Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Story of the First Carib

The Story of the First Carib
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine, April 1919, Vol. 10, No. 4. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2012.

The following story is one that Carib mothers tell to their boys and girls. 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.

NOW you must know that in the days long gone, when all these things happened, men could converse with birds and beasts and could travel to Skyland as they wished. For in those days men had all the knowledge of Tuminkar, who made them.
At that time there lived a man who fell in love with a beautiful king vulture, and having won her with presents, he took her for his wife. Now when an Indian marries, he goes to his father-in-law's house to dwell until such time as he can make a house and plant a provision field for himself. So, when this young man married the king vulture maiden, he went with her to her father's home in Skyland. There he was received with feasts and dances and drinking by the king vultures who dwelt there.
But after a time the man tired of the company of the king vultures. He became lonely and longed to see his old friends on the earth.

FOR a long time he said nothing about this, but at last he told his wife and her people that he must return to earth for a visit. At this the vultures became enraged, saying he was tired of his wife and of her relatives. One word led to another until, at last, the vultures seized the man, and swooping off with him, placed him on the top of a tall Awarra palm. As the trunk of this palm is covered with thousands of sharp poisonous thorns, the poor man was in a sad plight, for he could not climb down to earth nor did he dare to venture back to Skyland.
For a long time he sat there hoping some wandering hunter might pass by, until at last a spider saw him. The spider took pity upon his position and spun a strong web down which the man slid to earth.

THE man's people were very glad to see him once more, and for many days he visited among them, but ever he thought of his vulture wife and his little son in Skyland, and again and again he tried to return, but on every occasion the angry vultures drove him back to earth. Then the man became very sad, and to all the birds and beast he told his story and his troubles. The other men laughed at him, and the beasts said that it served him right, but the birds felt sorry for him, and at last they promised they would help him fight the vultures and win back his wife.
So the man gathered a great army of birds of every kind. There were eagles and hawks, owls and macaws, parrots and toucans, herons and ibis, trumpet-birds and bush turkeys, ducks and snipe, woodpeckers and trogans, and many more, even to the saucy kiskadees and tiny hummingbirds.

WITH this great army the man set forth for Skyland. There he gave battle to the king vultures who, after a long fight, were beaten and driven from their homes and scattered far and wide. Then, having destroyed the vultures' fields and burned their houses, the birds commenced to gather up the property left by their foes. But there were so many birds and so little plunder that very soon a quarrel arose as to the division of the loot. The trumpet-bird and the heron both seized the same package, and pulling and fighting they rolled over and over in the ashes, until the trumpet-bird landed in some hot coals. The pain of the burns caused him to let go his hold, but his back was scorched and both birds were covered with ashes. That is why the heron is still gray and the trumpet-bird's back still bears the brown scorched spot and the ashy-gray feathers.
Meanwhile the owl kept by himself and went prowling about to see what he could discover. At last he came upon a package neatly wrapped and strongly tied, and feeling sure that it must contain something very valuable, he carried it to a secluded spot and opened it. But the package contained darkness. It surrounded the owl, so that ever since then he has been compelled to move about in darkness and cannot bear the light of day.

AT last all the plunder had been secured, and the birds prepared to go back to earth. The eagle, who was their leader, gathered them together and called their names, to make certain they were all there. Among them he saw the kiskadee with a bandage of white cotton about his head. Now all through the battle no one had seen the kiskadee, and when the eagle asked him where he had been, the kiskadee replied that he had been wounded at the very beginning of the fight. But when the doctor-bird (the humming-bird) lifted the bandage to dress the wound, he found there was no injury at all.
Then the birds became very angry at the kiskadee for shirking his duty. They fell upon him and drove him away, declaring that forever after, he and his kind must wear a white bandage about their heads as a mark of cowardice and disgrace. So today the kiskadee has the white band about his head, and whenever he sees a hawk or eagle or other large bird, he flies into a fury and scolds and screams and impudently chases and pecks at the larger birds, although he is too cowardly to come within reach.

WHEN all the birds were ready to return to earth, the leaders looked about for the man, and then for the first time they found he had been killed by his own son during the battle. The birds made peace with the son, and he led them back to earth, for he was only half king vulture and had no place to go now that the vultures had been driven away.
When he reached the earth, he grew to be a mighty warrior, and marrying the daughter of a great chief he founded the fierce and powerful Carib tribe against whom no other Indians could stand. And in memory of the first Carib, who was half king vulture and half man, the Caribs to this day wear upon their foreheads a patch of the snow-white down of the king vulture.

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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.