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Land ahoy!

Discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.

– Marcel Proust, French novelist

The 15th century code for empire-building was ‘land ahoy,’ shouted by the ship’s watch to inform the weary seafaring crew that land has been spotted. Whether or not the ship’s captain and company shouted “land owners ahoy’ when they met natives ashore is doubtful. The hoisting of a colourful flag may have been watched with curiosity by natives, but it did not warn them that their lands were ripe for the taking, or more accurately, stealing, without any form of compensation except for vague promises of protection.

Pedro Scotto arrived in the Bahamas (“New World”) in 1492, met with natives, and figured he had arrived in India because he had set sail westbound for India. But this buccaneer with a royal charter took it upon himself to claim all the lands he visited as a Spanish acquisition. Subsequently, Cortes, Pizzaro, Balboa, Alvarado, and others helped the royal Spanish coffers and treasury with gold and silver traditionally owned by the natives under the ad coleum rights doctrine.

Incidentally, Pedro Scotto was later bestowed with a Hollywood name: Christopher Columbus.

Free land represented the motherlode to the discoverer-eurosettler with well-planned sinister agendas prepared by the papacy and the royal court of Spain. Gradually the land title system crept in to identify, alienate, register and own land. Private ownership of property was alien to the native inhabitants of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australasia, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia who practised communal property ownership.

G. Cheshire and E. Burn write in their seminal Modern Law of Real Property (15th edn, London, Butterworths, 1994), at p.26, that “it has been said, rightly, that there is no law of ownership of land in England and Wales, only a law of possession.” If this means anything it means the eurosettler had no legitimate claim to land possession except by physical force under colour of law.


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