Category Archives: Central and South American Native Cultures


#13 from The Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru
(Pablo Jose de Arriaga, 1621)

What Those Who Hang Themselves Really Are

They do not stop those who hang themselves because of what they are. [They consider them] something more than human, and they invoke them, and call on them for some things, and it could be that this was one of the reasons why in some areas some hang themselves so easily, like the other Indian boy and prince, who while enjoying himself some months in a fiesta or drinking occasion with some Indians with whom he was not very friendly, he said one day, at the beginning of the night and at the end of the fiesta, and they understood that he said it while he tapped his feet, I have to see who among you has good will toward me, if he will come to hang himself with me and with this he left the house, and going to search for him here and there, thinking that he had gone a distance away, they came to find him hanged near the very house. And it must have been a little more than a month ago, that the judge holding a sorcerer prisoner with a pair of irons, and not having pressured or squeezed him at all, instead treating him well and feeding him from his own table, after he had been a prisoner for two days in his own room, he went out of it one night, without being heard, and with a piece of a very thin cord like those they wear on their head, which they call huaraca, he hanged himself at the door of the house, in such a way that he remained on his knees and in this posture I found him and ran into him in front of our chamber in the morning when I went out at dawn. We had him taken away outside of the town, being dragged by the feet, and burned him so that he would be a lesson for others.

[#13] “What Those Who Hang Themselves Really Are,” from Pablo José de Arriaga, La Extirpacion de la Idolatria en el Peru (Lima: Imprenta y Libreria Sanmarti, 1920, pp 61-61), tr. Carolyn Morrow.

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#12 from Natural & Moral History of the Indies
(José de Acosta, 1589)

Of Superstitions They Used to the Dead

The Indians of Peru beleeved commonly that the Soules lived after this life, and that the good were in glorie and the bad in paine; so as there is little difficultie to perswade them to these articles. But they are not yet come to the knowledge of that point, that the bodies should rise with the soules. And therefore they did vse a wonderfull care, as it is saide, to preserve the bodies which they honoured after death; to this end their successors gave them garments, and made sacrifices vnto them, especially the kings Yncas, being accompanied at their funeralls with a great number of servants and women for his service in the other life and therefore on the day of his decease they did put to death the woman he had loved best, his servants and officers, that they might serve him in the other life.

Whenas Huayna Capac died (who was father to Atahualpa, at what time the Spaniards entered), they put to death aboue a thousand persons of all ages and conditions, for his service, to accompany him in the other life; after many songs and drunkennes they slew them; and these that were appointed to death, held themselves happy.

[#12] “Of the Superstitions They Used to the Dead,” from José de Acosta, Natural & Moral History of the Indies, ed. Clements R. Markham, vol. II (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1880, pp. 313-14.


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#11 from The Incas
(Pedro de Cieza de León, 1553)

The Burial of Wives

Of how the Indians of these valleys and others of
these kingdoms believe that the soul departs from
the body and does not die, and why they ordered
their wives interred in their tombs.

In the course of this history I have often alluded to the fact that in the greater part of this kingdom of Peru it is a very widespread custom generally observed by all the Indians to bury with the bodies of the dead all those possessions they most prized, and certain of their most beautiful and best-loved women. . . .

. . .These Indians, blinded by the words and figments of the devil, believing these fictions, gave more thought to adorning their graves or tombs than to any other thing. And when the chief died, they put with him his treasures, living women and boys, and other persons who were good friends of his when he was alive. Thus, as can be seen from what I have said, it was the general belief among all these Yunga Indians, and also the mountaineers of this kingdom of Peru, that the souls of the dead did not die, but lived forever, and came together with one another in the other world, where, as I said before, they believe that they take their pleasure and eat and drink, which is their chief delight. And firmly believing this, they buried with the dead their best-loved wives, and their closest vassals and servants, and their most prized possessions and arms and feathers, and other ornaments of their person. And many of their kinfolk, for whom there was no room in the tomb, dug holes in the fields and lands of the dead lord, or in those spots where he was most wont to sport and pleasure himself, and laid themselves in them, thinking that his soul would pass by those spots and take them along to serve him. There were even women who, to have more of a claim on him and so he would value their services more, fearing there would not be room for them in the tomb, hanged themselves by their own hair and killed themselves in this way. We all believe all these things to be true because the tombs of the dead make it manifest, and because in many places they still hold and follow this cursed custom.

[#11] “The Burial of Wives,” Pedro de Cieza de León, The Incas, trans. Harriet de Onis, ed. Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1959, txt. pp. 308-310);


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#10 from History of the New World
(Girolamo Benzoni, 1565)

Suffering at the Hands of the Spaniards

Then other governors were successively sent to La Espanola, as well clerical as secular, till the natives, finding themselves intolerably oppressed and worked on every side, with no chance of regaining their liberty, with sighs and tears longed for death.

Wherefore many went to the woods and there hung themselves, after having killed their children, saying it was far better to die rather than to live so miserably, serving such and so many ferocious tyrants and wicked thieves. The women, with the juice of a certain herb, dissipated their pregnancy, in order not to produce children, and then following the example of their husbands, hung themselves. Some threw themselves from high cliffs down precipices; others jumped into the sea; others again into rivers; and others starved themselves to death. Sometimes they killed themselves with their flint knives; others pierce their bosoms or their sides with pointed stakes. Finally, out of the two millions of original inhabitants, through the number of suicides and other deaths, occasioned by the oppressive labour and cruelties imposed by the Spaniards, there are not a hundred and fifty now to be found: and this has been their way of making Christians of them. What befell those poor islanders has happened also to all the others around: Cuba, Jamaica, Porto Rico, and other places. And although an almost infinite number of the inhabitants of the mainland have been brought to these islands as slaves, they have nearly all since died. In short, I may say, that wherever the Spaniards have unfurled their banner, they have, by their great cruelties, inspired the inhabitants with perpetual hatred of those chiefs having heard of the horrors committed by the Spaniards wherever they went, took up arms to resist them and to defend their liberty. Yet finding, after many battles, that they were always beaten, and that already a great proportion of them were killed, and moreover, that daily reinforcements of Christians arrived from Carthagena and Sta. Martha, their hopes failed of ever being able to expel them from their country, and, overpowered by the fear of being all destroyed, they sought for peace. Thus did the Spaniards obtain the dominion of a great part of that country. Then Don Pietro di Lugo, after enduring some skirmishes with the Indians, traversed many villages, burning and robbing, but collecting a great quantity of gold and emeralds, finally returned to Sta. Martha.

The oppressed natives seeing themselves persecuted in this manner on every side, were unable to sustain so much grief and suffering; abusing and inveighing against the Christian name, they used to go to the woods to hang themselves, the women as well as the men; and of those who had nothing to tie themselves up with, as they chiefly go naked, the one helped the other to tie their hair round the branches of the trees, and then letting themselves fall, with most bitter lamentations, with howls and shrieks full of terror, and filling the air with their miseries, persisted in making away with themselves.

[#10] “Suffering at the Hands of the Spaniards,” from Girolamo Benzoni, History of the New World, tr. and ed. Rear-Admiral W. H. Smyth (London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1857, pp.77-78, 111-12).

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#9 from La Historia General de las Indias
(Francisco López de Gómara, 1552)

Suicide, Smallpox, and the Arrival of the Spaniards

Of all their laws, this is the most notable, that for whatever theft they impaled the thief, they also abhorred the avaricious a lot. They bury with the men, especially with the gentlemen, some of their most beloved women, or the most beautiful, for that is a great honor and favor. Other women want to be buried with them for love. The burial of these is ostentatious, they seat them on the tomb, and they put around them bread, water, salt, fruit, and arms.

…[Prediction of the coming of the long beards, who will conquer the people with their shining swords.] …

All these things happened exactly as those priests related and sang, for the Spaniards opened many Indians with knife thrusts in the wars, and even in the mines and struck down the idols on their altars without leaving one. They forbade all the rites and ceremonies that they found. They made them slaves through the actions where they divided them up, as a result of which they worked more than they used to, and in the case of others, they died and all killed themselves. Of the 15 times 100 thousand and more persons that there were on that single island, now there are only 500. Some died of hunger, others from work, and many from poxes. Some killed themselves with yucca juice, and others with poisonous herbs, others hanged themselves from the trees. The women acted like their husbands, they hanged themselves alongside them [their husbands], and aborted their children with art and drink, so as not to bear children who would serve strangers. It must have been a punishment that God gave them for their sins, but the first [the Spaniards] were greatly at fault for treating them very badly, inflamed with desire for gold more than [for the welfare] of their fellow [human beings].

[#9] “Suicide, Smallpox, and the Arrival of the Spaniards,” from Francisco Lopez de Gomara, La Historia General de las Indias (En Anvers: Casa de Juan Steelsio, 1554, pp. 35-36, 40), tr. Carolyn Morrow.

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#8 from Natural History of the West Indies
(Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, 1526)

Suicide on the Death of the Chief

This species of poisonous yuca grows in great abundance on the islands of San Juan [Puerto Rico], Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

In some of the islands where the poisonous yuca is found, occasionally there has been some Indian chief or leader and many of his subjects who have committed suicide. The chief, through the exhortations of the devil, would tell all those who wanted to die with him the reason that he thought would draw them to their diabolical end. Then each one would take swallows of the water or juice of the yuca and suddenly they would all die without any help whatsoever.

In many places of Tierra Firme when a cacique or some lord dies, all the retainers of his household, both men and women, kill themselves. The devil has led them to believe that those who commit suicide when the chief dies will go with him to heaven and there serve him food and drink or continue the same work they have done in the home or the cacique on earth.

Those who do not do this, they believe, when they die of some other cause, or naturally, their spirits die with the body. And all the other Indians and vassals of the chief, when they die, as has been said, their spirits die with the body. And so they die and are converted into air or into nothingness, as would happen to a pig, a bird, a fish, or any other animal. They believe that only the servants and vassals who serve the master in the house or in some particular service have and enjoy that right and pre-eminence.

From that false belief it results that even those who are engaged in the cultivation of corn kill themselves in order to enjoy this blessing, and have themselves buried with a little corn and a small wooden sword. The Indians say that it is carried with them so that if in heaven there is a lack of seed, they will have enough to begin their trade, until the devil, who informs them of everything, provides them with a larger quantity of seed.

In the highlands of Guaturo I was able to observe this very well. There I held prisoner the cacique of that province who had rebelled against the service of your Majesty. I asked him to explain to me the meaning of a number of graves that were in his house. He said that were the graves of Indians who had killed themselves when his father died. Since often they are buried with great quantities of wrought gold, I had two of the graves opened. There I found the corn and knives that I mentioned above. When I asked the reason, the cacique and some of his Indians said that those who had been buried there were farmers, men who knew well how to plant and harvest corn, and they were his and his father’s servants. And so that their souls would not die with their bodies, they had killed themselves upon the death of his father, and had the corn and knives for use in heaven.

I replied that the cacique should observe that the devil had deceived him, and that everything he told them was false, for those servants had been dead a long time and still had not carried away the corn and the knives. I also pointed out that now the seed was rotten and worthless, and that the dead had not planted anything in heaven. To this the cacique replied that if they had not carried those things away, it was because they had found plenty in heaven and those were not needed. They were told many things about this error of theirs, from which they profit little, to remove them from their way of error, especially when they are grown men and the devil already has them ensnared.

[#8] “Suicide at the Death of the Chief,” from Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Natural History of the West Indies, trans. and ed. Sterling A. Stoudemire (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1959, pp. 17, 35-37).

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#7 from Account of the Affairs of Yucatán
(Diego de Landa, c. 1570)

Ixtab: Goddess of the Gallows

The Maya have always believed in the immortality of the soul more than many other peoples―even though they may not be so civilized―for they believed that there was a more excellent life after death which the soul enjoyed on departure from the body. They said that this future life was divided into a good and a bad life, into a painful one and one full of peace. They said that the bad and the painful one was for the wicked and the good and delightful one for those who had lived well according to their beliefs. The easy life, which they said they would achieve if they were good, was to go to a very pleasant place where nothing would give them pain, and where they would have an abundance of food and drink of great sweetness and a tree which is there called yaxche, which is very cool and shady (and is a cotton tree), beneath whose branches and shade they would all rest and take pleasure for eternity.

The punishment for a bad life, which they said that the wrongdoers would have to suffer, was to go to a lower place than the others, which they call Mitnal, meaning Hell, and there to be tormented by devils and by great extremes of hunger, cold, fatigue, and misery. There was also in this place a devil and prince of all the devils whom all obeyed, and they called him in their tongue Hunhau: They claimed that these good and evil lives had no end, because the soul had none. They also said, and held it to be absolutely true, that those who hanged themselves went to this heaven of theirs. Thus there were many who for slight reasons of sadness, troubles, or sickness hanged themselves in order to escape and to go and rest in their heaven where they said the goddess of the gallows, whom they called Ixtab, came to take them. They had no concept of the resurrection of the body and had no record of the person from whom they had heard about this heaven and hell of theirs.

[#7] “Ixtab: Goddess of the Gallows,” from A. R. Pagden, ed. and tr., The Maya: Diego de Landa’s Account of the Affairs of Yucatán (Chicago: J. Philip O’Hara, 1975, p. 95; quotation in introduction, p. 16).

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#6 from Popol Vuh
(dictated in K’iche̍, c. 1554-1558; Francisco Ximénez, c. 1701)

How the People Obtained Fire

And they did not have fire. Only the people of Tohil had it. He was the god of the tribes which first created fire. It is not known how it was made, because it was already burning when Balam-Quitzé and Balam-Acab saw it.

“Ah, we have no fire yet! We shall die of cold,” they said. Then Tohil said to them: “Do not worry! Yours shall be the lost fire which is talked of. Yours shall be what is spoken of as lost fire,” Tohil said to them.

“Really? Oh, God, our support, our maintenance, thou, our God!” they said, returning thanks.

And Tohil answered: “Very well, certainly I am your God; so shall it be! I am your Lord; so let it be!” Thus it was told to the priests and sacrificers by Tohil. And in this manner the tribes received fire and they were joyful because of it.

Instantly a great shower began to fall when the fire of the tribes was burning. Much hail fell on all the tribes and the fire was put out because of it, and again the fire was extinguished.

Then Balam-Quitzé and Balam-Acab again asked Tohil for fire. “Oh, Tohil, we are truly dying of cold!” they said to Tohil.

“Very well, do not worry,” Tohil answered, and instantly he made fire, turning about in his shoe.

Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam were at once happy and immediately they became warm.

Now, the fire of the peoples [of Vucamag] had also gone out and they were dying of cold. immediately they came to ask Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam for fire. They could no longer bear the cold nor the ice; they were shivering and their teeth were chattering; they were numb; their legs and hands shook and they could not hold anything in them, when they came.

“We are not ashamed to come before you, to beg for a little of your fire,” they said. But they were not well received. And then the tribes were very sad.

“The speech of Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam is different! Oh! We have given up our speech! What have we done? We are lost. How were we deceived? We had only one speech when we arrived there at Tulán; we were created and educated in the same way. It is not good what we have done,” said all the tribes under the trees, under the vines.

Then a man came before Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam and [this man], who was a messenger of Xibalba, spoke thus: “This is, in truth, your God; this is your support; this is, furthermore, the representation, the memory of your Creator and Maker. Do not give your fire to the tribes until they present offerings to Tohil. It is not necessary that they give anything to you. Ask Tohil what they should give when they come to receive fire,” said the man from Xibalba. He had wings like the wings of a bat. “I am sent by your Creator, your Maker,” said the man of Xibalba.

They were filled with joy then, and Tohil, Avilix, and Hacavitz were also gladdened when the man from Xibalba spoke, who disappeared instantly from their presence.

But the tribes did not perish when they came, although they were dying of cold. There was much hail, black rain and mist, and indescribable cold.

All the tribes were trembling and shivering with cold when they came where Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam were. Their hearts were greatly troubled and their mouths and eyes were sad.

In a moment the beggars came before Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui- Balam and said: “Will you not have pity on us, we only ask a little of your fire? Perchance, were we not [once] together and reunited? Did we not have the same home and one country when we were created, when we were made? Have mercy, then, on us!” they said.

“What will you give us so that we shall have mercy on you?” they were asked. “Well, then, we shall give you money,” the tribes answered. “We do not want money,” said Balam-Quitzé and Balam-Acab. “And what do you want?” [asked the tribes].

“We shall ask now” [said Balam-Quitzé].

“Very well, “said the tribes.

“We shall ask Tohil and then we shall tell you,” they answered.

“What must the tribes give, oh, Tohil! who have come to ask for your fire?” said Balam- Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam.

“Well! Are they willing to give their waist and their armpits? Do they want me to embrace them? For if they do not want to do that, neither shall I give them fire,” answered Tohil.

“Tell them that this shall come later, that they do not have to come now to give me their waist and their armpits. This is what Tohil orders us to tell you, you will say.” This was the answer to Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui-Balam.

Then they took Tohil’s message. “Very well, we shall join you and we shall embrace him,” they [the people] said when they heard and were told the message from Tohil. And they did not delay in acting. “Good,” they said, “but may it be soon!” And immediately they received the fire. Then they became warm….

The Cakchiquel did not ask for the fire, because they did not want to give themselves up to be overcome, the way that the other tribes had been overcome when they offered their breasts and their armpits so that they would be opened. And this was the opening [of the breasts] about which Tohil had spoken; that they should sacrifice all the tribes before him, that they should tear out their hearts from their breasts.…

[#6] The Book of the People: Popul Vuh tr. Delia Goetz and Sylvanus Griswold Morley, and Adrián Recino. (Los Angeles: Plantin Press, 1954), Part II chapters 12, 13, 14; Part III, chapters 5, 6. Available online at

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#5 from In Defense of the Indians
(Bartolome de Las Casas, 1548-1550)

The Significance of Human Sacrifice

By nature, all nations know that God surpasses anything that can be imagined and that they have life and every possession from him. And by nature they understand that they owe God the greatest reverence and worship because of his incomparable excellence and majesty, and all agree that the principal act of lalria, which is owed to God alone, is sacrifice. It follows, then, that they are obliged by the natural law to offer sacrifice, by which men show, more than by any other external act, that they are grateful and subject to God. And so there has never been a nation so barbarous as not to judge by a natural impulse that sacrifice is owed to the true God or to him whom they mistakenly thought is the true God.

The second proof of the first statement is what Saint Thomas says: At all times and among all nations there has always been some offering of sacrifices. And the reason for this is that natural reason tells man that he is subject to a higher being, on account of the defects which he perceives in himself, and in which he needs help and direction from someone above him, and whatever this superior being may be, it is known to all under the name of God, and consequently the offering of sacrifice is a matter of the natural law.

 . . .On the basis of these principles one can arrive at what we taught previously: within the limits of the natural light of reason (in other words, at the point at which divine or human positive law ceases and, one may add, where grace and doctrine are lacking), men should sacrifice human victims to the true God or the reputed god, if the latter is taken for the true God. We draw this conclusion: Just as men naturally know that God exists and think that there is nothing better or greater than he, since whatever we own, are, or are capable of is given to us by his boundless goodness, we do not adequately repay him even if we offer him all that is ours, even our life.

The greatest way to worship God is to offer him sacrifice. This is the unique act by which we show him to whom we offer the sacrifice that we are subject to him and grateful to him. Furthermore, nature teaches that it is just to offer God, whose debtors we admit we are for so many reasons, those things that are precious and excellent because of the surpassing excellence of his majesty. But, according to human judgment and truth, nothing in nature is greater or more valuable than the life of man or man himself. Therefore nature itself dictates and teaches those who do not have faith, grace, or doctrine, who live within the limitations of the light of nature, that in spite of every contrary positive law, they ought to sacrifice human victims to the true God or to the false god who is thought to be true, so that by offering a supremely precious thing they might be more grateful for the many favors they have received. For the natural law teaches gratitude in such a way that we not only do good to our benefactor but also try to repay him in an abundant manner for the benefits we have received, giving due consideration to the benefits, the benefactor, and the motive for which he confers the benefits on us.

The kindness by which the Lord created us, endowed us with so many gifts, and enriched us with so many good things comes from his immense charity and boundless goodness and gives birth in us to innumerable good things, and even life itself, and finally, whatever we are. However, since we cannot give adequate thanks for so many favors, we are obliged to present what seems to us to be the greatest and most valuable good, that is human life, and especially when the offering is made for the welfare of the state. For the pagans thought that through sacrifices of this type they could divert evils from their state and gain good will and prosperity for their kingdoms. Therefore whoever sacrifices men to God can be drawn to this action by natural reason, especially if he lacks Christian faith and instruction….

Possibly the idea of human sacrifice spread from here through the whole world. Yet someone will loudly protest that this idea must not be admitted, since innocent persons are sacrificed against their will. But I shall answer this objection as I have previously: Every man, no matter how innocent he may be, owes God more than his life; and so, although these persons do not will it by an explicit act, yet they perform an act that is owed, since all men are obliged to give their blood and their life whenever God’s honor demands it. We Christians, like all those who knew God during the early centuries, are obliged by divine law to do this. Now apparently there was a case in which God’s honor was involved when those upon whom the lot fell were offered as sacrifice by reason of a law in force in some kingdom. Therefore, even if they were otherwise innocent, no harm was done to them, at least in the judgment of those who did not have grace and doctrine. And this is bolstered by the fact that, according to the Philosopher, any outstanding citizen is obliged to give his life for the welfare of the state (this welfare, according to the erroneous opinion of the pagans, was thought to consist of the worship of the gods). Those who do not have the faith, then, have probable error concerning human sacrifice.

. . . But if the need of the state demands that a man do or undergo all that he is capable of, that is, that he expose his life to the danger of death for the welfare of the state, undoubtedly the legislator, by his command, can lawfully obliged by the natural law to obey the mandate. This is proved from what was established just a short while ago concerning the whole and the part. For, since the citizen is a part of the whole state and his happiness or welfare depends on the welfare and good of the state, he is obliged to love the common welfare and good more than his private welfare, and therefore, in order to preserve that common welfare, he is obliged by the natural law to do and suffer all he can, even by sacrificing his life.

Since, then, the pagans believe that the universal good and welfare of the whole state consists in sacrifices and immolations, that is, human victims, as we have proved elsewhere from Augustine, Chrysostom, and Valerius, it is not surprising that, when afflicted by needs, they sacrifice what in the judgment of all is most precious and pleasing to God, that is, men. This is evident from the previously cited examples. This is evident also from what Titus Livy writes: “When their city was in very great danger, the Romans placated Mars by sacrificing a man and woman of Gaul and a Greek man and woman.” Moreover, on the supposition that the error of the pagans is probable, a legislator can and should bind some of the people by his command when there is a great need involving the whole state, so that a sacrifice should be offered by killing them. And they can be obliged to will this by an explicit act, as is clear from what has been concluded.

You see, then, dear reader, that there is some probable natural reason by which men can be led to sacrifice human beings to God and, as a result, that it is not easy to persuade the Indians, within a short period or by a few words, to refrain from their traditional practice of human sacrifice…

. . .All of the preceding conclusions seem to be established, and therefore it can be persuasively argued, from the fact that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice to him his only son Isaac, that it is not altogether detestable to sacrifice human beings to God. . . .

. . .Thus it is clear that it is not possible, quickly and in a few words, to make clear to unbelievers, especially ours, that sacrificing men to God is unnatural. On that account, we are left with the evident conclusion that knowledge that the natives sacrifice men to their gods, or even eat human flesh, is not a just cause for waging war on any kingdom. And again, this long-standing practice of theirs cannot be suddenly uprooted. And so these entirely guiltless Indians are not to be blamed because they do not come to their senses at the first words of a preacher of the gospel. For they do not understand the preacher. Nor are they bound to abandon at once their ancestral religion, for they do not understand that it is better to do so. Nor is human sacrifice—even of the innocent, when it is done for the welfare of the entire state—so contrary to natural reason that it must be immediately detested as contrary to the dictates of nature. For this error can owe its origin to a plausible proof developed by human reasoning.

The preceding arguments prove that those who willingly allow themselves to be sacrificed, and all the common people in general, and the ministers who sacrifice them to the gods by command of their rulers and priests labor under an excusable, invincible ignorance and that their error should be judged leniently, even if we were to suppose that there is some judge with authority to punish these sins. If they offend God by these sacrifices, he alone will punish this sin of human sacrifice. . . .

[#5] “The Significance of Human Sacrifice.” Bartolomé de Las Casas, In Defense of the Indians. The Defense of the Most Reverend Lord, Don Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, of the Order of Preachers, Late Bishop of Chiapa, Against the Persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered Across the Seas. Chapter 37. Ed. and Trans. Stafford Poole. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974, pp. 239-243.

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#4 from Monarchia Indiana
(Juan de Torquemada, 1609-1615)

Chimalpopoca’s Victory in Death

With this decision he called some Mexicans and told them his intention, and declared to them the insult that it would cause to them, if perhaps he should die at the hand of King Maxtla, for the case of Tayatzin, because they would baptize this deed with the name of treachery, and that it was not reasonable that this be said of a Mexican King. And although they ought to “make a sentiment,” that is, be sad about it, the Mexicans came to the will of Chimalpopoca, and it seems to be thus true and then the King put in execution the plan that he had, for which (pointing out the Day) he dressed in the clothes of his god Huitzilopuchtli, and with him many Principal Gentleman and Ladies who were to die along with him, and they began to dance, and at the determined hour, when they began similar dances of sacrifices, to sacrifice their offering to the Devil, the Minister began to kill those who were dancing by his order. But as the event was public, there did not fail to be someone who went to Maxtla with the news. He quickly sent people to arrive on time so they could take Chimalpopoca, before the Priests killed him and offered him in sacrifice, and by luck it ought to be, so that he wouldn’t take that glory of having killed himself and offered [himself] in offering and holocaust to his false God.   And it is clear this is his intention; because if it were other, not only would his death not give him (Maxtla) pain, but rather he would rejoice on knowing that he (Chimalpopoca) was dead; since he already thought him an enemy of his kingdom. Maxtla’s people arrived at the place and area where the sacrifice was being carried out at the moment when there were only two more to be sacrificed, after which, as the final conclusion of the sacrifice, Chimalpopoca would die. And arriving suddenly without being heard, they caught him and carried (him) with his clothes in which he was dressed and put him in a very strong cage, that served him as a jail. The Mexicans wanted to take up arms in defense of their King; but as the Tepenecas were many, and they came ready for war, and they (the Mexicans) were having a fiesta, and unworried, their anger that this deed caused them had no effect, and the Tepanecas went away with their King Chimalpopoca very contentedly. King Chimalpopoca [was] imprisoned.

In this cage, they had Chimalpopoca imprisoned and sad, giving him ounces to eat, and seeing himself there and knowing that they had to take him from the cage to give him a cruel and rigorous death, he arranged to kill himself; and so he hanged himself in that jail where he was; considering a better death the one that his hands could give him than the one that he might receive from his enemies, as it was he triumphing over himself rather than his enemy triumphing over him, as Cleopatra and other valiant and strong pagan captains did, who because of being strong, carried out similar deeds in order not to see themselves in foreign hands, with shame and diminished valor and greatness.

And this is the death and the end of this unfortunate King, the third of Mexico, and this death, here related, I have seen it painted in two different histories . . .and when I was doing part of these investigations in Mexico City, with old and wise people, there was among them a man more than sixty years old, and the one who was explaining to me the paintings in the book that we were examining said to me: Father, have this old man speak because he knows this story better than I, for he had understanding of it; and turning toward him, he said, why do you not speak? Since you are the a limb from that trunk, and asking the old man about the event, the old man told me he was a descendant of King Chimalpopoca, and that it was true, that he had died hanged, and had given himself that death, in order not die at the hands of Maxtla, who would have achieved glory and dishonored the Mexican people.

[#4] “Chimalpopoca’s Victory in Death,” from Juan de Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, 3rd edition, vol. 1 (Mexico: Editorial Salvador Chavez Hayhoe, 1943, pp. 123-26), tr. Carolyn Morrow.

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