chapter  I
14 Pages

Darkest Origins

SPECULATION about the origin of human beings in America has been ebullient ever since America was discovered, and has hardly yet sobered into science. In an age for which the legends of the Old Testament were

inspired history, and deviation from them condemned as heresy, the discovery of races of men in the New World raised a theological rather than a scientific problem-or at any rate a scientific problem which had to be settled within an established theological framework. The naive speculations of the early years were inevitably committed to the traditional Biblical world-picture and had to find a place for the native peoples of America within that picture. Thus within a few years of the discovery Arias Montanus of the Biblia Poliglota (1569-73) propounded the theory that the American populations were descended from Shem, son of Noah, after the Biblical deluge. Early in the seventeenth century appeared an alternative view that some of the tribes of Israel, dispersed by the Assyrians, had found a refuge and a new home in the New World. Many other speculations followed, involving the Phoenicians, the Chinese and the people of the lost continent of Atlantis. While these wild and groping guesses are today no more than a curiosity of history, the attitude of mind which they represent was antipathetic to the preservation of the native legends and memories. For the Indians had their own legends of their origins and their own stories of a flood. But in so much as these were necessarily in conflict with Biblical ' t ru th ' , they were contemptuously rejected by the chroniclers as pernicious follies of the infidel and wicked deceits of the devil. Thus a wealth of material which might have been of inestimable value to the modern student was irretrievably lost. After solemnly showing that Peru was originally peopled from Plato's Island of Atlantis-which itself had been populated by descendants of the eight persons who were saved from the Flood in Noah's ark-Sarmiento dismisses the local legends with lofty and righteous contempt. 'As these bar-

2 I N D I A N S O F T H E A N D E S

barous nations of Indians were always without letters, they had not the means of preserving the monuments and memorials of their times, and those of their predecessors, with accuracy and method. As the devil, who is always striving to injure the human race, found these unfortunates to be easy of belief and timid in obedience, he introduced many illusions, lies and frauds, giving them to understand that he had created them from the first, and afterwards, owing to their sins and evil deeds, he had destroyed them with a flood, again creating them and giving them food and the way to preserve it. By chance, they formerly had some notice, passed down to them from mouth to mouth, which had reached them from their ancestors, respecting the truth of what happened in former times. Mixing this with the stories told them by the devil, and with other things which they changed, invented, or added, which may happen in all nations, they made up a pleasing salad, and in some things worthy of the attention of the curious who are accustomed to consider and discuss human ideas. One thing must be noted among many others. I t is that the stories which are here treated as fables, which they are, are held by the natives to be as true as we hold the articles of our faith, and as such they affirm and confirm them with unanimity, and swear by them.' And Sarmiento was more broadminded and more curious than most.