Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Fray Nicolás Armentia

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 1
Fray Nicolás Armentia

by Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier


Bishop of La Paz (capital of Bolivia, South America), appointed 22 October, 1901; b. at Bemedo, diocese of Vittoria, Spain, 5 December, 1845. He was a Minorite and came to America as a missionary under the guidance of Father Rafael Sans, and followed the footsteps of that pioneer in the forests and on the river courses of the Beni region. He had, previous to his coming to South America, spent several years in France, and brought to the mission field, besides devotion to apostolic duties, a solid fund of knowledge in physics, astronomy, and natural science. The savage and cannibal tribes lurking in the fastnesses of the Beni region were not numerous, but often hostile, and had for years been cruelly decimated by epidemic disease (smallpox). To reach them he cut his way through almost impenetrable woods from one abandoned hamlet to another, exposed to the most appalling hardships from hunger, climate, and disease. He taught and preached wherever and whenever he fell in with Indians, establishing and re-establishing missions; in this way he gathered materials for the geography, natural history, and anthropology of these practically unknown regions. It cost him much labour to have these afterwards published, and his valuable books are, unfortunately, extremely rare at present. His principal publications are: "Diario del Viage al Madre de Dios, hecho por el P. Fray Nicolás Armentia, en el año de mil ochocientos ochenta y cuatro y mil ochocientos ochenta y cinco, en calidad de comisionado para explorar el Madrede Dios" etc.; usually bound with "Navegación del Madre de Dios" (La Paz, 1887); and "Descripción de la Provincia de los Mojos, en el Reino del Perú" (La Paz, 1888) — the latter is a Spanish translation of the book of the Jesuit Franz Xavier Eder, "Descriptio Provinciae Moxitarum" (Buda, 1791). "Vocabulario del Idioma Shipibo del Ucayali" appeared in "Boletín de la Sociedad geográfica de La Paz", I, No.1. This is thus far the most complete vocabulary of the Pano stock (see Arawaks), and embraces more than 3,800 words. "Los Indios Mosetenes y su lengua" was published at Buenos Aires, 1903.

Aside from personal recollections of the writer, gathered during years of intercourse with this prelate, there is a short biographical sketch, by Lafone y Quevedo, in Tacana, Arte, vocabulario etc. (La Plata, 1902), with portrait. The works cited in the text contain many scattered notices of the eventful career of the eminent missionary.

AD F. BANDELIER