Ella Nguyen ’23: Book VIII, Chapter II (Of the fruit trees and natural to this island of Hispaniola, and first of all, of the hobos )

Book VIII, Chapter II

Of the fruit trees and natural to this island of Hispaniola, and first of all, of the hobos[1].

Translated by Ella Nguyen ’23

The hobo (yellow mombin or hog plum) is a big and beautiful tree, cool, a very pleasant tree that offers a very healthy shade.There are many such trees on this and other islands and on the mainland. The fruit is good and has a good taste and smell, and is like small plums, and yellow: the pit is very big, in proportion to the size of the fruit, so the fruit offers very little to eat, and it is not useful but rather harmful to the teeth when too much of it is eaten, because of certain fibers attached to the pits; so inevitably, when eating this fruit, the fibers get into the gums as one tries to separate the edible part of the fruit from the pit; but it is a healthy fruit and easy to digest, and even if one eats many, little is eaten. The shoots of the branches of this tree, thrown into water and boiled, are very good for grooming the beard and for washing the legs, and it has a pleasant smell. The boiled peel and bark of this hobo tree, when used to wash the legs, tightens the legs and takes away the fatigue after walking, and is a very healthy bath. And when men in the field have the need to sleep, they make sure to lie under the hobo, because its shade protects from the evening dew and defends from heaviness and headache, as many other trees tend to do: and those engaged in war, as those tending cattle in the countryside, or travelers, always look for these hobos to sleep under, to hang their hammocks, or place their bedding underneath them.

This fruit varies in taste, as there are some hobos that bear sweet fruit while others are tart. Some people surmise (and even the chronicler Pedro Mártir so writes), that these fruit and trees are cherry plums[2], and this is the name he gives them in his Decades.But since he never saw them or ate them, or visited these parts, he was deceived in this, as in many other things he wrote, or rather, he was deceived by those who gave him these things to understand. Our doctors and apothecaries, among them many special men who have come here (such as the Licenciado Beçerra, Doctor Miçer Codro, a Venetian, and Licenciado Barreda, and Doctor Rodrigo Navarro, and Doctor Sepúlveda, Licenciado Burgos, Licenciado Formicedo, Licenciado Cueva and other learned medical doctors), never said nor affirmed this. They are not cherry plums, nor any species of them. But let us leave that dispute to the doctors. Since they want to make them cherry plums (even if they are not), this will not be the greatest harm done to medicine, nor the ultimate lie of those who militate under its flag; because in matters of medicine many are heedless and more dangerous than in any of the many other arts men practice: until a doctor properly heals, he makes more mistakes than the lines he has read in his trade, and the damage is always at  the cost of the lives of others.

Another property of this tree that could be truthfully described as seen and experienced daily, as one wishes or needs to, is that when there is no water in the field, for which men can die of thirst (water being such a principal part of the sustenance of life), if there are these trees around, dig out the roots, cut a chunk and put that in your mouth, holding the other end up high, and so much water will flow out of it, enough to end the troubles of any thirsty man, because at first it drips, and shortly the water streams from the root. This I have tried, as have many others with the same thirst and necessity, and this was learned from the Indians. This tree loses its leaf and is leafless for much of the year, until after spring arrives, when it begins to cover itself in leaves, and entering the month of April its fruit blooms, even though the leaves are still small. The hobo is among the few trees that lose their leaves in these parts.


[1] Spondias mombin or jobo.

[2] Prunus cerasifera.

Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.