1513 - Lopez (E)

Little heart-shaped waterfall

I, Dom Fernando Lopez,
a Portuguese officer and gentleman,
accompanied Alfonso Albuquerque, the naval general,
on his first voyage to Goa
during the fighting between the Portuguese  and the indians
and when he returned to Europe for  additional troops
I was  left in command
with orders to govern the natives
and guard the peace.
However, many of my men having married local women,
some indeed siding with the muslims,
converted to Islam.
Thus on his return he found
we had deserted,
and the garrison  no longer in Portuguese hands.
He regained posession of the territory and,
together with other renegade Christians,
I was brought  before the great Alfonso
who ordered that  our right hands,
the thumbs of our left hands,
our ears and noses should be cut off ,
and our hair and beards scraped off with clam shells,
as a terrible example
of the punishment for treason  and wickedness
against God and the King.

When Alfonso died,
I, an object of  contempt to my countrymen,
shunned and despised by the natives, 
stowed-away on a homeward bound vessel
for I sought to have comfort from my wife and child
who had loved me.
Yet, as the ship proceeded
and we drew ever closer to our destination
I began to have doubts as to the reception I,
a torn and wretched, branded prisoner and traitor,
was likely to receive and
when the ship put to anchor,
at the Island of St. Helena,
escaped  into the woods and hid myself.

My companions searched for me but soon set sail
leaving behind some pieces of  dry meat,
old clothes and a fire
and a letter  saying I should leave  signs,
should a ship put in to anchor;
and thus began a new life.
Here I found consolation and peace.
And the isolation  was welcome
for there was no-one
to be startled and disgusted by my deformities.
With the stump of my right arm
and my four remaining fingers
I scooped out a shelter, for myself and my provisions,
in a soft  bank of earth.
Then I set out to find stones which I beat one against the other
and when they struck fire, I kept them, should my fire go out.
Thus was I able to explore,
wandered through the forests,
and found many tender herbs
which were tasty to eat and which I boiled with salt,
living on them and  the fish I could catch.

For a year I lived a contented, solitary life,
until one day my heart stood still for, 
bearing down upon my island, 
under full sail,
was a ship I recognized as Portuguese.
What if they should capture me
and take me back to slavery in India?
All that day I hid in the woods then, 
gaining courage, ventured to my cave
where I found gifts of seeds and many things to eat
and a  letter bidding me not to hide myself.
I watched the ship spread her sails  to the winds  
and begin to edge away from the shore
when all of a sudden
something fell fluttering into the water.
which I at last made out to be a bird,
a cockerel,
floating helplessly in the sea.
Another outcast like myself,
another victim of the callousness of fate.

I plunged into the sea and managed,
with some difficulty
because of my maimed condition,
to rescue the half-drowned creature and bring it safe to land
where I dried it at my fire
and fed it with some grain.
We became on such loving terms
that the cock followed my every step
and, like a dog, came at my call.
It shared my food  and at night roosted with me in my hole.
Thus, companionship came into my life
and for ten years we lived on the island, 
hiding whenever a ship appeared.
My cave was frequently visited by Portuguese mariners
who left  gifts of provisions and  things to sow and to plant.
I  kept  ducks and hens, pigs and goats too,
all of which increased in number and became wild in the woods.

As time passed,
I became less timid
and word of me spread to King John III
who sent me a letter promising refuge
if I would return to Lisbon.
Slowly my early faith in religion
routed my distaste for company and
I went aboard a  homeward bound vessel.
But,  the island recluse, 
used only to the sound of the crashing of the waves against the rocks, 
was overwhelmed by the bustling crowds
and the busy Lisbon life.
It  frightened me. 
My one resolve was  to return to my island
as soon as I had confessed  to the Pope
and made my  peace with God.
So to Rome I went
and there  sobbed out my  story
of my double crime
of defection and taking up arms for the heathen.
I had but one wish in life, and this I told the Pope, 
I longed to return to my island,  and solitude.
Thus the Pope gave me letters to the King 
and safe conduct back to St. Helena.

There in the steep ravine which runs down to the sea,  at the top end of which is a little heart-shaped waterfall, Fernando Lopez  lived happily, tending his fruit trees, his poultry  or sitting in the sun in tranquil  seclusion, until  his death in 1545 -  after having lived on St. Helena for nearly thirty years.

In the meantime, however, the goats that had been set free were quietly ravaging  the ancient forests of gumwood trees and the unique plants that colonized the island.