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

Part 7 out of 7

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were omitted, the cacique would feel himself grievously outraged; and
his colleagues share this view.

Let us now examine their peculiar practices when drawing up their last
wills. The caciques choose as heir to their properties, the eldest son
of their sister, if such a one exists; and if the eldest sister has no
son, the child of the second or third sister is chosen. The reason is,
that this child is bound to be of their blood. They do not consider
the children of their wives as legitimate. When there are no children
of their sisters, they choose amongst those of their brothers, and
failing these, they fall back upon their own. If they themselves have
no children, they will their estates to whomsoever in the island is
considered most powerful, that their subjects may be protected by him
against their hereditary enemies. They have as many wives as they
choose, and after the cacique dies the most beloved of his wives is
buried with him. Anacaona, sister of Beuchios Anacauchoa, King of
Xaragua, who was reputed to be talented in the composition of areytos,
that is to say poems, caused to be buried alive with her brother the
most beautiful of his wives or concubines, Guanahattabenecheua; and
she would have buried others but for the intercession of a certain
sandal-shod Franciscan friar, who happened to be present. Throughout
the whole island there was not to be found another woman so beautiful
as Guanahattabenecheua. They buried with her her favourite necklaces
and ornaments, and in each tomb a bottle of water and a morsel of
cazabi bread were deposited.

There is very little rain either in Xaragua, the kingdom of Beuchios
Anacauchoa, or in the Hazua district of the country called Caihibi;
also in the valley of the salt- and fresh-water lakes and in Yacciu, a
district or canton of the province of Bainoa. In all these countries
are ancient ditches, by means of which the islanders irrigate their
fields as intelligently as did the inhabitants of New Carthage, called
Spartana, or those of the kingdom of Murcia, where it rarely rains.
The Maguana divides the provinces of Bainoa from that of Caihibi,
while the Savana divides it from Guaccaiarima. In the deeper valleys
there is a heavier rainfall than the natives require, and the
neighbourhood of Santo Domingo is likewise better watered than is
necessary, but everywhere else the rainfall is moderate. The same
variations of temperature prevail in Hispaniola as in other countries.

I have enumerated in my First Decade the colonies established in
Hispaniola by the Spaniards, and since that time they have founded the
small towns of Porto de la Plata, Porto Real, Lares, Villanova,
Assua, and Salvatiera. Let us now describe these of the innumerable
neighbouring islands which are known and which we have already
compared to the Nereids, daughters of Tethys, and their mother's
ornament. I shall begin with the nearest one, which is remarkable
because of another fountain of Arethusa, but which serves no purpose.
Six miles distant from the coast of the mother island lies an isle
which the Spaniards, ignoring its former name, call Dos Arboles [Two
Trees], because only two trees grow there. It is near them that a
spring, whose waters flow by secret channels under the sea from
Hispaniola, gushes forth, just as Alpheus left Eridus to reappear in
Sicily at the fountain of Arethusa. This fact is established by the
finding of leaves of the _hobis_, mirobolane, and many other trees
growing in Hispaniola, which are carried thither by the stream of this
fountain, for no such trees are found on the smaller island. This
fountain takes its rise in the Yiamiroa River, which flows from the
Guaccaiarima district near the Savana country. The isle is not more
than one mile in circumference, and is used as a fish market.

Towards the east, our Tethys is protected in a manner by the island of
San Juan,[2] which I have elsewhere described. San Juan has rich gold
deposits, and its soil is almost as fertile as that of its mother,
Hispaniola. Colonists have already been taken there, and are engaged
in gold-seeking. On the north-west Tethys is shielded by the great
island of Cuba, which for a long time was regarded as a continent
because of its length. It is much longer than Hispaniola, and is
divided in the middle from east to west by the Tropic of Cancer.
Hispaniola and the other islands lying to the south of Cuba occupy
almost the whole intervening space between the Tropic of Cancer and
the equator. This is the zone which many of the ancients believed to
be depopulated because of the fierce heat of the sun: in which opinion
they were mistaken. It is claimed that mines, richer than those of
Hispaniola, have been found in Cuba and at the present writing it is
asserted that gold to the value of one hundred and eighty thousand
castellanos has been obtained there and converted into ingots;
certainly a positive proof of opulence.

[Note 2: Porto Rico.]

Jamaica lies still farther to the south and is a prosperous, fertile
island, of exceptional fecundity, in which, however, there does not
exist a single mountain. It is adapted to every kind of cultivation.
Its inhabitants are formidable because of their warlike temperament.
It is impossible to establish authority within the brief period since
its occupation. Columbus, the first discoverer, formerly compared
Jamaica to Sicily in point of size, but as a matter of fact it is
somewhat smaller, though not much. This is the opinion of those who
have carefully explored it. All these people agree as to its inviting
character. It is believed that neither gold nor precious stones will
be found there; but in the beginning the same opinion was held of

The island of Guadaloupe, formerly called by the natives Caraqueira,
lies south of Hispaniola, four degrees nearer to the equator. It is
thirty-five miles in circumference and its coast line is broken by two
gulfs, which almost divide it into two different islands, as is the
case with Great Britain and Caledonia, now called Scotland. It has
numerous ports. A kind of gum called by the apothecaries _animen
album_, whose fumes cure headaches, is gathered there. The fruit of
this tree is one palm long and looks like a carrot. When opened it is
found to contain a sweetish flour, and the islanders preserve these
fruits just as our peasants lay by a store of chestnuts and other
similar things for the winter. The tree itself might be a fig-tree.
The edible pineapple and other foods which I have carefully studied
above also grow in Guadaloupe, and it is even supposed that it was the
inhabitants of this island who originally carried the seeds of all
these delicious fruits to the other islands.

In conducting their man-hunts, the Caribs have scoured all the
neighbouring countries; and whatever they found that was likely to be
useful to them, they brought back for cultivation. These islanders
are inhospitable and suspicious, and their conquest can only be
accomplished by using force. Both sexes use poisoned arrows and are
very good shots; so that, whenever the men leave the island on an
expedition, the women defend themselves with masculine courage against
any assailants. It is no doubt this fact that has given rise to the
exploded belief that there are islands in this ocean peopled entirely
by women. The Admiral Columbus induced me to believe this tale and I
repeated it in my First Decade.

In the island of Guadaloupe there are mountains and fertile plains;
it is watered by beautiful streams. Honey is found in the trees and
crevices of the rocks, and, as is the case at Palma, one of the
Fortunate Isles, honey is gathered amongst briar and bramble bushes.

The island recently named La Deseada lies eighteen miles distant from
the former island, and is twenty miles in circumference.

There is another charming island lying ten miles to the south of
Guadaloupe, which is called Galante; its surface is level and it is
thirty miles in circumference. Its name was suggested by its beauty,
for, in the Spanish, dandies are called _galanes_.[3]

[Note 3: The island was, in reality, named after one of the ships
of Columbus.]

Nine miles to the east of Guadaloupe lie six other islands called
Todos Santos and Barbadas. These are only barren reefs, but mariners
are obliged to know them. Thirty-five miles north of Guadaloupe looms
the island called Montserrat, which is forty miles in circumference,
and is dominated by a very lofty mountain. An island called Antigua,
thirty miles distant from Guadaloupe, has a circumference of about
forty miles.

The Admiral Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer, told me that when
obliged to go to court he left his wife in Hispaniola, and that she
had written him that an island with rich gold deposits had been
discovered in the midst of the archipelago of the Caribs, but that it
had not yet been visited. Off the left coast of Hispaniola there lies
to the south and near to the port of Beata an island called Alta Vela.
Most astonishing things are told concerning sea monsters found there,
especially about the turtles, which are, so it is said, larger than a
large breast shield. When the breeding time arrives they come out of
the sea, and dig a deep hole in the sand, in which they deposit three
or four hundred eggs. When all their eggs are laid, they cover up the
hole with a quantity of earth sufficient to hide them, and go back to
their feeding grounds in the sea, without paying further heed to their
progeny. When the day, fixed by nature, for the birth of these
animals arrives, a swarm of turtles comes into the world, without the
assistance of their progenitors, and only aided by the sun's rays. It
looks like an ant-hill. The eggs are almost as large as those of a
goose, and the flavour of turtle meat is compared to veal.

There is a large number of other islands, but they are as yet unknown,
and moreover it is not required to sift al1 this meal so carefully
through the sieve. It is sufficient to know that we have in our
control immense countries where, in the course of centuries, our
compatriots, our language, our morals, and our religion will flourish.
It was not from one day to another that the Teucrians peopled Asia,
the Tyrians Libya, or the Greeks and Phoenicians Spain.

I do not mention the islands which protect the north of Hispaniola;
they have extensive fisheries and might be cultivated, but the
Spaniards avoid them because they are poor. And now adieu, ancient

Jam valeant annosa Tethys, nymphaeque madentes,
Ipsius comites; veniat coronata superbe
Australis pelagi cultrix, re ac nomine dives.[4]

[Note 4: The following English translation for these lines has
been suggested:

Farewell, old Tethys, ocean goddess old;
Farewell thy company, the Nereid band;
And come thou, rich in name and pearls and gold
Crowned royally, Queen of the Southern strand.]

In the volume of letters I sent Your Holiness last year, by one of my
servants, and which Your Holiness has read in its entirety before the
Cardinals of the Apostolic See and your beloved sister, I related that
on the same day the Church celebrates the feast of St. Michael the
Archangel, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the leader of the men who had
crossed the lofty mountain chain, had been told that an island
remarkable for the size of its pearls lay within sight of the coast
and that its king was rich and powerful and often made war against the
caciques whose states lay on the coast, especially Chiapes and Tumaco.
We have written that the Spaniards did not attack the island because
of the great storms which render that South Sea dangerous, during
three months of the year. This island has now been conquered and we
have tamed its proud cacique. May Your Holiness deign to accept him
and all his rich principalities, since he has now received the waters
of baptism. It will not be out of place to remember under whose orders
and by whom this conquest was effected. May Your Holiness attend with
serene brow and benignant ear to the account of this enterprise.


As soon as he landed, the governor, Pedro Arias, confided to a certain
Gaspar Morales an expedition to Isla Rica.[1] Morales first passed by
the country of Chiapes, called Chiapeios, and of Tumaco, those two
caciques along the South Sea who were friends of Vasco. He and his men
were received magnificently as friends, and a fleet was equipped for
attacking the island. This island is called Rica and not Margarita,
although many pearls are found there; for the name Margarita was first
bestowed upon another island near Paria and the region called Boca de
la Sierpe, where many pearls had likewise been found. Morales landed
upon the island with only sixty men, the dimensions of his boats,
called culches, not permitting him to take a larger number. The proud
and formidable king of the island, whose name I have not learned,
advanced to meet them, escorted by a large number of warriors, and
proffering menaces. Guazzaciara is their war-cry; when they utter this
cry, they let fly their javelins; they do not use bows. Guazzaciara
means a battle; so they engaged in four guazzaciaras, in which the
Spaniards, aided by their allies of Chiapes and Tumaco, who were that
chieftain's enemies, were victorious. Their attack was in the nature
of a surprise. The cacique wished to assemble a larger army, but
was dissuaded by his neighbours along the coast from continuing the
struggle. Some by their example, and others by threatening him with
the ruin of a flourishing country, demonstrated that the friendship of
the Spaniards would bring glory and profit to himself and his friends.
They reminded him of the misfortunes which had the preceding year
befallen Poncha, Pochorroso, Quarequa, Chiapes, Tumaco, and others who
attempted to resist. The cacique gave up fighting and came to meet
the Spaniards, whom he conducted to his palace, which was a veritable
royal residence marvellously decorated. Upon their arrival at his
house he presented them with a very well-wrought basket filled with
pearls of ten pounds weight, at eight ounces to the pound.

[Note 1: The description at this point is inaccurate and
misleading. The pearl islands number in all one hundred and
eighty-three, forming an archipelago. There are thirty-nine islands
of considerable size, of which the principal ones are San Jose, San
Miguel, and Isla del Rey; the others are small, some being no more
than reefs, or isolated rocks rising above the surface of the sea.]

The cacique was overjoyed when they presented him with their usual
trifles, such as glass beads, mirrors, copper bells, and perhaps some
iron hatchets, for the natives prize these things more than heaps of
gold. In fact, they even make fun of the Spaniards for exchanging such
important and useful articles for such a little gold. Hatchets can
be put to a thousand uses among them, while gold is merely a not
indispensable luxury. Pleased and enchanted by his bargains, the
cacique, took the captain and his officers by the hand and led them
to the top of one of the towers of his house from whence the view
embraced an immense horizon towards the sea. Looking about him, he
said: "Behold the infinite ocean which has no end towards the rising
sun." He pointed to the east, and afterwards turning to the south and
the west he gave them to understand that the continent, on which the
vast mountain ranges were perceptible in the distance, was very large.
Glancing about nearer to them, he said: "These islands lying to the
left and right along the two coasts of our residence belong to us.
They are all rich; they are all happy, if you call lands happy which
abound in gold and pearls. In this particular place there is not much
gold, but the shores of all these islands are strewn with pearls,
and I will give you as many as you want if you will be my friends. I
prefer your manufactures to my pearls, and I wish to possess them.
Therefore do not imagine that I desire to break off relations with

Such were the words, amongst many others similar, they exchanged. When
the Spaniards planned to leave, the cacique promised to send each year
as a present to the great king of Castile a hundred pounds of pearls,
at eight ounces to the pound. He made this promise voluntarily,
attaching little importance to it, and in no way considering himself
their tributary.

There are so many rabbits and deer in that island that, without
leaving their houses, the Spaniards could kill as many as they chose
with their arrows. Their life there was luxurious, and nothing was
wanting. The royal residence lies only six degrees from the equator.
Yucca, maize bread, and wine made from grains and fruits, are the same
as at Comogra or amongst the other continental and insular tribes.

The cacique, Most Holy Father, was baptised with all his people who
are become as sheep under their shepherd to increase your flock.
Pedro Arias, the governor, wished to bestow his name upon them. The
friendship established increased, and the cacique, to assist the
Spaniards to regain the continent more easily, lent them his
fishermen's culches, that is to say barques dug out of treetrunks in
the native fashion. He also accompanied them to the shore.

After setting aside the fifth for the royal officials, the Spaniards
divided amongst themselves the pearls they had secured. They say they
are extremely valuable. Here is a proof of the great value of the
pearls from that island. Many of them are white and have a beautiful
orient, and are as large or even larger than a nut. What has quickened
my recollection is the remembrance of a pearl which the Sovereign
Pontiff, Paul, predecessor of Your Holiness, bought from a Venetian
merchant through the intermediary of my relative Bartolomeo the
Milanese, for forty-four thousand ducats. Now amongst the pearls
brought from the island there is one equal in size to an ordinary
nut. It was sold at auction and bought at Darien for twelve thousand
castellanos of gold, ending in the hands of the governor, Pedro Arias.
This precious pearl now belongs to his wife, of whom we have already
spoken at the time of his departure. We may assume, therefore, that
this pearl was the most precious of all, since it was valued so highly
amongst that mass of pearls which were bought, not singly, but by the
ounce. It is probable that the Venetian merchant had not paid such a
price in the East for the pearl of Pope Paul; but he lived at a time
when such objects were greedily sought and a lover of pearls was
waiting to swallow it.

Let us now say something of the shells in which pearls grow. Your
Beatitude is not ignorant of the fact that Aristotle, and Pliny who
followed the former in his theories, were not of the same opinion
concerning the growth of pearls. They held but one point in common,
and upon all others they differed. Neither would admit that pearl
oysters moved after they were once formed. They declare that there
exist at the bottom of the sea, meadows, as it were, upon which an
aromatic plant resembling thyme grows; they affirm they had seen these
fields. In such places these animals resembling oysters are born and
grow, engendering about them numerous progeny. They are not satisfied
to have one, three, four, or even more pearls, for as many as a
hundred and twenty pearls have been found in one shell on the
fisheries of that island; and the captain, Caspar Morales, and his
companions carefully counted them. While the Spaniards were there,
the cacique had his divers bring up pearls. The matrix of these pearl
oysters may be compared to the organ in which hens form their numerous
eggs. The pearls are produced in the following manner: as soon as they
are ripe and leave the womb of their mother, they are found detached
from the lips of the matrix. They follow one by one each in turn
detaching itself, after a brief interval. In the beginning the pearls
are enclosed, as it were, in the belly of the oyster, where they grow
just as a child while in the womb of its mother lives on the substance
of her body. Later on they leave the maternal asylum, where they were
hidden. The pearl oysters found--as I myself have seen from time to
time--upon the beach and imbedded in the sand on different Atlantic
coasts, have been cast up from the depths of the sea by storms, and do
not come there of themselves. Why brilliant morning dew gives a white
tint to pearls; why bad weather causes them to turn yellow; why they
like a clear sky, and remain immovable when it thunders, are questions
which cannot be examined with precision by those ignorant natives. It
is not a subject that can be treated by limited minds. It is further
said that the largest pearl oysters remain at the bottom, the commoner
ones in the half-depths, and the little ones near the surface; but
the reasons given to sustain this theory are poor ones. The immovable
mollusc does not reason about the choice of its home. Everything
depends on the determination, the ability, and the breath of the
divers. The large pearl oysters do not move about; they are created
and find their sustenance in the deepest places, for the number of
divers who venture to penetrate to the bottom of the sea to collect
them is few. They are afraid of polyps, which are greedy for oyster
meat and are always grouped about the places where they are. They are
likewise afraid of other sea-monsters, and most of all they fear to
suffocate if they stay too long under water. The pearl oysters in the
profoundest depths of the sea consequently have time to grow, and
the larger and older the shell becomes, the larger the pearls they
harbour, though in number they are few. Those born at the bottom of
the sea are believed to become food for the fish; when first gathered
they are soft, and the shape of the ear is different from the larger
ones. It is alleged that no pearl adheres to the shell as it grows
old, but there grows in the shell itself a sort of round and brilliant
lump which acquires lustre by filing. This, however, is not valuable,
and takes its nature rather from the shell than from the pearl. The
Spaniards call the tympanum _pati_.[2] Sometimes pearl oysters have
been found growing in small colonies upon rocks, but they are not
prized. It is credible that the oysters of India, Arabia, the Red Sea,
and Ceylon exist in the manner described by celebrated authors, nor
should the explanations given by such eminent writers be entirely
rejected; I speak of those who have been for a long time in
contradiction with one another.

[Note 2: _Pati appellat Hispanus tympanum_; a sentence for which
the translator has found no satisfactory meaning.]

We have already spoken enough about these sea-animals and their eggs,
which luxury-loving people stupidly prefer to the eggs of chickens or
ducks. Let us add some further details outside our subject.

We have above described the entrance to the Gulf of Uraba, and said
the different countries washed by its waters were strangely different
from one another. I have nothing new to relate of the western shore,
where the Spaniards established their colony on the banks of the
Darien River.

What I have recently learnt about the eastern shore is as follows:
the entire country lying to the east between the promontory and shore
which extend into the sea and receive the force of the waves, as far
as Boca de la Sierpe and Paria, is called by the general name of
Caribana. Caribs are found everywhere, and are called from the name of
their country,[3] but it is well to indicate from whence the Caribs
take their origin, and how, after leaving their country, they have
spread everywhere like a deadly contagion. Nine miles from the first
coast encountered coming from seawards where, as we have said, Hojeda
settled, stands in the province of Caribana a village called Futeraca;
three miles farther on is the village of Uraba, which gives its name
to the gulf and was formerly the capital of the kingdom. Six miles
farther on is the village of Feti, and at the ninth and twelfth miles
respectively stand the villages of Zeremoe and Sorachi, all thickly
populated. All the natives in these parts indulged in man-hunts, and
when there are no enemies to fight they practise their cruelties
on one another. From this place the infection has spread to the
unfortunate inhabitants of the islands and continent.

[Note 3: There are more theories than one concerning the origin of
the Caribs and their name. Among other writers who have treated this
subject may be cited Reville, in an article published in the _Nouvelle
Revue_, 1884, and Rochefort in his _Histoire naturelle et morale des
isles Antilles_.]

There is another fact I think I should not omit. A learned lawyer
called Corales, who is a judge at Darien, reported that he encountered
a fugitive from the interior provinces of the west, who sought refuge
with the cacique. This man, seeing the judge reading, started with
surprise, and asked through interpreters who knew the cacique's
language, "You also have books? You also understand the signs by which
you communicate with the absent?" He asked at the same time to look
at the open book, hoping to see the same characters used among his
people; but he saw the letters were not the same. He said that in his
country the towns were walled and the citizens wore clothing and were
governed by laws. I have not learned the nature of their religion, but
it is known from examining this fugitive, and from his speech, that
they are circumcised.[4] What, Most Holy Father, do you think of this?
What augury do you, to whose domination time will submit all peoples,
draw for the future?

[Note 4: ..._recutiti tamen dispraeputiatique, ab exemplo et
sermone fugitivi confererunt_. The man may have been a Peruvian or
of the civilised plateau people of Cundinamarca. Wiener, in his
interesting work, _Perou et Bolivie_, studies the Peruvian system of

Let us add to these immense considerations some matters of less
importance. I think that I should not omit mentioning the voyage of
Juan Solis,[5] who sailed from the ocean port of Lepe, near Cadiz,
with three ships, the fourth day of the ides of September, 1515, to
explore the southern coasts of what was supposed to be a continent.
Nor do I wish to omit mention of Juan Ponce,[6] commissioned to
conquer the Caribs, anthropophagi who feed on human flesh; or of
Juan Ayora de Badajoz, or Francisco Bezerra, and of Valleco, already
mentioned by me. Solis was not successful in his mission. He set out
to double the cape or promontory of San Augustin and to follow the
coast of the supposed continent as far as the equator. We have already
indicated that this cape lies in the seventh degree of the antarctic
pole. Solis continued six hundred leagues farther on, and observed
that the cape San Augustin extended so far beyond the equator to the
south that it reached beyond the thirtieth degree of the Southern
Hemisphere. He therefore sailed for a long distance beyond the Boca de
la Sierpe and Spanish Paria, which face the north and the pole star.
In these parts are found some of those abominable anthropophagi,
Caribs, whom I have mentioned before. With fox-like astuteness these
Caribs feigned amicable signs, but meanwhile prepared their stomachs
for a succulent repast; and from their first glimpse of the strangers
their mouths watered like tavern trenchermen. The unfortunate Solis
landed with as many of his companions as he could crowd into the
largest of the barques, and was treacherously set upon by a multitude
of natives who killed him and his men with clubs in the presence of
the remainder of his crew.[7] Not a soul escaped; and after having
killed and cut them in pieces on the shore, the natives prepared to
eat them in full view of the Spaniards, who from their ships witnessed
this horrible sight. Frightened by these atrocities, the men did not
venture to land and execute vengeance for the murder of their leader
and companions. They loaded their ships with red wood, which the
Italians call verzino and the Spaniards brazil-wood, and which is
suitable for dyeing wool; after which they returned home. I have
learned these particulars by correspondence, and I here repeat them. I
shall further relate what the other explorers accomplished.

[Note 5: Juan Diaz de Solis, a native of Sebixa, sailed with
Vincente Yanez Pinzon in 1508, when the mouths of the Amazon were
discovered. In 1512, the King appointed him and Giovanni Vespucci his

[Note 6: Governor in 1508 of Porto Rico and later, in 1512, the
discoverer of Florida, of which country he was appointed Adelantado by
King Ferdinand. He died in Cuba in 1521, from the effects of a wound
received during his expedition to Florida in that year.]

[Note 7: The scene of this massacre was between Maldonado and

Juan Ponce likewise endured a severe check from the cannibals on the
island of Guadaloupe, which is the most important of all the Carib
islands. When these people beheld the Spanish ships, they concealed
themselves in a place from which they could spy upon all the movements
of the people who might land. Ponce had sent some women ashore to wash
some shirts and linen, and also some foot-soldiers to obtain fresh
water, for he had not seen land after leaving the island of Ferro in
the Canaries until he reached Guadaloupe, a distance of four thousand
two hundred miles. There is no island in the ocean throughout the
entire distance. The cannibals suddenly attacked and captured the
women, dispersing the men, a small number of whom managed to escape.
Ponce did not venture to attack the Caribs, fearing the poisoned
arrows which these barbarous man-eaters use with fatal effect.

This excellent Ponce who, as long as he was in a place of safety, had
boasted that he would exterminate the Caribs, was constrained to leave
his washerwomen and retreat before the islanders. What he has since
done, and what discoveries he may have made, I have not yet learned.
Thus Solis lost his life, and Ponce his honour, in carrying out their

Another who failed miserably in his undertaking the same year is Juan
Ayora de Cordova, a nobleman sent out as judge, as we have elsewhere
said, and who was keener about accumulating a fortune than he was
about administering his office, and deserving praise. Under some
pretext or other he robbed several caciques and extorted gold from
them, in defiance of all justice. It is related that he treated them
so cruelly that, from being friends, they became implacable enemies,
and driven to extremities they massacred the Spaniards, sometimes
openly and sometimes by setting traps for them. In places where
formerly trade relations were normal and the caciques friendly, it
became necessary to fight. When, so it is said, he had amassed a large
amount of gold by such means, Ayora fled on board a ship he suddenly
procured, and it is not known at this present writing where he landed.
There are not wanting people who believe that the governor himself,
Pedro Arias, closed his eyes to this secret flight; for Juan Ayora
is a brother of Gonzales Ayora, the royal historiographer, who is a
learned man, an excellent captain, and so intimate with the governor
that he and Pedro Arias may be cited amongst the rare pairs of friends
known to us. I am in very close relations with both of them, and may
they both pardon me; but amidst all the troubles in the colonies,
nothing has displeased me so much as the cupidity of this Juan Ayora,
which troubled the public peace of the colonies and alienated the

Let us now come to the tragic adventures of Gonzales de Badajoz
and his companions. In the beginning fortune smiled upon them, but
sufficiently sad changes very quickly followed. Gonzales left Darien
with forty soldiers in the month of March of the preceding year, 1515,
and marched straight to the west, stopping nowhere until he reached
the region the Spaniards have named Gracias a Dios, as we have above
stated. This place is about a hundred and eighty miles, or sixty
leagues from Darien. They passed several days there doing nothing,
because the commander was unable either by invitations, bribes, or
threats to induce the cacique to approach him, although he desired
very much to accomplish this. While camping here he was joined by
fifteen adventurers from Darien, under the leadership of Luis Mercado
who had left that colony in May, wishing to join Gonzales in exploring
the interior. As soon as the two groups met, they decided to cross the
southern mountain chain and take possession of the South Sea already
discovered. The most extraordinary thing of all is, that on a
continent of such length and breadth, the distance to the South Sea
was not more than fifty-one miles, or seventeen leagues. In Spain
people never count by miles; the land league equals three miles, and
the marine league four miles. When they reached the summit of the
mountain chain, which is the watershed, they found there a cacique
called Javana. Both the country and its ruler bear the name of Coiba,
as we have already stated is the case, at Careta. As the country of
Javana is the richest of all in gold, it is called Coiba Rica. And in
fact, wherever one digs, whether on dry land or in the river-beds,
the sand is found to contain gold. The cacique Javana fled when the
Spaniards approached, nor was it possible to overtake him. They then
set to work to ravage the neighbourhood of his town, but found
very little gold, for the cacique had taken with him in his flight
everything he possessed. They found, however, some slaves who were
branded in a painful fashion. The natives cut lines in the faces of
the slaves, using a sharp point either of gold or of a thorn; they
then fill the wounds with a kind of powder dampened with black or
red juice, which forms an indelible dye and never disappears. The
Spaniards took these slaves with them. It seems that this juice is
corrosive and produces such terrible pain that the slaves are unable
to eat on account of their sufferings. Both the kings who originally
captured these slaves in war, and also the Spaniards, put them to work
hunting gold or tilling the fields.

Leaving the town of Javana, the Spaniards followed the watershed for
ten miles, and entered the territory of another chief, whom they
called the "Old Man," because they were heedless of his name and took
notice only of his age. Everywhere in the country of this cacique,
both in the riverbeds and in the soil, gold was found. Streams were
abundant and the county was everywhere rich and fertile. Leaving that
place, the Spaniards marched for five days through a desert country
which they thought had been devastated by war, for though the greater
part of it was fertile, it was neither inhabited nor cultivated.
On the fifth day they perceived in the distance two heavily laden
natives, approaching them. Marching upon them, they captured the men,
and found that they were carrying sacks of maize on their shoulders.
From the answers of these men they gathered that there were two
caciques in these regions, one on the coast, called Periqueta, another
in the interior, called Totonogo; the latter being blind. These two
men were fishermen who had been sent by their cacique Totonogo, to
Periqueta, with a burden of fish, which they had traded for bread.[8]
Trade is thereabouts carried on by exchange in kind, and not by means
of gold, which claims so many victims. Led by these two natives, the
Spaniards reached the country of Totonogo, the cacique whose country
extends along the west side of the gulf of San Miguel on the south
sea. This chieftain gave them six thousand castellanos of gold, partly
in ingots and partly worked; amongst the former was one which weighed
two castellanos, proving that gold exists in abundance in this region.

[Note 8: There has evidently at some time been an error of
transcription: the cacique Totonogo, who is first mentioned as ruling
along the sea-coast, is now described as sending fish to his neighbour

Following along the western coast, the Spaniards visited the cacique
Taracuru, from whom they obtained eight thousand pesos; a peso, as we
have already said, corresponding to an unminted castellano. They next
marched into the country of his brother Pananome, who fled and was
seen no more. His subjects declared the country to be rich in gold.
The Spaniards destroyed his residence. Six leagues farther on they
came to the country of another cacique called Tabor, and then to that
of another called Cheru. The latter received the Spaniards amicably,
and offered them four thousand pesos. He possesses valuable salt
deposits, and the country is rich in gold. Twelve miles farther they
came to another cacique called Anata, from whom they obtained twelve
thousand pesos, which the cacique had captured from neighbouring
chieftains whom he had conquered. This gold was even scorched, because
it had been carried out of the burning houses of his enemies. These
caciques rob and massacre one another, and destroy their villages,
during their atrocious wars. They give no quarter, and the victors
make a clean sweep of everything.[9]

[Note 9: This was everywhere the case on the mainland; while it
does not excuse the cruelties inflicted by the Spaniards upon the
native populations in their rapacious struggle for wealth, it may
temper the undiscriminating sympathy of the emotional to reflect that
oppression, torture, extortion, and slavery, not to mention human
sacrifices and cannibalism were practised among them with a hideous
ingenuity upon which no refinement introduced by the Spaniards could

In this wise the excellent Gonzales de Badajoz and his companions
wandered, without any fixed plan, until they came to the territory
of Anata; and during their journey they had collected piles of gold,
girdles, women's breast ornaments, earrings, headdresses, necklaces,
and bracelets, to the value of eighty thousand castellanos more. This
they had acquired, either by trading their merchandise or by pillage
and violence; for the majority of the caciques had opposed their
passage and had sought to resist them. They had in addition forty
slaves, whom they used as beasts of burden to carry their provisions
and baggage, and also to care for the sick.

The Spaniards traversed the country of a cacique, Scoria, and arrived
at the residence of another called Pariza. They did not expect to be
attacked, but the cacique closed about them with a great number of
armed men, surprising them at a moment when they were off their guard
and scattered. They had no time to seize their weapons; seventy of
them were wounded or killed, and the rest fled, abandoning their gold
and all their slaves. Very few of them ever came back to Darien.

The opinion of all the sages upon the vicissitudes of fortune and the
inconstancy of human affairs would prove unfounded if this expedition
had terminated profitably and happily; but the ordering of events is
inevitable, and those who tear up the roots, sometimes find sweet
liquorice and sometimes bitter cockle. Woe, however, to Pariza! for he
shall not long rest quietly. This great crime will soon be avenged.
The governor was preparing to lead a campaign against him in person at
the head of three hundred and fifty men when he fell ill. The learned
jurisconsult, Caspar Espinosa, royal judge at Darien, took his place
and acted as his lieutenant; at the same time the Spaniards sent to
the island called Rica to collect the tribute of pearls imposed upon
its cacique. We shall in due course learn what happened.

Other leaders marched against the dwellers on the other side of the
gulf; one of whom, Francisco Bezerra, crossed the head of the gulf and
the mouth of the Dabaiba River. His band consisted of two officers and
a hundred and fifty well-armed soldiers. His plan was to attack the
Caribs in the country of Caribana itself. He first marched against the
village of Turufy, of which I have spoken when describing the arrival
of Hojeda. He was provided with engines of war, three cannon firing
lead bullets larger than an egg, forty archers, and twenty-five
musketeers. It was planned to fire upon the Caribs from a distance
because they fight with poisoned arrows. It is not yet known where
Bezerra landed nor what he did; but it was feared at Darien when the
vessels were leaving for Spain, that his expedition had turned out

Another captain, called Vallejo, carried on operations along the lower
part of the gulf, crossing over by another route than that taken by
Bezerra; thus one of them menaced Caribana from the front and the
other from behind. Vallejo has come back, but out of seventy men he
took with him, forty-eight wounded were left in the power of the
Caribs. This is the story told by those who reached Darien, and I
repeat it.

On the eve of the ides of October of this year, 1516, Roderigo
Colmenares, whom I have above mentioned, and a certain Francisco de la
Puente belonging to the troop commanded by Gonzales de Badajoz came to
see me. The latter was amongst those who escaped the massacre executed
by the cacique Pariza. Colmenares himself left Darien for Spain after
the vanquished arrived. Both of them report, one from hearsay and the
other from observation, that a number of islands lie in the South Sea
to the west of the gulf of San Miguel and the Isla Rica and that on
these islands trees, bearing the same fruits as in the country of
Calicut, grow and are cultivated. It is from the countries of Calicut,
Cochin, and Camemor that the Portuguese procure spices. Thus it is
thought that not far from the colony of San Miguel begins the country
where spices grow. Many of those who have explored these regions only
await the authorisation to sail from that coast of the South Sea;
and they offer to build ships at their own cost, if they only be
commissioned to seek for the spice lands. These men think that ships
should be built in the gulf of San Miguel itself, and that the idea of
following the coast in the direction of Cape San Augustin should be
abandoned, as that route would be too long, too difficult, and too
dangerous. Moreover it would take them beyond the fortieth degree of
the southern hemisphere.

This same Francisco, who shared the labours and the perils of Gonzales
says, that in exploring those countries he saw veritable herds of deer
and wild boar, of which he captured many in the native fashion by
digging ditches across the trails followed by these animals and
covering them over with branches; this is the native method of
trapping these wild quadrupeds. In catching birds they use doves just
as we do. They tie a tame dove in the trees, and the birds of each
species which flock about it are then shot with arrows. Another way is
by spreading a net in an open space, sprinkling food round about it,
and placing the tame dove in the middle. The same system is used with
parrots and other birds. The parrots are so stupid that, while one
chatters on a tree in whose branches the bird-catcher is concealed,
the others flock thither, and allow themselves to be easily caught.
They are not frightened when they see the bird-catcher, but sit
looking until the noose is thrown round their necks. Even when they
see one of their companions captured and thrown into the hunter's bag,
they do not fly away.

There is another system of bird-hunting which is quite original and
diverting to relate. We have already stated that there exist in the
islands, and especially at Hispaniola, stagnant lakes and ponds upon
whose waters flutters a whole world of aquatic birds, because those
waters are covered with grasses, and little fish and a thousand
varieties of frogs, worms, and insects live in that liquid mud. The
work of corruption and generation ordained by the secret decree
of providence is promoted in these depths by the heat of the sun.
Different species of birds swarm in these waters: ducks, geese, swans,
divers, gulls, sea-mews, and countless similar.

We have elsewhere related that the natives cultivate a tree in their
gardens, whose fruit resembles a large gourd. The natives throw a
large quantity of these gourds into the ponds, after having carefully
stopped up the holes by which water is introduced into them, to
prevent their sinking. These gourds, floating about on the water,
inspire the birds with confidence; the hunter then covers his head
with a sort of cask made of a gourd, one in which there are little
holes for his eyes, like in a mask. He wades into the water up to his
chin, for from their infancy they are all accustomed to swim, and do
not fear to remain a long time in the water. As the birds find the
gourd which conceals the hunter similar to all the others floating
about, the man is able to approach the flock. Imitating with his head
the movements of the floating gourd, he follows the little waves
produced by the wind, and gradually approaches the birds. Stretching
out his right hand he seizes a bird by the foot, and without being
seen, quickly jerks it under the water and thrusts it into a bag he
carries. The other birds imagining their companion has dived in search
of food, as they all do, fearlessly continue their movements, and in
their turns become victims of the hunter.

I interrupted my narrative with this description of bird-hunting and
other sport, in order that these harmless tales might divert you from
the horror you must have felt in reading the story of so many crimes.
I should still like to speak to you concerning a new theory of the
current which drives the waters of the gulf of Paria towards the west;
and also of the system of gold-mining in Darien. These are particulars
which have just recently been furnished me. After this dual report,
which will be in no sense tragic, I shall take leave of Your Holiness.

The Captain Andreas Morales and Oviedo, whom I have above mentioned,
came to visit me at Madrid, or to be more accurate, at Mantua
Carpetana; and in my presence they had a discussion on the subject of
this current. They agree that the Spanish possessions extend without
interruption towards the northern lands behind Cuba and the other
islands, and to the north-west of Hispaniola and Cuba; but they do not
hold the same opinion concerning the current. Andreas claims that the
force of these waters is broken by the great body of land believed to
be a continent, and which, as we have said, bends towards the north,
in such wise that, breaking against these obstacles, the waters turn
in a circle and are driven towards the northern coasts of Cuba and the
other lands lying outside the Tropic of Cancer. Thus, these waters,
which flow from narrow straits are absorbed, as it were, in the
immensity of the ocean, and their force is diminished as they spread
through immense spaces where they ultimately disappear. I might
compare this current to the eddies of water in a mill-race. Water
flowing, no matter how rapidly, through a narrow canal, and afterwards
falling into a lake, at once spreads out; the volume is broken, and
although an instant before it flowed riotously, and seemed capable of
sweeping away every obstacle, it is calmed. Even the direction of the
current is no longer perceptible. I once questioned Admiral Diego
Columbus, son and heir of the discoverer, who had crossed these seas,
coming and going, four times. When asked his opinion, he answered: "It
is difficult to return as one went; but upon sailing northwards on
the open ocean to return to Spain, the movement in the waters driving
towards the east is very perceptible. I think this is probably due to
the ordinary influence of ebb and flow, and should not be attributed
to those eddyings of the waters. The continent is open, and there must
exist between the two bodies a strait through which these turbulent
waters escape to the west. In obedience to a decree of Heaven, they
circulate throughout the entire universe."

Oviedo agrees with Andreas in thinking that the continent is closed,
but he does not believe that this western mass of the continent breaks
the current, driving it into the vast ocean. He likewise affirms that
he has carefully noted that the current running westwards, takes its
rise in the open sea; when following along the coast in small ships,
it is the current running eastwards that is struck, so that one may
be transported in two opposite directions at the same spot. This is
a phenomenon which may frequently be observed in rivers, where the
conformation of the banks gives rise to whirlpools. If straws or bits
of wood are thrown into the river at such a place, those which fall
into the middle are carried away by the current; on the contrary,
those which drop into some bend along the shore or by a slanting bank,
go up the current until they again drift into the middle of the river.

Such are their opinions, and I repeat them, although they are in
contradiction. We shall form no well-grounded opinion until the true
cause of this phenomenon has been verified. Meanwhile it is only
possible to set forth these different theories, until the day fixed
and the astronomical moment for the discovery of this secret of Nature
shall arrive. But enough concerning these pelagic currents.

Some few more words about gold mines at Darien, and we shall have
accomplished our task.

We have said that nine miles from Darien begin the hills and plains
containing gold deposits, either in the earth or in the bed or the
banks of the rivers. Any one who has been bitten by the gold fever
usually sets out as follows: the directors assign him a parcel of
ground twelve paces square, which he may choose as he pleases, on
condition that it is not land that has already been occupied or
abandoned by his companions. When he has made his choice, he settles
on that spot with his slaves, as though within a temple, whose limits
the Augurs have traced with their sacred staves. The Christians use
native labour both in the mines and in agriculture. This plot of land
may be held as long as the occupant wishes; and in case no gold, or
very little, should be found there, a request for a fresh square of
like dimensions is presented, and the parcel of abandoned land reverts
to the common demesne. This is the order followed by the colonists of
Darien who are engaged in gold-seeking. I think it is the same for the
others, but I have not questioned all of them. Sometimes such a parcel
of twelve paces square has netted its possessor the sum of eighty
castellanos. Such is the life people lead to satisfy the sacred hunger
for gold;[10] but the richer one becomes by such work, the more does
one desire to possess. The more wood is thrown on the fire, the more
it crackles and spreads. The sufferer from dropsy, who thinks to
appease his thirst by drinking, only excites it the more. I have
suppressed many details to which I may later return if I learn that
they afford pleasure to Your Holiness, charged with the weight of
religious questions and sitting at the summit of the honours to which
men may aspire. It is in no sense for my personal pleasure that I have
collected these facts, for only the desire to please Your Beatitude
has induced me to undertake this labour.

[Note 10: _Sic vivitur in sacra fame auri explenda_.]

May Providence, which watches over this world, grant to Your Holiness
many happy years.


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