Christopher Columbus and Native Societies

Do these excerpts from Columbus’ log provide us with any useful information about the native societies of these islands? For example, what? Cite specific evidence.Columbus Journal (Excerpts)

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Friday, 3 August 1492. Set sail from the bar
of Saltes at 8 o’clock, and proceeded with a strong breeze till sunset, sixty
miles or fifteen leagues south, afterwards southwest and south by west, which
is the direction of the Canaries.


Thursday, 9 August. The Admiral did not succeed
in reaching the island of Gomera till Sunday night. Martin Alonzo remained
at Grand Canary by command of the Admiral, he being unable to keep the other
vessels company. The Admiral afterwards returned to Grand Canary, and there
with much labor repaired the Pinta, being assisted by Martin Alonzo and the
others; finally they sailed to Gomera. They saw a great eruption of names
from the Peak of Teneriffe, a lofty mountain. The Pinta, which before had
carried latine sails, they altered and made her square-rigged. Returned to
Gomera, Sunday, 2 September, with the Pinta repaired.

The Admiral says that he was assured by many
respectable Spaniards, inhabitants of the island of Ferro, who were at Gomera
with Dona Inez Peraza, mother of Guillen Peraza, afterwards first Count of
Gomera, that every year they saw land to the west of the Canaries; and others
of Gomera affirmed the same with the like assurances.

The Admiral here says that he remembers, while
he was in Portugal, in 1484, there came a person to the King from the island
of Madeira, soliciting for a vessel to go in quest of land, which he affirmed
he saw every year, and always of the same appearance. He also says that he
remembers the same was said by the inhabitants of the Azores and described
as in a similar direction, and of the same shape and size. Having taken in
food, water, meat and other provisions, which had been provided by the men
which he left ashore on departing for Grand Canary to repair the Pinta, the
Admiral took his final departure from Gomera with the three vessels on Thursday,
6 September.

Sunday, 9 September. Sailed this day nineteen
leagues, and determined to count less than the true number, that the crew
might not be dismayed if the voyage should prove long. In the night sailed
one hundred and twenty miles, at the rate of ten miles an hour, which make
thirty leagues. The sailors steered badly, causing the vessels to fall to
leeward toward the northeast, for which the Admiral reprimanded them
Monday, 10 September. This day and night sailed
sixty leagues, at the rate of ten miles an hour, which are two leagues and
a half. Reckoned only forty-eight leagues, that the men might not be terrified
if they should be long upon the voyage.


Sunday, 23 September. Sailed northwest and northwest
by north and at times west nearly twenty-two leagues. Saw a turtle dove,
a pelican, a river bird, and other white fowl;–weeds in abundance with crabs
among them. The sea being smooth and tranquil, the sailors murmured, saying
that they had got into smooth water, where it would never blow to carry them
back to Spain; but afterwards the sea rose without wind, which astonished
them. The Admiral says on this occasion “the rising of the sea was very favorable
to me, as it happened formerly to Moses when he led the Jews from

Saturday, 6 October. Continued their course
west and sailed forty leagues day and night; reckoned to the crew thirty-three.
This night Martin Alonzo gave it as his opinion that they had better steer
from west to southwest. The Admiral thought from this that Martin Alonzo
did not wish to proceed onward to Cipango; but he considered it best to keep
on his course, as he should probably reach the land sooner in that direction,
preferring to visit the continent first, and then the islands.

Sunday, 7 October. Continued their course west
and sailed twelve miles an hour, for two hours, then eight miles an hour.
Sailed till an hour after sunrise, twenty-three leagues; reckoned to the
crew eighteen. At sunrise the caravel Nina, who kept ahead on account of
her swiftness in sailing, while all the vessels were striving to outsail
one another, and gain the reward promised by the King and Queen by first
discovering land–hoisted a flag at her mast head, and fired a lombarda,
as a signal that she had discovered land, for the Admiral had given orders
to that effect. He had also ordered that the ships should keep in close company
at sunrise and sunset, as the air was more favorable at those times for seeing
at a distance. Towards evening seeing nothing of the land which the Nina
had made signals for, and observing large flocks of birds coming from the
North and making for the southwest, whereby it was rendered probable that
they were either going to land to pass the night, or abandoning the countries
of the north, on account of the approaching winter, he determined to alter
his course, knowing also that the Portuguese had discovered most of the islands
they possessed by attending to the flight of birds. The Admiral accordingly
shifted his course from west to west-southwest, with a resolution to continue
two days ill that direction. This was done about an hour after sunset. Sailed
in the night nearly five leagues, and twenty-three in the day. In all

Thursday, 11 October. Steered west-southwest;
and encountered a heavier sea than they had met with before in the whole
voyage. Saw pardelas and a green rush near the vessel. The crew of the Pinta
saw a cane and a log; they also picked up a stick which appeared to have
been carved with an iron tool, a piece of cane, a plant which grows on land,
and a board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land, and a stalk loaded
with rose berries. These signs encouraged them, and they all grew cheerful.
Sailed this day till sunset, twenty-seven leagues.

After sunset steered their original course west
and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going ninety
miles, which are twenty-two leagues and a half; and as the Pinta was the
swiftest sailor, and kept ahead of the Admiral, she discovered land and made
the signals which had been ordered.

The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo
de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o’clock that evening standing on the
quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it
to be land; calling to Pero Gutierrez, groom of the King’s wardrobe, he told
him he saw a light, and bid him look that way, which he did and saw it; he
did the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent
with the squadron as comptroller, but he was unable to see it from his situation.
The Admiral again perceived it once or twice, appearing like the light of
a wax candle moving up and down, which some thought an indication of land.
But the Admiral held it for certain that land was near; for which reason,
after they had said the Salve which the seamen are accustomed to repeat and
chant after their fashion, the Admiral directed them to keep a strict watch
upon the forecastle and look out diligently for land, and to him who should
first discover it he promised a silken jacket, besides the reward which the
King and Queen had offered, which was an annuity of ten thousand
At two o’clock in the morning the land was
discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under
the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves
near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.
Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat,
which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother,
captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains
each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained
the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and
a crown over each letter.
Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green
many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits. The Admiral called upon
the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo
de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear
witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of
that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite
declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing. Numbers of
the people of the island straightaway collected together.

Here follow the precise words of the Admiral:
“As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could
be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force,
I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the
neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted,
and became wonderfully attached to us. Afterwards they came swimming to the
boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other
things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads,
and hawk’s bells; which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But
they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely
naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young,
not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces; their
hair short, and coarse like that of a horse’s tail, combed toward the forehead,
except a small portion which they suffer to hang down behind, and never cut.
Some paint themselves with black, which makes them appear like those of the
Canaries, neither black nor white; others with white, others with red, and
others with such colors as they can find. Some paint the face, and some the
whole body; others only the eyes, and others the nose. Weapons they have
none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped
by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their
javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have
fish-bones or other things at the ends. They are all of a good size and stature,
and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies,
and demanded by signs the of them; they answered me in the same way, that
there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored
to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves. I thought then,
and still believe, that these were from the continent. It appears to me,
that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion
that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no
religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it
please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your
Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island,
nor any sort of animals except parrots.” These are the words of the
Saturday, 13 October. “At daybreak great multitudes
of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome; their
hair not curled but straight and coarse like horse-hair, and all with foreheads
and heads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen; their eyes were
large and very beautiful; they were not black, but the color of the inhabitants
of the Canaries, which is a very natural circumstance, they being in the
same latitude with the island of Ferro in the Canaries. They were straight-limbed
without exception, and not with prominent bellies but handsomely shaped.
They came to the ship in canoes, made of a single trunk of a tree, wrought
in a wonderful manner considering the country; some of them large enough
to contain forty or forty-five men, others of different sizes down to those
fitted to hold but a single person. They rowed with an oar like a baker’s
peel, and wonderfully swift. If they happen to upset, they all jump into
the sea, and swim till they have righted their canoe and emptied it with
the calabashes they carry with them. They came loaded with balls of cotton,
parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged
for whatever we chose to give them. I was very attentive to them, and strove
to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of this
metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going
southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be
found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities.
I endeavored to procure them to lead the way thither, but found they were
unacquainted with the route. I determined to stay here till the evening of
the next day, and then sail for the southwest; for according to what I could
learn from them, there was land at the south as well as at the southwest
and northwest and those from the northwest came many times and fought with
them and proceeded on to the southwest in search of gold and precious stones.
This is a large and level island, with trees extremely flourishing, and streams
of water; there is a large lake in the middle of the island, but no mountains:
the whole is completely covered with verdure and delightful to behold. The
natives are an inoffensive people, and so desirous to possess any thing they
saw with us, that they kept swimming off to the ships with whatever they
could find, and readily bartered for any article we saw fit to give them
in return, even such as broken platters and fragments of glass. I saw in
this manner sixteen balls of cotton thread which weighed above twenty-five
pounds, given for three Portuguese ceutis. This traffic I forbade, and suffered
no one to take their cotton from them, unless I should order it to be procured
for your Highnesses, if proper quantities could be met with. It grows in
this island, but from my short stay here I could not satisfy myself fully
concerning it; the gold, also, which they wear in their noses, is found here,
but not to lose time, I am determined to proceed onward and ascertain whether
I can reach Cipango. At night they all went on shore with their canoes.

Sunday, 14 October. In the morning, I ordered
the boats to be got ready, and coasted along the island toward the north-
northeast to examine that part of it, we having landed first at the eastern
part. Presently we discovered two or three villages, and the people all came
down to the shore, calling out to us, and giving thanks to God. Some brought
us water, and others victuals: others seeing that I was not disposed to land,
plunged into the sea and swam out to us, and we perceived that they interrogated
us if we had come from heaven. An old man came on board my boat; the others,
both men and women cried with loud voices–“Come and see the men who have
come from heavens. Bring them victuals and drink.” There came many of both
sexes, every one bringing something, giving thanks to God, prostrating themselves
on the earth, and lifting up their hands to heaven. They called out to us
loudly to come to land, but I was apprehensive on account of a reef of rocks,
which surrounds the whole island, although within there is depth of water
and room sufficient for all the ships of Christendom, with a very narrow
entrance. There are some shoals inside, but the water is as smooth as a pond.
It was to view these parts that I set out in the morning, for I wished to
give a complete relation to your Highnesses, as also to find where a fort
might be built. I discovered a tongue of land which appeared like an island
though it was not, but might be cut through and made so in two days; it contained
six houses. I do not, however, see the necessity of fortifying the place,
as the people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will
see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain
in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should
choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island.
I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.
Near the islet I have mentioned were groves of trees, the most beautiful
I have ever seen, with their foliage as verdant as we see in Castile in April
and May. There were also many streams. After having taken a survey of these
parts, I returned to the ship, and setting sail, discovered such a number
of islands that I knew not which first to visit; the natives whom I had taken
on board informed me by signs that there were so many of them that they could
not be numbered; they repeated the names of more than a hundred. I determined
to steer for the largest, which is about five leagues from San Salvador;
the others were some at a greater, and some at a less distance from that
island. They are all very level, without mountains, exceedingly fertile and
populous, the inhabitants living at war with one another, although a simple
race, and with delicate bodies.
15 October. Stood off and on during the night,
determining not to come to anchor till morning, fearing to meet with shoals;
continued our course in the morning; and as the island was found to be six
or seven leagues distant, and the tide was against us, it was noon when we
arrived there. I found that part of it towards San Salvador extending from
north to south five leagues, and the other side which we coasted along, ran
from east to west more than ten leagues. From this island espying a still
larger one to the west, I set sail in that direction and kept on till night
without reaching the western extremity of the island, where I gave it the
name of Santa Maria de la Concepcion. About sunset we anchored near the cape
which terminates the island towards the west to enquire for gold, for the
natives we had taken from San Salvador told me that the people here wore
golden bracelets upon their arms and legs. I believed pretty confidently
that they had invented this story in order to find means to escape from us,
still I determined to pass none of these islands without taking possession,
because being once taken, it would answer for all times. We anchored and
remained till Tuesday, when at daybreak I went ashore with the boats armed.
The people we found naked like those of San Salvador, and of the same
disposition. They suffered us to traverse the island, and gave us what we
asked of them. As the wind blew southeast upon the shore where the vessels
lay, I determined not to remain, and set out for the ship. A large canoe
being near the caravel Nina, one of the San Salvador natives leaped overboard
and swam to her; (another had made his escape the night before,) the canoe
being reached by the fugitive, the natives rowed for the land too swiftly
to be overtaken; having landed, some of my men went ashore in pursuit of
them, when they abandoned the canoe and fled with precipitation; the canoe
which they had left was brought on board the Nina, where from another quarter
had arrived a small canoe with a single man, who came to barter some cotton;
some of the sailors finding him unwilling to go on board the vessel, jumped
into the sea and took him. I was upon the quarter deck of my ship, and seeing
the whole, sent for him, and gave him a red cap, put some glass beads upon
his arms, and two hawk’s bells upon his ears. I then ordered his canoe to
be returned to him, and dispatched him back to land.

I now set sail for the other large island to
the west and gave orders for the canoe which the Nina had in tow to be set
adrift. I had refused to receive the cotton from the native whom I sent on
shore, although he pressed it upon me. I looked out after him and saw upon
his landing that the others all ran to meet him with much wonder. It appeared
to them that we were honest people, and that the man who had escaped from
us had done us some injury, for which we kept him in custody. It was in order
to favor this notion that I ordered the canoe to be set adrift, and gave
the man the presents above mentioned, that when your Highnesses send another
expedition to these parts it may meet with a friendly reception. All I gave
the man was not worth four maravedis. We set sail about ten o’clock, with
the wind southeast and stood southerly for the island I mentioned above,
which is a very large one, and where according to the account of the natives
on board, there is much gold, the inhabitants wearing it in bracelets upon
their arms, legs, and necks, as well as in their ears and at their noses.
This island is nine leagues distant from Santa Maria in a westerly direction.
This part of it extends from northwest, to southeast and appears to be
twenty-eight leagues long, very level, without any mountains, like San Salvador
and Santa Maria, having a good shore and not rocky, except a few ledges under
water, which renders it necessary to anchor at some distance, although the
water is very clear, and the bottom may be seen. Two shots of a lombarda
from the land, the water is so deep that it cannot be sounded; this is the
case in all these islands. They are all extremely verdant and fertile, with
the air agreeable, and probably contain many things of which I am ignorant,
not inclining to stay here, but visit other islands in search of gold. And
considering the indications of it among the natives who wear it upon their
arms and legs, and having ascertained that it is the true metal by showing
them some pieces of it which I have with me, I cannot fail, with the help
of our Lord, to find the place which produces it. Being at sea, about midway
between Santa Maria and the large island, which I name Fernandina, we met
a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him a
piece of the bread which the natives make, as big as one’s fist, a calabash
of water, a quantity of reddish earth, pulverized and afterwards kneaded
up, and some dried leaves which are in high value among them, for a quantity
of it was brought to me at San Salvador; he had besides a little basket made
after their fashion, containing some glass beads, and two blancas by all
which I knew he had come from San Salvador, and had passed from thence to
Santa Maria. He came to the ship and I caused him to be taken on board, as
he requested it; we took his canoe also on board and took care of his things.
I ordered him to be presented with bread and honey, and drink, and shall
carry him to Fernandina and give him his property, that he may carry a good
report of us, so that if it please our Lord when your Highnesses shall send
again to these regions, those who arrive here may receive honor, and procure
what the natives may be found to

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