Immagini della pagina

chains of rocky and steril mountains, scantily clothed with pines. The very name of the country bespoke the nature of the soil; Cibao, in the language of the natives, signifying a stone. But what consoled the Spaniards for the asperity of the soil, was to observe particles of gold among the sands of the streams, which they regarded as earnests of the wealth locked up in the mountains.

Choosing a situation in a neighbourhood that seemed to abound in mines, Columbus began to build a fortress, to which he gave the name of St. Thomas, intended as a pleasant, though pious, reproof of Firmin Cado and his doubting adherents, who had refused to believe that the island contained gold, until they should behold it with their eyes, and touch it with their hands.

While the admiral remained superintending the building of the fortress, he despatched a young cavalier of Madrid, named Juan de Luxan, with a small band of armed men, to explore the province. Luxan returned, after a few days, with the most satisfactory accounts. He found many parts of Cibao more capable of cultivation than those that had been seen by the admiral. The forests appeared to abound with spices; the trees were overrun with vines bearing clusters of grapes of pleasant flavour; while every valley and glen had its stream, yielding more or less gold, and showing the universal prevalence of that precious metal.

The natives of the surrounding country likewise flocked to the fortress of St. Thomas, bringing gold to exchange for European trinkets. One old man brought two pieces of virgin ore weighing an ounce, and thought himself richly repaid on receiving a

hawk's bell. On remarking the admiration of the admiral at the size of these specimens, he assured him that in his country, which lay at half a day's distance, pieces were found as big as an orange. Others spoke of masses of ore as large as the head of a child, to be met with in their neighbourhood. As usual, however, these golden tracts were always in some remote valley, or along some rugged and sequestered stream; and the wealthiest spot was sure to lie at the greatest distance,-for the land of promise is ever beyond the mountain.


Customs and Characteristics of the Natives.

THE fortress of St. Thomas being nearly completed, Columbus left it in command of Pedro Margarite, a native of Catalonia, and knight of the order of Santiago, with a garrison of fifty-six men, and set out on his return to Isabella. He paused for a time in the vega to establish routes between the fortress and the harbour; during which time he sojourned in the villages, that his men might become accustomed to the food of the natives, and that a mutual good-will might grow up between them.

Columbus had already discovered the error of one of his opinions concerning these islanders formed during his first voyage. They were not so entirely pacific, nor so ignorant of warlike arts, as he had imagined. The casual descents of the Caribs had compelled the inhabitants of the sea-coast to acquaint themselves with the use of arms; and Caonabo had introduced something of his own warlike spirit into the centre of the island. Yet, generally speaking, the habits of the people were mild and gentle. Their religious creed was of a vague yet simple nature. They believed in one Supreme Being, who inhabited the sky, who was immortal, omnipotent, and invisible; to whom they ascribed an origin, having had a mother, but no father. They never addressed

[ocr errors]

their worship directly to him, but to inferior deities, called zemes, a kind of messengers or mediators. Each cacique, each family, and each individual, had a particular zemi as a tutelary or protecting genius; whose image, generally of a hideous form, was placed about their houses, carved on their furniture, and sometimes bound to their foreheads when they went to battle. They believed their zemes to be transferable, with all their beneficial powers; they, therefore, often stole them from each other, and, when the Spaniards arrived, hid them away, lest they should be taken by the strangers.

They believed that these zemes presided over every object in nature. Some had sway over the elements, causing steril or abundant years, sending whirlwinds and tempests of rain and thunder, or sweet and temperate breezes, and prolific showers. Some governed the seas and forests, the springs and fountains, like the nereids, the dryads, and satyrs of antiquity. They gave success in hunting and fishing; they guided the mountain streams into safe channels, leading them to meander peacefully through the plains; or, if incensed, they caused them to burst forth into floods and torrents, inundating and laying waste the valleys.

The Indians were well acquainted with the medicinal properties of trees and vegetables. Their butios, or priests, acted as physicians, curing diseases with simples, but making use of many mysterious rites; chanting and burning a light in the chamber of the patient, and pretending to exorcise the malady, and to send it to the sea or to the mountain. They practised also many deceptions, making the idols to

speak with oracular voice, to enforce the orders of the caciques.

Once a year each cacique held a festival in honour of his zemi, when his subjects formed a procession to the temple; the married men and women decorated with their most precious ornaments; the young females entirely naked, carrying baskets of cakes, ornamented with flowers, and singing as they advanced, while the cacique beat time on an Indian drum. After the cakes had been offered to the zemi they were broken and distributed among the people, to be preserved in their houses as charms against all adverse accidents. The young females then danced to the cadence of songs in praise of their deities, and of the heroic actions of their ancient caciques; and the whole ceremony concluded by a grand invocation to the zemi to watch over and protect the nation.

The natives believed that their island of Hayti was the earliest part of creation, and that the sun and moon issued out of one of its caverns to give light to the universe. This cavern still exists near Cape François, and the hole in the roof may still be seen from whence the Indians believed the sun and moon had sallied forth to take their places in the sky. It was consecrated as a kind of temple; two idols were placed in it, and the walls were decorated with green branches. In times of great drought the natives made pilgrimages and processions to it, with songs and dances, and offerings of fruit and flowers.

They ascribed to another cavern the origin of the human race, believing that the large men issued forth from a great aperture, but the little men from a little cranny. For a long time they dared venture

« IndietroContinua »