orellana versus the amazons -- 5/18/21
Today's selection -- from River of Darkness by Buddy Levy. At one point in his many battles with tribes along the Amazon River, famed explorer Francisco de Orellana faced the Amazon women warriors themselves:
"No matter how many Indians they slew, more came to replace them, these urging their fellows on with rekindled energies and spirit, leaping wildly over the dead bodies of their friends and relatives as they charged the Spaniards. According to Friar Carvajal, who watched the gruesome battle with an arrow sticking from his side, these Indians had more than just their homes to defend; they were fighting as the subjects, and allies, of the Amazons.
"For what Carvajal and the others witnessed next was mystifying. Amid the throng of warriors there appeared ten or twelve extremely tall women warriors, with pale white skin and long hair twisted into braids and wound about their heads. 'They are very robust,' reported Orellana’s priest, 'and go about naked, but with their privy parts covered, with their bows and arrows in their hands, doing as much fighting as ten Indian men, and indeed there was one who shot an arrow a span deep into one of the brigantines, and others less deep, so that our brigantines looked like porcupines.'
"The Spaniards were battling hand to hand with Amazons, live and in the flesh. According to their annals, the women fought at the front line, in the role of leaders or captains spurring on the men, and what the Spaniards witnessed amazed them, for the Amazons 'fought so courageously that the Indian men did not dare turn their backs, and anyone who did turn his back they killed with clubs right there before us, and this is the reason why the Indians kept up their defense for so long.'
"The battle raged at such a pitch that the Spaniards had no time to marvel or reflect on these wondrous women warriors -- they were busy trying to stay alive. Finally, after an hour of continuous close, hard fighting, the Spaniards, bulling their way forward behind the thick manatee shields and slashing with their steel blades, managed to slay seven or eight of the warrior women, 'for these we actually saw,' remarked Friar Carvajal. There they lay, slain and blood-soaked on the beach. The Indian men saw their fallen leaders, too, lost their nerve, and retreated. The momentum had turned in the Spaniards' favor, and they gave chase, hacking at the retreating men and pursuing them back to their village. For a moment it appeared to be a rout, for they had done considerable damage once the Amazons had been felled.
"But Captain Orellana could see scores of warriors massing on the outskirts and periphery of the main village, coming in support from nearby settlements with belligerent war cries, and he knew that if he and his men remained here they would be overwhelmed. He barked orders to board the brigantines as soon as they could. But this was no easy feat, for some Indians had already regrouped and fought in support of the few Amazons remaining, and the Spaniards had to retreat with their backs to the brigs, some battling and giving cover while others clambered aboard.
"Even more pressing, Orellana saw at the same time a wide fleet of canoes racing across the water toward them, trumpets, drums, whistles, and battle chants echoing from shore to shore. As they fought their way back onto the boats, Orellana ordered a seized Indian trumpeter -- whose only weapon appeared to be his wooden musical instrument -- taken with them as captive, and then they pulled up anchor and set off, the captain urging his oarsmen to row for their lives. Fortunately, the current was strong enough to sweep them downstream without assistance, because despite Orellana's exhortations, his companions were now so spent that they lacked the strength even to hold the oars steady. Instead of coursing at breakneck speed they rather drifted away from this extraordinary place, shifting and slowly turning like the monstrous floating islands they often saw moving lazily down this magical waterway."