Letters — 01 September 2015
A “Caribbean” excerpt from Michener by Romel Cuello …

Dear Editor,

        I took this piece from the book “Caribbean,” by James A. Michener, and just know that the Honduras he mentions is Belize and more or less this is how we came to be. Methinks this book should be included in our schools to make our students more aware of our relationship with the Caribbean Islands. Belize is not mentioned, but we read in novel form the history of the relationship between England and Spain which we and our problem with Guatemala is directly a product of,

    Just saying

— Both Will and Ned, and Mompox too, were disappointed when on their return to Tortuga, they found no plans under way for either an attack on a Spanish treasure galleon or a land assault on a city in Cuba or Campeachy, and they were appalled at what was proposed. McFee explained as best he could: “We’ve sold all the barbacoa we can, and there’s no money coming in from any raids. But those two big ships out there one English, one Dutch, have promised they’ll buy all the logwood we can cut…”

        At even the mention of logwood the older buccaneers groaned, for there was no job in the Seven Seas worse than cutting logwood. As one old sailor who had once been forced to work the salt pans at Cumana said: ‘Logwood is worse. At Cumana you at least worked on land, Logwood. Up to your bum in water eighteen hours a day.

        But with Spanish treasure nonexistent, McFee’s men had no choice but to sail due westward to the distant shores of Honduras, with the two big ships trailing behind to purchase such logwood as the buccaneers felled. When Ned saw the forlorn tangle of sea and swamp in which the many-branched trees grew, and imagined the insects and snakes and panthers infesting that jungle, he lost heart, but his uncle, who had seen two days from death in that Cadiz cell, encouraged him: “Six months of hell, Ned, but they do pass. And for years after, we’ll tell others how bad it was.”

        It was exactly what Will had predicted, six months of the most torturous work men could do, up to their thighs in slimy water, beset by cruel insects, attacked now and then by deadly water-snakes, and arms tense from chopping at the tangled logwood trees. It was difficult to believe that these ugly trees were valuable, but one old fellow told Ned: “Pound for pound, about as valuable as silver,” and a fight broke out when someone else shouted: “Horse manure!”

        Ned would have had a difficult time in the logwood forest had not Mompox been at hand to look after him, tend the horrendous insect bites when they festered, and see that he received adequate food.

       Once when Ned nearly fainted from a fever caused by bites and constant immersion, Mompox persuaded the Dutch ship to take Ned aboard so that he could at least catch some uninterrupted sleep, and while there the weakened lad asked the captain: “What do people do with this damned logwood?” and the Dutchman explained: “Look at the core of that exposed piece. Have you ever seen such a beautiful deep, dark purple-brown, . . maybe even a touch of gold?”

        And when Ned looked, he saw how magnificent the corewood was that he had been harvesting.

    “I still don’t see what you do with it.”

        “A dye, son, one of the strongest and most beautiful in the world,”

        “I thought dyes were yellow, blue and red, Bright handsome colors that women like.”

        “Those are showy, yes, but this . . . this is imperial.”

        When Ned was able to go back to work he chopped at his trees with more respect, but as for the occupation of logwood cutter, he had to agree with the men who had described it before he came to Honduras: “It’s hellish.”

Regards,

Romel Cuello

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