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another tree, the size of a large mulberry, and which bears cotton on the ends of its branches. This cotton is just as useful as that obtained from plants sown every year. Another tree produces wool as in China, suitable for spinning and weaving, though it is not commonly employed, because sheep's wool is much superior. Moreover, until now, experienced weavers have been wanting, and industries will only gradually develop as the population increases.
I must not forget to recall how nature furnishes the natives of this region with cords and cables ready-made. There is a certain herb resembling verbena, that grows quickly round the roots of almost all the trees. It is called bexuco. Like the sweet pea it clambers more tightly than ivy round the trunk of the supporting tree, reaching the highest branches, and then falling down and spreading itself over the smaller ones, which it covers like a mantle or a parasol protecting them against the heat. To bind fagots, however large they be, to sustain heavy burdens or to fasten the beams and planks of a house, this bexuco is excellent. Whatever is tied together with bexuco is more solid than what is fastened by iron nails, and when the houses there are shaken by violent tempests, the bexuco bends but never breaks.
The natives call these furious winds, which formerly tore up great trees by the roots and destroyed houses, hurricanes. Houses joined together with nails fell to the ground, the nails being torn out; those fastened together with bexuco were shaken, but the knots held firm and they preserved their original stability. Hispaniola was formerly ravaged with these storms, which were called typhoons, when they believed infernal demons were seen to appear. This terrible curse, it appears, ceased since the sacrifice of the Eucharist has spread in the island; and the demons, which formerly loved to show themselves to the ancient inhabitants, have no longer been seen. For this reason the islanders make the zemes,—that is to say, idols,—they worship, of wood and cotton so tightly stuffed that they acquire the hardness of stone. They resemble the goblins our painters draw upon walls to frighten men and convert them from sin. Columbus, the first discoverer of the mysteries of the ocean, brought back a number of zemes, and I sent two of them, together with numerous other objects, to your uncle, the Cardinal Ascanio, in the days of his brilliant fortune. Any quantity of bexuco desired may be had, for any work; for it may be termed a rope without end. Enough has been said about bexuco. and are only visible when they put out their little wings like the scarabs, and begin to fly. Each cucurio thus carries four lanterns, and it is pleasing to learn how people protect themselves against the pestiferous gnats, which sting every one and in some places are a trifle smaller than bees.
Let us now consider another of nature's marvels. In Hispaniola and the other islands of the ocean, there are swampy districts well adapted for cattle raising. The colonies in the neighbourhood of these swampy places are infested by all kinds of gnats, produced by the damp heat; and these insects do not attack people only at night, as in other countries. This is the reason why the natives do not build lofty houses, and make their entrance doors only wide enough to barely admit a man, and without any windows at all. For the same reason they do without torches, for the gnats instinctively follow the light; nevertheless the insects get into the houses. While Nature has bestowed this pest on the islanders, she has at the same time supplied a remedy, just as we have the cat to rid us of the filthy nuisance of rats. The gnat chasers, which likewise serve other purposes, are called cucurios and are winged worms, inoffensive, a little smaller than butterflies, and resembling rather a scarabaeus, since their wings are protected by a tough outer covering, into which they are drawn when the insect stops flying. These insects, like the fireflies we see shining at night or certain luminous worms found in hedgerows have been supplied by provident nature with four luminous points, two of which occupy the place of the eyes, and the other two are hidden inside the body under the shell,
As soon as one knows that these dangerous gnats have invaded his house, or wishes to prevent them doing so, cucurios are immediately procured by the following artifice; necessity, the mother of invention, has taught this method. To catch cucurios one must go out at nightfall, carrying a burning coal, mount upon a neighbouring hut in sight of the cucurios, and then call in a loud voice, "cucurios, cucurios!"
Simple people imagine that the cucurios are charmed by this noise and answer the call. As a matter of fact they quickly appear in masses. We believe they are attracted by the light, as clouds of gnats also rush towards it, just as the martins and swallows do, only to be devoured by the cucurios. When a sufficient number of cucurios have assembled, the hunter throws down the coal, and the cucurios, following the direction of the fire, fall to the earth, where it is as easy to catch them as for the traveller to catch a scarabaeus creeping along with its wings under its shell. It is also alleged that curcurios are not caught at all in this manner, but rather by knocking them to the ground with branches or broad strips of linen, when they are flying; they lie there stupefied and are caught. It is also said they are caught as birds are, by throwing the linen cloth or the branches of leaves over them. However this may be, as soon as the hunter has got his supply of these cucurios, he takes them home, and closely shutting his house, he lets them loose. The cucurio immediately flies about the room seeking the gnats. He acts as though he mounted guard over the hammocks and the faces of the sleepers, which the gnats attack, assuming the duty of ensuring them a night's rest.
This is not the only service the cucurio renders. Another sufficiently curious one is the following: each eye of this insect is a lamp for the benefit of its owner; and by the light emitted by these cucurios one can sew, spin, and even dance. May it not be imagined that the cucurios, charmed by the songs of the singers and their movements in the dance, also follow in their flight the rhythmical movements? In chasing the gnats, the cucurios are obliged to execute turnings and returnings in their flight.
By the light shed by this insect, as long as his hunger is not satisfied, it is possible to read or write. When the cucurio's hunger is appeased by the gnats he has caught and swallowed, his light grows dim; and when the natives perceive this, they open the door and let the insect regain his liberty and search for food elsewhere. As a joke, and to scare people who are afraid of spectres, the facetious sometimes rub their faces with a dead cucurio, and show themselves, with flaming countenances, to their neighbours at night, asking them where they are going. Our own young people in like manner, when they wish to joke, put on a mask with gaping mouth well furnished with teeth, and seek to scare children or womanishhearted people who are easily frightened. The face smeared with the cucurios looks like a bright flame; but this luminous property quickly grows dim and goes out.
There is another extraordinary advantage derived from the cucurio; the natives, whom the Spaniards send on errands, prefer to go at night; attaching two cucurios to their toes, they walk as easily as though they carried as many lanterns as the cucurios have lights. They also carry others in their hands, which help them to catch utias. These utias are a sort of rabbit, a little larger than a rat, and before the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives knew of no other and ate no other quadruped. They also fish by means of cucurios, this being a sport of which they are passionately fond and which they follow from their cradles.
Both sexes are just as accustomed to swim as to walk, which is not astonishing when we consider the women's customs in childbirth. When a woman feels the hour of her delivery to be near, she goes into a neighbouring wood and seizing the branches of a tree with both hands, gives birth without the aid of a midwife. Taking the new-born child she carries it to the neighbouring stream, where she washes both herself and the child, rubbing it and dipping it into the water without its crying or making any noise; after which she takes it home and nourishes it. During the following days she frequently washes herself and the child, and these habits prevail everywhere. It is also alleged that in other countries the women go to a stream when about to be delivered and allow the new-born babes to fall into the stream.
While writing these particulars relating to the interesting cucurios, I received the unexpected visit, a little before noon, of Camillo Gillino and the Emperor's chamberlain, Giacomo Canizares. The former is my habitual guest, not only because he is Your Excellency's minister but because of his character which I esteem. At the beginning of these events Canizares left in company with some of the young courtiers of Ferdinand and Isabella, desirous of seeing new things. He was one of those who followed Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, with a fleet of seventeen ships. I have described this voyage in my Decade dedicated to Ascanio. On one occasion at dinner, Canizares told me a number of stories in the presence of Gillino; speaking of cucurios, he assured me that having debarked once upon a cannibal island and being obliged to wait in a dark night on the beach, he was the first to discover one of these cucurios,