Thread: Capybara = fish
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Old 01 April 2009, 12:48 AM
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Bonnie Bonnie is offline
Join Date: 01 January 1970
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Posts: 148

Thanks for that, Chloe. I was unfamiliar with that theme.

It appears that, during his travels in Venezuela around 1800, Humboldt described a practice among Jesuit missionaries of considering capybara (and other non-fish species) as fish (or, at least, amphibibious) and, therefore, Lent-appropriate. (Still, there's no mention of a papal decree. And this is, after all, from Humboldt and not from Jesuit priests.)

The following appeared in an extract of Personal Narrative of the Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America During the Years 1799-1804 (Humboldt and Bonpland), which was published in The Port Folio (September, 1821).

[Observations are made on the Rio Apure.]

[The flesh of the chiguire] has a musky smell somewhat disagreeable; yet hams are made of it in this country, a circumstance which almost justifies the name of 'water-hog,' given to the chiguire by some of the older naturalists. The missionary monks do not hesitate to eat these hams during Lent. According to their zoological classification they place the armadillo, the thick-nosed taper, and the manati, near the tortoises; the first, because it is covered with a hard armour like a sort of shell; and the others because they are amphibious. [p. 141]

[The flesh of the manatee], which, from what prejudice I know not, is considered unwholesome and catenturiosa, is very savoury. It appeared to me to resemble pork rather than beef. It is most esteemed by the Guanoes and the Ottomacks; and these two nations addict themselves particularly to the catching of the manatee. It's [sic] flesh, salted and dried in the Sun, can be preserved a whole year; and, as the clergy regard this mammiferous animal as a fish, it is much sought for during Lent. [p. 151]
Bonnie "Chiguire of the Sea" Taylor
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