Las Casas on the Five Kings of Hispaniola


On this [island of Hispaniola], we knew five principal kings who governed and ruled it, and their names were as follows: Guarionex, who ruled in the happiest part or the Vega Real, which we said above had so many excellent qualities. The second king, Guacanagari ruled the end of the third province, which was called Marien, and he was the first to have dealings with the Christians, because the Admiral Christopher Columbus came ashore there when he discovered these Indies, and [Guacanagari] welcomed him and all the Christians who came with him, giving them a paternal, gracious, and admirable reception, for which he was not paid, receiving no benefits from this then or later. The third king was named Behechio and ruled in the nineteenth province, called Jaragua, which is in the western part of the island. This king had a sister named Anacaona, a woman of great prudence and authority, very courtly and gracious in her manner of speaking and her gestures, who was very devout and a friend of the Christians from the time she began to see and communicate with them. The fourth king was Caonabo, who ruled in the twenty-second province, called Maguana, which was bounded by the province of Jaragua on the west. He was a strong and brave lord of imposing presence and authority and, according to what those who first came to the island were told, he was of the Lucayan nation, being a native of the Lucayos Islands [the Bahamas], and had crossed over here from there; and because he was a notable man both in war and peace, he came to be the king of that province and was greatly esteemed by all. It was also said that he was married to the above-said lady Anacaona, the sister of Behechio. The fifth king or kingdom was on the eastern part of the island, whose land is the first seen when we come out to this island from Castille, and is called Higuey by the Indians; the name of its king was Higuanama, but in our time it was ruled by a very old woman, and I did not find out when it was possible to do so if this name of Higuanama belonged to that Queen or was common to all the kings of that kingdom, as was the case with the Pharaohs of Egypt.

The lords who were subject to these five kings were innumerable, and I knew a great many of them; all had an immense number of subjects. Guarionex, the king of the Vega Real, was said to have another king or lord among his vassals, one who was called Uxmatex and ruled in the twenty-first province of Cibao (which, as we said before, was called Haiti and gave its name to the whole island), and when the king Guarionex called him, he would come to serve him with 16,000 warriors. The king or lord who ruled in the thirteenth province of Haniguayaba was, I think, a lord in his own right. The reason I say this is that this province was at the western end of the island, more than fifty leagues from the kingdom and royal city of Jaragua, where the king Behechio had his principal seat, and because there were many other lords in that province who seem to have been subjects of Haniguayaba and to have been under his lordship, and it may have been the same in other parts of the island, though at that time we made little effort to find out. [Thus I do not know whether] the king or lord of the Ciguayos, who was called Mayobanex, was a subject of Guarionex, the king of the Vega, because he was a very great lord in the seventh province, and he suffered great hardship to free Guarionex from the imprisonment and persecution inflicted on him by the Spaniards, making many wars on them. I do not know whether this was because Guarionex was his king and overlord or because he had come to him as a person in great need. The same thing could be true in the kingdom of Higuey, the province we have numbered the eighth, where there were many lords, and especially one named Catubanama, who I knew very well and of whom we spoke earlier. He was a very brave man of imposing presence and authority who defended himself bravely many times and for many days, personally and with his people, against the Christians who were making war on him, of which we shall speak at greater length, if it pleases God, in the second book of our general history; thus I do not know whether to say that he was a subject of the queen Higuanama.

On this island and in every kingdom within it, there were many nobles who were respected for being of better blood than the rest and had charge over the others; in the language of the island, these were called nitainos (the "i" accented). They had three words with which they distinguished the rank and dignity of the lords: one was Guaoxeri (the accent on the last syllable), which indicated the lowest of the three grades, much in the way we would call a gentleman Vuestra Merced. The second was Bahari (the accent on the last syllable), which was used for a lord of higher rank, in the same fashion that we address a titled lord as Senoria. The third and highest rank was designated by the term Matunheri (also with the accent on the last syllable). This title was used only for the supreme kings, who were addressed as "Matunheri" in the same way that we address a king as Your Highness.

Of all these five kingdoms, the most illustrious was that of the king Behechio, who lived in that province or city of Jaragua, because he had a great many lords who belonged to his kingdom and came under his jurisdiction. As we later found out, and if I am not mistaken, these totaled more than a hundred and maybe even two hundred, for indeed there were a great many nobles in the provinces around Jaragua. The inhabitants of this kingdom excelled all the others of this island in the refinement of their language, and their words were softer and more polished. Both men and women possessed a greater natu ral beauty and more refined features than the others, so that it was something to marvel at. Several years later on this island, I saw a town in the same place that the king Behechio had his palace with a population of sixty or seventy

Spaniards, all of whom had married the wives or daughters of those lords, and the beauty of those women could rival that of the most beautiful ladies in our own Castille. The women of the kingdom of Guarionex were also known for their beauty, as were those in some other parts of the island, but nowhere was their beauty so general as among the inhabitants of the kingdom of Behechio. Also these people were more refined in many other things, so that it was our habit to refer to Jaragua as theCourt of the entire island.

All of these people go naked, the men from head to foot, while the married women cover themselves with a kind of small and well-made cotton skirt from slightly below the waist to the knee. Though these cotton [skirts] are made throughout the island, as are the hammocks in which they sleep, the people of Jaragua are the first in making and weaving things of cotton. All the young maidens, while they were virgins, did not cover their bodies at all. The beds in which they sleep, which are called hammocks, were made in the shape of a sling an estado and a half or two in width and one estado in length, all made of twisted threads of cotton, not woven into a net but rather extended lengthwise. These are tied crosswise to other threads a couple of fingers apart like netting, and running lengthwise, and there is a distance of about a palm between one cross-thread and the next. At the ends of the whole thing running lengthwise, which as we said extends for about one estado, there are many loops (asas), about a palm distant, running lengthwise, from the last netting; and these loops are [made] of all the threads running lengthwise; and in this respect it is different from a sling, which has only one strand or cord running from one end to the other. There, in each of these loops, they put some cords (cuerdas) that are fine, well-made, and twisted, of better material than hemp but not so good as linen (and this they call cabuya, with the accent on the penultimate syllable), placed in the same manner that we would put them on the end knots of a square net, so that the net can be hung up at both ends and will remain suspended in the air. These cords are a generous braxa in length, and they come together at the end like a small screw (rosca chica) or even like a bracelet (manilla). From those two screws or bracelets they tie them with some other heavy cords, of the thickness of a finger, very carefully made and better than the form of a braid, and they tie each one to logs (palos) at one end and the other so that it remains suspended in the air, and thus they lie in it, because it is a good clean bed for a country where it does not become cold. In addition, though it is two estados in width and one in length, as I said, the whole thing weighs no more than eight pounds, and they can carry it under their arm. Thus it is very suitable for traveling.

There were three different languages on this island that were mutually unintelligible. One was spoken by the people [of the region] we called lower Macorix, and one by the inhabitants of upper Macorix, which we described [earlier] as the fourth and sixth provinces. The third language was the universal one spoken throughout the country, and this language was more elegant, had more words, and sounded sweeter; and, as I said above, the dialect of the people of Jaragua was the first and ahead of all the rest.