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Table of Contents
Part I: Nature and man
Part II: History and government
Part III: The economy
Part IV: The culture
Part V: International relations
Part VI: Reference and bibliography
THE CENTRAL AMERICAN AREA
A publication of the
SCHOOL OF INTER-AMERICAN STUDIES
which contains the papers delivered at the eleventh conference on the Carib-
bean held at the University of Florida, November 30 to December 3, 1960
115 110 105 100 95 90 85 80 75 70 65 60
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THE CENTRAL AMERICAN AREA
edited by A. Curtis Wilgus
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA PRESS
A University of Florida Press Book
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF
STATE INSTITUTIONS OF FLORIDA
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
L. C. Catalogue Card Number: 51-12532
THE BULKLEY-NEWMAN PRINTING COMPANY
CARLOS AROSEMENA ARIAS, President, National Bar Association,
ALEJANDRO BACA-MUN5OZ, Director, Promotion and Investment Of-
fice, Managua, Nicaragua
THOMAS BLOSSOM, Assistant Professor of Humanities, University of
ROBERT W. BRADBURY, Professor of Economics, University of Florida
L. J. BREWER, President, Esso Standard Oil S.A. Limited, Coral
ARCHIE CARR, Graduate Research Professor in Biology, University of
RAYMOND E. CRIST, Research Professor of Geography, University of
JORGE FIDEL DUR6N, Former Rector, University of Honduras, Tegu-
DONALD R. DYER, Associate Professor of Geography, University of
JosE FIGUERES, Former President of Costa Rica, San Jose, Costa Rica
JORGE GARCIA GRANADOS, Ambassador-at-Large, Guatemala, Guate-
JOHN M. GOGGIN, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Uni-
versity of Florida
HOLLIS H. HOLBROOK, Professor of Art, University of Florida
HARRY KANTOR, Associate Professor of Political Science, University
MURDO J. MACLEOD, Graduate Fellow, University of Florida
WILLIAM C. MASSEY, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences,
University of Florida
HARVEY KESSLER MEYER, Professor of Education, University of
CARL C. MOSES, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science,
University of Florida
vi The Caribbean
ALBERT S. MULLER, Professor of Plant Pathology, University of
WALTER A. PAYNE, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, University
WILLIAM H. PIERSON, Associate Professor of Geography, University
J. WAYNE REITZ, President, University of Florida
T. LYNN SMITH, Graduate Research Professor of Sociology, Uni-
versity of Florida
DELBERT E. STERRETT, Assistant Professor of Music, University of
IRVING R. WERSHOW, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of
A. CURTIS WILGUS, Professor of History and Director, School of
Inter-American Studies, University of Florida
DONALD E. WORCESTER, Professor of History, University of Florida
IRENE ZIMMERMAN, Assistant Librarian in Reference and Bibliog-
raphy, University of Florida
PRESIDING AT CONFERENCE SESSIONS
MARSTON BATES, Professor of Zoology, University of Michigan
WILLIAM J. GRIFFITH, Professor of History and Chairman of Latin
American Studies, Tulane University
HARVEY L. JOHNSON, Chairman, Department of Spanish and Portu-
guese, Indiana University
ROBERT KINGERY, Chief, Preparation Division, New York Public
ROBERT E. McNICOLL, Editor, Journal of Inter-American Studies,
University of Florida
SIMON ROTTENBERG, Associate Professor of Economics, University
CHARLES MORROW WILSON, Author, Lecturer, Putney, Vermont
FOR THE FIRST time in a Caribbean Conference, members of
the staff of the University of Florida have prepared the papers for
the meetings. Twenty of our faculty members in several colleges
participated. It is highly gratifying to know that our School of Inter-
American Studies can make use of the talents on our campus to
contribute so greatly to knowledge about a given area, in this case
the republics of Central America. This volume of proceedings pro-
vides a much-needed synthesis of carefully selected information
pertaining to this increasingly important segment of the Caribbean.
As was the case with the previous volumes in the Series, this one
has been designed and published by the University of Florida Press;
and like the earlier volumes, it too will provide a reliable reference
on an important Latin American topic. For a second time we are in-
debted and grateful to Esso Standard Oil S. A. Limited, formerly
with headquarters in Cuba and now in Coral Gables, Florida, for
helpful and efficient cosponsor$hip of the Conference. It is through
such cooperation that so worth-while a project can be consummated.
J. WAYNE REITZ, President
University of Florida
The Caribbean Conference Series
Volume I (1951): The Caribbean at Mid-Century
Volume II (1952): The Caribbean: Peoples, Problems, and Pros-
Volume III (1953): The Caribbean: Contemporary Trends
Volume IV (1954): The Caribbean: Its Economy
Volume V (1955): The Caribbean: Its Culture
Volume VI (1956): The Caribbean: Its Political Problems
Volume VII (1957): The Caribbean: Contemporary International
Volume VIII (1958): The Caribbean: British, Dutch, French,
Volume IX (1959): The Caribbean: Natural Resources
Volume X (1960): The Caribbean: Contemporary Education
Volume XI (1961): The Caribbean: The Central American Area
Map of Caribbean Area . . . . Frontispiece
List of Contributors ............... v
Foreword J. WAYNE REITZ . . . . Vii
Introduction: A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS
A. CURTIS WILGUS . . . . . Xi
Part I-NATURE AND MAN
1. Raymond E. Crist: CENTRAL AMERICA: ASPECTS OF THE
PHYSICAL AND CULTURAL LANDSCAPES . . 3
2. John M. Goggin: CENTRAL AMERICA, THE UNTURNED KEY
TO NEW WORLD ARCHEOLOGY . . . .. 18
3. William C. Massey: CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE ETHNOG-
RAPHY OF THE NEW WORLD . . . 28
4. T. Lynn Smith: THE POPULATION OF THE CENTRAL AMERI-
CAN COUNTRIES ... . .... 38
5. Jorge Garcia Granados: THE GUATEMALAN INDIAN . 48
Part II-HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
6. Murdo J. MacLeod: COLONIAL CENTRAL AMERICA . . 71
7. Donald E. Worcester: CENTRAL AMERICA SINCE INDEPEND-
ENCE . ............. 85
8. Harry Kantor: CONTEMPORARY GOVERNMENT IN CENTRAL
9. Carlos Arosemena Arias: EMERGING PANAMA: POLITICS AND
PROBLEMS. . ...........115
Part III-THE ECONOMY
10. Archie Carr: NATURE AND THE FUTURE OF CENTRAL AMERICA 125
11. Albert S. Muller: AGRICULTURE IN CENTRAL AMERICA . 134
12. William H. Pierson: SOME ASPECTS OF MINING AND MANU-
FACTURING IN CENTRAL AMERICA . . 145
13. Robert W. Bradbury: TRADE AND TRANSPORTATION; DYNAM-
IC FACTORS IN CENTRAL AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT 157
x The Caribbean
14. L. J. Brewer: A BUSINESSMAN'S VIEW OF THE BRIDGE OF THE
15. Alejandro Baca-Mufioz: THE CENTRAL AMERICAN COMMON
MARKET AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR AMERICAN IN-
VESTORS .............. 178
Part IV-THE CULTURE
16. Harvey Kessler Meyer: CHURCH AND SCHOOL IN CENTRAL
AMERICA-TRADITION AND CHALLENGE . 193
17. Irving R. Wershow: THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL OF CENTRAL
18. Hollis H. Holbrook: THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLASTIC
ARTS OF CENTRAL AMERICA . . . 220
19. Delbert E. Sterrett: A PROFILE OF CURRENT MUSIC ACTIVITIES
IN CENTRAL AMERICA . . . . 230
Part V-INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
20. Carl C. Moses: CONTEMPORARY RELATIONS AMONG THE CEN-
TRAL AMERICAN STATES . . . . 243
21. Walter A. Payne: RECENT CENTRAL AMERICAN RELATIONS
WITH NONHEMISPHERE STATES . . . 262
22. Thomas Blossom: THE UNITED STATES AND CENTRAL AMERI-
CA IN 1960 . . . . . 297
23. Jose Figures: THE UNITED STATES AND LATIN AMERICA:
SOME CULTURAL PROBLEMS . . . 313
24. Donald R. Dyer: PANAMA'S INTERNATIONAL POSITION . 318
25. Jorge Fidel Dur6n: CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE ORGANIZA-
TION OF AMERICAN STATES . . .. .329
Part VI-REFERENCE AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
26. Irene Zimmerman: CENTRAL AMERICA: BIBLIOGRAPHY, IN-
DEXES, GUIDES . . . .. . 345
INDEX............... ...... 379
A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS
AFTER TEN CONFERENCES dealing with the Caribbean area
in general it was decided that beginning with the eleventh confer-
ence the states bordering on the Caribbean Sea would be examined
in a historical and analytical fashion. Accordingly this conference
considers the six republics of Central America. Most of the papers
have been presented by the staff of the University of Florida and
we believe that a volume has been prepared that will give the
reader an extensive and intensive picture of these republics at the
present time. Sufficient background information has been included
so that the present is shown in its proper context. A book dealing
with Central America is most timely since this important segment
of the Caribbean area is attracting so much international attention.
We hope that this book will provide a long-needed and up-to-date
reference work which will enable the reader to obtain a clear un-
derstanding of the peoples and their problems in this important area.
As in other parts of the Caribbean, and in Latin America in gen-
eral, the governments and peoples of Central America are con-
fronted by critical and sensitive problems relating to education.
Not only is general education at all levels unsatisfactory in most of
the countries, but in many regions the problem is one of helping
people to use the agricultural resources at hand and of teaching
them the skills of a technical and vocational nature. Fortunately in
Central America there are two schools that combine these objectives
in a way that is most effective; together these schools set an example
and a pattern which may well be followed with profit in many
other Latin American areas.
In the following papers very little mention has been made of
these two institutions: the Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias
Agricolas at Turrialba in Costa Rica and the Escuela Agricola
Panamericana in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Because President J.
Wayne Reitz of the University of Florida has served as a mem-
ber of the Board of Directors in each of these schools, the University
of Florida and especially its College of Agriculture has had close
relationships with the two institutions. Not only has the University
of Florida faculty been closely connected with these schools, but
a considerable number of students who graduated from them have
attended the University of Florida. It seems very appropriate, there-
fore, to briefly recount the story of the origins and development of
these important educational centers.
By special mandate of the Organization of American States the
Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences was declared one
of its special agencies to promote economic development in the
field of agriculture. The Institute was first proposed in the 1920's
in the midst of an agricultural depression. It was not reconsidered
until the end of the 1930's when the world was suffering from an-
other and greater economic depression. It was established finally
near the end of World War II in 1944.
The Institute, which functions under an amended convention, has
the object of helping the American republics to develop agricultural
sciences and related arts through research, education, and exten-
sion services. This has involved technical specialization and research
and the use of special facilities for research and teaching. In No-
vember, 1959, the Institute completed its fifteenth year as a special-
ized agency of the OAS. At the end of this latter year the Institute
published a booklet entitled Five Years of Activities-1954-1959. As
a supplement to this report, the new director of the Institute, Dr.
Armando Samper, issued a statement on June 8, 1960, summarizing
past activities and indicating new objectives.
EDITOR S INTRODUCTION
From these two reports it is apparent that the Institute has had
a truly remarkable growth and development since its establishment.
Dr. Samper reports that "by the mandate of the American Repub-
lics the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences is a
specialized agency of the OAS whose purpose is to promote inter-
American cooperation in a vital area of economic development. As
such, the Institute is ready to assume the role assigned to it in the
'Operaci6n Panamerica.' But it can only do so when the 21 Ameri-
can Republics have ratified the protocol of amendments to the
Institute's Convention." This protocol was opened for signature in
December, 1958, and by June, 1960, thirteen governments had
signed the document and it had been ratified by the congresses of
five American states. When the protocol is finally ratified by the
states it will permit changes in the Institute's structure which will
meet the demands of individual countries more effectively and it
will have for the first time the funds necessary to carry out its func-
In 1944, when the Pan American Union created the Institute, the
executive headquarters were set up in the Union building in Wash-
ington with the center of field operations in Turrialba, Costa Rica.
For the most part the Institute has grown out of the initiative of
the governments of the United States and Costa Rica, and to a lesser
extent of other tropical zone countries. In 1946, Dr. Ralph H. Allee
was appointed the second director of the Institute and he trans-
ferred its direction to Turrialba. According to Dr. Samper, in that
year the research program was organized "around man, plants, ani-
mals, and mechanics. Also in that year the graduate school was
initiated, the first in Latin America."
In 1950 the Institute acquired a new dimension when the Inter-
American Economic and Social Council approved the OAS program
of technical cooperation and entrusted to the Institute the execu-
tion of certain projects. There was now provided "an extension pro-
gram based on short courses and demonstration areas." Regional
offices in Havana, Lima, and Montevideo were added to the Turrial-
ba center of operations and "the work of the Institute was brought
into more direct form to the member countries and services to the
temperate zone were amplified." In 1960 Dr. Allee retired and was
succeeded by Dr. Samper. Quoting again from the latter, we note
that the Institute "has a professional staff of about eighty-five spe-
cialists of which sixty are in Turrialba and twenty-five in the re-
xiv The Caribbean
gional offices of Havana, Lima and Montevideo. The total annual
budget is approximately $1,300,000. About five thousand Latin
American professionals have trained at the Institute of which two
hundred have received the advanced degree awarded by the gradu-
ate school of Turrialba."
There are now sixteen countries that actually contribute to the
funds of the Institute providing 22 per cent of the annual budget.
The remainder of the funds are provided by the Technical Coopera-
tion Program of the OAS, by contracts with United States govern-
mental agencies such as the International Technical Cooperation
Administration and the Atomic Energy Commission, and by dona-
tions of philanthropic foundations such as the American Interna-
tional Association, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Rockefeller
Foundation, as well as from commercial firms and other sources.
It is estimated that in order to make the Institute completely ef-
fective an annual budget of at least $3 million is necessary. Possibly
another source of funds in the near future will be from the United
Nations' "Special Fund." This will be used to strengthen the "ca-
pacity of the Institute in basic research, spread a network of co-
operative regional investigation and augment the Institute's graduate
training capacity" in Turrialba and "in cooperation with advanced
institutions of member countries." With increased revenues in mind
Dr. Samper has projected a program of organizational activities for
the Institute to carry through the next few years.
In 1959, before his retirement as director of the Institute, Dr.
Ralph E. Allee issued the report noted above dealing with five years
of activities from 1954 to 1959. This admirable summary shows that
in this five-year period, the Institute and its three centers "gave
training to 3,595 individuals raising the total trained to 5,036. Con-
sultation services were supplied to all countries. A total of 31 tech-
nical publications was prepared. The research journal, Turrialba, the
extension journal, Extensidn en las Americas, and the bulletin,
Cacao, distributed 84,900 copies. The extension journal was started
during the period. A new periodic bulletin, Cafe, was started at the
end of the period and a series on other crops was being planned."
Quoting from the same report we note: "Significant new projects
were started including services to the American countries through
the ICA missions financed by a contract with the U.S. agency initi-
ated in 1955. The Inter-American program for the Application of
Nuclear Energy to Agriculture was initiated in 1957, financed by
EDITOR S INTRODUCTION
funds from the Atomic Energy Commission. A long-time coop-
eration with the American Cocoa Research Institute was increased
and the program strengthened. Assistance was received from the
Rockefeller Foundation for improving the teaching program, to
study native food products, and to initiate a new project to com-
municate activities and results among research workers. A project
was initiated in cooperation with the American International Associ-
ation to explore and promote the use of the mass media in educa-
tional programs. A grant was received from the Kellogg Foundation
for the production of texts and teaching materials."
In cooperation with the FAO, "a survey was completed of higher
education in agriculture. This was followed by the First Inter-
American Conference on Agricultural Education. With another
grant from the Rockefeller Foundation a study was made to deter-
mine the feasibility of utilizing national institutions and programs in
centers for specialized training in the promotion of regional research
and cooperation. The principles and arrangements derived will be
used to guide the development of a special program for the tem-
perate areas. The principle of complementing national institutions in
aiding them to supply international services promises to be impor-
tant to the entire inter-American program. At the close of the
period one of these 'Nucleos Naturales de Trabajo' was being
planned for the establishment of a Center for Research and Training
on agricultural credit in Mexico with the intention of similar devel-
opments in Brazil and Chile. This Center made by the Institute is
to be cooperative among OAS, CEMLA, the agricultural banks, ICA,
FAO and a host of countries."
To accomplish these various and varied activities the Institute is
divided as follows: Plant Industry Department, Animal Industry
Department, Economics and Rural Life Department, and Renew-
able Resources Department. The institution has a research library,
called the Orton Memorial Library, which functions as a service
unit to make available all materials necessary to further the ob-
jectives and activities of the Institute. The library includes over
16,000 volumes and 60,000 pamphlets. It receives some 650 journals
and some 600 serials regularly. A special reference collection in-
cludes 1,300 volumes.
The Institute also maintains a Scientific Communications Service
with financial assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation. Original-
ly the objective of this Service was to "promote the betterment of
of farming. Afternoon classwork is correlated with morning field
work. The student's life is regulated by a time schedule whereby
he rises at 5:30 in the morning and retires at 10 in the evening.
This rigorous schedule allows only two twenty-eight day vacations
in three years, with one Saturday free every two months. When the
fifteenth class graduated in March, 1960, the total number of gradu-
ates was 668. The majority of the graduates of the School go into
some form of government service relating to agriculture. A relative-
ly large number of graduates go to the University of Florida College
of Agriculture to take advanced training. Here they make excellent
marks, indicating how thorough their preparation has been at the
The faculty which trains these students numbers approximately
twenty, many with advanced degrees. Some eleven nationalities are
represented on the faculty. From the beginning, the School has
desired to have a faculty of full-time teachers, rather than employ-
ing professional people for part-time teaching following the general
Latin American custom. Few schools anywhere can maintain such
freedom of action as the school at Zamorano. Without government
and business control it is free to organize its curriculum and to
carefully select its students and faculty. The very nature of its or-
ganization has made it a model for other schools with somewhat
similar ambitions and objectives. Certainly no other Latin Ameri-
can school is like it. The School has been fortunate in its directors.
Until 1957 Dr. Wilson Popenoe was director. Dr. William C. Pad-
dock is not only carrying on the tradition of the School but is reach-
ing out into new areas of activity which will give the School even
a wider reputation not only throughout the Caribbean but through-
out Latin America. With this excellent direction and with increasing
financial support the Escuela Agricola Panamericana should achieve
its planned objectives in a reasonable time.
Acknowledgment. Information for this discussion has come from
the following sources: Five Years of Activities, 1954-1959 issued
by the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the OAS,
Turrialba, Costa Rica, 1959, and "Report of Ing. Armando Samper
to the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Institute of Agri-
cultural Sciences in its Session of June 8, 1960" (mimeographed and
EDITOR S INTRODUCTION xix
dated July 22, 1960), both kindly supplied by Dr. Samper. Dr. Wil-
liam C. Paddock has generously sent me the "Second Revision"
(April 27, 1960) of his draft of a proposed brochure entitled "The
Escuela Agricola Panamericana, an Agricultural College designed to
meet the Challenge of Latin America's Tomorrow." To both of these
men I am extremely grateful for their cooperation. Professor Albert
S. Muller, counselor to Latin American Students in Agriculture and
professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida, who
taught at the Escuela Panamericana for a number of years, has also
kindly supplied information.
A. CURTIS WILGUS, Director
School of Inter-American Studies
NATURE AND MAN
Raymond E. Crist: CENTRAL AMERICA: ASPECTS OF
THE PHYSICAL AND CULTURAL LANDSCAPES
GEOGRAPHY, THE DESCRIPTION of the earth, was for many
years in the United States held to be the description of the physical
earth, particularly of its landforms and other physical features. Even
when American geographers began to cut the strings that had se-
curely tied their discipline to geology, they were so conditioned
that they studied mainly the influence of the physical environment
on man; they moved gingerly, fearful of trespassing on history, on
anthropology, on ethnology, or on other disciplines; to paraphrase
Professor Earl P. Hanson, they paid more attention to the number
of people per square mile than to the number of people per square
meal. In recent decades there has been more emphasis on cultural
geography than formerly. However, the geographer still has-or
should have-his feet on the ground.
I. Aspects of the Physical Environment
Hence a few paragraphs on the paleogeography and the physical
features of Central America are indicated. The following quotation
from Professor Carr's High Jungles and Low will serve very well
as an introductory paragraph to the area under consideration.
Down in the narrowing ribbon of land that ties together the
continents of North and South America there is a place that has
seen more than its share of history. It lies between the tenth and
thirteenth parallels of latitude, and slantwise across it, northwest
to southeast, there runs for two hundred miles a low, forest-filled,
cloud-piled trough, barely a hundred feet above the sea-all that
remains of an old way through which the Atlantic and Pacific once
met and mingled. Since the dim heart of geologic time, waves and
currents of life have streamed and broken and eddied about this
sector of earth. It has been portal, strait, land bridge, life barrier,
and highroad, and is one of the few places in the world where the
ancient dramas of zoogeography have merged with the dramas of
early and modern man, all moving across the same stage in con-
The backbone of Central America is a highland sector made up
of ancient crystalline rocks. Where these rocks are exposed the
landscape is rugged, the soil is infertile, and the population density
is low. The mountain building process has been attended by vol-
canic activity, even into the present era, with the result that vast
sections of Central America are covered with thick layers of vol-
canic ash and lava. These sectors covered with thick layers of
volcanic ash, in which streams frequently carve valleys with per-
pendicular walls hundreds of feet high, are the densely populated
areas of Central America.
In general, the Atlantic slope of Central America is dominated by
the northeast trade winds and receives heavy rainfall throughout
the year. The Pacific slope, which lies in the lee of the trades, is
definitely dry in winter with summer rainfall brought by the south-
west monsoons. The long dry season of the Pacific produces a
healthful climate in spite of slightly higher temperatures than on
the Atlantic coast. The air is less humid and sea breezes are very
active, so the sensible temperature is lower than the actual, ther-
mometer temperature. The humidity along the Atlantic coast is
high, and so is the temperature, with the result that the sensible
temperature is very high. Hence, we have the pattern general in
tropical highlands of altitudinal life zones. The country is like a
house with several floors, of which the cooler, second floor was pre-
ferred by the first settlers, instead of the hot basement rooms.
These are some of the significant facts about the physical back-
ground of Central America, against which are to be considered
those cultural and social factors that have over the centuries deter-
mined the number of people per square meal.
*Notes to this chapter are on page 16.
NATURE AND MAN
II. Some Spanish Cultural Ingredients
The original Indian population "felt the fury of the first bands
of hidalgos, hyperthyroid by breeding, hog-poor and callous to
human agony from almost a thousand years of fighting Moors in
their own wrecked land; and their despair was hardly equalled in
all the ages till the cunning of our own times made it seem trivial.'"
The Spanish Conquest, however, lacked a common purpose and
a common idiom in which such a purpose could be made manifest.
Intensive seed planting was replaced by extensive pursuits; Indians
were sacrificed to the production of goods for the profit and glory
and conspicuous consumption of the conqueror, with no quid pro
quo in the form of activities on the part of the overlord to maintain
the balance of the newly created universe. Indeed, the goal of the
Spaniards in New Spain was to lay hold at all costs of the means
of production required to support them in the fashion to which
they wished to become accustomed. They created the hacienda
system, half feudal, half capitalist, that uprooted many Indians and
transformed them into serfs. Others, stripped of their land, their
crafts, their elite and urban components, became strangers in a
new social order which commanded their labor but could not
command-and has not commanded-their loyalty.
Central America, as a colony of Spain, could trade only with
the mother country. Trade with foreign countries, or even with other
Spanish colonies, was strictly forbidden. The result was noted by
The narrow colonial system of Spain had the effect to keep many
of her American possessions, and especially Central America, en-
tirely excluded from intercourse with the rest of the world. None
of the improvements in the arts or in agriculture, which elsewhere
were effecting gradual but total revolutions in the industry of na-
tions, were permitted to reach that country. Trade was monopolized
by the Crown, which equally undertook to regulate the amount of
production of the various articles for which these colonies were
distinguished. A single example will illustrate the extent to which
this jealous and oppressive policy was carried. Early in the eight-
eenth century, the cultivation of the grape had been introduced
upon the northern coast of Honduras, with so much success and
promise as to attract the attention of the Government of Spain, and
lead it to fear that the colony might ultimately come to rival the
mother country in the production of wine. Orders were consequently
issued to the officers of the crown to destroy the vines, which orders
were carried into execution. Since that period no further attempts
have been made to introduce the grape, but no doubt exists of
the fact that it might be produced in great abundance, and become
an element of wealth to the state.3
III. Square Miles and Square Meals
But to come down to the present. A recent study of Honduras
analyzes situations that are common over the greater part of Central
Honduras does not offer a great deal of good, level land. A sub-
stantial amount of hillside agriculture probably is a necessity. But
what is not a necessity is that in general the best land, apart from
that occupied by the fruit companies, is not intensively cultivated,
while the hillsides are. The landowners have typically sold, leased,
or tolerated the unauthorized occupancy of their poorest land by
the small farmers who produce the major part of the crops grown
in the country, and reserved the better tracts for their own use or
even dis-use. Everywhere one finds scrawny cattle grazing untended
plains, while beans and corn are being intensively cultivated on the
nearly bare slopes. This does not make economic sense for the land-
owner, the small farmer or the economy as a whole, yet it is a
common condition, not only in Honduras, but throughout Latin
The typical agricultural unit in Honduras is small. Of the persons
occupied in agriculture, 61 per cent are on farms of less than ten
hectares (about twenty-five acres). Such small farms, however,
comprise only 16 per cent of the total land in farms. These figures
do not reflect the inequality of land ownership, since a farming
unit may be owned by the operator, held under a communal title
(ejido), rented, share-cropped, or occupied without title or lease
of any kind. Of the area in small farming units, only about 25 per
cent is owned by the farm operator. The available statistics do not
permit an exact calculation, but it may reasonably be inferred that
almost 50 per cent of the Honduran farming population are engaged
in agricultural work on farms of less than twenty-five acres which
they do not own. The vast majority of these are not employees but
members of ejidal systems, tenants or squatters, and their families.5
NATURE AND MAN
The village Indians have, over the centuries, been working more
or less intensively the small plots of mountain land which they
have cleared from the forest and which every so often revert to
wilderness in a system of wild fallow. They grow corn as the
staple crop, they revere the corn god, and they seem to be anxious
to prove that man can live by corn alone. Since they do not rotate
crops, they have learned to rotate fields. The number of hours of
exposure to the sun's rays, the angle of slope, the physical properties
of the soil, and so on, may cause fields to vary greatly climatically. oe
Because of these diverse factors these microclimatic zones inter-
penetrate each other in such a way as to produce a highly complex
agricultural landscape, the physiognomy of which is, to be sure,
partly determined by historical factors and social and economic
processes. These varying factors make it possible to grow different
crops on the different fields; corn can be grown at different seasons.
The crops are for home use, or for exchange at a market within
walking distance for salt, brown sugar, coffee, hard liquor, and
other necessities, or luxuries, depending on the point of view. In-
deed the village is economically an introverted society. All over the v
landscape that might be called "Indian," trails go straight up and
down precipitous slopes, with no regard for the following of con-
tours. The village community is closely knit and every effort is made
to make it sufficient unto itself. This rural, "Indian" world coexists
with, but is in marked contrast to, the modern commercial world
of the capital cities and other large urban agglomerations of Central
America. Indeed, wedged in between these intensively used hillsides
and high valleys, are the more extensive holdings of those tied-
securely or tenuously, as the case might be-to the national or even
international commercial world-to the Great Society.
The lower lying highland areas belong in great part to the landed
gentry, as it were, to the Ladinos who have commercial contacts
with the rest of the country. Besides selling some corn and cattle
they enjoy the psychic benefits conferred by the holding of land,
which makes it possible to enjoy a relaxed, unhurried mode of life.
They may cut a little timber, but the goal is not the strenuous life
and a big margin of profits. Here the pressure of population on the
land resource is little in evidence, for the traditional holdings are
cultivated or grazed in a seemingly halfhearted way and the forest
and savanna lands often seem unused. Small wonder that these land-
holders were satisfied with being connected with the outside world
by routes which could be used only by mounted riders, or at best
by oxcarts. There is as great an economic and social distance be-
tween this group of gracious livers and the almost self-sufficient
farmers in the highlands as there is between the prosperous dairy
farmer of upper New York State and the share-cropper of the poorer
sectors in the southern United States.
In the words of Professor Schultz: "The revolutionary implications
of land reform in countries where most of the property consists of
land, where this property is held not by cultivators but mainly by a
small group of families who do not farm and where most of the
political power and social privileges are vested in those who own
land, are, for a person living in a technically advanced community,
virtually impossible to grasp."6
Social controls operate here as elsewhere to preserve intact the
status quo: "A large livestock enterprise can earn a comfortable re-
turn for its owner with no outlay of money or effort for pasture im-
provement, supplemental feeding, culling or controlled breeding.
True, monetary profits are not maximized in this way, but they
are adequate; and they are supplemented by a substantial return in
the form of leisure and freedom from responsibility. It is in this
way that the greatest part of the farming land in Honduras is man-
aged. On the small farming units, of course, the livestock are cared
for as individuals, almost as members of the family. Like members
of the family, however, they are also cared for without means or
skill, so that the net product, although more economically produced,
is not of significantly better quality."7
For agriculture as a whole, the returns to Costa Rica-one of the
richest of the Central American republics-in 1949 averaged about
$425 (United States currency) per agricultural worker. Large farms
produce a major share of the agricultural output; for example, about
one-ninth of the cane growers raise half the sugar cane, and 5 per
cent of the coffee growers have half the coffee trees. The conclusion
is inescapable: the basic necessity is to increase agricultural output
per worker and per unit of land. This necessity is especially marked
in the case of the vast majority of farmers who produce very little,
/or nothing at all, for the market. If the nomadic patch agriculturist
does not have land, with security of tenure, he cannot even dream
of increasing production. If he does have land and the capital and
know-how to give it value, he needs a ready market; and if he does
.find a market, it should not be, as it all too often is, one in which
NATURE AND MAN
prices for his produce are ridiculously low and costs of his necessi-
ties are exorbitantly high. Thus to increase the productivity of the
small farmer involves a chain reaction, in which failure at one point
means failure all along the line.
An improved diet would greatly increase the productive capacity
of people in the low-income bracket, but technical assistance in nu-
trition should go beyond the mere question of what people eat and
attempt to discover why they eat what they do. Social scientists
working in this field have found that the improvement of food
habits cannot be attained just by providing the new items needed
in an inadequate diet. In other words, it is as necessary to have
people want to eat the protective foods-milk, eggs, meat, fruit, and
vegetables-as it is to be able to produce them.
IV. Agricultural Underemployment in a Preindustrial Society
It does not seem possible that agricultural improvements alone
can raise living levels to acceptable standards, yet higher produc-
tivity and greater returns for work performed cannot be envisaged
without a vast increase of capital resources, of managerial capacity,
and of trained workers at every level, whether the Indians and
mestizos are to be industrial workers, independent farmers, or
skilled farm laborers.
Improving the productivity of land and animals in the mountain
sectors will be a gradual process, requiring generations rather than
months or years. Even if production were doubled, living levels
still would be very low, for farming units are vastly overstaffed.
The actual manpower and the potential hydroelectric power of the
mountain areas are great assets, if properly utilized. Industrializa-
tion is the only outlet available at present for labor from the ranks
of the underemployed-of those who cannot or will not migrate-
in the overcrowded rural area. Studies are indicated which would
point the way to educating and gainfully employing this labor in
those industries suitable for location in the mountains, once ways
of financing them have been found. A great national effort should
be made to intensify industrialization, no matter what sacrifices are
necessary in the form of subsidies and higher costs to the consumer,
to make possible for the rural Indian a higher level of living.
At present the highland subsistence farmers increasingly leave
their farm communities for the capital cities, where those deficient
in training and skills all too often swell the ranks of slum dwellers,
who lead a marginal existence as culturally displaced persons. It
is suggested that training centers and rehabilitation institutions
might be established for teaching skills to migrants from the moun-
tains who find it difficult to adjust to their new environment.
V. The Lowland Tropics-Land of the Future
A frontier zone of vast agricultural potential is the tropical low-
land sector, but the settlement of tropical forest areas requires ex-
perience and skills which the self-sufficient farmer does not have.
Further, the illiterate, inexperienced Indian, almost invariably with-
out capital, rarely has a chance to buy suitably located land at
official prices because of the activities of speculators. But if long-
range national-or better still, international-planning is brought to
bear on the problem of opening up tropical areas suitable for agri-
cultural development, the many handicaps-health hazards, illiteracy
and language barriers, lack of capital, roads, and markets, and so
on-that now face the spontaneous colonist can be adequately dealt
with. The large-scale shifting population from agricultural activities
in the highlands to industrialization and to settlement in the tropical
lands both along the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast will go a
long way toward alleviating the poverty of the rural population.
The Central American republics could study with profit the ex-
ample of Mexico, where the government is engaged in a broad
program of regional development for its tropical areas. Public health
measures are being introduced, education is being supported, roads,
railroads, and airstrips are being built, and modern mechanized
equipment is being used on a large scale.
VI. The Banana Industry: From Isolation to Integration
As early as the 1860's, occasional shipments of bananas arrived
in New Orleans, and in 1870, schooner Captain Lorenzo D. Baker
brought a deck cargo of yellow bananas from Jamaica to Boston
and sold them at a profit. But it was impossible to create an industry
unless cargoes could be made available regularly. The Boston Fruit
Company, organized in 1885, began looking around for areas of
fertile, inexpensive lands readily accessible to water. And they be-
gan looking hopefully at mosquito-infested jungles, those coastal
NATURE AND MAN
lowlands along eastern Central America. And these tropical lands
were being opened up by the railroad builders. Minor C. Keith
finished building the transcontinental railroad across the Republic
of Costa Rica in 1896, and this jungle railroad began to flourish on
bananas as freight. The refrigerator ship made it possible to get the
fruit to market without deterioration, and the industry soon was
coordinated with pin-point precision. Banana plantations were
linked by rail to seaports, and fleets of ships carried the crop to
market on schedule. Before the construction of the railroads, the
populated centers of the Central American republics were sepa-
rated from the seacoast and from each other by stretches of terri-
tory even more impassable than the seas. The primary value of the
tropical lowlands, as far as a cash crop was concerned, was as a
producer of bananas for an overseas market. Indeed, economically,
the tropical lowlands of eastern Central America were closer to the
markets of southern and eastern United States than they were to
to their own hinterlands. But the building of railroads, and more
recently of roads, has been a big factor in achieving economic co-
hesion and a feeling of nationalism in the several republics. Hence,
the banana industry, originally perhaps a divisive force in national
development, helped make possible the capital accumulation that
has played so significant a role in the evolution of national cohesion.
Even after the construction of railroads and roads tied certain
densely populated sectors to areas of jungles and tropical lowlands,
there were many remote mountain villages, lumber camps, and
mines that could be reached only on foot, on mule back, or by air.
Shortly after World War I, Mr. Yerex, a barnstorming, ex-war
ace, landed in Honduras as pilot of a plane which he soon had to
accept instead of back salary. He proceeded to fly passengers and
freight to and from out-of-the-way places, on his one-man, one-
plane airline. By inaugurating the system of deferred rates for
freight, he was able to keep his planes full on all flights. If his
weight space was taken up by passengers, well and good, freight
was stored in a warehouse at the landing field and picked up on
the next flight. This system made it possible to haul freight at ex-
tremely low rates. He showed that the plane could compete suc-
cessfully with the mule caravan over difficult mountain trails. As
rates were lowered, his business increased, and he was able to
buy reconditioned planes and to hire pilots. Within a few years,
during the thirties, he was able to extend operations to Nicaragua,
Guatemala, Costa Rica, and British Honduras, and was able to
carry a motley collection of freight items: machinery, vegetables,
beer, and butter went to the remote camps and mines, while chicle
blocks, mahogany logs, green turtles, and gold bricks might make
up the return cargo.
The rugged compartmentalized, three-dimensional subcontinent
of Central America was a sector ideal for the evolution of an airline
whose management was enterprising, dynamic, resilient, and capa-
ble of swift adjustment to rapidly changing conditions.
VII. Changing Patterns of Land Use
In some sectors the simple way of life is disappearing, even from
regions of the world formerly thought hopelessly "remote," and
much of Central America can be so considered even today. This is
especially true of northwestern Costa Rica, according to Professor
Wagner. Although the Spanish Conquest superimposed Roman
Catholicism, the latifundium, and a caste society on those sectors
of the New World which it touched, much is found in this sector
of Central America that is really pre-Conquest-a kind of cultural
subconscious, as it were. Remoteness has left its mark in the archaic
turns of speech and in the many words with local meanings; the
Catholic religion at times seems only a thin veneer over the older
pagan rites; the Indians readily adopted many of the crops, animals,
and tools introduced by the Spaniards, and enriched their lives by
so doing, but they still use the ancient planting stick in their farm-
ing, they still use local materials in constructing their houses, they
still have maize and beans as the basis of their diet, and they still
treat their sick with New World herbs according to immemorial
But the handwriting is on the wall (just as well that it is in an
unknown tongue). Several thousand immigrants from the Meseta
Central of Costa Rica have settled in Nicoya and are growing cash
crops with huge success. The roar of trucks and the blare of radios
are as music to the ears of the small subsistence farmers of Nicoya
who cannot resist the temptation to sell their land for the cash with
which to buy commercial products or gadgets- there is much pres-
tige to having a roof of sheet aluminum, to having motorized farm
machinery instead of hand tools. The outmoded, easygoing way of
life of the small farmer who lacks both skill and capital is doomed.
NATURE AND MAN
It cannot survive in an age that is progressively more and more
VIII. Importers, Coffee Planters, and Capital Accumulation
Under present circumstances, Central American importers in gen-
eral are interested in the status quo, and not in the growth of na-
tional industry. Their profits are enormous, they live well, and they
invest heavily in commercial real estate, particularly along the
main streets of the capital cities.
The importing business is on a far larger scale than business
generally: the average annual sales of importers are in general at
least three times the average for commercial business as a whole.
This is the pattern common to so much of Latin America. The im-
porters and coffee planters do most of the saving in the country
and usually have sizable bank balances both at home and in the
United States. But they accumulate very little venture capital. The
attempt on the part of the United States to foster the flow of invest-
ment capital in the form of funds and equipment, managerial skill,
technology, and, in some instances, surplus manpower from the
relatively advanced economic area to the relatively unadvanced may
meet with resistance from just such entrenched groups as the im-
porters and coffee planters, who might feel that the new order
would undermine their positions of power. What the United States
has to offer must be in an exceedingly attractive package if local
notables are to be convinced that they can safely use it.
IX. British Honduras: To Be or Not to Be
British Honduras is a small cultural island, the written language
of which is English, in a predominately Spanish-speaking subconti-
nent. There are five spoken languages: English, Spanish, Maya,
Carib, and Creole. The Creoles of Belize and of parts of the coast
are similar in language, culture, and racial origin to the population
of many of the West Indian islands. The Caribs of Stann Creek,
hard to distinguish from the Creoles, have a distinct culture and
language of their own. Maya Indians live in some of the forests.
There are Mexicans in the north, and Guatemalans in the west. In
the towns are to be found the small group of British government
officials; also, Chinese and Syrian traders, common to the Caribbean.
Connections with Mexico on the north are very active. The boun-
dary with Guatemala, as artificial as the 49th parallel, is neither a
cultural, nor an economic, nor a linguistic frontier, though officially
there are no economic or political connections across this zone.
A substantial degree of local autonomy is under way, with the
constitutional reforms scheduled for next year, but there seems to
be no interest in joining the West Indian Federation. The 200
pounds per head put into the territory during the last ten years seem
to have resulted in a road system, but no self-sustaining process of
development has been achieved. The whole territory has a popula-
tion of 90,000 people; that is, the size of many towns run by a city
manager and a council. The apparatus of government at present is
too large and too costly. But the colony cannot survive as an inde-
pendent country. The wisest course would seem to be to continue
to exploit its historical connection, and even to step up the amount
and sources of support. The United Nations, the World Bank, and
private foundations might perhaps be explored in future as possible
sources of support. In other words, political divorce, or better still,
legal separation, should be thought of only if alimony payments
can be arranged. And if alimony can be eked out by funds from
other sources, all the better. This is the great problem of a de-
The "health revolution" experienced by the colony, in common
with most of the rest of the tropical world, over the past generation
has produced a large contingent of children. The rate of natural
increase of the population is reckoned to be one of the highest in
the world. Since a large proportion of the population is in the
younger years, it is extremely difficult to give all an adequate edu-
cation. Perhaps the ideal solution to the population problem would
be to reduce the birth rate at the same time that immigration of
potential adult settlers was encouraged, preferably of immigrants
who are prepared to work hard and to make sacrifices. It might be
well to continue to foster group immigration of Mennonites.
The sine qua non for a viable British Honduras in any form would
seem to be to increase local production. The perennial deficit in
the government budget and in the balance of payments is in the
long run met by the British taxpayer, who in fact subsidizes the
citrus industry in the south and the sugar industry in the north.
Some of the monies coming into the colony now might well be used
to establish and equip large-scale family farms, with emphasis on
NATURE AND MAN
crop rotation, and the production of beef cattle and dairy herds. A
shift in emphasis from forestry-some of it of a "robber economy"
type-to agriculture and animal husbandry is indicated.
There have been concerted efforts on the part of the Central
American republics toward a common market. The area is relatively
small, and the nations had a common historical background up to
the time of their political disintegration. Costa Rica, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua have agreed to drop all duties
on goods traded in the area within five years. If the creation of a
common market is paralleled by closer political relations, the posi-
tion of British Honduras will be, to say the least, highly anomalous.
There is indeed a long-standing political claim of Guatemala on Brit-
ish Honduras, and Belize is in reality the natural outlet for the large
northern district of Guatemala known as the Peten.
The fifty thousand or so English-speaking people along the coast
greatly fear that they will be linguistically and racially submerged
if the colony is set adrift. It is to be hoped that a formula might be
found whereby the irredentism of the Guatemalans might be made
less militant and the pride of the English-speaking British Hon-
durans might be somewhat subdued, to the benefit of both sides.
If British Honduran leaders were ever able to effect economic inte-
gration with their Spanish-speaking neighbors, they would certainly
be capable of achieving political autonomy, while at the same time
maintaining cultural autonomy to the extent of continuing to use
English. French Canadians have worked out just such a modus
vivendi with their English-speaking neighbors.
The contact of the Spaniards and Indians brought into being the
mestizo, who, disinherited by society, was also disinherited cultural-
ly. The mestizo valued raw, naked power. Where the Indian saw
power as an attribute of office and redistributed it with care lest it
attach itself to persons, the mestizo would value power as an attri-
bute of the self, as personal energy that could subjugate and subject
people. The mestizo projected into the society that harbored them
a common emotional force, the passion of nationalism. In the Guate-
malan revolution of 1945, mestizo leadership abandoned its alliance
with the traditional power-holders and allied itself instead with the
submerged elements of the old order, the peons of the haciendas
and the Indians of the Indian communities. This is the general
trend in Central America-indeed in almost all of Latin America.
The economic element of this alliance is land reform and the ideo-
logical cement is Indianism. But the mestizo must transform society
in his own image, by going beyond land reform and Indianism, to
industrialization and mechanized agriculture, to nationalism and
The medieval Spanish way of life was superimposed on the in-
digenous way of life, but it did not destroy it. In the process of
acculturation, autochthonous elements were preserved as a kind of
cultural subconscious. Two ways of life were in effect fused, and
the tempo of the new hybrid, or grafted, way of life differs in many
respects from that of either of the originals. Further, the new way
of life has its own trajectory; should deviations from this trajectory
be induced too rapidly-especially by outside forces-the results
might not be too happy.
The impact of capital-rich countries on capital-poor countries
should be so velvet-gloved that the latter, without having their in-
tegrity violated, are "developed" by their own members. Good gov-
ernment is not an adequate substitute for self government; "good
works," superimposed by outsiders, are not a substitute for develop-
ment-even if slow-made possible by the members of a given nation
for that nation.
There seems to be no globally applicable blueprint for, nor any
one road to, the achievement of the good life for the rural dwellers
of the world.
1. Archie Carr, High Jungles and Low (Gainesville: University of Florida
Press, 1953), p. 89.
2. Ibid., p. 102.
3. E. G. Squier, Honduras (London, 1870), p. 191.
4. Vincent Checchi, Honduras-A Problem in Economic Development
(New York, 1959), p. 53.
5. Ibid., p. 51.
6. Theodore W. Schultz, The Economic Organization of Agriculture (New
York, 1953), pp. 126-127.
7. Checchi, op. cit., p. 55.
NATURE AND MAN 17
Belt, Thomas. The Naturalist in Nicaragua. Everyman's Edition, New York,
Biesanz, John B. Costa Rican Life. New York, Columbia University Press, 1944.
Carr, Archie. High Jungles and Low. University of Florida Press, 1953.
Checchi, Vincent. Honduras-A Problem in Economic Development. New York,
McBryde, Felix W. Cultural and Historical Geography of Southwestern Guate-
mala. Smithsonian Institute, 1945.
May, Stacy, and others. Costa Rica: A Study in Economic Development. New
Tax, Sol. Heritage of Conquest. New York, 1952.
Penny Capitalism: A Guatemalan Indian Economy. Smithsonian Institution,
Schultz, Theodore W. The Economic Organization of Agriculture. New York,
Squier, E. G. Honduras. London, 1870.
Wagner, Philip L. "Nicoya: A Cultural Geography." University of California
Publications in Geography, XII, 3 (1958).
Waibel, Leo. "White Settlement in Costa Rica." The Geographic Review, XXIX,
4 (October, 1939), 529-560.
Wolf, Eric. Sons of the Shaking Earth. University of Chicago Press, 1959.
John M. Goggin: CENTRAL AMERICA, THE UNTURNED
KEY TO NEW WORLD ARCHEOLOGY1
IN APPROACHING Central American archeology it is worth
noting that the political boundaries of this region, extending from
Panama through Guatemala (the basis of this Conference), do not
coincide with any archeological cultural boundaries.
Instead, we have two major archeological regions-the Mayan
area and, what we can call here, a Central American area. The
Mayan area comprises most or all of Guatemala, British Honduras,
El Salvador, and a section of Western Honduras. This Central
American section is only part of a wider and relatively well-known
zone which extends north and westward into Mexico and Yucatan.
For our purposes this area will not be given more than passing at-
What can be called the Central American area, from Honduras
to Panama, can in turn be divided into two subareas: that to the
north and west with influences from the Mayan and Mexican areas
and the southeastern with ties to South America. The dividing line
is roughly through central El Salvador and northwards for early
times, but the later Nicoya culture in Nicaragua clearly has some
ties to the north (Willey, 1958:359).
1. I am indebted to Michael D. Coe, Irving Rouse, and Gordon R. Willey,
who have kindly read this paper and made many useful criticisms. The time
and space chart appearing herein is the work of Michael D. Coe, to whom I am
especially grateful for allowing me the benefit of his vast knowledge of unpub-
lished Central American archeology.
NATURE AND MAN
A fundamental problem today is the fact that the archeology of
this Central American region until recently has been virtually un-
known. As yet much of the recent work is still unpublished and that
published has still to be digested. With the exception of Brazil per-
haps, there has been no comparable unknown area in the New
World. This lack of knowledge, particularly for the earlier stages,
has been due to many factors, a few of which can be mentioned. (1)
The isolation of the area, poor communication systems, and the
heavy forest in the tropical lowlands make field work difficult. (2)
The northwestern part of the area is an active volcanic zone and
there is little doubt that many of the early sites as well as later
ones have been deeply covered by recent volcanic eruptions. (3)
The extreme scarcity of full-time professional archeologists in these
countries is a considerable factor in this problem. By contrast Co-
lombia to the south and Mexico to the north have large numbers
of professional archeologists turning out work of great competence.
(4) The existence of certain exotic features, such as colorful ceram-
ics in Nicaragua and Panama, sculptured stone in Costa Rica, and
rich goldwork in Panama and Costa Rica, for example, has served
in those areas to draw attention from basic problems. This has per-
haps been the major factor.
Nevertheless, the future is more hopeful; within the last few
years workers, such as Claude Baudez, Michael D. Coe, Wolfgang
Haberland, John Ladd, Charles R. McGimsey, Doris Stone, and
Gordon R. Willey, have given more attention to this area than has
been done for many years. Their work, of course, is built on that of
early pioneers, such as Carl V. Hartman and, more recently, the
extensive studies of S. K. Lothrop. This renewed interest is due to
the recognition that Central America is probably the key to much
that is basic in New World archeology.
When Columbus discovered the New World, he and his succes-
sors found it inhabited from the Arctic Ocean to Tierra del Fuego.
Anthropologists are satisfied that the ancestors of this population
came from northeastern Asia into Alaska and then moved south-
ward. This is not to say that a few voyagers on rafts or canoes
could not have reached America from the central or south Pacific; if
so they do not seem to have made any physical or cultural impres-
sion. It is now recognized that the American Indian has his closest
physical ties to the ancient people of northeastern Asia (Stewart,
1960). Furthermore, the oldest distinct tool industries of the New
World are believed by many to have basic ties to the blade indus-
tries of northern Eurasia, not to the chopper industry of southeast-
It is now generally believed that man entered the New World
at least 20,000 years ago. On the basis of artifacts and skeletal finds
in the Valley of Mexico from the Upper Becerra Formation, man
must have been in that region 11,000 to 16,000 years ago (Caso,
1953:229). In South America, the oldest Carbon 14 dated finds
come from the tip of Patagonia. They are Bird's Period I levels in
Palli Aike and Fells caves. These date at 6688 450 B.C. (Willey
and Phillips, 1958:100-101). There is good reason to believe that
this material is not the earliest in the region. To sum up this point,
then, we can say that man probably entered the New World 20,000
or more years ago, he was in Mexico 11,000 to 16,000 years ago,
and in Patagonia 8,000 or more years ago. Thus, the major archeolog-
ical importance of Central America lies in the fact that it was a
bottleneck through which passed for thousands of years waves of
migrants from North to South America.
A second role in which Central America will play an important
position is in unraveling the interrelationship of the two great New
World civilizations-that of Mesoamerica culminating in the Aztecs,
Mixtecs, and Maya and the Andean culminating in the Inca. It is
hard to believe these two parallel developments were unrelated or
unconnected. For example, corn is the basis of the food economies
of both traditions at their peak. However, it first appears in New
Mexico and northern Mexico about 2500 B.C. but not in Peru until
circa 1400-1200 B.C. (G. R. Willey, personal communication). On
the other hand, metallurgy seems to have diffused northward from
the Andean area to Mesoamerica. There are also other traits which
show a time differential between the two areas.
Many of the ideas and objects that passed between the two civil-
izations probably traveled overland through Central America, but
not necessarily all. There seems evidence that in late prehistoric
times the Mantenio of Ecuador were skilled navigators and traders
who may at times have by-passed Central America in their trade
northward (Willey, 1955:42), and Coe (1960b) suggests that simi-
lar contacts took place much earlier.
NATURE AND MAN
With this, then, to indicate the importance of Central America,
let us see what we do know about the area. In doing this let us
approach the subject from the viewpoint of the cultural stages de-
fined by Willey and Phillips (1958). These stages are in order from
most recent to oldest as follows: Postclassic, Classic, Formative,
Archaic, and Lithic.
The Lithic stage is primarily based on hunting, especially large
herbivore mammals including extinct Pleistocene forms. People
were largely migratory leaving little evidence of camp sites. While
bone-working was undoubtedly important, few traces survive. Stone-
working ranges from rough to fine chipped stone including some of
the finest flaked stone in the New World, but it includes no ground
or polished stone (Willey and Phillips, 1958:80-81).
The Archaic stage, while characterized in part by hunting, seems
in many places to show a greater dependence on gathering of plant
foods and mollusca. This may reflect in part post-Pleistocene cli-
matic changes and the disappearance of large mammals. By the
end of the stage in some places simple agriculture had appeared
and a semisedentary life had been achieved. Stone technology in-
cludes ground and polished stone tools in some areas and often
heavy stone vessels. Shell, bone, antler, and ivory artifacts are in
a great variety of forms. Pottery may appear in some areas at the
end of the stage (Willey and Phillips, 1958:105-111).
The Formative stage is defined by "the presence of agriculture,
or any other subsistence economy of comparable effectiveness, and
by the successful integration of such an economy into well-estab-
lished sedentary village life." "Pottery-making, weaving, stone-carv-
ing and a specialized ceremonial architecture are usually" present
(Willey and Phillips, 1958:144-147).
The Classic stage features are to a great extent qualitative in
degree to those of the Formative. They would include a general
florescence in material culture, with many luxury items, an excel-
lence in the great arts, and a climax in religious architecture. Above
all, they are marked by urbanism and in some areas by strong
class distinction (Willey and Phillips, 1958:182-184).
The Postclassic stage is marked by the breakdown of classic re-
gional styles and by increases towards militarism and secularism.
There seems to be a general esthetic decline, perhaps in part due
to standardization and mass production (Willey and Phillips, 1958:
While these units may be too broad to be easily understood and
while they are not completely agreed upon by all American anthro-
pologists, they do seem to offer the best scheme by which we can
examine Central American archeology.
The Lithic stage is marked in many parts of North America by
large, well-made projectile points, often with fluted sides, such as
the Clovis and later Folsom points. Recent discoveries in northern
South America indicate the presence of related forms. These are the
El Jobo material of Venezuela (Cruxent and Rouse, 1956) and the
fluted point site in Ecuador (Bell, 1960). It is logical, then, to ex-
pect distinctive Lithic stage points in Central America. To date,
though, only four fluted points are known. Perhaps the most inter-
esting is one from near Guatemala City in highland Guatemala
(Coe, 1960a). This is remarkably similar to the so-called Eastern
Clovis points of the United States. Another point, probably from
Guanacaste province, Costa Rica, is less distinctive (Swanger and
Mayer-Oakes, 1952). A second Guanacaste point is also reported
(Bosch-Gimpera, 1959), and a Panama example comes from Mad-
Evidence is limited, but it is suggestive that the Lithic stage was
present in Central America. These points are probably the earliest
evidence of man in this area and undoubtedly more will be found
with the present concerted research effort. The temporal placing of
these points on Table 1 is on the basis of the general age of their
northern counterparts and is only tentative.
Another trace of man that might be equated with people of the
Lithic stage, or certainly soon after, is the fossilized human foot-
prints found near Managua, Nicaragua (Williams, 1953). Other
fossil footprints from El Salvador are believed to be much later,
around A.D. 200-800 (Haberland and Grebe, 1957).
The Archaic stage has so far been found only in Panama where
a series of related sites seems to reflect early and late phases of the
stage. The earliest site, Cerro Mangote, is a shell midden with a
stone complex of crude pebble choppers, grinders, rubbing stones,
and crudely chipped scrapers. Pottery is absent. From deep in this
site we have a C 14 date of 4853 - 100 B.c. (McGimsey, 1956, 1958).
Pottery seems to have entered the picture afterwards, for at
Monagrillo the artifact complex is similar to Mangote but has in
addition plain, incised, and red painted pottery (Willey and Mc-
ARCHEOLOGICAL SPACE AND TIME IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Maya Honduras SW. Nicaragua SW. Costa Panama Colombia
Lowlands NW. Costa Rica Rica
10,000 Fluted Points Fluted Point
Fluted Points Fluted Point
.- Middle Polychrome Late Diquis Late Cocle Second Painted
Tepeu-Puuc Ulua-Yojoa (Classic Nicoya Polychrome) Horizon
S--- Early Polychrome B Early Cocle
Tzakol Ulua Early
Classic -- ---------- - --- - Venado Beach First Painted
Matzanel -- -- -- -- Early Polychrome A Santa Maria Horizon
Zoned Bichrome Early Diquis
Chicanel Ulua Bichrome Aguas Buenas Momil II
Playa de Los
Mamom Muertos Momil I
Although the data for the Archaic are limited, there is every rea-
son to expect a wider occurrence of such sites. Few areas have been
so extensively surveyed as Panama, and when comparable work is
done elsewhere similar remains will be found.
When we turn to the Formative stage the peripheral position of
Central America clearly shows. In the earliest times we have tem-
poral and cultural equivalents of the Formative in the Maya area.
However, while culture developments there, and southwards in the
Andes, progressed into Classic and Postclassic stages, Willey and
Phillips (1958:170-172) feel that the subsequent basic Central
American cultural development never progressed beyond the Forma-
tive although some distinctive Classic and Postclassic traits later
filtered in from the north and south.
Early Formative material related to the Mayan area was first
found by Dorothy Popenoe (1934) at Playa de los Muertos, Hon-
duras. Related materials have since been found in Honduras and
Search for this particular time and stage level is the subject of
much of the intensive activity now being carried out in eastern
Central America because of the distinctive correspondence between
Mesoamerican and Andean Formative which suggest a historical
relationship. To date, western Salvador seems to be the eastern limit
of materials relating to Mesoamerica.
On the other hand the apparent eastern absence of Mesoamerican
related Formative may be a reality.2 Coe (1960b) very convincingly
demonstrates a close similarity between early Formative materials
on the Pacific coast of Guatemala and the coast of Ecuador. He
believes that these were so close that the two areas were in direct
contact and suggests that this was a water connection, antedating
the late sailing connection previously suggested by Willey (1955:
42). This would certainly be an explanation for the ties between
Meso and Andean America and, at the same time, account for the
absence of the early Formative in eastern Central America.
The early Formative of Honduras and Salvador is followed by a
variety of later Formative stage cultures terminating in the Naco of
Honduras, which seems to be a late Nahuatl (Aztec) invasion last-
ing into historic times. Although mound building appeared as early
2. Michael D. Coe (personal communication) says "I don't think Formative
per se is absent in lower Central America; but many important Nuclear Forma-
tive traits are, especially those relating to ceremonialism."
NATURE AND MAN
as Yarumela III and Mayan ceramics frequently inspired local forms
the general cultural level is never more than advanced Formative
To the eastward, the picture is far from being understood. There
appears to be a great number of local developments in Costa Rica
and Nicaragua, as well as Panama, which have yet to be placed in
an over-all sequence. These include the work of Hartman, Linne,
Lothrop, Stone, and many others. Recent unpublished work by
Michael D. Coe and Claude Baudez on the northwestern coast of
Costa Rica has yielded a sequence of four ceramic periods, which
begins with the equivalent of the later Mesoamerican Formative in
time and ranges to the equivalent of Late Postclassic time (Nichol-
Despite the lack of temporal placement for many of the eastern
Central American archeological cultures their cultural ties seem
clear-and these are to South America. This is true for the poly-
chrome and modeled ceramics as well as for the rich gold and tum-
baga work found in Costa Rica and Panama (Chiriqui and Cocle).
The elaborate stone sculpturing of Costa Rica seems to be a region-
al inspiration, but perhaps derived from Colombia. It may well be
also a local development in stone of nonpreserved wood sculpture
to the east and south. It should be noted, though, that Nicoya ceram-
ics do in addition show influence from Mesoamerica dating from
late Maya Classic to Postclassic.
While the region as a whole was well occupied into historic times,
the archeological contact material is surprisingly scarce. Hartman
found a few glass beads in Costa Rica in otherwise aboriginal situa-
tions (Hartman, 1901:21, 175). Most are chevron beads which cover
a long range of time, but one is clearly the type Nueva Cadiz Plain
dating early in the sixteenth century (Goggin, 1961). Doris Stone
apparently illustrates similar beads from Changuina, Costa Rica
(Stone, 1958:50, Fig. 1, D), and Jose M. Cruxent is reported to
have contact material in Panama. This area of contact archeology
seems to be one worth considerable examination.
In summary we can say that Central American archeology still
offers more problems than solutions. Nevertheless, the potential
knowledge to be gained here should inspire more and more intensive
archeological research in the future.
Bell, Robert E. (1960). "Evidence of a Fluted Point Tradition in Ecuador."
American Antiquity, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 102-106. Salt Lake City.
Bosch-Gimpera, Pedro (1959). "La Prehistoria Del Nuevo Mundo y Centro
America." Actas de XXXIII Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, vol.
1, pp. 137-151. San Jose, Costa Rica.
Canby, Joel S. (1951). "Possible Chronological Implication of the Long Ceram-
ic Sequence Recovered at Yarumela, Spanish Honduras." In The Civiliza-
tions of Ancient America, edited by Sol Tax, pp. 79-85. Selected Papers of
the XXIX International Congress of Americanists, Chicago.
Caso, Alfonso (1953). "New World Culture History: Middle America." In
Anthropology Today, edited by A. L. Kroeber, pp. 226-237. Chicago.
Coe, Michael D. (1960a). "A Fluted Point From Highland Guatemala." Ameri-
can Antiquity, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 412-413. Salt Lake City.
----- (1960b). "Archeological Linkages with North and South America
at La Victoria, Guatemala." American Anthropologist, vol. 62, no. 3, pp.
Cruxent, Jose M., and Irving Rouse (1956). "A Lithic Industry of Paleo-Indian
Type in Venezuela." American Antiquity, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 172-179.
Salt Lake City.
Goggin, John M. (1961). "An Introduction to Spanish Trade Beads and
Pendants, 16th and 17th Centuries." Manuscript in press, Notes in Anthro-
pology, Department of Anthropology, Florida State University, Tallahassee.
Haberland, Wolfgang (1955). "Preliminary Report on the Aguas Buenas Com-
plex, Costa Rica." Ethnos, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 224-230. Stockholm.
----- (1957a). "Excavations in Costa Rica and Panama." Archaeology,
vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 258-263. Brattleboro.
----- (1957b). "Black-on-Red Painted Ware and Associated Features in
the Intermediate Area." Ethnos, vol. 22, nos. 3-4, pp. 148-161. Stockholm.
----- (1959). "A Re-Appraisal of Chiriquian Pottery Types." Actas de
XXXIII Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, vol. 2, pp. 339-345. San
Jose, Costa Rica.
---- (1960). "Ceramic Sequences in El Salvador." American Antiquity,
vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 21-29. Salt Lake City.
and Willi-Herbert Grebe (1957). "Prehistoric Footprints from El
Salvador." American Antiquity, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 282-285. Salt Lake City.
Hartman, C. V. (1901). Archaeological Researches in Costa Rica. Stockholm.
Ladd, John (1957). "A Stratigraphic Trench at Sitio Conte, Panama." Ameri-
can Antiquity, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 265-271. Salt Lake City.
Linne, S. (1929). "Darien in the Past." Giteborgs Kungl. Vetenskaps-och
Vitterhets-Samhdilles Handlingar, Femte Fdlyden, ser. A, band I, no. 3.
Lothrop, Samuel Kirkland (1926). "Pottery of Costa Rica and Nicaragua."
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, Contributions, vol. 8,
2 vols. New York.
(1937-42). Coclde. Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Memoirs,
vols. 7 and 8. Cambridge.
(1950). "Archaeology of Southern Veraguas, Panama." Peabody
Museum, Harvard University, Memoirs, vol. 9, no. 3. Cambridge.
NATURE AND MAN
McGimsey, Charles R., III (1956). "Cerro Mangote. A Preceramic Site in
Panama." American Antiquity, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 151-161. Salt Lake City.
----- (1958). "Further Data and a Date from Cerro Mangote, Panama."
American Antiquity, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 434-435. Salt Lake City.
Nicholson, H. B. (1960). "Notes and News: Middle America." American An-
tiquity, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 142-146. Salt Lake City.
Popenoe, Dorothy (1934). "Some Excavations at Playa de los Muertos, Ulua
River, Honduras." Maya Research, vol. 1, pp. 61-85. New York.
Stewart, T. Dale (1960). "A Physical Anthropologist's View of the Peopling
of the New World." 'Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 16, no.
3, pp. 259-273. Albuquerque.
Stone, Doris (1958). Introduction to the Archeology of Costa Rica. Museo
Nacional, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Swanger, James L., and William J. Mayer-Oakes (1952). "A Fluted Point from
Costa Rica." American Antiquity, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 264-265. Salt Lake
Willey, Gordon R. (1955). "The Interrelated Rise of the Native Cultures of
Middle and South America." In New Interpretations of Aboriginal Ameri-
can Culture History, 75th Anniversary Volume of the Anthropological So-
ciety of Washington, pp. 28-45. Washington.
----- (1958). "Estimated Correlations and Dating of South and Central
American Cultural Sequences." American Antiquity, vol. 23, no. 4, pp.
353-378. Salt Lake City.
----- and Charles R. McGimsey (1954). "The Monagrillo Culture of
Panama." Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Papers, vol. 49, no. 2,
----- and Philip Phillips (1958). Method and Theory in American Ar-
and Theodore L. Stoddard (1954). "Cultural Stratigraphy in Pana-
ma: A Preliminary Report on the Gir6n Site." American Antiquity, vol. 19,
no. 4, pp. 332-343. Salt Lake City.
Williams, Howel (1953). "Geologic Observations on the Ancient Human Foot-
prints Near Managua, Nicaragua." Carnegie Institution of Washington,
Contributions to American Anthropology and History, vol. 11, no. 52.
William C. Massey: CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE
ETHNOGRAPHY OF THE NEW WORLD
IN THE HISTORY of the Spanish Conquest of the New World
Central America occupied a brief but bloody place. The Indians
living between Panama and Mexico were subjected to the battles
and depredations of skirmishers from both north and south as Span-
iards fought over the territory in the second two decades of the
sixteenth century. But, following the climactic conquests of both
Mexico and Peru, Central America slipped into the background and
became for the most part one of the backwash areas of the Spanish
New World. True, those Spaniards and their subsequent families
who set themselves up in Central America continued to live out a
peaceful existence, particularly in the temperate highlands. But
Central America held little attraction to newcomers to the Spanish
colonies of the latter sixteenth and of the seventeenth centuries.
The unattractiveness of Central America lay partially in the rela-
tive scarcity of ready wealth, the tropical environment of the Carib-
bean coast, and also in the relative cultural position of the natives.
After acquaintance with Mexico and Peru, the village natives of
Central America assumed less significance culturally and for eco-
nomic purposes. The material and social complexity of native cul-
tures played a large part in the story of colonial Spanish occupation
and concentration. They definitely preferred a dense native popula-
tion organized in large political units. Lacking these, as in Central
NATURE AND MAN
America, there was as little incentive to settlement and development
as that furnished by the absence of ready wealth.
At the time of Spanish contact in the New World there were two
great and complex native cultures: that of the Incaic Andes to-
gether with the so-called Chibcha Empire of Colombia, and sec-
ondly that of Meso-America. These two distant centers of high
civilizations have been grouped together as Nuclear America. Al-
though the two were indirectly in contact in both prehistoric and
historic times, they were separated from intimate contact by Central
America and its tribes. These peoples, although definitely more
advanced culturally than many in the New World, were still less
sophisticated than those of Nuclear America. There were no urban
centers such as those of Mexico and Peru, but mere villages. In
place of strong centralized political units, there were political or-
ganizations bearing only a pale resemblance to those of Nuclear
America. Craftsmanship and artistic development were comparably
even more feeble when the Spaniards arrived.
Central America, then, appears as a definite hiatus in the expanse
of high culture from the northern borders of Meso-America to the
southern boundaries of the Empire of the Inca in Chile. However,
one can overemphasize the relative poverty of Central America and
its discrete position with regard to the major centers of high culture.
As an area, it obviously has had long and intimate contact both
to the north and south. It is unique in the hemisphere as the chief-
if, indeed, not the only-area which was in contact with both of these
In prehistoric times the Central American region was the high-
way over which there was interchange of the traits and ideas which
were basic to a settled, agricultural village existence. This pattern,
in Nuclear America, eventually developed into the urban com-
Viewing the ethnography of Central America from a purely de-
scriptive point, we find that within the modern political area the
bulk of the native peoples have been placed in the Circum-Carib-
bean culture area. This grouping also included peoples along the
Caribbean shores of northern South America and the Antilles.
Basic characteristics of the Circum-Caribbean culture are worth
considering. These peoples were intensive agriculturalists. Crops
raised under a system of slash-and-burn tillage included manioc,
yuca, maize, sweet potato, beans, squash, tomatoes, achiote, cacao,
avocado, zapote, peanuts, and others. Hunting was everywhere rel-
atively unimportant, and fishing received only local emphasis.
Agriculture supported large populations living in large villages
in which houses of thatch and pole were arranged along streets.
Villages were characteristically protected by palisades. Within the
village were temples, storehouses, and the special house of the vil-
lage chief-who occasionally ruled over confederacies of several
villages or tribes. Important material and technological traits in-
cluded well-developed ceramics, loom-weaving of cotton (princi-
pally for garments), carving of stone and wood (most notably for
stools), and the netting of hammocks and carrying bags from bast
fibers. Metallurgy was pre-eminent in Colombia and adjacent Pana-
ma, but gold was also worked in Central America and the Antilles.
At the time of European contact, society and political organization
were elaborated on the basis of the village community, and were
strongly influenced by warfare, religion, and concepts of prestige
based on wealth. It would seem that society and the political sys-
tem were based on the relationship of village commoners to an
elected chief or one who was a powerful shaman. Warfare was
intensive. The capture of the enemy for religious sacrifice and can-
nibalistic feasting was the prime motivation for conflict. Social status
was enhanced by this activity, and by the accumulation of wealth
in other forms. The result was the stratification of society into three
or four classes. Social status was not hereditary, although it certainly
tended to be.
A temple cult, centering around a special structure in the village,
was the basis of religion. There was considerable variation in re-
ligious functionaries. Shamans were frequently found. Sometimes
there was a priest chief, and, in Central America, there were definite
priesthoods, a feature probably borrowed from nearby Meso-Ameri-
These, then, are some of the more salient aspects of Circum-
Caribbean culture which the Indians of Central America shared to
a greater or lesser degree. There are several interpretations of what
this means historically. It has been suggested that this may be the
generalized base upon which both of the cultural peaks of Nuclear
NATURE AND MAN
America were elaborated. At the same time it has been recognized
that consideration of detailed facets of Central American Indian
culture reveals strong ties with tropical South America, and even
the Andes. It is still not clear whether this is the result of old
population movements from south to north, of diffusion of traits in
that direction, or a combination of the two.
It is certain, however, that there have been strong prehistoric
contacts between South America and Central America. Influence
from Meso-America appears to have been late and to have involved
the migrations of peoples south along the Pacific Coast-possibly
as far as the Gulf of Panama.
If we examine the cultural composition of Central America, we
can appreciate the area and its ethnographic problems. A considera-
ble degree of cultural diversity in the area may be charged to
sources other than the major cultural streams from north and south
and east. One of these sources was certainly the physical environ-
ment in all of its aspects. This influence can be seen not only in
terms of the native cultures which the Spanish encountered, but in
the nature of subsequent Indian acculturation.
This land lies within the tropics, but is subjected to the marine
influences of both the Pacific and Caribbean. At the same time
it has a mountainous backbone, chiefly on the Pacific slope. This
combination brings about variations in climate and vegetation de-
pendent on exposure and elevation.
Vegetation, the most sensitive indicator of ecological regions, re-
flects rainy tropical conditions that result in a selva or rain forest
from Panama north along the Caribbean lowlands. The Pacific low-
lands are distinctly drier, with a definite dry season and typical
savanna vegetation. The highlands vary. Parts of Costa Rica, Nica-
ragua, Salvador, and Guatemala have temperate climate and a
mixed deciduous and coniferous vegetation. Slopes vary, but de-
scend vegetatively through scrublands to the prevailing coastal and
Certain important (but simplified) correlations can be made
with these environmental conditions. The Meso-American peoples
who infiltrated Central America moved south along the Pacific
and highlands. The extension of the Chibchan-speaking peoples
and their influence north from South America was largely confined
to the tropical forests, as far as they penetrated.
Historically, the Spanish were always confounded by forested
regions. Central America was no exception. They kept to the cooler,
and the drier, and the less-forested areas-here, as elsewhere.
The twofold influence of environment and historic cultural con-
nections north and south runs through most aspects of life of the
Central American tribes. Many of the languages are now extinct and
linguists do not agree on the ultimate affiliations of many of them,
but a certain pattern emerges. Peoples who spoke languages which
have clear affiliations with Meso-America extend along the Pacific
coast as far south as the Gulf of Nicoya. These include such enclaves
as the extinct Chorotega, Mangue, and Orotina-all believed to
have been part of the larger Oto-Manguean group (Fig. 1).
Scattered among these and northward in Guatemala were groups
of Indians speaking Uto-Aztecan languages of the far-flung North
American stock. These appear to represent two separate migrations,
of which the Nicarao and Pipil are early, and the Desaguadero and
other small groups are remnants of later Aztec trading operations.
Extending north from South America to include all of Panama as
well as much of Costa Rica and south upland Nicaragua were peo-
ples united in their Chibchan speech, one of the great language
stocks of the New World. Such groups include the present San Blas
Cuna and the Guaymi, in addition to a number of extinct groups.
In the lowlands of Nicaragua and southeastern Honduras are
languages grouped into the Misumalpan family, which it is believed
has its ultimate affiliations with Chibchan. These include such mod-
ern people as the Mosquito, Sumo, and Matagalpa. To their north
in Honduras and part of El Salvador and Guatemala were three
separate languages whose relationships are not known with any
degree of certainty. These are the Payan, Jiquaquean, and Lencan.
Immediately to their north, languages of the Meso-American Mayan
stock were spoken.
Correlated in part with the linguistic areas and in part with the
ecological zones are a series of cultural divisions which need sepa-
rate consideration. Disregarding the highland and lowland Maya
in Guatemala whose cultural affiliation is with Meso-America on
(AFTER MASON /1950)
the north, and the Cueva-Cuna in eastern Panama, there are five
of these subdivisions, two of which are intrusive (Fig. 2).
In the Meso-American subarea extending along the Pacific slope
and coinciding with the sporadic occurrence of Nahual and Nahuatl-
speaking peoples were peoples who are poorly known. The descend-
ants of Nahual-speaking peoples who moved south probably in
the twelfth century are indistinguishable except for language from
their Chorotegan neighbors. During the sixteenth century they did
retain certain cultural features which betrayed their background:
markets, cacao beans for money, the volador game, among others.
The Meso-American incursion appeared to have had little influence
on earlier cultural patterns in the area. The second subarea with
affiliations beyond Central America to the south is the Talamanca,
of which the Guaymi is the principal living group. They are found
now in the Tropical Forest along the Costa Rica-Panama border
and in the highlands. This Talamanca subarea formerly held many
other tribes presumably of Chibchan speech. These have either
disappeared or have amalgamated with the Guaymi. Probably some
remnants are unstudied. Early accounts from the time of Columbus
on describe traits and activities which mark these groups as Tropi-
cal Forest people with southern affiliations, or as more or less typical
Circum-Caribbean groups. The occurrence of clans within the usual
Circum-Caribbean class system is unusual but has support among
lowland Colombia tribes.
An important modern subdivision is that of the Caribbean East
Coast, including particularly the Mosquito and Sumo peoples. Ini-
tially the Mosquito appear to have been confined to the coast in
the vicinity of Cabo Gracias a Dios. Later, after the incorporation
of Negro slaves, they occupied or controlled the coast from the Cape
to the Laguna de Chiriqui by the nineteenth century. The Sumo
and Ulva lived in the upper stream valleys and lower mountain
slopes. These peoples appear to have adhered to the Circum-Carib-
bean pattern although little is known of their social and political
organization. Inevitably the culture of the coastal groups absorbed
Less is known of the aboriginal North Coast of the Caribbean.
The coastal Paya were early disrupted by Spanish incursions and
their culture was modified both by Negro influence and by the
Black Carib who were taken to the Bay Islands in 1796 after the
occupation of the Carib Reserve by the British. The inland Jicaque
CULTURAL DIVISIONS OF
NATIVE CENTRAL AMERICA
(AFTER JOHNSON, /943)
present a problem, because of the difficulty in tracing their cultural
history. At the moment it is impossible to equate documentary de-
scriptions of their area with any particular people.
The northern highlands of Honduras are occupied by the native
Lenca who are one of the best-known peoples under consideration.
Although they have been subjected to the acculturative influence
of Spanish and Mestizo for centuries, they have managed to retain
their individuality. However, this is because they have kept to them-
selves in isolated villages. On the other hand there has been cultural
mixture, especially in religion. The interpretive difficulty here is that
each Lenca village has individual peculiarities which set it apart
culturally and confound the relation of the people as a whole to
the rest of Central America. One gets the impression that they
have more Meso-American traits than more typical Central Ameri-
can tribes. This is evidenced particularly in agricultural practices
and certain religious customs.
From an ethnographic viewpoint Central America presents a
complex picture. I have sketched only the most outstanding and
general features. What particularly emerges is the poverty of our
precise knowledge of the details of the original cultures and-sur-
prisingly-of the present native peoples. The major cultural influ-
ences in the area apparently came from the south and then were
modified locally. Since Central America was subjected to contact
with both of the most advanced peoples in the New World and to
influences from the tropical groups of South America as well as
from the Caribbean, it is no wonder that many important aspects
of its cultural history are still obscure.
Driver, Harold E., and Massey, William C. (1957). "Comparative Studies of
North American Indians." Transactions of the American Philosophical So-
ciety, New Series, vol. 47, part 2, pp. 165-456. Philadelphia.
NATURE AND MAN
Johnson, Frederick (1943). "Central American Cultures." Handbook of South
American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143, pp.
----- (1943). "The Post-Conquest Ethnology of Central America: An
Introduction." Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of
American Ethnology, Bulletin 143, pp. 195-198. Washington.
----- (1943). "The Meso-American Division." Handbook of South Ameri-
can Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143, pp. 199-
----- (1943). "The Caribbean Lowland Tribe: The Talamanca Division."
Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of American Eth-
nology, Bulletin 143, pp. 231-252. Washington.
Kirchhoff, Paul (1943). "Mesoamerica." Acta Americana, vol. 1, no. 1, pp.
(1943). "The Caribbean Lowland Tribes: The Mosquito, Sumo,
Paya, and Jicaque." Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau
of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143, pp. 219-230. Washington.
Mason, J. Alden (1950). "The Languages of the South American Indians."
Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 6, Bureau of American Eth-
nology, Bulletin 143, pp. 157-317. Washington.
Steward, Julian H. (1943). "The Circum-Caribbean Tribes." Handbook of
South American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin
143, pp. 1-42. Washington.
Stone, Doris (1943). "The Northern Highland Tribes: The Lenca." Handbook
of South American Indians, vol. 4, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulle-
tin 143, pp. 205-218. Washington.
T. Lynn Smith: THE POPULATION OF THE CENTRAL
IN THIS PAPER"* an attempt is made to summarize concisely
the principal findings relating to the populations of the five Central
American countries that were secured in the intensive study of the
populations of the twenty Latin American countries on which the
writer has been engaged since 1951.2
Fortunately, all five of the republics of Central America partici-
pated in the well-planned and well-conducted 1950 Census of the
Americas. As a result, fairly recent and reliable data are available
relative to the number of inhabitants and their distribution, the
composition or characteristics of the population, and some aspects
of the vital processes and migrations in Costa Rica, Guatemala,
Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Those census materials, in
turn, help keep within reasonable bounds various estimates of popu-
lation which will be necessary before more recent enumerations
planned for 1960 are completed and the new data made available.
Had it not been for the 1950 Census of the Americas, most of the
facts and relationships reported in this paper would have been far
I. Number and Distribution of the Inhabitants
The enumerations made in 1950 showed a total of 7,873,288 in-
habitants in the five Central American republics taken together.
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 46.
NATURE AND MAN
Of this total 2,790,868 persons were living in Guatemala, 1,855,917
in El Salvador, 1,368,605 in Honduras, 1,057,023 in Nicaragua, and
800,875 in Costa Rica. By July 1, 1960, the population of the five
countries taken together had risen to about 9,600,000 persons, dis-
tributed as follows: Guatemala, 3,200,000; El Salvador, 2,200,000;
Honduras, 1,700,000; Nicaragua, 1,400,000; and Costa Rica, 1,100,-
The density of population in the five republics taken collectively
was 46 persons per square mile in 1950 and about 58 in 1960. How-
ever, this index varies sharply from one country to another. Thus in
1950 in tiny El Salvador almost 2,000,000 people were concen-
trated in an area of slightly more than 8,000 square miles giving
a density of 230 persons per square mile, whereas in neighboring
Nicaragua the same year there was an average of only 19 people for
each square mile of territory. Among American nations the density
of population in El Salvador is exceeded only in Haiti, but even
the relatively low figure for Nicaragua is greater than the compara-
ble indexes for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Venezuela.
The 1950 man-land ratio in El Salvador was roughly equivalent to
the indexes for Pennsylvania, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, and Switz-
erland, and that for Nicaragua about the same as those for Ne-
braska, Canada, Peru, and New Zealand. In 1950 there were 66, 41,
and 32 persons per square mile of territory in Guatemala, Costa
Rica, and Honduras, respectively.
Variations in density of population within the various countries
are fully as striking as, or even more than, those between the coun-
tries. In order to enable a general view of this feature to be ob-
tained, the map presented as Figure 1 was prepared. The most
striking facts made apparent by this presentation are the high de-
gree to which the population of Central America is concentrated
in the valleys and on the slopes of the chain of mountains which
parallels the Pacific most of the way from northwestern Guatemala
to south central Costa Rica, on the one hand, and the sparsity of
inhabitants throughout the vast lowland, coastal plains on the At-
lantic side of the various countries, on the other.
II. Composition of the Population
Race. The racial composition of the population in Central Ameri-
ca is extremely varied, with American Indian, white, and Negroid
= 1,000 RURAL PERSONS
1,750 URBAN PERSONS
* = 3,750 URBAN PERSONS
= 17,500 URBAN PERSONS
=250,000 URBAN PERSONS
NATURE AND MAN
elements, and various mixtures of the three, occurring in radically
different proportions among the inhabitants of Guatemala, El Salva-
dor, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, respectively. Guate-
mala's 1950 census classified 54 per cent of its population as
indigenes (or Indians), and mestizos (or persons of mixed Indian
and white ancestry) undoubtedly make up all but a small fraction
of the others. There are, moreover, practically no Negroes or mulat-
toes in that country. In both Honduras and El Salvador, mestizos
make up the overwhelming part of the population. In the former, 90
per cent of the people was classified as mixed bloods (of whom
the great majority undoubtedly were mestizos) and 7 per cent as
Indian by the 1945 census; and in the latter the 1930 census placed
92 per cent of the population in the mestizo category. Also there
is no reason to suppose that the proportion in either country has
changed to any extent since these two censuses were made. There
are few full-blooded Indians remaining in Nicaragua, but probably
one-half of her people are mestizos.
Negroes and mulattoes predominate among the inhabitants of the
extensive and sparsely settled Atlantic coastal plain in Honduras
and Nicaragua-the so-called Mosquito Coast-as they also do in
adjacent British Honduras. They are descendants of fairly recent
migrants to Central America from the British possessions in the
Caribbean. They have mixed to a considerable extent with the
native Indians who once inhabited the area, so that their language
is derived to a considerable extent from English forms. Their pres-
ence is largely responsible for the fact that 2 per cent of the
population of Honduras was classified as Negro by the 1950 census,
and their presence also contributes substantially to the proportions
of Negroes and mulattoes in Nicaragua, which probably are about
10 and 20 per cent, respectively, of her inhabitants. The 1950 census
showed that Negroes constituted only 2 per cent of Costa Rica's
population, and that most of them were located in the lowlands
along the Atlantic coast of that country.
Costa Rica, in which the 1950 census showed that 98 per cent of
the population was white, is the American country in which the
largest proportion of the population is descended directly from
Europeans, rivaled in this respect most closely by Uruguay. As men-
tioned above, the descendants of African stocks are numerically
very few; and there also are practically no Indians or mestizos in
that small country. In the other countries of Central America the
white population probably does not exceed more than 5 per cent
in Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, and 10 per cent in Nica-
Rural-Urban Residence. Since 1930 the towns and cities of Cen-
tral America have grown and developed rapidly. By 1950, accord-
ing to the thorough census made that year, Guatemala City had
approximately 285,000 inhabitants; San Salvador, capital of El Sal-
vador, almost 162,000; Managua, Nicaragua, nearly 110,000; San
Jose, Costa Rica, just a few less than 87,000; and Tegucigalpa, Hon-
duras, more than 72,000 people. These and other important towns
have continued to grow rapidy since 1950. Nevertheless, throughout
most parts of Central America the population continues to reside
in rural areas to a very high degree. This is illustrated by the fact
that at the time of the 1950 census the proportions of the population
residing outside of centers of 2,500 or more inhabitants were as
follows: Guatemala, 77 per cent; Honduras, 83 per cent; El Salva-
dor, 74 per cent; Nicaragua, 73 per cent; and Costa Rica 73 per cent.
Sex. The sexes are fairly evenly represented in the populations of
all the Central American republics and also in most of the major
civil divisions within each of these countries. In 1950 the number
of males per 100 females in the five countries was as follows: Guate-
mala, 102.3; Honduras, 100.5; El Salvador, 98.0; Nicaragua, 97.1;
and Costa Rica, 99.7. However, in some of the smaller political
subdivisions, males either outnumbered females, or vice versa, to
a very high degree. Thus in long-settled areas, now characterized
by a decreasing population, such as the municipio of Alta Verapaz
in Guatemala and the Province of La Paz in Nicaragua, there were
in 1950 only 89 and 90 males per 100 females, respectively; and in
areas into which new settlers were pouring, such as the departments
of Escuintla and Pet6n, Guatemala, and the province of Guanacaste,
Costa Rica, the corresponding sex ratios ran as high as 124, 122, and
Age. Because the Central American countries have maintained
high birth rates, and also because until recently their death rates
have been comparatively high, their populations are heavily con-
centrated in the younger years of life. In fact in 1950 in all five of
the countries more than two-fifths of the population was made up
of children of less than 15 years of age, the specific percentages
being as follows: Guatemala, 42.3; Honduras, 40.6; El Salvador,
41.1; Nicaragua, 43.3; and Costa Rica, 42.8. On the other hand, the
NATURE AND MAN
proportions of the population in the more advanced ages of life were
very small, with persons 65 and over constituting only 2.5 per cent
of the population in Guatemala, 4.0 per cent in Honduras, 3.0 per
cent in El Salvador, 2.8 per cent in Nicaragua, and 2.9 per cent in
Costa Rica. Such high proportions of children and low proportions
of those in or near the retirement ages are unequalled in other parts
of the world, but they are only slightly more extreme than the cor-
responding figures for Egypt, India, Korea, and Turkey.
III. The Vital Processes
The Birth Rate. The populations of the five countries of Central
America have rates of reproduction which are among the highest
in the world. This is shown by reported crude birth rates for 1950
which were as follows: Guatemala, 51; Honduras, 40; El Salvador,
49; Nicaragua, 41; and Costa Rica, 47. Except in other Latin Ameri-
can nations, the only other countries and territories in the world
having as many as one million inhabitants in which birth rates of
40 or more were registered for the same year are Egypt, Tunisia,
Formosa, the Federation of Malaya, and the Maori population of
New Zealand.3 Likewise data from the 1950 censuses enable one to
determine the fertility ratios prevailing in the Central American
countries. Computation of these indexes for that important census
year reveals ratios of children under 5 years of age per 100 females
15-49 as follows: Guatemala, 69; Honduras, 67; El Salvador, 62;
Nicaragua, 65; and Costa Rica, 69. Fertility ratios of comparable
magnitude were characteristic of most of the other Latin American
countries, but in other parts of the world indexes of 60 or more were
registered only in Algeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanganyika, Tu-
nisia (Moslem population), Uganda, Formosa, the Philippines, Thai-
land, and Turkey, and among the Maoris of New Zealand. The
major conclusion from these data is obvious: the rate of reproduc-
tion of the population in the five republics of Central America is
very high, much above the rates in most parts of the world, and
so high as to make it unlikely that it has begun to decrease by any
The Death Rate and Expectation of Life. The mortality statistics
of several of the Central American countries are so incomplete that
few if any sound conclusions may be based upon them. For the
years subsequent to 1946 those in charge of the preparation of the
United Nations' Demographic Yearbook have coded the data for
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as U, that is as
"affected by irregularities in registration or incomplete coverage.
." Moreover, the information for Costa Rica, Honduras, and
Nicaragua, and that for El Salvador prior to 1951 is said to be
known to be by year of registration rather than by year of occur-
rence.4 By inference from what is known about the birth rate, im-
migration and emigration, and the rate of population growth it is
possible to conclude upon fairly reasonable grounds that the death
rates in most of the countries must have been high (probably at
least 25 deaths per 1,000 population) until recently; and that since
about 1940 these rates have fallen sharply. For the first six years
of the 1950-1959 decade, the reported crude death rates have been
assembled in Table 1. If the evaluation of the United Nations' tech-
nicians is valid that registration of deaths in Guatemala includes
practically all of the cases, that fact alone may have much to do
with the magnitude of the indexes for that country.
REPORTED CRUDE DEATH RATES FOR THE FIVE CENTRAL
AMERICAN COUNTRIES FOR SELECTED YEARS
Reported Crude Death Rates
Country 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955
Costa Rica 12.2 11.7 11.6 11.7 10.6 10.5
El Salvador 14.7 15.1 16.3 14.7 15.0 14.2
Guatemala 21.8 19.6 24.1 23.2 18.4 20.6
Honduras 12.0 11.2 12.7 11.6 11.2 11.4
Nicaragua 10.8 9.2 10.6 10.2 9.6 ----
Source: United Nations, Demographic Yearbook, 1956, p. 637.
Because of the lack of adequate data on mortality and of the
necessary censuses (to supply the materials on the age distributions
of the population), few if any attempts were made to construct
life tables for the Central American countries until very recently.
Following the 1950 censuses, however, such endeavors were made
for three of the countries, namely, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El
Salvador.5 These indicate that the expectation of life at birth for
NATURE AND MAN
the years 1949-51 were as follows: Costa Rica, males 54.7 years and
females 57.1 years; El Salvador, males 49.9 years and females 52.4
years; and Guatemala, males 43.8 years and females 43.5 years. In
the case of Costa Rica, at least, the mortality data were studied care-
fully and the reported numbers of deaths increased substantially
before those given in the reports on vital statistics were used in the
construction of the life tables.6 Therefore these calculations probably
are as accurate as is possible before the census data for 1960 and
improved coverage of the systems for registering deaths provide
better bases for determining the mortality levels in the Central
IV. The Growth of Population
The population of the Central American countries is increasing
rapidly, although the number of inhabitants in the areas as a whole
is not mounting as swiftly as is that of the twenty Latin American
countries taken collectively. This is because the very high rates of
population growth in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua are
offset to a considerable extent by much lower rates in El Salvador
and Guatemala. Thus for the latest intercensal periods the reported
counts of the population would give the following annual rates of
increase: Guatemala (1940-1950), 1.2; Honduras (1940-1950), 2.7;
El Salvador (1930-1950), 1.3; Nicaragua (1940-1950), 2.4; and
Costa Rica (1927-1950), 2.3. In all of the Latin American countries
taken together over the period 1940-1950 the corresponding rate
was about 2.5 per cent per year.
During the decade that has just elapsed a continued fall in the
death rate accompanied by little if any perceptible tendency for
the birth rate to decline probably has produced even higher rates
of population increase in most Central American countries than
those prevailing prior to 1950. Immigration and emigration have
had slight effect upon these rates, although a sizable movement of
people from El Salvador to Honduras and a smaller current of mi-
gration from Nicaragua to Costa Rica are reflected in the different
rates at which the populations of the respective countries are in-
The United Nations has prepared estimates of the populations of
the five Central American countries for the years 1950 to 1980.8
Their figures for each of the countries for the years 1960 and 1970,
along with our estimates for July 1, 1960, are presented in Table 2.
It should be noted that our own estimates are considerably lower
than those of the United Nations' experts in the cases of Guatemala
and Honduras, and substantially the same for each of the other
ESTIMATES OF THE POPULATIONS OF THE FIVE CENTRAL
AMERICAN COUNTRIES, 1960 AND 1970.
United Nations' Estimates
Present Writer's of Future Population
Estimate of Population (Median Assumption)
Country July, 1960 1960 1970
Costa Rica 1,100,000 1,086,700 1,432,000
El Salvador 2,200,000 1,198,900 1,527,400
Guatemala 3,200,000 3,542,200 4,525,400
Honduras 1,700,000 1,808,300 2,273,500
Nicaragua 1,400,000 1,421,000 1,862,200
The present writer considers that the number of inhabitants of
an area is a dependent variable whose value is determined by such
independent variables as the fluctuations of the business cycle, the
prevalence of war or peace, changes in the mores, and so forth.
Especially is he convinced that it is impossible for anyone to pre-
dict the future course of the birth rate in a given country. Conse-
quently, he does not care to attempt to estimate what the popula-
tions of the five Central American countries will be in 1970. Indeed,
he recognizes that even the estimates for the present years, his own
as well as those prepared by the United Nations, are likely to differ
substantially from the figures derived from any censuses that may
be taken in 1960.
1. The author wishes to express his appreciation to the John Simon Guggen-
heim Memorial Foundation for the fellowships which made possible the work
on which this paper is based.
NATURE AND MAN
2. Other materials from this study have been presented in the following
publications: "Tendencias Atuais de Populacao na America Latina," Sociologia
(Sao Paulo), XIII, 2 (Maio, 1951), 135-147; "The Reproduction Rate in Latin
America," Eugenical News Quarterly, XXXVIII, 3 (September, 1953), 64-70;
"Las Diferencias Demograficas Rurales Urbanas en Latinoamerica," in Estudios
Sociologicas (Sociologia Urbana), Septimo Congreso Nacional de Sociologia,
Mexico, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, 1956, Vol. II, pp. 11-28; "Current
Population Trends in Latin America," American Journal of Sociology, LXII, 4
(January, 1957), 399-406; "The Reproduction Rate in Latin America," Popula-
tion Studies, XII, 1 (July, 1958), 3-17; "Un An'lisis Comparativo de la Mi-
graci6n Rural-Urbana en Latinoamerica," Estadistica, Journal of the Inter-
American Statistical Institute, XVI, 61 (Diciembre, 1958), 436-453; "La Tasa
de Reproducci6n en Latinoamerica: Niveles, Diferencias, Tendencias," Revista
Mexicana de Sociologia, XXI, 2 (Mayo-Agosto, 1959), 383-403; Migration
from One Latin American Country to Another, Vienna, The Working Commit-
tee of the International Population Conference, 1959; Fundamentals of Popu-
lation Study, Chicago, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1960, passim; and a Univer-
sity of Florida Social Sciences Monograph, entitled Latin American Population
Studies, Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1961.
3. See the data in Smith, Fundamentals of Population Study, pp. 293-295.
4. Demographic Yearbook, 1956 (New York: United Nations, 1956), p. 636.
5. See Wilberg Jimenez Castro, Tablas de Vida de Costa Rica, 1949-1951
(San Jose: Direcci6n General de Estadistica y Censos, 1957); Jorge Arias B.,
"Tablas Abreviadas de Mortalidad para la Republica, 1950," Boletin de la Di-
recci6n General de Estadistica [of Guatemala], No. 54 (Marzo-Abril, 1955);
and the Demographic Yearbook, 1955, pp. 734-735.
6. Jim6nez Castro, op. cit., p. 21.
7. On these migrations, see Smith, Migration from One Latin American
Country to Another, pp. 2-4.
8. Future Population Estimates by Age and Sex, Report I, The Population
of Central America (Including Mexico), 1950-1980, Population Studies No. 16,
New York, 1954.
Jorge Garcia Granados: THE GUATEMALAN INDIAN
GUATEMALA IS a peculiar country, perhaps unique in the
world. There are of course other nations in the American Continent
that show a certain resemblance to our country in its geography
or in its demographic composition. But none of them present such
characteristics in such a definite-I should say in such an exag-
Let us first examine our geography. All tropical territories are
composed of a distribution of lowlands, middlelands, and highlands.
But in most of the Latin American republics the altitude develops
gradually, even gently. In Guatemala everything is abrupt, rugged.
There is in Guatemala City a relief map, an outstanding work of
engineering, where the 115,000 kilometers are packed within an
area of about an acre. The map is striking. There you can see that
Guatemala is not really horizontal. It is vertical. It could be com-
pared to a several-storied house, with its front garden. The 30-miles-
wide, flat, lowlands are along the Pacific Ocean, and its back yard
-the flat and depopulated jungles of Peten in the north-is a wild
country, whose forests are full of mahogany, cedar, and other pre-
cious woods, but useless for agriculture, with a clear forestal voca-
tion and therefore not capable of maintaining a large population.
Peten was in the old days, about 1,500 years ago, the emporium
of the Mayan civilization; but for unknown reasons the Mayas
abandoned their beautiful cities and their agricultural enterprises,
and gave them back to the overwhelming tropical forest. Was it a
NATURE AND MAN
change of climate? Was it due to disease? Both theories have been
advanced by several scholars; but the great archeologist J. Eric
Thompson attributes the decadence of those important religious
centers to a series of peasant revolts against the theocratic minori-
ties of priests. We shall perhaps never know the truth. But Peten is
nowadays nearly uninhabited and even uninhabitable. It certainly
could not support a large population, with its thin soil and its lack
of water. Therefore most of the population of the Republic is massed
in the other two thirds of the country and especially in the high-
lands where the great majority of the Indians, coming from another
branch of the Mayas, have lived for many centuries.
This brings us to our second special characteristic: the cultural
problem. Many Latin American countries (Mexico, Ecuador, Peru,
Bolivia, Paraguay) have a large Indian population, but in none of
them have the aborigines clung so firmly to their old customs and
beliefs. The Indians of Guatemala, who still constitute about half
of our population, are for us at the same time a problem and a
hope. Derived from a branch of the old Mayas they were, at the
arrival of the Spanish conquerors, organized in petty states which
fought each other-and this and the superiority of weapons were
the reasons why the men of Pedro de Alvarado were able to over-
come their resistance after several years of fiery fighting. They were
vanquished but they were not completely conquered. Three hundred
years of colonialism and nearly one hundred and fifty years of in-
dependent life as a Republic represented a long period of efforts
by the Spanish Crown, the Roman Catholic Church, the creoles and
the mestizos to impose their social and religious norms on the
But when the conquerors came to Guatemala the natives were
not a bunch of scattered tribes living in a primitive way. Although
there were several small states in our territory, these kingdoms were
highly organized, they had a well-developed culture; in a word they
were civilized people although their civilization, of course, differed
in many traits from the Western Christian culture brought by the
The first impact of the peninsular colonists on the life of the
American Indians was disastrous, especially in the Antilles, where
the poor natives, lacking a real civilization, were unable to resist
and became extinguished in a score of years. The Indians of Mexico,
Guatemala, and Peru were made of a harder stuff. Furthermore,
the Spaniards benefited from their experience in Santo Domingo
and Cuba. The brutal treatment inflicted on the inhabitants of those
islands not only reduced the population to nought but also brought
poverty, even hunger, to the exploiters. This situation awakened the
conscience of many righteous men who were shocked by the callous-
ness of the colonists towards the natives. A campaign to alleviate
this horror was started very soon, mainly by the Dominican Order,
who a few years later found a champion in Friar Bartolome de
The Spanish government was in a quandary. The spiritual princi-
ples of the Church and of the humanitarians, who proclaimed the
Indians free men and condemned their exploitation, conflicted
sharply with the interests of the colonists, and many times the in-
terests of the Crown conflicted with both. This explains the vacil-
lating and often contradictory policy of the Spanish rulers. Their
position was quite hopeless. If the colonists were allowed to use
native labor-and there was no other labor to use-the missionaries
would allege that this was in violation of the Bulls of Pope Alexan-
der VI, who in 1493 divided the newly-discovered territories be-
tween Spain and Portugal with the express understanding that the
monarchs of both countries were to make their first duty the con-
version of the native population to Christianity.
On the other hand, if the missionaries were allowed to have their
own way and make the natives entirely free from domination by
the colonists, the latter faced bankruptcy and the Crown the loss of
a considerable and indispensable revenue.
All this explains the many and contradictory edicts in the early
colonial legislation. Sometimes the conquerors obtained ce'dulas
sustaining their claims, while at other times the reformers succeeded;
but even then most of the governors ignored or violated the laws
that curtailed the so-called rights of the Spaniards or the Crown.
Nevertheless, when the conquest of Guatemala occurred the situ-
ation was gradually ameliorating. Charles the First of Spain, known
to history as Emperor Charles V, under the influence of his Flemish
advisors and the Spanish reformers, was convinced that "the Indians
are free and should be given entire liberty, and we, in good con-
science should not give them in encomienda to anyone as hitherto
NATURE AND MAN
has been done." This decision made on the eve of the conquest of
Mexico was, of course, not known by Cortes who, on taking posses-
sion of the country, hastened to distribute the Indians among his
comrades in arms.
The news of the discovery and conquest of Mexico caused an
enormous sensation in Spain. Fearing that the Indians would share
the sad fate of those annihilated in the Antilles, Las Casas and his
party presented all kinds of petitions to the King, who in view of
their remonstrations decided to call a meeting of learned men,
theologians, and lawyers. This body, after a careful debate, decided
that no Indians could be distributed to the conquerors under any
condition, and therefore a ce'dula was sent to Cortes stating: "As
God our Lord created the said Indians free we cannot give them in
encomiendas, nor in repartimiento to the Christians, but you are to
allow them to live in liberty, as our vassals of Castile live, and if
before the arrival of this letter you have given any Indians in en-
comienda to any Christians, you will remove them and you will
allow them to live in entire liberty."
This order caught the conqueror unawares. His soldiers had been
in great majority drawn from the Caribbean islands. They had
fought a three-year war without pay and with no other reward than
the scant booty shared by the whole army after the lion's part had
been sent to the Emperor in the hope of appeasing him when news
of Cortes' insubordination against Diego Velasquez, Governor of
Cuba, would reach Castile. After the conquest there was nothing
left but Indians-and the Spaniards knew their value. Cortes, at the
beginning of his campaign, had not favored the exploitation of the
Indians. He was an enlightened statesman who admired the civiliza-
tion and richness that the Mexicans had attained and he was re-
luctant to introduce in his new empire the evils that had caused
havoc in the islands.
But he could not let principles overcome expediency and so he
yielded to the claims and threats of his soldiers. Indians they
wanted, and Indians they would have. And if everybody got them,
the leader also had his rights. And so he took for himself as a feudal
lord the entire province of Oaxaca, with its 40,000 inhabitants. So
when he received the adverse ce'dula, he decided not to publish it.
His excuse-and in that he was right-was that such an order would
cause a rebellion in the army, the denial of his own authority, and
perhaps even the Spaniards' abandonment of the land. So he wrote
to the monarch explaining all this and giving what he considered
weighty reasons for the continuation of the system.
The Spaniards have no means of support other than those afforded
by the service of the natives. If they are deprived of them they
will leave the country and thus Your Majesty runs the risk of losing
your new empire and the Indians their soul. I have lived in the
islands for twenty years and I am familiar with the abuses com-
mitted against the natives there. So I am going to take particular
pains to see that the same situation does not occur in New Spain.
The Indians will not be used in the gold mines or carried off to work
in plantations, unless they are slaves captured in war or purchased
from the natives.
Thus Cortes, after writing his letter, went on distributing Indian
communities among his friends with the sole difference that the
villages were awarded as "a deposit" and not as a perpetual gift,
and those deposits would have to be approved by the Crown.
Meanwhile Pedro de Alvarado was carrying on the conquest of
Guatemala under the same principles. Alvarado was not endowed
with Cortes' political acumen, and furthermore he was a greedy
and cruel man. He was a poor knight from Badajoz who had emi-
grated to Santo Domingo in pursuit of fame and fortune. Because of
his birth he was highly considered among the Spaniards, and he
accompanied Diego Velasquez in the conquest of Cuba, where he
settled for a short while as a colonist. But he had the soul of an
adventurer. The peaceful life of the encomendero was not for him.
Therefore he enlisted in the corps of Juan de Grijalba, who explored
the coast of Yucatan and Veracruz, and when Cortes received from
Velasquez the command of a new exploratory and commercial ex-
pedition Alvarado was there again, as Cortes' main lieutenant. He
supported his leader in the rebellion against Velasquez and was
therefore his most intimate confidant.
Later when Cortes left Tenochtitlan (that is, Mexico City) to
face and fight Narvaez, chief of the army sent against him by Velas-
quez, he gave full control of his conquest to Alvarado, who was re-
sponsible for a terrible political blunder. When the Aztec nobility
were celebrating a religious feast for which they had obtained per-
mission from both Cortes and Alvarado, the latter invaded the tem-
NATURE AND MAN
pie with his troops and made a terrible massacre, which he tried to
justify by stating that he had had accurate and true information
from his Mexican informers and Tiaxcalteca allies that the feast was
only a pretext of the Indians to gather for an attack against the small
body of Spaniards, weakened by the absence of the main army.
Several thousands of unarmed warriors, the flower of the Aztec
nobility, perished then. And from that cruel and thoughtless act
sprang the great war of the Indians who were besieging the palace
of Moctezuma where Alvarado's guard was entrenched, when
Cortes returned victorious and with his army reinforced by most
of Narvaez' men.
Not even the prestige of the great captain or the larger number of
soldiers brought by him were sufficient to assuage the furor of the
Indians who went on with their attacks, defying the superior weap-
ons of their foes. Cortes felt that he was in a rattrap and finally
decided to withdraw from the city. Taking advantage of a dark
night the conqueror's army was retiring in orderly fashion with their
gold, their women, and their prisoners-Moctezuma's relatives and
feudal dignitaries-when the fugitives were discovered and encir-
cled by enormous masses of Indians. The ensuing rout suffered by
the Spaniards was terrible. They lost about 300 men and 4,000
Tiaxcalteca allies, all their treasures, and many women, among them
a daughter of Moctezuma who was pregnant by Cortes. Alvarado
was in command of the rear guard and, after seeing most of his
soldiers killed, he barely was able to escape by crossing the last
canal of the city on a bridge which was then destroyed by the Az-
tecs. On the other side, Alvarado, wounded and exhausted, was
picked up by a cavalry man who saved him. In the reconquest of
Mexico he fought bravely, and after the victory Cortes gave him a
big encomienda of Indians because there was no gold, as the main
treasure had been lost in the action known to history as the "Sad
But Alvarado was too ambitious to settle in Mexico. He accepted
with glee the command of several expeditions where, under the pre-
text of subjecting and pacifying not yet conquered provinces of
Mexico, such as Tututepec, he committed numberless depredations
Such was the man whom Cortes sent to conquer Guatemala.
The discovery of Mexico had been for the Spaniards the wonder
of wonders. After the richness and magnificence of Moctezuma's
court, they thought that all the Indians were nabobs. In Mexico
only a fifth of the plunder pertaining by law to the Crown amounted
to nearly 100,000 pesos in gold bars, which were sent to Spain to-
gether with beautiful jewels, pearls as big as a nut, emeralds, and
jade. (By the way, this magnificent present never reached the Span-
ish monarch. It was stolen by the French pirate Jean Florin, who
captured the ship in which Cortes' messengers carried the treasure.)
These wonderful discoveries made the Spaniards lose their sense
of proportion and imagine that they would find another Mexico
wherever they went. And with that hope the conquerors came to
Guatemala, a country where very few precious metals were pro-
duced. It is well known that the ancient Mayas never worked gold
mines, and there is no trace of it in their culture's classic period. It
is only when they were influenced by the Mexican culture that gold
appeared in Yucatan and in the Guatemalan highlands. At the be-
ginning it was probably brought by traders from Mexico, Costa Rica,
and Panama; later the Guatemalan Indians used to wash gold, but
on a small scale. The country was therefore not able to give the
Spaniards the rapid and fabulous richness they expected. Ignoring
the circumstance, Alvarado pretended to exact enormous amounts of
gold from the Indian population and he committed many cruel
deeds against them believing that they had great hidden treasures.
The Indian author of the "Memorial of Tecpan-Atitlan" relates that
after he returned from the conquest of Cuzcatlan (Salvador today)
the Castilian chief began to ask for metal from the kings. He wanted
-the author says-many jugs filled with gold. When he got nothing
he asked the Cakchiquel chieftains: "Why have you not brought
your gold? If you don't give me your precious metal I will seize
you and burn you alive." That was not a futile threat. He had al-
ready put to a horrible death two kings of Quiche under the pretext
that they were conspiring against him.
But the little gold that the Indians had already delivered was
simply the treasure accumulated by the local monarchs during gen-
erations. At last the Spaniards were convinced that although they
exploited a few gold and silver mines in the territory of Guatemala,
these yielded little and their production was small compared with
real mining countries. Some deposits of silver were found in Hon-
duras; and there Alvarado employed the thousands of Indians he
enslaved in the war of conquest, compelling them to work in the
mines subject to pitiless exploitation. Thus the conquerors and the
NATURE AND MAN
immigrants seized the only riches that the Indians could give them:
their persons and their labor.
The original form of work established by the Spaniards was
slavery, which they justified by alleging that upon their arrival they
had found Indians who were slaves of other Indians, and that they
were only following the custom of the country. Moreover, many
of the slaves had been given to them as war spoils or as a part of
the tribute paid by the local communities. It is well known that
Alvarado marked as slaves many thousands of war prisoners and
gave the absurd and iniquitous system they employed the appear-
ance of complying with the law. A notary from the Spanish camp
would address in a loud voice and in Spanish the armies of Indians
they were going to fight, exhorting them to submit to the King of
Castile and to embrace the Catholic faith. The Indians, supposing
they heard the peroration, could not understand a word of it, and
even if they had been able to get the meaning of what was said it
would have been just inane words for those who were defending
their land and their home against usurping foreigners. Then the
Christians attacked them and after the victory every prisoner taken
alive was marked as a slave with a burning iron. These slaves, be-
sides working in the mines, were used as peons in the first agricul-
tural enterprises, a few of which prospered.
With this system the Guatemalan Indians would soon have
followed the same path to destruction as the Caribs in the islands,
but they were saved by important factors.
Alvarado was an ambitious, restless man. He wanted to obtain
title for his conquest and become independent of Mexico. Thus two
years later, in 1526, he went to Spain. There he negotiated with the
Court to obtain for himself the government of Guatemala and for
permission to go on an expedition in search of the Spice Islands.
In 1530 he was back in the country, ruled now by an audiencia,
and he began to prepare his new adventure. But hearing of the dis-
covery of Peru and its great riches he decided to sail for that new
promised land, against specific orders of the Spanish government.
He left at the beginning of 1533, and after many adventures Al-
varado had a parley with Almagro, chief lieutenant of Pizarro, and
finally sold him his army, weapons, ships, and provisions for 100,000
Alvarado returned to Guatemala in April, 1535. The audiencia in
Mexico, hearing of his disobedience to the King's ce'dula forbidding
him to interfere in the affairs of Peru, sent a judge to settle his ac-
counts; but the governor had already left for Honduras, where he
negotiated for the governorship of that territory with Governor
Cerezeda, who resigned in his favor. He then sailed for Spain hop-
ing to obtain pardon through the protection of his friend, the Em-
peror's secretary. During his absence a judge, Alonso de Maldonado,
took possession of the governorship of Guatemala, administering the
country wisely during the short period that his appointment lasted,
because Alvarado not only was able to obtain another grant of
authority in the land he had conquered for another period of seven
years, but he also contracted with the Crown a new permit to orga-
nize an expedition in search of the Spice Islands.
He returned to Guatemala in September, 1539, and during the
following year he built on the Pacific coast an armada of 13 ships,
in the construction of which he spent his whole fortune, including
the 100,000 pesos obtained from Pizarro and Almagro, the products
of his mines, the tributes from his encomienda and all the money
he could obtain from relatives and friends. In building these boats
Alvarado committed his last act of cruelty. He had all the materials,
wood, iron, etc., carried from the highlands to the port of Iztapa, a
distance of more than 100 kilometers, half of them over a steep and
hilly road, on the shoulders of thousands of Indian bearers. Besides,
many hundreds served with the army as servants and carriers. Al-
varado sailed in 1540, stopping at the port of Purificaci6n in Mexico,
where messengers of the Viceroy of New Spain, Don Antonio de
Mendoza, came to him with the proposal of joining forces to search
for new, rich lands. Alvarado was not too sanguine about the part-
nership, but the viceroy was not a man to despise. After some
parleys Mendoza himself came to see him and they then signed and
swore to a convention. They returned together to Mexico City to
decide upon some of the details of their company.
Occupied in business and in feasts, Alvarado remained in the
capital until May, 1541, when he returned to his armada. He was
preparing to sail when he received word from the governor of Nueva
Galicia (the Mexican State of Jalisco) asking for his help and pro-
tection against ten thousand Indian warriors who had rebelled
against the Spaniards. Alvarado went to the rescue with a part of
his army; but the Indians were in an impregnable position, well
fortified on a high promontory. The Spaniards assaulted the posi-
tion and were repulsed. They were retiring in good order down a
NATURE AND MAN
steep path on foot when a notary, who was not used to war, came
from the heights riding his mount in a panic. When Alvarado saw
the cavalier rushing down he tried to stop him. But the poor wretch
was so frightened that he went on urging his beast with spurs and
whip until the exhausted horse fell down and upon Alvarado, who
could not avoid being hit, due to his heavy armor. He died a few
days later of his wounds.
Such was the end of the great lord of Guatemala. His adventurous
life and early death gave an opportunity of survival to the Indians
who had known better times during the short period of Maldonado's
rule while Don Pedro was in Spain. The writer of the Cakchiquel
chronicle, the "Memorial de Tecpan-Atitlan", celebrates the period
in the following words: "This year President Maldonado arrived.
The Prince Maldonado came to relieve our people from their suffer-
ing. The washing of gold soon stopped and the tribute of men and
women also ceased. They also abstained from burning men alive
and the violent deeds and the taxes that the Castilians made us
pay came to an end. The roads were again crowded when Prince
Maldonado came, Oh my children."
A fortunate circumstance that greatly helped the Indians was
that Guatemala was specially selected by Las Casas and his Domini-
cans as a land for their activities. During Maldonado's brief rule
they persuaded him to allow them to start an experiment in a terri-
tory where the conquerors had not been able to set foot, so brave
were the Indians who lived there. The Spaniards called it "Tierra
de Guerra." The friars had been preaching that if they were put
in charge, they would be able to cause the ferocious Indians to sub-
mit to the authority of the King and to convert them to the Christian
faith, employing only peaceful and persuasive methods. The Span-
iards laughed at them, but Maldonado gave the Dominicans a free
hand. Las Casas and three other friars first sent some Indian mer-
chants who were already Christians and well indoctrinated to the
forbidden land. While peddling their wares these merchants propa-
gandized the population, explaining the good acts and virtues of
the padres, the advantage of obtaining their protection, and ex-
plaining how much better it was to live in their friendship because,
unlike the other Castilians, they did not want gold, or feathers, or
58 The Caribbean
cacao. Moreover, they were God-fearing men who day and night
sang hymns to the Lord. They were free of sin, they never ate meat,
and they never had intercourse with women. The merchants sang
religious songs taught to them by the friars. The chieftain was very
much impressed and he decided to send for the friars. He gave the
merchants a message and several presents for the padres, and fur-
thermore he made his own younger brother accompany them as an
ambassador. When the cortege arrived in the city, the Dominicans
and Maldonado were all kindness to the brother, who was regaled
and feasted and who in a charmed mood went back to his people
accompanied by a single friar named Luis de Cancer. This man
preached so well that he was able to convert the king and his tribe.
Contributing to the success of this mission was a treaty by which
the King of Spain through his governor of Guatemala guaranteed
that no Spaniard would enter their land and that the Indians would
be put in charge of a religious Order. So the Indian king was bap-
tized and all his people with him, and, according to a writer of
those days, they burned the idols they had worshiped.
With this success Father Cancer returned to the capital, and on
his recommendation Las Casas and Father Pedro de Angulo went
to see their new friend, King Don Juan, the Christian name that the
Indian chieftain adopted at his baptism. The younger brother was
engaged to be married to the daughter of the king of the northern
part of the land who was impressed by the fame of the friars and
by the fact that the territory was peaceful and the people happy
since no Spaniard was permitted to live there. He brought this news
to his people, and Las Casas and his comrade were allowed to enter.
Many other events followed, including a visit of Don Juan to
Santiago de Guatemala, where he was met and feasted by the
bishop and by Alvarado himself, who was then in the city. The
final result was that the whole territory gave its allegiance to the
Crown. The peaceful methods were successful, and cedulas were
decreed putting that part of the country under the protection of
the Dominican friars and forbidding any Spaniards to enter the
new provinces during a period of five years unless they were brought
there by the friars themselves. The name of the territory was
changed from "Land of War" to "True Peace," Verapaz, the name
that it still bears.
The efforts of the Dominicans, of the Franciscans, and of Don
Francisco Marroquin, first bishop of Guatemala, in favor of the
NATURE AND MAN
Indians of the central highlands, who had suffered the worst impact
of the conquest, were remarkable and in many instances were
crowned with great success.
Very soon after Alvarado's death the Reform movement won its
greatest victory. At a meeting of the General Council of the Do-
minican Order in Mexico City it was decided to send the indefatiga-
ble Las Casas to Spain to solicit protection for the Indians and to
recruit missionaries for Guatemala. He reached Spain toward the
end of 1539 and immediately began to work with the single-minded-
ness of the real fanatic in the service of a liberal and generous cause.
Now it happened that the president of the Council of the Indies
was Cardinal de Loaysa, a Dominican, who was already friendly to
the ideas of reform and was planning an Indian code. He joined
forces with Las Casas and with another Dominican friar, Francisco
de Victoria, a great humanist, a friend of Erasmus, and an advisor of
Charles V. Together they framed a document of 54 articles, known
as the New Laws. This sweeping reform, proclaimed on November
20, 1542, embodied many wise precepts, among which were the
following. The Indians were to be free persons and vassals of the
Crown. The Council of the Indies was commanded to see to the
execution of the laws for their benefit and protection. One of the
chief duties of the audiencias was to supervise the treatment of
the Indians and to punish excesses against them. Special courts
were established for the Indians to protect them against exploita-
tion by the encomenderos. Suits in the courts should be decided
summarily and according to Indian usage and custom. For no reason
was any Indian to be made a slave, while those Indians who were
already slaves were to be set free if there was no legal title to main-
tain them as such, unless they had violently resisted their conversion
to the Catholic faith. The use of Indian carriers was only to be per-
mitted in those places where it could not be avoided. No free Indian
could be taken to the pearl fisheries against his will, and if the loss
of life in pearl fishing could not be avoided it should be abandoned.
The violation of this rule was punished by death. All Indians held
in encomienda by high officials of the government, prelates, monas-
teries, hospitals, the treasury, etc., were at once to be transferred
to the Crown. Excessively large encomiendas were to be reduced
and the surplus land distributed among those first conquerors who
had none. Persons who mistreated their Indians were to forfeit their
encomiendas to the Crown. Indians removed from the encomiendas
were to be well treated and governed by a corregidor appointed by
the government. In the future no encomienda was to be granted to
anyone for any reason, and after the death of the actual holders
their Indians would revert to the Crown, with the children, wives,
and other heirs receiving pensions out of the tributes collected by
the Crown. Conquerors without Indians, and their dispossessed de-
scendants, would be preferred in the distribution of corregimientos.
Encomenderos were to reside in the provinces where their encomi-
endas were located. Tributes paid to encomenderos and to the
Crown were to be fixed at a lower rate than that which prevailed
under the native rulers. No encomendero could exact a greater trib-
ute from the Indians than that fixed by the authorities.
These laws were revolutionary. One of them, the prohibition of
future encomiendas, caused an armed revolt of the Spaniards in
Peru, a conspiracy in Mexico, and many protests in all the colonies.
In truth, such measures threatened to disrupt the economic and
social structure that had been built in America. Even the Dominican
friars, supporters of Las Casas, prepared a document in Mexico
City answering a query from the government, in which they de-
fended the encomienda on the grounds (1) that the Indians were
so fickle by nature that they would never of themselves retain the
religion they had received, (2) that there could be no permanence
in land holding without Indian labor since only those having Indians
were able to carry on profitable economic activities, and that most
of the people and the best people would leave the country, and (3)
that lately, at least in New Spain, the Indians were well treated by
the encomenderos. Many people-Franciscan friars, archbishops and
bishops, high dignitaries, municipal councils, and of course the col-
onists themselves-concurred in this opinion and sent petition after
petition to the Spanish Court.
The regulation at last had to be repealed and the encomienda
took a definite form: it became more and more an instrument for
collecting tribute from the Indians and less and less a means of
forced labor. The Indians were not opposed to paying tribute, for
during the pre-Columbian period many had paid heavy taxes to
the kings and the nobility. What the Indians wanted was to be left
alone, and if the tribute was moderate they submitted to it gladly
NATURE AND MAN
provided in exchange they were free to keep their ancestral customs.
The encomenderos were not interested in reforming or western-
izing the Indians. They wished them to be as contented as possible
and to multiply, because the more Indians in a village the more
tribute the encomendero collected. Besides, there was always the
danger of losing the encomienda as a punishment for mistreating
the natives-this was possible especially during the first and second
generation after the Conquest, because, later, when the encomienda
was stabilized as a form of collecting tribute, there was very little
contact between the Indian and the encomendero, who generally
lived in the city or in an estate outside the encomienda and collected
the tribute through the Indian alcaldes. The Spanish authorities
were under obligation of periodically revising the number of trib-
utaries from the encomiendas and of fixing the amount of the
tribute. Much depended on the audiencia and the inspectors dele-
gated by that body, for if they were honest the laws worked and if
they were greedy the contrary happened.
And this brings us to the last circumstance that favored the Guate-
malan natives in this crucial period. To enforce the "New Laws"
in the Kingdom of Guatemala, Las Casas recommended as presi-
dent of the audiencia and governor, Dr. Alonzo L6pez Cerrato, an
old judge whom Friar Bartolome knew as president of the Santo
Domingo audiencia. This official soon got into trouble with many
conquerors or children of conquerors, but he was loved by the
Indians as shown in the "Memorial de Tecpan-Atitlan": "During
this year President Cerrato came. . When he arrived he con-
demned the Castilians, he freed the slaves, diminished the taxes by
half, put an end to forced labor and compelled the Castilians to
pay for any task, heavy or light, done for them. This Prince Cerrato
truly softened the affliction of our people, because I myself, Oh my
children, was witness to the miseries we endured."
Of course, not all the Spanish officials were like Cerrato. Some
were good, some were colorless, and some quite bad. But in gen-
eral the fear of the Council of the Indies imposed on most of them
a certain restraint. They were also, especially during the sixteenth
century, closely inspected by the Dominicans whose militancy as
defenders of the Indians lasted nearly a hundred years.
With the transformation of the encomienda into a kind of feudal
estate where the tribute was collected from the serfs, there was
some need of hand labor for the agricultural enterprises. The Span-
iards had left to the Indians the production of certain crops, the
raising of poultry, and the ancestral domestic industries, occupations
in which they could not and did not wish to compete. Consequently,
most of the tributes were paid in kind. The encomendero sold in
the local market the goods he collected with the exception of cacao,
a part of which was exported to Mexico, Peru, and Spain. The main
tribute consisted of maize, beans, chili, chickens, turkeys, cacao,
cotton and wool textiles, and especially blankets.
The Spaniards and the creoles kept for themselves the more re-
munerative activities. Beside the encomenderos, who were never
very rich, there were the merchants who exported local products
and sold in the colony brocades or wools brought from Flanders or
Spain. The agriculturists raised on the large estates of the lowlands
sugar cane and cattle for local consumption or indigo for export,
and wheat in the smaller farms of the highlands.
For all those activities the landowners needed labor, but the
"New Laws" forbade slavery or forced labor. Moreover, the Indians
were not inclined to work for the Spaniards even for a salary. There-
fore, urged by their economic needs, the landowners devised ways
of freeing themselves from the legal restrictions. They soon found
an expedient which, beginning on a small scale, later became a
general custom. There developed the practice of issuing orders
through the magistrates commanding a certain number of Indians
to work for a certain period each year, at a low pay. This system
began with a cedula signed by the King in 1576, authorizing the
governors to recruit Indians for the construction industry, giving as
a reason the need for the erection of public buildings and private
houses in the cities. Later another cedula permitted the employment
of Indians in the production of grains and livestock, provided they
were paid a suitable salary. Thus at the beginning of the seven-
teenth century, the mandamiento (commandment or peremptory
order) crystallized into an effective means of controlling native la-
bor. For example, a cedula was proclaimed compelling the Indians
to work for the Spaniards in the Valley of Guatemala (near the capi-
tal) during sixteen weeks each year.
By 1680 Indian labor was well regulated. The natives had to be
present at the plaza of their village every Sunday, where the au-
thorities had the right to select one Indian out of every four to
NATURE AND MAN
work during the following week. The Indians were to receive one
real (one-eighth of a peso) a day. The wage varied but the institu-
tion of the mandamiento persisted. The system had its ups and
downs according to economic necessity. Exports steadily declined at
the end of the seventeenth century and reached an all-time low
during the eighteenth century. Therefore little demand existed for
labor, except after the earthquake of 1773, when the capital was
destroyed and the government decided to build it at its present site.
The depression persisted during the first years of the Republic when
politics were all important. A few years later, when dyestuffs (indigo
and cochineal) obtained great importance as main exports of Guate-
mala, the mandamiento was revived, but the regional character of
industries made unnecessary the use of forced labor on a large scale.
It was only when coffee was introduced that the so-called liberal
government enforced again the system in its most hateful form. It
persisted until a few years ago when the ruling classes became
convinced of its needlessness. The division of lands in the highlands,
soil erosion, and the production of foodstuffs for self consumption
now obliges the Indians to enroll willingly every year in the coffee
plantations during the harvest.
I have given special relevance to the initial periods after the Con-
quest of the relations between the conquerors and the subject race,
because in that period lies the origin of our social structure and
conflicts. The Indians during the long centuries of colonial regime
were not entirely impermeable to Western influence. The contact
with the Spaniards, the efforts of the clergy on behalf of their
Christianization, and their economic relations with the whites
caused considerable impact on the Indian way of life. But though
they modified somewhat their culture and adapted themselves to the
changes, they went on living like strangers to the rest of the nation.
The anthropologist Oliver La Farge has analyzed the social evolu-
tion of the highland Mayas, determining a scheme of sequences of
changes composed of five stages.
1. CONQUEST-A violent period that broke down the structure
of the Indian culture.
2. COLONIAL INDIAN-From the end of the sixteenth century
to about 1720, when the abolition of the encomienda and of
forced labor gave the Indians a minor opportunity to adopt a
64 The Caribbean
more tolerable way of life. During this period Christian and
Spanish elements were incorporated and the traditional Indian
elements were destroyed or mutilated and others were greatly
3. FIRST TRANSITION-More or less from 1720 to 1800. Both
dates are merely points of reference. Slow relaxation of the
Spanish domination, resurgence of Mayan elements, integra-
tion of both elements-Maya and Christian-Spanish-into a
new society in which the Indian feels at home, with the de-
velopment of new forms in part or in whole.
4. INDIAN RECAST (I) 1800 to 1880-The date suggested as
a limit of this period is three years after the promulgation of
the Land Laws. Racial integration brings about a solid and
well-stabilized social mixture, possessing individuality, and its
continual evolution occurs through self-growth free from pres-
5. INDIAN RECAST (II)-The age of the machine and the Span-
ish American culture invades the stabilized Indian culture.
Transculturation continues in diverse regions in differing de-
grees. The process is much more benign than at the period of
conquest but the Indian survives.
To La Farge's theories, the Guatemalan anthropologist Antonio
Goubaud Carrera proposed the addition of a sixth contemporary
period beginning with the political and social revolution of 1944.
According to Goubaud this period is characterized by a progressive
adaptation of the Indian to the modern national culture while
changes occur with differing degrees of rapidity in the various com-
The Indian evolution, therefore, may be synthesized as follows:
During three centuries, the Europeans and creoles of Guatemala
remained a small minority ruling over a vast mass of Indians in a
manner no different from that of the white Europeans of other
countries in their Asian or African colonies. In 1776, 45 years before
Guatemala became independent, a census was taken. Making allow-
ance for its imperfection, we still can consider it, if not accurate,
at least informative. The total population of the Kingdom of Guate-
mala, which comprised the actual Mexican State of Chiapas and
the five republics of Central America, was 775,339. Exactly 45 per
cent of the whole population lived in the territory which is today
the Republic of Guatemala. The whites were at most 10 per cent;
NATURE AND MAN
and the mestizos and mulattoes, descendants of Negro slaves and
free men, by then represented no more than 15 per cent. Less than
200 years later the population of Guatemala had risen to nearly four
million. Of these about half were Indians.
The phenomenon of the decrease of Indians and the increase of
ladinos (non-Indians) is not a mere process of miscegenation. For
Guatemalans the terms ladino and indigena (Indian) have not an
ethnological but a cultural context. Racially a ladino may be white,
mixed-blooded, or even Indian. If an Indian makes an effort to
become a ladino there is nothing in the social organization to pre-
clude the fulfillment of his wish; it all depends on his capacity of
adaptation. If he renounces his cultural traits and adopts the West-
ernized culture of the rest of the population, he is accepted every-
where as a ladino. The process of this acculturation may also be
personal, of an individual only, or collective in the case of a whole
community, especially of villages existing near the large urban
centers where the Western way of life is predominant.
It is no wonder that in two centuries a large number of Indians
have abandoned their tradition and adopted the Spanish American
culture. What seems amazing is that a much larger majority have
resisted the temptation and still keep their old culture.
The advantages of being a ladino are many. Since Independence,
after the overthrow of the Spanish government, the ruling classes
have been recruited among the ladinos. They possess political and
economic power. There is no racial discrimination in Guatemala, but
there is social, or perhaps more specifically, cultural discrimination.
This means that a man who has the biological characteristics of an
Indian, but who speaks Spanish, dresses in the European fashion,
and lives according to the Latin American standards is accepted as
a member of the ladinos. If he becomes rich or famous in a profes-
sion or in the arts, he can be a leader in the community, but if he
dresses, talks, lives, and acts like an Indian he is "culturally" dis-
criminated against. However, the Indians do not resent the sense of
superiority of the ladinos or consider themselves inferior. They sim-
ply think they are different. One is the ladino and the other one is
the natural, they say, and what is good for ladinos is perhaps not
good for us.
Considering such a state of mind, it can be easily understood why,
as I said earlier, the Indians constitute a problem for us. They are
a problem because they are not integrated into the nation. They do
not think of themselves as Guatemalans. They are naturales and are
divided into several small groups, many of them not larger than the
municipal center in which they live.
But I also said they are for us a hope. During the last twenty
years, the attitude of many Guatemalans towards the Indians has
changed. We have awakened to our responsibilities and we are
trying to understand the Indians and to help them. There are two
schools of thought regarding the Indians. One we can describe as
conservative, in which we wish the natives to become ladinos as the
only way to integrate them into the nation's life. The other empha-
sizes the contrary view in which the better characteristics of the
ancestral culture are preserved so that when the Indians, under-
standing the cultural differences, affirm their own culture, they will
achieve full and peaceful integration.
There are many positive virtues in the Indians' customs. They
have a strong family sense, a great respect for their elders, and a
hierarchical administrative-religious organization in which a young
man begins to serve the community at the bottom of the scale and
rises with age and good service to the highest position. Service for
them is an honor and a duty and they receive no salary or other
compensation. On the contrary, each new appointment carries with
it, together with its responsibilities, certain expenses that must be
paid by the appointee. Besides, the duties of his office make it diffi-
cult for the dignitary to take care of his private affairs during the
year he is in office. It is a heavy burden that comes to an Indian
every three or four years, but he would consider himself dishonored
if he refused to answer the call of his people.
The Indian cultural complex is a delicate mechanism that can be
disrupted easily by interference. Therefore, some of us think that
society has to help the Indians to obtain better means of living, to
prosper economically, and to get an education within their own
traditions without attempting to modify the best part of their cul-
Following this thinking, the government has created an Institute
for the Development of the Indian Economy. Within the limitations
imposed by a relatively small budget, the Institute has divided the
highlands into zones, where, under the supervision of agronomists
and specialized functionaries, Indian delegates of the organization
convince the peasants of the profit they will obtain by utilizing
NATURE AND MAN
selected seeds, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, and scientific meth-
ods of tilling the land. There is a large school, where Indian boys
speaking one of the 15-odd dialects of the different tribes graduate
as agriculturists or artisans. Agents are employed by the Institute as
contact men to convince the Indians not only of the advantages that
better ways of production will bring them but also of the necessity
of sanitary and hygienic habits.
The Indians, it was believed, were conservatives, but it has been
proved that such belief is a fallacy. They are willing and ready to
adopt any improvement when convinced that it is for their own
good. The agricultural experiments on a relatively small budget are
a great success. Wherever the agents of the Institute have brought
the modern means of production the Indians have adopted them.
That they are susceptible to economic incentive was explained a
long time ago by Dr. Sol Tax in his book Penny Capitalism.
The road to follow in order to integrate the Indians into the na-
tional life is arduous, and time, patience, and money are needed.
But there is already a big difference between today and the days
of Alvarado, or of the laissez-faire of the post-Conquest colonial
period, or of the exploitation and lack of understanding of the late
republican regimes. We must work hard and hope.
Adams, Richard N. Encuesta sobre la cultural de los ladinos en Guatemala.
Guatemala: Editorial del Ministerio de Educaci6n Piblica, 1956.
Batres Jauregui, Antonio. La America Central ante la historic. Guatemala:
Impr. de Marroquin Hermanos, "Casa colorada," 1915-49.
Casas, Bartolom6 de las. Brevisima relaci6n de la destruccion de las indias.
Barcelona: Antonio Lacavelleria, 1646.
FernAndez del Castillo, Francisco. Don Pedro de Alvarado. Mexico: Soc. Mex.
de Geografia y Estadistica, 1945.
Fuentes y Guzman, Francisco Antonio de. Recordacion florida. Guatemala:
Tipografia Nacional, 1932-33.
Gage, Thomas. The English-American, A New Survey of the West Indies, 1648.
London: G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1928.
Garcia Granados, Jorge. Evolucion sociologica de Guatemala. Guatemala: Tipo-
grafia Sinchez y de Guise. 1930.
68 The Caribbean
Garcia Pelaez, Francisco de Paula. Mem6rias para la historic del antiguo reino
de Guatemala. Guatemala: Establecimiento Tip. de L. Luna, 1851-52.
Jones, Chester Lloyd. Guatemala, Past and Present. Minneapolis: The Univer-
sity of Minnesota Press, 1940.
Juarros, Domingo. Compendio de la historic de la Ciudad de Guatemala.
Guatemala: Tipografia Nacional, 1936.
Le6n Pinelo, Antonio Rodriguez de. Tratado de confirmaciones reales de en-
comiendas. Madrid: I. GonzAlez, 1630.
Milla y Vidaurre, Jose. Historia de la America Central. Guatemala: Estableci-
miento TipogrAfico de "El Progreso," 1879.
Remesal, Antonio de. Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapas y
Guatemala. Madrid: Francisco de Angulo, 1619.
Simpson, Lesley Byrd. The Encomienda in New Spain. Berkeley, California:
University of California Press, 1929.
Tax, Sol. Penny Capitalism: A Guatemalan Indian Economy. Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1953.
Thompson, John Eric. The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization. Norman: Uni-
versity of Oklahoma Press, 1954.
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
Murdo J. MacLeod: COLONIAL CENTRAL AMERICA
IT HAS BEEN GENERALLY HELD that the area called Latin
America lagged both culturally and economically, during its period
as a colony, somewhat behind what we euphemistically call the
rest of Christendom. If this is true, what indeed must we think of
Central America? Surely here we have the poorest of the poor rela-
tions. The area, it is assumed, went through the epic of its discovery
and conquest, lay dormantly watching Spain's struggle with decline
over the centuries, and then, tiring of it all, discarded the old mis-
tress, doing even this with a minimum of the fuss and clamor which
attracts the species historian. If the amount of writing done on
colonial Central America is any criterion, then it would seem safe
to conclude that little or nothing happened, and that the area was
of minimal importance before its independence.
The inhabitants of this backwater, what of them? Living in an
isolated, poverty-stricken area, they are today considered to have
been little better than backward rustics, and as far as we are aware
they were devoid of all intellectual interests.
A more detailed scrutiny of colonial Central America would seem
to disprove much of this almost traditional viewpoint. Comparing
the area only with other areas at the same time and not with our
criterion of what is civilization at the present day, colonial Central
America seems to have been badly maligned.
What was the colony really like? The great majority of the co-
lonial Central Americans lived in grinding poverty, read few or
no books, knew no luxuries, and cared nothing about the outside
world; but the vast majority of the people in the splendid kingdom
of France, in Elizabeth's England, and above all in Philip II's Spain
were no more hygienic, knew equally little, and cared equally little
about the world about them. When considering any period before
the nineteenth century the only real and valid comparisons are be-
tween the various upper and leisured classes which possessed the
power. It is futile for the historian to compare degrees of squalor
and degradation, and these two words exactly describe the estate
of the masses in all parts of the Western world at this time. The
Indian and the peasant in Castile simply cannot be included, ex-
cept indirectly, when we compare the wealth or cultural climates
of Spain and colonial Guatemala. They simply did not belong to
the section of the population which consumed luxury goods and
luxury time. The true measure of the success of a society at this
time was, after all, its ability to force the herd to provide the luxury
and above all the leisure to the few-the leisure without which no
culture can develop. When an individual spends all of his waking
hours evading starvation his contribution to the elevation of his
society is minimal.
Leaving aside the downtrodden millions, therefore, let us com-
pare this so-called colonial backwater of Central America with the
picture which we have of Spain at the same time. Thomas Gage, the
English picaro cum priest, who had seen all the great cities of west-
ern Europe and had spent long periods in Spain itself, said of
the Mexico City of 1625, "Mexico is one of the richest cities in the
world."l* Vasquez de Espinosa exclaims, "The city is one of the
largest and finest in the world . with this abundance of every-
thing there is nothing lacking in this famous city."2 Mexico and
Lima were exceptions it may be claimed. But there is nothing to
suggest that the Durhams, Avilas, or Bordeauxs were equal to
London, Madrid, or Paris. Moreover there is much evidence in
Central America that a whole series of towns was not too far be-
hind Lima and Mexico in presentability.
Let us follow Gage and VAsquez to Santiago de los Caballeros de
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 81.
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
Guatemala. These Europeans do not hesitate to praise the Central
American city. Gage tells us, "Guatemala is so well stored with good
provision, plentiful and cheap, that it is hard to find in it a beggar."3
This must indeed have amazed the Europeans of the time. After
informing the reader that the city is a large one with many fine
buildings and about 5,000 Spanish families, he adds that its trade
is very large. Vasquez de Espinosa, probably more reliable, is
amazed at the abundance of produce, at the sixty or more Indian
villages in the neighborhood which serve the city, and at the size
of the city itself. "It covers the area of a very large and thickly
settled city; the greater part of its houses are well designed and
constructed, and the streets are straight and well laid out."4 Antonio
de Remesal, the Dominican chronicler, fresh from Salamanca, the
Roma chica of Spain, compared the town to a garden and described
it in glowing terms.5 More recent historians such as Milla and Batres
JAuregui, using the cabildo records of the times and the chronicles
of Remesal, Ximenez, and Fuentes y Guzman, have decided that
the city must have been opulent and imposing. Smith claims that,
"the Audiencia of Guatemala . was after Mexico the most impor-
tant theater of Spanish building in North America."6
Still further south in the Audiencia was another great city. Gage
was amazed to see nine caravans of mules laden with silver, indigo,
hides, cochineal, and sugar arrive in Granada in the space of three
days and concluded, "that town is one of the wealthiest in all the
north tract of America."7 Raveneau de Lussan, the gentleman pirate,
found Granada to be one of the fairest cities he had seen,8 and
goes on to praise the wealth of the mines at Tegucigalpa. Sonsonate
and Mixco are other towns frequently mentioned favorably by
So much then for these stagnant backwaters. Not only Spaniards
but everyone from French pirates to English priests found that the
cities of Central America compared favorably with any others that
they had seen, in wealth, in trade, in the magnificence of their many
public buildings, and in their city planning.
The intellectual attainments of this aristocracy in colonial Central
America are varied, but rather hard to specify. Again it must be
pointed out that the populace in general was illiterate, but condi-
tions were similar all over the world. However, there is no reason
to suppose that the Guatemalan upper class was any less educated
or less artistically productive than elsewhere. In Guatemala City
we hear of "very learned friars who give courses in Arts and Theol-
ogy which they teach with great care and vigilance."9 Bishop Ma-
rroquin of the same city was famous for his interest in schools all over
Middle America, and sought to start an advanced college as early
as 1548. A chair of Latin was actually set up by him. By 1613 the
cabildo was demanding that the well-known college of Santo TomAs
be transformed into a full university, and finally in 1676 an orthodox
Salamancan institution was established.10 It would be very hard to
prove that Germany-or even London and Orleans-was more lit-
erate at any time during the period. Diffie claims that educational
facilities in the New World were no worse than those of Europe
once the colonies began to settle down."
Another argument would have it that people simply did not have
books to read in Central America at this period. Granted that few
people were reading in any part of the world, there is ample evi-
dence that books circulated in this area during the later colonial
period to an equal or greater degree than in other places. Leonard
has proved that the business of buying and selling books was a large
one in seventeenth-century Mexico.12 It has been further argued
in the past that circulation of books was severely curtailed by the
strictness of the laws on this matter, and by inspections which were
carried out on both sides of the Atlantic. But if these laws had been
effective there would have been no need for their continual reitera-
tion and amplification over the years.
The restrictive laws against the circulation of books were in fact
attacks on the situation that existed rather than preventive measures.
For example, the regulations against Romances of Chivalry of the
Amadis de Gaula type were first promulgated in 1531 but had to
be reiterated in 1543. Obviously no attention was being paid to
them. Twenty copies of each book printed in the Americas were
supposed to go to Spain-but the colonists' frequent failure to send
any at all caused this regulation to be changed from twenty to two
books. Another real cedula which is obviously a response to existing
conditions is the one sent out by Philip III in 1609. He commands
the confiscation of "los libros que hereges hubieren llevado o lleva-
sen a aquellas parties Torre Revello claims that inspection was
often slipshod, and that in fact books circulated almost at will, add-
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
ing, "los colonos de America, en el aspect cultural, leyeron cuanto
apetecian."'3 Leonard examines the lists of books which were sent
from Spain as part of cargoes, and feels justified in saying, "all works
of fiction current in the Peninsula passed unhampered to the Indies
and there circulated with practically the same freedom which they
enjoyed at home."14 Large libraries furnish additional proof if such
is needed. Remesal finds a large collection of books at his disposal
in Guatemala City.
Another argument against the existence of a cultural climate in
Central America comparable to that of Spain is that even if the
consumption of literature was equal, the production was not. This
argument is easily disproved, and it is based on the fact that the
books which have survived and are read, or at least quoted, today,
tend to be thought of as the complete literary product of the age,
whereas they are really only a fraction of it. One of the main rea-
sons for the seeming lack of printed works in the colony was the
inadequacy or absence of printing presses. (Remesal's chronicle
was printed in Spain, for example.) It is likely that less than one-
twentieth of what was actually written ever came to light. We must
remember, too, the vast number of books which were "drowned"
either going to the printers in Spain or coming back from there.
The other two known works of Antonio de Remesal presumably
suffered this watery fate.
These, however, are negative arguments. There is evidence of a
positive kind that the seventeenth century specially was one of great
literary output in the large towns of Central America. That the
greater part of this was poetry has tended to discourage moderns,
and especially as this poetry was an erudite, escapist, and orna-
mental phenomenon. Although the printing press was not estab-
lished in Guatemala until 1657 the town had become celebrated for
its works on the Indian languages before then. Fray Ger6nimo
Larios had a book printed in the Indian languages in 1619; Luis
Mellian and Matias de Bocanegra were gongoristic poets known to
Cervantes, as was a poet from San Salvador.15 The poetic tourna-
ment, or certamen, in which hundreds often took part, was an abid-
ing passion with the Guatemalans."6 Gage mentions one Dona Juana
de Maldonado y Paz who was the wonder of all the city for her
excellent voice, skill in music, and ability to compose fine verses.17
Menendez y Pelayo, who was no admirer of gongoristic poetry, ad-
mits that no less than 131 writers, mostly Guatemalan poets, flour-
ished in Central America during the seventeenth century.18 Remesal,
an extremely erudite product of Salamanca, extols the learning of
the local intellectuals in several places throughout his book.19 And
during the last century of the colonial era Guatemala, after Mexico
and Lima, probably shared with Upper Peru the distinction of hav-
ing the best university in the New World. The ruins of the great
University of San Carlos and of the whole city known as Antigua
Guatemala are today one of the foremost architectural marvels of
the hemisphere or, indeed, of the whole world.
All in all we have a picture of an upper class which took an in-
terest in learning and in the arts to at least as great an extent as in
Europe. There is even some evidence that the average Spaniard,
fresh from the Peninsula, seemed uncouth in the refined Creole
society of the large towns of Central America and Mexico.20
Administratively the Audiencia of Guatemala, as much of the
area was known for much of the colonial period, presented little that
would cause us to distinguish it from other parts of Latin America.
It had several distinguished and worthy governors of the stamp
of such as Diego de Acufia and Mallen de Rueda, an infamous in-
quisitor, Ruiz del Corral, and a great bishop, Francisco Marroquin,
responsible for the first schools, colleges, and public works in Guate-
mala City. Corruption seems to have been just as rife in the seven-
teenth and eighteenth centuries in Guatemala City as elsewhere.
The sharp-eyed Gage, with his ready ear for scandal, did not fail to
notice this. He tells us about the Conde de la G6mera who managed
to accumulate a fortune during his term as president although his
annual salary was only 12,000 ducats. Not only the president of the
region was corrupt. The whole administration seemed to be per-
meated with the same disease.
The pension which the king alloweth to every judge of Chancery is
4,000 ducats yearly. Yet what besides they get by bribes and trading
is so much, that I have heard Don Luis de las Infantes, himself a
judge, say, that though a judge's place at Mexico and Lima be more
honourable, yet none were more profitable than Guatemala. .
Murders, robberies and oppression. One would expect that some of
the offenders should be hanged, some banished, some imprisoned,
some by fines impoverished; yet bribes took all off, so that I never
knew one hanged in that city for the space of above eight years.21
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
Another commonplace of colonial government in Guatemala
which the region shared with the rest of America was the dissatis-
faction of the Creoles with the laws promulgated in Spain, and the
peninsulares which the Spanish crown sent over to administer their
affairs. The "New Laws" of 1542 were a great shock to these colo-
nists, as they were all over. In Guatemala they were assumed to be
the work of Las Casas. The cabildo of Guatemala City promptly
addressed a letter to the King calling the Apostle of the Indies "a
friar unread in law, unholy, envious, vainglorious, unquiet, tainted
by cupidity, and above all a trouble maker."22 Although the Creoles
had manifestly no intention of obeying these laws they were, never-
theless, dismayed at this further evidence that the Crown had no
understanding of their problems, "as shocked as if an order had
been sent telling us to cut off our heads."23 Again Gage notices what
is going on. "The Creoles, or natives of the country, who do hate
the Spanish government, and all such as do come from Spain," and
this as early as the 1620's. Even among the clerics there was an
intense dislike of the superior, disdainful Spanish priests.24 So a feel-
ing compounded out of jealousy and disdain, bitterness and disen-
chantment, led the Creole to identify himself more and more with
the land of his birth as the colonial period wore on. What Picon-
Salas calls "la orgullosa conciencia de su diferenciaci6n" was espe-
cially pronounced in Central America with its difficult geography
and separated nuclei of population.
In spite of what we have so far considered, the impression may
still remain that Central America was an uneventful area, an area
in which, although the upper classes may have been the equal of
other upper classes elsewhere, there were few of the battles and
giants, few of the great natural disasters which give history its zest.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The colonial history of
the Central American area is an extremely turbulent one.
The natural disasters which have occurred in Central America
are almost unequalled in their frequency and destructiveness, and
the colonial period seems to have suffered even more than the na-
tional era. The second capital city established in Guatemala was
destroyed by a terrible flood from the volcano Agua in 1541. Seven
hundred Spaniards died. Another severe earthquake followed in
1549 while the new capital was still being built, and the next one
in 1565 was accompanied by an epidemic, probably brought on by
the drought of the previous year. In 1586 there was yet another
great earthquake, the plague once again broke out, and the volcano
Fuego erupted, obscuring the sun for a day and casting the popula-
tion into great terror. There were further earthquakes in 1607, 1621,
1640, 1651, 1663, and a huge one in 1689 which levelled the city
to the ground. Finally after another disastrous earthquake in 1773
the hapless city was changed to its present site.
Nor were these terrible events confined to Guatemala City alone.
Honduras seems to have suffered from an appalling series of locust
invasions, and the one of 1771 is reported to have caused the death
of some 80,000 Indians.25 Present-day El Salvador seems to have
been the most severely battered of all. San Salvador was destroyed,
again by earthquake, in 1575 and had to be rebuilt. Subsequently
it was partially destroyed by the same cause in 1581, 1594, 1625,
1671, and 1776. In the same area San Miguel was practically buried
by the ash of the erupting volcano Poshotlan in 1699, Santa Anna
had recurrent visits from locusts during the early nineteenth century,
and Sonsonate, by way of variety, was burnt to the ground in 1564
and at least half of its population died of smallpox in 1781.26
Every European war during the three centuries and more which
concern us here brought fighting to the Caribbean and supplied a
handy excuse for an attack on Spanish territory. The extent of these
attacks, which in many cases constituted full-scale invasions, is sel-
dom realized. As early as 1578 there was great alarm and prepara-
tions were made all along the Pacific coast of Central America, and
indeed as far inland as Guatemala City itself, because of the news
that Drake was off the coast. The awe inspired by the name of
Drake is evident in a letter sent by the cabildo of Guatemala to the
king.27 Drake seems to have been to the Creoles what Pedro de
Alvarado was to the Indians. In 1592 Puerto de Caballos was at-
tacked, and again in 1603. The English made their first appearance
in the Golfo Dulce area in 1639, but the Guatemalans had already
despaired of the Puerto de Caballos and had moved to Santo Tomas
del Castillo, which was bombarded subsequently by the Dutch un-
der Maurice of Nassau in 1607. French attacks on the same port
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
followed in 1620 and 1638. Even Gage was seized by a small pirate
ship when attempting to sail from Costa Rica to Porto Bello. The
journal of the French gentleman-turned-pirate, Raveneau de Lus-
san, makes interesting reading. It seems that French, English, and
Dutch could cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific through Panama,
Costa Rica, or Nicaragua almost at will. While Raveneau is on the
Pacific coast his band burns and sacks all the way from Panama
to Sonsonate with occasional sorties even further north and south.
During this same three-year spell the English burn Le6n and Re-
alejo, while Raveneau's own crew sacks the second city of Central
A much more sinister figure is that of Fran9ois L'Ollonais, per-
haps the most senselessly cruel pirate of them all. This sadist terror-
ized the Honduran coast between 1660 and 1665, sacking San Pedro
Sula with great loss of life, and menacing Guatemala City itself be-
fore retiring. Costa Rica suffered perhaps more than any other area
from this time on and seems to have been under almost continual
Central America was the proving ground for many famous men.
Horatio Nelson attacked Granada unsuccessfully in 1780. The blood-
thirsty Henry Morgan, later to be governor of Jamaica, used full-
scale invasion as his method in his brilliant attacks on Porto Bello
The greatest threat of all was the gradual establishment of perma-
nent settlements, principally by the English, in Belize, on the Bay
Islands in the Gulf of Honduras, and on the Mosquito Coast. Many
attempts were made by the Spanish authorities to dislodge these
filibusters but none was wholly successful. So strong had the Eng-
lish-supported Mosquitoes become by the end of the eighteenth
century that they were able to demand tribute from the tormented
settlers of Costa Rica, a payment which was made for several years,
enforced as it was by English invasions of Costa Rica in 1779 and
The English were firmly established in Belize, in Roatan, and on
the Mosquito Coast when independence came.
The threats to the prosperity of the area were not, however, all
of foreign origin. Although the failure of the mother country to
provide adequate defense for her colonies must have been demoral-
izing, it would appear that the greatest fear of the Creoles was of
internal trouble, and it is apparent that turbulence rather than tran-
quillity was the rule during colonial times. We have heard so much
about the submissive, passive Indian that we are astonished at the
unrest among this segment of the population. Indian revolt caused
the abandonment of the first capital of the region, and there were
also large-scale riots in 1610. In Costa Rica there was a revolt led
by Pablo Presbere in 1709 which lasted for more than a year.
Casarrubias, who calls the concept of the quiet colony a myth,
claims that not only the Indians but also the Creoles, mestizos, and
Negroes caused alarm to the government all through the colonial
period.29 The reception given to the "New Laws" we have already
seen. The Contreras brothers, from a distinguished Creole family,
led a rebellion against the Crown in 1550, killing Valdivieso, the
first bishop of Nicaragua. Another factor was the regionalism of
Spain itself. In the Old Country, Basques and Andalusians, Castil-
ians and Catalans, were kept apart by distance, but when the new
arrivals in Guatemala City found themselves in adjacent barrios the
old animosities often flared up with violent results.
Distracted by the natural disasters, pirate invasions, and internal
unrest which we have noted above, the upper class of Central Ameri-
ca saw their wealth threatened by a severe economic problem at
home, especially after the middle of the seventeenth century. When
the Spaniards first arrived they found a very large labor supply, so
large indeed that it must have seemed inexhaustible. The colonists
had not reckoned with the diseases which they had brought with
them from the Old World, and this, together with overwork and
the barbarities of such as Alvarado, soon decimated the Indian
population. The lowest population total of all probably occurred
about halfway through the century, although the white population
was slowly increasing while the Indian declined. Luxury and plenty
there certainly was for the cultured few, but even the source of
supply seemed threatened.
A place of few significant happenings? The inhabitant certainly
would not have thought so. To the small upper class, educated and
proud, it must have appeared that this was the most eventful age
that Spaniards had ever witnessed. Was he not constantly on guard
against a multitude of real threats? If nature did not devour his
wealth, then the barbarians from the sea were ever willing to oblige.
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
If he relaxed his vigilance for a moment, an ever smaller but in-
creasingly resentful semislave class was ready to turn upon him.
This surely was no siesta.
Central American colonial history has suffered from a long and
undeserved neglect, and as a result of this neglect it has often been
assumed that there is nothing there really worthy of our attention.
Even a rapid glance such as this shows that the period is well
worth studying. No claims can seriously be made that the Central
Americans were the cultural equals of the aristocrats of Mexico City
and Lima, but then capitals are always dominant. There seems to
be a great quantity of positive evidence, much of it, especially the
accounts of the many travellers, not yet examined, which would
tend to show that the leisured classes of such towns as Guatemala
City, Granada, and Leon were every bit as intellectually inclined,
and every bit as productive in the arts, as their fellow Spaniards
over the sea. We may even be permitted a sneaking suspicion that
they were more civilized. The ruins which they have left behind
certainly equal those of the Europeans of the same period in quality
if not in quantity.
Surely it is not likely that these upper-class parasites-for such,
of course, they were-with their immense riches, their poetic tourna-
ments, and armies of semislaves, were living in a historical vacuum.
While the events which occupied their minds have had no great
effect on the world of today, yet it was an eventful world, a world
of unexplainable natural catastrophes, a world full of marauding
heretics and recalcitrant, semipagan Indians. Threats and fears
surrounded the colonial gentleman of Central America, who may
have well wished for a siesta in some quiet backwater.30
1. J. Eric S. Thompson (ed.), Thomas Gage's Travels in the New World
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958), p. 65.
2. Antonio Vasquez de Espinosa, Compendium and Description of the West
Indies (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1942), pp. 156-157.
3. Thompson (ed.), op. cit., pp. 185-186.
4. Vasquez de Espinosa, op. cit., pp. 216-217.
82 The Caribbean
5. Antonio de Remesal, Historia general de las Indias occidentales y particu-
lar de la gobernacion de Chiapa y Guatemala (2 vols.; Guatemala: Biblioteca
Goathemala, 1932), vol. 1, p. 13.
6. Robert C. Smith, The Colonial Art of Latin America (Washington: Gov-
ernment Printing Office, 1945), p. 16.
7. Thompson (ed.), op. cit., pp. 308-310.
8. Wilbur, Marguerite E. (tr.), Raveneau de Lussan, Buccaneer of the Span-
ish Main. A Translation into English of his Journal of a Voyage into the South
Seas in 1684 and the Following Years with the Filibusters (Cleveland: Arthur
H. Clark, 1930), p. 129.
9. Vasquez de Espinosa, op. cit., p. 157.
10. John Tate Lanning, The University in the Kingdom of Guatemala (Itha-
ca: Cornell University Press, 1955), pp. 11, 49.
11. Bailey W. Diffie, Latin-American Civilization. Colonial Period (Harris-
burg, Pa.: The Telegraph Press, 1945), p. 229.
12. Irving R. Leonard, Baroque Times in Old Mexico (Ann Arbor: The
University of Michigan Press, 1959), p. 163.
13. Jose Torre Revello, El libro, la imprenta y el periodismo en America
durante la dominacidn espaiiola (Buenos Aires: Casa Jacobo Peuser Ltda.,
1940), p. 244. The long and varied list of books confiscated by the Inquisition
in Guatemala is found in Ernesto Chinchilla Aguilar, La inquisicion en Guate-
mala (Guatemala: Editorial del Ministerio de Educaci6n Pulblica, 1953), pp.
14. Irving R. Leonard, "Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Indies," Uni-
versity of California Publications in Philology, XVI (1932-1933), 219.
15. Luis Antonio Dias Vasconcelos, Apuntes para la historic de la literature
guatemalteca, I (Guatemala: Tipografia Nacional, 1942), 238.
16. Antonio Batres JAuregui, La America central ante la historic II (Guate-
mala: Tipografia SAnchez y De Guise, 1920), 180-181.
17. Thompson (ed.), op. cit., pp. 190-195.
18. Marcelino Menendez y Pelayo, Historia de la poesia hispanoamericana
(2 vols.; Madrid: Victoriano Suirez, 1911), I, 178-186 passim.
19. For example see Remesal, op. cit., I, 429; II, 553-554 and 567-570.
20. Pedro Henriquez Urefia, Literary Currents in Hispanic America (Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1949), p. 59.
21. Thompson (ed.), op. cit., p. 188.
22. Lesley Byrd Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain (Berkeley: The
University of California Press, 1950), p. 230.
23. Silvio Zavala, Contribuccion a la historic de las instituciones coloniales
en Guatemala (Guatemala: Editorial del Ministerio de Educaci6n PAblica,
1953), p. 30.
24. Thompson (ed.), op. cit., p. 86 and pp. 127-134.
25. Thomas Southey, Chronological History of the West Indies, II (London,
Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Greene, 1827), 408.
26. Jorge Larde y Larin, El Salvador, historic de sus pueblos, villas y ciu-
dades (San Salvador: Ministerio de Cultura, Departamento Editorial, 1957).
27. Batres JAuregui, op. cit., p. 432.
28. Jos6 Dolores Gamez, Historia de la Costa de Mosquitos hasta 1894
(Managua: Talleres Nacionales, 1939), pp. 117-165.
29. Vicente Casarrubias, Rebeliones indigenas en la Nueva Espania, con
una introduccidn sobre las rebeliones indigenas en Guatemala (Guatemala: Edi-
torial del Ministerio de Educaci6n Piblica, 1959), p. 3.