by Lucio V. Mansilla
Towards the very end of Una excursión a los indios ranqueles--a book first published as a series of letters in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Tribuna and, as previously mentioned, now translated into English by Eva Gillies as A Visit to the Ranquel Indians [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997]--Colonel Lucio V. Mansilla shares two captivity narratives that probably weighed on the minds of many of his readers back home seeing as how they had to do with the abduction of white women by Indian raiding parties along the Cordoban frontier. Although I'm not going to take the time to comment on the second captive's story right now, in the first of the two stories Mansilla describes his meeting with a captive by the name of Doña Fermina Zárate, seized at about the age of 20 and now one of the longtime wives of a Ranquel cacique or chieftain known as Ramón. Chief Ramón, one of the Ranqueles whom Mansilla most admires, has just told his visitor that "la señora es muy buena, me ha acompañado muchos años, yo le estoy muy agradecido, por eso le he dicho ya que puede salir cuando quiera volverse a su tierra, donde está su familia" ["the señora is very good, she has kept me company many years, I am very grateful to her; so I've told her she may go if she wishes and return to her own country where her family lives"] (492 in the Spanish, 360 in Gillies' English translation). However, to Mansilla's surprise, the captive greets the news of her liberation not with tears of joy but with torrents of tears. To give you a close-up of Mansilla's personality as a writer, his struggles to overcome his racism, and a dramatic indication of his work's value as a primary source, here's the rest of the vignette-like scene in Mansilla's own words beginning with the moment when the colonel and the captive are left alone by the Ranquel husband Ramón (493 in the Spanish, 360-361 in the English):
-¿Y por qué no se viene usted conmigo, señora? -la dije.
-¡Ah!, señor -me contestó con amargura-, ¿y qué voy a hacer yo entre los cristianos?
-Para reunirse con su familia. Ya la conozco, está en la Carlota, todos se acuerdan de usted con gran cariño y la lloran mucho.
-¿Y mis hijos, señor?
-Ramón me deja salir a mí porque realmente no es mal hombre; a mí al menos me ha tratado bien, después que fui madre. Pero mis hijos, mis hijos no quiere que los lleve.
No me resolví a decirle: Déjelos usted, son el fruto de la violencia.
¡Eran sus hijos!
-Además, señor, ¿qué vida sería la mía entre los cristianos después de tantos años que falto de mi pueblo? Yo era joven y buena moza cuando me cautivaron. Y ahora ya ve, estoy vieja. Parezco cristiana, porque Ramón me permite vestirme como ellas, pero vivo como india; y francamente, me parece que soy más india que cristiana, aunque creo en Dios, como que todos los días le encomiendo mis hijos y mi familia.
-¿A pesar de estar usted cautiva cree en Dios?
-¿Y Él qué culpa tiene de que me agarraran los indios? La culpa la tendrán los cristianos que no saben cuidar sus mujeres ni sus hijos.
No contesté; tan alta filosofía en boca de aquella mujer, la concubina jubilada de aquél bárbaro, me humilló....
["So why don't you come away with me, señora?"
"Ah, Sir!" replied she with bitterness, "and what am I to do among the Christians?"
"Come and join your family! I know them, they're at La Carlota, they all remember you with the greatest affection and mourn for you."
"And what about my children, Sir?"
"Ramón's letting me go myself--because really he's not a bad man; me at least he's always treated well, after I became a mother. But my children--he doesn't want me to take away my children."
I could not make up my mind to say to her, "Leave them behind, they are the offspring of violence." They were her children!
She went on, "Besides, Sir--what sort of a life would I have among Christians, after being away from my hometown for so many years? I was young and pretty when they took me captive. And now, as you can see, I've grown old. I look like a Christian, because Ramón allows me to dress as they do; but I live like an Indian woman and, honestly, I think I'm more more Indian than Christian--though I do believe in God and indeed commend my children and family to Him every day."
"Despite being a captive, you believe in God?"
"And what fault of His is it that the Indians grabbed me? The fault lies with the Christians, who don't know how to look after their women or their children."
I made no answer: such high philosophy from the lips of that woman--the pensioned-off concubine of that barbarian--humbled me....]
La vuelta del malón
(Ángel della Valle, 1892)
Mansilla's obvious struggle to make sense of the complexity of the situation--"I could not make up my mind to say to her, 'Leave them behind, they are the offspring of violence.' They were her children!"--and Doña Fermina's description of the Christians as "they" rather than "we" are the sort of things that make Mansilla an excellent and "authentic" tour guide. And even though Mansilla doesn't hesitate to call his Indian host "that barbarian," he often tries to understand the barbarians and their "more Indian than Christian" captives from their points of view. Is that enough to justify his frequent racism? You be the judge. Next up: a captivity narrative from Mansilla about a Ranquel Indian abducted by whites. Below: two 19th century paintings dedicated to the trauma or propaganda value of Indian raids: Argentinean Ángel della Valle's La vuelta del malón [The Return of the Raiders], a detail of which figures on the cover of my EDICOL edition of Una excursión a los indios ranqueles, and German Johann Moritz Rugendas' El malón [The Indian Raid], a canvas concerning a Mapuche raid in Chile. People who have read César Aira's 2000 novel Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero [An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter], a work having to do with the "landscape painter" Rugendas' multiple and exotic misfortunes in Argentina including being struck by lightning and witnessing Indian raids, can now start debating whether the surrealistic scene in which an Indian raider grabs an uncommonly large salmon as if to steal it for a mate is actually an inside joke inspired by the lady captive's salmon steak-colored dress in the center of El malón below. Mansilla-della Valle-Rugendas-Aira. That sure seems to be the case to me!
La vuelta del malón
(Ángel della Valle, 1892)
(Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1836)