CHAPTER 30: The Life of the Mariames and Yguaces
THUS ENTHRALLED to their custom, they take life, destroying even their male children on account of dreams. [Obedience to dreams, according to Dorantes in the Joint Report, is the one superstition of these people. He said he had witnessed the killing or burying alive of eleven or twelve boys; rarely, he added, do they let a girl live.]
They cast away their daughters at birth; the dogs eat them. They say they do this because all the nations of the region are their enemies, with whom they war ceaselessly; and that if they were to marry off their daughters, the daughters would multiply their enemies until the latter overcame and enslaved the Mariames, who thus preferred to annihilate all daughters than risk their reproduction of a single enemy. We asked why they did not themselves marry these girls. They said that marrying relatives would be a disgusting thing; it was far better to kill them than give them to either kin or foe.
This is also the practice of their neighbors, the Yguaces, but of no other people of that region. To marry, men buy wives from their enemies, the price of a wife being the best bow that can be got, together with two arrows or, should the suitor happen to have no bow, a net a fathom square. Couples kill their own male children and buy those of strangers. A marriage lasts no longer than suits the parties; they separate on the slightest pretext. Dorantes lived a few days [months] among this people [the Quevenes] and then escaped [to the Mariames]. [The Quevenes, a fish- and blackberry-eating tribe, as the Joint Reportmakes clear, seem to have been an offshoot of the Mariames, with whom Cabeza de Vaca here tends to lump them.]
Castillo and Estevénico went inland to the Yguaces. These people are invariably good archers and well formed, though smaller than the [Capoque and Han] Indians we left. They have a nipple and a lip bored.
Two or three kinds of root comprise their basic diet, and they dig for them anywhere for the distance of two or three leagues. Digging for them is hard work. Want is so acute that these people cannot get through the year without roots which, however, make poor food and gripe the stomach. The roots have to be roasted for two days, but many still stay bitter.
Occasionally, these Indians kill deer [antelope] and take fish; but the quantity is so small and famine so prevalent that they eat spiders and ant eggs [pupae], worms, lizards, salamanders, snakes, and poisonous vipers; also earth and wood - anything, including deer dung and other matter I omit. I honestly believe that if there were stones in that land they would eat them. They save the bones of fish they consume, of snakes and other animals, so they can afterwards pulverize and eat them, too.
The men bear no burdens. Anything of weight is borne by women and old men, the people least esteemed. They do not love their children as do the Capoques. Some among them are accustomed to sin against nature. The women work very hard and protractedly. They get only six hours' rest out of twenty-four, spending the wee hours heating the ovens to bake roots. They begin digging at daybreak and hauling wood and water to their houses, etc.
The majority of the people are great thieves. Free as they are to divide with each other, at the turn of a head even a son or a father will take what he can. They are great liars, also great drunkards by use of a certain [cactus] liquor.
These Indians are so used to running that, without rest, they follow a deer from morning to night. In this way they kill many. They wear the deer down and then sometimes overtake them in a race.
Their houses are of matting placed on four hoops. They are carried on the back [of the women], and the people move every two or three days in search of food. Nothing is planted for support.
They are a merry people, considering the hunger they suffer. They never skip their fiestas and areitos. To them the happiest time of year is the season of eating prickly pears. They go in no want then and pass the whole time dancing and eating, day and night. They squeeze out the juice of the prickly pears, then open and set them to dry. The dried fruit, something like figs, is put in hampers to be eaten on the way back. The peel is beaten to powder.
Many times while we were among this people and there was nothing to eat for three or four days, they would try to revive our spirits by telling us not to be sad; soon there would be prickly pears in plenty; we would drink the juice, our bellies would get big, and we would be content. From the first talk like this we heard to the first ripening of the prickly pears was an interval of five or six months. This period having lapsed and the season come, we went to eat the fruit.
We found mosquitoes of three sorts, all abundant in every part of the region. They poison and inflame and, through most of the summer, exasperated us. For protection, we encircled ourselves with smudge fires of rotten and wet wood. We did little else all night than shed tears from the smoke of this remedy, besides roasting from the intense heat of the many fires. If at any time we took refuge to the seaside and fell asleep, we were reminded with blows to feed the fires. The Indians of the interior have another intolerable method, even worse than the one I have just mentioned, which is to fire the plains and forests within reach with brands, both to drive the mosquitoes away and at the same time drive lizards and like things from the earth to eat.