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Ch. 3. Cabot.

Author: johnmedler Total hits: 3669 User hits: 11 Date: 03-03-2014

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Chapter 3. Cabot

May 1499. Veragua (modern day Belize, Central America).

John Cabot, one of the greatest explorers of the modern world, and the first European to set foot on the American mainland since the Vikings, was steering his ship The Matthew, named after his wife Mattea, to the shores of Veragua to wait out the storm. Father Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, his trusted companion, stood near Cabot as he maneuvered the steering wheel of the large ship. The priest was not only a man of the cloth but also a doctor, and he was the only other Italian on the English ship. Cabot was a tall man, with a great white beard, which was matted down from the sheets of rain pouring into the boat. He wore a black velvet mariner’s hat with a large ostrich feather, which was also not fairing well in the blowing rain. Father Giovanni, small, bald, and portly, wearing a brown hooded monk’s robe tied with a white rope around the waist, held onto a barrel to steady himself from the pitching ship.

“I hope we get to shore soon. This storm is terrible,” said Father Giovanni.

“Well, this ship has a holy man here, after all, Giovanni, so I am sure God will spare us on the sea.” Cabot laughed heartily and yelled out orders to a sailor to secure the pickle barrels, which were sliding on the deck. Cabot managed to steer the ship into a small cove, where he pointed the ship toward the shore.

“We will put the ship ashore here until the storm passes over,” said Cabot.

“Look there!” yelled Giovanni, peering over the rail. “Those are boats!” Cabot looked where the priest was pointing, and stared in amazement when he saw the four outrigger canoes heading towards his ship. Cabot took out his looking glass and peered over the water at the canoes.

“They are not bearing any weapons,” said Cabot. “It looks like they have ropes!”

Sure enough, the Veraguan natives were coming with ropes to help secure the boat and bring it safely to the shore. But before Cabot could explain this to his men, several crew members rushed the side of the boat, with guns drawn, ready to fire on the Veraguans.

“Hold your fire!” screamed Cabot. “They come in peace. They are bringing ropes to help us. Don’t fire! Put down your weapons!”

“Captain, how do we know they mean peace?” asked his first mate, Wilson Henry. “They are savages.” Henry was tall and white-bearded, like the Captain. Many of the men joked that they looked like brothers. But Henry was considerably bigger and stronger than the Captain. Henry was a man of action, who tended to act first and ask questions later. Cabot was wiser than his first mate. Cabot was not shy about using a firearm. He could kill an enemy if it came to that. He just chose not to start a battle when it was unnecessary.

“Wilson, take my glass. Look at their boats. They are bringing us ropes.” Henry took the Captain’s spyglass and performed his own inspection. He agreed that the natives did not appear to be armed. The first mate lowered his weapon.

Soon the outrigger canoes met up with the ship and the natives waved to the members of the crew in friendship. They threw up ropes to the deck hands, who eyed the natives warily. But no attack occurred. The natives were truly trying to help. Within an hour, the ship had safely landed on the shore near the Veraguans’ village, safe from the storm. There was a loud trumpet from the shore, and dozens of natives came down to meet the great ship. Cabot instructed Father Giovanni and his first mate Wilson Henry to accompany him onto the shore to meet the natives. Henry was skeptical but obeyed. However, he kept his loaded firearm beneath his coat, ready for action at a moment’s notice. As the ship came closer to the shore, the rain suddenly died down, and soon became only a light drizzle.

Their group was met in the surf by a large fat man who appeared to be the tribal chief. He wore a loincloth but was adorned with a cape and a headdress of red and yellow macaw feathers. Next to the chief was an extremely tall, but very old man, also with an elaborate headpiece. John Cabot would later learn this was the tribe’s elder wise man and principal advisor to the chief.

As soon as the wise man looked through the darkness and saw John Cabot and his first mate, both similar looking tall men with white faces and long white beards, he became more convinced than ever that the strangers were the reincarnations of Hunahpu and Xbalanque. He advised the tribal chief, who seemed to agree. These strangers would be treated with every hospitality which their small village had to offer. The chief greeted Cabot, and was surprised to learn that neither he nor his white-bearded brother appeared to be able to speak their language. Nevertheless, he managed to use gestures to welcome him into the tribal circle by the beach. A great fire was started and the men brought in a large wild boar attached to a spit and began roasting it over the fire. Cabot, Henry, and Father Giovanni rested on logs by the fire, warming themselves. After quite a while, the meat was ready.

John Cabot had never eaten wild boar. It was actually quite good. The boar reminded him of the pork roast his wife used to cook back in Bristol, England, the place where his voyage had begun. He used his teeth to slide the meat off the kabob and gave a welcoming smile to the Indian chief, who nodded happily, thankful that Cabot liked the meal. As the meal wore on, the clouds cleared. The fire crackled on the beach, under a full canopy of stars, as curious natives crept up closer to Cabot to marvel at his strange clothing, white skin, and white beard. They wondered why he would cover himself up with cloth when it was so hot. And why did he speak in such a strange tongue? Cabot smiled at the natives and devoured the boar meat with gusto. The Veraguan natives seemed amazed at the size and craftsmanship of his ship. Several of the islanders were swimming in the water, putting their hands on the hull of the large ship. The rest of Cabot’s crew remained back on the Matthew. They were afraid to interact with the natives, fearing they were savages who meant them harm. Cabot never understood this distrust. He had heard reports of the Spanish explorers slaughtering natives. Why kill a completely harmless, even friendly, group of people? Cabot could not understand it. The men on his ship stood on the decks, uneasily watching the captain from the rails. He was a kind and wise captain, that was for sure, but they believed his kindness would ultimately be their undoing. When the captain ordered the men to bring a small barrel of rum ashore to share with the natives, the Bristol sailors went absolutely apoplectic. That was their rum. They needed it for the long voyage. What purpose would be served in giving away their supplies (especially the rum!) to ignorant savages? Wilson Henry was also concerned and whispered his disagreement to the captain. Cabot heard their grumbling, but assured them that a good Christian returns kindness with kindness. After some discussion, the men reluctantly obeyed the captain and rolled the small barrel ashore.

Cabot took a cupful of rum and handed it to the chief. The chief looked at the clear liquid and smelled it. It smelled strange. The chief handed the cup back suspiciously. Cabot smiled and took the cup, drinking the rum himself. Then he poured another cup for the chief. The chief, mollified, drank the rum. He was surprised at the strong taste, but then felt the burning in his stomach. He laughed and handed the cup back, asking for more. Soon, the chief was quite drunk.

Cabot watched the chief as he spoke to his tribesmen in their native tongue. The chief gave a command, and, after a few minutes, male and female dancers, wearing boas of green feathers, appeared by the fire. One Veraguan performed a fire dance, spinning a flaming rod around in front of the spectators. Another native brought forth a bow and sent flaming arrows shooting down the beach. After the entertainment, the chief got up and started walking into the surf towards Cabot’s ship. He put his hands along the wood, marveling at the smooth feel of the curved wood. These men surely were the Mayan Hero Twins. The chief thought about why the Hero Twins had come to his village. Their purpose, he thought, must be to re-conquer the Lords of Xibalba, to end the sickness and death that the Lords of the Underworld brought to the Earth every day. They will want to know how to get to the entrance to Xibalba, the chief thought. It had been many years since his ancestors had first traveled here from the Island of Boyuca, but he had a map to show the Twins the way. The tribal chief suddenly yelled out orders in K’iche’ to his kinsmen, and one man came forward with a large, rolled up parchment. The chief unrolled the document by the fire and looked at Cabot, pointing to the map.

The map showed the coast of what is now Central America and the top part of South America near Venezuala. The tribal chief pointed with a sharp stick to an island with a picture of a flower on it. Near that island, the chief then pointed with the stick to a marking on the map showing two large stone outcroppings coming out of the sea. Near the outcroppings, there was another drawing of a second island. The chief pointed to that island with the stick and said “Boyuca.” As soon as he said the name, many of the young islanders cringed in fear and moved slightly back. They were obviously afraid of the place. Then the chief unrolled a second map, which appeared to be a map of the island of Boyuca. There were drawings on the map and strange words. Cabot could make out a picture of a cave, a scorpion, a chair, six houses, a man with a spear, some kind of sports ball court, and finally, a picture of a pool of water. The chief pointed to each place and gave it a name, which meant nothing to Cabot. But when he got to the pool of water, called “Xaxtzintzoj saqloloj,” the chief became very animated. The chief began speaking very fast, but Cabot could not understand a word of it. He gave the chief a facial expression which conveyed that he had no idea what the chief was saying. Frustrated, the tribal chief yelled out an order. A bare-breasted woman, wearing nothing but a loincloth over her genitals, was brought forward. The chief barked out another order and a man came forward with a wooden bowl filled with water. A second young man came up and handed the chief a large sword. As soon as that happened, one of the crews, fearing they were under attack, charged down the gangplank and ran down the beach, pointing his firearm at the chief. Then several tribesmen charged forward with bows and arrows, pointing them at the crew member. They were at a standoff. The chief put his hand over the arrows, directing his men to lower their weapons. The chief then took the young maiden’s arm, and cut it with the sword from her elbow to her wrist. The woman shrieked, and blood spurted from the open wound. Wilson Henry flinched and drew his weapon, apparently ready to shoot the chief. Cabot put his hand on Henry’s weapon, telling him to stand down. The man with the bowl of water rushed forward and the chief used a ladle and poured water onto the wound. Then, the chief dropped the woman’s wet wounded arm, and pulled up her other arm. The chief showed Cabot the second arm, which was untouched. Then, the Chief pulled up the cut arm again, pointed to that, put it down, and brought up the clean arm again. The chief looked at Cabot, seeing if he understood.

Father Giovanni was the first to understand. “Zuan,” he said to Cabot in Italian. “Don’t you see? He is telling us that there is water that will heal her arm.” Cabot thought about that. He turned to the chief and took the woman’s cut arm. Repeating the actions of the chief, Cabot poured water on the cut arm, and then pointed to the woman’s clean arm. The chief nodded enthusiastically. Healing water? Cabot had never heard of such a thing. He gestured to the bowl of water and then pointed to the map. Could the chief tell him where he could get this water? The chief pointed again to the island on the map called Boyuca. “Boyuca,” said the chief. Then he pointed to the second detailed map of the island, showing the picture of the pool of water. “Xibalba!” said the chief. “Xibalba!” yelled the wise man. And at that, all of the villagers began chanting “Xibalba! Xibalba!” The wise man walked up to Cabot and shook his hand, grasping Cabot’s forearm. He raised Cabot’s arm in the air, like a referee declaring a boxing champion. “Hunahpu!” he said to the crowd, smiling. Then he grasped Henry’s wrist, raising it, yelling to the crowd “Xbalanque!” The natives all began chanting loudly, like spectators at a football game. “Hunahpu! Xbalanque! Hunahpu! Xbalanque!” Cabot and Henry had no idea what the Veraguans were talking about, but they were both interested in water that could heal a cut arm. If the map showed him where to get such water, then that is where they would go next. Cabot, Henry, and Father Giovanni thanked the chief and the wise man and returned for the night to the ship, where they told the other crew members of their adventures. In the morning they would sail for Boyuca. When the Captain and Father Giovanni retired to the Captain’s chambers, the priest asked to look at the first map again.

“With all this talk of the island and the healing water, I wonder if you noticed the lower part of this first map,” said the cleric.

“Yes, I did,” said Cabot.

“From this map, it looks like there is another ocean to the west!”

“I noticed the same thing,” said Cabot.

“It appears we have many adventures ahead of us,” said Giovanni.

“Yes, we do,” said Cabot. “Now get some sleep.” Cabot went to bed, thrilled to think of all the exciting new discoveries to come.
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