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Old America - Tezcucians, Tlascalans, Quiches, Etc.

TitleOld America - Tezcucians, Tlascalans, Quiches, Etc.
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number10
Date Published15 May 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Mesoamerica; Native Americans; Quiches; Tezcucians; Tlascalans

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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The Acolhuans, or Tezcucians, next to the Aztecs, were the most distinguished nation of Mexico after the departure of the Toltecs. They built the great city of Tezcuco on the eastern border of the Mexican lake, which, next to Mexico, was the largest and most beautiful city of Anahuac. It contained three temples, each measuring four hundred feet along the base of its front. Although the Tezcucians indulged in the practice of human sacrifice, they at the same time believed in an all-powerful Creator of the universe; and so ardent were they in this belief, that they erected a temple which was dedicated "to the Unknown God, the Cause of Causes."

The Tezcucians were in advance of the Aztecs in purely intellectual progress. They had the best histories, the best poems, the purest dialect and the best system of laws. Their laws were founded upon the principles of justice, honesty and fair dealing were required by all functionaries; a judge found guilty of receiving a bribe was punished with death; suitors appealed in person, not by counsel, and each party could be a witness in his own behalf. The clerk of the court made a statement of the case, and an abstract of the testimony and proceedings of the trial in writing (hieroglyphical), which was preserved by the court.

Agriculture, above everything else was encouraged by the rulers. Every available spot of ground was cultivated. Nezhualcoyatl, the sovereign who reigned at Tezcuco about the middle of the fourteenth century, and who has been called the Solomon of the new world, had a fondness for gardening, and within his dominions were a number of gardens, floral and vegetable, described as being incomparably beautiful. These gardens were supplied with aqueducts and filled with fountains, fish-ponds and large aviaries, and protected by a wood containing thousands of cedars, which still flourished long after the conquest. Nor did this king content himself with gardening merely; he erected a magnificent pile of buildings, which might serve both as a royal residence and for the public offices. It measured from east to west three thousand, seven hundred feet, and front north to south two thousand, nine hundred and thirty feet. It was surrounded by a wall of adobies and cement, six feet wide and nine feet high for one half of its circumference, and fifteen feet high for the other half. Within its enclosure were two courts, one used as the great market place of the city. The interior court was surrounded by the council chambers and halls of justice; there were also accommodations for foreign ambassadors, and a large saloon with apartments opening into it for men of science and poets, who, in private pursued their studies or met together under the marble porticos to converse. Here also were kept the public archives. Adjoining this court were the apartments of the king and his family, which was quite numerous, he having by his various wives no less than sixty sons and fifty daughters. The walls of the palace were encrusted with alabaster and richly painted stucco, or hung with gorgeous tapestries of cotton and variegated feather work. Accommodations on a princely scale were provided for the sovereigns of Mexico and Tlacopan when they visited his court. The building contained three hundred apartments, some of them one hundred and fifty feet square, The interior of the building was doubtless constructed of the rich woods found in the country, which, when polished, are remarkable for their brilliancy and variegated colors. The more solid parts of the structure have furnished an inexhaustible quarry for the churches and other edifices since erected by the Spaniards on the site of the ancient city. We are not informed of the time occupied in building this palace, but two hundred thousand workmen were employed upon it. Not only were the beautiful gardens destroyed, but the palace itself was burned by order of Zumaraga, first bishop of Mexico. The Tezcucians excelled in poetry. Nezahualcayotl's mind, in his declining years, seemed to be absorbed in the contemplation of the future, and his immortal destiny. The following are some of his thoughts, as translated by Galves from the Othomic language:

"The great, the wise the valiant, the beautiful,
Alas! where are they now?
They are all mingled with the clod;
And that which has befallen them shall happen us,
And to them that come after us.
Yet, let us take courage, illustrious nobles, and chieftains,
Let us aspire to Heaven,
Where all is eternal, and corruption cannot come.
The horrors of the tomb are but the cradle of the sun,
And the dark shadows of death are brilliant lights of the stars."

Some of their poems contain sentiments as sublime and eloquent as our most gifted poets. This lament of one of their bards is beautiful:

"Banish care, if there be bounds to pleasure,
The saddest life must have an end.
Then weave the chaplet of flowers, and
Sing the song of praise of the all-powerful God;
For the glory of this world soon fadeth away."

The Tlascalans were a branch of the Aztec family. They occupied at first the western borders of Lake Tezcuco; about the same time the Aztecs settled Mexico. These two nations were very hostile towards each other, and kept up bloody wars. After defeating the Aztecs in two great battles, they emigrated to the valley between the lake and the gulf of Mexico, and there built their capital called Tlascala, one of the most noted cities of Anahuac. They established a republican form of government, and maintained their independence against the whole power of Montezuma. In regard to civilization, they were equal with the Mexicans. To protect the eastern border of the republic, they constructed a wall of stone twenty feet thick and nine feet high, for a distance of six miles across the valley; on the western quarter ditches and entrenchments were constructed with a degree of mathematical skill which showed a high advancement of knowledge in military engineering.

Tlascala meant "the place of bread," and the principal products were maize and cochineal. The Tlascalans were not only farmers, but soldiers, and very courageous and jealous of their honor and their liberty. Going into confederacy with the Spaniards against their ancient rivals, the Mexicans, they were involved in the common ruin after the conquest.

To the north of Mexico dwelt the Huaxtecas, and the Tarascas dwelt to the north-west. In the arts and civilization they were nearly equal to the Aztecs. They were bold, independent and fearless, and never submitted to the Mexican powers, though repeated efforts were made to bring them into subjection.

At the time of the conquest numerous tribes inhabited Central America, in fact, it was the old kingdom of Guatemala. Yucatan seems to have been a focal point of early civilization. Within its limits are found some of the most splendid ruins of America. At the time of the conquest the Quiches, Mayas and Tobascians occupied the country. Tecum-Umam was the ruling prince, and the chief city of the Quiches was Utallah, hardly surpassed by Mexico in point of splendor and magnitude. It was walled, and had only two ways of entrance, one by a causeway, and the other by a flight of steps. The refinement of these people astonished the Spaniards. They dwelt in well- constructed houses built of stone, and were respectably clothed. Their temples were large and of considerable architectural taste. They cultivated the ground with much care, lived in towns and had a well-regulated system of civil government.

When the Spaniards first invaded the Isthmus of Darien, they found it densely peopled with natives, enjoying a degree of civilization equal to those of Guatemala. They were supposed to be of the same race as the Quiches, though divided into tribes, and differing in appearance as much as the different nations of Mexico from one another.