Book XIX, Chapter IX
Of the nacres in which pearls are found in the province of Nicaragua and the Gulf of Orotiña and other parts.
Translated by Mehr Nasir-Moin ’21
In the Gulf of Orotiña and the islands in it, as well as in Chira and Chara and Pocosi and others within Cabo Blanco on the coast of Nicaragua in the South Sea, I have seen many of these nacres, and those I mentioned previously that I had taken to Spain were from there. These are a kind of shell of a somewhat triangular shape as drawn here (Lám. 5.* , fig. 9.), stuck together, as oysters are, and held together by the narrower tips and a bit more, so that the broader end is what opens and closes by itself. These nacres are large and medium and small; the largest as long as the span from the elbow to the tips of the fingers, and the width of the shell a palm or more, and from there the sizes go down. They have inside a certain fish or fleshiness, like the pearl oysters; but much greater in quantity, and in proportion to the large size of the shells, but tough and not a little hard to digest. And in truth from among the many oysters and pearl nacres I have seen, this is not as good a fish or flesh to eat as Spanish oysters by far, but in the end, everything is eaten. The inside of these nacres is beautiful and lustrous, and they shine like pearl oysters in the thinnest part of them, up to the half their length and from there forward to the widest end they lose that color and become in part a very fine and radiant blue color, and on the outer backside they are rough and corrugated, like scallops, but on the inside they are smooth. The pearls found in these nacre shells are neither high-quality nor of good color: cloudy, some tawny, and some almost black. There are also white ones, but not good.
The shells of these nacres serve the Indians in some parts as shovels or hoes for their agricultural labors in their fields and orchards; where I have seen them used thus is very dusty land and not hard to dig and turn over. And they attach the shell to the tip of a stick, and serve as very nice and useful shovels, and they use all sizes, from the largest to the smallest, since they chose them according to their need; and tied to the shaft with very good twisted-cotton threads, they till the land with this instrument.
When the Indians take these nacres to eat, they do not discard the pearls they find in them no matter how bad they are, nor do our merchants either; they mix them with the good ones taken from the fine-pearl oysters, and in this way they sell it all mixed by weight, to the seller’s advantage: it is no different than stirring rye into wheat, or barley into oats. They use this trick because there is no longer any occupation or art in which the guile of avaricious dealers ceases to find means for their deceptions. So these are the pearls through which the fraud mentioned is committed; but those who are skilled and have news of these things do not pay for them at the same price as quality pearls; and it is true that the grains that are formed in this species of nacres are very round, and although the shells are elongated, never or very rarely are there pearls other than very round: it seems a thing to doubt given the shape of these nacres, since pear-shaped pearls always form in round oysters. We will now go on to describe the Indians’ methods of fishing for pearls.
Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.