Monday, 29 March 2010

Juana Maria, the last Nicoleňo

Your island was isolated enough to be missed by ships sailing along the Californian coast. In 1602, a passing Spanish captain named it San Nicolas, but finding no harbour, he sailed away. Your people lived on happily in sixty eight villages with ample food from the sea and seeds and roots from the island’s lush plants to grind into flour.

Little is known of you for the next two hundred years, except that your numbers declined as the last trees were cut down and San Nicolas grew barren.

In 1811, Russian traders brought Aleut huntsmen to kill sea otters. You resisted, and in the battle that followed, many died. In 1835 only seven of your mysteriously tall race remained. The Santa Barbara Mission sent a rescue ship, but in the rough seas, they left with only six.

For eighteen years you lived alone on the island. When another boat finally came, your joy knew no bounds.

They called you Juana Maria. You danced and sang for your new friends. But no one could understand your language, and your body couldn’t cope with mainland food and germs. In just seven weeks, like the rest of your people, you were dead; the last of the Nicoleňo.