On the gato monillo or howler monkey (Alouatta pigra).
Translated by Kristine (Kasey) Drake ’23
In many parts of the Mainland there are wild monillo cats or howler monkeys of so many types and shapes that if I were to describe their different forms and endless mischief the account would not be brief. When the females raise their offspring, they carry them on their backs, leaping from tree to tree, and even if the mother hangs from her tail or jumps to another tree twenty or thirty steps away, the offspring do not fall off. And since they are taken to Spain every day, I will not bother saying but a few things. There are some as small as an harda (squirrel) and some as big as a large mastiff, of many kinds of fur and different faces and forms, and some are so clever that they imitate many things they see men do. In particular there are many monkeys that, after seeing someone cracking open an almond or a pine nut with a stone, will do the same and break all the ones given to them if one leaves a stone within their reach.
There are also others that throw small stones, suited to their size and weight, like men throw them. I had one of these monkeys in my home, and I would place small stones, the size of nuts or smaller, next to it; and whenever I set the table to eat (about twenty or thirty steps away from it) as soon as the food was brought to the table I had to share some with it so it had something to occupy its hands; because otherwise when it finished its food it would throw the small stones, the size of nuts or smaller, against the table, and when those were gone it would throw handfuls of dirt so people would hear it and give it something to eat. There are others that clap loudly with their hands when they see someone eating so the person will hear them and give them some of their food.
When our Spanish soldiers go inland in the provinces of Castilla del Oro and they cross a forest where there are some large black monkeys (of which there are many in the Mainland, and they are bad and fierce), as they see the Christians they start to shriek, as if calling each other, and very quickly many gather, jumping across the tops of the trees from branch to branch shrieking or howling, and when they are above the men they break off dry or even green branches and throw them at the Christians’ heads; and the men have to protect themselves well with their shields and proceed carefully to avoid damage or injury, as has in fact happened many times. Sometimes the men throw stones at them that remain on the branches and the monkeys throw them back; it so happened that a monkey threw back a stone that had been thrown at it, and it hit a servant of governor Pedrarias Dávila, a man named Francisco de Villacastin, on the mouth, knocking out four or five teeth (I know this man and saw him before he had been hit by the stone thrown by the monkey with his teeth and then many times after without them). It was not so much due to the malice of the monkey but to the misfortune of the young man, because he threw some stones at the monkey and one of the stones ended up on a branch and a monkey took it, smelled it, and threw it back down, and just as Francisco de Villacastin looked up the stone came down hard, hitting him in the mouth and knocking out his teeth (four or five I would say); this young man still lives to this day.
When arrows are shot and hurt some black monkeys, they pull them out and sometimes throw them back down, at other times they pull them out and put them on the branches of the trees so they will not fall down again and so cannot be shot back at them; others snap them and break them into pieces. One time a crossbowman shot an arrow at a large black monkey and the arrow went through the ear deep enough so it was of equal length on both sides, in a way that the part with the feathers was as long as the side with the iron. And the monkey did not fall because it was large, like I said, and it quickly wanted to remove it and started shouting, calling a large number of monkeys to it, and each one put their hand on the arrow and the wound and then the injured one would scream and the others would let go. After many of them felt the arrow, the wounded monkey saw that it caused him more pain and did not bring any remedy, and so he put one hand on the feathers and the other on the iron, and any others that came to touch the arrow by one side or the other, just as they extended their hand, it would let go of the arrow and take the other’s hand and gently guide it to feel the arrow, or it would not allow them to touch it. And the soldiers looked at it for a long while with much laughter, and then another crossbowman shot another arrow at it, striking it in the back, and the monkey ran away screaming, but it did not fall.
Finally, there is so much to be said about these animals and their instances of mischief and their different forms that without seeing them it is difficult to believe, and between the two extremes that I have described, from the larger to the smaller, there are many types and much diversity among them, as in size, color and appearance, and they are so different and varied the ones from the others and so numerous that I could never finish describing them.