Page images

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, having 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

the eastern boundary of Asia; and from hence arose the title. of India. It was reserved for Vasco Nunez to cross the land, and first obtain a view of the great Southern Ocean. The islands, however, had been pretty well explored, and settlements made where there was any probability of obtaining the precious metal. Jamaica, though it did not produce gold, was, nevertheless, highly prized by Columbus, who preferred it to all the other parts, on account of the fertility of its soil and the beauty of its appearance. The sole property was afterward vested in him; Don Diego, his son, becoming the first governor, under the title of Duke de la Vega. The riches which the new world poured into the bosom of the old, excited a spirit of enterprise, and numbers flocked to the standards of those who promised to lead them where, with but little difficulty, they could obtain incalculable treasure. Every privation was endured, for the desire of acquiring gold overcame all difficulties and distress. Some pieces had been found of " three hundred pounde weight," and one of "three thousand three hundred and tenne pounde weight," which was sent whole to the king: but, unfortunately, the vessel sank with her valuable cargo, and all hands perished. The shores of the continent were not long unoccupied by the Spaniards; and though they occasionally encountered severe checks from the natives, yet they strenuously persevered in their progressive advances toward colonization. The son of one of the kings in the province of Darien was esteemed a man of understanding, far beyond what might have been expected from the nature of his education among untutored Indians. Willing to please the Spaniards, he presented them with "four thousand ounces of gold, artificially wrought, and also fifty slaves, which he had taken in the wars, for such either they sell for exchange of their things, or otherwise use them as them listeth, for they have not the use of money." This, with other gold amounting to as much more, they prepared to divide into shares; but disagreeing in the distribution, great contention arose, which coming under the observation of the young chief, he advanced, with an angry countenance, toward the arbitrator, struck the balances from his hand, and scattered the gold about the ground, and then addressed them in terms of rebuke:

"What is the matter, you Christian men, that you so greatly esteem so little portion of gold more than your own quietness; which, nevertheless, you intend to deface from these fair ounces, and to melt the same in a rude mass. If your hunger of gold be so insatiable that, only for the desire you have thereto, you disquiet so many nations, and you, yourselves, also sustain so many calamities and incommodities, lying, like banished men, out of your own country, I will shew you a region flowing with gold, where you may satisfy your ra

vening appetites: but you must attempt the thing with a greater power, for it standeth you in hand by force of arms to overcome kings of great puissance, and rigorous defenders of their dominions. For, beside other, the great king Tumanama will come forth against you, whose kingdom is most rich with gold, and distant from hence only six suns, that is, six days; for they number the days by the sun.'


He, likewise, informed them that a nation of “ canibals, a fierce kind of men, devourers of man's flesh, living without laws, wandering, and without empire," would oppose their progress, for they also were desirous of gold, and had subdued the original inhabitants in the vicinity of the mines, whom they had also compelled to labour in digging and working the metal into plates, and various images. These articles the cannibals exchanged with the surrounding nations for their various manufactures, and for "prisoners taken in warre, which they buie to eat," as the barrenness of their mountains supplied them with but very little food.

"This journey, therefore, continued the prince, must be made open by force of men; and when you are passing over those mountains (pointing with his finger toward the south mountains), you shall see another sea, where they sail with ships, as big as yours (meaning the Caranels) using both sails and oars, as you do, although the men be naked, as we are. All the way the water runneth from the mountains, and all that side lying toward the south bringeth forth gold abun dantly."

The Spaniards listened attentively to this relation, and the young prince offered to become their conductor, on condition that a thousand Christian men should unite with the warriors of his nation to rid them of their enemies. Thus were the valuable mines of Mexico first introduced to the notice of the Spaniards; and thus they gained intelligence of the existence of the Southern Ocean. The smallness of their number prevented them from commencing their march immediately; but Vasco Nunez placing reliance on his own skill, and the eagerness of his followers to gather the promised harvest of wealth, collected an army of one hundred and ninety men, with which, and his dogs (for the Spaniards constantly employed bloodhounds in their pursuit of the natives), he hoped to conquer all who opposed him. This, certainly, appears to have been not only a bold, but a desperate undertaking; yet, when it is considered that he placed great confidence in the constant wars between the different nations, and the readiness with which any one state would join the Spaniards against their immediate neighbours, together with the terror inspired by the fire-arms of the Europeans, it considerably lessens the dangers attendant on the

enterprise. Nevertheless, the scheme shewed great ability and courage in the leader who planned and executed it; for, after extreme toil, and enduring almost every species of distress, Vasco arrived at the summit of the mountains, and beheld the South Sea (it was in this voyage he discovered the colony of negroes). The view of the Southern Ocean was not gained, however, without several battles and the slaughter of many hundred Indians, for the poor creatures, as soon as they heard the noise of the 'hargabusies,' believed that the Spaniards carried thunder and lightning, which they were empowered to hurl at their foes, and instantly fled. In one battle, it is related

"Our men, following them in the chase, hewed them in pieces, as. the butchers do flesh in the shambles; from one, an arm; from another, a leg; from him, a buttock; from another, a shoulder; and from some, the neck from the body, at one stroke. Thus, six hundred of them, with their king, were slain like brute beasts."

Vasco appears to have been politic, notwithstanding, for he gained the friendship of most of the powerful chiefs, and they rendered him very great service in collecting gold and pearls, The immense treasure gathered on this occasion, and by so small a number of hands, is certainly surprising. The kings, with whose regions he did not interfere, contributed according to their power, sending dishes of pure gold, besides vast quantities, unwrought, accompanied with messages of thanks for having subdued the other kingdoms, and restored tranquillity to the land. Wherever they bent their footsteps, still gold poured in upon them; and though, at times, destitute of food, and nearly perishing with hunger, yet they patiently endured every hardship, many of them even to death. Vasco returned to Darien after exhorting the Indians to persevere in their fidelity to the Christian monarch. His success procured him the notice and patronage of the court of Spain; he had hitherto usurped his authority, but now it was officially conferred upon him, and he certainly appears to have been indefatigable in prosecuting discoveries and conquests, and had the talent of enforcing the most unlimited obedience. The cruelties practised on these occasions, for the purpose of striking terror into the inhabitants, were barbarous in the extreme; nor did they fail in their effects, for the simple natives viewed the leader as a being expressly endowed with supernatural power to scourge the earth. Some were burned to death; others torn to pieces by the dogs. It is said, that the dogs ran

Upon the inhabitants, armed after their manner, with no less fierceness than if they were harts or wild boars, if the Spaniards do but only point toward them with their fingers; insomuch,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »