The many atrei who refused to accommodate the Europeans said that the Europeans were dirty and ridden with disease, and that no good would come from letting them come around. They often said that one could get sick from rubbing shoulders with the Europeans.
It turned out they were right.
The first big outbreaks occurred in 1540. The chief killer was smallpox. But very soon appeared measles, bubonic plague and typhus. Of course the areas worst hit were the coastal areas, where Europeans first visited. The plagues created a great deal of shock, outrage and confusion-- since the atrei had never seen such illnesses before-- but the first death tolls were relatively small.
The diseases spread and then fizzled out in four years, and it seemed that things had returned to normal. But then in 1552 a second, far worse wave of smallpox started in Pasiana. It rolled across Bergonia, killing hundreds of thousands. By 1555 as many as ten percent of the population died. The best estimates hold that Bergonia had a population of at least 65,000,000 in 1540, and that it fell to 58,000,000 by 1555. This wave of death panicked the entire atrei population, and even amazed the Europeans.
A person infected by smallpox suddenly experienced high fever, chills, and painful muscle aches. A few days later a red bumpy rash appeared on the face and forearms, and then spread across the chest, abdomen, and back. The individual bumps (papules) fill with clear fluid and then with pus. If the sufferer lived these pus-filled "pox" scabbed over, and then left pock or pit scars in the skin. People died, usually, from complications, which included bacterial infection of the open skin lesions, pneumonia, or suddenly lethal bone infections.
There was a much more virulent and fatal form that is called "sledgehammer smallpox" in the US. It generally has occurred in 5-10% of smallpox patients and results in massive, uncontrollable bleeding from the skin lesions, as well as from the mouth, nose, and other areas of the body. This form is very infectious and usually fatal five to seven days after onset. This version afflicted a far higher percentage of atrei. The atrei victims suffered heavy bleeding from the nasal cavities through the nose. Pustules around the mouth and on the throat bled too. While the natives groaned in pain and died, the Europeans looked on in horror. When the plague of smallpox arrived in any given location it took roughly three and a half years to finish its dreadful work, just as it had in the Black Death in Europe (1340s), and in Mexico in the 1540s.
After another respite, a third wave of disease exploded in 1562. This was a wave of bubonic plague, a disease that spread across Europe due to unsanitary conditions that encouraged rats. By contrast the Bergonians were clean and neat, but as the conquistadors and missionaries converted and gained control of atrei populations, they encouraged their own filthy ways. Some atrei who converted to Christianity also converted to European lifestyles. Moreover the water systems on which the atrei relied for their baths and sewers fell into disrepair. As a result of these things the atrei became filthy. Thus, as European ways spread, so did rats.
Now the panic, dislocations and sorrow were unspeakable. Entire families were wiped out. Bergonians traditionally cremated their dead, but during the worst of the plague years the living were too tired to chop trees. In many areas, the atrei ran out of trees to chop down. Whole stretches of land became denuded by the desperate need to build pyres. Bodies were carried out of the towns and cities and deposited in fields. The birds swarmed. The living huddled inside their apartments and houses, and the streets were empty. As the plague worsened, and as the dead increased, the living often left the dead where they died. Whole towns and villages emptied, as people fled into the interior, determined to get away from the Europeans.
The third wave expended itself in 1567. Some regions had by now lost 70% of its pre-plague population. Other regions fared much better, losing only a third. The overall population of Bergonia was reduced to approximately 30,000,000.
The next generation faced spotty outbreaks of mumps, measles and respiratory disease, such as influenza, pneumonia and pleurisy. But again in 1583 a second bubonic plague epidemic broke out. Those who had proven immune to the first wave of bubonic plague of 1562-67 had children, another generation of susceptible individuals, and they became fodder for this second wave. This wave killed off another 6,000,000.
Spanish ships visiting Bergonian ports brought syphilis from Mexico. This disease afflicted both European and Bergonian, and to the Bergonians it became know as "everyone's disease." The symptoms were horrible. People who contracted it experienced rashes and skin ulcers in their mouth and throat and then across the face and down the body. The victim suffered high fever and skeletal pains as lesions formed under the flesh on the surface of the bones.
A final epidemic of influenza swept across the island in 1596, killing many more. At the end of the century no more than 12,000,000 natives remained, down from a high of at least 65,000,000. In fact, the best estimates put the nadir at 8-9,000,000 at around 1610-1630, as occasional minor waves of disease continued keeping the death rate high, and because the birth rates remained low.
Throughout these decades of death, temples, schools, trading houses, and governments all tried to function. But functioning became virtually impossible, as those with skills died. As the deaths mounted and the workforce diminished, institutions collapsed. As leaders and skilled workers died, those at the bottom sometimes found themselves at the top. Before their turn came to die, these new leaders often made bad judgments and with the time granted them they could evolve only crude skills. Disease and ubiquitous death twisted their perspectives. Thus, atrei judges no longer judged, leaders no longer led, teachers no longer taught, and the religious were no longer religious. After the great wave of death in the 1560s, many schools, temples, trading houses, factories and stores had closed-- or in most cases, were abandoned, with the doors left open.
Even among the corrupt, greed became futile. Death drained money, even gold, of value. The only greed that remained was born of desperate Epicureanism. "Let's live for today, because tomorrow we may- will-- die," became more than just an aphorism. It became an imperative. The living often gave themselves to drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness and reckless fighting.
By 1600 fields everywhere had gone fallow. Weeds, then brush grew, and finally trees reclaimed the expanses for the wilds. Buildings and houses stood empty. Whole villages were abandoned and within a generation had disappeared. Lightening and human carelessness had always threatened fire, but when city fire departments disbanded, fire consumed whole neighborhoods.
When Europeans came into new regions, they found thousands of abandoned buildings. They picked through the belongings of the dead for tools and valuables, and they tilled the land that a generation before had allowed atrei families to prosper. It was so simple, and the opportunist Europeans smiled. However, when the night was still and at its blackest, white settlers might lie awake and sense the remorseful ghosts of the departed atrei. Certainly the surviving atrei mourned them with the bitterest tears.
Rev. 26 Mar 06
CULTURE HISTORY LAW DAILY LIFE