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was to see the swelling sails of the ship, for they did not understand the use of sails; and if they did they would only require small ones, because of the narrowness of their barques. They approached the ship in great numbers and even ventured to shoot some arrows at the men who defended the ship’s sides as though they were walls, hoping either to wound or frighten them.

The Spaniards fired their cannon, and the natives, alarmed by the detonation and by the slaughter that resulted from the well-aimed shot, took to flight in various directions. Pursuing them with a ship’s boat, the Spaniards killed some and took many prisoners. The noise of the cannon and the report of what had happened so alarmed the caciques, who feared their villages would be robbed and their people massacred if the Spaniards landed to take vengeance, that they sent messengers to Vincent Yanez. As far as could be understood from their signs and gestures they sought peace; but our compatriots report that they did not understand a word of their language. The better to demonstrate their desire for peace, the natives made them beautiful presents, consisting of a quantity of gold, equal in weight to three thousand of the kind of coins we have said are called castellanos, and in vulgar language pesos; also a wooden tub full of precious incense, weighing about twenty-six hundred pounds, at eight ounces to the pound. This showed the country was rich in incense, for the natives of Paria have no intercourse with those of Saba; and in fact they know nothing of any place outside their own country. In addition to the gold and the incense, they presented peacocks such as are not found elsewhere, for they differ largely from ours in the variety of their colours. The hens were alive, for they kept them to propagate the species, but the cocks, which they brought in great numbers, were dressed to be immediately eaten. They likewise offered cotton stuffs, similar to tapestries, for household decoration, very tastefully made in various colours. These stuffs were fringed with golden bells such as are called in Italy _sonaglios_ and in Spain _cascabeles_. Of talking parrots, they gave as many of different colours as were wanted; these parrots are as common in Paria as pigeons or sparrows are amongst us.

All the natives wear cotton clothing, the men being covered to the knees, and the women to the calves of their legs. In time of war the men wear a carefully quilted coat of cotton, doubled in the Turkish style. I have used the word cotton for what I have otherwise called in the vulgar Italian _bombasio_. I have also used other analogous terms which certain Latinists, dwelling along the Adriatic or Ligurian coasts, may attribute to my negligence or ignorance, when my writings reach them,[3] as we have seen in the case of my First Decade which was printed without my authorisation. I would have them know that I am a Lombard, not a Latin; that I was born at Milan,[4] a long way distant from Latium, and have lived my life still farther away, for I reside in Spain. Let those purists of Venice or Genoa who accuse me of improprieties of composition because I have written as one speaks in Spain of brigantines and caravels, of admiral and adelantado, understand, once for all, that I am not ignorant that he who holds these offices is called by the Hellenists _Archithalassus_ and by the Latinists sometimes _Navarchus_ and sometimes _Pontarchus_. Despite all such similar comments, and provided I may nourish the hope of not displeasing Your Holiness, I shall confine myself to narrating these great events with simplicity. Leaving these things aside, let us now return to the caciques of Paria.

[Note 3: Peter Martyr was not ignorant of the jibes his Latin evoked amongst the purists in Rome. The cultivated tympanum of Cardinal Bembo and other Ciceronians at the Pontifical Court received painful shocks from certain corrupt expressions in his decades. His repeated explanations of his deflections from classical nomenclature are, however, reasonable.]

[Note 4: Meaning, of course, in the duchy, not the city. The passage reads: _Neutro cruciare statuo ad summum; voloque sciant, me insubrem esse non Latium; et longe a Latio natum, quia Mediolani; et longissime vitam egisse, quia in Hispania_.]

Vincent Yanez discovered that the chieftains were elected for only one year. Their followers obeyed them in making war or in signing peace. Their villages are built around this immense gulf. Five of these caciques offered gifts to the Spaniards, and I have wished to record their names in memory of their hospitality: Chiaconus Chianaocho, Chiaconus Fintiguanos, Chiaconus Chamailaba, Chiaconus Polomus, Chiaconus Pot.

This gulf is called Bahia de la Natividad, because Columbus discovered it on the Feast of Christmas; but he only sailed by, without penetrating into the interior. The Spaniards simply call it Bahia. Having established friendship with these chieftains, Vincent Yanez continued his voyage[5] and found to the east countries which had been abandoned because of frequent inundations, and a vast extent of marsh lands. He persisted in his undertaking until he reached the extreme point of the continent[6]; if indeed we may call points, those corners or promontories which terminate a coast. This one seems to reach out towards the Atlas, and therefore opposite that part of Africa called by the Portuguese the Cape of Good Hope, a promontory in the ocean formed by the prolongation of the Atlas Mountains. The Cape of Good Hope, however, is situated within thirty-four degrees of the antarctic pole, whereas this point in the New World lies within the seventh degree. I think it must be part of that continent which cosmographers have named the Great Atlantis, but without giving further details as to its situation or character.

[Note 5: Comparing this account of Pinzon’s voyage with that of Vespucci, it is seen that Peter Martyr describes the itinerary reversed, making Pinzon finish where Vespucci makes him begin.]

[Note 6: Cape Sant Augustin.]

And since we have now reached the shores of the first land encountered beyond the Pillars of Hercules, perhaps it may not be out of place to say something of the motives which might have provoked war between the Catholic King, Ferdinand of Spain, and Emanuel of Portugal, had they not been father-in-law and son-in-law. Note that I say _Portugal_ and not _Lusitania_, contrary to the opinion of many persons who certainly are not ignorant, but are not less certainly, sadly mistaken. For if it be Lusitania which eminent geographers locate between the Douro and the Guadiana, in what part of Lusitania does Portugal lie?


During the reign of King John of Portugal, uncle and predecessor of King Emanuel, now happily reigning, a serious divergence existed between the Portuguese and the Spaniards concerning their discoveries. The King of Portugal claimed that he alone possessed navigation rights on the ocean, because the Portuguese had been the first since ancient times to put out on the great sea. The Castilians asserted that everything existing on the earth since God created the world is the common property of mankind, and that it is, therefore, permissible to take possession of any country not already inhabited by Christians. The discussion on this point was very involved, and it was finally decided to leave it to the arbitration of the Sovereign Pontiff. Castile was at that time governed by the great Queen Isabella, with whom was associated her husband, for Castile was her marriage portion. The Queen being cousin to King John of Portugal, an agreement between them was speedily reached. By mutual consent of both parties concerned, and by virtue of a bull, the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI., under whose pontificate this discussion took place, traced from north to south a line lying one hundred leagues outside the parallel of the Cape Verde Islands.[1] The extreme point of the continent lies on this side of that line and is called Cape San Augustin, and by the terms of the Bull the Castilians are forbidden to land on that extremity of the continent.

[Note 1: The famous bull marking the respective spheres of discovery and colonisation for Spain and Portugal was given on May 4, 1493. Its terms were revised by the two states whose claims were finally embodied in the conventions of Tordesillas, June 7, 1494, and Setubal, September 4, 1494.]

After collecting the gold given him by the natives of the fertile province of Chamba, Vincent Yanez returned from Cape San Augustin and directed his course towards a lofty mountain chain which he saw on the southern horizon. He had taken some prisoners in the Gulf of Paria, which, beyond contest, lies in the Spanish dominions. He conducted them to Hispaniola, where he delivered them to the young Admiral to be instructed in our language, and afterwards to serve as interpreters in the exploration of unknown countries. Pinzon betook himself to court and petitioned the King for authorisation to assume the title of Governor of the island of San Juan, which is only twenty-five leagues distant from Hispaniola. He based his claim upon the fact that he had been the first to discover the existence of gold in that island, which we have said in our First Decade was called by the Indians Borrichena.

The governor of Borrichena, a Portuguese named Christopher, son of Count Camigua, was massacred by the cannibals of the neighbouring islands, together with all the Christians except the bishop and his servants; the latter only succeeded in escaping, at the cost of abandoning the sacred vessels. In response to the King’s solicitation, your Apostolic Holiness had just divided this country into five new bishoprics. The Franciscan friar, Garcias de Padilla, was made Bishop of Santo Domingo, the capital of Hispaniola; the doctor Pedro Suarez Deza was appointed to Concepcion, and for the island of San Juan, the licenciate Alonzo Mauso was named; both these latter being observants of the congregation of St. Peter. The fourth bishop was the friar Bernardo de Mesa, a noble Toledan, and an orator of the Dominican Order, who was appointed for Cuba. The fifth received the holy oils from Your Holiness for the colony of Darien; he is a Franciscan, a brilliant orator, and is called Juan Cabedo.

An expedition will, for the following reason, shortly set out to punish the Caribs. After the first massacre, they returned several months later from the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz, murdered and ate a cacique who was our ally, with all his family, afterwards completely destroying his town. They alleged that this cacique had violated the laws of hospitality in his relations with several Caribs, who were boat-builders. These men had been left at San Juan to build more canoes, since that island grows lofty trees, better adapted for canoe building than are those of the island of Santa Cruz. The Caribs being still on the island, the Spaniards who arrived from Hispaniola encountered them by accident. When the interpreters had made known this recent crime, the Spaniards wished to exact satisfaction, but the cannibals, drawing their bows and aiming their sharpened arrows at them, gave it to be understood with menacing glances that they had better keep quiet unless they wished to provoke a disaster. Fearing the poisoned arrows and being likewise unprepared for fighting, our men made amicable signs. When they asked the Caribs why they had destroyed the village and murdered the cacique and his family, the latter replied that they had done so to avenge the murder of several workmen. They had collected the bones of the victims with the intention of carrying them to the widows and children of the workmen, so that the latter might understand that the murder of their husbands and fathers had not been left unavenged. They exhibited a pile of bones to the Spaniards who, shocked by this crime but forced to conceal their real sentiments, remained silent, not daring to reprove the Caribs, Similar stories which I suppress rather than offend the ears of Your Holiness by such abominable narratives, are daily repeated.

But we have strayed, O Most Holy Father, rather far from the regions of Veragua and Uraba, which are the chief themes of our discourse. Shall we not first treat of the immensity and the depth of the rivers of Uraba, and of the products of the countries washed by their waters? Shall I say nothing about the extent of the continent from east to west, or of its breadth from north to south, nor of anything that is reported concerning those regions as yet unknown? Let us return, therefore, Most Holy Father, to Uraba, and begin by stating the new names which have been given to those provinces, since they have come under the authority of Christians.


The Spaniards decided to name Veragua, _Castilla del Oro_, and Uraba, _Nueva Andalusia_. As Hispaniola had been chosen to be the capital of all the colonies of the islands, so likewise were the vast regions of Paria divided into two parts, Uraba and Veragua, where two colonies were established to serve as refuges and places of rest and reprovisionment for all those who traversed those countries.

Everything the Spaniards sowed or planted in Uraba grew marvellously well. Is this not worthy, Most Holy Father, of the highest admiration? Every kind of seed, graftings, sugar-canes, and slips of trees and plants, without speaking of the chickens and quadrupeds I have mentioned, were brought from Europe. O admirable fertility! The cucumbers and other similar vegetables sown were ready for picking in less than twenty days. Cabbages, beets, lettuces, salads, and other garden stuff were ripe within ten days; pumpkins and melons were picked twenty-eight days after the seeds were sown. The slips and sprouts, and such of our trees as we plant out in nurseries or trenches, as well as the graftings of trees similar to those in Spain, bore fruit as quickly as in Hispaniola.

The inhabitants of Darien have different kinds of fruit trees, whose varied taste and good quality answer to their needs. I would like to describe the more remarkable ones.

The _guaiana_ produces a lemon-like fruit similar to those commonly called limes. Their flavour is sharp, but they are pleasant to the taste. Nut-bearing pines are common, as are likewise various sorts of palms bearing dates larger than ours but too sour to be eaten. The cabbage palm grows everywhere, spontaneously, and is used both for food and making brooms. There is a tree called _guaranana_, larger than orange trees, and bearing a fruit about the size of a lemon; and there is another closely resembling the chestnut. The fruit of the latter is larger than a fig, and is pleasant to the taste and wholesome. The _mamei_ bears a fruit about the size of an orange which is as succulent as the best melon. The _guaranala_ bears a smaller fruit than the foregoing, but of an aromatic scent and exquisite taste. The _hovos_ bears a fruit resembling in its form and flavour our plum, though it is somewhat larger, and appears really to be the mirobolan, which grows so abundantly in Hispaniola that the pigs are fed on its fruit. When it is ripe it is in vain the swineherd seeks to keep his pigs, for they evade him and rush to the forest where these trees grow; and it is for this reason that wild swine are so numerous in Hispaniola. It is also claimed that the pork of Hispaniola has a superior taste and is more wholesome than ours; and, indeed, nobody is ignorant of the fact that diversity of foodstuffs produces firmer and more savoury meat.

The most invincible King Ferdinand relates that he has eaten another fruit brought from those countries. It is like a pine-nut in form and colour, covered with scales, and firmer than a melon. Its flavour excels all other fruits.[1] This fruit, which the King prefers to all others, does not grow upon a tree but upon a plant, similar to an artichoke or an acanthus. I myself have not tasted it, for it was the only one which had arrived unspoiled, the others having rotted during the long voyage. Spaniards who have eaten them fresh plucked where they grow, speak with the highest appreciation of their delicate flavour. There are certain roots which the natives call potatoes and which grow spontaneously.[2] The first time I saw them, I took them for Milanese turnips or huge mushrooms. No matter how they are cooked, whether roasted or boiled, they are equal to any delicacy and indeed to any food. Their skin is tougher than mushrooms or turnips, and is earth-coloured, while the inside is quite white. The natives sow and cultivate them in gardens as they do the yucca, which I have mentioned in my First Decade; and they also eat them raw. When raw they taste like green chestnuts, but are a little sweeter.

[Note 1: The pineapple.]

[Note 2: This is the first mention in literature of the potato.]

Having discoursed of trees, vegetables, and fruits, let us now come to living creatures. Besides the lions and tigers[3] and other animals which we already know, or which have been described by illustrious writers, the native forests of these countries harbour many monsters. One animal in particular has Nature created in prodigious form. It is as large as a bull, and has a trunk like an elephant; and yet it is not an elephant. Its hide is like a bull’s, and yet it is not a bull. Its hoofs resemble those of a horse, but it is not a horse. It has ears like an elephant’s, though smaller and drooping, yet they are larger than those of any other animal.[4] There is also an animal which lives in the trees, feeds upon fruits, and carries its young in a pouch in the belly; no writer as far as I know has seen it, but I have already sufficiently described it in the Decade which has already reached Your Holiness before your elevation, as it was then stolen from me to be printed.

[Note 3: It is hardly necessary to say that there were no lions or tigers in America. Jaguars, panthers, leopards, and ocelots were the most formidable beasts of prey found in the virgin forests of the New World.]

[Note 4: This puzzling animal was the tapir.]

It now remains for me to speak of the rivers of Uraba. The Darien, which is almost too narrow for the native canoes, flows into the Gulf of Uraba, and on its banks stands a village built by the Spaniards. Vasco Nunez explored the extremity of the gulf and discovered a river one league broad and of the extraordinary depth of two hundred cubits, which flows into the gulf by several mouths, just as the Danube flows into the Black Sea, or the Nile waters the land of Egypt. It is called, because of its size, Rio Grande. An immense number of huge crocodiles live in the waters of this stream, which, as we know, is the case with the Nile; particularly I, who have ascended and descended that river on my embassy to the Sultan.[5]

[Note 5: See _De Legatione Babylonica_.]

I hardly know, after reading the writings of many men remarkable for their knowledge and veracity, what to think of the Nile. It is claimed that there are really two Niles, which take their rise either in the Mountains of the Sun or of the Moon, or in the rugged Sierras of Ethiopia. The waters of these streams, whatever be their source, modify the nature of the land they traverse. One of the two flows to the north and empties into the Egyptian Sea: the other empties into the southern ocean. What conclusion shall we draw? We are not puzzled by the Nile of Egypt, and the southern Nile has been discovered by the Portuguese, who, in the course of their amazing expeditions, ventured beyond the equinoctial line into the country of the negroes, and as far as Melinde. They affirm that it rises in the Mountains of the Moon, and that it is another Nile, since crocodiles are seen there, and crocodiles only live in streams belonging to the basin of the Nile. The Portuguese have named that river Senegal. It traverses the country of the negroes, and the country on its northern banks is admirable, while that on its southern banks is sandy and arid. From time to time crocodiles are seen.

What shall we now say about this third, or in fact, this fourth Nile? These animals, covered with scales as hard as the tortoise-shell the Spaniards under Columbus found in that river, and which, as we have said, caused them to name that stream Los Lagartos, are certainly crocodiles. Shall we declare that these Niles rise in the Mountains of the Moon? Certainly not, Most Holy Father. Other waters than those of the Nile may produce crocodiles, and our recent explorers have supplied proof of this fact, for the rivers do not flow from the Mountains of the Moon, nor can they have the same source as the Egyptian Nile, or the Nile of Negricia or of Melinde; for they flow down from the mountains we have mentioned, rising between the north and south sea, and which separate the two oceans by a very small distance.

The swamps of Darien and the lands which are covered with water after the inundations, are full of pheasants, peacocks of sober colours, and many other birds different from ours. They are good to eat, and delight the ear of the listener with various songs; but the Spaniards are indifferent bird-hunters, and are neglectful in catching them. Innumerable varieties of parrots, all belonging to the same species, chatter in this forest; some of them are as large as capons, while others are no bigger than a sparrow. I have already enlarged sufficiently on the subject of parrots in my First Decade. When Columbus first explored these immense countries he brought back a large number of every kind, and everybody was able to inspect them. Others are still daily brought here.

There is still, Most Holy Father, a subject which is quite worthy to figure in history, but I would prefer to see it handled by a Cicero or a Livy than by myself. It affords me such astonishment that I feel more embarrassed in my description than a young chicken wrapped in tow. We have said that, according to the Indians, the land separating the north from the south sea can be traversed in six days. I am not a little puzzled both by the number and size of the rivers described, and by the small breadth of that stretch of land; nor do I understand how such large rivers can possibly flow down from these mountains, only three days’ march from the sea, and empty into the north ocean. I cannot understand it, for I presume that equally large rivers empty into the south sea. Doubtless the rivers of Uraba are not so important when compared with others, but the Spaniards declare that during the lifetime of Columbus they discovered and have since sailed upon a river the breadth of whose mouth, where it empties into the sea, is not less than one hundred miles. This river is on the borders of Paria, and descends with such force from the high mountains that it overwhelms the sea even at high tide or when it is swept by violent winds, driving back the waves before the fury and weight of its current. The waters of the sea for a large area round about are no longer salt but fresh, and pleasant to the taste. The Indians call this river Maragnon.[6] Other tribes give it the names Mariatambal, Camamoros, or Paricora. In addition to the rivers I have before mentioned, the Darien, Rio Grande, Dobaiba, San Matteo, Veragua, Boiogatti, Lagartos, and Gaira, there are also others which water the country. I wonder, Most Holy Father, what must be the size of these mountain caverns so near the seacoast, and, according to the Indians, so narrow, and what sources they have to enable them to send forth such torrents of water? Several explanations suggest themselves to my mind.

[Note 6: Just which river is meant is not clear. The description would seem to fit the Orinoco, but Maragnon is the native name for the Amazon. This last name is given exclusively to the upper part of the river in the Peruvian territory.]

The first is the size of the mountains. It is claimed that they are very great and this was the opinion of Columbus, who discovered them. He had also another theory, asserting that the terrestrial paradise was situated on the top of the mountains visible from Paria and Boca de la Sierpe. He ended by convincing himself that this was a fact. If these mountains are so immense, they must contain extensive and gigantic reservoirs.

If such be the case, how are these reservoirs supplied with water? Is it true, as many people think, that all fresh waters flow from the sea into the land, where they are forced by the terrible power of the waves into subterranean passages of the earth, just as we see it pour forth from those same channels to flow again into the ocean?

This may well be the explanation of the phenomenon, since, if the reports of the natives be true, nowhere else will two seas, separated by such a small extent of land, ever be found. On the one side a vast ocean extends towards the setting sun; on the other lies an ocean towards the rising sun; and the latter is just as large as the former, for it is believed that it mingles with the Indian Ocean. If this theory be true, the continent, bounded by such an extent of water, must necessarily absorb immense quantities, and after taking it up, must send it forth into the sea in the form of rivers. If we deny that the continent absorbs the excess of water from the ocean, and admit that all springs derive their supply from the rainfall which filters drop by drop into mountain reservoirs, we do so, bowing rather to the superior authority of those who hold this opinion, than because our reason grasps this theory.

I share the view that the clouds are converted into water, which is absorbed into the mountain caverns, for I have seen with my own eyes in Spain, rain falling drop by drop incessantly into caverns from whence brooks flowed down the mountainside, watering the olive orchards, vineyards and gardens of all kinds. The most illustrious Cardinal Ludovico of Aragon, who is so devotedly attached to you, and two Italian bishops, one of Boviano, Silvio Pandono, and the other, an Archbishop whose own name and that of his diocese I am unable to recollect, will bear me witness. We were together at Granada when it was captured from the Moors, and to divert ourselves we used to go to some wooded hills, whence a murmuring rivulet flowed across the plain. While our most illustrious Ludovico went bird-hunting with his bow along its banks, the two bishops and I formed a plan to ascend the hill to discover the source of the brook, for we were not very far from the top of the mountain. Taking up our soutanes, therefore, and following the river-bed, we found a cavern incessantly supplied by dropping water. From this cavern, the water formed by these drops trickled into an artificial reservoir in the rocks at the bottom where the rivulet formed. Another such cave filled by the dew is in the celebrated town of Valladolid, where we at present reside. It stands in a vineyard not farther than a stadium from the walls of the town and belongs to a lawyer, Villena, citizen of Valladolid, and very learned in the science of law. Perhaps moisture changed into rain is collected in little caves in the rocks and sometimes forms springs, due to the infiltration of water in the hills; but I wonder how Nature can produce such quantities of water from these meagre infiltrations! In my opinion, two causes may be conceded: the first is the frequent rains; the second, the length in this region of the winter and autumn seasons. The countries in question are so near to the equinoctial line that during the entire year there is no perceptible difference in length between the days and nights; during the spring and autumn, rains are more frequent than in a severe winter or torrid summer. Another reason is: if the earth really is porous, and these pores emit vapours which form clouds charged with water, it will necessarily follow that this continent must have a greater rainfall than any other country in the world, because it is narrow and shut in on each side by two immense neighbouring oceans. However it may be, Most Holy Father, I am quite obliged to believe the reports of the numerous persons who have visited the country, and I must record these particulars even though they appear for the most part contrary to truth. For this reason I have desired to expose my arguments, fearing that learned men, rejoicing to find occasion for attacking the writings of another, may judge me so wanting in judgment as to believe all the tales people tell me.

I have described the great estuary formed by the junction of this immense volume of fresh water with the sea, and I believe this to be the result of the union of a number of rivers coming together in the form of a lake, rather than a river, as is claimed. I also think the fresh water rushes down from very high mountains, and pours into the salt waters beneath, with such violence that the sea-water cannot penetrate unto the bay. Doubtless there will be found people who will express astonishment at my imagination, and throw ridicule on me, saying, “Why does he repeat this, as though it were a miracle? Has not Italy the Po, which illustrious writers have named the king of rivers? Are not other regions watered by great rivers, such as the Don, the Ganges, the Danube, whose waters drive back those of the sea with such force that fresh, potable water is still found forty miles from their mouths?” I would answer their objections as follows: in the Alpine chain rising behind the Po and separating Italy from France, Germany, and Austria, water never fails. The long valley of the Po also receives the waters of the Ticino and many other streams flowing towards the Adriatic; and the same may be said of the other rivers mentioned. But these rivers of the new continent, as the caciques informed the Spaniards, flow through greater and shorter channels into the ocean. Some people believe that the continent is very narrow in this part, and that it spreads; out considerably in other places. Another argument, which I hold to be a poor one, I must nevertheless mention. This continent is narrow, but its length extends for an immense distance from the east to the west. Just as is recounted of the river Alpheus of Elide, which disappears in channels under the sea to reappear in Sicily at the fountain of Arethusa, so there may exist in the mountains of this continent a vast network of subterranean passages in such wise that the waters produced by the rains we have mentioned may be collected. Those who explain phenomena by common sense, and those who enjoy criticism may choose the theory which best pleases them. For the moment there is nothing more I can add on this subject. When we shall learn more, we shall faithfully relate it. We have already dwelt sufficiently upon the width of this continent, and it is now time to consider its form and length.


This continent extends into the sea exactly like Italy, but is dissimilar in that it is not the shape of a human leg. Moreover, why shall we compare a pigmy with a giant? That part of the continent beginning at this eastern point lying towards Atlas, which the Spaniards have explored, is at least eight times larger than Italy; and its western coast has not yet been discovered. Your Holiness may wish to know upon what my estimate of _eight times_ is based. From the outset when I resolved to obey your commands and to write a report of these events, in Latin (though myself no Latin) I have adopted precautions to avoid stating anything which was not fully investigated.

I addressed myself to the Bishop of Burgos whom I have already mentioned, and to whom all navigators report. Seated in his room, we examined numerous reports of those expeditions, and we have likewise studied the terrestrial globe on which the discoveries are indicated, and also many parchments, called by the explorers navigators’ charts. One of these maps had been drawn by the Portuguese, and it is claimed that Amerigo Vespucci of Florence assisted in its composition. He is very skilled in this art, and has himself gone many degrees beyond the equinoctial line, sailing in the Service and at the expense of the Portuguese. According to this chart, we found the continent was larger than the caciques of Uraba told our compatriots, when guiding them over the mountains. Columbus, during his lifetime, began another map while exploring these regions, and his brother, Bartholomew Columbus, Adelantado of Hispaniola, who has also sailed along these coasts, supported this opinion by his own judgment. From thenceforth, every Spaniard who thought he understood the science of computing measurements, has drawn his own map; the most valuable of these maps are those made by the famous Juan de la Cosa, companion of Hojeda, who was murdered, together with the ship’s captain, Andre Moranes, by the natives of Caramaira, near the port of Carthagena, as we have already recounted. Both these men not only possessed great experience of these regions, where they were as well acquainted with every bit of the coast as with the rooms of their own houses, but they were likewise reputed to be experts in naval cosmography. When all these maps were spread out before us, and upon each a scale was marked in the Spanish fashion, not in miles but in leagues, we set to work to measure the coasts with a compass, in the following order:

From the cape or point[1] we have mentioned as being on this side of the Portuguese line drawn one hundred leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, in the countries thus far visited on both sides of that line, we measured three hundred leagues to the mouth of the Maragnon River. From the mouth of this river to Boca de la Sierpe the distance on some maps is a little less than seven hundred leagues, for all these charts do not agree, since the Spaniards sometimes reckoned by marine leagues of four thousand paces, and sometimes by land leagues of three thousand paces. From Boca de la Sierpe to Cape Cuchibacoa, near which the coast line bends to the left, we measured about three thousand leagues. From the promontory of Cuchibacoa to the region of Caramaira, where the port of Carthagena is, the distance is about one hundred and seventy leagues. From Caramaira to the island of La Fuerte it is fifty leagues, after which, to the entrance of the Gulf of Uraba where the village of Santa Maria Antigua actually stands, it is only thirty-five leagues. Between Darien in Uraba, and Veragua where Nicuesa would have settled, but that the gods decided otherwise, we measured the distance to be one hundred and thirty leagues. From Veragua to the river named by Columbus, San Matteo, on whose banks Nicuesa wasted so much time and suffered such hardships after losing his caravel, the map showed only one hundred and forty leagues, but many of the men who have returned from there say the distance is really considerably greater. Many rivers are indicated just there: for example, the Aburema, before which lies the island called the Scudo di Cateba–whose cacique was nicknamed Burnt Face: the Zobrabaoe–the Urida, and the Doraba with rich gold deposits. Many remarkable ports are also marked on that coast; among them Cesabaron and Hiebra, as they are called by the natives. Adding these figures together, Most Holy Father, you will reach a total of fifteen hundred and twenty-five leagues or five thousand seven hundred miles from the cape to the Gulf of San Matteo, which is also called the Gulf of Perdidos.

[Note 1: The most eastern cape on the Brazil coast is Cape San Rocco.]

But this is not all. A certain Asturian of Oviedo, Juan de Solis,[2] but who declares that he was born at Nebrissa, the country of illustrious savants, asserts that he sailed westward from San Matteo a distance of many leagues. As the coast, bends towards the north, it is consequently difficult to give exact figures, but three hundred leagues may be approximately estimated. From the foregoing you may perceive, Most Holy Father, the length of the continent over which your authority is destined to extend. Some day we shall doubtless clearly understand its width.

[Note 2: This pilot and cosmographer has already been mentioned. In 1515 he was commissioned to explore the coast south of Brazil, but, as has been related, he was unfortunately killed during that expedition. To just what voyage Peter Martyr here refers is not quite clear.]

Let us now discourse a little concerning the variety of polar degrees. Although this continent extends from east to west, it is nevertheless so crooked, with its point bending so much to the south, that it loses sight of the polar star, and extends seven degrees beyond the equinoctial line. This extremity of the continent is, as we have already said, within the limits of Portuguese jurisdiction. In returning from that extremity towards Paria, the north star again becomes visible; the farther the country extends towards the west, the nearer does it approach the pole. The Spaniards made different calculations up to the time when they were established at Darien, where they founded their principal colony; for they abandoned Veragua, where the north star stood eight degrees above the horizon. Beyond Veragua the coast bends in a northerly direction, to a point opposite the Pillars of Hercules; that is, if we accept for our measures certain lands discovered by the Spaniards more than three hundred and twenty-five leagues from the northern coast of Hispaniola. Amongst these countries is an island called by us Boinca, and by others Aganeo; it is celebrated for a spring whose waters restore youth to old men.[3] Let not Your Holiness believe this to be a hasty or foolish opinion, for the story has been most seriously told to all the court, and made such an impression that the entire populace, and even people superior by birth and influence, accepted it as a proven fact. If you ask me my opinion on this matter, I will answer that I do not believe any such power exists in creative nature, for I think that God reserves to himself this prerogative, as well as that of reading the hearts of men, or of granting wealth to those who have nothing; unless, that is to say, we are prepared to believe the Colchian fable concerning the renewal of AEson and the researches of the sibyl of Erythraea.

[Note 3: The reference is to the fabulous waters of eternal youth in quest of which Juan Ponce de Leon set forth. The country is Florida.]

We have now discoursed sufficiently of the length and the breadth of this continent, of its rugged mountains and watercourses, as well of its different regions.

It seems to me I should not omit mention of the misfortunes that have overtaken some of our compatriots. When I was a child, my whole being quivered and I was stirred with pity in thinking of Virgil’s Alchimenides who, abandoned by Ulysses in the land of the Cyclops, sustained life during the period between the departure of Ulysses and the arrival of AEneas, upon berries and seeds. The Spaniards of Nicuesa’s colony of Veragua would certainly have esteemed berries and seeds delicious eating. Is it necessary to quote as an extraordinary fact that an ass’s head was bought for a high price? Why do many such things, similar to those endured during a siege, matter? When Nicuesa decided to abandon this sterile and desolate country of Veragua, he landed at Porto Bello and on the coast which has since been named Cape Marmor, hoping to there find a more fertile soil. But such a terrible famine overtook his companions that they did not shrink from eating the carcasses of mangy dogs they had brought with them for hunting and as watch-dogs. These dogs were of great use to them in fighting with the Indians. They even ate the dead bodies of massacred Indians, for in that country there are no fruit-trees nor birds as in Darien, which explains why it is destitute of inhabitants. Some of them combined to buy an emaciated, starving dog, paying its owner a number of golden pesos or castellanos. They skinned the dog and ate him, throwing his mangy hide and head into the neighbouring bushes. On the following day a Spanish foot-soldier finding the skin, which was already swarming with worms and half putrid, carried it away with him. He cleaned off the worms and, after cooking the skin in, a pot, he ate it. A number of his companions came with their bowls to share the soup made from that skin, each offering a castellano of gold for a spoonful of soup. A Castilian who caught two toads cooked them, and a man who was ill bought them for food, paying two shirts of linen and spun gold which were worth quite six castellanos. One day the dead body of an Indian who had been killed by the Spaniards was found on the plain, and although it was already putrefying, they secretly cut it into bits which they afterwards boiled or roasted, assuaging their hunger with that meat as though it were peacock. During several days a Spaniard, who had left camp at night and lost his way amongst the swamps, ate such vegetation as is found in marshes. He finally succeeded in rejoining his companions, crawling along the ground and half dead. Such are the sufferings which these wretched colonists of Veragua endured.

At the beginning there were over seven hundred, and when they joined the colonists at Darien hardly more than forty remained. Few had perished in fighting with the Indians; it was hunger that had exhausted and killed them. With their blood they paved the way for those who follow, and settle in those new countries. Compared with these people, the Spaniards under Nicuesa’s leadership would seem to be bidden to nuptial festivities, for they set out by roads, which are both new and secure, towards unexplored countries where they will find inhabitants and harvests awaiting them. We are still ignorant where the captain Pedro Arias, commanding the royal fleet,[4] has landed; if I learn that it will afford Your Holiness pleasure, I shall faithfully report the continuation of events.

[Note 4: This Decade was written towards the end of the year 1514, but although Pedro Arias had landed on June 29th, no news of his movements had yet reached Spain. The slowness and uncertainty of communication must be constantly borne in mind by readers.]

From the Court of the Catholic King, the eve of the nones of December, 1514, Anno Domini.

The Third Decade



I had closed the doors of the New World, Most Holy Father, for it seemed to me I had wandered enough in those regions, when I received fresh letters which constrained me to reopen those doors and resume my pen. I have already related that after expelling the Captain Nicuesa and the judge Enciso from the colony of Darien, Vasco Nunez, with the connivance of his companions, usurped the government. We have received letters[1] both from him and from several of his companions, written in military style, and informing us that he had crossed the mountain-chain dividing our ocean from the hitherto unknown south sea. No letter from Capri concerning Sejanus was ever written in prouder language. I shall only report the events related in that correspondence which are worthy of mention.

[Note 1: Two of Balboa’s letters are published by Navarrete (tom, iii.,) and may also be read in a French translation made by Gaffarel and published in his work, _Vasco Nunez de Balboa_.]

Not only is Vasco Nunez reconciled to the Catholic King, who was formerly vexed with him, but he now enjoys the highest favour. For the King has loaded him and the majority of his men with privileges and honours, and has rewarded their daring exploits.[2] May Your Holiness lend an attentive ear to us and listen with serene brow and joyful heart to our narration, for it is not a few hundreds or legions that the Spanish nation has conquered and brought into subjection to your sacred throne but, thanks to their various achievements and the thousand dangers to which they expose themselves, myriads who have been subdued.

[Note 2: Balboa had been named Adelantado of the South Sea, and of the Panama and Coiba regions. Pedro Arias was also enjoined to counsel with him concerning all measures of importance.]

Vasco Nunez ill endured inaction, for his is an ardent nature, impatient of repose, and perhaps he feared that another might rob him of the honour of the discovery, for it is believed that he had learned of the appointment given to Pedro Arias.[3] It may well be that to these two motives was added fear, knowing the King was vexed with his conduct in the past. At all events he formed the plan to undertake, with a handful of men, the conquest of the country for whose subjection the son of the cacique of Comogra declared not less than a thousand soldiers to be necessary. He summoned around him some veterans of Darien and the majority of those who had come from Hispaniola in the hope of finding gold, thus forming a small troop of a hundred and ninety men, with whom he set out on the calends of September of the past year, 1513.

[Note 3: This was the case; his friend Zamudio had notified Balboa of the appointment of Pedro Arias.]

Desiring to accomplish as much of the journey as possible by sea, he embarked on a brigantine and ten native barques dug out of tree trunks, and first landed in the country of his ally Careca, cacique of Coiba. Leaving his ships, he implored the divine blessing upon his undertaking and marched directly towards the mountains. He traversed the country subject to the cacique Poncha, who fled, as he had done on other occasions. Acting on the advice of the guides furnished by Careca, Vasco sent messengers to Poncha, promising his friendship and protection against his enemies, and other advantages. The cacique, won by these promises and amiabilities and by those of the people of Careca, joined the Spaniards, and with great alacrity concluded an alliance with them. Vasco entreated him to have no further fears. They shook hands and embraced and exchanged numerous presents, Poncha giving about one hundred and ten pesos of gold valued at a castellano each; this was not a large amount, but he had been robbed the preceding year, as we have above related.

Not to be outdone, Vasco made him a present of some glass beads, strung in the form of necklaces and bracelets; also some mirrors, copper bells, and similar European trifles. The natives cherish these things highly, for whatever comes from abroad is everywhere most prized. Vasco pleased them still further by presenting them with some iron hatchets for cutting down trees. There is no instrument the natives appreciate so much, for they have no iron, nor any other metals than gold; and they have great difficulty in cutting wood for the construction of their houses or their canoes without iron. They do all their carpenter work with tools of sharp stone, which they find in the rivers.

Thenceforth Poncha became his ally, and Vasco Nunez, having no further fear of danger from behind, led his men towards the mountain. Poncha had supplied him with guides and bearers who went on ahead and opened the trail. They passed through inaccessible defiles inhabited by ferocious beasts, and they climbed steep mountains.

Communication amongst the natives is infrequent, for naked men who have no money have very few wants. Whatever trading they do is with their neighbours, and they exchange gold for ornaments or useful articles. It follows, therefore, as practically no communication exists, there are no roads. Their scouts are familiar with hidden trails, which they use to make ambuscades or night forays or to massacre and enslave their neighbours. Thanks to Poncha’s men and the labours of the bearers, Vasco scaled rugged mountains, crossed several large rivers, either by means of improvised bridges or by throwing beams from one bank to another, and always succeeded in keeping his men in health. Rather than become wearisome and incur the reproach of prolixity, I make no mention of some of the trials and fatigues they endured, but I judge that I should not omit to report what took place between them and the caciques whom they encountered on their march.

Before reaching the summit of the mountain-chain, the Spaniards traversed the province of Quarequa, of which the ruler, who bears the same name, came to meet them; as is customary in that country, he was armed with bows and arrows, and heavy, two-handed swords of wood. They also carry sticks with burnt points, which they throw with great skill. Quarequa’s reception was haughty and hostile, his disposition being to oppose the advance of such a numerous army. He asked where the Spaniards were going and what they wanted, and in reply to the interpreter’s answer, he responded: “Let them retrace their steps, if they do not wish to be killed to the last man.” He stepped out in front of his men, dressed, as were all his chiefs, while the rest of his people were naked. He attacked the Spaniards who did not yield; nor was the battle prolonged, for their musket-fire convinced the natives that they commanded the thunder and lightning. Unable to face the arrows of our archers, they turned and fled, and the Spaniards cut off the arm of one, the leg or hip of another, and from some their heads at one stroke, like butchers cutting up beef and mutton for market. Six hundred, including the cacique, were thus slain like brute beasts.

Vasco discovered that the village of Quarequa was stained by the foulest vice. The king’s brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbours shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs. The Spaniards commonly used their dogs in fighting against these naked people, and the dogs threw themselves upon them as though they were wild boars or timid deer. The Spaniards found these animals as ready to share their dangers as did the people of Colophon or Castabara, who trained cohorts of dogs for war; for the dogs were always in the lead and never shirked a fight.

When the natives learned how severely Vasco had treated those shameless men, they pressed about him as though he were Hercules, and spitting upon those whom they suspected to be guilty of this vice, they begged him to exterminate them, for the contagion was confined to the courtiers and had not yet spread to the people. Raising their eyes and their hands to heaven, they gave it to be understood that God held this sin in horror, punishing it by sending lightning and thunder, and frequent inundations which destroyed the crops. It was like wise the cause of famine and sickness.

The natives worship no other god than the sun, who is the master and alone worthy of honour. Nevertheless, they accepted instruction and they will rapidly adopt our religion when zealous teachers come to instruct them. Their language contains nothing rough or difficult to understand, and all the words of their vocabulary may be translated and written in Latin letters, as we have already said was the case in Hispaniola. They are a warlike race, and have always been troublesome neighbours. The country is neither rich in gold mines, nor does it possess a fertile soil, being mountainous and arid. Because of its precipitous mountains the temperature is cold, and the chiefs wear clothes, but the bulk of the people are content to live in a state of nature. The Spaniards found negro slaves in this province.[4] They only live in a region one day’s march from Quarequa, and they are fierce and cruel. It is thought that negro pirates of Ethiopia established themselves after the wreck of their ships in these mountains. The natives of Quarequa carry on incessant war with these negroes. Massacre or slavery is the alternate fortune of the two peoples.

[Note 4: This mysterious fact has been asserted by too many authors to be refused credence. The author’s explanation of the existence of these Africans in America is possibly the correct one.]

Leaving some of his companions who had fallen ill from the incessant fatigue and hardships to which they were not inured, at Quarequa, Vasco, led by native guides, marched towards the summit of the mountain-chain.[5]

[Note 5: On September 26, 1513; the men who accompanied him numbered sixty-six.]

From the village of Poncha to the spot where the southern ocean is visible is a six days’ ordinary march, but he only covered the distance in twenty-five days, after many adventures and great privations. On the seventh day of the calends of October, a Quarequa guide showed him a peak from the summit of which the southern ocean is visible. Vasco looked longingly at it. He commanded a halt, and went alone to scale the peak, being the first to reach its top. Kneeling upon the ground, he raised his hands to heaven and saluted the south sea; according to his account, he gave thanks to God and to all the saints for having reserved this glory for him, an ordinary man, devoid alike of experience and authority. Concluding his prayers in military fashion, he waved his hand to some of his companions, and showed them the object of their desires. Kneeling again, he prayed the Heavenly Mediator, and especially the Virgin Mother of God, to favour his expedition and to allow him to explore the region that stretched below him. All his companions, shouting for joy, did likewise. Prouder than Hannibal showing Italy and the Alps to his soldiers, Vasco Nunez promised great riches to his men. “Behold the much-desired ocean! Behold! all ye men, who have shared such efforts, behold the country of which the son of Comogre and other natives told us such wonders!” As a symbol of possession he built a heap of stones in the form of an altar, and that posterity might not accuse them of falsehood, they inscribed the name of the King of Castile here and there on the tree trunks on both slopes of that summit, erecting several heaps of stones.[6]

[Note 6: In conformity with Spanish usage, a notary, Andres Valderrabano, drew up a statement witnessing the discovery, which was signed, first by Balboa, next by the priest, Andres de Vera, and by all the others, finishing with the notary himself.]

Finally the Spaniards arrived at the residence of a cacique called Chiapes. This chief, fully armed and accompanied by a multitude of his people, advanced menacingly, determined not only to block their way but to prevent them crossing his frontier. Although the Christians were few they closed up their ranks and marched towards the enemy, discharging their guns and unleashing a pack of hounds against Chiapes. The sound of the cannon reverberated amongst the mountains, and the smoke from the powder seemed to dart forth flames; and when the Indians smelt the sulphur which the wind blew towards them, they fled in a panic, throwing themselves on the ground in terror, convinced that lightning had struck them. While lying on the ground or wildly scattering, the Spaniards approached them with closed ranks and in good order. In the pursuit they killed some and took the greater number prisoners. It was their original intention to treat those Indians kindly and to explore their country in an amicable manner. Vasco took possession of the house of Chiapes, and seized most of those who had been captured while attempting to escape. He sent several of them to invite their cacique to return; they were told to promise him peace, friendship, and kind treatment, but if he did not come, it would mean his ruin and the destruction of his people and country.

In order to convince Chiapes of his sincerity, Vasco Nunez sent with his messengers some of the natives of Quarequa, who were serving him as guides. These latter spoke to him in their own name and that of their cacique, and Chiapes, allowing himself to be persuaded by their arguments and the entreaties of his own subjects, confided in the promise made to him. Leaving his hiding-place, he returned to the Spaniards, where a friendly agreement was made, hand-clasps and mutual vows exchanged, the alliance being confirmed by reciprocal presents. Vasco received four hundred pesos of wrought gold from Chiapes. We have remarked that a peso was equal to rather more than thirty ducats. The cacique received a number of articles of European manufacture, and the greatest mutual satisfaction prevailed. A halt of several days was decided upon, to await the arrival of the Spaniards who had been left behind.

Dismissing the people of Quarequa with some gifts, the Spaniards, under the guidance of the people of Chiapes and accompanied by the cacique himself, made the descent from the mountain-ridge to the shores of the much-desired ocean in four days. Great was their joy; and in the presence of the natives they took possession, in the name of the King of Castile, of all that sea and the countries bordering on it.

Vasco left some of his men with Chiapes, that he might be freer to explore the country. He borrowed from the cacique nine of those barques dug out of single tree trunks, which the natives call _culches_; and accompanied by eighty of his own men and guided by Chiapes, he sailed on a large river which led him to the territory of another cacique called Coquera. This chief, like the others, wished at first to resist and drive out the Spaniards. His attempt was vain, and he was conquered and put to flight. Acting upon the counsel of Chiapes, Coquera returned, for the envoys sent by the latter spoke to him thus: “These strangers are invincible. If you treat them kindly, they are amiable, but if you resist them, they turn hard and cruel. If you become their friend, they promise assistance, protection, and peace, as you may see from our own case and that of the neighbouring caciques; but if you refuse their friendship, then prepare for ruin and death.”

Convinced by these representations, Coquera gave the Spaniards six hundred and fifty pesos of wrought gold, receiving the usual presents in exchange. It was the same treatment that had been extended to Poncha.

After concluding peace with Coquera, Vasco returned to the country of Chiapes. He reviewed his soldiers, took some rest, and then resolved to visit a large gulf in the neighbourhood. According to the report of the natives, the length of this gulf, from the place where it penetrates into the country to its most distant shores, is sixty miles. It is dotted with islands and reefs, and Vasco named it San Miguel. Taking the nine barques he had borrowed from Chiapes, in which he had already crossed the river, he embarked with eighty of his companions, all at that time in good health. Chiapes did his best to discourage this enterprise, counselling Vasco on no account to risk himself in the gulf at that period of the year, as during three months it is so tempestuous that navigation becomes impossible. He himself had seen many culches swept away by the raging waves. Vasco Nunez, unwilling to incur delay, affirmed that God and all the heavenly host favoured his enterprise, and that he was labouring for God, and to propagate the Christian religion, and to discover treasures to serve as the sinews of war against the enemies of the Faith. After pronouncing a brilliant discourse, he persuaded his companions to embark in the canoes of Chiapes. The latter, wishing to remove the last doubt from the mind of Vasco Nunez, declared he was ready to accompany him anywhere, and that he would act as his guide, for he would not permit the Spaniards to leave his territory under other escort than his own.

Hardly had the Spaniards reached the open sea in their canoes than they were overtaken by such a violent tempest that they knew not whither to steer, nor where to find refuge. Trembling and frightened, they looked at one another, while Chiapes and the Indians were even more alarmed, for they knew the dangers of such navigation and had often witnessed wrecks. They survived the peril and, after fastening their canoes to rocks along the shore, they took refuge on a neighbouring island. But during the night, the tide rose and covered nearly the whole of it. At high tide the south sea rises to such an extent that many immense rocks which rise above low water are then covered by the waves. In the north sea, however, according to the unanimous testimony of those who inhabit its banks, the tide recedes hardly a cubit from the shore. The inhabitants of Hispaniola and the neighbouring islands confirm this fact.

When the coast was left dry, the Spaniards returned to their culches, but were dumfounded to find all of them damaged and filled with sand. Though dug out of tree trunks some were broken and split open, the cables that had held them having been snapped. To repair them they used moss, bark, some very tough marine plants and grasses. Looking like shipwrecked men and almost dead with hunger (for the storm had swept away almost all their stores), they set out to return. The natives say that at all times of the year the incoming and the outgoing tides fill the islands of the gulf with a frightful roaring sound; but that this principally happens during the three months indicated by Chiapes, and which correspond to October, November, and December. It was just within the month of October and, according to the cacique, it was under that and the two following moons that the tempest prevailed.

After devoting some days to rest, Vasco Nunez crossed the territory of another unimportant cacique and entered the country of a second, called Tumaco, whose authority extended along the gulf coast. Tumaco, following the example of his colleagues, took up arms; but his resistance was equally vain. Conquered and put to flight, all of his subjects who resisted were massacred. The others were spared, for the Spaniards preferred to have peaceful and amicable relations with those tribes.

Tumaco was wanted, and the envoys of Chiapes urged him to come back without fear, but neither promises nor threats moved him. Having inspired him with fears for his own life, extermination for his family, and ruin for his town, if he held out, the cacique decided to send his son to the Spaniards. After presenting this young man with a robe and other similar gifts, Vasco sent him back, begging him to inform his father of the resources and bravery of the strangers.

Tumaco was touched by the kindness shown to his son, and three days later he appeared; he brought no present at first, but in obedience to his orders, his attendants gave six hundred and fourteen pesos of gold and two hundred and forty selected pearls and a quantity of smaller ones. These pearls excited the unending admiration of the Spaniards, though they are not of the finest quality, because the natives cook the shells before extracting them, in order to do so more easily, and that the flesh of the oyster may be more palatable. This viand is very much esteemed and is reserved for the caciques, who prize it more than they do the pearls themselves; at least this is the report of a certain Biscayan, Arbolazzo, one of Vasco Nunez’s companions, who was afterwards sent to our sovereign with pearl oysters. One must believe eye-witnesses.[7]

[Note 7: Arbolazzo’s mission was successful in completely appeasing King Ferdinand’s vexation and obtaining from him Balboa’s nomination as Adelantado, and other privileges and favours for the participators in the discoveries.]

Observing that the Spaniards attached great value to pearls, Tumaco ordered some of his men to prepare to dive for some. They obeyed, and four days later came back bringing four pounds of pearls. This caused the liveliest satisfaction, and everybody embraced with effusion. Balboa was delighted with the presents he had received, and Tumaco was satisfied to have cemented the alliance. The mouths of the Spaniards fairly watered with satisfaction as they talked about this great wealth.

The cacique Chiapes, who had accompanied them and was present during these events, was also well satisfied, chiefly because it was under his leadership the Spaniards had undertaken such a profitable enterprise, and also because he had been enabled to show his more powerful neighbour, who perhaps was not agreeable to him, what valiant friends he possessed. He thought the Spanish alliance would be very useful to him, for all these naked savages cherish an inveterate hatred of each other and are consumed with ambition.

Vasco Nunez flattered himself that he had learned many secrets concerning the wealth of the country from Tumaco, but declared that he would, for the moment, keep them exclusively to himself, for they were the cacique’s gift to him. According to the report of the Spaniards, Tumaco and Chiapes said there was an island much larger than the others in the gulf, governed by a single cacique. Whenever the sea was calm, this cacique attacked their territories with an imposing fleet of canoes, and carried off everything he found. This island is about twenty miles distant from the shore, and from the hilltops of the continent its coasts were visible. It is said that shells as big as fans are found on its shores, from which pearls, sometimes the size of a bean or an olive, are taken. Cleopatra would have been proud to own such. Although this island is near to the shore, it extends beyond the mouth of the gulf, out into the open sea. Vasco was glad to hear these particulars, and perceived the profit he might derive. In order to attach the two caciques more closely to his interest and to convert them into allies, he denounced the chieftain of the island, with direful threats. He pledged himself to land there and to conquer, exterminate, and massacre the cacique. To give effect to his words, he ordered the canoes to be prepared, but both Chiapes and Tumaco amicably urged him to postpone this enterprise until the return of fair weather, as no canoe could ride the sea at that season of the year.

This was in November when storms and hurricanes prevail. The coasts of the island are inhospitable, and among the channels separating different islands is heard the horrible roaring of the waves battling with one another. The rivers overflow their beds, and, rushing down the mountain slopes, tear up the rocks and huge trees, and pour into the sea with unparallelled uproar. Raging winds from the south and southwest prevailing at that season, accompanied by perpetual thunder and lightning, sweep over and destroy the houses. Whenever the weather was clear, the nights were cold, but during the day the heat was insufferable. Nor is this astonishing, for this region is near the equator, and the pole star is no longer visible. In that country the icy temperature during the night is due to the moon and other planets, while the sun and its satellites cause the heat during the day. Such were not the opinions of the ancients, who imagined that the equinoctial circle was devoid of inhabitants because of the perpendicular rays of the sun. Some few authors, whose theories the Portuguese have shown by experience to be correct, dissented from this view. Each year the Portuguese arrive at the antartic antipodes, and carry on commerce with those people. I say the antipodes; yet I am not ignorant that there are learned men, most illustrious for their genius and their science, amongst whom there are some saints who deny the existence of the antipodes. No one man can know everything. The Portuguese have gone beyond the fifty-fifth degree of the other Pole, where, in sailing about the point, they could see throughout the heavenly vault certain nebulae, similar to the Milky Way, in which rays of light shone. They say there is no notable fixed star near that Pole, similar to the one in our hemisphere, vulgarly believed to be the Pole, and which is called in Italy _tramontane_, in Spain the North Star. From the world’s axis in the centre of the sign of the Scales, the sun, when it sets for us rises for them, and when it is springtime there, it is autumn with us, and summer there when we have winter. But enough of this digression, and let us resume our subject.


Influenced by the advice of the caciques Chiapes and Tumaco, Vasco Nunez decided to postpone his visit to the island until spring or summer, at which time Chiapes offered to accompany him. Meanwhile he understood the caciques had nets near the coasts where they fished for pearl oysters. The caciques have skilful divers trained from infancy to this profession, and who dive for these oysters as though in fish-ponds, but they only do so when the sea is calm and the water low, which renders diving easier. The larger the shells the more deeply are they embedded. The oysters of ordinary size, like daughters of the others, lie nearer the surface, while the little ones, like grandchildren, are still nearer. It is necessary to dive three and sometimes even four times a man’s height to find the more deeply embedded shells; but to get the daughters and grandchildren it is not required to go deeper than the waist and sometimes even less. It sometimes happens, after heavy storms when the sea calms down, that a multitude of these shells, torn by the waves from their beds, are deposited on the shore, but this sort only contains very small pearls. The meat of these bivalves, like that of our oysters, is good to eat, and it is even claimed their flavour is more delicate. I suspect that hunger, which is the best sauce for every dish, has induced this opinion among our compatriots.

Are pearls, as Aristotle states, the heart of the shells, or are they rather, as Pliny says, the product of the intestines and really the excrement of these animals? Do oysters pass their whole life attached to the same rock, or do they move through the sea in numbers, under the leadership of older ones? Does one shell produce one or many pearls? Is there but one growth, or is such growth ever repeated? Must one have a rake to detach them, or are they gathered without trouble? Are pearls in a soft or hard state when they enter the shell? These are problems which we have not yet solved, but I hope that I may some day enlighten my doubts on this subject, for our compatriots possess means for studying these questions. As soon as I am informed of the landing of the captain, Pedro Arias, I shall write and ask him to make a serious inquiry concerning these points, and to send me the precise results he obtains. I know he will do this, for he is my friend. Is it not really absurd to keep silence about a subject interesting to men and women both in ancient times and in our own, and which inflames everybody with such immoderate desires? Spain may henceforth satisfy the desires of a Cleopatra or an AEsop for pearls. No one will henceforth rage against or envy the riches of Stoides[1] or Ceylon, of the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea. But let us come back to our subject.

[Note 1: Pliny mentions this island, off the coast of Macedonia, as having pearl fisheries.]

Vasco determined to have that part of the sea where Chiapes obtained his pearls explored by swimmers. Although the weather was bad and a storm threatened, the cacique, to please him, ordered thirty of his divers to repair to the oyster beds. Vasco set six of his companions to watch the divers, but without leaving the shore or exposing themselves to risk from the storm. The men set out together for the shore, which was not more than ten miles from the residence of Chiapes. Although the divers did not venture to the bottom of the ocean, because of the danger from the storm, nevertheless they succeeded in gathering, in a few days, six loads of pearls,[2] including the shells gathered near the surface or strewn by the violence of the storm on the sands. They fed greedily on the flesh of these animals. The pearls found were not larger than a lentil or a little pea, but they had a beautiful orient, for they had been taken out while the animal was still alive. Not to be accused of exaggeration concerning the size of these shells, the Spaniards sent the King some remarkable specimens, from which the meat had been removed, at the same time as the pearls. It does not seem possible that shells of such size should be found anywhere. These shells and the gold which has been found pretty much everywhere are proof that Nature conceals vast treasures in this country, though thus far the exploration covered, so to speak, the little finger of a pigmy, since all that is known is the neighbourhood of Uraba. What it will be when the whole hand of the giant is known and the Spaniards shall have penetrated into all the profound and mysterious parts of the continent, no man can say.

[Note 2: _Sex attulerunt sarcinas brevi dierum numero_. The word _sarcinas_ as an expression of measure is vague.]

Happy and satisfied with these discoveries, Vasco decided to return by another route to his companions at Darien, who were gold-mining about ten miles from their village. He dismissed Chiapes, charging him to come no farther and to take good care of himself. They embraced one another, and it was with difficulty that the cacique restrained his tears while they shook hands at parting. Vasco left his sick there and, guided by the sailors of Chiapes, he set out with his able-bodied men. The little company crossed a great river which was not fordable, and entered the territory of a chief called Taocha who was very pleased upon learning of their arrival, for he already knew the customs of the Spaniards. He came out to meet them, receiving them with honour, and making salutations as a proof of his affection. He presented Vasco with twenty pounds (at eight ounces to the pound) of artistically worked gold, and two hundred selected pearls; the latter were not, however, very brilliant. They shook hands and Taocha, accepting the gifts offered him, begged that the people of Chiapes should be dismissed, as he himself wished to have the pleasure of escorting his guests.

When the Spaniards left his village he not only furnished them guides, but also slaves who were prisoners of war and who took the place of beasts of burden in carrying on their shoulders provisions for the march. They had to pass through lonely forests and over steep and rocky mountains, where ferocious lions and tigers abounded. Taocha placed his favourite son in command of the slaves, whom he loaded with salt fish and bread made of yucca and maize; he commanded his son never to leave the Spaniards and not to come back without permission from Vasco. Led by this young man, they entered the territory of a chief called Pacra, who was an atrocious tyrant. Whether frightened because conscious of his crimes, or whether he felt himself powerless, Pacra fled.

During this month of November the Spaniards suffered greatly from the heat and from the torments of thirst, for very little water is found in that mountainous region. They would all have perished, had not two of them who went to search for water, carrying the pumpkins Taocha’s people brought with them, found a little spring which the natives had pointed out, hidden in a remote corner of the forest. None of the latter had ventured to stray from the main body, for they were afraid of being attacked by wild beasts. They recounted that on these heights and in the neighbourhood of this spring, ferocious beasts had carried off people in the night, and even from their cabins. They were, therefore, careful to put bolts and all kinds of bars on their doors. It may perhaps not be out of place, before going farther, to relate a particular instance. It is said that last year a tiger ravaged Darien, doing as much damage as did formerly the raging boar of Calydon or the fierce Nemaean lion. During six entire months, not a night passed without a victim, whether a mare, a colt, a dog, or a pig being taken, even in the street of the town. The flocks and the animals might be sacrificed but it was not safe for people to quit their houses, especially when it sought food for its whelps; for when they were hungry the monster attacked people it found rather than animals. Anxiety led to the invention of a means of avenging so much bloodshed. The path it took when leaving its lair at night in search of prey, was carefully studied. The natives cut the road, digging a ditch which they covered over with boughs and earth. The tiger, which was a male, was incautious, and, falling into the ditch, remained there, stuck on the sharp points fixed in the bottom. Its roarings filled the neighbourhood and the mountains echoed with piercing howls. They killed the monster stuck on the points, by throwing great stones from the banks of the ditch. With one blow of its paw it broke the javelins thrown at it into a thousand fragments, and even when dead and no longer breathing, it filled all who beheld him with terror. What would have happened had it been free and unhurt! A civilian called Juan de Ledesma, a friend of Vasco, and his companion in danger, says that he ate the flesh of that tiger; he told me that it was not inferior to beef. When one asks these people who have never seen tigers why they affirm that this beast was a tiger, they reply that it was because it was spotted, ferocious, sly, and offered other characteristics which others have attributed to tigers. Nevertheless the majority of Spaniards affirm that they have seen spotted leopards and panthers.

After the male tiger was killed, they followed its track through the mountains, and discovered the cave where it lived with its family. The female was absent; but two little ones, still unweaned, were lying there, and these the Spaniards carried away; but changing their minds afterwards and wishing to carry them to Spain when they were a little larger, they put carefully riveted chains round their necks and took them back to the cave, in order that their mother might nurse them. Some days later they went back and found the chains still there, but the cave was empty. It is thought the mother, in a fury, tore the little ones to pieces, and took them away, in order that nobody should have them; for they could not possibly have got loose from their chains alive. The dead tiger’s skin was stuffed with dried herbs and straw, and sent to Hispaniola to be presented to the Admiral and other officials, from whom the colonists of those two new countries obtain laws and assistance.

This story was told me by those who had suffered from the ravages of that tiger,[3] and had touched its skin; let us accept what they give us.

[Note 3: As has been observed, there were no tigers in America. The animal described may have been a jaguar.]

Let us now return to Pacra, from whom we have somewhat wandered. After having entered the boios (that is to say, the house) abandoned by the cacique, Vasco sought to induce him to return by means of envoys who made known the conditions already proposed to other caciques; but for a long time Pacra refused. Vasco then tried threats, and the cacique finally decided to come in, accompanied by three others. Vasco writes that he was deformed, and so dirty and hideous that nothing more abominable could be imagined. Nature confined herself to giving him a human form, but he is a brute beast, savage and monstrous. His morals were on a par with his bearing and physiognomy. He had carried off the daughters of four neighbouring caciques to satisfy his brutal passions. The neighbouring chiefs, regarding Vasco as a supreme judge or a Hercules, a redresser of injuries, complained of the debaucheries and the crimes of Pacra, begging that he should be punished by death. Vasco had this filthy beast and the other three caciques, who obeyed him and shared his passions, torn to pieces by dogs of war, and the fragments of their bodies were afterwards burnt. Astonishing things are said about these dogs the Spaniards take into battle. These animals throw themselves with fury on the armed natives pointed out to them, as if they were timid deer or fierce boars; and it often happens that there is no need of swords or javelins to rout the enemy. A command is given to these dogs who form the vanguard, and the natives at the mere sight of these formidable Molossians[4] and the unaccustomed sound of their baying, break their ranks and flee as though horrified and stupefied by some unheard-of prodigy. This does not occur in fighting against the natives of Caramaira or the Caribs, who are braver and understand more about war. They shoot their poisoned arrows with the rapidity of lightning, and kill the dogs in great numbers; but the natives of these mountains do not use arrows in warfare; they only use machanes,[5] that is to say, large wooden swords, and lances with burnt points.

[Note 4: _Torvo molossorum adspectu_. Referring to the dogs of Epirus, called by the Romans, Molossi.]

[Note 5: The _maquahuitle of the Mexicans; a flat wooden club, in which blades of _iztli_, or flint, were set on the opposite edges; it was their most formidable weapon in hand-to-hand encounters.]

While Pacra was still alive they asked him where his people obtained gold, but neither by persuasion nor threats nor tortures could they drag this secret from him. When asked how he had procured what he had possessed,–for he had offered a present of thirty pounds of gold out of his treasury–he answered that those of his subjects who, either in the time of his parents or in his own, had mined that gold in the mountain were dead, and that since his youth he had not troubled to look for gold. Nothing more could be obtained from him on this subject.

The rigorous treatment of Pacra secured Vasco the friendship of the neighbouring caciques, and when he sent for the sick, whom he had left behind to join him, a cacique, called Bononiama, whose country the route directly traversed, received them kindly and gave them twenty pounds of wrought gold and an abundance of provisions. Nor would he leave them until he had accompanied them from his residence to that of Pacra, as though they had been confided to his fidelity. He spoke thus to Vasco: “Here are your companions in arms, Most Illustrious Warrior; just as they came to me, so do I bring them to you. It would have pleased me had they been in better health, but you and your companions are the servants of him who strikes the guilty with thunder and lightning, and who of his bounty, thanks to the kindly climate, gives us yucca and maize.” While speaking these words he raised his eyes to Heaven and gave it to be understood that he referred to the sun. “In destroying our proud and violent enemies you have given peace to us and to all our people. You overcome monsters. We believe that you and your equally brave companions have been sent from Heaven, and under the protection of your machanes we may henceforth live without fear. Our gratitude to him who brings us these blessings and happiness shall be eternal.” Such, or something like this, was the speech of Bononiama, as translated by the interpreters. Vasco thanked him for having escorted our men and received them kindly, and sent him away loaded with precious gifts.

Vasco writes that the cacique Bononiama has disclosed to him many secrets concerning the wealth of the region, which he reserves for later, as he does not wish to speak of them in his letter. What he means by such exaggeration and reticence I do not understand. He seems to promise a great deal, and I think his promises warrant hope of great riches; moreover, the Spaniards have never entered a native house without finding either cuirasses and breast ornaments of gold, or necklaces and bracelets of the same metal. If anyone wishing to collect iron should march with a troop of determined men through Italy or Spain, what iron articles would they find in the houses? In one a cooking stove, in another a boiler, elsewhere a tripod standing before the fire, and spits for cooking. He would everywhere find iron utensils, and could procure a large quantity of the metal. From which he would conclude that iron abounded in the country. Now the natives of the New World set no more value on gold than we do on iron ore. All these particulars, Most Holy Father, have been furnished me either by the letters of Vasco Nunez and his companions in arms, or by verbal report. Their search for gold mines has produced no serious result, for out of ninety men he took with him to Darien, he has never had more than seventy or at most eighty under his immediate orders; the others having been left behind in the dwellings of the caciques.

Those who succumbed most easily to sickness were the men just arrived from Hispaniola; they could not put up with such hardships, nor content their stomachs, accustomed to better food, with the native bread, wild herbs without salt, and river water that was not always even wholesome. The veterans of Darien were more inured to all these ills, and better able to resist extreme hunger. Thus Vasco gaily boasts that he has kept a longer and more rigorous Lent than Your Holiness, following the decrees of your predecessors, for it has lasted uninterruptedly for four years; during which time he and his men have lived upon the products of the earth, the fruits of trees, and even of them there was not always enough. Rarely did they eat fish and still more rarely meat, and their wretchedness reached such a point that they were obliged to eat sick dogs, nauseous toads, and other similar food, esteeming themselves fortunate when they found even such. I have already described all these miseries. I call “veterans of Darien” the first comers who established themselves in this country under the leadership of Nicuesa and Hojeda, of whom there remains but a small number. But let this now suffice, and let us bring back Vasco and the veterans from their expedition across the great mountain-chain.


During the thirty days he stopped in Pacra’s village, Vasco strove to conciliate the natives and to provide for the wants of his companions. From there, guided by subjects of Taocha, he marched along the banks of the Comogra River, which gives its name both to the country and to the cacique. The mountains thereabouts are so steep and rocky, that nothing suitable for human food grows, save a few wild plants and roots and fruits of trees, fit to nourish animals. Two friendly and allied caciques inhabit this unfortunate region. Vasco hastened to leave behind a country so little favoured by man and by Nature, and, pressed by hunger, he first dismissed the people of Taocha, and took as guides the two impoverished caciques, one of whom was named Cotochus and the other Ciuriza. He marched three days among wild forests, over unsealed mountains and through swamps, where muddy pitfalls gave way beneath the feet and swallowed the incautious traveller. He passed by places which beneficent Nature might have created for man’s wants, but there were no roads made; for communication amongst natives is rare, their only object being to murder or to enslave one another in their warlike incursions. Otherwise each tribe keeps within its own boundaries. Upon arriving at the territory of a chief called Buchebuea, they found the place empty and silent, as the chief and all his people had fled into the woods. Vasco sent messengers to call him back, notifying them not to use threats, but, on the contrary, to promise protection. Buchebuea replied that he had not fled because he feared harsh treatment, but rather because he was ashamed and sorry he could not receive our compatriots with the honour they deserved, and was unable even to furnish them provisions. As a token of submission and friendship he willingly sent several golden vases, and asked pardon. It was thought this unfortunate cacique wished it to be understood that he had been robbed and cruelly treated by some neighbouring enemy, so the Spaniards left his territory, with mouths gaping from hunger, and thinner than when they entered it.

During the march, some naked people appeared on the flank of the column. They made signs from a hilltop and Vasco ordered a halt to wait for them. Interpreters who accompanied the Spaniards asked them what they wanted, to which they replied “Our cacique, Chiorisos, salutes you. He knows you are brave men who redress wrongs and punish the wicked, and though he only knows you by reputation he respects and honours you. Nothing would have pleased him better than to have you as his guests at his residence. He would have been proud to receive such guests, but since he has not yet had this good fortune and you have passed him by, he sends you as a pledge of affection these small pieces of gold.” With courteous smiles they presented to Vasco thirty _patenas_ of pure gold, saying they would give him still more if he would come to visit them. The Spaniards give the name _patena_ to those balls of metal worn on the neck, and also to the sacred utensil with which the chalice is covered when carried to the altar. Whether in this instance plates for the table or balls are meant, I am absolutely ignorant; I suppose, however, that they are plates, since they weighed fourteen pounds, at eight ounces to the pound.

These natives then explained that there was in the neighbourhood a very rich cacique, who was their enemy, and who yearly attacked them. If the Spaniards would make war upon him, his downfall would enrich them and would deliver friendly natives from incessant anxiety. Nothing would be easier, they said through their interpreters, than for you to help us, and we will act as your guides. Vasco encouraged their hopes and sent them away satisfied. In exchange for their presents he gave them some iron hatchets, which they prize more than heaps of gold. For as they have no money–that source of all evils–they do not need gold. The owner of one single hatchet feels himself richer than Crassus.[1] These natives believe that hatchets may serve a thousand purposes of daily life, while gold is only sought to satisfy vain desires, without which one would be better off. Neither do they know our refinements of taste, which demand that sideboards shall be loaded with a variety of gold and silver vases. These natives have neither tables, tablecloths, or napkins; the caciques may sometimes decorate their tables with little golden vases, but their subjects use the right hand to eat a piece of maize bread and the left to eat a piece of grilled fish or fruit, and thus satisfy their hunger. Very rarely they eat sugar-cane. If they have to wipe their hands after eating a certain dish, they use, instead of napkins, the soles of their feet, or their hips, or sometimes their testicles. The same fashion prevails in Hispaniola. It is true that they often dive into the rivers, and thus wash the whole of their bodies.

[Note 1: Possibly a mis-copy of Croesus.]

Loaded with gold, but suffering intensely and so hungry they were scarcely able to travel, the Spaniards continued their march and reached the territory of a chief called Pochorroso, where during thirty days they stuffed themselves with maize bread, which is similar to Milanese bread. Pochorroso had fled, but, attracted by coaxing and presents, he returned, and gifts were exchanged. Vasco gave Pochorroso the usual acceptable articles, and the cacique gave Vasco fifteen pounds of melted gold and some slaves. When they were about to depart, it transpired that it would be necessary to cross the territory of a chief called Tumanama, the same formerly described by the son of Comogre as the most powerful and formidable of those chiefs. Most of Comogre’s servants had been this man’s slaves captured in war. As is the case everywhere, these people gauged the power of Tumanama by their own standard, ignorant of the fact that these caciques, if brought face to face with our soldiers commanded by a brave and fortunate leader, were no more to be feared than gnats attacking an elephant. When the Spaniards came to know Tumanama they quickly discovered that he did not rule on both sides of the mountain, nor was he as rich in gold as the young Comogre pretended. Nevertheless they took the trouble to conquer him. Pochorroso, being the enemy of Tumanama, readily offered Vasco his advice.

Leaving his sick in charge of the cacique, and summoning sixty companions, all strong and brave men, Vasco explained his purpose to them, saying: “The cacique Tumanama has often boasted that he was the enemy of Vasco and his companions. We are obliged to cross his country, and it is my opinion we should attack him while he is not on his guard.” Vasco’s companions approved this plan, urging him to put it into execution and offering to follow him. They decided to make two marches without stopping, so as to prevent Tumanama from calling together his warriors; and this plan was carried out as soon as decided.

It was the first watch of the night when the Spaniards and the warriors of Pochorroso invaded Tumanama’s town, taking him completely by surprise, for he expected nothing. There were with him two men, his favourites, and eighty women, who had been carried off from different caciques by violence and outrage. His subjects and allied caciques were scattered in villages of the neighbourhood, for they dwell in houses widely separated from one another, instead of near together. This custom is due to the frequent whirlwinds to which they are exposed by reason of sudden changes of temperature and the influence of the stars which conflict when the days and nights are equal in duration. We have already said that these people live near the equator. Their houses are built of wood, roofed and surrounded with straw, or stalks of maize or the tough grass indigenous to the country. There was another house in Tumanama’s village, and both were two hundred and twenty paces long and fifty broad. These houses were constructed to shelter the soldiers when Tumanama made war.

The cacique was taken prisoner and with him his entire Sardanapalian court. As soon as he was found, the men of Pochorroso and the neighbouring caciques overwhelmed him with insults, for Tumanama was no less detested by the neighbouring caciques than that Pacra whom we have mentioned in describing the expedition to the south sea. Vasco concealed his real intentions towards the prisoner, but though he adopted a menacing attitude, he really intended him no harm. “You shall pay the penalty of your crimes, tyrant,” said he; “you have often boasted before your people that if the Christians came here you would seize them by the hair and drown them in the neighbouring river. But it is you, miserable creature, that shall be thrown into the river and drowned.” At the same time he ordered the prisoner to be seized, but he had given his men to understand that he pardoned the cacique.

Tumanama threw himself at the feet of Vasco and begged pardon. He swore that he had said nothing of the kind, and that if anybody had, it must have been his caciques when they were drunk; for none of these chiefs understand moderation, and he accused them of using insolent language.

Their wines are not made from grapes, as I have already told Your Holiness, when I began to cultivate this little field, but they are intoxicating. Tumanama complained, weeping, that his neighbours had invented these falsehoods to destroy him, for they were jealous of him because he was more powerful than they. He promised in return for his pardon a large quantity of gold, and clasping his hands upon his breast, he said that he always both loved and feared the Spaniards, because he had learned their machanes–that is to say, their swords–were sharper than his and cut deeper wherever they struck. Looking Vasco straight in the eyes, he said: “Who then, other than a fool, would venture to raise his hand against the sword of a man like you, who can split a man open from head to navel at one stroke, and does not hesitate to do it? Let not yourself be persuaded, O bravest of living men, that such speech against you has ever proceeded from my mouth.” These and many other words did he speak, feeling already the rope of death around his neck. Vasco, affecting to be touched by these prayers and tears, answered with calmness that he pardoned him and gave him his liberty. Thirty pounds (at eight ounces to the pound) of pure gold in the form of women’s necklaces were at once brought from the two houses, and three days later the caciques subject to Tumanama sent sixty pounds more of gold, which was the amount of the fine imposed for their temerity. When asked whence he procured this gold, Tumanama replied that it came from very distant mines. He gave it to be understood that it had been presented to his ancestors on the Comogra River which flows into the south sea; but the people of Pochorroso and his enemies said that he lied, and that his own territory produced plenty of gold. Tumanama persisted, however, that he knew of no gold mines in his domain. He added that it was true enough that here and there some small grains of gold had been found, but nobody had even troubled to pick them up, since to do so would require tedious labour.

During this discussion Vasco was joined on the eighth day of the calends of January and the last day of the year 1513, by the men he had left behind with Pochorroso. The slaves whom the southern caciques had lent them, carried their gold-mining tools.

The day of the Nativity of Our Lord was given to rest, but the following day, the Feast of the Protomartyr St. Stephen, Vasco led some miners to a hill near Tumanama’s residence because he thought from the colour of the earth that it contained gold. A hole a palm and a half in size was made, and from the earth sifted a few grains of gold, not larger than a lentil, were obtained.

Vasco had this fact recorded by a notary and witnesses, in order to establish the authenticity of this discovery, as he called it, of a _toman_ of gold. In the language of bankers, a _toman_ contains twelve grains. Vasco consequently deduced, as the neighbouring caciques alleged, that the country was rich, but he could never prevail upon Tumanama to admit it. Some said that Tumanama was indifferent to such unimportant fragments of gold, others claimed that he persisted in denying the wealth of his country for fear the Spaniards, to satisfy their desire for gold, might take possession of the whole of it. The cacique saw only too well into the future; for the Spaniards have decided, if the King consents, to establish new towns in his country and that of Pochorroso; these towns will serve as refuges and storehouses for travellers going to the South Sea, and moreover both countries are favourable for growing all kinds of fruits and crops.

Vasco decided to leave this country, and to blaze for himself, a new trail through a land of which the earth tints and the shells seemed to him to indicate the presence of gold. He ordered a little digging below the surface of the earth to be done, and found a peso, weighing a little more than a grain. I have already said in my First Decade, addressed to Your Holiness, that a peso was worth a castellano of gold. Enchanted with this result, he overwhelmed Tumanama with nattering promises to prevent the cacique from interfering with any of the Spaniards’ allies in that neighbourhood. He also besought him to collect a quantity of gold. It is alleged that he had carried off all the cacique’s women, and had practically stripped him to check his insolence. Tumanama also confided his son to Vasco in order that the boy might learn our language in living with the Spaniards, and become acquainted with our habits and be converted to our religion. It may be that the boy’s education may some day be of use to his father, and secure him our favour.

The immense fatigues, the long watches, and the privations Vasco had endured ended by provoking a violent fever, so that on leaving this country he had to be carried on the shoulders of slaves. All the others who were seriously ill, were likewise carried in hammocks, that is to say, in cotton nets. Others, who still had some strength, despite their weak legs, were supported under the armpits and carried by the natives. They finally arrived in the country of our friend Comogre, of whom I have lengthily spoken above. The old man was dead and had been succeeded by that son whose wisdom we have praised. This young man had been baptised, and was called Carlos. The palace of this Comogre stands at the foot of a cultivated hill, rising in a fertile plain that tends for a breadth of twelve leagues towards the south. This plain is called by the natives _savana_. Beyond the limits of the plain rise the very lofty mountains that serve as a divide between the two oceans. Upon their slopes rises the Comogre River which, after watering this plain, runs through a mountainous country, gathering to itself tributaries from all the valleys and finally emptying into the South Sea. It is distant about seventy leagues to the west of Darien.

Uttering cries of joy, Carlos hastened to meet the Spaniards, refreshing them with food and agreeable drinks, and lavishing generous hospitality upon them. Presents were exchanged, the cacique giving Vasco twenty pounds of worked gold, at eight ounces to the pound, and Vasco satisfying him with equally acceptable presents, such as hatchets, and some carpenters’ tools. He likewise gave Carlos a robe and one of his own shirts, because of the extremity to which he was reduced. These gifts elevated Carlos to the rank of a hero among his neighbours. Vasco finally left Comogra and all its people after admonishing them that, if they wished to live in peace, they must never rebel against the rule of the Spanish King. He also urged them to use their best endeavours to collect gold for the _Tiba_, that is to say, the King. He added that in this way they would secure for themselves and their descendants protection against the attacks of their enemies, and would receive an abundance of our merchandise.

When everything had been satisfactorily arranged, Vasco continued his march towards the country of Poncha, where he met four young men sent from Darien to inform him that well-laden ships had just arrived from Hispaniola; he had promised that, in returning from the South Sea, he would march by some way through that country. Taking with him twenty of his strongest companions he started by forced marches for Darien, leaving behind the others who were to join him. Vasco has written that he reached Darien the fourteenth day of the calends of February in the year 1514, but his letter[2] is dated Darien, the fourth day of the nones of March, as he was unable to send it sooner no ship being ready to sail. He says that he has sent two ships to pick up the people he left behind, and he boasts of having won a number of battles without receiving a wound or losing one of his men in action.

[Note 2: Unfortunately neither this letter or any copy of it is known to exist.]

There is hardly a page of this long letter which is not inscribed with some act of thanksgiving for the great dangers and many hardships he escaped. He never undertook anything or started on his march without first invoking the heavenly powers, and principally the Virgin Mother of God. Our Vasco Balboa is seen to have changed from a ferocious Goliath into an Elias. He was an Antaeus; he has been transformed into Hercules the conqueror of monsters. From being foolhardy, he has become obedient and entirely worthy of royal honours and favour. Such are the events made known to us by letters from him and the colonists of Darien, and by verbal reports of people who have returned from those regions.

Perhaps you may desire, Most Holy Father, to know what my sentiments are respecting these events. My opinion is a simple one. It is evident from the military style in which Vasco and his men report their deeds that their statements must be true. Spain need no longer plough up the ground to the depth of the infernal regions or open great roads or pierce mountains at the cost of labour and the risk of a thousand dangers, in order to draw wealth from the earth. She will find riches on the surface, in shallow diggings; she will find them in the sun-dried banks of rivers; it will suffice to merely sift the earth. Pearls will be gathered with little effort. Cosmographers unanimously recognise that venerable antiquity received no such benefit from nature, because never before did man, starting from the known world, penetrate to those unknown regions. It is true the natives are contented with a little or nothing, and are not hospitable; moreover, we have more than sufficiently demonstrated that they receive ungraciously strangers who come amongst them, and only consent to negotiate with them, after they have been conquered. Most ferocious are those new anthropophagi, who live on human flesh, Caribs or cannibals as they are called. These cunning man-hunters think of nothing else than this occupation, and all the time not given to cultivating the fields they employ in wars and man-hunts. Licking their lips in anticipation of their desired prey, these men lie in wait for our compatriots, as the latter would for wild boar or deer they sought to trap. If they feel themselves unequal to a battle, they retreat and disappear with the speed of the wind. If an encounter takes place on the water, men and women swim with as great a facility as though they lived in that element and found their sustenance under the waves.

It is not therefore astonishing that these immense tracts of country should be abandoned and unknown, but the Christian religion, of which you are the head, will embrace its vast extent. As I have said in the beginning, Your Holiness will call to yourself these myriads of people, as the hen gathers her chickens under her wings. Let us now return to Veragua, the place discovered by Columbus, explored under the auspices of Diego Nicuesa, and now abandoned; and may all the other barbarous and savage provinces of this vast continent be brought little by little into the pale of Christian civilisation and the knowledge of the true religion.


I had resolved, Most Holy Father, to stop here but I am consumed, as it were, with an internal fire which constrains me to continue my report. As I have already said, Veragua was discovered by Columbus. I should feel that I had robbed him or committed an inexpiable crime against him were I to pass over the ills he endured, the vexations and dangers to which he was exposed during these voyages. It was in the year of salvation 1502 on the sixth day of the ides of May that Columbus sailed from Cadiz with a squadron of four vessels of from fifty to sixty tons burthen, manned by one hundred and seventy men.[1] Five days of favourable weather brought him to the Canaries; seventeen days’ sailing brought him to the island of Domingo, the home of the Caribs, and from thence he reached Hispaniola in five days more, so that the entire crossing from Spain to Hispaniola occupied twenty-six days, thanks to favourable winds and currents, which set from the east towards the west. According to the mariners’ report the distance is twelve hundred leagues.

[Note 1: This was the fourth voyage of Columbus.]

He stopped in Hispaniola for some time, either of his own accord or with the Viceroy’s[2] assent. Pushing straight to the west, he left the islands of Cuba and Jamaica towards his right on the north, and discovered to the south of Jamaica an island called by its inhabitants Guanassa.[3] This island is incredibly fertile and luxuriant. While coasting along its shores, the Admiral met two of those barques dug out of tree trunks of which I have spoken. They were drawn by naked slaves with ropes round their necks. The chieftain of the island, who, together with his wife and children, were all naked, travelled in these barques. When the Spaniards went on shore the slaves, in obedience to their master’s orders, made them understand by haughty gestures that they would have to obey the chief, and when they refused, menaces and threats were employed. Their simplicity is such that they felt neither fear nor admiration on beholding our ships and the number and strength of our men. They seemed to think the Spaniards would feel the same respect towards their chief as they did. Our people perceived that they had to do with merchants returning from another country, for they hold markets. The merchandise consisted of bells, razors, knives, and hatchets made of a yellow and translucent stone; they are fastened in handles of hard and polished wood. There were also household utensils for the kitchen, and pottery of artistic shapes, some made of wood and some made of that same clear stone; and chiefly draperies and different articles of spun cotton in brilliant colours. The Spaniards captured the chief, his family and everything he possessed; but the Admiral soon afterwards ordered him to be set at liberty and the greater part of their property restored, hoping thus to win their friendship.

[Note 2: This direct violation of his orders was due to his wish to trade one of his vessels, which was a slow sailer, for a quicker craft.]

[Note 3: Guanaya or Bouacia, lying off the coast of Honduras.]

Having procured some information concerning the country towards the west, Columbus proceeded in that direction and, a little more than ten miles farther, he discovered a vast country which the natives call Quiriquetana, but which he called Ciamba. There he caused the Holy Sacrifice to be celebrated upon the shore. The natives were numerous and wore no clothing. Gentle and simple, they approached our people fearlessly and admiringly, bringing them their own bread and fresh water. After presenting their gifts they turned upon their heels bowing their heads respectfully. In exchange for their presents, the Admiral gave them some European gifts, such as strings of beads, mirrors, needles, pins, and other objects unknown to them.

This vast region is divided into two parts, one called Taia and the other called Maia.[4] The whole country is fertile, well shaded, and enjoys delightful temperature. In fertility of soil it yields to none, and the climate is temperate. It possesses both mountains and extensive plains, and everywhere grass and trees grow. Spring and autumn seem perpetual, for the trees keep their leaves during the whole year, and bear fruit. Groves of oak and pine are numerous, and there are seven varieties of palms of which some bear dates, while others are without fruit. Vines loaded with ripe grapes grow spontaneously amid the trees, but they are wild vines and there is such an abundance of useful and appetising fruits that nobody bothers to cultivate vineyards. The natives manufacture their _machanes_, that is to say swords, and the darts they throw, out of a certain kind of palm-wood. Much cotton is found in this country as well as mirobolanes, of various kinds, such as doctors call _emblicos_[5] and _chebules_; maize, yucca, ages, and potatoes, all grow in this country as they do everywhere on the continent. The animals are lions, tigers, stags, deer, and other similar beasts. The natives fatten those birds we have mentioned, as resembling peahens in colour, size, and taste.

[Note 4: This is the first mention of the word _Maya_. The traders whom Columbus met were doubtless Mayas, coming from some of the great fairs or markets. For the second time, he brushed past the civilisation of Yucatan and Mexico, leaving to later comers the glory of their discovery.]

[Note 5: _Myrobolanos etiam diversarum specierum, emblicos puta et chebulos medicorum appellatione_.]

The natives of both sexes are said to be tall and well proportioned. They wear waist-cloths and bandolets of spun cotton in divers colours, and they ornament themselves by staining their bodies with black and red colours, extracted from the juice of certain fruits cultivated for that purpose in their gardens, just as did the Agathyrsi. Some of them stain the entire body, others only a part. Ordinarily they draw upon their skin designs of flowers, roses, and intertwined nets, according to each one’s fancy. Their language bears no resemblance to that of the neighbouring islanders. Torrential streams run in a westerly direction. Columbus resolved to explore this country towards the west, for he remembered Paria, Boca de la Sierpe, and other countries already discovered to the east, believing they must be joined to the land where he was; and in this he was not deceived.

On the thirteenth day of the calends of September the Admiral left Quiriquetana. After sailing thirty leagues, he came to a river, in the estuary of which he took fresh water. The coast was clear of rocks and reefs, and everywhere there was good anchorage. He writes, however, that the ocean current was so strong against him that in forty days’ sailing it was with the greatest difficulty he covered seventy leagues, and then only by tacking. From time to time, when he sought towards nightfall to forestall the danger of being wrecked in the darkness on that unknown coast, and tried to draw near to land, he was beaten back. He reports that within a distance of eight leagues he discovered three rivers of clear water, upon whose banks grew canes as thick round as a man’s leg. The waters of these streams are full of fish and immense turtles, and everywhere were to be seen multitudes of crocodiles, drinking in the sun with huge yawning mouths. There were plenty of other animals of which the Admiral does not give the names. The aspect of this country presents great variety, being in some places rocky and broken up into sharp promontories and jagged rocks, while in others the fertility of the soil is unexcelled by that of any known land. From one shore to another the names of the chiefs and principal inhabitants differ; in one place they are called caciques, as we have already said; in another _quebi_, farther on _tiba_. The principal natives are sometimes called _sacchus_ and sometimes _jura_. A man who has distinguished himself in conflict with an enemy and whose face is scarred, is regarded as a hero and is called _cupra_, The people are called _chyvis_, and a man is _home_. When they wish to say, “That’s for you, my man,” the phrase is, “_Hoppa home_.”

Another great river navigable for large ships was discovered, in the mouth of which lie four small islands, thickly grown with flowers and trees. Columbus called them Quatro Tempore. Thirteen leagues farther on, always sailing eastwards against adverse currents, he discovered twelve small islands; and as these produced a kind of fruit resembling our limes, he called them Limonares. Twelve leagues farther, always in the same direction, he discovered a large harbour extending three leagues into the interior of the country, and into which flows an important river. It was at this spot that Nicuesa was afterwards lost when searching for Veragua, as we have already related; and for this reason later explorers have named it Rio de los Perdidos. Continuing his course against the ocean current, the Admiral discovered a number of mountains, valleys, rivers, and harbours; the atmosphere was laden with balmy odours.

Columbus writes that not one of his men fell ill till he reached a place the natives call Quicuri,[6] which is a point or cape where the port of Cariai lies. The Admiral called it Mirobolan because trees of that name grew there spontaneously. At the port of Cariai about two hundred natives appeared, each armed with three or four spears; but mild-mannered and hospitable. As they did not know to what strange race the Spaniards belonged, they prepared to receive them and asked for a parley. Amicable signs were exchanged and they swam out to our people, proposing to trade and enter into commercial relations. In order to gain their confidence, the Admiral ordered some European articles to be distributed gratuitously amongst them. These they refused to accept, by signs, for nothing they said was intelligible. They suspected the Spaniards of setting a trap for them in offering these presents, and refused to accept their gifts. They left everything that was given them on the shore.[7] Such are the courtesy and generosity of these people of Cariai, that they would rather give than receive.

[Note 6: Quiribiri. Columbus arrived there on September 25th.]

[Note 7: Suspicion and mistrust were mutual, for Columbus thought the natives were practising magic when they cast perfumes before them, as they cautiously advanced towards him; he afterwards described them as powerful magicians.]

They sent two young girls, virgins of remarkable beauty, to our men, and gave it to be understood that they might take them away. These young girls, like all the other women, wore waist-cloths made of bandelets of cotton, which is the costume of the women of Cariai. The men on the contrary go naked. The women cut their hair, or let it grow behind and shave the forehead; then they gather it up in bands of white stuff and twist it round the head, just as do our girls. The Admiral had them clothed and gave them presents, and a bonnet of red wool stuff for their father; after which he sent them away. Later all these things were found upon the shore, because he had refused their presents. Two men, however, left voluntarily with Columbus, in order to learn our language and to teach it to their own people.

The tides are not very perceptible on that coast. This was discovered by observing the trees growing not far from the shore and on the river banks. Everybody who has visited these regions agrees on this point. The ebb and flow are scarcely perceptible, and only affect a part of the shores of the continent, and likewise of all the islands. Columbus relates that trees grow in the sea within sight of land, drooping their branches towards the water once they have grown above the surface. Sprouts, like graftings of vines, take root and planted in the earth they, in their turn, become trees of the same evergreen species. Pliny has spoken of such trees in the second book of his natural history, but those he mentions grew in an arid soil and not in the sea.

The same animals we have above described exist in Cariai. There is, however, one of a totally different kind, which resembles a large monkey, but is provided with a much larger and stronger tail. Hanging by this tail, it swings to and fro three or four times, and then jumps from tree to tree as though it were flying.[8] One of our archers shot one with his arrow, and the wounded monkey dropped onto the ground