The Surrender Tree is a lyrical, Newbery Honor-winning historical tale in poems, and this edition has the Spanish and English text available in one book.
It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.
Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war?
Using the true story of the folk hero Rosa la Bayamesa, acclaimed poet Margarita Engle gives us another gripping, breathtaking account of a tumultuous period in Cuban history.
A 2009 Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the 2009 Pura Belpré Medal for Narrative
Winner of the 2009 Bank Street - Claudia Lewis Award
A 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|File size:||228 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. The Surrender Tree was a Newbery Honor Book. She lives in northern California.
Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.
Read an Excerpt
The Surrender Tree
Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
By Margarita Engle
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2008 Margarita Engle
All rights reserved.
The Names of the Flowers 1850–51
Some people call me a child-witch,
but I'm just a girl who likes to watch
the hands of the women
as they gather wild herbs and flowers
to heal the sick.
I am learning the names of the cures
and how much to use,
and which part of the plant,
petal or stem, root, leaf, pollen, nectar.
Sometimes I feel like a bee making honey —
a bee, feared by all, even though the wild bees
of these mountains in Cuba
are stingless, harmless, the source
of nothing but sweet, golden food.
We call them wolves,
but they're just wild dogs,
howling mournfully —
the runaway slaves who survive
in deep forest, in caves of sparkling crystal
hidden behind waterfalls,
and in secret villages
protected by magic
protected by words —
tales of guardian angels,
When the slavehunter brings back
runaways he captures,
he receives seventeen silver pesos
unless the runaway is dead.
Four pesos is the price of an ear,
shown as proof that the runaway slave
died fighting, resisting capture.
The sick and injured
are brought to us, to the women,
When a runaway is well again,
he will either choose to go back to work
in the coffee groves and sugarcane fields,
or run away again
secretly, silently, alone.
My father keeps a diary.
It is required
by the Holy Brotherhood of Planters,
who hire him to catch runaway slaves.
I watch my father write the numbers
and nicknames of slaves he captures.
He does not know their real names.
When the girl-witch heals a wounded runaway,
the cimarrón is punished, and sent back to work.
Even then, many run away again,
or kill themselves.
But then my father chops each body
into four pieces, and locks each piece in a cage,
and hangs the four cages on four branches
of the same tree.
That way, my father tells me, the other slaves
will be afraid to kill themselves.
He says they believe
a chopped, caged spirit cannot fly away
to a better place.
I love the sounds
of the jungle at night.
When the barracoon
where we sleep
has been locked,
I hear the music
of crickets, tree frogs, owls,
and the whir of wings
as night birds fly,
and the song of un sinsonte,
a Cuban mockingbird,
the magical creature
who knows how to sing
many songs all at once,
sad and happy,
captive and free ...
songs that help me sleep
The names of the villages where runaways hide
are Mira-Cielo, Look-at-the-Sky
and Silencio, Silence
La Bruja, The Witch....
I watch the slavehunter as he writes his numbers,
while his son,
the boy we secretly call Lieutenant Death,
helps him make up big lies.
The slavehunter and his boy agree to exaggerate,
in order to make their work
sound more challenging,
so they will seem like heroes
who fight against armies with guns,
instead of just a few frightened, feverish, hungry,
armed only with wooden spears,
and secret hopes.
When I call the little witch
a witch-girl, my father corrects me —
Just little witch is enough, he says, don't add girl,
or she'll think she's human, like us.
A pile of ears sits on the ground,
waiting to be counted.
This boy has a wound,
my father tells the witch.
The little witch stares at my arm, torn by wolves,
and I grin,
not because I have to be healed by a slave-witch,
but because it is comforting to know
that wild dogs
can be called wolves,
to make them sound
making me seem
The slavehunter and his son
both stay away during the rains,
which last six months, from May
In November he returns with his boy,
whose scars have faded.
This time they have their own pack of dogs,
taught to follow only the scent
of a barefoot track,
the scent of bare skin from a slave
who eats cornmeal and yams,
never the scent of a rich man on horseback,
after his huge meal of meat, fowl, fruit,
coffee, chocolate, and cream.
We bring wanted posters from the cities,
with pictures drawn by artists,
pictures of men with filed teeth
and women with tribal scars,
who somehow managed to run away
soon after escaping from ships
that landed secretly, at night,
on hidden beaches.
I look at the pictures
how all these slaves
from faraway places
find their way
to this wilderness
of caves and cliffs,
wild mountains, green forest, little witches.
After Christmas, on January 6,
the Festival of Three Kings Day,
we line up and walk, one by one,
to the thrones where our owner and his wife
are seated, like a king and queen
from a story.
They give us small gifts of food.
We bow down, and bless them,
our gift of words freely given
on this day of hope,
when we feel like we have
nothing to lose.
The nicknames of runaways
keep us busy at night,
in the barracoons, where we whisper.
All the other young girls agree with me
that Domingo is a fine nickname,
because it means Sunday, our only half day of rest,
and Dios Da is even better,
because it means God Gives,
and El Médico is wonderful —
who would not be proud
to be known as The Doctor?
La Madre is the nickname
that fascinates us most —
The Mother — a woman, and not just a runaway,
but the leader of her own secret village,
free, independent, uncaptured —
My father captures some who pretend
they don't know their owners' names,
or the names of the plantations
where they belong.
They must want to be sold
to someone new.
They must hope that if they are sold here,
near the steamy, jungled wilderness,
they will be close to the caves,
and the waterfalls,
My father brings the same runaways back,
over and over.
I don't understand why they never give up!
Why don't they lose hope?
People imagine that all slaves are dark,
but the indentured Chinese slaves run away too,
into the mangrove swamps,
where they can fish, and spear frogs,
and hunt crocodiles by placing a hat on a stick
to make it look like a man.
The crocodile jumps straight up,
out of the gloomy water,
and snatches the hat,
while a noose of rope made from vines
tightens around the beast's green, leathery neck.
I would be afraid to live in the swamps.
People say there are güijes,
small, wrinkled, green mermaids
with long, red hair and golden combs ...
mermaids who would lure me
down into the swamp depths ...
mermaids who would drag me into watery caves,
where they would turn me into a mermaid too ...
frog-green, and tricky.
The slavehunter comes
with an offer.
He wants to buy me
so I can travel
with his horsemen
and his huge dogs
and his strange son
into the wild places
where wounded captives
can be healed
so they won't die.
of a healed man
is much higher
than the price
of an ear.
My owner refuses.
He needs me to cure
in the barracoons.
After each hurricane season
there are fevers, cholera, smallpox, plague.
Some of the sick can be saved.
Some are lost.
I picture their spirits
I sigh, so relieved that I will not
have to travel with slavehunters
and the spies they keep to help them,
the captives who reveal the secret locations
of villages where runaways sneak back and forth,
trading wild guavas for wild yams,
or bananas for boar meat,
spears for vine rope,
or mangos for palm hearts, flower medicines,
The weapons of runaways are homemade,
just sharpened branches, not real spears,
and carved wooden guns, which, I have to admit,
from a distance look real!
We catch cimarrones with stolen cane knives too,
all three kinds,
the tapered, silver-handled ones used by free men,
with engraved scallop-shell designs,
and the bone-handled, short, leaflike ones,
given to children,
and the fan-shaped, blunt ones,
used by slaves
for cutting sugarcane
to sweeten the chocolate and coffee
of rich men.
Secretly, I hide and weep
when I learn that my owner
has agreed to loan me
to the slavehunter,
who brings his hunter-in-training,
his son, the boy with dangerous eyes,
Spears and stones rain down on us
from high above
as we climb rough stairs
chopped into the wall of a cliff
somewhere out in the wilderness,
in a place I have never seen.
Sharp rocks slice my face and hands.
I will be useless — without healthy fingers,
how can I heal wounds
When the raid is over, many cimarrones are dead.
I try to escape, but Lieutenant Death forces me
to watch as he helps his father
collect the ears
Some of the ears come from people
whose names and faces
I hate to think
what my father would say
if he knew that I am scared
of dogs, both wild and tame,
and ghost stories,
real and imaginary,
even the little ones,
and the ears of captives,
After the raid,
I tend the wounds
Some look at me with fear,
others with hope.
I tend the wounds of a wild dog,
and the slavehunters' huge dogs.
All of them treat me like a nurse,
not a witch.
The grateful dogs make me smile,
even the mean ones, trained to follow the tracks
of barefoot men.
They don't seem to hate
Hatred must be
a hard thing to learn.
The Ten Years' War 1868–78
Gathering the green, heart-shaped leaves
of sheltering herbs in a giant forest,
I forget that I am grown now,
with daydreams of my own,
in this place where time
does not seem to exist
in the ordinary way,
and every leaf is a heart-shaped
moment of peace.
In the month of October,
when hurricanes loom,
a few plantation owners
burn their fields, and free their slaves,
from Spanish rule.
Slavery all day,
and then, suddenly, by nightfall — freedom!
Can it be true,
as my former owner explains,
with apologies for all the bad years —
Can it be true that freedom only exists
when it is a treasure,
shared by all?
Farms and mansions
Flames turn to smoke —
the smoke leaps, then fades
and vanishes ...
making the world
I am one of the few
free women blessed
with healing skills.
Should I fight with weapons,
or flowers and leaves?
Each choice leads to another —
I stand at a crossroads in my mind,
deciding to serve as a nurse,
armed with fragrant herbs,
fighting a wilderness battle, my own private war
Side by side, former owners and freed slaves
torch the elegant old city of Bayamo.
A song is written by a horseman,
a love song about fighting for freedom
The song is called "La Bayamesa,"
for a woman from the burning city of Bayamo,
a place so close to my birthplace, my home....
Soon I am called La Bayamesa too,
as if I have somehow been transformed
into music, a melody, the rhythm of words....
I watch the flames, feel the heat,
inhale the scent of torched sugar
and scorched coffee....
I listen to voices,
burning a song in the smoky sky.
The old life is gone, my days are new,
but time is still a mystery
of wishes, and this sad, confusing fragrance.
The Spanish Empire refuses to honor
liberty for any slave who was freed by a rebel,
so even though the planters
who used to own us
no longer want to own humans,
slavehunters still roam
the forest, searching, capturing, punishing ...
so we flee
to the villages
where runaways hide ...
just like before.
people walk in long chains of strength,
arm in arm, to keep from blowing away.
The wildness of wind, forest, sea
brings storms that move
sweeping trees and cattle
up into the sky.
During hurricanes, even the wealthy
wander like beggars,
arm in arm with the poor.
War and storms make me feel old,
even though I am still young enough
to fall in love.
I meet a man, José Francisco Varona,
a freed slave,
in the runaway slave village we call Manteca,
because we have plenty of lard to use as cooking oil,
the lard we get
by hunting wild pigs.
We travel through the forest together,
trading lard for the fruit, corn, and yams
grown by freed slaves and runaways,
who live together in other hidden towns
deep in the forest, and in dark caves.
José and I agree to marry.
Together, we will serve as nurses,
healing the wounds of slavery,
and the wounds of war.
The forest is a land of natural music —
tree frogs, nightingales, wind,
and the winglets of hummingbirds
no bigger than my thumbnail —
hummingbirds the size of bees
in a forest the size of Eden.
José and I travel together,
walking through mud, thorns,
clouds of wasps, mosquitoes, gnats,
and the mist that hides
graceful palm trees,
and the smoke that hides burning huts,
flaming fields, orchards, villages, forts —
anything left standing by Spain
is soon torched by the rebels.
José carries weapons,
his horn-handled machete,
and an old gun of wood and metal,
moldy and rusted,
our only protection against an ambush.
The Spanish soldiers dress in bright uniforms,
They march in columns, announcing
with trumpets and drums.
We move silently, secretly.
We are invisible.
A Spanish guard calls, ¡Alto! Halt!
¿Quién vive? Who lives?
He wants us to stop, but we slip away.
He shouts: mambí savages,
and even though mambí is not a real word,
we imagine he chooses it
because he thinks it sounds Cuban, Taíno Indian,
or African, or mixed — a word from the language
of an enslaved tribe —
Congo, Arará,Carabalí,Bibí, or Gangá.
we catch the rhythmic word,
and make it our own,
a name for our newly invented warrior tribe
made up of freed slaves fighting side by side
with former owners,
all of us fighting together,
against ownership of Cuba
by the Empire of Spain,
a ruler who refuses
to admit that slaves
can ever be free.
Dark wings, a dim moonglow,
the darting of bats,
not the big ones that suck blood
and eat insects,
but tiny ones, butterfly-sized,
the kind of bat
that whisks out of caves to sip nectar
from night-blooming blossoms,
the fragrant white flowers my Rosa calls
because they last only half a night.
Rosa leads the bats away from our hut.
They follow her light, as she holds up a gourd
filled with fireflies, blinking.
I laugh, because our lives, here in the forest,
feel reversed —
we build a palm-thatched house to use
as a hospital,
but everything wild that belongs outdoors
keeps moving inside,
and our patients, the wounded, feverish
who should stay in their hammocks resting —
they keep getting up,
to go outside,
to watch Rosa, with her hands of light,
leading the bats far away.
They think they're free.
I know they're slaves.
I used to work for the Holy Brotherhood
of plantation owners, but now I work
for the Crown of Spain.
Swamps, mountains, jungle, caves ...
I search without resting, I seek the reward
I will surely collect, just as soon as I kill
the healer they call Rosa la Bayamesa,
a witch who cures wild mambí rebels
so they can survive
to fight again.
Lieutenant-General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau,
Marquis of Tenerife, Empire of Spain
When the witch is dead,
and the rebels are defeated,
I will rest my sore arms and tired legs
in the healing hot springs on this island of fever
and ghostly, bat-infested caves.
If the slavehunter fails,
I will catch her myself.
I will kill the witch, and keep her ear in a jar,
as proof that owners cannot free their slaves
without Spain's approval
and as proof
that all rebels in Cuba
Rumors make me short of breath,
anxious, fearful, desperate.
People call me brave, but the truth is:
Rumors of slavehunters terrify me!
Who could have guessed that after all these years,
the boy I called Lieutenant Death
when we were both children
would still be out here, in the forest,
chasing me, now,
hunting me, haunting me....
Who would have imagined
such stubborn dedication? ...
If only he would change sides
and become one of us, a stubborn,
determined, weary nurse,
fighting this daily war
Rosa's fame as a healer brings danger.
She cannot leave our hut,
where the patients need her,
so I travel alone to a field of pineapples
where a young Spanish soldier lies wounded
in his bright uniform,
his head resting between mounds
of freshly harvested fruit.
The leaves of the pineapple plants
are gray and sharp, like machetes
the tips of the leaves cut my arms,
but I do my best to treat the boy's wounds.
I do this for Rosa, who wants to heal all.
I do it for Rosa, but the boy-soldier thanks me,
and after I feed him and give him water,
he tells me he wants to change sides.
He says he will be Cuban now, a mambí rebel.
He tells me he was just a young boy
who was taken
from his family in Spain,
a child who was put on a ship,
forced to sail to this island, forced to fight.
He tells me he loves Cuba's green hills,
and hopes to stay, survive, be a farmer,
find a place to plant crops....
Together, we agree to try
to heal the wounds between our countries.
I help him take off his uniform.
I give him mine.
Excerpted from The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle. Copyright © 2008 Margarita Engle. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE The Names of the Flowers 1850–51,
PART TWO The Ten Years' War 1868–78,
PART THREE The Little War 1878–80,
PART FOUR The War of Independence 1895–98,
PART FIVE The Surrender Tree 1898–99,
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story through poetry instead of prose?
2. The book follows Rosa from childhood through adulthood.
How have the wars changed her?
3. Lieutenant Death says that his father corrected him when he called Rosa a witch-girl because if he adds girl, "she'll think she's human, like us." How do you think this statement affected
Lieutenant Death's opinion of Rosa?
4. We never learn Lieutenant Death's real name. All of the other characters who speak have their real name as the character heading. How does this affect your opinion of the character?
5. Rosa heals Lieutenant Death after he falls from a tree. Why does she help him? Why, even after her help, does he still want to kill her?
6. Find a passage in the book that you enjoyed or felt a connection with. Discuss what it was about that passage that made it memorable for you.
7. Who was your favorite character and why?
8. What does the Surrender Tree represent to Rosa?
9. Why does Rosa help anyone, no matter what side they fight for, free of charge?
10. Silvia ends the book saying "Peace is not the paradise I
imagined, but it is a chance to dream." What do you think she means by this? What do you think the rest of her life will be like?
11. Take an experience from your own life and write a few lines
of poetry to tell the story.