Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stephens and Catherwood (3) - Punta Gorda

Having quickly exhausted the possibilities of Belize City, Stephens and his limey sidekick embark on a short steamboat ride down the coast to Punta Gorda. This vessel...

"...was the last remnant of the stock in trade of a great Central American agricultural association, formed for building cities, raising the price of land, accommodating emigrants, and improvement generally. On the rich plains of the province of Vera Paz they had established the site of New Liverpool, which only wanted houses and a population to become a city." *

One of the tag-alongs on board was a man of the cloth, who duly asked permission to inflict some rites of passage on the local inhabitants, then predominantly Carib indians. The latter were initially suspicious of this padre, for he was unable to speak a word of Spanish, for them the one true badge of orthodoxy, but in due course "when they saw in him his gown and surplice, with the burning incense, all distrust vanished." More fool them.

The opportunities for holy wedlock were thin on the ground because most of PG's menfolk were out and about engaged in fishing and other bread-winning activities, so the main custom of the day presented itself as a long line of women with babes in arms. Stephens ruminates on his own roping-in that day:

"I became godfather to a Carib child; fortunately, its mother was an honest woman, and the father stood by at the time. In all probability I shall never have much to do with its training; and I can only hope that in due season it will multiply the name and make it respectable amongst the Caribs."

* This detail reminded me of a passage I read earlier this week in Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara. The soon-to-be-born revolutionary's mother had just eloped with Guevara Lynch to the rather leafy frontier district of Misiones, funding her new husband's dream of owning a Yerba Mate plantation out of her inheritance. There they got about on the Ibera, "a Victorian paddle-wheel steamer that had done prior service carrying British colonials up the Nile." Are you thinking what I'm thinking? How the heck did it get across the pond?

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