Wednesday, June 14, 2006

14 Taínas and the Price of Relief

14 Taínas and the Price of Relief

It was the early 1950s I was on the Cauto plains, on a rare visit to the city of Bayamo. Generally I just passed through this city going on to Guisa and from there to the Casa of the Generales. Here the Taíno capital of Cacique Bayamo had once stood in tidy cleanliness of ordered rows of thatched bohíos and raked sand around the Zemí idols of its batey. In those ancient times, the nearby Bayamo River, flowed deep and clear between well forested banks; upstream gold nuggets glinted in the water.

The Bayamo River was always of fascinating interest. In the earlier years of my times in Cuba, Plácido, the Haitian-Cuban who with his brother dried the coffee at the Casa de los Generales, went each winter to the Cauto plains to earn money cutting cane. Plácido, told me that one day swimming in the lower part of the river he had dived into the deeps of these waters and had seen, and been frightened by, the sudden apparition of a great ray. The sting whip tailed libuza devil fish had come up stream from the sea swimming as if flying on its great rippling fin-wings.

The lower reaches of the Bayamo River, which by those days of the early 1950s had lost its gallery forest trees to massive creciente floods, flowed strongly in snake like curves by the partially walled army barracks south of the city. Its waters were stained a light red-yellow by the iron-rich loess-like clay-soil of the flatlands. Where river periodically flooded this part of the alluvial plain, a Chinese-Cuban family grew vegetables to sell in town. The river also provided the water to bottle the popular and fine tasting dark brown gaseous mate drink Materva® which was made in the increasingly industrial city.

The troubles of 1953

This barracks "Carlos Manuel de Céspedes" was the same one attacked on July 26, 1953 by Castro forces, in a secondary move intended to support the main attack on the Guillermón Moncada Cuartel in Santiago further to the east.

However, I heard from Enrique Sanz, my stepfather, something about the attack on the Bayamo Garrison by Castro forces was done to co-opt a planned attack there by Acción Auténtica, Lauro Blanco’s anti-Batista rebel force. Somehow this involved a hideout in a building under construction nearby, perhaps one being built by the Bayamo Vallejos. None of this is sure, and yet was emblematic of the confusion of times

When it started in Bayamo, a school friend Enrique Céspedes, who was at home in Bayamo on vacation, once told me that when he heard the shots. Céspedes thought they were fireworks to celebrate the 26th of July feast of Saint Ann, but wondered why they being set off so early in the morning. I still remember Céspedes remembering that time and recalling his words in his rhythmic Bayamo accent:

“¿Que están haciendo tirando cohetes a esta hora?”

The attack on the Bayamo Cuartel was even more unsuccessful than the assault on Moncada. As the attackers moving across a field towards the un-walled, but barbwire defended rear of the cuartel, they stumbling noisily across discarded empty food cans unintentionally alerted the Batista forces inside. It is said that in this confused action the attackers facing powerful fire retreated. Only one of the attackers was hit and he was wounded.

As mentioned earlier, Cousin MJ Norman, who went to school in Bayamo and had nothing to do with this, was arrested and held in the Calixto García Cuartel in Holguín on his way to Havana, but he was released later through intervention of Uncle Calixto Leonel. However, perhaps ten of the twenty five who attacked the Bayamo Cuartel were later captured and summarily executed; others were hidden by people in the city.

As almost everybody knows the Castro brothers survived the attack at Moncada. Yet less well known is this escape was in part due to the circumstance that Raul Castro is in someway related to Batista or to a senior Batista ally .

My brother Lionel and I with our other relatives were miles away at La Casa de los Generales, between the Guamá and Bayamo Rivers at Entre Ríos. Suddenly Uncle Calixto Leonel, who had become a pro-Batista politician, warns us to stay at in the great house, and drives the sapa war-surplus truck north to help protect the family in Bayamo, and later MJ in Holguín.

It is not certain from where Uncle Calixto Leonel’s influence derives from. Justo García-Reyneri a member of Batista’s cabinet, is descended from great grandfather Calixto García Iñiguez first son Calixto. This Calixto Garcia Velez died tragically in a notorious 19th Century tragic love triangle of murder suicide; and, so the tale goes, his tomb was visited for years in the late 19th Century in mysterious mourning by a black-veiled beauty.

Aunt Bitina’s first son, her love child, the yet another Calixto we called Cali, is supposedly descended from a relative of Mambí and Batista linked Cuban President Federico Laredo Brú. And as mentioned before Batista’s father Belisario fought in the War of Independence in one of grandfather Calixto (García -Iñiguez) Enamorados’s regiments. It is also possible that since MJ was innocent, the rough justice of those days prevailed. Given the times. I prefer to believe that since MJ had “godfathers” his guilt had to be substantiated before he could be murdered by the Batista Forces. What ever my cousin MJ lived.

Peace returns to our land

Then peace returned to our land. The war against Batista had not begun in earnest. As I said I was in Bayamo. It must have been in the dry season, because I do not recall rain, then it was dry, but not as much as now, the wind gently blew the dust of the plains along the broad streets of the city. That day was not too hot, nor as dry and dusty as it would become in the present twenty first century when that once fertile land turns to barren desert.

MJ was friends with a certain Bayamo City youth, a young communist student of middle class culture with the strange, vaguely hypocritical, prudity often associated with Latin American marxist ideology. This friends name appropriately enough was Iván. In those gone bye days to be a marxist was considered either a matter of family religion, or as a result of curiosity in youth. Then only a decade had passed since gifted communist poet Pablo Neruda, more famous for his ode to Stalin, had met the Cuban dictator and in the poetic prose “Saludo a Batista” compared him to Tito and other communists.

On one of my rare visits to Bayamo, I met Iván Leiva because he was a school friend of cousin MJ, and his family somehow related to our family’s history. He lived with Ata, an elderly woman, not a relative, but close to the family because she knew of grandfather and grandmother when they were in Montevideo, on Cuban consular service.

Ata’s house was of some size standing alone on a large lot along the north side of one of the wide avenues that characterize that city. The house, if I remember correctly, had a waterproof galvanized metal roof. The front of the house was set back from the street behind a carefully pruned flower garden kept tidily behind a wrought iron fence.

She was a young nubile Güajira, thus affectionately called by the cherished diminutive Güajirita, a country woman of Taíno customs. . Thus, I call her La Güajirita for I never knew her name since Iván never told me. She, I am sure, had once lived in a rural house thatched with penca from royal palm fronds.

La Güajirita had been Iván’s lover, he the far too serious lyceum student told me; but her custom of showing her availability and her invitation to immediate coitus by grasping his penis while on a public street had shocked him to protesting tears.

Not knowing of her people’s far freer customs, Iván had slandered her calling her “Puta!” He was city folk. Here we talk of the wilds of the mountains and the young Güajira’s people. Iván definitely did not belong to the Güajiro culture.

I cannot recall the name of that avenue where Iván lived, perhaps as cousin MJ believes it was Avenida José Martí. I could also have been Pío Rosado, Santa Lucía, or the avenue named after the poet and Patriot Juan Clemente Zenea. Although these names relate in one way or the other (even Lucía is very common family name) to the general this was not the street named after Great Grandfather, General Garcia. Nor was the little street directly facing the main gate of the Bayamo Cuartel where grandmother Rafaela Ramírez had a city house.

MJ tells me that Iván was somehow involved with Castro in the revolution against Batista. Iván was once jailed in the Cuartel in Bayamo when MJ was there, but MJ does not remember (or never did know) what charges were made against Iván.

Cousin MJ concludes that Iván was more of a political actor than a revolutionary. Iván it seems was released soon after, suggesting that he was probably not part of the resistance because, except in the last months of this War, a least the overt contingent of the Cuban Communist party supported the Batista government.

Bayamo history

Bayamo is one of the oldest cities in Cuba, it is older than the 1513 date usually given for its establishment by Diego Velazquez. During Spanish rule, city’s inhabitants had a long history of rebellion, fighting, killing pirates, and smuggling.

This place that became the Spanish Colonial city of San Salvador of Bayamo was built on the north side of the once great river, which flowed into the Cauto River making a smugglers’ route through the tangle of delta swamps to the sand banks and islands of the Golfo de Guacanayabo south of Cuba. Some say, that beneath the waters of Guacanayabo lay the remains of Atlantis. In Spanish colonial times and into the pre-Castro era of Cuba’s republic the people of Bayamo were known for their courage and independence; unlike almost all other cities of Cuba pirates never had taken this place. Instead the pirates had died on the banks of the river.

The people of Bayamo terrorized the Inquisitors who found it inhospitable to their brutalities and soon fled the place. In the Ten Year War (1868-1878) it was burned to the ground by its inhabitants to avoid surrendering it to the Spanish. In 1895, early in the Cuban War Independence, (1895-1898) the Spanish governor, defeated by Mambí General Antonio Maceo at Peralejo south of the city hid here. Grandfather Calixto Enamorado had distinguished himself in that battle.

Later Great Grandfather, having defeated the Spanish at nearby Guisa, took over the city of Bayamo from the Spanish permanently towards the end of the War of Independence and for a while made it his headquarters. Here, in 1898, he received the “Message to Garcia.”

Returning to the 1950s

Yet, by the 1950s the ancient Bayamo far older than the Spanish Conquest, the seat of power of Chief Bayamo, the great Taíno Chief and most of pre-conquest history was forgotten. In provincial pride at their role in the Wars of Independence the people of Bayamo looked down upon the people of Guisa and the other small towns and considered themselves superior to the Güajiros of the plains and Montunos of the mountains.

It did not matter to the people of Bayamo that these rural inhabitants had also fought in those wars. Nor did not occur then, to these urban Bayameses that the increasing dusts of the dry season would one day announce the coming of a growing desert.

Thus, in the years immediately before and during the war against Batista, there was considerable difference between urban and rural Cuba. The difference was not so much a matter of action, since both societies were very sexually active. The difference was the discretion that surrounded these matters. I find the frank openness of the Güajiros more refreshing than the quiet fictions of the city.

Güajiros, Montunos, Arawaks and Taínos view sexual matters in a more relaxed fashion

During these 1950s the Güajiros, or more properly those mountain Güajiros who were commonly known as the Montunos in the Sierra Maestra, were still to a considerable extent culturally and ethnically Taínos (Island Arawaks).

Especially notable was the continuance of many of Taínos society’s mores among the Güajiros of remote parts of Cuba. This Montuno society was intensely and freely sexual, in ways that academics even of Taínos descent are today frequently far too embarrassed to admit.

Thus, she, Iván’s lover the Güajirita, was of course nowhere as inhibited as he.

At that time most observers could still readily observe the continuance of the daily ritual of unabashed nude bathing in the rivers. More accepted outsiders might glimpse the custom of serial sexual intercourse. This is hinted at in the 16-17th century poem “Espejo de Paciencia.” The poem about the killing of pirate Gilberto Giron. Here the authors’ introductory address to the readers talks, in the indirect fashion of the times, about the celebration of their salvation from the ruthless sea rover: “…le salieron á recibir no solo los vecinos del Bayamo, sino también las ninfas de los montés, fuentes y ríos,…” “not only the neighbors of Bayamo went to out greet them but they were also received by the nymphs of the woods, springs, and rivers.”

The name for the Güajiro culture of Cuba is derived from the Taíno Guaoxerí where as in the common pronunciation of the word Mexico the x can be pronounced as Spanish “j” or English “h.” The word Güajiro in Taíno language once meant minor lord or squire. Now it means merely one of the country folk.

The neo-Taíno culture of the area is locally known as Siboney. The Siboney (or Ciboney) customs and ethnicity derives in great part from the civilization known to their enemies as Arawak, the Aruaca, the eaters of meal. Many tribes of the Arawak still live the vast forest of Amazon and northern South America. There in those far jungle places one also finds, in Brazil and in Venezuela, rivers called Guamá and a peninsula and a Native American culture called Güajira in the lands of that is now Venezuela and Colombia.

The Taíno nations were also influenced by trade with the high Mayan cultures. This culture also had residual influences of Native American Cultures we might call Mammoth hunters.

The Arawak were responsible for a large proportion of the 1,300 or so species of plants that were domesticated in the Americas before Columbus arrived on the continent. The Arawaks ground their yuca meal from poisonous roots in the Americas at least 9,000 years ago. Thus one could guess they had been influenced by the ice age cultures (prior to 15,000 years ago), once thought merely legendary, which today are being rediscovered at submerged sites at the edges of the Atlantic. Some dare speculate that legendary peri-Atlantic cultures, echoed in the myths of Atlantis, also had sites now submerged near the islands of the Antilles including the near by gulf. As yet despite books written on the matter and the fervor of this idea’s supporters, this putative localization of Atlantis in the Caribbean is no where near proven.

The Taíno knowledge of nature was profound. Names of trees and plants, the names of things used in the Cuban countryside, the names of the traditional house bohío and the grand chief’s house or caney are still used in common vernacular.

As more and more archeological evidence is uncovered, as the written record of the cruel Spanish conquest of the Caribbean is re-examined, and as today's tribal remnants gather to relive and revive their customs we see these peoples in a new light. Before the Columbus, the Taínos lived a life of freedom on their beautiful islands. Here there they lived with much more peace than war and far more pleasure than pain.

The Taíno civilization, despite their proud nudity and the fact that their cryptic glyphs were mainly sketched on cupey (Clusia rosia Jacq.) leaves, rock and walls, pottery, and human flesh was an elaborate elegant culture. They delighted in displaying their fine bodies painted artistically in sun-shielding bija (Bixa orellana L.) and other natural dyes.

They had a quite complex and efficient agriculture. This agriculture plus clever fishing techniques readily supported their culture with little effort. The varied crops they grew sustained them well, and the woods, rivers and sea were full of food. Many of their crops such as sweet corn, cassava, sweet potato, and many of their tropical fruits, such as pineapple and papaya, are in common use today. Their herbal medicines were more advanced than any in Europe at the time of their conquest.

The Taínos were a people of the sea as well as of the land. They swam for miles in the seas, and paddled and sailed their long piraguas on long journeys throughout the Caribbean Sea and what we know as the Gulf of Mexico. They contacted and traded with neighboring cultures. Some view the Arawak culture as the substrate from which arose each of the so called “High Civilizations of the Americas.” Perhaps one can somewhat idly speculate they were the “paddler-gods” of the Mayans.

From recently discovered evidence in south Florida we know they traded there, and the presence of shared crops and some artifacts show their contacts with Mayan Yucatan. The Taíno had less peaceful interactions with the raiding cannibal Lucayos peoples of the Bahamas and the Caribs, also eaters of human flesh, from the minor islands to the east.

The Taínos knew of, but did not choose to build, great monuments of stone in other lands. They did not favor human sacrifice and ignored for the most part the bloody glories of war and conquest. However, since they suffered much in the hands of the raiding Caribs, they did on a number of occasions go to war with these perpetual enemies.

The Taíno obviously enjoyed displaying their nudity. The laborious work of cloth making, a constant drain on the energies of European women of the time, was reserved by the Taínos for limited uses. Thus since they only grew cotton to make cabuya fishing cord, piragua sails, and nasa nets, and to weave cloth hamaca. This was sensible because the islands mild climate and the shade of the forest required no real need of protective clothing. Such unnecessary work would only interfere with a life of delight and art.

Time was far too valuable and much better spent demonstrating their agility and skill bouncing the elastic batu ball off wrists and naked hips in their games. The teams of naked men and women did not commonly compete against each other.

However, the areíto dances were mixed events. In the areíto both sexes showing off their pleasant voices and their physical grace in teasing or explicit songs and dances. These arts of leisure took place in their immaculate plazas called bateys.

The Spanish come yet the Taíno survive

The Spanish removed the zemí idols with their lewdly oversized genitals that once presided over these Taíno playgrounds. However, after dreadful massacres, and rapid exhaustion of placer gold deposits most the conquistadores left for the continental mainland in ruthless search of more gold. Left alone again, the surviving Taíno’s private life continued much the same as before the Spanish conquest.

In my time in those mountains the Güajiro culture had no Zemís and the population contented itself by adorning their bohíos with magazine cutouts showing “pinups” of glossy women in revealing poses. Batey had come to mean merely a rural compound.

Perhaps for reasons of pride or prudishness, many historians of Cuba emphasize the bravery and resistance of Hatuey, and the great Taíno Chief, Cacique Guamá, who fought the Spanish to the death.

Far fewer historians speak of Cacique Bayamo. Cacique Bayamo made alliance with these newcomers and married his daughters to the European invaders. Cacique Bayamo fought too, but he fought alongside the Spanish of Diego Velazquez, against the Lucayos or Cayos, who were Carib-like raiding cannibals from what we now call Bahamas.

It is through actions like those of Cacique Bayamo that the Taínos survived. It is not by coincidence that rivers that mark the borders of the lands of Don Benjamín perpetuate these Taíno leaders’ names; and it is, perhaps, symbolic that in Cuba in flowing down from the mountain realm of the Cacique of Macaca, the Bayamo River ran stronger than the Guamá.

In the early days of the Spanish conquest, the conquistadors, and soldiers came for the most part, without women; and even much later most early immigrants were male. In those times of Spanish arrival, the descendents of the cacique chief’s were even considered honorary Spanish, and thus a cacique’s daughter was a suitable bride even for a famed conquistador. As mentioned before, such a woman was Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez of Valencia Venezuela who married Calixto Garcia de Luna and Izquierdo, the grandfather of my great grandfather.

The Taíno culture of the Great Antilles --the group of Caribbean islands in which Cuba the largest-survived the Spanish conquest through formal intermarriage, and especially by what some so prudishly call multiple concubinage.

Certain conquistadors, such as Vasco Don Vasco de Porcayo, Conqueror of Tampico, who first lived in Camagüey Province Cuba, acquired harems of sometimes hundreds of Taínas. His harems included the Taína princess Tinima de Sabaneque of Camagüey. Princess Tinima bore children whose descendents proudly proclaim their heritage to this day.

Don Vasco’s objective was not only pleasure, but also to raise his own fiefdom and soldiers. He and his half Taíno sons joined Hernando de Soto’s expeditions going north to lands now in the US. Don Vasco lived through it, de Soto did not.

In such circumstance no one man alone, not even the notorious lecher Don Vasco, could really impregnate so many concubines. Certainly Don Vasco could not provide much education to all his children. So these Taína mothers raised their children mixed and full blooded alike in their own culture.

Thus, from the loins of such as Don Vasco and from between the thighs of the Taínas arose a mixed nation. Taíno mores and their bloodline mixed with Spanish warriors and their Iberian customs to become the Güajiras and Montunas of today.

The Spanish forced clothes upon the Taínos as a mark of Christianity and thus a protective status. This enforced enrobing did not really affect their free spirits, nor truly bring this belief to their souls. As soon as the Spanish left, the area the Taínos dropped their clothing.

In their marriage ceremony, these generous Taína women did not only share love with their Taíno husbands. Oviedo a Spanish Conquistador of Cuba describes it (in my translation), thus:

“..when a Taíno married, be it a lord, an important person or a one of the lower classes, all those who were invited to the feast slept with the bride before her new husband did.”

Arawak customs have not altered that much, but our civilization’s perceptions of them have changed in the last half century.

Serial sexual intercourse is part of the Taíno culture; and even a ceremony of victory as good father de las Casas wrote long ago. Anthropological observations and DNA based genetic studies indicated such is still so the other Arawak societies of South America.

Centuries later, --unlike the good father de las Casas who was a soldier before he was a priest-- the famed Venezuelan writer Rómulo Gallegos, a man of left wing views was a sexually conservative man, an older less radical edition of Iván, did not understand that a woman might willingly do this without feeling degraded.

As is mentioned previously Gallegos instead writes of the matter screened through his own cultural filters and attributes to this custom the brutalization of his Nobel Prize winning character Doña Bárbara. In his fiction, this author describes how his character, as consequence of what he construes to be and inaccurately describes as serial rape, becomes the personification of the evil goddess Canaima, spirit of the Amazonian jungles.

The indigenous cultures of Venezuela and Cuba are closely related. However, Güajira reality is different from Gallegos’s fiction. Perhaps if Gallegos has observed Niña, the güajira who was the kind and gentle aya that is governess, to my sisters, he might have taken a different view on the mores of jungle life. More on Niña’s nocturnal delights are found below.

Perhaps it was a matter of Gallego’s era, since, a Brazilian, Gilberto Freyre, a contemporary almost equally famous author and quasi politically opposite to Gallegos also takes a prudish tack. Freyre and also D’ Estéfano Pisani on the other hand sought to understand it in a false and racist way, making such actions a matter of ethnicity and “indigenous sin.”

With the accumulation of scientific evidence one can readily construct a hypothesis in which the Taínas were merely following and very ancient tradition of cultural and ethnic assimilation. In present day populations of Puerto Rico, the ancient island of Boriquen, and the Arawak and related indigenous populations of Brazil, the male tracer DNA of the Y-chromosome is found at a low level within the population. On the other hand, mitochondrial DNA and other markers for inheritance through the female line are found in a majority of the population.

This expected to be the pattern not only for post Colombian migrations but for the numerous prior arrivals of “indigenous” peoples. This takes us to the surprising postulate that the Arawak women such as the Taínas were biologically conquering each wave of invaders; thus even the Caribs and the Spanish Conquistadores were being assimilated. In this view the readiness and the beauty of the Taínas, such as observed by Columbus and the arriving Spanish, was merely a biological defense.

My sisters and bedroom in the Casa de Alto over looked Niña’s bedroom. Niña’s bedroom was in the old first dwelling of Entre Ríos, a single story wooden building. Niña, the güajira aya late at night passed her nights admitting man after man through her bedroom window. My sisters and female cousins, well brought up and trained in religious schools watched in secret fascination as each man in turn exited through their aya’s bedroom door. This was definitely not something my sisters’ Catholic education had prepared them for.

Why Niña’s male visitors took the more challenging route entering through the window and left through the door, instead of the easier alternative, is not understood. Perhaps taking such a route is made more exciting by its athletic challenge.

Rómulo Gallegos wrote, and I in boarding school (near Havana) read his work, long before more formal and accurate book of anthropologist Irving Goldman was published. Goldman writes:

"The Cubeo women are sexually forward, a trait that seems common in the Amazon Basin (Zuania the place of origin of the Taínos). Women become more licentious with age. Older women, those around the menopausal state, urge men to have coitus with them, remarking jokingly, "We are more satisfying than young girls because we have more sexual powers [appetite]." Adultery, as I have already observed, seems common, and it is ordinarily assumed or charged that it is the woman who seduced the man. A married woman shows sexual interest in a man by grasping his genitals or by conveying his hand to hers...."

After ceremonial dances:

" the ultimate act, men take women, the wives of their phratry mates, into the bush and copulate, couples changing partners as often as they like. ...."

"The final sexual event in this ritual sequence is to be understood as somewhat more than sexual consummation. It is also an act of mass adultery..."

Rómulo Gallegos’s books were part of my education, but Goldman’s as yet unpublished book was not. Far more ancient books, such as those of Father las Casas tell of the history of the mores and customs of the Taínas. Neither anthropological works, nor Las Casas’s ancient books were commonly read among the young in Cuba. In our education we were left confusing reality with fiction by our readings of Gallegos’s books.

I knew more, as did my family, but it was not from books. After all most people in Havana thought the Taínos extinct. In Havana proud fellow students recited this “fact,” and denied my stories of the wilds of the foothills Sierra Maestra. It is a strange how even the best of books can mislead.

Iván the young conservative urban communist was full of such misleading information. In his encounter with the touch of his güajira woman, he had not found anything new. His education and culture merely did not prepare him for it.

Old scientist Max Vines once said to me many years after these events: “It is not what you do not know that harms you, it is the things you know that just ain’t so!” Wise old Max, with his war wounded crippled legs, knew what he was talking about.

A few years pass from my talk with Iván.

It is 1958 in late spring I am with a poorly armed group, the “Escopeteros of Mojena,” resisting the Batista forces in the foothills near Guisa, in old Oriente Province, Cuba. We have not yet gone to the chill heights of the Sierra Maestra for assault training.

One day Mojena gets up, and signals us to follow him. We do. Mojena, strong, wide and black bearded, leads the way. Our motley crew follows him. Our beards are growing; our hair is long; our faces show our mixed heritages. El Tuerto’s blond hair contrasts with Ramon’s glossy dark skin; Machado is the tallest; William the bandit’s son is the shortest, he cannot be more that 15.

We wear faded olive-green or dingy much washed blue-gray. Our pants are tattered; our shirts are torn shirts. Our revolvers and pistols are holstered. Our shotguns and .22 rifles are ready in our hands. As we walk festooned with implements of war; fuse cords, dirt gray, woven tubes, dangle stiffly from our heavy pipe bombs; shorter pipe-grenades, hang from our belts. Our arm-bands proclaim, in red and black, “M-26-7”our allegiance to Castro.

We walk up hill on a path through short grass; scattered tall, smooth and light colored, columns, the trunks of graceful elegant royal palms mark our progress. We go through a wooden farm gate in the fence in the pasture.

We are now above our camp, at the height of the top of the high cave-ridden white walls of a limestone canyon on the upper Guisa River. A sawmill and a sparse scattering of dwellings rest on broken lands nearby but below and to the north of us. That is the place, where dirt roads cross, called El Sordo.

We take a footpath among garden like white rock and green bushes. We have never used this path before. We walk and walk. We do not know what we are supposed to do, but we keep on walking.

We walk down into a little shallow tree shaded valley among low hills. None of us has been here before. We walk south in a pasture of thin-bladed grass grazed short as a lawn.

To our right is a lonely bohío, a simple little, palm thatched house built Taíno style. The bohío has no gardens; no chickens are scratching in the earth. This is not a farming family’s dwelling.

There are no fruit trees here. No grove of tall sheltering shade giving bananas trees wait to serve the needs of the dwelling’s inhabitants. This house does not belong of one who lives off the land. Here is something else is done. This a place dedicated to the trade of Aycayía, the legendary Taína, she of the mermaids, she who is the most beautiful, she who loved so many.

In front of this hut, all alone in a pasture, group leader Mojena hand signals for us to wait. He walks to the doorway. I see no door, just the gaping maw of dark as it the entrance to a cave.

Turning again this time to signal us to stay put outside, Mojena goes in. He talks, but we cannot hear what he says. He comes out.

Mojena signals us for each in turn to enter the hut. I go first. The bohío has no windows; all is very dark inside. I approach the doorway. There I see them inside. They are women, young women.

I know these women from a few years before, and they know me too, despite my beard and rough company. The women’s state of undress signals their readiness. I greet them wordlessly for I do not know what to say. They are surprised to see me, and I them.

These women are the generous Taína daughters of Tenazas. Tenazas means pliers, and implies a strong and stubborn grip; this sobriquet had become his accepted name. He is one of my family’s contract employees who had a worked coffee growing contract in Los Números. They, the women, are Goya and Fredeslinda. They are very female, lustful and receptive, all great black eyes, strong noses, and long flowing straight midnight hair; I note the sensual curve of their young flexible bodies. Tenazas, their father is not with them.

I recall Tenazas well, for he enjoyed conversation with us. He had an alert, if untutored, mind. He was also remarkably ugly as his daughters were beautiful. Perhaps the best way to describe Tenazas is imagine an exceptionally ugly Australian “Aborigine.” His skin is a sooty very dark brown, almost black; his hair is wavy to the point of tight curls. His nose is short and tilted up almost like one of the ridiculous 19th century racist caricatures of Irishmen I saw in grandfather’s bound copies of the English humor magazine Punch, a satirical periodical which was so given to social Darwinism in those days.

To say that Tenazas was ugly is an understatement. His face had wrinkles where ever possible and then some. Everybody who knew them commented upon this incongruity: “He cannot be these beautiful women’s father. That is impossible!”

Surely Tenazas could not belong to the fine featured Taínos; he must be of other origins. Perhaps his ancestors were, Australoid, the Ceboruco peoples, or shipwrecked Ainu. Perhaps he descended from the Mammoth Hunters who crossed the Bering straits and all of North America to reached Cuba ages in times before memory. And yet, decades later I would see his clone staring back at me from a National Geographic type-photo in an article on South American Indians.

Then in 1958, as I see the women in that hut, past memory of a time of my late teens come to mind. In those teen years, my strength is growing and my brother, cousins and I walk far seeking to placate our instinctive needs to wander.

It was in those callow years before 1958, in the mountains of the Sierra, that I first meet the sisters. They then are in the peak of their sinful devil’s beauty. All is glory in their voluptuous brown skinned, black eyed, long raven haired, swivel hipped bodies. They are thus when I see them first, in my uncle’s house on the high ridge of Los Números, under the wind, the sky and a great hawk’s wings.

In those times, the daughters of Tenazas stayed with Uncle Marcos high on the main mountain ridge of the family land at Los Números. They lived as concubines, both women together, with Uncle Marcos in his long well built bohío with its north verandas.

The land around is pasture overgrown with the thin tube-like stems of horsetail plants. Without the shelter of the forest trees; the now bare red soil is beginning to erode, amid the fallen logs. Here cattle will not fatten, and will starve.

Uncle Marco’s grand bohío is more like a Taíno Chief’s caney; it’s back faces south to the great dark rock of Peña Prieta. The caney faces a magnificent view of green forests to the east and west; blue sky above rolling hills and far distant plains is to the north.

In the sky a guaraguao, a great raptor almost eagle-sized flies hunting. Guaraguao is Taíno for red-tailed hawk. The raptor circles above, feather fingered wings out spread, sharp talons ready, looking for chickens to swoop down on, seize, kill, rend and eat.

To the west the high waterfall, called the Chorrerón de Guamá. El Salto de Guamá, as most call it, drops its streams of silver water into the narrow canyon of Arroyón.

Sometimes, in those teen years, when MJ, my brother Lionel and I would take the mountain path by that house, in our long legged mile eating strides, we would hear a plaintive flute. The high-pitched notes grace the wind, as Uncle Marcos tells his post-coital sadness to the forest, and the mists of that high lonely place.

I also know the daughters of Tenazas from more recent times, just before I joined the rebels. It is late 1957. The women are staying at the Casa de los Generales. No longer a teen, my body is heavier, and much stronger, but my mind still innocent. These always willing women invite me in.

The daughters of Tenazas are staying in Marcus’s apartment on the eastside of our great, yellow walled, coffee storage warehouse which we called el almacén. Uncle Marcus is gone. He is in town, in Bayamo, on the plains away from the mountain war. These women have strong needs and are not accustomed to being unfulfilled.

I am confused by the conflict of my deep Irish Catholic faith with the mores of this place and the rising physiology of my strong youth. Let me see if I can explain.

The chickens of my childhood

I remember from my childhood, that just outside this place, gangs of Uncle Calixto Leonel’s madly amorous roosters had once lurked. Technically these birds were barred Plymouth Rock cocks bred and intended to be slaughtered for the table. However, something had changed for them; they did not act as if normal chickens, they acted as if possessed.

Large, and strong with big-chests, these birds wore with irrational pride their adult white feathers barred with horizontal blue-black pinstripes. Perhaps one might think of them once jocks in college now corrupt stockbrokers, who had changed to the dark-side while working for some predatory firm. One could well imagine them sitting in shirt sleeves waiting drunk and rowdy for trouble in a bar after the market closes.

The birds had come via airmail to Bayamo to be rushed in to the farm, peeping innocence in a flat box well ventilated box. Then just hatched, they were tiny chicks, dark downy feathers, and a light spot on their heads. They had been finger probed and sexed, so we knew these all were males, and thus destined for the pot as broiler cockerels.

At first the young cocks were kept enclosed in a room with an outlet to a chicken run. This room was to the northwest corner of the yellow almacén near the room where in late 1957 the daughters of Tenazas will give forth their allures.

The birds grew fast, enormously fast, eating sack after sack of special broiler chick feed. However, Uncle Calixto Leonel a not very practical humanities major, had not calculated well. The brightly colored sacks of feed, were opened one after another, the feed supply diminished and was soon gone.

Then cockerels were fed pieces of poisonous raw yuca root and kitchen scraps and let loose to forage the rest of their meals. Uncle Calixto could not eat or sell all of them at one time, so these birds grew stronger and somewhat older than was intended. They still had no hens, and thus were very randy.

The birds used to ambush those who walked by. With one little head as lookout peering around a corner they would gather hidden waiting en mass to rush passersby.

As soon as a person came by, gangs of ten, twenty or more cocks at a time, for as I said there were no hens, would come running out from their hiding places in the alley between the little yellow cheese making house and the south east corner of the almacén.

The cocks, a gang of rounded balls, blurs of puffed up feathers barred in blue-black stripes on dirty white, with absurdly small, protruding, out-stretched wings, attack. They hit suddenly. In a furry of pumping thighs, they begin to spur and try to rape any passerby’s legs with the passionate frustration of their unrelieved bachelorhood.

Somehow these are not chickens anymore. Bred for size, fast growth, and strength, they have reverted to the traits of their raptor reptilian forefathers or to the prehistoric birds that once hunted mammals on ancient prairies and pampas. They are as the extinct giant running owls that once hunted on Cuban savannas.

The younger children run; we older boys drive off the packs of attacking roosters. Luckily the cocks are not fully mature, their spurs un-grown, are mere budding initials on their yellow legs. Still their attack feels like being hit hard and fast and again and again by feathered covered sticks. Our legs hurt.

One can easily see that these cocks were also a little like us young rebels, sexually needy, the beasts within us is being awakened by new circumstances and experience. We are being made ready for the bloody excitement of war. I am, alone among them, tied to a religion of sexual purity.

In the last months of 1957

Now is the last months of 1957 I am grown, the war has not yet trickled down to our area, at grandfathers batey in the lower lands of Entre Ríos. Although all is tranquil here, peace is now over; war too close, death is coming. I have not yet gotten in trouble in Guisa, and the daughters of Tenazas are still here.

Uncle Marcos, I repeat, is away in town. The day ends, I rub myself with a slice of coarse laundry soap as I bathe naked in the Taíno way in the clear fast running Bayamo River. I dress, for we do not go naked, as in Taíno times, and walk up the cliff road to the Casa de Los Generales to eat.

As the warm tropical night comes, I wander by the secaderos where the coffee dries. Through the open door, I see into the bedroom of Marcos’ apartment. Quinqués, bright glass oil-fed lamps, light the walls inside. Inside one of the sisters is entwined with Che El Grande. The other, is free and needy. She calls for me.

Even though Uncle Marcos is away, I decline. Respect for my elder’s women is too ingrained, my Catholic training still holds. I spend that lonely night in my small bare warehouse room, further west in same vast yellow building. My room is stacked high and almost full with plump burlap sacks of fine, and valuable dried coffee beans still wrapped in their cherry fruit flesh now hard, dried and sun-blackened. The sacks look like piled pillows in the darkness. The place smells of coffee, and dust

I try to sleep on my little cot, guarding one of the first precious coffee crops of my mother’s land. The hole in the concrete wall where I once accidentally dropped, and set off a loaded shotgun is still there. My right knee cap itches at the memory of a grazing pellet.

Beyond my room, for the buildings thin concrete inner walls do not reach the roof, I hear noises. The two sisters ululating loud and raucous are team-tagging, working their joyous will, on heavy muscled Che el Grande.

That night torn between my Catholic discipline and my almost uncontrollable frustrations, I find no sleep. The male pride of my Cuban half is hurt; I feel like a fool. The Irish flame of my Catholic faith, abraded by rough gritty clouds of lust, flickers and then fades almost to extinction. Dawn brings a little chill, a little reason overrides my passion and in the first cold light at last I sleep.

Spring of 195, the sisters invitation to venery is repeated.

Now back to that time of war. The roosters are not here now; this is not their place, besides they have long since been eaten. This is another place not on family land. It is evening and, the pastures in the hills to south are lit by a descending sun.

I am with the other Escopeteros outside that lonely bohío. The generous sisters’ invitation to venery is repeated.

My mind is in turmoil as thoughts rush and cascade in my brain. What if I fail to perform? Others will know, and ridicule will surely follow. What if I perform well? Then next day if I die in battle, as Catholic in mortal sin I will be condemned to eternal hell. That is if eternal hell really exists….

I mumble excuses. After all these women are, kind of, my common law aunts. I turn back from the door, and wander back to the group. I am still a virgin.

No such scruples hold back the other Escopeteros. They, deep into the pagan Taíno culture of the place, do not have my thoughts. They may believe in hupía spirits of the dead, but they do not believe in hell. They certainly do not believe in damnation.

For other rebels there is only here and now; pleasures are to be sought after and pain something to be avoided. Tomorrow, when it comes, will take care of itself. One by one the other Escopeteros enter the bohío, take their pleasure, and come back to the group outside.

This is not prostitution; no money changes hands. Strangely, there is little or no talk. Every one knows what to do. They simply do it and take their ecstasies as a matter of course.

The sisters are as Taínas were. Padre de Las Casas, that un-shakable chaplain of Spanish discovery, called this primeval ceremony La Mancebía. This mancebía, as the good priest pointed out was common to many ancient cultures. Formally this ancient ceremony La Mancebía celebrates the victory of the staying power of women’s lust over the explosive but expendable and more exhaustible male drive. In real life then and now the men and women engaged do it because it feels good.

“Manicato! Manicato! Victory! Victory!” was once the traditional Taína cry of triumphant females. No such call comes from the hut. All is busy silence.

Here in that Spring of 1958 the sisters and the rebels are fueled by mutual lusts, the frantic driving rhythm of La Mancebía begins, and grows stronger. As in turn each of the men is spent and the women satiated, the rhythm slows and then ends. I wait as the day turns to night.

On the way back to camp, the other escopeteros talk. They talk of the lubricous wet delight of the fine service. Some gratefully talk on and on telling of how skilled these warm-blooded women are in the arts of carnal love.

Others recount how after they were finished, the women so kindly, so gratefully, and so gently wipe their now limp penises with a damp rag. “¡De primera! First class service!” the men boast.

I say nothing. I wish the others would shut up. I am ashamed of my inhibitions. The driving, throbbing, power of my own young body’s needs fills my mind with the sadness and emptiness of opportunity lost. Once more I do not sleep.

Within a day or so, as the others scratched their crotches and walk bowlegged, I began to feel that I was not such a fool. Mojena sits outside, leaning his raw hide covered taburete chair against a fence post. He pulls his belt outward to leave a space to pour talc onto his inflamed genitals, trying to relieve his unbearable itch. Again the Taínas conquer, for these little “beasties” are known to have been in the Americas before the Spanish.

I know, for once, I have done the right thing. That knowledge does not help, for my lust stays and my Catholic faith weakens further.

Thoughts as years go by

When in January of 1959, we win and go in victory to Havana. Shot at accidentally twice, counting myself lucky, I resign. Late that year I go to the University, one day sickness hits me with great force and a burning fever takes over my mind. I lay sick and delirious in my mother and stepfather’s apartment at Humbolt 7, and the doctor next door examines me.

The doctor is Antonio Calzado Paz. As part of his practice he serves a clientele of “professional women.” He, puzzled by my sickness, runs tests. He is surprised. He gives me enormous and horrible medicine in charcoal pills.

On my recovery the doctor tells me, that my tests show me riddled with internal parasites but free from social disease. Dr. Calzado goes on to tell me: “You are the first rebel I have examined who is negative for venereal disease!”

It is April 1961, at the time of the Bay of Pigs. I on the run hide with some relatives in the FOCSA building one of the new reinforced concrete high rises that then were springing up in Havana. It was and probably still is the tallest and most massive structure (except for the great old Spanish forts and castles around the bay) in Cuba. At that time the building was in transition from Cuban ownership to residence for members of the repressive secret agencies whom Castro was bringing in from Soviet block Eastern Europe. One can tell they are from there because their women, as they lounge around the swimming pool, wear faded floppy loose bathing suits, which they roll up so as to expose as much thigh as possible. Hiding there I meet again one of the three beautiful daughters of Tenazas, she is the youngest, the one that was not there, that night in 1958. She had come as an aya to help with the children of my relatives. She seems to know that things are changing and that she will have to stay in Cuba. When we are alone, she lets me know she is available, sadly again I turn her down.

More fool me, but more fears have returned to haunt my mind and add to my religious fervor. Outside in Havana, the brief anti-Castro air raids have ceased, the government is rounding up hundreds of thousands of the opposition. I see the arrest of Uncle Marcus, and unable to help I walk by. We are abandoned by the US and do not know it. Executions of young members of Acción Católica who had fought Batista and now Castro, are going on now in the ancient Havana castles. I knew at least one, but the names of the dead do not come readily to my mind. Thus in 1961, I too walk out to the street and unknowingly to my arrest.

The young Catholic men die virgin, or at least pure, and shrived. They cry out “!Viva Cristo Rey! Long Live Christ the King!” as they are shot down for they had been caught attempting to resist Castro’s dictatorial rule. I was not with Acción Católica, but associated with another resistance group, but that is a different story.

In 1959 or soon after Iván Leiva became a Castro official in Havana, and visited Uncle Norman and his family to warn them not to make waves as Castro was busy consolidating power. It could be that some of his friendship for my uncle family still continues. Perhaps Iván’s marxist religion has become stronger than these old ties of friendship. It could be he is now a mere tool of the Castro regime, a long legged flightless killer bird, one of a maddened flock, lust and blood confused, running the savannas of Cuba seeking meat to kill.

In memorium Rogelio González Corzo (alias Francisco), leader of Catholic youth shot in la Cabaña, on the 20th of April 1961. We went to the University of Havana together he always will be 29, and I just get older.

Larry Daley copyright@1997, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home