Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Up From The Mississippi Delta

Memory takes a lot of poetic liscence. It omits some details; others are exaggerated according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart—Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams

Memory and history, like fraternal twins, are the offspring of the same parent—a series of events—and both are subject to change. They may stem from the same place and have many similarities, yet manifest themselves differently; both are informed by environment, culture and the time in which they are formed. During the 2007–08 theatre season, the Mississippi Delta—that alluvial plain (technically it is not a delta) between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers in the northwest section of the state of Mississippi—gave birth to several distinctly different productions that oscillate between memory and history—including one which, at first glance, does not seem to be about the Delta at all.

This past April and May, Chicago’s flagship Goodman Theatre produced playwright Ifa Bayeza’s The Ballad of Emmett Till, directed by Oz Scott. At BRIC Studio in downtown Brooklyn, 651 Arts presented (as part of its season-long Mississippi Delta Heritage Project) the latest installation of Ping Chong & Co.’s Undesirable Elements/Secret History project, a play called Delta Rising, written and directed by Chong collaborator Talvin Wilks. The third production under consideration here—one that did not explicitly focus on the Delta—is the fourth Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer–winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Debbie Allen. Since it was the first Cat to be performed by an all-African-American cast (James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose and Terrence Howard were featured), Allen’s production was, in effect, about the Delta, and it offers refracted insights into what that storied land has meant to America in the past century and what it might signify to us today. Indeed, what Bayeza’s play and the Ping Chong/Talvin Wilks collaboration share with Allen’s revival has less to do with the region that parented all three projects than it does with a complex depiction of identity and history, stirring questions about the place the Mississippi Delta still holds in the American psyche.

No American playwright painted images of the Delta as often or as poetically as Williams did. Born in 1911 in Columbus, Miss., and raised in Clarksdale, the writer drew upon the Delta as a primary source of inspiration throughout his career. In his hands, the American South became a dilapidated, idyllic, aristocratic landscape yellowing with antiquity and held together by its mythology. The portrayal of the region that emerges in Williams’s texts recalls Don Quixote’s remembrance of a more fulfilling time in his past in Camino Real : “that green country he lived in which was the youth of his heart, before such singing words as Truth!” Infused with existential symbolism, Williams’s plays were written with religious piety and painted broadly with della Robbia–blue brushstrokes; like the preferred interiors of his character Blanche DuBois, Williams’s image of the Delta was cast in a light no brighter than that of a dim candle, the rude remarks and vulgar actions of reality softened by its haze. As his semi-autobiographical protagonist Tom Wingfield makes clear at the top of The Glass Menagerie , Williams is offering not the illusion of truth but rather “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” One of those illusions was that the Delta had been a realm utterly dominated by white Americans, even as it was silently occupied by people of color.

First staged by Elia Kazan in 1955 and adapted for the screen three years later with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof famously centers around the dysfunctional marriage of a young couple—the alcoholic, brooding Brick and his sexually frustrated, childless wife Maggie—and their interaction with Brick’s family as they gather on a Mississippi estate for the birthday celebration of its fatally ill patriarch, Big Daddy. In its most controversial version (and there were several), Brick alludes to the source of his depression: the homosexual nature of his friendship with a football buddy who, once rejected by Brick, recently drank himself to death. The theme of the play, as stated by its troubled protagonist, is mendacity—Brick’s disgust with the world and its lies. The play’s African-American characters, Sookey and Lacey, two servants, function merely to support the business of the main action. In both the original stage and film versions, Sookey and Lacey are whisked quietly on and off, in and out of the frame, like ghosts without dimension or even the minstrelsy or the comic relief afforded by such actors as Hattie McDaniel decades earlier. (The original Broadway production also featured two unnamed blues musicians portrayed by singer-guitarist Browns McGhee and blind harmonica player Sonny Terry.)

For the most part, in Williams’s plays, African Americans are depicted as the curiously silent other lurking in the sidelines of servitude. Except in a few later (and lesser known) works, they are void of conflict or epiphany, either referenced with derogatory playfulness (as Amanda Wingfield does in Glass Menagerie when, intercepting her daughter’s offer to serve dessert, insists “You be the lady this time and I’ll be the darkey!”) or absent altogether. His half-drawn representations of African Americans were a testament to the time and place in which they were written. Jim Crow laws were in full effect, and Mississippi led the nation in African American lynching well into the 1930s. America’s receptiveness to Williams’s illustration of the South as the wounded sister of an old familial battle (the Civil War), desperately clinging to romantic notions of jonquils in a bygone era, could be credited to his evident talent as a writer—but it also spoke to the nation’s need to reconcile with its past and emerge as a unified front. In dramatic terms, non-whites were scarcely considered human; the black Mississippians in Williams’s plays were voiceless, apolitical, marginalized, oppressed people who knew their place and kept their mouths shut, barely existing in a Delta of cotillions where fading debutantes in frocks of voile and silk entertained a multitude of Sunday afternoon gentlemen callers—so many, in fact, Amanda says she had to “send the nigger over to bring in folding chairs from the parish house.”

The truth is the Mississippi Delta has always been much more complicated than anything these silent stereotypes might suggest.

In Debbie Allen’s all-black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the issue of race was subtracted as the obvious difference between the silent servants in the background and the troubled, loquacious white family in the foreground; so the re-casting of race created a recognizable humanity that was most likely previously unavailable to audiences in the 1950s. Considering that the play’s original text was unedited, the premise of the Pollitt family as a wealthy black family was surprisingly believable, especially given the portrayal of Big Daddy by the indomitable James Earl Jones as a wealthy plantation owner who happens to be black—a fact not inconsistent with the Delta’s history. Contrary to common belief, there have long been blacks in the Delta who owned land and exerted significant influence on the development of the region. As early as 1870, Hiram Rhoades Revels was the first black politician to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Congress. Five years later, Blanche K. Bruce became Mississippi’s first black U.S. Senator. Despite these historical landmarks, “the real history of the Delta seems to have been forgotten and is compounded by our lack of education,” suggests Delta Rising writer/director Talvin Wilks.

Revisiting his experience of Allen’s production of Cat, Wilks claimed, “You walked away from the show with whatever you thought you already knew of the Delta. What I would have liked to have seen is a valid experience of African Americans in the Delta, even without changing the text. The script did work with Big Daddy as an African-American overachiever addressing issues of self-hatred and assimilation.” But Wilks went on to suggest that Allen’s Cat failed to surpass notions of a “Hollywood gimmick,” referring to a current trend to draw African-American audiences to Broadway with star-studded black productions, following the success of the 2004 revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun starring hip-hop mogul Sean Combs.

Allen’s Cat is the third Broadway show with an all-black cast in four years to have done exceptionally well, especially with a predominately black audience, reported the New York Times. (The other hit named was The Color Purple.) Despite the dismissal of Cat by some critics (the production was not nominated in any of the 30 categories of the 2008 Drama Desk awards, nor did it garner any Tony nominations), the play’s sold-out run suggested the promise of a “new” audience for New York’s commercial theatre. But Allen says that, for her, the idea of “all-black really isn’t an issue. The characters,” she mused in a Times interview, “are so universal. I know them. We’re coming into it like an explorer, just discovering the lives of the people.”

Though the Mississippi Delta has been the birthplace of many successful African Americans, including Morgan Freeman and Oprah Winfrey, it remains today one of the most economically disenfranchised regions in the country. With its 37-percent African-American resident population—the largest in the country, as prospective Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama recently pointed out—Mississippi represents the lowest per-capita income in the nation. (In this part of the still racially polarized South, in a contest split along racial lines, Senator Obama won the state’s Democratic vote by 90 percent, half of his voters being white.)

Conceivably, this statistical and demographic profile might be an indication of the evolution of ideas of race and identity in the region—a reality that may explain why Allen reset her revival of Cat in a “more recent time period” than its original setting, thus de-emphasizing the play’s precise convergence in time with the Emmett Till tragedy. In her conversation with the Times, Allen dismissed the year of the play’s conception as the year “Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi.” She added: “There weren’t any black men [like Brick] in the Sugar Bowl or the Rose Bowl. We don’t have to talk about the year; we just adjust.”

Allen’s production of ‘cat’ was on Wilks’s mind as he conducted interviews with several native Mississippians for Delta Rising. The project remained true to Ping Chong and Co.’s process of using interviews in an extended residency to create a final script that the participants themselves—three black, one Asian, one white, varying in age from 20 to 71—performed in Brooklyn.

Pointing to a history of which he himself was admittedly unaware, Wilks found himself impacted by what he learned from his cast, especially Shermel Carthan, an acting student at the California Institute of the Arts. Carthan is the descendant of James Carthan, an African-American sharecropper and prohibition-era moonshine manufacturer who in 1939 purchased 60 acres of Delta land once belonging to a Native-American Choctaw reservation. According to Carthan, his grandfather was “the only African American, at the time, to own land” in the small town of Tchula, Miss., 61 miles north of Jackson. The area’s overwhelming poverty did not prevent his grandfather’s initial investment from growing tenfold. Shermel Carthan’s father Eddie would grow up working his way through law school while farming his family’s 600 acres and raising cotton, soybeans and wheat. An educator at Saints College in Lexington, Miss., Eddie Carthan would later become a business developer for the U.S. Department of Commerce in the Office of Minority Business Enterprise; a president of the Mississippi Family Farmers Association; and, in 1977, the first black mayor of Tchula, where he served two terms. Carthan would eventually see his political career marred by an arrest and trial for the murder of Roosevelt Granderson, an African-American alderman—a charge of which he was acquitted in 1982. Recalling Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Shermel Carthan grew up in “the White House,” one of the largest mansions in Tchula, set on an 18th-century plantation complete with slave quarters. Before entering college, Carthan attended two private boarding schools: Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and Piney Woods—the latter founded in Mississippi in 1909 by an African-American minister, Laurence Clifton Jones.

In Delta Rising, Carthan describes Minister Jones, with a proud, articulate southern twang, as “an African American with $3.17 [in his pocket], a bible, and a dream to educate black people.” Despite the murderous threats of Klansmen, Jones’s Piney Woods school was established in a desperately poor section of rural Rankin County, under the shade of a cedar tree, with the students using a fallen log as a desk. The story goes that Jones delivered a sermon so powerful that members of the Klan actually “took up a collection” to help establish the school, and by the end of its fifth year, Piney Woods received a charter from the governor of Mississippi. In the 1920s, Piney Woods began a separate division for blind students. The school followed the example of other black institutions of higher learning such as Fisk, Hampton and Tuskegee; it is where five members of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi would meet in the early ’30s and, soon thereafter, form a gospel quartet.

The secret history of the Mississippi Delta is its real history—one often overshadowed by mainstream images of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and a black/white racial divide. “These forgotten histories,” Wilks insists, “are a paradigm for larger issues [in America], and it takes projects like Delta Rising to bring attention to them once again.” He and Chong braided into Delta Rising the interrelated stories of other notable Mississippians: Toni Seawright, the first African-American Miss Mississippi to compete in the Miss America beauty pageant; E’Dena Hines, the granddaughter of the actor Morgan Freeman and a successful MFA acting candidate at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; and Virginia Wing, a Chinese-American actress born in Marks, Miss., whose great uncle became a successful Delta businessman at the beginning of the 20th century despite both the efforts of white Mississippi planters to replace post–Civil War black labor with Chinese labor and the legal barriers created by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (the first U.S. law to exclude immigrants on the basis of race).

Another performer/participant in Delta Rising was Gene Dattel, born in Greenwood, Miss., in 1944. His grandfather fled Latvia to escape Eastern European pogroms and avoid being drafted into the Russian army. After arriving in the U.S. via Ellis Island, Dattal’s family became part of a burgeoning culture of Jewish immigrants. Dattel told the story of the first Jewish synagogue built in Clarksdale in 1912: “It became a town affair. The lumber company donated lumber. The sheriff’s office donated free prison labor. Citizens who planned to run for office made cash donations. The Torah arrived on the 3 p.m. train at the railroad depot and was passed from hand to hand by anyone willing to pay $100 for the honor. The local colored band led the parade.”

Less than five months after ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ opened on Broadway in March of 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American from Chicago who was vacationing in Money, Miss. (a small town in the Delta, eight miles north of Greenwood), stopped at Bryant’s grocery store, owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, to buy some candy. Till—the cousin of Shermel Carthan’s mother, as it was revealed in Delta Rising—was accused that day of “whistling” at the 21-year-old Carolyn. Several days later, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, along with Carolyn Bryant, abducted Till from his great uncle Moses Wright’s home, beat him, undressed him, shot him, tied a 70-pound cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River near Glendora, Miss. When the missing boy’s disappearance was investigated, Bryant and Milam admitted that they had taken the boy from his great uncle’s yard but claimed that after a talking-to they had let him go.

Till’s nude body was discovered tied with the fan, his genitalia hacked away, his facial features too distorted to positively identify his remains. According to Till’s mother, the sheriff called for an immediate burial “because he knew it wouldn’t be good for the state of Mississippi for the people to see what had happened.” The grave of Till was dug and his body was about to be placed in the ground when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, rallied to have Chicago officials demand that the state of Mississippi return her son’s body. At an open-casket funeral in Illinois, the corpse was photographed by the press: The boy’s right eye was missing; he had a broken nose and a bullet wound to the head. Fifty thousand people attended the funeral in Illinois. Although Bryant and Milam were indicted for the kidnapping and murder, an all-white jury deliberated for a little more than an hour and found the men not guilty. Following the trial, and after photos of the mutilated corpse were published in Jet magazine, Milam and Bryant confessed to killing Till in a story in Look magazine (published in January 1956), for which they were paid $4,000.

That same month, Baby Doll, another Tennessee Williams–authored project set in the Mississippi Delta, opened in movie houses across the country. The film’s trailer announced that it was filmed on location in Benoit, Miss., with “real live Mississippi extras.” The residents of Benoit who appeared in the film with spoken lines were white; those who were black appeared sitting silently, grinning underneath a tree, except when they were called upon to break out in song .

Meanwhile, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof closed on Broadway in November 1956, one year and two months after the Till trial.

“Did Emmett Till ever really exist?” one reporter asked rhetorically in an Associated Press article published Nov. 16, 1955, soon after the acquittal of the accused killers. “Or is this little Negro boy only a figment of the imagination? What the state of Mississippi has done, in substance, is twice to deny the existence of Emmett Till.” The reporter, Inez Robb, concluded: “Until the streets of its cities and the cabins of its sharecroppers are safe for all its children, a large segment of the nation must echo the cry—What kind of a land do we live in?”

The Till tragedy is well known today as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, one that brought attention not only to the Mississippi Delta but to the brutality of race oppression in the Jim Crow South. Based on numerous interviews over the past decade with Till’s family, teachers, classmates and eye-witnesses to the 1955 slaying, Ifa Bayeza’s jazz-infused play The Ballad of Emmett Till was developed in the Goodman’s New Stages Series as well as at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s 2007 National Playwrights Conference. The Till case has spawned several documentaries, books and other theatre projects over the years, including, most recently, solo performer Michael Wiley’s touring play Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till , now being filmed by Mississippi Public Television. Robert Falls, the Goodman’s artistic director, said that the subject of Till in Bayeza’s play allows us to “examine our own lives and actions through the prism of an epoch-defining moment in history.”

Speaking from Chicago, Bayeza says of her play, “I was drawn to Emmett and he to me. He walked in, planted his feet, took over the lead and took me on a journey. Emmett’s story is the story of of Every Black Boy, much like Huck Finn came to symbolize every American Boy—the difference being that the black male child’s journey into manhood has been frequently blighted. My play is a universal coming-of-age drama about the aborted quest of the boy-hero to become a man. I believe it has a singificance beyond the temporal.

“From the beginning,” Bayeza continues, “the narrative of Emmett Till has had a mythic impact that has resonated through the decades. On the the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was thinking about Emmett’s mother’s decision to have an open casket. Both gestures reflect the role of ordinary people and the valor of individual black women in the coming struggle.” Bayeza cites the examples of Fannie Lou Hamer and Muhammad Ali. Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper, had spotted one of the Milam brothers, perhaps Emmett’s alleged murderer, among the sheriff’s deputies who confronted her when she tried to register to vote. In that moment, Hamer “decided to become an activist, and that decision took her all the way to the 1964 National Democratic Convention, which brought the Dixiecrat cabal to an end,” says Bayeza. Ali, who is the same age as Emmett would have been today, hurled stones at an Uncle Sam poster he found in a train station in an act of protest upon hearing of his murder. Julian Bond, Cleveland Sellers and many other activists who came of age in that time credit the Till case with their political awakening. The spontaneous outpouring of grief of the thousands of mourners who lined the streets of Chicago for the viewing of Emmett’s body foreshadowed the nonviolent protests and mass gatherings that became the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement.

Over 10 years in the making, The Ballad of Emmett Till began as a one-act and was expanded into a full-length play in what the author calls four “movements.” Bayeza first presented excerpts of Emmett Till at the Arna Bontemps African American Museum in Alexandria, La., where she was named the 2003 Arna Bontemps Centennial Scholar, then debuted the first movement of the play in a public staged reading at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky. Staged by Sue Lawless, the play-in-progress was then presented as part of the Juneteenth Legacy New Plays Festival, also in Louisville, and went on to a September ’05 reading at the Fountain Theatre of Los Angeles, directed by John Wesley—who appeared as Moses in the Goodman’s production.

Emmett Till was also selected in 2005 by Brown University’s Rites and Reason Theatre and Providence Black Repertory Company as the inaugural project for RPM Mainstage, a new-play development partnership, and Bayeza began a six-month residency at Brown to develop the full-length version. The first staged reading of all four movements happened at Providence Black Rep in March ’06, directed by the late Marsha Z. West.

Emmett Till is structured, Bayeza says, as “a jazz integration of past and present, the living and dead, factual accounts and creative interpolation.” The first movement explores the intimate relationship between a mother and her only son. The second traces Till’s coming of age during the apogee of 20th-century American racism, resulting in his abduction and murder. The third movement integrates the trial of his murderers with the “trials that [Till’s] family must face in seeking justice and his soul’s effort to come to grips with what has happened”—a “crucifixion,” as Bayeza depicts it. The final movement, “Daylight,” conjures Till as a Christ-like figure facing death, resurrection and eventual ascension. In her notes for the play, Bayeza describes these four movements as “concentric—from a duet of mother and son…to a septet of the family…to the full ensemble chorus of the public trials, returning again to the duet in the final movement.”

In one scene, as Till arrives in the Delta, Bayeza poignantly writes about the teenager’s internal observation of the land before him. Till says:

Mississippi!… The delta,
far as the eye can see.
Flat fertile, serene. Emerald ocean,
white caps of cotton. Sweat sittin’ on you
like skin. What else could you ask for?

Bayeza’s story unfolds as a recitative of sensory experiences befalling an urban teenager who’s never been to the rural South. “He is the urban descendant of an agricultural South experiencing culture shock,” according to a Variety review of the Goodman production. “Absolutely the funniest moments come with Emmett trying to learn to pick cotton and kill a chicken.” Bayeza employs an impressionistic style to write about history, race and the segregated South, as opposed to simply reporting the facts. Like a series of conceptual photographs of life and death, the interplay of safety and danger come into focus according to the viewer’s abstract or literal interpretation of experiences; the play closes with the boy’s “broken body standing upright, naked, crippled, blood-soaked, maimed” as (according to the stage directions) “the future assembles.” Emmett’s ascension is portrayed as a reunification of mother and son.

Bayeza’s use of sound and imagery to capture an event that famously defined for a nation the Mississippi Delta and the stain left by its connotation almost directly responds to a statement about form made by Williams in his introduction to The Glass Menagerie : “Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance.”

Williams’s view—a kind of postmodernist approach to representing life through a subjective, idealized romantic lens—champions what Bayeza’s imagination in The Ballad of Emmett Till similarly allows: a re-photographing of time and place that, once removed from the immediacy of its history, offers a deeper and more in-depth analysis of it. As Delta Rising ensemble member E’Dena Hines, who took part in a New York reading of Emmett Till two years ago at the New Federal Theatre, puts it, Bayeza’s play “brought to life a people and a time I had never spent time thinking about. Ifa gave a voice to this silenced moment in history. The fluidity of the story and the influence of music made for a great piece of theatrical history.”

However, others see Bayeza’s impressionistic approach less sympathetically. A Time Out Chicago critic wrote, “If Bayeza’s script hewed closer to lean docudrama than misty sketches laced with false, we-survived-this triumphalism, or if its one fearless dramatic element—a brutal recreation of Till’s slaughter by male relatives of the white woman Till allegedly whistled at—were the show’s centerpiece rather than a last-minute, guilt-inducing sneak attack, this ballad would resonate. Instead, it just makes you wish Emmett Till had a better literary executor.” But demanding that the playwright refrain from iconic, poetic impressionism as a mode of revisiting atrocity is to ask the artist not to magnify the event or historical circumstances that inspired the play—it is like demanding that George Bernard Shaw not use the trials of Joan of Arc to speak to the author’s socialist, humanitarian goals, or that Brecht refrain from converting his eponymous protagonist in Saint Joan of the Stockyards into an icon of Marxist principles in Weimar-era Germany. If the play based on The Diary of Anne Frank had not abstracted the character of Frank as a saintly, sentimental martyr of the Holocaust in order to promote democracy, the lessons of her tragedy may well have been lost on the audiences of the McCarthy era in which the play was first presented.

Whatever her ultimate aims, Bayeza’s depiction of Till, like Tennessee Williams’s and Talvin Wilks’s and Ping Chong’s delineation of the Delta, remains true to the memory of a subjective eye. For Bayeza, Till as a character evokes the protagonist of “sacred dramas, such as the pageant plays of early Christianity.” “Till’s was a spiritually based family, and his story is replete with Christian metaphor,” says Bayeza.

In Delta Rising, meanwhile, the cast members ask each other, “What does the Delta mean to you?” The answer: an amalgam of experiences, sights, sounds and tastes—soy sauce chicken, black-eyed peas; an African-American beauty queen’s refusal to allow a white racist’s public dismissal of her to impact her own triumphant moment; the confusion of a little Chinese girl when bowed to by an older black male; the accidental drowning of that same little girl’s brother, which forever impacted the woman she would become.

In deference to Williams, whose own insight had adhered to an era of social blindness, it must be acknowledged that he crafted plays with a poet’s prophetic ear for the transcendence of the time and space in which the text was written. One might imagine that an African-American Maggie, when speaking to her husband Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is also speaking to her author as well as to the play’s speechless black characters when she warns: “When something is festering in your memory or your imagination, laws of silence don’t work, it’s just like shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is burning. But not facing a fire doesn’t put it out. Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence, becomes malignant.”


Afro-Mexican History in Dramatic and Lyric Verse

The following text was commissioned by the Tribeca Performing Arts Center and Montclair State University. After a period of research I wrote this regarding African maroon colonies in Mexico and Afro-Mexican history. It combines lecture, poetry and libretto intended for dance and music. YANGA premiered at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, directed and choreographed by Anita Gonzalez with original music by Cooper-Moore.

Revolutionary African Slave in Mexico near Veracruz around 1570 who built a small free colony of indigenous and African people. For more than 30 years it grew, partially surviving by capturing caravans bringing goods to Veracruz. However, in 1609 the Spanish colonial government set itself to regain control of the territory. Eventually, he was able to a treaty between his renegades and the Spaniards, resulting in an area of self-rule with the additional proviso that only Franciscan priests would tend to the people, and Yanga's family would be granted the right of rule. Finally, in 1630, the town of Yanga, Veracruz was officially established. It remains to this day. Five decades after Mexican independence Yanga was made a national hero of Mexico by the diligent work of Vicente Riva Palacio.

La Malinche
(aka Malintzin, Malinali or Doña Marina) a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast. She was sold into slavery by her mother and eventually wound up the slave of Hernán Cortés . She would later become his secretary, interpreter, and played an active and powerful role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She was also a mistress to Cortés and gave birth to his first son, Don Martin- Commendador of The Military Order of St. James who is considered one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry). In Mexico today, La Malinche remains iconically potent. She is understood in various and often conflicting aspects, as the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim or simply as symbolic mother of the new Mexican people. She is often known by the pejorative term La Chingada ("the violated one"). The term malinchista refers to a disloyal Mexican. Daughter of an Aztec Nobleman, she was sold into slavery by her mother.

Bishop Bartoleme de las Casas
First Bishop of Chiapas; Spanish colonist in Mexico, priest, scholar, historian and 16th century human rights advocate for the rights of native peoples. He was in part responsible for the repeal of the laws which allowed the Indians to be used in what amounted to slave labor gangs. This was the econmienda system. Government officials were willing to go along with this attempt to end the system for they feared that a new class of feudal lords would arise in the colonies. The Spanish colonists were outraged at this interference. Las Casas attempted to set up a colony on the coast of Venezuala where the native people would be treated properly. It failed largely because of the bad example set by the colony's neighbors. Because of pressures from the colonists, the encomienda system was restored. Las Casas returned to Spain and was eventually able to bring about the great debate of 1550 in the Spanish capital of Valladolid between Las Casas and the advocate for the colonists Juan Gines de Sepulveda. He influenced the French essayist Montaigne's views about the new world.who petitioned for the liberty of Indian Slaves while advocating the importation of African Slaves.

The Chronicler
Academic Lecturer.

Masked Characters (Slaves/ Maroon Warriors)

Solemn procession begins. The chant resounds. Yanga is still and silent. The line is lead by the Chronicler, who carries books, papers, several objects and instruments. La Malinche is among the evangelists and those who sing. The Enmascados, carrying the corpse of Hernán Cortés, sing as they enter.


Oh Bounty of Export
Holy Holy
Rich cargo packed
in the bottom
Holy Holy
Our God Almighty

Premium expenditure
cacao, honey,
wax, copal

Holy Holy
pelts of Jaguar
soft pelts of flesh-

Oh Holy
sweet sugar waters

Our Lady of Mercy
Blessed Virgin

soft pelts of flesh
fruit of your

Open, open
ripe and moist
rich expenditure

All things blessed
Traffic of Mulattoes
Navigation of the
Yucatan & Tabasco
Mestizos Junkies

ruby eyed addiction
for beans
and skins

Virgin cacao
dew wet soft
pulpy softness

Mestizos Junkies

luxury of
freshly picked

Holy Holy
God Almighty

feast of leg and arms
roasted gingerly
on wooden spits
sauteed Criados Bozales

by God's divine constitution
by God's divine anointing
by the Virgin menstrual sacrament
by the Holy birth of Jesus

all Negros

and muscle
and breast
and uterus
washed in blood
vertebrae by vertebrae

for heaven's stolen
stolen from these
mountains of
Negros Bozales
for fist
for teeth
for gums
for lips
for spit
for tongue

O hail our
Holy Mother
full of
Holy Grace
O hail our
Holy Son
Holy Ghost

O Hail
white Bird
on the
white head
this Holy charge

Castillian laborer
Y gente negra
en Mexico
Exclavos Negros

fitted by
by constitution

among the hedges
of the Heathens
O Blessed
and Bountiful beautiful
The Yucatan
The Andes
to obedience
these and some


(at the lectern, mid-speech as the corpse is moved from place to place)

Cortes, the much heralded Spanish Explorer died and was laid to rest in the family vault in 1547...yes...uh...Fifteen years later, his son, Don Martin...uh...had the body moved to New Spain where Cortes was laid to rest...yes...next we find...next to his wife....Dona Catalina. The corpse was moved fifty two years later to the...uh...church of St. Francis. One hundred and sixty five years later (1794)...uh...his remains would be moved again to the Hospital Of Jesus of Nazareth where they were placed in a crystal coffin secured by bars and plates of silver, surmounted by a bust of the Conquistador. Twenty nine years later...uh...to dissuade zealots from breaking into the tomb and scattering the ashes...the corpse of Cortes...his remains were moved again. Today, the whereabouts of his remains are unknown.CortesAfrican. Mexican. Afro-Mexican. Afro Mexican. Mexican people of African ancestry. African Mexicans of the coastal regions of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Veracruz, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatán. About 200,000 Africans were brought to Mexico during the time of the Spanish Empire. When the Spaniards first arrived in Mesoamerica, they brought with them African slaves for labor. The decline of the Amerindian population and the Pope's prohibition against...uh...Amerindians...prompted the importation of slave labor from Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, the Congo, Angola. During the colonial period, Spaniards prohibited marriage between the two races in order to discourage alliances. Africans soon outnumbered Europeans in certain areas, and the Spanish implemented many tactics to ensure that they remained the dominant racial group in Mesoamerica. In the early days of the colonial period, slavery was very harsh, and lead to rebellions. In 1609 there was a black rebellion in Veracruz, lead by Gaspar Yanga and Francisco de la Matosa. After fierce battles, Yanga came to negotiate a peace with the viceroy Luis de Velasco. A black community, called "San Lorenzo", later renamed Yanga, was founded and still exists; a free African village in Nacimiento, Coahuila and a few villages along the Texas-Mexico border were also populated with Indio Africans, from which line Vicente Guerrero, Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican army during the last years of the independence war with Spain, is descended, later becoming President and a fierce abolitionist of African slavery. Guerrerro not only had African and Indigenous blood but is descended from the Asians as well. It is well known that an estimated 100,000 Asians were brought to Mexico in slavery on the Manila to Acapulco galleons. The Asians were labeled "African" because the Spanish wanted more slaves, and by law only Africans could be slaves. Most of the Asians did come from places where people were dark, such as Malaysia, and the southern Filipine Islands, including the island of Negros, so named because the Negritos who lived there. During the periods of African slavery, many Africans escaped to the mountains and formed what are known as “maroon” colonies, or palenques, composed of African males, Indigenous women and their mongrel off-spring. Many Afro-Mexicans make their homes along the coastal regions of Huatulco in Oaxaca...Coyolillo in Veracruz. In Mexico, African cultural practices and traditions can still be found. El Ciruelo, Costa Chica southeast of Acapulco...Guerrero... The climate is very hot. Playa Ventura and Punta Maldonado in Guerrero. Their tribes vary. The Amuzgos...the Tlapanecos and Chatinos. Cerro del Indio 608, Cuajinicuilapa 8932, Maldonado 892, Montecillos 893, El Pitahayo 2365, Punta Maldonado 1110, San Nicolás 3275, El Cacalote 119, Cerro de las Tablas 255, Copala 6540, Azoyú 4244, Banco de Oro 164, Barra de Tecoanapa 1024, Huehuetán 1827, Juchitán 2846...El Ciruelo 2397, Collantes 2325, Santa María Chicometepec 1477, Corralero 1597, Cerro de la Esperanza 1058, Lagunillas 495, El Azufre 451, Chacahua 714, Charco Redondo 444, El Lagartero 91, Llano Grande 260, Zapotalito 829, Morelos 2028, Lagunillas 69, Santo Domingo Armenta 2739, Lagunillas 129, Callejón de Rómulo 541, Santiago Tapextla 1566, Llano Grande 1065, Mártires de Tacubaya 839, San José Estancia Grande 916, Santa María Cortijo 968...Slave rebellions have their origin almost as early as the introduction of the slave trade in the Americas. Cuban slaves, for instance, rebelled from the very beginning and were severely punished. According to the records of Governor Manuel de Rojas, dated 1553, several slaves were captured in the mines of Jobabo, dismembered and their heads planted on stakes. As early as the 15th century in Santo Domingo on the sugar plantation of Admirel Diego Colon, many of the rebels were hanged. Spaniards also sent many African slaves from Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Cuba to the mainland territories of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Neuva Granada and Venezuela. In Lima a rebellion ensued when a fleet approached the Peruvian coast. In the era of colonial Mexico, between 1519 and 1650, as many as 120, 000 African slaves were employed, a response to the labour shortage and the decline of the Indian population. Many insurrections ensued and occasionally it was thought that insurrections were warnings from God that man had sinned against human nature by enslaving Negroes. Nonetheless the Hispanization of negroes was relatively successful. In Mexico, one negro from Angola called Yanga who lead a maroon colony for over thirty years. It is recorded that in his settlement he had some sixty huts housing approximately eighty adult males, twenty four Negro and Indian women, and an undetermined number of children. The settlement was essentially a war camp, but as a colony they had employed certain techniques for survival which are of keen interest. No doubt many of their survival techniques were learned on slave plantations and in the exchange of information with indigenous peoples. The extant of such adaptations of maroon colonies is not widely known and yet there is some record existent of the horticulture and economies of those renegade colonies lead by Africans and Indian tribes in Spanish territories, specifically in what we now know as Mexico, Here I offer a list of cultigens such as chile, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, sugar cane, dry rice, maize, groundnuts, tobacco, cotton, etc. To make their settlement, the maroons of Yanga’s village planted many seedlings and cultivated gardens, creating a community of sorts whereby they could be independent, and were also adapt at hunting and fishing. Even butter was made from fat and the pistachio nut and the pine tree did afford them lumber for building dwellings and from beeswax and oil were able to make candles for light...honey was used as was . Hereupon we shall look. Uh...yes.


(As she is raped)

My face burns against the rock
of the great market.
Singed fragments of a girl.
To become a woman
I am scattered across the earth
and planted beneath its layers.
To become a woman
I lay wait in harvest.
To become a woman,
I stand beside the rock and burn
nipples hard against soft swells
where fear resides
cupped in the hands of the Priests
Who are as naked me...

I am covered in bruises.
Claiming land.
Their land.
They are all as naked as me.
Praying to the assailant
their God.
And their God is naked.
As naked as a girl
who is about to become a woman.
He is bleeding for the first time,
like the girl
in the hands of the assailant
in the hands of the priests.
All covered in blood
the color of vermilion.
Smeared across the terrain
of my face.
Smeared with Holy hands.

I am bruised.
God is bruised.

Only the priests
bruise themselves
with daily ablutions and vigils.

I am virgin.
God is virgin.
Only the priests
have wives and children
and Aborigine concubines.

I am starving.
God is starving.
Only the priests
fast by will.

I am pierced.
God is pierced.
Only the priests
cut themselves
with the thorns of aloe.

To become a woman,
you must
learn the language
of the marauder.
You must dawn
gay apparel and sing
and dance in the market place
of Azcapozalco.

All Holy...divine...
My blood is nothing...
All Holy...divine...
My beauty is ugliness...



The bride
she is veiled and wreathed
in flowers and strings of stones
from the aqueduct.
Pearls in her teeth for you.
The halls have been scented
with perfumes of desire.
Come to the maiden's chambers.
Her courts are crowded with
herbs and flowers.
The guests endowed with gifts.
The banquet table is dressed
in cotton and ewers of wine.
The men have purged fine tobacco.
The women have packed the leaves
into hand carved pipes.
The young men have fashioned
pipes of tortoise and silver.
The young women have mixed
the leaves with herbs
Take it into your mouth.
Take it into your breathing.
Come in
Breath in
Pulverized leaf
root and herb

So many
will visit your eyes

Come to the banquet table
There is meat and game
vegetables and fruits
from our hills
laden in delicate sauces
We will regale your palate
with confections
and maize and sugar
Beyond to the fire that burns
In the bellies of our women
Our women are plump and naked
Without veils
Come to the banquet table
There is an ornament at its center
Your roasted head

(at the lectern, mis-speech)

La Malinche, born in Paineila, now called Vera Cruz, in the province of Coatzacualco. She was one of twenty Aztec virgins given to Cortes by Tabascan slave traders. She is not like the others. She is the only child of a wealthy Aztec nobleman who died when she was very young. Her mother gave her daughter's inheritance to the son she'd never had. The son sired by her second husband. When one of the mother's slaves died, she replaced the corpse with the warm body of her daughter La Malinche .The merchant traders sold La Malinche to the noblemen of Tabasco. The noblemen of Tabasco delivered La Malinche to the Spaniards. The Spaniards offered her to Cortes. She speaks many languages. Cortes employed her first as his translator, then as his secretary, then as his mistress...and from between her would come the Mulatto bastard son of Cortes...Don Martin...Commendador of the military of St. James. What better reason to liberate the Indian slave? Fragility finds itself gracing her frame...a womb as rich as the island soil, tongue prime for cultivating.


Chief Hatuey was tied to a tree.
Chief Hatuey was tied to a tree
to be burned.
Chief Hatuey was tied to a tree
to be burned
in the land where he had been born and so revered.
Chief Hatuey was asked by the mestizos to
purse his lips and turn his tongue
to speak
Chief Hatuey was given a chance
by fire
and it was promised him
according to
Holy papers
that he would
receive the reward of land
where he
had not been born
and yet so revered.
Chief Hatuey was tied to a tree to be
burned to purse his lips and
turn his tongue to speak
Jesus for the sake of heaven.
Chief Hatuey asked
Will my assailants be
this Heaven?'
If it is so
Then I will not
want to go
where I
find men so cruel


Beautiful! Beautiful!
Indian creature!
Tropical fruit.
Her hair is black.
Her eyes are black.
But her skin is not
as black as ugliness.
Her golden shoes
and golden shawl
as beautiful as the hills
Indian creature!


It was my mother who
passed me between her thighs.
who bled me out.
Blood of my blood.
Who set me to work.
who snatched my father's legacy
from the palm of my hands
who sold me.
I was made sweet for strange kisses.
My wounds were seasoned with bitters
I was small and fragile
Do not judge me.
There are no statues of me.
What will they know?
That I spoke the languages of the assailant?
That to survive I lay open to more than one man?
That I betray the woman who warned me of the Chieftans?
The Chieftans ordered the death of the Spaniards with whom I dwell.
My head would also have been staked upon a rod.
Will they remember my legs held into the air?
Will they remember my face pushed into the earth?
Will they remember my hair wet across my mouth?
Will they know my mother’s secret?
Will they know my father's death?
Will they receive my half brother's inheritence?
Hernan, he came into me without the threat of death.
Hernan he came into me without the threat of enslavement
Do not judge me.

Thirty three years, the life span of their Jesus.
Thirty three years I have been running
against the air.
My pupils travel blindly
So as not give off light
from beneath the lids.
I have buried myself beneath the soil
and lay still while creatures feed from my hide
and assume me dead...
The blood they suck is mine.
Still warm...
My ears are where they lay their eggs..
My mouth is a cavern for insects
I do not move my tongue
Or spit or chew for fear of being heard.
I am a house of insects
I move beneath the dust
Lay low.
I bow and kiss the earth's carrion.
I whisper prayers to a familiar mountain.
I drink my urine for salt.
I call on the Gods of my virtue.
I give thanks.
I am quiet by the sugar mill.
I am silent by the silver mines.

My body holds the seed of the Conquistadors.
My tongue twists with their language.
I am called diplomat.
I am called traitor.
I am a bridge for access.
I know the way.
This thing I carry
I will not kill it.
I will carry it with me.
It will be my gift.
It will be he
He who will inherit a father.
He who will not know his mother.
He who will not be born a woman.
He who will be a viceroy.
He who will speak more languages than I have known.
He who will not know shackles.

Will he know that I was netted?
Will he know my skin dressed in sun?
Will he know the winds at night?
Will he know your shame?
Will he wear your medallions?
All the great rivers are resting.
I am priced at three hundred.
You are priced at twenty.
Will he know how to count?

He will be free...

By night they came with a furious impetus - they wounded fifteen, two of them died. We killed as many Mexicans as we could, and they still came with combined forces. At dawn, fearlessly surrounding us on two sides, when it pleased our lord Jesus Christ , all Holy to give us strength, all things blessed, we sheltered ourselves with launches, with a good cut and thrust and they, advancing shoulder to shoulder, ninety three days we had combat every day and every every night. Bbringing with them five bloody heads on sticks, which they claimed among them to be La Malinche's, and sounding a cursed drum, the most accursed sound, most dismal, diabolical and unholy making great fires/, uttering loud yells and whistles with stones and arrows. God has given us this victory in everything. Our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we believe and may God pardon the unholy savages. Cortes. All holy. Sandoval. All Holy Pedro de Alvarado/. Holy Trinity. Advancing. Dona Marina cursed mother, virgin whore lifted up. They are advancing. The savages drink brackish water! We break and destroy their idols and burn the barricades. We wish to conquer kindly. We are advancing and setting oratories on fire and burning idols. We place our banners. The vessel of Ponce de Leon lands in Veracruz/ Drawing the wretched into the plaza. We spear some by afternoon. The wretched come to our camp, seeking firewood and herbs and roots and food. Their canals are filled with blood. We advanced/ falling upon the wretches now numbering 800 dead. Those canoeing for fish, we catch and kill. Those asleep in houses we set on fire. On the day of the festival of the Apostle Santiago, the miserable creatures, thin and afflicted, dying of hunger, pitiful, come advancing. We advance against them. We now count our slaughter. We number 12,000 dead on the thriteenth day of August at the time of vespers on the day of Senor San Hipolito in the year one thousand five hundred and twenty one, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ and our Lady the Virgin Santa Maria His blessed mother with thanks to our Lady of Crypts and unmarked graves. Blessed. Blessed. Blessed. Blessed all and everyone. “

We find that the African slave and the multi-racial Indian and mulattoes composed the labor gangs mining for silver in order to pay for the upkeep of Spanish bureaucracies in the new land; the viceroys, the judges of the audencia , the legions of clerks, the friars and parish priests. Silver reimburses the crown for the cost of naval escorts. Despute massive importations of slaves to fulfill labor demands in sugar plantations and mines,a century of depression incurred. The economy revived only after the growth of the laboring population. In Mexico City Spaniards numbered about 72,000, Indians numbered about 80,000, Africans and mulattoes numbered about 10,000. Mestizos - who ran the gamut of skin color made up the rest...Vercruz, the oldest city and the chief port of New Spain, lay on the Gulf of Mexico. Hot and muggy most of the year, it came completely alive when the Holy fleet from Spain dropped Holy anchor in its beautiful harbor, arriving with money to spend. Incoming viceroys, archbishops, and diverse royal dignitaries . All Holy Cortes introduced the first African slaves - mostly of Islamic faith, hailing fom the western Sudan, the Congo, the Gulf of Guinea. We find that Spanish slavery dates back to the 8th Century when Christians and Moors enslaved their captives. Spaniards also enslaved Indians. As many as 200,000 Indians. Slaves were numbered in the year 1542 - the date which abolished INdian slavery. By 1650, about 120,000 Africans were imported - maybe 130,000, by the end of the colonial year. Because African men outnumbered their women by two to one, many took Indians for their wives. Their offspring were labeled "Zambos." They. as well as the mulattos (children of Spanish fathers and African mothers) eventually exceeded the "pure" African. By the end of the colony, mulattos and diverse African castes formed 10 percent of the total population. This is also true of most Caribbean islands where modern day Hispanics exist like Puerto Rico where the Negro came to constitute a strong racial element in the colonization of Puerto Rico ( Please read "Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History by Arturo Morales Carron). Negros there were introduced into Puerto Rico from the beginning of colonization. As the indigenous population dwindled, the negros came to supply the labor for mining and agriculture - and soon the most important asset in developing the sugar industry. By 1531, the Spanish population numbered 426. White inhabitants were scarce in the second half of the 17th century - San Juan numbered around 820. In 1673, but small pox, measles, and spotted fever claimed the lives of hjalf the number of whites between 1689 and 1690. However, prior to that, in 1531, the African slave population increased by leaps and bounds. The census indicates 2,264 slaves that year. Foreigners even smuggled in unlicensed slaves. By 1846, the African slave population of new imports reached slightly over 51,000. Not to digress, but it makes any argument for "white latinos" in Caribbean ports like Mexico and Puerto Rico and Santa Domingo, (who built sugar mills worked by African slaves during the sixteenth century) Brazil, etc. etc. etc. - ridiculous - since most of these lands were originally populated by Indians and were forced to co-exist and reproduce with Spaniards and Africans - thus creating a mixed race of people largely unidentifiable by blood. Back to Mexico. Mexico, Africans did not take kindly to slaveryt and in one protest in Veracruz in 1735, they had to be....put down....by rifles.
They enriched the culture of New Spain in music and dance. The Marimba is a m,usical instrument so much a part of Veracruz and the Chiapas and the jarabe and the sones are of African descent - now traditional Mexican dances. Shall I sing for you now???


Nine Kings
A handful of reeds
hands holding reeds and arrows
Hummingbird with a head
of feathers.
Smoking shield with curls
rising-the Obsidian serpent,
blades along its back
my angry Lord
a diedem worn by Him,
archer of skies
piercing arrow, heaven
a bloody leg
and the last child...
who was the first King...
soon to return.

Al Fatihah
Bismillahir rahmanir rahim
Alhamdu lillahi rabbil alamin
arrahmanir rahim
maliki yawmiddin
Iyyaka na' budu wa iyyaka nasta'in
Ihdinis siratal mustaqim
siratalladhina an'amta 'alaihim
gharil maghbudi alaihim wa laddallin

In the name of Allah, the most merciful
the most kind, all praise for Allah
The Lord of the worlds, the most
Merciful, the most kind
Master of the
day of judgement, you alone we worship
and you alone we ask for help.
Guide us along the straight waYANGA
The way of those whom you have
and not of those who earn your anger
nor of those who go astray.


An Nas
Bismillahir rahmanir rahim
qul a'udhu birabbin nas
Malikin nas. Ilahin nas
Min sharril waswasil khannas.
Alladhi yuwaswisu fi sudurinnas.
Minal jinnati wannas.

In the name of Allah, the most
merciful , the most knd.
Say, I seek refuge in the Lord
of mankind.
The king of mankind.
The God of mankind.
From the mischief
of the
sneaking whisperer
who whispers in the hearts
of mankind,
from among Jinn and mankind.


Bismillahir rahmanar rahim
Qul ya ayyuhal kafirun
La abudu ma Ta'budun
Wa la antum abiduna ma a'bud
Wa la ana abidum ma abadtum
Wa la antum abiduna ma a'bud
La kum dinukum walia din.

In the name of Allah,
The most merciful, the most kind
Say, O Disbelievers!
I do not worship what you worship.
Nor do you worship what I worship.
I shall never worship what you worship.
Neither you worship what I worship.
You have your own religion
and I have mine.


Holy women
Women, divine nature
throughout the ages
in the year of our Lord, 1531
the Virgin Mary appeared
at the hill of Tepeyacac
Ancient sacred place
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
They say it was Mary
The mother of Jesus
At The Hill Of Tepeyacac

That was not your Virgin
you saw roming the hills of
sacred places
she would not know the way
to travel, she would not
understand the songs coming from
the mouths of ancients
buried beneath our holy cape...
Her unvarnished body is too pure
for such a place, her back too white-
her hands too soft,
the rocks on that sacred hill
would rend the tissue beneath her feet
had she romed there... no,
that was not
your Santa Maria
that was Maria Congo you saw there
that was Maria Angola you saw there
that was Magdelena Criollo you saw there
that was Ana Bran Mulatta you saw there
that was Catallina Ladinos Bozales you saw there
that was Our Lady Maria Negra Esclava you saw there
Restricted from gold and pearls
and silks
with no trim of velvet
She was dressed in coarse wool,
her feet danced after sunset,
her voice grated against moonlight
her shoulders were strong in the Puebla-
her head faced water
her lover resides in water forever
her son resides in water forever
her father resides in water forever
they are drifting
toward her
her eye is looking for
Diego and Juan and Manuel still...
For Muhammed and Abdoul still
She is singing Selah, Allah,
She is singing Selah, Allah



In eternal servitude
and humble submission
to the Holy Roman Emperor
King of the Romans, Italy
And Spain, Archduke of Austria
Titular Duke of Burgundy
And with the blessing
Of His Holiness
Pope Paul III's
Who did decree the Sublimis Deus
And declared the enemy of the human race
All who opposes all good deeds in order
to bring men to destruction,
beholding and envying this,
invented a means never before heard of,
by which he might hinder the preaching
of God's word of Salvation to the people:
he inspired his satellites who, to please him,
have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians
of the West and the South, and other people of whom
We have recent knowledge
should be treated as dumb brutes
created for our service,
pretending that they are incapable
of receiving the Catholic Faith.
We, who, though unworthy,
exercise on earth the power of our Lord
and seek with all our might to bring those sheep
of His flock who are outside into the fold
committed to our charge, consider,
however, that the Indians are truly men
and that they are not only capable
of understanding the Catholic Faith
but, according to our information,
they desire exceedingly to receive it.
Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils,
We define and declare by these Our letters,
or by any translation thereof signed by any
notary public and sealed with the seal of
any ecclesiastical dignitary,
to which the same credit shall be given
as to the originals, that, notwithstanding
whatever may have been or may be said
to the contrary, the said Indians
and all other people who may later be discovered
by Christians, are by no means to be deprived
of their liberty or the possession of their property,
even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ;
and that they may and should, freely and legitimately,
enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property;
nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen,
it shall be null and have no effect.
I Bartoleme de las Casas
Bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala
declare all human beings rational beings
with souls and lives herby and forewith
to be protected,
and request the release of those
within my posession.
And the abolition of the endomienda
According to Aristoleian principles
And in this Confesionario
Bartoleme de las Casas
Submit to you
He that is known as God to me
has visited me
early morn in my chambers
shown me a creature caught
in a wooden trap
and thereupon my eyes did mourn.
He that is known as God to me
Did put on my tongue
the taste of torn flesh and split bone
and I bled from my ears.
A thousand winged things
took flight above my head
and the stench of a feasted corpse
filled my chambers
And tho all things were made
whereby anything was made
by Him who is known as God to me
I did not know the origin of these
That hungered to chew dying flesh
I did not know the origin of these
That made such a monstrous sound
and when I thought I would be taken up
in their beaks
As suddenly as they appeared they vanished
And a sweet fragrance filled my nostrils
And music such as I have never heard came into my ears
And light so blinding
It made me weep
Blinded my eyes
And he who is known as God to me
Pulled back the sky
And revealed his breasts
And like a suckling infant I opened
My mouth
To receive his milk
And then it became known to me
that it is God who sustains us and not we ourselves.
That He has made earth and is the author of flesh
And no man should hunt man
No flesh should own flesh
There is no flesh other than He has made
And it became known to me
there is no good to the hunt of his creatures.
Hereupon this day I write to you
And ask the release those slaves within my possession
Who faint and die in this sultry climate.
They are too weak to cultivate the soil.
They are to meek to build our fortress.
I offer only this...
send Castillan and Negroe labourers
to fulfill the mission.
They are course and can withstand.
Surely the same God that prophesied to me
Now speaks to you
Send the Castillan and Negroe labourers
And let the Indians go free.
The African is better suited by constitution
to endure the climate and the toil imposed
upon the feeble and effeminate Aborigine.