Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan/Chapter 26

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CHAPTER XXVI.


LAKE OF ATITLAN—CONJECTURES AS TO ITS ORIGINS, ETC.—A SAIL ON THE LAKE—A DANGEROUS SITUATION—A LOFTY MOUNTAIN RANGE—ASCENT OF THE MOUNTAIN—COMMANDING VIEW—BEAUTIFUL PLAIN—AN ELEVATED VILLAGE—RIDE ALONG THE LAKE—SOLOLA—VISIT TO SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHÉ—THE VILLAGE—RUINS OF QUICHÉ—ITS HISTORY—DESOLATE SCENE—A FACETIOUS CURA—DESCRIPTION OF THE RUINS—PLAN—THE ROYAL PALACE—THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE—AN IMAGE—TWO HEADS, ETC.—DESTRUCTION OF THE PALACE RECENT—AN ARCH.


Early in the morning we again went down to the lake. Not a vapour was on the water, and the top of every volcano was clear of clouds. We looked over to Santiago Atitlan, but there was no indication of a canoe coming for us. We whiled away the time in shooting wild ducks, but could only get two ashore, which we afterward found of excellent flavour. According to the account given by Juarros, the water of this lake is so cold that in a few minutes it benumbs and swells the limbs of all who bathe in it. But it looked so inviting that we determined to risk it, and were not benumbed, nor were our limbs swollen. The inhabitants, we were told, bathed in it constantly; and Mr. C, remained a long time in the water, supported by his life-preserver, and without taking any exercise, and was not conscious of extreme coldness. In the utter ignorance that exists in regard to the geography and geology of that country, it may be that the account of its fathomless depth, and the absence of any visible outlet, is as unfounded as that of the coldness of its waters.

While we were dressing, Juan, one of our mozos, found a canoe along the shore. It was an oblong "dug-out," awkward and rickety, and intended for only one person; but the lake was so smooth that a plank seemed sufficient. We got in, and Juan pushed off, and paddled out. As we moved away the mountainous borders of the lake rose grandly before us; and I had just called Mr. C.'s attention to a cascade opening upon us from the great height of perhaps 3,000 or 4,000 feet, when we were struck by a flaw, which turned the canoe, and drove us out into the lake. The canoe was overloaded, and Juan was an un-skilful paddler. For several minutes he pulled, with every sinew stretched, but could barely keep her head straight. Mr. C. was in the stern, I on my knees in the bottom of the canoe. The loss of a stroke, or a tottering movement in changing places might swamp her; and if we let her go she would be driven out into the lake, and cast ashore, if at all, twenty or thirty miles distant, whence we should have to scramble back over mountains; and here was a worse danger than this, for in the afternoon the wind always came from the other side, and might drive us back again into the middle of the lake. We saw the people on the shore looking at us, and growing smaller every moment, but they could not help us. In all our difficulties we had none that came upon us so suddenly and unexpectedly, or that seemed more threatening. It was hardly ten minutes since we were standing quietly on the beach, and if the wind had continued five minutes longer, I do not know what would have become of us; but, most fortunately, it lulled. Juan's strength revived; with a great effort he brought us under cover of the high headland beyond which the wind first struck us, and in a few minutes we reached the shore.

We had had enough of the lake; time was precious, and we determined to set out after dinner and ride four leagues to Solola. We took another mozo, whom the padre recommended as a bobon, or great fool. The first two were at swords' points, and with such a trio there was not much danger of combination. In loading the mules they fell to quarrelling, Bobon taking his share. Ever since we left, Don Saturnino had superintended this operation, and without him everything went wrong. One mule slipped part of its load in the courtyard, and we made but a sorry party for the long journey we had before us. From the village our road lay toward the lake, to the point of the opposite mountain, which shut in the plain of Panajachel. Here we began to ascend. For a while the path commanded a view of the village and plain; but by degrees we diverged from it, and after an hour's ascent came out upon the lake, rode a short distance upon the brink, with another immense mountain range before us, and breaking over the top the cataract which I had seen from the canoe. Very soon we commenced ascending; the path ran zig-zag, commanding alternately a view of the plain and of the lake. The ascent was terrible for loaded mules, being in some places steps cut in the stone like a regular staircase. Every time we came upon the lake there was a different view. At 4 o'clock, looking back over the high ranges of mountains we had crossed, we saw the great volcanoes of Agua and Fuego. Six volcanoes were in sight at once, four of them above 10,000, and two nearly 15,000 feet high. Looking down upon the lake we saw a canoe, so small as to present a mere speck on the water, and, as we supposed, it was sent for us by our friend Don Saturnino. Four days afterwards, after diverging and returning to the main road, I found a letter from him, directed to "El Ministro de Nueva York," stating that he found the road so terrible that night overtook him, and he was obliged to stop three leagues short of Atitlan. On arriving at that place he learned that the canoe was on his side of the lake, but the boatmen would not cross till the afternoon wind sprang up. The letter was written after the return of the canoe, and sent by courier two days' journey, begging us to return, and offering as a bribe a noble mule, which, in our bantering on the road, he affirmed was better than my macho. Twice the mule-track led us almost within the fall of cataracts, and the last time we came upon the lake we looked down upon a plain even more beautiful than that of Panajachel. Directly under us, at an immense distance below, but itself elevated 1,500 or 2,000 feet, was a village, with its church conspicuous, and it seemed as if we could throw a stone down upon its roof. From the moment this lake first opened upon us until we left it, our ride along it presented a greater combination of beauties than any locality I ever saw. The last ascent occupied an hour and three-quarters. As old travellers, we would have avoided it if there had been any other road; but, once over, we would not have missed it for the world. Very soon we saw Solola. In the suburbs drunken Indians stood in a line, and took off their old petates (straw hats) with both hands. It was Sunday, and the bells of the church were ringing for vespers, rockets were firing, and a procession, headed by violins, was parading round the plaza the figure of a saint on horseback, dressed like a harlequin. Opposite the cabildo the alcalde, with a crowd of Mestitzoes, was fighting cocks.

It was our purpose at this place to send our luggage on by the main road to Totonicapan, one day's journey beyond, while we struck off at an angle and visited the ruins of Santa Cruz del Quiche. The Indians of that place, even in the most quiet times, bore a very bad name, and we were afraid of hearing such an account of them as would make it impossible to go there. Carrera had left a garrison of soldiers in Solola, and we called upon the commandant, a gentlemanly man, suspected of disaffection to Carrera's government, and therefore particularly desirous to pay respect to his passport, who told me that there had been less excitement at that place than in some of the other villages, and promised to send the luggage on under safe escort to the corregidor of Totonicapan, and give us a letter to his commissionado in Santa Cruz del Quiché.

On our return we learned that a lady had sent for us. Her house was on the corner of the plaza. She was a chapetone from Old Spain, which country she had left with her husband thirty years before, on account of wars. At the time of Carrera's last invasion her son was alcalde-mayor, and fled. If he had been taken he would have been shot. The wife of her son was with her. They had not heard from him, but he had fled toward Mexico, and they supposed him to be in the frontier town, and wished us to carry letters to him, and to inform him of their condition. Their house had been plundered, and they were in great distress. It was another of the instances we were constantly meeting of the effects of civil war. They insisted on our remaining at the house all night, which, besides that they were interesting, we were not loth to do on our own account. The place was several thousand feet higher than where we slept the night before, and the temperature cold and wintry by comparison. Hammocks, our only beds, were not used at all. There were not even supporters in the cabildo to hang them on. The next morning the mules were all drawn up by the cold, their coats were rough, and my poor horse was so chilled that he could hardly move. In coming in he had attracted attention, and the alcalde wanted to buy him. In the morning he told me that, being used to a hot climate, the horse could not bear the journey across the Cordilleras, which was confirmed by several disinterested persons to whom he appealed. I almost suspected him of having done the horse some injury, so as to make me leave him behind. However, by moving him in the sun his limbs relaxed, and we sent him off with the men and luggage, and the promised escort, to Totonicapan, recommended to the corregidor.

At a quarter before nine we left Solola, and at twelve o'clock met some Indians, who told us that Santo Thomas was three leagues distant, and five minutes afterwards we saw the town apparently not more than a mile off; but we were arrested by another immense ravine. The descent was by a winding zigzag path, part of the way with high walls on either side, so steep that we were obliged to dismount and walk all the way, hurried on by our own impetus and the mules crowding upon us from behind. At the foot of the ravine was a beautiful stream, at which, choked with dust and perspiration, we stopped to drink. We mounted to ford the stream, and almost immediately dismounted again to ascend the opposite side of the ravine. This was even more difficult than the descent, and when we reached the top it seemed a good three leagues. We passed on the right another awful barranca, broken off from the table-land, and riding close along its edge, looked down into an abyss of 2,000 or 3,000 feet, and very soon reached Santo Thomas. A crowd of Indians was gathered in the plaza, well dressed in brown cloth, and with long black hair, without hats. The entire population was Indian. There was not a single white man in the place, no one who could speak Spanish, except an old Mestitzo, who was the secretary of the alcalde. We rode up to the cabildo, and tied our mules before the prison door. Groups of villanous faces were fixed in the bars of the windows. We called for the alcalde, presented Carrera's passport, and demanded sacate, eggs, and frigoles, for ourselves, and a guide to Quiché. While these were got, the alcalde, and as many alguazils as could find a place, seated themselves silently on a bench occupied by us. In front was a new whipping-post. There was not a word spoken; but a man was brought up before it, his feet and wrists tied together, and he was drawn up by a rope which passed through a groove at the top of the post. His back was naked, and an alguazil stood on his left with a heavy cowhide whip. Every stroke made a blue streak, rising into a ridge, from which the blood started and trickled down his back. The poor fellow screamed in agony. After him a boy was stretched up in the same way. At the first lash, with a dreadful scream, he jerked his feet out of the ropes, and seemed to fly up to the top of the post. He was brought back and secured, and whipped till the alcalde was satisfied. This was one of the reforms instituted by the Central government of Guatimala. The Liberal party had abolished this remnant of barbarity; but within the last month, at the wish of the Indians themselves, and in pursuance of the general plan to restore old usages and customs, new whipping posts had been erected in all the villages. Not one of the brutal beings around seemed to have the least feeling for the victims. Among the amateurs were several criminals, whom we had noticed walking in chains about the plaza, and among them a man and woman in rags, bareheaded, with long hair streaming over their eyes, chained together by the hand and foot, with strong bars between them to keep them out of each other's reach. They were husband and wife, who had shocked the moral sense of the community by not living together. The punishment seemed the very refinement of cruelty, but while it lasted it was an effectual way of preventing a repetition of the offence.

At half-past three, with an alguazil running before us and Bobon trotting behind, we set out again, and crossed a gently-rolling plain, with a distant side-hill on the left, handsomely wooded, and reminding us of scenes at home, except that on the left was another immense barranca, with large trees, whose tops were 2,000 feet below us. Leaving a village on the right, we passed a small lake, crossed a ravine, and rose to the plain of Quiche. At a distance on the left were the ruins of the old city, the once large and opulent capital of Utatlan, the court of the native kings of Quiché, and the most sumptuous discovered by the Spaniards in this part of America. It was a site worthy to be the abode of a race of kings. We passed between two small lakes, rode into the village, passed on, as usual, to the convent, which stood beside the church, and stopped at the foot of a high flight of stone steps. An old Indian on the platform told us to walk in, and we spurred our mules up the steps, rode through the corridor into a large apartment, and sent the mules down another flight of steps into a yard enclosed by a high stone fence. The convent was the first erected in the country by the Dominican friars, and dated from the time of Alvarado. It was built entirely of stone, with massive walls, and corridors, pavements, and courtyard strong enough for a fortress; but most of the apartments were desolate or filled with rubbish; one was used for sacate, another for corn, and another fitted up as a roosting-place for fowls. The padre had gone to another village, his own apartments were locked, and we were shown into one adjoining, about thirty feet square, and nearly as high, with stone floor and walls, and without a single article in it except a shattered and weather-beaten soldier in one corner, returning from campaigns in Mexico. As we had brought with us nothing but our ponchas, and the nights in that region were very cold, we were unwilling to risk sleeping on the stone floor, and with the padre's Indian servant went to the alcalde, who, on the strength of Carrera's passport, gave us the audience-room of the cabildo, which had at one end a raised platform with a railing, a table, and two long benches with high backs. Adjoining was the prison, being merely an enclosure of four high stone walls, without any roof, and filled with more than the usual number of criminals, some of whom, as we looked through the gratings, we saw lying on the ground with only a few rags of covering, shivering in the cold. The alcalde provided us with supper, and promised to procure us a guide to the ruins.

Early in the morning, with a Mestitzo armed with a long basket-hilted sword, who advised us to carry our weapons, as the people were not to be trusted, we set out for the ruins. At a short distance we passed another immense barranca, down which, but a few nights before, an Indian, chased by alguazils, either fell or threw himself off into the abyss, 1,500 feet deep, and was dashed to pieces. At about a mile from the village we came to a range of elevations, extending to a great distance, and connected by a ditch, which had evidently formed the line of fortifications of the ruined city. They consisted of the remains of stone buildings, probably towers, the stones well cut and laid together, and the mass of rubbish around abounded in flint arrow-heads. Within this line was an elevation, which grew more imposing as we approached, square, with terraces, and having in the centre a tower, in all 120 feet high. We ascended by steps to three ranges of terrace, and on the top entered an area enclosed by stone

Top: Distant view of the Ruins.

Plate36- Santa Cruz del Quiche -p375.jpg

Legend:

A. Palace and Place of Sacrifice (Tohil Temple).

B. Fortress

C. Ravines surrounded the Palace on all sides

D. Small stream

F. Catherwood

36. SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHÉ.

walls, and covered with hard cement, in many places still perfect. Thence we ascended by stone steps to the top of the tower, the whole of which was formerly covered with stucco, and stood as a fortress at the entrance of the great city of Utatlan, the capital of the kingdom of the Quiché Indians.

According to Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatimala, the kings of Quiché and Kachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already Inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscript of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quichés, which was in the possession of the lieutenant-general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and which Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of San Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Red Sea, fell into idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his inflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula. From Tanub sprang the families of the kings of Tula and Quiché, and the first monarch of the Toltecas, Nimaquiché, the fifth king of that line, and more beloved than any of his predecessors, was directed by an oracle to leave Tula, with his people, who had by this time multiplied greatly, and conduct them from the kingdom of Mexico to that of Guatimala. In performing this journey they consumed many years, suffered extraordinary hardships, and wandered over an immense tract of country, until they discovered the lake of Atitlan, and resolved to settle near it in a country which they called Quiché.

Nimaquiché was accompanied by his three brothers, and it was agreed to divide the new country between them. Nimaquiché died; his son Axcopil became chief of the Quichés, Kachiquels, and Zutugiles, and was at the head of his nation when they settled in Quiché, and the first monarch who reigned in Utatlan. Under him the monarchy rose to a high degree of splendour. To relieve himself from some of the fatigues of administration, he appointed thirteen captains or governors, and at a very advanced age divided his empire into three kingdoms, viz. the Quiché, the Kachiquel, and the Zutugil, retaining the first for himself, and giving the second to his eldest son, Jintemal, and the third to his youngest son, Acxigual. This division was made on a day when three suns were visible at the same time, which extraordinary circumstance, says the manuscript, has induced some persons to believe that it was made on the day of our Saviour's birth. There were seventeen Toltecan kings who reigned in Utatlan, the capital of Quiché, whose names have come down to posterity, but they are so hard to write out that I will take it for granted the reader is familiar with them.

Their history, like that of man in other parts of the world, is one of war and bloodshed. Before the death of Axcopil his sons were at war, which, however, was settled by his mediation, and for two reigns peace existed. In the reign of Balam Acan, the next king of Quiché, while living on terms of great intimacy and friendship with his cousin Zutugilebpop, king of the Zutugiles, the latter abused his generosity, and ran away with his daughter Ixconsocil; and at the same time Iloacab, his relative and favourite, ran away with Ecselixpua, the niece of the king. The rape of Helen did not produce more wars and bloodshed than the carrying off of these two young ladies with unpronounceable names. Balam Acan was naturally a mild man, but the abduction of his daughter was an affront not to be pardoned. With 80,000 veterans, himself in the centre squadron, adorned with three diadems and other regal ornaments, carried in a rich chair of state, splendidly ornamented with gold, emeralds, and other precious stones, upon the shoulders of the nobles of his court, he marched against Zutugilebpop, who met him with 60,000 men, commanded by Iloacab, his chief general and accomplice. The most bloody battle ever fought in the country took place; the field was so deeply inundated with blood that not a blade of grass could be seen. Victory long remained undecided, and at length Iloacab was killed, and Balam Acan remained master of the field. But the campaign did not terminate here. Balam Acan, with 30,000 veterans under his personal command, and two other bodies of 30,000 each, again met Zutugilebpop with 40,000 of his own warriors, and 40,000 auxiliaries. The latter was defeated, and escaped at night. Balam Acan pursued and overtook him; but while his bearers were hastening with him to the thickest of the fight, they lost their footing, and precipitated him to the earth. At this moment Zutugilebpop was advancing with a chosen body of 10,000 lancers. Balam Acan was slain, and 14,000 Indians were left dead on the field.

The war was prosecuted by the successor of Balam, and Zutugilebpop sustained such severe reverses that he fell into a despondency and died. The war was continued down to the time of Kicah Tanub, who, after a sanguinary struggle, reduced the Zutugiles and Kachiquels to subjection to the kings of Quiché. At this time the kingdom of the Quichés had attained its greatest splendour, and this was contemporaneous with that eventful era in American history, the reign of Montezuma and the invasion of the Spaniards. The kings of Mexico and Quiché acknowledged the ties of relationship, and in a manuscript of sixteen quarto leaves, preserved by the Indians of San Andres Xecul, it is related that when Montezuma was made prisoner, h§ sent a private ambassador to Kicah Tanub, to inform him, that some white men had arrived in his state, and made war upon him with such impetuosity that the whole strength of his people was unable to resist them; that he was himself a prisoner, surrounded by guards; and hearing it was the intention of his invaders to pass on to the kingdom of Quiché, he sent notice of the design, in order that Kicah Tanub might be prepared to oppose them. On receiving this intelligence, the king of Quiché sent for four young diviners, whom he ordered to tell him what would be the result of this invasion. They requested time to give their answers; and, taking their bows, discharged some arrows against a rock; but, seeing that no impression was made upon it, returned very sorrowfully, and told the king there was no way of avoiding the disaster; the white men would certainly conquer them. Kicah, dissatisfied, sent for the priests, desiring to have their opinions on this important subject; and they, from the ominous circumstance of a certain stone, brought by their forefathers from Egypt, having suddenly split into two, predicted the inevitable ruin of the kingdom. At this time he received intelligence of the arrival of the Spaniards on the borders of Soconusco to invade his territory; but, undismayed by the auguries of diviners or priests, he prepared for war. Messages were sent by him to the conquered kings and chiefs under his command, urging them to co-operate for the common defence; but, glad of an opportunity to rebel, Sinacam, the king of Guatimala, declared openly that he was a friend to the Teules, or Gods, as the Spaniards were called by the Indians; and the king of the Zutugiles answered haughtily that he was able to defend his kingdom alone against a more numerous and less famished army than that which was approaching Quiché. Irritation, wounded pride, anxiety, and fatigue, brought on a sickness which carried Tanub off in a few days.

His son Tecum Umam succeeded to his honours and troubles. In a short time intelligence was received that the captain (Alvarado) and his Teules had marched to besiege Xelahuh (now Quezaltenango), next to the capital the largest city of Quiché. At that time it had within its walls 80,000 men; but such was the fame of the Spaniards that Tecum Umam determined to go to its assistance. He left the capital, at the threshold of which we stood, borne in his litter on the shoulders of the principal men of his kingdom, and preceded by the music of flutes, cornets, and drums, and 70,000 men, commanded by his general Ahzob, his lieutenant Ahzumanche, the grand shield-bearer Ahpocob, other officers of dignity with still harder names, and numerous attendants bearing parasols and fans of feathers for the comfort of the royal person. An immense number of Indian carriers followed with baggage and provisions. At the populous city of Totonicapan the army was increased to 90,000 fighting men. At Quezaltenango he was joined by ten more chiefs, well armed and supplied with provisions, displaying all the gorgeous insignia of their rank, and attended by 24,000 soldiers. At the same place he was reinforced by 46,000 more, adorned with plumes of different colours, and with arms of every description, the chiefs decorated with the skins of lions, tigers, and bears, as distinguishing marks of their bravery and warlike prowess. Tecum Umam marshalled under his banners on the plain of Tzaccapa 230,000 warriors, and fortified his camp with a wall of loose stones, enclosing within its circuit several mountains. In the camp were several military machines, formed of beams on rollers, to be moved from place to place. After a series of desperate and bloody battles, the Spaniards routed this immense army, and entered the city of Xelahuh. The fugitives rallied outside, and made a last effort to surround and crush the Spaniards. Tecum Umam commanded in person, singled out Alvarado, attacked him three times hand to hand, and wounded his horse; but the last time Alvarado pierced him with a lance, and killed him on the spot. The fury of the Indians increased to madness; in immense masses they rushed upon the Spaniards; and, seizing the tails of the horses, endeavoured by main force to bring horse and rider to the ground; but, at a critical moment, the Spaniards attacked in close column, broke the solid masses of the Quichés, routed the whole army, and slaying an immense number, became completely masters of the field. But few of the 70,000 who marched out from the capital with Tecum Umam ever returned; and, hopeless of being able to resist any longer by force, they had recourse to treachery. At a council of war called at Utatlan by the king, Chinanivalut, son and successor of Tecum Umam, it was determined to send an embassy to Alvarado, with a valuable present of gold, suing for pardon, promising submission, and inviting the Spaniards to the capital. In a few days Alvarado, with his army, in high spirits at the prospect of a termination of this bloody war, encamped upon the plain.

This was the first appearance of strangers at Utatlan, the capital of the great Indian kingdom, the ruins of which were now under our eyes, once the most populous and opulent city, not only of Quiché but of the whole kingdom of Guatimala. According to Fuentes, who visited it for the purpose of collecting information, and who gathered his facts partly from the remains and partly from manuscripts, it was surrounded by a deep ravine that formed a natural fossé, leaving only two very narrow roads as entrances, both of which were so well defended by the castle of Resguardo, as to render it impregnable. The centre of the city was occupied by the royal palace, which was surrounded by the houses of the nobility; the extremities were inhabited by the plebeians; and some idea may be formed of its vast population from the fact, before mentioned, that the king drew from it no less than 72,000 fighting men to oppose the Spaniards. It contained many very sumptuous edifices, the most superb of which was a seminary, where between 5,000 and 6,000 children were educated at the charge of the royal treasury. The castle of the Atalaya was a remarkable structure, four stories high, and capable of furnishing quarters for a very strong garrison. The castle of Resguardo was five stories high, extending 180 paces in front, and 230 in depth. The grand alcazar, or palace of the kings of Quiché, surpassed every other edifice; and in the opinion of Torquemada, it could compete in opulence with that of Montezuma in Mexico, or that of the Incas in Cuzco. The front extended 376 geometrical paces from east to west, and it was 728 paces in depth. It was constructed of hewn stones of various colours. There were six principal divisions. The first contained lodgings for a numerous troop of lancers, archers, and other troops, constituting the royal body-guard. The second was assigned to the princes and relations of the king; the third to the monarch himself, containing distinct suites of apartments for the mornings, evenings, and nights. In one of the saloons stood the throne, under four canopies of feathers; and in this portion of the palace were the treasury, tribunals of the judges, armory, aviaries, and menageries. The fourth and fifth divisions were occupied by the queen and royal concubines, with gardens, baths, and places for breeding geese, which were kept to supply feathers for ornaments. The sixth and last division was the residence of the daughters and other females of the blood royal.

Such is the account as derived by the Spanish historians from manuscripts composed by some of the caciques who first acquired the art of writing; and it is related that from Tanub, who conducted them from the old to the new continent, down to Tecum Umam, was a line of twenty monarchs.

Alvarado, on the invitation of the king, entered this city with his army; but, observing the strength of the place; that it was well walled, and surrounded by a deep ravine, having but two approaches to it, the one by an ascent of twenty-five steps, and the other by a causeway, and both extremely narrow; that the streets were but of trifling breadth, and the houses very lofty; that there were neither women nor children to be seen, and that the Indians seemed agitated, the soldiers began to suspect some deceit. Their apprehensions were soon confirmed by Indian allies of Quezaltenango, who discovered that the people intended that night to fire their capital, and while the flames were rising, to burst upon the Spaniards with large bodies of men concealed in the neighbourhood, and put every one to death. These tidings were found to be in accordance with the movements of the Utatlans; and on examining the houses, the Spaniards discovered that there were no preparations of provisions to regale them, as had been promised, but everywhere was a quantity of light, dry fuel, and other combustibles. Alvarado called his officers together, and laid before them their perilous situation, and the immediate necessity of withdrawing from the place; and pretending to the king and his caciques that their horses were better in the open fields, the troops were collected, and without any appearance of alarm, marched in good order to the plain. The king, with pretended courtesy, accompanied them, and Alvarado, taking advantage of the opportunity, made him prisoner, and after trial and proof of his treachery, hung him on the spot. But neither the death of Tecum nor the ignominious execution of his son could quell the fierce spirit of the Quichés. A new ebullition of animosity and rage broke forth. A general attack was made upon the Spaniards; but Spanish bravery and discipline increased with danger; and after a dreadful havoc by the artillery and horses, the Indians abandoned a field covered with their dead, and Utatlan, the capital, with the whole kingdom of Quiché, fell into the hands of Alvarado and the Spaniards.

As we stood on the ruined fortress of Resguardo, the great plain, consecrated by the last struggle of a brave people, lay before us grand and beautiful, its bloodstains all washed out, and smiling with fertility, but perfectly desolate. Our guide leaning on his sword in the area beneath was the only person in sight. But very soon Bobon introduced a stranger, who came stumbling along under a red silk umbrella, talking to Bobon, and looking up at us. We recognised him as the cura, and descended to meet him. He laughed to see us grope our way down; by degrees his laugh became infectious, and when we met we all laughed together. All at once he stopped, looked very solemn, pulled off his neckcloth, and wiped the perspiration from his face, took out a paper of cigars, laughed, thrust them back, pulled out another, as he said, of Habaneras, and asked what was the news from Spain.

Our friend's dress was as unclerical as his manner, viz. a broad-brimmed black glazed hat, an old black coat reaching to his heels, glossy from long use, and pantaloons to match; a striped roundabout a waistcoat, flannel shirt, and under it a cotton one, perhaps washed when he shaved last, some weeks before. He laughed at our coming to see the ruins, and said that he laughed prodigiously himself when he first saw them. He was from Old Spain; had seen the battle of Trafalgar, looking on from the heights on shore, and laughed whenever he thought of it; the French fleet was blown sky high, and the Spanish went with it; Lord Nelson was killed—all for glory—he could not help laughing. He had left Spain to get rid of wars and revolutions: here we all laughed; sailed with twenty Dominican friars; was fired upon, and chased into Jamaica by a French cruiser: here we laughed again; got an English convoy to Omoa, where he arrived at the breaking out of a revolution; had been all his life in the midst of revolutions, and it was now better than ever. Here we all laughed incontinently. His own laugh was so rich and catching that it was perfectly irresistible. In fact, we were not disposed to resist, and in half an hour we were as intimate as if acquainted for years. The world was our butt, and we laughed at it outrageously. Except the Church, there were few things which the cura did not laugh at; but politics was his favourite subject. He was in favour of Morazan, or Carrera, or el Demonio: "vamos adelante," go ahead," was his motto; he laugh at them all. If we had parted with him then, we should always have remembered him as the laughing padre; but, on farther acquaintance, we found in him such a vein of strong sense and knowledge, and, retired as he lived, he was so intimately acquainted with the country and all the public men, as a mere looker on his views were so correct and his satire so keen, yet without malice, that we improved his title by calling him the laughing philosopher.

Having finished our observations at this place, stopping to laugh as some new greatness or folly of the world, past, present, or to come, occurred to us, we descended by a narrow path, crossed a ravine, and entered upon the table-land, on which stood the palace and principal part of the city. Mr. Catherwood and I began examining and measuring the ruins, and the padre followed us, talking and laughing all the time; and when we were on some high place, out of his reach, he seated Bobon at the foot, discoursing to him of Alvarado, and Montezuma, and the daughter of the king of Tecpan Guatimala, and books and manuscripts in the convent; to all which Bobon listened without comprehending a word or moving a muscle, looking him directly in the face, and answering his long low laugh with a respectful "Si, senor."

The plan in the division of the last engraving marked A, represents the topography of the ground in the heart of the city which was occupied by the palace and other buildings of the royal house of Quiché. It is surrounded by an immense barranca or ravine, and the only entrance is through that part of the ravine by which we reached it, and which is defended by the fortress before referred to, marked B in the plate. The cura pointed out to us one part of the ravine which, he said, according to old manuscripts formerly existing in the convent, but now carried away, was artificial, and upon which 40,000 men had been employed at one time.

The whole area was once occupied by the palace, seminary, and other buildings of the royal house of Quiché, which now lie for the most part in confused and shapeless masses of ruins. The palace, as the cura told us, with its courts and corridors, once covering the whole diameter, is completely destroyed, and the materials have been carried away to build the present village. In part, however, the floor remains entire, with fragments of the partition walls, so that the plan of the apartments can be distinctly made out. This floor is of a hard cement, which, though year after year washed by the floods of the rainy season, is hard and durable as stone. The inner walls were covered with plaster of a finer description, and in corners where there had been less exposure were the remains of colours; no doubt the whole interior had been ornamented with paintings. It gave a strange sensation to walk the floor of that roofless palace, and think of that king who left it at the head of 70,000 men to repel the invaders of his empire. Corn was now growing among the ruins. The ground was used by an Indian family which claimed to be descended from the royal house. In one place was a desolate hut, occupied by them at the time of planting and gathering the corn. Adjoining the palace was a large plaza or courtyard, also covered with hard cement, in the centre of which were the relics of a fountain.

The most important part remaining of these ruins is that which appears in the engraving. No. 39, and which is called El Sacrificatorio, or the place of sacrifice. It is a quadrangular stone structure, 66 feet on each side at the base, and rising in a pyramidal form to the height, in its present condition, of 33 feet. On three sides there is a range of steps in the middle, each step 17 inches high, and but 8 inches on the upper surface, which makes the range so steep that in descending some
Plate 39- VIEW OF THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE IN RUINS AT SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHÉ.jpg


F. Catherwood

39. VIEW OF THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE IN RUINS AT SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHÉ.

caution is necessary. At the corners are four buttresses of cut stone, diminishing in size from the line of the square, and apparently intended to support the structure. On the side facing the west there are no steps, but the surface is smooth and covered with stucco, grey from long exposure. By breaking a little at the corners we saw that there were different layers of stucco, doubtless put on at different times, and all had been ornamented with painted figures. In one place we made out part of the body of a leopard, well drawn and coloured.

The top of the Sacrificatorio is broken and ruined, but there is no doubt that it once supported an altar for those sacrifices of human victims which struck even the Spaniards with horror. It was barely large enough for the altar and officiating priests, and the idol to whom the sacrifice was offered. The whole was in full view of the people at the foot.

The barbarous ministers carried up the victim entirely naked, pointed out the idol to which the sacrifice was made, that the people might pay their adorations, and then extended him upon the altar. This had a convex surface, and the body of the victim lay arched, with the trunk elevated and the head and feet depressed. Four priests held the legs and arms, and another kept his head firm with a wooden Instrument made in the form of a coiled serpent, so that he was prevented from making the least movement. The head priest then approached, and with a knife made of flint cut an aperture in the breast, and tore out the heart, which, yet palpitating, he offered to the sun, and then threw it at the feet of the idol. If the idol was gigantic and hollow, it was usual to introduce the heart of the victim into its mouth with a golden spoon. If the victim was a prisoner of war, as soon as he was sacrificed they cut off the head to preserve the skull, and threw the body down the steps, when it was taken up by the officer or soldier to whom the prisoner had belonged, and carried to his house to be dressed and served up as an entertainment for his friends. If he was not a prisoner of war, but a slave purchased for the sacrifice, the proprietor carried off the body for the same purpose. In recurring to the barbarous scenes of which the spot had been the theatre, it seemed a righteous award that the bloody altar was hurled down, and the race of its ministers destroyed.

It was fortunate for us, in the excited state of the country, that it was not necessary to devote much time to an examination of these ruins. In 1834 a thorough exploration had been made under a commission from the government of Guatimala. Don Miguel Rivera y Maestre, a gentleman distinguished for his scientific and antiquarian
Plate number 40 - FIGURES FOUND AT SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHE -414djvu.jpg

F. Catherwood

40. FIGURES FOUND AT SANTA CRUZ DEL QUICHÉ.

tastes, was the commissioner, and kindly furnished me with a copy of his manuscript report to the government, written out by himself. This report is full and elaborate, and I have no doubt is the result of a thorough examination, but it does not refer to any objects of interest except those I have mentioned. He procured, however, the image, of which a front and side view appear in the engraving No. 41, and which, without my venturing to express a wish for it, he kindly gave to me. It is made of baked clay, very hard, and the surface as smooth as if coated with enamel. It is twelve inches high, and the interior is hollow, including the arms and legs. In his report to the government, Don Miguel calls it Cahuahuil, or one of the deities of the ancient inhabitants of Quiché. I do not know upon what authority he has given it this name, but to me it does not seem improbable that his supposition is true, and that to this earthen vessel human victims have been offered in sacrifice.

The heads in the engraving were given me by the cura. They are of terra cotta; the lower one is hollow and the upper is solid, with a polished surface. They are hard as stone, and in workmanship will compare with images in the same material by artists of the present day.

In our investigation of antiquities we considered this place important from the fact that its history is known and its date fixed. It was in its greatest splendour when Alvarado conquered it. It proves the character of the buildings which the Indians of that day constructed, and in its ruins confirms the glowing accounts given by Cortez and his companions of the splendour displayed in the edifices of Mexico. The point to which we directed our attention was to discover some resemblance to the ruins of Copan and Quirigua; but we did not find statues, or carved figures, or hieroglyphics, nor could we learn that any had ever been found there. If there had been such evidences we should have considered these remains the works of the same race of people, but in the absence of such evidences we believed that Copan and Quirigua were cities of another race and of a much older date.

The padre told us that thirty years before, when he first saw it, the palace was entire to the garden. He was then fresh from the palaces of Spain, and it seemed as if he was again among them. Shortly after his arrival a small gold image was found and sent to Seravia, the president of Guatimala, who ordered a commission from the capital to search for hidden treasure. In this search the palace was destroyed; the Indians, roused by the destruction of their ancient capital, rose, and threatened to kill the workmen unless they left the country; and but for this, the cura said, every stone would have been razed to the ground. The Indians of Quiché have at all times a bad name; at Guatimala it was always spoken of as an unsafe place to visit; and the padre told us that they looked with distrust upon any stranger coming to the ruins. At that moment they were in a state of universal excitement; and coming close to us, he said that in the village they stood at swords' points with the Mestitzoes, ready to cut their throats, and with all his exertions he could barely keep down a general rising and massacre. Even this information he gave us with a laugh. We asked him if he had no fears for himself. He said no; that he was beloved by the Indians; he had passed the great part of his life among them; and as yet the padres were safe: the Indians considered them almost as saints. Here he laughed. Carrera was on their side; but if he turned against them it would be time to fly. This was communicated and received with peals of laughter; and the more serious the subject, the louder was our cachinnation. And all the time the padre made continual reference to books and manuscripts, showing antiquarian studies and profound knowledge.

Under one of the buildings was an opening which the Indians called a cave, and by which they said one could reach Mexico in an hour. I crawled under, and found a pointed-arch roof formed by stones lapping over each other, but was prevented exploring it by want of light, and the padre's crying to me that it was the season of earthquakes; and he laughed more than usual at the hurry with which I came out; but all at once he stopped, and grasping his pantaloons, hopped about, crying, "A snake, a snake!" The guide and Bobon hurried to his relief; and by a simple process, but with great respect, one at work on each side, were in a fair way of securing the intruder; but the padre could not stand still, and with his agitation and restlessness tore loose from their hold, and brought to light a large grasshopper. While Bobon and the guide, without a smile, restored him, and put each button in its place, we finished with a laugh, outrageous to the memory of the departed inhabitants, and to all sentiment connected with the ruins of a great city.

As we returned to the village the padre pointed out on the plain the direction of four roads, which led, and which, according to him, are still open to Mexico, Tecpan Guatimala, Los Altos, and Vera Paz.

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