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La Relacion

From La Relacion

By Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Of Our Skirmish with the Indians

We sailed in this manner together for four days, eating a daily ration of half a handful of raw corn. After four days a storm came up and caused the other boat to be lost. We did not sink because of God's great mercy. The weather was rough, very cold and wintery. We had been suffering from hunger for many days and had been pounded so much by the sea that the following day many men began to faint. By nightfall all the men in my boat had passed out, one on top of another, so near death that few of them were conscious and fewer than five were still upright. During the night only the sailing master and I were left to sail the boat. Two hours after nightfall he told me I should take over because he was in such a condition that he thought he would die that very night; so I took the tiller. In the middle of the night, I went to see if the sailing master had died, but he told me that he was better and that he would steer until daybreak. At that time I certainly would have rather died than see so many people before me in that condition. After the sailing master took over the boat, I tried to rest some but could not, and sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. Near dawn I thought I heard the roar of the breakers near shore, which was very loud because the coast was low. Surprised by this, I roused the sailing master, who said he thought we were near land. We took a sounding and found that the water was seven fathoms deep. He thought that we should stay out until dawn. So I took an oar and rowed along the coast, which was a league distant. Then we set our stern to sea.

Near land a great wave took us and cast the boat out of the water as far as a horseshoe can be tossed. The boat ran aground with such force that it revived the men on it who were almost dead. When they saw they were near land they pushed themselves overboard and crawled on their hands and knees. When they got to the beach, we lit a fire by some rocks and toasted some of the corn we had and found rain water. With the warmth of the fire, the men revived and began to regain some of their strength. We arrived at this place on the sixth of November.

What Happened to Lope de Oviedo with Some Indians

Once our people had eaten, I sent Lope de Oviedo, who was stronger and fitter than the rest of us, to climb one of the trees nearby to sight the land and find out something about it. He did this and saw that we were on an island, and that the land appeared to have been trampled by livestock. He thought for this reason that it must be a country of Christians, and told us so. I told him to look again very carefully to see if there were any paths that could be followed, but not to go too far because of possible danger. He found a path and followed it for half a league and found some unoccupied Indian huts, for the Indians had gone into the fields. He took a pot from one of them, a small dog and some mullet and started back. We thought he was taking a long time to return, so I sent two other Christians to look for him and find out what had happened to him. They found him near there, pursued by three Indians with bows and arrows. They were calling out to him and he was trying to speak to them through sign language. He got to where we were and the Indians stayed back a bit seated on the same shore. Half an hour later another one hundred Indian bowmen appeared. We were so scared that they seemed to us to be giants, whether they were or not. They stopped near us, where the first three were. We could not even think of defending ourselves, since there were scarcely six men who could even get up from the ground. The Inspector and I went towards them and called them, and they approached us. As best we could we tried to reassure them and ourselves, and gave them beads and little bells. Each of them gave me an arrow, which is a sign of friendship. In sign language they told us that they would return in the morning and bring us food, since they did not have any at the time.

How the Indians Brought Us Food

The following day at sunrise, at the time the Indians had indicated, they came to us as promised, bringing us much fish, some roots which they eat, the size of walnuts, some larger or smaller. Most of these are pulled with great difficulty from under the water. In the evening they returned to bring us more fish and the same kind of roots. They had their women and children come to see us and they considered themselves rich with little bells and beads that we gave them. The following days they returned to visit with the same things as before. Seeing that we were provisioned with fish, roots, water and the other things we requested, we agreed to embark on our voyage once again. We dug up the boat from the sand. We had to strip naked and struggle mightily to launch it, because we were so weak that lesser tasks would have been enough to exhaust us. Once we were out from the shore the distance of two crossbow shots, a wave struck us quite a blow and got us all wet. Since we were naked and it was very cold, we let go of the oars. Another strong wave caused the boat to capsize. The Inspector and two other men held on to it to survive, but quite the opposite occurred because the boat pulled them under and they drowned. Since the surf was very rough, the sea wrapped all the men in its waves, except the three that had been pulled under by the boat, and cast them on the shore of the same island. Those of us who survived were as naked as the day we were born and had lost everything we had. Although the few things we had were of little value, they meant a lot to us. It was November then and the weather was very cold. We were in such a state that our bones could easily be counted and we looked like the picture of death. I can say for myself that I had not eaten anything but parched corn since the previous May, and sometimes I had to eat it raw. Although the horses were slaughtered while we were building the boats, I was never able to eat them, and I had eaten fish fewer than ten times. This is but a brief comment, since anyone can imagine what shape we were in. On top of all this, the north wind began to blow, and so we were closer to death than to life. It pleased our Lord to let us find some embers among the coals of the fire we had made, and we made large fires. In this way we asked our Lord's mercy and the forgiveness of our sins, shedding many tears, with each man pitying not only himself but all the others who were in the same condition. At sunset the Indians, thinking that we had not gone, looked for us again and brought us food. When they saw us in such a different state of attire and looking so strange, they were so frightened that they drew back. I went out to them and called them and they returned very frightened. I let them know through sign language that one of our boats had sunk and that three of our men had drowned. And there before their very eyes they saw two of the dead men, and those of us who were alive seemed as if we would soon join them. The Indians, seeing the disaster that had come upon us and brought so much misfortune and misery, sat down with us. They felt such great pain and pity at seeing us in such a state that they all began to cry so loudly and sincerely that they could be heard from afar. This went on for more than half an hour. In fact, seeing that these crude and untutored people, who were like brutes, grieved so much for us, caused me and the others in my company to suffer more and think more about our misfortune. When their crying ceased, I told the Christians that, if they agreed, I would ask those Indians to take us to their lodges. And some who had been in New Spain responded that we should not even think about it, because if they took us to their lodges they would sacrifice us to their idols. But seeing that we had no other recourse and that any other action would certainly bring us closer to death, I did not pay attention to what they were saying and I asked the Indians to take us to their lodges. They indicated that they would be very pleased to do this. They asked us to wait a bit and then they would do what we wanted. Then thirty of them loaded themselves with firewood and went to their lodges, which were far from there. We stayed with the others until nearly nightfall, when they held on to us and took us hastily to their lodges. Since it was so cold and they feared that someone might faint or die on the way, they had provided for four or five large fires to be placed at intervals, and they warmed us at each one. Once they saw that we had gained some strength and gotten warmer, they took us to the next one so rapidly that our feet scarcely touched the ground. In this way we went to their lodges and found that they had one ready for us with many fires lighted in it. Within an hour of our arrival they began to dance and have a great celebration that lasted all night. For us there was no pleasure nor celebration nor sleep because we were waiting to see when they would sacrifice us. In the morning they again gave us fish and roots and treated us so well that we were a little reassured and lost some of our fear of being sacrificed.

What Happened to Us in the Village of Misfortune

0n that island I have spoken of, they wanted to make us physicians, without testing us or asking for any degrees, because they cure illnesses by blowing on the sick person and cast out the illness with their breath and their hands. So they told us to be useful and do the same. We laughed at the idea, saying they were mocking us and that we did not know how to heal. They in turn deprived us of our food until we did as they ordered. Seeing our reluctance, an Indian told me that I did not know what I was talking about when I said that all that was useless. He knew that even rocks and other things found in the fields have beneficial properties, for he healed and took away pain by passing a hot rock across the stomach. And since, he said, we were powerful men, we were certain to have greater powers and properties. In brief, we were in such need that we had to do it, putting aside our fear that anyone would be punished for it. Their manner of healing is as follows: when they are sick, they call a medicine man, and after they are cured they give him not only all their possessions, but also seek things from their relatives to give him. What the medicine man does is to make a cut where the pain is and suck around it. They cauterize with fire, a practice they consider very beneficial. I tried it and found that it gave good results. Afterwards they blow on the painful area, believing that their illness goes away in this manner. We did our healing by making the sign of the cross on the sick persons, breathing on them, saying the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary over them, and asking God our Lord, as best we could, to heal them and inspire them to treat us well. God our Lord in his mercy deigned to heal all those for whom we prayed. Once we made the sign of the cross on them, they told the others that they were well and healthy. For this reason they treated us well, and refrained from eating to give us food. They also gave us hides and other small things.