Monarchs of Aragon, 1396-1516
Martin, b. 1356, reigned 1396-1410
Fernando I (son of Martin's sister Eleanor and Juan I of Castile), b. 1380, reigned 1412-1416
Alfons V (son of Fernando I), b. 1396, reigned 1416-1458
Juan II of Aragon (son of Fernando I; brother of Alfons V), b. 1396, reigned 1458-1479
Fernando II (son of Juan II of Aragon), b. 1452, reigned 1479-1516
Monarchs of Castile, 1379-1504
Juan I of Castile, b. 1358, reigned 1379-1390
Enrique III (son of Juan I; older brother of Fernando I of Aragon) b. 1379, reigned 1390-1406
Juan II of Castile (son of Enrique III), b. 1405, reigned 1406-1454
Enrique IV (son of Juan II of Castile), b. 1425, reigned 1454-1474
Isabel, (daughter of Juan II of Castile; half-sister of Enrique IV), b. 1451, reigned 1474-1504
I speak of the power of some people to exploit and abuse others. Through the ages, the less powerful have contributed to the maintenance and expansion of such power: military service as soldiers, labor as taxpayers or slaves. They contributed because they were coerced to do so, because sustaining power offered the promise (sometimes partly delivered) of social order and protection against crime, because the defeat of their oppressor by another threatened even greater oppression, and because they derived some identity and pride from feeling part of the power to which they were subject.
When the primary transfer of power is down genetic lines, power's aim of self-preservation and expansion produces pressure for inbreeding. Thus, for example, Fernando and Isabel were second cousins, both being great-grandchildren of Juan I of Castile and Eleanor of Aragon. Moreover, Isabel was herself the genetic equivalent of the issue of first cousins (her mother's father was a half-brother of her mother's mother's father, and her mother's father's mother was a half-sister of her father's mother). Fernando and Isabel were betrothed to each other in 1457, when he was age 5 and she age 6. They married in 1469, when their respective ages were 17 and 18. Five years after the marriage, in 1474, Enrique IV died, and Isabel claimed the throne of Castile. After some struggle, she succeeded, becoming Queen of Castile, with Fernando as her king. Ten years after the marriage, in 1479, Fernando succeeded to the throne of Aragon, with Isabel as his queen.
To mitigate the inefficiency of coercion, power seeks loyalty -- and nothing works as well as religion for facilitating loyalty to the powerful. Thus, Fernando and Isabel energetically pursued "reconquista" -- the centuries-long project to reconquer all of Iberia from Muslim rule. In their zeal to Christianize and maintain Catholic orthodoxy, they created the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 to identify heretics among converts of Jews and Muslims to Christianity.
These forces produced three Signal Events in the year 1492:
- The armies of Fernando and Isabel defeated the Emirate of Granada, ending Muslim rule in Iberia and finally completing the reconquista.
- Fernando and Isabel issued the Alhambra Decree, ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from Castile, Aragon, their territories and possessions. Already over half of Spain's Jewish population had converted to Christianity. The Decree addressed concern that the presence of practicing Jews might tempt the new converts to revert. The Decree led many more Jews to convert, and to the expulsion of 40,000 - 100,000 Jews unwilling to convert.
- Cristoforo Colombo sailed the ocean blue.
Boda Darmé was not unfamiliar with power. Born 1425 in Barcelona, the third son of government official, Rudolfo Darmé. As a young boy, Boda attended with his family Father Mitra's church -- where the sermons had greater affect on Boda than on his older brothers. When Boda was 10, his father was appointed Governor of Mallorca. There he met Sofiaster and became her student. Trained in Christian theology as she was, Sofiaster diverged from orthodoxy increasingly -- mostly by ignoring it, putting emphasis on spiritual practices such as sitting in perfect stillness and silence for prolonged periods, practices the church neither condoned nor condemned. Occasionally, though, Sofiaster's disregard of orthodoxy amounted to contradiction. Boda's own religious experiences, when he spoke of them, were expressed in even less in orthodox terms. Moreover, his life on the island had sheltered him from exposure to the worst behaviors of those acting in the name of Christianity. He knew in the abstract that Christians enjoyed no immunity to the cruelty and arrogance that power seeds in human hearts, but knowing in the abstract did not much cushion the shock of the details.
Boda made his way across Iberia, a solitary old man already 67-years-old, following his teacher's final instructions to get to Palos and join the expedition of Cristoforo Colombo. Along the way he learned of the persecution wrought by the Inquisition -- and it did not endear Christian orthodoxy to him.
Arriving at last at Palos, he paid his way onto the Santa Maria. Colombo wasn't looking for elderly passengers, but funding was short. The direct contribution from Fernando and Isabel's treasury was insufficient, and the monarchs were making up the balance by forcing the citizens of Palos to contribute to the expedition. So when Boda offered what was left of his inheritance as a son of a Mallorcan governor, Colombo was glad to have his money. The old man didn't look like he'd eat much, and, with any luck, he wouldn't long survive the rigors of sea travel.
On Aug 3, the three ships departed Palos, Colombo captaining the Santa Maria, Martin Pinzon piloting the Pinta, and Martin's brother, Vicente Pinzon, piloting the Nina. They stopped at the Canary Islands for restocking and repairs.
On Sep 6, they sailed from Sebastian de la Gomera. In the five weeks and a day that followed, Boda occasionally conversed with the Captain. Colombo spoke a lot about spreading the Christian religion. He spoke also of the wealth he expected to amass -- and the two seemed, in Colombo's min, the same thing.
On Oct 12, at 2:00 in the morning, a lookout on the Pinta spotted land and alerted his captain, who fired a lombard to notify the other two ships. Boda, roused by the commotion, made his way to decks. He saw Colombo peering at what looked to be a fire on land in the distance.
"Who fired the lombard?" Boda asked.
"It was the Pinta."
"Ah.The sailor on the Pinta who had look-out duty tonight is quite a lucky fellow."
"I remember you mentioned that Fernando and Isabel promised a lifetime pension to whoever was the first to sight land."
"I expect I'll tell Their Majesties that I saw it first."
"Such a fine and true faith we are bringing to these lands," said Boda -- which the Captain assumed was a change of subject.
By dawn, Colombo and many of his men had come ashore. The indigenous people on that island in the Bahamas were either Lucayan, Taíno, or Arawak, and they exhibited no hostility toward the invaders. At day's end of that day, Colombo was writing in his journal when Boda stopped by his tent. Colombo read him what he had written:
"Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language....I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased."Oct 28: the expedition landed on the northeast coast of Cuba.
Nov 22: the Pinta's captain sailed off from the other ships in an unauthorized search for an island he understood natives to have said was rich in gold.
Dec 5: the Santa Maria and Nina landed on the north coast of Hispaniola.
Dec 25: Christmas Day: Departing the north coast of Hispaniola, the Santa María lodged hopelessly in a reef. Bringing everyone from the Santa Maria ashore, Colombo ordered the Nina to fire upon the empty Santa Maria. Aside from breaking up the boat so that it's wood could be used to make a fort and some huts on land, Colombo expected to impress the Taino with the destructive power of his weaponry.
Now with only one boat -- unless the Pinta showed up -- Colombo sought to leave a colony behind, charged with building a fort, exploring the coast, and looking for gold until a subsequent expedition could come for them. The Taino Cacique in that area, Guacanagaríx, gave permission, and some 40 men, including Boda, were left, along with provisions and arms, at "La Navidad" ("the nativity," i.e., Christmas, since the plan was hatched on Christmas Day).
Jan 4, 1493: Colombo and the Nina continued along the northern coast of Hispaniola, searching for the Pinta.
Within days, the men of La Navidad were quarreling viciously among themselves, competing with each other in abducting, raping, and conscripting into servitude native women and stealing as much gold as they could. In six months since leaving Mllorca, Boda's heretical Christianity had become less and less interested in being any form of Christianity at all. Everything he'd seen indicated that the only commandments these Christians obeyed were commandments to murder, rape, steal, enslave, and persecute. He went out "to explore," and did not return to La Navidad. He headed for the mountains he saw looming in the island's interior.
At the time Colombo encountered Hispaniola, the Taino people there divided the island into five Cacicazgos, each under the rule of a Cacique. La Navidad had been built in the Marien Cacicazgos, led by the conciliatory Guacanagaríx. In the neighboring Maguana Cacicazgos, the Cacique was the more warriorly Caonabo. Seeing that the foreigners were terrorizing the Taino of Marien, his warriors came to the rescue.
The Spaniards' insatiable greed for gold gave Caonabo a plan. Styling himself "lord of the mines," he promised to lead a contingent of the invaders to gold mines in the island's interior. In the dense forests, Caonabo and number of his suddenly-materialized warriors turned on the foreigners, slaying them. Caonabo and his troop then descended upon the remaining foreigners back at La Navidad, setting fire to the houses. Some of the foreigners were forced into the ocean and drowned; others were killed onshore. When Colombo returned in November 1493 he found only ashes, cinders, and bodily remains of a few of the men he had left behind.
In the meantime, Boda was in the mountains. Cautiously, he began to make the acquaintance of inhabitants -- some of whom had not encountered any of the Europeans, and those who had saw that Boda was unlike Colombo's other men. He was much older, for one thing, which made him less threatening, and he had no evident interest in gold. He was kindly and interested in them.
Still, there were suspicions. One day, as Boda was foraging in the mountains, two warriors, sent by Caonabo to find him, approached and demanded he accompany them down to a lowland village that was the capital of Maguana. They brought him before Caonabo, who had heard reports of Boda's respectful and kind behavior to Taino, and saw no threat in the unarmed old man -- unless he was a spy. To feel him out, the powerful Cacique began innocently with questions about Boda's family background and personal history. As Caonabo understood it, Boda's father had been a Cacique on an island. As the Cacique's third son, Boda had become a shaman of his people rather than a warrior. This made sense to Caonabo, and was reassuring.
He turned the topic to religion. He'd heard snatches of religious stories of which Colombo and his men had spoken, when they weren't murdering, raping, and enslaving, and he asked first about the phrase, "holy truth."
"What is the meaning of this holy truth?" asked the Caonabo.
"Emptiness, no holiness" said Boda. "There is nothing about those men or what they profess as 'truth' that is sacred, worthy of reverence." This was disconcerting and, in Caonabo's mind, called into question the relation of Boda to his own people. He went back to that subject, seeking clarification.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Boda. He was an old man without a country, without a faith -- but also without need of either. The Cacique did not grasp Boda's meaning, but, with communication as difficult as it was, he let it go. And he let Boda go.
After Boda had departed, Caonabo's own shaman, who had been sitting in attendance, spoke up. "Cacique, do you know who that was?"
"He doesn't himself know who he is. How could I know?" replied Caonabo.
The shaman had discerned in Boda's manner what Caonabo had not. "He is the greatest holy man of the foreigners. He is able to see us, when all the others of his kind see only to use, pillage, and kill. He is able to see himself and is unafraid."
"Should I have him brought back?" asked Caonabo.
"No. It would do no good."
So the Cacique sent men to follow Boda at a distance. "If he comes to any villages, see that they treat him kindly," he instructed.
Boda made his way south and west, crossing into the Jaragua Cacicazgos, where the Cacique was Bohecio, brother of Caonabo's wife, Anacaona. About half-way out the Tiburon Peninsula and a few miles from the nearest village, Boda built himself a hermitage. There he spent most of each day facing the wall in meditation.
Gateless Gate #41