Thursday, 1 March 2012
Who are the Mysterious Bearded Indians 2
At long last this little series of two articles on the Bearded Indians is complete with the images thanks to Alan. Part 1 has been updated and is here.
Who Are the Mysterious Bearded Indians?— Part 2Many Scientists Believe that the Cultures of Central and South America Were Brought from the Old World by Oceanic Invaders Who Crossed the South Pacific in Canoes— The "Diffusionist" Theory
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation
From Scientific American, July 1928. Researched by Alan Schenker; digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2012.
IN our last issue, Mr. Verrill told something of his explorations in South America, and of the tribe of bearded Indians found there. He also described the perils of travel in the jungles, and presented a thrilling word-picture of the dangers of water travel through the wilderness. In the following article he continues his discourse, giving his reasons for adhering to the diffusionist theory to account for the presence of the bearded Indians of South America.—The Editor.
PRACTICALLY everything that lives is food to the bearded Indians. Their menu is most varied and includes worms, grubs, insects, lizards, et cetera. Fire is made by rubbing two sticks together and is kept burning perpetually. Cooking is more of a name than a reality, and food is usually eaten half raw, in fact the rawer the better as long as the meat is dead.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the tribe is the fact that they have remained so totally distinct from all other tribes and have not apparently mixed with any other race. They appear to be completely isolated in customs, dialect and physical characters, the remnant of some primitive ancient race which has remained unchanged and at a complete standstill for countless thousands of years. In this respect they are much like the Bogenahs of northern Panama and the Bogsas of the interior of Brazil, both of whom are possibly common offshoots of the same race as that from which the bearded-Indian stock sprang.
Both the Bogenahs and Bogsas are small, almost pygmies in fact; both are exceedingly primitive, both live like beasts, subsisting upon anything that by the wildest stretch of imagination can be classed as food; both lack fixed homes or villages, and both are renowned for their ability to track game and to follow a trail by scent. Both of these tribes possess beards which are heavier than is usual among Indians, and the physical appearances of both are totally unlike other Indians.
IN both cases, also, they are surrounded by superior tribes who dominate them, and yet they have retained their peculiar characters so steadfastly and completely that instead of learning the dialects of their neighbors they have forced the latter to learn their own tongues in order to communicate with them. Moreover, the two are so similar in many ways that one cannot help feeling that they are closely related, although separated by thousands of miles, while the names Bogenah and Bogsa are phonetically so similar that they might well be local variations of the same word. At all events they are quite distinct from all other known races of Central and South America and in some respects seem to bear such a resemblance to the bearded Sirionos that they might well be offshoots of the same original stock.
All through the interior of Peru and Bolivia are many little known and interesting tribes who do not appear to be related to the better known Quichuas and Aimaras whose ancestors reached high stages of culture and civilization, culminating in the Incan Empire. Some of these possess the typical Indian characteristics facially and otherwise, while far more might well be natives of the South Seas.
The same holds true of the better-known Andean and desert tribes. Among the Aimaras and Quichuas individuals of the so-called Mongolian type are common, but by far the greater number are of the Oceanian type which would be exactly what we might expect if the original stock had migrated from some Pacific archipelago and later mixed with the more northerly tribes who may have come originally from central or southern Asia or might have wandered southward from the northwest where Mongol migrations are known to have taken place.
Even today it would be an easy matter for any large South Sea Island canoe or catamaran to cross the Pacific to South America. And we have no reason to think that at some time in the past there were not large archipelagoes in the Pacific which formed a series of oceanic stepping-stones from west to east. In fact, according to Dr. Thompson who made an exhaustive study of Easter Island, such an archipelago existed in comparatively modem times. It is not unreasonable to assume that the supposed subsidence of these long-lost islands forced the inhabitants to seek new homes in America.
THAT there was communication between the west coast of America and the Pacific islands has been indisputably established. In excavating prehistoric graves on the coast of California, expeditions from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, found specimens of axe and adze heads from Hawaii and other mid-Pacific islands.
It was largely to search for traces of prehistoric cultures which might bear out this theory of an Oceanian origin of the South American races that I made my most recent expedition into the interior of Peru and Bolivia, for there, if anywhere, where ruins, graves and mummies of prehistoric peoples are so numerous and so perfectly preserved, one might expect to find such indications.
Although countless scientists and others have dug and delved among the ancient remains, and although innumerable works have been published in regard to them, yet the surface has not been scratched, and hundreds, even thousands, of ruined temples, forts, cities, buildings and cemeteries have never been studied nor have they even been seen by white men or, for that matter, by other natives. Here, hidden under the debris of ruined temples or palaces, or buried in the graves with the mummified dead, may lie the material which will set at rest all questions as to the origin, the identity and the history of the long-dead races who reached astounding heights of culture and civilization and vanished and were forgotten centuries before the coming of the Spaniards.
AT any moment most astonishing discoveries may be made which may completely upset our ideas of prehistoric man in America. Within the past three years two immense prehistoric cities have been discovered in Peru, close to the thriving port of Pisco and the sea, and my own discovery of an undreamed-of civilization of extreme antiquity in Panama was another proof of how little we really know of these early American races.
One of the main objects of my recent expedition was to compare certain remains of Peru and Bolivia with those of the Coclé culture of Panama. Much time was spent at Ollantaytambo, Machu-Picchu, Pisac, Viracocha, Rumiccola, Marcapata and Tiahuánaco.
The latter ruins, which are probably the oldest known in South America, are so strikingly like the Panama remains in many features that I feel convinced that they were the work of the same race or of races very closely related. The rows of huge, roughly-hewn stone columns are identical in arrangement and form.
SO too, are the alternate rows of stone images or idols, as well as the monolithic corner stones of the immense rectangular areas apparently used as temples. Certain figures and forms on ceramics and sculptures from the two localities are identical, and it seems scarcely reasonable to assume that two distinct races thousands of miles apart should have by chance developed so many features so amazingly similar. In many respects, however, Tiahuanaco is totally different from anything yet found in Panama. In the latter country, as far as is known, there are none of the massive buildings composed of stupendous blocks of stone, some weighing over 100 tons, which are such a prominent feature of Tiahuanaco. Neither are there any of the monolithic square gateways or portals, nor the mathematically cut geometrical sculptures. But all of these might be due to environment or a higher development of the same culture.
Perhaps my most interesting find at Tiahuanaco was the discovery of two huge stone wheels, each over six feet in diameter and about 18 inches in thickness, and with centers pierced for axles. Hitherto it has always been thought that the wheel was unknown to American aborigines, and its absence has often been used as an argument in favor of the extreme antiquity of the races and as against their Asiatic origin. But if the stone wheels of Tiahuanaco were actually used as such, it disproves this assumption and also solves the mystery as to how these prehistoric people transported immense masses of stone for such long distances. Slung to axles between these huge wheels, whose thickness would prevent them from sinking into sand or earth, enormous blocks of stone could be transported for miles with little difficulty. It may be argued that these wheels are not of prehistoric workmanship but are of Spanish origin and were used as mill wheels or arastras, but the evidence against this is very strong. I could find no records or traditions of Spanish mill-wheels used in the vicinity and I can hardly see why there should have been, as there is nothing, and as far as is known there never was anything, to be ground in the district about Tiahuanaco.
MOREOVER, it would have required a vast amount of labor for no reason whatever to have carried these huge stone disks up the hill to the ruins where they lie, one of them buried under the gigantic masses of fallen masonry.
Finally, they appear to be of the same type of workmanship as the other cut stone work. Strangely enough, two similar stone wheels were found buried in the earth while excavating the Coclé ruins in Panama. At the time I dismissed these as being Spanish arastras, although there seemed no reason for a mill ever having been used in the arid non-mineralized district. But in view of those at Tiahuanaco I feel convinced that the stone disks at Coclé were also used as wheels for transporting the stone monoliths of the prehistoric race.
Unfortunately Tiahuanaco, which is one of the most interesting and scientifically valuable ruins in South America, has been woefully and inexcusably destroyed by vandals, natives and government contractors. Tons of carved sculptures, images, columns and stonework were broken up to be used as filling for the railway bed. Innumerable portions of the finest worked and carved stone have been used by the natives for building their own miserable houses, and some of the most valuable portions and finest statues have been used as building material for the ugly Spanish church in the village. In addition, treasure seekers, souvenir hunters and vandals have dug, broken and destroyed on every side.
Still a vast amount of material remains intact and the largest ruins have never been thoroughly examined nor excavated. When the buildings were built the massive blocks of stone were all locked together by means of huge metal staples and bolts let into the stones. The beautifully cut grooves and holes which held these staples are still everywhere visible, but not a staple can be found in any of the blocks above the surface of the earth.
AN interesting discovery was that some if not all of these metal fastenings were of silver, for a native I met had one in his possession. No doubt the first Spaniards to find the ruins looted them of all the precious metal but the chances are that many of the blocks hidden beneath the accumulated debris of thousands of years still bear the massive silver staples that served to bind the stones together in the past.
In the district about Tiahuanaco, as in most of the trans-Andean and Andean regions of Bolivia, the Indians of the present day are Aimaras, whereas in Peru they are Quichuas. In both cases the races are divided into many subtribes with quite distinctive habits, cultures, arts and physical characters. Such are the Collas of the Aimararace who inhabit the bleak mountain area on the eastern side of Lake Titicaca. Of all the Aimara tribes the Collas have been the least influenced by the white man's civilization and they still retain many of their own customs and arts. A very large collection was obtained from the Collas as well as from the Yungas, a tribe of totally distinct stock inhabiting the mild, fertile trans-Andean valleys between the mountains and the tropical forested area.
IN the Yungas district, even when beyond the outlying settlements and roads, traveling is by no means difficult, dangerous nor unpleasant. The country is delightful, the climate that of perpetual spring, and the Indians are clean, friendly and hospitable, with an abundance of cattle, sheep, poultry and vegetables.
But I have never experienced greater discomforts, nor have I suffered more from cold, than when in the district of the Collas. Here, at an altitude of from fourteen to fifteen thousand feet, one is constantly exposed to chill, biting winds blowing across more than 100 miles of perpetually ice-clad mountain peaks averaging over 20,000 feet in height. Blizzards are frequent, freezing rain falls without warning, sleet and hail come in blinding squalls, and even when the sun shines the temperature is scarcely above the freezing point.
The only accommodations are the miserable, filthy, vermin-infested hovels of the Indians—tiny, window-less huts of piled-up stones thatched with grass and inhabited by anywhere from three to six Indians and as many burros, pigs, fowls and flea-ridden curs. The only food obtainable from these Indians is crushed maize, a little hard wheat, frozen potatoes and occasional eggs or fowls. Sometimes one may secure air-dried strips of llama or bull meat which is as hard, rancid and tough as rawhide. Or if one happens to be near a lake or stream, wild ducks and snipe sometimes may be secured.
The only fuel is llama dung, and as water boils at a low temperature it is next to impossible to cook anything by boiling. To boil or roast food over a llama dung fire renders it inedible even to the Indians.
One cannot enquire too closely as to the ingredients of some of the weird dishes offered by the well-meaning Collas. On one occasion, after dining on a sort of stew which tasted unusually good, I learned that it was made of unborn llamas, while another time I made a good meal on cows' udders.
BUT despite all this, despite the bitter cold, the hardships, the lack of all comforts in this bleak land, it possesses its good points. The scenery is inexpressibly grand and magnificent, especially at sunset when the endless ranges of the highest Andes gleam in scarlet and purple and the vast glaciers are transformed to sheets of rose and gold. The Indians in their gaudy ponchos and bright colored mantas are colorful and picturesque. A herd of wild vicunas, the fleetest-footed, most graceful creatures on earth, is a sight worth going far to see and there is much in the way of wild life to interest the naturalist at every turn. Majestic condors wheel constantly above the snow-capped peaks or perch on lofty pinnacles, viscachas gaze at the traveler from the mounds above their burrows: finches, larks, pipits and scores of other birds twitter and trill even at the verges of the snow fields, and big partridge-like gallinaceous birds whirr up from among the lava-strewn slopes. Best of all perhaps, there are no insect pests. Neither flies, ticks, gnats nor mosquitoes exist in this cold, rarefied atmosphere, but personally, were I compelled to choose, I would take the steaming tropical jungles—rapids, ants, ticks and all, in preference to these bleak, wind-swept, frost-bitten heights.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.