Friday, 30 September 2011

Carib Tale


Mausica estate off the Arima old road is now no more. The giant immortelles, the mother of the cocoa, no longer house hundreds of yellow-tail bird nests. They were cut down years ago to give way to a school and housing development. The river that ran behind the old estate house has all but disappeared, and the ancient forest from which it sprang has also vanished. Mausica came into our family more than two hundred years ago when a distant relation of my father’s people, who had come from France in the 1780s, married a beautiful half Spanish, half  Carib girl named Mausica.
It was she who brought with her, as her dowry, her inheritance was the ancient Spanish title to this beautiful piece of Trinidad, and it was after her that the estate was named. This truly beautiful human being, who lived to a great age and was remembered by the older people of Arima up until a generation or so ago, also left behind a wonderful colletion of folktales and memories of her mother’s people, the Caribs. This is one such tale:

How the Caribs came to the earth
Once upon a time, the Caribs lived on the moon. They didn’t call it ‘moon’, but they lived there nevertheless, and the outlines of their land on the moon can be seen by everybody on a cloudless night.
Of course, the Caribs were looking at the earth from their land on the moon, and indeed they were wondering why the earth looked so dark and gloomy. One day they decided to come over and give it a good cleaning, so it would shine brightly. They rode on some clouds, descended on the earth and started to clean it, but when they found that they had done enough, they couldn’t find their clouds again to return to the moon. They started to pray to their Most Ancient One, but to no avail. As the day grew to a close, they started to be very hungry. On the moon, they would just pick up the nourishing moon dust, mix it with water, form it into pleasant shapes, bake it and eat those moon cakes. They tried to do that with earth’s clay, but it grew hard and wasn’t edible at all.
The Most Ancient One, however, sent them some birds - which the Caribs had never seen before - which showed them how to pick berries and fruit and eat those. So the Caribs also started to eat fruit and berries, which quelled their first hunger.
After a while, however, they grew tired of the berries. They again prayed to the Most Ancient One, and again their faith was rewarded. In the forest, they found a most miraculous tree, whose branches bore different fruit, and from whose roots sprang all kinds of vegetables: plaintains, cassava, corn and yam.
The Caribs were amazed at the tree, but since they were only used to moondust, again they did not know that this was food. A wild animal came to their help again: this time a wild hog or quenk, which showed them how to rummage in the soft earth and dig out the roots and provisions. The famished Caribs washed all the provisions, put them in the unpalatable clay vessels that they had made and cooked them. What a delicious innovation!
It seemed to become clear that they would not ever be able to return to the moon. When they saw that the fruit and provisions from the miraculous tree were diminishing, again they started to worry about the future. But the Most Ancient One again helped them out: in their sleep, he whispered to them to cut branches from the tree and plant them, so that they in turn would grow to become fruit-bearing. He also told them to keep grains of maize and how to plant some of the roots so they would grow into new plants.
The Caribs did as they were told, and soon, their settlement on earth was a beautiful little village, where everybody grew their food around their ajoupas. And they stayed on earth for a long, long time.
Every now and then, they would look up at the moon on a cloudless night, and think of the times when they ancestors ate moondust and in turn looked at the dark earth. And then they would sit down and tell this story to their sons and daughters.

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