The Rio Negro, compared to the Amazon, the Rio de la Plata, or the Orinoco, is but a river of the second order. Its possession has been for ages of great political importance to the Spanish Government, because it is capable of furnishing a rival power, Portugal, with an easy passage into the missions of Guiana, and thereby disturbing the Capitania general of Caracas in its southern limits. Three hundred years have been spent in vain territorial disputes. According to the difference of times, and the degree of civilization among the natives, resource has been had sometimes to the authority of the Pope, and sometimes the support of astronomy; and the disputants being generally more interested in prolonging than in terminating the struggle, the nautical sciences and the geography of the New Continent, have alone gained by this interminable litigation. When the affairs of Paraguay, and the possession of the colony of Del Sacramento, became of great importance to the courts of Madrid and Lisbon, commissioners of the boundaries were sent to the Orinoco, the Amazon, and the Rio Plata.
The little that was known, up to the end of the last century, of the astronomical geography of the interior of the New Continent, was owing to these estimable and laborious men, the French and Spanish academicians, who measured a meridian line at Quito, and to officers who went from Valparaiso to Buenos Ayres to join the expedition of Malaspina. Those persons who know the inaccuracy of the maps of South America, and have seen those uncultivated lands between the Jupura and the Rio Negro, the Madeira and the Ucayale, the Rio Branco and the coasts of Cayenne, which up to our own days have been gravely disputed in Europe, can be not a little surprised at the perseverance with which the possession of a few square leagues is litigated. These disputed grounds are generally separated from the cultivated part of the colonies by deserts, the extent of which is unknown. In the celebrated conferences of Puente de Caya the question was agitated, whether, in fixing the line of demarcation three hundred and seventy Spanish leagues to the west of the Cape Verde Islands, the pope meant that the first meridian should be reckoned from the centre of the island of St. Nicholas, or (as the court of Portugal asserted) from the western extremity of the little island of St. Antonio. In the year 1754, the time of the expedition of Iturriaga and Solano, negociations were entered into respecting the possession of the then desert banks of the Tuamini, and of a marshy tract which we crossed in one evening going from Javita to Cano Pimichin. The Spanish commissioners very recently would have placed the divisional line at the point where the Apoporis falls into the Jupura, while the Portuguese astronomers carried it back as far as Salto Grande.
The Rio Negro and the Jupuro are two tributary streams of the Amazon, and may be compared in length to the Danube. The upper parts belong to the Spaniards, while the lower are occupied by the Portuguese. The Christian settlements are very numerous from Mocoa to the mouth of the Caguan; while on the Lower Jupura the Portuguese have founded only a few villages. On the Rio Negro, on the contrary, the Spaniards have not been able to rival their neighbours. Steppes and forests nearly desert separate, at a distance of one hundred and sixty leagues, the cultivated part of the coast from the four missions of Marsa, Tomo, Davipe, and San Carlos, which are all that the Spanish Franciscans could establish along the Rio Negro. Among the Portuguese of Brazil the military system, that of presides and capitanes pobladores, has prevailed over the government of the missionaries. Grand Para is no doubt far distant from the mouth of the Rio Negro: but the facility of navigation on the Amazon, which runs like an immense canal in one direction from west to east, has enabled the Portuguese population to extend itself rapidly along the river. The banks of the Lower Maranon, from Vistoza as far as Serpa, as well as those of the Rio Negro from Fort da Bara to San Jose da Maravitanos, are embellished by rich cultivation, and by a great number of large villages and towns.
These local considerations are combined with others, suggested by the moral position of nations. The north-west coast of America furnishes to this day no other stable settlements but Russian and Spanish colonies. Before the inhabitants of the United States, in their progressive movement from east to west, could reach the shore between the latitude 41 and 50°, which long separated the Spanish monks and the Siberian hunters,* the latter had established themselves south of the Columbia River. Thus in New California the Franciscan missionaries, men estimable for their morals, and their agricultural activity, learnt with astonishment, that Greek priests had arrived in their neighbourhood; and that two nations, who inhabit the eastern and western extremities of Europe, were become neighbours on a coast of America opposite to China. In Guiana circumstances were very different: the Spaniards found on their frontiers those very Portuguese, who, by their language, and their municipal institutions, form with them one of the most noble remains of Roman Europe; but whom mistrust, founded on unequal strength, and too great proximity, has converted into an often hostile, and always rival power.
[* The hunters connected with military posts, and dependent on the Russian Company, of which the principal shareholders live at Irkutsk. In 1804 the little fortress (krepost) at the bay of Jakutal was still six hundred leagues distant from the most northern Mexican possessions.]
If two nations adjacent to each other in Europe, the Spaniards and the Portuguese, have alike become neighbours in the New Continent, they are indebted for that circumstance to the spirit of enterprise and active courage which both displayed at the period of their military glory and political greatness. The Castilian language is now spoken in North and South America throughout an extent of more than one thousand nine hundred leagues in length; if, however, we consider South America apart, we there find the Portuguese language spread over a larger space of ground, and spoken by a smaller number of individuals than the Castilian. It would seem as if the bond that so closely connects the fine languages of Camoens and Lope de Vega, had served only to separate two nations, who have become neighbours against their will. National hatred is not modified solely by a diversity of origin, of manners, and of progress in civilization; whenever it is powerful, it must be considered as the effect of geographical situation, and the conflicting interests thence resulting. Nations detest each other the less, in proportion as they are distant; and when, their languages being radically different, they do not even attempt to combine together. Travellers who have passed through New California, the interior provinces of Mexico, and the northern frontiers of Brazil, have been struck by these shades in the moral dispositions of bordering nations.
When I was in the Spanish Rio Negro, the divergent politics of the courts of Lisbon and Madrid had augmented that system of mistrust which, even in calmer times, the commanders of petty neighbouring forts love to encourage. Boats went up from Barcelos as far as the Spanish missions, but the communications were of rare occurrence. A commandant with sixteen or eighteen soldiers wearied the garrison by measures of safety, which were dictated by the important state of affairs; if he were attacked, he hoped to surround the enemy. When we spoke of the indifference with which the Portuguese government doubtless regarded the four little villages founded by the monks of Saint Francisco, on the Upper Guainia, the inhabitants were hurt by the motives which we alleged with the view to give them confidence. A people who have preserved in vigour, through the revolutions of ages, a national hatred, like occasions of giving it vent. The mind delights in everything impassioned, in the consciousness of an energetic feeling, in the affections, and in rival hatreds that are founded on antiquated prejudices. Whatever constitutes the individuality of nations flows from the mother-country to the most remote colonies; and national antipathies are not effaced where the influence of the same languages ceases. We know, from the interesting narrative of Krusenstern’s voyage, that the hatred of two fugitive sailors, one a Frenchman and the other an Englishman, was the cause of a long war between the inhabitants of the Marquesas Islands. On the banks of the Amazon and the Rio Negro, the Indians of the neighbouring Portuguese and Spanish villages detest each other. These poor people speak only the native tongues; they are ignorant of what passes on the other bank of the ocean, beyond the great salt-pool; but the gowns of their missionaries are of a different colour, and this displeases them extremely.
I have stopped to paint the effects of national animosities, which wise statesmen have endeavoured to calm, but have been unable entirely to set at rest. This rivalry has contributed to the imperfection of the geographical knowledge hitherto obtained respecting the tributary rivers of the Amazon. When the communications of the natives are impeded, and one nation is established near the mouth, and another in the upper part of the same river, it is difficult for persons who attempt to construct maps to acquire precise information. The periodical inundations, and still more the portages, by which boats are passed from one stream to another, the sources of which are in the same neighbourhood, have led to erroneous ideas of the bifurcations and branchings of rivers. The Indians of the Portuguese missions, for instance, enter (as I was informed upon the spot) the Spanish Rio Negro on one side by the Rio Guainia and the Rio Tomo; and the Upper Orinoco on the other, by the portages between the Cababuri, the Pacimoni, the Idapa, and the Macava, to gather the aromatic seeds of the puchero laurel beyond the Esmeralda. The Indians, I repeat, are excellent geographers; they outflank the enemy, notwithstanding the limits traced upon the maps, in spite of the forts and the estacamentos; and when the missionaries see them arrive from such distances, and in different seasons, they begin to frame hypotheses of supposed communications of rivers. Each party has an interest in concealing what it knows with certainty; and that love of the mysterious, so general among the ignorant, contributes to perpetuate the doubt. It may also be observed that the various Indian nations, who frequent this labyrinth of rivers, give them names entirely different; and that these names are disguised and lengthened by terminations that signify water, great water, and current. How often have I been perplexed by the necessity of settling the synonyms of rivers, when I have sent for the most intelligent natives, to interrogate them, through an interpreter, respecting the number of tributary streams, the sources of the rivers, and the portages. Three or four languages being spoken in the same mission, it is difficult to make the witnesses agree. Our maps are loaded with names arbitrarily shortened or perverted. To examine how far they may be accurate, we must be guided by the geographical situation of the confluent rivers, I might almost say by a certain etymological tact. The Rio Uaupe, or Uapes of the Portuguese maps, is the Guapue of the Spanish maps, and the Ucayari of the natives. The Anava of the old geographers is the Anauahu of Arrowsmith, and the Uanauhau or Guanauhu of the Indians. The desire of leaving no void in the maps, in order to give them an appearance of accuracy, has caused rivers to be created, to which names have been applied that have not been recognized as synonymous. It is only lately that travellers in America, in Persia, and in the Indies, have felt the importance of being correct in the denomination of places. When we read the travels of Sir Walter Raleigh, it is difficult indeed to recognise in the lake of Mrecabo, the laguna of Maracaybo, and in the Marquis Paraco the name of Pizarro, the destroyer of the empire of the Incas.
The great tributary streams of the Amazon are designated by the missionaries by different names in their upper and lower course. The Iza is called, higher up, Putumayo, the Jupura towards its source bears the name of Caqueta. The researches made in the missions of the Andaquies on the real origin of the Rio Negro have been the more fruitless because the Indian name of the river was unknown. I heard it called Guainia at Javita, Maroa, and San Carlos. Southey, in his history of Brazil, says expressly that the Rio Negro, in the lower part of its course, is called Guiani, or Curana, by the natives; in the upper part, Ueneya. It is the word Gueneya, instead of Guainia; for the Indians of those countries say indifferently Guaranacua or Ouaranacua, Guarapo or Uarapo.
The sources of the Rio Negro have long been an object of contention among geographers. The interest we feel in this question is not merely that which attaches to the origin of all great rivers, but is connected with a crowd of other questions, that comprehend the supposed bifurcations of the Caqueta, the communications between the Rio Negro and the Orinoco, and the local fable of El Dorado, formerly called Enim, or the empire of the Grand Paytiti. When we study with care the ancient maps of these countries, and the history of their geographical errors, we see how by degrees the fable of El Dorado has been transported towards the west with the sources of the Orinoco. It was at first fixed on the eastern declivity of the Andes, to the south-west of the Rio Negro. The valiant Philip de Urre sought for the great city of Manoa by traversing the Guaviare. Even now the Indians of San Jose de Maravitanos relate that, on sailing to the north-east for fifteen days, on the Guape or Uaupe, you reach a famous laguna de oro, surrounded by mountains, and so large that the opposite shore cannot be discerned. A ferocious nation, the Guanes, do not permit the collecting of the gold of a sandy plain that surrounds the lake. Father Acunha places the lake Manoa, or Yenefiti, between the Jupura and the Rio Negro. Some Manoa Indians brought Father Fritz, in 1687, several slips of beaten gold. This nation, the name of which is still known on the banks of the Urarira, between Lamalongo and Moreira, dwelt on the Yurubesh. La Condamine is right in saying that this Mesopotamia, between the Caqueta, the Rio Negro, the Yurubesh, and the Iquiare, was the first scene of El Dorado. But where shall we find the names of Yurubesh and Iquiare, given by the Fathers Acunha and Fritz? I think I recognise them in the rivers Urubaxi and Iguari,* on some manuscript Portuguese maps which I possess. I have long and assiduously studied the geography of South America, north of the Amazon, from ancient maps and unpublished materials. Desirous that my work should preserve the character of a scientific performance, I ought not to hesitate about treating of subjects on which I flatter myself that I can throw some light; namely, on the questions respecting the sources of the Rio Negro and the Orinoco, the communication between these rivers and the Amazon, and the problem of the auriferous soil, which has cost the inhabitants of the New World so much suffering and so much blood.
[* It may be written Urubaji. The j and the x were the same as the German ch to Father Fritz. The Urubaxi, or Hyurubaxi (Yurubesh), falls into the Rio Negro near Santa Isabella; the Iguari (Iquiare?) runs into the Issana, which is also a tributary of the Rio Negro.]
In the distribution of the waters circulating on the surface of the globe, as well as in the structure of organic bodies, nature has pursued a much less complicated plan than has been believed by those who have suffered themselves to be guided by vague conceptions and a taste for the marvellous. We find, too, that all anomalies, all the exceptions to the laws of hydrography, which the interior of America displays, are merely apparent; that the course of running waters furnishes phenomena equally extraordinary in the old world, but that these phenomena, from their littleness, have less struck the imagination of travellers. When immense rivers may be considered as composed of several parallel furrows of unequal depth; when these rivers are not enclosed in valleys; and when the interior of the great continent is as flat as the shores of the sea with us; the ramifications, the bifurcations, and the interlacings in the form of net-work, must be infinitely multiplied. From what we know of the equilibrium of the seas, I cannot think that the New World issued from the waters later than the Old, and that organic life is there younger, or more recent; but without admitting oppositions between the two hemispheres of the same planet, we may conceive that in the hemisphere most abundant in waters the different systems of rivers required more time to separate themselves from one another, and establish their complete independence. The deposits of mud, which are formed wherever the running waters lose somewhat of their swiftness, contribute, no doubt, to raise the beds of the great confluent streams, and augment their inundations; but at length these deposits entirely obstruct the branches of the rivers and the narrow channels that connect the neighbouring streams. The substances washed down by rain-waters form by their accumulation new bars, isthmuses of deposited earth, and points of division that did not before exist. It hence results that these natural channels of communication are by degrees divided into two tributary streams, and from the effect of a transverse rising, acquire two opposite slopes; a part of their waters is turned back towards the principal recipient, and a buttress rises between the two parallel basins, which occasions all traces of their ancient communication to disappear. From this period the bifurcations no longer connect different systems of rivers; and, where they continue to take place at the time of great inundations, we see that the waters diverge from the principal recipient only to enter it again after a longer or shorter circuit. The limits, which at first appeared vague and uncertain, begin to be fixed; and in the lapse of ages, from the action of whatever is moveable on the surface of the globe, from that of the waters, the deposits, and the sands, the basins of rivers separate, as great lakes are subdivided, and as inland seas lose their ancient communications.*
[* The geological constitution of the soil seems to indicate that, notwithstanding the actual difference of level in their waters, the Black Sea, the Caspian, and lake Aral, communicated with each other in an era anterior to historic times. The overflowing of the Aral into the Caspian Sea seems even to be partly of a more recent date, and independent of the bifurcation of the Gihon (Oxus), on which one of the most learned geographers of our day, M. Ritter, has thrown new light.]
The certainty acquired by geographers since the sixteenth century, of the existence of several bifurcations, and the mutual dependence of various systems of rivers in South America, have led them to admit an intimate connection between the five great tributary streams of the Orinoco and the Amazon; the Guaviare, the Inirida, the Rio Negro, the Caqueta or Hyapura, and the Putumayo or Iza.
The Meta, the Guaviare, the Caqueta, and the Putumayo, are the only great rivers that rise immediately from the eastern declivity of the Andes of Santa Fe, Popayan, and Pasto. The Vichada, the Zama, the Inirida, the Rio Negro, the Uaupe, and the Apoporis, which are marked in our maps as extending westward as far as the mountains, take rise at a great distance from them, either in the savannahs between the Meta and the Guaviare, or in the mountainous country which, according to the information given me by the natives, begins at four or five days’ journey westward of the missions of Javita and Maroa, and extends through the Sierra Tuhuny, beyond the Xie, towards the banks of the Issana.
It is remarkable that this ridge of the Cordilleras, which contains the sources of so many majestic rivers (the Meta, the Guaviare, the Caqueta, and the Putumayo), is as little covered with snow as the mountains of Abyssinia from which flow the waters of the Blue Nile; but, on the contrary, on going up the tributary streams which furrow the plains, a volcano as found still in activity, before you reach the Cordillera of the Andes. This phenomenon was discovered by the Franciscan monks, who go down from Ceja by the Rio Fragua to Caqueta. A solitary hill, emitting smoke night and day, is found on the north-east of the mission of Santa Rosa, and west of the Puerto del Pescado. This is the effect of a lateral action of the volcanoes of Popayan and Pasto; as Guacamayo and Sangay, situated also at the foot of the eastern declivity of the Andes, are the effect of a lateral action produced by the system of the volcanoes of Quito. After having closely inspected the banks of the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, where the granite everywhere pierces the soil; when we reflect on the total absence of volcanoes in Brazil, Guiana, on the coast of Venezuela, and perhaps in all that part of the continent lying eastward of the Andes; we contemplate with interest the three burning volcanoes situated near the sources of the Caqueta, the Napo, and the Rio de Macas or Morona.
The little group of mountains with which we became acquainted at the sources of the Guainia, is remarkable from its being isolated in the plain that extends to the south-west of the Orinoco. Its situation with regard to longitude might lead to the belief that it stretches into a ridge, which forms first the strait (angostura) of the Guaviare, and then the great cataracts (saltos, cachoeiras) of the Uaupe and the Jupura. Does this ground, composed probably of primitive rocks, like that which I examined more to the east, contain disseminated gold? Are there any gold-washings more to the south, toward the Uaupe, on the Iquiare (Iguiari, Iguari), and on the Yurubesh (Yurubach, Urubaxi)? It was there that Philip von Huten first sought El Dorado, and with a handful of men fought the battle of Omaguas, so celebrated in the sixteenth century. In separating what is fabulous from the narratives of the Conquistadores, we cannot fail to recognize in the names preserved on the same spots a certain basis of historic truth. We follow the expedition of Huten beyond the Guaviare and the Caqeta; we find in the Guaypes, governed by the cacique of Macatoa, the inhabitants of the river of Uaupe, which also bears the name of Guape, or Guapue; we call to mind, that Father Acunha calls the Iquiari (Quiquiare) a gold river; and that fifty years later Father Fritz, a missionary of great veracity, received, in the mission of Yurimaguas, the Manaos (Manoas), adorned with plates of beaten gold, coming from the country between the Uaupe and the Caqueta, or Jupura. The rivers that rise on the eastern declivity of the Andes (for instance the Napo) carry along with them a great deal of gold, even when their sources are found in trachytic soils. Why may there not be an alluvial auriferous soil to the east of the Cordilleras, as there is to the west, in the Sonoro, at Choco, and at Barbacoas? I am far from wishing to exaggerate the riches of this soil; but I do not think myself authorized to deny the existence of precious metals in the primitive mountains of Guiana, merely because in our journey through that country we saw no metallic veins. It is somewhat remarkable that the natives of the Orinoco have a name in their languages for gold (carucuru in Caribbee, caricuri in Tamanac, cavitta in Maypure), while the word they use to denote silver, prata, is manifestly borrowed from the Spanish.* The notions collected by Acunha, Father Fritz, and La Condamine, on the gold-washings south and north of the river Uaupe, agree with what I learnt of the auriferous soil of those countries. However great we may suppose the communications that took place between the nations of the Orinoco before the arrival of Europeans, they certainly did not draw their gold from the eastern declivity of the Cordilleras. This declivity is poor in mines, particularly in mines anciently worked; it is almost entirely composed of volcanic rocks in the provinces of Popayan, Pasto, and Quito. The gold of Guiana probably came from the country east of the Andes. In our days a lump of gold has been found in a ravine near the mission of Encaramada, and we must not be surprised if, since Europeans settled in these wild spots, we hear less of the plates of gold, gold-dust, and amulets of jade-stone, which could heretofore be obtained from the Caribs and other wandering nations by barter. The precious metals, never very abundant on the banks of the Orinoco, the Rio Negro, and the Amazon, disappeared almost entirely when the system of the missions caused the distant communications between the natives to cease.
[* The Parecas say, instead of prata, rata. It is the Castilian word plata ill-pronounced. Near the Yurubesh there is another inconsiderable tributary stream of the Rio Negro, the Curicur-iari. It is easy to recognize in this name the Caribbee word carucur, gold. The Caribs extended their incursions from the mouth of the Orinoco south-west toward the Rio Negro; and it was this restless people who carried the fable of El Dorado, by the same way, but in an opposite direction (from south-west to north-east), from the Mesopotamia between the Rio Negro and the Jupura to the sources of the Rio Branco.]
The banks of the Upper Guainia in general abound much less in fishing-birds than those of Cassiquiare, the Meta, and the Arauca, where ornithologists would find sufficient to enrich immensely the collections of Europe. This scarcity of animals arises, no doubt, from the want of shoals and flat shores, as well as from the quality of the black waters, which (on account of their very purity) furnish less aliment to aquatic insects and fish. However, the Indians of these countries, during two periods of the year, feed on birds of passage, which repose in their long migrations on the waters of the Rio Negro. When the Orinoco begins to swell* after the vernal equinox, an innumerable quantity of ducks (patos careteros) remove from the eighth to the third degree of north latitude, to the first and fourth degree of south latitude, towards the south-south-east. These animals then abandon the valley of the Orinoco, no doubt because the increasing depth of waters, and the inundations of the shores, prevent them from catching fish, insects, and aquatic worms. They are killed by thousands in their passage across the Rio Negro. When they go towards the equator they are very fat and savoury; but in the month of September, when the Orinoco decreases and returns into its bed, the ducks, warned either by the voices of the most experienced birds of passage, or by that internal feeling which, not knowing how to define, we call instinct, return from the Amazon and the Rio Branco towards the north. At this period they are too lean to tempt the appetite of the Indians of the Rio Negro, and escape pursuit more easily from being accompanied by a species of herons (gavanes) which are excellent eating. Thus the Indians eat ducks in March, and herons in September. We could not learn what becomes of the gavanes during the swellings of the Orinoco, and why they do not accompany the patos careteros in their migration from the Orinoco to the Rio Branco. These regular migrations of birds from one part of the tropics towards another, in a zone which is during the whole year of the same temperature, are very extraordinary phenomena. The southern coasts of the West India Islands receive also every year, at the period of the inundations of the great rivers of Terra Firma, numerous flights of the fishing-birds of the Orinoco, and of its tributary streams. We must presume that the variations of drought and humidity in the equinoctial zone have the same influence as the great changes of temperature in our climates, on the habits of animals. The heat of summer, and the pursuit of insects, call the humming-birds into the northern parts of the United States, and into Canada as far as the parallels of Paris and Berlin: in the same manner a greater facility for fishing draws the web-footed and long-legged birds from the north to the south, from the Orinoco towards the Amazon. Nothing is more marvellous, and nothing is yet known less clearly in a geographical point of view, than the direction, extent, and term of the migrations of birds.
[* The swellings of the Nile take place much later than those of the Orinoco; after the summer solstice, below Syene; and at Cairo in the beginning of July. The Nile begins to sink near that city generally about the 15th of October, and continues sinking till the 20th of May.]
After having entered the Rio Negro by the Pimichin, and passed the small cataract at the confluence of the two rivers, we discovered, at the distance of a quarter of a league, the mission of Maroa. This village, containing one hundred and fifty Indians, presented an appearance of ease and prosperity. We purchased some fine specimens of the toucan alive; a courageous bird, the intelligence of which is developed like that of our domestic ravens. We passed on the right, above Maroa, first the mouth of the Aquio* (Aqui, Aaqui, Ake, of the most recent maps.), then that of the Tomo.* On the banks of the latter river dwell the Cheruvichahenas, some families of whom I have seen at San Francisco Solano. The Tomo lies near the Rio Guaicia (Xie), and the mission of Tomo receives by that way fugitive Indians from the Lower Guainia. We did not enter the mission, but Father Zea related to us with a smile, that the Indians of Tomo and Maroa had been one day in full insurrection, because an attempt was made to force them to dance the famous dance of the devils. The missionary had taken a fancy to have the ceremonies by which the piaches (who are at once priests, physicians, and conjurors) evoke the evil spirit Iolokiamo, represented in a burlesque manner. He thought that the dance of the devils would be an excellent means of proving to the neophytes that Iolokiamo had no longer any power over them. Some young Indians, confiding in the promises of the missionary, consented to act the devils, and were already decorated with black and yellow plumes, and jaguar-skins with long sweeping tails. The place where the church stands was surrounded by the soldiers who are distributed in the missions, in order to add more effect to the counsels of the monks; and those Indians who were not entirely satisfied with respect to the consequences of the dance, and the impotency of the evil spirit, were brought to the festivity. The oldest and most timid of the Indians, however, imbued all the rest with a superstitious dread; all resolved to flee al monte, and the missionary adjourned his project of turning into derision the demon of the natives. What extravagant ideas may sometimes enter the imagination of an idle monk, who passes his life in the forests, far from everything that can recall human civilization to his mind. The violence with which the attempt was made to execute in public at Tomo the mysterious dance of the devils is the more strange, as all the books written by the missionaries relate the efforts they have used to prevent the funereal dances, the dances of the sacred trumpet, and that ancient dance of serpents, the Queti, in which these wily animals are represented as issuing from the forests, and coming to drink with the men in order to deceive them, and carry off the women.
[* Tomui, Temujo, Tomon.]
After two hours’ navigation from the mouth of the Tomo we arrived at the little mission of San Miguel de Davipe, founded in 1775, not by monks, but by a lieutenant of militia, Don Francisco Bobadilla. The missionary of the place, Father Morillo, with whom we spent some hours, received us with great hospitality. He even offered us Madeira wine, but, as an object of luxury, we should have preferred wheaten bread. The want of bread becomes more sensibly felt in length of time than that of a strong liquor. The Portuguese of the Amazon carry small quantities of Madeira wine, from time to time, to the Rio Negro; and the word madera, signifying wood in the Castilian language, the monks, who are not much versed in the study of geography, had a scruple of celebrating mass with Madeira wine, which they took for a fermented liquor extracted from the trunk of some tree, like palm-wine; and requested the guardian of the missions to decide, whether the vino de madera were wine from grapes, or the juice of a tree. At the beginning of the conquest, the question was agitated, whether it were allowable for the priests, in celebrating mass, to use any fermented liquor analogous to grape-wine. The question, as might have been foreseen, was decided in the negative.
At Davipe we bought some provisions, among which were fowls and a pig. This purchase greatly interested our Indians, who had been a long while deprived of meat. They pressed us to depart, in order to reach the island of Dapa, where the pig was to be killed and roasted during the night. We had scarcely time to examine in the convent (convento) the great stores of mani resin, and cordage of the chiquichiqui palm, which deserves to be more known in Europe. This cordage is extremely light; it floats upon the water, and is more durable in the navigation of rivers than ropes of hemp. It must be preserved at sea by being often wetted, and little exposed to the heat of the tropical sun. Don Antonio Santos, celebrated in the country for his journey in search of lake Parima, taught the Indians of the Spanish Rio Negro to make use of the petioles of the chiquichiqui, a palm-tree with pinnate leaves, of which we saw neither the flowers nor the fruit. This officer is the only white man who ever came from Angostura to Grand Para, passing by land from the sources of the Rio Carony to those of the Rio Branco. He had studied the mode of fabricating ropes from the chiquichiqui in the Portuguese colonies; and, on his return from the Amazon, he introduced this branch of industry into the missions of Guiana. It were to be wished that extensive rope-walks could be established on the banks of the Rio Negro and the Cassiquiare, in order to make these cables an article of trade with Europe. A small quantity is already exported from Angostura to the West Indies; and it costs from fifty to sixty per cent less than cordage of hemp. Young palm-trees only being employed, they must be planted and carefully cultivated.
A little above the mission of Davipe, the Rio Negro receives a branch of the Cassiquiare, the existence of which is a very remarkable phenomenon in the history of the branchings of rivers. This branch issues from the Cassiquiare, north of Vasiva, bearing the name of the Itinivini; and, after flowing for the length of twenty-five leagues through a flat and almost uninhabited country, it falls into the Rio Negro under the name of the Rio Conorichite. It appeared to me to be more than one hundred and twenty toises broad near its mouth. Although the current of the Conorichite is very rapid, this natural canal abridges by three days the passage from Davipe to Esmeralda. We cannot be surprised at a double communication between the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro when we recollect that so many of the rivers of America form, as it were, deltas at their confluence with other rivers. Thus the Rio Branco and the Rio Jupura enter by a great number of branches into the Rio Negro and the Amazon. At the confluence of the Jupura there is a much more extraordinary phenomenon. Before this river joins the Amazon, the latter, which is the principal recipient, sends off three branches called Uaranapu, Manhama, and Avateparana, to the Jupura, which is but a tributary stream. The Portuguese astronomer, Ribeiro, has proved this important fact. The Amazon gives waters to the Jupura itself, before it receives that tributary stream.
The Rio Conorichite, or Itinivini, formerly facilitated the trade in slaves carried on by the Portuguese in the Spanish territory. The slave-traders went up by the Cassiquiare and the Cano Mee to Conorichite; and thence dragged their canoes by a portage to the rochelas of Manuteso, in order to enter the Atabapo. This abominable trade lasted till about the year 1756; when the expedition of Solano, and the establishment of the missions on the banks of the Rio Negro, put an end to it. Old laws of Charles V and Philip III* had forbidden under the most severe penalties (such as the being rendered incapable of civil employment, and a fine of two thousand piastres), the conversion of the natives to the faith by violent means, and sending armed men against them; but notwithstanding these wise and humane laws, the Rio Negro, in the middle of the last century, was no further interesting in European politics, than as it facilitated the entradas, or hostile incursions, and favoured the purchase of slaves. The Caribs, a trading and warlike people, received from the Portuguese and the Dutch, knives, fish-hooks, small mirrors, and all sorts of glass beads. They excited the Indian chiefs to make war against each other, bought their prisoners, and carried off, themselves, by stratagem or force, all whom they found in their way. These incursions of the Caribs comprehended an immense extent of land; they went from the banks of the Essequibo and the Carony, by the Rupunuri and the Paraguamuzi on one side, directly south towards the Rio Branco; and on the other, to the south-west, following the portages between the Rio Paragua, the Caura, and the Ventuario. The Caribs, when they arrived amid the numerous tribes of the Upper Orinoco, divided themselves into several bands, in order to reach, by the Cassiquiare, the Cababury, the Itinivini, and the Atabapo, on a great many points at once, the banks of the Guiainia or Rio Negro, and carry on the slave-trade with the Portuguese. Thus the unhappy natives, before they came into immediate contact with the Europeans, suffered from their proximity. The same causes produce everywhere the same effects. The barbarous trade which civilized nations have carried on, and still partially continue, on the coast of Africa, extends its fatal influence even to regions where the existence of white men is unknown.
[* 26 January 1523 and 10 October 1618.]
Having quitted the mouth of the Conorichite and the mission of Davipe, we reached at sunset the island of Dapa, lying in the middle of the river, and very picturesquely situated. We were astonished to find on this spot some cultivated ground, and on the top of a small hill an Indian hut. Four natives were seated round a fire of brushwood, and they were eating a sort of white paste with black spots, which much excited our curiosity. These black spots proved to be vachacos, large ants, the hinder parts of which resemble a lump of grease. They had been dried, and blackened by smoke. We saw several bags of them suspended above the fire. These good people paid but little attention to us; yet there were more than fourteen persons in this confined hut, lying naked in hammocks hung one above another. When Father Zea arrived, he was received with great demonstrations of joy. The military are in greater numbers on the banks of the Rio Negro than on those of the Orinoco, owing to the necessity of guarding the frontiers; and wherever soldiers and monks dispute for power over the Indians, the latter are most attached to the monks. Two young women came down from their hammocks, to prepare for us cakes of cassava. In answer to some enquiries which we put to them through an interpreter, they answered that cassava grew poorly on the island, but that it was a good land for ants, and food was not wanting. In fact, these vachacos furnish subsistence to the Indians of the Rio Negro and the Guainia. They do not eat the ants as a luxury, but because, according to the expression of the missionaries, the fat of ants (the white part of the abdomen) is a very substantial food. When the cakes of cassava were prepared, Father Zea, whose fever seemed rather to sharpen than to enfeeble his appetite, ordered a little bag to be brought to him filled with smoked vachacos. He mixed these bruised insects with flour of cassava, which he pressed us to taste. It somewhat resembled rancid butter mixed with crumb of bread. The cassava had not an acid taste, but some remains of European prejudices prevented our joining in the praises bestowed by the good missionary on what he called an excellent ant paste.
The violence of the rain obliged us to sleep in this crowded hut. The Indians slept only from eight till two in the morning; the rest of the time they employed in conversing in their hammocks, and preparing their bitter beverage of cupana. They threw fresh fuel on the fire, and complained of cold, although the temperature of the air was at 21°. This custom of being awake, and even on foot, four or five hours before sunrise, is general among the Indians of Guiana. When, in the entradas, an attempt is made to surprise the natives, the hours chosen are those of the first sleep, from nine till midnight.
We left the island of Dapa long before daybreak; and notwithstanding the rapidity of the current, and the activity of our rowers, our passage to the fort of San Carlos del Rio Negro occupied twelve hours. We passed, on the left, the mouth of the Cassiquiare, and, on the right, the small island of Cumarai. The fort is believed in the country to be on the equatorial line; but, according to the observations which I made at the rocks of Culimacari, it is in 1 degree 54 minutes 11 seconds.
We lodged at San Carlos with the commander of the fort, a lieutenant of militia. From a gallery in the upper part of the house we enjoyed a delightful view of three islands of great length, and covered with thick vegetation. The river runs in a straight line from north to south, as if its bed had been dug by the hand of man. The sky being constantly cloudy gives these countries a solemn and gloomy character. We found in the village a few juvia-trees which furnish the triangular nuts called in Europe the almonds of the Amazon, or Brazil-nuts. We have made it known by the name of Bertholletia excelsa. The trees attain after eight years’ growth the height of thirty feet.
The military establishment of this frontier consisted of seventeen soldiers, ten of whom were detached for the security of the neighbouring missions. Owing to the extreme humidity of the air there are not four muskets in a condition to be fired. The Portuguese have from twenty-five to thirty men, better clothed and armed, at the little fort of San Jose de Maravitanos. We found in the mission of San Carlos but one garita,* a square house, constructed with unbaked bricks, and containing six field-pieces. The little fort, or, as they think proper to call it here, the Castillo de San Felipe, is situated opposite San Carlos, on the western bank of the Rio Negro.
[* This word literally signifies a sentry-box; but it is here employed in the sense of store-house or arsenal.]
The banks of the Upper Guainia will be more productive when, by the destruction of the forests, the excessive humidity of the air and the soil shall be diminished. In their present state of culture maize scarcely grows, and the tobacco, which is of the finest quality, and much celebrated on the coast of Caracas, is well cultivated only on spots amid old ruins, remains of the huts of the pueblo viejo (old town). Indigo grows wild near the villages of Maroa, Davipe, and Tomo. Under a different system from that which we found existing in these countries, the Rio Negro will produce indigo, coffee, cacao, maize, and rice, in abundance.
The passage from the mouth of the Rio Negro to Grand Para occupying only twenty or twenty-five days, it would not have taken us much more time to have gone down the Amazon as far as the coast of Brazil, than to return by the Cassiquiare and the Orinoco to the northern coast of Caracas. We were informed at San Carlos that, on account of political circumstances, it was difficult at that moment to pass from the Spanish to the Portuguese settlements; but we did not know till after our return to Europe the extent of the danger to which we should have been exposed in proceeding as far as Barcellos. It was known at Brazil, possibly through the medium of the newspapers, that I was going to visit the missions of the Rio Negro, and examine the natural canal which unites two great systems of rivers. In those desert forests instruments had been seen only in the hands of the commissioners of the boundaries; and at that time the subaltern agents of the Portuguese government could not conceive how a man of sense could expose himself to the fatigues of a long journey, to measure lands that did not belong to him. Orders had been issued to seize my person, my instruments, and, above all, those registers of astronomical observations, so dangerous to the safety of states. We were to be conducted by way of the Amazon to Grand Para, and thence sent back to Lisbon. But fortunately for me, the government at Lisbon, on being informed of the zeal of its subaltern agents, instantly gave orders that I should not be disturbed in my operations; but that on the contrary they should be encouraged, if I traversed any part of the Portuguese possessions.
In going down the Guainia, or Rio Negro, you pass on the right the Cano Maliapo, and on the left the Canos Dariba and Eny. At five leagues distance, nearly in 1 degree 38 minutes of north latitude, is the island of San Josef. A little below that island, in a spot where there are a great number of orange-trees now growing wild, the traveller is shown a small rock, two hundred feet high, with a cavern called by the missionaries the Glorieta de Cocuy. This summer-house (for such is the signification of the word glorieta in Spanish) recalls remembrances that are not the most agreeable. It was here that Cocuy, the chief of the Manitivitanos,* had his harem of women, and where he devoured the finest and fattest. The tradition of the harem and the orgies of Cocuy is more current in the Lower Orinoco than on the banks of the Guainia. At San Carlos the very idea that the chief of the Manitivitanos could be guilty of cannibalism is indignantly rejected.
[* At San Carlos there is still preserved an instrument of music, a kind of large drum, ornamented with very rude Indian paintings, which relate to the exploits of Cocuy.]
The Portuguese government has established many settlements even in this remote part of Brazil. Below the Glorieta, in the Portuguese territory, there are eleven villages in an extent of twenty-five leagues. I know of nineteen more as far as the mouth of the Rio Negro, beside the six towns of Thomare, Moreira (near the Rio Demenene, or Uaraca, where dwelt anciently the Guiana Indians), Barcellos, San Miguel del Rio Branco, near the river of the same name (so well known in the fictions of El Dorado), Moura, and Villa de Rio Negro. The banks of this tributary stream of the Amazon alone are consequently ten times more thickly peopled than all the shores of the Upper and Lower Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, the Atabapo, and the Spanish Rio Negro.
Among the tributary streams which the Rio Negro receives from the north, three are particularly deserving of attention, because on account of their branchings, their portages, and the situation of their sources, they are connected with the often-discussed problem of the origin of the Orinoco. The most southern of these tributary streams are the Rio Branco,* which was long believed to issue conjointly with the Orinoco from lake Parime, and the Rio Padaviri, which communicates by a portage with the Mavaca, and consequently with the Upper Orinoco, to the east of the mission of Esmeralda. We shall have occasion to speak of the Rio Branco and the Padaviri, when we arrive in that mission; it suffices here to pause at the third tributary stream of the Rio Negro, the Cababury, the interbranchings of which with the Cassiquiare are alike important in their connexion with hydrography, and with the trade in sarsaparilla.
[* The Portuguese name, Rio Branco, signifies White Water. Rio Parime is a Caribbean name, signifying Great Water. These names having also been applied to different tributary streams, have caused many errors in geography. The great Rio Branco, or Parime, often mentioned in this work, is formed by the Urariquera and the Tacutu, and flows, between Carvoeyro and Villa de Moura, into the Rio Negro. It is the Quecuene of the natives; and forms at its confluence with the Rio Negro a very narrow delta, between the principal trunk and the Amayauhau, which is a little branch more to the west.]
The lofty mountains of the Parime, which border the northern bank of the Orinoco in the upper part of its course above Esmeralda, send off a chain towards the south, of which the Cerro de Unturan forms one of the principal summits. This mountainous country, of small extent but rich in vegetable productions, above all, in the mavacure liana, employed in preparing the wourali poison, in almond-trees (the juvia, or Bertholletia excelsa), in aromatic pucheries, and in wild cacao-trees, forms a point of division between the waters that flow to the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Rio Negro. The tributary streams on the north, or those of the Orinoco, are the Mavaca and the Daracapo; those on the west, or of the Cassiquiare, are the Idapa and the Pacimoni; and those on the south, or of the Rio Negro, are the Padaviri and the Cababuri. The latter is divided near its source into two branches, the westernmost of which is known by the name of Baria. The Indians of the mission of San Francisco Solano gave us the most minute description of its course. It affords the very rare example of a branch by which an inferior tributary stream, instead of receiving the waters of the superior stream, sends to it a part of its own waters in a direction opposite to that of the principal recipient.
The Cababuri runs into the Rio Negro near the mission of Nossa Senhora das Caldas; but the rivers Ya and Dimity, which are higher tributary streams, communicate also with the Cababuri; so that, from the little fort of San Gabriel de Cachoeiras as far as San Antonio de Castanheira the Indians of the Portuguese possessions can enter the territory of the Spanish missions by the Baria and the Pacimoni.
The chief object of these incursions is the collection of sarsaparilla and the aromatic seeds of the puchery-laurel (Laurus pichurim). The sarsaparilla of these countries is celebrated at Grand Para, Angostura, Cumana, Nueva Barcelona, and in other parts of Terra Firma, by the name of zarza del Rio Negro. It is much preferred to the zarza of the Province of Caracas, or of the mountains of Merida; it is dried with great care, and exposed purposely to smoke, in order that it may become blacker. This liana grows in profusion on the humid declivities of the mountains of Unturan and Achivaquery. Decandolle is right in suspecting that different species of smilax are gathered under the name of sarsaparilla. We found twelve new species, among which the Smilax siphylitica of the Cassiquaire, and the Smilax officinalis of the river Magdalena, are most esteemed on account of their diuretic properties. The quantity of sarsaparilla employed in the Spanish colonies as a domestic medicine is very considerable. We see by the works of Clusius, that at the beginning of the Conquista, Europe obtained this salutary medicament from the Mexican coast of Honduras and the port of Guayaquil. The trade in zarza is now more active in those ports which have interior communications with the Orinoco, the Rio Negro, and the Amazon.
The trials made in several botanical gardens of Europe prove that the Smilax glauca of Virginia, which it is pretended is the S. sarsaparilla of Linnaeus, may be cultivated in the open air, wherever the mean winter temperature rises above six or seven degrees of the centigrade thermometer*: but those species that possess the most active virtues belong exclusively to the torrid zone, and require a much higher degree of heat. In reading the works of Clusius, it can scarcely be conceived why our writers on the Materia Medica persist in considering a plant of the United States as the most ancient type of the officinal species of the genus smilax.
[* The winter temperature at London and Paris is 4.2 and 3.7; at Montpelier, 6.7; at Rome, 7.7°. In that part of Mexico, and the Terra Firma, where we saw the most active species of the sarsaparilla growing (that which supplies the trade of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies), the temperature is from twenty to twenty-six degrees. The roots of another family of monocotyledons (of some cyperaceae) possess also diaphoretic and resolvent properties. The Carex arenaria, the C. hirta, etc. furnish the German sarsaparilla of druggists. According to Clusius, Europe received the first sarsaparilla from Yucatan, and the island of Puna, opposite Guayaquil.]
We found in the possession of the Indians of the Rio Negro some of those green stones, known by the name of Amazon stones, because the natives pretend, according to an ancient tradition, that they come from the country of the women without husbands (Cougnantainsecouima), or women living alone (Aikeambenano*). We were told at San Carlos, and in the neighbouring villages, that the sources of the Orinoco, which we found east of the Esmeralda, and in the missions of the Carony and at Angostura, that the sources of the Rio Branco are the native spots of the green stones. These statements confirm the report of an old soldier of the garrison of Cayenne (mentioned by La Condamine), who affirmed that those mineral substances were obtained from the country of women, west of the rapids of the Oyapoc. The Indians who inhabit the fort of Topayos on the Amazon five degrees east of the mouth of the Rio Negro, possessed formerly a great number of these stones. Had they received them from the north, that is, from the country pointed out by the Indians of the Rio Negro, which extends from the mountains of Cayenne towards the sources of the Essequibo, the Carony, the Orinoco, the Parime, and the Rio Trombetas? or did they come from the south by the Rio Topayos, which descends from the vast table-land of the Campos Parecis? Superstition attaches great importance to these mineral substances: they are worn suspended from the neck as amulets, because, according to popular belief, they preserve the wearer from nervous complaints, fevers, and the stings of venomous serpents. They have consequently been for ages an article of trade among the natives, both north and south of the Orinoco. The Caribs, who may be considered as the Bucharians of the New World, made them known along the coasts of Guiana; and the same stones, like money in circulation, passed successively from nation to nation in opposite directions: their quantity is perhaps not augmented, and the spot which produces them is probably unknown rather than concealed. In the midst of enlightened Europe, on occasion of a warm contest respecting native bark, a few years ago, the green stones of the Orinoco were gravely proposed as a powerful febrifuge. After this appeal to the credulity of Europeans, we cannot be surprised to learn that the Spanish planters share the predilection of the Indians for these amulets, and that they are sold at a very considerable price. The form given to them most frequently is that of the Babylonian cylinders,* longitudinally perforated, and loaded with inscriptions and figures. (The price of a cylinder two inches long is from twelve to fifteen piastres.) But this is not the work of the Indians of our days, the natives of the Orinoco and the Amazon, whom we find in the last degree of barbarism. The Amazon stones, like the perforated and sculptured emeralds, found in the Cordilleras of New Grenada and Quito, are vestiges of anterior civilization. The present inhabitants of those countries, particularly in the hot region, so little comprehend the possibility of cutting hard stones (the emerald, jade, compact feldspar and rock-crystal), that they imagine the green stone is soft when taken out of the earth, and that it hardens after having been moulded by the hand.
[* This word is of the Tamanac language; these women are the sole Donne of the Italian missionaries.]
The natural soil of the Amazon-stone is not in the valley of the river Amazon. It does not derive its name from the river, but like the river itself, the stone has been named after a nation of warlike women, whom Father Acunha, and Oviedo, in his letter to cardinal Bembo, compare to the Amazons of the ancient world. What we see in our cabinets under the false denomination of Amazon-stone, is neither jade, nor compact feldspar, but a common feldspar of an apple-green colour, that comes from the Ural mountains and on lake Onega in Russia, but which I never saw in the granitic mountains of Guiana. Sometimes also this very rare and hard Amazon-stone is confounded with the hatchet-nephrite (beilstein)* of Werner, which has much less tenacity. The substance which I obtained from the hands of the Indians, belongs to the saussurite,* to the real jade, which resembles compact feldspar, and which forms one of the constituent parts of the verde de Corsica, or gabbro.* It takes a fine polish, and passes from apple-green to emerald-green; it is translucent at the edges, extremely tenacious, and in a high degree sonorous. These Amazon stones were formerly cut by the natives into very thin plates, perforated at the centre, and suspended by a thread, and these plates yield an almost metallic sound if struck by another hard body.* This fact confirms the connection which we find, notwithstanding the difference of fracture and of specific gravity between the saussurite and the siliceous basis of the porphyrschiefer, which is the phonolite (klingstein). I have already observed, that, as it is very rare to find in America nephrite, jade, or compact feldspar, in its native place, we may well be astonished at the quantity of hatchets which are everywhere discovered in digging the earth, from the banks of the Ohio as far as Chile. We saw in the mountains of Upper Orinoco, or of Parime, only granular granites containing a little hornblende, granites passing into gneiss, and schistoid hornblendes. Has nature repeated on the east of Esmeralda, between the sources of the Carony, the Essequibo, the Orinoco, and the Rio Branco, the transition-formation of Tucutunemo reposing on mica-schist? Does the Amazon-stone come from the rocks of euphotide, which form the last member of the series of primitive rocks?
[* Punamustein (jade axinien). The stone hatchets found in America, for instance in Mexico, are not of beilstein, but of compact feldspar.]
[* Jade of Saussure, according to the system of Brongniart; tenacious jade, and compact tenacious feldspar of Hauy; some varieties of the variolithe of Werner.]
[* Euphotide of Hauy, or schillerfels, of Raumer.]
[* M. Brongniart, to whom I showed these plates on my return to Europe, very justly compared these jades of Parime to the sonorous stones employed by the Chinese in their musical instruments called king.]
We find among the inhabitants of both hemispheres, at the first dawn of civilization, a peculiar predilection for certain stones; not only those which, from their hardness, may be useful to man as cutting instruments, but also for mineral substances, which, on account of their colour and their natural form, are believed to bear some relation to the organic functions, and even to the propensities of the soul. This ancient worship of stones, these benign virtues attributed to jade and haematite, belong to the savages of America as well as to the inhabitants of the forests of Thrace. The human race, when in an uncultivated state, believes itself to have sprung from the ground; and feels as if it were enchained to the earth, and the substances contained in her bosom. The powers of nature, and still more those which destroy than those which preserve, are the first objects of its worship. It is not solely in the tempest, in the sound that precedes the earthquake, in the fire that feeds the volcano, that these powers are manifested; the inanimate rock; stones, by their lustre and hardness; mountains, by their mass and their solitude; act upon the untaught mind with a force which, in a state of advanced civilization, can no longer be conceived. This worship of stones, when once established, is preserved amidst more modern forms of worship; and what was at first the object of religious homage, becomes a source of superstitious confidence. Divine stones are transformed into amulets, which are believed to preserve the wearer from every ill, mental and corporeal. Although a distance of five hundred leagues separates the banks of the Amazon and the Orinoco from the Mexican table-land; although history records no fact that connects the savage nations of Guiana with the civilized nations of Anahuac, the monk Bernard de Sahagun, at the beginning of the conquest, found preserved as relics at Cholula, certain green stones which had belonged to Quetzalcohuatl. This mysterious personage is the Mexican Buddha; he appeared in the time of the Toltecs, founded the first religious associations, and established a government similar to that of Meroe and of Japan.
The history of the jade, or the green stones of Guiana, is intimately connected with that of the warlike women whom the travellers of the sixteenth century named the Amazons of the New World. La Condamine has produced many testimonies in favour of this tradition. Since my return from the Orinoco and the river Amazon, I have often been asked, at Paris, whether I embraced the opinion of that learned man, or believed, like several of his contemporaries, that he undertook the defence of the Cougnantainsecouima (the independent women who received men into their society only in the month of April), merely to fix, in a public sitting of the Academy, the attention of an audience somewhat eager for novelties. I may take this opportunity of expressing my opinion on a tradition which has so romantic an appearance; and I am farther led to do this as La Condamine asserts that the Amazons of the Rio Cayame* crossed the Maranon to establish themselves on the Rio Negro. A taste for the marvellous, and a wish to invest the descriptions of the New Continent with some of the colouring of classic antiquity, no doubt contributed to give great importance to the first narratives of Orellana. In perusing the works of Vespucci, Fernando Columbus, Geraldini, Oviedo, and Pietro Martyr, we recognize this tendency of the writers of the sixteenth century to find among the newly discovered nations all that the Greeks have related to us of the first age of the world, and of the manners of the barbarous Scythians and Africans. But if Oviedo, in addressing his letters to cardinal Bembo, thought fit to flatter the taste of a man so familiar with the study of antiquity, Sir Walter Raleigh had a less poetic aim. He sought to fix the attention of Queen Elizabeth on the great empire of Guiana, the conquest of which he proposed. He gave a description of the rising of that gilded king (el dorado),* whose chamberlains, furnished with long tubes, blew powdered gold every morning over his body, after having rubbed it over with aromatic oils: but nothing could be better adapted to strike the imagination of queen Elizabeth, than the warlike republic of women without husbands, who resisted the Castilian heroes. Such were the motives which prompted exaggeration on the part of those writers who have given most reputation to the Amazons of America; but these motives do not, I think, suffice for entirely rejecting a tradition, which is spread among various nations having no communications one with another.
[* Orellana, arriving at the Maranon by the Rio Coca and the Napo, fought with the Amazons, as it appears, between the mouth of the Rio Negro and that of the Xingu. La Condamine asserts that in the seventeenth century they passed the Maranon between Tefe and the mouth of the Rio Puruz, near the Cano Cuchivara, which is a western branch of the Puruz. These women therefore came from the banks of the Rio Cayame, or Cayambe, consequently from the unknown country which extends south of the Maranon, between the Ucayale and the Madeira. Raleigh also places them on the south of the Maranon, but in the province of Topayos, and on the river of the same name. He says they were rich in golden vessels, which they had acquired in exchange for the famous green stones, or piedras hijadas. (Raleigh means, no doubt, piedros del higado, stones that cure diseases of the liver.) It is remarkable enough that, one hundred and forty-eight years after, La Condamine still found those green stones (divine stones), which differ neither in colour nor in hardness from oriental jade, in greater numbers among the Indians who live near the mouth of the Rio Topayos, than elsewhere. The Indians said that they inherited these stones, which cure the nephritic colic and epilepsy, from their fathers, who received them from the women without husbands.]
[* The term el dorado, which signifies the gilded, was not originally the name of the country. The territory subsequently distinguished by that appellation was at first known as the country of el Rey Dorado, the Gilded King.]
Thirty years after La Condamine visited Quito, a Portuguese astronomer, Ribeiro, who has traversed the Amazon, and the tributary streams which run into that river on the northern side, has confirmed on the spot all that the learned Frenchman had advanced. He found the same traditions among the Indians; and he collected them with the greater impartiality as he did not himself believe that the Amazons formed a separate horde. Not knowing any of the tongues spoken on the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, I could learn nothing certain respecting the popular traditions of the women without husbands, or the origin of the green stones, which are believed to be intimately connected with them. I shall, however, quote a modern testimony of some weight, that of Father Gili. “Upon inquiring,” says this well-informed missionary, “of a Quaqua Indian, what nations inhabited the Rio Cuchivero, he named to me the Achirigotos, the Pajuros, and the Aikeambenanos.* Being well acquainted,” pursues he, “with the Tamanac tongue, I instantly comprehended the sense of this last word, which is a compound, and signifies women living alone. The Indian confirmed my observation, and related that the Aikeambenanos were a community of women, who manufactured blow-tubes*, and other weapons of war. They admit, once a year, the men of the neighbouring nation of Vokearos into their society, and send them back with presents. All the male children born in this horde of women are killed in their infancy.” This history seems framed on the traditions which circulate among the Indians of the Maranon, and among the Caribs; yet the Quaqua Indian, of whom Father Gili speaks, was ignorant of the Castilian language; he had never had any communication with white men; and certainly knew not, that south of the Orinoco there existed another river, called the river of the Aikeambenanos, or Amazons.
[* In Italian, Acchirecolti, Pajuri, and Aicheam-benano.]
[* Long tubes made from a hollow cane, which the natives use to propel their poisoned arrows.]
What must we conclude from this narration of the old missionary of Encaramada? Not that there are Amazons on the banks of the Cuchivero, but that women in different parts of America, wearied of the state of slavery in which they were held by the men, united themselves together; that the desire of preserving their independence rendered them warriors; and that they received visits from a neighbouring and friendly horde. This society of women may have acquired some power in one part of Guiana. The Caribs of the continent held intercourse with those of the islands; and no doubt in this way the traditions of the Maranon and the Orinoco were propagated toward the north. Before the voyage of Orellana, Christopher Columbus imagined he had found the Amazons in the Caribbee Islands. This great man was told, that the small island of Madanino (Montserrat) was inhabited by warlike women, who lived the greater part of the year separate from men. At other times also, the conquistadores imagined that the women, who defended their huts in the absence of their husbands, were republics of Amazons; and, by an error less excusable, formed a like supposition respecting the religious congregations, the convents of Mexican virgins, who, far from admitting men at any season of the year into their society, lived according to the austere rule of Quetzalcohuatl. Such was the disposition of men’s minds, that in the long succession of travellers, who crowded on each other in their discoveries and in narrations of the marvels of the New World, every one readily declared he had seen what his predecessors had announced.
We passed three nights at San Carlos del Rio Negro. I count the nights, because I watched during the greater part of them, in the hope of seizing the moment of the passage of some star over the meridian. That I might have nothing to reproach myself with, I kept the instruments always ready for an observation. I could not even obtain double altitudes, to calculate the latitude by the method of Douwes. What a contrast between two parts of the same zone; between the sky of Cumana, where the air is constantly pure as in Persia and Arabia, and the sky of the Rio Negro, veiled like that of the Feroe islands, without sun, or moon or stars!
On the 10th of May, our canoe being ready before sunrise, we embarked to go up the Rio Negro as far as the mouth of the Cassiquiare, and to devote ourselves to researches on the real course of that river, which unites the Orinoco to the Amazon. The morning was fine; but, in proportion as the heat augmented, the sky became obscured. The air is so saturated by water in these forests, that the vesicular vapours become visible on the least increase of evaporation at the surface of the earth. The breeze being never felt, the humid strata are not displaced and renewed by dryer air. We were every day more grieved at the aspect of the cloudy sky. M. Bonpland was losing by this excessive humidity the plants he had collected; and I, for my part, was afraid lest I should again find the fogs of the Rio Negro in the valley of the Cassiquiare. No one in these missions for half a century past had doubted the existence of communication between two great systems of rivers; the important point of our voyage was confined therefore to fixing by astronomical observations the course of the Cassiquiare, and particularly the point of its entrance into the Rio Negro, and that of the bifurcation of the Orinoco. Without a sight of the sun and the stars this object would be frustrated, and we should have exposed ourselves in vain to long and painful privations. Our fellow travellers would have returned by the shortest way, that of the Pimichin and the small rivers; but M. Bonpland preferred, like me, persisting in the plan of the voyage, which we had traced for ourselves in passing the Great Cataracts. We had already travelled one hundred and eighty leagues in a boat from San Fernando de Apure to San Carlos, on the Rio Apure, the Orinoco, the Atabapo, the Temi, the Tuamini, and the Rio Negro. In again entering the Orinoco by the Cassiquiare we had to navigate three hundred and twenty leagues, from San Carlos to Angostura. By this way we had to struggle against the currents during ten days; the rest was to be performed by going down the stream of the Orinoco. It would have been blamable to have suffered ourselves to be discouraged by the fear of a cloudy sky, and by the mosquitos of the Cassiquiare. Our Indian pilot, who had been recently at Mandavaca, promised us the sun, and those great stars that eat the clouds, as soon as we should have left the black waters of the Guaviare. We therefore carried out our first project of returning to San Fernando de Atabapo by the Cassiquiare; and, fortunately for our researches, the prediction of the Indian was verified. The white waters brought us by degrees a more serene sky, stars, mosquitos, and crocodiles.
We passed between the islands of Zaruma and Mini, or Mibita, covered with thick vegetation; and, after having ascended the rapids of the Piedra de Uinumane, we entered the Rio Cassiquiare at the distance of eight miles from the small fort of San Carlos. The Piedra, or granitic rock which forms the little cataract, attracted our attention on account of the numerous veins of quartz by which it is traversed. These veins are several inches broad, and their masses proved that their date and formation are very different. I saw distinctly that, wherever they crossed each other, the veins containing mica and black schorl traversed and drove out of their direction those which contained only white quartz and feldspar. According to the theory of Werner, the black veins were consequently of a more recent formation than the white. Being a disciple of the school of Freyberg, I could not but pause with satisfaction at the rock of Uinumane, to observe the same phenomena near the equator, which I had so often seen in the mountains of my own country. I confess that the theory which considers veins as clefts filled from above with various substances, pleases me somewhat less now than it did at that period; but these modes of intersection and driving aside, observed in the stony and metallic veins, do not the less merit the attention of travellers as being one of the most general and constant of geological phenomena. On the east of Javita, all along the Cassiquiare, and particularly in the mountains of Duida, the number of veins in the granite increases. These veins are full of holes and druses; and their frequency seems to indicate that the granite of these countries is not of very ancient formation.
We found some lichens on the rock Uinumane, opposite the island of Chamanare, at the edge of the rapids; and as the Cassiquiare near its mouth turns abruptly from east to south-west, we saw for the first time this majestic branch of the Orinoco in all its breadth. It much resembles the Rio Negro in the general aspect of the landscape. The trees of the forest, as in the basin of the latter river, advance as far as the beach, and there form a thick coppice; but the Cassiquiare has white waters, and more frequently changes its direction. Its breadth, near the rapids of Uinumane, almost surpasses that of the Rio Negro. I found it everywhere from two hundred and fifty to two hundred and eighty toises, as far as above Vasiva. Before we passed the island of Garigave, we perceived to the north-east, almost at the horizon, a little hill with a hemispheric summit; the form which in every zone characterises mountains of granite. Continually surrounded by vast plains, the solitary rocks and hills excite the attention of the traveller. Contiguous mountains are only found more to the east, towards the sources of the Pacimoni, Siapa, and Mavaca. Having arrived on the south of the Raudal of Caravine, we perceived that the Cassiquiare, by the windings of its course, again approached San Carlos. The distance from this fort to the mission of San Francisco Solano, where we slept, is only two leagues and a half by land, but it is reckoned seven or eight by the river. I passed a part of the night in the open air, waiting vainly for stars. The air was misty, notwithstanding the aguas blancas, which were to lead us beneath an ever-starry sky.
The mission of San Francisco Solano, situated on the left bank of the Cassiquiare, was founded, as were most of the Christian settlements south of the Great Cataracts of the Orinoco, not by monks, but by military authority. At the time of the expedition of the boundaries, villages were built in proportion as a subteniente, or a corporal, advanced with his troops. Part of the natives, in order to preserve their independence, retired without a struggle; others, of whom the most powerful chiefs had been gained, joined the missions. Where there was no church, they contented themselves with erecting a great cross of red wood, close to which they constructed a casa fuerte, or block-house, the walls of which were formed of large beams resting horizontally upon each other. This house had two stories; in the upper story two cannon of small calibre were placed; and two soldiers lived on the ground-floor, and were served by an Indian family. Those of the natives with whom they were at peace cultivated spots of land round the casa fuerte. The soldiers called them together by the sound of the horn, or a botuto of baked earth, whenever any hostile attack was dreaded. Such were the pretended nineteen Christian settlements founded by Don Antonio Santos in the way from Esmeralda to the Erevato. Military posts, which had no influence on the civilization of the natives, figured on the maps, and in the works of the missionaries, as villages (pueblos) and reducciones apostolicas.* The preponderance of the military was maintained on the banks of the Orinoco till 1785, when the system of the monks of San Francisco began. The small number of missions founded, or rather re-established, since that period, owe their existence to the Fathers of the Observance; for the soldiers now distributed among the missions are dependent on the missionaries, or at least are reputed to be so, according to the pretensions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
[* Signifying apostolic conquests or conversions.]
The Indians whom we found at San Francisco Solano were of two nations; Pacimonales and Cheruvichahenas. The latter being descended from a considerable tribe settled on the Rio Tomo, near the Manivas of the Upper Guainia, I tried to gather from them some ideas respecting the upper course and the sources of the Rio Negro; but the interpreter whom I employed could not make them comprehend my questions. Their continually-repeated answer was, that the sources of the Rio Negro and the Inirida were as near to each other as “two fingers of the hand.” In one of the huts of the Pacimonales we purchased two fine large birds, a toucan (piapoco) and an ana, a species of macaw, seventeen inches long, having the whole body of a purple colour. We had already in our canoe seven parrots, two manakins (pipa), a motmot, two guans, or pavas de monte, two manaviris (cercoleptes or Viverra caudivolvula), and eight monkeys, namely, two ateles,* two titis,* one viudita,* two douroucoulis or nocturnal monkeys,* and a short-tailed cacajao. Father Zea whispered some complaints at the daily augmentation of this ambulatory collection. The toucan resembles the raven in manners and intelligence. It is a courageous animal, but easily tamed. Its long and stout beak serves to defend it at a distance. It makes itself master of the house, steals whatever it can come at, and loves to bathe often and fish on the banks of the river. The toucan we had bought was very young; yet it took delight, during the whole voyage, in teasing the cusicusis, or nocturnal monkeys, which are melancholy and irritable. I did not observe what has been related in some works of natural history, that the toucan is forced, from the structure of its beak, to swallow its food by throwing it up into the air. It raises it indeed with some difficulty from the ground, but, having once seized it with the point of its enormous beak, it has only to lift it up by throwing back its head, and holding it perpendicularly whilst in the act of swallowing. This bird makes extraordinary gestures when preparing to drink. The monks say that it makes the sign of the cross upon the water; and this popular belief has obtained for the toucan, from the creoles, the singular name of diostede.*
[* Marimonda of the Great Cataracts, Simia belzebuth, Brisson.]
[* Simia sciurea, the saimiri of Buffon.]
[* Simia lugens.]
[* Cusiensi, or Simia trivirgata.]
[* Simia melanocephala, mono feo. These last three species are new.]
[* Dios te de, God gives it thee.]
Most of our animals were confined in small wicker cages; others ran at full liberty in all parts of the boat. At the approach of rain the macaws sent forth noisy cries, the toucan wanted to reach the shore to fish, and the little monkeys (the titis) went in search of Father Zea, to take shelter in the large sleeves of his Franciscan habit. These incidents sometimes amused us so much that we forgot the torment of the mosquitos. At night we placed a leather case (petaca), containing our provisions, in the centre; then our instruments, and the cages of our animals; our hammocks were suspended around the cages, and beyond were those of the Indians. The exterior circle was formed by the fires which are lighted to keep off the jaguars. Such was the order of our encampment on the banks of the Cassiquiare. The Indians often spoke to us of a little nocturnal animal, with a long nose, which surprises the young parrots in their nests, and in eating makes use of its hands like the monkeys and the maniveris, or kinkajous. They call it the guachi; it is, no doubt, a coati, perhaps the Viverra nasua, which I saw wild in Mexico. The missionaries gravely prohibit the natives from eating the flesh of the guachi, to which, according to far-spread superstitious ideas, they attribute the same stimulating qualities which the people of the East believe to exist in the skink, and the Americans in the flesh of the alligator.
On the 11th of May, we left the mission of San Francisco Solano at a late hour, to make but a short day’s journey. The uniform stratum of vapours began to be divided into clouds with distinct outlines: and there was a light east wind in the upper regions of the air. We recognized in these signs an approaching change of the weather; and were unwilling to go far from the mouth of the Cassiquiare, in the hope of observing during the following night the passage of some star over the meridian. We descried the Cano Daquiapo to the south, the Guachaparu to the north, and a few miles further, the rapids of Cananivacari. The velocity of the current being 6.3 feet in a second, we had to struggle against the turbulent waves of the Raudal. We went on shore, and M. Bonpland discovered within a few steps of the beach a majestic almendron, or Bertholletia excelsa. The Indians assured us, that the existence of this valuable plant of the banks of the Cassiquiare was unknown at San Francisco Solano, Vasiva, and Esmeralda. They did not think that the tree we saw, which was more than sixty feet high, had been sown by some passing traveller. Experiments made at San Carlos have shown how rare it is to succeed in causing the bertholletia to germinate, on account of its ligneous pericarp, and the oil contained in its nut which so readily becomes rancid. Perhaps this tree denoted the existence of a forest of bertholletia in the inland country on the east and north-east. We know, at least, with certainty, that this fine tree grows wild in the third degree of latitude, in the Cerro de Guanaya. The plants that live in society have seldom marked limits, and it happens, that before we reach a palmar or a pinar,* we find solitary palm-trees and pines. They are somewhat like colonists that have advanced in the midst of a country peopled with different vegetable productions.
[* Two Spanish words, which, according to a Latin form, denote a forest of palm-trees, palmetum, and of pines, pinetum.]
Four miles distant from the rapids of Cunanivacari, rocks of the strangest form rise in the plains. First appears a narrow wall eighty feet high, and perpendicular; and at the southern extremity of this wall are two turrets, the courses of which are of granite, and nearly horizontal. The grouping of the rocks of Guanari is so symmetrical that they might be taken for the ruins of an ancient edifice. Are they the remains of islets in the midst of an inland sea, that covered the flat ground between the Sierra Parime and the Parecis mountains?* or have these walls of rock, these turrets of granite, been upheaved by the elastic forces that still act in the interior of our planet? We may be permitted to meditate a little on the origin of mountains, after having seen the position of the Mexican volcanoes, and of trachyte summits on an elongated crevice; having found in the Andes of South America primitive and volcanic rocks in a straight line in the same chain; and when we recollect the island, three miles in circumference, and of a great height, which in modern times issued from the depths of the ocean near Oonalaska.
[* The Sierra de la Parime, or of the Upper Orinoco, and the Sierra (or Campos) dos Parecis, are part of the mountains of Matto Grosso, and form the northern back of the Sierra de Chiquitos. I here name the two chains of mountains running from east to west, and bordering the plains or basins of the Cassiquiare, the Rio Negro, and the Amazon, between 5° 30′ north, and 14° south latitude.]
The banks of the Cassiquiare are adorned with the chiriva palm-tree with pinnate leaves, silvery on the under part. The rest of the forest furnishes only trees with large, coriaceous, glossy leaves, that have plain edges. This peculiar physiognomy* of the vegetation of the Guainia, the Tuamini, and the Cassiquiare, is owing to the preponderance of the families of the guttiferae, the sapotae, and the laurineae, in the equatorial regions. The serenity of the sky promising us a fine night, we resolved, at five in the evening, to rest near the Piedra de Culimacari, a solitary granite rock, like all those which I have described between the Atabapo and the Cassiquiare. We found by the bearings of the sinuosities of the river, that this rock is nearly in the latitude of the mission of San Francisco Solano. In those desert countries, where man has hitherto left only fugitive traces of his existence, I constantly endeavoured to make my observations near the mouth of a river, or at the foot of a rock distinguishable by its form. Such points only as are immutable by their nature can serve for the basis of geographical maps. I obtained, in the night of the 10th of May, a good observation of latitude by alpha of the Southern Cross; the longitude was determined, but with less precision, by the chronometer, taking the altitudes of the two beautiful stars which shine in the feet of the Centaur. This observation made known to us at the same time, with sufficient precision for the purposes of geography, the positions of the mouth of the Pacimoni, of the fortress of San Carlos, and of the junction of the Cassiquiare with the Rio Negro. The rock of Culimacari is precisely in latitude 2° 0′ 42″, and probably in longitude 69° 33′ 50″.
[* This physiognomy struck us forcibly, in the vast forests of Spanish Guiana, only between the second and third degrees of north latitude.]
Satisfied with our observations, we left the rock of Culimacari at half past one on the morning of the 12th. The torment of mosquitos, to which we were exposed, augmented in proportion as we withdrew from the Rio Negro. There are no zancudos in the valley of Cassiquiare, but the simulia, and all the other insects of the tipulary family, are the more numerous and venomous. Having still eight nights to pass in the open air in this damp and unhealthy climate, before we could reach the mission of Esmeralda, our pilot sought to arrange our passage in such a manner as might enable us to enjoy the hospitality of the missionary of Mandavaca, and some shelter in the village of Vasiva. We went up with difficulty against the current, which was nine feet, and in some places (where I measured it with precision) eleven feet eight inches in a second, that is, almost eight miles an hour. Our resting-place was probably not farther than three leagues in a right line from the mission of Mandavaca; yet, though we had no reason to complain of inactivity on the part of our rowers, we were fourteen hours in making this short passage.
Towards sunrise we passed the mouth of the Rio Pacimoni, a river which I mentioned when speaking of the trade in sarsaparilla, and which (by means of the Baria) intertwines in so remarkable a way with the Cababuri. The Pacimoni rises in a hilly ground, from the confluence of three small rivers,* not marked on the maps of the missionaries. Its waters are black, but less so than those of the lake of Vasiva, which also communicates with the Cassiquiare. Between those two tributary streams coming from the east, lies the mouth of the Rio Idapa, the waters of which are white. I shall not recur again to the difficulty of explaining this coexistence of rivers differently coloured, within a small extent of territory, but shall merely observe, that at the mouth of the Pacimoni, and on the borders of the lake Vasiva, we were again struck with the purity and extreme transparency of the brown waters. Ancient Arabian travellers have observed, that the Alpine branch of the Nile, which joins the Bahr el Abiad near Halfaja, has green waters, which are so transparent, that the fish may be seen at the bottom of the river.
[* The Rios Guajavaca, Moreje, and Cachevaynery.]
We passed some turbulent rapids before we reached the mission of Mandavaca. The village, which bears also the name of Quirabuena, contains only sixty natives. The state of the Christian settlements is in general so miserable that, in the whole course of the Cassiquiare, on a length of fifty leagues, not two hundred inhabitants are found. The banks of this river were indeed more peopled before the arrival of the missionaries; the Indians have withdrawn into the woods, toward the east; for the western plains are almost deserted. The natives subsist during a part of the year on those large ants of which I have spoken above. These insects are much esteemed here, as spiders are in the southern hemisphere, where the savages of Australia deem them delicious. We found at Mandavaca the good old missionary, who had already spent twenty years of mosquitos in the bosques del Cassiquiare, and whose legs were so spotted by the stings of insects, that the colour of the skin could scarcely be perceived. He talked to us of his solitude, and of the sad necessity which often compelled him to leave the most atrocious crimes unpunished in the two missions of Mandavaca and Vasiva. In the latter place, an Indian alcalde had, a few years before, eaten one of his wives, after having taken her to his conuco,* and fattened her by good feeding. The cannibalism of the nations of Guiana is never caused by the want of subsistence, or by the superstitions of their religion, as in the islands of the South Sea; but is generally the effect of the vengeance of a conqueror, and (as the missionaries say) “of a vitiated appetite.” Victory over a hostile tribe is celebrated by a repast, in which some parts of the body of a prisoner are devoured. Sometimes a defenceless family is surprised in the night; or an enemy, who is met with by chance in the woods, is killed by a poisoned arrow. The body is cut to pieces, and carried as a trophy to the hut. It is civilization only, that has made man feel the unity of the human race; which has revealed to him, as we may say, the ties of consanguinity, by which he is linked to beings to whose language and manners he is a stranger. Savages know only their own family; and a tribe appears to them but a more numerous assemblage of relations. When those who inhabit the missions see Indians of the forest, who are unknown to them, arrive, they make use of an expression, which has struck us by its simple candour: they are, no doubt, my relations; I understand them when they speak to me. But these very savages detest all who are not of their family, or their tribe; and hunt the Indians of a neighbouring tribe, who live at war with their own, as we hunt game. They know the duties of family ties and of relationship, but not those of humanity, which require the feeling of a common tie with beings framed like ourselves. No emotion of pity prompts them to spare the wives or children of a hostile race; and the latter are devoured in preference, at the repast given at the conclusion of a battle or warlike incursion.
[* A hut surrounded with cultivated ground; a sort of country-house, which the natives prefer to residing in the missions.]
The hatred which savages for the most part feel for men who speak another idiom, and appear to them to be of an inferior race, is sometimes rekindled in the missions, after having long slumbered. A short time before our arrival at Esmeralda, an Indian, born in the forest* behind the Duida, travelled alone with another Indian, who, after having been made prisoner by the Spaniards on the banks of the Ventuario, lived peaceably in the village, or, as it is expressed here, within the sound of the bell (debaxo de la campana.) The latter could only walk slowly, because he was suffering from one of those fevers to which the natives are subject, when they arrive in the missions, and abruptly change their diet. Wearied by his delay, his fellow-traveller killed him, and hid the body behind a copse of thick trees, near Esmeralda. This crime, like many others among the Indians, would have remained unknown, if the murderer had not made preparations for a feast on the following day. He tried to induce his children, born in the mission and become Christians, to go with him for some parts of the dead body. They had much difficulty in persuading him to desist from his purpose; and the soldier who was posted at Esmeralda, learned from the domestic squabble caused by this event, what the Indians would have concealed from his knowledge.
[* En el monte. The Indians born in the missions are distinguished from those born in the woods. The word monte signifies more frequently, in the colonies, a forest (bosque) than a mountain, and this circumstance has led to great errors in our maps, on which chains of mountains (sierras) are figured, where there are only thick forests, (monte espeso.)]
It is known that cannibalism and the practice of human sacrifices, with which it is often connected, are found to exist in all parts of the globe, and among people of very different races;* but what strikes us more in the study of history is to see human sacrifices retained in a state of civilization somewhat advanced; and that the nations who hold it a point of honour to devour their prisoners are not always the rudest and most ferocious. The painful facts have not escaped the observation of those missionaries who are sufficiently enlightened to reflect on the manners of the surrounding tribes. The Cabres, the Guipunaves, and the Caribs, have always been more powerful and more civilized than the other hordes of the Orinoco; and yet the two former are as much addicted to anthropophagy as the latter are repugnant to it. We must carefully distinguish the different branches into which the great family of the Caribbee nations is divided. These branches are as numerous as those of the Mongols, and the western Tartars, or Turcomans. The Caribs of the continent, those who inhabit the plains between the Lower Orinoco, the Rio Branco, the Essequibo, and the sources of the Oyapoc, hold in horror the practice of devouring their enemies. This barbarous custom,* at the first discovery of America, existed only among the Caribs of the West Indies. It is they who have rendered the names of cannibals, Caribbees, and anthropophagi, synonymous; it was their cruelties that prompted the law promulgated in 1504, by which the Spaniards were permitted to make a slave of every individual of an American nation which could be proved to be of Caribbee origin. I believe, however, that the anthropophagy of the inhabitants of the West India Islands was much exaggerated by early travellers, whose stories Herrera, a grave and judicious historian, has not disdained to repeat in his Decades historicas. He has even credited that extraordinary event which led the Caribs to renounce this barbarous custom. The natives of a little island devoured a Dominican monk whom they had carried off from the coast of Porto Rico; they all fell sick, and would never again eat monk or layman.
[* Some casual instances of children carried off by the negroes in the island of Cuba have led to the belief, in the Spanish colonies, that there are tribes of cannibals in Africa. This opinion, though supported by some travellers, is not borne out by the researches of Mr. Barrow on the interior of that country. Superstitious practices may have given rise to imputations perhaps as unjust as those of which Jewish families were the victims in the ages of intolerance and persecution.]
[* See Geraldini Itinerarium page 186 and the eloquent tract of cardinal Bembo on the discoveries of Columbus. “Insularum partem homines incolebant feri trucesque, qui puerorum et virorum carnibus, quos aliis in insulus bello aut latrociniis cepissent, vescebantur; a feminis abstinebant; Canibales appellati.” “Some of the islands are inhabited by a cruel and savage race, called cannibals, who eat the flesh of men and boys, and captives and slaves of the male sex, abstaining from that of females.” Hist. Venet. 1551. The custom of sparing the lives of female prisoners confirms what I have previously said of the language of the women. Does the word cannibal, applied to the Caribs of the West India Islands, belong to the language of this archipelago (that of Haiti)? or must we seek for it in an idiom of Florida, which some traditions indicate as the first country of the Caribs?]
If the Caribs of the Orinoco, since the commencement of the sixteenth century, have differed in their manners from those of the West India Islands; if they are unjustly accused of anthropophagy; it is difficult to attribute this difference to any superiority of their social state. The strangest contrasts are found blended in this mixture of nations, some of whom live only upon fish, monkeys, and ants; while others are more or less cultivators of the ground, more or less occupied in making and painting pottery, or weaving hammocks or cotton cloth. Several of the latter tribes have preserved inhuman customs altogether unknown to the former. “You cannot imagine,” said the old missionary of Mandavaca, “the perversity of this Indian race (familia de Indios). You receive men of a new tribe into the village; they appear to be mild, good, and laborious; but suffer them to take part in an incursion (entrada) to bring in the natives, and you can scarcely prevent them from murdering all they meet, and hiding some portions of the dead bodies.” In reflecting on the manners of these Indians, we are almost horrified at that combination of sentiments which seem to exclude each other; that faculty of nations to become but partially humanized; that preponderance of customs, prejudices, and traditions, over the natural affections of the heart. We had a fugitive Indian from the Guaisia in our canoe, who had become sufficiently civilized in a few weeks to be useful to us in placing the instruments necessary for our observations at night. He was no less mild than intelligent, and we had some desire of taking him into our service. What was our horror when, talking to him by means of an interpreter, we learned, that the flesh of the marimonde monkeys, though blacker, appeared to him to have the taste of human flesh. He told us that his relations (that is, the people of his tribe) preferred the inside of the hands in man, as in bears. This assertion was accompanied with gestures of savage gratification. We inquired of this young man, so calm and so affectionate in the little services which he rendered us, whether he still felt sometimes a desire to eat of a Cheruvichahena. He answered, without discomposure, that, living in the mission, he would only eat what he saw was eaten by the Padres. Reproaches addressed to the natives on the abominable practice which we here discuss, produce no effect; it is as if a Brahmin, travelling in Europe, were to reproach us with the habit of feeding on the flesh of animals. In the eyes of the Indian of the Guaisia, the Cheruvichahena was a being entirely different from himself; and one whom he thought it was no more unjust to kill than the jaguars of the forest. It was merely from a sense of propriety that, whilst he remained in the mission, he would only eat the same food as the Fathers. The natives, if they return to their tribe (al monte), or find themselves pressed by hunger, soon resume their old habits of anthropophagy. And why should we be so much astonished at this inconstancy in the tribes of the Orinoco, when we are reminded, by terrible and well-ascertained examples, of what has passed among civilized nations in times of great scarcity? In Egypt, in the thirteenth century, the habit of eating human flesh pervaded all classes of society; extraordinary snares were spread for physicians in particular. They were called to attend persons who pretended to be sick, but who were only hungry; and it was not in order to be consulted, but devoured. An historian of great veracity, Abd-allatif, has related how a practice, which at first inspired dread and horror, soon occasioned not even the slightest surprise.*
[* “When the poor began to eat human flesh, the horror and astonishment caused by repasts so dreadful were such that these crimes furnished the never-ceasing subject of every conversation. But at length the people became so accustomed to it, and conceived such a taste for this detestable food, that people of wealth and respectability were found to use it as their ordinary food, to eat it by way of a treat, and even to lay in a stock of it. This flesh was prepared in different ways, and the practice being once introduced, spread into the provinces, so that instances of it were found in every part of Egypt. It then no longer caused any surprise; the horror it had at first inspired vanished; and it was mentioned as an indifferent and ordinary thing. This mania of devouring one another became so common among the poor, that the greater part perished in this manner. These wretches employed all sorts of artifices, to seize men by surprise, or decoy them into their houses under false pretences. This happened to three physicians among those who visited me; and a bookseller who sold me books, an old and very corpulent man, fell into their snares, and escaped with great difficulty. All the facts which we relate as eye-witnesses fell under our observation accidentally, for we generally avoided witnessing spectacles which inspired us with so much horror.” Account of Egypt by Abd-allatif, physician of Bagdad, translated into French by De Sacy pages 360 to 374.]
Although the Indians of the Cassiquiare readily return to their barbarous habits, they evince, whilst in the missions, intelligence, some love of labour, and, in particular, a great facility in learning the Spanish language. The villages being, for the most part, inhabited by three or four tribes, who do not understand each other, a foreign idiom, which is at the same time that of the civil power, the language of the missionary, affords the advantage of more general means of communication. I heard a Poinave Indian conversing in Spanish with a Guahibo, though both had come from their forests within three months. They uttered a phrase every quarter of an hour, prepared with difficulty, and in which the gerund of the verb, no doubt according to the grammatical turn of their own languages, was constantly employed. “When I seeing Padre, Padre to me saying;"* instead of, “when I saw the missionary, he said to me.” I have mentioned in another place, how wise it appeared to me in the Jesuits to generalize one of the languages of civilized America, for instance that of the Peruvians,* and instruct the Indians in an idiom which is foreign to them in its roots, but not in its structure and grammatical forms. This was following the system which the Incas, or king-priests of Peru had employed for ages, in order to humanize the barbarous nations of the Upper Maranon, and maintain them under their domination; a system somewhat more reasonable than that of making the natives of America speak Latin, as was gravely proposed in a provincial concilio at Mexico.
[* “Quando io mirando Padre, Padre me diciendo.”]
[* The Quichua or Inca language, Lengua del Inga.]
We were told that the Indians of the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro are preferred on the Lower Orinoco, and especially at Angostura, to the inhabitants of the other missions, on account of their intelligence and activity. Those of Mandavaca are celebrated among the tribes of their own race for the preparation of the curare poison, which does not yield in strength to the curare of Esmeralda. Unhappily the natives devote themselves to this employment more than to agriculture. Yet the soil on the banks of the Cassiquiare is excellent. We find there a granitic sand, of a blackish-brown colour, which is covered in the forests with thick layers of rich earth, and on the banks of the river with clay almost impermeable to water. The soil of the Cassiquiare appears more fertile than that of the valley of the Rio Negro, where maize does not prosper. Rice, beans, cotton, sugar, and indigo yield rich harvests, wherever their cultivation has been tried.* We saw wild indigo around the missions of San Miguel de Davipe, San Carlos, and Mandavaca. No doubt can exist that several nations of America, particularly the Mexicans, long before the conquest, employed real indigo in their hieroglyphic paintings; and that small cakes of this substance were sold at the great market of Tenochtitlan. But a colouring matter, chemically identical, may be extracted from plants belonging to neighbouring genera; and I should not at present venture to affirm that the native indigoferae of America do not furnish some generic difference from the Indigofera anil, and the Indigofera argentea of the Old World. In the coffee-trees of both hemispheres this difference has been observed.
[* M. Bonpland found at Mandavaca, in the huts of the natives, a plant with tuberous roots, exactly like cassava (yucca). It is called cumapana, and is cooked by being baked on the ashes. It grows spontaneously on the banks of the Cassiquiare.]
Here, as at the Rio Negro, the humidity of the air, and the consequent abundance of insects, are obstacles almost invincible to new cultivation. Everywhere you meet with those large ants that march in close bands, and direct their attacks the more readily on cultivated plants, because they are herbaceous and succulent, whilst the forests of these countries afford only plants with woody stalks. If a missionary wishes to cultivate salad, or any culinary plant of Europe, he is compelled as it were to suspend his garden in the air. He fills an old boat with good mould, and, having sown the seed, suspends it four feet above the ground with cords of the chiquichiqui palm-tree; but most frequently places it on a slight scaffolding. This protects the young plants from weeds, worms, and those ants which pursue their migration in a right line, and, not knowing what vegetates above them, seldom turn from their course to climb up stakes that are stripped of their bark. I mention this circumstance to prove how difficult, within the tropics, on the banks of great rivers, are the first attempts of man to appropriate to himself a little spot of earth in that vast domain of nature, invaded by animals, and covered by spontaneous plants.
During the night of the 13th of May, I obtained some observations of the stars, unfortunately the last at the Cassiquiare. The latitude of Mandavaca is 2° 4′ 7″; its longitude, according to the chronometer, 69° 27′. I found the magnetic dip 25.25° (cent div), showing that it had increased considerably from the fort of San Carlos. Yet the surrounding rocks are of the same granite, mixed with a little hornblende, which we had found at Javita, and which assumes a syenitic aspect. We left Mandavaca at half-past two in the morning. After six hours’ voyage, we passed on the east the mouth of the Idapa, or Siapa, which rises on the mountain of Uuturan, and furnishes near its sources a portage to the Rio Mavaca, one of the tributary streams of the Orinoco. This river has white waters, and is not more than half as broad as the Pacimoni, the waters of which are black. Its upper course has been strangely misrepresented on maps. I shall have occasion hereafter to mention the hypotheses that have given rise to these errors, in speaking of the source of the Orinoco.
We stopped near the raudal of Cunuri. The noise of the little cataract augmented sensibly during the night, and our Indians asserted that it was a certain presage of rain. I recollected that the mountaineers of the Alps have great confidence in the same prognostic.* It fell before sunrise, and the araguato monkeys had warned us, by their lengthened howlings, of the approaching rain, long before the noise of the cataract increased.
[* “It is going to rain, because we hear the murmur of the torrents nearer,” say the mountaineers of the Alps, like those of the Andes. The cause of the phenomenon is a modification of the atmosphere, which has an influence at once on the sonorous and on the luminous undulations. The prognostic drawn from the increase and the intensity of sound is intimately connected with the prognostic drawn from a less extinction of light. The mountaineers predict a change of weather, when, the air being calm, the Alps covered with perpetual snow seem on a sudden to be nearer the observer, and their outlines are marked with great distinctness on the azure sky. What is it that causes the want of homogeneity in the vertical strata of the atmosphere to disappear instantaneously?]
On the 14th, the mosquitos, and especially the ants, drove us from the shore before two in the morning. We had hitherto been of opinion that the ants did not crawl along the cords by which the hammocks are usually suspended: whether we were correct in this supposition, or whether the ants fell on us from the tops of the trees, I cannot say; but certain it is that we had great difficulty to keep ourselves free from these troublesome insects. The river became narrower as we advanced, and the banks were so marshy, that it was not without much labour M. Bonpland could get to a Carolinea princeps loaded with large purple flowers. This tree is the most beautiful ornament of these forests, and of those of the Rio Negro. We examined repeatedly, during this day, the temperature of the Cassiquiare. The water at the surface of the river was only 24° (when the air was at 25.6°.) This is nearly the temperature of the Rio Negro, but four or five degrees below that of the Orinoco. After having passed on the west the mouth of the Cano Caterico, which has black waters of extraordinary transparency, we left the bed of the river, to land at an island on which the mission of Vasiva is established. The lake which surrounds this mission is a league broad, and communicates by three outlets with the Cassiquiare. The surrounding country abounds in marshes which generate fever. The lake, the waters of which appear yellow by transmitted light, is dry in the season of great heat, and the Indians themselves are unable to resist the miasmata rising from the mud. The complete absence of wind contributes to render the climate of this country more pernicious.
From the 14th to the 21st of May we slept constantly in the open air; but I cannot indicate the spots where we halted. These regions are so wild, and so little frequented, that with the exception of a few rivers, the Indians were ignorant of the names of all the objects which I set by the compass. No observation of a star helped me to fix the latitude within the space of a degree. After having passed the point where the Itinivini separates from the Cassiquiare, to take its course to the west towards the granitic hills of Daripabo, we found the marshy banks of the river covered with bamboos. These arborescent gramina rise to the height of twenty feet; their stem is constantly arched towards the summit. It is a new species of Bambusa with very broad leaves. M. Bonpland fortunately found one in flower; a circumstance I mention, because the genera Nastus and Bambusa had before been very imperfectly distinguished, and nothing is more rare in the New World, than to see these gigantic gramina in flower. N. Mutis herborised during twenty years in a country where the Bambusa guadua forms marshy forests several leagues broad, without having ever been able to procure the flowers. We sent that learned naturalist the first ears of Bambusa from the temperate valleys of Popayan. It is strange that the parts of fructification should develop themselves so rarely in a plant which is indigenous, and which vegetates with such extraordinary rigour, from the level of the sea to the height of nine hundred toises, that is, to a subalpine region the climate of which, between the tropics, resembles that of the south of Spain. The Bambusa latifolia seems to be peculiar to the basins of the Upper Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Amazon; it is a social plant, like all the gramina of the family of the nastoides; but in that part of Spanish Guiana which we traversed it does not grow in those large masses which the Spanish Americans call guadales, or forests of bamboos.
Our first resting-place above Vasiva was easily arranged. We found a little nook of dry ground, free from shrubs, to the south of the Cano Curamuni, in a spot where we saw some capuchin monkeys.* They were recognizable by their black beards and their gloomy and sullen air, and were walking slowly on the horizontal branches of a genipa. During the five following nights our passage was the more troublesome in proportion as we approached the bifurcation of the Orinoco. The luxuriance of the vegetation increases in a manner of which it is difficult even for those acquainted with the aspect of the forests between the tropics, to form an idea. There is no longer a bank: a palisade of tufted trees forms the margin of the river. You see a canal two hundred toises broad, bordered by two enormous walls, clothed with lianas and foliage. We often tried to land, but without success. Towards sunset we sailed along for an hour seeking to discover, not an opening (since none exists), but a spot less wooded, where our Indians by means of the hatchet and manual labour, could clear space enough for a resting-place for twelve or thirteen persons. It was impossible to pass the night in the canoe; the mosquitos, which tormented us during the day, accumulated toward evening beneath the toldo covered with palm-leaves, which served to shelter us from the rain. Our hands and faces had never before been so much swelled. Father Zea, who had till then boasted of having in his missions of the cataracts the largest and fiercest (las mas feroces) mosquitos, at length gradually acknowledged that the sting of the insects of the Cassiquiare was the most painful he had ever felt. We experienced great difficulty, amid a thick forest, in finding wood to make a fire, the branches of the trees in those equatorial regions where it always rains, being so full of sap, that they will scarcely burn. There being no bare shore, it is hardly possible to procure old wood, which the Indians call wood baked in the sun. However, fire was necessary to us only as a defence against the beasts of the forest; for we had such a scarcity of provision that we had little need of fuel for the purpose of preparing our food.
[* Simia chiropotes.]
On the 18th of May, towards evening, we discovered a spot where wild cacao-trees were growing on the bank of the river. The nut of these cacaos is small and bitter; the Indians of the forest suck the pulp, and throw away the nut, which is picked up by the Indians of the missions, and sold to persons who are not very nice in the preparation of their chocolate. “This is the Puerto del Cacao” (Cacao Port), said the pilot; “it is here our Padres sleep, when they go to Esmeralda to buy sarbacans* and juvias ( Brazil nuts). Not five boats, however, pass annually by the Cassiquiare; and since we left Maypures (a whole month previously), we had not met one living soul on the rivers we navigated, except in the immediate neighbourhood of the missions. To the south of lake Duractumuni we slept in a forest of palm-trees. It rained violently, but the pothoses, arums, and lianas, furnished so thick a natural trellis, that we were sheltered as under a vault of foliage. The Indians whose hammocks were placed on the edge of the river, interwove the heliconias and other musaceae, so as to form a kind of roof over them. Our fires lighted up, to the height of fifty or sixty feet, the palm-trees, the lianas loaded with flowers, and the columns of white smoke, which ascended in a straight line toward the sky. The whole exhibited a magnificent spectacle; but to have enjoyed it fully, we should have breathed an air clear of insects.
[* The bamboo tubes furnished by the Arundinaria, used for projecting the poisoned arrows of the natives. See Views of Nature page 180.]
The most depressing of all physical sufferings are those which are uniform in their duration, and can be combated only by long patience. It is probable, that in the exhalations of the forests of the Cassiquiare M. Bonpland imbibed the seeds of a severe malady, under which he nearly sunk on our arrival at Angostura. Happily for him and for me, nothing led us to presage the danger with which he was menaced. The view of the river, and the hum of the insects, were a little monotonous; but some remains of our natural cheerfulness enabled us to find sources of relief during our wearisome passage. We discovered, that by eating small portions of dry cacao ground without sugar, and drinking a large quantity of the river water, we succeeded in appeasing our appetite for several hours. The ants and the mosquitos troubled us more than the humidity and the want of food. Notwithstanding the privations to which we were exposed during our excursions in the Cordilleras, the navigation from Mandavaca to Esmeralda has always appeared to us the most painful part of our travels in America. I advise those who are not very desirous of seeing the great bifurcation of the Orinoco, to take the way of the Atabapo in preference to that of the Cassiquiare.
Above the Cano Duractumuni, the Cassiquiare pursues a uniform direction from north-east to south-west. We were surprised to see how much the high steep banks of the Cassiquiare had been undermined on each side by the sudden risings of the water. Uprooted trees formed as it were natural rafts; and being half-buried in the mud, they were extremely dangerous for canoes. We passed the night of the 20th of May, the last of our passage on the Cassiquiare, near the point of the bifurcation of the Orinoco. We had some hope of being able to make an astronomical observation, as falling-stars of remarkable magnitude were visible through the vapours that veiled the sky; whence we concluded that the stratum of vapours must be very thin, since meteors of this kind have scarcely ever been seen below a cloud. Those we now beheld shot towards the north, and succeeded each other at almost equal intervals. The Indians, who seldom ennoble by their expressions the wanderings of the imagination, name the falling-stars the urine; and the dew the spittle of the stars. The clouds thickened anew, and we discerned neither the meteors, nor the real stars, for which we had impatiently waited during several days.
We had been told, that we should find the insects at Esmeralda still more cruel and voracious than in the branch of the Orinoco which we were going up; nevertheless we indulged the hope of at length sleeping in a spot that was inhabited, and of taking some exercise in herbalizing. This anticipation was, however, disturbed at our last resting-place on the Cassiquiare. Whilst we were sleeping on the edge of the forest, we were warned by the Indians, in the middle of the night, that they heard very near us the cries of a jaguar. These cries, they alleged, came from the top of some neighbouring trees. Such is the thickness of the forests in these regions, that scarcely any animals are to be found there but such as climb trees; as, for instance, the monkeys, animals of the weasel tribe, jaguars, and other species of the genus Felis.
As our fires burnt brightly, we paid little attention to the cries of the jaguars. They had been attracted by the smell and noise of our dog. This animal (which was of the mastiff breed) began at first to bark; and when the tiger drew nearer, to howl, hiding himself below our hammocks. how great was our grief, when in the morning, at the moment of re-embarking, the Indians informed us that the dog had disappeared! There could be no doubt that it had been carried off by the jaguars.* Perhaps, when their cries had ceased, it had wandered from the fires on the side of the beach; and possibly we had not heard its moans, as we were in a profound sleep. We have often heard the inhabitants of the banks of the Orinoco and the Rio Magdalena affirm, that the oldest jaguars will carry off animals from the midst of a halting-place, cunningly grasping them by the neck so as to prevent their cries. We waited part of the morning, in the hope that our dog had only strayed. Three days after we came back to the same place; we heard again the cries of the jaguars, for these animals have a predilection for particular spots; but all our search was vain. The dog, which had accompanied us from Caracas, and had so often in swimming escaped the pursuit of the crocodiles,* had been devoured in the forest.
[* See Views of Nature page 195.]
[* Ibid page 198.]
On the 21st May, we again entered the bed of the Orinoco, three leagues below the mission of Esmeralda. It was now a month since we had left that river near the mouth of the Guaviare. We had still to proceed seven hundred and fifty miles* before reaching Angostura, but we should go with the stream; and this consideration lessened our discouragement. In descending great rivers, the rowers take the middle of the current, where there are few mosquitos; but in ascending, they are obliged, in order to avail themselves of the dead waters and counter-currents, to sail near the shore, where the proximity of the forests, and the remains of organic substances accumulated on the beach, harbour the tipulary insects. The point of the celebrated bifurcation of the Orinoco has a very imposing aspect. Lofty granitic mountains rise on the northern bank; and amidst them are discovered at a distance the Maraguaca and the Duida. There are no mountains on the left bank of the Orinoco, west or east of the bifurcation, till opposite the mouth of the Tamatama. On that spot stands the rock Guaraco, which is said to throw out flames from time to time in the rainy season. When the Orinoco is no longer bounded by mountains towards the south, and when it reaches the opening of a valley, or rather a depression of the ground, which terminates at the Rio Negro, it divides itself into two branches. The principal branch (the Rio Paragua of the Indians) continues its course west-north-west, turning round the group of the mountains of Parime; the other branch forming the communication with the Amazon runs into plains, the general slope of which is southward, but of which the partial planes incline, in the Cassiquiare, to south-west, and in the basin of the Rio Negro, south-east. A phenomenon so strange in appearance, which I verified on the spot, merits particular attention; the more especially as it may throw some light on analogous facts, which are supposed to have been observed in the interior of Africa.
[* Of nine hundred and fifty toises each, or two hundred and fifty nautical leagues.]
The existence of a communication of the Orinoco with the Amazon by the Rio Negro, and a bifurcation of the Caqueta, was believed by Sanson, and rejected by Father Fritz and by Blaeuw: it was marked in the first maps of De l’Isle, but abandoned by that celebrated geographer towards the end of his days. Those who had mistaken the mode of this communication hastened to deny the communication itself. It is in fact well worthy of remark that, at the time when the Portuguese went up most frequently by the Amazon, the Rio Negro, and the Cassiquiare, and when Father Gumilla’s letters were carried (by the natural interbranching of the rivers) from the lower Orinoco to Grand Para, that very missionary made every effort to spread the opinion through Europe that the basins of the Orinoco and the Amazon are perfectly separate. He asserts that, having several times gone up the former of these rivers as far as the Raudal of Tabaje, situate in the latitude of 1 degree 4 minutes, he never saw a river flow in or out that could be taken for the Rio Negro. He adds further, that a great Cordillera, which stretches from east to west, prevents the mingling of the waters, and renders all discussion on the supposed communication of the two rivers useless. The errors of Father Gumilla arose from his firm persuasion that he had reached the parallel of 1 degree 4 minutes on the Orinoco. He was in error by more than 5° 10′ of latitude; for I found, by observation, at the mission of Atures, thirteen leagues south of the rapids of Tabaje, the latitude to be 5° 37′ 34″. Gumilla having gone but little above the confluence of the Meta, it is not surprising that he had no knowledge of the bifurcation of the Orinoco, which is found by the sinuosities of the river to be one hundred and twenty leagues distant from the Raudal of Tabaje.
La Condamine, during his memorable navigation on the river Amazon in 1743, carefully collected a great number of proofs of this communication of the rivers, denied by the Spanish Jesuit. The most decisive proof then appeared to him to be the unsuspected testimony of a Cauriacani Indian woman with whom he had conversed, and who had come in a boat from the banks of the Orinoco (from the mission of Pararuma) to Grand Para. Before the return of La Condamine to his own country, the voyage of Father Manuel Roman, and the fortuitous meeting of the missionaries of the Orinoco and the Amazon, left no doubt of this fact, the knowledge of which was first obtained by Acunha.
The incursions undertaken from the middle of the seventeenth century, to procure slaves, had gradually led the Portuguese from the Rio Negro, by the Cassiquiare, to the bed of a great river, which they did not know to be the Upper Orinoco. A flying camp, composed of the troop of ransomers,* favoured this inhuman commerce. After having excited the natives to make war, they ransomed the prisoners; and, to give an appearance of equity to the traffic, monks accompanied the troop of ransomers to examine whether those who sold the slaves had a right to do so, by having made them prisoners in open war. From the year 1737 these visits of the Portuguese to the Upper Orinoco became very frequent. The desire of exchanging slaves (poitos) for hatchets, fish-hooks, and glass trinkets, induced the Indian tribes to make war upon one another. The Guipunaves, led on by their valiant and cruel chief Macapu, descended from the banks of the Inirida towards the confluence of the Atabapo and the Orinoco. “They sold,” says the missionary Gili, “the slaves whom they did not eat.”* The Jesuits of the Lower Orinoco became uneasy at this state of things, and the superior of the Spanish missions, Father Roman, the intimate friend of Gumilla, took the courageous resolution of crossing the Great Cataracts, and visiting the Guipunaves, without being escorted by Spanish soldiers. He left Carichana the 4th of February, 1744; and having arrived at the confluence of the Guaviare, the Atabapo, and the Orinoco, where the last mentioned river suddenly changes its previous course from east to west, to a direction from south to north, he saw from afar a canoe as large as his own, and filled with men in European dresses. He caused a crucifix to be placed at the bow of his boat in sign of peace, according to the custom of the missionaries when they navigate in a country unknown to them. The whites, who were Portuguese slave-traders of the Rio Negro, recognized with marks of joy the habit of the order of St. Ignatius. They heard with astonishment that the river on which this meeting took place was the Orinoco; and they brought Father Roman by the Cassiquiare to the Brazilian settlements on the Rio Negro. The superior of the Spanish missions was forced to remain near the flying camp of the troop of ransomers till the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuit Avogadri, who had gone upon business to Grand Para. Father Manuel Roman returned with his Salive Indians by the same way, that of the Cassiquiare and the Upper Orinoco, to Pararuma,* a little to the north of Carichana, after an absence of seven months. He was the first white man who went from the Rio Negro, consequently from the basin of the Amazon, without passing his boats over any portage, to the basin of the Lower Orinoco.
[* Tropa de rescate; from rescatar, to redeem.]
[* “I Guipunavi avventizj abitatori dell’ Alto Orinoco, recavan de’ danni incredibili alle vicine mansuete nazioni; altre mangiondone, altre conducendone schiave ne’ Portoghesi dominj.” “The Guipunaves, at their first arrival on the Upper Orinoco, inflicted incredible injuries on the other peaceable tribes who dwelt near them, devouring some, and selling others as slaves to the Portuguese.” Gili tome 1 page 31.]
[* On the 15th of October, 1774. La Condamine quitted the town of Grand Para December the 29th, 1743; it follows, from a comparison of the dates, that the Indian woman of Pararuma, carried off by the Portuguese, and to whom the French traveller had spoken, had not come with Father Roman, as was erroneously affirmed. The appearance of this woman on the banks of the Amazon is interesting with respect to the researches lately made on the mixture of races and languages: it proves the enormous distances through which the individuals of one tribe are compelled to carry on intercourse with those of another.]
The tidings of this extraordinary passage spread with such rapidity that La Condamine was able to announce it* at a public sitting of the Academy, seven months after the return of Father Roman to Pararuma. “The communication between the Orinoco and the Amazon,” said he, “recently averred, may pass so much the more for a discovery in geography, as, although the junction of these two rivers is marked on the old maps (according to the information given by Acunha), it had been suppressed by all the modern geographers in their new maps, as if in concert. This is not the first time that what is positive fact has been thought fabulous, that the spirit of criticism has been pushed too far, and that this communication has been treated as chimerical by those who ought to have been better informed.” Since the voyage of Father Roman in 1774, no person in Spanish Guiana, or on the coasts of Cumana and Caracas, has admitted a doubt of the existence of the Cassiquiare and the bifurcation of the Orinoco. Father Gumilla himself; whom Bouguer met at Carthagena, confessed that he had been deceived; and he read to Father Gili, a short time before his death, a supplement to his history of the Orinoco, intended for a new edition, in which he recounts pleasantly the manner in which he had been undeceived. The expedition of the boundaries, under Iturriaga and Solano, completed in detail the knowledge of the geography of the Upper Orinoco, and the intertwinings of this river with the Rio Negro. Solano established himself in 1756 at the confluence of the Atabapo; and from that time the Spanish and Portuguese commissioners often passed in their canoes, by the Cassiquiare, from the Lower Orinoco to the Rio Negro, to visit each other at their head-quarters of Cabruta* and Mariva. Since the year 1767, two or three canoes come annually from the fort of San Carlos, by the bifurcation of the Orinoco to Angostura, to fetch salt and the pay of the troops. These passages, from one basin of a river to another, by the natural canal of the Cassiquiare, excite no more attention in the colonists at present than the arrival of boats that descend the Loire by the canal of Orleans, awakens on the banks of the Seine.
[* The intelligence was communicated to him by Father John Ferreyro, rector of the college of Jesuits at Para. Voyage a l’Amazone page 120. Mem. de l’Acad. 1745 page 450. Caulin page 79. See also, in the work of Gili, the fifth chapter of the first book, published in 1780, with the title: Della scoperta delle communicazione dell’ Orinoco col Maragnone.]
[* General Iturriaga, confined by illness, first at Muitaco, or Real Corona, and afterward at Cabruta, received a visit in 1760 from the Portuguese colonel Don Gabriel de Souza y Figueira, who came from Grand Para, having made a voyage of nearly nine hundred leagues in his boat. The Swedish botanist, Loefling, who was chosen to accompany the expedition of the boundaries at the expense of the Spanish government, so greatly multiplied in his ardent imagination the branchings of the great rivers of South America, that he appeared well persuaded of being able to navigate, by the Rio Negro and the Amazon, to the Rio de la Plata. (Iter page 131.)]
Although, since the journey of Father Roman, in 1744, precise notions have been acquired in the Spanish possessions in America, both of the direction of the Upper Orinoco from east to west, and of the manner of its communication with the Rio Negro, this knowledge did not reach Europe till a much later period. In 1750, La Condamine and D’Anville* were still of opinion that the Orinoco was a branch of the Caqueta coming from the south-east, and that the Rio Negro issued immediately from it. It was only in the second edition of his South America, that D’Anville (without renouncing that intercommunication of the Caqueta, by means of the Iniricha (Inirida), with the Orinoco and the Rio Negro) describes the Orinoco as taking its rise at the east, near the sources of the Rio Branco, and marks the Rio Cassiquiare as bearing the waters of the Upper Orinoco to the Rio Negro. It is probable that this indefatigable and learned writer had obtained information on the manner of the bifurcation from his frequent communications with the missionaries,* who were then the only geographers of the most inland parts of the continents.
[* See the classical memoir of this great geographer in the Journal des Savans, March 1750 page 184. “One fact,” says D’Anville, “which cannot be considered as equivocal, after the proofs with which we have been recently furnished, is the communication of the Rio Negro with the Orinoco; but we must not hesitate to admit, that we are not yet sufficiently informed of the manner in which this communication takes place.” I was surprised to see in a very rare map, which I found at Rome (Provincia Quitensis Soc. Jesu in America, auctore Carolo Brentano et Nicolao de la Torre; Romae 1745) that seven years after the discovery of Father Roman, the Jesuits of Quito were ignorant of the existence of the Cassiquiare. The Rio Negro is figured in this map as a branch of the Orinoco.]
[* According to the Annals of Berredo, it would appear, that as early as the year 1739, the military incursions from the Rio Negro to the Cassiquiare had confirmed the Portuguese Jesuits in the opinion that there was a communication between the Amazon and the Orinoco. Southey’s Brazils volume 1 page 658.]
Had the nations of the lower region of equinoctial America participated in the civilization spread over the cold and alpine region, that immense Mesopotamia between the Orinoco and the Amazon would have favoured the development of their industry, animated their commerce, and accelerated the progress of social order. We see everywhere in the old world the influence of locality on the dawning civilization of nations. The island of Meroe between the Astaboras and the Nile, the Punjab of the Indus, the Douab of the Ganges, and the Mesopotamia of the Euphrates, furnish examples that are justly celebrated in the annals of the human race. But the feeble tribes that wander in the savannahs and the woods of eastern America, have profited little by the advantages of their soil, and the interbranchings of their rivers. The distant incursions of the Caribs, who went up the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Rio Negro, to carry off slaves and exercise pillage, compelled some rude tribes to rouse themselves from their indolence, and form associations for their common defence; the little good, however, which these wars with the Caribs (the Bedouins of the rivers of Guiana) produced, was but slight compensation for the evils that followed in their train, by rendering the tribes more ferocious, and diminishing their population. We cannot doubt, that the physical aspect of Greece, intersected by small chains of mountains, and mediterranean gulfs, contributed, at the dawn of civilization, to the intellectual development of the Greeks. But the operation of this influence of climate, and of the configuration of the soil, is felt in all its force only among a race of men who, endowed with a happy organization of the mental faculties, are susceptible of exterior impulse. In studying the history of our species, we see, at certain distances, these foci of ancient civilization dispersed over the globe like luminous points; and we are struck by the inequality of improvement in nations inhabiting analogous climates, and whose native soil appears equally favoured by the most precious gifts of nature.
Since my departure from the banks of the Orinoco and the Amazon, a new era has unfolded itself in the social state of the nations of the West. The fury of civil discussions has been succeeded by the blessings of peace, and a freer development of the arts of industry. The bifurcations of the Orinoco, the isthmus of Tuamini, so easy to be made passable by an artificial canal, will ere long fix the attention of commercial Europe. The Cassiquiare, as broad as the Rhine, and the course of which is one hundred and eighty miles in length, will no longer form uselessly a navigable canal between two basins of rivers which have a surface of one hundred and ninety thousand square leagues. The grain of New Grenada will be carried to the banks of the Rio Negro; boats will descend from the sources of the Napo and the Ucuyabe, from the Andes of Quito and of Upper Peru, to the mouths of the Orinoco, a distance which equals that from Timbuctoo to Marseilles. A country nine or ten times larger than Spain, and enriched with the most varied productions, is navigable in every direction by the medium of the natural canal of the Cassiquiare, and the bifurcation of the rivers. This phenomenon, which will one day be so important for the political connections of nations, unquestionably deserves to be carefully examined.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51