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النشر الإلكتروني

BOOK VI

THE Spaniards recently settled in Cuba obtained the governor's authorisation to fit out a fleet of ten caravels carrying five hundred soldiers, and three brigantines similar to lightly harnessed horses.1 They intended to make use of these brigantines in shallow waters and along the coasts fringed with reefs. Seven war-horses were taken on board the fleet. Fernando Cortes, at that time a judge in Cuba, was appointed commander,2 and with him were associated Alfonso Fernando Portocarrero, Francisco de Montejo, Alfonso d'Avila, Alvarado, commander of Badajoz, Juan Velasquez, and Diego de Ordaz. They sailed3 from the same western point of Cuba favoured by the same wind that had already served Francisco Fernandez and Juan de Grijalva.

They arrived within sight of the Isla de los Sacrificios, which we have already mentioned, where a sudden and violent storm prevented their landing, and drove them out of their course to the island of Cozumel, off the eastern coast of Yucatan. There is only one port on this island and to this they gave the name of San Juan de Porta Latina. They counted six towns in this island, where the only drinking water is from pits or cisterns, for it is flat and there are no rivers. The island is forty-five leagues in circumference. The islanders, seized with terror, abandoned their towns and fled into the depths of the forests, and the Spaniards took possession of their empty houses and ate the supplies they contained. They found there a number of ornaments, tapestries, clothing, and beds of native cotton called hammocks. They even discovered, Most Holy Father, many books. We shall later speak of these, as well as of different other articles which have been brought to our new sovereign.

1 The simile does not seem apt. As is explained in the next sentence, the brigantines were for use in places where the larger vessels could not penetrate, and hence in this somewhat strained sense might be likened to light cavalry skirmishers.

* Consult Bernard Diaz, Historia Verdadera; English translation by Maudslay 1910; Prescott's Conquest of Mexico; MacNutt's, Fernando Cortes in Heroes of the Nations Series, vol. xix; Gomara, Cronica de la Conquista; Las Casas, Hist. de las Indias, tom. iii.

'February 18, 1519.

The Spaniards explored the entire island, keeping well together in order to avoid a surprise. They found few inhabitants and only one woman, through whom, by means of interpreters from Cuba and three natives of Yucatan who had been carried off during a preceding expedition, they invited the caciques who had fled, to return. These natives were servants of the woman who served as guide to the envoys, and they succeeded in bringing back the caciques. Peace was concluded and the islanders gladly resumed possession of their houses, and many of the pieces of furniture which had been taken, were restored to them. They are pagans and circumcised. They sacrifice boys and young girls to their zemes. The zemes are figures representing nocturnal goblins, to which they pay veneration.

The pilot Alaminos, Francisco Montejo, and Portocarrero, who were later sent with gifts to the King, have been questioned by me. I asked them whence the islanders obtained the boys and girls for their sacrifices, and they told me that it was in the neighbouring islands. They traded gold and other merchandise for them. In fact, nowhere throughout the length and breadth of this vast new country do the natives busy themselves about money, which is the cause of so much evil; and it is the same in the more recently discovered countries, among which are the islands Bia and Segesta. When there are no children they sacrifice dogs. They raise dogs for food, just as we do rabbits. These dogs never bark, and have the snout of a fox. Those destined for food are castrated, and only a limited number of males are preserved for propagating the species, just as do our shepherds with their flocks. The castrated dogs become very fat.

The Spaniards advised them to renounce human sacrifices, explaining their odious'character. In reply, the barbarians asked to what law they should then conform. It was then proven to them without difficulty' that there is one God, creator of heaven and earth, giver of all good things, who is unique in his substance though triune in his Persons. They consented to the destruction of their zemes, and placed a picture of the Blessed Virgin painted by a Spaniard, in their temple. They swept and cleaned the temple, washed its floor, and accepted a cross, bearing the image of God made man, sacrificed for the good of the human race, to which they offered worship, and they placed upon the summit of the temple a large wooden cross. The natives told the Spaniards, through their interpreters, that there were seven Christians in the neighbouring province of Yucatan, who had been wrecked there during a storm. The distance separating this island from Yucatan being but five leagues, the commander Cortes sent two caravels with fifty men to rescue these prisoners. Three guides from Cozumel assisted them in their search, and the chief of the expedition was Diego de Ordaz. Cortes carefully explained to them the importance of their achievement, if they succeeded in bringing back one of these Spaniards; and he warmly encouraged them, for he hoped that these men would furnish him with necessary information concerning all that region.

'The missionary zeal of Cortes was compelling and took little heed of any difficulties the natives may have experienced in understanding or accepting the doctrine he expounded. He repeatedly announced with evident conviction, that the Mexicans were eager to receive the faith.

The expedition started under favourable circumstances, and six days was the period fixed for awaiting their return. Two days in excess of that time passed, and still the messengers of Cozumel failed to appear; so it was conjectured that they had either been killed or captured. Ordaz therefore gave them up, and returned to Cortes at Cozumel. The latter was preparing to leave the island, having lost all hope of finding both the much desired Christians and the islanders of Cozumel who had been left behind, but a rough sea delayed him. This delay proved most fortunate, for a canoe, rowed by islanders and one of the Christian prisoners, was seen coming from the west coast of Yucatan. This man was called Geronimo de Aguilar; he had passed seven years of his life amongst the Yucatecans, and was a native of Encija in Andalusia. The joy with which they embraced may be imagined.

Aguilar recounted his misfortunes and the massacre of his companions, while the others attentively listened. I think it will not be out of place nor distasteful to Your Beatitude, to describe how this catastrophe happened. I have spoken in my first books of a certain nobleman, Valdivia, whom the colonists of Darien on the gulf of Uraba on what is supposed to be a continent, had sent to the Admiral Columbus, Viceroy of Ilispaniola, and to the Royal Council charged with the affairs of the supposed continent. His mission was to give notice that the colonists suffered from destitution, and it proved an unfortunate one for him. When off the southern coast of Cuba, Jamaica, or Hispaniola this unfortunate man was overtaken by a tempest in some sandy shallows, to which perilous shoals the Spaniards have given the name of Las Viboras; a name which is merited, for many ships have been lost there, like lizards in the coils of a viper's tail.

The caravel was broken to pieces, and with great difficulty Valdivia and thirty of his companions succeeded in embarking in the shallop, destitute of oars or sails. These unfortunate creatures were buffeted about by the ocean currents. We have already told in our decades that there exists in these waters a perpetual current flowing towards the west. Dming thirteen days they drifted without knowing whither, nor did they find any food. Seven of them died of starvation, and furnsished food for the fishes. Finally they fell into the hands of a cacique who massacred Valdivia and some of his companions, sacrificing them in honour of his zemes, and afterwards eating them in company with his invited friends. These natives only eat enemies or strangers whom they catch by chance, abstaining at all other times from human flesh. Geronimo d'Aguilar and six of his companions were kept to be eaten three days later; but during the night they escaped from this cruel tyrant, breaking their bonds and taking refuge with a neighbouring cacique, before whom they presented themselves as suppliants. They were received, but as slaves.'

1 Valdivia, it will be remembered, was despatched by Balboa to carry ten thousand pesos of gold to the royal treasurer of llispaniola, Miguel de Passamonte, and at the same time to solicit provisions, arms, and reinforcements for the colonists at Uaricn. Wrecked, as is here told, on the reefs off the coast of Jamaica, the ultimate fate of the two survivors of this luckless expedition was strange and not without a touch of romance. One of them, Gonzales Guerrero was adopted by the Indians of Yucatan, married a native woman, and became a captain of their warriors. He tattooed his face, pierced his ears and nose, and became in all respects one of them, even, so it was afterwards alleged, to the extent of taking part in their ritual cannibalism. He was supposed to have led the native troops in several engagements against the Spaniards, and when the letter was brought from Cortes, he refused to abandon his family and adopted people.

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