Saturday, September 11, 2021

Reptile Engravings from José García de Arboleya’s Manual de la Isla de Cuba, 1852 and 1859

José García de Arboleya. 1852. Manual de la Isla de Cuba: Compendio de su Historia, Geografía, Estadística y Administración. First Edition. Imprenta del Tiempo, Calle de Cuba, No. 110. Havana. 382 pp. Second edition 1859, 418 pp.

 José García de Arboleya (? – 1876) was a prolific author on the history, customs, government, industry and people of Cuba during the middle of the 19th Century. His books detail nearly every aspect of Cuban life, and were prime source material for business and government officials traveling to, moving to, or soon to be stationed on the island. His Manual de la Isla de Cuba was popular in its day, going through many printings in two editions. The book contains some information on natural history, but it focuses mostly on the exploitive use of animals as food or for trade goods.

 With regard to reptiles, both editions of the book contain two unattributed engravings under the title Reptiles de la Isla de Cuba, that of a majá (Epicrates angulifer) and a Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), within a single 12 x 7.7 cm outlined box (Fig. 1). In the first edition, the plate is located between pages 165-166, whereas in the second edition it is located between pages 172-173. There are no other herpetology illustrations.

Fig. 1. Engraving entitled “Reptiles de la Isla de Cuba” from the 1859 edition of Manual de la Isla de Cuba.

 The first edition of the book includes two short paragraphs on reptiles (p. 165), briefly mentioning the Cuban Crocodile (as a cocodrilo or caiman – cocodrilus rhombifer), the higuana (iguana cyclura harlam, = Cyclura carinata Harlan, 1824), the majá, el jubo (tropidophis melanurus), and el jubito (urotheca dumerilii). These paragraphs are not repeated in the second edition. Turtles are described using the same wording on p. 168 (first edition) and p. 173 (second edition):

En reptiles son ricas estas aguas: entre las várias especies de tortugas cuya delicada carne es unramo interesante de abasto, se cuentan el carey chelonia mydas y la caguama (ehelonia caouana cephalo.) De las conchas del carey se proveen las peineterías de la Isla y se exportan anualmente 8033 libras, por valor de 15 á 16000 pesos. De las conchas de caguama que son bastante inferio res solo se exportan de 200 á 400 libras al precio de 5 reales una;  pero  sus huevos son muy apreciados:  con ellos se llenan unas  tri pas en forma de longaniza,  que despues de  curadas se venden con mucha extimacion, llamándose vulgarmente huevas de caguama. En los rios tenemos tambien la jicotea ó galápago, cuya carne se aprecia.

These waters are rich in reptiles: among the various species of turtles whose delicate meat is an interesting branch of supply, the hawksbill chelonia mydas (= E. imbricata) and the loggerhead (chelonia caouana cephalon, = Caretta caretta) are provided. The shells of the hawksbill are used to make combs, and 8,033 pounds are exported annually from the island, worth 15 to 16,000 pesos. Of the loggerhead shells, which are quite inferior, only 200 to 400 pounds are exported at the price of 5 reales each; but their eggs are highly valued: they are used to fill a tripe in the shape of a longaniza [a sausage flavored with indigenous spices], which after cured is sold with much esteem, commonly called loggerhead roe. In the rivers we also have the jicotea or galápago, whose meat is appreciated.

Both editions of the book are available online through the Hathi Trust.  

Submitted by: C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr.



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