The Account: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación

By Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; Martin A. Favata et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
About the Customs of the Indians of That Land

From the Isle of Misfortune to this land, all the Indians we encountered have the custom of not sleeping with their wives from the time they first notice they are pregnant until the child is two-years old. The children nurse at the breast until they are twelve years old, when they can look for food for themselves. When we asked them why they brought them up this way, they replied it was because of the great hunger in that land. When we were there, we saw them go two or three, sometimes even four days without food. For this reason they let them nurse, so that they won't die in times of hunger. Even if some should survive those times, they would end up sickly and very weak. If any fall sick, they leave him to die in the wilderness, if he is not their child. If any cannot keep up with them, they are left behind. But they will carry a son or a brother on their backs.

All these people have the custom of leaving their wives when there is a disagreement between husband and wife, and then they marry whomever they please. This is among childless men, because those who have children remain with their wives and do not leave them. In some villages when they quarrel and have disputes among themselves, they punch and hit one another until they are tired and then they separate. Sometimes women separate them by coming between them; the men will not do this. No matter how heated the fight, they never resort to the bow and arrow. After they have finished punching each other, they take their lodges and their wives and go to live in the wilderness, away from the others until their anger has subsided. When their anger and wrath have gone, they return to their village and thereafter the two parties are friends and behave as if nothing had happened. It is not necessary for anyone to help them reconcile, because they do it themselves. If the men who quarrel are not married, they go away to other neighboring groups, who, even if they are their enemies, receive them well and are pleased to see them. They give them part of what they have; and so when their anger has subsided, they return to their village as rich men.

All these people wage war. They are as astute in guarding themselves

-85-

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