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COLUMBUS, RAMON PANE AND THE BEGINNINGS OF AMERICAN
ANTHROPOLOGY. * BY EDWARD GAYLORD BOURNE. ABOUT three weeks hence on May 20th will be celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of Columbus. Apparently little notice will be taken of this anniversary in the United States. To the American people at large the event of supreme interest in the career of the Admiral is, of course, the discovery of the New World, and the quadricentenary of that was celebrated with an elaboration which naturally precludes any considerable expenditure of effort and enthusiasm within the same generation in commemoration of the death of the discoverer. Yet this anniversary should not pass unnoticed, least of all by a learned society devoted to the study of American antiquities, for Christopher Columbus not only revealed the field of our studies to the world but actually in person set on foot the first systematic study of American primitive custom, religion and folklore ever undertaken. He is in a sense therefore the founder of American Anthropology. This phase of the varied activities of the discoverer has received in our day little or no attention. To all appearances it is not even mentioned in Justin Winsor's six hundred page biography. Such neglect is owing in part to the discredit that has been cast upon the life of Columbus by his son Ferdinand in consequence of which its contents have not been studied with due critical appreciation.
In Ferdinand's biography of his father, commonly referred to under the first word of the Italian title as the Historie, are imbedded not a few fragments of Columbus' own letters and other documents not commonly reproduced in the selections from his writings. To two such documents as presenting the evidence of Columbus' interest and efforts in the field of American Anthropology I invite your attention this morning.
The first contains the discoverer's own brief summary of what he was able to learn of the beliefs of the natives of Española during the period of his second voyage, 1493–96, and the record of his commissioning the Friar Ramon Pane who had learned the language of the islanders, “ to collect all their ceremonies and antiquities.” The second is Ramon's report of his observations and inquiries and is not only the first treatise ever written in the field of American Antiquities, but to this day remains our most authentic record of the religion and folk-lore of the long since extinct Tainos, the aboriginal inhabitants of Hayti.
The original Spanish text of these documents is no longer extant and, like the Historie which contains them, they are known to us in full only in the Italian translation of that work published in Venice in 1571 by Alfonso Ulloa.
The observations of Columbus first referred to were recorded in his narrative of his second voyage which we possess only in the abridgments of Las Casas and Ferdinand Columbus. Both of these authors in condensing the original, incorporated passages in the exact words of the Admiral, and it is from such a passage in Ferdinand's abridgment that we derive the Admiral's account of the religion of primitive Hayti. Ferdinand writes: “Our people also learned many other things which seem to me worthy to be related in this our history. Beginning then with religion I will record here the very words of the Admiral who wrote as follows:
"I was able to discover neither idolatry nor any other sect among them, although all their kings, who are many, not only in Española but also in all the other islands and on the main land* each have a house apart from the village, in which there is nothing except some wooden *I. e. Cuba, which Columbus believed to be the main land.
images carved in relief which are called cemis,* nor is there anything done in such a house for any other object or service except for these cemis, by means of a kind of ceremony and prayer which they go to make in it as we go to churches. In this house they have a finely wrought table, round like a wooden dish in which is some powder which is placed by them on the heads of these cemis in performing a certain ceremony; then with a cane that has two branches which they place in their nostrils they snuff up this dust. The words that they say none of our people understand. With this powder they lose consciousness and become like drunken men. They give a name to this figure, and I believe it is that of a father, grandfather or of both, since they have more than one such, and some more than ten, all in memory, as I have said, of some one of their ancestors. I have heard them praise one more than another, and have seen them show it more devotion and do more reverence to one than another as we do in processions where there is need. Both the Caciques and the peoples boast to each other of having the best cemis. When they go to these cemis of theirs and enter the house where he is they are on their guard with respect to the Christians and do not suffer them to enter it. On the contrary, if they suspect they are coming, they take the cemi or the cemis away and hide them in the woods for fear they may be taken from them; and what is more laughable they have the custom of stealing each other's cemis. It happened once, when they suspected us, that the Christians entered the said house with them and of a sudden the cemi gave a loud cry and spoke in their language from which it was discovered that it was artfully constructed because being hollow, they had fitted to the lower part a trumpet or tube which extended to a dark part of the house covered with leaves and branches where there was a person who spoke what the Cacique wanted him to say so far as it could be done with a tube. Whereupon our men having suspected what might be the case, kicked the cemi over and found the facts as I have just described. When the Cacique saw that it was discovered by our men he besought them urgently not to say anything to the Indians, his subjects, nor to others because by this deceit he kept them in obedience. This then we can say, there is some semblance of idolatry, at least among those who do not know the secret and the deception of their Caciques because they believe that the one who speaks is the cemi. In general all the people are deceived and the Cacique alone is the one who is conscious of and promotes their false belief by means of which he draws from his people all those tributes as seems good to him. Likewise most of the Caciques have three stones to which they and their *Ulloa in his Italian gives this word in various forms e. g. cemi, cimi, cimini and cimiche. The correct form is cemi with the accent on the last syllable. Las Casas says, “Estas-Ilamaban cemi, la ultima silaba luengayaguda.” Docs. Inéditos para la Historia de España, LXVI, 436. The late J. Walter Fewkes published an
article with illustrations “On Zemes from Santo Domingo” in the American Anthropologist, IV, 167–175.
peoples pay great reverence. One they say helps the corn and the vegen tables that are planted; another the child-bearing of women without pain; and the third helps by means of water (i. e. rain) and the sun when they have need of it. I sent three of these stones to your Highness by Antonio de Torres* and another set of three I have to bring with me.
When these Indians die they have the funerals in different ways. The way the Caciques are buried, is as follows. They open the Cacique and dry him by the fire in order that he may be preserved whole, (or, entirely). Of others they take only the head. Others are buried in a cave and they place above their head a gourd of water and some bread. Others they burn in the house where they die and when they see them on the point of death they do not let them finish their life but strangle them. This is done to the Caciques. Others they drive out of the house; and others they put into a hamaca, which is their bed of netting, and put water and bread at their head and leave them alone without returning to see them any more. Some again that are seriously ill they take to the Cacique and he tells them whether they ought to be strangled or not and they do what he commands.
I have taken pains to learn what they believe and if they know where they go after death; especially from Caunabo, who is the chief king in Española, a man of years, of great knowledge and very keen mind; and he and others replied that they go to a certain valley which every principal Cacique believes is situated in his own country, affirming that there they find their father and all their ancestors; and that they eat and have women and give themselves to pleasures and recreation as is more fully contained in the following account in which I ordered one Friar Roman (Ramon) who knew their language to collect all their ceremonies and their antiquities although so much of it is fable that one cannot extract anything fruitful from it beyond the fact that each one of them has a certain natural regard for the future and believes in the immortality of our souls.'.
Then follows in Ferdinand's biography a transcript of this "Account by Friar Roman (Ramon) of the Antiquities of the Indians which he as one who knows their language diligently collected by command of the Admiral.” Before describing Friar Ramon's work I will present what little information in regard to him that I have been able to find.
The historian Las Casas knew Ramon Pane and tells us in his Apologetica Historia that he came to Española at the beginning with the Admiralt which must mean on the
*Antonio de Torres set forth on the return voyage here referred to February 2, 1494. Historie. Ed. 1571, folios 125–126.
Las Casas. Apologetica Historia. Docs. Iné . para la Hist. de España, LXVI, 435-36.
second voyage in 1493 as there were no clergy on the first voyage. Later he says he came five years before he himself did which would be in 1497.* This second statement is erroneous for Columbus, as has just been seen, reports the result of his labors in his own account of his second voyage which he drew up in 1496. Las Casas also says that Ramon was a Catalan by birth and did not speak Castilian perfectly and that he was a simple-minded man so that what he reported was sometimes confused and of little substance.t The Admiral sent him first into the province of lower Maçorix whose language he knew and then later, because this language was spoken only in a small territory, to the Vega and the region where King Guarionex bore sway where he could accomplish much more because the population was greater and the language diffused throughout the island. He remained there two years and did what he could according to his slender abilities. I
To Peter Martyr who read and abstracted his treatise, he is merely "One Ramon a hermit whom Colon had left with certain kings of the island to instruct them in the Christian faith. And tarrying there a long time he composed a small book in the Spanish tongue on the rites of the islands."
These few references are all the contemporary information to be derived about Ramon Pane outside of his own narrative. This little work which I have called the pioneer treatise in American Antiquities has come down to us as a whole, as I have said, only in the Italian translation of Ferdinand Columbus's life of the Admiral. By one of the mishaps of fate the translator transformed the author's name from Ramon Pane into Roman Pane, and under that disguise he appears in most modern works in which he appears at all. But the testimony of Las Casas who knew him and of Peter
*Las Casas op. cit. 473. Las Casas, op. cit. 475.
Ibid. 436. $Peter Martyr. De Rebus Oceanicis. ed. 1574, p. 102.