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Spaniards sought in a strange country; to which the latter replied they were looking for gold, not as a gift or to be obtained by violence, but by trading. The canoe returned and reported the answer to the cacique, and the latter responded to the invitation and willingly came on board. Astonishing to relate, Most Holy Father, he ordered his valet to bring the entire furniture of a chamber, and to load the captain, Grijalva, with ornaments. They began by giving him gilded shoes; afterwards leggings, and cuirasses, and all the parts of the iron and steel armour a cuirassier ordinarily wears when going into battle, only these were made of gold, beautifully worked; this done the cacique paid homage to Grijalva. The latter gave him in exchange some silk, linen, and woollen clothing and some other articles of Spanish manufacture. Off the coast of Yucatan and well on the way from the island of Cozumel, the Spaniards encountered a canoe filled with fishermen. There were nine of them, and they fished with golden hooks. They were not armed nor on their guard, so they were taken prisoners. The cacique, who recognised one of them, promised Grijalva to send him the next day the weight of his prisoner in gold, but in spite of his companions, Grijalva refused and kept the prisoner. After which he departed, to continue his discoveries.
ABOUT a hundred leagues farther on, and always to the west, the Spaniards discovered a large gulf, in which lay three small islands, upon the largest of which they landed.
Alas! Most Holy Father, what a horrible crime! Alas, that men should be so cruel! Let not Your Beatitude be overcome with disgust! The natives sacrifice children and young girls to their gods. They are circumcised. Some of the idols they adore are made of marble, some of clay, and in the midst of them there is a lion, on whose head the blood of the victims is poured, afterwards trickling down into a marble basin. We shall describe the sacrificial ceremony. They tear out the heart and smear the warm blood upon the lips of their idols, allowing the remainder to run into the basin. They next burn the heart, without cutting it up, as well as the entrails, thinking that the gods love the smoke from these offerings. Amongst these idols one, representing a man with bent head looking into the basin of blood as though he delighted in the immolation of the victims, is noticeable. They eat the fleshy part of the arms, also the fat of the hips and calves, especially if the victim is an enemy captured in war. The Spaniards discovered a stream of dried blood, like those which flow from slaughter-houses. They seek their wretched victims for these sacrifices in the neighbouring islands. The Spaniards found a number of heads, headless and entire bodies still in their clothes.
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In exploring the island one of our men found two half-buried alabaster vases, which were artistically decorated and filled with precious stones of various colours. One of these stones was sent to the governor, and was valued at two thousand castellanos of gold. The Spaniards named this island Isla de los Sacrificios.
A number of other islands lie off the coast of Coluacan, which are inhabited only by women,1 who have no relations with men. Some people think they live as did the Amazons, but others who have studied the question more closely believe they are virgins dedicated to God, who take pleasure in solitude, just as those amongst us; or in ancient times, did the vestals or the priestesses of the Bona Dea. At certain epochs of the year, men cross to the islands, not to have intercourse with these religious women, but out of the spirit of piety to cultivate their fields and gardens, and thus assure their means of existence. The report is spread, however, that there are other islands likewise inhabited by women of bad morals, who from their earliest youth cut away the breast to enable them to draw their bows with greater facility. Men go to these islands to have relations with them, but they do not stop there. I think this story is a fable.
Our people landed on the coast of Coluacan, and quietly began trading operations. The cacique made them a present of a gold kettle, some bracelets and balls, as well as a number of jewels of different shapes. In exchange, the Spaniards presented him with some of their manufactures which pleased him. They would have stopped there and founded a colony, but Grijalva forbade it, which aroused their resentment against him.
Everywhere in Coluacan there are edifices ornamented with towers. There are fifteen large towns, one of which has as many as twenty thousand houses, not built near together, but separated by courts and gardens, and sometimes by large open spaces. There are, in these towns, courts of justice surrounded by walls, and also market-places. They also possess paved streets, ovens, furnaces, lime, and baked bricks. Their potters, carpenters, artisans and other workmen in the mechanical trades are capable. The cacique is called Tabasco, and the country Palmaria. The royal residence is called Potenchian, and numbers fifteen thousand houses. In receiving their new guests, with whom they desired to live peaceably, the Indians drew a little blood with a razor either from the tongue, the left hand, the arm, or some other part of the body; and this serves as a pledge of friendship, the operation being performed in the presence of the guest.
1 This oft-repeated story is a fable, devoid of foundation.
The priests are celibates and observe chastity. Nobody has sexual relations before marriage, and to act otherwise would be a crime which only death could expiate. The morals of the women are admirably pure. Every powerful chief may take as many concubines as he pleases after marriage. A married. woman taken in adultery is sold by her husband, but the cacique has the right to ransom her. It is forbidden to any unmarried person to sit at the same table with a married person, to eat from the same dish, drink from the same cup, or in any way to comport himself as an equal. During the months of August and September they fast for thirty-five days, not only from meat such as chickens and game, which they like, but also from fish or any other animal food. During this period they subsist on fruits and vegetables.
The Spaniards passed some days amongst them, abundantly supplied with provisions. Upon leaving, they followed the same coast and visited a cacique to whom they gave the name of Ovando. As soon as this chief understood that the Spaniards wanted gold, he presented them with some bars of it melted. The captain having told him through his interpreters that he desired a large quantity, the next day the cacique brought a small golden statue of a man, also a golden fan and mask, beautifully worked and decorated with stones. He also distributed amongst them many beads for breast ornaments and others of divers kinds and variety adorned with precious stones. He invited them to magnificent banquets, served with great taste; and as the men were without protection from the weather, the cacique gave orders that cabins made of green branches should be quickly erected for them. He struck any of his slaves, who were slow about carrying the branches, with a sceptre which he carried in his hands. The slaves bowed their heads and submitted to the blows without complaint. When asked where he obtained so much gold, the cacique pointed with his finger to the neighbouring mountains and the streams flowing from them. The natives are so accustomed to swim in the rivers and lakes that they are as much at home in the water as on land. Whenever the humour takes them to collect gold, they dive into the river and bring up handfuls of sand, which they then sift from one hand to the other, taking out the gold. It is claimed that within a space of two hours they can fill a tube as long as your finger.
Much might be said of the perfumes and soft odours of these countries, which incline people to idleness and luxury, but it is better to pass these over in silence. Such things contribute more to effeminacy than to the encouragement of virtue. The commander refused a boy twelve years old, but accepted a young girl wearing beautiful ornaments; in spite of his companions he dismissed the boy. Among the precious stones given by this cacique, one worth two thousand castellanos of gold was noted. The Spaniards finally quit this country, laden with gold and precious stones.
The captain, Grijalva, sent one of the caravels to his uncle, the governor, to carry to Fernandina the news of the discovery and the treasure amassed. The other ships