A PRELIMINARY WORD ON SOUTH AMERICA
The Continent of South America was discovered by Spanish navigators towards the end of the fifteenth century. When the tidings of a new world beyond the seas reached Europe, Spanish and Portuguese expeditions vied with each other in exploring its coasts and sailing up its mighty rivers.
In 1494 the Pope decided that these new lands, which were nearly twice the size of Europe, should become the possession of the monarchs of Spain and Portugal. Thus by right of conquest and gift South America with its seven and a half million miles of territory and its millions of Indian inhabitants was divided between Spain and Portugal. The eastern northern half, now called Brazil, became the possession of the Portuguese crown and the rest of the continent went to the crown of Spain. South America is 4,600 miles from north to south, and its greatest breadth from east to west is 3,500 miles. It is a country of plains and mountains and rivers. The Andean range of mountains is 4,400 miles long. Twelve peaks tower three miles or more above ocean level, and some reach into the sky for more than four miles. Many of these are burning mountains; the volcano of Cotopaxi is three miles higher than Vesuvius. Its rivers are among the longest in the world. The Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata systems drain an area of 3,686,400 square miles. Its plains are almost boundless and its forests limitless. There are deserts where no rain ever falls, and there are stretches of coast line where no day ever passes without rain. It is a country where all climates can be found. As the northern part of the continent is equatorial the greatest degree of heat is there experienced, while the south stretches its length toward the Pole Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is on the equator, and Punta Arenas, in Chile, is the southernmost town in the world.
For hundreds of years Spain and Portugal exploited and ruled with an iron hand their new and vast possessions. Their coffers were enriched by fabulous sums of gold and treasure, for the wildest dream of riches indulged in by its discoverers fell infinitely short of the actual reality. Large numbers of colonists left the Iberian peninsula for the newer and richer lands. Priests, monks and nuns went in every vessel, and the Roman Catholicism of the Dark Ages was soon firmly established as the only religion. The aborigines were compelled to bow before the crucifix and worship Mary until, in a peculiar sense, South America became the Pope's favorite parish. For the benefit of any, native or colonist, who thought that a purer religion should be, at any rate, permitted, the Inquisition was established at Lima, and later on at Cartagena, where, Colombian history informs us, 400,000 were condemned to death. Free thought was soon stamped out when death became the penalty.
Such was the wild state of the country and the power vested in the priests that abuses were tolerated which, even in Rome, had not been dreamed of. The priests, as anxious for spiritual conquest as the rest were for physical, joined hands with the heathenism of the Indians, accepted their gods of wood and stone as saints, set up the crucifix side by side with the images of the sun and moon, formerly worshipped; and while in Europe the sun of the Reformation arose and dispelled the terrible night of religious error and superstition, South America sank from bad to worse. Thus the anomaly presented itself of the old, effete lands throwing off the yoke of religious domination while the younger ones were for centuries to be content with sinking lower and lower. [Footnote: History is repeating itself, for here in Canada we see Quebec more Catholic and intolerant than Italy. The Mayor of Rome dared to criticize the Pope in 1910, but in the same year at the Eucharistic Congress at Montreal his emissaries receive reverent "homage" from those in authority. No wonder, therefore, that, while the Romans are being more enlightened every year, a Quebec young man, who is now a theological student in McMaster University, Toronto, declared, while staying in the writer's home, that, as a child he was always taught that Protestants grew horns on their heads, and that he attained the age of 15 before ever he discovered that such was not the case. Even backward Portugal has had its eyes opened to see that Rome and progress cannot walk together, but the President of Brazil is so "faithful" that the Pope, in 1910, made him a "Knight of the Golden Spur."]
If the religious emancipation of the old world did not find its echo in South America, ideas of freedom from kingly oppression began to take root in the hearts of the people, and before the year 1825 the Spanish colonies had risen against the mother country and had formed themselves into several independent republics, while three years before that the independence of Brazil from Portugal had been declared. At the present day no part of the vast continent is ruled by either Spain or Portugal, but ten independent republics have their different flags and governments.
Since its early discovery South America has been pre-eminently a country of bloodshed. Revolution has succeeded revolution and hundreds of thousands of the bravest have been slain, but, phoenix- like, the country rises from its ashes.
Fifty millions of people now dwell beneath the Southern Cross and speak the Portuguese and Spanish languages, and it is estimated that, with the present rate of increase, 180 millions of people will speak these languages by 1920.