Sunday, April 19, 2009

What it means to be Christian

A Spanish evangelist, Fray Domingo de Santo Tomas, traveling in Peru circa 1560 finds out what being Christian means to the Indians of Peru:
It is of note that the Indians of Peru, before we Christians had come to them, had certain and particular modes of swearing, distinct from ours. They had no assertive oaths, such as 'by God' or 'by heaven' but only execration or curses...e.g. 'if I am not telling the truth, may the sun kill me' they said...Once when I asked a chieftain in a certain province if he was Christian, he said, 'I am not yet quite one, but I am making a beginning.' I asked him what he knew of being Christian, and he said: 'I know how to swear to God, and play cards a bit, and I am beginning to steal.'
This is an excerpt from one of Fray Domingo's books - which interestingly happens to be a book on Quechua grammar. Quechua is a Native American language of South America, still spoken by indigenous people in Peru, Bolivia and also in other countries - there are an estimated 10 million speakers. I found the above excerpt in Nicholas Ostler's Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (the link takes you to one of my earliest posts -- way back in 2005, when the earth was cooling).

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