Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, by Alexander von Humboldt

Chapter 21.

Raudal of Garcita. Maypures. Cataracts of Quituna. Mouth of the Vichada and the Zama. Rock of Aricagua. Siquita.

We directed our course to the Puerto de arriba, above the cataract of Atures, opposite the mouth of the Rio Cataniapo, where our boat was to be ready for us. In the narrow path that leads to the embarcadero we beheld for the last time the peak of Uniana. It appeared like a cloud rising above the horizon of the plains. The Guahibos wander at the foot of the mountains, and extend their course as far as the banks of the Vichada. We were shown at a distance, on the right of the river, the rocks that surround the cavern of Ataruipe; but we had not time to visit that cemetery of the destroyed tribe of the Atures. Father Zea had repeatedly described to us this extraordinary cavern, the skeletons painted with anoto, the large vases of baked earth, in which the bones of separate families appear to be collected; and many other curious objects, which we proposed to examine on our return from the Rio Negro. “You will scarcely believe,” said the missionaries, “that these skeletons, these painted vases, things which we believed were unknown to the rest of the world, have brought trouble upon me and my neighbour, the missionary of Carichana. You have seen the misery in which I live in the raudales. Though devoured by mosquitos, and often in want of plantains and cassava, yet I have found envious people even in this country! A white man, who inhabits the pastures between the Meta and the Apure, denounced me recently in the Audencia of Caracas, as concealing a treasure I had discovered, jointly with the missionary of Carichana, amid the tombs of the Indians. It is asserted that the Jesuits of Santa Fe de Bogota were apprised beforehand of the destruction of their company; and that, in order to save the riches they possessed in money and precious vases, they sent them, either by the Rio Meta or the Vichada, to the Orinoco, with orders to have them hidden in the islets amid the raudales. These treasures I am supposed to have appropriated unknown to my superiors. The Audencia of Caracas brought a complaint before the governor of Guiana, and we were ordered to appear in person. We uselessly performed a journey of one hundred and fifty leagues; and, although we declared that we had found in the cavern only human bones, and dried bats and polecats, commissioners were gravely nominated to come hither and search on the spot for the supposed treasures of the Jesuits. We shall wait long for these commissioners. When they have gone up the Orinoco as far as San Borja, the fear of the mosquitos will prevent them from going farther. The cloud of flies which envelopes us in the raudales is a good defence.”

The account given by the missionary was entirely conformable to what we afterwards learned at Angostura from the governor himself. Fortuitous circumstances had given rise to the strangest suspicions. In the caverns where the mummies and skeletons of the nation of the Atures are found, even in the midst of the cataracts, and in the most inaccessible islets, the Indians long ago discovered boxes bound with iron, containing various European tools, remnants of clothes, rosaries, and glass trinkets. These objects are thought to have belonged to Portuguese traders of the Rio Negro and Grand Para, who, before the establishment of the Jesuits on the banks of the Orinoco, went up to Atures by the portages and interior communications of rivers, to trade with the natives. It is supposed that these men sunk beneath the epidemic maladies so common in the raudales, and that their chests became the property of the Indians, the wealthiest of whom were usually buried with all they possessed most valuable during their lives. From these very uncertain traditions the tale of hidden treasures has been fabricated. As in the Andes of Quito every ruined building, not excepting the foundations of the pyramids erected by the French savans for the measurement of the meridian, is regarded as Inga pilca,* that is, the work of the Inca; so on the Orinoco every hidden treasure can belong only to the Jesuits, an order which, no doubt, governed the missions better than the Capuchins and the monks of the Observance, but whose riches and success in the civilization of the Indians have been much exaggerated. When the Jesuits of Santa Fe were arrested, those heaps of piastres, those emeralds of Muzo, those bars of gold of Choco, which the enemies of the company supposed they possessed, were not found in their dwellings. I can cite a respectable testimony, which proves incontestibly, that the viceroy of New Granada had not warned the Jesuits of Santa Fe of the danger with which they were menaced. Don Vicente Orosco, an engineer officer in the Spanish army, related to me that, being arrived at Angostura, with Don Manuel Centurion, to arrest the missionaries of Carichana, he met an Indian boat that was going down the Rio Meta. The boat being manned with Indians who could speak none of the tongues of the country, gave rise to suspicions. After useless researches, a bottle was at length discovered, containing a letter, in which the Superior of the company residing at Santa Fe informed the missionaries of the Orinoco of the persecutions to which the Jesuits were exposed in New Grenada. This letter recommended no measure of precaution; it was short, without ambiguity, and respectful towards the government, whose orders were executed with useless and unreasonable severity.

[* Pilca (properly in Quichua pirca), wall of the Inca.]

Eight Indians of Atures had conducted our boat through the raudales, and seemed well satisfied with the slight recompence we gave them. They gain little by this employment; and in order to give a just idea of the poverty and want of commerce in the missions of the Orinoco, I shall observe that during three years, with the exception of the boats sent annually to Angostura by the commander of San Carlos de Rio Negro, to fetch the pay of the soldiers, the missionary had seen but five canoes of the Upper Orinoco pass the cataract, which were bound for the harvest of turtles’ eggs, and eight boats laden with merchandize.

About eleven on the morning of the 17th of April we reached our boat. Father Zea caused to be embarked, with our instruments, the small store of provisions he had been able to procure for the voyage, on which he was to accompany us; these provisions consisted of a few bunches of plantains, some cassava, and fowls. Leaving the embarcadero, we immediately passed the mouth of the Cataniapo, a small river, the banks of which are inhabited by the Macos, or Piaroas, who belong to the great family of the Salive nations.

Besides the Piaroas of Cataniapo, who pierce their ears, and wear as ear-ornaments the teeth of caymans and peccaries, three other tribes of Macos are known: one, on the Ventuari, above the Rio Mariata; the second, on the Padamo, north of the mountains of Maraguaca; and the third, near the Guaharibos, towards the sources of the Orinoco, above the Rio Gehette. This last tribe bears the name of Macos–Macos. I collected the following words from a young Maco of the banks of the Cataniapo, whom we met near the embarcadero, and who wore in his ears, instead of a tusk of the peccary, a large wooden cylinder.*

[* This custom is observed among the Cabres, the Maypures, and the Pevas of the Amazon. These last, described by La Condamine, stretch their ears by weights of a considerable size.]

Plantain, Paruru (in Tamanac also, paruru). Cassava, Elente (in Maco, cahig). Maize, Niarne. The sun, Jama (in Salive, mume-seke-cocco). The moon, Jama (in Salive, vexio). Water, Ahia (in Salive, cagua). One, Nianti. Two, Tajus. Three, Percotahuja. Four, Imontegroa.

The young man could not reckon as far as five, which certainly is no proof that the word five does not exist in the Maco tongue. I know not whether this tongue be a dialect of the Salive, as is pretty generally asserted; for idioms derived from one another, sometimes furnish words utterly different for the most common and most important things.* But in discussions on mother-tongues and derivative languages, it is not the sounds, the roots only, that are decisive; but rather the interior structure and grammatical forms. In the American idioms, which are notwithstanding rich, the moon is commonly enough called the sun of night or even the sun of sleep; but the moon and sun very rarely bear the same name, as among the Macos. I know only a few examples in the most northerly part of America, among the Woccons, the Ojibbeways, the Muskogulges, and the Mohawks.* Our missionary asserted that jama, in Maco, indicated at the same time the Supreme Being, and the great orbs of night and day; while many other American tongues, for instance the Tamanac, and the Caribbee, have distinct words to denote God, the Moon, and the Sun. We shall soon see how anxious the missionaries of the Orinoco are not to employ, in their translations of the prayers of the church, the native words which denote the Divinity, the Creator (Amanene), the Great Spirit who animates all nature. They choose rather to Indianize the Spanish word Dios, converting it, according to the differences of pronunciation, and the genius of the different dialects, into Dioso, Tiosu, or Piosu.

[* The great family of the Esthonian (or Tschoudi) languages, and of the Samoiede languages, affords numerous examples of these differences.]

[* Nipia-kisathwa in the Shawanese (the idiom of Canada), from nippi, to sleep, and kisathwa, the sun.]

When we again embarked on the Orinoco, we found the river free from shoals. After a few hours we passed the Raudal of Garcita, the rapids of which are easy of ascent, when the waters are high. To the eastward is seen a small chain of mountains called the chain of Cumadaminari, consisting of gneiss, and not of stratified granite. We were struck with a succession of great holes at more than one hundred and eighty feet above the present level of the Orinoco, yet which, notwithstanding, appear to be the effects of the erosion of the waters. We shall see hereafter, that this phenomenon occurs again nearly at the same height, both in the rocks that border the cataracts of Maypures, and fifty leagues to the east, near the mouth of the Rio Jao. We slept in the open air, on the left bank of the river, below the island of Tomo. The night was beautiful and serene, but the torment of the mosquitos was so great near the ground, that I could not succeed in levelling the artificial horizon; consequently I lost the opportunity of making an observation.

On the 18th we set out at three in the morning, to be more sure of arriving before the close of the day at the cataract known by the name of the Raudal de los Guahibos. We stopped at the mouth of the Rio Tomo. The Indians went on shore, to prepare their food, and take some repose. When we reached the foot of the raudal, it was near five in the afternoon. It was extremely difficult to go up the current against a mass of water, precipitated from a bank of gneiss several feet high. An Indian threw himself into the water, to reach, by swimming, the rock that divides the cataract into two parts. A rope was fastened to the point of this rock, and when the canoe was hauled near enough, our instruments, our dry plants, and the provision we had collected at Atures, were landed in the raudal itself. We remarked with surprise, that the natural damn over which the river is precipitated, presents a dry space of considerable extent; where we stopped to see the boat go up.

The rock of gneiss exhibits circular holes, the largest of which are four feet deep, and eighteen inches wide. These funnels contain quartz pebbles, and appear to have been formed by the friction of masses rolled along by the impulse of the waters. Our situation, in the midst of the cataract, was singular enough, but unattended by the smallest danger. The missionary, who accompanied us, had his fever-fit on him. In order to quench the thirst by which he was tormented, the idea suggested itself to us of preparing a refreshing beverage for him in one of the excavations of the rock. We had taken on board at Atures an Indian basket called a mapire, filled with sugar, limes, and those grenadillas, or fruits of the passion-flower, to which the Spaniards give the name of parchas. As we were absolutely destitute of large vessels for holding and mixing liquids, we poured the water of the river, by means of a calabash, into one of the holes of the rock: to this we added sugar and lime-juice. In a few minutes we had an excellent beverage, which is almost a refinement of luxury, in that wild spot; but our wants rendered us every day more and more ingenious.

After an hour of expectation, we saw the boat arrive above the raudal, and we were soon ready to depart. After quitting the rock, our passage was not exempt from danger. The river is eight hundred toises broad, and must be crossed obliquely, above the cataract, at the point where the waters, impelled by the slope of their bed, rush with extreme violence toward the ledge from which they are precipitated. We were overtaken by a storm, accompanied happily by no wind, but the rain fell in torrents. After rowing for twenty minutes, the pilot declared that, far from gaining upon the current, we were again approaching the raudal. These moments of uncertainty appeared to us very long: the Indians spoke only in whispers, as they do always when they think their situation perilous. They redoubled their efforts, and we arrived at nightfall, without any accident, in the port of Maypures.

Storms within the tropics are as short as they are violent. The lightning had fallen twice near our boat, and had no doubt struck the surface of the water. I mention this phenomenon, because it is pretty generally believed in those countries that the clouds, the surface of which is charged with electricity, are at so great a height that the lightning reaches the ground more rarely than in Europe. The night was extremely dark, and we could not in less than two hours reach the village of Maypures. We were wet to the skin. In proportion as the rain ceased, the zancudos reappeared, with that voracity which tipulary insects always display immediately after a storm. My fellow-travellers were uncertain whether it would be best to stop in the port or proceed on our way on foot, in spite of the darkness of the night. Father Zea was determined to reach his home. He had given directions for the construction of a large house of two stories, which was to be begun by the Indians of the mission. “You will there find,” said he gravely, “the same conveniences as in the open air; I have neither a bench nor a table, but you will not suffer so much from the flies, which are less troublesome in the mission than on the banks of the river.” We followed the counsel if the missionary, who caused torches of copal to be lighted. These torches are tubes made of bark, three inches in diameter, and filled with copal resin. We walked at first over beds of rock, which were bare and slippery, and then we entered a thick grove of palm trees. We were twice obliged to pass a stream on trunks of trees hewn down. The torches had already ceased to give light. Being formed on a strange principle, the woody substance which resembles the wick surrounding the resin, they emit more smoke than light, and are easily extinguished. The Indian pilot, who expressed himself with some facility in Spanish, told us of snakes, water-serpents, and tigers, by which we might be attacked. Such conversations may be expected as matters of course, by persons who travel at night with the natives. By intimidating the European traveller, the Indians imagine they render themselves more necessary, and gain the confidence of the stranger. The rudest inhabitant of the missions fully understands the deceptions which everywhere arise from the relations between men of unequal fortune and civilization. Under the absolute and sometimes vexatious government of the monks, the Indian seeks to ameliorate his condition by those little artifices which are the weapons of physical and intellectual weakness.

Having arrived during the night at San Jose de Maypures we were forcibly struck by the solitude of the place; the Indians were plunged in profound sleep, and nothing was heard but the cries of nocturnal birds, and the distant sound of the cataract. In the calm of the night, amid the deep repose of nature, the monotonous sound of a fall of water has in it something sad and solemn. We remained three days at Maypures, a small village founded by Don Jose Solano at the time of the expedition of the boundaries, the situation of which is more picturesque, it might be said still more admirable, than that of Atures.

The raudal of Maypures, called by the Indians Quituna, is formed, as all cataracts are, by the resistance which the river encounters in its way across a ridge of rocks, or a chain of mountains. The lofty mountains of Cunavami and Calitamini, between the sources of the rivers Cataniapo and Ventuari, stretch toward the west in a chain of granitic hills. From this chain flow three small rivers, which embrace in some sort the cataract of Maypures. There are, on the eastern bank, the Sanariapo, and on the western, the Cameji and the Toparo. Opposite the village of Maypures, the mountains fall back in an arch, and, like a rocky coast, form a gulf open to the south-east. The irruption of the river is effected between the mouths of the Toparo and the Sanariapo, at the western extremity of this majestic amphitheatre.

The waters of the Orinoco now roll at the foot of the eastern chain of the mountains, and have receded from the west, where, in a deep valley, the ancient shore is easily recognized. A savannah, scarcely raised thirty feet above the mean level of the river, extends from this valley as far as the cataracts. There the small church of Maypures has been constructed. It is built of trunks of palm-trees, and is surrounded by seven or eight huts. The dry valley, which runs in a straight line from south to north, from the Cameji to the Toparo, is filled with granitic and solitary mounds, all resembling those found in the shape of islands and shoals in the present bed of the river. I was struck with this analogy of form, on comparing the rocks of Keri and Oco, situated in the deserted bed of the river, west of Maypures, with the islets of Ouivitari and Caminitamini, which rise like old castles amid the cataracts to the east of the mission. The geological aspect of these scenes, the insular form of the elevations farthest from the present shore of the Orinoco, the cavities which the waves appear to have hollowed in the rock Oco, and which are precisely on the same level (twenty-five or thirty toises high) as the excavations perceived opposite to them in the isle of Ouivitari; all these appearances prove that the whole of this bay, now dry, was formerly covered by water. Those waters probably formed a lake, the northern dike preventing their running out: but, when this dike was broken down, the savannah that surrounds the mission appeared at first like a very low island, bounded by two arms of the same river. It may be supposed that the Orinoco continued for some time to fill the ravine, which we shall call the valley of Keri, because it contains the rock of that name; and that the waters retired wholly toward the eastern chain, leaving dry the western arm of the river, only as they gradually diminished. Coloured stripes, which no doubt owe their black tint to the oxides of iron and manganese, seem to justify this conjecture. They are found on all the stones, far from the mission, and indicate the former abode of the waters. In going up the river, all merchandise is discharged at the confluence of the Rio Toparo and the Orinoco. The boats are entrusted to the natives, who have so perfect a knowledge of the raudal, that they have a particular name for every step. They conduct the boats as far as the mouth of the Cameji, where the danger is considered as past.

I will here describe the cataract of Quituna or Maypures as it appeared at the two periods when I examined it, in going down and up the river. It is formed, like that of Mapara or Atures, by an archipelago of islands, which, to the length of three thousand toises, fill the bed of the river, and by rocky dikes, which join the islands together. The most remarkable of these dikes, or natural dams, are Purimarimi, Manimi, and the Leap of the Sardine (Salto de la Sardina). I name them in the order in which I saw them in succession from south to north. The last of these three stages is near nine feet high, and forms by its breadth a magnificent cascade. I must here repeat, however, that the turbulent shock of the precipitated and broken waters depends not so much on the absolute height of each step or dike, as upon the multitude of counter-currents, the grouping of the islands and shoals, that lie at the foot of the raudalitos or partial cascades, and the contraction of the channels, which often do not leave a free navigable passage of twenty or thirty feet. The eastern part of the cataract of Maypures is much more dangerous than the western; and therefore the Indian pilots prefer the left bank of the river to conduct the boats down or up. Unfortunately, in the season of low waters, this bank remains partly dry, and recourse must be had to the process of portage; that is, the boats are obliged to be dragged on cylinders, or round logs.

To command a comprehensive view of these stupendous scenes, the spectator must be stationed on the little mountain of Manimi, a granitic ridge, which rises from the savannah, north of the church of the mission, and is itself only a continuation of the ridges of which the raudalito of Manimi is composed. We often visited this mountain, for we were never weary of gazing on this astonishing spectacle. From the summit of the rock is descried a sheet of foam, extending the length of a whole mile. Enormous masses of stone, black as iron, issue from its bosom. Some are paps grouped in pairs, like basaltic hills; others resemble towers, fortified castles, and ruined buildings. Their gloomy tint contrasts with the silvery splendour of the foam. Every rock, every islet is covered with vigorous trees, collected in clusters. At the foot of those paps, far as the eye can reach, a thick vapour is suspended over the river, and through this whitish fog the tops of the lofty palm-trees shoot up. What name shall we give to these majestic plants? I suppose them to be the vadgiai, a new species of the genus Oreodoxa, the trunk of which is more than eighty feet high. The feathery leaves of this palm-tree have a brilliant lustre, and rise almost straight toward the sky. At every hour of the day the sheet of foam displays different aspects. Sometimes the hilly islands and the palm-trees project their broad shadows; sometimes the rays of the setting sun are refracted in the cloud that hangs over the cataract, and coloured arcs are formed which vanish and appear alternately.

Such is the character of the landscape discovered from the top of the mountain of Manimi, which no traveller has yet described. I do not hesitate to repeat, that neither time, nor the view of the Cordilleras, nor any abode in the temperate valleys of Mexico, has effaced from my mind the powerful impression of the aspect of the cataracts. When I read a description of those places in India that are embellished by running waters and a vigorous vegetation, my imagination retraces a sea of foam and palm-trees, the tops of which rise above a stratum of vapour. The majestic scenes of nature, like the sublime works of poetry and the arts, leave remembrances that are incessantly awakening, and which, through the whole of life, mingle with all our feelings of what is grand and beautiful.

The calm of the atmosphere, and the tumultuous movement of the waters, produce a contrast peculiar to this zone. Here no breath of wind ever agitates the foliage, no cloud veils the splendour of the azure vault of heaven; a great mass of light is diffused in the air, on the earth strewn with plants with glossy leaves, and on the bed of the river, which extends as far as the eye can reach. This appearance surprises the traveller born in the north of Europe. The idea of wild scenery, of a torrent rushing from rock to rock, is linked in his imagination with that of a climate where the noise of the tempest is mingled with the sound of the cataract; and where, in a gloomy and misty day, sweeping clouds seem to descend into the valley, and to rest upon the tops of the pines. The landscape of the tropics in the low regions of the continents has a peculiar physiognomy, something of greatness and repose, which it preserves even where one of the elements is struggling with invincible obstacles. Near the equator, hurricanes and tempests belong to islands only, to deserts destitute of plants, and to those spots where parts of the atmosphere repose upon surfaces from which the radiation of heat is very unequal.

The mountain of Manimi forms the eastern limit of a plain which furnishes for the history of vegetation, that is, for its progressive development in bare and desert places, the same phenomena which we have described above in speaking of the raudal of Atures. During the rainy season, the waters heap vegetable earth upon the granitic rock, the bare shelves of which extend horizontally. These islands of mould, decorated with beautiful and odoriferous plants, resemble the blocks of granite covered with flowers, which the inhabitants of the Alps call gardens or courtils, and which pierce the glaciers of Switzerland.

In a place where we had bathed the day before, at the foot of the rock of Manimi, the Indians killed a serpent seven feet and a half long. The Macos called it a camudu. Its back displayed, upon a yellow ground, transverse bands, partly black, and partly inclining to a brown green: under the belly the bands were blue, and united in rhombic spots. This animal, which is not venomous, is said by the natives to attain more than fifteen feet in length. I thought at first, that the camudu was a boa; but I saw with surprise, that the scales beneath the tail were divided into two rows. It was therefore a viper (coluber); perhaps a python of the New Continent: I say perhaps, for great naturalists appear to admit that all the pythons belong to the Old, and all the boas to the New World. As the boa of Pliny was a serpent of Africa and of the south of Europe, it would have been well if the boas of America had been named pythons, and the pythons of India been called boas. The first notions of an enormous reptile capable of seizing man, and even the great quadrupeds, came to us from India and the coast of Guinea. However indifferent names may be, we can scarcely admit the idea, that the hemisphere in which Virgil described the agonies of Laocoon (a fable which the Greeks of Asia borrowed from much more southern nations) does not possess the boa-constrictor. I will not augment the confusion of zoological nomenclature by proposing new changes, and shall confine myself to observing that at least the missionaries and the latinized Indians of the missions, if not the planters of Guiana, clearly distinguish the traga-venados (real boas, with simple anal plates) from the culebras de agua, or water-snakes, like the camudu (pythons with double anal scales). The traga-venados have no transverse bands on the back, but a chain of rhombic or hexagonal spots. Some species prefer the driest places; others love the water, as the pythons, or culebras de agua.

Advancing towards the west, we find the hills or islets in the deserted branch of the Orinoco crowned with the same palm-trees that rise on the rocks of the cataracts. One of these hills, called Keri, is celebrated in the country on account of a white spot which shines from afar, and in which the natives profess to see the image of the full moon. I could not climb this steep rock, but I believe the white spot to be a large nodule of quartz, formed by the union of several of those veins so common in granites passing into gneiss. Opposite Keri, or the Rock of the Moon, on the twin mountain Ouivitari, which is an islet in the midst of the cataracts, the Indians point out with mysterious awe a similar white spot. It has the form of a disc; and they say this is the image of the sun (Camosi). Perhaps the geographical situation of these two objects has contributed to their having received these names. Keri is on the side of the setting, Camosi on that of the rising sun. Languages being the most ancient historical monuments of nations, some learned men have been singularly struck by the analogy between the American word camosi and camosch, which seems to have signified originally, the sun, in one of the Semitic dialects. This analogy has given rise to hypotheses which appear to me at least very problematical. The god of the Moabites, Chemosh, or Camosch, who has so wearied the patience of the learned; Apollo Chomens, cited by Strabo and by Ammianus Marcellinus; Belphegor; Amun or Hamon; and Adonis: all, without doubt, represent the sun in the winter solstice; but what can we conclude from a solitary and fortuitous resemblance of sounds in languages that have nothing besides in common?

The Maypure tongue is still spoken at Atures, although the mission is inhabited only by Guahibos and Macos. At Maypures the Guareken and Pareni tongues only are now spoken. From the Rio Anaveni, which falls into the Orinoco north of Atures, as far as beyond Jao, and to the mouth of the Guaviare (between the fourth and sixth degrees of latitude), we everywhere find rivers, the termination of which, veni,* recalls to mind the extent to which the Maypure tongue heretofore prevailed. Veni, or weni, signifies water, or a river. The words camosi and keri, which we have just cited, are of the idiom of the Pareni Indians,* who, I think I have heard from the natives, lived originally on the banks of the Mataveni.* The Abbe Gili considers the Pareni as a simple dialect of the Maypure. This question cannot be solved by a comparison of the roots merely. Being totally ignorant of the grammatical structure of the Pareni, I can raise but feeble doubts against the opinion of the Italian missionary. The Pareni is perhaps a mixture of two tongues that belong to different families; like the Maquiritari, which is composed of the Maypure and the Caribbee; or, to cite an example better known, the modern Persian, which is allied at the same time to the Sanscrit and to the Semitic tongues. The following are Pareni words, which I carefully compared with Maypure words.*

[* Anaveni, Mataveni, Maraveni, etc.]

[* Or Parenas, who must not be confounded either with the Paravenes of the Rio Caura (Caulin page 69), or with the Parecas, whose language belongs to the great family of the Tamanac tongues. A young Indian of Maypures, who called himself a Paragini, answered my questions almost in the same words that M. Bonpland heard from a Pareni. I have indicated the differences in the table, see below.]

[* South of the Rio Zama. We slept in the open air near the mouth of the Mataveni on the 28th day of May, in our return from the Rio Negro.]

[* The words of the Maypure language have been taken from the works of Gili and Hervas. I collected the words placed between parentheses from a young Maco Indian, who understood the Maypure language.]

The sun Camosi Kie (Kiepurig).
The moon Keri Kejapi (Cagijapi).
A star Ouipo Urrupu.
The devil Amethami Vasuri.
Water Oneui (ut) Oueni.
Fire Casi Catti.
Lightning Eno Eno-ima.*
The head Ossipo Nuchibucu.*
The hair Nomao.
The eyes Nopurizi Nupuriki.
The nose Nosivi Nukirri.
The mouth Nonoma Nunumacu.
The teeth Nasi Nati.
The tongue Notate Nuare.
The ear Notasine Nuakini.
The cheek Nocaco.
The neck Nono Noinu.
The arm Nocano Nuana.
The hand Nucavi Nucapi.
The breast Notoroni.
The back Notoli.
The thigh Nocazo.
The nipples Nocini.
The foot Nocizi Nukii.
The toes Nociziriani.
The calf of the leg Nocavua.
A crocodile Cazuiti Amana.
A fish Cimasi Timaki.
Maize Cana Jomuki.
Plantain Paratana (Teot)* Arata.
Cacao Cacavua*
Tobacco Jema Jema.
Pimento (Pumake).
Mimosa inga (Caraba).
Cecropia peltata (Jocovi).
Agaric (Cajuli).
Agaric Puziana (Pagiana) Papeta (Popetas).
Agaric Sinapa (Achinafe) Avanume (Avanome).
Agaric Meteuba (Meuteufafa) Apekiva (Pejiiveji).
Agaric Puriana vacavi (Jaliva).
Agaric Puriana vacavi uschanite.
Agaric Puriassima vacavi (Javiji).

[* I am ignorant of what ima signifies in this compound word. Eno means in Maypure the sky and thunder. Ina signifies mother.]

[* The syllables no and nu, joined to the words that designate parts of the body, might have been suppressed; they answer to the possessive pronoun my.]

[* We may be surprised to find the word teot denote the eminently nutritive substance that supplies the place of corn (the gift of a beneficent divinity), and on which the subsistence of man within the tropics depends. I may here mention, that the word Teo, or Teot, which in Aztec signifies God (Teotl, properly Teo, for tl is only a termination), is found in the language of the Betoi of the Rio Meta. The name of the moon, in this language so remarkable for the complication of its grammatical structure, is Teo-ro. The name of the sun is Teo-umasoi. The particle ro designates a woman, umasoi a man. Among the Betoi, the Maypures, and so many other nations of both continents, the moon is believed to be the wife of the sun. But what is this root Teo? It appears to me very doubtful, that Teo-ro should signify God-woman, for Memelu is the name of the All-powerful Being in the Betoi langnage.]

[* Has this word been introduced from a communication with Europeans? It is almost identical with the Mexican (Aztec) word cacava.]


This comparison seems to prove that the analogies observed in the roots of the Pareni and the Maypure tongues are not to be neglected; they are, however, scarcely more frequent than those that have been observed between the Maypure of the Upper Orinoco and the language of the Moxos, which is spoken on the banks of the Marmora, from 15 to 20° of south latitude. The Parenis have in their pronunciation the English th, or tsa of the Arabians, as I clearly heard in the word Amethami (devil, evil spirit). I need not again notice the origin of the word camosi. Solitary resemblances of sounds are as little proof of communication between nations as the dissimilitude of a few roots furnishes evidence against the affiliation of the German from the Persian and the Greek. It is remarkable, however, that the names of the sun and moon are sometimes found to be identical in languages, the grammatical construction of which is entirely different; I may cite as examples the Guarany and the Omagua,* languages of nations formerly very powerful. It may be conceived that, with the worship of the stars and of the powers of nature, words which have a relation to these objects might pass from one idiom to another. I showed the constellation of the Southern Cross to a Pareni Indian, who covered the lantern while I was taking the circum-meridian heights of the stars; and he called it Bahumehi, a name which the caribe fish, or serra salme, also bears in Pareni. He was ignorant of the name of the belt of Orion; but a Poignave Indian,* who knew the constellations better, assured me that in his tongue the belt of Orion bore the name of Fuebot; he called the moon Zenquerot. These two words have a very peculiar character for words of American origin. As the names of the constellations may have been transmitted to immense distances from one nation to another, these Poignave words have fixed the attention of the learned, who have imagined they recognize the Phoenician and Moabite tongues in the word camosi of the Pareni. Fuebot and zenquerot seem to remind us of the Phoenician words mot (clay), ardod (oak-tree), ephod, etc. But what can we conclude from simple terminations which are most frequently foreign to the roots? In Hebrew the feminine plurals terminate also in oth. I noted entire phrases in Poignave; but the young man whom I interrogated spoke so quick that I could not seize the division of the words, and should have mixed them confusedly together had I attempted to write them down.*

[* Sun and Moon, in Guarany, Quarasi and Jasi; in Omagua, Huarassi and Jase. I shall give, farther on, these same words in the principal languages of the old and new worlds. See note below.]

[* At the Orinoco the Puignaves, or Poignaves, are distinguished from the Guipunaves (Uipunavi). The latter, on account of their language, are considered as belonging to the Maypure and Cabre nations; yet water is called in Poignave, as well as in Maypure, oueni.]

[* For a curious example of this, see the speech of Artabanes in Aristophanes (Acharn. act 1 scene 3) where a Greek has attempted to give a Persian oration. See also Gibbon’s Roman Empire chapter 53 note 54, for a curious example of the way in which foreign languages have been disfigured when it has been attempted to represent them in a totally different tongue.]

The Mission near the raudal of Maypures was very considerable in the time of the Jesuits, when it reckoned six hundred inhabitants, among whom were several families of whites. Under the government of the Fathers of the Observance the population was reduced to less than sixty. It must be observed that in this part of South America cultivation has been diminishing for half a century, while beyond the forests, in the provinces near the sea, we find villages that contain from two or three thousand Indians. The inhabitants of Maypures are a mild, temperate people, and distinguished by great cleanliness. The savages of the Orinoco for the most part have not that inordinate fondness for strong liquors which prevails in North America. It is true that the Ottomacs, the Jaruros, the Achaguas, and the Caribs, are often intoxicated by the immoderate use of chiza and many other fermented liquors, which they know how to prepare with cassava, maize, and the saccharine fruit of the palm-tree; but travellers have as usual generalized what belongs only to the manners of some tribes. We were frequently unable to prevail upon the Guahibos, or the Maco–Piroas, to taste brandy while they were labouring for us, and seemed exhausted by fatigue. It will require a longer residence of Europeans in these countries to spread there the vices that are already common among the Indians on the coast. In the huts of the natives of Maypures we found an appearance of order and neatness, rarely met with in the houses of the missionaries.

These natives cultivate plantains and cassava, but no maize. Cassava, made into thin cakes, is the bread of the country. Like the greater part of the Indians of the Orinoco, the inhabitants of Maypures have beverages which may be considered nourishing; one of these, much celebrated in that country, is furnished by a palm-tree which grows wild in the vicinity of the mission on the banks of the Auvana. This tree is the seje: I estimated the number of flowers on one cluster at forty-four thousand; and that of the fruit, of which the greater part fall without ripening, at eight thousand. The fruit is a small fleshy drupe. It is immersed for a few minutes in boiling water, to separate the kernel from the parenchymatous part of the sarcocarp, which has a sweet taste, and is pounded and bruised in a large vessel filled with water. The infusion yields a yellowish liquor, which tastes like milk of almonds. Sometimes papelon (unrefined sugar) is added. The missionary told us that the natives become visibly fatter during the two or three months in which they drink this seje, into which they dip their cakes of cassava. The piaches, or Indian jugglers, go into the forests, and sound the botuto (the sacred trumpet) under the seje palm-trees, to force the tree, they say, to yield an ample produce the following year. The people pay for this operation, as the Mongols, the Arabs, and nations still nearer to us, pay the chamans, the marabouts, and other classes of priests, to drive away the white ants and the locusts by mystic words or prayers, or to procure a cessation of continued rain, and invert the order of the seasons.

“I have a manufacture of pottery in my village,” said Father Zea, when accompanying us on a visit to an Indian family, who were occupied in baking, by a fire of brushwood, in the open air, large earthen vessels, two feet and a half high. This branch of manufacture is peculiar to the various tribes of the great family of Maypures, and they appear to have followed it from time immemorial. In every part of the forests, far from any human habitation, on digging the earth, fragments of pottery and delf are found. The taste for this kind of manufacture seems to have been common heretofore to the natives of both North and South America. To the north of Mexico, on the banks of the Rio Gila, among the ruins of an Aztec city; in the United States, near the tumuli of the Miamis; in Florida, and in every place where any traces of ancient civilization are found, the soil covers fragments of painted pottery; and the extreme resemblance of the ornaments they display is striking. Savage nations, and those civilized people* who are condemned by their political and religious institutions always to imitate themselves, strive, as if by instinct, to perpetuate the same forms, to preserve a peculiar type or style, and to follow the methods and processes which were employed by their ancestors. In North America, fragments of delf ware have been discovered in places where there exist lines of fortification, and the walls of towns constructed by some unknown nation, now entirely extinct. The paintings on these fragments have a great similitude to those which are executed in our days on earthenware by the natives of Louisiana and Florida. Thus too, the Indians of Maypures often painted before our eyes the same ornaments as those we had observed in the cavern of Ataruipe, on the vases containing human bones. They were grecques, meanders, and figures of crocodiles, of monkeys, and of a large quadruped which I could not recognize, though it had always the same squat form. I might hazard the hypothesis that it belongs to another country, and that the type had been brought thither in the great migration of the American nations from the north-west to the south and south-east; but I am rather inclined to believe that the figure is intended to represent a tapir, and that the deformed image of a native animal has become by degrees one of the types that has been preserved.

[* The Hindoos, the Tibetians, the Chinese, the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Peruvians; with whom the tendency toward civilization in a body has prevented the free development of the faculties of individuals.]

The Maypures execute with the greatest skill grecques, or ornaments formed by straight lines variously combined, similar to those that we find on the vases of Magna Grecia, on the Mexican edifices at Mitla, and in the works of so many nations who, without communication with each other, find alike a sensible pleasure in the symmetric repetition of the same forms. Arabesques, meanders, and grecques, please our eyes, because the elements of which their series is composed, follow in rhythmic order. The eye finds in this order, in the periodical return of the same forms, what the ear distinguishes in the cadenced succession of sounds and concords. Can we then admit a doubt that the feeling of rhythm manifests itself in man at the first dawn of civilization, and in the rudest essays of poetry and song?

Among the natives of Maypures, the making of pottery is an occupation principally confined to the women. They purify the clay by repeated washings, form it into cylinders, and mould the largest vases with their hands. The American Indian is unacquainted with the potter’s wheel, which was familiar to the nations of the east in the remotest antiquity. We may be surprised that the missionaries have not introduced this simple and useful machine among the natives of the Orinoco, yet we must recollect that three centuries have not sufficed to make it known among the Indians of the peninsula of Araya, opposite the port of Cumana. The colours used by the Maypures are the oxides of iron and manganese, and particularly the yellow and red ochres that are found in the hollows of sandstone. Sometimes the fecula of the Bignonia chica is employed, after the pottery has been exposed to a feeble fire. This painting is covered with a varnish of algarobo, which is the transparent resin of the Hymenaea courbaril. The large vessels in which the chiza is preserved are called ciamacu, the smallest bear the name of mucra, from which word the Spaniards of the coast have framed murcura. Not only the Maypures, but also the Guaypunaves, the Caribs, the Ottomacs, and even the Guamos, are distinguished at the Orinoco as makers of painted pottery, and this manufacture extended formerly towards the banks of the Amazon. Orellana was struck with the painted ornaments on the ware of the Omaguas, who in his time were a populous commercial nation.

The following facts throw some light on the history of American civilization. In the United States, west of the Allegheny mountains, particularly between the Ohio and the great lakes of Canada, on digging the earth, fragments of painted pottery, mingled with brass tools, are constantly found. This mixture may well surprise us in a country where, on the first arrival of Europeans, the natives were ignorant of the use of metals. In the forests of South America, which extend from the equator as far as the eighth degree of north latitude, from the foot of the Andes to the Atlantic, this painted pottery is discovered in the most desert places, but it is found accompanied by hatchets of jade and other hard stones, skilfully perforated. No metallic tools or ornaments have ever been discovered; though in the mountains on the shore, and at the back of the Cordilleras, the art of melting gold and copper, and of mixing the latter metal with tin to make cutting instruments, was known. How can we account for these contrasts between the temperate and the torrid zone? The Incas of Peru had pushed their conquests and their religious wars as far as the banks of the Napo and the Amazon, where their language extended over a small space of land; but the civilization of the Peruvians, of the inhabitants of Quito, and of the Muyscas of New Grenada, never appears to have had any sensible influence on the moral state of the nations of Guiana. It must be observed further, that in North America, between the Ohio, Miami, and the Lakes, an unknown people, whom systematic authors would make the descendants of the Toltecs and Aztecs, constructed walls of earth and sometimes of stone without mortar,* from ten to fifteen feet high, and seven or eight thousand feet long. These singular circumvallations sometimes enclosed a hundred and fifty acres of ground. In the plains of the Orinoco, as in those of Marietta, the Miami, and the Ohio, the centre of an ancient civilization is found in the west on the back of the mountains; but the Orinoco, and the countries lying between that great river and the Amazon, appear never to have been inhabited by nations whose constructions have resisted the ravages of time. Though symbolical figures are found engraved on the hardest rocks, yet further south than eight degrees of latitude, no tumulus, no circumvallation, no dike of earth similar to those that exist farther north in the plains of Varinas and Canagua, has been found. Such is the contrast that may be observed between the eastern parts of North and South America, those parts which extend from the table-land of Cundinamarca* and the mountains of Cayenne towards the Atlantic, and those which stretch from the Andes of New Spain towards the Alleghenies. Nations advanced in civilization, of which we discover traces on the banks of lake Teguyo and in the Casas grandes of the Rio Gila, might have sent some tribes eastward into the open countries of the Missouri and the Ohio, where the climate differs little from that of New Mexico; but in South America, where the great flux of nations has continued from north to south, those who had long enjoyed the mild temperature of the back of the equinoctial Cordilleras no doubt dreaded a descent into burning plains bristled with forests, and inundated by the periodical swellings of rivers. It is easy to conceive how much the force of vegetation, and the nature of the soil and climate, within the torrid zone, embarrassed the natives in regard to migration in numerous bodies, prevented settlements requiring an extensive space, and perpetuated the misery and barbarism of solitary hordes.

[* Of siliceous limestone, at Pique, on the Great Miami; of sandstone at Creek Point, ten leagues from Chillakothe, where the wall is fifteen hundred toises long.]

[* This is the ancient name of the empire of the Zaques, founded by Bochica or Idacanzas, the high priest of Iraca, in New Grenada.]

The feeble civilization introduced in our days by the Spanish monks pursues a retrograde course. Father Gili relates that, at the time of the expedition to the boundaries, agriculture began to make some progress on the banks of the Orinoco; and that cattle, especially goats, had multiplied considerably at Maypures. We found no goats, either in the mission or in any other village of the Orinoco; they had all been devoured by the tigers. The black and white breeds of pigs only, the latter of which are called French pigs (puercos franceses), because they are believed to have come from the Caribbee Islands, have resisted the pursuit of wild beasts. We saw with much pleasure guacamayas, or tame macaws, round the huts of the Indians, and flying to the fields like our pigeons. This bird is the largest and most majestic species of parrot with naked cheeks that we found in our travels. It is called in Marativitan, cahuei. Including the tail, it is two feet three inches long. We had observed it also on the banks of the Atabapo, the Temi, and the Rio Negro. The flesh of the cahuei, which is frequently eaten, is black and somewhat tough. These macaws, whose plumage glows with vivid tints of purple, blue, and yellow, are a great ornament to the Indian farm-yards; they do not yield in beauty to the peacock, the golden pheasant, the pauxi, or the alector. The practice of rearing parrots, birds of a family so different from the gallinaceous tribes, was remarked by Columbus. When he discovered America he saw macaws, or large parrots, which served as food to the natives of the Caribbee Islands, instead of fowls.

A majestic tree, more than sixty feet high, which the planters call fruta de burro, grows in the vicinity of the little village of Maypures. It is a new species of the unona, and has the stateliness of the Uvaria zeylanica of Aublet. Its branches are straight, and rise in a pyramid, nearly like the poplar of the Mississippi, erroneously called the Lombardy poplar. The tree is celebrated for its aromatic fruit, the infusion of which is a powerful febrifuge. The poor missionaries of the Orinoco, who are afflicted with tertian fevers during a great part of the year, seldom travel without a little bag filled with frutas de burro. I have already observed that between the tropics, the use of aromatics, for instance very strong coffee, the Croton cascarilla, or the pericarp of the Unona xylopioides, is generally preferred to that of the astringent bark of cinchona, or of Bonplandia trifolatia, which is the Angostura bark. The people of America have the most inveterate prejudice against the employment of different kinds of cinchona; and in the very countries where this valuable remedy grows, they try (to use their own phrase) to cut off the fever, by infusions of Scoparia dulcis, and hot lemonade prepared with sugar and the small wild lime, the rind of which is equally oily and aromatic.

The weather was unfavourable for astronomical observations. I obtained, however, on the 20th of April, a good series of corresponding altitudes of the sun, according to which the chronometer gave 70° 37′ 33″ for the longitude of the mission of Maypures; the latitude was found, by a star observed towards the north, to be 5° 13′ 57″; and by a star observed towards the south, 5° 13′ 7″. The error of the most recent maps is half a degree of longitude and half a degree of latitude. It would be difficult to relate the trouble and torments which these nocturnal observations cost us. Nowhere is a denser cloud of mosquitos to be found. It formed, as it were, a particular stratum some feet above the ground, and it thickened as we brought lights to illumine our artificial horizon. The inhabitants of Maypures, for the most part, quit the village to sleep in the islets amid the cataracts, where the number of insects is less; others make a fire of brushwood in their huts, and suspend their hammocks in the midst of the smoke.

We spent two days and a half in the little village of Maypures, on the banks of the great Upper Cataract, and on the 21st April we embarked in the canoe we had obtained from the missionary of Carichana. It was much damaged by the shoals it had struck against, and the carelessness of the Indians; but still greater dangers awaited it. It was to be dragged over land, across an isthmus of thirty-six thousand feet; from the Rio Tuamini to the Rio Negro, to go up by the Cassiquiare to the Orinoco, and to repass the two raudales.

When the traveller has passed the Great Cataracts, he feels as if he were in a new world, and had overstepped the barriers which nature seems to have raised between the civilized countries of the coast and the savage and unknown interior. Towards the east, in the bluish distance, we saw for the last time the high chain of the Cunavami mountains. Its long, horizontal ridge reminded us of the Mesa of the Brigantine, near Cumana; but it terminates by a truncated summit. The Peak of Calitamini (the name given to this summit) glows at sunset as with a reddish fire. This appearance is every day the same. No one ever approached this mountain, the height of which does not exceed six hundred toises. I believe this splendour, commonly reddish but sometimes silvery, to be a reflection produced by large plates of talc, or by gneiss passing into mica-slate. The whole of this country contains granitic rocks, on which here and there, in little plains, an argillaceous grit-stone immediately reposes, containing fragments of quartz and of brown iron-ore.

In going to the embarcadero, we caught on the trunk of a hevea* a new species of tree-frog, remarkable for its beautiful colours; it had a yellow belly, the back and head of a fine velvety purple, and a very narrow stripe of white from the point of the nose to the hinder extremities. This frog was two inches long, and allied to the Rana tinctoria, the blood of which, it is asserted, introduced into the skin of a parrot, in places where the feathers have been plucked out, occasions the growth of frizzled feathers of a yellow or red colour. The Indians showed us on the way, what is no doubt very curious in that country, traces of cartwheels in the rock. They spoke, as of an unknown animal, of those beasts with large horns, which, at the time of the expedition to the boundaries, drew the boats through the valley of Keri, from the Rio Toparo to the Rio Cameji, to avoid the cataracts, and save the trouble of unloading the merchandize. I believe these poor inhabitants of Maypures would now be as much astonished at the sight of an ox of the Spanish breed, as the Romans were at the sight of the Lucanian oxen, as they called the elephants of the army of Pyrrhus.

[* One of those trees whose milk yields caoutchouc.]

We embarked at Puerto de Arriba, and passed the Raudal de Cameji with some difficulty. This passage is reputed to be dangerous when the water is very high; but we found the surface of the river beyond the raudal as smooth as glass. We passed the night in a rocky island called Piedra Raton, which is three-quarters of a league long, and displays that singular aspect of rising vegetation, those clusters of shrubs, scattered over a bare and rocky soil, of which we have often spoken.

On the 22nd of April we departed an hour and a half before sunrise. The morning was humid but delicious; not a breath of wind was felt; for south of Atures and Maypures a perpetual calm prevails. On the banks of the Rio Negro and the Cassiquiare, at the foot of Cerro Duida, and at the mission of Santa Barbara, we never heard that rustling of the leaves which has such a peculiar charm in very hot climates. The windings of rivers, the shelter of mountains, the thickness of the forests, and the almost continual rains, at one or two degrees of latitude north of the equator, contribute no doubt to this phenomenon, which is peculiar to the missions of the Orinoco.

In that part of the valley of the Amazon which is south of the equator, but at the same distance from it, as the places just mentioned, a strong wind always rises two hours after mid-day. This wind blows constantly against the stream, and is felt only in the bed of the river. Below San Borja it is an easterly wind; at Tomependa I found it between north and north-north-east; it is still the same breeze, the wind of the rotation of the globe, but modified by slight local circumstances. By favour of this general breeze you may go up the Amazon under sail, from Grand Para as far as Tefe, a distance of seven hundred and fifty leagues. In the province of Jaen de Bracamoros, at the foot of the western declivity of the Cordilleras, this Atlantic breeze rises sometimes to a tempest.

It is highly probable that the great salubrity of the Amazon is owing to this constant breeze. In the stagnant air of the Upper Orinoco the chemical affinities act more powerfully, and more deleterious miasmata are formed. The insalubrity of the climate would be the same on the woody banks of the Amazon, if that river, running like the Niger from west to east, did not follow in its immense length the same direction, which is that of the trade-winds. The valley of the Amazon is closed only at its western extremity, where it approaches the Cordilleras of the Andes. Towards the east, where the sea-breeze strikes the New Continent, the shore is raised but a few feet above the level of the Atlantic. The Upper Orinoco first runs from east to west, and then from north to south. Where its course is nearly parallel to that of the Amazon, a very hilly country (the group of the mountains of Parima and of Dutch and French Guiana) separates it from the Atlantic, and prevents the wind of rotation from reaching Esmeralda. This wind begins to be powerfully felt only from the confluence of the Apure, where the Lower Orinoco runs from west to east in a vast plain open towards the Atlantic, and therefore the climate of this part of the river is less noxious than that of the Upper Orinoco.

In order to add a third point of comparison, I may mention the valley of the Rio Magdalena, which, like the Amazon, has one direction only, but unfortunately, instead of being that of the breeze, it is from south to north. Situated in the region of the trade-winds, the Rio Magdalena has the stagnant air of the Upper Orinoco. From the canal of Mahates as far as Honda, particularly south of the town of Mompox, we never felt the wind blow but at the approach of the evening storms. When, on the contrary, you proceed up the river beyond Honda, you find the atmosphere often agitated. The strong winds that are ingulfed in the valley of Neiva are noted for their excessive heat. We may be at first surprised to perceive that the calm ceases as we approach the lofty mountains in the upper course of the river, but this astonishment ends when we recollect that the dry and burning winds of the Llanos de Neiva are the effect of descending currents. The columns of cold air rush from the top of the Nevados of Quindiu and of Guanacas into the valley, driving before them the lower strata of the atmosphere. Everywhere the unequal heating of the soil, and the proximity of mountains covered with perpetual snow, cause partial currents within the tropics, as well as in the temperate zone. The violent winds of Neiva are not the effect of a repercussion of the trade-winds; they rise where those winds cannot penetrate; and if the mountains of the Upper Orinoco, the tops of which are generally crowned with trees, were more elevated, they would produce the same impetuous movements in the atmosphere as we observe in the Cordilleras of Peru, of Abyssinia, and of Thibet. The intimate connection that exists between the direction of rivers, the height and disposition of the adjacent mountains, the movements of the atmosphere, and the salubrity of the climate, are subjects well worthy of attention. The study of the surface and the inequalities of the soil would indeed be irksome and useless were it not connected with more general considerations.

At the distance of six miles from the island of Piedra Raton we passed, first, on the east, the mouth of the Rio Sipapo, called Tipapu by the Indians; and then, on the west, the mouth of the Rio Vichada. Near the latter are some rocks covered by the water, that form a small cascade or raudalito. The Rio Sipapo, which Father Gili went up in 1757, and which he says is twice as broad as the Tiber, comes from a considerable chain of mountains, which in its southern part bears the name of the river, and joins the group of Calitamini and of Cunavami. Next to the Peak of Duida, which rises above the mission of Esmeralda, the Cerros of Sipapo appeared to me the most lofty of the whole Cordillera of Parima. They form an immense wall of rocks, shooting up abruptly from the plain, its craggy ridge of running from south-south-east to north-north-west. I believe these crags, these indentations, which equally occur in the sandstone of Montserrat in Catalonia,* are owing to blocks of granite heaped together. The Cerros de Sipapo wear a different aspect every hour of the day. At sunrise the thick vegetation with which these mountains are clothed is tinged with that dark green inclining to brown, which is peculiar to a region where trees with coriaceous leaves prevail. Broad and strong shadows are projected on the neighbouring plain, and form a contrast with the vivid light diffused over the ground, in the air, and on the surface of the waters. But towards noon, when the sun reaches its zenith, these strong shadows gradually disappear, and the whole group is veiled by an aerial vapour of a much deeper azure than that of the lower regions of the celestial vault. These vapours, circulating around the rocky ridge, soften its outline, temper the effects of the light, and give the landscape that aspect of calmness and repose which in nature, as in the works of Claude Lorraine and Poussin, arises from the harmony of forms and colours.

[* From them the name of Montserrat is derived, Monte Serrato signifying a mountain ridged or jagged like a saw.]

Cruzero, the powerful chief of the Guaypunaves, long resided behind the mountains of Sipapo, after having quitted with his warlike horde the plains between the Rio Inirida and the Chamochiquini. The Indians told us that the forests which cover the Sipapo abound in the climbing plant called vehuco de maimure. This species of liana is celebrated among the Indians, and serves for making baskets and weaving mats. The forests of Sipapo are altogether unknown, and there the missionaries place the nation of the Rayas,* whose mouths are believed to be in their navels.

[* Rays, on account of the pretended analogy with the fish of this name, the mouth of which seems as if forced downwards below the body. This singular legend has been spread far and wide over the earth. Shakespeare has described Othello as recounting marvellous tales:

“of cannibals that do each other eat: Of Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders.”]

An old Indian, whom we met at Carichana, and who boasted of having often eaten human flesh, had seen these acephali “with his own eyes.” These absurd fables are spread as far as the Llanos, where you are not always permitted to doubt the existence of the Raya Indians. In every zone intolerance accompanies credulity; and it might be said that the fictions of ancient geographers had passed from one hemisphere to the other, did we not know that the most fantastic productions of the imagination, like the works of nature, furnish everywhere a certain analogy of aspect and of form.

We landed at the mouth of the Rio Vichada or Visata to examine the plants of that part of the country. The scenery is very singular. The forest is thin, and an innumerable quantity of small rocks rise from the plain. These form massy prisms, ruined pillars, and solitary towers fifteen or twenty feet high. Some are shaded by the trees of the forest, others have their summits crowned with palms. These rocks are of granite passing into gneiss. At the confluence of the Vichada the rocks of granite, and what is still more remarkable, the soil itself, are covered with moss and lichens. These latter resemble the Cladonia pyxidata and the Lichen rangiferinus, so common in the north of Europe. We could scarcely persuade ourselves that we were elevated less than one hundred toises above the level of the sea, in the fifth degree of latitude, in the centre of the torrid zone, which has so long been thought to be destitute of cryptogamous plants. The mean temperature of this shady and humid spot probably exceeds twenty-six degrees of the centigrade thermometer. Reflecting on the small quantity of rain which had hitherto fallen, we were surprised at the beautiful verdure of the forests. This peculiarity characterises the valley of the Upper Orinoco; on the coast of Caracas, and in the Llanos, the trees in winter (in the season called summer in South America, north of the equator) are stripped of their leaves, and the ground is covered only with yellow and withered grass. Between the solitary rocks just described arise some high plants of columnar cactus (Cactus septemangularis), a very rare appearance south of the cataracts of Atures and Maypures.

Amid this picturesque scene M. Bonpland was fortunate enough to find several specimens of Laurus cinnamomoides, a very aromatic species of cinnamon, known at the Orinoco by the names of varimacu and of canelilla.* This valuable production is found also in the valley of the Rio Caura, as well as near Esmeralda, and eastward of the Great Cataracts. The Jesuit Francisco de Olmo appears to have been the first who discovered the canelilla, which he did in the country of the Piaroas, near the sources of the Cataniapo. The missionary Gili, who did not advance so far as the regions I am now describing, seems to confound the varimacu, or guarimacu, with the myristica, or nutmeg-tree of America. These barks and aromatic fruits, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the Myrtus pimenta, and the Laurus pucheri, would have become important objects of trade, if Europe, at the period of the discovery of the New World, had not already been accustomed to the spices and aromatics of India. The cinnamon of the Orinoco, and that of the Andaquies missions, are, however, less aromatic than the cinnamon of Ceylon, and would still be so even if dried and prepared by similar processes.

[* The diminutive of the Spanish word canela, which signifies cinnamon.]

Every hemisphere produces plants of a different species; and it is not by the diversity of climates that we can attempt to explain why equinoctial Africa has no laurels, and the New World no heaths; why calceolariae are found wild only in the southern hemisphere; why the birds of the East Indies glow with colours less splendid than those of the hot parts of America; finally, why the tiger is peculiar to Asia, and the ornithorynchus to Australia. In the vegetable as well as in the animal kingdom, the causes of the distribution of the species are among the mysteries which natural philosophy cannot solve. The attempts made to explain the distribution of various species on the globe by the sole influence of climate, take their date from a period when physical geography was still in its infancy; when, recurring incessantly to pretended contrasts between the two worlds, it was imagined that the whole of Africa and of America resembled the deserts of Egypt and the marshes of Cayenne. At present, when men judge of the state of things not from one type arbitrarily chosen, but from positive knowledge, it is ascertained that the two continents, in their immense extent, contain countries that are altogether analogous. There are regions of America as barren and burning as the interior of Africa. Those islands which produce the spices of India are scarcely remarkable for their dryness; and it is not on account of the humidity of the climate, as has been affirmed in recent works, that the New Continent is deprived of those fine species of lauriniae and myristicae, which are found united in one little corner of the earth in the archipelago of India. For some years past cinnamon has been cultivated with success in several parts of the New Continent; and a zone that produces the coumarouna, the vanilla, the pucheri, the pine-apple, the pimento, the balsam of tolu, the Myroxylon peruvianum, the croton, the citroma, the pejoa, the incienso of the Silla of Caracas, the quereme, the pancratium, and so many majestic liliaceous plants, cannot be considered as destitute of aromatics. Besides, a dry air favours the development of the aromatic or exciting properties, only in certain species of plants. The most inveterate poisons are produced in the most humid zone of America; and it is precisely under the influence of the long rains of the tropics that the American pimento (Capsicum baccatum), the fruit of which is often as caustic and fiery as Indian pepper, vegetates best. From all these considerations it follows, first, that the New Continent possesses spices, aromatics, and very active vegetable poisons, peculiar to itself, and differing specifically from those of the Old World; secondly, that the primitive distribution of species in the torrid zone cannot be explained by the influence of climate solely, or by the distribution of temperature, which we observe in the present state of our planet; but that this difference of climates leads us to perceive why a given type of organization develops itself more vigorously in such or such local circumstances. We can conceive that a small number of the families of plants, for instance the musaceae and the palms, cannot belong to very cold regions, on account of their internal structure, and the importance of certain organs; but we cannot explain why no one of the family of the Melastomaceae vegetates north of the parallel of the thirtieth degree of latitude, or why no rose-tree belongs to the southern hemisphere. Analogy of climates is often found in the two continents, without identity of productions.

The Rio Vichada, which has a small raudal at its confluence with the Orinoco, appeared to me, next to the Meta and the Guaviare, to be the most considerable river coming from the west. During the last forty years no European has navigated the Vichada. I could learn nothing of its sources; they rise, I believe, with those of the Tomo, in the plains that extend to the south of Casimena. Fugitive Indians of Santa Rosalia de Cabapuna, a village situate on the banks of the Meta, have arrived even recently, by the Rio Vichada, at the cataract of Maypures; which sufficiently proves that the sources of this river are not very distant from the Meta. Father Gumilla has preserved the names of several German and Spanish Jesuits, who in 1734 fell victims to their zeal for religion, by the hands of the Caribs on the now desert banks of the Vichada.

Having passed the Cano Pirajavi on the east, and then a small river on the west, which issues, as the Indians say, from a lake called Nao, we rested for the night on the shore of the Orinoco, at the mouth of the Zama, a very considerable river, but as little known as the Vichada. Notwithstanding the black waters of the Zama, we suffered greatly from insects. The night was beautiful, without a breath of wind in the lower regions of the atmosphere, but towards two in the morning we saw thick clouds crossing the zenith rapidly from east to west. When, declining toward the horizon, they traversed the great nebulae of Sagittarius and the Ship, they appeared of a dark blue. The light of the nebulae is never more splendid than when they are in part covered by sweeping clouds. We observe the same phenomenon in Europe in the Milky Way, in the aurora borealis when it beams with a silvery light; and at the rising and setting of the sun in that part of the sky that is whitened* from causes which philosophers have not yet sufficiently explained.

[* The dawn: in French aube (alba, albente coelo.)]

The vast tract of country lying between the Meta, the Vichada, and the Guaviare, is altogether unknown a league from the banks; but it is believed to be inhabited by wild Indians of the tribe of Chiricoas, who fortunately build no boats. Formerly, when the Caribs, and their enemies the Cabres, traversed these regions with their little fleets of rafts and canoes, it would have been imprudent to have passed the night near the mouth of a river running from the west. The little settlements of the Europeans having now caused the independent Indians to retire from the banks of the Upper Orinoco, the solitude of these regions is such, that from Carichana to Javita, and from Esmeralda to San Fernando de Atabapo, during a course of one hundred and eighty leagues, we did not meet a single boat.

At the mouth of the Rio Zama we approach a class of rivers, that merits great attention. The Zama, the Mataveni, the Atabapo, the Tuamini, the Temi, and the Guainia, are aguas negras, that is, their waters, seen in a large body, appear brown like coffee, or of a greenish black. These waters, notwithstanding, are most beautiful, clear, and agreeable to the taste. I have observed above, that the crocodiles, and, if not the zancudos, at least the mosquitos, generally shun the black waters. The people assert too, that these waters do not colour the rocks; and that the white rivers have black borders, while the black rivers have white. In fact, the shores of the Guainia, known to Europeans by the name of the Rio Negro, frequently exhibit masses of quartz issuing from granite, and of a dazzling whiteness. The waters of the Mataveni, when examined in a glass, are pretty white; those of the Atabapo retain a slight tinge of yellowish-brown. When the least breath of wind agitates the surface of these black rivers they appear of a fine grass-green, like the lakes of Switzerland. In the shade, the Zama, the Atabapo, and the Guainia, are as dark as coffee-grounds. These phenomena are so striking, that the Indians everywhere distinguish the waters by the terms black and white. The former have often served me for an artificial horizon; they reflect the image of the stars with admirable clearness.

The colour of the waters of springs, rivers, and lakes, ranks among those physical problems which it is difficult, if not impossible, to solve by direct experiments. The tints of reflected light are generally very different from the tints of transmitted light; particularly when the transmission takes place through a great portion of fluid. If there were no absorption of rays, the transmitted light would be of a colour corresponding with that of the reflected light; and in general we judge imperfectly of transmitted light, by filling with water a shallow glass with a narrow aperture. In a river, the colour of the reflected light comes to us always from the interior strata of the fluid, and not from the upper stratum.

Some celebrated naturalists, who have examined the purest waters of the glaciers, and those which flow from mountains covered with perpetual snow, where the earth is destitute of the relics of vegetation, have thought that the proper colour of water might be blue, or green. Nothing, in fact, proves, that water is by nature white; and we must always admit the presence of a colouring principle, when water viewed by reflection is coloured. In the rivers that contain a colouring principle, that principle is generally so little in quantity, that it eludes all chemical research. The tints of the ocean seem often to depend neither on the nature of the bottom, nor on the reflection of the sky on the clouds. Sir Humphrey Davy was of opinion that the tints of different seas may very likely be owing to different proportions of iodine.

On consulting the geographers of antiquity, we find that the Greeks had noticed the blue waters of Thermopylae, the red waters of Joppa, and the black waters of the hot-baths of Astyra, opposite Lesbos. Some rivers, the Rhone for instance, near Geneva, have a decidedly blue colour. It is said, that the snow-waters of the Alps are sometimes of a dark emerald green. Several lakes of Savoy and of Peru have a brown colour approaching black. Most of these phenomena of coloration are observed in waters that are believed to be the purest; and it is rather from reasonings founded on analogy, than from any direct analysis, that we may throw any light on so uncertain a matter. In the vast system of rivers near the mouth of the Rio Zama, a fact which appears to me remarkable is, that the black waters are principally restricted to the equatorial regions. They begin about five degrees of north latitude; and abound thence to beyond the equator as far as about two degrees of south latitude. The mouth of the Rio Negro is indeed in the latitude of 3° 9′; but in this interval the black and white waters are so singularly mingled in the forests and the savannahs, that we know not to what cause the coloration must be attributed. The waters of the Cassiquiare, which fall into the Rio Negro, are as white as those of the Orinoco, from which it issues. Of two tributary streams of the Cassiquiare very near each other, the Siapa and the Pacimony, one is white, the other black.

When the Indians are interrogated respecting the causes of these strange colorations, they answer, as questions in natural philosophy or physiology are sometimes answered in Europe, by repeating the fact in other terms. If you address yourself to the missionaries, they reply, as if they had the most convincing proofs of the fact, that the waters are coloured by washing the roots of the sarsaparilla. The Smilaceae no doubt abound on the banks of the Rio Negro, the Pacimony, and the Cababury; their roots, macerated in the water, yield an extractive matter, that is brown, bitter, and mucilaginous; but how many tufts of smilax have we seen in places, where the waters were entirely white. In the marshy forest which we traversed, to convey our canoe from the Rio Tuamini to the Cano Pimichin and the Rio Negro, why, in the same soil, did we ford alternately rivulets of black and white water? Why did we find no river white near its springs, and black in the lower part of its course? I know not whether the Rio Negro preserves its yellowish brown colour as far as its mouth, notwithstanding the great quantity of white water it receives from the Cassiquiare and the Rio Blanco.

Although, on account of the abundance of rain, vegetation is more vigorous close to the equator than eight or ten degrees north or south, it cannot be affirmed, that the rivers with black waters rise principally in the most shady and thickest forests. On the contrary, a great number of the aguas negras come from the open savannahs that extend from the Meta beyond the Guaviare towards the Caqueta. In a journey which I made with Senor Montufar from the port of Guayaquil to the Bodegas de Babaojo, at the period of the great inundations, I was struck by the analogy of colour displayed by the vast savannahs of the Invernadero del Garzal and of the Lagartero, as well as by the Rio Negro and the Atabapo. These savannahs, partly inundated during three months, are composed of paspalum, eriochloa, and several species of cyperaceae. We sailed on waters that were from four to five feet deep; their temperature was by day from 33 to 34° of the centigrade thermometer; they exhaled a strong smell of sulphuretted hydrogen, to which no doubt some rotten plants of arum and heliconia, that swam on the surface of the pools, contributed. The waters of the Lagartero were of a golden yellow by transmitted, and coffee-brown by reflected light. They are no doubt coloured by a carburet of hydrogen. An analogous phenomenon is observed in the dunghill-waters prepared by our gardeners, and in the waters that issue from bogs. May we not also admit, that it is a mixture of carbon and hydrogen, an extractive vegetable matter, that colours the black rivers, the Atabapo, the Zama, the Mataveni, and the Guainia? The frequency of the equatorial rains contributes no doubt to this coloration by filtration through a thick mass of grasses. I suggest these ideas only in the form of a doubt. The colouring principle seems to be in little abundance; for I observed that the waters of the Guainia or Rio Negro, when subjected to ebullition, do not become brown like other fluids charged with carburets of hydrogen.

It is also very remarkable, that this phenomenon of black waters, which might be supposed to belong only to the low regions of the torrid zone, is found also, though rarely, on the table-lands of the Andes. The town of Cuenca in the kingdom of Quito, is surrounded by three small rivers, the Machangara, the Rio del Matadero, and the Yanuncai; of which the two former are white, and the waters of the last are black (aguas negras). These waters, like those of the Atabapo, are of a coffee-colour by reflection, and pale yellow by transmission. They are very clear, and the inhabitants of Cuenca, who drink them in preference to any other, attribute their colour to the sarsaparilla, which it is said grows abundantly on the banks of the Rio Yanuncai.

We left the mouth of the Zama at five in the morning of the 23rd of April. The river continued to be skirted on both sides by a thick forest. The mountains on the east seemed gradually to retire farther back. We passed first the mouth of the Rio Mataveni, and afterward an islet of a very singular form; a square granitic rock that rises in the middle of the water. It is called by the missionaries El Castillito, or the Little Castle. Black bands seem to indicate, that the highest swellings of the Orinoco do not rise at this place above eight feet; and that the great swellings observed lower down are owing to the tributary streams which flow into it north of the raudales of Atures and Maypures. We passed the night on the right bank opposite the mouth of the Rio Siucurivapu, near a rock called Aricagua. During the night an innumerable quantity of bats issued from the clefts of the rock, and hovered around our hammocks.

On the 24th a violent rain obliged us early to return to our boat. We departed at two o’clock, after having lost some books, which we could not find in the darkness of the night, on the rock of Aricagua. The river runs straight from south to north; its banks are low, and shaded on both sides by thick forests. We passed the mouths of the Ucata, the Arapa, and the Caranaveni. About four in the afternoon we landed at the Conucos de Siquita, the Indian plantations of the mission of San Fernando. The good people wished to detain us among them, but we continued to go up against the current, which ran at the rate of five feet a second, according to a measurement I made by observing the time that a floating body took to go down a given distance. We entered the mouth of the Guaviare on a dark night, passed the point where the Rio Atabapo joins the Guaviare, and arrived at the mission after midnight. We were lodged as usual at the Convent, that is, in the house of the missionary, who, though much surprised at our unexpected visit, nevertheless received us with the kindest hospitality.


If, in the philosophical study of the structure of languages, the analogy of a few roots acquires value only when they can be geographically connected together, neither is the want of resemblance in roots any very strong proof against the common origin of nations. In the different dialects of the Totonac language (that of one of the most ancient tribes of Mexico) the sun and the moon have names which custom has rendered entirely different. This difference is found among the Caribs between the language of men and women; a phenomenon that probably arises from the circumstance that, among prisoners, men were oftener put to death than women. Females introduced by degrees words of a foreign language into the Caribbee; and, as the girls followed the occupations of the women much more than the boys, a language was formed peculiar to the women. I shall record in this note the names of the sun and moon in a great number of American and Asiatic idioms, again reminding the reader of the uncertainty of all judgments founded merely on the comparison of solitary words.

Eastern Esquimaux (Greenland) Ajut, kaumat, sakanach Anningat, kaumei, tatcok.
Western Esquimaux (Kadjak) Tschingugak, madschak Igaluk, tangeik.
Ojibbeway Kissis Debicot.
Delaware Natatane Keyshocof.
Nootka Opulszthl Omulszthl.
Otomi Hindi Zana.
Aztec or Mexican Tonatiuh Meztli.
Cora Taica Maitsaca.
Huasteca Aquicha Aytz.
Muysca Zuhe (sua) Chia.
Yaruro ditto Goppe.
Caribbee and Tamanac Veiou (hueiou) Nouno (nonum).
Maypure Kie Kejapi.
Lule Inni Allit.
Vilela Olo Copi.
Moxo Sachi Cohe.
Chiquito Suus Copi.
Guarani Quarasi Jasi.
Tupi (Brasil) Coaracy Iacy.
Peruvian (Quichua) Inti Quilla.
Araucan (Chili) Antu Cuyen.
Mongol Nara (naran) Sara (saran).
Mantchou Choun Bia.
Tschaghatai Koun Ay.
Ossete (of Caucasus) Khourr Mai.
Tibetan Niyma Rdjawa.
Chinese Jy Yue.
Japanese Fi Tsouki.
Sanscrit Surya, aryama, mitra, aditya, arka, hamsa Tschandra, tschandrama, soma, masi.
Persian Chor, chorschid, afitab Mah.
Zend Houere.
Pehlvi Schemschia, zabzoba, kokma Kokma.
Phoenician Schemesih.
Hebrew Schemesch Yarea.
Aramean or Chaldean Schimscha Yarha.
Syrian Schemscho Yarho.
Arabic Schams Kamar.
Ethiopian Tzabay Warha.

The American words are written according to the Spanish orthography. I would not change the orthography of the Nootka word onulszth, taken from Cook’s Voyages, to show how much Volney’s idea of introducing an uniform notation of sounds is worthy of attention, if not applied to the languages of the East written without vowels. In onulszth there are four signs for one single consonant. We have already seen that American nations, speaking languages of a very different structure, call the sun by the same name; that the moon is sometimes called sleeping sun, sun of night, light of night; and that sometimes the two orbs have the same denomination. These examples are taken from the Guarany, the Omagua, Shawanese, Miami, Maco, and Ojibbeway idioms. Thus in the Old World, the sun and moon are denoted in Arabic by niryn, the luminaries; thus, in Persian, the most common words, afitab and chorschid, are compounds. By the migration of tribes from Asia to America, and from America to Asia, a certain number of roots have passed from one language into others; and these roots have been transported, like the fragments of a shipwreck, far from the coast, into the islands. (Sun, in New England, kone; in Tschagatai, koun; in Yakout, kouini. Star, in Huastec, ot; in Mongol, oddon; in Aztec, citlal, citl; in Persian, sitareh. House, in Aztec, calli; in Wogoul, kualla or kolla. Water, in Aztec, atel (itels, a river, in Vilela); in Mongol, Tscheremiss, and Tschouvass, atl, atelch, etel, or idel. Stone, in Caribbee, tebou; in the Lesgian of Caucasus, teb; in Aztec, tepetl; in Turkish, tepe. Food, in Quichua, micunnan; in Malay, macannon. Boat, in Haitian, canoa; in Ayno, cahani; in Greenlandish, kayak; in Turkish, kayik; in Samoyiede, kayouk; in the Germanic tongues, kahn.) But we must distinguish from these foreign elements what belongs fundamentally to the American idioms themselves. Such is the effect of time, and communication among nations, that the mixture with an heterogenous language has not only an influence upon roots, but most frequently ends by modifying and denaturalizing grammatical forms. “When a language resists a regular analysis,” observes William von Humboldt, in his considerations on the Mexican, Cora, Totonac, and Tarahumar tongues, “we may suspect some mixture, some foreign influence; for the faculties of man, which are, as we may say, reflected in the structure of languages, and in their grammatical forms, act constantly in a regular and uniform manner.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56