« ZurückWeiter »
made to comprehend this picture. It lacks the realism of Indian life, and embodies an amount of puerility of which the Indian nature is not susceptible. Europeans and Americans may rise to the height of the occasion because their mental range is wider, and their imaginations have fed more deeply upon nursery-tales. Diaz had contented himself with saying that Montezuma “ had two hundred of his nobility on guard in apartments adjoining his own,”* in whom may be recognized his fellow-householders; but Cortes generously increased the number to “six hundred nobles and men of rank,” who appeared at daylight and remained in attendance during the day. Neither number, however, was quite sufficient to meet the conceptions of the historiographer of Spain, and accordingly three thousand, all guards, were adopted by Herrera as a suitable number to give éclat to Montezuma's dinner. Diaz, however, states that “a thousand plates of those eatables” were set before the guards and domestics. If any man, conversant with Indian character, could show by what instrumentality five hundred Indians could be kept together twelve hours in attendance upon any human being, from a sense of duty, he would add something to our knowledge of the Red Race; and could he prove further that they had actually waited, in the presence of as many earthen bowls, smoking with their several dinners, while their war-chief in the same room was making his repast alone, the verifier would thereby endow the Indian character with an element of forbearance he has never since been known to display. The block of wood hollowed out for a stool or seat may be accepted, for it savors of the simplicity of Indian art. That the Aztecs had napkins of coarse texture, woven by hand, is probable ; as also that they were white, because cotton is white. Imagination might easily expand a napkin into a table-cloth, provided a table existed to spread it upon ; but in this case, without duly considering the relation between the two, the table-cloth has been created, but the table refuses to appear. The napkin business, therefore, seems to have been slightly overdone. Finally, the call of the scattered household to dinner by kettle-drums and whistling savors too strongly of Indian ways and usages to be diverted into a summons to the dancers, as Herrera suggests. This Aztec dinner
* History of the Conquest of Mexico, I. 198.
call, on a scale commensurate with a large communal household, would have been lost to history but for the special use discerned in it to decorate a tale. It recognizes the loitering habits of an Aztec household, and perhaps the irregularity of the dinner-hour.
Passing over the descriptions of Sahagun, Clavigero, and Prescott, who have kindled into enthusiasm over this dinner of Montezuma, Mr. Hubert H. Bancroft shall be allowed to furnish us with the very latest version. “Every day,” he remarks, “ from sunrise until sunset the antechambers of Montezuma's palace in Mexico were occupied by six hundred noblemen and gentlemen, who passed their time lounging about and discussing the gossip of the day in low tones, for it was considered disrespectful to speak loudly or make any noise within the palace limits. They were provided with apartments in the palace, and took their meals from what remained of the superabundance of the royal table, as did after them their own servants, of whom each person of quality was entitled to from one to thirty according to his rank. These retainers, numbering two or three thousand, filled several outer courts during the day. The king took his meals alone in one of the largest halls of the palace.
He was seated upon a low leather cushion, upon which were thrown various soft skins, and his table was of a similar description, except that it was larger and rather higher, and was covered with white cotton cloths of the finest texture. The dinner-service was of the finest ware of Cholula, and many of the goblets were of gold and silver, or fashioned with beautiful shells. He is said to have possessed a complete service of solid gold, but as it was considered below a king's dignity to use anything at table twice, Montezuma, with all his extravagance, was obliged to keep this costly dinner-set in the temple. The bill of fare comprised everything edible of fish, flesh, and fowl, that could be procured in the empire or imported beyond it. Relays of couriers were employed in bringing delicacies from afar. There were cunning cooks among the Aztecs, and at these extravagant meals there was almost as much variety in the cookery as in the matter cooked. Sahagun gives a most formidable list of roast, stewed, and broiled dishes, of meat, fish, and poultry, seasoned with many kinds of herbs, of which,
however, that most frequently mentioned is chile. He further describes many kinds of bread, all bearing a more or less close resemblance to the Mexican tortilla, . . . . then tamales of all kinds, and many other curious messes, such as frog spawn and stewed ants, cooked with chile. ... Each dish was kept warm on a chafing-dish placed under it. Writers do not agree as to the exact quantity of food served up at each meal, but it must have been immense, since the lowest number of dishes given is three hundred, and the highest three thousand. They were brought into the hall by four hundred pages of noble birth, who placed their burdens upon the matted floor and retired noiselessly. The king then pointed out such viands as he wished to partake of, or left the selection to his steward, who doubtless took pains to study the likes and dislikes of the royal palate. The steward was a functionary of the highest rank and importance; he alone was privileged to place the designated delicacies before the king upon the table ; he appears to have done duty both as royal carver and cup-bearer;* and, according to Torquemada, to have done it barefooted and on his knees. Everything being in readiness, a number of the most beautiful of the king's women entered, bearing water in round vessels called Xicales, for the king to wash his hands in, and towels that he might dry them, other vessels being placed upon the ground to catch the drippings. Two other women, at the same time, brought him some small loaves of a very delicate kind of bread, made of the finest maize flour, beaten up with eggs. This done, a wooden screen, carved and gilt, was placed before him that no one might see him while eating. There were always present five or six aged lords, who stood near the royal chair barefooted and with bowed heads. To these, as a special mark of favor, the king occasionally sent a choice morsel from his own plate. During the meal the monarch amused himself by watching the performances of his jugglers and tumblers, whose marvellous feats of strength and dexterity I shall describe in another place; at other times there was dancing accompanied by singing and music. .... The more solid food was followed by pastry, sweetmeats, and a magnificent dessert of fruit. The only beverage drank was chocolate, of which about fifty jars
* The “cup-bearer” agrees reasonably well with the "window-curtains.”
were provided ; it was taken with a spoon, finely wrought of gold or shell, from a goblet of the same material. Having finished his dinner, the king again washed his hands in water brought to him, as before, by the women. After this, several painted and gilt pipes were brought, from which he inhaled, through his mouth or nose, as best suited him, the smoke of a mixture of liquid amber and an herb called tobacco. This siesta over, he devoted himself to business, and proceeded to give audience to foreign ambassadors or deputations from cities in the empire, and to such of his lords and ministers as had business to transact with him." *
In this account, although founded upon those of Diaz and Cortes, and showing nothing essentially new, we have the final growth of the story to the present time, but without any assurance that the limits of its possible expansion have been reached. The purification of our aboriginal history, by casting out the mass of trash with which it is so deeply freighted, is forced upon us to save American intelligence from deserved disgrace. Whatever may be said of the American aborigines in general, or of the Aztecs in particular, they were endowed with common sense in the matter of their daily food, which cost them labor, forethought, and care to provide. The picture of Indian life here presented is simply impossible. Village Indians in the Middle status of barbarism were below the age of tables and chairs for dinner service; neither had they learned to arrange a dinner to be eaten socially at a common table, or even to share their dinner with their wives and children. Their joint-tenement houses, their common stores, their communism in living, and the separation of the sexes at their meals, are genuine Indian customs and usages which explain this dinner. It was misconceived by the Spaniards quite naturally, and with the grotesque results herein presented; but there is no excuse for continuing this misconception in the presence of known facts accessible to all.
There is no doubt whatever that Montezuma was treated with great consideration by all classes of persons. Indians respect and venerate their chiefs. As their principal war-chief Montezuma held the highest official position among them. He
* Native Races of the Pacific States, II, 174 - 178.
is represented as amiable, generous, and manly, although unnerved by the sudden appearance and novel and deadly arms of the Spaniards. He had charge of the reception and entertainment of Cortes and his men, who requited him savagely for his hospitality and kindness. But when his home-life is considered, he fared no better than his fellow-householders, sharing with them their common dinner. These accounts, when divested of their misconceptions, render it probable that Montezuma was living with his gentile kinsmen in a house they owned in common; and that what the Spaniards saw was a dinner in common by this household which, with the women and children, may have numbered from five hundred to a thousand persons. When the scattered members of the household had been summoned, the single daily meal was brought in by a number of persons from the common cookhouse in earthen bowls and dishes, and set down upon the floor of an apartment used as a place for dinner in the fashion of Indians. Indians as they were, they doubtless took up these bowls one by one, each containing the dinner of one person divided at the kettle. They ate standing, or it may be sitting upon the floor, or upon the ground in the open court. Indians as they were, the men ate first and by themselves, and the women and children afterwards. After dinner was over, they were diverted, probably, with music and dancing, and made themselves merry, as well-fed Indians are apt to do. That the same dinner, conducted in a similar manner, occurred at all the houses in the pueblo, large and small, once a day, there can scarcely be a doubt.
The dinner of Montezuma which has gone into history, and been read for three centuries with wonder and admiration, is an excellent illustration of the slender material out of which American aboriginal history has been made. It shows, moreover, as a warning, what results flow from great misconceptions through the constructive faculty of authors.
A confederacy of three Indian tribes, speaking dialects of the same language, was precisely what the Spaniards found in Mexico, and this was all they found. They had no occasion in their accounts to advance a step beyond this simple fact. A satisfactory explanation of this confederacy can be found in