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WE believe, or rather we suppose, that the Lucayas Islands were formerly joined to the large islands, and the natives themselves declare that there is such a tradition transmitted to them by their ancestors. Little by little, violent tempests submerged the lands, and separated them one from another by arms of the sea. The same is told by authors concerning the strait of Messina, lying between Italy and Sicily, which were formerly united. We know, indeed, that in many places the continent has increased in size and that it daily stretches out, pushing back the sea. Examples of this may be seen in the cities of Ravenna and Padua, which were near the sea, and are now far removed from it. On the other hand, the sea often encroaches on the continent. What we behold with our own eyes enables us to imagine what has happened elsewhere.
It is stated that these islands formerly abounded in various products, which constituted their riches; I say formerly, for they are now deserted, as I shall later show. The islands of this archipelago are from twelve to forty miles in circumference, none being larger. They resemble what has been told of the Strophades and the Symplegades1 of the Mediterranean, which were assigned as a residence to the prescripts of Rome at Giaro, Seripho, and many others; the difference being that the Lucayas were formerly very populous, while now they are deserted. The reason for this is that large numbers of the wretched islanders were transported to the gold-mines of Hispaniola and Fernandina, when the native inhabitants there were exterminated, exhausted by disease and famine, as well as by excessive labour. Twelve hundred thousand of them disappeared. I am ashamed to tell this story, but I must above all things be veracious. It is true that the Lucayans sometimes took vengeance on their oppressors by killing them, as I have explained at length in my first Decades.
1 For the second time the author misplaces the Symplegades; the Strophades lie in the Ionian Sea.
Some Spaniards, anxious as hunters pursuing wild beasts through the mountains and swamps to capture the Indians of that archipelago, embarked on two ships built at the cost of seven of them. They sailed from Puerto de Plata situated on the north coast of Hispaniola, and laid their course towards the Lucayas. Three years have passed since then, and it is only now, in obedience to Camillo Gillino, who wishes me to acquaint Your Excellency with some still unknown particulars concerning these discoveries, that I speak of this expedition. These Spaniards visited all the Lucayas but without finding the plunder, for their neighbours had already explored the archipelago and systematically depopulated it. Not wishing to expose themselves to ridicule by returning to Hispaniola empty-handed, they continued their course towards the north. Many people said they lied when they declared they had purposely chosen that direction.
They were driven by a sudden tempest which lasted two days, to within sight of a lofty promontory which we will later describe. When they landed on this coast, the natives, amazed at the unexpected sight, regarded it as a miracle, for they had never seen ships. At first they rushed in crowds to the beach, eager to see; but when the Spaniards took to their shallops, the natives fled with the swiftness of the wind, leaving the coast deserted. Our compatriots pursued them and some of the more agile and swift-footed young men got ahead and captured a man and a woman, whose flight had been less rapid. They took them on board their ships and after giving them clothing, released them. Touched by this generosity, serried masses of natives again appeared on the beach.
When their sovereign heard of this generosity, and beheld for the first time these unknown and precious garments,—for they only wear the skins of lions and other wild beasts,—he sent fifty of his servants to the Spaniards, carrying such provisions as they eat. When the Spaniards landed, he received them respectfully and cordially, and when they exhibited a wish to visit the neighbourhood, he provided them with guides and an escort. Wherever they showed themselves, the natives, full of admiration, advanced to meet them with presents, as though they were divinities to be worshipped. What impressed them most was the sight of the beards and the woollen and silk clothing.
But what then! The Spaniards ended by violating this hospitality. For when they had finished their exploration, they enticed numerous natives by lies and tricks to visit their ships, and when the vessels were quickly crowded with men and women, they raised anchor, set sail, and carried these despairing unfortunates into slavery. By such means they sowed hatred and warfare throughout that entire peaceful and friendly region, separating children from their parents and wives from their husbands./ Nor is this all. Only one of the two ships returned, and of the other there has been no news. As the vessel was old, it is probable that she went down with all on board, innocent and guilty. This spoliation occasioned the Royal Council at Hispaniola much vexation, but it remained unpunished. It was first thought to send the prisoners back, but nothing was done, because the plan would have been difficult to realise, and besides one of the ships was lost.
These details were furnished me by a virtuous priest, learned in law, called the bachelor Alvares de Castro. His learning and his virtues caused him to be named Dean of the Cathedral of Conception, in Hispaniola, and simultaneously vicar and inquisitor. Thus his testimony may be confidently accepted. In describing the island of Taprobane under the dominion of Claudius, Pliny affirms that the information he received from the ambassador Bachia and his three companions, who were sent to Rome by the sovereign of the island because of the great fame of the Romans, should be confidently accepted. I do likewise, and whenever I am uncertain of my facts I cite my authorities. It is from Castro's report and after several enquiries into this seizure that we have learned that the women brought from that region wear lions' skins and the men wear skins of all other wild beasts. He says these people are white and larger than the generality of men. When they were landed, some of them searched among the rubbish heaps along the town ditches for decaying bodies of dogs and asses with which to satisfy their hunger. Most of them died of misery, while those who survived were divided amongst the colonists of Hispaniola, who disposed of them as they pleased, either in their houses, the gold-mines, or their fields.
Let us return to the country of these unfortunates, from which we have somewhat wandered. I believe this country is near that of Baccalaos, discovered by Cabot in the service of England some twenty-six years ago, or to the land of Bacchalais, of which I have already written at length. I shall now indicate their astronomical position, their religious rites, their products, and their customs. These countries appear to be situated the same distance from the pole, and under the same parallel as
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Vandalia in Spain, commonly called Andalusia. The exploration of the country occupied but a few days. It extends a great distance in the same direction as the land where the Spaniards anchored. The first districts visited are called Chicorana and Duhare. The natives of Chicorana have a well-browned skin, like our sunburned peasants, and their hair is black. The men let their hair grow to the waist and the women wear theirs longer. Both sexes plait their hair and they are beardless; whether nature so created them or whether this is the result of some drug or whether they use a depilatory like the people of Temistitan, nobody can say. In any case they like to show a smooth skin.
I must cite another witness whose credit is not less among laymen than that of Dean Alvares amongst priests, namely the licenciate Lucas Vasquez Ayllon. He is a citizen of Toledo, member of the Royal Council of Hispaniola, and one of those at whose expense the two ships had been equipped. Commissioned by the Council of Hispaniola to appear before the Royal India Council, he urgently asked that he might be permitted to again visit that country and found a colony. He brought with him a native of Chicorana as his servant. This man had been baptised under the Christian name of Francisco united to the surname of his native country, Chicorana. While Ayllon was engaged on his business here, I sometimes invited him and his servant Francisco Chicorana to my table. This Chicorana is not devoid of intelligence. He understands readily and has learned the Spanish tongue quite well. The letters of his companions which the licenciate Ayllon himself showed to me, and the curious information furnished me by Chicorana, will serve me for the remainder of my narrative. Each may accept or reject my account as he chooses. Envy is a plague natural to the human race always seeking to depreciate and to search for weeds in another's garden.