Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

of the other ships, with tears of joy and transports of congratulation. This office of gratitude to Heaven was followed by an act of justice to their commander. They threw themselves at the feet of Columbus, with feelings of self-condemnation mingled with reverence. They implored him to pardon their ignorance, incredulity, and insolence, which had created him fo much unnecessary disquiet, and had so often obfructed the prosecution of his well-concerted plan; and passing, in the warmth of their admiration, from one extreme to another, they now pronounced the man, whom they had fo lately reviled and threatened, to be a person inspired by Heaven with fagacity and fortitude more than human, in order to accomplish a design, fo far beyond the ideas and conception of all former ages.

As soon as the sun arose, all their boats were manned and arred. They rowed towards the island with their colours displayed, with warlike music, and other martial pomp. As they approached the Coast, they faw it covered with a multitude of people, whom the novelty of the spectacle had drawn together, whose attitudes and gestures expreiled wonder and astonishment at the strange objects which presented themselves to their view. Columbus was the first European who fet foot in the New World which he had discovered. He landed in a rich dress, and with a naked sword in his hand. His men followed, and kneeling down, they all killed the ground which they had so long defired to see. They next erected a crucifix, and proftrating themselves before it, returned thanks to God for conducting their voyage to such an happy issue. They then took folemn poffeffion of the country for the crown of Caftile and Leon, with all the formalities which the Portuguese were accustomed to obferve in acts of this kind, in their new discoveries.

The Spaniarz?s, while thus employed, were surrounded by many of the natives, who gazed, in silent admiration, upon actions which they could not comprehend, and of which they did not foresee the consequences. The dress of the Spaniards, the whiteness of their skins, their beards, their arms, appeared frange and surprising. The vast machines in which they had traversed the occan, that seemed to move upon the waters with wings, and uttered a dreadful found resembling thunder, accompanied with lightning and smoke, struck them with such terror, that they began to respect their new guests as a superior order of beings, and concluded that they were children of the Sun, who had descended to visit the earth.

The Europeans were hardly less amazed at the scene now before them. Every herb, and Ihrub, and tree, was different from those which 3

flourished

floated upon

flourished in Europe. The soil seemed to be rich, but bore few marks of cultivation. The climate, even to Spaniards, felt warm, though ex. tremely delightful. The inhabitants appeared in the fimple innocence of nature, entirely naked. Their black hair, long and uncurled,

their shoulders, or was bound in trelles around their heads. They had no beards, and every part of their bodies was perfectly smooth. Their complexion was of a dulky copper colour, their features fingular, rather than disagreeable, their aspect gentle and timid. Though not tall, they were well shaped, and active. Their faces, and feveral parts of their body, were fantastically painted with glaring colours. They were shy at first through fear, but soon became familiar with the Spaniards, and with transports of joy received from them hawks-bells, glass beads, or other baubles, in return for which they gave such provisions as they had, and some cotton yarn, the only commodity

value that they could produce. Towards evening, Columbus returned to his ships, accompanied by many of the islanders in their boats, which they called canoes, and though rudely formed out of the trunk of a single tree, they rowed them with surprising dexterity. Thus, in the first interview between the inhabitants of the old and new worlds, every thing was conducted amicably, and to their mutual fatisfaction. The former, enlightened and ambitious, formed already vast ideas with respect to the advantages which they might derive from the regions that began to open to their view. The latter, fimple and undiscerning, had no foresight of the calamities and desolation which were approaching

their country.

Columbus, who now affumed the title and authority of admiral and viceroy, called the iland which he had discovered San Salvador. It is better known by the name of Guanahani, which the natives gave to it, and is one of that large cluster of islands called the Lucaya or Bahama isles. It is situated above three thousand miles to the weit of Gomera, from which the squadron took its departure, and only four degrees to the south of it; so little had Columbus deviated from the weiterly course, which he had chosen as the most proper.

Columbus employed the next day in visiting the coasts of the island; and from the universal poverty of the inhabitants, he perceived that this was not the rich country for which he fought. But, comformably to his theory concerning the discovery of those regions of Asia which Aretched towards the east, he concluded that San Salvador was one of the illes which geographers described as situated in the great ocean adjacent to India. Having observed that most of the people whom he lead seen wore small plates of gold, by way of ornament, in their nof

E

trils,

trils, he cagerly inquired where they got that precious metal. They pointed towards the fouth, and made him comprehend by figns, that gold abounded in countries situated in that quarter. Thither he immediately determined to direct his course, in full confidence of finding there those opulent regions which had been the object of his voyage, and would be a recompence for all his toils and dangers. He took along with him seven of the natives of San Salvador, that, by acquiring the Spanish language, they might serve as guides and interpreters; and those innocent people considered it as a mark of distinction when they were selected to accompany him.

He saw several islands, and touched at three of the largest, on which he bestowed the names of St. Mary of the Conception, Fernandina, and Isabella. But as their foil, productions, and inhabitants, nearly resembled those of San Salvador, he made ro stay in any of them. He inquired every where for gold, and the signs that were uniformly made by way of answer, confirmed him in the opinion that it was brought from the south. He followed that course, and soon discovered a country which appeared very extensive, not perfectly level, like thofe which he had already visited, but fo diversified with rising grounds, hills, rivers, woods, and plains, that he was uncertain whether it might prove an island, or part of the continent. The natives of San Salvador, whom he had on board, called it Cuba ; Columbus gave it the name of Juanna. He entered the mouth of a large river with his squadron, and all the inhabitants fled to the mountains as he approached the shore. But as he resolved to careen his ships in that place, he sent some Spaniards, together with one of the people of San Salvador, to view the interior parts of the conntry. They, having advanced above fixty miles from the shore, reported upon their return, that the soil was richer and more cultivated than any they had hitherto discovered; thai, besides many scattered cottages, they had found one village, containing above a thousand inhabitants; that the people, though naked, seemed to be more intelligent than those of San Salvador, but had treated them with the fame respectful attention, kissing their feet, and honouring them as sacred beings allied to Heaven; that they had given them to eat a certain root, the talie of which resembled roasted chesnuts, and likewise a singular species of corn called maize, which, either when roasted whole or ground into meal, was abundantly palatable ; that there seemed to be no four-footed animals in the country, but a species of dogs, which could not bark, and a creature resembling a rabbit, but of a much smaller fize; that they had observed some ornaments of gold among the people, but of no great value.

There

[ocr errors]

These messengers had prevailed with some of the natives to accompany them, who informed Columbus, that the gold of which they made their ornaments was found in Cubanacan. By this word they meant the middle or inland part of Cuba; but Columbus, being ignorant of their language, as well as unaccustomed to their pronunciation, and his thoughts running continually upon his own theory concerning the discovery of the East Indies, he was led, by the resemblance of found, to suppose that they spoke of the Great Khan, and imagined that the opulent kingdom of Cathay, described by Marco Polo, was not very remote. This induced him to employ some time in viewing the country. He visited almoft every harbour, from Porto del Principe, on the north coast of Cuba, to the eastern extremity of the island; but though delighted with the beauty of the scenes, which every where presented themselves, and amazed at the luxuriant fertility of the soil, both which, from their novelty, made a more lively impreffion upon his imagination *, he did not find gold in such quantity as was sufficient to satisfy either the avarice of his followers, or the expectations of the court to which he was to return. The people of the country, as much astonished at his eagerness in quest of gold, as the Europeans were at their ignorance and simplicity, pointed towards the east, where an island which they called Hayti was situated, in which that metal was more abundant than among them. Columbus ordered his squadron to bend its course thither; but Martin Alonso Pinzon, impatient to be the first who should take possession of the treafures which this country was supposed to contain, quitted his companions, regardless of all the admiral's signals to flacken fail until they hould come up with himn.

Columbus, retarded by contrary winds, did not reach Hayti till the fixth of December. He called the port where he first touched St.

In a letter of the admiral's to Ferdinand and Isabella, he describes one of the harbours in Cuba, with all the enthusiastic admiration of a discoverer.-—~ I discovered a river which a galley might easily enter; the beauty of it induced me to sound, and I found from five to eight fathoms of water. Having proceeded a considerable way up the river, every thing invited me to sett’e there. The beauty of the river, the clearness of the water, through which I could fee the lindy bottom, the multitude of palmtrees of different kinds, the tallest and finest I had [:en, and an infinite number of other large and flourishing trees, the birds, and the verdure of the plains, are so wonderfully beautiful, that this country excels all others as far as the day furpasses the night in brightness and splendour, so that I often said, that it would be in vain for me to attempt to give ypur highnesses a full account of it, for neither my tongue nor my pen could come up to the truth, and indeed I am so much amazed at the sight of such beauty, that I know not how to describe it.” Life of Columb. c. 30.

E 2

Nicholas,

Nicholas, and the island itself Espagnola, in honour of the kingdom by which he was employed; and it is the only country, of those he had yet discovered, which has retained the name that he gave it. As he could neither meet with the Pinta, nor have any intercourse with the inhabitants, who fled in great confternation towards the woods, he foon quitted St. Nicholas, and failing along the northern coast of the island, he entered another harbour, which he called the Conception. Here he was more fortunate; his people overtook a woman who was flying from them, and after treating her with great gentleness, dismissed her with a present of such toys as they knew were most valued in those regions. The description which she gave to her countrymen of the humanity and wonderful qualities of the strangers; their admiration of the trinkets, which she shewed with exultation; and their eagerness to participate of the same favours; removed all their fears, and induced many of them to repair to the harbour. The strange objects which they beheld, and the baubles, which Columbus bestowed upon them, amply gratified their curiofity and their wishes. They nearly resembled the people of Guanahani and Cuba. They were naked like them, ignorant, and fimple; and seemed to be equally unacquainted with all the arts which appear most necessary in polished societies; but they were gentle, credulous, and timid, to a degree which rendered it easy to acquire the arcendant over them, especially as their exceffive admiration led them into the fame error with the people of the other islands, in believing the Spaniards to be more than mortals, and descended immediately froin Heaven. They possessed gold in greater abundance than their neighbours, which they readily exchanged for bells, beads, or pins; and in this unequal trafic both parties were highly pleased, each confidering themselves as gainers by the transaction. Here Columbus was visited by a prince or cazique of the country. He appeared with all the pomp known among a simple people, being carried in a sort of palanquin upon the shoulders of four men, and attended by many of his subjects, who served him with great respect. His deportment was grave and stately, very reserved towards his own people, but with Columbus and the Spa. niards extremely courteous. He gave the admiral some thin plates of gold, and a girdle of curious workmansbip, receiving in return presents of small value, but highly acceptable to him.

Columbus, ftill intent on discovering the mines which yielded gold, continued to interrogate all the natives with whom he had any intere course concerning their situation. They concurred in pointing out a mountainous country, which they called Cibao, at fome distance from the sea, and farther towards the east. Struck with this found, which

appeared

« AnteriorContinuar »