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

Part 6 out of 7

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and fiercely attacked the man who had wounded it. The latter defended
himself with his sword and cut off the monkey's arm, and despite its
desperate efforts, captured it. When brought in contact with men, on
board the ship, it gradually became tame. While it was kept chained,
other hunters brought from the swamps a wild boar which they had
pursued through the forests, desiring to eat some fresh meat. The men
showed this enraged wild boar to the monkey, and both animals bristled
with fury. The monkey, beside itself with rage, sprang upon the boar,
winding its tail about him, and with the one arm its conqueror had
left him, seized the boar by the throat and strangled it. Such are the
ferocious animals and others similar, which inhabit this country.
The natives of Cariai preserve the bodies of their chiefs and their
relatives, drying them upon hurdles and then packing them in leaves;
but the common people bury their dead in the forest.

[Note 8: Possibly the _simia seniculus_.]

Leaving Cariai and sailing a distance of twenty leagues the Spaniards
discovered a gulf of such size that they thought that it must have a
circumference of twelve leagues. Four small fertile islands, separated
from one another by narrow straits, lie across the opening of this
gulf, making it a safe harbour.

We have elsewhere called the port, situated at the extreme point, by
its native name of Cerabaroa; but it is only the right coast upon
entering the gulf bears that name, the left coast being called
Aburema. Numerous and fertile islands dot the gulf, and the bottom
affords excellent anchorage. The clearness of the water makes it
easily discernible, and fish are very abundant. The country round
about is equal in fertility to the very best. The Spaniards captured
two natives who wore gold necklaces, which they called guanines. These
collars are delicately wrought in the form of eagles, lions, or other
similar animals, but it was observed that the metal was not very pure.
The two natives, brought from Cariai, explained that both the regions
of Cerabaroa and Aburema were rich in gold, and that all the gold
their countrymen required for ornaments was obtained from thence by
trading. They added that, in six villages of Cerabaroa, situated a
short distance in the interior of the country, gold was found; for
from the earliest times they had traded with those tribes. The names
of those five villages are Chirara, Puren, Chitaza, Jurech, and

All the men of the province of Cerabaroa go entirely naked, but they
paint their bodies in different ways, and they love to wear garlands
of flowers on their heads, and bands made from the claws of lions and
tigers. The women wear narrow waist-cloths of cotton.

Leaving this harbour and following along the same coast, a distance
of eighteen leagues, the Spaniards came upon a band of three hundred
naked men, upon the bank of the river they had just discovered. These
men uttered threatening shouts and, filling their mouths with water
and the herbs of the coast, spat at them. Throwing their javelins,
brandishing their lances and machanes, which we have already said were
wooden swords, they strove to repel our men from the coast. They were
painted in different fashions; some of them painted the whole body
except the face, others only a part. They gave it to be understood
that they wished neither peace nor trading relations with the
Spaniards. The Admiral ordered several cannon-shots to be fired, but
so as to kill nobody, for he always showed himself disposed to use
peaceable measures with these new people. Frightened by the noise, the
natives fell on the ground imploring peace, and in this wise trading
relations were established. In exchange for their gold and guanines
they received glass beads and other similar trifles. These natives
have drums and sea-shell trumpets, which they use to excite their
courage when going into battle.

The following rivers are found along this part of the coast: the
Acateba, the Quareba, the Zobroba, the Aiaguitin, the Wrida, the
Duribba, and the Veragua. Gold is found everywhere. Instead of cloaks,
the natives wear large leaves on their heads as a protection against
the heat or the rain.

The Admiral afterwards coasted along the shores of Ebetere and
Embigar. Two rivers, Zahoran and Cubigar, remarkable for their volume
and the quantity of fish they contain, water these coasts.

Beyond a distance of fifty leagues, gold is no longer found. Only
three leagues away stands a rock which, as we have already stated in
our description of Nicuesa's unfortunate voyage, the Spaniards called
Penon and which the natives call Vibba.

In the same neighbourhood and about two leagues distant is the bay
Columbus discovered and named Porto Bello. The country, which has
gold and is called by the natives Xaguaguara is very populous but the
inhabitants are naked. The cacique of Xaguaguara paints himself
black, and his subjects are painted red. The cacique and seven of his
principal followers wore leaves of gold in their noses, hanging down
to their lips, and in their opinion no more beautiful ornament exists.
The men cover their sexual organs with a sea-shell, and the women wear
a band of cotton stuff.

There is a fruit growing in their gardens which resembles a
pine-nut;[9]we have elsewhere said that it grows upon a plant,
resembling an artichoke, and that the fruit, which is not unworthy
of a king's table, is perishable; I have spoken elsewhere at length
concerning these. The natives call the plant bearing this fruit
_hibuero_. From time to time crocodiles are found which, when they
dive or scramble away, leave behind them an odour more delicate than
musk or castor. The natives who live along the banks of the Nile
relate the same fact concerning the female of the crocodile, whose
belly exhales the perfumes of Araby.

[Note 9: The pineapple.]

From this point the Admiral put his fleet about, and returned over
his course, for he could no longer battle against the contrary
currents.[10] Moreover, his ships were rotting from day to day, their
hulks being eaten into by the sharp points of worms engendered by the
sun from the waters of these regions situated near the equator. The
Venetians call these worms _bissa_, and quantities of them come into
life in both the ports of Alexandria, in Egypt. These worms, which are
a cubit long and sometimes more, and never thicker than your little
finger, undermine the solidity of ships which lie too long at anchor.
The Spanish sailors call this pest _broma_. It was therefore because
he feared the _bromas_ and was wearied out with struggling against the
currents that the Admiral allowed his ships to be carried by the ocean
towards the west. Two leagues distant from Veragua he sailed up the
river Hiebra, since it was navigable for the largest vessels. Though
it is less important, yet the Veragua gives its name to the country,
since the ruler of that region, which is watered by both rivers, has
his residence on the bank of the Veragua.

[Note 10: Columbus describes the storms which prevailed during
that entire month of December as the most formidable he had ever
experienced; on the thirteenth his vessels had the narrowest possible
escape from a waterspout.]

Let us now relate the good and ill fortune they there encountered.
Columbus established himself on the banks of the Hiebra, sending his
brother Bartholomew Columbus, Adelantado of Hispaniola, in command of
sixty-eight men in ships' boats to Veragua. The cacique of the country
came down the river with a fleet of canoes to meet the Adelantado.
This man was naked and unarmed, and was accompanied by a numerous
following. Hardly had a few words been exchanged when the followers of
the cacique, fearing that he might weary himself or forget his
royal dignity by standing while he talked, carried a stone from the
neighbouring bank, and after washing and polishing it with care,
respectfully tendered it to their chief to serve as a chair. When
seated, the cacique seemed to convey by signs to the Spaniards that he
permitted them to sail on the rivers of his territory.

The sixth of the ides of February the Adelantado marched along the
banks of the river Veragua, leaving his boats behind. He came to
the Duraba, a stream richer in gold than the Hiebra or the Veragua;
moreover, in all these regions gold is found amongst the roots of the
trees, along the banks and amongst the rocks and stones left by the
torrents. Wherever they dug a palm deep, gold was found mingled with
the earth turned out. This decided the attempt to found a colony, but
the natives opposed this project, for they foresaw their own prompt
destruction. They armed themselves, and, uttering horrible cries,
they attacked our men who were engaged in building cabins. This first
attack was, with difficulty, repelled. The natives threw darts from a
distance and then, gradually drawing nearer, they used their wooden
swords and machanes, in a furious assault. So greatly enraged were
they that, astonishing as it may seem, they were not frightened either
by bows, arquebuses, or the noise of the cannon fired from the ships.
Once they drew off, but soon returned to the charge in greater numbers
and more furiously than before. They preferred to die rather than see
their land occupied by the Spaniards whom they were perfectly willing
to receive as guests, but whom they rejected as inhabitants. The more
the Spaniards defended themselves, the more did the multitude of their
assailants increase, directing their attack sometimes on the front,
sometimes on the flank, without cessation both day and night.
Fortunately the fleet at anchorage assured the Spaniards a secure
retreat and, deciding to abandon the attempt to colonise there, they
returned on board.

Their return to Jamaica, which is the island lying south and near to
Cuba and Hispaniola was accomplished with great difficulty, for their
ships had been so eaten by bromas,--to use a Spanish word--that they
were like sieves and almost went to pieces during the voyage. The men
saved themselves by working incessantly, bailing out the water that
rushed in through great fissures in the ship's side and finally,
exhausted by fatigue, they succeeded in reaching Jamaica. Their ships
sank; and leaving them there stranded, they passed six months in
the power of the barbarians, a more wretched existence than that of
Alcimenides as described by Virgil. They were forced to live on what
the earth produced or what it pleased the natives to give them. The
mortal enmities existing amongst the savage caciques were of some
service to the Spaniards; for to secure their alliance the caciques
distributed bread to the starving whenever they were about to
undertake a campaign. O how sad and wretched it is, Most Holy Father,
to eat the bread of charity! Your Holiness may well understand,
especially when man is deprived of wine, meat, different kinds of
cheeses, and of everything to which from their infancy the stomachs of
Europeans are accustomed.

Under the stress of necessity the Admiral resolved to tempt fortune.
Desiring to know what destiny God reserved for him, he took counsel
with his intendant, Diego Mendez,[11] and two islanders of Jamaica who
were familiar with those waters. Mendez started in a canoe, although
the sea was already ruffled. From reef to reef and from rock to rock,
his narrow skiff tossed by the waves, Diego nevertheless succeeded in
reaching the extreme point of Hispaniola which is some forty leagues
distant from Jamaica. The two natives returned joyously, anticipating
the reward promised them by Columbus. Mendez made his way on foot to
Santo Domingo, the capital of the island, where he rented two boats
and set out to rejoin his commander. All the Spaniards returned
together to Hispaniola, but in a state of extreme weakness and
exhaustion from their privations. I do not know what has since
happened to them.[12] Let us now resume our narrative.

[Note 11: The events of this fourth voyage are related in
the interesting _Relacion hecha par Diego Mendez de algunos
aconticimientos del ultimo viaje del Almirante Don Christobal Colon_.
King Ferdinand afterwards granted Mendez a canoe in his armorial
bearings, in memory of the services he had rendered.]

[Note 12: Columbus reached Santo Domingo on August 18th, and there
rested until September 12th, when he embarked for Spain landing at San
Lucar on November 7.]

According to his letters and the reports of his companions, all the
regions explored by Columbus are well wooded at all seasons of the
year, shaded by leafy green trees. Moreover, what is more important,
they are healthy. Not a man of his crew was ever ill or exposed to the
rigours of cold nor the heats of summer throughout the whole extent of
fifty leagues between the great harbour of Cerabaro and the Hiebra and
Veragua rivers.

All the inhabitants of Cerabaro and the neighbourhood of Hiebra and
Veragua only seek gold at certain fixed periods. They are just as
competent as our miners who work the silver and iron mines. From long
experience, from the aspect of the torrent whose waters they divert,
from the colour of the earth and various other signs, they know where
the richest gold deposits are; they believe in a tradition of their
ancestors which teaches that there is a divinity in gold, and they
take care only to look for this metal after purifying themselves. They
abstain from carnal and other pleasures, also eating and drinking in
great moderation, during the time they seek gold. They think that men
live and die just like animals, and have, therefore, no religion.
Nevertheless they venerate the sun, and salute the sunrise with

Let us now speak of the mountains and the general aspect of the

Lofty mountains[13] which end in a ridge extending from east to west
are seen in the distance towards the south from all along the coast.
We believe this range separates the two seas of which we have already
spoken at length, and that it forms a barrier dividing their waters
just as Italy separates the Tyrrhenian from the Adriatic Sea. From
wherever they sail, between Cape San Augustins, belonging to the
Portuguese and facing the Atlas, as far as Uraba and the port of
Cerabaro and the other western lands recently discovered, the
navigators behold during their entire voyage, whether near at hand or
in the distance mountain ranges; sometimes their slopes are gentle,
sometimes lofty, rough, and rocky, or perhaps clothed with woods and
shrubbery. This is likewise the case in the Taurus, and on the slopes
of our Apennines, as well as on other similar ranges. As is the case
elsewhere, beautiful valleys separate the mountain peaks. The peaks of
the range marking the frontier of Veragua are believed to rise above
the clouds, for they are very rarely visible because of the almost
continuous density of mists and clouds.

[Note 13: The Cordilleras on the Isthmus of Panama.]

The Admiral, who first explored this region, believes these peaks
rise to a height of forty miles, and he says that at the base of the
mountains there is a road leading to the South Sea. He compares its
position with that of Venice in relation to Genoa, or Janua, as the
inhabitants who boast that Janus was their founder, call their city.
The Admiral believes that this continent extends to the west and that
the greater part of its lands lies in that direction. In like manner
we observe that the leg forming Italy branches out beyond the Alps
into the countries of the Gauls, the Germans, the Pannonians, and
ultimately those of the Sarmats and the Scythians extending to the
Riphe Mountains and the glacial sea, not to mention Thrace, all
Greece, and the countries ending towards the south at Cape Malea and
the Hellespont, and north at the Euxine and the Palus Maeotidus. The
Admiral believes that on the left and west, this continent joins on
to the India of the Ganges, and that towards the right it extends
northwards to the glacial sea and the north pole, lying beyond the
lands of the Hyperboreans; the two seas, that is to say the southern
and the northern ocean, would thus join one another at the angles of
this continent. I do not believe all its coasts are washed by the
ocean, as is our Europe which the Hellespont, the Tanais, the glacial
ocean, the Spanish sea and the Atlantic completely surround. In my
opinion the strong ocean currents running towards the west prevent
these two seas from being connected, and I suppose, as I have said
above, that it does join on to northern lands.

We have spoken enough about longitude, Most Holy Father; let us see
what are the theories concerning latitude.

We have already stated that the distance separating the South Sea from
the Atlantic Ocean is a very small one; for this fact was demonstrated
during the expedition of Vasco Nunez and his companions. Just as our
Alps in Europe, narrow in some places and broaden out over a greater
extent in others, so by an analogous arrangement of nature this new
continent lengthens in some places, extending to a great distance, and
in others it narrows by gulfs which, from the opposite seas, encroach
on the land between them. For example: at both Uraba and Veragua the
distance between the two oceans is trifling, while in the region of
the Maragnon River, on the contrary, it is vastly extended. That
is, if the Maragnon is indeed a river and not a sea. I incline
nevertheless to the first hypothesis, because its waters are fresh.
The immense torrents necessary to feed such a stream could certainly
not exist in a small space. The same applies in the case of the river
Dobaiba,[14] which flows into the sea at the gulf of Uraba, by an
estuary three miles wide and forty-five ells deep; it must be supposed
that there is a large country amongst the mountains of Dobaiba from
which this river flows. It is claimed that it is formed by four
streams descending from these mountains, and the Spaniards have named
it San Juan. Where it falls into the gulf, it has seven mouths, like
the Nile. In this same Uraba region the continent diminishes in size
in an astonishing manner, and it is said that in places its width is
not more than fifteen leagues. The country is impassable because of
its swamps and quagmires which the Spaniards call _tremelaes_
or _trampales_, or by other names _cenegales_, _sumineros_, and

[Note 14: The Dobaiba may be either the Magdalena or the Atrato.]

[Note 15: All words meaning practically the same thing, viz., bog,
quagmire, swamp, quicksand, etc., some of them evidently obsolete, as
they are not found in modern Spanish dictionaries.]

Before going farther it may not be useless to explain the derivation
of the name of these mountains. According to native tradition there
formerly lived a woman of great intelligence and extraordinary
prudence, called Dobaiba. Even during her lifetime she was highly
respected, and after her death the natives of the country venerated
her; and it is her name the country bears. She it is who sends thunder
and lightning, who destroys the crops when she is vexed, for they
childishly believe, that Dobaiba becomes angry when they fail to offer
sacrifices in her honour. There are deceivers who, under the pretence
of religion, inculate this belief among the natives, hoping thereby to
increase the number of gifts offered by the latter to the goddess, and
thus augment their own profits. This is enough on this subject.

It is related that in the swamps of this narrow part of the continent
numerous crocodiles, dragons, bats, and gnats exist, all of the most
formidable description. In seeking to reach the southern sea, it is
necessary to go through the mountains, and to avoid the neighbourhood
of these swamps. Some people claim that a single valley separates in
two ranges the mountains facing the southern sea, and that in this
valley rises the river which the Spaniards have named Rio de los
Perdidos, in memory of the catastrophe of Nicuesa and his companions.
It is not far distant from Cerabaro; but as its waters are fresh, I
believe the people who sustain this theory are telling fables.

Let us close this chapter with one last topic. To the right and left
of Darien flow about a score of gold-producing rivers. We here repeat
what has been told to us, and about which everybody agrees. When asked
why they did not bring more considerable quantities of gold from that
country, the Spaniards answer that miners are required, and that the
explorers of the new countries are not men inured to fatigue. This
explains why much less gold is obtained than the wealth of the soil
affords. It would even seem that precious stones are found there.
Without repeating what I have said concerning Cariai and the
neighbourhood of Santa Marta, here is another proof. A certain Andreas
Morales, a pilot of these seas, who was a friend and companion of Juan
de la Cosa during his lifetime, possessed a diamond which a young
native of Paria in Cumana had discovered. It was of the greatest
rarity and is described as being as long as two middle finger joints.
It was as thick as the first thumb joint, was pointed at both ends,
and had eight well-cut facets. When struck upon an anvil, it wore the
files and hammers, itself remaining intact. This young man of Cumana
wore it hanging round his neck, and he sold it to Andreas Morales for
five green glass beads because their colour pleased him. The Spaniards
also found topazes on the beach, but as they only think of gold, they
turn their backs on these precious stones; for only gold attracts
them, only gold do they seek. Thus the majority of Spaniards despise
people who wear rings and precious stones, regarding it as almost a
contemptible thing to decorate one's self with precious stones. Our
people above all hold this opinion. Sometimes the nobles, for a
wedding ceremony or a royal festival, like to display jewels in their
golden necklaces, or to embroider their costumes with pearls mixed
with diamonds; but on all other occasions they abstain, for it is
considered effeminate to decorate one's self in this wise, just as it
would be to be perfumed with the odours of Araby. Any one they meet
smelling of musk or castor, they suspect of being given to guilty

Fruit plucked from a tree argues that the tree bears fruit; a fish
taken from a river warrants the affirmation that fish live in the
river. In like manner a bit of gold or a single precious stone
justifies the belief that the earth where they are found, produces
gold and precious stones.

This must certainly be admitted. We have already related what the
companions of Pedro Arias and some officials discovered at the port of
Santa Marta in the Cariai region when they penetrated there with the
whole fleet. Every day the harvest increases, and overtops that of the
last. The exploits of Saturn and Hercules and other heroes, glorified
by antiquity, are reduced to nothing. If the incessant efforts of the
Spaniards result in new discoveries, we shall give our attention to
them. May Your Holiness fare well, and let me know your opinion upon
these aggrandisements of your Apostolic Chair, and thus encourage me
in my future labours.


Every creature in this sublunary world, Most Holy Father, that gives
birth to something, either immediately afterwards closes the womb or
rests for a period. The new continent, however, is not governed by
this rule, for each day it creates without ceasing and brings forth
new products, which continue to furnish men gifted with power and
an enthusiasm for novelties, sufficient material to satisfy their
curiosity. Your Holiness may ask, "Why this preamble?" The reason is
that I had scarcely finished composing and dictating the story of the
adventures of Vasco Nunez and his companions during their exploration
of the South Sea, and had hardly despatched that narration to Your
Holiness by Giovanni Ruffo di Forli, Archbishop of Cosenza and
Galeazzo Butrigario, Apostolic nuncios and stimulators of my somnolent
spirits, than new letters[1] arrived from Pedro Arias whose departure
last year as commander of a fleet bound for the new continent we have
already announced. The General duly arrived with his soldiers and his
ships. These letters are signed by Juan Cabedo whom Your Holiness,
upon the solicitation of the Catholic King, appointed Bishop of the
province of Darien, and his signature is accompanied by those of the
principal officials sent to administer the government, viz.: Alonzo
de Ponte, Diego Marques, and Juan de Tavira. May Your Holiness,
therefore, deign to accept the narrative of this voyage.

[Note 1: If still in existence these letters have yet to be

On the eve of the ides of April, 1514, Pedro Arias gave the signal to
start and sailed from the port of San Lucar de Barrameda, a fortified
place at the mouth of the Boetis, called by the Spaniards the
Guadalquivir. From the mouth of the Boetis, to the seven Canary
Islands the distance is about four hundred miles. Some people think
these islands correspond to the Fortunate Isles, but others hold a
contrary opinion. These islands are named as follows: Lancelota and
Fortaventura are the first sighted, after which the Grand Canary,
followed by Teneriffe: Gomera lies a short distance to the north
of Teneriffe and the islands of Palma and Ferro seem to form a
rear-guard. After a voyage of eight days, Pedro Arias landed at
Gomera. His fleet consisted of seventeen vessels, carrying fifteen
hundred men, to which number he had been restricted; for he left
behind him more than two thousand discontented and disconsolate men,
who begged to be allowed to embark at their own expense; such was
their avidity for gold and such their desire to behold the new

Pedro Arias stopped sixteen days at Gomera, to take on a supply of
wood and water, and to repair his ships damaged by a storm, especially
the flag-ship, which had lost her rudder. The archipelago of the
Canaries is indeed a most convenient port for navigators. The
expedition left the Canaries the nones of May, and saw no land until
the third day of the nones of June, when the ships approached the
island of the man-eating cannibals which has been named Domingo. On
this island, which is about eight hundred leagues from Gomera, Pedro
Arias remained four days and replenished his supply of water and wood.
Not a man or a trace of a human being was discovered. Along the coast
were many crabs and huge lizards. The course afterwards passed by the
islands of Madanino and Guadeloupe and Maria Galante, of which I have
spoken at length in my First Decade. Pedro Arias also sailed over vast
stretches of water full of grass[2]; neither the Admiral, Columbus,
who first discovered these lands and crossed this sea of grass, nor
the Spaniards accompanying Pedro Arias are able to explain the cause
of this growth. Some people think the sea is muddy thereabouts and
the grasses, growing on the bottom, reach to the surface; similar
phenomena being observed in lakes and large rivers of running waters.
Others do not think that the grasses grow in that sea, but are torn up
by storms from the numerous reefs and afterwards float about; but it
is impossible to prove anything because it is not known yet whether
they fasten themselves to the prows of the ships they follow or
whether they float after being pulled up. I am inclined to believe
they grow in those waters, otherwise the ships would collect them
in their course,--just as brooms gather up all the rubbish in the
house,--which would thus delay their progress.

[Note 2: The _Mare Sargassum_ of the ancients: also called _Fucus
Natans_, and by the Spaniards _Mar de Sargasso_. A curious marine
meadow nearly seven times larger than France, in extent, lying between
19 deg. and 34 deg. north latitude. There is a lesser _Fucus_ bank between the
Bahamas and the Bermudas. Consult Aristotle, _Meteor_, ii., I, 14;
_De mirabilibus auscutationibus_, p. 100; Theophrastus, _Historia
Plantarum_, iv., 7; Arienus, _Ora Maritima_, v., 408; Humboldt,
_Cosmos_, tom. ii.; Gaffarel, _La Mer des Sargasses_; Leps, _Bulletin
de la Soc. Geog_., Sept., 1865.]

The fourth day of the ides of March snow-covered mountains were
observed. The sea runs strongly to the west and its current is as
rapid as a mountain torrent. Nevertheless the Spaniards did not lay
their course directly towards the west, but deviated slightly to the
south. I hope to be able to demonstrate this by one of the tables of
the new cosmography which it is my intention to write, if God gives me
life. The Gaira River, celebrated for the massacre of the Spaniards
during the voyage of Roderigo Colmenares, which I have elsewhere
related, rises in these mountains. Many other rivers water this coast.
The province of Caramaira has two celebrated harbours, the first being
Carthagena and the second Santa Marta, these being their Spanish
names. A small province of the latter is called by the natives
Saturma. The harbour of Santa Marta is very near the snow-covered
mountains; in fact it lies at their foot. The port of Carthagena is
fifty leagues from there, to the west. Wonderful things are written
about the port of Santa Marta, and all who come back tell such. Among
the latter is Vespucci,[3] nephew of Amerigo Vespucci of Florence who,
at his death, bequeathed his knowledge of navigation and cosmography
to his nephew. This young man has, in fact, been sent by the King
as pilot to the flagship and commissioned to take the astronomical
observations. The steering has been entrusted to the principal pilot,
Juan Serrano, a Castilian, who had often sailed in those parts. I have
often invited this young Vespucci to my table, not only because he
possesses real talent, but also because he has taken notes of all he
observed during his voyage.[4]

[Note 3: He was appointed cartographer of the _Casa de
Contractacion_ at Seville, in 1512. Henry Harrisse makes frequent
mention of the Vespucci in his work on the Cabots.]

[Note 4: One of many instances of Peter Martyr's hospitality to
men of parts and activity, from whose conversation and narrations he
set himself to glean the material for his writings. His information
was first-hand, and was frequently poured out to him over his
hospitable board, under which the home-coming adventurers were glad to
stretch their legs, while their genial host stimulated their memories
and loosed their tongues with the generous wines of his adopted

According to the letters of Pedro Arias, and to the narrations of
Vespucci, what happened is as follows: It is believed that the natives
belong to the same race as the Caribs or Cannibals, for they are just
as overbearing and cruel. They seek to repulse from their shores all
Spaniards who approach for they consider them as enemies and are
determined to prevent their landing, despite their attempts. These
naked barbarians are so determined and courageous, that they ventured
to attack the entire squadron and tried to drive it from their coasts.
They threw themselves into the sea, like madmen, showing not the
slightest fear of the number and size of our vessels. They attacked
the Spaniards with all sorts of darts; protected by the sides of the
ships and by their shields, the latter resisted, though two of them
were mortally wounded. It was then decided to fire cannon, and
frightened by the noise and the effect of the projectiles, the natives
fled, believing the Spaniards commanded the thunder; for they are
frequently exposed to storms owing to the character of their country
and the neighbourhood of lofty mountains. Although the enemy were
conquered and dispersed, the Spaniards hesitated whether to go on
shore or to remain on board their ships. A consultation was held in
which different opinions were expressed. Fear counselled them to stop
where they were, but human respect urged them to land. They feared the
poisoned arrows which the natives shot with such sure aim, but on the
other hand it seemed shameful, unworthy, and infamous to sail by with
such a large fleet and so many soldiers without landing. Human respect
carried the day, and after landing by means of light barques, they
pursued the scattered natives.

According to the report of Pedro Arias and the narrative of Vespucci,
the harbour is three leagues in circumference. It is a safe one, and
its waters are so clear that at a depth of twenty cubits, the stones
on its bottom may be counted. Streams empty into the harbour but they
are not navigable for large ships, only for native canoes. There is an
extraordinary abundance of both fresh- and salt-water fish, of great
variety and good flavour. Many native fishing boats were found in
this harbour, and also a quantity of nets ingeniously made from stout
grasses worn by friction and interwoven with spun cotton cords. The
natives of Caramaira, Cariai, and Saturma are all skilful fishermen,
and it is by selling their fish to the inland tribes that they procure
the products they need and desire.

When the barbarians withdrew from the coast, the Spaniards entered
their boios, that is to say their houses. The natives frequently
attacked our men with fury, seeking to kill them all with flights
of poisoned arrows. When they realised that their houses were to be
invaded and robbed, and particularly when they witnessed their women
and the majority of their children carried into captivity, their fury
increased. The furniture found in these houses was discovered to be
made of large reeds gathered along the shore, or of various grasses
resembling cords. Woven mats of various colours, and cotton hangings,
upon which lions, eagles, tigers, and other figures were executed with
great care and taste, were found. The doors of the houses and of the
rooms inside were hung with snail-shells strung upon fine cord, which
the wind easily shook, producing a noise of rattling shells which
delighted them.

From various sources astonishing tales of the natives have been told
me. Amongst others, Gonzales Fernando Oviedo,[5] who is a royal
official with the title of inspector, boasts that he has travelled
extensively in the interior of the country. He found a piece of
sapphire larger than a goose's egg, and upon the hills he explored
with about twenty men, he claims that he has seen a large quantity of
emerald matrix, chalcedon, jasper, and great lumps of mountain amber.

[Note 5: _Sommario dell'Indie Occidenti_, cap. lxxxii., in

Attached to the tapestries woven with gold which the Caribs left
behind them in their houses when they fled, were precious stones:
Oviedo and his companions affirm that they saw them. The country also
has forests of scarlet wood and rich gold deposits. Everywhere along
the coast and on the banks of the rivers exist marcasites[6] which
indicate the presence of gold. Oviedo further states that in a region
called Zenu, lying ninety miles east of Darien, a kind of business is
carried on for which there are found in the native houses huge jars
and baskets, cleverly made of reeds adapted to that purpose. These
receptacles are filled with dried and salted grasshoppers, crabs,
crayfish, and locusts, which destroy the harvests. When asked the
purpose of these provisions, the natives replied they were destined
to be sold to the people inland, and in exchange for these precious
insects and dried fish they procure the foreign products they require.
The natives live in scattered fashion, their houses not being built
together. This land, inhabited by the people of Caramaira, is an
Elysian country, well cultivated, fertile, exposed neither to the
rigours of winter nor the great heats of summer. Day and night are of
about equal length.

[Note 6: A variety of iron pyrites.]

After driving off the barbarians, the Spaniards entered a valley two
leagues in breadth and three long, which extended to the grassy and
wooded slopes of the mountains. Two other valleys, each watered by a
river, also open to the right and left at the foot of these mountains.
One is the Gaira, and the other has not yet received a name. There
are, in these valleys, cultivated gardens, and fields watered by
ingeniously planned ditches. Our Milanese and Tuscans cultivate and
water their fields in precisely the same manner.

The ordinary food of these natives is the same as the others--agoes,
yucca, maize, potatoes, fruits, and fish. They rarely eat human flesh,
for they do not often capture strangers. Sometimes they arm themselves
and go hunting in neighbouring regions, but they do not eat one
another. There is, however, one fact sad to hear. These filthy eaters
of men are reported to have killed myriads of their kind to satisfy
their passion. Our compatriots have discovered a thousand islands as
fair as Paradise, a thousand Elysian regions, which these brigands
have depopulated. Charming and blessed as they are, they are
nevertheless deserted. From this sole instance Your Holiness may judge
of the perversity of this brutal race. We have already said that
the island of San Juan lies near to Hispaniola and is called by the
natives Burichena. Now it is related that within our own time more
than five thousand islanders have been carried off from Burichena for
food, and were eaten by the inhabitants of these neighbouring islands
which are now called Santa Cruz, Hayhay, Guadaloupe, and Queraqueira.
But enough has been said about the appetites of these filthy

Let us now speak a little of the roots destined to become the food
of Christians and take the place of wheaten bread, radishes, and our
other vegetables. We have already said several times that the yucca
was a root from which the natives make a bread they like both in
the islands and on the continent; but we have not yet spoken of its
culture, its growth, or of its several varieties. When planting yucca,
they dig a hole knee-deep in the ground, and pile the earth in heaps
nine feet square, in each one of which they plant a dozen yucca roots
about six feet long, in such wise that all the ends come together
in the centre of the mound. From their joining and even from their
extremities, young roots fine as a hair sprout and, increasing little
by little, attain, when they are full grown, the thickness and length
of a man's arm, and often of his leg. The mounds of earth are thus
converted little by little into a network of roots. According to
their description, the yucca requires at least half a year to reach
maturity, and the natives also say that if it is left longer in
the ground, for instance for two years, it improves and produces a
superior quality of bread. When cut, the women break and mash it on
stones prepared for the purpose, just as amongst us cheese is pressed;
or they pack it into a bag made of grass or reeds from the riverside,
afterwards placing a heavy stone on the bag and hanging it up for a
whole day to let the juice run off. This juice, as we have already
said in speaking of the islanders, is dangerous; but if cooked, it
becomes wholesome, as is the case with the whey of our milk. Let us
observe, however, that this juice is not fatal to the natives of the

There are several varieties of yucca, one of which being dearer and
more agreeable, is reserved for making the bread of the caciques.
Other varieties are set aside for the nobles, and certain others for
the common people. When the juice has all run off, the pulp is spread
out and cooked on slabs of earthenware made for the purpose, just
as our people do cheese. This sort of bread is the most used and is
called _cazabi_. It is said there are also several kinds of agoes
and potatoes, and the natives use these more as vegetables than for
breadmaking, just as we do radishes, turnips, mushrooms, and other
similar foods. Most of all do the natives like potatoes, which indeed
are preferable to mushrooms, because of their flavour and softness,
particularly when of a superior quality. We have now spoken enough
of roots, so let us come to another kind of bread. The natives have
another kind of grain similar to millet, save that the kernels are
larger. When there is a shortage of yucca, they grind it into flour by
mashing it between stones; the bread made from this is coarser. This
grain is sown three times a year, since the fertility of the soil
corresponds to the evenness of the seasons. I have already spoken of
this in preceding places. When the Spaniards first arrived, all these
roots and grains and maize, as well as various other kinds of fruit
trees were cultivated.

In Caramaira and Saturma there are such broad, straight roads that one
might think they had been drawn with a lead pencil. Among this people
are found cups with handles, jugs, jars, long platters, and plates
of earthenware, as well as amphoras of different colours for keeping
water fresh.

When ordered to tender obedience to the King of Castile and to embrace
our religion, or get out, the Indians replied with flights of poisoned
arrows. The Spaniards captured some of them, whom they immediately set
at liberty after giving them some clothing. Some others they took on
board the ships and displayed our grandeur before them, so that they
might tell their compatriots; after which they released them, hoping
thus to win their friendship. Gold has been proven to exist in all the
rivers. Here and there in the native houses fresh meat of deer and
wild boar was found; a food which they eat with great pleasure. These
natives also keep numbers of birds which they rear either for food or
for their pleasure. The climate is healthy; I may cite as a proof the
fact that the Spaniards slept at night on the river banks and in the
open air, without anybody suffering from headache or pains.

The Spaniards likewise found huge balls of spun cotton and bunches of
divers coloured feathers from which headdresses, similar to those of
our cuirassiers, or mantles of state are made. These are elegancies
among the natives. There was also a large number of bows and arrows.

Sometimes the bodies of their ancestors are burned and the bones
buried, and sometimes they are preserved entire in their _boios_, that
is to say houses, and treated with great respect; or again, they may
be ornamented with gold and precious stones. It was noted that the
breast ornaments, which they call _guanines_ were made of copper
rather than gold, and it was surmised that they dealt with tricky
strangers who sold them these guanines, palming off upon them vile
metal for gold. Neither did the Spaniards discover the trick till they
melted these supposed valuables.

Some architects who had wandered a short distance from the coast came
upon some fragments of white marble, and they think that strangers
must at some time have landed there and quarried this marble from the
mountains, leaving these fragments scattered about the plain. It was
at this place that the Spaniards learned that the river Maragnon
flows from the snow-covered mountains, its volume being increased by
numerous streams flowing into it. Its great size is due to the fact
that its course is long, and that it only reaches the sea after having
traversed well-watered regions.

The signal for departure was finally given. Nine hundred men who had
been landed, assembled shouting joyfully, marching in order, loaded
with plunder, and quite showy with crowns, mantles, feathers, and
native military ornaments. The anchor was hoisted on the sixteenth day
of the calends of July. The ships, damaged in frequent gales, had been
repaired, the flag-ship having especially suffered the loss of her
rudder, as we have already mentioned. The fleet put out to sea in the
direction of Carthagena, and in obedience to the King's instructions
ravaged some islands inhabited by ferocious cannibals which lay in the
course. The strong currents deceived Juan Serrano, chief pilot of the
flag-ship, and his colleagues, though they boasted that they were
well acquainted with the nature of these currents. In one night, and
contrary to the general expectation, they made forty leagues.


The time has come, Most Holy Father, to philosophise a little, leaving
cosmography to seek the causes of Nature's secrets. The ocean currents
in those regions run towards the west, as torrents rushing down a
mountain side. Upon this point the testimony is unanimous. Thus I find
myself uncertain when asked where these waters go which flow in a
circular and continuous movement from east to west, never to return
to their starting-place; and how it happens that the west is not
consequently overwhelmed by these waters, nor the east emptied. If it
be true that these waters are drawn towards the centre of the earth,
as is the case with all heavy objects, and that this centre, as some
people affirm, is at the equinoctial line, what can be the central
reservoir capable of holding such a mass of waters? And what will be
the circumference filled with water, which will yet be discovered? The
explorers of these coasts offer no convincing explanation. There are
other authors who think that a large strait exists at the extremity
of the gulf formed by this vast continent and which, we have already
said, is eight times larger than the ocean. This strait may lie to the
west of Cuba, and would conduct these raging waters to the west, from
whence they would again return to our east. Some learned men think the
gulf formed by this vast continent is an enclosed sea, whose coasts
bend in a northerly direction behind Cuba, in such wise that the
continent would extend unbrokenly to the northern lands beneath the
polar circle bathed by the glacial sea. The waters, driven back by
the extent of land, are drawn into a circle, as may be seen in rivers
whose opposite banks provoke whirlpools; but this theory does not
accord with the facts. The explorers of the northern passages, who
always sailed westwards, affirm that the waters are always drawn
in that direction, not however with violence, but by a long and
uninterrupted movement.

Amongst the explorers of the glacial region a certain Sebastiano
Cabotto, of Venetian origin, but brought by his parents in his infancy
to England, is cited. It commonly happens that Venetians visit every
part of the universe, for purposes of commerce. Cabotto equipped two
vessels in England, at his own cost, and first sailed with three
hundred men towards the north, to such a distance that he found
numerous masses of floating ice in the middle of the month of July.
Daylight lasted nearly twenty-four hours, and as the ice had melted,
the land was free. According to his story he was obliged to tack and
take the direction of west-by-south. The coast bent to about the
degree of the strait of Gibraltar. Cabotto did not sail westward until
he had arrived abreast of Cuba, which lay on his left. In following
this coast-line which he called Bacallaos,[1] he says that he
recognised the same maritime currents flowing to the west that the
Castilians noted when they sailed in southern regions belonging to
them. It is not merely probable, therefore, but becomes even necessary
to conclude that between these two hitherto unknown continents there
extend large openings through which the water flows from east to west.
I think these waters flow all round the world in a circle, obediently
to the Divine Law, and that they are not spewed forth and afterwards
absorbed by some panting Demogorgon. This theory would, up to a
certain point, furnish an explanation of the ebb and flow.

[Note 1: The word _Bacallaos_ is thought to be of Basque origin.
This designation for codfish is extremely ancient, and the land thus
named appears on the earliest maps of America.]

Cabotto calls these lands Terra de Bacallaos, because the neighbouring
waters swarm with fish similar to tunnies, which the natives call by
this name. These fish are so numerous that sometimes they interfere
with the progress of ships. The natives of these regions wear furs,
and appear to be intelligent. Cabotto reports that there are many
bears in the country, which live on fish. These animals plunge into
the midst of thick schools of fish, and seizing one fast in their
claws they drag it ashore to be devoured. They are not dangerous to
men. He claims to have seen the natives in many places in possession
of copper. Cabotto frequents my house, and I have him sometimes at my
table.[2] He was called from England by our Catholic King after the
death of Henry, King of that country, and he lives at court with us.
He is waiting, from day to day, to be furnished with ships with which
he will be able to discover this mystery of nature. I think he will
leave on this expedition towards the month of March of next year,
1516. If God gives me life, Your Holiness shall hear from me what
happens to him. There are not wanting people in Spain who affirm that
Cabotto is not the first discoverer of Terra de Bacallaos; they only
concede him the merit of having pushed out a little farther to the
west.[3] But this is enough about the strait and Cabotto.

[Note 2: Again we see Peter Martyr's system of collecting
information illustrated. Cabot's discoveries on this voyage are
indicated on Juan de la Cosa's map, of 1500. Henry VII. gave little
support, and Cabot, therefore, withdrew from England. In 1516 he was
given an appointment by King Ferdinand, with 50,000 maravedis yearly
and an estate in Andalusia.]

[Note 3: The Bacallaos coast was discovered by the Scandinavians
in the tenth century, and was known to the Venetians in the
fourteenth. Basque, Breton, and Norman fishermen visited it in the
following century.]

Let us now return to the Spaniards. Pedro Arias and his men passed
the length of the harbour of Carthagena and the islands inhabited by
Caribs, named San Bernardo's Islands. They left the entire country of
Caramaira behind them, without approaching it. They were driven by a
tempest upon an island which we have already mentioned as Fuerte, and
which is about fifty leagues distant from the entrance of the gulf
of Uraba. In this island they found, standing in the houses of the
islanders, a number of baskets made out of marine plants and filled
with salt. This island is indeed celebrated for its salines and the
natives procure whatever they need by the sale of salt.

An enormous pelican, larger than a vulture and remarkable for the
dimensions of its throat, fell upon the flagship. It is the same bird,
which, according to the testimony of several writers, formerly lived
domesticated in the marshes of Ravenna. I do not know if this is still
the case. This pelican let itself be easily caught, after which they
took it from one vessel to another: it soon died. A flock of twenty
such birds were seen on the coast in the distance.

The flag-ship was larger than the other vessels, but as she had been
damaged and was no longer serviceable, she was left behind; she will
rejoin the fleet when the sea is calmer. The eleventh day of the
calends of July the fleet reached Darien, the flag-ship arriving four
days later, but without cargo. The colonists of Darien under the
leadership of Vasco Nunez Balboa, of whom we have elsewhere written at
length, came down to meet the new arrivals singing the psalm _Te Deum
Laudamus_. Each of them offered voluntary hospitality in his house,
built after the plan of native cabins.

This country may very properly be called a province, because it
has been conquered and all of its chiefs dethroned. The Spaniards
refreshed themselves with native fruits and bread made either of
roots or of maize. The fleet brought other provisions, for example
salt-meats, salt-fish, and barrels of wheat flour.

Behold the royal fleet at anchor in these strange countries and behold
the Spaniards established, not only in the Tropic of Cancer,
but almost on the equator,--contrary to the opinion of many
scientists,--ready to settle and to found colonies.

The day after landing, four hundred and fifty colonists of Darien were
invited to a meeting. Both in public and in private, by groups or
singly, they were questioned concerning the report of Vasco, Admiral
of the South Sea, or, as this officer is termed in Spanish, the
Adelantado. The truth of all he had reported to the King concerning
this South Sea was admitted. According to the opinion of Vasco
himself, the first thing to be done was to build forts in the
territories of Comogre, Pochorrosa, and Tumanama, which would later
form centres of colonisation. A _hidalgo_ of Cordova, Captain Juan
Ayora, was chosen to carry out this plan, for which purpose he was
given four hundred men, four caravels, and a small boat. Ayora first
landed in the port of Comogra, described in letters that have been
received, as distant about twenty-five leagues from Darien. From that
point he despatched one hundred and fifty of his men by a more direct
road than the one indicated, in the direction of the South Sea. It was
said that the distance between the port of Comogra and the gulf of St.
Miguel was only twenty-six leagues. The other company of two hundred
and fifty men would remain at Comogra to render assistance to those
coming and going. The hundred and fifty men chosen to march to the
South Sea took with them interpreters, some of whom were Spaniards who
had learned the language spoken in the region of the South Sea, from
slaves captured by Vasco when he explored the country; while others
were slaves who already understood the Spanish tongue. The harbour of
Pochorrosa is seven leagues distant from that of Comogra. Ayora, the
lieutenant of Pedro Arias, was to leave fifty men and the small boat,
which would serve as a courier, at Pochorroso, so that these boats
might serve to carry news to the lieutenant and to the colonists of
Darien, just as relays are arranged on land. It was also intended to
form a station in the territory of Tumanama, of which the capital is
twenty leagues distant from that of Pochorrosa.

Out of the hundred and fifty men assigned to Ayora, fifty were chosen
among the older colonists of Darien, they being persons of large
experience who would take charge of the newcomers and serve them as

When these measures were adopted, it was determined to report to the
King, and at the same time to announce to him as a positive fact that
there existed in the neighbourhood a cacique called Dobaiba, whose
territory had rich gold deposits, which had till then been respected
because he was very powerful. His country extended along the great
river which we have elsewhere mentioned. According to common report,
all the countries under his authority were rich in gold. Fifty leagues
divided Darien from the residence of Dobaiba. The natives affirmed
that gold would be found immediately the frontier was crossed. We have
elsewhere related that only three leagues from Darien the Spaniards
already possessed quite important gold mines, which are being worked.
Moreover, in many places gold is found by breaking the soil, but it
is believed to be more abundant in the territories of Dobaiba. In
the First Decade I addressed to Your Holiness, I had mentioned this
Dobaiba, but the Spaniards were mistaken concerning him, for they
thought they had met fishermen of Dobaiba and believed that Dobaiba
was the swampy region where they had encountered these men. Pedro
Arias, therefore, decided to lead a selected troop into that country.
These men were to be chosen out of the entire company and should be in
the flower of their age, abundantly furnished with darts and arms of
every sort. They were to march against the cacique, and if he refused
their alliance, they were to attack and overthrow him. Moreover, the
Spaniards never weary of repeating, as a proof of the wealth they
dream of, that by just scratching the earth almost anywhere, grains of
gold are found. I only repeat here what they have written.

The colonists likewise counselled the King to establish a colony at
the port of Santa Marta in the district called by the natives Saturma.
This would serve as a place of refuge for people arriving from the
island of Domingo. From Domingo to this port of Saturma the journey
could be made in about four or five days, and from Santa Marta to
Darien in three days. This holds good for the voyage thither, but
the return is much more difficult because of the current we have
mentioned, and which is so strong that the return voyage seems like
climbing steep mountains. Ships returning from Cuba or Hispaniola to
Spain do not encounter the full force of this current; although they
have to struggle against a turbulent ocean, still the breadth of the
open sea is such that the waters have free course. Along the coasts
of Paria, on the contrary, the waters are cramped by the continental
littoral and the shores of the numerous islands. The same happens in
the strait of Sicily where a current exists which Your Holiness well
knows, formed by the rocks of Charybdis and Scylla, at a place, where
the Ionian, Libyan, and Tyrrhenian seas come together within a narrow

In writing of the island of Guanassa and the provinces called Iaia,
Maia, and Cerabarono, Columbus, who first noted the fact, said that
while following these coasts and endeavouring to keep to the east,
his ships encountered such resistance that at times he could not take
soundings, the adverse current dragging the lead before it touched
bottom. Even with the wind on his stern, he could sometimes make no
more than one mile in a day. This it is that obliges sailors returning
to Spain to first make for the upper part of Hispaniola or Cuba, and
then strike out northwards on the high sea in order to profit by the
north winds, for they would make no headway sailing in a direct line.
But we have several times spoken sufficiently about ocean currents. It
is now the moment to report what is written concerning Darien and the
colony founded on its banks which the colonists have named Santa Maria

The site is badly chosen, unhealthy, and more pestiferous than
Sardinia. All the colonists look pale, like men sick of the jaundice.
It is not exclusively the climate of the country which is responsible,
for in many other places situated in the same latitude the climate is
wholesome and agreeable; clear springs of water break from the earth
and swift rivers flow between banks that are not swampy. The natives,
however, make a point of living amongst the hills, instead of in the
valleys. The colony founded on the shores of Darien is situated in a
deep valley, completely surrounded by lofty hills, in such wise that
the direct rays of the sun beat upon it at midday, while as the sun
goes down its rays are reflected from the mountains, in front, behind,
and all around, rendering the place insupportable. The rays of the sun
are most fierce when they are reflected, rather than direct, nor are
they themselves pernicious, as may be observed among the snows on high
mountains. Your Holiness is not ignorant of this. For this reason
the rays of the sun shining upon the mountains reach down, gradually
falling to their base, just as a large round stone thrown from their
summit would do. The valleys consequently receive, not only the direct
rays, but also those reflected from the hills and mountains. If,
therefore, the site of Darien is unhealthy, it is not the fault of
the country but of the site itself chosen by the colony. The
unwholesomeness of the place is further increased by the malodorous
swamp surrounding it. To say the frank truth, the town is nothing
but a swamp. When the slaves sprinkle the floor of the houses, toads
spring into existence from the drops of water that fall from their
hands, just as in other places I have seen drops of water changed into
fleas. Wherever a hole one palm deep is dug, water bursts forth; but
it is filthy and contaminated because of the river which flows
through a deep valley over a stagnant bed to the sea. The Spaniards,
therefore, considered changing the site. Necessity had first of all
obliged them to stop there, for the first arrivals were so reduced by
famine that they did not even think of moving it. Nevertheless they
are tormented in this unfortunate place by the rays of the sun; the
waters are impure and are pestiferous, the vapours malarious, and
consequently everybody is ill. There is not even the advantage of a
good harbour to offset these inconveniences, for the distance from the
village to the entrance of the gulf is three leagues, and the road
leading thither is difficult and even painful when it is a question of
bringing provisions from the sea.

But let us pass to other details. Hardly had the Spaniards landed when
divers adventures overtook them. An excellent doctor of Seville, whom
the authority of the bishop[4] and likewise his desire to obtain gold
prevented from peacefully ending his days in his native country, was
surprised by a thunderbolt when sleeping quietly with his wife. The
house with all its furniture was burnt and the bewildered doctor and
his wife barely escaped, almost naked and half roasted. Once when
a dog eight months old was wandering on the shore, a big crocodile
snapped him up, like a hawk seizing a chicken as its prey; he
swallowed this miserable dog under the very eyes of all the Spaniards,
while the unfortunate animal yelped to his master for help. During the
night the men were tortured by bats, which bit them; and if one of
these animals bit a man while he was asleep, he lost his blood, and
was in danger of losing his life. It is even claimed that some people
did die on account of these wounds. If these bats find a cock or a hen
at night in the open air, they strike them on their combs and kill
them. The country is infested by crocodiles, lions, and tigers, but
measures have already been taken to kill a large number of them. It is
reported that the skins of lions and tigers killed by the natives are
found in their cabins. Horses, pigs, and oxen grow rapidly, and become
larger than their sires. This development is due to the fertility of
the soil. The reports concerning the size of trees, different products
of the earth, vegetables, and plants we have acclimatised, the deer,
savage quadrupeds, and the different varieties of fish and birds, are
in accordance with my previous descriptions.

[Note 4: Referring doubtless to Juan de Fonseca bishop of Burgos.]

The cacique Careta, ruler of Coiba, was the Spaniards' guest for three
days. He admired the musical instruments, the trappings of the horses,
and all the things he had never known. He was dismissed with handsome
presents. Careta informed the Spaniards that there grew in his
province a tree, of which the wood was suitable for the construction
of ships, since it was never attacked by marine worms. It is known
that the ships suffered greatly from these pests in the ports of the
New World. This particular wood is so bitter that the worms do not
even attempt to gnaw into it. There is another tree peculiar to this
country whose leaves produce swellings if they touch the naked skin,
and unless sea-water or the saliva of a man who is fasting be not at
once applied, these blisters produce painful death. This tree also
grows in Hispaniola. It is claimed that to smell its wood is fatal,
and it cannot be transported anywhere without risk of death. When
the islanders of Hispaniola sought in vain to shake off the yoke of
servitude, either by open resistance or secret plots, they tried
to smother the Spaniards in their sleep by the smoke of this wood.
Astonished at seeing the wood scattered about them, the Spaniards
forced the wretched natives to confess their plot and punished the
authors of it. The natives likewise are acquainted with a plant whose
smell fortifies them, and serves as remedy against the odour of
this tree, making it possible for them to handle the wood. These
particulars are futile; and this enough on this subject.

The Spaniards hoped to find still greater riches in the islands of the
South Sea. When the courier who brought this news started, Pedro Arias
was preparing an expedition[5] to an island lying in the midst of the
gulf the Spaniards have named San Miguel, and which Vasco did not
touch, owing to a rough sea. I have already spoken at length of it in
describing the expedition of Vasco to the South Sea. We daily expect
to hear of fresh exploits excelling the former ones, for a number of
other provinces have been conquered, and we sincerely hope that they
will not prove useless nor devoid of claims to our admiration.

[Note 5: This expedition under the command of Gaspar Morales was

Juan Diaz Solis de Nebrissa, whom we have already mentioned, has been
sent to double Cape San Augustin, which belongs to the Portuguese, and
lies seven degrees below the equinoctial line. He should go towards
the south, below Paria, Cumana, Coquibacoa, and the harbours of
Carthagena, and Santa Marta, in order that our knowledge of the
continent may be more precise and extensive. Another commander, Juan
Pons, has been sent with three ships to ravage the islands of the
Caribs and reduce to slavery these filthy islanders, who feed on
men. The other islands in the neighbourhood, which are inhabited by
mild-mannered people, will thus be delivered from this pest and may be
explored, and the character of their products discovered.

Other explorers have been sent out in different directions: Gaspar de
Badajoz, towards the west; Francisco Bezarra and Vallejo, the first by
the extremity of the gulf and the other along the western shore of
its entrance, will seek to lay bare the secrets of that country where
formerly Hojeda sought, under such unhappy circumstances, to settle.
They will build there a fort and a town. Gaspar de Badajoz, with
eighty well-armed men, was the first to leave Darien; Ludovico Mercado
followed him with fifty others; Bezarra had eighty men under his
orders, and Vallejo seventy. Whether they will succeed or will fall
into dangerous places, only the providence of the Great Architect
knows. We men are forced to await the occurrence of events before we
can know them. Let us go on to another subject.


Pedro Arias, the governor of what is supposed to be a continent, had
hardly left Spain and landed at Darien, with the larger number of his
men, than I received news of the arrival at Court of Andreas Morales.
This man, who is a ship's pilot, familiar with these coasts, came on
business. Morales had carefully and attentively explored the land
supposed to be a continent, as well as the neighbouring islands and
the interior of Hispaniola. He was commissioned by the brother of
Nicholas Ovando, Grand Commander of the Order of Alcantara and
governor of the island, to explore Hispaniola. He was chosen because
of his superior knowledge and also because he was better equipped than
others to fulfil that mission. He has moreover compiled itineraries
and maps, in which everybody who understands the question has
confidence. Morales came to see me, as all those who come back from
the ocean habitually do. Let us now examine the heretofore unknown
particulars I have learned from him and from several others. A
detailed description of Hispaniola may serve as an introduction to
this narrative, for is not Hispaniola the capital and the market where
the most precious gifts of the ocean accumulate?

Round about the island lie a thousand and more Nereid nymphs, fair,
graceful, and elegant, serving as its ornaments like to another
Tethys, their queen and their mother. By Nereids I mean to say the
islands scattered round about Hispaniola, concerning which we shall
give some brief information. Afterwards will come the island of pearls
which our compatriots call Rico, and which lies in the gulf of San
Miguel in the South Sea. It has already been explored and marvellous
things found; and yet more wonderful are promised for the future, for
its brilliant pearls are worthy to figure in the necklaces, bracelets,
and crown of a Cleopatra. It will not be out of place at the close
of this narrative to say something of the shells which produce these
pearls. Let us now come to this elysian Hispaniola, and begin by
explaining its name; after which we will describe its conformation,
its harbours, climate, and conclude by the divisions of its territory.

We have spoken in our First Decade of the island of Matanino, a word
pronounced with the accent on the last syllable. Not to return too
often to the same subject, Your Holiness will note the accent marking
all these native words is placed where it should fall. It is claimed
that the first inhabitants of Hispaniola were islanders of Matanino,
who had been driven from that country by hostile factions and had
arrived there in their canoes dug out of a single tree-trunk, by which
I mean to say their barques. Thus did Dardanus arrive from Corythus
and Teucer from Crete, in Asia, in the region later called the
Trojade. Thus did the Tyrians and the Sidonians, under the leadership
of the fabulous Dido, reach the coasts of Africa. The people of
Matanino, expelled from their homes, established themselves in that
part of the island of Hispaniola called Cahonao, upon the banks of a
river called Bahaboni. In like manner we read in Roman history that
the Trojan AEneas, after he arrived in Italy, established himself on
the banks of the Latin Tiber. There lies across the mouth of the river
Bahaboni an island where, according to tradition, these immigrants
built their first house, calling it Camoteia. This place was
consecrated and henceforth regarded with great veneration. Until the
arrival of the Spaniards the natives rendered it the homage of their
continual gifts; the same as we do Jerusalem, the cradle of our
religion; or the Turks, Mecca, or the ancient inhabitants of the
Fortunate Isles venerated the summit of a high rock on the Grand
Canary. Many of these latter, singing joyous canticles, threw
themselves down from the summit of this rock, for their false priests
had persuaded them that the souls of those who threw themselves from
the rock for the love of Tirana, were blessed, and destined to an
eternity of delight. The conquerors of the Fortunate Isles have found
that practice still in use in our own time, for the remembrance of
these sacrifices is preserved in the common language, and the rock
itself keeps its name. I have, moreover, recently learned that
there still exists in those islands since their colonisation by the
Frenchman Bethencourt under the authorisation of the King of Castile,
a group of Bethencourt's people, who still use the French language and
customs. Nevertheless, his heirs, as I have above stated, sold the
island to the Castilians, but the colonists who came with Bethencourt
built houses in the archipelago and prosperously maintained their
families. They still live there mixed with Spaniards and consider
themselves fortunate to be no longer exposed to the rigours of the
French climate.

Let us now return to the people at Matanino. Hispaniola was first
called by its early inhabitants Quizqueia, and afterwards Haiti.
These names were not chosen at random, but were derived from natural
features, for Quizqueia in their language means "something large" or
larger than anything, and is a synonym for universality, the whole;
something in the sense that [Greek: pan] was used among the Greeks.
The islanders really believed that the island, being so great,
comprised the entire universe, and that the sun warmed no other land
than theirs and the neighbouring islands. Thus they decided to call it
Quizqueia. The name Haiti[1] in their language means _altitude_, and
because it describes a part, was given to the entire island. The
country rises in many places into lofty mountain-ranges, is covered
with dense forests, or broken into profound valleys which, because of
the height of the mountains, are gloomy; everywhere else it is very

[Note 1: Meaning in the Caribs' language _mountainous_. Columbus,
as we have mentioned, named the island Hispaniola, and it is so called
in early American history; but since 1803, the native name of Haiti or
Hayti has been applied both to the entire island, and to one of the
two states into which it is divided, the other state being called
Santo Domingo.]

Permit at this point, Most Holy Father, a digression. Your Beatitude
will no doubt ask with astonishment how it comes that such uncivilised
men, destitute of any knowledge of letters, have preserved for such
a long time the tradition of their origin. This has been possible
because from the earliest times, and chiefly in the houses of the
caciques; the bovites, that is to say the wise men, have trained the
sons of the caciques, teaching them their past history by heart. In
imparting their teaching they carefully distinguish two classes of
studies; the first is of a general interest, having to do with the
succession of events; the second is of a particular interest, treating
of the notable deeds accomplished in time of peace or time of war
by their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and all their
ancestors. Each one of these exploits is commemorated in poems written
in their language. These poems are called _arreytos_. As with us the
guitar player, so with them the drummers accompany these arreytos and
lead singing choirs. Their drums are called _maguay_. Some of the
arreytos are love songs, others are elegies, and others are war songs;
and each is sung to an appropriate air. They also love to dance, but
they are more agile than we are; first, because nothing pleases
them better than dancing and, secondly, because they are naked, and
untrammelled by clothing. Some of the arreytos composed by their
ancestors predicted our arrival, and these poems resembling elegies
lament their ruin. "Magnacochios [clothed men] shall disembark in the
island armed with swords and with one stroke cut a man in two, and our
descendants shall bend beneath their yoke."

I really am not very much astonished that their ancestors predicted
the slavery of their descendants, if everything told concerning their
familiar relations with devils is true. I discussed this subject at
length in the ninth book of my First Decade, when treating of the
zemes, that is to say the idols they worship. Since their zemes have
been taken away the natives admit they no longer see spectres; and our
compatriots believe this is due to the sign of the cross, with which
they are all armed when washed in the waters of baptism.

All the islanders attach great importance to know the frontiers and
limits of the different tribes. It is generally the _mitaines_, that
is to say nobles, as they are called, who attend to this duty, and
they are very skilful in measuring their properties and estates. The
people have no other occupation than sowing and harvesting. They are
skillful fishermen, and every day during the whole year they dive into
the streams, passing as much time in the water as on land. They are
not neglectful, however, of hunting, they have, as we have already
said, utias, which resemble small rabbits, and iguana serpents, which
I described in my First Decade. These latter resemble crocodiles
and are eight feet long, living on land and having a good flavour.
Innumerable birds are found in all the islands: pigeons, ducks, geese,
and herons. The parrots are as plentiful here as sparrows amongst us.
Each cacique assigns different occupations to his different subjects,
some being sent hunting, others to fish, others to cultivate the
fields. But let us return to the names.

We have already said that Quizqueia and Haiti are the ancient names of
the island. Some natives also call the island Cipangu, from the name
of a mountain range rich in gold. In like manner our poets have called
Italy _Latium_, after one of its provinces, and our ancestors also
called Italy _Ausonia_ and _Hesperia_, just as these islanders have
given the names Quizqueia, Haiti, and Cipangu to their country. In the
beginning the Spaniards called the island Isabella after the Queen
Isabella, taking this name from the first colony they founded there.
I have already spoken sufficiently of this in my First Decade. They
afterwards called it Hispaniola, a diminutive of Hispania. This is
enough concerning names; let us now pass to the conformation of the

The first explorers of the island have described it to me as
resembling in form a chestnut leaf, split by a gulf on the western
side opposite the island of Cuba; but the captain, Andreas Morales,
now gives me another and somewhat different description. He represents
the island as being cut into, at the eastern and western extremities,
by large gulfs,[2] having far extending points of land. He indicates
large and secure harbours in the gulf facing eastwards. I will see
to it that some day a copy of this map of Hispaniola be sent to Your
Holiness, for Morales has drawn it in the same form as those of Spain
and Italy, which Your Holiness has often examined, showing their
mountains, valleys, rivers, towns, and colonies. Let us boldly compare
Hispaniola to Italy, formerly the mistress of the universe. In point
of size Hispaniola is a trifle smaller than Italy. According to the
statements of recent explorers, it extends five hundred and forty
miles from east to west. As we have already noticed in our First
Decade, the Admiral had exaggerated its length. In certain places the
width of Hispaniola extends to three hundred miles. It is narrower at
the point where the land is prolonged in promontories, but it is much
more favoured than Italy for, throughout the greatest part of its
extent, it enjoys such an agreeable climate that neither the rigours
of cold nor excessive heats are known.[3] The two solstices are about
equal to the equinoxes. There is only one hour of difference between
day and night, according as one lives on the southern or the northern
coast of the island.

[Note 2: On the east is the gulf or bay of Samana, on the west
that of Gonaires.]

[Note 3: The superficial area of Haiti is 77,255 square
kilometres. The climatic conditions no longer correspond to Peter
Martyr's descriptions, as there are four seasons, recognised, two
rainy and two dry. In the upland, the temperature is invigorating and

In several parts of the island, however, cold does prevail; Your
Holiness will understand that this is due to the position of the
mountain ranges, as I shall later demonstrate. The cold, however, is
never sufficiently severe to inconvenience the islanders with snow.
Perpetual spring and perpetual autumn prevail in this fortunate
island. During the entire year the trees are covered with leaves,
and the prairies with grass. Everything in Hispaniola grows in an
extraordinary fashion. I have already related elsewhere that the
vegetables, such as cabbages, lettuces, salads, radishes, and other
similar plants, ripen within sixteen days, while pumpkins, melons,
cucumbers, etc., require but thirty days. We have also stated that
animals brought from Spain, such as oxen, attain a greater size. When
describing the growth of these animals, it is claimed that the oxen
resemble elephants and the pigs, mules; but this is an exaggeration.
Pork has an agreeable taste and is wholesome, because the pigs feed
upon mirobolanes and other island fruits, which grow wild in the
forests, just as in Europe they eat beech nuts, ilex berries, and
acorns. Grape-vines also grow in an extraordinary fashion, despite
the absence of all attention. If any one chooses to sow wheat in a
mountain region exposed to the cold, it flourishes wonderfully,
but less so in the plain, because the soil is too fertile. To one
unheard-of-thing people have certified upon oath; that the ears are as
thick round as a man's arm and one palm in length, and that some of
them contain as many as a thousand grains of wheat. The best bread
found in the island is that made from the yucca, and is called cazabi.
It is most digestible, and the yucca is cultivated and harvested in
the greatest abundance and with great facility. Whatever free time
afterwards remains, is employed in seeking gold.

The quadrupeds are so numerous that already the exportation to Spain
of horses and other animals and of hides has begun; thus the daughter
gives assistance in many things to the mother. I have already
elsewhere given particulars concerning red wood, mastic, perfumes,
green colouring material, cotton, amber, and many other products of
this island. What greater happiness could one wish in this world than
to live in a country where such wonders are to be seen and enjoyed?
Is there a more agreeable existence than that one leads in a country
where one is not forced to shut himself in narrow rooms to escape cold
that chills or heat that suffocates? A land where it is not necessary
to load the body with heavy clothing in winter, or to toast one's legs
at a continual fire, a practice which ages people in the twinkling
of the eye, exhausts their force, and provokes a thousand different
maladies. The air of Hispaniola is stated to be salubrious, and the
rivers which flow over beds of gold, wholesome. There are indeed no
rivers nor mountains nor very few valleys where gold is not found.
Let us close now with a brief description of the interior of this
fortunate island.

Hispaniola possesses four rivers, each flowing from mountain sources
and dividing the island into four almost equal parts. One of these
streams, the Iunna, flows east. Another, the Attibunicus, west; the
third, the Naiba, south, and the fourth, the Iaccha, north. We have
already related that Morales proposes a new division, by which the
island would be divided into five districts. We shall give to each of
these little states its ancient name and shall enumerate whatever is
worthy of note in each of them.

The most eastern district of the island belongs to the province of
Caizcimu, and is thus called because _cimu_ means in their language
the _front_ or beginning of anything. Next come the provinces of
Huhabo and Cahibo; the fourth is Bainoa, and the extreme western part
belongs to the province of Guaccaiarima; but that of Bainoa is larger
than the three preceding ones. Caizcimu extends from the point of the
island as far as the river Hozama, which flows by Santo Domingo, the
capital. Its northern border is marked by precipitous mountains,[4]
which on account of their steepness especially bear the name of Haiti.
The province of Huhabo lies between the mountains of Haiti and the
Iacaga River. The third province Cahibo, includes all the country
lying between the Cubaho and the Dahazio rivers as far as the mouth of
Iaccha, one of the rivers dividing the islands into four equal parts.
This province extends to the Cibao Mountains, where much gold is
found. In these mountains rises the River Demahus. The province also
extends to the sources of the Naiba River, the third of the four
streams and the one which flows south, towards the other bank of the
Santo Domingo River.

[Note 4: Now called Sierra de Monte Cristo, of which the loftiest
peak, Toma Diego Campo, is 1220 metres high.]

Bainoa begins at the frontier of Cahibo, and extends as far as the
island of Cahini, almost touching the north coast of Hispaniola at the
place where the colony was once founded. The remainder of the island
along the west coast forms the province of Guaccaiarima, thus called
because it is the extremity of the island. The word _Iarima_ means a
flea. Guaccaiarima means, therefore, the flea of the island; _Gua_
being the article in their language. There are very few of their
names, particularly those of kings which do not begin with this
article _gua_., such as Guarionex and Guaccanarillus; and the same
applies to many names of places.

The districts or cantons of Caizcimu are Higuey, Guanama, Reyre,
Xagua, Aramana, Arabo, Hazoa, Macorix, Caicoa, Guiagua, Baguanimabo,
and the rugged mountains of Haiti. Let us remark in this connection
that there are no aspirates pronounced in Hispaniola, as amongst the
Latin peoples. In the first place, in all their words the aspirate
produces the effect of a consonant, and is more prolonged than the
consonant _f_, amongst us. Nor is it pronounced by pressing the under
lip against the upper teeth. On the contrary the mouth is opened wide,
_ha, he, hi, ho, hu_. I know that the Jews and the Arabs pronounce
their aspirates in the same way, and the Spaniards do likewise with
words they have taken from the Arabs who were for a long time their
masters. These words are sufficiently numerous; _almohada_ = a
pillow; _almohaza_ = a horse-comb, and other similar words, which are
pronounced by holding the breath. I insist upon this point because
it often happens among the Latins that an aspirate changes the
significance of a word; thus _hora_ means a division of the day, _ora_
which is the plural of _os_, the mouth, and _ora_ meaning region, as
in the phrase _Trojae qui primus ab oris_. The sense changes according
to the accent: _occ[=i]do_ and _occ[)i]do_. It is consequently
necessary to heed the accents and not neglect the aspirate in speaking
the language of these simple people. I have spoken above about the
accent and the article _gua_.

[Note: [=i] is a long 'i', and [)i] is a short 'i'.]

The cantons of the province of Hubabo are Xamana, Canabaco, Cubao, and
others whose names I do not know. The cantons of Magua and Cacacubana
belong to the province of Cahibo. The natives in this province
speak an entirely different language from that spoken by the other
islanders; they are called Macoryzes. In the canton of Cubana another
language resembling none of the others is spoken; it is likewise used
in the canton of Baiohaigua. The other cantons of Cahibo are Dahaboon,
Cybaho, Manabaho, Cotoy, the last being situated in the centre of the
island and traversed by the Nizaus River, and finally the mountains
Mahaitin, Hazua, and Neibaymao.

Bainoa, the fourth province has the following dependent cantons:
Maguana, Iagohaiucho, Bauruco, Dabaigua, and Attibuni which takes this
name from the river; Caunoa, Buiaz, Dahibonici, Maiaguarite, Atiec,
Maccazina, Guahabba, Anninici, Marien, Guarricco, Amaquei, Xaragua,
Yaguana, Azzuei, Iacchi, Honorucco, Diaguo, Camaie, Neibaimao. In the
last province, Guaccaiarima, lie the cantons of Navicarao, Guabaqua,
Taquenazabo, Nimaca, Little Bainoa, Cahaymi, Ianaizi, Manabaxao,
Zavana, Habacoa, and Ayqueroa.

Let us now give some particulars concerning the cantons themselves:
the first gulf[5] found in the province of Caizcimu cuts into a rock
where it has worn an immense cave situated at the foot of a lofty
mountain about two stadia from the sea. Its vast arched entrance
resembles the gates of a great temple. In obedience to an order from
the government, Morales tried to enter this cavern with the ships.
Several streams come together there through unknown channels, as in
a drain. It used to be a mystery what became of a number of rivers
ninety miles long, which suddenly disappeared under the earth never to
be seen again. It is thought they are in some fashion swallowed up in
the depths of the rocky mountain, continuing their underground course
till they reach this cavern. Having succeeded in entering the cave,
Morales was very nearly drowned. He reports that inside there are
whirlpools and currents in incessant conflict, upon which his barque
was tossed to and fro like a ball, amidst the horrible roar of the
whirlpools and currents around him. He regretted having come, but
could find no way to get out. He and his companions drifted about in
the obscurity, not only because of the darkness prevailing in the
cavern, which extends into the depths of the mountains, but also
because of the perpetual mist rising from the constantly agitated
waters, and resolving itself into damp vapours. Morales compared the
noise of these waters to that of the falls of the Nile where it pours
forth from the mountains of Ethiopia. Both he and his companions
were so deafened they could not hear one another speak. He finally
succeeded in finding the exit, and emerged from the cavern, trembling,
feeling that he had left the infernal regions and returned to the
upper world.[6]

[Note 5: The gulf of Samana; its extent is 1300 square

[Note 6: _Evasit tandem pavidus de antro, veluti de Tartaro,
putans rediisse ad superos_.]

About sixty miles from Santo Domingo the capital, the horizon is shut
in by lofty mountains, upon whose summit lies an inaccessible lake, to
which no road leads. None of the colonists have visited it because of
the steepness of the mountain. In obedience to the governor's orders
Morales, taking a neighbouring cacique for his guide, ascended the
mountain and found the lake. He reports that it was very cold there
and, as a proof of the low temperature, he brought back some ferns and
brambles, plants which do not grow in warm countries. The mountains
are called Ymizui Hybahaino. The waters of the lake, which is three
miles in circumference, are full of various kinds of fish. It is fed
by several streams, and has no outlet, for it is surrounded on all
sides by lofty peaks.

Let us now say a few words about another, Caspian or Hyrcanian sea (by
which I mean a sea surrounded by land), and other fresh-water lakes.


The province of Bainoa, which is three times the size of the three
provinces of Caizcimu, Huhabo, and Caihabon, embraces the valley of
Caionani, in the midst of which there is a salt lake[1] of bitter,
distasteful water, similar to what we read of the Caspian Sea. I will
therefore call it Caspian, although it is not in Hyrcania. There are
depths in this lake from which the salty waters pour forth and are
absorbed in the mountains. These caverns are supposed to be so vast
and so deep that even the largest sea-fish pass through them into the

[Note 1: The lagune of Enriquillo on the plains of Neyba.]

Amongst these fish is the shark, which cuts a man in two with one bite
and swallows him. These sharks come up from the sea by the Hozama
River which flows past the capital of the island. They devour numbers
of natives, since nothing will prevent the latter from bathing and
washing themselves in the river. Many streams flow into the lake; the
Guaninicabon, which flows from the north, is salt; the Haccoce flows
from the south, the Guannabi from the east, and the Occoa from the
west. These are the most important of the rivers and are always full.
Besides them, a score of smaller ones also fall into this Caspian Sea.
Not more than a stadium distant and on its northern shore are about
two hundred springs, arranged in the form of a circle, from which
fresh, potable water gushes forth, forming an impassable stream, which
mingles with the others in the lake.

The cacique of that country finding his wife at prayer one day in
a chapel built by the Christians in his territory, wished to have
intercourse with her; but the wife, alleging the holiness of the spot
refused, speaking as follows, _Tei toca, tei toca_, which means "Be
quiet"; _Techeta cynato guamechyna_ which signifies "God would be
displeased." The cacique was very much vexed by this _Techeta cynato
guamechyna_, and with a menacing gesture of his arm said, _Guayva_,
which means "Get out," _Cynato machabucha guamechyna_, meaning, "What
matters to me the anger of your God?" With which he overpowered his
wife, but was struck dumb on the spot and half lost the use of his
arm. Impressed by this miracle and overcome with repentance, he lived
the rest of his life as a religious, and would not allow the chapel to
be swept or decorated by other hands than his own. This miracle made a
great impression upon many of the natives and upon all the Christians,
and the chapel was frequented and respected by them. As for the
cacique, he submissively endured without complaint the punishment for
his insult. But let us return to the Caspian Sea.

This salt lake is swept by hurricanes and storms, so that the
fishermen's boats are often in danger and frequently sink with all
on board. Nor has any drowned body ever been found floating upon the
waters or thrown upon the shore, as happens with those engulfed by
the sea. These storms provide generous banquets for the sharks. The
natives call this Caspian Sea, Haguygabon. In the midst of it lies
a sterile island called Guarizacca, which serves as a refuge for
fishermen. The lake is thirty miles long and twelve or, perhaps, even
fifteen broad.

Another lake lies in the same plain and quite near to the former, of
which the waters are bitter-sweet,[2] that is to say they are not
pleasant to drink, but may be drunk in case of absolute necessity. It
is twenty-five miles long by nine or ten broad, and is fed by a number
of rivers. It has no outlet, and the water from the sea also reaches
it, though in a small quantity; this accounts for its brackish waters.
The third fresh-water lake, called Painagua, exists in the same
province. It lies not very far to the west of the Caspian Sea. North
of this same Caspian lies a fourth lake, of small importance, since it
measures but four miles in length and a little more than one in width;
it is called Guacca, and its waters are potable. South of the Caspian
a fifth lake, called Babbareo is found; it is almost circular and
about three miles in length. Its waters are fresh like those of the
other two. As it has no outlet and its waters are not sucked down
into caverns, it overflows its banks when swollen by torrents. Lake
Babbareo lies in the Zamana district of the province of Bainoa. There
is still another lake called Guanyban, near by and south-west of the
Caspian; it is ten miles long and nearly round. Throughout the island
are numerous other small lakes, which we do not mention for fear
of being tiresome by too much insistence on the same subject.
Nevertheless there is one more particular concerning the lakes and
this is the last: All of them are full of fish, and support many
birds. They are situated in an immense valley which extends from east
to west for a distance of one hundred and twenty miles and a breadth,
at the narrowest point of eighteen and at the broadest, of twenty-five
miles. As one looks west the mountain chain of Duiguni borders this
valley on the left, and on the right rises the range of Caigun, which
gives its name to the valley at its base. Upon the northern slope
begins another valley larger than the former, for it extends a
distance of two hundred miles and a breadth of thirty miles at the
broadest, and twenty miles at the narrowest part. This valley is
called Maguana and sometimes Iguaniu or Hathathiei. Since we have
mentioned this part of the valley called Atici, we must make a
digression to introduce a miraculous sea fish.

[Note 2: _Lago de Fondo ... aquarum salsodulcium_...]

A certain cacique of the region, Caramatexius by name, was very fond
of fishing. Upon one occasion a young fish of the gigantic species
called by the natives _manati_ was caught in his nets. I think this
species of monster in unknown in our seas. It is shaped like a turtle
and has four feet, but is covered with scales instead of shell.
Its skin is so tough that it fears nothing from arrows, for it is
protected by a thousand points. This amphibious creature has a smooth
back, a head resembling that of a bull, and is tame rather than
fierce. Like the elephant or the dolphin, it likes the companionship
of men and is very intelligent. The cacique fed this young fish for
several days with yucca bread, millet, and the roots the natives eat.
While it was still young, he put it in a lake near to his house, as in
a fish-pond. This lake, which had been called Guaurabo. was henceforth
called Manati. For twenty-five years this fish lived at liberty in the
waters of the lake, and grew to an extraordinary size. All that has
been told about the lake of Baiae or the dolphins of Arion is not to be
compared with the stories of this fish. They gave it the name of Matu,
meaning generous or noble, and whenever one of the king's attendants,
specially known by him, called from the bank Matu, Matu, the fish,
remembering favours received, raised its head and came towards the
shore to eat from the man's hand. Anyone who wished to cross the lake
merely made a sign and the fish advanced to receive him on its back.
One day it carried ten men altogether on its back, transporting
them safely, while they sang and played musical instruments. If it
perceived a Christian when it raised its head it dived under water and
refused to obey. This was because it had once been beaten by a
peevish young Christian, who threw a sharp dart at this amiable and
domesticated fish. The dart did it no harm because of the thickness
of its skin, which is all rough and covered with points, but the fish
never forgot the attack, and from that day forth every time it heard
its name called, it first looked carefully about to see if it beheld
anybody dressed like the Christians. It loved to play upon the bank
with the servants of the cacique, and especially with the young son
who was in the habit of feeding it. It was more amusing than a monkey.
This manati was for long a joy to the whole island, and many natives
and Christians daily visited this animal.

It is said that the flesh of manatis is of good flavour, and they are
found in great numbers in the waters of the island. The manati Matu
finally disappeared. It was carried out to sea by the Attibunico, one
of the four rivers which divide the island into equal parts, during an
inundation accompanied by horrible typhoons which the islanders call
hurricanes. The Attibunico overflowed its banks and inundated the
entire valley, mingling its waters with those of all the lakes. The
good, clever, sociable Matu, following the tide of the torrent,
rejoined its former mother and the waters of its birth; it has never
since been seen. But enough of this digression.

Let us now describe this valley. The valley of Atici is bordered by
the Cibao and Cayguana Mountains, which enclose it in a southerly
direction to the sea. Beyond the mountains of Cibao towards the north
there opens another valley called the Guarionexius, because it has
always belonged, from father to son and by hereditary right, to the
caciques called Guarionexius. I have already spoken at length about
this cacique in my first writings on Hispaniola and in my First
Decade. This valley is one hundred and ninety miles long from east to
west, and between thirty and fifty miles broad at its widest part. It
begins at the district of Canabocoa, crosses the provinces of Huhabo
and Cahibo, and ends in the province of Bainoa and in the district of
Mariena. Along its borders extend the mountains of Cibao, Cahanao,
Cazacubana. There is not a province or a district in it which is not
noteworthy for the majesty of its mountains, the fertility of its
valleys, the forests upon its hills, or the number of rivers watering
it. Upon the slopes of all the mountains and hills, and in the river
beds, gold in abundance is found; and in the latter, fish of delicious
flavour; only one is to be excepted, which from its source in the
mountains to the sea is perpetually salt. This river is called Bahaun,
and flows through Maguana, a district of the province of Bainoa. It
is thought that this river passes through chalk and saline strata, of
which there are many in the island, and of which I shall later speak
more fully.

We have noted that Hispaniola may be divided into four or five parts,
by rivers or by provinces. Still another division may be made; the
entire island might be divided by the four mountain chains which cut
it in two from east to west. Everywhere there is wealth, and gold is
everywhere found. From the caverns and gorges of these mountains pour
forth all the streams which traverse the island. There are frightful
caves, dark valleys, and arid rocks, but no dangerous animal has ever
been found; neither lion, nor bear, nor fierce tiger, nor crafty fox,
nor savage wolf. Everything thereabouts speaks of happiness and will
do so still more, Most Holy Father, when all these thousands of people
shall be gathered among the sheep of your flock, and those devil
images, the zemes, shall have been banished.

You must not be vexed, Most Holy Father, if from time to time in the
course of my narrative I repeat certain particulars, or allow myself
some digressions. I feel myself carried away by a sort of joyous
mental excitement, a kind of Delphic or Sibylline breath, when I read
of these things; and I am, as it were, forced to repeat the same fact,
especially when I realise to what an extent the propagation of our
religion is involved. Yet amidst all these marvels and fertility,
there is one point which causes me small satisfaction; these simple,
naked natives were little accustomed to labour, and the immense
fatigues they now suffer, labouring in the mines, is killing them in
great numbers and reducing the others to such a state of despair that
many kill themselves, or refuse to procreate their kind. It is alleged
that the pregnant women take drugs to produce abortion, knowing that
the children they bear will become the slaves of the Christians.
Although a royal decree has declared all the islanders to be free,
they are forced to work more than is fit for free men. The number of
these unfortunate people diminishes in an extraordinary fashion. Many
people claim that they formerly numbered more than twelve millions;
how many there are to-day I will not venture to say, so much am I
horrified.[3] Let us finish with this sad subject and return to the
charms of this admirable Hispaniola.

[Note 3: The _Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las
Indias_, of Fray B. de las Casas, contains the most crushing
indictment of Spanish colonial government ever penned. When every
allowance has been made for the apostolic, or even the fanatical
zeal, with which Las Casas defended his proteges and denounced their
tormentors, the case against the Spanish colonists remains one of the
blackest known to history. Just what the native population of Haiti
and Cuba originally numbered is hardly ascertainable; twelve millions
is doubtless an excessive estimate; but within twenty-five years
of the discovery of America, the islanders were reduced to 14,000.
Between 1507 and 1513 their numbers fell from 14,000 to 4000, and
by 1750 not one remained. Consult Fabie, _Vida y Escritos de Fray
Bartolome de Las Casas_ (Madrid, 1879); MacNutt, _Bartholomew de las
Casas, his Life, his Apostolate, and his Writings_, New York, 1910.]

In the mountains of Cibao, which are situated in about the centre of
the island, and in the province of Cahibo where we have said the most
gold was found, there lies a district called Cotohi. It is amongst the
clouds, completely enclosed by mountain chains, and its inhabitants
are numerous. It consists of a large plateau twenty-five miles in
length and fifteen in breadth; and this plateau lies so high above the
other mountains that the peaks surrounding it appear to give birth to
the lesser mountains. Four seasons may be counted on this plateau:
spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and the plants there wither, the
trees lose their leaves and the fields dry up. This does not happen
in the rest of the island, which only knows spring-time and autumn.
Ferns, grass, and berry bushes grow there, furnishing undeniable proof
of the cold temperature. Nevertheless the country is agreeable and the
cold is not severe, for the natives do not suffer from it, nor are
there snow storms., As a proof of the fertility of the soil it is
alleged that the stalks of the ferns are thicker than javelins. The
neighbouring mountainsides contain rich gold deposits but these
mines will not be exploited because of the cold, which would make it
necessary to give clothing even to those miners who are accustomed to
that labour.

The natives are satisfied with very little; they are delicate and
could not endure winter, for they live in the open air. Two rivers
traverse this region, flowing from the high mountains which border it.
The first, called Comoiaixa, flows towards the west and loses its name
where it empties into the Naiba. The second, called the Tirechetus,
flows east and empties into the Iunna.

When I passed the island of Crete on my journey to the Sultan,[4] the
Venetians told me that there was a similar region on the summit of
Mount Ida; this region, more than the rest of the island, produces
a better wheat crop. Protected by the impassable roads which led to
these heights, the Cretans revolted, and for a long time maintained an
armed independence against the Senate of Venice. Finally, when weary
of fighting, they decided to submit, and the Senate decreed their
country should remain a desert. All avenues leading to it were guarded
so that no one could go there without its consent.

[Note 4: _De Legatione Babylonica_.]

It was in that same year, 1502, that the Venetians again permitted
this district to be cultivated, but by labourers incapable of using

There is a district in Hispaniola called Cotoy, lying between the
provinces of Huhabo and Cahibo. It is a sterile country having
mountains, valleys, and plains, and is sparsely inhabited. Gold is
found there in quantities, but instead of being in the form of ingots
or grains, it is in solid masses of pure metal, deposited in beds of
soft stone in the crevices of the rocks. The veins are discovered by
breaking the rocks, and one such may be compared to a living tree, as
from its root or starting-point it sends forth branches through the
soft pores and open passages, right up to the summit of the mountains,
never stopping till it reaches the surface of the earth. Bathed in the
splendour of the atmosphere it brings forth its fruit, consisting of
grains and nuggets. These grains and nuggets are afterwards washed
away by the heavy rains and swept down the mountain, like all heavy
bodies, to be disseminated throughout the entire island. It is thought
the metal is not produced at the place where it is found, especially
if that be in the open or in the river beds. The root of the golden
tree seems always to reach down towards the centre of the earth,
growing always larger; for the deeper one digs in the bowels of the
mountain the larger are the grains of gold unearthed. The branches
of the golden tree are in some places as slender as a thread, while
others are as thick as a finger, according to the dimensions of the
crevices. It sometimes happens that pockets full of gold are found;
these being the crevices through which the branches of the golden tree
pass. When these pockets are filled with the output from the trunk,
the branch pushes on in search of another outlet towards the earth's
surface. It is often stopped by the solid rock, but in other fissures
it seems, in a manner, to be fed from the vitality of the roots.

You will ask me, Most Holy Father, what quantity of gold is produced
in this island. Each year Hispaniola alone sends between four and five
hundred thousand gold ducats to Spain. This is known from the fact
that the royal fifth produces eighty, ninety, or a hundred thousand
castellanos of gold, and sometimes even more. I shall explain later on
what may be expected from Cuba and the island of San Juan, which are
equally rich in gold. But we have spoken enough about gold; let us now
pass on to salt, with which whatever we buy with gold is seasoned.

In a district of the province of Bainoa in the mountains of Daiagon,
lying twelve miles from the salt lake of the Caspian, are mines of
rock salt, whiter and more brilliant than crystal, and similar to the
salts which so enrich the province of Laletania, otherwise called
Catalonia, belonging to the Duke of Cardona, who is the chief noble of
that region. People, in a position to compare the two, consider the
salts of Bainoa the richer. It seems that it is necessary to use iron
tools for mining the salt in Catalonia. It also crumbles very easily
as I know by experience, nor is it harder than spongy stone. The
salt of Bainoa is as hard as marble. In the province of Caizcimu and
throughout the territories of Iguanama, Caiacoa, and Quatiaqua springs
of exceptional character are found. At the surface their waters are
fresh, a little deeper down they are salty and at the bottom they
are heavily charged with salt. It is thought that the salt sea-water
partially feeds them, and that the fresh waters on the surface flow
from the mountains through subterranean passages. The salt-waters,
therefore, remain at the bottom while the others rise to the surface,
and the former are not sufficiently strong to entirely corrupt the
latter. The waters of the middle strata are formed by a mixture of the
two others, and share the characteristics of both.

By placing one's ear to the ground near the opening of one of these
springs it is easily perceived that the earth is hollow underneath,
for one may hear the steps of a horseman a distance of three miles and
a man on foot a distance of one mile. It is said there is a district
of _savana_ in the most westerly province of Guaccaiarima, inhabited
by people who only live in caverns and eat nothing but the products
of the forest. They have never been civilised nor had any intercourse
with any other races of men. They live, so it is said, as people did
in the golden age, without fixed homes or crops or culture; neither do
they have a definite language. They are seen from time to time, but it
has never been possible to capture one, for if, whenever they come,
they see anybody other than natives approaching them, they escape with
the celerity of a deer. They are said to be quicker than French dogs.

Give ear, Most Holy Father, to a very amusing exploit of one of these
savages. The Spaniards own cultivated fields along the edge of the
woods and thick forests, which some of them went to visit, as though
on a pleasure trip, in the month of September, 1514. All at once one
of these dumb men suddenly emerged from the woods and smilingly picked
up from the very midst of the Christians a young boy, son of the owner
of the field, whose wife was a native. The savage fled, making signs
that the people should follow him, so several Spaniards and a number
of naked natives ran after the robber, without, however, being able to
catch him. As soon as the facetious savage perceived the Spaniards
had given up the pursuit, he left the child at a crossroads where the
swineherds pass driving herds to pasture. One of these swineherds
recognised the child and taking it in his arms brought it back to the
father, who had been in despair, thinking this savage belonged to the
Carib race, and mourning the child as dead.

Pitch, of a quality much harder and more bitter than that obtained
from trees, is found on the reefs of Hispaniola. It consequently
serves better to protect ships against the gnawings of the worms
called bromas, of which I have elsewhere spoken at length. There are
likewise two pitch-producing trees; one is the pine, and the other
is called _copeo_. I shall say nothing about pines, for they grow
everywhere; but let us speak a little about the copeo tree, and give
a few details about the pitch and the fruit it produces. The pitch is
obtained in the same manner as from pine-trees, though it is described
as being gathered drop by drop from the burning wood. As for the
fruit, it is as small as a plum and quite good to eat; but it is the
foliage of the trees which possesses a very special quality. It is
believed that this tree is the one whose leaves were used by the
Chaldeans, the first inventors of writing, to convey their ideas to
the absent before paper was invented. The leaf is as large as a palm
and almost round. Using a needle or pin, or a sharp iron or wooden
point, characters are traced upon it as easily as upon paper.

It is laughable to consider what the Spaniards have told the natives
concerning these leaves. These good people believe the leaves speak in
obedience to the command of the Spaniards. An islander had been sent
by a Spaniard of Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola, to one
of his friends living in the interior of the colony. The messenger
likewise carried some roasted utias which, as we have said, are
rabbits. On the way, whether from hunger or greediness, he ate three;
these animals not being larger than rats. The friend wrote upon one
of these leaves what he had received. "Well, my man," the master then
said, "you are a fine lad in whom to put confidence! So you have been
so greedy as to eat the utias I gave you?" Trembling and amazed the
native confessed his fault, but asked his master how he had discovered
it. The Spaniard replied: "The leaf which you yourself have brought
me has told me everything. Moreover, you reached my friend's house at
such an hour and you left it at such another." In this way our people
amuse themselves by mystifying these poor islanders, who think they
are gods, with power to make the very leaves reveal what they believe
to be secret. Thus the news spread through the island that the leaves
speak in response to a sign from the Spaniards; and this obliges the
islanders to be very careful of whatever is confided to them. Both
sides of these leaves may be used for writing, just as is the case
with our paper. Such a leaf is thicker than a piece of paper folded in
two, and is extraordinarily tough; so much so that when it is freshly
plucked, the letters stand out white upon a green ground, but when it
dries it becomes white and hard like a piece of wood, and then these
characters change to yellow; but they remain indelible until it is
burnt, never disappearing, even when the leaf is wet.

There is another tree called the _hagua_, whose fruit when green
exudes a juice which dyes so fast everything it touches a greenish
black, that no washing can destroy this colour within twenty days.
When the fruit ripens the juice no longer has this quality; it becomes
edible and has a pleasant taste. There is an herb also, whose smoke
produces death, like the wood which we have mentioned. Some caciques
had decided to kill the Spaniards; but not daring to attack them
openly, they planned to place numerous bunches of this herb in their
houses and set fire to them, so that the Spaniards, who came to
extinguish the flames, would breathe in the smoke with the germs of a
fatal malady. This plot, however, was circumvented and the instigators
of the crime were punished.

Since Your Holiness has deigned to write that you are interested in
everything related concerning the new continent, let us now insert,
irrespective of method, a number of facts. We have sufficiently
explained how maize, agoes, yucca, potatoes, and other edible roots
are sown, cultivated, and used. But we have not yet related how the
Indians learned the properties of these plants; and it is that which
we shall now explain.


It is said that the early inhabitants of the islands subsisted for a
long time upon roots and palms and magueys. The maguey[1] is a plant
belonging to the class vulgarly called evergreen.

[Note 1: ..._magueiorum quae est herba, sedo sive aizoo, quam
vulgus sempervivam appellat, similis_. (Jovis-barba, joubarbe, etc.)]

The roots of _guiega_ are round like those of our mushrooms, and
somewhat larger. The islanders also eat _guaieros_, which resemble our
parsnips; _cibaios_, which are like nuts; _cibaioes_ and _macoanes_,
both similar to the onion, and many other roots. It is related that
some years later, a bovite, _i.e._, a learned old man, having remarked
a shrub similar to fennel growing upon a bank, transplanted it and
developed therefrom a garden plant. The earliest islanders, who ate
raw yucca, died early; but as the taste is exquisite, they resolved to
try using it in different ways; boiled or roasted this plant is
less dangerous. It finally came to be understood that the juice was
poisonous; extracting this juice, they made from the cooked flour
cazabi, a bread better suited to human stomachs than wheat bread,
because it is more easily digested. The same was the case with other
food stuffs and maize, which they chose amongst the natural products.
Thus it was that Ceres discovered barley and other cereals amongst
the seeds, mixed with slime, brought down by the high Nile from the
mountains of Ethiopia and deposited on the plain when the waters
receded, and propagated their culture.

For having thus indicated the seeds to be cultivated, the ancients
rendered her divine honours. There are numerous varieties of agoes,
distinguishable by their leaves and flowers. One of these species is
called guanagax; both inside and out, it is of a whitish colour. The
guaragua is violet inside and white outside; another species of agoes
is zazaveios, red outside and white inside. Quinetes are white inside
and red outside. The turma is purplish, the hobos yellowish and the
atibunieix has a violet skin and a white pulp. The aniguamar is
likewise violet outside and white inside and the guaccaracca is just
the reverse; white outside and violet inside. There are many other
varieties, upon which we have not yet received any report.

I am aware that in enumerating these species I shall provoke envious
people, who will laugh when my writings reach them, at my sending such
minute particulars to Your Holiness, who is charged with such weighty
interests and on whose shoulders rests the burden of the whole
Christian world. I would like to know from these envious, whether
Pliny and the other sages famous for their science sought, in
communicating similar details to the powerful men of their day, to be
useful only to the princes with whom they corresponded. They mingled
together obscure reports and positive knowledge, great things and
small, generalities and details; to the end that posterity might,
equally with the princes, learn everything together, and also in the
hope that those who crave details and are interested in novelties,
might be able to distinguish between different countries and regions,
the earth's products, national customs, and the nature of things. Let
therefore the envious laugh at the pains I have taken; for my part, I
shall laugh, not at their ignorance, envy, and laziness, but at their
deplorable cleverness, pitying their passions and recommending them to
the serpents from which envy draws its venom. If I may believe what
has been reported to me from Your Holiness by Galeazzo Butrigario and
Giovanni Ruffo, Archbishop of Cosenza, who are the nunzios of your
apostolic chair, I am certain that these details will please you. They
are the latest trappings with which I have dressed, without seeking
to decorate them, admirable things; indications merely and not
descriptions; but you will not reject them. It will repay me to have
burned the midnight oil in your interest, that the recollection of
these discoveries may not be lost. Each takes the money that suits
his purse. When a sheep or a pig is cut up, nothing of it remains by
evening; for one man has taken the shoulder, another the rump, another
the neck, and there are even some who like the tripes and the feet.
But enough of this digression on the subject of envious men and their
fury; let us rather describe how the caciques congratulate their
fellows when a son is born; and how they shape the beginning of their
existence to its end, and why every one of them is pleased to bear
several names.

When a child is born, all the caciques and neighbours assemble and
enter the mother's chamber. The first to arrive salutes the child and
gives it a name, and those who follow do likewise; "Hail, brilliant
lamp," says one; "Hail, thou shining one," says another; or perhaps
"Conqueror of enemies," "Valiant hero," "More resplendent than gold,"
and so on. In this wise the Romans bore the titles of their parents
and ancestors: Adiabenicus, Particus, Armenicus, Dacicus, Germanicus.
The islanders do the same, in adopting the names given them by the
caciques. Take, for instance, Beuchios Anacauchoa, the ruler of
Xaragua, of whom and his sister, the prudent Anacaona, I have already
spoken at length in my First Decade. Beuchios Anacauchoa was also
called _Tareigua Hobin_, which means "prince resplendent as copper."
So likewise _Starei_, which means "shining"; _Huibo_, meaning
"haughtiness"; _Duyheiniquem_, meaning a "rich river." Whenever
Beuchios Anacauchoa publishes an order, or makes his wishes known by
heralds' proclamation, he takes great care to have all these names and
forty more recited. If, through carelessness or neglect, a single one

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