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minous writers. To every author, from Cortes and Bernal Diaz to Brasseur de Bourbourg and Hubert H. Bancroft, Indian society was an unfathomable mystery; and their works have left it a mystery still. Ignorant of its structure and principles, and unable to comprehend its peculiarities, they invoked the imagination to supply whatever was necessary to fill out the picture. When the reason, from want of facts, is unable to understand and therefore unable to explain the structure of a given society, imagination walks bravely in and fearlessly rears its glittering fabric to the skies. Thus, in this case, we have a grand historical romance, strung upon the conquest of Mexico as upon a thread; the acts of the Spaniards, the pueblo of Mexico, and its capture, are historical, while the descriptions of Indian society and government are imaginary and delusive. These picturesque tales have been read with wonder and admiration, as they successively appeared, for three hundred and fifty years; though shown to be romances, they will continue to be read, as Robinson Crusoe is read, not because they are true, but because they are pleasing. The psychological revelation is the eager, undefinable interest aroused by any picture of ancient society. It is felt by every stranger when he first walks the streets of Pompeii, and, standing within the walls of its roofless houses, strives to picture to himself the life and the society which flourished there eighteen hundred years ago. In Mexico the Spaniard found an organized society several thousand years further back of their own than Pompeian society, in its arts, institutions, and state of advancement. It was this revelation of a phase of the ancient life of mankind, which possessed, and still possesses, such power to kindle the imagination and inspire enthusiasm. It caught the imagination and overcame the critical judgment of Prescott, our most charming writer; it ravaged the sprightly brain of Brasseur de Bourbourg; and it carried up in a whirlwind our author at the Golden Gate.
The appearance of this work just as it is, and the commendation it has received from our critical journals, reveal with painful distinctness the fact that we have no science of American Ethnology. Such a science, resting as it must upon verified facts, and dealing with the institutions, arts, and inventions,
usages and customs, languages, religious beliefs, and plan of government of the Indian tribes, would, were it fairly established, command as well as deserve the respect of the American people. With the exception of an amateur here and there, American scholars have not been willing to devote themselves to so vast a work. It may be truly said, at this moment, that the structure and principle of Indian society are but partially known, and that the American Indian himself is still an enigma among us. The question is still before us, as a nation, whether we will undertake the work of furnishing to the world a scientific exposition of Indian society, or leave it as it now appears, crude, unmeaning, unintelligible, a chaos of contradictions and puerile absurdities. With a field of unequalled richness and of vast extent, with the same Red Race in all the stages of advancement indicated by three great ethnical periods, namely, the status of savagery, the Lower status of barbarism, and the Middle status of barbarism,* more persons ought to be found willing to work upon this material for the credit of American scholarship. It will be necessary for them to do as Herodotus did in Asia and Africa, to visit the native tribes at their villages and encampments, and study their institutions as living organisms, their condition, and their plan of life. When this has been done from the region of the Arctic Sea to Patagonia, Indian society will become intelligible, because its structure and principles will be understood. It exhibits three distinct phases, each with a cult peculiar to itself, lying back of civilization, and back of the Upper status of barbarism ; having very little in common with European society of three hundred years ago, and very little in common with American society of to-day. Its institutions, inventions, and customs find no analogues in those of civilized nations, and cannot be explained in terms adapted to such a society. Our later investigators are doing their work more and more on the plan of
* Indian tribes below the art of pottery, as a number of coast tribes in North and South America, were in savagery ; tribes practising this art, as the tribes of the United States east of the Mississippi, but ignorant of the use of adobe bricks and stone in house architecture, were in the Lower status of barbarism ; and those tribes who constructed houses of adobe bricks and of stone, but who were ignorant of iron, as the tribes of New and Old Mexico, Central America, and Peru, were in the Middle status of barbarism.
direct visitation; and I make no doubt a science of American Ethnology will yet come into existence among us, and rise high in public estimation from the important results it will rapidly achieve. Precisely what is now needed is the ascertainment and scientific treatment of this material.
After so general a condemnation of Spanish and American writers, so far as they represent Aztec society and government, some facts and some reasons ought to be presented to justify the charge. Recognizing the obligation, I propose to question the credibility of so much of the second volume of “ The Native Races,” and of so much of other Spanish histories as relate to two subjects, the character of the house in which Montezuma resided, which is styled a palace; and the account of the celebrated dinner of Montezuma, which is represented as the daily banquet of an imperial potentate. Neither subject, considered in itself, is of much importance; but if the accounts in these two particulars are found to be fictitious and delusive, a breach will be made in a vital section of the fabric of Aztec romance, now the most deadly encumbrance upon American Ethnology.
It may be premised that there is a strong probability, from what is known of Indian life and society, that the house in which Montezuma lived was a joint-tenement house of the aboriginal American model, owned by a large number of related families, and occupied by them in common as joint-proprietors; that the dinner in question was the usual single daily meal of a communal household, prepared in a common cookhouse from common stores, and divided, Indian fashion, from the kettle; and that all the Spaniards found in México was a simple confederacy of three Indian tribes, the counterpart of which was found in all parts of America.
It may be premised further, that the Spanish adventurers who thronged to the New World after its discovery found the same race of Red Indians in the West India Islands, in Central and South America, in Florida, and in Mexico.* In their
*“But among all the other inhabitants of America there is such a striking similitude in the form of their bodies, and the qualities of their minds, that notwithstanding the diversities occasioned by the influence of climate, or unequal progress in improvement, we must pronounce them to be descended from one source.” — Robertson's History of America, Law's ed., p. 69.
mode of life and means of subsistence, in their weapons, arts, usages, and customs, in their institutions, and in their mental and physical characteristics, they were the same people in different stages of advancement. No distinction of race was observed, and none in fact existed. They were broken up into numerous independent tribes, each under the government of a council of chiefs. Among the more advanced tribes, confederacies existed, which represented the highest stage their governmental institutions had attained. In some of them, as in the Aztec confederacy, they had a principal war-chief, elected for life or during good behavior, who was the general commander of the military bands. His powers were those of a general, and necessarily arbitrary when in the field. Behind this war-chief — noticed, it is true, by Spanish writers, but without explaining or even ascertaining his functions — was the council of chiefs, “ the great council without whose authority," Acosta remarks, Montezuma "might not do anything of importance.” *
The civil and military powers of the government were in a certain sense co-ordinated between the council of chiefs and the military commander. The government of the Aztec confederacy was essentially democratical, because its organization and institutions were so. If a more special designation is needed, it will be sufficient to describe it as a military democracy.
The Spaniards who overran Mexico and Peru gave a very different interpretation of these two organizations. Having found, as they supposed, two absolute monarchies with feudal characteristics, the history of American Indian institutions was cast in this mould. The chief attention of Europeans in the sixteenth century was directed to these two governments, to which the affairs of the numerous remaining tribes and confederacies were made subordinate. Subsequent history has run in the same grooves for more than three centuries, striving diligently to confirm that of which confirmation was impossible. The generalization was perhaps proper enough, that if the institutions of the Aztecs and Peruvians, the most advanced Indian tribes, culminated in monarchy, those of the Indian tribes
* The Natural and Moral History of the East and West Indies, Lond. ed., 1604, Grimstone's Trans., p. 485.
generally were essentially monarchical, and therefore those of Mexico and Peru should represent the institutions of the Red Race.
It may be premised, finally, that the histories of Spanish America may be trusted in whatever relates to the acts of the Spaniards, and to the acts and personal characteristics of the Indians ; in whatever relates to their weapons, implements, and utensils, fabrics, food, and raiment, and things of a similar character. But in whatever relates to Indian society and government, their social relations and plan of life, they are wholly worthless, because they learned nothing and knew nothing of either. We are at full liberty to reject them in these respects, and commence anew; using any facts they may contain which harmonize with what is known of Indian society. It was a calamity to the entire Red Race that the achievements of the Village Indians of Mexico and Central America, in the development of their institutions, should have suffered a shipwreck so nearly total. The only remedy for the evil done them is to recover, if possible, a knowledge of their institutions which alone can place them in their proper position in the history of mankind.
In order to understand so simple an event in Indian life as Montezuma's dinner, it is necessary to know certain usages and customs, and even certain institutions of the Indian tribes generally, which had a direct bearing upon the dinner of every Indian in America at the epoch of the Spanish conquest. Although it may seem strange to the reader, it requires a knowledge of several classes of facts to comprehend this dinner; because it is necessary to rid the mind of a fictitious account before another can be substituted. For this purpose, and within the necessary limits of this article, I shall endeavor to explain, in outline, the following institutions and customs which were substantially universal in the Indian family, and therefore existed, presumptively, among the Aztecs. Reference will also be made to what is known of their existence and practice among the latter. They are the following:
1. The organization in gentes, phratries, and tribes. 2. The ownership of lands in common. 3. The law of hospitality. 4. The practice of communism in living. 5. The