By James Hold
[Copyright 2016 James Roy Hold
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WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN
From the beginning of time, men have been stupid. Consider what an idiot Adam was. God gave him a naked woman and an apple… and he ate the apple.
Eventually though man came to his senses, not completely, but enough to appreciate the joys of love with a beautiful woman. And man vowed to do whatever it took to prove the strength, purity, and steadfastness of that love.
From the Karankawa Indians who live on the island of Matagorda off the Texas coast we get such a story.
Chowilawu loved little Makkiotosimew with all his heart. She was fair of face and her eyes shone like dark pebbles in the sunshine.
One morning just as dawn was breaking in the east, Chief Heammawihio looked in on his daughter’s teepee and found her in the embrace of Chowilawu. The great chief was furious for this went against all that the Karankawa held sacred.
“Chowilawu,” he said angrily, “for this you could be put to death, for it is not our way to violate our young maidens before marriage.”
“But great chief,” Chowilawu protested, “do not be angry, for you’re daughter is still pure and innocent. Yes, my love for her knows no limit, but by the spirits of my ancestors I swear to you we did nothing more than hold hands and talk of days to come when I might be worthy to ask you for her hand.”
“It is true, father,” Makkiotosimew prostrated herself before Chief Heammawihio with honest eyes. “I promise you I am yet a virgin, and you need feel no disgrace over what has transpired.”
“That maybe so,” the chief conceded, “but you have given our tribesmen much to talk about, and the old squaws will prattle at every opportunity. Therefore I will seek the council of the tribal elders to see what must be done.”
The tribal elders listened to the chief’s tale with stoic faces. After much deliberation, they deferred to the Wise One, the eldest of the elders, whose sagacity was beyond reproach. “It is a grave thing of which you speak,” said the Wise One, choosing his words carefully. “There is only one thing that can be done. Let us summon the two so I may explain.”
Chowilawu and Makkiotosimew were brought before the Wise One. In the presence of the chief and elders, the ancient warrior gave judgment.
“This is not the first time a young brave has debased our customs, for men are men, and women are comely, and the fire in a young brave’s loins is not easily doused. Thus it is up to young Chowilawu to prove the sincerity of his love by submitting to an ancient test, one used by our forefathers of old, to prove himself yet worthy of marrying the daughter of a tribal dignitary.”
“Anything,” young Chowilawu stepped forward proudly. “I will gladly submit to any test if it means I may win the love of Makkiotosimew and have her for my wife.”
“So be it,” the Wise One nodded approvingly. “We will gather on the beach where the great rocks reach out into the water and there you shall be tested.”
When the Wise One and other tribal elders had passed out of the teepee leaving Chowilawu and Makkiotosimew alone, the Indian maiden threw her arms around the tall brave and pleaded with him. “Oh, Chowilawu, please, do not submit to this test. Let us run away instead under cover of darkness and make a life elsewhere, for my heart trembles with fear at the outcome of this trial.”
“No, my little one,” Chowilawu kissed her forehead tenderly. “To run away would be to admit wrongdoing, and we have done nothing for which to be ashamed.”
Little Makkiotosimew’s eyes streamed with tears. “But I worry so. Suppose you were to fail?”
“How can I fail?” Chowilawu boasted proudly. “Am I not strong as a buffalo? Do not my muscles possess the strength of ten ordinary men? And is not my love for you stronger than all that? Fear not, my little one. Chowilawu will not fail.”
So saying, they left the teepee and gathered with the others at the eastern tip of the island where the big rocks met the sea. There the Wise One spoke again.
“Very well, Chowilawu, let this be your test. Yonder across the water lies the Texas mainland.”
“And you wish me to swim the distance?” Chowilawu smiled with absolute confidence. The spot the Wise One had chosen was a mere 11 miles off. Chowilawu could accomplish this with ease.
“No,” the Wise One replied. “You are to walk the distance.”
“Walk?” Chowilawu repeated, greatly confused. “Does any man have magic moccasins that he may tread upon water?”
“Be still, Chowilawu,” the Wise One reproached him, “and listen so you may understand. The test is to reach the mainland from under the water. If the Great Spirit is with you, and if he finds you worthy, you will succeed. If not…” He let the rest of it go with a shrug.
“No, Chowilawu, no!” cried Makkiotosimew, again running to his side. “It cannot be done.”
Chowilawu looked at the span from the rocks to the mainland. It was in truth not too great a distance. There were many places on Matagorda where it was much longer. All the same, it would not be an effortless walk.
“But will not my body rise to the surface of its own accord? And will not the action of the water try to lift me?”
“It will,” the Wise One agreed. “And that is why you must carry in you arms a large boulder, the largest you can manage, to make sure your footsteps touch on the water’s bottom.”
“No!” Makkiotosimew cried again. “It is impossible!”
Chowilawu only looked at her and smiled. “My strength,” he repeated, “is that of ten, my chest is deep as the buffalo’s, and the power of my love is mightier than the ocean at the height of a storm. Do not fear. Wait but a short while, and I will wave to you from the other side.”
With that, Chowilawu marched to the rocks by the shoreline and flexing his powerful muscles, hoisted an immense boulder onto his shoulders. With a parting smile for his loved one, he waded into the waters of the bay. The waves brushed against his body but they failed to move him. Further and further out he went until only the sight of his feather showed above the water. Then it too vanished from sight.
The hours passed. The assembled tribesmen waited, their eyes trained on the mainland, eagerly seeking sight of the brave young Chowilawu marching up from the waves and signaling to them. Darkness fell and the men lit fires that they might see. Yet though they waited throughout the night and well into the next day, not a sign of Chowilawu did they see. And in the end everyone knew he had not survived.
Makkiotosimew fell to her knees. The waves lapped at her skin and her tears were as those of the ocean. Her father, Chief Heammawihio, came to stand beside her. “The Great Spirit has spoken. Yet I am truly sorry, my daughter, for he was indeed a brave warrior.”
“Oh, father,” Makkiotosimew sobbed uncontrollably. “Such a cruel test. Is it true such trials were carried out in the past? And if so, did anyone ever succeed?”
“Yes, my child,” the old chief nodded gravely. “As the Wise One said, this is not the first time. As to the outcome,” he turned to walk away, “you may ask my sister, the old maid, and she will tell you.”
Chowilawu had failed, yet the Karankawa respected his courage, and in his honor, the tribal council voted to name the bay separating them from the mainland in his honor. And they determined the waters should be called the Sea of Hebegone.
But Makkiotosimew interrupted the council. “No,” she said. “Chowilawu was my lover and because of him my fate has been sealed. For this reason I claim the right to name it.”
The council agreed, and from that day on, the stretch of bay separating Matagorda Island from the Texas mainland was know to all the Karankawa as the Bay of Stupidity.
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