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).

There is another tree called the hagua, whose fruit when green exudes a juice which dyes so fast everything it touches a greenish black, that no washing can destroy this colour within twenty days.  When the fruit ripens the juice no longer has this quality; it becomes edible and has a pleasant taste.  There is an herb also, whose smoke produces death, like the wood which we have mentioned.  Some caciques had decided to kill the Spaniards; but not daring to attack them openly, they planned to place numerous bunches of this herb in their houses and set fire to them, so that the Spaniards, who came to extinguish the flames, would breathe in the smoke with the germs of a fatal malady.  This plot, however, was circumvented and the instigators of the crime were punished.

Since Your Holiness has deigned to write that you are interested in everything related concerning the new continent, let us now insert, irrespective of method, a number of facts.  We have sufficiently explained how maize, agoes, yucca, potatoes, and other edible roots are sown, cultivated, and used.  But we have not yet related how the Indians learned the properties of these plants; and it is that which we shall now explain.


It is said that the early inhabitants of the islands subsisted for a long time upon roots and palms and magueys.  The maguey[1] is a plant belonging to the class vulgarly called evergreen.

[Note 1:  ..._magueiorum quae est herba, sedo sive aizoo, quam vulgus sempervivam appellat, similis_. (Jovis-barba, joubarbe, etc.)]

The roots of guiega are round like those of our mushrooms, and somewhat larger.  The islanders also eat guaieros, which resemble our parsnips; cibaios, which are like nuts; cibaioes and macoanes, both similar to the onion, and many other roots.  It is related that some years later, a bovite, i.e., a learned old man, having remarked a shrub similar to fennel growing upon a bank, transplanted it and developed therefrom a garden plant.  The earliest islanders, who ate raw yucca, died early; but as the taste is exquisite, they resolved to try using it in different ways; boiled or roasted this plant is less dangerous.  It finally came to be understood that the juice was poisonous; extracting this juice, they made from the cooked flour cazabi, a bread better suited to human stomachs than wheat bread, because it is more easily digested.  The same was the case with other food stuffs and maize, which they chose amongst the natural products.  Thus it was that Ceres discovered barley and other cereals amongst the seeds, mixed with slime, brought down by the high Nile from the mountains of Ethiopia and deposited on the plain when the waters receded, and propagated their culture.

Project Gutenberg
De Orbe Novo, Volume 1 (of 2) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook