Thevet’s visit to the island of Hispaniola turned up a number of unusual and exotic creatures, one of which is a grass-eating fish known as the Bocarin or Manati.
Found in both rivers and the ocean, the bocarin looks primarily like a full wineskin tapering from the navel to the end of the tail. This corpulent monster is 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, and has grey skin with sparse hair. It has two legs at its shoulders, which it uses to swim with, and round, four-toed elephant’s feet with prominent nails. Its head is like that of an ox, except with a smaller face, much smaller eyes, and a much larger and fleshier chin. Females bocarins give birth to live young, and suckle them from teats much like whales do.
Thevet deemed it to be the most deformed and grotesque fish he had ever seen in that part of the world, but for all its ugliness it did have its uses. Its flesh tasted more like veal than like fish, and was fine to eat. Its skin was used to make shoes, its fat was used in leather-making and as ointment. Stones known as enar-onacpy in a bocarin’s head, ground into powder and taken with white wine, were remedies against kidney and bladder stones.
A Spaniard swore to Thevet that a bocarin had been kept for 20 or 30 years in a pond, and eventually became so tame that it would let people scratch its back and ride on it. But Thevet saw that as absurd, as who could imagine a fish being tamed in such a way, let alone a monstrously ugly one like the bocarin?
Lestringent, F. (1997) Le Brésil d’André Thevet. Éditions Chandeigne, Paris.
Thevet, A. (1558) Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique. Maurice de la Porte, Paris.
Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.