This is the nineteenth book of the Natural and general history of the Indies, islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea: which addresses the islands of Cubagua and Margarita.

Translated by Isabella Perez ’21

God did not make a useless or unprofitable thing. God saw all he made and all was good and approved by him.[1] From this we can gather, and see in effect, that in the provinces that seem to be desert-like and barren in these parts and Indies (and in all the universe), there are other secrets and utilities and an abundance of things that regions deemed the most fertile would wish for, and they are of great estimation and value. We see the land covered (in some places) by brambles, thistles, and spines; we find in its bowels rich mines of silver and gold and other metals and goods.

Many wild fields and rugged mountains and uninhabited parts and terrains without pastures for cattle are covered in orchil, to give color to cloth, or with groves very beneficial in other regards. There is nothing amiss or ill-made in nature, because the Master and Creator of it could not err, nor make an inconvenient or unprofitable thing, so much so that even in the poisons and harmful things there are medicinal secrets and excellent properties; and the more varied and different there are, the more beautiful nature is. That serpent called tiro,[2] whose bite they say is without remedy, is appropriate medicine against all poisons, as has been seen and investigated, and if you put into a mixture to combat poison (which composition they call triaca or tiriaca) an extremely small part of the tiro mixed with the other medicinal substances, the tiro brings them all to the heart, as it is its property to do, and it brings health and remedy in its mixture, and protects from that which, if it were alone, would kill. Look among snakes for a poultice; from a biting dog, the hairs. And to this purpose, if we know how to use the properties of such mysteries, nothing can be found in nature that is so bad or wasteful that it cannot be used to advantage. Thus I will speak in this Book XIX of the island of Cubagua, which is very small and extremely barren and without a drop of water from fountain or river, nor from lake or pond; and with this and other difficulties, without a place on it to sow nor produce any sustenance for the service of man, nor be able to raise cattle, since there is no pasture, it is inhabited and boasts a genteel republic that they call the New city of Cáliz. And its wealth has been so great that measure by measure there has not been in the Indies a richer or more profitable land settled by the Christians, and its space or territory is no bigger than three leagues in circumference (a little more or less); and many who are in a position to know say that since the year 1496, when it was discovered by the first Admiral Don Christopher Columbus, until now, there has been such profit from his island in its  wealth of pearls and seed pearls the royal fifths and other rights have mounted as well as the value that has redounded to particular persons from the abundance and extreme quantity of them (those they have obtained there), from which the estimation and wealth that this initiative has generated is enormous. This industry is carried on here daily. Moreover, so the history follows its order, I will say of its discovery what I have been able to comprehend and has come to my attention about this island; and there will also be mention of other islands and seacoasts in these Indies where pearls are found and of some particular pearls of high price that have been found, because in this type of history nothing should be left to say or answer later, other than identifying the provinces or parts where the pearls are found, when they are written about; because both in fishing for them, as in other particularities, it is all the same thing.

It is true that those known as nacarones or nacres are a certain and distinct manner of shell in which pearls also grow, and these are not found on all the island nor along all the coastline of the Mainland opposite the Northern coast of Cubagua; but from the other part that looks on the southern coast of the Mainland there are many to be found in many places. And speaking of them is not completely unrelated to the subject of the pearls, since they are also found and born in these nacres, which not only are useful to the Indians because of their pearls and fish to eat, but also as hoes and shovels to tend their fields, landholdings, and orchards, as will be described at length in its place. Thus, let the reader pay attention, because Pliny speaks at length about pearls,[3] as do Albertus Magnus in the De proprietatibus rerum,[4] and Isidore in his Etymologies,[5] (where the curious may see many things on this subject that I will repeat here), but I will say others of which none of these excellent authors made mention, nor any other author of those whom I have read; and I will be able to speak as an eyewitness on this because until the present time, little or none of those who have travelled to these parts has had better pearls than I in some notable pieces on which I lost money from what they cost me, because I could not keep them in my possession due to some necessities that befell me. And jewels such as these should not be sold except to whoever is looking for them, and not through searching for someone to buy them, as I did. All this shall be told later.

Let us return to the discovery of Cubagua and its pearls, since there they have been found in greater quantity than in any other part, and there they saw the first ones in these our Indies, which is my subject here.



[1] Vidit que Deus cuncta quœ fecerat, et erant valde bona. – Genesis, ch. I

[2] Pliny, Book VIII, Chapter 23.

[3] Pliny, Book IX, Chapter 35.

[4] De prop. rerum, book XVI, ch. 62.

[5] Isid., book XVI, ch. 10.