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enter on a description of the city of Guatemala, the sittings of its federal congress, the plans of its government, or involve ourselves in political matters, we will give a succinct account of the Indians, which cannot fail
to interest the philosopher and the philanthropist.
The Indians who people the republic of Guatemala have not a common origin. The descent of a great proportion of them may undoubledly be traced from the Julteca Indians ; who, after having conquered Mexico, extended their dominion even to the territory of the present Guatemalian republic. Nevertheless, before their conquests, that part of America was peopled by different nations; and the Jultecas, on entering the Mexican kingdom, found it occupied by the Chichimecas. Were all the Indians of this republic descended from the stock of the Jultecas, they would universally speak nearly the same dialect; on the contrary, as the natives of this country speak many and opposite languages, it is to be presumed that they are descended from divers nations. In the provinces of Quiché and Potonicapon, in a part of Quezaltenego, and in the town of Rabinal, the inhabitants make use of the languages of Quiché ; that is to say, of the Jultecas. lo Gueguetenago, in a part of Quegaltenago, and in the province of Soconusco, the Mam or Pocoman language is spoken ; and in no kingdom of the New World are so many and so different dialects heard, as in the confines of Guatemala. The languages which are known and have a name, as those of Quiché, Mam, Pipil, Zoque, Chol, Lenca, Maga, &c. alone, amount to twenty-six. Many of these languages, however, have some analogy to each other; and, generally speaking, are very difficult to acquire, having a strong, harsh, guttural sound, and the signification being changed by only laying a greater or less stress on the words.*
Charles V. ordered the Dominican friars to instruct all the Indians in the Spanish language, merely to facilitate among them the introduction of the Catholic religion, since it could not have been supposed that the Castilian would ever become the organ of communication among the Indians themselves. But that wise enactment did not take effect in all parts; which is proved by some of the more uncultivated and savage Indians not understanding or speaking a word of Spanish.
Before the Spanish conquest the Indians were idolaters, and had their priests, who, on many occasions, acted as soothsayers. Subsequently, in 1524, when Don Pedro Alvarado had subdued for Spaia the different kingdoms into which that vast part of America was divided, by means of the ministry of successive Spanish missionaries the different populations embraced the Catholic religion ; and many and heavy were the difficulties and dangers that these missionaries had to surmount, in order to establish the gospel. Besides the ruggedness of the roads, thirst, famine, and bad health in unwholesome climates, they had often to encounter death, rendered hideous and appalling by torments invented by the barbarity and ferocity of their indocile neophytes. Nevertheless, these holy persons left nothing untried to attain their object. They lavished presents on the Indians ; caressed them ; and sometimes, by means of the converted part of their wild community, putting some part of the mysteries of religion into verse, caused these
* Compendium of the History of the City of Guatemala, written by Dr. Domingo Jaarros, in the year 1818.
compositions to be sung; and thus attracted the curiosity of the Indians, who, allured by the singing, were anxious to know the details and issue of its history. Thus it was that they initiated them into the mysteries of the new worship.
Those Indians, who did not inhabit the great cities and fortresses, were not accustomed to live in towns, after our fashion. Their towns, before the conquest, were similar to some of those which exist in the present day (called Pajuyuco); in which the houses are so dispersed, and at such a distance from each other, that a town of 500 families not unfrequently occupies the space of a league. The missionaries, in order to baptize and instruct with more facility, collected these natives into villages, formed after the Spanish way; the church being erected in the centre, in front of which was a square with a chapter-house, jail, and other public buildings, with the houses distributed into square allotments, and rectilinear streets. Had the Spanish missionaries refrained from employing the bayonets of the soldiery, trusting their cause to the powers of persuasion, and had they not contaminated the minds of their converts with absurd superstitions and a farrago of ridiculous miracles, they would have rendered by their ministry an incalculable service to humanity.
Notwithstanding, however, the zeal of these missionaries, many Indians, a century after the conquest, were not converted to Christianity; and others, towards the year 1725, abjured that belief, and put to death three missionaries who chanced to be among them, accusing religion and the Spanish friars of having been instrumental in their slavery.* At present the greater proportion of these Indians profess the Catholic religion ; the most part of them, however, without understanding it. They are credulous and superstitious. In the state of Honduras, on the banks of the river Ulua, exist a tribe of Indians, from fifteen to twenty thousand, called Sicaques, who are quiet and hospitable in their disposition. They welcome most affectionately every stranger; and if such persons show an inclination to become domiciliated among them, give them a but, and provide them with agricultural utensils ; and after a year, if they have conducted themselves well, incorporate them with their community, giving one of their daughters in marriage to each of them.
The foreigner who receives these marks of favour and hospitality should take especial care never to speak of the missionaries, whom they detest, as having uniformly been the chief agents in the work of their oppression. In the state of Honduras also, the Mosquito Indians are resident,---rough in their aspect, dirty, and nearly naked. These are implacable enemies to the Spaniards, who never could subdue them. They are inhospitable, and carry on an insignificant commerce with the English alone, selling to them the small quantity of silver and gold which they pick up in the rivers and nuines. Some of them are seen in the streets of Wallis (an English settlement), who appear like the gipsies among us, and live apart from all the other inhabitants, feeding on uncleanliness and the offal which they find in the streets. Some will have them to be cannibals, but certain it is that they are still idolaters.
* The Court of Rome, as usual, canonized, as saints, these three missionaries, and made them perform miracles.
When we behold the disorder, narrowness, and total want of conve nience in the houses of the natives of this country, and the state of misery in which they are now found, it appears incredible that the Indians before the conquest should have had palaces of such wagnificence, cities so well constructed, fortresses and castles defended with so much art, and other edifices for mere ostentation and parade, of which many histories descant, and some traces still remain. The richest Indian has now nothing but a miserable house for his habitation, which, generally speaking, has only one chamber; and, although sometimes their houses may contain several apartments, they are arranged without any continuity of order, and separated from each other; so that there is no instance of an Indian possessing a house enclosed in walls with any vestige of taste, notwithstanding they have the abodes of the Spaniards constantly before their eyes.
The Indians in the vicinity of Guatemala are as yet in a wild state : they speak the indigenous language, and clothe themselves like savages, if a piece of cloth with which they cover their middle, leaving all the rest of the body naked, can be denominated clothing. The females are not more covered than the men ; but the bronze-like colour of their skins, and their coarse physiognomies, are antidotes against the seductions of such a dress. The Indians of the other provinces are more civilized, clothing themselves after the European fashion, and speaking the Spanish tongue.
It is generally remarked, that the Indians are naturally timid and cowardly,--a fact which is perfectly established by the history of the conquest. Don Pedro Alvarado* conquered the numerous kingdoms which existed in his day with some hundred Spanish soldiers, and six thousand allied Indians from the province of Plaxaltecas. The armies of the Indian kings consisted of thirty, fifty, and sometimes eighty thousand men, if credit can be placed in the Spanish historians. But by degrees, as these Indians proceed in civilization, they acqure courage and valour; and in the last war many of them evinced great prowess. Their principal weapon is the sabre, and several of them know how to rise muskeis. Many of the tribes are armed with spears, and esteemed skilful in shooting with arrows.
By the present constitution, the Indians have acquired the right of citizenship, and are placed completely on an equality with the descendants of the Spaniards. They cannot, therefore, be otherwise than attached to the new system, and many of their entire towns are open partizans of the republican government.
Under the Spanish rule, these people lived in oppression. The government, to appearance, proiected them ; but in reality, their laws tended solely to keep them in ignorance and inferiority. Thus the Spanish law considered the Indians as minors during their whole life, and subjected them to a perpetual tutelage. In order to prevent instruction from penetrating to them in any way, the Spaniards were prohibited from entering Indian villages. Dancing in their own houses
* The descendants of that conqueror inhabit the state of Costa Rica. That family, excellent and enlightened citizens, has one of its members seated in the Federal Congress, and another in the Senate.
was not permitted ; and, to the end that they might not become accomplished in the exercises of war, they were debarred from even mounting on horseback, although their country was most abundant in horses. In fine, under the Spanish sway, they were liable to be compelled by the proprietors of mines to work in those subterraneous caverns for two reals a day. These people, therefore, have cause to bless the present constitution, which has emancipated them from a state of degradation ; and their emancipation would always be a powerful obstacle in the way of the pretensions and attempts of Spain, even were that power in a state of capability to aspire to the reconquest of its colonies.
The historian Torquemada says, that these Indians, under their kings, had colleges and seminaries for children and adults, under the superintendence of approved, prudent, and able persons. Although, in the present day, no traces of these colleges remain, nevertheless Indian parents take great pains with the education of their children. The mothers suckle their offspring till it attains the age of three years ; and there is no instance of their confiding their children to a strange nurse. They carry them slung over their shoulders, wrapped up in a a piece of cloth, which they tie before them. With this burden they wash, and grind, the movement of the mother serving as a gentle rocking to the child. They do not defiend them from the inclemencies of wind, of rain, of sun or of frost ; nor have they any cradle but the hard ground, or at most a piece of cloth. As soon as the child can walk, they place burdens on him adapted to his strength, and at the age of five or six years, he is conducted to the fields to gather grass, or to collect wood. At a more mature age the father instructs his sons in hunting, fishing, labouring, using the bow and arrow, dancing, and other accomplishments. The mothers teach their daughters to grind, to spin cotton and pita, and to weave all kinds of cloths. They accustom them to bathe frequently, as often as twice or thrice a day. They are jealous of the honour of their daughters, and never suffer them to be absent a moment from their sight.
The Indians lead a life of great hardship, sleeping on the bare ground, with their heads wrapped in a woollen covering, and their feet exposed to the air. They eat from off the ground, without any cloth or napkin, and their chief aliment consists of maize ; for, although they eat ox-flesh, game, and other mountainous animal food, it is taken in small quantities, and always accompanied with a tortilla, which is a cake of maize, thin, and baked on a comal or plate of clay, and seasoned with a small quantity of salt. They drink water, or else chicha, which is a beverage extracted from maize, bran, or different fruits. The chicha is a sweet drink, and also of a strong nature. The Indians are particularly partial to brandy, which they purchase in bottles, or make in their own houses from bran, or panela, which is a sort of sugar of a very vile quality. In some villages a bottle of brandy costs two reals, and in others four. The government has always imposed a tax on this distillation.
When they pay visits, they make use of long harangues full of repetitions; and their sons, when they accompany them on such occasions, observe the strictest silence. The Indians preserve secrets with the greatest fidelity, and would suffer death rather than reveal them. When interrogated about any thing, they never reply determinately, but always in the way of a doubt, and with a quizas si, which signifies perhaps.*
Among the Indians in the province of Guatemala, and those of Quesaltenango, there are many who possess sheep in abundance. These persons avail themselves of the wool to weave stuffs of various kinds. The most common of these stuffs is that called Serga, which, for the most part, is a mixture of black and white wool, and is used by the Indians for clothes, as well as by other people who are employed in rough and hard labour. They weave a more ordinary sort of stuff, which scarcely deserves the name of cloth, and is destined for various purposes. The lowest price of these stuffs is a real the vara, which is nearly an English yard. The Indians also manufacture cotton cloth higher in price than the stuffs we have just mentioned, and of which the Indian women make use for dress, as well as the poorer classes of people in the cities.
It is by no means true, as some writers have asserted, that the Indians are inferior to Europeaus in physical force, and in intellectual faculties; or at least some writers have assigned too low a criterion for judging of the natives of America. With regard to physical power, if the Indians are not to be compared with Europeans in the conventional beauties of figure, many of them are their equals, or superiors in strength, and are capable of carrying loads of two hundred pounds English weight. They also resist diseases better than Europeans. There is no doubt that the organization of the Indians is similar to that of the European inhabitants of America; and to prove that they possess the same facilities for acquiring any art or science, it is sufficient merely to reflect, that, from among those Indians who have been placed in contact with civilized society, and instructed by Priests capable of guiding their understandings, many have stood forth eminently skilled in philosophy, in theology, in jurisprudence, and in other sciences which they have been taught. In the province of Nicaragua there was an Indian ecclesiastic, (not long dead) styled Doctor Ruiz, who was a scholar of no ordinary stamp. In general they make great progress in whatever studies they take up; and are particularly gifted with fluency of language and feelings of patriotism. They were the first, in 1812, to take part in the revolution of Independence; and in the first Constituent Assembly of Guatemala, in 1823, three Indian deputies took their seats, of whom two were ecclesiastics. Besides which, an Indian was elected Senator, and sat in the assembly of the republic, in the year spoken of; nor is it improbable, that in the first sittings of the Congress, several Indians will appear as deputies.
In the days of the Spanish government there were few schools for the use of the Indians; and those established were but ill endowed and miserably conducted, nothing being taught in them but Castilian reading and writing. At present, primary schools are increasing, and establish
* The most general occupation of the Indians is -agriculture. Many of them work in the mines, and others employ themselves with their rough manufactures. The government has now ordered that each village shall have possession of land to the extent of a league around it, that the population may employ itself in agricultural pursuits, and so that every person may labour for himself.