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Traditions and Legends
Caimans are animals that the European conquerors realized to be genuinely from the Americas, but neither their repulsive figure nor their not recommendable facts, make honor to the great and magnificent continent discovered by Columbus.
Regarding their zoological classification, caimans belong to the group of saurians or lizards, they are included in the subclass of hydrosaurians, order of crocodiles, suborder of procellids, family of alligators. If not in nature, or drawn or painted we are sure that readers have seen some caimans, so we are pretty much sure that a description is not really necessary.
If the reader is from Cienfuegos and he/she is very curious, he/she just needs to go to the nearby Zapata Swamp to see them, these carnivorous animals with a huge mouth, short legs with a slow motion in land and quick in the water. Caimans live in almost every corner in the Americas except for the cold areas.
Columbus saw them for the first time at the Chagres river, in 1502. Chroniclers describe them with exactitude. Oviedo called them lizards or dragons and considered them very different from crocodiles. Herrera guessed they had no tongue and made a distintion from the green and the browns, saying that the first ones were more fierce and bigger.
They explained that caimans put their eggs on the beaches and cover them with sand, along with the sun and incubating agents. The Indians dedicated to look for these eggs of which they were fans. In order to hunt to crocodiles, they used a wood finished in acute end by its ends, tied by means with a prudent thickness. They would swim to face the animal and when it opened the mouth they introduced a stick in it.
Then they would go to the banks, holding the end of the rope, which they connected to a tree and pull untl the crocodile was out of the water, then they would kill it with their sticks. Sometimes they would use hutias as a bait and when the crocodile came out from the water to eat it they would kill it.
When Cuba was conquered by Diego Velasquez, in 1511, the Spaniards only saw then in the Cauto river and its affluents. There are no records from the time of the conquest, that evidence the existence of these animals in other places, nevertheless, it is possible to think that they were numerous in the bay of Jagua.
During the first years of Fernandina de Jagua, from 1819 to the 30s, the landowners and neighbors who inhabited the bordering lands of the rising population, and mainly those who lives to the SouthEast were victims of a huge caiman in a place limited by San Carlos (North) and Vives(West) Streets which had a den near a local creek at Dorticós street.
Periodically, with exasperating regularity, the neighboring poor neighbors saw how their birds, cattle, pigs and horses would disappear. First they thought this was something done by criminals, who took advantage of the night to steal from others. They observed, however, that the birds or the cattle that slept within fences or under roof, would not disappear and they deduced that the thief was not indeed a man, who would easily seize the animals that were within the fences.
Realizing that there was a huge saurian, the neighbors deduced that it was the author of the loss caused to their animals. The only preventive means was to lock the animals, but not all the neighbors had the means to do so, nor the will, in addition to the waste of time and the annoyances the operation demanded. Gathered to consider subjects of vital interest, they decided to discover the author and punish it.
The most harmed of the neighbors, lead by Monsieur Bonon, waited hidden, and they listened branches breaking, clumsy steps of something approaching and among the shades they saw the enormous jaws of a saurian and hear the squeaking of its teeth crushing the bones of its victim.
Monsieur Bonon, who was the only one with a gun, as soon as he saw it, used all his courage before his neighbors and was ready to carry out an heroic act to get rid from this annoying and dangerous animal. He raised the weapon, pointed with no trembling and was ready to pull the trigger when.... To the noise he did, the caiman turned as quick as it could, and realizing he was going to be killed, talked with a clear human voice: - Don´t shoot, Monsieur, because I am your friend!
The companions of the French, terrified because of this unexpected, diabolic, supernatural case, of a talking caiman, ran away and took different paths, without stopping until they got to their houses and closed their doors. Bonon, was not a person to be easily scared and did not beleive in diabolic arts, realized that the crocodile was not authentic and that under its hard skin there was somebody, so when he put his gun down said:
- I already know you, caiman.
The strange event intrigued the settlers for long time, without being able to know whether this was a man trying to steal or a real caiman.
We are not able to make this clear when we are so distant in time. But we can say that thanks to the efforts of Don Luis Juan Lorenzo and Don Jose Cape, the famous caiman did not return to bother the neighbors. It is true that, from time to time, in as much the population did not extend to that neighborhood there were some birds or animals missing, but such acts - according to the gossips - were carried out by glancing crocodiles.
(Taken from the book: Traditions and legend of Cienfuegos, Adrián del Valle, 1919.)