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De Orbe Novo, Volume 1 (of 2) by Trans. by Francis Augustus MacNutt

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to carry it to Spain was wrecked in a violent storm, just outside the
harbour, and the famous nugget was lost. _Las Casas, his Life, his
Apostolate, and his Writings_, cap. iii.]

At the present time the members composing this tribunal are all
distinguished noblemen of illustrious blood, whom I will enumerate
in the order in which they sit in judging a case. The first place is
occupied by Antonio Rojas, Archbishop of Granada, who is your kinsman;
he is a veritable Cato, unable to condone his own offences or those of
his relatives. His life is austere and he cultivates literature. He
holds the first place in the Council, or in other words, he is the
President thereof. The other members of the Council rank by seniority,
according to the order in which they were appointed. All are doctors
or designates or holders of some decoration. The designates are those
who are called in Spanish licenciates. All are nominated by the King.
The Dean of the Assembly is Pedro Oropesa; next to him comes Ludovico
Zapato; then, in regular order, Fernando Tellez, Garcias Moxica,
Lorenzo Carvajal; Toribio Santiago sits next to the last-named, and
after him come Juan Lopez, Palacios Rivas, and Ludovico Polanco.
Francisco Vargas, who is likewise royal treasurer, sits next, and the
two last places are held by priests, Sosa and Cabrero, both doctors of
Canon law. The counsellors do not judge criminal cases, but all civil
suits are within their cognisance.

Let us now return to the new countries, from which we have wandered.
These countries are very numerous, diversified, and fertile; neither
Saturn nor Hercules nor any hero of antiquity who set out for the
discovery or conquest of unknown lands, excelled the exploits of our
contemporary Spaniards. Behold, how posterity will see the Christian
religion extended! How far it will be possible to travel amongst
mankind! Neither by word of mouth nor by my pen can I express my
sentiments concerning these wondrous events, and I, therefore, leave
my book without an ending, always counting upon making further
researches and collecting documents for a more detailed description in
my letters, when I shall be at leisure to write.

For I am not ignorant that our Admiral, Columbus,[8] with four ships
and a crew of seventy men furnished him by the sovereigns, has
explored during the year 1502 the country extending about one hundred
and thirty leagues west between Cuba and the continent; an island rich
in fruit trees, which is called Guanassa. The Admiral always followed
the coast towards the east, hoping by this manoeuvre to regain the
waters of Paria, but in this he was disappointed. It is claimed that
the western coasts have also been visited by Vincent Yanez, of whom
I have previously written, Juan Diaz Solis de Nebrissa and sundry
others, but I have no precise information on this point.[9] May God
grant me life, that you may some day learn more upon this subject. And
now you farewell.

[Note 8: This refers to the fourth voyage of Columbus; consult
_Storia del Fernando Columbo_; Navarrete, i., 314, 329, 332; ii., 277,
296; iii., 555, 558. Also the _Lettera rarissima_, written by Columbus
from Jamaica, July 7, 1503, to the Catholic sovereigns; Washington
Irving, _Columbus and his Companions_.]

[Note 9: Consult Gaffarel, _Les Contemporains de Colomb_;
Vespucci, _Quatuor Navigationes_.]

The Second Decade



Most Holy Father,[1] Since the arrival at the Spanish Court of
Galeazzo Butrigario of Bologna sent by Your Holiness, and Giovanni
Accursi of Florence, sent by that glorious Republic, I have
unceasingly frequented their company and studied to please them,
because of their virtues and their wisdom. Both take pleasure in
reading various authors and certain books which have fallen by chance
into their hands, works treating of the vast regions hitherto unknown
to the world, and of the Occidental lands lying almost at the
Antipodes which the Spaniards recently discovered. Despite its
unpolished style, the novelty of the narrative charmed them, and
they besought me, as well on their own behalf as in the name of Your
Holiness, to complete my writings by continuing the narrative of all
that has since happened, and to send a copy to Your Beatitude so that
you might understand to what degree, thanks to the encouragement of
the Spanish sovereigns, the human race has been rendered illustrious
and the Church Militant extended. For these new nations are as a
_tabula rasa_; they easily accept the beliefs of our religion and
discard their barbarous and primitive rusticity after contact with our
compatriots. I have deemed it well to yield to the insistence of
wise men who enjoyed the favour of Your Holiness; indeed, had I not
immediately obeyed an invitation in the name of Your Beatitude, I
should have committed an inexpiable crime. I shall now summarise in
a few words the discoveries by the Spaniards of unknown coasts, the
authors of the chief expeditions, the places they landed, the hopes
raised, and the promises held out by these new countries.

[Note 1: Giovanni de' Medici, elected in 1513, assumed the title
of Leo X. He was keenly interested in the exploration and discoveries
in America, and unceasingly urged his nuncios to keep him supplied
with everything written on these subjects.]

The discovery of these lands I have mentioned, by the Genoese,
Christopher Columbus, was related in my Ocean Decade, which
was printed without my permission[2] and circulated throughout
Christendom. Columbus afterwards explored immense seas and countries
to the south-west, approaching within fifteen degrees of the
equinoctial line. In those parts he saw great rivers, lofty
snow-capped mountains along the coasts, and also secure harbours.
After his death the sovereigns took steps to assume possession of
those countries and to colonise them with Christians, in order that
our religion might be propagated. The royal notaries afforded every
facility to every one who wished to engage in these honourable
enterprises among whom two were notable: Diego Nicuesa de Baecca, an
Andalusian, and Alonzo Hojeda de Concha.

[Note 2: Peter Martyr's friend, Lucio Marineo Siculo, was
responsible for this premature Spanish edition published in 1511.
An Italian edition of the First Decade was printed by Albertino
Vercellese at Venice in 1504.]

Both these men were living in Hispaniola where, as we have already
said, the Spaniards had founded a town and colonies, when Alonzo
Hojeda first set out, about the ides of December, with about three
hundred soldiers under his command. His course was almost directly
south, until he reached one of those ports previously discovered and
which Columbus had named Carthagena, because its island breakwater,
its extent, and its coast shaped like a scythe reminded him of
Carthagena. The island lying across the mouth of the port is called by
the natives Codego, just as the Spaniards call the island in front of
Carthagena, Scombria. The neighbouring region is called Caramairi, a
country whose inhabitants, both male and female, are large and well
formed, although they are naked. The men wear their hair cut short to
the ears, while the women wear theirs long. Both sexes are extremely
skilful bowmen.

The Spaniards discovered certain trees in the province which bear
fruits that are sweet, but most dangerous, for when eaten they produce
worms. Most of all is the shade of this tree noxious, for whoever
sleeps for any length of time beneath its branches, wakens with a
swollen head, and almost blind, though this blindness abates within a
few days. The port of Carthagena lies four hundred and fifty-six miles
from the port of Hispaniola called Beata, where preparations are
generally made for voyages of discovery. Immediately on landing,
Hojeda attacked the scattered and defenceless natives. They had been
conceded to him by royal patent because they had formerly treated some
Christians most cruelly and could never be prevailed upon to receive
the Spaniards amicably in their country. Only a small quantity of
gold, and that of poor quality, was found amongst them; they use the
metal for making leaves and disks, which they hang on their breasts as
ornaments. Hojeda was not satisfied with these spoils, and taking some
prisoners with him as guides, he attacked a village in the interior
twelve miles distant from the shore, where the fugitives from the
coast-town had taken refuge. These men, though naked, were warlike;
they used wooden shields, some long and others curved, also long
wooden swords, bows and arrows, and lances whose points were either
hardened in the fire or made of bone. Assisted by their guests, they
made a desperate attack on the Spaniards, for they were excited by the
misfortunes of those who had sought refuge with them, after having
lost their wives and children, whose massacre by the Spaniards
they had witnessed. The Spaniards were defeated and both Hojeda's
lieutenant, Juan de la Cosa,[3] the first discoverer of gold in the
sands of Uraba, and seventy soldiers fell. The natives poisoned their
arrows with the juice of a death-dealing herb. The other Spaniards
headed by Hojeda turned their backs and fled to the ships, where they
remained, saddened and depressed by this calamity, until the arrival
of another leader, Diego de Nicuesa, in command of twelve ships. When
Hojeda and Cosa sailed from Hispaniola, they had left Nicuesa in the
port of Beata still busy with his preparations. His force numbered
seven hundred and eighty-five soldiers, for he was an older man
than Hojeda, and he had greater authority; hence a larger number of
volunteers, in choosing between the two leaders, preferred to join the
expedition of Nicuesa; moreover it was reported that Veragua, which
had been granted to Nicuesa by the royal patent, was richer in gold
than Uraba, which Alonzo de Hojeda had obtained.

[Note 3: Such was the sad end of the pilot of Columbus. The oldest
map of the New World, now preserved at Madrid, was the work of this
noted cartographer.]

As soon as Nicuesa landed, the two leaders after conferring together,
decided that the first victims should be avenged, so they set out that
same night to attack the murderers of Cosa and his seventy companions.
It was the last watch of the night, when they surprised the natives,
surrounding and setting fire to their village, which contained more
than one hundred houses. The usual number of inhabitants was tripled
by the refugees who had there taken shelter.

The village was destroyed, for the houses were built of wood covered
with palm-leaves. Out of the great multitude of men and women, only
six infants were spared, all the others having been murdered or burnt
with their effects. These children told the Spaniards that Cosa and
the others had been cut into bits and devoured by their murderers. It
is thought indeed that the natives of Caramairi are of the same origin
as the Caribs, or cannibals, who are eaters of human flesh. Very
little gold was found amongst the ashes. It is in reality the thirst
for gold, not less than the covetousness of new countries, which
prompted the Spaniards to court such dangers. Having thus avenged the
death of Cosa and his companions, they returned to Carthagena.

Hojeda, who was the first to arrive, was likewise the first to
leave, starting with his men in search of Uraba, which is under his
jurisdiction. On his way thither he came upon an island called
La Fuerte, which lies halfway between Uraba and the harbour of
Carthagena. There he landed and found it inhabited by ferocious
cannibals, of whom he captured two men and seven women, the others
managing to escape. He likewise gathered one hundred and ninety
drachmas of gold made into necklaces of various kinds. He finally
reached the eastern extremity of Uraba. This is called Caribana,
because it is from this country that the insular Caribs derive their
origin, and have hence kept the name.[4] Hojeda's first care was to
provide protection, and to this end he built a village defended by a
fort. Having learned from his prisoners that there was a town twelve
miles in the interior, called Tirufi, celebrated for its gold mines,
he made preparations for its capture. The inhabitants of Tirufi were
ready to defend their rights, and Hojeda was repulsed with loss and
disgrace; these natives likewise used poisoned arrows in fighting.
Driven by want, he attacked another village some days later, and was
wounded by an arrow in the hip; some of his companions affirm that he
was shot by a native whose wife he had taken prisoner. The husband
approached and negotiated amicably with Hojeda for the ransom of
his wife, promising to deliver, on a fixed day, the amount of gold
demanded of him. On the day agreed upon he returned, armed with
arrows and javelins but without the gold. He was accompanied by eight
companions, all of whom were ready to die to avenge the injury done to
the inhabitants of Carthagena and also the people of the village. This
native was killed by Hojeda's soldiers, and could no longer enjoy the
caresses of his beloved wife; but Hojeda, under the influence of the
poison, saw his strength ebbing daily away.

[Note 4: The place of origin of the Caribs is disputed, some
authorities tracing them to Guiana, others to Venezuela, others to the
Antilles, etc.]

At this juncture arrived the other commander, Nicuesa, to whom the
province of Veragua, lying west of Uraba, had been assigned as a
residence. He had sailed with his troops from the port of Carthagena
the day after Hojeda's departure, with Veragua for his destination,
and entered the gulf called by the natives Coiba, of whom the cacique
was named Caeta. The people thereabouts speak an entirely different
language from those of Carthagena and Uraba. The dialects of even
neighbouring tribes are very dissimilar.[5] For instance, in
Hispaniola, a king is called _cacique_, whereas in the province of
Coiba he is called _chebi_, and elsewhere _tiba_; a noble is called in
Hispaniola _taino_, in Coiba _saccus_, and in other parts _jura_.

[Note 5: _La Bibliotheque Americaine_ of Leclerc contains a list
of the different works on American languages. Consult also Ludwig,
_The Literature of American Aboriginal Languages_.]

Nicuesa proceeded from Coiba to Uraba, the province of his ally
Hojeda. Some days later, being on board one of the large merchant
vessels called by the Spaniards caravels, he ordered the other ships
to follow at a distance, keeping with him two vessels with double sets
of oars, of the type called brigantines. I may here say that during
the rest of my narrative it is my intention to give to these
brigantines as well as to the other types of ships the names they bear
in the vulgar tongue. I do this that I may be more clearly understood,
regardless of the teeth of critics who rend the works of authors. Each
day new wants arise, impossible to translate with the vocabulary left
us by the venerable majesty of antiquity.

After Nicuesa's departure Hojeda was joined by a ship from Hispaniola
with a crew of sixty men commanded by Bernardino de Calavera, who had
stolen it. Neither the maritime commander, or to speak more plainly
the Admiral,--nor the authorities had consented to his departure. The
provisions brought by this ship somewhat restored the strength of the

The complaints of the men against Hojeda increased from day to day;
for they accused him of having deceived them. He alleged in his
defence, that by virtue of the powers he held from the King he had
directed the bachelor Enciso, who was chief justice and whom he had
selected because of his great legal abilities, to follow him with a
shipload of stores; and that he was much astonished that the latter
had not long since arrived. He spoke the truth, for at the time of
his departure, Enciso had already more than half completed his
preparations. His companions, however, who considered they had been
duped, did not believe in the sincerity of his affirmations about
Enciso, and a number of them secretly planned to seize two brigantines
belonging to Hojeda, and to return to Hispaniola. Upon discovering
this plot, Hojeda decided to anticipate their plan and, leaving
Francisco Pizarro, a nobleman[6] who commanded the forts he had built,
he took some of his men and went on board the ship we have mentioned.
His intention was to go to Hispaniola, not only to recover from the
wound in his hip, but also to learn the causes of Enciso's delay. He
promised his companions to return in less than fifty days. Out of the
three hundred there only remained about sixty men, for the others had
either perished of hunger or had been slain by the natives. Pizarro
and his men pledged themselves to remain at their posts until his
return within fifty days bringing provisions and reinforcements. When
the established time elapsed, finding themselves reduced by famine,
they boarded the brigantines and abandoned Uraba.

[Note 6: Pizarro was far from being a nobleman, his mother being a
peasant woman and his father the captain Gonzalo Pizarro.]

During their journey to Hispaniola a tempest overtook them on the high
seas, which wrecked one of the brigantines with all its crew; and
the survivors relate that they distinctly saw, circling round the
brigantine, a gigantic fish which smashed the rudder to pieces with a
blow of its tail. Gigantic sea monsters certainly do exist in those
waters. Without a rudder and buffeted by the storm, the brigantine
sank not far from the coast of the island, named La Fuerte, which lies
half way between Uraba and Carthagena. The remaining brigantine which
outrode the storm, was repulsed from the island by the natives who
rushed from every direction armed with bows and arrows.

Pursuing his course, Pizarro encountered by chance the bachelor Enciso
between the bay of Carthagena and the country called Cuchibacoa, which
lies at the mouth of the river the Spaniards have named Boiugatti or
cathouse, because it was there they first saw a cat, and _boiu_ means
_house_ in the language of Hispaniola.

Enciso had one vessel laden with all kinds of provisions, foodstuffs,
and clothing, and he was followed by a brigantine. He it was whose
ship Hojeda had awaited with impatience. He had left Hispaniola on
the ides of September, and four days later had recognised the lofty
mountains Columbus had first discovered in this region and which they
had named La Sierra Nevada, because of their perpetual snows. On the
fifth day out he passed the Boca de la Sierpe. Men who went on board
his brigantine told him that Hojeda had returned to Hispaniola, but
thinking they lied, Enciso ordered them by virtue of his authority
as a judge, to return to the country whence they had come. They
obediently followed Enciso, but nevertheless implored him at least to
grant them the favour of allowing them to return to Hispaniola or to
conduct them himself to Nicuesa, promising in exchange for his good
services twenty-six drachmas of gold; for though they were in want of
bread, they were rich in gold. Enciso was deaf to their entreaties,
and affirmed that it was impossible for him to land anywhere but at
Uraba, the province of Hojeda, and it was thither, guided by them,
that he directed his course.

Listen, however, to what happened to this judge, and perhaps, Most
Holy Father, you will find it worth remembering. Enciso anchored off
the coast of Caramairiana in the harbour of Carthagena, celebrated for
the chastity and grace of its women, and the courage of both sexes of
the inhabitants. As he approached to renew his supply of water and to
repair the ship's boat, which had been damaged, he ordered some men to
land. They were at once surrounded by a multitude of natives, all of
whom were armed and who, for three days, watched their labours most
attentively, fairly besieging them. During this time neither the
Spaniards nor the natives engaged in hostilities, although they
remained face to face during three entire days, both on their guard
and watching one another. The Spaniards continued their work, the
soldiers protecting the carpenters.

During this period of suspense, two Spaniards went to fill a vessel
with water at the river's mouth, and, more quickly than I can write
it, a native chief and ten soldiers surrounded them, pointing their
arrows on them but not shooting, contenting themselves with glaring
at them ferociously. One of the Spaniards fled, but the other stood
trembling in his tracks, and by invectives called back his companion.
He spoke to the enemy in their own tongue, which he had learned from
one of the captives captured elsewhere, and they, surprised at hearing
their language in the mouth of a stranger, were mollified and answered
with gentle words. The soldier assured them that he and his friends
were merely strangers passing through, and he was astonished that they
drove the ships from the coast, along which they were sailing. He
accused them of inhumanity, and threatened them with dire misfortunes
did they not abandon their design; for he assured them that unless
they not only laid down their arms but received the Spaniards with
honour, other armed strangers, more numerous than the sands, would
arrive and ravage their country. Enciso was informed that two soldiers
had been seized by natives, but suspecting a trap he ordered his
soldiers to carry their shields to protect themeselves from the
poisoned arrows and, hastily forming them in order of battle, he led
them towards those who held the prisoners. A sign from the soldier,
begging him to stop, caused him to call a halt, and, at the same time,
the other soldier whom he summoned told him that everything was going
on well and that the Indians desired peace, since they had discovered
that they were not the men who had sacked the village on the opposite
coast, destroyed and burned another village in the interior, and
carried off prisoners. This alluded to Hojeda's troops. The natives
had come intending to avenge this outrage, but they had no intention
of attacking innocent men, for they declared it was infamous to attack
anyone who did not attack them. The natives laid down their bows and
arrows, and received the Spaniards amicably, giving them salted fish
and bread. They also filled their barrels with a certain brew made
from native fruits and grain, which was almost as good as wine.

After concluding a peace with the people of Caramairi who, in response
to the summons of their cacique, assembled in a great crowd, Enciso
left for Uraba, passing by the island La Fuerte. He had one hundred
and fifty new soldiers on his ship, to replace those who were dead. He
carried twelve horses and swine, both male and female, for propagating
the species in that region. He was provided with fifty cannon and a
good supply of lances, shields, swords, and other fighting material.
Nothing, however, of all he brought saw service; for as he was about
to enter the port, the captain of the ship who was acting as pilot,
drove it upon a sandy reef and the unfortunate vessel was overwhelmed
by the waves, and shattered. Its entire contents were lost. What a
pitiful sight! Of all the provisions they only saved twelve barrels
of flour, a few cheeses, and a small quantity of biscuit. All their
animals were drowned, and the men, almost naked, with some of their
weapons, were saved by the brigantine and the ship's boat. Thus from
one misfortune to another they were reduced to extreme peril of their
lives, and thought no more about gold.

Behold them, therefore, alive and safe in view of the land they had
desired with their whole hearts. It was necessary, first of all, to
find some means of subsistence, for men do not live on air, and as
they had nothing of their own, they took what belonged to others. One
happy resource lightened their misfortunes; for they found a palm
grove not far from the coast, between which and the neighbouring
swamps there wandered herds of wild swine. They lived, therefore, for
some time on the flesh of these animals, which are said to be smaller
than ours and have such a short tail it appears to have been cut off.
Their feet are also different from those of our wild boars, for the
hind feet have only one toe and no hoof. Their flesh is much more
succulent and wholesome than that of our wild boars.

The Spaniards likewise ate fruits and roots of a variety of palms,
called cabbage palms, such as are eaten in the interior of Andalusia,
and of whose leaves brooms are made in Rome. Besides this they found
other fruits in the country, though most of them, even the plums, were
not yet ripe and were somewhat hard and red in colour. I assume that
these were the variety I ate in the month of April in Alexandria,
where they grew on trees, which the Jews, who are versed in the Mosaic
law, claim to be the cedar of Lebanon. They are edible and sweet
though not without a trace of bitterness, resembling the fruit of
crab-apple trees. The natives plant this tree in their gardens in
place of peach, cherry, and other similar trees, and cultivate it with
the greatest care. In size, the character of its trunk and its leaves,
it closely resembles the jujube tree.

When the wild boar gave out, the Spaniards were obliged to take
thought for the future, so they marched their troops into the
interior. The inhabitants of Caribana country are very skilful in the
use of bows and arrows. The troop of Enciso consisted of a body of a
hundred men.[7] They encountered three naked savages who, without the
slightest fear, attacked them. The natives wounded four with poisoned
arrows and killed some others, after which, their quivers being
exhausted, they fled with the rapidity of the wind, for they are
extremely agile. In their flight they hurled insults at the Spaniards,
and they never shot an arrow that failed to hit its mark. Much
depressed and inclined to abandon the country, the Spaniards returned
to their point of departure, where they found the natives had
destroyed the blockhouse built by Hojeda, and burned the village
of thirty houses as soon as Francisco Pizarro and his companions,
deserted by Hojeda, abandoned it.

[Note 7: The text continues somewhat irrelevantly: _dico centum
pedites, etsi me non lateat constare centuriam ex centum viginti
octo militibus, ut decuriam ex quindecim. Licet tamen de gente nuda
scribenti, nudis uti verbis interdum_.]

Their exploration of the country convinced the Spaniards that the
eastern part of Uraba was richer and more fertile than the western.
They therefore divided their forces and, with the assistance of a
brigantine, transported one half of their people thither, the other
half remaining on the eastern coast. The gulf is twenty-four miles
long, growing narrower as it penetrates inland. Many rivers flow into
the Gulf of Uraba, one of which, called the Darien,[8] they say, is
more fortunate than the Nile.

[Note 8: The name _Darien_ applies to the eastern part of the
isthmus of Panama, extending from the Gulf of San Miguel to that of
Uraba. The river bearing the same name forms a large estuary in the
Gulf of San Miguel.]

The Spaniards decided to settle upon its green banks where fruit trees
grow. The river bed is narrow and its current sluggish. The people
along the banks were much amazed to see the brigantine, so much larger
than their own barques, under full sail. Getting rid of their women
and non-fighting men, and donning their fighting equipment, about five
hundred of them advanced against the Spaniards, taking up a position
upon a lofty hillock. The Spaniards, commanded by Enciso, who was
judge in the name of Hojeda, prepared for the conflict. First
kneeling, general and soldiers together prayed God to give them the
victory. They bound themselves by a vow to make votive offerings of
gold and silver to the statue of the Blessed Virgin, known in Seville
by the name of Santa Maria della Antigua, vowing to make a pilgrimage
to her sanctuary, to name in her honour the village they might found,
and to build a church sacred to her or to transform the house of the
cacique into a church. They also took a vow not to retreat before the

At a given signal they cheerfully armed themselves; carrying their
shields on their left arms, brandishing their halberds, they charged
upon the enemy who, being naked, could not resist the attack for long,
and consequently fled, their cacique, Zemaco, at their head. Promptly
taking possession of the village, our men found an abundance of native
food and assuaged their immediate hunger. There was bread made of
roots and bread made of grain, such as we have described in our first
book; also fruits bearing no resemblance to any of ours and which they
preserve, much as we do chestnuts and similar fruits.

The men of this country go naked, the women cover the middle of their
body with cotton draperies from the navel downwards. Winter's rigours
are unknown. The mouth of the Darien is only eight degrees distant
from the equator, thus the difference in length between night and day
is hardly noticeable. Although the natives are ignorant of astronomy
they had remarked this fact. Moreover, it is of small importance
whether these measures are or are not different from those they give,
for in any case the differences are insignificant.

The next day, the Spaniards ascended the river and about a mile
distant they found very dense forests and woods, in which they
suspected the natives were either hiding or had their treasure
concealed. They searched the thickets carefully; keeping always
on their guard against a surprise they moved under cover of their
shields. Nobody was found in the thickets, but there was a quantity of
gold and effects, coverlets woven of silk and of cotton, such as the
Italians call _bombasio_ and the Spanish _algodon_; utensils, both
of wood and terra-cotta, gold and copper ornaments and necklaces,
amounting in all to about one hundred and two pounds. The natives
procure these gold necklaces, which they themselves work with great
care, in exchange for their own products, for it usually happens that
a country rich in cereals is devoid of gold. On the other hand, where
gold and other metals are common, the country is usually mountainous,
rocky, and arid; it is by exchanging products that commercial
relations are established. The Spaniards derived satisfaction and
encouragement from two sources: they had found plenty of gold, and
chance had led them into an agreeable and fertile region. They
immediately summoned their companions, who had been left on the
eastern shore of the Gulf of Uraba, to join them. Nevertheless, some
people allege that the climate is not very healthy, since the country
consists of a deep valley, surrounded by mountains and swamps.


You are aware, Most Holy Father, of where those Spaniards under the
command of Hojeda had resolved to settle, having received from the
Spanish sovereigns authorisation to colonise the vast regions of
Uraba. Leaving for a moment these colonists let us return to Nicuesa,
who was in command of the great province of Veragua.

I have already related how he had overstepped the limits of the
jurisdiction of his partner and friend Hojeda, and had sailed with one
caravel and two brigantines for Veragua. The largest of these vessels
had been left behind with orders to follow him, but this proved a most
unfortunate inspiration, for Nicuesa lost sight of his companions
in the darkness and, sailing too far, went beyond the mouths of the
Veragua for which he was looking. Lopez de Olano, a Catalonian, who
was in command of one of the largest of the vessels, learned from the
natives while he followed in the track of Nicuesa that his commander
had left the Gulf of Veragua to the east. He therefore promptly turned
about and sailed to meet the commander of another brigantine which had
likewise got out of its course during the night. This brigantine was
commanded by Pedro de Umbria. Rejoicing at thus meeting, the two
captains consulted as to what they should do, trying to imagine what
course Nicuesa could have taken. On reflection they thought that he
(Nicuesa), being chief commander of the expedition, must have had
different indications concerning the exact location of Veragua than
they, who were simple volunteers, and only sought to rejoin their
leader. They laid their course towards Veragua, and at a distance of
sixteen miles found a river, discovered by Columbus and called by him
Los Lagartos, because a number of these animals, called in Spanish
_lagartos_, in Latin _lacertos_[1] were found there. These creatures
are as dangerous to men and to other animals as are the crocodiles of
the Nile. At that place they met their companions who had anchored
their large vessels after receiving the leader's orders to proceed.
Much disturbed by the possible consequences of Nicuesa's blunder, the
ships' captains consulted together and decided to adopt the opinion of
the captains of the brigantines which had coasted along very near to
the shores of Veragua; they therefore sailed for that port. Veragua is
a local name given to a river which has rich gold deposits; and from
the river, the name extends to the entire region. The large vessels
anchored at the mouth of the river and landed all the provisions by
means of the ships' boats. Lopez de Olano was chosen governor in place
of Nicuesa who was thought to be lost.

[Note 1: Lizards, by which are doubtless meant alligators.]

Acting upon the advice of Lopez and other officers, the ships rendered
useless by age were abandoned to be destroyed by the waves; this
decision was likewise adopted to encourage serious projects of
colonisation by cutting off all hope of escape. With the more solid
timbers and with beams cut from the trees, which in that neighbourhood
sometimes attain an extraordinary height and size, the Spaniards built
a new caravel to provide for unforeseen wants.

When the captain of one of the brigantines, Pedro de Umbria, reached
Veragua, a catastrophe befell. Being a man of irritable disposition,
he resolved to separate from his companions and seek a region where he
might establish himself independently. He selected twelve sailors and
departed in the largest ship's boat belonging to one of the greater
vessels. The tide rolls in on that coast with as dreadful roarings as
those which are described as prevailing at Scylla in Sicily, dashing
themselves against the rocks projecting into the sea, from which they
are thrown back with great violence, causing an agitation which the
Spaniards call _resacca_.[2] Umbria's boat was caught in a whirlpool
like a mountain torrent which, despite his efforts, dashed him into
the sea and sunk his barque before the eyes of his companions. Only
one Spaniard, who was a skilful swimmer, succeeded in saving himself
by clutching a rock which rose slightly above the waters, and there
held out against the raging tempest. The next day when the sea had
abated and the tide had left the reef dry, he rejoined his companions,
and the eleven others perished. The other Spaniards did not venture to
take to their barques but landed direct from the brigantines.

[Note 2: Meaning the undertow of surf.]

After a stop of a few days they ascended the river, and found some
native villages, called in the language of the country _mumu_. They
set to work to construct a fort on the bank, and as the country round
about seemed sterile, they sowed, as in Europe, a valley of which the
soil seemed apt for cultivation. While these things were happening in
Veragua, one of the Spaniards, who was stationed on a high rock which
served as a lookout, casting his eyes to the west, cried "A sail! a
sail!" As the ship approached it was seen to be a barque under full
sail. The newcomers were joyfully welcomed. The boat turned out to be
a barque belonging to the caravel of Nicuesa, which could only carry
five persons; but as a matter of fact there were only three men on
board. These men had stolen the barque because Nicuesa had refused to
believe them when they assured him that he had passed beyond Veragua,
leaving that place behind him to the east. Seeing that Nicuesa and his
men were perishing of hunger, they resolved to try their fortunes in
that barque, and to attempt to discover Veragua by themselves, and
they had succeeded. They described Nicuesa as wandering aimlessly,
after having lost his caravel in a storm, and that he was practically
lost among salt marshes and desert coasts, being destitute of
everything and reduced to a most miserable plight, since for seventy
days he had eaten nothing but herbs and roots and drunk nothing but
water, of which indeed he had not always enough. This all came about
because, in seeking Veragua, he persisted in his course towards the

The country had already been reconnoitred by that great discoverer
of vast regions, Christopher Columbus, who had given it the name of
_Gracias a Dios_; in the native tongue it was called _Cerabaro_. The
river which the Spaniards call San Mateo divides it into two portions,
and it is distant about one hundred and thirty miles from western
Veragua. I do not give the native names of this river or of other
localities, because the explorers who have returned to Spain do not
themselves know them. The report of these three sailors prompted Pedro
de Olano, one of Nicuesa's two captains and his deputy judge, to send
one of the brigantines piloted by the same sailors, to find and bring
back Nicuesa. Upon his arrival, Nicuesa ordered Olano, who had been
appointed governor pending his return, to be put into irons, and
imprisoned, accusing him of treason for having usurped the authority
of governor and not having concerned himself sufficiently, while
enjoying the command, about the disappearance of his chief. He
likewise accused him of negligence in sending so late to search for

In like manner Nicuesa reproached everybody in arrogant terms, and
within a few days he commanded that they should make ready to depart.
The colonists begged him not to decide hastily, and to wait at least
until the crops that they had sown were harvested, as the harvesting
season was now at hand. Four months had now passed since they had
sown. Nicuesa refused to listen to anything, declaring they must leave
such an unfortunate country as quickly as possible. He therefore
carried off everything that had been landed at the Gulf of Veragua,
and ordered the ships to sail towards the east. After sailing sixteen
miles a young Genoese, called Gregorio, recognised the vicinity of
a certain harbour, to prove which he declared that they would find
buried in the sand an anchor which had been abandoned there, and under
a tree near to the harbour, a spring of clear water. Upon landing they
found the anchor and the spring, and gave thanks for the excellent
memory of Gregorio, who, alone amongst the numerous sailors who had
sailed these seas together with Columbus, remembered anything about
these particulars. Columbus had named this place Porto Bello.

Hunger induced them to land at several places, and everywhere their
reception by the natives was hostile. The Spaniards were now reduced
by famine to such a state of weakness that they could no longer fight
against natives, even naked ones, who offered the least resistance.
Twenty of them died from wounds of poisoned arrows. It was decided to
leave one half of the company at Porto Bello, and with the other half
Nicuesa continued his voyage eastwards. Twenty-eight miles from Porto
Bello and near a cape which Columbus had formerly called Marmor, he
decided to found a fort, but the want of food had too much reduced
the strength of his men to permit this labour. Nicuesa nevertheless
erected a small tower, sufficient to withstand the first attacks of
the natives, which he called Nombre de Dios. From the day he had left
Veragua, not only during his march across the sandy plains but also
because of the famine which prevailed while he was constructing the
tower, he lost two hundred of the men who still survived. Thus it was
that, little by little, his numerous company of seven hundred and
eighty-five men was reduced to about one hundred.

While Nicuesa, with a handful of wretched creatures, struggled in
this manner against ill fortune, rivalry for the command broke out in
Uraba. A certain Vasco Nunez Balboa[3] who, in the opinion of most
people, was a man of action rather than of judgment, stirred up
his companions against the judge Enciso, declaring that the latter
possessed no royal patents giving him judicial powers. The fact of his
being chosen by Hojeda to act as governor was not enough. He succeeded
in impeding Enciso in his functions, and the colonists of Uraba chose
some of their own men to administer the colony; but dissension was not
long in dividing them, especially when their leader Hojeda did not
return. They thought the latter dead, of his wound, and disputed among
themselves as to whether they should not summon Nicuesa to take his
place. Some influential members of the council who had been friends of
Nicuesa and could not endure the insolence of Vasco Nunez thought they
ought to scour the country in search of Nicuesa; for they had heard it
reported that he had abandoned Uraba on account of the barrenness of
the soil. Possibly he was wandering in unknown places like Enciso and
other victims of wrecks; therefore they should not rest until they had
discovered whether he and his associates still lived.

[Note 3: Balboa was of a noble family of Xeres de los Caballeros,
and was born in 1475. He came to Hispaniola in 1500, where he suffered
extreme poverty. He went on board Enciso's vessel as a stowaway.]

Vasco Nunez, who feared to be deposed from his command on the arrival
of Nicuesa, treated those who still believed that the latter lived, as
foolish. Moreover, even were the fact proven, they had no need of him,
for did they not possess as good a title as Nicuesa? Opinions were
thus divided, when the captain of two large vessels, Roderigo de
Colmenares, arrived bringing a reinforcement of sixty men, a quantity
of foodstuffs, and clothing.

I must recount some particulars of the voyage of Colmenares. It was
about the ides of October in the year 1510 that Colmenares sailed from
Beata, the port of Hispaniola, where expeditions are usually fitted
out. The nones of November he reached the coast of that immense
country of Paria, between the port of Carthagena and the district of
Cuchibacoa, discovered by Columbus. He suffered equally during this
voyage from the attacks of the natives and from the fury of the sea.
Being short of water, he stopped at the mouth of the river called by
the natives Gaira, which was large enough for his ships to enter. This
river has different sources on a lofty snow-covered mountain, which
Roderigo's companions declared to be the highest they had ever seen.
This statement must be true, since the snow lay upon a mountain which
is not more than ten degrees distant from the equator. A shallop was
sent ashore at the Gaira to fill the water barrels, and while the
sailors were engaged in this task they saw a cacique accompanied by
twenty of his people approaching. Strange to behold, he was dressed in
cotton clothing, and a cloak, held in place by a band, fell from
his shoulders to the elbow. He also wore another trailing tunic of
feminine design. The cacique advanced and amicably advised our men
not to take water at that particular place, because it was of poor
quality; he showed them close at hand another river of which the
waters were more wholesome. The Spaniards repaired to the river
indicated by the cacique, but were prevented by the bad state of the
sea from finding its bottom, for the sands fairly bubbled as it were,
which indicated that the sea was full of reefs. They were obliged,
therefore, to come back to the first river, where at least they could
safely anchor. Here the cacique disclosed his treacherous intentions,
for while our men were engaged in filling their barrels, he fell
upon them, followed by seven hundred naked men, armed in the native
fashion, only he and his officers wearing clothing. He seized the
barque, which he smashed to pieces, and in a twinkling the forty-seven
Spaniards were pierced with arrow-wounds, before they could protect
themselves with their shields. There was but one man who survived, all
the rest perishing from the effects of the poison. No remedy against
this kind of poison was then known, and it was only later that the
islanders of Hispaniola revealed it; for there exists an herb in
Hispaniola of which the juice, if administered in time, counteracts
the poison of the arrows. Seven other Spaniards escaped the massacre,
and took refuge in the trunk of a gigantic tree hollowed by age, where
they concealed themselves till night. But they did not for that reason
escape, for at nightfall the ship of Colmenares sailed away, leaving
them to their fate, and it is not known what became of them.

Lest I should weary you if I related all the particulars, Most Holy
Father, I omit mention of the thousand perilous adventures through
which Colmenares finally reached the Gulf of Uraba. He anchored off
the eastern coast, which is sterile, and from that point he rejoined
his compatriots on the opposite bank several days later. The silence
everywhere amazed him; for he had expected to find his comrades in
those parts. Mystified by this state of things, he wondered whether
the Spaniards were still alive or whether they had settled elsewhere;
and he chose an excellent means for obtaining information. He loaded
all his cannon and mortars to the muzzle with bullets and powder, and
he ordered fires to be lighted on the tops of the hills. The cannon
were all fired together, and their tremendous detonation made the very
earth about the Gulf of Uraba shake. Although they were twenty-four
miles distant, which is the width of the gulf, the Spaniards heard the
noise, and seeing the flames they replied by similar fires. Guided
by these lights Colmenares ordered his ships to cross to the western
shore. The colonists of Darien were in a miserable plight, and after
the shipwreck of the judge Enciso it was only by the greatest efforts
they had managed to exist. With hands raised to heaven and eyes
overflowing with tears of mingled joy and sadness, they welcomed
Colmenares and his companions with what enthusiasm their wretched
state allowed. Food and clothing were distributed to them, since they
were almost naked. It only remains, Most Holy Father, to describe the
internal dissensions which broke out among the colonists of Uraba over
the succession to the command, after they had lost their leaders.


The chief colonists of Uraba and all the friends of order decided to
recall Nicuesa from wherever he was, and as the judge, Enciso, was
opposed to this measure, they deprived him of the brigantine he had
built at his own expense. Contrary to his will and against that of
Vasco Nunez, the adventurer, they decided to go in search of Nicuesa
in order that he might settle the dispute about the commandership.
Colmenares, whom I have mentioned above, was commanded to search along
those coasts where it was thought Nicuesa wandered abandoned. It was
known that the latter had left Veragua, because of the sterility of
the soil. The colonists instructed Colmenares to bring Nicuesa back as
soon as he could find him and to assure him they would be grateful to
him if, on his arrival, he succeeded in calming the dissensions which
rent the colony. Colmenares accepted this mission, for he was a
personal friend of Nicuesa, and boldly announced that the provisions
he had brought were intended as much for Nicuesa as for the colonists
of Uraba. He, therefore, fitted out one of his ships and the
brigantine, which had been taken from Enciso, loading them with a
part of the provisions he had brought. He coasted carefully along the
neighbouring shores, and finally came upon Nicuesa engaged in building
his tower on Cape Marmor.

Nicuesa was the most wretched of men, reduced to a skeleton, covered
with rags. There remained barely sixty of the seven hundred and more
companions who had started with him, and the survivors were more to
be pitied than the dead. Colmenares comforted his friend Nicuesa,
embracing him with tears, cheering him with words of hope for a change
of fortune and speedy success. He reminded him that the best element
of the colonists of Uraba wished for his return, because his authority
alone could quiet the dissensions which raged. Thanking his friend, as
became the situation, Nicuesa sailed with him for Uraba.

It is a common thing to observe amongst men that arrogance accompanies
success. After having wept and sighed and poured out complaints for
his miseries, after having overwhelmed his rescuer, Colmenares, with
thanks and almost rolled at his feet, Nicuesa, when the fear of
starvation was removed, began, even before he had seen the colonists
of Uraba, to talk airily of his projects of reform and his intention
to get possession of all the gold there was. He said that no one had
the right to keep back any of the gold, without his authorisation, or
that of his associate Hojeda. These imprudent words reached the ears
of the colonists of Uraba, and roused against Nicuesa the indignation
of the partisans of Enciso, Hojeda's deputy judge, and that of Nunez.
It therefore fell out that Nicuesa, with sixty companions, had
hardly landed, so it is reported, before the colonists forced him to
re-embark, overwhelming him with threats. The better intentioned of
the colonists were displeased at this demonstration, but fearing a
rising of the majority headed by Vasco Nunez, they did not interfere.
Nicuesa was therefore obliged to regain the brigantine, and there
remained with him only seventeen of his sixty companions. It was the
calends of March in the year 1511 when Nicuesa set sail, intending to
return to Hispaniola and there complain of the usurpation of Vasco
Nunez and the violent treatment offered the judge, Enciso.

He sailed in an evil hour and no news was ever again heard of that
brigantine. It is believed the vessel sank, and that all the men were
drowned. However that may be, Nicuesa plunged from one calamity into
another, and died even more miserably than he had lived.

After the shameful expulsion of Nicuesa, the colonists consumed the
provisions Colmenares had brought, and soon, driven by hunger, they
were forced to plunder the neighbourhood of the colony like wolves of
the forest. A troop of about one hundred and thirty men was formed
under the leadership of Vasco Nunez, who organised them like a band
of brigands. Puffed up by vanity, he sent a guard in advance, and had
others to accompany and follow him. He chose Colmenares[1] as his
associate and companion. From the outset of this expedition he
determined to seize everything he could find in the territory of the
neighbouring caciques, and he began by marching along the shore of
the district of Coiba, of which we have already spoken. Summoning the
cacique of that district, Careca, of whom the Spaniards had never had
reason to complain, he haughtily and threateningly ordered him to
furnish provisions for his men. The cacique Careca answered that it
was impossible, because he had already at different times helped
the Christians and consequently his own provisions were well-nigh
exhausted. Moreover, in consequence of a long-drawn-out war with a
neighbouring cacique called Poncha, he was himself reduced to want.
The adventurer admitted none of these reasons, and the wretched Careca
saw his town sacked. He himself was put in irons and brought with his
two wives, his sons and all his familia to Darien.[2] In the house of
Careca they found three of Nicuesa's companions, who, when his ships
were at anchor, during his search for Veragua, had deserted him
because they feared to be tried for certain crimes. As soon as the
fleet sailed away, they took refuge with Careca who received them
amicably. Eighteen months had elapsed since that time, so they were
as naked as the natives, but plump as the capons women fatten in dark
places, for they had lived well at the cacique's table during that
period; nor did they concern themselves about _meum_ and _tuum_, or
as to who gave and who received, which is the cause of the crimes of
violence that shorten human life.

[Note 1: The memoir of Colmenares on this expedition is contained
in Navarrete's _Coleccion de Viajes_, tom. iii., pp. 386-393. Also
Balboa's letter to King Ferdinand in the same volume.]

[Note 2: Balboa's description of his treatment of the natives,
which he penned to the King, is just the contrary. He prides himself
on having won their friendship, and ascribes to their affection for
him his success in discovering the treasures and secrets of the

These Spaniards nevertheless preferred to return to a life of
hardship. Provisions were brought from the village of Careca to the
people left behind at Darien, for the first consideration was to stave
off the famine that was imminent. Whether before or afterwards I am
not certain, but in any event it was shortly after the expulsion of
Nicuesa that quarrels broke out between the judge, Enciso, and Vasco
Nunez, each being supported by his own partisans. Enciso was seized,
thrown into prison, and all his goods sold at auction. It was alleged
that he had usurped judicial functions never granted him by the King
but merely by Hojeda, who was supposed to be dead, and Vasco Nunez
declared that he would not obey a man on whom the King had not
conferred authority by a royal patent. He allowed himself, however, to
be influenced by the entreaties of the better colonists and modified
his severity, even releasing Enciso from his chains and permitting him
to go on board a ship which would carry him to Hispaniola. Before the
vessel sailed, some of the better people of the colony sought out
Enciso and implored him to come on shore again, promising to effect a
reconciliation with Vasco Nunez and to reinstate him in his position
of judge. Enciso refused and left; nor are there wanting people who
whispered that God and His Saints had themselves shaped events to
punish Enciso for Nicuesa's expulsion, which he had counselled.

Be that as it may, these discoverers of new countries ruined and
exhausted themselves by their own folly and civil strife, failing
absolutely to rise to the greatness expected of men who accomplish
such wonderful things. Meanwhile it was decided by common agreement
among the colonists to send their representatives to the young
Admiral,[3] son and heir of Columbus, the first discoverer, who was
viceroy of Hispaniola, and to the other government officials of the
island. These envoys were to solicit reinforcements and a code of laws
for the new colonies. They were to explain the true situation, the
actual poverty of the colonists, the discoveries already made, and all
that might still be hoped for, if the officials would only send them
supplies. Vasco Nunez chose for this office one of his adherents,
Valdivia, the same who had prosecuted the suit against Enciso.
Associated with him was a Catalonian, called Zamudio. It was agreed
that Valdivia should return with provisions from Hispaniola, when his
mission was accomplished, and that Zamudio should proceed to Spain
and see the King. Both left the same time as Enciso, but it was the
latter's intention to present a memorial to the King contradicting the
representations of Valdivia and Zamudio. Both these men came to see me
at Court, and I will elsewhere recount what they told me.

[Note 3: Diego, son of Christopher Columbus and his wife, Dona
Moniz de Perestrello. He was married to Dona Maria de Toledo.]

During this time the wretched colonists of Darien liberated the
cacique of Coiba, Careca, and even agreed to serve as his allies
during a campaign against the cacique called Poncha, who was a
neighbour of Careca on the continent. Careca agreed to supply the
Spaniards with food, and to join them with his family and subjects.
The only arms these natives used were bows and poisoned arrows, as we
have already described was the case amongst those in the eastern part
beyond the gulf. As they have no iron, they use in hand-to-hand combat
long wooden swords, which they call _machanas_. They likewise use
pointed sticks hardened in the fire, bone-tipped javelins, and other
projectiles. The campaign with Poncha began immediately after they had
sown their fields as well as they could. Careca acted both as guide
and commander of the vanguard. When his town was attacked Poncha
fled, and the village and its surroundings were sacked. Thanks to the
cacique's provisions, nothing was to be feared from hunger, but none
of these supplies could be taken to the colonists who remained behind,
for the distance between Darien and Poncha's village was more than a
hundred miles, and everything had to be carried on men's backs to the
nearest coast where the ships, which had been brought by the Spaniards
to Careca's village, were lying. A few pounds of wrought gold, in the
form of divers necklaces, were obtained; after ruining Poncha, the
Spaniards returned to their ships, deciding to leave the caciques of
the interior in peace and to confine their attacks to those along the

Not far distant, in the same direction from Coiba, lies a country
called Comogra, whose cacique is named Comogre, and against him the
Spaniards delivered their next attack. His town stands at the foot of
the other side of the neighbouring mountain chain, in a fertile plain
some twelve leagues in extent. A relative of one of Careca's principal
officers, who had quarrelled with him, had taken refuge with Comogre.
This man was called Jura, and acted as intermediary between the
Spaniards and Comogre, whose friendship he secured for them. Jura was
very well known to the Spaniards ever since Nicuesa's expedition,
and it was he who had received those three deserters from Nicuesa's
company in his own house during their stay. When peace was concluded,
the Spaniards repaired to the palace of Comogre, which lies some
thirty leagues distant from Darien, but not in a direct line, for the
intervening mountains obliged them to make long detours. Comogre had
seven sons from different women, all handsome children or young men,
wearing no clothes. His palace was formed of beams cut from the trees,
and securely fastened together. It was further strengthened by stone
walls. The Spaniards estimated the dimensions of this palace at one
hundred and fifty paces the length and eighty paces the breadth. Its
ceilings were carved and the floors were artistically decorated. They
noticed a storehouse filled with native provisions of the country,
and a cellar stacked with earthenware barrels and wooden kegs, as in
Spain, or Italy. These receptacles contained excellent wine, not of
the kind made from grapes, for they have no vineyards, but such as
they make from three kinds of roots and the grain they use for making
bread, called, as we have said in our first book, yucca, ages, and
maize; they likewise use the fruit of the palm-trees. The Germans,
Flemings and English, as well as the Spanish mountaineers in the
Basque provinces and the Asturias, and the Austrians, Swabians, and
Swiss in the Alps make beer from barley, wheat, and fruits in the same
manner. The Spaniards report that at Comogra they drank white and red
wines of different flavours.

Attend now, Sovereign Pontiff, to another and horrifying sight. Upon
entering the cacique's inner apartments the Spaniards found a room
filled with bodies suspended in cotton ropes. They inquired the motive
of this superstitious custom, and were informed that they were the
bodies of the ancestors of Comogre, which were preserved with great
care, according to the rank they had occupied in life; respect for the
dead being part of their religion. Golden masks decorated with stones
were placed upon their faces, just as ancient families rendered homage
to the _Penates_. In my first book I explained how they dry these
bodies by stretching them on grid-irons with a slow fire beneath, in
such a way that they are reduced to skin and bone.

The eldest of the seven sons of Comogre was a young man of
extraordinary intelligence. In his opinion it was wiser to treat those
Spanish vagabonds kindly, and to avoid furnishing them any pretext
for the violent acts they had committed on neighbouring tribes. He
therefore presented four thousand drachmas of wrought gold and seventy
slaves to Vasco Nunez and Colmenares, as they were the leaders.
These natives sell and exchange whatever articles they need amongst
themselves, and have no money. The Spaniards were engaged in the
vestibule of Comogre, weighing his gold and another almost equal
quantity they had obtained elsewhere. They wished to set aside the
fifth belonging to the royal treasury; for it has been decided that
the fifth part of all gold, silver, and precious stones shall be set
aside for the King's agents. The remainder is divided according to
agreement. Several disputes arose among the Spaniards regarding their
shares. The eldest son of Comogre, the wise youth, who was present,
struck the scales with his fist and scattered the gold in all
directions, and calling our men's attention he spoke in choice
language as follows:

"What thing then is this, Christians? Is it possible that you set
a high value upon such a small quantity of gold? You nevertheless
destroy the artistic beauty of these necklaces, melting them into
ingots. [For the Spaniards had their smelting instruments with them.]
If your thirst of gold is such that in order to satisfy it you disturb
peaceable people and bring misfortune and calamity among them, if you
exile yourselves from your country in search of gold, I will show you
a country where it abounds and where you can satisfy the thirst that
torments you. But to undertake this expedition you need more numerous
forces, for you will have to conquer powerful rulers, who will defend
their country to the death. More than all others, the King Tumanama
will oppose your advance, for his is the richest kingdom of all.
It lies six suns distant from ours [they count the days by suns];
moreover you will encounter Carib tribes in the mountains, fierce
people who live on human flesh, are subject to no law, and have no
fixed country. They conquered the mountaineers for they coveted the
gold mines, and for this reason they abandoned their own country.
They transform the gold they obtain by the labour of the wretched
mountaineers into wrought leaves and different articles such as those
you see, and by this means they obtain what they want. They have
artisans and jewellers who produce these necklaces. We place no
more value on rough gold than on a lump of clay, before it has been
transformed by the workman's hand into a vase which pleases our taste
or serves our need. These Caribs also make artistic potteries which we
obtain in exchange for the products of our harvests, as for example
our prisoners of war, whom they buy for food, or our stuffs and
different articles of furniture. We also furnish them with the
supplies they need; for they live in the mountains. Only by force of
arms could this mountain district be penetrated. Once on the other
side of those mountains," he said, indicating with his finger another
mountain range towards the south, "another sea which has never been
sailed by your little boats [meaning the caravels] is visible. The
people there go naked and live as we do, but they use both sails and
oars. On the other side of the watershed the whole south slope of the
mountain chain is very rich in gold mines."

Such was his speech, and he added that the cacique Tumanama, and all
the mountaineers living on the other slope of the mountain, used
kitchen and other common utensils made of gold; "for gold," he said,
"has no more value among them than iron among you." From what he had
heard from the Spaniards he knew the name of the metal used for swords
and other arms. Our leaders were amazed at that naked young man's
discourse which, thanks to the three deserters who had been during
eighteen months at the court of Careca, they understood. They took a
decision worthy of the moment and, abandoning their wrangling over the
gold-weighing, they began to joke and to discuss amiably the words and
information of the young cacique. They asked him amicably why he had
told them that story, and what they should do in case reinforcements
did arrive. The son of Comogre reflected for a moment, as does an
orator preparing for a serious debate, even thinking of the bodily
movements likely to convince his hearers, and then spoke again as
follows, always in his own language:

"Listen to me, Christians; we people who go naked are not tormented by
covetousness, but we are ambitious, and we fight one against the other
for power, each seeking to conquer his neighbour. This, therefore, is
the source of frequent wars and of all our misfortunes. Our ancestors
have been fighting men. Our father, Comogre, likewise fought with his
neighbouring caciques, and we have been both conquerors and conquered.
Just as you see prisoners of war amongst us, as for instance those
seventy captives I have presented to you, so likewise have our enemies
captured some of our people; for such are the fortunes of war. Here
is one of our servants who was once the slave of the cacique who
possesses such treasures of gold, and is the ruler beyond the
mountains; there this man dragged out several years of a wretched
existence. Not only he, but many other prisoners as well as freemen,
who have traversed that country and afterwards come amongst us, know
these particulars as far back as they can remember; nevertheless
to convince you of the truth of my information and to allay your
suspicions, I will myself go as your guide. You may bind me, and you
may hang me to the first tree if you find I have not told you the
exact truth. Summon, therefore, a thousand soldiers, well armed for
fighting, in order that, by their help, and assisted by the warriors
of my father Comogre armed in their style, we may shatter the power of
our enemies. In this way you will obtain the gold you want, and our
reward for guiding and helping you will be our deliverance from
hostile attacks and from the fear under which our ancestors lived; and
which destroys our enjoyment of peace."

After speaking thus the wise son of Comogre kept silence; and the love
of gain and the hope of gold fairly made our men's mouths water.


The Spaniards remained several days in that place, during which they
baptised the cacique Comogre, giving him the name of Charles, after
the Spanish prince, and likewise all his family with him. They then
rejoined their companions at Darien, promising, however, to send the
soldiers his son desired to assist him in crossing the sierra and
reaching the southern ocean. Upon their arrival at their village they
learned that Valdivia had returned six months after his departure but
with very few stores, because his ship was a small one. He did bring,
however, the promise of speedy reinforcements and provisions. The
Admiral-Viceroy and the other government officials of Hispaniola
admitted that they had thus far taken little thought for the colonists
at Darien, because they supposed the judge, Enciso, had already sailed
with a well-freighted ship. They assured the colonists that for the
future they would have care for their needs. For the time being they
had no vessel larger than the one they had lent to Valdivia and which
sufficed to relieve their present wants.

This caravel was, in fact, a caravel in name only, and because of
its form, but not in its capacity. The provisions Valdivia brought
sufficed only for the needs of the moment, and within a few days after
his arrival the miseries of famine once more began, chiefly because
a waterspout burst from the mountain top, accompanied by terrible
lightnings and thunders, and washed down such an amount of rubbish
that the harvests, planted in the month of September before the
campaign against the cacique Comogre began, were either swept away or
completely buried. They consisted of the grain for bread-making, which
is called in Hispaniola maize, and in Uraba _hobba_. This maize is
harvested twice yearly, for the cold of winter is unknown in this
country, because of its proximity to the equator. Bread made of hobba
or maize is preferable to wheaten bread for those who live in this
region, because it is more easily digested. This is in conformity
with physical laws, since, as cold diminishes, less inward heat is

Their hopes of a harvest being thus defeated, and knowing that the
neighbouring caciques had already been stripped of their provisions
and gold, the Spaniards were forced to penetrate into the interior in
search of food. At the same time they sent to inform the officials in
Hispaniola of their distress, and also of Comogre's revelations to
them about the southern ocean. It was desirable that the King of
Spain should send a thousand soldiers with whom they might cross the
mountains separating the two seas. Valdivia was sent back with these
letters, and he was charged to deliver to the King's fiscal agent in
Hispaniola the royal fifth due to the treasury, represented by three
hundred pounds of gold, at eight ounces to the pound. This pound is
called a _marc_ in Spanish, and is composed of fifty gold pieces,
called castellanos. The weight of each castellano, a Castilian coin,
is called a peso, and the entire sum, therefore, amounted to fifteen
thousand castellanos. The castellano is a coin somewhat inferior to
one thirtieth of a pound, but its value exceeds that of a golden
ducat. This coin is peculiar to Castile, and is not minted in any
other province. It may be concluded, therefore, from the sum assigned
for the royal fifth, that the Spaniards had taken from the caciques
fifteen hundred pounds of gold, at eight ounces to the pound. They
had found this metal worked into divers shapes: necklaces collars,
bracelets, small plaques to be worn on the breast, and ear or nose

On the third day of the ides of January, Anno Domini 1511, Valdivia
set sail on the little caravel with which he had just returned. In
addition to the instructions sent by Vasco Nunez and the gold destined
for the royal fisc, which we have mentioned, his friends had confided
to him their treasure for their relatives in Spain. I shall relate
in proper time what happened to Valdivia, but for the present let us
return to the colony at Uraba.

After Valdivia's departure the colonists, driven to desperation by
hunger, resolved to explore the outline of the gulf, of which the most
remote extremity is about eighty miles distant from the entrance. This
extremity is called by the Spaniards Culata.[1]

[Note 1: The southern end of the gulf still bears the name _Culata
del golfo_.]

Vasco Nunez embarked with about one hundred men on board a brigantine
and in some native barques dug out of tree trunks, called by the
islanders of Hispaniola canoes, and by the people of Uraba, _uru_. The
river flows into the gulf at that place from the east and is ten times
larger than the Darien. Up this river the Spaniards sailed for a
distance of thirty miles or a little more than nine leagues, and
turning to the left, which is towards the south, they came upon a
native village, whose cacique was called Dobaiba. In Hispaniola their
kings are called caciques and in Uraba, _chebi_, with the accent on
the last vowel. It was learned that Zemaco, cacique of Darien, who had
been defeated by the Spaniards in open battle, had taken refuge with
Dobaiba. The latter, counselled, as it was thought, by Zemaco, fled,
and thus evaded the Spanish attack. The place was deserted, though a
stock of bows and arrows, some pieces of furniture, nets, and several
fishing boats were found there. These districts being marshy and low
are unsuitable both for agriculture and plantations of trees, so there
are few food products, and the natives only procure these by trading
what fish they have in excess of their wants with their neighbours.
Nevertheless seven thousand castellanos of gold were picked up in the
deserted houses, besides several canoes, about a hundred bows and
parcels of arrows, all the furniture, and two native barques or uru.

In the night-time bats swarmed from the marshes formed by this
river, and these animals, which are as big as pigeons, tormented
the Spaniards with their painful bites. Those who have been bitten
confirmed this fact, and the judge Enciso who had been expelled, when
asked by me concerning the danger of such bites, told me that one
night, when he slept uncovered because of the heat, he had been bitten
by one of these animals on the heel, but that the wound had not been
more dangerous than one made by any other non-poisonous creature.
Other people claim that the bite is mortal, but may be cured by being
washed immediately with sea-water; Enciso also spoke of the efficacy
of this remedy. Cauterisation is also used, as it is employed for
wounds caused by native poisoned arrows. Enciso had had experience
in Caribana, where many of his men had been wounded. The Spaniards
returned to the Gulf of Uraba only partly satisfied, for they had
brought back no provisions. Such a terrible tempest overtook them in
that immense gulf on their return voyage, that they were obliged to
throw everything they had stolen from those wretched fishermen into
the sea. Moreover the uru, that is to say, the barques, were lost and
with them some of the men on board.

While Vasco Nunez was exploring the southern extremity of the gulf,
Roderigo Colmenares advanced, as had been agreed, by way of the river
bed towards the mountains along the eastern coast. At a distance of
about forty miles, that is to say, twelve leagues from the river's
mouth, he came upon some villages built on the river bank; the chief,
that is to say, chebi, was named Turvi. Colmenares remained with that
cacique, while Vasco Nunez, who had meanwhile returned to Darien,
marched to meet him. When the men of the two companies had been
somewhat recuperated by the provisions which Turvi furnished, their
leaders continued their march together. About forty miles distant they
discovered an island in the river, which was inhabited by fishermen,
and as they found wild cinnamon trees there, they named the island
Cannafistula. There were some sixty villages in groups of ten houses
each on this island, and the river on the right side was large enough
both for the native boats and for the brigantines. This river the
Spaniards named Rio Negro.

Fifteen miles from its mouth they found a village composed of five
hundred scattered houses, of which the chebi or cacique was called
Abenamacheios. All the houses were abandoned as soon as the Spaniards
approached; and while they were pursuing the natives the latter
suddenly turned, faced them, and threw themselves upon our soldiers
with the desperation of men driven from their homes. They fought with
wooden swords, sticks with hardened points and sharp javelins, but not
with arrows; for the river population of the west side of the gulf
do not use arrows in fighting. These poor creatures, being, in fact,
naked, were easily cut to pieces, and in the pursuit, the cacique
Abenamacheios and some of his principal chiefs were captured. A
foot-soldier, who had been wounded by the cacique, cut off his arm
with one blow of his sword, though this was done against the will of
the commanders. The Christians numbered altogether about one hundred
and fifty men, and the leaders left one half of them in this village,
continuing their way with the others in nine of the barques which I
have called uru.

Seventy miles distant from Rio Negro and the island of Cannafistula,
the Spaniards, passing by several streams on the right and left which
swelled the principal river, entered another under the guidance of a
native chief who took charge of the boats. The cacique of the country
along its banks was called Abibaiba.

All the region was swampy and the chief house of the cacique was
built in a tree. Novel and unaccustomed dwelling place! The country,
however, has such lofty trees that the natives may easily build houses
among their branches. We read something of this kind in different
authors who write of certain tribes who, when the waters are rising,
take refuge in these lofty trees and live upon the fish caught in
their branches. They place beams among the branches, joining them so
firmly that they resist the strongest winds. The Spaniards believe the
natives live thus in the trees because inundations are frequent, for
these trees are so tall that no human arm could reach them with a
stone. I no longer feel surprised at what Pliny and other writers
record about trees in India which, by reason of the fertility of the
soil and the abundant waters, attain such a height that no one could
shoot an arrow over them. It is, moreover, commonly believed that the
soil of this country and the supply of water are equal to that of
any other land under the sun. The above-named trees were found by
measuring to be of such a size that seven or eight men, with extended
arms, could hardly reach around them. The natives have cellars
underground where they keep stores of the wines we have before
mentioned. Although the violence of the wind cannot blow down their
houses or break the branches of the trees, they are still swayed about
from side to side, and this movement would spoil the wine. Everything
else they require, they keep with them in the trees, and whenever the
principal chiefs or caciques breakfast or dine, the servants bring up
the wine by means of ladders attached to the tree trunks, and they are
just as quick about it as our servants who, upon a level floor, serve
drinks from a sideboard near the table.

Approaching the tree of Abibaiba a discussion began between him and
the Spaniards; the latter offering him peace and begging him to come
down. The cacique refused and begged to be allowed to live in his own
fashion. Promises were succeeded by threats, and he was told that if
he did not come down with all his family they would either cut down or
set fire to the tree. A second time Abibaiba refused, so they attacked
the tree with axes; and when the cacique saw the chips flying he
changed his mind and came down, accompanied by his two sons. They
proceeded to discuss about peace and gold. Abibaiba declared that he
had no gold, and that as he had never needed it, he had taken no
pains to get it. The Spaniards insisting, the cacique said: "If
your cupidity be such, I will seek gold for you in the neighbouring
mountains and when I find it I will bring it to you; for it is found
in those mountains you behold." He fixed a day when he would return,
but neither then nor later did he reappear.

The Spaniards came back, loaded with the supplies and the wines of
the cacique, but without the gold they had counted upon. Nevertheless
Abibaiba, his subjects, and his sons gave the same information
concerning the gold mines and the Caribs who live upon human flesh,
as I have mentioned, as did those at Comogra. They ascended the river
another thirty miles and came to the huts of some cannibals but found
them empty, for the savages, alarmed by the approach of the Spaniards,
had taken refuge in the mountains, carrying everything they possessed
on their backs.


While these things were happening on the banks of this river, an
officer named Raia, whom Vasco Nunez and Colmenares had left in
charge of the camp at Rio Negro in the territory of the cacique
Abenamacheios, driven either by hunger or fatality ventured to
explore the neighbourhood with nine of his companions. He went to the
neighbouring village belonging to the cacique Abraibes, and there Raia
and two of his companions were massacred by that chief, the others
succeeding in escaping. Some few days later Abraibes, sympathising
with his relative and neighbour Abenamacheios, who had been
driven from his house and had had his arm cut off by one of our
foot-soldiers, gave the latter refuge in his house, after which he
sought out Abibaiba, the cacique who lived in a tree. The latter,
having been driven from his abode, also avoided attack by the
Spaniards and wandered in the most inaccessible regions of the
mountains and forests.

Abraibes spoke in the following words to Abibaiba: "What is this that
is happening, O unfortunate Abibaiba? What race is this that allows
us, unfortunates that we are, no peace? And for how long shall we
endure their cruelty? Is it not better to die than to submit to
such abuse as you have endured from them? And not only you, but our
neighbours Abenamacheios, Zemaco, Careca, Poncha, and all the other
caciques our friends? They carry off our wives and sons into captivity
before our very eyes, and they seize everything we possess as though
it were their booty. Shall we endure this? Me they have not yet
attacked, but the experience of others is enough for me, and I know
that the hour of my ruin is not far distant. Let us then unite
our forces and try to struggle against those who have maltreated
Abenamacheios and driven him from his house, and when these first are
killed the others will fear to attack us, or if they do so, it will be
with diminished numbers, and in any case it will be more endurable for
us." After exchanging their views, Abibaiba and Abraibes came to an
understanding and decided upon a day for beginning their campaign. But
events were not favourable to them. It so happened by chance that,
on the night previous to the day fixed for the attack, thirty of the
soldiers who had crossed the sierra against the cannibals were sent
back to relieve the garrison left at Rio Negro, in case of attack, and
also because the Spaniards were suspicious. The caciques rushed into
the village at daybreak with five hundred of their warriors armed
in native fashion and shouting wildly. They were ignorant of the
reinforcements that had arrived during the night. The soldiers
advanced to meet them, using their shields to protect themselves; and
first shooting arrows and javelins and afterwards using their native
swords, they fell upon their enemies. These native people, finding
themselves engaged with more adversaries than they had imagined, were
easily routed; the majority were killed like sheep in a panic. The
chiefs escaped. All those who were captured were sent as slaves to
Darien, where they were put to work in the fields.

After these events, and leaving that region pacified, the Spaniards
descended the river and returned to Darien, posting a guard of thirty
men, commanded by an officer, Hurtado,[1] to hold that province.
Hurtado descended the Rio Negro to rejoin his leader, Vasco Nunez, and
his companions. He was using one of those large native barques and had
with him twelve companions, a captive woman, and twenty-four slaves.
All at once four uru, that is to say, barques dug out of tree trunks,
attacked him on the flank, and overturned his boat. The Spaniards had
been tranquilly sailing along without dreaming of the possibility of
an attack, and their barque being suddenly overturned all those whom
the natives could catch were massacred or drowned, except two men, who
grasped some floating tree trunks and, concealing themselves in the
branches, let themselves drift, unseen by the enemy, and thus managed
to rejoin their companions.

[Note 1: _Furatado quodam decurione. Licet decurione more romano
non sint addicti praecise quindecim milites quos regat, centurionique
centum viginti octo, centuriones tamen ultro citroque centenarium
numerum, et ultro citroque denum, decurionem est consilium appellare;
nec enim hos servant ordines hispani ex amussim, cogimurque nomine
rebus et magistratibus dare_. Thus Peter Martyr for the second time
vindicates his knowledge of Roman military terms and his usage of
them. His explanation is extraneous to the narrative.]

Warned of the danger by those two men who had escaped death, the
Spaniards became suspicious of everything. They were alarmed for their
safety, and remembered that they only escaped a similar calamity at
Rio Negro because they had received the reinforcement of thirty men on
the night before the attack. They held frequent councils of war, but
in the midst of their hesitations they reached no decision. After
careful investigation they finally learned that five caciques had
fixed a day for the massacre of Christians. These five were: Abibaiba,
who lived in the swampy forest; Zemaco, who had been driven from his
home; Abraibes and Abenamacheios, the river chiefs; and Dobaiba, the
cacique of the fishermen, living at the extremity of the gulf called
Culata. This plan would have been carried out, and it was only by a
miracle, which we are bound to examine with leniency, that chance
disclosed the plot of the caciques. It is a memorable story and I will
tell it in a few words.

This Vasco Nunez, a man of action rather than of judgment, was an
egregious ruffian, who had obtained authority in Darien by force
rather than by consent of the colonists; amongst the numerous native
women he had carried off, there was one of remarkable beauty. One of
her brothers, who was an officer much favoured by the cacique Zemaco,
often came to visit her. He likewise had been driven out of his
country, but as he loved his sister warmly, he spoke to her in
conversation in the following words:

"Listen to me, my dear sister, and keep to yourself what I shall tell
you. The insolence of these men, who expelled us from our homes, is
such that the caciques of the country are resolved no longer to submit
to their tyranny. Five caciques [whom he named one after another] have
combined and have collected a hundred uru. Five thousand warriors on
land and water are prepared. Provisions have been collected in the
province of Tichiri, for the maintenance of these warriors, and the
caciques have already divided amongst themselves the heads and the
property of the Spaniards."

In revealing these things to his sister, the brother warned her to
conceal herself on a certain day, otherwise she might be killed in the
confusion of the fight. The conquering warrior gives no quarter to
those whom he vanquishes. He concluded by telling her the day fixed
for the attack. Women generally keep the fire better than they do a
secret,[2] and so it fell out that this young woman, either because
she loved Vasco Nunez or because in her panic she forgot her
relatives, her kinsmen, and neighbours as well as the caciques whom
she betrayed to their death, revealed the same to her lover, omitting
none of the details her brother had imprudently confided to her.
Vasco Nunez sent this Fulvia to invite her brother to return, and he
immediately responded to his sister's invitation. He was seized and
forced to confess that the cacique Zemaco, his master, had sent those
four uru for the massacre of the Spaniards, and that the plot had been
conceived by him. Zemaco took upon himself the task of killing
Vasco Nunez, and forty of his people whom he had sent as an act of
friendship to sow and cultivate Vasco's fields, had been ordered by
him to kill the leader with their agricultural tools. Vasco Nunez
habitually encouraged his labourers at their work by frequently
visiting them, and the cacique's men had never ventured to execute his
orders, because Vasco never went among them except on horseback, and
armed. When visiting his labourers he rode a mare and always carried a
spear in his hand, as men do in Spain; and it was for this reason that
Zemaco, seeing his wishes frustrated, had conceived the other plot
which resulted so disastrously for himself and his people.

[Note 2: Literally, _Puella vero, quia ferrum est quod feminae
observant, magis quam Catonianam gravitatem_.]

As soon as the conspiracy was discovered, Vasco Nunez, assembling
seventy men, ordered them to follow him, without however telling any
one either his destination or his intentions. He first rode to the
village of Zemaco, some ten miles distant, where he learned that
Zemaco had fled to Dabaiba, the cacique of the marshes of Culata. His
principal lieutenant (called in their language _sacchos_, just as
their caciques are called chebi) was seized, together with all his
other servants, and carried into captivity. Several other natives of
both sexes were likewise captured. Simultaneously Colmenares embarked
sixty soldiers in the four uru and set out up the river to look for
Zemaco. The young woman's brother served as guide. Arriving at the
village of Tichiri, where the provisions for the army had been
collected, Vasco Nunez took possession of the place and captured
the stores of different coloured wines, as we have already noted at
Comogra, and different kinds of native stores. The sacchos of Tichiri,
who had acted in a manner as quartermaster of the army, was captured
together with four of the principal officers, for they did not expect
the arrival of the Spaniards. The sacchos was hanged on a tree that he
had himself planted, and shot through with arrows in full view of
the natives, and the other officers were hanged by Colmenares on
scaffolds, to serve as an example to the others. This chastisement of
the conspirators so terrified the entire province that there was not
a person left to raise a finger against the torrent of Spanish wrath.
Peace was thus established, and their caciques bending their necks
beneath the yoke were not punished. The Spaniards enjoyed some days of
abundance, thanks to the well-filled storehouse they had captured at

[Note 3: This pitiful story of native treachery is frequently
repeated, and explains the enslavement, the downfall, and in parts,
the extermination of the American tribes. Everywhere they betrayed one
another to the final undoing of all.]


In the general assembly convoked shortly afterwards, the colonists
unanimously decided to send an envoy to Hispaniola to ask for
reinforcements and for the appointment of a judge. The same envoy
would go on to Spain where he would first explain to the Admiral and
his officers and afterwards to the King, all that had happened, and
would seek to persuade his Majesty to send the thousand soldiers the
son of Comogre had declared would be necessary for the expedition
across the mountains to the South Sea. Vasco Nunez sought to be chosen
for this mission, but his companions refused him their votes, and his
adherents would not allow him to go; not only because they would have
felt themselves abandoned, but because they suspected that once out of
it, Vasco would not return to such a furnace of calamities, following
the example of Valdivia and Zamudio, whom they had sent off in
the month of January, and who, they thought, had no intention of
returning. In this latter they were wrong, as we shall show in the
proper place, for those men were dead.

After several ballotings without result, the colonists finally chose
a certain Juan Quevedo, a serious man of mature age, who was agent of
the royal treasury in Darien. They had full confidence that Quevedo
would conduct this business successfully, and they counted on his
return because he had brought his wife with him to the new world and
was leaving her in the colony as a pledge. As soon as Quevedo was
elected, several opinions concerning an associate for him were
expressed. Some people said it was risky to trust such an important
affair to one man; not that they mistrusted Quevedo, but human life is
uncertain, particularly if one considers that people accustomed to a
climate near the equator would be exposed on returning northwards to
frequent changes of climate and food. It was necessary, therefore, to
provide an associate for Quevedo, so that, if one died the other
might survive and if both escaped death, the King would place more
confidence in their dual report. Much time was spent in debating this
point, and finally they decided to choose Roderigo Colmenares, whose
name I have frequently mentioned. He was a man of large experience; in
his youth he had travelled by land and sea over all Europe, and he had
taken part in the Italian wars against the French. What decided the
colonists to choose Colmenares was the fact that, if he left, they
could count on his return, because he had purchased properties in
Darien and had spent large sums in planting. He hoped to sell his
crops as they stood, and to obtain the gold of his companions in
exchange. He therefore left the care of his estates to a citizen of
Madrid, a certain Alonzo Nunez, who was his comrade. This man was a
judge, and had almost been chosen by the colonists as an envoy in
place of his friend Colmenares; and indeed he would have been elected
but that one of his companions explained that he had a wife at Madrid.
It was feared, therefore, that the tears of his wife might prevent
him from ever returning, so Colmenares, being free, was chosen as the
associate of Quevedo. There being no larger ship at their disposal,
both men sailed on a brigantine, the fourth day of the calends of
November in the year of grace 1512.

During their voyage they were buffeted by many tempests, and were
finally dashed upon the western coast of that large island which for a
long time was thought to be a continent, and which in my First Decade
I explained was called Cuba. They were reduced to the most extreme
want, for three months had elapsed since they left Darien. They were,
therefore, forced to land to seek some assistance from the islanders,
and by chance they approached on that side of the island where
Valdivia had also been driven ashore by tempests. Ah! unhappy
creatures! you colonists of Darien, who await the return of Valdivia
to assuage your sufferings. Hardly had he landed before he and his
companions were massacred by the Cubans, the caravel broken to pieces
and left upon the shore. Upon beholding some planks of that caravel
half buried in the sand, the envoys bewailed the death of Valdivia and
his companions. They found no bodies, for these had either been thrown
into the sea, or had served as food for the cannibals, for these
latter frequently made raids in Cuba in order to procure human flesh.
Two islanders who had been captured, related the death of Valdivia,
which had been brought about by the love of gold. These islanders
confessed that, having learned from the talk of one of Valdivia's
companions that he had gold, they had plotted to assassinate him
because they too loved gold necklaces.

Horrified by this catastrophe, and feeling themselves unable to avenge
their companions the Spaniards decided to fly from that barbarous land
and the monstrous cruelty of those savages. They therefore continued
their voyage, stunned by the massacre of their companions and
suffering severely from want. After leaving the southern coast of Cuba
behind them, a thousand untoward events still further delayed them.
They learned that Hojeda had also landed and that he had been driven
by storms upon these coasts, where he led a wretched existence. He
endured a thousand annoyances and a thousand different kinds of
sufferings. After having suffered the loss of his companions or
witnessed them gasping from hunger, he had been carried to Hispaniola
almost alone.

He arrived there hardly alive, and died from the effects of the wound
he had received from the natives of Uraba. Enciso, the judge elect,
had sailed along this same coast, but with better fortune, for he had
had favourable weather.

He himself told me these things at Court, and he added that the
natives of Cuba had received him kindly, especially the people of a
certain cacique called El Comendador [the Commander]. When this chief
was about to be baptised by some Christians who were passing through,
he asked them how the governor of the neighbouring island of
Hispaniola was called, and he was answered that he was called El
Comendador.[1] The governor of that island was at that period, an
illustrious knight of the Order of Calatrava, and the knights of that
Order take the title of Commander. The cacique promptly declared that
he wished to be called El Comendador; and he it was who had given
hospitality to Enciso, when he landed, and had supplied all his wants.

[Note 1: Don Nicholas de Ovando, Comendador de Lares, and later
Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava.]

According to Enciso, now is the time, Most Holy Father from whom we
receive our religion and our beliefs, to preach to the islanders. An
unknown sailor,[2] who was ill, had been left by some Spaniards who
were coasting the length of Cuba, with the cacique El Comendador, and
this sailor was very kindly received by the cacique and his people.
When he recovered his health, he frequently served the cacique as
lieutenant in his expeditions, for the islanders are often at war one
with another; and El Comendador was always victorious. The sailor
was an ignorant creature, but a man of good heart, who cultivated
a peculiar devotion for the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God. He even
carried about him, as constantly as his clothes, a picture of the
Blessed Virgin, very well painted on paper, and he declared to El
Comendador that it was because of it that he was always victorious.
He also persuaded the latter to abandon the zemes the people adored,
because he declared that these nocturnal goblins were the enemies of
souls, and he urged the cacique to choose for his patron the Virgin
Mother of God, if he desired all his undertakings, both in peace and
in war, to succeed. The Virgin Mother of God was never deaf to the
invocation of her holy name by a pure heart. The sailor obtained a
ready hearing from these naked islanders. Upon the request of the
cacique he gave him the image of the Virgin, and consecrated a church
and an altar to it. The zemes, whom their ancestors had worshipped
were abandoned. These zemes, Most Holy Father, are the idols made out
of cotton, of which I have spoken at length in the tenth book of my
First Decade. Following the instructions of the sailor, the cacique El
Comendador and all his people of both sexes went each day at sunset
to the chapel dedicated to the Virgin. Entering, they knelt, and
reverently bowing their heads and joining their hands they saluted the
image by repeated invocations, _Ave Maria, Ave Maria_; for there were
very few who had learnt the whole prayer.

[Note 2: Las Casas tells an identical story concerning Alonso
de Hojeda, who gave an image of the Blessed Virgin to a cacique of
Cueyba. During the campaign which ended in the conquest of Cuba, Las
Casas offered to trade a Flemish statue for the one Hojeda had left
there, but the cacique refused, and taking his image, he fled into
the woods, lest he should be forced to exchange. The two stories,
doubtless, refer to the same incident, though it seems strange that
Peter Martyr should not have identified Hojeda as the "unknown
sailor." See Las Casas, _Hist. de las Indias_, tom, iv., cap. xix.:
_B. Las Casas, his Life, his Apostolate, and his Writings_, cap iv.]

When Enciso and his companions landed there, the Indians took them by
the hands and joyfully led them to the chapel, declaring that they
were going to show them something wonderful. They pointed to the holy
image surrounded, as though with a garland, by dishes full of food and
drink. They offered these presents to the image just as they formerly
did in their own religion to the zemes. They say that by such
offerings they provide for the image in case it should be hungry, for
they believe that it might suffer from hunger.

Listen now to a most curious story concerning the assistance they
believe they have received from that image of the Blessed Virgin, and
by my faith, Most Holy Father, one would willingly believe it to be
true. According to the report of our men, the effect of the fervent
piety which animates those simple souls for the Blessed Virgin Mother
of God is such, that they almost constrain her to come down from
heaven to help them whenever they weaken in a struggle. Has not God
left pity, love, and charity amongst men, by the practice of which
they may merit His grace and that of the heavenly host? The Virgin
could never abandon those who with pure heart invoke her aid. Now El
Comendador and all his chiefs declared to Enciso and his companions,
that when the sailor had carried the holy image with him into battle
in full view of both armies, the zemes of the enemy turned their heads
and trembled in the presence of the image of the Virgin; for it is the
custom for each army to carry its own protecting zemes into battle.
Not only had they beheld the holy image but also a woman, robed in
fair white draperies, who, in the heat of the battle, sustained
them against their enemies. The latter also declared that there had
appeared opposite to them a woman with menacing face, carrying a
sceptre, who encouraged the opposing army and that this apparition
made them tremble with fear.

El Comendador declared that after the sailor had been taken away by
some Christians who had landed at that place, he had faithfully obeyed
his instructions. He further related that a heated altercation had
broken out with his neighbours, as to which of the zemes was most
powerful. The controversy led to frequent conflicts, in which the
Blessed Virgin had never failed them, but had appeared in every
battle, grasping the victory with her small hands from the most
formidable of the hostile forces. The Spaniards asked what their war
cry was, and they replied that, in obedience to the instructions of
the sailor they only shouted, in the Spanish language, "St. Mary to
the rescue!" It was the only language the sailor spoke. In the midst
of these cruel wars they made the following agreement; instead of
putting a fixed number of champions into the field, as was often done
by the armies of other nations of antiquity, or instead of settling
their disputes by arbitration, two young men of each tribe should have
their hands tied behind their backs as tightly as he who bound them
chose. They would then be led to a lofty place, and the zemes of the
tribe whose champion most quickly undid his bonds should be acclaimed
as the most powerful. The agreement was made, and the young men
of both sides were thus bound. El Comendador's people tied their
adversary, while their enemies tied one of his men. Three different
times the trial was repeated, and each time after invoking their
zemes, the young men tried to free themselves from their bonds. El
Comendador's champions repeated the invocation, "St. Mary, help me,
St. Mary, help me!" and immediately the Virgin, robed in white,
appeared. She drove away the demon, and touching the bonds of the
Christian champion with the wand she carried, not only was he at once
freed, but the bonds were added to those of his opponent, so that the
enemy found the young Christian not only free, but their own champion
with double bonds. They were not content with this first defeat,
and attributed it to some human trickery which they did not believe
demonstrated the superiority of the divinity. They therefore asked
that four men of venerable age and tried morality should be chosen
from each tribe, and should stand on either side of each young man, in
order to verify whether or not there was any trickery. O what
purity of soul and blessed simplicity, worthy of the golden age!
El Comendador and his advisers yielded to this condition with a
confidence equal to that with which the sufferer from an effusion of
blood sought the remedy for his malady; or Peter, whose place, Most
Holy Father, you occupy, marched upon the waves when he beheld our
Lord. The conditions being accepted, the young men were bound and the
eight judges took their places. The signal was given, and each one
called upon his zemes, to come to his assistance. The two champions
beheld the zemes with a long tail and an enormous mouth furnished with
teeth and horns just like the images. This devil sought to untie the
young man who was acting as his champion, but at the first invocation
of the Comendador the Virgin appeared. The judges, with wide open eyes
and attentive minds, waited to see what would happen. She touched the
devil with the wand she was carrying and put him to flight, afterwards
causing the bonds of her champion to transfer themselves to the body
of his adversary. This miracle struck terror into the Comendador's
enemies, and they recognised that the zemes of the Virgin was more
powerful than their own.

The consequence of this event was, that when the news spread that
Christians had landed in Cuba, the Comendador's neighbours, who were
his bitter enemies, and had often made war upon him, sent to Enciso
asking for priests to baptise them. Enciso immediately despatched two
priests who were with him, and in one day one hundred and thirty men
of the Comendador's enemies were baptised and became his firm friends
and allies. We have in another place noted that chickens had greatly
increased in the country, owing to the care of our compatriots. Each
native who had received baptism presented the priest with a cock or
a hen, but not with a capon, because they have not yet learned to
castrate the chickens and make capons of them. They also brought
salted fish and cakes made of fresh flour. Six of the neophytes
accompanied the priests when they returned to the coasts, carrying
these presents, which procured the Spaniards a splendid Easter. They
had left Darien only two days before the Sunday of St. Lazarus, and
Easter overtook them when they were doubling the last promontory of
Cuba. In response to the petition of the Comendador they left with him
a Spaniard, who volunteered for the purpose of teaching the cacique's
subjects and their neighbours the Angelic Salutation, their idea being
that the more words of the prayer to the Virgin they knew, the better
disposed she would be to them.

Enciso agreed, after which he resumed his course to Hispaniola, which
was not far distant. From thence he betook himself to the King, who
was then in residence at Valladolid, where I talked intimately with
him. Enciso seriously influenced the King against the adventurer Vasco
Nunez, and secured his condemnation. I have wished, Most Holy Father,
to furnish you these particulars concerning the religion of the
natives. They reach me not only from Enciso, but from a number of
other most trustworthy personages. I have done this, that Your
Beatitude might be convinced of the docility of this race, and the
ease with which they might be instructed in the ceremonies of our
religion. Their conversion is not to be accomplished from one day to
another, and it is only little by little that they will accept the
evangelical law, of which you are the dispenser. Thus shall you see
the number of the sheep composing your flock increased each day. But
let us return to the story of the envoys from Darien.


The journey from Darien to Hispaniola may be made in eight days
or even less, if the wind is astern. Because of storms the envoys
occupied a hundred days in crossing. They stopped some days at
Hispaniola where they transacted their business with the Admiral and
the other officials, after which they embarked on the merchant vessels
which lay ready freighted and plied between Hispaniola and Spain. It
was not, however, till the calends of May of the year after their
departure from Darien, that they arrived at the capital. Quevedo and
Colmenares, the two envoys of the colonists of Darien, arrived there
on the fifteenth of May, of the year 1513. Coming as they did from
the Antipodes, from a country hitherto unknown and inhabited by naked
people, they were received with honour by Juan de Fonseca, to whom the
direction of colonial affairs had been entrusted. In recognition of
his fidelity to his sovereigns, other popes have successively bestowed
on him the bishoprics of Beca, afterwards Cordova, Palencia, and
Rosano; and Your Holiness has just now raised him to the bishopric
of Burgos. Being the first Almoner and Counsellor of the King's
household, Your Holiness has in addition appointed him commissary
general for the royal indulgences, and the crusade against the Moors.

Quevedo and Colmenares were presented by the Bishop of Burgos to the
Catholic King, and the news they brought pleased his Majesty and all
his courtiers, because of their extreme novelty. A look at these men
is enough to demonstrate the insalubrious climate and temperature of
Darien, for they are as yellow as though they suffered from liver
complaint, and are puffy, though they attribute their condition to the
privations they have endured. I heard about all they had done from the
captains Zamudio and Enciso; also through another bachelor of laws,
called Baecia, who had scoured those countries; also from the ship's
captain Vincent Yanez [Pinzon], who was familiar with those coasts;
from Alonzo Nunez and from a number of subalterns who had sailed along
those coasts, under the command of these captains. Not one of those
who came to Court failed to afford me the pleasure, whether verbally
or in writing, of reporting to me everything he had learned. True
it is that I have been neglectful of many of those reports, which
deserved to be kept, and have only preserved such as would, in my
opinion, please the lovers of history. Amidst such a mass of material
I am obliged necessarily to omit something in order that my narrative
may not be too diffuse.

Let us now relate the events provoked by the arrival of the envoys.
Before Quevedo and Colmenares arrived, the news had already been
spread of the dramatic end of the first leaders, Hojeda, Nicuesa, and
Juan de la Cosa, that illustrious navigator who had received a royal
commission as pilot. It was known that the few surviving colonists at
Darien were in a state of complete anarchy, taking no heed to convert
the simple tribes of that region to our religion and giving no
attention to acquiring information regarding those countries. It was
therefore decided to send out a representative who would deprive the
usurpers of the power they had seized without the King's license, and
correct the first disorders. This mission was entrusted to Pedro Arias
d'Avila, a citizen of Segovia, who was called in Spain by the nickname
of _El Galan_, because of his prowess in the jousts. No sooner was
this news published at the Court than the envoys from Darien attempted
to deprive Pedro Arias of the command. There were numerous and
pressing petitions to the King to accomplish this; but the first
Almoner, the Bishop of Burgos whose business it is to stop such
intrigues, promptly spoke to the King when informed of this one, in
the following terms:

"Pedro Arias, O Most Catholic King, is a brave man, who has often
risked his life for Your Majesty, and who we know by long experience
is well adapted to command troops. He signally distinguished himself
in the wars against the Moors, where he comported himself as became
a valiant soldier and a prudent officer. In my opinion, it would
be ungracious to withdraw his appointment in response to the
representations of envious persons. Let this good man, therefore,
depart under fortunate auspices; let this devoted pupil of Your
Majesty, who has lived from infancy in the palace, depart."

The King, acting on the advice of the Bishop of Burgos, confirmed the
appointment of Pedro Arias, and even increased the powers conferred
upon him. Twelve hundred soldiers were raised by the Bishop of Burgos,
at the royal expense, to form the troop of Pedro Arias who, with the
majority of them, left the Court at Valladolid about the calends of
October, in the year 1513, for Seville, a town celebrated for its
numerous population and its wool. It was at Seville that the royal
agents were to equip the remainder of his soldiers and deliver to him
the provisions and everything necessary for such a great enterprise.
For it is there that the King has established his office charged
exclusively with colonial affairs. All the merchants, coming and
going, appear there to render account of the cargoes they have brought
from the new countries, and of the gold they export. This office is
called India House.[1]

[Note 1: _Domum Indicae Contractationis vocant. Casa de
Contractacion_, or Casa de Indias.]

Pedro Arias found two thousand young soldiers in excess of his
number awaiting him at Seville; he likewise found a goodly number of
avaricious old men, the majority of whom asked merely to be allowed to
follow him at their own cost, without receiving the royal pay. Rather
than overcrowd his ships and to spare his supplies, he refused to take
any of the latter. Care was taken that no foreigner should mingle with
the Spaniards, without the King's permission, and for this reason I am
extremely astonished that a certain Venetian, Aloisio Cadamosto, who
has written a history of the Portuguese, should write when mentioning
the actions of the Spaniards, "We have done; we have seen; we have
been"; when, as a matter of fact, he has neither done nor seen any
more than any other Venetian. Cadamosto borrowed and plagiarised
whatever he wrote, from the first three books of my first three
Decades, that is to say, those which I addressed to the Cardinals
Ascanio and Arcimboldo, who were living at the time when the events
I described were happening. He evidently thought that my works would
never be given to the public, and it may be that he came across
them in the possession of some Venetian ambassador; for the most
illustrious Senate of that Republic sent eminent men to the Court of
the Catholic Kings, to some of whom I willingly showed my writings. I
readily consented that copies should be taken. Be that as it may, this
excellent Aloisio Cadamosto has sought to claim for himself what was
the work of another. He has related the great deeds of the Portuguese,
but whether he witnessed them, as he pretends, or has merely profited
by the labour of another, I am unable to state. _Vivat et ipse marte

Nobody, who had not been enrolled by the royal agents, as a soldier,
in the King's pay was allowed to go on board the vessels of Pedro
Arias. In addition to these regulars there were some others, including
one Francisco Cotta, a compatriot of mine, and thanks to a royal
order I obtained for him, he was allowed to go to the New World as
a volunteer with Pedro Arias. But for this he would not have been
permitted to depart. Now let the Venetian, Cadamosto, go on and write
that he has seen everything, while I, who for twenty-six years have
lived, not without credit, at the Court of the Catholic King, have
only been able by the greatest efforts to obtain authorisation for
one foreigner to sail. Some Genoese, but very few, and that at
the instance of the Admiral, son of the first discoverer of those
countries, succeeded in obtaining a like authorisation; but to no one
else was permission granted.

Pedro Arias sailed from Seville on the Guadalquivir to the sea, in the
first days of the year 1514.[2] His departure took place under evil
auspices, for such a furious storm broke over the fleet that two
vessels were shattered to pieces, and the others were obliged to
lighten themselves by throwing overboard some of their stores. The
crews which survived returned to the coast of Spain, where the King's
agents promptly came to their assistance and they were enabled again
to set forth. The pilot of the flagship appointed by the King was
Giovanni Vespucci, a Florentine, nephew of Amerigo Vespucci, who had
inherited his uncle's great ability in the art of navigation and
taking reckonings. We recently learned from Hispaniola that the
crossing had been favourable, and a merchant ship, returning from the
neighbouring islands, had encountered the fleet.

[Note 2: The expedition sailed on April 14, 1514.]

As Galeazzo Butrigario and Giovanni Accursi who, to please Your
Holiness, constantly urge me on, are sending a courier who will
deliver my ocean Nereids, however imperfect they may be, to Your
Beatitude, I shall save time by leaving out many particulars and shall
only mention what, in my opinion, is worthy to be recorded and which I
have not reported at the time it happened.

The wife of the captain Pedro Arias, by name Elizabeth Bobadilla, is
the grandniece on the father's side of the Marchioness Bobadilla de
Moia, who opened the gates of Segovia to the friends of Isabella when
the Portuguese were invading Castile, thus enabling them to hold out
and later to take the offensive against the Portuguese; and still
later to defeat them. King Henry, brother of Queen Isabella, had in
fact taken possession of the treasures of that town. During her entire
life, whether in time of war or in time of peace, the Marchioness de
Moia displayed virile resolution, and it was due to her counsels that
many great deeds were done in Castile. The wife of Pedro Arias, being
niece of this marchioness, and inspired by courage equal to that of
her aunt, spoke to her husband on his departure for those unknown
lands, where he would encounter real perils, both on sea and on land,
in the following terms:

"My dear husband, we have been united from our youth, as I think, for
the purpose of living together and never being separated. Wherever
destiny may lead you, be it on the tempestuous ocean or be it among
the hardships that await you on land, I should be your companion.
There is nothing I would more fear, nor any kind of death that might
threaten me, which would not be more supportable than for me to live
without you and separated by such an immense distance. I would rather
die and even be eaten by fish in the sea or devoured on land by
cannibals, than to consume myself in perpetual mourning and in
unceasing sorrow, awaiting--not my husband--but his letters. My
determination is not sudden nor unconsidered; nor is it a woman's
caprice that moves me to a well-weighed and merited decision. You must
choose between two alternatives. Either you will kill me or you will
grant my request. The children God has given us (there were eight of
them, four boys and four girls) will not stop me for one moment. We
will leave them their heritage and their marriage portions, sufficient
to enable them to live in conformity with their rank, and besides
these, I have no other preoccupation."

Upon hearing his wife speak such words from her virile heart, the
husband knew that nothing could shake her resolution, and therefore,
dared not refuse her request. She followed him as Ipsicratea, with
flowing hair, followed Mithridates, for she loved her living husband
as did the Carian Artemisia of Halicarnassia her dead Mausolus. We
have learned that this Elizabeth Bobadilla brought up, as the proverb
says, on soft feathers, has braved the dangers of the ocean with as
much courage as her husband or the sailors who pass their lives at

The following are some other particulars I have noted. In my First
Decade I spoke, and not without some praise, of Vincent Yanez Pinzon,
who had accompanied the Genoese, Christopher Columbus, the future
Admiral, on his first voyage. Later, he undertook, by himself and at
his own cost, another voyage, with but one ship for which he received
the royal license. During the year preceding the departure of Hojeda
and Nicuesa, Vincent Yanez undertook a third exploration, sailing from
Hispaniola. His course was from east to west, following the southern
shore of Cuba, which, owing to its length, many people at that time
thought a continent; and he sailed round it. Many other persons have
since reported that they have done the same.

Having demonstrated by this expedition that Cuba was indeed an island,
Vincent Yanez sailed farther, and discovered other lands west of Cuba,
but such as the Admiral had first touched. He kept to the left and,
following the continental coasts towards the east, he crossed the
gulfs of Veragua, Uraba, and Cachibacoa, touching finally with his
ship at the region which, in our First Decade, we have explained was
called Paria and Boca de la Sierpe. He sailed into an immense gulf
noted by Columbus as remarkable for its fresh waters, the abundance of
fish, and the many islands it contained. It is situated about thirty
miles east of Curiana. Midway in this course Cumana and Manacapana
are passed; and it is at these places, not at Curiana, where the most
pearls are found.

The kings of that country, who are called _chiaconus_ just as they are
called caciques in Hispaniola, sent messengers when they learned of
the Spaniards' arrival, to ascertain who the unknown men might be,
what they brought with them, and what they wanted. They launched
upon the sea their barques dug out of tree trunks which are the same
mentioned in our First Decade, and are called canoes in Hispaniola;
but here the natives called them _chicos_. What most astonished them

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