Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past
Dateline July 1, AD 1536
reprinted July 1, 2015 - - - Volume 2 Number 3
Coming on October 1:
Cacao spreads across Europe
The greedy Spanish, now entrenched on the northern coast
and seeking ever more gold and dominion,
came thundering into Tolupan lands last month to force submission to their rule.
and Poisoned Arrows
Sula Valley, Honduras--
Disaster befalls the Tolupan tribe!
Women and children fled into swampland and jungle.
The menfolk from all 18 Tolupan villages rallied to Chief Cicumba at his fortification
high atop Cerro Palenque which overlooks the lush Sula Valley.
Who is more fierce and fearsome than the mighty warriors of the Tolupan tribe?
The black obsidian teeth of their mahogany swords devour every foe who dares do battle.
Or so it has always been.
To everyone's horror, the Spanish invaders wielded sharp-edged swords of steel.
Many of the Spaniards clothed themselves in metal plate,
and some rode great snorting beasts with manes and iron-shod hooves.
The earthwork walls of Cerro Palenque have never before failed to fend attack,
but alas, they met their doom at last.
The walls could not withstand the might
of those armor-plated, bearded, arrogant foreignors.
Woe! The Spanish army breached the walls of Cerro Palenque.
Battle streamed down the mountainside.
On the banks of the mighty Ulúa River,
Chief Cicumba fell under the onslaught of the conquistadores.
The surviving Tolupans fled into the rainforest.
Tidings trickled to their ears from tribes along the coast, and inland as well,
about other Spanish incursions.
Would nothing stop this tide of invasions?
Hiding among the cacao groves, the Tolupans watched in horror and rage
as the invaders built a stinking town
not far downriver from the ruins of Cerro Palenque fort.
Our war correspondent reports from a hideout in the rainforest:
A warrior by the name of Galel gathered everyone together this morning,
to tell of a marvel that had happened
the night before as he sheltered in a cacao grove nearby.
"A bat spoke to me," he said, "just as in the tale of the monkey giant!
He gave me counsel."
So began a journey that lasted many days.
We all took note, for this was a weighty omen.
"The bat told me to trek inland,
to follow the river into the heart of the mountains."
"Into the lands of the Lenca tribe?" someone asked.
"The bat said to go to the aid of the Lenca chief Lempira,
the Lord of the Mountains.
He alone has the might to turn back this evil tide.
Who will go with me?
Who will rise again to wreak vengeance on those bearded devils?"
As the straggling group of Tolupan refugees
followed the river into the mountains, the forests thinned.
The nights turned cold. The air grew dry.
The warm, humid land of cacao groves fell behind.
During the long trek, our war correspondent interviewed several of the refugees.
"I went back to the battlefield every night since the massacre,"
one woman said with a catch in her voice.
"I looked and looked for my husband. Never did find him.
Found all my pots shattered, the ones I'd just finished painting and glazing.
My neighbor's cacao seedling bed had been trampled.
Nothing left but uprooted twigs and torn leaves.
And now we too are uprooted and torn from our homeland!"
"Ever since I was a tiny girl," another woman said,
"my grandfather told me to beware those Spaniards-- the filthy, hairy-faced vermin.
They're all thieves, he told me.
That sea-chief they call Koh-Lum-Boh*,
he opened a bag of cacao beans and didn't know what to make of them.
The fool! The greedy fool.
He could see our folk thought the beans of great value, so he took them.
A whole bag! The thief."
"And he should know!
A couple years before I was born,
he was a paddler on a trading boat heading for Yucatan,
the very boat that had the misfortune to cross paths with the great sea-ships
that came scouting our waters that season.
"My grandfather was dragged aboard, made to explain his wares.
"Yes, we should have taken warning," the first woman answered.
"We never should have let them set foot on our shores.
Ten years ago, they swallowed the tribes of the north coast,
and now they're spreading like ants everywhere."
"Even here in the mountains!
These aren't the ones who drove us from the coast.
Where did these new Spanish mobs come from?"
A warrior spoke up.
"They followed the Aztec slavers' route from the northwest.
Annihilated the tribe that blocked their path, those Mayan Chortí folk,
and swarmed up the river valleys.
Destroying on every side.
If Lempira can't stop them, no one can."
Former enemies camped beside each other, sharing cookfires.
Lempira had stocked up with provisions enough to last his great host half a year.
Everyone took heart. Here they would make their stand.
Here they would give crushing defeat to the invaders from across the sea!
The Tolupans met up with forces from other tribes, also flocking to Lempira's side.
Some had come because of omens.
Some were answering a call he sent out by runners.
When the refugees finally reached Lempira's fortress Cerquin--
perched atop a mountain steeper by far than Cerro Palenque in the lowlands--
they joined forces with members of two hundred other tribes,
milling in a great compound housing hundreds of adobe shelters.
(And a ball court, everyone noted with delight.)
The warriors eyed each other with some distrust.
Before this age of disaster, they had been at each others' throats.
Now they united against a common foe.
This morning at dawn, the army of Spaniards surged to the attack,
urged on by their chief Alonso who wore a plume in his steel helmet.
He bellowed and shouted, ordering his steel-plated soldiers
to rush up one cliff-approach to the fort, then another--but all in vain.
The defenders of Cerquin, that valiant alliance of tribes from lowland rainforest and mountain heights,
rained stones and poisoned arrows on the flailing Spanish below, and drove them back every time.
From his post on the battlements, Chief Lempira,
Lord of the Mountains, jeered at the retreating foe.
Now as evening falls, under cover of darkness,
messengers trot sure-footed on narrow mountain paths, heading in every direction. Cunning Chief Lempira has sent out a legion of warriors on a special mission,
taking word to folk in every corner of the land.
"Rise up and fight, every tribe at once!
Strike at the heart of our enemies!
Set all Spanish towns to the torch!
Drive them from our lands!"
With the Lord of the Mountains leading all the tribes of the land,
the Spanish invaders are doomed!
* Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage in 1502
How to start a cacao tree
Planting a nursery
During harvest time, notice which cacao trees bear the largest quantity of the biggest pods.
From those trees, choose a few of the biggest pods.
Have ready some baskets the size of your head, filled with fine soil mixed with manure.
Plant a freshly-picked cacao bean in each.
The same day you pick them, open the pods as usual and select beans from the middle of the pod.
These are best for sowing. Do not let them sit longer than a week or they will not sprout.
In fact, for best results, harvest your seed beans and plant them on the same day.
Set the baskets all together in a spot near a stream.
If it's a sunny place, make shade for your nursery by building a screen
about head-high and covering the top with palm fronds.
Water your seedling baskets every day. Never let them get bone-dry.
Weed them often, and pluck out any voracious insects.
If you find diseased seedlings, pull them out and burn them.
Preparing sites for the trees
Four months after planting, walk through the rain forest
looking for sites where you want to plant new cacao trees.
Soil rich with forest humus is best.
Never plant in rocky soil or hard layers of dirt.
A gentle slope will do, but not a windy hillside.
Once you have found a good spot, pace off twelve steps from the nearest shade tree,
dig a pit, and leave the soil mounded beside it.
Besides many small branch roots that grow near the surface,
a cacao tree has a tap-root that descends straight down, deep into the soil.
Digging deep will give the tap-root freedom to grow strong and quick.
Planting out the seedlings
Two months later--six months after sowing into the baskets,
and at the beginning of the rainy season--fill in the holes you dug earlier.
You can also dig in some manure at this time, if you wish.
Let the soil sit for a couple of days.
By now the seedlings should have two or three leaves.
That's when they are ready to plant.
Sort them and use only the strongest, healthiest plants.
On a day when the soil is moist and the sky is cloudy,
take each basket to one of the planting sites in the rain forest.
Make a hole in the loose dirt filling the pit.
Plant your seedling, basket and all.
The basket will rot in the earth.
Pack the soil down around the basket and give the seedling a good watering.
For the first few days, take extra care that each seedling is protected from the sun.
You can make shades out of palm fronds.
Tend the young trees
During the next few months, check often on your cacao seedlings.
If you find any that are diseased or dead, pull them out and burn them.
Weed four or five times a year while the trees are small.
When they get bigger and cast a lot of shade, weed once a year.
Remember, bare soil dries out quickly.
Cover any bare soil with cut weeds or palm fronds
to help it stay moist and cool.
In four or five years, your young cacao trees will begin to bear fruit.
They can grow as high as five-men-tall,
and their branches can spread nearly that wide across.
Phantoms From The North
At the far end of the Incan Road
Quintil Valley (Valparaiso), Chile--
During the last few days, the Chango folk of Quintil valley
have had two strange encounters, one right after another.
The fishermen returned early from their foray one morning,
paddling madly back to shore.
They hoisted their rafts up the shingle,
careful not to puncture the inflated sealskin bladders,
then ushered the women and children upslope
to hiding places on the steep hillsides overlooking Alimapu bay.
"Phantoms!" the men cried in panic. "Gigantic phantoms on the sea, swimming from the north!"
Some of the children cried in fear.
Adults muttered about the phantom,
calling it an omen of ill tidings.
From the heavy fog emerged a huge, bizarre shape, gliding on the waters.
What was it?
Oars dipped from the great vessel into the sea,
propelling it forward like a raft, sending it now into the sheltered bay--
but the oddity was larger than a dozen rafts put together.
The phantom seemed to sprout tree trunks in the midst.
Tree trunks with no greenery.
Great pale wings billowed from the wooden spires.
The huge raft came to a stop and folded up its wings,
like a seagull settling in the waves to rest.
The Changos sat in the hills and watched until darkness settled.
It was indeed a raft, the elders decided come daylight.
They could see the figures of men striding about on the vessel.
The Changos stayed in the hills where earlier they had hidden food and blankets,
fearing another invasion by the Incas.
The Chango folk of Quintil valley went back to their sealskin huts on the shore,
scratching their heads at the mystery brought by the sea.
On the fifth day, another strange sight met the Changos' eyes.
A line of men came marching along the seashore, again from the north.
These men clanked as they walked, like great hermit crabs.
Their heads glinted in the misty sunlight like abalone shells.
When these hermit-crab men spotted the huge raft,
they shouted and waved like barking seals.
There came answering barks from the great raft.
The Chango watchers murmured in surprise
as the great vessel spawned a smaller raft.
This craft rowed to shore to collect the walkers
and take them to the huge phantom offshore.
Soon there was nothing left on the beach but footprints.
The great raft sent out its oars and spread its wings,
and slowly glided north into the fog.
Sea and shore, sky and sandbar, all looked the same as they had for ages,
as if no phantoms had come to haunt this foggy coastline.
The elders sent the three stealthiest hunters up the coast
to watch the progress of the great raft and learn, if they could, what these strange hermit-crab men
were doing here in the land of the Chango.
They brought back no answers, just more riddles.
The great winged raft met two others of its kind,
in a bay not far to the north.
Hermit-crab men brought bundles ashore, then set off walking with those burdens, heading high up into the mountains, following the ancient Incan Road.
The three winged vessels vanished into the fog, sailing north.
The watchers set off after the walkers.
They returned as puzzled as ever,
for high up in the mountains
the hermit-crab men had met up with more of their strange kind.
allies of our ruthless Incan neighbors, or their conquerors?
Foes in either case, the Changos fear.
The Camanchaca (an Aymara word that means darkness) is
a weather phenomenon on the coast of Chile,
where dense fog rolls inland but drops no precipitation.
Mosses, lichens, and cacti grow in this arid land.
Foggy South America:
along the west coast,
the frigid Humboldt Current flows north, chilling a damp wind that blow east,
back toward foggy South America...
* In 1536, Spanish sea captain Don Juan de Saavedra was taking part in an overland exploration led by Diego de Almagro, Governor of Cuzco, Peru. Brigantines sailed along the coast to bring them supplies.
From Kangaroo to Wallaby
Ngarrabullgin, or Mount Mulligan: photo attribution
Summons to a warrama
by guest contributor Yajarril of the Djungan clan
Ngarrabullgan to Wooroonooran, Queensland--
Five sleeps ago, I set out from the foot of sacred, steep-sided mount Ngarrabullgan.
I carried a light yet important burden assigned me by the leader of my Djungan clan.
Over the last two days of my run, though, the land changed.
The trees crowded thicker together, the air grew humid.
landscape near Ngarrabullgin:
photo attribution here **
For the first three days I ran through familiar country:
airy woodlands where the bloodwood eucalyptus canopy gives dappled shade
and the meadows grow lush with grasses.
Kangaroos abounded, bounding away on every side.
A sign of the good life, with such numerous prey for the hunt.
I couldn’t see far through the dense trees.
I worried that hostile Ngadjonji hunters would spring out of hiding
and slay me before I could raise the emblem of safe conduct I carry.
This morning as I loped through the fringes of the rainforest,
I wondered about the local tribes.
How can the Ngadjonji survive, here where there’s so little grass?
Not enough grazing for kangaroos, the staple of life!
There must be some other creatures they hunt to fill their bellies.
As the sun reached its highest leap of the day, I came across my first Ngadjonji.
Around two tall trees--a variety unknown to me--
milled a group of boys half my age, calling up into the branches.
They made such a noise I heard them well in advance.
These boys had hair as kinky as mine, but their skin was much lighter, the color of honey. There was no doubt we came from different tribes!
Two of their fellows had each climbed a tree (guwaa trees, as I later learned).
Each climber had flung a rope around his chosen trunk,
grabbed one end in each hand, and walked up, with the rope as an anchoring brace.
And each carried a hatchet clenched in his teeth.
The climbers hacked with those flint blades
at knobby fruits high up in the branches
and dropped them to the other lads, who gathered them into baskets.
From the chanting, I believe it was a race.
I puzzled for a moment how the climbers could keep hold of their ropes and chop at the same time.
(Later I learned they free up one hand by wrapping that rope-end around a thigh.)
I waited until the lads had come down before announcing myself,
holding up the message stick and showing my other hand empty.
At last we came to their hamlet in the jungle, a cluster of dome-shaped huts.
The elder women greeted me and sat me down to a meal.
I quite enjoyed the ground and roasted guwaa tree seeds,
the same kind as those gathered today by the troop of boys.
Yams, bush potatoes, scrub-hen eggs, and roasted wallaby rounded out the meal.
I didn't even notice the lack of kangaroo on the menu.
After their yelps of surprise died down, the boys escorted me along a narrow path.
Some of the trees we passed had great flat slabs for roots.
Magurra tree, they told me.
One lad patted the largest slab.
“These buttress roots are the best for making shields,” he said.
"What's this?" I asked, removing my foot from a sticky mess.
"A cassowary has been here, feasting on figs fallen from the magurra tree."
He laughed at the grimace on my face.
Most of the men had gone hunting.
The elder men, someone hinted,
were working in secret on a shield to be used in an initiation.
One young man said they were priming the wood cut from the magurra tree,
using ngunuy tree resin.
He showed me the paints he was preparing for the shield’s finishing touches.
"Ah," I said. “The same colors as the rock paintings on Ngarrabullgan,
which are beginning to fade.
My elders say we must soon make a pilgrimage to the sacred sites
and touch up the paintings.”
"The white ochre comes from the lands of the Yalanji people in the north.
They trade it for our own yellow ochre that we grind from the clay below Malanda Falls.
Like this, see?"
The boy dumped some pebbly yellow clay onto a flat rock and ground it with a rounded stone.
"First you paint yellow, then red, then white. Last of all, charcoal black."
palette of the Ngadjonji
At last the hunting party and the elders returned.
I stood and presented the message stick.
The elders studied the patterns of lines and dots carved into the rod.
"Your tribe is calling for a great meeting, are they?" they asked.
"It has been several years since we’ve held a warrama."
I answered their questions about the location and the time.
The women chatted to one side.
I could hear the excitement in their voices
as they talked about sprucing up their costumes and practicing for the songs and dances.
The young men boasted how they would prevail at the games,
and spent the rest of the evening showing off their tumbling and wrestling skills.
In the morning I feasted on roast iguana, then set off to continue my rounds.
I would head north to the Kuku Yalanji tribe,
then onwards to the Yidinji tribe,
before circling back to the drier tablelands of own territory,
at the feet of majestic Ngarrabullgan.
warrama: 3-day celebration
The Trumpeting of War
Earth quakes from the tread of armies
Lovek (near Phnom Penh), Cambodia--
Years of strained relations and months of escalating tensions
have at last burst into hostile action.
A week ago, spies reported an army gathering
beyond the western border of Cambodia in the greedy realm of Ayutthaya.
It's no secret that Ayutthayan Prince Chao Phraya Ong covets Cambodia's riches:
gems and jewels, metalwork, silks and cotton, incense and ivory.
Here in Cambodia's capital city Lovek, Ang Chan, king of the Khmers, has not been sitting idle.
His own host has been drilling all spring, and his navy is armed and ready to sail.
Two days ago the king sent his defense minister to the Gulf of Siam to deal with the Ayutthayan fleet.
Today, on a hill to the west of Lovek,
King Ang Chan has pitched his pavilion.
In the valley below, his foot soldiers form ranks, ready for battle.
This morning the king called for a break in reports
and took time to pray beneath a banyan tree near his pavilion.
His ministers and generals waited silently nearby.
From the distance came the sound of tromping feet.
Eighty thousand foot soldiers, the king's spies had estimated.
banyan tree (from website Wisata Grafi)
King Ang Chan finished his prayers.
His men helped him mount his elephant and prepare to engage.
The army of Lovek braced itself.
The moment came. The king gave a signal. Horns blew.
King Ang Chan urged his war elephant forward.
Ranks of soldiers surged into motion behind him,
marching with a thunder of their own.
The tide of battle turned with the speed of a summer storm.
The Ayutthayan host fled.
The armies clashed on the Pursat Plains.
Clamor and chaos, elephants trumpeting, roars, yells, screams.
Weapons striking, parrying, smiting.
The Prince of Ayutthaya, Chao Phraya Ong,
took an arrow in the neck and slid from his elephant to be trampled underfoot.
Many chiefs of the Ayutthaya fell beside their leader.
war elephants in Thailand
King Ang Chan sent the greatest part of his forces to dust the heels of the fleeing enemy.
The remainder he set to stripping the dead.
The Ayutthayan commanders had come in all their glory, arrayed in silver and gold.
Ang Chan ordered the precious metals melted down and cast into Buddha images.
The body of Prince Ong he buried with royal honors
beneath the banyan tree where just that morning
he had prayed for help in defending his lands.
Here, he declared, they would build a pagoda
in memorial of the salvation of the people of Lovek.
pagoda near Phnom Penh
Two pale-skinned ruffians following the Zambesi River
trekked in from the coast three days ago,
and have been making trouble ever since.
The pale foreignors accuse us of hiding our gold from them.
How else, they ask, could we afford the fine blue-and-white Chinese porcelain
they had feasted upon that first night at the chief's dwelling?
(The only porcelain in our settlement, a gift from the king.)
They keep asking in broken speech where to find the gold.
Everyone knows it's copper we mine here in Chidzurgwe,
and that gold is found in the Masappa area.
But these two ruffians have been pestering every merchant in the marketplace,
no matter that the booths display copper vessels and adornments,
copper wire, and pigments of blue and green from copper outcroppings.
No matter that no one in Chidzurgwe is wealthy enough to wear gold!
A mob of fathers, brothers and uncles tackled the two,
gave them a sound thrashing, and tied them up like pigs.
Tomorrow they will haul the ruffians to the royal court at Zvongombe.
Let King Neshangwe Munembire deal with the foreign trouble-makers.
Sertanejos, these interlopers called themselves: backwoodsmen, looking for "ouro."
The first two days, our young women giggled behind their hands
at these uncouth Portuguese barbarians and their stumbling words.
But yesterday the louts began grabbing
at girls' wrists to peer at their copper bangles.
bangles from Zimbabwe
Disaster in Delft
Town burns to the ground
EUROPE: Delft, Netherlands, May 4, 1536--
A severe thunderstorm yesterday sent all the citizens of Delft
running for cover, taking shelter in the nearest shop or residence.
The wooden walls and shingled roofs warded the wind and rain,
but proved the town's undoing.
Lightning struck the timber spire of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and set it aflame.
Sparks flew, landing on roofs nearby.
Flames leaped from building to building,
and within minutes most of the town was ablaze.
People fled in panic.
Crowds crushed together at the town's sturdy encircling wall.
In the mad rush to get through the five gates and across the drawbridges,
two dozen people were trampled and injured,
while several fell into the moat surrounding the town,
and had to be fished out.
This morning, workers shovel through the rubble,
dousing any smoldering embers and searching for bodies.
By all accounts, more than two thousand houses were destroyed.
No wooden structures survived in the heart of Delft
and the neighborhoods to west and south.
Even the parish churches, built of stone, sustained severe damage.
One of the arched buttresses of Nieuwe Kerk collapsed.
The flames did not leap the canals in the southeast section of town.
A narrow strip in the north also escaped the conflagration.
Many townsfolk will remain all summer and autumn in the countryside nearby
where they found shelter in farmhouses and barns.
It will take months of cleaning and rebuilding to make Delft livable again.
An unnamed source in the town guard reports
the Mayor was so impressed by a stack of white-glazed plates one man carried
that he requisitioned a full table service.
The potter, who apprenticed in Antwerp,
explained that the brilliant white comes from adding tin oxide to the glaze,
an Italian technique newly come to the Netherlands.
The potter on Donker Street has offered his establishment
as temporary housing for the Mayor of Delft,
since Town Hall also burned to the ground. |
Early this morning soldiers of the town guard spent several hours hauling pottery into storage to make room for the interim headquarters.
The Mayor, our source reports, commented
that the white-glazed pottery might make a nice cheap substitute
for the costly imported Chinese porcelain he lost in the inferno.
"If painted with blue designs like the porcelain,"
he added before more pressing matters called him away.
In the aftermath of disaster,
scores of people report seeing Delft's beloved storks
remaining on their nests throughout the conflagration.
Stork fledglings by this season are
too large for the parents to carry to safety, yet too young to fly.
The adult storks spread their wings to shelter their young,
and endured the blazing heat.
In the midst of death and destruction,
work crews send up a cheer for each stork nest they spy unscathed--
symbol of the great-hearted courage of the townsfolk of Delft.
Over the next few decades, the potters of Delft may try to duplicate
the look of Chinese porcelain by painting their own white-glazed pottery
with cobalt oxide pigments. Rumor has it they will name their product
after their beloved town: Delftware.
browse earlier issues
visit author's home page
read flash fiction at Wildwood Wandering: weekly blog
Sign up for this quarterly newsletter
(offered through email marketing service provider MailChimp,
which has an easy unsubscribe option if you change your mind.)