Wednesday 11 January 2012

The Caribs fear the Horses

In the year of our Lord 1533, the Spanish establishment on the island, named for the Trinity, discovered by the Grand Admiral forty-five years ago, was comprised of just one pueblo at a place described by the naturals as Mucurapo.
It was a fortified camp and consisted of thirty-one houses with kitchens, stables, smithy and storehouses.
Before the attack in September of that year, it was protected by a singly stockade, but now a double wall was constructed of heavy balks of timber, filled between with earth. This wall was 180 paces each way, pierced with loop holes and flanked by bastions mounted with cannons from the ships. The strength of the last Indian attack had clearly left and indelible impression upon the Spaniards. Antonio de Herrera in his 'Historia General de Las Indias 1730' cited a report by Antonio Sedeño to His Most Catholic Majesty's Audencia at Madrid:
"Thus we waited on watch until four o'clock in the early morning of September 13th, 1533, as dawn was breaking upon the pueblo and before the guards were relieved or the rounds made, a great number of Indians, all clothed, swept down upon us, with loud cries contrary to their usual mode of attack.
They at once surrounded the pueblo on all sides and launched the attack with great courage and persistence as though they had been Turks, and in half-an-hour about 15—20 of our men had been wounded.
So many were the arrows that they covered the ground. As the horses were stabled in the middle of the pueblo, the Indians were not able to get at them through the defenses, but by shooting arrows high up they managed to wound five out of the eight before steps were taken to cover them. These horses were the principal reserve and would be urgently required later, as we felt certain that without them we should all be killed. We all agreed that if these horses were lost, that day or soon after, it would be necessary to abandon the Island with the loss of everything.
We then sent out the horses to resist and break up this furious attack. As soon as the first horseman was seen, the Indians began to shout loudly, 'Horses, Horses, Horses,' and to turn and fly. As the other horsemen followed and wounded and killed the Indians, they broke completely and fled to the hills, leaving on the battlefield many bows, arrows, shields and war clubs.  We killed about 30 Indians and captured three alive, from whom we learnt that many tribes had united to make this assault. They had agreed to take arms to kill the Spaniards and drive them out of the Island. If this attempt were not successful they had agreed to return again in eight days in still greater numbers to make the Island free of us.
This was sure to happen sooner or later and our men were depressed at this news, for the punishment inflicted by the horsemen was not sufficiently great. We searched the battlefield and collected our wounded, about 20 or more. Amongst these was the Teniente of Paria who had been one of the horsemen; his horse had been killed by two arrows tipped with poison, so that it died raving mad."
The tribal people generally referred to as Caribs were terrified of horses. The Spaniards with iron helmets and breast plates were recognisable as men, but horses, it would appear, touched some nerve, some primal fear. The second battle of Mucurapo lasted about an hour and  half, involved some 3,000 Caribs. It commenced in the pre-dawn hours. The warriors had moved silently across the Savannah and through the high forest of giant silk cotton trees. This attack was in response to one launched upon an Indian village by the Spaniards some months before when at the one in the morning they had fallen upon a sleeping village. The Indians had engaged in a desperate defense and refused to yield. The Spaniards set fire to the huts so as to bring out the men, the women and the children, and by the fierce light of their blazing homes, this bitter and unequal fight continued to the end.
Event he women and children submitted voluntarily to the flames rather than surrender. Many warriors died, a handful fled into the northern mountains. Of the Spaniards, ten had died "raving in madness' from the wounds of poisoned arrows. The Caribs took the fort by surprise and penetrated the stockade of the Spanish camp and were engaged in hand to hand fighting (K.S. Wise). It was only the timely action by the horsemen which saved the day for Spain.
It was now evident that the Carib people had gathered in strength and were not afraid to die for their Iere. Antonio Sedeño knew that the margin by which he and his men had survived was very narrow. Fourteen Spaniards had been killed, and only 30 men remained. All the horses had been wounded. There was great dissent in the camp at Mucurapo. Antonio de Herrera declared that this conquest of Trinidad was doomed to failure and that he intended to leave for the main land.
That night, the rations almost done, they received food from the cacique Maruana, leader of the south of the island. the Caribs, as well received fresh reinforcements and a large quantity of poisonous arrows. From the fort, their encampments could be seen dotting the forested areas of what is now Woodbrook and St. James. The campfires in the fort were piled high with logs and blazed brightly as the sun settled into the Dragon's Mouth, turning gold to red with the intensity of primeval volcanoes. Starving sentinels scanned the forest for a sign that could signal attack from the Caribs. The night grew inordinately still.
Sedeño had received news that no assistance nor supplies could be expected in Trinidad. Many men had deserted, preferring to risk the crossing to the main in rotting and unsafe pirogues than to face the poisoned arrows of the Caribs. Dissatisfaction and discouragement enhanced by the absence of adequate supplies of food had grown since March 1534 the rest of his men mutinied against Sedeño and demanded to be led away from Trinidad where only death and destruction awaited them. That night, he was arrested by his own men and removed to the mainland. The second battle of Mucurapo had been won by the Caribs.

(from "Chronicles of the Carib Wars", K.S. Wise)

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