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each year disclose new lands, new nations, and vast wealth?
We have sufficiently described Hispaniola, queen of the islands, that vast region and residence of the Royal Council; also Jamaica and Cuba, under its new name of Fernandina. and the other truly Elysian islands stretching under the Tropic of Cancer to the equator. In these regions the natives enjoy days and nights of equal length during the entire year. Their summer is not oppressive, their winter not rigorous, while throughout the year trees bear their leaves and arc simultaneously weighted with flowers and fruits; while vegetables—pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, and other garden products—are always ripe. In those regions also the beasts of burden and the cattle brought from Europe (since no quadrupeds live in those islands1) propagate in great numbers and sizes. We have likewise sufficiently described the supposed continent, whose length from east to west is twice that of all Europe, and is of equal extent from north to south, although it narrows in certain places to isthmuses. This continent reaches to the fifty-fifth degree towards the arctic pole, traversing both tropics, covering the equator and extending to the fifty-fourth degree towards the antarctic pole. While the inhabitants of the Orcades Islands enjoy summer, the natives of this continent shiver with cold and vice versa. Your Excellency will understand this by considering what I addressed to Pope Adrian in Rome. By studying a little parchment map* I gave to your representative, Tomaso Maino, when he left Spain, you will also find the exact positions of these countries and the dependent islands.
Let us now consider the most recent events. In the waters off the northern coasts of Cuba—otherwise called Fernandina after King Ferdinand—lie so many islands, important or insignificant, that I scarcely believe what is told of them; although I am kept informed of all the discoveries. Within the twenty years that have elapsed since the Spaniards arrived there, they claim to have explored four hundred and six of these islands, and to have carried off forty thousand of their inhabitants of both sexes as slaves, to satisfy their unquenchable appetite for gold. We will tell this story later on. These islands are embraced under the general name of Lucayas, and the islanders are called Lucayans.
1 Obviously a slip of the author's pen, since he elsewhere enumerates the quadrupeds of the West Indian Islands. 'Sec Frontispiece.
The trees which grow wild in most of these islands are very useful. Their leaves never fall off; when age robs them of some, the tree is not stripped, for new leaves bud forth and grow before the old ones perish. Nature has endowed them with two trees which, above all others, deserve mention and description. The first is called the jamtna; the name of the second is unknown to us. The jaruma resembles a fig-tree, at least as regards its leaves. It is taller than a poplar. It is not as hard as the other trees, but is more solid than a bamboo. One might describe it as a sambucus. Its fruit is half a cubit long, and soft like a fig, with strong flavour, and is excellent for healing wounds. Its leaves possess miraculous virtues; of which I quote a proof, offered by trustworthy persons. Two Spaniards quarrelled and fought; one of the two almost cutting off the arm of the other at the shoulder with his sword, so that it only hung to the body by the skin of the armpit and of the breast. An old woman of the island put the limb in its place, and without other remedy than the crushed leaves of this tree, which she applied to the wound, succeeded in a few days in restoring to the unfortunate man the use of his arm. Let those who seek knots in cane, ponder on this at their pleasure. For my part, I am resolved to believe that nature has even more extraordinary powers than this.
The bark of this tree is said to be smooth and polished, and as it is not tough, but filled with a land of pith, it is easily peeled off. This affords me an opportunity of relating to Your Excellency an interesting story, although it is not to the credit of its hero.
The Lucayans, torn from their homes, became perfectly desperate. Some have died from exhaustion, refusing all food and hiding themselves in inaccessible valleys, deserted forests, and unknown mountain heights; while others have put an end to their unendurable lives. Those of more hopeful temperament clung to life, in the hope of one day regaining their freedom. The majority of those who were able to escape, betook themselves to the northern parts of Hispaniola, where they might breathe the air wafted from their native country; with extended arms and open mouths they seemed to drink in their native air, and when misery reduced them to exhaustion, they dropped dead upon the ground. One man who clung to life more than his comrades had been a carpenter in his own country, engaged in building houses, for though they have neither iron nor steel they have stone hatchets and other tools necessary for this trade. This man undertook an almost incredible task. Cutting a trunk of jaruma, he took all the pith from the inside. He then filled it with maize and pumpkins full of water, as supplies for his journey, and sealed up the ends of the tree. Throwing this trunk into the sea, he, and two of his relatives, a man and a woman, who knew how to swim, embarked upon it. Using oars they drove this tree-trunk towards their country. It was an amazing invention, but it brought no luck to those unfortunates, for two hundred miles from Hispaniola they met a vessel coming back from Chicora, a country concerning which I shall speak later. In spite of their despair, the Spaniards captured this prize; they brought the hollowed trunk back to Hispaniola as proof of tlus extraordinary undertaking, and consumed their poor provisions. The treetrunk and the inventor of this barque were seen at Hispaniola by several trustworthy witnesses, who have spoken with me. This, however, is enough concerning the jaruma and this particular tree-trunk.
There exists another tree, closely resembling a pomegranate, than which it is no larger, though its foliage is thicker. No mention is made of its fruit, but extraordinary things are told about its bark which is peeled from the trunk, just as every year cork is cut for making sandals without killing the tree, which continues to produce sprouts. This seems to happen with the cinnamontree. For my part, I believe it to be true, for I have tasted some of its bark that was brought from Hispaniola. I even sent a fruit to your uncle, Ascanio Sforza, when Columbus, the first discoverer of those regions, returned from his voyage and acquainted me with many of the new products he had found. At the close of the second chapter of my First Decade you will find this tree mentioned. The bark tastes like cinnamon, has the spice of ginger, and the delicate odour of cloves.
In our ignorance we search in foreign parts for spices which we should not need did we but make use of those which grow spontaneously in our own islands. No doubt one day they will be appreciated. It is only the frantic craving for gold that goads the Spaniards on. Everything else, no matter how useful or valuable, is neglected and despised as of no consequence. Our pepper, of which I sent a specimen to Ascanio Sforza, grows abundantly everywhere in this country, just like mallows and nettles at home. The islanders crush it and spread it on their bread, which they soak in water before eating. There are five varieties, and it is hotter to the taste than the pepper of Malabar or the Caucasus. Five grains of ours are equivalent to twenty of Malabar or Caucasian pepper, and seasoned with these five grains the juices of meats acquire more flavour than with twenty of the other. But such is human stupidity that whatever is difficult to obtain is always thought to be better.
It is not only on account of its bark that the above mentioned tree deserves to be noticed. It exhales sweet and refreshing perfumes, distinguishable at a distance of \ several stadia. Its shade is dense, and it grows throughout the archipelago. In its branches such a multitude of doves nest that the natives of the large neighbouring islands of Bimini and of the Florida coasts cross the sea to capture these birds, carrying off boatloads of them. The forests are full of wild vines, which overgrow the trees, as I have said is the case in Hispaniola.
It is alleged that the women of the Lucayan islands are so beautiful that numerous inhabitants of the neighbouring countries, charmed with their beauty, abandon their homes, and for love of them settle in their country. It is also said that the islanders of the Lucayan archipelago have more civilised morals than those who five farther from the cultivated regions of Bimini and Florida. You will be pleased to learn the curious fashion of female dress. The men, as a matter of fact, are all naked except in war time and at festivals, when they dance and sing choruses. On these occasions they all adorn themselves by wearing clothes or head-dresses of various coloured plumes. As K long as the women are not fully developed and before the age of puberty, they wear no clothes; afterwards they wear loin-cloths of silk nets, mixed with herbs. When the critical period arrives, the parents invite the neighbours to festivities in order to marry off their daughters.
Only the middle part of the body is covered as long as the women are marriageable; when they have lost their virginity they wear a kind of trousers covering their hips down to the knees, and made of stout plants or cotton, which grows wild in those countries. They make nets, which they sew, knot, and weave. Although they go