« ZurückWeiter »
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 ignotant 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 almost 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 impression upon his imagination, he did not find gold in such quantity as was fufficient 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 fimplicity, pointed towards the eaft, 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 Alonfo Pinzon, impatient to be the first who should take possession of the treafures which this country was supposed to contain, quitted his come panions, regardless of all the admiral's signals to flacken fail until they should come up with him.
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 settle there. The beauty of the river, the clearness of the water, through which I could see the sandy bottom, the multitude of palmtrees of different kinds, the tallest and finest I had seen, and an infinite number of other large and Aourishing trees, the birds, and the verdure of the plains, are fo wonderfully beautiful, that this country excels all others as far as the day surpasses the night in bright, ness and splendour, so that I often faid, that it would be in vain for me to attempt to give your 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.
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 consternation towards the woods, he soon 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 simple; 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 af, cendant over them, especially as their excessive 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 from Heaven. They possessed gold in greater abundance than their neighbours, which they readily exchanged for bells, beads, or pins; and in this unequal traffic both parties were highly pleased, each considering 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 ferved him with great respect. His deportment was grave and stately, very reserved towards his own people, but with Columbus and the Spaniards extremely courteous. He
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 intercourse concerning their fituation. They concurred in pointing out a mountainous country, which they called Cibao, at some distance from the fea, and farther towards the eaft. Struck with this found, which
appeared to him the same with Cipango, the name by which Marca Polo, and other travellers to the eaft, diftinguished the islands of Japan, he no longer doubted with respect to the vicinity of the countries which he had discovered to the remote parts of Asia; and, in full expectation of reaching foon those regions which had been the object of his voyage, he directed his course towards the east. He
put into a commodious harbour, which he called St. Thomas, and found that district to be under the government of a powerful cazique, named Guacanahari, who, as he afterwards learned, was one of the five sovereigns among whom the whole island was divided. He immediately sent messengers to Columbus, who, in his name, delivered to him the present of a mak curiously fashioned, with the ears, nose, and mouth of beaten gold, and invited him to the place of his residence, near the harbour now called Cape Francois, some leagues towards the east. Columbus dispatched some of his officers to visit this prince, who, as he behaved himself with greater dignity, seemed to claim more attention. They returned, with such favourable accounts both of the country and of the people, as made Columbus impatient for that interview with Guacanahari to which he had been invited.
He sailed for this purpose from St. Thomas, on the twenty-fourth of December with a fair wind, and the fea perfectly calm ; and asy amidst the multiplicity of his occupations, he had not shut his eyes for two days, he retired at midnight in order to take some repose, having committed the helm to the pilot, with strict injunctions not to quit it for a moment. The pilot, dreading no danger, carelessly left the helm to an unexperienced cabin boy, and the ship, carried away by a current, was dashed against a rock. The violence of the shock awakened Columbus. He ran up to the deck. There, all was confusion and despair. He alone retained presence of mind. He ordered some of the sailors to take a boat, and carry out an anchor aftern; but, instead of obeying, they made off towards the Nigna, which was about half a league distant. He then commanded the masts to be cut down, in order to lighten the ship; but all his endeavours were too late ; the vessel opened near the keel, and filled so fast with water that its loss was inevitable. The smoothness of the sea, and the timely assistance of boats from the Nigna, enabled the crew to save their lives. As soon as the islanders heard of this disaster, they crowded to the shore, with their prince Guacanahari at their head. Instead of taking advantage of the distress in which they beheld the Spaniards, to attempt any thing to their detriment, they lamented their misfortune with tears of fincere Fondolance. Not fatisfied with this unavailing expression of their
sympathy, they put to fea a number of canoes, and, under the direction of the Spaniards, assisted in saving whatever could be got out of the wreck; and by the united labour of so many hands, almost every thing of value was carried alhore. As fast as the goods were landed, Guaca: Dahari in perfon took charge of them. By his orders they were all deposited in one place, and armed centinels were posted, who kept the maltitude at a diftance, in order to prevent them not only from embez, zling, but from inspecting too curiously what belonged to their guests, Next morning this prince visited Columbus, who was now on board the Nigna, and endeavoured to console him for his loss, by offering all that he possessed to repair it *.
The condition of Columbus was such, that he stood in need of consoz lation. He had hitherto procured no intelligence of the Pinta, and no longer doubted but that his treacherous associate had set fail for Europe, in order to have the merit of carrying the first tidings of the extraordinary discoveries which had been made, and to pre-occupy so far the ear of their sovereign, as to rob him of the glory and reward to which he was juftly entitled. There remained but one vessel, and that the smallest and most crazy of the squadron, to traverse such
* The account which Columbus gives of the humanity and orderly behaviour of the natives on this occafion is
“ The king (says he, in a letter to Ferdi. pand and Isabella) having been informed of our misfortune, expressed great grief for our loss, and immediately fent aboard all the people in the place in many large canoes; we foon unloaded the ship of every thing that was upon deck, as the king gave us great as. fiftance : he himself, with his brothers and relations, took all possible care that every thing should be properly done both aboard and on sore. And, from time to time, he sent fome of his relations weeping, to beg of me not to be dejected, for he would give me all that he had. I can assure your highnesses, that so much care would not have been taken in securing our effects in any part of Spain, as all our property was put together in one place near his palace, until the houses which he wanted to prepare for the custody of it, were emptied. He immediately placed a guard of armed men, who watched during the whole night, and those op shore lamented as if they had been much interested in our lofs. The people are so affectionate, so tractable, and so peaceable, that I fwear to your highnesses, that there is not a better race of men, nor a better country in the world. They love their neighbour as themselves; their conversation is the sweetest and mildest in the world, cheerful, and always accompanied with a smile, And although it is true that they go naked, yet your highnesses may be assured that they have many very commendable customs; the king is served with great state, and his behaviour is fa decent, that it is pleasant to see him, as it is likewise to observe the wonderful memory which these people have, and their desire of knowing every thing, which leads them to inquire into its causes and effects.” Life of Columbus, c. 32. It is probable that the Spaniards were indebted for this officious attention, to the opinion which the Indians ens fertained of them as a superior order of beings,
so many men back to Europe. Each of those circumstances was alarming, and filled the mind of Columbus with the utmost solicitude. The defire of overtaking Pinzon, and of effacing the unfavourable impreshons which his misrepresentations might make in Spain, made it necefsary to return thither without delay. The difficulty of taking such a number of persons aboard the Nigna, confirmed him in an opinion, which the fertility of the country, and the gentle temper of the people, had already induced him to form. He resolved to leave a part of his crew in the island, that, by residing there, they might learn the language of the natives, study their disposition, examine the nature of the country, search for mines, prepare for the commodious settlement of the colony, with which he purposed to return, and thus secure and facilitate the acquisition of thofe advantages which he expected from his discoveries. When he mentioned this to his men, all approved of the design; and from impatience under the fatigue of a long voyage, from the levity natural to sailors, or from the hopes of amassing wealth in a country which afforded such promising specimens of its riches, many offered voluntarily to be among the number of those who should remain.
Nothing was now wanting towards the execution of this scheme, but to obtain the consent of Guacanahari; and his unfufpicious fimplicity foon presented to the admiral a favourable opportunity of proposing it. Columbus having, in the best manner he could, by broken words and figns, expressed some curiosity to know the cause which had moved the iflanders to fly with such precipitation upon the approach of his ships, the cazique informed him that the country was much infested by the incursions of certain people, whom he called Carribeans, who inhabited several islands to the south-east. These he described as a fierce and warlike race of men, who delighted in blood, and devoured the Aesh of the prisoners who were so unhappy as to fall into their hands; and as the Spaniards, at their first appearance, were fuppofed to be Carribeans, whom the natives, however numerous, durst not face in battle, they had recourse to their usual method of securing their safety, by flying into the thickest and most impenetrable woods. Guacanahari, while speaking of those dreadful invaders, discovered such symptoms of terror, as well as fuch consciousness of the inability of his own people to resist them, as led Columbus to conclude that he would not be alarmed at the proposition of any scheme which afforded him the prospect of an additional security againft their attacks. He instantly offered him the aslistance of the Spa, niards to repel his enemies; he engaged to take him and his people under the protection of the powerful monarch whom he served, and offered to leave in the illand such a number of his men as thould be sufficient, not 3