Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous Next
|'Twas long ago! yet still I view|
The scene to me then fresh and new,
Where two fair rivers flow;
Where stately moras tower above,
And palms wave gently in the grove,
As pleasant breezes blow.
I see, as natives pass me there,
Bright copper skins and jet black hair;
While one whose face is kind and fair
The forest trees lays low.
|Alone that Indian came to me,|
A young white stranger's friend to be;
And hoping that the white man's "word"
Might to the red men light afford.
So when, oppressed by noontide glow,
He sought my hut—too close and low;
We to the river would repair,
And talk of Christ's religion there.
|There painted Caribs in our view|
Would pass us in their light canoe,
And slowly glide away.
We saw grim alligators sleep,
And languid lizards near them creep,
In the meridian ray.
And there—while no sweet breeze above
Would stir the leaves and cheer the grove,
And water-lilies scarce could move—
Would wait the cool of day.
|There he of God and of the soul|
Would question in the "Dutch Creole;"
A "patois" I could daily hear
From an old negress living near,
And could reply to, right or wrong.
But when he spoke his own sweet tongue,
Too hard it was to understand,
Though helped by signs with head or hand!
|Time passed: he heard in his own tongue|
Truths which to Christian faith belong.
Then, first, to God he prayed.
And I from him their legends heard,
With that old superstitious "word"
Which he before obeyed.
Of spirits good and bad he told;
Of sorcerers and warriors bold;
But chief, this legend, grave and old,
Of HIM who all things made.
|THERE is a mighty One above: and like Him there is none!|
He sits on high, above the sky, where none can see His throne.
He was there ere He made the world, with stars, and moon, and sun;
And evermore He will be there; when each its course has run.
|Our tongue gives Him no proper name, but titles more than one;|
We call Him "Dweller in the Height,"1 since there He sits alone.
The "Great Our Father,"2 though to Him for comfort none have gone,
And of "Our Maker"3 oft we speak, but never call upon.
|That Mighty Maker all things formed; 'tis He that made them move;|
And food for all things He bestows, which seems a proof of love.
But calm He sits above the sky,
To Him for succour none can fly,
He is so high above!
|Here, beneath this sacred tree,|
Old men told how moon and sun,
Earth and sky, and wide-spread sea,
Lay before the Mighty One.
High He stood, where rivers run,
Pausing, ere His work was done!
|Waves, soft murm'ring, beat the strand,|
Gentle breezes sighed above.
Still no life was in the land,
No sweet birds sang songs of love.
O'er the plain and through the grove,
Nothing then was seen to move.
|Then his seat, "Komaka,"1 there—|
Wondrous tree!—He caused to grow.
'Midst the clouds its branches were,
Earth and sea lay far below.
Sacred trees we this day know;
None such vast dimensions show.
|From that bright-green throne, His hand|
Scattered twigs and bark around.
Some in air, and some on land;
Some the sparkling waters found.
Soon He saw with life abound
Water, air, and solid ground!
|Those which fell upon the stream|
Found a pleasant shelter there:
Shining fishes dart and gleam
Where those woody fragments were;
Others sported through the air,
Bright with wings and feathers fair.
|Moving, too, on solid ground,|
Or the river's marshy strand,
Beasts and reptiles then were found,
Spreading thence to fill the land.
Men and women upright stand,
Raised by their great Maker's hand.
|Wild fruits first were human food;|
Water man's sole drink, they say.
No bold hunters roamed the wood;
None would then take life away;
Beasts and birds would sport and play
With young children day by day.
|On this earth our sire then came|
(Young and brave "Wadili" he),
Saw their maidens, felt love's flame,
Took them, fair, his wives to be;
Taught the native arts you see:
Hunting, fishing, husbandry.
|Some addition has been made|
To that legend, grave and old;
Since our fathers here surveyed
Steel-clad white men, strong and bold.
They, with blood-hounds, we are told,
Hunted men—and all for gold!
|"Not from the Komaka tree|
Sprang the whites," our sages say;
"They from wood cast on the sea
Rose, amidst wild ocean's spray,
Finding land on which to stay
O'er the waters—far away."
|"If from wood our race has sprung,|
Did it in these forests grow?
Did it to 'green-heart' belong?
'Locust,' or 'balata?' No?
Did its foliage ruddy glow
With a mora's strength below?
|"Ask no more, friend, you are wrong.|
Those trees give us, day by day,
Bark, or gums, and timber strong:
Useful gifts they all convey.
But the white man's stock, they say,
Good for nought, was cast away!"
|Smiles on every face appear,|
Red men, seated on the ground,
Laugh—that satire old to hear:
Mild revenge! which poor men found,
Who escaped, in swamps around,
Spanish "arcabuz" and hound!
|Traditions of a deluge, we are told,|
In the New World prevailed, as in the Old.
Those of our Arawâks may seem absurd,
Yet stranger tales from inland tribes are heard.
And far more wild were those which (Spaniards show)
Were told by that same race in Bohio
(Or Hayti)—for their race at first possessed
Those lovely islands all, whose charms adorn the west.
|'Twas said in Hayti, that from magic gourd,|
By accident o'erturned, the deluge poured;
Till then that wondrous gourd enclosed could keep
The num'rous finny tribes that swim the deep.
No trace of that wild legend I have found,
Though strange were the traditions all around.
The Arawâks, peculiar, understood
That fire had swept the earth before the water-flood.
|Fire is mighty—all-subduing!|
Once its fury came,
When the Maker, roused, was viewing
Deeds of blood and shame—
Evil raging, goodness failing—
Then on earth, his wrath prevailing,
Came the burning flame.
|Timely warning came from heaven:|
"Fire shall sweep the land!"
One who heard that warning given
Sought a reef of sand.
By that chieftain's wisdom guided,
Some a refuge there provided
For their little band.
|"Here," said he, "a pit preparing,|
Wives and children hide.
Timber strong, the sand-roof bearing.
We must first provide.
Piles will keep that shelter o'er us;
Comrades, work!—the vault before us
Must be deep and wide.
|"Felling next the trees, and burning.|
All around make clear;
Shrubs and grass to ashes turning,
Leave we nothing here—
Nothing on which flames can fasten.
Clear and burn! O brothers! hasten,
Ere the flames appear!
|* * * * *|
|Clouds of smoke, the sun concealing,|
Come, still rolling nigher;
Then fierce flames, their might revealing.
Wrap the woods in fire.
Onward comes the blazing torrent;
That burnt "clearing" stays its current;
There—the flames expire.
|Thither, from that danger flying,|
Birds and beasts repair.
In their vault those men are lying;
Smoke and heat they bear.
While the flames around are roaring,
And the fiery hail is pouring,
Finding safety there.
|* * * * *|
|Coming forth, they see the ruin|
Through the lurid flame;
Ashes, which those flames were strewing,
Spread funereal gloom.
Blackened skeletons there lying
Show where men and beasts, when flying,
Met their awful doom!
|Time flowed on. That fearful danger|
Long had passed away;
Punishment became a stranger;
All had gone astray.
Violence and wrong abounded;
Men with evil good confounded,
Growing worse each day.
|Evil ways have evil ending.|
When a warning—new
Told them of a flood impending,
None believed it true.
Till Marērewāna, hearing,
For his wife and children fearing,
Made a great canoe.
|Some among his nearest neighbours|
Said he was to blame;
Others, mocking at his labours,
Strove to give him shame.
Still they found him at it working,
Morn and eve, no labour shirking,
Ere "great waters" came.
|"Make it large, Marērewāna!|
Strong and fair to view:
Over forest and savannah
Float—the deluge through!"
Thus they mocked their anxious neighbour,
Mocked him at his heavy labour,
Laughed at his canoe!
|Archéd roof he thatched above it,|
Palm leaves strong and warm;
Firm, that no fierce wind might move it,
Ready for the storm.
"Here," said he, "my loved ones, hiding,
Through the tempest safe abiding,
May be kept from harm."
|Still he feared; and said with sorrow,|
"When this flood shall come,
We may drift (perhaps to-morrow),
Through the salt-sea foam!"
Said a voice, "That great tree near thee,
Moor to that—thy craft shall bear thee
Safely near thy home!"
|* * * * *|
|Then, with lengthened bush-ropes mooring,|
(So our legends tell),
He and his, the flood enduring,
Weathered surge and swell
When the waters left them, stranded,
Near their former home they landed,
Known—and loved—so well!
|Columbus told how, on fair Cuba's isle,|
Where, spent with toil, he sought repose awhile,
And gentle natives welcomed him to land,
A venerable elder took his hand.
Full fourscore years had bowed that old man's head,
And to the Admiral thus solemnly he said—
|"Great is thy power, O chief! But be not vain;|
And from all violence and wrong abstain.
For, after death, there are before the soul
Two ways; each ending in a final goal.
To light and life all the kind-hearted go,
The cruel and unkind to dark and dismal woe!"
|Belief like that—almost as clear—I found|
Among the heathen Arawâks around.
Like origin with that old man they claim,
Although their tribe may bear another name.
And scarcely different from his we deem
Their knowledge of one Lord, Eternal and Supreme.
|Why did not they then on their "Father" call,|
Until the Christian teachers summoned all
To join in prayer unto the common Lord?
The reason our next legend will afford.
Here, as elsewhere, we superstition find,
Excluding true religion from the darkened mind.
|THE shadows now lengthen, and evening steals o'er us,|
Tall forests will soon hide the sun;
Our work being done, to the river before us
My little red Indians run.
With gay, merry shouts, and long hair wildly streaming,
They plunge from a stump, one by one;
And little of danger from water-snakes deeming,
Some swim the wide river alone.
'Tis a dream of the past; but how oft in such dreaming
I view their glad sports going on!
|Their gay, happy shouts, from the river ascending,|
Seem echoed from yonder clear sky;
With hundreds of voices from parrots there blending,
As homeward green parrots now fly.
The bright macaw's scream may be heard in the chorus,
The toucan may add his harsh cry;
But mutely, on yonder tree, leafless before us,
The sloth gazes round from on high.
Ah! let him beware; for now, hovering o'er us,
His foe, the bush-eagle, is nigh!
|While through the dense forest the echoes are ringing|
Of those merry boys at their play,
Sweet, silvery laughter the breezes are bringing—
The girls are in their little bay;
Where the water seems flashing,
With mermaidens dashing,
And diving, and swimming away!
|And now, though from distance we hear not the dash,|
We can see, far away, where the calm waters flash,
As they catch the sun's evening rays.
'Tis the stroke of some paddles disturbing their calm,
And we see a canoe, where yon manicole palm
Its fair, slender beauty displays,
Lowly bending, as if 'twould its Maker adore,
While myriads more
Wave along the green shore,
As the breeze seems to whisper His praise.
|Soon we see that canoe to our landing draw near,|
With two Arawâk men, their wives, children, and gear;
They are soon on the bank, and assisting to land
Their two aged parents, with kind, loving hand.
And tall is that patriarch, chief of his clan,
Though he leans on his staff as a feeble old man;
What he bears, wrapped in palm-leaves, I cannot well see,
But all shrink from its sound, as he hands it to me.
|"O Maraka-kore!" for so did they call,|
In their own native language, that sorcerer tall,
(Which name means "Red-rattle," denoting his trade,
Or that instrument rather, which dupes of them made);
"Say, why do you bring your 'maraka' to-day,
With its handle adorned with birds' feathers so gay,
And the stones rattling in it, the demons to scare,
Or attract to the sick, as your people declare?
|"In token that I from these things turn away,|
And renounce evil spirits; I bring this to-day,
From your neighbour Cornelius we hear the 'good word;'
We believe, and are thankful for what we have heard.
On myself and my wife feeble age has come on,
And we wish to be christened ere life shall be gone."
|Such, in substance, he said; and I need not here tell|
Of those of his brethren who gave theirs as well.
|* * * * * * *|
|"Pray tell me, old man," I one day to him said,|
"What were your traditions respecting your trade?
Who was the first sorcerer? How came you to use
This rattle, when demons you charm or abuse?"
|Being urged by his sons and some friends who were near,|
He told a tradition they all longed to hear."
|A chieftain grave, both wise and brave—|
Stood mournful by the silver wave
Of the wide-spread ocean sea.
|His heart was sore; the plume he wore,|
As chief of Kaieri,1
Drooped—while he listened on the shore
To the sigh of that ocean sea.
|Then, in his view, bright Orehu|
(The Water-Mother she)
Rose, glistening as with drops of dew,
Or pearls—from the ocean sea.
|Her beauty rare, which glossy hair|
Enveloped, flowing free,
More lovely made those waters fair,
And shores of the ocean sea.
|"Tell me thy grief," she said, "O chief!|
The grief of Kaieri;
And I, perchance, may bring relief
From the depths of the ocean sea!"
|"'Tis for the dead," the chieftain said,|
"For whom I nought could do,
To help them, ere their spirits fled,
From torturing Yauhahu."
|"Throughout this isle, man, wife, or child,|
By fever crushed, I view;
By demons' arrows1 driven wild,
Dire shafts of Yauhahu!
|"Were mortal foe to work us woe,|
Their deeds they soon should rue!
But none, without a charm, I trow,
Can face the Yauhahu.
|"Thy helping hand may save this land:|
Lady! for that I sue.
Grant me some charm, which may withstand,
And quell the Yauhahu!"
|"I hear, O chief! thy tale of grief,|
Thy people's grief," said she,
"And thou shalt thank, for their relief,
The lady of the sea.
|"Go, plant with care this branch I bear|
And rear the 'ida' tree,
Where, on yon hill, thy cottage there
O'erlooks this pleasant sea.
|"When fruit is found, full large and round|
And heavy it will be;
Take that which first falls on the ground,
And meet me by the sea!"
|* * * * *|
|Slow from his gaze withdrew her face,|
As in the wave sank she.
The tree he reared then at his place,
And watched—the deep blue sea!
|* * * * *|
|His watch was o'er, when to the shore|
The calabash bore he.
The Water-Mother there, once more
|Its rind with care he emptied there,|
Through holes like these you see.
She brought its handle, feathered fair,
|And while he wrought, she dived and sought|
The gems of ocean sea;
And stones of shining white she brought
|Tobacco, too, which none then knew,|
(Though common now) brought she:
With charms, which made all Yauhahu
|To her he owed the power he showed,|
None since like him could be—
So rich the gifts her love bestowed
|* * * * *|
|Still, to this day, in stream or bay,|
The Orehu men see.
But "high above," grown old, they say,
|When Numa, as was thought,|
A kind Egeria found,
The sacred, mystic rites she taught
The Roman people bound.
Here red men hold what (they were told)
The Spirit of the sea,
By love constrained, in days of old,
|The old man said, "That word|
We sorcerers received,
Till of 'our Father's' love we heard,
And some of us believed.
"We knew before that all we see
He made, both great and small;
But ne'er were taught to Him to flee,
Whatever might befall."
|'Twas so. The heathen all|
Said, "God, above the sky,
Can never listen to our call,
He is so great and high.
"But demons who, by day or night,
Cause pain and sickness sore,
We must propitiate, or 'fight,'
For man can do no more!"
|Teach them the Saviour's word:|
That God doth condescend
To be to us a gracious Lord,
A Father, and a Friend.
When they believe He heareth men,
Though suffering, weak, and poor,
They (like Maraka-kore) then
To demons seek no more.
| Allusion was made|
To the tricks in their trade.
Which those Indian sorcerers have commonly played.
Now their method we show
In a story we know
Of what really happened a few years ago.
|Two white men through our backwoods went, the Indian life to see,|
And much they wished of "piai-men" to learn the mystery.
But 'twas in vain, till one declared that he was "taken sick;"
And begged his friend to "lend a hand, to carry out the trick."
|They knew a famous piai-man lived at a place near by;|
"Oh come and cure this sick white man!" He answered, "I will try."
And so he brought his implements—no matter who might mock,
He'd win the battle with the rattle Creoles call "shok-shok."
|He first the females sternly bade to "take themselves away."|
They all forthwith fled like the wind, too much afraid to stay.
He then made up his sacred fire, to burn the sacred weed,
His patient thought, "I like a smoke, but this is waste indeed!"
|His incantations then commenced, most terrible to hear,|
Both to the patient and the men who might be ling'ring near.
He roared, he shouted at the fiends; perhaps he dared to curse;
'Twas all in vain; the patient groaned, and said, "I'm getting worse!"
|He next inhaled tobacco smoke, much as his mouth could hold:|
And blew it on the sick white man, who thought, "He's getting bold.
It may be only want of sense—to fumigate my clothes;
But must be downright impudence to blow it up my nose!"
|He next on the affected part his hands began to rub;|
The patient grew convulsed at that, 'twas such a ticklish job.
With strong, but stifled, laughter, soon his body shook all o'er;
That tickling was too much for him—he could hold out no more!
|He laughed outright, then feebly tried to make that laugh a groan;|
It would not do! the doctor knew the difference of tone.
He saw that he was being tricked, yet went on with his work;
Not altering a muscle, but as grave as any Turk.
|According to their ancient rules, his mouth he next applied,|
To suck out what was Causing pain in that white man's inside.
Then from his mouth he would have spit nail, thorn, a claw, or pin,
And said, "From this sick man I've drawn what Yauhahu put in!"
|Now when our white friend's flesh was sucked, he strove to turn away,|
But "red-skin" meant to earn his fee, and would not be said "nay."
He seized him boldly with his teeth—it was a grip full sore—
And, with a yell, the patient fell, out on the earthen floor!
|Most cool the doctor was. By signs he made his meaning plain:|
"Get back into that hammock. I must operate again!"
But the other shook his head, and said that that would "never do!"
Then showed his friend his injured side, and said 'twas "bitten through."
|But he replied, "This savage doctor knows a thing or two,|
So do not quarrel with him, it would be much worse for you;
I'll tell him he has made a cure, and give a handsome fee."
So he, with cash and fame secure, walked off triumphantly.
|From this, gentle reader, you get a small view|
Of what those men make a sick person go through:
The clash of the rattle, and shouts, causing fear,
Must be most distressing and painful to hear.
Then the fumes of tobacco, and smoke of the fire,
Will scarcely allow the poor wretch to respire.
|They spare not themselves! When a man's on probation,|
And learning the mysteries of his vocation,
He's shut up, and half-starved; then, to take his degree,
Drinks tobacco decoction, as strong as can be,
Till he sinks in a trance: and revives—an M.D.!
|If you near red-skinned sorcerers go,|
Though all things may seem handy,
Don't let them on your person show
Their "modus operandi."
Speak always truth, and without fail
To doctors—wild or tame—
Such are the lessons of our tale,
Which "Biter bit" we name.
|Our women have strong drink prepared,|
And view the gallant show—
Where, gaily crowned, our men advance;
Bright feathers waving in the dance,1
As round the house they go.
|There learnèd sorc'rers sit or stand,|
Who chant our ancient lore:
And, as they chant, responsive song
Is heard in chorus, loud and long,
Re-echoed o'er and o'er.
|* * * * *|
|"Adaili is the glorious sun"|
(Thus their first legend ran),
"But when of old on earth he came,
Then 'Arawidi' was his name:
His fashion—that of man.
|"Once, fishing on a fav'rite stream,|
He made a dam, or weir,
And said, 'This stream must not run dry,
Lest, in my visits from the sky,
I find no fishes here.'
|"The otters heard. They broke his dam,|
And let the waters flow.
Then he, compelled to seek for aid,
Its guardian the woodpecker made—
His watchman—here below.
|"One day, while passing through the sky,|
Loud tapping cought his ear.
Swift darting to that spot below,
He found a fierce and mailèd foe—
|"He seized him with a mighty hand,|
Whose grip could never fail;
Then smote, to make the reptile yield,
With that hard club he well could wield,
Upon his head and tail.
|"'Oh, Arawidi, slay me not!'|
The alligator cried:
'Cease, cease to wound! Thy suppliant spare,
And I will give a maiden fair
To be thy beauteous bride.'
|"He called his friends, the water-sprites,|
The maiden to provide;
And soon a girl, of wondrous charms,
Was placed in Arawidi's arms,
To be his lovely bride.
|* * * * *|
|"The reptile's wounds were healed. Those blows|
No more his hide assail;
But still their marks are seen, 'tis said,
Indented on his battered head
And notched along his tail!"
|* * * * *|
|Then tales were told of others' fate|
(Wild children of the sun),
With song and dance, till evening late
Their tuneful course would run.
And when the third day closed the feast,
When drink had failed and dancing ceased,
Those legends scarce were done!
One apparent object of the great chain of legends, to which this belongs, was to give a mythical origin to the peculiarities of the various animals of Guiana, in connection with the deeds of the heroic personages of their national folk-lore.
In the foregoing tale of Arawidi, those of the alligator's personal p. 29 appearance are accounted for. In other legends, those of monkeys, jaguars, &c., were treated of. The fragmentary tale of the "Royal Vultures," of which the following outline was told to the writer by the Arawâks of Tapacuma, will show how they dealt with birds—real or fictitious.
"A bold young Arawâk hunter captures a beautiful royal vulture. She is the daughter of Anuanima, sovereign of a race which has its country above the sky. When at home there, they cease to be birds, and assume the form and habits of human beings. The captive, smitten with love for her handsome captor, lays aside her feathers, and appears before him as a beautiful girl. She becomes his wife, bears him above the clouds, and, after much trouble, persuades her father and family to receive him. All then goes well, until he expresses a wish to visit his aged mother, when they discard him, and set him on the top of a very high tree, the trunk of which is covered with formidable prickles. He appeals pathetically to all the living creatures around. Then spiders spin cords to help him, and fluttering birds ease his descent, so that at last he reaches the ground in safety."
Then follow his efforts, extending over several years, to regain his wife, whom he tenderly loves. "Her family seek to destroy him, but by his strength and sagacity he is victorious in every encounter. The birds at length espouse his cause, assemble their forces, and bear him as their commander above the sky. He is at last slain by a valiant young warrior, resembling himself in person and features. It is his own son, born after his expulsion from the upper regions, and brought up there in ignorance of his father."
The legend ends with the conflagration of the house of the royal vultures, who, "hemmed in by crowds of hostile birds, are unable to use their wings, and forced to fight and die in their human forms."
The peculiarities of various birds common to the country are, in the episodes of this wild legend, whimsically accounted for. The following are instances:—
The "kiskedee," though a valiant little bird, disliked the war, and bandaged his head with white cotton, pretending to be sick. p. 30 Being detected by more resolute warriors, as the hawk, &c., he was sentenced to wear the bandage continually. In time it marked his plumage; and the white band is still conspicuous on the heads of his descendants, They are also noted for their hostility to hawks and other large birds, whom they attack incessantly when on the wing.
The "warracobba" (trumpeter bird) and another quarrelled over the spoil, and knocked each other over into the ashes of the burnt house. The trumpeter arose with patches of grey, which are still seen on the plumage of his children. The other bird, which had been rolled in the ashes, became grey all over.
The owl round among the spoil a package, done up with great care, which he thought would enrich him for life. It was a magical package, prepared by the foe for some emergency, and containing darkness. The darkness enveloped him as he opened it, and he has never since been able to endure the light of day!
Thus—often whimsical and puerile, but displaying much fertility and boldness of invention, with here and there touches of romantic beauty—were the mythical tales of the Arawâk race in the days of yore. When the piai system began slowly to fade before Christianity, those legends, in their pure and connected shape, were no longer preserved. Their few remaining fragments are now distorted, intermixed, and in no two districts told alike.
|THERE are boats and canoes, with their gay colours flying,|
Whose strange motley crews oars and paddles are plying;
They come from the sea, where a vessel is lying,
Which has from our city run down.
Their course they are steering
To this mission "clearing,"
Where on our thatched chapel the cross is appearing,
Above a small Indian town.
|There is firing of guns, where our people are standing,|
And multitudes welcome the Governor landing,
Whose uniform glitters with gold.
His "aides" there attendant
In helmets resplendent;
Their smart handsome bets, and bright scabbards dependent,
The red men, delighted, behold.
Then come other gentlemen, welcomed with cheering;
But most the good Bishop—all hail his appearing
Once more—at that Indian fold.
|Men of every tribe come, our summons obeying,|
And nearly two thousand there stand.
Helped by the Archdeacon, who with us is staying,
We keep the wild throng well in hand.
They who stand in the front decent garments are wearing;
While those sent behind have none such to appear in,
And—gladly obey the command.
|Sun-pictures are taken, our ruler commanding|
Fair views of each scene to provide—
In one, squalid heathen are sitting or standing,
With Christians well dressed at their side.
In another, a mound its tall head is uprearing,
A cutting runs through it, which some men are clearing,
Whilst others are gazing inside.
|* * * * * *|
|That great "barrow" was seen when we first cleared the land;|
And it differs from all things around.
For elsewhere the land is a "reef" of white sand;
That was made up of fish-shells, we round.
Bones of birds and land animals also were there,
So at length I cut through it, to lay the whole bare,
Which such mystery seemed to surround.
|There, among shells and rubbish, were curious stones,|
Broken axe-heads, and implements rare.
But few cared for stones; seeing layers of bones—
Human bones—of all sizes laid bare!
Skulls, in fragments long buried, were cast up to view,
And all the long bones had been split open too,
For the marrow, by savages there.
|Soon the news spread abroad; and our company came|
To that great Waramuri shell mound.
But, meanwhile, other mounds, whose contents were the same,
By the aid of our Indians, were found.
None their history know—it was long, long ago—
But cannibal habits the human bones show,
Which in those "kitchen middens" abound.
|Our white friends have left us: their task being done,|
We see but our Indians there.
And, for our evensong, with the next setting sun,
To the wide-gaping shell-mound repair.
We go in procession; where, taking the lead,
School-children with banners their teachers precede,
And the old people bring up the rear.
| Soon, the beautiful strain|
Of "Jesus shall reign"
From that grisly chasm ascends.
From its edges above
Wave the Lamb and the Dove,
As o'er it each school-banner bends.
This—the emblem of peace;
May it spread and increase!
That—of suffering love,
Shown by One now above,
Who to man's supplication attends.
| And when praise and prayer|
We had thus offered there,
The "cutting" was filled in next day;
But the human bones found
Were not placed in the mound,
For all had been taken away,
Then, to seek an old man, through the village I strayed,
Who a bright feathered crown, of the toucans' breasts made,
Gold and scarlet, was wont to display.
|Some had thought that photography was "not quite right;"|
And the artist's strange movements seemed magical quite
So that old man had shifted his place on the sand,
And caused a great deal of delay;
For the camera's use he could not understand,
Though he saw it was not meant for play.
Some had said 'twas "a gun:"
And—though he would not run—
To have it aimed at him seemed very queer fun;
And he kept getting out of the way.
|Yet he was a wise elder upon his own ground,|
Where no such adventures befel.
There, with his tall son, my Cornelius I found,
And other chief leaders as well
Of the wars of their nation those old men would speak,
Legends such as in few years one vainly might seek;
What I heard from them I will here tell.
|"Our fathers, who at first lived here, fought with the Meyanow;|
A savage race, who ate mankind, of habits vile and low.
They, long before, lived on this shore, if our old tales be true;
Who else but they would make such mounds as you have now cut through?"
|It was Cornelius who told this: the truth he may have found,|
For he was wise, and well he knew all the traditions round,
His ancestors "prevailed," he said, "yet some perhaps had been
Led captive by the cannibals—their bones we might have seen."
But no one knew the certain truth; it was so long ago;
And none with slayers, or with slain, would kindred claim or show.
|Then said he, "When the Meyanow had all been overthrown,|
The Caribs came, and little peace by any race was known.
They seized our goods, killed all who fought, young people took away,
For food or slaves, across the seas, so ancient legends say.
|"Those from the islands ceased to come; we for a time had peace;|
But Caribs on the mainland seemed in number to increase.
On Orinoco numerous their warriors must have been:
Many on Essequibo dwelt, many on Corentyn.
And throughout Surinam we know they'd many fighting men;
Others, beyond the Marowin, were living in Cayenne.
But everywhere they are the same: they tinge their bodies red,
And with annatto smear their brows, which seem with blood o'erspread."
|"Caribs from Essequibo banks to our Bowruma came,|
In one special season; which was every year the same.
And more and more they harried sore all who were living there,
And made them cry, 'O let us die, 'tis more than man can bear!'
|"Our fathers then a war chief made, whom all men should obey.|
And he, to rid them of the scourge, thought long, and found a way.
He in the forest chose a place; his men then cleared the ground,
And all the trees they cut were laid there, in a circle round,
Their branches all were outwards turned, while in the midst there stood
A strong built house, two arrows' flight from the surrounding wood.
|"'Now every man give heed to me! we have some months to work,|
And then must fight, for no man henceforth shall in covert lurk!
So have your weapons well prepared: of arrows get large store.'
And each man make a buckler, as our fathers used before.1
|"So on the day appointed, to that house they all repair,|
There made to be their citadel, and for the fight prepare.
Canoes they at the river leave, for Caribs there to view,
And men to draw them to the place and give the warning due.
|"And they have lured now to that spot those warriors fierce and bold:|
Who chase their watchmen through the bush till they the house behold.
The barricade there makes them pause—still they will not give in,
Pride drives them on to take the place, so they the fight begin.
|"Their men who try to clamber o'er the Arawâks shoot down;|
Still their resistance, which seems weak, the Caribs hope to drown,
They bend their bows, their arrows keen by hundreds seem to fly,
Our men are galled, for bucklers broad scarce put those arrows by.
|"At length is heard their captain's voice—he cheers them with his call:|
'O comrades! ye have bravely borne, now fight, Lokono1 all!
Fight bravely for your children dear—fight bravely for your wives;
You fight now for your parents old—you're fighting for your lives,
This day will clear those wretches from the face of this our land,
Their arrows fail! Now pour in yours, then on them club in hand!'
|"Forth from the house run boys—and wives, each to her husband's side,|
To hand him arrows, crouching low behind his buckler wide.
Swiftly those arrows are poured in; they shoot with might and main,
And all the foremost Caribs are by those keen arrows slain.
The others to the river fly: but foes are there before;
And sternly in the forest they pay off the ancient score,
Till each red-painted warrior there lies redder in his gore!
|That fight was on the Pomeroon, which we Bowruma call;|
A little stream there marks the spot, well known to Indians all."
|To tell of victory is sweet,|
Defeats few care to name;
But there invaders met defeat
Who well deserved the same;
For where the Arapaiaco,
And fair Ituribisi, flow,
Those Caribs had spread bitter woe
With arrow, club, and flame.
|While their flotillas swept the sea|
None dared their power defy;
But every canoe would flee
The "Carinyach!" fierce cry;
By that dread name their race they call;
On those who heard it fear would fall;
The swift might fly, the feeble all
Would yield themselves to—die!
|Their cry, denoting savage power,|
Spread horror and dismay,
On land too, at the midnight hour,
At dawn or close of day.
"Brave men," they sang, "our fathers were,
And we their fame and valour share;
Your lives are ours, your daughters fair
And goods—must be our prey!"
|The tellers of this legend were the old man and his son,|
Who showed me, on the shady stream, how that fierce fight was won.
|There is no need to tell again what has been told before;|
Of how we suffered, from the Caribs, wrongs both deep and sore.
They who oppressed our fathers here from Orinoco came,
Through Barima and Waiini, as we those rivers name.
Each year their painted warriors came, each year those rivers swept;
Poor captive women paddled them; and as they worked they wept.
Long time the Waraus, who lived there, their stern oppression felt;
Until they fled to "ita" swamps, where more secure they dwelt.
|The Caribs wasted all that land; then said, "We'll plunder find,|
In those parts where Morūca and its tributaries wind."
They came; but war canoes, too large, could not from Waiini pass:
Too little water was there then to float them through the grass.
|"O friends! ere next wet season comes we must for them prepare!"|
So spake our chief, and chose that hill, to make a refuge there.
Then from all parts his brethren came until they mustered strong,
To save their wives and children dear from violence and wrong.
|"Now make a camp upon the hill, where women may abide;|
We, who are men, will meet our foes down at the river's side."
So to the river down they went, and there the captain made
A massive log of heavy wood, which in the stream he laid.
He fixed it tightly in each bank; the spot we now can show—
Just there—it near the surface crossed—not two hands'-breadth below.
|"Now let each man prepare his club, his arrows, and his bow,|
And each a pole, with hook at end—its purpose I will show.
Some go to warn our brethren dear, who near the Waraus dwell;
While some as scouts must watch for foes, and of their coming tell."
|As our good chief had told his men, e'en so it came to pass,|
When next, in those great swamps, the water overtopped the grass,
Many canoes, with painted crews, all warriors stout and strong,
Slow winding through those narrow streams, came paddling along.
|They stopped at every village there, but could no people find;|
No people, and of property but little left behind.
That all had down Morūca fled, by certain marks was shown,
And sore displeased those Caribs were, because the birds had flown.
|Yet still they paddle on and on, but no canoes can see;|
Until a fishing craft appears, with young men two or three.
"O strive to catch that light canoe, which skims along so fast;
These men we'll chase unto their place, and plunder gain at last!"
|They raise on high their dreadful cry: "Carinyach!" echoes round,|
As if yon Waramūri hill hurled back the hateful sound.
Onward they race until their "chase" is seen to disappear
Up this small stream; and, without pause, the Caribs enter here.
And here they have to wind about beneath the trees so high;
Yet still they onward rush and shout, nor think an ambush nigh.
The small craft slackens speed at length—it is not understood—
But they tear on with all their strength, and strike the sunken wood.
|That first canoe is broken: overthrown are all her crew!|
And as they rise, with savage cries, keen arrows strike them through.
Their comrades hasten at their cry, that they may help afford;
And forthwith, on the next canoe, a second shower is poured.
A third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth—the small stream winding round—
Allows no sight of that fierce fight, they only hear the sound,
|"Now, forward with your long hooked poles! let no foe get away!|
They came without our asking, but we'll press them sore to stay!"
They grapple with those great canoes, they drag them to the land;
And there the brunt of battle is, all fighting hand to hand.
Some use the single-handed club, some that broad hardwood blade,
Two-edged, "sapakāna" called, which by both hands is swayed.
|With the last boats the chieftain came—Manarwa1 he was called;—|
His men could not retrieve the fight, the slaughter them appalled.
And so, with two or three canoes, vowing revenge, he fled,
While our men held the battle ground, and buried there the dead.
|Not long ago a portion of this river's bank gave way,|
Exposing groups of human bones—sad relics of that fray.
|Ere long the Caribs came in force, that they avenged might be,|
And our men, hearing, went to meet them on the Waiini.
The Waraus would not help us fight, for they were sore afraid;
But they would act as scouts and spies, so giving useful aid;
Until we drew our foes again into an ambuscade.
|Again we won the victory, again o'erthrew our foes,|
As each side fought with deadly hate, no cry for mercy rose.
One champion on our side there was, Bohirasiri named
(In old times oft his praise was heard, for in our songs he's famed);
The Carib chieftain in the face with three-pronged shaft he shot;
Struck down his warriors all around, and dragged him from the spot.
The barbéd weapon from his face the wounded chieftain tore;
But cruel was the gash it made, and he could fight no more.
|Our men, when all was over, and our foemen crushed and slain,|
Said, "What must be Manarwa's doom? shall he alive remain?"
So warriors and elders grave in council met next day,
Where the old chieftain, wounded sore, was asked what he could say.
"Oh why have rou, these many years, vexed cruelly this land?"
To which he could no answer give, as most may understand.
But this he said, "Lo, here I stand!—Arise, some one, and slay!
I'm in your power. But if you spare, and let me go away,
My people all will grateful be, and, for their leader's sake,
Will not again invade your land, but peace for ever make."
|Our race is not bloodthirsty. They resolved, our old men say,|
To take the Carib at his word, and let him go away.
Four of his men alone still lived, they were with him set free;
And their old chief the promise kept, which gained his liberty.
|Perhaps those Orinoco Caribs found our swampy land|
Was not so easy, as it seemed, to ravage and command;
Perhaps they learned what men can do who slaves will never be:
Rememb'ring, too, that o'er picked men we'd gained the victory!
But still that act of clemency, we think, availed us more
Than if we'd slain ten thousand warriors on that bloody shore.
|Whatever cause may be assigned, we found their inroads cease,|
And since those fights, of which I tell, this region has had peace.
|The Dutchmen to our fathers said,|
"Make peace with us, and let us trade,
In firm alliance joined,
In peace and plenty all may live,
While you to us assistance give,
Guarding the woods behind.
Use your stone implements no more,
Of iron tools we have great store,
Which you will better find,
Clothes, which your women ought to wear;
Combs, shining bodkins for the hair;
Beads, looking-glasses, bright and fair,
To please the female mind."
|Our fathers to them made reply:|
"Your goods are pleasing to the eye,
But men such things may dearly buy
With loss of liberty!
We all are hunters, free and brave;
No Arawâk must be a slave,
Make that your law, you then will have
Faithful allies and free!"
|We thus maintained our liberty;|
The Dutchmen all declared us free,
And well observed the same.
But Christ's good word was never brought
To us, nor were our children taught,
Till other white men came.
|From them (Moravians), in Berbice,|
Our brethren heard the word of peace,
Till trouble made their missions cease.
We still were left alone.
At length to Essequibo came
The English: and the Saviour's name
To red men there made known.
|To us, then, came that Saviour's word,|
Which most opposed, but some few "heard,"
And helped to spread it round.
To our old foes, the Caribisce,
We paddled you, with words of peace,
Which there acceptance found.
Then, with the red cross waving free,
To Waraus went, along the sea,
To plant it on new ground;
That all red men might Christians be,
And blesséd peace abound!
|Thus Sacibarra1 (such his name,|
Ere it "Cornelius" became)
Would speak, when growing old.
Good chief! who, long before, to me,
Of that "High" Lord "whom none can see,"
Their ancient legends told.
|And came alone, Christ's word to hear.|
Till others rallied round;
Who helped a mission church to rear,
With cross and belfry crowned,
Reflected in the waters clear,
With palms and feathery bamboos near,
Where he had cleared the ground.
|All those who then met there, save one|
(Whose hand now writes), are dead and gone.
The mission crowns a neighb'ring hill.
That river's banks are hushed and still.
|No children now, with sportive grace,|
There swim from shore to shore;
But still the bamboos mark the place
(Long since with "bush" grown o'er)
Which still one mem'ry loves to trace,
Where the chief sought his Maker's face,
And told their ancient lore.
|And all who told, in their sweet tongue|
(Most sweet, as all allow),
These tales, which to their race belong,
Are still and silent now.
They wait us on that other shore,
Their voices here are heard no more!
|Now turn we to the wilder lore|
Of the uncouth Warau.
1 Aiomun Kondi.
2 Ifilici W’acinaci.
1 The Ceiba, or silk-cotton tree.
1 Literally, "island." Some one of the Antilles. This most ancient legend is the only one I know in which their former possession of the West India islands is mentioned.
1 "Yauhahu simaira," a common expression denoting severe pain.
1 The Arawâks have various dances. In one, the men challenge each other to give and receive alternate lashes round the bare calf or the leg, with a severe whip called "Maquarri," which is the name of the dance. This is a sort of funeral game, or commemoration of some departed male relative or friend, held some time after his death. It differs from the purely festive dance mentioned above.
1 The crew of the first canoe which approached the fleet of Columbus on the shore of the southern continent were Arawâks, armed with bows and arrows, and bucklers. I have heard no other legend, however, of any aboriginal tribe, in which the latter are mentioned.
1 Arawâks call themselves "Lokono."
1 A common name or title among Carib chiefs.
1 Lit., "beautiful hair:" name given in infancy.