Marc Simmons: Spanish book of laws included section on 'Indios'

An illustration of the Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias. Image from Wikipedia

Historian Marc Simmons looks inside the Recopilación de Leyes de las Indias, a colonial-era Spanish book of laws that included a special section on "Los Indios" in the New World:
The Recopilación provided extensive protection for the Indians, who were regarded as wards of the government. It stated they were entitled to those lands and waters they traditionally used, and strong laws forbade Spanish settlers from encroaching upon native grants.

Among the old laws was one that created a powerful official called the protector of the Indians. His duty was to represent them in judicial matters and help uphold their legal rights.

Unlike other European colonial powers, Spain thus gave the Indians entry into the legal system, and usually they were able to turn it to their advantage. On the whole, as one historian has declared, the Recopilación, in spite of defects visible to us today, was “one of the most humane codes published by any colonial empire.”

As I mentioned earlier, part of the Recopilación title includes the phrase “Laws of the Indies.” When Columbus first landed in the New World, he thought he was in the Indies, that is, the islands off the coast of Asia. He never believed he was in India, as misguided popular belief holds.

So, for Spaniards, the term “Indies” persisted as a synonym for the Americas. Original Natives of the Indies they called indios. Later, English colonists, having no word for the Native people in their language, borrowed the Spanish indios and translated it as Indians.

Get the Story:
Marc Simmons: Trail Dust: Spanish volumes show another side of colonialism (The Santa Fe New Mexican 7/11)

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