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

[Note 8: Possibly the _simia seniculus_.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note 9: The pineapple.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have already stated that the distance separating the South Sea from the Atlantic Ocean is a very small one; for this fact was demonstrated during the expedition of Vasco Nunez and his companions. Just as our Alps in Europe, narrow in some places and broaden out over a greater extent in others, so by an analogous arrangement of nature this new continent lengthens in some places, extending to a great distance, and in others it narrows by gulfs which, from the opposite seas, encroach on the land between them. For example: at both Uraba and Veragua the distance between the two oceans is trifling, while in the region of the Maragnon River, on the contrary, it is vastly extended. That is, if the Maragnon is indeed a river and not a sea. I incline nevertheless to the first hypothesis, because its waters are fresh. The immense torrents necessary to feed such a stream could certainly not exist in a small space. The same applies in the case of the river Dobaiba,[14] which flows into the sea at the gulf of Uraba, by an estuary three miles wide and forty-five ells deep; it must be supposed that there is a large country amongst the mountains of Dobaiba from which this river flows. It is claimed that it is formed by four streams descending from these mountains, and the Spaniards have named it San Juan. Where it falls into the gulf, it has seven mouths, like the Nile. In this same Uraba region the continent diminishes in size in an astonishing manner, and it is said that in places its width is not more than fifteen leagues. The country is impassable because of its swamps and quagmires which the Spaniards call _tremelaes_ or _trampales_, or by other names _cenegales_, _sumineros_, and _zahoudaderos_.[15]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note 5: _Sommario dell’Indie Occidenti_, cap. lxxxii., in Ramusio.]

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

[Note 6: A variety of iron pyrites.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note 4: _De Legatione Babylonica_.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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