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While the greatest possible care is taken to insure accuracy in the publications of the Bureau of the American Republics, it will assume no pecuniary responsibility on account of inaccuracies that may occur therein.
We know by the majestic monuments they have left, that the prehistoric inhabitants of Guatemala were more advanced in the arts and sciences than their neighbors whose empire Cortez overthrew. We know from their myths, their fables, their pictured records upon the walls of their temples and palaces, and the traditions something of their form of government, their religion, and their industries; that they were a prosperous people, and possessed great wealth; and that the population of Central America was many times more numerous before the conquest than it has been since. The resources of the country were abundant. It had a most fertile soil, and the greater portion of the people were engaged in agricultural pursuits. They had mines of gold and silver, and among their artisans were men of remarkable skill in the manipulation of metals. That their architects, and sculptors, and builders were equal in skill and taste and in mechanics to those of Babylon and Ninevah the ruins of their work testify with mute impressive
Their streets were paved, they brought water in massive acqueducts from the mountain streams to the fountains in their cities, and their crops were cultivated by irrigation. Their government was a monarchy, but the rulers acknowledged the intelligence of the people by submitting to limitations of their power, and were subject to removal if they lacked wisdom or were guilty of injustice. Their laws recognized grades of crime, and imposed appropriate penalties. Their religion invoked an unseen being of
supreme authority, and attributed crime and sin to the influence of evil spirits. It taught the doctrine of “a future life”—a heaven, and a hell, and a purgatory. They had schools and churches, as well as palaces and workshops, and intelligence and education were rewarded by preferment.
Their myths embodied the story of their origin, not unlike the scriptural narrative of the creation of man, and their traditions relate of a migration from a distant country to escape oppression, that resembles the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. As their numbers increased they were divided into tribes, each with laws and customs of its own that were caused and altered by conditions and circumstances. Their chief tribes were the Soconuscans, the Tultecas, and the Quiches, and there were others of less power and population. It is known that twenty-six dialects were spoken between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Isthmus of Panama.
The news of the invasion and the fall of Mexico was not slow in reaching the adjacent territories. The traveling peddler told tales of armored men and amazing animals and the awful power of their arms; and scarcely had Cortez subdued the Mexicans when some of the southern nations sent ambassadors to seek his favor. The great conquistador intrusted the work of their subjugation to Pedro de Alvarado, his chief and most competent lieu
Alvarado was no ordinary adventurer, but a man of good family, and born in Badajos, Spain, in 1485. At the age
twentyfive he went to Cuba with Diego de Velasquez and was distinguished for his valor and talents even before he joined Cortez for the invasion of Mexico. He was famous, too, for his fine personal appearance, for his athletic feats, and for his popularity both with his superiors and subordinates. To a frank and amiable disposition was united craft, courage, and cruelty, and the same devoutness that characterized the most atrocious of the conquistadors.