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very imperfectly thatched on one side with a few tufts of grass and
rushes. The whole cannot be the work of an hour, and it is only
used for a few days. At Goeree Roads I saw a place where one of
these naked men had slept, which absolutely offered no more cover
than the form of a hare. The man was evidently living by himself,
and York Minster said he was "very bad man," and that probably he
had stolen something. On the west coast, however, the wigwams are
rather better, for they are covered with seal-skins. We were
detained here several days by the bad weather. The climate is
certainly wretched: the summer solstice was now past, yet every day
snow fell on the hills, and in the valleys there was rain,
accompanied by sleet. The thermometer generally stood about 45
degrees, but in the night fell to 38 or 40 degrees. From the damp
and boisterous state of the atmosphere, not cheered by a gleam of
sunshine, one fancied the climate even worse than it really was.

While going one day on shore near Wollaston Island, we pulled
alongside a canoe with six Fuegians. These were the most abject and
miserable creatures I anywhere beheld. On the east coast the
natives, as we have seen, have guanaco cloaks, and on the west they
possess seal-skins. Amongst these central tribes the men generally
have an otter-skin, or some small scrap about as large as a
pocket-handkerchief, which is barely sufficient to cover their
backs as low down as their loins. It is laced across the breast by
strings, and according as the wind blows, it is shifted from side
to side. But these Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even
one full-grown woman was absolutely so. It was raining heavily, and
the fresh water, together with the spray, trickled down her body.
In another harbour not far distant, a woman, who was suckling a
recently-born child, came one day alongside the vessel, and
remained there out of mere curiosity, whilst the sleet fell and
thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked baby! These
poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces
bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their
hair entangled, their voices discordant, and their gestures
violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that
they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is
a common subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the
lower animals can enjoy: how much more reasonably the same question
may be asked with respect to these barbarians! At night five or six
human beings, naked and scarcely protected from the wind and rain
of this tempestuous climate, sleep on the wet ground coiled up like
animals. Whenever it is low water, winter or summer, night or day,
they must rise to pick shellfish from the rocks; and the women
either dive to collect sea-eggs, or sit patiently in their canoes,
and with a baited hair-line without any hook, jerk out little fish.
If a seal is killed, or the floating carcass of a putrid whale is
discovered, it is a feast; and such miserable food is assisted by a
few tasteless berries and fungi.

They often suffer from famine: I heard Mr. Low, a sealing-master
intimately acquainted with the natives of this country, give a
curious account of the state of a party of one hundred and fifty
natives on the west coast, who were very thin and in great
distress. A succession of gales prevented the women from getting
shell-fish on the rocks, and they could not go out in their canoes
to catch seal. A small party of these men one morning set out, and
the other Indians explained to him that they were going a four
days' journey for food: on their return, Low went to meet them, and
he found them excessively tired, each man carrying a great square
piece of putrid whales-blubber with a hole in the middle, through
which they put their heads, like the Gauchos do through their
ponchos or cloaks. As soon as the blubber was brought into a
wigwam, an old man cut off thin slices, and muttering over them,
broiled them for a minute, and distributed them to the famished
party, who during this time preserved a profound silence. Mr. Low
believes that whenever a whale is cast on shore, the natives bury
large pieces of it in the sand, as a resource in time of famine;
and a native boy, whom he had on board, once found a stock thus
buried. The different tribes when at war are cannibals. From the
concurrent, but quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr.
Low, and of Jemmy Button, it is certainly true, that when pressed
in winter by hunger they kill and devour their old women before
they kill their dogs: the boy, being asked by Mr. Low why they did
this, answered, "Doggies catch otters, old women no." This boy
described the manner in which they are killed by being held over
smoke and thus choked; he imitated their screams as a joke, and
described the parts of their bodies which are considered best to
eat. Horrid as such a death by the hands of their friends and
relatives must be, the fears of the old women, when hunger begins
to press, are more painful to think of; we were told that they then
often run away into the mountains, but that they are pursued by the
men and brought back to the slaughter-house at their own firesides!

Captain Fitz Roy could never ascertain that the Fuegians have any
distinct belief in a future life. They sometimes bury their dead in
caves, and sometimes in the mountain forests; we do not know what
ceremonies they perform. Jemmy Button would not eat land-birds,
because "eat dead men"; they are unwilling even to mention their
dead friends. We have no reason to believe that they perform any
sort of religious worship; though perhaps the muttering of the old
man before he distributed the putrid blubber to his famished party
may be of this nature. Each family or tribe has a wizard or
conjuring doctor, whose office we could never clearly ascertain.
Jemmy believed in dreams, though not, as I have said, in the devil:
I do not think that our Fuegians were much more superstitious than
some of the sailors; for an old quartermaster firmly believed that
the successive heavy gales, which we encountered off Cape Horn,
were caused by our having the Fuegians on board. The nearest
approach to a religious feeling which I heard of, was shown by York
Minster, who, when Mr. Bynoe shot some very young ducklings as
specimens, declared in the most solemn manner, "Oh, Mr. Bynoe, much
rain, snow, blow much." This was evidently a retributive punishment
for wasting human food. In a wild and excited manner he also
related that his brother one day, whilst returning to pick up some
dead birds which he had left on the coast, observed some feathers
blown by the wind. His brother said (York imitating his manner),
"What that?" and crawling onwards, he peeped over the cliff, and
saw "wild man" picking his birds; he crawled a little nearer, and
then hurled down a great stone and killed him. York declared for a
long time afterwards storms raged, and much rain and snow fell. As
far as we could make out, he seemed to consider the elements
themselves as the avenging agents: it is evident in this case, how
naturally, in a race a little more advanced in culture, the
elements would become personified. What the "bad wild men" were,
has always appeared to me most mysterious: from what York said,
when we found the place like the form of a hare, where a single man
had slept the night before, I should have thought that they were
thieves who had been driven from their tribes; but other obscure
speeches made me doubt this; I have sometimes imagined that the
most probable explanation was that they were insane.

The different tribes have no government or chief; yet each is
surrounded by other hostile tribes, speaking different dialects,
and separated from each other only by a deserted border or neutral
territory: the cause of their warfare appears to be the means of
subsistence. Their country is a broken mass of wild rocks, lofty
hills, and useless forests: and these are viewed through mists and
endless storms. The habitable land is reduced to the stones on the
beach; in search of food they are compelled unceasingly to wander
from spot to spot, and so steep is the coast, that they can only
move about in their wretched canoes. They cannot know the feeling
of having a home, and still less that of domestic affection; for
the husband is to the wife a brutal master to a laborious slave.
Was a more horrid deed ever perpetrated, than that witnessed on the
west coast by Byron, who saw a wretched mother pick up her bleeding
dying infant-boy, whom her husband had mercilessly dashed on the
stones for dropping a basket of sea-eggs! How little can the higher
powers of the mind be brought into play: what is there for
imagination to picture, for reason to compare, for judgment to
decide upon? to knock a limpet from the rock does not require even
cunning, that lowest power of the mind. Their skill in some
respects may be compared to the instinct of animals; for it is not
improved by experience: the canoe, their most ingenious work, poor
as it is, has remained the same, as we know from Drake, for the
last two hundred and fifty years.

Whilst beholding these savages, one asks, Whence have they come?
What could have tempted, or what change compelled, a tribe of men,
to leave the fine regions of the north, to travel down the
Cordillera or backbone of America, to invent and build canoes,
which are not used by the tribes of Chile, Peru, and Brazil, and
then to enter on one of the most inhospitable countries within the
limits of the globe? Although such reflections must at first seize
on the mind, yet we may feel sure that they are partly erroneous.
There is no reason to believe that the Fuegians decrease in number;
therefore we must suppose that they enjoy a sufficient share of
happiness, of whatever kind it may be, to render life worth having.
Nature by making habit omnipotent, and its effects hereditary, has
fitted the Fuegian to the climate and the productions of his
miserable country.

(PLATE 47. BAD WEATHER, MAGELLAN STRAITS.)

After having been detained six days in Wigwam Cove by very bad
weather, we put to sea on the 30th of December. Captain Fitz Roy
wished to get westward to land York and Fuegia in their own
country. When at sea we had a constant succession of gales, and the
current was against us: we drifted to 57 degrees 23' south. On the
11th of January, 1833, by carrying a press of sail, we fetched
within a few miles of the great rugged mountain of York Minster (so
called by Captain Cook, and the origin of the name of the elder
Fuegian), when a violent squall compelled us to shorten sail and
stand out to sea. The surf was breaking fearfully on the coast, and
the spray was carried over a cliff estimated at 200 feet in height.
On the 12th the gale was very heavy, and we did not know exactly
where we were: it was a most unpleasant sound to hear constantly
repeated, "Keep a good lookout to leeward." On the 13th the storm
raged with its full fury: our horizon was narrowly limited by the
sheets of spray borne by the wind. The sea looked ominous, like a
dreary waving plain with patches of drifted snow: whilst the ship
laboured heavily, the albatross glided with its expanded wings
right up the wind. At noon a great sea broke over us, and filled
one of the whale-boats, which was obliged to be instantly cut away.
The poor "Beagle" trembled at the shock, and for a few minutes
would not obey her helm; but soon, like a good ship that she was,
she righted and came up to the wind again. Had another sea followed
the first, our fate would have been decided soon, and for ever. We
had now been twenty-four days trying in vain to get westward; the
men were worn out with fatigue, and they had not had for many
nights or days a dry thing to put on. Captain Fitz Roy gave up the
attempt to get westward by the outside coast. In the evening we ran
in behind False Cape Horn, and dropped our anchor in forty-seven
fathoms, fire flashing from the windlass as the chain rushed round
it. How delightful was that still night, after having been so long
involved in the din of the warring elements!

(PLATE 48. FUEGIAN BASKET AND BONE WEAPONS.)

(PLATE 49. FALSE HORN, CAPE HORN.)

JANUARY 15, 1833.

The "Beagle" anchored in Goeree Roads. Captain Fitz Roy having
resolved to settle the Fuegians, according to their wishes, in
Ponsonby Sound, four boats were equipped to carry them there
through the Beagle Channel. This channel, which was discovered by
Captain Fitz Roy during the last voyage, is a most remarkable
feature in the geography of this, or indeed of any other country:
it may be compared to the valley of Loch Ness in Scotland, with its
chain of lakes and friths. It is about one hundred and twenty miles
long, with an average breadth, not subject to any very great
variation, of about two miles; and is throughout the greater part
so perfectly straight, that the view, bounded on each side by a
line of mountains, gradually becomes indistinct in the long
distance. It crosses the southern part of Tierra del Fuego in an
east and west line, and in the middle is joined at right angles on
the south side by an irregular channel, which has been called
Ponsonby Sound. This is the residence of Jemmy Button's tribe and
family.

JANUARY 19, 1833.

Three whale-boats and the yawl, with a party of twenty-eight,
started under the command of Captain Fitz Roy. In the afternoon we
entered the eastern mouth of the channel, and shortly afterwards
found a snug little cove concealed by some surrounding islets. Here
we pitched our tents and lighted our fires. Nothing could look more
comfortable than this scene. The glassy water of the little
harbour, with the branches of the trees hanging over the rocky
beach, the boats at anchor, the tents supported by the crossed
oars, and the smoke curling up the wooded valley, formed a picture
of quiet retirement. The next day (20th) we smoothly glided onwards
in our little fleet, and came to a more inhabited district. Few if
any of these natives could ever have seen a white man; certainly
nothing could exceed their astonishment at the apparition of the
four boats. Fires were lighted on every point (hence the name of
Tierra del Fuego, or the land of fire), both to attract our
attention and to spread far and wide the news. Some of the men ran
for miles along the shore. I shall never forget how wild and savage
one group appeared: suddenly four or five men came to the edge of
an overhanging cliff; they were absolutely naked, and their long
hair streamed about their faces; they held rugged staffs in their
hands, and, springing from the ground, they waved their arms round
their heads, and sent forth the most hideous yells.

At dinner-time we landed among a party of Fuegians. At first they
were not inclined to be friendly; for until the Captain pulled in
ahead of the other boats, they kept their slings in their hands. We
soon, however, delighted them by trifling presents, such as tying
red tape round their heads. They liked our biscuit: but one of the
savages touched with his finger some of the meat preserved in tin
cases which I was eating, and feeling it soft and cold, showed as
much disgust at it, as I should have done at putrid blubber. Jemmy
was thoroughly ashamed of his countrymen, and declared his own
tribe were quite different, in which he was woefully mistaken. It
was as easy to please as it was difficult to satisfy these savages.
Young and old, men and children, never ceased repeating the word
"yammerschooner," which means "give me." After pointing to almost
every object, one after the other, even to the buttons on our
coats, and saying their favourite word in as many intonations as
possible, they would then use it in a neuter sense, and vacantly
repeat "yammerschooner." After yammerschoonering for any article
very eagerly, they would by a simple artifice point to their young
women or little children, as much as to say, "If you will not give
it me, surely you will to such as these."

At night we endeavoured in vain to find an uninhabited cove; and at
last were obliged to bivouac not far from a party of natives. They
were very inoffensive as long as they were few in numbers, but in
the morning (21st) being joined by others they showed symptoms of
hostility, and we thought that we should have come to a skirmish.
An European labours under great disadvantages when treating with
savages like these who have not the least idea of the power of
firearms. In the very act of levelling his musket he appears to the
savage far inferior to a man armed with a bow and arrow, a spear,
or even a sling. Nor is it easy to teach them our superiority
except by striking a fatal blow. Like wild beasts, they do not
appear to compare numbers; for each individual, if attacked,
instead of retiring, will endeavour to dash your brains out with a
stone, as certainly as a tiger under similar circumstances would
tear you. Captain Fitz Roy, on one occasion being very anxious,
from good reasons, to frighten away a small party, first flourished
a cutlass near them, at which they only laughed; he then twice
fired his pistol close to a native. The man both times looked
astounded, and carefully but quickly rubbed his head; he then
stared awhile, and gabbled to his companions, but he never seemed
to think of running away. We can hardly put ourselves in the
position of these savages, and understand their actions. In the
case of this Fuegian, the possibility of such a sound as the report
of a gun close to his ear could never have entered his mind. He
perhaps literally did not for a second know whether it was a sound
or a blow, and therefore very naturally rubbed his head. In a
similar manner, when a savage sees a mark struck by a bullet, it
may be some time before he is able at all to understand how it is
effected; for the fact of a body being invisible from its velocity
would perhaps be to him an idea totally inconceivable. Moreover,
the extreme force of a bullet that penetrates a hard substance
without tearing it, may convince the savage that it has no force at
all. Certainly I believe that many savages of the lowest grade,
such as these of Tierra del Fuego, have seen objects struck, and
even small animals killed by the musket, without being in the least
aware how deadly an instrument it is.

JANUARY 22, 1833.

After having passed an unmolested night, in what would appear to be
neutral territory between Jemmy's tribe and the people whom we saw
yesterday, we sailed pleasantly along. I do not know anything which
shows more clearly the hostile state of the different tribes, than
these wide border or neutral tracts. Although Jemmy Button well
knew the force of our party, he was, at first, unwilling to land
amidst the hostile tribe nearest to his own. He often told us how
the savage Oens men "when the leaf red," crossed the mountains from
the eastern coast of Tierra del Fuego, and made inroads on the
natives of this part of the country. It was most curious to watch
him when thus talking, and see his eyes gleaming and his whole face
assume a new and wild expression. As we proceeded along the Beagle
Channel, the scenery assumed a peculiar and very magnificent
character; but the effect was much lessened from the lowness of the
point of view in a boat, and from looking along the valley, and
thus losing all the beauty of a succession of ridges. The mountains
were here about three thousand feet high, and terminated in sharp
and jagged points. They rose in one unbroken sweep from the water's
edge, and were covered to the height of fourteen or fifteen hundred
feet by the dusky-coloured forest. It was most curious to observe,
as far as the eye could range, how level and truly horizontal the
line on the mountain side was, at which trees ceased to grow: it
precisely resembled the high-water mark of driftweed on a
sea-beach.

At night we slept close to the junction of Ponsonby Sound with the
Beagle Channel. A small family of Fuegians, who were living in the
cove, were quiet and inoffensive, and soon joined our party round a
blazing fire. We were well clothed, and though sitting close to the
fire were far from too warm; yet these naked savages, though
farther off, were observed, to our great surprise, to be streaming
with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting. They seemed,
however, very well pleased, and all joined in the chorus of the
seamen's songs: but the manner in which they were invariably a
little behindhand was quite ludicrous.

During the night the news had spread, and early in the morning
(23rd) a fresh party arrived, belonging to the Tekenika, or Jemmy's
tribe. Several of them had run so fast that their noses were
bleeding, and their mouths frothed from the rapidity with which
they talked; and with their naked bodies all bedaubed with black,
white, and red, they looked like so many demoniacs who had been
fighting. (10/1. This substance, when dry, is tolerably compact,
and of little specific gravity: Professor Ehrenberg has examined
it: he states "Konig Akad. der Wissen" Berlin February 1845, that
it is composed of infusoria, including fourteen polygastrica and
four phytolitharia. He says that they are all inhabitants of fresh
water; this is a beautiful example of the results obtainable
through Professor Ehrenberg's microscopic researches; for Jemmy
Button told me that it is always collected at the bottoms of
mountain-brooks. It is, moreover, a striking fact in the
geographical distribution of the infusoria, which are well known to
have very wide ranges, that all the species in this substance,
although brought from the extreme southern point of Tierra del
Fuego, are old, known forms.) We then proceeded (accompanied by
twelve canoes, each holding four or five people) down Ponsonby
Sound to the spot where poor Jemmy expected to find his mother and
relatives. He had already heard that his father was dead; but as he
had had a "dream in his head" to that effect, he did not seem to
care much about it, and repeatedly comforted himself with the very
natural reflection - "Me no help it." He was not able to learn any
particulars regarding his father's death, as his relations would
not speak about it.

Jemmy was now in a district well known to him, and guided the boats
to a quiet pretty cove named Woollya, surrounded by islets, every
one of which and every point had its proper native name. We found
here a family of Jemmy's tribe, but not his relations: we made
friends with them; and in the evening they sent a canoe to inform
Jemmy's mother and brothers. The cove was bordered by some acres of
good sloping land, not covered (as elsewhere) either by peat or by
forest-trees. Captain Fitz Roy originally intended, as before
stated, to have taken York Minster and Fuegia to their own tribe on
the west coast; but as they expressed a wish to remain here, and as
the spot was singularly favourable, Captain Fitz Roy determined to
settle here the whole party, including Matthews, the missionary.
Five days were spent in building for them three large wigwams, in
landing their goods, in digging two gardens, and sowing seeds.

The next morning after our arrival (the 24th) the Fuegians began to
pour in, and Jemmy's mother and brothers arrived. Jemmy recognised
the stentorian voice of one of his brothers at a prodigious
distance. The meeting was less interesting than that between a
horse, turned out into a field, when he joins an old companion.
There was no demonstration of affection; they simply stared for a
short time at each other; and the mother immediately went to look
after her canoe. We heard, however, through York that the mother
had been inconsolable for the loss of Jemmy, and had searched
everywhere for him, thinking that he might have been left after
having been taken in the boat. The women took much notice of and
were very kind to Fuegia. We had already perceived that Jemmy had
almost forgotten his own language. I should think there was
scarcely another human being with so small a stock of language, for
his English was very imperfect. It was laughable, but almost
pitiable, to hear him speak to his wild brother in English, and
then ask him in Spanish ("no sabe?") whether he did not understand
him.

Everything went on peaceably during the three next days, whilst the
gardens were digging and wigwams building. We estimated the number
of natives at about one hundred and twenty. The women worked hard,
whilst the men lounged about all day long, watching us. They asked
for everything they saw, and stole what they could. They were



Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 22 of 51)