The Abipones were a tribe of South American Indians of Guaycuran stock recently inhabiting the territory lying between Santa Fe and St. Iago. They originally occupied the Chaco district of Paraguay, but were driven south by the hostility of the Spaniards and other native tribes. According to Martin Dobrizhoffer, a Jesuit missionary, who, towards the end of the 18th century, lived among them for a period of seven years, they then numbered not more than 5,000. They were a well-formed, handsome people, with black eyes and aquiline noses, thick black hair, but no beards. The hair from the forehead to the crown of the head was pulled out, this constituting a tribal mark. The faces, breasts and arms of the women were covered with black figures of various designs made with thorns, the tattooing paint being a mixture of ashes and blood. The lips and ears of both sexes were pierced. The men were brave fighters, their chief weapons being the bow and spear. No child was without bow and arrows; the bow-strings were made of foxes' entrails. In battle the Abipones wore an armour of tapir's hide over which a jaguar's skin was sewn. They were excellent swimmers and good horsemen. For five months in the year when the floods were out they lived on islands or even in shelters built in the trees. They seldom married before the age of thirty, and were singularly chaste.

"With the Abipones," wrote Charles Darwin in "The Descent of Man", "when a man chooses a wife, he bargains with the parents about the price. But it frequently happens that the girl rescinds what has been agreed upon between the parents and bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage. She often runs away and hides herself, and thus eludes the bridegroom." Infanticide was systematic, never more than two children being reared in one family, a custom doubtless originating in the difficulty of subsistence. The young were suckled for two years. The Abipones are now believed to be extinct as a tribe.

Martin Dobrizhoffer's Latin "Historia de Abiponibus" (Vienna, 1784) was translated into English by Sara Coleridge, at the suggestion of Robert Southey, in 1822, under the title of "An Account of the Abipones" (3 vols.).



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[http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01044b.htm Catholic Encyclopedia article]

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