Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/47

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A BIT of history might be quoted here, to the better understanding of the country, the people, and their institutions; and without further parley we will turn to the description given by Ferdinand Columbus of the first Indians from Yucatan that the eye of Spaniard ever looked on. It was on the fourth and last voyage of the Great Admiral, in 1502, when, driven by currents out of his southerly course from San Domingo, he sighted a group of islands off Honduras, and captured a canoe, formed of the trunk of a single tree, eight feet wide and as long as a galley. "In the middle was an awning of palm leaves, not unlike those of the Venetian gondolas, under which were the women, children, and all the goods. The canoe was under the direction of twenty-five Indians. They had cotton coverlets and tunics without sleeves, curiously worked and dyed of various colors [exactly the same as are worn in Yucatan at the present day], covering for the loins of similar material, large mantles, in which the Indian women wrapped themselves, like the Moorish women of Grenada; long swords with channels on each side the blade, edged with sharp flints that cut the body as well as steel; hatchets of copper for cutting wood, bells of the same material, and crucibles in which to melt it. For provisions they had such roots and grains as the natives of Hispaniola (Haiti) eat, a sort of wine made of maize and great quantities of almonds (cacao)[1] of the kind used by the people of New Spain for money. The Spaniards were also struck with the personal modesty of these Indians, in which they greatly excelled the natives of the islands."

  1. The seeds of the Cacao—Theobroma cacao—are still used as small change in barter amongst the poorer classes of Southern Mexico.