Karly Andreassen ‘20: Book VI, Chapter VI (Of the Natural and Artificial Salt Flats That the Indians Had on This Island of Hispaniola)

Book VI, Chapter VI

Of the natural and artificial salt flats that the Indians had on this Island of Hispaniola, called Haiti before the Christians conquered these parts, and of the ones that there are at present.

Translated by Karly Andreassen ‘20

In many parts of these Indies it is a very common thing for the Indians to know how to make salt by boiling the coastal seawater; and thus it was commonly done on this island, when its inhabitants lived far from the natural salt flats. But because on the Mainland I have seen the Indians making salt, I will describe the manner in which they do it there (when I go on to write about matters related to that land), because in this case of the Indians making salt, I am satisfied by my own eyes, which tell me they had it naturally; for on the coast of the Yaque River (which flows out to the northern part of this island), running alongside the town of Montecristi (and is a powerful river), there are some salt flats of good salt. I say that this river flows out or enters the sea on the northern coast, because on this island there is another river of the same name (Yaque) that flows out to the southern coast; but this second one, before reaching the sea, joins the Neyva River, coming together at a certain point on the island before entering the town of Neyba. So the other Yaque River, the one I mentioned first with the salt flats, enters the sea to the north.

There are other very good salt flats in Puerto-Hermoso (which is on the southern coast, fifteen leagues from this city of Santo Domingo), from whence this city is supplied; these salt flats are very abundant, and they were not used by the Indians, but built by this city not long ago. In the center of this island, in the province that the Indians call Baynoa, there is a sierra of almost crystalline or luminous salt, near the large lake of Jaragua,[1] fourteen or fifteen leagues from the town of San Juan de la Maguana, which is not inferior to the one that in Cataluña they call salt of Cardona;[2] for it grows like that one, and this is one of the best known in the world (I refer to the one in Cardona, which is why I made the comparison).

            From this one from the mountains of Baynoa I describe here, I say that they extract slabs and rocks from it as if from a quarry. I have seen rocks of this salt in the town of San Juan de la Maguana that weigh more than a quintal (or four arrobas), which are one hundred pounds of sixteen ounces. And the men that had brought this and other rocks tell me that they could bring many much larger rocks of this salt, but that they left them so as to not kill or fatigue the beasts with their excessive weight. It is such that one could build houses from that quarry of salt, and they would be no less precious than those that Pliny[3] describes from Arabia, in the city called Carri, where the houses and even the walls and ramparts which surround the city are made of salt. And the same author says that in Cappadocia they bury the salt beneath the earth, and that due to the humor it freezes, and they later cut it like specular stones, and the pieces are of great weight, which the common people call uriques. Ormeno, a mountain in India, is made of salt; and it is cut like rocks are cut in other places, and whatever is cut regrows, and for that reason the kings have much more tribute or rents from this salt than from gold or pearls. And it is cut in that same way the salt from Hispania Citerior,[4] in Geleaste; and the pieces of this salt are almost transparent, and for a long time it has been lauded by doctors as the best salt over all the other generations of salt. All of this is from Pliny and his Natural History; and this salt, which he calls from Geleaste, is the same as that of Cardona, which I mentioned above when I said it resembled it, or was like the one we have here in Baynoa, which is also considered medicinal, and is very good for all the ways in which salt is of use to men and for all which one would wish that salt could be used for. This history will tell of other manners of salt in the second part, when we get there, and likewise in the third part.

[1] This is the same lake mentioned in Book V, Chapter V, where Cacique Enriquillo was hiding out during his rebellion; it is now known as Lake Enriquillo. [EE]

[2] The Cardona Salt Mountain is a large salt deposit located in Cardona, a town in Cataluña, in the province of Barcelona; exploited as a salt mine since the Middle Ages, it is now a cultural park open to tourists. [EE]

[3] Pliny, book XXXI, chapter VII. [GFO]

[4] Hispania Citerior was a Roman Province in Hispania during the Roman Republic. It was on the eastern coast of Iberia down to the town of Cartago Nova, today’s Cartagena in the autonomous community of Murcia, Spain. [EE]

Image: circa 1875