Today’s installment concludes Columbus Discovers America,
the name of our combined selection from Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Columbus. The concluding installment, by Ferdinand Columbus is from The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand.
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Previously in Columbus Discovers America.
Place: San Salvador Island
The admiral then stood up, and took formal possession in the usual words for their Catholic majesties of this island, to which he gave the name of San Salvador. All the Christians present admitted Columbus to the authority and dignity of admiral and viceroy, pursuant to the commission which he had received to that effect, and all made oath to obey him as the legitimate representative of their Catholic majesties, with such expressions of joy and acknowledgment as became their mighty success; and they all implored his forgiveness of the many affronts he had received from them through their fears and want of confidence. Numbers of the Indians or natives of the island were present at these ceremonies; and, perceiving them to be peaceable, quiet, and simple people, the admiral distributed several presents among them. To some he gave red caps, and to others strings of glass beads, which they hung about their necks, and various other things of small value, which they valued as if they had been jewels of high price.
After the ceremonies, the admiral went off in his boat, and the Indians followed him even to the ships, some by swimming and others in their canoes, carrying parrots, clews of spun cotton yarn, javelins, and other such trifling articles, to barter for glass beads, bells, and other things of small value. Like people in the original simplicity of nature, they were all naked, and even a woman who was among them was entirely destitute of clothing. Most of them were young, seemingly not above thirty years of age, of a good stature, with very thick black lank hair, mostly cut short above their ears, though some had it down to their shoulders, tied up with a string about their head like women’s tresses. Their countenances were mild and agreeable and their features good; but their foreheads were too high, which gave them rather a wild appearance. They were of a middle stature, plump, and well shaped, but of an olive complexion, like the inhabitants of the Canaries, or sunburnt peasants. Some were painted with black, others with white, and others again with red; in some the whole body was painted, in others only the face, and some only the nose and eyes. They had no weapons like those of Europe, neither had they any knowledge of such; for when our people showed them a naked sword, they ignorantly grasped it by the edge. Neither had they any knowledge of iron, as their javelins were merely constructed of wood, having their points hardened in the fire, and armed with a piece of fish-bone. Some of them had scars of wounds on different parts, and, being asked by signs how these had been got, they answered by signs that people from other islands came to take them away, and that they had been wounded in their own defense. They seemed ingenious and of a voluble tongue, as they readily repeated such words as they once heard. There was no kind of animals among them excepting parrots, which they carried to barter with the Christians among the articles already mentioned, and in this trade they continued on board the ships till night, when they all returned to the shore.
In the morning of the next day, being October 13th, many of the natives returned on board the ships in their boats or canoes, which were all of one piece hollowed like a tray from the trunk of a tree; some of these were so large as to contain forty or forty-five men, while others were so small as only to hold one person, with many intermediate sizes between these extremes. These they worked along with paddles formed like a baker’s peel or the implement which is used in dressing hemp. These oars or paddles were not fixed by pins to the sides of the canoes like ours, but were dipped into the water and pulled backward as if digging. Their canoes are so light and artfully constructed that if overset they soon turn them right again by swimming; and they empty out the water by throwing them from side to side like a weaver’s shuttle, and when half emptied they ladle out the rest with dried calabashes cut in two, which they carry for that purpose.
This second day the natives, as said before, brought various articles to barter for such small things as they could procure in exchange. Jewels or metals of any kind were not seen among them, except some small plates of gold which hung from their nostrils; and on being questioned from whence they procured the gold, they answered by signs that they had it from the south, where there was a king who possessed abundance of pieces and vessels of gold; and they made our people to understand that there were many other islands and large countries to the south and southwest. They were very covetous to get possession of anything which belonged to the Christians, and being themselves very poor, with nothing of value to give in exchange, as soon as they got on board, if they could lay hold of anything which struck their fancy, though it were only a piece of a broken glazed earthen dish or porringer, they leaped with it into the sea and swam on shore with their prize. If they brought anything on board they would barter it for anything whatever belonging to our people, even for a piece of broken glass; insomuch that some gave sixteen large clews of well-spun cotton yarn, weighing twenty-five pounds, for three small pieces of Portuguese brass coin not worth a farthing. Their liberality in dealing did not proceed from their putting any great value on the things themselves which they received from our people in return, but because they valued them as belonging to the Christians, whom they believed certainly to have come down from heaven, and they therefore earnestly desired to have something from them as a memorial. In this manner all this day was spent, and the islanders, as before, went all on shore at night.
This ends our selections on Columbus Discovers America by two of the most important authorities of this topic:
- Letter to Gabriel Sanchez by Christopher Columbus written in 1492.
- The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand by Ferdinand Columbus published in .
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