CHAPTER 35: The Story of the Visitation of Mr. Badthing

THE AVAVARES and the tribes we had left behind related an extraordinary experience which, in our equivalent of their vague way of counting, seemed to have occurred fifteen or sixteen years before.

They said that a little man wandered through the region whom they called Badthing [Mala Cosa]. He had a beard and they never saw his features distinctly. When he came to a house, the inhabitants trembled and their hair stood on end. A blazing brand would suddenly shine at the door as he rushed in and seized whom he chose, deeply gashing him in the side with a very sharp flint two palms long and a hand wide. He would thrust his hand through the gashes, draw out the entrails, cut a palm's length from one, and throw it on the embers. Then he would gash an arm three times, the second cut on the inside of the. elbow, and would sever the limb. A little later he would begin to rejoin it, and the touch of his hands would instantly heal the wounds.

They said that frequently during the dance he appeared in their midst, sometimes in the dress of a woman, at other times in that of a man. When he liked, he would take a buhío up into the air and come crashing down with it. They said they offered him victuals many times but he never ate. They asked him where he came from and where his home was. He pointed to a crevice in the ground and said his home was there below.

We laughed and scoffed. Indignant at our disbelief, they brought us many whom they said had been so seized, and we saw the gash marks in the right places [self-inflicted?]. We told them he was an evil one and, as best we could, taught them that if they would believe in God our Lord and become Christians like us, they need never fear him, nor would he dare come and inflict those wounds; they could be certain he would not appear while we remained in the land. This delighted them and they lost much of their dread.

The same Indians told us they had seen the Asturian and Figueroa with people farther along the coast, whom we designated "those of the figs." [What Cabeza de Vaca knew of the latter, whom he mentions one other time, he must have learned from the Avavares and possibly Castillo and Dorantes (who had more extensive experience of the coast), but he could have encountered some of them in the prickly pear thickets. By "fig," as Hallenbeck suggests, he could well have meant the fruit of the "strawberry cactus" or pitaya (Echinocercus ), some of which he surely ate in that region.]