In a time long past, so long past that even the grandmothers of our grandmothers were not yet born, the Caribs of Suriname say, the world was quite other than what it is today: the trees were forever in fruit; the animals lived in perfect harmony, and the little agouti played fearlessly with the beard of the jaguar; the serpents had no venom; the rivers flowed evenly, without drought or flood; and even the waters of cascades glided gently down from the high rocks.
No human creature had as yet come into life, and Adaheli, whom now we invoke as God, but who then was called the Sun, was troubled. He descended from the skies, and shortly after man was born from the cayman, born, men and women, in the two sexes. The females were all of a ravishing beauty, but many of the males had repellent features; and this was the cause of their dispersion, since the men of fair visage, unable to endure dwelling with their ugly fellows, separated from them, going to the West, while the hideous men went to the East, each party taking the wives whom they had chosen.
Now in the tribe lived a certain young man, Maconaura, and his aged mother. The youth was altogether charming—tall and graceful, with no equal in hunting and fishing, while all men brought their baskets to him for the final touch; nor was his old mother less skilled in the making of hammocks, preparation of cassava, or brewing of tapana. They lived in harmony with one another and with all their tribe, suffering neither from excessive heat nor from foggy chill, and free from evil beasts, for none existed in that region.
One day, however, Maconaura found his basket-net broken and his fish devoured, a thing such as had never happened in the history of the tribe; and so, he placed a woodpecker on guard when next he set his trap; but though he ran with all haste when he heard the toc! toc! of the signal, he came too late; again the fish were devoured, and the net was broken. With cuckoo as guard, he fared better, for when he heard the pon! pon! which was this bird’s signal, he arrived in time to send an arrow between the ugly eyes of a cayman, which disappeared beneath the waters with a glou! glou! Maconaura repaired his basket-net and departed, only to hear again the signal, pon! pon! Returning, he found a beautiful maiden in tears.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Anuanaïtu,” she replied.
“Whence come you?”
“From far, far.”
“Who are your kindred?”
“Oh, ask me not that!” and she covered her face with her hands.
The maiden, who was little more than a child, lived with Maconaura and his mother; and as she grew, she increased in beauty, so that Maconaura desired to wed her. At first, she refused with tears, but finally she consented, though the union lacked correctness in that Maconaura had not secured the consent of her parents, whose name she still refused to divulge. For a while the married pair lived happily until Anuanaïtu was seized with a great desire to visit her mother; but when Maconaura would go with her, she, in terror, urged the abandonment of the trip, only to find her husband so determined that he said, “Then I will go alone to ask you in marriage of your kin.” “Never, never that!” cried Anuanaïtu; “That would be to destroy us all, us two and your dear mother!” But Maconaura was not to be dissuaded, for he had consulted a peaiman who had assured him that he would return safely; and so, he set forth with his bride.
After several weeks their canoe reached an encampment, and Anuanaïtu said: “We are arrived; I will go in search of my mother. She will bring to you a gourd filled with blood and raw meat, and another filled with beltiri [a fermented liquor] and cassava bread. Our lot depends on your choice.”
The young man, when his mother-in-law appeared, unhesitatingly took the beltiri and bread, whereupon the old woman said, “You have chosen well; I give my consent to your marriage, but I fear that my husband will oppose it strongly.” Kaikoutji (“Jaguar”) was the husband’s name. The two women went in advance to test his temper toward Maconaura’s suit; but his rage was great, and it was necessary to hide the youth in the forest until at last Kaikoutji was mollified to such a degree that he consented to see the young man, only to have his anger roused again at the sight, so that he cried, “How dare you approach me?”
Maconaura responded: “True, my marriage with your daughter is not according to the rites. But I am come to make reparation. I will make for you whatever you desire.”
“Make me, then,” cried the other contemptuously, “a halla [sorcerer’s stool] with the head of a jaguar on one side and my portrait on the other.”
By midnight Maconaura had completed the work, excepting for the portrait; but here was a difficulty, for Kaikoutji kept his head covered with a calabash, pierced only with eyeholes; and when Maconaura asked his wife to describe her parent, she replied: “Impossible! My father is a peaiman; he knows all; he would kill us both.” Maconaura concealed himself near the hammock of his father-in-law, in hopes of seeing his face; and first, a louse, then, a spider, came to annoy Kaikoutji, who killed them both without showing his visage. Finally, however, an army of ants attacked him furiously, and the peaiman, rising up in consternation, revealed himself—his whole horrible head. Maconaura appeared with the halla, completed, when morning came.
“That will not suffice,” said Kaikoutji, “in a single night you must make for me a lodge formed entirely of the most beautiful feathers.” The young man felt himself lost, but multitudes of hummingbirds and jacamars and others of brilliant plumage cast their feathers down to him, so that the lodge was finished before daybreak, whereupon Maconaura was received as the recognized husband of Anuanaïtu.
The time soon came, however, when he wished again to see his mother, but as Kaikoutji refused to allow Anuanaïtu to accompany the youth, he set off alone. Happy days were spent at home, he telling his adventures, the mother recounting the tales of long ago which had been dimly returning to her troubled memory; and when Maconaura would return to his wife, the old mother begged him to stay, while the peaiman warned him of danger; but he was resolved and departed once more, telling his mother that he would send her each day a bird to apprise her of his condition: if the owl came, she would know him lost.
Arrived at the home of Anuanaïtu, he was met by his wife and mother-in-law, in tears, with the warning: “Away! quickly! Kaikoutji is furious at the news he has received!” Nevertheless, Maconaura went on, and at the threshold of the lodge was met by Kaikoutji, who felling him with a blow, thrust an arrow between his eyes. Meantime Maconaura’s mother had been hearing daily the mournful bouta! bouta! of the otolin; but one day this was succeeded by the dismal popopó! of the owl, and knowing that her son was dead, she, led by the bird of ill tidings, found first the young man’s canoe and then his hidden body, with which she returned sadly to her own people.
The men covered the corpse with a pall of beautiful feathers, placing about it Maconaura’s arms and utensils; the women prepared the tapana for the funeral feast; and all assembled to hear the funeral chant, the last farewell of mother to son. She recounted the tragic tale of his love and death, and then, raising the cup of tapana to her lips, she cried: “Who has extinguished the light of my son? Who has sent him into the valley of shades? Woe! woe to him!… Alas! you see in me, O friends and brothers, only a poor, weak old woman. I can do nothing. Who of you will avenge me?” Forthwith two men sprang forward, seized the cup, and emptied it; beside the corpse they intoned the Kenaima song, dancing the dance of vengeance; and into one of them the soul of a boa constrictor entered, into the other that of a jaguar.
The great feast of tapana was being held at the village of Kaikoutji, where hundreds of people were gathered, men, women, and children. The two men from Kenaima crept into the feast, one in the hide of a jaguar, the other in the mottled scales of a boa constrictor. In an instant Kaikoutji and all about him were struck down, some crushed by the jaguar’s blows, others strangled in snaky folds. The villagers seized their bows, threatening the assailants with hundreds of arrows, whereupon the two Kenaima ceased their attack, while one of them cried: “Hold, friends! we are in your hands, but let us first speak!” Then he recounted the tale of Maconaura, and when he had ceased, an old peaiman advanced, saying: “Young men, you have spoken well. We receive you as friends.”
The feast was renewed more heartily than ever, but Anuanaïtu advanced among the corpses and examined them, one by one,until at last she paused beside the body of her mother. Her eyes filled with tears, and seating herself, long, long she chanted plaintively the praises of the dead. Suddenly she leaped up, with hair bristling and with face of fire, in vibrant voice in-toning the terrible Kenaima; and as she danced, the soul of a rattlesnake entered into her.
Meantime, in the other village, the people were celebrating the tapana, delirious with joy for the vengeance taken, while the mother of Maconaura lay in her hammock, dreaming of her son. Anuanaïtu entered the house, but she drew back moved when she heard her name pronounced by the dreaming woman: “Anuanaïtu, my child, you are good, as was also your mother! But why come you hither? My son, whom you have lost, is no more…. O son Maconaura, rejoice! Thou art happy, now, for thou art avenged in the blood of thy murderers! Ah, yes, thou art well avenged!”
During this Anuanaïtu felt in her soul a dread conflict, the call of love struggling with the call of duty; but at the words, “avenged in blood,” she restrained herself no longer, and throwing herself upon the old woman, she drew her tongue from her mouth, striking it with venomous poison; and leaning over her agonized victim, she spoke: “The cayman which your son killed beside the basket-net was my brother. Like my father, he had a cayman’s head. I would pardon that. My father avenged his son’s death in inflicting on yours the same doom that he had dealt—an arrow between the eyes. Your kindred have slain my father and all mine. I would have pardoned that, too, had they but spared my mother. Maconaura is the cause that what is most dear to me in the world is perished; and robbing him in my turn, I immolate what he held most precious!”
Uttering a terrible cry, she fled into the forest; and at the sound a change unprecedented occurred throughout all nature. The winds responded with a tempest which struck down the trees and uprooted the very oaks; thick clouds veiled the face of Adaheli, while sinister lightnings and the roar of thunders filled the tenebrous world; a deluge of rain mingled with the floods of rivers. The animals, until then peaceable, fell upon and devoured one another: the serpent struck with his venom, the cayman made his terrible jaws to crash, the jaguar tore the flesh of the harmless agouti. Anuanaïtu, followed by the savage hosts of the forest, pursued her insensate course until she arrived at the summit of an enormous rock, whence gushed a cascade; and there, on the brink of the precipice, she stretched forth her arms, leaned forward, and plunged into the depths. The waters received her and closed over her: nought was to be seen but a terrifying whirlpool.
If today some stranger pass beside a certain cascade, the Carib will warn him not to speak its name. That would be his infallible death, for at the bottom of these waters Maconaura and Anuanaïtu dwell together in the marvelous palace of her who is the Soul of the Waters.
Citation: Alexander, Hartley Burr, PH.D. The Mythology of all Races: Latin-American. Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1820. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.