An Exploration of the Goajira Peninsula,
U.S. of Colombia
By F. A. A. Simons
[Extracted from Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 7, No. 12 (Dec., 1885), pp. 781-796.]
Since the publication of my last paper on the Sierra Nevada in 1881,* I have been commissioned by the National Government of Colombia to survey the two Atlantic States of the Magdalena and Bolivar, and especially to write a report on the hitherto unexplored region of the Goajira Indians. A summary of this I have now the honour of laying before the Royal Geographical Society.
The north-easterly corner of the United States of Colombia (formerly New Granada) terminates in a large peninsula, that, projecting for some 120 miles out into the Caribbean Sea, forms the extensive Gulf of Maracaybo. This peninsula is known as the Goajira. It was ceded by the State of Magdalena in 1872, to form a National Territory, for the better civilisation of its Indians. One half of it, however, is claimed by the Venezuelans, and a dispute that at one time threatened to culminate in war between the two nations, was amicably settled by referring the question to the King of Spain as arbitrator. His decision has not yet been made public. Three-fourths surrounded by sea, the Goajira is on the land, or south-westerly, side separated from the State of the Magdalena by a natural boundary, formed partly by the Rio Rancheria, with the outlying hills of the Nevada, variously called in old maps Cerros de Soldado, de Barrancas, &c., and partly by the Montes of Oca.
Very little or nothing is known of the history of these Indians. Although the peninsula played an important part in the first discoveries, none of the early chroniclers seem to have paid much attention to the country. Juan de Castellanos, who resided some time at the Cabo de la Vela, dedicates a "solo canto" to the pearls. The "Floresta de Santa Marta," written by Jose Nicolas de la Rosa in 1739, gives many interesting data on the customs and manners of the Indians; this work must have supplied the more recent writings on the subject, for the same errors run through them all. That the present race are not the original inhabitants of the peninsula is certain. The Indians themselves have a legend that they came from a great distance, and are able to point out traces of villages belonging to the former inhabitants, whom they assert are the Arhuacos of the Sierra Nevada. Sometimes their old graves are accidentally come across, yielding to the fortunate finder a rich harvest of tumas (pieces of polished stone with a hole drilled through), curiously shaped pieces of gold, and other ornaments (clay), identical with those found in great profusion all over the Sierra Nevada. Now, [p.782] these tnmas are all made from carnelian, jasper, or other reddish varieties of silica, and the stone, according to the Indians, is not to be found in the Goajira. While ascending Macuira, several places were pointed out to me, especially near the top, in which I was entreated to look for treasure "of the Arhuaco." They themselves, although coveting tumas above everything, are, curiously enough, afraid to look for them, not hesitating, however, to appropriate any found by chance. This, combined with the fear of mentioning their dead, points to some sort of religion or belief in a superior Being. They evidently took possession by conquest, driving the weaker "Arhuaco" out, and have managed to assert their rights to this day. It is rather an historical anomaly that such a small tribe, which probably never exceeded 80,000, should have been able to conserve intact their absolute freedom, their manners and customs uncontaminated, in spite of the accessibility of their territory, surrounded as it is by the sea, and the continual commerce that has been going on for centuries.
Commencing with the topography of the country, the mountain system attracts attention most—more so, as a remarkable error has been propagated, that the Goajira is one large fertile plain with only one or two isolated hills. At least one-half of the country is hilly. There are in fact two Goajiras; one known as the Lower Goajira is the broad level plain extending from the river Rancheria to a little beyond the Teta. The other, or Upper, Goajira is the hilly sterile region between the Teta and Punta Espada. The Upper Goajira is simply a volcanic eruption, a conglomeration of low hills, conspicuous from the many cone-shaped forms, and the parallel ridges in which they have been thrown up. These parallel lines run chiefly north-west by south-west, and are separated by two large plains, thus forming three distinct groups of hills running from sea to sea. The first and most important of the three is the easterly or Macuira range. This fine, bold, interesting mountain mass rises in front of Chimare, about 12 miles from the sea-shore, and terminates at the most easterly point of the Goajira, forming the rocky headland known as the Punta Espada (Jurien). Due to its elevation and position, it serves as a species of cloud-trap detaining the lower clouds that drive in from seawards impelled by the easterly or trade winds, that blow here with great force most part of the year. This is the only spot in all the Goajira that can really be called fertile. I ascended the two highest points. The north or Macuira proper lies in front of Puerto Estrella, and is composed of several peaks ranging between 2400 and 2600 feet above sea-level. None of them offer any difficulty in climbing, as the slopes are covered with gardens to within 500 feet of the top. The vegetation is similar to that of the Sierra Nevada at 6000 feet, and the temperature was very low, showing at midday 65° Fahr. The highest point at the southern extremity in front of Pun to Espada is Ara-ura. Owing to the low dense [p.783] bush I could only reach 1700 feet, the limit of the Indian gardens, where plantains, maguey, onions, coca, sugar-cane, &c., were growing; also a rivulet with running water. The ground about here is well cultivated, supplying most of the Goajira with grain food. Many small low castes of Indians dedicated to agriculture live here; they are all poor, as agriculture is not considered wealth among the Indians.
The second or central range, which for want of a better name I shall call Parashi Hills, are entirely separated from the Macuira range by a plain some nine miles broad. This plain gradually rising from both seas, reaches 350 feet towards the centre. These hills rise at Bahia Honda almost from the margin of the bay, and stretch as a narrow belt right across the peninsula. Formed of ridges of low hills seldom exceeding 1500 feet, covered with a scanty wood of brazilete, divi-divi, cacti, and other prickly bushes, intersected by valleys, one mass of prickly pear, they present a desolate forlorn appearance two-thirds of the year, yielding, however, during the short rainy season abundant pasture. In this range, as with the former, there are two prominent peaks. The northerly one, a conspicuous object from Portete and Bahia Honda, is called Ruma. I ascended it with much difficulty, and found the height to be 1950 feet. Sierra Ipapa, marked on some maps, is probably Ruma.
Some 15 miles south of Ruma, Guajarepa rises well out of its surroundings. This, the highest point of the range, does not exceed 2200 feet, and must be the Cerro Aoeite of the Spaniards, supposed to be the highest peak in the Goajira, but it is seen that Maouira dominates it by at least 400 feet. A portion of this range is also called Cerros de Jallarure from a ranche at the foot of Guajarepa. Between the highest peaks and towards the south is the extensive plain of Ataipa. We now come to the third or Oojoro range, separated by a rather tortuous valley, varying much in breadth, about six miles at the narrowest place. These hills are more extensive than either of the two first, and show many peculiarities, being flanked on all sides by numerous isolated knife-like ridges, some running parallel to each other with broad valleys between, while others are complete segments of circles. Towards the Maraoaybo shore are several large mountain masses. The highest, Yuripiche, is a wonderful mass of igneous rock some 2800 feet in height. Close by, another mountain, Auipana, plays a prominent part in the landscape. All these hills, like Parashi, are destitute of vegetation, many so steep that the bare rock and stone-slides put all idea of growth out of the question, and with their weird shapes, immense boulders, and caves, form a fitting retreat to the Cocinas or Robber Indians. The celebrated Teta Ooajira may be considered as belonging to this range, for although entirely isolated and some nine miles distant, it is indirectly attached by two small separate hills. The Teta is certainly one of the most beautiful sights in the Goajira, and [p.784] on a clear day can be seen from any point in it. On the west side a small hill attached spoils its beauty, seen from seawards, otherwise it is perfectly symmetrical in form. The Indians call it Jepitz. It lies in the Cocina district, and is the most dangerous portion of the Goajira. To visit it, I had to persuade Martin, one of the great chiefs, to accompany me with his three sons, uncles, nephews, &c. We started at daybreak, rode all day, and arrived in time to see the sunset from the top. We only saw three Indians the whole day, yet Martin assured me that all our movements were watched, and pointed out to me two probable places where an ambuscade would be planned for our return. We returned by a different road, getting back at 4 a.m. tired, hungry, and thirsty. I found the height to be 1200 feet above sea-level, or 900 feet above the plain. The rock is composed chiefly of trachyte with large crystals of felspar, similar to those of the Drachenfels on the Rhine. As also belonging to this group may be considered the two isolated hills rising in front of Cardon de los Bemedios and Canisal, close to the north spur of the Cojoro range, called Jallare. They are both insignificant and do not exceed 100 feet in height. The Cerros de Carpintero, a small group of hills behind the Cabo de la Vela, are of more importance, they are about 700 feet above sea-level. From Cabo de la Vela to Puerto Estrella, between the hills and the sea, are innumerable cliffs and banks rising to 200 feet, usually with very abrupt edges, and covered with rolled stones.
Rivers properly speaking there are none in the Goajira. The country is cut up in all directions by shallow, dry, sandy beds of watercourses, that during the rainy season carry off the water as fast as it falls. Not even the Macuira Hills are able to send a flowing stream to the sea during the summer, which here lasts at least eight months. It will have been remarked that the Indians have no collective name for their mountains, each little projecting point rejoicing in its own name. With their rivers it is still worse, for not only every water-hole adds a new title to a river—and these are innumerable, the custom being to dig for water in the sand of the watercourses, and as these wells dry up others are dug farther up stream—but every path that crosses the watercourse has its name. Even any prominent rock or large tree is enough to add to the interminable list of river nomenclature. On the plains below the Teta the drainage is effected by numerous small streams winding about in a most bewildering manner, and although perfectly dry, they usually have pools of muddy water at the bends. As the plain is little above sea-level, the water has cut deep zigzag channels, very different from the shallow sandy beds of the hills. The water remaining dammed up, instead of gravitating to the sea, causes the great fertility of the plains.
The principal source of water for the Indians are wells. These axe of two kinds; first, the most common, by digging, usually in the dry [p.786] bed of a watercourse. As the season advances, and the water recedes, they either dig after it or search for a lower level. Wells of 30 to 40 feet are very common. The water is reached by a staircase cut in the sand with an easy incline. Wells are easily distinguishable from a distance by the water-troughs, hollowed out of divi-divi trees, and called canoes. These are of the most distorted and grotesque shapes, and serve to water the herd. This is very hard work for the poor Indians during the summer months, and usually employs the whole day. Water from wells if taken early in the morning is always clear and cool. When bathing at a well the Indian uses a canoe; if he stops to drink, a bath invariably follows. Every well has a name, and the country is perforated by them like a mining camp. The wells of Chimare are phenomenal; dug out on the seashore, on a narrow strip of sand 100 yards in breadth, with the sea on one side and the salt-pans of Chimare, with layers of salt many feet thick, on the other, the water is, notwithstanding, perfectly fresh. There are seven holes about 10 feet deep. I may mention that Parashi is the name of a celebrated well dug in the liver that drains the eastern flank of Ruma. It means "salt," probably because the water is brackish.
Second in importance are the water-tanks or casimbas. These are sometimes natural, as a small lake at the foot of Ruma and the casimbas of Cojua, filtrations from the river Naima, forming a large lake in the rainy season and many small dirty pools in summer, but nature aided by art is the rule. Some are immense undertakings, and large sheets of water, calculated to last a summer through if not too severe; such as Ariapa, the casimba of Puerto Estrella, a large crescent-shaped piece of water of about a quarter of a square mile. The water of these casimbas is always muddy and filthy for drinking purposes. The herds are driven in, and every Indian that passes is sure to bathe, so that in time almost a skin of grease forms on the top; and yet in places where they are it is the only water to be had, truly meat and drink combined.
The Goajira coast abounds in harbours and bays, but none of much importance. Between Rio Hacha and Cabo de la Vela, in the extensive bay formed by the latter, anchorage is found almost all along the coast. Numerous roadsteads have become known through the commerce with the Indians, and quite a large trade is carried on in the small coasting schooners. Further along the coast are three large bays. The first, or Portete, is a large bay, well protected from the easterly trades, and is certainly the best port along the coast. Unfortunately the entrance is narrow, intricate, and with shoals. The next, Bahia Honda, is almost a complete oval, some eight miles long by three miles broad, and with an entrance of nearly three miles broad. It is separated from the sea by a stone wall from 60 to 80 feet at the highest, but not enough to protect the bay from the strong easterly winds that blow with such force here. It makes but a poor harbour, the surf inside during the afternoons pre- [p.786] venting anything being landed dry. The Colombian Government erected a guard-house at the entrance of this bay last year, but I am afraid it will have to be abandoned as untenable. Puerto Estrella makes a very bad port, the small trading schooners having to lie in under the breakers. This is the last recognised Colombian port, at least pending the arbitration question. The next good port is the Nagtina de Tucacas, in the Gulf of Maracaybo. This place is much frequented by Venezuelans, and a trade has sprung up that if not checked will ruin the already drooping commerce of Rio Hacha. The last port on the coast is that of Cojoro, and spoken of as the future port of Maracaybo, with which it would have to be connected by rail, an engineering feat of not much difficulty. The erisenada or bay of Calabozo has an inaccessible, heavy, surf-beaten coast.
The peninsula is inhabited by only one tribe of Indians. These are subdivided into many families or castes, bearing much analogy to the ancient "clans" of Scotland. Each caste or rather family circle is united against all comers, taking up the quarrel of any one of its members to make it general. The Goajiros are strictly conservative and aristocratic in their ideas, wealth and interest are omnipotent. A poor man may be insulted with impunity, when the same to a rich man would cause certain bloodshed. They have no veritable rulers, but each community recognises the wealthiest of its members as the chief or corporal, as he has been dubbed by the Spaniards, and look to him for protection. An Indian born poor, cannot become wealthy and great. Whatever herds he may accumulate, his humble origin would never be forgotten; he could, however, marry into a high caste family, having the means, and his children could become, through their mother's relations, great chiefs. Besides the name, each caste or family represents some animal, and many of the minor castes, over and above their own symbol, adopt another of some more powerful denomination, to enjoy the privilege of a good protector. There are at present, altogether, some thirty odd castes among the Goajiros. Of these I was able to discover the names of twenty-two. The remainder are insignificant, little known castes, chiefly inhabiting the hills. There are about ten of importance, chief among these the "Urianas.'' This, the largest caste in the Goajira, has subdivided or split up into many ramifications, such as Uriana tiger, Uriana rabbit, Uriana paularate (a song bird), Uriana gecko (lizard). This family is at present not only by far the most numerous, but also the richest; due to its connections by marriage with the Pushainas, formerly the wealthiest of the land. The Pushainas are to-day still great holders of tumas and ornaments, but with the Indian, only cattle, mules, and horses are real estate. The Urianas on receiving the tumas, sold out for cattle. The second in numbers are the Epieyues, as a rule they are poor. Under their protection are the Secuanas, again under these the small caste of the Guorguoriyues. A full list will be given [p.787] in an Appendix. With the exception of the Jimues or Piesies, a small tribe of 200 souls all told living in the valley of Miicaira between Ara-ura and Itujoro, the Guaririues, a mere handful of Indians under the protectorate of the Jimu, the Sijuanas, Secuanas, Arapainayues, Samuriues, Araurujunas, and the Arpusiatas, all small local tribes, strictly confined to the upper country or east of Cabo de la Vela, the other castes are distributed throughout the breadth and width of the land in the greatest confusion. Living as the Goajira does, in continual strife and warfare, whole families would speedily become poor or extinct, if they did not take the precaution to separate their wealth and herds, and only keep a few in one place at a time. Scarcity of water and pasture compels them to lead a nomadic life, and makes house-building out of the question, for they are eternally changing abode, now in the upper Goajira and then in the lower or plains. Some branches among the castes have, in spite of their roving propensities, predispositions for certain spots. For example, the proud and wealthy Pushainas are chiefly found round and about Parashi and Ataipa. Urianas tiger frequent Taroa and Bahia Honda a great deal, while near Portete, Jpuanas and Epinayues abound. In the neighbourhood of Auipana the Ipuanas and Jusayues are in great force; at the Teta nearly all are Jusayues, and near Las Guardias at Guarero, Sapuanas; these three latter are mostly all Cocina Indians. With respect to these terrible Cocinas, the word in Goajira signifies robber, highwayman, or outlaw. They are neither a tribe nor even a separate caste as many have supposed, but simply a band of freebooters—Indians that, for quarrels, murder, thefts, &c., have been expelled the family, and must needs take to pillaging to earn a livelihood. For self-defence, and to better ply their nefarious calling, they are banded together with recognised chief, and so are able to go on their marauding expeditions in great force, pouncing on any less numerous or unprepared party, to strip them of everything. One party of Cocinas will rob another if they can. Nearly all the Goajiros have relations among them, but an Indian is only safe with that band to which his relation belongs. They have commercial intercourse with them, and often succeed in getting stolen cattle back. The Cocinas' territory par excellence is the Cojoro range of hills, taking in the Teta, traversing the plains to a narrow band, and occupying the Montes of Oca as a refuge while scouring the plains. The country as far east as the Macuira range is not exempt from their depredations, especially between Ciapana and the Laguna of Tucacas. The principal Cocina chiefs are Alyechipara or Yorujama, as he frequently is called, an Uriana, and rules the country about Auipana and Yuripiche—he is the worst and most feared of the lot; Peron, an Arpushaina, another devil—he has appropriated the district of Cojoro; Masapain, a Josayu, lords it all about the Teta; and Merejildo, a Sapuana, is chief of the country about Las Guardias. Once the terror of the plains, this wild beast has [p.788] been completely tamed by the Venezuelans. He, with of course his followers, have found honesty the best policy after all, and are now reformed and peaceful members of society, returned to breeding and agriculture. This shows what can be done with firmness combined with a little judicious tact and management.
The Indians build no elaborate dwelling-houses. Their best ranchos are simple, and constructed in a short time. The roof is covered with the split woody core of a tall euphorbia. This makes a good cool roof impermeable to water and easily removed when the family flits. The rancho is seldom used for sleeping purposes; for this numerous poles (tehepsi) are firmly fixed all over the place for swinging hammocks, often three and four to one pole, and crossing each other. Sometimes two and three sleep in a hammock. Further off other poles (paxumaur) are found, to tie animals up at, and a small corral or sheep-pen for the goats and sheep is also indispensable in every well-regulated family. The site of a rancho is always carefully chosen, much strategy being displayed in locating the whole, so that each rancho covers the other without itself being seen. Although villages are never attempted, yet a family rarely lives isolated. Everybody bolsters himself with that bugbear of Goajira society, his relations. Their ranches are always within gunshot distance, so as mutually to defend each other. One is invariably on high ground to dominate the country, the rest are hidden away in nooks and comers where least expected. If one rancho is seen, others are close at hand. In case of attack, this system prevents a whole family being exterminated. One or two ranchos may be taken, but the rest escape or fly to the rescue, as the case may be. At all events the avenger, so dear to the Indian, survives. Each rancho has a distinct name. Besides, every Indian who is anybody has several ranchos spread over the country. To collect the names of the ranchos would be paramount to taking a census of the territory. The following are well-known ranchos, with usually some half caste from Biohacha trading with the Indians. In the Macuira range, six miles from Punta Espada, is Guarerpa, at the foot of Ara-ura; chief, Caijuna, a Jimu. Westwards, close to the sea-shore, Chomunao; chief, Jose Agustin, a Jallariu, a half-caste speaking good Spanish. At the foot of Itujoro, Maguaipa, situated on a slight eminence eight miles from the sea, and is an important trading station. Paraliero, native name of Puerto Estrella, boasts twelve houses and three iron warehouses, with always two or three Riohacheros resident there. The chief, Pedro Quinto, is Epieyu, but his sister Mauricia is the virtual ruler. Inland, 16 miles from Bahia Honda or Taroa is Merunay, another large trading station, usually with two or three Riohacheros established there. The eight ranches are well located on a plain between Macuira and Parashi. The chief, Saipa, is Epieyu. This is one of the most central stations in the Goajira, and is surrounded by several important places; it is probably [p.789] the site of the old Spanish settlement San Juan de Ipapa. On the west side of the Parashi Hills in the plains is another well-known central trading station Joroy; chief, Majute, an Ipuana; probably near the old site of the Spanish settlement Moscote. In the neighbourhood are: Guarirpanturi; chief, Concon, an Ipuana. A Dutchman from Aruba has lived here many years, and has become quite an Indian. Aipiapa, a few ranchos on an eminence, commanding the whole valley. The Indians here are rather mixed, but the chief is a Pushaina. The well Eapaulera, at the base of the hill, is the finest I saw, and surrounded with rich green vegetation similar to that of Macuira. Katunasio, the most inland station. It is generally the traders that make a rancho known, for the Indians do everything they can to keep their abodes, if not secret, at any rate as much in the dark as possible. The plains being more unsettled than the mountain district, traders do not venture to establish themselves in the interior, as at Merunay or Joroy, so few ranchos are known. The most important place in the Lower Goajira is Guincua, midway between Riohacha and the Venezuelan town of Las Guardias or Santa Teresa. Paraguaipoa, the new Venezuelan military colony, founded in 1882, counts already 50 houses. It is situated in the plains 12 miles in advance of Santa Teresa, which it completely covers. The garrison at present consists of 30 men, well mounted and found in every respect, under the orders of a commander, two secretaries, and two interpreters; the latter for the purpose of taking statistics as to trade, &c. Altogether it is a model establishment, and does honour to the Government of Venezuela. The entire population of the Goajira may be about 20,000; it does not exceed 25,000, and is not increasing.
As regards manners and customs and the way they enforce their old peculiar laws, these Goajiros are particularly interesting. Of course, like all Indians, they are singularly proficient in begging, stealing, and drinking, but besides these capital vices they add a fourth, that is demanding compensation, tear- or blood-money—principal cause of all the strife and blood feuds between the castes, and an everlasting danger to Indians and strangers alike. Whereas about one-quarter of the male population die a violent death from its result, another quarter are killed by drink and its effects. The laws that govern these compensation cases are very intricate, their number is legion. First is the terrible law of retribution, that makes a whole caste responsible for the acts of any single member. As the Spaniards or white men are considered by the Indians as belonging to one large family, the country is very unsafe for travelling, for every white man is a sort of hostage for the good behaviour of the others. If an Indian should be killed in a quarrel by a white man, the life of another white man, living leagues away, depends upon whether the foe (relations of the dead Indian) or a friend brings the news first. Many an innocent unconscious trader has been sacrificed at one end of the peninsula for a foul murder committed at the other end.
In the following laws it must be borne in mind that it is not the injured
individual that demands compensation, but his relations, uncles on the mother's
side as a rule. From this has arisen the common error that the father is
ignored; as will be seen further on, this is not the case. In compensation it is
the caste that reclaims, and the caste is always the mother's side. For example,
a Pushaina man marries an Uriana girl; the children are Urianas. If one of these
now should kill an Epieyu, for example, the whole caste of Uriana is at war with
all the Epieyues, unless the matter is amicably settled by paying blood-money.
Case No. 1. Personally inflicted wounds. If an Indian accidentally cuts himself, say with his own knife, breaks a limb, or otherwise does himself an injury, his family on the mother's side immediately demands blood-money. Being of their blood, he is not allowed to spill it without paying for it. The father's relations demand tear-money, not so much. Friends present demand compensation to repay their sorrow at seeing a friend in pain. If anybody present can seize the instrument that caused the accident it is appropriated. The pay is in ratio to the injury. A slightly cut finger is settled with a little Indian com, a kid, or such trifle. A bad cut requires at least a goat or a sheep, with other sundries. In all cases of compensation where the Indian has not the wherewith to satisfy his creditors, he goes round begging until it is obtained.
Case No. 2. Damage done by animals. Suppose an Indian borrows a mule or other animal, and is thrown by it, doing himself bodily injury, then his relations demand compensation from the lender, the argument being, had he not lent the animal the accident could not have happened. Should the beast belong to the thrown man himself, then he has to pay. Case of No. 1 in fact.
Case No. 3. General liability all round. This covers an enormous field. The most curious. Everybody selling rum or anything else is answerable for all the damage done by its instrumentality. Unfortunately this law is only, like many others, enforced when it is possible. As the traders know it very well, they never take rum into the interior for barter without being fully able to protect themselves. I was lent a servant as guide by a trader, who requested me not to let the man have any drink, for should anything happen to him ho would be responsible to the family. Indians in employment receiving any damage the employer becomes liable; and so on. Wherever the Indian can only make the ghost of a claim he wants tear-money, blood-money, or some other money, and if not satisfied, helps himself with what he can lay his hands on.
Case No. 4. Mentioning names. This is very serious. The Indians object to have their true names mentioned, and demand heavy compensation in aggravated cases. They generally go by a Spanish name—Jose Antonio, Agustin, Vicente, &c., for an Indian dearly loves to be baptised, that is, he likes the attending feast and having god-fathers on [p.791] whom to exercise his begging propensities. To mention the dead before the relations is a dreadful offence, often punished by death; for if it happens in the dead person's rancho, with nephew or uncle present, they will assuredly kill the offender on the spot if possible. If not on the spur of the moment, it resolves itself into a heavy fine, usually two or more oxen. Even if none of the dead person's relations are present, any friend can carry the news to the relations, and compensation is at once required. When not given it is forcibly taken, probably resented, and the two castes are at war. It is not wise to mention names of any sort in the Goajira in mixed company.
Another peculiar case: if a child dies in the custody of the mother or father, and they are living separate at the time of its death, then tear-money has to be paid by the one, under whose care the child died, to the other. This is "Taguira suchirua tachen," "My tears on account of my child." To demand payment for debts, achecaha, is one thing, and to demand compensation, manya, is another. They are generally pretty punctual in paying debts; should the debtor die, the creditor is secure, for the relations will suffer anything rather than allow the name of their dead to be abused. The following case of murder I witnessed in Ataipa. Some Pushainas drinking, one got on to a strange horse, and was ordered off by the owner, on not complying he was shot dead. Both parties being poor and near relations, it was arranged as follows: First payment, eight sheep, two oxen, one horse, two necklaces of cornelian beads, two sirapos of black beads (about 16 lbs.). Six months afterwards, second payment, similar to first. A few months after a third payment is asked, but is more an extra than anything else. After second payment all animosity ceases, and the two families can look again at each other on meeting. Should an Indian in attempting to kill another be wounded or killed, his family demand the same as though no attempt were made.
Among domestic customs, the one that calls most attention is shutting up their young girls on arriving at womanhood. The custom is religiously carried out throughout the country. Each girl is enclosed in a separate little hut by herself. She is stripped of all her ornaments, even to her beads and sirapo, and all her clothing with the exception of the long loose cotton gown, nor is she allowed to cut her hair. For the first couple of days, drinking water is denied her, the only food being haguape, a composition of medicinal herbs. According to birth, a rigorous diet is observed the first month, no meat being allowed. She can be freely mentioned and is merely alluded to by her relations as "surtise sum pauru," "she is shut up in her house." The term of retirement varies according to the wealth and rank of her family. Poor people cannot afford to keep girls idle more than a couple of weeks or a month; whereas the rich enclose them for one, two, or even four years. It is while in this state that she learns all women's requirements— [p.792] weaving, making dresses, hammocks, sashes, &c., sewing, and all the little knick-knacks Indians love so well.
The confinement is not so isolated as it seems, generally several of her female relations are round the door with the enclosed, who of course becomes rather stout, much blanched, almost white, and some exceedingly beautiful. Strangers and men are not excluded from peeping in through the door, always with an eye to matrimony, and she can be sold and liberated at once, though her husband if rich prefers leaving her to complete her term of schooling. On re-entering to society again, a special festival, skuitis, is held with dancing, &c. An ox is killed, and the girl is dressed in the clothes she has made; her hair is cut and she resumes all her beads, necklaces, bracelets, and other ornaments.
Women are much respected by the Goajiros. In a quarrel or drunken brawl, women often save bloodshed by stepping in and tearing the weapons out of their husband's or brother's hand. Travelling with women is consequently perfectly safe, and in case of danger, if one undertakes to protect a stranger, he may rely upon coming out all right.
Matrimony is a mere case of barter. The girl is sold for a certain price, fixed by the father. This is paid by the intended husband, and divided by the father, who appropriates the best part for himself and his relations, the rest going to the wife's relations. As it is chiefly in cattle, these are killed and a kind of bridal festival held. There is no other ceremony. A wife is under obligation to support her husband, find him in food, clothes, &c. She does most of the trading, and a contract made with an Indian is worthless, should his better half object .An Indian cannot inflict bodily injury on his wife, for he becomes liable to her relations, and should she die during childbirth he has to repay the father what he gave for her. But if the wife is untrue (a rare occurrence) he demands from the father the price he paid for her, who if he cannot refund, helps him to recover from the seducer, plus tear or compensation from his mother-in-law. At the husband's death, the wife becomes a legacy to his brother, usually the youngest; if there are none, then his nephew inherits her. The daughter of a chief is worth, according to his wealth and power (i.e. the number of men he can dispose of in a fight) from 6 to 150 head of cattle (121 to 300).
When a person dies, a grand drinking festival is given, that lasts as long as there is anything to drink—days, and even weeks, with the wealthy. These latter are buried twice, and have two festivals. A rich person is always buried in the rancho, and on the spot where he was born; being often carried for that purpose immense distances. A fire is lighted every night from sunset to sunrise in front of the grave, for the sole use of the dead. Immense piles of wood are gathered for this purpose, as the body is kept two years in the house. Then all the relations can meet on a certain day, and the second feast takes place, when the bones are carefully gathered, placed in a jar, and consigned to the [p.793] cemetery, a silo chosen in some solitary arid spot, and surrounded by walls of cacti. At the death of Salvador, a Pushaina from Arroyo Garden, 120 fat oxen were killed, and the hides did not pay for the liquor drunk. Two of the same family meeting for the first time after the death of a relation, must squat down on their hands in front of each other, and sob and weep, for at least a quarter of an hour, the louder the better. The Indians are very punctilious in saluting. Galling at a rancho, visitors must wait until spoken to, if this is not done soon, it is evident they are not welcome, so ride away. The words used never seem to be the same. The most frequent are "Intishi-pia" (you have come), or "Eiguare pia" (so you have arrived). In eating and drinking the Indians are extremely cleanly. The principals all eat separately; receiving their allowance in an earthenware dish, posu, with a gourd spoon, pusha. The remains, with an addition, serve for the lower members of the family. Water is invariably given after, to wash the mouth and fingers. Even if a drink of milk is taken, a little water is tendered after. As to their hospitality, it has, I believe, been rather exaggerated. There is no doubt that the Goajiro is more hospitable than the Arhuaco of the Sierra Nevada, but then he is also far more cunning and diplomatic, and his hospitality is a mere question of self-interest. He will willingly give a sheep or a goat as a present, provided there is a chance of claiming an ox in return. He is chivalresque in his donations. When he does give a sheep, it is a fat one, his best, and given whole, without reserve, skin and all. If eating, on the arrival of a stranger, he may offer food to him, but certainly will give if requested, as is the custom, always begging. One thing a guest may rely upon receiving in a rancho is a hammock, even if the owner has to sleep on the ground. Lastly, among curious customs, is that of parents assuming the names of their children with the prefix uttshi or suahi if the father, and ni or si if the mother. Thus the father of Juan would call himself "Nushijuan," or if a daughter, "Sushijuana." The mother of Juan would be called "Nijuan," and if a daughter, "Sijuana."
The dress of the Goajiros is extremely simple, and probably similar to his savage luxury of three centuries ago, when Alfinger devastated the land, except that his own quiet blacks and browns—for he is cunning in the art of dyeing—have given way to the gorgeous blues, reds, and yellows of European wool. His every day working costume is simply a strip of cloth from three inches wide upwards, called catches. When paying visits, receiving company, or travelling, he dons his best—a large loincloth with many folds, and the home-woven mantle she, with a magnificent sash, si-ira. The mantle is managed with wonderful elegance, now letting it fall about him in voluptuous folds, or dropping it from his shoulders, and tucking it into his immense sash, where his arrows are carried. The hair, which is jet black, thick, and cut short, is kept back in a very aesthetic style by a ring or crown, [p.794] called yara if made of plaited straw, and capanase if made of wool, with large tassel (worn behind). The two can be combined and adorned with a couple of feathers in front. When made entirely of feathers, it becomes torsma, An Indian's toilet would not be complete without a hapiqnito, a piece of leather fastened round the left wrist by a twist of wool to receive the recoil of the bow-string when shooting. Paint is common to both sexes, and in excess. They assert that it saves their complexions from the sun. The last thing an Indian does, on mounting horse for the day's journey, is to call for the powder-box, and plentifully besprinkle his face. The powders mapuatepo or marua are rotten wood; guanapai, a black stain from a wild nut; and parisa, very popular among the fairer sex, is the colour extracted from a leaf and mixed with fat.
The woman's dress is invariably, at present, made from foreign cotton, and is a plain sack with a hole for the head and two others for the arms. With the wind it blows out and makes her look like a balloon. The white cotton is dyed black with divi-divi, or yellowish-brown with mom (yellow wood), or reddish-brown with the suckers of mangroves. The Indians are exceptionally clean and nice in their dress, and, however poor, keep a reserve suit for state occasions. Women alone wear the puna and the sirapo. The puna are like a pair of braces; long strings of beads passing over each shoulder to cross each other on the breast and back, held in position at the waist by the sirapo, a sort of sash or belt made of beads likewise. Small strings a few ounces in weight are placed on the female child a few months after birth, and gradually increased, according to the strength of the child and the purse of the parents. Punas are made with any beads except black, a rod variety with white eye (isochon) preferred, and weigh from 2 to 10 lbs. With sirapos any coloured bead will do, piaur or black ones the rule, and they weigh from 1 to 10 lbs. A married woman may wear the puna until her first confinement, when it is laid aside. Poor Indians who cannot afford beads for the puna make it of cotton dyed black and braided. Among the many necklaces, tumas are the most valuable. These curious perforated stones are only found in the graves of prehistoric races, both in the peninsula itself and the Sierra Nevada. There are many varieties. The round ones varying in size from a large marble to a pea are tuma (a name generalised by the Spaniards); those in shape of small charm-barrels are amwure; the pear-shaped, according as they are long or dumpy, perinya, and guarirainya; the bugle is parauria, &c. Mineralogically they are bits of red jasper, cornelian, and reddish sardonyx. Their value depends upon the intensity of red and size. A large one at present is worth a head of cattle; a necklace has from 15 to 30, varying in size. Bracelets are as varied and in as much profusion as necklaces; they are called hapuna, from ahapo, the hand. On the feet they also wear strings of cornelians and beads. They have two names, the aristocratic cushihanar and the common guaurihena.
In weapons the Goajiro uses the old-fashioned bow and arrow, along with the
latest breech-loading rifle. He never strolls ten yards from the rancho without
his arrows stuck in his sash and the inseparable bow in his hand. Arrows are of
three classes: bolts for killing birds and lizards, hatu, having a nail or
piece of hard wood for a head neatly covered with wax; arrows proper, for
killing game and war, siguarrai, with iron heads made from old knives filed and
worked into shape; and thirdly the terrible poisoned rays, aimara: these are an
ordinary arrow-shaft, with two inches of the bony weapon of the sting-ray (querigua)
loosely fastened to the end, well covered with poison. To prevent accidents,
each head is covered by a cane sheath. The poison is putrefied animal
matter—toads, snakes, and other reptiles allowed to putrefy and boiled down.
When newly done the poison is said to be weak, the same when too old, so the
arrows have to be re-dipped at stated intervals (about nine months). Death
subvenes from three to twelve days afterwards, a sort of blood-poisoning, and is
tolerably certain. If the ray-bone has not been got out (a most difficult
operation) and the wound well cauterised with a red-hot nail. The Cocinas of
Yuripiche are reputed the best makers, and enjoy a sort of monopoly. A bunch of
twenty-four arrows is sold by them for a dress cut of cotton eight yards. None
of the arrows are feathered; the shafts are made from cane, reeds, and also
solid wood. As to firearms the Indian prefers the old "Crown" or "Tower"
flintlock (carcabuao) to the Remington rifle, on account of the uncertainty of
getting cartridges. The American flint- lock (carcabuao cayeta-punahana) is also
The principal industries among the Goajiros are collecting brazilete, divi-divi, and salt, and breeding horses, mules, donkeys, cattle, and goats, with the accompanying sale of hides. Their animals are celebrated in the neighbouring provinces for being docile, having been all brought up as it were by hand, for the Indian spares neither time nor trouble on his flocks.
With regard to the language, a small grammar was published in 1878 by Rafael Caledon. Unfortunately it was printed in Paris, while the author was in America, and is replete with errors in consequence. The language is a much richer one than is generally supposed, and taken as a whole has a euphonious, pleasing effect on the ear, much more so than the neighbouring Arhuaoo. I have no space here to dwell upon its beauties, but cannot dismiss the subject without giving the following three examples of much-used words:—
|Acbinga, a name.||Ita, a cap (gourd).||Yora, a headdress.|
|Taohinga, my name.||Te-ita-in, my cup.||Tekiyara, my headdress.|
|Puchinga, your name.||Pi-ita-iu, your cup.||Pikiyara, your headdress.|
|Nichinga, his name.||Ni-ita-in, his cup.||Nikiyam, his headdress.|
|Nuchinga, her name.||Si-ita-in, her cup.||Sikiyara, her headdress.|
As a last word I may say from personal experience that the Goajira is an interesting but not a beautiful country, nor is it a desirable place for travelling, either for pleasure or for commerce. Not that there is any actual danger under ordinary circumstances, but what between drunken bloodthirsty Indians, blood- and tear-money, with all the intricacies of their own peculiar laws, travelling among them is as bad as sitting on a keg of gunpowder before a big fire. It is impossible to foretell when a mere spark, accidentally or intentionally, may blow the whole thing up.
List of Tribes or Castes, with their respective animals and favourite resting places
|Uriana||Ganahaptir||Tiger||About Taroa and Bahia Honda.|
|"||Arpana||Rabbit||About Cuce and Maracaybo coast|
|"||Guinpirai||A singing bird||Everywhere.|
|"||Hokoriu||Gecko (lizard)||Only in the plains.|
|Epieya||Guaruseche||A species of vulture||Bahia Honda, Puerto Estralla, and plains.|
|Pushaina||Puiche||A species of small peccary||Parashi, Ataipa, and plains.|
|Ipuana||Mushara||A sort of hawk||Portete Joroy, Ciapana, &c.|
|Jayuriu||Er||Dog||Macuira and plains.|
|Arpiibhaina||Simur||Vulture||Guincua and plains, Gohorow|
|"||Cariai||A species of stork||(?)|
|Epinayu||Uyara||A small buck||Portete, Hayanire.|
|Jimu or Fiesi||Guarir||Fox||Only in the Macuira valley.|
|Secuaua||Gliorguor or Guaruseche||Species of vulture||Only in the Upper Goajira.|
|Sijuaha||Goori||Wasp||Upper Goajira only.|
|Gunarin||Guarir||Fox||Only in the hills of Macuira.|
|Guauriu or Guau-uriu||Per||Partridge||Turoa and Upper Goajira.|
|Araipainayu||Anuwaua||Species of vulture||Upper Goajira only.|
|Samuriu||Hepepa||Owl||" " "|
|Arpu-iata||Ischil||Red cardinal bird||" " "|
|Uchaiahu||Are all Cocina Indians||Cohoro hills only.|
|Araurujuna||A small, almost unknown tribe in the hills of Macuira.|
|Guorguoriyu||Guorguor or Guaruseche||Species of vulture||Only in the hills of Upper Goajira.|
N.B.—The Samurides, a very small caste, eat horseflesh and donkeys. This is considered by the other Indians to be very unclean, who, until lately, did not even eat fowls. All Indians are, however, fond of a species of lizard, "guasher," and iguana.
* Proceedings R. G. S., 1881, p. 705.