صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

not fold the leaves into four but extend them to a length of several cubits: they are square-shaped. The bitumen which holds them together is so tough and flexible that, when bound in a wooden cover, they appear to have been put together by the hand of a skilled binder. When the book is wide open, both pages covered with characters are visible, and these first two pages conceal two others, unless they are pulled out to their whole length; for although there is one single leaf, many such leaves are fastened together. The characters are entirely different from ours, and are in the forms of dice, dots, stars, lines, and other similar signs, marked and traced as we do-our letters. They almost resemble the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians. Among the figures may be distinguished those of men and animals, especially those of kings or great lords. Thus it is permissible to assume that they report the deeds of each king's ancestors. And do we not in our own times see engravers of general histories or fabulous stories draw pictures of what is told in the books, in order to entice those who see them to buy the volume? The natives are also very clever in manufacturing wooden covers for the leaves of these books. When these books are closed, they seem to differ in no respect from our own. It is supposed that the natives preserve in these books their laws, the ritual of their sacrifices and ceremonies, astronomical observations, and the precepts of agriculture.1

1 Unfortunately for American history there seems to have been no one amongst the band of Cortes who perceived the importance of preserving these records. Many of the first missionaries who followed in the wake of the conquerors regarded the systematic destruction of everything calculated to perpetuate the heathen belief and practice they were bent upon obliterating, as essential to their success. Posterity has deplored their indiscriminating zeal. Just what loss'history has suffered by the destruction of books and records decreed by the Bishops, Fray Juan Zumarraga in Mexico and Fray Diego Landa in Yucatan, is problematical. It seems certain that the Mexicans knew surprisingly little about the origin and early history of their tribes; there was no one in Yucatan when the Spaniards conquered that peninsula, able to decipher the hieroglyphics carved on the temples and monuments. While we cannot measure the blame due to the destroyers, we can and should recognise our debt to men like Sahagun, Torquemada, Motolinia, Acosta, and others, all members of religious orders, to whose painstaking labours we owe the preservation of such records of ancient Mexican civilisation as the world possesses. Within a few years after the conquest there was hardly any one who could decipher the native records or interpret the picture-writings; Ixtlilxochitl states that in his time there existed but two very old men able so to do.

They begin the year with the setting of the Pleiades, and close it with the lunar months. To each month they give the name of a moon, so that in counting by months they count by moons. In their language the moon is called Tona. Days are counted by suns, so many suns being so many days. The sun in their language is called Tonaticus. Whether for some unknown reason or for no reason whatever, they divide the year into twenty months of twenty days each.1

The temples in which they assemble are vast, and are decorated with tapestries embroidered in gold, and furnishings decorated with precious stones. Each morning at sunrise, they burn perfumes in these temples and offer their prayers in the presence of the Creator. A most execrable crime of which all the inhabitants are guilty is the sacrifice of boys and girls as victims, in the manner I have above described. In sowing time and when the grain begins to bud, the people offer sacrifices to their idols, and if youths are not forthcoming as victims, slaves, who have been carefully fattened and are dressed in rich clothing, are chosen. All the victims destined for sacrifice are circumcised, and this operation is performed during twenty days of the year. When the destined victims pass through a town the inhabitants salute them, with great respect, as being destined soon to have a place in heaven. Another singular fashion they have for honouring their idols is to offer their own blood, which they draw from the tongue, lips, ears, breast, hips, or the legs. In doing this, they first use a sharp razor and, collecting the blood in their hands, they cast it heavenwards and sprinkle the floor of the temple. By so doing they hope to win the favour of the gods.

1 Brasseur de Bourbourg's, Nations civilistes de I'Amirique, tom. iii., explains the Mexican calendar. Clavigero, Prescott, and Mrs. Nuttall in her Old and New World Civilisations have lucidly treated this interesting subject.

Twelve miles west of the new colony of Villarica stands a native town composed of five thousand houses. Its former name was Cempoal, and its present name is Nueva Sevilla. Five slaves whom the cacique was keeping to be sacrificed were liberated by the Spaniards, but the cacique begged them to return them to him, saying: "You will ruin me and all this kingdom if you rob me of those slaves who are destined for sacrifice. Our angered gods will send locusts to devour our harvests, hail to wreck them, drought to burn them, and torrential rain to swamp them, if we offer them no more sacrifices."

Fearing that the inhabitants of Cempoal might desert them, the Spaniards thought it better to assent to a lesser evil in the present than to risk a greater in the future, and convinced likewise that the time had not yet come for suppressing the ancient rites, they gave up the slaves, hoping that the priests would promise them eternal glory and undivided joy, as well as the society of the gods, when they were once delivered from the miseries of this life. The slaves, however, listened with chagrin to these promises, preferring liberty to immolation.

The bones of their enemies captured in war are cleaned of their flesh and tied in bundles, to be suspended at the feet of their idols as battle-trophies, and to them are attached the names and titles of the victors. Another custom, of which Your Holiness will learn with pleasure, is that boys one year old, and girls, are led with pious ceremonies to the temples where the priests take water from a small cup and sprinkle it upon their heads in the form of a cross, as though baptising them. Nothing is known as to the words they use, but the celebration of the rite may be seen and the words heard. Differing from the Jews and Mussulmans, the natives do not consider their temples profaned by the presence of strangers at their ceremonies. I have spoken enough concerning their temples, their religious rites, and their books; let us now examine the other gifts presented to the King.

BOOK IX

THE Spaniards have brought back two hand-mills,1 one made of gold and the other of silver. They are massive and their circumference is about twenty-eight palms. The golden mill weighs 3800 castellanos, a castellano being a golden coin which is worth one-third more than a ducat. In the centre is the image of a man, a cubit high, resembling a king seated upon his throne, the figure being draped to the knees; it is like a zemes; that is to say it has the features we ascribe to nocturnal goblins. The bottom of the mill is decorated with branches, flowers, and leaves. The silver mill resembles the gold one, and their weight is almost identical; both mills are pure, without any alloy. Besides these, there are some shapeless grains of gold, not smelted, so as to show what the native gold is. They are the size of lentils or peas. There are two golden necklaces, one of which is composed of eight small chains set with thirty-two red stones, which however, are, not rubies, and one hundred and twenty-three green stones. The natives value these last as much as we do emeralds.1 Twenty-seven golden bells surrounded by four figures set in jewels of wrought gold hang from the collar. From each of these bells hangs a golden pendant. The second collar is formed by four circles of little golden chains, ornamented with two hundred red stones and one

1 These objects were far from being mills of any kind. Consult Bernal Diaz, Hist. Vcrdad., i., 39.

'Chalchihuites, commonly mistaken by the Spaniards for emeralds.

« السابقةمتابعة »