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which came out of a neighbouring wood and shed such a light over their heads that everybody could see and recognise his neighbour; and he declared under oath that the light was sufficient for reading A most trustworthy Sevillian, called Fernandez de las Varas, one of the first colonists of Hispaniola, and the first to build a house of stone from its foundations up, states that he has read Latin letters by the light of a cucurio.
I must not omit what the same Varas told me concerning certain small, thin scorpions, which are of a green colour and most dangerous. He says that when these beasts see a traveller passing, they run rapidly up the trees growing along the roads. Suspending themselves by their tails to the branches, they suddenly drop upon the voyager, springing at his face and seeking to strike his eyes. They appear to be attracted by the brilliancy of the eye. Few people now allow themselves to be surprised, for much experience has taught them to be careful when passing in the neighbourhood of suspicious-looking trees. The eminent Las Varas relates that he was once surprised by one of these snakes which sprang upon him and would have bitten him had he not profited by the lesson of his native guide and, by his left hand stopped the animal in its descent. The scorpion's sting is said to be very severe.
It appears that one must also believe what has been told concerning those islands inhabited only by women, armed with bows, who resist every attempt to land on their shores. At certain periods of the year cannibals cross over to these islands to have intercourse with them. As soon as they are with child they avoid men. They send their male children away, but keep the girls. I have already spoken of this in my first Decades, but half I said was not believed. I have above mentioned that the secretary, Alfonzo Argoglio, agreed in his report with Canizares. He communicated to me an interesting particular which I have omitted, because I was speaking at length about the religious ceremonies of the islanders. No horseman's steed reaches the goal in one leap nor does one breath of wind carry ships across the entire ocean. of a labyrinth. With bent heads and trembling, fearful mien, they gazed towards the zemes, beseeching it to accept the approaching sacrifice. Then in a low voice each offered his prayer to the divinity. The bovites stood near the zemes. They were the priests and doctors and presented a different aspect from the others present.
IN the time of their power the caciques summoned their subjects at stated periods, by means of messengers and heralds to the celebration of religious festivals. Adorned in native fashion and painted in divers colours with vegetable dyes, as were formerly the Agathyrses, all the men, especially the young ones, assembled. The women were naked and unpainted, except those who had lost their virginity, who wore a sort of girdle hanging from their waists. Both sexes weighted their arms, hips, calves, and heels with snail shells, in place of bells, which produced a pleasant sound when they struck against one another. Upon their heads they wore garlands of flowers and grasses, but the rest of their bodies was naked. Loaded with these shells they struck the ground with their feet, dancing, leaping, respectfully saluting the cacique who, seated at his door, received the newcomers while beating on a drum with a stick
When the moment for sacrificing to the zemes arrived (meaning the idols similar to the goblins people paint) it was necessary in order to render themselves more agreeable to the divinity, to be purified; and to accomplish this they thrust a stick, which each carries on feast days, down their throats to the epiglottis or even to the uvula, vomiting and vigorously cleansing the body. After that, they entered the cacique's house, where they seated themselves, cross-legged like tailors, in a circle before the
royal idol, like in a theatre, or better still, in the turnings
While these ceremonies were being performed in the vestibule of the drumming cacique, the women were busy in another room preparing cakes to be offered in sacrifice. In response to a signal given by the bovites, the women entered in procession, chanting the hymns called arreytos, and carrying the cakes in artistically woven baskets. They wore garlands of different flowers, and upon entering, they marched round the group of seated men. The latter sprang to their feet and together with the women exalted in their arreytos the power of their zemes, commemorating in song the great deeds of their cacique's ancestors. They afterwards gave thanks to the zemes for favours received, beseeching it to hear their prayers; and bending the knee they offered their gifts to the divinity. The bovites received the cakes, blessed and divided them into as many pieces as there were people present. Each one took home his portion without breaking it, and kept it the entire year as a sacred thing. According to the opinion of the bovites, any house not possessing a piece of this cake would be unfortunate and exposed to all the dangers of thunderbolts and tempests.
Here is a sufficiently ridiculous thing you should know. The natives invoke miracles from this divinity cut in wood or stuffed in cotton, after having offered it their sacrifices. In the simple, ancient times so did people address Apollo. Deceived by some devil concealed in the idol or by the bovites, the natives imagine that the zemes answer, and they accept the interpretation of the answer given by the bovites, shouting with joy and dancing gaily, after which they return to their houses. They spend the remainder of the day in the open air, amusing themselves and singing. If, however, no voice was heard, they were convinced the zemes were vexed with them, and with bowed heads they sadly departed interpreting this silence as indicative of great misfortunes. They expected maladies and other catastrophes, or, if war was imminent, they looked forward to certain defeat. Both men and women left their hair undressed, sighed, wept, stripped themselves of their ornaments, fasted and endured privations to the point of exhaustion, as long as they believed the sentiments of the zemes towards them remained unchanged.
Such is the story told by Giacomo Canizares and his companions. In my opinion, Most Illustrious Prince, you will think these barbarians are deceived by their bovites, that is to say, their priests and doctors, who have recourse to magic arts and I know not what tricks. They are, in fact, much inclined to believe in auguries, thanks to their ancestors to whom the infernal divinities often appeared at night and delivered oracles. I have touched on this subject in my first Decades. The natives of the new continent perform other ceremonies quite as foolish, but unworthy of mention.
The great river Dabaiba, similar to the Nile which empties by several mouths into the Egyptian sea, is larger than the Nile and flows into the gulf of Uraba in Castilla del Oro. I have elsewhere described the river population. I wish to bring to your notice some of their customs unknown to me at that time, and which have recently been brought to my knowledge by the colonists of Darien. Dabaiba is the name both of a river and of a divinity, and the sanctuary of the latter is about forty leagues distant from Darien. At certain periods of the year the caciques of even the most distant countries send slaves to be sacrificed at that sanctuary. Great popular meetings