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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 Ch. Ix.]
GRAVES OF CHIEFS.
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, Ch. IX.]
DEGENERATION OF THE INDIANS.
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