Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Catala - Chapter 3: Kiao-Kiao
The “Sanko”, as the Naya chieftain called it, was dazzling. A 6-foot by 6-foot cage made of one-inch rattan striplings had been built to house the cockatoo. There were flexible tree limbs fashioned from the guava tree and placed inside the cage to enable the cockatoo some freedom of movement. Don Pedro peered through the cracks, keeping a distance. The cockatoo looked fierce and glared defiantly back at him.
What strange looking two legs are these? Big, tall, hairy, white hunters, they are not. Covered everywhere with strange colored cloths. Their smell is repulsive. Where do they come from?
The drumbeats and the solemn chants led by Tamango, announced to the Europeans that luncheon was about to be served. Giant ferns resembling stag horns, a meter long at least, calculated Don Pedro, were placed on the sand for them to sit. The stag ferns formed a large circle. Tamango sat several feet away from them. The Shaman Kungku and Kananga flanked him on either side.
Don Pedro de Silva pulled the visor of his plumed hat lower over his eyes. "The sand is so white it’s blinding and so fine it feels like feathers beneath one’s feet. He was unaware that the Naya referred to their territory as "Luningning" which stood for Heaven in their Autochthonous - Polynesian dialect.
Several young girls paraded before them, balancing yellow and orange baskets on their heads, heavy with mangoes and bananas. Circlets of pink orchids adorned their wrists, and ankles. Garlands entwined their necks and locks - so long that it draped their firm buttocks. They proudly walked bare-breasted and barefoot except for a tiny triangle of pink orchids, placed on their pubic area, for decoration, not decorum. They knelt on the sand, holding on to their baskets with both hands. With one swift graceful movement, as if there was an invisible choreographer, they removed the baskets, placed them on their laps, and sat down, tucking their knees behind them, and transferred the baskets on the large banana leaves. Tamango signaled with his eye. The girls rose in unison, and with their black hair covering their buttocks sashayed away without an acknowledgement as to the presence of the white men.
Major Gevers gawked shamelessly. "The girls act as if we are invisible. They looked through us, did you see?"
Don Pedro made no reply but thought silently, they are so beguiling because they have no guile. It was a common misconception men in the West often have about Oriental women.
He pointedly did not make any reference to their women. Flies don’t enter a closed mouth. Prudence before compliments. "Gevers, please tell Chief Tamango that I have never seen such a variety of mangoes and bananas."
Round, oval, ovoid, curved, long, fat, small, heart shaped, yellow, orange and green mangoes. The bananas ran the gamut from one to ten inches in length. They were a riot of colors, bright green, olive, scarlet, white, yellow and orange.
Gevers translated. Tamango looked pleased and replied in a melodious voice, "Teri Ma kase."
Don Pedro understood that. It was the Indonesian Bahasa word for "thank you." I’ll wager these head hunters are polyglot. They will learn our romance languages, and English sooner and faster than we will fare with their languages. He smiled at the thought that they would even master Dutch, a hopeless language even to the Dutch. It will be a fatal mistake for the European and American colonizers, not to familiarize themselves with the language, customs and culture of a people. This will neither be the first nor the last error - for the arrogance of Power is blind.
The aroma of the wild boar roasting in the sand was irresistible. Don Pedro had a hunch the wild boar would be consumed as a celebratory meal after their departure. So be it. He would console himself with the fruits, the fresh water from their countless waterfalls and springs, and the seaweed salad called "Eyepa – Eyepa".
It tasted sweet and sour. Tiny squid, clams, and shrimps were cooked in the milk of young coconuts and then wrapped in steamed taro leaves, nestling among the green and red seaweeds. "Delicious," declared Don Pedro, pointing to his lips, throat and stomach.
The headhunters nodded their assent, bur none of them smiled. Kananga, his braves by his side, took a plateful of small, oval, and orange mangoes, together with a large green banana. A carved out tree trunk was filled to the brim with wonderfully tasting water. Several baby coconuts, still in their husks, rested on another woven basket. They walked over to the rattan cage, which held the cockatoo.
"Now, this is going to be interesting. How are they going to place all of that bounty in that creature’s cage without losing a finger, an eye or a gonad?” a curious Don Pedro asked an amused Gevers, who swallowed a mouthful of Eyepa – Eyepa and quickly replied, "please watch."
"Very clever! And we whites treat all these people with such condescension, Considering ourselves the only intelligent beings," he mused, observing Kananga’s actions. They had made an incision in the lowest part of the rattan cage, the Sanko could not fly out or walk through it, but with a spear they could push the baskets of fruits inside.
The fresh water proved more challenging. Stealth won the day. While the Cockatoo/Sanko was occupied with piercing the baby coconut husks, Kananga unlatched the door, which was high enough for one of them to bend over, and pushed the carved tree trunk filled with water into the cage.
"Watch out!" yelled one of his braves. "Arraeya" the raging Sanko swept over him, talons and beak tearing at his long and silky black hair. Kananga had taken the precaution of protecting his hands with mitts made of abaca fiber. With one energetic swipe, he sent his attacker flying into the opposite side of the cage. He swiftly slammed the door behind him.
Sangre De Dios! Y Tetas de la Virgen. Lord Tung Lok won’t take a maimed talking bird … not even as a gift, thought Don Pedro.
The headhunters laughed. Kananga bent over and giggled the loudest. The Cockatoo was mimicking his voice, his involuntary yelps, "Arraeya. Arraeya."
Prudence compelled Don Pedro and Major Gevers from joining in the merriment. "Watch out! Watch out!" No one expected this, for a moment, the Head Hunters looked around in confusion. Kananga yelled as loudly as his lungs allowed "Hako! It is the Sanko, who has perfected in a short time, some of out tones and words. In this case, that of my friend and companion in the Ritual Hunt for the Sanko, Lalinga."
Tamango approached them and sat facing Don Pedro. "This is when the cockatoo cackle Kiao.Kiao (negotiations, as the Chinese say) the vigorous haggling – begins.
"All right! Major Gevers, bring our all your wares. I have a feeling The Chief is going to raise the stakes after the talking bird’s exhibition a few moments ago. Give him whatever he asks. That Hellion deserves every single crystal bead."
Gevers raised his eyebrows, Crystal?" He was under the impression they were going to use the cheap and bright looking glass beads.
Don Pedro took care to avoid using the word "Ja" for Yes in Dutch. It was best not to underestimate one’s opponent across a bargaining table. In this case, two feet of banana leaves was the only barrier between them and a long Parang (sword), which could separate their heads from their bodies in less than a wink. Cristo! What if the Head Hunters sniffed the wind and didn’t like the stench. They were fully dressed, a disadvantage, sitting on soft sand, another disadvantage. The Naya were sensibly dressed, naked except for their loincloths. Chances are the headhunters were every bit as street smart as pirates or officials of the Dutch East India Company. They were like Janus, the two – headed God of Duplicity.
"Crystal. That is correct, Major a keg of fine rum costs slightly more. I believe I gave you ten kilos of the … inexpensive variety and another ten kilos of fine Skoda crystal. Trust me. I am following a hunch."
He refrained from using the word Glass; it meant the same in German and Dutch. He wasn’t taking any risks. The Sorcerer Kungku and The Chief Tamango must know the meaning of the word glass by now.
The slightest bit of discord between Gevers and I might arouse their suspicion. Primitive people seem to be endowed with inner voices warning them of the slightest variation in one’s emotions or intentions. Alas, we seem to have lost this talent.
The Major gave him a withering its your money to throw away look. These just got rich wogs are all alike. Showoffs and humbug, he thought.
Chief Tamango pointed towards the bamboo cage. "The Sanko is silent because its mouth is full of food. We have no distractions. Let’s begin."
Gevers translated. De Freitas nodded his assent.
"My eldest son, Kananga, stalked him for a month, without rest. You see the marks of his talons on his muscles?"
"We are impressed," replied Gevers, calling to a group of Chinese and Malay sailors who had rowed them ashore from the vessel of the Dutch East India Company, the " Zee," to approach them. The sailors had also enjoyed the exotic luncheon, offered by the Naya. They rose and carried two heavy narra wood chests by its bronze handles towards them.
The Cockatoo was finishing off a pisang banana, short, stubby and tasty. He peered through the cracks in the green rattan stalks.
Those two legged beings are white, like me. As is the light coming from the sun. Odd sounds are coming out of the mouths of the brown hunters and the white beings. No one is paying attention to me, this is an opportunity to escape.
EEERRR!!! The rattan was tougher than he thought. His beak could not gouge any sizeable piece out; it was too resilient. "I don’t have enough distance from one end of this prison to the other to crash against the walls of the bamboo until I break my body or it collapses."
The cockatoo did not have a desire for Thanatos … a death wish. Smashing himself into muck was not his idea of making a statement.
"In my short life, I have seen many creatures, great and small cease to breathe for no reason other than their time had come. Our kind, the white talking birds seem to live longer than the others. I don’t want to be in this green prison. I don’t! I don’t! I don’t!" AY! A wail of despair rent the air.
But none of the Human Beings there present at the beach near Guningsitoli, on the island of Nias cared about the plight of the cockatoo.
Cries of mercy annoyed Tamango. If any of his victims pleaded, his Parang would be used more viciously. He seemed undisturbed, but he was concerned. This is not a good omen. If the Sanko continues its laments, the White Men might not take him, he mused.
Kungku, the shaman and sorcerer considered acceptance of one’s inevitable destiny to be the wisest course. I am following the wishes of our God, Belisanko. He appeared to me in a dream and told me to trade the Sanko to the White beings. The union between Kananga and Kirika represents more territory and wealth to the Naya. The untimely death of Denga, their Shaman, thanks to my invocations and spells, means that I will be the sole Advisor to a larger Naya tribe.
Kananga ‘s heart gelled. Nothing, not even the sacred Sanko, is going to keep me from mating with Kirika. My hard and erect shoot is going to pierce her butterfly, and soon. He reasoned with the gonads of Youth.
Major Gevers was a bureaucrat whose only mission in life was to oversee the occupation and colonization of Indonesia in as brisk and efficient a manner. Colonization was not about improving the lot of the natives. That was not even up for consideration and discussion. It was all about bringing prosperity to the Dutch East India Company and its 1,100 patrons and shareholders, the Dutch Royal Family, as well as its entrenched merchant classes and their embedded bureaucracy.
Don Pedro de Silva had developed into a hardened cynic. The whims as well as the absurdities of life left marks on ones soul. It is ironic, as we enter the Twentieth Century, that a talking bird is worth more in gold than a beautiful courtesan who is familiar with all 380 positions of the Kama Sutra, he mused with awareness if not a sense of regret.
AY!!! The Laments continued.
De Silva fed Gevers a question. "Do ask the Chief how old he thinks the Cockatoo is, and what is its life span. That will demonstrate our interest despite its howls.
It was the Sorcerer who replied – after Gevers' translation - in the melodious voice of one who dazzles humans and animals with his voice, "The Sanko is very young, perhaps in its puberty, I would say, twenty to thirty years old. The Sanko will outlive us all." His well-muscled hands drew a giant circle, which included every one who was on the beach. After a dramatic pause, he said simply, "He will see the grandchildren of your grandchildren."
"That is a sententious statement but I believe it," declared Don Pedro. Time to open the narra chests and display the crystal and glass works. The sun and the light would show them off to perfection.
The gasps of delight proved to Don Pedro that his timing had been correct. Precedence was given to the Kungku, then Tamango, followed by Kananga. They showed admirable restraint. Good hagglers. They examined the narra wood and exclaimed," this hardwood is beautiful. We have other kinds of hard woods in our island, but not this one." Indeed, the narra mahogany was native to the Philippine Islands.
"It’s called narra, and it comes from a group of islands called Filipinas,” explained Don Pedro. Adding quickly "It does not belong to the Netherlands, it belongs to Spain."
They understood the concept. The Naya waged war for territory and possessions, others, like the Netherlands, England and America did the same, only on a vaster scale. Ravagers all.
Kananga took a handful of crystal beads and ran it through his fingers. His father, Tamango followed suit. Kungku kept himself aloof, dark eyes watching the white men.
Now, the haggling began in earnest. Back and forth. Tamanga and Gevers exchanging mild protestations and expressions of disbelief. Snickers. Chuckles. Hoots. Snorts.
The caterwauling from the bamboo cage had stopped. The cockatoo was entertaining them with a series of chuckles and snorts. Identical to those made by Tamango and Gevers.
"Can your creature ever be quiet?" asked Gevers, with more than a little irritation in his voice.
"He’s only following our example," retorted Tamango, unable to restrain a fart.
This haggling is useless and it might turn into something lethal, thought Don Pedro He was concerned about the rendezvous on the High Seas with his pirate ship "Marte." His crew would wait. No typhoons were likely to strike this time of year. Gevers irritated him because he was insensitive, tedious and boring. “Enough’s enough," he decided.
Tamango, the chief was insisting on several dozen more crystal beads. The obstinate and obtuse Dutch official Gevers who spoke mangled Naya, which was an offshoot of an Indo-Malay Bahasa, would not budge.
“Gevers, I’m the one fucking bloody paying for this Cabron of a cockatoo! Porca Madonna! Give him all the God dammed beads and throw in the two handsome Narra chests. I’m a very busy man. Carajo Jesu!"
That one reminds me of the Rerek. Coiled and ready to strike when you least expect it. His soft voice sounds dangerous, observed Kungku of Don Pedro.
Don Pedro smiled and kept his voice down so Tamango, his young son, Kananga, with a perpetual erection, and deep slashes on his chest, and his Shaman, called Kungku, the sorcerer would not notice that there was anything amiss. The sorcerer was the only one wearing small stone amulets, which covered his entire lithe body. It featured the sanko cockatoo as it swooped over its prey. The man had the presence and scent of power.
The Dutch East India Company had armies and wealth as vast as the sands in the ocean. It was an empire within an empire, but Don Pedro had yet to meet one Dutchman with the presence and aura of the sorcerer Kungku.
Gevers handed over the crystal and glass beads together with the carved narra chests to the chief Tamango who placed all the dozens of beads into a green basket woven out of strips of banana leaves and gave them to his son Kananga. The narra chests were presented to the Kungku with a flourish. He accepted them as his due.
"Hako! Hako!" whooped Kananga, holding his cut arms aloft.
Oh! To be so young and perpetually horny again! Don Pedro told himself with a tinge of regret. The buck was either thinking of a kill or of a mating. Probably both. Not that there was much of a difference. Each time a man ejaculated - he died. Come to think of it, that kind of excitement was safer in bed, on a beach, a - whorehouse, and even in a nunnery, anywhere but on a field of battle. To die in War meant a man could never again live to experience another orgasm. It meant you forfeited your semen to Death.
The Naya loaded the light bamboo cage containing the cockatoo onto the large launch. "My men could have done it quicker, but the savages insisted," muttered Gevers.
"You might ask the Chief if he wouldn’t mind giving us the all the baskets with the mangoes, bananas and whatever this brown tasty fruit is called which looks like a bunch of birds eggs." Then, he remembered that this might start another endless round of Kiao – Kiao (haggling). Don Pedro pointed to the baskets and then towards the ship "Zee" anchored farther away. For the first time, Tamango smiled and nodded.
This is a strange white being that enjoys the bounty from our trees. He wondered if he would ever see him again. He wasn’t sure if he liked him, indeed, he was suspicious of all white men, but he was interested in the tall man with long yellow hair and one blue eye which never moved. It resembled a glass eye. He shivered. By the power of Belisanko, what does that mean?
Don Pedro clenched his fist and touched the taut fist of Tamango the chief in the formal Naya greeting. Gevers followed.
Kungku stood toffee nosed and aloof. He wanted to avoid any further contamination with the White Beings.
Gevers' men rowed the launch towards their vessel “Zee” farther out in the natural harbor of the island of Nias.
The headhunting Naya cried out "Sanko! Sanko!" to drumbeats and cymbals, their spears beating out a syncopated rhythm upon the stone statues, which encircled the pristine beaches.
I fully intend to return to this island. I am enchanted. The stone statues must be worth a great deal of money as well. Men like me must never leave a stone unturned. He made a silent vow, avoiding gaping at the statues. The Naya might mistake his interest for disrespect. He hadn’t seen any bows and arrows … but he was certain the Naya were deadly archers. Above all, I do not care to see an arrow laced in snake venom, buried in my back.
The cockatoo crashed against the bamboo striplings of its cage and shrieked "EeeeeKo! AaaaaKo!" There was more yelling and cheering from the shore as the Naya bid their god Belisanko's favorite bird goodbye.