White People of Darien

From Kook Science

The White People of Darien (or White Indians of Darien) were described by Lionel Wafer in his 1699 book A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America as being indigenous residents of the Isthmus of Darien with the trait of albinism, as well as a form of hirsutism causing them to have white "downy hair" all over their bodies, and poor daytime vision but extremely sensitive nighttime vision, giving rise to their being called "Moon-ey'd" among the peoples of the isthmus. These earlier writings of Wafer were referenced by authors who wrote of Appalachian legends of apparent Cherokee origin regarding the Moon-Eyed People during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Wafer's Account (1699)

  • Wafer, Lionel (1699), "White Indians", A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, Giving an Account of the Author's Abode There, &c., London: Printed for James Knapton, at the Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, p. 134-138, 

    There is one Complexion so singular, among a sort of People of this Country, that I have saw nor heard of any like them in any part of the World. The Account will seem strange, but any Privateers who have gone over the Isthus must have seen them, and can attest the main of what I am going to relate; tho' few have had the opportunity so particular an Information about these Poeple as I have had.

    They are White, and there are of them both Sexes; yet there are but few of them in comparison of the Copper-colour'd, possibly but one to two or three hundred. They different from the other Indians chiefly in respect of Colour, tho' not in that only. Their Skins are not of such a White as those of fair People among Europeans, with some tincture of a Blush or Sanguine Complexion; neither yet is their Complexion like that of our paler People, but 'tis rather a Milk-white, lighter than the Colour of any Europeans, and much like that of a white Horse.

    For there is this further remarkable in them, that their Bodies are beset all over, more or less, with a fine short Milk-white Down, which adds to the whiteness of their Skins; For they are not so thick set with this Down, especially on the Cheeks and Forehead, but that the Skin appears distinct from it. The Men would probably have white Bristles for Beards did they not prevent them by their Custom of plucking the young Beard up by the Roots continually; But for the Down all over their Bodies, they never try to get rid of it. Their Eyebrows are Milk-white also, and so is the Hair of their Heads, and very fine withal, about the length of six or eight Inches, and inclining to a Curl.

    They are not so big as the other Indians; and what is yet more strange, their Eye-lids bend and open in an oblong Figure, pointing downward at the Corners, and forming an Arch or Figure of a Crescent with the Points downwards. From hence, and from their seeing so clear as they do in a Moon-shiny night, we us'd to call them Moon-ey'd. For they see not very well in the Sun, poring in the clearest Day; their Eyes being but weak, and running with Water if the Sun shine towards them; so that in the Day-time they care not to go abroad, unless it be a cloudy dark Day. Besides they are but a weak People in comparison of the other, and not very fit for Hunting or other laborious Exercise, nor do they delight in any such. But notwithstanding their being thus sluggish and dull and restive in the Day-time, yet when Moon-shiny nights come, they are all Life and Activity, running abroad, and into the Woods, skipping about like Wild-Bucks; and running as fast by Moon-light, even in the Gloom and Shade of the Woods, as the other Indians by Day, being as nimble as they, tho' not so strong and lusty.

    The Copper-colour'd Indians seem not to respect these so much as those of their own Complexion, looking on them as somewhat monstrous. They are not a distinct Race by themselves, but now and then one is bred of a Copper-colour'd Father and Mother; and I have seen a Child of less than a Year old of this sort. Some would be apt to suspect they might be the Offspring of some European Father: But besides that the Europeans come little here, and have little Commerce with the Indian-women when they do come, these white People are as different from the Europeans in some respects, as from the Copper-colour'd Indians in others. And besides, where an European lies with an Indian-woman, the Child is always a Mostese, or Tawney, as is well known to all who have been in the West-Indies; where there are Mostesa's, Mulatto's, &c. of several Gradations between the White and the Black or Copper-colour'd, according as the Parents are; even to Decompounds, as a Mulatto-Fina, the Child of a Mulatto-man and a Mostesa-women, &c.

    But neither is the Child of a Man and Woman of these white Indians, white like the Parents, but Cooper-colour'd as their Parents were. For so Lacenta told me, and gave me this as his Conjecture how these came to be White, That 'twas through the force of the Mother's Imagination, looking on the Moon at the time of Conception; but this I leave others to judge of. He told me withal, that they were but short-liv'd.

  • Robertson, William (1859), The History of America; Including the United States, I, New York: Blakeman and Mason, p. 74 

    The first of these is situated in the isthmus of Darien, near the centre of America. Lionel Wafer, a traveller possessed of more curiosity and intelligence than we should have expected to find in an associate of buccaneers, discovered there a race of men, few in number, but of a singular make. They are of low stature, according to his description, of a feeble frame, incapable of enduring fatigue. Their colour is a dead milk white; not resembling that of a fair people among Europeans, but without any tincture of a blush or sanguine complexion. The skin is covered with a fine hairy down of a chalky white; the hair of their heads, their eyebrows, and eye-lashes are of the same hue. Their eyes are of a singular form, and so weak, that they can hardly bear the light of the sun; but they see clearly by moon-light, and are most active and gay in the night. No race similar to this has been discovered in any other part of America. Cortes, indeed, found some persons resembling the white people of Darien, aong the rare and monstrous animals which Montezuma had collected. But as the power of the Mexican empire extended to the provinces bordering on the isthmus of Darien, they were probably brought thence. Singular as the appearance of those people may be, they cannot be considered as constituting a distinct species. Among the negroes of Africa, as well as the natives of the Indian islands, nature sometimes produces a small number of individuals, with all the characteristic features and qualities of the white people of Darien. The former are called Albinos by the Portuguese, the latter Kackerlakes by the Dutch. In Darien the parents of those Whites are of the same colour with the other natives of the country; and this observation applies equally to the anomalous progeny of the negroes and Indians. The same mother who produces some children of a colour that does not belong to the race, brings forth the rest with the complexion peculiar to the country. One conclusion may then be formed with respect to the people described by Wafer, the Albinos and the Kackerlakes; they are a degenerate breed, not a separate class of men; and from some disease or defect of their parents, the peculiar colour and debility which mark their degradation are transmitted to them. As a decision proof of this, it has been observed, that neither the white people of Darien, nor the Albinos of Africa, propagate their race; their children are of the colour and temperament peculiar to the natives of their respective countries (48). [NOTE 48. — M. Le Chevalier de Pinto observes, that in the interior parts of Brazil he had been informed that some persons resembling the white people of Darien have been found; but that the breed did not continue, and their children became like other Americans. This race, however, is very imperfectly known. MS penes me.]

Later Accounts

Marsh's "White Indians" (1920s-30s)