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Chapter IV

Description of the Vanquech or Temple

Although god needs not a material temple, to be adored, praised and venerated, to fill all the world with his essence, presence, and power: nevertheless, he has always desired that there should be sacrifices, and prayers offered unto him, to obtain his mercy and forgiveness, in places determined upon by him; as may be seen in Deuteronomy in the Holy Scriptures. He ordered the patriarch, Abraham, to sacrifice on a mount of his own selection. Moses was ordered to build a tabernacle, and 440 years afterwards, Solomon, was commanded to build the magnificent temple of Jerusalem.

Satan, jealous of the honor due to the true God, wishes that man should also adore him, and offer up sacrifices in temples, by him ordained, thus endeavoring to draw him from the knowledge of the true God, one in essence, and three in person. He has taught man a diversity of Gods, and a variety of forms for his temples. I will therefore explain, in this chapter, the location and form of the temple, called Vanquech. The name of temple, or church, we know is derived from contemplatione, a place dedicated to prayer. If the Vanquech of these Indians can be thus termed, the reader will best decide.

The temples erected by command of the God Chinigchinich, or the celebrated idolater Ouiamot, were invariably erected in the centre of their towns, and contiguous to the dwelling-place of the, captain, or chief; notwithstanding their houses were scattered about without any

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particular regard to order, still, they managed to have the location of his house as near the middle as possible. They formed an enclosure of about four or five yards in circumference, not exactly round, but inclining to an oval. This they divided, by drawing a line through the centre, and built another, consisting of the branches of trees, and mats to the height of about six feet, outside of which, in the other division, they formed another, of small stakes of wood driven into the ground. This was called the gate, or entrance, to the Vanquech. Inside of this, and close to the larger stakes, was placed a figure of their God Chinigchinich, elevated upon a kind of hurdle. This is the edifice of the Vanquech.

Not being acquainted with the art of drawing, I cannot give a true picture of the figure adored by them, but will explain the same as well as I am able. In the first place, of the skin of a coyote, or gato montes, which was taken off with great care, including the head and feet, they formed a species of sack. This they dressed quite smooth, like deer skin, but without taking off the hair. Inside of this, were placed the feathers of particular kinds of birds, horns of deer, lions' claws, beaks and talons of the hawk and crow, and other things of this class; particularly the beak and talons of a species of hawk, called pame, that we shall describe hereafter, from the feathers of which they formed a kind of petticoat, to dress their Chinigchinich, such as was used by the captain and chiefs, and called paelt. Inside of this sack, they placed some arrows, and upon the outside, a few more, with a bow. It resembled in appearance, a live animal, and projecting from its mouth might be seen the feathers of the arrows.

When the Captain sent out orders by the crier of the general council, for the Indians to go out in search of game, or seeds, one of the puplem, (signifying one who knows all things) sketched upon the ground in front of Chinigchinich, a very ridiculous figure, and the crier called upon all to go and worship it. Having congregated together, according to their custom on such occasions, (male and female) the men armed with their bows and arrows, and well painted--the chief and the puplem dressed in their appropriate costumes, resembling devils more than human beings--they went in succession, running one behind the other, led by their captain, until they arrived. opposite Chinigchinich, and the figure upon the earth. The leader then gave a jump, springing


An Indian Dressed in the ''Tobet''
Click to enlarge

An Indian Dressed in the ''Tobet''


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very high from the ground, accompanied by a loud yell, and with his bow and arrow, prepared as if to shoot at something in the air. Each one in his turn performed the same evolution.

The ceremony being concluded on the part of the men, the females followed, headed by their Capitana in like manner as the men, differing only in this respect, that instead of running, they moved along in slow procession, and when in front of the Vanquech, they inclined the head, presenting at the same time their bateas, or instruments collected for the occasion. This ceremony concluded, they all dispersed to the mountains. The object of this performance, was to implore protection from all danger and sickness while in their pursuit of game.

Very great was their veneration for the Vanquech, or temple, and they were extremely careful not to commit the most trivial act of irreverence within. No one was permitted to enter it on their feast days, but the chief, the Puplem, and elders. The remainder of the people remained outside of the stakes. The younger class did not dare to approach even the entrance. Profound silence was observed generally throughout the assembly, interrupted occasionally by a whisper. Of those inside, sometimes the chief, or one of the Puplem, danced, making all kinds of grotesque figures; after which they partook of an entertainment, when all ate from the same vessel.

It has always appeared to me extremely ridiculous that his Satanic Majesty, desirous of the honors and veneration due to God alone, should have adopted so ludicrous a form of worship, as that which was observed toward Chinigchinich. When in his presence, the Indians were entirely naked, and remained for hours in a posture equally awkward and fatiguing--a sort of squat; resting their heads, generally, upon their right hands, without moving during the ceremony of adoration.

Extraordinary as was the veneration observed for their Vanquech, no less so were the privileges allowed to those who sought its protection. Whatever criminal, guilty of the highest misdemeanor--of homicide, adultery, or theft, escaping from justice, should be enabled to reach its sanctuary, unknown to his accusers, from that moment he would become free, and at liberty to go abroad without any fear of molestation, on the part of those aggrieved. No mention would be made of the crime of which he might be guilty, yet, it might be said, in derision of

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his having sought refuge in the Vanquech, "you went to the protection of Chinigchinich, if you had not, we should have killed you; but, nevertheless, he will chastise you for your wickedness."

They believed, that, as their God was friendly to the good, and punished the wicked, he also would not permit any one to be molested, who sought his protection; thus, the criminal escaped punishment at the time. Yet it must be understood, that although the delinquent went free, the crime did not remain exempt from punishment; for vengeance was wrought upon the children, grandchildren, or some near relative, whenever opportunity to the aggrieved offered; and the tradition was handed down, from father, to son, until the same was accomplished. In like manner, the captain could preserve his life when charged with squandering the grain, which was deposited with him. If he, by good luck, achieved a refuge in the Vanquech, no one could harm him, nor enter therein, particularly if he were adorned in the robes of the "Capitanejas." Should any one enter in defiance of this custom, he would be immediately despatched by his companions, for death was the penalty. The captain would be deposed, however, but they would suffer him to go at large, deprived of his title and supremacy, and the puplem would elect as his successor, one of his children; charging him to hold in recollection, the fate of his father; to be faithful, or the same punishment would attend him.

Next: Chapter V. Obedience and Subjection to Their Captain