GUYANA AMERINDIAN LEGENDS

LEGENDS OF GUYANA'S AMERINDIANS


LEGENDS OF THE WARAUS


THE DISCOVERY OF THE EARTH

In the beginning the Warau people lived in the land above the sky. Here were no animals and fishes, but only birds.

And it came to pass that Okonorote in his wanderings saw a bird of surpassing beauty, such as had not been seen in the land of the Waraus to that day, and he said to himself, 'I will not return to my house until I have slain that bird, and made its feathers into a glistening diadem, and then will I return to my people."

So Okonorote went forth on his way, but though many times he saw the bird, yet he could not get within bowshot. Now it came to pass that after many days the bird alighted in a clump of high grass, and Okonorote crawled aver the ground till he came within bowshot, when suddenly the bird few up; but it was too late, the Warau's arrow flew through the air and the bird fell lifeless to the ground.

Full of joy Okonorote sprang up and ran to the spot where he thought the bird had fallen, but it was not to be seen. He searched everywhere, till at last he saw a deep pit with sides steep and smooth. Lying down, he peered over the ledge; he held his breath in amazement, for far below he saw great forests, wide savannahs, and great rivers white and glistening in the morning light. "Surely," he said, "it is a dream and I shall awake and find myself within my father's house." But as he continued to gaze he saw the deer, the jaguar, and other strange creatures, for until then the Waraus did not know that there were animals as well as birds.

Okonorote hastened back to his father's house, and there in the hearing of all the Warau people, he declared what he had seen. Many young men went to the place of which he had spoken, but the old men sat still for his words seemed to them like idle tales.

But after many days the young men returned and said that the words of Okonorote were true. Then the old men listened to the request of Okonorote, that a rope ladder should be prepared whereby he might descend to this strange land: "For," said he, "it is expedient that I go and see if these creatures are useful, for if it be as I hope, then the Waraus will benefit thereby, and if I loose my life, only one man is slain."

And his words pleased the people, so all went into the forest to pick cotton, and after many months a long rope ladder was made. And when it was found too short, more was added to the top, till at last the end caught tight on the trees below.

Then Okonorote began to descend the swaying ladder. At last he stood on the ground, and gazed in wonderment at the beasts and reptiles, who looked back with fearless eyes. Thus a young deer became an easy mark for his bow, and soon he had kindled a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood. He roasted the flesh and ate, and found it good for food.

And he returned to his country, ascending the ladder until his foot was on the topmost rung. He took with him a goodly portion of the meat, and when his people had tasted thereof, they yearned for more, and said, "We will go to this world beneath." And after much labour they all reached the earth without hurt, save one woman, the last to leave, who became wedged in the hole. Al efforts to release her were of no avail, and there she remains to this day, and that is why we cannot see through the sky.

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THE DROUGHT

Guyana was not as now, a land of many waters, only a few small rivers were to be seen. And it came to pass that when the clouds withheld thrir rain, that the Warau people suffered thirst, and they said one to another, "Oh that we were in our former country; let us now call upon Kanonatu, the Great spirit, least we all be consumed by this drought." And so they made petition --- "Karima, father, we have forsaken you, and so suffer this great misery. All things are at your command, for you are Ka-idamo, master of the world. Save us before we perish."

And Kanonatu, throned on high, heard their prayer, and soon the heavens were black with clouds, and the rain fell, and through the parched land flowed great and mighty rivers which continue to this day.

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THE FLOOD

And it came to pass that after many generations, the people again forsook kanonatu, and no more gave thanks to him for the sun and rain, but they gave themselves up to their evil passions and to deeds of violence. And Kanonatu punished their offences by sending a mighty flood upon the earth.

But eight men and six women found favour in his sight, and before he sent the rain he commanded them to make them a raft of bahbi wood, whereon they might be preserved in safety from the evil spirits of the waters.

And after many days the rain ceased, and soon dry land appeared. In the midst of this new land there was a small lake. And Kanonatu said, "In the rivers of this land you may bathe, but in the waters of the lake you shall not bathe or else evil will befall you."

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THE STORY OF KOROBONA

Now it came to pass when the warning of Kanonatu had been practically forgotten, that two Warau maidens chanced to walk by the lake. Korobona, the elder of the two, said to her sister, "come sister, bathe with me in these clear waters." Straightaway she plunged in, followed by her sister. And she beheld a piece of wood standing upright in the water, and knew not that it was charmed, but took it in her hand.

Now, at the bottom of the lake lay a Wahma spirit, bound by a mighty spell, which could not be broken until someone had shaken the wood. And immediately the spirit rose to the surface. Now the spirit had the form of a man, and took hold of Korobona, and said, "O woman, you must leave your father's house and live with me beneath the waters." And she went away with him.

And it came to pass that Korobona conceived, and the spirit let her go to her own home. When the time drew near that she should be delivered of her child, her four brothers came each with a club in his hand with which to slay the child. But Korobona prayed to them to have mercy, and they repented of the evil deed that they had planned to commit.

Now it came to pass that after the birth of the child, the water spirit was seen near to the lake. And sometimes it appeared in the form of a serpent, but sometimes it would stand on the shore in the form of a man. And again it would be seen by the water-side, from its loins upwards in the form of a man, and from its loins downwards in the form of a serpent. And the watchers trembled for fear and said, "Who can withstand the power of this dread Wahma?"

And it came to pass that Korobona heard thereof, and went to the lake drawn there by a strange power. The spirit appeared first in the form of a serpent then in the form of a man, and seized Korobona.

Again Korobona conceived and brought forth a man child. She laid the child beneath a thicket and departed, but her bowels yearned after her son, and she returned and nourished him for many days.

And a certain man passed by that way, and hearing a noise in the thicket turned aside to see what it might be. When he saw that it was Korobona with her child, he looked for her brothers and told them all hat he had seen.

Filled with anger, they ran to the place and found their sister and the child just as the man had said. Two of them dragged Korobona home, and two of them pierced the child with an arrow, and left him there, supposing that he was dead. The brothers then said, "Our sister is mad, let her go and bury the child."

Korobona returned and found that the child was no dead. And the child recovered and increased in wisdom and stature, so that there was no other child like him in the country.

And it came to pass that on a certain day the four brothers went hunting, and they saw the footprint of their sister. Soon they came upon her and she fled in haste before them, and came to her son. And standing in front of him she tried to hide his body with her own. But her brothers were skilled in the use of the bow, and soon the child was dead, pierced with many arrows, howbeit not one had touched the mother. Then the slayers cut their victim into small pieces. And Korobona cursed them saying, "Woe to you, his blood be on your heads, from this spot shall proceed the woes of the Waraus."

And Korobona sat on the ground, and suffered neither bird nor beast to touch the corpse. She would have perished with hunger had not her sister taken compassion on her and brought her food. And she covered her son with leaves and red flowers, and the body remained uncorrupted. Every day she added fresh flowers, until she had built a large heap. And it fell on a day that the heap moved, and she heard a voice saying, "Weep no more, your son shall now avenge his death." And a head rose from the mound, followed by the body of a mighty warrior fully armed. His skin shone like copper, and on his cheeks and brow were the marks of red. So the first Carib arose. All who dared oppose him he slew, and the other Waraus fled to the swamps. He took their daughters for wives, and his children increased, and became a mighty race, dread enemies to the Waraus. But there were many good men among the Waraus, and when these were slain they became humming-birds.

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ABORE THE FATHER OF INVENTIONS

Now there was a certain Warau woman, and her name was Wowtah, and she had a servant, a young man named Abore. And Abore was skilled in the making of bows, arrows, and many other things. But Wowtah was hard hearted, and took him away from the things in which he delighted, and sent him every day into the forest to gather wild honey.

And it fell on a day that he went out as was his wont to gather honey. Sad at heart, he did not notice where his steps led him, until he spied a young Indian maid sitting down on the root of a tree. Now she was very beautiful and well favored. And the young man saw that the damsel was a stranger, and passed without notice, for such was the custom amongst the Waraus. But the damsel called to him and said, "Hail, Abore; I knew your father and mother, and am glad this day to see their son. But tell me , why day after day do you search in the holes of the trees?' And Abore answered, "I search these old trees for wild honey to take to my kinswoman Wowtah." Then the damsel said, "Abore, Wowtah is a spirit, such also am I. We spirits assume any figure we please; some appear as bush-hogs, some as dogs, some as jaguars, or snakes. But Wowtah chose to be queen of the frogs, and it was then her delight to frighten other creatures with her croak. And Wowtah saw you, Abore, when a child, and in the form of a woman deceived your parents, who took her into their house. And soon your parents died, and Wowtah caused you to grow with haste from childhood to manhood. And now it is her purpose to make you her husband.

When she had made an end of speaking these words, Abore said, "your words seem true, When Wowtah is very pleased she will croak, she croaks at the honey, she croaks at me. But I will never be a husband to Wowtah. Tell me kind spirit, what shall I do?" And the spirit answering said, "Heed well what I say. Her charm is powerful to bring you back on land, but flee over the sea, and her spell over you will be broken." And the spirit vanished out of his sight.

Abore finished his task of gathering honey and took the spoil to Wowtah. When he lay down to sleep that night he had already determined to rise early on the following morning while it was still dark and flee away. From dawn until the going of the sun he journeyed, but on the morning of the second day, Wowtah stood before him. And he was filled with great fear and returned with her to her house. And many times he tries to escape, and as many times in the same manner he was brought back. So he determined to slay her, but found the she bore a charmed life.

then Abore remembered the words of the good spirit, "Flee over the sea." But in his despair, the words seemed like a mockery. He thought of the two ways which the Waraus then knew, of travelling by water. Sometimes men used to travel on logs of wood with their feet hanging down in the water. Sometimes they made rafts of light branches with which they conveyed their children over the rivers. But neither of these would do for travelling across the sea. He then perceived that a half-gourd floated easily, but it could not be easily guided. And so he made a model from a long narrow seed-pod. Then he formed a larger vessel in wax after the same pattern, which he called woibaka (canoe). He then tries his craft at the waterside, but Wowtah came and broke it into pieces.

Again he made a canoe of wax, for though he knew that wood was better, he know that a wooden canoe would take longer to make, and he was afraid of being discovered a second time.

When it was made and provisions prepared to last many days, he thought of a plan to entice Wowtah away from the water side. And so he asked her to go with him to see a nest of fine honey deep in the heart of a large hollow tree. No sooner has she entered the hole than he drove a great wedge into the opening, making her a prisoner.

In great haste he launched his canoe, and as he passed his neighbors on the bank of the river, he called out, "Ho, Waraus, this is the shape which your vessels must have; make your woibakas so, but make them of wood." Soon Abore passed out of sight, and they saw him no more.

But Wowtah, finding that she could not escape, again took the form of a frog, and so was able to pass through a small hole. And every evening to this day, she has been heard near to the water side, croaking for Abore.

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