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continued to follow the coast in a westerly direction, one of them, commanded by Francisco Montejo, keeping well in towards the shore, while the other two stood out more to sea. The natives were astonished at this novel spectacle, believing they were witnessing a miracle. Thirteen canoes approached the ship of Montejo, and conversation began through interpreters. After an exchange of amicable signs, the islanders invited the Spaniards to land, promising them a good reception if they would visit their cacique. Montejo responded that he could not accept the invitation, because his companions were too far distant; but he distributed some presents and sent them away well satisfied. The Spaniards afterwards sailed towards another populous town, the three caravels approaching the shore together. The natives, however, opposed their landing; armed with their shields, bows, quivers full of arrows, large wooden swords, and their lances with burnt points, they advanced, letting fly volleys of arrows. The Spaniards replied with cannonshot, and the natives, amazed and frightened by the explosion, took flight. A little later they sought to renew negotiations. Provisions were getting short, and the Spaniards found their ships damaged by the long voyage; so Grijalva determined to return to Fernandina. He was well satisfied with the result of his discoveries and acquisitions, but his companions were extremely dissatisfied. 1
• Diego Velasquez disapproved of the conduct of Grijalva, who fell into permanent disfavour with the petulant and avaricious governor. He afterwards joined Garay's luckless expedition to Panuco, and was finally killed during an Indian uprising at Villahermosa in Nicaragua.
WE must now digress a little, in order to describe a new expedition, after which we will return to the present subject. While equipping this squadron of four caravels, the same governor,' Diego Velasquez, had simultaneously armed a fifth, which was to be accompanied by one single brigantine, carrying provisions and forty-five soldiers. The Spaniards used force against the natives who inhabited the coast of the neighbouring continent; these people are circumcised and worship idols. During their voyage the Spaniards passed a number of small islands, remarkable for the fertility of their soil and the abundance of their crops. These islands are called Guanaxa, Guitilla, and GuanaguaJ; and in one of them they captured three hundred natives of both sexes, who had in no wise molested them. They named this island Santa Marina. Crowding their prisoners upon the caravel, they returned to Fernandina while the brigantine, with a crew of twenty-five sailors, was ordered to continue this man-hunt.
The caravel touched at a port called Carenas, distant about two hundred and forty leagues from the capital of Cuba, Santiago. It is known that the length of this island extends towards the west, and that it is divided in the middle by the Tropic of Cancer.
1 Progubernator: Diego Velasquez was governor of Cuba, the title of viceroy being held by Diego Columbus. * Islands lying in the Bahama channel.
Fortune took upon herself to avenge the prisoners. Some of their jailers having landed, and only a few remaining on board the caravel, the islanders seized this opportunity to recover their freedom. They obtained possession of the arms of the Spaniards, fell upon them, killing six and driving the others overboard. Once masters of the caravel, which they had learned to sail, the islanders returned to their country. They first landed on a neighbouring island where they burned the caravel, taking care to keep the arms, and regained their native land in their own barques. They took the Spaniards who had been left in charge of the brigantine by surprise. Upon the shore there grew a large tree, on the top of which they set up a cross, and upon the upper part of its trunk they wrote in Spanish letters Vamos al Darien. Darien is the river on whose banks stands the capital of what is supposed to be a continent, Santa Maria de la Antigua.
As soon as the news of the disaster reached him, the governor of Fernandina hastened to send shiploads of soldiers to rescue the abandoned Spaniards. The decision was wise but tardy, for the catastrophe was complete. They saw the cross and, following the coast, they read the letters carved on the tree-trunk; but not venturing to attack the fugitives, who were desperate and better armed than themselves, they retired, not, however, without capturing in a neighbouring island five hundred prisoners of both sexes, as easily as if they had been hares. The excuse offered for this iniquitous proceeding was that the natives were circumcised. Hardly had they landed at Fernandina than they themselves had to undergo the same trials, for the prisoners attacked one of the two caravels with fury and, despite their desperate resistance, killed a number of the Spanish soldiers. Others threw themselves overboard and swam to the other caravel, which was not far distant. A general attack upon the caravel in the possession of the natives was then made,
and during four hours the result of the battle was uncertain. 'The barbarians, both men and women, fought with fury to regain their liberty, while the Spaniards were still more excited at the thought of losing their plunder. The latter finally conquered, because they handled their arms more skilfully. The defeated savages threw themselves into the sea, and though some of them were picked up by shallops, about a hundred were lost either in the fight or by drowning. Only very few Spaniards perished; and the prisoners were sent to Santiago or to the gold mines.1
The Spaniards next undertook an expedition to another of the neighbouring islands, which are more numerous thereabouts than the Symplegades2 in the Ionian Sea, to which the vulgar give the general name of Archipelago. They got a bad reception, and all who landed were either killed or wounded. It is thought that this island is the one discovered by Juan Ponce, captain of a small fleet, and afterwards abandoned by him when he was repulsed by the natives. He named it Florida, because he discovered it on the Feast of the Resurrection, which is called Pasqua Florida. They claimed to have sighted twenty-six islands. Columbus had already navigated amongst them, for they are like daughters to Cuba or Hispaniola, and are the guardians of what is believed to be a continent, their rocks forming a breakwater against the ocean storms. In most of these islands the Spaniards found gold in the form of grains. The natives wear various kinds of necklaces and masks made of gilded wood or ingeniously wrought gold, for they are very clever artisans. Francisco Chieregato, nunzio of Your Holiness to the court of our Spanish sovereign, has taken back one of these masks so that you may see and examine the clever workmanship.
1 We owe the description of this typical act of piracy and slave-hunting to Spanish sources; the same sad tale is repeated throughout the years of misrule that depopulated the islands and disgraced Spain.
'Hoe sunt tin frequentiores quant in nostro Ionio Symplegades, quorum congeriam archipcdagus vulgus appellat. This sad slip of Peter Martyr's pen must have provoked derisive mirth amongst the humanists of the Pontifical Court, whose critical ears his lapses from Ciceronian purity had already offended. The Symplegades lie far distant from the Ionian Sea, being found in the Euxine, opposite the entrance to the Thracian Bosphorus. Being but two in number, nobody, however vulgar, ever called them an archipelago.
They make a razor in the following curious fashion: they use certain yellow stones,1 transparent as crystal, and razors made of these stones cut as well as those of good steel. What is still more singular is that when the blade is dull with usage, they do not sharpen it on a wheel or a stone or with powder, but merely dip it in water. A great variety of elegant instruments and other objects is found amongst them, but it would take too long to enumerate them, and perhaps, Your Beatitude, absorbed as you are in grave affairs, would feel little interest in such a description.
I now return to my original subject, the islands of Cozumel, Yucatan, and Coluacan or Oloa; rich and truly Elysian lands, which have just been discovered, and from which I have somewhat wandered. The great importance of these regions is already fully understood.
1 Obsidian or iztli as the Mexicans called it, was the stone used for making sacrificial knives, spear-points, maquahuitl blades, razors, and all sharp instruments for cutting; its colour however is usually black, sometimes grey, but I recall no yellow.