Garcilaso de la Vega,
El Inca.


Royal Commentaries of the Incas

and General History of Peru

Part One


Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca.

Comentarios Reales De Los Incas



How the New World was discovered

"IN ABOUT 1484, to within a year or so, a pilot born in Huelva, in the county of Niebla, called Alonso Sanchez de Huelva, had a small ship with which he traded by sea and used to carry wares from Spain to the Canaries, where he sold them profitably and brought back to the island products from the Canaries and carried them to the isle of Madeira, thence returning to Spain laden with sugar and conserves. While pursuing this triangular trade and crossing from the Canaries to Madeira, he ran into a squall so heavy and tempestuous that he could not withstand it and was obliged to run before it for twenty-eight or twenty-nine days without knowing his whereabouts, since during the whole time he was unable to take an altitude either by the sun or by the north star. The crew suffered great hardships in the storm, for they could neither eat nor sleep. After this lengthy period the wind fell and they found themselves near an island. It is not known for sure which it was, but it is suspected that it was the one now called Santo Domingo. However, it is worthy of note that the wind that drove the ship so furiously and violently could only have been the solano, or easterly—for the isle of Santo Domingo is to the westward of the Canaries—and this wind usually appeases rather than raises storms on that voyage. But when the Almighty Lord wishes to show His great mercy, He mysteriously draws the most necessary effects from opposite causes, as He drew water from the rock and sight for the blind from the mud placed on his eyes, so that these may clearly be seen to be the works of divine mercy and goodness. He also displayed His clemency in sending the true light of His Gospel to all the New World which had such need of it, since its peoples lived, or rather perished, in the darkness of the most barbarous and bestial paganism and idolatry, as we shall see in the course of our story.

"The pilot leapt ashore, took the altitude and wrote a detailed account of all he saw and all that befell him at sea on the outward and inward voyages, and having taken on board water and fuel, he returned, sailing blind and without knowing the way any more than when he had come, so that he took much longer than was necessary. And because of the delay they ran out of water and supplies. For this reason and because of the great privations they had suffered on both journeys, they began to sicken and die, and of seventeen men who left Spain, no more than five reached Terceira, among them the pilot Alonso Sanchez de Huelva. They stayed at the house of the famous Genoese Christopher Columbus, because they knew he was a great pilot and cosmographer and made seamen's charts. He received them kindly and entertained them lavishly so as to learn the things that had happened on the long and strange voyage they said they had undergone. But they arrived so enfeebled by hardships that Christopher Columbus could not restore them to health despite his attentions, and they all died in his house, leaving him the heir to the hardships that had caused their death. The great Columbus accepted the challenge with such courage and zeal that, having suffered others as great and greater (for they lasted longer), he succeeded in the undertaking that gave the New World and its riches to Spain, as was emblazoned on his arms:

To Castile and to León
A New World was given by Colon.

"Anyone who wishes to learn the great deeds of this hero should read the General History of the Indies written by Francisco López de Gómara. There he will find them, though in abbreviated form. But this very conquest and discovery is the work that gives greatest praise and renown to this most famous among famous men. I wished to add these few lines because they were lacking in what the old historian wrote. He wrote far away from the scene of events, and got his information from those who came and went, and told him imperfectly many things that had happened, but I heard them in my own country from my father and his contemporaries, whose favorite and usual conversation was to repeat the stirring and notable deeds performed in their conquests. They recounted then what I have just said and other matters that I shall repeat presently; for as they had known many of the first discoverers and conquerors of the New World, they heard from them the whole story of these things; and I, as I have said, heard them from my elders, though, being only a boy, with scant attention. If I had listened more closely, I would now be able to set down many other remarkable things very needful to this history. I will relate those that have stayed in my memory and regret those I have lost. The Reverend Father Jose de Acosta also touches on this story of the discovery of the New World and regrets not being able to give it in full, for his Paternity also wanted a part of this narrative, like some modern authors, since the old conquistadors had already disappeared when he visited those parts. In his Book I, ch. xix, he says:

Having shown that there is no ground for thinking that the earliest dwellers in the Indies reached them by deliberately sailing there, it follows that if they went by sea it would have been by chance and under stress of weather that they got to the Indies, and this, despite the immensity of the Ocean Sea, is not incredible. For this happened in the discovery of our own times, when that seaman whose name is still unknown (so that so great a venture shall not be attributed to any other than God), having reached the New World by reason of a terrible and persistent storm, repaid the generous hospitality of Christopher Columbus by imparting the great news to him. Thus it was rendered possible,

etc. This, word for word, is from Padre Acosta, who is thus seen to have found our story in Peru, if not in full, at least in its essentials. This was the origin and first beginning of the discovery of the New World, and the honor of it belongs to the little town of Huelva, which may boast of having produced a son whose narrative inspired such faith in Christopher Columbus that he persisted in his quest and promised things never seen or heard, but like a wise man keeping the secret of them, though he did describe them in confidence to certain persons who enjoyed great authority with the Catholic monarchs and who helped him to press his undertaking through. But if it had not been for the news that Alonso Sanchez de Huelva gave him he could not have promised so much and so exactly what he did promise merely out of his own imagination as a cosmographer, nor have seen the undertaking of the discovery through so rapidly, for the same author tells us that Columbus took only sixty-eight days on the voyage to the island of Guanatianico, including a few days at Gomera to take in supplies. If he had not known from Alonso Sanchez's narrative what direction to take in so vast a sea, it would almost have been a miracle to have arrived there in so little time.


Royal Commentaries of the Incas by Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca., In 2 Volumes, University of Texas Press, 1966.