Book VIII, Chapter V
Of the tree called xagua or genip, and of its fruit and the dye that is made therefrom.
Translated by Laurel Hanson ’23
The genip is a tall, beautiful tree, and I have both seen and had beautiful spear shafts made from it, as long and thick as one wishes to make them. Its wood is heavier than that of the ash tree and very common on this island and others, as well as on the Mainland. These trees are tall, straight, and shaped like ash trees. They are beautiful to the eye, and the shafts made from their wood have a beautiful color and complexion somewhere between chestnut brown and a light tawny color. On this island, although these trees can be found here, they are not numerous enough or tall enough on the Mainland, in the province of Cueva, or in Castilla del Oro, so as to make the shafts that I have described. The genip tree bears a fruit that is as big as and very similar to poppies, except for at the crown, which it does not have. It is good to eat when it is ripe and seasoned. Very clear water is extracted from this fruit, with which the Indians wash their legs, and sometimes their whole bodies, when their muscles feel weak with fatigue. For pleasure, they also paint themselves with this water, which, in addition to its special quality of squeezing and constricting little by little, turns everything that it touches as black as a fine polished jet or even darker. Nothing can erase this dye until fifteen or twenty days have passed, if not more. If one’s nails come into contact with the genip water or if they are used to wipe away the water after it is applied to the skin, the part of the nail that the water touches will continue to be black until it has grown out or until the whole nail has finally been shed after being cut bit by bit as it grew. I have experienced this a few times because, for those of us on the Mainland who have gone to war or worked in those parts and given the many rivers that one must cross, we find it very useful to have genip for our legs because, as I have said, it squeezes the legs.
Tricks are often played on women by spraying them carelessly with a mixture of genip and other fragrant waters. After a bit, more beauty marks appear on their skin than they would like. She who does not know the secret or the cause of such spots rushes, distressed, in search of remedies, all of which are harmful and only result in burns or scratches across the face or chest, wherever those spots or beauty marks were. They fail to cure the spots until they have run their course and the twenty days have passed, as I mentioned above, and little by little the dye fades by itself.
On the Mainland, when the Indian men go off to fight, they paint themselves with this genip and with achiote, which is another red paint comparable to red ochre (but a finer red color). The Indian women also adorn themselves with one or both colors when they want to look good. Truthfully, in my eyes, they look like devils when they are adorned or painted so. Also, in addition to the achiote being sticky, they mix it with certain gums so it will stick better. The gums smell bad, but to the Indians this smell is pleasant.
Image: Antique lithograph from unknown artist