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Tierra del Fuego

Visit From the Natives at Terra Del Fuego

During our stay, we had, at various times, visits from the natives. They were all at first very shy, but after they found our friendly disposition towards them, they became more sociable and confiding.

On the 11th of March three bark canoes arrived, containing four men, four women, and a girl about sixteen years old, four little boys and four infants, one of the latter about a week old, and quite naked. They had rude weapons, viz. slings to throw stones, three rude spears, pointed at the end with bone, and notched on one side with barbed teeth. With this they catch their fish, which are in great quantities among the kelp. Two of the natives were induced to come on board, after they had been alongside for upwards of an hour, and received many presents, for which they gave their spears, a dog, and some of their rude native trinkets. They did not shew or express surprise at anything on board, except when seeing one of the carpenters engaged in boring a hole with a screw-auger through a plank, which would have been a long task for them. They were very talkative, smiling when spoken to, and often bursting into loud laughter, but instantly settling into their natural serious and sober cast.

They were found to be great mimics, both in gesture and sound, and would repeat any word of our language, with great correctness of pronunciation. Their imitations of sounds were truly astonishing.

Their mimicry became at length annoying, and precluded our getting at any of their words or ideas. It not only extended to words or sounds, but actions also, and was at times truly ridiculous. The usual manner of interrogating for names was quite unsuccessful. On pointing to the nose, for instance, they did the same. Anything they saw done they would mimic, and with an extraordinary degree of accuracy. On these canoes approaching the ship, the principal one of the family, or chief, standing up in his canoe, made a harangue. Although they have been heard to shout quite loud, yet they cannot endure a noise; and when the drum beat, or a gun was fired, they invariably stopped their ears. They always speak to each other in a whisper.

The women were never suffered to come on board. They appeared modest in the presence of strangers. They never move from a sitting posture, or rather a squat, with their knees close together, reaching to their chin, their feet in contact, and touching the lower part of the body. They are extremely ugly. Their hands and feet were small and well shaped; and, from appearance, they are not accustomed to do any hard work. They appear very fond and seem careful of their young children, though on several occasions they offered them for sale for a trifle. They have their faces smutted all over, and it was thought, from the hideous appearance of the females, produced in part by their being painted and smutted, that they had been disfigured by the men previous to coming alongside. It was remarked, that when one of them saw herself in a looking-glass, she burst into tears, as Jack thought, from pure mortification.

Before they left the ship, the greater part of them were dressed in old clothes, that had been given to them by the officers and men, who all shewed themselves extremely anxious "to make them comfortable," This gave rise to much merriment, as Jack was not disposed to allow any difficulties to interfere in the fitting. If the jackets proved too tight across the shoulders, which they invariably were, a slit down the back effectually remedied the defect. If a pair of trousers was found too small around the waist, the knife was again resorted to; and in some cases a fit was made by severing the legs. The most difficult fit, and the one which produced the most merriment, was that of a woman, to whom an old coat was given. This, she concluded belonged to her nether limbs, and no signs, hints, or shouts, could correct her mistake. Her feet were thrust through the sleeves, and, after hard squeezing, she succeeded in drawing them on. With the skirts brought up in front, she took her seat in the canoe with great satisfaction, amid a roar of laughter from all who saw her.