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

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picking them, place them at the feet of the
child, in this manner pledging themselves to
make it a present of some kind with the
shortest delay. The presents consist of
horses, oxen, cattle, spurs and stirrups of
silver, which constitute a dowry.

The serious education of the children
begins shortly after the ceremony of piercing
their ears. On attaining their fifth year they
mount by themselves on horseback, holding
on by the mane and resting their little feet
by turns on the joints of the right leg of
their steeds. What mostly happens is, that
the horses dart off like lightning, before
the riders have time to settle themselves in


their places. At this age the children become
very useful in guarding the cattle. They very
quickly become experts in the art of throwing
the lasso and boleadora ; next they learn to
handle the lance and the sling. So that, at
ten or eleven years of age, a time at which
they have certainly more manly appearance
and strength than a European at twenty or
five-and-twenty, their education being com-
plete, they take part in the excursions of the
tribes and participate in their razzias, in
which they generally display incredible teme-
rity and audacity.

Some wives follow their husbands in
these distant expeditions, notably those of
the caciques. The part they play consists in
collecting, with the assistance of their chil-
dren, the scattered flocks, and driving them
rapidly away, while the horde is engaged in
fighting with the soldiers or with the

Xo one can imagine what skijl and


bravery the Indians exhibit under these cir-
cumstances, though furnished with none but
the most primitive arms. They never fall
back before an army of regular troops ; the
fire of musketry, or even of cannon, does not
always suffice to repulse them in their attacks.
They move on horseback with so much ease
and promptitude, that often, when it has
been supposed that they have been overcome
by wounds, persons have been astonished to
see them advance again, more threateningly
than ever, darting their lances with extraordi-
nary velocity and skill. When engaged with
the Spanish cavalry, they express their joy by
raising ferocious and terrifying cries. They
often drive before them unbroken horses, to
the tails of which they tie strips of dry
leather or wisps of lighted grass, which fill
them with terror, very speedily communicated
to the horses of the soldiers, on whom they
descend like a terrible storm. Taking ad-
vantage of the disorder thus caused, the


Indians rush headlong upon the broken
squadrons, and there ensues a bloody car-
nage. As to the infantry, for which they
care rerj little — the Argentine soldiers
firing so badly as almost to appear as if
they were afraid of their fire-arms — they
attack them only when compelled to do so,
and speedily overcome them.

When any of the Indians fall while
fighting, they are picked up by their com-
panions, who convey them to their homes,
attending to them carefully on the way. If
they die during the journey, they are buried
without ceremony ; but those who die in
their tents, in the midst of their families, are
interred with pomp.

In whatever manner an Indian may have
quitted the world, the others refuse to believe
in his death. They pretend that, tired of
always living on this earth, their companion,
desiring to visit other regions, known only to
himself, has abandoned them solely for that


purpose. They dress him in his most beau-
tiful ornaments and lay him on the skin that
has served to give him shelter. On either
side of him they place his weapons and most
valuable objects, after which they wrap the
skin about him and bind it tightly round,
at short intervals, with his own lasso. This
sort of mummy they place upon the back of
his favourite horse, having previously broken
its left fore-leg, so that by its enforced genu-
flexions it may add to the melancholy effect
of the ceremony. All the women of the
tribe gather about the widows of the defunct,
uttering lamentable cries and weeping to-
gether, pausing every now and then to sing
a song appropriate to the occasion, in which
the departed is first eulogized, then bitterly
reproached for his ingratitude, in abandoning
his wives, children, and friends. The men,
downcast and silent, their hands and faces
painted black, with two large white spots
below the eyelids, escort the body on horse-


back to the nearest eminence, on the summit
of which they dig a shallow grave. As soon
as the body is covered with the earth,
they slaughter on the very spot, the horse
which has borne the remains of his master,
and several others ; also a few sheep, des-
tined, according to their superstitious belief,
to furnish the defunct with food during the
long journey he will have to make before he
reaches the place to which he has taken his

The objects of least value left by the
departed are burned, with a view of effacing
all recollection of him. The women, after
having for several consecutive days given
marks of the profoundest sorrow, by striking
themselves on the head with their fists and
tearing their hair, accompany the widows to
the dwelling-places of their respective parents,
where they are bound to remain more than a
year without contracting any liaison or other
union, under pain of death to them and their


accomplices. To this usage they scrupulously
cod form.

It may easily be understood that, for a
slave as I was, it was not a matter of days,
nor even of months, to collect the divers
observations I am now bringing under the
eye of the reader.

Fallen, as I have described, into the
hands of the Poyuches, after having first
been carried into the cold, wild, and sterile
plains of the south, where the tempestuous
winds and sudden changes of the atmos-
phere — inherent characteristics of the polar
extremities of great continents, — manifest
themselves with greater violence perhaps than
on any other peninsular spot on the globe.
After several months, sold by my first master
to a second, then to a third, as I have shown,
from sale to sale, from tribe to tribe, I had
insensibly been carried northwards on this
side of the Colorado. Change of place
afforded me neither change of condition nor


of occupation. The days moved slowly and
sadly, and, in the midst of the Pampas, my
sufferings were increased by the ceaseless
watchfulness to which I was subjected, to
such a degree that my position became truly

If during the course of the fine season the
splendid appearance of the fertile Pampas,
and the variety of my occupations some-
times became the source of unhoped-for re-
lief, very soon, alas ! the return of winter
brought back to the vast plains, then become
bare and white with frost, the saddest and
most desolate aspect. In the daytime the
immense solitude by which I was surrounded
was scarcely ever disturbed but by the sharp
cries of some bird of prey fighting over a
putrified corpse, disputing it with wild dogs,
or more often by some scattered herd, or
some parties of nomads, easily recognizable
by their long spears ornamented with nandou
feathers. But with night came the plaintive


and prolonged bowlings of thousands of wan-
dering dogs, the roaring of the famished puma
and jaguar, repeated from afar by numerous
echoes, which, with the dull bellowing of the
icy Pampero, formed the sole and lugubrious
harmony of the Pampas.

Long as I had been a captive, I could not
adapt myself to the life of slavery which had
been imposed on me. I had direct masters,
yet everybody who met me had the right
to command me. I owed the most entire
submission even to the children, who took
pleasure in treating me with all kinds of
cruelty. They flung stones at me with their
slings, they cast their boleadoras about my
body at the risk of wounding me ; often, when
they were on horseback, they would catch me
with the lasso by one of my limbs, and
amuse themselves by dragging me after their
galloping horses — all this to the great satis-
faction of their parents, who cared very
little for the sad condition in which I was


left by tliese sanguinary sports. When the
Indians approached me in a well- disposed
state of mind, they amused themselves, out
of mere gaiety, by smearing my face with
blood, or with whatever happened to come
first to hand ; sometimes they seized me
by the hair and dragged me about until
the pain forced me to call out, or until
a portion was left in their hands. After
this amusement, which was common amongst
them, my head was often, for several days
together, so swollen and painful that I could
not bear to touch even my hair. The ob-
ligation I was under of smiling with a look
of contentment and pleasure, on pain of being
longer martyrized in this manner, some-
times brought on fits of rage, that might
have had dangerous consequences for my-
self. The women, among one another, or
with the men, indulge in this refined prac-
tice without damage to their hair, which
perfectly resists these rough assaults.



As I have already had occasion to say, the
belief of all these savages dignified by the
name of Indians, is identical. They recog-
nize two gods, or superior beings, one of
good, the other of evil. They acknowledge
and respect the power of the good, Vita
Ouenetrou (the Great Man), whom they con-
sider as the creator of all things. They have
no idea of the place where he resides ; they
only maintain that the sun, which they look
upon as his representative, is sent to exa-
mine what is passing amongst them, as well
as to warm their limbs, benumbed during
the winter, and to help the beneficent mists
which in the spring cause the growth of the


magnificent carpet of verdure, in the midst of
which their flocks and herds gambol and mul-
tiply. The moon, another representative, is,
according to their belief, of no other use than
to watch over and light them. They are per-
suaded that there are as many suns and
moons as there are countries and lands on
the globe.

The God of Evil (Houacouvou) it is, they
say, who, in answer to their daily prayers,
roams about the country inhabited by them,
to drive away all witchcraft, and keep the
evil spirits in subjection. They refer to him
most often under the name of Gualitchou
(the cause of all human ills). Among them
als6 are to be found soothsayers of both
sexes, who preside over the future, and whose
vocation is announced by a kind of epileptic
attack produced by the use of a certain plant,
the secret of which they religiously preserve.
They do not, like those of old, affect to be

able to see into the bowels of the earth ; for



several of them have been massacred for
having predicted to chiefs events that have
not come to pass.

Neither priest nor fetishes are found
amongst the Patagonians, Puelches, and Pam-
peans. The fathers and mothers themselves
transmit their religion to their descendants,
who scrupulously observe it. This fact is
the more extraordinary, because, among the
Kitchois and the Bolivians, their neighbours,
are found idols, and undoubted proofs of an
interesting religion of very ancient origin.

Finally, whatever may be the simplicity of
their religion, the belief in it of the Patago-
nians is not the less profound, and of this they
every instant give proofs. An Indian never
eats or drinks without having first prayed
God to grant him all things necessary to his
life, nor without offering him the first por-
tion ; he turns towards the sun, sent by God,
when in the act of cutting off a piece of meat,
or pouring out a little water, accompanying


the action with the following words, the for-
mula being sometimes very slightly varied : —
" Oh ! chachai, vita ouenetrou, reyne mapo,
Frenean votrey, fille aneteux, come que hiloto,
come que ptoco, come que omaotu. Povre
lagan intche, hiloto elaemy ? tefa quinie
ouesah. Hilo, hiloto tufficmav.

(Oh, father, Grreat man, king of this land,
favour me, dear friend, every day with good
food, with good water, with good sleep. I am
poor, are you hungry ? here is a bad meal.
Eat if you like.)

Though rarely able to procure tobacco,
the Indians are, nevertheless, great smokers,
for they know how to make the most of what
they happen to seize in their successful razzias.
After every meal, as well as on waking in the
morning, and the last thing before going to
sleep at night, they indulge in this pleasure.

In every roukah, among the indispensable
articles, is found a pipe (quitrah) of their own
making, the form of which is of one fixed


pattern for all. It is most often made out
of a red or blue stone from the chain of the
Andes, cut in the shape of a very narrow
parallelogram, about ten centimetres long,
surmounted by a projection in the form of
an inverted cone, very skilfully hollowed out
with a knife to one-half of the thickness of
the slab, bowl and slab forming but one
piece. Through one end, serving instead of
a stem, they bore another hole of small dia-
meter, ending almost in nothing at its junc-
tion with the bowl of the pipe. This simple
but curious utensil is generally enriched with
ornaments made out of pieces of silver or
copper, fixed with rosin.

The Indians never smoke tobacco alone ;
they mix it with dry horse or ox-dung. The
pipe being filled, the smokers lie down on
their stomachs, and take by turn seven or
eight whiffs one after the other, and only
let the smoke escape from their nostrils when,
half suffocated, they feel the impossibility of


retaining it any longer. The effect of this
execrable internal fumigation makes them
frightful to look upon, for their eyes turn
three-quarters round, so that only the whites
are left visible, and dilate to such a de-
gree as to make one believe them about to
start from their sockets. The pipe, which
they are no longer able to hold, escapes from
their thick lips, their strength leaves them,
they are seized with a convulsive trembling,
and plunged into intoxication bordering on
ecstasy. They snort noisily, while saliva
flows copiously from their half-open lips, and
their feet and hands move like those of a dog

This horrible and repulsive state of
voluntary besotment is delightful to them,
and the object of respectful sympathy to all ;
no one would think of disturbing smokers
during their intoxication, and would con-
sider it an insult to laugh at them, or even to
address a word to them. Their friends hasten


to bring water in a cow-horn (motah), which
they silently plant in the ground alongside of

Their God, as usual, participates in this
recreation, for to him, in the first place, have
been offered three or four small puffs, accom-
panied by a mental prayer.

After having swallowed at a draught the
water contained in the motah, the smokers,
still under the influence of their recent ex-
haustion, and not being able to move either
their arms or their legs, turn themselves on
their backs, and give themselves up to the
pleasures of sleep.

Women, and even children, take part in
this indulgence without any one thinking of
opposing it.

Amongst the smokers of the European
nations, many contract the habit of absorb-
ing the major part of their smoke, and may
not be able to understand how it is that the
Indians experience the effects above de-


scribed : the cause is attributable to the
mixture of tobacco with odoriferous herbs,
which, though turned into dung, jet retain
all their strength.



Individuals specially practising medicine are
not found among the Indians, because they
have not sufficient confidence in their fellow-
creatures, however closely they may be bound
by ties of friendship or relationship ; and
further, because foreseeing Nature has gifted
them with enough of intelligence and instinct
to enable them successfully to apply to them-
selves different remedies which she has placed
within their reach.

It is not uncommon amongst them to see
children searching for simples necessary for
their own cure. They are their own doctors.
I have often observed them exhibit a certain
amount of anatomical knowledge, both in


the manner of cutting np animals, and in
the dressing of serious wounds ; such as
fractures of the arms or legs. So inured are
they to suffering, that even in these 1 grave
cases they scarcely ever utter a sound of dis-
tress. They dress their own wounds with the
greatest coolness. If they have a broken
leg, they stretch themselves flat upon the
ground, so that the limb may have something
to rest upon. They replace the bones ; then,
with keenly-sharpened stones, they make a cer-
tain number of long and deep incisions in the
neighbourhood of the fracture, and on the
fracture itself; afterwards they apply a sort
of poultice, composed of fresh herbs, beaten
between two stones, and moistened with
putrefied urine, which they are never without,
and which serves them instead of alkalis ;
finally, they bandage themselves with water-
rushes, and remain for a fortnight or three
weeks only without movement. At the end
of that time they begin to walk ; sometimes


they even mount on horseback. The pro-
perties of the herbs they employ are such
that even in the greatest heat gangrene
never ensues ; and if the fracture has not
been perfectly clean, the small splinters of
bone pass of themselves through the inci-
sions, without causing any additional suffer-
ing to the patient, whose complete cure is
only retarded for a few days. During all
the time necessary to his re-establishment,
the wounded man eats as heartily and as
frequently as if he were in his ordinary state.
The Indians, as well as their children, are
very subject to pains in their marrow, but
they treat "themselves more mercilessly.
They puncture themselves with a cataouet (an
ostrich bone in the form of a punch), seve-
ral times, drawing as much blood as possible
from the wounds, or else placing upon them
little cone-shaped balls, made of cottony
matter furnished by the palm-tree, to which
they set fire. In the same manner they often


mark themselves on the fore-arms, the size
and number of the marks serving amongst
themselves to distinguish different tribes.

The Indians are frequently subject to
violent pains in the head; but they are
able to cure them almost as soon as they
come on, by the immediate application of
a steeped herb, the scent of which recalls
that of the black-currant leaf. The effect
of it is almost instantaneous. When this
remedy does not suffice — a rare case> — they
puncture the part affected, and according to
the nature of the blood which flows, form a
crowd of conjectures as to their health,
which, by their own account, is always in a
bad state.

When they have taken a cold, or are
seized with difficulty of breathing, the
Indians use a root very common in their
country, and which, for its numerous pro-
perties, merits some notice. They call it
Gnimegnime, or treacherous tickler. Its form


closely resembles dog-grass, but is much
longer and more regular, not presenting like
the latter an infinity of little broken lines. Its
outer skin is of a clear brown, but it is white io
the interior ; it preserves none of its elasticity
when dried ; on the contrary, it breaks easily.
The plant, which is not remarkable in any
way, and of which the Indians make no use,
not having discovered any valuable properties
in it, is generally from fifteen to twenty
centimetres high ; its long and narrow leaves
are dark green ; the stem is surmounted
by a small yellow flower. A single strip of
this root, of the size of a pin, bruised
between the teeth and mixed with saliva,
super-excites the functions of the respiratory
organs, and at once matures the cold,
leaving on the palate an acidulated taste,
which makes the gums rough, the tongue
and throat to itch intolerably, and producing
a pain in the salival glands, the action of
which it increases beyond measure. As soon


as the acid portion is completely absorbed,
an improvement is felt throughout the body,
and an agreeable freshness in the throat ; the
lungs seem set free and the patient breathes
easily. However, this remedy, like many
others, becomes dangerous when carelessly
employed. The Indians have assured me that
a small pinch is sufficient to produce death
with the most horrible sufferings. I believe
this, for wishing to try its effect upon myself,
I swallowed the juice of a small portion of this
root, which produced an indescribable itching
in my mouth and throat ; my respiration
became so short and hurried that, not beino;
able to inhale the air, the presence of which
put me to torment, I was nearly suffocated. I
feel certain that any one would be painfully as-
phyxiated who exceeded the regulated dose.
It was only by refraining from drinking, and
by holding my breath, as the Indians them-
selves do, that I succeeded in neutralizing
the effects of this violent remedy.


The Indians employ this root in different
ways in different cases, for themselves as
well as for animals. For disorders of the
eyes they employ only the jnice. They use
it equally to destroy the vermin that attack
the sores of their horses or other cattle, as
frequently happens in the wooded districts
where flies abound. They reduce it to an
almost impalpable powder, and mix it with
the burned leaves of a small shrub, which
they call tchilpet ; of this mixture they make
a paste, moistened with urine, which they in-
troduce into the sore, having first extirpated
one and all of the maggots with the aid of
a pointed stick, and after having washed the
place several times with putrefied urine. A
few repetitions of this operation suffices to
effect a speedy cure I treated with success
in this manner many horses confided to my
care, that had pricked themselves with thorns,
the w^ounds, on the following day, having
become as large as my hand. The Indians


were pleased with, me for taking this care,
which I repeated daily, and without which
a sensible diminution of their herds would
have taken place ; for they are so idle and
careless, that every wounded animal becomes,
in two or three days at most, the victim of
gnawing insects.

The Indians live mostlv on raw meat :
from this cause, their blood is over-heatecl,
and as they frequently sleep upon the
damp ground, they have, nearly all of
them, tumorous eruptions in the form of
boils, from which they suffer greatly. They
provoke the maturity of these abscesses by
the application of poultices of hot animal
dung. When these boils have reached their
full development, they draw out the core by
the aid of a doubled hair and swallow it
between two mouthfuls of meat, pretending,
in this way, to* prevent relapse. Is it not
truly disgusting to find such close resem-
blances between human beings and doo's,


who have no other organ to help themselves
with but the tongue ?

When the Indians are seized by maladies
against which their remedies are ineffectual,
they attribute their gravity to the malignity
of some evil genius (gualiche), who, escaping
the vigilance of Houacouvou (the God of
Evil), has taken refuge in the body of the
patient. For the purpose of dislodging it,
they assemble in great numbers, unknown to
the sick man, and suddenly, armed with their
lances, throw themselves upon the roukah
in which he is lying, striking the skins with
all their might, and uttering cries of rage,
mixed with invocations. After which they
penetrate into the interior, making a passage
for themselves through the skins, and fol-
lowing each other in single file at full speed,
their lances pointed at the sick man, whom
the first to enter has dragged into the middle
of the cabin. The unfortunate patient is
generally filled with terror, and mostly sinks


under this violent shock to his nerves.

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 7 of 15)