THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

          Several days passed. The waning moon brought a pallor over Neneth; an infant died and Silvestro itched to leave the hidden village. Finally he approached three men who were said to be going to the holy city, two Cruzob and a deserter from the army of the south who had enlisted in the army as an alternative to going to jail in Campeche for theft. The Cruzob did not appear entirely trusting of the deserter’s story, but approved of his rifle and his ammunition cache. It was seventy five kilometers from Neneth to Chan Santa Cruz and the Cruzob told Silvestro in a dialect which the Campecheño could not comprehend that, if he proved unworthy or disloyal, the monte would have his body and the Cross would have his rifle. That seemed fair to Silvestro.

          His leg no longer pained him, it felt light and strong, eager for the touch of fresh earth. Surely Miguel Chankik was the greatest of curanderos!

          The travelers kept well off the roads and even the main trails, avoiding villages, even those well out of reach of the Mexican forces. Even during this time of persecution, quarrels between villages persisted, old hostilities with roots decades and, sometimes, even centuries past. Sometimes a man denounced to the Mexicans as a sublevado was, in fact, no more than an enemy or the son of one but the dzulob, being particularly stupid or perhaps unconcerned with the nature of those killed, seldom disbelieved. By staying off the well-known trails, they also avoided encounters with the bounty hunters and their weaker cousins, the cochechadores... bribers who traversed the monte paying indians to inform on fugitives from the haciendas; men like Silvestro who had deserted their estanciónes without settling their debts.

          Such encounters were planned for, but not expected. Only a very brave or very foolish bounty hunter would dare walk these trails, so far from civilization and so near to the rebel capital. But Yucatan was a poor state, full of poor, desperate men, and hunger and desperation can drive even the lowliest chiclero to acts of foolishness or valor. The sublevados, hence, avoided all men, applying the military strategies of insurgents around the world, the quick strike, disappearance, never fighting unless under conditions of their own choosing.

          The Campecheño struggled, but kept up with the insurgents who set a brisk pace and were more than a third of the way to Chan Santa Cruz by nightfall. At dusk, they stopped by a cenote to fill their mouths and their gourds with clear and healthful water and the deserter asked why they could not remain for the night. "Because we found it," said one of the sublevados, who gave his name as Juan. There was no need for a man's true name here and, in fact, some danger in it, since... while Silvestro believed them to be who they were by their speech and their guns... he did not know them, knew not their ancestors nor the countenance of their villages. So he did not use his own name, and the other Cruzob, who had identified himself as Pablo, simply stated "others may find it, also." They continued another kilometer, turned off the trail and walked another, leaving only slashes at the base of trees to mark their path before they would rest.

          Despite his complaints, the Campecheño had brought dried meat to fill the tortillas from Neneth and they burrowed into the monte with food and water. The deserter was ignorant of the teachings and history of the Cross, though very much resentful of his Mexican commanders who had filled his ears with wild tales about the sublevados. Gradually, leaving out dates and locations that might be harmful to the soldiers of Juan de la Cruz, the Cruzob, Juan and Pablo, were inclined to share this history, although with repeated parts, omissions and tangential statements that sometimes ended in vigorous, though soft-spoken discussion where disagreement arose.

          "Of course the ancianos told you of the days when we, the mazehualob, were the masters of all Yucatan save the cities of Campeche and Merida which we were inclined to leave as reservations for devils. Fifty years ago, however, as the Mexicans began recapturing our lands with the help of more devils from the north and west, José Barrera made the discovery of an underground river and marked the site on a ceiba tree with three crosses."

          "I have been told of Barrera, yes," the Campecheño said, "my patron called him a schemer who gained the loyalty and the coins of the people with the assistance of this ventriloquist, Manuel Nahaut, through whom the crosses found their voice, causing the astonished mazehualob to constructed a temple around the ceiba."

          Juan and Pablo glanced at one another and turned their gaze sternly upon Silvestro as if to order him not to speak. What the Cruzob had no intention of telling their Mexican deserter was that Barrera... an ex-soldier for the Federals... had not made his move indiscriminately. The talking cross was a common feature of coastal Yucatan, dating even back to the days before the Conquest. The island of Cozumel, especially, was known for such beliefs and many such idols and their temples dwelt upon it. Barrera had, in one gesture, incorporated the buried roots of Mayan religion and the Christian theology, of which even the mazehualob most distant from Mexican cities and villages with their priests and schools had heard something, into a draught of hope, a potion for the bitterness of their generations of defeat and the reprisals that Mexicans inflicted upon them.

          The no-longer-dispirited rebels rallied around the talking crosses, which offered encouragement and prophecies of victory and, moreover, intruded into the disputes between and within the tribes and families; settling complaints, naming penalties and offerings, assuming the role of both jefe politico and jefe militar. And, in return, the sublevados swore their fealty to the crosses by taking on the name Cruzob... men of the cross.

          "If some thought the Cross an apparition of no importance, certainly it was not the Mexicans," Juan said, "for they were quick to move to wipe it out. Fifty years ago, upon the twenty first of March, 1851 to use the devils' calendar, Colonel Juan Novelo with 200 men surprised the Cruzob in their sleep. The tumult was furious, Barrera escaped but Nahaut was hacked to death with machetes and, with him, died most of the soldiers of the cross."

          "And then," Silvestro interposed, "Colonel Novelo ordered the tree cut down, the shrine demolished and, in its place, caused to be erected a Roman Catholic cathedral and a fort for its defense. But while the physical crosses were no more, they survived in spirit to vex the Mexican occupiers."

          He turned towards the two Cruzob, expecting their approval but finding something less.

          "What you have said is what the Mexicans tell," Pablo said. "The ceiba was not destroyed, it merely withdrew its roots and floated up into the sky to seek out that place where men's hearts are pure. And the authority of José Barrera was not ended with defeat, for the Cross teaches that many tribulations, even deaths, must be endured for the believers to be purified. He regrouped the mazehualob and Juan de la Cruz presented to them three "Daughters of the Cross" and with them..."

          "My patron knows Juan de la Cruz also," interrupted the deserter, "he was simply another ventriloquist who called himself Juan de la Cruz Puc and sometimes, by those desperate enough and wretched, Jesucristo."

          "A Christ of the sword," Pablo continued somewhat ominously, "who rallied the army of insurgence through our fretful years when the crosses had to carried from place to place, only steps ahead of the pursuing Mexicans until Juan de la Cruz took compassion on his subject and sent the French invader to recall these Mexicans from our Noh Ca Santa Cruz."

          "The mazehualob returned," said Juan, "and made an altar to the Daughters of the Cross inside the cathedral those Mexican devils built for them after first, of course, thoroughly cleansing this church of evil spirits with pom incense, burned for nine days to exorcise the spirits of the Mexicans. The Oficiales of the Cross took up residence in the fort and the rest of the mazehualob who, by their devotions, called themselves Cruzob built their villages near the church. They made their milpas, cut wood and gathered chicle to trade with the British for arms, they patrolled the east and killed such Mexicans foolish enough to venture into their lands. And they raised we, their children and their children's children, upon the teachings of the Cross."

          "Then was Juan de la Cruz a man, as this Mexican has said," inquired Silvestro, using his words to place him nearer the Cruzob, further from the sad deserter, "or was he a spirit?"

          "Juan de la Cruz is whatever he desires," Juan retorted, "man or beast or spirit. He did not return with the Daughters of the Cross but disappeared into the monte at the moment of our victory over the dzulob, as mysteriously as he had appeared. Ever since, the Cross communicates by writing, as, perhaps, you shall have such fortune to observe. Questions are put to the altar and, by and by, a response is issued, signed with the three crosses. José Barrera was mortal, yes, but he was succeeded by his son Agustin and, later, his grandson Pedro as Nohoch Tata of the Cross."

          "Well, that is a pretty tale," the deserter said, gathering himself in his blanket to prepare for sleep. The Cruzob glanced one to the other, making no attempt to hide their disgust from Silvestro who understood by this gesture that he had been accepted into their fraternity. So he also embraced sleep, and his dreams were of a flying tree whose branches, shaped like crosses, held a thousand thousand white eagles whose wings each were white roads into the sky.

 

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