Life Styles: Native and Imposed
|For decades now, African American
leaders have been calling for a formal United States apology for the American
role in the slave trade, with some even demanding reparations. Indian tribes
proclaim their tax-exempt status as something they are owed for a legacy
of persecution by the United States. Mexican Americans in the southwest
United States seek to incorporate this region, including California, into
Mexico, or even to set up an independent nation, Aztlan, that will recreate
the glories of the Aztec empire, destroyed centuries ago by the imperialistic
That we live in an age of grievance and victimhood is not news. But did these peoples -- these Mexican-Americans, these Native Americans, these African-Americans -- really lose more than they gained in their confrontation with the West? Were they robbed of nobility, and coarsened? Or did White subjugation force them to shed savagery and barbarousness, and bring them, however unwillingly, into civilized humanity?
Today our children our being taught that the people who lived in the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere were not "merciless Indian savages" (as Jefferson calls them in the Declaration of Independence), many of whom delighted in torture and cannibalism, but rather spiritually enlightened "native Americans" whose wise and peaceful nobility was rudely destroyed by invading European barbarians; that the Aztecs were not practitioners of human sacrifice and cannibalism on a scale so vast that the mind of the 20th-century American can hardly comprehend it, but rather defenders of an advanced civilization that was destroyed by brutal Spanish conquistadores; and that Africans were not uncultured slave traders and cannibals, but unappreciated builders of great empires.
But just how did these peoples live before they came into contact with Europeans? Although historical myth is ever more rapidly replacing factual history, not only in popular culture but also in our schools and universities, we may still find accurate historical accounts buried in larger libraries or in used book stores.
In his famous work, The Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz del Castillo describes the march on Mexico with his captain, Hernan Cortés, in 1519. The Spanish forces set out from the Gulf of Mexico, and one of the first towns they visited was Cempoala, situated near the coast, where Cortés told the chiefs that "they would have to abandon their idols which they mistakenly believed in and worshipped, and sacrifice no more souls to them." As Diaz relates:
Every day they sacrificed before our eyes three, four, or five Indians, whose hearts were offered to those idols, and whose blood was plastered on the walls. The feet, arms, and legs of their victims were cut off and eaten, just as we eat beef from the butcher's in our country. I even believe that they sold it in the tianguez or markets.Of their stay in Tenochtitlan, the present-day Mexico City and the heart of the Aztec empire, Diaz writes that Emperor Montezuma's servants prepared for their master
more than thirty dishes cooked in their native style ... I have heard that they used to cook him the flesh of young boys. But as he had such a variety of dishes, made of so many different ingredients, we could not tell whether a dish was of human flesh or anything else ... I know for certain, however, that after our Captain spoke against the sacrifice of human beings and the eating of their flesh, Montezuma ordered that it should no longer be served to him.In renouncing cannibalism, was Montezuma cooperating in the destruction of his Aztec "cultural roots," or was he aiding a victory of civilized custom over barbaric?
A few pages later, Diaz provides a detailed description of "the manner of their [that is, the Aztecs'] sacrifices. They strike open the wretched Indian's chest with flint knives and hastily tear out the palpitating heart which, with the blood, they present to the idols in whose name they have performed the sacrifice. Then they cut off the arms, thighs, and head, eating the arms and thighs at their ceremonial banquets. The head they hang up on a beam, and the body of the sacrificed man is not eaten but given to the beasts of prey." [Image: Human sacrifice, often accompanied by ceremonial cannibalism, was a feature of Aztec religious ritual. As this contemporary drawing shows, a priest wielding a stone dagger has just ripped out the heart of a victim, and is offering it to the Aztec sun god, Tonatiuh.]
Diaz also describes the great market
of Tenochtitlan, and its "dealers in gold, silver, and precious stones,
feather, cloaks, and embroidered goods, and male and female slaves who
are also sold there. They bring as many slaves to be sold in that market
as the Portuguese bring Negroes from Guinea. Some are brought there attached
to long poles by means of collars round their necks to prevent them from
escaping, but others are left loose."
Plainly it was the Spanish who stamped out human sacrifice and cannibalism among the people of pre-Cortesian Mexico. As for slavery, it is as obvious that the Europeans did not introduce it to the New World as it is that they eradicated it, albeit not immediately. Moreover, the moral impulse to end slavery came from the West, specifically out of England. Had the Aztecs, Indians, and Africans been left to their own devices, slavery might well have endured in North and South America, as it does in parts of present-day Africa.
North American Natives
In his epic work France and England in North America, the great American historian Francis Parkman describes the early 17th-century recreational and culinary habits of the Iroquois Indians (also known as the Five Nations, from whom, some will have it, the United States derived elements of its Constitution). He tells that the Iroquois, along with other tribes of northeastern United States and Canada, "were undergoing that process of extermination, absorption, or expatriation, which, as there is reason to believe, had for many generations formed the gloomy and meaningless history of the greater part of this continent." Parkman describes an attack by the Iroquois on an Algonquin hunting party, late in the autumn of 1641, and the Iroquois' treatment of their prisoners and victims:
They bound the prisoners hand and foot, rekindled the fire, slung the kettles, cut the bodies of the slain to pieces, and boiled and devoured them before the eyes of the wretched survivors. "In a word," says the narrator [that is, the Algonquin woman who escaped to tell the tale], "they ate men with as much appetite and more pleasure than hunters eat a boar or a stag ..."The Iroquois arrived at their village with their prisoners, whose torture was
designed to cause all possible suffering without touching life. It consisted in blows with sticks and cudgels, gashing their limbs with knives, cutting off their fingers with clam-shells, scorching them with firebrands, and other indescribable torments. The women were stripped naked, and forced to dance to the singing of the male prisoners, amid the applause and laughter of the crowd ...Of the above account, Parkman writes: "Revolting as it is, it is necessary to recount it. Suffice it to say, that it is sustained by the whole body of contemporary evidence in regard to the practices of the Iroquois and some of the neighboring tribes."
The "large scaffold" on which the prisoners were placed, is elsewhere in his narrative referred to by Parkman as the Indians' "torture-scaffolds of bark," the Indian equivalent of the European theatrical stage, while the tortures performed by the Indians on their neighbors -- and on the odd missionary who happened to fall their way -- were the noble savages' equivalent of the European stage play.
If the descendants of the New England tribes now devote their time to selling tax-free cigarettes, running roulette wheels or dealing out black jack hands, rather than to the capture, torture, and consumption of their neighboring tribesmen, should we not give thanks to those brave Jesuits who sacrificed all to redeem these "native Americans"?
What kind of life did the African live in his native land, before he was brought to America and introduced to Western civilization? That slavery was widely practiced in Africa before the coming of the white man is beyond dispute. But what sort of indigenous civilization did the African enjoy?
In A Slaver's Log Book, which chronicles the author's experiences in Africa during the 1820s and 1830s, Captain Theophilus Conneau (or Canot) describes a tribal victory celebration in a town he visited after an attack by a neighboring tribe:
On invading the town, some of the warriors had found in the Chief's house several jars of rum, and now the bottle went round with astonishing rapidity. The ferocious and savage dance was then suggested. The war bells and horns had sounded the arrival of the female warriors, who on the storming of a town generally make their entry in time to participate in the division of the human flesh; and as the dead and wounded were ready for the knife, in they came like furies and in the obscene perfect state of nakedness, performed the victorious dance which for its cruelties and barbarities has no parallel.Vanishing History
This is the history that has been handed down to us by men who either were present when the recorded events took place -- that is, Diaz and Conneau -- or who had access to period documents -- that is, Parkman. But this factual history has suffered greatly at the hands of politically correct myth-mongers. The books themselves are disappearing from the shelves: Conneau's book has been out of print for nearly a generation; perhaps Diaz's and Parkman's will follow in the next 20 years. In its place, the most absurd historical fantasies are substituted. As the seemingly inexorable forces of political correctness grind on, we may be left with as much knowledge of our true history as Orwell's Winston Smith had of his.
Were it not for their subjugation by Europeans, Mexicans would perhaps have continued to practice the Aztec traditions of slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism; many American Indians would probably still be living their sad and perilous life of nomadism, subsistence farming, and warfare; and Africans would likely be expiring in even greater numbers on the fields of mayhem and slaughter (as the world has noted to its horror in Rwanda, Liberia and Congo), when not being bought and sold as slaves (as still is done in Sudan and Mauritania).
In his 1965 work, The Course of Empire: The Arabs and their Successors, the sagacious Glubb Pasha wrote in defense of Western colonialism:
Foreign military conquest has not only enabled backward people to acquire the skills and the culture of the conquerors, but it has often administered a salutary shock to the lethargic mentality of the inhabitants, among whom the desire to rise to equality with the foreigners has roused a new spirit of energy ... Britain has permeated Asia and Africa with her ideas of government, of law and of ordered civilization. The men of races who less than a hundred years ago were naked are now lawyers, doctors and statesmen on the stage of the world.But if the present trend of denigrating the West's mission civilisatrice continues, the achievements of that great civilizing venture might well be squandered and lost forever. If we permit inhumane customs and mores to reassert themselves, the ultimate dissolution of the West itself is not an impossibility. In his famous poem "White Man's Burden," Rudyard Kipling eloquently spelled out the fate of a culture that loses faith in itself and its mission:
And when your goal is nearest