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Darwin Correspondence Project

From David Forbes   26 March 1868

Peel Hall near Boulton

March 26th. 1868

My dear Sir

I have to acknowledge your letter of the 21st. with enclosed copy of queries and on my return home I shall turn over my notes to see whether I may have made any remarks on these points although I fear not.1

As to question No 2. I am quite satisfied that several at least of the Indian tribes of South America (the Quichuas, Aymaras & Tacanas) do blush notwithstanding their dark skins and if not very visible to the eye it is certainly accompanied by a rise of temperature in the cheek—2 In some of the tribes especially the Aymaras a most determined and dogged obstinate expression (mouth firmly closed) is specially characteristic of the entire race but this I did not find the case in any of the tribes to the east of the Andes— This tribe as well as the Quichuas is also characterised by their seldom or ever laughing even in their most joyous moments— Guilty sly and jealous expressions are distinctly seen in these two tribes notwithstanding that they are otherwise great adepts in concealing their feelings.

Many of the indian races and mixed breeds along the pacific coast from Auracania3 to Peru when asked to indicate a direction never point it out with their hands but always with the chin by elevating the chin in the direction in question— it is curious that this custom has now become common amongst the lower class of Chilians even when nearly pure white

The Aymara & Quichua races have dark black hair but of extremely fine and soft nature not like the coarse black hair of the spaniards & I never saw a gray hair in the head of a pure indian of these races however old. The length of the pigtail used by the men who collect all the hair (drawn back) & plait it into one long pigtail hanging down the back is considered an important element of beauty—many having it hanging down to their heels and I believe it is not uncommon to find them use false hair to increase its length— The most severe punishment I could inflict on an indian was to cut off his pigtail— I had difficulty in getting specimens of hair and also in taking photographs amongst many of these tribes as they considered that the possession of any part of their body or even their likeness gave a sort of power over them to the possessor— The woman plait their hair in two pigtails one on each side, and have no hair whatever on other parts of the body— The men are also almost hairless—no hair under arms—and only a very little tuft on pubes—sometimes none—occasionally a little down or a few stragling hairs appear on upper lip at an advanced age—but otherwise no hair on body—although an extremely luxuriant growth on head— These indians even amongst the snows never protect their feet or seem to suffer cold in the feet, but on the contrary, put all they can on their heads, often putting 2 or 3 woollen caps one over another— The development of the “buttocks” (if I may term it) in woman is considered a beauty and as they have no bustles—the women when dressed out at their feasts & dances wear numerous skirts putting one skirt over another of heavy woollen material so as to make that region as prominent as possible— Sometimes girls are seen having a permanent blush on their cheeks as if a purplish brown colour had been daubed on— Although the face is the most exposed part it is often the case that the body is much darker in colour which appeared to me very curious— The colour of both face and body varies greatly in these tribes according to position of their villages— thus the inhabitants of the elevated plateau of Titicaca have a more coppery colour like the N American indians whilst those of the more sheltered valleys are of a quite different brown colour—and again the same indian colonies in the hotter parts have a more bilious and sickly looking hue.

As regards the influence of the woman you will find some curious remarks in Azaras work (and my observations tend to make me think him right.) in considering the subject of the facility with which the spaniards overan the country he ascribes it in great measure to the influence of the woman who he says hailed the arrival of a race better furnished than their countrymen for he makes numerous observations on the various tribes as to the disproportion of the sexual organs—in which the men of the indian races generally are the opposite extreme to the negroes.4

The Aymara race are the Aborigines of the high plateau & mountains of Bolivia & Peru & inhabit land fr at lowest 10,000 feet elevation to about 16000 & more— I have much to tell you about them and had hoped to have had more leisure during this visit to have extracted for you some statements about their proportions &c which I spoke to you about— I have not got all my tabular statements calculated as yet but shall endeavour to do so as soon as possible so that you may have more correct data—5

In the mean time I have written you this straggling letter just as things came into my head in the hopes of its suggesting any points on which I may be able to communicate any information and I remain Dear Sir Yours very truly | David Forbes

PS One or two of the tribes on the Beni are mottled or as the spaniards say, ‘ovaro’ piebald.6 I was amongst one the ‘Muchanis’7 where most of the men were so & apparently not from disease—they have a curious & repulsive appearance

CD annotations

1.1 I have … not. 1.3] ‘Blushing’ in margin pencil
2.1 As … cheek— 2.4] ‘Expression’ in margin blue crayon
2.4 In some] after opening square bracket, pencil
2.5 dogged … expression] ‘Dogged’ in margin pencil
2.5 (mouth … closed)] underl blue crayon
2.8 Guilty … seen 2.9] double scored blue crayon
3.1 Many … white 3.5] crossed pencil
4.1 The … long pigtail 4.4] crossed blue crayon; ‘[Vain] Hair—’ in margin blue crayon
4.1 Aymara & Quichua] underl blue crayon
4.5 important] after opening square bracket, blue crayon
4.5 important … length— 4.7] scored blue crayon
4.5 important … possessor— 4.11] crossed ink
4.8 I had … possessor— 4.11] double crossed blue crayon
4.11 The woman … on head— 4.16] crossed pencil
4.12 The men … body— 4.15] scored blue crayon; ‘Hair’ in margin blue crayon
4.16 These indians … possible— 4.22] crossed blue crayon
4.22 Sometimes … hue. 4.30] crossed ink
4.25 The colour … hue. 4.30] double scored blue crayon; ‘Gradations’ added and circled blue crayon; ‘Agrees with D’Orbigny’ in left margin blue crayon; ‘Vol 5. p. 476’ in right margin blue crayon 8
5.1 As regards … negroes. 5.7] crossed blue crayon
6.1 The Aymara … information 7.3] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘D. Forbes’ ink, circled ink; ‘(Expression)’ pencil, square brackets in original; ‘and effect of conditions on conclusionsQQQQ.—’ ink


For CD’s question on blushing, see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix V. The Quichua are now commonly known as Quechua. For more on the peoples Forbes mentions, see Olson 1991.
Araucania is a region of Chile south of the river Biobío (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Forbes refers to Félix de Azara and to the French translation of some of his works that appeared as Voyages dans l’Amérique Méridionale (Azara 1809). In Azara 1809, 2: 59, Azara commented on the size of male and female sexual organs; a note added by the editor maintained that the enthusiastic reception of the Spanish by the native women facilitated the conquest. CD frequently referred to Azara 1809 in Descent, but not to the comment Forbes cited. CD’s annotated copy of Azara 1809 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 26–7).
CD had met Forbes in London (see letter to David Forbes, [20 March 1868]). In his paper, ‘On the Aymara Indians of Bolivia and Peru’ (D. Forbes 1870), Forbes included a table of the proportion of male to female births (p. 200) and a detailed table comparing relative anatomical proportions in the Aymara, Europeans, and Africans (pp. 213–15).
The Beni river rises in the Cordillera Real in La Paz department of Bolivia and flows north-east through the Andean hills (Columbia gazetteer of the world). Overo: South American term referring to piebald horses, or in people, those with patches of white on their skin, especially on face and hands (Santamaría 1942).
Muchani: to worship, kiss (Quechua). Forbes probably refers to a festival at which men gathered to worship (see Markham ed. 1873, p. 37).
CD refers to Alcide Charles Victor Dessalines d’Orbigny. The reference seems to be mistaken; for Orbigny’s description of the colour of the Quichua and Aymara people, see Orbigny 1839, 1: 264–5, 314.


Azara, Félix de. 1809. Voyages dans l’Amérique Méridionale. Edited by C. A. Walckenaer, with additional notes by G. Cuvier. 4 vols. and atlas. Paris: Dentu.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Olson, James Stuart. 1991. The Indians of Central and South America: an ethnohistorical dictionary. New York; London: Greenwood Press.

Orbigny, Alcide Charles Victor Dessalines d’. 1839. L’homme américain (de l’Amerique Méridionale), considéré sous ses rapports physiologiques et moraux. 2 vols. + Atlas. Paris: Pitois-Levrault et C.

Santamaría, Francisco J. 1942. Diccionario general de americanismos. 3 vols. Mexico: Pedro Robredo.


Blushing in South American Indians.

Hairlessness of Aymaras and Quechuas. [See Descent 2: 322–3.]

Letter details

Letter no.
David Forbes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 80: B168
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6054,” accessed on 28 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16