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I HAVE already spoken at length of the great and deep Dabaiba River which the Spaniards have named Rio Grande, and which flows into the sea at the head of the gulf of Uraba, by seven mouths similar to those of the Nile. According to the statements of the natives, the mountains round about it are rich in gold deposits. Vasco and other captains had organised parties for the exploration of this region and had embarked in boats of different sizes to ascend the river. For a distance of forty, fifty, and even eighty leagues they sailed without difficulty, but from thenceforward their fortune entirely changed. Oh, what a wonderful adventure! In fact, naked and unarmed savages attacked the clothed and armed Spaniards, and defeated them, killing the majority and wounding all the rest. These natives use poisoned arrows in fighting. The instant they see an uncovered part of an enemy's body, they pierce it with an infallible aim. They throw such volleys of javelins in the midst of the battle that the sun is obscured from the enemy's sight, as though by a cloud. They also have heavy swords of hard wood, which they use with courage in hand-to-hand engagements. Vasco himself was covered with wounds inflicted by them, and thus the river and region of Dabaiba were abandoned and left unexplored.
A few words more concerning Hispaniola, the metropolis of the other colonies. The Royal Government Council has been increased, five new judges having been sent to administer the different districts of the island. Although there are rich gold deposits, mining has been almost abandoned for want of miners; for the natives, on whose labour the work depended, have been reduced to a very small number. Pitiless wars destroyed many at the beginning, famine killed numerous others, especially during the year when they tore up their yucca, from which they make their caciques' bread, and refused to sow maize which serves for their own daily bread. The survivors have been attacked by the germs of hitherto unknown maladies, especially smallpox which, during the preceding year, 1518, raged among them like an epizootic among cattle. Let us be strictly truthful, and add that the craze for gold was the cause of their destruction; for these people, who were accustomed, as soon as they had sown their fields, to play, dance, sing, and chase rabbits, were set mercilessly to work, cultivating the ground, extracting and sifting gold. The Royal Council has, therefore, unanimously decided to restore them their liberty, and henceforth they will only occupy themselves with agriculture, and will make efforts to repeople the country. Slaves bought in other countries will be put to the hard work of mines. Enough for the present concerning this fatal craving for gold.
It is wonderful to hear how everything grows in this island. Twenty-eight presses have just been set up, by which a large quantity of sugar is extracted. The sugar-canes in this island are larger and taller than anywhere else. They are as thick as a human arm, and are half again as tall as a man. The most extraordinary thing is that at Valencia in Spain, where large quantities of sugar have been gathered yearly for a long time, or in other sugar-cane producing countries, each root throws off five, six, or at most seven shoots, whereas in Hispaniola twenty or sometimes even thirty may be counted.
There are immense numbers of quadrupeds. Up to the present time the deplorable craving for gold has diverted the people's attention from the soil, although cereals give such excellent results. Any one who takes the trouble to sow grain on the hillsides or the mountain plateaus, especially if they have a northerly aspect, may sometimes harvest a hundred grains for one; but in the plains and fields where the soil is rich and damp, it is chiefly straw that grows. Vines prosper under the same conditions.
I have already spoken in my preceding Decades of the cinnamon trees, which come from the islands near the supposed continent. I need only add that, within the period of a few years they have become so abundant that we now buy a pound of cinnamon from the druggist instead of an ounce. I have also said enough about the forests of dyewoods, and the other sources of wealth in this fortunate island, which nature has overwhelmed with benefits. I have judged it proper to recall these details, because I hope the recollection of them will divert the mind of Your Holiness from the great affairs which burden it. Moreover, it is a pleasure to repeat what it is a pleasure to hear.
Precious material should be clothed with precious habiliments. This subject merits golden tissues and jewels but we are content to vest it in the modest cowl of a monk. The fault belongs exclusively to the Reverend Egidius di Viterbo, the venerable Cardinal of Your Apostolic Chair,. who has ordered such a mediocre craftsman as I to melt the gold in my laboratory and therefrom to make jewels.