On the tree in this island of Hispaniola that they call papaya, and in the mainland the Spaniards call them los higos del mastuerço, and in the province of Nicaragua they call the same tree olocoton.
Translated by Eliana Blam ’22
On the west coast of the mainland, leaving the port of Nombre de Dios, down the coast, in the province of Quebore, and in Veragua, and on the islands of Cerebaro and in other parts of that coast, there are the fig trees which I will describe. They are tall, with a single, straight and branchless stem or trunk. On the top there are leaves, much wider than those of the fig trees in Castilla, with long stalks measuring half an arm’s length or more. The fruit they bear are figs as big as melons, or smaller, which sprout in large quantities from the main trunk at the top. The skin on the fruit is thin, and the flesh is thick like that of the melon (but not as solid). It has a good taste and it can be cut in slices, like a melon; in the middle of this fruit it has small, black seeds, wrapped in some sort of material similar to that of quince seeds, although more viscous. They have so many seeds, like a hen’s egg, but more or less second in size to those of the fig. These seeds are edible and healthy and of the same flavor more or less of those of the mastuerço. The fruit is sweet without the seeds; for that reason, the Christians in the province of Tierra Firme call this fruit the fig of mastuerço. They first found them in the land of Cacique Quebore, where there are some as big as medium-sized pots or as big as the melons in Spain. An hidalgo by the name of Alonso de Valverde, in whose encomienda was Cacique Quebore, took the fruit to Darien, where the Christians sowed those seeds and in many other parts, and they were brought to this and other islands where they flourished very well. Here they call them papayas, and without taking them to Veragua or other parts of the mainland, there are many. In the governance of Nicaragua they call this fruit olocoton, and there is a province between the province of Nagrando and the province of Honduras called Olocoton, where there are many of these fruit trees. But the majority of these trees that they have seen are in Quebore, as in Nicaragua and Tesoatega, and in other parts there are a lot of these trees. These fruit trees have a trunk, thick like as a man’s waist, some of them thicker or smaller, and straight without any branches; the ones without branches live longer. There are however other trees of the same kind that after they have grown to the height of a man or higher grow other branches, one or two or three and sometimes even six, straight up and not to the sides or down, and the branch only goes up and they keep on growing even higher than lances, and some even twice the length of a lance. The skin of the tree (which I consider more of a plant than a tree) is as thick as a finger, and what is inside is tender and soft, and the heart is hollow from top to bottom. When they hit the tree with a sword, to test the strength of the stalks, they cut more than one branch or a whole piece off, because it is very soft; any small hit causes the tree to dry up. Those offshoots that sprout straight, they sprout leaves at the top, many with long stalks and no branches, and each leaf is the width of two hands or more, robust and soft and green. The leaves’ stem is three to six hands long, and the fruit that I have mentioned grow from the branches (I mean leaves) down, hanging high from the stalks, and also from the trunk down. These fruits are formed from certain white flowers that sprout from the tree. As the flower sprouts it will produce all of the fruits that it will produce (and those mature). When the flower dries it will not produce more fruit, and all the others do the same. They will produce fruit in the order they were born, and then dry out; the next year, the one that sprouted later does the same; if five or six stalks sprout from the trunk, they will live as many years by the order that I have described, each one taking a year and the others not bearing fruit, except in its respective year. And after each completes its cycle, the whole tree and main trunk dry out, and even before the tree dies, the stalks that have sprouted are dry, and those that have not carried fruit are green and are casting leaves, but no fruit, except for the order that I described; the Indians sow the other seeds before the others have finished. Those with only a stem and without stalks live as long as the stalks of the other kind that I have described, and in five or six years always bear these fruits every year; every year they bear less, and in the sixth year they are small and not good, and from then on they are not worth anything and they go to waste. This fruit matures but not all at once, but one by one; one becomes ripe and yellow like wax and the others all green and hard. Some fruits are round and others are oval-shaped, and the fruit tree that bares round ones does not bear any oval ones; nor does the one that bears oval ones bare any round ones, because they are different natures and types of this fruit; but in taste and in everything else they are all one and the same.