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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Phoenicians in Patagonia? The wishing tree

wishing tree Patagonia
Patagonian Gualicho Tree, photo ca. 1850 from the Carmen de Patagones Museum. Copyright © 2011 by Austin Whittall
The Patagonian natives had a strange custom of tying “rags” or “threads” to a certain tree that grew in the northern part of Patagonia. Naturalist Charles Darwin wrote about a Sacred Tree which he saw as he rode through this part of Patagonia in August 1833:

Every where the landscape wears the same sterile aspect; a dry gravelly soil supports tufts of brown withered grass, and low scattered bushes, armed with thorns.

Shortly after passing the first spring we came in sight of a famous tree, which the Indians reverence as the altar of Walleechu. It is situated on a high part of the plain, and hence is a landmark visible at a great distance. As soon as a tribe of Indians come in sight of it, they offer their adorations by loud shouts. The tree itself is low, much branched, and thorny. Just above the root it has a diameter of about three feet. It stands by itself without any neighbour, and was indeed the first tree we saw; afterwards we met with a few others of the same kind, but they were far from common. Being winter the tree had no leaves, but in their place numberless threads, by which the various offerings, such as cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth, &c., had been suspended. Poor people not having any thing better, only pulled a thread out of their ponchos, and fastened it to the tree. The Indians, moreover, were accustomed to pour spirits and maté into a certain hole, and likewise to smoke upwards, thinking thus to afford all possible gratification to Walleechu. To complete the scene, the tree was surrounded by the bleached bones of the horses which had been slaughtered as sacrifices. All Indians of every age and sex, made their offerings; they then thought that their horses would not tire, and that they themselves should be prosperous.

This strange custom is shared by, of all people, those of the Middle East, home of the Phoenicians:
The custom of rag tying is practiced throughout in the Moslem world (Goldziher 1971 ) [...] In the Moslem world, rags, used clothes, yarn, and threads are tied on the shrines or tombs of holy figures (vilis ) and on objects around them such as sacred trees [...] Rag tying on sacred trees is quite common in the Middle East and surrounding areas (Drower 1941 ; Merril 1883 ) as well as in Cyprus (Diamandopoulos and Marketos 1993 ; Grinsell 1990 ), Turkey (Yassin et al. 1998 ) and Morocco (Westermark 1968 ). The present field study surveys the reasons for tying rags to sacred trees as a ceremonial part of tree worship, as actively practiced today in rural areas of Israel, especially by the Druze and Moslem Arabs [...] In the 10th century a Karaite, Sahel b. Matsliakh, who lived in Palestine, complained that Jews tied rags to sacred trees as votive offerings (Vilnay 1963 ) [...] Some Bedouin in Lower Galilee (4) commonly hang green rags of special quality (stâra) on the trees of the Mt. Tabor oak (Quercus ithaburensis ) to ask permission of the saint to use the fruit without being harmed. [2]

The Patagonian tree, now lost, was located [3] at a place which bears its name "Arbol del Gualicho" (Gualicho Tree) "38°55'10" S. and 64°15'46" W.",


[1] Darwin, C. (1839). Narrative of the Surveying voyages of his Majesty's ships
Adventure and Beagle (...). Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. Colburn, London. Vol. III. pp 79+
[2] Amots Dafni (2002). Why Are Rags Tied to the Sacred Trees of the Holy Land. Economic Botany (Vol. 56, No. 4, pp. 315-327) Online
[3] Dehais, Francisco J., (2006). Contribución a la cartografía de Patagonia o Chica desde 1519 a 1900: Río Negro Argentina.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2011 International Year of Forests
2011 International Year of Forests Copyright 2009-2011 by Austin Whittall © 

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