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Alexander von Humboldt: „South America – missions in the interior“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 05.02.2023].

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Titel South America – missions in the interior
Jahr 1824
Ort London
in: The New Times 8101 (16. Juli 1824), [o. S.].
Entsprechungen in Buchwerken
Alexander von Humboldt, Relation historique du Voyage aux Régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent, 3 Bände, Paris: F. Schoell 1814[–1817], N. Maze 1819[–1821], J. Smith et Gide Fils 1825[–1831], Band 1, S. 371–462.
Sprache Englisch
Schriftart Antiqua
Textnummer Druckausgabe: IV.43
Dateiname: 1824-South_America_Missions-1-neu
Seitenanzahl: 1
Zeichenanzahl: 5825




It was at five o’clock in the morning on the 4thof September (says M. de Humboldt) that wecommenced our journey to the Missions of theChaymas Indians, and towards a group of highmountains which cross New Andalusia. We soon metwith cabins inhabited by Mestizos, in the Ravineof Los Frailes. In Europe we judge of the num-ber of inhabitants from the extent of cultivation:under the Tropics, on the contrary, in the hottestand most humid parts of South America, the mostpopulous provinces appear to be deserted; becausemen, for the sake of nourishment alone, will onlycultivate a small proportion of land. Withoutneighbours, almost without intercourse with men,each family of these Colonists forms an isolatedpeople. It is said, that in the New World manappears not as an absolute master who changes thesurface of the soil at his pleasure, but rather as apassing guest, who tranquilly enjoys the bountiesof Nature. In fact, in the neighbourhood of themost populous cities, the land retains the inherit-ance of its forests, or is covered with a thick un-derwood, which has never been touched with theaxe. The natural productions of the earth so ex-ceed in magnitude and number those introducedby cultivation, as to characterise the aspect of thecountry. It is to be presumed that this state ofthings cannot be changed but in a long process of time. The forests of the New World present a singularappearance. Every where the trunks of the trees arehidden under a species of verdant tapestry, and ifdue care were taken, in transplanting, to preserve theligaments, a vast extent of ground might be covered.The same climbers which at present spread ram-pantly over the soil, might be made to ascend the trees,passing from one to another to the height of 100 feet. We travelled for some hours under the shade ofthese arbours, which hardly left an opening throughwhich we could view the azure sky. It appeared tome of an indigo colour, and remarkably dark, as thegreen of the equinoctial plants is generally deep, andverging towards a brown. Near San Fernando, the evaporation caused bythe action of the sun was so great, that beingslightly clothed, we felt ourselves as damp as ifcoming from a shower bath. A path bordered by bamboos brought us to thesmall village of San Fernando. This was the firstMission we had seen in America. The houses orrather huts of the Chaymas Indians, which are sepa-rated from all others, have no gardens round them.Every Indian family cultivates at some distancefrom the village, besides his private garden, the conuco of the commune. It is in the latter of thesethat the adults of both sexes are accustomed tolabour one hour each morning and evening. Inthose Missions nearest the coast, the garden of thecommunity is generally a sugar or indigo plantationunder the superintendence of the Missionary, theproduce of which can only be employed in the sup-port of the Church and the purchase of sacerdotalornaments. The great square of San Fernando issituated in the middle of the village, inclosing theChurch, the Missionary dwelling, and that unas-piring edifice which is called the King’s House. Itis truly a Caravansary, appropriated to the shelterof travellers, and is infinitely precious in a countrywhere even the word Inn is unknown. These King’s houses are to be met with in allthe Spanish colonies, and one might believe thatthey are, in imitation of the Tambos of Peru,established by the laws of Manco-Capac. The Mission of San Fernando was founded at theend of the 17th century, at the junction of thesmall rivers of Manzanares and Lucalparez. Theresident families have increased to about a hundred,and the Missionary here remarked that the customof the young folks marrying at the ages of thirteenor fourteen had greatly contributed to the rapidgrowth of the population. The government ofthese Indian Communes is, in other respects, mostcomplicated; they have their governor, theiralguazil major, their commandants of militia, all ofwhom carry their bows and arrows. The companyof the archers have flags, and, habited in white,exercise the bow and arrow. These constitute theNational Guards of the country. I have already proved (says M. de Humboldt), inmy work on Mexico, how very wrong it was tostate, generally, the assumed fact of the destruc-tion or diminution of the Indians in the SpanishColonies. There still exists in the two Americas acolored population of above six million of souls; andalthough a great number of the tribes and languageshas been extinguished or confounded, the numberof Indians has not greatly diminished since the dis-covery by Columbus. The religious orders have formed their establish-ments between the territory of the Colonists and theThree Indians. The Missions should be consideredas a species of intermediate States; they have en-croached, no doubt, upon the liberty of the natives,but almost everywhere they have been subservientto the increase of population, which is incompatiblewith the wandering life of the independent Indians.In proportion as the religious orders approach theforests, and gain on the natives, the white colonistsin their turn endeavour to invade on the oppositeside the settlements of the Missionaries; after anunequal contest the Missionaries are gradually sup-planted by the regular clergy. The whites and themulattoes, favored by the Corregidors, are esta-blishing themselves in the midst of the Indians. Theresidences of the Missionaries become Spanish vil-lages, and the natives lose even the recollection oftheir national idiom. Such has been the progressof civilisation from the coasts to the interior.