Friday, December 26, 2008

Columbus' Secret Journal and the Sugarcane Incident

Christopher Columbus and his sailors taking possession of indigenous islands

Christopher Columbus, the “Admiral of the Seas,” was not expected to return from his voyages, according to the monarchs. But during his most famous voyage in August 1492, there was an interesting episode in his life, where he found both love and sugar cane.

The crew needed wine and water and so Columbus decided to stop at Gomera in the Canary Islands, which would be last port of call before crossing the Atlantic. The Islands were already under Spanish control since 1483 and the Governor of the Island was Beatrice de Bobadilla. After meeting her he decided to stay longer than planned; he remained in Gomera for a month.

This same woman was to be feared because she was described as cruel, ambitious, a thief and a nymphomaniac and had been nicknamed as the “Lady of the Gallows” and the “Lady of the Knife.” In fact, she had even ruined Fernando el Catolico who, despite his unwavering faith in religion and vows of chastity, could not resist her charms. Despite it all, and despite the fact that Columbus was already married to a woman by the same name and had had a child with her, he became romantically involved with the beautiful but cruel Governor.

As he was leaving, she made him an offering, a symbol for their “sweet love,” cuttings of sugar cane, which became the first to reach the New World. If you find this story interesting, please do not hesitate to read my fictional account of these events below written from the point of view of Columbus himself.


From the secret “Greek” journal:

Gomera, August 1492

The waves have been silent. For several days I have not perceived their soft lulling murmurs despite sitting on deck straining my ears, pen in hand. All this time their voices have been guiding me along leading me safe and sound across the most dangerous routes and savage lands. Were it not for their guidance I would have been lost and engulfed in the open jaws of the immense endless ocean. I trust in these voices as I trust in Polaris, the guiding north-star, and have complete unerring faith in the Hand of our Creator who moves and gives life to all beings under the brightly illuminated at times furiously somber wide sky.

My crew has grown weary and is ill-equipped for the remainder of this long and upcoming dangerous journey. Their lack of stamina is worrisome to me. Two of my seamen raise suspicions in my mind. The rudder of the Pinta has come loose, being broken and unshipped. 

After some discussion and deliberation I, the High Admiral of the Sea, have decided to embark on the first firm land that we shall come across, it being Gomera. My inaugurations have been unfruitful, and I have been forced to make my own decision. May it not be a grave error and may the Hand of the Creator shelter us from any evil that might befall us!


Land has come in sight. We are moving towards it. We will need to provide ourselves with food and wine; this fact is reflected on the meager sun-burnt faces of my sailors. We will stop for only a few days, after which we shall sail on to fulfill our royal and god-given mission. Never can setting foot on firm land fill me with the thrill of being in flux and moving on water. Water is my abode, my wandering hungry soul; land is the provision of the body.


The island is called Gomera and it appears to be a terrestrial version of paradise. Its shape resembles a peeled half of an orange. At first, I was worried about possible surprise attacks of its people. Parts of the island were shrouded in cloud and swirling mist, and we would have been extremely vulnerable considering that most of us had not drunken or eaten and had been marked by weakness. However, the people of Gomera were quite hospitable and like many natives they dress in most unusual yet simple ways. Some of them wear large colorful handkerchiefs around their waist, garments that seem to have been made of goat skins. They are also prone to have necklaces of wood, bone and shells hanging from their necks.

To our greatest surprise they are of white race and its men are tall and muscular; I have come across many an inhabitant with blond hair. They also have a rudimentary knowledge of different languages, such as French, Spanish and Portuguese. They replenished us with foodstuff and sweetened water; their fruits, bananas, figs and peaches filled our empty and growling stomachs, and we all slept content and dreamed of the ocean.


The Gomeran people talk amongst each other a most strange but oddly beautiful language the likes of which I have never heard before. It sounds as if two birds are having a lengthy conversation. They must have picked up these unusual sounds and whistles in imitation of some of the many species of birds they have in their nearby luscious green jungle. This birdsong strikes me as most interesting and one day I shall like to learn it.


Today I am ought to meet the principal governess of the island, Dona Beatriz de Bobadilla of Castilla. I have heard rumors about her on the old continent and shall like to verify with my own eyes and ears how much truth is conveyed in them. One of the supposed anecdotes connects her to Fernando, the Catholic, a devout man who has pledged to the vows of chastity. No woman on earth could make him break this oath, but it is purported that Beatriz has ensnared and entangled him to such a degree that for a moment he has forgotten himself and his vows and has engaged in illicit behavior. I am excited about meeting her face to face. Our departure has been postponed by a few days.


With anticipation and a thrilling sensation within I was led into the protected and fortified San Sebastian Tower, the official residence of the governing Dona Beatriz. As I was being led to her quarters it occurred to me that it might have been an unusual perhaps irrelevant coincidence but my wife carried the same name.

I was waiting in the hallway, when she was announced by one of her elegantly dressed muscular slaves. She walked with grace her long thin nose slightly upturned and with a nonchalant air she greeted me. However, in her penetrating brown eyes I thought to detect a welcoming glimmer. She reached out her soft pomaded hand, and I took it and kissed it gently.

What great news to have someone from the continent. Columbus was your name, is it right?”

I nodded. She took a seat at a richly decorated table and offered me to sit opposite of her.

We do get visitors every now and then but they are all such a bore so I hardly feel any lack when they finally leave. You are not a bore, Señor, am I in the right?”

I consider myself an adventurer, and not a tradesman.”

Well-responded. Yes, tradesmen are the worst. They take advantage of our hospitality yet at the same time they wish to make commerce with us. We don’t need their trades or wares; we have everything we want on the island.”

And may I compliment you on it. It is such a heavenly piece on earth.”

And you should know, I suppose, it coming from the mouth of a world traveler.”

Well, in all modesty, the world is God’s endless creation. There is many a thing that still needs discovering.”

Such as a Westerly route to India?”

Thenceforth, you are acquainted with my mission?”

You are regarded as a courageous man in some circles; in others, a mere fool.”

And which circle do you subscribe to, if I may ask.”

She smiled, and there was a strange glow in her eyes as her small sensual mouth stated, “That remains to be seen. I don’t trust first impressions. I need to get to know you better to make a judgment on this matter.”

Her words, both in tone and content felt like sharp knives. I had been told that Dona Beatriz was regarded as witty, sharp-tongued, sensual and beautiful. Now I verified those epithets with my very own eyes.

Gomera is indeed a beautiful place, were it not for its inhabitants. They are a plague.”

How is that so?”

My husband’s death, assassination to be exact, in recent years has led me to become more cautious and reclusive. These primitives are fierce and at any moment given the opportunity will stab you in the back. I had to take drastic measures to secure peace.”

She paused as one of the servants brought fresh cut fruit and filled our chalices to the brim with sweetened palm juice. She watched him intently and only as he left did she continue, “I had to send my most trusted men to cut off their hands and feet so that I shall not be betrayed again. Ignorant heathens such as them understand only the language of violence.”

A heavy hand does wonders to primitive people.”

She nodded somewhat absent-mindedly and added a reflective “Indeed”.

Your Grace I would like to thank you for your wondrous hospitality…”

She appeared to start from her thoughts. “Why, you shall not bid your leave as of yet because I shall not grant it. Stay for dinner, I beseech you, there is no entertainment here, and my men are dull as an old kitchen knife. My ears are burning to hear all about your travels, and I shall tell you a tale or two of my own adventures, if it shall please you.” 

By her side time flew like a heedless flying ship. The more time I spent with her, the more I felt I was bound to her and how much poorer would I feel once I shall leave her side. I had thought it impossible that my body and soul should yearn for her physical presence the same way they longed for the soothing sounds of the ocean. She engulfs me, surrounds me, envelopes me in the sweetest and the most unforgettable of all perfumes. Now as I am writing this alone in the spacious ornamented room she has chosen for me, my hand still quivers from our encounter moments ago; I need to find the warm pulsating center within her.


My crew is getting restless; they have been idle for too long. They crave adventure again; they want to embark on another voyage filled with adventures after having stuffed their bellies and rested their bodies. But the ocean although only footsteps away from here has grown dumb to me. So let my crew wail and cry, my thirst is not yet quenched.


Gomera, Thursday, 6 September, 1492

It has been a month and my duty never ceases its calling. O sweetest of all creatures, o wonderful Beatriz you who have showed me and given birth to the utmost wonders of life I shall have to leave you now with greatest sorrow and regret. But I give you my word as an honorable god-fearing man, as the captain of ships, the high Admiral of the Sea that I shall board again on your precious promised land. I will even cheat death to be in your scented arms again.

Whether as a talisman or as a reminder of the sweetest times of my entire life, she gave me a special gift that I shall carry with me at all times: cuttings of sugarcane.

No comments: