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from the cavern only in the night, for the sight of the sun was fatal to them, producing wonderful transformations. One of their number having lingered on a river's bank, where he was fishing, until the sun had risen, was turned into a bird of melodious note, which yearly, about the time of his transformation, is heard singing plaintively in the night, bewailing his misfortune. This is the same bird which Columbus mistook for a nightingale.
When the human race at length emerged from the cave, they for some time wandered about disconsolately without females, until coming near a small lake, they beheld certain animals among the branches of the trees, which proved to be women. On attempting to catch them, however, they were found to be as slippery as eels, so that it was impossible to hold them, until they employed certain men whose hands had been rendered rough by a kind of leprosy. These succeeded in securing four of them; and from these slippery females the world was peopled.
Like most savage nations, they had a tradition concerning the deluge, equally fanciful with the preceding. They said that there once lived in the island a mighty cacique, whose only son conspiring against him, he slew him. He afterwards preserved his bones in a gourd, as was the custom of the natives with the remains of their friends. On a subsequent day, the cacique and his wife opened the gourd to contemplate the bones of their son, when, to their surprise, several fish leaped out. Upon this the discreet cacique closed the gourd and placed it on the top of his hut, boasting that he had the sea shut up within it, and could have fish whenever he pleased. Four brothers, however, children of the
same birth, and curious intermeddlers, hearing of this gourd, came during the absence of the cacique to peep into it. In their carelessness they suffered it to fall upon the ground, where it was dashed to pieces; when, lo! to their astonishment and dismay, there issued forth a mighty flood, with dolphins and sharks, and tumbling porpoises, and great spouting whales; and the water spread until it overflowed the earth, and formed the ocean, leaving only the tops of the mountains uncovered, which are the present islands.
They had singular modes of treating the dying and the dead. When the life of a cacique was despaired of, they strangled him out of a principle of respect, rather than suffer him to die like the vulgar. Common people, in like situation, were extended in their hammocks, bread and water placed beside them, and they were then abandoned to die in solitude. Sometimes they were carried to the cacique, and if he permitted them the distinction, they were strangled. The body of the deceased was sometimes consumed with fire in his habitation; sometimes the bones were retained, or the head, or à limb, and treasured up among the family reliques. After the death of a cacique, his body was opened, dried at a fire, and preserved.
They had confused notions of the existence of the soul when separated from the body, and believed in apparitions of the deceased. They had an idea that the spirits of good men after death were reunited to the spirits of those they had most loved, and to those of their ancestors: they were transported to a happy region, generally supposed to be near a lake, in the beautiful province of Xaragua, in the western
part of the island. Here they lived in shady and blooming bowers, with lovely females, and banqueted on delicious fruits.
The dances to which the natives were so addicted were not mere idle pastimes, but were often ceremonials of a religious and mystic nature. In these were typified their historical events and their projected enterprises, whether of war or hunting. They were performed to the chant of certain metres and ballads handed down from generation to generation; some of a sacred character, containing their notions of theology and their religious fables; others heroic and historic, rehearsing the deeds of their ancestors. These rhymes they called areytos, and sang them to the accompaniment of rude timbrels made from the shells of certain fishes, or to the sound of a drum made from a hollow tree.
The natives appeared to the Spaniards to be an idle and improvident race, and indifferent to most of the objects of human anxiety and toil. They were impatient of all kinds of labour, scarcely giving themselves the trouble to cultivate the yuca root, the maize, and the sweet potatoe, which formed their main articles of food. They loitered away existence under the shade of their trees, or amusing themselves occasionally with their games and dances.
In fact, they were destitute of all powerful motives to toil, being free from most of those wants which doom mankind, in civilized life, and in less genial climes, to incessant labour. In the soft region of the vega, the circling seasons brought each its store of fruits, and while some were gathered in full maturity, others were ripening on the boughs,
and buds and blossoms gave promise of still succeeding abundance. What need was there of garnering up and anxiously providing for coming days, to men who lived amid a perpetual harvest? What need, too, of toilfully spinning or labouring at the loom, where a genial temperature prevailed throughout the year, and neither nature nor custom prescribed the necessity of clothing.
The hospitality which characterises men in such a simple and easy mode of existence was evinced towards Columbus and his followers, during their sojourn in the vega. Wherever they went it was a continual scene of festivity and rejoicing, and the natives hastened from all parts to lay the treasures of their groves, and streams, and mountains, at the feet of beings whom they still considered as descended from the skies, to bring blessings to their island.
As we accompany Columbus, in imagination, on his return to the harbour, over the rocky height from whence the vega first broke upon the eye of the Spaniards, we cannot help pausing, to cast back a look of mingled pity and admiration over this beautiful but devoted region. The dream of natural liberty and ignorant content was as yet unbroken, but the fiat had gone forth; the white man had penetrated into the land; avarice, and pride, and ambition, and sordid care, and pining labour, were soon to follow, and the indolent paradise of the Indian was about to disappear for ever.
Sickness and Discontent at the Settlement of Isabella— Preparations of Columbus for a Voyage to Cuba. [1494.]
COLUMBUS had scarcely returned to the harbour, when a messenger arrived from Pedro Margarite, the commander at Fort St. Thomas, informing him that the Indians of the vicinity had abandoned their villages, and broken off all intercourse, and that he understood Caonabo was assembling his warriors to attack the fortress. From what the admiral had seen of the Indians in the interior, and the awe in which they stood of the white men and their horses, he felt little apprehensions from their hostility, and contented himself with sending a reinforcement of twenty men to the fortress, and detaching thirty more to open the road between it and the port. What gave him most anxiety was the distress which continued to increase in the settlement. The heat and humidity of the climate, which gave wonderful fecundity to the soil, and rapid growth to all European vegetables, were fatal to the people. The exhalations from undrained marshes, and a vast con.. tinuity of forest, and the action of the sun upon a reeking vegetable soil, produced intermittent fevers, and those other violent maladies so trying to European constitutions in the uncultivated countries