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The geographical and historical dictionary of America and the West Indies [volume 1]
[claimed a frank and gentle disposition. It was anhonest face, (says Martyr), coarse, but not gloomy ;for it was enlivened by confidence, and softened bycompassion. Amongst our islanders, an attach-ment to the sex was remarkably conspicuous.Love, with this happy people, was not a transientand youthful ardour only ; but the source of alltheir pleasures, and the chief business of life : fornot being, like the Caribes, opjjressed by theweight of perpetual solicitude, and tormented byan unquenchable thirst of revenge, they gave fullindulgence to the instincts of nature, while the in-fluence of the climate heightened the sensibility ofthe passions. See Oviedo, lib.v. c.S. ' WeLave nearly the same account at this day of theArrowauks of Guayana. “ In their natural dis-position (says Bancroft) they are amorous andwanton and Barrere observes, “ ils sont Intri-gues au supreme degreZ' It is related by Herrera,that a deity similar to the Venus of antiquity,was one of the divinities of the Tlascalans, apeople of Mexico. In truth, an excessive sen-suality was among the greatest defects in theircharacter : and to this cause alone is imputed, bysome writers, the origin of that dreadful disease,witli the infliction of which they have almost re-venged the calamities brought upon them by theavarice of Europe; if indeed the venereal contagionwas first introduced into Spain from these islands;a conclusion to which, notwithstanding all thatLas been written in support of it, an attentive in-quirer will still hesitate to subscribe. Their agi-lity was eminently conspicuous in their dances,wherein they delighted and excelled, devoting thecool hours of night to this employment. “ It wastheir custom (says Herrera) to dance from eveningto the dawn ; and although 50,000 men and wo-men were frequently assembled together on theseoccasions, they seemed actuated by one commonimpulse, keeping time by responsive motions oftheir hands, feet, and bodies, with an exactnessthat was wondertul. These public dances (for theyhad others highly licentious) were appropriated toparticular solemnities, and being accompanied withhistorical songs, were called arietoes ; a singularfeature in their political institutions, of which weshall presently speak. Besides the exercise ofdancing, another diversion was prevalent amongthem, which they called bato; and it appears fromthe account given of it by the Spanish historians,that it had a distant resemblance to the Englishgame of cricket ; for the players were divided intotwo parties, Avhich alternately changed places, andthe sport consisted in dexterously throwing and re-turning an elastic ball from one parly to the other.
It was not however caught in the hand, or re«turned with an instrument, but received on thehead, the elbow, or the foot ; and the dexterityand force with which it Avas thence repelled, Avereastonishing and inimitable. Such exertions belongnot to a people incurably enervated and slothful.
2. Intellects. — The benevolence of these In-dians, unexampled in the history of civilized na-tions, was soon basely requited by the conduct of aband of robbers, whom Columbus unfortunatelyleft in the island, on his departure for Europe.When any of the Spaniards came near to a village,the most ancient and venerable of the Indians, orthe cacique himself, if present, came out to meetthem, and gently conducted them into their habi-tations, and seated them on stools of ebony curi-ously ornamented. These benches seem to havebeen seats of honour reserved for their guests ; forthe Indians threw themselves on the ground, andkissing the hands and feet of the Spaniards, of-fered them fruits and the choicest of their viands ;entreating them to prolong their stay, with suchsolicitude and reverence as demonstrated that theyconsidered them as beings of a superior nature,whose presence consecrated their dAvellings, andbrought a blessing with it. The reception whichBartholomew Columbus, who was appointed lieu-tenant, or deputy -governor, in the absence of theadmiral, afterAvards met with, in his progressthrough the island to levy tributes from the severalcaciques or princes, manifested not only kindnessand submission, but on many occasions munifi-cence, and even a high degree of politeness. Thesecaciques had all heard of the Avonderful eagernessof the strangers for gold ; and such of them aspossessed any of this precious xnetal, willinglypresented all that they had to the deputy-governor.Others, Avho had not the means of obtaining gold,brought provisions and cotton in great abundance.Among the latter Avas Behechio, a powerful ca-cique, Avho invited the lieutenant and his attend-ants to his dominions ; and tlie entertainmentwhich they received from this hospitable chief isthus described by Martyr. “ As they approachedthe king’s dwelling, they Avere met by his Avives,to the number of SO, carrying branches of thepalm-tree in their hands, who first sainted theSpaniards Avitli a solemn dance, accompanied Avitha general song. These matrons Avere succeeded bya train of virgins, distinguished as such by theirappearance; the former Avearing aprons of cottondoth, Avhile the latter Avere arrayed only in the in-nocence of pure nature. Their hair was tiedsimply Avith a fillet over their foreheads, or suf-fered to floAV gracefully on their shoulders and bo-]