Ella Nguyen ’23: Book VI, Chapter IX (How in Other Parts of the World They Sacrificed Human Beings)

Book VI, Chapter IX

How the historian proves that in other parts of the world they sacrificed human beings by killing men and offering them (among the ancients) to their gods, and in many parts it was also customary to eat human flesh and at present it is done in many parts of the Mainland of these Indies and in some islands.

Translated by Gabriela (Ella) Nguyen ’23

In many parts of Pliny’s Natural History it says that men eat human flesh,[1] like the anthropophagites, who are the people of the Scythians. And the same author says that these anthropophagites, or eaters of human flesh, drink from the heads of men or their skulls; and that they wore the teeth and hair of those they killed as necklaces, according to what Isigonus of Nicaea writes. Pliny says these people lived ten-day’s travel from Borysthenes.

I have seen such necklaces many times around the neck of some Indians on the Mainland, in many parts of which they eat human flesh and sacrifice men and women and children of all ages, as they do also in islands close to this one, of which I have written. And where such a crime is known specifically and is common is in Dominica and Guadeloupe, and Martinique, and St. Croix, and thereabouts in these neighboring regions. El Tostado (alias Abulensis), writing about Eusebio’s De los tiempos[2] and the customs of the people of Thrace, says that among other things that are more fabulous than true about these Thracians, is that any foreigners they catch they offer to their Gods, killing them and making a sacrifice of them, etc. But on the Mainland, without fable nor fiction, but with much truth, the same can be attested to; I mentioned above that Pliny deals with this matter in many parts of his history, and he brings it up in Book XXVIII, where he speaks of medicine for men and large animals, and says that in discussing this matter he wants to begin with man, seeking to understand what is useful to man, however difficult this may be, and he says: “People drink the blood of gladiators (id est of the swordsman or knifers), to be cured from epilepsy (or the falling sickness as we commonly call it), although we feel no little horror or fright when we see the wild animals drinking it in the amphitheater itself.”[3] This theater was a place especially dedicated to the games, where gladiators killed each other fighting, as well as other animals. So, this author continues and says: «But they say that this same blood is more effective against the aforementioned morbidity or disease if it is drunk hot, sucking the wound of the man (not yet dead), and the spirit together with the blood; to suck in a fiercer spirit, that is fair to say, which is not the spirit of all beasts. Some look for the core or marrow of the legs, and the brain, id est, the brains of young breastfeeding children. And there are many Greek writers who have described the specific flavor of each human part, forgetting nothing, not even that of nail clippings, as if they were judging whether it is or resembles healing to turn into a human beast worthy of illness but not of the grace of medicine: which is not done without great deception or deceit, unless it is of benefit. If it is an evil or bad thing just to look into a man’s innards, how much worse will it be to eat them? All the aforementioned is from Pliny in the noted passages, and if he said previously that the soul could be sucked with the blood, it has been seen that the soul cannot be sucked and is immortal, and Pliny was not ignorant of it. But as man not satisfied or pleased by such a medicine, he says that, because it is evil to look at the inner parts of man, that it will be much worse, without comparison, to eat them.

And where it deals with the above, he touches upon many other related topics over which I do not want to linger, nor would I mention it here, except so that it is understood that the Indians are not the only ones guilty of this sin; and I will write more at length about the topic in the second and third part of this Natural History of the Indies, when I address Nicaragua, Nagrando, and New Spain, as well as other provinces, where such a crime has been practiced. I only mention it here as it pertains to the title of this sixth book of repositories or various matters; so this topic will not be missing, as it is so diverse and different from all others and widely practiced by the Carib Indians, and those known as Chorotegas, and other nations of these wild and crude peoples. And God has His reasons for allowing them to be destroyed; and I have no doubt that God will finish them very soon because of the multitude of their crimes if they don’t accept the true path and convert; because they are cruel people, and they learn little from punishment, flattery, or virtuous rebukes. They are without mercy, and are not ashamed of anything: their desires and deeds are awful and of no good disposition. God could very well mend them; but they have no care to beg him, or to correct or amend themselves to merit His salvation. It may very well be that those of them who die as infants go to heaven if they are baptized; but after they enter adolescence very few wish to be Christians even though they are baptized; because it seems to them that it is a laborious task and they have short memories, and pay hardly any attention to what is good for them, so as soon as they are taught something right then or very quickly they forget it. I and others may well say that we have raised some of these men since they were little children, and as soon as they reach the age of knowing women, or for women to know men carnally, they give themselves to this vice so avidly that there is no good or thing they hold so highly as this sin of their libido, and use cruelty, and so does God reward them, according to their merits.

But what can we say about the middle of the world, or of Italy and Sicily, which are the best of it, where those known as the Cyclopes and Laestrygones lived? Or that on the other side of the Alps they used to sacrifice men, as Pliny writes[4]; and in France there was such a custom, and Tiberius, emperor, put an end to it, as the very same author reminds us. And the English were no less to blame for this; and so that neither one nor the other can say that I am raising accusations against them, I want to quote Pliny’s exact words, speaking of the magical arts and of these diabolical sacrifices: “In the year 757 after Rome was built, at the time of Cornelius Lentulus and Publius Licinius Crassus’ consulate, a deliberation was held in the Senate ordering that no man should be sacrificed, and for a certain time there were no open celebrations of these prodigious sacrifices; but in France they sacrificed men until our time [until Pliny’s time]. Emperor Tiberius Caesar removed this generation of fortune-tellers and doctors; but should I properly say that this art crossed the ocean sea and arrived in England and there was celebrated with such ceremony that it would seem that the English had taught the Persians? etc.”[5] What I have written was said by Pliny, and not by me nor another, but I do not want the French or the English to suspect that I am bringing accusations against them of their ancestors having practiced these evil and infernal customs in the past. Let us move on to the other things in our General History of the Indies, as when the right time comes, this matter will be addressed more specifically in the context of the provinces that have participated in such a crime, or where this mighty crime has been practiced or is practiced.

[1] Pliny, Book VII, Chapter 2. [GFO]

[2] Abulensis, Book III, Chapter 168. [GFO]

[3] Pliny, Book XXVIII, Chapter 1. [GFO]

[4] Pliny, Book VII, Chapter 2. [GFO]

[5] Pliny, Book XXX, Chapter I. [GFO]