THE SECOND ENTRADA OF PADRE AVENDAÑO
The first entrada being spoiled on account of trouble with the soldiers, Avendaño remained in the province until October 4, 1695. On that day news reached him from a Spanish resident of Bacalar, called Francisco de Ariza, that the nation of the Itzas, who numbered eighty thousand fighting men, had expressed their willingness to receive Christianity. This news pleased the Governor (Ursua) because the Itzas were now the only obstacle that lay between him and the completion of the Guatemala-Yucatan highway. Accordingly arrangements were concluded according to the terms of which Avendaño was once more to attempt to bring the Itzas to the Church. At his own wish he and his priests were to do this alone without the retarding influences arising from the presence of soldiers. Avendaño asked for and received various letters and documents in which the policies he was to follow and the authority with which he was invested were very fully set forth.
The Orders of the Governor. One thing is particularly striking in connection with all the conquests of the Spaniards in America, and that is the very divergent attitudes toward the natives assumed by the Church and State on the one hand and by the soldiery and colonists on the other. Nowhere does this difference come out more clearly than in the matter of the entradas of Avendaño. As that writer’s report of the papers given to him by Governor Ursua just before he set out on his second trip is rather long, I will give an extract of it in order that the reader may see just what was desired by the Padres and by the Governor.
In the first place the Governor ordered that Avendaño and his companions be given all necessary horses, Indians, and other equipment. He also ordered Paredes, who had caused so much trouble before, to observe carefully the wishes of His Majesty as expressed in the famous cedula of 1526. In that cedula it was urged that the Indians be turned from their evil ways; that any necessary houses, fortresses, and other buildings be erected; that Christianity be introduced among the Indians; that colonization from Spain should be encouraged in a number of ways; and a number of other wise provisions were recommended.
Departure of Avendaño. We will allow Avendaño (pp. 22v-29v, 49v-66r) to tell of the trip in his own words. “With all these papers and the benediction of my Prelate, I took my departure in the name of God from this City of Merida on the 13th day of December of this year 1695, in the company of my companion priests, who were the Padre Preacher, Fray Antonio Peres de San Roman, who also accompanied me in the first trip; the Padre Preacher Fray Joseph de Jesus Maria, who from the other mission of the Reverend Padre Commissioner Fray Juan de Chaves (being his Apostolic Notary) passed to my mission with the blessing and consent of the Prelate Superior; and the Padre Preacher, Fray Diego de Echavarria, with a lay brother of the holy convent, all of whom united in the love of God and in charity burning to rescue the souls of those infidel and heathen Ytzaes from the power of Satan in which, through their idolatry, they were plunged for so many centuries.”
The Same Route Followed as Before; Batcab is Reached. “We went through the same ways and places as the first time, till we came to a town of the nation of the Cehaches, called Batcab, in which we met General Alonso Garcia de Paredes, with a captain called Don Pedro Zuviaur, an engineer or guide who was going in the direction in which they were opening the road from this province to that of Guatemala.”
Chuntucí. “The next day, which was that of the Holy Kings, on January 6th of this year of ’96, I said mass, which the army listened to; after which we started from the town for Chuntucí of the said nation of the Cehaches, which is four leagues of very bad roads during the rainy season, on account of the many overflowed and dangerous places that there are in them in some parts which they call in this language akalchees or hulbalex, and in Castilian pantanos. On the said road likewise are found two rivers in the first league,–a small one which is not permanent except in the rainy season; as is the case with an aguada which is found in the middle of the road on the slope of a ridge which is ascended in times of rain with some difficulty, although the other river, which is found about three leagues off, is permanent, the water of which, though it is somewhat sluggish, for they say it is a river of copper, nevertheless is very cool and raises very good fish, though not very large ones. A league and a half from this river is the said town of Chuntucí, which consists of not more than eight houses close together, though there are many others in the corn fields a little more or less distant, in a circuit of about half a league.
“We journeyed from this town of Chuntucí in a southerly direction a distance of a good league, where there is a great overflowed space or aguada, which in this tongue is called nohcib, in the midst of which is discovered a great aguada, which without doubt is the origin or cause of some great river of those which flow to the Laguna de Terminos. At half a league beyond this we came across a little crystal stream, which left us in the belief that it had its origin from a great swamp near there towards the East, which is dimly seen on the other side of this little stream. About six quarters of a league from here, we discovered an indistinct little path in the direction of the South-east, following which without suspicion, though we were armed, we rushed forward with eager confidence, following the path through the thickets without fearing any shipwreck, saying the prayer ‘in exitu Israel de Egiptu’ that we may imitate in their victory the Israelites, who succeeded in passing through the waves of the Red Sea. We followed the said path for some distance, during which we fell in with the Batchee, or signs which assured us that we were on the path to the nation of the heathen Ytzaes. So indistinct was the path in itself, that to tell whether or not it was a path, required that Batchee, which was what we followed. After half a league of this road, we came across a little stream. It is called Chinchinucum, in the language of the Cehaches. Two leagues from there we found another larger stream, called Nohucum; at half a league farther on, a great aguada called Akalcay. Two leagues and a half on the right is found a great pond, called Yavilain; another two leagues and a half from there is an aguadacalled Chuncopo. This is an accidental aguada in the middle of the road, which has abundance of water in the rainy season, from its being in the midst of low hills and akalchees. Beyond this place is a great ravine, which in this language is called nohem. It is about a league and a half [long]. This ravine they call the ‘Hell of the Ytzaes’ from the danger of its descent, on account of its being necessary that the road should go through it, though we passed many others which are more dangerous and worse than this ravine. On account of the impossibility of the passage which they had described to us, it being necessary to pass through it, so as to carry out our special undertaking and in order to accomplish it the better and to facilitate the passage, we chose as its patron Saint our Padre San Antonio of Padua, by whose intercession, without doubt, the passage of the said ravine became much easier for us than they had described to us up to this time; we did not fail to pass over some hard hills and rough roads, but from here they were the worst of all I had seen up to this time.”
The Hardships of the Journey. “Two leagues from this ravine we began to hesitate about the road, because we met with a large river, although it was then dry; but in the rainy season, it is plainly seen, it carries a great mass of water. On account of this we found a variety of passages and Batchees, but, thanks to God and good fortune, in the courses of this dry river, which is called Cohucum, we recognized some mud or signs of earth among its pebbles, so that by following this sign for a long distance, we not only came across, in a bend of the river, a spring of water, to satisfy our need of drinking which we already felt, but also we recognized on its banks the Batchee and the lost path, so that at one time we had two consolations. We slept there, though it was very early when we reached there, for fear of the scarcity of water, which we had already experienced. But in the morning we had occasion in a short time to be vexed at so much water, since at a short distance we fell in with a stream more annoying than if it had been filled with water, though the water which it carried was sufficient to drench us, since we were not able to pass over it in all cases without going through it. One has to cross this river in the space of a league very nearly fifty times, so that it not only annoyed us by wetting us so much more, but because at each turn we lost the track or footprints which we were following; so that we were delayed enough in passing the said turns of the river.
“After a great storm they say fair weather follows, but the contrary happened to us, since, trusting in the abundance of water, we neither drank, since it was in the morning, nor did we carry it with us, supposing that we should find it at each step, but what happened to us was to meet with a great multitude of very rough ascents and descents,–all hills and very high mountains of limestone, which extended over a space of four leagues, so that, besides the path in itself being so rough, thirst was troublesome enough. We found ourselves in the midst of this anguish when of a sudden we came on a descent as rough and steep as it was long and dangerous; for, though we had no load to carry, we had to make use of the trees so as not to slip, since if we slipped, there was no place to stop till we reached the bottom, where we saw a horrible lime cavern which we supposed would hold water. But it was not so.”
Approaching the Itzas. “From the top then of this hill, which I speak of, there was discovered a great range of low hills, of such a kind that it not only appeared another country, since even from the top of the trees we did not discover the land beyond or the part on the other side of this height. We thought that we doubtless were in another new territory and near the Ytza nation, to which we were going. At a distance of half a league from this descent, we came across a great spring of water, which was able with its force to turn many mills, and howsoever great the pleasure was which we felt at seeing it, just as much disgust did the taste of it cause us, since it sprang from the brow of a very high hill or steep rock, but it was all mixed with lime, and was of a lead and sulphur color, and like this also was its weight and taste. But we did not refrain from drinking it on this account, since thirst appeared to us of worse taste and weight, although of little advantage was it to us, since in a short time after we experienced that weight and bad taste, and the fatigue of the road which we traveled, we came in about a league upon a great pond, where we camped for sleeping that night, since we had found there such good accommodation.”
Tan Xuluc Mul; Temples on a Great Height. “Having come then to this pond of Tan xuluc mul an hour before sunset, we had to observe and wonder with pleasure and delight, since the water which we found was very fine and good. We found the hut already made, since undoubtedly the Ytzaes kept up that place either for occupation from time to time or as a permanent dwelling, for there are very many of them in those places. We had to observe and wonder on some rocks or buildings on some high places,–so high that they were almost lost to sight. And when we caught sight of them clearly, the sun shining on them in full, we took pleasure in seeing them; and we wondered at their height, since without any exaggeration it seemed impossible that that work could have been done by hand, unless it was with the aid of the devil, whom they say they adore there in the form of a noted idol. We, with great zeal which aided us, determined to go up and break it; and, as for me, most of those who know me know that the lightness of my feet corresponds to the passion of my zeal to destroy it. But I did not find a trail by which the idolaters go up, and, even if I had found it, the ascent was always difficult for me on account of the great height on all sides.
“This ridge continued along the way we traveled for a distance of five leagues, with very dangerous ascents and descents…. With these difficulties we came across, at the end of five leagues, a large peten of water, by which we unexpectedly found ourselves surrounded; and though we were pleased with the water, our pleasure was drowned in the inconvenience of the place for sleeping….”
Chakan Itza. “This aguada or peten is called Ychmuxan, from which to the Chakan Ytza, there are three leagues, most of them consisting of very low woods or underbrush, since the whole is mixed up, so that neither are they Akalchees nor do they cease being so. These are great overflowed tracts, impossible to be walked on in the rainy season and even in dry times. He alone may walk there, who should wish to expiate thoroughly his sins, but for any other purpose only a desperate man would do so, since such woods as those are of the kind which they call tocolchees,–that is a labyrinth or confusion or hodge-podge of all weeds or thorny plants, so that I do not know how we brought our clothes and legs out from amongst them. All these sorrows and sufferings were signs of the pleasure which we were to receive on that day. In all the said three leagues there is found at each step a stream of moderate volume, though there is no passage, except, when following its banks, one can meet with the Chakan Ytzaes, as we did, about three o’clock in the afternoon of the evening before the day of the name of Jesus, which my holy religion celebrates on the 13th of January….”
The Chakan Itzas. “To cross to the other side of the river, which is called Caclemacal, and to reach the first settlement of the Chacan Ytzaes was one and the same thing; at which, putting behind us and forgetting all our preceding difficulties, our hearts considered themselves satisfied and well repaid with the delight and spiritual consolation which we received at seeing ourselves at the entrance of the mine where we were to meet with the precious or polished stone, which was to be either the glorious ornament of our crown, if we were worthy of dying for the faith which, with the help of God, we were going to plant, or the fruitful result of those laborious steps which, with the said aid of heaven, we intended to bring about….”
Treatment of the Natives. “We entered then this first settlement situated on the opposite side of the river of Caclemacal about four quarters of a league away. In the middle of which we met an Indian woman, wife of the brother of the cacique Ahcan, a near relative of the petty King of Peten Ytza, who, with two of her small children, was coming to the said river for water; but when they saw us at a distance,–three priests clothed with our priestly garments, which had never been seen by them, and the four Indian singers who were traveling with us, with the garb of the cloaks or ayates which they wore, very different from their own garments and from those of the three Cehaches Indians, whom we took along as guides, they ran away excitedly,–mother and children,–as if we might kill them, so that it was no little work that we had to pacify them with gentle words and loving caresses, though we had more trouble in quieting the minds of the brother-in-law, the cacique and the other Indian authorities, who in a moment ran together at their cries, all with the intention of making war on us, for they all came with bows and arrows in their hands.
“But as we wished to sow in their hardened hearts the pure grain of evangelical seed which should have a more fruitful growth than that which fell among the thistles and thorns, we began as genuine workmen of Christ to till the soil of their hearts with the loving hoe of caresses, embracing them joyfully, as one who had fallen in with the ewe which had been lost for so many centuries, (the influence of our soft words and the moderation of our prudent acts, resisting all the weight of their immoderate acts) at which most people were frightened; and we gave them at the same time some of the Spanish things which we carried, as necessary and required for attracting their unruly spirits, for this calmed and quieted them more than the caresses which we had given them. This entry into the said settlement or village was on the 13th of January, on which my seraphic religion celebrates the vespers of the holy name of Jesus, and at the very hour of vespers….
“With their spirits now peaceful and happy, they entertained us on that afternoon and night, with such a confusion of shouts and outcries in their songs, that, had we not considered that those extravagant signs of joy were the wild ways of those rural hills and the fashion with them, our hearts would have suffered some anxiety and sadness, the more so when we saw before us, those carved, striped and painted faces, made in the very likeness of the devil.”
The Padres Please Other Indians by Means of Little Gifts. “I gave them, as they came up to the novel sight, some necklaces and other trinkets and trifles for their wives and daughters, and for the men some knives, for the desire to possess which all came again, thus obliging me to give them presents a second time, all which I did with pleasure, one reason being the abundance of what our benefactors in their kind zeal had given me, and the other in order to draw them to our Catholic faith, which comes to them more through the eye than through the hearing, since they are covetous in the extreme. They approached me to get what I had remaining in some hampers, in which I carried for the petty King an entire suit of clothes, in the fashion of the Indians of this Province, which the Governor gave me, and other things which I was carrying for the chiefs of Peten Ytza, in order the better to gain their good will, besides other things necessary for our ministry and support. And they made a request of me to let them see these things, carried away by their gross inquisitiveness as much as by their excessive covetousness. And scarcely did I yield and show them what I had in the said hampers, when, with an insatiable desire they began to covet all, the act of touching and the desire to take everything becoming uppermost with them, rather than the modest civility of asking for it….”
The Padres Renew their March. “With great demonstrations of love they loaded themselves with all our goods and supplies (except the sacred robes, since we did not bring them till we knew that the outcome was safe) without giving an opportunity to any of the singers whom we had brought with us to carry anything. With this accompanying we set out on the road which leads in the direction of the East, for Peten Ytza, which is about five leagues off, all the Indians who lived round Cha Kan Ytza accompanying us with their wives and children, giving shouts of joy in order to excite the rest to accompany us.”
Nich. “We went on in this manner to the landing place of the lake where one enters the said Peten Ytza, on the shore of which is found a little town called Nich, which consists of about ten houses. In one of them I saw an Indian, the oldest one I had seen up to that time in the nation of the Cehaches, nor up to the present time in that of the Ytzaes, since they have the custom of beheading them when they pass fifty years, so that they shall not learn to be wizards and to kill; except the priests of their idols, for whom they have great respect. And this man must have been one without doubt.
“In the region of the said road, there are many hills and great density of woods on the hills, many cedar and mahogany trees, which in this tongue are called punabes, besides many others which I do not mention so as to avoid annoyance. There are many overflowed places called Akalchees; there are also three rivers, one of moderate size, which from its falling from a high rock, makes noise enough; the other two, although they too fall from a rather high place, are not so full of water, though they wet us all because their streams are wide and because there is no bridge to cross them. We came then to the said town, Nich, whose cacique is called Ahtul, and this little town is the chief town of Cha Kan Ytza, which consists of other very small towns, but of many settlements, and each of these possesses a cacique or captain, although all the Cha Kan Ytzaes, with their wives and children, as far as I saw, will be about six hundred souls, more or less.”
Indians Arrive from Tayasal. “We ate very heartily in the said town, for the sake of giving them pleasure, so that they showed that they were pleased and they entertained us with their instruments from twelve o’clock of the day that we arrived till two o’clock in the afternoon, when, in answer to the previous messenger which I sent to the petty King of my coming to his territory, there came up some eighty canoes, full of Indians, painted and dressed for war, with very large quivers of arrows, though all were left in the canoes,–all the canoes escorting and accompanying the petty King, who with about five hundred Indians came forward to receive us. They hurried us on board with great speed and with very rude actions, without taking notice of the music of the clarions with which we awaited him, nor of the peace, which as its messengers I brought him in the name of the King, our Lord. Nor on our part, could we fulfill our embassy, since, without giving us an opportunity to do so, they began suddenly to take us across the lake (which in that part probably is three leagues in distance across).9.2 In a small bay on its shore, a nephew of the King, whom I had rewarded with some Spanish trinkets, coveting the image of a Santo Christo, which I wore on my neck, and which I had refused to give him on two occasions when he had asked me for it, on my giving a cutlass with its blade to the petty King, his uncle, seized the hand of his uncle with excessive insolence, and snatching the blade from its sheath, turned it to my breast, and passing the blade across my throat, cut the string with one blow and took the image of Christ from me. I reproached him for his improper act and what he said to me was, ‘Well, if you have not wished to give it to me, what am I to do?’, by which it is plainly seen that if one does not give them what they see and ask for, the life of him who should refuse it is at risk from moment to moment. On seeing this the King, his uncle, laughed at it, instead of reproving him, and he began with more vanity and pride than a Lucifer, to say to me many things very foreign to that first meeting. By this insulting and hasty reception, they did not give us an opportunity to look after our baggage, although the Chakan Ytzaes had the opportunity to put our things under such good guard that up to now we had not seen it, we being left from that time without more comfort than the clothes on our backs, nor more sustenance than that which their savage generosity might choose to give us.”
Bravery of Avendaño. “In the long time that we were on the lake, a temptation was offered to the King, such as belonged to the devil who inspired it and natural to his inhuman and cruel heart, so as to inspire me with fear, so that my heart might suffer some sadness or disturbance; but his purpose found itself frustrated, first, because when I started from Merida for this nation, I went prepared to die; and second, knowing that they were such savages in their ways, my courage stood prepared to suffer whatever insults they might say to me, as for instance to bear for God, who gives us courage, any unreasonable acts, whatsoever. Suddenly the said King placed his hand over my heart to see if it was at all agitated, and at the same time he asked me if I was so. I who was before very glad to see that my wishes and the work of my journey were being obtained, replied to him, ‘Why should my heart be disturbed? Rather it is very contented, seeing that I am the fortunate man, who is fulfilling your own prophecies, by which you are to become Christians; and this benefit will come to you by means of some bearded men from the East; who by signs of their prophets,9.3 were we ourselves, because we came many leagues from the direction of the east, ploughing the seas, with no other purpose than, borne by our love of their souls, to bring them, (at the cost of much work) to that favor which the true God shows them.’ I at this time, with some freedom on my part, also placed my hand on his breast and heart, and asking him also if his was disturbed, he said, ‘No.’ To which I replied, ‘If you are not disturbed, at seeing me, who am the minister of the true God, different in everything from you, in dress, customs and color, so that I inspire fear in the devil, and if your heart is not troubled, why should you expect me to be afraid of you, mere men like myself, whom I come to seek purposely, with great pleasure, merely for the love which I have for their souls, and having found them, in order to announce to them the law of the true God, as you shall hear when we come to Peten.’ At this, changing the conversation, the devil tried to use him as his instrument for putting me in another greater temptation.
“It is a custom among them, that, on the day before killing any one or sacrificing him, especially if he is a stranger to their town, to give them something to eat, either the hot drink of barley and beans, which they use, or another of cacao, which is what they offer them. I was not ignorant of all these rites, through what history relates that they had done on the two occasions on which priests of my holy religion had gone there; although in one case did they kill the Padre Fray Diego Delgado, through the fault of some Spaniards who followed him. When in the same way the said King asked me if I was hungry, I, though I had just eaten, realizing the situation, said ‘Yes,’ so that his wickedness should not see any cowardice in me; and I asked him if they had anything to eat, that they should give me some. At once he ordered that all the canoes should halt, and made them give red peppers and herbs, or tamales, which they brought on purpose to give us in the middle of that lake. I ate it eagerly and asked him very pleasantly if there was any more; to which he replied, ‘Then it has tasted good to you?’ ‘Finely,’ I told him, ‘and I would eat more if there were any.’ I said this to him with some wit, at which they all laughed, but in a serious way, and they gave another which I ate with the same pleasure, at which they were all surprised,–at the sight of my coolness….”
The Landing at Tayasal; the Idol. “With this we continued our way to Peten Ytza, which is situated in the middle of the said lake, as well as in the midst also of other islands or Petens. On the shore of the landing place is situated the house of the said petty King at the distance of half a quarter of a league, in the middle of which, open to the street, stands the fragment of a column, of round stone, the circumference of each part of which is about three quarters of a yard across and one quarter high. It is made of stones placed on top of each other with mortar of lime and cah cab, which is usually used for that purpose; and the middle is filled in with bitumen, so that it is like a table, with a round pedestal, upon which and set in the foundation of the said stone column, there stands out toward the West a stone mask, very ill-formed, which, together with the stone column, the petty King and the rest of his family and followers worship. The said column is called, in the name by which they worship it, Yax cheel cab, which means in their language, ‘the first tree in the world,’ and, as is understood in their old songs (which few people understand) they wish to have it known they worship it because it was the tree of whose fruit our first father Adam ate, who in their language is called Ixanom. In the small part which is fortunately preserved, and the mask, which stands in the said foundation of the said column, they worship him with the title of the son of the very wise God. In their language they call him Ahcocahmut….”
At the Temple. “We came to the said temple which had more space than the hall of the petty King, although it is the same in its structure. Here we dimly saw a box suspended, in which we saw indistinctly (although hastily) a bone of the leg or thigh, very large in size, which appeared to be that of a horse; and I confess that though we had much to do that afternoon, which was the time that we stayed in that temple, we acted a little unwisely, since we neither asked what that bone was, nor did we remember in the rest of the days to go and look at it more deliberately. This thought occurred to us when we had left Peten, when our error was irremediable (which was a cause of greater grief) because we remembered then that that bone was by chance from the horse which Cortes left in their care, which they had kept as a relic or to hold him in memory, since they rendered worship (as I said before) to his statue.”
The Padres Read the Letters. “At last I brought out the letters of the message and it cost no little trouble to make them sit down and keep quiet, so that they might hear it. I called before us all the priests, who are the Masters of the law, and all the caciques, captains and chiefs of all the districts of that island or Peten…. I began to read to them the message which the Governor sent in writing in the name of the King our Lord; and in the few moments that I had read to them, seeing their manner and the little attention which they showed, I perceived that they did not understand what I was reading to them, and having asked them about this, they replied in the words, ‘manucan a can tucot kanil caxicin,’ which means, ‘we do not understand what you say.’ Then, leaving off reading the letter, … I explained the said message to them in the ancient idiom, and inserting a spiritual sermon … and all this was explained to them with some eagerness, mixing in some words of their prophecies, which were at that time to the point. They heard it gladly, because they understood it all…. They answered in these words, ‘cato vale,’ which is as if they said ‘We will think of it first, for there is time for answering. Wait.'”
The Curiosity of the Itzas. “With this, as it was already almost night-fall, we set out with the same crowd for another temple, which stands about three-eighths of a league from the house of the petty King, where was our abode. Although we stopped there, the continuation of their wonderment did not stop on their part, since, with this as an excuse, they did not leave us a moment alone by day or night, since if any, satisfied with having seen us by day, went away to their houses at night, double the number of them came by night to see us and to sleep there, besides those who came first, and even those who had gone away satisfied with seeing us, did not fail to come back. In this way we lived with the annoyance which can be imagined, since we were not able to attend to our needs, without their following us; and neither the prohibition of the King nor our own scolding were sufficient to hinder their excessive curiosity, the only attention which they paid to either being that they all laughed at it. Their tediousness was such, that if we sat down, they all sat down next to us, surrounding us; and then some on one side and others on the other would touch us from top to toe, not excepting (if we gave them the chance) the most hidden parts of a man; if we stopped or walked on, it was all the same, so that, in order to be able to carry on the divine service without that annoyance, we contrived the plan that they should seat themselves in a row around the said temple on the benches of stone and lime which were there, and we, walking up and down in the middle, carried on the divine service, it all being a matter of amusement for them,–not only the movement of our lips speaking things they did not understand, but also the gestures and crosses which we made over ourselves as we prayed; and, although we got through with our prayers, we kept walking all the while so as to enjoy the relief for so much longer time.
“The King was present at all this, since he never left us by day or night…. I asked them what it was that they had decided to reply to my message. At which the King, taking the lead, answered, for all, in the same words as above, ‘Cato cato vale.’ ‘We will answer soon.’ And the King, speaking aside with me, asked what it was I wished to hear; to which I replied, ‘to know if you wish to receive the law of God and the friendship of the Spaniards which I offered you yesterday, and if you wish to undertake to be Christians, as has been prophesied to you by your prophets, since you are not ignorant of them. The time has come.’ To which the King, together with the two other priests who were with him, replied to me that they were willing to become Christians, but that they did not know how that kind of baptism which I had explained to them was to be carried out. Then I, taking as a text that verse of Ezekiel, ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean; from all your iniquities and your idols will I cleanse you,’ explained the said text to them, item by item…. They replied to this in these words,–‘ba valac a toca vale,’ which means ‘so it will be when tomorrow dawns and we shall see it.’ With this we all went to the temple, where we stopped and where they were present all night. Before God brought the dawn, they had already caused to be brought some cups of warm posole, which they are accustomed to drink, so that with this and the rest of the supplies which they use, such as …, beans, cooked squashes, flesh of wild pigs, prawns and other kinds of fish, with whatever each man found in his house, and all this with many tortillas of maize bread, and they did not stop bringing these till night; there being an excess of everything, so that when we saw that these same people did not depart from here, we gave it back again to them to eat, which they did, the King beginning first.”
A Baptism Performed. “Having breakfasted this first day on warm posole, we began for the third time to speak about the spiritual lecture of the day before, … and having heard for the third time this lecture, anxious to receive the said baptism, although suspicious of what it was, since they thought that there was some shedding of blood or circumcision or cutting of some part of their body, they said that they wished to see in one case how that was done, and at this time the King, taking hold of one child of the many of his family which he had concealed behind the temple for the said purpose, said to me,–‘Do that which you speak of to this child and I will see whether it is good or not.’ To which I replied,–‘And if it should seem to be good, will you permit me to do just the same with the rest of your children?’ To which the King replied, before all the people who stood around listening, that he would. Then taking the child which the King offered me, and one of the Indian singers who went with us holding him, I sprinkled on him the baptismal water. Then, seeing that this was such an easy thing and without the harm which they had expected, they asked me to do the same with the children which the King had concealed there. These he immediately brought forth, and he bade all those present (especially those of his family and district) to bring their little children to receive their names (for this is what they called baptism). And he told the priests who were present there, about three or four in number,–‘It is proper that all your children should come to receive their names and to be washed.’ With this example of the King in being the first to bring his children to be baptized, the other Indians imitated him in bringing theirs in great haste, so that in the three days and a half during which they delayed in giving their answer to my message, I performed very nearly three hundred baptisms, without my having an opportunity to stir from that temple, on account of my seeing the assemblage of Indian men and women, who brought their children of their own accord to be baptized. I gladly administered the said holy rite, since the King, (who in everything showed himself very friendly towards me) and three other priests who were his relatives had told me that they were only waiting for two caciques with their captains, in order to give the final answer, which would be favorable in all respects (as they did give it) and this will be seen below….
“I stopped baptizing until I could catechize them in the mysteries of our holy faith, which is required for such a purpose; and afterwards all agreed with me to receive baptism when I should come back there at the appointed time of four months hence, as I will speak of in the proper place.”
Other Caciques Arrive. “I found myself occupied in this work, when, on the said day, there began to come, sailing over the lake, some of the governors’ captains and head men of the four other Petens or islands, with their officers of war, and their paraphernalia, such as javelins and their flint daggers, a little less than a quarter of a yard long,–the said javelins adorned with feathers of various colors instead of with ribbons, very beautiful to see, and all hanging down. I went forth to receive them, out of the courtesy which is due from me, but the Indians of that Peten went out stirred merely with curiosity to see them come, painted red and covered with feathers, with their war trappings and their faces painted black. I embraced them and spoke to them in kind words, and if I found that I had anything left to eat, of what they gave me there, I shared it with them, as they had just come, making them sit down next to me and the King, who always remained at my side. As the result of my action, if they had any misgiving, they cast it aside, or if they felt any anger or dissatisfaction on seeing me there, they became calm, and at once I set forth my proposal, which they accepted and received well, which proposal was that they should be friends of the Spaniards and should receive their laws, in proof of which acceptance they bowed their heads, saying that they wish the trade in hatchets and machetes which they should receive from them.”
The Caciques in War Paint. “Among these caciques or governors of the said four islands, there came an old man with a moderate sized machete with two edges, forming the blade of his javelin; and another, not so old, with his flint dagger; and these, besides coming painted and in warlike array, had their faces as foul as the purpose which they had in their hearts was wicked (as they promptly showed). Looking at them naturally inspired horror. I did my best to treat them more kindly, speaking to them more frequently and pleasantly, discoursing with them in their ancient idiom, as if the time had already come (just as their prophets had foretold) for our eating together from one plate and drinking from one cup, we, the Spaniards, making ourselves one with them. To this the older one replied, with an affected laugh, that he was very happy at this, so as to go from these thickets in which he lived and to come with me to the Province and obtain titles to lands which his ancestors held and to live on these in happiness among his elder brothers, the Spaniards; promising me at the same time to accompany me with all his people into the presence of the Governor as a proof of a true surrender. His showing without necessity such submission was a sure sign of his real treachery. It was now about four o’clock in the afternoon without their having had speech with the King, at which they went at once to the house of a friend of theirs, and I saw that the King took little account of them, and it was because, as I knew afterwards from the mouth of the King, they were his enemies….”
Avendaño Makes Inquiries as to their Manner of Reckoning Time. “I told them that I wished to speak to them of the old manner of reckoning which they use, both of days, months and years and of the ages, and to find out what age the present one might be (since for them one age consists only of twenty years) and what prophecy there was about the said year and age; for it is all recorded in certain books of a quarter of a yard high and about five fingers broad, made of the bark of trees, folded from one side to the other like screens; each leaf of the thickness of a Mexican Real of eight. These are painted on both sides with a variety of figures and characters (of the same kind as the Mexican Indians also used in their old times), which show not only the count of the said days, months and years, but also the ages and prophecies which their idols and images announced to them, or, to speak more accurately, the devil by means of the worship which they pay to him in the form of some stones. These ages are thirteen in number; each age has its separate idol and its priest, with a separate prophecy of its events. These thirteen ages are divided into thirteen parts, which divide this kingdom of Yucathan and each age, with its idol, priest and prophecy, rules in one of these thirteen parts of this land, according as they have divided it; I do not give the names of the idols, priests or parts of the land, so as not to cause trouble, although I have made a treatise9.5 on these old counts with all their differences and explanations, so that they may be evident to all, and the curious may learn them, for, if we do not understand them, I affirm that the Indians can betray us face to face.”9.6
Avendaño Explains the Prophecies. “The said cacique pretended ignorance, answering me that he did not understand these computations, but I, in case what he said was true, in order that he might understand them, explained them very minutely; and in order that he, if he did understand them, should not twist their meaning (as they are accustomed to do) with some of their superstitions, undertook with much pleasure the work of sitting down at length with them, the King having come at this time, (for he is the chief priest and master of them) with other priests and leaders who were there, before all of whom I carried on the said work, with the greatest pleasure and earnestness, so that there we might discuss in the sight of all, how the time had already expired (according to their prophets) in which they should begin to become Christians. I also made a computation of these accounts (the King and some of the priests aiding with their opinion) so that, confessing that they were convinced, we agreed that four months thereafter was the time wanting to fill out the said period when all the older men would receive baptism…. And so (they said) that this was the reply which they gave to my message, with which I could go back to the Governor who sent me, until the said four months had passed. At the end of which time they expected me, in order to carry out the agreement we had made, notifying me that I should not come back by Cha Kan Ytza, through which I had come there, since those Indians were their enemies and might kill me, but that I should go by Tipu (the road through which lies in the opposite direction) where he [Canek], knowing that I had arrived would come forward with all his people to receive me, informing me that from the Peten Ytza (which is the court of the said King) to Tipu, which they told me about, there were twelve days of travel, by which they left me to understand the love with which they received my message and the pleasure and good will which they had in becoming Christians.”
Objection of Covoh. “The devil, envious of the results which were being gained and which would be gained by their and my fulfilling the agreement which I had made to return there in the said four months, without putting himself forward, took possession9.7 anew of the heart of that old cacique called Covoh, as he did with the heart of Judas. As Covoh found himself among his enemies (as are the King and the larger part of Peten) and seeing that that which his wicked heart intended was contrary to the agreement made in his presence, therefore he, as did the rest of the caciques and captains, said they were convinced; notwithstanding what had been said, the said Cacique Covoh burst forth in great anger in the following words:–‘What matters it that the time has come when we are to become Christians, if this slender point of my flint lance has not been worn out?’ To this I answered him with the special favor and the special courage of God, ‘You must know, Cacique Covoh, that he who permits me to come and argue with you (who is the true God of the Heavens) alone can give you this pleasure, if, for his greater glory, he allows me to die; and if he does not allow it, in vain do you show this arrogance of yours, since, just as there is a time marked out and determined for you to become Christians, so also are the times determined for me to die for love of him; and if it were left in your hands, as you think, and say such things, you would have carried it out, or the devil Pakoc (this is an idol who speaks to them very frequently) whom you adore and who dictates such things to you; but here you shall know how slight is his strength in my presence, since he only dares to speak of it to you and not to come and execute it upon me. And I do not know (notwithstanding the great arrogance you show) what victory there can be in so many of your armed men here, killing so unjustly and without notice a few men like us, who, moved solely by love of you, intend without any arms, but for your own good, to take you out of the slavery in which you stand. In short here I am; I know not what prevents you from carrying out what you say.’ With this, since it was late at night, they withdrew, and I with the King and the rest of the priests remained discussing the agreement which we had made.”
Discussion with Canek and Others. “On the next day, after performing baptisms on some who came to me, talking with the King and some of the caciques of the other Petens or islands and other priests, who stayed with us continually, we discussed at our leisure various matters which came up. I asked them what products they had for their food and clothing, and they told me that they had a great deal of maize, beans, seeds, peppers, and that they sowed all this two or three times in the year; also many plantains and chunes, which are like the chayotes, though without thorns; some cacao (though but little), vanilla, and in some orchards enclosed with stakes in their homes, some wild cabbage. I did not see these nor the onions, which, however, the singers who accompanied me told me that they had seen;9.8 there is a great deal of cotton, cochineal, and indigo, which accounts for the abundance of clothing which they have and give to the Cehaches Indians, and those from Tipu in barter for hatchets and machetes; and all this woven very neatly, in a variety of colors of cotton thread; the said clothing is very durable, since it is like felt, although the colors of their cloth are not very permanent, from their not knowing; how to give it the finishing touch….”
Friendliness of Canek. “Because from the time that I had convinced them by their own ancient computations,–a thing that they considered impossible for any other man except their priests to learn,–they began to love and fear me at the same time; saying that I was undoubtedly a great personage in the service of my Gods, since I had succeeded in learning the language of their ancestors and their own, for from no one else of all these neighboring natives had they heard it, nor did they have any information that the Spaniards who subjugated their lands knew it…. On which account they called me Chomachahan, which means among them, ‘Great Lord, worthy of reverence,’ and Citcaan, which means ‘Father of Heaven.’ …”
Demonstrations against Canek. “Suddenly a disturbance arose without any cause, among the crowd of Indians, together with their head men and captains and some priests, in which in my presence they said to the King many discourteous things, after which they went on to say,–‘What good was the friendship of the Spaniards and their law to be to them? If it was to get hatchets and machetes for cultivating, means had never failed them to till their soil up to that time; if it was for the stuffs and cloths of Castile for clothing them, when did they need any of this, since theirs was very good; if it was that the Spaniards should defend them, when was the Ytzalana nation cowardly or when did it humiliate itself to any one, since they had so many warriors for their own defense and for the destruction of as many as ventured against them? It was a very bad thing to receive them.’ The King also opposed them in my presence with wisdom enough, defending in every point what they and he had agreed on with me; and with more severity reproved the arrogant mention of arms, in that they had said it before me. They grew more disturbed with the reproof and the contestants increased, and many, who up to that time had not spoken, then declared themselves as opposed to him, all the said men bursting out against him with words of great anger and exceeding boldness; all this discord was caused by the said Cacique Covoh, who had not yet gone to his own town. I, who was paying attention to everything, seeing that all that great crowd was already excited and not paying attention to one another, since all were talking at the same time, rising by the side of the King and standing in the midst of them, said to them with some anger and effect:–‘What is this? What disturbance and tumult is this, so entirely without foundation? Is it by chance because you have made an agreement with me to accept the friendship of the Spaniards and to trade with them in peace and kindness? Well then, what dagger did I press against your breast in order to make these friendships and to agree upon this peace with you, other than the good-will with which you have joined hands with me, knowing that already the time has come for you and the Spaniards to eat together in one plate and to drink together from one cup in token that you are our brothers? It is without doubt because you have remembered at this moment that you Indians are fickle in everything. Go, shame on you, and remember that you are Ytzalanos, respected by everyone as people of intelligence and consideration. Bear in mind that the agreement which you have made with me to be friends of the Spaniards is an intelligent act, by which you show that you are not ignorant of your prophecies, and your executing it will do you much honor, since our King and Lord is the greatest monarch that is found today in the world, to whom not only a few poor men isolated as you are, but very extensive kingdoms and empires consider themselves very fortunate in rendering and paying homage to him. And besides, notice how your great Montezuma, as soon as they informed him that my King was such a great Lord and that his empire was so extensive, offered him not only his crown, but also his person and kingdom, going as he did personally to offer it to him.”
Leniency Promised by the Padres. “‘But the Governor, who sends me, does not intend to take anything from you nor from the King any part of his command, but instead, he wishes that all this should remain with him, as is evident from this clothing which I have placed upon him and by that baton which I have placed in his hand. This among the Spaniards is a sign of command and rule…. All this being so, why do you raise this disturbance? Go, Ytzalanos, be ashamed of yourselves, since the agreement which you and your King have made with me is a very good one.’
“With this I sat down again and they stood still without knowing what had happened to them; and changing at once the conversation they indulged in much noisy mirth and laughter, playing jokes on each other, without thinking of the passed disturbance, as if it had not happened….”
Avendaño Takes Steps to Protect the Itzas from Further Molestation. “Suspecting that in my absence some Spaniards might come either from this Province or that of Guatemala to make war on them, from their being around there in opening the road, they therefore asked me, in order to calm their hearts and as a token of peace, to give them some sure signs or well understood token, so that (in case any Spaniards should come to their lands from this Province of Yucathan or from the other one of Guatemala) they should do them no harm nor make war on them, when they showed them the said sign and well known token, which I should leave them.”
The Letter of Counsel. “Then I left them the following letter:–
“Captains of whichever of the two Poles, North or South. My dear Lords. Our Lord was pleased to communicate to us his divine favor, in order to succeed in obtaining that which for many ages no one has been able to obtain. (But nothing is impossible to the divine power, to whom may the glory be ascribed.) Because for his glory he has given opportunity to humble the neck of this unconquerable Ytzalana nation, humbling itself at the first suggestion of the ministers of the gospel, and sons of my holy Padre, San Francisco, by promptly offering their children to the most pure washing of baptism, I having baptized up to this time many of them, with the sure hope of baptizing them all in a short time; though the fathers and mothers, although gentle and peaceable with us, are nevertheless slow in giving up their idolatry; and for this reason especially it is necessary to show moderation with great patience, so as to bear many such vexing acts as are due to the darkness in which they have lived; on this account I beg your Graces to act with much prudence (if by chance you should come to this nation of the Ytzaes, whose patron is Saint Paul) so as not to lose in a short time what is so much desired and has been attained, thanks be to God! They are inclined to receive you in peace when your Graces appear and to give you what supplies, etc., that may be needed by you, in barter for hatchets, machetes and other merchandise of Castile, which they wish for exceedingly, but I do not know whether you will be well paid. This is as much as occurs to me now. After expressing my joy for the good health of your Graces, to whose service I offer humbly my own health, asking our Lord to keep you many years, as I wish. In the Town of Great Saint Paul of Peten Ytza, on the sixteenth of January, 1696. I kiss the hand of your Graces. Your most humble servant and chaplain,–Fray Andrés de Avendaño, Apostolic Missionary Commissioner….” There follows the certification of this letter by the Apostolic Notary.
“… With this I delivered the letter to the King in the presence of many chiefs and the greater part of the common people, so that all were satisfied with such an agreement, and agreeing moreover, they with me and I with them, that within the said four months, I should come back to see them.”
Before Leaving Tayasal, Avendaño Shames Covoh. “Finding ourselves now very near our departure, I notice how, after the last disturbance above referred to, although it is true that the sermon that I preached to them calmed their spirits, nevertheless the devil did not fail to sow tares in the hearts of the Cacique Covoh, whom I have spoken of many times, and in another cacique named Ahcan, a relation of the King of Peten, and in the Captain Covoh, with all his followers, all of whom are Cha Kan Ytzaes, noting here that the first settlement which I met with on my entering the land of the said Cha Kan Ytzaes, was that of the said Cacique Ahcan and his Captain Covoh, to whom I showed (as I said at the beginning of my said entrance) what I was bringing for the King of Peten Itza; and these were the men who took away from us all that we carried at the time of our embarking on the lake. These men I did not fail to put to shame in Peten, before the King and the rest of the chiefs, not complaining of what they had taken from us, from the poor supply of the priests and of the four Indian singers, who carried their change of clothes with them, but my regret was that they had stolen the entire suit of clothes, with its sombrero and batonwhich the Governor had given me to give to the King in his name. This I scolded them for in earnest, asking them: ‘What sort of way that was to receive a messenger, taking away from him all that he had brought, instead of giving a very kind reception?’ This, with other effective reasons, I repeated on various occasions, until the clothes appeared, so that I myself clothed the King with them.”
The Hatred of the Chakan Itzas for the Padres Increases. “The said Chakanytzaes then, abashed that the said clothes had been found in their possession, conceived a hatred against me…. They made a plan among themselves to kill us, when we passed through their territories, without the King and the others in Peten knowing it. On account of this, the said Cacique Can came with his Captain Covoh, with a great gourd full of posole, and with it entering the house of the King, in which. I was at the time stopping, he told me to drink what he had brought me. I drank it without suspicion, for always had I trusted in that text of the Evangelist ‘si morfirum quid biberibit, non eis nosevit.’ And scarcely had I drank it, when they told me that they had come to ask me for two of the four Indians whom I brought with me, who were the fattest, so that the next day when I should pass by their house on my return, they should have made me something good to eat; for the Indians would know how to prepare food for us in the way to which we were accustomed. I, who recognized the wicked intention of the said invitation, said to them, ‘I cannot go without them, nor can they stay here without me. When I go, they will go.’ Then they replied, ‘Tomorrow, when the sun is up, we will all come for you, to accompany you as we accompanied you hither.’ ‘Well and good,’ I answered them. With this they went off to their town very well satisfied, to prepare, without doubt, the pib or fire where the two fat Indians, whom they asked me for, were to be cooked, and the stakes on which we were to be spitted, as we found out later.”
Canek Helps the Padres to Escape. “As soon as these men had gone, the King said to me,–‘You have done well in not giving them your servants, nor is it best for you to go back by their house nor by the road by which you came, but by the opposite road, which is that of Tipu, to which place I will accompany you; since you must know that this invitation is to kill you, in order that the Spaniards may not know the road by which you came. And they say that they are going to follow the Cehaches Indians who guided you, as far as their houses in order to kill them; and so you must go tonight and when they come tomorrow they will find that they have been tricked.’ The Queen and her daughters confirmed the truth of this, for, when the time came to embark, they said to us, ‘They say that they are not going to kill you in any other way than by cutting you in little pieces,’ and they made gestures with one hand over the other, to show that they were going to make mince meat of us and eat us. We started that night, as I have said, and I will tell about it more fully farther on. So that, when they came for me, they found themselves tricked.
“In a rage at seeing their purposes frustrated, the said Cacique Can and his Captain Covoh and the other Cacique Covoh returned to their homes with sixty Indian warriors of their followers…. The said Chakanytzaes Indians came painted red and ready for war to the camp of the General Alonso Garcia de Paredes, saying that I had sent them for the ornaments and the rest of the baggage which I had left in the deserted town of Chuntucí, a land adjoining the nation of the Cehaches, and that they came for the Padre who was taking care of these things…. On their saying to the General that they came for the ornaments, being sent by me, the said General said to them, ‘Nor does his servant come with you?’ ‘Neither does he come,’ they replied, ‘so he merely sends us in this way.’ Then he brought out wine to give them and sent them with the Padre Apostolic Notary to the said town of Chuntucí, which was distant some few leagues from the camp, that he might deliver to them the baggage and sacred vessels.”
Paredes’ Stupidity; the Plot of the Chakan Itzas. “Cursed be the ignorance which causes so great losses in this way! Of how great importance is knowledge and experience for the proper despatch of things! This General has no more knowledge or experience, except for cutting wild trees in the forest where he has always been placed, cutting timber for building the ships which sail from the port of Campeche. And so he missed at the present time the greatest victory which could be gained in this kingdom of Yucatan…. Is it possible that reason did not tell him, even if he was ignorant of the said points and of the military laws, that a priest and minister of God was not going to send sixty Indians for the sacred vessels and the Padre who guarded them, without sending him a message in writing (as I promised to do when I took my leave) or without writing to the said Padre my companion to come with them? Is it possible that, on seeing that neither had I sent even one of the four Indians who accompanied me, even if I was not able to write, so that they could deliver the sacred things to him, he was not surprised enough to infer from that, either that what the sixty Indians said was false, or that they had killed us,–especially as he saw them come painted red and in warlike array and had entered impudently into the camp? Spare me from such an act, for in this case (although I do not understand military laws) reason dictates that he ought to have imprisoned them and disarmed them until he had satisfied himself whether what they said was true, taking two of them as guides, and sending an officer with the necessary people behind them, to investigate the truth of what had happened, and according to the result, to act in the following way,–if it was true that I sent them without a letter or sure token, he should have laid the blame on me and should have honored the prisoners by accompanying them with all his people to take possession of their lands in the name of the King our Lord, since then he would know that this was the sign which I gave him when I took my leave of him, that the said Ytzaes wished to become Christians and accepted the friendship of the Spaniards; and if it was not true, he should then have made use of severity and the military laws. For, if the story that I sent them was false, as it was, and if he had used military severity with their three principal chiefs, who were the Cacique Covoh and the Cacique Can and the Captain Covoh, all of whom the King of Peten, in his answer to the message, told me were his enemies, and said that if the Governor executed them, he (the King) would deliver over all the Petens, then all the nations of the Ytzaes would have been conquered and delivered to the King our Lord, and at this moment they would all have been Christians without the said victory costing a shot of powder…. And he ought not to have allowed them to go behind the said Padre, my companion, some leagues away, with the risk that the said heathen might kill the priest without the merit of being in the service of God; and with the risk of their stealing and misusing the sacred vessels.”
The Chakan Itzas are Foiled by God. “But God, who looks after his affairs, arranged that on the said Chakanytzaes coming near the ornaments, they, pretending a need, told the Padre to await them there, and they went into the woods and went to their town without having accomplished any of the many purposes for which they came; the first, to see if they had got ahead of me and my companions (understanding that we had passed through their territories by night) so as to carry out their intention of killing us; the second, to see if they could catch the three Cehaches Indians, our guides, who returned to their homes by that road, so as to kill them; the third to see how many Spanish people were in the camp for working on the road which they were opening, so as to flee if they were many and to resist them if they were few; the fourth to satisfy their greed by stealing the sacred vessels with the rest of the wares of Castile which they thought I brought with me. But they found it all in vain, thanks be given to God, who thus looked after his priests and the materials for celebrating mass; and not to the inconsiderate action of the said principal head, by which he showed so little regard for looking after the things of God and his ministers; but thus God has brought out all things well, according to the purposes for which he has worked….”
The Departure of the Padres from Tayasal. “Let us turn from this digression to the departure from Peten. In order to frustrate the pretended invitation which the Chakanytzaes gave us, we left with grief and tears enough on the part of the family of the King and his friends, at about nine o’clock at night in the company of the King, his son and his son-in-law,–all three rowing in the canoe at a good speed. We came to the other part of the lake in the direction of the East, which is the road to Tipu, at between three and four o’clock of the next morning. When we landed here, on renewing our signs of affection with the King and he with us, he again recalled to me the past agreement, saying ‘See that you do not forget to tell your Governor that I love him much and wish to be his friend and that of the Spaniards, and not to fail to kill my said rivals, the Chakanytzaes, for I am sure that I shall deliver to him the Petens which I rule. And do not fail to come to see us, as you say, and let it be by this road of Tipu, so that I with all my people may come out to receive you.’ All these words did the King say to me, holding me in a loving embrace.
“He remained alone on the canoe to return before they should miss him, and to us he gave his son and son-in-law as guides, with their bows and arrows to defend us from anyone who might wish to do us harm. They guided us through some very large plains or meadows, though afterwards there were some very good bits of hills, with some bad stretches of mud and water, and larger hills, so that, considering that it rained every day, wetting us very thoroughly, since we did not have any place or wherewithal to shelter us, the journey was the more troublesome and dangerous.”
Avendaño Goes Eastward to Yalain. “In this way we came to the first settlement of Peten Ytza, on the main land, in an easterly direction, which is called Yalain, which is distant from Peten Ytza to that place, ten very long leagues,–six on the water and four on land up to said town. This town consists of very few houses close together, but also of many farms well peopled, at a distance in a circle of one or two leagues. All are Indians of Peten Ytza, who came there to farm, although there are also some from Tipu, and all are dwellers in the said town, in which are found many Indians called Canekes, like the King of Peten, but they are not relations of his, but are natives of his district, which (as I have said) take their names from those who rule the said districts, although they may have, as they do, their own surnames, each one from the father and mother. A priest more than fifty-four years old, according to his appearance, called Chomachculu, rules this town, a great comrade and confidant of the King Canek, to whom the said King sent us, well recommended, so that he might give us as good reception and attention as he would to himself. And this they did, for, as soon as we came, they gave us very good things to eat and took us to a new house, which was only thatched, but they had not put down the floor. This house, they told us was for us, … and (they told us) how in the month of September of the past year of ninety-five, there had gone to Merida, four Indians who said that they were from Tipu, with whom I had intercourse, and I gave them something to eat in our cell…. I heard that the said Indians asked for ministers of the gospel so that they should administer to them the divine word and the holy sacraments…. So when we came to this town of Yalain, its inhabitants began to ask us about these four Indians who went to Merida in the said month of September, (who had not yet come back)…. In reply I asked them if the men were one Achan with his younger brother, and another called Ahtec, and another Anu, and they said ‘Yes.’ To this I replied that I did not know why they had not come to their town, as they had started so long before I did…. We stopped in that town two days, its inhabitants treating us very well. From there they were to give us a guide to pass on to Tipu, as the priest Chomachculu promised us in compliance with the request which the King of Peten made of him, and on this supposition the son and son-in-law of the King, who had guided us up to that time, returned home. But they said that this guide was to be an Indian of Tipu, who came to Peten while we were there, and, though the said Indian saw us leave Peten, he never came at all, but rather stayed there.”
Trouble with Soldiers. “We were staying on in hopes that this man would come, when we saw coming six or eight Indians from Peten, who (as they told us) were coming to their farms. These brought the news that there had been a disturbance in Peten, on account of there having come in the part where we had entered Indians from this side of the Province, and that they had heard musket shots, with a rumor of Spaniards. I do not know if this was true, but what we experienced from this time on from the Indians of that town where we were staying was that they cooled off entirely in that affection with which up to that time they had regarded us, showing us a thousand slights without paying any attention to giving us the guide which we asked for. The change in their hearts came to such an extreme that they called a meeting (drinking a great deal of their drink, with which not only they get drunk, as they were then, but with which they worship). We came then to a time when on that night the taking of our lives had been determined on, had not God wished that I should learn about the matter; and so I taking from them the implements of their feast, and reproving them for the little firmness of their hearts, they came to understand that we knew the wickedness of their actions. Then they all gathered together around us, and without any more noise or disturbance, they kept us company all night. Scarcely had the dawn come when (perhaps in remorse for their sin) they began to treat us with the same affection as at the beginning and to give us an Indian who guided us to the other farms, half a league from there, which, from the abundance of the fruit, appeared an orchard. There was another priest called Chomach punab, who received us with very great kindness, giving orders to call all the Indians, men and women, in the vicinity, so that they might see us, and asking us to stop and have something to eat. We yielded to his importunity in order, by showing ourselves pleased, to reciprocate so much kindness as they showed us. The wife of one of the four Indians who I said before came to Merida, named Ahtec, spoke to me. Hardly had we accepted the invitation, when all the Indian women went to their houses, to make something for us to eat; and in a short time they came back, each one of them with her bowl of meat, according to what they had, with many tortillas, so that we, with the Indians who accompanied us, should eat; the Indians promising us that some of them would accompany us. And, scarcely had we eaten and told them to come to guide us, when suddenly they turned back, without our being able to get anything from them, except that an Indian came about half a mile, to set us upon that obscure path, which led towards the direction of Tipu, telling us that up to that place, we had to speed on the way twelve days, from sunrise to sunset; and that, two leagues before that, we should come across a great river, which we had to pass, but he did not tell us how nor where.”
The Padres Suffer Hardships and Lose their Way. “With this he returned to his house and we went on with twenty maize tortillas which we had kept, of those which they had brought us to eat. With these we sustained ourselves, seven people of us, for five days, at the end of which we came across a great river, having before this met with many and very large aguadas and having passed many ridges and hills, with so many other evident dangers that some fatality might happen to us. Notwithstanding this, we took some pleasure at having found this great river,–first, because we thought that we had not lost ourselves, since we had found the river with signs which they gave us; and second, because we found ourselves (as it appeared to us) near Tipu, where we could remedy the want of supplies from which we were suffering. But our pleasure was marred, since, following the footsteps or obscure path, along the banks of this river, on the fifth day of our following them, and on the tenth day of the want of supplies from which we suffered, we found ourselves entirely lost, in a greater perplexity than any human being could find himself;–that is, surrounded on one side by the great full and broad river and surrounded on the other sides by another multitude of little streams with great density of low trees, so that it did not appear possible that we could pass through them; and on another side were some cliffs and very high ridges so that we were not able, by making use of the trees, to climb up the heights. In the midst of this struggle determined to follow the direction to the Northwest, so as to reach the deserted town of Chanchanha, and to cross the head streams of the great rivers and aguadas which surround it, since in this direction it was not possible for us to fail in finding it. We went three days in this direction, and from thinking that, if we missed the convent of Chanchanha, in this direction, there was afterwards no place to have recourse to, on account of the great distance that we were from a town on all sides, a great sadness came over my companion Padres, so that they told me that we should change our direction, since, if we did not, it was certain that we should perish in these forests, and that the best thing was to try to strike the road which was being opened from this Province to that of Guatemala, which runs from North to South. To please them I yielded the opinion which I had determined on. From there we took the direction to the West, although the distance in leagues and forests which we intended to traverse was more than sixty or seventy. This distance was a great one, for us to be able, breaking through such bad thickets and suffering from hunger for thirteen days, to come through alive, without exaggeration.”
Hard Travel in the Wilderness for Fifteen Days. “In those fifteen days that we traveled in a northwesterly direction, we met with many akalchees, or swamps, which consist of very bad passages through water and low and thorny shrubs with a kind of square grass, which, if it caught our clothes, held us by the multitude of thorns, which grow on the four corners from top to bottom; and if it caught our face, hands or legs, it cut them like a small saw; so that as most of the woods are akalchees, which consist of this grass, except on the high places, we were always walking with our feet, hands or faces wounded, so that we did not know what to do. Thus wounded, we went through some very long akalchees, when we directed one of the Indians whom we brought, to climb a tree so as to look out and see where we could make a short cut through the said akalche, for we were not able to suffer any longer on account of the many sores which the said grass caused us. This said Indian climbed the tree, and gave us the news that he had discovered a great meadow or plain towards the northwest. Some instinct made me believe it, but to see whether imagination and the wish we had to find it, had this effect, we took that direction, so that in a little while we came upon the said meadow; but as we entered it, at the beginning it had half a yard of water; we went ploughing through it and at each step there was more water, and it took a long time to cross it, causing us pain enough in our wounds. But with the care that we took not to get submerged, we forgot that feeling, since the earth of the said marsh was so spongy that though we doubled up the reeds which grew there in large number, so as to step over it, so that the water might hold us up, yet if we stopped a moment, the overflowed earth drew and sucked us in in such a way, that if we should fall, we could not help one another, since he who should stop to help the other, would be submerged with him.”
Miracle of the Bent Branch. “At the end of a long stretch of this trouble, we reached some little woods, with trees of considerable height, which were as much, or more, covered with water as what we had passed through. We passed through these as well as we could, having in mind that that was now coming to an end, when suddenly we came across a very large aguada of the kind they call Kaxek, in which no bottom is found. Armed with patience, although with some trouble from the fact that the sun was about to set, considering that we had to stay there that night, I made an Indian climb one of the said trees, so as to see where the aguada ended, or where we could make a short cut through the said aguada; and the said Indian not discovering a passage in any part to our great sorrow, we, looking towards one side, saw a branch of a tree broken, like those which the Indians break so as not to lose themselves in the woods. We attributed this sign to a miracle, as it was not probable that a human being could place that sign in that place. We followed that sign in an easterly direction, which was that towards which the said branch was bent, until, when, at a little distance, we came upon another branch bent in the same way and very recently. At this we were consoled by the miracle which God kept continuing. We went on with sticks in our hands, trying the shallow places, because, when we least expected it, we came on many holes of alligators (since they are found in abundance in the said overflowed woods) and then we were submerged almost to our heads. We discovered a piece of level ground, about as large as the ante-room of a cell, and thinking that it was solid, we started to pass over it, but on its bearing the weight of the body, not only did all the ground shake, but the part where we pressed on it, sinking, submerged us also with it; many alligators starting from under it and fleeing from their holes, so that we went on with great misgiving–one, so as not to sink in, the other, for fear that some of these alligators would cut off a leg of ours at a mouthful. This was all a pure miracle, since there also we came across the third branch close by a ridge, where we went to sleep that night very well contented, although so wet, because God had freed us from that trouble in which we were.”
An Uncomfortable Night. “We came out of that place about sunset, and climbing the high ridge which we met with, we went to rest there, cold enough from being drenched with water, even to the lint which we had for striking fire, unable to get comfort by warming ourselves. We offered to God the trouble we had passed and even with more fervor the trouble which follows from sleeping in wet clothes. But remembering that the Indians are accustomed to make fire with two dry sticks, and having no other than the staff which I carried, we broke it, and with this God willed that we should obtain fire. We made a great fire, with which we not only dried our garments and underclothes, but warmed ourselves very well. In the vicinity of the fire we went to sleep.
“On the next day when we left this place, we discovered a large plain or meadow, which horrified us just to see it, on account of what had happened on the preceding afternoon, but as it was free from woods, we were happy in passing over it, and more so as we had seen in the distance many pine trees all about it, so that, thinking of their fruits, we had hopes of getting something to eat; but our hope was in vain, since, when we came to see whether they had cones, they had them, but without seeds. We had recourse to other trees, which appeared to be evergreen oaks, with the acorns of which, if there were any, we might give our bodies some sustenance; but they were nothing but oak trees which had nothing but leaves. Crossing this field, we came upon a path well frequented by animals, and as the grass was tall, their tracks were not seen; notwithstanding which, in some marshes, where there was no grass and the soil was only damp, we saw that the tracks were like those of an ox or bull. We wondered at this, from there not being seen in a long distance from there any herd of cattle, so that for the time being we suspended judgment…. But when in the Province I told this to people who go through forests, they told me that those tracks were of deer, for there are such in this Province. I offer no objection to there being as many wild animals as can be imagined, since the woods are very well fitted for them.”
Great Want of Food. “At the end of the said three days in which we passed through these troubles, taking a westerly direction, we again began to break through woods and with greater difficulty (than before), since hunger kept wearing out our strength and the ridges which we met in the space of three days were so high in all four directions, that it seemed impossible that men could cross them, on account of the great height of their summits and the depth and shallowness of their ravines. The trees of these hills of which we availed ourselves so as not to fall, are some palms which are called Cumes, covered with thorns whose sharp points are very long and cover the tree from top to bottom as far as the roots; so that all our bodies were wounded by the said thorns from head to foot, particularly our feet, since we went barefoot. At this time came the day of Purification of Our Lady, when we prepared in spirit for celebrating that day, all of us confessing one another, as men who at every moment had death before their eyes, on account of the great want of food. And in order to obtain the holy indulgences of that day, we had anticipated it by finding on the preceding days some date palms, with the fruit in season, of which we made use for eating on those days, as well as some sapote mameys, which, though they were as hard as stone, from their not being in season, we cooked for eating.”
The Situation Grows Still Worse. “All this appeared to us now very hard, to have to live only on these dates without any food. But in two or three days after we found the dates and sapotes, the situation became more serious (and much worse after many days); for not having found anything to eat for three days, nor even to drink, as my mind turned more and more to spiritual things, since it was not hindered by any bodily functions, which would prevent its reasoning powers, so great was the occurrence of texts of scripture, examples of saints, and incidents which it remembered, that I recalled very readily everything that I had read; so that sometimes the said conditions brought about greater resignation to God, knowing that it was then that he was of more assistance to his creature, when he purified him more in the crucible of affliction; and at other times such memories served as a greater encouragement; (although my resignation never failed). Then remembering that there was no bird nor animal among the forest trees of which divine Providence does not take care, as well in the adornment of clothing as in giving his daily sustenance, and that to us, who were rational beings, created in his image and likeness, the contrary happened, without our having, not only anything to eat, but not even water to drink, this was an intellectual argument which we kept meditating on, as we went along the road without stopping.
“But this meditation of mine beginning to search the recesses of my conscience in my past life, scarcely had it come to the threshold of this argument, when, knowing that its faults deserved much greater punishment, it bore the present ones with patience and prepared itself for greater ones in the future; but as the disordered appetite of this unrestrained body called out each day for our daily food, remembering that God himself had taught us to ask for it, though I knew that its not being found was a chastisement of my sins, not on this account did I fail to continue the petition every day, particularly at the hour when I knew that my brothers were eating in the refectories, with such pleasure and tranquillity, without perhaps remembering us….
“When the hour of noon was passing, on which at the accustomed hour of eating we remembered said pleadings, there passed also our desire for the said meal, considering that, since God did not give it, it was not suitable for us, and thus that his most holy will should be done in everything, and that if it was best for us to suffer more, his holy Majesty sent it. Here the soul ruled, but it could not fail that the body also asked for an offering which would preserve our lives, which it brought forward by continually asking for it, as one who needed it so much. I then, leaning on the faith which I had in my Father, San Diego, on the one side, and on the great need which I suffered on the other, seeing that in reply to my prayers, San Diego had accomplished nothing as it appeared to me, in my mind I directed the said Saint, in holy obedience, now that my prayers were not accepted for my many sins, that he should go, moved by his great charity, to the gates of Heaven to ask alms in the name of his brothers who were lost in these parts and perishing from want,–an extraordinary thing truly. A wonderful event which I relate for the greater confusion of me and my audacity and for the greater glory of the humility and prompt obedience of my Father, San Diego.”
They Find Some Miraculous Honey. “Scarcely had we gone twenty steps from where I bade him for obedience sake, when we met with a sapote tree, rotten and fallen on the ground, in which we found a bee-hive, and the occurrence is the more wonderful in that, having no implement for cutting or taking out the said bee-hive, other than the pike or point of my staff, the said trunk happened to be rotten; so that with the said spike, we took the bee-hive out; besides the fact that the tree had laid fallen for many years, the hive was freshly occupied, so that there is no doubt that, while there were so many trees standing strong and sound, they went to swarm in a trunk, rotten and fallen to the ground; so that it is an evident miracle which my Glorious Father, San Diego, prepared for me. So when we came across the bee-hive, with great tenderness and to my greater confusion, I began to weep, confessing my sin to my companions, the Padres, which only my great faith and the want from which we were suffering could excuse. We ate that honey with its embryos and its excrement, without in our great hunger reserving any part of it; and though the honey which fell to our share was not much, since there were seven portions which were made of it, nevertheless it caused great thirst, as we had brought no water with us, and did not find any for a long time afterwards. This happened to us the day of the Purification of Our Lady, as I said before.”
Two Padres Go Ahead. “On this day, it appearing to my two Padre companions, either that hunger and want were lasting a long time, since fifteen days of it were already passing or that we now found ourselves near the road which we sought; guided as much by the law of nature which obliged them to save their lives, as by the love with which they loved me, seeing also that I was overcome as well by my needs as by the continual attacks of stomach troubles from which I suffered, and that they, by being younger, could walk more leagues than the three leagues which I walked each day, by which speed, if they reached safety first, not only would they save their lives, but also would aid me with some assistance, so that I should not perish in the woods, they said to me, ‘Father our Commissioner, we wish to go forward with the benediction and permission of your Reverence, to see if we can make greater progress each day by some leagues, so as by this means to reach some settlement, from which to send you some assistance, to aid your Reverence; and if we should be delayed in getting out of the woods, and should meet with the soldiers, we would send some of them whenever we met them, so that they may extricate your Reverence and that you may not perish in these forests. We are of no importance, and as such, we shall not be missed. But as for your Reverence, on whose shoulders so much depends, such as giving an account to our Prelate and to our Lord the Governor of everything that has happened, your loss would be of importance. Therefore we beg your Reverence to give us your blessing in carrying out what has been said, giving us one of these Indians to accompany us, and one of the two needles which you have, so as to follow the direction to the west which we are taking.’ I, that I might never be held responsible for any loss or harm that might come to them, granted them the Indian they picked out, the needle, blessing and permission, although I knew we were yet very far off from arriving in the four days that they thought.
“We took leave of each other with the mutual love and tenderness, which the loving companionship of those who had followed me faithfully through so great hardships required. We charged each other to remember one another in our poor and humble prayers. With this they went off with the benediction of God and of myself, I remaining with the three Indians, though one was dying (and he died later) and the rest with their strength exhausted as mine was.
“The departure of the Padres, my companions, and my beginning to undergo new calamities, was all at the same time; for on those first three days it was all passing through akalchees, or overflowed lands, although they were dry but very much obstructed and closed up with low and thorny trees which grew there, and with those cutting grasses which I spoke of above, so that we were in constant trouble in passing through them, reopening once more all the wounds which we had on our legs. And at that time we found ourselves with bare feet and legs, and with our clothes in pieces, without getting any more comfort from them than to cover myself with them at night; also a steel for striking fire, which by a miracle we saved among the heathen Ytzaes, belonged to my companions, so that they took it with them, and I remained without any human comfort, nor did they take anything except the said steel.”
A Desperate Situation. “In this final and extreme need we remained so absolutely destitute of everything, that only by some angel bringing us food and placing it in our mouths, could we nourish this living body; because, even if we should find anything, either animals or birds of the forest, we had nothing to kill them with, and, even if they put themselves into our hands for killing, we had no knife nor machete to skin them with, if they were animals, nor anything to cook them with for want of a steel for striking fire. From this it can be inferred that, being wet every day, at least with the dew, besides the showers which caught us, and having to sleep on the bare earth, wherever night came upon us, whether it was wet or dry, we were unable to get any comfort, besides not having any means of making fire.”
They Find Some Edible Thistles. “Notwithstanding, the said akalchees were not what exhausted us most, nor were they so unkind to us that amongst them we did not find something to eat and drink; since on some trees there were Chuis, which are like large edible thistles, the leaves of which preserve the water from the dew and rains for a long time, and by tapping them in the stem, the water which they have preserved comes out, although it is dirty and bad smelling; but the thirst we felt was more so. These same plants served us for food, by eating the stems of each leaf, something like two fingers of white that they have, since that part is the most tender, and the rest is very bitter and hard. In the same way we used to find in the said akalchees some roots of trees to gnaw, so that, as the proverb says, ‘Afflictions with bread are of less account,’ we did not feel the sores which those cutting grasses had caused us, as I have said, in exchange for what we found there of food and drink.”
Some Hills are Reached. “These three days of akalchees having passed, there followed three other days of hills and very high ridges, so that we inevitably had to pass them, since they lay in all four directions. These followed one after the other in such a way that, having finished climbing one, we went down it again, without finding an eighth of a mile level below. Upon which we again ascended the next one, for all of these were so high that their heights cannot be told except to say that in their deep valleys the rays of the sun do not penetrate. So weak did we become from ascending these hills on account of the fatigue, as well as by going down, because of the stony ground, or for both reasons, it was necessary to make use of the trees, which cover the hills, the most of which are the said palms called Cumes, full of penetrating thorns, which injured our feet, hands and bodies, since falling from weariness, we were wont to strike against them.
“On the top, then, of one of these hills, we found a broad aguada,–a thing which surprised us much, since there were not any other high places around it, from which the water could come. There were there very many flint stones which caused injury enough to our feet on account of our going barefoot. I do not know to what to attribute that water on that high hill top, since in the preceding ravines, which, for the most part, were rivers, although now dry, water was not found, except to a miracle, by which God gave us to understand that he had not forgotten our needs, since with so much climbing up and down as we had been through, we were thirsty enough, so that God furnished this aguada, from which we had a very good drink. In about an eighth of a mile we came to the descent from this height, after which we passed two days of woods, some that were somewhat level, without so many or so high hills, but it is wonderful that though these forests in which we traveled for two days and the three preceding ones, consist of an infinite number of sapote and ramon trees, we did not find in them all a bit to eat,–a thing which happens in these woods as in the rest that I saw. Seeing their sterility, I said, ‘They appeared in every respect like those of Gilboa.'”
Deserted Buildings. “With so few comforts and so great affliction, our strength went on diminishing very quickly, knowing for truth the proverb which the Biscayans, my fellow countrymen, say: ‘It is the guts which carry and support the legs and not the legs, the guts.’ Among these high hills which we passed over, there is a variety of old buildings, excepting some in which I recognized apartments, and though they were very high and my strength was little, I climbed up them (though with trouble). They were in the form of a convent, with the small cloisters and many living rooms all roofed over, and arched like a wagon and whitened inside with plaster, which is very abundant through that region, since all the ridges are composed of it. So that these buildings do not resemble those which are here in this Province, for the latter are of pure worked stone, laid without mortar, particularly the part which relates to arches; but the former are of rough stone and mortar, covered with plaster.”
False Hopes; Further Hardships. “It seemed to us that these buildings stood near a settlement, from the information which the soldiers had given us, when we were going on the new road to Guatemala, but it turned out to be the dream of a blind man, since we found ourselves, as we saw afterwards, very far from a settlement. We traveled through these woods when we came upon a dry river, which we followed a long while to see if we found water, which we came across, though late, which is better than never. Before that, God willed that we should meet a Kamas, or a great mound of earth, which the ants build, in which we found a little honey to eat, and, as every sweet thing at once calls for water, and we were late in finding it, it did not fail to give us trouble. By following the abovementioned river, we came to the said aguada, which was quite large, similar to those which they call Petens. This made us go around through plenty of woods and affliction, so as to get past it.”
They Face Starvation. “We passed the said aguada and afterwards some hills, with other rivers, although they were dry, though the hollows in them were a proof of their being very full in the rainy season. The signs were not deceptive, for at a little distance we fell in with a great cibal or pond full of those grasses with broad and cutting leaves, of which I spoke before. This was, according to its distance which was lost to sight, more than two leagues long and half a league broad. Into this discharged the currents of the rivers of which I spoke, and it cost us much trouble to go around it, so as to pass it, changing our course in this, as in the other cases, which I have spoken of, always to the North. In all this time we had nothing to eat, except the little honey that I spoke of, so that the animated mass of bones, owing to the continued troubles of traveling every day and not eating, now kept growing weaker and weaker. In such a great extremity of a man’s dying without sickness or infirmity, being in his perfect senses, one can well understand what cries he would utter to God and to his most holy mother, and to all the saints of his prayers, not only intended for his bodily comfort, but in order that he should not die among beasts without the sacraments and in order that God should bring him to die among brothers as a Catholic, and receive the holy sacraments.”
A Sign from our Lady of the Apparition. “The affliction which my dying without them among those wild trees caused me, God, on whom my heart called, alone knows. In like manner, there was not a saint of my prayers to whom I did not pray, and even lovingly complained that they should leave me in this way to die in these woods; yet my thinking that, if this should happen, it would probably be the will of God, was what mitigated all my sufferings. Nevertheless among all the Saints I called upon to bring me out to die in a settlement, was our Lady who appeared at Campeche, and scarcely did I call upon her in my mind (for thus were all my pleas) to come to my aid, when at once we saw bent branches of trees, a proof that people had come through those places. From then on I put away the needle in the sleeve of my habit, without taking it out, following the said track wherever it went. I kept on following it for four days through paths as clear as they were different from those we had found. The Indians were troubled when they saw that I was going in a contrary direction and advised me to leave such trails and to go in a westerly direction. I, who alone knew how the said Batche signs appeared on my invoking our Lady of the Apparition, replied to them that they should come along since whoever had showed me that Batche or broken branches (which is a road for Indians) would bring us out to a settlement.
“This is certain that at this time I was going on, falling and getting up again, on account of my needs, but my faith was always strong and firm that our Lady of the Apparition was going to bring us out safely. At the end of the said four days of following the Batche or broken branches, in such different directions, for sometimes they went to the East, at other times to the North, and at others to the South, we finally came across a path, broad and good, on which it was evident that a little while before Indians had passed and that there was frequent passing. The Indians wished to follow it towards the East, in case there were (as there were, from what I knew afterwards) any farms there, in which they might find something to sustain ourselves. But I did not let them go, since the sure thing was to follow it to the West, where either a settlement or the road from Guatemala, which we were searching for, could not fail us. At this time we were going on with a strong desire to reach it, but with little courage; wherefore we stopped to sleep on the road.”
They Climb Some High Hills. “On the next day we went on over some high hills, difficult to climb; then, on passing over one which is ascended on the bank of a stream with but little water in it, one of the two Indians who accompanied me carried me, so that I could pass over it or climb it. There was no need for the hill to be very high (and it was not) for me not to be able to climb it, since now there was left to me in all my body only the bones and the skin and the spirit which animated them. In a little while I gave up at once, without being able to take a step forward, although my wish was to go on and the Indians encouraged me. This was a thing which gave them great trouble, for they also now were reeling from weakness. I, seeing that they would be missed more, if they died than if I did, since they had families of wife, children, mother and brother, and that I had only God, to whom I had delivered my soul and life, I made an agreement with them, that they should leave me there under a tree, and that they should try to save their lives, with the understanding that, if they got out in a short time to a settlement, they should come back to see me in a few days and to bring me some aid, for if I did not follow them, it was not from want of wish or spirit to do so, but from want of strength. They grieved much over this resolution of mine, on account of the love which they had come to have for me, and so they replied to me that they were not going to leave me, but that where I should die, they were going to die also. I (perhaps by divine inspiration) insisted that they should go on and leave me, to the point of commanding them with firmness to do so, provided that they should come to see me, whenever they found supplies, for I trusted in God that they would find me alive. With this determination of mine, they obeyed me, cutting off as they could leaves or branches of palms, and they made me a little hut in which to remain at rest.”
Avendaño Left Alone. “At the same time they left me a fire lighted, and it was a prodigy for them to have lighted it, since on other occasions they had not been able to make a fire, because they lacked strength in their hands to prepare or bore the said sticks with which fire is made. They also left me half a gourd of water to cool my throat, so that it might not be closed up. Having done all this with great tenderness and with tears, they took leave of me, and I, giving them my benediction, and showing them a like tenderness, embraced them also and sent them away, asking my most holy Mother of the Apparition to take them shortly and safely.
“I then as one who remained to die, without knowing whether the Indians would come back or not, endeavored to prepare myself with a santo christowhich I had with me, consoling myself with it, as one who had no other company and needed the santo christo so much in that time of trial. With it I conversed and I accused myself of all my faults before it, as one who could pardon them. Having finished reciting the divine service, I got ready to bless a little roll of paper which I had, so as, on seeing that I was failing, to burn it; in the fire, which was at my side. At once I read the prayers for the dying with the litanies, etc., after which I returned to my conversations with the santo christo, which finished, I recited a vigil, celebrating my burial.”
The Miracle of the Sapote. “I was engaged in these exercises, when suddenly, though there were no sapote trees where I was, there came a squirrel down a low tree, with a sapote in his little paws, and giving two jumps in my presence, it showed its little teeth and went away. I was not able to stir, but with a little stick which was at my side, I drew this sapote to me and ate it, for it was as ripe and sweet as honey. The wonder is that in thousands of sapotes which we found in these forests, we did not come across a single good piece of one; and here without there being a tree, that little animal brought a ripe one. I knew then that God sent me that aid, like another Saint Paul, although I was very far from imitating him in his virtues, but rather that God might show his greater mercy to such a great sinner as I. I gave him thanks with some tenderness for such a kindness, hoping with more confidence now that I should not die of hunger. In doing this and saying my prayers, I passed the whole day and night, awaiting every moment the hour of dawn.”
Rescued. “Much neglected by human aid (and even forgotten) was I, when it dawned the next day, since in six or eight days at the least, I did not expect any result from the two Indians whom I had sent off. I rested in this supposition as soon as it dawned and I gave thanks to God for having brought me safely through that night, etc. I set about reciting the divine service, which I never failed to recite in these forests, nor was it ever absent from my mind, when suddenly I heard a noise of people, and on turning my eyes, I saw some ten Indians of the town of Mani and its suburbs, who came to get me. I did not take them for men, but for angels, and as such they acted in my case in everything. Scarcely had they come to where I was, when with great affection they ran to embrace me, shedding plenty of tears, and at the same time, saying a thousand tender words to me. I could not restrain myself at this kindness, when I thought also of such an unexpected blessing as God had shown me. On the other hand it caused me to feel more kindly, when I saw that a people as impious as the Indians naturally are, should be so merciful to me, as never have I seen such a thing in them.
“They brought me a little meal that they eat, and in a moment they warmed it so that I could drink it, they supporting me, one on one side and one on the other, so that I might keep seated. They revived the fire which was there, and warming up six cloaks very nicely, they wrapped me up in them, and warmed my extremities, that is, my feet and hands, since they were numb from weakness and cold air; I recovered by means of that warmth and food which I drank, and in order to raise me, they held aloft my whole body, stiff as if it was a sculptured statue. They brought a hammock in which they took me to the town of Chuntucí, from which I set out when I went among the said Ytzaes, and to which the said Indians who carried me were loading up to go.”
What had Happened to the Indians whom Avendaño Sent off. “Portentous surely was the present event, if all the circumstances are considered. The two Indians left my presence, whom I sent off against their will, so as to save their lives, forcing them to leave me alone. Everything happened through a higher direction,–first since the said Indians went on falling and getting up again, from their want of strength, and in spite of all this, they followed the path which led from where they left me up to the town of Chuntucí, which they reached in an hour and a half, for they only stopped long enough to take some refreshment with the said carriers, and to tell them how I was left to die in the forest. Scarcely had they heard this, when without any delay, they started out to come and get me, and the distance which it took my two Indians to go in an hour and a half, the said carriers had to take a day and a half in finding me, without their losing their road, by which the miracle can easily be understood. Secondly, that my Indians, coming to Chuntucí, and meeting these carriers loading, was all one (i.e., simultaneous), so that if they had stopped even a little, they would not have met them, and consequently would not have found supplies to bring to me, and even less should I have been able to start out for a settlement. Therefore the hurry which I showed in sending them away was by divine direction. They took me in the said hammock, and though it was a convenience on account of the rest that it gave, it was also some affliction to me, since, although they wrapped me up very well in their cloaks, every little while it gave me cramps in all my body, I being stiff and cold from head to foot. At which they warmed the cloaks again, and rubbing my hands and feet with them all warm, the muscles again were stretched, although it lasted but a short time. At last I reached the town of Chuntucí, on the Sunday of Septuagesima, which was on the 19th of February, in this year of sixteen hundred and ninety-six, about three o’clock in the afternoon,–a result surely very different from what I thought,–that I should ever be in the said town again, after the extremity to which I had come. All that afternoon I stayed looking at this town, and I did not believe yet that I was really there. Blessed be the mercy of God, who showed it thus in my case. For his divine Majesty alone, of his own accord, could show such compassion on this miserable sinner. Infinite thanks be given for so great blessings as he gave me, and may his divine Majesty so will, that it redound to his honor and glory through infinite centuries of centuries. Amen. The Indian carriers continued in their pious work of conveying me and of caring for my Indian singers, so that both in them and in me, a great change of condition resulted from the fresh food, which put us on the road to life.”
Avendaño set out shortly afterwards for Merida.
The Messenger from Tayasal. When he and his companions reached Merida they were told of the arrival of a messenger from Canek of Tayasal. This messenger had reached Merida considerably before the time at which the Padres left Tayasal. He had been received by the Governor and society of Merida with great rejoicings because of the fact that he announced that his errand was to proffer the allegiance of Canek and all his subjects, some eighty thousand Indians in all.
Reasons for Avendaño’s Distrust. Avendaño found it difficult to credit this news for several reasons, the chief of which were:
First. The obvious fact that, at the time he (Avendaño) was last at Tayasal, Canek was unable to force his subjects to adopt Christianity on account of the hostility of Covoh and others.
Second. That, in spite of the intimacy that had existed between Canek and Avendaño, the latter had never received the slightest hint of Canek’s intention of sending any such messenger.
Third. That Canek, had such a messenger really been sent while the Padres were with him, would most certainly have detained them as hostages until the safe return of the messenger.
Avendaño (p. 66 recto) closes his narrative thus:
“I omit, so as not to cause annoyance, many other effective reasons, which I could give, but I leave it to the consideration of any one who should reflect on this matter, better than I. As for me, who saw and was in touch with it all, I am satisfied with what I have said. And, in reference to the common opinion of all the Province, I say that the large part of it is of the opinion that the said message was false….”
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.