Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Daniel Garrison Brinton, from Maria Candelaria: An Historic Drama from American Aboriginal Life (1897)

[From the Introduction to the Verse Drama] 
In the winter of 1711-12, there lived in the village of 
Cancuc an Indian girl, about nineteen years of age, 
named Maria Candelaria, the latter word being the 
Spanish equivalent for the English "Candlemas," from 
which festival of the Church it had doubtless been as- 
signed her. 

She appears to have been an orphan, as her aunt, 
Magdalena Diaz, is mentioned, and her uncle, Sebastian 
Gomez, but not her parents. 

This uncle is alleged to have been a priest of the 
dreaded secret organization among the Indians, known 
as the Nagualists, a fraternity which I have described 
fully in another work, and some account of which I shall 
give on a later page. Suffice it here to say that its spirit 
was intensely hostile to the Spanish government, and to 
Christianity, as represented by the Roman Catholic 

Doubtless Maria imbibed these sentiments early and 
deeply ; but that she was merely the tool of Gomez, as is 
stated by one writer, is contradicted by the course of 
events and by the testimony of another author (Ordonez), 
who attributes to her alone "all the plans of the insur- 
rection." With a deep religious temperament, brooding 
long on the wrongs inflicted on her people, she passed 
into that condition of spiritual exaltation which precedes 
and prepares a revelation of the divine prescience. 

On a certain day in the early spring of 1712, at a short 
distance from the village, the Holy Virgin Mary appeared 
to Maria, and commanded her to call together the people 
and have them erect a chapel on that spot, in which 
she and her uncle, not white priests, were to conduct the 
worship. The mandate was promptly obeyed by the 
villagers, the chapel was erected, and in it Maria Can- 
delaria, who then took the name of Maria Angel de la 
Virgen, and Sebastian Gomez, who adopted that of 
Gomez de la Gloria, performed the sacred rites. 

They soon revealed other intentions than that of merely 
repeating prayers. The chapel became the center of an 
active propaganda of national liberty. Men and women 
were instructed in the plans for the overthrow of the 
white invaders, and were sent forth to incite all the Tzen- 
tal towns, and to those of affiliated tribes such as the 
Chols, Quelens and Zotzils— some say, far into Tabasco 
and Oaxaca. * 

In all this Maria was the leading spirit. In her chapel, 
immediately behind the altar which had been erected to 
the Holy Virgin, was stretched a screen of Indian matting. 
When the faithful were assembled, she would retire be- 
hind this for a short time and, reappearing, filled with the 
divine ecstasy, would pronounce the decrees of Holy 
Mary and prophetic utterances concerning the struggle in 
preparation. She chose from her own sex some of her 
most effective acolytes and apostles...
The plan evidently was at a concerted signal to massa- 
cre the white male population in all the villages, and 
then to unite the forces and march rapidly on San Cris- 
tobal. This city captured, the affiliated tribes would un- 
doubtedly unite with them. 

The plan failed through the precipitate action of some 
villages and the timid procrastination of others. Prema- 
ture outbreaks occurred at Diasole and Chilun. At the 
latter town on Trinity Sunday, June, 1712, the congrega- 
tion was attacked during the mass by several hundred 
Indians, the three officiating priests were slain at the altar, 
and men, women and children were cut to pieces on the 
floor of the church. 

Similar disorders rapidly followed. The towns of 
Tenango, San Martin, Ocozingo, Tonala, Occhuc, Hue- 
teupan, Yajalon and others revolted amid scenes of more 
or less bloodshed. At Occhuc, two friars were thrown 
into pits and stoned to death; at Simijovel, they burnt 
the church and hanged the priest; at Tonala, they slew 
Father de Andrada at the altar; and so on, the ecclesias- 
tics being the objects of their especial hatred. 

By the beginning of August the insurrection was at its 
flood- tide, and on the tenth of that month a grand festi- 
val was held at Cancuc in celebration of its success. 
Maria presided as high priestess and queen of the liber- 
ated nation. By her command, all the silver vessels, 
ornaments, money and books, which had been taken from 
the churches were brought to Cancuc and placed in her 
custody. They were concealed somewhere by her order 
and were never afterwards recovered. 

During the festival a general council of war was held, 
at which she also presided and promulgated the laws of 
the new state, "the main bearings of which," says the 
historian Ordonez," were that there should not remain a 
trace to indicate that a European had ever stepped on the 
soil of her land." Her words, according to another, 
were that thenceforth there should be in her domain 
"neither bishop nor priest, taxes nor king." 

On that day Maria Candelaria was at the acme of her 
power and glory, undisputed and absolute mistress of her 
nation and its resources, commanding a victorious army of 
many thousand warriors who idolized her as more than a 
queen, almost as an actual, living goddess...
The appointment of a woman to the primacy of the 
priesthood in the native religion of the Tzentals dates back 
to their famed culture hero Votan, himself. By the 
breath of his mouth he hollowed out his cave temple in 
the rocks near Tlazoaloyan, and in it stored the sacred 
books and magical images. On his departure, he assigned 
it to a number of custodians, and as chief of them all or- 
dained a high priestess, who was always to be succeeded 
by one of her own sex. So it continued until 1691, when, 
as Votan still delayed his return, the Christian custodian 
revealed the secret to her bishop, who promptly burned 
the holy relics in the town square. 

To some it may seem that the sentiments attributed to 
Maria are at times above what an Indian girl could have 
developed. I would ask such readers to bear in mind 
that she belonged to the highest type of the red race; to 
a tribe many of whom could at that time read and write 
in their own language as well as in Spanish; as is clearly 
shown by one of her laws that no one should be appointed 
to a high position in her state who could not read; and 
who were as intelligent and certainly less bigoted than 
their white instructors. 3 Not, therefore, the savage of 
our western plains, nor yet the semi- civilized Aztec or 
Maya of the time of Cortes, represents the native American 
with whom I am dealing, but the originally most ad- 
vanced of the race after two hundred years of further 
development under conditions of European civilization 
and Christian instruction, such as they were...  

According to one of the writers on this insurrection (Or- 
donez), it had its origin in the machinations of the native 
secret society of the Nagualists. 

This mysterious organization dated from before the con- 
quest, and probably continues to the present day among 
the Indians of Mexico and Central America. It is a sur- 
vival in part of the ancient priestly caste, blending the 
old pagan rites with modern Christian superstitions, and 
persistently hostile to the church and state introduced by 
the European invaders. 

Its name is derived from the root na, knowledge, and 
has reference to the mystic or thaumaturgic knowledge 
which in primitive thought is synonymous with magical 
power. The nagual is the personal spirit, the alter ego 
or daiinon of the individual. Through its aid the adept 
can practice sorcery, cause or cure disease, conjure 
demons, cast spells, forecast the future, and especially 
acquire the power of " shape- shifting," that is, transform- 
ing himself at will into some animal. 

The organization of the society was well defined, con- 
sisting of acolytes, sub-priests, priests and high-priests. 
The acolytes were taught in classes, and were obliged to 
undergo severe ordeals and initiations. It is especially 
noteworthy that not only were all these grades open to 
women, but in several well-known instances, these occu- 
pied the most responsible positions in the sodality. 

The meetings of the initiates were held at night, either 
in some secluded forest dell or, when practicable, in caves. 
A number of such cave-temples have been described by 
writers. They contained the idols of the ancient gods, 
cups for burning incense (gum copal), votive offerings, 
etc. The religious rites solemnized included songs, 
dances, prayers and invocations addressed to the gods, to 
the four elements, to the sacred symbolic animals and to 
the reciprocal (generative) principles of nature. A num- 
ber of such invocations have been preserved. They re- 
veal a strange jumble of pagan and Christian religious 
notions, and are couched in a curious metaphorical jar- 
gon, unintelligible except to the initiated. 

The fundamental tenet of Nagualism, as already said, 
was hatred of the Spanish civil and ecclesiastical rule, 
and the aim which kept it alive was the hope of destroy- 
ing the white supremacy. One who has dispassionately 
studied the record of the treatment of the Indians by 
both the Church and the State in that land, will be 
forced to sympathize with the native population in this 
hope, and will be tempted to excuse even the utmost 
lengths to which it carried them. While now and then 
there was a righteous judge, or a priest inspired by truly 
Christian love, the majority were greedy, cruel and de- 
praved. The influence they exerted brutalized and de- 
based the native population, and made their lives one 
long story of misery and injustice. This is fully acknowl- 
edged by some of the most enlightened modern writers 
on the subject, studying it on the spot...
[From the Verse Drama] 

Third Dance of the Acolytes, after -which they ar- 
range themselves behind Gomez and Maria, 
who approach altars at opposite 
sides of the stage. 

Gomez. (Holding the serpent wand. Invoca- 
tion to the constructive male potencies.') 
To the sacred three and the three times three, 
The gods who have builded whatever there be ; 
To the fount of life neath the primal tree, 
And the fourfold streams which flow from it 
I burn the gum, and I pour the wine {burns 
copal and pours a libation), 
I scatter what's beaten nine times nine (scat- 
ters tobacco), 
I utter the words of power divine, 
I pray that their aid may ever be mine.
Maria. (Holding an aspergillum. Invocation 
to the destructive female potencies.) 
To the mother of all, on whose fateful shrine, 
The cradle and grave their symbols entwine ; 
To the eagle -wraith whose scent from afar 
Feeds on the fumes of the fields of war 
To the serpent-queen, whose poisonous breath 
Hissingly utters the summons to death 
To the spectre-maids, with flying locks, 
Who will rend the earth with its final shocks ; 
To the lethal queens of the unseen world, 
I scatter the drops on the scroll unfurled (as- 
perges the parchments'). 
On its mystic glyphs and its figures old, 
And I conjure success for our warriors bold. 

Solemn procession of the Acolytes, who then leave the 

No comments:

Post a Comment