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SPAIN and the Conquest of America - "Conquistadors"



TV can be a splendid for conveying a knowledge of history, but even educational TV suffers from the original sin of TV, a stress on action, preferably violent. This is true of the History Channel. As a consequence, peaceful, positive developments receive little attention. This is true of a series of four movies on the Spanish conquest of America made by the well-known British producer Michael Wood, who has more than 60 documentaries to his credit. He tells the story through the lives of four conquistadores: CortÚs, Pizarro, Orellana, and Cabeza de Vaca. By himself retracing their steps, he can vividly convey the incredible hardships they underwent. Yet the final impression is that, albeit incredibly brave, they destroyed the native civilizations.

In a long and scholarly review, "Killing for God and for Gold" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/4/01), Diana de Armas Wilson of the University of Denver rightly says that the series contributes to the Leyenda Negra, the black legend which blackens everything Spanish. The story of the "spiritual conquest" of America by peaceful and equally brave missionaries and friars would bore Hollywood and Co., but it is an essential component of American history. By preaching the gospel of love, they were themselves loved by the native populations. Hence their piety today. These priests were also responsible for the high quality of the Spanish language spoken by the native populations. I recently saw a documentary about the jivaros of the upper Amazon valley, a fearsome tribe know for the shrinking of the heads of their defeated enemies. One of the tribe was interviewed, and he spoke beautiful Spanish. In comparison, the English spoken in our West...well, comparisons are odious.

Ronald Hilton - 6/7/01


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