When the White Men Came
I miss my home. I always thought I would be surrounded in its beauty forever, until they came to our land. Everyday it becomes more difficult to remember back to the days when it was ours. They took our lives away, and we were helpless. But there was nothing that we could have done. They were white men we were afraid.
It began as the leaves started to change from cool green to warm red and gold. My sister had married only the night before and we were all very happy. Because of the change in weather and the addition to our family we had thought something wonderful would be granted unto us. We were wrong.
I first felt that something was going on early the morning after my sister”s wedding. There had been talk of an enormous canoe seen in the water off the land away. The excitement seemed to be in full swing that morning. I sat with my father”s mother working on my weaving. She was talking about her own wedding and because she had told that story many times last night, it was easy for me to be distracted by the commotion outside. There were shouts and yells, but all to distant for me to make out what was being said. After a few minutes of listening, two men stopped and stood just a few feet away from my window. Thought out of eyesight, I could sense their uneasiness. The two talked of the great canoe. They were nearing.
As they morning went on, I was assigned various tasks. One of my duties brought me not too far from the water”s edge. My mother knew of the excitement of what was approaching us, and warned me to stay away from the water. She knew that the bravest men in our tribe had gone down to investigate the situation and/or defend our village. As a 13-year-old girl, I knew of no such plan. But, of course, curiosity got the best of me and I hurried down to see what was going on. I hid behind a large tree and peeked out at the men. They stood watching the people lower smaller canoes into the water and get into them, still away from the shore. I observed from my hiding place, but soon fell asleep, still tired from the festivities the night before.
I was awaken by a deafening bang. A man with queer white skin and bright clothes much more lavish than any adornment I had ever seen stood with a smoking plank. I heard a man from my tribe tell a younger man to run and urge the rest of the people in the tribe to retreat into the dense trees past our village.
The white men spoken in odd tongues amongst themselves. The one with the smoking plank, that had peculiarly stopped smoking, came closer to the men of my village. Afraid, they quickly backed away. The white man laughed, gave the plank to one of his men, and came close once more. In his hand he held out small shiny objects. He shows a necklace with many of the same beads strung on cord. They were beads. Tiawwa, a friend of my father”s, smiled and held out his hand to receive the gift. The white man gave beads to a few of the other men and they put them in their satchel.
A man from my tribe plucked a ripe plum from off the tree that hung over them. He reached out and handed it to the white man. The white man looked it over for a few seconds, and finally ate it. All watched in silence as he ate wondering what would happen next.
The white man that seemed to be in charge, the one who gave beads and ate the fruit, cupped his hands and took a drink of imaginary water from them. He did it again and Tiawwa turned and lead everyone, white men and tribesmen alike, to the fresh water stream only a short walk away, where we get our water. The white men drank and then filled large canisters with it. They proceed to back to their canoes with the canisters and then began to set up teepee-like structures.
I did not see the white men for a few days because we stayed hidden deep in the trees while they were near. But when the men of our tribe told us it was safe, we came back to our houses. After the moon had set on the second night back, the white men came into our villages and took us away to pens made cruelly from our own trees. My Mother, Father, Sister, myself, and a multitude of family and friends from my tribe were taken. We stayed in the cages for a few days until we were herded into the small canoes, which we learned were called “boats”, and in then into the enormous canoes, called “ships”. All throughout this, the smoking planks, which we found were called “guns”, pointed at us ready to shoot.
On the ship, the best behaved of us were given chores to do. I was among the few who saw the sky and water while trapped on their ship because I was given the task of washing one of the decks. Some never saw sky, water, or land again. Half of those they took died before we reached solid earth. Maybe they were the lucky ones. Those of us who lived were cut, worked, and finally sold as slaves.
I am now working for only room and board in a white man”s house. He is very cruel, but his wife is kind and is teaching me to read and write when her husband is not home. I will most likely stay here until I marry or die. Until then, I keep myself content with memories of my beautiful homeland.