WHERE have all the South American Indians gone? The question should haunt any traveller to Argentina, the second largest (and third most populous) country on the South American continent.
You could enter from next-door Paraguay, for instance, where Spanish settlers intermarried with the native Guarani inhabitants to produce a thoroughly mixed-race nation whose second language is Guarani. Or you could arrive from Bolivia, where some 60 per cent of the population are indigenous, millions of them pretty much full-blooded, and whose president is himself of Aymara Indian stock. In Peru, too, a huge indigenous population plays a central part in the country's rural and urban economy, and cultural life.
But there's something ghostly about Argentina. The overwhelming majority of the population are white, or almost white. Ghostly in another sense too, because sometimes in the street you'll spot a distinctively bridged nose, unusual cheekbones or the impenetrably dark eyes that betray a dash of native blood. Perhaps this is a migrant from Bolivia, or a Mapuche Indian from Chile; or perhaps - like a ghost walking among his assassins, like a race within a race - this is a death's-head reminder, a throwback: the hint of a descent from a people who have been wiped from history.
Because "wiped from history" is the only phrase for it. The European settlers who now populate Argentina - Italian, Spanish, German, Welsh - are the relatively recent inheritors of colonisers who quite simply exterminated the peoples whose land this was.