Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

On Skulls, Orgies, Virgins and the Making of Patagonia as a National Territory: Francisco Pascasio Moreno's Representations of Indigenous Tribes

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2010), 87, (4), 455–472.

Abstract

This paper focuses on the anxiety of possession that underlies the anthropological inquisitiveness of the nineteenth-century Argentine explorer Francisco Pascasio Moreno. Moreno's Viaje a la Patagonia Austral (1879) exposes a series of complex representational configurations that respond to specific national imperatives. Although Moreno negates the native peoples' presence by depicting them as relics, his anthropological curiosity paradoxically makes evident that Patagonia was visibly populated by indigenous peoples. Significantly his portrayals of 'Indian' rituals make references to sex and violence, as well as allusions to female chastity. Since these elements are seldom overtly present in Europeans' narratives of travel and exploration on Patagonia, these representations constitute a break from the writing travel tradition that precedes Moreno's. But, more importantly, these references to uncontrolled passions and female virginity expose the ambiguities of a narrative that, while providing an account of a visibly inhabited Patagonia, also attempts to legitimize Argentina's colonizing project in the region.

El presente trabajo centra su atención en las ansias de posesión que subyacen a la curiosidad antropológica del explorarador argentino decimonónico, Francisco Pascasio Moreno. El texto de Moreno, Viaje a la Patagonia Austral (1879), expone una serie de configuraciones representacionales complejas que responde a imperativos nacionales específicos. Si bien Moreno al representar a los pueblos originarios como reliquias niega la presencia de éstos, su curiosidad antropológica paradójicamente pone en evidencia que la Patagonia estaba poblada por indígenas. Es signficativo que sus descripciones de los rituales de los 'indios' hacen referencia al sexo y a la violencia así como también a la castidad femenina. Dado que estos elementos rara vez están tan explícitamente presentes en narrativas europeas de viaje y exploración a la Patagonia, estas representaciones constituyen un quiebre con la tradición que precede a Moreno. Pero, aún más importante, estas referencias a pasiones incontrolables y a la virginidad femenina exponen las ambigüedades de una narrativa que da cuenta de una Patagonia visiblemente habitada y que, al mismo tiempo, intenta legitimar el proyecto colonizador argentino en la región.

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Peñaloza, Fernanda