Origins America Gets Its Name: Eyewitness Report

About an eyewitness report by Amerigo Vespucci on the culture of the native people from the New World that was named for him.


EYEWITNESS REPORT: Here is what Vespucci saw of the New World named after him, as written in an authentic letter to Lorenzo de' Medici in 1502: "We sailed on the wind within a half a point of southwest [of Cape Verde], so that in 64 days we arrived at a new land which, for many reasons that are enumerated in what follows, we observed to be a continent. . . . We found the whole land inhabited by people entirely naked. . . . For 27 days I ate and slept among them, and what I learned about them is as follows:

"Having no laws and no religious faith, they live according to nature. They understand nothing of the immortality of the soul. There is no possession of private property among them, for everything is in common. They have no boundaries of kingdom or province. They have no king, nor do they obey anyone. Each one is his own master. There is no administration of justice, which is unnecessary to them, because in their code no one rules. They live in communal dwellings, built in the fashion of very large cabins. . . . They sleep in nets woven out of cotton, going to bed in mid-air with no other coverture. They eat squatting upon the ground. Their food is very good; an endless quantity of fish; a great abundance of sour cherries, shrimps, oysters, lobsters, crabs, and many other products of the sea. They meat which they eat most usually is what one may call human flesh a la mode. When they can get it, they eat other meat . . . the country is a very thick jungle full of ferocious wild beasts. . . .

"Their marriages are not with one woman only, but they mate with whom they desire and without much ceremony. I know a man who had 10 women. . . . They are also a warlike people . . . they use bows and arrows, darts, and stones. They use no shields for the body, but go into battle naked. . . .

"That which makes me more astonished at their wars and cruelty was that I could not understand from them why they made war upon each other, considering that they held no private property or sovereignty of empire and kingdoms and did not know any such thing as lust for possession, that is, pillaging or a desire to rule, which appear to me to be the causes of wars and of every disorderly act."

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