Alfonso remained my best friend and almost my only informant during the ensuing years. He had an inquiring mind and a vivid sense of humor. Although curious and often amused by the ways of his ladino (mestizo) neighbors and city people (on several occasions he had been to Tegucigalpa), he expressed no desire to emulate them. He was lucid in his comprehension of the every-day world though the imaginary world seemed equally compelling to him. He was passionately involved in his own culture and seemed to enjoying talking and discussing with me. This was partly due, I assumed, to his isolation, to the few older adults still alive and to the lack of interest in the tradition of the younger people. He imitated the mythological personages by gestures, pantomime and by the tone of voice: a born actor, though he was unaware of his talents. He would lie on the ground as perfectly still like the corpse he was quoting, leap from his chair to imitate the jerking pace of the Old Man who saved the world, of the female monkey who had to be persuaded to give birth to the First Human, of Mother Earth who still becomes angry at the mistreatment she suffers from humans who inflict wounds on her by planting their crops, of the Christ figure and his contradictory adventures, of the Master of the Deer complaining furiously about an abusive hunter. Although he spoke to me in Spanish, occasionally he reverted to his own language, as if unaware, then looked at me again and continued in Spanish. I recorded many of these interviews.
In contrast to most of his companions, who did not speak freely to outsiders, Alfonso had few inhibitions and responded to situations in a personal rather than in purely cultural terms. He was a hard worker in the fields, a devoted husband and father, always ready to fulfil a request, offer or accept a gift, proffer advice, an opinion or a comment, an attentive listener. He seemed at ease in a well-defined reality of feeling, experience and imagination. Like all Tolupans, he had a full crop of black hair, worn in a bob. Sometimes he grew a moustache or straggly beard, always donned the typical balandran, a long poncho made of denim, occasionally tying it between his legs (giving a kind of diaper effect) to allow greater freedom while walking. He usually wore just one sandal to brace himself on the muddy paths, carried a pouch made of animal skin, a machete, sometimes a blow gun and was accompanied by a faithful dog.
He was highly respected in his community because of his personality, intelligence and age (fifties). In the years when I knew him he lived about six km from the east entrance to the settlement with his wife, Todivia Soto, their youngest daughter Maria, their eldest, Celedonia, her husband, Domingo, and their baby. A third daughter, Felipa, who was also married, would sometimes visit them. While I was visiting them and Alfonso was explaining something to me, Todivia would glance at me with an amused smile. Their hut on a mountainside over-looked a wide expense of forested land to the north. The other five huts of the cluster were located within a short distance of each other, hidden among the trees. His mother, Julia, lived nearby with her youngest son, Guillermo and his family, as did another brother and several cousins. The women went to collect water in large earthen jugs, wash clothes and bathe in a stream at the base of the mountain. Their coffee grove was nearby, and though the location of the maize field varied every two years or so, it was usually within walking distance from their home.
Although Alfonso was exceptional in many ways, he was in every respect a representative of his culture. His relation to others and to nature was founded on the explicit awareness of the mutual dependency of all living forms. This dependence was premised on the expectation of reciprocity, with members of the community, with the animals of the forest, the trees and crops, the winds, the clouds, the rain, and especially the sun, the moon and "Mother Earth". Mutual dependency was, however, contingent on the notion of the necessity of a certain hierarchy: the caciques of the community, the supernatural masters of the animals, the supreme deity, Tomam the elder the Lord of the Universe.
His culture was expressed through him in the ways of the ancient Tolupans and his own impressions of their every-changing world. His decision to remain Indian signs his name to the testimonies he gave me, inspired as they are by the beauty of their tradition.
I saw Alfonso for the last time in 1964. He,
Todivia, and Maria died of measles in 1969. Their deaths were a
shock to me, even more painful because I realized that a minimum
of medical attention could have saved them. In the years since his
death, I've come to realize more than ever how exceptional
Alfonso was as a human being a most admired and always-to-be-remembered
friend. The joy of having known him will, I hope, somehow be conveyed
those who accompany us through the pages we composed together. Thanks
to him, I was able to elaborate a text, with many photos, published
in 1978, in French and Spanish, though the title is Les Enfants
de la Mort. Univers Mythique des Indiens Tolupan (Jicaque). The
introduction (by Professor Jimenez Moreno) is in Spanish, the myths
are bilingual, though some of text is only in French. Later (in
1982) an entire edition appeared in Spanish and finally (in 1992)
a revised edition in English with the title, Masters of Animals.
Oral tradition of the Tolupan Indians, Honduras (see
photos of Alfonso here). Working so exclusively with a single
informant and elaborating detailed genealogies prepared me for work
I was to do in Tierra del Fuego (see below).
A half century ago, I also met a young man, Cipriano Martinez, who was soon to become the cacique of the east section, a position he inherited from his father who had been cacique about five years before. This was the accepted manner of determining who would be the cacique, the apparently most apt among the sons of the recently deceased cacique. Through the years I always greeted Cipriano when I arrived at the settlement, received his permission to visit other families, often guided by one or two of his men. The Tolupan never rode horseback, though I usually did. Cipriano spoke to me freely of this and that: the weather, how long it would take me on horseback to arrive where I wanted to go, who might act as my guide. He was, and is, particularly concerned about affairs of the day. When I returned in 1964 he proudly showed me his new house, the first adobe hut with a tiled roof constructed in the settlement by a traditional Tolupan. A missionary, Mr. Otrogge, had helped him build it. Don Cipriano is known in all of Honduras: frequently goes to Tegucigalpa, is often interviewed in the newspapers and invited to conferences on Indian problems in different parts of the country. He welcomed the North American evangelic missionaries, such as Mr. Otrogge, who were trained in the Summer School of Linguistics in Oklahoma, as early as 1960. Now the evangelic missionaries are Honduran and have trained a number of Tolupan to aid them. They built a rather large chapel near Cipriano's house, in the vicinity of the public-primary school. There are now public schools in a quite a few hamlets of the ejido, as well as quite a few mestizos , married to Tolupan women or not established there with their families.
During my visit in February 2005 somehow I was struck by the particular beauty of Cipriano's face (see more photos of Cipriano). Even though I had seen him in November 2003, It suddenly occurred to me that in old age his face accentuated Tolupan traits that I had never noticed in any other group, that he resembled his father, whom I never met but had seen in a photo, and other older men I had known.Two different caciques, and the different halves of the Tolupan community
Cipriano's attitude towards outsiders is very different
from that of the cacique of the west section, Julio Soto,
who has done his best to shun outsiders, including missionaries
and myself, though not all of the school teachers. About the same
age as Cipriano, Julio still dresses in a balandran made
of denim such as that worn by his father and most of the men in
the 1950s. Probably until about the mid 19th century,
the balandran had been made of bark cloth. I would guess
that about then they began trading with the local merchants and
switched to denim because it was easier to buy than to strip certain
trees of their bark and hammer it into wearable clothing. Also the
denim is easy to wash. Julio proudly maintains that he and his families
live by their own work, that they do not need nor want gifts of
any sort. They mostly want to keep the land they are entitled to
by the law, which granted them the ejido in 1929. Their territory
as been encroached upon by neighboring ladinos for a very
long time. The two caciques represent diametrically opposing
views concerning autonomy, identity, self-sufficiency, acculturation,
and relations to their past, the present and the future of their
children, who are now adults. Just who is winning out? Perhaps neither
and both: more "things" will go down the drain of history as the
mestizo population increases in the settlement. Hopefully, above
all their land will now be respected, their language will now acquire
greater recognition as the new generations become increasingly bilingual
and the young people will begin to reinterpret their oral tradition,
instead of simply ignoring it.
In February 1972 when I had almost finished my work there, I became very fond of "Lupite" (Guadalupe Guerrero Martinez), a Tolupan-mestizo girl about ten years old. A French doctor, who was with me at the time, rushed her to a hospital in Tegucigalpa because she was suffering from an intestinal collapse. A few weeks later she was about to be released, when the doctors told me that she should not return immediately to the Montaña, because she might have contracted measles, which had been recently discovered in the hospital. I arranged to stay with her in a hotel in the Tegucigapla for several weeks, until it would be considered safe for her to return home. As she showed no symptoms of measles I accompanied her around the city as if I were her big sister or favorite aunt. It was there that we became fine friends. Through the years, since 1972, Two years later I published an article about her in French entitled, Lupite, fille de la montagne and have visited the community for short periods numerous times. In February 2005, when I saw her again with her eldest daughter, her baby and Lupite's youngest, a five year old, looking shy in her pretty dress.
Lupite had married very young but her husband died about 2000. By that time she had given birth to nine children in her mountain home with no medical care. Two had died in early childhood. I felt reassured this year: Lupite was as vibrant as ever, despite her frailness and headaches. A doctor in Tegucigalpa told us later, that her condition was caused by intestinal parasites, as well as lack of adequate food.Another world in Honduras, Lenca informants: beginning in 1965
I was aware that I should also attempt a study of the Lenca, as explained above - given Kirchhoff's doubts about including them in Mesoamerica and the very scant knowledge published concerning them. While Alfonso had so generously shared his knowledge and memories with me, I am grateful to some eighty Lenca informants (for their names see vol. 1:289-91 and vol. 11:229-32, whose titles are mentioned below). The people, mostly farmers, seemed delighted to allow me accompany them during their composturas, venerations, their ceremonies in their cabildos (main places of worship in Intibuca, the sister-town of La Esperanza, and in Yamaranguila, nearby) and their devotions in churches through-out several departamentos (states) of Honduras. In all they recited several hundred myths, legends, narrations and prayers. Over fifty composturas were described: one or more for each of their crops (except yams) especially for maize, a new-born child, marriage, birth-days and death, a new house, to prevent lightening from striking their homes or crops, to bring rain, to assure the proliferation of wild animals and the health of domestic animals, etc. Certain rituals took place in the local churches though most of them were enacted in the cultivated plots, the homes, yards and the nearby forest. All this besides the formal celebrations concerning the cult of Moises, which took place in the cabildos.
I began in Intibuca in 1965 and into the next year, for some seven months. On horseback and in buses I attempted to visit most of the area where the tradition was still alive. I returned briefly in 1975 and 76 and for five months between 1981 and 1986 when I had to conclude the study, though the brief visits continued afterwards. Because the Lenca tradition is pre-Hispanic, as well as colonial and a mixture of both, I published my study in two volumes: the first which appeared in 1985 (re-edited in 1992) refers to the rituals that are predominately pre-Hispanic. Its title is Los Hijos del Copal y la Candela. Ritos agrarios y tradición oral de los lencas de Honduras (Children of the Copal and the Candle. Agrarian rites and oral tradition of Lencas of Honduras). The second volume concerns the rituals which are mainly colonial-Spanish. It was published in 1986 with the same heading title as the first volume. (2 fotos Lenca # 1 on the cover of vol 1 and as a drawing on vol. 2) The subtitle reads as follows, Tradición católica de los lencas Honduras.
Among the Lenca, the late José Lucas Domínguez
García was outstanding. He was a passionate promoter of the
tradition, that of the Hijos del copal y la candela, the
expression he often repeated in his prayers. The rituals of the
ceremony dedicated to Moises (called the Varas (the staffs)
de Moises, was obviously introducted during the colonial
period. This was the principal public ceremony. José Lucas
was the leader of those who organized it. He was gifted with a precise
memory of the prayers, recitations and blessings which he recorded
for me in his rather archaic Spanish. I think he was aware that
he was recording them for posterity as very few of the elders had
a comparable knowledge or the ability to memorize and recite them.
They were indispensable for a correct celebration the Moises cult
and of the most important composuras and other venerations.
He contributed greatly to making the two volumes a truly unique
document. When he and his wife, Maria, came to say goodbye to me
in 1966 in La Esperanza (Foto on the cover of vol.1) and I photographed
them, little did I realize that I would never see him again, though
I saw Maria ten years later.
However, a school teacher maestra Berta Alicia Mendez de Reyes, was the first person who, with introduced me to José Lucas and other friends who were very much attached to their tradition. Her father Cleofas Menedez also performed many of the rituals. Other school teachers were very helpful, especially Mercedes Bautista and Dolores Reyes. Among the many, I recall with special gratitude Santos Tito Gonzalez of Azacualpa whom I saw again in February 2005, Petrona and Socorro Rodríguez also of Azacualpa, Manuela González and Babina Martinez, Margarita Pineda and Rómulo Gómez of Intibuca.
I also met during that time Hipólito Lara Cárcamo of Erandique, Octavio Perez Vazques and his adult daughter Agripina of Chiligatoro, Eleuterio Rodriquez Hernandez and his wife, Teresa of Yace, Juan Lopez, Evaristo Gomez both of Yamaranguila, José Arcadia Gonzalez of Azacualpa, Beatriz (doña Tisha) Reyes Canterero of Yamaranguila, and Maria Cruz of the Pelón de Ologosí. I saw José Gabino Manueles in the Cabildo of the Moises rituals again in Yamaranguila, in November, 2003 and February, 2005 as well as my first maestra, Berta Mendez and Tito Santos.
Contrasts: the Tolupan and the Lenca
I found the Lenca to be totally different from their neighbors, the Tolupan, and not only physically. While the former were "Mesoamerican", while the latter were certainly not "Mesoamerican". Before the Spanish Conquest the Tolupan culture was somewhat similar to that of groups in the tropical forests of Colombia and Brazil (see my Ph D thesis presented at Columbia University). While the Lencas were subject to intense proselytization soon after the Conquest, the Tolupan (called Jicaques) fled from the Spanish conquerers, the colonists and the missionaries alike until they became "subdued" during the 1860s by a Spanish Catholic prelate, Monsignor José Subirana. Another great difference was while the Tolupan of Montaña de la Flor still speak their native language, the Lenca entirely "lost" theirs, at the onset of the 19th century and only speak Spanish, which facilitated my work among them and partly accounts for my great number of informants.Professor Conrad Arensberg
Professor Arensberg, as the teacher I knew, did not confine his scholarship to specific types of cultures or societies, to one area or another, to defined periods of history. He would authenticate a concept or a hypothesis by choosing from a large range of entities such as a factory, a barrio or neighborhood, a community or an entire society. Nor did he ignore the effect of the ever-changing world in the past and in the present. He is an equally knowledgeable sociologist and historian as well as anthropologist.
For instance, he might explore or explain the importance of the living and working patterns in space with respect to the social and economic hierarchy; his illustrations compared a line or single street, village and its surrounding fields in preindustrial Europe with a similarly patterned fishing community of the Dayaks of Borneo. When he considered the effects of the industrial revolution on certain rural communities of Europe, he compared them with the results of encroaching capitalism on specific tribes or communities in Sumatra or India. He presented a vast panorama of social arrangements, often in terms of cultural patterns, without losing sight of the specific problem he had in mind, always insisting on the necessity of a clearly defined methodology.
In class, he developed numerous critical insights of current theories in anthropology and opposed the assumption of sociology that processes of association are basic features of all societies.
He criticized the key theory of formal economics, which maintained that rationalizing and economizing are essential human traits, found in all types of societies. He elaborated on the methodological concept of cultural pattern and employed it as a tool in his analysis of socioeconomic factors relevant to the society in question and to its process through time, never losing sight of recurrences of similar events to which he likewise addressed his inquiries. The pattern had to be studied and ultimately defined operationally: in terms of its particular structure and functions; not simply as manifestations of universal principles. This orientation led him quite naturally to Karl Polanyi's refutation of this same tenet of the then dominant approach to economics and to Polanyi's pioneer endeavor to redefine and clarify the concepts underlying economic activity, particularly with respect to trade and other forms of exchange of goods and services in "non-market" (non-capitalistic) societies. These Professor Arensberg also analyzed in the context of their specific structures and functions.
I was privileged not only to have attended Professor Arensberg's classes in the Department of Anthropology but also the extra-curricular seminars of the "Inter-Disciplinary Project on Growth of Economic Institutions," which he and Professor Polanyi co-directed. It was there that I came to appreciate the intellectual sophistication of these two scholars, whose radical criticisms of widely accepted premises in the social sciences cleared the field for the emergence of different, more creative and generative analyses of social phenomena which had largely escaped the attention of their colleagues.Karl Polanyi 1953 to1955 another world for me
Karl Polanyi was the professor from whom I learned the most of all my teachers ( See Karl Polanyi for the Student). His knowledge of the classic sources, his method of research concerning his models of economic institutions and his use of ethnological sources were all new to me. His innovative approach to economic anthropology was partly due to the fact that he was not an anthropologist. His experience as a journalist and his later as an economic analyst were not simply professions, they reflected a deeply felt conviction that through knowledge of the past societies as well as the present one (capitalism), human beings could attain a more just society. His passions were the economy of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East, the Greek world, and the emergence of capitalism in the 19th century England. I also admired him for his dedication to his convictions and ideals, as an anti-nazi for which he and his wife, Ilona Duczynska Polanyi, paid the price of having to adapt frequently to new and often difficult situations. Karl had been a committed journalist in his native Hungary and in Austria. At the time of the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1933 he and Ilona , who shared his convictions, went into exile to England, with their young daughter Kari Polanyi. In London he continued working as journalist and taught in schools for adults in the working-class districts of London. In 1941 he was invited to the United States, as a visiting professor, and gave lectures in many colleges and centers of research.
He published his first book, in 1944, on the economic and social history of the industrial revolution of 19th century England, entitled The Great Transformation. In 1947 he and his wife settled in Toronto, Canada, though from then on he spent most of his time in the United States, especially at Columbia University. He became director, with Conrad Arensberg, of an interdisciplinary project on the economic aspects of institutional growth, administered by Columbia University. In 1957 his second book Trade and Market in the Early Empires was published. Although two other scholars, Conrad Arensberg and Harry W. Pearson,co- edited Trade and Market , it originated with Polanyi. He wrote three of its chapters, collaborated in another and the authors of the other fourteen chapters all wrote their texts in view of Polanyi's main proposals.
The title of my chapter in this book is Ports of commerce in the civilizations Aztec and Mayan. As Polanyi was not familiar with the literature on Mesoamerica, he congratulated me for have been able to write an original study applying his model of the ports of trade to Mesoamerica. Polanyi had found them in the Middle East (Mesopotamia-Babylonia) and Greece of the 5th century BC. A Spanish translation of this book was published Spain in 1976 with the title Comercio y Mercado en los Imperios Antiguos. I worked for Polanyi between 1953 and 1955 as an assistant and participated in his seminaries. In 1963, Polanyi and his wife visited their native Hungary, and while returning to Toronto, in 1964, few months before he passed away, they visited Paris, where I saw him for the last time. A few years later I met Ilona again in Mexico City. Later one of his disciples and collaborators, Harry W. Pearson, with the assistance of Ilona Polanyi, edited some of his unpublished texts (in 1987) with the title The Livelihood of Man, which, as far as I know, has not been translated into Spanish.
His analyses of the industrial revolution of England in 19th century convinced him that the market regulated the prices (thus the term he used for capitalism -"the price making market") and that it was the determining factor in this capitalistic society. Polanyi broke with the academic economists and with the anthropologists who attempted to apply their definition of economy. They assumed that economics could be reduced to a theory of individual means-ends behaviour while Polanyi was convinced that economy, as a subject of study, had to treated in the much larger context of the society as a whole. He also proposed that capitalism is a unique phenomena: that for the first time in the long history of humanity, with capitalism the economy becomes separated from its societal context and dominates virtually the entire society. This "event" is made to the detriment of the majority of workers and to advantage of a minority, the capitalists. Although Polanyi was careful not idealize the pre-capitalist societies, he insisted that their economies were "embedded" in their social body. He distinguished two models that theoretically could include all the pre-capitalists societies, though he never made such all-encompassing assumption. The model or "form of integration" in his words, of redistribution refers to civilizations characterized by socio-economic hierarchies, in particular those of the classical Middle East, ancient Greece, India, and partly Africa. His other form of integration, reciprocity, includes the agricultural tribal societies (without irrigation) and the so-called egalitarian societies, the hunting-gathering, also called primitive societies. He also defined a variety of economic institutions, the port of in trade, among others. His model of reciprocity originated with his reading of Richard Thurnwald and of Malinowski on the natives of New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands respectively. These authors lead him to a vast ethnological literature that enriched his model of reciprocity.
Years later I referred to his models in two articles: one published in English in the French journal, L'Homme (in 1980) with the title "Barter a Universal Mode of Exchange", the other "Economía y Estructura Social de la Sociedad Selk'nam ,Tierra del Fuego" first published in Spain ( in 1984), and in Santiago, Chile in English in 2003 (see "Economy and Social Structure of the Selk'nam Society"). In this article I made an analysis following his model of reciprocity with reference to the exchange of goods and discussed Marx's theory of use value. Here I analysed Selk'nam economy with a different approach than is done habitually by ethnologists. Recently (2ÒO5) I finished to an article in English Polanyi for the student in press in Paris, which is also reproduced here. Here I attempt to clarify certain concepts of Polanyi that seem to be easier to apply than they are in reality.Lévi-Strauss: 1958-1969
Another professor was Claude Lévi-Strauss. In 1958 I wrote to him from Honduras asking his advice concerning my study of the duality of the Tolupan community, Montaña de la Flor referred to above. Then as was, and I believe still is, his custom he answered with much amiability to an unknown anthropologist concerning problems presented or suggested in his work. I did not imagine that someday I would meet him. This happened in Paris three years later when asked him to be my director in case I was admitted to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique accepted by him as well as by the CNRS where I remained until 1987. During these years I finished my fieldwork, though not the visits,to Honduras and most of the fieldwork among the Selk'nam in Tierra del Fuego (see below).
I attended Lévi-Strauss' courses in the Collège de France from 1964 to 1968. In 1967, I gave three lectures on Selk'nam shamanism in his seminar and though these years spoke to him occasionally about my work in Honduras and Tierra del Fuego. In 1969 I changed my director in the CNRS.
I was especially impressed with La Pensée Sauvage, Le Totémisme aujourd'hui, his four volumes on the mythology of the American Indians, and Interviews with Lévi-Strauss by Georges Charbonnier. I did not study Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté because I lacked consistent data on kinship from my fieldwork in Honduras and that on Tierra del Fuego is still pending. His analyses of mythology and ritual interested me especially.
What astonishes me in Lévi-Strauss' work is his ability to contribute an original analytical meaning of the vast conglomeration American myths . Also he convinced me that the "pensée sauvage" is not monopoly of the so called "savages" but is also ours. Then I asked: if we and the savages think alike, with the same logic, that only differs from the scientific "thought", then why call it "savage" or "mythical"? Lévi-Strauss expressed some doubt that both "thoughts" are different, when he wrote, "Perhaps we will discover in the future that the mythical [savage] thought and the scientific thought are based on the same logic, and that man always has thought as well." (Anthropologie structurale edition 1958: 255). Nevertheless, I am inclined "to think" that the everyday thought of everyman and everywoman is very different from the scientific system of analyses and communication that express hypotheses as the mathematical equations, used in the hard sciences.
In 1986 a book was published in Mexico called Palabras Devueltas that included an article of mine concerning several publications of Lévi-Strauss (dated between 1982 and 1984). One concerned his new model about what he called "societies of the house" that were situated between societies governed by the kinship and those that are subject to history. Another innovation that interested him was the cladistic classification elaborated by certain biologists, specialists in the study of genes (of the DNA), who propose an alternative model to substitute or complement the traditional evolutionary classification. For example, the cladistic classification situates the sea lion along with the dog and the bear, instead of with the other Pinnipedes. Lévi-Strauss proposed that this system offers a stimulus to conceive of the evolutionary processes in another light. He reaches broad and wide in "the universe" of the known cultures although he privileges the "primitive" ones, perhaps because of his fieldwork in Brazil.Work in Tierra del Fuego, with the last few survivors of the Selk'nam: 1964 to 1970
Although Annette Laming-Emperaire, a well-known archaeologist (for her work in Brazil and Tierra del Fuego) was not my professor, I mention her especially because she opened the door that lead to me to Lola Kiepja and to my long Fueguian adventure. In Paris at the beginning of 1964 Madame Emperaire told me that she was planning to continue her work in Tierra del Fuego and she spoke of one of the very few Fueguian natives still alive, known as Lola. Days later she told me that she needed one more person to complete her team of achaeologists to complete a prospection in the Chilean sector of the Isla Grande (Tierra del Fuego). Soon afterwards Madame Emperaire proposed that I join her team and that, although I was not archaeologist, I could be useful working under the guidance of her assistant. I was very interested, especially of the possibility of meeting Lola. Lévi-Strauss gave me permission to interrupt my work in Honduras for three months (as of November 1964) to join Madame Emperaire and work with her group. Mid- November I flew from Tegucigalpa to Punta Arenas and towards the end of December of that year, during Christmas vacation, the entire team went to the Argentine sector of the Isla Grande where I managed to contact Lola. Her real name Kiepja, became her last name (see The End of a World and The Moon-woman in Selk'nam Society).
Lola Kiepja was my first Selk'nam informant and inspiration for all that followed, greeted me wit joy partly because I was accompanied by two of her young friends. Once the prospection was finished, in March 1965, I spent several weeks with her and recorded her voice singing and speaking in Selk'nam. Thanks to these recording and to Gilbert Rouget, director of the department of musicology at the Musée de l'Homme, I was able to return in 1966 and spent three months with her. Garibaldi (see below) kindly allowed me to live in his small house next to her hut on the Selk'nam reserve. I continued recording her chants and commentaries on her life as a Selk'nam, her family, people she had known, ceremonies, myths, kinship terms, proper names, her imitations of certain bird songs and of the "language" of the guanaco. We often went for walks in the nearby forest. She walked slowly with a cane so we never went very far. Years later, eighty-nine of her chants were published on four records. I dedicated the first chapter to her in The End of a World: the Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego, published (2003) in Santiago (see End of the World and additional photos). I still plan to write a biography of Lola in the setting of those turbulent final years of her people.
Lola impressed by her spontaneous laughter and her penetrating expression. She was not vanquished by the overwhelming tragedies of her life: her twelve children had passed away, mainly from imported diseases, her people and her culture no longer existed. She was alone, except for occasional visits of Garibaldi and the farm worker who brought her firewood, matches, meat and herb tea . She had become the main source of knowledge concerning the Selk'nam. When she died, the 9 of October 1966, six months after my visit, I was heartbroken, thinking that I should have insisted on staying with her during her last months, that winter of 1966.
That year in April, when I passed through Buenos Aires, met Ana Montes and told her about my experience with Lola, Ana proposed that we make a film (16mm) with Selk'nam and mestizos who were still alive, the four or the five that I knew. Months later when I had returned to Paris and received word that Lola had passed away, I wrote to Ana that without Lola I was no longer interested in making the film.Angela Loij
Angela Loij whom I met with Lola in 1965, became the source of most of my later study of the Selk'nam (See Angela Loij). In 1967, I returned to Tierra del Fuego to translate the texts of Lola's chants in Selk'nam into Spanish with Angela Loij. I had not thought of dedicating more time to the study of the Selk'nam culture. I wanted to continue in Central America with the Tolupan and Lencas in Honduras, with the latter who lived in El Salvador, with the Payas and Sumu (Tawhkas) in Honduras, the Misquitos of Nicaragua and eventually with other Indian groups in Costa Rica and Panama. But in 1967, while Angela was translating the texts, she took me by surprise (see following paragraph).
Angela was born about 19OO on a sheep farm, when only about 500 Selk'nam were still alive of an approximate population of 3500 to 4000. Between 1880 and the early 1900s many had died of "imported" epidemics in the two Salenesian missions and others had been shot or poisoned by orders of the European sheep farm owners who were given land concession by Chilean authorities in Punta Arenas and by Argentine authorities in Buenos Aires. By the time Angela was born, the genocide had ceased and most of the adults, including the women, were working on the farms during the summer shearing sheep, repairing fences, cleaning the barns and warehouses. Despite being so diminished and vanquished, as I learned later, a few older men continued organizing their great ceremony, the Hain, until about the mid l930s. Between 1924 and 1930 two epidemics of measles decimated the 300 or so who had survived until then.
Angela, who spoke Selk'nam with as well as Spanish, took me by surprise in 1967 when I realized that her world of memories might guide me through the Selk'nam labyrinth of its final hundred years. Then I decided to try to return the next year to Tierra del Fuego, and to accept Ana Montes' proposal to make a film with Angela and the others who were still alive (see additional photos).
Also in 1967 I met Federico Echeuline whose mother was Selk'nam and father a visiting Norweigan navigator whom Federico resembled more than his mother. It was easy to realize that Federico's knowledge of the Selk'nam language was deep, his intelligence fast and his awareness of the tradition acute. Like Angela, he had vivid memories of his participation in the Hain ceremony, the myths and the many Selk'nam who had passed away, whom he had known or had heard about. But Federico was more restless than Angela and I did not manage to spend long days and weeks with him as I did with her. However, through the years, Federico responded to many of the questions that were lingering in my mind.
Later this same year (1967) I went from Paris to Vienna and then on to nearby Modling, where Father Martin Gusinde lived in retirement. We owe Gusinde our gratitude for his profound studies, especially of the Selk'nam and the Yamana (Yahgan), that he made during four periods of fieldwork between 1919 and 1924 (Gusinde works were translated from German into Spanish in 1982, 1986, 1991). The interview with him was very rewarding and he seemed pleased to receive the greetings from Federico and Angela who remembered him so well and to realize how important his work on the Selk'nam (in German) was to me. He died a few years later (1969), having just completed his volume on the Alakaluf, whom he called the Halakwulup.
Luis Garibaldi Honte and Segundo Arteaga, my special friends, were racially mixed, and like Federico, they had never known their fathers. They lived as adults during the time of adaptation to sheep farms following "the time" of guanaco hunting. With their years, Garibaldi and Segundo became increasingly identified with the tradition of their mothers, who were, respectively, Haush and Selk'nam. They were very willing to share their memories and testimonies with me. Segundo often spoke to me in Selk'nam, translating each sentence patiently, frequently laughing at my pronunciation. His mother died when he was very young and he grew up in the Salensian mission near Rio Grande (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina). While he was still very young he began working on the sheep farms, with mainly Chilean fellow-workers. Therefore he had not been exposed to the tradition as Federico who had remained with his mother and her kin until he was a young man, nor had Segundo nor Garibaldi been initiated in the Hain, as Federico had.The Hain Ceremony
In 1968 or 1969 I began to become aware of the meaning of the repeated commentary by Lola Kiepja: that she never could tell me everything about the ceremony of the Hain, no matter how long she spoke to me about it. Slowly I began to ask myself if a purely ethnographic description of it could do "justice," could translate what it had signified for the Selk'nam, even though it is quite well documented (thanks largely to Gusinde who participated in the last Hain witnessed by an outsider, in 1923). Sometimes I thought about the ceremony as if it were a structure of immense proportions, having many doors and windows, whose deep foundations supported towers that dominated a vast landscape. In its interior there were fires burning around which the elders and young initiates were seated. Broad avenues led from the structure far into the landscape of the past and hidden passageways led where no one knew the outlet.Film on the Selk'nam (Ona)
Although in 1968, we had finished filming in Tierra del Fuego it was not until four year later that we managed to film Angela in Buenos Aires. In 1976 the film, The Onas: Life and Death in Tierra del Fuego was completed, thanks to a large extent to the persistence of Ana Montes.
Trip to Buenos Aires with Angela Loij and Francisco Minkiol
In September of 1969, I accompanied Angela and Franciso Minkiol to Buenos Aires and the nearby city of La Plata. Minkiol or Pancho as his friends called him, seemed to enjoy singing the laments and reciting sayings in Selk'nam. He was younger than the others were and although both of his parents were Selk'nam, he had grown up as an orphan on the sheep-farms with Chilean workers. Years before, he had become paralyzed in both legs, having fallen off a horse he was trying to tame. I hoped that the doctors of La Plata or Buenos Aires could help him, at least to walk with a cane but all they could was recommend a more efficient wheelchair than the one than he had. But in spite of this disappointment, he and Angela were pleased to meet new friends and walk or ride through the streets and parks of Buenos Aires.
Fieldwork continues in Tierra del Fuego with Angela and Federico.
I returned the following few summers (1969-70 and 1971), continued the interviews with Angela and Federico concentrating on the Selk'nam territories (called haruwin), on how their ancestors had lived in the Isla Grande, on defining the characteristics of their society (family, lineage, status, shamanism, etc), in addition to recording their memories of the ceremonies and the oral tradition, the Selk'nam's relations with their neighbors, the Haush from whom they had learned or adopted many elements of the Hain, the mythology and shamanism. We also concentrated on details concerning the years of genocide and epidemics (1880 to 1900 ) that almost exterminated the Selk'nam as a viable population. The genealogies continued to increase through these seasons and the following years, mainly thanks to Angela and Federico.
Finally they consisted of more than 200 large sheets and included about 3000 individual, many of which I was given a great amount of data, represented by different symbols on the circles (for women) or triangles (for men) in addition to notes and references to my diary at the bottom of each sheet. Thus little by little, I continued documenting the recent history, the structure and the dynamics of the society, using several theoretical indicators to try to understand what I was receiving in the larger ethnological hunting-gathering context.Were the Selk'nam "cold" and organized in bands?
According to Lévi-Strauss these societies of the were "cold" because they did not incorporate their history to modify their society, that is to say they were more or less static, more than less. According to other anthropologists, including some of my professors of Columbia University, the hunter-gatherers were organized in bands and represented simplest stage or level of (multiple or neo, general or particular) cultural evolution. Some readers of Karl Marx attribute a similar hypothesis to the such hunter/gatherers in the measure that their infra-structure, or "means of production," had not altered significantly through the millenniums, nor had their superstructure. Such hypotheses should explain why during immense passage of time, 50 or 100 thousand years, from the "cave man" to the present-day hunter-gatherers, these Homo sapiens-sapiens had supposedly remained "cold," outside of history.
I am developing an hypothesis based on the well-know assumption that we Homo sapiens sapiens have "always" had the same capacity of thought; that we at present are not more intelligent, nor more stupid, than our Paleolithic ancestors, nor than the hunter-gatherers known in the "ethnographic present." We are not more intelligent, but thanks to our scientists, we know more than they did or do about the real world, how to produce "fast" goods and communications even though we still refuse to confront the harsh realities of inequalities and pollution.
Now I return to the last period of the Selk'nam. They, as the Yamana, had maintained their "way of life" in isolation for thousands of years in Tierra del Fuego, had virtually no contact with agriculturists. In this sense, they were "pristine", until the Europeans began arriving in the 16th century. I propose that, contrary to the "cold" and Marxist hypotheses, their society was dynamic in its superstructure, even though its "mode of production", (hunting, manufacture of tools, division of labor, etc) may well have remained static through a very long time. For instance the Selk'nam initiation ceremony (the Hain) changed drastically when the Selk'nam came in contact with the Haush, on the Isla Grande. Nor were they organized in "bands" but rather in divisions in terms of cardinal points (based on place of birth, not kinship), kindreds (as defined by Murdock), lineages and families (often polygamous). The lineage, or a fraction thereof, was the unit which possessed the territory (haruwin) of which there were almost seventy as documented (see Chapman 1982) on the Isla Grande. Though the society was stratified in terms of status, the lineages were egalitarian because no one had a status based on kinship, moreover everyone had virtually the same responsibilities (there was no leisure strata). However, certain lineages were much more powerful than others were because they had a greater portion of territory (haruwin), hunting land. The Selk'nam were prone to dispute, often in deadly battles, the possession of the best hunting grounds.The Selk'nam society was dynamic, egalitarian, yet stratified
I will further, though briefly, describe this hunting society that was neither "cold" nor organized in bands and the degree to which it was egalitarian. The hunting of the guanaco (the main prey of the Selk'nam, source of their principal food, clothing, tent covers, some tools) demanded a great physical strength of the male hunters, and capacity to resist fatigue because of the necessity to approach the animal so that the arrow (without poison) penetrate its vital organs. The hunt also required accuracy aiming with the bow and arrow. A wounded guanaco would not only scare the rest of the herd that would gallop off at high speed it might also run a long distance before succumbing to its wounds. Thus, it was necessary to train the males very young in order to maintain a high level of efficiency during most of their lives. To deal with these requirements the Selk'nam had created a series of competitive games: racing, arrow shooting and wrestling. These games were necessarily competitive and almost invariably led to a status system. The prestigious title awarded to the best runners was soijen, to the best archers was kian-seren, and to the champion wrestlers was sorren. The champions of the hunt were called paautin. An outstanding warrior, a k'mal, was greatly honored because of fixation of the lineages on increasing their territories, the range of their hunting areas. Any male could attain these statuses. The talented artisan (usually a woman for making baskets or sewing together guanaco skins for clothing or tent covers) was a given the title of haalichin.
Now we pass from infra to super-structure. The highest categories were also competitive, but were unrelated to the hunt: that of \the shaman (xo'on) of which there were some seven specialists, the "wise-man" who was most knowledgeable about the lailuka , the oral tradition, called lailuka-ain (ain means father) and lailuka-am (am signifies mother) and the prophet, the chan-ain (literally word-father, that is, father of the word). And, an unusually handsome man was known as a hauwitpin.
The reward for achieving such a "title" was prestige, not economic gain. Everyone worked, no one could take advantage of his/her prestige to demand that others work for them. In this sense the society was egalitarian. We can assume from our own experiences, that prestige generates envy as well as admiration. For example Kausel, the grandfather of Pancho Minkiol, was a paautin, a champion hunter. Judging from two photographs of him, he was probably also considered a hauwitpin. He had five wives and children whom he managed to feed by guanaco hunting and he probably generated envy. Envy creates tensions as well as stimulating competition particularly in an "open" society, such as the Selk'nam, where a "self-made-man" can reach the top of the hierarchy.
Competition combined with envy could have become a dynamic element that moved through the lineages and families without modifying the basic subsistence structure. For example, the lineage of Lola's maternal grandfather, a famous chan-ain, named Alakin, by about the end of 19th century had obtain the largest territory on the entire island, from Lake Fagnano to the Atlantic coast, while others lineages were confined to small territories without accesses to the coasts. The pattern of land distribution may well have altered often through time. As I eluded to above, a society may well modify its super-structure, without affecting its means of production once these have achieved a maximum in terms of technological possibilities, as the Selk'nam had with the hunt. This is to imply that the economic basis does not determine the social aspects of a society even though it does limit them I continue now with my outstanding Selk'nam informants.
Esteban Ichton and the First Expedition to the tip of the Isla Grande: December, 1969
Esteban Ichton was only an incidental informant because unfortunately he died soon after I met him. He spoke Selk'nam and had been initiated in the Hain. Like the other Selk'nam at the time, he worked on the sheep farms. When I met him in 1968 he proposed to accompany me through the uninhabited area in the tip or boot of the Isla Grande, former Haush territory. Listening to him I became aware that I should try to visit, if not explore, that region (the Mitre Peninsula) especially because it had not been occupied by the European or Argentine newcomers. Most of the Isla Grande, except the Darwin mountain range, some of the forests, and the uninviting fiords, had been greatly modified by the grazing sheep and cattle, the towns, roads and the influx of tourism, especially in Ushuaia, along Beagle Channel. The northwestern part of the island, boarding on the Magellan Strait, was dotted with petroleum towers and flames from gas pits appeared everywhere on the horizon. The guanacos were the targets of men with firearms for their skins and food for the farm dogs. The underground nests of tucutuco rodents were squashed by the sheep, by trucks and by farm workers on horseback. The bogs were drying out and many sections of forests were being rented or sold to lumber companies. Most of the island had become another "world".
I had great interest to visit the part the island, the tip of the Isla Grande (the Mitre peninsula). Esteban had ridden through that part of the island on horseback as guide for agronomists in 1930s. It had remained almost as Haush (the neighbors of Selk'nam) had left it; "almost" because commercial hunters, since the beginning of the 19th century had decimated great pods of whales, seals and sea lions. Esteban was willing to accompany me on horseback and foot. But mid-1969, he died suddenly in Ushuaia. I only managed to give my condolence to its sister, Rafaela Ishton.
Soon thereafter the commander of the Argentine Marines in Tierra del Fuego, whose headquarters were (are) in Rio Grande, offered to help me make the trip on horseback to the last sheep farm (in Caleta Falsa) from where it was necessary to hike (because of the bogs) through the uninhabited zone. Thanks to the facilities offered by the commander, the horseback route was made the last two weeks of December 1969 with six volunteers: an officer, three infantes of the marines, a rural policeman, a guide and four pack-horses. The guide, Alfredo Rupatini was not familiar with the Selk'nam tradition although his parents were Selk'nam. Another of the men, Domingo Palma, helped me a great deal to collect surface artifacts (mostly of stone and some of bone) along the way. ). In 1973 I published an article with an archaeologist of the University of California (Berkeley), Thomas Hester, that describes this part of the trip and the artifacts. All the material was deposited in the Museo del Fin del Mundo, in Ushuaia.
The Second Expedition: through former Haush territory - January-February 1970
Beginning a month later with two men of Yahgan descent, Celestino ("Tino") Varela and Armando Clemente as guides (though neither had been to the area) I made the entire trip (see Where the Seas Clash: the land of the ancient Haush, Tierra del Fuego). We left on horseback from the center of the island, Lake Fagnano, arriving in three days later at the Caleta Falsa farm where I had been with the volunteers from the Marines. Mid-Febuary (1970) Tino and Armando, Tino's two dogs and I hiked through the uninhabted zone (in 10 days). It rained every day but it only snowed once.Continuation of research on and field work in Tierra del Fuego and in Honduras :1972-1976
In 1972, I returned for six weeks to Honduras (see above). The rest of that year, to 1974, I spent one winter and two summer seasons in Tierra del Fuego and the remainder of 73 and 74 in Buenos Aires, consulting in libraries and Salesian archive, the latter thanks to Father Juan Belsa. Angela came to to visit me in Buenos Aires, in September, 1973. She was very pleased to travel in "subte" (the metro), to feel the warm climate and to sit in the coffee shops watching the world go by. But a year later, the 28 of May of 1974, she passed away suddenly in her house in Rio Grande. I wrote an article and poem in her memory, which is included in the book "The End of a World " (see Angela Loij)
In 1975, I returned to Honduras and continued with Lenca in Intibucá and visited the Tolupan in the Montaña de la Flor.
In the summer of 1976, I went back to the Isla Grande, to complete a perspection of the Atlantic coast on horseback (except for the area of the town of Rio Grande), from the Cabo Espirito Santo, near the entrance to the Strait of Magellan, to the Cabo San Pablo near where the two expeditions mentioned above (1969 and 1970) had begun. Then I completed my prospection of the north coast of the Isla Grande. The surface artifacts I gathered (without excavating) were deposited in the private museum of Roberto Wilson (at that time there were no museums in Rio Grande.) But the results of the prospection have not been published.Paris 1977 1980
I returned to Paris the end of 76 and until 1980. It was then that I presented a doctorate thesis to the Université de Paris V, La Sorbonne, finished the book Drama and Power in a Hunting Society. The Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego published by the Cambridge University Press in 1982 (whose translation in Spanish appeared in 1986) and wrote the article on barter mentioned above, as inspired by Karl Polanyi.Return to Tierra del Fuego: 1981
End of 1981 when I returned to Tierra del Fuego , I was very sad to learn that Garibaldi had drowned in the river near the town of Rio Grande where he lived and that the year before Federico Echeuline had suddenly passed away apparently without being ill. I had begun my Selk'nam study with Lola Kiepja in 1965, continued with Angela Loij almost to her death in 1974, meanwhile had often seen Federico and Garibaldi and met Esteban Ichton, and had shared their lives, in certain way. By 1981 the doors that were closing, leaving me outside. The friendships that we had created had a special quality, perhaps because they felt that despite my ignorance of the Selk'nam , that somehow I understood what they told me. My eagerness to know everything that they could communicate to me stimulated their memories of that world that had disappeared forever.
The only one who was still alive in 198l in Tierra del Fuego was Segundo Arteaga. He obviously felt lonlier than I, in spite of his many friends Rio Grande. I visited him several times the following years and in 1985 accompanied him by airplane to Rio Gallegos (province of Santa Cruz on the continent) where I had arranged to meet the archaeologists who were working there, Maria Estela Mansur and her husband , Jean Marie Franchomme. They helped me locate Segundo's old Selk'nam friend, Pablo Pacheco. The two men had not seen each other for about 30 years. In 1949 Pablo had gone to Santa Cruz and had never returned to Tierra del Fuego. He had worked all those years on the sheep farms in the area . When we entered the kitchen of the farm where he was staying, Segundo grasped his hand saying "I am Arteaga, do you remember?" Pacheco smiled, looking at him said, "Yes, I remember." Pacheco was not very loquacious but he seemed pleased to meet his old friend. The next year Segundo and I returned to Santa Cruz. Then Pablo was ready to go back to his homeland, to Rio Grande, where the mayor, Estebán Martinez, offered him a pension. Thus Pachco spent his last years with Segundo in the "Hogar de los Ancianos" (Old People's Home). I published an account of their first meeting (of 1985) four years later in the "Revista Patagónica".The Third Expedition: Staten Island: 1982
As I mentioned above, I returned to Tierra del Fuego in 1981 because I had decided to try to explore more territory that had not been inhabited by the whites, this time Staten Island. I had glimpsed its profile across the Strait Le Maire, from Good Success Bay, in February of 1970. The island was uninhabited , except for a bay where the Argentine Marines had a base. I was almost sure the Yahgans had been there, because they had named Staten Island Chuani-sin, "Land of Abundance." How could they have known it was "abundant" if they had never been there? Also my Selk'nam informants thought that the Yahgans, who were navigators , had visited the island. If so they been there before or perhaps even after the first European explorers discovered it in 1616. So it seemed to me that the Yahgans had inhabited, or at least visited it, despite the dangerous waters that surrounded it, even though there were no written data to support such an "hypothesis."
In January 1982 I was able to explore part of the island and with Domingo Palma and "Tino" Varela both of whom had helped me during the expeditions to the tip of the isla Grande in 1969 and 1970. That year, 1982, we made a preliminary survey of several bays along the north coast of Staten Island and found an archaeological site in Crossley Bay. The three Radio Carbon dates from the site surprised me: 2312, 1721 and 1527 years before the present (1982) with a margins of error from one to two hundred years, that is approximately 430 BC, 261 AD and 455 AD. They surprised so much that I asked the archaeologist Ernesto Piana, who was working intensely in the Yahgan area along Beagle Channel, to verify these dates, if possible, by obtaining more carbon material from the same site, in Crossley Bay. A few years later he kindly did so and in a letter of March 24, 1986 he informed me that the analyses he made in an laboratory gave two dates 2350 and 1500 years before the present (1985), which were very close to two I had from another laboratory. I am still surprised that the dates are not more recent, since there were so much material on the surface. We collected scrapers, percussion instruments as hammers, worked fragments of pebbles, wedges of whale bones, two boleadores, etc. I wanted to return there with an archaeologist. I was able to, three years later with a young archaeologist, Victoria Horwitz , my old friend, Domingo Palma and a young volunteer whose name I don't recall at the moment. This time we were not so lucky. We went to another zone further along the North coast ( Roca and Colnett bays) but found very little surface material.
The results of the first expedition were published (in 1987) with the title La Isla de los Estados en la prehistoria. Primeros datos arqueólogicos.This small book (123 pages) includes analyses of the archaeological material by Victoria Horwitz and the faunistic material by Sergio Esteban Caviglia. I took advantage of the publication to include three original myths, about the Straits Le Maire and Staten Island, that Angela Loij had given me. Neither the Selk'nam nor the Haush were navigators so they never been to the island, but they had contemplated it from the tip of the Isla Grande, across Le Maire Strait, and had named Staten Island "Jáius" and the Le Maire Strait, "Sati." The Selk'nam shamans and probably originally the Haush shamans, attributed an enormous importance to Staten Island, as the root of the world, the seat of the power of the mystic forces, namely that of the Sun, inspired by its location in the East.Return to Honduras: 1982-86
Between 1981 and 1986 I often stayed in the French center of research in Mexico City, known as CEMCA. I returned to Chiapas once where I had been so many years ago as a student and several times to Honduras to complete my study of the Lencas and visit the Tolupan in the Montaña de la Flor (see above).Again to Tierra del Fuego, to begin the study with the last few Yahgan women: 1985
I still had not managed to separate myself from Tierra del Fuego. In 1985 I was convinced that I would have to try to work with the neighbors of Selk'nam, the few Yahgans who had memories of the old times. From 1985 through the 1990s, I continued to visit my friends Segundo Arteaga in Rio Grande and Enriqueta Varela in Ushuaia. Although her mother was indigenous, Enriqueta was not familiar the tradition, but we were good friends. I not only admired her heroic struggles to raise nine children after their father died, but also as artist, for her beautiful sculptures in wood: portraits of the Selk'nam, and figures sea leons, birds and other Fuegian animals.
I will comment on my four Chilean-Yahgan informant-friends in the following paragraphy. Thanks to officers of the Chilean Navy, I was able to travel through the former Yahgan territory from Cape Horn, to New Year's Sound (Seno Año Nuevo) around Hoste Island and other localities of former Yahgan territory. In 1988 I finished a film entitled "Homage to the Yahgans" for which I used much that was filmed during these trips. In 1995 three chapters and one other in 1996 incorporated some of the data given to me by my Chilean-Yahgan informants (see my CV) though I still have a long text and rows of notes, recordings, photographs and genealogies concerning the Selk'nam and the Yamana on the back stage.
By 1985 all of my Selk'nam informants had passed away, except Segundo Arteaga, and I had done as much "exploring" as I felt necessary in their former territory (Isla Grande) and in Staten Island, however, as I commented above, I had not managed to separate myself from Tierra del Fuego. I was convinced that I should try to work with the neighbors of Selk'nam, the few Yahgans who had memories of the old times. I had met several Yahgans in November 1964 when I spent two weeks in the small hamlet, called Ukika, on the outer skirts of Puerto Williams, on Navarino Island, along Beagle Channel in the Chilean section of Tierra del Fuego. In 1985, four women still lived there who spoke Yahgan: Rosa Clemente, Cristina and Ursula Calderón and Hermelinda Acuña. They became my principal informants from then through the 1990s. The most intensive work with them took place from 1986 to 1988 when I recorded their voices beginning with the stories of their own lives that included insights and anecdotes that took them back to "old times" (before the impact of the Anglican missionaries began in 1869). They frequently mentioned Yahgans who had been Gusinde's informants in the early 1920s. They also told me stories they had heard about the devastating epidemics during the final decades of the nineteenth century that virtually destroyed the Yamana as a people. Other important themes were their recollections of the myths and legends and particularly the last two enactments of the great Yamana ceremony, called Chiexaus, which took place in the early 1930s.
Cristina and Ursula vividly recalled a woman known as Abuela (grandmother) Julia, whose real name was Carrapale-kipa, who died in 1958. As a child she and her family had seen the Romanche, the ship that anchored in Yamana territory in September 1882, with the officers and crew of the "Mission Scientifique du Cap Horn," the French contingent of the first International Polar Year expeditions. Carrapale-kipa and her family, having never seen a European vessel, were baffled at first and imagined that the ship was a sort of cliff, and the men they saw on deck were cormorants. They soon realized they were humans but were again confused by the bags of flour, soap, biscuits, and candy the Romanche crew tossed over board for them. They threw away the biscuits and candy, thinking they might be poison. The flour looked like the white clay powder they used as body paint so some of the men "painted" their faces with it but when it hardened in the rain, they were disappointed and threw it away also. They tasted the soap and finally figured out its use. This amusing and fascinating story was published as one of three chapters in 1995 in French (see my CV).
In 1922 "Abuela Julia" became Gusinde's most highly esteemed informant because of her knowledge of the mythology and ceremonies. She never learned to speak Spanish nor did she ever accept the fact that the whites had invaded her land and, however unintentionally, had destroyed her people. Her life takes on heroic proportions about 1915, when she escaped from the last Anglican mission in Tierra del Fuego. She rowed away in a dug-out canoe, without being seen by the head missionary. Alone with her dog, after some two months of rowing, camping alone along the shores, and surviving on shellfish, she arrived in the only remaining Yahgan settlement along Beagle Channel. I am planning to do a short film on this and other incidents of her life with the help and encouragement of Sonia Rojas, a young Chilean who lives in Paris, and just completed a "Memoire" on several of Bunwel's films. Our film will be based on Cristina and Ursula recollections of "Abuela Julia" that I recorded. We will use the "rushes," a selection of the nine hours of film that remained from the Yahgan film, listed in my CV , as well as archival material.
I am sad to write, as of now, April 2006, three of my informants mentioned above, Rosa Clemente, Ursula Calderon and Ermelinda Acuña, have passed away. I last saw Ermedlinda and Cristina in June 2003. The former in her daughter's home in Punta Arenas and Cristina when the University of Magallanes and Professor Mateo Martinic kindly gave me a "Doctor Honoris Causa." Cristina is now the only person who has a fluent command of the Yahgan language. Very unfortunately, this language has never been studied in detail by a trained linguist, nor has the Yamana-English dictionary of over 32,000 words, the great work of the missionary Thomas Bridges, ever been analysed.
However, the Yahgan legacy will survive and probably become increasingly appreciated by the generations to come, not only because of its intrinsic value as an amazing cultural expression that lasted at least 6000 years (according to the archaeologists) but also, like that of the Selk'nam, because of their great appeal to artists, musicians, philosophers, literary authors, students of almost every age and people with open minds in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere. I evoked these possibilities in an article called "Beyond Ethnology," published in Spanish by the University of Magallanes in 2003, as a tribute to the Yahgans and as gesture of thanks to the University
I may add here while all my professors were men, many of my informants were women. I came to realize that the masculine colleagues might miss a great deal. In the fieldwork it is evident that often one associates more easily with people of one's own sex. "Often" but not always, as I mentioned above, my only Tolupan informant and dear friend was Alfonso Martinez, many of my Lenca informants were men and I also had several male Selk'nam informants. What is less evident is the great distortión of the knowledge that a study done only by men may produce in societies so strongly patriarchal as that of the Selk'nam. Gusinde wrote that he had to limit his contacts with the Selk'nam women, mainly because the men feared that he might reveal "the secret," to the women, i.e. that the spirits who appeared during the Hain ceremony were not supernatural. Federico Echeuline, as late as 1969, still thought that Angela should not be told the secret. She, as Gusinde had written, related that if the men discovered that a woman knew the secret, the woman could have been killed by the men. Angela led me to understand that the women had not been fooled, but they had to be very careful not to reveal that they knew that the "spirits" who appeared during the Hain were only disguised men. I explain this in my first book of 1982 and again in the two books published in Santiago in 2003. End.