Thomas Hariot – Report on Virginia (the end)

Hariot claims that the Indians believe in the immortal soul and that after death it goes either to heaven or to hell. Their proofs are the stories of two men, one of which allegedly happened 10 years ago, and the other not so long ago before Hariot’s arrival, but in a distant part of the country. Both men died, but after their funerals people noticed the earth moving and they dug them out. The first man, who was wicked, went to hell and was saved by one of the gods on the condition that he should come back to earth and tell all the people what happens to bad people after death. The second man, as you can easily guess, went to heaven, but was turned back at the gates of paradise by his own father, on the similar conditions. This double promise and threat keeps the Indians in order, although they also have a kind of penal code with penalties depending on the gravity of the crime. All this gives Hariot hope that they could be easily converted to Christianity. Hariot told them stories from the Bible as far as his knowledge of their language allowed and they admired the Bible so much they loved to touch it or even rub it all over their bodies, even though Hariot tried to tell them it’s the contents that matters, not the book itself.

The Indians admire the Europeans and their inventions, Hariot writes, and they consider them gods, or at least on very good terms with gods. One of the proofs for that – and here comes the most disturbing part – is that sometimes the English “had … subtle device practised against us” but they didn’t attempt any revenge because they tried to win the Indians through kindness. But when they left such a town, a number of inhabitants, sometimes very significant, fell ill and died. The Indians attribute it to revengeful gods protecting the whites. Some connect it with the sun eclipse that happened the year before the arrival of the English, or the comet that appeared soon after. Now it’s quite obvious what happened – the English were carriers of a disease or various diseases, to which they had immunity, since they were present in Europe for centuries, but the Indians had none. But that would mean that actually, though Hariot doesn’t want to say it, being in Ralegh’s pay and all, it must have happened in every Indian village, which means in turn that in every village they met with some sort of enmity. Because if the locals fell ill indiscriminately in friendly and antagonistic villages, then what would be the point of “revenge”? Unless by some strange coincidence the Indians from friendly villages just happened to be healthier.

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