Life Styles: Native and Imposed

Kevin Beary

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 Spaniards.

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.

Aztec Civilization

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."

Following the ceremony in which humans are sacrificed to their gods, high-ranking Aztecs eat the flesh of the victims. (A contemporary Spanish illustration, from the Codex Magliabechiano.) A Spanish witness commented: "This figure demonstrates the abominable thing that the Indians did on the day they sacrificed to their idols. After [the sacrifice] they placed many large earthen cooking jars of that human meat in front of their idol they called Mictlantecutli, which means lord of the place of the dead, as it is mentioned in other parts [of this book]. And they gave and distributed it to the notables and overseers, and to those who served in the temple of the demon, whom they called tlamacazqui [priests]. And these [persons] distributed among their friends and families that [flesh] and these [persons] which they had given [to the god as a human victim]. They say it tasted like pork meat tastes now. And for this reason pork is very desirable among them."

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 conquerors feasted in the lodge till nearly daybreak ... then began their march homeward with their prisoners. Among these were three women, of whom the narrator was one, who had each a child of a few weeks or months old. At the first halt, their captors took the infants from them, tied them to wooden spits, placed them to die slowly before a fire, and feasted on them before the eyes of the agonized mothers, whose shrieks, supplications, and frantic efforts to break the cords that bound them were met with mockery and laughter ...

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 ...

On the following morning, they were placed on a large scaffold, in sight of the whole population. It was a gala-day. Young and old were gathered from far and near. Some mounted the scaffold, and scorched them with torches and firebrands; while the children, standing beneath the bark platform, applied fire to the feet of the prisoners between the crevices ... The stoicism of one of the warriors enraged his captors beyond measure ... they fell upon him with redoubled fury, till their knives and firebrands left in him no semblance of humanity. He was defiant to the last, and when death came to his relief, they tore out his heart and devoured it; then hacked him in pieces, and made their feast of triumph on his mangled limbs.

All the men and all the old women of the party were put to death in a similar manner, though but few displayed the same amazing fortitude. The younger women, of whom there were about thirty, after passing their ordeal of torture, were permitted to live; and, disfigured as they were, were distributed among the several villages, as concubines or slaves to the Iroquois warriors. Of this number were the narrator and her companion, who ... escaped at night into the forest ...

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"?

Native Africans

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.

Some twenty-five in number made their appearance with their faces and naked bodies besmeared with chalk and red paint. Each one bore a trophy of their cannibal nature. The matron or leader ... bore an infant babe newly torn from its mother's womb and which she tossed high in the air, receiving it on the point of her knife. Other Medeas followed, all bearing some mutilated member of the human frame.

Rum, powder, and blood, a mixture drunk with avidity by these Bacchantes, had rendered them drunk, and the brutal dance had intoxicated them to madness. Each was armed also with some tormenting instrument, and not content with the butchering outside of the town of the fugitive women, they now surrounded the pile of the wounded prisoners, long kept in suspense for the coup de grâce. A ring was formed by the two-legged tigresses, and accompanied by hideous yells and encouraging cry of the men, the round dance began. The velocity of the whirling soon broke the hideous circle, when each one fell on his victims and the massacre began. Men and women fell to dispatching the groaning wounded with the most disgusting cruelties.

I have seen the tiger pounce on the inoffensive gazelle and in its natural propensity of love of blood, strangle its victim, satiate its thirst, and often abandon the dead animal. But not so with these female cannibals. The living and dying had to endure a tormenting and barbarous mutilation, the women showing more cannibal nature in the dissection of the dead than the stronger sex. The coup de grâce was given by the men, but in one instance the victim survived a few minutes when one of those female furies tormented the agony of the dying man by prostrating herself on his body and there acting the beast of double backs.

The matron, commander of these anthrophagies, with her fifty years and corpulous body, led the cruelties on by her example. The unborn babe had been put aside for a bonne bouche, and now adorned with a string of men's genital parts, she was collecting into a gourd the brains of the decapitated bodies. While the disgusting operating went on, the men carved the solid flesh from the limbs of the dead, throwing the entrails aside.

About noon the butchering was at an end, and a general barbecuing took place. The smell of human flesh, so disgusting to civilized man, was to them the pleasing odor so peculiarly agreeable to a gastronomer ...

The barbecuing over, an anthrophagous repast took place, when the superabundant preserved flesh was packed up in plantain leaves to be sent into the Interior for the warriors' friends. I am silent on the further cruelties that were practiced this day on the unfortunate infirm and wounded that the different scouting parties brought in during the day, supposing the reader to be sick enough at heart at the above representation.

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
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Turn all your hope to naught.

Journal of Historical Review 17, no. 3 (May-June 1998), 7-11.


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