with such demanding and unreasonable way towards his people as to collect material gains. Hatuey’s logic seemed to be based on the idea that no other human in their right mind would treat his people like a disposable commodity unless a human was driven by the worship of an over-demanding God who’s cravings were overbearing. It seems like Hatuey was labeling the Spaniards’ god with the phrase “a certain covetous deity” to show that the Spaniards’ covetous actions were worship of material items as if it were their god.
Hatuey suggested that the best way to prevent the Spaniards from tormenting and killing the inhabitants of Cuba was to worship in honorable celebration the God of the Spaniards, which he had concluded to be riches. Hatuey took a cast filled them gold and gems and suggested that it would be wise to worship the cast with certain types of dances to celebrate the Spaniard god. The worship he suggested was for the purpose of appeasing the god in hopes to have the god no longer intend for the Spaniards to come and attack. The people of Cuba danced in celebration without stopping until they grew tired and could no longer dance.
It seems that Hatuey recognized that the assumed god (of the cast), which they where worshiping, was useless. Hatuey saw how his people became tired of worshiping without any response from this Spaniard “god.” Perhaps Hatuey deemed it mature to throw all the gold the people had into the river because worshiping it provided no results and the gold seemed to be the purpose of the Spaniards coming. He saw that the only way out of the impending doom of Cuba was to hide or dump that which the Spaniards sought to gather and admire. It seems that Hatuey saw that the power of destruction which came from gold was not in the gold itself, but from the covetous men who pursued it.
Hatuey refused to become a convert to Catholicism as he reflected upon the current relationship that he and his people were experiencing with the Spaniards. The promise of glory and peace did not mean a whole lot to Hatuey when he understood heaven to be a place were he would reunite with the “bloodly” peoples of Spain. Hatuey associated the Spaniards with torment and injustices and did not want to be a part of them or their actions. One could assume that Hatuey saw heaven to be a place where the Spaniard god would allow injustices to be continued, just as the Spaniards were allowed to on earth by their god. To him, the concept of heaven and its’ god was of no gain to him.
The Spaniards’ mission approach to the West Indies was useless and counterproductive. With such coercive practices of the Spaniards, all personal witness to the Gospel message was destroyed and the witness Christians could have had today as well. I can imagine that some of the results of the Spaniards’ mission approach included un-devoted Christians and a bad perception of Christendom. First of all, the Spaniards’ mission approach has misrepresented what it means to be a Christian as it has confused us with conquests. Secondly it misrepresents the nature of God as He is made out to be a forceful god. Thirdly, it has made the Church irrelevant as it has brought an unwarranted perception that there is a need to have people assimilated to western culture in order to be “Christianized.” All of which results in the hardening of hearts of the people of West Indies towards the Gospel.
Reflection for Modern Missions in Christian Ministry (Part 2):
Fast forward: The Native Americans came to follow the Roman Catholic Church after Mary supposedly showed them a sign. The legend goes that a Native American named Juan Diego had been visited by the Virgin Mary with the instructions to tell the Spanish Roman Catholic bishop to build her a cathedral. Mary supposedly gave a miraculous sign through Juan Diego to the bishop with a rose-stained image of herself on a piece of cactus cloth. This rose-stained image was said to have been crafted miraculously by the Diego’s roses which Mary had blessed. After the bishop believed this was a sign and after having Diego’s uncle was healed supposedly, Diego and many other Native Americans started to follow the Catholic faith.
Once the Native Americans encountered the Catholic religion they introduced the worship of Mary. Mary was made out to be the Native American’s mother goddess which they worshiped. Mary was sought out for healing, as the rose-stained image encouraged idolatry and superstition amongst the Native Americans and the Spaniards of the Roman Catholic Faith. Mary was thought to be the Church’s intercessor and prayers were directed through her by the name “Blessed Image, the ever-virgin Holy Mary.” Catholic religion believes that Mary is a intercessory figure who possesses blessing and healing. This is religious syncretism!
Harrington (1988) alludes to the understanding that syncretism occurred because the Native Americans held closely onto objects and symbols within their Aztec religions. When these symbolic objects were destroyed by the Spanish, the natives incorporated some aspects of the Spaniard’s religion into their own in hopes that their beliefs would be accepted by their oppressors; therefore, religious syncretism came about. In general, syncretism often results after a religion of a powerful culture makes requirements and gives out responsibilities in subordinate ways. Such a paternal method of evangelism often produces “extractionism,” which Gailey (2007) says establishes physical and psychological barriers which imply that people have to adhere to another culture or set of cultural expectations to become a Christian. In response to this demand, natives take on their own tailored “Christianity” for themselves, often syncretizing it with their own beliefs.
A missionary could prevent syncretism in how they evangelize and convert new Christians. Missionaries should start to identify themselves with the culture they were working with to learn their worldview so they may contextualize the gospel accordingly. If a missionary focused on building relationships within the culture and contextualize the gospel through redemptive analogies it would help to prevent syncretism. Also, if they were to treat their foreign brothers and sisters as partners and not as children, syncretism would be lessened.
I perceive “felt needs” to be things which a people perceive to be needed or valued within their society. “Felt needs” are created from a peoples’ worldview, as “felt needs” are usually things which a society deems to be of importance (either directly or indirectly). I do not think “felt needs” are purely physical needs, as “felt needs” could consist of ideas, values, interests, and understandings. Yes, we should indeed adapt our mission methods to meet felt needs. Adapting our mission methods to meet felt needs is all so important as it provides miniature contexts for the gospel to be explained and understood in. Felt needs help one to contextualize the gospel, and personalize its’ message for a culture. Felt needs can be used to address a culture’s worldview and introduce the gospel in a relevant way in order for it’s message to bring about lasting change. Without adapting in this way, it would be hard to create lasting change, and a good change if that.
I ponder over the effectiveness of modern missiological philosophy of an anglo saxon family transplanting themselves in a foreign nation. The issue is about the effectiveness of cross-cultural missions (in general) when acculturation exists at large. Gailyn Van Rheenen discusses in her book entitled Missions the concept of “acculturation.” When adults enter into other cultures the process of acculturation takes place. Acculturating adults tend to compare a culture with one previously already known (as previewed in Barbara’s passage). In the process of acculturation, I believe that there are assumptions that are made between both parties (the one being ministered to and the one doing the ministering). Here lies a problem that both Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert deem as the “God Complex.” The “God Complex” is found when missionaries and organizations self-anoint themselves to decide what is best for the savage or the poor. I believe this can easily happen within the process of acculturation as we assume our way of life (the “Betty Crocker” ways of life, if you will) are better so we try “fix” the culture we aspire to help. This then creates an attitude of inferiority among the people that we try to help and our efforts end up hindering our witness.
Corbett, S., & Fikkert, B. (2009). When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor-- and yourself. Chicago, IL: Moody. 13.
Gailey, Charles R., and Howard Culbertson. Discovering Missions. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2007. 65.
Harrington, Patricia. "Mother of Death, Mother of Rebirth: The Virgin of Guadalupe." Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 56, Issue 1, pp. 25-50. 1988
Howell, B. M., & Paris, J. W. (2011). Introducing cultural anthropology: A Christian perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Rheenen, G. V. (1996). Missions: Biblical foundations & contemporary strategies. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House. 96.
Winter, R. D.; Hawthorne, S. C.; Elkins P. (1999). Perspectives on the world Christian movement: The notebook. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library. 397. 166-181.
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Kilian is a well known preacher who has spoken at large while studying at Mid-Atlantic Christian University working towards BA. He currently holds an AA in Biblical Studies and is a Theta Alpha Kappa (a national honor society) member.