Friday, April 4, 2008
The Catala - Chapter 1: The Capture of Fray Paco
THE SAGA OF FRAY PACO
BOOK ONE: THE CATALA
CHAPTER 1: THE CAPTURE
A lone, white cockatoo of exceeding beauty and hauteur, perched near the top of a 70 foot East Indian ebony tree - the Kamagong, which stood tall and proud like the King it was.
The creature lived in the rain forests on the island of Nias; a jewel on the Indian Ocean, belonging to the archipelago of Sumatra,
Aceh, and the main island lay seventy-eight miles west. Strung out like an immense emerald necklace, these islands were part of the largest island chain in the world – Indonesia.
"KAW-KAW! ERK ERK! GE! GE! GE!" shrieked the cockatoo, imitating the sounds of a parrot, a monkey and an owl, in that order. His scimitar like beak could barely be seen, as it spilled over with the crimson juice and pulp of the mabolo, the delicious apricot like fruit of the Kamagong tree.
He’s mocking me, the little son of a turtle. Perhaps he suspects I’m after him, thought the hunter, who was vexed and dispirited.
Kananga. A lithe and comely youth, son of Tamanga. Chief of the Naya Tribe had been tracking the resplendent white Sanko/Cockatoo for twenty-five days. Without respite. The Naya hunted and prized human heads. They were as skilled in the fine art of trading as they were in lopping of their enemies’ heads.
"The hairless, two legged creature with the brown skin, straight long hair, is after me. Many dark nights and bright days have come and gone…the creature is still here. I can smell him. There must be others, but none as close to my talons as this one".
The cockatoo was a raptor. He sensed that he was faced with an unrelenting foe, This was not the sweet and kind Orangutan – who also walked on two legs, except it had bright, long orange hair and its face was black or the small black men, full of swirly hair on their bodies and on their heads.
This creature has the most beautiful erectile crest I have ever seen, Kananga whispered to himself.
Kananga’s sepia colored body glistened as it came under the patches of sunlight in the rainforest. He tensed. The cockatoo was out screeching all the other creatures within their perimeter.
"ERK! ERK! ERK"
"The sanko knows it is being stalked." Kananga was certain of it now.
In the island of Nias, men and beasts were all predators. Only the Dutch East India Company, which ruled Indonesia and as a result, the island of Nias, surpassed each and every one of them in its rapacity. The Dutch did not see themselves in this light of course. As white, civilized, and Christian, awash with money and equipped with gunboats and cruel armies – they regarded themselves as "Entitled" to God’s wealth as a reward for their Mission in Indonesia - then called the Dutch East Indies. That not one Dutch man was able to express adequately just what this Mission was, was beside the point.
There was arrogance about this sanko, which made it stand out even more over the other creatures. The Sanko seemed fearless. I like your come and get me if you can kind of challenge. Very well. I accept a duel with you.
"I know what happens to those like me who are caught by the two legged hunters, they disappear and are never seen in the rain forest again."
He knew he was unique. None of the cockatoos in his area could imitate the sounds of so many animals, including the grunts of the Orangutan as they came to orgasm, the shrieks of the monkeys in their ritual flirting, the wails of the long haired, hairless females when one of their young was taken from them, and most importantly, the war cries of the hairless, two legged males.
It seemed a just bargain to Kananga. The proud sanko for his pretty Kirika, with breasts as hard as coconut husks.
Cockatoos were supposed to be completely white. The more pristine their coats, the higher their value. Sometimes, God played tricks on you, and the sanko were of a cream or dirty white color. That was a tragedy. None of the white men wanted them. Unlike parrots which had bright, shocking multicolor and a different formation of their skulls. Kungku, the Shaman, explained to the young men patiently.
"They are more intelligent, talk up a storm and live for centuries", so the Naya tribe declared, fueling the greed of the administrators of the Dutch East India Company.
The cockatoo was the favorite bird of their god Belisanko and was therefore sacred to the Naya. Cockatoos could never be sacrificed to Belisanko, not even during the harsh never ending rains which came every year, when the mountains threw up fire and burning liquid, or after the earth shook and trembled and giant waves blasted their shores soon after.
"I was a young man when we had such an event. The jungle and its creatures, all created by Belisanko, alerted us. We ran to the high ground, I thought the end was coming. For many who lived on the coast, it meant they would never see another sun rise." Thus spoke the Venerable Kungku, their old and wise Shaman.
There were plenty of other things that could be sacrificed to Belisanko. Humans, especially one’s enemies, captured or kidnapped. Baby boys and girls " mused Kananga who had seized several young men from a neighboring village, before setting out on his mission to get himself the best Sanko.
Until I capture the Sanko, I will not be accorded the right of cutting off the heads of my most important enemies. He repeated silently for the thousandth time.
His father, Tamango had used his Parang to sever the heads of their enemies from their torsos with one blow to each head. My father’s blade has drunk so much blood, it is brown, reflected Kanango.
For the Naya never wiped the blood off their Parangs, until absorption was complete.
A group of green, scarlet and blue parrots suddenly flew away from one fruit tree laden with kola nuts.
I remember that, as a boy, I caught several parrots and offered them as sacrifices to Belisanko.
EEEEEEEE! HAUK! HAUK! Bellowed the Sanko.
"It can’t be," Kanango stifled a gasp. That almost sounds like the wailing of my father’s newest wife, when the shaman decided there were too many boys captured in the last raid. He declared they had to be given to Belisanko. I can’t believe my ears; this Sanko has that stupid girl’s exact pitch. He is even more valuable that I thought.
Kananga smiled as he went over the scene in his mind. His father’s youngest wife had screamed herself hoarse and scratched him until she had fallen on the ground in a grotesque faint.
Nobody paid any attention to her, certainly not Kananga’s father, her husband and chief, Tamango. The tribe had been indulgent with her and she had gone unpunished for making a hysterical scene, because Tamango had abducted her from one of the coastal villages of Sumatra. The young girls swam naked in the coves; Tamango had seen her, lusted after her and had meticulously planned the raid.
"What do the coastal natives of Sumatra know about our ways of life and war?" Kananga had dared to ask his father.
Kananga had cursed himself loudly when he unsuccessfully jumped to grab the cockatoo, while it had been bathing in the lagoon. He had run up against a prehistoric stone statue all but hidden in the shallow waters. These mysterious statues encircled the island. No one could tell when he or she had been carved and sculpted out of stone.
"They are too numerous to count," Kananga said irritably.
"The hairless male hunter almost took me. I got careless. There’s another lagoon further down, it’s the eagles’ domain. I’d rather risk being ripped by an eagle as captured by this two legged creature" thought the cockatoo as he swiftly sped up, up, up – To the tallest tree - top heavy with white orchids. They were the best camouflage. No one had told the cockatoos that the Naya hunters had always known that.
Before the eruption of Mount Krakatoa, Hindus inhabited Nias, like Bali. They had worshipped Garuda the mythical bird, many of the statues were representations of the Garuda, All the people had perished from the burning lava, the ash and the giant waves which swept away tall hardwood trees and men like toys. The forces of Nature were merciless. Only the stone birds, with their strange and unknown shapes still stood. So the Naya came to believe that they were the thousands of manifestations of their god Belisanko
It is as good a story as any pondered the Protestant and pragmatic masters of the Dutch East India Company.
"Yesterday, the Sanko repeated my curse of frustration when I fell because I tripped over a stone. He was pricking me, as easily as he does the betel and kola nuts. I must catch that sanko. I MUST!"
"Why am I being hunted? There are others of my kind. They are easier to get to. and parrots are much prettier than us."
Kananga was running out of time. In a few days the white men with the yellow heads, and eyes the color of their sea, would sail into their harbor, row out to their powdery pearl shore and pay him in gems (glass beads), batik fabrics with designs of a bird (the sacred Hindu god Garuda), cooking utensils, and coffee beans. In exchange, Tamango, and Kananga, would hand them this stunning exemplar of their aggressive and bright cockatoo and Helmut shells, the marine snails particular to their warm waters which had a series of flange-like ribs much like varices on its outer shell. The white men told Tamango their people used them to carve cameos and they showed him an example.
"How strange were these white men. The Naya did not stoop to eat these slimy low life; the shells just rotted in the wind, rain and sun. Better for the Naya to put them to good use by selling then to the White Giants reflected Kananga from his hiding place.
Tamango his father had told him, "Kirika, your pretty one, wants dozens of glass beads, in addition to the heads of our enemies. Her father and I have met and agreed on the terms." It was an arranged marriage but Kananga was strongly attracted to Kirika. He was in lust, He had to penetrate her.
For days Tamango had discussed with the old kungku whether a few yellow and blue-eyed heads stuck on a wooden pole would lower the ante on the request of Kirika's father for the glass beads. Tamango could then ingratiate himself with his new wife who was so distraught over the sacrificial death of her baby boy to Belisanko, their god; she had become cold and unresponsive in their coupling.
The kungku had trembled and replied harshly, "Remove these thoughts from your mind. The white men have lances, which vomit fire and tear out holes in our bodies. Our parangs, krehas and Karandangs are nothing. When the white men are angered, they are more fierce than Belisanko." Tamango had bowed his head in acceptance.
Everything depends on me and my small band of warrior brothers sighed Kananga.
The expedition deep in the rain forest to hunt and capture cockatoos was dangerous. It marked a rite of passage yet it always tested a man to the limit. The forest was noisy; insects, birds and monkeys chattered constantly; it was always damp so Kanango was soaked. His hands, covered in ephedra leaves, kept slipping out of them; the sweat from his forehead steadily dropped into his eyes and blurred his vision. In an hour the rainforest could go from hazy sunlight to rain so thick you couldn’t see the palms of your hands placed inches away from your face. The torrents created a steam so dense some men would pass out. Kanango and his warriors would remain in their places, lying as flat as possible on their stomachs underneath giant leaves. If that was difficult because other creatures had got there first, they burrowed into the soft-carpeted vegetation of the rain forest.
The cockatoos, being clever, sought refuge near the top of 70-foot fruit trees. Since their coat was pristine white, they could not easily camouflage themselves among the greens of the tropical plants or the many colored hues of the flowers. Nature could assist you and trick you with equal ease and with no remorse. The only choice was to climb on thick, slimy branches of foliage heavy with fruits.
"Somehow I don’t feel safe in this tree, hidden amongst the white orchids where there is no Rerek to protect me. I must double back to the tallest fruit tree. That will give me a small advantage. I think I once saw a hunter with his naked parts scale the highest tree to capture my father. I’m not sure. It could be Fear giving me these images."
The cockatoo glided high up in the air, heading towards his refuge. "I am tired. Endless dark and light days have left me drained. I must rest. I must!"
In an excellent example of symbiosis, cockatoos were usually found where the huge, 30-foot long rerek (serpent) was lounging about. Cockatoos were too small for them. Besides they had these horrific talons and claws; with the force of their razor sharp beaks they could inflict damage to a serpent's body. Large mammals were more to their liking; man was a wonderful treat.
The Naya tribe considered the meat of the rarek a delicacy. Tamango had offered it to the white men who were convinced it was a fowl until he showed them the scales from the rerek, which the white men quickly offered to barter with their linen handkerchiefs. Tamango had accepted.
"Who could ever understand these white beings," Kananga asked silently, as he observed the encounter.
He started to climb the tree, inch by inch.
The cockatoo sensed the danger immediately. He couldn’t hear him as much as smell him. " The hunter is coming! My wings will no longer obey my command. I am going to stand my ground. and pulp out his eyes and balls".
"I hope there are no poisonous spiders or scorpions," prayed Kananga, as he climbed his sloth’s pace. He had covered himself with an ointment, which gave off an unpleasant odor to small crawly creatures. He was taking no chances. His private parts were tightly covered in a soft matted hemp plant. He had tied a string on his waist from which hung a reed like stalk. Inside this stalk was a fine, long (about 5 inches) metallic point which had been dipped in a nerve poison made from the flowers of a magenta colored vine which resembled a frangipani. Once this was plunged into the legs of the cockatoo, it would be paralyzed for two or three minutes.
"That was enough time", Kananga pleaded," for the Sanko to be placed into an abaca basket, and lowered from the heights of the tree, while my warriors hack away quickly at the branches, as we all descend slowly. I must remember to keep my eyes out for the rerek. What if I fail? He dismissed any possibility of failure.
For once Kananga was comfortable with the ruckus in the forest. That impudent cockatoo will not hear me creep up on him until I have thrust the point into his legs.
From the opposite side of the tree, two of Kananga's men had ascended before him. Around their necks they had a net made of pandanus leaves and thin bamboo strips which they would slip over the cockatoo once Kananga had jabbed the cockatoo and yelled his war whoops. None of the young men had ever hunted the Sanko before, and yet, they could not be referred to as men unless they had each captured a Sanko. This particular one was a prize!
"Aaa, I see them now. Two other hairless two legs are opposite my tree. What are they doing?"
As the son of a Chief, I have precedence - to either die or succeed, Kananga reminded himself.
The elders had explained it all very carefully; "the custom dictated that all the young men capture the Sanko alone without the experienced elders".
Sometimes the serpents killed the men, crushing all their bones before swallowing them.
Many men fell to their deaths when they slipped on the slimy branches. The cockatoos always fought back, talons and beak. They aimed straight for the hunter’s face, both their talons reducing their cheeks into a bloody pulp. The cockatoos curved beaks ripped into noses and eyes as easily as they opened soft tamarind pods.
The tradition of the Naya tribe prescribed one of the members of the expedition who deliberately kept watch on the ground in order to behead any injured hunters as swiftly as possible to their god Belisanko.
The Naya tribes were warriors and hunters. They were unaware that the white beings called them cannibals and savages. How useful to the tribe were blind and deformed warriors? Life in the island of Nias was ruthless; but just. Those were THE LAWS.
Kananga was poised above the cockatoo on a nearby tree. As he painfully had made his way up, his eyes had adjusted from the shadowy light below to the blinding light in the canopy of the rainforest. A spray of water grazed his face. Quickly!!! It would start to drizzle soon.
The cockatoo espied his brown figure as he poised and tensed his muscles.
"EEERK! EEERK! EEERK! Wailed the cockatoo in its despair. "Come wings. Take flight!"
Too late. The hunter leapt onto the fruit tree; pressed the cockatoo tightly against his well muscled stomach and stabbed the venomous point into the branch with his free hand. I am not going to risk hurting you, Sanko, You are too beautiful! I need those glass beads. My loins are flowing just thinking of my woman. I will prove my manhood in my own way.
"Hako! Hako!" Yelled Kananga in victory.’ I’ve done it, without the poison.
Two of his men threw the net over the cockatoo, which he was holding against his stomach. The cockatoo screeched "EeeeeecK!" in a high-pitched lament, while his talons raked Kananga’s flesh. He covered the cockatoo with the pandanus matting. His torso was crimson from the claws, which the cockatoo had dug into his flesh He glanced at his wounds. They were superficial, they’ll heal with the Kungku’s plants but I might have scars. Never mind.
"We got you, Sanko, the Naya word for cockatoo. You'll fetch a high price from the white men. It seems they're willing to pay whatever we ask. Hako!!!!!"
Kananga addressed Sanko, the cockatoo. "You are unique, smart, brave, fierce, and possess a quick tongue. You don't belong on our island of Nias with the Naya. Our world is too small for you."
The captive paid no mind "He is saying nothing, It’s blather. I lost to this smelly two-legged creature. I had no time to carve his eyes out, mangle his cheeks, or yank his nose apart. I hate him and all those like him."
From within his deepest soul came a cry so full of rage, Kananga almost dropped the matting.
"Men, listen to me," he yelled over the blood freezing screams of the Sanko "I'll convince my father Tamango to demand more goods for this unusual piece of sanko and we shall share it amongst ourselves."
The young warriors roared their assent "Sanko!" Then clenched their fists, and touched their foreheads, chests and balls.
Stalking the sanko and capturing him in three weeks, had not been achieved since the time of the Shaman, Kungku. It usually took months to capture a Sanko.
"Let’s hurry back," Kananga ordered. "And don't forget to wrap another pandanus matting tied with bamboo striplings around the basket. This Sanko is a fierce one."
"We can be at Guningsitoli (the main village of the Nayas) in a couple of hours. Move warriors. Well done."
EEERK! AIIRK! ARRRAI!
The howls of pain from the captive continued for at least an hour, until the Sanko ‘s voice became ever more raucous and hoarse – and… mercifully for Kananga and his Warriors, the captive lost his voice completely.
END of Chapter One
Enclosed is a picture of a 49 foot long python that was captured in Indonesia ... the rarek.