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had advanced so far in their peculiar civilisation. They are not so sunk in sloth as the half-breeds. They still till the ground, grow maize, cacao, and many fruits; they still make the earthenware dishes of the country, though far inferior to those of their ancestors; but they have lost their tribal instincts, they do not support each other; they acknowledge no chiefs ; each one is absorbed in his own affairs, and they are only a little less slothful than the half-breeds. Will these Indians ever again attain to that pitch of civilisation at which they had arrived before the conquest?-I fear not. The whip that kept them to the mark in the old days was the continual warfare between the different tribes, and this has ceased for ever. War is not always a curse. “There is some soul of goodness in things evil.” Before the Spanish conquest no small isolated communities could exist. Those in which the tribal instinct was strongest, who stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellows, reverenced and obeyed their chiefs, and excelled in feats of strength and agility, would annihilate or subjugate the weaker and less warlike races. It was this constant struggle between the different tribes that weeded out the weak and indolent, and preserved the strong and enterprising; just as amongst many of the lower animals the stronger kill off the weaker, and the result is the improvement of the race, or at any rate the maintenance of the point of excellence at which it had arrived in former times.
Since the Spanish conquest there has been no such process of selection in operation amongst the Indians. The most indolent can obtain enough food, whilst the climate makes clothing almost a superfluity. The idle and
improvident live their natural terms of years, and increase their kind even faster than the provident and industrious. The tribal feeling is destroyed; the selfish and sensual instincts are developed, and year by year the Indian degenerates.
Mr. Bates, at the end of his admirable work on the natural history of the Amazon, speculates on the future of the human race, and thinks that under the equator alone will it attain the highest form of perfection. I have had similar thoughts when riding over hundreds of miles of fertile savannahs in Central America, where an everlasting summer and fertile land yield a harvest of fruits and grain all the year round—where it is not even necessary “to tickle the ground with a hoe to make it laugh with a harvest.” But thinking over the cause of the degeneracy of the Spaniards and Indians, I am led to believe that in climes where man has to battle with nature for his food, not to receive it from her hands as a gift; where he is a worker, and not an idler; where hard winters kill off the weak and brace up the strong; there only is that selection at work that keeps the human race advancing, and prevents it retrograding, now that Mars has been dethroned and Vulcan set on high.
In destroying the ancient monarchies of Mexico and Central America, the Spaniards inflicted an irreparable injury on the Indian race; for whether or not a republic is the highest ideal form of government (and doubtless it would be if man were perfect), it is not adapted for savage or half-civilised communities, and I cordially agree with the truth enunciated by Darwin when, writing of the 'natives of Terra del Fuego, he says, “ Perfect equality among the individuals composing the
Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilisation. As we see those animals whose instinct compels them to live in society, and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is it with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a consequence, the most civilised always have the most artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders, who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense.”*
Dusk was coming on before we left the small plain, with its broken statues, and the steep hill overlooking it, on which probably religious rites had been celebrated and human sacrifices offered up. This people have entirely passed away, and the sparse inhabitants of the once thickly-populated province have not even a tradition about them. In Europe and North America more is known about them, and more interest taken in gleaning what little vestiges of their history can be recovered from the dim past, than among their own degenerate descendants.
Half way to Juigalpa was an Indian hut and a small clearing made for growing maize. The fallen trunks of trees were a likely place for beetles, and as I had brought a lantern with me, I stayed to examine them whilst Velasquez rode on to get some food ready. At night many species of beetles, especially longicorns, are to be found running over the trunks, that lie closely hidden in
*“Naturalist's Voyage,” p. 229.
the day-time. The night-world is very different from that of the day. Things that blink and hide from the light are all awake and astir when the sun goes down. Great spiders and scorpions prowl about, or take up advantageous positions where they expect their prey to pass. Cockroaches of all sizes, from that of one's finger to that of one's finger-nail, stand with long quivering antennæ, pictures of alert outlook, watching for their numerous foes, or scurry away as fast as their long legs can carry them; but if they come within reach of the great spider they are pounced upon in an instant, and with one convulsive kick give up the hopeless struggle. Centipedes, wood-lice, and all kinds of creeping things come out of cracks and crevices; even the pools are alive with water-beetles that have been hiding in the ooze all day, excepting when they come up with a dash to the surface for a bubble of fresh air. Owls and night-jars make strange unearthly cries. The timid deer comes out of its close covert to feed in the grassy clearings. Jaguars, ocelots, and opossums slink about in the gloom. The skunk goes leisurely along, holding up his white tail as a danger-flag for none to come within range of his nauseous artillery. Bats and large moths flitter around, whilst all the day-world is at rest and asleep. The night speeds on; the stars that rose in the east are sinking behind the western hills; a faint tinge of dawn lights the eastern sky; loud and shrill rings out the awakening shout of chanticleer; the grey dawn comes on apace; a hundred birds salute the cheerful morn, and the night-world hurries to its gloomy dens and hiding-places, like the sprites and fairy elves of our nursery days.
It was very dark when I started to return, excepting that flashes of lightning now and then illumined the path, but I left my mule to herself, and she carried me safely into Juigalpa, where I found dinner awaiting me. It took me until midnight to skin the birds I had shot during the day; and as I had been up since six in the morning, I was quite ready for, and took kindly to, my hard leathern couch.