August 18, 2023
Extending a warm welcome to subscribers joining us this week from the Pacific Northwest Birders group!
I appreciate the expert help the group is giving me on my work-in-progress, a murder mystery for teens. Their information about birds helps me add realistic ambiance to the setting in the story.
Women warriors, some remembered, most forgotten, from ancient to modern times, have proven
themselves as strong, skilled and courageous as men in battle.
In today's feature story you'll meet
- a 13-year-old ancient, Scythian warrior we know was a girl because of her DNA,
- the Amazon women of Greek
- and an Indigenous woman expelled from a convent in what is now Bolivia recruited an army of Indigenous women to fight for Bolivian independence from the Spanish Empire.
Spanish-Indigenous Woman Expelled from Convent Becomes Rebel Warrior
A commanding military leader, Juana Azurduy, fought to free her people from colonial rule in the early 19th Century, forgotten for nearly a hundred years, and only recently honored when her statue replaced one of Christopher Columbus in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
Juana was born in 1780 to an Indigenous woman and her husband, a Spaniard of Basque origin, on his colonial estate in Chuquisaca, located in what is now south central Bolivia.
Their firstborn, a son, died in infancy and when Juana's mother died, she became very close to her father who, despite staunchly Catholicism and conservative roles for
girls il society, taught her to ride and shoot. Accompanying him in his work on his estate, she became familiar with the indigenous workers, learned their local languages and was at home in their villages.
A casta painting of a Spanish man and an indigenous Calchaquí woman
with a Mestizo child, 1770. (Public domain, Wikipedia Commons.)
Jauna's life changed drastically when her father died, leaving her and her sisters in the care of an aunt and uncle charged with overseeing the estate until they came of age. Juana's aunt didn't approve of
the freedom Juana had enjoyed and hired a tutor to teach the sisters academics and social comportment. Jauna refused to comply and when her aunt despaired of her behavior, packed her off to the Convent of Santa Teresa de Chuquisaca.
Jauna conformed no better for the sisters than for her aunt. Classmates later remembered her talking of following in the footsteps of Saint Joan of Arc. But when she was expelled by the nuns at age 17, she returned home to her family hacienda to work as a field hand.
Laboring with indigenous people on the land and seeing the brutality many suffered in the nearby silver mines run by the
Spanish, Jauna was drawn into the revolution simmering against colonial rulers. She married her likeminded childhood friend Manuel Ascencio Padilla.
When rebellion broke out in Chuquisaca in 1809, the two joined in ousting the colonial government, but independence was short-lived. Spanish troops defeated the revolutionaries the following year.
Juana and Manuel, already the parents of two children remained committed to the cause, fighting side-by-side in more than twenty battles in the years 1811 through 1816. Juana wore a men's cavalry uniform, hair tucked under a military cap, becoming skilled fighting with a sword, rifle and firing cannon.
Above, one of the most well-known portraits of Jauna Azuduy shows her
in military uniform.
In 1812, the
couple served under Argentinian General Manuel Belgrano, helping recruit 10,000 rebel fighters throughout the republic. Juana's passion for the cause inspired thousands of indigenous women to join the revolution. Called Amazonas, they were fiercely loyal, and in 1813, led by Jauna, and armed only with slingshots and wooden spears, they defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Ayohuma.
But out-numbered and out-gunned, the revolutionaries couldn't hold their territory against the Spanish and the revolutionaries retreated, turning to guerrilla warfare. In 1815, Juana left the battlefield to give birth to her fourth child, returning hours later to rally her troops and personally capture the flag when they temporarily captured Cerro Rico de Potosí, the richest source of silver in the history of the world, where the Spanish had mined since
After this victory, General Belgrano honored Juana with the gift of his own sword and promoted her to Lieutenant Colonel. Unfortunately, in the following months royalist forces captured and executed her husband. Under heavy-Spanish counter attacks, she retreated with her army into Northern Argentina, where she continued to fight until an independent Bolivia was
established in 1825.
Simón Bolívar is said to have remarked, "This country should not be called Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because they made it free."
Under a later administration Juana's
miliary pension was revoked. Her father's property had been seized by the Spanish during the war, and the Bolivian government denied her petition for its return. Having lost her husband and four of her five children during the war, she remained Poverty-stricken and all-but-forgotten to her death in 1862, when she was buried nameless mass grave.
Not until 2015, would Juana Azurduy be carved in stone and
remembered like the more famous Amazons, those mythical archenemies of the ancient Greeks.
A frieze from the Temple of Apollo, Bassae, depicting a Greek fighting
Amazons. 420-400 BCE. (British Museum, London)
For centuries, Amazon women warriors were believed to be purely imaginary, simply foils for Greek gods and heroes. Some scholars still argue they're fiction.
excavating burial mounds of ancient Scythian nomads north and east of the Mediterranean discovered skeletons buried with weapons of war and assumed they were men.
Until the advent of DNA. Now there's evidence of female fighters and hunters as courageous, strong and agile as men, as skilled at riding and the arts of combat as early as the 2nd Century BCE.
For these fierce nomads who once roamed across vast distances from Turkey to Russia, it was most likely a necessity living as they did in small bands with horse-centered lifestyles. Every member of the community had to be able to defend themselves and contribute to food and shelter for the group.
In 1988, two Russian scientists discovered the grave of a partially mummified young warrior
during an excavation in Siberia’s modern-day Tuva republic. The remains were so well preserved that a ‘wart’ was visible on the face, and yet at the time all the clues suggested this was a boy.
Early Iron Age, Early Scythian time burial of a child at the
burial ground of Saryg-Bulun (Tuva). (Image: Vladimir Semyonov)
It was one of seven skeletons discovered in two adjacent burial mounds.The Scythian child, estimated at 12 to 13 years old was buried in the truck of a larch tree with a tightly closed lid.
Whole-genome sequencing showed that it was a girl.
Due to the preservative properties of larch and the lack of air access, a specific microclimate was formed, which contributed to the natural mummification of the child's body....still has skin on his face, a leather headdress painted with red paint, large fragments of clothing - a fur coat sewn
from jerboa fur...there was a leather quiver with arrows, the shafts of which were decorated with a painted ornament, a coinage with a groove on a wooden handle and a bow.
Through numerous archeological excavations across Eurasia, scientists beleven more than one third of Scythian women were buried with bows, arrows, quivers, spears, daggers and horses or horse
To return to our heroine Juana Azurduy, her remains were excavated 100 years after her death and reburied in a mausoleum built in her honor in the city of Sucre. In 2015 the presidents of Argentina and Bolivia unveiled 52-foot bronze statue of her in Buenos Aires.
Argentine sculptor and indigenous rights activist Andrés Zerneri was commissioned for the stature of Juana Azurduy. Photo by Ted McGrath via Flickr
Juana's statue was controversial when it originally placed whree a monument to Christopher Columbus had been located behind Argentina's presidential palace.
To calm the dissent the massive piece was later moved from behind the Casa Rosada, to the Plaza del Correo, in front of the Kirchner Cultural Center.
Occasionally, I am so touched by a reviewer that I can't help wanting to share. Here's what khundick wrote on Amazon after reading Close-Up on War.
As a Vietnam verteran i saw my share of combat. i didn't ask for it, i was drafted.
Cathrine as a journalist dove right into the middle of it. What a tough little thing she was. i met her years later and was at her flat in paris, went into the bathroom and there were all her awards to see. as i closed the door, there was a framed copy of the Herald Tribune with her photo in full combat gear and a parachute! Cameras around her neck with a big smile. A pity she is no longer with us, but this book is a wonderful tribute to her. she lives on! Thanks to Mary Cronk Farrell. What a
fantastic job you did on this book.
Huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed my books! You really make a difference. If you didn't get a chance before, you can listen to me talking about the book on the Northwest Passages book club podcast
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