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Letter of Diego Rodríguez Bibanco.

By royal appointment Defender of the Indians of Yucatan,
To the King, March 8, 1563.

Diego Rodriguez Bibanco, citizen of Mérida in Yucatan, Defender of the Indians of this province, named by your majesty as granted in your royal Audiencia of the Confines, whereby it is my, obligation to report to your majesty on their needs and grievances, herein give the harm that has been done them by wounds, deaths, losses and disturbances.

What happens is that the friars of the order of San Francisco in this province used the ecclesiastical jurisdiction before the bishop's arrival, saying they had the power by apostolic bulls to do this in places where there are no bishops; and in this title, good or bad, using the said Bulls, which it is understood did not give them the right to do what they have done, they gave orders to proceed against the Indians of all these provinces, generally, por via de inquisición, the Provincial constituting himself Inquisitor, and accompanied by the subordinate friars who also served as inquisitors; and together or singly they have inflicted irregularities and punishments on these Indians never heard of in all the Indies, under color of and saying that they were idolaters.

And in order to have more power and force than they had, they called for aid from the alcalde mayor of the province, doctor Diego Quijada, whom your majesty sent here two years ago more or less; he inconsiderately, being a weak

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man of little judgment or prudence, gave them lay judges who carried out all that the friars directed; this without any process, nor fault in the Indians, whereby the royal aid was given solely on the information of the idiot friars, some of whom do not even know how to read.

And so, with the power they claimed as ecclesiastical judges, and that which your Justice gave them, they set about the business with great rigor and atrocity, putting the Indians to great tortures, of ropes and water, hanging them by pulleys with stones of 50 or 75 pounds to their feet, and so suspended gave them mans, lashes until the blood ran to the ground from their shoulders and legs; besides this they tarred them with boiling fat as was the custom to do to negro slaves, with the melted wax of lit candles dropped on their bare parts; all this without preceding information, or seeking first for the facts. This seemed to them the way to learn them.

The poor Indians, weak and miserable, afflicted and maltreated, in fear of the torture, while under the torture confessed irregularities they have neither committed nor thought of, saying they were idolaters, and had quantities of idols, and had even sacrificed human beings and done other great cruelties; all being false and stated in fear and for the pain they suffered.

Thus they brought in a great quantity of idols they had had in ancient buildings and the woods and caves, already left and forgotten, and said that they now had and used them; on which confessions, without listening to the Indians or their Defender, or making any verification beyond what came by the tortures, they sheared them, beat and punished them, usually every one in the pueblos they visited. Some individuals, leading caciques and persons, they condemned to ten years slavery, more or less; put or them the penitential sambenito garments of the Inquisition, banished them from their signories and towns, and made them slaves, and so treated them. From all they also exacted fines of two, three or more ducats, and from the common people two or four reales, by which they collected great sums of money; and in this way they did with most of the Indians where the Inquisition and punishment were instituted. They made two Autos of Inquisition, erecting high tablets and banners with insignia, such as your majesty's inquisitors use, putting great numbers of Indians in the province in the corozas [shame headdresses] and sambenitos, and declared it was necessary in the case.

From all which, and much more I cannot tell your majesty for the prolixity, great harm to the Indians resulted; for seeing the things, they fled many to the forests, others hung themselves in despair, many others were left wounded, without hands or feet, and many others died of the tortures inflicted. Thus the whole country was afflicted, aroused, oppressed and maltreated, until last August the bishop, don fray Francisco de Toral arrived, named by your majesty as prelate and pastor for this province; who took on himself the matter and the state of things he found, and before whom I, in the name of the Indians, asked relief.

This I could not do before, because the friars laid public excommunication upon any person who opposed them, saying this was improper, and interfered with the Holy-Office of the Inquisition, because it was the royal Justice who gave the chief favor to the friars. Thus I could not use my office, for they deprived me of liberty; only by letter could I admonish them, but these did no good. Before the bishop, who heard the charges without passion and with Christian zeal, I laid the charges and showed the Indians molested without

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fault; thus a great number held in prison were freed, the sambenitos were taken off, they were taken from the slavery imposed, and wherein they were, and the land was quieted, when it was without doubt at the stage of dissolution.

All this put the friars to great pain, knowing the wrong they had done, without order or justice; and thus they tried in every way to find faults in the Indians, to show that it had all been necessary. To this end I am advised that they secured proofs by rewards. The alcalde mayor presented witnesses to testify that he was a good governor, speaking in his defense and that of the friars, and declaring that the punishments had not been severe, and the like. Desiring to excuse themselves before your majesty, and knowing that it would be necessary to lay the facts before your majesty, they took pains to get statements in their favor, saying that it was all in the service of God our Lord and your majesty, and that they were not guilty, seeking to do you wrong, that you might not give remedy.

So it would be useless unless your majesty should provide a judge who would hear all, as I tell your majesty and have proven to the bishop, and will prove when called upon, and should relieve these poor people of the wrongs inflicted with no fault done by them: attacks, killings, loss and destruction of their houses and property, banishment. I in the name of these poor ones in my charge, and of the other Indians of these provinces, complain before your majesty as I can, as is my duty, and beg with all the proper respect that you grant the needed remedy and justice to these Indians; and against the alcalde mayor, who has done so great harm; and against the ministers and friars who have done it, that they be punished either by your prelates or those who should do this, and remove them from this land, in which they ever hold hatred against the Indians, since they cannot go on with that they have done; the same the alcalde mayor who seeks all kinds of vexations to prevent their speaking or complaining of what has happened, so that they are put in fear and afraid, wherein I fear rebellion and destruction.

Thus I humbly implore your majesty that you order it remedied, in the service of God our Lord and the good of these poor ones and the service of your majesty. I am not sending the processes of what took place and was done before the bishop, for they are long and costly. Your majesty will understand the truth from what the bishop will inform you, and what he shall say in justice as a servant of Our Lord and zealous in his and your majesty's service, and for these poor ones. May Our Lord guard the sacred Catholic and royal person of your majesty for many years, with increase of lands and dominions.

That your majesty may be advised, I ask the royal secretary of the council of this city to attach the certificate that I am such Defender of the Indians. Sacred Catholic royal majesty, I kiss your royal feet.

Your humble vassal,


I, Hernando Dorado, royal and public Secretary here in Merida, certify that the sender hereof, Diego Rodriguez Bibanco, is here Defender of the Indians by your royal order through the Audiencia of the Confines, and signed his petition before me.

Your majesty's Secretary.

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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937]