The Blue Indians by Hanns Heinz Ewers and translated by Joe Bandel
Translation Copyright Joe Bandel
The Blue Indians
The Blood of our fathers:
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”
-Ezekial Chapter 8 Verse 2
I got to know Don Pablo when I had to shoot an old donkey in Orizaba. Orizaba is a little town that is the point of departure for those wanting to climb Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico. In school they call it Citlaltépetl.
At the time I was still a true greenhorn and always mixed a handful of Aztec and Toltec words in with my Spanish. My Mexican was terrible and unfortunately the Mexicans couldn’t understand it at all. They preferred scraps of English mixed in.
Orizaba was a charming little —
But I have no intention of talking about Orizaba. It has nothing to do with this story except that it was where I needed to shoot an old donkey, which also has nothing to do with this story. I need to speak about the old donkey only because I have it to thank for my making the acquaintance of Don Pablo and it is through him that I met the blue Indians.
The old donkey stood in the back of the park. The park was not very large and laid out in a square at the end of the city. There were many high trees and the grass was growing over the path because no one ever went there. The people of Orizaba went to a place in the middle of the city instead where they played music.
Late one afternoon I went into the city park while it was raining very hard. I found the old donkey in the back where the mountain rises. He was thoroughly soaked and grazing in the wet grass but I was certain that he looked at me as I went past.
The next evening I again went to the park in the rain. I met the old donkey there in the same place. He was not tied up, was not near any house or cottage that he could belong to. I went up to him and.then I saw that he was standing on three legs. His left rear leg dangled in the air. He was very old and had many sores from where the cinch had been too tight and rubbed the hide off, from lashes of the whip and from being stabbed with nail sticks. His leg was broken in two places; a dirty rag hung loosely around it. I took my own handkerchief and made a makeshift bandage.
The next day we rode up the mountain but returned two days later because of the unending rain. We were frozen and our nags shivered in the wet cold. I kept thinking about the old donkey and rode over to the park before taking my mare to the stable.
He was still standing there in the same old place and raised his head when he saw me coming. I sprang down, petted him and spoke to him. That was not an easy thing to do because he stank dreadfully. I bit my lip not to get sick, bent over and raised his leg. It had become gangrenous; the flesh was rotting and stank bad, very bad. Much worse than —
I will not say. It is enough that I endured it. I knew what it meant. The old donkey looked at me and I felt what he was asking of me. I took my Browning, tore up a handful of grass.
“Eat,” I said.
But the animal wouldn’t eat. It only looked at me. I held the revolver behind his ear and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. A second and a third time, no shot. The revolver wouldn’t fire. It had rusted in the wet holster.
I laid my arm on the head of the animal and promised that I would come back. The fear in its tortured eyes fled.
“Will you really come back? Are you certain?”
I sprang onto the back of my mare and whipped her around. There perching on the branches of a dead tree were vultures. They were prepared to fly down as soon as their victim fell. They had been waiting days for the sick animal to collapse and then it did. The donkey stood up, fell, then sprang up again on its legs trembling in silent miserable fear. Oh, it knew its fate. If only it could die somewhere hidden, alone, away from these miserable birds. Then it collapsed again, couldn’t get up any more and the birds flew down.
They still needed to wait for days until the gasses from the decomposing body burst the hide open. Their weak beaks couldn’t rip through it. But now, right now, they could take the best from the meal, the delicious Hors d’ Oeuvre, the eyes of the living animal-
I turned around in the saddle. “Stop, you stop right now. I will be right back.”
The mud sprayed in the softened street. I went into the hotel like a tramp. There in the guestroom at the corner table were the gentlemen, German, English and French.
“Who will lend me a revolver?” I cried.
They all reached into their pockets, but then one asked, “Why?”
I told them about my old donkey. Their hands came back empty. No one gave me his Browning.
“No,” they said. “No, don’t do that. It would be very bad for you.”
“But the animal doesn’t belong to anyone,” I cried. “Its owner has chased it away to let it rot alive and be devoured by vultures.”
The bartender laughed, “You are entirely correct. Right now the donkey belongs to no one. But if you shoot it dead an owner will show up after an hour and require a sum for it that you could buy twenty horses with.”
“I would throw him out through the door!”
“Naturally, and that is the thing. The man will get the sheriff and the judge. Then you will refuse to pay. This is not Prussia and they would handle you brutally. You would most certainly find yourself sitting in jail and we would need to exert all our influence and a heavy amount of money just to get you out of there. What is the purpose in doing that! Believe me, there is law in Mexico!”
“Really,” I cried. “Law?”
I waved with my hand to a pair of bullet holes in the wall.
“Nice law! And those — ”
The English engineer interrupted me. “Those? We just told you about them yesterday. The man shot three men and two women dead just for the fun of it. But they were Indians and prostitutes, not worth as much as a donkey. He received a half-year in jail but got off by staying at a hospital for two days. That might be true but don’t forget he was a Mexican and the Governor’s nephew. Strangers in this land must obey the law without fail.
I bet you would sit in a cell for a year because of your old donkey if we didn’t get you out, and that would cost us thousands. We would need to bribe the sheriff and the judge. Everyone knows how this business works. We are only saving our own money by not giving you a revolver.”
No one gave me his weapon. I pleaded but they laughed at me. I left the room fuming. A quarter hour later there was a knock on the door of my room. It was Don Pablo.
“Here is my revolver,” he said giving me a nod. “Pack your suitcase. Go back to the city park as late as possible and then take the early 3 o’clock train. I will be leaving as well and wouldn’t mind a traveling companion.
He certainly had a traveling companion and not just for one day. Don Pablo dragged me around through Mexico for a month like one of his twenty-seven suitcases. He was a drummer for Remscheider. Over there the people know what that is but the people reading this book don’t know at all therefore I need to explain.
He was a traveling salesman for the Remscheider export firm, speaks all languages and all dialects. He has been in every city in America from Halifax to Punta Arenas, is a good friend and a godfather. He knows exactly how much credit he can give each merchant. His employer is over there as well and pays him 50,000 Marks a year and is well satisfied because he gets back ten times as much in return. His employer will certainly make him a partner sooner or later.
He is a traveling hardware store. His suitcases are so full of samples they fill two wagons and include garters, portraits of Saints, cooking pots, toothbrushes, machinery parts and all kinds of things. He knows the way things are, knows his wares as well as the land he travels in.
When you travel with him you don’t need a travel book; he knows everything, what is going on in each location and a great deal more. My drummer was named Paul Becker but I will call him Don Pablo because all the Mexicans call him that and so does he.
It was late when I got to the train station. I jumped onto the train at the last minute and tore my suspenders. Don Pablo gave me a new pair courtesy of his company. Then he scolded me because I had bought a ticket. He had given the conductor an old table knife instead.
He first took me with to Puebla, then to Tlascalai. We traveled around in all the states, Yucatan, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Campeche and Coahila-
As long as we could travel by train it went well but when you had to load twenty-seven heavy suitcases on mules and ride up and down mountains it soon became an ordeal.
I wanted to go on strike many times but then Don Pablo would say in exasperation:
“What! You don’t want to see the ruins of Mitla?”
That went on for a couple of weeks. There was always something else that I needed to see.
Once Don Pablo said, “Now we are going to Guerrero.”
I told him that he would be riding alone. I had seen more than enough of Mexico. But he insisted that I must absolutely by all means become acquainted with the Indians in the state of Guerrero. Otherwise my picture of Mexico would not be complete. I stubbornly refused saying that I already knew over one hundred Indian tribes and was entirely indifferent about visiting one more.
“Dear Sir,” cried Don Pablo. “That doesn’t matter.You must see. There are things you will most certainly want to speak with them about. Namely the Guerrero Indians are — ”
“Very dumb,” I interrupted him. “Like all the Indians.”
“Naturally,” said Don Pablo.
“And horribly lazy.”
“Are good Catholics and don’t in the slightest follow the old ways any more.”
“Then why in heaven should I go there to see them?”
“You have to see this for yourself,” said Don Pablo importantly. “There is a tribe there that is blue.”
“Yes, blue. Blue! As blue as the gown of the virgin in my Madonna portraits, bright blue, Easter egg blue.”
Good enough. We bought new horses, donkeys and mules. Then we rode from Toluca up over the Sierra Madre. We made a couple of stops to show our samples. While Don Pablo visited Tixtla I had the honor of calling on customers in Chilapa.
On the whole the trip went very fast. After three weeks we were already on the Pacific in Acapulco, the capital of the state, in a real hotel. I searched hard for the blue Indians but didn’t find any even though Don Pablo had said we would find them here. He called out to the Italian innkeeper as Crown witness and the innkeeper confirmed that the blue Momoskapan tribe did indeed occasionally come into the city.
It had been a few months now but two French Doctors from Ystotosinta, the dwelling place of the tribe, had just left. They had stayed there for half a year to study the blue disease. The blue color was considered a strange skin disease. The two doctors had told him that in addition to their blue color the Momoskapans displayed a downright amazing memory that reached straight back to early childhood. It was the result of a severely restricted diet of only eating fish and crustaceans that extended through the tribe back to time immemorial.
Now I wanted to go there myself. The tribe lived where the Momohuichic flowed into the ocean. It was scarcely a ten days ride. Don Pablo rewarded me with some trading goods. It seemed to him that I might be able to make some good bargains there. He was not going.
So I rode alone. I had only three Indians with me. One of them was an Usama and the other a Toltec out of the Sierra Madre that understood a little Islapekish. They were from the neighboring area and I was under the assumption that one or the other of them would to a certain extent find a way to understand the speech of the blue Indians.
What I really wanted to see of the Momoskapans I saw in a quarter of an hour. I confirmed that they really were blue just like what hundreds of others before me have said. The foundation color was really the white-yellow of all Mexican Indians. Yet on this was always a handful of spots, frequently on their faces and other parts of the body where the blue color had become dominant.
It was different from the tiger Indians of Santa Marta in Columbia. With them the original yellow color remained strong with the large rust brown places prevailing only in certain areas. Nevertheless it appeared to me that there must be some type of natural connection between them both. The Santa Marta Indians also lived right on the ocean.
Unfortunately I understood little more of skin diseases than a German Kaiser’s ambassador understands of diplomacy. Still while I have not discovered anything new about the blue skin of the Momoskapans, I have put together a couple of observations that are certainly well made.
I can only open my eyes wide and say, “Hmm, that’s strange!”
While on the way to elementary school in sixth grade I always encountered the banker Löwenstein. He was coming back from his morning ride wearing a cap, spats and swinging a whip. He was small and fat, and wore a monocle in his left eye. The entire right side of his face was covered with a large blue-violet strawberry mark.
I said to myself, “That’s why he wears a monocle. If he wore a Pince-nez and there was some jolt the entire blue side of his nose would rub off. I was tormented with the thought that if I got too near him my jacket button would get stuck on his face and if I tried to pull it off his whole face would pop off! I dreamed of it during school hours and at night in bed. Finally I made a big detour and went to school down another street just to avoid him.
The blue Indians were that blue, deep violet blue like the strawberry mark of the banker Löwenstein and from the first moment I saw them I was seized again with that twenty-five year old forgotten idea, that my jacket button might get stuck and rip everything off.
This childish influence was so very strong that not once in all the weeks I stayed with the Momoskapans was I able to touch one of these spots. Nevertheless I saw very well that this was no strawberry mark. The skin was tight, smooth and beautifully healthy with no interruption where the bright mark began and ended. I only had to overcome my own mania that restrained me and get used to it.
I resolved that since I was now in Ystotasinta and not able to add anything at all new to the blue phenomenon I could at least work a little with the other puzzle, the one the French doctors had told the innkeeper about in Acapulco.
In reading over my notes my first observation is that science needs to determine whether and to what extent the role of a restricted diet of fish plays in the gradual development of blue coloring in the Momoskapans as well as the still apparently uninvestigated coloring of the Santa Marta Indians as well.
These Mexican blue skinned Indians eat a lot of tortoise, the Columbian tiger skinned eat absolutely none at all. Perhaps this is a good starting point for further research?
Then it needs to be determined if the increased memory of the tribe is related to this restricted diet from the sea as well. One can only wish that limping science would finally once get to the bottom of this.
As for the facts themselves, I don’t need them anymore. I have spent a long half-year in the attempt and received a series of long vanished childhood memories that are thoroughly uninteresting to me. I have become completely indifferent on the matter and conclude that I was only able to last that long due to my strong stomach and to satisfy my equally strong curiosity.
Unfortunately I find that with the Momoskapan Indians no single individual remembers all the events of his life back into the first year of life. But many do have a few memories that reach back that far.
This is not that remarkable when you consider that this little tribe for countless generations has never eaten meat or enjoyed some other fruit of the field. They depend exclusively upon the gifts from the sea and also from a certain little mussel that is very rich in phosphorous.
By the way, this practice is not determined from some religious law where other food from the land is “taboo” or forbidden. It is simply because there is nothing else growing, creeping or running in this pathetic wilderness fit to eat. The blue Indians do enjoy a little variety and were extremely grateful for the remainder of my canned provisions.
The Momoskapans are also very lazy, unintelligent and extremely peace loving. They can’t understand the use of weapons at all. Through the visit of the French doctors they have become accustomed to receiving gifts from the strangers that reside with them.
They came to me with the greatest willingness and as soon as they halfway grasped what I wanted brought all the members of the tribe that were distinguished by an especially strong memory. While this was a good start these confessionals soon became ordeals, especially because of needing to have the conversations through my two interpreters and old Kaziken of the Momoskapan tribe that only spoke a little Islapekish. My good start was not very long lasting.
Then one day a yellow one was brought that told me a most amazing tale. First he gave an account of all kinds of foolish stuff out of his earliest childhood. But then he spoke of his honeymoon, told how they captured thirty large red snappers and cooked them. Shortly after that he and his wife were in Acapulco. He described exactly how it looked. That is not at all remarkable except that the boy was scarcely thirteen years old, had never been married and had never been away from the Momohuichic River.
I asked him about it. He looked at me very stupidly and grew quiet. But the old one grinned and said, “Pala”. (It was his father)
I must say that I didn’t sleep that night and it was not mosquitoes that kept me awake. Either the youth had lied to me or I had discovered an astonishing phenomenon, a memory that went back beyond birth and pulled a memory from out of the parent’s lifetime.
Couldn’t it be possible? I have green eyes like my mother and a protruding forehead like my father. Everything can be inherited, every characteristic, talent, every disposition. Why can’t the memory be inherited?
The young kitten that is barked at by a dog arches its back and hisses. Why? Because it instinctively remembers out of the memories of thousands of generations that that is its best defense! The hedgehog curls into a ball with bristles on every side as you turn it. This action also comes from some strange custom that it has not learned on its own. Instead it comes out of the memories of an unending number of ancestors.
That is what instinct is, the memories of the ancestors. And these Indians whose brains work no differently than ours, these Indians who are only unique in the foods that their forefathers also enjoyed have evolved this wonderful memory. Why shouldn’t a higher memory as well as an ancestral memory be capable of being inherited out of the brains of the parents? The forefathers live again in their children.
Yes, but what lives on? Perhaps the features! The daughter is musical like papa and the youth left handed like mama. Coincidence? No, no. We die and our children are entirely different people. The mother was a prostitute and the son became a missionary or the father was Attorney General and his daughter sings in a casino.
Our undying souls must comfort themselves by singing Hallelujah in heavens green meadows somewhere far away from this earth we know and love. It is the only thing permitted.
We take great pains to do something so that our memory will not die. We die peacefully when we are in encyclopedias. Then we are immortal — for a second in a few centuries. Still everyone wants to live a little longer in humanities memory or at least in the memories of their friends and family. That is why the fat citizen has children, to carry on his name.
It’s true; the artist has it right. Somehow we live on in our children many generations after our death. As women with emotions and sorrow we carry and give birth under miserable torment but with each birth we rise from the dead and as men later fertilize our great-grandchildren. Then once more blossoms our first thought drawn from a chorus in a distant land and we first become aware of our groping feet and once more cast our wavering seed upon the rocks.
Something lives on and perhaps the best. Many things die — and perhaps the best. Who is to know? Everything dies and what does not die is kept safely in memory. What is forgotten is entirely dead, not that which dies. People are beginning to grasp that it is not the remembering of the past that is good but the forgetting. Remembering is foolishness, an illness, and a disgusting pestilence that chokes out the new life. We do not want to constantly look back in honor of our fathers and mothers but more deeply separate from them because we are more than they are and greater than they are!
We want to tear down yesterday because we know that today we are alive and that our today is a much better one. That is our strong belief and it is so strong that we do not even think about it. We don’t consider that our great today — tomorrow will be a pathetic yesterday only fit for the rubbish heap.
It is an eternal war with eternal defeat if we do not gain victory over our ancestral memories. We are slaves to the ideas of our forefathers. We spend our lives tormenting ourselves in their chains, suffocating in the restrictive fortress that our forefathers have created. We need to build a bigger house. When we are dead it will be worn out as well and our grandchildren will lie in the chains that we have created.
But if that is the truth then what is it that I have now discovered? Am I today at the same time my father, my forefathers and myself? If what my brain carries does not die but lives on in my children and grandchildren how can the eternal revolution ever become reconciled?
I gave commands that everyone be brought to me whose memories extended back beyond birth. Everyday someone was brought, men, women and children. I determined that the memories of the father’s and of the mother’s both extended back but the latter prevailed by far.
In all cases tribal members could only remember portions of events out of the lifetimes of their parents. The most frequent were coincidental to the marriage celebrations in general as well as to the last year of the parent’s life before the child was born.
In one case I was able to determine that the memory was out of an episode of a life even more generations back. This was with a young girl whose mother had died at her birth. Her memories went back to the lifetime that apparently belonged to her grandmother or great-grandmother.
These confessions in themselves were all inconceivably uninteresting. They all repeated themselves in the same variations, sitting there almost sleeping and looking like grey headed sea eagles. Out of the totality of my notes I only have two points of interest that appear significant.
My blue confessors never once said:
“My father did — my mother, my grandmother did — ”
They always spoke as if it were themselves. A few of the older people like Kaziken who helped interpret for me were very clear about this. Many of the remembered episodes did not relate to this life at all but were taken from a distant one and most were not particularly important or have special significance. Most of the tribal members had done the same things their parents had done.
The second point is this:
They themselves never remembered experiencing the death of their father or their mother. That is most natural because their parent’s memory that they carried never went beyond the moment of their own conception. Almost all of them later saw their parents die with their own eyes resulting perhaps in the unconscious tendency of taking these memories as their own.
This gave rise to the little paradox that was sometimes amusing enough as when the boy that has never left his sandy beach described the majesty of Acapulco or when another youth scarcely ten years old spoke with the wise mien of an ancient midwife of his seven births. Or when a child cried in mourning that a fish seized him and he drowned. The spirit of a little brother lived in him that his mother had given birth to before he was born and passed on to him.
In my notes it says:
16 July, Teresita, daughter of Elia Mictecacihuatil, fourteen years old. Her father brought her into my hut and declared proudly that his daughter spoke Spanish. The girl was well built, had just been married and was pregnant. She was almost entirely blue with only a handful of spots on her back of the original yellow color.
While she appeared proud enough of them, she also appeared embarassed and fearful, more fearful than any other Momoskapan that I had up to that time observed. At my requests to speak she only sat grinning, embarassed and ill at ease without speaking a word.
Her husband who had just come back from fishing threatened her with a rope and her father admonished her, pressed her to cooperate with no luck. It only turned her silly giggle into a pathetic howling.
Then I showed her a large hideous print of an oil painting of St. Francis and promised to give it to her when she finally did talk. Her features brightened up again yet she still didn’t say a word until I threw in one of St. Garibaldi —
The Remscheider company had purchased cheap somewhere a parcel of Garbaldi prints and Don Pablo sold these in place of the hard to get prints of St. Aloysius.
Teresita wanted to possess so many saints and this won her over. I began to carefully ask after the usual things and she falteringly told the same stupid childhood memories that I had already heard a dozen times before. Gradually she lost her fear and began to speak more freely. She gave accounts that were drawn from her mother and her grandmother. Then very suddenly the little Indian girl called out in a loud and clear, yet deep voice that she had not used before:
The word was scarcely out when she again faltered, rubbed her hands over her knees, moved her head back and forth and wouldn’t speak another word. Her father, proud that the Spanish had “finally come” told her to continue, begged and pleaded with her. I saw that there would be no more coming out of her that day, gave her the pictures and dismissed her. I had no better luck on the next day or the next or even the next. Teresita always told the same harmless little things and faltered completely at the first foreign word. It was as if she was frightened to death everytime this clear “Hail” pushed out.
With hard singular effort I got out of her father that it was not common for her to speak in a foreign tongue. She had only done it a few times in her life, on special occasions like at the dance right before her wedding when she had spoken “Spanish”. He himself had never had a Spanish word cross his lips even though his father and an older sister occasionally did as well.
Every day I gave Teresita and her relatives little things and always promised them more beautiful things, mirrors, portraits of saints, pearl beads and finally a silver linked girdle for when she finally talked in Spanish.
The greed of the entire family had grown immensely and the poor child not only tormented herself but was made to set apart from the others. Old Kaziken knew with true instinct that Teresita would only speak out of such a very heavy memory while in a state of ecstasy.
I told him that I would wait until the dance festival took place the next week and contended that the pregnant woman should be permitted to take part in it. He resisted, stared at me and said that women were not allowed. I met with only stubborn rigid resistance no matter how much I pleaded. There could be no exceptions and then he gave the counter proposal that Teresita be given a beating until the needed state of ecstasy was achieved.
That would most certainly lead straight to the goal and not do too much harm. Yes, an Indian girl could take more blows than a mule but even if Teresita gladly allowed herself to be whipped ten times for the silver girdle I was certain it would still not give me the needed memories. The memory of my jacket button, Sir Löwenstein’s strawberry mark and the thought of her back being ripped off wouldn’t leave me. I was ready to call the whole thing off. That’s when Kaziken relented and made a new proposal.
He would allow Teresita to take peyote but it would cost me, naturally. It would need to be done secretly in my hut where the other tribe members could not see. This was the favorite drug that the men experienced in their high ceremonies and was strongly forbidden to all women. I saw at once why Kaziken had been so against her participating in the dance where the entire tribe would have witnessed Teresita‘s intoxication.
His preparations were very elaborate. He came in the middle of the night and had two of my Indians lie down across the door. He placed Teresita’s father, her husband and a brother, who was in on the secret as well, in a wide circle around the hut as guards. To appease his own conscience he had the girl dress in men’s clothing. She looked quaint enough in her father’s long trousers and her husband’s blue shirt. It amused me to add my own contributions and while the bitter cactus button was brewing I put my sombrero on top of her head and gave her one of Dan Pablos highly popular bright red belts.
The girl sat on the floor and drank a huge bowl of the brew. We sat around and smoked one cigarette after another waiting for the drug to begin working. This went on for a good hour. Slowly her upper body sank and she fell back down, her eyes wide open in the waking sleep of peyote.
I had taken mescaline myself often enough and knew every stage of the working of this intoxicant. I saw how her glance eagerly devoured the wild halucinated colors but I was extremely doubtful that this passive intoxication would provide a usable condition of ecstacy. Indeed, the lips of the Indian girl remained tightly closed.
Old Kaziken could forsee the disapointing failure of this attempt as well as I could and realized the peyote was working differently on the girl than it did on himself and other men of the tribe. Perhaps it was his obstinant stubborness that drove him to it, but once he had set foot on this path he would not leave it and sought instead to go further.
He cooked a new brew and threw ten large mescal buttons into it, enough to intoxicate half a dozen strong men. Then he propped the girl up, held the hot bowl to her lips and compliant, she drank it. But the nausiating brew didn’t set well on her pallatte. She shuddered and spit it back out. The Elder grabbed her by the throat, hissed, spit on her and told her that he would strangle her if she didn’t empty the bowl. In miserable fear she reached out and with immense effort guzzled the toxic drink down and sank back onto the floor.
The result was extraordinary. Her body raised up writhing like a misshapen snake, her legs tightly pressed together, until she stood wavering in the air. Then she pressed both hands over her mouth. You could see she was trying very hard to keep the abominable stuff down but she couldn’t. A sudden spasm ripped through her as the toxin erupted and sprayed widely into the air.
The Elder trembled in rage and rushed at the girl screaming. I saw the Navaho seize him, the one that had cut the peyote buttons with him, and I grabbed his feet. He lay for a long time beating against the dirt floor trying to get at her.
The girl could see his threatening gestures completely and she stood there upright and unmoving, stuck against the straw wall, whimpering lightly like a starved dog. Then her pupils rolled back into her head and only the whites of her eyes showed in the dark hollows. The sweat on her face glowed a deep violet and the brown brew oozed out past her strong teeth.
A slight jerk started at her knees, crawled up her legs, shaking her body in violent spasms and growing stronger as it moved upward across her breast making her arms wave wildly and her neck and head began pounding faster and faster against the wall.
This did not promise a very good or desired outcome and I involuntarily murmered, “Damned mess.”
Then it rang out harsh and deep from the girl’s lips in her foreign voice, “Wine!”
It was as if this one word with a single blow destroyed all resistance and the convulsions were gone instantly. Teresita was wiping off her mouth and nose with her sleeve like a peasant. Her body moved away from the wall, a broad confident smile lay on her face. Her feet moved firmly forward stepping with powerful strides up to the fire. She good-naturedly, confidently and disdainfully pushed the Elder, who was trembling in deathly fear, to the side.
But I saw that it was not Teresita that did it. It was someone else. This other grabbed the full mug that stood near her on the floor, and emptied the wine in a single draught.
“Thank you brother! The Virgin protects our General in this shit with the fat Lutheran pigs! Peace be with you!”
She took my riding whip, struck the Elder on the body, “Answer me you dog! Peace be with you!”
Kaziken spouted, “Do you see! Do you see! Now she speaks Spanish!”
But there was not a syllable of Spanish. It was a broad ancient Low German that laughed out of the blue lips of the Indian girl.
“Bah, he doesn’t speak the Christian language, the Indian hell hound.”
Then he struck himself solidly on the belly.
“By San Juan de Compostela! I am starved, starved and yet I’ve got a belly like a villain Wittenberg priest. Come brother, share your food!”
I waved at the Elder and he brought rolls and a piece of broiled fish from out of the corner. In the meantime I refilled her mug again.
Teresita looked him over, “Ah, the blue skins! These blue dogs! What will my ArchBishop in Cologne say when I tell him sometime that I preach Christianity to blue monkeys over here. I must bring one with or he will not believe me. It’s true brother. It’s true. Their skin really is blue, not just painted on. We have scrubbed them with brushes, scraped with files, cut entire patches away. The skin is blue inside and outside!”
Teresita ate, drank and filled the mug up again. Then I asked a question, carefully trying to start a conversation by imitating her speech back to her as well as I could. She spoke Rhinish with a little Dutch and Flemish mixed in here and there as well as some Spanish curses and Latin religious phrases thrown in as well. In the beginning it was very hard going and there were entire sentences that I could make no sense of at all. But gradually things got better as I got used to this old dialect.
Once I almost ruined everything when I asked her name. Without thinking I used the two single words that I had learned in the Momoskapan language and asked so often in the last few weeks.
“Huatuchton Tuapli?” (What is your name?)
There was a light trembling on the girl’s face and she answered in her language timidly with a frightened voice, “My name is Teresita.”
I was startled and believed in that moment that the dream was lost. But the harsh ancestor that lived in her brain would not be driven out so easily. She laughed out loud again, smiling broadly and confidently.
“Will you come with brother? Tomorrow I will cook some more of them. They are too dumb to learn anything, like how to make a cross.”
It occurred to me to find out more of the life story of Teresita’s ancestor in this chopped up speech. He originated somewhere on the lower Rhine, had taken vows and been ordained as a Franciscan friar in Cologne. Then he had moved around mostly with Spanish rabble as an Army friar. He had been on the Rhine, in Bavaria and in Flanders. In Milano, Italy, he made the acquaintance of General Jon Kheern van Santanillas, who was going back to Mexico as the 5th governor after Cortez and was in his retinue on the well-known trip back to Honduras as well. Somehow he had come upon the blue Indians of Ystotasinta and brought the blessed Christian civilization to them.
Teresita drank and drank. Her voice became more ungainly and the harsh voice became slurred. The chatter of the war priest became more boastful and wild. She told of the conquering of Quantutaccis that she herself led, saber in her right hand and cross in her left, of the three hundred Mayans that she burned in honor of Merida on Corpus Domini Day. She reveled in the murder and burning, in the lust of victory and having fun with the captured women and the rich booty in the temples. No one else had killed as many men or violated as many women in the entire land.
“Hail, Viva El General Santanilla and Hail, hail Cologne!”
The voice went wild in full-unbridled laughter as it screamed out, “If you want to brother, we can roast these blue rabble tomorrow, roast them all together! Would you like that? Each one could get their own wood and light it themselves! It would be great sport!”
She emptied the mug again, “Answer brother. What? You don’t believe me! St. Anna! They will do anything that I want, these filthy pigs! You don’t believe me? Pay attention brother. I have taught them a fine trick!”
She hit Kaziken with the whip. “Come here you old heathen dog! Your damned tongue has prayed often enough to your shabby devil gods before I brought you the Holy Virgin and salvation! Out with your blue monkey tongue that cries out to Tlahuiccalpantecuhtli, your lousy Pulque gods, Coatlicue, Iztaccihuatl and Tzontemoc, the filthy sun god that runs through the underworld. Out with it, out with it! Bite it off, bite your damned tongue off!”
Teresita screamed and a hail of Momoskapanish words that I didn’t understand fell like lashes on the Elders ear. Then suddenly this mighty discharge in her language extinguished the centuries old memory in her brain. She sank together, her hands searching for support and finding none slowly her body fell to the earth. She cowered on the floor, pulled her legs together and a light sobbing shook her shoulders. I turned around to get the water jug for her and my gaze fell on old Kaziken.
He stood behind me upright, head bowed back, eyes staring straight up and his tongue, his long violet tongue, stretched wide into the air as if he wanted to catch a fly on the ceiling. A deep gurgling rushed out his throat and his hands pressed against his naked breast, the nails clawing deep into the blue flesh. I didn’t understand it at all, only had a vague feeling that there was a horrible war playing out inside him, a desperate resistance against a sudden, immense and invincible compulsion.
He struggled weak-minded against this horrible compulsion the white priest had laid down on him, this hellish compulsion of a murderous priest long since dead that had awakened and sprang across the centuries to once more utter that handful of fearful words that held the Elder in nameless torment.
His time was running out. He stood there, a distressed animal that had to mutilate himself at the priest’s command. He had to obey, had to. Gripped in a wild convulsion the mighty teeth seized the tongue and bit it off. Then the lips took the bloody flesh and spit it out. I shuddered, wanted to call out, felt in my pocket to find something to help.
Teresita crouched at my feet stroking my leg, kissing my mud-covered boots.
“Sir, may I have the silver girdle?”