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The Caribs


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Had it not been for the Caribs the Antilleans would have led a placid
existence. Those warlike and predacious Indians would not keep the
peace, nor would they allow other people to do so. Though they had
their capital in Guadaloupe, they extended their military enterprises
in every direction, and Cuba, Porto Rico, Hayti, Jamaica, and the
lesser islands suffered from their assaults. They were trained to
fight from childhood, and attained to great proficiency in arms. Being
active voyagers, they had some knowledge of astronomy. When operating
in the waters of a hostile country it was their custom to mask their
boats with palm leaves, for in this guise they stole upon the enemy the
easier. Like the red men of our plains, they painted their faces, and,
indeed, they retained many of the practices common to our tribes. In
their traditions they came from the North, like other strong races,
their old home being among the Alleghanies, and they conquered their
way from Florida to Brazil. Their tribe, they say, grew up from stones
that their remote ancestors had sowed in the soil. They buried their
dead in a sitting posture that they might be ready to leap up when
the spirit came for them, and they faced the sunrise that they might
see the day of resurrection the quicker.

In their mythology the first men came down from heaven on clouds to
purify the world and make it as clean as the moon; but, while they were
looking about at this untidy planet, the clouds floated back and they
were left in a sorry plight, for they had brought no provisions with
them. Their hunger having sharpened so as to become unbearable, they
scraped up clay and baked it to make it less tough and more eatable,
and were grieved when it came out of the fire as hard as stone. Then
the birds and beasts had pity on them, and led them to the groves and
fields where they could find fruit, nuts, maize, and yams. One tree
was of such size that they chopped it with stone axes for ten months
before it fell, and they ate all of it. Beneath its roots, in a cave,
lived the Water Mother, who, possibly because she was angered by the
destruction of the tree, released a flood that would have covered the
earth had not a rock fallen into the throat of the cavern and stopped
the flow. This rock had life and speech. It warned the new race that
when its founders should grow old they were to expect a deluge. Until
that appeared they should find in the atone their best adviser and
protector, and if they would pray to it, giving a deaf ear to the
wood-devils, it would cure them of illness, gray hair, and age. After a
time came the monkey out of the woods, beguiling and wheedling, while
at every chance, with a monkey's love of mischief, he worked at the
stone, trying to dislodge it from the mouth of the cave. At last he
succeeded, and out poured the flood. An old woman ran to a palm that
touched the sky with its vast leaves, and climbed with feverish haste,
but fright and fatigue brought her to a stop when half-way up, and
she hardened to stone, thus blocking the way to all behind her, who,
when they touched her, became stone likewise. Some scrambled down,
splashed through the rising waters, and reached another palm tree,
which they climbed to its top, and so saved their lives.

As the waters were subsiding, Amalwaka came sailing across the ocean
from the east, ascended the Orinoco, carved the figures found near
the head of that river, without leaving his canoe, smoothed the rugged
hills and invented the tides, so that men might go from place to place
on the current, but, being unable to make the Orinoco flow up stream,
he sailed away again into the arch of the rising sun, guided at night
by the constant star and by the tapir and Serikoai,--which is another
story, told by the Arawaks, to this effect: The bride of Serikoai
was seduced by the tapir god, who had first aroused her curiosity and
interest by his attentions, and had finally won her love by promising
to put off his swinish shape and reveal himself as a finer being than
her husband. If only she would follow him to the edge of the earth,
where the sky comes down, she would see that he was a god. The poor
husband was crippled by the wife, that he might not follow, for she
chopped off his leg as he descended an avocado pear-tree, in which
he had been gathering fruit for her. He nearly bled to death, but a
wandering spirit revived him and called his mother, who healed the
wound with gums and helped to make a wooden leg, on which he stumped
over the earth in search of his runaway wife. It is known that the
aborigines performed trepanning with skill, but this is probably the
earliest appearance in an American legend of a wooden leg. Though
he found no foot-prints, it was easy to trace the couple, because
avocados were springing up from seeds that the woman spat out as she
journeyed on. At the edge of the earth he caught the tapir and killed
him; yet the creature's shadow arose from the body and kept on its
flight with the wife. Straightforth she leaped into the blue vast,
and there she hangs, only we call her the Pleiades. The brute is the
Hyades. He glares and winks with his red eye: Aldebaran. The husband
is Orion, who follows the others through the sky.

The Caribs were a handsome people, and one tradition narrates the
madness that afflicted a governor of Antigua, because of his jealousy
of a native chief. In 1640 this dusky Paris stole the English woman and
her child, and carried them to Dominica. The governor pursued. Arrived
where Roseau now stands, he learned that a captive woman and her child
had been landed there, and had been taken to some stronghold in the
forest. Drops of blood, pricked out by cactus thorns on the march,
formed a trail which he was able to follow, and believing that they
betokened murder, he killed all the Caribs he encountered. His wife
and boy were safe, however, except for their bleeding feet, and he
found them in the otherwise deserted cabin of the chief and took
them back to Antigua. The affair preyed on his mind. He began to
doubt his wife, thinking she had accompanied the savage willingly,
and his jealousy so increased that his friends had to secrete her,
to save her from his wrath. He probably recovered his senses in time.

The Spaniards chased the Caribs out of several of the islands. That
of Grenada terminates on the north in a tall cliff called Le Morne
des Sauteurs, over which the white men compelled the flying Indians
to leap to their death. Not one Carib was left alive on this island.

Next: Secret Enemies In The Hills

Previous: The Aborigines

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