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Legends & Myths

THE HISTORY OF THE PITCH LAKE AND THE VILLAGE OF LA BREA

La Brea is a small community situated in the southwestern part of Trinidad, and lies approximately 55 miles (88.5km) from Port of Spain and is bordered by the Gulf of Paria. La Brea stands about 85 feet (26m) above sea level and has a bowl shape. This humble community is the home of the eighth wonder of the world, and the largest of its kind, the PITCH LAKE.

The history of the lake is filled with legends and myths surrounding its existence, two (2) such legends still survive today. The first revolves around CALLIFARIA, the daughter of a tribal chief, and the intervention of PIMLONTAS, the winged Arawak god. The other involves the CHAIMA INDIANS, another tribe which dwelt in the very spot the lake now occupies. The vengeance of the winged god again featured. This time in connection with the COLIBRIA, or what is known today as the HUMMING BIRD.


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CALLIFARIA LEGEND

This legend is about two young lovers who were responsible for the destruction of the settlement of La Brea. This is what happened. Callifaria – the daughter of Callisuna, who was the chief of the La Brea tribe, fled from her tribe to the long arms of her boyfriend, Kasaka – a prince of the Cumana tribe. Quite peeved by his daughter’s flight, Callisuna and his warriors invaded Cumana, did battle, captured his daughter, tied her to a horse and speedily returned to La Brea. Unfortunately, Callisuna did not know that his drastic action so angered Pimlontas, the winged Arawak god, who damned the village of La Brea, making it sink into the earth, replacing it with a thick black substance, the Amerindians called PICHE (PITCH)

COLIBRI (Humming) BIRD LEGEND

This legend is about the Chima Indians, a tribe which existed on the very spot where the present lake occupies. Apparently, after a victory, these Indians had jubilant celebrations which included a grand feast in which vast quantities of Colibri Birds (Humming Birds) were cooked and eaten. The plumes of these small birds were used as accessories. The victory which had absorbed the minds of the Indians drowned the memory that the delicious Colibrie Birds where really the spirits of their ancestors. As an act of punishment, the winged God opened up the earth and summoned up a lake of pitch which swallowed up the entire Chima village and its people.

For the Amerindians, the pitch lake was a painful reminder that retribution for evil doing was always at hand. The lake was a symbol of emptiness, an absence of life and a physical manifestation of Celestial damnation.

ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDINGS

As if to give the legends life, many artifacts and fossils have been unearthed from the lake. These Artifacts include 8 wooden Amerindian objects, a bench carved in the shape of animals (with the marks of the carver’s name still clearly visible on the underside), a seat, 2 paddles, a bowl, a mortar, and two weaving sticks.

Fossil remains include the rib and thigh of a prehistoric animal, the giant SLOTH. This animal was much longer than the elephant, probably about twenty (20) feet long and many tons in weight. It was a treetop browser that dwelled in the Americas during the Pleistocene period that ended 11,000 years ago.

A tooth was also found which is very interesting for it was recognized as one of the teeth peculiar to the MASTODON, which was a large prehistoric animal resembling the elephant, and cousin to the giant Mammoth. These are a few clues that these animals once inhabited Trinidad.

Believe it or not, in 1928, a huge tree, estimated to be four thousand (4000) years old arose from the middle of the lake to a height of about ten (10) feet before slowly sinking again. A cross-section of the tree was severed for posterity.