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Do Indigenous Religions Contain “Seeds of the Word”? (II)

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In the first part of this article, we saw how the terrible situation in which the Indians of Mexico found themselves and how many of them saw the arrival of the Spaniards as a true liberation. In this second part, we will look at the situation of the South American peoples and the struggle of the Holy Church against idolatry.

1. South America, a Kingdom of the Horrendous

The Chibchas
The Chibchas

Indigenous religions in South America were no less monstrous than in Central America (cf. Henao y Arrubla, pp. 149ff.; Cantu, p. 246). In New Granada (present-day Colombia), the Chibchas or Muiscas – considered to have the most advanced culture in the hemisphere after the Incas – practiced horrible human sacrifices such as decapitating teenagers fattened in special brooders and plucking their hearts to offer them to the god Sua (the sun), whom they imagined to be anthropophagous. Every week they sacrificed children to idols in two places of the Bogota Highland (Gacheta and Ramiquirí). When they built a house, in each of the holes where the piles were laid to support the building, they threw a small girl of good family, beautifully attired, and upon her head “pounded in with one stroke the post which penetrated the hole, crunching her bones and turning her flesh into a shapeless mass” (Henao y Arrubla, p. 152).

We insist: can one consider such manifest violations of the natural law “seeds of Revelation”?

A victim of an Incan sacrificial rite

The Inca, idol of himself – Among the Peruvian Indians, considered the most civilized in South America, idolatry was so widespread that each Inca king “made an idol or stone statue of himself, which he called Guaoiquí, which means brother. Because to that statue, whether he was alive or dead, they would have to pay the same veneration as to the Inca himself. … There was a great number of these idols in Cusco,” says Fr. Acosta (op. cit., p. 24).

The Incan Ruins of Machu Picchu

Massacred to “accompany” the Inca to the next life – Ritual massacres were also commonplace. “It was common to bury an Inca’s corpse with his servants and the women he had loved most,” says the historian Cesar Cantu (op. cit., p. 231). Slaves and women were forced to get drunk beforehand so as not to resist the savage ritual.

Concerning the same custom, Father Acosta says: “When Guanacapa [Huayna Cápac], the father of Atahualpa (at whose time the Spanish entered) died, after many songs and drunkenness, one thousand people of all ages were killed to accompany and serve him in the afterlife. …  Many, especially children, were sacrificed and their blood used to draw a line on the face of the deceased [Guanacapa] which went from ear to ear.” They also put many objects next to his corpse (Acosta, SJ, pp. 25-26).

Mass Infanticide – It was also customary to sacrifice boys as a propitiation so the Inca would heal from illness or achieve victory in war. When a new Inca was enthroned, “two hundred children from four to ten years old were killed, a harsh and inhuman spectacle. The way to sacrifice them was to drown and bury them with certain gestures and ceremonies. At other times they were beheaded, and the Indians would anoint themselves with their blood from ear to ear” (Acosta, SJ, pp. 72-73).

They likewise sacrificed maidens and had this horrible custom: “When some chief or common Indian was sick, and the wise man told him he was surely going to die, they sacrificed his son to the Sun, or Viracocha, telling it to be content with the son and not take the life of his father” (ibid.).

The celebrated chronicler concludes: “In killing infants and sacrificing their children, the Indians of Peru outdid those of Mexico” (idem, p. 75).

Ritual anthropophagy – The Indians of the Guarani tribe practiced the ritual homicide of children and adults, who were devoured. This custom extended to all branches of the tribe, from those of Argentina, Paraguay, and the Bolivian Chaco, described by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, to Chiriguanos, Guaycurus, and Tupinambás of Brazil.

The ethnologist Dominique Gallois, from the Department of Anthropology of the University of São Paulo, explains that “cannibalistic acts were performed together with a series of rituals where only human flesh was eaten.” Such practices, described by witnesses such as the German adventurer Hans Staden and the missionary Fr. Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, were recently corroborated with findings by archaeologist Fr. Ignacio Schmitz, SJ, in Candelária, Itapoã, and São Pedro do Ivaí, in southern Brazil (cf. Gallois, Folha de S. Paulo, May 11, 1990).

“All the tribes of this linguistic family [Guarani] … stand out as anthropophagous,” corroborates anthropologist Alfred Métraux. It was a “ritually practiced” cannibalism which in the Chipaya branch, for example, “takes the form of an offering to kumavári. Through the sorcerer, this demon demands human flesh” and they organize an expedition to capture a victim. Once they fetched the latter, on the day of sacrifice the captors, “one by one, use it as a target in the flesh,” shooting at him with arrows. Once dead, his flesh is partly eaten and partly “offered to the devil,” and the head placed as a trophy in the hut (Métraux, pp. 140-141).

2. Extirpation of idolatry, a glory of the Church

What we have seen is sufficient to prove how idolatry and its inevitable corollary, Satanism, were universally widespread throughout the Americas to unimaginable extremes. Father Acosta writes: “In each province of Peru there was a main Guaca or house of worship. … Two were singled out among them, one of which was called Pachacama. … About this temple, there is a reliable account that the devil spoke visibly and gave answers through this oracle … and the fact that the devil speaks and answers in these false shrines, and deceives the wretched, is a very common thing usually verified in the [Western] Indies” [that is, the Americas] (Acosta, SJ, pp. 44-45).

Analogous manifestations of the devil were also reported in Mexico by various chroniclers of the time, such as Friar Jerome de Mendieta, OFM (1525-1604) in his História Eclesiástica Indiana (cf. p. 111). Canon Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Rector of the University of Mexico (1513-1575), describes how Aztec kings received oracles “from the mouth of the devil, who often spoke to them in unclear words” (Crónica de la Nueva España, p. 147). The chaplain of the house of Hernán Cortes, Fr. Francisco Lopez de Gómara, also states that “the main god of the [inhabitants] of the island [Tenochtitlán] is the devil, [and] they paint him every time he appears to them, which often happens, and he even speaks to them” (Historia General de las Indias, t. I, p. 50).

The Blessed Sacrament Silences the Devil – Such manifestations ceased as churches were built, and the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in America established: “And so, as they built churches of monasteries and enthroned the Blessed Sacrament,” the demon’s apparitions and illusions, which used to be very frequent, consequently ceased” (Mendieta, OFM, p. 136). “The Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was of great effect. He was enthroned in many churches so that, with Him and with crosses, the demons would disappear and no longer speak to the Indians as they once did. This fact caused great admiration in them” (Gómara, t. I, p. 59).

A struggle of more than two centuries to eradicate idolatry – A renowned authority on the subject, Father Constantino Bayle, SJ, recounts the arduous struggle of more than two centuries that missionaries of various religious orders and secular clerics had to wage to root out this abject plague. He cites many of the countless chronicles who, from Mexico to Tucumán (Argentina), from Lima to Bahia, report the difficulties of all kinds that the ecclesiastical and temporal authorities had to face to eradicate idolatrous customs.

Clergy-sponsored ceremonies of idol elimination were very frequent. For example, in 1590, under Archbishop Luis Zapata of Santa Fe of Bogota,, 8,000 idols were burned at once. In Venezuela, in the early seventeenth century, “Bishop Friar Antonio de Alcega investigated and discovered one thousand and seven hundred idols in his pastoral visits to neophytes.”Bishop Gonzalo de Salazar In Yucatan, around 1610, Bishop Frei Gonzalo de Salazar “uprooted and eradicated the idolatries of the natives, taking more than 20,000 idols from them and causing the very idolatrous Indians to break, trample and bury them.”  The celebrated missionary Antonio de Jesus Margil also “collected idols in the hills of Central America” (Bayle, SJ, Missionalia Hispanica, No. 7, p. 63).

In Peru, at the time of the Viceroy Marquis of Montesclaros, Dr. Francisco de Avila stood out as “the most famous cleric of the [Lima] diocese for his knowledge, virtue, and ability to know and treat the natives.” In addition to preaching incessantly against superstitions, he promoted autos-de-fé [public trals and judgments] and punishment of witches (idem, p. 54).

Closely linked to idolatry were ritual massacres in Peru (to which we alluded when dealing with the Aztecs and Guarani) such as those in Cusco, which caused “more than 60 murders in one village (1568). Some of its victims, ‘hearing that the idols commanded them to die, knelt and folded their hands as if they were true martyrs,’ as Father Luis de Olivera recounts. “Similar killings occurred in “Chuquisaca and La Paz, Guamanga and Lima and Arequipa, at the instigation … of sorcerers backed by the Inca” (idem, p. 59).

It was necessary to create the institution of “Visitors against idolatry, who roamed rural parishes guided by the vicar and, using procedures tested by experience, reproached [the Indians] for group drinking, collected their amulets and little idols, and startled the witches, who eventually saw their own art as more risky than useful. Without witches, idolatry faded by itself” (idem, p. 84).

The struggle against idolatry was thus a fundamental and indispensable component of the evangelization of America. And justice commands that the extirpation of such superstitions in the New World be proclaimed a glory of the Church and an undying testimony of fidelity to Her Divine Founder, who said, “He that is not with me, is against Me” (Mt. 12:30).

Excerpts from the book, The Fifth Centenary Facing the Twenty-First Century – Authentic Christendom or Tribal-Communist Revolution, pp. 58-62)

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