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At the time of the Conquest, pearls were held in great estimation by natives in various parts of the New World. Hervando de Soto found them in Florida
where they were used to ornament the tombs of the Indian princes. Gomara mentions that before Cortez made his triumphal entry into Mexico, he was presented by Montezuma with a magnificent necklace of pearls and precious stones. This necklace was afterwards given by Cortez to Emperor Charles V. Garcillaso records that the Incas of Peru set a great value on pearls, but the laws of Manco-Capac prohibited the natives from exercising the trade of diver on account of the great risk involved.
Humboldt describes the statue of a Mexican priestess in basalt, whose head-dress, resembling the calantica of Isis, was lavishly ornamented with pearls. Las Casas and Benzoni have related, not without some exaggeration, the cruelties practiced on the Indian and negro slaves ployed in the pearl industry. Pearls early
early came into demand by the inhabitants of Southern Europe, and were introduced in diametrically opposite directions. The Palcologi of Constantinople wore garments covered with strings of pearls, while the Moorish kings of Granada in Spain displayed them in profusion. The pearls of the West Indies were preferred to those of the East Indies.
The islands of Margarita, Cubagua, Coche and Punta Araya off the Spanish Main, the mouth of the Rio Hacha in Colombia, and the islands in the Bay of Panama were as celebrated in the sixteenth century as was the Persian Gulf, and the Island of Tarprobane with the ancients. The first Spaniard who landed on Tierra Firme, of the early names given to the Isthmus, found the Indians decked out with pearl necklaces and bracelets. Shortly after the adventurers from the Old World began Hocking to the Americas, the traffic in pearls grew amazingly. Acosta tells us that in 1587, six hundred and ninety-seven pounds of pearls were imported into Spain from its Western possessions. Those of the greatest size and beauty
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amounting to some eleven pounds were set aside for the monarch, Philip II.
The diving operations at that period were under the charge of an overseer, or Armador. As fast as they were brought up from the ocean's bed, a division was made, two oysters going to the Armador, two to the diver, while the fifth was apportioned to the King. Those of the Armador were opened first, and he had to use the utmost vigilance for the diver had a knack of swallowing the most valuable pearl along with the live oyster which he threw into his mouth with a dexterity defying detection. After the Armador's, the king's fifth was opened, and lastly the diver's share. All the pearls collected were then deposited in one pile, the Armador generally taking the diver's share for debts owing him. Notwithstanding the precautions taken, the divers usually managed to reserve some to trade for liquor, cigars and knick-knacks.
The use of the diving bellin connection with the pearl industry has been tried on several occasions, but without signal success.
THE NEW PALACE AND THEATRE
The most imposing edifice in the Republic of Panama is the new Government Palace and National Theatre, which occupies a beautiful site on the bay front, covering the area of block between Central Avenue and Avenue B. The palace fronts on Central Avenue, and the theatre on Avenue B.
The structure was commenced in November, 1905, and will be finished in the early part of 1908. The timated cost at completion is $600,000 gold. The dimensions of the building are approximately 280 by 164 feet. The architectural style is patterned after the Italian Renaissance.
The principal rooms in the palace are the President's office, reception hall and parlor, private living rooms, of fices of the Secretaries and their staff of employes, hall of Congress, and rooms of the National Treasury. All the rooms will be handsomely finished and furnished.
The theatre will have a seating capacity of 1,100, and a total seating and standing capacity of about 1,600. The interior construction is of stone and iron, and the building is absolutely fireproof. The stage is of magnificent size, and will accommodate the largest companies now traveling. The stage settings and equipment, including the metal curtain are of the latest and most approved design. The curtain, as well as the decorative effects on the ceiling and foyer were painted by the well known artist, Mr. Robert Lewis, a citizen of Panama, but who has
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spent many years at Paris in the interest of his work. The seats are of special design, the work of the celebrated Bordalli of Italy. Italian talent was also brought into play in connection with the painting of the stage scenery, the services of Prof. Agostini, a master of this art, having been secured for the purpose.
The matter has been broached of working up a regular theatre circuit for the west coast cities of South America. Should this come to pass, Panama will be presented in it, and the theatre-going public treated to the best operas and plays touring the Americas. In view of the long jumps that have to be made some governments of South America grant a small subsidy to prominent theatrical companies, and in this way secure some ceptionally fine talent. The fact however, that Panama has an up-to-date playhouse will furnish inducement to many of these companies who have not heretofore included the Isthmian capital in their itineraries.