Height: 127.000 cm
Width: 162.000 cm
Gift of Capt. P. P. King
AOA Ethno 1831,4-16.18
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Suit of hide armour
Mapuche / Aónikenk, early 19th century
This suit of leather 'armour' is made from seven layers of horse hide sewn together with leather thongs and then beautifully painted. We know from contemporary accounts that needles made from bone or wood were used to thread sinew cords through the tough hide, and that women would have painted the finished hide using bold red, yellow and blue mineral pigments.
The layers of heavy leather formed an effective defence against arrows and spears in warfare. A similar garment is shown worn by an Aónikenk (Tehuelche) chief in a drawing of 1838 by a French artist.
This is one of four examples of hide armour from Patagonia known to have survived in museum collections worldwide. It was acquired by a British naval officer, Captain Philip Parker King, from Chilean soldiers who had been sent to suppress an indigenous rebellion on the west coast of Patagonia in the 1820s. The small hole in the armour may well be a bullet hole. Captain King visited Patagonia on board HMS Beagle, the ship which was later to carry Charles Darwin through the Fuegian archipelago and on to the Galapagos Islands.
C. McEwan, L.A. Borrero and A Prieto (eds), Patagonia: natural history, pr (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)