Abby Tarwater ’21: Book III, Chapter V (Of Lake Jaragua and another lake located in the tallest mountain ranges and summits of this island)

Book III, Chapter V

Of Lake Jaragua and another lake located in the tallest mountain ranges and summits of this island, and of the ways of the people found here, and of the weapons with which they fought; and of what kind of people the Carib archers are, and of Holy Vera Cruz or True Cross at la Concepción de la Vega.

Translated by Abby Tarwater ’21

I would like here to describe Lake Jaragua[1] and that other lake found in the tallest summits and mountain ranges of this island, as well as the Carib Indians I mentioned above, and everything else included in the title of this fifth chapter, because these are all very notable things. Lake Jaragua begins two leagues from the sea, near the town of Yaguana; it is called Jaragua because that is the name the Indians give to the province in which it is located. It extends to the east, and in some parts is as wide as three leagues, with the rest being between one and two leagues wide, more or less. It is salty like the sea, because its source spring begins and ends in it, although the water in some of the rivers and streams flowing into it is fresh. It contains all of the fish found in the sea, except for whales and other very large fish; but there are also very big sharks, and a great variety of other fish, and many turtles, which the Indians call jicoteas. And back when this island held a very large population, the entire shore around the lake was populated. In the year 1515, I walked along its entire length and found many Indians who lived by the lake in very fine villages. This lake measures eighteen leagues from the point closest to the sea to its deepest reach into the interior; and this is why it was so well populated, since fish is the Indians’ preferred delicacy.

The other lake, which as I said is in the tallest summits and mountain ranges of this island, is a great novelty and something very remarkable to look at; and although there are some on this island who speak of it, only a rare few have seen it. And in attempting to get to the bottom of this, I have only found one person who can best be believed, being a good person who now lives in and is a neighbor of this city of Santo Domingo. He says that back in the time of the governance of the First Knight Commander Don Frey Nicolás de Ovando, and following his orders, this man and other Christians traveled to these tall mountains, the source of the Nizao River, particularly to the place where the Cacique Biautex lived, at the foot of the tallest mountain. There is a distance of fifteen or sixteen leagues between this cacique’s settlement and this city of Santo Domingo, but you cannot climb the mountain from there, because it is so rough and steep that it is impossible to climb. But this man, named Pedro de Lumbreras, managed to climb up the other side of the mountain (the northwestern side) with another nobleman, named Mejía, joined by six willing and ready Indian warriors; but when they got close to the summit Mejía and the Indians stopped, as they began to hear the noise sounding from above. And when Pedro de Lumbreras saw this, he asked Mejía why he had stopped, and he responded that he was so cold and tired that he could not go any further; but it did not stop Lumbreras, even though he was very tired and very cold due to the mountain’s great height. And since they had followed a river that flowed between those mountains, called Pani, and since the river’s course diverted away from their objective, Pedro de Lumbreras followed the route they called Cuesta Rasa or flat slope, to the northeast; and he reached almost to the summit or highest point on the mountain, exhausted and almost faint, and he rested there a while, not forgetting to entrust himself to God, given the fright caused by the loud, terrifying noise above them. And he persisted in climbing to the top and reached as high as was possible along a very difficult path that could only be traversed with great difficulty; and once there, he saw a lagoon that seemed to be three crossbow shots across in length and about a third of that in width. And he looked at this lake for as long as one could recite the Apostles’ Creed three times. Pedro de Lumbreras said that the noise he heard was so loud and thundering that he was very frightened, that it seemed like it was not the sound of human voices, nor was he able to understand how animals or beasts could make such a horrible sound. Since he was alone and scared, he returned without seeing anything else. I have asked him if he had reached the water, and if it was fresh or salty, and he told me he only reached within twelve or fifteen steps from it, and having seen the lake he turned to search for Mejía and the Indians that he had brought with him. So this is all that is known about this lake, about which many stories have been written on this island that I do not believe, nor should they be written without further confirmation of them.

Let us turn to the Carib archers. They live in the surrounding islands, and the principal island of these people was the island of Boriquen, which is now called San Juan, and others close to it, such as Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and Cibuqueyra, which is now called Santa Cruz or St. Croix, and others in that area. And from those islands they came in their canoes with bows and arrows to attack from the sea, and to make war on the people of this island of Haiti. These archers are more daring and courageous than those of this island, since here there were archer Indians only in a part or province known as Ciguayos, in Caonabo’s domain; but they did not use poisoned arrows, nor did they know how to prepare the poison.

It is believed that the archers found here had come from one of the neighboring islands home to the Carib archers, of which there are many, as I have noted; and through time they had forgotten their language and began to speak that of this land, leaving theirs behind. And if this did not happen by chance, then they learned to use the Caribs’ own weapons to defend themselves against their enemies: but those who are Caribs shoot arrows with a very deadly poison. But I think of arrows as almost natural weapons, or as the most ancient. Although Pliny[2] said that the bow and arrow were first discovered by Scythe, son of Jupiter, others say that they were discovered by Perseus, the son of Perseus; but I have it that the bow and arrow are much older than Pliny says, since Lamech, father of the patriarch Noah, killed Cain with an arrow or dart. After Lamech killed Cain he confessed to it,[3] but did not mention the weapon. But in the Book of Chronicles it says that Lamech, deceived by a boy, shot him with an arrow; and in the Chronica theutonica,[4]which deals with the beginning of the world, it says: Cumque Caim Cumque Cain confestus esset senior, el inter fructifera aliquando sederet, á proponepote suo Lamech, qun senectutis vitio cecus factus, dum venationi insisteret, pueri ductoris suasu credens Caim feran, sagita occius fuit. Based on these authorities, I say that the bow and arrow is the oldest weapon of all, and an almost natural one, and thus knowledge of it could have come naturally to these savage peoples.

Returning to our topic, I say that the skin of these people is dark; they are generally shorter than Spaniards, but they are well-made and shapely, except that their foreheads are broad and their nostrils wide, and the whites of their eyes are somewhat cloudy. This shape of forehead is intentional, since when children are born they squeeze their foreheads and the back of the heads in such a way that, since they are such tender creatures, they retain that shape, broad in front and back, and remain misshapen. They go about naked and do not have beards, and are hairless for the most part. The women go about naked, and from the waist down they wear light cotton wraps down to the middle of their calves; and the cacicas or principal women wear them down to their ankles; their breasts and everything else from the waist up is uncovered. This custom is for those women who are married or have known men; but the virgin maidens never wear these skirts (which they call naguas), but go about completely naked. Some are quite handsome; both men and women have very good hair, very black and straight and fine: they don’t have good teeth.

After the Christians arrived, their exchanges instilled some shame on these people, and the Indians began wearing loincloths, a piece of linen or broadcloth about the size of a hand placed in front of their shameful parts; albeit worn without much care, as one could still see everything that should have been covered.

The Indians of this island fight with clubs, which are sticks as wide as three fingers or a bit less and as long as the height of a man, and with somewhat sharp edges; at the tip of the club there is a handle, and they use them as two-handed battle axes: they are made from very robust palm wood and from other trees. Pliny says[5] that the Africans were the first that made war against the Egyptians with wood maces, which are called phalanges: that seems to me to be the same thing as these clubs, notwithstanding the fact that the Romans called a squadron of foot soldiers in battle position a phalange. And this name phalange also belongs to a poisonous spider, and the Romans say likewise phalanga sive palanga for the handle; and this is what Pliny says, and what the club or weapon of these Indians looks like. They also fight with throwing sticks similar to darts, and some thinner than darts with sharp points that are very dangerous to naked people or to anything that doesn’t provide good protection. Those made from palm wood splinter easily in the wound; as the wood is very harsh, wiry, and festering, it breaks easily when pulling it out: in short, it is very good wood that nonetheless splinters, and these very thin splinters are even worse to remove than those from the original wound.

As for the holy cross or Vera Cruz of the city of La Concepción de la Vega, it is known that when the Admiral Don Christopher came to this island on his second voyage he sent twenty or so men to cut down a big, tall, well-made, upright tree. And most of those whom he sent were seafaring men, and with them went Alonso de Valencia, who now lives in this city; and they cut down a thick and round tree, and from the very top they cut off a portion that they placed transversely, forming a cross about eighteen or twenty handspans tall. Many claim and have it as common knowledge and true that afterwards there have been miracles here, and that the wood of this cross has healed many sick people; and such is the devotion to this cross that the Christians steal many splinters and pieces to take back to Spain and other places: and it is held in much veneration for its miracles, as well as because in all the time it was out in the open it had never decayed or fallen as a result of a rain or windstorm, nor could the Indians remove it from its place despite their attempts to pull it down by ropes held a large number of Indians; a failure that stunned them and prompted them to leave it where it stood, as if they had been warned from above or from heaven of its sacredness. And as a holy thing and for them an object of great admiration, they did not dare insist on removing it from where it was, rather, seeing how the Christians had much reverence for the cross, and realizing that there were not quite enough men gathered there to budge it or remove it from its place, they looked at it with deference and respect and from then on humbled themselves before it.

[1] This lake is known today as Lago de Oviedo or Laguna de Oviedo.

[2] Pliny, Book VII, Chapter LVI.

[3] Genesis, Chapter IV.

[4] Most likely Johannes Carion’s Chronicarum ab initio mundi or Chronica Theutonica (1553). See Gerbi 258.

[5] Book VII, Chapter LVI.


Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.