Taino

Taino by Jose Barreiro Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Taino by Jose Barreiro Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jose Barreiro
for translation.
    The old man had stopped. Now Macaca, the village chief, joined him and they went to stand by a tree. I noticed the old man wore a thin belt of caracol shells around his hips and held a small gourd in his hand. Now he took a plug of rolled leaves from the gourd and put it in his mouth. I could tell he was a medicine man, a behike , and that, like his cacique , Bayamo, there was no fear in him.
    The cacique , Bayamo, stood again.
    â€œTell my words to the Guamíquina,” the cacique said, and I stood by him to hear him better.
    â€œThe fire is sacred to us,” the cacique said. “We talk with our sacred fire. In fire we think not of death but of life. As for the Spirit World, as I said, our grandparents await us there.”
    The cacique himself nodded at the admiral, but warily.
    Again, I translated his words and, again, the admiral was taken aback. Momentarily, his face looked flush and his eyes darted about.
    â€œWe are going now,” he announced, standing, though with a slight wobble. He stared at the cacique , who stared back. “The fire is good,” the old cacique said. I translated. The admiral stared at him. “Tell him that fire burns,” he said.
    Then the curse was pronounced upon him.
    The gnarled old man, the behike of Bayamo standing by the women’s council, cleared his nose and throat, then coughed into his left palm. Cupping the thick snot with his right hand, he walked between the fire and the admiral, suddenly showing the gob directly to the admiral. “With this I will teach you humility,” he whispered harshly, in Taíno. “The door to your dreams, I close.” The admiral turned quickly to face him and our soldiers stepped up too.
    The old man had no fear in him at all, his palm and fingers slicing through space at the admiral. “Hell is in your dreams if you, a far-seeing man, commit the deeds that are in your mind,” he said.
    A soldier drew his sword, sensing the old man’s hostility.
    â€œDon’t quarrel here,” the admiral told the soldier.
    With the growing sense of threat, the admiral regained his composure. He felt the men of Bayamo might overcome our small troop of not quite twenty. “Our business is over here,” he said and ordered Captain Herrera to organize the troop. The soldiers and sailors surrounded the admiral, and as we began to walk, he asked what the old man had said at the end.
    â€œHe said to watch your dreams,” I said. “It was a kind of farewell gesture.”
    The guanguayo had power, I knew, particularly for Bayamo’s people. Behike men like the gnarled old-timer meant everything they said. For myself, I knew they would not attack us under the circumstances, and indeed they lit resin torches and thick, rolled tobaccos and led us down to the shore, singing once again. They carried dozens of baskets full of foods for the ships. But the admiral had been shown a guanguayo , cohoba medicine, teacher of our people, veil of water between the worlds. Don Christopherens moved stridingly, in measured long steps, but even so, walking to the boats he stumbled several times. Later, climbing on ship, he tripped and had to hang by an elbow from a net while sailors hauled him on board.
    We sailed on for many more weeks during this journey, the admiral intent on proving Cuba a peninsula of the mainland. The weeks dragged on and fewer and fewer of his officers believed him. Twice, out of spite, I reminded him of the words of Bayamo’s young chief on the island nature of the Cuba. He had me flogged the second time—five swift ones from the many-tailed whip. For that I cursed him myself and intoned the guanguayo of the dark over him as we sailed for long weeks among the islands. And it happened that as the weeks rolled on, he slept less and less, and I believe that special curse, which he now and forever carried from the people of Bayamanacoel, blocked the doors between his waking

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