viii Some Who Did

The days got shorter but the rumors grew louder. The visit by the Quirostes had unsettled every Achistaca. Scouts climbed Mount hummingbird to get a view of Santaca, but all that could be seen was a thin finger of smoke curling itself up to the heavens from what appeared to be a tiny white spot next to the great lagoon. The Mission was there like the Quirostes said. And it was growing. Every week another team of recruiters would show up, call a meeting, give some grain away, offer things to those who might want to work down there. Some people eventually went down, and would return with their winnings hanging from their bodies–abalone shells, abalorios, shirts made of the hair of strange woolly beasts.

It was soon thereafter that another curse descended upon the mountain rancherias, striking every family and claiming more victims than any die-off in memory.

“It’s White man’s magic,” said Hayim. “The Padres down in the mission put it on every allashu they get their hands on.”

“It’s not just the ones who go down there, ” said Zalan. It was obvious too, that their magic could also travel great distances and kill from aftar. He couldn’t understand why they had so many enemies that would wish to kill so many of them so cruelly.

“I heard that the holom‘s niece and husband are taking their baby to the padres to see about lifting the curse, and others are saying such things too. They say if it came from them then only the padres can take it away,” replied Chelcon with that that worn-out disappointment she painted her words with when thinking about the folly of others.

It wasn’t the first, nor the last outbreak of whiteman’s death, but the Achistacas were not ready for such a widespread allotment of death this time. Up and down the moutains the people moaned and wept. They offered their last thanks and uttered their last curse, before their spirit made the journey towards the setting sun. The padres down in Santaca made a few more converts down at the Missions too from the mountain people from the people who sought work or food, or a cure, including a few from Achistac. They buried a few Christianized souls in the newly depaganized grounds of the mission, happy that they  at least had the chance to convert them before putting them into the ground, and like  tally marks in God’s favor, they recorded their names with ink in leatherbound registries of doom.

Zalan wondered briefly if he would be taken down to the mission, but it was clear to him that his father and mother were  keen on staying as far from the mission as possible. He was lucky and never got sick, but things were not so for Hayim, who spent days coughing blood and burning from head to foot. His mother Chelcon had gotten it the last time around, and survived as well, which is why her skin still wore those marks that never went away in those who escaped the ferocity of the sickening curse.

Early one morning a strange figure stumbled into the clearing at the edge of Achistac, followed by another and another. They were ghostly, and gaunt, and hesitated as they pondered their next move.

A woman who had been washing in the river yelled out. “Cheiten, is that you! …Cheiten, my son is returned! Come to your miserable mother!” And quite immediately the son did as he was told, breaking down at her feet in sobs and wails.

A trio of lost Achistacas, long ago feared dead, returned to their ancestral hills. It was Cheiten, along with the stubborn Nutem whose idea it had been to leave and who had persuaded  the others, including Yaguecsi, the nephew of the holom, to seek fortunes down at Santaca many full moons prior, when widespread death was just around the corner. They dragged their withered bodies way to the river’s edge and began thanking the sun and the moon before immersing themselves in the waters of their youth, in a river whose name is now forgotten.

As word spread of their arrival, every Achisaca who could made their way to the river’s muddy bank.

“I thought you were gone beyond the waves, oh my son!” said Chetien’s mother almost upset at having been tricked for so long. “What terrible fortunes have befallen you?” But the three just stood there wet and speechless, with their faces unsure on how to begin retelling of their misadventures, for it was obvious to all that they arrived broken of spirit and body.

“Come, come!” they said, and they led them back to the village pole, where the rest of Achistak awaited, some mustering all their mangled vigor in order to peek their dripping noses out of their ruwas. They were hardly recognizable, and wore the garbs now familiar to many, of coarse woolen sack-cloth with faded blue stripes that ran horizontal across. These were in tatters and showed signs of bleeding. And their faces were no longer the same youthful faces of before, hungry to know the world. Gone were the feathered headdresses and the black and white body paint. Now they looked thin and wilted, like an uprooted sapling.

And then it occurred to some to ask, “And where are the others? Five of you left, and now there are only you three? Have they fallen behind?”

To this and other questions they simply lowered their head, and cried, embracing their mothers, brothers, and close relatives.  And soon they collapsed upon the floor. The holom came out, and his wives, the children too stood and gawked, but kept their distance behind their elders, as they did not know who these strange visitors were.  And as the questions kept landing upon them like heavy raindrops that collect on the trees, Nutem finally spoke up.

“The others are gone, the others are gone. Salve Regina! The others are gone!” She kept repeating this melancholic chant as the others broke out in wails and moans. The cries could be heard in nearby villages and the birds were so disturbed by it that they left the comfort of their nests to avoid the irksome lamentations of the two-legged forest dwellers.

“Where are they? Are they still down there with the white men?” asked the chief? Speak up Nutem!”

“No, no! They are dead, taken by the magic of the Padres!” she said between sobs.

But no more could be learned that day, for the Lost Achistacas needed nourisment and rest, if they were to shed light on the horrible events they had survived.  The next day, everybody gathered around to hear the story. Soon the village became engulfed in arguments and discord. Some wanted to refuse them back saying that if they chose to leave, then they were no longer Achistacas, and that their fate now lay with the Whites on the other side of the mountains.

“We have suffered too much death already,” cried one woman. “They will come for you and punish us all!”

“If they left, they left,” argued one old man with bark-covered features that went by the name of Ronoc. “They could have come back long ago to share their spoils but chose instead to stay! Now they want our succor? I say no!”

Others were more merciful, eager to learn of the ways of the Whites, so they argued for them to remain. But not until Notum finally emerged from the tule ruwa of her sister did the arguments cease.

She brought word of wild traverses to the north, through the cinnabar quarries jealously guarded by Christianized Indians, no longer gentiles in the eyes of their masters, and of finally reaching he mission plains and being awed by all its wonders, and of the soldiers and padres who enticed them with many promises.

“When we arrived, the whole place was in the middle of a great celebration with food and chanting. The people danced and a great fight was staged as it was their habit to amuse themselves by putting a tied-up bear to fight a terrible, horned beast. They watched these battles with as much excitement as we do our hand games. We soon learned that it was a feast in honor of some powerful spirit, and that they held these festivities quite often. Like this they carried on for two more days, with much reveling, but all the while they insisted we do the thing called bautizo. We were pleased to find them amiable and eager for us to join them,” she explained.  “We were fed and clothed, with the most amazing meats, breads and giant seeds they call frijoles. We were happy to be amongst them, the five of us, and we began to learn of many things these strangers brought, how they clear a forest, how they weave whole trees together like a skeleton and cover them with mud and grass and crushed shell dust to build their giant ruwas. We helped them do all this and were very pleased to do so, and they were pleased too as they were keen on us learning their ways. Then they showed us to pray as they do, and to sing their spirit songs, but it was all incomprehensible for they did not talk like real people. They were not children of Coyote at all. When they finally put the bautizo on us, there was another celebration, and they gave us all new names.

“Mine became Maria, Maria Celestina. We continued to help them with their strange chores and harvests, or taking care of their animals. Funny how some of these cannot all feed on their own because they keep them apart so the bears and coyotes wont dare get them. They need people to give food to them much like a child.”

The Achistacas listened and cries of wonder, of excitement were heard as she moved on with her tale. Notum, despite her weakness understood her role well. She was bringing news, and needed to be faithful to the facts, like a message runner does when one is sent to announce an important birth, or to convene a great gathering of villages, except now she brought news of a terrible sort.

“And what we did not know was that by putting the bautizo on us, they were casting a wicked curse, which they said would kill us if we ever decided to go far from them, of to disobey them, or do things as they they did not like them done. It was like a sleeping sickness that only they knew how to awake. When some did not follow the instructions of the white padres, who went around telling everybody what to put here what to take where, many of the people became very ill. In this way they killed many people, and kept them around. We saw many buried because of this. The padres said it was like a punishment for having upset their God whom they called Dios. They made all this known to us through their interpreters who followed them around everywhere, who look more like real people, except for their hair and clothes.”

“And what about the treasures and riches and wonderful bounty everyone talks about? Have you brought some with you?” asked a man impatiently.

“Treasures? Riches? Of course!.” And she reached into her gunnysack, and brought out a skin full of glass beads which she held high above, “Take them!” and as she said this, she angrily flung against a tree, and they scattered all over the forest, like a handful of bees released, bouncing off trees and skulls, colorful and vibrant.  Everyone became frenzied and grabbed at whatever they could, while Notum broke down in tears and curses.

“These abalorios make people crazy. I no longer want anymore of them, nor do I wish to see another padre again! After a while, living in the ruwat around the great buildings we had helped to erect, and watching people become sick and die, some of us from Achistac, and some Chaloctacas and people from the dry hills to the east decided to flee, and take with us a much treasure as we could. I made off with some shiny drinking vessels, they used in their ceremonies, and some clothing. Others grabbed what they could and we met one night while the priests and warriors were all asleep to make our escape, figuring that if we left all together, we would have a better chance to make it out. But others, whom did not wish to escape with us went to awake the padres and tell them about our plans.

“We were able to get as far as the foothills, but soon we were overtaken by their horrible cabayos, which are those beasts that carry a man on their back. Then they began firing at us with their thunder sticks as well as arrows, while we ran like rabbits up the mountain. Those who resisted were crushed by the hooves of the horses, and their innards tossed about with their lances by the angry soldados. One of the women who had fled with us, small and carrying a child, brought one of these warriors down from his cabayo with a rock she had hurled, and then smashed his head with the same rock in revenge for the killing of her husband before she herself was clubbed and sliced to pieces by another of their warriors. Her child was taken by these men, and because of this killing we were all marched north, back to the place they call the presidio, which is the place where the white soldier’s nest, and forced us to work for months upon months, far from any place anyone had ever known, tied by the feet and neck digging, grinding, washing. From here it was believed we could never escape, and nobody did. And those tried to give fight were given harsh beatings and taken away somewhere else. Soon we lost track of the others, and only us three managed to remain together,” said Notum.

“For four moons we lived and worked amongst these strangers in the presidio. Here there were to be no celebrations. We worked so hard, but we learned to cook their food , and make flour, which they made us do all day, and wash their clothes. In this way we learned their language, but we never forgot our green mountains and wished so much to return, but nobody knew how.”

The congregated Achistacas were speechless, and could produce nothing but lamenting sighs at her woeful tale.  Yaguecsi and Chetien only nodded, fully relinquishing to Notum the telling of the story.

She continued, stopping only to drink from an infusion provided to her by her mother-in-law. “Finally after many icchaw chaar they sent us down to Santa Clara again.   A new padre received us, and  decided to give us another chance.  Soon  they told me  I was to be married to man I did not know,  who was always sick and could do no work. So after a week Chetien and Yauecsi, decided to flee with me in the night. This time we took precautions and told no one of our plans. And just a few days ago we made our escape, the three of us, back up the mountains, doing our best to cover our tracks. Now we are here, alive, much thanks to Chaar and Hísem above, who saw to our safe return.”

After saying this the valiant Notum broke down in sobs again, and waved everyone away, retreating back to her mother-in-law’s ruwa.  In her absence the whole community again began squabbling and hollering, while the holom said,  “Silence! Silence” but nobody paid him any mind.

Like this they carried on in a complete frenzy until moments later when an enormous Toad who had been listening all along under cover of a fern landed on top of Nutem’s ruwa with a splat. He squat there waiting for everyone’s attention, which he immediately received and began his plea in the low guttural tone the toads are accustomed to making,

“Achistacas, Achistacas, A great Shake-up is coming! every Toad knows this.  Soon you must leave your lands and make a great journey. But do not be afraid. Great things are a-coming!  Do not believe the words of the returned, they are nothing but malcontented failures!. They will not enjoy the greatness that’s to come. Have no fear!” Having said this the black-spotted Toad sprung away amidst jocular croaks and giggles, leaving his dropping upon the ruwa.

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~ by Francisco Nieto on December 16, 2009.

One Response to “viii Some Who Did”

  1. […] viii Some Who Did […]

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