Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

Lima, the City of the Kings

The spot chosen by Pizarro for the new capital of Peru was in the beautiful valley of the Rimac River, a few miles from its mouth. Here the cool currents from the snow-capped mountains and the soft breezes from the Pacific meet and produce an ideal climate. It was there, in January, 1535, that Pizarro founded "the City of the Kings," named after the three wise men of the East who came to see the infant Christ. Later its name was changed to Lima. It has remained the capital of Peru from that time to this.

Lima has been captured by hostile armies several times since its foundation. Sixteen times it has been injured by earthquakes, and twice almost completely destroyed. Yet it is still a city of nearly a quarter of a million population and one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the western world.

The gold and silver discovered in Peru and sent to Spain drew Europeans to South America by thousands. From Peru they crossed the mountains and settled in Argentina and Bolivia and Paraguay. They moved southward and established colonies in Chile. They stopped on their way to Peru and founded settlements in Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela.

In 1544, just three years after the death of Pizarro, Peru was made a viceroyalty, under a ruler called viceroy, which title meant that he was acting in all matters for the king. Moreover, he was given jurisdiction over "the entire continent of South America." Lima, therefore, became the capital of all the Spanish colonies in South America. The city of Panama was eclipsed by the growing importance of the City of the Kings, and long before there was a single English colony in the New World the governor of Peru had become the most powerful Spanish ruler next to the monarch himself.

Lima was a typical Spanish city. It was built around a great plaza or open square, which was the center of the place. Roads extended from it to all the provinces, and traders from every part of South America brought their wares to the plaza to be bartered or sold. Lima, therefore, became the great meeting-place for all Spanish South America. Lines of caravans from the Atlantic coast came winding slowly across the pampas of Argentine and over the mountains bearing their merchandise. Negroes from the upper Amazon bore baskets of cloth and woolen stuff. Indians from the mountains and plains and explorers from Ecuador and Bolivia brought silver and gold. Farmers from Chile came laden with wine and wheat. All met in the streets of Lima, the proud capital.

The viceroy of Peru was the highest civil and military officer on the continent. At Lima he had a magnificent palace and an elaborate court, which rivaled that of the king of Spain. Here the supreme judges of all the continent had their palaces; they maintained a style as regal as that of the courts of Europe. Likewise, here resided many noble Spanish families, whose wealth and social distinction gave the City of the Kings much gilded splendor. Here were large cathedrals and monasteries, and here the dreaded tribunal of the Inquisition had its chief colonial seat. Here also was situated the first university of the New World, that of San Marcos, which was opened in 1551, nearly a century before Harvard college was founded. It was modeled after the great University of Salamanca in Spain, one of the most famous seats of learning in Europe.

It was in Lima that the Countess of Cinchona, a beautiful Spanish lady, was residing in the seventeenth century, when she was stricken with a fever that alarmed the capital. The natives told of a tree, the bark of which contained a cure for this dreaded malady. The physicians of those days had not learned the cause of malarial fever, nor had they discovered an effective remedy. But they sent for this bark, from which a tea was made and given to the Countess of Cinchona. She immediately began to improve. The tea was very bitter, almost too bitter to swallow, but she drank it until she was well again.

This bark was a more valuable discovery than the gold Pizarro found, for it has saved perhaps millions of lives from malarial fever. It was the substance from which quinine is made, and is known as Peruvian bark. The natives were urged to bring in more of this bark, which was shipped to Europe, to North America, and to every quarter of the globe. Strangers came from all over the world to see the trees from which the valuable drug is extracted. They learned to grind it and make a fine white powder from it, which is called quinine. One tree about sixty feet high and six feet in circumference yields, it is said, about a thousand pounds of bark and produces about $3,000 worth of quinine. A forest of these trees would be worth as much as a gold mine.

The Spaniards had discovered not only the center of the world's supply of gold, but the greatest medicine in the world. Other nations have since transplanted the cinchona tree. India, Java, Algeria, and even the United States grow it. For many years Peruvian bark collectors made great fortunes by selling their product to the different countries of the world. Finally, as other nations learned to cultivate the cinchona tree, the center of the quinine industry passed from Peru.

Across the mountains to the east were vast areas of prairie lands, or pampas, as they are called. When the Spaniards first entered this country, there were no horses or cattle on the plains, but within a few years the imported stock, turned loose, multiplied rapidly. Many escaped from their owners into the limitless prairies. Within a century, millions of cattle and horses flourished on the rich grass and roamed wild over the plains. Nature seemed to have given the Spaniards an opportunity to found one of the greatest countries in the world. Gold, silver, and other precious metals, plants that produced effective medicines, a variety of food all abounded here.

Students will ask the question why was it that from the City of Kings a wise government did not extend to all the Spanish colonies? The cause is not difficult to find. In the first place, no nation at that time had learned to govern its colonies wisely. The chief object in founding colonies was to enrich the mother country. In the second place, no people ever worshipped gold and silver more entirely than did the Spaniards. They did not migrate in families and seek to build up a great nation. Comparatively few Spanish women settled in South America, but thousands of Spanish men came over and intermarried with the natives or the negroes. As a result, a race of half-breeds sprang up, on whom the Spaniards looked as inferiors. They gave these half-breeds little or no part in the government. Thus there was a large population of mixed breeds governed by a handful of pure-blooded Spaniards.

The Spaniards, in colonizing a country, planned to live in towns or villages, or, if in the country, on large estates of which they were lords and masters. Usually, they lived in towns and enslaved the natives, requiring them to cultivate the fields and give them the fruits of their labor. The foreigners, other than the Spaniards, who came to the country were allowed no voice in the government; the descendants from marriages of Spaniards and Indians were treated little better than slaves. When a Spaniard married a white foreigner, their descendants were called creoles. The latter were also considered inferior and were permitted little influence in the government. As a result, a large part of the population grew to hate Spanish rule in South America. In reality, only the men who had come over from Spain had reason to favor it.

One of the first acts of Pizarro's government was to enslave the Indians, who were compelled to till the soil but could sell their products only to the land-owner on whose estate they lived. Sometimes they were made to weave and spin, but they could buy materials only from the owner. Taxes took all their profits, and the land owners kept them always in debt. According to the law, no Indian could leave his place of residence so long as he was in debt to his master. Not only that, but if he should die the debt descended to his children, who were held in bondage until it was paid. This system of peonage, as it is called, was a great evil. It kept the Indians down.

Moreover, the colonies were held for the benefit of Spanish merchants, who bought from the crown the right to trade. Manufactured articles made in Spain and other articles of merchandise offered for sale were distributed among the natives, who were required to buy whether they needed them or not. On one occasion a vessel brought over a large quantity of spectacles. Now the Indians had no need of spectacles, but a law was passed to the effect that after a certain date the Indians in a whole province must wear spectacles while attending church. The poor natives had to obey. Silk stockings, fine clothing, and other articles of luxury which they did not need, were likewise sold to them, and they were required to work out the cost. Many Spanish traders who came over poor returned home after a few years with considerable wealth.

Protests made by the natives did not bring relief but, as a rule, resulted in punishment. The Indians were required to work in the mines, and if they failed to perform their tasks they were flogged almost to death. It did no good to appeal to the courts, for the judges were Spaniards. The natives' only hope lay in revolt, which was frequent, though the armed forces of the government were able to keep down rebellion. After every rising, the leaders were massacred and slavery was more strongly entrenched than ever.

So grasping and merciless were masters that Indians working in the fields in the midst of plenty would beg bread from people passing by. "On the plantations," says one writer, "in the factories and in the mines, were usually three taskmasters who had constant supervision over the works. They were the overseer, his assistant, and his foreman. Each taskmaster holds his own scourge without letting it fall from his hands the whole day long. When one had done any wrong, he was stripped and laid on his face and beaten until his body was in sores."

As the local rulers tyrannized over the Indians, so the higher rulers tyrannized over the whole body of inhabitants. The lot of the Indians was bitterly hard, but the Europeans who had made their homes in Peru did not escape. The cruelty and inhumanity of the rulers, both civil and religious, were destructive of efforts to found a just government. The rulers needed money for their extravagant manner of living and they shaped the laws so as to make every province contribute its share of plunder.

This was only following the example of the mother country, which framed its laws so as to make Peru contribute to its wealth. The inhabitants of the colonies were prohibited from cultivating the products that Spain wished to export to Peru. The result of these repressive laws was that the country did not prosper and produce the best type of citizens. Just as the government of Peru found many ways to cheat the home country, so the provinces found many ways to cheat the government of Peru. These acts of injustice produced a people either crafty and vicious, or patriotic and rebellious.

The king of Spain, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, went so far as to order all the factories in Peru manufacturing cloth or other products of domestic use in competition with Spanish manufacturers to be destroyed. Notwithstanding such laws, the country was so rich in natural resources that it drew large numbers of settlers. On the Atlantic coast, near the mouth of the Rio Plata, a thriving town was growing. This was called Buenos Aires because of its delightful climate. But Buenos Aires, although far nearer Spain than Lima, was under the viceroy of Peru and was prohibited by law from trading directly with the mother country. Throughout the Argentine, many other prosperous towns were springing up. Some of these had been founded by adventurers from Peru, others by settlers from Buenos Aires. Yet the law compelled them to send their products across the mountains to Lima. The alternative was to carry on an illegal trade with Brazil or other foreign countries.

The distance from Buenos Aires to Lima, by the overland route, was about 2,800 miles. Yet this route, long as it was, by the middle of the eighteenth century had become very important. Although there were comparatively few settlements along the way, posthouses were kept for the convenience of the travelers, where they might obtain food and horses to continue their journey.



If you will take the map, you may trace this long overland commercial route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beginning at Buenos Aires, it led northwest through Cordoba, Tucuman and Salta in Argentine; then it continued up the mountains into what is now Bolivia, through Potosi and La Paz; then over the Andes and through Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, and thence to Lima. Nearly a year was required to make the round trip of 5,600 miles.

A glance at the map of South America is sufficient to convince any thoughtful student that such a government as that at Lima could not forever hold under one authority the people of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Revolution was inevitable at some time or other.

As in Argentina and Paraguay, little gold was found in Chile. This was an agricultural country but the people had to sell their products in Peru. The only two provinces that were even partly independent of Peru were Venezuela (called the Captain-Generalcy of Caracas) and Colombia (called New Granada).

Such was Spanish rule in South America and such was the government that emanated from the City of the Kings. No wonder that the people rebelled and broke the power of Spain in the New World!