What do you think of Christopher Columbus?

What do you think of Christopher Columbus? When we first put in at the

island which I have just said was named
Juana [i.e, Cuba], I proceeded along its shore westward a little way, and
found it so large (for no end to it appeared) that I believed it to be no
island but the continental province of Cathay [i.e., China]; without
seeing, however, any towns or cities situated in its coastal parts except
a few villages and rustic farms, with whose inhabitants I could not talk
because they took to flight as soon as they saw us.

What do you think of Christopher Columbus?

I went on further, thinking that I would find a city or some farmhouses.
Finally, seeing that nothing new turned up, though we had gone far
enough, and that this course was carrying us off to the north (a thing
which I myself wanted to avoid, for winter prevailed on those lands, and
it was my hope to hasten to the south) and since the winds too were
favorable to our desires, I concluded that no other means of
accomplishment offered, and thus reversing my course I returned to a
certain harbor which I had marked and from that point sent ashore two
men of our number to find out whether there was a king in that province,
or any cities. These men proceeded afoot for three days and found
countless people and inhabited places, but all small and without any
government; and therefore they returned.

In the meantime I had already learned from some Indians whom I had
taken aboard at this same place that this province was in fact an island;
and so I went on toward the east, always skirting close to its shores, for
322 miles, where is the extremity of the island. From this point I
observed another island to eastward, 54 miles from this island Juana,
which I immediately called Hispana [i.e., Hispaniola (San Domingo or
Haiti). Columbus’ estimates of these islands’ sizes were mistaken]. I
withdrew to it, and set my course along its northern coast, as I had at
Juana, to the east for 564 miles.

The before-mentioned island Juana and the other islands of the region,
too, are as fertile as they can be. This one is surrounded by harbors,
numerous, very safe and broad, and not to be compared with any others
that I have seen anywhere; many large, wholesome rivers flow through
this land; and there are also many very lofty mountains in it. All these
islands are most beautiful and distinguished by various forms; one can
travel through them, and they are full of trees of the greatest variety,
which brush at the stars; and I believe they never lose their foliage. At
any rate, I found them as green and beautiful as they usually are in the
month of May in Spain; some of them were in bloom, some loaded with
fruit, some flourished in one state, others in the other, each according to
its kind; the nightingale was singing and there were countless other
birds of many kinds in the month of November when I myself was
making my way through them.

What do you think of Christopher Columbus?

There are furthermore, in the beforementioned island Juana, seven or eight kinds of palm trees, which
easily surpass ours in height and beauty, as do all the other trees,
grasses, and fruits. There are also remarkable pines, vast fields and
meadows, many kinds of birds, many kinds of honey, and many kinds of
metals, except iron.
There are moreover in that island which I said above was called
Hispaniola fine, high mountains, broad stretches of country, forests, and
extremely fruitful fields excellently adapted for sowing, grazing, and
building dwelling houses. The convenience and superiority of the
harbors in this island and its wealth in rivers, joined with
wholesomeness for man, is such as to surpass belief unless one has
seen them. The trees, coverage, and fruits of this island are very
different from those of Juana. Besides, this Hispaniola is rich in various
kinds of spice and in gold and mines, and its inhabitants (and those of
all the others which I saw, and of which I have knowledge) of either sex
always go as naked as when they were born, except some women who
cover their private parts with a leaf or a branch of some sort, or with a
skirt of cotton which they themselves prepare for the purpose.

They all of them lack, as I said above, iron of whatever kind, as well as
arms, for these are unknown to them; nor are they fitted for weapons,
not because of any bodily deformity, for they are well built, but in that
they are timid and fearful. However, instead of arms they carry reeds
baked in the sun, in the roots of which they fasten a sort of spearhead
made of dry wood and sharpened to a point. And they do not dare to
use these at close quarters; for it often happened that when I had sent
two or three of my men to certain farmhouses to talk with their
inhabitants a closely packed body of Indians would come out and when
they saw our men approach they would quickly take flight, children
deserted by father and vice versa; and that too not that any hurt or injury
had been brought upon a single one of them; on the contrary, whenever
I approached any of them and whenever I could talk with any of them I
was generous in giving them whatever I had, cloth and very many other
things, without any return being made to me; but they are naturally
fearful and timid.

However when they see that they are safe and all fear has been
dispelled they are exceedingly straightforward and trustworthy and most
liberal with all that they have; none of them denies to the asker anything
that he possesses; on the contrary they themselves invite us to ask for
it. They exhibit great affection to all and always give much for little,
content with very little or nothing in return. However I forbade such
insignificant and valueless things to be given to them, as pieces of
platters, dishes, and glass, or again nails and lace points [i.e., the tips of
the laces used to secure hose to the upper garments worn by the
Europeans] . . . I forbade this, because it was clearly unjust, and gave
them free many pretty and acceptable objects that I had brought with
me, in order more easily to win them over to me and that they might
become Christians, and be inclined to love our King and Queen and
Prince and all the peoples of Spain, and to make them diligent to seek
out and accumulate and exchange with us the articles in which they
abound and which we greatly need.

They know nothing of idolatry; on the contrary they confidently believe
that all might, all power, all good things, in fact, are in the heavens; they
thought that I too had descended thence with these ships and sailors,
and in that opinion I was received everywhere after they had rid
themselves of fear. Nor are they slow or ignorant; on the contrary, they
are of the highest and keenest wit; and the men who navigate that sea
give an admirable account of each detail; but they have never seen men
wearing clothes, or ships of this sort. As soon as I came to that sea I
forcibly seized some Indians from the first island, so that they might
learn from us and similarly teach us the things of which they had
knowledge in those parts; and it came out just as I had hoped; for we
quickly taught them, and then they us, by gestures and signs; finally
they understood by means of words, and it paid us well to have them.
The ones who now go with me persist in the belief that I leaped down
out of the skies, although they have associated with us for a long time
and are still doing so today; and they were the first to announce that fact
wherever we landed, some of them calling out loudly to the others,
“Come, come, and you will see the men from heaven.” And so women
as well as men, children and grown people, youths and old men, laying
aside the fear they had conceived shortly before, vied with each other in
coming to look at us, the great crowd of them clogging the road, some
bringing food, others drink, with the greatest manifestation of affection
and unbelievable good will.

In all those islands, as I understood it, each man is content with only
one wife, except the princes or kings, who may have twenty. The
women seem to do more work than the men. I could not clearly make
out whether they have private property, for I noted that what an
individual had he shared with others, especially food, meats, and the
like. I did not find any monsters among them, as many expected, but
men of great dignity and kindliness.