Of other particularities of the island of Santiago, which was first named Jamaica, and the way in which the Indians hunt for wild geese.
Translated by Onyx Beytia ‘22
About the rites and ceremonies of the people on the island of Santiago I will not speak because, as I have said previously, these people have the very same customs and way of life as those of the Indians on the islands of Haiti and Cuba. They were idolaters and guilty of the same vices I have described; and I will not linger in a description of their animals, their birds and fish, their agriculture and sustenance, or anything else, so as not to bring misery to my readers by telling them the same thing that they have seen in previous books. They all had and still have the same dwellings, and the same trees and fruits I have described. But since in Book XIII I dealt with the ways in which the Indians trap manatees and turtles with suckerfish, I will not repeat it here, since I said there all that could be said in the matter; but I am informed that Jamaica is the island where this new form of fishery, never seen or heard of except in these Indies and islands, has continued to be practiced the longest; and they also credit the Indians of Jamaica or Santiago with a subtle and graceful invention for catching wild geese, which is as follows. At the time of year when these birds fly past, many large flocks can be seen on that island; and since there are some lagoons and ponds, when they land to feed and rest the do so along these lakes. And the Indians who live nearby place big empty round gourds floating on the water for a few days, and the wind carries them from one side to the other, bringing them to the shoreline. The geese are agitated at first, and fly away from the calabashes as they watch them move; but little by little, as they see that no harm comes from their movement, they lose their fear; and from day to day they become accustomed to swimming among the gourds, and grow careless enough to climb on the calabashes. And thus they ride the calabashes in the wind from one side to another, as the air moves them; and when the Indians see and understand that the geese are already well accustomed and used to the sight, movement, and uses of the calabashes, an Indian will place one on his head down to the shoulders, with the rest of the person under the water, and watch the wild geese through a small hole: and they move near them, and one of them will jump into the calabash; and as soon as he feels it, he moves away very slowly, if he likes, swimming soundlessly without a sense that he’s carrying it on him or of anything else (because when it comes to swimming these Indians are more skilled than the common man); and when he has separated himself from the other geese, and it seems to the Indian to be the right time, he lifts his hand and grabs the goose by the legs and pulls it under the water so as to drown it, and then puts it on his belt, and goes back to take another one and yet another one in the same manner. And through these forms and arts the Indians are able to catch many geese. Remaining in the water, as soon as one settles down on top, he takes it as I have described and holds it under water and puts it on his belt, without the others leaving or being startled, because they think that the missing ones have plunged into the water to get a fish. And this is why they remain calm and the Indians take many of them. When I spent some time on that island I ate some of the geese that had been caught this way, and they are a true delicacy: they are small and white, and as I said, during the time they pass through the island they are innumerable; some can also be found at other times of the year. And sometimes the Indians take them by covering their heads fully with branches and swimming to the edge of the lake where the geese are, and there’s always some that climb on the branches the Indian is wearing as a garland, thinking it is foliage or grass from the banks, and as soon as the Indian feels them, he moves his hand quickly and captures them in the same way as they take them with the calabashes, as has been told here.