Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Tribe

The Tribe by Valerie Bloom tells the story of the Taino, one of the indigenous people of the Bahames and Antilles who were among the first people Columbus and his men encountered on their voyage. The focus is on the young girl Maruka, the daughter of the Cacique, the chieftain, of her tribe and the book takes a lot of time to explore her culture and way of life. By the time the Spaniards arrive, the reader feels at home among the Taino and the shock of how they are treated is even greater. They are a peaceful people and at first think the Spaniards spirits and do much to keep them happy. But they cannot do enough and in particular they cannot give them enough gold.

This is Valerie Bloom's second children's novel and I think it's very much worth reading. Maruka is easy to identidy with for both girls and boys. I'm not a great friend of the 'I'm not like other girls'-character, but even though Maruka strongly feels that way, she doesn't despise other women and girls who live like tradition demands it. It's just not her way. I can live with that because it doesn't create the impression that women are somehow better when they live like men.

The book uses a lot of words from the Taino language. There's a glossary at the end but I didn't really need it, the meaning of most words is evident from context. I got a vivid picture of Taino culture and traditions and I took the time to read some more about them online because I wanted to know what had become of them - the book leaves that open. The Taino are usually thought to be extinct, but there are quite a number of people who do consider themselves Taino, not necessarily by blood but by tradition and heritage.

If you want to learn about the encounter between the Spaniards and the native people, this is a good place to start and it takes a different point of view. Usually, we learn about this through the eyes of the conquerors. Bloom used the records of the priests who accompanied the expedition as a source for her book, there is no other written source. She did a lot of research for the book and it's noticeable, there is something very satisfying abut a historical novel that gets the details right.

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