Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Adventures with the Giants

The adventurers were amazed that, as at their first landing-place on the South American coast, they did not see signs of any human beings or habitations at St. Julian.

The country round about seemed desolate and deserted. They began to think that it had no population whatever, but was abandoned to wild beasts and wild fowl. For two long months they searched the neighborhood in vain for some vestiges of human life; but none appeared.

At last, however, they were undeceived in this respect. One day, a gigantic figure suddenly appeared on a hill-top very near the bay; he was entirely naked, with short, bristling white hair, and a fierce, swarthy face.

As soon as this man saw the sailors staring at him in wonder, he began to leap wildly up and down, waving his arms about and singing, or rather howling, some strange song in a stentorian voice. Every now and then he would bend down and grasp a handful of dirt, and sprinkle it on his great, bullet-shaped head, at the same time making a hideous grimace. Magellan was then sojourning on one of the islands that studded the bay. On being told of the strange apparition on the hill, he called one of the sailors, told him to go ashore and approach the big native, and to dance about and sing as he went up to him, so that the native might see that his intentions were friendly.

The sailor did as he was bidden. He went leaping and shouting up the hill, to the great amusement of his brother sailors, who were looking on. The native, too, gazed hard at him; but soon recovering from his fright at seeing a white man drawing near, he strode towards the sailor, and began to caper around him. The sailor at last persuaded him to go in a boat to Magellan's quarters.

On coming into the Admiral's presence, and seeing so many strange faces and dresses about him, the gigantic savage grew timid; and with an expression of awe on his dark face, pointed to the sky, to intimate that he thought the Spaniards had come from heaven.

Meanwhile, Magellan observed him with curious interest. He saw that the savage's cheeks were painted with red hearts, and that around his eyes were yellow circles. His hair, it appeared, was painted white, and on his arm he carried a shaggy skin; while in one hand was a heavy bow, and some arrows, made of cane, feathered at one end, and with points of black cut stones at the other.

Magellan, anxious to make friends with the natives in this lonely place, where he must yet sojourn many weeks, regaled the giant with food and drink; and when he had had his fill, Magellan caused a mirror to be brought and set before him. As soon as the giant saw himself in the glass, he gave a loud cry, and leaped back so suddenly and with such force that he sent three or four of the sailors sprawling on the ground. He soon recovered from his fright, however, and laughed with a deafening voice. He was as, pleased as a child with several trinkets which Magellan offered him—two tinkling bells, which he held close to his ear, a comb, which he very quickly saw how to use, and a chaplet of beads, which he tried to bite, making many grimaces, and then hung around his neck. Magellan then sent the giant ashore with four armed men; these the giant at once conducted to a group of his countrymen, who had gathered on the hilltop, and were one and all naked, and as tall as himself. They received the four Spaniards with singing and jumping, meanwhile pointing to the heavens in the same manner as the first corner had done.



Pretty soon some of the native women made their appearance. They wore shaggy skins about their waists, and their faces, painted in many colors, were hideous. While not as tall as the men, they were much larger than European women.

The four Spaniards returned to the fleet, taking with them several of the chiefs, and recounting all that they had seen. Magellan gave the chiefs some bells, and some pictures painted on paper, which seemed greatly to delight them; for they began to sing in hoarse, loud voices, and to caper wildly about on the shore. Then suddenly one of them, taking a long arrow from his belt, thrust it far down his throat, and drawing it out again, made a sign, as if to say, "Was not that a wonderful feat?"

So pleased were the chiefs with the strangers, that they begged Magellan to send some of his men back with them, that they might see their habitations in the woods. Magellan readily consented to this, and ordered seven armed men to accompany his sable guests back to the shore.

The chiefs led the way, and after crossing the hills near the shore, plunged into a dense and trackless forest, so tangled and overgrown that, though the natives passed through nimbly enough, the Spaniards were continually stumbling and falling down. Meanwhile, they watched their guides narrowly, ready to shoot them at the first sign of perfidy.

After scrambling through the thicket for seven miles, they came to an opening; and here they saw a long, low hut, roofed with the thick, shaggy skins of wild beasts. This hut they found divided, by a curtain of skins, into two compartments, one of which was occupied by the men, and the other by the women and children. In all there were thirteen women and children, and five men; and these eagerly welcomed the Spaniards, and regaled them with a roasted sheep, which they slaughtered for the purpose.

The Spaniards were persuaded to remain one night at the hut and were offered a snug corner, with skins for coverings. The natives slept in the other corners; and so horribly did they snore, that their guests got but little sleep during the night.

The next day, the Spaniards invited the chiefs to return to the ships, with their families. At first they declined the invitation; but finally retired into the women's apartment, as if to bring them out to go. Presently they emerged again, their gigantic forms completely covered with heavy skins, their faces painted so as to give them a terrible aspect, and holding in their hands bows and a quantity of arrows.

Their appearance so terrified one of the Spaniards, that on the impulse of the moment he raised his gun and fired. To the astonishment of his companions, the report of the gun, instead of arousing the anger of the natives, made them tremble and lift up their arms, as if they imagined the noise to proceed from heaven. They were evidently persuaded of this, for they now very meekly followed the Spaniards towards the ships; but they did not allow their women to go. As they were passing through the forest, the natives were so much more fleet of foot that they soon outstripped the others, and all of a sudden, disappeared among the trees. The Spaniards searched for them in vain, and were finally obliged to return to the ships without them. On going with a strong force, a few days after, to the opening where the hut was, they found it quite deserted. The natives, with their families, had fled in all haste.

It was not long, however, before they had other visitors of gigantic stature and swarthy hue. One day, another big fellow, armed with bow and arrows, and painted as the rest had been, came up to some of the sailors, who were busily cutting wood on the shore. He approached them slowly, touching his head and breast with his fingers, and then pointing heavenward. He was a good-natured, smiling giant, and full of lively spirits; and was easily persuaded to accompany the sailors to Magellan.

The Admiral, pleased to see by this that the natives had not become hostile, cordially greeted him, gave him a cloth tunic, a pair of breeches, a cap, a comb, and some bells, and treated him to such food as there was at the camp. The native seemed very willing to remain with his new friends; and Magellan gave him a lodging in a hut on the island where he himself had his quarters.

After a time, the giant not only learned to speak Spanish very well, but was persuaded by one of the priests to become a Christian. He was baptized, and received the name of John. He often went ashore, and brought back animals, which served as excellent provisions for the Spaniards.

From this native, and others that he from time to time brought to the camp, Magellan learned a great deal about the tribes that inhabited the inland country. They had, it appeared, many strange customs. When one was sick, instead of taking medicine, he thrust an arrow down his throat; and this proved a very effectual emetic. When they were tortured with the headache, they cut themselves across the forehead, legs, and arms, which was their very simple way of bleeding themselves. They all wore their hair cropped close; and when they went hunting, they tied a cord around their heads, and upon this hung their arrows. They were a wandering people, living in one place but a short time, and then changing their abode. They lived, for the most part, on raw meat, and a sweet root which they called capac. The sailors were amazed to see some of their swarthy guests skin rats and eat them raw; one of them would eat an enormous quantity of biscuits, and seemed to drink water by the quart. One striking thing about them was their exceeding swiftness of foot; and they seemed to run as rapidly in a dense, entangled forest, as upon the smooth, yielding sand of the seashore.

The idea occurred to Magellan that it might be useful to him in the future, if he could manage to keep one or two of these natives, and carry them with him on the rest of his voyage. They might act as interpreters with the savage races further south; and might point out the favorable places for anchorage, and the shoals and reefs to be avoided.

With this view he enticed two of the younger and more comely and intelligent savages on board the flagship, and made them happy by profuse gifts. Among these were glittering steel knives, forks, small round mirrors, bells, and various articles of glass; which the big fellows received with the liveliest and roughest demonstrations of joy. Then he had some irons, with which captains were accustomed to confine rebellious sailors, brought out. These were shown to the natives, who examined them with the keenest curiosity. After they had played with them, Magellan showed them how to fasten the irons on their feet; but, no sooner had they found themselves securely bound about the ankles, than they fell in a great rage, and roared and foamed at the mouth like two bulls, and called upon their god, Setebos, to rescue them. They fell on the deck, and writhed about, as if trying to escape.

Meanwhile, some of the other natives, who had come with them on board, went ashore, and told the men and women what had happened; whereupon all the women made haste to run into the woods; while the men gathered on the shore, and began firing arrows at the flagship. One of the sailors fell mortally wounded. Magellan ordered his men to answer the attack with their guns; which so frightened the giants on shore, that they made all haste to follow their wives into the woods.

From this time, the Spaniards saw no more of this race of giants, for on scouring the country they could find no trace of them. So the sailors burned their huts, and brought such provisions as they found in them to the ships. The two natives who had been put in irons were carefully guarded; for Magellan had learned by this time how agile and cunning these gigantic fellows were; and was resolved to keep these two with him. After awhile, they seemed to become reconciled to their lot. They were brought on deck, and the sailors taught them a little Spanish; so that they were soon able to make themselves understood. When they had recovered from their anger and their fright, they became very merry and chatty, and apparently forgot all about their countrymen, and even their wives, whom, at first, they had bewailed very piteously. Each ate enough for two men, and drank astonishing quantities of water; and, on being provided with seamen's suits, they learned to prefer this costume to their original nakedness. Magellan was greatly pleased to see how quickly and readily they became reconciled to their lot.

Weeks and months glided quickly by in this pleasant bay of St. Julian. The weather was, at times, severe; and had the ships not found a very safe anchorage, under the lee of the islands that studded the bay, they would have been in serious peril from the terrible tempests of wind and hail that swept over them. In time, however, the bleak season gradually passed away; and nature began to put on the fresh, light-green tints of spring. As the vegetation gradually appeared and grew, Magellan saw that he was indeed in a lovely country, endowed with many natural beauties, prolific in fruits and vegetables, and blessed with a delightful temperature.

It was time, however, to think of resuming the voyage. There seemed no further obstacle to the progress southward of the ships. They had been fully repaired by the carpenters Magellan had taken care to bring with him; had been newly caulked, their sails patched and mended, the holds thoroughly scoured and cleaned, and all things about them set to rights. Provisions in abundance had been secured by the goodwill of the natives, who had been very willing to exchange meat and other food, the products of the country, for the trinkets which Magellan freely lavished upon them. Good water, too, had been found in the near vicinity of the bay, so that everything seemed provided for a comfortable voyage further down the coast.

Before setting sail, however, Magellan deemed it wise that one of the ships should be sent forward, to explore the coast at a little distance southward; and accordingly told Serrano, who commanded the Santiago, the smallest vessel of the fleet, to set sail on this errand. It happened that after Serrano got outside the bay, a current seized his ship, and swept it so rapidly forward that it could not be steered; and before he knew it, the Santiago  grounded upon some rocks. There was not a moment to be lost. The ship was hopelessly wrecked, and all that the crew could to do was to save themselves, and such of the provisions as they could quickly lay their hands on. Fortunately the boats proved uninjured. They were launched without delay, and every man on board was rescued.

The boats made all haste to return to the fleet. The news of the loss of the Santiago  was very unwelcome to Magellan; for, though she was the smallest of his vessels, he could ill spare her from the fleet.

He resolved to delay no longer his departure from St. Julian. It was now late in August; the time for a favorable voyage was fast gliding by, and there was no further reason for delay. One fine, warm morning, therefore, he gave his orders; the Trinidad, the Admiral's flag flying at her masthead, floated smoothly out of the bay which had so well sheltered them, and where so many stirring events had taken place; and the three remaining ships, with full sails on, followed closely in her wake.