Saturday, 22 January 2011

Tales from Argentina – The River as Legend (Part 1 of 2)

When I was investigating another story I came across this legend, and wondered if you would find it as moving and interesting as I did.  The pictures I've used to illustrate the story are all taken in Argentina as far as I know, and are from Google.

Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires was founded in February 1536 by Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Mendoza. 

It failed because he and the members of his expedition ill-treated the local native population, the Querandíes,

who, having initially been friendly and shared their meagre supplies of food, as a result of the mal- treatment by the Spaniards turned against them and attacked the fort over and over again until it had to be abandoned because the starving inhabitants could bear it no longer. 

Mendoza set sail for Spain the following year but died of syphilis en route.  Buenos Aires was not settled successfully for another 44 years.

But to go back to their first days, it is thought that when he set foot on the shores of the River Plate in late 1535

the view that confronted Don Pedro de Mendoza must have been a vast plain crossed by streams and small rivers, among which was the river subject of this story.  Some 24 km in length and flowing southeast into the River Plate basin and thereafter the Atlantic, its peculiar characteristic was that it would suddenly swell to many times its size after a heavy rainfall, and burst its banks turning the surrounding countryside into a floodplain.

Thus it was destined in the future to mark the northern boundary of the city of Buenos Aires for generations to come, and bullock carts forced to cross it would have to do so by travelling great distances to one of the few bridges, or by fording it at a reasonable location. 

The Maldonado got its name as the result of a sad and extraordinary alleged series of events which took place at its banks. La Maldonado was a Spanish woman who had travelled with the Mendoza expedition.  At first she lived in the fort erected by the Spaniards, around which a mud wall had been built to provide a measure of protection against native incursions. 

Its effectiveness was limited by the heavy rainfalls which partly melted the wall each time, but the authorities forbade the inhabitants to cross the boundary, meting out severe punishment to all those who infringed the rule. 

However, as the food stores eventually dwindled, La Maldonado and the other women were starving and in despair, for there was no prospect of the situation improving or being able to return home to Spain.  With her companions starting to die one by one, La Maldonado decided that she preferred to die fighting. 

She defied the order and at nightfall climbed over the wall and escaped onto the plain.  She walked for many hours until she came to a large stream, and after slaking her thirst noticed a cave nearby, where she sought refuge.  She crawled in, fainting with hunger and exhaustion, and fell into a deep sleep.

Two powerful factors made her wake suddenly in the night: the fierce roar of a puma and the smell of raw meat nearby.  She started up with fear and saw a female puma lying watching her from a corner of the cave,

and not far from where La Maldonado was lying, a piece of meat.  Hunger overcame every other instinct, and moving cautiously she took the meat and ate ravenously.  Exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep once more.  Some time later she was awakened again by the roar of the puma, except that this time it was the sound of an animal in pain. The animal had left the cave and was lying outside, clearly in the midst of a difficult labour. 

La Maldonado had on many occasions assisted the women at the fort to give birth, and realising what the problem was, quietly approached the puma.  The female was too preoccupied to offer any resistance, and after a struggle with the woman’s help her two cubs were born and she placed them gently by their mother’s body where they could suckle.  The roars of pain had by this time given way to gentle mewing as she licked her new cubs, and keeping absolutely still the woman watched this moving scene.

In a few days I'll post Part 2, telling about the ordeals La Maldonado had yet to face.


Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's non-digital archives

Clevedon & Portishead, Somerset

Clevedon Pier

Link to The River, Part 2 of 2:  Click HERE
Link back to most current post:  Click HERE


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