Of things in general concerning Cuba or Fernandina, its wealth and fertility, and other particularities.
Translated by Isabella Perez ’21
The people of the island of Cuba or Fernandina are similar to those of Hispaniola, and although they differ much in their vocabulary, they still understand one another. The dress is the same as that with which they are born, and neither the men nor the women are more dressed than that. Their stature, skin color, the rites and idolatries, the game of batey or ball, all this is like it is on Hispaniola. But they are different in their marriage customs, because when one takes a wife, if he is a cacique, first all the caciques that are at the celebration lay with her; and if the groom is a principal man, all the principal men lay with her first; and if the man marrying is a commoner, all the commoners who came to the celebration try her first. And after many have tried her, she comes out shaking her arm, her fist closed and high, saying in a loud voice: Manicato, manicato—which means brave or strong and of great vigor, almost praising herself as courageous and of great worth. In the manner they govern themselves with princes or caciques, they are likewise of one practice, and in many other customs they are as has been told about Hispaniola, though they might be separate or different in some few things; but in general they are alike and similar in their vices and lasciviousness, and are of little or no truth and ungrateful. And they do not want to be more Christian than those others; although the chronicler Peter Martyr, informed by the scholar Ençiso, spoke wonders of the devotion and conversion of a cacique from Cuba that was called El Comendador (the Commander) and of his people. I have not heard of that, although I have been on that island; so on this point I refer to those who witnessed it, if indeed it happened that way. But I doubt it, because I have seen more Indians than he who wrote such things or he who told him about them; by the experience I have of these people, I believe none or very few of them are Christians to the degree that these men tell, and when some become Christian as adult men, it is more by caprice than by zeal for the faith; for only the name sticks, and even that they quickly forget. It is possible that there are some faithful Indians, but I believe they are very rare.
In Cuba there are many of the cattle that were brought from Spain, and they do well. I say the same of the trees and vegetables from Spain. There are also the trees, plants and natural herbs of the land that I have noted and particularly said are to be found in Hispaniola; but there is a greater quantity of rubia (a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae) in Cuba, which is naturally produced on that island and very good. There are all the same fish, animals, insects, and all the other things from Haiti or Hispaniola. All is the same except for the sugar, because although the canes have done very well and they may produce sugar like they do here in Hispaniola, people have not taken to it, perhaps because the tip of the island is so close to New Spain that as they finished conquering the island, many people left it for New Spain, especially, as I have said, because the first discovery of New Spain had been done from Cuba. The second armada set out from that island with Captain Johan de Grijalva, as did the third with Captain Hernán Cortés, and the fourth with Captain Pánfilo de Narváez, all four at the command of Lieutenant Diego Velazquez. As a result, the island of Cuba was almost depopulated, and it was almost completely destroyed as the Indians died from the same causes they died of on Hispaniola; for the pestilential disease of smallpox that I have mentioned was universal on all these islands. And thus God almost finished them—for their vices and crimes and idolatries. Their areytos (ceremonial dances) and songs are like those on this island; this manner of dances and song is very common in all the Indies, although in diverse tongues. Their beds are hammocks of the manner which I have described, and their houses constructed in the same form illustrated and related earlier. The greatest sin on that island was robbery, and they punished that crime as I said earlier. The religion of the Indians of Cuba is to adore the devil called cemí. And as to lustfulness, in the women it was considered a grace, and the men were abominable sodomites. They married in the ways I have said, and men left the women for petty reasons, and more often the women left the men—some with good reason, the men being so inclined against nature, and others for not wanting to waste time on the men’s vices and lasciviousness. The kings or caciques take as many women as they want, and other men take the number they can feed and sustain. They are great fishers and bird hunters, and adept at fishing with suckerfish and catching wild geese with squash, as will be related when the island of Jamaica is discussed. It is an island of very good gold and they have mined much from it. There is also plentiful and very good copper; not only is it a very sought out thing, but a few months ago one Alonso del Castillo, native of Yepes in Toledo, a boilermaker, mined three hundredweights out of the five hundredweight vein or mine he had discovered—he said that this copper was better to forge than all the coppers he had seen. This vein or mine lies in a sierra three leagues from the city of Santiago.
Returning to the rest, I say that on this island the native’s subsistence is the same as in the island of Hispaniola, and they follow the same patters in agriculture—for there are all those same plants and fruits and legumes. And there are the same four-legged animals as on Hispaniola. But there are also at present others that are larger than rabbits, with feet of the same type, except the tail is long like that of a rat and the hair straighter like a badger’s; they skin this animal, leaving the meat white and good to eat. These they catch in the mangroves along the coast, sleeping as they do on the high branches—the Indians paddle the canoe below the tree and shake the tree until the animal falls in the water, and then the Indians jump from the canoe and quickly catch many of them. This animal is called guabiniquinax (jutía or hutia): they are like foxes and the size of a hare, of a brownish-gray color mixed with red; the tail is furry and the head is like a ferret’s, and there are many of them on the coast of Fernandina. There is also another animal they call ayre. It is about the size of a rabbit, of a color between brownish-gray and red; this animal is very tough to eat, though this does not stop them from bringing it to the pot or spit. There are likewise in Cuba the same fish as in Hispaniola, and the same birds and others that were already mentioned elsewhere in its own book. It is a temperate land, but colder than Hispaniola because, as I said where its position and borders were discussed, the northern part of it lies twenty-two degrees and a half from the equator.