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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Decade



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[Note 2: Meaning the undertow of surf.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As soon as the conspiracy was discovered, Vasco Nunez, assembling seventy men, ordered them to follow him, without however telling any one either his destination or his intentions. He first rode to the village of Zemaco, some ten miles distant, where he learned that Zemaco had fled to Dabaiba, the cacique of the marshes of Culata. His principal lieutenant (called in their language _sacchos_, just as their caciques are called chebi) was seized, together with all his other servants, and carried into captivity. Several other natives of both sexes were likewise captured. Simultaneously Colmenares embarked sixty soldiers in the four uru and set out up the river to look for Zemaco. The young woman’s brother served as guide. Arriving at the village of Tichiri, where the provisions for the army had been collected, Vasco Nunez took possession of the place and captured the stores of different coloured wines, as we have already noted at Comogra, and different kinds of native stores. The sacchos of Tichiri, who had acted in a manner as quartermaster of the army, was captured together with four of the principal officers, for they did not expect the arrival of the Spaniards. The sacchos was hanged on a tree that he had himself planted, and shot through with arrows in full view of the natives, and the other officers were hanged by Colmenares on scaffolds, to serve as an example to the others. This chastisement of the conspirators so terrified the entire province that there was not a person left to raise a finger against the torrent of Spanish wrath. Peace was thus established, and their caciques bending their necks beneath the yoke were not punished. The Spaniards enjoyed some days of abundance, thanks to the well-filled storehouse they had captured at Tichiri.[3]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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