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

Part 5 out of 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note 6: Cape Sant Augustin.]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[Note 1: The pineapple.]

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

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

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

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

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

[Note 5: See _De Legatione Babylonica_.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Decade



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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