Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 11:16:57 -0400
From: john <email@example.com>
To: Maria Anani Jimenez <"anani1"@juno.com (Maria Anani Jimenez)>
Subject: Seminole Tribune
Chief's Bones Gone Volcano Very Mad
By Peter B. Gallagher, in Seminole Tribune
11 October 1996
For more than 2000 years, the skeleton of an indigenous chieftain lay at
peace on the east side of this hilly island, an emerald between the
Leeward and Windward Islands of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles chain.
Buried with adornment and artifact - the trappings of his wealth and
status - the Chief's last resting spot was a pre-Arawak village near the
shore of an endless turquoise sea, at the footstep of a serrated
mountain range, on a speck of rock and rainforest unrecorded until
Christopher Columbus sailed by in 1493.
Fifteen months ago, during an excavation required by the expansion of
the tiny seaside airport here, human bones - long ago gobbled by the
sinkhole of time - were discovered beneath an old sugar cane field. The
abandoned rum plantation is now one of the finest archaeological sites
in the Caribbean. Beneath 8 1/2 inches of soil lies the remarkably
complete village; called the Trants Site, it mirrors sites found in
Venezuela's Orinoco River Valley. The chief and the carbon-dated bones
of his subjects provide the missing link between the indigenous people
of South America and the Arawak and Carib speakers of the Americas to
Scientists removed seven skeletons - including the bones and funeral
possessions of the tall chieftain - and brought it all to the United
States for closer study at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural
Three weeks later, on July 15, 1995, a Volcano erupted on the tiny (39.5
square miles) resort island of 10,000. A volcano few outside the geology
classroom knew existed. A volcano, radio carbon tests now indicate, that
last erupted about 400 years ago. People who live on the island describe
it as a low rumbling freight train sound that went on for hours and blew
up a thick cloud of ash that billowed out in stunning gallups of
thicksmoke and hung in the air like a giant scoop of grey ice cream that
didn't melt for weeks.
There was no warning. Just about the time that Carnegie scientist Dave
Watters began unwrapping the bones of the Arawak chieftain in
Pittsburgh, the sky went black over Montserrat. Then the earthquakes
started. They haven't stopped. "Sometimes we have up to 600 a day. We
are so used to it, we don't even notice it anymore, "says Richard Aspin,
a consultant to the Montserrat government, who wryly adds: "There ARE
those who say the bones of the Chief should be returned. In the absence
of any other rational reason for all this, I can't dispute the idea.
Whether that will work on the lady on the hill or not. I don't know."
A chance meeting with this reporter and Montserrat Director of Tourism
Leona Midgette during a tourism conference in Berlin, last spring, led
to an invitation for Seminole Chairman James Billie to visit Montserrat
and, perhaps, to exchange culture and perform his music during the
island's festival season in December. No sooner did Ms. Midgette return
to her tiny homeland, however, than the volcano erupted again, this time
with such force and destruction that 60 percent of the island was
evacuated, the capital city - Plymouth - completely shut down, and about
4500 people - mostly the poor who live on the south end - were rendered
"I've had to move three times, myself," says Gov. Frank Savage, who is
appointed by the Queen of England as her governing representative on
this British Principal Trust Colony. "Parliament is meeting in a private
Since April, no one has been allowed to return to the Southern part of
Montserrat, which is covered in a fine, gray ash. Cruise ships don't
stop by anymore. Jet-setters don't stop in to rent the luxurious villas
which dot the safe side of the mountains. The rainforest which once
crept along the valley and up the Soufriere Hills has been destroyed,
every square foot of the town of Plymouth is now a ghostly gray, cars
and houses are buried in ash. a gigantic pyroclastic flow of ashen lava
has formed a fan-shaped delta on the coast line, and little airy
volcanic rocks are everywhere.
"The last time the whore on the hill lifted her skirts, rocks rained
down on a five mile radius, even out to sea," said Aspin, who says the
Soufeire Hills volcano has no name. "Most refer to it as the angry lady
or the whore on the hill."
The "angry lady" shot her rocks off with incredible fury about four days
before Chairman Billie's recent visit to the island in September. A tour
arranged by the island government and a chance meeting with the
Montserrat governor brought closer to the surface the plight of the
local Montserratians, most of whom face an uncertain future, to say the
least. Churches and other large buildings are stacked with costs.
"It is not like it was when Hurricane Hugo came in and we hid out for
two days until it was over," says guide Cecil Cassells. "There is no end
Hugo physically destroyed Montserrat in 1989. But the volcano has taken
more than a physical toll. "There is a lot of stress in not knowing what
is going to happen, when," says Aspin. "Everything is crazy. We recently
got a letter from Colombia complaining that the ash from our volcano is
drifting over and dropping on their coffee crop. Juan Valdez is mad that
his coffee is being ruined! What do they want us to do?
In what has been the paradise where Elton John was married, where
Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger maintained villas, where Bruce
Springsteen, Sting and others made albums and Beatles producer George
Martin maintained a legendary recording studio high on a mountainside,
now exists a destroyed economy, a half-gone island and an uncertain
"Geologists can't predict what is going to happen, how long the volcano
will stay active, when it will go back to sleep," says German geologist
Prof. Hansjorg Oeltzschner. "People hope it will be next week. But this
volcano has no track record. It could be seven years. It could be
The Queen and the British Government has pumped more than $100 million
in disaster aid to tiny Montserrat in the past 15 months. The citizens
of Montserrat have invited prince Charles (and his wealthy Prince's
Trust) to take a look-see. There is talk of rebuilding the capital city
on the safer northern end of the island. There is talk of evacuating
everyone to another country. This is expensive talk. It all makes the
British government nervous, for all the Queen's geologists and all the
Queen's money may never be able to put Montserrat back together again.
Which brings us back to Carnegie Curator of Anthropology Watters, who
has the permission of the Montserrat National Trust to study the bones
and other artifacts for two years - until June of 1997. The deal was
struck, it should be noted, before the volcano.
"It's a loan. We figured two years to properly analyze this material,"
says Watters. "I've been going down there since 1978 and I never even
thought of volcanic activity. I mean, all of these islands are volcanic
islands - that is common knowledge. But, you never except it to happen."
Watters is a scientist, so he does not put much stock in the idea that
the angry Gods are demanding the return of the Arawak ancestors'
skeletons. He sees the Trants Site as "valuable, priceless" in helping
scientists understand the northward migrations of the Americas'
There are many on Montserrat, however, who wonder about the coincidence
of a long dormant volcano blowing up after ancient skeletons are taken
from their graves. In fact, Chairman Billie was asked several times if
there were any medicines or medicine men who might be able to deal with
a natural disaster such as the volcano.
"Shamanism is still alive," he told a curious Gov. Savage. "There are
still those who practice it and teach people the old ways. I will have
to ask them if they remember any songs to cool down the earth, to
appease the Gods of the earth. I will tell them the story of the removed
bones and see what they say."
"Who is to say it is not true," asked the Seminole Chief. "This is an
insane world. The Conquistadors came in and tried to behead us because
we did not understand what they were trying to say! What is on the
surface may not always be the truth."
True, and in this case it is a collective emptiness, a series of voids
about 8 1/2 inches below the surface. Are the empty tombs of Montserrat
crying out for corpses? How long will the angry lady go? Can the
Seminole medicine man help? One thing is for certain, sings Chief
Billie, in one of his signature songs: "The old ways will survive." Stay