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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tachwüll” the first men

 

JJust north of Tierra del Fuego in southern Patagonia, is the land of the Aonikenk natives. They believed in the existence of an evil midget, Tachwüll[*], the maker of bolas, the stone balls of the boleadoras.

[*] As is frequent with reducing an unwritten language into writing, the different chroniclers translated the words phonetically into their respective languages. Though spelt differently, they all retain the original sound (i.e. Tachwüll, Chelule, Chechuelli, Chahuelli, Táchul, Talwulli, Sechu, etc.). This will be seen repeatedly in my book and these posts.

The name boleadora derives from the Spanish word “bola” (ball); they were stones balls sheathed with leather and attached to strong tendon straps that were whirled above the head to gain momentum and then thrown so as to entangle around the hunted animal’s legs.

The name Tachwüll was first recorded by Pigafetta in 1520, who noted that the Patagones (Aonikenk Tehuelches) called their lesser devils Chelule.[1]

The Poya, a Tehuelche group that lived in northern Patagonia gave it a similar name Chechuelli or Chahuelli[2] and their Mapuche neighbors also believed in the evil elf, which they called Sechu.[3]

The same-sounding name reflects a common origin for the Sechu - Chelule - Chechuelli - Tachwüll dwarf.

The Aonikenk’s Paleo-Indian ancestors had hunted guanaco on foot during milennia using bolas as well as bow and arrow. However, when they adopted the horse after the Spaniards introduced them into South America, they took to hunting with bolas again. The reason was simple: aiming and shooting an arrow at a running guanaco while riding a horse was much harder and less effective than whirling and hurling boleadoras to tangle its legs.

Once they lost the art of making the solid spherical hard stone bolas, they took to recycling the ones that they found strewn on the ancient Paleo-Indian hunting grounds or molded new ones in softer and less durable soap-stone.

Having forgotten about their Paleo-Indian ancestors, the Aonikenk believed that these tough bolas had been made by Tachwüll, whom they pictured as a small animal-like dwarf that lived in the Andes. The fact that they considered it an animal may imply a simian aspect – perhaps a monkey relative of the Fuegian Yosi ( See our post on him Here).

They said that he could often be heard chipping stones in the rocky gullies, and scratching the centerline groove that surrounded the bola with its sharp nails (the boleadoras’ leather strap was firmly fixed to this groove to hold the ball).

These Tachwüll were primitive (in certain ways pre-human), and were considered by the natives as the first men to inhabit the Earth, eons ago, before “real” men appeared.

Historian Federico Escalada, calling them Táchul says that these original inhabitants were “small people […] something like the ‘gnomes’ or ‘dwarves’ of our fairy tales”.[4]

Although, according to the natives, most of them died in the terrible geological cataclysm that formed the Andes, a few had managed to survive and continued living in the mountains where, according to Patagonian historian Casamiquela (who called them Talwulli), he lived with his wife, the monstrous Elëngassën (we will post about her later).[4][5]

Aonikenk Chief Papon, who died a poor drunkard in 1892, at the end of his life he was so poor that he sold at Punta Arenas a set of boleadoras that he believed were made of brass but were actually pure gold. When asked about where he found the nugget, Papon said that he found it by an ancient city that was buried under the recent lava flows of a nearby volcano (some believed that the city was the famous lost Patagonian City of Caesars[*], a fabulous El Dorado which is a tale that deserves a book of its own). This city, according to Papon was inhabited by dwarves.[6]

[*] The legend of the City of Caesars began in the mid XVIth century. It revolved around an incredibly wealthy city set in Patagonia (i.e. its roads were paved with gold) and was inhabited by people of European origin who led secluded lives there. Several expeditions were sent to find it, and it was not until the late XVIIIth century that it lost credibility


Though his tale was dismissed as nonsense, there is some documentary evidence written by the early Patagonian explorers that mentions dwarfish beings in the area close to the Strait of Magellan.

Contemporary chronicles.

1591 Anthonie Knivet wrote about strange small men at Port Famine close to Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan.[7]

A few years later, in 1614 Joris van Spilbergen uncovered at Tierra del Fuego a grave holding the body of “a being […] not longer than 3½ feet [107 cm]”.[8] It is likely that it was the body of a child, but the Dutch preferred to believe it was that of a pygmy.

In 1633, according to historian priest Diego de Rosales at Culacoya close to Concepción in Chile’s northern Patagonia, a dwarf was seen.[9]

In 1646, Jesuit priest Alonso De Ovalle in his history of Chile wrote that there were “pygmies” at the Straits of Magellan.[10]

Closer to our time, in 1845, Santiago Dunne, secretary to the governor of Punta Arenas, wrote that the natives had told him of a strange city with “stone houses inhabited by hairy pygmies like dwarves, called Chélep”.[6] This over was half a century before Chief Papon saw his lava covered city of dwarves.

Post with more information on the Chelep.

Closing comments.

Myth? Fantasy? or some now disappeared dwarfish creature? It has not been reported since the end of the XIXth century. Could it be related to Trauco or Anchimallén? or to the intriguing Fuegian monkey, the Yosi? Perhaps.

Bibliography.

[1] Pigafetta, A., (1899). Primer Viaje Alrededor del Mundo. Madrid. 1899. pp. 16.
[2] de Olivares, M., (2005). Los jesuitas en la Patagonia: Las misiones en la Araucania y el Nahuelhapi 1593- 1736. B. Aires: Continente pp. 182.
[3] Latcham, R., (1924). La organización social y las creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Santiago: Cervantes. pp. 580.
[4] Escalada, F., (1949). El Complejo Tehuelche. B. Aires: Coni. pp. 327.
[5] Casamiquela R., (1988). En pos del gualicho. B. Aires: Fondo Edit. Rionegrino-EUDEBA. pp. 120. Citing: Bormida, M. and Siffredi, A., (1969). Mitología de los Tehuelche Meridionales. B. Aires: Runa. v.xii.
[6] Martinic B, M., (2007). Los Césares de la Patagonia: ¿Otra Fuente Indígena para la leyenda o hasta ahora desconocida creación del imaginario Aónikenk? Magallania. v.35, N° 2: pp. 7-14.
[7] Purchas S., [Comp] (1625). Haklvytvs posthumus or, Pvrchas.... London: H. Fetherston. v. 4. pp. 1232.
[8] Van Spilbergen, J., (1906). The East and West Indian mirror: being an account of Joris van Speilbergen's voyage round the world (1614-1617).... London: Hakluyt Society.
pp. 41.
[9] de Rosales, D., (1878). Historia General del Reyno de Chile. Flandes Indiano. Valparaiso: Impr. del Mercurio. Tomo ii. Libro IV. Cap. I.
[10] de Ovalle, A., (1646). Histórica Relación del Reyno de Chile.... Roma: Francisco Caballo. pp. 100-101.


Lea este post en español


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

1 comment:

  1. Myth can hide a core of truth. It would be interesting if anyone is actually spending money to excavate and photograph the ruins.

    ReplyDelete

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