Edward Burnett Tylor.

Anahuac : or, Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern online

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while famine carried off the women and children whose husbands and
fathers had perished. But the slaughter and famine of the first years
of the Spanish Conquest far exceeded anything that the country had
suffered before.

At the time of the Conquest of Mexico the Spaniards let the native
irrigating-works fall into decay; and they took still more active
measures to deprive the land of its necessary water, by their
indiscriminate destruction of the forests on the hills that surround
the plains. When the trees were cut down, the undergrowth soon
perished, and the soil which had served to check the descending waters
in their course was soon swept away. During the four rainy months, each
heavy shower sends down a flood along the torrent-bed which flows into
a river, and so into the ocean, or, as in the Mexican valley, into a
salt lake, where it only serves to injure the surrounding land. In both
cases it runs away in utter waste.

In later years the Spanish owners of the soil had the necessity of the
system impressed upon them by force of circumstances; and large sums
were spent upon the construction of irrigating channels, even in the
outlying states of the North.

In the American territory recently acquired from Mexico history has
repeated itself in a most curious way. We learn from Froebel, the
German traveller, that the new American settlers did not take kindly to
the system of irrigation which they found at work in the country. They
were not used to it, and it interfered with their ideas of liberty by
placing restrictions upon their doing what they pleased on their own
land. So they actually allowed many of the water-canals to fall into
ruins. Of course they soon began to find out their mistake, and are
probably investing heavily in water-supply by this time. We ought not
to be too severe upon the Spaniards of the sixteenth century for an
economical mistake which we find the Americans falling into under
similar circumstances in the nineteenth.




Much too soon, as we thought, the day came when we had arranged to
leave Tezcuco and return to Mexico, to prepare for a journey into the
tierra caliente. On the evening of our return to the capital there was
a little earthquake, but neither of us noticed it; and thus we lost our
one chance, and returned to England without having made acquaintance
with that peculiar sensation.

The purchase of horses and saddles and other equipments for our
journey, gave us an opportunity of poking about into out-of-the-way
corners of the city, and seeing some new phases of Mexican life; and
certainly we made the most of the chance. We made acquaintance with
horse-dealers, who brought us horses to try in the courtyard of the
great house of our friends the English merchants in the Calle
Seminario, and there showed off their paces, walking, pacing, and
galloping. To trot is considered a disgusting vice in a Mexican horse;
and the universal substitute for it here is the _paso_, a queer
shuffling run, first, the two legs on one side together, and then the
other two. You jolt gently up and down without rising in the stirrups;
and when once you are used to it the paso is not disagreeable, and it
is well suited to long mountain-journeys. Horses in the United States
are often trained to this gait, and are known as "pacing" horses.
Another peculiarity in the training of Mexican horses is, that many of
them are taught to "rayar," that is, to put their fore-feet out after
the manner of mules going down a pass; and slide a short distance along
the ground, so as to stop suddenly in the midst of a rapid gallop. To
practise the horses in this feat, the jockey draws a lino ("_raya_") on
the ground, and teaches them to stop exactly as they reach it, and
whirl round in the opposite direction. This performance is often to be
seen on the paseo, and other places, where smart young gentlemen like
to show off themselves and their horses; but it is only a fancy trick,
and they acknowledge that it spoils the animal's fore-legs.

After much bargaining and chaffering we bought three horses for
ourselves and our man Antonio, giving eight, seven, and four pounds for
them. This does not seem much to give for good hackneys, as these were;
but they were not particularly cheap for Mexico. While we were at
Tezcuco, Mr. Christy used to ride one of Mr. Bowring's horses, a pretty
little chestnut, which carried him beautifully, and had cost just
eleven dollars, or forty-six shillings. It had been bought of the
horse-dealers who come down every year from the almost uninhabited
states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Cohahuila, on the American frontier,
where innumerable herds of horses, all but wild, roam over boundless
prairies, feeding on the tall coarse grass. Their keep costs so little,
that the breeders are not compelled, as in England, to break them in
and sell them at the earliest possible moment, and they let the young
colts roam untamed till they are five or six years old. Their great
strength and power of endurance in proportion to their size is in great
measure to be ascribed to this early indulgence.

It is very clear that when a horse is to be sold for somewhere between
two and six pounds, the breeder cannot afford to spend much time in
breaking him in. The rough-rider lazos him, puts on the bridle with its
severe bit, and springs upon his back in spite of kicking and plunging.
The horse gallops furiously off across country of his own accord, but
when his pace begins to flag, the great vaquero spurs come into
requisition, and in an hour or two he comes back to the corral dead
beat and conquered once for all. It is easy to teach him his paces
afterwards. The anquera - as it is called - is put on his haunches, to
cure him of trotting, and to teach him the paso instead. It is a
leather covering fringed with iron tags, which is put on behind the
saddle, and allows the horse to pace without annoying him; but the
least approach to a trot brings the pointed tags rattling upon his
haunches. We bought one of these anqueras at Puebla. It was very old,
and curiously ornamented with carved patterns. In the last century,
these anqueras were a regular part of Mexican horse-equipment; but now,
except in horse-breaking yards or old curiosity-shops, they are seldom
to be seen.

Almost all the Mexican horses descend from the Arab breed - the gentlest
and yet the most spirited in the world, which have not degenerated
since the Spaniards brought them over in the early days of the
Conquest, but retain unchanged their small graceful shape, their
swiftness, and their power of bearing fatigue. There seem really to be
no large horses bred in the country. Instead of jolting about in a
carriage drawn by eight or ten mules, with harness covered with silver
and gold - as rich Mexicans used to do, the proper thing now is to have
a pair of tall carriage-horses, like ours in England; and these are
brought at great expense from the United States, and by the side of the
graceful little Mexicans they look as big and as clumsy as elephants.

Our saddles were of the old Moorish pattern, of monstrous size and
weight, very comfortable for the rider, but, I fear, much less so for
the horse, whose back often gets sadly galled, in spite of the thick
padding and the two or three blankets that are put on underneath. These
saddles run into high peaks behind and before, so that you can hardly
fall out of them, even when you go to sleep in the saddle on a long
journey, as many people habitually do. In front, the saddle rises into
a pummel which is made of hard wood, and is something like a large
mushroom with its stalk. Round this the end of the lazo is wound, after
the noose has been thrown. All Mexican saddles are provided with these
heads in front, and have, moreover, several pairs of little thongs
attached to them on each side, which serve to tie on bags, whips,
water-gourds, and other odds and ends. Behind the seat of the saddle
are more straps, where cloaks and serapes are fastened; and in case of
need even a carpet-bag will travel there. We were in the habit of
returning from our expeditions with our horses so covered with the
plants and curiosities we had collected, that it became no easy matter
to get our legs safely over the horses' backs, into their proper places
among the clusters of miscellanea. Our acquaintances used to compare us
to the perambulating butchers' shops, which are a feature in Mexican
streets, and consist of a horse with a long saddle covered with hooks,
and on every hook a joint.

The flaps of our saddles, the great spatterdashes that protected our
feet from the mud, and the broad stirrup-straps were covered with
carved and embossed patterns; indeed almost all leather-work is
decorated in this way, and the saddle-makers delight in ornamenting
their wares with silver plates and bosses; so that it was not
surprising that our saddles and bridles should have cost, though
second-hand, nearly as much as the horses.

In books of travels in Mexico up to the beginning of the present
century, one of the staple articles of wondering description was the
gorgeous trappings of the horses, and the spurs, bits, and stirrups of
gold and silver. The costumes have not changed much, but the taste for
such costly ornaments has abated; and it is now hardly respectable to
have more than a few pounds worth of bullion on one's saddle or around
one's hat, or to wear a hundred or so of buttons of solid gold down the
sides of one's leather trousers, with a very questionable cotton
calzoncillo underneath.

The horses' bits are made with a ring, which pinches the under-lip when
the bridle is tightened, and causes great pain when it is pulled at all
hard. At first sight it seems cruel to use such bits, but the system
works very well; and the horses, knowing the power their rider has over
them, rarely misbehave themselves. One rides along with the loop at the
end of the twisted horse-hair bridle hanging loose on one finger, so
that the horse's mouth is much less pulled about than with the bridles
we are accustomed to in England. When it is necessary to guide the
horse, the least pressure is enough; but, as a general rule, the little
fellow can find his way as well as his rider can. We used continually
to let our reins drop on our horses' necks, and jog on careless of pits
and stumbling-blocks. I have even seen my companion take out his
pocket-book, and improve the occasion by making notes and sketches as
he went.


The distance from Mexico to Vera Cruz is about two hundred and fifty
miles, and what the roads are I have in some measure described. Rafael
Beraza, the courier of the English Mission at Mexico, used to ride this
with despatches regularly once a month in forty hours, and occasionally
in thirty-five. He changed horses about every ten or fifteen miles; and
now and then, when, overcome by sleep, he would let the boy who
accompanied him to the next stage ride first, his own horse following,
and the rider comfortably dozing as he went along.

As for our own equipment, Mr. Christy adopted the attributes of the
eastern traveller when he came into the country, the great umbrella,
the veil, and the felt hat with a white handkerchief over it. As for
me, my wardrobe was scanty; so, when my travelling coat wore out at the
elbows and my trousers were sat through - like the little bear's chair
in the story, I replaced the garments with a jacket of chamois leather,
and a pair of loose trousers made of the same, after the manner of the
country. Then came a grey felt hat, as stiff as a boiler-plate, and of
more than quakerish lowness of crown and broadness of brim, but
secularized by a silver serpent for a hatband; also, a red silk sash,
which - fastening round the waist - held up my trousers, and interfered
with my digestion; lastly, a woollen serape to sleep under, and to wear
in the mornings and evenings. This is the genuine ranchero costume, and
it did me good service. Indeed, ever since my Mexican journey I have
considered that George Fox decidedly showed his good sense by dressing
himself in a suit of leather; much more so than the people who laughed
at him for it.

In the country, all Mexicans - high and low - wear this national dress;
and in this they are distinguished from the Indians, who keep to the
cotton shirts and drawers, and the straw hats of their ancestors. In
the towns, it is only the lower classes who dress in the ranchero
costume, for "nous autres" wear European garments and follow the last
Paris fashion, with these exceptions - that for riding, people wear
jackets and calzoneras of the national cut, though made of cloth, and
that the Mexican hat is often worn even by people who adopt no other
parts of the costume. There never were such hats as these for
awkwardness. The flat sharp brims of passers-by are always threatening
to cut your head off in the streets. You cannot get into a carriage
with your hat on, nor sit there when you are in. But for walking and
riding under a fierce sun, they are perhaps better than anything else
that can be used.

The Mexican blanket - the serape - is a national institution; It is wider
than a Scotch plaid, and nearly as long, with a slit in the middle; and
it is woven in the same gaudy Oriental patterns which are to be seen on
the prayer-carpets of Turkey and Palestine to this day. It is worn as a
cloak, with the end flung over the left shoulder, like the Spanish
_capa_, and muffling up half the face when its owner is chilly or does
not wish to be recognized. When a heavy rain comes down, and he is on
horseback, he puts his head through the slit in the middle, and becomes
a moving tent. At night he rolls himself up in it, and sleeps on a mat
or a board, or on the stones in the open air.

Convenient as it is, the serape is as much tabooed among the
"respectable" classes in the cities as the rest of the national
costume. I recollect going one evening after dark to the house of our
friends in the Calle Seminario with my serape on, and nearly having to
fight it out with the great dog Nelson, who was taking charge of his
master's room. Nelson knew me perfectly well, and had sat that very
morning at the hotel-gate for half an hour, holding my horse, while a
crowd of leperos stood round, admiring his size and the gravity of his
demeanour as he sat on the pavement, with the bridle in his mouth. But
that a man in a serape should come into his master's room at dusk was a
thing he could not tolerate, till the master himself came in, and
satisfied his mind on the subject.

As I said, the equipment of ourselves and our three horses took us into
a variety of strange places, for we bought the things we wanted piece
by piece, when we saw anything that suited us. Among other places we
went to the Baratillo, which is the Rag-Fair and Petticoat Lane of
Mexico, and moreover the emporium for whips, bridles, bits, old spurs,
old iron, and odds and ends generally. The little shops are arranged in
long lines, after the manner of the eastern bazaar; and the
shopkeepers, when they are not smoking cigarettes outside, are sitting
in their little dens, within arms-length of all the wares they have to
sell. Here we found what we had come for, and much more too, in the way
of wonderful old spurs, combs, boxes, and ornaments; so that we came
several times more before we left the country, and never without
carrying away some curious old relic.

Mexico, as everybody knows, is decidedly a thievish place. The shops
are all shut at dark, after the _Oración_, for fear of thieves. Ladies
used to wear immense tortoise-shell combs at the back of their heads,
where the mantilla is fastened on; but, when it became a regular trade
for thieves to ride on horseback through the streets, and pull out the
combs as they went, the fashion had to be given up. These curiously
carved and ornamented combs are still preserved as curiosities, and we
bought several of them.

While we were in Mexico, they knocked a man down in the great square at
noon-day, robbed him, and left him there for dead. The square is so
large, and the sun was so hot, that the police - whose head-quarters are
under the arches in that very square - could not possibly walk across to
see what was going on! - _moral_, if you will have the distinction of
having the largest square in the world, you must take the consequences.

Of course, where thieving is so general, the market for stolen goods
must be a place of considerable trade, and this Baratillo is one of the
principal depôts for such wares. One may realize here the story of the
citizen, in the old book, who had his wig stolen at the beginning of
his walk through London, and found it hanging up for sale a little
further on. Here the deserter comes to sell his uniform and his
ricketty old flintlock. Small blame to him. I would do the same myself
if I were in his place, and were compelled to serve under one rascally
political adventurer against another rascally political adventurer - to
say nothing of being treated like a dog, half-starved, and not paid at
all, except by a sort of half license to plunder. "Those poor soldiers!
we can't pay them, you know, and they must live somehow."

I have abused the Mexicans for being thieves, and not without reason,
though, as regards ourselves personally, we never lost anything except
a great brand-new waterproof coat which my companion had brought with
him, promising to himself that under its shelter he should bid defiance
to the daily rain-storms of the wet season. As we dismounted from the
Diligence in Mexico, in the courtyard of the hotel, some one relieved
him of it. We did not know of the Baratillo in those days, or would
have gone to look for it there. At the time of our visit it was too
late, for if it ever had been there, the Mexicans understand too well
the value of an English "ulli," as they call them, to let it hang long
for sale. "Ulli" is not a borrowed word, but the genuine Aztec name for
India-rubber, which was used to make playing-balls with, long before
the time of Columbus.

I mentioned the water-bottles as part of our equipment. They are
gourds, which are throttled with bandages while young, so as to make
them grow into the shape of bottles with necks. Then they are hung up
to dry; and the inside being cleaned out through a small hole near the
stalk, they are ready for use, holding two or three pints of water. A
couple of inches of a corn-cob (the inside of a ear of Indian corn)
makes a capital cork; and the bottle is hung by a loop of string to the
pummel of the saddle, where it swings about without fear of breaking.
One may see gourds, prepared in just the same way, in Italy, hanging up
under the eaves of the little farm-houses, among the festoons of red
and yellow ears of Indian corn; and indeed the gourd-bottle is a
regular institution of Southern Europe.

We sent Antonio on with the horses to Cuernavaca, and started by the
Diligence early one morning, accompanied by one of our English friends,
whom I will call - as every-one else did - Don Guillermo. It is the
regular thing here, as in Spain, to call everybody by his or her
Christian name. You may have known Don Antonio or Don Felipe for weeks
before you happen to hear their surnames.

The road ran at first over the plain, among great water-meadows, with
herds of cattle pasturing, and fields of wheat and maize. Ploughing was
going on, after the primitive fashion of the country, with two oxen
yoked to each plough. The yoke is fastened to the horns of the oxen,
and to the centre of the yoke a pole is attached. At the other end of
this pole is the plough itself, which consists of a wooden stake with
an iron point and a handle. The driver holds the handle in one hand and
his goad in the other (a long reed with an iron point), and so they
toil along, making a long scratch as they go. A man follows the plough,
and drops in single grains of Indian corn, about three feet apart. The
furrows are three feet from one another, so that each stalk occupies
some nine square feet of ground. When the plants are growing up they
dig between them, and heap up round each stalk a little mound of earth.

We passed many little houses consisting of one square room, built of
mud-bricks, with mud-mortar stuck full of little stones; without
windows, but generally possessing the luxury of a chimney, with a
couple of bricks forming an arch over it to keep out the rain. Glimpses
of men smoking cigarettes at the doors, half-naked brown children
rolling in the dirt, and women on their knees inside, hard at work
grinding the corn for those eternal tortillas.

At San Juan de Dios Mr. Christy climbed to the top of the Diligence,
behind the conductor, who sat with a large black leather bag full of
stones on the footboard before him. Whenever one of the nine mules
showed a disposition to shirk his work, a heavy stone came flying at
him, always hitting him in a tender place, for long practice had made
the conductor almost as good a shot as the goat-herds in the mountains,
who are said to be able to hit their goats on whichever horn they
please, and so to steer them straight when they seem inclined to stray.
But our conductor simply threw the stones, whereas the goat-herd uses
the aloe-fibre honda, or sling, that one sees hanging by dozens in the
Mexican shops.

We pass near Churubusco, and along the line by which the American army
reached Mexico. The field of lava which they crossed is close at our
right hand; and just on the other side of it lie Tisapán and our friend
Don Alejandro's cotton-factory. On our left are the freshwater-lakes of
Xochimilco and Chalco, which had risen several feet, and flooded the
valley in their neighbourhood. Between us and the great mountain-chain
that forms the rim of the valley, lies a group of extinct volcanos,
from one of which descends the great lava-field.

Passing in full view of these picturesque craters, now mostly covered
with trees and brushwood, we begin to ascend, and are soon among the
porphyritic range that forms a wall between us and the land of
sugar-canes and palms. Along the road towards Mexico came long files of
Indians, dressed in the national white cotton shirts and short drawers
and sandals, made like Montezuma's, though not with plates of gold on
the soles, such as that monarch's sandals had. Some of these Indians
are bringing on their backs wood and charcoal from the pine-forest
higher up among the mountains, and some have fastened to their backs
light crates full of live fowls or vegetables; others are carrying up
tropical fruits from the tierra caliente below, zapotes and mameis,
nisperos and granaditas, tamarinds and fresh sugar-canes. These people
are walking with their loads thirty or forty miles to market: but their
race have been used as beasts of burden for ages, and they don't mind

Bright blue and red birds, and larger and more brilliant butterflies
than are seen in Europe, show that, though we are among fields of wheat
and maize, we are in the tropics after all. As the road rises we get
views of the broad valley, with its lakes and green meadows, and the
great white haciendas with their clumps of willows, their
church-towers, and the clusters of adobe huts surrounding them - like
the peasants' cottages in feudal Europe, crowding up to the baron's

Our mules begin to flag as we toil up the steep ascent; but the
conductor rattles the stones in his black bag, and as the ominous sound
reaches their ears, they start off again with renewed vigour. We pass
San Mateo, a village of charcoal-burners, where a large and splendid
stone church, with its tall dark cypresses, stands among the huts of
reeds and pine-shingles that form the village.


Trains of mules are continually passing with their heavy loads of wood
and charcoal, bales of goods and barrels of aguardiente de caña, which
is rum made from the sugar-cane, but not coloured like that which comes
to England. The men are continually rushing backwards and forwards
among their beasts, which are not content with kicking and biting, and
banging against one another, but are always trying to lie down in the
road; and one of the principal duties of the arriero is constantly to
keep an eye on all his beasts at once, and, when he sees one preparing
to lie down, to be beforehand with him, and drive him on by a furious

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Online LibraryEdward Burnett TylorAnahuac : or, Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern → online text (page 13 of 27)