Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone![
In 1598, before English settlers arrived in Jamestown on the east coast of the United, Spanish settlers from Mexico and Spain colonized northern New Mexico.
The story of the settlers, led by Juan de Oñate, the soldier and silver-baron from Zacatecas in Mexico who financed the colonization, is a fascinating and complex one. Oñate was a hero to many of the descendants of the settlers, but a brutal conqueror to many others:
Native Americans had their own very personal memories concerning Oñate. They recalled massacres, slavery and terror. They remembered that Oñate’s foray into New Mexico in 1598 led to the deaths of two out of every three Indians there and nearly caused the extermination of Native culture across the region. (from The Last Conquistador, the film)
By 1680, the Pueblos of northern New Mexico were united against the colonists and successfully expelled them in what has become known as the Pueblo Revolt. The Spanish and their indigenous Mexican allies returned, but not until 1693. Even then, it took years of warfare before an accord was established under new auspices – defense of northern reaches of the Viceroyalty of New Spain against France, England, and Russia, tolerance towards Pueblo religion and culture, and cooperation against Comanche, Ute, Apache, and Navajo raiders. (The quotes below are from A Cuarto Centennial History of New Mexico by Robert Torrez.)
A Social and Economic Development Perspective on New Mexico History: The Spanish Period
In my three blogs on New Mexico, I have been reviewing New Mexico history in light of Baha’i social and economic development principles. The blogs are here, here, and here. Social and economic development, according to Baha’i perspectives, requires unity, science and religion working together, capacity building, and learning in action. It is not something “that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.”
Obviously, a 16th century conquest by a profit-hungry European colonial power is not going to be an ideal fit to Baha’i ideals of social and economic development. Yet asking the question – and exploring the historical experience in northern New Mexico – is relevant for the modern era, not only in New Mexico but wherever 16th, 17th, and 18th century European colonialism leaves dominant traces. I.e., in Arizona, in California, in Mexico and all of central America, and in much of South America.
Wikipedia – in its history of New Mexico – paints a grim picture:
The current viewpoint by experts today is that the objective of Spanish rule of New Mexico (and all other northern lands) was the full exploitation of the native population and resources. “Governors were a greedy and rapacious lot whose single-minded interest was to wring as much personal wealth from the province as their terms allowed. They exploited Indian labor for transport, sold Indian slaves in New Spain, and sold Indian products…and other goods manufactured by Indian slave labor.”
Spanish colonialism also focused on converting the indigenous people to Spanish Christianity. Oñate was accompanied by missionaries. Many native Americans converted – or appeared to convert. And while the clergy were often humane and idealistic, they were also often intolerant and dogmatic. And they could be a very disruptive:
Franciscan missionaries came to New Mexico with Oñate and a struggle ensued between secular and religious authorities. Both colonists and the Franciscans depended upon Indian labor, mostly Pueblos, and competed with each other to control an Indian population decreasing because of European diseases and exploitation. … Pueblo dissatisfaction with the rule of the clerics was the main cause of the Pueblo revolt.
But there was another aspect to the Spanish presence in New Mexico – people who were willing to reach out and befriend their native American neighbors, even intermarry with them. And although Spanish culture was authoritarian, it was not racist, or at least not in the modern northern European sense. Oñate even had Jewish blood – he was a descendant of a great converso family through his mother – and married to a great granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. Partly because of this, and partly because of the isolation of the colony in Northern New Mexico (and also due the need for a common defense against external threats):
… the Spanish in New Mexico were never able to achieve dominance over the Indian peoples who lived among and surrounded them. The isolated colony of New Mexico was characterized by “elaborate webs of ethnic tension, friendship, conflict,and kinship” between Indian groups and Spanish colonists. Because of the weakness of New Mexico “rank-and-file settlers in outlying areas had to learn to coexist with Indian neighbors without being able to keep them subordinate.”
After being thrown out by the Pueblo Indians in the Pueblo revolt, the reconquista in 1692 and 1693 was followed by changes in the relationship of the Church to native religions as well as the settlements purpose:
Following the Pueblo Revolt and reconquest, the authority of the Catholic Church was reduced substantially, and because of the expanding influence of the French, English, and Russians in North America, the Spanish government held on to New Mexico principally as a defensive buffer against these enemies of the Spanish Crown.
While the revolt succeeded in only temporarily expelling the Spanish from New Mexico, it did force changes in Spanish attitudes which enabled the Pueblos to maintain their language end ancient religious practices. After the reconquest, it became apparent that the Spanish would have to demonstrate tolerance towards Pueblo religious and cultural ceremonies and cooperate with their neighbors in order to defend the colony against the various tribes which besieged New Mexico from all directions
And New Mexico grew, slowly expanding into new territory. But always, there was fighting – and oftentimes trading and joint raiding – with neighboring nomadic Comanches, Apaches, Utes, and Navajos. Partly as a result, the northern New Mexican Spanish communities incorporated increasing numbers of people of mixed blood and even pure indigenous blood:
Prominent among those who shouldered the burden of frontier settlement and defense were the growing mestízo, or mixed blood, population of the province. Among the least recognized of these groups are the genízaro. The genízaro were Indians from various tribes, who had, for a variety of reasons, lost their tribal identity. Many of them were captive children, who had been raised in Spanish households and been baptized, had assumed Spanish surnames, and had eventually become Hispanicized.
Genízaro settlements such as those established at Abiquiu and Tomé, bore a significant portion of New Mexico’s frontier defense well into the 19th century. Despite many struggles, the growth of these communities made possible the subsequent development and expansion of New Mexico.
(Note: When I was growing up in New Mexico, friends told me of experiences of mutual raiding in their families. Apparently, stealing children and then raising them as family members was common on both sides.)
My Baha’i Social and Economic Development Analysis
What is my social and economic development analysis?
First, let me fill in some missing details. The Spanish brought with them new technologies, new agricultural tools, new animals, and new trade opportunities and needs. New animals – horses, cattle, and sheep – spread through the American west, leading to a much greater mobility for nomadic tribes (and the rise of the powerful and long-lived Comanche empire.) Sheep were widely adapted by into the native American economy, becoming a means to both economic growth and settlement. Agricultural methodologies – for example, the acequias of Spain adapted from the Islamic world for distribution of water to fields, or the use of plows (and horses and oxen to pull the plows) – increased the productivity of agriculture, as did the availability of iron and steel for axes, saws, and other materials. And the Pueblos also shared their foods, and knowledge of the desert and mountain geographies of Northern New Mexico.
My rough analysis inspired by a Baha’i social and economic development framework shows intermediate – not high, not low – marks. Unity, at first, was almost non-existent – the two sides were often in violent conflict. And internal struggles – Pueblo against Pueblo – soldiers vs. friars – were common.
It was only after the Pueblo revolt and the following Spanish reconquista that a live-and-let-live attitude came into play. Clearly, the Spanish were not going to dominate the Pueblos and they also no longer felt compelled to deny indigenous religion. And clearly, against a common enemy, both sides realized they needed each other. So in time, helped by tolerant Spanish attitudes toward racial mixing, a working relationship developed. It led to an emergence of a new Hispanic northern New Mexico culture – a culture no longer Spanish or Mexican.
Science? It was almost non-existent. Education was poor. In these arena of endeavors, New Mexico fell behind. Governance traditions among the native Americans seemed to have remained relatively strong, but not among the Spanish where traditional autocratic traditions too often held sway. The Pueblos and the Spanish did often work together through personal ties, but there doesn’t seem to have been very much in terms of formal relationships.Wisdom acquired through experience was highly valued – and necessary for survival (the environment was tough and very demanding). Religion evolved toward accommodation and cross fertilization. And overall, New Mexico emerged from the time of Spanish domination with both a strong native American culture and a uniquely northern New Mexico culture. There were, although, severe problems (drugs, poverty, lack of education) that are the heritage of issues left unresolved.
Speculating about the Future
What do these lessons mean for the future? First of all, New Mexico was unique in having relatively equal players in the Pueblo and Spanish populations. Accommodation and cooperation was often reached, providing an example of cooperation between indigenous American and European immigrant cultures that is sadly lacking throughout the Americas (it’s hard to think of other places where this has taken place). But, it requires a surrender of traditional and autocratic governance methods and domination by narrowly European religious orthodoxy.
Second, it highlights both the importance and possibilities of unity. Because of the unity that did develop – and the natural tendency of people to form relationships with each other – both sides were able to survive and even help each other.
Third, it shows the importance of tradition and religion for survival, provided it is not forced. Both sides maintained strong religious traditions – and were able to respect each others.
In the next blog, we apply the Baha’i principles of science and religion and Baha’i experience in social and economic development to an evaluation of the American territorial period of New Mexico history..
The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.