« FöregåendeFortsätt »
We anchored a short distance from the beach, and went ashore in the small boat. We landed at the foot of a bank about twenty feet high, and, ascending to the top, came at once, under a burning sun, into all the richness of tropical vegetation. Besides cotton and rice, the cahoon, banana, cocoanut, pineapple, orange, lemon, and plantain, with many other fruits which we did not know even by name, were growing with such luxuriance that at first their very fragrance was oppressive. Under the shade of these trees most of the inhabitants were gathered, and the padre immediately gave notice, in a wholesale way, that he had come to marry and baptize them. After a short consultation, a house was selected for the performance of the ceremonies, and Mr. Catherwood and I, under the guidance of a Carib, who had picked up a little English in his canoe expeditions to Balize, walked through the settlement.
It consisted of about five hundred inhabitants. Their native place was on the seacoast, below Truxillo, within the government of Central America; and having taken an active part against Morazan, when his party became dominant they fled to this place, being within the limits of the British authority. Though living apart, as a tribe of Caribs, not mingling their blood with that of their conquerors, they were completely civilized; retaining, however, the Indian passion for beads and ornaments. The houses or huts were built of poles about an inch thick, set upright in the ground, tied together with bark strings, and thatched with coroon leaves. Some had partitions and bedsteads made of the same materials; in every house were a grass hammock and a figure of the Virgin or of some tutelary saint; and we were exceedingly
struck with the great progress made in civilization by these descendants of cannibals, the fiercest of all the Indian tribes whom the Spaniards encountered. The houses extended along the bank, at some distance apart; and the heat was so oppressive that, before reaching the last, we were about to turn back; but our guide urged us to go on and see “one old woman,” his grandmother. We followed and saw her. She was very old; no one knew her age, but it was considerably over a hundred; and, what gave her more interest in our eyes than the circumstance of her being the grandmother of our guide, she came from the island of St. Vincent, the residence of the most indomitable portion of her race; and she had never been baptized. She received us with an idiotic laugh; her figure was shrunken ; her face shrivelled, weazened, and wicked ; and she looked as though, in her youth, she had gloried in dancing at a feast of human flesh. We returned, and found our friend, the padre, dressed in the contents of his pocket-handkerchief, quite a respectable-looking priest. By his side was our steamboat washbowl, filled with holy water, and in his hand a prayer-book. Augustin stood up, holding the stump of a tallow candle. The Caribs, like most of the other Indians of Central America, have received the doctrines of Christianity as presented to them by the priests and monks of Spain, and are, in all things, strict observers of the forms prescribed. In this settlement, the visit of a padre was a rare but welcome occurrence. At first they seemed to have a suspicion that our friend was not orthodox, because he did not speak Spanish ; but when they saw him in his gown and surplice, with the burning incense, all distrust vanished.
There was little to be done in the way of marrying, there being a scarcity of men for that purpose, as most of them were away fishing or at work; but a long file of women presented themselves, each with a child in her arms, for baptism. They were arranged around the wall in a circle, and the padre began. Of the first he asked a question which I believe is not to be found in the book, and which, in some places, it would be considered impertinent to put to a mother who of. fered her child for initiation into the Church, viz., whether she was married. She hesitated, smiled, laughed, and answered no. The padre told her that this was very wrong and unbecoming a good Christian woman, and advised her to take advantage of the present opportunity to marry the child's father. She answered that she would like to do so, but that he was away cutting mahogany; and here, as his questions and her answers had to pass through an interpreter, the affair began to be complicated ; indeed, so many of the women interposed, all speaking at once, that the padre became aware he had touched upon delicate ground, and so passed on to the next.
In fact, even with the regular business our friend had enough to do. He understood but little Spanish; his book was in Latin ; and not being able to translate as readily as the occasion required, he had employed the interval of our absence in copying on a slip of paper, from a Spanish Protestant prayer-book, the formal part of the baptismal service. In the confusion this was lost, and the padre was thrown back upon his Latin, to be translated into Spanish as required. After labouring a while, he turned to Augustin, and gave him in English the questions to put to the women. Augustin was a good Catholic, and listened to him with as
much respect as if he had been the pope, but did not understand a word he said. I explained to Augustin in French, who explained to one of the men in Spanish, who explained to the women. This, of course, led to confusion; but all were so devout and respectful, that, in spite of these tribulations, the ceremony was solemn. When he came to the Latin parts, our friend rattled it off as fast as if fresh from the Propaganda at Rome, and the Caribs were not much behindhand. The padre had told us of the passion of the Caribs for a multiplicity of names; and one of the women, after giving her child three or four, pointed to me, and told him to add mine. I am not very strict, but I did not care to assume wantonly the obligations of a godfather; and, stopping the ceremony, begged the padre to get me released with the best grace he could. He promised to do so; but it was an excessively hot day; the room was crowded, the doors choked up, and by this time the padre, with his Latin, and English, and French, and Spanish, was in a profuse perspiration, and somewhat confused. I thought myself clear, till, a few moments afterward, a child was passed along for me to take in my arms; but I was relieved on one point: I thought that it was the lady who had become a mother without being a wife, that wished her child to bear my name, but it was another; still I most ungallantly avoided receiving the baby. On going away, however, the woman intercepted me, and, thrusting forward the child, called me compadre; so that, without knowing it, I became godfather to a Carib child; fortunately, its mother was an honest woman, and the father stood by at the time. In all probability I shall never have much to do with its training; and I can only hope that in due season it will multiply the name and make it respectable among the Caribs. We returned to the steamboat, and in a few minutes were again under way, steering for the Rio Dolce. An amphitheatre of lofty mountains stretches for many miles along the coast, and back till they are lost to the sight. In one small place this lofty range opens for the passage of a gentle river. On the right bank of the coast was one of the places I intended to visit. It was called by the familiar name of Livingston, in honour of the distinguished citizen of Louisiana whose criminal code was at that time introduced into Guatimala; and it was supposed, so advantageous was its position, that it would become the port of entry of Central America; but these expectations were not realized. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and, in steering toward it, the captain told me that, if we cast anchor, it would be necessary to lie there till morning. I was loth to lose the only opportunity I shall probably ever have of stopping a steamboat; but I had an eager, almost a burning curiosity to see the Golfo Dolce, and we all agreed that it would be wanton to lose such an opportunity of seeing it to advantage. I therefore directed the captain to move close to the bank and pass on. The bank was elevated about thirty feet above the water, and rich and luxuriant as at Puenta Gorda. The site of the intended city was occupied by another tribe of Caribs, who, like the first, driven from their home by war, had followed up the coast, and, with that eye for the picturesque and beautiful in natural scenery which distinguishes the Indians everywhere, had fixed themselves upon this spot. Their leafthatched huts were ranged along the bank, shaded by