Opposite to the point where the Orinoco forms its bifurcation, the granitic group of Duida rises in an amphitheatre on the right bank of the river. This mountain, which the missionaries call a volcano, is nearly eight thousand feet high. It is perpendicular on the south and west, and has an aspect of solemn grandeur. Its summit is bare and stony, but, wherever its less steep declivities are covered with mould vast forests appear suspended on its flanks. At the foot of Duida is the mission of Esmeralda, a little hamlet with eighty inhabitants, surrounded by a lovely plain, intersected by rills of black but limpid water. This plain is adorned with clumps of the mauritia palm, the sago-tree of America. Nearer the mountain, the distance of which from the cross of the mission I found to be seven thousand three hundred toises, the marshy plain changes to a savannah, and spends itself along the lower region of the Cordillera. Large pine-apples are there found of a delicious flavour; that species of bromelia always grows solitary among the gramina, like our Colchicum autumnale, while the B. karatas, another species of the same genus, is a social plant, like our whortleberries and heaths. The pine-apples of Esmeralda are cultivated throughout Guiana. There are certain spots in America, as in Europe, where different fruits attain their highest perfection. The sapota-plum (achra) should be eaten at the Island of Margareta or at Cumana: the chirimoya (very different from the custard-apple and sweet-sop of the West India Islands) at Loxa in Peru; the grenadilla, or parcha, at Caracas; and the pine-apple at Esmeralda, or in the island of Cuba. The pine-apple forms the ornament of the fields near the Havannah, where it is planted in parallel rows; on the sides of the Duida it embellishes the turf of the savannahs, lifting its yellow fruit, crowned with a tuft of silvery leaves, above the setaria, the paspalum, and a few cyperaceae. This plant, which the Indians of the Orinoco call ana-curua, has been propagated since the sixteenth century in the interior of China,* and some English travellers found it recently, together with other plants indubitably American (maize, cassava, tobacco, and pimento), on the banks of the River Congo, in Africa.
[* No doubt remains of the American origin of the Bromelia ananas. See Cayley’s Life of Raleigh volume 1 page 61. Gili volume 1 pages 210 and 336. Robert Brown, Geogr. Observ. on the Plants of the River Congo 1818 page 50.]
There is no missionary at Esmeralda; the monk appointed to celebrate mass in that hamlet is settled at Santa Barbara, more than fifty leagues distant; and he visits this spot but five or six times in a year. We were cordially received by an old officer, who took us for Catalonian shopkeepers, and who supposed that trade had led to the missions. On seeing packages of paper intended for drying our plants, he smiled at our simple ignorance. “You come,” said he, “to a country where this kind of merchandise has no sale; we write little here; and the dried leaves of maize, the platano (plantain-tree), and the vijaho (heliconia), serve us, like paper in Europe, to wrap up needles, fish-hooks, and other little articles of which we are careful.” This old officer united in his person the civil and ecclesiastical authority. He taught the children, I will not say the Catechism, but the Rosary; he rang the bells to amuse himself; and impelled by ardent zeal for the service of the church, he sometimes used his chorister’s wand in a manner not very agreeable to the natives.
Notwithstanding the small extent of the mission, three Indian languages are spoken at Esmeralda; the Idapimanare, the Catarapenno, and the Maquiritan. The last of these prevails on the Upper Orinoco, from the confluence of the Ventuari as far as that of the Padamo; the Caribbee prevails on the Lower Orinoco; the Ottomac, near the confluence of the Apure, at the Great Cataracts; and the Maravitan, on the banks of the Rio Negro. These are the five or six languages most generally spoken. We were surprised to find at Esmeralda many zambos, mulattos, and copper-coloured people, who called themselves Spaniards (Espanoles) and who fancy they are white, because they are not so red as the Indians. These people live in the most absolute misery; they have for the most part been sent hither in banishment (desterrados). Solano, in his haste to found colonies in the interior of the country, in order to guard its entrance against the Portuguese, assembled in the Llanos, and as far as the island of Margareta, vagabonds and malefactors, whom justice had vainly pursued, and made them go up the Orinoco to join the unhappy Indians who had been carried off from the woods. A mineralogical error gave celebrity to Esmeralda. The granites of Duida and Maraguaca contain in open veins fine rock-crystals, some of them of great transparency, others coloured by chlorite or blended with actonite; these were mistaken for diamonds and emeralds.
[* The Arivirianos of the banks of the Ventuari speak a dialect of the language of the Maquiritares. The latter live, jointly with a tribe of the Macos, in the savannahs that are by the Padamo. They are so numerous, that they have even given their name to this tributary stream of the Orinoco.]
So near the sources of the Orinoco we heard of nothing in these mountains but the proximity of El Dorado, the lake Parima, and the ruins of the great city of Manoa. A man, still known in the country for his credulity and his love of exaggeration, Don Apollinario Diez de la Fuente, assumed the pompous title of capitan poblador, and cabo militar (military commander) of the fort of Cassiquiare. This fort consisted of a few trunks of trees, joined together by planks; and to complete the deception, a demand was made at Madrid for the privileges of a villa for the mission of Esmeralda, which but a hamlet with twelve or fifteen huts. A colony composed of elements altogether heterogeneous perished by degrees. The vagabonds of the Llanos had as little taste for labour as the natives, who were compelled to live within the sound of the bell. The former found a motive in their pride to justify their indolence. In the missions, every mulatto who is not decidedly black as an African, or copper-coloured as an Indian, calls himself a Spaniard; he belongs to the gente de razon — the race endued with reason; and that reason (sometimes, it must be admitted, arrogant and indolent) persuaded the whites, and those who fancy they are so, that to till the ground is a task fit only for slaves (poitos) and the native neophytes. The colony of Esmeralda had been founded on the principles of that of Australia; but it was far from being governed with the same wisdom. The American colonists, being separated from their native soil, not by seas, but by forests and savannahs, dispersed; some taking the road northward, towards the Caura and the Carony; others proceeding southward to the Portuguese possessions. Thus the celebrity of this villa, and of the emerald-mines of Duida, vanished in a few years; and Esmeralda, on account of the immense number of insects that obscure the air at all seasons of the year, was regarded by the monks as a place of banishment. The superior of the missions, when he would make the lay-brothers mindful of their duty, threatens sometimes to send them to Esmeralda; that is, say the monks, to be condemned to the mosquitos; to be devoured by those buzzing flies (zancudos gritones) which God appears to have created for the torment and chastisement of man.* These strange punishments have not always been confined to the lay-brothers. There happened in 1788 one of those monastic revolutions, of which it is difficult to form a conception in Europe, according to the ideas that prevail of the peaceful state of the Christian settlements in the New World. For a long period the Franciscan monks settled in Guiana had been desirous of forming a separate republic, and rendering themselves independent of the college of Piritu at Nueva Barcelona. Discontented with the election of Fray Gutierez de Aguilera, chosen by a general chapter, and confirmed by the king in the important office of president of the missions, five or six monks of the Upper Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Rio Negro, assembled together at San Fernando de Atabapo; chose hastily a new superior from their own body; and caused the old one, who, unfortunately for himself, had come to visit those parts, to be arrested. They put him in irons, threw him into a boat, and conducted him to Esmeralda, as to a place of proscription. This great distance of the coast from the scene of this revolution led the monks to hope that their crime would remain long unknown beyond the Great Cataracts. They wished to gain time to intrigue, to negotiate, to frame acts of accusation, and employ the little artifices by which, in every country, the invalidity of a first election may be proved. Fray Gutierez do Aguilera languished in his prison at Esmeralda, and fell dangerously ill from the double influence of the excessive heat, and the continual irritation of the mosquitos. Happily for the fallen power the monks did not remain united. A missionary of the Cassiquiare conceived serious alarms respecting the issue of this affair; he dreaded being sent a prisoner to Cadiz, or, as they say in the colonies, having his name on the list (baxo partido de registro). Fear overcame his resolution, and he suddenly disappeared. Indians were placed on the watch at the mouth of the Atabapo, at the Great Cataracts, and wherever the fugitive was likely to pass on his way to the Lower Orinoco. Notwithstanding these precautions, he arrived at Angostura, and then reached the college of the missions of Piritu, denounced his colleagues, and was appointed, in recompense of this information, to arrest those with whom he had conspired against the president of the missions.* At Esmeralda, where the political events that have agitated Europe for thirty years past have not yet been heard of, lively interest is still felt in an event which is called the sedition of the monks, (el alboroto de los frailes.) In this country, as in the East, no conception is formed of any other revolutions than those that are made by rulers themselves; and we have just seen that the effects are not very alarming.
[* “Estos mosquitos que llaman zancudos gritones los parece cria la naturaleza para castigo y tormento de los hombres.” “Those mosquitos which are called buzzing zancudos, Nature seems to have created for the especial punishment and torture of man.” Fray Pedro Simon.]
[* Two of the missionaries, considered as the leaders of the insurrection, were embarked at Angostura, in order to be tried in Spain. The vessel in which they were conveyed became leaky, and put into Spanish Harbour in the island of Trinidad. The governor Chacon intereated himself in the fate of the monks; they were pardoned a violent proceeding somewhat inconsistent with monastic discipline, and were again employed in the missions. I was acquainted with them both during my abode in South America.]
If the villa of Esmeralda, with a population of twelve or fifteen families, be at present considered as a frightful place of abode, this must be attributed to the want of cultivation, the distance from every other inhabited country, and the excessive quantity of mosquitos. The site of the mission is highly picturesque; the surrounding country is lovely, and of great fertility. I never saw plantains of so large a size as these: and indigo, sugar, and cacao might be produced in abundance, if any trouble were taken for their cultivation. The Cerro Duida is surrounded with fine pasturage; and if the Observantins of the college of Piritu partook a little of the industry of the Catalonian Capuchins settled on the banks of the Carony, numerous herds would be seen wandering between the Cunucunumo and the Padamo. At present, not a cow or a horse is to be found; and the inhabitants, victims of their own indolence, are often reduced to eat the flesh of alouate monkeys, and flour made from the bones of fish, of which I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. A little cassava and a few plantains only are cultivated; and when the fishery is not abundant, the natives of a country so favoured by nature are exposed to the most cruel privations.
The pilots of the small number of boats that go from the Rio Negro to Angostura by the Cassiquiare are afraid to ascend as far as Esmeralda, and therefore that mission would have been much better placed at the point of the bifurcation of the Orinoco. It is probable that this vast country will not always be doomed to the desertion in which it has hitherto been left, owing to the errors of monkish administration and the spirit of monopoly that characterises corporations. We may even predict on what points of the Orinoco industry and commerce will become most active. In every zone, population is concentred at the mouth of tributary streams. The Rio Apure, by which the productions of the provinces of Varinas and Merida are exported, will give great importance to the little town of Cabruta, which will then be in rivalship with San Fernando de Apure, where all commerce has hitherto centred. Higher up, a new settlement will be formed at the confluence of the Meta, which communicates with New Grenada by the Llanos of Casanare. The two missions of the Cataracts will increase, from the activity to which the transport of boats at those points will give rise; for an unhealthy and damp climate, and the swarming of mosquitos, will as little impede the progress of cultivation at the Orinoco as at the Rio Magdalena, whenever a powerful mercantile interest shall call new settlers thither. Habitual evils are those which are least felt; and men born in America do not suffer the same intensity of pain as Europeans recently arrived. Perhaps, also, the destruction of forests round the inhabited places, although slow, will somewhat tend to diminish the torment of the tipulary insects. San Fernando de Atabapo, Javita, San Carlos, and Esmeralda, appear (from their situation at the mouth of the Guaviare, the portage between Tuamini and the Rio Negro, the confluence of the Cassiquiare, and the point of bifurcation of the Upper Orinoco) to promise a considerable increase of population and prosperity. The same improvement will take place in the fertile but uncultivated countries through which flow the Guallaga, the Amazon, and the Orinoco; as well as at the isthmus of Panama, the lake of Nicaragua, and the Rio Huasacualco, which furnish a communication between the two oceans. The imperfection of political institutions may for ages have converted into deserts places where the commerce of the world should be found concentred; but the time approaches when these obstacles shall exist no longer. A vicious administration cannot always struggle against the united interest of men; and civilization will be carried insensibly into those countries, the great destinies of which nature itself proclaims, by the physical configuration of the soil, the immense windings of the rivers, and the proximity of two seas, that bathe the shores of Europe and of India.
Esmeralda is the most celebrated spot on the Orinoco for the preparation of that active poison, which is employed in war, in the chase, and, singularly enough, as a remedy for gastric derangements. The poison of the ticunas of the Amazon, the upas-tieute of Java, and the curare of Guiana, are the most deleterious substances that are known. Raleigh, about the end of the sixteenth century, had heard of urari* as being a vegetable substance with which arrows were envenomed; yet no fixed notions of this poison had reached Europe. The missionaries Gumilla and Gili had not been able to penetrate into the country where the curare is manufactured. Gumilla asserts that this preparation was enveloped in great mystery; that its principal ingredient was furnished by a subterranean plant with a tuberous root, which never puts forth leaves, and which is called specially the root (raiz de si misma); that the venomous exhalations which arise from the manufacture are fatal to the lives of the old women who (being otherwise useless) are chosen to watch over this operation; finally, that these vegetable juices are never thought to be sufficiently concentrated till a few drops produce at a distance a repulsive action on the blood. An Indian wounds himself slightly; and a dart dipped in the liquid curare is held near the wound. If it make the blood return to the vessels without having been brought into contact with them, the poison is judged to be sufficiently concentrated.
[* In Tamanac marana, in Maypure macuri.]
When we arrived at Esmeralda, the greater part of the Indians were returning from an excursion which they had made to the east, beyond the Rio Padamo, to gather juvias, or the fruit of the bertholletia, and the liana which yields the curare. Their return was celebrated by a festival, which is called in the mission la fiesta de las juvias, and which resembles our harvest-homes and vintage-feasts. The women had prepared a quantity of fermented liquor; and during two days the Indians were in a state of intoxication. Among nations who attach great importance to the fruit of the palm, and of some other trees useful for the nourishment of man, the period when these fruits are gathered is marked by public rejoicings, and time is divided according to these festivals, which succeed one another in a course invariably regular. We were fortunate enough to find an old Indian more temperate than the rest, who was employed in preparing the curare poison from freshly-gathered plants. He was the chemist of the place. We found at his dwelling large earthen pots for boiling the vegetable juice, shallower vessels to favour the evaporation by a larger surface, and leaves of the plantain-tree rolled up in the shape of our filters, and used to filtrate the liquids, more or less loaded with fibrous matter. The greatest order and neatness prevailed in this hut, which was transformed into a chemical laboratory. The old Indian was known throughout the mission by the name of the poison-master (amo del curare). He had that self-sufficient air and tone of pedantry of which the pharmacopolists of Europe were formerly accused. “I know,” said he, “that the whites have the secret of making soap, and manufacturing that black powder which has the defect of making a noise when used in killing animals. The curare, which we prepare from father to son, is superior to anything you can make down yonder (beyond sea). It is the juice of an herb which kills silently, without any one knowing whence the stroke comes.”
This chemical operation, to which the old man attached so much importance, appeared to us extremely simple. The liana (bejuco) used at Esmeralda for the preparation of the poison, bears the same name as in the forests of Javita. It is the bejuco de Mavacure, which is gathered in abundance east of the mission, on the left bank of the Orinoco, beyond the Rio Amaguaca, in the mountainous and rocky tracts of Guanaya and Yumariquin. Although the bundles of bejuco which we found in the hut of the Indian were entirely bare of leaves, we had no doubt of their being produced by the same plant of the strychnos family (nearly allied to the rouhamon of Aublet) which we had examined in the forest of Pimichin.* The mavacure is employed fresh or dried indifferently during several weeks. The juice of the liana, when it has been recently gathered, is not regarded as poisonous; possibly it is so only when strongly concentrated. It is the bark and a part of the alburnum which contain this terrible poison. Branches of the mavacure four or five lines in diameter are scraped with a knife, and the bark that comes off is bruised, and reduced into very thin filaments on the stone employed for grinding cassava. The venomous juice being yellow, the whole fibrous mass takes that colour. It is thrown into a funnel nine inches high, with an opening four inches wide. This funnel was of all the instruments of the Indian laboratory that of which the poison-master seemed to be most proud. He asked us repeatedly if, por alla (out yonder, meaning in Europe) we had ever seen anything to be compared to this funnel (embudo). It was a leaf of the plantain-tree rolled up in the form of a cone, and placed within another stronger cone made of the leaves of the palm-tree. The whole of this apparatus was supported by slight frame-work made of the petioles and ribs of palm-leaves. A cold infusion is first prepared by pouring water on the fibrous matter which is the ground bark of the mavacure. A yellowish water filters during several hours, drop by drop, through the leafy funnel. This filtered water is the poisonous liquor, but it acquires strength only when concentrated by evaporation, like molasses, in a large earthen pot. The Indian from time to time invited us to taste the liquid; its taste, more or less bitter, decides when the concentration by fire has been carried sufficiently far. There is no danger in tasting it, the curare being deleterious only when it comes into immediate contact with the blood. The vapours, therefore, which are disengaged from the pans are not hurtful, notwithstanding all that has been asserted on this point by the missionaries of the Orinoco. Fontana, in his experiments on the poison of the ticuna of the Amazon, long since proved that the vapours arising from this poison, when thrown on burning charcoal, may be inhaled without danger and that the statement of La Condamine, that Indian women, when condemned to death, have been killed by the vapours of the poison of the ticuna, is incorrect.
[* I may here insert the description of the curare or bejuco de Mavacure, taken from a manuscript, yet unpublished, of my learned fellow-labourer M. Kunth, corresponding member of the Institute. “Ramuli lignosi, oppositi, ramulo altero abortivo, teretiusculi, fuscescenti-tomentosi, inter petiolos lineola pilosa notati, gemmula aut processu filiformi (pedunculo?) terminati. FOLIA opposita, bereviter petiolata, ovato-oblonga, acuminata, intergerrima, reticulato-triplinervia, nervo medio subtus prominente, membranacea, ciliata, utrinque glabra, nervo medio fuscescente-tomentoso, lacte viridia, subtus pallidiora, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pollices longa, 8 to 9 lineas lata. PETIOLI lineam longi, tomentosi, inarticulati.”]
The most concentrated juice of the mavacure is not thick enough to stick to the darts; and therefore, to give a body to the poison, another vegetable juice, extremely glutinous, drawn from a tree with large leaves, called kiracaguero, is poured into the concentrated infusion. As this tree grows at a great distance from Esmeralda, and was at that period as destitute of flowers and fruits as the bejuco de mavacure, we could not determine it botanically. I have several times mentioned that kind of fatality which withholds the most interesting plants from the examination of travellers, while thousands of others, of the chemical properties of which we are ignorant, are found loaded with flowers and fruits. In travelling rapidly, even within the tropics, where the flowering of the ligneous plants is of such long duration, scarcely one-eighth of the trees can be seen furnishing the essential parts of fructification. The chances of being able to determine, I do not say the family, but the genus and species, is consequently as one to eight; and it may be conceived that this unfavourable chance is felt most powerfully when it deprives us of the intimate knowledge of objects which afford a higher interest than that of descriptive botany.
At the instant when the glutinous juice of the kiracaguero-tree is poured into the venomous liquor well concentrated, and kept in a state of ebullition, it blackens, and coagulates into a mass of the consistence of tar, or of a thick syrup. This mass is the curare of commerce. When we hear the Indians say that the kiracaguero is as necessary as the bejuco do mavacure in the manufacture of the poison, we may be led into error by the supposition that the former also contains some deleterious principle, while it only serves (as the algarrobo, or any other gummy substance would do) to give more body to the concentrated juice of the curare. The change of colour which the mixture undergoes is owing to the decomposition of a hydruret of carbon; the hydrogen is burned, and the carbon is set free. The curare is sold in little calabashes; but its preparation being in the hands of a few families, and the quantity of poison attached to each dart being extremely small, the best curare, that of Esmeralda and Mandavaca, is sold at a very high price. This substance, when dried, resembles opium; but it strongly absorbs moisture when exposed to the air. Its taste is an agreeable bitter, and M. Bonpland and myself have often swallowed small portions of it. There is no danger in so doing, if it be certain that neither lips nor gums bleed. In experiments made by Mangili on the venom of the viper, one of his assistants swallowed all the poison that could be extracted from four large vipers of Italy, without being affected by it. The Indians consider the curare, taken internally, as an excellent stomachic. The same poison prepared by the Piraoas and Salives, though it has some celebrity, is not so much esteemed as that of Esmeralda. The process of this preparation appears to be everywhere nearly the same; but there is no proof that the different poisons sold by the same name at the Orinoco and the Amazon are identical, and derived from the same plants. Orfila, therefore, in his excellent work On Poisons, has very judiciously separated the wourali of Dutch Guiana, the curare of the Orinoco, the ticuna of the Amazon, and all those substances which have been too vaguely united under the name of American poisons. Possibly at some future day, one and the same alkaline principle, similar to morphine and strychnia, will be found in poisonous plants belonging to different genera.
At the Orinoco the curare de raiz (of the root) is distinguished from the curare de bejuco (of lianas, or of the bark of branches). We saw only the latter prepared; the former is weaker, and much less esteemed. At the river Amazon we learned to distinguish the poisons of the Ticuna, Yagua, Peva, and Xibaro Indians, which being all obtained from the same plant, perhaps differ only by a more or less careful preparation. The Ticuna poison, to which La Condamine has given so much celebrity in Europe, and which somewhat improperly begins to bear the name of ticuna, is extracted from a liana which grows in the island of Mormorote, on the Upper Maranon. This poison is employed partly by the Ticunas, who remain independent on the Spanish territory near the sources of the Yacarique; and partly by Indians of the same tribe, inhabiting the Portuguese mission of Loreto. The poisons we have just named differ totally from that of La Peca, and from the poison of Lamas and of Moyobamba. I enter into these details because the vestiges of plants which we were able to examine, proved to us (contrary to the common opinion) that the three poisons of the Ticunas, of La Peca, and of Moyobamba are not obtained from the same species, probably not even from congeneric plants. In proportion as the preparation of the curare is simple, that of the poison of Moyobamba is a long and complicated process. With the juice of the bejuco de ambihuasca, which is the principal ingredient, are mixed pimento, tobacco, barbasco (Jacquinia armillaris), sanango (Tabernae montana), and the milk of some other apocyneae. The fresh juice of the ambihuasca has a deleterious action when in contact with the blood; the juice of the mavacure is a mortal poison only when it is concentrated by fire; and ebullition deprives the juice of the root of Jatropha manihot (the manioc) of all its baneful qualities. In rubbing a long time between my fingers the liana which yields the potent poison of La Peca, when the weather was excessively hot, my hands were benumbed; and a person who was employed with me felt the same effects from this rapid absorption by the uninjured integuments.
I shall not here enter into any detail on the physiological properties of those poisons of the New World which kill with the same promptitude as the strychneae of Asia,* but without producing vomiting when they are received into the stomach, and without denoting the approach of death by the violent excitement of the spinal marrow. Scarcely a fowl is eaten on the banks of the Orinoco which has not been killed with a poisoned arrow; and the missionaries allege that the flesh of animals is never so good as when this method is employed. Father Zea, who accompanied us, though ill of a tertian fever, every morning had the live fowls allotted for our food brought to his hammock together with an arrow, and he killed them himself; for he would not confide this operation, to which he attached great importance, to any other person. Large birds, a guan (pava de monte) for instance, or a curassao (alector), when wounded in the thigh, die in two or three minutes; but it is often ten or twelve minutes before life is extinct in a pig or a peccary. M. Bonpland found that the same poison, bought in different villages, varied much. We had procured at the river Amazon some real Ticuna poison which was less potent than any of the varieties of the curare of the Orinoco. Travellers, on arriving in the missions, frequently testify their apprehension on learning that the fowls, monkeys, guanas, and even the fish which they eat, have been killed with poisoned arrows. But these fears are groundless. Majendie has proved by his ingenious experiments on transfusion, that the blood of animals on which the bitter strychnos of India has produced a deleterious effect, has no fatal action on other animals. A dog received a considerable quantity of poisoned blood into his veins without any trace of irritation being perceived in the spinal marrow.
[* The nux vomica, the upas tieute, and the bean of St. Ignatius, Strychnos Ignatia.]
I placed the most active curare in contact with the crural nerves of a frog, without perceiving any sensible change in measuring the degree of irritability of the organs, by means of an arc formed of heterogeneous metals. Galvanic experiments succeeded upon birds, some minutes after I had killed them with a poisoned arrow. These observations are not uninteresting, when we recollect that a solution of the upas-poison poured upon the sciatic nerve, or insinuated into the texture of the nerve, produces also a sensible effect on the irritability of the organs by immediate contact with the medullary substance. The danger of the curare, as of most of the other strychneae (for we continue to believe that the mavacure belongs to a neighbouring family), results only from the action of the poison on the vascular system. At Maypures, a zambo descended from an Indian and a negro, prepared for M. Bonpland some of those poisoned arrows, that are shot from blowing-tubes to kill small monkeys or birds. He was a man of remarkable muscular strength. Having had the imprudence to rub the curare between his fingers after being slightly wounded, he fell on the ground seized with a vertigo, that lasted nearly half an hour. Happily the poison was of that diluted kind which is used for very small animals, that is, for those which it is believed can be recalled to life by putting muriate of soda into the wound. During our passage in returning from Esmeralda to Atures, I myself narrowly escaped an imminent danger. The curare, having imbibed the humidity of the air, had become fluid, and was spilt from an imperfectly closed jar upon our linen. The person who washed the linen had neglected to examine the inside of a stocking, which was filled with curare; and it was only on touching this glutinous matter with my hand, that I was warned not to draw on the poisoned stocking. The danger was so much the greater, as my feet at that time were bleeding from the wounds made by chegoes (Pulex penetrans), which had not been well extirpated. This circumstance may warn travellers of the caution requisite in the conveyance of poisons.
An interesting chemical and physiological investigation remains to be accomplished in Europe on the poisons of the New World, when, by more frequent communications, the curare de bejuco, the curare de raiz, and the various poisons of the Amazon, Guallaga, and Brazil, can be procured, without being confounded together, from the places where they are prepared. Since the discovery of prussic acid,* and many other new substances eminently deleterious, the introduction of poisons prepared by savage nations is less feared in Europe; we cannot however appeal too strongly to the vigilance of those who keep such noxious substances in the midst of populous cities, the centres of civilization, misery, and depravity. Our botanical knowledge of the plants employed in making poison can be but very slowly acquired. Most of the Indians who make poisoned arrows, are totally ignorant of the nature of the venomous substances they use, and which they obtain from other people. A mysterious veil everywhere covers the history of poisons and of their antidotes. Their preparation among savages is the monopoly of the piaches, who are at once priests, jugglers, and physicians; it is only from the natives who are transplanted to the missions, that any certain notions can be acquired on matters so problematical. Ages elapsed before Europeans became acquainted through the investigation of M. Mutis, with the bejuco del guaco (Mikania guaco), which is the most powerful of all antidotes against the bite of serpents, and of which we were fortunate enough to give the first botanical description.
[* First obtained by Scheele in the year 1782. Gay–Lussac (to whom we are indebted for the complete analysis of this acid) observes that it can never become very dangerous to society, because its peculiar smell (that of bitter almonds) betrays its presence, and the facility with which it is decomposed makes it difficult to preserve.]
The opinion is very general in the missions that no cure is possible, if the curare be fresh, well concentrated, and have stayed long in the wound, to have entered freely into the circulation. Among the specifics employed on the banks of the Orinoco, and in the Indian Archipelago, the most celebrated is muriate of soda.* The wound is rubbed with this salt, which is also taken internally. I had myself no direct and sufficiently convincing proof of the action of this specific; and the experiments of Delille and Majendie rather tend to disprove its efficacy. On the banks of the Amazon, the preference among the antidotes is given to sugar; and muriate of soda being a substance almost unknown to the Indians of the forests, it is probable that the honey of bees, and that farinaceous sugar which oozes from plantains dried in the sun, were anciently employed throughout Guiana. In vain have ammonia and eau-deluce been tried against the curare; it is now known that these specifics are uncertain, even when applied to wounds caused by the bite of serpents. Sir Everard Home has shown that a cure is often attributed to a remedy, when it is owing only to the slightness of the wound, and to a very circumscribed action of the poison. Animals may with impunity be wounded with poisoned arrows, if the wound be well laid open, and the point imbued with poison be withdrawn immediately after the wound is made. If salt or sugar be employed in these cases, people are tempted to regard them as excellent specifics. Indians, who had been wounded in battle by weapons dipped in the curare, described to us the symptoms they experienced, which were entirely similar to those observed in the bite of serpents. The wounded person feels congestion in the head, vertigo, and nausea. He is tormented by a raging thirst, and numbness pervades all the parts that are near the wound.
[* Oviedo, Sommario delle Indie Orientali, recommends sea-water as an antidote against vegetable poisons. The people in the missions never fail to assure European travellers, that they have no more to fear from arrows dipped in curare, if they have a little salt in their mouths, than from the electric shocks of the gymnoti, when chewing tobacco. Raleigh recommends as an antidote to the ourari (curare) the juice of garlick. [But later experiments have completely proved that if the poison has once fairly entered into combination with the blood there is no remedy, either for man or any of the inferior animals. The wourali and other poisons mentioned by Humboldt have, since the publication of this work, been carefully analysed by the first chemists of Europe, and experiments made on their symptoms and supposed remedies. Artificial inflation of the lungs was found the most successful, but in very few instances was any cure effected.]]
The old Indian, who was called the poison-master, seemed flattered by the interest we took in his chemical processes. He found us sufficiently intelligent to lead him to the belief that we knew how to make soap, an art which, next to the preparation of curare, appeared to him one of the finest of human inventions. When the liquid poison had been poured into the vessels prepared for their reception, we accompanied the Indian to the festival of the juvias. The harvest of juvias, or fruits of the Bertholletia excelsa,* was celebrated by dancing, and by excesses of wild intoxication. The hut where the natives were assembled, displayed during several days a very singular aspect. There was neither table nor bench; but large roasted monkeys, blackened by smoke, were ranged in regular order against the wall. These were the marimondes (Ateles belzebuth), and those bearded monkeys called capuchins, which must not be confounded with the weeper, or sai (Simia capucina of Buffon). The manner of roasting these anthropomorphous animals contributes to render their appearance extremely disagreeable in the eyes of civilized man. A little grating or lattice of very hard wood is formed, and raised one foot from the ground. The monkey is skinned, and bent into a sitting posture; the head generally resting on the arms, which are meagre and long; but sometimes these are crossed behind the back. When it is tied on the grating, a very clear fire is kindled below. The monkey, enveloped in smoke and flame, is broiled and blackened at the same time. On seeing the natives devour the arm or leg of a roasted monkey, it is difficult not to believe that this habit of eating animals so closely resembling man in their physical organization, has, to a certain degree, contributed to diminish the horror of cannibalism among these people. Roasted monkeys, particularly those which have very round heads, display a hideous resemblance to a child; and consequently Europeans who are obliged to feed on them prefer separating the head and the hands, and serve up only the rest of the animal at their tables. The flesh of monkeys is so lean and dry, that M. Bonpland has preserved in his collections at Paris an arm and hand, which had been broiled over the fire at Esmeralda; and no smell has arisen from them after the lapse of a great number of years.
[* The Brazil-nut.]
We saw the Indians dance. The monotony of their dancing is increased by the women not daring to take part in it. The men, young and old, form a circle, holding each others’ hands; and turn sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, for whole hours, with silent gravity. Most frequently the dancers themselves are the musicians. Feeble sounds, drawn from a series of reeds of different lengths, form a slow and plaintive accompaniment. The first dancer, to mark the time, bends both knees in a kind of cadence. Sometimes they all make a pause in their places, and execute little oscillatory movements, bending the body from one side to the other. The reeds ranged in a line, and fastened together, resemble the Pan’s pipes, as we find them represented in the bacchanalian processions on Grecian vases. To unite reeds of different lengths, and make them sound in succession by passing them before the lips, is a simple idea, and has naturally presented itself to every nation. We were surprised to see with what promptitude the young Indians constructed and tuned these pipes, when they found reeds on the bank of the river. Uncivilized men, in every zone, make great use of these gramina with high stalks. The Greeks, with truth, said that reeds had contributed to subjugate nations by furnishing arrows, to soften men’s manners by the charm of music, and to unfold their understanding by affording the first instruments for tracing letters. These different uses of reeds mark in some sort three different periods in the life of nations. We must admit that the tribes of the Orinoco are in the first stage of dawning civilization. The reed serves them only as an instrument of war and of hunting; and the Pan’s pipes, of which we have spoken, have not yet, on those distant shores, yielded sounds capable of awakening mild and humane feelings.
We found in the hut allotted for the festival, several vegetable productions which the Indians had brought from the mountains of Guanaya, and which engaged our attention. I shall only here mention the fruit of the juvia, reeds of a prodigious length, and shirts made of the bark of marima. The almendron, or juvia, one of the most majestic trees of the forests of the New World, was almost unknown before our visit to the Rio Negro. It begins to be found after a journey of four days east of Esmeralda, between the Padamo and Ocamo, at the foot of the Cerro Mapaya, on the right bank of the Orinoco. It is still more abundant on the left bank, at the Cerro Guanaja, between the Rio Amaguaca and the Gehette. The inhabitants of Esmeralda assured us, that in advancing above the Gehette and the Chiguire, the juvia and cacao-trees become so common that the wild Indians (the Guaicas and Guaharibos) do not disturb the Indians of the missions when gathering in their harvests. They do not envy them the productions with which nature has enriched their own soil. Scarcely any attempt has been made to propagate the almendrones in the settlements of the Upper Orinoco. To this the indolence of the inhabitants is a greater obstacle than the rapidity with which the oil becomes rancid in the amygdaliform seeds. We found only three trees of the kind at the mission of San Carlos, and two at Esmeralda. These majestic trees were eight or ten years old, and had not yet borne flowers.
As early as the sixteenth century, the seeds with ligneous and triangular teguments (but not the great drupe like a cocoa-nut, which contains the almonds,) were known in Europe. I recognise them in an imperfect engraving of Clusius.* This botanist designates them under the name of almendras del Peru. They had no doubt been carried, as a very rare fruit, to the Upper Maranon, and thence, by the Cordilleras, to Quito and Peru. The Novus Orbis of Laet, in which I found the first account of the cow-tree, furnishes also a description and a figure singularly exact of the fruit of the bertholletia. Laet calls the tree totocke, and mentions the drupe of the size of the human head, which contains the almonds. The weight of these fruits, he says, is so enormous, that the savages dare not enter the forests without covering their heads and shoulders with a buckler of very hard wood. These bucklers are unknown to the natives of Esmeralda, but they told us of the danger incurred when the fruit ripens and falls from a height of fifty or sixty feet. The triangular seeds of the juvia are sold in Portugal under the vague appellation of chesnuts (castanas) of the Amazon, and in England under the name of Brazil-nuts; and it was long believed that, like the fruit of the pekea, they grew on separate stalks. They have furnished an article of trade for a century past to the inhabitants of Grand Para, by whom they are sent either directly to Europe, or to Cayenne, where they are called touka. The celebrated botanist, Correa de Serra, told us that this tree abounds in the forests in the neighbourhood of Macapa, at the mouth of the Amazon; that it there bears the name of capucaya, and that the inhabitants gather the almonds, like those of the lecythis, to express the oil. A cargo of almonds of the juvia, bought into Havre, captured by a privateer, in 1807, was employed for the same purpose.
[* Clusius distinguishes very properly the almendras del Peru, our Bertholletia excelsa, or juvia, (fructus amygdalae-nucleo, triangularis, dorso lato, in bina latera angulosa desinente, rugosus, paululum cuneiformis) from the pekea, or Amygdala guayanica. Raleigh, who knew none of the productions of the Upper Orinoco, does not speak of the juvia; but it appears that he first brought to Europe the fruit of the mauritia palm, of which we have so often spoken. (Fructus elegantissimus, squamosus, similis palmae-pini.)]
The tree that yields the Brazil-nuts is generally not more than two or three feet in diameter, but attains one hundred or one hundred and twenty feet in height. It does not resemble the mammee-tree, the star-apple, and several other trees of the tropics, the branches of which (as in the laurel-trees of the temperate zone) rise almost straight towards the sky. The branches of the bertholletia are open, very long, almost entirely bare towards the base, and loaded at their summits with tufts of very close foliage. This disposition of the semicoriaceous leaves, which are a little silvery on their under part, and more than two feet long, makes the branches bend down toward the ground, like the fronds of the palm-tree. We did not see this majestic tree in blossom: it is not loaded with flowers* till in its fifteenth year, and they appear about the end of March and the beginning of April. The fruits ripen towards the end of May, and some trees retain them till the end of August. These fruits, which are as large as the head of a child, often twelve or thirteen inches in diameter, make a very loud noise in falling from the tops of the trees. Nothing is more fitted to fill the mind with admiration of the force of organic action in the equinoctial zone than the aspect of those great igneous pericarps, for instance, the cocoa-tree (lodoicea) of the Maldives among the monocotyledons, and the bertholletia and the lecythis among the dicotyledons. In our climates only the cucurbitaceae produce in the space of a few months fruits of an extraordinary size; but these fruits are pulpy and succulent. Within the tropics, the bertholletia forms in less than fifty or sixty days a pericarp, the ligneous part of which is half an inch thick, and which it is difficult to saw with the sharpest instruments. A great naturalist has observed, that the wood of fruits attains in general a hardness which is scarcely to be found in the wood of the trunks of trees. The pericarp of the bertholletia has traces of four cells, and I have sometimes found even five. The seeds have two very distinct coverings, and this circumstance renders the structure of the fruit more complicated than in the lecythis, the pekea or caryocar, and the saouvari. The first tegument is osseous or ligneous, triangular, tuberculated on its exterior surface, and of the colour of cinnamon. Four or five, and sometimes eight of these triangular nuts, are attached to a central partition. As they are loosened in time, they move freely in the large spherical pericarp. The capuchin monkeys (Simia chiropotes) are singularly fond of the Brazil nuts; and the noise made by the seeds, when the fruit is shaken as it falls from the tree, excites the appetites of these animals in the highest degree. I have most frequently found only from fifteen to twenty-two nuts in each fruit. The second tegument of the almonds is membranaceous, and of a brown-yellow. Their taste is extremely agreeable when they are fresh; but the oil, with which they abound, and which is so useful in the arts, becomes easily rancid. Although at the Upper Orinoco we often ate considerable quantities of these almonds for want of other food, we never felt any bad effects from so doing. The spherical pericarp of the bertholletia, perforated at the summit, is not dehiscent; the upper and swelled part of the columella forms (according to M. Kunth) a sort of inner cover, as in the fruit of the lecythis, but it seldom opens of itself. Many seeds, from the decomposition of the oil contained in the cotyledons, lose the faculty of germination before the rainy season, in which the ligneous integument of the pericarp opens by the effect of putrefaction. A tale is very current on the banks of the Lower Orinoco, that the capuchin and cacajao monkeys (Simia chiropotes, and Simia melanocephala) place themselves in a circle, and, by striking the shell with a stone, succeed in opening it, so as to take out the triangular nuts. This operation must, however, be impossible, on account of the extreme hardness and thickness of the pericarp. Monkeys may have been seen rolling along the fruit of the bertholletia, but though this fruit has a small hole closed by the upper extremity of the columella, nature has not furnished monkeys with the means of opening the ligneous pericarp, as it has of opening the covercle of the lecythis, called in the missions the covercle of the monkeys’ cocoa.* According to the report of several Indians, only the smaller rodentia, particularly the cavies (the acuri and the lapa), by the structure of their teeth, and the inconceivable perseverance with which they pursue their destructive operations, succeed in perforating the fruit of the juvia. As soon as the triangular nuts are spread on the ground, all the animals of the forest, the monkeys, the manaviris, the squirrels, the cavies, the parrots, and the macaws, hastily assemble to dispute the prey. They have all strength enough to break the ligneous tegument of the seed; they get out the kernel, and carry it to the tops of the trees. “It is their festival also,” said the Indians who had returned from the harvest; and on hearing their complaints of the animals, one may perceive that they think themselves alone the lawful masters of the forest.
[* According to accounts somewhat vague, they are yellow, very large, and have some similitude to those of the Bombax ceiba. M. Bonpland says, however, in his botanical journal written on the banks of the Rio Negro, flos violaceus. It was thus the Indians of the river had described to him the colour of the corolla.]
[* La tapa del coco de monos.]
One of the four canoes, which had taken the Indians to the gathering of the Juvias, was filled in great part with that species of reeds (carices) of which the blow-tubes are made. These reeds were from fifteen to seventeen feet long, yet no trace of a knot for the insertion of leaves and branches was perceived. They were quite straight, smooth externally, and perfectly cylindrical. These carices come from the foot of the mountains of Yumariquin and Guanaja. They are much sought after, even beyond the Orinoco, by the name of reeds of Esmeralda. A hunter preserves the same blow-tube during his whole life, and boasts of its lightness and precision, as we boast of the same qualities in our fire-arms. What is the monocotyledonous plant* that furnishes these admirable reeds? Did we see in fact the internodes (parts between the knots) of a gramen of the tribe of nastoides? or may this carex be perhaps a cyperaceous plant* destitute of knots? I cannot solve this question, or determine to what genus another plant belongs, which furnishes the shirts of marima. We saw on the slope of the Cerra Duida shirt-trees fifty feet high. The Indians cut off cylindrical pieces two feet in diameter, from which they peel the red and fibrous bark, without making any longitudinal incision. This bark affords them a sort of garment, which resembles sacks of a very coarse texture, and without a seam. The upper opening serves for the head; and two lateral holes are cut for the arms to pass through. The natives wear these shirts of marima in the rainy season: they have the form of the ponchos and ruanas of cotton, which are so common in New Grenada, at Quito, and in Peru. In these climates the riches and beneficence of nature being regarded as the primary causes of the indolence of the inhabitants, the missionaries say in showing the shirts of marima, in the forests of the Orinoco garments are found ready-made on the trees. We may also mention the pointed caps, which the spathes of certain palm-trees furnish, and which resemble coarse network.
[* The smooth surface of these tubes sufficiently proves that they are not furnished by a plant of the family of umbelliferae.]
[* The caricillo del manati, which grows abundantly on the banks of the Orinoco, attains from eight to ten feet in height.]
At the festival of which we were the spectators, the women, who were excluded from the dance, and every sort of public rejoicing, were daily occupied in serving the men with roasted monkey, fermented liquors, and palm-cabbage. This last production has the taste of our cauliflowers, and in no other country had we seen specimens of such an immense size. The leaves that are not unfolded are united with the young stem, and we measured cylinders of six feet long and five inches in diameter. Another substance, which is much more nutritive, is obtained from the animal kingdom: this is fish-flour (manioc de pescado). The Indians throughout the Upper Orinoco fry fish, dry them in the sun, and reduce them to powder without separating the bones. I have seen masses of fifty or sixty pounds of this flour, which resembles that of cassava. When it is wanted for eating, it is mixed with water, and reduced to a paste. In every climate the abundance of fish has led to the invention of the same means of preserving them. Pliny and Diodorus Siculus have described the fish-bread of the ichthyophagous nations, that dwelt on the Persian Gulf and the shores of the Red Sea.*
[* These nations, in a still ruder state than the natives of the Orinoco, contented themselves with drying the raw fish in the sun. They made up the fish-paste in the form of bricks, and sometimes mixed with it the aromatic seed of paliurus (rhamnus), as in Germany, and some other countries, cummin and fennel-seed are mixed with wheaten bread.]
At Esmeralda, as everywhere else throughout the missions, the Indians who will not be baptized, and who are merely aggregated in the community, live in a state of polygamy. The number of wives differs much in different tribes. It is most considerable among the Caribs, and all the nations that have preserved the custom of carrying off young girls from the neighbouring tribes. How can we imagine domestic happiness in so unequal an association? The women live in a sort of slavery, as they do in most nations which are in a state of barbarism. The husbands being in the full enjoyment of absolute power, no complaint is heard in their presence. An apparent tranquillity prevails in the household; the women are eager to anticipate the wishes of an imperious and sullen master; and they attend without distinction to their own children and those of their rivals. The missionaries assert, what may easily be believed, that this domestic peace, the effect of fear, is singularly disturbed when the husband is long absent. The wife who contracted the first ties then applies to the others the names of concubines and servants. The quarrels continue till the return of the master, who knows how to calm their passions by the sound of his voice, by a mere gesticulation, or, if he thinks it necessary, by means a little more violent. A certain inequality in the rights of the women is sanctioned by the language of the Tamanacs. The husband calls the second and third wife the companions of the first; and the first treats these companions as rivals and enemies (ipucjatoje), a term which truly expresses their position. The whole weight of labour being supported by these unhappy women, we must not be surprised if, in some nations, their number is extremely small. Where this happens, a kind of polyandry is formed, which we find more fully displayed in Thibet, and on the lofty mountains at the extremity of the Indian peninsula. Among the Avanos and Maypures, brothers have often but one wife. When an Indian, who lives in polygamy, becomes a christian, he is compelled by the missionaries, to choose among his wives her whom he prefers, and to reject the others. At the moment of separation the new convert sometimes discovers the most valuable qualities in the wives he is obliged to abandon. One understands gardening perfectly; another knows how to prepare chiza, an intoxicating beverage extracted from the root of cassava; all appear to him alike clever and useful. Sometimes the desire of preserving his wives overcomes in the Indian his inclination to christianity; but most frequently, in his perplexity, the husband prefers submitting to the choice of the missionary, as to a blind fatality.
The Indians, who from May to August take journeys to the east of Esmeralda, to gather the vegetable productions of the mountains of Yumariquin, gave us precise notions of the course of the Orinoco to the east of the mission. This part of my itinerary may differ entirely from the maps that preceded it. I shall begin the description of this country with the granitic group of Duida, at the foot of which we sojourned. This group is bounded on the west by the Rio Tamatama, and on the east by the Rio Guapo. Between these two tributary streams of the Orinoco, amid the morichales, or clumps of mauritia palm-trees, which surround Esmeralda, the Rio Sodomoni flows, celebrated for the excellence of the pine-apples that grow upon its banks. I measured, on the 22nd of May, in the savannah at the foot of Duida, a base of four hundred and seventy-five metres in length; the angle, under which the summit of the mountain appeared at the distance of thirteen thousand three hundred and twenty-seven metres, was still nine degrees. A trigonometric measurement, made with great care, gave me for Duida (that is, for the most elevated peak, which is south-west of the Cerro Maraguaca) two thousand one hundred and seventy-nine metres, or one thousand one hundred and eighteen toises, above the plain of Esmeralda. The Cerro Duida thus yields but little in height (scarcely eighty or one hundred toises) to the summit of St. Gothard, or the Silla of Caracas on the shore of Venezuela. It is indeed considered as a colossal mountain in those countries; and this celebrity gives a precise idea of the mean height of Parima and of all the mountains of eastern America. To the east of the Sierra Nevada de Merida, as well as to the south-east of the Paramo de las Rosas, none of the chains that extend in the same parallel line reach the height of the central ridge of the Pyrenees.
The granitic summit of Duida is so nearly perpendicular that the Indians have vainly attempted the ascent. It is a well-known fact that mountains not remarkable for elevation are sometimes the most inaccessible. At the beginning and end of the rainy season, small flames, which seem to change their place, are seen on the top of Duida. This phenomenon, the existence of which is borne out by concurrent testimony, has caused this mountain to be improperly called a volcano. As it stands nearly alone, it might be supposed that lightning from time to time sets fire to the brushwood; but this supposition loses its probability when we reflect on the extreme difficulty with which plants are ignited in these damp climates. It must be observed also that these flames are said to appear often where the rock seems scarcely covered with turf, and that the same igneous phenomena are visible, on days entirely exempt from storms, on the summit of Guaraco or Murcielago, a hill opposite the mouth of the Rio Tamatama, on the southern bank of the Orinoco. This hill is scarcely elevated one hundred toises above the neighbouring plains. If the statements of the natives be correct, it is probable that some subterraneous cause produces these flames on the Duida and the Guaraco; for they never appear on the lofty neighbouring mountains of Jao and Maraguaca, so often wrapped in electric storms. The granite of the Cerro Duida is full of veins, partly open, and partly filled with crystals of quartz and pyrites. Gaseous and inflammable emanations, either of hydrogen or of naphtha, may pass through these veins. Of this the mountains of Caramania, of Hindookho, and of Himalaya, furnish frequent examples. We saw the appearance of flames in many parts of eastern America subject to earthquakes, even from secondary rocks, as at Cuchivero, near Cumanacoa. The fire shows itself when the ground, strongly heated by the sun, receives the first rains; or when, after violent showers, the earth begins to dry. The first cause of these igneous phenomena lies at immense depths below the secondary rocks, in the primitive formations: the rains and the decomposition of atmospheric water act only a secondary part. The hottest springs of the globe issue immediately from granite. Petroleum gushes from mica-schist; and frightful detonations are heard at Encaramada, between the rivers Arauca and Cuchivero, in the midst of the granitic soil of the Orinoco and the Sierra Parima. Here, as everywhere else on the globe, the focus of volcanoes is in the most ancient soils; and it appears that an intimate connection exists between the great phenomena that heave up and liquify the crust of our planet, and those igneous meteors which are seen from time to time on its surface, and which from their littleness we are tempted to attribute solely to the influence of the atmosphere.
Duida, though lower than the height assigned to it by popular belief, is however the most prominent point of the whole group of mountains that separate the basin of the Lower Orinoco from that of the Amazon. These mountains lower still more rapidly on the north-east, toward the Purunama, than on the east, toward the Padamo and the Rio Ocamo. In the former direction the most elevated summits next to Duida are Cuneva, at the sources of the Rio Paru (one of the tributary streams of the Ventuari), Sipapo, Calitamini, which forms one group with Cunavami and the peak of Umiana. East of Duida, on the right bank of the Orinoco, Maravaca, or Sierra Maraguaca, is distinguished by its elevation, between the Rio Caurimoni and the Padamo; and on the left bank of the Orinoco rise the mountains of Guanaja and Yumariquin, between the Rios Amaguaca and Gehette. It is almost superfluous to repeat that the line which passes through these lofty summits (like those of the Pyrenees, the Carpathian mountains, and so many other chains of the old continent) is very distinct from the line that marks the partition of the waters. This latter line, which separates the tributary streams of the Lower and Upper Orinoco, intersects the meridian of 64° in latitude 4°. After having separated the sources of the Rio Branco and the Carony, it runs north-west, sending off the waters of the Padamo, the Jao, and the Ventuari towards the south, and the waters of the Arui, the Caura, and the Cuchivero towards the north.
The Orinoco may be ascended without danger from Esmeralda as far as the cataracts occupied by the Guaica Indians, who prevent all farther progress of the Spaniards. This is a voyage of six days and a half. In the first two days you arrive at the mouth of the Rio Padamo, or Patamo, having passed, on the north, the little rivers of Tamatama, Sodomoni, Guapo, Caurimoni, and Simirimoni; and on the south the Cuca, situate between the rock of Guaraco, which is said to throw out flames, and the Cerro Canclilla. Throughout this course the Orinoco continues to be three or four hundred toises broad. The tributary streams are most frequent on the right bank, because on that side the river is bounded by the lofty cloud-capped mountains of Duida and Maraguaca, while the left bank on the contrary is low and contiguous to a plain, the general slope of which inclines to the south-west. The northern Cordilleras are covered with fine timber. The growth of plants is so enormous in this hot and constantly humid climate, that the trunks of the Bombax ceiba are sixteen feet in diameter. From the mouth of the Rio Padamo, which is of considerable breadth, the Indians arrive, in a day and a half, at the Rio Mavaca. The latter takes its rise in the lofty mountains of Unturan, and communicates with a lake, on the banks of which the Portuguese* of the Rio Negro gather the aromatic seeds of the Laurus pucheri, known in trade by the names of the pichurim bean, and toda specie. Between the confluence of the Padamo and that of the Mavaca, the Orinoco receives on the north the Ocamo, into which the Rio Matacona falls. At the sources of the latter live the Guainares, who are much less copper-coloured, or tawny, than the other inhabitants of those countries. This is one of the tribes called by the missionaries fair Indians (Indios blancos). Near the mouth of the Ocamo, travellers are shown a rock, which is the wonder of the country. It is a granite passing into gneiss, and remarkable for the peculiar distribution of the black mica, which forms little ramified veins. The Spaniards call this rock Piedra Mapaya (the map-stone). The little fragment which I procured indicated a stratified rock, rich in white feldspar, and containing, together with spangles of mica, grouped in streaks, and variously twisted, some crystals of hornblende. It is not a syenite, but probably a granite of new formation, analogous to those to which the stanniferous granites (hyalomictes) and the pegmatites, or graphic granites, belong.
[* The pichurim bean is the puchiri of La Condamine, which abounds at the Rio Xingu, a tributary stream of the Amazon, and on the banks of the Hyurubaxy, or Yurubesh, which runs into the Rio Negro. The puchery, or pichurim, which is grated like nutmeg, differs from another aromatic fruit (a laurel?) known in trade at Grand Para by the names of cucheri, cuchiri, or cravo (clavus) do Maranhao, and which, on account of its odour, is compared with cloves.]
Beyond the confluence of the Macava, the Orinoco suddenly diminishes in breadth and depth, becoming extremely sinuous, like an Alpine torrent. Its banks are surrounded by mountains, and the number of its tributary streams on the south augments considerably, yet the Cordillera on the north remains the most elevated. It requires two days to go from the mouth of the Macava, to the Rio Gehette, the navigation being very difficult, and the boats, on account of the want of water, being often dragged along the shore. The tributary streams along this distance are, on the south, the Daracapo and the Amaguaca; which skirt on the west and east the mountains of Guanaya and Yumariquin, where the bertholletias are gathered. The Rio Manaviche flows down from the mountains on the north, the elevation of which diminishes progressively from the Cerro Maraguaca. As we advance further up the Orinoco, the whirlpools and little rapids (chorros y remolinos) become more and more frequent; on the north lies the Cano Chiquire, inhabited by the Guaicas, another tribe of white Indians; and two leagues distant is the mouth of the Gehette, where there is a great cataract. A dyke of granitic rocks crosses the Orinoco these rocks are, as it were, the columns of Hercules, beyond which no white man has been able to penetrate. It appears that this point, known by the name of the great Raudal de Guaharibos, is three-quarters of a degree west of Esmeralda, consequently in longitude 67° 38′. A military expedition, undertaken by the commander of the fort of San Carlos, Don Francisco Bovadilla, to discover the sources of the Orinoco, led to some information respecting the cataracts of the Guaharibos. Bovadilla had heard that some fugitive negroes from Dutch Guiana, proceeding towards the west (beyond the isthmus between the sources of the Rio Carony and the Rio Branco) had joined the independent Indians. He attempted an entrada (hostile incursion) without having obtained the permission of the governor; the desire of procuring African slaves, better fitted for labour than the copper-coloured race, was a far more powerful motive than that of zeal for the progress of geography. Bovadilla arrived without difficulty as far as the little Raudal* opposite the Gehette; but having advanced to the foot of the rocky dike that forms the great cataract, he was suddenly attacked, while he was breakfasting, by the Guaharibos and Guaycas, two warlike tribes, celebrated for the virulence of the curare with which their arrows are empoisoned. The Indians occupied the rocks that rise in the middle of the river, and seeing the Spaniards without bows, and having no knowledge of firearms, they provoked the whites, whom they believed to be without defence. Several of the latter were dangerously wounded, and Bovadilla found himself forced to give the signal for battle. A fearful carnage ensued among the natives, but none of the Dutch negroes, who, as was believed, had taken refuge in those parts, were found. Notwithstanding a victory so easily won, the Spaniards did not dare to advance eastward in a mountainous country, and along a river inclosed by very high banks.
[* It is called Raudal de abaxo (Low Cataract) in opposition to the great Raudal de Guaharibos, which is situated higher up toward the east.]
These white Guaharibos have constructed a bridge of lianas above the cataract, supported on rocks that rise, as generally happens in the pongos of the Upper Maranon, in the middle of the river. The existence of this bridge, which is known to all the inhabitants of Esmeralda,* seems to indicate that the Orinoco must be very narrow at this point. It is generally estimated by the Indians to be only two or three hundred feet broad. They say that the Orinoco, above the Raudal of the Guaharibos, is no longer a river, but a brook (riachuelo); while a well informed ecclesiastic, Fray Juan Gonzales, who had visited those countries, assured me that the Orinoco, in the part where its farther course is no longer known, is two-thirds of the breadth of the Rio Negro near San Carlos. This opinion appears to me hardly probable; but I relate what I have collected, and affirm nothing positively.
[* The Amazon also is crossed twice on bridges of wood near its source in the lake Lauricocha; first north of Chavin, and then below the confluence of the Rio Aguamiras. These, the only two bridges that have been thrown over the largest river we yet know, are called Puente de Quivilla, and Puente de Guancaybamba.]
In the rocky dike that crosses the Orinoco, forming the Raudal of the Guaharibos, Spanish soldiers pretend to have found the fine kind of saussurite (Amazon-stone), of which we have spoken. This tradition however is very uncertain; and the Indians, whom I interrogated on the subject, assured me that the green stones, called piedras de Macagua* at Esmeralda, were purchased from the Guaicas and Guaharibos, who traffic with hordes much farther to the east. The same uncertainty prevails respecting these stones, as that which attaches to many other valuable productions of the Indies. On the coast, at the distance of some hundred leagues, the country where they are found is positively named; but when the traveller with difficulty penetrates into that country, he discovers that the natives are ignorant even of the name of the object of his research. It might be supposed that the amulets of saussurite found in the possession of the Indians of the Rio Negro, come from the Lower Maranon, while those that are received by the missions of the Upper Orinoco and the Rio Carony come from a country situated between the sources of the Essequibo and the Rio Branco. The opinion that this stone is taken in a soft state like paste from the little lake Amucu, though very prevalent at Angostura, is wholly without foundation. A curious geognostic discovery remains to be made in the eastern part of America, that of finding in a primitive soil a rock of euphotide containing the piedra de Macagua.
[* The etymology of this name, which is unknown to me, might lead to the knowledge of the spot where these stones are found. I have sought in vain the name of Macagua among the numerous tributary streams of the Tacutu, the Mahu, the Rupunury, and the Rio Trombetas.]
I shall here proceed to give some information respecting the tribes of dwarf and fair Indians, which ancient traditions have placed near the sources of the Orinoco. I had an opportunity of seeing some of these Indians at Esmeralda, and can affirm that the short stature of the Guaicas, and the fair complexion of the Guaharibos, whom Father Caulin calls Guaribos blancos, have been alike exaggerated. The Guaicas, whom I measured, were in general from four feet seven inches to four feet eight inches high (old measure of France).* We were assured that the whole tribe were of this diminutive size; but we must not forget that what is called a tribe constitutes, properly speaking, but one family, owing to the exclusion of all foreign connections. The Indians of the lowest stature next to the Guaicas are the Guainares and the Poignaves. It is singular, that all these nations are found in near proximity to the Caribs, who are remarkably tall. They all inhabit the same climate, and subsist on the same aliments. They are varieties in the race, which no doubt existed previously to the settlement of these tribes (tall and short, fair and dark brown) in the same country. The four nations of the Upper Orinoco, which appeared to me to be the fairest, are the Guaharibos of the Rio Gehette, the Guainares of the Ocamo, the Guaicas of Cano Chiguire, and the Maquiritares of the sources of the Padamo, the Jao, and the Ventuari. It being very extraordinary to see natives with a fair skin beneath a burning sky, and amid nations of a very dark hue, the Spaniards have attempted to explain this phenomenon by the following hypotheses. Some assert, that the Dutch of Surinam and the Rio Essequibo may have intermingled with the Guaharibos and the Guainares; others insist, from hatred to the Capuchins of the Carony, and the Observantins of the Orinoco, that the fair Indians are what are called in Dalmatia muso di frate, children whose legitimacy is somewhat doubtful. In either case the Indios blancos would be mestizos, that is to say, children of an Indian woman and a white man. Now, having seen thousands of mestizos, I can assert that this supposition is altogether inaccurate. The individuals of the fair tribes whom we examined, have the features, the stature, and the smooth, straight, black hair which characterises other Indians. It would be impossible to take them for a mixed race, like the descendants of natives and Europeans. Some of these people are very little, others are of the ordinary stature of the copper-coloured Indians. They are neither feeble nor sickly, nor are they albinos; and they differ from the copper-coloured races only by a much less tawny skin. It would be useless, after these considerations, to insist on the distance of the mountains of the Upper Orinoco from the shores inhabited by the Dutch. I will not deny that descendants of fugitive negroes may have been seen among the Caribs, at the sources of the Essequibo; but no white man ever went from the eastern coast to the Rio Gehette and the Ocamo, in the interior of Guiana. It must also be observed, although we may be struck with the singularity of several fair tribes being found at one point to the east of Esmeralda, it is no less certain, that tribes have been found in other parts of America, distinguished from the neighbouring tribes by the less tawny colour of their skin. Such are the Arivirianos and Maquiritares of the Rio Ventuario and the Padamo, the Paudacotos and Paravenas of the Erevato, the Viras and Araguas of the Caura, the Mologagos of Brazil, and the Guayanas of the Uruguay.*
[* About five feet three inches English measure.]
[* The Cumanagotos, the Maypures, the Mapojos, and some hordes of the Tamanacs, are also fair, but in a less degree than the tribes I have just named. We may add to this list (which the researches of Sommering, Blumenbach, and Pritchard, on the varieties of the human species, have rendered so interesting) the Ojes of the Cuchivero, the Boanes (now almost destroyed) of the interior of Brazil, and in the north of America, far from the north-west coast, the Mandans and the Akanas (Walkenaer, Geogr. page 645. Gili volume 2 page 34. Vater, Amerikan. Sprachen page 81. Southey volume 1 page 603.) The most tawny, we might almost say the blackest of the American race, are the Otomacs and the Guamos. These have perhaps given rise to the confused notions of American negroes, spread through Europe in the early times of the conquest. (Herrera Dec 1 lib 3 cap 9, volume 1 page 79. Garcia, Origen de los Americanos page 259.) Who are those Negros de Quereca, placed by Gomara page 277, in that very isthmus of Panama, whence we received the first absurd tales of an albino American people? In reading with attention the authors of the beginning of the 16th century, we see that the discovery of America and of a new race of men, had singularly awakened the interest of travellers respecting the varieties of our species. Now, if a black race had been mingled with copper-colored men, as in the South-sea Islands, the conquistadores would not have failed to speak of it in a precise manner. Besides, the religious traditions of the Americans relate the appearance, in the heroic times, of white and bearded men as priests and legislators; but none of these traditions make mention of a black race.]
These phenomena are so much the more worthy of attention as they are observed in that great branch of the American nations generally ranked in a class totally opposite to that circumpolar branch, namely the Tschougaz–Esquimaux,* whose children are fair, and who acquire the Mongol or yellowish tint only from the influence of the air and the humidity. In Guiana, the hordes who live in the midst of the thickest forests are generally less tawny than those who inhabit the shores of the Orinoco, and are employed in fishing. But this slight difference, which is alike found in Europe between the artisans of towns and the cultivators of the fields or the fishermen on the coasts, in no way explains the problem of the Indios blancos. They are surrounded by other Indians of the woods (Indios del monte) who are of a reddish-brown, although now exposed to the same physical influences. The causes of these phenomena are very ancient, and we may repeat with Tacitus, “est durans originis vis.”
[* The Chevalier Gieseke has recently confirmed all that Krantz related of the colour of the skin of the Esquimaux. That race (even in the latitude of seventy-five and seventy-six degrees, where the climate is so rigorous) is not in general so diminutive as it was long believed to be. Ross’ Voyage to the North.]
The fair-complexioned tribes, which we had an opportunity of seeing at the mission of Esmeralda, inhabit part of a mountainous country lying between the sources of six tributaries of the Orinoco; that is to say, between the Padamo, the Jao, the Ventuari, the Erevato, the Aruy, and the Paraguay.* The Spanish and Portuguese missionaries are accustomed to designate this country more particularly by the name of Parima.* Here, as in several other countries of Spanish America, the savages have reconquered what had been wrested from them by civilization, or rather by its precursors, the missionaries. The expedition of the boundaries under Solano, and the extravagant zeal displayed by a governor of Guiana for the discovery of El Dorado, partially revived in the latter half of the eighteenth century that spirit of enterprise which characterised the Spaniards at the period of the discovery of America. In going along the Rio Padamo, a road was observed across the forests and savannahs (the length of ten days’ journey), from Esmeralda to the sources of the Ventuari; and in two days more, from those sources, by the Erevato, the missions on the Rio Caura were reached. Two intelligent and enterprising men, Don Antonio Santos and Captain Bareto, had established, with the aid of the Miquiritares, a chain of military posts on this line from Esmeralda to the Rio Erevato. These posts consisted of block-houses (casas fuertes), mounted with swivels, such as I have already mentioned. The soldiers, left to themselves, exercised all kinds of vexations on the natives (Indians of peace), who had cultivated pieces of ground around the casas fuertes; and the consequence was that, in 1776, several tribes formed a league against the Spaniards. All the military posts were attacked on the same night, on a line of nearly fifty leagues in length. The houses were burnt, and many soldiers massacred; a very small number only owing their preservation to the pity of the Indian women. This nocturnal expedition is still mentioned with horror. It was concerted in the most profound secrecy, and executed with that spirit of unity which the natives of America, skilled in concealing their hostile passions, well know how to practise in whatever concerns their common interests. Since 1776 no attempt has been made to re-establish the road which leads by land from the Upper to the Lower Orinoco, and no white man has been able to pass from Esmeralda to the Erevato. It is certain, however, that in the mountainous lands, between the sources of the Padamo and the Ventuari (near the sites called by the Indians Aurichapa, Ichuana, and Irique) there are many spots where the climate is temperate, and where there are pasturages capable of feeding numerous herds of cattle. The military posts were very useful in preventing the incursions of the Caribs, who, from time to time carried off slaves, though in very small numbers, between the Erevato and the Padamo. They would have resisted the attacks of the natives, if, instead of leaving them isolated and solely to the control of the soldiery, they had been formed into communities, and governed like the villages of neophyte Indians.
[* They are six tributary streams on the right bank of the Orinoco; the first three run towards the south, or the Upper Orinoco; the three others towards the north, or the Lower Orinoco.]
[* The name Parima, which signifies water, great water, is applied sometimes, and more especially, to the land washed by the Rio Parima, or Rio Branco (Rio de Aguas Blancas), a stream running into the Rio Negro; sometimes to the mountains (Sierra Parima), which divide the Upper and Lower Orinoco.]
We left the mission of Esmeralda on the 23rd of May. Without being positively ill, we felt ourselves in a state of languor and weakness, caused by the torment of insects, bad food, and a long voyage, in narrow and damp boats. We did not go up the Orinoco beyond the mouth of the Rio Guapo, which we should have done, if we could have attempted to reach the sources of the river. There remains a distance of fifteen leagues from the Guapo to the Raudal of the Guaharibos. At this cataract, which is passed on a bridge of lianas, Indians are posted armed with bows and arrows to prevent the whites, or those who come from their territory from advancing westward. How could we hope to pass a point where the commander of the Rio Negro, Don Francisco Bovadilla, was stopped when, accompanied by his soldiers, he tried to penetrate beyond the Gehette?* The carnage then made among the natives has rendered them more distrustful, and more averse to the inhabitants of the missions. It must be remembered that the Orinoco had hitherto offered to geographers two distinct problems, alike important, the situation of its sources, and the mode of its communication with the Amazon. The latter problem formed the object of the journey which I have described; with respect to the discovery of its sources, that remains to be done by the Spanish and Portuguese governments.
[* See above.]
Our canoe was not ready to receive us till near three o’clock in the afternoon. It had been filled with innumerable swarms of ants during the navigation of the Cassiquiare; and the toldo, or roof of palm-leaves, beneath which we were again doomed to remain stretched out during twenty-two days, was with difficulty cleared of these insects. We employed part of the morning in repeating to the inhabitants of Esmeralda the questions we had already put to them, respecting the existence of a lake towards the east. We showed copies of the maps of Surville and La Cruz to old soldiers, who had been posted in the mission ever since its first establishment. They laughed at the supposed communication of the Orinoco with the Rio Idapa, and at the White Sea, which the former river was represented to cross. What we politely call geographical fictions they termed lies of the old world (mentiras de por alla). These good people could not comprehend how men, in making the map of a country which they had never visited, could pretend to know things in minute detail, of which persons who lived on the spot were ignorant. The lake Parima, the Sierra Mey, and the springs which separate at the point where they issue from the earth, were entirely unknown at Esmeralda. We were repeatedly assured that no one had ever been to the east of the Raudal of the Guaharibos; and that beyond that point, according to the opinion of some of the natives, the Orinoco descends like a small torrent from a group of mountains, inhabited by the Coroto Indians. Father Gili, who was living on the banks of the Orinoco when the expedition of the boundaries arrived, says expressly that Don Apollinario Diez was sent in 1765 to attempt the discovery of the source of the Orinoco; that he found the river, east of Esmeralda, full of shoals; that he returned for want of provision; and that he learned nothing, absolutely nothing, of the existence of a lake. This statement perfectly accords with what I heard myself thirty-five years later at Esmeralda. The probability of a fact is powerfully shaken when it can be proved to be totally unknown on the very spot where it ought to be known best; and when those by whom the existence of the lake is affirmed contradict each other, not in the least essential circumstances, but in all that are the most important.
When travellers judge only by their own sensations they differ from each other respecting the abundance of the mosquitos as they do respecting the progressive increase or diminution of the temperature. The state of our organs, the motion of the air, its degree of humidity or dryness, its electric intensity, a thousand circumstances contribute at once to make us suffer more or less from the heat and the insects. My fellow travellers were unanimously of opinion that Esmeralda was more tormented by mosquitos than the banks of the Cassiquiare, and even more than the two missions of the Great Cataracts; whilst I, less sensible than they of the high temperature of the air, thought that the irritation produced by the insects was somewhat less at Esmeralda than at the entrance of the Upper Orinoco. On hearing the complaints that are made of these tormenting insects in hot countries it is difficult to believe that their absence, or rather their sudden disappearance, could become a subject of inquietude; yet such is the fact. The inhabitants of Esmeralda related to us, that in the year 1795, an hour before sunset, when the mosquitos usually form a very thick cloud, the air was observed to be suddenly free from them. During the space of twenty minutes, not one insect was perceived, although the sky was cloudless, and no wind announced rain. It is necessary to have lived in those countries to comprehend the degree of surprise which the sudden disappearance of the insects must have produced. The inhabitants congratulated each other, and inquired whether this state of happiness, this relief from pain (feicidad y alivio), could be of any duration. But soon, instead of enjoying the present, they yielded to chimerical fears, and imagined that the order of nature was perverted. Some old Indians, the sages of the place, asserted that the disappearance of the insects must be the precursor of a great earthquake. Warm discussions arose; the least noise amid the foliage of the trees was listened to with an attentive ear; and when the air was again filled with mosquitos they were almost hailed with pleasure. We could not guess what modification of the atmosphere had caused this phenomenon, which must not be confounded with the periodical replacing of one species of insects by another.
After four hours’ navigation down the Orinoco we arrived at the point of the bifurcation. Our resting place was on the same beach of the Cassiquiare, where a few days previously our great dog had, as we believe, been carried off by the jaguars. All the endeavours of the Indians to discover any traces of the animal were fruitless. The cries of the jaguars were heard during the whole night.* These animals are very frequent in the tracts situated between the Cerro Maraguaca, the Unturan, and the banks of the Pamoni. There also is found that black species of tiger* of which I saw some fine skins at Esmeralda. This animal is celebrated for its strength and ferocity; it appears to be still larger than the common jaguar. The black spots are scarcely visible on the dark-brown ground of its skin. The Indians assert, that these tigers are very rare, that they never mingle with the common jaguars, and that they form another race. I believe that Prince Maximilian of Neuwied, who has enriched American zoology by so many important observations, acquired the same information farther to the south, in the hot part of Brazil. Albino varieties of the jaguar have been seen in Paraguay: for the spots of these animals, which may be called the beautiful panthers of America, are sometimes so pale as to be scarcely distinguishable on a very white ground. In the black jaguars, on the contrary, it is the colour of the ground which renders the spots indistinct. It requires to reside long in those countries, and to accompany the Indians of Esmeralda in the perilous chase of the tiger, to decide with certainty upon the varieties and the species. In all the mammiferae, and particularly in the numerous family of the apes, we ought, I believe, to fix our attention less on the transition from one colour to another in individuals, than on their habit of separating themselves, and forming distinct bands.
[* This frequency of large jaguars is somewhat remarkable in a country destitute of cattle. The tigers of the Upper Orinoco are far less bountifully supplied with prey than those of the Pampas of Buenos Ayres and the Llanos of Caracas, which are covered with herds of cattle. More than four thousand jaguars are killed annually in the Spanish colonies, several of them equalling the mean size of the royal tiger of Asia. Two thousand skins of jaguars were formerly exported annually from Buenos Ayres alone.]
[* Gmelin, in his Synonyma, seems to confound this animal, under the name of Felis discolor, with the great American lion (Felis concolor) which is very different from the puma of the Andes of Quito.]
We left our resting place before sunrise on the 24th of May. In a rocky cove, which had been the dwelling of some Durimundi Indians, the aromatic odour of the plants was so powerful, that although sleeping in the open air, and the irritability of our nervous system being allayed by the habits of a life of fatigue, we were nevertheless incommoded by it. We could not ascertain the flowers which diffused this perfume. The forest was impenetrable; but M. Bonpland believed that large clumps of pancratium and other liliaceous plants were concealed in the neighbouring marshes. Descending the Orinoco by favour of the current, we passed first the mouth of the Rio Cunucunumo, and then the Guanami and the Puriname. The two banks of the principal river are entirely desert; lofty mountains rise on the north, and on the south a vast plain extends far as the eye can reach beyond the sources of the Atacavi, which lower down takes the name of the Atabapo. There is something gloomy and desolate in this aspect of a river, on which not even a fisherman’s canoe is seen. Some independent tribes, the Abirianos and the Maquiritares, dwell in the mountainous country; but in the neighbouring savannahs,* bounded by the Cassiquiare, the Atabapo, the Orinoco, and the Rio Negro, there is now scarcely any trace of a human habitation. I say now; for here, as in other parts of Guiana, rude figures representing the sun, the moon, and different animals, traced on the hardest rocks of granite, attest the anterior existence of a people, very different from those who became known to us on the banks of the Orinoco. According to the accounts of the natives, and of the most intelligent missionaries, these symbolic signs resemble perfectly the characters we saw a hundred leagues more to the north, near Caycara, opposite the mouth of the Rio Apure. (See Chapter 2.18 above.)
[* They form a quadrilateral plot of a thousand square leagues, the opposite sides of which have contrary slopes, the Cassiquiare flowing towards the south, the Atabapo towards the north, the Orinoco towards the north-west, and the Rio Negro towards the south-east.]
In advancing from the plains of the Cassiquiare and the Conorichite, one hundred and forty leagues further eastward, between the sources of the Rio Blanco and the Rio Essequibo, we also meet with rocks and symbolical figures. I have lately verified this curious fact, which is recorded in the journal of the traveller Hortsman, who went up the Rupunuvini, one of the tributary streams of the Essequibo. Where this river, full of small cascades, winds between the mountains of Macarana, he found, before he reached lake Amucu, rocks covered with figures, or (as he says in Portuguese) with varias letras. We must not take this word letters in its real signification. We were also shewn, near the rock Culimacari, on the banks of the Cassiquiare, and at the port of Caycara in the Lower Orinoco, traces which were believed to be regular characters. They were however only misshapen figures, representing the heavenly bodies, together with tigers, crocodiles, boas, and instruments used for making the flour of cassava. It was impossible to recognize in these painted rocks* (the name by which the natives denote those masses loaded with figures) any symmetrical arrangement, or characters with regular spaces. The traces discovered in the mountains of Uruana, by the missionary Fray Ramon Bueno, approach nearer to alphabetical writing; but are nevertheless very doubtful.
[* In Tamanac tepumereme. (Tepu, a stone, rock; as in Mexican, tetl, a stone, and tepetl, a mountain; in Turco–Tatarian, tepe.) The Spanish Americans also call the rock covered with sculptured figures, piedras pintadas; those for instance, which are found on the summit of the Paramo of Guanacas, in New Grenada, and which recall to mind the tepumereme of the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Rupunuvini.]
Whatever may be the meaning of these figures, and with whatever view they were traced upon granite, they merit the examination of those who direct their attention to the philosophic history of our species. In travelling from the coast of Caracas towards the equator, we are at first led to believe that monuments of this kind are peculiar to the mountain-chain of Encaramada; they are found at the port of Sedeno, near Caycara,* at San Rafael del Capuchino, opposite Cabruta, and in almost every place where the granitic rock pierces the soil, in the savannah which extends from the Cerro Curiquima towards the banks of the Caura. The nations of the Tamanac race, the ancient inhabitants of those countries, have a local mythology, and traditions connected with these sculptured rocks. Amalivaca, the father of the Tamanacs, that is, the creator of the human race (for every nation regards itself as the root of all other nations), arrived in a bark, at the time of the great inundation, which is called the age of water,* when the billows of the ocean broke against the mountains of Encaramada in the interior of the land. All mankind, or, to speak more correctly, all the Tamanacs, were drowned, with the exception of one man and one woman, who saved themselves on a mountain near the banks of the Asiveru, called Cuchivero by the Spaniards. This mountain is the Ararat of the Aramean or Semitic nations, and the Tlaloc or Colhuacan of the Mexicans. Amalivaca, sailing in his bark, engraved the figures of the moon and the sun on the Painted Rock (Tepumereme) of Encaramada. Some blocks of granite piled upon one another, and forming a kind of cavern, are still called the house or dwelling of the great forefather of the Tamanacs. The natives show also a large stone near this cavern, in the plains of Maita, which they say was an instrument of music, the drum of Amalivaca. We must here observe, that this heroic personage had a brother, Vochi, who helped him to give the surface of the earth its present form. The Tamanacs relate that the two brothers, in their system of perfectibility, sought, at first, to arrange the Orinoco in such a manner, that the current of the water could always be followed either going down or going up the river. They hoped by this means to spare men trouble in navigating rivers; but, however great the power of these regenerators of the world, they could never contrive to give a double slope to the Orinoco, and were compelled to relinquish this singular plan. Amalivaca had daughters, who had a decided taste for travelling. The tradition states, doubtless with a figurative meaning, that he broke their legs, to render them sedentary, and force them to people the land of the Tamanacs. After having regulated everything in America, on that side of the great water, Amalivaca again embarked, and returned to the other shore, to the same place from whence he came. Since the natives have seen the missionaries arrive, they imagine that Europe is this other shore; and one of them inquired with great simplicity of Father Gili, whether he had there seen the great Amalivaca, the father of the Tamanacs, who had covered the rocks with symbolic figures.
[* In the Mountains of the Tyrant, Cerros del Tirano.]
[* The Atonatiuh of the Mexicans, the fourth age, the fourth regeneration of the world.]
These notions of a great convulsion of nature; of two human beings saved on the summit of a mountain, and casting behind them the fruits of the mauritia palm-tree, to repeople the earth; of that national divinity, Amalivaca, who arrived by water from a distant land, who prescribed laws to nature, and forced the nations to renounce their migrations; these various features of a very ancient system of belief, are well worthy of attention. What the Tamanacs, and the tribes whose languages are analogous to the Tamanac tongue, now relate to us, they have no doubt learned from other people, who inhabited before them the same regions. The name of Amalivaca is spread over a region of more than five thousand square leagues; he is found designated as the father of mankind, or our great grandfather, as far as to the Caribbee nations, whose idiom approaches the Tamanac only in the same degree as the German approaches the Greek, the Persian, and the Sanscrit. Amalivaca is not originally the Great Spirit, the Aged of Heaven, the invisible being, whose worship springs from that of the powers of nature, when nations rise insensibly to the consciousness of the unity of these powers; he is rather a personage of the heroic times, a man, who, coming from afar, lived in the land of the Tamanacs and the Caribs, sculptured symbolic figures upon the rocks, and disappeared by going back to the country he had previously inhabited beyond the ocean. The anthropomorphism of the divinity has two sources diametrically opposite; and this opposition seems to arise less from the various degrees of intellectual culture, than from the different dispositions of nations, some of which are more inclined to mysticism, and others more governed by the senses, and by external impressions. Sometimes man makes the divinities descend upon earth, charging them with the care of ruling nations, and giving them laws, as in the fables of the East; sometimes, as among the Greeks and other nations of the West, they are the first monarchs, priest-kings, who are stripped of what is human in their nature, to be raised to the rank of national divinities. Amalivaca was a stranger, like Manco–Capac, Bochica, and Quetzalcohuatl; those extraordinary men, who, in the alpine or civilized part of America, on the tablelands of Peru, New Grenada, and Anahuac, organized civil society, regulated the order of sacrifices, and founded religious congregations. The Mexican Quetzalcohuatl, whose descendants Montezuma* thought he recognized in the companions of Cortez, displays an additional resemblance to Amalivaca, the mythologic personage of savage America or the plains of the torrid zone. When advanced in age, the high-priest of Tula left the country of Anahuac, which he had filled with his miracles, to return to an unknown region, called Tlalpallan. When the monk Bernard de Sahagun arrived in Mexico, the same questions were put to him, as those which were addressed to Father Gili two hundred years later, in the forests of the Orinoco; he was asked whether he came from the other shore (del otro lado), from the countries to which Quetzalcohuatl had retired.
[* The second king of this name, of the race of Acamapitzin, properly called Montezuma–Ilhuicamina.]
The region of sculptured rocks, or of painted stones, extends far beyond the Lower Orinoco, beyond the country (latitude 7° 5′ to 7° 40′, longitude 68° 50′ to 69° 45′) to which belongs what may be called the local fables of the Tamanacs. We again find these same sculptured rocks between the Cassiquiare and the Atabapo (latitude 2° 5′ to 3° 20′; longitude 69 to 70°); and between the sources of the Essequibo and the Rio Branco (latitude 3° 50′; longitude 62° 32′). I do not assert that these figures prove the knowledge of the use of iron, or that they denote a very advanced degree of culture; but even on the supposition that, instead of being symbolical, they are the fruits of the idleness of hunting nations, we must still admit an anterior race of men, very different from those who now inhabit the banks of the Orinoco and the Rupunuri. The more a country is destitute of remembrances of generations that are extinct, the more important it becomes to follow the least traces of what appears to be monumental. The eastern plains of North America display only those extraordinary circumvallations that remind us of the fortified camps (the pretended cities of vast extent) of the ancient and modern nomad tribes of Asia. In the oriental plains of South America, the force of vegetation, the heat of the climate, and the too lavish gifts of nature, have opposed obstacles still more powerful to the progress of human civilization. Between the Orinoco and the Amazon I heard no mention of any wall of earth, vestige of a dyke, or sepulchral tumulus; the rocks alone show us (and this through a great extent of country), rude sketches which the hand of man has traced in times unknown, and which are connected with religious traditions.
Before I quitted the wildest part of the Upper Orinoco, I thought it desirable to mention facts which are important only when they are considered in their connection with each other. All I could relate of our navigation from Esmeralda to the mouth of the Atabapo would be merely an enumeration of rivers and uninhabited places. From the 24th to the 27th of May, we slept but twice on land; our first resting-place was at the confluence of the Rio Jao, and our second below the mission of Santa Barbara, in the island of Minisi. The Orinoco being free from shoals, the Indian pilot pursued his course all night, abandoning the boat to the current of the river. Setting apart the time which we spent on the shore in preparing the rice and plantains that served us for food, we took but thirty-five hours in going from Esmeralda to Santa Barbara. The chronometer gave me for the longitude of the latter mission 70° 3′; we had therefore made near four miles an hour, a velocity which was partly owing to the current, and partly to the action of the oars. The Indians assert that the crocodiles do not go up the Orinoco above the mouth of the Rio Jao, and that the manatees are not even found above the cataract of Maypures.
The mission of Santa Barbara is situated a little to the west of the mouth of the Rio Ventuari, or Venituari, examined in 1800 by Father Francisco Valor. We found in this small village of one hundred and twenty inhabitants some traces of industry; but the produce of this industry is of little profit to the natives; it is reserved for the monks, or, as they say in these countries, for the church and the convent. We were assured that a great lamp of massive silver, purchased at the expense of the neophytes, is expected from Madrid. Let us hope that, after the arrival of this treasure, they will think also of clothing the Indians, of procuring for them some instruments of agriculture, and assembling their children in a school. Although there are a few oxen in the savannahs round the mission, they are rarely employed in turning the mill (trapiche), to express the juice of the sugar-cane; this is the occupation of the Indians, who work without pay here as they do everywhere when they are understood to work for the church. The pasturages at the foot of the mountains round Santa Barbara are not so rich as at Esmeralda, but superior to those at San Fernando de Atabapo. The grass is short and thick, yet the upper stratum of earth furnishes only a dry and parched granitic sand. The savannahs (far from fertile) of the banks of the Guaviare, the Meta, and the Upper Orinoco, are equally destitute of the mould which abounds in the surrounding forests, and of the thick stratum of clay, which covers the sandstone of the Llanos, or steppes of Venezuela. The small herbaceous mimosas contribute in this zone to fatten the cattle, but are very rare between the Rio Jao and the mouth of the Guaviare.
During the few hours of our stay at the mission of Santa Barbara, we obtained pretty accurate ideas respecting the Rio Ventuari, which, next to the Guaviare, appeared to me to be the most considerable tributary of the Orinoco. Its banks, heretofore occupied by the Maypures, are still peopled by a great number of independent nations. On going up by the mouth of the Ventuari, which forms a delta covered with palm-trees, you find in the east, after three days’ journey, the Cumaruita and the Paru, two streams that rise at the foot of the lofty mountains of Cuneva. Higher up, on the west, lie the Mariata and the Manipiare, inhabited by the Macos and Curacicanas. The latter nation is remarkable for their active cultivation of cotton. In a hostile incursion (entrada) a large house was found containing more than thirty or forty hammocks of a very fine texture of spun cotton, cordage, and fishing implements. The natives had fled; and Father Valor informed us, that the Indians of the mission who accompanied him had set fire to the house before he could save these productions of the industry of the Curacicanas. The neophytes of Santa Barbara, who think themselves very superior to these supposed savages, appeared to me far less industrious. The Rio Manipiare, one of the principal branches of the Ventuari, approaches near its source those lofty mountains, the northern ridge of which gives birth to the Cuchivero. It is a prolongation of the chain of Baraguan; and there Father Gili places the table-land of Siamacu, of which he vaunts the temperate climate. The upper course of the Rio Ventuari, beyond the confluence of the Asisi, and the Great Raudales, is almost unknown. I was informed only that the Upper Ventuari bends so much towards the east that the ancient road from Esmeralda to the Rio Caura crosses the bed of the river. The proximity of the tributary streams of the Carony, the Caura, and the Ventuari, has facilitated for ages the access of the Caribs to the banks of the Upper Orinoco. Bands of this warlike and trading people went up from the Rio Carony, by the Paragua, to the sources of the Paruspa. A portage conducted them to the Chavarro, an eastern tributary stream of the Rio Caura; they descended with their canoes first this stream, and then the Caura itself as far as the mouth of the Erevato. After having gone up this last river south-west, and traversed vast savannahs for three days, they entered by the Manipiare into the great Rio Ventuari. I trace this road with precision not only because it was that by which the traffic of native slaves was carried on, but also to call the attention of those, who at some future day may rule the destiny of Guiana, to the high importance of this labyrinth of rivers.
It is by the four largest tributary streams, which the majestic river of the Orinoco receives on the right (the Carony, the Caura, the Padamo, and the Ventuari), that European civilization will one day penetrate into this region of forests and mountains, which has a surface of ten thousand six hundred square leagues, and which is bounded by the Orinoco on the north, the west, and the south. The Capuchins of Catalonia and the Observantins of Andalusia and Valencia, have already made settlements in the valleys of the Carony and the Caura. The tributary streams of the Lower Orinoco, being the nearest to the coast and to the cultivated region of Venezuela, were naturally the first to receive missionaries, and with them some germs of social life. Corresponding to the Carony and the Caura, which flow toward the north, are two great tributary streams of the Upper Orinoco, that send their waters toward the south; these are the Padamo and the Ventuari. No village has hitherto risen on their banks, though they offer advantages for agriculture and pasturage, which would be sought in vain in the valley of the immense river to which they are tributary. In the centre of these wild countries, where there will long be no other road than the rivers, every project of civilization should be founded on an intimate knowledge of the hydraulic features of the country, and the relative importance of the tributary streams.
In the morning of the 26th of May we left the little village of Santa Barbara, where we found several Indians of Esmeralda, who had come reluctantly, by order of the missionary, to construct for him a house of two stories. During the whole day we enjoyed the view of the fine mountains of Sipapo, which rise at a distance of more than eighteen leagues in the direction of north-north-west. The vegetation of the banks of the Orinoco is singularly varied in this part of the country; the aborescent ferns* descend from the mountains, and mingle with the palm-trees of the plain. We rested that night on the island of Minisi; and, after having passed the mouths of the little rivers Quejanuma, Ubua, and Masao, we arrived, on the 27th of May, at San Fernando de Atabapo. We lodged in the same house which we had occupied a month previously, when going up the Rio Negro. We then directed our course towards the south, by the Atabapo and the Temi; we were now returning from the west, having made a long circuit by the Cassiquiare and the Upper Orinoco.
[* The geographical distribution of these plants is extremely singular. Scarcely any are found on the eastern coast of Brazil. See the interesting work of Prince Maximilian of Neuwied, Reise nach Brasilien volume 1 page 274.]
We remained only one day at San Fernando de Atabapo, although that village, adorned as it was by the pirijao palm-tree, with fruit like peaches, appeared to us a delicious abode. Tame pauxis* surrounded the Indian huts; in one of which we saw a very rare monkey, which inhabits the banks of the Guaviare. This monkey is the caparro, which I have made known in my Observations on Zoology and comparative Anatomy; it forms, as Geoffroy believes, a new genus (Lagothrix) between the ateles and the alouates. The hair of this monkey is grey, like that of the marten, and extremely soft to the touch. The caparro is distinguished by a round head, and a mild and agreeable expression of countenance. I believe the missionary Gili is the only author who has made mention before me of this curious animal, around which zoologists begin to group other monkeys of Brazil. Having quitted San Fernando on the 27th of May, we arrived, by help of the rapid current of the Orinoco, in seven hours, at the mouth of the Rio Mataveni. We passed the night in the open air, under the granitic rock El Castillito, which rises in the middle of the river, and the form of which reminded us of the ruin called the Mouse-tower (Mausethurm), on the Rhine, opposite Bingen. Here, as on the banks of the Atabapo, we were struck by the sight of a small species of drosera, having exactly the appearance of the drosera of Europe.
[* Not the ourax of Cuvier, Crax pauxi Linn., but the Crax alector.]
The Orinoco had sensibly swelled during the night; and the current, strongly accelerated, bore us, in ten hours, from the mouth of the Mataveni to the Upper Great Cataract, that of Maypures, or Quituna. The distance which we passed over was thirteen leagues. We recalled to mind, with much satisfaction, the scenes where we had reposed in going up the river. We again found the Indians who had accompanied us in our herborizations; and we visited anew the fine spring that issues from a rock of stratified granite behind the house of the missionary: its temperature was not changed more than 0.3°. From the mouth of the Atabapo as far as that of the Apure we seemed to be travelling as through a country which we had long inhabited. We were reduced to the same abstinence; we were stung by the same mosquitos; but the certainty of reaching in a few weeks the term of our physical sufferings kept up our spirits.
The passage of the canoe through the Great Cataract obliged us to stop two days at Maypures. Father Bernardo Zea, missionary at the Raudales, who had accompanied us to the Rio Negro, though ill, insisted on conducting us with his Indians as far as Atures. One of these Indians, Zerepe, the interpreter, who had been so unmercifully punished at the beach of Pararuma, rivetted our attention by his appearance of deep sorrow. We learned that his grief was caused by the loss of a young girl to whom he was engaged, and that he had lost her in consequence of false intelligence which had been spread respecting the direction of our journey. Zerepe, who was a native of Maypures, had been brought up in the woods by his parents, who were of the tribe of the Macos. He had brought with him to the mission a girl of twelve years of age, whom he intended to marry at our return from the Cataracts. The Indian girl was little pleased with the life of the missions, and she was told that the whites would go to the country of the Portuguese (Brazil), and would take Zerepe with them. Disappointed in her hopes, she seized a boat, and with another girl of her own age, crossed the Great Cataract, and fled al monte. The recital of this courageous adventure was the great news of the place. The affliction of Zerepe, however, was not of long duration. Born among the Christians, having travelled as far as the foot of the Rio Negro, understanding Spanish and the language of the Macos, he thought himself superior to the people of his tribe, and he no doubt soon forgot his forest love.
On the 31st of May we passed the rapids of Guahibos and Garcita. The islands which rise in the middle of the waters of the river were overspread with the purest verdure. The rains of winter had unfolded the spathes of the vadgiai palm-tree, the leaves of which rise straight toward the sky. The eye is never wearied of the view of those scenes, where the trees and rocks give the landscape that grand and severe character which we admire in the background of the pictures of Salvator Rosa. We landed before sunset on the eastern bank of the Orinoco, at the Puerto de la Expedicion, in order to visit the cavern of Ataruipe, which is the place of sepulchre of a whole nation destroyed. I shall attempt to describe this cavern, so celebrated among the natives.
We climbed with difficulty, and not without some danger, a steep rock of granite, entirely bare. It would have been almost impossible to fix the foot on its smooth and sloping surface, if large crystals of feldspar, resisting decomposition, did not stand out from the rock, and furnish points of support. Scarcely had we attained the summit of the mountain when we beheld with astonishment the singular aspect of the surrounding country. The foamy bed of the waters is filled with an archipelago of islands covered with palm-trees. Westward, on the left bank of the Orinoco, the wide-stretching savannahs of the Meta and the Casanare resembled a sea of verdure. The setting sun seemed like a globe of fire suspended over the plain, and the solitary Peak of Uniana, which appeared more lofty from being wrapped in vapours which softened its outline, all contributed to augment the majesty of the scene. Immediately below us lay a deep valley, enclosed on every side. Birds of prey and goatsuckers winged their lonely flight in this inaccessible circus. We found a pleasure in following with the eye their fleeting shadows, as they glided slowly over the flanks of the rock.
A narrow ridge led us to a neighbouring mountain, the rounded summit of which supported immense blocks of granite. These masses are more than forty or fifty feet in diameter; and their form is so perfectly spherical, that, as they appear to touch the soil only by a small number of points, it might be supposed, at the least shock of an earthquake, they would roll into the abyss. I do not remember to have seen anywhere else a similar phenomenon, amid the decompositions of granitic soils. If the balls rested on a rock of a different nature, as in the blocks of Jura, we might suppose that they had been rounded by the action of water, or thrown out by the force of an elastic fluid; but their position on the summit of a hill alike granitic, makes it more probable that they owe their origin to the progressive decomposition of the rock.
The most remote part of the valley is covered by a thick forest. In this shady and solitary spot, on the declivity of a steep mountain, the cavern of Ataruipe opens to the view. It is less a cavern than a jutting rock in which the waters have scooped a vast hollow when, in the ancient revolutions of our planet, they attained that height.* In this tomb of a whole extinct tribe we soon counted nearly six hundred skeletons well preserved, and regularly placed. Every skeleton reposes in a sort of basket made of the petioles of the palm-tree. These baskets, which the natives call mapires, have the form of a square bag. Their size is proportioned to the age of the dead; there are some for infants cut off at the moment of their birth. We saw them from ten inches to three feet four inches long, the skeletons in them being bent together. They are all ranged near each other, and are so entire that not a rib or a phalanx is wanting. The bones have been prepared in three different manners, either whitened in the air and the sun, dyed red with anoto, or, like mummies, varnished with odoriferous resins, and enveloped in leaves of the heliconia or of the plantain-tree. The Indians informed us that the fresh corpse is placed in damp ground, that the flesh may be consumed by degrees; some months afterwards it is taken out, and the flesh remaining on the bones is scraped off with sharp stones. Several hordes in Guiana still observe this custom. Earthen vases half-baked are found near the mapires or baskets. They appear to contain the bones of the same family. The largest of these vases, or funeral urns, are five feet high, and three feet three inches long. Their colour is greenish-grey, and their oval form is pleasing to the eye. The handles are made in the shape of crocodiles or serpents; the edges are bordered with painted meanders, labyrinths, and grecques, in rows variously combined. Such designs are found in every zone among nations the farthest removed from each other, either with respect to their respective positions on the globe, or to the degree of civilization which they have attained. They still adorn the common pottery made by the inhabitants of the little mission of Maypures; they ornament the bucklers of the Otaheitans, the fishing-implements of the Esquimaux, the walls of the Mexican palace of Mitla, and the vases of ancient Greece.
[* I saw no vein, no hole (four) filled with crystals. The decomposition of granitic rocks, and their separation into large masses, dispersed in the plains and valleys in the form of blocks and balls with concentric layers, appear to favour the enlarging of these natural excavations, which resemble real caverns.]
We could not acquire any precise idea of the period to which the origin of the mapires and the painted vases, contained in the bone-cavern of Ataruipe, can be traced. The greater part seemed not to be more than a century old; but it may be supposed that, sheltered from all humidity under the influence of a uniform temperature, the preservation of these articles would be no less perfect if their origin dated from a period far more remote. A tradition circulates among the Guahibos, that the warlike Atures, pursued by the Caribs, escaped to the rocks that rise in the middle of the Great Cataracts; and there that nation, heretofore so numerous, became gradually extinct, as well as its language. The last families of the Atures still existed in 1767, in the time of the missionary Gili. At the period of our voyage an old parrot was shown at Maypures, of which the inhabitants said, and the fact is worthy of observation, that they did not understand what it said, because it spoke the language of the Atures.
We opened, to the great concern of our guides, several mapires, for the purpose of examining attentively the form of the skulls. They were all marked by the characteristics of the American race, with the exception of two or three, which approached indubitably to the Caucasian. In the middle of the Cataracts, in the most inaccessible spots, cases are found strengthened with iron bands, and filled with European tools, vestiges of clothes, and glass trinkets. These articles, which have given rise to the most absurd reports of treasures hidden by the Jesuits, probably belonged to Portuguese traders who had penetrated into these savage countries. May we suppose that the skulls of European race, which we saw mingled with the skeletons of the natives, and preserved with the same care, were the remains of some Portuguese travellers who had died of sickness, or had been killed in battle? The aversion evinced by the natives for whatever is not of their own race renders this hypothesis little probable. Perhaps fugitive mestizos of the missions of the Meta and Apure may have come and settled near the Cataracts, marrying women of the tribe of the Atures. Such mixed marriages sometimes take place in this zone, though they are more rare than in Canada, and in the whole of North America, where hunters of European origin unite themselves with savages, assume their habits, and sometimes acquire great political influence.
We took several skulls, the skeleton of a child of six or seven years old, and two of full-grown men of the nation of the Atures, from the cavern of Ataruipe. All these bones, partly painted red, partly varnished with odoriferous resins, were placed in the baskets (mapires or canastos) which we have just described. They made almost the whole load of a mule; and as we knew the superstitious feelings of the Indians in reference to the remains of the dead after burial, we carefully enveloped the canastos in mats recently woven. Unfortunately for us, the penetration of the Indians, and the extreme quickness of their sense of smelling, rendered all our precautions useless. Wherever we stopped, in the missions of the Caribbees, amid the Llanos, between Angostura and Nueva Barcelona, the natives assembled round our mules to admire the monkeys which we had purchased at the Orinoco. These good people had scarcely touched our baggage, when they announced the approaching death of the beast of burden that carried the dead. In vain we told them that they were deceived in their conjectures; and that the baskets contained the bones of crocodiles and manatees; they persisted in repeating that they smelt the resin that surrounded the skeletons, and that they were their old relations. We were obliged to request that the monks would interpose their authority, to overcome the aversion of the natives, and procure for us a change of mules.
One of the skulls, which we took from the cavern of Ataruipe, has appeared in the fine work published by my old master, Blumenbach, on the varieties of the human species. The skeletons of the Indians were lost on the coast of Africa, together with a considerable part of our collections, in a shipwreck, in which perished our friend and fellow-traveller, Fray Juan Gonzales, the young monk of the order of Saint Francis.
We withdrew in silence from the cavern of Ataruipe. It was one of those calm and serene nights which are so common in the torrid zone. The stars shone with a mild and planetary light. Their scintillation was scarcely sensible at the horizon, which seemed illumined by the great nebulae of the southern hemisphere. An innumerable multitude of insects spread a reddish light upon the ground, loaded with plants, and resplendent with these living and moving fires, as if the stars of the firmament had sunk down on the savannah. On quitting the cavern we stopped several times to admire the beauty of this singular scene. The odoriferous vanilla and festoons of bignonia decorated the entrance; and above, on the summit of the hill, the arrowy branches of the palm-trees waved murmuring in the air. We descended towards the river, to take the road to the mission, where we arrived late in the night. Our imagination was struck by all we had just seen. Occupied continually by the present, in a country where the traveller is tempted to regard human society as a new institution, he is more powerfully interested by remembrances of times past. These remembrances were not indeed of a distant date; but in all that is monumental antiquity is a relative idea, and we easily confound what is ancient with what is obscure and problematic. The Egyptians considered the historical remembrances of the Greeks as very recent. If the Chinese, or, as they prefer calling themselves, the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire, could have communicated with the priests of Heliopolis, they would have smiled at those pretensions of the Egyptians to antiquity. Contrasts not less striking are found in the north of Europe and of Asia, in the New World, and in every region where the human race has not preserved a long consciousness of itself. The migration of the Toltecs, the most ancient historical event on the tableland of Mexico, dates only in the sixth century of our era. The introduction of a good system of intercalation, and the reform of the calendars, the indispensable basis of an accurate chronology, took place in the year 1091. These epochs, which to us appear so modern, fall on fabulous times, when we reflect on the history of our species between the banks of the Orinoco and the Amazon. We there see symbolic figures sculptured on the rocks, but no tradition throws light upon their origin. In the hot part of Guiana we can go back only to the period when the Castilian and Portuguese conquerors, and more recently peaceful monks, penetrated amid so many barbarous nations.
It appears that to the north of the Cataracts, in the strait of Baraguan, there are caverns filled with bones, similar to those I have just described: but I was informed of this fact only after my return; our Indian pilots did not mention it when we landed at the strait. These tombs no doubt have given rise to a fable of the Ottomacs, according to which the granitic and solitary rocks of Baraguan, the forms of which are very singular, are regarded as the grandfathers, the ancient chiefs of the tribe. The custom of separating the flesh from the bones, very anciently practised by the Massagetes, is still known among several hordes of the Orinoco. It is even asserted, and with some probability, that the Guaraons plunge their dead bodies under water enveloped in nets; and that the small caribe-fishes, of which we saw everywhere an innumerable quantity, devour in a few days the muscular flesh, and thus prepare the skeleton. It may be supposed that this operation can be practised only in places where crocodiles are not common. Some tribes, for instance the Tamanacs, are accustomed to lay waste the fields of a deceased relative, and cut down the trees which he has planted. They say that the sight of objects which belonged to their relation makes them melancholy. They like better to efface than to preserve remembrances. These effects of Indian sensibility are very detrimental to agriculture, and the monks oppose with energy these superstitious practices, to which the natives converted to Christianity still adhere in the missions.
The tombs of the Indians of the Orinoco have not been very closely examined, because they do not contain valuable articles like those of Peru; and even on the spot no faith is now lent to the chimerical ideas, which were heretofore formed of the wealth of the ancient inhabitants of El Dorado. The thirst of gold everywhere precedes the desire of instruction, and a taste for researches into antiquity; in all the mountainous part of South America, from Merida and Santa Martha to the table-lands of Quito and Upper Peru, the labours of absolute mining have been undertaken to discover tombs, or, as the Creoles say, employing a word altered from the Inca language, guacas. When in Peru, at Mancichi, I went into the guaca from which, in the sixteenth century, masses of gold of great value were extracted. No trace of the precious metals has been found in the caverns which have served the natives of Guiana for ages as sepulchres. This circumstance proves that even at the period when the Caribs, and other travelling nations, made incursions to the south-west, gold had flowed in very small quantities from the mountains of Peru towards the eastern plains.
Wherever the granitic rocks do not present any of those large cavities caused by their decomposition, or by an accumulation of their blocks, the Indians deposit their dead in the earth. The hammock (chinchorro), a kind of net in which the deceased had reposed during his life, serves for a coffin. This net is fastened tight round the body, a hole is dug in the hut, and there the body is laid. This is the most usual method, according to the account of the missionary Gili, and it accords with what I myself learned from Father Zea. I do not believe that there exists one tumulus in Guiana, not even in the plains of the Cassiquiare and the Essequibo. Some, however, are to be met with in the savannahs of Varinas, as in Canada, to the west of the Alleghenies.* It seems remarkable enough that, notwithstanding the extreme abundance of wood in those countries, the natives of the Orinoco were as little accustomed as the ancient Scythians to burn the dead. Sometimes they formed funeral piles for that purpose; but only after a battle, when the number of the dead was considerable. In 1748, the Parecas burned not only the bodies of their enemies, the Tamanacs, but also those of their own people who fell on the field of battle. The Indians of South America, like all nations in a state of nature, are strongly attached to the spots where the bones of their fathers repose. This feeling, which a great writer has beautifully painted in the episode of Atala, is cherished in all its primitive ardour by the Chinese. These people among whom everything is the produce of art, or rather of the most ancient civilization, do not change their dwelling without carrying along with them the bones of their ancestors. Coffins are seen deposited on the banks of great rivers, to be transported, with the furniture of the family, to a remote province. These removals of bones, heretofore more common among the savages of North America, are not practised among the tribes of Guiana; but these are not nomad, like nations who live exclusively by hunting.
[* Mummies and skeletons contained in baskets were recently discovered in a cavern in the United States. It is believed they belong to a race of men analogous to that of the Sandwich Islands. The description of these tombs has some similitude with that of the tombs of Ataruipe.]
We stayed at the mission of Atures only during the time necessary for passing the canoe through the Great Cataract. The bottom of our frail bark had become so thin that it required great care to prevent it from splitting. We took leave of the missionary, Bernardo Zea, who remained at Atures, after having accompanied us during two months, and shared all our sufferings. This poor monk still continued to have fits of tertian ague; they had become to him an habitual evil, to which he paid little attention. Other fevers of a more fatal kind prevailed at Atures on our second visit. The greater part of the Indians could not leave their hammocks, and we were obliged to send in search of cassava-bread, the most indispensable food of the country, to the independent but neighbouring tribe of the Piraoas. We had hitherto escaped these malignant fevers, which I believe to be always contagious.
We ventured to pass in our canoe through the latter half of the Raudal of Atures. We landed here and there, to climb upon the rocks, which like narrow dikes joined the islands to one another. Sometimes the waters force their way over the dikes, sometimes they fall within them with a hollow noise. A considerable portion of the Orinoco was dry, because the river had found an issue by subterraneous caverns. In these solitary haunts the rock-manakin with gilded plumage (Pipra rupicola), one of the most beautiful birds of the tropics, builds its nest. The Raudalito of Carucari is caused by an accumulation of enormous blocks of granite, several of which are spheroids of five or six feet in diameter, and they are piled together in such a manner, as to form spacious caverns. We entered one of these caverns to gather the confervas that were spread over the clefts and humid sides of the rock. This spot displayed one of the most extraordinary scenes of nature that we had contemplated on the banks of the Orinoco. The river rolled its waters turbulently over our heads. It seemed like the sea dashing against reefs of rocks; but at the entrance of the cavern we could remain dry beneath a large sheet of water that precipitated itself in an arch from above the barrier. In other cavities, deeper, but less spacious, the rock was pierced by the effect of successive filtrations. We saw columns of water, eight or nine inches broad, descending from the top of the vault, and finding an issue by clefts, that seemed to communicate at great distances with each other.
The cascades of Europe, forming only one fall, or several falls close to each other, can never produce such variety in the shifting landscape. This variety is peculiar to rapids, to a succession of small cataracts several miles in length, to rivers that force their way across rocky dikes and accumulated blocks of granite. We had the opportunity of viewing this extraordinary sight longer than we wished. Our boat was to coast the eastern bank of a narrow island, and to take us in again after a long circuit. We passed an hour and a half in vain expectation of it. Night approached, and with it a tremendous storm. It rained with violence. We began to fear that our frail bark had been wrecked against the rocks, and that the Indians, conformably to their habitual indifference for the evils of others, had returned tranquilly to the mission. There were only three of us: we were completely wet, and uneasy respecting the fate of our boat: it appeared far from agreeable to pass, without sleep, a long night of the torrid zone amid the noise of the Raudales. M. Bonpland proposed to leave me in the island with Don Nicolas Soto, and to swim across the branches of the river that are separated by the granitic dikes. He hoped to reach the forest, and seek assistance at Atures from Father Zea. We dissuaded him with difficulty from undertaking this hazardous enterprise. He knew little of the labyrinth of small channels, into which the Orinoco is divided. Most of them have strong whirlpools, and what passed before our eyes while we were deliberating on our situation, proved sufficiently that the natives had deceived us respecting the absence of crocodiles in the cataracts. The little monkeys which we had carried along with us for months were deposited on the point of our island. Wet by the rains and sensible of the least lowering of the temperature, these delicate animals sent forth plaintive cries, and attracted to the spot two crocodiles, the size and leaden colour of which denoted their great age. Their unexpected appearance made us reflect on the danger we had incurred by bathing, at our first passing by the mission of Atures, in the middle of the Raudal. After long waiting, the Indians at length arrived at the close of day. The natural coffer-dam by which they had endeavoured to descend in order to make the circuit of the island, had become impassable owing to the shallowness of the water. The pilot sought long for a more accessible passage in this labyrinth of rocks and islands. Happily our canoe was not damaged and in less than half an hour our instruments, provision, and animals, were embarked.
We pursued our course during a part of the night, to pitch our tent again in the island of Panumana. We recognized with pleasure the spots where we had botanized when going up the Orinoco. We examined once more on the beach of Guachaco that small formation of sandstone, which reposes directly on granite. Its position is the same as that of the sandstone which Burckhardt observed at the entrance of Nubia, superimposed on the granite of Syene. We passed, without visiting it, the new mission of San Borga, where (as we learned with regret a few days after) the little colony of Guahibos had fled al monte, from the chimerical fear that we should carry them off; to sell them as poitos, or slaves. After having passed the rapids of Tabaje, and the Raudal of Cariven, near the mouth of the great Rio Meta, we arrived without accident at Carichana. The missionary received us with that kind hospitality which he extended to us on our first passage. The sky was unfavourable for astronomical observations; we had obtained some new ones in the two Great Cataracts; but thence, as far as the mouth of the Apure, we were obliged to renounce the attempt. M. Bonpland had the satisfaction at Carichana of dissecting a manatee more than nine feet long. It was a female, and the flesh appeared to us not unsavoury. I have spoken in another place of the manner of catching this herbivorous cetacea. The Piraoas, some families of whom inhabit the mission of Carichana, detest this animal to such a degree, that they hid themselves, to avoid being obliged to touch it, whilst it was being conveyed to our hut. They said that the people of their tribe die infallibly when they eat of it. This prejudice is the more singular, as the neighbours of the Piraoas, the Guamos and the Ottomacs, are very fond of the flesh of the manatee. The flesh of the crocodile is also an object of horror to some tribes, and of predilection to others.
The island of Cuba furnishes a fact little known in the history of the manatee. South of the port of Xagua, several miles from the coast, there are springs of fresh water in the middle of the sea. They are supposed to be owing to a hydrostatic pressure existing in subterraneous channels, communicating with the lofty mountains of Trinidad. Small vessels sometimes take in water there; and, what is well worthy of observation, large manatees remain habitually in those spots. I have already called the attention of naturalists to the crocodiles which advance from the mouth of rivers far into the sea. Analogous circumstances may have caused, in the ancient catastrophes of our planet, that singular mixture of pelagian and fluviatile bones and petrifactions, which is observed in some rocks of recent formation.
Our stay at Carichana was very useful in recruiting our strength after our fatigues. M. Bonpland bore with him the germs of a cruel malady; he needed repose; but as the delta of the tributary streams included between the Horeda and Paruasi is covered with a rich vegetation, he made long herbalizations, and was wet through several times in a day. We found, fortunately, in the house of the missionary, the most attentive care; we were supplied with bread made of maize flour, and even with milk. The cows yield milk plentifully enough in the lower regions of the torrid zone, wherever good pasturage is found. I call attention to this fact, because local circumstances have spread through the Indian Archipelago the prejudice of considering hot climates as repugnant to the secretion of milk. We may conceive the indifference of the inhabitants of the New World for a milk diet, the country having been originally destitute of animals capable of furnishing it*; but how can we avoid being astonished at this indifference in the immense Chinese population, living in great part beyond the tropics, and in the same latitude with the nomad and pastoral tribes of central Asia? If the Chinese have ever been a pastoral people, how have they lost the tastes and habits so intimately connected with that state, which precedes agricultural institutions? These questions are interesting with respect both to the history of the nations of oriental Asia, and to the ancient communications that are supposed to have existed between that part of the world and the north of Mexico.
[* The reindeer are not domesticated in Greenland as they are in Lapland; and the Esquimaux care little for their milk. The bisons taken very young accustom themselves, on the west of the Alleghenies, to graze with herds of European cows. The females in some districts of India yield a little milk, but the natives have never thought of milking them. What is the origin of that fabulous story related by Gomara (chapter 43 page 36) according to which the first Spanish navigators saw, on the coast of South Carolina, stags led to the savannahs by herdsmen? The female bisons, according to Mr. Buchanan and the philosophical historian of the Indian Archipelago, Mr. Crawford, yield more milk than common cows.]
We went down the Orinoco in two days, from Carichana to the mission of Uruana, after having again passed the celebrated strait of Baraguan. We stopped several times to determine the velocity of the river, and its temperature at the surface, which was 27.4°. The velocity was found to be two feet in a second (sixty-two toises in 3 minutes 6 seconds) in places where the bed of the Orinoco was more than twelve thousand feet broad, and from ten to twelve fathoms deep. The slope of the river is in fact extremely gentle from the Great Cataracts to Angostura; and, if a barometric measurement were wanting, the difference of height might be determined by approximation, by measuring from time to time the velocity of the stream, and the extent of the section in breadth and depth. We had some observations of the stars at Uruana. I found the latitude of the mission to be 7° 8′; but the results from different stars left a doubt of more than 1 minute. The stratum of mosquitos, which hovered over the ground, was so thick that I could not succeed in rectifying properly the artificial horizon. I tormented myself in vain; and regretted that I was not provided with a mercurial horizon. On the 7th of June, good absolute altitudes of the sun gave me 69° 40′ for the longitude. We had advanced from Esmeralda 1 degree 17 minutes toward the west, and this chronometric determination merits entire confidence on account of the double observations, made in going and returning, at the Great Cataracts, and at the confluence of the Atabapo and of the Apure.
The situation of the mission of Uruana is extremely picturesque. The little Indian village stands at the foot of a lofty granitic mountain. Rocks everywhere appear in the form of pillars above the forest, rising higher than the tops of the tallest trees. The aspect of the Orinoco is nowhere more majestic than when viewed from the hut of the missionary, Fray Ramon Bueno. It is more than two thousand six hundred toises broad, and it runs without any winding, like a vast canal, straight toward the east. Two long and narrow islands (Isla de Uruana and Isla vieja de la Manteca) contribute to give extent to the bed of the river; the two banks are parallel, and we cannot call it divided into different branches. The mission is inhabited by the Ottomacs, a tribe in the rudest state, and presenting one of the most extraordinary physiological phenomena. They eat earth; that is, they swallow every day, during several months, very considerable quantities, to appease hunger, and this practice does not appear to have any injurious effect on their health. Though we could stay only one day at Uruana, this short space of time sufficed to make us acquainted with the preparation of the poya, or balls of earth. I also found some traces of this vitiated appetite among the Guamos; and between the confluence of the Meta and the Apure, where everybody speaks of dirt-eating as of a thing anciently known. I shall here confine myself to an account of what we ourselves saw or heard from the missionary, who had been doomed to live for twelve years among the savage and turbulent tribe of the Ottomacs.
The inhabitants of Uruana belong to those nations of the savannahs called wandering Indians (Indios andantes) who, more difficult to civilize than the nations of the forest (Indios del monte), have a decided aversion to cultivate the land, and live almost exclusively by hunting and fishing. They are men of very robust constitution; but ill-looking, savage, vindictive, and passionately fond of fermented liquors. They are omnivorous animals in the highest degree; and therefore the other Indians, who consider them as barbarians, have a common saying, nothing is so loathsome but that an Ottomac will eat it. While the waters of the Orinoco and its tributary streams are low, the Ottomacs subsist on fish and turtles. The former they kill with surprising dexterity, by shooting them with an arrow when they appear at the surface of the water. When the rivers swell fishing almost entirely ceases.* It is then very difficult to procure fish, which often fails the poor missionaries, on fast-days as well as flesh-days, though all the young Indians are under the obligation of fishing for the convent. During the period of these inundations, which last two or three months, the Ottomacs swallow a prodigious quantity of earth. We found heaps of earth-balls in their huts, piled up in pyramids three or four feet high. These balls were five or six inches in diameter. The earth which the Ottomacs eat is a very fine and unctuous clay of a yellowish grey colour; and, when being slightly baked at the fire, the hardened crust has a tint inclining to red, owing to the oxide of iron which is mingled with it. We brought away some of this earth, which we took from the winter-provision of the Indians; and it is a mistake to suppose that it is steatitic, and that it contains magnesia. Vauquelin did not discover any traces of that substance in it but he found that it contained more silex than alumina, and three or four per cent of lime.
[* In South America, as in Egypt and Nubia, the swelling of the rivers, which occurs periodically in every part of the torrid zone, is erroneously attributed to the melting of the snows.]
The Ottomacs do not eat every kind of clay indifferently; they choose the alluvial beds or strata, which contain the most unctuous earth, and the smoothest to the touch. I inquired of the missionary whether the moistened clay were made to undergo that peculiar decomposition which is indicated by a disengagement of carbonic acid and sulphuretted hydrogen, and which is designated in every language by the term of putrefaction; but he assured us that the natives neither cause the clay to rot, nor do they mingle it with flour of maize, oil of turtle’s eggs, or fat of the crocodile. We ourselves examined, both at the Orinoco and after our return to Paris, the balls of earth which we brought away with us, and found no trace of the mixture of any organic substance, whether oily or farinaceous. The savage regards every thing as nourishing that appeases hunger: when, therefore, you inquire of an Ottomac on what he subsists during the two months when the river is at its highest flood he shows you his balls of clayey earth. This he calls his principal food at the period when he can seldom procure a lizard, a root of fern, or a dead fish swimming at the surface of the water. If necessity force the Indians to eat earth during two months (and from three quarters to five quarters of a pound in twenty-four hours), he eats it from choice during the rest of the year. Every day in the season of drought, when fishing is most abundant, he scrapes his balls of poya, and mingles a little clay with his other aliment. It is most surprising that the Ottomacs do not become lean by swallowing such quantities of earth: they are, on the contrary, extremely robust. The missionary Fray Ramon Bueno asserts that he never remarked any alteration in the health of the natives at the period of the great risings of the Orinoco.
The Ottomacs during some months eat daily three-quarters of a pound of clay slightly hardened by fire, but which they moisten before swallowing it. It has not been possible to verify hitherto with precision how much nutritious vegetable or animal matter they take in a week at the same time; but they attribute the sensation of satiety which they feel to the clay, and not to the wretched aliments which they take with it occasionally.
No physiological phenomenon being entirely insulated, it may be interesting to examine several analogous phenomena, which I have been able to collect. I observed everywhere within the torrid zone, in a great number of individuals, children, women, and sometimes even full-grown men, an inordinate and almost irresistible desire of swallowing earth; not an alkaline or calcareous earth to neutralize (as it is said) acid juices, but a fat clay, unctuous, and exhaling a strong smell. It is often found necessary to tie the children’s hands or to confine them to prevent them eating earth when the rain ceases to fall. At the village of Banco, on the bank of the river Magdalena, I saw the Indian women who make pottery continually swallowing great pieces of clay. These women were not in a state of pregnancy; and they affirmed that earth is an aliment which they do not find hurtful. In other American tribes, people soon fall sick, and waste away, when they yield too much to this mania of eating earth. We found at the mission of San Borja an Indian child of the Guahiba nation, who was as thin as a skeleton. The mother informed us that the little girl was reduced to this lamentable state of atrophy in consequence of a disordered appetite, she having refused during four months to take almost any other food than clay. Yet San Borja is only twenty-five leagues distant from the mission of Uruana, inhabited by that tribe of the Ottomacs, who, from the effect no doubt of a habit progressively acquired, swallow the poya without experiencing any pernicious effects. Father Gumilla asserts that the Ottomacs take as an aperient, oil, or rather the melted fat of the crocodile, when they feel any gastric obstructions; but the missionary whom we found among them was little disposed to confirm this assertion. It may be asked, why the mania of eating earth is much more rare in the frigid and temperate than in the torrid zones; and why in Europe it is found only among women in a state of pregnancy, and sickly children. This difference between hot and temperate climates arises perhaps only from the inert state of the functions of the stomach caused by strong cutaneous perspiration. It has been supposed to be observed that the inordinate taste for eating earth augments among the African slaves, and becomes more pernicious when they are restricted to a regimen purely vegetable and deprived of spirituous liquors.
The negroes on the coast of Guinea delight in eating a yellowish earth, which they call caouac. The slaves who are taken to America endeavour to indulge in this habit; but it proves detrimental to their health. They say that the earth of the West Indies is not so easy of digestion as that of their country. Thibaut de Chanvalon, in his Voyage to Martinico, expresses himself very judiciously on this pathological phenomenon. “Another cause,” he says, “of this pain in the stomach is that several of the negroes, who come from the coast of Guinea, eat earth; not from a depraved taste, or in consequence of disease, but from a habit contracted at home in Africa, where they eat, they say, a particular earth, the taste of which they find agreeable, without suffering any inconvenience. They seek in our islands for the earth most similar to this, and prefer a yellowish red volcanic tufa. It is sold secretly in our public markets; but this is an abuse which the police ought to correct. The negroes who have this habit are so fond of caouac, that no chastisement will prevent their eating it.”
In the Indian Archipelago, at the island of Java, Labillardiere saw, between Surabaya and Samarang, little square and reddish cakes exposed for sale. These cakes called tanaampo, were cakes of clay, slightly baked, which the natives eat with relish. The attention of physiologists, since my return from the Orinoco, having been powerfully directed to these phenomena of geophagy, M. Leschenault (one of the naturalists of the expedition to the Antarctic regions under the command of captain Baudin) has published some curious details on the tanaampo, or ampo, of the Javanese. “The reddish and somewhat ferruginous clay,” he says “which the inhabitants of Java are fond of eating occasionally, is spread on a plate of iron, and baked, after having been rolled into little cylinders in the form of the bark of cinnamon. In this state it takes the name of ampo, and is sold in the public markets. This clay has a peculiar taste, which is owing to the baking: it is very absorbent, and adheres to the tongue, which it dries. In general it is only the Javanese women who eat the ampo, either in the time of pregnancy, or in order to grow thin; the absence of plumpness being there regarded as a kind of beauty. The use of this earth is fatal to health; the women lose their appetite imperceptibly, and take only with relish a very small quantity of food; but the desire of becoming thin, and of preserving a slender shape, induces them to brave these dangers, and maintains the credit of the ampo.” The savage inhabitants of New Caledonia also, to appease their hunger in times of scarcity, eat great pieces of a friable Lapis ollaris. Vauquelin analysed this stone, and found in it, beside magnesia and silex in equal portions, a small quantity of oxide of copper. M. Goldberry had seen the negroes in Africa, in the islands of Bunck and Los Idolos, eat an earth of which he had himself eaten, without being incommoded by it, and which also was a white and friable steatite. These examples of earth-eating in the torrid zone appear very strange. We are struck by the anomaly of finding a taste, which might seem to belong only to the inhabitants of the most sterile regions, prevailing among races of rude and indolent men, who live in the finest and most fertile countries on the globe. We saw at Popayan, and in several mountainous parts of Peru, lime reduced to a very fine powder, sold in the public markets to the natives among other articles of food. This powder, when eaten, is mingled with coca, that is, with the leaves of the Erythroxylon peruvianum. It is well known that Indian messengers take no other aliment for whole days than lime and coca: both excite the secretion of saliva, and of the gastric juice; they take away the appetite, without affording any nourishment to the body. In other parts of South America, on the coast of Rio de la Hacha, the Guajiros swallow lime alone, without adding any vegetable matter to it. They carry with them a little box filled with lime, as we do snuff-boxes, and as in Asia people carry a betel-box. This American custom excited the curiosity of the first Spanish navigators. Lime blackens the teeth; and in the Indian Archipelago, as among several American hordes, to blacken the teeth is to beautify them. In the cold regions of the kingdom of Quito, the natives of Tigua eat habitually from choice, and without any injurious consequences, a very fine clay, mixed with quartzose sand. This clay, suspended in water, renders it milky. We find in their huts large vessels filled with this water, which serves as a beverage, and which the Indians call agua or leche de llanka.*
[* Water or milk of clay. Llanka is a word of the general language of the Incas, signifying fine clay.]
When we reflect on these facts, we perceive that the appetite for clayey, magnesian, and calcareous earth is most common among the people of the torrid zone; that it is not always a cause of disease; and that some tribes eat earth from choice, whilst others (as the Ottomacs in America, and the inhabitants of New Caledonia in the Pacific) eat it from want and to appease hunger. A great number of physiological phenomena prove that a temporary cessation of hunger may be produced though the substances that are submitted to the organs of digestion may not be, properly speaking, nutritive. The earth of the Ottomacs, composed of alumine and silex, furnishes probably nothing, or almost nothing, to the composition of the organs of man. These organs contain lime and magnesia in the bones, in the lymph of the thoracic duct, in the colouring matter of the blood, and in white hairs; they afford very small quantities of silex in black hair; and, according to Vauquelin, but a few atoms of alumine in the bones, though this is contained abundantly in the greater part of those vegetable substances which form part of our nourishment. It is not the same with man as with animated beings placed lower in the scale of organization. In the former, assimilation is exerted only on those substances that enter essentially into the composition of the bones, the muscles, and the medullary matter of the nerves and the brain. Plants, on the contrary, draw from the soil the salts that are found accidentally mixed in it; and their fibrous texture varies according to the nature of the earths that predominate in the spots which they inhabit. An object well worthy of research, and which has long fixed my attention, is the small number of simple substances (earthy and metallic) that enter into the composition of animated beings, and which alone appear fitted to maintain what we may call the chemical movement of vitality.
We must not confound the sensations of hunger with that vague feeling of debility which is produced by want of nutrition, and by other pathologic causes. The sensation of hunger ceases long before digestion takes place, or the chyme is converted into chyle. It ceases either by a nervous and tonic impression exerted by the aliments on the coats of the stomach; or, because the digestive apparatus is filled with substances that excite the mucous membranes to an abundant secretion of the gastric juice. To this tonic impression on the nerves of the stomach the prompt and salutary effects of what are called nutritive medicaments may be attributed, such as chocolate, and every substance that gently stimulates and nourishes at the same time. It is the absence of a nervous stimulant that renders the solitary use of a nutritive substance (as starch, gum, or sugar) less favourable to assimilation, and to the reparation of the losses which the human body undergoes. Opium, which is not nutritive, is employed with success in Asia, in times of great scarcity; it acts as a tonic. But when the matter which fills the stomach can be regarded neither as an aliment, that is, as proper to be assimilated, nor as a tonic stimulating the nerves, the cessation of hunger is probably owing only to the secretion of the gastric juice. We here touch upon a problem of physiology which has not been sufficiently investigated. Hunger is appeased, the painful feeling of inanition ceases, when the stomach is filled. It is said that this viscus stands in need of ballast; and every language furnishes figurative expressions which convey the idea that a mechanical distension of the stomach causes an agreeable sensation. Recent works of physiology still speak of the painful contraction which the stomach experiences during hunger, the friction of its sides against one another, and the action of the gastric juice on the texture of the digestive apparatus. The observations of Bichat, and more particularly the fine experiments of Majendie, are in contradiction to these superannuated hypotheses. After twenty-four, forty-eight, or even sixty hours of abstinence, no contraction of the stomach is observed; it is only on the fourth or fifth day that this organ appears to change in a small degree its dimensions. The quantity of the gastric juice diminishes with the duration of abstinence. It is probable that this juice, far from accumulating, is digested as an alimentary substance. If a cat or dog be made to swallow a substance which is not susceptible of being digested, a pebble for instance, a mucous and acid liquid is formed abundantly in the cavity of the stomach, somewhat resembling in its composition the gastric juice of the human body. It appears to me very probable, that when the want of aliments compels the Ottomacs and the inhabitants of New Caledonia to swallow clay and steatite during a part of the year, these earths occasion a powerful secretion of the gastric and pancreatic juices in the digestive apparatus of these people. The observations which I made on the banks of the Orinoco, have been recently confirmed by the direct experiments of two distinguished young physiologists, MM. Cloquet and Breschet. After long fasting they ate as much as five ounces of a silvery green and very flexible laminar talc. Their hunger was completely satisfied, and they felt no inconvenience from a kind of food to which their organs were unaccustomed. It is known that great use is still made in the East of the bolar and sigillated earths of Lemnos, which are clay mingled with oxide of iron. In Germany the workmen employed in the quarries of sandstone worked at the mountain of Kiffhauser spread a very fine clay upon their bread, instead of butter, which they call steinbutter* (stone-butter).
[* This steinbutter must not be confounded with the mountain butter (bergbutter) which is a saline substance, produced by a decomposition of aluminous schists.]
The state of perfect health enjoyed by the Ottomacs during the time when they use little muscular exercise, and are subjected to so extraordinary a regimen, is a phenomenon difficult to be explained. It can be attributed only to a habit prolonged from generation to generation. The structure of the digestive apparatus differs much in animals that feed exclusively on flesh or on seeds; it is even probable that the gastric juice changes its nature, according as it is employed in effecting the digestion of animal or vegetable substances; yet we are able gradually to change the regimen of herbivorous and carnivorous animals, to feed the former with flesh, and the latter with vegetables. Man can accustom himself to an extraordinary abstinence and find it but little painful if he employ tonic or stimulating substances (various drugs, small quantities of opium, betel, tobacco, or leaves of coca); or if he supply his stomach, from time to time, with earthy insipid substances that are not in themselves fit for nutrition. Like man in a savage state some animals, when pressed by hunger in winter, swallow clay or friable steatites; such are the wolves in the northeast of Europe, the reindeer and, according to the testimony of M. Patrin, the kids in Siberia. The Russian hunters, on the banks of the Yenisei and the Amour, use a clayey matter which they call rock-butter, as a bait. The animals scent this clay from afar, and are fond of the smell; as the clays of bucaro, known in Portugal and Spain by the name of odoriferous earths (tierras olorosas), have an odour agreeable to women.* Brown relates in his History of Jamaica that the crocodiles of South America swallow small stones and pieces of very hard wood, when the lakes which they inhabit are dry, or when they are in want of food. M. Bonpland and I observed in a crocodile, eleven feet long, which we dissected at Batallez, on the banks of the Rio Magdalena, that the stomach of this reptile contained half-digested fish, and rounded fragments of granite three or four inches in diameter. It is difficult to admit that the crocodiles swallow these stony masses accidentally, for they do not catch fish with their lower jaw resting on the ground at the bottom of the river. The Indians have framed the absurd hypothesis that these indolent animals like to augment their weight, that they may have less trouble in diving. I rather think that they load their stomach with large pebbles to excite an abundant secretion of the gastric juice. The experiments of Majendie render this explanation extremely probable. With respect to the habit of the granivorous birds, particularly the gallinaceae and ostriches, of swallowing sand and small pebbles, it has been hitherto attributed to an instinctive desire of accelerating the trituration of the aliments in a muscular and thick stomach.
[* Bucaro (vas fictile odoriferum). People are fond of drinking out of these vessels on account of the smell of the clay. The women of the province of Alentejo acquire a habit of masticating the bucaro earth; and feel a great privation when they cannot indulge this vitiated taste.]
We have mentioned that tribes of Negroes on the Gambia mingle clay with their rice. Some families of Ottomacs were perhaps formerly accustomed to cause the maize and other farinaceous seeds to rot in their poya, in order to eat earth and amylaceous matter together: possibly it was a preparation of this kind, that Father Gumilla described indistinctly in the first volume of his work when he affirms that the Guamos and the Ottomacs feed upon earth only because it is impregnated with the sustancia del maiz (substance of maize) and the fat of the cayman. I have already observed that neither the present missionary of Uruana, nor Fray Juan Gonzales, who lived long in those countries, knew anything of this mixture of animal and vegetable substances with the poya. Perhaps Father Gumilla has confounded the preparation of the earth which the natives swallow with the custom they still retain (of which M. Bonpland acquired the certainty on the spot) of burying in the ground the beans of a species of mimosacea,* to cause them to enter into decomposition so as to reduce them into a white bread, savoury, but difficult of digestion. I repeat that the balls of poya, which we took from the winter stores of the Indians, contained no trace of animal fat, or of amylaceous matter. Gumilla being one of the most credulous travellers we know, it almost perplexes us to credit facts which even he has thought fit to reject. In the second volume of his work he however gainsays a great part of what he advanced in the first; he no longer doubts that half at least (a lo menos) of the bread of the Ottomacs and the Guamos is clay. He asserts, that children and full grown persons not only eat this bread without suffering in their health, but also great pieces of pure clay (muchos terrones de pura greda.) He adds that those who feel a weight on the stomach physic themselves with the fat of the crocodile which restores their appetite and enables them to continue to eat pure earth.* It is certain that the Guamos are very fond, if not of the fat, at least of the flesh of the crocodile, which appeared to us white, and without any smell of musk. In Sennaar, according to Burckhardt, it is equally esteemed, and sold in the markets.
[* Of the genus Inga.]
[* Gumilla volume 2 page 260.]
The little village of Uruana is more difficult to govern than most of the other missions. The Ottomacs are a restless, turbulent people, with unbridled passions. They are not only fond to excess of the fermented liquors prepared from cassava and maize, and of palm-wine, but they throw themselves into a peculiar state of intoxication, we might say of madness, by the use of the powder of niopo. They gather the long pods of a mimosacea which we have made known by the name of Acacia niopo,* cut them into pieces, moisten them, and cause them to ferment. When the softened seeds begin to grow black, they are kneaded like a paste; mixed with some flour of cassava and lime procured from the shell of a helix, and the whole mass is exposed to a very brisk fire, on a gridiron made of hard wood. The hardened paste takes the form of small cakes. When it is to be used, it is reduced to a fine powder, and placed on a dish five or six inches wide. The Ottomac holds this dish, which has a handle, in his right hand, while he inhales the niopo by the nose, through the forked bone of a bird, the two extremities of which are applied to the nostrils. This bone, without which the Ottomac believes that he could not take this kind of snuff, is seven inches long: it appeared to me to be the leg-bone of a large sort of plover. The niopo is so stimulating that the smallest portions of it produce violent sneezing in those who are not accustomed to its use. Father Gumilla says this diabolical powder of the Ottomacs, furnished by an arborescent tobacco-plant, intoxicates them through the nostrils (emboracha por las narices), deprives them of reason for some hours, and renders them furious in battle. However varied may be the family of the leguminous plants in the chemical and medical properties of their seeds, juices, and roots, we cannot believe, from what we know hitherto of the group of mimosaceae, that it is principally the pod of the Acacia niopo which imparts the stimulant power to the snuff of the Ottomacs. This power is owing, no doubt, to the freshly calcined lime. We have shown above that the mountaineers of the Andes of Popayan, and the Guajiros, who wander between the lake of Maracaybo and the Rio la Hacha, are also fond of swallowing lime as a stimulant, to augment the secretion of the saliva and the gastric juice.
[* It is an acacia with very delicate leaves, and not an Inga. We brought home another species of mimosacea (the chiga of the Ottomacs and the sepa of the Maypures) that yields seeds, the flour of which is eaten at Uruana like cassava. From this flour the chiga bread is prepared, which is so common at Cunariche, and on the banks of the Lower Orinoco. The chiga is a species of Inga, and I know of no other mimosacea that can supply the place of the cerealia.]
A custom analogous to the use of the niopo just described was observed by La Condamine among the natives of the Upper Maranon. The Omaguas, whose name is rendered celebrated by the expeditions attempted in search of El Dorado, have like the Ottomacs a dish, and the hollow bone of a bird, by which they convey to their nostrils their powder of curupa. The seed that yields this powder is no doubt also a mimosacea; for the Ottomacs, according to Father Gili, designate even now, at the distance of one hundred and sixty leagues from the Amazon, the Acacia niopo by the name of curupa. Since the geographical researches which I have recently made on the scene of the exploits of Philip von Huten, and the real situation of the province of Papamene, or of the Omaguas, the probability of an ancient communication between the Ottomacs of the Orinoco and the Omaguas of the Maranon has become more interesting and more probable. The former came from the Meta, perhaps from the country between the Meta and the Guaviare; the latter assert that they descended in great numbers to the Maranon by the Rio Jupura, coming from the eastern declivity of the Andes of New Grenada. Now, it is precisely between the Guayavero (which joins the Guaviare) and the Caqueta (which takes lower down the name of Japura) that the country of the Omagua appears to be situate, of which the adventurers of Coro and Tocuyo in vain attempted the conquest. There is no doubt a striking contrast between the present barbarism of the Ottomacs and the ancient civilization of the Omaguas; but all parts of the latter nation were not perhaps alike advanced in civilization, and the example of tribes fallen into complete barbarism are unhappily but too common in the history of our species. Another point of resemblance may be remarked between the Ottomacs and the Omaguas. Both of these nations are celebrated among all the tribes of the Orinoco and the Amazon for their employment of caoutchouc in the manufacture of various articles of utility.
The real herbaceous tobacco* (for the missionaries have the habit of calling the niopo or curupa tree-tobacco) has been cultivated from time immemorial by all the native people of the Orinoco; and at the period of the conquest the habit of smoking was found to be alike spread over both North and South America.
[* The word tobacco (tabacco), like the words savannah, maize, cacique, maguey (agave), and manati, belongs to the ancient language of Haiti, or St. Domingo. It did not properly denote the herb but the tube through which the smoke was inhaled. It seems surprising that a vegetable production so universally spread should have different names among neighbouring people. The pete-ma of the Omaguas is, no doubt, the pety of the Guaranos; but the analogy between the Cabre and Algonkin (or Lenni–Lenape) words which denote tobacco may be merely accidental. The following are the synonyms in thirteen languages.
North America. Aztec or Mexican; yetl: Algonkin; sema: Huron; oyngoua.
South America. Peruvian or Quichua; sayri: Chiquito; pais. Guarany; pety: Vilela; tusup: Mbaja (west of the Paraguay), nalodagadi: Moxo (between the Rio Ucayale and the Rio Madeira); sabare. Omagua; petema. Tamanac; cavas. Maypure; jema. Cabre; scema.]
The Tamanacs and the Maypures of Guiana wrap maize-leaves round their cigars, as the Mexicans did at the time of the arrival of Cortes. The Spaniards have substituted paper for the leaves of maize in imitation of them. The poor Indians of the forests of the Orinoco know as well as did the great nobles at the court of Montezuma that the smoke of tobacco is an excellent narcotic; and they use it not only to procure their afternoon nap, but also to put themselves into that state of quiescence, which they call dreaming with the eyes open, or day-dreaming. The use of tobacco appears to me to be now very rare in the missions; and in New Spain, to the great regret of the revenue-officers, the natives, who are almost all descended from the lowest class of the Aztec people, do not smoke at all. Father Gili affirms that the practice of chewing tobacco is unknown to the Indians of the Lower Orinoco. I rather doubt the truth of this assertion, having been told that the Sercucumas of the Erevato and the Caura, neighbours of the whitish Taparitos, swallow tobacco chopped small, and impregnated with some other very stimulant juices, to prepare themselves for battle. Of the four species of nicotiana cultivated in Europe* we found only two growing wild; but the Nicotiana loxensis, and the Nicotiana andicola, which I found on the back of the Andes, at the height of eighteen hundred and fifty toises (almost the height of the Peak of Teneriffe), are very similar to the N. tabacum and N. rustica. The whole genus, however, is almost exclusively American, and the greater number of the species appeared to me to belong to the mountainous and temperate region of the tropics.
[* Nicotiana tabacum, N. rustica, N. paniculata, and N. glutinosa.]
It was neither from Virginia, nor from South America, but from the Mexican province of Yucatan, that Europe received the first tobacco seeds, about the year 1559.* The celebrated Raleigh contributed most to introduce the custom of smoking among the nations of the north. As early as the end of the sixteenth century bitter complaints were made in England of this imitation of the manners of a savage people. It was feared that, by the practice of smoking tobacco, Englishmen would degenerate into a barbarous state.*
[* The Spaniards became acquainted with tobacco in the West India Islands at the end of the 15th century. I have already mentioned that the cultivation of this narcotic plant preceded the cultivation of the potato in Europe more than 120 or 140 years. When Raleigh brought tobacco from Virginia to England in 1586, whole fields of it were already cultivated in Portugal. It was also previously known in France, where it was brought into fashion by Catherine de Medicis, from whom it received the name of herbe a la reine, the queen’s herb.]
[* This remarkable passage of Camden is as follows, Annal. Elizabet. page 143 1585; “ex illo sane tempore [tabacum] usu cepit esse creberrimo in Anglia et magno pretio dum quamplurimi graveolentem illius fumum per tubulum testaceum hauriunt et mox e naribus efflant; adeo ut Auglornm corporum in barbarorum naturam degenerasse videantur, quum iidem ac barbari delectentur.” We may see from this passage that they emitted the smoke through the nose; but at the court of Montezuma the pipe was held in one hand, while the nostrils were stopped with the other, in order that the smoke might be more easily swallowed. Life of Raleigh volume 1 page 82.]
When the Ottomacs of Uruana, by the use of niopo (their arborescent tobacco), and of fermented liquors, have thrown themselves into a state of intoxication, which lasts several days, they kill one another without ostensibly fighting. The most vindictive among them poison the nail of their thumb with curare; and, according to the testimony of the missionary, the mere impression of this poisoned nail may become a mortal wound if the curare be very active and immediately mingle with the mass of the blood. When the Indians, after a quarrel at night, commit a murder, they throw the dead body into the river, fearing that some indications of the violence committed on the deceased may be observed. “Every time,” said Father Bueno, “that I see the women fetch water from a part of the shore to which they are not accustomed to go, I suspect that a murder has been committed in my mission.”
We found in the Indian huts at Uruana the vegetable substance called touchwood of ants,* with which we had become acquainted at the Great Cataracts, and which is employed to stop bleeding. This substance, which might less improperly be called ants’ nests, is in much request in a region whose inhabitants are of so turbulent a character. A new species of ant, of a fine emerald-green (Formica spinicollis), collects for its habitation a cotton-down, of a yellowish-brown colour, and very soft to the touch, from the leaves of a melastomacea. I have no doubt that the yesca or touchwood of ants of the Upper Orinoco (the animal is found, we were assured, only south of Atures) will one day become an article of trade. This substance is very superior to the ants’ nests of Cayenne, which are employed in the hospitals of Europe, but can rarely be procured.
[* Yesca de hormigas.]
On the 7th of June we took leave with regret of Father Ramon Bueno. Of the ten missionaries whom we had found in different parts of the vast extent of Guiana, he alone appeared to me to be earnestly attentive to all that regarded the natives. He hoped to return in a short time to Madrid, where he intended to publish the result of his researches on the figures and characters that cover the rocks of Uruana.
In the countries we had just passed through, between the Meta, the Arauca, and the Apure, there were found, at the time of the first expeditions to the Orinoco, in 1535, those mute dogs, called by the natives maios, and auries. This fact is curious in many points of view. We cannot doubt that the dog, whatever Father Gili may assert, is indigenous in South America. The different Indian languages furnish words to designate this animal, which are scarcely derived from any European tongue. To this day the word auri, mentioned three hundred years ago by Alonzo de Herrera, is found in the Maypure. The dogs we saw at the Orinoco may perhaps have descended from those that the Spaniards carried to the coast of Caracas; but it is not less certain that there existed a race of dogs before the conquest, in Peru, in New Granada, and in Guiana, resembling our shepherds’ dogs. The allco of the natives of Peru, and in general all the dogs that we found in the wildest countries of South America, bark frequently. The first historians, however, all speak of mute dogs (perros mudos). They still exist in Canada; and, what appears to me worthy of attention, it was this dumb variety that was eaten in preference in Mexico,* and at the Orinoco. A very well informed traveller, M. Giesecke, who resided six years in Greenland, assured me that the dogs of the Esquimaux, which pass their lives in the open air and bury themselves in winter beneath the snow, do not bark, but howl like wolves.*
[* See on the Mexican techichi and on the numerous difficulties that occur in the history of mute dogs and dogs destitute of hair the Views of Nature Bohn’s edition page 85.]
[* They sit down in a circle, one of them begins to howl alone and the others follow in the same tone. The groups of alouate monkeys howl in the same manner, and among them the Indians distinguish the leader of the band. It was the practice at Mexico to castrate the mute dogs in order to fatten them. This operation must have contributed to alter the organ of the voice.]
The practice of eating the flesh of dogs is now entirely unknown on the banks of the Orinoco; but as it is a Tartar custom spread through all the eastern part of Asia, it appears to me highly interesting for the history of nations to have ascertained that it existed heretofore in the hot regions of Guiana and on the table-lands of Mexico. I must observe, also, that on the confines of the province of Durango, at the northern extremity of New Spain, the Comanches have preserved the habit of loading the backs of the great dogs that accompany them in their migrations with their tents of buffalo-leather. It is well known that employing dogs as beasts of burthen and of draught is equally common near the Slave Lake and in Siberia. I dwell on these features of conformity in the manners of nations, which become of some weight when they are not solitary, and are connected with the analogies furnished by the structure of languages, the division of time, and religious creeds and institutions.
We passed the night at the island of Cucuruparu, called also Playa de la Tortuga, because the Indians of Uruana go thither to collect the turtles’ eggs. It is one of the best determined points of latitude along the banks of the Orinoco. I was there fortunate enough to observe the passage of three stars over the meridian. To the east of the island is the mouth of the Cano de la Tortuga, which descends from the mountains of Cerbatana, continually wrapped in electric clouds. On the southern bank of the Cano, between the tributary streams Parapara and Oche, lies the almost ruined mission of San Miguel de la Tortuga. The Indians assured us that the environs of this little mission abound in otters with a very fine fur, called by the Portuguese water-dogs (perritos de agua); and what is still more remarkable, in lizards (lagartos) with only two feet. The whole of this country, which is very accessible between the Rio Cuchivero and the strait of Baraguan, is worthy of being visited by a well-informed zoologist. The lagarto destitute of hinder extremities is perhaps a species of Siren, different from the Siren lacertina of Carolina. If it were a saurian, a real Bimanis (Chirotes, Cuvier), the natives would not have compared it to a lizard. Besides the arrau turtles, of which I have in a former place given a detailed account, an innumerable quantity of land tortoises also, called morocoi, are found on the banks of the Orinoco, between Uruana and Encaramada. During the great heats of summer, in the time of drought, these animals remain without taking food, hidden beneath stones, or in the holes they have dug. They issue from their shelter and begin to eat, only when the humidity of the first rains penetrates into the earth. The terekay, or tajelu turtle which lives in fresh water, has the same habits. I have already spoken of the summer-sleep of some animals of the tropics. As the natives know the holes in which the tortoises sleep amidst the dried lands, they get out a great number at once, by digging fifteen or eighteen inches deep. Father Gili says that this operation, which he had seen, is not without danger, because serpents often bury themselves in summer with the terekays.
From the island of Cucuruparu, to the capital of Guiana, commonly called Angostura, we were but nine days on the water. The distance is somewhat less than ninety-five leagues. We seldom slept on shore but the torment of the mosquitos diminished in proportion as we advanced. We landed on the 8th of June at a farm (Hato de San Rafael del Capuchino) opposite the mouth of the Rio Apure. I obtained some good observations of latitude and longitude.* Having two months before taken horary angles on the bank opposite Capuchino, these observations were important for determining the rate of my chronometer, and connecting the situations on the Orinoco with those on the shore of Venezuela. The situation of this farm, being at the point where the Orinoco changes its course (which had previously been from south to north), and runs from west to east, is extremely picturesque. Granite rocks rise like islets amidst vast meadows. From their tops we discerned towards the north the Llanos of Calabozo bounding the horizon. We had been so long accustomed to the aspect of forests, that this view made a powerful impression on us. The steppes after sunset assume a tint of greenish gray. The visual ray being intercepted only by the rotundity of the earth, the stars seemed to rise as from the bosom of the ocean, and the most experienced mariner would have fancied himself placed on a projecting cape of a rocky coast. Our host was a Frenchman who lived amidst his numerous herds. Though he had forgotten his native language, he seemed pleased to learn that we came from his country, which he had left forty years before; and he wished to retain us for some days at his farm. The small towns of Caycara and Cabruta were only a few miles distant from the farm; but during part of the year our host was in complete solitude. The Capuchino becomes an island by the inundations of the Apure and the Orinoco, and the communication with the neighbouring farms can be kept up only by means of a boat. The horned cattle then seek the higher grounds which extend on the south toward the chain of the mountains of Encaramada. This granitic chain is intersected by valleys which contain magnetic sands (granulary oxidulated iron), owing no doubt to the decomposition of some amphibolic or chloritic strata.
[* I had found, on the 4th of April, for the Boca del Rio Apure (on the western bank of the Orinoco), the latitude 7° 36′ 30″, the longitude 59° 7′ 30″; on the 8th of June I found, for the Hato del Capuchino (on the eastern bank of the Orinoco), the latitude 7° 37′ 45″, the longitude 69° 5′ 30″.]
On the morning of the 9th of June we met a great number of boats laden with merchandize sailing up the Orinoco, in order to enter the Apure. This is a commercial road much frequented between Angostura and the port of Torunos in the province of Varinas. Our fellow-traveller, Don Nicolas Soto, brother-inlaw of the governor of Varinas, took the same course to return to his family. At the period of the high waters, several months are lost in contending with the currents of the Orinoco, the Apure, and the Rio de Santo Domingo. The boatmen are forced to carry out ropes to the trunks of trees and thus warp their canoes up. In the great sinuosities of the river whole days are sometimes passed without advancing more than two or three hundred toises. Since my return to Europe the communications between the mouth of the Orinoco and the provinces situated on the eastern slope of the mountains of Merida, Pamplona, and Santa Fe de Bogota, have become more active; and it may be hoped that steamboats will facilitate these long voyages on the Lower Orinoco, the Portuguesa, the Rio Santo Domingo, the Orivante, the Meta, and the Guaviare. Magazines of cleft wood might be formed, as on the banks of the great rivers of the United States, sheltering them under sheds. This precaution would be indispensable, as, in the country through which we passed, it is not easy to procure dry fuel fit to keep up a fire beneath the boiler of a steam-engine.
We disembarked below San Rafael del Capuchino, on the right, at the Villa de Caycara, near a cove called Puerto Sedeno. The Villa is merely a few houses grouped together. Alta Gracia, la Ciudad de la Piedra, Real Corona, Borbon, in short all the towns or villas lying between the mouth of the Apure and Angostura, are equally miserable. The presidents of the missions, and the governors of the provinces, were formerly accustomed to demand the privileges of villas and ciudades at Madrid, the moment the first foundations of a church were laid. This was a means of persuading the ministry that the colonies were augmenting rapidly in population and prosperity. Sculptured figures of the sun and moon, such as I have already mentioned, are found near Caycara, at the Cerro del Tirano.* It is the work of the old people (that is of our fathers), say the natives. On a rock more distant from the shore, and called Tecoma, the symbolic figures are found, it is said, at the height of a hundred feet. The Indians knew heretofore a road, that led by land from Caycara to Demerara and Essequibo.
[* The tyrant after whom these mountains are named is not Lope de Aguirre, but probably, as the name of the neighbouring cove seems to prove, the celebrated conquistador Antonio Sedeno, who, after the expedition of Herrera, sought to penetrate by the Orinoco to the Rio Meta. He was in a state of rebellion against the audiencia of Santo Domingo. I know not how Sedeno came to Caycara; for historians relate that he was poisoned on the banks of the Rio Tisnado, one of the tributary streams of the Portuguesa.]
On the northern bank of the Orinoco, opposite Caycara, is the mission of Cabruta, founded by the Jesuit Rotella, in 1740, as an advanced post against the Caribs. An Indian village, known by the name of Cabritu,* had existed on the same spot for several ages. At the time when this little place became a Christian settlement, it was believed to be situate in 5° latitude, or two degrees forty minutes more to the south than I found it by direct observations made at San Rafael, and at La Boca del Rio Apure. No idea was then conceived of the direction of a road that could lead by land to Nueva Valencia and Caracas, which were supposed to be at an immense distance. The merit of having first crossed the Llanos to go to Cabruta from the Villa de San Juan Baptista del Pao belongs to a woman. Father Gili relates that Dona Maria Bargas was so devoted to the Jesuits that she attempted herself to discover the way to the missions. She was seen with astonishment to arrive at Cabruta from the north. She took up her abode near the fathers of St. Ignatius, and died in their settlements on the banks of the Orinoco. Since that period the northern part of the Llanos has been considerably peopled; and the road leading from the valleys of Aragua by Calabozo to San Fernando de Apure and Cabruta is much frequented. The chief of the famous expedition of the boundaries made choice of the latter place in 1754 to establish dock-yards for building the vessels necessary for conveying his troops intended for the Upper Orinoco. The little mountain that rises northeast of Cabruta can be discerned from afar in the steppes and serves as a landmark for travellers.
[* A cacique of Cabritu received Alonzo de Herrera at his dwelling, on the expedition undertaken by Herrera for ascending the Orinoco in 1535.]
We embarked in the morning at Caycara; and driving with the current of the Orinoco, we soon passed the mouth of the Rio Cuchivero, which according to ancient tradition is the country of the Aikeambenanos, or women without husbands; and we there reached the paltry village of Alta Gracia, which is called a Spanish town. It was near this place that Jose de Iturriaga founded the Pueblo de Ciudad Real, which still figures on the most modern maps, though it has not existed for fifty years past, on account of the insalubrity of its situation. Beyond the point where the Orinoco turns to the east, forests are constantly seen on the right bank, and the llanos or steppes of Venezuela on the left. The forests which border the river are not however so thick as those of the Upper Orinoco. The population, which augments perceptibly as you advance toward the capital, comprises but few Indians, and is composed chiefly of whites, negroes, and men of mixed descent. The number of the negroes is not great; but here, as everywhere else, the poverty of their masters does not tend to procure for them more humane treatment. An inhabitant of Caycara had just been condemned to four years’ imprisonment, and a fine of one hundred piastres for having, in a paroxysm of rage, tied a negress by the legs to the tail of his horse, and dragged her at full gallop through the savannah till she expired. It is gratifying to record that the Audiencia was generally blamed in the country for not having punished more severely so atrocious an action. Yet some few persons, who pretended to be the most enlightened and most sagacious of the community, deemed the punishment of a white contrary to sound policy, at the moment when the blacks of St. Domingo were in complete insurrection. Since I left those countries, civil dissensions have put arms into the hands of the slaves; and fatal experience has led the inhabitants of Venezuela to regret that they refused to listen to Don Domingo Tovar, and other right-thinking men, who, as early as the year 1795, lifted up their voices in the cabildo of Caracas, to prevent the introduction of blacks, and to propose means that might ameliorate their condition.
After having slept on the 10th of June in an island in the middle of the river (I believe that called Acaru by Father Caulin), we passed the mouth of the Rio Caura. This, the Aruy and the Carony, are the largest tributary streams which the Orinoco receives on its right bank. All the Christian settlements are near the mouth of the river; and the villages of San Pedro, Aripao, Urbani, and Guaraguaraico, succeed each other at the distance of a few leagues. The first and the most populous contains only about two hundred and fifty souls. San Luis de Guaraguaraico is a colony of negroes, some freed and others fugitives from Essequibo. This colony merits the particular attention of the Spanish Government, for it can never be sufficiently recommended to endeavour to attach the slaves to the soil, and suffer them to enjoy as farmers the fruits of their agricultural labours. The land on the Caura, for the most part a virgin soil, is extremely fertile. There are pasturages for more than 15,000 beasts; but the poor inhabitants have neither horses nor horned cattle. More than five-sixths of the banks of the Caura are either desert, or occupied by independent and savage tribes. The bed of the river is twice choked up by rocks: these obstructions occasion the famous Raudales of Mura and of Para or Paru, the latter of which has a portage, because it cannot be passed by canoes. At the time of the expedition of the boundaries, a small fort was erected on the northern cataract, that of Mura; and the governor, Don Manuel Centurion, gave the name of Ciudad de San Carlos to a few houses which some families, consisting of whites and mulattos, had constructed near the fort. South of the cataract of Para, at the confluence of the Caura and the Erevato, the mission of San Luis was then situated; and a road by land led thence to Angostura, the capital of the province. All these attempts at civilization have been fruitless. No village now exists above the Raudal of Mura; and here, as in many other parts of the colonies, the natives may be said to have reconquered the country from the Spaniards. The valley of Caura may become one day or other highly interesting from the value of its productions, and the communications which it affords with the Rio Ventuari, the Carony, and the Cuyuni. I have shown above the importance of the four tributary streams which the Orinoco receives from the mountains of Parima. Near the mouth of the Caura, between the villages of San Pedro de Alcantara and San Francisco de Aripao, a small lake of four hundred toises in diameter was formed in 1790, by the sinking of the ground, consequent on an earthquake. It was a portion of the forest of Aripao, which sunk to the depth of eighty or a hundred feet below the level of the neighbouring land. The trees remained green for several months; and some of them, it was believed, continued to push forth leaves beneath the water. This phenomenon is the more worthy of attention as the soil of these countries is probably granitic. I doubt the secondary formations of the Llanos being continued southward as far as the valley of Caura.
On the 11th of June we landed on the right bank of the Orinoco at Puerto de los Frailes, at the distance of three leagues above the Ciudad de la Piedra, to take altitudes of the sun. The longitude of this point is 67° 26′ 20″, or 1 degree 41 minutes east of the mouth of the Apure. Farther on, between the towns of La Piedra and Muitaco, or Real Corona, are the Torno and Boca del Infierno, two points formerly dreaded by travellers. The Orinoco suddenly changes its direction; it flows first east, then north-north-west, and then again east. A little above the Cano Marapiche, which opens on the northern bank, a very long island divides the river into two branches. We passed on the south of this island without difficulty; northward, a chain of small rocks, half covered at high water, forms whirlpools and rapids. This is La Boca del Infierno, and the Raudal de Camiseta. The first expeditions of Diego Ordaz (1531) and Alonzo de Herrera (1535) have given celebrity to this bar. The Great Cataracts of the Atures and Maypures were then unknown; and the clumsy vessels (vergantines), in which travellers persisted in going up the river, rendered the passage through the rapids extremely difficult. At present no apprehension is felt in ascending or descending the Orinoco, at any season, from its mouth as far as the confluence of the Apure and the Meta. The only falls of water in this space are those of Torno or Camiseta, Marimara, and Cariven or Carichana Vieja. Neither of these three obstacles is to be feared with experienced Indian pilots. I dwell on these hydrographic details because a great political and commercial interest is now connected with the communications between Angostura and the banks of the Meta and the Apure, two rivers that lead to the eastern side of the Cordilleras of New Grenada. The navigation from the mouth of the Lower Orinoco to the province of Varinas is difficult only on account of the current. The bed of the river nowhere presents obstacles more difficult to be surmounted than those of the Danube between Vienna and Linz. We meet with no great bars, no real cataracts, until we get above the Meta. The Upper Orinoco, therefore, with the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro, forms a particular system of rivers, where the active industry of Angostura and the shore of Caracas will remain long unknown.
I obtained horary angles of the sun in an island in the midst of the Boca del Infierno, where we had set up our instruments. The longitude of this point according to the chronometer is 67° 10′ 31″. I attempted to determine the magnetic dip and intensity, but was prevented by a heavy storm of rain. As the sky again became serene in the afternoon, we lay down to rest that night on a vast beach, on the southern bank of the Orinoco, nearly in the meridian of the little town of Muitaco, or Real Corona. I found the latitude by three stars to be 8° 0′ 26″, and the longitude 67° 5′ 19″. When the Observantin monks in 1752 made their first entradas on the territory of the Caribs, they constructed on this spot a small fort. The proximity of the lofty mountains of Araguacais renders Muitaco one of the most healthy places on the Lower Orinoco. There Iturriaga took up his abode in 1756, to repose after the fatigues of the expedition of the boundaries; and as he attributed his recovery to this hot rather than humid climate, the town, or more properly the village, of Real Corona took the name of Pueblo del Puerto sano. Going down the Orinoco more to the east, we left the mouth of the Rio Pao on the north, and that of the Arui on the south. The latter river, which is somewhat considerable, is often mentioned by Raleigh. The current of the Orinoco diminished in velocity as we advanced. I measured several times a base along the beach, to ascertain the time taken by floating bodies in traversing a known distance. Above Alta Gracia, near the mouth of the Rio Ujape, I had found the velocity of the Orinoco 2.3 feet in a second; between Muitaco and Borbon it was only 1.7 foot. The barometric observations made in the neighbouring steppes prove the small slope of the ground from the longitude of 69° to the eastern coast of Guiana. We found in this country, on the right bank of the Orinoco, small formations of primitive grunstein, superimposed on granite (perhaps even embedded in the rock). We saw between Muitaco and the island of Ceiba a hill entirely composed of balls with concentric layers, in which we perceived a close mixture of hornblende and feldspar, with some traces of pyrites. The grunstein resembles that in the vicinity of Caracas; but it was impossible to ascertain the position of a formation which appeared to me to be of the same age as the granite of Parima. Muitaco was the last spot where we slept in the open air on the shore of the Orinoco: we proceeded along the river two nights more before we reached Angostura, which terminated our voyage.
It would be difficult for me to express the satisfaction we felt on landing at Angostura, the capital of Spanish Guiana. The inconveniences endured at sea in small vessels are trivial in comparison with those that are suffered under a burning sky, surrounded by swarms of mosquitos, and lying stretched in a canoe, without the possibility of taking the least bodily exercise. In seventy-five days we had performed a passage of five hundred leagues (twenty to a degree) on the five great rivers, Apure, Orinoco, Atabapo, Rio Negro, and Cassiquiare; and in this vast extent we had found but a very small number of inhabited places. After the life we had led in the woods, our dress was not in the very best order, yet nevertheless M. Bonpland and I hastened to present ourselves to Don Felipe de Ynciarte, the governor of the province of Guiana. He received us in the most cordial manner, and lodged us in the house of the secretary of the Intendencia. Coming from an almost desert country, we were struck with the bustle of the town, though it contained only six thousand inhabitants. We admired the conveniences which industry and commerce furnish to civilized man. Humble dwellings appeared to us magnificent; and every person with whom we conversed seemed to be endowed with superior intelligence. Long privations give a value to the smallest enjoyments; and I cannot express the pleasure we felt when we saw for the first time wheaten bread on the governor’s table. Sensations of this sort are doubtless familiar to all who have made distant voyages.
A painful circumstance obliged us to sojourn a whole month in the town of Angostura. We felt ourselves on the first days after our arrival tired and enfeebled, but in perfect health. M. Bonpland began to examine the small number of plants which he had been able to save from the influence of the damp climate; and I was occupied in settling by astronomical observations the longitude and latitude of the capital,* as well as the dip of the magnetic needle. These labours were soon interrupted. We were both attacked almost on the same day by a disorder which with my fellow-traveller took the character of a debilitating fever. At this period the air was in a state of the greatest salubrity at Angostura; and as the only mulatto servant we had brought from Cumana felt symptoms of the same disorder, it was suspected that we had imbibed the germs of typhus in the damp forests of Cassiquiare. It is common enough for travellers to feel no effects from miasmata till, on arriving in a purer atmosphere, they begin to enjoy repose. A certain excitement of the mental powers may suspend for some time the action of pathogenic causes. Our mulatto servant having been much more exposed to the rains than we were, his disorder increased with frightful rapidity. His prostration of strength was excessive, and on the ninth day his death was announced to us. He was however only in a state of swooning, which lasted several hours, and was followed by a salutary crisis. I was attacked at the same time with a violent fit of fever, during which I was made to take a mixture of honey and bark (the cortex Angosturae): a remedy much extolled in the country by the Capuchin missionaries. The intensity of the fever augmented but it left me on the following day. M. Bonpland remained in a very alarming state which during several weeks caused us the most serious inquietude. Fortunately he preserved sufficient self-possession to prescribe for himself; and he preferred gentler remedies better adapted to his constitution. The fever was continual and, as almost always happens within the tropics, it was accompanied by dysentery. M. Bonpland displayed that courage and mildness of character which never forsook him in the most trying situations. I was agitated by sad presages for I remembered that the botanist Loefling, a pupil of Linnaeus, died not far from Angostura, near the banks of the Carony, a victim of his zeal for the progress of natural history. We had not yet passed a year in the torrid zone and my too faithful memory conjured up everything I had read in Europe on the dangers of the atmosphere inhaled in the forests. Instead of going up the Orinoco we might have sojourned some months in the temperate and salubrious climate of the Sierra Nevada de Merida. It was I who had chosen the path of the rivers; and the danger of my fellow-traveller presented itself to my mind as the fatal consequence of this imprudent choice.
[* I found the latitude of Santo Tomas de la Nueva Guiana, commonly called Angostura, or the Strait, near the cathedral, 8° 8′ 11″, the longitude 66° 15′ 21″.]
After having attained in a few days an extraordinary degree of exacerbation the fever assumed a less alarming character. The inflammation of the intestines yielded to the use of emollients obtained from malvaceous plants. The sidas and the melochias have singularly active properties in the torrid zone. The recovery of the patient however was extremely slow, as it always happens with Europeans who are not thoroughly seasoned to the climate. The period of the rains drew near; and in order to return to the coast of Cumana, it was necessary again to cross the Llanos, where, amidst half-inundated lands, it is rare to find shelter, or any other food than meat dried in the sun. To avoid exposing M. Bonpland to a dangerous relapse, we resolved to stay at Angostura till the 10th of July. We spent part of this time at a neighbouring plantation, where mango-trees and bread-fruit trees* were cultivated. The latter had attained in the tenth year a height of more than forty feet. We measured several leaves of the Artocarpus that were three feet long and eighteen inches broad, remarkable dimensions in a plant of the family of the dicotyledons.
[* Artocarpus incisa. Father Andujar, Capuchin missionary of the province of Caracas, zealous in the pursuit of natural history, has introduced the bread-fruit tree from Spanish Guiana at Varinas, and thence into the kingdom of New Grenada. Thus the western Coasts of America, washed by the Pacific, receive from the English Settlements in the West Indies a production of the Friendly Islands.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51