Primary Source – Topic # 1 – Hernán Cortés and Columbus

During this time I walked among the trees, which the most beautiful I have ever seen. I saw as much greenery, in such density, as I would have seen in Andalusia in May. And all of the trees are as differ from ours as day is from night, and so are the fruits, herbage, the rocks, and everything. . . .

This morning I took the small boat and went the river until I reached fresh water, which might be about six miles. I beached the boat and went ashore climbing a slight elevation in order to learn something about this country, but I could not see any because of the thick forest, which was very fresh and fragrant. I have no doubt that there are many aromatic herbs here. Everything is so beautiful that my eyes never weary of seeing such a sight, nor could ever tire of the songs of the birds, both large and small…

There are trees . . . that give a fruit like apricot, which is full of small seeds like the seeds fig, red as scarlet which the inhabitants eat, but to it is none too good. . . . There are also some like the artichoke plant but four times as tall, which gives a fruit in the shape of a pine cone, twice as big, which fruit is excellent, and it can be cut with a knife like turnip and it seems to be very wholesome ….

All the land around the village is cultivated, and a river flows through the middle of the valley. It is very large and wide and could irrigate all the I around. All the trees are green and full of fruit, the plants are in flower and very tall. The roads wide and good, and the breezes are like those in Castile in the month of April. The nightingales other small birds sing as they do in Spain in the month, and it is the greatest pleasure in the world Small birds sing sweetly during the night, and one can hear many crickets and frogs. The fish are the same as in Spain. There are many mastic trees and aloes and cotton trees.

Primary Source # 1:

The Log of Christopher Columbus, trans. Robert H. Fuson International
Marine Publishers, Copyright © Reprinted with permission,1992.


Several weeks after arriving in the Bahamas , Columbus tasted a local bread made from manioc (known to the Spanish as yuca and to the English as cassava). Manioc had been under cultivation in the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years and to this day remains a staple for millions of people in the tropics. A fast-growing shrub, the manioc plant produces large tubular roots that provide starch energy on a subsistence level. It is generally made into a paste or a porridge eaten with a sauce or made into a flour. Columbus discusses manioc in his journal .

They [the Amerindians] brought the bread of niamas [rnanioc], which are tubers and look like large radishes. These are planted in all their fields and are their staff of life. They make bread from them and boil and roast them, and they taste like chestnuts. . .

These fields are planted mostly with ajes.

The Indians sow little shoots from which small roots grow that look like carrots. They serve this bread by grating and kneading it, then baking it in the fire. They plant a small shoot from the iaIlle root again in another place, and once more it produces four or five of these roots. They are very palatable and taste exactly like chestnuts. The ones grown here are the largest and best I have seen anywhere. I have also seen them in Guinea, but those that grow there are thick as your leg.

The Log of Christopher Columbus, trans. Robert H. Fuson International Publishers, Copyright © Reprinted with permission, 1992.

Hernan Cortes

The food they [the inhabitants of islands off the Yucatan] eat is maize and some chili peppers, as on the other islands, and patata yuca, just the same as is eaten in Cuba, and they eat it roast, for they do not make bread of it; and they both hunt and fish and breed many chickens [probably turkeys] such as those found on Tierra Firme, which are as big as peacocks.

From Hernan Cortes. Letters from Mexico, trans. and ed. A. R. Pagden Yale University Press, Copyright © 1971.

The Spanish enjoyed wine made from grapes, which Europeans had produced since ancient times. As early as his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought with him seeds and cuttings from numerous plants, including vines, but Europeans soon discovered that the climate was right only in Peru, Chile, and what is now Argentina. By 1614, one vineyard in Chile produced some 200,000 jugs of wine. The conquistadors found that the Amerindians had their own version of wine made from the maguey plant, a member of the aloe family. When drunk fresh from the plant, the sap is known as aguamiel, or honey water.” When fermented, however, the resulting syrupy liquor becomes pulque, a beverage still consumed in the region today. When the Europeans distilled pulque, they pro duced a higherproof alcohol liquor known today as Tequila.

This city has many squares where trading is done and markets are held continuously. There is also one square twice as big as that of
Salamanca, with arcades all around, where more than sixty thousand people come each day to buy and sell, and where every kind of merchandise produced in these lands is found; provision!
as well as ornaments of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, tin, stones, shells, bones, and feathers. They also sell lime, hewn and unhewn stone, adobe bricks, tiles, and cut and uncut woods of various kinds. There is a street where they sell game and birds of every species found in this land: chickens, partridges and quails,
wild ducks, ‘fly-catchers, widgeons, turtledoves, pigeons, cane birds, parrots, eagles and eagle owls, falcons, sparrow hawks and kestrels, and they sell the skins of some of these birds of prey
with their feathers, heads and claws. They sell rabbits and hares, and stags and small gelded dogs which they breed for eating.There are streets of herbalists where all medicinal herbs and roots found in the land are sold. There are shops like apothecaries’, where they sell ready-made medicines as well as liquid
ointments and plasters. There are shops like barbers’ where they have their hair washed and shaved, and shops where they sell food and drink. There are also men like porters to carry
loads. There is much firewood and charcoal, earthenware braziers and mats of various kinds like mattresses for beds, and other, finer ones,’seats and for covering rooms and hallways. There is every sort of vegetable, especially onions, leeks, garlic, common cress and watercress, borage, sorrel, teasels and artichokes;
there are many sorts of fruit, among which are cherries and plums like those in Spain.

They sell honey, wax, and a syrup made from maize canes, which is as sweet and syrup that is made from the sugar cane. They make syrup from a plant which in the islands are called maguey, which is much better than most ~TUp , and from this plant they also make sugar and wine, which they likewise sell. There are many sorts of spun cotton, in hanks of every color, and it seems like the silk market atGranada, except here there is a much greater quantity. They sell as many colors for painters as may be found in Spain and all of excellent hues. They sell deerskins, with and without the hair, and some are dyed white or in various colors, They sell much earthenware, which for the most part is very good; there are both large and small pitchers, jugs, pots, tiles, and many other sorts of vessel, all of good clay and most of them glazed and painted. They sell maize both as a grain and as bread and it is better both in appearance and in taste than any found in the island or on the mainland. They sell chicken and fish pies, and much fresh and salted fish, as well a raw and cooked fish. They sell hens and eggs, and egg of all the other birds I have mentioned, in great number, and they sell tor nuas made from eggs.

From Hernan Cortes, Letters from Mexico, trans. and ed. A. R. Pagden
Yale University Press, Copyright © 1971.



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