صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

of gourds or from a piece of hard wood thicker than a man's arm.

Almost every night they shout from the tops of the highest houses in the village, like public criers, and from the neighbouring village the answer quickly comes back. When asked why they so exerted themselves, they answered that it is to prevent their enemies from surprising them by a sudden descent, for internal wars are incessant amongst them.

Their languages are difficult to understand, for their words are too abbreviated, after the manner of poetic licence which permits using deum for deorum. They bathe every day, before sunrise if it is warm, after sunrise if it is cold. To beautify themselves they rub their bodies with a sort of slimy ointment, upon which they stick birds' feathers. This is the punishment meeted out in Spain to wantons and witches when they are taken out of prison to be publicly exposed.

The natives of Chiribichi, who live along the coast, fear neither excessive cold or heat; although they are near the equator, they are hardly under the tenth degree of the arctic pole; the continent extends towards the antarctic pole as far as the fifty-fourth degree south of the equator, where the days are the shortest when with us they are the longest, and vice versa. The man whom the natives consider the most powerful and the most noble, is he who possesses the most gold and boats dug out of tree-trunks; or whoever has the largest number of relatives and may boast of the brave deeds of his ancestors and of his family. Whoever injures one of his compatriots must look to himself, for they never forgive, and use treachery to revenge themselves. They are boastful beyond measure.

They like to use bows and poisoned arrows. They poison their arrows with the stings of scorpions, the heads of certain ants, poisons which they manufacture, and

VOL. II »S

those little plums I have mentioned, as well also as the juice they distil from certain trees in which they dip their arrows. But everybody is not permitted to make this mixture. There are certain old women skilled in the art, who are shut in at certain times and furnished with the necessary materials; during two days these women watch and distil the ointment. As soon as it is finished the house is opened, and if the women are well and not found lying on the ground half dead from the fumes of the poison, they are severely punished, and the ointment is thrown away as being valueless; for the strength of the poison is such, that the mere odour of it, while compounding almost kills its makers.1

Whoever is wounded by one of these poisoned arrows dies, but not instantly, and no Spaniard has yet found a remedy for such wounds. The natives know some, but the remainder of one's life, after being cured, is sufficiently disagreeable; for it is necessary to abstain from many things one likes. First of all, from sexual pleasures for two years, and afterwards, during a lifetime, from liquors, excessive pleasures of the table, and all exertion. Otherwise death quickly follows. Our monks have seen many wounded Indians,—for they live in a state of perpetual war,—but they assisted at the death of only one woman, who was unwilling to undergo the cure; the women fight by their husbands' sides. Nobody has been able to extort from them the secret of this antidote.

From childhood they practise archery with wax or wooden balls instead of arrows. When navigating their boats one of them stands in the prow of the boat singing, the oarsmen following the cadence and keeping time with their oars.

The women are usually sufficiently well-behaved in their youth, but as they grow older they become more inconstant. They follow the common usage of their sex in preferring foreigners, and hence they love the Christians better than their compatriots. They run, swim, dance, and indulge in all exercises as actively as do the men. Childbirth is easy, and they show no suffering. They do not go to bed, nor take any care of themselves. They press the head of the new-born child between two cushions, one on the forehead and the other at the back, squeezing it until the eye emerges from the socket, for they admire flat faces. When the young girls become marriageable their parents shut them up for two successive years in dark rooms, during which time they never go into the open, so as not to tan. During this period they never cut their hair. Guarded thus jealously, these women are much sought after as wives, and if they are the first wives of their husbands they exercise a sort of direction over the other women, of whom a cacique may have as many as he chooses. Generally a man is content with one wife; the young girls of the common people give themselves to anybody who asks them. Adultery after marriage is forbidden, and if committed it is not the woman but the man who is punished. The wife may be repudiated.

1 Supposed by some to be the fatal poison, curare.

All the people in the neighbourhood are invited to the wedding of young girls of high birth, and the female guests arrive, carrying provisions of food and drink on their shoulders. All the men bring bunches of straw and thatch to build the house of the new couple, which is constructed with beams set upright in the shape of a tent. When the house is finished the bride and groom adorn themselves, according to their means, with the usual jewels and necklaces and different kinds of stones. Those who possess none, obtain them from their neighbours. The bride then sits outside with the young girls, and the bridegroom is surrounded by the men. A dance is performed around them, the young girls encircling the bride, and the men the bridegroom. Then a hair-cutter approaches and cuts the bridegroom's hair up to the tops of his ears, while a woman cuts the bride's hair, leaving it in front on a line with the eyebrow, but not touching it in the back. When night falls, the bride's hand is placed in her husband's, and she is delivered to him. *

Both men and women pierce their ears, in which they hang jewels. The men eat together, the women never mixing with them. The latter are occupied in household duties, in which they delight. The husbands pass their time in hunting, fighting, fishing, and different games.

I have omitted many details concerning the customs of the natives and their manner of life, because I remember having described them in the Decade addressed to the Duke Sforza, when I laid them before our India Council, and I fear to involve myself in useless repetitions. I shall enter my seventieth year on the fourth day of the nones of February, 1526.2 I have so abused my memory that it is almost destroyed; to such a point that when I have once finished writing on a subject, I am obliged to admit, if asked how I have treated it, that I do not know; especially when it is a question of information which reached me from different sources, and deals with different epochs. There remain, nevertheless, three subjects I must touch upon; when that is done, I shall have finished my work,—at least unless new documents reach me. I wish to state how these half-naked and uncivilised barbarians understand and practise magic, secondly to describe their funeral ceremonies, and finally to speak of their belief in a future life.

There are amongst them professors of the art of magic, who are called places. The people stand when in the presence of these piaces, and honour them as gods. They choose amongst their children some between the ages of ten and twelve years, whom they believe to be foreordained by nature for this ministry, just as we send our children to the schools of grammarians and rhetoricians.

'....«/ ea ulatur ad libitum datur venia.

1 This is one of the passages from which the date of Peter Martyr's birth is deduced: others equally explicit contradict it. He here admits that his memory is seriously impaired, but however untrustworthy it may have been respecting precise dates and incidents in his long and varied life, he would hardly be in doubt as to the year of his own birth.

These children are sent into the mysterious depths of the forests, where their life is more austere than that of the disciples of Pythagoras according to the ancient law. They spend two years in huts and become imbued with the severest precepts. They abstain from all flesh foods, and drink nothing but water, avoiding even all thoughts of love, and living their life isolated from their parents, relatives, and friends. During the daytime they do not see their instructors, who only visit them at night, when they call them before them, dictate their magical incantations, and teach them secrets for healing the sick. After this period of two years, the children return home, bringing with them evidences of the learning they have acquired from their masters, the piaces.

The pupils bring certificates of their knowledge from their piace teachers just as is done at Bologna, Pavia, and Perugia, amongst those who obtain the title of Doctor. Nobody else may venture to practise medicine. Neighbours and friends never have recourse, in case of sickness, to the services of doctors whom they know, but always summon strangers; and especially do the caciques call in strangers. The superstitions practised, vary according to the diversity of the maladies, as does also the remuneration. In the case of a slight illness, the piaces fill their mouths with certain herbs, press their lips to the injured part, licking and sucking energetically and pretending to draw out the humour which causes the illness; after which they leave the house with cheeks puffed out, spitting frequently, and affirming that the sick man will be speedily cured, since they have relieved him of his malady.

In case of a fever or more severe pain, when the patient seems to suffer from a serious malady, the piaces change

« السابقةمتابعة »