Of the serpent or animal called y..u..ana (iguana), of which there are many kinds on this island.

Translated by Andrea Tellez ’21

On this island of Hispaniola, as in many other islands on this gulf and throughout the Mainland, there are many of this kind of animal. In the first printing of this first Part I put this animal in Book XIII, Chapter III, which is about fish, and now it occurred to me to put it in this one, which deals with land animals. And, according to common opinion, it could be included in both books because most men cannot determine if this animal is meat or fish; as something neutral, they identify it as both, because it belongs to both land and water, and it thrives and lives out its life on both. It is called yuana, and it is written with these five letters—pronounced y, then with a little pause u, and then the last three letters, ana, are said together or quickly, so that two pauses are made in pronouncing the entire name. Again, I say that it is understood to be a neutral animal because it lives both in rivers and trees. Nonetheless, in these parts they eat this animal on the days when eating meat is not allowed, like Fridays and Saturdays, or during Lent, and on other days when it is prohibited by the Church. In my opinion I would consider it meat, which I do not say to stop anyone from following their will, bur mainly in consideration of that of the prelate and what the Church ordains.

This serpent or dragon (of the land or water) would be an ugly and frightening sight to anyone who is not familiar with it; it is a big, strange, four-legged lizard, much bigger than the lizards of Spain, because the head is bigger than a man’s fist, its neck is short, the body is more than two spans long and another two around, and the tail is three or four spans long—these measurements are to be understood for the largest of these animals, for they can also be found much smaller in size. Many of them have short tails, and it is not clear if this is because they have been cut or bitten off by another yuana or if they simply shed them; Pliny says[1] that the tails of lizards grow back after being cut, and the same goes for serpents or snakes. They have a fierce looking serrated ridge of what look like spines running down the middle of the back, sharp teeth, and a long, wide flap of skin or dewlap that hangs from the chin to the chest, like that of an ox. It is such a quiet animal that it neither shouts, nor whimpers, nor makes a sound, and it stays wherever it is tied without doing any wrong or making any noise for twenty days or more, without eating or drinking. And, according to some, they will even eat a bit of caçabi [cassava bread] or grass if they are given it. But I have had some of these animals tied up in my house, and I never saw them eat; I have watched them closely for a long time, and in the end I have not known nor could I understand what they ate while at my home, and everything that one gives them to eat remains untouched—I don’t know how they feed in the wild. Its arms, feet, hands, legs, and nails are all like those of a lizard, and its nails are long, but thin and not of prey. It is so terrible looking that no man would venture to confront this animal if they were not of great courage, and none would dare eat it unless they were of bad sense or bestial in nature (not knowing the animal’s gentle character and good flavor). When these animals are big, they are like the oxen of England—when alive their hip bones stick out and they look very thin, but after being killed and skinned they are very fat, with much lard. And after being quartered or cut, each piece of this animal squirms and throbs for up to four hours or more; if one cooks it, they stop squirming only after the pot begins to boil, and if one roasts it, they stop throbbing only after starting to roast. And from this evidence those who insist that it is fish form their opinion, because the hicoteas[2], which are a certain species of galápagos,[3] and the turtles do the same. These animals, when they are small, swim on the surface of rivers and streams, and they move their arms and legs so fast that the water does not have time to stop them or make them sink; they do this only while young, like small and skinny lizards, and as they grow, they go through the rivers by walking across the bottom, for they are heavy and know not how to swim. They breed on the land, close to the riverbanks and streams, and spend so much time in the water that, as I said, they make men doubt if they are meat or fish. This animal, as ugly and horrific as I described it, is a very good delicacy and better than the very good rabbits from the banks of the Jarama River in Spain; I mention these rabbits because I think that they are the best in the whole world. Ever since the Christians dared to eat these animals they have been well regarded among them, and the Christians never pass them up or hesitate to buy them. Only one harm is attributed to them (which I can neither deny nor confirm)—some say that those who have been touched by the illness of the warts, when they eat from this yuana, the warts come back, even if they have been healthy for some time. I have sometimes eaten these animals in the Mainland and many more in this city, and they even bring them to me from the island of Mona, where there are many, and it is a very good delicacy; as a witness, I want to advise whoever reads this (in case the Indians were absent, as they are now) of the way and art one must have to cook yuana eggs: when making a tortilla from the eggs (or frying them like those they call estrellados[4]), it cannot be done with oil or lard, because they will never set, but if one uses water in place of oil they set and cook properly. This is a proven and true thing, and further evidence to argue against those who refute that this animal is in fact a fish, and such a friend of the water that it is more suited to it than to land matter; but this is false or the same as saying nothing, since all fish or most of them are cooked and fried with oil. A yuana will lay up to fifty round eggs or more, of good taste and a thin shell, with yolks and whites like those of hens, and the biggest of them are the size of walnuts. Peter Martyr[5] says that these yuanas are similar to the crocodiles of the Nile, in which he deceived himself greatly, as have those who write of these things from hearsay and commit similar and notorious errors, because these yuanas are no bigger than what I have said; I have seen countless of them from smaller than a finger to as big as described above, and I have seen many small ones swim on the streams and rivers, and in some streams I have seen the older ones under the water; and, as I said, I have eaten them many times. But the crocodiles are very large animals and of a very different form, manner, and color, and differ from the iguanas in many other particularities. According to the glorious doctor, Isidore, in his Etymologies, the crocodile[6] is said to be yellow or bright yellow; the same sacred author also says that crocodiles are from the Nile River, four-legged, and on land and water[7] are powerful and large.

The crocodile’s size cannot be compared to an animal as small as the yuana; nor its color, since the crocodile, which is yellow or bright yellow (the croceo colore that Isidore describes), does not agree with the yuana, which commonly is brownish-gray, and some of them are somewhat green—further evidence for disproving that these yuanas are crocodiles. Suffice it to say, Isidore himself writes these words in the same book: “This animal only moves the upper jaw.”[8] And the yuana does not exhibit such a property, only moving its lower jaw, like all the other animals. Peter Martyr would be more correct in saying that the large lizards of the Mainland, with which they show greater similarity, are crocodiles (or a species of them), as will be said in its place; like the crocodile, they are big animals that move their upper jaw and lack tongues. Pliny says this about the crocodile: “The crocodile is born in the Nile: beast of four legs on land and in water: is dangerous: no other land animal is found without tongue, except this one: it bites by moving the upper jaw and not the lower one, and has teeth in the shape of a comb: it grows to more than ten or eight cubits[9] and lays eggs as big as those of the goose.”[10] So, what is said of the crocodile, or what else could be said of it, will fit better in the chapter on the large lizards of the Mainland than here; how those lizards can only be the same crocodiles, or the crocodiles the same lizards of the Mainland, or of their kind, will be told there. If I have gone on so long here, it has been to caution the readers about Peter Martyr’s opinion. But this is not the only matter in which his Decades depart from the truth in speaking of the Indies, because Peter Martyr, being so far away, could not write about these matters as particular as they are or as the material requires; those who informed him, either did not know how to tell him or he did not know how to understand. Indeed, in the details that are noted above by Pliny about the crocodiles, the same ones can be attributed to the large lizards of the Mainland, because they are of four legs, dangerous, and fierce on land and water, they do not have a tongue, and they move their upper jaw and have teeth like a comb. But these others are not of the size that Pliny notes, because out of the countless of them that I have seen, the largest was twenty-three feet, and I don’t doubt that there are other larger ones. And the eggs are the size of goose eggs, which I have eaten many times, even paying for them with silver; they have no yolk and are all white. Codrus,[11] an Italian philosopher, would know well how to write about these subjects, for he got to see these things himself and ended his life in this practice as a scholar; he died on one of the islands of Cébaco, which are on the coast of the southern sea, near the province and port of Punuba. He said that the lizards of the Mainland were crocodiles. But in truth, these other yuanas are very different from the crocodile, and in no way similar. This one I drew as best I could (Illus. 4.a, fig. 9.a), or as best I could imitate its figure, and this is its shape. And despite its ugly appearance, I say it is very good cooked or grilled, and cooked in the same manner as a chicken—with some spices, a piece of pork fat, and a cabbage, it leaves nothing to be desired for those who familiar with this delicacy. And as a cold meat it is very singular and healthy, and many Spaniards from around this area will attest to it. When these animals are fat, a lot of fat and lard can be removed from their insides and saved, because it is very good for swollen abscesses; it is melted in a pan over a fire and poured in a bowl to cool, and once cold it is put away in a glass container, and it remains liquid, never thickening or setting, and it is very good for what I said. The cooked liver of these animals is black and thick, and it is tasty and easy to digest; when expelled it is as black as fine ink, and may be an alarming sight to those who don’t know it, but it does not bear of cause any problem.

Finally, having written the above, two of the largest of these animals were brought to me, and one we ate in my home and the other I kept tied up to send to Venice to the magnificent Micer[12] Johan Baptista, secretary of the Lordship, and it was tied to a post in the courtyard of this fort of Santo Domingo for more than forty days, without eating any of the many things that were offered to it; I was told that these animals eat only dirt, and I had a hundredweight of dirt put in a barrel with it, so it would not lack it while at sea. And I waited to see how it arrived in Spain and in what condition. But after the ship arrived in Spain in the year 1546, I learned from the one who brought the animal that it had died at sea.

[1] Pliny; Book XI, chapter XL.

[2] Trachemys callirostris, a species of turtle from the family Emydidae. It lives in marsh lands to the north of Colombia and northeastern Venezuela; they can also be found in the south of México, especially in Tabasco. [English edition note.]

[3] Here, Oviedo may not be referring to the Galápagos tortoise but to another turtle.

[4] Eggs fried in a large amount of olive or any other oil.

[5] Peter Martyr, dée. I.

[6] ‘Crocodilus á croceo colore dictus.’ Isidore, Ethymologies, Book XII, Chapter ‘De piscibus.’

[7] ‘Quadrupes in terra at in aquis valens, longitudine plerumque viginti cubitorum.’ Ibid.

[8] ‘Solus ex animalibus superiorem maxillam moveré dicitur.’ Ibid.

[9] Ancient unit of length based on the forearm length from the tip of the middle finger to the bottom of the elbow; it was divided as 6 palms × 4 fingers = 24 digits.

[10] Pliny, Book VIII, Chapter XXV.

[11] Antonio Urceo (Antonius Urceus Codrus, 1446, Rubiera–1500, Bologna).

[12] Honorific of the Crown of Aragon.