National Geographic : 1952 Oct
Lost Kingdom in Indian Mexico In the Ruins of Their Ancient Civilization the Tarascan Indians Hunt with Spears, Strum Guitars-and Capture Brides BY JUSTIN LOCKE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author FOR the heroes of science fiction, the cus tomary vehicle for a trip into the past is a time machine. For me it was an an cient, asthmatic bus throbbing in the market square of Patzcuaro, Mexico. If it held to gether long enough, it would, I hoped, take me into the land of the Tarascan Indians, whose golden empire and strange pagan gods ruled supreme here before the coming of the white man. The journey, I quickly discovered, would not be a lonely one. From my perch on a gasoline can by the driver's seat I watched Tarascans clamber aboard to fill each seat and the aisle, too. Women in bright blouses clutched live chickens and bags bulging with everything from pottery and beans to bananas and carved spoons. The men carried big sacks of corn, which they slung along the floor and used as cushions. Chocolate Cements a Friendship One 4-year-old girl, finding no other un occupied spot, solemnly ensconced herself on my lap. The 10-mile ride to Erongaricuaro took an hour and a half. As we jounced along I prof fered my small companion a piece of chocolate and made what I thought were interesting observations on the world around us. She ignored my commentary, but with a grateful smile spread the chocolate liberally about her face and blouse. Eventually, the bus drew to a trembling halt on the shores of Lake (Lago de) Patz cuaro, and we disembarked (map, page 519). Across the water stretched the islands of Janitzio, Yunuen, Tecuena, and Jaracuaro. To my right and left cultivated fields led down to the shore line (page 536). Behind me wooded foothills marked the beginning of the western Sierra, home of Paricutin.* In 1943 this volcano rose like an evil genie from a peaceful cornfield. It has since entered a period of quiescence, but during my visit it was erupting noisily and earning the title some Mexicans have given it, "the Angry God of the Sierra." I meant to see it at close range, if I could. But I was in no haste; Tarascan Mexico lay all around me, and that was ob jective enough for the present. I rose at dawn the next day to visit Janitzio by dugout canoe with "Tata" (father) Pedro, a hardy 85-year-old fisherman. Our primi tive, shallow-draft boat cut narrow channels through the thick aquatic grass. Haze veiled the shore line and its background of volcanic shapes. Neither Tata Pedro nor I uttered a sound. Only the beat of his round-bladed paddle broke the silence. Suddenly Tata said: "Have you heard the story that the Americanos are draining the waters of the lake so as to reach the golden pillars that uphold Janitzio?" Before I could answer, he laughed. "To tell the truth, Sefior, I cannot believe such things, but such is the story among many of the island people." Tarascan Indians, I knew, are great believ ers of legendary tales passed on by older mem bers of their communities. I had heard of the golden cow of Cerro el Zirate; of the dreaded miringua, malevolent spirit of the Sierra; and of buried treasure by the ton. Tata Pedro pointed with his paddle. To the right a lonely boatman was hunting coots and ducks from his canoe. With scarcely a ripple, his boat slid toward a thousand tiny dots. Slowly the boatman rose and threw his long spear, or fisga, in a high arc. With a flash ing of wings the birds whirred into the air. But the hunter had made his kill. To launch his fisga, he had used a spear thrower, or atlatl, which provides a catapultic action. Tata Pedro assured me that this weapon, an earlier development than the bow, is effective up to 150 feet. 1,000 Boats Mass for Hunt Almost every week during the migration sea son, he said, large hunts are organized by the lake fishermen. A mass of boats forms a large semicircle around the ducks. Then the boats close in to shore. Outside the ring many canoes poise in strategic locations. Suddenly, with much screaming and splash ing of water to scare and confuse the ducks, the hunters of the first line lift hundreds of spears. The kill is under way. Birds that escape the onslaught of the inner group come * For other recent articles on Mexico and Paricutin in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, see: "Mex ico's Booming Capital," by Mason Sutherland. De cember, 1951; "Down Mexico's Rio Balsas," by John W. Webber, August, 1946; and "Paricutin, the Corn field That Grew a Volcano," by James A. Green, February, 1944.