A letter written as late as 1729 by a Jesuit missionary, Carlos Gervasini, throws some light upon the subject of animal abundance and human methods. Writing from Buenos Aires, he says: 'So numerous are the cattle in the neighbouring campo here that any landowner may take from ten to twelve thousand to breed from, merely for the trouble of lassoing them and driving them home. In order to take more than this number a special licence is required from the governor. The ships returning to Spain are filled with the hides, and none but good specimens of these are troubled about. As to the flesh, each man takes what he requires and leaves the rest to the jaguars and dogs'. After which, Gervasini states that in no other country has he seen so many dogs nor such fat ones!
It was doubtless this free and easy method of bestowing gratuitous meals that had long ere this period inoculated the canine temperament with a deep-seated affection for beef. For generations the plains had been infested by packs of dogs that, responding to the call of the wild, had exchanged their domesticated condition for an utterly savage state. Wolf-like, it was their habit to go padding over the campo, emulating in their own fashion the hunting expeditions of the men. According to some, such was the abundance of the cattle that the presence of the marauding dogs was something of a blessing.
A certain Azcarate du Biscay, who in 1658 undertook a voyage to the River Plate in the interests of commerce, touches upon this point in a general description of the land and its people. 'The riches of these folk' he states, 'consist of cattle which multiply so prodigiously that the plains are covered with them. If it were not for a number of dogs who devour the young, the country would be devastated by them'. He goes on to say that the same abundance existed with regard to horseflesh. In the town of Buenos Aires itself, however, there were very few who possessed these animals. This lack of horses, by the way, was principally on account of the trouble that their keep involved. All those who lived outside the radius of the town were inveterate riders, and invariably went at a gallop a description that proves how little the ethics of the 'camp' have changed in some respects from that day to this. The merchant adds that such horse-hide as was not exported to Europe was wont to be put to every conceivable purpose which it could possibly serve.
As a further proof of the astonishing quantity of the live-stock at that period the same writer gives an account of a stratagem that the inhabitants told him they were wont to employ in the case of an attempted invasion. According to them, should hostile craft appear upon the waters of the great river, it was their custom to drive to the threatened point of the shore such vast masses of bulls, cows, and horses that, even were the enemy not deterred from landing by the fury of the cattle, it was impossible for them to cut their way through the great press of beasts. Argentina, it is true, is not the only country where cattle have been employed as allies by the defending forces. At the battle of Morat, for instance, the Swiss urged a herd of maddened bulls upon the English mercenaries, with disastrous results that are testified to by the red coats that still hang in the museum of Neuchatel. But this sudden massing and manipulation of such tremendous four-footed forces savours perhaps just a little of exaggeration, arch-expert in his trade as the peon was then, as now. The writer was only a chance wayfarer in the land. It is not impossible that the men of the plains drew the long bow for the benefit of the merchant-stranger it is, indeed, a process from which the globe-trotter is wont to suffer even to this day.
A century later, in any case, the numbers of the cattle were not considered proof against the attacks of their old-time enemy, the wild dog. Though the herds of the horned beasts had continued to multiply, the bands of their canine assailants, encouraged by such a plentiful supply of fresh meat, had increased out of all proportion. In the latter half of the eighteenth century these visitations had developed into a plague that called for repressive measures. A troop of militia was sent out into the campo with orders to wage merciless war on the dogs. The campaign was conducted on the stipulated lines: there were no prisoners; canine corpses littered the plains. The troop returned to Buenos Aires, happy in the consciousness of a duty well done. Though annihilation had proved impossible, they had thinned the hostile ranks.
On their return to the capital, however, the welcome extended to the soldiers struck them in the nature of a shock. It was unfortunate for many reasons that the inhabitants of Buenos Aires had cultivated an undue sense of the ridiculous. The luckless campaigners, instead of praise, were greeted with a shower of this very ridicule. Each was belauded with overwhelming and disconcerting mock praise. Each, moreover, was solemnly invested with the title of Mataperro, the 'dog-killer'.
This proved the climax. Volunteers for a second expedition were called for. None were forthcoming. The fear of further nicknames left the muster roll a perfect blank, devoid of a single name. From an economic point of view the coining of one word had induced far-reaching effects. For one thing, it had spared the lives of thousands of dogs, and had signed the death warrant of at least as many cattle. The reprieved wild dog the perro cimarron continued to flourish until 1860, when, in a less sensitive age, the last of the canine bands was exterminated.
miércoles, mayo 14, 2008
la ciudad y los perros
O por qué no producimos mucha más carne de la que producimos (de Koebel, William Henry, Argentina, Past and Present (1914)):