The Indian Militia and Description of the Indies

The Indian Militia and Description of the Indies

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Sometimes referred to as the first published manual of guerrilla warfare, Bernardo de Vargas Machuca’s Indian Militia and Description of the Indies is actually the first known manual of counterinsurgency, or anti-guerrilla warfare. Published in Madrid in 1599 by a Spanish-born soldier of fortune with long experience in the Americas, the book is a training manual for conquistadors. The Aztec and Inca Empires had long since fallen by 1599, but Vargas Machuca argued that many more Native American peoples remained to be conquered and converted to Roman Catholicism. What makes his often shrill and self-righteous treatise surprising is his consistent praise of indigenous resistance techniques and medicinal practices.

Containing advice on curing rattlesnake bites with amethysts and making saltpeter for gunpowder from concentrated human urine, The Indian Militia is a manual in four parts, the first of which outlines the ideal qualities of the militia commander. Addressing the organization and outfitting of conquest expeditions, Book Two includes extended discussions of arms and medicine. Book Three covers the proper behavior of soldiers, providing advice on marching through peaceful and bellicose territories, crossing rivers, bivouacking in foul weather, and carrying out night raids and ambushes. Book Four deals with peacemaking, town-founding, and the proper treatment of conquered peoples. Appended to these four sections is a brief geographical description of all of Spanish America, with special emphasis on the indigenous peoples of New Granada (roughly modern-day Colombia), followed by a short guide to the southern coasts and heavens. This first English-language edition of The Indian Militia includes an extensive introduction, a posthumous report on Vargas Machuca’s military service, and a selection from his unpublished attack on the writings of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822389064
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 11/19/2008
Series: The Cultures and Practice of Violence
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Bernardo de Vargas Machuca (c. 1550–1622) was a soldier from Simancas, Spain, who served in Italty and in numerous South American pacification campaigns. Kris Lane is Associate Professor of History at the College of William & Mary. He is the author of Quito, 1599: City and Colony in Transition and Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500–1750. Timothy F. Johnson is a teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Davis.

Bernardo de Vargas Machuca (c. 1550–1622) was a soldier from Simancas, Spain, who served in Italty and in numerous South American pacification campaigns. Kris Lane is Associate Professor of History at the College of William & Mary. He is the author of Quito, 1599: City and Colony in Transition and Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500–1750. Timothy F. Johnson is a teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Davis.

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By Bernardo de Vargas Machuca


Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4314-1

Chapter One

BOOK ONE OF THE INDIAN Militia Which Addresses The Qualities Of Which A Good Commander Must Be Composed


THE DIVISION OF THE CELESTIAL and elemental orbs and their composition are well-known things among all classes of people, and particularly among those upon whom God wished to bestow reasonable talent and discourse. The earthly machine, being considered, will have been found divided by its zones, parallels, meridians, major and minor circles, and horizons. And the people who inhabit this machine each have their corresponding antipode, anteco and pirieco, piriseo and anfiseo, each with its corresponding influence, quality, and location according to its distance from the Arctic and Antarctic poles and from the equinoctial line. And the seas and abundant rivers, kingdoms, provinces, cities, towns, and villages will likewise have been considered; the mountain ranges and level plains; the hot valley, the temperate midland, the cold highland; the number of peoples; the natural, divine, and human laws; the sects, rites, and ceremonies; and of the persons, their factions, colors, statures, moods, understandings, and inclinations; the attire, customs, and nature of arms; and in the seas and rivers, the magnitude and variety of fish, almost with the same division as the land, distributed in their different places according to their classes, which cause the artifice of fishing them to vary. With these considerations, I think, should any good republican classify and examine, having knowledge of any and all things, in order to govern his republic with courtesy and proper order; making watchful care commonplace in it; for it is not with mere decrees that kingdoms, cities, and smaller towns are governed even though they should serve the army under a law both divine and human; for these are similar in part, but not entirely. And so we see that for each republic the laws are adapted; for poorly one governs Seville with the laws of Madrid, or Burgos with those of Bilbao, or a village with those of a populous city. And so the prince should govern his lands differentiating the royal decrees, adapting his motives and qualities. It would be, then, advisable for the prince, like his governors, to have experience and knowledge of them, generally and specifically, wherever they keep and govern kingdoms and provinces, expanding them more each day, without too much labor. And therefore, as all things differ according to their causes, it is thought that wars as well should have different modes and practices, as diverse as the lands, the peoples, the spirits, and the arms with which they fight according to their invention.

Romans And so we know that in their ancient wars, the Romans made use of crossbows, javelins and bucklers, shields and cabassets; as well as cuirasses, vambraces, and greaves, bows and slings, and their squadrons were arranged according to similar arms.

Greeks The Greeks used pikes and certain arms of the Romans.

French The French when mounted on horseback used arrows, while those on foot used bucklers and rapiers; in the attack they issued great shrieks and yells.

Africans The Africans made use of camels, as the Orientals used elephants, upon which they constructed strongholds, and used projectile weapons.

Spaniards Our Spaniards used great wagons of fire and projectile weapons; and those now used commonly in parts of the Levant and in our Spain, which are the pike, halberd, and the sword invented by the Swiss [i.e., the baselard, or pikeman's shortsword], as well as harquebuses and corselets. The pikemen and the men at arms bore armor and thrusting lances; the horsemen bore lance and leather shield [adarga]; they use heavy artillery and precise musketry [mosquetería], advantageous weapons; and in the forts they use walls and trenches; and to explode them with fire the enemy makes mines and those inside defend themselves by making their countermines.

In parts of the Indies they used crossbows, coats of mail, cuirasses, and a few harquebuses, as well as bucklers at first. Nowadays, however, with long experience and recognizing the best and most useful arms, they use hackbuts, hauberks made of cotton, broadswords, poleyns and helmets of cotton, and bucklers; and those on horseback use lances and in some parts coats of mail, and buff coats and mesh visors. Some use trumpets. These arms, both on foot and horseback, are adapted to the fury and arms of the Indian, to the ruggedness or flatness of the land, to the heat or cold, and according to the devices with which the Indian fights. And thus they divide and arrange their people and camp (as will be stated later), striving to move with the movement of the Indian; for he changes so much that from one valley to another, and within ten leagues of latitude or longitude, they discover a new manner of arms. Therefore, it is advisable that our Spaniards adapt as well, and often the aid of dogs is taken advantage of, having found how important they are for defense and sentry duty in the army camps and for discovering ambushes. Not all of these arms are used in one kingdom, but rather as the lands require. In New Spain some will be employed, but not all. Likewise in Peru and the New Kingdom of Granada; and even within each of these kingdoms, their provinces differ. However, as now is not the time to examine this, I pass succinctly in order to address the Indians and their inventions of arms.

The Indians, historically as well as in our time, have used and still use lances up to thirty spans long and made of palm wood, the tips burnt, and in hardness no different from a bone. Others use iron weapons won and traded for from our Spaniards, a thing most worthy of exemplary punishment as it is almost a sort of treason, for even though they are traded to peaceful Indians with healthy intentions, harquebuses have passed into the hands of their enemies, with which they have taken many lives of our own (a thing to be looked into and prevented, and punished by the governors). They also use cudgels of palm wood like two-handed or bastard swords, wielding them with two hands. They use arrows tipped with flint and ray quills, which are quite venomous, and others with palm tips coated with twenty-four-hour venom. Javelins and shields, helmets and corselets of bull hide (these are used only by those of Chile). Other Indians use the blowgun with poison darts; others, spears and dart throwers, quills, spikes, pits, traps, stones, and false bridges. They also use slings, a damaging weapon, and often lay ambushes. They attack with great shouts and shrieks.

Some wear their hair long and untied, like women, others wear it braided, others, cut and shaved. These latter are the best warriors, for they escape when they come into the hands of the Spaniards, who make prisoners of them; and since they have no hair and are naked, they slip away with no manner to lay hold of them by hand. Every nation makes use of some of these weapons according to their application and the lay of the land.

They go out to their wars naked, the face and body highly painted to appear more ferocious. They paint themselves with vija, which is the color of henna, and others with jagua, an ink made of fruit, which does not come off for nine days.

The most important of them wear varied feather-work and laden with jewels of gold in their manner, such as nose plates [caracuries] in the nostrils, chest plates [chagualas], ear pieces, half moons, and bracelets and beads. They wear the paws of lions and tigers on the head, and from around the waist hang the tails of these animals.

They use instruments to raise their spirits, such as shells, flutes [fotutos], drums, and horns. And in the mountains, to gather and warn each other from afar and to call to arms, they use great drums played with sticks.

They are people who, if they begin to flee in the course of their wars and battles, are routed with ease, with no hope of being able to turn about and re-form, regroup, or become stronger.

The world has no better warriors than these who pursue the victory once recognized, for they may pursue a target three or four days without eating or resting, sustaining themselves only by the coca they chew.

All of their fights are founded upon betrayals, except when they enter into a guazabara, which our Castilian calls "battle." Confident in the strength of their people and in the appropriateness of the site, they will enter the open field, having scouted and prepared an escape. They are similarly guarded in their ambushes and assaults, for without this precaution they are not a people who take risks unless the case and occasion require it, whether on the clear savanna or in the high, craggy mountain.

They are agile because of the habits and customs they have, and thus may catch a deer with their strength of spirit, and there is no dog quicker nor more unhindered in the chase, be it in the scrublands of the high plains, the marshes, or the thick forest, that better follows the trail of people who have passed, even if it is eight days old, along roads, paths, or streams of water. They keep their dwellings very much like warriors; those who pursue war have them in the hills, divided by families; each family has its recognized head, although they respect him very little.

When they must meet or give some warning, this is understood by way of the aforementioned drums. And when the distance is great, such that the echo of the drums will not reach, they make smoke in such a manner that a messenger could hardly make the idea better understood. The watchtowers of the coast of Spain send word in a similar way; others have them in lakes in a thousand various ways. And the conquests of the people who live in this manner have lasted and will last (as experience has shown) some years longer, as we will later address, than those who have been and are found united as a republic; they have been and are conquered with ease.

They are all a leaderless and disorderly people, with neither a sense of merit nor valor, and thus, if they find themselves imprisoned, they let themselves die miserably in two days. And if there have been any notably valiant ones who have demonstrated strength amid their misfortunes, there have been and are but a very few, such as that Araucano told of by Alonso de Ercilla11 who, before and after having his hands cut off by us Spaniards, promised great harm (telling them with great opprobrium) if they left him with life, as it so happened-something the commander should avoid, leaving without limbs he who does not directly deserve death, but to the deserved, give it with the law in hand; and to him who should be released, oblige him to friendship with good deeds, for he whose strength is cut from his hands will multiply it in his tongue-that being seen so wounded, anyone well knows how to persuade and move those of their band to courage and pity, as was well seen in this case of the effect he made with only his tongue; that with his speeches and exhortations he gained for that nation so many victories and renown, so much to our ruin and damage. There have been other valiant ones, but they have been few and unpersuasive, and following their false religion they are taken by a barbarous rage. And if that famous Lautaro demonstrated discourse and valor with such memorable deeds, it can be attributed to the time he spent among our Spaniards serving us; and among such a great number of people, not many are found, such as I have encountered during my conquests and expeditions.


Returning to our purpose, I say that there being such a difference between us, in arms as well as other things, that we will be forced to have in those parts a different praxis [prática] and militia, and differently will our Spaniards comport themselves with this people who after God created the world had no communication with parts North, or, that is to say, returned to them over so great a distance from one part to another. And [I add] that the Indies are all one island in whose body are embraced Peru, the New Kingdom of Granada, Brazil, Tierra Firme, and New Spain, and also Florida and New Mexico, lands that were always savage until our Spaniards tread upon and discovered them.

If it is true that the apostles came to preach the Holy Gospel (as I believe, and we have found signs of that, although there is no scripture divine or human where one can prove that the apostles went to the Western Indies, but piously one may believe), they would not have shown them devices of arms or methods and training of war, but rather addressed only those things of our holy faith. And so it remains proven that they are defended only by their inventions of arms and instinct, and that our Spaniards also will have adapted to the same land and to that which its nature demands, and for this purpose they will have made new discourse and new practices, setting aside those of Italy for the most part, not for lacking them (for among such a number of people one would well believe that there passed soldiers who were able to practice them), but as they are not completely advisable for use against those [Indian] nations in their conquests, they are not addressed.

It is good that when some Spaniards confront other enemy nations on the coasts, they take any advantage (and not because some precepts cease to apply, as this example will reveal), but the thing is that after the Indies were discovered, none have wanted to nor have made discourse or school of this [style of warfare],though it is of such great importance and not less worthy of being known than any other. [This discourse] is the Pole Star for the soldier, the captain, and the governor, as he who governs without experience and training must govern by theory and knowledge of things, even if they are not present, so that he may resolve matters with alacrity and certitude. Those who have written [about this] have only addressed the conquests, the deeds and the famous captains and soldiers, the qualities, lands, and locations, without revealing the method and practice of the militias our Spaniards have formed there, which now results in many poor choices with troublesome results, and yields many who lack all training and theory; and it is like sending many blind men instead of two who might have some sight, so that when these finally open their eyes, they have lost the opportunity that one cannot take hold of with one's face averted.

So then, we know that there is no government today in all of the Indies that does not participate in wars and pacifications, and if not all, most of them, and with proper care a million problems will be avoided as long as they know the [war's] cause in order to choose [correctly]; and some will manage to serve their king and lord and he will honor his most deserving commanders and settlers with respectable awards. For in this militia the prince does not assume the cost, because the captain or commander who takes the opportunity gathers the people and sustains and pays them, and supplies all that is necessary, providing arms and munitions, without the intervention of royal paymasters; for when the time for work and danger arrives, it is always him first, and hunger always passes first through the house of the good commander before sleep and rest. The soldier has a defined time for work; the commander never, for during the time that is left after work he is vigilant over the health of his camp, for all depends on him. In the militia of Italy the work is distributed among the general, the field marshal, the sergeant major and his assistant, and between the captains, their lieutenants and sergeants and squadron officers, and other ordinary and extraordinary officers.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introductory Study xvii

Approvals, Dedications, and Sonnets 1

Book One of the Indian Militia 17

Book Two of the Indian Militia 55

Book Three of the Indian Militia 81

Book Four of the Indian Militia 133

A Brief Description of All the Western Indies 165

Hydrography of the Coasts and Seas of the Indies 213

Geography of the Most Distinguished Kingdoms and Provinces of the Indies 221

Compendium of the Sphere 229

Declaration of the Proper Names of this Book 235

Appendix One: A Posthumous Report on Bernardo de Vargas Machuca's Services, ca. 1622 239

Appendix Two: Selections from The Defense of Western Conquests, ca. 1603 245

Notes 259

Bibliography 281

Index 289

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