Cabeza de Vaca vs. Las Casas

English: Lesson 10

Which book was more memorable, Cabeza de Vaca’s or Las Casas’s?”

Reading these two accounts of the New World was an exciting and incredible read. Not only do the books describe an interesting time in history, but both are filled with adventure and thrilling tales. However, looking back on them I have to say Cabeza de Vaca’s account was a much more enjoyable read and overall more memorable. His advanced writing abilities and observations made the book not just an interesting story, but a very informative book about the New World.

The first thing I notice about both books is Vaca’s and Las Casas’s view of the native Indians and how they react and behave toward Christianity. Both men saw that force and enslavement would not work to convert the Indians to Christianity; in fact, they saw how it made them draw even further away from it. Las Casas’s account had a much better example of this, for time and time again he saw the Indians despise the Spaniards and their Christian God because of how bloodthirsty and awful they were. However, even though Las Casa’s had a better example, I remember more of Vaca’s account of the Indians and how they took to Christianity because of his amazing and miraculous experiences, healing and curing them all in the name of God. The reader does not get an account of how many or who converted to Christianity in Las Casas’s book. In Vaca’s it is detailed throughout the entire book. What makes Vaca’s account even more memorable was that Vaca was nothing but a soldier, yet he was able to do miraculous healings and surgeries on all the sick he came upon.

The second reason that I remember Vaca’s book more than Las Casas’s is that I struggled to read Las Casas’s account. The book itself is hard to understand, and it starts with one terrible tragedy and continues to tell of another. We read of millions of Indians being slaughtered at the hands of the Spaniards. Because there was never a moment of relief or good times mentioned in the story, you start to get accustomed to all the death and torture the book describes. This is unlike Vaca’s book, who although he goes through much hardship and anguish, does not write an ongoing horror story of murder, but includes the few moments of good and happy times he had throughout the journey.

Vaca’s book has another advantage compared to Las Casas’s, and that is the descriptiveness. No matter what Vaca was describing, he took the utmost care to include little details that make the book all the more interesting. The reader learns such interesting things like: how Vaca was able to communicate to the native Indians, how many languages and dialects there were, the kinds of food they ate, and even how many kinds of mosquitoes there were in an area. These little important details make the book become a living picture inside the reader’s head. Vaca had a gift for observing and remembering how different Indian tribes lived and dwelt among one another, how their economy worked, and their views on God. This is something Casas’s book lacks entirely. As each tribe is destroyed or depopulated by the Spaniards, we learn nothing of the differences between the tribes. According to Las Casas, all the Indians were peaceful and did not fight back, or were even capable of fighting back, in the least bit toward the Spaniards. This goes against what Vaca wrote in his book. The Indians might have been peaceful toward the Spaniards, or whoever came across the sea, but they were not incapable of fighting. They were excellent warriors and had mastered the craft of making and wielding a bow and arrow. From Casas’s description, the reader gets the impression that the Indians were very primitive people. Vaca shows that is not the case.

In conclusion, I find that Cabeza de Vaca’s account of the New World to be a much more interesting and memorable read compared to Las Casas’s account. I found Las Casa’s to be very one-sided when it came to the Indians and Spaniards. Not once do we hear of a good Spaniard or a bad Indian, whereas Vaca takes great care to describe the good and bad qualities of both the Indians and Christians. Overall, I am very happy to have had the chance to read two books that record such an interesting time in history.

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