On several distinctive features of the island of San Juan.
Translated by Andrea Tellez ’21
Since the governorate of the island of San Juan and the events that took place at the beginning of its conquest and settlement have been described, I want to mention in this chapter some special features concerning this island and its Indians.
These Indians were archers; but they did not shoot with poison, and sometimes the Carib Indians from the neighboring islands would come and join them to fight against the Christians; and the Caribs shoot arrows with a very bad herbal poison, which remains fatal to this day, as no one knows the cure.
Some say that those from this island did not eat human flesh, but I doubt this since the Caribs helped them and dealt with them, and they do eat it.
The people of this island are dark-skinned and of the height and shape that has been told about the Indians of Hispaniola, easygoing and capable both at sea and on land, but those from the island of San Juan are more so, as well as fiercer warriors, and go around naked.
In the idolatry of the cemi, the ceremonial dances, the batey games, in the navigation of their canoes, their foods and agriculture, fishing, the building of houses and beds, in their marriages and succession of caciques and lordships, they are very similar to the Indians of Hispaniola. And all of the trees, plants, fruits, herbs, animals, birds, fish, and insects that are in Haiti or the island of Hispaniola, all the same are found in Boriquen or the island of San Juan, and in the same way everything that by Spanish industry and diligence has been done and proliferated in Hispaniola as to the raising of cattle—from where they were taken to the island of San Juan—has done very well, and the same for the orange, pomegranate, and fig trees, and bananas, vegetables, and other things from Spain.
But there in San Juan there is a tree that they call palo santo, which as a thing very worthy of particular notice will be the subject of a forthcoming chapter, where part of its excellent qualities will be described.
There is a sugar refinery built by the Genovese Tomás de Castellón, which was left to his heirs, not without disputes and litigation among them; but regardless of who inherited it, they say it is a charming estate.
These Indians of San Juan, as is common to all in the Indies, light their fires with sticks, as I have described above. They have very good salt mines in the part I mentioned of the southern coast, and very good rivers and waters, and mines rich with gold, from which a lot of gold has been extracted and continues to be extracted. There are more birds commonly than in the island of Hispaniola; and I will not fail to mention a certain game bird I have never seen except on this island, nor have I even heard of it being hunted in any other part of the world. And these are some bats that the Indians eat (and so did the Spanish during the conquest). They are very fat and in very hot water they are skinned very easily, and they end up like little meadow birds, very white and tasty, according to the Indians: and the Christians do not deny that they tasted and ate them many times out of necessity, and other men because they are fond of trying things they see other people do. Finally, this island is very fertile and rich and among the best presently settled by Christians.