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

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skin, the ostrich-feathers, and leather of all
kinds, which they might readily exchange,
would in themselves suffice to enrich the
Pampeans if they were not so inconstant.
The overtures for peace which they so
frequently repeat are made with no other


view than to get tobacco, sugar, verba, and
strong liquors gratis. As soon as they see
their store of provisions diminishing, they
return anew to hostilities and recommence
their terrible invasions, resulting in the ruin
and death of large numbers of people.

In their expeditions the Indians spare
old women no more than men ; they mur-
der all, with the exception of the young girls,
whom they make their wives, privileged to
some extent on the score of affection. Of
the young children they make slaves, to
whose care they confide their flocks, when
they do not sell them to the Indians of
distant tribes, either to the Mamouelches or
to the Araucanians, who, in the annual visits,
bring them roughly-made silver spurs and
stirrups, in exchange for which they willingly
sacrifice the greater part of their flocks, and
even their captives. The Araucanians gene-
rally exchange their stirrups and spurs, the
intrinsic value of which does not exceed


twenty or thirty piastres (four to six pounds
sterling) against fifteen to sixteen oxen,
which they sell at from twenty-five to thirty
piastres each in Chili. As none of them ever
venture to cross the Cordilleras without a
certain number of these objects, besides a
stock of indigo (ami), stuff for mantles
(pilqiienes) , tools for tattooing, and beads
of divers colours (ciientas), to exchange,
it may be imagined what their riches must
be, since they never go back to their own
country without taking with them from
three to four hundred horned cattle and a
large number of horses, which they sell to
equal advantage.

The Araucanians, though they have the
same origin as the Patagonians, the Puelches,
the Pampeans, and the Mamouelches, lead an
existence materially different, forced upon
them by the restriction of their territory, and
the impossibility of overrunning the provinces
of Chili, the frontiers of which are better


guarded than those of the Argentine Republic.
Instead of living in the nomad state, like the
Indians of the eastern coast, the Araucanians
are grouped in villages, and inhabit wooden
houses sufficiently large to contain several
families. They are very ingenious and labo-
rious. They cultivate maize (ouah) and
wheat (cevada), also several kinds of vege-
tables — potatoes (ponnieux), onions (ceboyats),
haricots (porotos). They grow both sweet
and water melons of great size, and almost
as abundantly as apricots, plums, and crab-
apples, on which they feast copiously. They
generally eat their meat fried or roasted,
meurheh, or maize-flour baked on a grill, to
which milk or horse-fat has been added. In
spite of these appearances of civilization,
they regale themselves with pleasure on raw
liver and kidneys served up with dotted

There are two groups of population,
very distinct from each other, in Araucania,


generally designated in Chili, as well as in
tlie province of Buenos Ayres, Upper and
Lower Araucania.

The first is composed of Indians and
Spaniards. It is well known that the Indians
who compose it are easy and agreeable to
deal with, that they like to mix their blood
in marriage with that of Christians, which
does not always prevent their living free of
all yoke in the neighbourhood of Santiago,
Construccion, Nacimiento, Las Angles, and
Talca, where they still sometimes throw
themselves en masse into political dissensions.
Good Indians as they are, they have preserved
the taste for pillage. Nevertheless, they are
very hospitable, and any one may fearlessly
go amongst them. It is not the same in
Lower Araucania, which is peopled by beings
much more primitive, in whose eyes the
Christian, of whatever nation he may be, is
an enemy, against whom they cannot find
too many means of exercising their ferocity.


Sucli are the Patagonians of Araucania,
though, separated from these last by the Cor-
dilleras. They have the greatest repulsion
to everything resembling civilization.

Woe to the poor Christians who fall into
their hands, for to their families they may
be reckoned as dead ! Among numerous
examples which might be cited in support of
this assertion, the following, from its authen-
ticity, is unquestionable.

Sometime before his premature death had
thrown the scientific world into mourning,
Monsieur Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who had
honoured me with his friendship, told me
that he considered as for ever lost to his
family, one of his relatives, who had fallen
into the hands of the Indians of Lower
Araucania. While deploring this terrible mis-
fortune, he told me how much he wished that
his relative had been kept prisoner in Upper
Araucania, whence it would have been easy
to have rescued him.


Araucania, therefore, as well as Patagonia,
has its dark legends.

As to the Pampeans, they are essentially
hunters, and become, so to speak, more and
more nomadic, from their habit of nourishing
themselves on the flesh of their horses, during
the long and rapid journeys they make. They
never hesitate to travel five or six hundred
leagues to devastate the Hispano- Americans.
Extremely rich in flocks and herds, these
Indians might easily do without hunting ;
but as it is a great diversion to them, they
pursue it all the year, with most ardour, how-
ever, during the months of August and Sep-
tember, the spring time of the southern
hemisphere. At this season they make an
ample provision of young game, of which
they are extremely fond, or of partridge and
ostrich-eggs. They are very clever at catching
young gamas alive, with which they amuse
the children, to whom also they give par-
tridge-eggs for nourishment ; while those of


the ostrich, which are less delicate, are eaten
in common by the family. They break them
in the same way as ourselves, in making
" eggs in the shell," and cook them by
placing them upright in the dung embers,
taking care to mix the yolk and the white
during the progress of the cooking. These
eggs are always found in great numbers. The
Indians eat only those that are even in number,
and turn up their noses at the others, which
they maintain have not been fecundated.*

To hunt the ostrich and the gama, the
Indians assemble in great numbers, under
the direction of a cacique who fills the func-
tions of chief huntsman. He despatches the
hunters in parties in different directions, so as
to surround a space of two or three leagues ;
each of these, on reaching the place assigned
to it, burns, as a signal, some dry grass.
^SThen all are at their posts, at a new signal
given by the chief, they spread themselves in

* Note E.


a line, and move slowly towards the centre of
the circle formed by themselves, nntil the
distance between each becomes not more
than seven or eight horse-lengths. They
then stop, their locayos (boleadoras) in hand.
In obedience to their cries, nnmerous wild
dogs, which accompany them, spring forward
to harass the surrounded ostriches and
gamas. Closely followed and often bitten,
these animals try to escape through the
narrow openings left between the hunters
for the purpose of enabling them to cast a
multitude of balls, which rarely miss their
mark. The captured animals are skinned
with incredible dexterity, giving to the
hunters the opportunity of continuing the
exercise until the contracting circle brings
the crowd of Indians together. The hunters
very rarely return to their families without
having taken seven or eight head of gam®,
the blood of which they drink with de-
light, and is the only nutriment they take


during the hunt, which lasts two-thirds of
a day.

After the hunt the skins of the divers
animals killed are stretched out on the ground
by the aid of bone pegs. As soon as they are
dry they are salted, to preserve the fur from
injury. They are kept by the Indians, as
well as the ostrich feathers, to be exchanged,
at the first opportunity, for sugar, yerba,
tobacco, and alcoholic liquors, of which they
are very fond.

The Indian population tends to decrease
every year ; but this decay falls more particu-
larly on the Pampeans and the northern
tribes, among whom the women are a mi-
nority, in consequence of the terrible wars
made on them by the gauchos of Rosas, as I
have already said. On many occasions the
Indians were put to flight, and took refuge
in the lower chain of the Cordilleras nearest
to Chili, in the neighbourhood of the Arau-
canians. Their wives having no homes, and


seeing themselves every moment in danger
of being captured by the Argentines, aban-
doned their husbands, and fled into Arau-
cania. The small number of them who had
the courage to remain faithful to their hus-
bands the Pampeans, whose present state is
that of warfare against the Spaniards, was
very far from sufficient when they returned to
inhabit their old track of country. And, in
spite of the great number of women they
have since captured, and daily carry off, at
most there is not more than one to four or
five men.

Among the Araucanians, on the contrary,
the number of the women is much larger
than that of the men. The manners of the
Indians permitting them to possess several
wives, some of the men have five or six, and
the Grand Cacique, Calfoucourah, with whom
I lived, has as many as thirty-two. It results
from this disproportion of numbers between
the sexes 5 that most of the Indians, too poor


to possess the luxury of a companion, are
compelled to remain single. They have no
intimacies but with those who are free, and
who may without reproach grant them their
favours. One cannot but be a little surprised
to know that, in spite of this strange cus-
tom, once married, the women become faith-
ful to their husbands, and very attentive to
their home duties.

Amongst all the peoples whose principal
traits I am recalling, marriage is considered,
quite as much as among ourselves, an im-
portant act, the source of a respectable and
happy life. It is effected in the form of
traffic, or the exchange of divers objects and
animals against a woman.

An Indian is always satisfied when he
meets with a future wife on the eve of be-
coming a mother. The parents part with
their daughter only to the richest and most
generous purchaser.

When an Indian is desirous of contracting


a union, and lias cast his eyes on some girl
of the neighbourhood, he visits in turn all her
relatives and friends ; he imparts to them
his desire, and begs them to lend him their
assistance in carrying his project to a favour-
able issue. They each, according to their
position as relatives or friends, give him their
advice and approbation in a very long dis-
course appropriate to the circumstances, and
help him with some kind of gift. These
presents generally consist of horses, silver
stirrups or spurs, and a few pieces of cloth,
the product of their pillages.

At a meeting which takes place before
the celebration of the marriage, the relatives
and friends of the future wife fix the day when
the demand for her hand shall be made. The
night before the day fixed on, they all put
on their handsomest ornaments, and g-o to
the suitor's, with the view of secretly posting
themselves in proximity to the dwelling of
the coveted girl, so as to be able, as soon as


daylight appears, to surround her parents,
and make the demand for her hand in terms
the most pressing, touching, and poetical ;
they refrain from mentioning the name of
the suitor until the moment when they see a
chance of success. During this time the
future spouse remains out of sight with all
his presents, according to the rules of de-
corum. After a very long enumeration of
the qualities of their daughter — an ocular
though invisible witness of this ceremony,
and who is obliged to shed abundant tears —
the parents do not fail to exhibit great re-
pugnance and pain at separating themselves
from their child ; they end by consulting her
wishes, reserving the right of accepting or
refusing th^ overture which is beins; made to
them, in case it should not prove sufficiently
advantageous. At this moment the suitor
arrives, and the sight of the presents in-
tended for them nearly always secures the
consent of these avaricious creatures, and


tlieir arrogant pride disappears under a sup-
pressed smile of satisfaction. The rest of the
day is spent in company, each member of the
family hastily carrying off whatever present
he has received. A young fat mare, given
and sacrificed by the bridegroom, prepared
by all the women, and served by the bride,
furnishes a succulent banquet, washed down
by numerous libations of water. Xone of
the guests are on any account permitted to
absent themselves during the continuance of
this feast, at the end of which nothing of
the devoured animal must be left but the
skin and bones. The latter, well gnawed,
are collected by the parents of the married
couple, and buried by them in a chosen spot,
as an evidence, and in remembrance of, the
union which, from that moment, is considered

After this obligatory ceremony, the whole
assembly accompanies the newly-married pair
in great pomp to their home, where a repe-


tition of the feast of the morning takes
place. The young woman's parents, bring-
ing with them the skin of the mare devoured
in the morning, speedily arrive at the dwell-
ing of their son-in-law, hand it to the young
housekeeper, and assist him to construct a

During the following days, a crowd of
visitors, drawn by curiosity, present them-
selves in the home of the young couple, and
congratulate them mutually on their happy
choice. Each one makes pressing inquiries
of the woman as to the qualities or defects
of her husband, and of him as to those of
his better-half. Their questions take a wide
range, and are incredibly indiscreet, appa-
rently without being found in the least in-
delicate. On the contrary, the young married
people seem flattered by this evidence of
interest. The Indians are very deceitful;
thus, the wife, as much for motives of policy
as to acquire the reputation of being good


and amiable, herself hands to all her visitors
meat, water, or tobacco, addressing to them,
while doing so, a few polite and flattering
words, garnished with a gay smile, and doing
the same even to her enemies, when she has

If it happens that the husband and wife
cannot sympathize after a cohabitation more
or less long, they separate amicably, the
parents making no difficulties in restoring
the objects they received from the husband,
who, out of generosity, always leaves them
a portion as compensation for the prejudice
he may have occasioned, by separating them
from their daughter, and by sending her
back to them without children. She may
then be again asked in marriage, and con-
tract a new union.

It is the habit of the Indians to be
extremely severe with their wives in the
early portion of their marriage ; some push
this to the extent of actual cruelty, striking


them with their boleadoras, to make them,
they say, humble and submissive. The wife
must respect and extol all the acts of her
husband, and keep silent when he speaks.
Some wives, however, refuse to submit to
this humiliation, and continually draw down
ill-treatment upon themselves. The boldest
of them free themselves from such violence
by sudden separation. They complain to
their parents, who arm themselves and take
her back by main force, which becomes the
source of implacable hatred on both sides ;
for the husband not only loses his wife, but
two-thirds of what he has given to obtain her
is retained.

When the ill-treatment inflicted by the
Indian on his wife is based on her infidelity,
the man preserves all his rights and
authority; he can put her and her accom-
plice to death, but, being generally very
avaricious, he prefers to retain his wife and
ransom the delinquent, who has the right of


purchasing his life when his means permit of
his doing so ; but it often happens — I have
myself been a witness of it — that, without
rhyme or reason, the accusation has been
made on the ground of calculation and
avarice, from the entanglements of which
the accused has not been able in any way
to extricate himself.

From the moment the husband has
received satisfaction, he is forbidden to
address to his wife any remark on the
subject of her illicit conduct; he would
expose himself to the reproaches of her
family, in case he further ill-used her on that

When an Indian, moved by the desire of
contracting a union, fails in his project, those
who have accompanied him make his cause
their own, and abuse the family which has
declined their overtures. Yery often these
wrangles result in a frightful melee.

The Indians never spare their wives any


labour, even during the latest period of their
pregnancy ; they are to be seen ceaselessly
occupied with one thing or another up to
the very moment of their deliverance, which
takes place with surprising facility — a facility
with which they have been endowed by that
divine Providence which takes care of the
most wretched. When they feel their child
about to come into the world, they go to the
water-side, and bathe themselves and it as
soon as it has seen the day. They never
require assistance in these circumstances, so
difficult for European women; but as soon
as they are delivered, continue the course of
their daily occupations without any illness
ever resulting from such treatment.

Among these almost primitive creatures,
children are not nearly so numerous as
might be imagined, for the existence of the
new-boru infant is submitted to the judgment
of the father and mother, who decide on its
life or death.


Their superstition makes them regard
as divinities all phenomenal children, prin-
cipally such as are born with a larger
number of fingers or toes than is natural to
them. According to their belief, it is a
presage of great happiness for their family.
As to those that are altogether deformed —
such cases are very rare — or whose con-
stitution does not appear to fit them for the
kind of life they would have to lead, they
make away with them, either by breaking
their limbs or smothering them ; they then
carry them to a distance and abandon them,
without burial, to the wild dogs and birds of
prey. If the innocent little creature is con-
sidered worthy to live, it becomes from that
instant the object of the whole love of its
parents, who, if necessary, will submit them-
selves to the greatest privations to satisfy
its least wants or exactions. They place
their new-born on a small ladder, which
serves it instead of a cradle. The upper


portion of its little body rests on the cross-
pieces or rounds ranged close together, and
covered with a sheep-skin, while the lower
part is enclosed in a sort of hollow formed
by other cross-pieces below the uprights.
The child is held in this position by soft
cords wound above the skins which serve it
instead of linen.

The length of the cradle exceeds that of
the infant by about a foot at either extremity.
To the four corners other cords are attached,
serving to suspend it horizontally during the
night above the father and mother, who, by
means of another cord, are enabled to rock
the little creature without disturbing them-
selves. Every morning these infants are set
at liberty for as long as is required to attend
to their cleanliness ; or often, when the sun
shines, their mothers lay them out on a
sheep-skin, that they may gain the strength
and vigour communicated to them by that

benignant luminary. When it rains, or when



it is cold, they remain swaddled in the
interior of the roukah; they are placed
upright, their backs against one of the
supports of the tent, the same as a ladder
rested against a wall. Their mothers remain
in front of them, ceaselessly looking at them,
and frequently giving them the breast, or
often small pieces of bloody meat to suck.

The women suckle their children up to
three years of age : if they have others
during this time, they nevertheless continue
to nourish them, without either themselves
or the children suffering in any way. The
least caprices of these little creatures are
laws for their relations and friends, who,
following the example of the parents, submit
to all their wishes. Scarcely have these
infants begun to crawl on their hands, than
knives and other weapons are left within
their reach, which they unhesitatingly use to
strike whoever displeases them, to the great
satisfaction of their parents, who, in this


infant anger, see with satisfaction the pre-
cocious germ of qualities intended to make a
good enemy to Christianity.

The only illnesses to which these infants are

subject are pains in the limbs and a kind of

croup. The pains are treated with warm and

cold douches. The remedy employed by the

Indians for the cure of croup is extremely

violent : it consists of a mixture of urine

putrified in the sun, forming a sort of alkali,

and gunpowder, carried off in some pillage ;

or, in default of gunpowder, the alkali alone.

Not more than a spoonful is ever given to

the child. The effect of this violent remedy

immediately shows itself in the form of

vomiting, and the cure is generally complete

at the end of a few hours. Sometimes I

have seen children suddenly covered with a

rash, that smarted and itched so unbearably

as to make them utter loud cries and shed

tears abundantly. The mothers in these

cases hastened to rub the parts with the


hot aslies of cow -dung, moistening their
bodies from time to time with water that
had been held in the mouth. Judging by
the restless anxiety displayed by the Indian
women while treating their children in this
manner, I am inclined to think that they
greatly feared the consequences of these
eruptions, which, in fact, strongly resembled

At four years old, for the Indians reckon
by years, from one winter or one spring to
another, they submit their offspring, both
boys and girls, to the ceremony of piercing
their ears, which marks the same event in
their lives as baptism does with us. This
ceremony is performed as follows : — The
father makes a present to his child of a
brown-red horse, more or less spirited, ac-
cording to the sex of the child. This horse
is thrown down upon the ground, the feet
strongly tied, in the midst of numerous guests
in holiday costume, in the front rank of whom


figure all the relatives. The child, whose
whole body has been ornamented with
strange paintings, is laid upon the horse, its
head towards the east, either by the head of
the family or by the cacique of the tribe,
when he choses to honour the occasion with
his presence. The women, placed in the
second rank, intone a squalling and mono-
tonous chant, each strophe ending in a dull
and grave tone, intended to implore the
protection of God, During this time the
operation of boring the ears is effected with
a well- sharpened ostrich-bone. In each hole
the person presiding at the festival places a
piece of metal of sufficient weight to enlarge
the aperture and lengthen the ear. After
which, armed with the same ostrich-bone,
he makes an incision in the first joint
of the right hand, or in the right ham, of
each person taking part in the ceremony.
The blood which flows from the wound is
offered to Houacouvou, — the God controlling


the Evil Spirits, — to conjure him to accord
a happy and long life to the newly elect.
After which, as is the custom in all their
ceremonies, a fat mare furnishes the fare
offered to the assembled guests. The rib-
bones are by preference given to the nearest
or most intimate, who, after thoroughly

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 6 of 15)