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An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians: A New Edition, with an Introductory Study, Notes, and Appendices by José Juan Arrom

An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians: A New Edition, with an Introductory Study, Notes, and Appendices by José Juan Arrom

by José Juan Pané, Susan C. Pané, José Juan Arrom
Accompanying Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1494 was a young Spanish friar named Ramón Pané. The friar’s assignment was to live among the “Indians” whom Columbus had “discovered” on the island of Hispaniola (today the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), to learn their language, and to write


Accompanying Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1494 was a young Spanish friar named Ramón Pané. The friar’s assignment was to live among the “Indians” whom Columbus had “discovered” on the island of Hispaniola (today the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), to learn their language, and to write a record of their lives and beliefs. While the culture of these indigenous people—who came to be known as the Taíno—is now extinct, the written record completed by Pané around 1498 has survived. This volume makes Pané’s landmark Account—the first book written in a European language on American soil—available in an annotated English edition.

Edited by the noted Hispanist José Juan Arrom, Pané’s report is the only surviving direct source of information about the myths, ceremonies, and lives of the New World inhabitants whom Columbus first encountered. The friar’s text contains many linguistic and cultural observations, including descriptions of the Taíno people’s healing rituals and their beliefs about their souls after death. Pané provides the first known description of the use of the hallucinogen cohoba, and he recounts the use of idols in ritual ceremonies. The names, functions, and attributes of native gods; the mythological origin of the aboriginal people’s attitudes toward sex and gender; and their rich stories of creation are described as well.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[This book] is important for the way in which it anticipates some of the main issues concerning the production of Latin American literature.”—Roberto González Echevarría, author of Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative

“[This is a] highly accessible English translation. . . [of] the earliest work dealing exclusively with the indigenous inhabitants of the New World.”—Patricia Seed, Rice University

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Chronicles of the New World Encounter
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An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians

By Fray Ramón Pané, Susan C. Griswold

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8254-6


Concerning the place from which the Indians have come and in what manner

There is a province in Hispaniola called Caonao in which there is a mountain called Cauta, which has two caves. The name of one of these is Cacibajagua, and Amayaúna the other. The majority of the people who populated the island came from Cacibajagua. When they were living in those caves, these people stood watch at night, and they had entrusted this task to a man by the name of Mácocael. Because one day he was late in returning to the door, they say, the Sun carried him off. Because the Sun had carried away this man for his lack of vigilance, they closed the door against him. Thus it was that he was turned into stone near the door. Afterwards, they say, others who had gone to fish were captured by the Sun, and they were changed into trees they call jobos [hog plum trees], and they are also called mirabálanos [myrobalans]. The reason why Mácocael was keeping watch and standing guard was in order to see where he would send or distribute the people, and it seems that he tarried to his great misfortune.


How the men were separated from the women

It happened that a man whose name was Guahayona told another who was called Yahubaba to go and gather a plant called digo, with which they clean their bodies when they go to bathe. He went out before dawn, and the Sun caught him along the road, and he was turned into a bird that sings in the morning, like the nightingale, and is called yahubabayael. Seeing that the man whom he had sent to gather the digo did not return, Guahayona resolved to leave the said Cacibajagua cave.


How the indignant Guahayona resolved to leave, seeing that those men whom he had sent to gather the digo for bathing did not return

And he said to the women: "Leave your husbands and let us go to other lands and let us take much güeyo. Leave your children, and let us take only the plant with us, for afterwards we will return for them."


Guahayona departed with all the women and went in search of other lands, and he arrived in Matininó, where he immediately left the women and went to another region, called Guanín; and they had left the small children next to a stream. Later, they say, when hunger began to trouble them, they wept and called to their mothers who had gone away; and the parents could not succor the children, who were crying out from hunger to their mothers, saying "mama" in order to cry, but truly in order to ask for the teat. And crying thus and asking for the teat, saying "toa, toa" like one who asks for something with great desire and very softly, they were transformed into little animals, like frogs, which are called tona, 25 because of the way they were asking for the teat. And in this way all those men were left without women.


How afterwards there were once again women on the said Island of Hispaniola, which before was called Haití, and the inhabitants call it by this name; and they called it and the other islands Bohío

And because they have neither writing nor letters, they cannot give a good account of how they have heard this from their ancestors, and therefore they do not all say the same thing, nor can one even write down in an orderly fashion what they tell. When Guahayona left, the one who carried away all the women, he took the wives of his cacique [chief or chieftain] as well, who was called Anacacuya, deceiving him like he deceived the others. And also a brother-in-law of Guahayona's, called Anacacuya, who was traveling with him, went into the sea, and the said Guahayona, who was in the canoe, said to his brother-in-law: "Look what a handsome cobo there is in the water." This cobo is the sea snail. And when he was looking at the water to see the cobo, his brother-in-law Guahayona took him by the feet and threw him into the sea. And so he took all the women for himself, and he left them in Matininó, where they say today there are nothing but women. And he went to another island, which is called Guanín, and it was so named because of what he carried away from it when he went there.


How Guahayona returned to the said Cauta, from where he had taken the women

They say that when Guahayona was in the land to which he had gone, he saw that he had left a woman in the sea, which gave him great pleasure, and at once he sought many lavations to bathe himself because he was full of those sores we call the French disease. She placed him then in a guanara, which means a separate place; and thus while he was there, he recovered from his sores. Afterwards he asked her leave to continue his journey, and she gave it to him. This woman was called Guabonito. And Guahayona changed his name, calling himself henceforth Albeborael Guahayona. And the woman Guabonito gave Albeborael Guahayona many guanines and many cibas so that he would wear them tied to his arms, for in those lands the cibasITL are made of stones very much like marble, and they wear them tied to their arms and around their necks, and they wear the guanines in their ears, in which they make holes when they are little, and they are made of a metal almost like a florin. It is said that Guabonito, Albeborael Guahayona, and Albeborael's father were the origin of these guanines. Guahayona stayed in the land with his father, who was called Hiauna. His father called him Híaguali Guanín, which means son of Hiauna, and henceforth he was called Guanín, and this is his name today. And because they have neither letters nor writing, they do not know how to tell such fables well, nor can I write them well. Therefore, I believe that I put first what ought to be last and the last first. But everything I write, they tell it thus, in the manner I am writing it, and thus I set it down as I have understood it from the people of the country.


How there were once again women on the aforementioned Island of Haití, which is now called Hispaniola

They say that one day the men went to bathe, and while they were in the water, it rained a great deal, and they felt a great desire to have women; and that often when it rained, they went to search for the tracks of their women, but they could not find any sign of them. But that day, as they were bathing, they say that they saw some kind of persons fall from some trees, coming down among the branches. These forms were neither men nor women, nor did they have the sex of male or female, and they went to seize them, but they fled as if they were eels. Therefore, by order of their cacique, because they could not seize them, they called two or three men to see how many there were and to seek out for each one a man who was caracaracol because their hands were rough, and thus they might hold on to them tightly. They told the cacique there were four of them, and so they took four men who were caracaracoles. The said caracaracol is a disease like mange that makes the body very rough. After they had seized them, they took counsel on what they could do to make them women because they did not have the sex of male or female.


How they found a solution so that they would be women

They looked for a bird called inriri, formerly called inriri cahubabayael, which makes holes in the trees and in our language is called a woodpecker. And likewise they took those women without the sex of male or female, and they tied their hands and feet, and they brought the aforementioned bird and tied it to their bodies. And believing they were trees, the bird began his customary work, picking and burrowing holes in the place where the sex of women is generally located. And in this way the Indians say that they had women, according to the stories of the most elderly. Because I wrote it down in haste and did not have sufficient paper, I was not able to write down in that place what I had copied down elsewhere by mistake; but in any case, I have not been in error because they believe everything just as I have written it down. Let us return now to what I ought to have written first, that is, to the opinion they have about the origin and beginning of the sea.


How they say the sea was made

There was a man called Yaya, whose name they do not know; and his son was called Yayael, which means son of Yaya. Because Yayael wanted to kill his father, the latter sent him into exile, and thus he was exiled for four months; and afterwards his father killed him and put his bones in a gourd and hung it from the roof of his house, where it was hanging for some time. It happened one day that Yaya, desiring to see his son, said to his wife: "I want to see our son Yayael." And she was glad, and taking down the gourd, she turned it over to see the bones of their son. And many fish, large and small, emerged from it. Whereby, seeing that those bones had been changed into fish, they resolved to eat them.

They say, thus, that one day when Yaya had gone to see his conucos, which means possessions, which were his inheritance, four men arrived who were the sons of one woman, who was called Itiba Cahubaba, all from one womb and identical. When that woman died in childbirth, they opened her up and took out the four said sons, and the first they took out was caracaracol, which means mangy, and that caracaracol was called [Deminán]; the others did not have names.


How the four identical sons of Itiba Cahubaba, who died in childbirth, went together to take Yaya's gourd, which held his son Yayael, who had been transformed into fishes, and none dared to seize it except Deminán Caracaracol, who took it down, and everyone ate their fill offish

And while they were eating, they heard Yaya coming back from his possessions, and in that fix wanting to hang up the gourd urgently, they did not hang it well so that it fell to the earth and broke. They say that so much water came out of that gourd that it filled up the whole earth, and many fish came out with the water; and thus it was, they say, that the sea had its origin. Afterwards they left that place, and they found a man called Conel, who was mute.


Concerning what happened to the four brothers when they were fleeing from Yaya

As soon as they reached Bayamanaco's door, and they saw that he was carrying cazabe [cassava bread], the brothers said: "Ahiacabo guárocoel," which means: "Let us meet this our grandfather." Likewise, seeing his brothers before him, Deminán Caracaracol went in to see if he could get some cassava bread, which is the kind of bread they eat in that country. Once inside Bayamanaco's house, Caracaracol asked him for cazabe, the aforesaid bread. And the latter put his hand on his nose and spat a guanguayo [wad of spittle] onto his back; the guanguayo was full of cohoba 70 that he had ordered prepared that day. This cohoba is a certain powder that they take at times to purge themselves and for other effects that will be described below. To take it, they use a reed half the length of an arm, and they put one end in the nose and the other in the powder; thus they inhale it through the nose, and this serves them as a great purgative. And in this way he gave them that guanguayo instead of the bread he was making, and he went away very indignant that they had asked him for it.... After this, Caracaracol turned back to his brothers and told them what had happened to him with Bayamanacoel, and how he spat guanguayo on his back, which ached very badly. Then his brothers looked at his back and saw it was very swollen; and that swelling grew so much that he was about to die. Then they tried to cut it, and they could not; and taking a stone axe, they opened it up, and a live, female turtle emerged; and so they built their house and raised the turtle. I did not find out anymore about this, and what I have written down is of little help.

And they also say that the Sun and the Moon emerged from a cave located in the country of a cacique named Mautiatihuel, which cave is called Iguanaboina, and they hold it in great esteem, and they have it all painted in their fashion, without any figures, with a lot of foliage and other such things. And in the said cave there were two zemis made from stone, small ones, the size of half an arm, with their hands tied, and they seemed to be sweating. They valued those zemis very highly; and when it did not rain, they say that they would go in there to visit them, and it would rain at once. And one zemi they called Boinayel, and the other Márohu.


Concerning what they believe about the dead wandering about, and what they are like, and what they do

They believe there is a place where the dead go, which is called Coaybay, and it is located on one side of the island, which is called Soraya. They say that the first person in Coaybay was one who was called Maquetaurie Guayaba, who was the lord of the said Coaybay, house and dwelling place of the dead.


Concerning the shape they say the dead have

They say that during the day they hide away, and at night they go out to walk about, and they eat a certain fruit that is called guayaba, which has the flavor of [quince], and in the daytime they are ..., and at night they change into fruit, and they celebrate and accompany the living. And in order to recognize them, they observe this procedure: they touch one's belly with their hands, and if they do not find his navel, they say he is operito, which means dead: that is why they say the dead have no navel. And thus they are sometimes fooled when they do not notice this, and they lie with one of the Coaybay women; when a man thinks he has her in his arms, he has nothing because the woman disappears in an instant. They still believe this even today When a person is alive, they call his spirit goeíza, and when he is dead, they call it opía. They say this goeíza appears to them often, in a man's shape as well as a woman's, and they say there have been men who have wanted to do battle with it, and when such a man would lay his hands on it, it would disappear, and the man would put his arms elsewhere into some trees, and he would end up hanging from those trees. And everyone generally believes this, the children as well as the adults, and that it appears to them in the shape of father, mother, brothers, or relatives, and other forms. The fruit they say the dead eat is the size of a quince. And the aforesaid dead do not appear to them in the daytime, but always at night, and that is why one is very fearful who ventures to walk alone at night.


Concerning whence they deduce this and who leads them to hold such a belief

There are some men who are practitioners among them and are called behiques. They practice many deceptions, as we shall relate below, to make the people believe that they speak with those [the dead] and know all their deeds and secrets, and that they take the illness away from them when they are sick; and thus they deceive them. Indeed, I have seen it in part with my own eyes, although of other matters I have told only what I heard from many people, particularly from the leaders, with whom I have had more contact than with others; indeed, they believe in these fables with greater certainty than the others. In fact, just as the Moors, they have their laws gathered in ancient songs, by which they govern themselves, as do the Moors by their scripture. And when they wish to sing their songs, they play a certain instrument that is called mayohabao, which is made of wood, hollow, strong, and very thin, the length of an arm and half an arm in width. The part that is played is made in the shape of a blacksmith's tongs, and the other part resembles a mace so that it looks like a long-necked squash. And they play this instrument, which has a voice so loud that it can be heard from a distance of a league and a half. To its sound they sing their songs, which they learn by heart, and the principal men play it; they learn to play it as children and to sing with it, according to their custom. Let us now move on to deal with many other matters concerning other ceremonies and customs of these heathen.


Excerpted from An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians by Fray Ramón Pané, Susan C. Griswold. Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Fray Ramon Pané, a self-described “poor friar of the Order of Saint Jerome,” arrived in Hispaniola with Christopher Columbus in 1494 where he spent the next two years living with and recording the lives of its indigenous inhabitants.

José Juan Arrom is Professor Emeritus of Latin American Literature at Yale University and the author of numerous books, including Imaginación del Nuevo Mundo.

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