Describing the Dominican Republic, The Chronicles of Oviedo

In 1520 — twenty eight years after Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the new world — Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (born August 1478 – died 1557), a Spanish historian and writer, was commissioned by the king of Spain to write the official history of the Americas (new world).

In 1535, Oviedo published the first part of "La historia general y natural de las Indias" — "Natural History of the West Indies."

Oviedo's chronicle of the new world included a description of the island of Hispaniola, and it's capital city, Santo Domingo.

Below is a small excerpt from Natural History of the West Indies by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, as translated and edited by Sterling A. Stoudmire — copyrighted 1959.

Map of Santo Domingo - Published : Leipzig? 1755?

The Island of Hispaniola 

Hispanola, from Higuey Point to Cape Tiburon is more than one hundred and firty leagues in length. From the coast of Navidad in the north to Cape Lobos in the South, the island is fifty leagues wide. The city of Santo Domingo is in the southern part of the island at about nineteen degrees north latitude. There are many beautiful rivers and streams on the island and some are quite large, such as the Ozama River, which empties into the ocean at Santo Domingo. Other rivers are the Neyba, which flows close to the town of San Juan de la Maguana, the Artibonito, the Haina, the Nizao, and many smaller ones which I do not care to mention. On the island there is a lake [Lake Enriquillo] about two leagues inland, near the town of Yaguana, which extends fifteen leagues or more to the east. In some places it reaches a width of on to three leagues, but for the most part it is considerably narrower. Most of the lake is salty, but where rivers and springs flow into it the water is fresh. The truth is that this lake is really a “sea eye” which is very near the sea and contains many different kinds of fish, especially large sharks, that enter the lake from the sea by coming under the land or through a place or places through which the sea flows and forms the lake. This is the opinion of most of those who have seen this lake.

FUN FACT -- Lake Enriquillo - formed by the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault that extends 79 miles (127 km) from Port-au-Prince Bay in Haiti in the west, to near Neiba Bay in the Dominican Republic in the east — [This fault was responsible for the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake] — is a former marine strait, which was created around 1 million years ago when the water level fell and the strait was filled in by sediments of the Yaque del Sur River... (wiki).

At the time of the discovery, Hispaniola was populated by Indians and was ruled by two kings, Caonabo and Guarionex, and afterwards it passed to the rule of Anacoana. I do not wish to dwell on the conquest or the cause of the reduction in numbers of the Indians, and thus go about describing things I have described in detail elsewhere. This is not the subject I am to treat here, but other details that Your Majesty may not so well or may have forgotten. Concerning this island, however, I wish to say that there are very few Indians there now, and not so many Christians as there should be, since many of those who once were on the island have gone to other islands or to Tierra Firme. Being men fond of adventure those who go to the Indies for the most part are unmarried and therefore do not feel obligated to reside in any one place. Since new lands have been discovered and are being discovered every day, those men believe that they will swell their purses more quickly in new territory. Even though some may have been successful in this, most have been disillusioned, especially those who already have established homes and residence in Hispaniola.

This would be a good point to note that; Bartolomé de las Casas, (1484 - 1566), a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar, referred to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo as "one of the greatest tyrants, thieves, and destroyers of the Indies, whose Historia contains almost as many lies as pages"

Las Casas, like Oviedo, also chronicled the history of the new world with "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies," in which he focuses on the atrocities committed by Spanish colonialism.

However, it should be noted that Oviedo's purpose was to write something which would be favorable to the crown. Oviedo clearly states (as translated and edited by Stoudmire), that "This is not the subject I am to treat here," in regards to what had become of the natives.

I believe beyond any doubt, and this opinion is held by many that if a prince had no realm except this island, in a short time it would not be inferior to Sicily or England, nor at present is there any reason why either of those islands should be envied. Hispaniola is so rich in natural resources that she could enrich many provinces and kingdoms. In addition to having more rich mines and better gold than have yet been discovered in such quantity anywhere in the world, so much cotton grows wild that if it were cultivated and cared for it would become the best and most productive in the whole world. There are so many excellent drumstick trees that large quantities of the pods are already being brought to Spain and from Spain they are carried and distributed to many parts of the world. This is increasing so rapidly that it is really a marvel. On that island there are many rich sugar plantations. The sugar is of very good quality and ships loaded with it come to Spain every year.

FUN FACT -- The Pueblo Viejo Gold Mine is one of the largest gold mines in the western hemisphere — first mined around the 15th century. The mine is part of the The Archaeological and Historical National Park of Pueblo Viejo, La Vega (also known as the National Park of Concepción de la Vega), in the La Vega Province.

Pueblo Viejo Gold Mine complex
On December, 2012, the Canadian company, Barrick Gold Corp. estimated a probable gold reserves of 15.0 million ounces — with a mining lifetime of 25 years. "The project is designed as an open pit. More than 2.0 million contained ounces of gold have been stockpiled as of November 1, 2012".

Like what you've read so far? Read Oviedo's full description of Hispaniola as translated and edited by Sterling A. Stoudmire.

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