by Andrew Foote
The subject turned to what we might do in order to pay our way.
"Anita and I will be paid for our work here, but you kids will have to come up with ideas of your own."
"We've already talked about this. We're not hunters, but we do have tools at our disposal so it'll be fishing and yet more fishing I suppose."
"There's only so much fish a small community like this can eat, and your boats can catch massive quantities."
"I realise that, but this place has special qualities.
Here we have a fresh water river that empties itself into the sea. Nothing unusual there, but when we came in, the plotter indicated that the depth of water just eight or ten feet out plummets to around five hundred feet and if you were to head out further, it's so deep that we can't measure it."
"Yeah, Sam mentioned about the islands being the tips of a mountain range, but what make it special?"
"Warm fresh water mixing with the cool deep salt water means there are species of fish out there that have adapted to these conditions. They're mostly predatory, feeding on the stocks of smaller fish that swim down the river. These beauties can grow to enormous sizes, and because they're unusual, they're regarded as a delicacy all over the world, but the best bit is; they fetch loads of dosh on the open market. So that, Arthur, is what we'll go looking for."
"Sounds good enough. I never thought to find out what swims in these waters."
"Take out of the equation things such as Manatees and Spinner Dolphins, there are Swordfish, tuna, various species of shark, Piarucu or Arapaima which are essentially fresh water fish that don't mind a bit of the salty stuff. They can weigh in at up to 100 kilograms at around three metres long. Then there's Dorado, Peacock Bass, and the jewel in the crown, Opah fish, one of which sold in London for a staggering £750! It was pretty big though at two metres long and one hundred and eighty pounds, but when you consider only about thirty-five percent is edible – the rest being bone and skin, not too shabby for a mornings work!"
"Never heard of most of them!"
"Neither had I. Great place the internet!
The Opah is fascinating. It's the only truly warm-blooded fish ever discovered. Some fish can heat parts of their bodies like the brain or some muscles. That's what the Great White does so it can go into turbo mode, but in most cases they can't store that heat for long 'cos it dissipates through their gills. The Opah diverts its blood away from its gills enabling it to hunt in deep waters where their body temperature is around five degrees Celsius above that of its surroundings.
It looks just like a giant frizzbie with fins stuck on as an afterthought. It's quick too, despite it looking so weird!"
"Catch a couple of those each week, and the rest of the time you can just laze around then!"
"No, I've done lazing around and it's boring!
That's another thing I'm going to have to get used to. Ever since leaving Brownsville, there's been like a target to aim for. Every day was busy, including those spent in harbour as there was always restocking to be taken care of, fresh water and fuel tanks to fill and general maintenance to be done, but now we're here, I'm at a loose end. I just want Aruno to get this pow-wow done and dusted so we can go ashore."
"It's early yet. Rob and Cathy are still bunked down and I haven't had breakfast, so if we were to get the royal summons, they'd have to wait anyway. I don't travel well on an empty stomach!"
Finally, we saw three canoes putting out, and peering through the binoculars, the lead boat contained Aruno with two boys at the paddles, and the second pair who were coming up either side of him but slightly behind, were acting like escorts with four crew to each boat.
He climbed aboard and gave me a massive cuddle.
"I'm sorry Mimi-cu, but it was a very late night, or rather, an early morning. I was very tired and needed to sleep."
"Yes, you do look somewhat frazzled. I take it your Chief was pleased to see you?"
"Pleased yes, but I think he was more like relieved.
Are the others up yet? I need coffee and if we can be together, then I'll explain what happened last night."
We met on Marion's mess deck, and with flasks of strong black coffee, Aruno began his story.
"Our Chief was pleased to see us, and thankful Mother was with me as he's very sick.
Last night Mother tended to him, and believes he is suffering from lung cancer or Pneumonia and Pleurisy although without hospitalising him, she can't be sure.
Of course he refuses to leave the island; he's schooled in the old ways of our culture, so this morning, and at his request, there was a meeting of elders.
They discussed the future and it was decided that because the writings had been correct about us coming here, the timing, my Mimi-cu with me, Mother and her bonded one and my sister and her bonded one, all as predicted, they would follow the writings prophesies.
Tonight there will be two ceremonies. The first will see Simeon and me wedded as bonded ones in our culture, the second ceremony will see me proclaimed as Chief, so allowing my predecessor to rest out what time remains to him."
Dear God, you could've heard a pin drop!
Aruno looked at us for questions, but none came.
I noticed a few tears running down his face, so I pulled him in close.
"I don't want this Mimi-cu – not yet at least.
I'm frightened, but it has to happen. I'll need help from all of you. You are my family, and as such you will be lifted to high honours of your own.
You have much to learn about our practices, but be nice with the villagers and they'll help you.
I came with an escort. They're here because now I have guards to protect me, as will you all once tonight is done.
We don't have enemies so it's more like a tradition for the Chief and his family, but they're armed with blowpipes, bow and arrows and spears, and the poison they can deliver is fatal. For ever you are safe from harm."
Cathy ran over and hugged him.
"Well, little brother. What the fuck can I say! The Chief of this community, and at only sixteen?
Count on us. You know full-well we will do all we can to support you!"
Arthur looked shell-shocked but both he and Rob voiced much the same sentiments.
Aruno escaped from my cuddle and went below only to reappear with bottles of ice cold Frascatti and glasses.
I looked over the side and saw eight hot and sweaty faces looking back at me, so I also went below and put eight one-litre bottle of ice-cold mineral water into a cooler bag and lowered it over the side.
They were hesitant to accept it, but I held up the palm of my right hand, and with my fingers splayed as a sign of friendship, they took it onto their boats and sampled it.
Surprised looks at the temperature, and with a couple of them tipping some over their heads, they smiled back and thanked me for my consideration.
"Knock on the boat if you need more.
Thank you for waiting for us."
Aruno joined me, and waving to them said, "Nice start Mimi-cu. They will remember your kindness, and before the day is out, most of the village will know of it.
I love you!"
"I love you too, and before I lose all self-control, lead me to that wine…… My Chief!"
The ceremonies were simple affairs, although the pageantry that accompanied them was fascinating.
Our Wedding was just a matter of listening to endless speeches, vows of monogamy and the protection of each other upon pain of a horrible death.
A short exchange of affectionate kisses and the acceptance of gifts from some of the dignitary's and we were done with much banging of drums and people dancing.
What followed an hour later was much more formal.
Apparently, being the Chief is something forced on you, not something you aspire to, so Aruno was brought into the circle bound and gagged, chained and pretending to fight his way out from the restraints.
It was all theatre, but the illusion was something to behold.
He was forced to kneel and with guards, spears in hand, he was released but kept in the kneeling position for most of the ceremony.
He was asked if he would serve the village until he died or deemed incapable of office.
More theatre, as he refused to answer until a spear (ceremonial and blunt) got him a dig in the ribs.
More questions – more prods from spears until he begged to be set free promising his life-long commitment to his people…… Yeah…… HIS people now.
What followed was party with a very large 'P'
Dances, with the participants wearing almost no clothing to the point of indecency, wrestling matches, more theatre which even Aruno didn't understand.
Fire-walking, juggling with knives…… the list goes on…… and then the banquet!
I ate stuff that under normal circumstances I would've shied away from, but today normality went flying out of the window.
Amongst the dishes I recognised were fruits and fish, pork, snake which tasted okay reminding me of chicken, but then there were bugs – some as fat as my wrist – all barbecued on open fires, grass hoppers, monkey and the biggest spiders I'd ever seen.
Aruno helped himself to a large bug and proceeded to peel away the horny scales. Once the flesh was visible, he split it in two and offered some to me.
"Oh God! Do I have to?"
"No, you don't have to, but unless you try, you will never know what you're missing. It tastes good Mimi-cu. Trust me?"
I tried. To begin with I sniffed it. It smelled vaguely of fish. No so bad, and as Aruno was digging in to his second. I took a bite.
"Well, I'll be damned! That's delicious, just like lobster!
Is it a sea creature or land?"
"They don't mind either, so maybe amphibious?"
I tried most that was on offer, but drew the line when it came to spider.
Cathy and Rob came over and joined us, and on seeing the discarded remains of Bug, Cathy put her hand to her mouth and pretended to vomit.
"No way did you try those! Please tell me you didn't?"
"I took a bit of persuading but yeah, I did, and guess what? They taste like the finest lobster imaginable!"
"Not gross! Here, try some."
I picked one from the basket – it was hot and I had to juggle it in my hands to cool it down sufficiently enough for me to descale it.
I split it in two, and handed some to them.
"Go on, don't be a wuss all your live. Seriously, it's a taste sensation!"
Looks of total disgust turned to smiles.
"Bloody-hell! That's like, really good!
What else have you been brave enough to sample?"
"Most things. Monkey I wasn't keen on. Too gamey for my liking. Locust is okay once you get past the fact that you just pop it in your mouth and chew them whole, they have a nutty taste.
Snake is like chicken, but spider I sidestepped! This gig is alcohol free, and I'd need to be very pissed before having a go at them."
Aruno touched my arm.
"Not alcohol free, but unless you don't mind going blind for a couple of hours, I wouldn't touch what's on offer. You'd be better off going back to the boats for a few bottles of wine. Red goes nicely with spider!"
"You are jesting right?"
"Yes, but a glass or two of red wine does sound good!"
Rob stood up.
"I'm on it."
"Don't forget you will be escorted now. Let your guards take you rather than bothering with the inflatable."
"How will I tell who they are?"
"They will find you quick enough. Don't worry!"
As he walked away, we saw four young men peel off from the revellers and follow him from a discrete distance, and as Aruno explained, those boys wouldn't interfere with his daily routine, they were only there to protect him – not from human attack, but from wildlife he knew nothing about, plus he was a member of the Chief's family, so their role was part ceremonial, acting as a signal to others of his position in society.
I had to wonder what the ordinary villagers would make of outsiders walking in and being suddenly elevated to positions they could never hope to fill.
"Ask them." Was his reply, so I did.
"No. We need leaders that can help us will help us learn," and "We want to improve our lives here and Aruno-Pae and his family are the people to teach us."
All comments I heard were positive with one possible exception, and even that was tempered with good will.
"You know little of our culture being outsiders, but if you are willing to adopt our ways, there can be no reason why these events can't be good for you, and good for our community.
Our Chief was old and his thinking, set in the past. He would turn away our ideas, ignore the need for change. If you bring the good you have learned from your culture, and without forcing change upon us that would spoil the simplicity of our lives, mix your new thinking with ours in a beneficial manner, then all will be well, and you are welcome here."
This exchange of words kicked off a long and interesting conversation.
The boy I was talking to, turned out to be much the same age as myself, and he was also a smoker!
I offered him one of my cigarettes.
"This is not a good thing from our culture. We are told it is very bad for us and we should try to give it up, but as you already have the habit, try one anyway."
He laughed. "Anita-doctor tells us the same, but it has been part of our culture since the dawn of time, so we are polite when we refuse to stop !
I think it best if I smoke what I understand, but I thank you for the offer."
We touched on many subjects. Fishing, hunting, the geography of the island and what his main occupation was.
He was a fisherman, so I asked him if he'd come out with us on an exploratory cruise.
His reply was, he would like to, and would Aruno be with us.
I told him that yes, he would be, unless his obligations as Chief didn't get in the way of things.
"Another Chief I will be close to. Very good, very good, and thank you!"
We parted company just as I saw Rob open another bottle of plonk.
Aruno grinned at me as I took my place beside him.
"You had a good conversation with Tanbae then?"
"I never thought to ask his name, but yes, he's okay and I like him.
I got the feeling – at least to begin with, that he wasn't too sure about us. Not you, but the rest of us."
"But I noticed both of you laughing, and that's good – good because he is also an important member of the village."
"He told me that he was a fisherman?"
"And so he is, but also he's the Grandson of our now-retired Chief and as such is also an elder, and held in high regard."
"That explains so many things.
I asked him to come out with us on the boat when we went out next. He said that he wanted to, and would you be with us. I said Yes, but only if your duties here allowed. Then he said something about being close to another chief.
Do you think he's about to challenge your position?"
"No, definitely not! He voted in favour of me, and he knows the writings. He could never challenge the decision, and I don't believe he wants to.
What you did there tonight was a stroke of pure genius. Talk to our people, allow them to get to know and understand you. Offer to help them if they look to be in need of it – only this way will you be fully accepted, and unless I'm very much mistaken, that talk with Tanbae will have been noticed, questions will be asked of him and his answers will be positive."
"I want to get to know everyone, and gain their acceptance.
Back at Tresgillith, we were rude and held incomers at arm's length, so I don't want to be on the receiving end of the same treatment.
The people here are very special, and so now I can understand your need to get back here."
"It will happen Mimi-cu, but don't try and rush your fences. Take it step-by-step – the first of which is to take me back to Conqueror and our bed.
Today has been very stressful, and I need to feel your embrace"
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