“Backroads to ‘Bethlehem’

by William “Duke” Smither

***Note: Preview text below concerns troops preparing for a “Holy War,” as observed by “Phasael,” a Maroon Spy (passage from novel, “BACKROADS TO ‘BETHLEHEM’: Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade”).

C H A P T E R  F O U R

P O R T O   C A L V O  R E N D E Z V O U S

“You may as well die fighting the enemy than live exploited and persecuted by him.” — African Proverb


January 6, 1694…

Following the early morning mess call, the bugle sounded for the massive assembly of Portuguese-sponsored forces, in Porto Calvo. But, the passionate atmosphere and metal-clanking of full-battle-rattle seemed more akin to mustering troops for some Holy War.

     It was a motley lot, considering the mission it was about to undertake. Phasael estimated, perhaps, some 10–12 thousand soldiers had garrisoned- including veterans, tried, true and untried fighters, alike. They ranged from teens to old men- including European, African, Afro-Brazilian, Mulattoes, Mestizos (mixed Spanish-Indians), and Ladinos (Spanish-Jewish or “Sephardic Jews”). This included landowners, militia, cattlemen, sheepherders, conscripted criminals, councilmen, cavalry and artillerymen, too.

     Even paulistas and bandeirantes were in the mix. There were volunteers, a few slaves who were promised nothing in return and others promised freedom, like the inspiring and rugged, Henriques Regiment, the mostly black, citizen-slave soldier force. Then, there were those out just for revenge, or simply bored with eeking out a living and some, with no reason at all, other than the love of a call to arms and a good fight. They constituted the vanguard, the point-of-the-spear, as well as the ‘rearguard’, depending on their moxie and mettle, at times like a caged animal or a barrel of monkeys, but often like Satan himself.

     Of course, according to Phasael, there were those who, for no other apparent reason, just seemed to be always hanging around for the mere promise of good liquor and hot-bloodied ‘wimmin’ at the end!

     Whether they would stick around was another matter, yet to be determined, since many often skedaddled and bolted in the thick of battle. There was no test for motivation, just the morning bugle blaring’s which, at least, validated their willingness to answer the call for assembly.

     It would call for those already ‘baptized by fire’, as well as those blessed within the special Catholic worship Mass that Field Marshall Jorge Velho was known to order up. He did this through his forever present “personal priest,” whether for earnest confessions while hunting for the grace of God, or victory and glory in battle.

     After the next bugle call, came the officer’s call with its mixed bag of regular military, ruffians, militia and mercenaries. They bowed their heads in reverence to receive their blessings, some even mockingly so, of God’s favor and grace during the task ahead.

     It’s where Phasael thought the whole ceremony as a little odd or ironic, given the over-all mission. This included the way Velho’s private holy man- the priest- was dressed, clad in an old-fashioned black beanie hat, a drab-looking, full-length black robe, like the kind he’d seen worn by Jesuit monks, those he called “the Jesus people,” but fancier. His garb was plain but fancy-plain and more bulky, adorned only by an unsophisticated wooden cross draped around his scrawny neck and bulging Adam’s Apple. It was a larger version of the kind Labaan had given his woman, Ziraili.

     In fact, Phasael felt, if it wasn’t for the shiny string of jet-black rosary beads, and the teeny jeweled-silver cross, dangling between his forefinger and thumb, the holy man’s grim demeanor might have been mistaken for a black-robed sorcerer- or, some sanctified envoy of evil.

     Actually, Phasael thought it all ironic, this costumed holy man going into the woods to help kill, maim and attempt to maybe annihilate an entire group of human beings, who were perhaps even closer to their Creator and more protective of the forest, mountains and rivers than these assembled bozos could ever be.

     Yet, when the time came, Phasael too bowed his head, not knowing what else to do. Though he came from religious people, acting righteous was not his bailiwick. He believed in God, but not the sanctimonious charades or holy oddballs he’d seen. Yet, he felt that he himself was spiritual. It wasn’t something he allowed his mind to ponder, given all of the antithetical variants, even the most radical deeds of evil, he’d watched these self-named Christians parcel out, all in the honor of their most merciful God! “Yea, right…” he often mumbled to himself, whenever he heard religious folk trying to convert him.

…Man, if you ask me, religious folk are kinda nutty! Creepy, too, the way many of them talk about their “Holy Ghost,” then go off on missions of the damned Devil, himself! Even the Africans, my worthy warrior friends, and their pantheons of Spirits worry me, sometime.

     With his head bowed, and ears listening for some kind of cue to lift it up again, more thoughts seeped into his head.

… And, these same Christian folk have the audacity to call Maroons criminal and heathen! Why they’ve done stuff even worse, and less divine, than what I’ve seen more honorable cannibal tribes perform… And, now, the most pathetic lot among them are off again… in the NAME of their father, the NAME of his son and this NAME of their HOLY ghost… Yea, right! For many of these blokes, nary a one of the three could they even name! Give… me… a… break!

     About the time he felt he should raise his head, Phasael heard the holy man’s more dignified version of himself speak these words aloud, “God of power, God of mercy, Maker and love of peace, to know you is to live, and to serve you is to reign… through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel, be our protection in battle against all evil. Help us to overcome this war and violence… and to establish your law of love and justice. Grant this through Christ our Lord… in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, A-A-Amen! ”

     During the whole episode, Phasael, as he always did at times like these, with mostly one eye raised and one eye closed, was squinting and scanning the panorama of the entire spectacle, looking for hints of sincerity and zeal, or clues for hypocrisy and tone of character…  (End of Preview)

(Continued further within “BACKROADS TO ‘BETHLEHEM’: Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” Chapter Four: Porto Calvo Rendezvous.)  Available at and websites