Who Will Remember the People. . . Summary

Jean Raspail

Who Will Remember the People. . .

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Kaweskar, known to history as the Alacalufs, were a stone-age culture living among the islands of Tierra del Fuego when Ferdinand Magellan’s explorations opened that southern sea route to Asia. Jean Raspail, French explorer and ethnologist, saw a few of the last of this tribe in 1951. Turning to the work of ethnologists Jose and Annette Emperaire, the only Europeans really to know these people, Raspail found a haunting portrait of the Alacalufs which he has transformed into a beautiful and painful novel.

Raspail begins with two descriptions, one of the last of the tribe finding a place to die and another of Alacaluf traditional life as it evolved over ten thousand years. Two crucial periods define their culture: five millennia of flight, as aggressive tribes from across the Aleutian land bridge drove them the length of the American continents, and an equal period in a land no one cared to take from them.

Alacaluf culture, as portrayed here, develops a means of coping first with the hostility of the tribes that drove them southward and then with the bleak violence of climate and landscape. These experiences led them to think of the world as made to destroy them. They had no word for happiness. Serviceable as their culture was, it made them seem savage to Westerners and left them weak before the incomprehensible forces of modern civilization.

The main portion of the novel recounts contacts between Alacalufs and Europeans, ranging from missionary attempts through commercial exploitation to simple extermination. All produce the same effect, gradual destruction of this people.

Winner of three European literary prizes, WHO WILL REMEMBER THE PEOPLE . . . has been translated into ten languages, including Jeremy Leggatt’s English translation.