Magellan`s encounter with the Patagonian giants was recorded by his on-board chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian nobleman who was a Knight of Rhodes. He was one of only 17 survivors who sailed around the world on the Magellan 5 ship expedition in 1519. He hoped to find adventure and "to gain some renown for later posterity." They set sail from Siviglia "for the purpose of going to discover the spicery in the Islands of Maluco under the command of Captain -general Fernando de Magaglianes, a Portuguese gentleman, comendador of the Order of St. James of the Sword." Pigafetta`s diary was published in Italian, French, Spanish, and later into English. It influenced the writings of Shakespeare, Baudelaire, and Poe. Shakespeare based his character Caliban in "The Tempest" on Pigafetta`s account of the Patagonian giant.
Charles Darwin also sailed around the world and encountered the original inhabitants of Argentina. He described their long flowing black hair, their suits, cloaks and tents made from the hides of the guanaco, a species of llama. Their faces, he said, were painted red and black with one of them painted with his eyes ringed in white with white dots in the manner of the Fuegians of Tierra del Fuego. In one of the cave paintings of southern Patagonia, a five foot jaguar is painted in red with black dots. The Native face painting probably represents this animal. Archeologists identify the cave art as a jaguar of the extinct subspecies Panthera onca mesembrina. It is accompanied by guanaco figures in red and white. The imprint of a giant bird track is also seen in the murals. The Indians hunted ostriches and guanacos with their bolas made of long thongs tied to 2 throwing stones.
Darwin considered the natives to be wild, formidable, and lacking in culture. He would have been surprised to learn that their language consisted of over 30,000 words as compiled by the Reverend Thomas Bridges. Some have compared their Yaghan language to Hebrew while wondering how that could ever have come to be.
The voyage of the Beagle was 300 years after Magellan. At that time the Fuegians were still patrolling the straits in their huge log and hide canoes. Darwin described two naked Indian women that he had seen while in the straits. One looked up at him from her canoe while nursing an infant. They were both drenched in rain and the cold spray from the ocean. Another curious mother watched him "whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her skin and on her baby." The steepness of the cliffs of Cape Horn prevented their landing.
Captain Joshua Slocum was warned before he sailed his sloop through Thieves Strait at night. A friend armed him with a bag of carpet tacks for his passage. Before the Captain retired for the night, he sprinkled the tacks onto the deck of his ship. He awoke to the howls of the barefoot marauders as they climbed aboard. Some returned to their canoes bellowing while the rest dived overboard while protesting loudly. The Captain did not need to fire a shot, although he did fire some rounds after their departure.
Giant human bones were discovered in Peru as well as in Patagonia. The Indians told legends of these former inhabitants who had been destroyed for their transgressions.
Charles Darwin denied the existence of the giants of Patagonia. These Yaghans of such great height could have been seen to confirm the stories of the Biblical giants, thus destroying his entire theory of evolution. Sadly the original inhabitants of southern South America were killed off by European diseases.
Next time: Giants - The Ancient Giant Nephilim and the Apocalyptic Book of the Giants in the Dead Sea Scrolls.