GUYANA AMERINDIAN LEGENDS
LEGENDS OF GUYANA'S AMERINDIANS
LEGENDS OF THE ACAWOIOS
xxxxxxxx In the beginning, Makonaima, the Mighty Creator, made the beasts and birds, and every creature that lives upon the earth. And they all spoke the same language, in order that they might live in unity. But lest one should arise and oppress his brethren, Makonaima created a man to bear rule over them.
And every day as the sun waxed hot, the animals went into the forest, and in the cool of the evening they returned bearing their offerings of fruit to the man.
And it came to pass that Makonaima, seeing their peace and unity, that it was perfect, caused a great tree to spring up, whereupon grew fruit of divers kinds to be food both for man and beast.
THE MISCHIEF WROUGHT BY IWARREKA
xxxxxxxxNow in the process of time the animals and birds increased and multiplied and covered the face of the earth. So Makonaima commanded the man to hew down the tree and he gave pieces of the tree to every creature to plant at the place where they dwelt. Now the beasts and birds all labored with one accord to please man, and Makonaima their Creator. But a spirit of mischief came upon Iwarreka, the brown monkey, and he forsook his work to torment his brethren, by pulling their tails and biting them. So the rest of the animals made complaint to the man. And the man passed sentence upon the monkey, and said, "To keep your hands from mischief, you will go to that nearby spring and fill this basket with water and bring it again to me."
Now this spring was near to the place where the great tree had been cut down. And it came to pass that the man went to this place and found water flowing from the root area. And he asked the water, "For what purpose are you flowing?" And the water answered, "By sun rise tomorrow I shall cover the face of the earth." So the man prepared a wide basket , and placed this over the hole from which the water flower. And behold the issue of the water ceased.
Meanwhile the monkey had ceased from his labor. And he saw the man take the basket to the place, and when the man returned he went to see what this thing might be. And he said within himself, "Our master must keep the best fruit here for himself. I shall take some of it while I have the time." And the monkey raised the basket, and forthwith there flowed a great flood of water which bore him away, but not before the animals had heard his screams. And when they saw the waters rising, they cried to the man, "Save us before we perish." So the man led them to a high hill whereon grew cocorite trees, which he bade them climb and take refuge in the topmost branches. And the rain descended, and for the space of four days there was no sun to be seen.
After the rain had ceased for a while, the man dropped a cocorite seed. But when he heard the splash he knew that the waters still covered the face of the earth. And this he did from time to time, until he heard no splash, when he knew that the waters were abated and the ground was dry. So he descended to the ground, and behold the sun begun to shine upon earth again.
HOW THE ANIMALS AND BIRDS WERE CHANGED
xxxxxxxx Now long ago the voice of the baboon was sweet and pleasant to the ear. But when the floods were risen, his heart failed him for fear. So in sore distress he cried out with a loud voice. And though all cried out, the voice of the baboon prevailed. And as he continued to cry out his voice became a roar, and his throat grew to twice its former size. And to this day, the children of the baboon still have a large throat and a big roar.
Now before the man descended, he commanded the animals and birds to remain in the tree top lest harm should befall them. But the trumpeter bird gave no heed o his commandment, and climbed down first. "Yahgahmi, beware," cried the man, but it was too late, for the trumpeter bird had stepped into a nest of fierce ants, who began to devour the flesh from off his legs. Before the man could rescue him, scarcely more than the bones of his legs were left.
And to this day, the trumpeter birds mourn because of the thinness of their legs.
And the man took two sticks, and rubbing them together kindled a fire. But while he looked round for more fuel, the marudi bird pecked up a red glowing coal from the ground by the fire, thinking it was a large insect. And lest any other should steal it from him he swallowed it immediately. And his throat became red and inflamed as it is to this day.
Now the alligator had a very long tongue, and was withal of very good behavior. And for these reasons he was hated by the rest of the animals. And it came to pass that just as the marudi bird had gone away with the stolen coal, the alligator appeared to pay his respects to the man. And with one accord the animals lifted up their voices and cried, "Behold the thief, he took the fire." And the man, full of wrath forced open the jaws of the alligator to search for the coal. Thinking the coal was hidden by the reptile's long tongue, the man tore it out, but found nothing. And the alligator went away, and from that time forward made war on man and animals and their children to this day, for his short tongue still reminds him of the wrong done to him.
And because of their disobedience to the man, the speech of the man was taken from the animals and birds.
THE WARS WITH THE CARIBS
xxxxxxxx Now the Acawoio people dwelt of old time in mountains to the north of the mazaruni River. And it came to pass thet the Caribs made a raid into their land killing some and maiming others. Then an old chief called together his warriors and said, "the Caribs will soon again attack us, and it is here that they will come. Let us then fortify this house with a palisado." When this was done, the chief sais, "Let us now make a way underground, from this house to the valley."
Scarcely had their labor finished, when a spy whom they had sent to watch the movements of the Caribs returned, and said, "Our enemies are even now on their way to slay us." Then the old chief laughed and said, "Since we are all here, we will save the Caribs half their walk, by meeting them midway." He then led them to the banks of the Cuyuni River, where they ambushed themselves in readiness. Soon the Caribs came down the river in their woodskins, and landed on the beach beneath where the Acawoios lay in hiding. And after they had eaten they rested.
Now the chief had given a signal to the Acawoios, that at his shout, they should raise their blow-pipes and shoot a dart poisoned with wourali, at the nearest Carib. At that cry the Caribs rise up, but before they can reach their woodskins for their weapons half of them are dead men. And there were slain of the Caribs in that day two hundred men, not one escaped. And the Acawoios returned to their own place. And the old chief spoke to them again and said, "The Caribs will return bringing ten men for each warrior we have slain." And it was so. But when the Caribs came, there were few Acawoios to help the old chief. The old chief said to the women, "Wait till the fight is high, then flee along the underground way and make your escape, and we will soon follow in your steps.
So the Caribs drew near, but those in the first rank were pierced by poisoned datrts from the Acawoio warriors. Those that followed behind rushed furiously upon the palisado, but it withstood the shock. Then the Carib chief withdrew his warriors and commanded them to shoot arrows, to which ere fastened burning tufts of dried cotton, at the thatched roof of the house.
Soon the house was in flames; but to their amazement, no cry of pain or anguish came from the men inside, for the men had quickly left by the underground way. And when the fire had abated so that the Caribs could draw near, they saw no charred bones of men as they had expected; nor did they perceive the entering in of the underground way, for it was filled with ashes and smouldering wood.
And the Carib chief said to his followers, "This is sorcery. While we fear no man, we cannot prevail against spirits. Let us depart hence with speed, lest we be all dead men." So they departed to their own land, and the Carib bands came no more into the country of the Acawoios.
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