Next Few Chapters
“We also have some heavier bows”, boasted Allemanda. “The warrior, on his back, will hold the bow against his upraised feet, pulling the string back with both arms. It will send a much heavier shaft three times as far,” she added, with obvious pride.
"What my sister fails to mention," added Cuan with a smile, "is that Allemanda herself has been firing such a bow since she could walk and is far superior to any other bowman. She unfailingly can pierce a gourd at one hundred paces. She balled when she could not draw back a normal bow, so my father fashioned a small foot-held version for her.
“These missiles would undoubtedly even punch through Spanish armor”, stated Mateo, speaking and looking at no one in particular.
Chapter 33) Lliago and Allemanda
They walked along the shore of a favorite private cove perhaps four leagues from Marie'n. Although Colón had named the settlement “Navidad” for the Christmas day they had arrived, all the Ita’, Lliago’s group of “Strangers”, now referred to it by its Taino name. Marie'n referred both to the town as well as the entire Cacicazgos controlled by Guacanagari, depending on its context.
Lliago had contrived to have a cabana set up on the soft sand, on the level above the tide line, complete with food and drink for their day there. They had paddled up early, and had spent the day exploring tide pools, relaxing, swimming and doing what lovers do.
Their love affair was quite boring. Although Lliago had “known” women in his travels and had been besotted with a neighboring peasant girl at thirteen or fourteen, there was no love back in Logronio awaiting him.
His competing suitor for Allemanda’s affections was her cousin, a close childhood friend, and heir apparent of another powerful Taino clan.
Upon seeing Allemanda and Lliago so happy together, and admiring and liking Lliago so much, he quickly and quietly faded away. He would admit to no one his incredible relief. Although Allemanda was stunningly beautiful and many other men had looked on him in envy, the idea of living with such a powerful personality, a women who knew your thoughts before you had even a chance to form them, had filled him with dread for the future. Rumor had it he had quickly attached himself to another, a girl he had shared a secret love with that only his assumed betrothal to Allemanda had kept apart.
Allemanda, for her part, had decided they were a pair seemingly ages ago, and had been impatiently waiting for Lliago to catch up.
Lliago had intended to ask her to be his today, and have Father Alonzo perform a wedding, a blessing for the union before consummation. However, both being young healthy adults, in love and alone on a secluded beach, that horse had already left the barn.
“I’ll ask for absolution tomorrow”, sighed Lliago contentedly, as he followed Allemanda into the gentle surf, the background sky on fire with another breathtaking sunset.
Fade to black…
Chapter 34) Franco’s Puzzle
The sun had set just a few hours earlier for me on board the Mariagallante, seven hundred nautical miles to the East. As the stars began to blaze above I reviewed the work I had done so far and what I would need to do to really change the course of destruction we were on. I began to realize that to convince Colón of anything I had first to see things from his point of view. If I thought of him as a heartless monster and treated him thus, I could not possibly be successful. My sullen looks and short answers when we conversed did not seem to be improving our relationship. Fortunately, as much as I disliked many aspects of Colón, I am afraid I also had an affection and admiration for the bastarde.
Realistically, against Pane’ and myself was arrayed Colón’s drive for quick wealth and power. He always seemed intimidated by the wealthy and by the titled nobility in his dealings with them back in Seville. Gaining both position and wealth to be their equals, rather than for what wealth could buy, seemed the need that drove him.
There were also the promises made and schemes he has concocted with his various investors. They would exert tremendous pressures on him to perform.
He also apparently lacked faith in the long term strategy of gaining wealth, prestige and influence through spices, sugar, wood, potash and gold produced or mined by the Hispanic or willing Indios. This was a little surprising considering his background. In his families wool business it took three years to realize a profit from the raw wool they purchased, so hard work and patience should come easily to him.
What we, Pane’ and I, had for our arguments were the clear wishes of the Catholic Monarchs that their subjects not participate in the slave trade. This was not an argument Colón could easily set aside. We also had the example of Jaquez Coeur, the French spice trader, who had gained both astonishing wealth and power through trading goods alone, never the buying and selling of humans.
I had roughly calculated the potential profits of trading directly with the merchants in the Orient, cutting out the Venetians, Genoese, and Egyptians. Even with a six to eight month round trip voyage, it was quite staggering. Seeing these numbers in ink would be a powerful persuader.
Further, we had the subtle but insistent influence of Father Pane’. For all his faults, Colón was a very religious man who could be reasoned with on spiritual grounds.
I also had to realize that not everyone saw things from my standpoint. This helped me to commit to dealing with Colón in a less confrontational manner.
It is easy to expect everyone to see things through our own eyes, base the reasons for their decisions and views on our life experiences, and come to our conclusions on their motives based on these probably false assumptions. It would be convenient if we could live another man’s life for a day before we judge them.
Throughout the world, in every culture, many were gaining wealth through the buying and selling of human men and woman. Arab pirates capturing and selling Christian Europeans, Portuguese buying and selling Africans, captured by other Africans. Arab Moor slaves powering the Christian galley…
China imported slaves from India, Indonesia, South Eastern Africa and the Middle East reported Marco Polo. The Greeks, The Romans, the Jews all bought and sold slaves, the Jews were taken as slaves by both Babylonia and Egypt.
In the very islands we now travelled to, the Caribe were raiding and capturing the Taino, the Caribe trading them to some unknown foe to the south.
It was less than fifty years ago that the Catholic Church decreed it immoral for a Christian to enslave another Christian. Although there was a big push by our new Pontiff to prohibit slave ownership of anyone, enslavement of non-Christians was still considered permissible. In fact, the Papal galleys were even now rowed by Moorish Slaves.
The fact was, my own world vision was the exception and not the rule. The only moral argument we have is the fact that the Catholic Monarchs have declared the Indios “de-facto” subjects, and therefore “de-facto” Christians who cannot be enslaved.
Far from being the monster I had concluded he was, I began to realize that Colón, though a monster in my eyes, was simply a product of his time and fit in perfectly with the thinking any explorer or trader of the day. Had there been no Colón, another explorer, exploiter or trader would have gladly taken his place.
Chapter 35) Franco’s Distance Problem
We also had to overcome Colón’s insistence that Cipango and Cathay were just a few days beyond Hispaniola. The overwhelming evidence pointed to a voyage of many more months, provided there were no other lands or unknown obstacles encountered.
I was certain Colón was being obtuse for the benefit of some of the investors. I suspected he had known all along the actual distance to be covered, but felt that, once on his way, and the investors monies committed, he would eventually encounter the east. By claiming it was closer, it was easier to sell his scheme to his merchant investors.
Although ostensibly, his seventeen ship’s captains had to agree with Colón’s reckoning of a smaller earth circumference, these were not uneducated sailors. The manner in which the issue was skirted by Colón and his captains indicated to me that I might be entering dangerous waters no matter which calculation I used.
Once again Father Pane’ pointed out to me that this was not an argument that I needed to win. I only needed to show that spices were more profitable regardless.
“Choose your battle wisely.” Pane’ advised. You do not need to ‘win’ either the size of the earth argument or the slavery argument. The money argument, the profit… that is what will move all these men when nothing else will.”
So I decided to calculate the profits based on a ‘worst case’ eight month round trip, citing vague reasoning of potential foul weather, problems with the ships and necessary repairs, potential delays in the trading for and loading of cargos and so forth. In this manner Colon and his investors could see the realistic value of these calculations, while not having to confront or acknowledge the distance discrepancy.
If I could mathematically prove to Colon, that filling the empty holds with spices from the Orient, as well as the gold mined in cooperation with the Taino during Colón’s voyage to China and back, and, in future years, sugar from cane grown and harvested, again with the cooperation of the natives, would be easier and more profitable than the slave trade, the issue would be resolved.
Unfortunately, I only had about a week to accomplish this task. I wondered what was happening on the island now. Were all the men Colón left behind still alive and well? Were they able to make inroads with the Taino? Would cooperation between Taino and Hispanian be possible?
Chapter 36) Caribe attack on Marie’n
The quarter moon showed vaguely through the spring mist creating an eerie glow over the water. As the mist rolled onto shore it seemed to be torn by the trees, ragged tatters continuing inland. There was another light barely noticeable in the east, a pre-dawn glow.
Although the night sounds had stilled appreciably, a few birds were beginning to stir adding a plaintive note into the almost inaudible buzz of insect that never completely disappeared. An occasional splash of a fish, somewhere out in the mist, a creak of a tree bough, the ripple of almost imperceptible, calm sea, these were the normal sounds of the forest and shore.
From barely one hundred yards out two long dugout canoes, carrying close to 30 men each appeared from the mist coming towards shore. Several men in the rear would occasionally and silently ply their paddles, urging the canoes towards shore.
The silent watcher had heard a solid “thunk” of a paddle hitting wood and a tight hiss of disapproval nearly fifteen minutes earlier. He stood, frozen in place, listening for further sounds of their presence, further evidence that it was not his imagination working overtime, as these foes inexorably closed on the small bay where he waited.
He thought of his wife and small children, as well as his extended family of sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews and parents back in their circular hut barely 1000 yards inland and worried to his soul for their safety.
These intruders, no doubt, were the murderous and cannibalistic Caribe he had been warned might be coming. The death and destruction they left in their wake was numbing and terrifying. No one seemed capable of standing before them. Their stealth and brutality was legendary.
Even though the Taino numbered in the hundreds of thousands, nearly 3,000 of their friends and neighbors had either been slain or enslaved by these demons in the past year alone. They attacked with impunity and were gone like wraiths before any counter attack could be mounted.
He steeled his nerves, and bravely stepped from out of the trees with his bow and club to meet this hoard as then beached the canoe and splashed ashore. He drew in a deep breath as he prepared to blow a blast from his Conch shell, before hopelessly attacking them alone.
Suddenly the night erupted in the brilliant light of several columns of flame lit on shore. Almost simultaneously, a rain of arrows showered down on the disembarking enemy, half of the Caribe levelled in the first onslaught.
In confusion and fear, the remaining foes milled around their fallen comrades searching in vain for their attackers. Four shots rang out, and several warriors jerked spasmodically, adding to the turmoil. A second flight of arrows then hit them with devastating effect.
An extraordinarily large warrior bellowed to the remaining force and with their aid began to push one of the canoes back into the sea, when four more loud reports rang out. Two of the four shots slammed the giant backwards into the sea and a third ball smashed the knee of yet another.
The load roar of the attackers drowned the cries of the remaining Caribe, and forty fierce Taino warriors, wielding clubs and spears, along with seven, sword wielding Basque descended on the survivors.
With his longer legs, Lliago was able to outpace his comrades and met the blow of his foe’s war club with a ferocious swing of his blade, sending the club flying. His speed carried him past this enemy and into what must have been his twin, barreling him over and connecting with a back-slash to his chest. He turned back to deal with the first brother but Cuan, close on his heel had nearly cloven his head with his war club.
Turning back, Lliago was on time to see the full swing of another club coming his way, this enemy at that very moment being slammed backwards by a heavy arrow spoiling the swing just enough for Lliago to dodge beneath it. Oddly, in the midst of this fierce battle he recalled no foot-bowmen in his group of fighters.
And just like that it was over…
The last two surviving were thrown to the ground and trussed up, prisoners to be taken to Guacanagari as requested.
Lliago, gasping in deep breaths, looked about at the carnage they had wrecked on the Caribe in perhaps thirty seconds, nearly sixty dead and two prisoners. There were no wounded. He vomited violently, the Taino chuckling a little at him good-naturedly, several patting his back affectionately as they gathered their foe’s weapons and trinkets.
Chapter 37) Celebrate Victory
By late morning an impromptu celebration was in full swing.
Perhaps fifty dancers, each with their own mayohavau, a drum like instrument made from a hollowed hardwood log and decorated to that families taste or symbols and audible from 2 to 3 miles away, pounded out a rhythm. They were accompanied by numerous amaraca, gourds that contained stones within that rattled out a pleasant accompaniment. The onlookers chanted out a chorus that roughly translated to, “they came and we destroyed them”. Between these choruses, a warrior, or his family’s singer, would sing a boast of that particular warrior’s feats during the attack, embellishing it a little more as their turn to sing came around again.
Oroco, the youth who ran with the alarm to bring the warriors to the bay where the attack took place, was mentioned quite often. He and his older brother, the warrior who heard and then spotted the Caribe, sat in places of honor near Guacanagari.
Also in places of honor were Lliago and Mateo, with Allemanda between and Cuan to their right. Allemanda’s pride in her people’s victory, but especially her love and pride in Lliago her mate and his leadership were clearly evident and unmistakable.
Lliago’s love and pride in these gentle, generous and, when necessary, ferocious Taino, as well as his great affection for Allemanda, was equally obvious.
“We will sing of this victory for generations”, exclaimed Cuan excitedly. Because Cuan had been instrumental in the alliance between the Basque and Taino for their mutual defense, he also was enjoying increased prestige among his people. A dozen lovely maidens were making their esteem more than clear.
Even in his joy of victory, Lliago was well aware at how much fortune, or perhaps luck was the better word, had turned in his favor. The Basque and Taino had worked and trained together tirelessly over the past few weeks, but that was entirely too little time to become the seamless fighting group they could be.
Of his sixty man force that needed to be ready to respond instantly, only forty or so had come properly equipped and ready to fight. Others had to return for bows or clubs to their huts, rousting others along the way that had not heard the call or were confused on their day’s duty.
Had Orocene not heard the Caribe when he did, had he second guessed himself and not sent Oroco with the alarm, if the Caribe had been able to land and move inland, it could have been a completely different story.
As it was, his undersized fighting force was very heavy with bowmen, who, while devastating to the Caribe on the beach trying to land, would have been mostly ineffective if the Caribe had made it to the sheltering forest.
The only casualty was an unfortunate warrior who, in his half sleep, had tripped coming from his hut and had fallen on his own razor sharp club, inflicting a serious gash across his chest. Several of his less inhibited comrades added a few lines of jest in their turn at verse, bragging on their own feats, but adding an improbable line about how this unlucky youth had received his wound.
One verse told of how four giant Caribe, mistaking him for a woman, were carrying him back to their canoe, he being wounded while escaping their grasp. Another told how the warrior’s wife had to beat him with his own club to awaken him. Although he occasionally smiled at these jibes, “it probably would have been more merciful if the Caribe had killed and eaten him,” said Lliago to his small group, laughing.
Guacanagari beamed upon everyone. The success of this venture had so many implications, had raised so many possibilities, that he could hardly contain his enthusiasm and high spirits.
To begin with, his ‘reign’, he was very aware, was only by the will of the people. With abundant food, pleasant seasons, very little strife with neighboring tribes, his people would continue to follow his lead. In his youth he had led many a battle to secure his area of influence among the neighboring Taino Cacicazgos and protect his people from the marauding Carib. His strength and valor were legendary, and many songs and chants reminded his people of his greatness, his protection and his generosity.
With the coming of Colón, his prestige had suffered. Allowing two of his kinsmen to be ‘honored’ with a visit to the Hispanic homeland, along with dozens more of his people, this honor being enforced by several dozen armed and mailed soldiers, had wounded the leader in spirit and his sense of security for his people and his reign. His own daughter would never forgive him for allowing Colón to kidnap her youngest brother and favorite cousin, rarely speaking to him and never with her previous demeanor of pride and honor.
To witness the success of his son and potential heir in his first major battle, and the success of this new form of fighting, rekindled his marshal spirit, pride and sense of invulnerability. Never again would he or his people be cowed by invaders.
In hindsight he could see that he should have simply fallen upon Colón and his men when they first landed and destroyed them, removing this threat entirely. However, with the alliance now formed between Lliago’s people and Cuan’s two hundred warriors, an alliance that had been strengthened by the uniting of Lliago and Allemanda, he saw that his warriors would soon be trained to be an un-conquerable force in his world.
Looking around he noticed the absence of the Shaman and his clan. Guacanagari had made his displeasure in the priest’s connivance with Colón with the result of his son and niece becoming hostages, quite clear. He had not seen them in evidence in months. Like the centipede, however, he knew it was only the ones you don’t see that were dangerous.
For the moment, all was well in his Cacicazgos, and he would do all he could to keep it that way.
Chapter 38) Guacanagari’s thoughts after Victory
It was several mornings later. His people had recovered from the feast that had carried on far into the following day, but there was still a festive feel in the air.
He sat out on his porch area facing the ocean, his usual morning cojiba glowing nicely as he inhaled. There were still a few fishermen coming in from their morning run. Some caguama, the gold and rainbow colored, blunt headed fish he loved best, had been spotted on the farther reef and his was hoping for some for his dinner. “I seem to worship my own belly!” he thought to himself, laughing a little. He felt a little rounder these days, especially when compared to the young, tough warriors who had been bragging of their feats in battle. “I could still destroy any two!” he thought, truthfully.
He was a big man. Barely an inch taller that Lliago, the tallest other than he, he easily weighed one hundred pounds more, most of it muscle, and looked twice Lliago’s size . “But age eventually catches up to all of us”, he added to himself.
He was now father to all the Marien Taino and bore this honor and burden easily and naturally. But at heart he was a warrior and had revisited the accounts of the battle over and over again.
Because his people had all their necessities more than covered, both he, and they, had, so far, no dreams of conquering others, no desire to rule other lands or even expand Marien. Defense against those who would interfere with their way of life was their only concern. If a farmer needed more land for his expanding family, there was plenty to be had. If more fish were needed, the bounty of the sea around them was apparently in-exhaustible. The unique problem that they did struggle with was too much free time and greed for material things and prestige. No marshal tactics, no strength of arms could fight this.
(The Taíno Indians lived in theocratic kingdoms and had a hierarchically arranged chiefs or caciques. The Taínos were divided in three social classes: the naborias (work class), the nitaínos or sub-chiefs and noblemen which includes the bohiques or priests and medicine men and the caciques or chiefs, each village or yucayeque had one. http://www.topuertorico.org/reference/taino.shtm)
It was a phenomenon that intrigued and perplexed the Cacique. His family had come to power not only by their strength and prowess in battle, but also the judiciousness of both rulers, husband and wife. Their ability to co-exist with the neighboring Cacique (there were ten on the island of Quisqueya) as well as keeping an extended peaceful and bountiful period in their own territory, guaranteed their continued leadership. He glanced over at his wife who looked back with the usual sparkle and fire in her eyes. “His people would be amazed at how this feisty, strong, opinionated woman could make him tremble,” he chuckled to himself. She was the ultimate power.
The surprising result of all this success however, was constant bickering and infighting among the nobility, the extended families of relatives that inhabited the squared lodges around the village center, and the widening rift with the common people. Their constant intrigues and plotting to gain more when they already had so much was completely incomprehensible to Guacanagari, their poor treatment of the Naboria, the working class unpardonable. At the heart of it was the Humacao Clan.
When Guacanagari’s parents died, the past Caciques of Marien, within a few months of each other, Guacanagari was but sixteen summers although already a powerful warrior. His older cousin Humacao at twenty five, was oldest grandson to the penultimate rulers, and his powerful clan pushed hard for the mantel of Cacique to pass to him as Guacanagari was obviously too young.
Guacanagari had been devastated by his father’s sudden death.
Nearly as big as Guacanagari, Quitanas was a boisterous, loud, laughing man most of the time, a kind word for all and adored by the people. Guacanagari recalled a favorite episode where a powerful and wealthy Nitiano Noble had been senselessly and brutally berating and beating one of the fishermen, a young mute who cared only to fish and be left alone. With a relatively gentle backhand slap, Quitanas sent the noble sprawling. He then ordered the Noble to assist the fisherman every morning for the coming ten days as punishment, cleaning his catch and carrying it from house to house.
By the third day, Quintana regretted the severity of the punishment. Loathe to go back on his command however, he instead joined the pair each morning to clean the catch and distribute it. By the weeks end the three became close and the two leaders could be heard laughing and jesting at their work, the mute fisherman smiling on.
He sadly recalled his father’s passing. The two had been hunting together in the mountains. On the return, when within site of the buildings of Marien, the father challenged the son to a foot race home, bursting forward in a fast run. Laughing Gua took off after his father, quickly passing the heavier man. He soon became aware that he was running alone and glanced back to see his father crumpled at the side of the trail. Hoping it was but a jest or ruse, something his father was very capable of, Gua raced back.
And just like that his father was gone. His heartbroken mother faded away, dying a scant six months later though barely fifty summers.
The wrestling for control became fierce and the 16 year old Gua, reeling over the deaths of both parents, and still quite young was overwhelmed by the Humacao clan and their angry grasp for power.
Only the incredible strength of his grandmother, as well as her diplomacy, kept the rift from ending in a civil war.
The Humacao clan would take over control of the priest class, second only to the power of the Cacique himself. This had caused almost unending background strife in Marie’n, and Gua seemed forever at odds with the Humacao. Humacao and his growing cadre of followers held the upper class to be far superior in importance to what they really were, and looked on the working class as merely servants.
While the Naboria, the commoners among his people, enjoyed their lives in hunting, farming fishing and gathering, and their spare time in play, rest or song, the young noble men and women had no need to hunt, fish or farm, weave or even prepare food. For the lucky dolts among them, this caused laziness, obesity and a strange, unproductive slyness. For the intelligent and active, it caused nervousness and snappishness, a queer quickness to anger at the slightest provocation or imagined insult.
A strange, new, and bothersome custom was also beginning to invade the nobility. From Cotui’, the Cacicazgos to the East, came cunningly crafted gold and copper ornaments that the higher classes seemed to be obsessed with. Because there was no utilitarian use for these objects, this obsession was very troubling and inexplicable to Guacanagarí. Though simple in design, even his wife, Quisquaya, now wore a neckless with small figures of copper dangling from it and many of his children seemed drawn to these fetishes. Although none of his children were allowed to wear them in his home or presence he had no intention of even attempting to prohibit his wife’s adornment.
One family had gone so far as to give up their rights to a beautiful stand of trees, sufficient to build numerous shelters and canoa in exchange for a few hundred of these trinkets. Rather than their neighbors condemning them for their foolishness, their prestige actually grew. Astonishing!
Guacanagarí was further perplexed by Lliago’s interest in these figures, until he discovered Lliago’s thoughts ran instead on ways to form more projectiles for his guns from this copper.
He vaguely associated these trinkets with the fall of his own people generations ago, and their flight to these islands. Stories of the wealth and prestige of his ancestors, their subjugation of other tribes and use of them as slaves, their priest cult, with the heavy reliance on power and ritualistic slaying of criminals and captured enemies to retain that power, were all very abhorrent to him.
Like his father and grandfather before him, he knew that his own power was earned by the strength of his own arm in battle, and the wisdom of both he and his wife in the day to day decisions that sustained the peace and prosperity of his people.
He recalled his early life, fishing and hunting with his friends. No cares or worries, not these huge gaps between classes or the need to act or feel particularly superior, even though his father was Cacique of this part of the island. Although he was closest to his brothers and cousins, many of his adventures, games, fights and mischief was among the people, the Naboria of Marien.
His mother would have been embarrassed, even appalled at the thought of someone else cooking their meals, caring for her children or keeping their home clean, just as his own wife was. She did not find this work demeaning; rather she had great pride in her own participation in the circle of daily life and passing that knowledge and experience on to her children. Nor did it diminish her in her co-ruling of these people. Her advice and pronouncements carried every bit as much weight as her husbands.
Now he had to deal with the deepening distain of the privileged class towards the ones that were providing all the food, shelter and labor for all his people. He cringed at the way the wealthy, many of them his relatives, treated their servants.
The strife caused by having too much bounty, and too much time to enjoy it was somewhat relieved by the frequent Batey ball games played in the town square. Always violent, the recent matches between the Natiano and Naboria youths had been particularly brutal, with as much unnecessary carnage away from the ball as useful near it. It was from here that Guacanagari picked his house guard, the one hundred warriors that protected his immediate household, so there was much effort to distinguish oneself during these matches. It also diffused much of the otherwise pent up antagonism between the two classes. After the slaughter, there was much comradery between opposing players, especially those involved in a particularly well executed maneuver.
Chapter 39) Description of Batey
Father Alonzo’s description of the game is as follows…
“Played with a hard, elastic and surprisingly active ball, a team of thirty naked warriors, yes, warrior is the correct term as many a battle was fought with less injury, would have control of the ball and advance towards their opponent’s goal. The contestants were generally men, but a particularly strong or agile woman was not uncommon.
The ball could never be touched with the hands, instead being passed from one to another by knees, feet, head, elbows… any body part except the hands. Once the goal was reached they would pass the ball between two stones, about 3’ in height and 6’ apart to score a point. Quite simple it would seem…
Except as you were trying to pass the ball you were being assaulted by kicks, tackles and shoves by as many of your opponents as could get to you. Running into an outstretched, burly arm as you were running full tilt, looking skyward for the ball passed to you, having your legs kicked from under you at any time, being tackled by three or four opponents at once was the norm.
Although few deaths occurred on the court, broken bones, noses, concussions and contusions were frequent, with the most violent collisions bringing roars of approval from the crowd. Frequently a combatant would be knocked unconscious, and would be lucky to be dragged to the side by a comrade, as play continued un-interrupted. There were no breaks in the action until a team succeeded in a point.
The most dexterous and nimble were generally the passers, with the most burley, strong and fearsome acting as protectors or blockers, switching to attackers if the opponents controlled the ball.
A week would not pass without a contest, and games between youths from 6 or seven years of age upwards seemed to be always going on.
These games were used frequently to settle border disputes with neighboring cacicazgos. A dispute over a group of trees to be harvested, or a patch of ground to be hunted or farmed, was a welcome excuse for a Batey, rather than a war.
There was to be a great game this afternoon with the two Basque leaders, Mateo and Lliago, participating as honorary guests. Guacanagarí hoped that neither man would get much in the way of the rivalry, or, get hurt too badly.
Both Mateo and Lliago stood a head taller than the combatants they were surrounded by. Each was an honorary player on opposite teams. They had discussed how they should hold back, so not as to show up their hosts at their own game, a game they were so proud of. With their height and strength advantage, it was simply unfair.
As luck would have it, the first pass came towards Lliago. He was looking over his shoulder, deciding on how to pass it on when he ran into what felt like a solid tree branch, halting his body while his feet continued on and into the air.
He came to moments later, on his back, with a confusing view as several dozen naked warriors ran around and over him. He quickly and unsteadily tried to get to his feet, more interested in not getting trampled than in re-entering the game. He had regained a kneeling position with one foot down and an attempt to rise, when a blow he could never quite remember drove his head back down to the ground. He would not remember anything else in the game.
New Chapter 40) Guacanagari Smokes and thinks
It was late morning, and the riot of awakening children, grumpy parents and hunger all around was over.
He sat in his favorite spot, his veranda facing north to the sea, enjoying the cool shadows as the days heat began to intensify. Many of the youngest children were bathing and splashing in the shallow pool of water formed by a tide pool within the protection of the bay off to his right, their squeals of delight mingling with the cry of the seagulls, each almost indiscernible from the other.
The day’s catch of fish had long been brought in and Gua looked forward to his midday meal, a beautiful Dorado with a bit of roasted patata and maize. There would be a relish of avocado and papaya. Although he had enjoyed this meal countless times, it never failed to give him satisfaction.
The wind had shifted, so he could now enjoy his Cohiba, a tightly dried and rolled cylinder of tobacco. His wife did not mind this indulgence outside, but if the smoke entered their cabana, the pain would far outweigh the pleasure.
These children, from tiny ones barely able to walk, to around nine summers old, were watched over by young maidens of ten to fifteen summers. In this group he noticed Cassia, a very pretty, happy and energetic youth of fourteen, who had recently joined his family. Her youthful exuberance and laughter, her enjoyment of the little children, even her coquettish flirtations with the young fishermen who were supposed to be repairing their nets on the beach, were a welcome and sharp contrast to the Cassia of just a few weeks before.
She had run to him and his wife for protection, a few days after the grand victory over the Caribe, an obviously frightened and possibly injured child breaking all rules by entering their private quarters.
She had lost her mother and father in a Caribe raid years before. Unable to provide enough food for her and her grandmother she did work for a household of the elite in exchange for food and help keeping their shelter in repair. Normally she would have been adopted and simply gone and lived with that family, but her grandmother loved her small hut, the hut she, her Granddaughter and her daughter had been born in and would not live elsewhere.
She was just a tiny thing, of maybe ten when she was orphaned. A very pretty child with long thick ringlets of curly dark hair, sparkling eyes and a happy smile and disposition, she would be a wonderful addition to any family. As she had been a playmate to her host family’s daughter for years, it was assumed that when her grandmother passed she would become a family member.
The Taino were a very giving and open people. Although the super abundance they enjoyed made generosity, hospitality and charity relatively easy, the closeness, and mutual support fostered by their flight and survival just a few generations earlier was deeply engrained.
Although it started out well, little by little, without the awareness of others, a condescending and possessive manner developed towards the young girl by her adoptive family. More and yet more was demanded, until the child was trapped in a debtor’s prison of sorts, trying to work off the help this family had given hers with no hope of ever accomplishing this.
Then came the attack in Guacanagari’s home…
While mostly prone on the packed sand floor within, playfully feeding their own, tiny, two year old granddaughter, the Cacique rulers, Guacanagari and Kiskeya, heard a tumult, like a coming wave, approaching their home. Suddenly a young Taino girl burst into the room, an unheard of incident in itself. Although the confrontation was over in seconds, it seemed to the Cacique that it happened quite slowly, with every detail standing out sharply in his mind.
Cassia, the young Taino maiden, he noticed, was growing into a pretty young woman, perhaps now thirteen or fourteen. She was also quite disheveled and in obvious distress, her cheek and arm showing some bright red welts. On her heal came a large angry man who Gua recognized as his cousin Humacao whose family supplied all of the shaman for the island. He knew he did not like or trust him and was furious that he would dare invade his home. Humacao was followed by two of Gua’s own young sons, obviously coming to protect their father.
As Cassia practically jumped over the rulers and their grand-daughter to get behind them for protection, the intruder began to roar a demand, Kiskeya assumed for the fleeing maiden.
Quick as a Cat, Guacanagari came from a prone position to upright while thrusting his elbow and forearm forward, knocking the intruder off his feet, with a spray of blood flying from a bloody nose. Had he been conscious when his back hit the floor, he would have seen three thrusting comanque war clubs at his chest and Gua’s knife at his throat. Kiskeya was astonished that she held the third club in her own hands, amazed that she had somehow grabbed it from its spot more than five strides away, returning even as the intruder hit the floor.
Humacao! That was the attacker’s name. From a noble family with much influence in the village, they supplied virtually all of the holy men or “bohiques” for Gua’s chiefdom, Marie’n, the result of the dispute on young Guacanagari’s succession to the throne and his Grandmothers negotiations to secure it. Although all of the lesser chiefs were close relatives of Gua, the family of Humacao was strong, and constantly pushed and manipulated the leaders with their bohique holy man’s omens and advice.
In fact, it was the cousin of this Humacao, a bohique priest known as Doguao, who had convinced many Taino that Colón and his men were demi-gods. Sadly and embarrassingly, he was even able to convince Gua to allow his youngest son and a niece to accompany Colón on his return to Hispania, exclaiming what an honor it was and how important it was to please these visitors. By the actions of these Hispanic fiends, Gua soon realized his mistake, and could never forgive Doguao, and by extension, Humacao and his family, or most especially, himself!
And this Humacao had delivered himself into his hands, committing a capital offense when he assaulted the Cacique, in his own home, with plenty of witnesses.