The Caribs

: 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 child
ood, 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.