The cacique must have been a brave man. He answered the interpreter’s statements by giving Columbus a lecture on elementary Christianity…
This was indeed, a most serious threat. It was the only defiance the Tainos would utter in the ensuing years. The bold cacique was quite unaware of Columbus’ devout Catholicism; his adoration of Gold; or his belief that the metal could buy a man’s way past St. Peter’s portals and into God’s treasury.
Nor was the cacique aware that he and his folks were saved from the wrath of the guamiquina, only because Columbus’ mind was already fixed on the Cibao. Accepting the cacique’s tribute of provisions and other gifts, Columbus set sail through rough seas and threatening skies.
Like Joan D’Arc and the other maids, he claimed to have heard voices. He had been to the mountain top, and had seen the Royal Meadow (Vega Real). Columbus had heard the voice of his god: All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Guarocuya had taught Bahari all the Castilian he knew. The two had long planned to escape from the Spaniards at the first opportunity that came their way. They felt an urgent need to inform their people about all they had seen and heard!
“The guamiquina keeps you under special guard,” observed Bahari.
“He intends to use me,” returned Guarocuya. “And he knows that I know his mind. It is a kind of game to him.”
“Tao, I shall escape first.”
“Han, you know what must be done,” spoke Guarocuya.
And so, when the moment presented itself along the way to the Cibao, at the first yucayeke, while the Spaniards entertained their bellies, Bahari simply melted himself amongst the folks. With the help of a few men, after three days travel by canoe and on land, he found himself in the yucayeke of Cacique Mukaro on the coast.
Mukaro was not long in explaining the situation in the cacicazco (province) of Marien. “Matunheri Guacanagari says we are a people of the peace. We cannot defend ourselves against the death-bearing weapons of the strangers. Therefore, he ordered the caciques to give the Spaniards all that they demand.”
Bahari showed his disappointment. “They demand what is not possible to give,” he said.
“Han,” returned Mukaro. “We give them all our gold; all our food. Yet they seize our people to help destroy other Tainos. They take our boys and girls and destroy their lives in the most obscene manner.”
Bahari already knew. Mukaro spoke again: “When the people see the Spaniards enter through their gates, they flee in every direction. But there is no place to hide. They must return for shelter and food. Food which the strangers force our people to carry to their big ship.”
“All the yucayekes are warned?” asked Bahari.
“I have sent messengers throughout the land. All are warned.”
“The son of Matunheri Behecchio is held captive by the guamiquina,” said Bahari now. “Before I reach the cacicazco of Zaragua, I will go to Caonabo in Maguana. The great matunheris of Bohio must say what to do.”
“Han,” Mukaro replied hopefully. “I will provide you with my best guides at once.”
After a brief meal, Bahari bade farewell to Mukaro and set off on the far journey along the river route. The guides paddled swiftly, until they came upon the last yucayeke. Of course, their coming was already announced, and fresh guides were waiting to accompany Bahari along the paths.
Crossing valleys and rivers, and the steep slopes along the edge of Magua, after five days they arrived at the foothills of the Central Cordillera. Two days later, they were marching through Niti in the cacicazco of Maguana.
Bahari was held in awe at the magnificent province, ruled by the most powerful matunheri, Caonabo. And indeed, by his saintly wife, Anacaona. He’d never imagined such a huge and handsome Batey Court, adorned on all sides with neatly carved petroglyphs. Nor had he imagined a yucayeke with so many caneyes that he could not see where they ended!
Ja! Here now was the most magnificent court in the world. Bahari had not come to admire Caonabo’s realm. He saw at the bohio’s porch that they were expecting his arrival.
At once, Bahari made obeisance, going on his knees before the matunheri. The next moment, though overwhelmed by such majesty, and with many nitanos listening, Bahari related his experiences, beginning with their capture at Guanahani.
The matunheri cut in from time to time, asking questions. The first was: “How long did the ships take to cross the wide ocean?”
It was something already discussed between Guarocuya and himself. “One month and some days,” he replied.
“Tao!” one of the nitanos uttered. “Then the ocean was not as big as we believed.”
His utterance was followed by other nitanos making similar contributions. But Bahari had very much to tell. After describing the huge castles of their matunheris, he continued about the magnificent buildings, in which the strangers worshipped their evil gods. He added: “But they live uneven lives. Most have nothing to eat, and these live in little mud and grass caneyes.”
Once again, the nitanos exclaimed. No one ever went hungry in their yucayekes.
“They punish their own people with great torture,” spoke Bahari. “They cut off their ears, noses and hands. Ja! They flog women and young girls to their death! And they burn their people at a stake! They even murdered their God, and had him tied on two tree-trunks!”
Every nitano exclaimed in awe now. One raised his voice: “Surely, they are Mayoba’s people!”
“They also despise work,” Bahari continued. “Their greatest matunheri, a sort of behique is called, pope. And this pope has ordered their kings to seize the lands of other peoples, and to enslave them to do their labour.”
Bahari added: “Ja! I have seen and spoken to many black slaves. These men are black as the night, and they live in a land as big or bigger than our mainland.”
All became silent with awe then, as Bahari spoke of strange lands and strange peoples. Finally, Caonabo said: “Yucahu has created more miracles on earth then we believed to exist.”
A nitano at his side, spoke: “Matunheri, from what I have heard, the strangers appear to come from Mayobaland.”
Caonabo’s face was pushed forward now as he said: “Bahari, do the strangers believe they have come to heaven?”
“Han, (Yes)” returned Bahari. “Very often, I heard them say that Tainoland is Paradise. In their language, Paradise is heaven.”
The nitanos were rocking with laughter while Bahari spoke. He could not tell the reason for laughter. Perhaps the matunheri had a devastating sense of humour, and was making fun of the strangers? Or perhaps they were laughing at his own words?
After further describing the powerful weapons and dogs of the strangers, Matunheri Caonabo had one final question: “Bahari, they are not Caribes? (Cannibals).”
“I have not seen them eating other humans yet.”
Caonabo rose from his chair then, indicating that Bahari’s experiences had come to an end. He had much to discuss with his nitanos. And Anacaona, who had been sitting quietly beside her husband, also sat up, and said: “Noble Bahari, come with me. You must be very tired. So you will eat and rest before journeying to my brother in Xaragua. You will tell me about my beloved nephew, Guarocuya.”
Once more, Bahari was overwhelmed in the presence of this gracious and charming woman. Anacaona had all the qualities of a saint; even her voice was enthralling. Bahari knew then why the people of Bohio called her, the divine Anacaona. He’d never felt so peaceful, so safe as he felt in Maguana.
Five days later, Bahari was having difficulties comparing the magnificence of Matunheri Behecchio’s cacicazco of Xaragua, with Caonabo’s of Maguana.
* * *
Columbus had also made Alonso de Hojeda governor of the island during his absence. With specific orders to terrorize the villages of the Vega, Hojeda took some four hundred men inland. At the very first yucayeke, he ordered the cacique to present him with all his gold. Whether Hojeda was satisfied or not with the amount received was of no matter. He took pleasure in cutting off an ear of the cacique before his people.
Hojeda of course, had included in his squadron, half of the Santa Hermandad, with their armoured suits and long lances; and several of his hungry mastiffs. The rest came with cross-bows and with broad-swords. The folks were at once paralyzed with fear. But one of the villagers, returning from the conuco, had seen the spectacle. He hurried to tell the others, and to relay the news to the other yucayekes.
Every Spaniard had come expecting to return with gold. Diego de Salzar began the ransacking by entering the cacique’s bohio. The others quickly spread themselves, searching into every caney. These Spaniards were already accustomed to other pleasures. Always hungry, and unbelievably voracious, they ate every thing in sight, including the contents of the half-cooked, bubbling pots. The Spaniards were still hungry, so they filled their guts with chicha ( corn beer).
They were not done. One of them, called Lope had accompanied Salzar inside the bohio. He came outside now, pushing forward the cacique’s youngest wife. The Spaniards were grinning; Lope had already built himself a reputation in the practice of raping women. “Follow me,” Lope ordered. And as the woman did not understand him, he gave her several cuffs about her head and face.
The woman promptly understood, and followed him to the nearest caney. The Spaniards were already aroused, and began selecting from the young women, and from girls and boys still in the age of puberty! The next moment, the yucayeke was filled with the screams of those being abused or raped. The elders hung their heads in shame, grieving aloud at the injustice that was taking place.
The cacique saw how Hojeda’s face was happy with a smile; how he held the evil zemi hanging from his neck!
The next yucayeke they entered was empty. Hojeda was enraged, and shouted: “To hide themselves is a crime against the sovereigns of Castile!”
“Aye,” returned Salzar. “So it is.”
“Raze every caney. Burn them to the ground, Salzar,” he ordered.
At the same time, two men with the dogs had caught a little group hiding in their conucos.
Salzar attempted to be sensible. “Aye, Alonso,” he said. “We shall require the heathen dogs to prepare our food.”
“Burn the bohio and all the caneyes, Salzar,” he returned. “Let this be an example. They must not hide from me.”
Diego de Salzar laughed as he razed the yucayeke to the ground. The captives were made to spread the message.
Thus began the first day of the pillage, of desecration and atrocities committed by the Christians. Led by Hojeda and Salzar, and by Margarite at Santo Tomas, they would lay waste the populated Vega Real for some six months.
The Spaniards, despising water or a simple bath, had come with several diseases, including the fatal smallpox and syphilis. The demise of the Tainos had begun.
Back at Isabela, the rest of the Spaniards refused to plant a single chickpea. (Laziness, one historian would later write, was a sign of Spanish nobility!) The big ship returned again and again, demanding provisions and captives from the cacicazco of Guacanagari.
Mukaro on the seashore was the first to become a cacique without a yucayeke. He sought refuge with his uncle in Guarico. But as the Spaniards pillaged further and further inland, Mukaro thought often about his distant kinsman. He greatly admired Ciguayo and his friends, especially the young nitano called, Tamayo.
He understood that Guacanagari was helpless, forced to give in to the strangers, who could wipe out the entire cacicazco in a single morning. It was not in Mukaro’s nature to sit still. His messengers had brought word that Matunheri Caonabo was organizing a huge army to defend the land of Bohio. His duty was there, in Maguana. But first, he would visit his kinsman.
He bade Tai ku (Goodbye) to his family, and then to his uncle.
Guacanagari and all were saddened to see the noble Mukaro leave. Placing his hands on his nephew’s shoulders, he uttered: “Dahiahubu (I bless you), Mukaro.”
Later that afternoon, he entered the yucayeke of Cacique Akitchitay. Mukaro felt heartened at the welcome, and was happy to see Ciguayo and Tamayo again. He had much to say to Akitchitay and his nitanos.
Life was no longer the same. The strangers were grabbing all their food, searching the yucayekes for gold, and taking captives as slaves, and cruelly abusing boys and girls. “They will cross the river any day,” said Mukaro.
“Can we defeat them?” Akitchitay asked.
“That we cannot do, unless we are organized,” explained the young cacique. “We are powerless against their deadly weapons. They come also with Mayoba’s dogs.”
“Fleeing is our only choice?” inquired one nitano.
It was a frustrating question. Mukaro explained: “When the strangers approach, the frightened folks flee everywhere. And when they have gone, the people return to find all their food and goods taken away. There is no one left in my own yucayeke.”
Mukaro added: “The strangers also came with beasts which eat as much as themselves. I have heard that some pigs destroyed an entire conuco in less than one day!”
“Ja!” uttered Cacique Akitchitay. “Then we will soon have famine in the land.”
All the while, Ciguayo sat quietly, listening to a situation becoming more and more impossible. He spoke now: “The matunheri, Guacanagari is satisfied to reduce himself before the strangers?”
“Guacanagari follows the divine prophecy of the zemis. He understands that if he should raise a hand, all the folks would be slaughtered,” explained Mukaro. “He hopes when there is no more gold to be found, the strangers will go away.”
“The Tainos do not know how to make war,” spoke Akitchitay.
For the first time, Ciguayo appeared to defy his uncle: “If we must die, we should do so by defending ourselves.”
“Han,” agreed Mukaro. “I have heard that Matunheri Caonabo is gathering an army for the purpose. It is my intention to go to Maguana.”
“You shall have my company, itiao,” spoke Ciguayo.
“Mine too,” said Tamayo. “I am sure Papo and Yambu and some others will join us.”
Cacique Akitchitay could say nothing against their decisions. In truth, he felt proud of his noble nephew and his friends.
The next few days, Mukaro enjoyed the hospitality of his friends and their yucayeke. Ciguayo was the recent father of a son, and Mukaro was happy to meet his wife, Yuiza. He laughed with Tamayo’s Naboli and Anaca, and spent time with the other young men, talking under the favourite guama tree of the late, Behique Barakutei.
And then, one morning just before the dawn, and before the village guard could blow his conch trumpet, the strangers appeared through the gates. Led by two ferocious dogs, some twenty Spaniards came with their weapons ready: muskets, cross-bows and broad-swords.
The folks came out their caneyes, at once paralyzed with fear. The strangers seemed to know what they were about as they stopped before the bohio. Cacique Akitchitay and a few nitanos listened in confusion, as the Spaniards uttered their demands.
The leader of the gang was pointing to the gold on Akitchitay’s headband. Just as he stepped forward to grab it, Ghuatibili, judge of the Batey Ball Competitions, began protesting. One of the Spaniards shot him in the chest, and Ghuatibili in great shock, fell bleeding to the floor.
All the folks gathered around the plaza then, in speechless awe as the Spaniards demanded all their food and provisions from the great barn. And while the dogs threatened, men were selected to carry the provisions to the canoes. Neither the men nor the canoes would return.
Some had gone inside the caneyes, searching for gold. Others were grabbing young girls and boys for their pleasure. Ja, sacred Naboli was outside in her shed, and Tamayo was seeing a Spaniard ordering her, cuffing her head to join the other captives. Ciguayo also saw, and before his itiao could move, Ciguayo grabbed him with all his might. “You will die like Judge Ghuatibili,” he whispered. “Live, so we can fight another day.”
Tamayo had never cried in his life. He cried now. Guama, held down by Yambu was also crying. They had taken his Iyeya.
The Spaniards devastated the yucayeke before leaving. It was understood that they would be returning.
Anaca’s belly was also with child. That night, she was unable to comfort her man. Early morning, Tamayo bade her Tai ku (Goodbye). Anaca could not help her tears.
Armed with sturdy macanas and manayas, and razor-sharp wooden knives, the group of a dozen young men, after receiving the blessings of Cacique Akitchitay and his behiques, began their journey to Caonabo’s cacicazco of Maguana.