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Secret Enemies In The Hills


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The brutalities of the Spaniards who first occupied the West Indies
would seem incredible if so many of them had not continued to our
own day. It is estimated that half of the natives of Porto Rico were
killed, and within sixty or seventy years after the seizure of Cuba
its populace of three hundred thousand had been destroyed or removed
by war, murder, slavery, hunting with blood-hounds, imported vices
and diseases, flight and forced emigration. These natives are said to
have been a peaceful and happy race, practised in the simpler arts,
observing the moralities better than their oppressors, holding a faith
in one god--a god of goodness, not of hate--and in the immortality of
the soul, and abstaining from useless forms and ceremonies. They held
that when the soul had left the body it went into the woods and hills
or abode in caves, and took its food and drink as in the flesh. When a
man calls out in a solitary place among the mountains and an answering
voice comes back, it is not an echo, but a wandering soul that speaks.

Even the relics of these folk--the Cubans or Siboneyes--have
vanished, save in the instance of the temple remains near Cobre, and
an occasional caney or mound of the dead, a truncated cone of earth
and broken stones. Some fossil skeletons found in caves, and of an
alleged age of fifty thousand years, denote an ancient race of large,
strong people. There are other skeletons of Siboneyes, Chinese, and
negroes in the caves,--victims of herding, slavery, fever, cruelty,
and suicide. There is little doubt that of the aboriginal stock not
a man remains. Yet there are stories of strange people who were
seen by hunters and explorers among the mountains, or who peered
out of the jungle at the villagers and planters and were gone again,
without track or sound,--people with swarthy faces, sinewy forms, long
black hair, decorations of coral shells and feathers, and bracelets,
armlets, and anklets of gold. Almost from the first, the conduct of
the Spaniard toward his enemies and dependents was such as to earn
for him a permanent hate; so, when his cruelty had been practised, and
the futility of opposing arms against his heavy weapons and his coat
of steel had been proved, it was natural that those who escaped him
should keep as far from reach as possible, and it is idle to suppose
that he traversed the seven hundred and thirty miles of Cuba's length,
whipping every forest and climbing every mountain, for no more than
the pleasure of killing. Negro slavery was introduced into the New
World before its existence had been known in Spain for a century, and
although the black men have usually been tractable, the severities of
their masters led to many revolts and to the organization of bands for
retaliation. These bands often degenerated, and during this century
the Spanish Antilles have been troubled by companies of beggars and
outlaws, mostly blacks and half-breeds, who have robbed and murdered
in the dark, run off stock from the farms, burned houses and shops,
and because of their secret and cowardly methods have been feared as
much as the Spaniards were hated.

The Nanigos originally formed a secret order of negroes, banded for
protection against unkind slave-owners and overseers, but feeling
their power, and being swayed by passion and superstition, they
constituted, after a time, a body correspondent to the voodoos,
or wizards, of our Gulf States. With hideous incantations, with mad
dances, with obscene songs, with the slaughter of animals, with oaths
on an altar and crucifix, they invoked illness, ruin, and death on
their enemies. In time they gained accessions to their fraternity
from Spanish residents,--thieves, vagrants, deserters from the army,
the half-witted and wrong-hearted outcasts from the towns,--and the
fantastic ceremonies of the jungle came to mean something more to the
purpose of mischief, for the newer Nanigos had more skill and courage
than the slaves, and were familiar with more sins. To enter this
order it was required of the candidate that he steal a cock, kill it,
and drink the warm blood. A darker tale is that they were required to
drink human blood. In Havana this part of the initiation was performed
on the Campo Marti. The man's right nostril was pierced, and a skull
and crossbones branded on his chest. It was then expected of him
that within fifteen days he would kill an official or a policeman,
a white, black, or yellow marble, drawn by chance from a globe,
deciding whether he was to slay a white man, negro, or mulatto. When
he had, by this crime, attained to full membership, a little shield
was given to him which he might wear beneath his coat, and which was
decorated with the device of a skull and bones. For every murder he
committed a red stitch was put in at the edge of the skull. Once
a month, in the dark of the moon, the Nanigos paraded the streets
of the towns, their naked forms painted fantastically, their faces
ghastly with flour, tramping and leaping to the thud of drums and
clash of cymbals, yelling defiance to the military, brandishing knives
and firing pistols. It was a kind of thing that in an American city
could have happened for one consecutive time, but no more. In Havana
the Spaniards were terrorized. The police refused to make arrests,
lest they should fall victims to the outlaws. One judge who refused
to liberate an assassin was slain in his own house by his servant.

As a partial revenge on the Cubans for wishing liberty the Spanish
captains-general have at times pardoned some hundreds of these rascals
and set them free to prey on the people; while, in retaliation, the
insurgents adopted some of the methods of the Nanigos and carried on
a guerilla warfare that neither troops nor trochas could abate. Many
are these more or less bold spirits of the hills who are celebrated in
inland stories: aborigines, Frenchmen, Creoles, mulattoes, who have
gathered bands of reckless fellows about them from time to time and
raided the Spaniard, flouting him in his strongholds, pillaging from
his farms, striking him, hip and thigh, and making off to the woods
before he knew how or by whom he had been struck. Sometimes even the
name of the guerilla has been forgotten, but the tradition remains of a
predecessor of Lopez, Gomez, and Garcia, who aided the English before
Havana in 1762. In that year Lord Albemarle took the town with two
hundred ships and fourteen thousand soldiers, beating a Spanish army
of almost double that size, though it was covered by heavy walls and
well provided with artillery. It took two months to reduce the city.

During one of the land operations the red-coats lost themselves in a
dense wood, and were in considerable peril from bodies of Spaniards
who were almost within speaking distance. To advance or to retreat
was an equal risk. As the column was halted, pending a debate and a
reconnoissance, there was a rustle in a clump of bushes beside which
the colonel was standing; then, as every sword was drawn and a row
of muskets held ready, a tall man bounded into the space, laid his
finger on his lip to enforce silence, and, beckoning all to follow,
crept on stealthily through the chaparral. He was a man advanced in
years, a long white beard flowed over his chest, yet he was lithe and
quick, and his look and manner were those of one who lives in the
open and in frequent danger. He spoke not a word, but after a time
drew himself erect and pointed before him. He had led the English
to the rear of one of the Spanish batteries. The colonel, who had at
first regarded him with doubt, as a lunatic or a false guide, ordered
his men to attack, and after a short fight he returned to his lines
with prisoners and trophies of victory. He sought in all directions
for the old man, to thank him, but the jungle had swallowed him,
and he was never seen again.

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