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

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Sometimes, when the patient is young, and
recovers, he partakes of everybody's opinion,
and attributes to witchcraft the derangement
of his health, and his cure to the unexpected
assault made on him by his companions. He
is always overwhelmed with questions, which
he answers with solemnity, and at great
length. I cannot say that he abuses the
credulity of his friends, because he only
gives expression to his superstitious belief.
I was myself one of the principal actors in
such a scene, in which, I afterwards learned,
I had involuntarily played the part of miracle-
worker, according to their ideas, in spite of
my being a Christian. I must, indeed, have
been a very good ouignecae (Christian), they
said, to have succeeded so well.

The Indians possess several kinds of slow
poison, of which they know, and learn per-
fectly how, to neutralize the effects. It is

the women who make use of them ; they

12



178 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

employ them both against their personal
enemies and against those of their families.
Jealousy is a source of implacable hatred to
them ; it is therefore amongst themselves
that poison is most frequently used. Two
women jealous of each other take the greatest
care not to unmask the feeling before any-
body, and from the moment they look upon
one another as enemies, they court one
another's visits with the intention of mu-
tually poisoning each other. This kind of
duel sometimes goes on for a long time, but
one or other always succumbs at last. Her
enemy, after having taken all measures ne-
cessary to do away with every trace of the
poison she had used, from her tent, is one of
the first to bemoan the fate of the defunct,
of whom she speaks to all in terms of praise.
With the view of guarding themselves against
accusation — for no accusing proof is ever
forthcoming against them — they always act
without accomplices.



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 179

The Indians are in the habit of making a
post-mortem examination of the bodies of all
whose death, whether it has been slow or
sudden, appears to them a matter of donbt,
seeking to solve the problem by carefully
searching the whole of the oesophagus, the
kidneys, and the gall, in which they readily
recognize the trace of morbid action when
the subject has died of poison. When they
have thus acquired the proof that one
belonging to them has been the victim of
vengeance, they employ all imaginable stra-
tagems to discover the author of the crime.
Woe to the known enemies of the deceased,
for, though innocent, general opinion will
quickly accuse them, and the relatives of the
victim will put them to death if they do not
agree to pay a heavy ransom.

With very rare exceptions at least, the
accused, whether guilty or not, deny with
the utmost energy the accusation brought
against them ; they prefer to fall with arms



180 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

in their hands, defending themselves to the
death, rather than confess their guilt. The
small number of those who make no resist-
ance, and who confess, are taken under good
escort before the head cacique, who fixes the
price of their ransom, the importance of
which is always proportioned to the rank of
the deceased, for, amongst them, as amongst
ourselves, there are different grades of society.



CHAPTER VI.

FATTENING OF HORSES SLAUGHTERING A HORSE

PRINCIPAL POOD OF THE INDIANS DURING

THE FINE SEASON ARMADILLOS — A TRAGIC

EVENT.

The Indians, who are great amateurs of
horses, principally esteem such as have
served them in some razzia. These unfor-
tunate animals, tried by fatigue and priva-
tions, are, to the despair of their masters,
always very thin on their return from these
expeditions. The Indians employ a strange
method for fattening them. They throw
them down upon the ground, force open
their mouths, and make a number of in-
cisions in the palate, then compel them to
swallow a certain quantity of pulverized salt.
They affirm that in horses, as well as in men,



182 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

blood excites appetite. I do not know how
far this system is good, but it is intelli-
gible that the employment of salt in such
a case may not be unfavourable. Further, I
have observed that horses treated in the
manner I have described fatten very rapidly.

On the young horses intended for their
food they very skilfully perform the opera-
tion of gelding, with a view to fattening
them and rendering their flesh more delicate.
The Pampeans operate in the same manner
on the sheep and cattle they sell to the
Christians during the continuance of their
brief submissions.

These savages slaughter and cut up a horse
with the most perfect skill and the greatest
promptitude. As soon as they have brought
him clown with a blow of the locayo (bolea-
dora), they spring upon him, and instantly
proceed to bleed him. The women catch
the blood in a wooden bowl, in which they
allow it to cool, after having freed it from



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 183

albumen by stirring it with the hand. While
this is beinof clone, the men turn the animal
on to its back, cut open the skin from the
lower lip to the root of the tail, and at each
hoof they make other cuts meeting the first
at the chest and at the lower part of the
belly. They begin by detaching the skin of
the neck, the chest, and the thin parts with
their knives, and finish the work with their
hands alone, seizing the skin firmly with the
left, and passing the right between the skin
and the flesh. When the flaying is com-
pleted, they separate the head from the
trunk, remove the shoulders, open the belly
on both sides to the end of the ribs, which
they separate from the backbone in one
piece, after having divided the bone with
their knives. Lastly, without the help of
either cleavers or hammers, they cut into
two equal parts the hind-quarters. In less
than ten minutes all this is done, and nume-
rous spectators, seated on the very spot, are



184 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

devouring with ferocious avidity Lot livers,
hearts, lungs, and raw kidneys, dipped in
blood, which they afterwards drink.

The skin of the head serves to make
coverings for boleadoras ; the mane is care-
fully tied up with the tail, and kept with
ostrich feathers and skins of all sorts to be
exchanged with the Hispano-Americans.

Though it is in their power to kill beasts
daily, the nomad tribes get during the summer
hardly any other meat than that of the game
they kill in hunting. If they slaughter any
animal during the hot weather, they dry the
flesh by artistically cutting it into large thin
slices, which they hang upon stretched cords,
after having salted them on both sides. The
women, who see to this, generally make a
large provision of meat so prepared, both
for the entertainment of visitors and for their
husbands to carry with them when they set
off on an expedition. When they serve up
this dish to their families, they moisten it



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 185

with water, spurted over it from the mouth ;
they then bruise it between two stones, and
put it into little wooden plates containing
horse fat liquified in the sun, which their guests
drink with great pleasure after they have
eaten the meat. Eepasts of this sort, in
which I took part less often than I could have
wished, gave me as much enjoyment as the
best feast ; compared with the meals of raw
and bloody flesh which I made the greater
part of the time, they appeared to me truly
regal.

In certain parts, the flesh of the arma-
dillo is almost the only food of travellers.
Throughout the Pampas, as in certain woody
portions of the country, I observed the four
following kinds : the first is the Emcombert,
armadillo, in Spanish kirldncho, in Indian
cofeurle; the second is the dasypus-tatouay 9
in Spanish peluda, which attains very large
proportions, and the shell of which is set
with bristles at every joint. This quadruped



186 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



is most common on the eastern side of the
country, where it finds for its nourishment a
great quantity of roots called by the Indians
saqueul. These are small white semi-transpa-
rent tubercles, the inside of which is mealy,
half acid, half sweet, but the acidity of which
disappears in cooking. They are only found
in black and rich earth, a few inches below
the surface, and are always grouped three
or four together on the same stem. They are
oval or polygonal in form, and of the size of a
hazel-nut. Their stem is not much more
than an inch or two high. It is very fragile,
and furnished with a great number of small
narrow leaves pressed closely one upon the
other, the colour of which is a mixture of
sea-green and reddish-yellow.

The Pampeans are as great eaters of
saqueul as the armadillos themselves. They
sometimes gather a large quantity of them
and crush them to put into milk ; they call
this preparation, which they allow to ferment,



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 187



saqueidtchaffis ; it is a refreshing dish, very
agreeable and highly nutritious. Occasionally
the Indians, before crushing the saqueid to
put it in milk, as above described, leave it to
bake for a few seconds in the dung-embers.
The peluda, makes a great destruction of
this tubercle, scenting it as pigs scent
truffles.

The third kind, the cachicame - rnulet,
which the Spaniards call miilita, has no hair
about it. It differs from the two kinds
above named in the form of its head and
ears, which closely resemble those of the
mule. It is found in innumerable quan-
tities in the neighbourhood of the Argentine
provinces, particularly to the north-west of
Buenos Ayres, where it infests the estancias-
fermes, the outskirts of which are generally
strewm with the bodies of oxen abandoned by
the farmers, who mostly kill them for the
skin alone, the flesh serving for the food of
these animals.



188 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

The fourth kind, called mataco by the
Spaniards, is much less common than the
others. It is generally found to the west-
south-west of the Sierra Ventana only, but
sometimes also to the north of the Mamou-
elches. Its size is almost always the same,
never attaining Jarge dimensions. It stands
very high upon its feet, and runs so quickly as
often to make it difficult to catch. Its back
is very much raised, its head very flat and
small. Like the tatouay, it feeds on the
saqueid root. It is easily tamed. When it
feels itself too closely pressed, and too far
from its place of shelter, its simple means of
defence is to roll itself into a ball like the
hed^eho^. The flesh of all these kinds of
armadillo is eaten ; though dark in colour it
is very delicate, and a good deal resembles
fresh pork, but it is much more digestible.
Between the carapace and the flesh, these
animals have a thick layer of yellow, very
fine and strong-tasted fat, the colour of which,



AMOXG THE PATAGONIANS. 189

as well as that of the flesh, is more or less
deep, according to the species of the animal
and the kind of food on which it has been
nourished. It is perhaps the only meat
which the Indians cook thoroughly, for they
roast armadillos in their shells without
detaching them. M

Seeking every day to acquire the good
graces of the savages with whom I had
already lived more than a year and a half, I
succeeded, not without a painful and in-
cessant struggle, in making a complete abne-
gation of all my habits as a civilized man,
and, to a certain extent, copying my masters.
I became skilled in all their exercises ; I
broke in their horses, and took so much care
of them when they were wounded or ill, that
they were almost always in a ' satisfactory
st^te of health. It was, indeed, a real
happiness to me to be as careful as I
could of these poor animals whom my
masters, indolent, in spite of their sordid



190 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



avariciousness, would doubtless have aban-
doned whenever they were wounded. I felt
an indescribable pleasure in seeing with what
docility they would come at my call, instead
of precipitately galloping away, as they did
when auybody else approached them. At
whatever distance they caught sight of me,
these horses would neigh, come towards
me, and stand by my side to receive
my caresses, to the great bewilderment of
the Indians, who congratulated me on my
influence. In these moments of relaxation,
in the absence of all other affection, I felt
almost happy at witnessing this instinctive
feeling of gratitude on their part, which was
the only kind of friendship I met with.

My masters, often astonished at the
facility with which I caught horses by hand,
a thing impossible to them, who alwajs
pursue them with a lasso, would say to me,
in a friendly manner : " El mey-ouesah oui-
gnecae cone-paleh-quinie potro" (bring us such

4



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 191

or such a horse, you who can do whatever
you wish with them) ; and to recompense
me on my return, would give me a few
mouthfuls of meat cooked to my taste.
Unfortunately these rare moments of good
nature were of very brief duration ; for the
cruel instincts of my savage masters speedily
regained the upper hand, and more than
once made me pay dearly for the momentary
abatement of their rigour.

I had already had several successive
masters during my sojourn amongst the
Pampeans, when a most tragic and frightful
incident occurred, which gave me a terrible
lesson in prudence and the necessity of exer-
cising the greatest dissimulation. In a recent
and formidable invasion which they had made
in the province of Buenos Ayres, the details of
which were given in the French newspapers,
in 1858, some young Argentines were made
prisoners. Their fate might have been the
same as mine ; but these unhappy children,



192 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

confident in their habit of riding, and of
being able to find their way in the Pampas
adjoining their own province, conceived the
idea of regaining their liberty, without taking
into account the dangers to which their igno-
rance of the character of the Indians exposed
them. They fled one fine morning, but their
masters speedily pursued them; after some
days, they were brought back to the place
whence they had escaped, and condemned to
death. They were placed in the midst of a
circle of men on horseback, who murdered
them slowly with lances. Compelled to be
a spectator of this horrible scene, I saw the
murderers, with an ignoble refinement of
cruelty, twist their lances in each of the
wounds with which they covered the bodies
of their victims, all the time uttering shouts
of ferocious rage, and imitating with their
faces the divers expressions of suffering they
were causing. Afterwards they marched by
me addressing brutal remarks to me, and



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 193

smearing ray body with their weapons, still
smoking with the blood of those poor unfor-
tunates ; they further pointed to the bodies,
and threatened me with the same destiny
should I ever take it into my head to attempt
to escape. As it was impossible for me to
aid my unhappy companions in misfortune, I
was obliged to repress all desire to defend
or to avenge them ; but my hatred and
horror of the Indians were yet more in-
creased by the enormity of the crime I had
witnessed.

Doubtless Heaven permitted that the re-
membrance of my relatives, and of all the
horrible sufferings I daily endured, should
serve to strengthen my courage and to give
me firmness of will to free myself from the
infamous thrall I was forced to endure, for
from that time I had no other thought. To
the Indians I exhibited a calm and placid ex-
pression of face, and gave uncontrolled vent

to my continual sorrow only during the night

13



194 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY.



and the rare instances when I found myself
alone. It having occurred to me that the
Indians would converse together freely in
my presence so long as I appeared ignorant
of their language, I feigned not to under-
stand them, and occupied myself with in-
different matters during their conversations,
in the course of which I gathered a mass of
precious information.



CHAPTER VII.

MUSIC AMONGST THE INDIANS — THEIR DIVERS
INSTRUMENTS — GAMES.

The taste for music is inborn in all human
beings. The savage, as well as the civilized
man, loves to trace in its harmonious accents
the sentiment, poesy, and emotions, which
even the most depraved soul feels and knows
how to enjoy.

Nothing is more curious and more inte-
resting than to see the Indians, of whom I
speak, ignorant of all things, yet applying
themselves to the fashioning of musical in-
struments to amuse their hours of idleness.
These rough and uncouth instruments, to a
certain extent recalling our own, I will call



196 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

the flageolet, the violin, the guitar, the drum,
and the flute.

The violin is composed of two horse-ribs
formed like violin bows, the hair tightly
stretched and moistened with saliva, and
played by being rubbed one against the
other. They serve indifferently, as they
happen to be used, for violin and for bow.
The one that fills the office of instrument is
placed between the closed teeth, and held
horizontally in the left hand. The Indians
move the bow quickly, and by means of this
grating obtain stifled sounds, which they
modulate with the unemployed fingers of the
left hand, in exactly the same manner as our
dilettanti. They cannot execute any varied
air, but they very cleverly reproduce several
words of their guttural language.

They make very little use of the guitar :
it is made out of the blade-bone of a horse,
on which they stretch hair strings of different
thickness. It is generally used for dancing



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 197



to ; they hold it and play on it with as much
pretention as if they were consummate
musicians. It may be guessed, from the
construction, that the harmony of this in-
strument is calculated to irritate the nerves
and ear, rather than to charm them.

The flageolet has some merit, and demands
for its construction a certain portion of in-
telligence and skill. It is the instrument
with which the Indians succeed best, and
with which they most divert themselves, for
it enables them to play all their favourite
airs. It is formed out of a hollow stem of
the Generium argentinus, cut to the length
of from fifty to sixty centimetres, which they
pierce superficially at one end with eight
holes, at equal distance one from the other.
The opposite end serves for the mouth-piece ;
this they split in the form of a hautbois-reed,
the opening of which they maintain with a
transverse hair.

The flute is nothing more than a bit of



198 THREE YEARS 1 SLAVERY

hollow reed, with an aperture made at one
end, into which they blow with all their
might, and from which they force execrable
sounds, similar to those extractable from a
large key.

Lastly, the drum is composed of a sort of
wooden bowl, more or less large, over which
a wild-cat skin is stretched, or a piece of the
paunch of a horse. This instrument, for
which as well as the flute they have a strong
liking, is much used by them, especially in
their religious festivals and character dances.

From this it may be seen that the
Indians, in spite of their grave appearance,
seize on all occasions to amuse themselves,
and create a thousand means of doing so.
To their passion for music another, and
one no less active, may be added, that of
gambling, to which they give themselves up
with feverish avidity.

In the Pampean tribes, those nearest to
the Hispano-American people, they play with



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 199

Spanish, cards ; but none of them are a whit
more conscientious in their mode of playing
than professional card- sharpers. They make
almost imperceptible marks at each corner
of the cards, recognizable only by their prac-
tised eyes. Each player in turn uses his
own pack so prepared. In shuffling the
cards they distinguish the good from the
bad, and are so dexterous as always to
deal the latter to their adversaries. The
matches in which they engage are usually
continued for a great length of time, and
with wild persistency. The one who wins
the game always considers that he has won
it fairly, because of the difficulties he has had
to overcome to secure the stakes, which
consist generally of objects of some value,
such as silver spurs or stirrups.

Their other games, and those most in
vogue among all the tribes, are the tchouekah,
or ouignou (dice), amouicah (or black and
white), and knuckle-bones (foros).



200 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



In the game of tchouekah, each man,
entirely naked, his body streaked with various
colours, his hair turned up and fastened with
a cloth band, and armed with a heavy stick,
called onignou, curved at one end, matches
himself against one of his congeners willing
to risk a stake equivalent to his own. One
party puts down his stake on one side, the
other on the opposite side. The length of
the ground, calculated according to the
number of the players, is marked out by
lances set up two and two. The players
place themselves in couples opposite one
another. A small wooden ball is placed
between the two forming the centre of the
line. The two champions then cross their
sticks, the crooked ends resting on the
ground, so that on drawing them sharply
together, the ball, which is caught between
the two crooks, is put in motion. Once
thrown into the air, it is for whoever can to
stop its flight with his stick, either to give it



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 201

a new impulsion in the direction it was going,
or to turn it in the opposite direction. If
one of the players, who, in the interest of
his partners, ought to have made it go
to the right, should make it go to the
left, he is immediately obliged to pull hair
with the nearest of those whom he has
injured.

It is very rare for these amusements to pass
off without the breaking of legs or arms, or
grave injury to heads. Besides these casual-
ties, there are the blows which the judges,
armed with stout leathern thongs, discharge
from the backs of their horses on the fatigued
combatants, to spur them on to increased
exertion.

The game of dice, or rather the game of
white and black, is composed of eight small
squares of bone, blackened on one side,
and played two against two. A skin is
spread between the players, so that their
hands may at once easily seize the squares,



202 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

which they let fall while calling out loudly
and striking their hands together, for the
purpose of confusing each other. ^Every
time the number of blacks is even, the
player goes on until he throws odd ; the
other then takes his turn. The game might
go on eternally, but, fatigued and bewildered,
one of the two at last becomes the dupe of the
other, who, possessing greater coolness, often
scores double unknown to his companion,
and so wins it. Brawls often follow the
conclusion of the game, for three times out
of four the loser refuses to give up the
stake lost.

Like the gauchos of Buenos Ayres, who
in their desperate gambling bouts lose
their horses, and even the clothes from
off their backs, the Indians willingly stake
their entire stock of cattle, and even what-
ever male and female captives they possess.
Under such circumstances I have seen un-
happy girls passed from hand to hand,



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 203

and submitted to the unwelcome caresses of
a great number of masters, who overcame
their desperate resistance by the employment
of force.



CHAPTER VIII.

PROJECTS OF FLIGHT — DESPAIR — CHANGE OF

POSITION 1 BECOME SECRETARY TO THE

INDIANS.

What man is there who, seeing the sufferings
of the victims of whom I have spoken, would
not, like me, have felt his own sorrows give
place to deep indignation and the desire to
protect these poor women ? How many
times, animated by this sentiment, and ready
to spring to their aid, has not the sad reality
of my position unveiled itself in its full ex-
tent before my eyes, even to the paralyzing
of my will ! What could I have done ?
What would have been the result of my
recklessness ? The death of an Indian, per-
haps ; and I should have caused that of
many victims. In our common interest,



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 205

therefore, I considered it my duty to act
with redoubled prudence.

Nevertheless, I more than once formed
plans for escaping, and carrying with me
some of these unhappy captives ; but being
obliged to admit to myself how small was the
chance of success in an attempt of this kind,
I had to renounce those projects. By my-
self alone, I would, without hesitation, have
risked all the perils of such an enterprise,


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