The Araucanian Indians
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ODD FEATURES OF LIFE AMONG THE RICHEST AND BRAVEST OF THE SOUTH AMERICAN INDIANS-A VISIT TO THEIR RESERVATIONS IN SOUTH CHILE-PRETTY INDIAN MAIDENS--HOW THEY ARE COURTED AND MARRIED-CURIOUS CUSTOMS AT BIRTH AND DEATH-THE ARAUCANIAN RELIGION -AN ARAUCANIAN WOMAN WHO CLAIMS TO BE I30 YEARS OLD.
I WANT to introduce to the reader the richest, proudest, and bravest of the Indians of the South American Continent—Indians who once owned the greater part of Chile, and who, for three generations, with wooden lances and bows and arrows, waged a successful war with the Spanish invaders. They killed the founder of Santiago, Pedro Valdivia, who came south to conquer them. They destroyed Spanish forts, besieged Spanish cities, and receded southward only as they were forced foot by foot to give way. The war lasted over three generations. As it went on the Indians learned more of the tactics of the Spaniards and their organized troops of cavalry, and they attacked scattering bands of the enemy wherever they found them. They carried off arms, cattle, and horses; while they waged war to such an extent that their subjection cost Spain more men than did her conquests of Mexico and Peru. And this though the Araucanians were in number comparatively few; there never were more than 100,000 of them. At the time of Valdivia they were divided into separate tribes, which were combined only by the common cause of resistance to the Spaniards. When finally conquered they refused to become the slaves and hirelings of their conquerors, as did the Indians farther north, and today they maintain their identity, owning their own lands, and looking with scorn upon the descendants of the whites who have robbed them of their country.
The Indians I refer to are the Araucanians, the famous native fighters of south Chile. I am writing this chapter in Temuco, on the edge of one of their reservations, and I have just returned from a hand-car trip over a railroad which the Chilean government is building through their country to open the lands adjoining it to settlement. The Araucanians have long since given up their fight against the whites, and the whites are doing what they can to civilize them. They have given them lands, which they are not allowed to sell, and have established for them Indian schools modelled after those of the United States. The progress, however, is not great, for the demon of alcohol is slowly but surely wiping out what is left of the race. There are, it is estimated, only 50,000 now remaining, most of whom are scattered over the hills and valleys of southern Chile.
There are many Araucanians to be seen in Temuco. They come in to trade, some on foot and some on horseback, both men and women riding astride; many are in rude ox carts, riding on the loads of wheat, barley, and other produce which they bring in to sell. I saw one to-day seated in a cart on two fat hogs, which he was bringing to market; his pretty daughter rode be-hind on a pony. She wore heavy flat earrings of silver, each as big as the palm of my hand, and upon her breast was a silver plate of diamond shape, hanging by a silver chain, which made a musical jingle as she trotted by. A group of Araucanian girls, whom I saw soon after, were barefooted and bareheaded. Their dresses were bright-coloured blankets, so pinned at the shoulders that the arms were left bare. The dresses were belted in at the waists with buckles of silver; they fell to the middle of the calf, leaving the lower part of the legs bare, except where bands of silver beads sewed to red cloth stood out above the ankles against the rosy pink skin. Several of the girls wore a second blanket about the shoulders, fastened there by long silver pins.
The Araucanian men have a somewhat similar dress, save that the second blanket is worn as a poncho, thrown over the upper part of the body, with the head stuck through a slit in the centre. Few of the men wear hats, but all tie red handkerchiefs or bands about their heads down over the forehead, leaving the crown of the head bare.
The Araucanians are of the same race as the North American Indians. They are somewhat lighter in colour than most of our native tribes, but have the same high cheek bones and straight black hair. The men have little or no beards. They wear their hair cut off as far down as the neck and coming down over the ears. The women wear their hair long; it is usually divided into two braids, each wrapped with a strip of red cloth, often deco-rated with little silver beads; the ends are sometimes tied together with strings of silver balls. ' They wind the hair up on the top of the head and let the ends of the braids stick out like horns above their faces. Both sexes are partial to bright colours, and the women are especially fond of jewellery: Their earrings are always large, some being worn in the shape of silver plates as big as playing cards, with ear-hooks attached. They wear necklaces of silver beads, and as many silver breast ornaments as they can afford. The Araucanian men are better looking than the North American Indians, and the women when young are plump and pretty. Many of their girls have rosy cheeks, well-rounded forms, beautiful eyes and teeth, and ripe red lips. They look clean; their feet are small, and their ankles are well turned.
The Araucanians have curious customs. Each of the richer braves has two or more wives who live with him in the same hut,' the children of the several wives being mixed up indiscriminately, as long as peace prevails in the family. This condition, however, does not always exist. At least, I judge so, for in one of the Indian huts which I visited I found two fires going, over each of which one of the husband's two wives was cooking, while about each woman was gathered her own brood of children.
The hut, which was of boards, with a low thatched roof, was a typical Araucanian home. It had no door, but the whole front was open to the east and so arranged that when necessary it could be closed with skins. The roof was ridge-shaped, affording room for an attic, which was separated from the ground room by a ceiling of poles, turned jet black by the smoke. From these poles ears of corn, strings of onions, pieces of dried meat, and bags of other eatables hung. The floor, which was mother earth, was littered with farming utensils, clothing, saddles, harness, and a variety of other things, the whole giving the room the appearance of a junk shop.
On opposite sides of the hut two closet-lille rooms had been partitioned off by poles and skins. In each was a low platform, bedded with straw and covered with sheep skins. These were the private quarters of the different wives, each of whom sleeps with her children apart from the other. In the same hut lived the great-grandmother-in-law of the two wives, a woman who is, I am told, 130 years old. She is the oldest person in Chile, and if her family traditions be correct, she is perhaps the oldest woman in the world. She is a slender little body, not over four feet high and so withered up with age that she weighs not more than fifty pounds. Accompanying me at the time of my visit was Herr Otto Kehren, a German connected with Don Augustine Baeza, the inspector-general of colonization of Chile, who was also of our party. Herr Kehren is over six feet tall and weighs two hundred and fifty pounds. I had him stand up beside the little great-grandmother-in-law and made a photograph of the two: the contrast was that of giant and pigmy, of old age and youth, of life and death, of withered skin and rosy flesh. As I looked at the old woman the fact that conditions have little to do with longevity seemed apparent. Small at her birth and probably weak, she had lived, although half-fed and poorly clad, for more than a hundred years. When I saw her she was dressed in a ragged navy blue blanket, fastened by a pin of silver over her skinny breastbone. Her lean, shrivelled arms were bare to the shoulder, and her wrinkled legs were naked to the middle of the calf. She was both deaf and blind. Her eyes were grown over with skin so that they looked like two little red buttons of flesh, and her face was as wrinkled as a withered apple. She was led out of the hut by one of her great-grandchildren, a plump Indian maiden of eighteen, and the contrast between eighteen and one hundred and thirty was striking in the extreme. I was told that the old woman still had the use of her mental faculties and that she did much of the spinning for the family. Her great-granddaughters-in-law seemed very proud of her and were thankful for the money we gave her.
In this hut, as I have said, there were two Araucanian women cooking. Their only cooking utensils were iron pots, which they rested upon stones over fires built in holes in the ground inside the hut; the smoke was so dense it seemed to me that I could feel it closing behind me as I pushed my way through it. The women were roasting potatoes and green corn on the coals, upon which savoury stews were steaming. Much of the food is eaten raw and this is true of both meal and meat. Raw mutton and beef cut into small pieces are among the chief dishes of an Araucanian feast. Red pepper is used as an appetizer and raw alcohol is drunk between the courses. They have a way of taking a living sheep and peppering and salting its lungs while it is dying. This is done by hanging the sheep up by its fore-legs and stuffing its windpipe with salt and red pepper. While the sheep is gasping, its jugular vein is skilfully cut and abstracted and the stream of blood turned into the windpipe. This carries the salt and pepper down to the lungs and the sheep at once swells and dies. The lungs are now taken out of the still quivering animal; they are cut into slices and eaten warm with the lifeblood which has thus been seasoned to taste. At all feasts the men are served first, the women acting as waiters and taking what is left.
The Araucanians have curious customs in regard to love and marriage. A father always expects to get a certain price for his daughter, in cattle, sheep, horses, or other presents, and the deal is made beforehand, the groom usually paying as little as he can. The price having finally been agreed upon, the young man comes with his friends and kidnaps the bride. A dark night is chosen, but the time is usually known to the girl, who has her female friends with her for the occasion. It is a matter of wedding etiquette that she should fight against being married, and all the women of the family and her female friends join with her in repelling the groom. The friends of the groom are on hand to help him, and there is generally a lively skirmish, which ends in the bride being dragged from her home by her future husband. He swings her up on his horse and goes off on a gallop, making for the nearest woods. The women pursue, but the groom soon distances them. Having reached the forest, he takes his lady love with him into its recesses and there spends the honeymoon. This lasts but a few days, when the two return to the house of the groom and are considered to be married. Then the husband takes the presents, as agreed, to the father of his wife, and the ceremony is over. If, later on, the husband desires a divorce, he may, under certain conditions, send back his wife to her father; if she proves unfaithful to him he has the right to kill her. If she deserts him and goes back home of her own accord, nothing is said; but if she marries again, the second husband must reimburse the first for the price he paid her father for her.
Araucanian papooses are treated in much the same way as our Indian babies. The little one is tied to a carrying board as soon as it is born and kept fastened there until it is old enough to walk. The babies are bright eyed and healthy looking and can stand treatment that would kill most white infants. Take the practice at birth, for example: when an Araucanian mother is expecting her baby she goes alone into the woods and camps there on the bank of a stream until the child is born. After the birth has taken place, she bathes the little one in the brook, then dries it, wraps it up in a skin or cloth and fastens it to the board. She slings it on her back by a strap or rope tied about her forehead, and thus carries it home. For a year or so there-after she carries the baby about with her, taking it to the fields when she goes out to work.
The Araucanians have singular ideas about death, one of which is that their ancestors watch over them, shining as stars in the milky way. They do not believe in the Christian religion as do the descendants of the Incas, and the Catholic missionaries have worked among them with but little success. They are like our northern Indians in their belief in a great father—a great good spirit and an evil spirit. These two, they think, are always fighting one another, and the evil spirit is supposed to follow a man even into the grave. For this reason they stand about the grave at burials with their lances and make noises to frighten the evil spirits away. When one of their number dies he is seldom buried at once. His family, fearing that he will be lone-some on his way to the happy hunting-grounds, try to accustom him first to solitude. They hang the corpse from the rafters or poles inside the hut and for the first day or two speak to him frequently. They talk to him at their meals and treat him as though he were alive. From day to day, however, they pay less and less attention, until they think the dead has grown accustomed to being alone, when they bury him. Sometimes, instead of being hung up, the corpse is laid in the little attic on the poles which form the ceiling of the living-room. How decomposition is prevented, if it is prevented, I do not know; but I should think that the dense smoke, which is incessant in the huts the greater part of the day, would serve to cure anything, dead or alive.
In nearly all of these Araucanian communities there is a prophetess, or woman « medicine man," who is supposed to be able to ward off evil spirits, or tell why they will not let the troubled one alone. The evil spirit is at the root of all Araucanian woes. It brings bad crops and is the cause of all diseases. In times of sickness the prophetess is called in, when she practices incantations and other antics over the patient. If he recover it is, of course, solely due to her skill; but if not, it must be the evil spirit who has been led to afflict the sick by some one of his enemies. In case of failure, the prophetess pro-claims that the patient has been bewitched, and points out the man or woman who bewitched him, and if death ensue the relatives of the deceased are liable to kill the person so charged with being a witch.
The Araucanians are good farmers, not a few of them using some American machinery, such as a plough or other implement. They are rather stockmen than grain-raisers. I found but few of the braves labouring in the fields, for the squaws do most of the farm work, except on the farms of the larger land-owners, where the " rotos," or Chilean peasants are the hired hands. The roto, like most hybrids, is in many respects a worse native than either of the peoples from whom he is descended, often having the vices of both and the virtues of neither. The pure Indian is cleaner than the peon; he is more honest and self-respecting. Until recently no Indian could be got to work for a white man, and to-day the Araucanian feels himself the equal of any person on earth. He has always been a man of some civilization; he was a tiller of the soil when the Spaniards came to this continent, and he has always been a land-owner. The clothes he wears are woven by his wives, and his ponchos all have the bright colours and much of the beauty of the blankets made by the Navajo Indians.
The Araucanian is a shrewd trader, but as a rule he does not care for money. I have often tried to buy the ponchos of Indians I met, offering what I thought ought to have been considered good prices, but have invariably failed. It was the same with the jewellery they wore, which I tried to purchase of the girls. The only places to get such things are in the pawn shops of the frontier towns. The Indians are fond of liquor, and when in want of money will sell or pawn almost anything they possess for the means of becoming intoxicated. This brings them to the pawnbrokers, and the result is that you can pick up their curious jewellery and sometimes their beautiful blankets quite cheaply. I once saw for sale in Temuco a pair of solid silver stirrups, each weighing a pound. The price was thirty-five Chilean dollars, or about twelve dollars of our money; and I bought an almost new hand-woven poncho, as big as a bedquilt, for ten dollars in silver, or three dollars and a-half in American gold.
It is on account of his craving for alcohol that the government has forbidden the Indian to sell his lands. Until this law was enacted, large tracts were continually passing out of the hands of the Araucanians into those of unscrupulous speculators, and now only a comparatively small part of the Araucanian territory re-mains to the Indians. South Chile is rapidly settling, and the desire for good land is such that the absorption of the Araucanian Reservations by the whites is only a question of time.