Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/456

This page needs to be proofread.
410

AMERICA 410 AMERICA some ol whom, however, like the Navajos, had turned to land-tilHng also, on a modest scale. The same conditions may be said to have obtained ia Arizona. Western Slexico presented a similar as- pect, modified by a different climate. While there are within the area of the United States tribes that in tlic fifteenth century displayed a higher degree of culture tlian their surroundings (the Natchez, for instance, and, in development of ideas of govern- ment and extension of sway, the Iroquois) the culture of the Indian seems to liave reached its highest degree in Central Mexico and Yucatan, Guatemala and Honduras, and, we may add, Nicaragua. It is as if the tribal wanderings "from north to south, which sometimes took other directions, had been arrested by the narrowing of the continent at the Isthmus of Panama. While the abundance of natural re- sources invited man to remain, geographic features compelled him, and thus arose Indian communities that excelled in culture the Indians in every other part of the continent. South of Panama, nature was too exuberant, and the territory too small, to favour similar progress; hence the Indians, while still quite proficient in certain arts, could not com- pare with their northern neighbours. In South America the exuberance of tropical life north of the Argentine plains, was as unfavourable to cultural growth as barrenness would have been. Hence the Amazonian basin, Brazil, the Guyanas, and 'ene- zuela, as well as the eastern declivity of the Andes in general, were thinly inhabited by tribes, few of wliich had risen above the stage of roving savages. On the western slope of the Andes, in Colombia, the Eopulation was somewhat more dense and the ouses, although still of wood and canes, were larger and more substantially reared. Sedentary tribes of a lesser degree of culture also dwelt in nortliern Argentine, limited in numbers and scattered in and between savage groups. The highest development attained by man in South America before its dis- covery was along the backbone of the Andes from latitude 1.5° north to near the Tropic of Capricorn, or l'.3° south. This was also the case on the Pacific shore to latitude 20° south, beginning at 2° south. In this zone the cultural growth of the Indian at- tained a level equal in many ways, superior in some, inferior in others (as for instance in plastic work in stone), to the culture of the most advanced tribes of Yucatan and Central America. The tribes of Chile were comparatively numerous and fairly advanced, mostly given to land-tillage and hunting; the Pata- gonians stood on a lov.'er level, and the people of Tierra del Fuego were perhaps on the lowest round of the scale of humanity in America. Pre-Columbian Politic.vl Conditions. — Not even the most advanced among the American Indians had risen to the conception of a Nation or State; their organization was merely tribal, and their conquests or raids were made, not with the view of assimilating sul)jectod enemies, but for booty (inclutling females, and human victims for sacrifice), or, at best, for the Surpose of exacting tribute and assistance in warfare, [ence America w.os an irregular checker-board of tribes, independent and always autonomous, even when overawed or overpowered by otliers. Those tribes whose sway was most extensive when America was discovered were: in North .Vmerica, the Iroquois league in what is now the State of New York; they had organized for the purpose of plunder and devas- tation and were just then extending their destructive forays; in central Mexico, the confederacy of the tribes of Mexico, Tezcuco, and Tlacopan; in Yucatan the Maya, although these do not seem to have agglomerated so as to form leagties, except tem- porarily; in ."^outli .merica the Muysca or Chibcha of central Coloinl)ia. and, in Peru, the Inca. It has not yet been established, however that the Inca had confederates, or if they belonged to the class of sedentary tribes that then overran large expanses of territory, either alone or with the aid of subjugated tribes. Traces of confederacies appeared on the Peruvian coasts among the .sedentary clusters that were partly wiped out by the Inca not a century previous to the advent of the Spaniards. Of the sedentary Indians that held or overawed a consider- able extent of territorj' by their owti single efforts, the various independent groups of Guatemala and the Tarascans in western central Mexico were the most conspicuous. In North America the Muskogees, the Natchez, the Choctaws, and, further north, the Dahcotalis and Pawnees displayed considerable ag- gressive power. Aboriginal Social Conditions. — The system of social organization was the same in principle through- out the entire continent, differences being, as in gen- eral culture, in degree, but not in kind. The clan, or gens, was the imit, and descent was sometimes in the male, sometimes in the female, line. But the clan system had not everywhere fully developed; the prairie tribes of North America, for instance, were not all composed of clans. Various cau.ses have been assigned for this exception, but no satisfactory explanation has as yet been suggested. The general characteristics of American Indian society were: communal tenure of lands, no hereditary estates, titles, or offices, and segregation antl exclusion of the different clusters from each other. Definite bound- aries nowhere divided one cluster from another; uninhabiteil zones, or neutral belts, intervened be- tween the settlements of the tribes; where the popu- lation was denser, the belt was narrower, though still devoid of villages. Civil and mihtarj' adminis- trations were merged into each other, and behind and above both, though partly occult, the power of religious creed and ceremonial determined every action. The shamans or sorcerers, by means of oracular utterances and magic, were the real leaders. These so-called priests also had their organization, the principles of wluch were the same all over primi- tive America, as they are the same to-day. Esoteric societies, based upon empirical knowledge and its apphcation to spiritual and material wants, consti- tuted the divisions and classifications of the wizards. Whosoever practiced the rites and artifices held in- dispensable for religious end.;, ^N-ithout belonging to one or the other of these clusters of official magicians, exposed hiinself to dire chastisement. Such were and are the cliief features of religious organization among the more advanced tribes; the lesser the degree of culture, the more imperfect the system and the less complicated in detail. Religion op the Aborigines. — Animism is the principle underlying the creed of the Indian every- where, and Fetisliism is its tangible manifestation. Monotheism, the idea of a personal and all-creating and ruling God, nowhere existed among the Indians. The whole world was pervadeil by a spiritual essence whicli could at will take individual sliape in special localities. The Indian feels liimself surrountled everywliere by numberless spiritual agencies, in presence of which he is helpless, and which he feels constrained incessantly to propitiate or appease. Tills fear underlies the system of his magic and gives the wizard a hold upon him which he cannot shake off. His every action is therefore preceded by prayer and offerings, the latter are sometimes ciuite com- Clicated. .Vmong his fetishes, there is little or no ierarchic grailation of idols. Plienomena that seem to exert a greater influence upon man than others are the objects of a more elaborate cult, but they are not .supposed to act beyond their sphere. Thus there was and is no sun-worship as commonly belieed. The sun, as well as the moon, is looked upon as a heavenly body which is the abode of powerful (but