Pedro Arias, the governor of what is supposed to be a continent, had hardly left Spain and landed at Darien, with the larger number of his men, than I received news of the arrival at Court of Andreas Morales. This man, who is a ship’s pilot, familiar with these coasts, came on business. Morales had carefully and attentively explored the land supposed to be a continent, as well as the neighbouring islands and the interior of Hispaniola. He was commissioned by the brother of Nicholas Ovando, Grand Commander of the Order of Alcantara and governor of the island, to explore Hispaniola. He was chosen because of his superior knowledge and also because he was better equipped than others to fulfil that mission. He has moreover compiled itineraries and maps, in which everybody who understands the question has confidence. Morales came to see me, as all those who come back from the ocean habitually do. Let us now examine the heretofore unknown particulars I have learned from him and from several others. A detailed description of Hispaniola may serve as an introduction to this narrative, for is not Hispaniola the capital and the market where the most precious gifts of the ocean accumulate?
Round about the island lie a thousand and more Nereid nymphs, fair, graceful, and elegant, serving as its ornaments like to another Tethys, their queen and their mother. By Nereids I mean to say the islands scattered round about Hispaniola, concerning which we shall give some brief information. Afterwards will come the island of pearls which our compatriots call Rico, and which lies in the gulf of San Miguel in the South Sea. It has already been explored and marvellous things found; and yet more wonderful are promised for the future, for its brilliant pearls are worthy to figure in the necklaces, bracelets, and crown of a Cleopatra. It will not be out of place at the close of this narrative to say something of the shells which produce these pearls. Let us now come to this elysian Hispaniola, and begin by explaining its name; after which we will describe its conformation, its harbours, climate, and conclude by the divisions of its territory.
We have spoken in our First Decade of the island of Matanino, a word pronounced with the accent on the last syllable. Not to return too often to the same subject, Your Holiness will note the accent marking all these native words is placed where it should fall. It is claimed that the first inhabitants of Hispaniola were islanders of Matanino, who had been driven from that country by hostile factions and had arrived there in their canoes dug out of a single tree-trunk, by which I mean to say their barques. Thus did Dardanus arrive from Corythus and Teucer from Crete, in Asia, in the region later called the Trojade. Thus did the Tyrians and the Sidonians, under the leadership of the fabulous Dido, reach the coasts of Africa. The people of Matanino, expelled from their homes,