On leaving the Rio Apure we found ourselves in a country presenting a totally different aspect. An immense plain of water stretched before us like a lake, as far as we could see. White-topped waves rose to the height of several feet, from the conflict of the breeze and the current. The air resounded no longer with the piercing cries of herons, flamingos, and spoonbills, crossing in long files from one shore to the other. Our eyes sought in vain those waterfowls, the habits of which vary in each tribe. All nature appeared less animated. Scarcely could we discover in the hollows of the waves a few large crocodiles, cutting obliquely, by the help of their long tails, the surface of the agitated waters. The horizon was bounded by a zone of forests, which nowhere reached so far as the bed of the river. A vast beach, constantly parched by the heat of the sun, desert and bare as the shores of the sea, resembled at a distance, from the effect of the mirage, pools of stagnant water. These sandy shores, far from fixing the limits of the river, render them uncertain, by enlarging or contracting them alternately, according to the variable action of the solar rays.
In these scattered features of the landscape, in this character of solitude and of greatness, we recognize the course of the Orinoco, one of the most majestic rivers of the New World. The water, like the land, displays everywhere a characteristic and peculiar aspect. The bed of the Orinoco resembles not the bed of the Meta, the Guaviare, the Rio Negro, or the Amazon. These differences do not depend altogether on the breadth or the velocity of the current; they are connected with a multitude of impressions which it is easier to perceive upon the spot than to define with precision. Thus, the mere form of the waves, the tint of the waters, the aspect of the sky and the clouds, would lead an experienced navigator to guess whether he were in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, or in the equinoctial part of the Pacific.
The wind blew fresh from east-north-east. Its direction was favourable for sailing up the Orinoco, towards the Mission of Encaramada; but our canoes were so ill calculated to resist the shocks of the waves, that, from the violence of the motion, those who suffered habitually at sea were equally incommoded on the river. The short, broken waves are caused by the conflict of the waters at the junction of the two rivers. This conflict is very violent, but far from being so dangerous as Father Gumilla describes. We passed the Punta Curiquima, which is an isolated mass of quartzose granite, a small promontory composed of rounded blocks. There, on the right bank of the Orinoco, Father Rotella founded, in the time of the Jesuits, a Mission of the Palenka and Viriviri or Guire Indians. But during inundations, the rock Curiquima and the village at its foot were entirely surrounded by water; and this serious inconvenience, together with the sufferings of the missionaries and Indians from the innumerable quantity of mosquitos and niguas,* led them to forsake this humid spot. It is now entirely deserted, while opposite to it, on the right bank of the river, the little mountains of Coruato are the retreat of wandering Indians, expelled either from the Missions, or from tribes that are not subject to the government of the monks.
[* The chego (Pulex penetrans) which penetrates under the nails of the toe in men and monkeys, and there deposits its eggs.]
Struck with the extreme breadth of the Orinoco, between the mouth of the Apure and the rock Curiquima, I ascertained it by means of a base measured twice on the western beach. The bed of the Orinoco, at low water, was 1906 toises broad; but this breadth increases to 5517 toises, when, in the rainy season, the rock Curiquima, and the farm of Capuchino near the hill of Pocopocori, become islands. The swelling of the Orinoco is augmented by the impulse of the waters of the Apure, which, far from forming, like other rivers, an acute angle with the upper part of that into which it flows, meets it at right angles.
We first proceeded south-west, as far as the shore inhabited by the Guaricoto Indians on the left bank of the Orinoco, and then we advanced straight toward the south. The river is so broad that the mountains of Encaramada appear to rise from the water, as if seen above the horizon of the sea. They form a continued chain from east to west. These mountains are composed of enormous blocks of granite, cleft and piled one upon another. Their division into blocks is the effect of decomposition. What contributes above all to embellish the scene at Encaramada is the luxuriance of vegetation that covers the sides of the rocks, leaving bare only their rounded summits. They look like ancient ruins rising in the midst of a forest. The mountain immediately at the back of the Mission, the Tepupano* of the Tamanac Indians is terminated by three enormous granitic cylinders, two of which are inclined, while the third, though worn at its base, and more than eighty feet high, has preserved a vertical position. This rock, which calls to mind the form of the Schnarcher in the Hartz mountains, or that of the Organs of Actopan in Mexico,* composed formerly a part of the rounded summit of the mountain. In every climate, unstratified granite separates by decomposition into blocks of prismatic, cylindric, or columnar figures.
[* Tepu-pano, place of stones, in which we recognize tepu stone, rock, as in tepu-iri, mountain. We here perceive that Lesgian Oigour–Tartar root tep, stone (found in America among the Americans, in teptl; among the Caribs, in tebou; among the Tamanacs, in tepuiri); a striking analogy between the languages of Caucasus and Upper Asia and those of the banks of the Orinoco.]
[* In Captain Tuckey’s Voyage on the river Congo, we find represented a granitic rock, Taddi Enzazi, which bears a striking resemblance to the mountain of Encaramada.]
Opposite the shore of the Guaricotos, we drew near another heap of rocks, which is very low, and three or four toises long. It rises in the midst of the plain, and has less resemblance to a tumulus than to those masses of granitic stone, which in North Holland and Germany bear the name of hunenbette, beds (or tombs) of heroes. The shore, at this part of the Orinoco, is no longer of pure and quartzose sand; but is composed of clay and spangles of mica, deposited in very thin strata, and generally at an inclination of forty or fifty degrees. It looks like decomposed mica-slate. This change in the geological configuration of the shore extends far beyond the mouth of the Apure. We had begun to observe it in this latter river as far off as Algodonal and the Cano del Manati. The spangles of mica come, no doubt, from the granite mountains of Curiquima and Encaramada; since further north-east we find only quartzose sand, sandstone, compact limestone, and gypsum. Alluvial earth carried successively from south to north need not surprise us in the Orinoco; but to what shall we attribute the same phenomenon in the bed of the Apure, seven leagues west of its mouth? In the present state of things, notwithstanding the swellings of the Orinoco, the waters of the Apure never retrograde so far; and, to explain this phenomenon, we are forced to admit that the micaceous strata were deposited at a time when the whole of the very low country lying between Caycara, Algodonal, and the mountains of Encaramada, formed the basin of an inland lake.
We stopped some time at the port of Encaramada, which is a sort of embarcadero, a place where boats assemble. A rock of forty or fifty feet high forms the shore. It is composed of blocks of granite, heaped one upon another, as at the Schneeberg in Franconia, and in almost all the granitic mountains of Europe. Some of these detached masses have a spheroidal form; they are not balls with concentric layers, but merely rounded blocks, nuclei separated from their envelopes by the effect of decomposition. This granite is of a greyish lead-colour, often black, as if covered with oxide of manganese; but this colour does not penetrate one fifth of a line into the rock, which is of a reddish white colour within, coarse-grained, and destitute of hornblende.
The Indian names of the Mission of San Luis del Encaramada, are Guaja and Caramana.* This small village was founded in 1749 by Father Gili, the Jesuit, author of the Storia dell’ Orinoco, published at Rome. This missionary, learned in the Indian tongues, lived in these solitudes during eighteen years, till the expulsion of the Jesuits. To form a precise idea of the savage state of these countries it must be recollected that Father Gili speaks of Carichana,* which is forty leagues from Encaramada, as of a spot far distant; and that he never advanced so far as the first cataract in the river of which he ventured to undertake the description.
[* All the Missions of South America have names composed of two words, the first of which is necessarily the name of a saint, the patron of the church, and the second an Indian name, that of the nation, or the spot where the establishment is placed. Thus we say, San Jose de Maypures, Santa Cruz de Cachipo, San Juan Nepomuceno de los Atures, etc. These compound names appear only in official documents; the Inhabitants adopt but one of the two names, and generally, provided it be sonorous, the Indian. As the names of saints are several times repeated in neighbouring places, great confusion in geography arises from these repetitions. The names of San Juan, San Diego, and San Pedro, are scattered in our maps as if by chance. It is pretended that the Mission of Guaja affords a very rare example of the composition of two Spanish words. The word Encaramada means things raised one upon another, from encaramar, to raise up. It is derived from the figure of Tepupano and the neighbouring rocks: perhaps it is only an Indian word caramana, in which, as in manati, a Spanish signification was believed to be discovered.]
[* Saggio di Storia Americana volume 1 page 122.]
In the port of Encaramada we met with some Caribs of Panapana. A cacique was going up the Orinoco in his canoe, to join in the famous fishing of turtles’ eggs. His canoe was rounded toward the bottom like a bongo, and followed by a smaller boat called a curiara. He was seated beneath a sort of tent, constructed, like the sail, of palm-leaves. His cold and silent gravity, the respect with which he was treated by his attendants, everything denoted him to be a person of importance. He was equipped, however, in the same manner as his Indians. They were all equally naked, armed with bows and arrows, and painted with onoto, which is the colouring fecula of the Bixa orellana. The chief, the domestics, the furniture, the boat, and the sail, were all painted red. These Caribs are men of an almost athletic stature; they appeared to us much taller than any Indians we had hitherto seen. Their smooth and thick hair, cut short on the forehead like that of choristers, their eyebrows painted black, their look at once gloomy and animated, gave a singular expression to their countenances. Having till then seen only the skulls of some Caribs of the West India Islands preserved in the collections of Europe, we were surprised to find that these Indians, who were of pure race, had foreheads much more rounded than they are described. The women, who were very tall, and disgusting from their want of cleanliness, carried their infants on their backs. The thighs and legs of the infants were bound at certain distances by broad strips of cotton cloth, and the flesh, strongly compressed beneath the ligatures, was swelled in the interstices. It is generally to be observed, that the Caribs are as attentive to their exterior and their ornaments, as it is possible for men to be, who are naked and painted red. They attach great importance to certain configurations of the body; and a mother would be accused of culpable indifference toward her children, if she did not employ artificial means to shape the calf of the leg after the fashion of the country. As none of our Indians of Apure understood the Caribbee language, we could obtain no information from the cacique of Panama respecting the encampments that are made at this season in several islands of the Orinoco for collecting turtles’ eggs.
Near Encaramada a very long island divides the river into two branches. We passed the night in a rocky creek, opposite the mouth of the Rio Cabullare, which is formed by the Payara and the Atamaica, and is sometimes considered as one of the branches of the Apure, because it communicates with that river by the Rio Arichuna. The evening was beautiful. The moon illumined the tops of the granite rocks. The heat was so uniformly distributed, that, notwithstanding the humidity of the air, no twinkling of the stars was observable, even at four or five degrees above the horizon. The light of the planets was singularly dimmed; and if, on account of the smallness of the apparent diameter of Jupiter, I had not suspected some error in the observation, I should say, that here, for the first time, we thought we distinguished the disk of Jupiter with the naked eye. Towards midnight, the north-east wind became extremely violent. It brought no clouds, but the vault of the sky was covered more and more with vapours. Strong gusts were felt, and made us fear for the safety of our canoe. During this whole day we had seen very few crocodiles, but all of an extraordinary size, from twenty to twenty-four feet. The Indians assured us that the young crocodiles prefer the marshes, and the rivers that are less broad, and less deep. They crowd together particularly in the Canos, and we may say of them, what Abdallatif says of the crocodiles of the Nile,* “that they swarm like worms in the shallow waters of the river, and in the shelter of uninhabited islands.”
[* Description de l’Egypte translated by De Sacy.]
On the 6th of April, whilst continuing to ascend the Orinoco, first southward and then to south-west, we perceived the southern side of the Serrania, or chain of the mountains of Encaramada. The part nearest the river is only one hundred and forty or one hundred and sixty toises high; but from its abrupt declivities, its situation in the midst of a savannah, and its rocky summits, cut into shapeless prisms, the Serrania appears singularly elevated. Its greatest breadth is only three leagues. According to information given me by the Indians of the Pareka nation, it is considerably wider toward the east. The summits of Encaramada form the northernmost link of a group of mountains which border the right bank of the Orinoco, between the latitudes of 5° and 7° 30′ from the mouth of the Rio Zama to that of the Cabullare. The different links into which this group is divided are separated by little grassy plains. They do not preserve a direction perfectly parallel to each other; for the most northern stretch from west to east, and the most southern from north-west to south-east. This change of direction sufficiently explains the increase of breadth observed in the Cordillera of Parime towards the east, between the sources of the Orinoco and of the Rio Paruspa. On penetrating beyond the great cataracts of Atures and of Maypures, we shall see seven principal links, those of Encaramada or Sacuina, of Chaviripa, of Baraguan, of Carichana, of Uniama, of Calitamini, and of Sipapo, successively appear. This sketch may serve to give a general idea of the geological configuration of the ground. We recognize everywhere on the globe a tendency toward regular forms, in those mountains that appear the most irregularly grouped. Every link appears, in a transverse section, like a distinct summit, to those who navigate the Orinoco; but this division is merely in appearance. The regularity in the direction and separation of the links seems to diminish in proportion as we advance towards the east. The mountains of Encaramada join those of Mato, which give birth to the Rio Asiveru or Cuchivero; those of Chaviripe are prolonged by the granite chain of the Corosal, of Amoco, and of Murcielago, towards the sources of the Erevato and the Ventuari.
It was across these mountains, which are inhabited by Indians of gentle character, employed in agriculture,* that, at the time of the expedition for settling boundaries, General Iturriaga took some horned cattle for the supply of the new town of San Fernando de Atabapo. The inhabitants of Encaramada then showed the Spanish soldiers the way by the Rio Manapiari,* which falls into the Ventuari. By descending these two rivers, the Orinoco and the Atabapo may be reached without passing the great cataracts, which present almost insurmountable obstacles to the conveyance of cattle. The spirit of enterprise which had so eminently distinguished the Castilians at the period of the discovery of America, was again roused for a time in the middle of the eighteenth century, when Ferdinand VI was desirous of knowing the true limits of his vast possessions; and in the forests of Guiana, that land of fiction and fabulous tradition, the wily Indians revived the chimerical idea of the wealth of El Dorado, which had so much occupied the imagination of the first conquerors.
[* The Mapoyes, Parecas, Javaranas, and Curacicanas, who possess fine plantations (conucos) in the savannahs by which these forests are bounded.]
[* Between Encaramada and the Rio Manapiare, Don Miguel Sanchez, chief of this little expedition, crossed the Rio Guainaima, which flows into the Cuchivero. Sanchez died, from the fatigue of this journey, on the borders of the Ventuari.]
Amidst the mountains of Encaramada, which, like most coarse-grained granite rocks, are destitute of metallic veins, we cannot help inquiring whence came those grains of gold which Juan Martinez* and Raleigh profess to have seen in such abundance in the hands of the Indians of the Orinoco. From what I observed in that part of America, I am led to think that gold, like tin,* is sometimes disseminated in an almost imperceptible manner in the very mass of granite rocks, without our being able to perceive that there is a ramification and an intertwining of small veins. Not long ago the Indians of Encaramada found in the Quebrada del Tigre* a piece of native gold two lines in diameter. It was rounded, and appeared to have been washed along by the waters. This discovery excited the attention of the missionaries much more than of the natives; it was followed by no other of the same kind.
[* The companion of Diego Ordaz.]
[* Thus tin is found in granite of recent formation, at Geyer; in hyalomicte or graisen, at Zinnwald; and in syenitic porphyry, at Altenberg, in Saxony, as well as near Naila, in the Fichtelgebirge. I have also seen, in the Upper Palatinate, micaceous iron, and black earthy cobalt, far from any kind of vein, disseminated in a granite destitute of mica, as magnetic iron-sand is in volcanic rocks.]
[* The Tiger-ravine.]
I cannot quit this first link of the mountains of Encaramada without recalling to mind a fact that was not unknown to Father Gili, and which was often mentioned to me during our abode in the Missions of the Orinoco. The natives of those countries have retained the belief that, “at the time of the great waters, when their fathers were forced to have recourse to boats, to escape the general inundation, the waves of the sea beat against the rocks of Encaramada.” This belief is not confined to one nation singly, the Tamanacs; it makes part of a system of historical tradition, of which we find scattered notions among the Maypures of the great cataracts; among the Indians of the Rio Erevato, which runs into the Caura; and among almost all the tribes of the Upper Orinoco. When the Tamanacs are asked how the human race survived this great deluge, the age of water, of the Mexicans, they say, a man and a woman saved themselves on a high mountain, called Tamanacu, situated on the banks of the Asiveru; and casting behind them, over their heads, the fruits of the mauritia palm-tree, they saw the seeds contained in those fruits produce men and women, who repeopled the earth. Thus we find in all its simplicity, among nations now in a savage state, a tradition which the Greeks embellished with all the charms of imagination! A few leagues from Encaramada, a rock, called Tepu-mereme, or the painted rock, rises in the midst of the savannah. Upon it are traced representations of animals, and symbolic figures resembling those we saw in going down the Orinoco, at a small distance below Encaramada, near the town Caycara. Similar rocks in Africa are called by travellers fetish stones. I shall not make use of this term, because fetishism does not prevail among the natives of the Orinoco; and the figures of stars, of the sun, of tigers, and of crocodiles, which we found traced upon the rocks in spots now uninhabited, appeared to me in no way to denote the objects of worship of those nations. Between the banks of the Cassiquiare and the Orinoco, between Encaramada, the Capuchino, and Caycara, these hieroglyphic figures are often seen at great heights, on rocky cliffs which could be accessible only by constructing very lofty scaffolds. When the natives are asked how those figures could have been sculptured, they answer with a smile, as if relating a fact of which only a white man could be ignorant, that “at the period of the great waters, their fathers went to that height in boats.”
These ancient traditions of the human race, which we find dispersed over the whole surface of the globe, like the relics of a vast shipwreck, are highly interesting in the philosophical study of our own species. Like certain families of the vegetable kingdom, which, notwithstanding the diversity of climates and the influence of heights, retain the impression of a common type, the traditions of nations respecting the origin of the world, display everywhere the same physiognomy, and preserve features of resemblance that fill us with astonishment. How many different tongues, belonging to branches that appear totally distinct, transmit to us the same facts! The traditions concerning races that have been destroyed, and the renewal of nature, scarcely vary in reality, though every nation gives them a local colouring. In the great continents, as in the smallest islands of the Pacific Ocean, it is always on the loftiest and nearest mountain that the remains of the human race have been saved; and this event appears the more recent, in proportion as the nations are uncultivated, and as the knowledge they have of their own existence has no very remote date. After having studied with attention the Mexican monuments anterior to the discovery of the New World; after having penetrated into the forests of the Orinoco, and observed the diminutive size of the European establishments, their solitude, and the state of the tribes that have remained independent; we cannot allow ourselves to attribute the analogies just cited to the influence exercised by the missionaries, and by Christianity, on the national traditions. Nor is it more probable, that the discovery of sea-shells on the summit of mountains gave birth, among the nations of the Orinoco, to the tradition of some great inundation which extinguished for a time the germs of organic life on our globe. The country that extends from the right bank of the Orinoco to the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro, is a country of primitive rocks. I saw there one small formation of sandstone or conglomerate; but no secondary limestone, and no trace of petrifactions.
A fresh north-east breeze carried us full-sail towards the Boca de la Tortuga. We landed, at eleven in the morning, on an island which the Indians of the Missions of Uruana considered as their property, and which lies in the middle of the river. This island is celebrated for the turtle fishery, or, as they say here, the cosecha, the harvest [of eggs,] that takes place annually. We here found an assemblage of Indians, encamped under huts made of palm-leaves. This encampment contained more than three hundred persons. Accustomed, since we had left San Fernando de Apure, to see only desert shores, we were singularly struck by the bustle that prevailed here. We found, besides the Guamos and the Ottomacs of Uruana, who are both considered as savage races, Caribs and other Indians of the Lower Orinoco. Every tribe was separately encamped, and was distinguished by the pigments with which their skins were painted. Some white men were seen amidst this tumultuous assemblage, chiefly pulperos, or little traders of Angostura, who had come up the river to purchase turtle oil from the natives. The missionary of Uruana, a native of Alcala, came to meet us, and he was extremely astonished at seeing us. After having admired our instruments, he gave us an exaggerated picture of the sufferings to which we should be necessarily exposed in ascending the Orinoco beyond the cataracts. The object of our journey appeared to him very mysterious. “How is it possible to believe,” said he, “that you have left your country, to come and be devoured by mosquitos on this river, and to measure lands that are not your own?” We were happily furnished with recommendations from the Superior of the Franciscan Missions, and the brother-inlaw of the governor of Varinas, who accompanied us, soon dissipated the doubts to which our dress, our accent, and our arrival in this sandy island, had given rise among the Whites. The missionary invited us to partake a frugal repast of fish and plantains. He told us that he had come to encamp with the Indians during the time of the harvest of eggs, “to celebrate mass every morning in the open air, to procure the oil necessary for the church-lamps, and especially to govern this mixed republic (republica de Indios y Castellanos) in which every one wished to profit singly by what God had granted to all.”
We made the tour of the island, accompanied by the missionary and by a pulpero, who boasted of having, for ten successive years, visited the camp of the Indians, and attended the turtle-fishery. We were on a plain of sand perfectly smooth; and were told that, as far as we could see along the beach, turtles’ eggs were concealed under a layer of earth. The missionary carried a long pole in his hand. He showed us, that by means of this pole, the extent of the stratum of eggs could be determined as accurately as the miner determines the limits of a bed of marl, of bog iron-ore, or of coal. On thrusting the rod perpendicularly into the ground, the sudden want of resistance shows that the cavity or layer of loose earth containing the eggs, has been reached. We saw that the stratum is generally spread with so much uniformity, that the pole finds it everywhere in a radius of ten toises around any given spot. Here they talk continually of square perches of eggs; it is like a mining-country, divided into lots, and worked with the greatest regularity. The stratum of eggs, however, is far from covering the whole island: they are not found wherever the ground rises abruptly, because the turtle cannot mount heights. I related to my guides the emphatic description of Father Gumilla, who asserts, that the shores of the Orinoco contain fewer grains of sand than the river contains turtles; and that these animals would prevent vessels from advancing, if men and tigers did not annually destroy so great a number.* “Son cuentos de frailes,” “they are monkish legends,” said the pulpero of Angostura, in a low voice; for the only travellers in this country being the missionaries, they here call monks’ stories, what we call travellers’ tales, in Europe.
[* “It would be as difficult to count the grains of sand on the shores of the Orinoco, as to count the immense number of tortoises which inhabit its margins and waters. Were it not for the vast consumption of tortoises and their eggs, the river Orinoco, despite its great magnitude, would be unnavigable, for vessels would be impeded by the enormous multitude of the tortoises.” Gumilla, Orinoco Illustrata volume 1 pages 331 to 336.]
The Indians assured us that, in going up the Orinoco from its mouth to its junction with the Apure, not one island or one beach is to be found, where eggs can be collected in abundance. The great turtle (arrau*) dreads places inhabited by men, or much frequented by boats. It is a timid and mistrustful animal, raising only its head above the water, and hiding itself at the least noise. The shores where almost all the turtles of the Orinoco appear to assemble annually, are situated between the junction of the Orinoco with the Apure, and the great cataracts; that is to say, between Cabruta and the Mission of Atures. There are found the three famous fisheries; those of Encaramada, or Boca del Cabullare; of Cucuruparu, or Boca de la Tortuga; and of Pararuma, a little below Carichana. It seems that the arrau does not pass beyond the cataracts; and we were assured, that only the turtles called terekay, (in Spanish terecayas,) are found above Atures and Maypures.
[* This word belongs to the Maypure language, and must not be confounded with arua, which means a crocodile, among the Tamanacs, neighbours of the Maypures. The Ottomacs call the turtle of Uruana, achea; the Tamanacs, peje.]
The arrau, called by the Spaniards of the Missions simply tortuga, is an animal whose existence is of great importance to the nations on the Lower Orinoco. It is a large freshwater tortoise, with palmate and membraneous feet; the head very flat, with two fleshy and acutely-pointed appendages under the chin; five claws to the fore feet, and four to the hind feet, which are furrowed underneath. The upper shell has five central, eight lateral, and twenty-four marginal plates. The colour is darkish grey above, and orange beneath. The feet are yellow, and very long. There is a deep furrow between the eyes. The claws are very strong and crooked. The anus is placed at the distance of one-fifth from the extremity of the tail. The full-grown animal weighs from forty to fifty pounds. Its eggs are much larger than those of pigeons, and less elongated than the eggs of the terekay. They are covered with a calcareous crust, and, it is said, they have sufficient firmness for the children of the Ottomac Indians, who are great players at ball, to throw them into the air from one to another. If the arrau inhabited the bed of the river above the cataracts, the Indians of the Upper Orinoco would not travel so far to procure the flesh and the eggs of this tortoise. Yet, formerly, whole tribes from the Atabapo and the Cassiquiare have been known to pass the cataracts, in order to take part in the fishery at Uruana.
The terekay is less than the arrau. It is in general only fourteen inches in diameter. The number of plates in the upper shell is the same, but they are somewhat differently arranged. I counted three in the centre of the disk, and five hexagonal on each side. The margins contain twenty-four, all quadrangular, and much curved. The upper shell is of a black colour inclining to green; the feet and claws are like those of the arrau. The whole animal is of an olive-green, but it has two spots of red mixed with yellow on the top of the head. The throat is also yellow, and furnished with a prickly appendage. The terekays do not assemble in numerous societies like the arraus, to lay their eggs in common, and deposit them upon the same shore. The eggs of the terekay have an agreeable taste, and are much sought after by the inhabitants of Spanish Guiana. They are found in the Upper Orinoco, as well as below the cataracts, and even in the Apure, the Uritucu, the Guarico, and the small rivers that traverse the Llanos of Caracas. The form of the feet and head, the appendages of the chin and throat, and the position of the anus, seem to indicate that the arrau, and probably the terekay also, belong to a new subdivision of the tortoises, that may be separated from the emydes. The period at which the large arrau tortoise lays its eggs coincides with the period of the lowest waters. The Orinoco beginning to increase from the vernal equinox, the lowest flats are found uncovered from the end of January till the 20th or 25th of March. The arrau tortoises collect in troops in the month of January, then issue from the water, and warm themselves in the sun, reposing on the sands. The Indians believe that great heat is indispensable to the health of the animal, and that its exposure to the sun favours the laying of the eggs. The arraus are found on the beach a great part of the day during the whole month of February. At the beginning of March the straggling troops assemble, and swim towards the small number of islands on which they habitually deposit their eggs. It is probable that the same tortoise returns every year to the same locality. At this period, a few days before they lay their eggs, thousands of these animals may be seen ranged in long files, on the borders of the islands of Cucuruparu, Uruana, and Pararuma, stretching out their necks and holding their heads above water, to see whether they have anything to dread. The Indians, who are anxious that the bands when assembled should not separate, that the tortoises should not disperse, and that the laying of the eggs should be performed tranquilly, place sentinels at certain distances along the shore. The people who pass in boats are told to keep in the middle of the river, and not frighten the tortoises by cries. The laying of the eggs takes place always during the night, and it begins soon after sunset. With its hind feet, which are very long, and furnished with crooked claws, the animal digs a hole of three feet in diameter and two in depth. These tortoises feel so pressing a desire to lay their eggs, that some of them descend into holes that have been dug by others, but which are not yet covered with earth. There they deposit a new layer of eggs on that which has been recently laid. In this tumultuous movement an immense number of eggs are broken. The missionary showed us, by removing the sand in several places, that this loss probably amounts to a fifth of the whole quantity. The yolk of the broken eggs contributes, in drying, to cement the sand; and we found very large concretions of grains of quartz and broken shells. The number of animals working on the beach during the night is so considerable, that day surprises many of them before the laying of their eggs is terminated. They are then urged on by the double necessity of depositing their eggs, and closing the holes they have dug, that they may not be perceived by the jaguars. The tortoises that thus remain too late are insensible to their own danger. They work in the presence of the Indians, who visit the beach at a very early hour, and who call them mad tortoises. Notwithstanding the rapidity of their movements, they are then easily caught with the hand.
The three encampments formed by the Indians, in the places indicated above, begin about the end of March or commencement of April. The gathering of the eggs is conducted in a uniform manner, and with that regularity which characterises all monastic institutions. Before the arrival of the missionaries on the banks of the river, the Indians profited much less from a production which nature has supplied in such abundance. Every tribe searched the beach in its own way; and an immense number of eggs were uselessly broken, because they were not dug up with precaution, and more eggs were uncovered than could be carried away. It was like a mine worked by unskilful hands. The Jesuits have the merit of having reduced this operation to regularity; and though the Franciscan monks, who succeeded the Jesuits in the Missions of the Orinoco, boast of having followed the example of their predecessors, they unhappily do not effect all that prudence requires. The Jesuits did not suffer the whole beach to be searched; they left a part untouched, from the fear of seeing the breed of tortoises, if not destroyed, at least considerably diminished. The whole beach is now dug up without reserve; and accordingly it seems to be perceived that the gathering is less productive from year to year.
When the camp is formed, the missionary of Uruana names his lieutenant, or commissary, who divides the ground where the eggs are found into different portions, according to the number of the Indian tribes who take part in the gathering. They are all Indians of Missions, as naked and rude as the Indians of the woods; though they are called reducidos and neofitos, because they go to church at the sound of the bell, and have learned to kneel down during the consecration of the host.
The lieutenant (commissionado del Padre) begins his operations by sounding. He examines by means of a long wooden pole or a cane of bamboo, how far the stratum of eggs extends. This stratum, according to our measurements, extended to the distance of one hundred and twenty feet from the shore. Its average depth is three feet. The commissionado places marks to indicate the point where each tribe should stop in its labours. We were surprised to hear this harvest of eggs estimated like the produce of a well-cultivated field. An area accurately measured of one hundred and twenty feet long, and thirty feet wide, has been known to yield one hundred jars of oil, valued at about forty pounds sterling. The Indians remove the earth with their hands; they place the eggs they have collected in small baskets, carry them to their encampment, and throw them into long troughs of wood filled with water. In these troughs the eggs, broken and stirred with shovels, remain exposed to the sun till the oily part, which swims on the surface, has time to inspissate. As fast as this collects on the surface of the water, it is taken off and boiled over a quick fire. This animal oil, called tortoise butter (manteca de tortugas*) keeps the better, it is said, in proportion as it has undergone a strong ebullition. When well prepared, it is limpid, inodorous, and scarcely yellow. The missionaries compare it to the best olive oil, and it is used not merely for burning in lamps, but for cooking. It is not easy, however, to procure oil of turtles’ eggs quite pure. It has generally a putrid smell, owing to the mixture of eggs in which the young are already formed.
[* The Tamanac Indians give it the name of carapa; the Maypures call it timi.]
I acquired some general statistical notions on the spot, by consulting the missionary of Uruana, his lieutenant, and the traders of Angostura. The shore of Uruana furnishes one thousand botijas, or jars of oil, annually. The price of each jar at Angostura varies from two piastres to two and a half. We may admit that the total produce of the three shores, where the cosecha, or gathering of eggs, is annually made, is five thousand botijas. Now as two hundred eggs yield oil enough to fill a bottle (limeta), it requires five thousand eggs for a jar or botija of oil. Estimating at one hundred, or one hundred and sixteen, the number of eggs that one tortoise produces, and reckoning that one third of these is broken at the time of laying, particularly by the mad tortoises, we may presume that, to obtain annually five thousand jars of oil, three hundred and thirty thousand arrau tortoises, the weight of which amounts to one hundred and sixty-five thousand quintals, must lay thirty-three millions of eggs on the three shores where this harvest is gathered. The results of these calculations are much below the truth. Many tortoises lay only sixty or seventy eggs; and a great number of these animals are devoured by jaguars at the moment they emerge from the water. The Indians bring away a great number of eggs to eat them dried in the sun; and they break a considerable number through carelessness during the gathering. The number of eggs that are hatched before the people can dig them up is so prodigious, that near the encampment of Uruana I saw the whole shore of the Orinoco swarming with little tortoises an inch in diameter, escaping with difficulty from the pursuit of the Indian children. If to these considerations be added, that all the arraus do not assemble on the three shores of the encampments; and that there are many which lay their eggs in solitude, and some weeks later,* between the mouth of the Orinoco and the confluence of the Apure; we must admit that the number of turtles which annually deposit their eggs on the banks of the Lower Orinoco, is near a million. This number is very great for so large an animal. In general large animals multiply less considerably than the smaller ones.
[* The arraus, which lay their eggs before the beginning of March, (for in the same species the more or less frequent basking in the sun, the food, and the peculiar organization of each individual, occasion differences,) come out of the water with the terekays, which lay in January and February. Father Gumilla believes them to be arraus that were not able to lay their eggs the preceding year. It is difficult to find the eggs of the terekays, because these animals, far from collecting in thousands on the same beach, deposit their eggs as they are scattered about.]
The labour of collecting the eggs, and preparing the oil, occupies three weeks. It is at this period only that the missionaries have any communication with the coast and the civilized neighbouring countries. The Franciscan monks who live south of the cataracts, come to the harvest of eggs less to procure oil, than to see, as they say, white faces; and to learn whether the king inhabits the Escurial or San Ildefonso, whether convents are still suppressed in France, and above all, whether the Turks continue to keep quiet. On these subjects, (the only ones interesting to a monk of the Orinoco), the small traders of Angostura, who visit the encampments, can give, unfortunately, no very exact information. But in these distant countries no doubt is ever entertained of the news brought by a white man from the capital. The profit of the traders in oil amounts to seventy or eighty per cent; for the Indians sell it them at the price of a piastre a jar or botija, and the expense of carriage is not more than two-fifths of a piastre per jar. The Indians bring away also a considerable quantity of eggs dried in the sun, or slightly boiled. Our rowers had baskets or little bags of cotton-cloth filled with these eggs. Their taste is not disagreeable, when well preserved. We were shown large shells of turtles, which had been destroyed by the jaguars. These animals follow the arraus towards those places on the beach where the eggs are laid. They surprise the arraus on the sand; and, in order to devour them at their ease, turn them in such a manner that the under shell is uppermost. In this situation the turtles cannot rise; and as the jaguar turns many more than he can eat in one night, the Indians often avail themselves of his cunning and avidity.
When we reflect on the difficulty experienced by the naturalist in getting out the body of the turtle without separating the upper and under shells, we cannot sufficiently wonder at the suppleness of the tiger’s paw, which is able to remove the double armour of the arrau, as if the adhering parts of the muscles had been cut by a surgical instrument. The jaguar pursues the turtle into the water when it is not very deep. It even digs up the eggs; and together with the crocodile, the heron, and the galinazo vulture, is the most cruel enemy of the little turtles recently hatched. The island of Pararuma had been so much infested with crocodiles the preceding year, during the egg-harvest, that the Indians in one night caught eighteen, of twelve or fifteen feet long, by means of curved pieces of iron, baited with the flesh of the manatee. Besides the beasts of the forests we have just named, the wild Indians also very much diminish the quantity of the oil. Warned by the first slight rains, which they call turtle-rains (peje canepori*), they hasten to the banks of the Orinoco, and kill the turtles with poisoned arrows, whilst, with upraised heads and paws extended, the animals are warming themselves in the sun.
[* In the Tamanac language, from peje, a tortoise, and canepo, rain.]
Though the little turtles (tortuguillos) may have burst the shells of their eggs during the day, they are never seen to come out of the ground but at night. The Indians assert that the young animal fears the heat of the sun. They tried also to show us, that when the tortuguillo is carried in a bag to a distance from the shore, and placed in such a manner that its tail is turned to the river, it takes without hesitation the shortest way to the water. I confess, that this experiment, of which Father Gumilla speaks, does not always succeed equally well: yet in general it does appear that at great distances from the shore, and even in an island, these little animals feel with extreme delicacy in what direction the most humid air prevails.
Reflecting on the almost uninterrupted layer of eggs that extends along the beach, and on the thousands of little turtles that seek the water as soon as they are hatched, it is difficult to admit that the many turtles which have made their nests in the same spot, can distinguish their own young, and lead them, like the crocodiles, to the lakes in the vicinity of the Orinoco. It is certain, however, that the animal passes the first years of its life in pools where the water is shallow, and does not return to the bed of the great river till it is full-grown. How then do the tortuguillos find these pools? Are they led thither by female turtles, which adopt the young as by chance? The crocodiles, less numerous, deposit their eggs in separate holes; and, in this family of saurians, the female returns about the time when the incubation is terminated, calls her young, which answer to her voice, and often assists them to get out of the ground. The arrau tortoise, no doubt, like the crocodile, knows the spot where she has made her nest; but, not daring to return to the beach on which the Indians have formed their encampment, how can she distinguish her own young from those which do not belong to her? On the other hand, the Ottomac Indians declare that, at the period of inundation, they have met with female turtles followed by a great number of young ones. These were perhaps arraus whose eggs had been deposited on a desert beach to which they could return. Males are extremely rare among these animals. Scarcely is one male found among several hundred females. The cause of this disparity cannot be the same as with the crocodiles, which fight in the coupling season.
Our pilot had anchored at the Playa de huevos, to purchase some provisions, our store having begun to run short. We found there fresh meat, Angostura rice, and even biscuit made of wheat-flour. Our Indians filled the boat with little live turtles, and eggs dried in the sun, for their own use. Having taken leave of the missionary of Uruana, who had treated us with great kindness, we set sail about four in the afternoon. The wind was fresh, and blew in squalls. Since we had entered the mountainous part of the country, we had discovered that our canoe carried sail very badly; but the master was desirous of showing the Indians who were assembled on the beach, that, by going close to the wind, he could reach, at one single tack, the middle of the river. At the very moment when he was boasting of his dexterity, and the boldness of his manoeuvre, the force of the wind upon the sail became so great that we were on the point of going down. One side of the boat was under water, which rushed in with such violence that it was soon up to our knees. It washed over a little table at which I was writing at the stern of the boat. I had some difficulty to save my journal, and in an instant we saw our books, papers, and dried plants, all afloat. M. Bonpland was lying asleep in the middle of the canoe. Awakened by the entrance of the water and the cries of the Indians, he understood the danger of our situation, whilst he maintained that coolness which he always displayed in the most difficult circumstances. The lee-side righting itself from time to time during the squall, he did not consider the boat as lost. He thought that, were we even forced to abandon it, we might save ourselves by swimming, since there was no crocodile in sight. Amidst this uncertainty the cordage of the sail suddenly gave way. The same gust of wind, that had thrown us on our beam, served also to right us. We laboured to bale the water out of the boat with calabashes, the sail was again set, and in less than half an hour we were in a state to proceed. The wind now abated a little. Squalls alternating with dead calms are common in that part of the Orinoco which is bordered by mountains. They are very dangerous for boats deeply laden, and without decks. We had escaped as if by miracle. To the reproaches that were heaped on our pilot for having kept too near the wind, he replied with the phlegmatic coolness peculiar to the Indians, observing “that the whites would find sun enough on those banks to dry their papers.” We lost only one book — the first volume of the Genera Plantarum of Schreber — which had fallen overboard. At nightfall we landed on a barren island in the middle of the river, near the Mission of Uruana. We supped in a clear moonlight, seating ourselves on some large turtle-shells that were found scattered about the beach. What satisfaction we felt on finding ourselves thus comfortably landed! We figured to ourselves the situation of a man who had been saved alone from shipwreck, wandering on these desert shores, meeting at every step with other rivers which fall into the Orinoco, and which it is dangerous to pass by swimming, on account of the multitude of crocodiles and caribe fishes. We pictured to ourselves such a man, alive to the most tender affections of the soul, ignorant of the fate of his companions, and thinking more of them than of himself. If we love to indulge such melancholy meditations, it is because, when just escaped from danger, we seem to feel as it were the necessity of strong emotions. Our minds were full of what we had just witnessed. There are periods in life when, without being discouraged, the future appears more uncertain. It was only three days since we had entered the Orinoco, and there yet remained three months for us to navigate rivers encumbered with rocks, and in boats smaller than that in which we had so nearly perished.
The night was intensely hot. We lay upon skins spread on the ground, there being no trees to which we could fasten our hammocks. The torments of the mosquitos increased every day; and we were surprised to find that on this spot our fires did not prevent the approach of the jaguars. They swam across the arm of the river that separated us from the mainland. Towards morning we heard their cries very near. They had come to the island where we passed the night. The Indians told us that, during the collecting of the turtles’ eggs, tigers are always more frequent in those regions, and display at that period the greatest intrepidity.
On the following day, the 7th, we passed, on our right, the mouth of the great Rio Arauca, celebrated for the immense number of birds that frequent it; and, on our left, the Mission of Uruana, commonly called La Concepcion de Urbana. This small village, which contains five hundred souls, was founded by the Jesuits, about the year 1748, by the union of the Ottomac and Cavere Indians. It lies at the foot of a mountain composed of detached blocks of granite, which, I believe, bears the name of Saraguaca. Masses of rock, separated one from the other by the effect of decomposition, form caverns, in which we find indubitable proofs of the ancient civilization of the natives. Hieroglyphic figures, and even characters in regular lines, are seen sculptured on their sides; though I doubt whether they bear any analogy to alphabetic writing. We visited the Mission of Uruana on our return from the Rio Negro, and saw with our own eyes those heaps of earth which the Ottomacs eat, and which have become the subject of such lively discussion in Europe.*
[* This earth is a greasy kind of clay, which, in seasons of scarcity, the natives use to assuage the cravings of hunger; it having been proved by their experience as well as by physiological researches, that want of food can be more easily borne by filling the cavity of the stomach with some substance, even although it may be in itself very nearly or totally innutritious. The Indian hunters of North America, for the same purpose, tie boards tightly across the abdomen; and most savage races are found to have recourse to expedients that answer the same end.]
On measuring the breadth of the Orinoco between the islands called Isla de Uruana and Isla de la Manteca, we found it, during the high waters, 2674 toises, which make nearly four nautical miles. This is eight times the breadth of the Nile at Manfalout and Syout, yet we were at the distance of a hundred and ninety-four leagues from the mouth of the Orinoco.
The temperature of the water at its surface was 27.8° of the centigrade thermometer, near Uruana. That of the river Zaire, or Congo, in Africa, at an equal distance from the equator, was found by Captain Tuckey, in the months of July and August, to be only from 23.9 to 25.6°.
The western bank of the Orinoco remains low farther than the mouth of the Meta; while from the Mission of Uruana the mountains approach the eastern bank more and more. As the strength of the current increases in proportion as the river grows narrower, the progress of our boat became much slower. We continued to ascend the Orinoco under sail, but the high and woody grounds deprived us of the wind. At other times the narrow passes between the mountains by which we sailed, sent us violent gusts, but of short duration. The number of crocodiles increased below the junction of the Rio Arauca, particularly opposite the great lake of Capanaparo, which communicates with the Orinoco, as the Laguna de Cabullarito communicates at the same time with the Orinoco and the Rio Arauca. The Indians told us that the crocodiles came from the inlands, where they had been buried in the dried mud of the savannahs. As soon as the first showers arouse them from their lethargy, they crowd together in troops, and hasten toward the river, there to disperse again. Here, in the equinoctial zone, it is the increase of humidity that recalls them to life; while in Georgia and Florida, in the temperate zone, it is the augmentation of heat that rouses these animals from a state of nervous and muscular debility, during which the active powers of respiration are suspended or singularly diminished. The season of great drought, improperly called the summer of the torrid zone, corresponds with the winter of the temperate zone; and it is a curious physiological phenomenon to observe the alligators of North America plunged into a winter-sleep by excess of cold, at the same period when the crocodiles of the Llanos begin their siesta or summer-sleep. If it were probable that these animals of the same family had heretofore inhabited the same northern country, we might suppose that, in advancing towards the equator, they feel the want of repose after having exercised their muscles for seven or eight months, and that they retain under a new sky the habits which appear to be essentially linked with their organization.
Having passed the mouths of the channels communicating with the lake of Capanaparo, we entered a part of the Orinoco, where the bed of the river is narrowed by the mountains of Baraguan. It is a kind of strait, reaching nearly to the confluence of the Rio Suapure. From these granite mountains the natives heretofore gave the name of Baraguan to that part of the Orinoco comprised between the mouths of the Arauca and the Atabapo. Among savage nations great rivers bear different denominations in the different portions of their course. The Passage of Baraguan presents a picturesque scene. The granite rocks are perpendicular. They form a range of mountains lying north-west and south-east; and the river cutting this dyke nearly at a right angle, the summits of the mountains appear like separate peaks. Their elevation in general does not surpass one hundred and twenty toises; but their situation in the midst of a small plain, their steep declivities, and their flanks destitute of vegetation, give them a majestic character. They are composed of enormous masses of granite of a parallelopipedal figure, but rounded at the edges, and heaped one upon another. The blocks are often eighty feet long, and twenty or thirty broad. They would seem to have been piled up by some external force, if the proximity of a rock identical in its composition, not separated into blocks but filled with veins, did not prove that the parallelopipedal form is owing solely to the action of the atmosphere. These veins, two or three inches thick, are distinguished by a fine-grained quartz-granite crossing a coarse-grained granite almost porphyritic, and abounding in fine crystals of red feldspar. I sought in vain, in the Cordillera of Baraguan, for hornblende, and those steatitic masses that characterise several granites of the Higher Alps in Switzerland.
We landed in the middle of the strait of Baraguan to measure its breadth. The rocks project so much towards the river that I measured with difficulty a base of eighty toises. I found the river eight hundred and eighty-nine toises broad. In order to conceive how this passage bears the name of a strait, we must recollect that the breadth of the river from Uruana to the junction of the Meta is in general from 1500 to 2500 toises. In this place, which is extremely hot and barren, I measured two granite summits, much rounded: one was only a hundred and ten, and the other eighty-five, toises. There are higher summits in the interior of the group, but in general these mountains, of so wild an aspect, have not the elevation that is assigned to them by the missionaries.
We looked in vain for plants in the clefts of the rocks, which are as steep as walls, and furnish some traces of stratification. We found only an old trunk of aubletia*, with large apple-shaped fruit, and a new species of the family of the apocyneae.* All the stones were covered with an innumerable quantity of iguanas and geckos with spreading and membranous fingers. These lizards, motionless, with heads raised, and mouths open, seemed to suck in the heated air. The thermometer placed against the rock rose to 50.2°. The soil appeared to undulate, from the effect of mirage, without a breath of wind being felt. The sun was near the zenith, and its dazzling light, reflected from the surface of the river, contrasted with the reddish vapours that enveloped every surrounding object. How vivid is the impression produced by the calm of nature, at noon, in these burning climates! The beasts of the forests retire to the thickets; the birds hide themselves beneath the foliage of the trees, or in the crevices of the rocks. Yet, amidst this apparent silence, when we lend an attentive ear to the most feeble sounds transmitted through the air, we hear a dull vibration, a continual murmur, a hum of insects, filling, if we may use the expression, all the lower strata of the air. Nothing is better fitted to make man feel the extent and power of organic life. Myriads of insects creep upon the soil, and flutter round the plants parched by the heat of the sun. A confused noise issues from every bush, from the decayed trunks of trees, from the clefts of the rocks, and from the ground undermined by lizards, millepedes, and cecilias. These are so many voices proclaiming to us that all nature breathes; and that, under a thousand different forms, life is diffused throughout the cracked and dusty soil, as well as in the bosom of the waters, and in the air that circulates around us.
[* Aubletia tiburba.]
[* Allamanda salicifolia.]
The sensations which I here recall to mind are not unknown to those who, without having advanced to the equator, have visited Italy, Spain, or Egypt. That contrast of motion and silence, that aspect of nature at once calm and animated, strikes the imagination of the traveller when he enters the basin of the Mediterranean, within the zone of olives, dwarf palms, and date-trees.
We passed the night on the eastern bank of the Orinoco, at the foot of a granitic hill. Near this desert spot was formerly seated the Mission of San Regis. We could have wished to find a spring in the Baraguan, for the water of the river had a smell of musk, and a sweetish taste extremely disagreeable. In the Orinoco, as well as in the Apure, we are struck with the difference observable in the various parts of the river near the most barren shore. The water is sometimes very drinkable, and sometimes seems to be loaded with a slimy matter. “It is the bark (meaning the coriaceous covering) of the putrefied cayman that is the cause,” say the natives. “The more aged the cayman, the more bitter is his bark.” I have no doubt that the carcasses of these large reptiles, those of the manatees, which weigh five hundred pounds, and the presence of the porpoises (toninas) with their mucilaginous skin, may contaminate the water, especially in the creeks, where the river has little velocity. Yet the spots where we found the most fetid water, were not always those where dead animals were accumulated on the beach. When, in such burning climates, where we are constantly tormented by thirst, we are reduced to drink the water of a river at the temperature of 27 or 28°, we cannot help wishing at least that water so hot, and so loaded with sand, should be free from smell.
On the 8th of April we passed the mouths of the Suapure or Sivapuri, and the Caripo, on the east, and the outlet of the Sinaruco on the west. This last river is, next to the Rio Arauca, the most considerable between the Apure and the Meta. The Suapure, full of little cascades, is celebrated among the Indians for the quantity of wild honey obtained from the forests in its neighbourhood. The melipones there suspend their enormous hives to the branches of trees. Father Gili, in 1766, made an excursion on the Suapure, and on the Turiva, which falls into it. He there found tribes of the nation of Areverians. We passed the night a little below the island Macapina.
Early on the following morning we arrived at the beach of Pararuma, where we found an encampment of Indians similar to that we had seen at the Boca de la Tortuga. They had assembled to search the sands, for collecting the turtles’ eggs, and extracting the oil; but they had unfortunately made a mistake of several days. The young turtles had come out of their shells before the Indians had formed their camp; and consequently the crocodiles and the garzes, a species of large white herons, availed themselves of the delay. These animals, alike fond of the flesh of the young turtles, devour an innumerable quantity. They fish during the night, for the tortuguillos do not come out of the earth to gain the neighbouring river till after the evening twilight. The zamuro vultures are too indolent to hunt after sunset. They stalk along the shores in the daytime, and alight in the midst of the Indian encampment to steal provisions; but they often find no other means of satisfying their voracity than by attacking young crocodiles of seven or eight inches long, either on land or in water of little depth. It is curious to see the address with which these little animals defend themselves for a time against the vultures. As soon as they perceive the enemy, they raise themselves on their fore paws, bend their backs, and lift up their heads, opening their wide jaws. They turn continually, though slowly, toward their assailant to show him their teeth, which, even when the animal has but recently issued from the egg, are very long and sharp. Often while the attention of a young crocodile is wholly engaged by one of the zamuros, another seizes the favourable opportunity for an unforeseen attack. He pounces on the crocodile, grasps him by the neck, and bears him off to the higher regions of the air. We had an opportunity of observing this manoeuvre during several mornings, at Mompex, on the banks of the Magdalena, where we had collected more than forty very young crocodiles, in a spacious court surrounded by a wall.
We found among the Indians assembled at Pararuma some white men, who had come from Angostura to purchase the tortoise-butter. After having wearied us for a long time with their complaints of the bad harvest, and the mischief done by the tigers among the turtles, at the time of laying their eggs, they conducted us beneath an ajoupa, that rose in the centre of the Indian camp. We here found the missionary-monks of Carichana and the Cataracts seated on the ground, playing at cards, and smoking tobacco in long pipes. Their ample blue garments, their shaven heads, and their long beards, might have led us to mistake them for natives of the East. These poor priests received us in the kindest manner, giving us every information necessary for the continuation of our voyage. They had suffered from tertian fever for some months; and their pale and emaciated aspect easily convinced us that the countries we were about to visit were not without danger to the health of travellers.
The Indian pilot, who had brought us from San Fernando de Apure as far as the shore of Pararuma, was unacquainted with the passage of the rapids* of the Orinoco, and would not undertake to conduct our bark any farther. We were obliged to conform to his will. Happily for us, the missionary of Carichana consented to sell us a fine canoe at a very moderate price: and Father Bernardo Zea, missionary of the Atures and Maypures near the great cataracts, offered, though still unwell, to accompany us as far as the frontiers of Brazil. The number of natives who can assist in guiding boats through the Raudales is so inconsiderable that, but for the presence of the monk, we should have risked spending whole weeks in these humid and unhealthy regions. On the banks of the Orinoco, the forests of the Rio Negro are considered as delicious spots. The air is indeed cooler and more healthful. The river is free from crocodiles; one may bathe without apprehension, and by night as well as by day there is less torment from the sting of insects than on the Orinoco. Father Zea hoped to reestablish his health by visiting the Missions of Rio Negro. He talked of those places with that enthusiasm which is felt in all the colonies of South America for everything far off.
[* Little cascades, chorros raudalitos.]
The assemblage of Indians at Pararuma again excited in us that interest, which everywhere attaches man in a cultivated state to the study of man in a savage condition, and the successive development of his intellectual faculties. How difficult to recognize in this infancy of society, in this assemblage of dull, silent, inanimate Indians, the primitive character of our species! Human nature does not here manifest those features of artless simplicity, of which poets in every language have drawn such enchanting pictures. The savage of the Orinoco appeared to us to be as hideous as the savage of the Mississippi, described by that philosophical traveller Volney, who so well knew how to paint man in different climates. We are eager to persuade ourselves that these natives, crouching before the fire, or seated on large turtle-shells, their bodies covered with earth and grease, their eyes stupidly fixed for whole hours on the beverage they are preparing, far from being the primitive type of our species, are a degenerate race, the feeble remains of nations who, after having been long dispersed in the forests, are replunged into barbarism.
Red paint being in some sort the only clothing of the Indians, two kinds may be distinguished among them, according as they are more or less affluent. The common decoration of the Caribs, the Ottomacs, and the Jaruros, is onoto,* called by the Spaniards achote, and by the planters of Cayenne, rocou. It is the colouring matter extracted from the pulp of the Bixa orellana.* The Indian women prepare the anato by throwing the seeds of the plant into a tub filled with water. They beat this water for an hour, and then leave it to deposit the colouring fecula, which is of an intense brick-red. After having separated the water, they take out the fecula, dry it between their hands, knead it with oil of turtles’ eggs, and form it into round cakes of three or four ounces weight. When turtle oil is wanting, some tribes mix with the anato the fat of the crocodile.
[* Properly anoto. This word belongs to the Tamanac Indians. The Maypures call it majepa. The Spanish missionaries say onotarse, to rub the skin with anato.]
[* The word bixa, adopted by botanists, is derived from the ancient language of Haiti (the island of St. Domingo). Rocou, the term commonly used by the French, is derived from the Brazilian word, urucu.]
Another pigment, much more valuable, is extracted from a plant of the family of the bignoniae, which M. Bonpland has made known by the name of Bignonia chica. It climbs up and clings to the tallest trees by the aid of tendrils. Its bilabiate flowers are an inch long, of a fine violet colour, and disposed by twos or threes. The bipinnate leaves become reddish in drying. The fruit is a pod, filled with winged seeds, and is two feet long. This plant grows spontaneously, and in great abundance, near Maypures; and in going up the Orinoco, beyond the mouth of the Guaviare, from Santa Barbara to the lofty mountain of Duida, particularly near Esmeralda. We also found it on the banks of the Cassiquiare. The red pigment of chica is not obtained from the fruit, like the onoto, but from the leaves macerated in water. The colouring matter separates in the form of a light powder. It is collected, without being mixed with turtle-oil, into little lumps eight or nine inches long, and from two to three high, rounded at the edges. These lumps, when heated, emit an agreeable smell of benzoin. When the chica is subjected to distillation, it yields no sensible traces of ammonia. It is not, like indigo, a substance combined with azote. It dissolves slightly in sulphuric and muriatic acids, and even in alkalis. Ground with oil, the chica furnishes a red colour that has a tint of lake. Applied to wool, it might be confounded with madder-red. There is no doubt but that the chica, unknown in Europe before our travels, may be employed usefully in the arts. The nations on the Orinoco, by whom this pigment is best prepared, are the Salivas, the Guipunaves,* the Caveres, and the Piraoas. The processes of infusion and maceration are in general very common among all the nations on the Orinoco. Thus the Maypures carry on a trade of barter with the little loaves of puruma, which is a vegetable fecula, dried in the manner of indigo, and yielding a very permanent yellow colour. The chemistry of the savage is reduced to the preparation of pigments, that of poisons, and the dulcification of the amylaceous roots, which the aroides and the euphorbiaceous plants afford.
[* Or Guaypunaves; they call themselves Uipunavi.]
Most of the missionaries of the Upper and Lower Orinoco permit the Indians of their Missions to paint their skins. It is painful to add, that some of them speculate on this barbarous practice of the natives. In their huts, pompously called conventos,* I have often seen stores of chica, which they sold as high as four francs the cake. To form a just idea of the extravagance of the decoration of these naked Indians, I must observe, that a man of large stature gains with difficulty enough by the labour of a fortnight, to procure in exchange the chica necessary to paint himself red. Thus as we say, in temperate climates, of a poor man, “he has not enough to clothe himself,” you hear the Indians of the Orinoco say, “that man is so poor, that he has not enough to paint half his body.” The little trade in chica is carried on chiefly with the tribes of the Lower Orinoco, whose country does not produce the plant which furnishes this much-valued substance. The Caribs and the Ottomacs paint only the head and the hair with chica, but the Salives possess this pigment in sufficient abundance to cover their whole bodies. When the missionaries send on their own account small cargoes of cacao, tobacco, and chiquichiqui* from the Rio Negro to Angostura, they always add some cakes of chica, as being articles of merchandise in great request.
[* In the Missions, the priest’s house bears the name of the convent.]
[* Ropes made with the petioles of a palm-tree with pinnate leaves.]
The custom of painting is not equally ancient among all the tribes of the Orinoco. It has increased since the time when the powerful nation of the Caribs made frequent incursions into those countries. The victors and the vanquished were alike naked; and to please the conqueror it was necessary to paint like him, and to assume his colour. The influence of the Caribs has now ceased, and they remain circumscribed between the rivers Carony, Cuyuni, and Paraguamuzi; but the Caribbean fashion of painting the whole body is still preserved. The custom has survived the conquest.
Does the use of the anato and chica derive its origin from the desire of pleasing, and the taste for ornament, so common among the most savage nations? or must we suppose it to be founded on the observation, that these colouring and oily matters with which the skin is plastered, preserve it from the sting of the mosquitos? I have often heard this question discussed in Europe; but in the Missions of the Orinoco, and wherever, within the tropics, the air is filled with venomous insects, the inquiry would appear absurd. The Carib and the Salive, who are painted red, are not less cruelly tormented by the mosquitos and the zancudos, than the Indians whose bodies are plastered with no colour. The sting of the insect causes no swelling in either; and scarcely ever produces those little pustules which occasion such smarting and itching to Europeans recently arrived. But the native and the White suffer equally from the sting, till the insect has withdrawn its sucker from the skin. After a thousand useless essays, M. Bonpland and myself tried the expedient of rubbing our hands and arms with the fat of the crocodile, and the oil of turtle-eggs, but we never felt the least relief, and were stung as before. I know that the Laplanders boast of oil and fat as the most useful preservatives; but the insects of Scandinavia are not of the same species as those of the Orinoco. The smoke of tobacco drives away our gnats, while it is employed in vain against the zancudos. If the application of fat and astringent* substances preserved the inhabitants of these countries from the torment of insects, as Father Gumilla alleges, why has not the custom of painting the skin become general on these shores? Why do so many naked natives paint only the face, though living in the neighbourhood of those who paint the whole body?*
[* The pulp of the anato, and even the chica, are astringent and slightly purgative.]
[* The Caribs, the Salives, the Tamanacs, and the Maypures.]
We are struck with the observation, that the Indians of the Orinoco, like the natives of North America, prefer the substances that yield a red colour to every other. Is this predilection founded on the facility with which the savage procures ochreous earths, or the colouring fecula of anato and of chica? I doubt this much. Indigo grows wild in a great part of equinoctial America. This plant, like so many other leguminous plants, would have furnished the natives abundantly with pigments to colour themselves blue like the ancient Britons.* Yet we see no American tribe painted with indigo. It appears to me probable, as I have already hinted above, that the preference given by the Americans to the red colour is generally founded on the tendency which nations feel to attribute the idea of beauty to whatever characterises their national physiognomy. Men whose skin is naturally of a brownish red, love a red colour. If they be born with a forehead little raised, and the head flat, they endeavour to depress the foreheads of their children. If they be distinguished from other nations by a thin beard, they try to eradicate the few hairs that nature has given them. They think themselves embellished in proportion as they heighten the characteristic marks of their race, or of their national conformation.
[* The half-clad nations of the temperate zone often paint their skin of the same colour as that with which their clothes are dyed.]
We were surprised to see, that, in the camp of Pararuma, the women far advanced in years were more occupied with their ornaments than the youngest women. We saw an Indian female of the nation of the Ottomacs employing two of her daughters in the operation of rubbing her hair with the oil of turtles’ eggs, and painting her back with anato and caruto. The ornament consisted of a sort of lattice-work formed of black lines crossing each other on a red ground. Each little square had a black dot in the centre. It was a work of incredible patience. We returned from a very long herborization, and the painting was not half finished. This research of ornament seems the more singular when we reflect that the figures and marks are not produced by the process of tattooing, but that paintings executed with so much care are effaced,* if the Indian exposes himself imprudently to a heavy shower. There are some nations who paint only to celebrate festivals; others are covered with colour during the whole year: and the latter consider the use of anato as so indispensable, that both men and women would perhaps be less ashamed to present themselves without a guayaco* than destitute of paint. These guayucos of the Orinoco are partly bark of trees, and partly cotton-cloth. Those of the men are broader than those worn by the women, who, the missionaries say, have in general a less lively feeling of modesty. A similar observation was made by Christopher Columbus. May we not attribute this in difference, this want of delicacy in women belonging to nations of which the manners are not much depraved, to that rude state of slavery to which the sex is reduced in South America by male injustice and tyranny?
[* The black and caustic pigment of the caruto (Genipa americana) however, resists a long time the action of water, as we found with regret, having one day, in sport with the Indians, caused our faces to be marked with spots and strokes of caruto. When we returned to Angostura, in the midst of Europeans, these marks were still visible.]
[* A word of the Caribbean language. The perizoma of the Indians of the Orinoco is rather a band than an apron.]
When we speak in Europe of a native of Guiana, we figure to ourselves a man whose head and waist are decorated with the fine feathers of the macaw, the toucan, and the humming-bird. Our painters and sculptors have long since regarded these ornaments as the characteristic marks of an American. We were surprised at not finding in the Chayma Missions, in the encampments of Uruana and of Pararuma (I might almost say on all the shores of the Orinoco and the Cassiquiare) those fine plumes, those feathered aprons, which are so often brought by travellers from Cayenne and Demerara. These tribes for the most part, even those whose intellectual faculties are most expanded, who cultivate alimentary plants, and know how to weave cotton, are altogether as naked,* as poor, and as destitute of ornaments as the natives of New Holland. The excessive heat of the air, the profuse perspiration in which the body is bathed at every hour of the day and a great part of the night, render the use of clothes insupportable. Their objects of ornament, and particularly their plumes of feathers, are reserved for dances and solemn festivals. The plumes worn by the Guipunaves* are the most celebrated; being composed of the fine feathers of manakins and parrots.
[* For instance, the Macos and the Piraoas. The Caribs must be excepted, whose perizoma is a cotton cloth, so broad that it might cover the shoulders.]
[* These came originally from the banks of the Inirida, one of the rivers that fall into the Guaviare.]
The Indians are not always satisfied with one colour uniformly spread; they sometimes imitate, in the most whimsical manner, in painting their skin, the form of European garments. We saw some at Pararuma, who were painted with blue jackets and black buttons. The missionaries related to us that the Guaynaves of the Rio Caura are accustomed to stain themselves red with anato, and to make broad transverse stripes on the body, on which they stick spangles of silvery mica. Seen at a distance, these naked men appear to be dressed in laced clothes. If painted nations had been examined with the same attention as those who are clothed, it would have been perceived that the most fertile imagination, and the most mutable caprice, have created the fashions of painting, as well as those of garments.
Painting and tattooing are not restrained, in either the New or the Old World, to one race or one zone only. These ornaments are most common among the Malays and American races; but in the time of the Romans they were also employed by the white race in the north of Europe. As the most picturesque garments and modes of dress are found in the Grecian Archipelago and western Asia, so the type of beauty in painting and tattooing is displayed by the islanders of the Pacific. Some clothed nations still paint their hands, their nails, and their faces. It would seem that painting is then confined to those parts of the body that remain uncovered; and while rouge, which recalls to mind the savage state of man, is disappearing by degrees in Europe, in some towns of the province of Peru the ladies think they embellish their delicate skins by covering them with colouring vegetable matter, starch, white-of-egg, and flour. After having lived a long time among men painted with anato and chica, we are singularly struck with these remains of ancient barbarism retained amidst all the usages of civilization.
The encampment at Pararuma afforded us an opportunity of examining several animals in their natural state, which, till then, we had seen only in the collections of Europe. These little animals form a branch of commerce for the missionaries. They exchange tobacco, the resin called mani, the pigment of chica, gallitos (rock-manakins), orange monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and other species of monkeys in great request on the coast, for cloth, nails, hatchets, fishhooks, and pins. The productions of the Orinoco are bought at a low price from the Indians, who live in dependence on the monks; and these same Indians purchase fishing and gardening implements from the monks at a very high price, with the money they have gained at the egg-harvest. We ourselves bought several animals, which we kept with us throughout the rest of our passage on the river, and studied their manners.
The gallitos, or rock-manakins, are sold at Pararuma in pretty little cages made of the footstalks of palm-leaves. These birds are infinitely more rare on the banks of the Orinoco, and in the north and west of equinoctial America, than in French Guiana. They have hitherto been found only near the Mission of Encaramada, and in the Raudales or cataracts of Maypures. I say expressly IN the cataracts, because the gallitos choose for their habitual dwelling the hollows of the little granitic rocks that cross the Orinoco and form such numerous cascades. We sometimes saw them appear in the morning in the midst of the foam of the river, calling their females, and fighting in the manner of our cocks, folding the double moveable crest that decorates the crown of the head. As the Indians very rarely take the full-grown gallitos, and those males only are valued in Europe, which from the third year have beautiful saffron-coloured plumage, purchasers should be on their guard not to confound young females with young males. Both the male and female gallitos are of an olive-brown; but the pollo, or young male, is distinguishable at the earliest age, by its size and its yellow feet. After the third year the plumage of the males assumes a beautiful saffron tint; but the female remains always of a dull dusky brown colour, with yellow only on the wing-coverts and tips of the wings.* To preserve in our collections the fine tint of the plumage of a male and full-grown rock-manakin, it must not be exposed to the light. This tint grows pale more easy than in the other genera of the passerine order. The young males, as in most other birds, have the plumage or livery of their mother. I am surprised to see that so skilful a naturalist as Le Vaillant can doubt whether the females always remain of a dusky olive tint.* The Indians of the Raudales all assured me that they had never seen a saffron-coloured female.
[* Especially the part which ornithologists call the carpus.]
[* Oiseaux de Paradis volume 2 page 61.]
Among the monkeys, brought by the Indians to the fair of Pararuma, we distinguished several varieties of the sai,* belonging to the little groups of creeping monkeys called matchi in the Spanish colonies; marimondes*, or ateles with a red belly; titis, and viuditas. The last two species particularly attracted our attention, and we purchased them to send to Europe.
[* Simia capucina the capuchin monkey.]
[* Simia belzebuth.]
The titi of the Orinoco (Simia sciurea), well-known in our collections, is called bititeni by the Maypure Indians. It is very common on the south of the cataracts. Its face is white; and a little spot of bluish-black covers the mouth and the point of the nose. The titis of the most elegant form, and the most beautiful colour (with hair of a golden yellow), come from the banks of the Cassiquiare. Those that are taken on the shores of the Guaviare are large and difficult to tame. No other monkey has so much the physiognomy of a child as the titi; there is the same expression of innocence, the same playful smile, the same rapidity in the transition from joy to sorrow. Its large eyes are instantly filled with tears, when it is seized with fear. It is extremely fond of insects, particularly of spiders. The sagacity of this little animal is so great, that one of those we brought in our boat to Angostura distinguished perfectly the different plates annexed to Cuvier’s Tableau elementaire d’Histoire naturelle. The engravings of this work are not coloured; yet the titi advanced rapidly its little hand in the hope of catching a grasshopper or a wasp, every time that we showed it the eleventh plate, on which these insects are represented. It remained perfectly indifferent when it was shown engravings of skeletons or heads of mammiferous animals.* When several of these little monkeys, shut up in the same cage, are exposed to the rain, and the habitual temperature of the air sinks suddenly two or three degrees, they twist their tail (which, however, is not prehensile) round their neck, and intertwine their arms and legs to warm one another. The Indian hunters told us, that in the forests they often met groups of ten or twelve of these animals, whilst others sent forth lamentable cries, because they wished to enter amid the group to find warmth and shelter. By shooting arrows dipped in weak poison at one of these groups, a great number of young monkeys are taken alive at once. The titi in falling remains clinging to its mother, and if it be not wounded by the fall, it does not quit the shoulder or the neck of the dead animal. Most of those that are found alive in the huts of the Indians have been thus taken from the dead bodies of their mothers. Those that are full grown, when cured of a slight wound, commonly die before they can accustom themselves to a domestic state. The titis are in general delicate and timid little animals. It is very difficult to convey them from the Missions of the Orinoco to the coast of Caracas, or of Cumana. They become melancholy and dejected in proportion as they quit the region of the forests, and enter the Llanos. This change cannot be attributed to the slight elevation of the temperature; it seems rather to depend on a greater intensity of light, a less degree of humidity, and some chemical property of the air of the coast.
[* I may observe, that I have never heard of an instance in which a picture, representing, in the greatest perfection, hares or deer of their natural size, has made the least impression even on sporting dogs, the intelligence of which appears the most improved. Is there any authenticated instance of a dog having recognized a full length picture of his master? In all these cases, the sight is not assisted by the smell.]
The saimiri, or titi of the Orinoco, the atele, the sajou, and other quadrumanous animals long known in Europe, form a striking contrast, both in their gait and habits, with the macavahu, called by the missionaries viudita, or widow in mourning. The hair of this little animal is soft, glossy, and of a fine black. Its face is covered with a mask of a square form and a whitish colour tinged with blue. This mask contains the eyes, nose, and mouth. The ears have a rim: they are small, very pretty, and almost bare. The neck of the widow presents in front a white band, an inch broad, and forming a semicircle. The feet, or rather the hinder hands, are black like the rest of the body; but the fore paws are white without, and of a glossy black within. In these marks, or white spots, the missionaries think they recognize the veil, the neckerchief, and the gloves of a widow in mourning. The character of this little monkey, which sits up on its hinder extremities only when eating, is but little indicated in its appearance. It has a wild and timid air; it often refuses the food offered to it, even when tormented by a ravenous appetite. It has little inclination for the society of other monkeys. The sight of the smallest saimiri puts it to flight. Its eye denotes great vivacity. We have seen it remain whole hours motionless without sleeping, and attentive to everything that was passing around. But this wildness and timidity are merely apparent. The viudita, when alone, and left to itself, becomes furious at the sight of a bird. It then climbs and runs with astonishing rapidity; darts upon its prey like a cat; and kills whatever it can seize. This rare and delicate monkey is found on the right bank of the Orinoco, in the granite mountains which rise behind the Mission of Santa Barbara. It inhabits also the banks of the Guaviare, near San Fernando de Atabapo.
The viudita accompanied us on our whole voyage on the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro, passing the cataracts twice. In studying the manners of animals, it is a great advantage to observe them during several months in the open air, and not in houses, where they lose all their natural vivacity.
The new canoe intended for us was, like all Indian boats, a trunk of a tree hollowed out partly by the hatchet and partly by fire. It was forty feet long, and three broad. Three persons could not sit in it side by side. These canoes are so crank, and they require, from their instability, a cargo so equally distributed, that when you want to rise for an instant, you must warn the rowers to lean to the opposite side. Without this precaution the water would necessarily enter the side pressed down. It is difficult to form an idea of the inconveniences that are suffered in such wretched vessels.
The missionary from the cataracts made the preparations for our voyage with greater energy than we wished. Lest there might not be a sufficient number of the Maco and Guahibe Indians, who are acquainted with the labyrinth of small channels and cascades of which the Raudales or cataracts are composed, two Indians were, during the night, placed in the cepo — a sort of stocks in which they were made to lie with their legs between two pieces of wood, notched and fastened together by a chain with a padlock. Early in the morning we were awakened by the cries of a young man, mercilessly beaten with a whip of manatee skin. His name was Zerepe, a very intelligent young Indian, who proved highly useful to us in the sequel, but who now refused to accompany us. He was born in the Mission of Atures; but his father was a Maco, and his mother a native of the nation of the Maypures. He had returned to the woods (al monte), and having lived some years with the unsubdued Indians, he had thus acquired the knowledge of several languages, and the missionary employed him as an interpreter. We obtained with difficulty the pardon of this young man. “Without these acts of severity,” we were told, “you would want for everything. The Indians of the Raudales and the Upper Orinoco are a stronger and more laborious race than the inhabitants of the Lower Orinoco. They know that they are much sought after at Angostura. If left to their own will, they would all go down the river to sell their productions, and live in full liberty among the whites. The Missions would be totally deserted.”
These reasons, I confess, appeared to me more specious than sound. Man, in order to enjoy the advantages of a social state, must no doubt sacrifice a part of his natural rights, and his original independence; but, if the sacrifice imposed on him be not compensated by the benefits of civilization, the savage, wise in his simplicity, retains the wish of returning to the forests that gave him birth. It is because the Indian of the woods is treated like a person in a state of villanage in the greater part of the Missions, because he enjoys not the fruit of his labours, that the Christian establishments on the Orinoco remain deserts. A government founded on the ruins of the liberty of the natives extinguishes the intellectual faculties, or stops their progress.
To say that the savage, like the child, can be governed only by force, is merely to establish false analogies. The Indians of the Orinoco have something infantine in the expression of their joy, and the quick succession of their emotions, but they are not great children; they are as little so as the poor labourers in the east of Europe, whom the barbarism of our feudal institutions has held in the rudest state. To consider the employment of force as the first and sole means of the civilization of the savage, is a principle as far from being true in the education of nations as in the education of youth. Whatever may be the state of weakness or degradation in our species, no faculty is entirely annihilated. The human understanding exhibits only different degrees of strength and development. The savage, like the child, compares the present with the past; he directs his actions, not according to blind instinct, but motives of interest. Reason can everywhere enlighten reason; and its progress will be retarded in proportion as the men who are called upon to bring up youth, or govern nations, substitute constraint and force for that moral influence which can alone unfold the rising faculties, calm the irritated passions, and give stability to social order.
We could not set sail before ten on the morning of the 10th. To gain something in breadth in our new canoe, a sort of lattice-work had been constructed on the stern with branches of trees, that extended on each side beyond the gunwale. Unfortunately, the toldo or roof of leaves, that covered this lattice-work, was so low that we were obliged to lie down, without seeing anything, or, if seated, to sit nearly double. The necessity of carrying the canoe across the rapids, and even from one river to another; and the fear of giving too much hold to the wind, by making the toldo higher, render this construction necessary for vessels that go up towards the Rio Negro. The toldo was intended to cover four persons, lying on the deck or lattice-work of brush-wood; but our legs reached far beyond it, and when it rained half our bodies were wet. Our couches consisted of ox-hides or tiger-skins, spread upon branches of trees, which were painfully felt through so thin a covering. The fore part of the boat was filled with Indian rowers, furnished with paddles, three feet long, in the form of spoons. They were all naked, seated two by two, and they kept time in rowing with a surprising uniformity, singing songs of a sad and monotonous character. The small cages containing our birds and our monkeys, the number of which augmented as we advanced, were hung some to the toldo and others to the bow of the boat. This was our travelling menagerie. Notwithstanding the frequent losses occasioned by accidents, and above all by the fatal effects of exposure to the sun, we had fourteen of these little animals alive at our return from the Cassiquiare. Naturalists, who wish to collect and bring living animals to Europe, might cause boats to be constructed expressly for this purpose at Angostura, or at Grand Para, the two capitals situated on the banks of the Orinoco and the Amazon, the fore-deck of which boats might be fitted up with two rows of cages sheltered from the rays of the sun. Every night, when we established our watch, our collection of animals and our instruments occupied the centre; around these were placed first our hammocks, then the hammocks of the Indians; and on the outside were the fires which are thought indispensable against the attacks of the jaguar. About sunrise the monkeys in our cages answered the cries of the monkeys of the forest. These communications between animals of the same species sympathizing with one another, though unseen, one party enjoying that liberty which the other regrets, have something melancholy and affecting.
In a canoe not three feet wide, and so incumbered, there remained no other place for the dried plants, trunks, a sextant, a dipping-needle, and the meteorological instruments, than the space below the lattice-work of branches, on which we were compelled to remain stretched the greater part of the day. If we wished to take the least object out of a trunk, or to use an instrument, it was necessary to row ashore and land. To these inconveniences were joined the torment of the mosquitos which swarmed under the toldo, and the heat radiated from the leaves of the palm-trees, the upper surface of which was continually exposed to the solar rays. We attempted every instant, but always without success, to amend our situation. While one of us hid himself under a sheet to ward off the insects, the other insisted on having green wood lighted beneath the toldo, in the hope of driving away the mosquitos by the smoke. The painful sensations of the eyes, and the increase of heat, already stifling, rendered both these contrivances alike impracticable. With some gaiety of temper, with feelings of mutual good-will, and with a vivid taste for the majestic grandeur of these vast valleys of rivers, travellers easily support evils that become habitual.
Our Indians showed us, on the right bank of the river, the place which was formerly the site of the Mission of Pararuma, founded by the Jesuits about the year 1733. The mortality occasioned by the smallpox among the Salive Indians was the principal cause of the dissolution of the mission. The few inhabitants who survived this cruel epidemic, removed to the village of Carichana. It was at Pararuma, that, according to the testimony of Father Roman, hail was seen to fall during a great storm, about the middle of the last century. This is almost the only instance of it I know in a plain that is nearly on a level with the sea; for hail falls generally, between the tropics, only at three hundred toises of elevation. If it form at an equal height over plains and table-lands, we must suppose that it melts as it falls, in passing through the lowest strata of the atmosphere, the mean temperature of which is from 27.5 to 24° of the centigrade thermometer. I acknowledge it is very difficult to explain, in the present state of meteorology, why it hails at Philadelphia, at Rome, and at Montpelier, during the hottest months, the mean temperature of which attains 25 or 26°; while the same phenomenon is not observed at Cumana, at La Guayra, and in general, in the equatorial plains. In the United States, and in the south of Europe, the heat of the plains (from 40 to 43° latitude) is nearly the same as within the tropics; and according to my researches the decrement of caloric equally varies but little. If then the absence of hail within the torrid zone, at the level of the sea, be produced by the melting of the hailstones in crossing the lower strata of the air, we must suppose that these hail-stones, at the moment of their formation, are larger in the temperate than in the torrid zone. We yet know so little of the conditions under which water congeals in a stormy cloud in our climates, that we cannot judge whether the same conditions be fulfilled on the equator above the plains. The clouds in which we hear the rattling of the hailstones against one another before they fall, and which move horizontally, have always appeared to me of little elevation; and at these small heights we may conceive that extraordinary refrigerations are caused by the dilatation of the ascending air, of which the capacity for caloric augments; by currents of cold air coming from a higher latitude, and above all, according to M. Gay Lussac, by the radiation from the upper surface of the clouds. I shall have occasion to return to this subject when speaking of the different forms under which hail and hoar-frost appear on the Andes, at two thousand and two thousand six hundred toises of height; and when examining the question whether we may consider the stratum of clouds that envelops the mountains as a horizontal continuation of the stratum which we see immediately above us in the plains.
The Orinoco, full of islands, begins to divide itself into several branches, of which the most western remain dry during the months of January and February. The total breadth of the river exceeds two thousand five hundred or three thousand toises. We perceived to the East, opposite the island of Javanavo, the mouth of the Cano Aujacoa. Between this Cano and the Rio Paruasi or Paruati, the country becomes more and more woody. A solitary rock, of extremely picturesque aspect, rises in the midst of a forest of palm-trees, not far from the Orinoco. It is a pillar of granite, a prismatic mass, the bare and steep sides of which attain nearly two hundred feet in height. Its point, which overtops the highest trees of the forest, is terminated by a shelf of rock with a horizontal and smooth surface. Other trees crown this summit, which the missionaries call the peak, or Mogote de Cocuyza. This monument of nature, in its simple grandeur recalls to mind the Cyclopean remains of antiquity. Its strongly-marked outlines, and the group of trees and shrubs by which it is crowned, stand out from the azure of the sky. It seems a forest rising above a forest.
Further on, near the mouth of the Paruasi, the Orinoco narrows. On the east is perceived a mountain with a bare top, projecting like a promontory. It is nearly three hundred feet high, and served as a fortress for the Jesuits. They had constructed there a small fort, with three batteries of cannon, and it was constantly occupied by a military detachment. We saw the cannon dismounted, and half-buried in the sand, at Carichana and at Atures. This fort of the Jesuits has been destroyed since the dissolution of their society; but the place is still called El Castillo. I find it set down, in a manuscript map, lately completed at Caracas by a member of the secular clergy, under the denomination of Trinchera del despotismo monacal.*
[* Intrenchmnent of monachal despotism.]
The garrison which the Jesuits maintained on this rock, was not intended merely to protect the Missions against the incursions of the Caribs: it was employed also in an offensive war, or, as they say here, in the conquest of souls (conquista de almas). The soldiers, excited by the allurement of gain, made military incursions (entradas) into the lands of the independent Indians. They killed all those who dared to make any resistance, burnt their huts, destroyed their plantations, and carried away the women, children, and old men, as prisoners. These prisoners were divided among the Missions of the Meta, the Rio Negro, and the Upper Orinoco. The most distant places were chosen, that they might not be tempted to return to their native country. This violent manner of conquering souls, though prohibited by the Spanish laws, was tolerated by the civil governors, and vaunted by the superiors of the society, as beneficial to religion, and the aggrandizement of the Missions. “The voice of the Gospel is heard only,” said a Jesuit of the Orinoco, very candidly, in the Cartas Edifiantes, “where the Indians have heard also the sound of fire-arms (el eco de la polvora). Mildness is a very slow measure. By chastising the natives, we facilitate their conversion.” These principles, which degrade humanity, were certainly not common to all the members of a society which, in the New World, and wherever education has remained exclusively in the hands of monks, has rendered service to letters and civilization. But the entradas, the spiritual conquests with the assistance of bayonets, was an inherent vice in a system, that tended to the rapid aggrandizement of the Missions. It is pleasing to find that the same system is not followed by the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian monks who now govern a vast portion of South America; and who, by the mildness or harshness of their manners, exert a powerful influence over the fate of so many thousands of natives. Military incursions are almost entirely abolished; and when they do take place, they are disavowed by the superiors of the orders. We will not decide at present, whether this amelioration of the monachal system be owing to want of activity and cold indolence; or whether it must be attributed, as we would wish to believe, to the progress of knowledge, and to feelings more elevated, and more conformable to the true spirit of Christianity.
Beyond the mouth of the Rio Paruasi, the Orinoco again narrows. Full of little islands and masses of granite rock, it presents rapids, or small cascades (remolinos), which at first sight may alarm the traveller by the continual eddies of the water, but which at no season of the year are dangerous for boats. A range of shoals, that crosses almost the whole river, bears the name of the Raudal de Marimara. We passed it without difficulty by a narrow channel, in which the water seems to boil up as it issues out impetuously* below the Piedra de Marimara, a compact mass of granite eighty feet high, and three hundred feet in circumference, without fissures, or any trace of stratification. The river penetrates far into the land, and forms spacious bays in the rocks. One of these bays, inclosed between two promontories destitute of vegetation, is called the Port of Carichana.* The spot has a very wild aspect. In the evening the rocky coasts project their vast shadows over the surface of the river. The waters appear black from reflecting the image of these granitic masses, which, in the colour of their external surface, sometimes resemble coal, and sometimes lead-ore. We passed the night in the small village of Carichana, where we were received at the priest’s house, or convento. It was nearly a fortnight since we had slept under a roof.
[* These places are called chorreros in the Spanish colonies.]
[* Piedra y puerto de Carichana.]
To avoid the effects of the inundations, often so fatal to health, the Mission of Carichana has been established at three quarters of a league from the river. The Indians in this Mission are of the nation of the Salives, and they have a disagreeable and nasal pronunciation. Their language, of which the Jesuit Anisson has composed a grammar still in manuscript, is, with the Caribbean, the Tamanac, the Maypure, the Ottomac, the Guahive, and the Jaruro, one of the mother-tongues most general on the Orinoco. Father Gili thinks that the Ature, the Piraoa, and the Quaqua or Mapoye, are only dialects of the Salive. My journey was much too rapid to enable me to judge of the accuracy of this opinion; but we shall soon see that, in the village of Ature, celebrated on account of its situation near the great cataracts, neither the Salive nor the Ature is now spoken, but the language of the Maypures. In the Salive of Carichana, man is called cocco; woman, gnacu; water, cagua; fire, eyussa; the earth, seke; the sky, mumeseke (earth on high); the jaguar, impii; the crocodile, cuipoo; maize, giomu; the plantain, paratuna; cassava, peibe. I may here mention one of those descriptive compounds that seem to characterise the infancy of language, though they are retained in some very perfect idioms.* (See volume 1 chapter 1.9.) Thus, as in the Biscayan, thunder is called the noise of the cloud (odotsa); the sun bears the name, in the Salive dialect, of mume-seke-cocco, the man (cocco) of the earth (seke) above (mume).
The most ancient abode of the Salive nation appears to have been on the western banks of the Orinoco, between the Rio Vichada* and the Guaviare, and also between the Meta and the Rio Paute. Salives are now found not only at Carichana, but in the Missions of the province of Casanre, at Cabapuna, Guanapalo, Cabiuna, and Macuco. They are a social, mild, almost timid people; and more easy, I will not say to civilize, but to subdue, than the other tribes on the Orinoco. To escape from the dominion of the Caribs, the Salives willingly joined the first Missions of the Jesuits. Accordingly these fathers everywhere in their writings praise the docility and intelligence of that people. The Salives have a great taste for music: in the most remote times they had trumpets of baked earth, four or five feet long, with several large globular cavities communicating with one another by narrow pipes. These trumpets send forth most dismal sounds. The Jesuits have cultivated with success the natural taste of the Salives for instrumental music; and even since the destruction of the society, the missionaries of Rio Meta have continued at San Miguel de Macuco a fine church choir, and musical instruction for the Indian youth. Very lately a traveller was surprised to see the natives playing on the violin, the violoncello, the triangle, the guitar, and the flute.
[* The Salive mission, on the Rio Vichada, was destroyed by the Caribs.]
We found among these Salive Indians, at Carichana, a white woman, the sister of a Jesuit of New Grenada. It is difficult to define the satisfaction that is felt when, in the midst of nations of whose language we are ignorant, we meet with a being with whom we can converse without an interpreter. Every mission has at least two interpreters (lenguarazes). They are Indians, a little less stupid than the rest, through whose medium the missionaries of the Orinoco, who now very rarely give themselves the trouble of studying the idioms of the country, communicate with the neophytes. These interpreters attended us in all our herborizations; but they rather understand than speak Castilian. With their indolent indifference, they answer us by chance, but always with an officious smile, “Yes, Father; no, Father,” to every question addressed to them.
The vexation that arises from such a style of conversation continued for months may easily be conceived, when you wish to be enlightened upon objects in which you take the most lively interest. We were often forced to employ several interpreters at a time, and several successive translators, in order to communicate with the natives.*
[* To form a just idea of the perplexity of these communications by interpreters, we may recollect that, in the expedition of Lewis and Clarke to the river Columbia, in order to converse with the Chopunnish Indians, Captain Lewis addressed one of his men in English; that man translated the question into French to Chaboneau; Chaboneau translated it to his Indian wife in Minnetaree; the woman translated it into Shoshonee to a prisoner; and the prisoner translated it into Chopunnish. It may be feared that the sense of the question was a little altered by these successive translations.]
“After leaving my Mission,” said the good monk of Uruana, “you will travel like mutes.” This prediction was nearly accomplished; and, not to lose the advantage we might derive from intercourse even with the rudest Indians, we sometimes preferred the language of signs. When a native perceives that you will not employ an interpreter; when you interrogate him directly, showing him the objects; he rouses himself from his habitual apathy, and manifests an extraordinary capacity to make himself comprehended. He varies his signs, pronounces his words slowly, and repeats them without being desired. The consequence conferred upon him, in suffering yourself to be instructed by him, flatters his self-love. This facility in making himself comprehended is particularly remarkable in the independent Indian. It cannot be doubted that direct intercourse with the natives is more instructive and more certain than the communication by interpreters, provided the questions be simplified, and repeated to several individuals under different forms. The variety of idioms spoken on the banks of the Meta, the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Rio Negro, is so prodigious, that a traveller, however great may be his talent for languages, can never hope to learn enough to make himself understood along the navigable rivers, from Angostura to the small fort of San Carlos del Rio Negro. In Peru and Quito it is sufficient to know the Quichua, or the Inca language; in Chile, the Araucan; and in Paraguay, the Guarany; in order to be understood by most of the population. But it is different in the Missions of Spanish Guiana, where nations of various races are mingled in the village. It is not even sufficient to have learned the Caribee or Carina, the Guamo, the Guahive, the Jaruro, the Ottomac, the Maypure, the Salive, the Marivitan, the Maquiritare, and the Guaica, ten dialects, of which there exist only imperfect grammars, and which have less affinity with each other than the Greek, German, and Persian languages.
The environs of the Mission of Carichana appeared to us to be delightful. The little village is situated in one of those plains covered with grass that separate all the links of the granitic mountains, from Encaramada to beyond the Cataracts of Maypures. The line of the forests is seen only in the distance. The horizon is everywhere bounded by mountains, partly wooded and of a dark tint, partly bare, with rocky summits gilded by the beams of the setting sun. What gives a peculiar character to the scenery of this country are banks of rock (laxas) nearly destitute of vegetation, and often more than eight hundred feet in circumference, yet scarcely rising a few inches above the surrounding savannahs. They now make a part of the plain. We ask ourselves with surprise, whether some extraordinary revolutions may have carried away the earth and plants; or whether the granite nucleus of our planet shows itself bare, because the germs of life are not yet developed on all its points. The same phenomenon seems to be found also in the desert of Shamo, which separates Mongolia from China. Those banks of solitary rock in the desert are called tsy. I think they would be real table-lands, if the surrounding plains were stripped of the sand and mould that cover them, and which the waters have accumulated in the lowest places. On these stony flats of Carichana we observed with interest the rising vegetation in the different degrees of its development. We there found lichens cleaving the rock, and collected in crusts more or less thick; little portions of sand nourishing succulent plants; and lastly layers of black mould deposited in the hollows, formed from the decay of roots and leaves, and shaded by tufts of evergreen shrubs.
At the distance of two or three leagues from the Mission, we find, in these plains intersected by granitic hills, a vegetation no less rich than varied. On comparing the site of Carichana with that of all the villages above the Great Cataracts, we are surprised at the facility with which we traverse the country, without following the banks of the rivers, or being stopped by the thickness of the forests. M. Bonpland made several excursions on horseback, which furnished him with a rich harvest of plants. I shall mention only the paraguatan, a magnificent species of the macrocnemum, the bark of which yields a red dye;* the guaricamo, with a poisonous root;* the Jacaranda obtusifolia; and the serrape, or jape* of the Salive Indians, which is the Coumarouna of Aublet, so celebrated throughout Terra Firma for its aromatic fruit. This fruit, which at Caracas is placed among linen, as in Europe it is in snuff, under the name of tonca, or Tonquin bean, is regarded as poisonous. It is a false notion, very general in the province of Cumana, that the excellent liqueur fabricated at Martinique owes its peculiar flavour to the jape. In the Missions it is called simaruba; a name that may occasion serious mistakes, the true simaruba being a febrifuge species of the Quassia genus, found in Spanish Guiana only in the valley of Rio Caura, where the Paudacot Indians give it the name of achecchari.
[* Macrocnemum tinctorium.]
[* Ityania coccidea.]
[* Dipterix odorata, Willd. or Baryosma tongo of Gaertner. The jape furnishes Carichana with excellent timber.]
I found the dip of the magnetic needle, in the great square at Carichana, 33.7° (new division). The intensity of the magnetic action was expressed by two hundred and twenty-seven oscillations in ten minutes of time; an increase of force that would seem to indicate some local attraction. Yet the blocks of the granite, blackened by the waters of the Orinoco, have no perceptible action upon the needle.
The river had risen several inches during the day on the 10th of April; this phenomenon surprised the natives so much the more, as the first swellings are almost imperceptible, and are usually followed in the month of April by a fall for some days. The Orinoco was already three feet higher than the level of the lowest waters. The natives showed us on a granite wall the traces of the great rise of the waters of late years. We found them to be forty-two feet high, which is double the mean rise of the Nile. But this measure was taken in a place where the bed of the Orinoco is singularly hemmed in by rocks, and I could only notice the marks shown me by the natives. It may easily be conceived that the effect and the height of the increase differs according to the profile of the river, the nature of the banks more or less elevated, the number of rivers flowing in that collect the pluvial waters, and the length of ground passed over. It is an unquestionable fact that at Carichana, at San Borja, at Atures, and at Maypures, wherever the river has forced its way through the mountains, you see at a hundred, sometimes at a hundred and thirty feet, above the highest present swell of the river, black bands and erosions, that indicate the ancient levels of the waters. Is then this river, which appears to us so grand and so majestic, only the feeble remains of those immense currents of fresh water which heretofore traversed the country at the east of the Andes, like arms of inland seas? What must have been the state of those low countries of Guiana that now undergo the effects of annual inundations? What immense numbers of crocodiles, manatees, and boas must have inhabited these vast spaces of land, converted alternately into marshes of stagnant water, and into barren and fissured plains! The more peaceful world which we inhabit has then succeeded to a world of tumult. The bones of mastodons and American elephants are found dispersed on the table-lands of the Andes. The megatherium inhabited the plains of Uruguay. On digging deep into the ground, in high valleys, where neither palm-trees nor arborescent ferns can grow, strata of coal are discovered, that still show vestiges of gigantic monocotyledonous plants.
There was a remote period then, in which the classes of plants were otherwise distributed, when the animals were larger, and the rivers broader and of greater depth. There end those records of nature, that it is in our power to consult. We are ignorant whether the human race, which at the time of the discovery of America scarcely formed a few feeble tribes on the east of the Cordilleras, had already descended into the plains; or whether the ancient tradition of the great waters, which is found among the nations of the Orinoco, the Erevato, and the Caura, belong to other climates, whence it has been propagated to this part of the New Continent.
On the 11th of April, we left Carichana at two in the afternoon, and found the course of the river more and more encumbered by blocks of granite rocks. We passed on the west the Cano Orupe, and then the great rock known by the name of Piedra del Tigre. The river is there so deep, that no bottom can be found with a line of twenty-two fathoms. Towards evening the weather became cloudy and gloomy. The proximity of the storm was marked by squalls alternating with dead calms. The rain was violent, and the roof of foliage, under which we lay, afforded but little shelter. Happily these showers drove away the mosquitos, at least for some time. We found ourselves before the cataract of Cariven, and the impulse of the waters was so strong, that we had great difficulty in gaining the land. We were continually driven back to the middle of the current. At length two Salive Indians, excellent swimmers, leaped into the water, and having drawn the boat to shore by means of a rope, made it fast to the Piedra de Carichana Vieja, a shelf of bare rock, on which we passed the night. The thunder continued to roll during a part of the night; the swell of the river became considerable; and we were several times afraid that our frail bark would be driven from the shore by the impetuosity of the waves.
The granitic rock on which we lay is one of those, where travellers on the Orinoco have heard from time to time, towards sunrise, subterraneous sounds, resembling those of the organ. The missionaries call these stones laxas de musica. “It is witchcraft (cosa de bruxas),” said our young Indian pilot, who could speak Spanish. We never ourselves heard these mysterious sounds, either at Carichana Vieja, or in the Upper Orinoco; but from information given us by witnesses worthy of belief, the existence of a phenomenon that seems to depend on a certain state of the atmosphere, cannot be denied. The shelves of rock are full of very narrow and deep crevices. They are heated during the day to 48 or 50°. I several times found their temperature at the surface, during the night, at 39°, the surrounding atmosphere being at 28°. It may easily be conceived, that the difference of temperature between the subterranean and the external air attains its maximum about sunrise, or at that moment which is at the same time farthest from the period of the maximum of the heat of the preceding day. May not these organ-like sounds, which are heard when a person lays his ear in contact with the stone, be the effect of a current of air that issues out through the crevices? Does not the impulse of the air against the elastic spangles of mica that intercept the crevices, contribute to modify the sounds? May we not admit that the ancient inhabitants of Egypt, in passing incessantly up and down the Nile, had made the same observation on some rock of the Thebaid; and that the music of the rocks there led to the jugglery of the priests in the statue of Memnon? Perhaps, when, “the rosy-fingered Aurora rendered her son, the glorious Memnon, vocal,”* the voice was that of a man hidden beneath the pedestal of the statue; but the observation of the natives of the Orinoco, which we relate, seems to explain in a natural manner what gave rise to the Egyptian belief of a stone that poured forth sounds at sunrise.
[* These are the words of an inscription, which attests that sounds were heard on the 13th of the month Pachon, in the tenth year of the reign of Antoninus. See Monuments de l’Egypte Ancienne.]
Almost at the same period at which I communicated these conjectures to some of the learned of Europe, three French travellers, MM. Jomard, Jollois, and Devilliers, were led to analogous ideas. They heard, at sunrise, in a monument of granite, at the centre of the spot on which stands the palace of Karnak, a noise resembling that of a string breaking. Now this comparison is precisely that which the ancients employed in speaking of the voice of Memnon. The French travellers thought, like me, that the passage of rarefied air through the fissures of a sonorous stone might have suggested to the Egyptian priests the invention of the juggleries of the Memnomium.
We left the rock at four in the morning. The missionary had told us that we should have great difficulty in passing the rapids and the mouth of the Meta. The Indians rowed twelve hours and a half without intermission, and during all that time, they took no other nourishment than cassava and plantains. When we consider the difficulty of overcoming the force of the current, and of passing the cataracts; when we reflect on the constant employment of the muscular powers during a navigation of two months; we are equally surprised at the constitutional vigour and the abstinence of the Indians of the Orinoco and the Amazon. Amylaceous and saccharine substances, sometimes fish and the fat of turtles’ eggs, supply the place of food drawn from the first two classes of the animal kingdom, those of quadrupeds and birds.
We found the bed of the river, to the length of six hundred toises, full of granite rocks. Here is what is called the Raudal de Cariven. We passed through channels that were not five feet broad. Our canoe was sometimes jammed between two blocks of granite. We sought to avoid these passages, into which the waters rushed with a fearful noise; but there is really little danger, in a canoe steered by a good Indian pilot. When the current is too violent to be resisted the rowers leap into the water, and fasten a rope to the point of a rock, to warp the boat along. This manoeuvre is very tedious; and we sometimes availed ourselves of it, to climb the rocks among which we were entangled. They are of all dimensions, rounded, very black, glossy like lead, and destitute of vegetation. It is an extraordinary phenomenon to see the waters of one of the largest rivers on the globe in some sort disappear. We perceived, even far from the shore, those immense blocks of granite, rising from the ground, and leaning one against another. The intervening channels in the rapids are more than twenty-five fathoms deep; and are the more difficult to be observed, as the rocks are often narrow toward their bases, and form vaults suspended over the surface of the river. We perceived no crocodiles in the raudal; these animals seem to shun the noise of cataracts.
From Cabruta to the mouth of the Rio Sinaruco, a distance of nearly two degrees of latitude, the left bank of the Orinoco is entirely uninhabited; but to the west of the Raudal de Cariven an enterprising man, Don Felix Relinchon, had assembled some Jaruro and Ottomac Indians in a small village. It is an attempt at civilization, on which the monks have had no direct influence. It is superfluous to add, that Don Felix lives at open war with the missionaries on the right bank of the Orinoco.
Proceeding up the river we arrived, at nine in the morning, before the mouth of the Meta, opposite the spot where the Mission of Santa Teresa, founded by the Jesuits, was heretofore situated.
Next to the Guaviare, the Meta is the most considerable river that flows into the Orinoco. It may be compared to the Danube, not for the length of its course, but for the volume of its waters. Its mean depth is thirty-six feet, and it sometimes reaches eighty-four. The union of these two rivers presents a very impressive spectacle. Lonely rocks rise on the eastern bank. Blocks of granite, piled upon one another, appear from afar like castles in ruins. Vast sandy shores keep the skirting of the forest at a distance from the river; but we discover amid them, in the horizon, solitary palm-trees, backed by the sky, and crowning the tops of the mountains. We passed two hours on a large rock, standing in the middle of the Orinoco, and called the Piedra de la Paciencia, or the Stone of Patience, because the canoes, in going up, are sometimes detained there two days, to extricate themselves from the whirlpool caused by this rock.
The Rio Meta, which traverses the vast plains of Casanare, and which is navigable as far as the foot of the Andes of New Grenada, will one day be of great political importance to the inhabitants of Guiana and Venezuela. From the Golfo Triste and the Boca del Drago a small fleet may go up the Orinoco and the Meta to within fifteen or twenty leagues of Santa Fe de Bogota. The flour of New Grenada may be conveyed the same way. The Meta is like a canal of communication between countries placed in the same latitude, but differing in their productions as much as France and Senegal. The Meta has its source in the union of two rivers which descend from the paramos of Chingasa and Suma Paz. The first is the Rio Negro, which, lower down, receives the Pachaquiaro; the second is the Rio de Aguas Blancas, or Umadea. The junction takes place near the port of Marayal. It is only eight or ten leagues from the Passo de la Cabulla, where you quit the Rio Negro, to the capital of Santa Fe. From the villages of Xiramena and Cabullaro to those of Guanapalo and Santa Rosalia de Cabapuna, a distance of sixty leagues, the banks of the Meta are more inhabited than those of the Orinoco. We find in this space fourteen Christian settlements, in part very populous; but from the mouths of the rivers Pauto and Casanare, for a space of more than fifty leagues, the Meta is infested by the Guahibos, a race of savages.*
[* I find the word written Guajibos, Guahivos, and Guagivos. They call themselves Gua-iva.]
The navigation of this river was much more active in the time of the Jesuits, and particularly during the expedition of Iturriaga, in 1756, than it is at present. Missionaries of the same order then governed the banks of the Meta and of the Orinoco. The villages of Macuco, Zurimena, and Casimena, were founded by the Jesuits, as well as those of Uruana, Encaramada, and Carichana.
These Fathers had conceived the project of forming a series of Missions from the junction of the Casanare with the Meta to that of the Meta with the Orinoco. A narrow zone of cultivated land would have crossed the vast steppes that separate the forests of Guiana from the Andes of New Grenada.
At the period of the harvest of turtles’ eggs, not only the flour of Santa Fe descended the river, but the salt of Chita,* the cotton cloth of San Gil, and the printed counterpanes of Socorro. To give some security to the little traders who devoted themselves to this inland commerce, attacks were made from time to time from the castillo or fort of Carichana, on the Guahibos.
[* East of Labranza Grande, and the north-west of Pore, now the capital of the province of Casanare.]
To keep these Guahibos in awe, the Capuchin missionaries, who succeeded the Jesuits in the government of the Missions of the Orinoco, formed the project of founding a city at the mouth of the Meta, under the name of the Villa de San Carlos. Indolence, and the dread of tertian fevers, have prevented the execution of this project; and all that has ever existed of the city of San Carlos, is a coat of arms painted on fine parchment, with an enormous cross erected on the bank of the Meta. The Guahibos, who, it is said, are some thousands in number, have become so insolent, that, at the time of our passage by Carichana, they sent word to the missionary that they would come on rafts, and burn his village. These rafts (valzas), which we had an opportunity of seeing, are scarcely three feet broad, and twelve feet long. They carry only two or three Indians; but fifteen or sixteen of these rafts are fastened to each other with the stems of the paullinia, the dolichos, and other creeping plants. It is difficult to conceive how these small craft remain tied together in passing the rapids. Many fugitives from the villages of the Casanare and the Apure have joined the Guahibos, and taught them the practice of eating beef, and preparing hides. The farms of San Vicente, Rubio, and San Antonio, have lost great numbers of their horned cattle by the incursions of the Indians, who also prevent travellers, as far as the junction of the Casanare, from sleeping on the shore in going up the Meta. It often happens, while the waters are low, that the traders of New Grenada, some of whom still visit the encampment of Pararuma, are killed by the poisoned arrows of the Guahibos.
From the mouth of the Meta, the Orinoco appeared to us to be freer of shoals and rocks. We navigated in a channel five hundred toises broad. The Indians remained rowing in the boat, without towing or pushing it forward with their arms, and wearying us with their wild cries. We passed the Canos of Uita and Endava on the west. It was night when we reached the Raudal de Tabaje. The Indians would not hazard passing the cataract; and we slept on a very incommodious spot, on the shelf of a rock, with a slope of more than eighteen degrees, and of which the crevices sheltered a swarm of bats. We heard the cries of the jaguar very near us during the whole night. They were answered by our great dog in lengthened howlings. I waited the appearance of the stars in vain: the sky was exceedingly black; and the hoarse sounds of the cascades of the Orinoco mingled with the rolling of the distant thunder.
Early in the morning of the 13th April we passed the rapids of Tabaje, and again disembarked. Father Zea, who accompanied us, desired to perform mass in the new Mission of San Borja, established two years before. We there found six houses inhabited by uncatechised Guahibos. They differ in nothing from the wild Indians. Their eyes, which are large and black, have more vivacity than those of the Indians who inhabit the ancient missions. We in vain offered them brandy; they would not even taste it. The faces of all the young girls were marked with round black spots; like the patches by which the ladies of Europe formerly imagined they set off the whiteness of their skins. The bodies of the Guahibos were not painted. Several of them had beards, of which they seemed proud; and, taking us by the chin, showed us by signs, that they were made like us. Their shape was in general slender. I was again struck, as I had been among the Salives and the Macos, with the little uniformity of features to be found among the Indians of the Orinoco. Their look is sad and gloomy; but neither stern nor ferocious. Without having any notion of the practices of the Christian religion, they behaved with the utmost decency at church. The Indians love to exhibit themselves; and will submit temporarily to any restraint or subjection, provided they are sure of drawing attention. At the moment of the consecration, they made signs to one another, to indicate beforehand that the priest was going to raise the chalice to his lips. With the exception of this gesture, they remained motionless and in imperturbable apathy.
The interest with which we examined these poor savages became perhaps the cause of the destruction of the mission. Some among them, who preferred a wandering life to the labours of agriculture, persuaded the rest to return to the plains of the Meta. They told them, that the white men would come back to San Borja, to take them away in the boats, and sell them as poitos, or slaves, at Angostura. The Guahibos awaited the news of our return from the Rio Negro by the Cassiquiare; and when they heard that we were arrived at the first great cataract, that of Atures, they all deserted, and fled to the savannahs that border the Orinoco on the west. The Jesuit Fathers had already formed a mission on this spot, and bearing the same name. No tribe is more difficult to fix to the soil than the Guahibos. They would rather feed on stale fish, scolopendras, and worms, than cultivate a little spot of ground. The other Indians say, that a Guahibo eats everything that exists, both on and under the ground.
In ascending the Orinoco more to the south, the heat, far from increasing, became more bearable. The air in the day was at 26 or 27.5°; and at night, at 23.7. The water of the Orinoco retained its habitual temperature of 27.7°. The torment of the mosquitos augmented severely, notwithstanding the decrease of heat. We never suffered so much from them as at San Borja. We could neither speak nor uncover our faces without having our mouths and noses filled with insects. We were surprised not to find the thermometer at 35 or 36°; the extreme irritation of the skin made us believe that the air was scorching. We passed the night on the beach of Guaripo. The fear of the little caribe fish prevented us from bathing. The crocodiles we had met with this day were all of an extraordinary size, from twenty-two to twenty-four feet.
Our sufferings from the zancudos made us depart at five o’clock on the morning of the 14th. There are fewer insects in the strata of air lying immediately on the river, than near the edge of the forests. We stopped to breakfast at the island of Guachaco, or Vachaco, where the granite is immediately covered by a formation of sandstone, or conglomerate. This sandstone contains fragments of quartz, and even of feldspar, cemented by indurated clay. It exhibits little veins of brown iron-ore, which separate in laminae, or plates, of one line in thickness. We had already found these plates on the shores between Encaramada and Baraguan, where the missionaries had sometimes taken them for an ore of gold, and sometimes for tin. It is probable, that this secondary formation occupied formerly a larger space. Having passed the mouth of the Rio Parueni, beyond which the Maco Indians dwell, we spent the night on the island of Panumana. I could with difficulty take the altitudes of Canopus, in order to fix the longitude of the point, near which the river suddenly turns towards the west. The island of Panumana is rich in plants. We there again found those shelves of bare rock, those tufts of melastomas, those thickets of small shrubs, the blended scenery of which had charmed us in the plains of Carichana. The mountains of the Great Cataracts bounded the horizon towards the south-east. In proportion as we advanced, the shores of the Orinoco exhibited a more imposing and picturesque aspect.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56