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I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting, than the first sight of Man in his primitive wildness.
(Darwin to J. S. Henslow, 11 April 1833)
THE BEAST AND THE SWAN
Along with 'the exquisite glorious delight' of tropical scenery, the encounter with the 'bona fide savages' of Tierra del Fuego marked the highlight of Charles Darwin's Beagle voyage (1831-6). Darwin was fascinated and repulsed in equal measure by 'the most curious and interesting spectacle' of Fuegians, whose attitudes and countenance were not only 'abject' but 'distrustful, surprised, and startled'. The tribes inhabiting Wollaston Island were in particular 'the most abject and miserable creatures' Darwin ever saw: 'These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gestures violent and without dignity.' Darwin could hardly believe them to be 'fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world'. The difference between a primitive and civilized man seemed 'greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, in as much as in man there is a greater power of improvement', and, to Darwin, 'the cr[ie]s of domestic animals are far more intelligible' than the 'tones' and 'gesticulations' of Fuegians.
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