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The Character, Manners, And Customs Of The Indians Of Quito

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

These Indians have such a coolness and insensibility of temper, such a composure or tranquillity of mind, as neither calamities can ruffle, nor prosperous and fortunate events alter or affect. Those things which the rest of mankind so earnestly covet and desire are by them regarded with the most perfect apathy and indifference. When by chance they see any person of distinction splendidly dress'd, they neither repine at the meanness and insufficiency of their own habit, nor show the least inclination or desire to be more richly or better cloathed. Riches they esteem not ; of power, honours, and dignity they are not ambitious. The office of an hangman, or executioner, and that of alcade, or chief magistrate of a village (which is some-times conferr'd upon them), are equally acceptable to an Indian ; he enters upon these offices with the same indifference and equal insensibility. Their own coarse fare is as agreeable as the most delicate viands ; and were both set before them, they would probably prefer the former. So agreeable to them is a state of ease and indolence, that rewards will scarcely tempt, fear hardly move, punishment scarcely compel them to quit it. One would take them to be a people with-out passions and without desire.

This slow, phlegmatic temper renders them very proper for works which require little labour, but great patience and application, insomuch that it is common for the Spaniards, when they are talking of any tedious work, to say it would weary the patience of an Indian. In weaving carpets, quilts, and such-like, the Indians take up the threads of the warp one by one, and pass the woof underneath ; and proceeding in this irksome tedious manner, they sometimes spend a year or two in finishing a single piece.

Idleness and sloth are a natural consequence of such a sedate, indolent disposition. Neither their own interest and convenience, nor the obligations they are under to perform the tasks assign'd them by their masters, are sufficient to induce them to work. The care of providing food, raiment, and all other necessaries for the family falls entirely upon the Indian women. The women spin and make the short frocks or shirts, and trowzers or drawers, which are the whole clothing of their husbands. The women prepare the machca, which is barley-flour, and the camcha, or toasted maiz, which are the common food of the Indians. They also make the chicha, which is an intoxicating liquor drawn from maiz, or Indian corn; and whilst the wife is thus employ'd, the husband sits by the fire upon his hams (which is the favourite posture of all the Indians) looking at her, and never stirs but to eat, or till some of his acquaintance call upon him to go abroad. The only service the men do for the family is to plough a little spot of ground to grow such vegetables as they want; but the planting, sowing, and all the rest of the culture is left entirely to the wife and children. When they are thus set at their ease in their cottages, there is no moving them. If by chance a traveller who has lost his way comes to any of their cots, as soon as they see him near the door they hide themselves, and order the women to deny them, to avoid going a quarter of a league or less to show the stranger the right road, altho' they might gain a ryal or a half (which is the least that can be offered them) in such a short time. If the traveller alights and goes into the cottage, it is no easy matter to find them ; for there is no light but what comes through the opening or hole that is made for the door; and when they are found, all the offers and entreaties he can make will scarcely induce them to go along with him ; and so it is when you want to employ them in any other sort of business.

They eat very little; two or three spoonfuls of barley-flour and a drink of chicha—or, if they have no chicha, a drink of water after it—is their common meal. All the provision they make for a journey is a little scrip or bag, which they call gicri-ta, full of barley-flour, and a spoon. Furnish'd with these, they will travel 50 or 100 leagues. When they are hungry or weary, they endeavour to get to some cottage where they may have chicha ; but if there be no cottage near, they sit down by the side of any stream or rivulet, and after they have taken 2 or 3 spoonfuls of the flour, they drink a large quantity of chicha or water, and with this they are as well satisfied as if they had regaled in the most plentiful and elegant manner.

Their huts, or cottages, are very mean and small; the fire is always in the middle of the cottage. There is but one room, which serves them and all the animals they breed, for they all live together. Dogs they are very fond of—they never want three or four cur-dogs. They also keep hogs, hens, and a sort of little animals like rabbits, which they call cuyes. The furniture of the cottage consists in a few earthen vessels, as pots, pitchers, and such-like, and their beds. These and all the cotton which the women spin are their whole estate and substance. Their beds are only two or three sheep-skins; they sleep upon them in their ordinary posture, sitting upon their hams, and never undress.

Altho' they keep hens and other animals, they never eat them. They are so fond of these domesticks, that they will neither kill nor sell them. If it happens that a traveller is obliged to pass the night in one of their cottages, and desires a hen or pullet for supper, they will not let him have one, tho' he offers to pay them ever so handsomely for it ; and if he takes upon him to kill one himself, the Indian women make as great outcries and lamentations as if they had lost one of their children ; but when they see there is no remedy, they will take the price offer'd.

Many of the Indians, when they go upon a journey, take their families along with them, the women carrying upon their backs the children that can't walk. They fasten the door of their cottage with a leathern thong, which they think a sufficient security for their house-hold furniture, and certainly there is no great temptation for thieves. If the journey be long, they send their tame animals to the cottage of some neighbouring Indian; if short, they commit the cottage and animals to the care of their dogs, which are so faithful that they will suffer none to enter the cottage during their master's absence. It is remarkable, that the dogs bred by the Spaniards and Mestizos distinguish the Indians afar off by their scent, and bark furiously at them and attack them ; and the dogs bred by the Indians treat the Spaniards and Mestizos in the same manner.

The Indians work no longer than their masters stand over them. Diversions, dancing, and drinking are the only things they show any inclination to, and of these they are never weary. They are extremely addicted to drunkenness ; at their feasts and merry-meetings they begin to drink in the morning, and never cease till they have utterly lost all sense and motion. It is common for the master of a feast to provide a vessel of chicha, which contains about thirty bottles or more, for each guest, After a slight repast upon boiled herbs and camcha, they begin to drink and dance; the women sing, and serve their husbands with liquor in round calabashes; at the same time some of the men beat drums, and play upon flageolets after their fashion. Their dancing is nothing but a skipping from one side to another, without any order or regularity. In this manner the drinking and diversion continue till all are sufficiently dosed, and then men and women, brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, lie down together in the most promiscuous and disorderly manner imaginable. The next morning they begin to drink again, and never cease till they have drunk out all the stock of liquor of the master of the house. When that is done, every guest brings his own stock of chicha to be drunk; then they all join to buy more; and thus they continue drinking from day to day, till they have neither liquor, money, nor credit left. To put a stop to these disorders, the Spanish curates, who have the care of the Indians, are sometimes obliged to go and pour out the chicha upon the ground, and break up the company. It is to be observed that the privilege of getting drunk is enjoyed only by the fathers of a family, as they have persons to take care of them, and that the women and young men are never guilty of these excesses.

Their funeral ceremonies are only a course of drinking. The mourners, and all that are invited, do nothing but drink chica in honour of the deceased ; and on these occasions they oblige all the Indians that pass by to drink, whether they be men or women, young or old, and these funeral drinking bouts sometimes continue four or five days.

Virginity is in no manner of esteem amongst the Indians : contrary to the custom of most other nations, the woman who has been familiar with the greatest number of men (like a modern toast) is the most sought after, and, further, in the most likely way to get an husband.* When an Indian inclines to marry, he takes the woman he chooses with her father's consent, and they live together for three or four months, and sometimes a year. If the man likes his choice, he marries her at the end of that time, if not, he sends her back to her father ; and they often give this as a reason, that the father has endeavoured to cheat them by putting a virgin into their hands. It is no uncommon thing with them to exchange wives with one another, without any ceremony or contract ; and it frequently happens that, after some time, each party resumes his own wife. Incest is also common amongst them.

They are very superstitious, and much given to divination and fortune-telling; they will practise a thousand senseless superstitions, in order to obtain success in a design, or to know whether what they desire will come to pass. They give little or no heed or attention to what the Spanish curates say to them on the subject of religion. It is the fear of the whip only that brings them to mass on Sundays. Some of them, whilst they have been undergoing the lash for staying at home and drinking, instead of coming to mass, have with great simplicity and earnestness desired the curate to order as many more stripes to be given them as would serve for another fault ; for that they intended to absent themselves and drink the following Sunday too. The confessions which the curates oblige them to make are mere farces : they will never voluntarily acknowledge themselves to have been guilty of any fault at all, so that the curates inform them-selves of their transgressions, and make up confessions which they oblige them to repeat.

They meet death, whether natural or violent, with the greatest intrepidity and unconcern, and betray not the least sign of grief, uneasiness, or discomposure. Those who are condemn'd for any crime, walk to execution with as much calmness and insensibility as if they were going to keep their cattle, or plough their farm. At the bull-feasts they will place themselves in the way of a bull in his full career, and suffer themselves to be thrown up into the air, purely for the satisfaction of having run at the bull, and they generally escape unhurt. When they form themselves into bodies to go to war, they will attack their enemies, let them be ever so superior in number, without fear, consideration, or regard to circumstances. An Indian on horseback will attack bears without any other arms than a long leathern thong with a loop or running knot at the end of it. As soon as he comes nigh the bear, he throws the loop at him with so much skill and dexterity that he never fails to catch him by the neck, and then he gallops away at full speed, which draws the knot tight, drags the bear along, and strangles him.

The Indians are of a strong, robust constitution. The venereal disease is very common amongst them, but never arrives to any great degree of malignity ; this is attributed to the nature of their blood and juices and the qualities of the chica. The small-pox makes the greatest havock among them, for it is very fatal. Spotted fevers they are sometimes seized with, but these are generally soon cured. Those who escape the epidemical distempers are generally long-lived. There are many above one hundred years old, and some of them strong and healthy.

The account we have given relates to those Indians who live together in villages near the Spanish towns and cities, without any Spaniards amongst them, but are visited by curates and are subject to the Spaniards, and employ'd by them to cultivate their farms or plantations, and in weaving and other works they are capable of performing. There are other Indians who are free, and wander about from place to place in the woods and uncultivated country; their character and customs are not different, but their way of life obliges them to use more exercise, and makes them more brisk and active. The indolence of the village Indians, and their unwillingness to work, probably proceed in a great measure from sullenness and resentment of the usage they have met with from the Spaniards ; and many of their other ill qualities may be derived from their being greatly neglected and the want of proper instruction. There are some Indians who live in the Spanish towns and cities, who learn mechanick arts, follow trades, and, by conversing with the Spaniards, learn the Castilian language, and are called Ladinos; these forsake their ill customs, and are not inferior to the ordinary Spaniards in capacity, industry, or ingenuity. The Indian barbers are remarkably dextrous : letting blood is a branch of their business, and they do it as skilfully as the best European surgeons. These instances, together with the civilized state and condition of the Indians, whilst they were under the government of the Incas, and the improvements the Jesuits have made amongst the Indians of Paraguay, sufficiently show that nothing but proper care, culture, and discipline are required to make all the modern Indians an industrious and ingenious people.



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