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Arawaks

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(Also Aruacans).

The first American aborigines met by Columbus — not to be confounded with the Aroacas or Arhouaques, linguistically allied to the Chibohas of Columbia — an Indian stock widely distributed over South America. Tribes speaking dialects of the Arawak language are met with in and between Indians of other linguistic stocks, from the sources of the Paraguay to the northwestern shores of Lake Maracaybo (Goajiros), from the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia to the Atlantic coast in Guyana. The Arawaks were met by Columbus in 1492, on the Bahamas, and later on in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. In the fifteenth century and possibly for several centuries previous, Indians of Arawak stock occupied the Greater Antilles. It is not impossible that up to a certain time before Columbus they may have held all the West Indian Islands. Then an intrusive Indian element, that of the Caribs, gradually encroached on the southern Antilles from the mainland of Venezuela and drove the Arawaks northward. The latter showed a decided fear of their aggressors, a feeling increased by the cannibalism of the Caribs.

Generally speaking, the Arawaks are in a condition between savagery and agriculture, and the status varies according to the environment. The Arawaks on the Bahamas were practically defenseless against the Caribs. The aborigines of Cuba and Haiti, enjoying superior material advantages, stood on a somewhat higher plane. The inhabitants of Jamaica and Puerto Rico, immediate neighbors of the Caribs, were almost as fierce as the latter, and probably as anthropophagous. Wedged in (after the discovery of Columbus) between the Caribs on the South and the Europeans, the former relentless destroyers, the latter startling innovators, the northern Arawaks were doomed. In the course of half a century they succumbed to the unwonted labor imposed them, epidemics doing their share towards extermination. Abuse has been heaped upon Spain for this inevitable result of first contact between races whose civilization was different and whose ideas were so incompatible. Colonization in its beginning on American soil had to go through a series of experiments, and the Indians naturally were the victims. Then the experimenters (as is always the case in newly discovered lands) did not at first belong to the most desirable class. Columbus himself (a brilliant navigator but a poor administrator) did much to contribute to the outcome by measures well-intended but impractical, on account of absolute lack of acquaintance with the nature of American aborigines.

The Church took a deep interest in the fate of the Antillean Arawaks. The Hieronymites, and later, the Dominicans defended their cause, and propagated Christianity among them. They also carefully studied their customs and religious beliefs. Frey Roman Pane, a Hieronymite, has left us a very remarkable report on the lore and ceremonials of the Indians of Haiti (published in Italian in 1571, in Spanish in 1749, and in French in 1864); shorter descriptions, from anonymous, but surely ecclesiastical, sources, are contained in the "Documentos in editos de Indias". The report of Frey Roman Pane antedates 1508, and it is the first purely ethnographic treatise on American Indians.

While lamenting the disappearance of the Indians of the Antilles, writers of the Columbian period have, for controversial effect, greatly exaggerated the numbers of these peoples; hence the number of victims charged to Spanish rule. It is not possible that Indians constantly warring with each other, and warred upon by an outside enemy like the Caribs, not given to agriculture except in as far as women worked the crops, without domestic animals, in an enervating climate, would have been nearly as numerous as, for instance, Las Casas asserts. The extermination of the Antillean Arawaks under Spanish rule has not yet been impartially written. It is no worse a page in history than many filled with English atrocities, or those which tell how the North American aborigines have been disposed of in order to make room for the white man. The Spanish did not, and could not, yet know of the nature and the possibilities of the Indian. They could not understand that a race physically well-endowed, but the men of which had no conception of work, could not be suddenly changed into hardy tillers of the soil and miners. And yet the Indian had to be made to labor, as the white population was entirely too small for developing the resources of the new-found lands. The European attributed the inaptitude of the Indian for physical labor to obstinency, and only too often vented his impatience in acts of cruelty. The Crown made the utmost efforts to mitigate, and to protect the aborigine, but ere the period of experiments was over, the latter had almost vanished.

As already stated, the Arawaks, presumably, held the lesser Antilles also, until, previous to the Columbian era, the Caribs expelled them, thus separating the northern branch from the main stock on the southern continent. Of the latter it has been surmised that their original homes were on the eastern slope of the Andes, where the Campas (Chunchos or Antis) represent the Arawak element, together with the Shipibos, Piros, Conibos and other tribes of the extensive Pano group. A Spanish officer, Pedro de Candia, first discovered them in 1538. The earliest attempts at Christianization are due to the Jesuits. They made, previous to 1602, six distinct efforts to convert the Chunchos, from the side of Huánuco in Peru, and from northern Bolivia, but all these attempts were failures. There are also traces that a Jesuit had penetrated those regions in 1581, more as an explorer than as a missionary. Not withstanding the ill-success accompanying the first efforts, the Jesuits persevered, and founded missions among the Moxos, one of the most southerly branches of the Arawaks, and also among the Baures. Those missions were, of course, abandoned after 1767. During the past century the Franciscans have taken up the field of which the Jesuits were deprived, especially the missions among the Pano, or Shipibo tribes of the Beni region of Bolivia. The late Father Raphael Sanz was one of the first to devote himself to the difficult and dangerous task, and he was ably followed by Father Nicholas Armentia, who is now Bishop of La Paz. The latter has also done very good work in the field of linguistics. Missions among the Goajiros in Columbia, however, had but little success. Of late, the tribe has become more approachable. The Arawaks of the upper Amazonian region were probably met by Alanso Mercadillo, in 1537, and may have been seen by Orellana in 1538-39. The Arawak tribes occupying almost exclusively the southern bank of the Amazon, they were reached by the missionaries later than the tribes of the north bank. Missionaries accompanied Juan Salinas de Loyola (a relative of St. Ignatius) in 1564. But the results of these expeditions were not permanent.

In the heart of the Andean region the Friars of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarios) were the first to establish permanent missions. Fray Francisco Ponce de Leon, "Commander of the convent of the city of Jaén de Bracacamoros", and Diego Vaca de Vega, Governor of Jaén, organized in 1619 an expedition down the Marañon to the Maynas. In 1619 they founded the mission of San Francisco Borja, which still exists as a settlement. The first baptisms of Indians took place 22 March, 1620. The year following, Father Ponce made an expedition lower down the Amazon, beyond the mouth of the Rio Huallaga where he came in contact with the Arawak tribes, to whom he preached, and some of whom he baptized. The Franciscans entered from the direction of Juaja or Tarma, toward Chanchamayo, in 1631, and 1635. The first foundation was at Quimiri, where a chapel was built. Two years later the founders, Father Gerónimo Ximénez, and Cristóval Larios, died at the hands of the Campas on the Péréné River. Work was not interrupted, however, and three years later (1640) there were established about the salt-hill of Vitoc seven chapels, each with a settlement of Indian converts. But in 1742 the appearance of Juan Santos Atahualpa occasioned an almost general uprising of the aborigines. Until then the missions had progressed remarkably. Some of the most savage tribes, like the Canibos, became at least partially reduced to obedience, and led a more sedate, orderly life. In 1725 the College of Ocopa was founded. All these gains (except the College of Ocopa and the regions around Tarma and Cajamarquilla) were lost until, after 1751, Franciscan missions again began to enter the lost territory, and even added more conquests among the fiercest Arawaks (Cashibos) on the Ucayali. Conversions in these regions have cost many martyrs, not less than sixty-four ecclesiastics having perished at the hands of Indians of Arawak stock in the years between 1637 and 1766. Missionary work among the Arawaks of Guyana and on the banks of the Orinoco began, in a systematic manner, in the second half of the seventeenth century, and was carried on, from the Spanish side, among the Maypures of the Orinoco, from the French side along the coast and the Essequibo River. Wars between France, England, and Holland, the indifferent, systemless ways of French colonization, but chiefly the constant incursion of the Caribs, interrupted or at least greatly obstructed the progress of missions.

Ethnologically the Arawaks vary in condition. Those of Guyana seem to be partly sedentary. They call themselves Loknono. They are well built. Descent among them is in the female line, and they are polygamous. They are land-tillers and hunters. Their houses are sheds, open on the sides, and their weapons are bows, arrows, and wooden clubs. Their religious ideas are, locally varied, those of all Indians, animism or fetishism, with an army of shamans, or medicine-men, to uphold it. Of the Campas and the tribes comprised within the Pano group, about the same may be stated, with the difference that several of the tribes composing it are fierce cannibals, (Cashibos and Canibos). It must be observed, however, that cannibalism is, under certain conditions, practiced by all the forest tribes of South America, as well as by the Aymara of Bolivia. It is mostly a ceremonial practice, and, at the bottom, closely related to the custom of scalping.


Sources

The "Letters of Columbus" contain the earliest information about the American Indians, and those described in his first letter, 22 February, 1493, were Arawaks. The report of Frey Roman Pane is found in the works of Fernando Colon, the Spanish original of which has not yet been found, but an Italian version of it was published in 1751. There are several editions. Quotations above are from Historia del Signor D. Hernando Columbo. Nelle quale s' ha particulare & vera relazione della vita, e de fatti del' Ammiraglio D. Christoforo Columbo Suo Padre (Venice, 1678), the translation is by Alfonso Ulloa. A first Spanish retranslation was published by Gonzalez Barcia in Historiadores primitiva de Indios (Madrid, 1749); a French version by Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg appears appended to the Relation des choses de Yucatan (Paris, 1864), and there is a second print in Spanish of recent date. La Casa, Historia de las Indias (two editions, one in the Documentos para la Historia del Espana); Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Indias (Seville, 1552), numerous editions and translations into various languages; Girolamo Benzoni; Historia del Mundo Nouvo (Venice, 1585); German translation, 1579; French, 1587; English, Hackluyt Society, History of the New World (London, 1857). Other sources: Oviedo y Valdez, Historia general y natural de las Indias (first print. Madrid, 1535, comprising only the first nineteen books; complete edition, Madrid, 1851); Gomara, Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos &ca. (Madrid, 1601-15); other editions, and more accessible ones: Madrid, 1728-30, and Antwerp, 1728. On missions, references are (mentioning only the most prominent sources): the Relaciones geograficos de Indias (II and IV, Madrid, 1885 and 1897), which contain elaborate discussions of the expeditions of Salinas Loyola, and of Vaca de Vega, and documents relative to the ecclesiastics connected with them: cardova Salinas Coronica de la Religiosisima Provincia de los Doce Apostolos de Piru (Lima, 1651); Arriga, Extirpacion de la Idolatria del Piru (Lima, 1651); Calancha, Coronica moralizda de la oredn de San Augustin en el Piru (Lima, 1638; second part, 1653); Documentos ineditos de Indias. passim; C. Quandt, Nachricht von Surinam und Seinen Einwohnen (Gorlitz, 1807). An important vocabulary of the Shipibo dialect (Pano of the Beni) by Bishop Armentia has been published in the Buletin de la Sociedad de Geografica de la Paz. It is the most complete thusfar known. Literature on the Arawaks being so very abundant, many works cannot be mentioned here.

About this page

APA citation. Bandelier, A.F. (1907). Arawaks. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01680c.htm

MLA citation. Bandelier, Adolph Francis. "Arawaks." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01680c.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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