TGA–Tierra del Fuego and Darwin

24 03 2010





I admit this, I am having some trouble with this project–I am running afield.  I am wasting time.

I do not know enough.

You cannot know

What this has to do with The Golden Archipelago.  There are, of course, the explicit references to Tierra del Fuego–Plüschow, of whom I’ve written, and the glorious caracaras of whom I’ll write–but also the repeated sound of empire, of superimposition of culture, of loss of displacement, of

the clouds of another life

The fires of the Yaghans inspired Magellen’s name Tierra del Fuego.  And the Yaghans were some of the people Charles Darwin encountered on his voyage on the Beagle.

the hidden life/of the empire

that dreams of us

Charles Darwin is, of course, of central importance in my primary field, evolutionary biology.  His writings are deep and transcend his time.  Except when they don’t.

I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world

I believe that Darwin’s theory can (and must, if one is rigorously consistent) be interpreted to produce a vision of all life absent of hierarchy;free from the constructs of good and better

But I am quite possibly excessively naive.

Never saw more miserable creatures; stunted in growth,faces daubed with white paint & quite naked.

Darwin was, of course, completely encapsulated by his own era’s racism and sexism but I cannot help cringing when I read these notes.  They are notes I keep near me to remind myself of the relationship between the cultural and the scientific.

it’s not even past

The Beagle itself would never have sailed with Darwin aboard but for the misguided 19th European idea that human culture was progressive and that, for example, Anglican Christian British civilization was the pinnacle.

This is Night–now–but we are not dreaming

The voyage of the Beagle that Darwin wrote about and that inspired his theory of natural selection, was undertaken so that Captain Robert Fitzroy could return those Yaghans of Tierra del Fuego he had taken

as hostages for the loss of a boat, which had been stolen, to the great jeopardy of a party employed in the survey; and some of these natives, as well as a child whom he bought for a pearl-button, he took with him to England, determining to educate them and instruct them in religion at his own expense.

The original number of hostages was four, but one 20 year old Yamana man, Boat Memory, his original name unknown, died of smallpox after making the journey to Plymouth.

at his own expense

This is a list of the others:

El’leparu renamed York Minster:  a man from the Alacaluf tribe,  (about 26 at the time of his capture)

Yok’cushly renamed Fuegia Basket: a Yaghan girl (about 10 or 11 when captured; 12 when returned)

Orundellico renamed Jemmy Button:  the Yaghan boy traded for a button (about 14 when captured).

is what the body becomes

in the bellow aloud

These are details–at Anglican school, in uniforms, they sing hymms, meet the royals.

until the memory dies

But something doesn’t work out; while Jemmy Button and Fuegia Basket take to the new life like children are want to.  York Minster does not.  He is

determined to marry Fuegia Basket

in other words, he is raping the twelve year old

and a forever life

is an infinite lie

hung wide

And FitzRoy decides to take them back, calling for a naturalist to join him (so he is less alone on the journey).

the second deadened her way completely, throwing her off the wind; and the third great sea, taking her right a-beam, turned her so far over, that all the lee bulwark, from the cat-head to the stern davit, was two or three feet under water

In these rough waters they returned to the region of Jemmy Button’s capture.

Our Fuegian companions seemed to be much elated at the certainty of being so near their own country; and the boy [Jemmy Button] was never tired of telling us how excellent his land was—how glad his friends would be to see him—and how well they would treat us in return for our kindness to him.

But Jemmy had forgotten his language and his family turned their back on him.

blast away the bearings of his life

In the end, Fuegia Basket was killed, or perhaps became a prostitute on shore, or maybe lived to a ripe old age.    York Minster, said by Button to have stolen everything his family owned, vanished into history.  Jemmy Button is met periodically over the next three decades by visiting missionaries–at one point, he and his family are accused of leading a massacre.   While he never returns to England, Jemmy Button remembers much of his English and teaches some to the local people.  In 1866 one of his sons travels to England under the auspices of yet another Anglican missionary.

till his eyes are wild

Quotes are by Shearwater, Charles Darwin, Robert FitzRoy, Emily Dickinson, Guillaume Apollinaire, Friedrich Hölderlin, William Faulkner




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