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Indian population of the country lying between the great lakes of
Nicaragua and the Pacific-Discovery and conquest of Nicaragua by the Spaniards—Cruelties of the Spaniards—The Indians of Western Central America all belonged to one stock-Decadence of Mexican civilisation before the arrival of the Spaniards—The designation “Nahuatls” proposed to include all the Mexican, Western Central American, and Peruvian races that had descended from the same ancient stock—The Nahuatls distinct from the Caribs on one side, and the Red Indians on the other- Discussion of the question of the peopling of America.
I RODE for some distance around the Lake of Masaya, and reached an Indian village named Nandasme, about two leagues from the city. As usual the streets were laid out at right angles, and the houses of the Indians embowered in trees, many of which are grown entirely for the beautiful odoriferous flowers they produce. There are several other Indian villages around the lake, from each of which paths have been cut through the forest down to the water, along which the women are constantly ascending and descending to fill their vessels for the supply of their houses.
All the fertile country lying between the great lakes and the Pacific was densely populated at the time of the conquest, and it was not far from Masaya that the great chief, Diriangan, lived, who tried, but tried in vain, to stem the onward course of the Spaniards. Gil Gonzales Ch. XX.] SPANISH INVASION OF NICARAGUA.
de Avila was in command of the first expedition sent to explore the country of Nicaragua. He sailed from Panama with one hundred followers and four horses, the latter, auxiliaries whose aid was never dispensed with in these expeditions on account of the superstitious terror with which the unaccustomed sight of a man and a horse, apparently joined together, inspired the Indians. He landed somewhere on the Gulf of Nicoya, near which he entered the country of a powerful chief, after whom the gulf was named. Nicoya entertained the Spaniards courteously, supplied them with food, and embraced the Christian religion, being baptized himself along with all his people, six thousand in number.
Pushing on to the northward for fifty leagues, Gonzales entered the territories of a great chief named Nicaragua, whose country comprised the present province of Rivas. Nicaragua had been informed of “the sharpness of the Spanish swords” and received Gonzales with hospitality, presenting him with much gold, equal to “ 25,000 pieces of eight,” and garments and plumes of feathers. He asked the Spaniards many shrewd questions : about the flood, and about the sun, moon, and stars; their motion, quality, and distance; what was the cause of night and day and the blowing of the winds? how the Spaniards got all their information about heaven; who brought it to them, and if the messenger came down on a rainbow? We are told that “Gonzales answered to the best of his ability, commending the rest to God.” Probably his interrogator knew more of the visible heavenly bodies than he did, for Nicaragua was of the Aztec race, a people who knew the true theory of eclipses, and possessed an astronomical calendar of great accuracy.
Pedrarias, who was then in command at Panama, stimulated by the accounts of the rich country that Gonzales had discovered, sent Hernando de Cordova in 1522 to subdue and settle the country of Nicaragua. Pascual de Andagoya tells the story of the rich land, “populous and fertile, yielding supplies of maize, and many fowls of the country, and certain small dogs which they also eat, and many deer and fish. This is a land of abundance of good fruits and of honey and wax, wherewith all the neighbouring countries are supplied. The bees are numerous, some of them yellow, and these do not sting.” The poor Indians, too, could not sting, they were powerless with their coats of feathers and swords of stone against the arms of the Spaniards, who treated them like a hive of stingless bees, turning them out and eating up their riches. “They had a great quantity of cotton cloths, and they held their markets in the open squares, where they traded. They had a manufactory where they made cordage of a sort of nequen, which is like carded flax; the cord was beautiful and stronger than that of Spain, and their cotton canvas was excellent. The Indians were very civilised in their way of life, like those of Mexico, for they were a people who had come from that country, and they had nearly the same language.”
They had even in one direction reached a pitch of civilisation that some of our philanthropists are only now hoping for. Women's rights were acknowledged, and, if anything, they appear to have had too much of them. Pascual says: “They had many beautiful women. The husbands were so much under subjection that if they made their wives' angry they were turned out of doors, and the wives even raised their hands against
Ch. XX.] INIQUITY OF SPANIARDS.
361 them.”* Much have the Indians changed since then under the dominion of the Spaniard, and now all the toil and labour fall to the lot of the weaker sex. One custom still remaining amongst the Masaya Indians may be a relic of the old days of woman's superiority. When they marry, the goods that the wife had before her marriage still belong to her, and if she had a mule or horse, and her husband had none, he cannot use hers without her permission.
The poor Indians were ground down to the dust by the Spaniards with pitiless barbarities. All their possessions were seized, and they themselves exported to Panama and Peru, and sold as slaves to work at the mines. Even in Pascual's time the country had been greatly depopulated by these means. The people were harmless and patient, but there was a noble independence about them that could not be eradicated, and the Spaniards found it was cheaper to bring the negro from Africa, with his light and careless nature, than to try to enslave a people who did not resist, but who sought a refuge from their persecutors in the grave rather than continue in slavery. I shall not harrow the feelings of my readers with the mass of treachery, avarice, blasphemy, and horrible cruelties with which the conquerors rewarded the noble people who entertained them so courteously. To me the conquest of Mexico, Central America, and Peru appears one of the darkest pages in modern history. One virtue indeed shone out—undaunted courage; and the human mind is so constituted that this single redeeming point irresistibly enlists our
* This and the other quotation are from the “Narrative of Pascual de Andagoya,” translated by C. R. Markham, Esq. Hakluyt Soc.
sympathies. But for this, Pizarro would be execrated as a monster of cruelty, and even the fame of Cortez, immeasurably superior as he was to the rest of the conquerors, would be tarnished with innumerable deeds of violence, cruelty, and treachery.
As has been already mentioned, the Pacific provinces of Nicaragua were inhabited by a people closely related to the Mexicans, and their language was nearly the same. According to Squier, who has more than any other traveller studied the different races, the Indians living at the island of Omotépec at the present time are of pure Mexican or Aztec stock. So many of the names of towns in the central provinces are also of Aztec origin, that they must have had a considerable footing there also. They called the older inhabitants, whom they had probably dispossessed and driven back to the interior, “ Chontalli,” “barbarians," and hence the name of the province of Chontales, where these tribes still existed in considerable numbers at the time of the conquest.
All these races, differing as they did in language and in the degree of civilisation at which they had arrived, were closely affiliated.* The American archæologist, Mr. John D. Baldwin, is of opinion that they were the descendants of indigenes. That at some very remote period, before they had attained a high degree of civilisation, they separated into two branches, one of which occupied Peru, the other Central America and Mexico. Both branches advanced greatly in civilisation, and both
* According to Prescott the Aztecs and cognate races believed their ancestors came from the north-west—and were preceded by the real civilisers-the Toltecs.