Upon the Tide

Contributed by on 06/01/11

Change is the only true constant. Those who spend their lives at the edge of the sea understand this. The tide comes, and the tide goes, each time changing and renewing the shape of our shores. The beach where I launched my canoe this morning is not the same where I played as a child, though they are in the same place. One can only adapt to the changes, not control them. My people have known this for generations.

And so we were not surprised when the floating forest carrying the white men appeared on our horizon, strange a sight though it was. We are used to the strange gifts the sea leaves on our shores.

They were not our first visitors, though their leaders seemed excited to believe so. There are other islands in these waters, other peoples plying the fishing grounds by canoe and net. Some we trade with, some we ignore, and some – like the mountain folk who once shared our island – we war against.

We showed them no fear, even though some amongst them fired their guns into the water around our canoes. We recognized them as men, not the gods, and though they were strange to look upon we invited them to a mighty feast in our village.

Yes, I know this word “gun,” though I had never seen one until then. Stories of the white men had reached our island when my father was but a boy himself, tales of their guns and their one god and their skin that burnt in the sun. As a child I imagined them crackling to ash like palm leaves in the summer bonfires, and it disappointed me to see that many of their skins were nearly dark as the wood of their floating forest. Still, some of them peeled like the lizard my second wife keeps in a reed cage.

They were an excitable folk, scurrying about the island, speaking that strange chirping language of theirs. They showed us shiny stones which we did not recognize, asked us in their crude way were they could find more, and grew angry when we did not know. One, dressed all in black, kept trying to show our chief something he called a buhk. Others had trinkets we had no use for, though it calmed them to exchange these for the shell crafts our womenfolk made.

Nothing need be said about the way they treated our womenfolk.

But we are a people proud of our hospitality and our honor, and on the evening of the fifth day of their arrival we built the mighty bonfires and made a gift of our finest palm wine. And when the fires roared high and the white men were drunk on our wine we fell upon them with club and spear and bone knife, each tool of honor blessed by the gods.

We sang our praises in the night, sending them skyward with the smoke and casting them out amongst the waves, for it had been a lean season, and we were grateful for the feast they’d brought to our shores.

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