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Of the Fruits, Trees and Animals that are found at Hispaniola.
THE spacious fields of this island commonly extend themselves to the length of five or six leagues, the beauty whereof is so pleasing to the eye that, together with the great variety of their natural productions, they infinitely applaud and captivate the senses of the contemplator. For here at once they not only, with diversity of objects, recreate the sight, but, with many of the same, also please the smell, and, with most, contribute abundancy of delights to the taste. With sundry diversities also they flatter and excite the appetite; but more especially with the multitude of oranges and lemons, here growing both sweet and sour, and those that participate of both tastes, and are only pleasantly tart. Besides which here abundantly grow several other sorts of the same fruit, such as are called citrons, toronjas and limes, in English not improperly called crab-lemons. True it is that, as to the lemons, they do not exceed here the bigness of a hen's egg; which smallness distinguishes them from those of Spain most frequently used in these our Northern countries. The date-trees, which here are seen to cover the whole extent of very spacious plains, are exceedingly tall in their proportion, which notwithstanding does not offend but rather delight the view. Their height is observed to be from 150 to 200 feet, being wholly destitute of branches to the very tops. Here it is there grows a certain pleasant white substance not unlike that of white cabbage, whence the branches and leaves sprout, and in which also the seed or dates are contained.
Every month one of those branches falls to the ground, and at the same time another sprouts out. But the seed ripens only once in the year. The dates are food extremely coveted by the hedgehogs. The white substance growing at the top of the tree is used by the Spaniards after the same manner for common sustenance as cabbage in Europe, they cutting it into slices, and boiling it in their ollas, or stews, with all sorts of meat. The leaves of this sort of date-tree are seven or eight foot in length and three or four in breadth, being very fit to cover houses with. For they defend from rain equally with the best tiles, though never so rudely huddled together. They make use of them also to wrap up smoked flesh with, and to make a certain sort of buckets wherewith to carry water, though no longer durable than the space of six, seven, or eight days. The cabbages of these trees, for so we may call them, are of a greenish colour on the outside, though inwardly very white, whence may be separated a sort of rind, which is very like parchment, being fit to write upon, as we do upon paper. The bodies of these trees are of an huge bulk or thickness, which two men can hardly compass with their arms. And yet they cannot properly be termed woody, but only three or four inches deep in thickness, all the rest of the internal part being very soft, insomuch that, paring off those three or four inches of woody substance, the remaining part of the body may be sliced like new cheese. They wound them three or four foot above the root, and, making an incision or broach in the body, thence gently distils a sort of liquor, which in short time by fermentation becomes as strong as the richest wine, and which easily inebriates if not used with moderation. The French call this sort of palm-trees Frank-palms, and they only grow, both here and elsewhere, in saltish grounds.
Besides these palm-trees of which we have made mention, there are also in Hispaniola four other species of palms, which are distinguished by the names of Latanier, Palma Espinosa or Prickle-palm, Palma à Chapelet or Rosary-palm, Palma Vinosa or Wine-palm. The Latanier-palm is not so tall as the Wine-palm, although it has almost the same shape, only that the leaves are very like the fans our women use. They grow mostly in gravelly and sandy ground, their circumference being of seven foot more or less. The body has many prickles or thorns of the length of half a foot, very sharp and pungent. It produces its seed after the same manner as that above-mentioned, which likewise serves for food to the wild beasts.
Another sort of these palm-trees is called Prickle-palm, as we said before, by reason it is infinitely full of prickles, from the root to the very leaves thereof, much more than the precedent. With these prickles some of the barbarous Indians torment their prisoners of war, whom they take in battle. They tie them to a tree, and then taking these thorns, they put them into little pellets of cotton, which they dip in oil, and thus stick them in the sides of the miserable prisoners, as thick as the bristles of a hedgehog; which of necessity cause an incredible torment to the patient. Afterwards they set them on fire, and if the tormented prisoner sings in the midst of his torments and flames, he is esteemed as a valiant and courageous soldier, who neither fears his enemies nor their torments. But if on the contrary he cries out, they esteem him but as a poltroon or coward, and unworthy of any memory. This custom was told me by an Indian, who said he had used his enemies thus oftentimes. The like cruelties to these, many Christians have seen while they lived among those barbarians. But returning to the Prickle-palm, I shall only tell you that this palm-tree is in this only different from the Latanier, that the leaves are like those of the Frank-palm. Its seed is like that of the other palm-trees, only much bigger and rounder, almost as a farthing, and inwardly full of little kernels, which are as pleasing to the taste as our walnuts in Europe. This tree grows for the most part in the marshes and low grounds of the sea coast.
The wine-palm is so called from the abundance of wine which is gathered from it. This palm grows in high and rocky mountains, not exceeding in tallness the height of forty or fifty foot, but yet of an extraordinary shape or form. For from the root to the half of its proportion, it is only three or four inches thick. But upwards, something above the two-thirds of its height, it is as big and as thick as an ordinary bucket or milk-pail. Within, it is full of a certain matter, very like the tender stalk of a white cabbage, which is very juicy of a liquor that is much pleasing to the palate. This liquor after fermentation and settling of the grounds reduces itself into a very good and clear wine, which is purchased with no great industry. For having wounded the tree with an ordinary hatchet, they make a square incision or orifice in it, through which they bruise the said matter until it be capable of being squeezed out, or expressed with the hands, they needing no other instrument than this. With the leaves they make certain vessels, not only to settle and purify the afore-mentioned liquor, but also to drink in. It bears its fruit like other palms, but of a very small shape, being not unlike cherries. The taste hereof is very good, but of dangerous consequence to the throat, where it causes huge and extreme pains, that produce malignant quinsies in them that eat it.
The Palma à Chapelet, or Rosary-palm, was thus called both by the French and Spaniards, because its seed is very fit to make rosaries or beads to say prayers upon, the beads being small, hard and capable of being easily bored for that use. This fourth species grows on the tops of the highest mountains, and is of an excessive tallness, but withal very straight, and adorned with very few leaves.
Here grows also in this island a certain sort of Apricot trees, whose fruit equals in bigness that of our ordinary melons. The colour is like ashes, and the taste the very same as that of our apricots in Europe, the inward stones of this fruit being of the bigness of a hen's egg. On these the wild boars feed very deliciously, and fatten even to admiration.
The trees called caremites are very like our pear-trees, whose fruits resemble much our Damascene plums or pruants of Europe, being of a very pleasant and agreeable taste and almost as sweet as milk. This fruit is black on the inside, and the kernels thereof, sometimes only two in number, sometimes three, others five, of the bigness of a lupin. This plum affords no less pleasant food to the wild boars than the apricots above-mentioned, only that it is not so commonly to be found upon the island, nor in such quantity as those are.
The Genipa-trees are seen everywhere all over this island, being very like our cherry-trees, although its branches are more dilated. The fruit hereof is of an ash colour, of the bigness of two fists, which interiorly is full of many prickles or points that are involved under a thin membrane or skin, the which, if not taken away at the time of eating, causes great obstructions and gripings of the belly. Before this fruit grows ripe, if pressed, it affords a juice as black as ink, being fit to write with upon paper. But the letters disappear within the space of nine days, the paper remaining as white as if it never had been written upon. The wood of this tree is very strong, solid and hard, good to build ships with, seeing it is observed to last many years in the water without putrefaction.
Besides these, divers other sorts of trees are natives of this delicious island, that produce very excellent and pleasant fruits. Of these I shall omit to name several, knowing there are entire volumes of learned authors that have both described and searched them with greater attention and curiosity than my own. Notwithstanding, I shall continue to make mention of some few more in particular. Such are the Cedars, which trees this part of the world produces in prodigious quantity. The French nation calls them Acajou; and they find them very useful for the building of ships and canoes) These canoes are like little wherry-boats, being made of one tree only, excavated, and fitted for the sea. They are withal so swift as for that very property they may be called "Neptune's post-horses." The Indians make these canoes without the use of any iron instruments, by only burning the trees at the bottom near the root, and afterwards governing the fire with such industry that nothing is burnt more than what they would have. Some of them have hatchets, made of Hint, wherewith they scrape or pare off whatsoever was burnt too far. And thus, by the sole instrument of fire, they know how to give them that shape which renders them capable of navigating threescore or fourscore leagues with ordinary security.
As to medicinal productions, here is to be found the tree that affords the gum clemi, used in our apothecaries' shops. Likewise guaiacum, or lignum sanctum, lignum aloes, or aloe-wood, cassia liguca, China-roots, with several others. The tree called mapou, besides that it is medicinal, is also used for making of canoes, as being very thick; yet is it much inferior to the acajou or cedar, as being somewhat spongy, whereby it sucks in much water, rendering it dangerous in navigation. The tree called acoma has its wood very hard and heavy, of the colour of palm. These qualities render it very fit to make oars for the sugar mills. Here are also in great quantities brasilete, or brazil-wood, and that which the Spaniards call mançanilla.
Brazil-wood is now very well known in the provinces of Holland and the Low Countries. By another name it is called by the Spaniards Lenna de Peje palo. It serves only, or chiefly, for dyeing, and what belongs to that trade. It grows abundantly along the sea coasts of this island, especially in two places called Jacmel and Jaquina. These are two commodious ports or bays, capable of receiving ships of the greatest bulk.
The tree called mançanilla, or dwarf-apple-tree,1 grows near the sea shore, being naturally so low that its branches, though never so short, always touch the water. It bears a fruit something like our sweet-scented apples, which notwithstanding is of a very venomous quality. For these apples being eaten by any person, he instantly changes colour, and such a huge thirst seizes him as all the water of the Thames cannot extinguish, he dying raving mad within a little while after. But what is more, the fish that eat, as it often happens, of this fruit are also poisonous. This tree affords also a liquor, both thick and white, like the fig-tree, which, if touched by the hand, raises blisters upon the skin, and these are so red in colour as if it had been deeply scalded with hot water. One day being hugely tormented with mosquitos or gnats, and as yet unacquainted with the nature of this tree, I cut a branch thereof, to serve me instead of a fan, but all my face swelled the next day and filled with blisters, as if it were burnt to such a degree that I was blind for three days.
Ycao is the name of another sort of tree, so called by the Spaniards, which grows by the sides of rivers. This bears a certain fruit, not unlike our bullace or damson plums. And this food is extremely coveted by the wild boar, when at its perfect maturity, with which they fatten as much as our hogs with the sweetest acorns of Spain. These trees love sandy ground, yet are so low that, their branches being very large, they take up a great circumference, almost couched upon the ground. The trees named Abelcoses bear fruit of like colour with the Ycaos above-mentioned, but of the bigness of melons, the seeds or kernels being as big as eggs. The substance of this fruit is yellow, and of a pleasant taste, which the poorest among the French eat instead of bread, the wild boar not caring at all for this fruit. These trees grow very tall and thick, being somewhat like our largest sort of pear-trees.
As to the insects which this island produces, I shall only take notice of three sorts of flies, which excessively torment all human bodies, but more especially such as never before, or but a little while, were acquainted with these countries. The first sort of these flies are as big as our common horse-flies in Europe. And these, darting themselves upon men's bodies, there stick and suck their blood till they can no longer fly. Their importunity obliges to make almost continual use of branches of trees wherewith to fan them away. The Spaniards in those parts call them mosquitos or gnats, but the French give them the name of marauguines. The second sort of these insects is no bigger than a grain of sand. These make no buzzing noise, as the preceding species does, for which reason it is less avoidable, as being able also through its smallness to penetrate the finest linen or cloth. The hunters are forced to anoint their faces with hogs'-grease, thereby to defend themselves from the stings of these little animals. By night, in their huts or cottages, they constantly for the same purpose burn the leaves of tobacco, without which smoke they were not able to rest. True it is that in the daytime they are not very troublesome, if any wind be stirring; for this, though never so little, causes them to dissipate. The gnats of the third species exceed not the bigness of a grain of mustard.2 Their colour is red. These sting not at all, but bite so sharply upon the flesh as to create little ulcers therein. Whence it often comes that the face swells and is rendered hideous to the view, through this inconvenience. These are chiefly troublesome by day, even from the beginning of the morning until sun-setting, after which time they take their rest, and permit human bodies to do the same. The Spaniards gave these insects the name of rojados, and the French that of calarodes.
The insects which the Spaniards call cochinillas and the English glow-worms are also to be found in these parts. These are very like such as we have in Europe, unless that they are somewhat bigger and longer than ours. They have two little specks on their heads, which by night give so much light that three or four of those animals, being together upon a tree, it is not discernible at a distance from a bright shining fire. I had on a certain time at once three of these cochinillas in my cottage, which there continued until past midnight, shining so brightly that without any other light I could easily read in any book, although of never so small a print. I attempted to bring some of these insects into Europe, when I came from those parts, but as soon as they came into a colder climate they died by the way. They lost also their shining on the change of air, even before their death. This shining is so great, according to what I have related, that the Spaniards with great reason may well call them from their luminous quality moscas de fuego, that is to say fire-flies.
There be also in Hispaniola an excessive number of grillones or crickets. These are of an extraordinary magnitude, if compared to ours, and so full of noise that they are ready to burst themselves with singing, if any person comes near them. Here is no lesser number of reptiles, such as serpents and others, but by a particular providence of the Creator these have no poison. Neither do they any other harm than to what fowl they can catch, but more especially to pullets, pigeons and others of this kind. Ofttimes these serpents or snakes are useful in houses to cleanse them of rats and mice. For with great cunning they counterfeit their shrieks, and hereby both deceive and catch them at their pleasure. Having taken them, they in no wise eat the guts of these vermin, but only suck their blood at first. Afterwards throwing away the guts, they swallow almost entire the rest of the body, which, as it should seem, they readily digest into soft excrements, of which they discharge their bellies. Another sort of reptiles belonging to this island is called by the name of caçadores de moscas, or fly-catchers. This name was given to this reptile by the Spaniards, by reason they never could experience it lived upon any other food than flies. Hence it cannot be said this creature causes any harm to the inhabitants, but rather benefit, seeing it consumes by its continual exercise of hunting the vexatious and troublesome flies.
Land-tortoises here are also in great quantities. They mostly breed in mud, and fields that are overflown with water. The inhabitants eat them, and testify they are very good food. But a sort of spider which is here found is very hideous. These are as big as an ordinary egg, and their feet as long as those of the biggest sea-crabs. Withal, they are very hairy, and have four black teeth, like those of a rabbit, both in bigness and shape. Notwithstanding, their bites are not venomous, although they can bite very sharply, and do use it very commonly. They breed for the most part in the roofs of houses. This island also is not free from the insect called in Latin millepes, and in Greek scolopendria, or "Many-feet": neither is it void of scorpions. Yet, by the providence of nature, neither the one nor the other bears the least suspicion of poison. For although they cease not to bite, yet their wounds require not the application of any medicament for their cure. And although their bites cause some inflammation and swelling at the beginning, however these symptoms disappear of their own accord. Thus in the whole circumference of Hispaniola, no animal is found that produces the least harm with its venom.
After the insects above-mentioned, I shall not omit to say something of that terrible beast called cayman. This is a certain species of crocodile, wherewith this island very plentifully abounds. Among these caymans some are found to be of a corpulency very horrible to the sight. Certain it is, that such have been seen as had no less than threescore and ten foot in length, and twelve in breadth. Yet more marvellous than their bulk is their cunning and subtlety wherewith they purchase their food. Being hungry, they place themselves near the sides of rivers, more especially at the fords, where cattle come to drink or wade over. Here they lie without any motion, nor stirring any part of their body, resembling an old tree fallen into the river, only floating upon the waters, whither these will carry them. Yet they recede not far from the bank-sides, but continually lurk in the same place, waiting till some wild boar or salvage cow comes to drink or refresh themselves at that place. At which point of time, with huge activity, they assault them, and seizing on them with no less fierceness, they drag the prey into the water and there stifle it. But what is more worthy admiration is, that three or four days before the caymans go upon this design, they eat nothing at all. But, diving into the river, they swallow one or two hundred-weight of stones, such as they can find. With these they render themselves more heavy than before, and make addition to their natural strength (which in this animal is very great), thereby to render their assault the more terrible and secure. The prey being thus stilled, they suffer it to lie four or five days under water untouched. For they could not eat the least bit thereof, unless half rotten. But when it is arrived at such a degree of putrefaction as is most pleasing to their palate, they devour it with great appetite and voracity. If they can lay hold on any hides of beasts, such as the inhabitants ofttimes place in the fields for drying in the sun, they drag them into the water. Here they leave them for some days, well loaden with stones, till the hair falls off. Then they eat them with no less appetite than they would the animals themselves, could they catch them. I have seen myself, many times, like things to these I have related. But besides my own experience, many writers of natural things have made entire treatises of these animals, describing not only their shape, magnitude and other qualities, but also their voracity and brutish inclinations which, as I have told you, are very strange. A certain person of good reputation and credit told Inc that one day he was by the river-side, washing his baraca, or tent, wherein he used to lie in the fields. As soon as he began his work, a cayman fastened upon the tent, and with incredible fury dragged it under water. The man, desirous to see if he could save his tent, pulled on the contrary side with all his strength, having in his mouth a butcher's knife (wherewith as it happened he was scraping the canvas) to defend himself in case of urgent necessity. The cayman, being angry at this opposition, vaulted upon his body, out of the river, and drew him with great celerity into the water, endeavouring with the weight of his bulk to stifle him under the banks. Thus finding himself in the greatest extremity, almost crushed to death by that huge and formidable animal, with his knife he gave the cayman several wounds in the belly, wherewith he suddenly expired. Being thus delivered from the hands of imminent fate, he drew the cayman out of the water, and with the same knife opened the body, to satisfy his curiosity. In his stomach he found nearly one hundred-weight of stones, each of them being almost of the bigness of his fist.
The caymans are ordinarily busied in hunting and catching of flies, which they eagerly devour. The occasion is, because close to their skin they have certain little scales, which smell with a sweet scent, something like musk. This aromatic odour is coveted by the flies, and here they come to repose themselves and sting. Thus they both persecute each other continually, with an incredible hatred and antipathy. Their manner of procreating and hatching their young ones is as follows. They approach the sandy banks of some river that lies exposed to the rays of the south sun. Among these sands they lay their eggs, which afterwards they cover with their feet; and here they find them hatched, and with young generation, by the heat only of the sun. These, as soon as they are out of the shell, by natural instinct run to the water. Many times those eggs are destroyed by birds that find them out, as they scrape among the sands. Hereupon the females of the caymans, at such times as they fear the coming of any flocks of birds, ofttimes by night swallow their eggs, and keep them in their stomach till the danger is over. And, from time to time, they bury them again in the sand, as I have told you, bringing them forth again out of their belly till the season is come of being excluded the shell. AL this time, if the mother be near at hand, they run to her and play with her as little whelps would do with their dams, sporting themselves according to their own custom. In this sort of sport they will oftentimes run in and out of their mother's belly, even as rabbits into their holes. This I have seen them do many times, as I have spied them at play with their dam over the water upon the contrary banks of some river. At which time I have often disturbed their sport by throwing a stone that way, causing them on a sudden to creep into the mother's bowels, for fear of some imminent danger. The manner of procreating of those animals is always the same as I have related, and at the same time of the year, for they neither meddle nor make with one another but in the month of May. They give them in this country the name of crocodiles, though in other places of the West Indies they go under the name of caymans.
1 The French term "Acajou" seems to be applied by the buccaneers to cedar wood; it is now, however, almost entirely confined to mahogany.
2 The well-known manchineel, erroneously supposed to be the upastree, which latter owes its reputation to a Malay legend.
3 This is the Bête rouge, one of the neatest plagues of the West Indies.