صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

of lofty stature. Besides their bows and arrows they were armed with shields, which is not the custom among the other islanders. They wore their hair long, parted in the middle, and plastered down quite in the Spanish fashion. Save for their loin-cloths of various coloured cottons, they were entirely naked. The Admiral's opinion was that this country was nearer to the sky than any otherland situated in the same parallel and that it was above the thick vapours which rose from the valleys and swamps, just as the high peaks of lofty mountains are distant from the deep valleys. Although Columbus declared that during this voyage he had followed without deviation the parallel of Ethiopia, there are the greatest possible physical differences between the natives of Ethiopia and those of the islands; for the Ethiopians are black and have curly, woolly hair, while these natives are on the contrary white, and have long, straight, blond hair. What the causes of these differences may be, I do not know. They are due rather to the conditions of the earth than to those of the sky; for we know perfectly well that snow falls and lies on the mountains of the torrid zone, while in northern countries far distant from that zone the inhabitants are overcome by great heat. In order to attract the natives they had met, the Admiral made them some presents of mirrors, cups of bright polished brass, bells, and other similar trifles, but the more he called to them, the more they drew off. Nevertheless, they looked intently and with sincere admiration at our men, their instruments and their ships, but without laying down their oars. Seeing that he could not attract them by his presents, the Admiral ordered his trumpets and flutes to be played, on the largest ship, and the men to dance and sing a chorus. He hoped that the sweetness of the songs and the strange sounds might win them over, but the young men imagined that the Spaniards were singing preparatory to engaging in battle, so in the twinkling of an eye they dropped their oars and seized their bows and arrows, protecting their arms with their shields, and, while waiting to understand the meaning of the sounds, stood ready to let fly a volley against our men. The Spaniards sought to draw near little by little, in such wise as to surround them; but the natives retreated from the Admiral's vessel and, confident in their ability as oarsmen, they approached so near to one of the smaller ships that from the poop a cloak was given to the pilot of the canoe, and a cap to another chief. They made signs to the captain of the ship to come to land, in order that they might the more easily come to an understanding; but when they saw that the captain drew near to the Admiral's vessel to ask permission to land, they feared some trap, and quickly jumped into their canoe and sped away with the rapidity of the wind.

The Admiral relates that to the west of that island and not far distant he came upon a strong current flowing from east to west." It ran with such force that he compared its violence to that of a vast cataract flowing from a mountain height. He declared that he had never been exposed to such serious danger since he began, as a boy, to sail the seas. Advancing as best he could amongst these raging waves, he discovered a strait some eight miles long, which resembled the entrance of a large harbour. The current flowed towards that strait, which he called Boca de la Sierpe, naming an island beside it, Margarita. From this strait there flowed another current of fresh water, thus coming into conflict with the salt waters and causing such waves that there seemed to rage between the two currents a terrible combat. In spite of these difficulties, the Admiral succeeded in penetrating into the gulf, where he found the waters drinkable and agreeable.

* Columbus was then near the mouth of the Orinoco River.

Another very singular thing the Admiral has told me, and which is confirmed by his companions (all worthy of credence and whom I carefully questioned concerning the details of the voyage), is that he sailed twenty-six leagues, that is to say, one hundred and forty-eight miles, in fresh water; and the farther he advanced to the west, the fresher the water became." Finally, he sighted a very lofty mountain, of which the eastern part was inhabited only by a multitude of monkeys with very long tails. All this side of the mountain is very steep, which explains why no people live there. A man, sent to reconnoitre the country, reported however that it was all cultivated and that the fields were sown, though nowhere were there people or huts. Our own peasants often go some distance from their homes to sow their fields. On the western side of the mountain was a large plain. The Spaniards were well satisfied to drop anchor in such a great river.” As soon as the natives knew of the landing of an unknown race on their coasts, they collected about the Spaniards anxious to examine them, and displaying not the slightest fear. It was learned by signs that that country was called Paria, that it was very extensive, and that its population was most numerous in its western part. The Admiral invited four natives to come on board and continued his course to the west.

Judging by the agreeable temperature, the attractiveness of the country, and the number of people they daily saw during their voyage, the Spaniards concluded that the country is a very important one, and in this opinion they were not wrong, as we shall demonstrate at the proper time. One morning at the break of dawn the Spaniards landed, being attracted by the charm of the country and the sweet odours wafted to them from the forests. They discovered at that point a larger number of people than they had thus far seen, and as they were approaching the shore, messengers came in the name of the caciques of that country, inviting them to land and to have no fears. When Columbus refused, the natives urged by curiosity, flocked about the ships in their barques. Most of them wore about their necks and arms, collars and bracelets of gold and ornaments of Indian pearls, which seemed just as common amongst them as glass jewelry amongst our women. When questioned as to whence came the pearls, they answered by pointing with their fingers to a neighbouring coast; by grimaces and gestures they seemed to indicate that if the Spaniards would stop with them they would give them basketfuls of pearls. The provisions which the Admiral destined for the colony at Hispaniola were beginning to spoil, so he resolved to defer this commercial operation till a more convenient opportunity. Nevertheless he despatched two boats loaded with soldiers, to barter with the people on land for some strings of pearls and, at the same time, to discover whatever they could about the place and its people. The natives received these men with enthusiasm and pleasure, and great numbers surrounded them, as though they were inspecting something marvellous. The first who came forward were two distinguished persons, for they were followed by the rest of the crowd. The first of these men was aged and the second younger, so that it was supposed they were the father and his son and future successor. After exchanging salutations the Spaniards were conducted to a round house near a large square. Numerous seats of very black wood decorated with astonishing skill were brought, and when the principal Spaniards and natives were seated, some attendants served food and others, drink. These people eat only fruits, of which they have a great variety, and very different from ours. The beverages they offered were white and red wine, not made from grapes but from various kinds of crushed fruits, which were not at all disagreeable. This repast concluded, in company with the elder chief, the younger one conducted the Spaniards to his own house, men and women crowding about in great numbers, but always in separate groups from one another. The natives of both sexes have bodies as white as ours, save those perhaps who pass their time in the sun. They were amiable, hospitable, and wore no clothes, save waist-cloths of various coloured cotton stuffs. All of them wore either collars or bracelets of gold or pearls, and some wore both, just as our peasants wear glass jewelry. When they were asked whence the gold came, they indicated with the finger that it was from a mountainous country, appearing at the same time to dissuade our men from going there, for they made them understand by gestures and signs that the inhabitants of that country were cannibals. It was not, however, entirely clear whether they meant cannibals or savage beasts. They were much vexed to perceive that the Spaniards did not understand them, and that they possessed no means of making themselves intelligible to one another. At three o'clock in the afternoon the men who had been sent on shore returned, bringing several strings of pearls, and the Admiral, who could not prolong his stay, because of his cargo of provisions, raised anchor and sailed. He intends, however, after putting the affairs of Hispaniola in order, shortly to return. It was another than he who profited by this important discovery.

* See Orinoco Illustrado, by Gumilla, 1754, also Schomburgk's Reisen in Guiana und Orinoco. The fresh waters of the estuary are in fact driven a considerable distance out to sea.

* This was the first landing of the Spaniards on the American continent, but Columbus, being ill, did not go on shore. Pedro de Torreros took possession in the Admiral's name (Navarrete, tom. iii., p. 569). Fernando Columbus states that his father suffered from inflamed eyes, and that from about this time he was forced to rely for information upon his sailors and pilots (Storia, cap. lxv.-lxxiii.). He seemed nevertheless to divine the immensity of the newly discovered land, for he wrote to the sovereigns y creo esta tierra que agora mandaron discrubir vuestras altezzas sea grandissima.

« السابقةمتابعة »