Steven Newcomb: Statue can't ignore genocide of Native peoples

A depiction of one of the atrocities linked to Vasco Núñez de Balboa. According to a source from the era, Balboa fed 40 indigenous men to dogs. Image from Latin American Studies

Does Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, deserve to be recognized by a statue in Kumeyaay Nation territory in California? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute continues his look at the issue:
Jody Wilson is the former Education Program Manager for the “San Salvador” build site of the San Diego Maritime Museum. She recently found on the Internet a 2014 proposal to build a statue to honor the Spanish conquistador Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. The proposal seeks to locate the statue in that part of the Kumeyaay Nation territory now typically called “Balboa Park” and “San Diego, California.” The proposal includes a number of support letters claiming, among other things, that Balboa was a “humanitarian” in his treatment of the Native peoples. Let’s examine that claim.

Sir Arthur Helps published an excellent book in the mid-1800s entitled, The Spanish Conquest in America and Its Relations to the History of Slavery and to the Government of Colonies. His is just one of many sources that enables us to see the bizarre nature of the claim that Balboa exhibited “humanitarian concerns for the Native people of Panama,” or anywhere else he went for that matter. Take for example, page 243 of Helps’ book. There we find the heading, “Vasco Nuñez [de Balboa] Tortures Indians.”

Perhaps the statue supporters are of the view that Balboa tortured the Native people in a humanitarian manner, or that he had dogs tear the Native people apart, albeit in a humanitarian manner, a topic I’ve written about in two other columns. Imagine my surprise to discover that a sketch of the proposed statue includes one of Balboa’s dogs.

The proposal for a Balboa statue quotes one historian named Hurbert Herring as saying that Balboa was “one of the wisest and most merciful of conquerors.” Arthur Helps expressed a similar idea when he wrote: “Vasco Nuñez has been held to be a man who dealt very wisely, and, upon the whole, very mercifully with the Indians” but Helps goes on to say in the very same sentence that Balboa was accustomed to torture the Native people to make them reveal the location of “those towns which had most gold and provisions.” Balboa would then “attack those towns by night,” no doubt slaughtering the people in a humanitarian manner.

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Balboa Statue Controversy Continues (Indian Country Today 5/13)

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