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GRAVES OF CHIEFS.
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 had been derived from the cross of the Christian.
I see no reason for supposing that the images of El Salto had been idols, as they were supposed to be by the early Spaniards, and are still by the degenerate halfbreeds. They are more likely portrait-statues of famous chieftains who led the tribe to many a victory; and when they died, a loving people, with wailings and lamentations, celebrated their funeral 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, perhaps, food; and 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 time-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 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 ; and 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, 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 instinct; 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 stronger, who stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellows, reverenced and obeyed their chiefs, and excelled in feats of strength and agility, would annihilate 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 Amazons, 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 plough 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 take it from her hands as a gift ; where he is a worker, and not a pauper ; 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 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 more 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 the day-time. The night-world is very different from tha of the day. Things that blink and hide from the light
* * Naturalist's Voyage," p. 229.