Monday, 24 January 2011

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

Link to "The River" Part 1:  Click HERE

A strange bond formed between the female and the Spanish woman over the next few days.   The puma merely tolerated her at first, but as the woman never tried to get any closer, clearly found her presence comforting.  Game was plentiful in the area and it was too soon for the cubs to need this sort of sustenance, so the animal would allow La Maldonado to finish whatever meat she didn’t want. 

One day a small group of natives passed by the other side of the stream and were awed to see a white woman accompanied by a puma and two cubs across the stretch of water.  They were filled with respect for this woman who did not fear wild animals.

However she was not as lucky on the next occasion when a larger group of natives appeared and scared off the pumas, taking her captive. 

She was held prisoner at their camp for many months.  There are several documented stories of Europeans being held captive by native populations in that part of the country, and the life was brutal and harsh, with few opportunities to escape, particularly for women. 

This was the fate of La Maldonado, until one day when she was out collecting firewood and she came upon a troop of Spanish soldiers who were out foraging for food. 

She was taken back to the fort, but her relief at being back with her own people was short-lived.  She was put on trial for having gone beyond the boundaries of the fort months before, and worse, had gone to live with ‘savages’.  The punishment imposed upon her was terrible:  she was tied to a tree by the river and left for the pumas to devour her, or to die from hunger and thirst. 

The evening brought relief from the hot sun, but in a haze she saw that there were pumas approaching to drink from the river, and that they had spotted her.  One of them roared, and as she had done many times before, she prepared herself for the end; then as if in a dream she saw in the twilight the shadow of another one attacking it and scaring it off.  Three shadows approached her as she sagged half-fainting against her tethers – she saw the fiery eyes looking at her, she smelt their breath.  What she felt next was not their teeth and claws upon her body, but the sensation of a rough, warm tongue licking her feet. 
.Photo by Charles Blair
Three days later the Spanish soldiers returned to the river, and they found the woman barely alive still tied to the tree, and around her three pumas were lying quietly, one female and two younger animals. 

The older creature went for the soldiers as they approached, for they were clearly guarding the woman.  Shots fired into the air made them flee, and the men untied La Maldonado.  Sadly by this time she was so near death that she expired in the arms of one of the soldiers.  As they rode back to the fort with her body, in the distance they heard the lament of the pumas for their brave benefactress.

She was given a Christian burial and pardoned posthumously because it was judged that she had served her punishment by having tamed the wild animals around her, and it was decreed that henceforth the river would be named the Maldonado.

The river flowed on, and as the population increased so did the disasters when it habitually burst its banks.  It became a repository for rubbish and frequented by very large rats; during periods of heavy rainfall a large, dirty lake would form, making it unhealthy and dangerous, all of which seriously devalued the area. 

A local recalled that when the Maldonado flooded they would hear the sound of police- men’s whistles, and the fire brigade would arrive with boats.  People would have to climb on to the roofs of their homes because the water would rise by 2 metres – and this happened many times a year.  The renown Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges lived as a child in Palermo, a prosperous suburb near this river, and in his stories he mentions the undesirable characters that operated at the water’s edge and the brothels that proliferated there.  Its colour was described as grey.

The flooding problem was finally tackled by the government during the late 1920’s and by the mid 1930’s the stretch of river that flowed through the centre of the city had been enclosed in a culvert, and a road built over the top.  This did not solve the problem altogether however, and in the 1990’s its capacity was augmented by the construction of two supplementary tunnels on either side of the main riverbed and 15 metres beneath it, and this work is still unfinished.

Pumas no longer frequent these areas so close to population; these days they are normally to be found in Patagonia and other lonelier mountainous areas of the country.


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Flora & Fauna

Back to the top:  Click HERE


Nola said...

Well, I was totally engrossed in that story. I thought it was going to be that the pumas brought food to her or chewed through her restraints or similar....but alas, not to be:)

I love the duck in the log photo...that's my favourite out of this batch xx

Shaggs said...

I dont know if its good or bad but for better or worse why do (especially Argentine) legends end in a bitter sweet acceptance of ones destiny and some kind of posthumous recognition?? I'm like Nola - i wanted the puma to save her, chew through her ropes etc is it because I was raised on "fairy" tales where the white girl always gets her happy ending?? Still, loved it! Tell us another bedtime story tia carolline please please!!! Loved it! Must tell some Aboriginal stories... mmmmm the cogs are turning!

Lonicera said...

Thank both! I do love (re) telling stories. I've got a 5-part one about a woman who spent her childhood by that awful river, hence my finding this story. It's nearly complete, will probably post part 1 next weekend, but will post the other parts a few days apart. 5 weeks is too long to wait for the end of a story I think!
Thanks again,you're both real pals.

Matvi. said...

Great story, Caroline. Bautiful pictures, as usual.
Pumas are not so distant from Punta Arenas, as two of them were seen fidgeting near the airport, some 20 kilometers north of Punta Arenas last year. One of them was runned over and accidentally killed by a car on the highway at night, and the other was captured in a trap and set free at the Paine National Park.Before that they managed to devour some sheep, which happen to be quite easy preys.

Lonicera said...

I've so rarely seen pumas in the wild (only in the Sierra Chica in Córdoba as a child). I wonder if they're being hunted to extinction because of sheep farming...

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