John Vachon photographs for the Environmental Protection Agency / Documerica Project
Documenting environmental damage in the 1970s:
I, Fray Ramón, a poor anchorite of the Order of St. Jerome, write by order of the illustrious Lord Admiral, viceroy, and governor of the islands and mainland of the Indies what I have been able to learn concerning the beliefs and idolatry of the Indians, and the manner in which they worship their gods. Of these matters I shall give an account in the present treatise. Each one adores the idols or cemies that he has in his house in some special way and with some special rites. They believe that there is an immortal being in the sky whom none can see and who has a mother but no bPginning. They call him Yocahu Vagua Maorocoti, and his mother Atabex, Yermaoguacar, Apito, and Zuimaco, which are five different names. I write only of the Indians of the island of EspaAola, for I know nothing about the other islands and have never seen them. These Indians also know whence they came and where the sun and moon had their beginning, and how the sea was made, and of the place to which the dead go. They believe that the dead people appear on the roads to one who walks alone, but when many go together, the dead do not appear. All this they were taught by their forebears, for they cannot read or count above ten.
I. Of the place from which the lndians came, and how they came. In Española there is a province called Caonao, in which is found a mountain called Canta, having two caves named Cacibayagua and Amayauba. From Cacibayagua came the majority of the people who settled the island. When they lived in that cave, they posted a guard at night, and they intrusted that charge to a man named Marocael; they say that one day the sun carried him off because he was late in coming to the door. Seeing that the sun had carried away this man for neglecting his duties, they closed the door to him, and so he was changed into a stone near that door. They say that others who had gone fishing were caught by the sun and changed into the trees call jobos or myrobalans. The reason why Marocael kept guard was to see in what direction he should send or distribute the people; and his lateness was his undoing.
II. How the women were separated from the men. It once happened that Guaguyona told another man named Yadruvava to go to pick the herb called digo with which they clean their bodies when they bathe. He went out before dawn, and the sun caught him on the road and changed him into a bird which sings in the morning, like the nightingale; it is called Yahuba Bayael. Guaguyona, seeing that the man he had sent to look for digo did not return, decided to come out of the cave Cacibayagua.
III. Then Guaguyona, angry because the men he had sent to pick digo for his bath did not return, decided to go away and said to the women, “Leave your husbands, and we shall go to other lands and take much digo with us. Leave your children, for we shall take only the herb with us; later we shall return for the children.
IV. Guaguyona left with all the women, and went in search of other lands, and came to Matininó, where he soon left the women and departed for another region called Guanín. The women had left their little children by a brook, and when the latter began to grow hungry, they wept and called on their mothers who had gone away. The fathers could not help their children, and in their hunger the children called out “mama”; they were really asking for the breast. So, weeping and asking for the breast, and saying too, too like one who insistently asks for something, they were changed into little animals like frogs, called tona, because they had asked for the breast. That is how the men were left without women.
V. How the women returnedfrom the island of Española, which was formerly called Haiti, that being the name of its inhabitants; and this and the other islands are called Bouhí. As these Indians have no alphabet or writing, they cannot give a coherent account of these matters, but they have them from their forebears. Therefore their accounts do not agree, nor is it possible to write down in an orderly fashion what they say. When Guaguyona (he who carried off all the women) went away, he also took with him the wives of his cacique Anacacuya, deceiving these women as he had done the others. There also went a brother-in-law of Guaguyona’s, named Anacacuya, who entered the sea with him; and when they were in the canoe, Guaguyona said to his brother-in-law, “See the beautiful cobo in the water.” This cobo is the periwinkle. When Anacacuya looked into the water, his brother-in-law Guaguyona grabbed his feet and threw him in the water; thus Guaguyona had all the women to himself and left those of Matininó; it is said that today there are only women on that island. And he departed for another island, called Guanin because of what he took away from there.
VI. How Guaguyona returned to the island of Canta, whence he had brought the women. They say that when Guaguyona was in the land to which he had gone, he saw that he had left a woman in the sea. He had great pleasure with her, but soon had to look for many bath-houses in which to wash himself because he was full of those sores that we call the French Sickness. She placed him in a guanara, which means a place apart; there he was cured of his sores. Afterwards she asked permission to continue on her way, which he granted. This woman was named Guabonito. And Guaguyona changed his name, henceforth calling himself Biberoci Guahayona. And Guabonito gave to Biberoci Guahayona many guanines and many cibas to wear tied on their arms; these cibas are stones which much resemble marble and which they wear about their necks and arms; they wear the guanines in their ears, which they perforate when they are small; these guanines are made of a metal like that of which florins are made. They say that these guanines began with Guabonito, Albeborael, Guahayona, and the father of Alberborael. Guahayona stayed in that country with his father, named Yauna. His son took from his father the name Hía Guaili Guanín, which means the son of Yauna; later he called himself Guanin, and is called that today. As the Indians have no alphabet or writing, they do not tell their myths well, nor can I write them down accurately, and I fear that I am telling last things first and first last; but I put it down just as I had it from the natives of the country.
VII. How the women returnedfrom the island of Haiti, which is now called Española. They say that one day the men went to wash themselves; and while they were in the water, it rained hard, and they felt great desire for women; frequently when it rained they sought traces of their wives, but could not find them. However, that day, as they were washing themselves they saw falling from the trees, sliding down the branches, some creatures that were neither men nor women, and had neither male nor female genitals. They tried to catch them, but they slipped away like eels. So by orders of their cacique they summoned two or three men who should see how many of these creatures there were, and who should bring as many men of the kind called caracaracol, because they had rough hands, who would be able to catch them and tie them down. They told the cacique there were four of these creatures; so they brought four men who were caracaracoles. This caracaracol is a sickness like the scab that makes the body very rough. When they had caught them, they considered how they could make women out of them, since they had neither male nor female genitals.
VIII. How they devised a way ofmaking women of them. They found a bird now called inrim, and in ancient times inrire cahuvayal, that is, a woodpecker, which bores holes in trees. Then, seizing those women without male or female genitals, they bound their hands and feet, and tied that bird to the body of each. The bird, thinking they were trees, began his accustomed work, pecking and hollowing out the place where women’s genitals are wont to be. The Indians say that is the manner in which they acquired women, as told by their oldest men. As I wrote in haste and had not enough paper, I could not put everything where it belonged, yet I have made no mistake, for they believe everything that is written here. Turning now to what I should have related first, I shall tell their beliefs concerning the origin ofthe sea.
IX. How the sea was made. There was a man called Yaya, whose name they do not know; his son was called Yayael, which means son of Yaya. This Yayael wishing to kill his father, the latter banished him, and he was banished for four months; after that his father killed him and put his bones in a calabash which he hung from the ceiling of his hut, where it hung for some time. One day, wishing to see his son, Yaya said to his wife, “I want to see our son Yayael.” She was content and, taking the calabash, turned it over to see the bones of their son. Out of it came many large and small fish. Perceiving that the bones had been changed into fish, they decided to eat them. One day, when Yaya had gone to his maize fields, that were his inheritance, there came four sons of a woman named Itiba Tahuvava, all born at a single birth; for this woman having died in childbirth, they cut her open and took out these four sons. And the first one they took out was caracaracol, which means scabby, and his name was …; the others had no name.
X. The four twin sons of Itiba Tahuvava, who died in childbirth, went together to get the calabash in which Yaya kept the bones of his son Yayael who had been changed into a fish; but none of them dared to get it except Dimivan Caracaracol, who took it down; and they all had their fill of fish. While they were eating, they heard Yaya coming back from his fields; and in their haste to hang the calabash up again they did not do it right, so that it fell to earth and broke. They say so much water came out of the calabash that it filled the whole earth, and with it came many fish. They say this was how the sea began. After they had left this place they met a man named Conel, who was dumb.
XI. What happened to the four brothers when they were fleeingfrom Yaya. The brothers, coming to the door of Basamanaco’s house, noticed that he had cassava, and said, “Ayacavo Guarocoel,” which means “Let us make the acquaintance of our grandfather.” Then Demivan Caracaracol, going ahead of his brothers, entered the house to see if he could find some cassava, which is the bread of that country. Caracaracol, entering the house of Ayamanaco, asked him for some cassava. At this Ayamanaco put his hand to his nose, took out a guanguayo, and threw it at Caracaracol’s shoulder; this guanguayo was full of cohoba which he had had made that day and is a powder that they sometimes take as purge and for other purposes which will be told hereafter. They take it by means of the cane half an ell long, putting one end of this cane in the nose and the other in the powder; they snuff this powder into the nose, and it purges them greatly. So he gave them that guanguayo instead of bread, and he went away very angry because they had asked him for it. Caracaracol then returned to his brothers and told them what had happened with Bayamanicoel, of the blow that he had given him on the shoulder with the guanguayo, and that it hurt him sorely. His brothers looked at his shoulder and saw that it was much swollen, and that swelling grew so that he was about to die. They tried to cut it, without success, but taking a stone hatchet, they managed to open it, and out came a live female turtle; so they built their hut and fed the turtle. I could not learn any more about this, and what I have written is of little worth.
They also say that the sun and moon came out of a cave in the country of a cacique named Maucia Tivuel; this cave is called Yovovava, and they feel great reverence for it. It is all painted in their fashion, without any figure, but with many leaves and the like. In this cave there were two stone cernies, about half a man’s arm in size, their hands tied; they seemed to be sweating. They held these cemies in much regard; they say that when they needed rain they would visit these cemies, and the rain would immediately come. One of these cemies was called Boinayol, and the other Maroya.
XII. Their beliefs concerning the wanderings of the dead, of their appearance, and what they do. They believe the dead go to a place called Coaybay, on one side of an island called Soraya. They say that the first to live there was one Maquetaurie Guayava, who was lord of Coaybay, home and dwelling place of the dead.
XIII. Of the forms which they assign to the dead. They say that during the day the dead live in seclusion, but at night walk about for recreation and eat of fruit called guabaxa, which has the flavor of [the quince B.K.] and during the day is . . . but at night is changed into fruit; and they have festivities and keep company with the living. The Indians have this method of identifying dead people: They touch the belly of a person with the hand, and if they do not find a navel, they say that person is operito, which means dead; for they say that dead persons have no navels. Sometimes one who does not take this precaution and lies with a woman of Coaybay is mocked; for when he holds her in his arms, she suddenly disappears and his arms are empty. They still believe this. When a person is alive, they call his spirit goeiz; when he is dead, opia. They say that this goeiz appears to them often, now in the shape of a man, now of a woman. They say there was a man who wished to fight with a spirit; but when he closed with it, it disappeared, and the man flung his arms about a tree from whose branches he hung. All of them, young and old, believe this; they also believe that the spirits appear to them in the shape of their father, mother, brothers, relatives, or in some other shape. The fruit that they believe the dead eat is the size of a peach. The dead do not appear to them by day, but only by night, and therefore one who walks about at night feels great fear.
XIV. Whence come these beliefs and why they persist in them. There are certain men among them, called bohutís, who practice great frauds upon the Indians, as shall be explained hereafter, to make them believe that they, the bohutis, speak with the dead and that they know all their deeds and secrets, and that when the Indians are ill they cure them. These deceptions I have seen with my own eyes, whereas the other things I told about I heard of only from others, especially from their principal men–because these men believe these fables more firmly than the others. Like the Moors, they have their religion set forth in ancient chants by which they are governed, as the Moors are by their Scripture. When they sing their chants, they play an instrument called mayohavau that is made of wood and is hollow, strong, yet very thin, an ell long and half as wide; the part which is played has the shape of a blacksmith’s tongs, and the other end is like a club, so that it looks like a gourd with a long neck; this instrument is so sonorous that it can be heard a league and a half away. To its accompaniment they sing their chants, which they know by heart; and their principal men learn from infancy to play it and sing to it, according to their custom. Now I shall tell many other things concerning the ceremonies and customs of these heathen.
XV. Of how the buhuitihus practice medicine, and what they teach the people, and of the deceintions they practice in their cures. All the Indians of the island of Española have many different kinds of cemíes. In some they keep the bones of their father, mother, relations, and forebears; these cemíes are made of stone or wood. They have many of both kinds. There are some that speak, others that cause food plants to grow, others that bring rain, and others that make the winds blow. These simple, ignorant people, who know not our holy faith, believe that these idols or rather demons do all these things. When an Indian falls ill, they bring the buhuitihu to him. This doctor must observe a diet just like his patient and must assume the suffering expression of a sick man. He must also purge himself just as the sick man does, by snuffing a powder called cohoba up his nose. This produces such intoxication that they do not know what they are doing; and they say many senseless things, declaring that they are speaking with the cemíes and that the latter are telling him the cause of the illness.
XVI. What these buhuitihus do. When a buhuitihu goes to call upon a patient, before leaving his hut he takes some soot from a cooking pot, or some charcoal, and blackens his face in order to make the sick man believe whatever he may say about his sickness; then he takes some small bones and a little meat, wraps the whole in something so it will not fall out, and puts it in his mouth. Meanwhile the patient has been purged in the manner described above. Entering the sick man’s hut, the doctor sits down, and all fall silent; if there are any children in the hut, they are put out so they will not interfere with the buhuitihu’s work; only one or two of the principal men remain. Then the buhuitihu takes some giieyo herb,…wide, and another herb, wrapped in an onion leaf four inches long (but the giieyo herb is what they all generally use), and taking it between his hands, he mashes it into a pulp; and then he puts it into his mouth at night so as to vomit anything harmful that he may have eaten. Then he begins to sing his chant and, taking up a torch, drinks the juice of that herb. This done, he is quiet for a time; then he rises, goes toward the sick man, who lies alone in the middle of the hut, and walks about him twice or as many times as he thinks proper. Then he stands in front of him and takes him by the legs, feeling of his body from the thighs to the feet, after which he draws his hands away forcefully, as if pulling something out. Then he goes to the door, shuts it, and speaks to it, saying: “Begone to the mountain, or the sea, or where you willl then after he has blown like one who blows chaff from his hand, he turns around, joins his hands together as if he were very cold, blows on his hands, and sucks in his breath as if sucking marrow from a bone, then sucks at the sick man’s neck, or stomach, or shoulder, or cheeks, or the belly or some other part of the body. Having done this, he begins to cough and make a face as if he had eaten something bitter; then he spits into his hand the stone or bone or piece of meat that he put in his mouth at home or on the road. And if it is a piece of food, he tells the sick man, “You must know that you have eaten something that caused the sickness from which you suffer. See how I have taken it out of your body, where your cemi lodged it because you did not pray to him or build him a shrine or give him some land.” Ifit is a stone, he says, “Take good care of it.” Sometimes they believe these stones are good and help women in childbirth, and they take good care of them, wrapping them in cotton, placing them in small baskets, and putting food before them; they do the same with the cemies they have in their houses. On a holiday, when they have much food–fish, meat, or bread–they put some of each food in the house of the cemi, and next day they carry this food back to their huts after the cemi has eaten. But it would truly be a miracle if the cemí ate of that or anything else, for the cemi is a dead thing of stone or wood.
XVII. How these physicians are sometimes paid back for their deceptions. If the sick man should die in spite of having done all these things, and if he has many relations or one who is lord over a village and so can stand up to the buhuitihu or doctor (for men of small influence dare not contend with them), then those who wish to do the buhuitihu mischief do the following: First, in order to learn if the sick man died through the doctor’s fault, or because he did not observe the diet that the doctor prescribed for him, these relations take an herb which is called gueyo, whose leaves resemble those of the sweet basil, being thick and long; this herb is also called zacón. They squeeze the juice from the leaf, then cut the dead man’s nails and the hair above his forehead, pound the nails and hair to a powder between two stones, mix this powder with the juice of the herb, and pour the mixture between the dead man’s lips to find out from him if the doctor was the cause of his death and whether he observed his diet. They ask this of him many times, until at least he speaks as distinctly as if he were alive and answers all their questions, saying that the buhuitihu did not observe the diet, or was the cause of his death. They say that the doctor asks him if he is alive, and that he can speak very clearly; he replies that he is dead. After they have learned from him what they want to know, they return him to the grave from which they took him. They perform this sorcery in still another way. They take the dead man and make a great fire like that used for making charcoal, and when the wood has turned to live coals, they throw the body into that fierce blaze; then they cover it with earth, as the charcoal-burner does the charcoal, and leave it there as long as they think advisable. Then they ask him the same question as above. The dead man replies that he knows nothing. This they ask of him ten times, and ten times he replies in the same way. Again they ask him if he is dead, but he will speak only those ten times.
XVIII. How the dead man’s relatives avenge themselves when they have had a reply through the sorcery of the potions. The dead man’s relations assemble on a certain day and lie in wait for the said buhuitihu, give him such a thrashing that they break his legs, arms, and head, and leave him for dead. At night, they say, there come many different kinds of snakes–white, black, green, and many other colors–that lick the face and whole body of the physician whom the Indians have left for dead. This they do two or three nights in succession; and presently, they say, the bones of his body knit together again and mend. And he rises and walks rather slowly to his home. Those who meet him on the road say, “Were you not dead?” He replies that the cemies came to his aid in the shape of snakes. And the dead man’s relations, very angry and desperate because they thought they had avenged the death of their kinsman, again try to lay hands on him; and if they catch him a second time, they pluck out his eyes and smash his testicles, for they say no amount of beating will kill one of these physicians if they do not first tear out his testicles. How the dead man whom they have burned reveals what they wish to know, and how they take their vengeance. When they uncover the fire, the smoke rises until it is lost from sight, and when it leaves the furnace, it makes a chirping noise. Then it descends and enters the hut of the buhuitihu or doctor. If he did not observe the diet, he falls sick that very moment, is covered with sores, and his whole body peels. This they take for a sign that he did not observe his diet, and so they try to kill him in the manner described above. These are the sorceries they perform.
XIX. How they make and keep their wooden or stone cemies. They make the wooden cemies in this fashion. If a man walking along the way sees a tree moving its roots, he stops, filled with fear, and asks who it is. The tree replies, “Summon a buhuitihu, and he will tell you who I am.” Then that man goes in search of a physician and tells him what he has seen. The sorcerer or warlock immediately runs toward that tree, sits down by it, and prepares a cohoba for it, as described in the story of the four brothers. And having made the cohoba, he rises, and pronounces all its titles as ifit were a great lord, and says to it: “Tell me who you are and what you are doing here, and what you want of me and why you summoned me. Tell me if you want me to cut you down, and if you wish to come with me, and how you want me to carry you; for I shall build a house for you and endow it with land.” Then that cemi or tree, become an idol or devil, tells him the shape in which it wants to be made. And the sorcerer cuts it down and carves it into the shape that it has ordered, builds a house for it and endows it with land; and many times a year he makes cohoba for it.
This cohoba is their means of praying to the idol and also of asking it for riches. When they wish to know if they will gain a victory over their enemies, they enter a hut to which only the principal men are admitted. And the lord is the first to make the cohoba and plays an instrument; and while he makes the cohoba none may speak. After he has finished his prayer he remains for some time with bowed head and arms resting on his knees; then he lifts his head, looks up to the sky, and speaks. All respond to him in a loud voice, and having spoken, they all give thanks; and he relates the vision he had while stupefied with the cohoba that he snuffed up his nose and that went to his head. He tells that he has spoken with the cemi and that they will gain the victory, or that their enemies will flee, or that there will be many deaths, or wars, or famines, or the like. or whatever comes to his addled head to say. One can imagine the state he is in, for they say the house appears to him to be turned upside-down and the people to be walking with their feet in the air. This cohoba they make not only for the cemíes of stone and wood but also for the bodies of the dead, as told above. There are different kinds of stone cemíes. Some the doctors extract from bodies of sick people, and it is believed these are the best to induce childbirth in pregnant women. There are other cemíes that speak; these have the shape of a large turnip with leaves that trail over the ground and are as long as the leaves of the caper bush; these leaves generally resemble those of the elm, others have three points: The natives believe they help the yucca grow. The root resembles that of the radish, and the leaf generally has six or seven points. I know not with what to compare it, because I have seen no plant like it in Spain or in any other country. The stalk of the yucca is a high as a man.
Now I shall tell of their beliefs concerning their idols and cemíes, and how they are greatly deluded by them.
XX. Concerning the cemí Buyabá, which was burned in time of war, and aftemoards, being washed with the juice of the yucca, its arms, eyes, and body grew back. Because the yucca plant was stunted, they washed [this cemi B.K.] With wilter and the aforesaid juice in order to make it large; they say this cemi made ill those who had made it because they had not brought it cassava to eat. The name of this cemi was Vaibrama. And if someone fell ill, they called the buhuitihu and asked him the cause of that sick ness. The buhuitihu replied that Vaibrama had caused it because food had not been sent to the caretakers of that cemi’s house.
XXI. Concerning the cemí of Guamorete. They say that when they built the house of Guamorete, who was a principal man, they put in it a cemí, which he kept on top of his house; the name of this cemi was Corocote. Once in time of war the enemies of Guamorete set fire to his house. Then, they say, Corocote got up and walked a crossbow shot from that place, next to the water. They further say that while he lived on the top of that house he would come down at night and lie with the women. After Guamorete died this cemi fell into the hands of another cacique, and continued to lie with women. They also say that two crowns grew on his head, and that is why they used to say [of someone B.K.], “since he has two crowns he is certainly the son of Corocote.” All this they believed without question. This cemí later fell into the hands of another cacique named Guatabanex, and the place where he lived was named Yacabá.
XXII. Concerning another cemí named Opiyelguovircán, who belonged to a principal man named Cavavaniovavcá, who had many vassals. They say this cemí Opiyelguovircán had four legs, like a dog, and was made of wood, and frequently left his house by night and went into the woods. They would go in search of him, and bring him back to the house tied with cords, but he always returned to the woods. They say that when the Spaniards arrived on the island of Española, this cemi fled and went to a lagoon; they followed him there by his tracks, but never saw him again, and know nothing more of him. That is the story they tell, and faithfully do I tell it again.
XXIII. Concerning another cemí named Guabancex. This cemi lived in the land of a principal cacique, named Aumatex. It is a woman, and they say she has two other cemíes for companions; one is a herald and the other is the collector and governor of the waters. They say that when Guabancex is angry, she raises the winds and water, throws down houses, and tears up the trees. They say this cemi is a woman and is made of stones of that country. Her herald, named Guatauba, carries out her orders by making the other cemies of the province help in raising wind and rain. Her other companion is named Coatrisquié of him they say that he collects the waters in the valleys between the mountains and then lets them loose to destroy the countryside. The people hold this to be gospel truth.
XXIV. Their beliefs conceming the cemi named Faraguvaol. This cemi is an idol who belonffs to a principal cacique of the island of Española and goes by various names. He was found in a manner that I shall now relate. They say that one day in the past, before the island was discovered [by the Spaniards B.K.], bUt they do not know how long ago, some Indians while hunting found an animal which they pursued; it threw itself into a ditch, and when they looked for it, they saw a log that seemed alive. At sight of this the hunter immediately ran to his lord, who was a cacique and the father of Guarayonel, and told him what he had seen. They went there and found it to be as the hunter had said, so they took that log and built a house for it. They say the cemi left that house several times and returned to a place near that place whence they had brought him. The aforesaid lord or his son Guarayonel sent men to search for the cemi, and they found him hiding; they tied him up again and put him in a sack; yet, tied as he was, he got away as before. These ignorant people hold this to be most certain truth.
XXV. Concerning what is alleged to have been said by two principal caciques of the island of Española, one of them Cacivaquel, father of the aforesaid Guarayonel, and the other, Gamanacoel. The great lord who they believe is in heaven (as I wrote at the beginning of this book) ordered Cacivaquel to fast, which they all generally do, staying in seclusion six or seven days at a time without eating or drinking anything except the juice of the herbs with which they also wash themselves. When the fasting period is finished, they begin to take nourishment. During the time of their fast their bodily and mental weakness causes them to see things that they perhaps wanted to see. They all fast in honor of their cemíes, in order to learn from them if they will gain a victory over their enemies, to acquire riches, or to satisfy some other desire. And they say this cacique claimed to have spoken with Yiocavugama, who had announced to the cacique that those who succeeded to his power would enjoy it only a short time because there would come to his country a people wearing clothes who would conquer and kill the Indians, and that they would die from hunger. At first they thought he referred to the cannibals; later, reflecting that the cannibals only robbed and then went away, they decided he must have meant some other people. That is why they now believe that the idol prophesied the coming of the Admiral and the people who came with him. Now I shall tell what I have seen and experienced. When I and other brothers were about to depart for Castile, I, Fray Ram6n, a poor anchorite [was ordered B.K.] to remain, and I went to the fortress of La Magdalena, which was built by Don Christopher Columbus, Admiral, viceroy, and governor of the islands and mainland of the Indies, by order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella our masters. While I was in that fort, in the company of its captain, Arteaga, God was pleased to enlighten with the light of the Holy Catholic Faith the entire household of the principal chief of the province in which stands the fortress of Magdalena. This province was called Macorix, and its lord is named Guavaoconel, which means “son of Guavaenequín.” In that house were his servants and favorites, who are called yahu naboriu; there were sixteen persons in all, all relations of his, including five grown brothers. One of them died, and the other four received the water of holy baptism, and I believe they died martyrs, as is shown by their constancy and the manner of their death. The first to be killed after baptism was an Indian named Guaticavá, who received the baptismal name of Juan. He was the first Christian to suffer a cruel death, and certain am I that he died a martyr’s death. I learned from some who were present when he died that he repeatedly said, Dios naboria daca, Dios naboria daca, which means, “I am the servant of God.” His brother Antonio and another who was with him died in the same manner, uttering the same words. The people of this household always were attentive to my wishes. All those who have survived are still Christians, thanks to the work of the aforesaid Christopher Columbus, viceroy and governor of the Indies; and now, through God’s favor, there are many more Christians.
Now I shall tell what happened in the fortress of La Magdalena. While I was there, the Lord Admiral came to relieve Arteaga and some other Christians who were besieged by their enemies, the subjects of a principal cacique named Caonabó. At that time the Lord Admiral told me that the province of Magdalena had a language that was different from any other and was not understood elsewhere on the island, and that I should go to live with another principal cacique named Guarionex, a lord over many vassals, as his language was understood throughout the country. By his order, then, I went to live with Guarionex. However, I said to the governor, Don Christopher Columbus, “Sir, how can your Lordship ask me to stay with Guarionex, when the only language I know is that of Macorix? Let your Lordship permit to come with me one of the Nuhuirci” (these people later became Christians) “who know both languages.” He granted my wish, and said I might take along anyone I wished. And God was pleased to give me for companion the best of all the Indians, and the best instructed in the Holy Catholic Faith; afterwards He took him from me: Praised be God who gave him to me and then took him away. Truly I looked upon him as my own good son and brother. He was Guaicavanú, who afterwards became a Christian under the name of Juan. I, a poor anchorite, shall tell some of the things that befell us there, beginning with how I and Guaicavanú departed for Isabela and there waited for the Lord Admiral until his return from the relief of Magdalena. As soon as he returned, we set out for the place where the Lord Governor had sent us, accompanied by Juan de Ayala, who had command of the fortress of La Concepci6n that the Governor Christopher Columbus had built half a league from the place where we were going to reside. The Lord Admiral ordered Juan de Ayala to provide us with food from the stores of the fortress. We stayed with the cacique Guarionex almost two years, during which time we instructed him in our holy faith and the customs of the Christians. At first he appeared well disposed toward us, causing us to believe that he would do all we wished and wanted to become a Christian, for he asked us to teach him the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Credo, and all the other prayers and things that are proper for a Christian to know. He learned the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo, as did many other persons of his household; he said his prayers every morning and made the people of his household say them twice a day. But he later grew angry with us and backslid from his good purposes on account of the principal men of that country, who scolded him for obeying the Christian law. They said the Christians were cruel and had taken their lands away by force; therefore they advised him to pay no heed to the Christians; instead they should take counsel together how they might best kill the Christians, since these were insatiable and there was no way of placating them. So he gave up his good ways and we, seeing that he was drawing away from us and abandoning our teachings, decided to go where we might have more success in indoctrinating the Indians in our holy faith. So we left for the country of another principal chief who seemed well disposed toward us and said he wanted to be a Christian. This cacique was named Maviatué.
How we deiparted for the country of Maviatué, being I, Fray Ramón Pane, a poor anchorite, Fray Juan de Borgoña, of the Order of St. Francis, and Juan Matthew, who was the first to receive baptism on the island of Española. The day after we left the village and dwelling of Guarionex for the land of the cacique Maviatué, the people of Guarionex built a hut next to the chapel, where we had left some images before which the neophytes could kneel and pray and I find comfort; these neophytes were the mother, brothers, and relatives of Juan Matthew; afterwards seven others joined them. Eventually all the members of his household became Christians and remained loyal to our holy faith, keeping watch over that chapel and some fields that I had caused to be tilled. On the second day after our departure for Maviatué’s village, by orders of Guarionex six men came to the chapel and told the seven neophytes who had it in charge to take the sacred images that I had left in their care and destroy them, because Fray Ramón and his companions had gone away and would not know who I had done it. The seven boys who guarded the chapel tried to prevent them from entering; but they forced their way in, took the sacred images, and carried them away.
XXVI. What happened to the images, and of the miracle that God caused to pass in order to show his power. After leaving the chapel those men threw the images to the ground, heaped earth on them, and pissed on top, saying, “Now will you yield good and abundant fruit”; they offered this insult because they had buried the images in a tilled field. Seeing this, the lads who watched over the chapel ran to their elders, who were in the fields, and told them that Guarionex’s people had desecrated the images and had jeered at them. The Indians immediately left what they were doing and ran crying to tell what had happened to Don Bartholomew Columbus, then governing for his brother the Admiral, who had sailed for Castile. As the viceroy’s lieutenant and governor of the islands, he brought those wicked men to trial, and their crime having been established, he caused them to be publicly burned at the stake. However, Guarionex and his people persisted in their evil design of killing all the Christians on the day assigned for them to pay their tribute of gold. The conspiracy being discovered, they were made prisoners on the very day set for their revolt. Yet some persevered in their design, killing four men and Juan Matthew, the chief clerk, and his brother Antonio, who had been baptized. Then those rebels ran to the place where they had hidden the images and broke them to pieces. Several days later the owner of the field went to dig up some yams (which are roots that look like turnips or radishes), and in the place where the images had been buried two or three yams had grown together in the shape of a cross. This cross was found by the mother of Guarionex — the worst woman I ever knew in those parts. She regarded it as a great miracle, saying to the governor of the fort of Concepción, “God caused this wonder to appear in the place where the images were found, for reasons known only to Himself.”
Let me now tell how thefirst Indians to receive baptism were made Christians, and what is required to make them all Christians. Truly, this a island has great need of men who will punish those Indian lords who will not let their people receive instruction in the Holy Catholic Faith; for those people cannot stand up to their lords. I speak with authority, for I have worn myself out in seeking to learn the truth about this matter. But all this is clear from what I have already said: A word to the wise is sufficient. The first Christians on Española, then, were those I have mentioned, namely, Yavauvariú and seventeen persons of his household, all of whom became Christians merely by being taught that there was a God who made all things and created Heaven and earth. There was no need for further discussion or instruction, so well disposed were they to the faith. But with others force and craft are necessary, for we are not all ofthe same nature. Whereas those I spoke of made a good beginning and a better end, there are others who begin well and afterwards mock what was taught them: Such require the use of force and punishment.
The first Indian to receive baptism on Española was Juan Matthew, baptized on the feast day of St. Matthew the Evangelist in the year of 1496, and followed in baptism by all the members of his household. More progress would be made if there were clergy to instruct them in the Holy Caltholic Faith, and people to hold them in check. And if I am asked why I think this business so easy, I shall say that I know it by experience, especially in the person of the principal cacique, named Mahuviativiré, who for three years now has continued to be a good Christian, keeping only one wife, although the Indians are accustomed to have two or three wives, and the principal men up to ten, fifteen, and twenty.
This is what I have been able to learn through diligent inquiry of the customs and rites of the Indians of Española, and I seek neither spiritual nor temporal benefit from it. If it redound to the praise and service of Our Lord, may He be pleased to give me strength to persevere; if not, may He deprive me of my understanding.
End of the work of the poor anchorite Ramón Pane.
The following article was sent to us by James Norton from ITV in London. It nicely complements the photographs of some of the Stalker locations we mentioned in the news item on September 16, 2006. The images on the left were taken by James Norton and are linked to larger format photographs.
Andrei Tarkovsky died twenty years ago, in December 1986, leaving a body of work richer in its understanding of the soul and the mysteries of creation than any recent artist, a cinema of elemental beauty and the fierce struggles of belief. The religious specificity of Tarkovsky’s work still intimidates and perplexes us. However, it is from such theological depths that he mined an original poetic of cinematic space, unsurpassed in its potential for imagining worlds unique to the medium. Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, explains the need for a species of faith when asking a work of art to fully work for us: “The word “soul” can, in fact, be spoken with such conviction that it constitutes a commitment to the entire poem.” It is this commitment, regardless of religious inclination, that Tarkovsky’s films demand. The protagonist of his 1979 film Stalker announces: “What they call passion is not some spiritual energy, but just a friction between the soul and the outer world.” The inner world that this implies is the one that the film inhabits. It is the same category of object as a poem or dream, and it is also pertinent to remember that film, despite being inscribed on the physical support of celluloid or tape is an entirely immaterial medium, perceived in the mind between intervals of light. In Stalker, the earth has been struck by a meteorite leaving a contaminated ‘Zone’ which contains a room reputedly endowed the power to grant one’s innermost wish- the film’s original title was The Wish Machine. The Stalker, a marginal figure, takes a writer and a scientist into the prohibited Zone to find this room. The film is inconclusive, meditative and oneiric, although its setting would appear to be the worst and most characteristic of Soviet environments, polluted, dilapidated industrial wastelands and waterways, relieved only by emerald pastures which are minefields where discarded artillery leaks its toxins and telegraph poles rot. It is easy to forget when visiting former film locations that one is conducting a kind of dream archaeology. These are sites not where something really happened but which were decorated and where a fiction was enacted, memory of fiction transposed onto reality. Stalker was filmed in a number of locations near the Estonian capital Tallinn, which can still be visited today, and because the film has such a powerful sense of place, and was shot in a location that has historically been transitional and is very much so today, to do so is a highly evocative experience.
Stalker had a repeatedly traumatic production history which began with the search for locations. Evgeny Tsymbal, assistant director on the film, remembers: “Tarkovsky filmed Stalker in Estonia because the original locations, near Isfara and Kanibadam in Tajikistan, became impossible as the result of a powerful earthquake with many victims. People lost their homes and were quartered in hotels, schools and sports-halls. We searched for new locations for almost three months in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, the Crimea and around Moscow. But the location was found when Tarkovsky flew to Tallinn, where he had connections with Estonian students from the Advanced Scriptwriting and Directing courses which he had taught there, and because of his script Hoffmanniana, which had written been for the Tallinnfilm studio. The main location was found unexpectedly near the Jägala river, 25km from Tallinn. They went to see the Jägala waterfall, which they didn’t like, but nearby they found an abandoned electrical generating station which had been blown up in 1941 by the Red Army retreating through Estonia. The building belonged to no-one and was the ideal place for the shoot. We later found a second electrical station downstream, an overflow weir. These two ruined constructions became the main locations, providing the style and texture of the whole film, and helped to create the atmosphere of the strange and mystical events of the film. We also shot near the railway bridge over the Pirita river near the road to Leningrad, at a ship repair yard, an abandoned oil processing plant, at an empty mill, and also near an electrical station in the centre of Tallinn. The closing episodes of the film were shot in Moscow.”
The shoot began in spring 1977 and was completed by midsummer. However, during processing the film was ruined due to a technical error or, it has been suggested, sabotage. Resisting calls to shelve the film, Tarkovsky rewrote the script, making the Stalker less of a petty criminal and more of a holy fool, and extending its length. He had to replace his cameraman after a falling-out, nearly ran out of funds and suffered a heart attack. Finally, the film was entirely reshot from June to November 1978.
Tallin has a jewel of a medieval old town, thronged with tourists, shops selling soviet kitsch, and a main square dominated by the Pizzeria Fellini. Beside it is a large Indian restaurant called the Maharajah, which by rights should have been named the Tarkovsky Tandoori. A fringe theatre in the city recently staged an adaptation of Stalker, played out in a box onto which were projected images from onstage video cameras. It was reportedly dreadful. This exquisite World Heritage Site is nowhere to be seen in the film, although much of its opening section was shot very close by, on the other side of the tracks.
At the beginning of the film, in black and white, the Stalker and his passengers convene in a dingy bar beside a shipyard. They drive to an area of dilapidated warehouses and workshops, a disorienting warren of filthy brickwork. These are now abandoned, fenced off and marked for demolition and redevelopment in an area bounded by the walls of old Tallinn and the mirrored high-rises of its new business centre. The location, poignantly, is now hidden behind the Coca-Cola Plaza, an eleven-screen multiplex in whose stairwell, in ghostly reflection, Tarkovsky’s ruined city is mapped onto the Twin Towers in a monolithic poster for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.
The film continues with the passengers scrambling through a labyrinth of overgrown passages, murky sheds and railway sidings, fired on by police, swept by searchlights, escaping from a monochrome prison. Jumping onto a handcar, they head out along the rails to the Zone. The railway tracks, now disused, run through a transitional, boundary area of empty shacks and car parks in the shadow of a hulking and empty power station and its towering chimney between the old town, the docks and the vast, bunker-like City Hall which commands a view of the Baltic. The sheds that line the tracks are now galleries of vivid graffiti, a metal door sprayed with the image of a cartoon doll, pockmarked by airgun pellets, syringes lying in the grass.
Tarkovsky’s initial idea was to give at least the impression that the entire film was one continuous take, something like an almighty tracking shot into the Zone. Such a shot accompanies the characters along the rails, and when the camera angle finally widens it reveals the landscape of the Zone, now in colour.
The Jägala waterfall is celebrated locally and sincerely as the ‘The Niagara of Estonia’. It is little wonder that Tarkovsky was so underwhelmed by this merely seven metre drop in the river, but much of the rest of the film was shot very close by. The Zone location is an area of gently rolling pastures and woodland, and that it looks much as it does in the film, military props having been removed just as the Soviets have subsequently withdrawn from the country, is a sign of the invisible threat with which Tarkovsky was able to imbue it. The river itself transports the visitor back to the idylls of the films, its lazy tributaries moving at the same pace as a gliding film dolly, photogenic aquatic plants drifting in the limpid current.
Beyond the vestiges of one of the hydroelectric stations lies a basin where the river widens out and which in the film is covered in a thick layer of scum, whipped up into toxic flakes by the wind. This pool acts as a memorial to the catastrophic legacy of industrial pollution left by the Soviet Union. The film was thought to have prefigured the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred a few months before Tarkovsky’s death, the contaminated area known ever since as the Zone, which was also the term by which the Gulag was known, as the Russian audience would have recognised.
The choice of location and this deadly foam tuned out to be fatal, if sound recordist Vladimir Sharun’s explanation is correct: “Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured poisonous liquids downstream.” To this he attributes not only allergic reactions from the crew, but the eventual deaths from bronchial cancer of Tarkovsky himself, his wife Larissa and the director’s favourite actor Anatoly Solonitsyn. Although Estonia, now a member of the EU, has counteracted much of this environmental damage, there are pockets of enduring contamination, such as the town of Sillamäe near the Russian border, which in Soviet times was a secret uranium extraction centre.
The approaches to the room, and the dreaming heart of the film, were located in a system of canals built to channel water to the two nearby power stations. It is here that the Stalker lies down at the water’s edge, initiating the mystical reverie in which the camera discovers weapons, silverware, fragments of religious art suspended in the sepia liquid. These channels have now dried out, and where not overgrown with a tangle of weeds, the parched mud is strewn with a collection of symptomatic debris: a vodka bottle, a scrap of American pornography. The film’s principal location, the disused hydro station, about the size of a large house, lies hidden at the foot of the system of massive conduits in a hollow of the riverbank by the side of a ruined aqueduct. The setting is fairy-tale, the building’s shattered interior, distressed concrete columns, coils of wire, garlands of asbestos, is not. In the film, Tarkovsky sculpts the setting with mist, and the characters clamber around torrents of water reduced today to a muddy trickle staining the cavernous pipes which run beneath the building. The main room of the hydro station is still recognisable as the chamber filled with sand dunes where the writer delivers an anquished soliloquy.
The wishing room is not shown in the film. The writer dares not enter for fear of confronting his true desires, the scientist has to be restrained from blowing it up. Stalker, ultimately, is about a threshold, the forces that guard the threshold, the irreconcilable spaces it separates, the fears and desires that inhibit its crossing. The threshold cannot be crossed, although it is open, because the expedition, the film itself, like Borges’ story The Circular Ruins, whose title could describe the setting, is a dream within a dream. The space and narrative of Stalker is a circle that deceptively appears to be a straight line, curvature of space-time.
Stalker and Tarkovsky’s last two films, Nostalgia, filmed in Italy, and The Sacrifice, in Sweden, are sometimes seen as a hermetic trilogy on the themes of faith and cataclysm. As Estonia sheds its association with Russia and definitively consolidates its independent identity, perhaps film historians of the future will consider this to be a trilogy of films made outside Tarkovsky’s native Russia, and that its most poignant legacy could be the realisation that he had already left home and begun his exile without knowing it. Film locations vanish as the imaginary is overgrown by the real, they do not sustain the marks of history. It is to the films themselves that we must look to reveal what only film can capture: spectral voices, the passage of time, traces of psychic wounds, relics of a lost future.
The sequence of the dream in the film is accompanied by the voice of the Stalker’s wife reciting part of the Book of Revelation. But in Tarkovsky’s original script, the Stalker utters a prayer, itself then effaced, for the preservation of place: “Grant that it may be thus forever: that walls remain walls, dead-ends remain dead-ends, roads remain roads, and nobody remains cheated…”
Thanks to Evgeny Tsymbal, Pille Rünk and Tom Lasica.