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OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is Cacica Gaitana, an Indigenous Hero. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cacica. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cacica. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So today’s story is based on a real story from Colombia, although it wasn’t known as Colombia at the time, because this story comes from the time of colonisation, when Spanish people were travelling to South America and colonising the area.
So they were stealing land, they were killing native peoples, they were enslaving people and they were taking resources such as wood, gold, silver and so on. And we often refer to these colonisers as ‘conquistadors’, or ‘conquistadores’ in Spanish, because that’s the Spanish word for ‘conqueror’ or ‘coloniser’.
So, similarly to a previous episode that I did about La Llorona, it’s quite a serious subject matter, so if you want to hear the other story I did from this period of history, you can go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Crying. This one is more directly about indigenous people, but fortunately it has a happy ending.
Indigenous people are the people who originally lived in a place. For example, in America, the Native Americans, or American Indians, are indigenous. In Australia, the aborigines are indigenous. In Canada and Greenland, the Inuit people are indigenous. In most of these places, white Europeans came and killed many indigenous people to take control of the land. Nowadays, indigenous people still face many problems such as poverty and discrimination.
So, like I said, it’s a bit of a sad topic, but the main character of this story is a very admirable and interesting person, and she was a real person. So she was a cacica. So, at this time, there were lots of indigenous groups in Colombia, and when the leader of these groups was a man, they were called a cacique, and when they were a woman, they were called a cacica.
So here we can see that Gaitana was a female leader, which of course is great, you know? Um, unfortunately European history has not had a lot of female leaders, whereas native peoples around the world have often had a much more equal society in terms of gender.
So I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will say it’s about how Cacica Gaitana, so the leader of one of these indigenous tribes, defended her people against the conquistadors. Unfortunately, although I said that this story has a happy ending, it’s a bit complicated.
So at the point when the story ends, things are going well, but some time later this group was eventually colonised. It’s kind of hard to tell. I tried to find out if it was decades later or centuries or even just a few years later, but I couldn’t really find any exact details. I don’t think there’s very accurate historical sources from this time, unfortunately.
But anyway, this is a really inspiring story and I really enjoyed writing it. I did my best to research it and make it accurate, but I only have so much time to make these episodes. I’m not very good at research in general. And it was also hard to find many sources about this period of history, and especially about this specific group of indigenous people.
So if I say anything in the story and you are a listener from Latin America or an indigenous listener, and maybe I say something inaccurate or offensive, please do let me know. Come and leave a comment at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cacica or send me an email at Ariel@EasyStoriesInEnglish.com. I will not be offended by any corrections. I will do my best to correct anything that’s wrong in the stories.
I love representing more parts of the world on the podcast than just Europe, but of course I am a white British person so I don’t want to say something inaccurate or talk about things that’s maybe not my job to talk about. But this story was sent in by a listener, Hamilton Posso, who is from this part of the world, so I’m not completely making it all up myself!
[Thanks so much for sending it in, Hamilton! Sorry I forgot to say thank you in the podcast.]
Just a warning: today’s story has the suggestion of some quite violent acts. In particular there is cutting off and removing of certain body parts. It’s not very explicit in the story, but if you’re sensitive about this, be careful! It probably won’t be appropriate for children. Because I know some of you do listen with your children.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A savage is a person who is very strong and cruel. They do not care about others and kill for fun. This word is mainly used in a racist way, to refer to Africans or Indigenous people. When Europeans came to colonise America and Africa, they saw the people there as savages, because their cultures were different and they wanted a reason to see these people as not human. Of course, in reality, there is no such thing as a savage people. All groups of people are capable of love, violence and deep thought.
A warrior is someone who fights, who goes to war. Nowadays, we talk about soldiers, but when we talk about the past, we say ‘warrior’. It makes me think of someone with lots of muscles and a sword.
When you crush something, you squash it, make it completely flat. You usually crush things with your hand or your foot. For example, after you finish drinking a can of Coke, you might crush it for fun. Or if you are very cruel, you might enjoy crushing insects. When cooking, you often need to crush garlic with a knife.
A messenger is a person who carries messages. In the old days, messengers ran very fast from place to place to deliver messages. Now we use digital messengers, such as Skype, Discord, Whatsapp and so on.
A Spaniard is a Spanish person.
Pat means to touch something quickly and softly with the flat part of your hand. If you like your dog, you will pat him on the head. You might also pat a small child on the head. If someone did a really good job on something, or they’re sad and you want to make them feel better, you can pat them on the back. If you want to tell someone they did something really well, you can say, ‘Give yourself a pat on the back.’
In the past, many countries paid tribute to others. The larger country would protect them in return for gold, salt and so on. For example, China received tributes from many other countries in the past, such as Japan and Thailand. It doesn’t just have to be countries. Groups of people can pay tributes to each other as well, as happens in this story.
When you grit your teeth, you rub your teeth together from side to side. Gritting your teeth is very bad for them, and can cause your teeth to become flat. Usually, people grit their teeth when they are very angry, or in a lot of pain. Some people grit their teeth in their sleep without realising, and can damage them badly that way.
Crawl means to move forward by lying down and using your hands and feet. People only crawl when they are trying to stay hidden, for example soldiers who are trying to secretly get into a building. Snakes always crawl, because they cannot stand up.
A spear is a weapon, like a sword or a gun. You use a spear to hurt people or animals. Spears are long sticks, and they have a sharp bit on the end. You can stab someone with a spear or throw it.
Cowardice is the quality of being a coward, a person who is afraid of everything. One way of showing your cowardice is to shiver with fear.
Ashes are what you get when you burn something. When you set something on fire, it burns, goes black and eventually turns into thin grey things called ashes, which float through the air. Wood produces the most ashes, and if you have a traditional fireplace, you have to clean the ashes out regularly. Many people, when they die, choose to be cremated, burnt, and then their family keeps their ashes in a jar called an urn.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
Cacica Gaitana, an Indigenous Hero
Pedro de Añasco was a coward. He didn’t know how he had gotten here, in the hills of South America, almost 5000 miles from his home in Spain, but here he was, standing outside the perfectly-white house of Sebastián de Belalcázar.
Sebastián was a great man. He was tall, strong and he never took ‘no’ for an answer. He had founded the cities of Quito, Cali, Pasto and Popayán.
He was the kind of man Pedro’s parents wanted him to be. The kind of man Pedro de Añasco could only dream of becoming.
Pedro stepped inside the house. Despite the warmth outside, indoors it was cold and dark. A servant showed him to Sebastián’s study, where the man was staring at a map that had just been drawn up. His moustache was so thick that Pedro wondered if it made it hard to look down.
‘Ah, Señor Pedro de Añasco,’ said Sebastián, turning his eyes—and moustache—to face him.
‘You called for me, Señor de Belalcázar?’
‘Let’s keep it short. I need you to go east for me.’
‘East, señor? But all there is east are the savages…’
Pedro had heard horrible stories about them. None were more feared than the Yalcón people, who were said to be fierce warriors.
‘Precisely,’ said Sebastián. His moustache seemed to move slightly out of time with his lips, giving the impression that it was dancing. ‘I need you to bring some order to the region. Set up a town there, in Timaná.’
‘Timaná? But that’s where the Yalcón tribe lives!’
Sebastián raised his eyebrow. ‘Are you afraid, Pedro?’
Pedro gulped. ‘No, señor.’
‘It does not matter. We have the stronger force, and they fight amongst themselves. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to crush them. I have heard all kinds of stories about the strength of these “savages”, and that is exactly what they are: stories. Something to frighten children at night. They even say that the leader of the tribe is a woman. Ridiculous.’
‘They are led by a woman?’
‘They say she has pulled men’s eyes out and cut off their—well, there’s no reason to keep spreading such nonsense. The important thing is, you must take control, however you can.’
Sebastián turned back to his map and started pulling on his moustache.
‘And how do you suggest I…?’
Sebastián harrumphed, and Pedro jumped a little.
‘Must I tell you how to do everything, señor? Use your brains.’
Pedro nodded quickly, and hurried outside into the midday sun.
He had always been a coward, but Sebastián was right. Even a coward could win with the right weapons.
‘It’s a messenger. One of the Spaniards from the west.’
Cacica Gaitana groaned and rubbed her forehead. It seemed like it was every day that the Spaniards caused trouble. They stole land, founded cities, burned forests. Fortunately, they hadn’t tried to invade the Yalcón’s land, or the other tribes surrounding them. The reputation of Cacica Gaitana made sure they kept away.
But if they were sending messengers…
‘What do they want?’ Gaitana snapped.
‘He wants to speak to you directly.’
‘Pah!’ she spat. ‘The boy thinks he is a cacique. No, tell him to give his message to you, and send him on his way.’
Gaitana’s servant nodded and left the room.
‘Are you sure that’s a wise idea, Mother?’
Timanco, her son, leaned over the table towards her. He was a good boy, and when she died, he would be cacique. For now, he helped her. Not that she needed help to rule, but one day, even she would be too old to fight and give orders.
‘The Spaniards may be stupid, but they are not weak,’ he continued.
‘My son, do not worry,’ said Gaitana, patting his cheek. ‘The stories of my strength have spread even to Europe, I am sure. They would not dare attack us.’
Timanco looked doubtful, but before he could respond, the servant came back in.
‘In the name of the King of Spain,’ he said slowly, trying to remember the exact words. ‘Pedro de Añasco requests that the Yalcón tribe, along with the other tribes of the region, pay tribute to him. 500 gold pieces.’
There was a tense air in the room. Timanco grit his teeth and stared at his mother, waiting for her response. But instead of banging the table, she burst out laughing.
‘Oh, my son, you were right!’ she cried, slapping her stomach. ‘These Spaniards are stupid.’
When Pedro received the response from Cacica Gaitana, he was not surprised. He may have been a coward, but he wasn’t stupid.
He wouldn’t dare a direct attack. His messenger had told him how frightening the warriors had looked, practising outside the cacica’s home.
No, he would take the coward’s option.
Cacica Gaitana expected the Spaniards to ride in on horseback. She didn’t expect them to crawl in like snakes.
That night, Pedro’s men entered the Yalcón’s territory. They went into Timanco’s house and took him, knocking him out before he could make a sound.
The next morning, Cacica Gaitana was woken by shouts. She ran outside, and far away, she saw smoke pouring into the sky. It was coming from a huge fire, and on the fire, there was a body.
The spears of the Spaniards stabbed Gaitana’s heart with grief, and their cowardice burned like sour ashes on her tongue.
She did not cry a single tear.
‘We will not pay tribute. Send a message out to the other tribes.’
It had been almost a week since the attack on the Yalcón. Pedro had received no message, despite sending men over every day. At first, they refused to speak, returning his messengers back to him. Then they sent back only their heads.
Pedro studied the maps and grit his teeth. There was no way these savages could fight back against his forces, and yet they refused to pay tribute. He had planned on avoiding direct conflict, but now there was no other choice.
But when he thought of war, his heart shook, the coward he was. He would have to ask Sebastián to lend him his soldiers, and he didn’t think the man with the moustache would be happy.
No, he would go in with just a few men, his strongest. Clearly, the Yalcón didn’t know he could crush them. Once they realised, surely they would give up.
Cacica Gaitana saw Pedro coming in the distance, and she lit the fire. Smoke poured into the sky, and the warriors in the distance saw the signal.
Pedro de Añasco rode towards the Cacica. He was so focussed on her, so determined to look brave, that he didn’t dare look at the hillsides around him.
‘Silence!’ he hissed.
He was going to do this right. He was going to solve this without murder. The savages only needed to listen.
Meanwhile, the warriors from all the surrounding tribes—the Pijaos, the Panaes, the Pamaos—crawled down the hillsides and through the forests like snakes. But Pedro de Añasco only saw Cacica Gaitana, saw her laughing, until it was too late and the enemies had surrounded them.
They captured Pedro and his men, and dragged them to face the Cacica.
‘I d-don’t understand!’ said Pedro, sweating more salt than there was in the Atlantic Ocean. ‘I thought the tribes fought amongst each other!’
‘We did,’ said Gaitana, ‘until you took Timanco. You lit a fire within me. I am no mere Cacica. I lead all the tribes.’
And it was true. All around them, tribespeople from the whole region had gathered.
‘You don’t have to pay the tribute,’ said Pedro, his eyes jumping around to the frightening men and women. They had strong, thin bodies, and their spears were sharp. ‘If you let us go.’
Gaitana patted Pedro on the shoulder, but she did not smile.
‘You really are a stupid man.’
That night, Pedro de Añasco discovered that the legends about the Yalcón people were all true. For crawling into her camp like snakes, Gaitana pulled out his eyes. For taking her son away, her precious boy, she cut off Pedro’s most precious parts.
Then, to show a message to the other Spaniards, she tied a rope around his jaw and attached it to her horse. For days, she rode around, dragging Pedro behind her, to show all the people what happened to those who challenged Cacica Gaitana.
Furious, Sebastián de Belalcázar sent his men to attack the Yalcóns, in the name of the King of Spain. But Gaitana’s words were true, and she led her warriors as if they were her own fingers, pushing the Spaniards out like flies.
Eventually, Sebastián gave up, and Pedro de Añasco died, a coward, almost 5000 miles from his home in Spain.
And now in Neiva, Colombia, there is a statue of Gaitana killing Pedro de Añasco. It’s very dynamic, so I recommend going to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cacica and taking a look.
If you enjoyed the story and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.