De Orbe Novo, Volume 1 (of 2) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 449 pages of information about De Orbe Novo, Volume 1 (of 2).

Vasco writes that the cacique Bononiama has disclosed to him many secrets concerning the wealth of the region, which he reserves for later, as he does not wish to speak of them in his letter.  What he means by such exaggeration and reticence I do not understand.  He seems to promise a great deal, and I think his promises warrant hope of great riches; moreover, the Spaniards have never entered a native house without finding either cuirasses and breast ornaments of gold, or necklaces and bracelets of the same metal.  If anyone wishing to collect iron should march with a troop of determined men through Italy or Spain, what iron articles would they find in the houses?  In one a cooking stove, in another a boiler, elsewhere a tripod standing before the fire, and spits for cooking.  He would everywhere find iron utensils, and could procure a large quantity of the metal.  From which he would conclude that iron abounded in the country.  Now the natives of the New World set no more value on gold than we do on iron ore.  All these particulars, Most Holy Father, have been furnished me either by the letters of Vasco Nunez and his companions in arms, or by verbal report.  Their search for gold mines has produced no serious result, for out of ninety men he took with him to Darien, he has never had more than seventy or at most eighty under his immediate orders; the others having been left behind in the dwellings of the caciques.

Those who succumbed most easily to sickness were the men just arrived from Hispaniola; they could not put up with such hardships, nor content their stomachs, accustomed to better food, with the native bread, wild herbs without salt, and river water that was not always even wholesome.  The veterans of Darien were more inured to all these ills, and better able to resist extreme hunger.  Thus Vasco gaily boasts that he has kept a longer and more rigorous Lent than Your Holiness, following the decrees of your predecessors, for it has lasted uninterruptedly for four years; during which time he and his men have lived upon the products of the earth, the fruits of trees, and even of them there was not always enough.  Rarely did they eat fish and still more rarely meat, and their wretchedness reached such a point that they were obliged to eat sick dogs, nauseous toads, and other similar food, esteeming themselves fortunate when they found even such.  I have already described all these miseries.  I call “veterans of Darien” the first comers who established themselves in this country under the leadership of Nicuesa and Hojeda, of whom there remains but a small number.  But let this now suffice, and let us bring back Vasco and the veterans from their expedition across the great mountain-chain.


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