Saturday, December 22, 2007

The First Encounter by CW Ferguson

Fortún Ximénez's Galeón Conceptión encounter Guaycra Indians of Baja

A terrifying wind had been blowing for days from the south. It was the season for winds and the Guaycura had prepared for it. They had gathered nuts and roots and cacti and had built low lying shelters to protect their offspring from the driving sheets of water that always accompanied the October storms. This year, though, the billowing black clouds seemed somehow more ominous; somehow more devastating than any in memory.

The winds abated on the morning of the fourth day, the driving rain ceased, and streaks of sunshine began to sparkle from the waters of the foaming sea. The Guaycura began to rouse themselves and move from their temporary encampment. Abruptly, there was a shrill whistle signal. And then another. The women grabbed fearfully for their children as the men snatched up their bows and sped headlong toward the bay.

Standing offshore, less than three arrow flights distance, stood a gigantic raft. Upon its decks could be seen a war party of strange beings. Many of them had tangled growths of hair on their faces and all had strange covering concealing their bodies. The Guaycura leader was surprised that the encroaching warriors carried no bows or arrows.

The chief glanced at the giant raft and quickly ordered his men from the beach into the cover of the arroyo. Two long canoes had been lowered from the giant raft and the strange intruders were climbing into them with the obvious intent of rowing to shore. An agitated murmur could be hard as the Guaycura warriors positioned themselves for battle.

As the Spanish seamen jumped gingerly ashore they fanned out along the littoral to commence their exploration. Many of them, the Guaycura noticed, carried long sticks; a form of some magic weaponry, perhaps.

One of the invaders shouted something unintelligible and gestured repeatedly toward the arroyo. The other seamen collapsed toward the shouting sailor in battle formation. Directly, there was an awesome thunderclap. The chief watched with dismay as one of his warriors rolled in agony on the ground and immediately ordered the attack.

Dozens of arrows filled the air now darkening from the smoke made by the thunder making sticks. One of the foreigners emitted a shriek, grabbed his throat and fell to the sandy beach. Another, with deep blue eyes, dropped his thunder stick and sagged to his knees. Two companions grabbed him by the arms and began dragging him toward the long canoes.

As the chief was about to release an arrow, one of his warriors shouldered him aside and fell moaning to the ground, half his face a bloody smear. The chief unloosed an arrow that was swift and true. A bearded giant crumpled to the sand. The raiders broke off from the encounter, hurrying now to return to their canoes. A long, warbling whistle signal was heard and the warriors and their arrows fell silent.

The Guaycura watched dispassionately as the two canoes drew alongside the great raft. The raft did not look very sea worthy. Its hull seemed battered in places and the enormous square skins that hung from the tall trees attached to the hull were tattered and torn. Atop one of the slender tree trunks fluttered a smaller skin that was colored yellow and red. The chief and his men discussed the painted skin and decided hat it probably represented the sign of a distant tribe from the south.

Note: Fortún Ximénez, survivors, and Galeón Conceptión raised sail for their return trip south to Huatulco. A few days later they put into Bahía Banderas near Puerto Vallarta and were killed by local Indians in 1533. In 1535, Hernán Cortés would return to La Paz with several hundred men, women and children. Shortly thereafter, the Guaycura would learn the significance of the yellow and red skins.

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