Thursday, 12 April 2012

On the Return of the Medicine Stick

On the Return of the Medicine Stick
From a letter held in the NMAI Archives. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2012.
001_281_04 NMAI

Remedios, July 2, 1957.
Mr. Federico G. Sagel, Governor of the Province David
Mr. Governor:
For your information and whatever results may come there from I permit myself to furnish you with the following information:
On last June 28 I was informed that on the night of this day a North American citizen would reach this town with a special mission.
A sacred Medicine cane (stick) was to be returned to the descendants of the king called Montezuma, the latter living in the region of Chami in this province. Montezuma was chief of the tribe of Guaymies Indians and at some other time he gave the above mentioned cane to a writer of British nationality. After the death of this man the cane was to be returned to its original possessor—king Montezuma.
Since I had also been informed that a special commissioner proposed to transfer himself to Chami to comply with the mission he had been entrusted with and considering the bad state of the roads through the rugged mountains in this rainy season, I arranged to have the family of Montezuma come to this town. Among the members of the family was Ignacius Montezuma the direct descendant of the king called Montezuma. A ceremony of the return of the mentioned cane was to be held at Chami upon the meeting of the mentioned persons .
Well, before the ceremony took place and with the object of being better informed about so important an affair, I had an interview with Dr. Clyde Keller, the special commissioner, in his room in the "Hotel Orient".
On the morning of Sunday June 30th, being accompanied by the members of the teaching personnel and Mr. Luciano Guerra G. our interpreter, I had the interview with Dr. Keller. The interview was continued in the auditorium of the school of theoretical-practical telegraphy, with students and professor Michall Bermudez of the said school taking part.
When we had just begun the conversation with Dr. Keller who could make himself fairly well understood in Spanish, and we had explained to him the purpose of the visit, he showed himself to be genial from the start and ready to please us in our objective.
In this way we came to know, according to the legend left by the writer A. Hyatt Verrill, the way the sacred cane came in A. Hyatt's possession.
He came to the native mountain range of the Guaymies and he had brought about many cures and other favors to the indians who, in gratitude, after having a special ceremony, made him a brother of the race and doctor of the tribe. At that time they delivered to him the sacred cane of the medicine men (doctors) which was to be returned to them after the death of the writer to be deposited in the sacred altar of the Guayaies. The cane was given to Verrill in 1927 or, perhaps, before by the three noblemen of that time who were Neonandi, Montezuma and another who was known as the Great Predictor (predictor, preacher). Mr. Verrill was baptized by the indians giving him the name of Cuvibora Nandi.
Later Dr. Keller showed us the cane which measures 35 inches long with the upper part of it having a form of a half body with a circular band on the head, then a smooth part to take the hold of it, then the form of a frog and finally a serpent coiling around the rest of the cane.
According to the translation made by the mentioned interpreter Mr. Guerra G. from the description made by Dr. Clyde Keller the following is the significance of each of these symbols:
The symbols of the cane possessed by Mr. Verrill are exactly similar and have the same significance as the symbols of that of Cunas of San Bias and other tribes of North and South America and can be interpreted as follows:
The human figure is the Doctor who is in the heavens; the band around the head is the celestial circle, of the Sun God in which he makes his round during one year according to the signs of the Zodiac. The Doctor is standing on the tree which represents the Tree of Life, Sometimes called also the Tree of the World. It is in reality the umbilical cord of the Great Mother Earth when she gives birth to her children—the plants, animals and men. The frog is the symbol of the midwife of the Mother Earth. The serpent coiled around the cane represents the power of Creation of the Sun God. The name of the cane is a religious secret.
It was also found out during the course of the interview that the English writer Mr. Verrill died two years ago and that his wife Ruth Verrill who resides in Chiefland, Florida is by race an U. S. Indian and she knows the Indian secrets and symbolical meanings. She has sought to return the sacred cane and to that end she commissioned the interviewed Dr. Keller, ex-professor of Harvard University and now professor of the Georgia State College for women. At the time of interview he was in Panama making studies of the Cuna customs and symbols of San Blas and at the same time to return the Sacred Cane to the Guaymies Indians.
Therefore, in the afternoon of yesterday, Monday first of the current month there was performed a small ceremony in front of the City Hall of the Town of Remedies. During the ceremony the commissioned Dr. Keller returned the Sacred Cane to the native Ignacius Montezuma descendant of the nobleman Montezuma who died about four years ago.
Reserved like all those of his race Ignacius Montezuma said little. The Indians who attended the ceremony were photographed; some presents sent by Mrs. Verrill together with a letter and various photographs were given to the Montezuma family.
The cane does not have much artistic appearance which indicates that it was carved by our Indians, but keeping in mind the solemn affirmation of Dr. Clyde Keller with respect to the symbols of canes of other tribes of North and South America, there is one question that even Dr. Keller himself could not answer when interviewed. According to our interlocutor the writer Verrill in his work "Thirty Days in the Forest" confesses that he was unable to obtain the secrets of the tribes. His opinion on this matter based on his own knowledge, is that among the Guaymies there exist a more advanced civilization than that of Cunas Indians and that it can be assumed that some Aztec may have migrated during the epoch of colonization of shortly before. That could be gathered from the Guaymis customs, some vocal sounds (speech) and the title "Montezuma"
I have in my possession several pictures of the writer A. Hyatt Verrill among which stands out in importance the one which serves as a study of ancient Guaymi apparel and which has the following legend: Cuvibora Nandi. "The white stranger who came over the sea to become a medicine chief. Dressed in Guaymi medicine chief costume and ceremonial face paint - A. Hyatt Verrill.
Also I have in my possession two pictures of Ruth Verrill, the widow of the writer and one that was taken with the noblemen of the Guaymies. Besides this I obtained from the Indians the letter sent by the widow to the Montezuma family promising them to return this document and other proofs within 15 days.
Mr. Governor you, therefore, will decide what historic importance this matter may have without losing sight of the agreement I have made with the Indians.
Of the Governor very attentive and sure server
(signed) Lazare Serrano S. (Justice of Peace) or (Mayor) of the district.
Note: The greater part of this work has been edited (compiled) using the expressions obtained from Dr. Clyde Keller and translated by our interpreter Mr. Luciano Guerra G.
This is true copy of another copy which is found in the archives of the Justice Dept. of this District.
Remedios, December 19, 1958. (signed) Victor A. Ruiz.
Secretary of the municipal Justice
Translated from Spanish by Alexander Zoueff
January 15, 1959.

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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.