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Laudamus_. Each of them offered voluntary hospitality in his house,
built after the plan of native cabins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have already said that Quizqueia and Haiti are the ancient names of
the island. Some natives also call the island Cipangu, from the name
of a mountain range rich in gold. In like manner our poets have called
Italy _Latium_, after one of its provinces, and our ancestors also
called Italy _Ausonia_ and _Hesperia_, just as these islanders have

Online LibraryUnknownDe Orbe Novo, Volume 1 (of 2) The Eight Decades of Peter Martyr D'Anghera → online text (page 27 of 31)