Indigenous peoples of the Americas had their own religions, often taking elements from other indigenous religions, much like the Romans borrowed heavily on the Ancient Greeks. Indigenous religions set guidelines for people, explaining how they should live their lives, treat other people and pay homage to their gods. Various indigenous-American stories, such as the Mayan, Popol Vuh, even attempted to explain how the world was created.
In many religions corn played a very important role. The Maya believed that the first humans were created from it, thus corn became a sacred food for them, not to mention being an important food staple. Aztec legends as well as lesser known South American tribes also speak of their god's search for the "golden" crop.
At a time when the Catholic church held a lot of power within the XIV century monarchs of Spain, the "conquistadors", as well as the missionaries that accompanied them, were not opposed to using violence to convert the indigenous tribes to Catholicism. At the same time, the Spanish were so horror-stricken by the indigenous' use of human sacrifices that they claimed that indigenous religions were works of the devil, thus giving them all the more reason to convert them into God-fearing Catholics.
Catholicism was then proclaimed the official religion in the Americas by the Spanish through indirect orders from the Pope in Rome. Indigenous people were forced to renounce their own "blasphemous" religions, and used as laborers in the construction of Catholic cathedrals and other places of worship. Those that did observe the new religious order were punished, sometimes to the point of death.
Today, in Latin America, some 500 years after the original "conquista", the great majority of the people are still Catholic.
Stop here and discuss:
1. Imagine you were suddenly told to switch religions under penalty of death. Remember that the identity of most Ancient peoples was heavily influenced by their religion.
2. Today, members of many religions travel the world hoping to convert other people. Do these people have the right to do so? Defend yourself with reasons. Remember. your own culture is very related to the religion you observe.
Other study guides:
Second Class Citizens
Destruction of Histories
Death by Diseases
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