Tula: The Revolt (Curacao)

Curacao mapby Jeroen Leinders
courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

(Curacao = CURE A SOW)

Like its neighboring island of Aruba, Curacao officially “belongs” to the Dutch. Like Aruba, it has Papiamento speakers, because it used to have slaves.


Is it an authentic language? Objections have been made. I suspect objections by white linguists…er? But surely the people who speak it feel differently. Objections are commonly made to “pidgeons” because they are “made up” between people with no common language. But I feel Papiamento IS absolutely a proper language. Look at Esperanto. Look at Carthage: Historically, sailors and traders around the world spoke some form of pigeon. Hell, even Klingon has become a real language. Just saying. Some linguists object to pigeon because they “pervert” the grammar of the languages they are based on, or corrupt the pronunciation. (Although the Hawaiian language has existed for thousands of years, you can see this pronunciation difference in the way they say “missionary”–mikinele.)

book coverGrammar corruption: As Winston Churchill said, “that is a situation up with which I will not put.” Churchill was objecting to the people who object to the dangling participle, people who would faint if he had said “put up with…”, but that’s based on Latin grammar. English is not Latin, and Papiamento is not the Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, or English of its ancestors.


Could there be any more egregious insult to the human spirit than to violate the God-given free will of another human being and force them to obey the whims of some random person? I think I’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the modern world to disagree (except narco-traffickers and other baddies)…but my argument isn’t with them. It’s with the arrogant, entitled, and tough-to-stomach Dutch planters and politicians in this novel. UGH, UGH, UGH. People who lack the imagination to feel empathy for others of different skin color, or class. Or gender. Priests who try to convince the slaves that God wants things this way. That they’ll get a reward in heaven if they just co-operate in their own victimization. “Men of God” who never tell the plantation owners that they’re going to hell; that Satan is making them do what they’re doing. Priests who make slavery seem a victimless crime.

Where in the World is Curacao?

Curacao the liquor
Blue Curacao is made from the Lahara fruit, grown on the island. It isn’t blue. They just add the coloring.

Two stars to the right of Aruba, and straight on until morning. In other words, just off the coast of Venezuela. Islands like these were once the main ports of entry for slaves being sold on to South America to work the coffee, sugar, and cotton plantations.

My first experience with Curacao, and the reason I can pronounce the word, came at a high school birthday party when I was an exchange student in Germany. There was this big table of drinks, and I had never had alcohol before. The cute boy behind the bar, the big brother of the birthday boy, asked what he could make me to drink. Well, I didn’t know. Nothing looked familiar, but there was some blue liquor in a pretty bottle that looked like my Mom’s drain cleaner, so I asked for that. “Oh, you must want a Green Widow,” he said in English, nodding wisely, assuming I was unfamiliar with German rather than intimidated by alcohol and also by boys. Blue Curacao is sweet and pretty, and when you mix it with orange juice it turns green. That’s all I can tell you, besides the fact that while the boys in my Idaho high school were racing their four-wheelers in the back country and having keggers out at North Beach, the boys in Ludwigsberg were learning the Fox Trot, the Tango, and the Cha Cha Cha.

The Leader of the Pack

Tula was a real man who lived on Curacao, on Kenepa Plantation in the late 1700s. His knowledge of the Bible (despite its white proponents) gave him the understanding that slavery was wrong and that blacks and whites were equal in the sight of God. When the slaves successfully revolted on a Caribbean island north of Curacao (Haiti), Tula began to get dangerous ideas in his head. The French, who were in possession of Haiti, declared that the slaves had won their independence and were thus free. Since in Europe, France had recently defeated Curacao’s Dutch masters in a war, Tula decided that meant the French were in charge of Curacao, and the Dutch should have to do what the French told them to do: ie, to free their slaves.

His line of reasoning really reminded me of a child. And why not? Tula wasn’t allowed an education, or exposure to cynical or more sophisticated thought. How could he have known the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? Well, he had experienced it, in the person of his slaveowner Willem van Uytretch, a man his own age that he grew up with. This man, when still a boy, had abused Tula’s brother Quako for being mentally disabled, and also because he, the Dutch kid, was a bully.  The fact that Tula still held out hope for the goodness of white men speaks to his character. Go, Tula.

Heart of Darkeness

In any story of gross injustice and man’s inhumanity to man, there are always collaborators. I’m thinking of the Jewish kapos in the ghettos (some trying to protect the people, others exploiting the situation); the Hawaiian high chiefs who made decisions that impoverished their people as they enriched themselves; the Africans who sold other Africans into the white man’s slavery. I’m thinking of women in occupied Europe who slept with Nazi soldiers and Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals who were recruited to “out” others for capture. On Curacao, there were mini-overseers called “bombas” who helped the white overseer run the plantations. There were mulatto soldiers who fought against Tula and his men, who shot women and children for nothing more than trying to assert their God-given right to freedom.

townBut as Fred Roger’s (of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) once told him, in any disaster, in any time of great human suffering, look for the helpers. They will always be there, and it will give you hope.

In Tula’s story, hundreds of years before Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the man convinces 50 or 60 of his fellows slaves to practice passive resistance. They just refuse to work. Then, they march on the capital to see the Governor. They want to peacefully convince him that they have a legal right to freedom under the French. Not surprisingly (to modern readers) the Governor sees his profits going down the tubes, as well as unhappy voters. You know this is not going to end well.

statues on Curacao bronze workersAs the slaves march to the capitol, they stop for a rest on plantation Porto Marie, where a Frenchwoman is ahead of her time (or at least ahead of her fellow islanders). She speaks to Tula as an equal, invites him and the other leaders to rest and eat at her table, wishes them well, and retires. Later, she tries to convince the priest to get the army to stand down, as the slaves are peaceable. He however sees his duty as being to convince the slaves to submit, for their own good of course.

This book was utterly  heart-breaking.

Foreword and After: SPOILER ALERT

I much appreciated having these two historical, non-fiction additions to the novel. They placed Tula’s world in context for me, in terms of world history (the upheaval and sense of hope cause by both the American Revolution of 1776 and the subsequent French Revolution), The Dutch West India Company, responsible for so much suffering in the name of commerce. The Great Slave Revolt on Curacao, influenced by the success of the Haitians.

Even though you knew Tula’s story probably ended in tragedy, it is inspirational that it took place at all. I just wish he could have seen the world today, and could have rejoiced in a Hawaiian-born President Obama in one of the world’s remaining superpowers.

Even though he lost, it is important that he fought. After the gruesome execution of himself and his followers, the plantation owners restored the slaves’ Sunday day of rest, and stopped requiring them to purchase food and clothes from the company store instead of having them given to them (meaning they could save their meager wages to purchase their freedom). Tula was proclaimed a National Hero of Curacao in 2010.

Justice, at long, long last.

Rating: Five barracudas!


The 12 Days of Christmas Island (Christmas Island)

book coverreal hawk owlby Teresa Lagrange

The illustrations are super cute. That’s the main thing. Get ready to meet 12 endemic birds of Christmas Island. Get ready to sing “The 12 Days of Christmas” as you’ve never heard it before.

“On the first day of Christmas, the island gave to me: an Owl in a Lilly Pilly Tree.

“1 Hawk-Owl.”

This is probably the only children’s book in the world to have the words “seven Boobies bobbing” in it…LOL. When you have nested and warbled and wobbled your way through the 12 birds the island is giving you, there are a few pages at the back:

Where in the World is Christmas Island?

map of the islandsanta by the island signJust to the north and left of Perth, out in the ocean below Indonesia, apparently. It could just have easily have been named Secretary’s Day Island or Grandparents’ Day Island though, if those holidays had existed in 1643, when the island was sighted by the East India Company’s ship The Royal Mary, with Captain William Mynors in command. (Wiki says the island was first spotted by Europeans in 1615, but not named at that time. Maybe they just sailed on by…)

According to this (I have to say it again) charmingly-illustrated book, almost the entire little island is a National Park (belonging to Australia). Like Sri Lanka, Australia, Madagascar, Brunei, the Galapagos, and other geographically isolated parts of the world, Christmas Island boasts rare bird, plant, and crab species. It also has dense rainforests.

One type of crab, the red crab, performs an annual migration to the sea to spawn, much like the koho (red) salmon of central Idaho, my original home on this planet.

beachI wondered about indigenous people, since the island is a mere 2,594 kilometers from Perth and 2,754 kilometers from Darwin. But the book claims the island was not settled until the late 1800s, and that only a few thousand people live there now. What an interesting life!

flagUnfortunately, the history of Christmas Island is a little more bloody than portrayed in the book. (Understandable, given the intended reader age.) Wikipedia informs me that people from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere worked as indentured phosphate miners on the island starting around 1888; the Japanese invaded during WWII; and asylum seekers and political controversy in Australia followed during the early 2000s.

The island is currently a non-self-governing territory of Australia, with its own flag. And of course, its own language. Tseep, tseep!

A Most Glossy Glossary

crab migrationhawk owl as drawnThe last two pages of the book are an index of all the birds you met on the previous pages, plus the Lilly Pilly tree, also know as Syzygium Nervosum or brush cherry. It is one of the tallest trees on Christmas Island, reaching a height of up to forty metres. (That sounded kind of short to me, until I realized she meant 131 feet.) The Ponderosa pines of my  native Idaho grow to 200 feet so I remember how you can get a serious crick in your neck from staring up at their tops.

Along with a list of quick facts about each bird is a thumbnail sketch in color and the onomonopia that they make.

If you’re hearing a tseep with a kerek-kerek, you might have stumbled onto some Christmas Island White-Eyes in the bush along with a Golden Bosunbird. You call tell sailors were naming these things, right?! But my favorite birdcall is the boo-book, boo-book of the Christmas Island Night Owl, yes, number one. Because it sounds like the word book.

You can see some pretty awesome photos at the Christmas Island Tourism website.

RATING: Five Nesting Noddies!


Dark Currents (Aruba)

book coverflag of arubaby Daniel Putkowski

Having just blogged about the joys of owning used books, I was amused to pick this one up and read an inscription from the author:


If I were Elaine, I would still have this book in my library today. This book floated my boat. It sang my song. It had me calling Auntie’s Bookstore the minute I finished it to see if I could get this author’s four other novels to read. Trust me, this one is a keeper.

Glenn Hogan, one of the MCs in the book, is NOT a keeper, despite what the heroine’s friend Margie thinks. Oh, Glenn presents well. He’s tall and handsome, with plenty of money. He treats his girlfriend Kathy Barrow very well. What’s not for a friend to like? Plenty, as it turns out, because Glenn is full of dark currents under a placid surface. He’s a wife-beater. Yeah, enough said. I would be telling Kathy (and Elaine) to dump him, except for just one thing. Kathy knows this, and is dating him anyway, In fact, it is WHY she picked him. What? Yes, dear reader, read on.

Two people go out snorkeling in the beautiful waters of Aruba, an island country off the coasts of Venezuela and Columbia. Only one comes back.

A Dorothy Parker Type Mystery-Thriller

beachI was a little taken aback to read, in the first paragraph, that Kathy Barrow is returning home after killing someone, getting away with it, and collecting $1.5 million in insurance money. To reveal this just as you begin the story seemed strange and anti-climactic, at the very least. But then I remembered a mystery written by Dorothy Parker in 1930s England. (It might be Busman’s Honeymoon.) As Parker’s mystery begins, Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey know who the murderer is. The puzzle they have to solve is HOW.  And of course, why. It is an interesting approach and a literary road not often taken, so I resolved to at least give Dark Currents a chapter.

Within about 3 pages I was hooked!

flamingosWhat I loved most about the book were the characters of Kathy, the Aruban kid Romy Tromp who wants to be a famous TV reporter just like his hero Clive Mitchell, (he buys the same kind of shirts on purpose), the paranoid CNN (er…GNN) producer Stan Wofford, and the laid-back island police chief Jules and his girlfriend Agnes the air traffic controller.

The plot just draws you in. It is an easy read.

While there was enough local color to keep me interested, I could have used a few more Aruban fish, birds, plants, and other sights and smells.

Where in the world is Aruba?

I must confess, that even after the island hit the news in 2005 with the disappearance of Natalie Holloway, I didn’t realize how close to South America it really is. That mystery is referenced in the book, as the PM is desperate for his country to not get another black eye for a missing US citizen.

map(Even though authorities are pretty sure Natalie’s killer is Dutch national Joran van der Sloot, a creep serving 28 years in Peru for a different murder, it hasn’t been proven, and her remains have never been found.)

Now, here is the weird thing: People from Holland came here and made this sovereign nation part of their country so far away, rather than the two Spanish-speaking countries so close by. (It is 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela.)

No, Aruba is a “constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands”, in the same situation as American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Marshall Islands–neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. So it’s part of the Netherlands but not, its own country but also not. If I were Aruban, I would resent this like hell. I get bent enough about how out of touch Washington DC is with my home state of Idaho, and that’s only 3,000 miles away. How can the 16 million people in Holland justify making decisions for the 100,000 Arubans of completely different ethnicity, heritage, geography, language, etc? Talk about injustice. Grrrr

The other strange thing is that the “Kingdom of the Netherlands” itself didn’t exist prior to Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1815. So this new country, this new nation, what is the first thing they do? Take over somebody else’s country. Yeah, I know. America should talk.

Now let’s talk all thing Aruban:

  • Romy’s mother is a taxista
  • the people speak Papiamento, English, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese
  • the port is called Oranjestad
  • they play beach tennis, which is like badminton (featherball) with a special racket for catching and holding a tennis ball so it stays in the air
  • the interior is dry enough to grow cacti outdoors
  • you can spot wild iguanas sunning themselves on rooftops


Mr. Putkowski, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Balashi beerOne of the most annoying questions writers get asked by the general public, is “where do you get your ideas.” Ideas are literally everywhere. It is plotting, characterization, and resolution that are hard. Editing. Internal and external conflict.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, people! (Or in Aruba, a florin a dozen!) And this novel was literally (like the Law & Order TV series I love) RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.


arubin 5 florin notes

In the preface to this book, the author tells us that he was on Aruba, in a San Nicholaas bar when Robyn Gardner went missing in 2011, and was inspired by events to write this novel about what could have happened.

The moral of the story seems to be, do not go drinking with anyone you do not know, and do not go into the water with anyone you don’t trust with your life. Oh yes, and–NEVER let someone you don’t know take out an insurance policy on you. Never, never, never.

RATING: Five bottles of Balashi beer!





Brunei Rainforest Adventure (Brunei)

Brunei is a tiny country on the island of Borneo.

by Peter Brown

One of the great pleasures of reading previously-owned books is getting to know the random stranger who likes to read the books you like, and who read the book before you. When this hardback arrived in the mail, it was stamped “Merrywood School for Girls, Bristol”.  Although no highlighting, dog-earing, or jammy fingers marred the pages, there was an old-fashioned library pocket in front. The last time someone checked out the book was 14 January, 2000. Well, I must say a Rainforest Adventure sounds pretty attractive in January in gloomy old England! This was not the school library, though, the book has had a second incarnation as the property of the Avon County Library, and it had cost six pounds, 99 p. I merely mention it because, as a product of the Royal Geographical Society and the BBC, it has certain affectations uniquely British. But more about them later.

Like Winning the Lottery

book coverI can’t imagine what the 3 chosen 14-year old Britons must have thought when they were selected from hundreds, maybe thousands, of teen applicants. Did they know how lucky they were? Or did they put it down to talent, as a 14-year-old often must. The boys were a musician and an artist, and the girl was a writer. They would interact with the rainforest under the supervision of scientists, and record their impressions. All expenses would be paid, for two weeks. They would trek through the jungle with a toff called Lord Cranbrook (no first name). Later, there would be a film.

HRH His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (curiously, no name given here either) was the Patron of the Brunei Rainforest Project the year that they set off on their adventure: 1991. The Batu Apoi Rainforest had just been declared a national park by the government of Brunei, whose people had grown wealthy from oil. They had made the forward-thinking decision not to log all their rainforests to sell timber to other countries, thus this one could and would be studied.

With five or six large pictures on each two-page spread and tons of sidebars and text-boxes and carrot points, this book was designed to suck in the 14-year-old adventurer like quicksand, and as a young Indiana Jones trapped in a 40-ish woman’s body, I could not put it down.

areal walkway in forest canopy“My mind is a chaos of delight,” wrote the great Victorian naturalist, Charles Darwin, when he first set foot in a tropical rainforest.

I knew just how he felt, looking at:

  • The red and white polka dotted rafflesia, the world’s largest flower (sometimes three feet across), said to smell like rotting beef
  • Hornbills and gibbons and fruit-eating bats, oh my! (I love bats because they EAT mosquitos)
  • Giant dipterocarp trees, which can reach the height of 15-story buildingsRafflesia flower
  • Weird fungi like glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and one that looks like a Morel perched atop a bride’s veil
  • Pitcher plants that lure insects into their funnels and drown them in an enzyme soup

Brave New Worlds

Scientists are still finding “new” (to us) discoveries in the rainforest. Not to mention new cures for disease. There is no “last frontier”. I find this immensely reassuring.

I enjoyed the paintings and the journal excerpts; it was a little harder to get the experience of the boy who played the saxophone. I’m sure that came across better in the film. He made the point that the jungle is never quiet. And that you could tell the time of day by listening to the particular noises. The book reminded me that “an artist has traditionally been a member of an expedition. Before the days of cameras, artists were there to record discoveries and important moments.” And of course, the art can capture the mood of a place. It was traditionally used sometimes to make the explorer look heroic.

The kids got to work with scientists studying:

  • how water systems work in the rainforest–rivers can rise or fall 6 to 9 feet overnight
  • erosion of topsoil and how, if the first 4 inches is lost, six more feet may go away–can we predict landslides?
  • how the local medicine men, or Bomahs, find curative plants
  • how to access the rainforest canopy–some countries use balloons, tower cranes, or walkways in the sky
  • animal and insect behavior, especially giant ants

I did NOT enjoy the pictures of creepy-crawlies. There was one snake, a reticulated python, that weighed 200 pounds, was 21 feet long, and had a grown-up deer of some kind in its stomach–with antlers. UGH.

Rain in the forestRainforest Action: This is not a book that simply predicts dire consequences for the earth if we lose “the lungs” of our world. I liked the section at the end where they tell you what you can do to save the rainforests. One simple suggestion is to “Become a Brazil Nut.” They say these nuts grow only in tropical rainforests due to a complicated pollination process which involves both insects and bats. They say they are harvested without damaging the forests. By buying Brazil nuts, they say, you are helping local people make a living from the forest.

Some Kinda Funny Old British Foibles

  • A mosque in Bandar Sari Begawan (BSB), the capital of Brunei. It is a Moslem majority country.

    They forgot to mention rainforests of other types: I live in Washington State and we have a rainforest right here, near the coast. It is called the Hoh. Believe me, Washington State is not tropical.

  • They tell you the closest place to see rainforest plants if you can’t go to Brunei is Kew Gardens, in London. (My British friends live in Cornwall, quite near a little biological reserve called Eden…)
  • They call flashlights “torches”.

And so on. Giggle. To sum up, the book gave me that same thrill of excitement and discovery I felt the first time I got a letter from my new German pen-pal back in the 1980s. Hmmm, I believe I was 14 years old then. I think anyone with an ounce of curiosity would love to get their hands on this book, and have an armchair Rainforest Adventure in Brunei, with no insects to bother them; no heat or humidity to keep their socks wet for days on end.

The rainforest in Brunei

RATING: Five curled millipedes (more attractive than they sound). In fact, I thought they were flower blossoms until later in the book.

The Hoh Rainforest in Washington State's Olympic National Park
The Hoh Rainforest in Washington State’s Olympic National Park