Auguste Guinnard.

Three years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity online

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me by Calfoucourah, who always addressed
me by the title of son (voitium), as well as to
the complete change which had taken place
in the minds of the others, I requested and
obtained permission again to mount on horse-
back : his kindness even went so far as to
allow me to make long excursions in company
with a few Indians, who served me as escort,
and for introduction to the different tribes I
visited. Everywhere I was received with
marks of the highest consideration. Some
of my entertainers went still further, and
added presents to their other attentions.
These gifts consisted either of tobacco or of
food for the journey.

As I had no longer any reason to feign
ignorance of their own langnia^e, and having
besides found several Italians who spoke a little
Spanish, I never went amongst them without


addressing a few words to them, which infinitely
flattered them, and won me their confidence.

During the winter the Calfoucouratchets
are much more nomadic than during the sum-
mer, being then obliged to seek the fertility
they need. However, they do not quit the
wooded country, which is so great a resource
to them. The regions inhabited by them
being warmer, they are darker hued ; their
height is inferior to that of the Pampeans.
Though equally vigorous and strong, they
are much more idle, and have a very limited

Besides hunting the ostrich and the gama,
they think of nothing but eating, drinking,
and sleeping. They are generally extremely
dirty. Their gluttony is such that when they
can eat no more, and disliking to leave their
teeth without employment, they munch con-
tinually a kind of white rosin which they call
otclw. They gather it from a small shrub
known amongst them by the name of motchi.


This rosin is quite tasteless, but it makes
them expectorate a good deal. By dint of
munching it becomes soft, and almost like
the india-rubber which children chew at
school. It is the first thing they offer to any
one who visits them, and they make no scruple
to give him a piece out of their mouths. It
is even considered amongst them an honour
to share in this manner.

The idleness and carelessness of these
Indians are such that even when they are
entirely destitute of cattle, they often refuse
horses which their friends offer to lend them,
to enable them to take part in some expedi-
tion, preferring to install themselves first with
one then with another, and to live at their ex-
pense during the winter. They content them-
selves solely with the produce of their hunting
through the summer, or with roots which
they find in abundance in the fine sand at
the foot of trees.

Nowhere amongst them have I found the


magnificent vegetation which is to be seen
abounding in Brazil or Chili. Throughout
their woods, algarrobas and tchagnals, low-
growing trees, twisted and set with formidable
thorns, as dangerous to the hoofs of horses
as to the feet of men, are mixed with a
mass of small bushes equally thorny, the
whole forming impassable thickets. Nume-
rous pumas and jaguars there establish their
lairs and rear their young, for whose nou-
rishment they devastate the flocks.

Like the animals, the men are very fond
of the fruit of the algarrobas (soe), having all
the appearance of a bean-pod, and contain-
ing a very hard seed. It is a kind of food
that supports beasts of burden, and gives
to their flesh a delicate flavour easily dis-
tinguished and much appreciated by the

Amongst the roots of which the latter
make use, the ponieux is perhaps the most
curious of any I have observed. Its form


and length are those of a large carrot; its
outside skin is thick and tough, dark brown,
and fluted longitudinally. The top is sur-
mounted by a massive flower of darker tint,
and composed of two parts separated from
each other by a round hard stamen, which
remains in the same state through all the
phases of maturity. The inside is white, firm,
and bitter before its maturity ; sweet and
juicy when it is ripe. An incalculable quan-
tity of black grains, infinitely smaller than
the seeds of figs, is mixed with the fleshy
portion. At maturity the root, like a cork
badly fastened on to a soda-water bottle,
breaks slowly through the middle of its en-
velope at the upper part, carrying with it
a sort of cap. This fruit then emits a
strong, melon-like scent, very agreeable to
the nostrils ; but one is astonished to find
that it has a taste so entirely different from
that promised by its odour, but resembling
that of a raw apple. Left to itself, this


strange fruit becomes rust- coloured, and
quickly passes into a state of decomposition.
It then becomes covered with white ma£-
gots, like those of meat, that absorb it,
always leaving the seeds, which sow them-
selves in their own envelope, its slow decom-
position serving them for manure.

I had many times tasted this sort of root,
which the Indians call ponieux (potatoes)
without discovering in it anything to justify
the name, when one day my masters, having
made an ample provision of them, which
they fried in horse fat, invited me to par-
take of them. I found this dish excel-
lent, and was not a little surprised to find
that, prepared in this manner, these strange
roots had really no other flavour than that of
the potato. I now regret extremely that my
rapid and unforeseen flight prevented me from
bringing away a specimen of this leguminous
root, certainly unknown in Europe, and the
cultivation of which would be most easy.


Many Indians eat it raw. I often did the
same, but having perceived the property
which this vegetable has of provoking in-
flammation and constipation, I only eat it
with moderation, and I understood why the
Indians, after having eaten a certain number
of them, drink a quantity of liquid horse fat.
The occupations of the Mamouelche
women are the same as those of the In-
dian women of all the other tribes, that is
to say, they are the slaves of their husbands,
whose idleness is, in some respects, still
greater, which is not saying a little. They
take much less care of their dress, and are
generally dirtier. Their intelligence and skill
are very limited ; they, also, make cloaks of
coarse wool, and lamatras (horse-cloths) ;
but the wool they use is generally ill-washed
and ill-spun. As well as their husbands, the
women are very indolent ; but as these are
the more exacting because they do nothing,
their wives are often exposed to their ill-


treatment. Jealousy, the never-dying worm
in all these brutish souls, is amongst them
pushed to excess ; thus revenge is very fre-
quent with them.

The superstition of the Indians shows
itself every moment, even in the smallest
things. Their minds are affected by change
of weather ; very gay when the weather is
fine, they become silent and almost morose
when it is bad. Visitors who present them-
selves amongst them always feel these im-
pressions ; for instead of the politeness and
attention which they have a right to expect,
they often meet with rudeness.

The Mamouelches are very kind and
helpful to one another; but they have no
respect for property, even for that of their
best friends. They make continual and
nightly thefts of animals, which they kill a
lono- way off, taking care to hide the bones
and skins in different places, and making a
number of detours in carrying home the


flesh. I have seen many receive with the
greatest assurance the visits of the men they
have duped, to whom they have served up
the flesh of the stolen animals, all the while
pretending to take the warmest interest in
their loss. Their effrontery sometimes even
goes to the length of proposing to accom-
pany them in their search, this proposition
being generally accepted; for the friends,
guided by a certain instinctive suspicion,
or even by some sort of indication, know
perfectly well that they are in the presence
of the delinquents, against whom they only
seek to acquire unquestionable proofs.

Searches of this kind present many diffi-
culties ; but the perseverance and perspicuity
of the Indians are such that the persons
robbed often succeed in gathering together
the incriminating hide and bones, and in fol-
lowing one by one the traces (rastros) of the
path taken by the thieves. When they have
acquired all the proofs they need, they go,


accompanied by witnesses, to the dwellings
of the guilty persons, and flatly denounce
their unhandsome behaviour ; the accused
almost always receives the accusers arro-
gantly, who see themselves driven to the
necessity of using force to obtain justice.
They drag them, whether they will or not,
before Calfoucourah, who fixes the sum to
be paid in damages and interest, the total of
which is sometimes large ; and, to prevent
evasion of payment on the part of the con-
demned, they are held in custody until the
judgment of the chief has been complied

In all the wooded parts, as well as in the
heart of the Pampas, one is horribly troubled
during the hot season by mosquitoes (riris),
which entirely deprive you of sleep. The
Indians, before going to rest, cover their
bodies with the greatest care, and lie with
their heads to the wind, after having set light
to small heaps of half-dried dung, the thick


smoke of which, passing over their faces,
drives away these mischievous visitors.
These unsavoury insects are not, however,
the only scourge to be feared, for in what-
ever direction one may go by" day or night,
one is continually harassed by a sort of
breeze-flies (tavanas), that attack men as
much as animals, and riddle the body with
punctures from which the blood flows in
abundance. I have sometimes, on horse-
back, seen myself so covered with them that,
with a sweep of the hand, I have killed hun-
dreds at once, while I appeared to be bathed
in streams of blood.

Whatever may be the nature of the coun-
try inhabited by the Indians, a great quan-
tity of serpents are found, varying in length
from fifty centimetres to one metre and
twenty or thirty centimetres, to which the
nomads give the name of tchochia. They are
dark green on the upper part of the body ;
the sides gold-colour; the belly marbled with



blue, red, white, and black. The Indians
greatly dread their bite, which they say is
incurable. These reptiles never attack men
unless they are threatened by them. Their
habit is to insinuate themselves anions: the
long grass ; there they sleep during the
greatest heat, and this frequently exposes
the cattle co be bitten by them, for not per-
ceiving them, they walk right on to them,
or, very often, in the act of browsing, plunge
their heads into the very tufts in which the
reptiles are concealed. I have seen a num-
ber of horses and oxen that had been bitten
in the muzzle die within two or three hours
in consequence of these bites. The tchochia
feed on toads, on animals they pursue into
their burrows, or on birds, which they charm
from the bushes in which they seek them.

In the summer-time, one can hardly stir
without meeting with some, and though they
are not gifted with any great swiftness, the
Indians are very much afraid of them. They


kill them at a distance with their slings, or
with their lances, which are never less than
from fifteen to twenty feet long.

Having, from the outset of my captivity,
remarked the terror with which these animals
inspired my masters, I determined to give
them a proof of my contempt of danger, and,
though I was completely naked, killed one by
crushing his head with my heel. I never
thought to see these savages so completely
stupefied as they were at the sight of this
act of temerity ; they rushed away from me,
and manifested so much alarm and anger,
that I thought it prudent not to repeat the

On another occasion, however, one of
these reptiles helped to give the Indians a
high opinion of me. I was engaged in digging
a well, with a shovel made out of the blade-
bone of a horse fixed to the end of a stick ;
and as the work which I was carrying on,
exposed to the full rays of the sun, greatly


fatigued me, I rested every now and then,
with my back against one of the sides of the
well. At one of these moments, I was sud-
denly encircled by a tchochia, which curled
itself about my body. In spite of the alarm
which its cold contact caused me, I was for-
tunate enough not to lose all presence of
mind ; seizing the reptile tightly with both
hands, I flung it to a distance, where it fell
in the midst of the astounded and terrified
Indians, who fled in all directions, uttering
cries of distress. I had not been bitten ;
but for the rest of the day I feared being
attacked with an illness, such as an Indian
had then recently experienced, after having
worn a cloak over which I had seen a tcho-
chia crawl. Fortunately, however, I suffered
nothing beyond my first alarm, and I had
even the good fortune to find this incident
turn to my advantage, for I overheard the
Indians say of me : " El-mey-tah-tefa-quime-
come-ouiofnecae-rouf-domo laeh - lane - come -


lagane-tchiouet - chet-vita-ouenetrou-meah."
(He is a good Christian ; for truly he is not
dead; it must be that this young man is
favoured by God without doubt.) And they
treated me with the greatest respect.




Without exception of tribe, rank, sex, or
aee, all Indians love to intoxicate them-

Idleness is considered amongst them the
ne plus ultra of felicity, and for a quickly-
swallowed bumper of liquor they will will-
ingly give the most valued articles in their
possession. They are not stingy of it, however,
for when one of them has returned from some
distant journey and brought spirits with him,
the whole horde appears determined not to
give him even time to unsaddle his horses ;


it crowds into his domicile in the hope of
tasting gratis a portion of the so- much -
coveted liquor. The proprietor of the roulcah
does all he can to satisfy these intruders, to
whom he offers the most gracious welcome.

The Indians often drink for several con-
secutive days, and in the full blaze of the
sun, without at all appearing to suffer in
health ; they even preserve their memory
unaffected during their completest intoxi-
cation, and if by chance a bottle comes into
their hands, there will be no danger of its
contents being spilt, from the habit they
have of inserting: one finder in the neck and
clutching it firmly with the others.

I have never seen anything more dis-
gusting or extraordinary than this medley of
wild men and women, heaped together pell-
mell, talking, singing, or yelling, in turn,
dragging themselves, along the ground in a
sitting posture, or on their hands, to try and
steal from one another a few drops of liquor,


or to abuse each other in the coarsest
manner. These orgies are rarely ended
without blows, for the Indians as well as
civilized men, have the unfortunate habit of
choosing these moments to brag of their
achievements ; and as it frequently happens
that the word ouignecae (Christian) is pro-
nounced in the course of these recitals, the
hatred which they feel for the latter some-
times expresses itself in frightful melees, in
which both men and women join, doubtless
under the impression that they are being
attacked by the Spaniards, and would in-
evitably kill one another, if some of the
less tipsy or more reasonable amongst them
did not interfere to disarm them.

The Indians carry their liquor on horse-
back ; they put it in ostrich or sheep skins,
but generally prefer the latter, as being more
easily prepared and holding a greater quan-
tity. They make leathern bottles of them,
to which they give the name of ounekas, and


which perfectly resist the pressure of the
girths. They prepare them in the following
manner : they kill the sheep by cutting off
the head, and remove the skin in one entire
piece, making only one opening for one of
the hind legs to the belly, through which
they contrive to pass the whole body ; they
next tie up the openings at the neck and
hind portion, and then distend the skin to
stretch and wash it ; finally, after having
dried it, they rub it between their hands to
make it supple.

If the Mamouelches are less favoured
than the Puelches and the Pampeans — for
they sometimes pass a long time without
being able to procure any Ouignecae Poulcou
(Christian's liquor) — they nevertheless find
means to intoxicate themselves pretty fre-
quently, during the summer and autumn, by
the help of drinks of their own manufacture.
Nature, which has denied them certain fruits
which one would expect to find in the forests


khey inhabit, has given some others which
they know well how to turn to good account :
the algarrobas, for example, which serves to
fatten their flocks and for the manufacture of
a liquor ; the piquinino (trulcaoueb) ; and a
kind of Barbary fig, the flavour of which is
very agreeable.

The Indians gather large quantities of
algarrobas, which they crush between two
stones and put into leathern bags filled with
water, for the purpose of obtaining the soe-
Poulcou drink, which they leave to ferment
for several days, and on which a scum forms
which they carefully remove ; to this they
add another portion of the algarrobas boiled,
and stir the whole well together. This pre-
paration is very pleasant to drink, and intoxi-
cates them completely ; but they cannot take
any great quantity of it without enduring
violent colics and nervous contractions,
which entirely prostrate them. They also
eat the algarrobas raw, but in small quantities,


for this fruit, though very sweet, contains an
acid that makes the lips, gums, and tongue
swell, and at the same time occasions a
burning thirst which often prevents the least
cautious from eating for a day or two.

The Trulcaouet, known to the Spaniards

under the name of piquinino, is at least as

abundant as the algarrobas, and is much more

esteemed *by the Indians, who, like children,

are very fond of all sweet things. The form

of this fruit is oval; it is of the size of a

pea. There are two sorts, red and black.

Its flavour is most agreeable, but this fruit is

so tender that upon the slightest pressure

all the fleshy part turns into a thick liquid.

The shrub on which it grows does not attain

a height of more than four or five feet.

It is very bushy, has delicate and flexible

branches bristling with an infinite number of

small thorns, which, when the fruit is being

gathered, break in the skin, into which they

introduce a venom which causes small painful


swellings. It leaves are small, round, and of
a grass-green colour. If -the Indians were
reduced to the necessity of gathering this
fruit by hand, in spite of all their patience, they
would not be able to satisfy their gluttonous
appetite, therefore they employ a means as
simple as it is effectual, which secures them
from all injury, and enables them to fill
in the course of a few minutesf the bags
with which they furnish themselves to carry
it : they spread under the shrub a large skin
on to which all the fruit falls, each branch
being gently struck with a stick. When they
have gathered as much as they require, they
fan it with another sheep- skin carefully
stripped of its wool, and tightly stretched
on a hoop, to separate the numerous leaves
and thorns which, in spite of all their pre-
cautions, are mostly mixed with the fruit.
This operation finished, they cram them-
selves in emulation of one another, fill their
bags, which they hang on either side of


their saddles, and then gallop home, where
a number of idlers, under pretence of paying
a visit, come to regale themselves at their
expense. However, in spite of their great
number, these gluttons are not permitted to
eat up the whole store, for the mistress of the
dwelling, to the annoyance of her indiscreet
guests, resolutely carries off the larger por-
tion of the fruit transformed into liquid, and
pours it into a horse-hide rounded in the
shape of a vase, where she leaves it to fer-
ment for four or five days. At the end of
that time, having in this manner obtained a
sweet and delicious liqueur, closely analogous
to sir op de g rose Me, she invites several
friends, who drink it with enjoyment. The
effect of this liqueur, which is very pleasant
to the palate, is not long in exhibiting itself,
for it produces almost instant intoxication.
Nevertheless the bowels do not suffer from
it ; while the fruit, eaten freely, causes such
painful irritation and constipation as to


oblige the Indians to drink great quantities
of horse fat, their only remedy in these

I was held in so much consideration by
the Mamouelches, that they made me take
part in all their amusements and festivals :
it was in this way that I had an opportunity of
tasting their liquors. In spite of their good
graces, evident proofs of the value they set
upon my person, the joy which these Indians
often displayed in my presence, reminded
me still more forcibly of my sad position,
and rendered more acute the recollection of
my family and country. Bitter tears would
then escape from my eyelids. Fortunately,
the Indians deceived themselves as to their
cause; they appeared to them to be the
natural produce of drunkenness, and, flat-
tered at the sight of what they thought was
nothing but an instinct of imitation, they
loaded me with their tobacco in sign of


Sometimes they made me sing to them
in my own language. Being unable to
avoid obeying their desire, however strongly
I wished to do so, I sang anything that
came into my head ; and as they often re-
quired me to translate what I had sung,
I always did so to their advantage, by
which means I left them under the im-
pression that I felt the sincerest friendship
for them.

During the time of my misfortunes, I
was never so happy as in the midst of this
tribe, where, in my quality of tchilca-tuvey
(writer to the grand cacique), I enjoyed
general consideration and a certain credit.
At my request, I was authorized by Calfou-
courah to construct for mvself a little cabin
of canes near his tent. He took pleasure in
watching me execute this work, the daily
progress of which he followed. This little
habitation was so designed as to afford me
all possible conveniences. It was square,


and divided into three compartments, one of
which served me for a bed-chamber, another
for a kitchen, and the last, which corre-
sponded to the entrance-hall, held my
saddle and hunting implements. I had
woven a mat, which, tightly stretched upon
a frame, served me for a bed, and I had
raised the ground, so as to protect myself
against dampness. The roof, flat and slightly
inclined, I used as a terrace, to which I
mounted by a ladder of cane, the steps of
which were fixed with strips of lasso. In
the kitchen I dug a sort of fireplace, above
which I hung the meat I wished to roast.
As I was a long way from any lake, I sank
a well about two metres deep, into which
water flowed abundantly. Calfoucourah often
honoured me with his visits, and whenever
he came to my dwelling, he was good enough
to behave with as much kindness as when he
visited his own friends ; he never left without
inquiring about everything of which I could


stand in need, to send it to me imme-

His wives, then numbering thirty-two,
were charged, as part of their duty, to furnish
me with food, an attention which I was scru-
pulously careful to acknowledge by some slight
acts of kindness, which won for me all their
good graces.

Calfoucourah generally devoted to his

numerous family the whole of his time not

occupied by visitors and business. T7hen he

received company, he was mostly assisted by

two of his wives — one young, the other

aged. He shared his meals with the first,

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 10 of 15)