Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

on the bank. Those who saw them had no time to think of avenging them.

Gradually the river grew wider and deeper and its course less impetuous. The cascades were all passed, but the stream was obstructed by floating or anchored tree-trunks, by which many of the piperies were overturned and their occupants drowned. To avoid this danger the piperies were now abandoned and the freebooters divided themselves into detachments and began to build large canoes from the forest trees. Four of these, carrying one hundred and thirty men, were soon ready and their builders again took to the stream. Of the fate of the others, who remained behind, no further account is given by the historian of this adventure.

On the 9th of March, sixty days after their departure from the Pacific, the adventurers reached the river's mouth, having completed their remarkable feat of crossing the continent in the face of the most threatening perils from man and nature. But fortune only partly favored them, for many had lost all the wealth which they had gathered in their career of piracy, their very clothes hanging in rags about their limbs. Some, indeed, had been more fortunate or more adroit in their singular navigation, but, as a whole, they were a woe-begone and miserable party when, a few days afterwards, they reached the isle of Perlas. Here were some friendly vessels, on which they embarked, and near the end of April they reached the West Indies, with the little that remained of their plunder

Such was the end of this remarkable achievement, one which for boldness, intrepidity, and skill in expedients has few to rival it in the annals of history, and which, if performed by men of note, instead of by an obscure band of robbers, would have won for them a high meed of fame.

THE CRUELTY OF THE SPAN

IARDS TO THE INDIANS.

NEVER were a people more terribly treated than the natives of America under the Spanish adventurers. The often told story that the Indians of Hispaniola were annihilated in one generation after the settlement of that island is sufficient evidence of the frightfully inhuman treatment to which they were subjected. The laws of Spain provided for justice and humanity in the dealings with the Indians, but the settlers, thousands of miles away, paid no attention to these laws, and the red men were almost everywhere reduced to slavery, or where free and given political rights, were looked upon as far inferior to the whites. In every district Spain placed an official called the “ Protector of the Indians,” but it does not appear that they were much the better off for their "Protectors.” It is our purpose here to say something about the cruel treatment of the natives in South America.

The Spanish settlers had three terms which applied to their dealings with the Indians, the encomiendo, the mitad, and the repartimiento, each indicating a form of injustice. The conquerors divided the country between them, and the encomiendos were rights granted them to hold the Indians for a number of years as workers in their fields or their

mines. Under these grants, the natives were converted into beasts of burden, and forced to do the hardest work without the least compensation. They were obliged to labor all day long under the burning tropical sun, to dive into the sea in search of pearls for their masters, or to toil buried from the light of day in the depths of the mines. It is not surprising that these miserable slaves, accustomed to a life of indolence and ease, perished as if exposed to a killing plague.

The mitad was a law formed for their protection, but it soon became one of the worst of the abuses. Under it every man from the age of eighteen to fifty was required to render bodily service, the natives of each mining colony of South America being divided into seven sections, each of which had to work six months in the mines. Every mine-owner could demand the number of Indians he needed. In Peru alone fourteen hundred mines were worked, and labor of this kind was in constant demand.

As to the kind of labor they had to do, we need only say that when any man was called upon to work in the mines he looked upon it as a sentence of death. Before going he gave all his possessions to his relatives, and they went through the funeral service, as if he were already dead. A mass was said for him at the church, which the priests took care that he should pay for, and he had to take an oath of fidelity to the king. Then he was sprinkled with holy water and sent away to his deadly service. Deadly we may well call it, for it is said that scarcely a fifth part of these miners lived through their term of labor.

Lowered from the light of the sun into the deep underground shafts and galleries, and passing from the pure air of heaven to a pestilential atmosphere, excessive labor and bad food soon robbed them of strength and often of life. If they survived this, a species of asthma usually carried them off during the year. We may judge of the results from the calculation that the mitad in Peru alone had eight million victims.

The law limited the mitad to those living within thirty miles of a mine, but laborers were often brought by force from hundreds of miles away. As for the small wages paid them, the masters took part of it from them in payment for their food, and usually got the remainder by giving credit for clothes or liquor or in other ways. In fact, if by good fortune the Indian had not lost his life at the end of his term of service, he might be brought into debt which he could not pay, and thus held a slave for life.

The repartimiento was another protective law, which also became a means of oppression. Under it the district officials were required to supply all things needed by the Indians, there being, when the law was passed, no pedlers or travelling dealers. This privilege was quickly and shamelessly abused, the natives being sold poor clothing, spoiled grain, sour wine, and other inferior supplies, often at three or four times their value when of good quality.

« AnteriorContinuar »