« PrécédentContinuer »
fore the invaders ventured into the interior of the country. Fearing that if they pleaded ignorance of the history it might be ascribed to unwillingness on their part to answer the questions; dreading also to alienate the goodwill of the men with long gowns, who defended them against the others that handled the thunderbolts-those strangers covered with iron, now masters of the country and of their persons, who on the slightest provocation subjected them to such terrible punishments and atrocious torments-they recited the nursery tales with which their mothers had lulled them to sleep in the days of their childhood. These stories were set down as undoubted traditions of olden times.
Later on, when the Conquest was achieved, some of the natives who really possessed a knowledge of the myths, traditions, and facts of history contained in the books that those same men with long gowns had wilfully destroyed by feeding the flames with them, notwithstanding the earnest protestations of the owners, invented plausible tales when questioned, and narrated these as facts, unwilling, as they were, to tell the truth to foreigners who had come to their country uninvited, arms in hand, carrying war and desolation wherever they went;1 slaughtering the men; 2 outraging the wives and the virgins; destroying their homes, their farms, their cities; ' spreading ruin and devastation throughout the land; dese
1 Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. ii., chap. vi., p. 77.
de Castillo, Historia de la Conquista de Mexico, chap. 83.
3 Landa, Las Cosas de Yucatan, chap. xv., p. 84. Bartholome de las Casas, Tratado de la Destruccion de las Indias, Reyno de Yucathan, lib. viii., cap. 27, p. 4.
Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. iii., chap. xi., p. 151. Landa, Las Cosas, ch. iv.
crating the temples of their gods; trampling underfoot the sacred images, the venerated symbols of the religion of their forefathers; imposing upon them strange idols, that they said were likenesses of the only true God and of his mother—an assertion that seemed most absurd to those worshippers of the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies, who regarded Ku, the Divine Essence, the uncreated Soul of the World, as the only Supreme God, not to be represented under any shape. Yet, by lashes, torture, death even, the victims were compelled to pay homage to these images, with rites and ceremonies the purport of which they were, as their descendants still are, unable to understand, being at the same time forbidden to observe the religious practices which they had been accustomed to from times immemorial. More, their temples of learning were destroyed, with their libraries and the precious volumes that contained the history of their nation, that of their illustrious men and women whose memory they venerated, the
'Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. iii., chap. x., p. 147. Landa, Las Cosas, chap. iv.
Ibid., lib. iv., chap. xviii., p. 229. Landa, Las Cosas, chap. iv.
Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. iv., chap. vi., p. 189. "Los religiosos de esta provincia, por cuya atencion corrió la conversion de estos indios, á nuestra santa fé católica, con el zelo que tienen de que aprouechassen en ella, no solo demolieron y quemaron todos los simulacros que adoraban, pero aun todos los escritos (que á su modo tenian) con que pudieran recordar sus memorias y todo lo que presumierō tendria motiuo de alguna supersticion ò ritos gentilicos."
Then when speaking of the auto-de-fe ordered by Bishop Landa, which took place in the city of Mani towards the end of 1561, he says: "Con el rezelo de esta idolatria, hizo juntar todos los libros y caracteres antiguos que los indios tenian, y por quitarles toda ocasion y memoria de sus antiguos ritos, quantos se pudieron hallar, se quemaron públicamente el dia del auto y á las bueltas con ellos sus historias de antiguedades" (lib. vi., chap. i., p. 309).
sciences of their wise men and philosophers.1 How, then, could it be expected that they should tell what they knew of the history of their people, and treat as friends men whom they hated, and with reason, from their heart of hearts?-men who held their gods in contempt; men who had, without provocation, destroyed the autonomy of their nation, broken up their families, reduced their kin to slavery, brought misery upon them, gloom and mourning throughout the land."
Now that three hundred and fifty-five years have elapsed since their country became part of the domain of the Spanish Crown, one might think, and not a few do try to persuade themselves and others, that old feuds, rancor, and distrust must be forgotten; in fact, must be replaced by friendship, confidence, gratitude, even, for all the blessings received at the hands of the Spaniards-not the least among these, the destruction of their idolatrous rites, the knowledge of the true God, and the mode of worshipping He likes best-notwithstanding the unfair means used by their good friends, those of the long gowns, to force such blessings and knowledge upon them, and cause them to forget and forego the customs and manners of their forefathers. To-day, when the aborigines are said to be free citizens of the Republic of Mexico, entitled to all the rights and privileges that the constitution is supposed to confer on all men born within the boundaries of the country, they yet seek-and with good cause-the seclusion of the recesses of the densest forests, far away from the haunts of their white fellow-citizens, to perform, in secrecy, certain ancient rites and religious practices that even now linger
'Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. ii., chap. xiv., p. 108, et passim.
2 Landa, Las Cosas de Yucatan, chap. xv., p. 84, et passim.
Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. v., cap. xvii., xviii., p. 296, et pas
sim. Las leyes mas en orden al bien espiritual de los Indios.
among them, to which they adhere with great tenacity, and that the persecution and ill-treatment they have endured have been powerless to extirpate.' Yes, indeed, up to the present time, they keep whatever knowledge of their traditions they may still possess carefully concealed in their bosoms; their lips are hermetically sealed on that subject.
Their confidence in, their respect and friendship for, one not of their blood and race must be very great, for them to allow him to witness their ceremonies, or become acquainted with the import of certain practices, or be told the meaning of peculiar signs and symbols, transmitted to them orally by their fathers. This reserve may be the reason why some travellers, unable to obtain any information from the aborigines, have erroneously asserted that they have lost all traditionary lore; that all tradition has entirely disappeared from among them.2
Maya was the name of a powerful nation that in remote ages dwelt in the peninsula of Yucatan and the countries, to-day called Central America, comprised between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the north and that of Darien on the south. That name was as well known among the ancient civilized nations the world over as at present are the names of Spain, France, England, etc. As from these countries colonists, abandoning the land of their birth, have gone and still go forth in search of new homes in far distant regions; have carried and do carry, with the customs, manners, religion, civilization, and language of their forefathers, the name even of the mother country to their new abodes-so we may imagine it happened with the Mayas at some remote period in the past.
1 See Appendix, note iv.; Cogolludo, Hist. de Yucathan, lib. v., cap. xvi., xvii., xviii.
2 John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, vol. ii., pp. 446, 449.
For it is a fact that, wherever we find their name, there also we meet with the vestiges of their language and customs, and many of their traditions; but nowhere, except in Yucatan, is the origin of their name to be found.
Among the various authors who have written on that country several have endeavored to give the etymology of the word Maya: none has succeeded; for, instead of consulting the Maya books that escaped destruction at the hands of the Zumarragas, Landas, and Torquemadas, they have appealed to their imagination, as if in their fancy they could find the motives that prompted the primitive inhabitant to apply such or such name to this or that locality.
Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguiar1 fancied that the name Maya was given to the peninsula on account of the scarcity of water on its surface, and intimated that it was derived from the two vocables ma, "no," and ha, "water" without water." Brasseur,' following his own pet idea, combats such explanation as incorrect and says: "The country is far from being devoid of water. Its soil is honeycombed, and innumerable caves exist just under the surface. In these caves are deposits of cool, limpid water, extensive lakes fed by subterranean streams." Hence he argues that the true etymology of the word Maya may possibly be the "mother of the waters" or the "teats of the waters ma-y-a "-she of the four hundred breasts, as they were wont to represent the Ephesian goddess.
Again, this explanation did not suit Señor Eligio Ancona,3
'Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguiar, the author of Historia de la Creacion del cielo y de la Tierra, was a native of the ciudad Real de Chiapas. He died, very much advanced in years, in 1840, being canon of the cathedral of that city.
'Brasseur (Charles Etienne), Maya Vocabulary, vol. ii., p. 298, Troano MS. Ancona (Eligio), Hist. de Yucatan, vol. i., chap. i. See Appendix, note v.