Which tells of certain monks who travelled for the conversion of the Mainland Indians of the coast close to the island of Pearls called Cubagua: who were from the sacred Orders of Santo Domingo and San Francisco, and who were martyred and crudely killed by the Indians.

Translated by Isabella Perez ’21

In Cumaná, a province of the Mainland, the closest to the island of Cubagua or the island of Pearls, the friars of San Francisco founded the first monastery, having as their vicar one reverend father named Friar Juan Garçés, a French native, to procure the conversion of those barbaric and idolatrous peoples who would come to our holy catholic faith. This was in the year 1516. That same year, two Dominican monks arrived at the Mainland to undertake the same project of conversion: one trained in holy theology and the other being what is called in that land a lay priest. These later arrivals disembarked on land in a province that is called Piritú, eighteen leagues further to the West from where the Franciscans were, and at a place within that province, in a place called Manjar, the Indianskilled them in payment for their good intentions in preaching to them and teaching them the faith. After which, in the following year 1517, other monks of the same Order of Santo Domingo went to found another monastery on the Mainland in the province that is called Chiribichi, to convert the people of that land to the true and evangelical faith, and they called that house Santa Fe, and there they resided five leagues from the Franciscans in Cumaná. These two monasteries performed a lot of good and charitable works on behalf of the native Indians of those lands, as much in what touched their persons as in their spirit, if they were worthy of knowing and receiving it; in large part, all of the friars worked and strived much with great fervor and charitable love for the Indians, thus to give them to understand our holy Catholic faith and distance them from their rites and ceremonies and idolatries and vices and bad customs, as in healing them of their illnesses and sores with as much diligence and love as was possible, to win and draw them to the service of God and to exchange and friendship with the Christians. At that time on the island of Cubagua there were Spaniards, although few, and these had their habitations and abodes in tents and huts; they exchanged pearls with the Indians native to the Mainland, who, at certain times of the year, travelled to the island to that fishery to support themselves and obtain from the Spanish the things they gave them for the pearls. And at that time this enterprise and arrangement was very useful and lucrative to our own, and the province and land that extends from Paria to Unari (which will be one hundred leagues of coast on the Mainland) was so peaceful that one or two Christians traversed all of it and traded very safely with the Indians. But in the year 1519 (almost at the end of it), on the same day, the Indians of Cumaná and those of Cariaco and those of Chiribichi and of Maracapana and of Tacarias and of Neneri and of Unari, overcome by their own wickedness, rebelled; feeling importuned by the Christians, who used them to obtain slaves for them and, once they had slaves to work the pearl fisheries, stopped exchanging pearls with the free Indians who used to sell and supply them, especially in the province of Maracapana, they killed up to eighty Christian Spaniards in little more than a month; because, by bad luck, four caravels made port there unaware of the rebellion on land, and not knowing of the Indians’ ill will, trustingthem, they landed on the coasts and the Indians killed them, leaving none alive. The last Indians to rebel were those of Cumaná, since many of them were friends of the friars, having received many mercies from them; but in the end, like bad and ungrateful people, the opinion of the few was stronger than the intention of those who may have been reluctant or would have regretted such an event. Finally, all agreed to the evil and burned the monasteries, and in the Franciscan monastery in Cumaná they killed a friar by the name of Friar Dionisio, while his other companions fled in a canoe to Araya and from there to the island of Cubagua. This Friar Dionisio, who they killed as stated, ran away just as he saw the monastery start to burn, but in his turmoil did not have wits or sense to escape with the other friars, and he hid in a reedbed for two or three days, praying to Our Lord that he should remember him and send him where He would be better served. And after this time, he left and decided to go to the Indians, because among them there were many for whom he had done good works and charity, and they held him for three days without doing him any harm; and all this time, those infidels were wasting words on various agreements and arguing over what they would do with this blessed friar. Some argued they should protect him and he should not die; others said that they could use this father to make peace with the Christians; others insisted on the Christians’ cruelty and demanded that he die. In conclusion, from their different opinions the Devil brought them to unanimity, and the wickedness of an Indian name Ortega was such that they all adopted his advice, and they killed the friar. The Indians who were punished for this crime later said that during the three days they spent in consultations until deciding the death of this martyr, he was always on his knees, praying; and that when they took him to execute his death, they put a rope around his neck and dragged him, and abused him in a thousand ways and jibed at him, and gave him many forms of torment; and during his martyrdom, he begged the evildoers to let him kneel and pray to God, and that they should kill him or do as they might want to him while he was praying. And as soon as they granted his request, he kneeled on the ground and sought to imitate our Redeemer and beg God on behalf of those who killed him, saying: “Pater, dimitte illis, non enim sciunt quid faciunt.[1] And saying these holy words and others with great devotion and tears, entrusting his soul to Jesus Christ, kneeling thus they gave him such a blow to the head that they killed him and sent this blessed Dionisio to heavenly glory. After they had killed him, they did many wicked and foul deeds to this martyr’s body, dragging it here and there, deeds that are not for writing down.

Of the other monks in Chiribichi, none of them escaped, and they killed them one day while one of them was celebrating mass and the others in the choir were officiating; and they likewise killed their servants, and even tied a lad to a waterwheel and shot him with arrows, as well as all the cats they could find. They pardoned none nor desired any to remain alive. And in both capes or monasteries, they burned the images and crosses; and they shattered a large Crucifix of the Franciscans and placed the pieces at crossroads and marked roadways, as was often done to evildoer quartered by justice for some serious crime. They were very insolent and wicked, since there was no evil nor manner of cruelty that came to mind or they craved that they would not put into practice like embittered injurious beasts. They took the Franciscan’s bell and broke it into small pieces; they cut down the orange trees and everything the monks had in the garden. And this harm done, they prepared to cross to the island of Cubagua to attack the Christians there. At that time, the lord mayor there was one Antonio Flores, who, hearing this news, since there were three hundred or more Spaniards on the island and many supplies, he and the rest agreed not to wait for the Indians, and they embarked in certain caravels that were there and in the ships with which they carried water; and, without waiting for any Indians, they abandoned the island, leaving in their own houses many wine casks and many provisions to eat and items for bartering, and furnishings from their homes. And they came to this island of Hispaniola and this city Santo Domingo, not without great shame and blame to themselves, and they deserved to be well punished for their cowardice, especially that lord mayor who was the head of the village, particularly given that there were some men of honor and good breeding who asked Antonio Flores not to forsake the island but to face what should come until they could be rescued. But the mayor did not heed their words and protestations; rather, as he had determined to give in to his fear, he made many other errors, and he apprehended certain peaceful Indians who were on the island bartering their pearls, as well as their neighbors and natives of the island of Margarita, and brought them with him to this city of Santo Domingo. So that, due to Antonio Flores’ pusillanimity, that part of the Mainland and the island of Cubagua were forsaken by the Christians at that time. And knowing of his flight, the Indians travelled to the island and robbed all they found on it, and they learned that the Christians had fled in fear of them, and they remained complete lords of the land until the time of their punishment came. And although some few of those who left Cubagua for lack of a captain were good men and would have done their duty, the greater part of the others were useless men who went there for the bustle and procurement of pearls and not to use arms.

Flavio Vegezio[2] says that just as the well-trained soldier desires the battle, thus and much more, the ill-trained timidly flee it. And if from pure negligence any knowledge of military discipline comes to nothing, then between the soldier and the villain all differences die. And what the same author further says in this matter does not contradict what has been told here.[3] “It is not so much the number that should be regarded but the degree of sufficiency of the well-trained.” And, just as it is the general custom for the glory of the victory and the triumph to be attributed to the captain, and consequently for the blame to be attributed to the leader of the army or republic, when a weakness or loss or other similar setback leads to the loss of the army or village or the forsaking of the country or republic, as was the case in Cubagua, so say military and other well-conceived laws, and Vegezio with them,[4] “that fear is given to many and the pain to few.” And so would this case have required it, as has been told here.

[1] Luke XXII.

[2] From Re Militari, Book II [by Plubius Flavius Vegetius Renatus].

[3] Book III.

[4] Book III.