Tag Archives: Iguana

Island Scofflaws Face Running of the Iguanas

Blacktip Island rock iguanas will chase petty criminals to honor St. Dervil, the island’s patron saint of scuba diving and iguana husbandry.

Blacktip Island rock iguanas will chase petty criminals to honor St. Dervil, the island’s patron saint of scuba diving and iguana husbandry.

Saturday marks Blacktip Island’s 433nd Running of the Iguanas, recreating St. Dervil’s original herding of rock iguanas to his Caribbean island monastery and converting them to Christianity in 1544.

“Dervil shared a one-room shack with dozens of those suckers,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Called them ‘monks.’ Taught them Gregorian chants. Records say they sang like the dickens.”

“To get the iguanas inside, Dervil’d run in front of the them with handfuls of fruit,” Altschul said. “Got people into church that way, too.

“After he died, islanders kept up the run, with folks racing in front of the iguanas, trying to make it to the kraal without getting mauled.”

The modern-day Running serves a more practical purpose.

“The runners are all residents convicted of minor crimes,” said Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette. “It’s the only way we can get through to some of these people. If they finish the run, their debt to society’s paid.

“We smear all the shoplifters, deadbeats and drink-drivers with fresh fruit, then turn the lizards loose,” I.P.C. Marquette said. “Bystanders are encouraged to throw fruit and vegetables as they pass.”

Runners are dressed in traditional white shirt and trousers, with a red waistband and neckerchief for easy identification.

“We set up barricades to keep the runners on course,” event organizer Jay Valve said, “but with just the one road, it’s more to keep the iguanas from running off into the bushes. The crowd sings a quick benediction, we shoot a skyrocket, and off they go.

“We had a couple of nasty clawings last year,” Valve said. “You have to expect that, though. You trip and fall, you’re gonna pay the price. But these are adjudicated criminals we’re dealing with here.”

“The Running also lets transgressors atone for their sins,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, head of the island’s Interfaith Committee. “Last year’s Running was cathartic. The slashing I got was way more rehabilitative than any week in jail.

“We’ve also revived the traditional baptism of the iguanas afterward,” Ephesian said. “We try to get the iguanas to sing along with the benediction, too, but so far’ve only gotten a couple to hum.”

Island animal rights activists decry the Running.

“It’s barbaric penning wild animals, then forcing them to harm people,” said island PETA representative Harry Pickett. “This isn’t natural behavior. And iguanas are being baptized willy-nilly, regardless of any stated religious affiliation.”

Event organizers downplayed those concerns.

“No iguanas are harmed in the Running,” Jay Valve said. “It’s not like we’re staging iguana fights later. The iguanas get fed. Then saved.

“Do people get hurt? Sure. But they have it coming.”

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St. Dervil’s Fever Sweeps Blacktip Island

A likeness of St. Dervil from the present-day Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.

A likeness of St. Dervil from the present-day Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.

Blacktip Island is bracing for today’s 441st St. Dervil’s Day festivities, honoring St. Dervil of the Iguanas, patron Saint of scuba diving and iguana husbandry.

A Rosicrucian monk fleeing colonial authorities, Dervil landed on Blacktip Island in 1542.

“He built the island’s first monastery from conch shells, coral rock and marl mortar,” island historian and museum curator Smithson Altschul said. “Dervil tried to remove himself from the secular world, but good luck with that on this island, even back then.

“His first documented miracle was driving all the Caribbean saltwater crocodiles from the island,” Altschul said. “He did it in a drunken haze, but it saved the islanders, who were on the verge of being eaten out of house and home.”

A study in contrast, Dervil also raised iguanas in his one-room monastery.

“He was barking mad,” Altschul said. “He lived with dozens of rock iguanas. Called them his monks. Tried to teach them Gregorian chants. But he had banished the man-eating crocs, so he was golden with the locals.

“The coconut mead he brewed helped gild that lily as well. Dervil first served it at Communion when he ran out of wine. That proved so popular he started offering Communion four, five times a day. Then he cut out the services altogether and just served mead. He eventually converted the monastery’s storehouse into a tavern.”

Dervil’s ministry was cut short December 27, 1557 when Norse raiders, blown off course on their way to Greenland, sacked the monastery. The church bestowed sainthood in 1572, making St. Dervil the Tiperon Islands’ first, and only, martyr.

“Several of the iguanas that died with him were up for sainthood, too,” Altschul added. “Church politics got in the way of that, though.”

Modern observances focus on Dervil’s life rather than his death.

“He was a raging drunk, so the celebration centers on everyone wearing paper mitre caps, getting absolutely potted and trying to catch iguanas,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “The last one standing gets to wear the iguana-skin mitre in the coming year.”

The highlight of the day, as ever, will be the mead brew-off, with residents trying to reproduce Dervil’s original mead recipe, lost when the Norsemen torched the island. Some are more successful than others.

“We’ve had some brews that tasted quite heavenly,” Valve said. “Most just smell of old socks. Or worse. The good news is Led Waite, our master of ceremonies, has his sight back after judging last year’s entries, so he’s good to go.”

The winner of the brew-off will receive an iguana.

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