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

Part 3 out of 7

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of the crops. About six thousand of their subjects had come to solicit
their freedom. These people had laid down their arms, making the air
ring and the earth shake with their clamour. The Adelantado spoke to
Guarionex and the other caciques, and by means of promises, presents,
and threats, charged them to take good care for the future to engage
in no further revolt. Guarionex made a speech to the people, in which
he praised our power, our clemency to the guilty, and our generosity
to those who remained faithful; he exhorted them to calm their spirits
and for the future neither to think nor to plan any hostilities
against the Christians, but rather to be obedient, humble, and
serviceable to them, unless they wished worse things to overtake
them. When he had finished his speech, his people took him on their
shoulders in a hammock, and in this wise they carried him to the
village where he lived, and within a few days the entire country was

Nevertheless the Spaniards were disturbed and depressed, for they
found themselves abandoned in a strange country. Fifteen months had
elapsed since the departure of the Admiral. The clothes and the food
to which they were accustomed were wanting, and so they marched with
sad faces and eyes bent on the ground.[4] The Adelantado strove
as best he might to offer consolation. At this juncture, Beuchios
Anacauchoa, for such was the name of the king of the western province
of Xaragua of which we have before spoken, sent to the Adelantado
notifying him that the cotton and other tribute he and his subjects
were to pay, were ready. Bartholomew Columbus marched thither,
therefore, and was received with great honours, by the cacique and by
his sister. This woman, formerly the wife of Caunaboa, King of Cibao,
was held in as great esteem throughout the kingdom as her brother.
It seems she was gracious, clever, and prudent.[5] Having learned a
lesson from the example of her husband, she had persuaded her brother
to submit to the Christians, to soothe and to please them. This woman
was called Anacaona.

[Note 4: The story of the disorders, privations, and unrest, as
told by Las Casas, Columbus, and others, makes cheerless reading; the
misfortunes of the colonists were due to their inveterate idleness,
their tyranny, which had alienated the good-will of the natives, and
to the disillusionment that had dispersed their hope of speedily and
easily won riches.]

[Note 5: Herrera (iii., 6) speaks of her as _la insigne Anacaona
... mujer prudente y entendida_... etc. She composed with unusual
talent the _arreytos_ or folk-ballads the natives were fond of
singing. Las Casas describes her dreadful death in his _Brevissima

Thirty-two caciques were assembled in the house of Anacauchoa, where
they had brought their tribute. In addition to what had been agreed
upon, they sought to win favour by adding numerous presents, which
consisted of two kinds of bread, roots, grains, utias, that is to
say, rabbits, which are numerous in the island, fish, which they
had preserved by cooking them, and those same serpents, resembling
crocodiles, which they esteem a most delicate food. We have described
them above, and the natives call them iguanas. They are special to
Hispaniola.[6] Up to that time none of the Spaniards had ventured to
eat them because of their odour, which was not only repugnant but
nauseating, but the Adelantado, won by the amiability of the cacique's
sister, consented to taste a morsel of iguana; and hardly had his
palate savoured this succulent flesh than he began to eat it by the
mouthful. Henceforth the Spaniards were no longer satisfied to barely
taste it, but became epicures in regard to it, and talked of nothing
else than the exquisite flavour of these serpents, which they found
to be superior to that of peacocks, pheasants, or partridges. If,
however, they are cooked as we do peacocks and pheasants, which are
first larded and then roasted, the serpent's flesh loses its good
flavour. First they gut them, then wash and clean them with care,
and roll them into a circle, so that they look like the coils of a
sleeping snake; after which they put them in a pot, just large enough
to hold them, pouring over them a little water flavoured with the
pepper found in the island. The pot is covered and a fire of odorous
wood which gives very little light is kindled underneath it. A juice
as delicious as nectar runs drop by drop from the insides. It is
reported that there are few dishes more appetising than iguana eggs
cooked over a slow fire. When they are fresh and served hot they are
delicious, but if they are preserved for a few days they still further
improve. But this is enough about cooking recipes. Let us pass on to
other subjects.

[Note 6: Iguanas are found in all the _tierras calientes_ of the

The tribute of cotton sent by the caciques filled the Adelantado's
hut, and, in addition, he accepted their promise to furnish him all
the bread he needed. While waiting for the bread to be made in the
different districts, and brought to the house of Beuchios Anacauchoa,
King of Xaragua, he sent to Isabella directing that one of the
caravels he had ordered to be built be brought to him, promising the
colonists that he would send it back to them loaded with bread. The
delighted sailors made the tour of the island with alacrity, and
landed on the coast of Xaragua. As soon as that brilliant, prudent,
and sensible woman called Anacaona, sister of Beuchios Anacauchoa,
heard that our ship had reached the coast of her country, she
persuaded her brother to accompany her to visit it. The distance from
the royal residence to the coast was only six miles. They halted
for the night at a village about halfway, where the queen kept her
treasure; this treasure did not consist of gold, silver, or pearls,
but of utensils necessary to the different requirements of life, such
as seats, platters, basins, cauldrons, and plates made of black wood,
brilliantly polished; they display great art in the manufacture of
all these articles. That distinguished savant, your doctor, Joannes
Baptista Elysius, thinks that this black wood is ebony. It is to the
manufacture of these articles that the islanders devote the best of
their native ingenuity. In the island of Ganabara which, if you have
a map, you will see lies at the western extermity of Hispaniola and
which is subject to Anacauchoa, it is the women who are thus employed;
the various pieces are decorated with representations of phantoms
which they pretend to see in the nighttime, and serpents and men and
everything that they see about them. What would they not be able to
manufacture, Most Illustrious Prince, if they knew the use of iron and
steel? They begin by softening the inner part of pieces of wood in the
fire, after which they dig them out and work them with shells from the

Anacaona presented to the Adelantado fourteen seats and sixty earthen
vessels for the kitchen, besides four rolls of woven cotton of immense
weight. When they all reached the shore where the other royal town is
situated, the Adelantado ordered out a barque fully equipped. The king
also commanded two canoes to be launched, the first for the use
of himself and his attendants, the second for his sister and her
followers, but Anacaona was unwilling to embark on any other than the
boat which carried the Adelantado. As they approached the ship, a
cannon was fired at a given signal. The sound echoed over the sea like
thunder, and the air was filled with smoke. The terrified islanders
trembled, believing that this detonation had shattered the terrestrial
globe; but when they turned towards the Adelantado their emotion
subsided. Upon approaching closer to the ship the sound of flutes,
fifes, and drums was heard, charming their senses by sweet music, and
awakening their astonishment and admiration. When they had been over
the whole ship, from stern to prow, and had carefully visited the
forecastle, the tiller, and the hold, the brother and sister looked at
one another in silence; their astonishment being so profound that they
had nothing to say. While they were engaged in visiting the ship, the
Adelantado ordered the anchor to be raised, the sails set, and to
put out on the high sea. Their astonishment was redoubled when they
observed that, without oars or the employment of any human force, such
a great boat flew over the surface of the water. It was blowing a land
wind, which was favourable to this manoeuvre, and what astonished them
most was to see that the ship which was advanced by the help of this
wind likewise turned about, first to the right and then to the left,
according to the captain's will.

At the conclusion of these manoeuvres the ship was loaded with bread,
roots, and other gifts, and the Adelantado after offering them some
presents took leave of Beuchios Anacauchoa and his sister, their
followers and servants of both sexes. The impression left upon the
latter by this visit was stupefying. The Spaniards marched overland
and returned to Isabella. On arriving there, it was learned that
a certain Ximenes Roldan, formerly chief of the miners and
camp-followers, whom the Admiral had made his equerry and raised to
the grade of chief justice, was ill-disposed towards the Adelantado.
It was simultaneously ascertained that the Cacique Guarionex, unable
longer to put up with the rapacity of Roldan and the other Spaniards
at Isabella, had been driven by despair to quit the country with
his family and a large number of his subjects, taking refuge in the
mountains which border the northern coast only ten leagues to the west
of Isabella. Both these mountains and their inhabitants bear the same
name, _Ciguaia_. The chief of all the caciques inhabiting the mountain
region is called Maiobanexios, who lived at a place called Capronus.
These mountains are rugged, lofty, inaccessible, and rise from the sea
in a semicircle. Between the two extremities of the chain, there lies
a beautiful plain, watered by numerous rivers which rise in these
mountains. The natives are ferocious and warlike, and it is thought
they are of the same race as the cannibals, for when they descend from
their mountains to fight with their neighbours in the plain, they eat
all whom they kill. It was with the cacique of these mountains that
Guarionex took refuge, bringing him gifts, consisting of things which
the mountaineers lack. He told him that the Spaniards had spared him
neither ill-treatment nor humiliation nor violence, while neither
humility nor pride had been of the least use in his dealings with
them. He came, therefore, to him as a suppliant, hoping to be
protected against the injustice of these criminals. Maiobanexios
promised him help and succour to the extent of his power.

Hastening back to La Concepcion the Adelantado summoned Ximenes
Roldan, who, accompanied by his adherents, was prowling amongst the
villages of the island, to appear before him. Greatly irritated,
the Adelantado asked him what his intentions were. To which Roldan
impudently answered: "Your brother, the Admiral is dead, and we fully
understand that our sovereigns have little care for us. Were we to
obey you, we should die of hunger, and we are forced to hunt for
provisions in the island. Moreover, the Admiral confided to me, as
well as to you, the government of the island; hence, we are determined
to obey you no longer." He added other equally misplaced observations.
Before the Adelantado could capture him, Roldan, followed by about
seventy men, escaped to Xaragua in the western part of the island,
where, as the Adelantado reported to his brother, they gave themselves
over to violence, thievery, and massacre.[7]

[Note 7: Some of the principal colonists, including Valdiviesso
and Diego de Escobar, favoured Roldan. The sketchy description of this
notable rebellion here given may be completed by consulting Herrera,
Dec. I., 3, i.; Fernando Columbus, _Storia del Almirante_; Irving,
_Columbus and his Companions_, book xi., caps iv., v., etc.]

While these disturbances were in progress, the Spanish sovereigns
finally granted the Admiral eight vessels, which Columbus promptly
ordered to sail from the town of Cadiz, a city consecrated to
Hercules. These ships were freighted with provisions for the
Adelantado. By chance they approached the western coast of the island,
where Ximenes Roldan and his accomplices were. Roldan won over the
crews by promising them fresh young girls instead of manual labour,
pleasures instead of exertion, plenty in place of famine, and repose
instead weariness and watching.

During this time Guarionex, who had assembled a troop of allies,
made frequent descents upon the plain, killing all the Christians
he surprised, ravaging the fields, driving off the workmen, and
destroying villages.

Although Roldan and his followers were not ignorant that the Admiral
might arrive from one day to another, they had no fears, since they
had won over to their side the crews of the ships that had been sent
on ahead. In the midst of such miseries did the unfortunate Adelantado
await from day to day the arrival of his brother. The Admiral sailed
from Spain with the remainder of the squadron but instead of sailing
directly to Hispaniola, he first laid his course to the south.[8] What
he accomplished during this new voyage, what seas and countries he
visited, what unknown lands he discovered, I shall narrate, and I
shall also explain at length the sequel of these disorders in the
following books. Fare you well.

[Note 8: This was the third voyage of Columbus, concerning which
some of the best sources of information are as follows: Oviedo, _Hist.
Gen. de las Indias_, lib. iii., 2, 4; Navarrete, tom iii., _Lettera di
Simone Verde a Mateo Curi_; Fernando Columbus, _op. cit_.; Herrera,
dec. i., 7; R.H. Major, Hakluyt Society, 1870, _Select Letters of



On the third day of the calends of June, 1498,[1] Columbus sailed from
the port of San Lucar de Barrameda, which is situated at the mouth
of the Guadalquivir not far from Cadiz. His fleet consisted of eight
heavily freighted ships. He avoided his usual route by way of the
Canaries, because of certain French pirates who were lying in wait for
him. Seven hundred and twenty miles north of the Fortunate Isles he
sighted Madeira, which lies four degrees to the south of Seville; for
at Seville, according to the mariners' report, the north star rises
to the 36th degree, whereas at Madeira it is in the 32d. Madeira was,
therefore, his first stop, and from thence he despatched five or six
ships loaded with provisions directly to Hispaniola, only keeping for
himself one ship with decks and two merchant caravels. He laid his
course due south and reached the equinoctial line, which he purposed
to follow directly to the west, making new discoveries and leaving
Hispaniola to the north on his starboard side. The thirteen islands
of the Hesperides lie in the track of this voyage. They belong to the
Portuguese, and all, save one, are inhabited. They are called the Cape
Verde islands, and are distant only a day's sail from the western part
of Ethiopia. To one of these islands the Portuguese have given the
name of Bona Vista[2]; and each year numerous lepers are cured of
their malady by eating the turtles of this island.

[Note 1: The date was May 30, 1498, and the number of ships under
his command was six, instead of eight. Much delay had occurred in
fitting out the fleet for the voyage, owing to the poor management of
the royal functionaries, especially the Bishop of Burgos, whose enmity
towards Columbus was from thenceforward relentless.]

[Note 2: Properly _Boavista_. A leper colony had been established
here by the Portuguese.]

The climate being very bad, the Admiral quickly left the archipelago
behind, and sailed 480 miles towards the west-south-west. He reports
that the dead calms and the fierce heat of the June sun caused such
sufferings that his ships almost took fire. The hoops of his water
barrels burst, and the water leaked out. His men found this heat
intolerable. The pole star was then at an elevation of five degrees.
Of the eight days during which they endured these sufferings only the
first was clear; the others being cloudy and rainy, but not on that
account less oppressive. More than once, indeed, did he repent having
taken this course. After eight days of these miseries a favourable
wind rose from the south-west, by which the Admiral profited to sail
directly west, and under this parallel he observed new stars in the
heavens, and experienced a more agreeable temperature. In fact,
all his men agree in saying that after three days' sailing in that
direction, the air was much cooler. The Admiral affirms that, while
he was in the region of dead calms and torrid heat, the ship always
mounted the back of the sea, just as when climbing a high mountain one
seems to advance towards the sky, and yet, nevertheless, he had seen
no land on the horizon. Finally, on the eve of the calends of July, a
watcher announced with a joyful cry, from the crow's nest, that he saw
three lofty mountains.[3] He exhorted his companions to keep up their
courage. The men were, indeed, much depressed, not merely because they
had been scorched by the sun, but because the water-supply was short.
The barrels had been sprung by the extreme heat, and lost the water
through the cracks. Full of rejoicing they advanced, but as they were
about to touch land they perceived that this was impossible, because
the sea was dotted with reefs, although in the neighbourhood they
descried a harbour which seemed a spacious one. From their ships
the Spaniards could see that the country was inhabited and well
cultivated; for they saw well-ordered gardens and shady orchards,
while the sweet odours, exhaled by plants and trees bathed in the
morning dew, reached their nostrils.

[Note 3: Alonzo Perez Nirando, a sailor from Huelva, made the
joyous announcement, and the sailors sang the _Salve Regina_ in
thanksgiving. Columbus named the island _Trinidad_, having already
decided to dedicate the first sighted land to the Holy Trinity. The
three mountain peaks close together seemed to render the name all the
more appropriate.]

Twenty miles from that place, the Admiral found a sufficiently large
port to shelter his ships, though no river flowed into it. Sailing
farther on he finally discovered a satisfactory harbour for repairing
his vessels and also replenishing his supply of water and wood.
He called this land Punta del Arenal.[4] There was no sign of any
habitation in the neighbourhood of the harbour, but there were many
tracks of animals similar to goats, and in fact the body of one of
those animals, closely resembling a goat, was found. On the morrow, a
canoe was seen in the distance carrying eighty men, all of whom were
young, good-looking, and of lofty stature. Besides their bows and
arrows they were armed with shields, which is not the custom among the
other islanders. They wore their hair long, parted in the middle,
and plastered down quite in the Spanish fashion. Save for their
loin-cloths of various coloured cottons, they were entirely naked.

[Note 4: The narrative at this point is somewhat sketchy, but
the author, doubtless, faithfully recounted the events as they were
reported to him. The ships approached the island from the east, and
then coasted its shore for five leagues beyond the cape named by
Columbus _La Galera_, because of it's imagined resemblance to a galley
under sail. The next day he continued his course westwards, and named
another headland _Punta de la Playa_; this was a Wednesday, August the
first; and as the fleet passed between La Galera and La Playa, the
South American continent was first discovered, some twenty-five
leagues distant. Fernando Columbus affirms that his father, thinking
it was another island, called it _Isla Santa_; but in reality Columbus
named the continent _Tierra de Gracia_. Punta del Arenal forms the
south-western extremity of the island and is separated by a channel,
according to Columbus, two leagues broad.]

The Admiral's opinion was that this country was nearer to the sky than
any other land situated in the same parallel and that it was above the
thick vapours which rose from the valleys and swamps, just as the high
peaks of lofty mountains are distant from the deep valleys. Although
Columbus declared that during this voyage he had followed without
deviation the parallel of Ethiopia, there are the greatest possible
physical differences between the natives of Ethiopia and those of the
islands; for the Ethiopians are black and have curly, woolly hair,
while these natives are on the contrary white, and have long,
straight, blond hair. What the causes of these differences may be, I
do not know. They are due rather to the conditions of the earth than
to those of the sky; for we know perfectly well that snow falls and
lies on the mountains of the torrid zone, while in northern countries
far distant from that zone the inhabitants are overcome by great heat.

In order to attract the natives they had met, the Admiral made them
some presents of mirrors, cups of bright polished brass, bells, and
other similar trifles, but the more he called to them, the more
they drew off. Nevertheless, they looked intently and with sincere
admiration at our men, their instruments and their ships, but without
laying down their oars. Seeing that he could not attract them by his
presents, the Admiral ordered his trumpets and flutes to be played,
on the largest ship, and the men to dance and sing a chorus. He hoped
that the sweetness of the songs and the strange sounds might win them
over, but the young men imagined that the Spaniards were singing
preparatory to engaging in battle, so in the twinkling of an eye they
dropped their oars and seized their bows and arrows, protecting their
arms with their shields, and, while waiting to understand the meaning
of the sounds, stood ready to let fly a volley against our men. The
Spaniards sought to draw near little by little, in such wise as to
surround them; but the natives retreated from the Admiral's vessel
and, confident in their ability as oarsmen, they approached so near to
one of the smaller ships that from the poop a cloak was given to the
pilot of the canoe, and a cap to another chief. They made signs to the
captain of the ship to come to land, in order that they might the more
easily come to an understanding; but when they saw that the captain
drew near to the Admiral's vessel to ask permission to land, they
feared some trap, and quickly jumped into their canoe and sped away
with the rapidity of the wind.

The Admiral relates that to the west of that island and not far
distant he came upon a strong current flowing from east to west.[5] It
ran with such force that he compared its violence to that of a vast
cataract flowing from a mountain height. He declared that he had never
been exposed to such serious danger since he began, as a boy, to sail
the seas. Advancing as best he could amongst these raging waves,
he discovered a strait some eight miles long, which resembled the
entrance of a large harbour. The current flowed towards that strait,
which he called Boca de la Sierpe, naming an island beside it,
Margarita. From this strait there flowed another current of fresh
water, thus coming into conflict with the salt waters and causing such
waves that there seemed to rage between the two currents a terrible
combat. In spite of these difficulties, the Admiral succeeded in
penetrating into the gulf, where he found the waters drinkable and

[Note 5: Columbus was then near the mouth of the Orinoco River.]

Another very singular thing the Admiral has told me, and which is
confirmed by his companions (all worthy of credence and whom I
carefully questioned concerning the details of the voyage), is that he
sailed twenty-six leagues, that is to say, one hundred and forty-eight
miles, in fresh water; and the farther he advanced to the west,
the fresher the water became.[6] Finally, he sighted a very lofty
mountain, of which the eastern part was inhabited only by a multitude
of monkeys with very long tails. All this side of the mountain is
very steep, which explains why no people live there. A man, sent to
reconnoitre the country, reported however that it was all cultivated
and that the fields were sown, though nowhere were there people or
huts. Our own peasants often go some distance from their homes to sow
their fields. On the western side of the mountain was a large plain.
The Spaniards were well satisfied to drop anchor in such a great
river.[7] As soon as the natives knew of the landing of an unknown
race on their coasts, they collected about the Spaniards anxious to
examine them, and displaying not the slightest fear. It was learned by
signs that that country was called Paria, that it was very extensive,
and that its population was most numerous in its western part. The
Admiral invited four natives to come on board and continued his course
to the west.

[Note 6: See _Orinoco Illustrado_, by Gumilla, 1754, also
Schomburgk's _Reisen in Guiana und Orinoco_. The fresh waters of the
estuary are in fact driven a considerable distance out to sea.]

[Note 7: This was the first landing of the Spaniards on the
American continent, but Columbus, being ill, did not go on shore.
Pedro de Torreros took possession in the Admiral's name (Navarrete,
tom. iii., p. 569). Fernando Columbus states that his father suffered
from inflamed eyes, and that from about this time he was forced to
rely for information upon his sailors and pilots (_Storia_, cap.
lxv.-lxxiii.). He seemed nevertheless to divine the immensity of the
newly discovered land, for he wrote to the sovereigns _y creo
esta tierra que agora, mandaron discrubir vuestras altezzas sea

Judging by the agreeable temperature, the attractiveness of the
country, and the number of people they daily saw during their voyage,
the Spaniards concluded that the country is a very important one, and
in this opinion they were not wrong, as we shall demonstrate at the
proper time. One morning at the break of dawn the Spaniards landed,
being attracted by the charm of the country and the sweet odours
wafted to them from the forests. They discovered at that point a
larger number of people than they had thus far seen, and as they were
approaching the shore, messengers came in the name of the caciques
of that country, inviting them to land and to have no fears. When
Columbus refused, the natives urged by curiosity, flocked about the
ships in their barques. Most of them wore about their necks and arms,
collars and bracelets of gold and ornaments of Indian pearls, which
seemed just as common amongst them as glass jewelry amongst our
women. When questioned as to whence came the pearls, they answered by
pointing with their fingers to a neighbouring coast; by grimaces and
gestures they seemed to indicate that if the Spaniards would stop with
them they would give them basketfuls of pearls. The provisions which
the Admiral destined for the colony at Hispaniola were beginning to
spoil, so he resolved to defer this commercial operation till a more
convenient opportunity. Nevertheless he despatched two boats loaded
with soldiers, to barter with the people on land for some strings of
pearls and, at the same time, to discover whatever they could about
the place and its people. The natives received these men with
enthusiasm and pleasure, and great numbers surrounded them, as though
they were inspecting something marvellous. The first who came forward
were two distinguished persons, for they were followed by the rest of
the crowd. The first of these men was aged and the second younger,
so that it was supposed they were the father and his son and future
successor. After exchanging salutations the Spaniards were conducted
to a round house near a large square. Numerous seats of very black
wood decorated with astonishing skill were brought, and when the
principal Spaniards and natives were seated, some attendants served
food and others, drink. These people eat only fruits, of which they
have a great variety, and very different from ours. The beverages they
offered were white and red wine, not made from grapes but from various
kinds of crushed fruits, which were not at all disagreeable.

This repast concluded, in company with the elder chief, the younger
one conducted the Spaniards to his own house, men and women crowding
about in great numbers, but always in separate groups from one

The natives of both sexes have bodies as white as ours, save those
perhaps who pass their time in the sun. They were amiable, hospitable,
and wore no clothes, save waist-cloths of various coloured cotton
stuffs. All of them wore either collars or bracelets of gold or
pearls, and some wore both, just as our peasants wear glass jewelry.
When they were asked whence the gold came, they indicated with the
finger that it was from a mountainous country, appearing at the
same time to dissuade our men from going there, for they made them
understand by gestures and signs that the inhabitants of that country
were cannibals. It was not, however, entirely clear whether they meant
cannibals or savage beasts. They were much vexed to perceive that the
Spaniards did not understand them, and that they possessed no means of
making themselves intelligible to one another. At three o'clock in
the afternoon the men who had been sent on shore returned, bringing
several strings of pearls, and the Admiral, who could not prolong his
stay, because of his cargo of provisions, raised anchor and sailed. He
intends, however, after putting the affairs of Hispaniola in order,
shortly to return. It was another than he who profited by this
important discovery.

The shallowness of the sea and the numerous currents, which at each
change of the tide dashed against and injured the lesser vessels,
much retarded the Admiral's progress, and to avoid the perils of the
shallows he always sent one of the lighter caravels ahead; this vessel
being of short draught took repeated soundings and the other larger
ones followed. At that time two provinces of the vast region of Paria,
Cumana and Manacapana, were reached, and along their shores the
Admiral coasted for two hundred miles. Sixty leagues farther on begins
another country called Curiana. As the Admiral had already covered
such a distance, he thought the land lying ahead of him was an island,
and that if he continued his course to the west he would be unable to
get back to the north and reach Hispaniola. It was then that he came
upon the mouth of a river whose depth was thirty cubits, with an
unheard-of width which he described as twenty-eight leagues. A little
farther on, always in a westerly direction though somewhat to the
south, since he followed the line of the coast, the Admiral sailed
into a sea of grass of which the seeds resemble those of the lentil.
The density of this growth retarded the advance of the ships.

The Admiral declares that in the whole of that region the day
constantly equals the night. The north star is elevated as in Paria
to five degrees above the horizon, and all the coasts of that newly
discovered country are on the same parallel. He likewise reports
details concerning the differences he observed in the heavens, which
are so contradictory to astronomical theories that I wish to make some
comments. It is proven, Most Illustrious Prince, that the polar star,
which our sailors call Tramontane, is not the point of the arctic pole
upon which the axis of the heavens turns. To realise this easily,
it is only necessary to look through a small hole at the pole star
itself, when the stars are rising. If one then looks through the same
aperture at the same star when dawn is paling the stars, it will be
seen that it has changed its place; but how can it be in this newly
discovered country that the star rises at the beginning of twilight in
the month of June to a height of only five degrees above the horizon,
and when the stars are disappearing before the sunrise, it should be
found by the same observer to be in the fifteenth degree? I do not at
all understand it, and I must confess the reasons the Admiral gives
by no means satisfy me. Indeed, according to his conjectures, the
terrestrial globe is not an absolute sphere, but had at the time of
its creation a sort of elevation rising on its convex side, so that
instead of resembling a ball or an apple, it was more like a pear, and
Paria would be precisely that elevated part, nearest to the sky.
He has also persisted in affirming that the earthly paradise[8] is
situated on the summit of those three mountains, which the watcher
from the height of the crow's nest observed in the distance, as I have
recounted. As for the impetuous current of fresh water which rushed
against the tide of the sea at the beginning of that strait, he
maintains that it is formed of waters which fall in cascades from the
heights of these mountains. But we have had enough of these things
which to me seem fabulous. Let us return to our narrative.

[Note 8: Speaking of the earthly paradise, Columbus describes it
as _adonde ne puede llegar nadie, sabro par voluntad divina_. Vespucci
it was who thought it would be found in the New World; _se nel mondo e
alcun paradiso terrestre_.]

Seeing his course across that vast gulf had, contrary to his
expectation, been arrested, and fearing to find no exit towards the
north through which he might reach Hispaniola, the Admiral retraced
his course and sailing north of that country he bent towards the east
in the direction of Hispaniola.

Those navigators who later explored this region more carefully believe
that it is the Indian continent, and not Cuba, as the Admiral thought;
and there are not wanting mariners who pretend that they have sailed
all round Cuba. Whether they are right or whether they seek to gratify
their jealousy of the author of a great discovery, I am not bound to
decide.[9] Time will decide, and Time is the only truthful judge. The
Admiral likewise discusses the question whether or not Paria is
a continent; he himself thinks it is. Paria lies to the south of
Hispaniola, a distance of 882 leagues, according to Columbus. Upon the
third day of the calends of September of the year 1498, he reached
Hispaniola, most anxious to see again his soldiers and his brother
whom he had left there. But, as commonly happens in human affairs,
fortune, however favourable, mingles with circumstances, sweet and
pleasant, some grain of bitterness. In this case it was internecine
discord which marred his happiness.

[Note 9: Rivalry and perhaps jealousy existed among the
navigators, each bent on eclipsing the achievements of his fellows,
and the former feeling was a spur to enterprise. Yanez Pinzon, Amerigo
Vespucci, Juan Diaz de Solis all explored the American coasts,
discovering Yucatan, Florida, Texas, and Honduras.]



Upon his arrival at Hispaniola, the Admiral found an even greater
state of disorder than he had feared, for Roldan had taken advantage
of his absence to refuse obedience to his brother, Bartholomew
Columbus. Resolved not to submit to him who had formerly been his
master and had raised him in dignity, he had stirred up the multitude
in his own favour and had also vilified the Adelantado and had written
heinous accusations to the King against the brothers. The Admiral
likewise sent envoys to inform the sovereigns of the revolt, begging
them at the same time to send soldiers to put down the insurrection
and punish the guilty, according to their crimes. Roldan and his
accomplices preferred grave charges against the Admiral and the
Adelantado, who, according to them, were impious, unjust men, enemies
to the Spaniards, whose blood they had profusely shed. They were
accused of torturing, strangling, decapitating and, in divers other
ways, killing people on the most trifling pretexts. They were envious,
proud, and intolerable tyrants; therefore, people avoided them as they
would fly from wild beasts, or from the enemies of the Crown. It had
in fact been discovered that the sole thought of the brothers was to
usurp the government of the island. This had been proven by different
circumstances, but chiefly by the fact that they allowed none but
their own partisans to work the gold-mines.

In soliciting reinforcements from the sovereigns, sufficient to deal
with the rebels according to their merits, the Admiral explained that
those men who dared thus to accuse him were guilty of misdemeanours
and crimes; for they were debauchees, profligates, thieves, seducers,
ravishers, vagabonds. They respected nothing and were perjurers and
liars, already condemned by the tribunals, or fearful, owing to their
numerous crimes, to appear before them. They had formed a faction
amongst themselves, given over to violence and rapine; lazy,
gluttonous, caring only to sleep and to carouse. They spared nobody;
and having been brought to the island of Hispaniola originally to do
the work of miners or of camp servants, they now never moved a step
from their houses on foot, but insisted on being carried about the
island upon the shoulders of the unfortunate natives, as though they
were dignitaries of the State.[1] Not to lose practice in the shedding
of blood, and to exercise the strength of their arms, they invented a
game in which they drew their swords, and amused themselves in
cutting off the heads of innocent victims with one sole blow. Whoever
succeeded in more quickly landing the head of an unfortunate islander
on the ground with one stroke, was proclaimed the bravest, and as
such was honoured.[2] Such were the mutual accusations bandied about
between the Admiral and the partisans of Roldan, not to mention many
other imputations.

[Note 1: _Ab insularibus namque miseris pensiles per totam
insulam, tanquam aediles curules, feruntur_.]

[Note 2: See Las Casas, _Brevissima Relacion_, English
translation, pub. by G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1909.]

Meanwhile the Admiral, desiring to put a stop to the dangerous attacks
of the Ciguana tribe which had revolted under the leadership of
Guarionex, sent his brother the Adelantado with ninety foot-soldiers
and some horsemen against them. It may be truthfully added that about
three thousand of the islanders who had suffered from the invasions of
the Ciguana tribe, who were their sworn enemies, joined forces with
the Spaniards. The Adelantado led his troops to the bank of a great
river which waters the plain between the sea and the two extremes of
the mountain chain of Ciguana, of which we have already spoken.
He surprised two of the enemy's spies who were concealed in the
underbrush, one of whom sprang into the sea, and, swimming across the
river at its mouth, succeeded in escaping to his own people. From the
one who was captured, it was learned that six thousand natives of
Ciguana were hidden in the forest beyond the river and were prepared
to attack the Spaniards when they crossed over. The Adelantado
therefore marched along the river bank seeking a ford. This he soon
found in the plain, and was preparing to cross the river when the
Ciguana warriors rushed out from the forest in compact battalions,
yelling in a most horrible manner. Their appearance is fearsome and
repulsive, and they march into battle daubed with paint, as did the
Thracians and Agathyrses. These natives indeed paint themselves from
the forehead to the knees, with black and scarlet colours which they
extract from certain fruits similar to pears, and which they carefully
cultivate in their gardens. Their hair is tormented into a thousand
strange forms, for it is long and black, and what nature refuses
they supply by art. They look like goblins emerged from the infernal
caverns. Advancing towards our men who were trying to cross the river,
they contested their passage with flights of arrows and by throwing
pointed sticks; and such was the multitude of projectiles that they
half darkened the light of the sun, and had not the Spaniards received
the blows on their shields the engagement would have ended badly for

A number of men were wounded in this first encounter, but the
Adelantado succeeded in crossing the river and the enemy fled, the
Spaniards pursuing them, though they killed few, as the islanders are
good runners. As soon as they gained the protection of the woods, they
used their bows to repulse their pursuers, for they are accustomed to
woods, and run naked amongst underbrush, shrubs, and trees, like wild
boars, heedless of obstacles. The Spaniards, on the contrary, were
hindered amongst this undergrowth by their shields, their clothes,
their long lances, and their ignorance of the surroundings. After a
night passed uselessly in the woods the Adelantado, realising the next
morning that they could catch nobody, followed the counsel of those
islanders who are the immemorial enemies of the Ciguana tribe, and
under their guidance marched towards the mountains where the King
Maiobanexius lived at a place called Capronus. Twelve miles' march
brought them to the village of another cacique, which had been
abandoned by its terrified inhabitants, and there he established his
camp. Two natives were captured, from whom it was learned that King
Maiobanexius and ten caciques with eight thousand soldiers were
assembled at Capronus. During two days there were a few light
skirmishes between the parties, the Adelantado not wishing to do more
than reconnoitre the country. Scouts were sent out the following night
under the guidance of some islanders who knew the land. The people of
Ciguana caught sight of our men from the heights of their mountains,
and prepared to give battle, uttering war-cries as is their custom.
But they did not venture to quit their woods, because they thought the
Adelantado had his entire army with him. Twice on the following day,
when the Adelantado marched on with his men, the natives tested the
fortune of war; hurling themselves against the Spaniards with fury,
they wounded many before they could protect themselves with their
shields, but the latter, getting the better of them, pursued them,
cutting some in pieces, and taking a large number prisoners. Those who
escaped took refuge in the forests, from which they were careful not
to emerge.

The Adelantado selected one of the prisoners, and sending with him
one of his allies, he despatched them both to Maiobanexius with the
following message: "The Adelantado has not undertaken to make war upon
you and your people, O Maiobanexius, for he desires your friendship;
but he formally demands that Guarionex, who has taken refuge with
you and has drawn you into this conflict to the great damage of your
people, shall be delivered to him to be punished as he merits. He
counsels you, therefore, to give up this cacique; if you consent, the
Admiral will count you among his friends and protect and respect your
territory. If you refuse you will be made to repent, for your entire
country will be devastated with fire and sword, and all you possess
will be destroyed." Maiobanexius, upon hearing this message, replied:
"Everybody knows that Guarionex is a hero, adorned with all the
virtues, and therefore I have esteemed it right to assist and protect
him. As for you, you are violent and perfidious men, and seek to shed
the blood of innocent people: I will neither enter into relations with
you, nor form any alliance with so false a people."

When this answer was brought to the Adelantado, he burnt the
village where he had established his camp and several others in the
neighbourhood. He again sent envoys to Maiobanexius, to ask him to
name one of his trusty advisers to treat for peace. Maiobanexius
consented to send one of the most devoted of his counsellors,
accompanied by two other chiefs. The Adelantado earnestly conjured
them not to jeopardise the territory of Maiobanexius solely in the
interests of Guarionex. He advised Maiobanexius, if he did not wish to
be ruined himself and to be treated as an enemy, to give him up.

When his envoys returned, Maiobanexius called together his people and
explained the conditions. The people cried that Guarionex must be
surrendered, cursing and execrating the day he had come amongst them
to disturb their tranquillity. The cacique reminded them, however,
that Guarionex was a hero, and had rendered him services when he
fled to him for protection, for he had brought him royal presents.
Moreover, he had taught both the cacique himself and his wife to
sing and dance, a thing not to be held in mediocre consideration.
Maiobanexius was determined never to surrender the prince who had
appealed to his protection, and whom he had promised to defend. He was
prepared to risk the gravest perils with him rather than to merit the
reproach of having betrayed his guest. Despite the complaints of the
people, the cacique dissolved the assembly, and calling Guarionex to
him, he pledged himself for the second time to protect him and to
share his fortunes as long as he lived.

Maiobanexius resolved to give no further information to the
Adelantado: on the contrary he ordered his first messenger to station
himself with some faithful soldiers at a place on the road where the
Adelantado's envoys usually passed, and to kill any Spaniards who
appeared, without further discussion. The Adelantado had just sent
his messengers, and both these men, one of whom was a prisoner
from Ciguana and the other from amongst the native allies, were
decapitated. The Adelantado, escorted by only ten foot-soldiers and
four horsemen, followed his envoys and discovered their bodies lying
in the road, which so incensed him that he determined to no longer
spare Maiobanexius. He invaded the cacique's village of Capronus with
his army. The caciques fled in every direction, abandoning their
chief, who withdrew with his entire family into places of concealment
in the mountain districts. Some others of the Ciguana people sought to
capture Guarionex, since he was the occasion of the catastrophe; but
he succeeded in escaping and concealed himself almost alone amidst
the rocks and desert mountains. The soldiers of the Adelantado were
exhausted by this long war, which dragged on for three months; the
watches, the fatigues, and the scarcity of food. In response to their
request they were authorised to return to Concepcion, where they owned
handsome plantations of the native sort; and thither many withdrew.
Only thirty companions remained with the Adelantado, all of whom were
severely tried by these three months of fighting, during which they
had eaten nothing but cazabi, that is to say, bread made of roots,
and even they were not always ripe. They also procured some utias, or
rabbits, by hunting with their dogs, while their only drink had been
water, which was sometimes exquisitely fresh, but just as often muddy
and marshy. Moreover the character of the war obliged them to pass
most of the time in the open air and perpetual movement.

With his little troop the Adelantado determined to scour the mountains
to seek out the secret retreats where Maiobanexius and Guarionex had
concealed themselves. Some Spaniards, who had been driven by hunger
to hunt utias for want of something better, met two servants of
Maiobanexius, whom the cacique had sent into the villages of his
territory, and who were carrying back native bread. They forced
these men to betray the hiding-place of their chief, and under their
leadership, twelve soldiers who had stained their bodies like the
people of Ciguana succeeded by trickery in capturing Maiobanexius,
his wife, and his son, all of whom they brought to the Admiral at
Concepcion. A few days later hunger compelled Guarionex to emerge from
the cavern where he was concealed, and the islanders, out of fear of
the Admiral, betrayed him to the hunters. As soon as he learned his
whereabouts, the Admiral sent a body of foot-soldiers to take him,
just at the moment when he was about to quit the plain, and return to
the mountains. These men caught him and brought him back, after which
that region was pacified, and tranquillity restored.

A relative of Maiobanexius who was married to a cacique whose
territory had not yet been invaded, shared the former's misfortunes.
Everybody agreed in saying that she was the most beautiful of the
women nature had created in the island of Hispaniola. Her husband
loved her dearly, as she merited, and when she was captured by the
Spaniards he almost lost his reason, and wandered distractedly in
desert places, doubtful what course to pursue. Finally he presented
himself before the Admiral, promising that he and his people would
submit without conditions, if he would only restore him his wife.
His prayer was granted and at the same time several others of the
principal captives were likewise freed. This same cacique then
assembled five thousand natives who instead of weapons carried
agricultural implements, and went himself to labour and plant the
crops in one of the largest valleys in his territories. The Admiral
thanked him by means of presents, and the cacique came back rejoicing.
This news spread throughout Ciguana, and the other caciques began to
hope that they too might be treated with clemency, so they came in
person to promise they would in future obey the orders given them.
They asked that their chief and his family might be spared, and in
response to their petition, the wife and children were delivered to
them, but Maiobanexius was held a prisoner.

While the Admiral was thus engaged in administering the affairs of
Hispaniola, he was ignorant of the intrigues his adversaries were
carrying on against him at the Spanish Court.[3] Wearied by these
continuous quarrels, and above all annoyed at receiving but a small
quantity of gold and valuable products because of these dissensions
and revolts, the sovereigns, appointed another Governor,[4] who, after
a careful enquiry, should punish the guilty and send them back to
Spain, I do not precisely know what has come to light against either
the Admiral or his brother the Adelantado, or their enemies; but this
is certain, that the Admiral and his brother were seized, put in
irons, deprived of all their property, and brought to Spain; and of
this, Most Illustrious Prince, you are not ignorant. It is true that
the sovereigns, when they learned that the Columbus brothers had
arrived at Cadiz loaded with irons, promptly sent their secretaries to
order their release and that their children should be allowed to
visit them; nor did they conceal their disapproval of this rough
treatment.[5] It is claimed that the new Governor has sent to the
sovereigns some letters in the handwriting of the Admiral, but in
cipher, in which the latter summoned his brother the Adelantado, who
was at that time absent with his soldiers, to hasten back and repel
force with force, in case the Governor sought to use violence. The
Adelantado preceded his soldiers, and the Governor seized him and his
brother before their partisans could rejoin them. What will be the
outcome, time will show, for time is the supreme arbiter of events.
Fare you well.

[Note 3: One of the most inveterate of his enemies was Juan de
Fonseca, afterwards Bishop of Burgos, who was unfortunately in a
position to do Columbus serious harm.]

[Note 4: Francisco de Bobadilla, commander of Calatrava.]

[Note 5: The sovereigns made what amends they could for the
abusive execution of their orders by over-zealous agents; they sent
Columbus a present of two thousand ducats--not an insignificant sum at
the time--and wrote him a letter, full of affectionate expressions of
confidence; he was admitted to audience on December 17th.]



I have presented to you this immense and hitherto unknown ocean which
the Admiral, Christopher Columbus, discovered, under the auspices of
our sovereigns, in the guise of a necklace of gold, although, owing to
the poor skill of the artisan, it is but poorly executed. Yet I have
judged it worthy, Most Illustrious Prince, of your splendour. Accept
now a necklace of pearls which, suspended from the former, will
ornament your breast.

Some of the Admiral's ship-captains who had made a study of the
different wind-currents sought the royal permission to prosecute
discoveries at their own expense,[1] proposing to relinquish to the
Crown its due, that is to say, one fifth of the profits. The most
fortunate of these adventurers was a certain Pedro Alonzo Nunez,[2]
who sailed towards the south; and it is of his expedition that I will
first write. To come at once to the essential details of this voyage,
this Nunez had but one ship, fitted out at his expense, though some
people claimed that he was helped.[3] The royal edict forbade him to
anchor within fifty leagues of any place discovered by the Admiral.
He sailed towards Paria, where, as I have said, Columbus found both
native men and women wearing bracelets and necklaces of pearls. In
obedience to the royal decree he coasted along this shore, leaving
behind him the provinces of Cumana and Manacapana, and thus arrived
at a country called by its inhabitants Curiana, where he discovered a
harbour quite similar to that of Cadiz.

[Note 1: See Navarrete, tom, ii., 1867; Gomara, _Historia
General_, p. 50.]

[Note 2: Also called Nino; he had sailed with Columbus on his
first two voyages. Oviedo, _op. cit_., xix., I, also describes this

[Note 3: Nunez was poor and only found assistance from a merchant
of Seville called Guerro, on condition that the latter's brother,
Christobal, should command the one ship his loan sufficed to provide.
This vessel was only fifty tons burden, and carried a crew of
thirty-three persons.]

Upon entering this harbour he found a number of houses scattered along
the banks, but when he landed it was discovered to be a group of eight
houses; about fifty men, led by their chief, promptly came from a
populous village only three miles distant. These men, who were naked,
invited Alonzo Nunez to land on their coast, and he consented. He
distributed some needles, bracelets, rings, glass pearls, and other
pedlar's trifles amongst them, and in less than an hour he obtained
from them in exchange fifteen ounces of the pearls they wore on their
necks and arms. The natives embraced Nunez affectionately, insisting
more and more that he should come to their village, where they
promised to give him any amount of pearls he might desire. The next
day at dawn the ship drew near to the village and anchored. The entire
population assembled and begged the men to land, but Nunez, seeing
that they were very numerous and considering that he had only thirty
men, did not venture to trust himself to them. He made them understand
by signs and gestures that they should come to the ship in barques
and canoes. These barques, like the others, are dug out of a single
tree-trunk, but are less well shaped and less easy to handle than
those used by the cannibals and the natives of Hispaniola. They are
called _gallitas_. The natives all brought strings of pearls, which
are called _tenoras_, and showed themselves desirous of Spanish

They are amiable men; simple, innocent, and hospitable, as was made
clear after twenty days of intercourse with them. The Spaniards very
soon ceased to fear to enter their houses, which are built of wood
covered with palm leaves. Their principal food is the meat of the
shellfish from which they extract pearls, and their shores abound
with such. They likewise eat the flesh of wild animals, for deer,
wild-boar, rabbits whose hair and colour resemble our hares, doves,
and turtle-doves exist in their country. The women keep ducks and
geese about the houses, just as ours do; peacocks fly about in the
woods, but their colours are not so rich or so varied as ours and the
male bird differs little from the female. Amongst the undergrowth
in the swamps, pheasants are from time to time seen. The people of
Curiana are skilful hunters and generally with one single arrow shot
they kill beasts or birds at which they aim. The Spaniards spent
several days amongst the abundance of the country. They traded four
needles for a peacock, only two for a pheasant, and one for a dove or
a turtle-dove. The same, or a glass bead, was given for a goose.
In making their offers and bargaining and disputing, the natives
conducted their commercial affairs just about the same as do our women
when they are arguing with pedlars. As they wore no clothes, the
natives were puzzled to know the use of needles, but when the
Spaniards satisfied their naive curiosity by showing them that needles
were useful for getting thorns from beneath the skin, and for cleaning
the teeth, they conceived a great opinion of them. Another thing which
pleased them even more was the colour and sound of hawk-bells, which
they were ready to buy at good prices.

From the native houses the roaring of large animals[4] was audible
amidst the dense and lofty forest trees, but these animals are not
fierce, for, although the natives constantly wander through the
woods with no other weapons than their bows and arrows, there is no
recollection of any one being killed by these beasts. They brought the
Spaniards as many deer and wild-boar, slain with their arrows, as the
latter desired. They did not possess cattle or goats or sheep, and
they ate bread made of roots and bread made of grain the same as the
islanders of Hispaniola. Their hair is black, thick, half curly, and
long. They try to spoil the whiteness of their teeth, for almost the
entire day they chew a herb which blackens them, and when they spit it
out, they wash their mouth. It is the women who labour in the fields
rather than the men, the latter spending their time in hunting,
fighting, or leading dances and games.

[Note 4: Supposed to have been tapirs, animals unknown in Europe.]

Pitchers, cups with handles, and pots are their earthenware utensils,
which they procure from elsewhere, for they frequently hold markets,
which all the neighbouring tribes attend, each bringing the products
of his country to be exchanged for those of other places. In fact,
there is nobody who is not delighted to obtain what is not to be had
at home, because the love of novelty is an essential sentiment
of human nature. They hang little birds and other small animals,
artistically worked in base gold,[5] to their pearls. These trinkets
they obtain by trade, and the metal resembles the German gold used for
coining florins.

[Note 5: A kind of alloyed gold called by the natives _guanin_;
the Spaniards were often deceived by its glitter.]

The men either carry their private parts enclosed in a little gourd
which has been opened at the back, like our cod-piece, or they use a
seashell. The gourd hangs from a cord tied round the waist.[6] The
presence of the animals above mentioned, and many other indications
not found in any of the islands, afford evidence that this land is a
continent. The most conclusive proof[7] seems to be that the Spaniards
followed the coast of Paria for a distance of about three thousand
miles always in a westerly direction, but without discovering any
end to it. When asked whence they procured their gold, the people of
Curiana answered that it came from a country called Cauchieta situated
about six suns distant (which means six days) to the west, and that it
was the artisans of that region who worked the gold into the form in
which they saw it. The Spaniards sailed towards Cauchieta and anchored
there near the shore on the calends of November, 1500. The natives
fearlessly approached and brought them gold, which in its rough state
is not valued amongst them. The people also wore pearls round their
throats; but these came from Curiana, where they had been obtained in
exchange for gold, and none of them wanted to part with anything they
had obtained by trade. That is to say the people of Curiana kept their
gold, and the people of Cauchieta their pearls, so that very little
gold was obtained at Cauchieta.[8] The Spaniards brought away some
very pretty monkeys and a number of parrots of varied colours, from
that country.

[Note 6: The text continues: _alibi in eo tractu intra vaginam
mentularemque nervum reducunt, funiculoque praeputium alligant_.]

[Note 7: Navarrete, iii., 14.]

[Note 8: _Auri tamen parum apud Cauchietenses: lectum reperere_
meaning, doubtless, that they traded away most of their gold for

The temperature in the month of November was delicious, without a sign
of cold. Each evening the stars which mark the north pole disappeared,
so near is that region to the equator; but it was not possible to
calculate precisely the polar degrees. The natives are sensible and
not suspicious, and some of the people of Curiana passed the entire
night in company with our men, coming out in their barques to join
them. Pearls they call _corixas_. They are jealous, and when strangers
visit them, they make their women withdraw behind the house, from
whence the latter examine the guests as though they were prodigies.
Cotton is plentiful and grows wild in Cauchieta, just as shrubs do in
our forests, and of this they make trousers which they wear.

Continuing their course along the same coast, the Spaniards suddenly
encountered about two thousand men armed according to the fashion of
the country, who prevented them from landing. They were so barbarous
and ferocious that it was impossible to establish the smallest
relations with them or to effect any trade; so, as our men were
satisfied with the pearls they had procured, they returned by the
same course to Curiana, where they remained for another twenty days
bountifully supplied with provisions.

It seems to me neither out of place nor useless to this history, to
here narrate what happened when they arrived within sight of the
coasts of Paria. They encountered by chance a squadron of eighteen
canoes full of cannibals engaged in a man-hunt: this was near the Boca
de la Sierpe and the strait leading to the gulf of Paria, which I have
before described. The cannibals unconcernedly approached the ship,
surrounding it, and shooting flights of arrows and javelins at our
men. The Spaniards replied by a cannon shot, which promptly scattered
them. In pursuing them, the ship's boat came up with one of their
canoes, but was able to capture only a single cannibal and a bound
prisoner, the others having all escaped by swimming. This prisoner
burst into tears, and by his gestures and rolling his eyes, gave it
to be understood that six of his companions had been cruelly
disembowelled, cut into pieces, and devoured by those monsters, and
that the same fate awaited him on the morrow. They made him a present
of the cannibal, upon whom he immediately threw himself, gnashing his
teeth and belabouring him with blows of a stick and his fists and with
kicks, for he believed that the death of his companions would not be
sufficiently avenged till he beheld the cannibal insensible and beaten
black and blue. When questioned as to the customs and usages of the
cannibals when they made expeditions to other countries, he said
they always carried with them, wherever they went, sticks prepared
beforehand which they planted in the ground at the place of their
encampment, and beneath whose shelter they passed the night.

Hanging over the door of one of the chieftains in Curiana, the
Spaniards found the head of a cannibal, which was regarded as a sort
of standard or helmet captured from the enemy, and constituted a great
honour for this chief.

There is a district on the coast of Paria, called Haraia, which is
remarkable for a peculiar kind of salt found there. It is a vast plain
over which the waves of the sea are driven in heavy weather and
when the waves subside and the sun comes out, the pools of water
crystallise into masses of the whitest salt, in sufficient quantity
for the natives to load all the ships that sail, did they arrive
before it rained. The first rainfall melts the salt, which is then
absorbed by the sands and thus returns through fissures in the earth,
to the sea which produces it. Others pretend that this plain is not
inundated by the sea, but that it possesses saline springs, more
bitter than sea water, which send forth their waters when the tempest
rages. The natives set great store on these salines, and they not
only use the salt in the same way that we do, but they mould it into
brick-shaped forms and trade it to foreigners for articles which they
do not themselves possess.

The bodies of the chiefs of the country are laid upon biers under
which a slow fire is lighted which consumes the flesh, little by
little, but leaves the bones and the skin intact. These dried bodies
are then piously preserved, as though they were their _penates_. The
Spaniards say that in one district they saw a man being thus dried for
preservation and in another a woman.

When, on the eighth day of the ides of February, the Spaniards were
ready to leave the country of Curiana, they found they had ninety-six
pounds of pearls at eight ounces to the pound, which they had obtained
at an average price of five cents.

Although their return voyage was shorter than when they came from
Hispaniola, it lasted sixty-one days, because continual currents
running from east to west not only retarded their speed, but sometimes
completely stopped the ship. Finally they arrived, loaded with pearls
like other people come loaded with straw. The commander, Pedro Alonzo
Nunez, concealed an important quantity of valuable pearls, and thus
cheated the royal revenues, to which a fifth of all merchandise
belongs.[9] His fellows denounced him, and Fernando de Vega, a learned
statesman, who was Governor of Galicia where they landed, arrested
him, and he was held in prison for a long time, but was finally
released; and even to this day he still claims they robbed him of his
share of the pearls. Many of these stones are as large as nuts, and
resemble oriental pearls, but as they are badly pierced, they are less

[Note 9: Navarrete, iii., 78. The treasure was sold in August,
1501, and the proceeds divided among the sailors.]

One day, when lunching with the illustrious Duke of Medina-Sidonia in
Seville, I saw one of these pearls which had been presented to him. It
weighed more than a hundred ounces, and I was charmed by its beauty
and brilliancy. Some people claim that Nunez did not find these pearls
at Curiana, which is more than one hundred and twenty leagues distant
from Boca de la Sierpe, but in the little districts of Cumana and
Manacapana near by the Boca and the island of Margarita. They declare
that Curiana is not rich in pearls. This question has not been
decided; so let us treat of another subject. You now perceive what, in
the course of years, may be the value of this newly discovered country
and western coasts, since after a superficial exploration they have
yielded such evidences of wealth.



Vincent Yanez Pinzon and his nephew Arias, who accompanied the Admiral
Columbus on his first voyage as captains of two of the smaller vessels
which I have above described as caravels, desirous of undertaking new
expeditions and making fresh discoveries, built at their own expense
four caravels in their native port of Palos, as it is called by the
Spaniards.[1] They sought the authorisation of the King and towards
the calends of December, 1499, they left port. Now Palos is on the
western coast of Spain, situated about seventy-two miles distant from
Cadiz and sixty-four miles from Seville in Andalusia, and all the
inhabitants without exception are seafaring people, exclusively
occupied in navigation.

[Note 1: An interesting account of this expedition may be read in
Washington Irving's _Companions of Columbus_; see also Navarrete, _op.
cit_., 82, 102, 113.]

Pinzon coasted along the Fortunate Isles,[2] and first laid his course
for the Hesperides, otherwise called the islands of Cape Verde, or
still better, the Medusian Gorgons. Sailing directly south on the
ides of January, from that island of the Hesperides called by the
Portuguese San Juan, they sailed before the south-west wind for about
three hundred leagues, after which they lost sight of the north star.
As soon as it disappeared they were caught in winds and currents
and continual tempests, though in spite of these great dangers they
accomplished by the aid of this wind two hundred and forty leagues.
The north star was no longer to be seen. They are in contradiction
with the ancient poets, philosophers, and cosmographers over the
question whether that portion of the world on the equinoctial line
is or is not an inaccessible desert. The Spaniards affirm that it is
inhabited by numerous peoples,[3] while the ancient writers maintain
that it is uninhabitable because of the perpendicular rays of the sun.
I must admit, however, that even amongst ancient authorities some have
been found who sought to maintain that that part of the world was
habitable.[4] When I asked the sailors of the Pinzons if they had seen
the polar star to the south, they said that they had seen no star
resembling the polar star of our hemisphere, but they did see entirely
different stars,[5] and hanging on the higher horizon a thick sort of
vapour which shut off the view. They believe that the middle part
of the globe rises to a ridge,[6] and that the antarctic star is
perceptible after that elevation is passed. At all events they have
seen constellations entirely different from those of our hemisphere.
Such is their story, which I give you as they told it. _Davi sunt, non

[Note 2: Meaning the Canaries in which the ancients placed the
Garden of the Hesperides. From them Ptolemy began to reckon longitude.
The names Hesperia, Hesperides, Hesperus, etc., were used to indicate
the west; thus Italy is spoken of by Macrobius: _illi nam scilicet
Graeci a stella Hespero dicunt Venus et Hesperia Italia quae occasui
sit_; Saturnalium, lib. i., cap. iii. Ptolemy likewise says: _Italia
Hesperia ab Hespero Stella quod illius occasui subjecta sit_, and
again in his _Historia tripartita_, lib. viii: _Quum Valentinianus
Imperator as oras Hesperias navigaret, id est ad Italiam, et
Hispaniam_. Elsewhere the same author mentions the islands off the
west coast of Africa, of which he received some vague information as:
_Incognitam terram qui communi vocabulo Hesperi appellantur Ethiopes_.
Pliny, Strabo, in the last chapter _De Situ Orbis_, Diodorus, and
others make similar usage of the terms. St. Anselm, _De Imagine
Mundi_, lib. i., cap. xx., _Juxta has, scilicet Gorgonas Hesperidum
ortus_; Pomponius Mela, lib. iii. cap. ix., x., xi.]

[Note 3: The sub-equatorial regions of Africa had already been
visited by numerous navigators since the time of Prince Henry of
Portugal, and the fact that they were inhabited was well known to the

[Note 4: Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, Anaxagoras, Mela, and others
were amongst those who believed in the existence of the Antipodes.]

[Note 5: Aristotle, _De Caelo et Terra_, ii., 14. The constellation
of the Southern Cross was known from the writings of the Arab

[Note 6: First noted by Columbus in a letter written from
Hispaniola in October, 1498.]

[Note 7: _Davus sum non Oedipus_, Andria, Act I, Scene II. The
quotation, transposed by Martyr from the singular into the plural
number, is from Terrence, Davus being a comic character in the comedy
of _Andria_.]

On the seventh day of the calends of February, land was finally
discovered on the horizon.[8] As the sea was troubled, soundings were
taken and the bottom found at sixteen fathoms. Approaching the coast
they landed at a place where they remained two entire days without
seeing a single inhabitant, though some traces of human beings were
found on the banks. After writing their names and the name of the
King, with some details of their landing, on the trees and rocks, the
Spaniards departed. Guiding themselves by some fires they saw during
the night, they encountered not far from their first landing-place
a tribe encamped and sleeping in the open air. They decided not to
disturb them until daybreak and when the sun rose forty men, carrying
arms, marched towards the natives. Upon seeing them, thirty-two
savages, armed with bows and javelins, advanced, followed by the rest
of the troop armed in like manner. Our men relate that these natives
were larger than Germans or Hungarians. With frowning eyes and
menacing looks they scanned our compatriots, who thought it unwise to
use their arms against them. Whether they acted thus out of fear or to
prevent them running away, I am ignorant, but at any rate, they sought
to attract the natives by gentle words and by offering them presents;
but the natives showed themselves determined to have no relation with
the Spaniards, refusing to trade and holding themselves ready to
fight. They limited themselves to listening to the Spaniards' speech
and watching their gestures, after which both parties separated.
The natives fled the following night at midnight, abandoning their

[Note 8: The present Cape San Augustin; it was sighted Jan. 28,
1500, and named Santa Maria de la Consolacion.]

The Spaniards describe these people as a vagabond race similar to the
Scythians, who had no fixed abode but wandered with their wives and
children from one country to another at the harvest seasons. They
swear that the footprints left upon the sand show them to have feet
twice as large as those of a medium-sized man.[9] Continuing their
voyage, the Spaniards arrived at the mouth of another river, which
was, however, too shallow for the caravels to enter. Four shallops of
soldiers were therefore sent to land and reconnoitre. They observed
on a hillock near the bank a group of natives, to whom they sent a
messenger to invite them to trade. It is thought the natives wanted to
capture one of the Spaniards and take him with them, for, in exchange
for a hawk's-bell which he had offered them as an attraction, they
threw a golden wedge of a cubit's length towards the messenger, and
when the Spaniard stooped to take up the piece of gold, the natives
surrounded him in less time than it takes to tell it, and tried to
drag him off. He managed to defend himself against his assailants,
using his sword and buckler until such time as his companions in the
boats could come to his assistance. To conclude in a few words, since
you spoke to me so urgently of your approaching departure, the natives
killed eight of the Spaniards and wounded several others with their
arrows and javelins. They attacked the barques with great daring from
the river banks, seeking to drag the boats ashore; although they were
killed like sheep by sword strokes and lance thrusts (for they were
naked); they did not on that account yield. They even succeeded in
carrying off one of the barques, which was empty, and whose pilot had
been struck by an arrow and killed. The other barques succeeded in
escaping, and thus the Spaniards left these barbarous natives.

[Note 9: One of the numerous tales of giants in America, which
circulated and for a long time obtained credence.]

Much saddened by the loss of their companions, the Spaniards followed
the same coast in a north-westerly direction and, after proceeding
some forty leagues, they arrived at a sea whose waters are
sufficiently fresh to admit of their replenishing their supply of
drinking water. Seeking the cause of this phenomenon they discovered
that several swift rivers which pour down from the mountains came
together at that point, and flowed into the sea.[10] A number of
islands dotted this sea, which are described as remarkable for
their fertility and numerous population. The natives are gentle and
sociable, but these qualities are of little use to them because they
do not possess the gold or precious stones which the Spaniards seek.
Thirty-six of them were taken prisoners. The natives call that entire
region Mariatambal. The country to the east of this great river is
called Canomora, and that on the west Paricora. The natives gave it
to be understood by signs that in the interior of the country gold of
good quality was found. Continuing their march, directly north, but
always following the windings of the coast, the Spaniards again
sighted the polar star. All this coast is a part of Paria, that land
so rich in pearls which Columbus himself discovered, as we have
related; he being the real author of these discoveries. The coast
reconnoitred by the Pinzons continues past the Boca de la Sierpe,
already described, and the districts of Cumana, Manacapana, Curiana,
Cauchieta, and Cauchibachoa, and it is thought that it extends to the
continent of India.[11] It is evident that this coast is too extended
to belong to an island, and yet, if one takes it altogether, the whole
universe may be called an island.[12]

[Note 10: Possibly the estuary of the Amazon.]

[Note 11: _Propterea Gangetidis Indiae continentem putans_. The
Ruysch map (1516) shows the junction of the American continent with

[Note 12: _Licet universum terrae, orbem, large sumptum, insulam
dicere fas sit_.]

From the time when they left the land where they lost sight of the
pole star, until they reached Paria, the Spaniards report that
they proceeded towards the west for a distance of three hundred
uninterrupted leagues. Midway they discovered a large river called
Maragnon, so large in fact that I suspect them of exaggerating; for
when I asked them on their return from their voyage if this river was
not more likely a sea separating two continents, they said that the
water at its mouth was fresh, and that this quality increased the
farther one mounted the river. It is dotted with islands and full
of fish. They above all declare that is it more than thirty leagues
broad, and that its waters flow with such impetuosity that the sea
recedes before its current.[13]

[Note 13: The mouth of the Maragnon or Amazon is, in fact, sixty
leagues wide.]

When we recall what is told of the northern and southern mouths of
the Danube, which drive back the waters of the sea to such a great
distance and may be drunk by sailors, we cease to be astonished if the
river described be represented as still larger. What indeed hinders
nature from creating a river even larger than the Danube, or indeed
a still larger one than the Maragnon? I think it is some river[14]
already mentioned by Columbus when he explored the coasts of Paria.
But all these problems will be elucidated later, so let us now turn
our attention to the natural products of the country.

[Note 14: Referring to the Orinoco.]

In most of the islands of Paria the Spaniards found a forest of
red-coloured wood, of which they brought back three thousand pounds.
This is the wood which the Italians call _verzino_ and the Spaniards
brazil wood. They claim that the dye-woods of Hispaniola are superior
for the dyeing of wools. Profiting by the north-west wind, which the
Italians call the _grecco_[15] they sailed past numerous islands,
depopulated by the ravages of the cannibals, but fertile, for they
discovered numerous traces of destroyed villages. Here and there they
descried natives, who, prompted by fear, quickly fled to the mountain
crags and the depths of the forests, as soon as they saw the ships
appear. These people no longer had homes but wandered at large because
they feared the cannibals. Huge trees were discovered, which produce
what is commonly called cinnamon-bark and which is claimed to be
just as efficacious for driving off fevers as the cinnamon which the
apothecaries sell. At that season the cinnamon was not yet ripe. I
prefer to rely on those who have made these reports rather than to
weary myself to discuss these questions. Pinzon's men further claim
that they have found huge trees in that country which sixteen men
holding hands and forming a circle could scarcely encompass with their

[Note 15: The different points of the compass were designated
by the winds: north being _tramontane_; north-east, _grecco_; east
_levante_; south-east _scirocco_; south, _ostro_; south-west,
_libeccio_; west, _ponente_; north-west, _maestrale_.]

An extraordinary animal[16] inhabits these trees, of which the muzzle
is that of the fox, while the tail resembles that of a marmoset, and
the ears those of a bat. Its hands are like man's, and its feet like
those of an ape. This beast carries its young wherever it goes in
a sort of exterior pouch, or large bag. You have seen one of these
animals, at the same time that I did. It was dead, but you have
measured it, and you have wondered at that pouch or curious stomach
with which nature has provided this remarkable animal for carrying
its young and protecting them either against hunters or beasts.
Observation has proven that this animal never takes its young out of
this pouch save when they are at play or nursing, until the time comes
when they are able to fend for themselves. The Spaniards captured one
such with its young, but the little ones died one after another, on
shipboard. The mother survived a few months, but was unable to bear
the change of climate and food. Enough, however, about this animal,
and let us return to the discoverers.

[Note 16: The animal here described is doubtless the opossum; the
only non-Australian marsupial found in America.]

The Pinzons, uncle and nephew, have endured severe hardships during
this voyage. They had explored six hundred leagues along the coast
of Paria, believing themselves the while to be at the other side of
Cathay on the coast of India, not far from the river Ganges, when in
the month of July they were overtaken by such a sudden and violent
storm that, of the four caravels composing the squadron, two were
engulfed before their eyes. The third was torn from its anchorage and
disappeared; the fourth held good, but was so shattered that its seams
almost burst. The crew of this fourth ship, in despair of saving
it, landed. They did not know what to do next, and first thought of
building a village and then of killing all the neighbouring people to
forestall being massacred themselves. But happily the luck changed.
The tempest ceased; the caravel which had been driven off by the fury
of the elements returned with eighty of the crew, while the other
ship, which held to her anchorage, was saved. It was with these
ships that, after being tossed by the waves and losing many of their
friends, they returned to Spain, landing at their native town of
Palos, where their wives and children awaited them. This was the eve
of the calends of October.

Pinzon's companions brought a quantity of woods[17] which they
believed to be cinnamon and ginger; but, to excuse the poor quality of
these spices, they said they were not ripe when they were gathered.
Baptista Elysius, who is a remarkable philosopher and doctor of
medicine, was in possession of certain small stones they had gathered
on the shores of that region, and he thinks they are topazes. He told
you this in my presence. Following the Pinzons and animated by the
spirit of imitation, other Spaniards have made long voyages toward the
south, following the track of their forerunners, such as Columbus,
and coasting, in my opinion, along the shores of Paria. These latter
explorers have collected cinnamon bark, and that precious substance
the fumes of which banish headaches, and which the Spaniards call
_Anime Album_.[18] I have learned nothing else worthy of your
attention; thus I will conclude my narration since you hasten me by
announcing your departure.

[Note 17: Pinzon obtained license to sell a quantity of brazil
wood to pay his debts, his creditors having seized the ships and their

[Note 18: _Cassiam et hi fistulam pretiosumque illud ad capitis
gravidinem suo suffumigio tollendam quod Hispani animen album vocant

Nevertheless, to conclude my decade, listen still to some details
concerning the ridiculous superstitions of Hispaniola. If it is not
a decade in the style of Livy, it is only because its author, your
Martyr, has not been blessed, as he should have been according to the
theory of Pythagoras, with the spirit of Livy. You also know what
mountains in travail bring forth. These things are only the fancies
of the islanders; nevertheless, though fanciful, they are more
interesting than the true histories of Lucian, for they really do
exist in the form of beliefs, while the histories were invented as a
pastime; one may smile at those who believe them.

The Spaniards lived for some time in Hispaniola without suspecting
that the islanders worshipped anything else than the stars, or that
they had any kind of religion; I have indeed several times reported
that these islanders only adored the visible stars and the heavens.
But after mingling with them for some years, and the languages
becoming mutually intelligible, many of the Spaniards began to notice
among them divers ceremonies and rites. Brother Roman,[19] a hermit,
who went, by order of Columbus, amongst the caciques to instruct them
in the principles of Christianity, has written a book in the Spanish
language on the religious rites of the islanders. I undertake to
review this work, leaving out some questions of small importance. I
now offer it to you as follows:

It is known that the idols to whom the islanders pay public worship
represent goblins which appear to them in the darkness, leading them
into foolish errors; for they make images, in the forms of seated
figures, out of plaited cotton, tightly stuffed inside, to represent
these nocturnal goblins and which resemble those our artists paint
upon walls.

[Note 19: Roman Pane was a Jeronymite friar who, as here stated,
wrote by order of Columbus. His work was in twenty-six chapters
covering eighteen pages, and was inserted at the end of the
sixty-first chapter of the _Storia_ of Fernando Columbus. The original
Spanish MS. is lost, the text being known in an Italian translation
published in Venice in 1571. Brasseur de Bourbourg published a French
translation in his work on Yucatan, _Relation des Choses de Yucatan de
Diego Landa_. Paris, 1864.]

I have sent you four of these images, and you have been able to
examine them and verify their resemblance to the goblins. You will
also be able to describe them to the most serene King, your uncle,
better than I could do in writing. The natives call these images
_zemes_. When they are about to go into battle, they tie small images
representing little demons upon their foreheads, for which reason
these figures, as you will have seen, are tied round with strings.
They believe that the _zemes_ send rain or sunshine in response to
their prayers, according to their needs. They believe the _zemes_ to
be intermediaries between them and God, whom they represent as one,
eternal, omnipotent, and invisible. Each cacique has his _zemes_,
which he honours with particular care. Their ancestors gave to the
supreme and eternal Being two names, Iocauna and Guamaonocon. But this
supreme Being was himself brought forth by a mother, who has five
names, Attabeira, Mamona, Guacarapita, Iella, and Guimazoa.

Listen now to their singular beliefs relating to the origin of man.
There exists in Hispaniola a district called Caunauna, where the human
race took its origin in a cavern on a certain mountain. The greater
number of men came forth from the larger apertures, and the lesser
number from the smaller apertures of this cavern. Such are their
superstitions. The rock on whose side the opening of this cavern
is found is called Cauta, and the largest of the caverns is called
Cazabixaba, the smaller Amaiauna. Before mankind was permitted to come
forth, they ingeniously affirm that each night the mouths of the
caves were confided to the custody of a man called Machochael. This
Machochael, having deserted the two caves from a motive of curiosity,
was surprised by the sun, whose rays he could not endure, and so was
changed into stone. They relate amongst their absurdities that when
men came out of their caverns in the night because they sought to sin
and could not get back before the rising of the sun, which they were
forbidden to see, they were tranformed into myrobolane trees,[20] of
which Hispaniola plentiously produces great numbers.

[Note 20: This name is comprehensive of several kinds of trees
whose fruits are used in compounding astringent and slightly purgative

They also say that a chief called Vagoniona sent from the cavern where
he kept his family shut up, a servant to go fishing. This servant,
being surprised by the sun, was likewise turned in like manner into a
nightingale. On every anniversary of his transformation he fills the
night air with songs, bewailing his misfortunes and imploring his
master Vagoniona to come to his help. Such is the explanation they
give for the nightingale's song. As for Vagoniona, he dearly loved
this servant, and therefore deeply lamented him; he shut up all the
men in the cavern and only brought out with him the women and nursing
children, whom he led to an island called Mathinino, off the coasts;
there he abandoned the women and brought back the children with him.
These unfortunate infants were starving, and upon reaching the river
bank they cried "_Toa, Toa_" (that is like children crying, Mamma,
Mamma), and immediately they were turned into frogs. It is for this
reason that in the springtime the frogs make these sounds, and it is
also the reason why men alone are frequently found in the caverns
of Hispaniola, and not women. The natives say that Vagoniona still
wanders about the island, and that by a special boon he always remains
as he was. He is supposed to go to meet a beautiful woman, perceived
in the depths of the sea, from whom are obtained the white shells
called by the natives _cibas_, and other shells of a yellowish colour
called _guianos_, of both of which they make necklaces. The caciques
in our own time regard these trinkets as sacred.[21]

[Note 21: The following passage does not lend itself to admissible
translation. _Viros autem illos, quos sine feminis in antris relictos
diximus, lotum se ad pluviarum acquarum receptacula noctu referunt
exiisse; atque una noctium, animalia quaedam feminas aemulantia, veluti
formicarum agmina, reptare par arbores myrobolanos a longe vidisse. Ad
feminea ilia animalia procurrunt, capiunt: veluti anguillae de manibus
eorum labuntur. Consilium ineunt. Ex senioris consilio, scabiosos
leprososque, si qui sint inter eos, conquirunt, qui manos asperas
callossasque habeant ut apraehensa facilius queant ritenere. Hos
homines ipsi caracaracoles appellant. Venatum proficiscuntur: ex
multis quas capiebant quatuor tantum retinent; pro feminis illis
uti adnituntur, carere feminea natura comperiunt. Iterum accitis
senioribus, quid facieudum consulunt. Ut picus avis admittatur, qui
acuto rostra intra ipsorum inguina foramen effodiat, constituerunt:
ipsismet caracaracolibus hominibus callosis, feminas apertis cruribus
tenentibus. Quam pulchre picus adducitur! Picus feminis sexum aperit.
Hinc bellissime habuit insula, quas cupiebat feminas; hinc procreata
soboles_. "I cease to marvel," continues the author, "since it is
written in many volumes of veracious Greek history that the Myrmidons
were generated by ants. Such are some of the many legends which
pretended sages expound with calm and unmoved visage from pulpits and
tribunals to a stupid gaping crowd."]

Here is a more serious tradition concerning the origin of the sea.[22]
There formerly lived in the island a powerful chief named Jaia who
buried his only son in a gourd. Several months later, distracted by
the loss of his son, Jaia visited the gourd. He pried it open and out
of it he beheld great whales and marine monsters of gigantic size come
forth. Thus he reported to some of his neighbours that the sea was
contained in that gourd. Upon hearing this story, four brothers born
at a birth and who had lost their mother when they were born sought to
obtain possession of the gourd for the sake of the fish. But Jaia, who
often visited the mortal remains of his son, arrived when the brothers
held the gourd in their hands. Frightened at being thus taken in the
act both of sacrilege and robbery, they dropped the gourd, which
broke, and took flight. From the broken gourd the sea rushed forth;
the valley was filled, the immense plain which formed the universe was
flooded, and only the mountains raised their heads above the water,
forming the islands, several of which still exist to-day. This, Most
Illustrious Prince, is the origin of the sea, nor need you imagine
that the islander who has handed down this tradition does not enjoy
the greatest consideration. It is further related that the four
brothers, in terror of Jaia, fled in different directions and almost
died of hunger because they dared stop nowhere. Nevertheless, pressed
by famine, they knocked at the door of a baker and asked him for
_cazabi_, that is to say, for bread. The baker spit with such force
upon the first who entered, that an enormous tumour was formed, of
which he almost died. After deliberating amongst themselves, they
opened the tumour, with a sharp stone, and from it came forth a woman
who became the wife of each of the four brothers, one after another,
and bore them sons and daughters.

[Note 22: Diego Landa, in his _Cosas de Yucatan_, and Cogolludo
(_Hist. de Yucatan_), treat this subject. Peter Martyr likewise
elaborates it in his letters to Pomponius Laetus and the Cardinal de
Santa Croce. _Opus Epistolarum_, ep. 177 and 180.]

Another story, most illustrious Prince, is still more quaint. There is
a cavern called Jouanaboina, situated in the territory of a cacique
called Machinnech, which is venerated with as great respect by the
majority of the islanders as were formerly the caves of Corinth, of
Cyrrha, and Nissa amongst the Greeks.[23] The walls of this cavern
are decorated with different paintings; two sculptured zemes, called
Binthiatelles and Marohos, stand at the entrance.

[Note 23: The caverns of Hayti have been visited and described by
Decourtilz, _Voyage d'un Naturaliste_. Some of them contain carvings
representing serpents, frogs, deformed human figures in distorted
postures, etc.]

When asked why this cavern is reverenced, the natives gravely reply
that it is because the sun and moon issued forth from it to illuminate
the universe. They go on pilgrimages to that cavern just as we go
to Rome, or to the Vatican, Compostela, or the Holy Sepulchre at

Another kind of superstition is as follows. They believe the dead walk
by night and feed upon _guarina_, a fruit resembling the quince,
but unknown in Europe. These ghosts love to mix with the living and
deceive women. They take on the form of a man, and seem to wish to
enjoy a woman's favour, but when about to accomplish their purpose
they vanish into thin air. If any one thinks, upon feeling something
strange upon his bed, that there is a spectre lying beside him, he
only needs to assure himself by touching his belly, for, according to
their idea, the dead may borrow every human member except the navel.
If therefore the navel is absent, they know that it is a ghost, and
it is sufficient to touch it to make it immediately disappear. These
ghosts frequently appear by night to the living, and very often on the
public highways; but if the traveller is not frightened, the spectre
vanishes. If, on the contrary, he allows himself to be frightened, the
terror inspired by the apparition is such that many of the islanders
completely lose their heads and self-possession. When the Spaniards
asked who ever had infected them with this mass of ridiculous beliefs,
the natives replied that they received them from their ancestors, and
that they have been preserved from time immemorial in poems which only
the sons of chiefs are allowed to learn. These poems are learnt by
heart, for they have no writing; and on feast days the sons of chiefs
sing them to the people, in the form of sacred chants.[24] Their only
musical instrument is a concave sonorous piece of wood which is beaten
like a drum.

[Note 24: Commonly called in the native tongue _arreytos_. Some
specimens exist. Brasseur de Bourbourg in his _Grammaire Quiche_ gives
the _Rabinal Achi_.]

It is the augurs, called bovites, who encourage these superstitions.
These men, who are persistent liars, act as doctors for the ignorant
people, which gives them a great prestige, for it is believed that the
zemes converse with them and reveal the future to them.

If a sick man recovers the bovites persuade him that he owes his
restoration to the intervention of the zemes. When they undertake to
cure a chief, the bovites begin by fasting and taking a purge. There
is an intoxicating herb which they pound up and drink, after which
they are seized with fury like the maenads, and declare that the zemes
confide secrets to them. They visit the sick man, carrying in their
mouth a bone, a little stone, a stick, or a piece of meat. After
expelling every one save two or three persons designated by the sick
person, the bovite begins by making wild gestures and passing his
hands over the face, lips, and nose, and breathing on the forehead,
temples, and neck, and drawing in the sick man's breath. Thus he
pretends to seek the fever in the veins of the sufferer. Afterwards he
rubs the shoulders, the hips, and the legs, and opens the hands; if
the hands are clenched he pulls them wide open, exposing the palm,
shaking them vigorously, after which he affirms that he has driven off
the sickness and that the patient is out of danger. Finally he removes
the piece of meat he was carrying in his mouth like a juggler, and
begins to cry, "This is what you have eaten in excess of your wants;
now you will get well because I have relieved you of that which you
ate." If the doctor perceives that the patient gets worse, he ascribes
this to the zemes, who, he declares, are angry because they have not
had a house constructed for them, or have not been treated with proper
respect, or have not received their share of the products of the
field. Should the sick man die, his relatives indulge in magical
incantations to make him declare whether he is the victim of fate or
of the carelessness of the doctor, who failed to fast properly or gave
the wrong remedy. If the man died through the fault of the doctor, the
relatives take vengeance on the latter. Whenever the women succeed in
obtaining the piece of meat which the bovites hold in their mouths,
they wrap it with great respect in cloths and carefully preserve it,
esteeming it to be a talisman of great efficacy in time of childbirth,
and honouring it as though it were a zemes.

The islanders pay homage to numerous zemes, each person having his
own. Some are made of wood, because it is amongst the trees and in the
darkness of night they have received the message of the gods. Others,
who have heard the voice amongst the rocks, make their zemes of stone;
while others, who heard the revelation while they were cultivating
their ages--that kind of cereal I have already mentioned,--make theirs
of roots.

Perhaps they think that these last watch over their bread-making.
It was thus that the ancients believed that the dryads, hamadryads,
satyrs, pans, nereids, watched over the fountains, forests, and
seas, attributing to each force in nature a presiding divinity. The
islanders of Hispaniola even believe that the zemes respond to their
wishes when they invoke them. When the caciques wish to consult the
zemes, concerning the result of a war, about the harvest, or their
health, they enter the houses sacred to them and there absorb the
intoxicating herb called _kohobba_, which is the same as that used by
the bovites to excite their frenzy. Almost immediately they believe
they see the room turn upside down, and men walking with their heads
downwards. This kohobba powder is so strong that those who take it
lose consciousness; when the stupefying action of the powder begins
to wane, the arms and hands become loose and the head droops. After
remaining for some time in this attitude, the cacique raises his head,
as though he were awakening from sleep, and, lifting his eyes to the
heavens, begins to stammer some incoherent words. His chief attendants
gather round him (for none of the common people are admitted to these
mysteries), raising their voices in thanksgiving that he has so
quickly left the zemes and returned to them. They ask him what he has
seen, and the cacique declares that he was in conversation with
the zemes during the whole time, and as though he were still in a
prophetic delirium, he prophesies victory or defeat, if a war is to be
undertaken, or whether the crops will be abundant, or the coming of
disaster, or the enjoyment of health, in a word, whatever first occurs
to him.

Can you feel surprised after this, Most Illustrious Prince, at the
spirit of Apollo which inspired the fury of the Sibyls? You thought
that that ancient superstition had perished, but you see that such is
not the case. I have treated here in a general sense all that concerns
the zemes, but I think I should not omit certain particulars. The
cacique Guamaretus had a zemes called Corochotus, which he had
fixed in the highest part of his house. It is said that Corochotus
frequently came down, after having broken his bonds. This happened
whenever he wished to make love or eat or hide himself; and sometimes
he disappeared for several days, thus showing his anger at having been
neglected and not sufficiently honoured by the cacique Guamaretus.
One day two children, wearing crowns, were born in the house of
Guamaretus; it was thought that they were the sons of the zemes
Corochotus. Guamaretus was defeated by his enemies in a pitched
battle; his palace and town were burnt and destroyed; and Corochotus
burst his bonds and sprang out of the house, and was found a stadium

Another zemes, Epileguanita, was represented in the form of a
quadruped, carved out of wood. He often left the place where he
was venerated and fled into the forests. And each time that his
worshippers heard of his flight, they assembled and sought him
everywhere with devout prayers. When found, they brought him
reverently on their shoulders back to the sanctuary sacred to him.
When the Christians landed in Hispaniola, Epileguanita fled and
appeared no more, which was considered a sinister forecast of the
misfortunes of the country. These traditions are handed down by the
old men.

The islanders venerate another zemes, made of marble, which is of
the feminine sex, and is accompanied by two male zemes who serve as
attendants; one acting as herald to summon other zemes to the woman's
assistance when she wishes to raise storms or draw down clouds and
rains; the other is supposed to collect the water which flows down
from the high mountains into the valleys, and upon the command of the
female zemes to let it loose in the form of torrents which devastate
the country whenever the islanders have failed to pay her idol the
honours due to it. One more thing worthy of remembrance and I shall
have finished my book. The natives of Hispaniola were much impressed
by the arrival of the Spaniards. Formerly two caciques, of whom one
was the father of Guarionex, fasted for fifteen days in order to
consult the zemes about the future. This fast having disposed the
zemes in their favour, they answered that within a few years a race of
men wearing clothes would land in the island and would overthrow their
religious rites and ceremonies, massacre their children, and make them
slaves. This prophecy had been taken by the younger generation to
apply to the cannibals; and thus whenever it became known that the
cannibals had landed anywhere, the people took flight without even
attempting any resistance. But when the Spaniards landed, the
islanders then referred the prophecy to them, as being the people
whose coming was announced. And in this they were not wrong, for they
are all under the dominion of the Christians, and those who resisted
have been killed; all the zemes having been removed to Spain, to teach
us the foolishness of those images and the deceits of devils, nothing
remaining of them but a memory. I have brought some things to your
knowledge, Most Illustrious Prince, and you will learn many others
later, since you will probably leave to-morrow to accompany your
great-aunt to Naples, in obedience to the orders of your uncle, King
Frederick. You are ready to leave and I am weary. Therefore, fare
you well, and keep the remembrance of your Martyr, whom you have
constrained in the name of your uncle, Frederick, to choose these few
from amongst many great things.




I have been prompted by the letters of my friends and of high
personages to compose a complete chronicle of all that has happened
since the first discoveries and the conquest of the ocean by Columbus,
and of all that shall occur. My correspondents were lost in admiration
at the thought of these discoveries of islands, inhabited by unknown
peoples, living without clothes and satisfied with what nature gave
them, and they were consumed by desire to be kept regularly informed.
Ascanio, whose authority never allowed my pen to rest, was degraded
from the high position he occupied when his brother Ludovico[1] was
driven by the French from Milan. I had dedicated the first two books
of this decade to him, without mentioning many other treatises I had
selected from my unedited memoirs. Simultaneously with his overthrow I
ceased to write, for, buffeted by the storm, he ceased to exhort me,
while my fervour in making enquiries languished; but in the year 1500,
when the Court was in residence at Granada, Ludovico, Cardinal of
Aragon, and nephew of King Frederick, who had accompanied the Queen
of Naples, sister of King Frederick, to Grenada, sent me letters
addressed to me by the King himself, urging me to select the necessary
documents and to continue the first two books addressed to Ascanio.
The King and the Cardinal already possessed the writings I had
formerly addressed to Ascanio. You are aware that I was ill at the
time, yet, unwilling to refuse, I resolved to continue. Amongst the
great mass of material furnished me at my request by the discoverers,
I selected such deeds as were most worthy to be recorded. Since you
now desire to include my complete works amongst the numerous volumes
in your library, I have determined to add to those of my former
writings by taking up the narrative of the principal events between
the years 1500 and 1510, and, God giving me life, I shall one day
treat them more fully.

[Note 1: His downfall was greeted with rejoicing throughout Italy.
In Venice the joy-bells rang and the children danced and sang a
_canzone_ in Piazza San Marco

_Ora il Moro fa la danza
Viva San Marco e il re di Franzia_.

Milan fell a prey to Louis XII., and all northern Italy passed under
the French yoke. The Pope rewarded the bearer of the news with a
present of one hundred ducats, and at once seized Cardinal Ascanio's
palace with its art treasures. The Cardinal was captured near Rivolta
by the Venetians, who delivered him to the French. He was kept in the
citadel of Bourges until 1502, when he was released at the request of
the Cardinal d'Amboise to take his place in the conclave which elected
Pius III. He died in 1505; and his former enemy, Guiliano della
Rovere, reigning as Pope Julius II., erected the magnificent monument
to his memory which still stands in Santa Maria del Popolo.]

To complete the decade, I had written a book which remained
unfinished, treating of the superstitions of the islanders; this new
book, which will be called the tenth and last, I wish to dedicate to
you, without rewriting my work or sending you my draft. Therefore,
if on reading the ninth book you come across promises which are not
realised, do not be astonished; it is not necessary to be always

[Note 2: _Non semper oportet stare pollicitis_.]

Let us now come to our subject. During these ten years many
explorers,[3] have visited various coasts, following for the most part
in the track of Columbus. They have always coasted along the shore of
Paria, believing it to be part of the Indian continent. Some heading
to the west, others to the east, they have discovered new countries
rich in gold and spices, for most of them have brought back necklaces
and perfumes obtained in exchange for our merchandise, or by violence
and conquest. Despite their nakedness, it must be admitted that in
some places the natives have exterminated entire groups of Spaniards,
for they are ferocious and are armed with poisoned arrows and sharp
lances with points hardened in the fire. Even the animals, reptiles,
insects, and quadrupeds are different from ours, and exhibit
innumerable and strange species. With the exception of lions, tigers,
and crocodiles, they are not dangerous. I am now speaking of the
forests of the district of Paria and not of the islands, where, I
am told, there is not a single dangerous animal, everything in the
islands speaking of great mildness, with the exception of the Caribs
or cannibals, of whom I have already spoken and who have an appetite
for human flesh. There are likewise different species of birds, and in
many places bats[4] as large as pigeons flew about the Spaniards as
soon as twilight fell, biting them so cruelly that the men, rendered
desperate, were obliged to give way before them as though they had
been harpies. One night, while sleeping on the sand, a monster issued
from the sea and seized a Spaniard by the back and, notwithstanding
the presence of his companions, carried him off, jumping into the sea
with his victim despite the unfortunate man's shrieks.

[Note 3: Labastidas, Pinzon, Hojeda, Vespucci, Las Casas, and

[Note 4: Vampire bats, which haunt the Venezuelan coast in large

It is the royal plan to establish fortified places and to take
possession of this continent, nor are there wanting Spaniards who
would not shrink from the difficulty of conquering and subjugating
the territory. For this purpose they petitioned the King for his

The journey, however, is long and the country very extensive. It
is claimed that the newly discovered country, whether continent or
island, is three times larger than Europe, without counting the
regions to the south which were discovered by the Portuguese and which
are still larger. Certainly the Spain of to-day deserves the highest
praise for having revealed to the present generation these myriad
regions of the Antipodes, heretofore unknown, and for having thus
enlarged for writers the field of study. I am proud to have shown them
the way by collecting these facts which, as you will see, are without
pretension; not only because I am unable to adorn my subject more
ornately, but also because I have never thought to write as a
professional historian. I tell a simple story by means of letters,
written freely to give pleasure to certain persons whose invitations
it would have been difficult for me to refuse. Enough, however, of
digressions, and let us return to Hispaniola.

The bread made by the natives is found, by those who are accustomed to
our wheat bread, to be insufficiently nourishing and therefore they
lose their strength. The King consequently issued a recent decree,
ordering that wheat should be sown in different places and at
different seasons. The harvest produced nothing but straw, similar to
twigs, and with little grain; although what there is, is large and
well formed. This also applies to the pastures where the grass grows
as high as the crops; thus the cattle become extraordinarily fat, but
their flesh loses its flavour; their muscles become flabby, and they
are, so to say, watery. With pigs it is just the contrary; for they
are healthy and of an agreeable flavour. This is due doubtless to
certain of the island's fruits they greedily devour. Pork is about
the only kind of meat bought in the markets. The pigs have rapidly
increased, but they have become wild since they are no longer kept
by swineherds. There is no need to acclimatise any other species of
animal or birds in Hispaniola.

Moreover, the young of all animals flourish on the abundant pasturage
and become larger than their sires. They only eat grass, not barley
or other grain. Enough however of Hispaniola; let us now consider the
neighbouring islands.

Owing to its length, Cuba was for a long time considered to be a
continent, but it has been discovered to be an island. It is not
astonishing that the islanders assured the Spaniards who explored it
that the land had no end, for the Cubans are poor-spirited people,
satisfied with little and never leaving their territory. They took no
notice of what went on amongst their neighbours, and whether there
were any other regions under their skies than the one they inhabited,
they did not know. Cuba extends from east to west and is much longer
than Hispaniola, but from the north to the south it is, in proportion
to its length, very narrow, and is almost everywhere fertile and

There is a small island lying not far off the east coast of
Hispaniola, which the Spaniards have placed under the invocation of
San Juan.[5] This island is almost square and very rich gold mines
have been found there, but as everybody is busy working the mines of
Hispaniola, miners have not yet been sent to San Juan, although it is
planned so to do. It is gold alone of all the products of Hispaniola
to which the Spaniards give all their attention, and this is how
they proceed. Each industrious Spaniard, who enjoys some credit, has
assigned to him one or more caciques (that is to say chiefs) and
his subjects, who, at certain seasons in the year established by
agreement, is obliged to come with his people to the mine belonging to
that Spaniard, where the necessary tools for extracting the gold are
distributed to them. The cacique and his men receive a salary, and
when they return to the labour of their fields, which cannot be
neglected for fear of famine, one brings away a jacket, one a shirt,
one a cloak, and another a hat. Such articles of apparel please them
very much, and they now no longer go naked. Their labour is thus
divided between the mines and their own fields as though they were
slaves. Although they submit to this restraint with impatience, they
do put up with it. Mercenaries of this kind are called _anaborios_.
The King does not allow them to be treated as slaves, and they are
granted and withdrawn as he pleases.[6]

[Note 5: Porto Rico.]

[Note 6: The system of repartimientos. Consult the writings of Las
Casas on this subject.]

When they are summoned, as soldiers or camp-followers are drafted by
recruiting agents, the islanders fly to the woods and mountains if
they can, and rather than submit to this labour they live on whatever
wild fruit they find. They are a docile people, and have completely
forgotten their old rites, complying without reasoning, and repeating
the mysteries they are taught. The Spanish gentlemen of position
educate sons of caciques in their own houses, and these lads easily
learn the elements of instruction and good manners. When they grow
up and especially if their fathers are dead, they are sent back to
Hispaniola, where they rule their compatriots. As they are devout
Christians, they keep both Spaniards and natives up to their duties,
and cheerfully bring their subjects to the mines. There are gold mines
found in two different districts, of which the first, called San
Cristobal, is about thirty miles from the town of Dominica. The other,
called Cibaua, is about ninety miles distant. Porto Real is situated

Great revenues are drawn from these countries, for gold is found both
on the surface and in the rocks, either in the form of ingots or of
scales which are sometimes small but generally of considerable weight.
Ingots weigh 300 pounds, and sometimes even more, for one has been
found which weighed 310 pounds.[7] You have heard it said that this
one was brought, just as it was found, to the King of Spain, on board
the ship on which the governor Bobadilla embarked for Spain. The ship,
being overloaded with men and gold, was wrecked and sunk with all it
contained. More than a thousand witnesses saw and touched this ingot.
When I speak of pounds I do not mean precisely a pound, but a weight
equal to a golden ducat of four ounces, which is what the Spaniards
call a _peso_ or castellano of gold. All the gold found in the
mountains of Cibaua is transported to the blockhouse of La Concepcion,
where there are founderies for receiving and melting the metal. The
royal fifth is first separated, after which each one receives a share
according to his labour. The gold from the mines of San Cristobal goes
to the founderies of Bona Ventura; the amount of gold melted in these
founderies exceeds 300 pounds of metal. Any Spaniard who is convicted
of having fraudulently kept back a quantity of gold not declared to
the royal inspectors, suffers confiscation of all the gold in his
possession. Contentions frequently occur among them, and if the
magistrates of the island are unable to settle them, the cases are
appealed to the Royal Council, the decisions of that tribunal being
without appeal in the King's dominions of Castile.

[Note 7: Las Casas describes the finding of this nugget by an
Indian girl, who accidentally turned it up while idly prodding
the ground with a sharp instrument. He gives its weight as 3600
castellanos, equivalent to thirty-five pounds. The vessel which was

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