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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On horses in the Pampas: the name "Bagual" for wild horses

In 1802 Felix de Azara wrote about the origin of the wild horses of the Pampas prairies of South America:

When Buenos Aires (founded in 1536) was abandoned in 1541 and its few residents moved by ship to Asunción in Paraguay "they were unable to carry along with them all the horses they had brought from Andalusia; so that five mares and seven horses were left behind on the plain".

What sources he used are unknown, contemporary chroniclers didn't report this event, furthermore, the residents almost starved to death and resorted to cannibalism so why would they have left the 12 horses alive instead of eating them?

Azara continues:

The multiplication is quite extraordinary, a mare has a pregnancy of 11 months, and mares come into heat about a week after foaling, so this would mean one birth per year per mare over their breeding lifespan (from their first or second year till their mid twenties) she would in theory produce 12 males and 12 females before dying. These young mares would do the same and so on.

Between 1541 and 1580 when Buenos Aires was founded again, those 12 horses would have become....not more than 105,614 horses based on acutal growth rate values for feral horse populations (Growth Rates of Feral Horse Populations, Robert A. Garrott, Donald B. Siniff and L. Lee Eberhardt, The Journal of Wildlife Management Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 641-648. doi: 10.2307/3809513).

The formula is: Nt+1 = Nt x λ, where λ is the "finite population growth rate", Nt is the population on year "t", and Nt+1 is the population the following year. The values of λ according to Garrott et al., range from 1.15 to 1.27 with an average value of 1.21, so the horse population in the Pampas would have grown from 12 horses to 2,430 (λ = 1.15), 16,789 (λ = 1.21) or in the best case 105,614 (λ = 1.15) horses.

Azara asserts that the local Pampas or Querandí natives called these wild horses "bagualada" or "baguales".

Where did the name "Bagual" come from?

Some have said it was the deformation of the Spanish word "Caballo" (horse) transformed into "bagual" (from the Native Mapuche word "Cawellu"), I doubt it.

The word Bagual was used by the Querandí people though the meaning is unknown.

In the mid 1620s, a native Querandí tribe, with 223 members lived in a "Reducción" or native village called San José. It was headed by chief Juan Bagual (ca.1560 - 1642) who adopted the name Juan -John- when he was baptized. They lived in horse hide tents, had a few horses which they captured from the wild horses that roamed the Pampas. The village was located on the Areco River, 18 leagues (57 mi. or 90 km) from Buenos Aires.

They been "encomendado" (a type of serfdom) to Cristoval Altamirano in 1582 shortly after Buenos Aires had been founded for a second time.

Bagual was unruly, he rose several times against the Spaniards, escaped from the encomienda, was sent to the "Reducción", deserted it for the open countryside during the measles epidemics, laid siege to the then infant city of Buenos Aires, and was defeated time and time again by the Spaniards.

He and his tribe were repeatedly "reducidos" (Spanish for subdued) and confined to a certain area under the supervision of a Spanish overlord known as a "Reducción.

These people of Bagual's tribe were good horse riders. They are specifically mentioned as folows; they "ride on some skins and use sticks as stirrups and some use bridles".

So it is quite clear that Bagual was a native name, like that of his fellow chief Tubichaminí

The name has also been written by his contemporaries as "Vagual" (the latter name is from this source - pp 26) and "Mbagual" -the addition of the "M" in front of his name was probably due to the influence of the Native Guaraní language (see source), which uses the "Mb" phoneme, though it is usually preceded with a vowel.

He is also said to have been called "Miniti" of unknown meaning.

s he escaped time and time again, and sought freedom, the story goes, the wild horses of the Pampas were named after this indomitable native chief. A nice tale, but very probably not true.

The Araucano and Mapuche who later replaced the Pampa - Querandi people on the prairies, didn't use the word "Bagual" for wild horses, they used "Caitá" (Viaje al Pais de los Araucanos, E. Zevallos, 1881).

The word, according to Augusta's Araucano - Spanish dictionary is actually: kaita, an adjective that means "wild".

So these are the facts:

  1. The Querandí people who lived in what is now the northeastern part of Buenos Aires province, had a chief who lived in the late 1500s and early 1600s who was called "Bagual" (Vagual or Mbagual). Little is known about the Querandí, they became extinct shortly after the mid 1600s due to disease.
  2. The word for wild horses in Southern south America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina) is "Bagual" it was used by Spaniards, Portuguese and natives alike
  3. The Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina had another word for wild horses: "kaita" or "caita", meaning "wild".

Native people such as the Mapuche used animal names as part of their clan or personal names: Nahuel (jaguar), Pangue (puma), Manke (condor), so perhaps the Querandí did the same and "Bagual" was the name of an animal of the Pampa plains, such as a horse, a native horse, indigenous to America.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

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