Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Mystery of the White Indians
The Mystery of the White Indians
A Second Article, Giving the Scientific Explanations That Have Been Suggested to Account for This Tribe of Blond Savages in
By Richard O. Marsh
From The World's Work, April 1925, Vol. XLIX, No. 6. Digitized March 2014 by Doug Frizzle
“A canoe came toward us, and in the bow stood a naked savage with a white body, whose yellow hair, falling to his shoulders, was held in order by a gold chaplet two inches wide encircling his head at the brow. He was of medium height, but magnificently developed about the chest and arms; and he stood as erect as a king. Behind him were a girl of ten and a boy of four, and in the stern his wife wielded a steering paddle. Not one of the four gave a start when they came suddenly upon us, and the man and woman did not vary a heart-beat in the rhythm of their strokes as they plied the canoe to pass directly by us. The man eyed us with a truly regal pride and disdain, and passed us by without troubling to turn his head to see whether or not we intended to follow. His whole manner said more plainly than words: ‘I am king here; what are you doing in my domain?’ ”
In his first article, which was published in the World’s Work last month, Mr. Marsh told of the discovery of this tribe of White Indians. His present article provides a more complete account of their physical and mental peculiarities and their significance to the science of human origins.
WHEN I brought my three specimen White Indians to the
States, they interested many scientists in the government
service at Washington
and leading scientists elsewhere, because they led to offer a hope of solving
several kinds of knotty problems.
First is the fascinating mystery of the ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere that disappeared under the impact with Europeans following the discovery of
America by Columbus.
Cortez found Mexico
flourishing under Montezuma, with a highly organized political life, well-developed
arts in precious stones and metals and in architecture, a literature of
historical records as advanced as that of the ancient Babylonians and
Assyrians, and an astronomical science comparable with that of the ancient Egyptians.
Pizarro found the Incas of Peru enjoying an equally high civilization, with the
additional blessing of a science of medicine as highly developed as any in Europe and in many respects superior for the Incas had
originated the use of quinine, a drug of more general value than any in the
Within a century after
arrival, these great civilizations had crumbled into dust. The Spaniards destroyed
the political unity of these countries, killed or dispersed the men of art and
learning, and enslaved the peoples in a servitude that made education impossible.
The palaces and monuments fell into decay, and in modern times it is doubtful
if a score of men exist who could, if they would, decipher the hieroglyphics left
by the Mayas of Central America, for example, which by their variety and
quantity undoubtedly hold the key to much lost history and science.
The White Indians may include some of these surviving repositories of the wisdom of the ancients, for the traditions of most of the brown Indian tribes on both continents contain the story of a miraculous white prophet who visited their ancestors, bringing with him knowledge of the arts and sciences, and who gave their people stable and wise government and all they know about nature’s laws. Cortez found White Indians in
City, worshipped as superior beings. The Incas were
doubtless partly of white blood. The Mayas may have been—it seems likely from
the evidence. Could my White Indians belong to one of these favored tribes?
NOT OF MONGOLIAN ORIGIN
THE first step toward finding out was, naturally, to study the language. Dr. John P. Harrington, ethnologist of the Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Paul Vogenitz, translator and language expert of the Post Office Department, undertook this task. The San Blas Indian interpreter, whom I brought also, was the first medium of communication. In a few weeks, the scientists had learned the language themselves. It early appeared that the language was phenomenal, because it was utterly unlike any other Indian tongue in the
Hemisphere. All other Indians, whatever their dialect, use an
agglutinative speech that suggests their Mongolian origin. But the San Blas
language—the White Indians and the San Blas use the same—is not Mongolian in
structure. On the contrary, it is pure Aryan, and most closely resembles
Sanskrit in its syntax.
Now Sanskrit, of course, is the mother of the Aryan tongues, including not only the Greek and Latin and their modern descendent languages such as French and Italian, but also the speech of the prehistoric tribes of northern
from which the Germanic and Scandinavian languages derive. The English
language, with its Saxon base and its Norman and Romance superstructure, is,
therefore, doubly descended from the Sanskrit. The White Indian tongue is thus
more nearly related to the speech of , than it is to the speech
of aboriginal Indians who have lived for thousands of years as their neighbors
in the Panamanian jungle. Topeka,
THE White Indians call their language Tule. It is described by Dr. Harrington as one of the most melodious and smooth sounding tongues in the world. This quality arises chiefly from the fact that no two consonants ever come together in Tule: the words are made up of an alternating flow of consonant and vowel, so that no harsh or guttural or staccato effects mar its melodious beauty. Besides the five vowel sounds and the two semi-vowels W and Y, the language contains only eleven consonant sounds, K, T, Ch, Sh, Ts, S, L, M, N, R, and P, making an alphabet of only eighteen characters in all.
Practically all other Indian languages are guttural, or “agglutinative,” and are consequently harsh by comparison. The Polynesian languages have “choky” or throaty sounds, that make them difficult for a Caucasian to speak. But Tule offers no such difficulties. It is, indeed, probably the easiest of all languages for a Caucasian to learn. The only “tricky” thing about it is this: every sound has two forms, one short and one long. In this way, the number of sounds available for the construction of words is doubled. This device, which is similar to one employed in Finnish, likewise provides the language with sufficient flexibility to furnish the necessary number of roots and affixes to give a rich vocabulary.
The other Indian tongues, of the agglutinative type, build complex words by putting together separate roots and word-elements. The Tule tongue proceeds quite differently: it follows the habit of other analytical languages and invents a distinct new word to express each new idea or to describe each new object.
Perhaps the most curious fact about Tule is that the men and women do not pronounce the language alike. The boys are taught a masculine pronunciation of each word, whereas the girls learn what the scientists have termed a “feminine lisp” for the same word. Thus, where Olo and Chepu, the boys under examination, use the sound Ch, Margarita, the girl, uses Ts. She uses the S sound where they use the masculine Sh, and Y and L where they use K and R. They describe the chieftain as “sakla,” while Margarita calls the word “sayla.” The boys say “chapu” when they mean “white." but Margarita says “tseppi.”
But an even more astonishing development awaited the scientists as they got deeper into the language. At least 2 dozen words turned up in the White Indian vocabulary that are identical in pronunciation and meaning with words that were used by the Norsemen at the time of the Battle of Hastings. Eleventh-century Norwegian in Central America prior to
The following is a list of these and other surprising words in the San Blas
MEANING TULE NORSE
IN ENGLISH WORD WORD
Work Arbaedi Norwegian Arbeide
Both Bogwá " Baade
Yes Eye Anglo-Saxon Yea
Music Kala Norwegian Kole-Kalla
Foot Naga Russian Noga
To Throw Mette " Metats
Colored Parbatti Indo-Germanic Parbh
Sack Sagi Norwegian Saek
Tree Sappi " Sappe
To Say Soge German- Icelandic Sagen (Saga)
Crab Suga Norwegian Suge
Hull) Ulu Anglo-Saxon Hulu
How did the Norse get into the San Blas vocabulary? These words “belong” in these Indians’ language—they are not borrowed nor out of place. They are not modern additions caused by contact with white men, for these Indians, alone all the American tribes, have been able until now to resist the invasions of outsiders and have fiercely maintained the integrity of their race and institutions. Two or three working hypotheses have been advanced to explain the phenomenon.
First of all, it may be that the White Indians are descendants of Norsemen. It is fairly certain that Norse navigators crossed the Atlantic from
to Greenland, and some scientists estimate that they led a migration of as many
as one hundred thousand Scandinavians, who settled on the mainland of America, perhaps as much as a thousand years before
Columbus. It may
ultimately be established that some of these Norse settlers migrated westward
along the northern coast of America
and became the ancestors of the Blond Eskimos discovered a few ago by Vilhjálmur
Stefansson. Others may have followed the Atlantic coastline southward, founding
the Mayan civilization of Yucatan (from which that of Mexico was probably
derived) and, continuing across the Isthmus of Panama, gone on down the Andes
and founded the Incan civilization of Peru.
Remnants of the stragglers from such a migration may be represented by the White Indians, who have lived for centuries in the mountains adjoining the Atlantic shore of the Isthmus, where they would naturally be if they had dropped out of the southward march. The affinity of their language, in syntax and vocabulary, with the Norse language, is one support to this theory. Another support is their assertion (yet to be verified by further explorations that are now in contemplation) that the untouched wilderness of inner
Darien contains the ruins of extensive stone
cities built by their ancestors and containing hieroglyphic records of their
history. If this assertion be true (and personally l have no doubt of it), it
may be that among the inhabitants of that region are White Indians who have
preserved the knowledge necessary to read these inscriptions. The importance of
such a discovery could hardly be overestimated, as it would rival in potential
scientific value the rich Mayan remains, which still await anything like
complete translation, though enough has been deciphered to assure the experts
in that field that these inscriptions contain priceless records of the history
and arts of early America.
There is another theory of the origin of the White Indians that holds no less fascinating possibilities before the student of mankind. This theory is that the White Indians are biological “mutations” from the original brown type with which the human race began. To make clear just what this means and how important it may be to science, it is necessary to make a very brief excursion into biology.
Scientists are now pretty well agreed that
theory of “the survival of the fittest” describes, not nature’s means for
evolving new and higher forms of life, but nature’s sieve, so to speak, to
strain out, from new and higher forms, those that can stand the competitive
struggle of life. Since Darwin’s
day, science has discovered what is probably nature’s method of creating new
forms. This method is called “mutation,” and the word describes a phenomenon,
frequently observed amongst plants and occasionally in the animal kingdom,
whereby an individual of a fixed species suddenly throws off descendants that
are strikingly different from the parent and which thereafter “breed true” to
their own new characteristics, instead of following the characteristics of
their ancestors. Numerous such mutations among garden plants have been observed
in the last fifty years, and their authenticity is beyond question. Once these
“mutants” appear, the law of survival operates upon them, and only those new
forms survive that are adapted to withstand the hardships of the life into
which they have been so suddenly and unexpectedly projected.
MANY scientists believe that the white race is such a mutation from the aboriginal brown species of homo sapiens. Here is where the second theory about the White Indians enters the field of scientific interest. Have we at last an opportunity to see, repeated before our own eyes, the emergence of white men as biological “sports” from a fundamental brown race, the San Blas Indians? Heretofore it has been assumed that the original mutation of this sort transpired in prehistoric times and might never be repeated. But of course what happened once could happen again—as, indeed, in botany it has been known to happen independently in quite remotely separated parts of the world, and more than twice at that. If the San Blas Indians are a segment of the brown race nearing the end of a “life cycle of a species,” it is scientifically quite tenable to believe that they may be throwing off mutated forms, and that the White Indians are the mutants.
Color is lent to this theory by the identity of language and institutions of the two tribes, and their similarity in high intellectual powers by comparison all of their neighbors. If this theory should prove to be correct, it would be of epochal importance to science, for it would demonstrate, in the instance most convincing to the human mind, the truth of evolution as a principle of universal application and of current, continuing force. Scientists, of course, have no doubt upon this point now; but the lay mind has an instinctive aversion to accepting it as applied to the human race. But if cases of its truth in this highest field can be demonstrated before our own eyes, it should convince even the Doubting Thomases.
A WHOLE RACE OF ALBINOES?
THE third theory concerning origin of the White Indians is startling, but it is by no means without great scientific value and interest. This theory holds that they are albinoes. The most striking support of this theory lies in a very curious trait that is manifested by albinoes of other races and is common to them all. This trait is a habit of rolling the eyes and is probably associated with nervous impulses set up in the body of the albino by reasons of the irritation caused to the eyes by the actinic rays which, in normally pigmented eyes, are toned down or strained out before they touch the optic nerves. The White Indians have this trait of rolling the eyes.
On the other hand, they have pigment in the retina and cornea, as most albinoes have not. Instead of the characteristic pink eyes of the usual albino, they have hazel eyes, that is to say, blue pigmentation overlaid with patches of brown. Nevertheless, Dr. James B. Davenport, who is one of the great biologists of our time, believes that the White Indians are albinoes. He finds them unique, however, in their numbers. Nowhere else, he says, has so high a percentage of a population been albino—in this case so numerous as to amount to a quasi-race. And if, as he believes, they are an albino side-line of the San Blas Indians, they indicate an extraordinarily interesting field of scientific study of that tribe itself, offering the most favorable opportunity to learn more about a phenomenon of biology that is extremely helpful to that science. Controlled study of albinism in rats and mice and rabbits has been one of the most useful instruments that science has had in working out the laws of heredity, for this characteristic lends itself to positive experimentation capable of easy mathematical analysis. Of how much greater interest and value would it be to follow the corresponding results working out among human beings in the normal course of everyday living.
A fourth explanation of the possible cause of the white color of these Indians been advanced by Major Cuthbert Christy, of England, a specialist in tropical diseases, who thinks it may arise from a pathological physiologic condition that prevents the normal processes of pigmentation from taking place within their bodies.
These four theories cover what seem to be all the possible solutions to the puzzle. Of course I make no pretensions to scientific knowledge, and would not expect my opinion to weigh with those of any of the men quoted above; but speaking purely as a layman whose only qualifications are many years of close contact with aboriginal peoples in many parts of the world, I have from the first felt strongly that the true explanation lies either in heredity from ancient whites who once settled in America, or in biological mutation of white offspring from brown parents. Whatever the final conclusion of the scientists may be, I shall feel that my work in tracing these people to their home land and bringing them to the attention of the world has been worthwhile, especially when a scientist of such distinction as Dr. Ales Hrdlicka says that “the phenomenon deserves a thorough investigation, and Mr. Marsh deserves the thanks of American and British anthropologists for having brought to their attention a subject of considerable scientific interest and importance.”
One curious misapprehension about the San Blas Indians early gained newspaper currency. Soon after I brought the three White children and the five brown San Blas to America, some of the anthropologists who examined them noticed that the children’s heads were larger and of a different shape from those of the dark adults. The anthropologists asked the Indians a question which the Indians misunderstood, and before the misunderstanding was cleared up and the correct answer given the story appeared in the papers that the brown San Blas Indians massage their children’s heads in infancy, with the result that they are relatively dwarfed and square when grown. A statement which I then gave to the papers corrects this misapprehension. In it I said:
(1) The difference in size and shape between the skulls of the blond Indians and those of the standard San Blas has been attributed to artificial deformation of those of the dark infants, while those of the white infants are natural. This is wholly untrue. The San Blas Indians do not massage nor in any way alter the heads of their children. The rounder, broader, and higher crania of the whites cannot be explained in that way.
(2) The timid demeanor of the children and the behavior of their eyes when under inspection by strangers is misleading. They are not mentally deficient or abnormal in any way. On the contrary, they are unusually alert and keen, with excellent memory. They are rapidly learning English.
(3) The blond Indians do not spring from the normal San Blas Indians but from the larger and more robust type, which occupy the hills back from the coast.
To make clearer the full force of this statement, I should perhaps repeat the exact facts about the eight Indians I brought to
Two were White Indian boys, aged ten and fourteen years. The other White Indian
was Margarita, a girl of fourteen. Two of the five brown San Blas were
Margarita's father and mother. This brown mother's mother (that is, Margarita’s
maternal grandmother) was a White Indian. Margarita is one of seven children of
the same parents, of whom five were white and two were dark—suggesting at once
to biologists that here was a typical example of Mendelian inheritance, in
which the “recessive” whiteness disappeared in Margarita’s mother but
reappeared in five of her children.
Margarita and her family are representatives of a type of larger frame, larger heads, and more vigorous bodies than are characteristic of the ordinary brown San Blas. I feel sure that the blond strain will be found limited to this type, which lives inland from the San Blas coast. These characteristics all relate the White Indians to the Caucasian type, and fit perfectly into the logic of the theory that they are examples of the mutation process by which the Caucasian gained his greater stature and bigger brain than his brown progenitors possessed. The larger brain is not merely a matter of physical bulk; it is the source of higher intellectual powers as well.
The superior intelligence of these Indians over their neighbors, their more complex and flexible language, their fuller vocabulary, their more humane social customs, their unique and very interesting music, their strict moral code, their well-developed system of law, and their highly organized structure of government, which is both feudal, federal, and constitutional, all evidence their exceptional intellectual capacity. These advanced powers and achievements are characteristic of the evolutionary progress of man.
If scientists finally agree that the White Indians are true examples of the process of mutation, we shall be able not only to see that biological evolution at work, but also to study the origins of our own civilization in the lives of people of our own day.
° ° °
As this article goes to press, an interesting cable has come from Mr. Marsh, who is now in Darien on his second expedition. His cable is dated at Colon, and says in part: “Dr. Harris now on San Blas coast, going into interior with us. Has already studied many White Indians. Harris says positively not albinoes. Offers two theories: first, most probable, Darien Indians formerly extensively mixed with unknown prehistoric white race; second, Darien Indians abnormally susceptible to frequent mutation from brown to white.” As Dr. Reginald Harris, referred to in this cable, is the director of the Long Island Biological Association at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, and a biologist of high repute, his opinion is an interesting and important contribution to the discussion of the origin of the White Indians.
Text from the illustrations:
SAN BLAS MOTHER AND CHILD
OLD AND NEW STYLES The girl at the right is clad in the conservative native costume of the San Blas women. The other girl wears the skirt that has come in with modern contacts with the world. The blouses are of native weave, while the skirt is made of cloth bought from the traders. The leg and arm bands and the arm rings are purely feminine adornments.
GEOMETRY IN VILLAGE PLANNING Both the San Blas and the White Indians lay out their villages upon a geometrical plan, evidencing a higher intelligence and civilization than other Indians, who build casually according to “the lay of the land.”
ALL STAGES OF SAN BLAS DRESS The woman’s skirt and the men’s hats and shirts are modern innovations. The traditional custom of San Blas attire is expressed in the old nursery rhyme, “Shoe the horse and shoe the mare, and let the little colt go bare.”
A "COMMUNITY HOUSE” IN
These tribal meeting places are frequently built on hillsides in tiers, so that
at a distance they give the effect of a three-story building.
PART OF THE SAN BLAS “NAVY” These very heavy but seaworthy canoes are hollowed out of single logs, and are perfectly adapted to navigation among the islands and keys of the San Blas Coast.
FEMININE FINERY The blouses worn by these San Blas girls are of ancient origin and of great scientific interest. Though the patterns are symmetrical in mass, close scrutiny reveals that they are in no two places alike in detail. They are hieroglyphics whose origin and meaning have been forgotten, though some archaeologists believe they are nursery legends like our own “Mother Goose".
A PARADISE FOR CHILDREN This old San Blas chieftain refused to pose for his photograph until his grandchildren could be summoned to stand beside him. Mr. Marsh declares he never saw a child or a woman on the San Blas Coast who did not look happy.
A "STILL" OF A "MOVIE" OPERATOR Mr. Charles Charlton, in a San Blas shelter. He made the motion pictures of the life of the brown and white Indians of the
region of Panama.
THE SAN BLAS COAST The mountains coming down to the sea, the numerous islands, and the heavy tropical growth have all fostered the Indians’ ambition to keep strangers out of their sanctuary.
A number of people have asked for these two Richard Marsh stories on the Blond (or White) Indians, so I have now collected them both for the blog.
I believe that in the final analysis these people do have a form of albinism similar two piebald deer—I could be wrong. Certainly from Richard Marsh's writing we can see why there was a lot of excitement at that time. His book is prohibitively expensive now.
Verrill was familiar with the White Kuna as he wrote in 'Hunting the White Indians' in 1925.
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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.