I N T R O D U C T I O N T O J O S É D E A C O S T A S
H I S T O R I A N A T U R A L Y M O R A L
D E L A S I N D I A S
Walter D. Mignolo
t h e
h i s t o r i a n a t u r a l y m o r a l d e l a s i n d i a s was pub-
lished in 1590, almost a century after an Italian navigator from Genoa at the
service of the Crown of Castile, Christopher Columbus, landed on one of the
many Caribbean islands. If we take this date and look at the situation toward
the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries
(approximately between 1570 and 1610), we can conclude that Acosta’s
book was published toward the end of an imperial cycle of which Christianity
(the Roman Catholic Church), Spain, and Portugal were the driving forces.
Thus, missionary orders (Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuit, mainly) had an
enormous importance in the colonization of the ‘‘New World.’’ (The ‘‘new’’
world was, of course, only new for those who did not know about it, not for
those who were its inhabitants!)
José de Acosta was a Jesuit. The Jesuit order was created by Ignatius of
Loyola in 1534 and was approved by the Catholic Church in 1540. Coinci-
dentally, 1540 was the same year in which Acosta was born.∞
The foundation
of the order took place during the tumultuous years of the Reformation and
Counter-Reformation. Thus, the Natural and Moral History of the Indies falls
in the middle of a significant number of historical transformations. It re-
sponds not only to the ‘‘news’’ from the New World but to the tensions and
conflicts in one part of the ‘‘Old World’’ (Christian Europe, the other two
parts being Asia and Africa). Acosta’s book was also written at the intersec-
tion of the Renaissance revival of the Greco-Latin tradition and the emer-
gence of something unexpected within that tradition: a heretofore unknown
but impressive mass of land and an intriguing variety of people. Of course,
for the people inhabiting Anahuac (the domain of the Mayas and Aztecs in
Mesoamerica) and Tawantinsuyu (the domain of the Incas in the Andes), as
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