COLUMBUS: NOT A CARIB!
One nitaino beside him, observed: “Matunheri, from what I have heard, the strangers appear to come from Mayobaland.”
“Han (Yes),” returned Caonabo. “And they worship gold.”
Turning to the messenger, he said: “Bahari, do the strangers believe they have come to heaven?”
“Han,” replied Bahari. “I often heard them say that Tainoland is Paradise. In their language, Paradise is Heaven.”
Caonabo and all had a merry laugh then.
Bahari ended by attempting to give an explanation of the terrible weapons, and demonic beasts which the strangers brought with them.
The great matunheri, with a clap of his hands, could summon a hundred thousand men at a moment’s notice. But the Tainos (People of the Good) had existed in peace for millennia. They had no weapons of war.
Relieved that the strangers were not Caribes, come to carry them to the otherworld, Matunheri Caonabo insisted one last time: “Bahari, they are not Canibales?”
“I have not seen them eating human beings,” returned Bahari.
Cacique Urayoel missed the counsel of his great behique. Guatu the Firekeeper had complained that he was tired of his life on earth; he passed on at the age of sixty and two. The holy man had taught Niwanti all he knew, but the young behique yet required several years of practice and experience, before he could perform the Cohoba Ceremony.
Areytos were held for many purposes: for initiating the young into adulthood, or for hosting another cacique and his people. And in times of drought, as much as in times of plenty. But the Thanksgiving Areyto for the yuca harvest was a necessary duty. The folks had completed the harvesting, and the Areyto was in progress.
As sianis (married women), Koai Cu and her group wore the nagua just above the knee. Nana (daughter) Koai Cu, nearing eight years had followed in her bibi’s (mother’s) sacred steps. She even wore her hair half the way down her back. Her bibi had taught her to dance the Areyto. Tau, how to step on the heel and roll gently on like a bird, to the rest of the foot.
It was a pleasure to see nana Koai Cu dance. As for Ma Cu of the enthralling eyes, she was happy to have all admiring her. Idalis and the others had each borne two or three babies. Papo’s Tona was contented with two. These cherished children added to a new generation.
The afternoon session had just begun, and Jibaro had not yet entered the circle of dancers. He’d seen the lone stranger entering the yucayeke from the path leading to the Caroni. Jibaro kept his eyes on the man as he slipped through the folks, approaching the plaza. For a while, Jibaro wondered from which of the tribes he belonged. What was his purpose.
The stranger was now staring at Nana Koai Cu dancing the Areyto. For a brief moment, the man was smiling, nodding his head. Jibaro moved up to the man, still captivated, and spoke: “She is my nana, Koai Cu.”
The stranger stared at Jibaro for some while. He said then: “I am Barakutei from the land of Bohio.”
Ja! Jibaro almost exclaimed aloud. Though anxious to hear the man, he followed Taino custom, and said: “You will take food?”
“Wa (No), but I will drink your chicha (beer) and smoke your tabacu.”
Jibaro introduced himself and led Barakutei to the back of the cacique’s barn. Over his bowl of chicha, he spoke quietly: “For a while, your nana reminded me of our own great Areytos. Your Koai Cu is a wonder.”
Jibaro was pleased but more anxious. Some moments more, he led Barakutei outside the yucayeke, stopping under the giant mahogany before the stream.
“It is a happy time here,” Barakutei began. “And I come with terrible news. Ja! It took me years to reach your Iere.”
For a full hour, Jibaro listened to Barakutei telling of inhuman cruelties and atrocities. Ja! Barakutei spoke for another full hour and, with tears often filling his eyes, could no longer continue.
All this while, Jibaro remained speechless. It took some time before Barakutei spoke again: “At first, we believed the guamiquina Columbus and his people were Caribs. It is because they carried our people across the great ocean. But they returned! And it was the Lucayan, Bahari who first explained about other peoples in different lands.”
Jibaro had heard that gold was their god. And that the strangers in clothes were Mayoba and his imps. “It is Mayoba and his people?” he asked.
“Han,” Barakutei agreed at once. “It is Mayoba and his people.”
“At first, they called all the folks who tried to escape, Caribs. Now all the Taino family of Nations, and even those on the mainland, they call, Caribs.”
Jibaro understood that Mayoba’s people hunted the escaped folks in the woods, and on the mountains. “Perhaps we could escape to Shingu (The Amazon)?” he spoke.
Barakutei chuckled drily. “I have often thought of that,” he replied. “A man or two with his family can hide in Shingu. But hundreds of thousands of Tainos? Wau!”
“Noble Barakutei,” spoke Jibaro then. We cannot hide from Mayoba and his people. We are a people who never created weapons for war. And you say the people commit suicide by the thousands, rather than become enslaved. What… what then is left to do?”
Barakutei could not find words to say, except: “I warn the people. Some escape, but many are taken away as slaves. They die a slow and cruel death, diving for oyster pearls or working in the gold mines.”
Barakutei added: “They grab the Taino virgins, boys and girls whom they rape and abuse. Ja! They sell them to one another!”
Jibaro was barely aware that his fists were clenched tightly. He said: “Before they touch my liani (wife) or my nana (daughters), they would have to kill me.”
Barakutei did not say, “Han, they will kill you.” Instead, he said: “Jibaro is man of the forest. You will know what to do.”
The afternoon was already late, and time had come to return. Just as the Areyto closed, Jibaro led Barakutei to Cacique Urayoel. For ten days, he remained in their yucayeke as the cacique’s guest.
Then Barakutei bade Tai ku (Goodbye) to Jibaro and his group. He looked at Nana Koai Cu and Ma Cu once more, before continuing his life’s journey.
A few years later, three or four perhaps, Cacique Urayoel, then almost sixty years old, had cause to recall the words of the late behique, Guatu the Firekeeper: The strangers in clothes will come to Iere. Jibaro and his group had received even greater warning from Barakutei.
The Christian yares (demons) had heard about the densely populated land of Iere. They came now, with their tricks and treachery, slaughtering any who resisted, and taking captives to be sold as slaves for the pearl industry, and for the gold-mines of Haiti.
The demise of the Taino tribes of Iere had begun.
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