As the reader may perhaps have already anticipated, the first notice of the use of rubber comes to us in the history of the voyages of Columbus. Columbus found that the natives of Hayti possessed among other amusements a game of ball. " The balls were of the gum of a tree, and although large, were lighter and bounced better than the wind balls of Castile."
A fuller account was given by Juan de Torquemada in 1615. This writer describes a tree, called by the natives Ulequahuitl (Castilloa elastica), which was held in high estimation in Central America. The method of collection of the rubber, which flows out as a milky white substance when the tree is wounded, is described, and also its coagulation by setting in calabashes and subsequent boiling in water. Sometimes the latex was simply smeared over the bodies of the collectors and allowed to dry—a method still employed by some primitive tribes. The rubber so prepared was used for making balls, and for shoes for tumblers and jesters, whose antics it assisted; and a medicinal oil was extracted from it. Even at this early date the Spaniards themselves employed the milk for waterproofing their cloaks.
The first accurate account of Para rubber is given by C. M. de la Condamine, who visited the Amazon country on an astronomical mission in 1735. He describes various uses of rubber by the Omaquas Indians, including that of making syringes or squirts. These instruments appear to have played an important part in social gatherings and even in religious festivals. From this use comes the Portuguese name Pao di Xirringa, the syringe tree. Hence also are derived the familiar terms Seringa for rubber and Seringueiros for the labourers employed in the collection of this material.