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Adventurers, Emissaries and Settlers: Ireland and Latin America
27-30 June 2007, National University of Ireland, Galway

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Roger Casement and two Putumayo Indians

Lesley Wylie (University of Essex)

In 1910 Roger Casement was sent by the British government to investigate the alleged humanitarian abuses of the Peruvian Amazon Rubber Company in the Putumayo, a disputed region in North West Amazonia which bordered Brazil , Ecuador , Colombia and Peru . Casement’s reports and journals from this period tell of the atrocities being perpetrated against the indigenous population, many of whom are ‘murdered, flogged, chained up like wild beasts, hunted far and wide and their dwellings burnt, their wives raped, their children dragged away to slavery and outrage’.

Casement brought more than verbal and written testimony of these abuses back to Britain . On 26th June, some six months after he returned from the Putumayo, Casement collected two Amerindian boys – Omarino and Ricudo – from Southampton docks. This paper will reconstruct the brief period that these boys, chosen by Casement as ambassadors for the Putumayo cause, spent in Britain, and in particular Casement’s desire to send one of them to Patrick Pearse’s school in Rathfarnham, Dublin – a plan which ultimately failed when Casement decided to take the boys back to the Amazon on his return trip there in August 1911. The paper will also investigate to what extent the boys are treated as ‘exhibits’ by Casement. During their stay in Britain they are ‘shown’ to leading members of the British establishment, and even sit for the society painter, Sir William Rothenstein, who portrays them wearing traditional headdress and loincloths. The boys’ journey, which takes them from South America to Britain helps to elucidate Casement’s own complex cross-cultural negotiations in the crucial period leading up to 1916.

Online published: 24 April 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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