Throughout the years of 1450 to present, the religion of Latin America and the Caribbean went through a number of changes. Although the religious beliefs and practices of these areas were mostly animistic prior to 1450, they proved to be flexible and went through many alterations get to where they are today. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, the Latin American people had never heard of Catholocism, which would eventually become a dominant religion.
In the early centuries of Latin America, the religion was polytheistic. The people known as Aztecs, who lived in towns located along rivers, built sacred temples to honor their many gods. They worshiped at least 128 deities in total, including Tlaloc, the god of rain. Little distinction was made between the world of the gods and the natural world. The temples, some of which still stand today, were made of earth and/or large burial mounds. The burials included art such as pottery, paintings, and carvings and were often accompanied by rituals. These rituals contained human sacrifice, cannibalism, and executions. In the period after militarism, human sacrifice became much more prominent than before. It has been questioned whether the reason for the sacrifice was actually the result of religious conviction, or simply done as a tactic of terror towards rulers and priests. Aztec people had known nothing other than this lifestyle for centuries until a new culture made its way to their land.
In 1492, Spanish Conquistadors such as Hernan Cortes sailed to the coast of Latin America, bringing their religious views along with them. Cortes and his army of 600 conquered the land, destroying precious temples in the process. They pulled down all the polytheistic idols, rearranging their stone to replace them with Christian architecture such as Catholic cathedrals. In this time period, art and architecture were prominent and intended to serve the glory of God. Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas replaced the Aztec’s long-practiced human sacrifice with Catholic mass. In addition to the conquistadors, there was another group called the Jesuits who sought new followers of their religion.
The Jesuits offered special privileges to those who converted to Catholicism, while the Spanish convinced the people that their Catholic God would provide protection from diseases and harm. Although the majority of the people were won over by Catholicism, some chose to remain isolated and continued to practice polytheism. Regardless, all Aztec people remained devoted to their religion. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, Spanish and Italian merchants began to import African slaves to work on the few sugar plantations that operated on the islands. These slaves brought a mixture of religious beliefs along with them, their own pagan views mixing with Christianity.
In both present day Latin America and Caribbean, Catholicism is the dominant religion. In modern day Caribbean, the small non- Catholic population consists of various forms of Christianity that were formed with the arrival of African slaves. One of these other religions is Rastafarianism. This is a form of Christianity with a distinct Caribbean style. It uses the Bible as its main text, but interprets it much differently than the more traditional Christian sects. On the other hand, the Latin American non-Catholic population consists of a small group of people who were not converted by the Conquistadors and chose to remain animistic. Throughout all the changing, some Latin Americans have had the same animistic beliefs despite what’s been going on around them. The Latin American people always have and always will be devoted to their religion, as we can tell by the great pyramids mounds they built that are still standing today.
Prior to 1450, religious beliefs and practices in Latin America were polytheistic and included human sacrifice. When the Spanish Conquistadors and Jesuits came to the area, Catholicism was introduced and began to spread rapidly. Now, in present day Latin America and Caribbean, it is impossible to avoid Catholicism. It has become the major, dominant religion of the area and its followers are as devoted as ever.
In addition to the large Catholic population, there continues to be a mixture of religions and practices of polytheism and voodoo throughout the area. Societies change for a number of reasons, one being foreign influence. If it wasn’t for the missionaries coming into the Latin American and Caribbean society, the people would most likely have remained polytheistic forever, because there would be nothing new introduced. For these reasons, religion in Latin America and Caribbean has changed drastically from its early years, while also staying the same in some ways.
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