A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels - Volume 05 eBook

Robert Kerr (writer)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 641 pages of information about A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels.

The inhabitants of Chiloe consists only of two classes of people, Spaniards and Indians, there being no negroes and no mixed breed or mestees.  The want of negroes is easily explained by the poverty of the islanders; but we are not told how it happens that the other two races have not intermixed[118].  This is the more remarkable, as a most extraordinary change has taken place in the language of these islands during the latter half of the eighteenth century; insomuch that the language of the Indian inhabitants consists entirely of Spanish words, but all the inflexions, the syntax, and the idiomatic manner of expression are Chilese, that is to say exactly corresponding to the Moluchese dialect of the Chilidugu.

[Footnote 118:  Probably the gradations have not been attended to, because the nice discrimination of ranks has not been deemed worth while in so poor a country.  Perhaps the mestees and their gradations are all elevated to the rank of Spaniards, or all depressed to that of vassal Chilotans.—­E.]

Both men and women of the Spanish population in Chiloe go barefooted, except a few of the principal families who sacrifice convenience to pride; as in a country so continually wet it is safer to go about with naked feet than to have them in wet coverings.  The men universally wear the poncho.  The houses, or hovels rather, are all built of wood, and the crevices are stopped with sheep-skin or rags.  The roofs are all thatched; and the climate is so rainy that this soon rots and must be frequently renewed.  These dwellings consist of a single room, in which the family, the cattle, and the poultry, are all accommodated.  A few of the inhabitants who can afford superior accommodation, have houses divided into several apartments, wainscoted within, and roofed with deal.  Being all of wood, fires are frequent occurrences; but as the houses are scattered, the mischief does not extend.  Owing to the inclemency of the weather, and the miserable state of the roads, a family in the scattered and solitary situation in which the houses are placed, is often weeks, and sometimes months without any communication with their neighbours.  There is neither hospital, physician, nor surgeon in the whole province.  A sick person is laid in a bed or a heap of skins near a large fire, and remains there till recovery or death supervene.  The missionaries who visited these islands could find no books from which to teach the children to read, and when they wished them to write there was no paper.  Necessity produced a substitute, and they used wooden boards or tablets, on which they wrote with a substance which could be washed out.  Such is the miserable situation of the Spanish inhabitants of the archipelago of Chiloe:  yet they dare not leave their wretched birth-place in the hope of bettering their fortunes.  The small-pox is hitherto unknown among them, and those, who have attempted to go elsewhere have been cut off by that loathsome disease.  In 1783, the entire population of this dreary province amounted to 23,477, of whom 11,985 were of Spanish descent, and 11,492 Indians.

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