to verify on his way the opinion of King Don Juan, and he wanted to find out what the Indians of Hispaniola had told him, that there had come to it from the south and southeast Negro people, who brought those spear points made of a metal which they call guanin, of which he had sent to the king and queen for assaying, and which was found to have in thirty-two parts eighteen of gold, six of silver, and eight of copper.
Weiner cited the 26-volume Italian-language 1892 omnibus of all the collected materials about Columbus, and I believe that in that edition material from other sources was included to represent passages redacted from the extant journal. The primary source for this additional material was Bartolomé de Las Casas’s History of the Indies, which included sections based directly on Columbus’s journals.
That the text in question was not the Italian text of the published third journal (a Spanish text was published as well, but not cited by Weiner) was confirmed by Jack D. Forbes, the Native American advocate whose Africans and Native Americans (1993) tried to make the case for trans-ocean contact. In his book, he presents quotations he implies were from Columbus, and they are in Spanish. Searching out the origin of this text led me back to Bartolomé de Las Casas, the actual author of the quoted words, who writes:
y que quiere ver cuál era la opinion del rey D. Juan de Portogal, que decia que al Austro habia tierra firme …y que despues navegarian, placiendo á Nuestro Señor, al Poniente, y de ahi pasaria á esta Española, en el cual camino veria la opinion del rey D.Juan, susodicha. Y que pensaba experimentar lo que decian los indios de esta Española, que habia venido á ella, de la parte del Austro y del Sueste, gente negra, y que trae los hierros de las acagayas de un metal que llaman guanine… (1.132)
And he wanted to verify the opinion of King Don Juan of Portugal, who said that to the south was terra firma… And after he had sailed, if it were pleasing to Our Lord, to the west, he would pass by this Hispaniola, and along the way verify the aforesaid opinion of King Don Juan. And he thought to test what the Indians of Hispaniola had told him, that there had come to it from the parts of the south and the southwest a black people who had brought heads for acagayas [spears] of a metal which they called guanin…
…y que el rey D. Juan tenia gran inclinacion de enviar á descubrir al Sudoeste, y que se habian hallado canoas, que salian de la costa de Guinea, que navegaban al Oeste con mercadurias. (1.130)
…and that the king Don Juan had a great desire to send forth to discover the southwest, and that canoes had been found that came from the coast of Guinea, which had sailed to the West with merchandise.
This story is not exactly hidden history, appearing as it does in Washington Irving’s influential biography of Columbus, from Las Casas. However, Weiner appears to be the first to have read the two chapters (130 and 132) as closely connected, misconstruing two separate tests of whether there was a mainland south of the various Atlantic islands as part of one question connected to Guinean voyages to Cape Verde. Columbus merely meant that he could, in one trip, knock off the two questions by sailing a more southerly route looking for land south of Hispaniola:
Thence I went to the Canaries, from which islands I sailed with but one ship and two caravels, having dispatched the other ships to Española by the direct road to the Indies; while I myself moved southward, with the view of reaching the equinoctial line, and of then proceeding westward, so as to leave the island of Española to the north. (trans. R. H. Major—yes, the Henry Sinclair conspiracy-monger)
I have no idea how Weiner came to believe that Las Casas’s chapters were somehow Columbus’s journal. (Las Casas produced a redacted version of Columbus’s journals, which is all we have of them.) It’s possible that the 1892 edition of the journal, which I have not seen, included more material than the 1841 version or the English translation of R. H. Major; it is also possible that he misread passages from Las Casas included as supplements or notes as part of the original. He cites pages 5 and 6 of the 1892 edition, which I believe are 17 and 18 of the 1841 text. In that section, Columbus does mention the kings (plural) of Portugal and their attempts to colonize Guinea, but it does not include the specific language Weiner uses. The 1841 text, though does have editor’s notes directing the reader to Las Casas, probably repeated in 1892, which may be how Weiner ended up there.
For many years, though, Las Casas’s text was inaccessible because it existed in manuscript form only. Even today, it has only limited distribution in English translation; the only translation I know was done in 1971, and it does not translate these sections. As a result, for a long time the only source of information was Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas’s Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano (1601), which based the relevant chapters on a close paraphrase of Las Casas:
Y determinando tambien de navegar al Sur, por entender si se enganaba el Rei D. Juan de Portugal, que afirmaba, que al Sur havia Tierra-firme, Miercoles à quatro de Julio, mandò governar la via de el Sudueste, no haviendo visto, despues que llegò à las Islas de Cabo Verde, el Sol, ni las Estrellas, sino los Cielos cubiertos de espesissima nieblina. Dixo tambien, que por aquel camino pensaba experimentar lo que decian los Indios de la Espanola, que havian ido à ella, de la parte del Sur, i de Sudueste, Gente negra, que traía los hierros de las Acagayas, de vn Metal, que llamaban Guanin…etc. etc.
And also determined to sail to the South, in order to determine whether he had been deceived by King Don Juan of Portugal, who had affirmed that to the south was terra firma, on Wednesday the fourth of July, the governor set a path southwest. Having seen nothing, for the sun and stars and sky were blanketed in a very thick fog, he afterward landed at the Cape Verde Islands. He also said that in the same way he thought to test the statement of the Indians of Hispaniola, who said that there came from the parts of the south, or the southwest, black people, who had brought heads for acagayas of a metal which they called guanin…
This is a fun problem. The trouble stems from Las Casas’s word sueste, which in modern Spanish is a contraction of sudeste (southeast) as su(d)este; however, in consulting older Spanish dictionaries, from the 1700s and earlier, we find that sueste used to be an abbreviation for sudueste (southwest) as s(ud)ueste, with the o of oeste weakening to a u. (Las Casas also uses the obsolete direction austro instead of sur for south, so obviously we need to be looking at older versions of Spanish directions.) This is certainly how Herrara read Las Casas, and how other Spanish writers of the time understood the word.
This more or less random change in Spanish abbreviations let Weiner and Forbes make the “black people” come from the “southeast” and therefore Africa, while Las Casas and Herrera talk of the “southwest”, meaning Venezuela and Mesoamerica.
I hope this finally solves this painfully dense “mystery.”