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intended to indicate the shoulder-blades. The legs were doubled up, and continued round to the back, in the same way as the arms.
The back of the figure was elaborately carved, the most noticeable features being a wide ornamented belt around the waist, and two well-carved crosses, one on each shoulder.
The other stones lying about were broken portions of other smaller figures and of pedestals. All were made out of very hard, tough trachyte; and the labour required to make the principal one out of such difficult material without tools of iron must have been immense.
The fragments were all lying out on the bare plain. I thought they must have been brought from some burial-place of the ancient Indians. Our guide, on being asked, said he had seen other cairns of stones besides these on the hill-top, but could not recollect where. He was very uneasy when questioned ; and at last said he had business to attend to, and left us abruptly. In his absence we examined all around for traces of graves. Between the plain and the river was a thicket of low trees and undergrowth. Peering into this, we saw some heaps of stones; and, pushing in amongst the bushes found it was full of old Indian graves, marked by heaps of stones, in the centres of some of which still stood the pedestals on which the statues had been placed. Most of the heaps were about twenty feet in diameter, and composed of stones of the average size of a man's head: but one, from the centre of which grew an immense cotton-wood tree, was made of about a dozen very large stones, some about five feet long, three broad, and one thick. Here we got a clue
Ch. IX.] DEFACEMENT OF ANCIENT STATUES.
to the behaviour of our guide. When he told us that he knew not where there were any more cairns, he was standing within thirty feet of one hidden by the thicket, which bore evident marks of having been recently disturbed. It was the cairn of big stones. One of these had been overturned, and some fresh-cut poles, that had been used as levers, were lying alongside, with the green bark broken and bruised. A hole had been dug underneath it, and filled up with stones again. Our lounging friend had been doing a little exploring on his own account. Many of the natives believe that treasure is buried under these heaps of stones; and the interest that foreigners take in them they ascribe to their wish to obtain these treasures. Our guide, wishing to get these himself, had taken us to the single grave on the top of the hill, which he had already ransacked, and professed ignorance of the others. I only hope that he did not compound with his conscience for the lies he had told us by coming back after we left, and trying to break off the nose of another idol, as the natives call the images. They think they show their zeal for Christianity by defacing them. This is why scarcely any of the noses of the images are left. They form the most salient points for attack. And that the images have not been utterly destroyed by the ill-usage they have had for three hundred years is due to the hard, tough rock of which they are made. It is probable that the statues at El Salto were brought out from the cairns into the plain, and publicly thrown down, defaced, and broken, when the Spaniards first took possession of the Juigalpa district, and forced Christianity upon the Indians; for the conquerors everywhere overthrew and mutilated the “idols” of the Indians, set up the cross and their own images, and forced the people to be baptized. The change was not a great one. Already the cross was an emblem amongst them, and baptism a rite; and the images they were called upon to adore did not differ so greatly from those they had worshipped before. They easily conformed to the new faith. D'Avila is said to have overthrown the idols at Rivas, and to have baptized nine thousand Indians. Then the Spaniards, having Christianised the Indians, made slaves of them, and ground them to the dust with merciless cruelties and overwork, which quickly depopulated whole towns and districts.
The presence of the cross in Central America greatly astonished the Spanish discoverers. In Yucatan and throughout the Aztec Empire it was the emblem of the “god of rain.” There has been much speculation by various authors respecting its origin, as a religious emblem, in Mexico and Central America. It has even been supposed that some of the early Icelandic Christians of the ninth century may have reached the coast of Mexico, and introduced some knowledge of the Christian religion. But the cross was a religious emblem of the greatest antiquity, both in Syria and Egypt, and baptism was a pre-Christian rite. This and other observances, such as auricular confession and monastic institutions, were so mixed up with the worship of a great number of gods, at the head of which was the worship of the sun, and were associated with such horrid human sacrifices and pagan ceremonials, that it is more likely that they acquired the cross, with other pagan traditions handed down to them from a remote antiquity, from the common stock from whence both the
inhabitants of the Eastern and Western hemispheres were descended. There is good evidence for supposing that young children were offered up in sacrifice to Thaloc, the god of rain, the very god whose emblem was the cross—a contrast too great to the “Suffer little children to come unto me” of the loving Saviour, not to make the mind revolt against the idea that the cross of the god of rain was derived from the cross of the Christian.
I see no reason for supposing that the images of El Salto were idols, as supposed by the early Spaniards, and still by the degenerate half-breeds. They are more likely portrait-statues of famous chieftains who led the tribe to many a victory. When they died, a loving people, with wailings and lamentations, celebrated their obsequies. The funeral pyre was built, the body burnt, and the ashes carefully gathered together, and placed in the finely-wrought urn and painted cinerary, and this in one larger and coarser. These were buried with the stone maize-grinder, and sometimes weapons and earthen dishes and food. Over the grave a pile of stones was raised, and skilful artificers were set to work on the hardest and toughest stone they could find to make a statue of the chief whose memory they reverenced. It must have taken months, if not years, to have fashioned the statue I have figured, out of the trachyte, without tools of iron, and it strikes one with wonder to think of the patience and perseverance with which the details were worked out. No eye-servers were these Indians; before and behind they bestowed equal pains and labour on their work, undeterred by the hardness of the materials or the rudeness of their tools.
When we turn from these works and remains of a
great and united tribe to the miserable huts of the present natives, we feel how great a curse the Spanish invasion has in some respects been to Central America. The half-breed, wrapped up in himself, lives from year to year in his thatched hut, looking after a few cows, and making cheese from their milk. He perhaps plants a small patch of maize once a year, and grows a few plantains, content to live on the plainest fare, and in the rudest style, so that he may indulge in indolence and sloth. So he vegetates and drops into his grave, and in a year or two no mark or sign tells where he was laid. The graves of the old Indians are still to be found, but no mounds mark the spots where the inhabitants of the valley since the conquest have been laid to rest. They have passed away, as they lived, without a record or memorial.
The builders of these cairns and the fashioners of these statues were a different and a better race. They stood by each other, and reverenced and obeyed their chiefs. They tilled the ground and lived on the fruits of it. From the accounts of all the historians of the Spanish conquest, the Pacific side of Nicaragua was so densely populated when the Spaniards first arrived, that the greater part of it must have been cultivated like a garden; and it is probable that the population was ten times greater than it is now. Another point that strikes the observer is, that not only the descendants of the Spaniards and the Mestizos are sunk far below the level of the old Indians, but that the nearly pure Indians, of whom there are many large communities, have so degenerated that it is hard to believe that they are the very same people that, four hundred years ago,