Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous
|HOIST again the red cross! Let us voyage once more|
Where the wild torrents roar,
As we haul the boat o'er:
And our red men all point as they paddle away,
To where the grim cayman is lurking for prey,
Midst the sandbanks and rocks by the shore.
|We encamp ere the sun quits the evening sky,|
Or the night-birds flit by
With their strangely-weird cry:
And our Indians join in our evening prayer,
Make their camp-fires and sup—to their hammocks repair,
And tell tales till the moon riseth high.
|Oh, strange are the legends in which they delight!|
Some tell how each sprite,
In the "merrie moonlight,"
With his comrades (as animals) joins in the dance.
Such are not malignant, though sometimes, perchance,
Human beings they sorely affright.
|Of some pillar-like rocks, which the traveller sees,|
They will say, "They were trees
Which once waved in the breeze."
And of others, like men or strange animals shown,
Say, "They once lived and moved, but are turned into stone,
Having failed the Great Spirit to please!"
|And he who would win those wild people should know|
How their strange legends go,
And how their thoughts flow.
His teaching more readily they will receive
When they find that he knows what their old men believe;
And thus his good seed he may sow.
|"OH, what mean these croaks, like a concert of frogs,|
Such as we, oftentimes, near our marshes and bogs,
May hear at still evening's close?"
"'Tis the chorus to one of our popular tales,
Levelled at a division of race which prevails,
And pretending to show how it rose."
|"Come with us, O Bahmoo, to hunt the huge frogs,|
Which are found nowhere else in our rivers and bogs:
Good food; though in size they approach the bush-hogs:
Some excellent sport you may find."
Thus our young men addressed
Their friend Bahmoo, a guest,
Who had come to their "place" of adventures in quest,
And, perhaps, of a wife to his mind.
For, as you may know, our young men often rove
A long distance in search of a girl they can love.
|And now these young hunters set forth on their way;|
Each one with his weapons and ornaments gay.
|"Take a cudgel, O Bahmoo!" said they, "if you go,|
For those creatures are sturdy, and take a hard blow."
Then answered Bahmoo,
"I leave weapons to you,
And tell you beforehand what I mean to do.
The first frog that is found
Upon yon marshy ground,
I will jump on his back, and will twist his neck round,
And so kill him without more ado!"
|* * * * * * *|
|Now the chief of those frogs was a spirit, they say,|
Who o'erheard Bahmoo's boast, and forthwith, in the way,
Full of fun, near the river, he squatted or lay.
There he seemed half asleep; while around him awoke
A deafening chorus of croak upon croak.
|Our young men, well used to it, were not afraid,|
But Bahmoo half shrunk from the row those frogs made,
It was such a wild hullabaloo.
As from each monstrous throat
Pealed the long rolling note;
And he heard it resound,
Far and near, all around,
"Boro-ohk," dying off in "boro-oo!"
|When the boaster looked grave, it was thought a good joker|
And his comrades enjoyed it. Although no one spoke,
He knew they were laughing aside.
So he ran at that first frog, and sprang on his back,
And, to twist round his head, threw his arms round his neck,
And then—found himself in the tide!
For the frog-chief, returning his ardent embrace,
Said," Come, my dear friend, with me, home to my place,
Just to see it, if not to abide."
Then he sprang off the ground,
And with wonderful bound
And a splash, that was heard a long distance around,
They plunged in where the deep waters glide.
|Bahmoo tried to escape, but the frolicsome sprite,|
Which possessed that huge frog, in his paws held him tight;
And, when they emerged from below,
He said," Mount on my back, it is much the best way,
And we will enjoy ourselves this pleasant day,
As over the river we go.
We will sing, as we swim along, merry and gay:
And my people, as chorus, shall join in the lay,
Each chanting his loud 'boro-oo.'"
|So each neighbouring frog lifts his head from the tide,|
And the others respond from the banks, far and wide;
At the voice of their king
They all merrily sing—
"Boro-ohk, boro-ohk, boro-oo!"
|But meanwhile, Bahmoo's comrades, pray what have they done?|
Well, at first I must say that they thought it no fun:
To see their friend caught by the frog.
But as soon as they saw him upon the frog's back,
With loud peals of laughter, they cried, "Twist his neck,
And bring him here dead as a log.
Then, when he is dead,
And you've done what you said,
Of all our bold hunters we'll make you the head,
Our champion in forest and bog!"
| 'Twas severe, I must own;|
But 'tis very well known,
That to braggarts who fail little mercy is shown.
And so Bahmoo, when mocked by the frogs' "boro-oo,"
Heard his comrades laugh loudly, and join in it too.
|At length he arrived at the opposite shore;|
The frog had sung merrily all the way o'er
(Such a jolly old frog none e'er knew).
"You see I have carried you safely," said he.
"How pleasant to swim in such good company!"
Then o'er his head Bahmoo he threw,
Saying, "Though it be painful to part, I must go,
For your people are killing mine yonder, I know.
Adieu, my good Bahmoo, adieu!"
|He then dived below; the man saw him no more,|
But remained there alone on that desolate shore.
When the young men had finished their frog-hunt, they hailed
For Bahmoo to swim back; but entreaties all failed
To draw him from that other side.
He dreaded their laughter, and would not again
Adventure himself in the tide,
Lest that frog he should meet. So he had to remain,
And there for himself to provide.
|"And that is the reason," our old people say,|
"Why his children are separate from us this day."
|* * * * * * *|
|"His children? Why, where could Bahmoo find a bride?"|
"Well, most likely he'd found one ere quitting our side,
Who would not quite approve
That the man of her love
Should be there day and night quite alone.
She might not have a boat,
But a 'woodskin' will float,
Which her woman's wit would most surely provide;
And, paddling herself, she would be at his side.
Woman's love greater wonders has done,
And few things, we find,
Will deter woman-kind,
When once it has thoroughly made up its mind,
As the wisest of Indians own."1
|When tempted to boast of what you "mean to do,"|
Pray remember the frog, and vain-glorious Bahmoo.
|AN old man, who often caught fish in the river,|
Would take his boy with him his fortune to try;
And the father, with wonder, observed that wherever
The boy swam about, there the fishes would die.
|But as, after cooking, he safely could eat them,|
He took the lad with him to bathe day by day:
Till the fish knew his plans, and, resolved to defeat them,
They made up their minds the young swimmer to slay.
|They cared not attack him, of course, in the water;|
To venture there near him would never have done.
But they chose an old log as the scene of the slaughter,
Where he, after swimming, would bask in the sun.
|There the fish which had spines all sprang rapidly o'er him,|
And each struck his spine in the youth as he lay;
But, worse than all wounds from the others before him,
And fatal, was that of the deadly sting-ray.
|When the father his son through the forest was bearing,|
The dying youth saw his blood drop on the ground;
And he said, "Father, watch for strange plants here appearing;
My blood will take root, and avengers abound."
|* * * * * *|
|Thus was found the Haiarri, which, washed after bruising,|
In pools or small streams, makes the fishes our prey.
Think on what the fish gained, when the roots you are using,
Or when anger tempts you a foeman to slay!
|THE birds with mankind once their forces combined|
An immense water serpent to slay,
Who was fond of all creatures—and those he could find
Would embrace, in his own pressing way.
Beasts and birds, human beings, with him all went down;
So the men came to kill him from each little town.
Their gay feathers and paint made a glorious show,
And each warrior was eager to strike the first blow;
While the birds came to help in the fray.
|They all promised his skin to whoe'er should begin,|
And make him come out of his pool;
But every warrior they asked to step in
Said he fought "upon land—as a rule."
Then came forth the cormorant chief, who could see
In the deep the snake's neck round the root of a tree.
Darting down, he drove through it an arrow he bore
(Which had a line tied to a tree on the shore),
Emerging triumphant and cool.
|Then, with many a shout, the men capered about,|
And began very gently to haul;
Then more strongly; but still the snake would not come out—
He seemed fixed there, like any stone wall.
When forced out at length by his horrible wound,
His tail made the warriors all scamper around,
While the birds in wide circles seemed whirled by the wind.
But he had to give in; and was finally skinned,
'Midst the shouts and wild cries of them all.
|That struggle took place on the Cako, men say;|
Where the snake's length is marked on the rocks to this day.
|When the cormorant chief claimed the skin as his prize,|
The chief or the warriors affected surprise,
And said, "We might give you the skin, as you say,
But how are you going to bear it away?
Just try, if you please!"
"With much pleasure and ease!"
The bold water-bird said;
Then he lifted the head
As a sign to the others, who knew what he meant,
And swooped down on the skin with a rapid descent;
Each seized on its margin, beginning to fly,
And the skin, like a banner, went streaming on high!
|But the warriors, disgusted, used very strong words,|
And have, since that time, become hostile to birds.
|The birds flew to a place quite secluded, and there|
Their leader said, "Comrades, this spoil we will share:
So let each take the part which he happened to bear."
|Now the skin was most brilliant, red, yellow, and green,|
Black and white, in such patterns as never were seen.
So, delighted, each bird took what happened to come,
Which he placed on his shoulders to bear safely home.
|Then a wonder ensued! Birds of soberest hue|
Became of those colours, white, yellow, and blue!
Parrots then were first seen dressed in red and in green,
And macaws in such plumage as never had been,
Scarlet, purple, and gold! But what more need I say,
When we see them fly past us in beauty each day?
|As it happens with men—when brave warriors who toil,|
And go through all the danger, get least of the spoil—
Even so—to the champion, who thus adorned all.
The snake's head, with its sombre tints, happened to fall.
But he seemed quite contented, whatever befell,
Saying, "For an old diver it does very well!"
|WHILE resting from our toil by night,|
We hear strange stories told;
And tales of beasts and birds delight
Young hunters, keen and bold.
From whom each wild bush note is heard,
For well they mimic beast and bird.
|Of him who on the cayman's back1|
Crossed and recrossed the tide;
Or one who from a jaguars track
Would never turn aside,
They tell; or praise to him afford
Who caught great snakes with slender cord.2
|* * * * *|
|Of mermen or mermaidens wild|
We hear, in legends grave:
How handsome youth, or maid, or child,
They draw beneath the wave!
Or snatch them from the bank above,
Some say, "through envy," some, "through love."
|* * * * *|
|Some tell us of Peaima's1 hair,|
And him who dressed his head;
But stripped: then on it, raw and bare,
Poured pepper seeds—and fled.
"With growing peppers crowned," they say,
"The monster sought the man to slay!"
|Wild is the tale—its sequel long,|
Yet Indians laugh to find
The man outwit, with lying tongue,
The monster's simple mind.
'Tis ever so. In heathen lore
Are heathen morals—and no more.
|THE chief of our sorcerers stood by the water,|
No mightier wizard existed than he;
And he looked with compassion upon his fair daughter,
As love-sick and sad as a maiden can be.
|"Oh, father!" she cried, "he has no one to cheer him,|
That lonely young hunter—so brave and so free!
Make me like to his dog, that I may venture near him;
I die for his love—while he looks not on me!"
|"Take this skin," he said sadly, "and draw o'er thy shoulders;|
A dog in the eyes of thy loved one to be;
Its wonderful magic deceives all beholders!
Be rid of thy madness—then come back to me!"
|* * * * * * *|
|Then the young man, beloved of the sorcerer's daughter,|
Would start with four dogs through the forest to roam,
But would come back with three: for the struggle and slaughter
One never would join in, but always ran home.
|With the sweet eventide to his cottage returning,|
He round the place swept up as clean as could be;
Cassava bread baked, and the fire brightly burning;
And said, "Some good neighbour has done it for me."
|When they all had denied it, he said, "'Tis some spirit,|
Who, seeing me lonely, thus strives to be kind."
Then he saw gazing at him that dog void of merit,
Whose look was so strange that it puzzled his mind.
|The next day, as he the swift game was pursuing,|
He counted his dogs, and he round there but three;
Then he said, "Till I find what your comrade is doing,
I leave you here tied to the trunk of a tree!"
|Then—silent and swift—to his cottage returning,|
He round a small crevice—peeped through the thatch wall,
And saw, baking bread on the fire brightly burning,
The lovely young damsel, whose hand had done all.
|With exercise flushed, all her features were glowing,|
Her form bending lithe in its fine symmetry;
As she listened to hear distant barking, not knowing
That he whom she loved all her movements could see.
|And there hung the charmed skin, the whole secret revealing;|
He sprang in and seized it with heart light and free;
"No longer," said he," this fair maiden concealing,
Thy magical charm shall have power o'er me!"
|And into the flames he then thrust it; the rather|
That she strove to take it, her beauty to hide.—
Then she wept. But he said, "Now return to thy father;
I follow, to claim thee—my beautiful bride!"1
|SOME tell of him, of human birth,|
Who saw in troops advance
The sons and daughters of the earth,
And joined their mystic dance.—
Danced at an elfin maiden's side,
And wooed her for his fairy bride.
|Then said her father, "None would dare|
(No man has been so brave)
Deep in the earth our home to share,
Or 'neath the shining wave.
Dar'st thou?" "I dare!" the young man cried,
"With this fair Demaredu bride!"
|The chief replied, "So let it be!|
He must be fond and brave,
Who dares to join our family
Beneath the earth or wave.—
To him and his, but none beside,
Give we a Demaredu bride!"1
|OF the fierce "Worisiana"|
(Such their nation's name)
I can tell the ancient story:
How their warlike strength and glory
First began in shame.
|For a chieftain's wife, "To-eyza,"|
Faithless dared to be,
Caring nothing for disaster;
Haughty was her lord and master,
Haughtier was she.
|At the women's place of bathing,|
Thus To-eyza said:
"Some call marriage a protection;
I esteem it base subjection;
Better far be dead!
|"Such as we, by parents given,|
Nought of love can know;
All our days we spend in sorrow;
'Work to-day,' and 'work to-morrow,'
Ever 'work'—and woe!
|"Spurn with me this shameful bondage!|
Yon black jaguar see—
See, in that disguise, my lover!
Men like him can soon swim over,
And will set us free!
|"Call his name! Let Walyarima|
Be our signal cry;
Ye who seek emancipation
From your husbands' domination,
Now behold it nigh!"
|But three men saw Walyarima|
From a neighbouring wood.
Saw and heard, and told the story—
Told their chief, "To-eyborōri,"1
How the matter stood.
|To the women, on the morrow,|
Calm, the chieftain said,
"Toilsome hunting is before us,
Hunger may be hanging o'er us:
Make cassava bread."
|When for roots they all departed,|
To the stream he went;
Bade some striplings there "keep moving,"
While, concealed, the rest (approving)
Heard his stern intent.
|Those who bathed cried, "Walyarima!"—|
Called the hated name,
Spread their long hair on the water;
While each bow lay near for slaughter;
|As he came, the chief, to meet him,|
Dashed into the tide,
Sent his mighty arrow through him;
While the others, swimming to him,
Smote him—as he died.
|Grimly, his remains they bore then|
To the women's shed—
To the ridge within, suspended,
Left them (for a taunt intended)
|* * * * *|
|Came, in Indian file, the women:|
Each her burden bore;
Sternly then their husbands eyed them,
Shrinking from the sights beside them,
On the roof and floor.
|Last of all came in To-eyza:|
Blood fell on her hand,
Firm she stood, her high head rearing
(E'en the chief admired her bearing)
Beautiful and grand!
|Then said he, "We go a-hunting;|
Speed, and make the bread—
Bake to-night: we cannot tarry,
Bread for five days we must carry."
"Be it so," she said.
|"Bring the meat; and strong paiwári,|
More than e'er before;
We your wives will then provide you,
And, that night, will dance beside you,
If we dance no more!"
|In the heart of proud To-eyza|
Burned a raging flame;
For that drop of blood inspired her,
And the demon power, which fired her.
On the others came.
|"For revenge only hearts are burning—|
All our hearts," said she.
"Savage insult men provide you!
Ask no questions—I will guide you;
You shall all be free!"
|* * * * *|
|From his hunting came the chieftain;|
Laden were his men.
Beasts and birds they brought home twenty,
Smoked or fresh. Then all was plenty—
All was feasting then!
|For the women of paiwári|
Had abundant store—
All the men had drunk, and rested;
Till the thirsty ones requested
To be served with more.
|Then a calabash each woman|
Filled up to the brim,
To her husband meekly handed,
(So To-eyza had commanded)
Fatal draught to him!
|She had mixed cassava juice there,|
Bringing death to all;
Soon, in agony appalling,
Vainly for assistance calling,
Down the warriors fall.
|* * * * *|
|"Now rejoice!" exclaimed To-eyza;|
"Women, ye are free!
Nevermore shall husbands rule you,
Beat, oppress, and then befool you,
If you follow me!"
|Some, with boys, had fled; the others|
Through the midnight hour
Danced, with simulated gladness;
Every bosom filled with madness,
By the demon's power!
|Winding through the woods in order,|
See a female band,
Hammocks, food, and weapons bearing,
For a weary march preparing,
To some distant land.
|To their leader, tall To-eyza,|
All obedience pay.—
Sometimes fighting, sometimes flying,
Mainly on their bows relying,
They must win their way.
|Many a discontented woman|
With them gladly goes.
They proclaim emancipation;
Call themselves the "Woman's nation;"
Husbands treat as foes.
|Driving off the men, or slaying,|
To their wives they say,
"With your daughters we receive you;
If you keep your sons, we leave you
Here, with them to stay."
|On they march, and others follow,|
Swelling thus their band;
O'er those females madness creeping;
Like an epidemic, sweeping
Women from the land.
|* * * * *|
|But, meanwhile, the poisoned victims|
Kindly friends had found;
Shuddered at the bones before them,
Scared the vultures brooding o'er them;
Placed them in the ground.
|Then they followed up those women,|
Made the hindmost fly;
Swiftly chased to overtake them,
But their captives none could make them,
They preferred to die.
|Soon they came to dark green forests,|
Saw their bravest fall;
In their blood the strong men weltered,
Shot by female archers, sheltered
By each leafy wall.
|Then they paused; a wise man saying,|
"What have we to gain?
Of what use to man is woman,
Who regards him as a foeman?
Let them march again!"
|So those women, still proceeding|
Tow'rds the setting sun,
Passing safely through all dangers,
Made a settlement as strangers,
All their journeys done.
|* * * * *|
|There their haughty queen, To-eyza,|
Gave them maxims clear:
"We will welcome men as lovers,
If they come as errant rovers;
None must settle here.
|"Of their children born amongst us,|
Send the boys away;1
But whenever girls we bear them,
Joyfully we all must rear them;
Our successors they!"
|* * * * *|
|Ages since have passed; their children|
Still observe those laws,
Tell the tale of Walyarima,
'Midst the mountains of Parima:
Still maintain their cause.
|As a "Kanáima tiger"1 dire,|
Old Tounawai was seen,
Lurking, with eyes that shone like fire,
Amidst the branches green.
His son came hunting there alone,
His "old-time arrows" tipped with bone.
|Without success the monster sprung;|
An arrow pierced his jaw;
As from his mouth the weapon hung,
He broke it with his paw.—
The young man, as Kanáima fled,
Picked up his splintered arrow-head.
|* * * * *|
|Next day came home the guilty sire,|
And said, with many a groan:
"O son, my mouth seems all on fire!"
The son drew thence a bone.
Which fitted (so the legend said)
Into that splintered arrow-head.
|Then spake the broken-hearted son:|
"We leave thee here this day;
I have a wife, while thou hast none:
To gain her thou wouldst slay—
Slay!—with the dread Kanáima charm,
A son—who never did thee harm."
|SOFT moonbeams tip the trees above,|
And our red camp-fires light the grove
Beyond; each glade seems, like the tomb,
In deep, impenetrable gloom,
Save where the fire-fly sheds his light,
Pale flashes, quickly lost in night.
On every side strange sounds are heard
From insect, reptile, beast, or bird;
But louder than each forest noise,
Resounds the chat of men and boys.
|Some talk of stars, so bright and fair|
From east to west, soft gliding there.
Some—of the meteors flashing high,
Like arrows flaming through the sky,
And some, perchance, recall to mind
A tale of heaven's most awful kind,
Whose gleaming light trails far behind.1
|And now, our camp-fires waning low,|
Anew replenished, brighter glow;
While from the trees large dew-drops fall,
Which our red friends "star-moisture" call.
|Then, as fresh light springs from the fires,|
Of some grave elder one inquires:
"O father! tell of Oroan,2
The friend of darkness, foe of man."
|THEN tells he how fierce "Oroan,|
The dark-browed enemy of man,
Seizes the sun on high.
And strives to quench the solar fires,
Till, scorched and blackened, he retires,
Some other time to try."
|Or how, "upon the moon his power|
He turns, to rend her, or devour.
Then her bright features none can trace,
For blood besmears her beauteous face,
And darkens all the sky;
Till from the tribes of men below,
Loud cries and prayers upwards go:
'Cease, Oroan, to work us woe,
And spare the light on high!'
|"They rouse the spirits of the air,|
Who to the suff'rers' aid repair,
And force the fiend to fly.
Her darkened face from blood they clear,
Till its bright beams again appear,
And nations cease to cry."
|Then, while the constellations bright1|
Fill the high heavens with glorious light,
One, pointing to the eastern sky,
Exclaims, "Behold Serikoai!"
|IN days when spirits talked with men,|
And all the world was young,
Wawaiya, lately made a bride,
Saw a young tapir by her side
Walk quietly along.
|"Oh, what art thou," the woman said,|
"Thus walking here by me?"
"They call me 'Wailya,'" he replied,
"With changéd form I seek thy side,
For thou art fair to see!"
|She, when her husband went to hunt,|
Would to their field repair;
And daily, as she went and came,
Through forest path, it was the same—
She met the tapir there.
|And pleasantly the creature spoke,|
And well she loved to hear;
Till, through his artful, glozing word,
Serikoai, her once-loved lord,
Became to her less dear.
|Then boldly the seducer said,|
"Come, run away with me!
Far, far away we both will fly,
And, where this wide earth meets the sky,
My country thou shalt see.
|"'Tis there I reign in manly form:|
There thou shalt be my bride!"
"Alas!" she cried, "if I should fly,
My husband, brave Serikoai,
Would slay us side by side!"
|"I charm thine axe," the sorcerer said,|
"And it shall speak to thee.
Heed well what that good axe shall say,
And see thou do it. That same day
Thou shalt be safe with me!"
|"Wawaiya," said Serikoai,|
"Come where our pear-trees grow.
In yonder old provision ground
Last month I saw young fruits abound;
They must be ripe, I know."
|"I go with thee," the wife replied,|
"But I mine axe must take.
Whilst thou art climbing in the tree,
I'll cut such dry wood as I see,
Our nightly fire to make."
|Then to the sharp'ning stone she went,|
As if her axe to grind;
And every time it touched the stone,
The word "Sahtai," in threatening tone,
Seemed borne upon the wind.
|"Dost thou not hear, Serikoai,|
The axe here speak to me?
Still, as I rub, these words resound,
Oh! 'I must cut;' or, 'I must wound!'
What can their meaning be?"
|"Whene'er an axe is sharpened there,"|
Said he, "I hear the same;
So let us haste, nor lose the day,
To idle fancies giving way;
Women are oft to blame."
|Resentment then within her burned,|
As with her lordship went.
That direful sorcerer drew her on,
And with his charms her heart had gone,
Till she could not repent.
|Then many ripening fruits they saw,|
Banānas sweet were there;
But still the man would climb that tree,
Where he his fav'rite fruit could see,
The "avocādo" pear.
|* * * * *|
|Wawaiya, cast thine axe away,|
Bid the enchanter flee!
Why do thy handsome features frown?
Slay not thy husband coming down;
For good and true is he!
|Alas!—inspired by direful charm,|
(The axe its influence knew,)
She raised her hands to strike the blow,
The deed is done—the man lies low,
His leg is clean cut through!
|She meets his eye, and in it reads|
Wonder and deepest woe!
Then hurries from that bloody scene:
With Wailya, through the forests green,
And o'er the hills to go.
|The husband lay, and thought to die;|
His life-blood ebbed away.
A kindly spirit passing then—
A friend to true and suffering men—
Revived him as he lay.
|Inspired, the man an eyelash plucked,|
(Upon it was a tear;)
He blew it in the air—it flew,
A little bird of beauteous hue;
Then waited, hovering near.
|"O birdie!" said the bleeding man,|
"Haste! to my mother fly,
And call my name!" The birdie knew,
And straightway to the mother flew;
And called, "Serikoai!"
|"Why call my son, 'Serikoai?'|
Oh, birdie, tell me true!
Why dost thou flutter to and fro?
Thy meaning, bird. I cannot know:"
Then back the sweet bird flew—
|And swiftly came again the bird.|
Taught by the suff'ring man:
"Oh, mother! thy Serikoai
Is sorely wounded—left to die!"—
Forthwith the mother ran;
|She ran, and stumbled as she ran,|
(Old age asserts its power);
Yet through dense bush she hurried on,
To help her foully-stricken son
In that malignant hour.
|"Oh, loving mother! art thou come|
Thy dying son to cheer?
Better than all fair wives, like mine,
To whom fond men their hearts resign,
Is one good mother near!"
|Then that kind spirit saw their love,|
Propitious from on high:
To healing balsams added charms,
Till, saved, in his good mother's arms
He left Serikoai.
|"Oh, who is this that wanders on,|
Still searching all the ground?
A man of mighty strength he seems;
Though pale and worn;—his keen eye gleams
On everything around.
|A wooden prop one limb supports|
The shapely leg is gone!
Yet, like a warrior armed for fight,
With bow and club from morn till night,
He still keeps moving on.
|And every forest path he tries,|
No track there meets his eye.
For many an eve, and many a dawn,
Have passed since that false wife has gone
Who maimed Serikoai.
|* * * * *|
|The rains, which washed her track away,|
Had left no traces near;
No sign where human life had been:
Till, near some trees, a sprout was seen
Of avocādo pear!
|He scanned the bush all round, and thought|
An opening he could spy;
And followed that until he found,
Another pear-shoot on the ground;
Then brighter shone his eye.
|His hope of finding them revived,|
And served his heart to warm:
For she had said who saved his life,
"A sorcerer hath bewitched thy wife—
A man—in brutish form!"
|He thought of her who took those pears,|
And ate them by the way;
How rains, which could her steps efface,
Had caused their seeds to sprout apace,
And grow as there they lay!
|Still, sad and worn, the man went on|
Towards the rising sun,
And said, "Earth's limit must be nigh;
Nearer and nearer is the sky;
My task will soon be done."
|He found small footprints of his wife,|
The tapir's, too, were clear;
Then saw them both together walk,
Too much absorbed in cheerful talk
To think of vengeance near.
|He shot the Wailya through the heart|
Ere he could change his form;
Then cut his wicked head away;
And all the ground on which he lay
With his heart's blood was warm.
|Then cried the husband, "He is dead,|
Whose charms bewitched thee sore.
Return, O wife; return to me,
Or through the earth, the sky, or sea,
I follow evermore!"
|* * * * *|
|He cut and smoked the tapir's flesh,|
Then followed up his wife:
And saw her from a neighbouring hill.—
A shadowy form pursued her still;
The Wailya's—as in life!
|They fled; and to the earth's steep edge,|
Drew nigher and more nigh.
A chasm wide they then could view;
Straight o'er the gulf the woman flew
Into the deep blue sky.
|Her lover followed, and, enraged,|
The husband followed too—
And, ever moving through the air,
The chase unceasing follows there:
As we may nightly view.
|* * * * *|
|She, as a cloud-like mass of stars,1|
Shines, when the night is clear;
The Wailya, too, is following nigh,
Turning a fierce, though bloodshot, eye2
Upon the husband near.
|As, bright with stars, his mighty form|
Seems rising in the sky,
Shoulders and sound limb glitt'ring there,
With that broad belt he used to wear:
More faint—the prop which helped to bear
The maiméd Serikoai!1
|Thus with their legends, grave or gay,|
The hours till midnight pass away.
|Meanwhile we, from our hammocks, see|
The northern constellations rise;
While, round the cross, shine brilliantly
The glories of the southern skies.
Still croak the frogs, the night-birds call;
Still chirp the crickets loud and gay;
At length we slumber, one and all,
Till from the east looks forth the day.
| FROM the brow of this hill,|
While all nature is still,
The roseate dawn we view;
As the sweet eastern light
Decks the vapours of night
With every glorious hue.
And the trees are all kissed
By the low morning mist
In the forests—now dripping with dew.
| See, the rivers gleam white|
In the fast-growing light,
Like snow in the new-born day;
For the mist covers all
With its silvery pall,
Though soon it will vanish away;
When the fog and the dew
Which around us we view
Shall give place to the sun's glowing ray.
| Yet, though vanishing here,|
It will not disappear
From the face of Potáro's great fall;1
Where the brown river breaks
Into rocket-like flakes,
Flashing down a precipitous wall.
There, by night and by day,
The beautiful spray
(Oft clothed with the rainbow) is waving away,
Ever changing—yet lovely through all!
| It is waving and whirling,|
And gracefully curling;
In starlight cold, and the moon's silver ray,
It riseth for ever—still whirling away.
And the sun has no power
At his noontide hour
To remove that white veil,
Or cause it to fail
From the face of the "Old Man's Fall!"
| "The Old Man's Fall!"—|
Why do Indians call
By such a strange title that cataract high,
Whose broad torrent, below, seems to come from the sky?
The Indian legends, as may be made clear,
Are sometimes romantic, but more often queer.
And the one we have here
May be classed with the "queer."
It was told Mr. Brown, of exploring renown,
Who discovered that fall as the stream he came down.
'Tis the tale which the Indians tell to us all,
To show why they call it the Old Man's Fall.
| "Some people of old|
(So our forefathers told)
Had their village above the great fall.
One, a feeble old man,
Passing life's usual span,
Was half blind, and a burden to all.
| "For, though once strong and fleet,|
His poor suffering feet
(It might happen to white men or negroes,
For want of due care)
Some scores of vile vermin, called "chegoes."
| (Some ladies, we've heard,|
Take offence at that word,
And express it with more or less vigour.
We would give no offence,
So, in the same sense,
Will use "insect," and banish the―.)
|* * * * *|
|The old man grew more helpless, and gave them more work,|
And the care of his feet more and more they would shirk;
Till the young women all,
And the boys, great and small,
Said, "Oh! what is the use? Let him lie there and bawl!
His feet every day are becoming more sore,
As the insects increase there each day, more and more;
We give up the care of him! Mind him, who can?
He's become such a troublesome, horrid old man!"
|What was to be done? Though they all wished him dead,|
The men were unwilling to cleave his poor head.
"Let him go to the spirit-land!" some then would say,
"The river may take him and bear him away,
If he still suffer here he must die all the same!
We can help him no more, so we are not to blame."
|Then the head men commanded, "Bring now a wood-skin;|
Put the old man and his little property in;
Let nothing remain,
For we seek no such gain,
But to get rid of trouble and finish his pain.
So we send him away the next world to begin,
But will not send him empty, for that were a sin."
|The young men obeyed. They soon brought a wood-skin,|
Put the old man and his little property in;
They then launched him forth. As be swept down the stream,
The loud-growing roar must have seemed a bad dream;
One quivering moment—then, over the fall
Went wood-skin and victim, with "insects" and all!
| Perhaps just then his countrymen|
Felt they had not done well;
And the bell-bird bright in plumage white
Tolled forth his passing knell.
It may have been so—
It was long, long ago,
And none living now can pretend to know.
| But some Indians say|
(Believe it who may)
That as over he went
In that dreadful descent,
Some power interposed with a kindly intent.
And, to save his poor bones,
Man, with wood-skin and freight, were all turned into stones!
|Rocks (the wood-skin and package) are now seen by all,|
Who may visit that fall
But where's the old man? It is not quite so clear
That be doth appear,
"He's perhaps washed away.
Strong currents wear rocks very fast, people say.
First his ears and his nose,
Then his fingers and toes"
(If we'd faith in the legend we thus might suppose),
"For the figure, though stone, when thus worn would soon go,
And be borne as fine sand down the rapids below."
|Such are the main points of the legend now told|
By the red men who dwell near that cataract old.
Will that story be heard while the mist shall endure
O'er their "Koe-tu’euk," called by us "Kaieteur"?
Or will it die out, when pure Indians all
Shall have ceased to exist near their "Old Man's Fall"?
|THE old creed of each race in our legends is shown,|
Their belief, while the white man as yet was unknown;
While amidst their grand forests no Christian was seen,
And no prayer rose to God from their foliage green.
|Here the mild Arawâk and the bold Caribisce|
(By the gospel of Christ now united in peace),
The grave Acawoi, and more careless Warau,
A glimpse of their mythical heroes allow.
While Macusis and others—but space here would fail
To name all—have their part in some "fanciful" tale.
|To those who have sent them the faith they receive;|
Sweet hope of the lowly, and all who believe,
They here show, in return, that traditional lore,
Which was all they possessed—they could offer no more!
|In forests primeval, on many a stream,|
'Neath the sun's burning glow, or the gentle moonbeam,
By the Indian fire, or in that peaceful home,
Where, to talk with his teacher, the red man would come;
'Midst bright mission prospects, 'midst sickness and fear,
And voyages, reaching their fortieth year,
The selection was made which is now given here.
|Forgive, gentle reader, whate'er seems absurd|
In each quaint native "Word;"
And think kindly of those whose old tales we have heard.
Sacred-Texts Native American South American
1 The frog chorus in this legend, when taken up by the native audience, all admirable mimics, has a most amusing effect.
1 "Bernau's Missionary Labours," p. 167.
2 The tiger slayer, a Carib, and the snake-catcher, an Arawâk, are not mythical personages. They belonged to the last generation, and both became Christian converts. The former would attack any jaguar, and cleave his skull with axe or cutlass. Of the skill and daring displayed by the latter in the capture of a kolokonāro snake, with only a cord and forked stick, the writer was an eye-witness.
1 An Araidai, or goblin of the woods, who had become dissatisfied with his coarse and matted locks, and wished them to be made like those of human beings. Pahndun, a captive, undertook to gratify him, with the above result.
1 From the "Ebesōtu" (changed or transformed), heroine of the above legend, the Ebesoana (Arawâk family) take their name.
The names of those families all descend in the female line, and no individual was permitted to marry another of the same family name.
1 From the above union, the existing Demaréna (Arawâk family) are supposed to have sprung. They bear, of course, their mother's family name; and in ancient days considered it "the correct thing," in accordance with the legend, to intermarry solely with their father's family—the "Korobohána."
These latter have a strange legend of their own. They believe that they originally came from above the clouds. The weight of a heavy woman broke the rope by which they were descending; and communication was thus cut off between those who had reached the ground and those remaining above. The Great Spirit, pitying the latter, supplied them with wings and plumage; and they came down, to colonise the trees above the heads of their brethren—still privileged to live near, and to converse with them, though changed into "Koriouka" parrots.
This legend, though grotesque, affords another instance of the belief (which our pages have shown) expressed by various myths, but almost universal amongst the aboriginal races of Guiana: of a descent from a higher region, or state of existence.
1 "Walyarima" is the name of the animal whose appearance was assumed by the lover while swimming the river. "To-eyborōri" and "To-eyza" are titles, denoting authority, masculine and feminine respectively. The proper names seem to have been lost in the lapse of years.
1 This agrees with the old legends, told to Raleigh and others. But many Indians now say that the male infants were always destroyed, and their fathers warned not to return, on pain of death.
With regard to the subject in general. The expeditions for war and plunder, so common nmongst the South American tribes in former ages, would often draw away all the males in a district capable of bearing arms, and sometimes they never returned. The women, left by themselves, p. 187 drew together for mutual defence; and being, in those days, all well trained to the bow, would (like the women of the Caribi islands) defend their homes and children fiercely agninst all comers.
Such a state of things—said still to exist in some wild regions of that vast continent—will account for the tales of Orellana and others, of their fights with Amazons.
It does not, of course, account for the murder of husbands, and utter rejection of marital authority, in the legend before us. Whether that tale ever had any foundation in fact, it is impossible to say. Wild and unnatural as it is, it has deeply impressed the minds of the Aborigines; and the writer has, in his researches, come upon various legends (both tragical and comical) founded on the scarcity of wives, after their (supposed) terrible Exodus.
1 The spotted "arua" (or harua) of the Arawâks, spelt jaguar by the Spanish discoverers, is commonly called "tiger" by the colonists who frequent the bush. It is called "tobi" by the Waraus, and "kaikusi" by the Caribs and Acawoios.
1 The great comet of 1843.
2 The great demon of darkness, who causes eclipses.
1 The native ideas respecting the constellations differ widely from ours. For instance, the Southern Cross is supposed, by many clans, to represent a "paui" bird resting on a tree. The star, Beta Centauri, is a hunter stealthily approaching it. Alpha Centauri is the hunter's torch (or firebrand), held behind him, so as not to alarm the bird by its glare. Some call it another hunter, lighting the first. Other constellations have narratives connected with them; of these, "Serikoai," the legend given here, is the most interesting specimen.
1 The Pleiades.
2 The Hyades represent the tapir's head. The red eye is Aldebaran.
1 The constellation Orion: Rigel indicating the upper part of the sound limb.
1 This great fall is 822 feet in total height, by 369 feet in width. Its upper part is 741 feet perpendicular.