“We found these states in a very good condition. The mentioned Incans were governing them so wisely that among these people there were no thieves, neither vicious men nor unfaithful wives, no immoral people. Everyone had there honest and useful professions. They knew no crime or execution. Everyone owned their own property and not a single other person would claim it. What urges me to write about this now is my consciousness, I feel guilty. We’ve destroyed all this by our vicious and mean example. We’ve eliminated the nation that had such sovereigns and was so happy.”
Gaspar de Carvajal was a Dominican friar who accompanied a failed mission dispatched by Gonzalo Pizarro to the upper Amazon basin, and ended up wandering for years along the Amazon river before finally reaching the Atlantic and returning to Spain. He wrote about what he found in a travelog, Relación del nuevo descubrimiento del famoso río Grande que descubrió por muy gran ventura el capitán Francisco de Orellana (“Account of the recent discovery of the famous Grand river which was discovered by great good fortune by Captain Francisco de Orellana”)
- opulent cities, as large as any in Europe at the time, with tens of thousands of people living peacably and securely in each
- no agriculture as Europeans would have defined it, but a managing of the jungle ecosystem to produce an abundance of citrus, plantains, cassava, and a variety of nuts
Graham Hancock estimates that there were 20 million people in Carvajal’s Amazon, about ¼ the population of Europe at the time. [New Scientist article] A few years later, the entire region had been depopulated by smallpox, with only a few thousand people surviving.
Bartolome de las Casas wrote in 1542 of the Spanish genocide and plunder of the Amazon’s peaceful socieities.
Carvajal’s diary suggests that another way to relate to nature might have been developed and sustained for thousands of years. Records of how they lived so peacably were lost when Pizarro burned the Inca central library, and much of the oral tradition was wiped out by smallpox and genocide.
We think of the Europeans coming to America with vastly superior technology, but maybe they had only superior weapons. We, today, having developed the way of conquest to the brink of its tragic denouement, might benefit mightily from learning about another kind of human civilization.
They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword,
they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.…They would make fine servants.
— Columbus, writing to the Queen, describing people he found in the West Indies