« FöregåendeFortsätt »
ANOTHER RUINED CITT. 193
Indians were in an inflammable state; they were already inquiring what we came there for, and he could not answer for our safety. In a few months, perhaps, the excitement might pass away, and then we could return. He loved the subjects we took interest in, and would join us in all our expeditions, and aid us with all his influence.
And the padre's knowledge was not confined to his own immediate neighbourhood. His first curacy was at Coban, in the province of Vera Paz; and he told us that four leagues from that place was another ancient city, as large as Santa Cruz del Quiche, deserted and desolate, and almost as perfect as when evacuated by its inhabitants. He had wandered through its silent streets and over its gigantic buildings, and its palace was as entire as that of Quiche when he first saw it. This is within two hundred miles of Guatimala, and in i district of country not disturbed by war; yet, with all >ur inquiries, we had heard nothing of it. And now, he information really grieved us. Going to the place .vould add eight hundred miles to our journey. Our plans were fixed, our time already limited; and in that wild country and its unsettled state, we had superstitious apprehensions that it was ominous to return. My impression, however, of the existence of such a city is most strong. I do most earnestly hope that some future traveller will visit it. He will not hear of it even at Guatimala, and perhaps will be told that it does not exist. Nevertheless, let him seek for it; and if he do find it, experience sensations which seldom fall to the lot of man.
But the padre told us more; something that increased our excitement to the highest pitch. On the other side of the great traversing range of Cordilleras lies the Vol. II.—B B 17
district of Vera Paz, once called Tierra de Guerra, or land of war, from the warlike character of its aboriginal inhabitants. Three times the Spaniards were driven back in their attempts to conquer it. Las Casas, vicar of the convent of the Dominican order in the city of Guatimala, mourning over the bloodshed caused by what was called converting the Indians to Christianity, wrote a treatise to prove that Divine Providence had instituted the preaching of the Gospel as the only means of conversion to the Christian faith; that war could not with justice be made upon those who had never committed any aggressions against Christians; and that to harass and destroy the Indians was to prevent the accomplishing of this desired object. This doctrine he preached from the pulpit, and enforced in private assemblies. He was laughed at, ridiculed, and sneeringly advised to put his theory in practice. Undisturbed by this mockery, he accepted the proposal, choosing as the field of his operations the unconquerable district called Tierra de Guerra, and made an arrangement that no Spaniards should be permitted to reside in that country for five years. This agreed upon, the Dominicans composed some hymns in the Quiche language, describing the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, the redemption of mankind, and the principal mysteries of the life, passion, and death of our Saviour. These were learned by some Indians who traded with the Quiches, and a principal cacique of the country, afterward called Don Juan, having heard them sung, asked those who had repeated them to explain in detail the meaning of things so new to him. The Indians excused themselves, saying that they could only be explained by the fathers who had taught them. The cacique sent one of his brothers with many presents, to
A LIVING CITY. 195
entreat that they would come and make him acquainted with what was contained in the songs of the Indian merchants. A single Dominican friar returned with the ambassador, and the cacique, having been made to comprehend the mysteries of the new faith, burned his idols and preached Christianity to his own subjects. Las Casas and another associate followed, and, like the apostles of old, without scrip or staff, effected what Spanish arms could not, bringing a portion of the Land of War to the Christian faith. The rest of the Tierra de Guerra never was conquered; and at this day the northeastern section, bounded by the range of the Cordilleras and the State of Chiapas, is occupied by Candones or unbaptized Indians, who live as their fathers did, acknowledging no submission to the Spaniards, and the government of Central America does not pretend to exercise any control over them. But the thing that roused us was the assertion by the padre that, four days on the road to Mexico, on the other side of the great sierra, was a living city, large and populous, occupied by Indians, precisely in the same state as before the discovery of America. He had heard of it many years before at the village of Chajul, and was told by the villagers that from the topmost ridge of the sierra this city was distinctly visible. He was then young, and with much labour climbed to the naked summit of the sierra, from which, at a height of ten or twelve thousand feet, he looked over an immense plain extending to Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and saw at a great distance a large city spread over a great space, and with turrets white and glittering in the sun. The traditionary account of the Indians of Chajul is, that no white man has ever reached this city; that the inhabitants speak the Maya language, are aware that a race of strangers has conquered the whole country around, and murder any white man who attempts to enter their territory. They have no coin or other circulating medium; no horses, cattle, mules, or other domestic animals except fowls, and the cocks they keep under ground to prevent their crowing being heard.
There was a wild novelty—something that touched the imagination—in every step of our journey in that country; the old padre, in the deep stillness of the dimly-lighted convent, with his long black coat like a robe, and his flashing eye, called up an image of the bold and resolute priests who accompanied the armies of the conquerors; and as he drew a map on the table, and pointed out the sierra to the top of which he had climbed, and the position of the mysterious city, the interest awakened in us was the most thrilling I ever experienced. One look at that city was worth ten years of an every-day life. If he is right, a place is left where Indians and an Indian city exist as Cortez and Alvarado found them; there are living men who can solve the mystery that hangs over the ruined cities of America; perhaps who can go to Copan and read the inscriptions on its monuments. No subject more exciting and attractive presents itself to my mind, and the deep impression of that night will never be effaced.
Can it be true? Being now in my sober senses, I do verily believe there is much ground to suppose that what the padre told us is authentic. That the region referred to does not acknowledge the government of Guatimala, has never been explored, and that no white man ever pretends to enter it, I am satisfied. From other sources we heard that from that sierra a large ruined city was visible, and we were told of another person who had climbed to the top of the sierra, but, on account of X FIELD FOR FUTURE ENTERPRISE. 197
ihe dense cloud resting upon it, had been unable to see anything. At all events, the belief at the village of Chajul is general, and a curiosity is roused that burns to be satisfied. We had a craving desire to reach the mysterious city. No man, even if willing to peril his life, could undertake the enterprise with any hope of success, without hovering for one or two years on the borders of the country, studying the language and character of the adjoining Indians, and making acquaintance with some of the natives. Five hundred men could probably march directly to the city, and the invasion would be more justifiable than any ever made by the Spaniards; but the government is too much occupied with its own wars, and the knowledge could not be procured except at the price of blood. Two young men of good constitution, and who could afford to spare five years, might succeed. If the object of search prove a phantom, in the wild scenes of a new and unexplored country there are other objects of interest; but if real, besides the glorious excitement of such a novelty, they will have something to look back upon through life. As to the dangers, these are always magnified, and, in general, peril is discovered soon enough for escape. But in all probability, if any discovery is ever made it will be by the padres. As for ourselves, to attempt it alone, ignorant of the language, and with mozos who were a constant annoyance to us, was out of the question. The most we thought of was a climb to the top of the sierra, thence to look down upon the mysterious city; but we had difficulties enough in the road before us; it would add ten days to a journey already almost appalling in prospective; for days the sierra might be covered with clouds; in attempting too much we might lose all; Palenque was our great point,