Page:Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan.djvu/41

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13
A VISIT TO THE CARIB INDIANS.

he appeared on deck with a large wash-hand basin in one hand, and a well-filled pocket-handkerchief in the other, containing his priestly vestments.

We anchored a short distance from the beach, and went ashore in the small boat. We landed at the foot of a bank about twenty feet high, and, ascending to the top, came at once, under a burning sun, into all the richness of tropical vegetation. Besides cotton and rice, the cahoon, banana, cocoanut, pineapple, orange, lemon, and plantain, with many other fruits which we did not know even by name, were growing with such luxuriance, that at first their very fragrance was oppressive. Under the shade of these trees most of the inhabitants were gathered; and the padre immediately gave notice, in a wholesale way, that he had come to marry and baptize them. After a short consultation, a house was selected for the performance of the ceremonies, and Mr. Catherwood and I, under the guidance of a Carib, who had picked up a little English in his canoe expeditions to Balize, walked through the settlement.

It consisted of about five hundred inhabitants. Their native place was on the sea-coast, below Truxillo, within the government of Central America; and having taken an active part against Morazan, when his party became dominant they fled to this place, being within the limits of the British authority. Though living apart, as a tribe of Caribs, not mingling their blood with that of their conquerors, they were completely civilized; retaining, however, the Indian passion for beads and ornaments. The houses, or huts, were built of poles about an inch thick, set upright in the ground, tied together with bark-strings, and thatched with coroon leaves. Some had partitions and bedsteads made of the same materials; in every house were a grass hammock and a figure of the Virgin, or of some tutelary saint; and we were exceedingly struck with the great progress made in civilization by these descendants of cannibals, the fiercest of all the Indian tribes whom the Spaniards encountered.

The houses extended along the bank, at some distance apart; and the heat was so oppressive that, before reaching the last, we were about to turn back; but our guide urged us to go on and see "one old woman," his grandmother. We followed, and saw her. She was very old; no one knew her age, but it was considerably over a hundred; and what gave her more interest in our eyes than the circumstance of her being the grandmother of our guide, she came from the island of St. Vincent, the residence of the most indomitable portion of her race; and she had never been baptized. She received us with an idiotic laugh; her figure was shrunken; her face shrivelled,