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surround him, leaping and dancing like the furies of the carnival; regarding him with respect and adoring him, declaring that they behold in him the present and future remedy of past misfortunes, and the consolation for all their troubles. * Like courtiers, they declare him to be the most elegant of the elegant, the handsomest of the handsome, the most generous of the generous; pious, gracious; in a word, they overwhelm him with all sorts of praises and compliments.
At daybreak they leave the house, bearing an image of the dead to a boat which has been prepared; it is dug out of a tree-trunk and capable of carrying sixty rowers. In fact it is reported that very lofty trees grow in this country, especially lemon-trees, which are plentiful and of which I recently learned that they possess a quality I had before ignored. The planks of the lemon-tree, in addition to their already well-known properties, are incorruptible, for they are bitter to the taste and are never attacked by the pest of worms, which, wherever the sea is deep, bore the hulls of ships more effectually than an auger. These worms are called by the Spaniards bromas. This boat, which is held to be that of the dead, is filled with drinks, herbs, fruits, such as he loved during his lifetime; also with fish, meat, and bread. The administrators of the cacique have had it already prepared against the moment when the organiser of the ceremony shall come out of his house. The guests raise the boat on their shoulders and carry it round the house, bringing it to the place from which they started, where they burn it together with all its contents. They believe the smoke from this fire is agreeable to the dead man's soul. While this is happening, the women, who have drunk- immoderately, let down their hair, strip themselves naked, and foam at the mouth as they stagger forward. Their legs tremble under them, and they cling to the walls or fall, sprawling as do the Bacchantes; or they snatch javelins from their husbands' hands, clashing them together. They brandish lances and wave spears and arrows. In their wild march they shake the house, and finally, wearied out, they throw themselves stark naked on the ground and sleep the sleep of exhaustion.
1 In other words: Le roi est mort, Vive le rail
Such ceremonies have been especially observed in an island of the South Sea called Cesucuo, which the Spaniards under the leadership of Espinosa visited.
There is another moral trait of theirs, which is not exactly chaste, but which I do, wish to omit. When the young men give themselves up to these follies and games, singing their arreytos, they pierce the virile member with the bone of a fish called in Latin and Spanish rate and in Greek /Sins; continuing to skip and jump while their blood flows on the floor. A powder which they use on the wound, and which was discovered by the bovites, who discharge the functions of doctor, surgeon, and priest, cures it in four days.
Sorcerers and soothsayers are highly esteemed and nothing is undertaken which they do not inaugurate, whether it is hunting, or fishing, seeking gold in the mines or pearls in the shells; the natives do not dare to move a foot unless the sorcerer, torquertigua as he is called, has first declared the moment to be propitious. There exists among them no forbidden degree of affinity and relationship, and fathers marry daughters, brothers their sisters; widows, even those who have no children, pass with the rest of the property to the heirs by right of succession. It is said that they are obscene and debased.
A singular custom prevails in our islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica, where a marriageable woman who has granted her favours and prostituted herself to the greatest number is reputed to be the most generous and honourable of all. The following story, amongst others, is a singular proof. Several Spaniards, in company with islanders from Jamaica, crossed to Hispaniola having with them a very beautiful woman, who had until then kept her virginity and remained chaste. The Spaniards agreed amongst themselves to accuse her of meanness, and they were so skilful and persistent that they transformed that young girl into an enraged woman, who determined to accept the embraces of any one who wanted her. She, who formerly resisted everyone, showed herself more than generous to all who solicited her favours. Throughout the archipelago there is no worse insult than to be called mean. It is just the contrary in many ways from the continent, where the women are chaste and the men so jealous that they strangle adulterous women.
I will terminate this part of my narrative dedicated to you, Most Illustrious Prince, with an extraordinary prodigy. What remains to tell, or what I may learn later, the Sovereign Pontiff has enjoined me, by a parchment just communicated to me, to dedicate to himself.
Near the source of the Dabaiba River lies a country called Camara, the last syllable pronounced long. The recollection is still preserved amongst its inhabitants of a frightful tempest mingled with whirlwinds, which suddenly broke from the east upon that country, tearing up all the trees by the roots and carrying off many houses, especially those built of wood. While the tempest raged two birds, almost similar to the harpies of the Strophades celebrated by the poets, were blown into the country. They had the face, chin, mouth, nose, teeth, eyes, eyebrows, and physiognomy of a virgin; one of these birds was so heavy that no tree was strong enough to support it. It is even alleged that when it rested on a rock to pass the night, the mark of its talons was distinguishable. It seized people in its claws, and carried them off to devour them on the summit of the mountains, as easily as hawks rob chickens. The other bird was not so large, and was doubtless the offspring of the first.
The Spaniards who went up that river a distance of four hundred leagues into the interior in their boat, talked with many natives who witnessed the death of the larger of those birds.1 They are trustworthy men, to whose testimony I have of ten had recourse: the jurisconsult, Coral, Osorio, and Espinosa. It will be interesting to learn how the people of Camara on the Dabaiba got rid of this terrible pest. As necessity is the mother of invention, so the people of Camara found the means of killing that bird, of which history should preserve the recollection. Cutting a huge piece of wood, they carved on one of its extremities the image of a man; after which they carried it to'a place where this monstrous bird often passed when descending from the mountain in search of prey. Profiting by a clear night and the full moon, they dug a hole and set up the beam in such wise that only the human figure should be visible. Just near the ditch was a thick forest, in which they placed themselves, in ambuscade, armed with bows and javelins. At dawn the frightful monster appeared, descending upon its prey. It swooped upon the statue, seizing it and plunging its claws so deeply into the wood that it could no longer fly away; upon which the barbarians ran from their hidingplace and dealt it so many blows that it was more full of holes than a sieve. It finally fell dead. They bound it with cords and suspended it upon long lances, transporting it throughout the whole neighbourhood in order to allay the general terror and to make known the fact that the roads, which no one had ventured to use because of that bird, were now free.
Those who had killed the monster were regarded as gods, were honoured by the people and loaded with gifts. The same thing happens in many countries, when the neighbours who have feared the presence of a lion, bear, or wolf, make presents to him who kills the wild beast. It is alleged that the feet of this animal were larger than the thigh of a man, but were shorter, as is the case with the claws of other birds of prey. Once the mother bird was dead, the other one never again appeared.
1 The largest known bird of prey is the condor. A gigantic bird of that species may have committed depredations that served as the basis of the fantastic story repeated by Peter Martyr.