Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

maize, from a species of the palm, and from roots of different kinds. There was also a great hall in a retired and secret part of the building, wherein Comagre preserved the bodies of his ancestors and relatives. These had been dried by the fire, so as to free them from corruption, and afterwards wrapped in mantles of cotton richly wrought and interwoven with pearls and jewels of gold, and with certain stones held precious by the natives. They were then hung about the hall with cords of cotton, and regarded with great reverence, if not a species of religious devotion.

Among the sons of the cacique, the eldest was of a lofty and generous spirit, and distinguished above the rest by his superior intelligence and sagacity. Perceiving, says old Peter Martyr, that the Spaniards were a "wandering kind of men, living only by shifts and spoil," he sought to gain favour for himself and family by gratifying their avarice. He gave Vasco Nuñez and Colmenares, therefore, 4,000 ounces of gold, wrought into various ornaments, together with sixty slaves, being captives that he had taken in the wars. Vasco Nuñez ordered one-fifth of the gold to be weighed out and set apart for the crown, and the rest to be shared among his followers.

The division of the gold took place in the porch of the dwelling of Comagre, in the presence of the youthful cacique who had made the gift. As the Spaniards were weighing it out, a violent quarrel arose among them as to the size and value of the pieces which fell to their respective shares. The highminded savage was disgusted at this sordid brawl among beings whom he had regarded with such reverence. In the first impulse of his disdain, he struck the scales with his fist and scattered the glittering gold about the porch. Before the Spaniards could recover from their astonishment at this sudden act, he thus addressed them, "Why should you quarrel for such a trifle? If this gold is indeed so precious in your eyes that for it alone you abandon your homes, invade the peaceful land of others, and expose yourselves to such sufferings and perils, I will tell you of a region where you may gratify your wishes to the utmost. Behold those lofty mountains," continued he, pointing to the south. "Beyond these lies a mighty sea, which may be discerned from their summit. It is navigated by people who have vessels almost as large as yours, and furnished, like them, with sails and oars. All the streams which flow down the southern side of those mountains

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