The accounts of conquest vary significantly depending on the angle one views the same events from. The Spanish conquest of South America is a landmark event in world history. The clash of civilizations that happened when Spaniards discovered America is an example of the event which is interpreted very differently by the sides taking part in it. Thus, it is very interesting to see in which ways Spaniards and Indians differed in their perception.
From the Spanish point of view, the conquest of America was a way to extend their rule on the new lands. They believed themselves to carry a special mission of enlightenment. Commercial interests also played a very significant role in this unprecedented undertaking. It is with great detail that Spaniards describe a marketplace of the Indians (Jonhson 26). They are attracted by the wealth of this civilization which is not capable of protecting itself. However, Spaniards are not interested in establishing any kind of peaceful relations with the Indians. From their first encounters, Spaniards view the local population as subordinates, contemplate the possibility of transforming them into slaves (Jonhson 21). This approach, to my mind, is crucial in understanding how Spaniards perceived Indians from the very first moment of their contact. They simply did not think that Indians were equal to Spaniards.
On the other hand, Indians were rather benevolent in their interactions with Spaniards. They acted in good faith, willing to establish friendly relations, being astonished by the technological advancements of the European civilization. They even did not try to resist, letting Spaniards in the city, bringing gifts to them, making all signs of friendship they could. For Indians, the Europeans, with their guns and unusual appearance, were divine creatures. The Europeans correctly noted that Indians were naïve. Indeed, they did not understand the true intentions of the explorers, which undermined their ability to protect themselves. Indians expected Spaniards to be as friendly and willing to understand each other as they were. Unfortunately, Spaniards did not intend to seek understanding between civilizations.
Europeans simply thought that their culture was the only one “genuine”, while Indians allegedly derogated from what was right. An interesting detail is that Spaniards assumed Indians did not have a religion. Although Indians had their peculiar religions or cults, Spaniards had troubles in understanding them. This is probably because even the perception of religion differed greatly. Spaniards were not willing to acknowledge existence of other interpretations, simply denying the existence of anything which did not resemble their own perception.
It cannot be ruled out that these accounts are, to some extent, biased. For example, Spaniards wrote their accounts in order to report to the King after their return. It was necessary for them to explain why their missions were worth supporting. They may have exaggerated certain aspects in an attempt to justify their costly undertakings. Besides, they had a special perception of their actions, deeply depending on the belief that they were superior to Indians and could do anything they wanted. Consequently, they did not have any moral considerations in their judgement of interactions with Indians. They did not think their actions to be unfair and brutal as they believed they had the right to act in such a manner. Hence, in their accounts they may have not reflected the true events based on this perception of themselves as superiors. On the contrary, Indians were, indeed, naïve and perceived Spaniards as divine creatures. This unique attitude heavily influences their accounts, leads to their misunderstanding of Spaniards actions and intentions.
Johnson, P. Michael. Reading the American Past: Volume I: To 1877: Selected Historical Documenets. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.