These people practice no kind of idolatry; on the contrary they firmly believe that all strength and power, and in fact all good things, are in heaven, and that I had come down from thence with these ships and sailors; and in this belief I was received there after they had put aside fear.
Continuing Columbus Discovers America,
with a selection from Letter by Christopher Columbus published in 1492. This selection is presented in 3 easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Columbus Discovers America.
Place: San Salvador Island
They show greater love for all others than for themselves; they give valuable things for trifles, being satisfied even with a very small return, or with nothing; however, I forbade that things so small and of no value should be given to them, such as pieces of plates, dishes, and glass, likewise keys and shoe-straps; although, if they were able to obtain these, it seemed to them like getting the most beautiful jewels in the world. It happened, indeed, that a certain sailor obtained in exchange for a shoe-strap as much worth of gold as would equal three golden coins; and likewise other things for articles of very little value, especially for new silver coins, and for some gold coins, to obtain which they gave whatever the seller desired, as for instance an ounce and a half and two ounces of gold, or thirty and forty pounds of cotton, with which they were already acquainted. They also traded cotton and gold for pieces of bows, bottles, jugs and jars, like persons without reason, which I forbade because it was very wrong; and I gave to them many beautiful and pleasing things that I had brought with me, no value being taken in exchange, in order that I might the more easily make them friendly to me, that they might be made worshippers of Christ, and that they might be full of love toward our King, Queen, and Prince, and the whole Spanish nation; also that they might be zealous to search out and collect, and deliver to us, those things of which they had plenty, and which we greatly needed.
These people practice no kind of idolatry; on the contrary they firmly believe that all strength and power, and in fact all good things, are in heaven, and that I had come down from thence with these ships and sailors; and in this belief I was received there after they had put aside fear. Nor are they slow or unskilled, but of excellent and acute understanding; and the men who have navigated that sea give an account of everything in an admirable manner; but they never saw people clothed, nor these kind of ships.
As soon as I reached that sea, I seized by force several Indians on the first island, in order that they might learn from us, and in like manner tell us about those things in these lands of which they themselves had knowledge; and the plan succeeded, for in a short time we understood them and they us, sometimes by gestures and signs, sometimes by words; and it was a great advantage to us. They are coming with me now, yet always believing that I descended from heaven, although they have been living with us for a long time, and are living with us today. And these men were the first who announced it wherever we landed, continually proclaiming to the others in a loud voice, “Come, come, and you will see the celestial people.” Whereupon both women and men, both children and adults, both young men and old men, laying aside the fear caused a little before, visited us eagerly, filling the road with a great crowd, some bringing food and some drink, with great love and extraordinary good-will.
On every island there are many canoes of a single piece of wood, and, though narrow, yet in length and shape similar to our row-boats, but swifter in movement. They steer only by oars. Some of these boats are large, some small, some of medium size. Yet they row many of the larger row-boats with eighteen cross-benches, with which they cross to all those islands, which are innumerable, and with these boats they perform their trading, and carry on commerce among them. I saw some of these row-boats or canoes which were carrying seventy and eighty rowers.
In all these islands there is no difference in the appearance of the people, nor in the manners and language, but all understand each other mutually; a fact that is very important for the end which I suppose to be earnestly desired by our most illustrious King, that is, their conversion to the holy religion of Christ, to which in truth, as far as I can perceive, they are very ready and favorably inclined.
I said before how I proceeded along the island Juana in a straight line from west to east three hundred twenty-two miles, according to which course, and the length of the way, I am able to say that this Juana is larger than England and Scotland together; for, besides the said three hundred twenty-two thousand paces, there are two more provinces in that part which lies toward the west, which I did not visit; one of these the Indians call Anan, whose inhabitants are born with tails. They extend to one hundred eighty miles in length, as I have learned from those Indians I have with me, who are all acquainted with these islands. But the circumference of Hispana is still greater than all Spain from Colonia to Fontarabia[. This is easily proved, because its fourth side, which I myself passed along in a straight line from west to east, extends five hundred forty miles.
This island is to be desired and is very desirable, and not to be despised; in which, although, as I have said, I solemnly took possession of all the others for our most invincible King, and their government is entirely committed to the said King, yet I especially took possession of a certain large town, in a very convenient location, and adapted to all kinds of gain and commerce, to which we give the name of our Lord of the Nativity. And I commanded a fort to be built there forthwith, which must be completed by this time; in which I left as many men as seemed necessary, with all kinds of arms, and plenty of food for more than a year. Likewise one caravel, and for the construction of others men skilled in this trade and in other professions; and also the extraordinary good-will and friendship of the King of this island toward us.
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