THE EARLY HISTORY OF GUATEMALA AND THE
ENTRADA FROM THAT COUNTRY, 1694-1695
A look at the early history of the Maya speaking people of southern Guatemala and the entradas made from that region into the north in search of Lake Peten and Tayasal.
The Indian Tribes of Guatemala. The two chief tribes were the highly cultured Cakchiquel and Quiché. They lived in what may be described as the central portion of modern Guatemala. To the north of them dwelt the Choles, Lacandones, Mopanes, and Itzas; to the south, along the Pacific coast, were the Pipiles. With the exception of the latter, all these people spoke dialects of Maya. It is well to note, however, that both Fuentes y Guzman (1882) and Stoll (1884) arrived at the conclusion that at least two thousand years must have elapsed to permit of the development of the differences that exist between the Maya of Yucatan and the Maya of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché.
Account of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché. The migration myths of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché show that they came originally from the region of Mexico. Much later the Pipiles, a Nahuatl tribe, formed trade colonies on the Pacific coast.
The Government and the Cities of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché. The ruler was chosen alternately from two families, the Zotzil and the Xahil. In like manner the early Colombian chiefs of Tunja and of Muequeta alternately chose from among their relatives the chief of Suamo. The title of the ruler was Ahpo-Zotzil or Ahpo-Xahil, as the case might be. The word ahpo, like the Quichua word apu, which it resembles, means “Great Chief.” There was a marked division into classes among the Cakchiquel and the Quiché. In addition the sacerdotal body was strongly intrenched in the social system. The Annals of the Cakchiquel (Brinton, 1885) throw some light on the history of these people. These Annals were written by a member of the Xahil family. The mythical accounts go back to the reign of King Gagavitz, who flourished about 1380. Sometime early in the fifteenth century the Cakchiquel came into violent contact with the Quiché, and Quikab, King of the Quiché, made good, for a time, his rule over the Cakchiquel. Later the latter regained their freedom and founded Iximché.
Spanish Conquest. What Cortes was to Mexico and Montejo was to Yucatan, Pedro de Albarado or Alvarado was to Guatemala. He was sent to that country by Cortes, with whom he had been in Mexico. Leaving Mexico on November 13, 1523, he went to Guatemala with about eighty adventurous followers, an abundance of munitions, and some ships. He reduced the whole region of the Cakchiquel-Quiché peoples to a Spanish province. (Cortes, apud MacNutt, 1908, vol. ii, p. 178; Fuentes y Guzman, 1882, vol. i, p. 46.) On July 25, 1524, the official title of this city became Santiago de los Cavalleros de Goathemala. In 1533 the King ordered Alvarado, whom he had made Governor of Guatemala, to make to him a full report concerning the country and its people and their customs. In 1541 Alvarado died at Guatemala, having in the meantime been to Peru. From that time down to about 1675 the city and Audiencia of Guatemala enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity under the usual type of Spanish rule. In 1675 some Chol Indians arrived there, asking the Dominican Provincial of Guatemala, Padre Maestro Fray Francisco Gallegos, for missionaries to teach them the Christian faith. (Villagutierre, p. 150 ff.)
Gallegos and Delgado. As a result of this Gallegos himself and Padre Fray Joseph Delgado set off from Guatemala and traveled twenty-three leagues through very rough country. At length they came upon some Choles, whom they formed into three small villages called San Lucas, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and Santiago. They later made these villages one and placed in it the thirty or so Indians whom they had baptized. As the other Indians had withdrawn further to the north, the Provincial and Delgado determined to go after them. The Indian converts objected to this, but the missionaries overcame their fears. In due time they came to a certain hill which the natives worshiped as God of the Mountains. Some Indian lads they had with them as servants urged the Padres to place an offering of copal before this god in order to propitiate him and prevent him from destroying them all. Of course the two priests refused to give in to the superstitious fears of their servants. They said Mass instead. As a result all their followers, save two bearers, left them.
The Indians are Friendly to them. Once the mountains had been safely crossed, the Padres found that the Indians on the other side came to see them readily enough. When the natives found that their white visitors meant them no harm, they welcomed them and made a comfortable pathway, over which they conducted the Padres.
The Route Taken by the Two Padres. After some time they reached the shore of a large, fine river called Yaxha. There they encamped for a while, going on afterward to the house of a cacique named Matzin, who was later christened Martin. He treated them very well and they founded the village of San Jacinto Matzin and preached the Christian faith there. Four leagues away lived another cacique, called Ilixil, to whom, in spite of the risk of hunger, they went. First founding a village called San Pedro y San Pablo Ilixil, the Padres baptized many children. In that same village of Ilixil they met some Indians who had come thither from Cahabon and who offered to act as guides. With them the Padres went to a place called May. After several interesting adventures, told by Villagutierre (p. 157), they renamed the village San Joseph May.
The rainy season shortly afterward began, and the missionaries retired toward Cahabon, setting up crosses as landmarks at suitable places along the way. When they regained their first village, San Lucas Tzalac, they found matters much as they had left them. From San Lucas they went to Cahabon, and from there to Cohan, in search of some Indians called Axoyes, of whom they had heard. In response to a call issued from Coban by Gallegos, one hundred and eighty persons came to him. They had already been baptized and wanted only to confess.
Several Villages Founded. On this trip Padres Gallegos and Delgado baptized twenty-three hundred and forty-six persons and founded many villages: San Lucas Tzalac, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Jacinto Matzin, San Pedro and San Pablo Ilixil, Assumpcion, San Joseph May, San Miguel Manche, San Francisco Sacomo (= Secouamo on Hendges 1902?), and San Fernando Axoy. Villagutierre (p. 161) gives a long list of the places to which the Padres did not go.
The Dominicans and the Franciscans. We have already seen that most of the curacies in Yucatan were in the hands of friars of the Franciscan Order. In Guatemala, on the other hand, there was for a long time a dispute between the Dominicans and the Franciscans as to which should have the privilege of proselytizing in Guatemala. This quarrel, which Remesal (p. 587 ff.) plainly thought disgraceful, was at its height from 1551 to 1560. On January 22, 1556, cedulas were dispatched from Valladolid bidding both the orders to live at peace with each other. Both orders had fine churches in Guatemala.
Struggles between the Dominicans and the Indians. We have already noticed how, as early as 1533, the King had expressed a wish to know everything possible about the dwellers in Guatemala. In 1555 the Lacandones and Puchutla put to death the good Dominican missionary. Fray Domingo de Vico. From that time there was a constantly growing wish on the part of the Spaniards to conquer those people, not only because they were not Christians and ate human flesh, but because they were a constant menace. On January 22, 1556, a cedula was dispatched ordering that the trouble-makers be reduced to obedience. (Remesal, lib. x, cap. 11.) For a long time after that bitter struggles between the Dominicans and the Indians lasted, struggles which caused the Spaniards to give the name of Tierra de Guerra to the region. One of the missionaries in this region. Fray Diego de Ribas, had some success in the region north of Huehuetenango in 1685. (Villagutierre, p. 176 ff.) He and his men opened up a road that led from Huehuetenango into the regions north and east of there. They got on very well until they came into contact with some Lacandones, who proved to be spies. From that time on their troubles increased.
From all this it is easy to deduce that the peoples to the south of the Lacandones and Maya (such people as the Choles) were of a comparatively docile temperament and were easily won over, temporarily, to the Christian faith. As soon, however, as the fiercer and more stubborn Lacandones brought their influence to bear upon the converts, the latter found that their attachment to the new religion was but superficial. (Remesal, lib. x, cap. 10.) Moreover, the lack of authority to use armed force wherever necessary was another disadvantage under which the missionaries labored. There can be but little doubt that they also were too hasty in their attempts to exchange the somewhat abstruse spiritual worship of the Catholic Church for the veneration of tangible gods of stone or wood. They were quick to destroy the old and long-venerated gods, but they were unable to replace them with something the Indians were able to understand.
In 1686 the King (Charles II), calling the Viceroy’s attention to the great number of unconverted tribes in Guatemala, Yucatan, and elsewhere, ordered further reductions to be made, at once, but as gently as possible.
The Inception of the Plan to Subdue the Itzas, 1689. In 1689 Captain Juan de Mendoza wrote to the court to tell how the reductions had been begun, and to ask that he might be placed at the head of fifty soldiers. On the advice of Guzman, who had now returned from Guatemala to the Spanish court, his wish was granted. The following plan for the reduction of the Choles and the Lacandones was decided upon. (Villagutierre, p. 190.)
Three entradas were to be made at the same time. One from the province of Guatemala, which was in the hands of the Dominicans; a second from Huehuetenango, which was Mercedarian; and the third from Chiapas, which was Dominican. Fray Augustin Cano, of the Order of Predicadores, and Fray Diego de Ribas, of the Order of la Merced, were to go first and try, by peaceful means, to accomplish their purpose. Mendoza was to try more vigorous measures. Juan de Mendoza and his men were to be nothing more than an escort to the Padres, and the conquest was to be accomplished only by the evangelical word.
Soberanis Ordered to Coöperate. On November 24, 1692, like orders were given to Don Roque de Soberanis y Centeno, Governor of Yucatan, and he was told to coöperate with President Barrios Leal of Guatemala. Unfortunately the enterprise was interrupted by the fact that unjust accusations caused a suspension of Leal’s powers from 1691 to 1694.
Ursua to Succeed Soberanis in Office. At about this time an arrangement was made by the King whereby the Sargento Mayor Don Martin de Ursua y Arizmendi was to succeed Don Roque de Soberanis y Centeno in the government of Yucatan. At the time Ursua was in Mexico, at the court of the Viceroy. Ursua, who is to occupy much of our attention for some time to come, wrote a letter to King Charles, which is given by Villagutierre (lib. iii, cap. 8) and which I here translate in part.
A Letter from Ursua y Arizmendi to the King of the Spains.
“Sire,–Your Majesty having had the graciousness to confer upon me the future possession of the Governorship of the Provinces of Yucatan, in which post I am to succeed Don Roque de Soberanis y Centeno, … my employment, during the time of my Governorship, is to be the Conversion and Reduction of the innumerable Indians, as well Infidel as Apostate, who are between the said Provinces of Yucatan and those of Guatimala. (And I shall urge) the opening of a road from the one to the other, not only to facilitate Commerce, which would be for the Public Convenience and the service of your Majesty, but would also make for the Reduction of the so many Indians…. So I propose to Your Majesty: That at my own expense, and with no cost to the Royal Exchequer, when I shall have entered upon the Governorship and shall have made my Preparations, I shall put into execution the opening of a Highway from the Provinces of Yucatan to those of Guatimala, at the same time reducing, by the peaceful means of the Evangelical Preaching, all the Indians who shall be found in those regions. But the Conversion is not to interrupt the opening of the Road which is more important as it will facilitate the later reduction of all those who live in those parts by the continuous Passing and Commerce of the Spaniards of both Provinces….”
The King Grants all that Ursua Asks. In the memorial just mentioned Ursua asked that orders be given so that the prelates of the Order of San Francisco, the President of the Audience of Guatemala, and the Viceroy of New Spain should be obliged to give him every sort of aid needed.
In 1693 the King replied, saying that he had given the desired orders to the Viceroy of New Spain, the President of Guatemala, the Bishop of Yucatan, and the Provincial of San Francisco. He then commanded that care should be taken to choose the best places for bridges, that inns should be established every four or eight leagues for the shelter of travelers, and that every effort should be made to form settlements that would insure the safety of travelers. As the work was not to begin until Ursua had entered upon his duties as Governor, the Viceroy, Conde de Galve, the Bishop, and others were unable, till well into 1694, to aid the work they all wished to see brought to a successful conclusion. Meanwhile Barrios Leal was still under the stigma of a Visita or Inspection. When his character was cleared of all blame, in the middle of 1694, he was told how the Itzas of Tayasal and other infidel nations were infesting the country and committing various atrocities. Once Barrios Leal was restored, the reduction began in earnest.
President Barrios Aids in the Undertaking. As soon as Barrios Leal was restored to office as President of the Audience of Guatemala and as soon as circumstances permitted, active preparations for the long-discussed conquest of the Itzas were begun.
Villagutierre (lib. iv, cap. i) speaks thus of the preparations that were made: “We have already seen how intently President Don Jacinto de Barrios considered the hints which the Missionary Padres Fray Melchor Lopez and Fray Antonio Margil and other persons had made to him, urging the importance of setting about with all possible efficiency the reduction of Barbarism in those Woodlands. So he promptly began to take the steps which seemed suitable in the matter…. It was resolved by all the leaders and ministers: That the Entrada for the reduction of the Woodlands should be made at the beginning of the next year, 1695 (which is the beginning of summer in those lands)….”
Arrangements for the Entrada; Supplies, etc. Provisions were made whereby men who voluntarily gave aid in money or in extra services to those who were directing the entrada were to be advanced in rank over their fellows. Besides it was arranged that as soon as possible the religious authorities were to give their necessary aid.
Juan de Mendoza had already been named leader of the army, and as he was absent from the province at the time, it was decided that the President should appoint as leaders those whom he thought best.
Villagutierre (p. 219) continues: “And the President was to call to the Junta de Guerra the Padres Maestros Fray Diego de Ribas, Fray Augustin Cano, Fray Joseph Delgado, Fray Tomas Guerrero, and Fray Pedro Monzón, as well as other persons well versed in the frontiers, Entradas and Woodlands of the Infidels, because of the great value of their opinions in determining the methods of operation and the manner of penetrating the forest region….
“Likewise, it was determined that the expenses they were planning to incur and which were found necessary, should be met from the Royal Funds and that the Royal Officers should issue orders for quantities of maize, beans, chili, and fowl, which were to be collected with all speed as part of the Royal Tribute from the Provinces of Vera Paz, Chiapa, and Gueguetanango.
“And it was ordered that Spanish men-at-arms should be recruited at once, and that notice of this determination should be given to the Alcaldes Mayores and to Don Roque de Soberanis y Centeno, Governor of the Province of Yucatan.
“At this time the President had all the chief citizens of the City of Guatemala called together…. He urged each one to aid with his person or with whatever aid of his he could….” The result of this appeal was a quickened activity in the recruiting and in the collecting of supplies and munitions of war. At the same time Don Joseph de Escals was applied to for aid in the collecting of donations or voluntary gifts.
The Voluntary Contributions. Toward the end of 1694 the donations began to come pouring in. A list of them will give some idea of the scale on which operations were carried out.
Don Joseph de Escals sent from Sonsonate 350 pesos, which he got by selling 56 horses given by the citizens.
Don Juan Jeronimo de Mexia, Corregidor of Huehuetenango, 100 pesos from the citizens and 100 of his own as well as 14 horses.
Quasaltenango, 14 horses but no money.
Acasaguastlan, through Captain Don Miguel de Azanon, its Corregidor, 34 horses but no money.
Chiquimula, 70 horses and 50 pesos.
Soconusco, 30 horses and 6 mules.
Esquintepeque and Guazacapan, 13 horses, 2 mules, and 23 pesos.
San Salvador, 60 horses, 11 mules, and 200 pesos.
Teconicapa and Huehuetenango, 33 horses, 800 fowl, and 400 bushels of maize.
Guatemala, 1176 pesos, 49 horses, and 7 mules.
Don Jacobo Barba of Zuchitepeque, 100 pesos.
Don Francisco Lopez de Albizuri, two soldiers and paid for the entire time of the campaign.
Don Juan de Galvez, 20 horses.
Don Estevan de Medrano, four soldiers for six months.
The totals of the donations were 2399 pesos, 354 horses, 22 mules, 420 bushels of maize, 800 fowl, etc.
Quarrels between Soberanis and the Bishop of Yucatan. While matters were going forward in a fairly satisfactory manner in Guatemala, affairs were quite unsatisfactory in Yucatan, where the quarrels between Don Roque de Soberanis and the Bishop of Yucatan retarded all preparations.
At length the Viceroy of Mexico despatched Don Francisco Sarasa as Oidor to look into the situation and to report on it. As a result of his investigations Soberanis was deprived of his office. Believing that he could best defend himself by going in person to Mexico, Soberanis left Yucatan for the viceregal court. The natural step for the Viceroy, Conde de Galve, was to appoint Martin de Ursua y Arizmendi as Governor ad interim and this was done.
Finding himself in possession (albeit only temporarily) of the government of Yucatan, and in view of the fact that he already held the necessary orders and cedulas for the opening of the road to Guatemala and for the conversion of the Indians along the route, as well as the advices from the President of Guatemala speaking of the matter, Ursua decided it was best to put them into immediate execution.
The year 1695 was already started and it was necessary to set to work at once, not only on the actual work of the entrada, but also on the task of getting the good will of the Cabildo of the city of Merida, of the Bishop, of the province of San Francisco, and of the Count of Galve, Viceroy of New Spain.
President Barrios Decides to Join the Entrada in Person. Villagutierre (lib. iv, cap. 4) goes on to inform us that after enough arms, munitions, food supplies, and small gifts for the Indians were got together, and just as the troops and the monks were on the point of setting off on their march to the woodlands. President Barrios Leal made up his mind to go with them in person. Villagutierre (p. 228) thus graphically describes the effect of his proposal: “In spite of the fact that the Ecclesiastical and Secular Cabildos of that City of Guatemala tried to dissuade him from his plan, urging him to notice that although that undertaking was so glorious and so much to the service of God and the King, and so greatly favored by all, by the public welfare and by the good of Christendom, he ought not to risk his life so wantonly upon it; and although they also warned him of the terribleness of the attacks which were always suffered in the stomach because of the hardships of the painful journey and country ride, bad resting-places, worse roads and lack of assistance, rest and tranquility, which would put his health in evident danger, so that all felt he ought to give up, or at least postpone his journey until he was more hale and hearty in health; in spite of all these and other objections nothing arose from all these representations, and fears which sufficed to change the fervent zeal of the bold President who, in replying, first thanked them all for the great attention and affection with which they looked to his convenience, and then said that the greatest safety lay only in his being the first in all dangers in the service of Both Majesties.”
The gallant old President (who appears to have been subject to apoplectic seizures) wished to be in command of the army, but in case he were forced to fall back at any time to a place of safety, he appointed an assistant, who was Don Bartolomé de Amezquita, Fiscal of that Audience of Guatemala.
Amezquita, then, was Captain General of the entrada, taking the Chiapas division. Captain Juan Diaz de Velasco was made leader of the Vera Paz division. Don Tomás de Mendoza y Guzman was made leader of the Huehuetenango division.
When the pay, supplies, and baggage had been distributed among the soldiers, the President gave out his final orders as to the length of a day’s journey. He had already sent ahead to the Alcalde Mayor of Ocozingo in Chiapas ordering that suitable ranchos be put up in certain places to shelter the royal army when it should arrive. While the Indians of Ocozingo were working on these they had been attacked by some Lacandon Indians when scarcely a house had been completed. All these unmistakable evidences of the proximity of the notorious Lacandones made Barrios choose the Chiapas division for himself, as it was the most likely to come across them.
At the same time the President ordered Don Tomás (de Mendoza?) de Guzman to go ahead with one hundred men and act as escort for the Indians while they were putting up the houses near Ocozingo or any more convenient place. Barrios had already informed Ursua that he intended to set out in January, 1695, and the latter was to enter the unsubdued area from the north at the same time. Surveyors were to go ahead of the main body of men, and by means of smudges were to afford the greatest possible facility for the road openers, who thus would be prevented from going astray.
The Expedition Sets out from Guatemala City. At length the expedition really did start. (Villagutierre, pp. 234 ff.) Besides the soldiers and Indian bearers there were many friars, among whom were Padre Fray Diego de Ribas, Padre Fray Antonio Margil, Missionary Padre Fray Pedro de la Concepción, Master Cano, and others. As the army set off, all the citizens and nobility of Guatemala flocked to see them. The first day’s journey led to Ixtapa, where they spent the night; the next day they went to Pazon, then to Huehuetenango, which they entered on January 23, 1695, having journeyed forty-six leagues from Guatemala.
In Huehuetenango the President, the monks, the officers, and the men all met with a warm welcome from the inhabitants. It is but natural that, on the eve of an undertaking which must have appeared very formidable to them, a large part of the time should be given up to religious exercises. Captain Melchor Rodriguez Mazariegos joined the party at the head of fifty men. Mazariegos himself, together with the standard-bearer Juan Salvador de Mata and Sergeant Pedro de Chaves Galindo, were all serving without pay, and many other people from the region, as well as some from Tabasco, joined the army voluntarily.
Events at Huehuetenango. On January 29, Amezquita arrived from Guatemala, where he had been making some final arrangements. Barrios spent his time at Huehuetenango in paying the new troops, distributing horses and supplies, and making all the final arrangements.
It was not long before the news of the departure of the President reached Ursua in Yucatan. (Villagutierre, pp. 235 ff.) The whole enterprise was so important for the service of God, the King, the public weal, and the souls of the Indians that Ursua immediately set about his preparations for the share his government was to take in it.
Ursua’s Activities. Ursua did not follow the example of the President by going in person at the head of his troops; instead he ordered Captain Alonso Garcia de Paredes, Perpetual Regidor of San Francisco de Campeche and Captain for War of the District of Sacabchen, to assemble what troops he could and to go with them to meet the President, under whose orders he should place himself, reporting to Ursua all occurrences of importance. For all this Ursua gave Paredes the title of Aide or the Captain General of las Montañas. Francisco Gonzalez Richardo was appointed subchief, second in command only to Ursua.
An Army Sets out from Yucatan for the Montaña. When all the usual and needful preparations had been made, the army set out from Yucatan. As soon as they left the settled part of the province they entered the territory of the Quehaches, whom they put to flight after a sharp skirmish. Paredes’ soldiers, however, refused to go on without reënforcements, so the expedition had to turn back.
Padres Cano and Avendaño y Loyola. We have already reviewed the events up to 1695, in which year the two great divisions of the Spanish forces set out to subdue the dangerous Itzas and Lacandones. Hereafter we will, in the main, trust to two religious writers, whose accounts of the succeeding events are very vivid. Maestro Fray Agustin Cano accompanied that division of the army which was led by President Barrios; Padre Fray Andrés de Avendaño y Loyola, a Franciscan, accompanied Ursua’s division.
Cano’s Account of the Entrada from Guatemala. For the sake of continuity we will begin by quoting Cano’s account of the entrada from Guatemala: “My Lord, Your Majesty having been pleased to appoint me in the Royal decree of Nov. 24, 1692, to enter into the territories of the heathen, to try to bring about their conquest, in the due obedience and execution of which, I personally took part in the expeditions into those lands which they have made during these years through the Province of Vera Paz, wishing to correspond to the Royal favor by which Your Majesty has been pleased to appoint me for this purpose; I understand that it is my duty to inform Your Majesty of what has happened in these expeditions, making up for the delay of this report by the simple truth and clearness of the information which up to the present time could not be given without a great deal of confusion on account of the strange character of the events.”
The Route Followed by Cano. “The President [Barrios] … finally determined to enter by way of Chiapas, and that I should go by way of Vera Paz with Captain Juan Diaz de Velasco and seventy men as an escort to the priests. Accordingly, in the month of March, of the said year ’95, we started from the town of Cahabon, which is the last town of Vera Paz; seven priests of my order, and we entered by very rough paths into the highlands of the Chol, where we found many Indians, some baptized, others heathen, and the more we penetrated those highlands, the more numerous did we find the families in their hamlets, without the form of towns. We told all these people that the object of our journey was to search for them so that they should come together in towns in such a way that we should be able to come and live with them in order to teach them the law of God and to administer the holy Sacraments to them, and that we also wished that all the people of their tribe and of all the other tribes in those highlands should know God, and should come together in towns. Thus we went, passing from some farms to others in prosecution of our journey to the Lake, and we left all the Indians peaceful and satisfied with the promise which they made us to gather together in towns. In this we were obtaining plenty of good results, since we taught them the Christian doctrine of which most of the baptized Indians were totally ignorant. The children whom their fathers brought to us were baptized, and the grown people confessed themselves, many who had relapsed were consecrated anew, and the Holy Sacraments were administered to some Christian Indians who were found dying in their houses.
“After passing through the Province of Chol, which stretches from Cahabon forty-five or fifty leagues, we came upon another tribe which is called the Mopanes, among whom Spaniards or ministers of the holy gospel had never entered, and, although the difference in language was of some embarrassment, God willed that we should find some Mopan Indians who understood the Chol language and by means of these we declared to them the purpose of our journey. This had good results at that time in the case of some adults, who, being dangerously ill, asked for holy baptism, and in the case of some sick children whom their fathers brought and who went to Heaven as the first-fruits among this tribe. Their principal cacique, Taximchan, fled from us, and although we made various endeavors to draw him to us, he always deceived us with false promises. But we made friends with four other caciques of this tribe of the Mopanes Indians, called, in their paganism, the Cacique Zac, the Cacique Tuzben, the Cacique Yahcab, and the Cacique Tezecum. They came to see us with a part of their families, and every day there came many Mopanes Indians to buy knives and many other little trifles which the soldiers sold in exchange for blankets. We presented them with salt, and for this they came to see us and to sell us their fruit, and apparently they were becoming friendly.”
The Chols and the Mopanes. “On account of the many Indians who came every day to see us, and of the many farms and farm-buildings which we saw in those highlands, we knew that that tribe of Mopanes was very numerous. They all go naked like the Chols, and differ from them only in their hair, in that they do not wear it of the same length like the Chols, but cut the hair on the front part of the head and only wear it long behind. It is a race more robust and barbarous than the Chols; they have idols of diabolical forms, some of which we found, and they have many other superstitions, about which it would take long to tell. We found very little frankness in their nature and we found that they have relations with the Ahizaes Indians of the Lake; and we even learned that they all were of one Ytza nation, calling themselves Mopan Ytza; Peten Ytza and these Mopanes were subject to the petty King of the Lake, about which and about its Island of Peten and about its caciques they gave us much information, although they always refused to show us the way thither. Nevertheless, we prevailed upon the Cacique Zac to show us the way from Mopan as far as the first plain, and from there forward our guide was the Cacique Yahcab, who knew the Chol language, by means of which he served as an interpreter, though a very unskilled one.
“In this way we had some means of prosecuting our journey to the Lake, and having written to the President by way of Vera Paz what had been done, and leaving in Mopan two priests to take care of those Indians, with twenty men for their protection, we priests, five in number, passed onward with Captain Juan Diaz de Velasco and fifty men.”
From Mopan to the Lake. “We traveled from Mopan toward the Lake a matter of thirty-two leagues, in which the confusion of our guide and interpreter, the Cacique Yahcab, delayed us much more than our ignorance of the way; for he, whether from his want of knowledge, or from malice, said at each stream or small river that there was no more water till we reached the Lake. Having then come to a small river called Chacal, we made a halt while some of our men crossed with the guide and proceeded to reconnoiter the path, and they went forward in such a way that they reached the Lake and discovered the great Petenor island which stands in the middle of it, and which, according to the story of those who went there, must be distant from Chacal a matter of fourteen or sixteen leagues. Our people met many Ahizaes Indians, who came from the Lake to the shore armed with bows and arrows, and they, at the first sight of our people, got their bows ready; but the Indian Yahcab, who had been told what to do, calmed them by telling them that we were traders, which the Ahizaes heard with much pleasure. But when the said interpreter of ours went on to tell them that with these merchants were some Padres to teach them the law of God, the Ahizaes raised a great whispering among themselves; and as our people were unable to give the Ahizaes more reasons than those which that rude interpreter had studied and offered, there was no way to pacify them, and it was not known what they said, but all was confusion and disturbance, which resulted in fighting and general encounters, in which our men received no damage, but of the Ahizaes some were killed and wounded and two of them were captured; one of these was called Quixan and the other Chan. These two Indians uniformly said that the Ahizaes had taken up arms because they had had notice that we had come to Mopan, and that they had not perceived any other people in their lands either in the direction of Yucatan or in any other direction; which agreed with our not having any sign either from the people who went with the said President Don Jacinto, nor of those whom he had sent with the Padres de la Merced, although we made every effort to find them. I wished that the said two Indians, or one of them, should go with a message for his companions, but the affair was so stained with blood, and the time was so advanced that it did not permit of these delays, and the Captain gave sufficient reason for a contrary decision; and the Ahiza Indian called Chan quickly removed any doubt by fleeing by night, as a result of which we took more care of the remaining Indian called Quixan. Seeing, then, that at that time we were not able to get any result in that Ahiza nation, as they had taken up arms and we, not understanding their language, were not able to persuade them nor to come to an agreement with them; so that, if we went on, it would only be to continue a war against the will of our Majesty, as expressed in the Royal decree, and without any hope of good results, since we were not able to enter into the Island for want of canoe men and of instruments to make canoes, and for the same reason we could not go across the Lake in search of the people of the said President.”
Cano Advises Return. “Seeing also that the rains were beginning with great fury, and that our people were becoming sick because of the change of weather, to which was added our finding ourselves in such want of supplies that we scarcely had what was needed to return to Mopan; for these reasons I advised the Captain that we should return to Mopan, and that there we should await news of the said President, and that when we had received this news we should see what ought to be done. This plan we carried out, taking in our company the Ahiza Indian called Quixan, treating him kindly and carefully.”
Explanations of their Withdrawal Sent to Guatemala. At this juncture an unfortunate controversy sprang up. Cano says that he and his companions wrote to Guatemala, explaining why they had withdrawn. Their explanations were not accepted, however, because a false report had gained credence to the effect that Don Jacinto Barrios had reached Lake Peten. The authorities in Guatemala persisted in believing the latter report, and they charged the Padres with trying to discredit the President. The General Assembly then issued a decree in which they ordered Captain Velasco at once to return to the lake and fortify himself there on pain of losing all his property like a traitor.
The Decree of the General Assembly. “This was the substance of the decree which was despatched to us, with many other circumstances in a line with the ends and false bases on which the whole was founded.
“We received this decree in Mopan, with many other letters of the same tenor, so that beside the ordinary troubles (common to all), I had this one in addition to lay before our Lord…. Other letters [arrived] from the said President, D. Jacintho, written from a place of the Lacandones, which we called Nuestra Señora de las Dolores, where he had joined the people who had entered the country with the Padres de la Merced. In these letters he replied to those which we had written when we entered Mopan, and he gave orders in these that the men should retire, leaving thirty men as an escort in that place, since the rainy season was beginning, and because he was doing the same thing on his part; by this we knew that the second basis of the decree did not exist, since the President found himself in Lacandon, which is so far away from the Lake of Ahiza….”
Quarrels among the Soldiers and the Officials. The entrada from Guatemala came to a close to the accompaniment of incessant and petty wrangling on the part of the soldiery and of the officials.
The Writers of the Decree Punished. It is good to know, however, that the writers of the decree were punished by a sound reprimand. Cano was reinstated in the respect of all. He tells the plans for future work in these words: “… He [President Barrios] intended going again the following year by the Province of Vera Paz…. For this purpose I proposed to the said President that it was necessary that those roads should be constructed in such a way that the supplies could be carried in mule packs and not on the shoulders of Indians; and that the tools should be provided for building canoes and boats,–also officers and seamen who should know how to manage them, since in no other way was it possible to enter the Island or Peten of Ahiza. All this was ordered to be provided and carried out; but it was not carried out fully on account of the protracted and distressing illness of the said President, which grew worse and worse every day. So that God permitted that from this storm should result one calm death, and that, through antagonistic means, there should be added new delays to this conversion.
“Meanwhile there were not wanting priests of good courage who wished to take part in the conversion of these souls, and Fray Diego Palomino having died in the highlands of Chol from illness which attacked him there, God moved the Reverend Reader, Fray Christobal de Prada, with such powerful inclinations, that while he was giving a course in philosophy in this convent of Guatemala with great credit and esteem, and without being detained by the love of his scholars or the arguments of his friends, he gave up his chair and went to the wilderness, where he devoted himself with so much fervor and zeal to the education of those heathen that in a short time he perfected himself in the language of Chol, of which he had already learned the rudiments; and he went ahead of every one in the Mopan or Ahiza languages, without a master or grammar of the said language, but only with what help he was able to get from the Mopan and Chol Indians, of whom he brought together many who had fled before he went into the wilderness.”
Source: Indian Notes and Monographs, edited by F. W. Hodge, Vol. IX No. 3, A Series of Publications Relating to the American Aborigines. Reports on the Maya Indians of Yucatan. New York, Museum of American Indian Heye Foundation (1921)
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.