The Devils Excrement circa 1535

April 3, 2011

Friend @chegoyo, sent me this interesting historical tidbit about what may be the earliest use of the term “Devil’s Manure” in history.

It is a page from “Colony and Republic” of Rafael Arraiz. The Chapter is entitled “Stone Oil: Obssesion and sign” and it says:

“It was Gonazlo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes the first one to leave a written mention of Venezuelan oil in 1535, when he say it sprout without mixing with oil in a side of the island of Cubagua. It is written in his “Natural and General History of the Indias and the mainland of the Ocean Sea” in which he talks about a “source of a licquor like oil next to the sea” to later stigmatize it, among us, forever “some who have seen it say the locals call it Stercus Demonis” (Devil’s Manure)Thus, Fernandez de Oviedo was the first one to leave written record of its presence and at the same time, the pioneer that coined the term that many critics of national life have called it “The Devil’s Manure””

There you have it for history and the record, Perez Alfonso popularized the term, but the natives had it down pat earlier on.

12 Responses to “The Devils Excrement circa 1535”

  1. The other day in History Channel or Discovery Channel, can’t remember which, archeologists have gone looking for fossils of animals that sunk into these menes, or ground oil deposits that are still around in the Zulia region, where they have been sort of preserved.

  2. geronl Says:

    That is very interesting. I didn’t know the term was nearly that old.

  3. Maracucho Says:

    Our present venezuelan Midas king Huguito Chavito, had the ability as good alchimist to change turn the “black gold” into shit =devil s excrement= and everything he touches.

  4. Pedrop Says:

    Didn’t Columbus use the naturally seeped oil in the Orinoco delta area for protecting the hulls of his vessels ? Sticks like shit too.

    His third trip ?

  5. Fun! You published my little historical finding. How nice!

    Historial account of menes are highly accurate what’s more: “natural gas and oil contained in the rocks found below Cubagua Formation started to seep in the zone known as La Brea… one of the most important geosites of our island, since it was the first oil seep described in the America’s literature, the first place from which oil was extracted with exportation purposes (in the century XVI), not with energetic but medicinal use, and that motivated in the decade of 1940 to the petroleum exploration, (two wells perforated) by Standard Oil Company New York (SOCONY), the well bases still can be seen.”

    This is a quote from “Geotouristic resources of Cubagua Island”

    On the other hand, those readers who wants to read the original book by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez can read, if they so dare,scan versions of Vol 1 and 3 of this huge historical work written in four voluminous books.

    Be well!

  6. A_Antonio Says:

    Wuau!!! A history lecture, who can figure out that the “devil excrement” can give that much? 🙂

    Well, thinking better, the oil in Venezuela is a paradox and a parable, very well described in this blog.

  7. Kepler Says:

    There is a comment of mine on the moderation list because of one link.
    Anyway, about Cubagua: I do not know, but Alexander von Humboldt reported extensively about oil in the Araya Peninsula. He and Bonpland went to a place in the sea, close to the shore, rather shallow, where “naphta” was coming out. They “tasted” it and he hypothesized a lot of things about it.

  8. Almorávide Says:

    In the earliest of times, indians in what is now Venezuela used petroleum, called “mene” or “devil’s excrement” to caulk their canoes. That was around the gulf of Maracaibo were oil freely flowed to the surface of the lake… Cubagua was then a barren island known for pearls, but I am not sure if accounts of “mene” there are accurate.

    Also, in mid 1800’s oil used to be found on the surface in many parts of Venezuela. An interesting episode involved José María Vargas (the country’s leading scientist at the time) attesting the quality of some oil samples given to him by a traveler. He also noted that it was “blue”.

  9. Halfempty Says:

    Blue tinted confusion tried to catch me!

  10. captainccs Says:


    An interesting bit of history, no doubt! I wonder if we Venezuelans should be happy and proud to be awash in Excrement, the Devil’s or otherwise.

    I’ve reblogged the item at:

  11. Kepler Says:

    Interesting. Arturo Úslar Pietri wrote once about an interesting coincidence: the word native Americans in the Maracaibo region used for oil was mene (whence the toponym).That’s the writing on the wall
    we don’t want to read: the days for the kingdom of oil are counted, one way or the other.

  12. m_astera Says:

    First I’ve heard about oil on Cubagua. Is this good news?

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