On the maguey herb,[1] which can be found near the province of Araya, on the Mainland, and of the people known as agoreros.

Translated by Frederick (Jamie) Anderson ‘19

Near Araya, on the Mainland, there are a people known as the agoreros because of a certain fruit that goes by the same name.[2] Near these people are others known as the maguey, because of an herb, similar to a cactus (but without so many spines or thorns), also named maguey, which grows there in abundance. It appears quite similar to the fique or cabuya,[3] of which I wrote earlier and which I drew as it is in Book VII, Chapter XI, which deals with agriculture. Nevertheless, here I will address that herb in ways that there I did not (from information I have learned subsequently), and the one and the other both fall under my purview, and here it fits in well, for this book deals with herbs.

This plant is cultivated and bears much fruit for varied uses. In New Spain they make blankets and shoes out of its thread, and they make wine and syrup out of its juice. And, after having given all the previous bounties I have described, they remove the root, which is as thick as a cask like those used in Spain and our island of Hispaniola to fit three or four bushels or more, and they cook it and then eat it. They make very good ropes from the maguey as well. Those people that the Spaniards thus name magueyes gather this herb, and hang the stub or stump out to dry, from which they make an exceedingly rich and nutritious delicacy. And from the leaves they extract the juice through steaming, a process of distillation. Those people drink this, and they never drink water or have access to fresh water, save that from the sea, which is not suitable for drinking, nor do they drink it. There is nearby no river, spring or well, or pond or lagoon. They do not drink water in their entire lives, except when it rains, which occurs very infrequently each year, and certain years pass without much rain at all. When rain does fall, and some hollows in the earth collect water, forming small puddles, and some of those Indians drink from them, as would a dog or other animal, but not because they are struck by it or have avarice for water, but for having been raised and habituated to never drinking it.

This people that the Christians call magueyes refer to themselves in their own language as chacopati. When the moon is in eclipse, these and others from that region gather together against it. They hurl many arrows at it, saying that it is angry with them and will not allow them to retain any of their possessions. Because of this they call a serra, which means an exchange of all they have. And they barter and exchange, one with the other, because to them it seems that by moving things from one owner to another they reduce the danger of losing their possessions. They even go to different places to make the same barters and exchanges with their neighbors and with whomever they see fit, until no jewels or other items remain without exchanging or making serra, which means the same in the language of our island of Haiti or Hispaniola. But in the language of the magueyes, alias chacopati, the word for serra or exchange is uchibican.[4]

[1] Agava Americana. [EE]

[2] Cereus tetragonus. [EE]

[3] Furcraea andina. [EE]

[4] Already in Chapter XXII of Book VI or The Book of Deposits or Summaries, the author referred, almost with the same words, to this superstition and strange custom of the chacopati or magueyes, as well as the other things (relating to this plant) that this chapter contains. Being that the aforementioned book VI functions as a deposit and archive of all the strange things that had reached Oviedo’s ears when he was preparing the second edition of his history, it is credible to assume that he meant to either suppress this passage or expand it in the way he did with many others, in light of new and surer information. However, in the hand-written codex that we have before us, there is no noteworthy difference, outside of the variants that readers can see in the comparison between both chapters. [AR]