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A review of Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges: the southernmost indigenous peoples of the planet and their fate at Tiera del Fuego.

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Yamana group, Tierra del Fuego

This is  a review of a most amazing book called ‘Uttermost Part of the Earth: a history of Tierra del Fuego and the Fuegians’ (1948) by E. Lucas Bridges.

I have been studying hunter-gatherers as part of my MSc, but I came upon this book by chance a year ago.  As a breather from my studies I became determined to read something different and wonderful and so began to google ‘the greatest book ever written’.  Uttermost Part of the Earth kept coming up, and ironically, it was about hunter-gatherers.  No escape from the hunter-gatherers for me!  I just had to buy and read this wonderful book after reading the reviews.

But, being me, it ended up on my bookcase for a year and I finally opened it up 2 weeks ago.  I’ve been reading it avidly since.  It actually is the greatest book ever written, there had been no exaggerating.

The subject matter of the book is especially appropriate for The Daily Beagle, because it was the Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy, that first discovered the region and the Yamana people in around 1830.  Not only that, but Charles Darwin is part of this story of discovery and adventure, and the region of activity exists along a strait named ‘the Beagle Channel’.

So where is Tierra del Fuego?  This is the southern-most tip of South America, just above the notorious seas of Cape Horn.  The climate is extremely cold, with temperatures able to reach -20 C in winter.  The terrain is rugged, of jagged mountains, glaciers and rocky outcrops emerging from a maze of sea channels.  Ecologically, it is steppe and open forest/shrub, with herds of deer, visited regularly by penguins, whales and other sea mammals.

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Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

In 1826, the Beagle was commissioned toBeagle Channel, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego chart the Southern Oceans and explore the unmapped Southern most regions of the Americas and eventually located Tierra del Fuego.  On finding a wide channel into the region, they named that Beagle Channel, and along this encountered a human community who called themselves the Yamana.

These people were canoe people, living mainly on the water, and Fitzroy was concerned by what he saw as a most wretched and unhappy existence.  In spite of the cold, these people were almost completely naked and lived in the most basic stick dwellings and wind-shelters.  Married women swam naked in the freezing waters to moor the canoes and Fitzroy was shocked for them and their apparent sorrows.  However, they were not friendly, but fearful and suspicious, and possibly could become aggressive.  Fitzroy somehow captured four of their young people to take back to England.  His plan was to ‘civilise’ them and return them to their community later, so they could calm their people and make them open to accepting help.

These young people were named by the crew of the Beagle as Boat Memory, Fuegia Basket, York Minster and Jimmy Button.  Boat Memory died on the passage of an infection, but the others survived and were educated, clothed, taught table manners and once in England were presented at the Royal Court where everyone was charmed by them.  During the passage they were asked about the Yamana, and seem to have made sport with their captors, telling dramatic tales of cannibalism that were later found to be completely false.

In time, it was decided to return the young people to their community, and so they reboarded the Beagle, with Charles Darwin and some missionaries, returning to Tierra del Fuego.

jimmy button

Jimmy Button and  other Yamana captives taken by Fitzroy

On arrival, the three Yamanas returned almost immediately to their original way of life.  A missionary camp was established on Ushuaia, but tragedy struck as the Yamanas promptly assassinated the missionaries and took their belongings .  They were more hostile than expected, though Jimmy Button had tried to prevent the tragedy.

In time, a second missionary post was established at Ushuaia, but again, the missionaries were promptly slaughtered, this time with Jimmy Button himself being found guilty of leading the killing.  All amicable relations with the Yamana had been lost, and the Yamana made very clear that they found their own lifeways to be completely acceptable to themselves and not wretched at all.  They wished to be left alone.

Another missionary post had been established on the Falkland Islands at this time, to assist with the conversion of the Yamanas.  On this island, of missionary parents, was born the author’s father, Thomas Bridges.

Now a personal perspective.  If there is one thing I absolutely do not like, it is missionaries.  Never has so much damage been done to human-kind than that which was done by missionaries, and scarily, Evangelists are still trying to send missionaries to convert (i.e. destroy) uncontacted tribes today.  Missionaries killed thousands by infecting them with viruses, by demanding they wear clothes in humid climates (which gave people pneumonia) and by destroying  thousands of years of unique human cultural heritage and replacing it with Christianity.  Honestly, I get angry writing about it.  I think Evangelists who have set off today to convert uncontacted people should be locked up instead.  I love this book, but the Bridges were missionaries, who arrived in Tierra del Fuego funded by churches, to make Christians of these unfortunate Yamanas, who are now culturally extinct.  They didn’t even have the grace to call them Yamanas, but called them Yaghans instead which was a word from their language that referred to the rugged landscape.

When Thomas Bridges was 18 years old, the missionaries abandoned their mission of converting the aggressive Yamana people and left the relative safety of the Falklands for England, but Thomas Bridges remained, alone, to  make his fortune here, on Keppel Island.  He was determined to convert the Yamamas and for this, he decided he must learn their language and meet them on their own terms.

This plan went well.  In a few years he was fluent in Yamana and sometime later able to establish a first settlement on Ushuaia, on the Beagle Channel.  Some Yamanas, who he called Yaghans, had befriended him enough to join him and learn the basics of agriculture, while appeasing nearby Yamanas.  This went so well that he returned to England for a wife, who he brought first to the Falklands, where she delivered 2 children, and then to Ushuaia where she had four more babies, including the author.

The author was therefore raised, quite wild and free, in friendship with the Yamamas, at Ushuaia, speaking their language, hunting and playing with his siblings.  His father was an enthusiastic mariner with no fear of the wild seas of the cape, often setting sale against the advice of the more experienced Yamana.  On one occasion when he took his son with him, they almost drowned in the wild winter seas of a rocky channel, in search of a mountain community called the Ona.  Their ship became stranded in the rocks by the rocky seas and began to disintegrate over a period of a week.  In desperation, his father forced the collapsing ship to attempt sail towards a rocky beach, a suicide mission, and as they neared the beach lifted his son and threw him bodily from the ship and onto the rocks.  The ship collapsed and his father then swung from the falling mast like Tarzan onto the beach himself, where he suffered a lifelong back injury.  They then had to survive huddled without shelter on the wintry beach, hunting fish like natives until they were rescued.

His father’s next adventure was to try and climb the mountains instead with two Yamama companions to reach the Ona, and not bring his son this time. The author describes his sorrow at seeing  his father disappear into the woodlands without him.  But he returned a week later, defeated by the harsh conditions, which was lucky, because if he had reached the Ona, they would most certainly have killed him immediately.

The population at Ushuaia rose as more Christians arrived, including families, and it was decided to establish a more permanent village nearby, named Estancia Harberton, in 1886, which still stands now, managed by Thomas Bridges great-grandson.   Another factor in the establishment of Harberton was that Argentina had acquired Tierra del Fuego.  The bridges family were granted permission to farm the region around Harberton and granted Argentinian citizenship.

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 Harberton today

This Argentinian presence at Tierra del Fuego was to prove ultimately tragic for the indigenous Yamana and Ona people.  The arrival of sheep farmers brought violence to them, and many were killed by such farmers.  In addition, waves of deadly measles epidemics hit the Tierra del Fuegians and by the 1930s, their culture was extinct.

E. Lucas Bridges provides in his brilliantly written book our most valuable resource on the lost heritage of the Yamana.  He describes their hunting methods, their fishing techniques, their canoes, their dwellings, their plant foods and their traditions.  He also brings great humanity to his story, because he does not have an imperialistic or superior view on the Fuegians.  Most texts from this time are blighted by social Darwinism (the idea that hunter-gatherers were less evolved than Europeans).  This text is not and while reading it you are there in Tierra del Fuego with him and his family and your sympathies are with the Yamana people and the loss of their traditional lifeways.  To E. Lucas Bridges, their pre-missionary life was not wretched at all, but ingenious and effective.

These peoples are lost now.  Their canoes and huts, their traditions and their strategies have all vanished from the shores of Tierra del Fuego.  It seems they never did make a choice to become westernised, they maintained a dignity and determination in pursuing their traditional ways, but they welcomed the chance to acquire new foods and better tools.   The most we can learn from this is that culture is worthy of preservation and that living heritage is precious, but also we learn in this book what it is to be human.

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Reconstructed Yamana hut near the location of the last surviving Yamana 

Reference

Bridges E L (1948) Uttermost part of the earth: a history of Tierra del Fuego and the Fuegians.  New York: The Rookery Press

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25th August 2012 men and stuff

I’m 41 and when I was doing my undergraduate degree, especially in the last year, the boys on the course made a game of trying to chat me up.  They were terrible at it, and here’s an example.  I woke up to text from one of them that he’d sent in the early hours.  Let’s call him R.  He’s been after me for ages (when he’s drunk)…

“Had my arse pinched by old women in a pub all night and am annoyed none are you.  So disappointing!”

Great.  Thanks R.  I’m not an ‘old woman’ thank you very much.  He’s lucky he’s several hundred miles away or he’d have been very sorry.  I’m bored with his random texts now anyway.

Guys.  When I was in my teens I thought they were something wonderful, something magical: that to be loved and wanted by a guy was the absolute zenith of potential human existence.  Now I’m sick to the back teeth of them.  My brothers and my dad are wonderful, I can’t knock them.  But I’ve never otherwise encountered any male who hasn’t been in some way a complete dickhead.  This includes not only the entire line of guys I’ve dated but also all the guys my friends have dated too.  I’ve turned into a bitter old spinster but that’s kind of good.  Will any man ever gain my trust, dissolve my defenses and heal my old heart.  Not likely. One day in the future geneticists will identify the dickhead gene and confirm its presence on the y chromosome, dating back to a chromosomal Adam, first man, father to all males today 250,000 years ago.  They might even be able to confirm a y-chromosome dick-head mutation that occurred 270,000 years ago when all males were actually really really lovely.

But surely 50% of the population are not really that awful.  Maybe I just had unlucky experiences.  Whatever it is I am not ever throwing myself into that particular fire again.

Today I got paid!  £35 for my proof-reading(and I’m quite proud of the work).  I’ll declare it to ESA on Tuesday.

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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24th August 2012: Discrimination

Something happened today that hasn’t happened for a while… prejudice against mental health.  Luckily I’ve encountered this in the past so could keep my cool.  It was the GP receptionists.

Yesterday I had a good psych appointment, my meds are reduced!  but this means a new prescription is required.  this is what happened….

I turned up at 1.30 to pick up the prescription for my new dosage, and they didn’t have it. My psychiatrist hadn’t faxed it over yet. I was fine about that, but they said I wouldn’t get the new prescription until Tuesday at the earliest. I left and rang my CPN to tell her I won’t be able to start my new dose until tuesday and if that’ll be ok. CPN was shocked, said they had to do me the prescription today, and told me to go back to the surgery while she rings them and faxes them the new dosage. So off I went back and from that moment I was ‘problem patient of the day’. I was there for an hour and a half. Basically they were refusing to ask a GP to do the script (even though I saw one having a cup of tea with them), pointedly ignoring me and being bloody minded. This can happen with mental health…. people assuming you’ll become a problem when they don’t even know you, and I’d been nothing but nice and not on their backs at all. In the end I went up to them, and after ten minutes of them deliberately avoiding eye contact with me, I spoke up and said I was so sorry they were being inconvenienced and that I was in a really tricky position, and that consultants don’t think of the inconvenience to admin when they change people’s treatments. They looked up and I added, ‘its ok, I understand, and I can explain to my cpn next week. You can’t do it and I need to go, and its fine about the dose because I can cut up my tablets and measure out my new dose instead’. Goodness, they went white as a sheet at that and flew into a panic of script organising (fear of getting sued if I overdose) but they were too late, I couldn’t stay another minute and they’ve had to fax my script to Tescos.

Discrimination is not a frequent problem nowadays, but I could tell it was happening today.  My meds are an antipsychotic and I could tell that they were avoiding me and avoiding eye contact with me because they were labelling me in their minds as someone who could ‘kick off’.  All their defensive barriers went up.

I’m fine, it was more interesting than upsetting.  Though it was frustrating too.

I had a nice time afterwards though.  I went to see a movie with a friend which was fun, and I’m now home and relaxing.

x

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workaholic anonymous! 21st August 2012

I can’t believe its August all ready, I’m still getting used to it being 2012.  When you are 41, time is like this.  The months speed by, but its not bad thing because it makes you realise how precious each day is and how important opportunities and chances are, and that you need to grab each day and make it the day you want it to be.

Today, as some people know, because I complained throughout, I was proof-reading and worked non-stop for 7 hours, pausing only to quickly sip cola between corrections.  When I work, I have no middle ground.  I throw myself into it, and stretch myself to the limit and then beyond the limit.  The last 2 hours of corrections were done with a migraine!  When I’m not proof-reading, I’m gardening and am currently digging out my entire enormous garden, leaving nothing but soil, on my hands and knees, with a handtrowel.  I can be at this for 9 hours, forgetting to eat and drink and usually one of my sons (they are 19 and 20) comes out eventually to tell its time to stop and eat, but I can’t stop and eat.  I’d continue until it got dark if they’d let me.

This apparently is not unusual in people with ptsd.  Its a mechanism that is used to stay occupied, to keep busy, to empty the head of any thoughts but the work in hand.

It means you get stuff done, and it means you get high marks at uni etc, and make a good impression when you’re doing work for people, but obviously it has its downside.

It can cause you to disconnect from everything around you, to get dehydrated and dizzy, to get burnt out so that you fall into a depression.

There is also my obsession with creating something outstanding.  I’m not interested in ;good enough’, or a simple ‘pass’, or ‘getting something out the way’.  I always go for that 110%.  That’s bad too, because its so much pressure on yourself.  When things go wrong, when you make a mistake, it throws everything into disarray.  I’m very quick to think of myself as crap and useless, and I suppose ‘doing a good job’ on something bolsters my self-esteem.

So that’s a heady cocktail: ptsd plus high self-expectations.  I gave myself a migraine today.  Not only did I want the proof-reading to be of outstanding quality, but I also wanted to hand it in 2 days early.  For the £35 I’m being paid its doesn’t have to be either, but I can’t not do things that way.

Its odd the things we do to sound out our mental health problems.

xxx

 

 

 

 

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decorum and dilemmas. 20th July 2012

I spent 7 hours today proof-reading the Chinese dissertation and I’m worrying about it in case I completely change her meaning and arguments.  Its written in English but some of it seems to be via google translate, hence me having to reword off phrases like’ frantic pairings’  and ‘daily telegraphy’  (that one was The Daily Telegraph).  I could have been out in the sun, and I got pretty frustrated but paid work is supposed to be toil and trouble.

Aside from this, I have been cornered twice by my own good manners and inability to be rude today.

A friend of mine dated a depressive and existential guy for about a year, who stole her confidence with his complaining, his coldness and his insults.  With my help and support she managed to get away from him and has now been with a new guy for a year who’s love.  Her confidence is all back and she looks like the happiest girl in the world.

But…. her miserable, intense and needy ex is doing the same Masters course as me, and today I got an email from him informing me that he is my knight in shining armour and that my every wish is now his command…

noooooo!

Thing is, I like him in some ways, ie in a friendly way.  We are on a similar level with our research tangents so studying with him will be very stimulating.  But I don’t want any more than that, and he’s only 30, so why he’d be looking at me I do not know.  Anyway…  I had to choose between ignoring the email or replying, and in the end I replied in a platonic fashion about nothing he had said.

Then I realised that facebook was informing me of a birthday.  This was of an older guy who is very odd and creepy, fancies me, and persued me with such intensity and focus that I became stressed and uni then banned him from contacting me.  2 weeks ago he sent me a long email saying he missed me and offering art equipment for my daughter.  I ignored than one, but ignoring a birthday seemed too rude.

So at 11.30 pm, much against my better judgement but worried I was being excessively cruel, I posted ‘happy birthday’ to him.  I actually secretly hoped he’d slip in a field and fall in a cowpat but you can’t put that on facebook.

In my life, I’m not very good at saying ‘bugger off!’ and therefore I start to gather unwanted attention.

The reason though is that social things can be so massively painful for myself.  I remember 3 years ago, I was so secretly in love with my best mate, a guy, and I was so lonely and had no other real friends.  My birthday arrived and as expected, I didn’t get any birthday phonecalls or texts, and my kids were at their dads, so I was sat alone in the house.  But I was fine because I knew my beloved best friend would wish me happy birthday.  Finally it reached 10pm and I’d not heard from him, and this made me incredibly ill.  The pain was absolute, all I could manage was to curl in a ball on the sofa, arms wrapped tightly around my head, suffering beyond words, trembling, unable to move.  It truly was agony.

So I wasn’t able to ignore this guy’s birthday because I didn’t want anyone to be in the level of pain I was in on my birthday 3 years ago.  I find I do tread on eggshells around people, protecting them, out of empathy, because I know just how much social pain I experience when it hits me.  Social pain is a searing pain that utterly floors you, and its far far worse than physical pain.

Sorry for rambling.  I bet the guy hadn’t even noticed anyway.

xxx

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19th August 2012

At the moment, it is my annual ‘week-off’ when my kids all go on holiday with their dad and his mum.  I miss them, but at the same time I know they are at the seaside in Cornwall (something I can’t afford to do for them myself) and that Katie will have her favourite cousin to play with all week.

So now, 7 years after we split, I relax and enjoy my week off.  Its a week off:

* endless washing up

*endless housework

*endless baking

*endless laundry

*endless spending!

and time for instead for:

*endless romcoms

*endless bubble baths

*endless sofa time

*endless peace and quiet

so I’ve had a very nice sunday today, did 8 hours of gardening! (and my garden needed it) and now am going to relax with a very bad romcom called ‘the back-up plan’ in which Jennifer Lopez, being terminally single and hitting her late 30s, gets artifically inseminated, and then meets the love of her life on the way home from the clinic.  And oops, she’s successfully pregnant.  The love of her life has a hobby.  He’s obsessed with making cheese, and so is the director I suspect.

One thing that helps depression, I have learned, is ‘getting on top of something’.  These things in life that build up, run late, get messy, remain unpaid compound depression and that whole feeling of being inadequate.  You can feel like you will never get on top of things, and wonder why you are so inept.  That is self bullying of course, but if you take just one small thing, one step at a time, and get on top of it, then it gives you such a boost and sets the balls rolling for getting on top of other worries, just one thing a day.  It makes you feel, for once, like you are winning, and its worth just starting that first task that has kept you awake at night.

xxx

 

 

 

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Busy day: 18th August 2012

I woke up today with a job on.  That’s really exciting stuff when I haven’t earned money since 2001.  How can such a thing occur?  Its a long story and not one to write right now.  I’ve been a full-time mother, and since fleeing their dad 7 years ago I have problems with my health: namely the deepest of depression and ptsd.

I’ve spent those years first falling apart and then slowly climbing back onto my feet, got myself into college and then university, from which i have just graduated as an archaeologist.  Finally being placed on the right meds a year ago has enabled me to make a recovery and start to cope with life.  I’m now enrolled on a Masters in human evolution.

But there’s so much  more to me than that.  For the last month I’ve been in the process of being put onto ESA, now my student finance has come to an end, because of being on DLA.  Filling in the forms is not pleasant.  I could easily just go to bed and feel hopeless and inadequate after filling a form in about my problems and how they impact on all my living skills.  But that’s not me, I’m more than my ill health.

Instead, I’ve organised a homeless heritage event, designed an children’s activity for a project that teaches about the Mesolithic (middle stone age, straight after the ice-age ended), done an activity day and now I’m

1.  writing a novel

2.  planning a book that tears apart the ‘ancient aliens’ show on the History channel with a fellow archaeologist

3.  hopefully launching a tour-guide co-operative

and

4. proof reading Masters dissertations

and no.4 was my job today, proof-reading a foreign national students thesis of 15,000 words for £50.  I don’t get paid until its finished and sent back to her, and I haven’t protected myself well.  No down-payment and no written agreement.

This was really satisfying though.

A problem with my depression is that I disconnect from my surroundings when ill, and have trouble coping with everything.  My personal resources are limited.  No.1 priority is the kids: are they happy and loved, are they properly fed, are their clothes clean?  This comes first.  After this comes my rescue animals: 4 rats, 2 chinchillas and 2 cats.  Then career.  This leaves the house and garden right at the bottom of the list and most days I have nothing left in me to tackle domestic chores.  Therefore I live in a pig sty, which makes me yet more depressed.  My garden, this year, was a waist high jungle, 5 metres by 20 metres.  Its huge.

So with degree completed, I’ve also devoted some time to the garden, especially since the neighbour told me off.  Phase 1 was creation of patio, which is now finished, and its entailed getting down on my hands and knees with a hand trowel, digging out absolutely everything and their roots, at about 1m squared an hour, and using reclaimed wood for defining the areas.

Tonight I continued with phase 2, which is nearly done, which is creation of a small lawn and flower beds.  Again the same thing, meticulously digging out everything, and then defining the border and sowing grass seed.  This is very therapeutic.  I feel like I’m digging out all the sadness and helplessness I felt over the last 7 years and giving myself a new start.  Phase 2 should be finished tomorrow, and then I’m onto phase 3.  That probably sounds so boring, but it means a lot to me.  I’m also finding little bits of archaeology as I go along.  Weirdly digging up a lot of teaspoons.

Bedtime.  Though I’ve been getting insomnia lately

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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