Tuesday, 16 August 2011

St. James in 1880

A visit to Peru Village, St. James in 1880

by Lafcadio Hearn

Outside the Indian goldsmith’s cabin, palm shadows are crawling slowly to and fro in the white glare, like shapes of tarantulas. Inside, the heat is augmented by the tiny charcoal furnace which glows beside a ridiculous little anvil set into a wooden block buried level with the soil. A minute of waiting in the hot silence - then, noiselessly as a phantom, the nude-limbed smith enters by a rear door, squats down, without a word, on his little mat beside his little anvil.

‘Vlé béras!’ - ‘He wants a bracelet’ explains my creole driver. The smith opens his lips to utter in the tone of a call the single syllable ‘Ra!’, thn folds his arms.

Almost immediately immediately a young Hindoo woman enters, squats down on the earthen floor at the end of the bench which forms the only furniture of the shop, and turns upon me a pair of the finest black eyes I have ever seen, like the eyes of a fawn. She is very simply clad, in a coolie robe leaving arms and ankles bare, and clinging about the figure in gracious folds; her colour is a clear bright brown - new bronze, her face a fine oval, and charmingly aquiline. Upon each arm she has at least ten heavy silver rings; there are also large silver rings about her ankles.

The smith mutters something to her in his Indian tongue. She rises, and seating herself on the bench beside me, in an attitude of perfect grace, holds out one beautiful brown arm to me that I may choose a ring.

The arm is much more worthy of attention than the rings: it has the tint, the smoothness, the symmetry, of a fine statuary’s work in metal; - the upper arm, tatooed with a bluish circle of arabesques, is otherwise unadorned, all the bracelets are on the forearm. Very clumsy and coarse they prove to be on closer examination: it is the fine dark skin which by colour contrast makes them look so pretty.

I choose the outer one, a round ring with terminations shaped like viper heads; - the smith inserts a pair of tongs between these ends, presses outward slowly and strongly, and the ring is off. It has a faint musky odour, not unpleasant, the perfume of the tropical flesh it clung to. The smith heats it red in his little furnace, hammers it into a nearly perfect circle again, shakes it, and burnishes it.

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