Here begins the sixteenth book of the Natural and General History of the Indies, Islands, and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, which deals with the conquest and settlement of the island of Boriquen, now called San Juan Island by the Christians.
Translated by Carlos Espina ’20
It is convenient, for the conclusion of the first part of this General History of the Indies, to give particular account of the other islands, as I have told what I have been able to see and understand about the main one, called Haiti by the Indians and Hispaniola by the Christians. Let us now move on to Boriquen, now called San Juan, which is really a very rich and fertile island of great worth. And, as briefly as I can, after I have finished this Book XVI, I will move on to other notable islands that I will discuss in the following books. Then I will discuss the remaining islands, except those that are very close to the Mainland, because mention of them will be made elsewhere. And in order to spare the readers the burden of repetition, I will refer to Hispaniola when similarities between the islands arise, because they are similar in many things—as in the birds, animals, fisheries, and other particularities. For clarity, I will not follow previous authors who when writing of a particular province were content with mentioning those nearby as if one could be understood by its proximity to the other; I will show the surrounding or adjacent provinces, and I will also tell in what latitude, elevation, and degrees this and the other islands of which I will speak are located, and how far they are from the equinoctial, which is the most accurate measurement in this case. And if this had been done by those who wrote of these Hesperides islands (which, for the reasons that I have alleged in the third chapter of the second book of this first part, I consider these islands to be), the navigation route would not have been lost, nor would they now come to be considered the New World, as Peter Martyr d’Anghiera entitled his decades in De Orbe Novo, referring to these our Indies. Because these lands are neither newer or older than Asia, Africa and Europe. And since the ancient cosmographers who divided the world into these three parts did not include this land and great provinces and kingdoms of our Indies in them, it seemed to the author that his decades were about a new world. It is evident that these Indies can be neither Africa nor Europe, because the Nile River divides Africa from Asia to the east and the Ocean surrounds it to the west and south. Everything else on the other side of the Nile is given to Asia in Ptolemy’s cosmography, because according to the ancients Europe is separated from Asia by the Tanais River, and to the south there is the Mediterranean Sea; the Ocean Sea surrounds most of it to the West; the frozen sea and the Hyperborean Mountains border it on the North; and Sarmatia and Scythia and the Caspian Sea, which is all part of Asia, border it on the East, etc. Given what I have said of their borders, it is widely known that these our Indies can in no way be part of Europe or Africa, and if they are to belong to any of the three it must be Asia. And that is if it can be confirmed that the furthest land to the east of Asia and facing the kingdom of China, or if another land further to the East connects to the western part of the Mainland of these our Indies (which is the westernmost part of New Spain, as we call it here). Since it has not yet been discovered in its totality, it is not known if New Spain has sea or land at its border, or if it is, as I believe, surrounded by the Ocean Sea; in my opinion and that of others, it is not part of Asia, nor it is attached to what the ancient cosmographers called Asia. It is believed that the Mainland of these Indies is one half of the world, as large or perhaps larger than Asia, Africa and Europe, and that the entire land of the universe is divided into two parts—one is what the ancients called Asia, Africa and Europe, and the other part or half of the world is this our Indies. Peter Martyr was thus right to call it the New World, according to the information or arguments offered by the ancients (and for what it now seems was ignored by them and is now seen by us). As I have said and proven elsewhere, these islands are the Hesperides; I do not see the Mainland as the Hesperides, but as a half or greater part of the two main parts that contain the entire universe. In my opinion, the truth of this cosmography can be seen clearly in the entire landscape of everything that has been discovered and why the navigation needles promptly showed us the diameter line in the islands of the Azores, as I mentioned more extensively in book II. And from those to the east I call one half of the orb, consisting of Asia, Africa, and Europe; from the same islands to the west I call the other half, where our Indies and the Mainland are located. This half opens to a mouth in the form of a hunter’s lure, and its northern tip is the land they call Labrador, which is sixty degrees or more from the equinoctial; the southern tip is eight degrees from the other part of the equinoctial, which is called Cabo de San Augustin. Going from one tip to the other, land to land, it would be necessary to navigate through said coast more than three leagues in the circumference of the inner part or inside the two tips of the lure. To travel on the outside, however, from end to end, on the part that is surrounded by the great sea, having entered the strait that Captain Ferdinand Magellan discovered (if, as I said above, it doesn’t connect to Asia, because in my opinion it is all water), whoever makes the trip would have to sail more than six thousand leagues and would find themselves in the circumference of the Mainland, as shown by the new cosmography. From said tip or Cabo de San Augustin to the southern part, this land extends to the Strait of Magellan, which is at fifty-two and a half degrees. Then enter, cosmographers, through the strait that I indicate, and go look for Labrador’s northern tip and you will see that your distance will be doubled. What is more, no one has seen or discovered what is either inside or outside these outer points, for most of what has been seen is between each end, and those are these our islands as mediterranean, according to modern navigation charts. These islands, which are to the west of the diameter line of our Indies, or more to the west of the Azores, will be discussed below in greater detail, especially those that are populated by Christians (in addition to Hispaniola, which is the main one and the one I have discussed in the preceding books).
I now want to discuss the island of Boriquen; the island the Indians call Cuba; the one called Fernandina by the Christians; Jamaica, now called Santiago, and Cubagua, which the Christians call Isla de las Perlas or the Nueva Cáliz. I will also discuss two other small ones that are occupied by a few Christians, which are the one they call Margarita, near Cubagua, and the other one is La Mona, which is between Hispaniola and San Juan. First I will discuss La Mona, because ships must pass it to go from Hayti or Hispaniola to San Juan or Boriquen. And so, with God’s help, when I have discussed these particular islands, I will discuss the others broadly, thus concluding the first part of this General and Natural History of the Indies. Though there are many novelties and things to highlight in this first part, many more will be seen in the second and third parts. May God allow me to write what I have seen of the abovementioned Mainland or half of the universe, because in truth they are things that have never been heard of or written about by other ancient authors until our times—none of them spoke of these lands. For what has been said elsewhere of the Hesperides Islands, as in Solinus’ Mirabilibus Mundi, does not make them the Mainland, nor can other authors make such a claim, like those that satisfy themselves with the forty-day navigation from the Gorgades Islands or Cape Verde (from those to the Mainland, which is closer to them, the voyage could be much shorter).