Book VI, Chapter VII
On the main rivers of this Island of Hispaniola, which I have divided in ten paragraphs or parts.
Translated by Karly Andreassen ‘20
I. The main rivers on this island of Haiti or Española are the ones I will list below. And as Santo Domingo is the principal city, settlement, port, and head of this kingdom and island, it seems to me a just thing that the first river named is the one that flows through this very city into the sea—so named Ozama. When this river reaches the city and enters the sea it flows powerful and deep, and loaded vessels at full wind enter and exit through it very safely, even anchoring eight or ten steps from land and loading and unloading whatever is desired using only a plank from ship to shore, which in few parts of the world is done without a pier on such large ships. In the year 1533, the ship named Imperial, of His Imperial Majesty, came here; it had a capacity of more than 400 tonnes, and it brought both people and some cargo to this city, and it returned with much more cargo. I say this because until now a ship that size had not passed through these parts, nor entered this port, where it anchored fifteen or twenty steps from land. And by night ships disembark from this port without danger, and from where they emerge within the river until they reach the sea, outside the port, there may be a distance of more or less a shotgun shot and a half. I have sailed out at night, in a loaded ship with a capacity of more than two hundred and fifty tonnes, because land wind is common, and the ships embark at their leisure, and when entering there is no lack of sea wind after midday, on most days. And so the river and its port are very beautiful and navigable and has room for many boats and canoes, and it is notable for its many fisheries, as for the plots and farms on either bank. And within the city, next to the port, caravels and vessels are constantly being built; and once built, conditions are such that they are easily beached and launched. And so it is a remarkable and very beautiful and rich river, but one cannot drink from it, for the city and port are near it, and no farther from the sea than what I have said, and even from the south the sea reaches this city. But going little more than a league up river, the water is good and very safe; and it is a river that offers much fishing and very beautiful mullets; in it they also kill many large manatees, which will be discussed in book XIII, along with other famous fish.
The Ozama River’s mouth is on this island’s southern coast, and its source is to the north, from where, a league from this city, it joins the other great river they call La Isabela, which comes from the west; and the Ozama comes from the east up to where they join, which as I said is a league from here, more or less, and the tide rises up to that point, but at low tide the water is fresh there. The mouth of the river and the entrance to the port is around four fathoms deep, and when the boats enter next to the city they anchor at a depth of another four fathoms or more.
II. There is another powerful river called Neiva, which crosses the island down the middle, and it flows likewise from the north and enters the sea on the southern coast, passing alongside the village of San Juan de la Maguana; its mouth is wide and ships can drop anchor, but not by much; half a league before flowing into the sea it is shallow and the bottom only sand, and the mouth is two-miles wide; and the current flows roughly and with much velocity until it reaches the sea.
III. Nizao is another good river, and like the Neiva, it enters the sea at the same southern coast, but it is not as big a river; its claim to richness comes from the wealth of the sugarcane fields and plantations along its banks, the mills and many beautiful pastures and cattle on its banks and surroundings.
IV. Haina is another river rich in farms and plantations; and on its banks and surroundings there are many sugarcane fields and plantations, and its water is among the best of any river on this island, and its mouth enters the sea at the southern coast, like those others mentioned above. It is not as powerful or as wide and deep as those greater rivers; but it is one of the best of all, and more profitable for its fertility.
V. Nigua is the name of another rich river, which bears the name of that damned animal that enters the body through the feet (the jigger), as was already told in book II, chapter XIV. This river is very principal and of great value to the large farms and plots of the picturesque sugar plantations that sit on its banks and neighboring areas; this river alone, with its large sugar mills, plantations, and cattle farms sustaining its sugar industry, would be quite enough to make any city in the world very rich, wherever it may be. This river enters the sea at the same coast as all the rivers I have mentioned, and its mouth is four leagues or a little more from this city of Santo Domingo.
VI. Yuna is the name of another river, one of the most powerful of all the rivers on this island; it passes by the village of Bonao, and ends and flows out to the sea on this island’s northern coast. There are many farms and plantations along this river, as well as very good pastures on its banks and surroundings.
VII. Yaque: there are two rivers of this name on this island; one of them joins with the Neiva, which is another major river, before flowing out to the sea. And so, when it reaches the sea, it is called the Neiva, and so for the most part this one is not as well-known as the other one called Yaque (which I am describing), which flows out to the sea to the north of this island, alongside Montecristi. And near it there are some good salt flats, as discussed in the preceding chapter. This river is powerful and has large and very good pastures and beautiful fields and plantations along its banks. The other Yaque or Yaquecillo (little Yaque) joins with the Neiva to the south, as I have said, and is very different from this Yaque, which comes out to the other coast, as has been told.
VIII. The Hatibonico or Artibonito is another very large and powerful river that ends in the western part of this island, and runs along many beautiful pastures and fields, with many other small rivers joining it, and it offers abundant fishing.
IX. There are many other rivers on this island providing abundant fishing and very good waters and lovely banks, like the Cotuy and the Cibao, both of which are very rich in gold, from whose mines gold is extracted continuously; and in the Cotuy they mine azeche (iron sulfate), which is found in the rocks and ground, and they overflow with it, and in that same way they mine very fine azurite for making paint, which our painters say is not inferior to what they call acre.
X. There is another good river they call the Macoris, with abundant fish; and by the same token there are many other rivers that could be named but will not be mentioned, both to avoid long-windedness and because they are not as large as the ones named. And the names of many others remain unknown, because with the loss of the elders of the native Indians of this island the remaining Indians have forgotten the names of the rivers and of other things; but beyond there being many rivers, whether named or fertile with gold, they are for the most part abundant with fish, both with the fish that enter them from the sea and those born and grown in their fresh waters. And that is enough about the rivers of this Island of Hispaniola.
Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University