Lion's gaze

Lion's gaze

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Historical background tidbits: 
  • The setting for this fiction short story is shortly after the first European "discovery" of Brazil. The Roman Catholic church had a strong Jesuit presence soon after the first ships began to arrive. Greed was a powerful driving factor.
  • Huguenot pastor/missionary/explorers first came to Brazil in the early to mid 1500's. Due to persecution in France, they were searching for new places to settle and live in peace. Soon filled with compassion for the indigenous peoples they found, these highly educated, godly people desired to reach out to them with the Good News of Christ.
  • Jesuit priests killed these early Huguenot explorers and their families, ending Brazil's first contacts with the Gospel.
  • Brazil had 10x more slaves (!) than all of north and central America combined. When the indigenous people were decimated, the Portuguese began bringing black slaves from Africa in huge quantities. Brazil's Quilombola communities are some of the visible remnants
  • It is said that a few Huguenot children survived Jesuit massacres by hiding in the jungle and were later found by Dutch sailors and taken to the United States.


1552 AD - Brazilian coast off Bahia

Slap…slap…slap. Jon Pierre Lindoney lay with his back against the rough surface of the central mast, listening to the familiar sounds of the waves smacking against the wooden hull. The shadow from the mast in late afternoon sun kept his weary body out of the baking rays, but his sweaty skin was only slightly cooled by the tropical breeze that filled the faded sails above him. The ragged edges of his once-full trousers, now barely covering his thin, bony knees, were vivid evidence of his extreme estate.

Forcing his hands into fists, he studied them, turning them back and forth slowly. Rope burns and unhealed line cuts had so stiffened his callused fingers that he had been having difficulty grasping the sail ropes and in hauling in the fish lines. The blotched and wrinkled skin across the backs had deep creases cutting across the surface from too much sun and his nails were cracked and pale white.

Looking up and shading his eyes, he automatically scanned the horizon for any unusual shape. Only the familiar bulges of the swells broke the endless circle in the distance and he bowed his head tiredly. A deep sigh pushed up from his chest and hissed slowly from the thin line of his lips.

"Oh my Lord, I am so weary of this long voyage. Please, oh God Most High, help us to find the Great Green Land soon. We are so tired and weak and need food and water. Please God, for Your great Name's sake, lead us with Your Spirit and fill us with Your hope."

Sweat joined forces with sweat and a drop traced its way down the deep crease above his mustache and disappeared into his short beard. He opened his eyes and again looked at his now folded hands. He wondered if his stiffened fingers would ever again play his viol. It had been months since he had even looked at it in its molding leather case.

Pushing to his feet, he made his way to the rope ladder tied to the side rail, stretching down from the crow's nest high above his head. Balancing carefully as he stepped up the cross pieces, he pulled his way skyward, scarcely pausing on the familiar upward journey. The sway of the ship made him grasp the rope more firmly and wincing from the pain in his hands he tried to concentrate on each rung. Pulling himself onto the small platform, he stood and hugged the hot mast and gazed into the distance. A movement below caught his eye and he glanced down to see a stocky figure step out of the steep stairwell by the cabin. He saw the bearded face turn upward and a hand shaded its eyes as a gravelly voice boomed up at him from below:

"So, you still believe your God will save us, eh?" the figure shouted up to him with it's Portuguese-accented French.

"We have almost no water and cannot catch anymore fish without bait! Unless we have a miracle now, we will die and rot in hell!"

The captain glared up at him, then turned and made his way back the way he had come. Settling down for his turn at the evening watch, Jon Pierre faced the setting sun. A few clouds lay on the horizon and the edges glowed with fiery display. As the sun dropped lower against a cloud, Jon Pierre noticed that the cloud did not let any light through as usual. The pointed top thrust up and seemed to swallow the sun. Jon Pierre quickly jerked the small telescope from his wide cloth belt and aimed it at the distant object. The swaying ship made it hard to track and the Frenchman lowered the cylinder to carefully clean the eyepiece and front lens. It was hard to find a clean spot on his tattered shirt, but he finally raised the bronze tube to his eye and found the rapidly disappearing form in the distance again. The shape of the mountain was now clearly highlighted by the sinking sun and his heart hammered in his chest.

"Land ho…land ho…land ho!" bellowed forth the urgent call.

Curses soon floated up from below as the men tripped over each other in their rush to get up the stairs. They poured out on the deck and quickly followed his outstretched arm, pointing due west. Jumping and laughing and crying all at the same time, a few fell to their knees and bowed their heads in thanksgiving. The captain made his way to the pilothouse and soon the bow swung from its southwesterly course to head directly toward the still-glowing clouds. Jon Pierre could hardly take his eyes from the dim mountain and his heart swelled in thanksgiving to God.

All evening the ship creaked and groaned it's way westward, until the boatswain yelled the 10-fathom warning as he pulled his knotted rope and weight from the sea. They set anchor for the night, but no one slept and the whole crew lay on the decks to await first light.

Jon Pierre made his way across the weathered boards to the group of six men sitting in a circle. In the dim light escaping from the smoky glass of the flickering oil lamp, he could barely make out the serious faces of his brothers in the Faith. They backed away slightly to make room for him and he sat a little heavily as his legs gave way beneath him. He saw the concern in the other men's eyes, but their own emaciated forms made him wave it off as nothing.

"It is only weakness from flying like a crow too often." he quipped to ease their concern. The joke caused a few men to smile, but like everyone else, they knew he was weak from hunger.  As he looked from face to lined face, he saw expectation for his next words. He quietly folded his hands and spoke to them:

"My brothers and dearest friends in this world, God has again proven Himself the Faithful and True One. As we draw near to the land He has given us to reach, we need to pray for these who do not know Him. We know not what lies ahead and some could lose their lives before they return to France. Let us pray now."

As each man poured out his heart to God, they asked Him to protect and somehow reach these hardened sailors before it was too late. The witness of their lives and mouths had indeed reached some of the ships "permanent" crew and those few had also drawn close and sat outside their small circle. When the last man finally finished, Jon Pierre again looked at each man in the inner circle. He pulled a leather-wrapped parchment from his belt and held it up for all to see.

"This document contains a record of our trip, this year and day, and each of our names. I will finish filling it out before we leave the ship, and each man here should now sign it as a witness to our commitment to our Lord. We will send it back with those from this ship's crew that are now walking in the Way. If the Lord so wills, our families will then know we have reached this Great Green Land and are trying to reach those to whom our Lord has sent us. As each of you knows, it is reported that there are many pagan peoples in this land, peoples for whom our Lord has died and rose again. We must remain true to the goal that is set before us and try to tell them of the coming of the Promised One. May God bless each one as we press forward into the great unknown that lies ahead."

He passed the document to the first man and produced a small quill and bottle of ink with stopper from his wide belt. Each man carefully signed his name to the bottom and solemnly passed it to the next. When the last man had handed the scroll back to him, Jon Pierre signed his name and put the date below it:  January 23, 1552. Carefully rolling the document up and wrapping the soft leather cover around it, he then held it up to heaven and prayed:

"Oh Lord Most High, we pray that your mercy will be great and you will give us good success in this venture you have put upon our hearts. Please protect this document and the one carrying it, that our loved ones may know of your good mercies in bringing us this far. May You guide our feet as we step upon this mighty land for Your Name's sake, amen."

In the first light of dawn, every eye was on the dark shape of the coastline stretching out before them. With each passing minute, their hearts grew lighter as they saw the distant shapes of the hills and rocky cliffs ahead. After the heavy anchor had been weighed and the ship moved closer to the coast, the sun broke over the ocean and shown upon the glistening white beaches and the dense jungle-covered greenery. They could easily see the coral reefs with their breaking surf just out from the beaches and even the fronds of the palm trees that seemed to be everywhere.

Seeking a channel through the reef, the first boatload of crewmembers rowed down the coast until they finally headed toward the beach. Cheers went up from the men still aboard the ship as the small craft finally rammed into the sand and the men leaped to pull her higher. Boatload followed boatload until all 23 members of the crew and 7 passengers were standing on the beach. Among the last boatload to leave the ship, Jon Pierre vaulted out of the small craft, fell on his hands and knees and kissed the sandy beach.

During the next six weeks, the small group of believers helped the crew of the "Le Gloria du Mier" gather water and food for their continued journey down the coast and the men quickly regained their strength. Many of the plants and animals were strange to them, but there were birds like wild black turkeys and large animals almost like a giant pig. It had a long snout and the meat was quite different and similar to cow or horse meat. What fascinated Jon Pierre, were the bands of beautiful blue and red parrots that flew over their heads in the late afternoons and the large, reddish monkeys with the loudest calls he had ever heard. At first they were greatly afraid of the monkeys, thinking them spirits of demons or some band of wild men about to attack them. But they finally spied the fleeing bands in the trees and recognized them as some kind of monkey. After several close calls with large spotted cats following hunters, they decided to never hunt with less than three men and some of the men from the ship's crew would not hunt at all. They all greatly feared these fierce cats, but after managing to shoot a beautiful female with a fresh kill of some kind of large beaver-like creature, they decided the skins would bring a small fortune in Europe.

Many of the ship's crew kept searching up the small rivers that were every few miles up and down the coast. They finally admitted to searching for gold or some other treasure, but seemed to always return empty handed and frustrated. Although Jon Pierre and the Christian community back in France had financed the trip, the half French/half Portuguese captain and his mostly Portuguese crew were looking for riches to take back with them. They planned to continue down the coast and find the colony of Portuguese Jesuit priests and hoped to trade their tools and other goods for the gold that was rumored to be plentiful in that region.

Jon Pierre's group had quietly decided to stay at their present location, as water and game were plentiful and there was fear of the militant Jesuit reaction when they learned the hated Christian Huguenot "heretics" had arrived on these shores. They kept their own council however and waited upon the Lord for clear direction for where to go.

During a short northern recon trip up the coast, the captain's men spied a large canoe on the beach with their telescope. The captain immediately decided to press southward for the safety of the Jesuit settlement before any hostile "barberos" appeared. Soon, the little group of seven Frenchmen stood watching their only connection to the distant continent disappearing down the beautiful coastline. When the gray sails finally slipped from view, the men gathered beneath one of the log-covered lean-tos under the palm trees. Each man felt the need to join together in prayer to the Lord. Falling on his knees, one of the young men of the group began to pray and the rest soon followed suite. All felt the power of God moving among them as they cried out in supplication to their Lord.

Jon Pierre was the last to pray. He lifted a curl of brown hair from his face and looked heavenward:

"Oh Lord God Almighty, Creator of this land and those who live in it, we have come to this place to bring Your words of hope to it's peoples. We have left our loved ones and families in obedience to Thy order and we ask Thee now to help us. We gladly give our lives to Thee, but only ask for Thy wisdom and strength to stand firm. Guide us now with Thy mighty hand and show us the way in which we should go."

The Frenchmen had never planned on actually settling in this spot, for they knew the Jesuits would soon be hunting them. Their supplies were simple and consisted mostly of the tools they needed to survive in this unknown place. They had a few gifts for trading, but mostly had brought in their hearts the greatest Gift of all to give to the people they found. The first Europeans to walk these shores had told of many strange peoples with even stranger customs and speech. This word had reached the Huguenot settlements in France and a great desire to tell these barbarian nations of the Savior of the World had gripped them. These men were also scouting out safer lands for their families, for they had lost many friends and relatives at the hands of the Church of Rome.



1552 AD - Brazilian coast - Bahia

"Pato chye te'amoni!"  Jon Pierre leaned closer to the red-stained face and looked into the grinning, toothy mouth.

"Pat toe chi yeh tea money" he tried again. The whole line of naked men laughed until tears streamed down their faces as Jon Pierre grinned weakly and glanced over his shoulder at the French men sitting behind him. They were smiling, obviously relieved it was his turn to try communicating with the Indian men. Jon Pierre was not sure what he was doing wrong. Looking again at the cooked wild turkey leg in his hand and then at the line of squatting red-dyed men in front of him, he was starting to realize how daunting a task they had undertaken.

After moving north during a weeklong hike away from their original location, the Indian men had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The Frenchmen had set up their camp near a small river that ran up from the coast into the densely covered hills. The "black" water was actually quite clear and they had no trouble spearing fish by torchlight from its banks. Early one morning, as the sunlight began to find the holes in the thick canopy of trees and shine off the water droplets on the leaves, the men had looked up from their cooking fish and there stood the "barbaros". Their bodies were rubbed red with some kind of dye and feathered armbands made their muscles bulge on their arms and legs. They stood warily watching for any hostile moves by the strangely garbed invaders, but none of the men dared move a muscle. Actually, they were as scared as the red men were and long moments passed as each group wondered what to do next. Each native man carried a short, black bow in one hand and a bundle of deadly looking long arrows in the other.

Jon Pierre slowly straightened up and saw the eyes of each Indian on the pot in his hand. He held it up slowly in front of him, then took one step forward. The bows came up slightly in his direction and he prayed silently for God to protect them and help them show these men they were not hostile. He reached in the pot and pulled a turkey leg out for all to see. He raised it slowly to his mouth and took a bite, then held it out to the naked men. He slowly stepped forward and held out the leg again to the nearest stocky man. The whites of his eyes stood out starkly against his blackened face, but no fear was in them. He looked Jon Pierre directly in the eyes and also saw no fear. He lowered the bow completely and reached out to take the wild turkey leg. The others immediately relaxed and soon crowded around Jon Pierre, touching his skin and clothing and talking excitedly. They were especially curious about the bronze buckle of his belt and the texture of his ragged shirt. Each new touch left trails of red smears and soon his arms and face were covered with the marks. His beard also fascinated them and they each tugged at turn on his beard as though to see if it was really connected. Jon Pierre did not want to show too much fascination with their bows and arrows, but he was able to finally get them to understand his oft-repeated words for those items. It was somewhat confusing, as they seemed to have a different word for each arrowhead, but he tried to write them down anyway.

Their pots and pans and metal tools attracted the Indian men like magnets. Jon Pierre had one of the long knives they used to cut trails and after showing the Indians how it cut the vines across the trail, he presented it to the stocky older man he had first approached. The black-striped face was split with a smile and the other men clustered around to see his prize. He said something to Jon Pierre and as suddenly as they appeared, they vanished into the rain forest in single file, stepping high over the vines and logs before them.

Turning to the other Frenchmen, Jon Pierre rolled his eyes heavenward, smacked his forehead and stated:

"Though my heart is thankful to the Almighty for this wonderful contact with these people, I am humbled at the task that lays before us! Truly it is no small thing."

These highly educated men were no strangers to other tongues, having studied both Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and spoke French, English and some Spanish and Portuguese. But learning the totally unwritten language of these forest people was not the same. They were not even really sure it was a complete language, as many said the "barberos" were not really quite human. The Huguenot's held to the belief that the languages of the world were all created when the earth's "single language" was confused at the Tower of Babel after the flood. They believed the resulting languages had to be complete languages, but there were still some lingering doubts, as these people seemed so primitive.

One week passed without sign of the Indian men again and Jon Pierre wondered if they had been offended by something they had done. All their doubts were dispelled one day however, when nearly a hundred men, women and children suddenly appeared with palm baskets on their backs, held with bands across their foreheads. The men came forward first and the women and children stayed back under the trees within easy running distance of the dense forest. The men stepped forward and began to talk quite loudly and lined up in front of them. They seemed angry, but Jon Pierre was not sure, as it seemed to be some sort of ritual dance. The men's bodies were now painted with long black stripes and designs across their faces and they had feather headbands with short blue, red and bright yellow feathers in them. Their heads were shaved up the sides and as they rocked and stepped back and forth, one of the men kept time with some sort of rattle.  They slowly worked their way forward and as the music and dance suddenly stopped, the same stocky Indian man stepped forward and held out a beautifully woven wide cotton belt with intricate black and red threads forming a design on which small shells had been attached.  Jon Pierre stepped forward and took the belt from the man and said:

"Thank you! I accept your gift in Jesus name!" The man looked at him, then lifted up his own gift from Jon Pierre and said in his tongue:

"Toncai ma, te'he to wato manyan" He turned and walked back to the others and they immediately sat down and watched the Frenchmen from the edge of the clearing.

Over the next few hours, some of the Indian men began to clear off small sections of jungle and dragged logs into the clearings. The women swept the ground with branches and slowly the children began to come closer to the Frenchmen. By nightfall, lean-to shelters had been constructed and the Indian people were hanging bark hammocks and fires were already started in the cleared off areas in front. The Frenchmen admired the great strength and ingenuity of these people as they gathered from the jungle all they needed to survive.

During the next few months, the admiration of the Europeans grew as the Indians taught them many new things. They showed them which vines to use for tying their lean-to's together, which vines contained drinkable water, and how to find and use the wild cotton they used for thread. They even were shown how to weave fans and baskets from the different palms and plants and how to make the coarse flour from the large roots they brought with them. They planted pieces of the roots and soon had gardens growing near their houses. Jon Pierre and his men were surprised at how often they bathed and at the ease with which they swam across the deep little river. Their skill at hunting was only surpassed by their skill at fishing and hunger did not seem to be a problem among them.

Jon Pierre and several of the others were trying to learn their speech, but were often frustrated at their difficulty in writing down the complicated language. Obviously these people had a sophisticated grammar and it was only after many hours of frustration that the Frenchmen could even hear the minute differences in words that often brought so much laughter. Jon Pierre had already catalogued over two hundred names of plants and he was astounded at their knowledge of the different trees. He was slowly beginning to understand some simple sentences and learned that the people called themselves the "Kreeran tupi". Their personal names were still a secret and it was absolutely mystifying how their families were arranged. Jon Pierre could make neither heads nor tails of who was the woman of whom and exactly whom the children belonged to. The people seemed reluctant to use specific names, but used terms for each other that varied from person to person.

What was obvious to the Frenchmen now, was the time needed to tell these people of Jesus. They had tried to imagine telling them of God and His love, but they were having trouble even figuring out the names for plants and animals, much less the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  These men were used to ministering the Word of God to others and they longed to be able to tell these people of the Promised One of God.  Many nights they watched the shaman blowing smoke on the sick and singing to what they believed were evil spirits. They spent many nights dancing round the fires, singing to the full moon and pounding their sticks on the ground to the beat of the rattles. The Christian Frenchmen could feel the presence of the Enemy of God around them and prayed with increased fervency for fluency to tell them of the Liberator of their souls.

By the beginning of their second year of contact with the Tupi people, the Frenchmen were starting to learn many simpler sentences and were able to understand much of the day to day conversation. A quite prosperous village had grown around them, especially with the arrival of more Tupi people from a second and third group related to these people. They learned of other more distant groups and also heard that there were rumors of white men to the south. The Frenchmen were trying hard to learn enough words to tell them some Bible stories, but it seemed almost impossible to discover some of the Tupi words for God and they finally chose to use a character from their stories called "Tupan", the great creator. Their creator-god seemed rather evil, but they thought maybe they could teach what the Yahweh of the Bible was really like, but use this name of Tupan.

The Tupi taught them to eat many new fruits and animals and of plants, roots and barks that served for medicines. The Frenchmen were trying to make rough cloth from the wild cotton as their own clothing had rotted and fallen to pieces. Many of their iron tools rusted beyond use, but the steel swords and bronze seemed to survive well. More stories were being told of white men in the jungles to the south and of fiercer Indian peoples joining with them. The Tupi were growing restless and over half of the people disappeared into the jungle early one morning. Jon Pierre sought out his "uncle", the stocky recipient of his bush knife gift and tried to understand the reason for the disappearance of so many people. He carefully questioned the man and could see worry clearly on the normally inscrutable face.

"Watoh mam riyeh, tahom poyeh? Why does the face of my uncle draw up?"  He questioned.

"Poyeha, tahom mreca, ritok was to'a. -- “The uncle's face is fearful of the darkness in the forest" was the reply.

"To'a em?” “Where is the darkness?"

"To'a coan. The darkness is coming," said the older man. "To'a coan prestondat. The darkness is coming with great hunger."

"Prestondat emtoh? What is the hunger (for)?" asked Jon Pierre.

"Prestondat cuphem. Prestondat cuphemi. Hunger for spirits. Hunger for (your) spirits."

The older man looked stricken and stared at the ground. He was obviously afraid and suddenly jerked his head up and looked into the jungle. Jon Pierre followed his stare and the crack of a limb brought both men to their feet. Jon Pierre's "uncle" spun around and took off running as hard as possible for his jungle hut, yelling at the top of his lungs. From the jungle on all sides came the loud calls of men and as Jon Pierre ran for his sword, the first arrows began to fall around him. He had learned to run quickly through the dense undergrowth, but black-painted bodies with fully drawn bows aimed in his direction, suddenly cut off his escape route. The first arrow caught him in his thigh and spun him around to see other black bodies running at him with their war clubs raised high. He fended off the first blow with his left arm, feeling the bones break before the mighty strike. He fell to the ground and as he waited for the finishing blow to his head, heard the sound of curses in Portuguese coming down the path. He looked up to see a sweating Jesuit priest and heard his captors drawing away as the robed figure drew closer to him.

"Finalmente pegamos voces! Falei para os barberos estupidos a nao mata-los, mas parece que ja fizeram!’ - ‘We finally got you! I told those stupid savages not to kill you, but it looks like they already did!"  He spit at the groaning figure before him and kicked Jon Pierre savagely.

"Gastamos mais de um ano andando atrás de voces! Heréticos! Demônios! Malditos! Malditos todos vocês! We spent more than a year chasing after you! Heretics! Demons! Curse you, curse all of you!" his white-flecked lips stood out from his red face and the bulging veins seemed almost ready to burst from his thick neck. Sweating profusely, he instructed the blackened Indians standing around Jon Pierre to tie him up and carry him down the trail.

As they approached the Heugonaut village, Jon Pierre was in and out of consciousness from the pain in his ruined arm. He saw the shattered heads and bodies of four of his fellow Frenchmen lying on the ground in pools of blood and heard the screams of Tupi people being tortured by their "barbero" captors. Other Jesuit priests were ripping the Frenchmen's things from their huts, and as they threw them into a pile in the center of the village, another Frenchman was dragged unceremoniously in by his captors. His head was bloody, but the wound seemed superficial and he was still alive. His screams pierced Jon’s ears as the cruelty and frustration of the Jesuit’s spent itself upon the helpless man. His moans finally ceased and the many blows and burning sticks failed to move the still form and they turned away from the now almost unrecognizable body.

Over the next few hours, the "barbero" warriors had captured the remaining two Frenchmen and tossed their tied up bodies alongside Jon Pierre and his dead, bloodied companion. The hot noon sun beat mercilessly upon them as the Jesuits gave the orders to kill any Tupi's they found and they began burning all Jon Pierre's carefully guarded notes and books. With the flames leaping higher, Jon Pierre suddenly began to sing the second verse of Psalms 23 from the Huguenot Psalter:

"SI seurement, que quand au val viendroye,
D'ombre de mort,
rien de mal ne craindroye.
Car avec moy tu es à chaque heure…"

“Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for Thou art with me...”

His two weakened companions soon joined with ever-louder voices. Their black-robed captors stared back at them incredulously, then stopped throwing limbs on the fire of books and papers and came quickly to the bloodied, singing figures. Grimacing faces contorted from fury, they took their walking staffs and beat the helpless men. Words of the Psalm were interspersed with sharp cries of pain as new bones were splintered, but the Frenchmen bravely tried to keep singing. Soon an order was given and they were brutally tied to poles and carried like wild pigs through the jungle in the direction of the nearby coast. Jon Pierre was mercifully unconscious from the pain in his tied up, broken arms for most of the short trip, but when their three bodies were finally thrown in a heap at the edge of the cliff, he came to full consciousness.

Jerking the rough poles out, the glaring Jesuits ordered them to stand. They staggered slowly onto their bound and shattered feet, keeping away from the sharp dropoff so close behind them. Staring directly into the hate-filled faces before him, Jon Pierre abruptly shuffled around, turning his back to his captors. Looking out over the beautiful emerald sea, he lifted his bound, broken and shaking hands as high as the grating bones permitted, and with blood dripping from his elbows began to pray loudly in French:

"Oh God most high, thank You we can die for Your Name's sake. Please receive our spirits and comfort our families. In Jesus name I pray, amen."

Turning around to join him as he prayed in Jesus’ name, his two battered companions also tried to lift their arms and weakly echoed their husky amens. The screaming, protesting Jesuits rushed suddenly upon the three helpless men, and with their staffs, pushed them over the 300 foot cliff to the jagged rocks below.
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