The Tribe by Valerie Bloom
|The Tribe by Valerie Bloom|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A fascinating and absorbing story of the arrival of Columbus to the Caribbean and the effect it had on the peaceful Taino people living there. It's also a coming of age story for Maruka, a tremendously sympathetic central character. Recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 402||Date: July 2008|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
Maruka's mother was stolen by the fierce Kalinago people. In the same raid, her beloved older brother was killed. Maruka's father is a cacique, or chief, of the peaceful Taino people. They don't lie, they don't raid, and they don't kill. Maruka isn't like the other Taino girls. She likes to hunt, and she hates to work in the fields. And, embittered by the loss of her mother and brother, Maruka has anger and revenge in her heart. She's convinced her mother is still alive and she is determined to rescue her some day. The half-made canoe hidden in the jungle is testament to that.
And then the pale men arrive, in their huge, winged canoes. With them, they bring fierce dogs, terrifying horses, huge appetites and a hunger for gold. Trusting and generous as ever, the Taino welcome the pale men, believing them to be spirits of the dead. Enslavement and violence soon follows. Maruka's world is falling apart, but she won't give up, even if means an alliance with the old enemy...
Until Columbus arrived in 1492, the Taino had lived peaceful lives in an agrarian society that was well-ordered and relatively prosperous. And as we know, the Spaniards shamefully changed all that. Viewed as commodities, the most beneficial aspects of their culture - the pacifism, the generosity, the hospitality - were exploited. The people were enslaved and their gold was looted. In this absorbing and endlessly sad tale, Valerie Bloom tells it from the Taino perspective. It's impeccably researched and the Taino culture rises vividly from the pages; from its religion, through its social structures, to its cuisine.
Maruka herself is a wonderful character. She's courageous and determined and by the end of the book she has matured enough to fulfil her destiny as a leader. This isn't anachronistic, as the Tainos lived in a matrilineal society, and while gender roles were fixed succession went to the eldest child, son or daughter. Maruka has to learn a great deal in a very short space of time and she faces up to her challenges with great strength and a steadfast loyalty that will earn her a place in every reader's heart.
The writing is easy and relaxed, flowing well, and the book builds up a great deal of tension as relations between the pale men and the Taino deteriorate and as the tribe gradually come to realise that these are men, not spirits, and men who mean them no good. It's a book for any child who likes a dramatic and well-told story, and also anyone interested in the murkier side of the great discoverers. Give it to any keen reader of ten or so right up to the middle teenager.
My thanks to the nice people at Macmillan for sending the book.
A very different story about early journeys to the American continent is Slave Girl by Jackie French.
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