The Patamona Legend of Kaieteur
It was late in the evening; at this moment in time when dusk begins to settle on Kaieteur Falls, the calls of scarlet macaws pierce the silence as they approach the canopied jungles, dancing butterflies in an extravagance display of colours contrasting sharply with the approaching darkness.
The crescendo of the falls is growing in tandem with the receding daylight, and why not?
Enveloped in this renewal of nature are the intruders – miners, porkknockers, shopkeepers, the indigenous, an Old Woman visiting from far away. They, who were at one time in harmony with nature, now dream of a new culture – wealth creation. But more than the destruction of the rainforests what mattered most to the Old Woman is the continued sacrilege of what once was her holy ground.
You see Kaieteur was once her sacred home, for she was a Patamona, the People of the Mountains. It was here that they would come to pay obeisance to the Makonaima (Great Spirit) leaving their homes from atop mountains, from afar as Matiák (Mahdia) or Tuma-Tuma-ri (Tumatumari), walking for days or weeks as the case would be, to interface with the Great Spirit.
Before the arrival of the Europeans and the so called “discovery”; falls, rivers, jungles and the wealth below – gold and diamonds, there was a sudden migration. As fast as light Kaieteur became bare, her people gone! The Old Woman thought she knew the reason, this is her story.
The Old Woman’s Story
It was in the month of March, in the year 1999; the stars were set to light the heavens. Correspondingly, flambeaux were being lit in the few porkknockers’ logies on Menezes Landing.
Sudden whiffs of scented aroma floated on smoke from the direction of the logies including Susan Augustus’s kitchen; it was the scent of burning counter wood. It was a kindly reminder that dinner time was approaching. In the tradition of the Guyana hinterlands it was also an invitation to the friends of the home.
She was of mixed descent, Patamona and Portuguese from Kopinang, a Patamona community neighbouring Maikwak in the Pakaraima Mountains. Her family was further mixed, husband, Faisal Rahaman, being Indo Guyanese from the village of Anna Catherina, West Coast of Demerara.
Susan and her daughters took up residence at Kaieteur to be with her husband and father who was a porkknocker mining in the Olinqua areas.
The evening in question, I walked into Susan’s home and sat at her dining table. Her two daughters, Sabatini and Ashana, were already sitting there before a meal of cassava bread and tuma fish. A strange movement caught the corner of my eye. Following my eye I saw an old woman squatting on the floor. She had a similar meal before her, and for some reason, she had turned her back towards me.
Susan told me it was her mother; she was visiting from Kopinang.
Susan’s mother spoke only in Patamona and all translations were done by Susan. I asked Susan to ask her mother what she knew about Ole Kaie; I wanted to know if the Legend as told by A.J. Seymour had any truth, and if not, what had transpired there on that falls many, many years ago.
But Susan’s mother did not want to talk; she was ashamed to be in the presence of a stranger.
To break the walls of silence I ate the fish tuma and cassava (my original intent, anyhow); through Susan I told her that I also drank the casiri and piwari. Immediately the old woman returned to her previous position and began dipping her cassava in the tuma. The old woman stated that indeed there was a Patamona community on the falls plateau and they lived there for thousands of years.
For them, the Patamonas, Kaituik was a sacred ground, so much so that other members of the tribe would leave their community for miles around and travel to the site on the falls where obeisance would be given.
“Was there a war between the Caribs and the Patamonas?” I asked, for that was the legend we were all told. And in Patamona she emphatically stated that there was no war. The Oral Traditions, according to the Old Woman, is emphatic that it was a plague that caused the removal of their community.
In her own words the Old Woman re-echoed the traditions passed on to her from her ancestors; there was a serious infliction of chigoes within the community and Old Kai was himself not spared. His condition was very bad. Ole Kai felt enormous pain and it (the chigoes) had taken over the heels of both his feet.
Old Kaie left a reminder of the pain he suffered, for the chigoes caused so much pain that both heels had to be removed. But he had one more act left to perform and he felt that in doing so he will save his people.
Realising the contagious effects of the plague the tribal councillors held a meeting and they were informed via the shaman the God Makonaima required a sacrifice. Kai offered himself to be that sacrifice. According to Patamona narrative Kai was placed into a canoe by his two daughters.
The Old Woman pointed that the site Menezes Landing was the approximate point of departure; from here on Old Kaie sailed into the direction of the falls.
Then without any warning of what was next in coming the Old Woman announced that in the morning she will take me to the site where the reminder of Old Kaie could be found.
The Legend of Kaie
It was before 6 am. And before 6 am at Kaieteur the mist arising from the falls can cover the plateau in its entirety. But strangely enough, this morning was an exception. It was bright, even though the sun was not fully out. Was it the Great Spirit Makonaima? Or the Great Toshao Old Kaie himself?
I kept my eyes on her, the Old Woman. I was told that she had not visited the Falls for a long time. I wanted to believe that her memory might have faded. I wanted to think of so many things, but I was apprehensive.
I thought I was being extremely lucky, for I had never heard nor spoken to anyone who had witness what I was about to be shown.
I was wrong about her memory, and though she has departed to be with her Toshao I must beg her forgiveness; for the Old Woman without even a glance to either left or right, walked directly to a piece of sheet rock embedded in the sands, and barely audible, she said the following in Patamona.
“Here is Old Kaie’s footprint” Susan her daughter translated. I looked, and strange though it seem, what appeared on the sheet rock looked very much like a foot, but there was no heel! The Old Woman stood there, I along with her, and I knew not what she was thinking or perhaps was she praying. But in my own silence I said Tengke Kuru (thank you in Patamona) for this wonderful moment.
Written by Rohan Sagar and first published by the Guyana Cultural Association’s Folk Fest magazine 2010.
Rohan Sagar is an MA Candidate with the Future Generations Graduate School, West Virginia.
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