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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


The vices of the Indians were idolatry, divorce, public orgies, and the buying and selling of slaves, and because of being kept from these things they came to hate the friars. The ones however who, apart from the Spaniards, were most averse to the friars were the priesthood, as being a class who had lost their office and its emoluments.

The method taken for indoctrinating the Indians was by collecting the small children of the lords and leading men, and establishing them around the monasteries in houses which each town built for the purpose. Here all in each locality were gathered together, and their parents and relatives brought them their food. Then among these children they gathered them in for catechism, from which frequent visiting many asked for baptism, with much devotion. The children then, after being taught, informed the friars of idolatries and orgies; they broke up the idols, even those belonging to their own fathers; they urged the divorced women and any orphans that were enslaved to appeal to the friars. Even when they were threatened by their people they were not deterred, but answered that it was for their honor, since it was for the good of their souls. The admiral and the royal judges always backed up the friars in gathering the Indians to catechism, and in punishing those who returned to their old life. At first the lords gave up their children with ill grace, fearing that they wished to make little slaves of them as the Spaniards had done, so that they gave many young slaves in place of their own children; but when they understood the matter they sent them with good grace. In this way the children made remarkable progress in the schools, and the others in the catechism.

They learned to read and write in the Indian tongue, forming a grammatical system, so as to study it like the Latin. They found that six of our letters, D, F, G, Q, R, S, were not used or needed at all. Others however they had to double, and some to add, in order to understand the many meanings of

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some words. Thus pa means 'to open,' and ppa, spoken by tightly compressing the lips, means 'to break'; tan means 'lime,' or 'ashes,' and tan (t’an) uttered forcibly between the tongue and upper teeth means a 'word,' or 'to speak.' Apart from having different characters for these things, there was no need for inventing new forms of letters, but only to make use of the Latin ones, common to all.

They also gave orders that they should leave their homes in the forests and gather as formerly in proper settlements, that they might be more easily instructed and not make the fathers so much trouble. For their support they also made contributions at the paschal and other festivals, and also contributed to the churches through two aged Indians, appointed for the purpose. Thus they supplied the needs whenever they went visiting among them, and also adorned the churches.

After the people had been thus instructed in religion, and the youths benefitted as we have said, they were perverted by their priests and chiefs to return to their idolatry; this they did, making sacrifices not only by incense, but also of human blood. Upon this the friars held an Inquisition, calling upon the Alcalde Mayor for aid; they held trials and celebrated an Auto, putting many on scaffolds, capped, shorn and beaten, and some in the penitential robes for a time. Some of the Indians out of grief, and deluded by the devil, hung themselves; but generally they all showed much repentance and readiness to be good Christians. *


30:* Landa evades saying here that it was under his own leadership and assumed authority that this assumption of full inquisitional rights, with a calling on the plenary civil power, went on. The present work was written by him while in Spain, not voluntarily but under formal charges, and quite certainly to increase his own credit politically. As an outcome, both sides won: the law was affirmed with full clearness, and the friars told not to violate it further; while Landa was officially let off, and then allowed to go back as bishop.

Next: XIX. Arrival of Bishop Toral and Release of the Imprisoned Indians. Voyage of the Provincial of San Francisco to Spain to Justify the Conduct of the Franciscans