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Patagonia Bookshelf

Ostrich Tales — an Anthology
Observations of Darwin's rhea in southern Patagonia

"A Voyage in the 'Sunbeam': our home on the ocean for eleven months",
Annie Brassey, London 1878
During a world tour in their private steam yacht, Lady Brassey and family arrived at Punta Arenas in October 1876. Although the Tehuelche Indians were not yet in town for one of their periodic trading visits, the Brasseys were able to purchase ostrich-feather rugs and a guanaco-skin robe. The author explains how they are made by the Indian women, and what materials are used.

[emphasis added]

I fear we shall not see any of the Patagonians themselves, for they come to the colony only three or four times a year, to purchase supplies, and to sell skins and ostrich eggs. They are a mounted tribe of Indians, living on the northern plains, and are now on their way down here, to pay one of their periodical visits; but, being encumbered with their families, they move very slowly, and are not expected to arrive for another ten days. They will no doubt bring a splendid supply of skins, just too late for us, which is rather disappointing, particularly as we are not likely to have another opportunity of meeting with them at any of the places we touch at. They live so far in the interior of the country that they very seldom visit the coast.

[...]Saturday, October 7th.-- My birthday. Tom gave me a beautiful guanaco-skin robe, and the children presented me with two ostrich rugs. The guanaco is a kind of large deer, and it is said that the robes made from its skin are the warmest in the world. People here assure me that with the hair turned inside, these robes have afforded them sufficient protection to enable them to sleep in comfort in the open air, exposed to snow, frost, and rain. They are made from the skin of the young fawns, killed before they are thirteen days old, or, better still, from the skins of those which have never had an independent existence. In colour, the animals are a yellowish brown on the back, and white underneath, and they are so small that when each skin is split up it produces only two triangular patches, about the size of one's hand. A number of these are then, with infinite trouble, sewed neatly together by the Indian women, who use the fine leg-sinews of the ostrich as thread. Those worn by the caciques, or chiefs, have generally a pattern in the centre, a brown edging, and spots of red and blue paint on the part which is worn outwards. Such robes are particularly difficult to obtain, on account of the labour and time necessary to produce them. Each cacique keeps several wives constantly employed in making them, of the best as well as of the ordinary description. The ostrich rugs, which are made here, are more ornamental, though not so warm and light as the guanaco robes. They are made of the entire skin of the ostrich, from which the long wing-feathers have been pulled out. Mabelle has been given a beautiful little rug composed of the skins of thirty little ostriches, all from one nest, killed when they were a fortnight old, each skin resembling a prettily marked ball of fluff.

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