So begins the seventeenth book of the Natural and General History of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, which concerns the island of Cuba, now called Fernandina.
Translated by Isabella Perez ’21
On the first voyage that the first admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, made to these Indies, the first land that he discovered were the White Islands, and they began to call them so because they are made of sand so they appear white; but the Admiral ordered that they should be called the Princesses, because they were the first of these islands and of all of the Indies to be seen and discovered. They landed on the island called Guanahani, which lies in the middle of the White Islands or Princesses, in the month of November, 1492, Year of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Guanahani is one of those islands that the Indians call Lucayos, which are to the north of Cuba. From there they passed on to Cuba, which lies sixty leagues from Guanahani. But because this book XVII and its introduction will mainly address this island of Cuba, also called Fernandina (in memory of the Catholic King Don Fernando, fifth of that name in Castile), I will speak first of its borders and location, and later I will go on to its particular history. Some may ask “How, if this island was discovered before the islands of Hispaniola and San Juan, do I come to speak of it after what I have written of these others, it being so large and worthy of not having San Juan discussed ahead of it?…” To this I say that the truth is that, if my intention were to speak first of the easternmost and closest islands, or those sitting in the direction of Spain, first I would have to speak of San Juan, which is further east, and next of Hispaniola, and after that I would have to write of Cuba, which is the westernmost of all. But I did not address them in this order because it is not of substance, nor is it relevant that Cuba was discovered a few days before Hispaniola (which the Indians call Haiti). But as the most fundamental and principal Christian settlement, and the most noble province and largest island of all those known up to now in these parts, I spoke first of the form and particularities of the island of Haiti or Hispaniola, and later of the island of San Juan, and I will now write of Cuba, which is the westernmost of all three; nonetheless I preserve their order and truth of their discovery when I come to discuss them. And so those who have knowledge of cosmography understand their place and limits better, I placed them according to the degrees and heights of the pole, so that their position is better and more accurately understood. I will also say which Christian settlements there are on this island, how and by whom it was conquered and pacified, what governors there have been, and how and who went on from this island to discover Yucatan and New Spain. I will also discuss the animals and fish of this island, the large snakes and serpents that are found there, the trees and plants, the form of the people native to the island, some rites and ceremonies that they use in their idolatry and marriages, their manner of living, and other particularities and things notable to this island.