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

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the other being employed in keeping his-

pipe constantly full and lighted. She went

backwards and forwards without cessation,

transmitting orders from one to another, and

she saw to the distribution of the drink and

food amongst the visitors. Calfoucourah

was the father of numerous children, for

each of his wives had given him sons and



daughters ; but his great age not permitting
him to be very assiduous in his attentions to
those whom time had not yet withered, it
resulted that their infidelities kept his jealousy
constantly on the alert. As he enjoyed ex-
cellent sight, he stole noiselessly from his
tent almost every night, and prowled about
it, with the view of catching any of the
delinquents. Whenever he succeeded, he
struck them, as well as their accomplices,
either with a knife or a boleadora. When
he had served them in this manner, he re-
turned into his tent, and went to sleep as
if nothing extraordinary had occurred; but
on the following morning he sent for the
offenders, and had them brought before him :
the woman received a severe reprimand, the
man he condemned to pay a heavy ransom or
to die.

In spite of his one hundred and three
years of age, this old man rode a good deal,
and mounted his horse almost as actively as


younger men. He was very fond of hunting,
in which he still exhibited the greatest skill,
and. when occasion required, handled the
lance with as much dexterity as any one of
his soldiers. When he was surrounded
by a numerous auditory, his grave and
sonorous voice, rising above the noise
of the compact crowd, could be heard for
several consecutive hours; he only paused
time enough to inhale a few whiffs of

From want of positive knowledge, as
D'Orbigny himself has admitted, it has often
been supposed that the Patagonian tongue
is very limited, and even very rude ; that it
lacks terms for the complete expression of
a thought, of a fixed idea, and still more of
passion. This is a grave error. It must not
be imagined that the hunters of whom I speak,
although at one time isolated in virgin forests,
at another thrown into the midst of bound-
less plains, are unacquainted with elegant


forms of language, and ricli and varied
figures of speech; they express themselves,
on the contrary, according to circumstances,
with much clearness and even poetry. How
else could the indefatigable orators I have seen
among the Patagonians, the Puelches, and
also among the Pampeans and Mamouelches,
like Calfoucourah, of whom I have spoken
above, have so affected their hearers, and
animated them by their discourses ? Their
language, it is true, is composed of only a
limited number of words, of which some
serve them to express all the objects that
are constantly under their eyes ; another set
being simple conventional words which,
intermixed with the others, and intercalated
in different way, give expression to their
thoughts, and always express them com-
pletely, without gaps or imperfections.

The Indians know perfectly well how to
count ; they employ nouns of number which
they class by tens, like ourselves. They


reach in this way to a hundred, and from a
hundred to a thousand, etc. Their units
are : —

Quinie (one), opouh (two), colah (three),
melly (four), quetchou (five), cayou (six),
reulley (seven), pourah (eight), ailliah (nine),
Mary (ten), mary- quinie (eleven), mary-opouh
(twelve), mary-colao (thirteen), mary-melly
(fourteen), mary-quetchou (fifteen), mary-
cayou (sixteen), rnary-reulley (seventeen),
mary-pourah (eighteen), mary-ailliah (nine-
teen), opouh-mary (twenty).

Although they can neither read nor
write, they solve almost instantaneously
arithmetical calculations which would take
us a long time to accomplish. For this pur-
pose they use either blades of grass, small
pieces of wood of different lengths, or still
oftener stones of various sizes. The shortest
or smallest represent units, the longest or
largest stand for tens ; and they are never
wrong in their reckonings, however intri-


cate they may be. They teach this science
to their children at the earliest age, so that,
thanks to their prodigious memory, men,
women, and children, without exception,
are capable of astonishing our best calcu-

They count the years from one winter to
another ; they call them tcliipandos, and sub-
divide them into moons, which they name
qi denes. If they wish to speak of the moon in
which they then are, they say tefa-tchi-quiene ;
or of the coming moon, they say, quiene-
oalah. In place of hours, they calculate past
or passing time by the course of the sun ;
morning or dawn, they call pouli-liouene ;
noon or mid-day, renny-enneteu ; evening,
epey-poune ; night, poune. Notwithstanding
these facilities for reckoning the exact dura-
tion of their lives, the Indians do not trouble
themselves about the matter; it is only done
for the caciques of each respective tribe.
They have also some little knowledge of


astronomy, and are perfectly able to find
their way in the night by the help of the
stars, to which they give particular names.
This study aided me in my flight.



At certain periods of the year the Indians
keep religious festivals. The first takes
place in the summer, and is consecrated to
Vita-ouenetrou (the God of goodness), for
the purpose of thanking him for all his past
favours, and of begging him to continue
them in the future.

It is generally the grand cacique who
fixes the date and duration of the festival.
Acting upon his orders, all the chiefs of the
tribes bring together the people under their
command, either in their respective localities
or at some stated place.

The preparations are made with all the
religious pomp of which they are capable ; the


Indians grease their hair and paint their faces
with greater care than usual. The garments
of the rich, during these high days, are com-
posed of all the articles they have stolen
from the Christians, for which purpose they
have been preserved with the utmost care.
Some are dressed in shirts, which they wear
over the cloaks which cover their bodies ;
others, having no shirts, wear with pride,
and to the admiration of all, a worn-out
Spanish cloak or a very short waistcoat,
without the accompanying trousers; while
others, again, dressed in trousers only — and
those often with the hind- side before — wear
on their heads kepis without peaks, or high-
crowned hats, and on their feet sometimes
one boot, sometimes one shoe. Nothing is
more comic than these strange accoutre-
ments, worn by men whose habitual gravity
is maintained as long as the festival lasts —
laughter being expressly forbidden during
the whole time of its continuance.


At the commencement of the ceremony,
the women move their tents provisionally to
the centre of the spot chosen by the cacique.
The men do not arrive until these prepara-
tions are finished ; they ride three times
round the place at full gallop, shouting their
war-cry and shaking their lances. These
three rides ended, they range themselves in
single file, and tilt their lances with such
perfect regularity as to make it a striking
sight. The women afterwards take the places
of their husbands, who, after dismounting
and tying up their horses, form a second
rank behind them.

The dance then commences, without
change of place, except from right to left.
The women sing in a plaintive tone, accom-
panying themselves by striking on a wooden
drum covered with wild-cat skin, and deco-
rated with colours and designs similar to
those on their faces. The men pirouette,
limping upon the opposite leg to that of the


women, and blowing with all their might
into pieces of hollowed rush, giving the
shrill and ear-splitting sound of a large key.

This ensemble produces a most original
effect, from the contrariety of the movements
executed, and the angularity of the dancers.
At a signal given by the cacique presiding
over the festival, cries of alarm are raised,
the men spring into their saddles, abruptly
interrupting the dance to take part in a fan-
tastic cavalcade round the site of the festival,
all waving their weapons, and raising the
sinister cry they utter in their pillages.

In the intervals of these exciting diver-
sions everybody goes visiting, in the hope of
tasting a little rotted milk kept in a horse-
hide ; it is a most dainty dish, according to
their notion, producing, however, the plea-
sant effect of a copious dose of medicine.

At a very early hour on the fourth day,
to close the ceremony, a young horse, an
ox, and two sheep, given by the richest men


amongst them, are sacrificed to their God.
After they have been thrown upon the
ground, the head turned towards the east,
the cacique names a man to make an open-
ing in the chest of each victim, and tear
out the heart, which, still palpitating, is
hung upon a lance inclined towards the
rising sun. The whole crowd, eager and
curious, watch with fixed eyes the blood
which flows from a wide incision made in
this organ, drawing from it auguries which
are almost always favourable to themselves.
After that they return to their place of habi-
tation, believing that God, .highly satisfied
with their conduct, will assist them in all
their enterprises.

The second festival takes place in the
autumn ; it is celebrated in honour of
Houacouvou (director of the evil spirits).
The object of it is to conjure him to preserve
them from all enchantment.

As in the first festival, the Indians dress


themselves in their best, and assemble by-
tribes only, each headed by its cacique. An
assemblage of all the cattle takes place en
masse. The men form a double circle around,
galloping unceasingly in opposite directions,
so that none of these unruly animals may
escape. They invoke Houacouvou aloud,
throwing down, drop by drop, fermented milk
out of bull's-horns handed to them by their
wives while they are riding round the cattle.
After repeating this ceremony three or four
times, they sprinkle the horses and oxen with
whatever remains of the milk, with the view,
they say, of preserving them from all maladies ;
this done, each man separates his own cattle,
and drives it to some distance, then returns for
the purpose of assembling round the cacique,
who, in a long and fervid address, advises
them never to forget Houacouvou in their
prayers, and to lose no time in preparing
themselves to please him, by carrying deso-
lation amongst the Christians, and increasing


the number of their own flocks and herds.
Everybody recognizing the wisdom of such
advice, waves his weapons while beseeching
Houacouvou to bless them, and make them in
their hands instruments of happiness to their
tribes, and death to the Christians who at-
tempt to dispute with them their goods or
their lives.

These beings have no feeling of pity ; the
more victims they make the prouder they
become. They look upon civilized beings as
sorcerers and enemies. They accuse them of
being the cause of all the ills that befal

Before the appearance of ouignecaes, they
say, we lived peaceably in all parts of the land
that has been forcibly taken from us, without
any respect for the will of God who caused us
to be born in it, and gave it to us, to be our
own property. To whom do these oxen
and horses — natives like ourselves of this
country — belong, if not to us ? Teouas-


ouignecaes (these dogs of Christians) have
not spared us ; not only have they despoiled
us of our possessions, but, in their hunger
for gold, they have not feared to bathe their
hands in our blood. They will for ever be our
enemies ; we shall struggle with them to the
death, until we get back by degrees what
they robbed us of at one stroke. Why have
these dogs of Christians dared to come here
instead of remaining in their own country ?
God commands us to harass their tran-
quillity, and oppose the success of their
projects ; he commands us to seize their
wives and children, and to make them our

Such are the opinions of these beings
whom we call savages.

The Indians believe in talismans. They
consider and preserve as such many insig-
nificant objects, as balls of hardened hair
which they find in the bodies of oxen, or the
masses of gravel which form themselves in the


kidneys of those horses which have, mostly,
nothing but calcareous water to drink. The
high chief, Calfoucourah, carries about with
him a very curious relic, which he found when
a young child. It is a small blue stone, the
name of which he bears, to which nature had
been pleased to give an almost human form ;
the superstition of the Indians induces them
to regard it as a talisman. According to
them, Houacouvou caused it to fall into his
hands, that it might preserve him from all
danger, and render him invincible. To it
they attribute all the success of Calfou-
courah. What confirms them in this belief
is the really exceptional organization of the
chief, and his intelligence, very superior to
that of all the other caciques, who agree in
saying that they shall not be able to replace
him. Even the Hispano-Americans, to whom
he has done so much harm, recognize and
admire his bravery and abnormal capacity.
This man, I am convinced, would not have


been the enemy of civilization, for he was
gifted with generous instincts. He had the
sentiment of justice, but unfortunately for the
Argentines, to whom his submission would
have been the source of great riches, their
want of skill and inconsistency in policy
have warped his friendly disposition. To
preserve complete authority over the wild
beings he commanded, and may still com-
mand, perhaps, he was obliged to repress all
the better feelings of his heart. However,
I owe my life to him ; and the day when he
saved me, by overruling the demands of
those who had sworn to kill me, was not the
only proof I received of his generosity.

Many times during my sojourn with him,
when we were alone together, he employed a
very different kind of language from that
which he used before witnesses, and lavished
on me marks of the greatest sympathy. He
made me understand perfectly that I must
not take it to heart when he was rough



with me, for that it was often but the result
of violence done to himself in resisting the
desire to be of use to me, which was in-
compatible with his position, and with the
surveillance kept over him by the other
Indians ; he added that, if ever I regained
my liberty through any unforeseen circum-
stances, he earnestly hoped that I would
remember him as a sincere friend. I must
say, however, that in spite of all his pretty
speeches and marks of sympathy, which I
was obliged to receive with an appearance of
blind credulity, I well knew that the most
implacable hatred alone would find a place in
this Indian's heart, if I suffered him to see
the eager desire I felt to regain my freedom.

Nevertheless, I affected to appear very
grateful for all his kind attentions, at the
same time trying to merit them so long as I
remained with him. To give him a proof of
this, I one day proposed to him to sow a
whole sack of maize which had been carried


off in an expedition into Buenos Ayres. This
offer pleased him immensely ; we chose toge-
ther a suitable spot, and, every morning at
dawn, I went to work. First, I dug a ditch,
wide enough to prevent the cattle getting into
the field.

Calfoucourah came two or three times
every day, watching my work and encou-
raging me. He made me smoke his pipe,
and called me his son. When I had com-
pleted the ditch, which was at least one
metre fifty wide, and two metres deep, he took
me with him into a roukah, and, after having
made me partake of his meal, presented me
with a cloak; though half worn out, this
article caused me the greatest delight, for it
was the first piece of clothing I had possessed
since the commencement of my captivity.

I had already done a good deal in digging
the ditch, but my greatest difficulty was to
find a means of breaking up this hitherto
untilled ground. To do this I needed a


plough. I should, no doubt, have been re-
duced to the necessity of turning up the earth
with my clumsy spade, and should have made
but very slow progress with that fatiguing
labour, if I had not had the good fortune to
find in the neighbourhood an old hatchet,
which I was able to sharpen. With the help
of this instrument I cut down a small tree,
one of the branches of which grew at an
acute angle with the trunk, the extremity
of which I cut into the form of a share.
Amongst the cattle were two draught oxen,
which I harnessed as well as I could to this
rough plough. By perseverance I succeeded
tolerably in ploughing the field, which was
about five hundred square metres. When I
had sown the corn, I loaded a stout ox-hide
with stones, to which I harnessed three
horses, and used it instead of a harrow.
Nature having taken care to do the rest, I
soon saw a large quantity of stems of maize
spring up, which in a short time gave a mag-


nificent crop. This success completely secured
me the friendship and good graces of Cal-
foucourah, and of his thirty-two wives, who
appeared to redouble their attentions and

One dav, when about to kill an ox with
a single blow of a sharp-pointed knife in
the nape of the neck, as I was in the habit
of doing, the lasso by which he was fastened
snapped ; I missed my stroke, and was
trampled by the furious and wounded animal,
from under which I was with difficulty
dragged, bleeding and bruised. While he
belaboured my body with his horns I had lost
consciousness ; when I recovered my senses
I was lying on sheep-skins, my head resting
on the knees of one of the grand cacique's
wives, who lavished on me the tenderest care,
and seemed, as well as all the Indians by
whom I was surrounded, delighted to see me
returned to life.

I was some time recovering from the


consequences of this terrible accident, in
which I was very nearly losing an eye, for I
had one eyelid torn.

Notwithstanding all the obliging atten-
tions of the Indians, and all my diplomacy,
I was not completely safe from their ill-
treatment; for the superstition and fickle-
ness of these suspicious beings often drove
them to make me expiate what, in their
angry moments, they called their inexcusable
weakness regarding me.

Though it was not Calfoucourah's habit
to be accompanied when he travelled, except
by his sons or by me, he none the less re-
ceived with marks of the greatest satisfaction
all those who presented themselves to act as
escort to him.

In consequence of his great age, this
chief rarely himself led the Indians to pillage.
He contented himself with giving them his
orders or advice to overrun one place rather
than another. But when, occasionally, he


allowed himself to be carried away by his
bellicose impulses, and led his soldiers, he
took with him his principal valuables, con-
sisting of silver spurs and stirrups, and
the greater part of his wives. There ended
all distinction between himself and the com-
mon Indians, who alone took part in the
combat. His rights did not go so far as to
entitle him to take any portion whatever of
the plunder ; but as he was generally beloved
and venerated, every one made it his pride
to offer him presents of the most beautiful
animals carried off, or still oftener to give
him some of their captives, which he gene-
rally sold at a low price to Indians belonging
to distant tribes.

Calfoucourah inhabited a vast tent abun-
dantly supplied with all things that conduce
to make the Indian comfortable ; and under
his fragile roof a European would certainly
have found a great deal of riches thrown
carelessly together.


I had lived for upwards of six months
with this man, when the Indians felt anew
the necessity of treating with one or other
of the Hispano-American political parties,
whose watchfulness, becoming more and
more active, threw increasing difficulties in
the way of their terrible invasions.

They ventured to make pacific advances
towards both, the result greatly influencing
my destiny.



Fortunately for the united republics of La
Plata, they then had at their head a man on
whom I shall arrest the eyes of the reader
for an instant, were it only to recompense
him for the grinning, grotesque, or hideous
faces I have hitherto described.

Don Justo-Jose Urquiza, born at Con-
ception de 1'Uraguay, in the Entre-Rios, is
entirely a self-made man. Sprung from the
ranks of the people, a simple gaucho, as he
is proud of declaring, having never received
any instruction besides that of his own expe-


rience, lie has little by little cleared a path for
himself by the strength of his character and
the superiority of his intelligence. His rare
military talents secured him the favour of
Rosas, who advanced him rapidly and soon
made him his right-hand man. Urquiza
believed for a time that the Dictator only
opposed Confederation to enable himself to
accomplish some great end, perhaps to save
the independence of his country. But he
was not long in unravelling the motives of
that crafty and distrustful policy. As soon
as he perceived that his patriotism was
taken advantage of, in order to benefit a nar-
row personal ambition, he turned against the
Dictator, accusing him of violating the Con-
stitution and of attempting to overthrow
the national liberties. Rosas had many
times feigned a disinterestedness which he
was far from feeling. At skilfully calcu-
lated periods he spoke with truly touching
modesty, sometimes of his advanced age,


sometimes of his shattered health, and asked
to be allowed to resign a power of which, he
said, he could no longer bear the burden.
But the old lion who had always seen the re-
presentatives tremble before him, well knew
that none of them would dare to accept his
resignation. The assembly was accustomed
to implore his devotion, and to wring from
him, by ardent supplication, a glorious

These empty adulations passed in foreign
courts for the expression of public senti-
ment. Urquiza chose the moment when,
in 1851, the Dictator attempted to repeat
this shameless piece of acting ; he issued a
proclamation in which he declared Rosas to be
stripped of the executive power, and placed
himself at the hea<J- of a party seeking at
once the reunion of the provinces in one con-
federation, and the free navigation of the
waters of La Plata.

He had assured himself beforehand of


the support of Brazil, the dearest interests
of which country were served by his policy.
The rivers having their sources in the north
of that empire afforded access, by means of
the Atlantic, to a considerable portion of its
territory, including some of its richest pro-
vinces. Brazil had often demanded of .Rosas
the passage of the Plata. To obtain this
concession it had in vain exhausted all the
resources of diplomacy. Urquiza came a
apropos. The traditional antagonism of the
Spaniards and Portuguese gave way before
the necessity of opening to the commerce of
the world the Parana, the Uruguay, the
Paraguay, and their tributaries.

Brazil rallied to the cause of Urquiza, and
furnished him with whatever was required to
insure its triumph. The first movement of
Urquiza was directed against Oribe, who, sus-
tained by the troops of Rosas, had for nine years
blockaded Monte Video, and only waited the
moment when the intervention of France and


England should cease to take possession of it.
Meanwhile, Oribe was ruining Monte Yideo, '
for he had, by small degrees, raised about
his camp a rival city, Eestoracione, which
already numbered ten thousand inhabitants.

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 11 of 15)