Auguste Guinnard.

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

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me from the inclemencies of the season ; that
the ground, whether dry or welf rocks or
grass, would, by turns, be my bed ; that in
this kind of existence I should be as well off
as themselves, as I appeared to be made like
themselves ; finally, that they would treat me
well so long as I was useful and devoted to


them. To conclude the matter, he added bv
way of reflection, that Christians are block-
heads (ouesalmas), imbeciles (pofos), to
work for gold and cover themselves from
head to foot in inconvenient, extraordinary
and doubtless unwholesome, garments, fabri-
cated apparently with great trouble, to judge
by the material.

During the eight days we were moving
in a north-west direction, through a wooded
country that appeared to me delightful com-
pared with the spots I had hitherto lived in,
I was continually the object of conversation
among the Indians, who exhibited towards
me a kindness to which I was little accus-
tomed. The name of my country appeared
to me to have reached their ears for the first

Some of their questions convinced me of
their intelligence. They inquired with marks
of the greatest interest as to the form of our
government. Nothing, I confess, more as-


tonished and pleased me than hearing these
creatures, who knew nothing of laws or fixed
rules of civil government, by turns admire
or laugh at our civilization, of which I traced
so imperfect a picture for them.

I must say, to their honour, that I saw
them astonished at our genius, and recant
their first opinion, saying : " El-mey-ta-
onignecaes-gne-onelay " (''After all, these
Christians are not fools.")

Among these Indians every family, and
also every man, claims to be absolutely free.
All live in complete independence ; yet, in
spite of these views and manner of living, the
Poyuches,the Pampeans and the Mamouelches
divide themselves, as well as the Patagonians,
into a large number of tribes. Their frequent
intestine wars in past times — those which
they have sustained against their neighbours,
as in the present day, those which they wage
against the Hispano-Americans — have con-
stantly endangered their liberty, and they


have learned from simple necessity to form
themselves into more or less numerous
societies. They choose chiefs or caciques, a
sort of commanders, whom they regard rather
as their fathers and directors than as masters,
and with whom they stay, or from whom
they separate themselves, as they please.

To be raised to the dignity of cacique, a
man must have given striking proofs of his
valour, and the more a cacique is famous for
his exploits, the larger is his tribe. It is
thus that in the present day the Pampeans
and the Mamouelches, through having a great
number of caciques, voluntarily appoint a
privileged chief, Calfoucourah (Blue-stone).
This name came to him from his having, in
infancv. found a blue stone somewhat resem-
bling the human form in shape, from which
he is never separated : it is considered among
the Indians as a precious talisman to which
he owes his numerous successes.

Conversation was not the only distraction


which the grotesque language of my inter-
preter afforded me ; for during a great part
of the journey we hunted, and I was fortunate
enough to show some address in capturing
with the lasso, or the boleadora, youemes
(gamas), and tchoiquets (or nandous, the
ostriches of these latitudes), this exhibition of
skill appearing to make my new masters augur
well of my future services, and inducing them
to treat me with more consideration.

In proportion, however, as we approached
the place where the horde resided, I saw, not
without uneasiness, the regard of which I
had been the object throughout the journey
withdrawn from me. It was easy for me to
find out, by the conversation of the Indians,
that their manner of treating me had been a
deception, practised for the purpose of en-
gaging my attention sufficiently to keep me
from thinking of escape ; but that, as soon as
they were assured by the neighbourhood of
their tribes, they did not care to take any


trouble to conceal their true intentions
towards me. It was in this way that I
acquired the melancholy certainty of not
being better treated amongst them than I had
been by the barbarous Poyuches, the proud
Puelches, or the harsh Patagonians ; for by
one as much as the other I was considered
as an enemy become their slave, that is to
say, of a being over whom they had complete
right of life and death.

The last words they addressed to me
were counsels equivalent to threats, on the
subject of my future conduct. They never
tired of repeating to me, any more than my
first masters had done, that I owed them
deep gratitude for not having murdered me,
since I was an oidgnecae (Christian), which
all the Indians of this region considered a

At length we arrived. It was time the
journey was ended, for I was broken-down
with fatigue, and in a sad condition, as may


easily be imagined, considering that tin's was
the second journey only I had made on bony
steeds, as bare of covering as myself, and
going continually at a gallop under the burn-
ing sun.

My arrival in the midst of the horde was
an unexpected event, and I became anew the
object of general curiosity. To the children
and women who surrounded me, succeeded
a considerable influx of visitors eager to fix
in their memory the features of the ou'sah-
ouignecae (bad Christian), in order, should
it be needful, to oppose his flight. To the
most important personages my master did
not omit to repeat, with all sorts of amplifi-
cations, the account of the terrible struo-o-le
sustained by me and my companion against
our numerous and ferocious assailants, the
Poyuches. The indignation of each then
seemed to pass all bounds, and very often, on
leaving me, they addressed imprecations to
me or made threatening gestures.


At the end of a few days passed in this
manner, and when they considered that I
was sufficiently known, they made me resume
my function of guarding the herd. I was
submitted to the most rigorous surveillance,
continued night aud clay ; I could not move
a step without being accompanied ; I was
compelled to give an account of my melan-
choly and of my least gesture ; during the
night my short moments of sleep were still
exposed to be broken, for the superstition of
the Indians made them apprehensive of my
evasion, aud moved by this fear, they would
suddenly spring upon me, wake me suddenly,
and threaten me. At these trying moments
I was often greatly terrified, which being
always misinterpreted, was always followed
by ill-treatment.



The variations of climate in the Pampas are
most regular. It experiences a great difference
of temperature between summer and winter.
The latter season there is almost as cold as
the month of December in France. There
is no snow, however, but in the morning
the ground is always covered with hoar-
frost. Ice never becomes more than about
an inch and a half thick. - On the other
hand, the heat of summer is overwhelming.
At dawn the horizon forms a dark and dense
line, lit slowly by the rising sun ; the thick
grass of these immense plains is then seen to
give off a part of the beneficent morning
dew, which, in evaporation, produces most


singular effects of mirage. The strength of
the sun makes itself acutely felt in all living
creatures. The horses and wild oxen, by
which these plains are peopled, experience so
much fatigue as to give themselves up, like
the men, to a siesta that seems for all a rest
as natural as necessary.

Throughout the Pampas, sensible differ-
ences of atmosphere are found. In the
wooded regions of the Mamouelches, the air
is more dry; and in creatures of whatever
sort no appearance of perspiration is to be
found. I have many times seen animals
killed by heat lying on the arid plain, dried
in their skins ; but in the latitude of Buenos
Ayres and of White Bay, in seventy and
seventy-one degrees of latitude — regions in
which the most beautiful lucern-grass im-
aginable abounds — vegetation clearly shows
the moisture of the climate. The dews in
these regions resemble rather fine rain or
heavy mists. Dead animal flesh rapidly


decays there, and wounds are very difficult of
cure. Will it be believed, however, that, in
spite of this constant humidity, the Indians
all sleep almost naked on the ground without
ever being inconvenienced by it ?

The Pampeans have no more fixed resi-
dence than the Puelches or the Patagonians.
They wander from one spot to another,
according as the grass is consumed by their
cattle ; but they never quit any spot without
completing by fire the work of destruction
commenced by the animals. The Pampeans
formerly occupied the whole of the lands
between the different provinces of Buenos
Ayres, the Rio Colorado, and the Mamouel-
ches, which still form their western and
northern boundaries. However, they move
but very short distances. They confine them-
selves principally to the north-north-west
portion of the country, between the sixty-
eighth and sixty-ninth degrees of longitude,
and the thirty- third and thirty- eighth degrees


of latitude. It happens sometimes, however,
that they become mixed for a brief space
with the Mamouelches, or that they retreat
to a greater distance, especially when they
are apprehensive of some aggression. This
alliance takes place principally on their re-
turn from the great expeditions, in which
they give themselves up to the commission
of the most atrocious cruelties.

It must be presumed that these barba-
rians have, like ourselves, though unknown to
them, a conscience that speaks more power-
fully than their will, for they are often so
overtaken by terror that, for no other motive
than a nightmare, they will take to sudden
flight in the middle of the night, raising a
cry of alarm, following one another like
misled sheep, and frequently abandoning
spots where but a few hours before they had
considered themselves to be in the greatest
security. These flights completely resemble
routs, during which they leave behind them


on the road all the cattle they are unable to
drive before them at a gallop. The spots on
which their tents had been erected present a
most disgusting aspect after their departure —
veritable dog-kennels, on which are piled in
heaps the bones of the animals they have
devoured, fragments of rotting skins and tufts
of wool, emitting a foetid stench. In the
midst of all this nauseousness strut vultures
and hawks, coolly seeking any remnants of
putrid flesh yet remaining.

So great is the boldness of these birds,
that I have often had a thousand difficulties
to prevent them from taking their share of
the animals brought down by the Indians
and myself. I had not time to pick up my
knife, nor even to turn my game over to
finish skinning it, before these birds had
taken their places on the carcase. Some-
times I amused myself by throwing bleeding
morsels into the air, which they caught before
they reached the ground. I have also seen


them establish themselves on the sore backs
of horses or mules, and mangle them, in
spite of the contortions of the distressed and
furious victims, who, with close-laid ears and
straining backs, reared and convulsively
lashed their tails, to get rid of their

Formerly the Pampeans were much more
numerous than they now are, but they have
been greatly weakened by their incessant
wars with the Spaniards. Encouraged by
the impunity with which they have carried
on their sanguinary excursions, they give
themselves up to these excursions almost
constantly, and no longer fear to reside in
the neighbourhood of the Argentine pro-
vinces, west of the Sierra Ventana. They
are fond of this part of the country, both for
its proximity to the Hispano- Americans, and
for its incomparable fertility. They name
it Pouanemapo, or the land of Pouane, one
of their celebrated caciques, who was born


there, and died there valiantly in a night
surprise by Rosas' gauchos. It appears
certain that, used as the Indians were to
bloody contests, they had never sustained
one so furious and terrible as that of this
fatal night ; for brave and venturesome as
they may be, they seem to be struck with
stupor whenever the recollection of this
defeat is evoked. Not one amongst them
would dare to set foot in the country of
Pouane, into which, they say, Houacouvou
(God) has for ever forbidden them access
on pain of death.

The stature of the Pampeans is inferior
to that of the Puelches and to that of the
Patagonians. With few exceptions, they do
not average more than five feet eight to five
feet nine in height. Of all the Indian tribes,
they are the darkest in colour. They are a
full brown olive, some of them nearly black.
Their skin is very delicate on all parts oi
their bodies, and as soft and shining as satin #


They exhale a peculiar odour, which, though
far less strong than that of negroes, is yet
stronger than that of Europeans. Their skin
becomes brighter and more oily under the
action of the sun, as I easily convinced
myself by touch.

The forehead of the Pampeans bulges
slightly, but does not retreat ; their face is
flattened and long. In general, they have a
short, flat nose ; in some it is thin, long, and
hooked, like the beak of a bird of prey.
Their eyes are almost horizontal, but like the
Eastern Patagonians, their habit of pulling
out their eyebrows helps a good deal to give
them this aspect. They have all, without
exception, very prominent cheek-bones, very
large and gaping mouths, and thick lips.
Their teeth are like those of their neigh-
bours, the Puelches and the Patagonians,
that is to say small, very white, and beauti-
fully even. Their beard comes very late;
their hair is abundant, black as jet, and very


coarse. Some gather it up on the top of the
head ; others simply part it in two, and keep
it in its place by means of a piece of cloth or
a leathern thong; but in all their combats
they allow it to float over their faces, so as
not to see any danger that may threaten

The most regular types may now very
often be found amongst the Pampeans ;
these are the children of Indians and cap-
tives. These Indians are distinguished by a
degree of intelligence very superior to that
of all the other nomads, the Araucanians
always excepted. They station themselves
by choice for several months together on the
same spot. Their tents, like those of the
Puelches, are made of leather, but they are
more spacious and more regular. They ex-
hibit a certain order of arrangement, and
great cleanliness. These, however, do not
prevent their being covered with vermin.

The type of the women is, in some


respects, more disagreeable than that of the
men, whom they surpass in ugliness, as well
as greatly resemble. They are big also, but
yet not so big as one might imagine ; there
exists between their stature and that of men
disproportions not to be found between the
men and women of Europe ; but these dispro-
portions are not sufficiently general to establish
the difference. The tallest of these women
was not much more than one metre fifty-four
to fifty-five ; some, however, reach the height
of men, but the majority amongst them
are smaller. They exercise their physical
powers a great deal, handling the lasso
and boleadora with considerable skill. Their
shoulders are wide and square, enframing a
protruding and ungraceful bosom ; for they
are accustomed to stretch their breasts as
soon as they become mothers, to enable
them, they say, to offer a greater quantity
of milk to their infants. This usage is
applied even to milch-cows. Very much sur-


prised at the custom, I resolved to satisfy
myself as to its results ; I experimented on
a young cow whose milk I measured before
and after the operation. I became con-
vinced of the truth of the fact. The limbs
of the Pampeans are a little short, perhaps,
compared with the trunk, but generally full
and round.

The carriage of all Indian women is
most ungraceful, more particularly that of
the Pampeans, whom a certain sense of
decency obliges to seat themselves differently
from men, who squat in the Oriental
manner, with their legs crdssed under
them. The women double up the left
leg, the point of the foot resting on the
ground, then they seat themselves on the
heel, passing the right leg under the left
thigh, taking care to place the one foot flat
by the side of the other, so as to maintain
in equilibrium the close-pressed legs. This
fatiguing posture, to which they accustom


themselves from infancy, strains the left
haunch in an extraordinary manner, turns the
leg inwards, and causes them to limp on that
side. They have small hands, well made,
and rarely thin. Their joints, like those of
the men, are delicate ; their feet are small
but wide. If their forms are not beautiful,
they at least indicate great strength.

These savage women wrap themselves in
a piece of woollen stuff, most often fabri-
cated by themselves and artistically dyed.
This vestment covers them from the shoul-
ders to just above the knees — a sort of
bag or sheath, without grace or art, out
of which protrude their head, arms, and
legs. It is fastened at the upper part by
an enormous round silver brooch (toujpouh),
the flat and ill-formed face of which reminds
one strongly of the bottom of a tin sauce-
pan. About their hips, they wear a wide
waistbelt of undressed leather, ornamented
with designs in different colours, and with


the hair left on in parts, or very often with
large beads arranged artistically, and sewed
on with animal fibre. Their hair is sepa-
rated into two very long plaits, which some-
times hanof down to their heels, and to the
ends of which they suspend copper or silver

Some women content themselves with
rolling their plaits about their heads in the
form of a diadem, and tie them with bands
of red or yellow wool two inches wide ; all
wear heavy square earrings, which hang
down upon their shoulders.

The richest or highest in rank amongst
them wear also a leathern collar three
inches wide, and very solid, garnished on the
outside with small metal knobs, which they
make in the following manner : — In the first
place, they beat into plates the metal which
they are going to use ; next they cut out
small round pieces of equal size, and stamp
them with two horse-bones, one being hoi-


lowed, and serving for a matrix, the other
formed as a plug. Each spangle is per-
forated with two small holes, to enable it
to be sewn on to the leather. The width,
and complete absence of suppleness of this
singular ornament, which resembles a dog-
collar, prevents any motion of the head, and
gives a most comical expression of import-
ance to the face of the wearer.

The vounsfest make for themselves ankle
and wrist bracelets of many-coloured beads,
which they wear constantly ; and on festival
days, young and old wear in their hair a
sort of cap or net, made of blue and white
beads, which falls over their foreheads,
covers their cheeks, and keeps their plaits

The Pampean women are very active and
very attentive to their husbands, submitting
without murmuring to all their exactions.
Their husbands generally employ in rest all
the time not spent in hunting or in horse-


breaking. In changing residence, it is the
women who take care of all that concerns
the home in removing. Thev load the
horses, saddling that of their husband first,
then their own, on which they afterwards
place themselves with three or four children.
Thus equipped, they get the herd together
and drive it before them with the spears of
their lords and masters, who, mounted on
their best horses, and carrying nothing but
their lassos and boleadoras, devote themselves
on the road to the pleasures of the chase,
without appearing to take the least heed in
the world of their families, however attached
they may be to their children.

Arrived at the end of the journey, it is
still the women who unload the horses, and
as quickly as possible reinstate the tent,
under which their husbands stretch them-
selves while food is being prepared for them.
After having established order in the home,
and taken lavish care of the children, they


spin wool and weave cloaks for the whole
family, to rest themselves after the fatigues of
the day. It is truly curious to see the ability
and perfection which they display in these
manufactures ; they have no other looms
than those they make for themselves, which
are formed like a frame, on the two parallel
cross-pieces of which the web is tightly
stretched. The threads intended to form
the weft are wound on small pieces of pointed
wood which serve for shuttles ; in place of
the comb employed by our weavers, they
use a small piece of notched wood. These
tissues, in spite of the numerous imper-
fections of the tools possessed by these
women, really do them great honour, for
they will bear comparison with those pro-
duced by our manufacturers. They are
always tastefully decorated with regular and
original designs formed in wool of different
colours. During my long sojourn with this
tribe I saw several that were remarkable for


their fineness, but principally one, repre-
senting with rare perfection the portrait of
General Urquiza, to whom it was offered,
and who, not knowing in what other manner
to express his admiration of this work of
patience, covered it with gold pieces.

The Pampeans, to whom horse-exercise
is obligatory, mostly spring at a bound into
their saddles, which completely cover the
backs and shoulders of their horses. Only
the richest of them, or those who have been
most fortunate in pillaging, saddle their
horses in the manner of the gauchos.

The women ride in the same way as the
men, but their saddles are totally different.
They are in fact more like scaffolds, com-
posed of seven or eight sheep-skins piled on
the horse's back, and surmounted by two
rolls of rush (sahnas), covered with soft
leather, painted red and black ; the whole
is solidly fixed b$ two girths of undressed
leather. To get upon this apparatus, they


use a stirrup passed over the neck of the
horse, in the form of a shoulder-belt.

The Pampeans take more pains in divest-
ing themselves of hair than the Indians of
any other tribe ; they display also more
coquetry in the art of tattooing themselves.
Men and women help each other in this
occupation as well as in freeing the body and
head of the numerous insects by which they
are assailed, and which they eat while taking
their meals. These Indians possess kitchen
utensils, such as cast-iron pots (cha'ias), and
iron spits (cangnecaouets), the produce of
robberies. They partly cook their food. The
women, whose care it is, prepare meat in a
manner altogether peculiar : they boil some
water, into which they throw some pieces of
meat ; these, as soon as blanched, they serve
up in wooden bowls, with a little of the
savoury broth (caldo), highly salted, the whole
operation taking less than a quarter of an
hour to accomplish. I must add, however.


that I have seen well-roasted meat eaten ;
but their natural instinct leads them to
prefer their meat raw and bloody. They
devour with delight the lungs (caretone), the
liver [quells), and the kidneys (cousanoh) , all
bleeding, and they drink blood hot or curdled.
The men are highly industrious and
patient. Their skill exhibits itself in the
making of harness, which is much sought after
by the Hispano-Americans. The rich farmers
and caballeros take a certain pride in tricking
out their horses with these trappings. Their
reins, their stirrup-cords, and saddle-girths
are sometimes as supple and well plaited
as objects made in hair amongst us. These
articles, as well as the cloaks of guanaco-

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 5 of 15)