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How Spaniards Were Found To Be Mortal






Category: IN THE CARIBBEAN

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The first Spaniards to reach the American islands were everywhere
greeted as heavenly visitors, and the natives would not have been
astonished had the caravels spread their sails--their wings, as they
first were called--and flown into the clouds, carrying Columbus and his
wrangling, jealous, sensual, gold-greedy company with him. Afterward
they would have been more astonished than sorry. When the white men
discovered this simple faith among the savages they encouraged it,
for it induced the Indians to give up their wives, daughters, houses,
weapons, and, above all else, their gold, to the strangers. The little
bells and beads they gave in return were treasured because of their
celestial origin and adored as fervently as the bones of saints are
adored in some of the European churches. Everywhere and always the
demand was for gold, and in the belief that the supply was going to
last forever, Spain began to ruin herself with more industry than
she had ever shown in peaceful callings. Her wars, her splendors,
her vanities, her neglect of education and morality, bore their fruit
when she pulled her flag down from the staff on Havana's Moro, and
gave up her claims to the last foot of land in the Western world.

Ponce de Leon permitted the fiction that the Spaniards were
angels--save the mark!--for it smoothed his progress in stripping
the Porto Ricans of their poor little possessions, taking their lands
for settlement, foraging over the island, forcing his religion upon
them, and compelling them to serve him as miners, carriers, farmers,
fishermen, and laborers. Many died because it was thought to be cheaper
to work them to death and get fresh ones than to feed them. After a
time the Indians began to have doubts, and when the friars enlarged
on the glories of heaven, and described it as the abode of Spaniards,
more of them than Hatuey were anxious to be allowed to go to the
other place. They did not at first dare to attack the intruders,
for what could men avail against gods, and of what use were spears
and clubs against their thunderous arms and smashing missiles?

As the aggressions increased and became less and less endurable,
Chief Agueynaba resolved, out of the soreness of his heart, to test
this reputed immortality of his guests. A messenger, one Salzedo, was
to be sent away from San Juan on some official errand, with a little
company of natives as freighters and servants. This was Agueynaba's
chance. He ordered his men to slip Salzedo into a river and hold him
under water for a time. If he was an immortal this would not hurt
him, and if he died, why--they would try very hard to bear up under
the loss. While crossing the river--the spot is still shown--the
men who bore Salzedo on their shoulders pitched him off and detained
him beneath the surface for a couple of hours; then, fearing that he
might be still alive and vicious, they put him on a bank and howled
apologies to his remains for three days. By that time there was no
longer a doubt about his deadness. Reports of this discovery traversed
the island with the speed of a South American mail service, so that
within a week people even forty miles away had heard about it. Thus
encouraged to resistance by the discovery that white men were mortal,
the populace fell upon their persecutors and troubled them, although
after one defeat the Spaniards rallied and drove the Indians back to
the mines.





Next: Ponce

Previous: The Deluge



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