Secret Enemies In The Hills

: 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, f
ight 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.