Neolithic Culture

The first period of man's cultural life is known as the paleolithic. It is the vast expanse of time when man shaped stone into rough but useful tools. Leaving aside that period, we can say that there have been three basic cultural stages in world history which will help us to appreciate the place and situation of Latin America within that history. The first stage is the neolithic period and the rise of the first great civilizations. The second stage is the invasion of the Indo-European cultural groups. The third stage is the invasion of the Semitic peoples. I shall now discuss these three periods, but I ask the reader to remember that I am not talking about a chronological order of events but about a series of events that had major cultural impact.

The first stage, then, is the period of neolothic culture. It entailed a great urban revolution. Thanks to the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals, man could settle down in groups and live in towns. The division of labor became possible and grew in complexity. This led to further progress, and eventually to the rise of large urban centers and the first great cultures or civilizations.

The first great civilization arose in lower Mesopotamia, on the Persian Gulf, around the fourth millenium before Christ. The second great civilization arose in Egypt around the start of the third millenium. Thus it was not just mere chance that a man named Abraham would set out from the city of U r, or that his descendants would find themselves in Egypt. Israel lived its life between these two great centers of civilization, the two oldest centers of world history. Israel's life is rooted in history, even as the life of Jesus would be later on. The Israelites would always remain a very poor people, but they would undergo intense cultural evolution because they lived between the two oldest civilizations of mankind. The fact is undeniable.

The third great culture appeared in the Indus Valley around 2500 B.C. The fourth appeared on the Yellow River about 1500 B.C. By contrast, the last two civilizations to be mentioned here appeared on the American continent. The Mayan- Aztec civilization flourished after the time of Jesus Christ; its classical period is dated from 300 to 900 A.D., when the great city of Teotihuacan was a cultural center. The classic period of Inca civilization, with its great center at Tiahuanaco, was contemporaneous with that of the Mayan-Aztec civilization.

These six civilizations are the great cultural pillars which will enable us to understand world history. Five thousand years separate the start of Mesopotamian civilization from the rise of the American civilizations. The cultural process moves from East to West, and our prehistory is centered on the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, the Incas and the Aztecs were not the only groups involved in our cultural history. There were the Chibchas in Colombia, the various Indian cultures of North America, and other groups besides. But the overall configuration of our prehistory, which includes the existence of two great civilizations, will help to explain our history.

We must realize that conquering the Incas was not the same thing as "pacifying" nomadic tribes of Indians. The conquest of a great center such as Cuzco meant the conquest of an empire containing millions of people. By contrast, the nomadic tribes of North and South America were never really conquered. The European newcomers to North America moved forward slowly, killing Indians as they went. General Roca did the same thing in Argentina as he pushed forward with the "conquest of the desert." We should not imagine that the story of English settlement is one of complete malice while the story of Spanish settlement is one of sweetness and light. Prehistoric factors help to explain why the method of conquest in the two cases was different, even though they may not justify the method used.

The Aztec Worldview

War was an essential element in the ethos or Weltanschauung of the Aztecs. They were a warrior people by nature, and this tendency found expression in their cult of the sun. Intermingled in this cult were elements borrowed from the agricultural peoples of the valley and from the primitive hunters of the north whence the Nahua people came. The uranic element was not only united with the sun but also intermingled with various animals. Such is the case with the gods worshipped at the great temple in Tenochtitlcin. This temple was dedicated principally to Huitzilopochtli. He had originally been the tribal god of the Aztecs, the god of the "daytime sky." But he was transformed into a "god of war" who came to counsel his people in the form of a hummingbird (animal epiphany), a hummingbird armed with shield, darts, and propellant. Tonatiuh-the sun-was the chief god of the firmament. Huitzilopochtli and Tezcolipoca (the god of the nightime sky) were his incarnations.

There was also a uranic god in the proper sense of the term, but only the city of Tezcoco had a conscious cult to him. This uranic god, Tloque Nahuaque, was the creator and source of everything in existence-even prior to the dual gods Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl. A more humble position was held by Quetzalcoatl (the "plumed serpent"), who was the god of wisdom, the priesthood, the wind, the planet Venus, and the setting sun.

Chthonic elements were assimilated belatedly, and they retain a negative cast. Tlaltecuhtli ("Lord of the earth") and Coatlicue ("Mother Earth") are represented as a monstrous and fiercesome amphibian animal.

All this suggests the primacy of the hunter and warrior in ESQUEMA 2

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