Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  10 (1885), 886–900.


O J Victor


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [1]


Race, Ethnography, Anthropology, Descent, Human Development, Physiognomy, Ethnology, Comparative Philology, Meteorology, Illustration

    While travelling through the dense forests of central Guatemala, the narrator comes upon a strange 'race of Indians wholly dissimilar in habits, physical characteristics, and intelligence from any [other] tribe' in the Americas, suggesting that the 'only race to associate them with is the Papuan, and their existence here is an ethnographic problem of exceeding interest' (889). For 'many investigators they have seemed to sustain their claim to the name of the primitive people, the true aborigines', and they 'have the small calves, powerfully developed chests and arms, and strongly retreating facial angle that instinctively make the observer look for a caudal extension of the vertebral column, so nearly allied are they to the simian type' (889–90). Indeed, when 'to their physical appearance we add their modes of life, this relationship to the ape is an almost inevitable inference. Their children are so many little apes'. Similarly, their communal village 're-asserts the simian claim of the dwellers, for it is in the treetops', and the inhabitants reach it by climbing 'with the ease and celerity of monkeys' using the 'extraordinary developed [...] prehensile power' of their 'great toe[s]'. (890) Later, declares that the 'native Guatemalan [...] is of blood so questionable that his race is lost in variety' and observes that the nation's crowded capital, the New City, bustles with 'faces and physiognomies and costumes and languages and customs that are indeed a study for the ethnologist, anthropologist, philologist, and antiquary' (894). Notes that during the 'rainy season' in the New City, 'Death by lightning is so very frequent [...] that those who can afford to leave the capital do so', and refers the reader to a 'diagram' which 'show[s] why this storm moves so near the altitude of the capital, and breaks over it for so long a period of the year: owing to a junction of currents from opposite sides of the Andean chain, the New City happening to be in the very spot of contact' (898).

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