The Amazon, 1542: “Raining Arrows”


Raining Arrows

Francisco Pizarro, not content with the riches of Peru, sends his brother Gonzalo and Francisco de Orellano to look for El Dorado and the Land of Cinnamon.  Orellana is a gifted linguist who seems to understand the native tongue.  The group encounters a village where members of the tribe are subjects of a group of women who the Spaniards refer to as Amazons.  Drifting further down river they are met by fierce resistance by the indigenous wielding bows and arrows.  The Spaniards respond with crossbows and arquebuses.  Even in the face of superior firepower the natives fight on.


A Dominican friar accompanying the group, Gaspar de Carvajal, writes in his journal:

…It seemed to rain arrows….I want it to be known what the reason was why these Indians defended themselves in this manner.  It must be explained that they are subjects of and tributaries to, the Amazons…There came as many as twelve of them, for we ourselves saw these women, who were fighting in front of all the Indian men as women captains…the Indian men did not dare to turn their backs, and anyone who did turn his back [the women] killed with clubs right before us.  The women are white and tall, and have hair very long and braided and wound about the head, and they are very robust and go naked, [but] with their privy parts covered, with bows and arrows in their hands, doing as much fighting as ten Indian men.

The women are unmarried and when they desire men, they capture them.  If they became pregnant they wither kill the male children or send them to their fathers.  The females they solemnly raise and instruct them in the art of war.  Their leader is called Cornori and they workshop in elaborate temples lined with the colored feather of parrots and macaws.

The Spaniards, fearless conquerors of the Incan empire and wild jungles, see the women and feel a new excitement…and dread.

-Abby Wettan Kleinbaum, The War Against the Amazons, 119-123

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