Here begins the eighteenth book of the first part of the Natural and General History of the Indies, Islands, and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, which deals with matters related to the island of Jamaica, now known as Santiago.
Translated by Onyx Beytia ’22
Those who have been engaged (as I am now) in writing and bringing news to the world of the diverse nations within it, of the natural world and things unknown to outsiders but shared only with those who have dared to inquire and seek, opening themselves to many dangers in order to see and understand them, crossing sea and land as part of their quest, traveling through regions and conditions as different as the elements and composition of their natures, according to the natural arts with which God made them, and facing the inconveniences they will inevitably find in those lands, provinces, and seas: differences in provisions, waters, airs, and in the character of the mountains and valleys through which they course, not always healthy or well-suited to them; animals such as tigers, lions, snakes, and other harmful creatures and countless other difficulties that cannot be expressed in a few short lines. And even if the one who engages in such an exercise manages to escape all these dangers, who is going to protect him from gossipmongers?: from those who speak about what they don’t understand and who admonish others about what they cannot grasp or would not know how to do; and ungrateful to those who have brought them word of what they did not know, they cannot keep from biting the hand of those who deserve their thanks and did nothing to offend them in the first place. Despite opening myself to these travails and admonitions, I will not stop writing without pretense or fear about what I have seen and understood of these wonderful stories so new and so worthy of being heard. Therefore, let the conceited lend their ears to books about Amadís and Esplandián and those that stem from them, which has engendered such an expanding legion of fables that, by the way, it shames me to hear that so much nonsense is being written about in Spain, such that it makes us forget the nonsense of the Greeks. Those who write such works and those who read such fictions forget the words of the Gospels that teach us that the devil is the father of lies; because then whoever writes such tales is his offspring. May God protect me from such a sin and lead my pen so that I can always say and write with truth (even if my style is deficient), according to truth, and in the service and praise God, in hope of which I have arrived at this book XVIII, offering a sense of what I have written in previous books; and with His favor I hope to continue this in the present as well as in years to come, yet not on account of the elegance and ornament of my style (which is lacking), but close to the staff of the same and clear truth, little by little, never disregarding the propriety and habit the vixen uses to cross the ice: which, in the province of Thrace, a very cold region, when it wants to cross frozen rivers or lagoons, it never does it except when it is coming or going from feeding; and since it is an animal of very subtle hearing, before it crosses it puts its ear on the ice, and in that way it figures out how thick it is, and if it enough to hold its weight for safe passing. So, in this way, I know that my treatises will not sink because they cross the bridge of truth, whose strength and power will sustain and prolong my vigils, since they are in praise of the Maker and Lord of all that has been made and created, and of what is or has potential to be; for whom nothing is impossible, and there are not and never will be enough languages to praise His wonders nor reasons and occasions to thank Him. I do not write to cross the icy plains of gossip without reason, but because I strive for the sustenance of my obedience and will to serve God as well as my king, by whose command I engage in it; and from here I assess and recognize that I can cross safely and without slander, as to arrive at the core and fruit of expressing the truth. Otherwise I confess that others would do this better if they dedicated themselves to these matters; and seeing them not from Greece or from the hearths or gardens where, according to the weather, some authors could look at what they had written in leisure; because in such places they draw on the harmony of their studies and the talent nature provided; but writing about matters here, full of thirst, very hungry and weary, at war against enemies and in either war or peace against the elements, fighting against many needs and dangers, wounded without a surgeon, sick without doctor or medicine, hungry without having anything to eat, thirsty without finding water, tired without finding rest, needing clothing and shoes, walking when one knows how to ride a horse, crossing many wide rivers without knowing how to swim. And God’s clemency supplies for these and countless other needs, giving work to the needy, so they can escape them with his favor and compassion, as will be seen in these stories. The reader should believe that many of those in these parts have experienced all of this, and what is more, they would know how to fight against the Turks and dance with ladies, as appropriate, and to do in war and peace what was most suited and true to their honor. For although necessity brings them to this exile to live among savages, that same drive makes them more deserving than other born in greater comfort and living at their ease, not knowing more than their neighbors, and in their leisure they convince themselves that they understand things from their beds, what cannot be learned except through work, and they mock those who, courageous and not resting in their laurels or prancing about town, spent their lives in these pilgrimages. Now, let’s leave this behind and move on to the island of Jamaica, which the Christians now call Santiago, which is one of the islands populated by Spaniards, about which I will briefly and succinctly say what is to the purpose about its conquest and fertility, and other matters pertinent to its history. And its boundaries and location will be described, according to true cosmography, and its relation to the pole on our horizon.