Слике страница
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

strength during that period; that they swallow three-fourths of a pound of clay daily, and that the sensation of hunger is as effectually removed by it as by ordinary food !* They select a very fine clay, taken from an alluvial stratum of the most unctuous earth, form it into small balls, and slightly harden them by the fire. These are found stacked together in small pyramids in their huts, and are taken without any farther preparation than being partially moistened in water. Though it is a matter of historical record that clay is used for food in Java, Guiana, New Caledonia, and in the Archipelago, yet no instance is mentioned in any of these places in which clay has been made the exclusive dieť of human beings. This instance in South America is believed to stand alone, in which men have for months in succession subsisted on clay alone; and this is a pathological problem, a solution of which the writer is not aware has ever been furnished.

But, on whatever aliment these tribes subsist, in whatever pursuit they are engaged, or wheresoever their residence is located, female degradation, that never absent attendant of pagan life, is found to exist. Polygamy among the Indians in South America is almost universal; and that endless and frightful train of evils, inseparable from this violation of the law of nature and of God, is felt in all its blighting power in the savage state. Here the vilest passions of nature, which have never been curbed by the least restraint, are fanned into the most desolating flame. The Indian hut, which is sufficiently wretched from the want of every convenience, is rendered a thousand times more miserable by the mutual jealousies and boiling rancor of the fiend-like inmates.

But, exclusive of this fruitful source of female wo, of domestic strife, and of social confusion, the sufferings of every Indian wife are so intense as to be more easily conceived than described. She is an abject slave, and her husband a most consummate tyrant. So awfully are these women impressed with the overwhelming calamities of married life, that, when they speak of that state, they clothe their thoughts in the most expressive terms which their language affords. Of this, we may take a specimen from the doleful song in which the matrons address themselves to the bride on the day of her wedding:—"Ah, my daughter,” say they, “what torments thou preparest for thyself! Hadst thou foreseen their terrible magnitude

* Humboldt observes, that some animals, like savage men, when pressed with hunger, swallow clay stones, and other hard substances. Instances of this may be found among wolves in the north-east of Europe, reindeer in higher latitudes, kids in Siberia, and crocodiles in Egypt and South America. In some of these have been found, on dissection, small blocks of wood, and large quantities of clay ; and in the crocodile pieces of iron, and large stones, more than three inches in diameter. That these indigestible substances may remove the sensation of hunger may readily be conceived, as that is reinoved when food is taken into the stomach long before the process of digestion commences, or before the chyme is converted into chyle. Whether this is effected by the impression exerted by the aliment on the coats of the stomach, or by the digestive apparatus being filled with substances which excite the mucus membranes to an abundant secretion of gastric juice, and so remove the uneasy sensation of hunger; or whether it is referable to some other undiscovered process, may never be determined. But the fact has been sustained by too many experiments to leave room for doubt.

thou wouldst never have married. Ah, couldst thou believe that, in a married state, thou canst not pass a single moment without weeping tears of blood, thou wouldst have shrunk with horror from a condition so frightful!"

The history of every Indian wife shows that these startling descriptions of her wo are sober realities, and not rhetorical figures. The day of her nuptials is the last of her existence in which she has not to lament her unhappy lot. If the soil is cultivated, it is only by her diligence. The fields only produce as her hand tills them. If the crops are protected, she guards them. If the harvests are gathered, it must be by her labor; and while she toils under the drenching rains and burning suns, her husband lounges in the shade, smokes his tobacco, or quaffs his chicha.

These unfeeling barbarians use their wives alike for slaves in the field, and for beasts of burden to carry their loads. Nothing is more common than for the women to be seen bending under a load of corn or game, each with her infant fastened to her burden, and her stupid husband passing listlessly before her, without the weight of a feather to encumber him. And then, after she has prepared a meal of that which her own labor had procured, she must stand by trembling with dread of her lord's frown, and not be permitted to taste a morsel until he has finished his meal, and then only to satisfy the cravings of nature by the fragments he has left! Indeed, if her constant privations, her exhausting toils, and her unpitied sufferings, be all considered, death must appear a welcome refuge from the storms of a life so crowded with calamities. No enlightened mind can contemplate a picture of female degradation in a pagan state without feeling, immeasurably beyond the power of all words to express, how much the gospel has done in elevating the social destiny of that sex. Indeed, were we to grant the most shocking extravagances of infidelity, and concede that death is annihilation, and eternity but a dream, still we should, at the greatest sacrifices, send these unpitied sufferers the gospel ; for it is the decision of all history, both of civilized and barbarous ages, that nothing below the revealed oracles of God can elevate woman to that losty position from which she is formed to send out so kindly an influence.

Among the tribes of whose character we are drawing this sketch all other parts of domestic discipline are the legitimate result of that part which we have noticed. Parents have not the least control over their sons after the latter acquire muscular power sufficient to cope with their fathers; and it is impossible to conceive the disrespect, and even animosity, they evince for the paternal instrument of their existence. This want of respect, and feeling of hatred for their father, are the natural fruit of the heart-sickening manner in which his domestic relations are sustained.

That brute force by which those of the softer sex, the mother and wife, are subjected to slavery; and that entire want in the father of care and affection for his offspring, which should be the dearest parts of himself-could not but awaken in his sons the worst passions of nature. Over his daughters the father exercises the most absolute control, and never gives them in marriage without receiving from their intended husbands a stipulated compensation.

The marriage ceremonies among these tribes are totally uncon

[ocr errors]

nected with religious rites. The means of celebrating them are furnished by the female attendants; the men who assemble on the occasion bring with them materials for the erection of a hut for the newly.connected pair. This ceremony, like most other occasions which convoke the Indians, never closes without a delirious dance and beastly drunkenness.

It is not unusual that females among those tribes within the tropics become mothers before they reach their thirteenth year. But where nature is so rapid in her approaches to maturity, she is no less so in her advances toward decay and dissolution. Where youth reaches manhood with so much greater speed than in higher latitudes, the entire race of life is proportionally abbreviated. This precocity is strikingly observable on the banks of the Oronoco, and is not prevented by those poisonous marshes which distinguish a section of its shores.

Indeed, there are no local circumstances which appear armed with sufficient power to affect materially the health or social condition of this mysterious people. To collect all the striking facts in their history illustrative of this statement would swell these pages to a volume. As a specimen of many, one, however, must be adduced. To avoid the mighty sweep of the waters of the Oronoco, which annually overflow a vast lerel on its banks, a large tribe, amounting to nearly ten thousand, build their houses on the branches of trees. These aerial habitations are located more than twenty feet above the highest point to which the periodical inundations arise. This places them above the miasmata generated by the retiring waters, which could not long be inhaled without destroying all human life. These inhabitants of the air prepare their residences on a group of mangrove trees, by weaving and twisting together their branches for a floor, and constructing the roofs of the broad leaves of the same trees. And while the temporary sea overwhelms the plains, they subsist on the medullary flowerwhich is the true sago of South America—of the same tree. Thus one season of the year they have beneath them an ocean of water, and during another a cloud of the most deathly vapours; yet, in defiance of these combined hostile influences, these children of the forest enjoy health, and increase in their number.

There are also numerous tribes, near the equator, which wear no clothes at any season of the year. While this indicates how deeply they have sunk into degradation, and how near an approach they have made to brutal stupidity-as they are unconscious of the least impropriety, they feel no shame in this state of entire nudityit also excites surprise that their naked surface should resist the remarkable damps, rapid changes, and burning sun of their climate.

But we should omit one of the most prominent traits in the portrait of Indian character were we not to notice their love of war. With many of the aboriginal nations of the new world war was the all-absorbing engagement.* Each Indian passed through the se

The nations composing the great empires of Mexico and Peru are not included with the fierce and bloody tribes of which we speak. Those nations, especially such as were embraced in the Peruvian empire, were of a docile, pacific character. Their character had been formed under the mild, paternal sway of incarial power.

verest discipline before he could be admitted to the rank of a warrior. The great aim was to raise their passive courage, by this previous discipline, to the utmost point of human endurance; so that the dread of falling into the hands of cold-blooded murderers might not intimidate them when on the grim edge of battle. Nor are we furnished by the history of any ancient nation with instances of more enduring firmness than those which have occurred among these natives under the most shocking tortures. Indeed, it would have been incredible that flesh and blood could suppress every fear and complaint under such protracted agony, had it not been made indubitable by the most authentic history of these tribes. In the event of their becoming prisoners of war they were fully aware that nothing but the most excruciating torments awaited them. That a groan, or a sigh, or even a distorted feature, would open new sources of pleasure to the malice of their tormentors, and consign their own memory to the traditional annals of infamy; and as savages have little reason to attach value to life, as the sensibilities of their nature have been previously made callous, and as they know not what death is, in its fearful and unending consequences, it was the acme of their ambition to meet their horrid doom with a sullen coolness.

Their rage for war was the ferocity of wild beasts, and not the valor of military heroes. They were roused to rush into the field of blood, not by a hope of booty, but by a thirst for revenge-not by a love of glory, but by a desire of extermination. They never entered a field of battle without a dreadful purpose to spill the blood of the last man in the ranks of the enemy; for those who were not slain in the field were to be butchered for the amusement, and often for the food of the conquerors. Thus, as devastation, and not conquest, was the fatal aim of all their warlike enterprises, every means of destruction within their power was eagerly employed. The most deadly poison furnished by the vegetable kingdom was used to tinge their arrows, so that the slightest wound should inflict the most insupportable agonies, and issue in certain death.

To give or receive quarters in the field of conflict was never thought of by these infuriated tigers; so entirely were they disrobed of humanity that nothing could quench their rage until their ven. geance was glutted by their enemies' blood. Hence it was found when Europeans entered the new world that several tribes in South America had recently become extinct, and this work of utter exter. mination had doubtless been going on during many centuries. Indeed, the work of death was the only object within their mental range which could rouse their slumbering energies ; and when the bloody strife was ended, they sunk back into their previous inertness, from which they were not awakened until the yell of war summoned them again to the field of mutual massacre.

But the nations which the discoverers of the new world found in a state of civilization possessed a pacific character, which formed a perfect contrast to those blood-thirsty and ferocious barbarians. This was the only portion of the aboriginal population which the conquerors of South America may be said to have subdued. All the more scattered tribes, like those in North America, were either exterminated by the conquerors, or made to retire into the more

inaccessible regions of their forests. But Peru and Mexico, and a great portion of the kingdom of the Zac, were not only taken by their European invaders, but their thickly settled inhabitants were subdued and mastered.

With a glance at the oppression which these suffering millions endured, we shall conclude the present number. But this must be preceded by a rapid outline of the colonial system by which Spain governed her South American possessions. These colonies did not belong to Spain, but to the king of Spain, having been granted to Ferdinand and Isabella by Pope Alexander VI. By this grant all the southern hemisphere of the new world, west of a given longitude, was made the property of the Spanish crown. Though his holiness had no more property in the American territory than the emperor of China, the superstition of the age gave validity to this ecclesiastical title. Hence all the authority of the discoverers, the conquerors, and the governors of South America, flowed entirely and directly from the Spanish crown.

All grants of lands were made by the king, and when the conditions failed on which they were to be possessed, they reverted to him. The highest officers felt themselves acting under no responsibility, but to bim; all power, political and civil, centred in him. In every instance, the system required that in any of its parts it should be exercised, modified, or suspended, entirely at his pleasure, totally independent of his Spanish subjects at home, and of his transatlantic vassals in America: The utmost extent to which the civil privileges of the colonies reached was the power of creating the inferior city and village officers, and of regulating their internal commerce, under restrictions so severe as to leave them nothing but the empty name of privilege.

Indeed, the tyranny by which they were governed was scarcely inferior to that under which Russia or Turkey has groaned. Nor was it less desolating, as the agents of the despot acted thousands of miles from the source of the power which clothed them. Each deputy possessed within his viceroyalty all the prerogatives of his sovereign, and frequently exceeded the splendor of the Spanish court in the magnificence of his own. He generally appointed the chief officers in the military, executive, and judicial departments : he consequently could render them all subservient to his own pur. poses.

As it was the policy of the crown to make the American colonies in every possible way tributary to the parent state, it encouraged the working of mines to an extent extremely prejudicial to the per. manent interest of the colonies. By this arrangement the king aimed at two objects—the increase of his revenue, and the diversion of public attention from agricultural and manufacturing pursuits. The tribute claimed by the crown was one-fifth of all the precious metals extracted from the mines. As these amounted to millions annually, they produced a larger tribute than could have otherwise been derived from the new world ; and by depending on the gold and silver of their mountains for a supply of their wants, they would remit a large proportion of the remaining four-fifths to the mother country for the commodities for which they were left en. tirely dependent on her. The second and paramount object was

« ПретходнаНастави »