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Diamond Champion: Paradise Island Trilogy, Book 1

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Paradise Island is a story of adventure, action, exploration and romance. It is set around the 16th Century, the age of exploration, based loosely on the European conquest of South America.

The following information highlights some of the features referenced in my book and delves into more detail of the environment and settings, providing supplementary knowledge in the context of the related historical era. I hope you will find these snippets of interest and enjoyable fun.

The Taktican civilisation is loosely based on the Aztecs that ruled Central Mexico from around 1200 to 1500. They were a complex society, with their own laws, religion, and culture. A big part of their religion was the different gods; they had gods and goddesses for everything. They spoke Nahuatl, which as of 2010, there were estimated to be around 1.7m in Central Mexico who still spoke this language.

The Sesspangoli empire is loosely based on the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1500 and the conquistadors during the age of exploration and treasure hunting.

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Pyramids

The dominant Aztec tribe built pyramids in order to honour their gods. The Aztec symbol for conquest was a burning pyramid, with a conqueror destroying the temple at its top. Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec capital, housed the Great Pyramid, a four-stepped structure some 60 meters high. At its top, two shrines honoured Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun and war, and Tlaloc, god of rain and fertility.

When the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in Tenochtitlan, they were surprised to witness a huge pyramid. The Great Pyramid was destroyed along with the rest of the Aztec civilization by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his army in 1521. Underneath its ruins, the remains of six earlier pyramids were later found, evidence of the constant rebuilding process common to the Mesoamerican pyramids.

Xiuhtecuhtli – the God of Volcanoes

Xiuhtecuhtli (pronounced she-wa-teh-KWA-tlee) was the lord of volcanoes, in addition to the god of fire, day and heat.

 

Associated with rulers and warriors, Xiuhtecuhtli presided over time and the calendar. His name means the 'Turquoise Lord', and his face is painted with black and red pigment in the codices. He carries the Xiuhcoatl, the Fire Serpent, as a back ornament, and a turquoise pectoral in the form of a butterfly. In stone sculpture his image is often in the nude, except for a loincloth, and with two teeth protruding from the corners of his mouth.

 

The Aztecs believed that he created the Aztec people, as well as all life around them. They thought that anywhere there was fire, that Xiuhtecuhtli was inside that fire. The Turquoise Lord was very important to the Aztecs and had many purposes including, keeping the people warm, giving them light, and providing food.

Turquoise Lord mask is made of cedro wood and covered in turquoise mosaic with scattered turquoise cabochons.

Chinampas

To grow food, the Aztecs used two main farming methods: the chinampas and terracing. Chinampa was a technique used in Mesoamerican agriculture which relied on small, rectangular areas of fertile arable land to grow crops on the shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico. They were built up on wetlands of a lake or freshwater swamp for agricultural purposes, and their proportions ensure optimal moisture retention using sedimentation from the bottom of the lake. Chinampas were essentially man-made islands, raised bed gardens on the surface of a shallow lake. To use the hilly land for farming, the Aztecs terraced the hills by cutting into them. They then built a restraining wall to form a step in the hillside so that the land on the step can be used for crops.

The creation of chinampas involved the building up masses of land and a drainage system. This included:

 

  • A multi-purposed drainage system. A ditch was created to allow for the flow of water and sediments.

  • Over time, the ditch would slowly accumulate piles of mud.

  • This mud would then be dug up and placed on top of the chinampas, clearing the blockage.

  • Creation of large reed mats, which floated in the shallows, the edges of which were built of woven twigs and branches attached to posts anchored in the lakebed.

  • On the mats, they put soil from the lake bottom, rotting vegetation and dirt from nearby areas. The soil from the bottom of the lake was also rich in nutrients, thus acting as an efficient and effective way of fertilizing the chinampas.

  • Planting of fast-growing willow trees at the corners of the plots to attach the chinampa to the bottom of the lake by the trees’ roots.

 

At the height of the Aztec Empire, thousands of these fertile and productive chinampas surrounded Tenochtitlan and other Aztec cities.

 

Xochimilco – Modern day chinampas

 

Xochimilco is one of the 16 mayoralities or boroughs within Mexico City. The borough is centered on the formerly independent City of Xochimilco, which was established on what was the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco in the pre-colonial period.

 

The borough is in the south-eastern part of the city and has an identity that is separate from the historic center of Mexico City, due to its historic separation from that city. Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are the remains from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. These canals, along with artificial islands chinampas, attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colourful gondola-like boats around the 170 km (110 mi) of canals. This canal and chinampa system, as a vestige of the area's pre-colonial past, has made Xochimilco a World Heritage Site.

Obsidian rock

Obsidian blade (jade handle)
Obsidian blade (jade handle)
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Obsidian red blade
Obsidian red blade
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Obsidian rocks
Obsidian rocks
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Obsidian leaf shaped
Obsidian leaf shaped
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Obsidian decorative slab
Obsidian decorative slab
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Obsidian hairpin
Obsidian hairpin
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Obsidian head of Xochipilli
Obsidian head of Xochipilli
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Obsidian vases
Obsidian vases
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Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock, one that solidifies above Earth's surface. However, it can form in a variety of cooling environments such as along the edges of a lava flow (extrusive), around the edges of a sill or a dike (intrusive) and where lava cools while airborne (extrusive).

 

It is commonly found within the margins of rhyolitic lava flows known as obsidian flows, where the chemical composition (high silica content) causes a high viscosity, which, upon rapid cooling, results in a natural glass forming, crystalline structure from the lava. Obsidian is hard, brittle, and amorphous; it therefore fractures with sharp edges. Obsidian has a glassy lustre and is slightly harder than window glass. In the past, it was used to manufacture cutting and piercing tools, and it has been used experimentally as surgical scalpel blades.

Though obsidian is typically jet-black in colour, the presence of hematite (iron oxide) produces red and brown varieties, and the inclusion of tiny gas bubbles may create a golden sheen. Other types with dark bands or mottling in grey, green, or yellow are also known.

 

Tecpatl obsidian blades

 

In the Aztec culture, a tecpatl was a flint or obsidian knife with a lanceolate figure and double-edged blade, with elongated ends. Both ends could be rounded or pointed, but other designs were made with a blade attached to a handle.

 

The Tecpatl knife was traditionally used for human sacrifice by the Aztecs, but it also was the short-range weapon of the jaguar warriors. Although it may have seen only limited use on the battlefield, its sharp edges would have made it an effective sidearm.

Tepoztopilli Spears

The tepoztopilli was a common front-line weapon of the Aztec military. The tepoztopilli was a pole-arm and was roughly the height of a man. The wedge-shaped wooden head, about twice the length of the users' palm or shorter, was edged with razor-sharp obsidian blades which were deeply set in grooves carved into the head. They were cemented in place with bitumen or plant resin as an adhesive. This made the tepoztopilli vaguely similar to the macuahuitl, however it had a much smaller cutting edge and a longer handle.

 

Halfway between a halberd and a spear, the tepoztopilli was equally useful for slashing and thrusting. The greater length gave the weapon a superior reach, allowing the user to stand behind a line of more experienced warriors and then "shove or jab the weapon" into an enemy. Conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo mentions that during the campaign in Chiapas, his armour was pierced by an Aztec lance and that only his thick cotton underpadding saved his life.

Macuahuitl Clubs

A macuahuitl is a weapon, a wooden club with several embedded obsidian blades. The name is derived from the Nahuatl language and means "hand-wood". This weapon was a thick, three- or four-foot wooden club spiked with a number of blades made from obsidian, said to be even sharper than steel. The weapon resembled a cricket bat in that the bulk of it consisted of a flat, wooden paddle with a handle on one end. The blunt portions of a macuahuitl could knock someone unconscious. It is sometimes known as an ‘obsidian chainsaw’ due to its appearance.

Its sides are embedded with rectangular obsidian blades glued into the grooves of the wood, similar to the head of a tepoztopilli spear. Obsidian is capable of producing an edge sharper than high quality steel razor blades. When chiseled to a fine edge, obsidian has better cutting and slicing properties than glass. And when using these blades, warriors could make a circular, slashing motion with a macuahuitl to easily cut open someone’s skin at any vulnerable point on the body, including where the arm meets the chest, along the legs, or at the neck.

The macuahuitl was a standard close combat weapon. When used in battle, the macuahuitl was sharp enough to decapitate man and horse. There are many accounts of their effectiveness in battle from numerous Spanish conquistadors, of which many speak of their ability to rend the head from men and the entrails from horses.

Atlatl

An atlatl or spear-thrower, is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart or javelin-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to store energy during the throw. A spear-thrower is a long-range weapon and can readily launch a projectile to speeds of over 150 km/h (93 mph).

It may consist of a shaft with a cup or a spur at the end that supports and propels the butt of the dart. The spear-thrower is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the cup. The dart is thrown by the action of the upper arm and wrist. The throwing arm together with the atlatl acts as a lever. The spear-thrower is a low-mass, fast-moving extension of the throwing arm, increasing the length of the lever. This extra length allows the thrower to impart force to the dart over a longer distance, thus imparting more energy and ultimately higher speeds.

 

Common modern ball throwers (molded plastic arms used for throwing tennis balls for dogs to fetch) use the same principle.

Spear-throwers appear very early in human history in several parts of the world and have survived in use in traditional societies until the present day, as well as being revived in recent years for sporting purposes.

Video: National Geographic showing how to use an atlatl

Chimalli Shields

Chimalli is a circular shield that was constructed out of materials such as the skins of deer, ocelots, and rabbits, plants such as bamboo, agave, and cotton, precious metals such as gold, and feathers from birds. A single shield could be covered with thousands of feathers.

 

The reverse was equipped with two leather straps which were used for carrying the shield. In both types a leather pad was attached to the front as the basis for the ornaments, and they had a curtain of leather "straps" attached to the bottom portion of the shield which served as extra protection from arrows.

 

Feathers for chimalli were collected by bird breeders called amantecas, who hunted and raised several species of birds for the purpose of using their feathers for art. Being an amanteca was a family tradition, similar to trades such as goldsmiths, carpenters, and painters.

Fireflies

The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera with more than 2,000 described species. They are soft-bodied beetles that are commonly called fireflies, glow worms, or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red.

 

Fireflies are found in temperate and tropical climates. Many are found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. While all known fireflies glow, only some adults produce light and the location of the light organ varies among species and between sexes of the same species.

 

Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. This process occurs in specialised light-emitting organs, usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. The enzyme luciferase acts on the luciferin, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen to produce light.

Firefly light is usually intermittent, and flashes in patterns that are unique to each species. Each blinking pattern is an optical signal that helps fireflies find potential mates.

 

All fireflies glow as larvae. In lampyrid larvae, bioluminescence serves a function that is different from that served in adults. Firefly light may also serve as a defence mechanism that flashes a clear warning since many firefly larvae contain chemicals that are distasteful or toxic.

Synchronisation of flashing is a phenomenon of several firefly species. This phenomenon is explained as phase synchronisation and spontaneous order. Tropical fireflies routinely synchronise their flashes among large groups, particularly in Southeast Asia. At night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles, fireflies synchronise their light emissions precisely. Current hypotheses about the causes of this behaviour involve diet, social interaction, and altitude. In the Philippines, thousands of fireflies can be seen all year-round in the town of Donsol. In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first weeks of June. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to this phenomenon.

Photuris fireflies are larger—almost an inch long—and produce a darker green light. They’re very difficult to distinguish from Photinus from their light alone, even for other fireflies; female Photuris often mimic mating flashes from female Photinus fireflies to attract and eat Photinus males. Because of this, Photuris species are sometimes called “femme fatale” fireflies.

 

Lampyris is a genus of firefly within this subfamily found primarily in Britain (also known as glow worm), and they thrive in old-growth grasslands in soil with high concentrations of limestone and chalk. Only the males fly; the females are larviform, and only they glow. Females crawl onto blades of grass and low vegetation at dusk and emit a yellow-green continuous light to attract mates.

Video: National Geographic - Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains

Mussels and Pearls

The freshwater pearl mussel is an endangered species of mollusc, found in clean, nutrient poor low-calcium rivers. Freshwater pearl mussels are similar in shape to common marine mussels but grow much larger and live far longer. They can grow as large as your hand and live for more than 100 years, making them one of the longest-lived invertebrates. A single freshwater pearl mussel is capable of producing up to 50 pearls at a time (although current production limits each shell to 24-32 pearls).

 

These mussels live on the beds of clean, fast-flowing rivers, where they can be buried partly of wholly in coarse sand or fine gravel. They feed by drawing in river water and ingesting fine particles of organic matter. An adult freshwater pearl mussel can filter more water in a day than an average person uses to shower. They are dark brown to black in colour.

 

The interior of the shell of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) has thick nacre (the inner mother of pearl layer of the shell). This species is capable of making fine-quality pearls, and was historically exploited in the search for pearls from wild sources.

Although the name "freshwater pearl mussel" is often used for this species, other freshwater mussel species can also create pearls and some can also be used as a source of mother of pearl. Most cultured pearls today come from Hyriopsis species in Asia, or Amblema species in North America.

 

The river Ehen is home to England's last viable population of the bivalve, but numbers have plummeted since the last century. Now, a unique collaboration is allowing them to thrive again.

 

Check out the details on the West Cumbria Rivers Trust westcumbriariverstrust.org.

‘Pearls in Peril’ (PIP) is a UK wide LIFE nature project with 22 partners working together to restore river habitats benefiting freshwater pearl mussel and salmonids (salmon and trout).  The project was approved by LIFE in September 2012 and will run until September 2016.  A total of 48 actions will be delivered across 21 rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for freshwater pearl mussel.

Video: Pearls in Peril Nature Project 
Video: National Geographic Wild Australia (Secret Life of Pearls) showing how pearls are created

Mussel reproduction

 

They have a fascinating life cycle; their larvae attach to the gills of salmonid fish and ‘hitch a ride’ for up to 10 months of the year. When they are ready, they need to drop off into pristine river habitat where they will use their muscular foot to rasp algae and bacteria from the gravel. At around 3-5 years they will have developed gills and will be able to filter free-flowing river water. The mussels do not mature sexually until the age of 12-15 years, or about 65mm long. Each female can produce up to 4 million larvae which are released into the water column every May/June.

 

How pearls are made

 

Pearls are made by marine oysters and freshwater mussels as a natural defence against an irritant such as a parasite entering their shell or damage to their fragile body.

 

The oyster or mussel slowly secretes layers of aragonite and conchiolin, materials that also make up its shell. This creates a material called nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, which encases the irritant and protects the mollusc from it.

 

When pearls are cultured commercially an irritant is manually inserted into a mollusc to promote the production of mother-of-pearl. Nacre can form naturally around almost any irritant that gets inside the shell, creating some very unique and precious pearls. Other bivalve molluscs and gastropods can produce pearls, but these are not made of nacre.

Jaguar

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a large felid species and the only extant member of the genus Panthera native to the Americas. The jaguar's present range extends from the southwestern United States down to Argentina in South America.

 

Overall, the jaguar is the largest native cat species in the world and the third largest in the world. This spotted cat closely resembles the leopard, but is usually larger and sturdier and the jaguars’ spots are more complex and often have a dot in the center. They’re typically found in tropical rainforests but also live in savannas and grasslands. The jaguar enjoys swimming and is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain. As a keystone species it plays an important role in stabilising ecosystems and regulating prey populations.

 

The main threats to the survival of jaguars includes:

 

  • Habitat fragmentation - South and Central America’s high rates of deforestation have not only destroyed jaguars’ habitat but also broken it up.

 

  • Another threat jaguars face is retaliatory killings from ranchers. As grazing land replaces forests, jaguars are more likely to hunt cattle.

 

  • Poaching is another growing problem for jaguars. They’ve long been hunted for their pelts, teeth and bone products.

 

The jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous peoples of the Americas, including those of the Maya and Aztec civilizations with representations of the jaguar showing up in the art and archaeology of these pre-Columbian cultures.

Jaguar warriors or jaguar knights (ocēlōtl Nahuatl word) were members of the Aztec military elite. They were a type of Aztec warrior called a cuāuhocēlōtl, which derives from the eagle warrior cuāuhtli and the Jaguar Warrior ocēlōtl. They were an elite military unit similar to the eagle warriors.

 

The jaguar motif was used due to the belief the jaguar represented Tezcatlipoca. Aztecs also wore this dress at war because they believed the animal's strengths would be given to them during battles. Jaguar warriors were used at the battlefront in military campaigns. They were also used to capture prisoners for sacrifice to the Aztec gods. To become a jaguar warrior, a member of the Aztec army had to capture enemies from battles. This was said to honour their gods in a way far greater than killing enemy soldiers in the battlefield.

Coconuts

What is a coconut

 

The name coconut is derived from 16th century Portuguese sailors who thought the 3 small holes on the coconut shell resembled the human face so dubbed the fruit "coco" meaning "grinning face, grin, or grimace".

 

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) can grow up to 30 m (98 ft) tall and the leave fronds 4–6 m (13.1–19.7 ft) long.

 

Technically the coconut fruit is a drupe not a nut. Typical drupes include peaches, plums, and cherries. The coconut does not get dispersed like other drupe fruits (through consumption by wildlife). Instead the coconut palm disperses its seed using the ocean. A coconut is very buoyant and highly water resistant and can travel very long distances across the ocean.

 

Coconut consumption

 

In the early stages of a coconuts growth it contains high levels of water which can be consumed directly as a refreshing drink. The water is also gaining popularity as a sports drink as it contains good levels of sugars, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

 

The white, fleshy part of the coconut seed is called coconut meat. It has high amounts of manganese, potassium, and copper. The meat is used fresh or dried in cooking, especially in confections and desserts such as macaroons.

Coconut water can be a substitute for blood plasma. The high level of sugar and other salts make it possible to add the water to the bloodstream, similar to how an IV solution works in modern medicine. Coconut water was known to be used during World War II in tropical areas for emergency transfusions.

Coconut material

 

Coir (the fibre of the husk) can be used for making ropes, mats, brushes, sacks, caulking for boats, and as stuffing for mattresses.

 

Coconut leaves have many uses such as for making brooms, woven to make baskets or mats, or dried and used as thatch for roofing.

 

Copra is the term used for the dried meat. This can be processed to produce coconut oil used in cooking, in soaps, cosmetics, hair-oil, and massage oil.

 

Wood from the trunk of the coconut palm was traditionally used to build bridges, houses, huts and boats in the tropics. The woods straightness, strength, and salt resistance made it a reliable building material.

 

In Thailand and Malaysia, trained pig-tailed macaques are used to harvest coconuts. In fact, there are still training schools for these monkeys in parts of the countries and each year competitions are held to find the fastest harvester.

How to crack open a coconut without tools

 

If you were on stranded a hot tropical beach, hungry and dehydrated, and you stumbled upon a coconut tree, would you know how to crack open a rock-hard brown shell that is protected by a thick husk, without any tools? Do you know how to get into the coconut so that you can quench your thirst on the refreshing coconut water and fill your belly with the crispy, white coconut meat?

 

Well fear not! After you have watched the video, you can survive!

Video: How to crack open a coconut without tools 

Cacao pods and beans

A cacao pod (fruit) has a rough, leathery rind about 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.18 in) thick (depending on the variety of pod) that grows directly on the trunk or large branch of the tree. Immature pods are often green, red and purple and turns yellow or orange when it is ripe for harvesting.

 

Within the pods, it is filled with sweet, gelatinous pulp with a citrus taste, enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and fleshy pale white. If the rind is a hard and brown in colour, then it overripe and the seeds would rattle and appear dark brown.

 

During harvest, the pods are opened, the seeds are kept, and the empty pods are discarded and the pulp made into juice. The seeds are placed where they can ferment. Due to heat build-up in the fermentation process, cacao beans lose most of the purplish hue and become mostly brown in colour, with an adhered skin which includes the dried remains of the fruity pulp. This skin is released easily by winnowing after roasting. White seeds are found in some rare varieties, usually mixed with purples, and are considered of higher value.

Chocolate

 

The history of chocolate began in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 450 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. To them, cacao beans were more valuable than gold. The word chocolate is derived from the Spanish word chocolate, deriving in turn from the Classical Nahuatl word xocolātl.

 

The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavour. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form.

 

Chocolate is a preparation of roasted and ground cacao seeds that is made in the form of a liquid, paste, or in a block, which may also be used as a flavouring ingredient in other foods. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength. The Aztecs in particular revered the drink - they gave it to victorious warriors after battle, would use it during religious rituals, and even used cacao beans as currency.

 

Today, such drinks are also known as "Chilate" and are made by locals in the South of Mexico. After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people.

 

Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

 

Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor may also be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugar.

 

Although cocoa originated in the Americas, West African countries, particularly Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, are the leading producers of cocoa in the 21st century, accounting for some 60% of the world cocoa supply.

Video: Tesco Eat Happy Project - cacoa bean to chocolate