Show Translation



[tration, (among savages), but that the extraordi-
nary beauty of the unfortunate victim contributed
to her destruction. These heroic effusions con-
stituted a branch of solemnities, called arietoes ;
consisting of hymns and public dances, accom-
panied with musical instruments made of shells,
and a sort of drum, the sound of which was heard
at a vast distance. It is pretended that among the
traditions publicly recited, there was one of a pro-
phetic nature, denouncing ruin and desolation by
the arrival of strangers completely clad, and armed
with the lightning of heaven.

6. Religious rites. — Like all other unenlightened
nations, these poor Indians were indeed the slaves
of superstition. Their general theology (for they
had an established system, and a priesthood to
support it), was a medley of gross folly and childish
traditions, the progeny of ignorance and terror.
Historians have preserved a remarkable speech of
a venerable old man, a native of Cuba, who, ap-
proaching Christopher Columbus with great reve-
rence, and presenting a basket of fruit, addressed
him as follows. “ Whether you are divinities,”
observed he, or mortal men, we know not. Y ou
are come into these countries with a force, against
which, were we inclined to resist it, resistance
would be folly. We are all therefore at your
mercy ; but if you are men, subject to mortality
like ourselves, you cannot be unapprised, that after
this life there is another, wherein a very different
portion is allotted to good and bad men. If there-
fore you expect to die, and believe with us, that
every one is to be rewarded in a future state, ac-
cording to his conduct in the present, you will do no
hurt to those who do none to you.” This remark-
able circumstance happened on the 7th of July
1494, and is attested by Pet. Martyr, Dccad. i. lib.
iii. and by Herrera, lib. ii. c. 14. If it be asked
how Columbus understood the cacique, the answer
is, that he had carried with him to Spain, in his
former voyage, several of the Indians ; one of
whom, a native of Guanahani, who had remained
with him from October 1492, had acquired the
.Spanish language. This man, whose name was
Didacus, served him, on this and other occasions,
both as a guide and interpreter. Their notions of
future happiness seem however to have been nar-
row and sensual. They supposed that the spirits
of good men were conveyed to a pleasant valley,
which they called coycha ; a place of indolent
tranquillity, abounding with delicious fruits, cool
shades, and murmuring rivulets ; in a country
where drought never rages, and the hurricane is
never felt. In this si at of bliss (the Elysium of
antiquity), they believed that their greatest enjoy-

ment would arise from the company of their de-
parted ancestors, and those persons w'ho were
dear to them in life. Although, like the Caribes,
our islanders acknowledged a plurality of gods,
like them too they believed in the existence of one
supreme, invisible, immortal, and omnipotent
Creator, whom they named Jocahuna. But un-
happily, with these important truths, these poor
people blended the most puerile and extravagant
fancies, which were neither founded in rational
piety, nor productive of moral obligation. They
assigned to the supreme Being a father and mo-
ther, whom they distinguished by a variety of
names, and they supposed the sun and moon to be
the chief seats of their residence. Their system of
idol-worship was, at the same time, more lament-
able than even tliat of the Caribes ; tor it would
seem that they paid divine honours to stocks and
stones converted into images, which they called
zemi ; not regarding these idols as symbolical re-
presentations only of their subordinate divinities,
and useful as sensible objects, to awaken the me-
mory and animate devotion, but ascribing divinity
to the material itself, and actually worshipping
the rude stone or block which their own hands had
fashioned. Their idols were universally hideous
and frightful, sometimes respresenting toads and
other odious reptiles ; but more frequently the hu-
man face horribly distorted ; a proof that they con-
sidered them, not as benevolent, but evil powers ;
as objects of terror, not of admiration and love.
To keep alive this sacred and awful prejudice in
the minds of the multitude, and heighten its in-
fluence, their bohitos or priests appropriated a
consecrated house in each village, wherein the zemi
was invoked and worshipped. Nor was it per-
mitted to the people at large, at all times to enter,
and on unimportant occasions approach the dread
object of their adoration. The bohitos undertook
to be their messengers and interpreters, and by the
efficacy of their prayers to avert the dangers which
they dreaded. The ceremonies exhibited on these
solemnities were well calculated to extend the
priestly dominion, and confirm the popular sub-
jection. In the same view, the bohitos added to
their holy profession the practice of physic, and
they claimed likewise the privilege of educating
the children of the first rank of people ; a combi-
nation of influence which, extending to the nearest
and dearest concerns both of this life- and the next,
rendered their authority irresistible. Religion was
here made the instrument of civil despotism, and
the will of the cacique, if confirmed by the priest,
was impiously pronounced the decree of heaven.
Columbus relates, that some of his people enteringj

Notes and Questions

Please sign in to write a note for this page


Not present in Alcedo's text