« PreviousContinue »
Many different opinions have been formed with respect to the first inhabitants of the West India islands; it appears, however, most reasonable to suppose that the mild and peaceable natives, found by Columbus in Hispaniola and the adjacent islands, were the original founders, and that the more warlike and destructive Caribes, (or Caribbees, as it is now spelt,) emigrating from the southern continent, and finding that delightful spot of never-ceasing verdure, attacked the other Indians, and carried them away as slaves. The contrast between the two people is very striking and remarkable. The first (the Caribbees) were bold, daring, and undaunted, preferred death to the loss of liberty, and looked upon martial enterprise as the principal concern of life. They viewed all the rest of mankind as their lawful prey, yet, among themselves, were friendly, affectionate, and faithful. The latter (the Indians) were, generally, found to be submissive, kind, and patient-submissive to their subjugators-kind to their enemies, and patient under the cruel hands
of their remorseless oppressors. But very few descendants of either party now exist, and these are so mingled as to afford only a faint representation of the habits and manners of their forefathers.
In his first voyage, Columbus had left several of the crew at Hispaniola, but, on his return, not one remained alive; they had been murdered by the natives, for their rapacity and cruelty, The first settlement of the Spaniards was at Hispaniola, but the admiral visited other large islands, Jamaica, Cuba, &c., and expressed himself delighted with their beauty, but, in Jamaica, they discovered no gold to induce them to remain there. The natives, finding the Spaniards about to continue their residence among them, and smarting under the yoke which was imposed upon them, took up arms, but European science overcame the superiority of numbers, and, finally, prevailed. The brother of Columbus, who was left as governor, exacted tribute from the different kings, of whatever their territory afforded. In one excursion they fell in with a powerful chief, whose palace was situated to the west of the island, and the description of the entertainment the Spaniards received, is curious and remarkable.
“When the king had espied our men, laying apart his weapons, and giving signs of peace, he spake gently to them, (uncertain whether it were of humanity or fear,) and demanded of them what they would have. The lieutenant answered, that he should pay
tribute to the admiral, his brother, in the name of the Christian king of Spain. To whom he said, how can you require that of me, whereas never a region under my dominion bringeth forth gold ? For he had heard, that there was a strange nation entered into the island which made great search for gold; but, he supposed, they desired some other thing. The
lieutenant answered again, God forbid that we should enjoin any man to pay such tribute as he might not easily forbear, or such as were not engendered or growing in the region, but we understand that your regions bring forth great plenty of Gossampine cotton, and hemp, with such other, whereof we desire you to give us part.”
This modest request was cheerfully complied with ; indeed, the Spaniards appear to have been well skilled in the art of taxation. The lieutenant was induced to visit the palace at Xaragua.
“Before they entered into the palace, a great multitude of the king's servants and subjects resorted to the court, honourably (after their manner) to receive their king, Beuchius Anacauchoa, with the strangers, which he brought with him, to see the magnificence of his court. But now shall you hear how they were entertained ; among other triumphs and sights, two are especially to be noted: first, there met them a company of thirty women, being all the king's wives and concubines, bearing, in their hands, branches of date trees, singing and dancing; they were all naked, såving that their privy parts were covered with breeches of Gossampine cotton ; but the virgins, having their hair hanging down about their shoulders, tied about the foreheads with a fillet, were utterly naked. They affirm that their faces, breasts, paps, hands, and other parts of their bodies, were exceedingly smooth, and well proportioned, but somewhat inclining to a lovely brown. They supposed that they had seen those most beautiful Dryades, or the native nymphs, or fairies of the mountains, whereof the antiques spake so much. The branches of date trees, which they bore in their right hands when they danced, they delivered to the lieutenant, with lowly curtesy, and smiling countenance. Thus, entering into the king's house, they found a delicate supper prepared for them, after their manner. When they were refreshed with meat, the night drawing on, they were brought by the king's officers, every man to his lodging, according to his degree, in certain of their houses about the palace, where they rested them in hanging beds, after the manner of the country."
They were likewise entertained with the representation of a battle, in which four of the natives were killed, and many wounded. After receiving the most kind and hospitable treatment, the lieutenant returned to his fort. In the mean time, one of the Spaniards, who had been a considerable favourite with Columbus, and, latterly, advanced by him, headed a strong party, and committed the grossest outrages on the unoffending natives, which compelled them, at last, to seek refuge in the mountains, and, at every opportunity, to retaliate upon their persecutors. Columbus had returned to Spain, but, fearful that his growing colony would need assistance, he despatched two vessels, laden with provisions, for the use of the settlers, and, shortly afterward, followed them himself, with six, more, purposing, however, first, to sail in a southerly direction. These
provision vessels, unfortunately for the lieutenant, touched at a part of the island in possession of the mutineers, who immediately seized upon their cargoes, and seduced the men from their obedience. The poor Indians, who, at first, conceived their visitors to be a people descended from heaven, were soon undeceived, for no demons could be more sanguinary in their quarrels among themselves or more delight in the torture of
their enemies; and they now retired from them, expecting that so acruel a nation must, before long, destroy one another. Columbus,
nieanwhile, was prosecuting his discoveries to the southward, near to the equinoctial line, and first noticed the equatorial current setting to the west, which is described as an "outragious fal of water, running with such a violence from the east to the west, that it was nothing inferior to a mighty stream falling from high mountains.”
He landed on the continent, near the entrance of the Oronoco, and another treasure presented itself, in the abundance of pearls, collected by the natives, “ having, for the most part, chains about their necks, garlands on their heads, and bracelets on their arms, of pearl of India, and that so commonly, that our women, in plays and triumphs, have not greater plenty of stones, of glasses and crystals in their garlands, crowns, girdles, and such other tirements.” They likewise obtained intelligence where these pearls could be procured in such plenty, that they were held in no estimation by the natives. This pearl fishery, in a few years afterward, became a source of vast emolument to the Spaniards.
They entertained our men genteelly, and came flocking to them by heaps, as it had been to behold some strange monsters. First, there came to meet our men, two men of gravity, whom the multitude followed. One of these was well in age, and the other but young. They think it was the father, with his son which should succeed him. When the one had saluted and embraced the other, they brought our men into a certain round house, near unto the which was a great court. Hither were brought many chairs and stools, made of a certain black wood, and very cunningly wrought. After that our men and their princes were set, their waiting men came in laden, some with sundry delicate dishes, and some with wine. But their meat was only fruits, and those of divers kinds, and utterly unknown to Their wine was both white and red, not made of
but of the liquor of divers fruits, and very pleasant in drinking. After this banquet, made in the old man's house, the young man brought them to his tabernacle, or mansion place, where was a great company, both of men and women, but they stood dissevered the one from the other. They are white, even as our men are, saving such as are much conversant in the sun. They are also very genteel, and full of humanity towards strangers. There was few, or none, that had
not either a collar, a chain, or a bracelet of gold and pearls, and many had all."
The great difference in the colour of the inhabitants, under the same parallel of latitude, is worthy of remark, particularly in the torrid zone: for those who reside in Africa, and Asia, are black, while the people of the newly discovered continent approached, nearly, to white. The short curly wool of the African's head is contrasted with the long glossy hair of the Asiatic and American; for only in one province, as we noticed before, were negroes found, who retained their original appearance. The Hottentots, at the Cape of Good Hope, are black; while, at the same distance, north of the equator, and under the same meridian, the people are white. Again, at the Sandwich Islands, within the torrid zone, to the north, the complexion of the natives is considerably lighter than at the Society Islands to the south, the latter bearing a strong resemblance to the Malays, in countenance and manners. But the more we contemplate the subject, the more it excites curiosity as to the question whence the numerous islands, in the Pacific Ocean, were first peopled. We find groupes, at no great distance from each other, where the manners, habits, and customs of the natives are totally different, as well as their language and religion. The natives of Hispaniola (whither Columbus now directed his course) paid homage to certain little idols, called Zemes, a superstition which continues to this day in some parts of the West Indies. The account given of these is remarkably curious.
“These images the inhabitants call Zemes; whereof the cast made to the likeness of young Deuilles, they bind to their foreheads, when they go to the wars against their enemies: and, for that purpose, they have strings hanging at them. Of these they believe to obtain rain, if rain be lacking, likewise fair weather; for they think that these Zemes are the mediators and messengers of the great God, whom they acknowledge to be only one, eternal, without end, omnipotent, and invisible. Thus every king hath his particular Zemes, which he honoureth.”
Again, their account of the origin of man is equally curious.
“ There is in the land, a region called Caunana, where they fain that mankind came first out of two caves of a mountain ; and that the biggest sort of men came forth of the mouth of the biggest cave, and the least sort out of the least cave. The rock, in which these caves are, they call Cauta. They say, that before it was lawful for men to come forth of the cave, the mouth of the cave was kept and watched nightly by a man whose name was Machochael.”
They were forbidden the light of the sun; but some of them, baving wandered too far, were overtaken by his beams, and turned into stones and trees. One, a great favourite with his master, was transformed into a nightingale, and bewailed his sad lot with a mournful song, during the hours of darkness. “ And this they think to be the cause why that bird singeth in the night season.” They give a somewhat similar origin to the sun and moon, and were accustomed to go on pilgrimage to the cave from whence those luminaries are supposed to have issued. Their superstitions and secret incantations bear a close analogy to those of the Egyptians: indeed, it is no difficult matter, to trace in their ceremonies a strong resemblance to the ancient customs and manners of that people.
But to return to Columbus. On his arrival at Hispaniola, he found the settlers in a state of insurrection ;
and the man whom he had raised from a low station inciting them to acts of rebellion against his authority. This turbulent fellow also sent letters to the King of Spain, against the admiral, describing him as tyrannical, and desirous of seizing upon the sovereignty of the island. In reply to these charges, Columbus asserted his innocence, and declared that his accusers were vile wretches, who, though experienced as criminals, and brought thither for miners, labourers, and scullions, they would not now go one furlong from their houses, except they were borne on the shoulders of the Indians.
“For, to this office they put the miserable island-men, whom they handled most cruelly. For, lest their hands should discontinue from shedding of blood, and the better to try their strength and manhood, they used, now and then, for their pastime, to strive among
themselves, and prove who could most cleanly, with his sword, at one stroke, strike off the head of an innocent; so that he which could, with most agility, make the head of one of these poor wretches to flee quite and clean from the body to the ground, at one stroke, he was the best man, and counted most honourable.”
But this representation did not avail Columbus, for the court of Spain appointed a new governor, and himself, with his brother, bound in chains, were conveyed across the Atlantic as prisoners. On their arrival at Cadiz, the king and queen, as if ashamed of such proceeding, ordered their release, and appeared to commiserate their misfortunes ; but the intrepid navigator preserved as memorials of their ingratitude-his fetters; which, we believe, are still in possession of the citizens of Genoa. At the death of Columbus, adventurers sprang forth from all the maritime powers of Europe ; yet the great discoverer went to his grave without the satisfaction of knowing that America was a distinct continent. He firmly believed it to be