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think is not found on the continent. Its leaves are used as paper. It is not the same one I have mentioned in the decades; on the contrary it differs greatly. I will describe it when I speak of the islands. For the present let us resume the history of the continent.
Leaving the colony of Panama on the South Sea with ships built there, the Spaniards sailed so far westwards that they believed themselves to be behind Yucatan. The proof given by Gil Gonzales, captain of this fleet, and his companions is, that they met natives dressed in the same fashion, with pierced lips, wearing gold and silver necklaces covered with precious stones, similar to those I have described in my Fourth Decade addressed to Pope Leo, when I spoke of the country of Yucatan and the gifts sent from that country.
According to their account the ocean on their right hand was so turbulent that they believed some undiscovered strait must exist between the continent and Yucatan, but they did not venture amidst such raging waters, because their vessels were half rotten and very wormeaten; they have promised to return there when their ships are repaired.
Gil Gonzales has told Pedro Arias,—and his statement is confirmed by his companions,—that during this voyage he found an immense expanse of black-coloured sea, about one hundred leagues from the gulf of Panama, in which swanr fish, as large as dolphins, singing melodiously, as is recounted of the Sirens. Like the Sirens also their song lulled to sleep. At this point the narrowminded will marvel, saying the thing is impossible. I will answer them in a few words. Do we not read that in the Erythraean Gulf the water is red, and is it not this tint which has given the gulf its name? Whence is this colour? From the quality of the water, or the red sands or the red rocks reflected in it? Has nature so little power hat she may nor fashion black sands and black rocks, to give their sombre tints to the water? I likewise am perfectly willing to believe that the singing fish are a fable, although it is reported by men worthy of credence. What has been said about Tritons having voices, may serve to excuse them. People have sometimes heard Tritons, and dead ones have even been found cast up by the tempest on the western coast of Spain. Does not the frog croak under water? Why, therefore, is it astonishing that other fish should have voices, which until now have never been heard? Let each one keep his own beliefs; as for myself, I believe in the omnipotence of nature.
Crocodiles are numerous in all the continental rivers. They are dangerous while in the water, but not so when on land, as is the case with those along the Nile. The Spaniards have found a dead one measuring forty-two feet in length, with jaws seven feet wide.
The son of Pedro Arias who has returned to Spain, says that a tree suitable for ship-building, has been found as its wood is impervious to the attacks of worms. He also says that when burnt in the kitchen, this wood takes fire very slowly being thoroughly saturated with moisture. Let me now say a few words concerning the resources of this country. It contains many gold mines, but I wish that neither Pedro Arias nor any of those who seek gold to the everlasting hurt of the unfortunate natives knew anything of them. We have often agitated the question before Your Holiness and in our India Council it is now settled. The Indians are to be free, and may work in their own fields or at Christian trades. If any of them choose voluntarily to labour for wages, they may be employed as paid workmen. This is enough concerning the continent; let us add a few words about the islands.
Nothing is changed in Hispaniola. It is the council residing there which dictates laws to all the other colonies. The products of that island develop daily; there are great numbers of horses, pigs, and cattle, and the same holds good for the other islands. A mare is impregnated ten months after its birth, and hardly is one colt born before she is ready to have another. The native bread is made from yucca and maize, and satisfies the people. Wines are imported into the archipelago from Andalusia, and although vines exist in different places they grow so rapidly that they expend their vitality in branches and leaves rather than grapes. Moreover they die a few years after planting. The same may be said of grain, which grows as high as canes, and produces enormous spears, but the kernel ordinarily disappears before maturity. The amount of sugar increases every year.
Let us now describe the tree1 growing in the two islands which produces parchment. It closely resembles a palm, and its leaves are so broad that any one of them carried over a man's head protects him against the rain, as well as though he covered his shoulders with a woollen mantle. Here is an extraordinary fact; the leaves of this tree grow close to the trunk, like those of the palm. If one of these is pulled off by the root attaching it to the stalk,—a thing easily accomplished by the help of a knife,—the interior of the stem is found to contain a sort of white skin, resembling that covering the albumen of an egg. Detaching this skin, as might be done with that of a slaughtered lamb, it comes off whole like that of a lamb or goat. This is then used as that of one of these animals would be and seems to be quite as strong. These leaves are sold in small pieces, as required for writing. This tree is called yagua, and its fruit resembles that of the olive. It fattens pigs but is less suited to men. I have elsewhere described how another leaf, which does not resemble this skin, is used for writing.
There is still another tree growing upon the summits of the rocks, which does not flourish in rich soil. It is called pythahaya. Its fruit is tart, and tastes like the African pear called the pomegranate, while in size it is similar to an orange. It is red both inside and out. The mamei which I have already described in the decades, and whose fruit is not larger than a small lemon, also grows in the island; on the continent the fruit becomes larger. It contains only three stones, each the size of a nut, which are for the propagation of the species.
1 The American agave. The description that follows is not especially lucid nor is it in the author's best style.
Something may be said about the pepper gathered in the islands and on the continent. I mentioned pepper as growing in the forests; but it is not pepper, though it has the same strength and the flavour, and is just as much esteemed. The natives call it axi. It grows taller than a poppy, and the grains are gathered from this bush just as from a juniper or pine, although they are not so large. There are two varieties of these grains, five in the row; one of which is half a finger in length, and its taste is sharper and more biting than that of pepper; the other is round and has no more taste than pepper. Its bark, skin, and kernel have a hot flavour, but not very sharp. The third grain does not sting the tongue but is aromatic. When it is used there is no need of Caucasian pepper. The sweet pepper is called boniatum and the hot pepper is called carribe, meaning sharp and strong; for this same reason the cannibals are called Caribs, because they are strong.
There is another tree in the island called guchon, whose sap penetrates the skin of any who touch it and is absorbed like a poison. Any one who is unfortunate enough to look fixedly at that tree becomes blind and swells up as though he had the dropsy. Let us notice two other trees whose leaves and wood are fatal when burnt. It is only necessary to carry a piece of this burning wood for the smoke to suffocate people. There is also another tree equally poisonous if the smoke from its leaves is inhaled.
An atrocious crime has been related to me by a priest who has crossed the vast ocean six times from the continent to Cuba and Hispaniola—three times going and three times coming. This person is called Benito Martin and he is a man of some eloquence. It was he who first brought to Barcelona the news of the discovery of Yucatan and the neighbouring countries. According to his account, a certain Madronez, of Albaciti in Murcia, had assigned to him a cacique and his subjects as forced labourers, according to the ancient custom permitting the mines to be worked under the whip. He lived in a place called Santiago, where a gold mine was soon found, and the cacique and his miners rapidly accumulated for their temporary master nine thousand castellanos of gold. We decided from the outset in our Royal India Council that all the natives should receive as recompense when their work was finished some article of European manufacture; such as a hat, jacket, shirt, mirror, or something similar. The cacique hoped that his remuneration would be increased, because the amount had been so rapidly accumulated, but Madronez showed himself more avaricious than he had expected. The cacique was so angry that he assembled all his miners to the number of ninety-five persons in his cabin, and spoke to them as follows: "My friends and companions: why should we wish longer to live in this atrocious slavery? We had better betake ourselves to the eternal home of our ancestors, where we shall be beyond the reach of the intolerable sufferings these ungrateful creatures, in whose power we are, put upon us. Do you go ahead, and I will follow you." While thus speaking he held prepared in his hands packets of the odorous herbs whose smoke is fatal. Lighting them he distributed to each man a portion, that he might inhale. His orders were carried out. The cacique and one of his relatives, a wise man, waited to be the last to inhale the smoke. The floor of the room was already