Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Carib Story of the Flood

The Carib Story of the Flood
[Note: The Caribs are Indians who formerly lived in Central America and the West Indies. When the white men came to their country, they killed or captured most of the Caribs, and now a handful of people is all that remains of the ancient race.]
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine, August 1917. Digitized by Doug Frizzle February 2012.

MANY, many years ago, when the world was new, and birds and beasts could talk to man, and the sun and moon came down from the sky and walked about the earth, the first Carib came.
But in this land there was little to eat, for man was then friendly with all the birds and beasts and had not learned to kill them and devour their flesh. Very soon the Carib noticed that the tapir went each day into the forest and returned well filled with food, and knowing he must have some spot at which he ate, the Carib spoke to him and said, "Tell me, O Maipoori, where to find the food upon which you grow so sleek and fat, for I am hungry and know not where to seek food." But the tapir was greedy, and refused to tell.
Then the Carib called the woodpecker and told him to follow the tapir and see where he went each day. The woodpecker agreed, and the next morning, when the tapir rose from his bed among the reeds by the river-side and went to seek his food, the woodpecker followed, flying from tree to tree, and ever keeping the tapir in view.
But the woodpecker was hungry, and each time he lit upon a tree, he tapped loudly with his bill, searching for worms. The tapir heard the noise, and noticing that the woodpecker followed wherever he went, he became suspicious and led the bird far astray until the woodpecker, becoming weary, flew back to the Carib and told him he could not find the tapir's feeding place. This made the Carib so angry, that he raised his club and struck at the woodpecker. The club, hitting the woodpecker's head, left a red mark of blood which the woodpeckers still wear, and to this day, whenever the bird sees a man, he utters his cry of mortal fear and hides behind a tree trunk.
Next the Carib went to the labba, or paca, and telling him of his troubles, asked the labba to follow the tapir and find out where food was so plenty. The labba agreed, and waddled after the tapir, but he soon forgot all about his bargain with the man, and ate and ate, until he could hold no more. Then at last he remembered his promise and started to go to the Carib; but he was so full he could scarcely move, and feeling drowsy after his feast, he fell fast asleep. Meanwhile the Carib was starving.
At last he started forth to seek food for himself. Presently he came upon the labba, sound asleep, with corn still in his mouth. Then the Carib, knowing the labba had found food, seized the creature by the tail and shook him. The labba's tail was so slender, and the labba was so heavy with all the food he had eaten that the tail broke off short; and ever since, labbas have had no tails.
The labba, who is a timid creature, was greatly afraid of the Carib's anger; so he quickly led him to a spot where grew a great tree. This tree was different from all other trees, for its trunk was of stone, and upon its branches grew every kind of fruit and seed and root. Some bore corn, others cassava, others beans, others sugar-cane, others plantains, others pineapples, and others such useful things as cotton, arrow-canes, and silk-grass. Some of the fruits and grains had ripened and fallen to the ground, and these the Carib ate, but he was not satisfied, so he fell to work with his ax and chopped down the tree.
The center of the trunk was hollow, and from the hole gushed a stream of water, which spread over the land and threatened to drown the man. Then the Carib seized a basket and placed it upside down on the stump. This stopped the flow of water. Then the Carib lay down and slept.
As the Carib slumbered, the monkey drew near. Seeing the basket upon the stump, and curious to see what nice thing the man had placed beneath it, he crept forward, and lifting the edge of the basket, peeped beneath. Instantly the water rushed forth stronger than ever and flooded the land, and the Carib and all the birds and animals barely saved themselves by climbing into a tall palm-tree.
There they sat and waited for the waters to go down, and the red baboon, growing impatient, opened his mouth and roared and howled so loudly that his throat was swollen. To this day all the baboons have swollen throats, and they howl and roar louder than all other creatures.
But the flood still continued, and the Carib busied himself by throwing palm nuts into the water to judge its depth by the sound of the splash, until, at last, he knew the water was going down.
Then bits of earth showed above the water, and the Carib and the birds and beasts started to descend. The trumpet-bird was in such a hurry that he flew quickly down and landed in an ants' nest, and the ants, crawling up his fat legs, bit and gnawed at them until they were thin and spindly as you see them to-day, while the pain of the ants' stings made the poor bird dance and hop about, just as trumpet-birds still hop and dance in the forest.
As soon as the Carib reached the ground, he tried to make fire by rubbing two sticks together, and at last he made a tiny spark. As he turned his back a moment, the marudi, or bush turkey, saw the spark, and thinking it a firefly, gobbled it up and flew away. The spark burned the marudi's throat; and all marudis still have their necks red and bare of feathers, where the spark burned the marudi long ago.
When the Carib missed the spark he had made, he became angry and cried out to all the birds and beasts, demanding who had stolen his fire. And all the birds and beasts answered that it was the alligator, whom they hated for his ugliness, although he was harmless and gentle in those days. Then the Carib grew furious, and seizing the alligator's tongue, tore it out. That is why the alligator has but a tiny bit of a tongue and lives by himself in the water and hates all other creatures and kills all that come near.
At last the Carib made fire and cooked some food, but in the flood most of the fruits and seeds and roots had been carried away, so the man, having gathered up as many as he could find, dug holes in the earth and planted them, that he might never go hungry again.
So to-day the fruits and seeds that once grew on the stone tree are found throughout the land, where they were carried by the waters, and man plants only the few that were saved from the flood. And that you may know this story is true, you may still see the stump of the great stone tree standing up near the river and rising far above the forest round about.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.