Thursday 11 August 2011


Hummingbird gone or how the Pitch Lake came to be
from the diary of Valentine Rostant, approx. 1854
Down beside the loathly Pitch Lake
In the stately Morichal
Sat an ancient Spanish Indian
Peering through the columns tall.
Watching vainly for the flashing
Of the jewelled Colibri
Listening vainly for the humming
Round the honey-blossomed tree.
“Few,” he sighed, “they come, and fewer,
To the Cocorite bowers;
Murdered madly through the forests,
Which of yore were theirs - and ours.”
By there come a local hunter,
Lithe and lusty, sleek and strong,
Rolling round his sparkling eyeballs,
As he loped and lounged along.
Rusty firelock on his shoulder;
Rusty cutlass on his thigh;
Never jollier British subject
Rollicked underneath the sky.
British law to give him safety,
British fleets to guard his shore,
And a square of British freehold
He had all we have, and more.
Healthy, happy, silly, kindly,
Neither care nor toil had he,
Save to work an hour at sunrise,
And then hunt the Colibri.
Round the palm-stems, round the creepers,
Flashed a feathered jewel past;
Ruby-chested, topaz-throated,
Plucked the Cocorite bast.
Up then went the rusty muzzle,
“Dat de tent I shot today.”
But out sprang the Indian shouting
Balked the hunter of his prey.
“Eh! you Señor Trinidada,
What dis new ondacent plan?
Spoil a genl’man’s chance ob shootin’?
I as good as any man.”
Stately, courteous, stood the Indian;
Pointed through the palmtree shade;
“Does the hunting gentleman then
Know how yon Pitch Lake was made?
Once that loathly Pitch Lake yonder
Was a garden bright and fair;
And the Chaymas off the mainland
Built their palm ajoupas there.
How they ghrove, and how they fattened,
Hale and happy, safe and strong;
Passed the lifelong days in feasting,
Passed the days in dance and song.
Till they cruel grew, and wanton;
Till they killed the Colibris.
Then outspoke the Great Good Spirit
Who can see through all the trees.
Said: ‘And what have I not sent you,
Wanton Chaymas, many a year?
Lappe, agouti, cachicamo,
Quenk and Guazu-pita deer.
Sent rich plantains, food of angels,
Rich pineapple, food of kings;
Grudged you none of all my treasures
Save these lovely useless things.’
But the Chaymas’ ears were deafened,
Blind their eyes and could not see
how a blissful Indian’s spirit
Lived in every Colibri.
Till one evening roared the earthquake;
Monkeys howled and parrots screamed;
And the Indians at morning,
Gathered here as men who dreamed.
Sunk were gardens, sunk ajoupas,
Hut and hammock, man and hound;
And above the Chaymas village’
Boiled with pitch the cursed ground.
Full, and too full, safe and too safe -
Hunter man, take care, take care.
He that wantons with God’s bounties
Of God’s wrath had best beware.
For the saucy, reckless, heartless,
Evil days are sure in store,
You may see the Trini sinking
As the Chayma sank of yore.”
Loudly laughed that stalwart hunter -
“Eh! shat silly jumby talk,
Nyam am nyam, an money money,
Birds am birds like park am park;
And dere’s twenty tousand birdskins,
Ordered jes now from New Yark!”

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