Monday, December 28, 2009

The Monkey Army

I left you hanging with the last post and the promise of tales of monkey armies and Cortez to come. Since then I have been consumed by holidays, travelling, babies and finishing the rough draft of my essay. With all those behind me now I have a moment to make good on at least one part of that promise and hopefully entertain you with a strange tale encountered amongst the pages of 'the Decades.'

There is no better way for me to put forth this tale than to simply provide the passage itself for you to read.

"Many amusing things might be told about the monkeys, but they are also dangerous in the mountains the governor, Pedro Arias, has crossed, and which he daily renders more accessible by breaking down the rocks and burning the dense forests. The leaders of the monkeys (for they march in troops and are not courageous when alone) call together a great multitude of different breeds when they see a band of white men approaching, and give vent to horrible cries, springing from tree to tree, following the men wherever they can and amusing them with a thousand gestures and grimaces, especially the longtailed monkeys. Sometimes they descend almost to the tree-trunks, but as soon as they see preparations made to attack them with bows or firearms, whose power they understand, they re- mount to the tops of the trees with the rapidity of the wind, uttering furious cries and gnashing their teeth.

They are so quick that they are able to escape the arrows shot at them by seizing them on the wing, as though they were being offered to them; but they are unable to avoid the projectiles of firearms. It is consequently by means of these latter that many monkeys are killed, especially the little ones which are less careful. Whenever they see one of their number stricken to the earth wounded and about to be captured by our men, they tremble and lament so loudly that the air is filled with their complaints. They make more noise than a thousand roaring lions or whining tigers. Here is a sufficiently curious detail. Each monkey, when he climbs a tree, takes as many stones as he can carry in his hands and mouth to throw from the top branches when the Spaniards stop to shoot at him with their bows or muskets.
One day an archer aimed his arrow at an old female with a very long tail. The animal feigned not to see it, half closing her eye; but hardly had the arrow left the bow than she severely wounded him in the face with a stone, which broke his teeth. The unfortunate beast was punished for its cunning, for the moment the stone dropped the arrow killed her. She was eaten with great satis- faction, for did the men not eat toads or still worse, when driven by the pangs of hunger?"

Maybe it's just me but I felt such emotion when I read this tale! The animals marching together against the invaders, the old female knocking the teeth right out of the soldiers mouth (seems like justice doesn't it?) You were pulling for the monkeys weren't you? Mad when you read the female was killed and eaten? Sad to hear the little ones were shot? Me too. The Decades will do that to you, tug at your emotions and make you feel frustration, remorse, anxiety even, over events long past.

Though I am done with the rough draft of my essay the decades have forever changed my perception of history, not just the events that transpired during the New World explorations but history as a whole. How many years have I believed a history taught to me only to find parts false? Howabout not known things at all that seem critical to any human being seeking knowledge of history? Especially the history of the Americas. Everyone should know this stuff, this book should be the required text and reading of _____ grade. (Take your pick of age level:)

I may reveal more of the book in future posts but most likely I am done recounting the Decades of the New World. I hope you enjoyed the little bits that I shared in this blog and that you have a better understanding of the events that transpired to bring us all to his land. Thank God I was born in 1978-
My next project is working on letters written by Lincoln and Washington so stay tuned. Who knows what I'll uncover:)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fee Fi Fo Fum

Todays topic is Magellan and his fantastic voyage.  Although perhaps not so fantastic to him since he never made it home, poor guy:(
Leaving Spain with 5 ships, the Trinidad (his flagship), Concepcion, San Antonio, Victoria, and the Santiago, Magellan embarked on his famous journey with 257 men.

The men stopped to wait out the cold months after entering the Gulf of Bahia, staying with the natives in huts on the banks.  After this they continued on and discovered giants in Patagonia!  These giants were described as being 2 cubits taller than a tall man.  From what I can gather there are different cubit measurements.  I think it is the first known unit of measure and is mentioned in the bible when Noah was building the ark.  The Egyptians used it, the Romans, Greeks etc.  I would equate 2 cubits to be just shy of 3 feet so you can imagine that the Patagonians were 9 feet tall (that's assuming a 'tall' person in Spain at the time was 6 feet.)  They were nomads who had no laws or houses and wore skins and carried spears. An interesting little known fact, it is from this description of giants that Shakespeare based his character Caliban on in 'the Tempest.'

Speaking of tempests, I should note that upon arriving at the entrance to the strait a great tempest arose and threw one of the ships upon the rocks breaking it to pieces.  Thus, the Santiago was lost leaving 4 ships. Shortly after this Magellan had to deal with threats of mutiny but that tale is pointless and I won't go into it except to say he quelled the uprising though arguably never recovered the men's faith in him and respect.

To read the account of navigating what became known as the straits of Magellan is truly nailbiting.  Never knowing what lay beyond the horizon or around the bend, surrounded by immense mountains, discovering a passage that cut strait through the bottom of South America, Magellan displayed bravery and perseverance.

No GPS, no maps of reference, nothing but the stars and ones own instincts to guide you. I'm amazed by these explorers.

After entering the strait and coming into an open sea area the ships dropped anchor for a bit.  When they drew up their anchors to carry on one of the ships, the San Antonio, was expected to follow.  Instead it turned around and headed back to Spain and upon arriving slung nasty accusations, the details of which are not mentioned in Martyr's account, against Magellan.  Martyr did not yet know at the time of his writing what punishment would be handed down upon the deserters but he was sure it would be harsh. So now we are down to 3 ships.

The ships entered the strait on the 21st of October and came out on the 5th of December at which time they set sail across what was referred to as the South Sea (the mighty Pacific!)

Oh those poor souls!  They sailed 3 months and 20 days never seeing a thing but water and sky!  Starving, hungry, burning under the immense heat of the Sun, and going literally nuts, they came upon two deserted islands that were barren of anything except sand which they rightly named the Unfortunate Isles.  Forced to drink seawater which they said stunk so bad they had to close their eyes and plug their noses when they drank it, and mixing a 1/3 salt water into their rice to make the fresh water last, these men carried on.

Finally they came upon some islands that are thought to have been in the region of Tahiti.  The natives there had a serious problem with 5 finger discounts, so much so that when the Spaniards weren't looking they stole just about anything they could get their hands on including one of their boats, not a big one mind you that would be pretty hard, just a small vessel used to go ashore.  The Spaniards realized it was gone, went after the natives, killed a few, and got the boat back.  Minus the killing, the image of natives waiting for the Spaniards to turn their backs and then grabbing stuff and running off is kind of amusing.  The Spaniards aptly named these islands the Ladrones (now know by the name Mariana Islands)which means thieves or robbers.

                                               Now in the area of Indonesia, China, Phillipines etc...

The largest of these Islands is Borneo and it is surrounded by two smaller islands, Matam and Zubo.

It is at Matam that Magellan lost his life when he tried to capture the capital and was greeted by the islands King and his people all armed and ready for battle.  I have read elsewhere that Magellan's men did little to help him and literally watched him die but I can't say if that is accurate.  If it is shame on them, what a crappy crew he had.  Although all this mutinous behavior does make one wonder if perhaps Magellan might have been a bit of a jerk.  Who knows? Either way, the voyage pressed on.

If I were to try and relate the happenings between this point and the arrival back in Spain of the last and only ship to make the entire journey I would probably not do the men who survivied it justice.  It is sufficient to say famine, fatigue, thirst, and the untimely capture of 18 men by the Portuguese (who hated the Spaniards with a passion and the feeling was mutual) when they stopped to ask for supplies, etc...Of the 257 men who set out on 5 ships, 31 men returned on the Victoria having completed the trip round the world.

The men survived a trip of what they claimed was 14,000 leagues though the author says the Earth itself is only 8,000.  He wagers this may be due to the sailors being ignorant of a more direct route.  14,000 sea leagues is roughly equal to about 42,000 miles.  Keep in mind that the ship they were on was so full of holes that it required a constant slew of sailors throwing out water to keep it from sinking.  I'm getting tired just reading about this journey.

And so Magellan died before fully realizing what he helped achieve.  Would he be surprised to know his name lives on, covering the front of a billion GPS systems telling people where to go so they don't get lost.  In fact if you google 'Magellan' your #1 return will be the GPS system and not the great explorer.  It's a sign of the times, not enough people care about history.  Before I get on a soapbox I'll end this and carry on in my next post with a hilarious tale of a monkey army and the end of the Mayan's brought on by Cortez.

    (Oh what a tale. Image from the movie Apocalypto, which I highly suggest watching again if you've already seen it or watching period if you haven't seen it at all.  Really amazing movie that Mel Gibson did not get enough credit for)