Chapter XXIV: Customs of the Indians of That Country (Excerpt)

Customs of the Indians of That Country

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Trom the Island of Malhado to this land, all the 
Indians whom we saw have the custom from the time 
in which their wives j&nd themselves pregnant, of not 
sleeping with them until two years after they have 
given birth. The children are suckled until the age 
of twelve years, when they are old enough to get sup- 
port for themselves. "We asked why they reared them 
in this manner ; and they said because of the great 
poverty of the land, it happened many times, as we 
witnessed, that they were two or three days without 
eating, sometimes four, and consequently, in seasons 
of scarcity, the children were allowed to suckle, that 
they might not famish ; otherwise those who lived 
would be delicate having httle strength. 

If any one chance to fall sick in the desert, and 
cannot keep up with the rest, the Indians leave him 
to perish, unless it be a son or a brother; him they 
will assist, even to carrying on their back. It is com- 
mon among them all to leave their wives when there 
is no conformity, and directly they connect themselves 
with whom they please. This is the course of the 
men who are childless ; those who have children, re- 
main with their wives and never abandon them.
When they dispute and quarrel in their towns, they 
strike each other with the fists, fighting until ex- 
hausted, and then separate. Sometimes they are 
parted hy the women going between them ; the men 
never interfere. For no disafljection that arises do 
they resort to bows and arrows. After they have 
fought, or had out their dispute, they take their dwell- 
ings and go into the woods, living apart from each 
other until their heat has subsided. "When no longer 
offended and their anger is gone, they return. From 
that time they are friends as if nothing had happened ; 
nor is it necessary that any one should mend their 
friendships, as they in this way again unite them. K 
those that quarrel are single, they go to some neigh- 
boring people, and although these should be enemies, 
they receive them well and welcome them warmly, 
giving them so largely of what they have, that when 
their animosity cools, and they return to their town, 
they go rich. 

They are all warlike, and have as much strategy 
for protecting themselves against enemies as they 
could have were they reared in Italy in continual 
feuds. When they are in a part of the country where 
their enemies may attack them, they place their houses 
on the skirt of a wood, the thickest and most tangled 
they can find, and near it make a ditch in which they 
sleep.