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

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fears; finally also reminding them that if they refused him their
obedience or attempted violence against him, they would be accused of
treason by their sovereigns. To their great joy, the much-desired land
was finally discovered.[5] During this first voyage Columbus visited
six islands, two of which were of extraordinary magnitude; one of
these he named Hispaniola, and the other Juana,[6] though he was not
positive that the latter was an island. While sailing along the coasts
of these islands, in the month of November, the Spaniards heard
nightingales singing in the dense forests, and they discovered great
rivers of fresh water, and natural harbours sufficient for the largest
fleets. Columbus reconnoitred the coast of Juana in a straight line
towards the north-west for no less than eight hundred thousand paces
or eighty leagues, which led him to believe that it was a continent,
since as far as the eye could reach, no signs of any limits to the
island were perceptible. He decided to return,[7] also because of
the tumultuous sea, for the coast of Juana towards the north is very
broken, and at that winter season, the north winds were dangerous to
his ships. Laying his course eastwards, he held towards an island
which he believed to be the island of Ophir; examination of the maps,
however, shows that it was the Antilles and neighbouring islands. He
named this island Hispaniola. Having decided to land, Columbus put in
towards shore, when the largest of his ships struck a concealed rock
and was wrecked. Fortunately the reef stood high in the water, which
saved the crew from drowning; the other two boats quickly approached,
and all the sailors were taken safely on board.

[Note 5: Land was discovered on the morning of October 12th,
Julian calendar. Efforts to identify the island on which Columbus
first landed have been numerous. The natives called it Guanahani and
Columbus named it San Salvador. Munoz believed it to be the present
Watling's Island; Humboldt and Washington Irving thought Cat Island
more likely, while Navarrete identified it as Grand Turk. Captain G.V.
Fox, U.S.N., published in Appendix 18 to the Report for 1880, the
conclusions he had reached after exhaustive examinations conducted in
the Bahamas, with which islands and their seas long service had made
him familiar. He selected Samana or Atwood Cay as the first land

[Note 6: In honour of the Infante Don Juan, heir to the Castilian
crown. It has, however, always borne its native name of Cuba.]

[Note 7: But for this infelicitous change in his course, Columbus
must have discovered the coast of Mexico.]

It was at this place that the Spaniards, on landing, first beheld the
islanders. Upon seeing strangers approaching, the natives collected
and fled into the depths of the forests like timid hares pursued by
hounds. The Spaniards followed them, but only succeeded in capturing
one woman, whom they took on board their ships, where they gave her
plenty of food and wine and clothes (for both sexes lived absolutely
naked and in a state of nature); afterwards this woman, who knew where
the fugitives were concealed, returned to her people, to whom she
showed her ornaments, praising the liberality of the Spaniards; upon
which they all returned to the coast, convinced that the newcomers
were descended from heaven. They swam out to the ships, bringing gold,
of which they had a small quantity, which they exchanged gladly for
trifles of glass or pottery. For a needle, a bell, a fragment of
mirror, or any such thing, they gladly gave in exchange whatever gold
was asked of them, or all that they had about them. As soon as
more intimate relations were established and the Spaniards came
to understand the local customs, they gathered by signs and by
conjectures that the islanders were governed by kings. When they
landed from their ships they were received with great honour by these
kings and by all the natives, making every demonstration of homage
of which they were capable. At sunset, the hour of the Angelus, the
Spaniards knelt according to Christian custom, and their example was
immediately followed by the natives. The latter likewise adored the
Cross as they saw the Christians doing.[8]

[Note 8: The first report Columbus made to the Catholic sovereigns
was most flattering to the American aborigines. _Certifico a vuestras
altezas que en el mundo creo que no hay mejor gente ni mejor tierra:
ellos aman a sus projimos como a si mismo_. Like most generalisations,
these were found, upon closer acquaintance with native character and
customs, to be too comprehensive as well as inaccurate.]

These people also brought off the men from the wrecked ship, as well
as all it contained, transporting everything in barques which they
called canoes. They did this with as much alacrity and joy as though
they were saving their own relatives; and certainly amongst ourselves
greater charity could not have been displayed.

Their canoes are constructed out of single tree-trunks, which they dig
out with tools of sharpened stone. They are very long and narrow, and
are made of a single piece of wood. It is alleged that some have been
seen capable of carrying eighty rowers. It has been nowhere discovered
that iron is used by the natives of Hispaniola. Their houses are most
ingeniously constructed, and all the objects they manufacture for
their own use excited the admiration of the Spaniards. It is positive
that they make their tools out of very hard stones found in the
streams, and which they polish.

The Spaniards learned that there were other islands not far distant,
inhabited by fierce peoples who live on human flesh; this explained
why the natives of Hispaniola fled so promptly on their arrival. They
told the Spaniards later that they had taken them for the cannibals,
which is the name they give to these barbarians. They also call them
_Caraibes_. The islands inhabited by these monsters lie towards the
south, and about half-way to the other islands. The inhabitants of
Hispaniola, who are a mild people, complained that they were exposed
to frequent attacks from the cannibals who landed amongst them and
pursued them through the forests like hunters chasing wild beasts.
The cannibals captured children, whom they castrated, just as we do
chickens and pigs we wish to fatten for the table, and when they were
grown and become fat they ate them.[9] Older persons, who fell into
their power, were killed and cut into pieces for food; they also ate
the intestines and the extremities, which they salted, just as we do
hams. They did not eat women, as this would be considered a crime and
an infamy. If they captured any women, they kept them and cared for
them, in order that they might produce children; just as we do with
hens, sheep, mares, and other animals. Old women, when captured, were
made slaves. The inhabitants of these islands (which, from now on we
may consider ours), women and men, have no other means of escaping
capture by the cannibals, than by flight. Although they use wooden
arrows with sharpened points, they are aware that these arms are of
little use against the fury and violence of their enemies, and they
all admit that ten cannibals could easily overcome a hundred of their
own men in a pitched battle.

[Note 9: See Henry Harrisse, _Christophe Colombe_, ii., p. 72.
Letter of Simone Verde to Nicoli.]

Although these people adore the heavens and the stars, their religion
is not yet sufficiently understood; as for their other customs, the
brief time the Spaniards stopped there and the want of interpreters
did not allow full information to be obtained. They eat roots which in
size and form resemble our turnips, but which in taste are similar to
our tender chesnuts. These they call _ages_. Another root which they
eat they call _yucca_; and of this they make bread. They eat the ages
either roasted or boiled, or made into bread. They cut the yucca,
which is very juicy, into pieces, mashing and kneading it and then
baking it in the form of cakes. It is a singular thing that they
consider the juice of the yucca to be more poisonous than that of the
aconite, and upon drinking it, death immediately follows. On the other
hand, bread made from this paste is very appetising and wholesome: all
the Spaniards have tried it. The islanders also easily make bread with
a kind of millet, similar to that which exists plenteously amongst the
Milanese and Andalusians. This millet is a little more than a palm in
length, ending in a point, and is about the thickness of the upper
part of a man's arm. The grains are about the form and size of peas.
While they are growing, they are white, but become black when ripe.
When ground they are whiter than snow. This kind of grain is called

The islanders set some value on gold and wear it in the form of fine
leaves, fixed in the lobes of their ears and their nostrils. As soon
as our compatriots were certain that they had no commercial relations
with other peoples and no other coasts than those of their own
islands, they asked them by signs whence they procured the gold. As
nearly as could be conjectured, the natives obtain gold from the sands
of the rivers which flow down from the high mountains. This process
was not a difficult one. Before beating it into leaves, they form it
into ingots; but none was found in that part of the island where the
Spaniards had landed. It was shortly afterwards discovered, for when
the Spaniards left that locality and landed at another point to obtain
fresh water and to fish, they discovered a river of which the stones
contained flakes of gold.

With the exception of three kinds of rabbits, no quadruped is found in
these islands. There are serpents, but they are not dangerous. Wild
geese, turtle-doves, ducks of a larger size than ours, with plumage as
white as that of a swan, and red heads, exist. The Spaniards brought
back with them some forty parrots, some green, others yellow, and some
having vermilion collars like the parrakeets of India, as described by
Pliny; and all of them have the most brilliant plumage. Their wings
are green or yellow, but mixed with bluish or purple feathers,
presenting a variety which enchants the eye. I have wished, most
illustrious Prince, to give you these details about the parrots; and
although the opinion of Columbus[10] seems to be contradictory to the
theories of the ancients concerning the size of the globe and its
circumnavigation, the birds and many other objects brought thence seem
to indicate that these islands do belong, be it by proximity or
by their products, to India; particularly when one recalls what
Aristotle, at the end of his treatise _De Caelo et Mundo_, and Seneca,
and other learned cosmographers have always affirmed, that India was
only separated from the west coast of Spain by a very small expanse of

[Note 10: Columbus died in the belief that the countries he
had discovered formed part of the Indies. They were thus described
officially by the Spanish sovereigns.]

Mastic, aloes, cotton, and similar products flourish in abundance.
Silky kinds of cotton grow upon trees as in China; also rough-coated
berries of different colours more pungent to the taste than Caucasian
pepper; and twigs cut from the trees, which in their form resemble
cinnamon, but in taste, odour, and the outer bark, resemble ginger.

Happy at having discovered this unknown land, and to have found
indications of a hitherto unknown continent, Columbus resolved to take
advantage of favouring winds and the approach of spring to return
to Europe; but he left thirty-eight of his companions under the
protection of the king of whom I have spoken, in order that they
might, during his absence, acquaint themselves with the country and
its condition. After signing a treaty of friendship with this king
who was called by his enemies Guaccanarillo,[11] Columbus took all
precautions for ensuring the health, the life, and the safety of
the men whom he left behind. The king, touched with pity for these
voluntary exiles, shed abundant tears, and promised to render them
every assistance in his power. After mutual embraces, Columbus gave
the order to depart for Spain. He took with him six islanders,[12]
thanks to whom all the words of their language have been written down
with Latin characters. Thus they call the heavens _tueri_, a house
_boa_, gold _cauni_, a virtuous man _taino_, nothing _nagani_. They
pronounce all these names just as distinctly as we do Latin.

[Note 11: Otherwise Guacanagari.]

[Note 12: One of these Indians died at sea on the voyage, and
three others landed very ill at Palos; the remaining six were
presented to Ferdinand and Isabella at Barcelona, and were afterwards

You are now acquainted with such details concerning this first voyage
as it has seemed expedient to me to record. The King and Queen,
who, above everything and even in their sleep, thought about the
propagation of the Christian faith, hoping that these numerous and
gentle peoples might be easily converted to our religion, experienced
the liveliest emotions upon hearing these news. Columbus was received
upon his return with the great honour he merited for what he had
accomplished.[13] They bade him sit in their presence, which for the
Spanish sovereigns is regarded as a proof of the greatest friendship
and the highest mark of gratitude. They commanded that henceforward
Columbus should be called "_Praefectus Marinus_," or, in the Spanish
tongue, _Amiral_. His brother Bartholomew, likewise very proficient in
the art of navigation, was honoured by them with the title of Prefect
of the Island of Hispaniola, which is in the vulgar tongue called
_Adelantado_.[14] To make my meaning clear I shall henceforth employ
these usual words of Admiral and Adelantado as well as the terms
which are now commonly used in navigation. But let us return to our

[Note 13: The historian Oviedo, who was present, describes the
reception of Columbus at Barcelona. _Hist. Nat. de las Indias_, tom.
ii., p. 7.]

[Note 14: This statement is premature; Bartholomew's appointment
was made considerably later.]

It was thought, as Columbus had moreover declared in the beginning,
that in these islands would be found riches such as all struggle to
obtain. There were two motives which determined the royal pair to plan
a second expedition, for which they ordered seventeen ships to be
equipped; three of these were vessels with covered decks, twelve were
of the kind called caravels by the Spaniards, which had none, and
two were larger caravels, of which the height of the masts made it
possible to adapt decks. The equipment of this fleet was confided
to Juan de Fonseca, Dean of Seville, a man of illustrious birth, of
genius and initiative.[15] In obedience to his orders more than twelve
hundred foot-soldiers, amongst whom were all sorts of labourers and
numerous artisans, were commanded to embark. Some noblemen were found
amongst the company. The Admiral took on board mares, sheep, cows and
the corresponding males for the propagation of their species; nor did
he forget vegetables, grain, barley, and similar seeds, not only for
provisions but also for sowing; vines and young plants such as were
wanting in that country were carefully taken. In fact the Spaniards
have not found any tree in that island which was known to them except
pines and palms; and even the palms were extraordinarily high, very
hard, slender, and straight, owing, no doubt, to the fertility of the
soil. Even the fruits they produce in abundance were unknown.

[Note 15: The evil that has been attributed to Juan Fonseca, Bishop
of Burgos, may exceed his dues, but the praise here and elsewhere
given him by Peter Martyr is excessive and all but unique. That he
cordially hated Columbus and after him Cortes, Las Casas and most of
the men of action in the New World, is undeniable.]

The Spaniards declare that there is not in the whole universe a more
fertile region. The Admiral ordered his work people to take with them
the tools of their trades, and in general everything necessary to
build a new city. Won by the accounts of the Admiral and attracted by
the love of novelty, some of the more intimate courtiers also decided
to take part in this second voyage. They sailed from Cadiz with a
favourable wind, the seventh day of the calends of October in the year
of grace 1493.[16] On the calends they touched the Canaries. The last
of the Canaries is called Ferro by the Spaniards. There is no potable
water on it, save a kind of dew produced by one sole tree standing
upon the most lofty point of the whole island; and from which it falls
drop by drop into an artificial trough. From this island, Columbus put
to sea the third day of the ides of October. We have learned this news
a few days after his departure. You shall hear the rest later. Fare
you well.

[Note 16: The sailing date was Sept. 25, 1493.]

From the Court of Spain, the ides of November, 1493.



You renew to me, Most Illustrious Prince, your desire to know all that
treats of the Spanish discoveries in the New World. You have let me
know that the details I have given you concerning the first voyage
pleased you; listen now to the continuation of events.

Medina del Campo is a town of Ulterior Spain, as it is called in
Italy, or of Old Castile, as it is called here. It is distant about
four hundred miles from Cadiz. While the Court sojourned there the
ninth day of the calends of April, messengers sent to the King and
Queen informed them that twelve ships returning from the islands had
arrived at Cadiz, after a happy voyage. The commander of the squadron
did not wish to say more by the messengers to the King and Queen
except that the Admiral had stopped with five ships and nine hundred
men at Hispaniola, which he wished to explore. He wrote that he would
give further details by word of mouth. The eve of the nones of April,
this commander of the squadron, who was the brother of the nurse of
the eldest royal princes, arrived at Medina, being sent by Columbus. I
questioned him and other trustworthy witnesses, and shall now repeat
what they told me, hoping by so doing to render myself agreeable to
you. What I learned from their mouths you shall now in turn learn from

The third day of the ides of October the Spaniards left the island of
Ferro,[1] which is the most distant of the Canaries from Europe, and
put out upon the high seas in seventeen ships. Twenty-one full days
passed before they saw any land; driven by the north wind they were
carried much farther to the south-west than on the first voyage, and
thus they arrived at the archipelago of the cannibals, or the Caribs,
which we only know from the descriptions given by the islanders. The
first island they discovered was so thickly wooded that there was
not an inch of bare or stony land. As the discovery took place on
a Sunday, the Admiral wished to call the island Domingo.[2] It was
supposed to be deserted, and he did not stop there. He calculated that
they had covered 820 leagues in these twenty-one days. The ships had
always been driven forward by the south-west wind. At some little
distance from Domingo other islands were perceived, covered with
trees, of which the trunks, roots, and leaves exhaled sweet odours.
Those who landed to visit the island found neither men nor animals,
except lizards of extraordinarily great size. This island they called
Galana. From the summit of a promontory, a mountain was visible on
the horizon and thirty miles distant from that mountain a river
of important breadth descended into the plain. This was the first
inhabited land[3] found since leaving the Canaries, but it was
inhabited by those odious cannibals, of whom they had only heard by
report, but have now learned to know, thanks to those interpreters
whom the Admiral had taken to Spain on his first voyage.

[Note 1: The chronology throughout is erroneous. Columbus had sailed
from Cadiz on September 25th, arriving at Gomera on October 5th.]

[Note 2: The first island was discovered on November 3d, and was named
La Deseada, or The Desired; five others, including Domingo and Maria
Galante were discovered on the same date.]

[Note 3: The island of Guadeloupe, called by the natives Caracueira.]

While exploring the island, numerous villages, composed of twenty or
thirty houses each, were discovered; in the centre is a public square,
round which the houses are placed in a circle. And since I am speaking
about these houses, it seems proper that I should describe them to
you. It seems they are built entirely of wood in a circular form. The
construction of the building is begun by planting in the earth very
tall trunks of trees; by means of them, shorter beams are placed in
the interior and support the outer posts. The extremities of the
higher ones are brought together in a point, after the fashion of
a military tent. These frames they then cover with palm and other
leaves, ingeniously interlaced, as a protection against rain. From
the shorter beams in the interior they suspend knotted cords made of
cotton or of certain roots similar to rushes, and on these they lay

[Note 4: Hamacs, which are still commonly used in _tierra caliente_
of the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America.]

The island produces cotton such as the Spaniards call _algodon_ and
the Italians _bombasio_. The people sleep on these suspended beds or
on straw spread upon the floor. There is a sort of court surrounded by
houses where they assemble for games. They call their houses _boios_.
The Spaniards noticed two wooden statues, almost shapeless, standing
upon two interlaced serpents, which at first they took to be the gods
of the islanders; but which they later learned were placed there
merely for ornament. We have already remarked above that it is
believed they adore the heavens; nevertheless, they make out of
cotton-fabric certain masks, which resemble imaginary goblins they
think they have seen in the night.

But let us return to our narrative. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards,
the islanders, both men and women, abandoned their houses and fled.
About thirty women and children whom they had captured in the
neighbouring islands and kept either as slaves or to be eaten, took
refuge with the Spaniards. In the houses were found pots of all kinds,
jars and large earthen vessels, boxes and tools resembling ours. Birds
were boiling in their pots, also geese mixed with bits of human flesh,
while other parts of human bodies were fixed on spits, ready for
roasting. Upon searching another house the Spaniards found arm and
leg bones, which the cannibals carefully preserve for pointing their
arrows; for they have no iron. All other bones, after the flesh
is eaten, they throw aside. The Spaniards discovered the recently
decapitated head of a young man still wet with blood. Exploring the
interior of the island they discovered seven rivers,[5] without
mentioning a much larger watercourse similar to the Guadalquivir
at Cordoba and larger than our Ticino, of which the banks were
deliciously umbrageous. They gave the name of Guadaloupe to this
island because of the resemblance one of its mountains bore to the
Mount Guadaloupe, celebrated for its miraculous statue of the Virgin
Immaculate. The natives call their island Caracueira, and it is
the principal one inhabited by the Caribs. The Spaniards took from
Guadaloupe seven parrots larger than pheasants, and totally unlike any
other parrots in colour. Their entire breast and back are covered with
purple plumes, and from their shoulders fall long feathers of the same
colour, as I have often remarked in Europe is the case with the capons
peasants raise. The other feathers are of various colours,--green,
bluish, purple, or yellow. Parrots are as numerous in all these
islands as sparrows or other small birds are with us; and just as we
keep magpies, thrushes, and similar birds to fatten them, so do these
islanders also keep birds to eat, though their forests are full of

[Note 5: In reality, these so-called rivers were unimportant mountain

The female captives who had taken refuge with our people received by
the Admiral's order some trifling presents, and were begged by signs
to go and hunt for the cannibals, for they knew their place of
concealment. In fact they went back to the men during the night,
and the following morning returned with several cannibals who were
attracted by the hope of receiving presents; but when they saw our
men, these savages, whether because they were afraid or because they
were conscious of their crimes, looked at one another, making a low
murmur, and then, suddenly forming into a wedge-shaped group, they
fled swiftly, like a flock of birds, into the shady valleys.

Having called together his men who had passed some days exploring the
interior of the island, Columbus gave the signal for departure. He
took no cannibal with him, but he ordered their boats, dug out of
single tree-trunks, to be destroyed, and on the eve of the ides of
November he weighed anchor and left Guadaloupe.

Desiring to see the men of his crew whom he had left the preceding
year at Hispaniola to explore that country, Columbus passed daily by
other islands which he discovered to the right and left. Straight
ahead to the north appeared a large island. Those natives who had been
brought to Spain on his first voyage, and those who had been delivered
from captivity, declared that it was called Madanina, and that it was
inhabited exclusively by women.[6] The Spaniards had, in fact, heard
this island spoken of during their first voyage. It appeared that the
cannibals went at certain epochs of the year to visit these women,
as in ancient history the Thracians crossed to the island of Lesbos
inhabited by the Amazons. When their children were weaned, they sent
the boys to their fathers, but kept the girls, precisely as did the
Amazons. It is claimed that these women know of vast caverns where
they conceal themselves if any man tries to visit them at another than
the established time. Should any one attempt to force his way into
these caverns by violence or by trickery, they defend themselves with
arrows, which they shoot with great precision. At least, this is the
story as it is told, and I repeat it to you. The north wind renders
this island unapproachable, and it can only be reached when the wind
is in the south-west.

[Note 6: This is the island of Martinique; the legend of its Amazons
is purely fantastic.]

While still in view of Madanina at a distance of about forty miles,
the Spaniards passed another island, which, according to the accounts
of the natives, was very populous and rich in foodstuffs of all kinds.
As this island was very mountainous they named it Montserrat. Amongst
other details given by the islanders on board, and as far as could
be ascertained from their signs and their gestures, the cannibals of
Montserrat frequently set out on hunts to take captives for food, and
in so doing go a distance of more than a thousand miles from their
coasts. The next day the Spaniards discovered another island, and as
it was of spherical form, Columbus named it Santa Maria Rotunda. In
less time he passed by another island discovered next day, and which,
without stopping, he dedicated to St. Martin, and the following day
still a third island came into view. The Spaniards estimated its width
from east to west at fifty miles.

It afterwards became known that these islands were of the most
extraordinary beauty and fertility, and to this last one the name of
the Blessed Virgin of Antigua was given. Sailing on past numerous
islands which followed Antigua, Columbus arrived, forty miles farther
on, at an island which surpassed all the others in size, and which the
natives called Agay. The Admiral gave it the name of Santa Cruz. Here
he ordered the anchor to be lowered, in order that he might replenish
his supply of water, and he sent thirty men from his vessel to land
and explore. These men found four dogs on the shore, and the same
number of youths and women approached with hands extended, like
supplicants. It was supposed they were begging for assistance or to be
rescued from the hands of those abominable people. Whatever decision
the Spaniards might take in regard to them, seemed better to them
than their actual condition. The cannibals fled as they had done at
Guadaloupe, and disappeared into the forests.

Two days were passed at Santa Cruz, where thirty of our Spaniards
placed in an ambuscade saw, from the place where they were watching, a
canoe in the distance coming towards them, in which there were eight
men and as many women. At a given signal they fell upon the canoe; as
they approached, the men and women let fly a volley of arrows with
great rapidity and accuracy. Before the Spaniards had time to protect
themselves with their shields, one of our men, a Galician, was killed
by a woman, and another was seriously wounded by an arrow shot by that
same woman. It was discovered that their poisoned arrows contained a
kind of liquid which oozed out when the point broke. There was one
woman amongst these savages whom, as nearly as could be conjectured,
all the others seemed to obey, as though she was their queen. With her
was her son, a fierce, robust young man, with ferocious eyes and a
face like a lion's. Rather than further expose themselves to their
arrows, our men chose to engage them in a hand to hand combat. Rowing
stoutly, they pushed their barque against the canoe of the savages,
which was overturned by the shock; the canoe sank, but the savages,
throwing themselves into the water, continued while swimming to shoot
their arrows with the same rapidity. Climbing upon a rock level with
the water, they still fought with great bravery, though they were
finally captured, after one had been killed and the son of the queen
had received two wounds. When they were brought on board the Admiral's
ship, they no more changed their ferocious and savage mood than do the
lions of Africa, when they find themselves caught in nets. There was
no one who saw them who did not shiver with horror, so infernal and
repugnant was the aspect nature and their own cruel character had
given them. I affirm this after what I have myself seen, and so
likewise do all those who went with me in Madrid to examine them.

I return to my narrative. Each day the Spaniards advanced farther.
They had covered a distance of five hundred miles. Driven first by the
south wind, then by the west wind, and finally by the wind from the
north-west, they found themselves in a sea dotted with innumerable
islands, strangely different one from another; some were covered with
forests and prairies and offered delightful shade, while others, which
were dry and sterile, had very lofty and rocky mountains. The rocks of
these latter were of various colours, some purple, some violet, and
some entirely white. It is thought they contain metals and precious

The ships did not touch, as the weather was unfavourable, and also
because navigation amongst these islands is dangerous. Postponing
until another time the exploration of these islands which, because of
their confused grouping could not be counted, the Spaniards continued
their voyage. Some lighter ships of the fleet did, however, cruise
amongst them, reconnoitring forty-six of them, while the heavier
ships, fearing the reefs, kept to the high sea. This collection of
islands is called an archipelago. Outside the archipelago and directly
across the course rises the island called by the natives Burichena,
which Columbus placed under the patronage of San Juan.[7] A number of
the captives rescued from the hands of the cannibals declared they
were natives of that island, which they said was populous and well
cultivated; they explained that it had excellent ports, was covered
with forests, and that its inhabitants hated the cannibals and were
constantly at war with them. The inhabitants possessed no boats by
which they could reach the coasts of the cannibals from their island;
but whenever they were lucky in repulsing a cannibal invasion for
the purpose of plundering, they cut their prisoners into small bits,
roasted, and greedily ate them; for in war there is alternative good
and bad fortune.

[Note 7: Porto Rico.]

All this was recounted through the native interpreters who had been
taken back to Spain on the first voyage. Not to lose time, the
Spaniards passed by Burichena; nevertheless some sailors, who landed
on the extreme western point of the island to take a supply of fresh
water, found there a handsome house built in the fashion of the
country, and surrounded by a dozen or more ordinary structures, all of
which were abandoned by their owners. Whether the inhabitants betake
themselves at that period of the year to the mountains to escape the
heat, and then return to the lowlands when the temperature is fresher,
or whether they had fled out of fear of the cannibals, is not
precisely known. There is but one king for the whole of the island,
and he is reverently obeyed. The south coast of this island, which the
Spaniards followed, is two hundred miles long.

During the night two women and a young man, who had been rescued from
the cannibals, sprang into the sea and swam to their native island.
A few days later the Spaniards finally arrived at the much-desired
Hispaniola, which is five hundred leagues from the nearest of the
cannibal islands. Cruel fate had decreed the death of all those
Spaniards who had been left there.

There is a coast region of Hispaniola which the natives call Xarama,
and it was from Xarama that Columbus had set sail on his first
voyage, when he was about to return to Spain, taking with him the ten
interpreters of whom I spoke above, of whom only three survived; the
others having succumbed to the change of climate, country, and food.

Hardly were the ships in sight of the coast of Xarama, which Columbus
called Santa Reina,[8] than the Admiral ordered one of these
interpreters to be set at liberty, and two others managed to jump into
the sea and swim to the shore. As Columbus did not yet know the sad
fate of the thirty-eight men whom he had left on the island the
preceding year, he was not concerned at this flight. When the
Spaniards were near to the coast a long canoe with several rowers came
out to meet them. In it was the brother of Guaccanarillo, that king
with whom the Admiral had signed a treaty when he left Hispaniola,
and to whose care he had urgently commended the sailors he had left
behind. The brother brought to the Admiral, in the king's name, a
present of two golden statues; he also spoke in his own language--as
was later understood,--of the death of our compatriots; but as there
was no interpreter, nobody at the time understood his words.

[Note 8: Xarama is also spelled in the Latin editions _Xamana_, and
Santa Reina, _Sancteremus_.]

Upon arriving, however, at the blockhouse and the houses, which were
surrounded by an entrenchment, they were all found reduced to ashes,
while over the place a profound silence reigned. The Admiral and his
companions were deeply moved by this discovery. Thinking and hoping
that some of the men might still be alive, he ordered cannon and guns
to be fired, that the noise of these formidable detonations echoing
amongst the mountains and along the coasts might serve as a signal of
his arrival to any of our men who might be hidden among the islanders
or among wild beasts. It was in vain; for they were all dead.

The Admiral afterwards sent messengers to Guaccanarillo, who, as far
as they could understand, related as follows: there are on the island,
which is very large, a number of kings, who are more powerful than he;
two of these, disturbed by the news of the arrival of the Spaniards,
assembled considerable forces, attacked and killed our men and burned
their entrenchments, houses, and possessions; Guaccanarillo had
striven to save our men, and in the struggle had been wounded with an
arrow, his leg being still bandaged with cotton; and for this reason
he had not, despite his keen desire, been able to go to meet the

There do exist several sovereigns on the island, some more powerful
than the others; just as we read that the fabulous AEneas found Latium
divided amongst several kings, Latinus, Mezentius, Turnus, and
Tarchon, all near neighbours who fought over the territory. The
islanders of Hispaniola, in my opinion, may be esteemed more fortunate
than were the Latins, above all should they become converted to the
true religion. They go naked, they know neither weights nor measures,
nor that source of all misfortunes, money; living in a golden age,
without laws, without lying judges, without books, satisfied with
their life, and in no wise solicitous for the future. Nevertheless
ambition and the desire to rule trouble even them, and they fight
amongst themselves, so that even in the golden age there is never a
moment without war; the maxim _Cede, non cedam_, has always prevailed
amongst mortal men.

The following day the Admiral sent to Guaccanarillo a Sevillan called
Melchior, who had once been sent by the King and the Queen to the
sovereign Pontiff when they captured Malaga. Melchior found him
in bed, feigning illness, and surrounded by the beds of his seven
concubines. Upon removing the bandage [from his leg] Melchior
discovered no trace of any wound, and this caused him to suspect that
Guaccanarillo was the murderer of our compatriots. He concealed his
suspicions, however, and obtained the king's assurance that he would
come the following day to see the Admiral on board his ship, which he
did. As soon as he came on board, and after saluting the Spaniards and
distributing some gold among the officers, he turned to the women whom
we had rescued from the cannibals and, glancing with half-opened eyes
at one of them whom we called Catherine, he spoke to her very softly;
after which, with the Admiral's permission, which he asked with great
politeness and urbanity, he inspected the horses and other things he
had never before seen, and then left.

Some persons advised Columbus to hold Guaccanarillo prisoner, to
make him expiate in case it was proven that our compatriots had been
assassinated by his orders; but the Admiral, deeming it inopportune to
irritate the islanders, allowed him to depart.

The day after the morrow, the brother of the king, acting in his own
name or in that of Guaccanarillo, came on board and won over the
women, for the following night Catherine, in order to recover her own
liberty and that of all her companions, yielded to the solicitation of
Guaccanarillo or his brother, and accomplished a feat more heroic than
that of the Roman Clelia, when she liberated the other virgins who had
served with her as hostages, swam the Tiber and thus escaped from the
power of Lars Porsena. Clelia crossed the river on a horse, while
Catherine and several other women trusted only to their arms and swam
for a distance of three miles in a sea by no means calm; for that,
according to every one's opinion, was the distance between the ships
and the coast. The sailors pursued them in light boats, guided by the
same light from the shore which served for the women, of whom they
captured three. It is believed that Catherine and four others escaped
to Guaccanarillo, for at daybreak, men sent out by the Admiral
announced that he and the women had fled together, taking all their
goods with them; and this fact confirmed the suspicion that he had
consented to the assassination of our men.

Melchior, whom I have mentioned, was then despatched with three
hundred men to search for him. In the course of his march he came upon
a winding gorge, overlooked by five lofty hills in such wise as to
suggest the estuary of a large river. There was found a large harbour,
safe and spacious, which they named Port Royal. The entrance of this
harbour is crescent-shaped, and is so regularly formed that it is
difficult to detect whether ships have entered from the right or the
left; this can only be ascertained when they return to the entrance.
Three large ships can enter abreast. The surrounding hills form the
coasts, and afford shelter from the winds. In the middle of the
harbour there rises a promontory covered with forests, which are full
of parrots and many other birds which there build their nests and fill
the air with sweet melodies. Two considerable rivers empty into this

In the course of their explorations of this country the Spaniards
perceived in the distance a large house, which they approached,
persuaded that it was the retreat of Guaccanarillo. They were met by a
man with a wrinkled forehead and frowning brows, who was escorted by
about a hundred warriors armed with bows and arrows, pointed lances
and clubs. He advanced menacingly towards them. "_Tainos_," the
natives cried, that is to say, good men and not cannibals. In response
to our amicable signs, they dropped their arms and modified their
ferocious attitude. To each one was presented a hawk's bell, and they
became so friendly that they fearlessly went on board the ships,
sliding down the steep banks of the river, and overwhelmed our
compatriots with gifts. Upon measuring the large house which was of
spherical form, it was found to have a diameter of thirty-five long
paces; surrounding it were thirty other ordinary houses. The ceilings
were decked with branches of various colours most artfully plaited
together. In reply to our inquiries about Guaccanarillo, the natives
responded,--as far as could be understood,--that they were not
subjects of his, but of a chief who was there present; they likewise
declared they understood that Guaccanarillo had left the coast to take
refuge in the mountains. After concluding a treaty of friendship with
that cacique, such being the name given to their kings, the Spaniards
returned to report what they had learned to the Admiral.

Columbus had meanwhile sent some officers with an escort of men to
effect a reconnaissance farther in the interior; two of the most
conspicuous of these were Hojeda and Corvalano, both young and
courageous noblemen. One of them discovered three rivers, the other
four, all of which had their sources in these same mountains. In the
sands of these rivers gold was found, which the Indians, who acted as
their escort, proceeded in their presence to collect in the following
manner: they dug a hole in the sand about the depth of an arm, merely
scooping the sand out of this trough with the right and left hands.
They extracted the grains of gold, which they afterwards presented to
the Spaniards. Some declared they saw grains as big as peas. I have
seen with my own eyes a shapeless ingot similar to a round river
stone, which was found by Hojeda, and was afterwards brought to Spain;
it weighed nine ounces. Satisfied with this first examination they
returned to report to the Admiral.

Columbus, as I have been told, had forbidden them to do more than
examine and reconnoitre the country. The news spread that the king
of the mountain country, where all these rivers rise, was called the
Cacique Caunaboa, that is to say, the Lord of the Golden House; for in
their language _boa_ is the word for a house, _cauna_ for gold, and
_cacique_ for king, as I have above written. Nowhere are better
fresh-water fish to be found, nor more beautiful nor better in taste,
and less dangerous. The waters of all these rivers are likewise very

Melchior has told me that amongst the cannibals the days of the month
of December are equal to the nights, but knowledge contradicts this
observation. I well know that in this self-same month of December,
some birds made their nests and others already hatched out their
little ones; the heat was also considerable. When I inquired
particularly concerning the elevation of the north star above the
horizon, he answered me that in the land of the cannibals the Great
Bear entirely disappeared beneath the arctic pole. There is nobody who
came back from this second voyage whose testimony one may more safely
accept than his; but had he possessed knowledge of astronomy he would
have limited himself to saying that the day is about as long as the
night. For in no place in the world does the night during the solstice
precisely equal the day; and it is certain that on this voyage the
Spaniards never reached the equator, for they constantly beheld on the
horizon the polar star, which served them as guide. As for Melchior's
companions, they were without knowledge or experience, therefore I
offer you few particulars, and those only casually, as I have been
able to collect them. I hope to narrate to you what I may be able to
learn from others. Moreover Columbus, whose particular friend I am,
has written me that he would recount me fully all that he has been
fortunate enough to discover.[9]

[Note 9: The letter of Columbus here mentioned is not known to exist.]

The Admiral selected an elevation near the port as the site for a
town[10]; and, within a few days, some houses and a church were built,
as well as could be done in so short a time. And there, on the feast
of the Three Kings (for when treating of this country one must speak
of a new world, so distant is it and so devoid of civilisation and
religion) the Holy Sacrifice was celebrated by thirteen priests.[11]

[Note 10: The first Spanish settlement was named Isabella, as was
likewise the cape on which it stood. Long after it was abandoned and
had fallen into ruin, the site was reputed to be haunted. See Las
Casas, _Historia de las Indias_, vol. i., p. 72.]

[Note 11: There were certainly not as many as thirteen priests
with Columbus. The text reads ...._divina nostro ritu sacra sunt
decantata tredecim sacerdotibus ministrantibus_. The number doubtless
includes all laymen who took any part, as acolytes, etc., in the

As the time when he had promised to send news to the King and Queen
approached, and as the season was moreover favourable [for sailing],
Columbus decided not to prolong his stay. He therefore ordered the
twelve caravels, whose arrival we have announced, to sail, though he
was much afflicted by the assassination of his comrades; because, but
for their death, we should possess much fuller information concerning
the climate and the products of Hispaniola.

That you may inform your apothecaries, druggists, and perfumers
concerning the products of this country and its high temperature, I
send you some seeds of all kinds, as well as the bark and the pith of
those trees which are believed to be cinnamon trees. If you wish to
taste either the seeds or the pith or the bark, be careful, Most
Illustrious Prince, only to do so with caution; not that they are
harmful, but they are very peppery, and if you leave them a long time
in your mouth, they will sting the tongue. In case you should burn
your tongue a little in tasting them, take some water, and the burning
sensation will be allayed. My messenger will also deliver to Your
Eminence some of those black and white seeds out of which they make
bread. If you cut bits of the wood called aloes, which he brings, you
will scent the delicate perfumes it exhales.

Fare you well.

From the Court of Spain, the third day of the calends of May, 1494.



You desire that another skilful Phaeton should drive the car of the
Sun. You seek to draw a sweet potion from a dry stone. A new world, if
I may so express myself, has been discovered under the auspices of the
Catholic sovereigns, your uncle Ferdinand and your aunt Isabella, and
you command me to describe to you this heretofore unknown world; and
to that effect you sent me a letter of your uncle, the illustrious
King Frederick.[1] You will both receive this precious stone, badly
mounted and set in lead. But when you later observe that my beautiful
nereids of the ocean are exposed to the furious attacks of erudite
friends and to the calumnies of detractors, you must frankly confess
to them that you have forced me to send you this news, despite my
pressing occupations and my health. You are not ignorant that I have
taken these accounts from the first reports of the Admiral as rapidly
as your secretary could write under my dictation. You hasten me by
daily announcing your departure for Naples in company of the Queen,
sister of our King and your paternal aunt, whom you had accompanied
to Spain. Thus you have forced me to complete my writings. You will
observe that the first two chapters are dedicated to another, for I
had really begun to write them with a dedication to your unfortunate
relative Ascanio Sforza, Cardinal and Vice-chancellor. When he fell
into disgrace,[2] I felt my interest in writing also decline. It is
owing to you and to the letters sent me by your illustrious uncle,
King Frederick, that my ardour has revived. Enjoy, therefore, this
narrative, which is not a thing of the imagination.

Fare you well. From Granada, the ninth of the calends of May of the
year 1500.

[Note 1: Frederick III., of Aragon, succeeded his nephew Frederick
II., as King of Naples in 1496. Five years later, when dispossessed
by Ferdinand the Catholic, he took refuge in France, where Louis XII.
granted him the duchy of Anjou and a suitable pension. He died in

[Note 2: Upon the death of Innocent VIII., four members of the
Sacred College were conspicuous _papabili_: Raffaele Riario and
Giuliano della Rovere, nephews of Sixtus IV., and Roderigo Borgia and
Ascanio Sforza. Borgia was elected and took the title of Alexander VI.
He rewarded Cardinal Sforza for his timely assistance in securing
his elevation, by giving him the Vice-Chancellorship he had himself
occupied as Cardinal, the town of Nepi and the Borgia Palace in Rome.
Dissensions between Alexander and the Sforza family soon became acute;
Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and sometime husband of Lucrezia
Borgia, was expelled, and his brother, Cardinal Ascanio was included
in the papal disfavour. He sought refuge in Lombardy, where he was
taken prisoner by Louis XII., of France. Peter Martyr had foreseen,
in a measure, the turbulent events of Alexander's pontificate; the
Spanish sovereigns charged him to express to Cardinal Sforza their
disapproval of his action in supporting the Borgia party, that
Cardinal, though a Spaniard, being _persona non grata_ to them; and in
so doing he wrote to his friend the dubious augury, "God grant he may
be grateful to you." Ep. 119.]

I have narrated in a preceding book how the Admiral Columbus, after
having visited the cannibal islands, landed at Hispaniola on the
fourth day of the nones of February, 1493, without having lost a
single vessel. I shall now recount what he discovered while exploring
that island and another neighbouring one, which he believed to be a

According to Columbus, Hispaniola is the island of Ophir mentioned in
the third book of Kings.[3] Its width covers five degrees of south
latitude, for its north coast extends to the twenty-seventh degree and
the south coast to the twenty-second; its length extends 780 miles,
though some of the companions of Columbus give greater dimensions.[4]
Some declare that it extends to within forty-nine degrees of Cadiz,
and others to an even greater distance. The calculation concerning
this has not been made with precision.

[Note 3: Ortelius, in his _Geographia Sacra_, gives the name of
Ophir to Hayti; and it was a commonly held opinion that Solomon's
mines of Ophir were situated in America. Columbus shared this belief,
and he later wrote of Veragua, when he discovered the coasts of
Darien, that he was positive the gold mines there were those of

[Note 4: Hayti is 600 kilometres long from east to west, and 230
broad, from north to south, with a superficial area of 74,000 square

The island is shaped like a chestnut leaf. Columbus decided to found
a town[5] upon an elevated hill on the northern coast, since in
that vicinity there was a mountain with stone-quarries for building
purposes and chalk to make lime. At the foot of this mountain a vast
plain[6] extends for a distance of sixty miles in length, and of
an average of twelve leagues in breadth, varying from six in the
narrowest part to twenty in the broadest. This plain is fertilised by
several rivers of wholesome water, of which the largest is navigable
and empties into a bay situated half a stadium from the town. As the
narrative proceeds you will learn how fruitful this valley is, and how
fertile is its soil. The Spaniards laid out parcels of land on the
river bank, which they intended to make into gardens, and where they
planted all kinds of vegetables, roots, lettuces, cabbages, salads,
and other things. Sixteen days after the sowing, the plants had
everywhere grown; melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and other similar
products were ripe for picking thirty-six days after they were
planted, and nowhere had our people tasted any of finer flavour.
Throughout the whole year one might thus have fresh vegetables.
Cane-roots, from the juice of which sugar is extracted (but not
crystallised sugar) grew to a height of a cubit within fifteen days
after planting, and the same happened to graftings of vines. Excellent
grapes may be eaten from these vines the second year after planting,
but on account of their exaggerated size, the bunches were not
numerous. A certain peasant planted a foot of wheat about the calends
of February, and wonderful to say, in the sight of everybody he
brought into the town a bunch of ripe grain on the third day of the
calends of April, which fell in that year on the eve of Easter. Two
harvests of vegetables may be counted upon within the year. I have
repeated what is told to me about the fertility of the country by
all those, without exception, who have returned from there. I would
notice, however, that according to some observations wheat does not
grow equally well throughout the whole country.

[Note 5: The town of Santo Domingo, standing at the mouth of the
Ozama river.]

[Note 6: This valley is the actual Vega Real.]

During this time the Admiral despatched some thirty of his men in
different directions to explore the district of Cipangu, which is
still called Cibao. This is a mountainous region covered with rocks
and occupying the centre of the island, where, the natives explained
by signs, gold is obtained in abundance. The Admiral's explorers
brought back marvellous reports of the riches of the country. Four
large rivers rise in these mountains, into which other streams flow,
thus dividing the island by an extraordinary natural arrangement into
four almost equal parts. The first, which the natives call Junua, lies
towards the east; the second, which borders on it and extends to the
west, is called Attibinico; the third lies to the north and is called
Iachi, while the fourth, Naiba, lies to the south.

But let us consider how the town was founded. After having surrounded
the site with ditches and entrenchments for defence against possible
attacks by the natives on the garrison he left there, during his
absence, the Admiral started on the eve of the ides of March
accompanied by all the gentlemen and about four hundred foot-soldiers
for the southern region where the gold was found. Crossing a river,
he traversed the plain and climbed the mountain beyond it. He reached
another valley watered by a river even larger than the former one, and
by others of less importance. Accompanied by his force he crossed this
valley, which was in no place more elevated than the first one, and
thus he reached the third mountain which had never been ascended. He
made the ascent and came down on the other side into a valley where
the province of Cibao begins. This valley is watered by rivers and
streams which flow down from the hills, and gold is also found in
their sands. After penetrating into the interior of the gold region a
distance of some seventy-two miles from the town, Columbus resolved to
establish a fortified post on an eminence commanding the river banks,
from which he might study more closely the mysteries of this region.
He named this place San Tomas.

While he was occupied in building this fortification he was delayed by
the natives, who came to visit him in the hope of getting some bells
or other trifles. Columbus gave them to understand that he was very
willing to give them what they asked, if they would bring him gold.
Upon hearing this promise the natives turned their backs and ran to
the neighbouring river, returning soon afterwards with hands full of
gold. One old man only asked a little bell in return for two grains of
gold weighing an ounce. Seeing that the Spaniards admired the size of
these grains, and quite amazed at their astonishment, he explained to
them by signs that they were of no value; after which, taking in his
hands four stones, of which the smallest was the size of a nut and the
largest as big as an orange, he told them that in his country, which
was half a day's journey distant, one found here and there ingots of
gold quite as large. He added that his neighbours did not even take
the trouble to pick them up. It is now known that the islanders set no
value on gold as such; they only prize it when it has been worked by
a craftsman into some form which pleases them. Who amongst us pays
attention to rough marble or to unworked ebony? Certainly nobody;
but if this marble is transformed by the hand of a Phidias or a
Praxiteles, and if it then presents to our eyes the form of a Nereid
with flowing hair, or a hamadryad with graceful body, buyers will not
be wanting. Besides this old man, a number of natives brought ingots,
weighing ten or twelve drachmas,[7] and they had the effrontery to
say that in the region where they had found them, they sometimes
discovered ingots as big as the head of a child whom they indicated.

[Note 7: The Greek drachma weighed one eighth of an ounce.]

During the days he passed at San Tomas, the Admiral sent a young
nobleman named Luxan, accompanied by an escort, to explore another
region. Luxan told even more extraordinary things, which he had heard
from the natives, but he brought back nothing; it is probable that he
did this in obedience to the Admiral's orders. Spices, but not those
we use, abound in their forests, and these they gather just as they do
gold; that is to say, whenever they wish to trade with the inhabitants
of the neighbouring islands for something which pleases them; for
example, long plates, seats, or other articles manufactured out of a
black wood which does not grow in Hispaniola. On his return journey,
towards the ides of March, Luxan found wild grapes of excellent
flavour, already ripe in the forest, but the islanders take no account
of them. The country, although very stony (for the word Cibao means
in their language _rocky_) is nevertheless covered with trees and
grasses. It is even said that the growth on the mountains, which
strictly speaking is only grass, grows taller than wheat within four
days after it has been mown. The rains being frequent, the rivers and
streams are full of water, and as gold is everywhere found mixed with
the sand of the river-beds, it is conjectured that this metal is
washed down from the mountains by the streams. It is certain that the
natives are extremely lazy, for they shiver with cold among their
mountains in winter, without ever thinking of making clothes for
themselves, although cotton is found in abundance. In the valleys and
lowlands they have nothing to fear from cold.

Having carefully examined the region of Cibao, Columbus returned on
the calends of April, the day after Easter, to Isabella; this being
the name he had given to the new city. Confiding the government
of Isabella and the entire island to his brother[8] and one Pedro
Margarita, an old royal courtier, Columbus made preparations for
exploring the island which lies only seventy miles from Hispaniola,
and which he believed to be a continent. He had not forgotten the
royal instructions, which urged him to visit the new coasts, without
delay, lest some other sovereign might take possession of them. For
the King of Portugal made no secret of his intention also to discover
unknown islands. True it is that the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI.,
had sent to the King and Queen of Spain his bull, sealed with lead, by
which it was forbidden to any other sovereign to visit those unknown
regions.[9] To avoid all conflict, a straight line from north to south
had been drawn, first at one hundred leagues and afterwards by common
accord at three hundred leagues west of the parallel of the isles of
Cape Verde. We believe these islands to be those formerly called
the Hesperides. They belong to the King of Portugal. The Portuguese
mariners have continued their explorations to the east of that line;
following the coast of Africa on their left, they directed their
course to the east, crossing the Ethiopian seas, and up to the present
time none of them has yet sailed to the west of the Hesperides, or
towards the south.

[Note 8: According to the judgment of Las Casas, Bartholomew
Columbus was a man of superior character and well qualified to rule,
had he not been eclipsed by his famous brother. _Hist. Ind_., ii., p.

[Note 9: Bull granted May 4, 1493: _Ac quibuscumque personis . . .
districtius inhibemus, ne ad insulas et terras firmas inventas, et
inveniendas detectas et detegendas, versus occidentem et meridiem,
fabricando et construendo lineam a Polo Arctico ad Polum antarcticum,
sive terrae firmae, Insulae inventae et inveniendae sint versus aliam
quamcumque partem quae linea distet a qualibet insularum quae vulgariter
appellantur de los Azores el Capo Verde, centum leucis versus
occidentem et meridiem ut praefertur pro mercibus habendis, vel
quavis alia de causa accedere praesumant, absque vestra et haeredum
et subcesorum vestrorum praedictorum licentia spetiali_.... By the
agreement signed at Tordesillas, the distance was increased by common
consent between Spain and Portugal, not as Martyr says, to 300, but to
370 leagues.]

Leaving Hispaniola,[10] the Admiral sailed with three vessels in the
direction of the land he had taken for an island on his first voyage,
and had named Juana. He arrived, after a brief voyage, and named the
first coast he touched Alpha and Omega, because he thought that there
our East ended when the sun set in that island, and our West began
when the sun rose. It is indeed proven that on the west side India
begins beyond the Ganges, and ends on the east side. It is not without
cause that cosmographers have left the boundaries of Ganges India
undetermined.[11] There are not wanting those among them who think
that the coasts of Spain do not lie very distant from the shores of

[Note 10: He left Hispaniola on April 24th.]

[Note 11: This was the general opinion of cosmographers and
navigators at that period; contemporary maps and globes show the
Asiatic continent in the place actually occupied by Florida and
Mexico. See map of Ptolemeus de Ruysch, _Universalior coquiti orbis
tabula ex recentibus confecta observationibus_, Rome, 1508.]

The natives called this country Cuba.[12] Within sight of it, the
Admiral discovered at the extremity of Hispaniola a very commodious
harbour formed by a bend in the island. He called this harbour, which
is barely twenty leagues distant from Cuba, San Nicholas.

[Note 12: Always deeming Cuba to be an extension of Asia, Columbus
was anxious to complete his reconnaissance, and then to proceed to
India and Cathay.]

Columbus covered this distance, and desiring to skirt the south coast
of Cuba, he laid his course to the west; the farther he advanced the
more extensive did the coast become, but bending towards the south, he
first discovered, to the left of Cuba, an island called by the natives
Jamaica,[13] of which he reports that it is longer and broader
than Sicily. It is composed of one sole mountain, which rises in
imperceptible gradations from the coasts to the centre, sloping so
gently that in mounting it, the ascent is scarcely noticeable. Both
the coast country and the interior of Jamaica are extremely fertile
and populous. According to the report of their neighbours, the
natives of this island have a keener intelligence and are cleverer in
mechanical arts, as well as more warlike than others. And indeed, each
time the Admiral sought to land in any place, they assembled in armed
bands, threatening him, and not hesitating to offer battle. As they
were always conquered, they ended by making peace with him. Leaving
Jamaica to one side, the Admiral sailed to the west for seventy days
with favourable winds. He expected to arrive in the part of the world
underneath us just near the Golden Chersonese, which is situated to
the east of Persia. He thought, as a matter of fact, that of the
twelve hours of the sun's course of which we are ignorant he would
have only lost two.

[Note 13: The island is about eighty-five miles from Cuba. The
name Jamaica, which has survived, meant in the native tongue "land of
wood and water." It was really discovered on May 13th, but was not
colonised until 1509.]

It is known that the ancients have only followed the sun during the
half of its course, since they only knew that part of the globe which
lies between Cadiz and the Ganges, or even to the Golden Chersonese.

During this voyage, the Admiral encountered marine currents as
impetuous as torrents, with great waves and undercurrents, to say
nothing of the dangers presented by the immense number of neighbouring
islands; but he was heedless of these perils, and was determined to
advance until he had ascertained whether Cuba was an island or a
continent. He continued, therefore, coasting the shores of the island,
and always towards the west, to a distance, according to his report,
of two hundred and twenty-two leagues, which is equal to about one
thousand three hundred miles. He gave names to seven thousand islands,
and moreover beheld on his left hand more than three thousand others
rising from the waves. But let us return to those matters worthy to be
remembered which he encountered during this voyage.

While the Admiral was carefully examining the character of these
places, coasting along the shore of Cuba, he first discovered, not far
from Alpha (that is from the end of it), a harbour sufficient for many
ships. Its entrance is in the form of a scythe, shut in on the two
sides by promontories that break the waves; and it is large and of
great depth. Following the coast of this harbour, he perceived at a
short distance from the shore two huts, and several fires burning here
and there. A landing was made, but no people were found; nevertheless
there were wooden spits arranged about the fire, on which hung fish,
altogether of about a hundred pounds' weight, and alongside lay two
serpents eight feet long.[14] The Spaniards were astonished, and
looked about for some one with whom to speak, but saw nobody. Indeed,
the owners of the fish had fled to the mountains on seeing them
approach. The Spaniards rested there to eat, and were pleased to find
the fish, which had cost them nothing, much to their taste; but they
did not touch the serpents. They report that these latter were in no
wise different from the crocodiles of the Nile, except in point of
size. According to Pliny, crocodiles as long as eighteen cubits have
been found; while the largest in Cuba do not exceed eight feet. When
their hunger was satisfied, they penetrated into the neighbouring
woods, where they found a number of these serpents tied to the trees
with cords; some were attached by their heads, others had had their
teeth pulled out. While the Spaniards busied themselves in visiting
the neighbourhood of the harbour, they discovered about seventy
natives who had fled at their approach, and who now sought to know
what these unknown people wanted. Our men endeavoured to attract them
by gestures and signs, and gentle words, and one of them, fascinated
by the gifts which they exhibited from a distance, approached, but no
nearer than a neighbouring rock. It was clear that he was afraid.

[Note 14: As will be later seen, these so-called serpents are
iguanas. They are still a common article of food throughout the
islands, and _tierra caliente_ of Mexico and Central America, and make
savoury dishes.]

During his first voyage the Admiral had taken a native of Guanahani
(an island near by Cuba), whom he had named Diego Columbus, and had
brought up with his own children. Diego served him as interpreter, and
as his maternal tongue was akin to the language of the islander who
had approached, he spoke to him. Overcoming his fears, the islander
came amongst the Spaniards, and persuaded his companions to join him
as there was nothing to fear. About seventy natives then descended
from their rocks and made friends, and the Admiral offered them

They were fishermen, sent to fish by their cacique, who was preparing
a festival for the reception of another chief. They were not at
all vexed when they found that their fish had been eaten and their
serpents left, for they considered these serpents the most delicate
food. Common people among them eat less often of the serpents than
they would with us of pheasants or peacocks. Moreover they could catch
as many fish as the Spaniards had eaten, in one hour. When asked why
they cooked the fish they were to carry to their cacique, they replied
that they did so to preserve it from corruption. After swearing a
mutual friendship they separated.

From that point of the Cuban coast which he had named Alpha, as we
have said, the Admiral sailed towards the west. The middle portions of
the shores of the bay were well wooded but steep and mountainous. Some
of the trees were in flower, and the sweet perfumes they exhaled were
wafted out across the sea,[15] while others were weighted with fruit.
Beyond the bay the country was more fertile and more populous. The
natives were likewise more civilised and more desirous of novelties,
for, at the sight of the vessels, a crowd of them came down to the
shore, offering our men the kind of bread they ate, and gourds full of
water. They begged them to come on land.

[Note 15: The fragrant odours blown out to sea from the American
coasts are mentioned by several of the early explorers.]

On all these islands there is found a tree about the size of our elms,
which bears a sort of gourd out of which they make drinking cups; but
they never eat it, as its pulp is bitterer than gall, and its shell is
as hard as a turtle's back. On the ides of May the watchers saw from
the height of the lookout an incredible multitude of islands to the
south-west; two of them were covered with grass and green trees, and
all of them were inhabited.

On the shore of the continent there emptied a navigable river of which
the water was so hot that one could not leave one's hand long in it.
The next day, having seen a canoe of fishermen in the distance, and
fearing that these fishermen might take to flight at sight of them,
the Admiral ordered a barque to cut off their retreat; but the men
waited for the Spaniards without sign of fear.

Listen now to this new method of fishing. Just as we use French dogs
to chase hares across the plain, so do these fishermen catch fish
by means of a fish trained for that purpose. This fish in no wise
resembles any that we know. Its body is similar to that of a large
eel, and upon its head it has a large pouch made of a very tough skin.
They tie the fish to the side of the boat, with just the amount of
cord necessary to hold it under the water; for it cannot stand contact
with the air. As soon as a large fish or turtle is seen (and these
latter are as large as a huge shield), they let the fish go. The
moment it is freed, it attacks, with the rapidity of an arrow, the
fish or turtle, on some part exposed from the shell, covering it with
the pouch-like skin, and attaching itself with such tenacity that the
only way to pull it off alive is by rolling a cord round a pole and
raising the fish out of the water, when contact with the air causes
it to drop its prey. This is-done by some of the fishermen who throw
themselves into the water, and hold it above the surface, until their
companions, who remained in the barque, have dragged it on board. This
done, the cord is loosened enough for the fisherman-fish to drop back
into the water, when it is fed with pieces of the prey which has been

The islanders call this fish _guaicano_, and our people call it
_riverso_.[16] Four turtles which they caught in this fashion and
presented to the Spaniards almost filled a native barque. They highly
prize the flesh of turtles, and the Spaniards made them some presents
in exchange which highly pleased them. When our sailors questioned
them concerning the size of the land, they answered that it had no
end towards the west. They insisted that the Admiral should land, or
should send some one in his name to salute their cacique, promising
moreover that if the Spaniards would go to visit the cacique, the
latter would make them various presents; but the Admiral, not wishing
to retard the execution of his project, refused to yield to their
wishes. The islanders asked him his name, and told him the name of
their cacique.

[Note 16: A sea-lamprey, also called _remora_ and _echineis_.
Oviedo gives details concerning the manner of catching, raising,
and training the young lampreys to serve as game-fish. _Hist. delle
Indie_, cap. x., in Ramusio. The account is interesting and despite
obvious inaccuracies may have a basis of truth.]

Continuing his route towards the west, the Admiral arrived several
days later in the neighbourhood of a very lofty mountain, where,
because of the fertility of the soil, there were many inhabitants. The
natives assembled in crowds, and brought bread, cotton, rabbits, and
birds on board the ships. They inquired with great curiosity of the
interpreter, if this new race of men was descended from heaven. Their
king, and a number of wise men who accompanied him, made known
by signs that this land was not an island. Landing on another
neighbouring island, which almost touched Cuba, the Spaniards were
unable to discover a single inhabitant; everybody, men and women, had
fled on their approach. They found there four dogs which could not
bark and were of hideous aspect. The people eat them just as we do
kids. Geese, ducks, and herons abound in that island. Between these
islands and the continent there were such strong currents that the
Admiral had great difficulty in tacking, and the water was so shallow
that the keels of the ships sometimes scraped the sand. For a space of
forty miles the water of these currents was white, and so thick that
one would have sworn the sea was sprinkled with flour. Having finally
regained the open, the Admiral discovered, eighty miles farther on,
another very lofty mountain. He landed to replenish his supply of
water and wood. In the midst of the thick palm and pine groves two
springs of sweet water were found. While the men were busy cutting
wood and filling their barrels, one of our archers went off in the
woods to hunt. He there suddenly encountered a native, so well dressed
in a white tunic, that at the first glance he believed he saw before
him one of the Friars of Santa Maria de la Merced, whom the Admiral
had brought with him. This native was soon followed by two others,
likewise coming out of the forest, and then by a troop of about thirty
men, all of them clothed. Our archer turned and ran shouting, as
quickly as he could, towards the ships. These people dressed in tunics
shouted after him, and tried by all means of persuasion in their power
to calm his fears. But he did not stop in his flight. Upon hearing
this news, the Admiral, delighted finally to discover a civilised
nation, at once landed a troop of armed men, ordering them to advance,
if necessary, as far as forty miles into the country, until they
should find those people dressed in tunics, or at least some other
inhabitants.[17] The Spaniards marched through the forest and emerged
on an extensive plain overgrown with brush, amidst which there was
no vestige of a path. They sought to cut a pathway through the
undergrowth, but wandered about so hopelessly that they hardly
advanced a mile. This underbrush was indeed as high as our grain when
ripe. Worn out and fatigued, they returned without having discovered
a trail. The next day the Admiral sent out a new troop of twenty-five
men, urging them to use the greatest diligence to discover the
inhabitants of that country. They, however, having come upon the
tracks of some large animals, amongst which they thought they
recognised those of lions, were terrified and retraced their
steps.[18] In the course of their march, they had found a forest
overgrown with wild vines, which hung suspended from the loftiest
trees, and also many other spice-producing trees. They brought back to
Spain heavy and juicy bunches of grapes. As for the other fruits they
collected, it was impossible to bring them to Spain, because there
were no means of preserving them on board the ships; hence they
rotted, and when they were spoiled they threw them into the sea. The
men said that they had seen flocks of cranes twice as large as ours in
the forest.

[Note 17: None of the natives of the islands wore white tunics,
nor indeed any but the most scanty covering. It has been surmised that
the soldier who made this report may indistinctly and from a distance
have descried a flock of tall white cranes, otherwise he was either
the victim of an hallucination or an inventor of strange tales to
astonish his fellows. Humboldt (_Histoire de la Geographie du nouveau
Continent_) quotes an instance of the colonists of Angostora once
mistaking a flock of cranes for a band of soldiers.]

[Note 18: There were no lions nor large beasts of prey in the
island; it has been suggested that these tracks may have been
footprints of an alligator.]

Pursuing his course, the Admiral sailed towards other mountains; he
observed upon the shore two huts, in which only one man was found,
who, when he was brought on board the ships, shook his head and hands,
indicating by signs that the country about these mountains was very
populous. All along this coast the Admiral encountered numerous canoes
which came to meet him, and on one side and the other friendly signals
were exchanged. The man Diego, who, from the beginning of the voyage
understood the language of the islanders, did not understand that of
this newcomer. It was known, indeed, that the languages vary in the
different provinces of Cuba.[19] The natives gave it to be understood
that a powerful sovereign, who wore clothes, lived in the interior of
the country. The whole of the coast was inundated by waters, the beach
being muddy and strewn with trees like in our swamps. When they landed
to replenish their supply of water, they found some shells with pearls
in them. Columbus nevertheless continued on his way, for he sought
at that time, in obedience to the royal instructions, to explore the
greatest possible extent of sea. As they proceeded on their course,
lighted fires were observed on all the hilltops of the coast country,
as far as to another mountain eighty miles distant. There was not a
single lookout upon the rocks from which smoke did not rise.

[Note 19: Pezuela gives interesting information concerning the
tribal languages of Cuba. _Diccionario Geografico, Estadistico,
Historico de la isla de Cuba_.]

It was doubtful whether these fires had been lighted by the natives
for domestic purposes or whether it was their custom in time of war
thus to signal to warn their neighbours to provide for their safety
and unite their forces to repel our attacks.

What is more probable is that they assembled to inspect our ships, as
though they were something prodigious, concerning which they knew not
what course to adopt. The coast-line began to recede in a southerly
direction, and the sea continued to be encumbered with islands. Some
of the ships, which had been scraped by the reefs, had sprung; ropes,
sails, and other tackle were rotted, and provisions were spoiled by
the humidity. The Admiral was, consequently, obliged to retrace his
course.[20] The extreme point of this country reached by him, and
which he believed to be a continent, he named Evangelista.

[Note 20: Two or three days more would have sufficed to
demonstrate the insular character of Cuba, and would doubtless have
made Columbus the discoverer of Yucatan.]

During the return voyage, Columbus passed among many other islands
more distant from the continent, and reached a sea where he found such
numbers of huge turtles that they obstructed the advance of his fleet.
He likewise crossed currents of whitish water, similar to those he had
already seen.[21] Fearing to sail amongst these islands he returned,
and coasted along the one he believed to be a continent.

[Note 21: The milky colour was produced by quantities of chalky
sand, churned up from the bottom by the currents.]

As he had never maltreated the natives, the inhabitants, both men and
women, gladly brought him gifts, displaying no fear. Their presents
consisted of parrots, bread, water, rabbits, and most of all, of doves
much larger than ours, according to the Admiral's account. As he
noticed that these birds gave forth an aromatic odour when they were
eaten, he had the stomach of one of them opened, and found it filled
with flowers. Evidently that is what gave such a superior taste to
these doves; for it is credible that the flesh of animals assimilates
the qualities of their food.

While assisting at Mass one day, Columbus beheld a man eighty years
old, who seemed respectable though he wore no clothes, coming towards
him, accompanied by a number of his people. During the rest of the
ceremony this man looked on full of admiration; he was all eyes and
ears. Then he presented the Admiral with a basket he was carrying,
which was filled with native fruits, and finally sitting beside him,
made the following speech which was interpreted by Diego Columbus,
who, being from a neighbouring country, understood his language:

"It is reported to us that you have visited all these countries, which
were formerly unknown to you, and have inspired the inhabitants with
great fear. Now I tell and warn you, since you should know this, that
the soul, when it quits the body, follows one of two courses; the
first is dark and dreadful, and is reserved for the enemies and the
tyrants of the human race; joyous and delectable is the second, which
is reserved for those who during their lives have promoted the peace
and tranquillity of others. If, therefore, you are a mortal, and
believe that each one will meet the fate he deserves, you will harm no

Thanks to his native interpreter, the Admiral understood this speech
and many others of the same tenor, and was astonished to discover such
sound judgment in a man who went naked. He answered: "I have knowledge
of what you have said concerning the two courses and the two destinies
of our souls when they leave our bodies; but I had thought until now
that these mysteries were unknown to you and to your countrymen,
because you live in a state of nature." He then informed the old man
that he had been sent thither by the King and Queen of Spain to take
possession of those countries hitherto unknown to the outside world,
and that, moreover, he would make war upon the cannibals and all the
natives guilty of crimes, punishing them according to their deserts.
As for the innocent, he would protect and honour them because of their
virtues. Therefore, neither he nor any one whose intentions were pure
need be afraid; rather, if he or any other honourable man had been
injured in his interests by his neighbours he had only to say so.

These words of the Admiral afforded such pleasure to the old man that
he announced that, although weakened by age, he would gladly go with
Columbus, and he would have done so if his wife and sons had not
prevented him. What occasioned him great surprise was to learn that
a man like Columbus recognised the authority of a sovereign; but his
astonishment still further increased when the interpreter explained
to him how powerful were the kings and how wealthy, and all about the
Spanish nation, the manner of fighting, and how great were the cities
and how strong the fortresses. In great dejection the man, together
with his wife and sons, threw themselves at the feet of Columbus,
with their eyes full of tears, repeatedly asking if the country which
produced such men and in such numbers was not indeed heaven.

It is proven that amongst them the land belongs to everybody, just as
does the sun or the water. They know no difference between _meum_ and
_tuum_, that source of all evils. It requires so little to satisfy
them, that in that vast region there is always more land to cultivate
than is needed. It is indeed a golden age, neither ditches, nor
hedges, nor walls to enclose their domains; they live in gardens open
to all, without laws and without judges; their conduct is naturally
equitable, and whoever injures his neighbour is considered a criminal
and an outlaw. They cultivate maize, yucca, and ages, as we have
already related is the practice in Hispaniola.

On his return from Cuba to Hispaniola, the Admiral again came in sight
of Jamaica, and this time he skirted its southern coast from west to
east. Upon reaching the eastern extremity of this island, he beheld in
the north and on his left high mountains, which he believed to be the
southern coast of Hispaniola which he had not before visited. On the
calends of September he reached the port he had named San Nicholas,
and there repaired his ships, intending to again ravage the cannibal
islands and burn the canoes of the natives. He was determined that
these rapacious wolves should no longer injure the sheep, their
neighbours; but his project could not be realised because of his bad
health. Long watches had weakened him; borne on shore half dead by the
sailors of Port Isabella, and surrounded by his two brothers and his
friends, he finally recovered his former health, but he could not
renew his attack on the cannibal islands, because of the disturbances
which had broken out amongst the Spaniards he had left in Hispaniola.
Concerning these I shall later explain. Fare you well.



When Columbus returned from the land which he believed to be the
Indian continent, he learned that the Friar Boyl[1] and Pedro
Margarita,[2] the nobleman who formerly enjoyed the King's friendship,
as well as several others to whom he had confided the government of
Hispaniola, had departed for Spain animated by evil intentions. In
order that he might justify himself before the sovereigns, in case
they should have been prejudiced by the reports of his enemies, and
also for the purpose of recruiting colonists to replace those who had
left, and to replenish the failing foodstuffs, such as wheat, wine,
oil, and other provisions which form the ordinary food of Spaniards,
who do not easily accustom themselves to that of the natives, he
decided to betake himself to the Court, which at that time was
resident at Burgos, a celebrated town of Old Castile. But I must
relate briefly what he did before his departure.

[Note 1: The character of Padre Boyl has been somewhat
rehabilitated by Padre Fita, S.J. (_Memoires du Congr. Amer. de
Madrid_, 1881), but he can hardly be deemed comparable as a missionary
to the zealous, self-sacrificing friars who followed with such perfect
evangelic spirit a few years later. He was at perpetual enmity with
both the Admiral and his brother.]

[Note 2: Pedro de Margarita had been appointed by Columbus
military commander in the island; his conduct was marked by
ingratitude towards the Admiral.]

The caciques of the island had always been contented with little, for
they lived a peaceful and tranquil life. When they saw the Spaniards
establishing themselves upon their native soil, they were considerably
troubled, and desired above all things either to expel the newcomers
or to destroy them so completely that not even their memory should
remain. It is a fact that the people who accompanied the Admiral in
his second voyage were for the most part undisciplined, unscrupulous
vagabonds, who only employed their ingenuity in gratifying their
appetites. Incapable of moderation in their acts of injustice, they
carried off the women of the islanders under the very eyes of their
brothers and their husbands; given over to violence and thieving, they
had profoundly vexed the natives. It had happened in many places that
when our men were surprised by the natives, the latter strangled them,
and offered them as sacrifices to their gods. Convinced that he should
put down a general insurrection by punishing the murderers of the
Spaniards, Columbus summoned the cacique of this valley, lying at the
foot off the Ciguano Mountains, which are described in the preceding
book. This cacique was called Guarionex. He had been pleased to give
his sister to be the wife of that Diego Columbus who had been from his
infancy brought up by the Admiral, and had served him as interpreter
during his occupation of Cuba. Guarionex had hoped by these means to
establish a more intimate friendship with the Admiral. He afterwards
sent one of his officers to Caunaboa, cacique of the mountains of
Cibao, which is the gold region. The people of this Caunaboa had
besieged Hojeda and fifty soldiers in the blockhouse of San Tomas and,
had they not heard of the approaching arrival of Columbus in person at
the head of imposing reinforcements, they would never have raised the
siege.[3] The Admiral chose Hojeda as his envoy, and while the latter
was engaged in his mission, several caciques[4] sent from different
parts to urge Caunaboa not to allow the Christians to settle in the
island, unless he wished to exchange independence for slavery; for if
the Christians were not expelled to the last man from the island, all
the natives would sooner or later become their slaves. Hojeda, on the
other hand, negotiated with Caunaboa, urging him to come in person to
visit the Admiral, and contract a firm alliance with him. The envoys
of the caciques promised Caunaboa their unlimited support for the
expulsion of the Spaniards, but Hojeda threatened to massacre him if
he chose war rather than peace with the Christians. Caunaboa was very
undecided. Besides, the consciousness of his crimes disturbed him, for
he had cut off the heads of twenty of our men whom he had surprised.
If, therefore, he desired peace on the one hand, on the other he
feared the interview with the Admiral. Having carefully planned his
treachery, he decided that under cover of peace he would seize the
first occasion to destroy Columbus and his men. He set out, escorted
by all his household and a large number of soldiers, armed after the
fashion of the country, to meet the Admiral. When asked why he took
such a numerous troop of men, he answered that it was not becoming
for such a great king as he to quit his house and journey without an
escort. In this event, however, things turned out differently from
what he had expected and he fell into the net that he had himself
prepared. Hardly had he left his house before he regretted his
decision, but Hojeda succeeded by flatteries and promises in bringing
him to Columbus, where he was at once seized and put in irons.[5] The
souls of our dead might rest in peace.

[Note 3: A cacique of the Vega, who was a vassal of Guarionex,
Juatinango by name, had succeeded in killing ten Spaniards and in
setting fire to a house which served as a hospital for forty others
who were confined there ill. After these exploits, he besieged the
blockhouse of Magdalena, which Luis de Arriaga only succeeded in
defending by the greatest efforts. Herrera, _Hist. Ind_., tom, i.,
lib. ii., cap. xvi.]

[Note 4: The principal caciques of Hayti at that time numbered
five. They were: Caunaboa, who was the most powerful of all;
Guarionex, Gauccanagari, Behechio, and Cotubanama.]

[Note 5: Hojeda tricked this cacique into allowing him to fasten
handcuffs on him; after which the helpless chief was carried sixty
leagues through the forests. Pizarro, in his _Varones Illustres_,
relates the story, as does likewise Herrera.]

After the capture of Caunaboa and all his household, the Admiral
resolved to march throughout the whole island. He was informed that
the natives suffered from such a severe famine that more than 50,000
men had already perished, and that people continued to die daily as do
cattle in time of pest.

This calamity was the consequence of their own folly; for when they
saw that the Spaniards wished to settle in their island, they thought
they might expel them by creating a scarcity of food. They, therefore,
decided not only to plant no more crops, but also to destroy and tear
up all the various kinds of cereals used for bread which had already
been sown, and which I have mentioned in the first book. This was
to be done by the people in each district, and especially in the
mountainous region of Cipangu and Cibao; that was the country where
gold was found in abundance, and the natives were aware that the
principal attraction which kept the Spaniards in Hispaniola was gold.
At that time the Admiral sent an officer with a troop of armed men
to reconnoitre the southern coast of the island, and this officer
reported that the regions he had visited had suffered to such an
extent from the famine, that during six days he and his men had eaten
nothing but the roots of herbs and small plants, or such fruits as
grow on the trees. Guarionex, whose territory had suffered less than
the others, distributed some provisions amongst our people.

Some days later Columbus, with the object of lessening journeys and
also to provide more numerous retreats for his men in case of sudden
attack by the natives, had another blockhouse built, which he called
Concepcion. It is situated between Isabella and San Tomas in the
territory of Cibao, upon the frontiers of the country of Guarionex. It
stands upon an elevation, well watered by a number of fresh streams.
Seeing this new construction daily nearing completion, and our fleet
half ruined lying in the port, the natives began to despair of liberty
and to ask one another dejectedly whether the Christians would ever
evacuate the archipelago.

It was during these explorations in the interior of the mountainous
district of Cibao that the men of Concepcion obtained an ingot of
massive gold, shaped in the form of a sponge-like stone; it was as
large as a man's fist, and weighed twenty ounces. It had been found by
a cacique, not on a river bank but in a dry mound. I saw it with my
own eyes in a shop at Medina del Campo in Old Castile, where the Court
was passing the winter; and to my great admiration I handled it and
tested its weight. I also saw a piece of native tin, which might have
served for bells or apothecaries' mortars or other such things as are
made of Corinthian brass. It was so heavy that not only could I not
lift it from the ground with my two hands, but could not even move it
to the right or left. It was said that this lump weighed more than
three hundred pounds at eight ounces to the pound. It had been found
in the courtyard of a cacique's house, where it had lain for a long
time, and the old people of the country, although no tin has been
found in the island within the memory of any living man, nevertheless
knew where there was a mine of this metal. But nobody could ever learn
this secret from them, so much were they vexed by the Spaniards'
presence.[6] Finally they decided to reveal its whereabouts, but it
was entirely destroyed, and filled in with earth and rubbish. It is
nevertheless easier to extract the metal than to get out iron from the
mines, and it is thought that if workmen and skilled miners were sent
out, it would be possible to again work that tin mine.

[Note 6: _Adeo jam stomacho pleni in nostros vivebant_.]

Not far from the blockhouse of Concepcion and in these same mountains,
the Spaniards discovered a large quantity of amber, and in some
caverns was distilled a greenish colour very much prized by painters.
In marching through the forest there were places where all the trees
were of a scarlet colour which are called by Italian merchants
_verzino_, and by the Spaniards brazil wood.

At this point, Most Illustrious Prince, you may raise an objection and
say to yourself: "If the Spaniards have brought several shiploads of
scarlet wood and some gold, and a little cotton and some bits of amber
back to Europe, why did they not load themselves with gold and all the
precious products which seem to abound so plenteously in the country
you describe?"

Columbus answered such questions by saying that the men he had taken
with him thought more of sleeping and taking their ease than about
work, and they preferred fighting and rebellion to peace and
tranquillity. The greater part of these men deserted him. To establish
uncontested authority over the island, it was necessary to conquer
the islanders and to break their power. The Spaniards have indeed
pretended that they could not endure the cruelty and hardship of the
Admiral's orders, and they have formulated many accusations against
him. It is in consequence of these difficulties that he has not so
far thought about covering the expenses of the expeditions. I will
nevertheless observe that in this same year, 1501, in which I am
writing to you, the Spaniards have gathered 1200 pounds of gold in two

But let us return to our narrative. At the proper time I will
describe to you in detail what I have only just touched upon in this

The Admiral was perfectly aware of the alarm and disturbance that
prevailed amongst the islanders, but he was unable to prevent the
violence and rapacity of his men, whenever they came into contact
with the natives. A number of the principal caciques of the frontier
regions assembled to beg Columbus to forbid the Spaniards to wander
about the island because, under the pretext of hunting for gold or
other local products, they left nothing uninjured or undefiled.
Moreover, all the natives between the ages of fourteen and seventy
years bound themselves to pay him tribute in the products of the
country at so much per head, promising to fulfil their engagement.
Some of the conditions of this agreement were as follows: The
mountaineers of Cibao were to bring to the town every three months a
specified measure filled with gold. They reckon by the moon and
call the months moons. The islanders who cultivated the lands which
spontaneously produced spices and cotton, were pledged to pay a fixed
sum per head. This pact suited both parties, and it would have been
observed by both sides as had been agreed, save that the famine
nullified their resolutions. The natives had hardly strength to hunt
food in the forests and for a long time they contented themselves
with roots, herbs, and wild fruits. Nevertheless the majority of the
caciques, aided by their followers, did bring part of the established
tribute. They begged as a favour of the Admiral to have pity on their
misery, and to exempt them till such time as the island might recover
its former prosperity. They bound themselves then to pay double what
was for the moment failing.

Owing to the famine, which had affected them more cruelly than the
others, very few of the mountaineers of Cibao paid tribute. These
mountaineers did not differ in their customs and language from the
people of the plain more than do the mountaineers of other countries
differ from those who live in the capital. There exist amongst them,
however, some points of resemblance, since they lead the same kind of
simple, open-air life.

But let us return to Caunaboa, who, if you remember, had been taken

This cacique, when he found himself put in irons, gnashed his teeth
like an African lion and fell to thinking, night and day, upon the
means to recover his liberty.[7] He begged the Admiral, since the
region of Cipangu was now under his authority, to send Spanish
garrisons to protect the country against the attacks of neighbours who
were his ancient enemies. He said that it was reported to him that the
country was ravaged, and the property of his subjects considered by
his enemies as their lawful plunder. As a matter of fact it was a trap
he was preparing. He hoped that his brother and other relatives in
Cibao would, either by force or by trickery, capture as many Spaniards
as would be required to pay his ransom. Divining this plot, Columbus
sent Hojeda, but with an escort of soldiers sufficient to overcome
all resistance of the inhabitants of Cibao. Hardly had the Spaniards
entered that region when the brother of Caunaboa assembled about 5000
men, equipped in their fashion, that is to say, naked, armed with
arrows without iron points, clubs, and spears. He succeeded in
surrounding the Spaniards, and held them besieged in a small house.
This chief showed himself under the circumstances to be a veritable
soldier. When he had approached within a distance of one stadium, he
divided his men into five groups, stationing them in a circle, and
assigning to each one his post, while he himself marched directly
against the Spaniards. When all his arrangements were completed, he
ordered his soldiers to advance, shouting all together, so as to
engage in a hand-to-hand combat. He hoped that, by thus surrounding
the Spaniards, none of them would escape. But our men, persuaded that
it was better to attack than to await their assault, fell upon the
most numerous band they saw in the open country. The ground was
adapted for cavalry manoeuvres and the horsemen, opening their charge,
rode down the enemy, who were easily put to flight. Those who awaited
the encounter were massacred; the others, overcome with fright, fled,
abandoning their huts, and seeking refuge in the mountains and upon
inaccessible rocks. They begged for mercy, promising and swearing
to observe all the conditions imposed upon them, if they were only
permitted to live with their families. The brother of the cacique was
finally captured, and each of his men was sent to his own home. After
this victory that region was pacified.

[Note 7: Las Casas (_Hist, de las Indias_, tom, i., p. 102)
relates that Caunaboa never forgave Columbus for his treatment of him,
while he had, on the contrary, great respect for Hojeda, the latter's
clever ruse, deftly executed, being precisely the kind of trickery he
was able to appreciate and admire.]

The mountain valley where the cacique lived is called Magona. It
is traversed by auriferous rivers, is generously productive and
marvellously fertile. In the month of June of this same year occurred
a frightful tempest; whirlwinds reaching to the skies uprooted the
largest trees that were swept within their vortex. When this typhoon
reached the port of Isabella, only three ships were riding at anchor;
their cables were broken, and after three or four shocks--though
there was no tempest or tide at the time--they sank. It is said that
in that year the sea penetrated more deeply than usual into the earth,
and that it rose more than a cubit. The natives whispered that the
Spaniards were the cause of this disturbance of the elements and these
catastrophes. These tempests, which the Greeks called typhoons, are
called by the natives _huracanes_.[8] According to their accounts
hurricanes are sufficiently frequent in the island, but they never
attain such violence and fury. None of the islanders living, nor any
of their ancestors remembers that such an atmospheric disturbance,
capable of uprooting the greatest trees, had ever swept the island;
nor, on the other hand, had the sea ever been so turbulent, or the
tidewater so ravaged. Wherever plains border the sea, flowery meadows
are found nearby.

[Note 8: The word _hurricane_ is from _Hurakan_, the name of the
god or culture hero who, in the mythology of Yucatan, corresponded to
Quetzalcoatl of the Mexicans. Being the god of the winds, storms were
ascribed to his fury, and the typhoons and tempests which broke out
at times with destructive violence over the seas and countries were
called by his name.]

Let us now return to Caunaboa. When it was sought to take them to the
sovereigns of Spain, both he and his brother died of grief on
the voyage. The destruction of his ships detained the Admiral at
Hispaniola; but, as he had at his disposal the necessary artisans, he
ordered two caravels to be built immediately.

While these orders were being carried out, he despatched his brother,
Bartholomew Columbus,--Adelantado, the Spaniards call him, of the
island,--with a number of miners and a troop of soldiers, to the gold
mines, which had been discovered by the assistance of the natives
sixty leagues from Isabella in the direction of Cipangu, As some
very ancient pits were found there, the Admiral believed that he had
rediscovered in those mines the ancient treasures which, it is stated
in the Old Testament, King Solomon of Jerusalem had found in the
Persian Gulf. Whether this be true or false is not for me to decide.
These mines cover an area of six miles. The miners, in sifting some
dry earth gathered at different places, declared that they had found
such a great quantity of gold hidden in that earth that a miner could
easily collect three drachmas in a day's work. After they had
explored that region, the Adelantado and the miners wrote to Columbus
acquainting him with their discovery. The ships being then ready,
Columbus immediately and with great delight embarked to return to
Spain; that is to say, the fifth day of the ides of March in the year
1495.[9] He confided the government of the province with full powers
to his brother, the Adelantado, Bartholomew Columbus.

[Note 9: Columbus sailed on March 10, 1496.]



Acting upon the parting counsel of his brother, the Adelantado,
Bartholomew Columbus, constructed a blockhouse at the mines, which
he called El Dorado,[1] because the labourers discovered gold in the
earth with which they were building its walls. It required three
months to manufacture the necessary tools for washing and sifting the
gold, but famine obliged him to abandon this enterprise before it
was terminated. At a place sixty miles farther on, where he and the
greater part of his soldiers went, he succeeded in procuring from the
islanders a small quantity of the bread they make, to such a bad state
were affairs at that time reduced. Unable to prolong his stay, he left
ten men at El Dorado, furnishing them with a small part of the bread
that remained. He moreover left with them an excellent hunting dog for
chasing the game, which I have above said resembles our rabbits, and
which are called _utias_; after which he left to return to Concepcion.
It was at that time that the tribute from the caique Guarionex and one
of his neighbours called Manicavex was due. The Adelantado remained
there the whole month of June, and obtained from the caciques, not
only the sum total of the tribute, but also provisions necessary to
support himself and the 400 men of his escort.

[Note 1: The name first given to the place was San Cristobal.]

About the calends of July three caravels arrived, bringing
provisions--wheat, oil, wine, and salted pork and beef. In obedience
to the orders from Spain, they were distributed amongst all the
Europeans, but as some of the provisions had rotted, or were spoiled
by the damp, people complained. Fresh instructions from the sovereigns
and from the Admiral were sent to Bartholomew Columbus by these ships.
After frequent interviews with the sovereigns, Columbus directed his
brother to transfer his residence to the southern coast of the island,
nearer to the mines. He was likewise ordered to send back to Spain,
in chains, the caciques who had been convicted of assassinating the
Christians, and also those of their subjects who had shared their
crimes; Three hundred islanders were thus transported to Spain.[2]

[Note 2: This transport marks the beginning of the slave trade in

After having carefully explored the coast, the Adelantado transferred
his residence and built a lofty blockhouse near a safe harbour, naming
the fort Santo Domingo, because he had arrived at that place on a
Sunday. There flows into that harbour a river, whose wholesome waters
abound in excellent fish, and whose banks are delightfully wooded.
This river has some unusual natural features. Wherever its waters
flow, the most useful and agreeable products flourish, such as palms
and fruits of all kinds. The trees sometimes droop their branches,
weighted with flowers and fruit over the heads of the Spaniards, who
declare that the soil of Santo Domingo is as fertile, or even perhaps
more so, than at Hispaniola. At Isabella there only remained the
invalids and some engineers to complete the construction of two
caravels which had been begun, all the other colonists coming south
to Santo Domingo. When the blockhouse was finished, he placed there
a garrison of twenty men, and prepared to lead the remainder of his
people on a tour of exploration through the western parts of the
island, of which not even the name was known. Thirty leagues distant
from Santo Domingo, that is to say, at the ninetieth mile, they came
upon the river Naiba, which flows south from the mountains of Cibao
and divides the island into two equal parts. The Adelantado crossed
this river, and sent two captains, each with an escort of twenty-five
soldiers, to explore the territory of the caciques who possessed
forests of red trees. These men, marching to the left, came upon
forests, in which they cut down magnificent trees of great value,
heretofore respected. The captains piled the red-coloured wood in the
huts of the natives, wishing thus to protect it until they could load
it on the ships. During this time the Adelantado, who had marched to
the right, had encountered at a place not far from the river Naiba
a powerful cacique, named Beuchios Anacauchoa, who was at that time
engaged in an expedition to conquer the people along the river, as
well as some other caciques of the island. This powerful chieftain
lives at the western extremity of the island, called Xaragua. This
rugged and mountainous country is thirty leagues distant from the
river Naiba, but all the caciques whose territory lies in between are
subject to him.[3] All that country from the Naiba to the western
extremity produces no gold. Anacauchoa, observing that our men put
down their arms and made him amicable signs, adopted a responsive air,
either from fear or from courtesy, and asked them what they wanted of
him. The Adelantado replied: "We wish you to pay the same tribute
to my brother, who is in command here in the name of the Spanish
sovereigns, as do the other caciques." To which he answered: "How can
you ask tribute from me, since none of the numerous provinces under my
authority produce gold?" He had learned that strangers in search of
gold had landed on the island, and he did not suspect that our men
would ask for anything else. "We do not pretend," continued the
Adelantado, "to exact tribute from anybody which cannot be easily
paid, or of a kind not obtainable; but we know that this country
produces an abundance of cotton, hemp, and other similar things, and
we ask you to pay tribute of those products." The cacique's face
expressed joy on hearing these words, and with a satisfied air he
agreed to give what he was asked, and in whatever quantities they
desired; for he sent away his men, and after despatching messengers in
advance, he himself acted as guide for the Adelantado, conducting him
to his residence, which, as we have already said, was situated about
thirty leagues distant. The march led through the countries of subject
caciques; and upon some of them a tribute of hemp was imposed, for
this hemp is quite as good as our flax for weaving ships' sails;
upon others, of bread, and upon others, of cotton, according to the
products of each region.

[Note 3: Xaragua includes the entire western coast from Cape
Tiburon to the island of Beata on the south.]

When they finally arrived at the chieftain's residence in Xaragua,
the natives came out to meet them, and, as is their custom, offered
a triumphal reception to their king, Beuchios Anacauchoa, and to our
men. Please note amongst other usages these two, which are remarkable
amongst naked and uncultivated people. When the company approached,
some thirty women, all wives of the cacique, marched out to meet
them, dancing, singing, and shouting; they were naked, save for a
loin-girdle, which, though it consisted but of a cotton belt, which
dropped over their hips, satisfied these women devoid of any sense of
shame. As for the young girls, they covered no part of their bodies,
but wore their hair loose upon their shoulders and a narrow ribbon
tied around the forehead. Their face, breast, and hands, and the
entire body was quite naked, and of a somewhat brunette tint. All were
beautiful, so that one might think he beheld those splendid naiads or
nymphs of the fountains, so much celebrated by the ancients. Holding
branches of palms in their hands, they danced to an accompaniment of
songs, and bending the knee, they offered them to the Adelantado.
Entering the chieftain's house, the Spaniards refreshed themselves at
a banquet prepared with all the magnificence of native usage. When
night came, each, according to his rank, was escorted by servants
of the cacique to houses where those hanging beds I have already
described were assigned to them, and there they rested.

Next day they were conducted to a building which served as a theatre,
where they witnessed dances and listened to songs, after which two
numerous troops of armed men suddenly appeared upon a large open
space, the king having thought to please and interest the Spaniards by
having them exercised, just as in Spain Trojan games (that is to say,
tourneys) are celebrated. The two armies advanced and engaged in
as animated a combat as though they were fighting to defend their
property, their homes, their children or their lives. With such vigour
did they contest, in the presence of their chieftain, that within the
short space of an hour four soldiers were killed and a number were
wounded; and it was only at the instance of the Spaniards that the
cacique gave the signal for them to lay down their arms and cease
fighting. After having advised the cacique to henceforth plant more
cotton along the river banks, in order that he might more easily pay
the tribute imposed on each household, the Adelantado left on the
third day for Isabella to visit the invalids, and to see the ships in
construction. About three hundred of his men had fallen victims to
divers maladies, and he was therefore much concerned and hardly knew
what course to adopt, for everything was lacking, not only for caring
for the sick, but also for the necessities of life; since no ship had
arrived from Spain to put an end to his uncertainty, he ordered
the invalids to be distributed in the several blockhouses built in
different provinces. These citadels, existing in a straight line from
Isabella to Santo Domingo, that is to say, from north to south,
were as follows: thirty-six miles from Isabella stood Esperanza;
twenty-four miles beyond Esperanza came Santa Caterina; twenty miles
beyond Santa Caterina, Santiago. Twenty miles beyond Santiago had been
constructed a fortification stronger than any of the others; for it
stood at the foot of the mountains of Cibao, in a broad and fertile
plain which was well peopled. This was called La Concepcion. Between
La Concepcion and Santo Domingo, the Adelantado built an even stronger
fortress, which stood in the territory of a chieftain, who was obeyed
by several thousands of subjects. As the natives called the village
where their cacique lived, _Bonana_, the Adelantado wished the
fortress to have the same name.

Having distributed the invalids amongst these fortresses or in the
houses of the natives in the neighbourhood, the Adelantado left for
Santo Domingo, collecting tribute from the caciques he encountered on
his way. He had been at Santo Domingo but a few days when the report
was brought that two of the caciques in the neighbourhood of La
Concepcion were driven to desperation by the Spaniards' rule, and were
planning a revolt. Upon the reception of this news he set out for that
region by rapid marches.

He learned upon his arrival that Guarionex had been chosen by the
other caciques as their commander-in-chief. Although he had already
tested and had reason to fear our arms and our tactics, he had allowed
himself to be partly won over. The caciques had planned a rising of
about 15,000 men, armed in their fashion, for a fixed day, thus making
a new appeal to the fortunes of battle. After consultation with the
commander at La Concepcion and the soldiers he had with him, the
Adelantado determined to take the caciques in their villages, while
they were off their guard and before they had assembled their
soldiers. Captains were thus sent against the caciques, and surprising
them in their sleep, before their scattered subjects could collect,
invaded their houses which were unprotected either by ditches, walls,
or entrenchments; they attacked and seized them, binding them with
cords, and bringing them, as they had been ordered, to the Adelantado.
The latter had dealt with Guarionex himself, as he was the most
formidable enemy, and had seized him at the appointed hour. Fourteen
caciques were thus brought prisoners to La Concepcion, and shortly
afterwards two of those who had corrupted Guarionex and the others,
and who had favoured the revolt were condemned to death. Guarionex and
the rest were released, for the Adelantado feared that the natives,
affected by the death of the caciques, might abandon their fields,
which would have occasioned a grievous damage to our people, because

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