Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous Next
Various Tales and Legends (365-370).
365.* HOW THE LAZY MAN WAS CURED (W)
This is another crab story (Sect. 278); but the hero of it was distinguished by his laziness, and not by his ignorance. A large party of people went out in a big boat to catch crabs: every one of them had twenty quakes aboard, and as they rested at each stopping-place, they still continued plaiting them. You see, they had nothing to distract their attention, having left their wives at home to make the paiwarri ready for their return. At one of the inlets where they put in for a rest on the way down, they saw growing close to the banks a small kokerite palm, with a large bunch of ripe fruit. Having cut off the bunch, they put it into the boat, shoved off, and then started eating. The hero of this story asked them to save all the seeds, after they had removed the fruity parts, and let him have them. This they did, and on the night before their arrival at the place agreed upon for catching crabs, he filled all his quakes with them. Next morning the others landed to hunt, but this fellow refused to join them, and remained in the boat, not even putting his feet into the water. He knew well enough how to hunt the crabs, but was too lazy, and counted on receiving contributions from all his companions. These, on the contrary, were equally determined that he should not have any: they filled all their own quakes, returned to the boat, and finally reached home. It was night when they got there, and they turned into their hammocks. Next morning, they called their wives to fetch the crabs from the place where they had left them at the water-side. The wife of the individual who had brought back the kokerite seeds, asked him where his crabs were: he told her that she would find them at the bottom of the heap and that she would have to wait until all the other women had cleared away theirs. She did as she was instructed and, carrying the quakes to her mother, let her know that these were the kind of crabs that her husband had brought home with him. The old woman thought much, but merely said, "Put them into a big pot and boil them on the fire, till the shells crack." In the meantime, each of the other women gave the naturally diaappointed wife one quakeful of crabs each, but conditionally, on her promising that she would give none to her husband. And thus, with one exception, they all started on a hearty meal of crabs and paiwarri. The old mother took a calabash full of the cooked kokerite seeds, and placing it before her good-for-nothing son-in-law, bade him eat. This was obliged to do, even if only out of mere shame, because he was so hungry, and knew that no one would give him of their crabs. At any rate, the lesson cured him of his laziness, and on the next occasion that he went out hunting, he brought home to his poor wife crabs and not kokerite seeds.
366.* ALWAYS BE CONTENT (W)
An expedition was arranged by a house-master for his relatives and friends, who were to come and join him on the coast and hunt sea-birds. Before starting, they all made quakes for collecting the birds' eggs, it being then the proper season, and eggs p. 381 always good to eat.1 After they had gathered sufficient eggs to fill their baskets, they proceeded with their bows and arrows to shoot birds, and were very successful. The old house-master's son-in-law, however, went off by himself in quite another direction, where there was plenty of dry timber and shot only woodpeckers, of which he brought back plenty. When they got home again, the wives made cassiri for them. The old man and his friends gave to the son-in-law of their big stock of various sea-birds, and the latter gave them woodpeckers in exchange. In the course of conversation, they asked why he had shot only land-birds when he was supposed to have come out to shoot sea-birds. He replied that he did not mind whether they had come from land or sea, so long as they were birds, and that he was quite content to eat one or the other.
367.* THE OLD WOMAN WHO DIED OF SHAME (W)
A very old woman once took her little grandson with her into the bush to gather honey. She looked up at a tree, and, seeing some bees coming in and out of a hole, told the boy she was going to climb it. Now, as these were biting [stinging] bees, she told him also that she intended blowing into the hole so as to keep the insects quiet. When, however, she reached a convenient height, and commenced blowing, she soon recognized that she was dealing with wasps, not bees. She got terribly stung, and in beating a hasty retreat, her foot slipped, her kuyu [apron-belt] caught on a small projecting branch, and she fell naked to the ground. Of course, she did not dare go home in that state, and so her grandson shot an arrow into the apron, hanging a long way up on the tree, and brought it down for her. They went back home, and the old woman told the child on no account to tell his parents what had happened, because she was so afraid of being laughed at. Thus it was that she always kept the little boy near her, lest he should talk about the incident. One day, however, the youngster slipped away to his father and mother, and told them of the old grandmother's adventure with the wasps, and how she had come down the tree without her clothes. They roared with laughter as the little boy mimicked the old woman's actions. The poor old soul heard them both laughing, and began to cry for very shame; and she cried so long that she died.
368.* THE MAN WHO INTERFERED WITH HIS BROTHER'S WIFE (A)
There were once two brothers. The elder went one morning to the field to clean up, leaving his wife at home to grate cassava. The younger, who lived at a distance, had a habit of visiting his brother's house always at a time when he knew full well that he would not be at home. So it happened on this very occasion. He asked his sister-in-law where her husband was, and she told him quite truly that he had just gone to the field. "And when is he coming back?" to which she replied, "In the evening." He thereupon asked her whether she would like him to take liberties with her, an offer which she indignantly refused. So he tried to obtain his desires by force: she repelled him: they wrestled with one another: she ran away into the bush, he following her closely. She only got back home again late in the p. 382 afternoon just before her husband arrived. When he saw the grated cassava lying in the trough he asked her what she had been about; surely she had not taken all day to grate that little bit of cassava! She was forced then to tell him, how his brother had come to visit her during his absence, how he had chased her into the bush, and what had happened there. The husband said, "All right! I will wait for him tomorrow, when he will be sure to visit you again." the next day, sure enough, the brother came once more. "Where is your husband?" He inquired. "Yonder in the maraka-bakruru," she told him.1 The husband purposely made a noise with his massi [club] to attract the attention of the visitor: the latter heard it, and thinking that drink must be the cause of the row, went over to see if that really were the case. But as soon as he got inside, the aggrieved man gave him a good beating, told him what he had heard from his wife's own lips, chased him into the bush, still beating him, and ran on until he could run no farther. When the husband finally got home again, he told his wife to sling up their hammock close to the roof, on the runner (to which the thatch was tied), because his brother would certainly return that night to kill the pair of them. There, close to the roof, they went to sleep, and in the middle of the night the brother came. They heard him say, "I will show you what I will do for your trying to kill me." They saw him take a stick and strike in all directions. They saw the cudgel knock against the beam and break, part rebounding on the would-be murderer's head. Half dazed with the blow, the latter thought it was the injured husband who had struck him, because they heard him scream out, "Oh! instead of me killing you as I had intended, you have killed me." The husband now descended from his hammock and chased the worthless fellow out into the bush, saying, "I will indeed kill you if you dare come here again." But the scoundrel never returned to molest his sister-in-law.
369.* THE OLD BLIND MAN WHO WANTED A WOMAN (W)
There was once an old blind man and the young fellows were always making fun of him. One day they asked him if he would like to have a woman. He said "yes," and told them to find him a fine young one. It was therefore arranged for that very evening, that they would tie a rope to his hammock and attach its other end to the hammock of a young girl, so that, as soon as everyone was asleep, he would have merely to feel his way stealthfully along the rope. Now, instead of attaching the rope's end as originally promised, the young rascals tied it to a tree overhanging the river bank, with the result that on obeying the instructions given, the poor old blind man floundered into the chilly waters of the stream, and just managed to save himself from drowning by holding onto a ho-aranni tree.2 When the young men saw that their joke had gone too far, they became frightened, and, getting into a corial, went to bring him back. "Grandfather! we have come to fetch you;" but the old man was much vexed and they were obliged to return without him. One of the youngsters, dressing himself up as a girl, with an apron-belt, and putting the basket-strap over his forehead, just as the women carry it, now went to get the old man home. "No!" he said, "I am not coming home any more;" but when he heard the young man say, "I am a girl," he felt her cotton anklets, her bangles, and her basket, and was accordingly satisfied; he then jumped into the corial and saved himself.
370.* HOW WE BEAT THE CARIBS (A)
I give the following almost word for word translation of the account told me by an old Pomeroon Arawak; it is well worth comparing with Brett's version (BrB, 35):
An Arawak and a Carib were very friendly: this must needs be so, because each had taken the other's sister to wife. They regularly used to go hunting together. After living in harmony for a long time, they went out hunting, but on this occasion they did not go in company, and they both stayed away longer than usual, and their friends wefe beginning to wonder what had happened to them. The Arawak, having finally returned, went to see after his brother-in-law, followed his tracks into the bush, and came on the babracote upon which he found the dried body of his sister whom her husband had evidently killed. He went home, but did not speak for some time. He them told his wife, the Carib's sister, to come into the bush and hunt with him: when he got her away, he killed and babracoted her. The Carib next came along to see what had happened, and he soon saw. He also went home again, but did not speak for some time. Finally, he expressed a wish to fight and kill the Arawak, but the Nafudi said "No. All the Caribs together must fight the Arawaks together." So both sides cut a big field and planted plenty of the particular canes required for making arrows, and when these canes were full grown, they cut them down and completed their weapons, and both sides erected a strong house, Waiba, to store them in. Up at Jack Low, on the left bank of the Pomeroon, is still to be recognized the site of the old settlement and fortress, the place itself even to this day being known as Waiba-diki. Furthermore, it was arranged by both parties that as they intended fighting their battle at sea, and not on land, they would allow themselves time to build a large number of canoes. This being done, they filled their boats with arrows: twenty canoes were paddled by Arawaks, and forty by Caribs. They all went down the river, out to sea, at the Pomeroon mouth, each taking up such position as would permit of the intervening distance being just sufficient to allow of the arrows thrown from one side reaching the other. The Arawaks, however, were shrewd. They made themselves cork-wood shields [nonabokuanna].1 The Caribs let fly their arrows first, but these stuck in the shields, when the Arawaks broke them off with their mossi, the now almost obsolete club. None of the Arawaks were slain, and it was now their turn to shoot. This they did, with the result that they killed all their enemy, except two, whom they purposely spared in order that they might go home and tell their friends what had happened, and what to expect should they ever dare to fight the Arawaks again. The two who had been spared went away to the Cuyuni, to the Barima, and to the Waini, and remained three months gathering together all their people, who clamored that they would never rest until they had destroyed all the Arawaks. The Arawaks were waiting for them at Waiba-diki, their stronghold, and stretched a vine-rope across the river; and as the hosts of Caribs approached up the stream, the steering paddles of their canoes became entangled in this rope, and broke away; and while the occupants were looking after them, their canoes all tossed one against the other in dire confusion, and the Arawaks shot showers of arrows into the wavering multitude. Half the Caribs were destroyed; the other half effected a landing. But around their fortress, the Arawaks had already built a palisade, with just a few chinks in it to permit of arrows flying through; they were all well under cover, and though losing a few of their own people, massacred as before all their enemy, leaving but two to give the news to their friends. These two went to the east, to Surinam, and started collecting the remnants of their own tribe from those parts. p. 384 About three months passed. The Arawaks could wait no longer, so they traveled over to Surinam, and came upon the Carib forces, collected in a fortress with enclosing palisade, similar to what they themselves had constructed for their own preservation at Waiba-diki. The Caribs were in overwhelming numbers. So the Arawaks hid themselves, and sent in one of their number to reconnoiter. This man, who could talk Carib, painted himself like one of that nation, and boldly entered the enemy's camp, where he found them all drinking. He said he was a Carib, and that he had just come from the Pomeroon looking for his family; he accepted a little drink and then took his departure, but not before discovering that very early on the following morning, long before daybreak, a crab whistle (i. e. made from a crab claw) would be blown as a signal for them to prepare for battle. The scout returned to his people, with all the information that he had gleaned. That night, every one of the Arawaks made a crab whistle, and surrounding the Caribs while they were still drinking, blew their whistles, surprising the enemy, and slew them all, save one man and woman, who begged so earnestly for their lives that only their legs were speared. It is from this couple that all the present day Caribs are derived, and this is why there are comparatively so few of them. It was we Arawaks who broke their power.
1 I am well aware of the statement often made (for example, by Boddam-Whetham, p. 250; im Thurn, p. 265) about Indians not eating birds' eggs; this, however, applies only to eggs of domesticated birds, as noted by Schomburgk in his visit to the Takutu (Sc.T. 70): "Fowls are the only animals which the Indian of Guiana domesticates . . . ; but he raises them only for his diversion, as he makes neither use of their eggs nor of their flesh." Crévaux (164), in French Guiana, speaking of fowls and eggs, says that these are not eaten by the Oyambis, nor by the Roucouyennes. On his asking the chief for the reason, the latter told him that, in spite of his advanced age, he still wished to have children and that the eggs of all species of birds were preserved for the old people of both sexes. I am given to understand that the aboriginal Guiana receipt for cooking eggs is as follows: Break a number into a pot over the fire, stir with a wooden spoon, add salt, when procurable, to taste, and then serve.—W. E. R.
1 The maraka-bakuru is a small detached house, in which in the olden times the Warru house-master would keep his arrows, clubs, tools, and implements, and other knickknacks.
2 Any snag or tree growing from out of the river-bed above the water is believed to have been planted there by the Water People, or Ho-aranni (Sect. 177), and hence is given this name.
1 Although we have historical evidence of the use of shields from the Orinoco, Cayenne, and the Amazon, this is the first reference that I have come across concerning these weapons in British Guiana.—W. E. R.