Sexuality and Religion: Spanish conquista

Humans have always been bound by religion. It dictates the morality of a person; what is right or wrong. Hence, religion is related to every human activity, and it has been related to sexuality since humans started praying. Some religions are less strict than others, but they always have a said in a person’s sexuality; being sexual intercourse or sexual orientation prohibition. That fact was no exception in Spain during its colonization of the Americas. A visible change in sexuality culture, as well as religious culture, can be seen in the Americas during the Spanish conquista since the Spanish imposed their religious beliefs to the American natives. Native America before Spain looked very different than after its colonization. It had different more antiquated, technologies and many different religions and tribes. Hence, here only a broad aspect of native religion will be discussed. “The Spanish missionaries defined impurity, unchastity, incontinence, lust, and fornication as vices based on Catholic teachings about human sexuality and marriage” [1]. The characterization of natives by a Spanish conqueror. Although it is somehow true, his depiction does not describe the reason for them being like that. Most of the natives’ religions believed that sexuality was closely related to fertility, hence, their need to be sexually active as soon as they could. Even their depictions of sexual acts were very explicit like the Moche pottery in the Andes.

Marriage

Many differences exist between the native’s religions and Catholicism, the main religion in Spain during the time. The native Americans just as the Spanish people did marry, several texts depict marriages among them. However, they did not believe that a man had to be married to the same woman all his life, as Catholics did, they were only compelled to keep the same wife when they have had children [2]. Although, adultery was more flexible in some tribes compared to the Spanish Catholicism and more punishable in others the same the conscious of fidelity existed in a marriage. The most punishable act of adultery was mainly to the woman and in some tribes if she had committed it with a member of another clan. The sex out of marriage was one of the most unusual sexual behaviors that the Spanish conquerors observed and made reference. Furthermore, most of the native’s beliefs did not see anything wrong with men and woman having sex before marriage, something that the Catholic doctrine disallowed, the natives promoted it. As long as they were old enough, they would engage in sexual intercourse.

Same-Sex Relationships

The lust and the forbidden sex was not the most unusual sexual behavior observed by the Spanish, but same-sex marriage, especially between men. Several texts describe how two same-sex individuals engaged in sexual relationships as well as dressed as a person from the opposite sex [3]. “When the priests at Mission San Antonio caught two men engaging in ‘an unspeakably sinful act,’ and ‘tried to present to them the enormity of their deed,’ wrote Palou, one of the men protested that the other ‘was his wife.’” [1]. Cabeza de Vaca also expresses his disgust with the Catholic sin of same-sex intercourse in his book Chronicles of a Narvaez Expedition.

However, the natives treated homosexuality as usual in their lives and referred to them as an individual with two spirits in one body. Evidence translated by postconquest narratives shows that the Incas were a civilization that did not allow same-sex relationships. However, later evidence suggests the opposite bringing doubts in most of the theories of sexuality before the Spanish conquest especially because of the Spanish’s biased opinion catholic’s morals. For instance, Moche’s pottery depicting same-sex sexual acts.

Incest and polygamy were another behavior observed by the Spanish people. In some tribes, the natives had no problem with marrying their brothers or sisters; they “recognize in their marriages no relationship of affinity” [1]. Furthermore, it is well known that caciques and other wealthy members of the native community had multiple wives, as many as they could maintain, and many children as well.

After the Conquista

Hence, since the Spanish conquistadores main target was to convert all the natives to the Catholic religion most of these thoughts and beliefs were eradicated. For instance, during the colonization they forced the man who had many wives to choose one of them; they usually wanted the newer union because the younger woman would bear more children. However, there was also a lot of mixture between the two cultures. Sometimes women were given as gifts to Spanish conquerors or married just because they were attracted to one another [4]. One of this example is described in Cabeza de Vaca’s journal. The first target was to eliminate the nudity in their culture. Some sexuality aspects of the native Americans found their way to survive during the colonization. Another important goal was to eliminate sex before marriage, hence, the order was made from Toledo.

“Toledo ordered that evangelized natives caught cohabiting outside church-sanctioned wedlock receive 100 lashes of the whip ‘to persuade these Indians to remove themselves from this custom so detrimental and pernicious.'”

Rick Vecchio – Los Angeles Times

And the most important tradition they had to eliminate was same-sex relationships. Those who committed this catholic sin were cruelly punished especially during the Inquisition era around 1569 when homosexuals were burned at the stake in Peru. Even though some of this effort to eradicate and turn natives into Catholics and change their sexual beliefs were successful, some of these traditions still live today. For instance, the two-spirits belief, the same-sex relationship between the natives, was one that did not perish. It was even used in an appealing for same-sex rights in the United States [3]. Also, the thought that sex is only allowed in marriage and that women must remain celibate are slowly being eliminated in our society.

One can help it but to find irony in this subject. Today, in the modern world, many years after the Spanish colonized and turned most of the Americas to religions that mainly come from Catholicism, the papers have become. Today, the Americas, primarily Hispanic America, it is profoundly conservative with the sexuality doctrines. Most people living in these countries do not allow their daughters to have sex before marriage. They forbid same-sex relations as well as heavily punish the woman who commits adultery. On the other hand, Europe, mainly Spain, are impressively open-minded. Although conservative people exist, most of the youth support homosexuality and even same-sex marriage. The majority do not support that relationships have to be monogamous and allow sex before marriage.

[1] Q. D. Newell, “‘The Indians Generally Love their Wives and Children’: Native American Marriage and Sexual Practices in Missions San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San JosÉ,” vol. 91, no. 1, pp. 60–82, 2005 [Online].

[2] J. S. Jacobi, “TWO SPIRITS, TWO ERAS, SAME SEX: FOR A TRADITIONALIST PERSPECTIVE ON NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBAL SAME-SEX MARRIAGE POLICY,” vol. 39, pp. 823–851, Jul. 2006.

[3] A. N. Cabeza de Vaca, Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. Stilwell: Neeland Media LLC, 2013 [Online].

[4] A. Lavrin, Sexuality in Colonial Spanish America. academia.edu: academia.edu, 2010, pp. 135–152.

[5] R. Vecchio, “Erotic ceramics reveal dirty little secret; Explicit depiction of sexuality was common in Peru, as was free love until suppressed by the Spanish. Pottery is popular in museums,” Los Angeles Times, p. A11, 07-Mar-2004.