story

The Areyto

©Andrés Díaz Marrer

Of course she looked cute! With her stuck-up little tail showing up from behind her olive green shell. Each of her four short legs looked like the paddle of an oar with its wide side facing out. She had lines or yellow streaks running from her head to the tail. She also had streaks of the same color on each leg. She swam with great skill and speed in the water. But out of the water she moved heavy and slow.

We know, even though it is not recorded in the history books yet, that Chief Agueybana gave the title Hicotea to these turtles. It is a well known fact and it's fully backed by a legend that passed from generation to generation of Hicoteas. But, Let start this story right from the beginning...Once there was a Yucayeke ... the word Yucayeke means town in the Taino language. This Yucayeke was close to the actual La Plata River; in fact part of the same river crossed straight through the center of the Yucayeke.

On that day the men had gone hunting. The women were at home taking care of the children and doing the house chores. Some of the women were preparing Casabe, a kind of bread made of yucca. Some were weaving cotton petticoats, and others were preparing the clay to make pots and pans.
The day was bright and clear. The breeze was whispering soft secrets to the mountains. The birds were chirping with gaiety on having felt the warmness of the sun that was slipping it golden twinkles among the branches and touching the rim of their wings.
A young turtle that had risked upstream and was about to begin sunbathing on top of a rock saw a group of men approaching. At first she thought that they were the men of the Taino tribe who were coming back home from hunting. But, when she looked again she realized that they were Aruages Indians. She knew it because of the way they painted themselves. Time and again the Aruages appeared all of a sudden to attack the Yucayeke, to loot the huts and to seize the women of the tribe.How she wished the Taino men to come back home! But when they go out for hunting they stay away for several days and they had been gone a few hours. The young turtle became sad. The Taino children were her friends. Now all of them were in harm's way! “What can I do? She asked herself”, but she couldn't figure what to do.

She tackled her way towards the water, while she kept on thinking about the way she could help her friends. — She could not shout, since the turtles neither shout nor speak as persons do. May be if she just could get fast enough to the river! She would swim downstream and warn her friends. —She was talking to herself, when bump! She felt a small blow on her shell. She had stumbled on a stone. The blow scared her, but that same fright gave her the answer that she was looking for ...That's it, sends them an alert message! She started to tap on her shell to call all her friends. —Attention all turtles, this is an Emergency! The Aruages are coming! Please pass on this message.
Every turtle that listened to the message relayed it and repeated it. Tap! Tap, tap, and tap! Tap, tap, and tap! Tap, tap, tap, and tap! — Soon the river shore filled with the sound of hundreds of improvised drums. One of the boys who were swimming in the river was the first to receive the message; he swam to the shoreand shouted Aruages! Aruages! All the children rushed toward the huts. Their mothers who had also listened to the turtle's message and went out for them met them halfway. They all ran to a secret hiding place in a cave on top of a nearby mountain. The intruders arrived and found all huts empty and not a soul in the area. “Let's hide and be quiet, so they'll think we left and when they return we'll capture all of them” The Aruage chief said, with a very serious face, showing all his big teeth with anger. He said so in his particular language, a language that the turtles knew very well, for the fact of being so old.
“How can we help our friends?” A group of turtles asked at the same time, terrified about what they had listened.
“I know how!” Said an old turtle, which surely was the great grandmother of all the turtles, because she was very, very old. They all paid attention to what the great grandmother turtle had to say.“Let's build a dam on the uppermost part of the river. When we have stored plenty of water in it, we will remove the trunks that support the dam and the water will flush the enemy away to where they came from.”
“All right, Let's get to work!” They said.
“What is a dam?” a young turtle asked.
“It is a dike to contain the water”, her sister answered.
“And how will we do it?”We will work together, gathering trunks and branches then we will seal the holes in between with mud.

The turtles worked very hard. At evening, the dam was finished and laden with water up to the top. Long ropes tied the main trunks that were supporting it. Just one big tug was needed to break the dam. One big pull would let out a thick and a devastating tide of water to strike. The sun was setting down. The clouds were painted with tones of rose and orange woven by stripes of violet and gray.

The women thinking that the enemy had left came out of their hiding place. They began walking down home with their children. The children were laughing and playing on their way to the Yucayeke. The Aruages had listened to their voices and were waiting for them hiding with their sharp knives made of stone ready for the attack.

“Ok, let's get ready! On the count of three, let's all pull our end of the rope as strong as we can! One, two: three! Go!”
Then dozens of them, hundreds and more than hundreds, thousand and many, many more, pulled the rope with one hard tug. The trunks supporting the dam yielded and Boom! A big mess, a giant wave of water, swamped the Yucayeke. The river seemed like a huge hand. With one big clap it swept the huts, the dujos, the idols, the pottery and the invaders; everything caught by the flood was flushed away. The women and the children were safe because they were still halfway of the Yucayeke. From there they saw the force of the stream dragging away their enemies. Soon they listened to thousands of turtles happily striking their shells with joy...

The men of the tribe returned to the Yucayeke. They were told about the Aruages failed attack. All felt very thankful to the turtles. There was a big celebration. Great Chief Agueybana the Brave led the Areyto ceremony. The turtles were guests of honor. There they were awarded the title of Hicoteas.

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