Night had set in when we crossed for the last time the bed of the Orinoco. We purposed to rest near the little fort San Rafael, and on the following morning at daybreak to set out on our journey through the plains of Venezuela. Nearly six weeks had elapsed since our arrival at Angostura; and we earnestly wished to reach the coast, with the view of finding, at Cumana, or at Nueva Barcelona, a vessel in which we might embark for the island of Cuba, thence to proceed to Mexico. After the sufferings to which we had been exposed during several months, whilst sailing in small boats on rivers infested by mosquitos, the idea of a sea voyage was not without its charms. We had no idea of ever again returning to South America. Sacrificing the Andes of Peru to the Archipelago of the Philippines (of which so little is known), we adhered to our old plan of remaining a year in New Spain, then proceeding in a galleon from Acapulco to Manila, and returning to Europe by way of Bassora and Aleppo. We imagined that, when we had once left the Spanish possessions in America, the fall of that ministry which had procured for us so many advantages, could not be prejudicial to the execution of our enterprise.
Our mules were in waiting for us on the left bank of the Orinoco. The collection of plants, and the different geological series which we had brought from the Esmeralda and Rio Negro, had greatly augmented our baggage; and, as it would have been dangerous to lose sight of our herbals, we expected to make a very slow journey across the Llanos. The heat was excessive, owing to the reverberation of the soil, which was almost everywhere destitute of vegetation; yet the centigrade thermometer during the day (in the shade) was only from thirty to thirty-four degrees, and during the night, from twenty-seven to twenty-eight degrees. Here, therefore, as almost everywhere within the tropics, it was less the absolute degree of heat than its duration that affected our sensations. We spent thirteen days in crossing the plains, resting a little in the Caribbee (Caraibes) missions and in the little town of Pao. The eastern part of the Llanos through which we passed, between Angostura and Nueva Barcelona, presents the same wild aspect as the western part, through which we had passed from the valleys of Aragua to San Fernando de Apure. In the season of drought, (which is here called summer,) though the sun is in the southern hemisphere, the breeze is felt with greater force in the Llanos of Cumana, than in those of Caracas; because those vast plains, like the cultivated fields of Lombardy, form an inland basin, open to the east, and closed on the north, south and west by high chains of primitive mountains. Unfortunately, we could not avail ourselves of this refreshing breeze, of which the Llaneros, or the inhabitants of the plains, speak with rapture. It was now the rainy season north of the equator; and though it did not rain in the plains, the change in the declination of the sun had for some time caused the action of the polar currents to cease. In the equatorial regions, where the traveller may direct his course by observing the direction of the clouds, and where the oscillations of the mercury in the barometer indicate the hour almost as well as a clock, everything is subject to a regular and uniform rule. The cessation of the breezes, the setting-in of the rainy season, and the frequency of electric explosions, are phenomena which are found to be connected together by immutable laws.
On entering the Llanos of Nueva Barcelona, we met with a Frenchman, at whose house we passed the first night, and who received us with the kindest hospitality. He was a native of Lyons, and he had left his country at a very early age. He appeared extremely indifferent to all that was passing beyond the Atlantic, or, as they say here, disdainfully enough, when speaking of Europe, on the other side of the great pool (al otro lado del charco). Our host was employed in joining large pieces of wood by means of a kind of glue called guayca. This substance, which is used by the carpenters of Angostura, resembles the best animal glue. It is found perfectly prepared between the bark and the alburnum of a creeper* of the family of the Combretaceae. It probably resembles in its chemical properties birdlime, the vegetable principle obtained from the berries of the mistletoe, and the internal bark of the holly. An astonishing abundance of this glutinous matter issues from the twining branches of the vejuco de guayca when they are cut. Thus we find within the tropics a substance in a state of purity and deposited in peculiar organs, which in the temperate zone can be procured only by artificial means.
[* Combretum guayca.]
We did not arrive until the third day at the Caribbee missions of Cari. We observed that the ground was less cracked by the drought in this country than in the Llanos of Calabozo. Some showers had revived the vegetation. Small gramina and especially those herbaceous sensitive-plants so useful in fattening half-wild cattle, formed a thick turf. At great distances one from another, there arose a few fan-palms (Corypha tectorum), rhopalas* (chaparro), and malpighias* with coriaceous and glossy leaves. The humid spots are recognized at a distance by groups of mauritia, which are the sago-trees of those countries. Near the coast this palm-tree constitutes the whole wealth of the Guaraon Indians; and it is somewhat remarkable that we also found it one hundred and sixty leagues farther south, in the midst of the forests of the Upper Orinoco, in the savannahs that surround the granitic peak of Duida.* It was loaded at this season with enormous clusters of red fruit, resembling fir-cones. Our monkeys were extremely fond of this fruit, which has the taste of an over-ripe apple. The monkeys were placed with our baggage on the backs of the mules, and they made great efforts to reach the clusters that hung over their heads. The plain was undulating from the effects of the mirage; and when, after travelling for an hour, we reached the trunks of the palm-trees, which appeared like masts in the horizon, we observed with astonishment how many things are connected with the existence of a single plant. The winds, losing their velocity when in contact with the foliage and the branches, accumulate sand around the trunk. The smell of the fruit and the brightness of the verdure attract from afar the birds of passage, which love to perch on the slender, arrow-like branches of the palm-tree. A soft murmuring is heard around; and overpowered by the heat, and accustomed to the melancholy silence of the plains, the traveller imagines he enjoys some degree of coolness on hearing the slightest sound of the foliage. If we examine the soil on the side opposite to the wind, we find it remains humid long after the rainy season. Insects and worms, everywhere else so rare in the Llanos, here assemble and multiply. This one solitary and often stunted tree, which would not claim the notice of the traveller amid the forests of the Orinoco, spreads life around it in the desert.
[* The Proteaceae are not, like the Araucaria, an exclusively southern form. We found the Rhopala complicata and the R. obovata, in 2° 30′, and in 10° of north latitude.]
[* A neighbouring genus, Byrsonima cocollobaefolia, B. laurifolia, near Matagorda, and B. ropalaefolia.]
[* The moriche, like the Sagus Rumphii, is a palm-tree of the marshes, not a palm-tree of the coast, like the Chamaerops humilis, the common cocoa-tree, and the lodoicea.]
On the 13th of July we arrived at the village of Cari, the first of the Caribbee missions that are under the Observantin monks of the college of Piritu. We lodged as usual at the convent, that is, with the clergyman. Our host could scarcely comprehend how natives of the north of Europe could arrive at his dwelling from the frontiers of Brazil by the Rio Negro, and not by way of the coast of Cumana. He behaved to us in the most affable manner, at the same time manifesting that somewhat importunate curiosity which the appearance of a stranger, not a Spaniard, always excites in South America. He expressed his belief that the minerals we had collected must contain gold; and that the plants, dried with so much care, must be medicinal. Here, as in many parts of Europe, the sciences are thought worthy to occupy the mind only so far as they confer some immediate and practical benefit on society.
We found more than five hundred Caribs in the village of Cari; and saw many others in the surrounding missions. It is curious to observe this nomad people, recently attached to the soil, and differing from all the other Indians in their physical and intellectual powers. They are a very tall race of men, their height being from five feet six inches, to five feet ten inches. According to a practice common in America, the women are more sparingly clothed than the men. The former wear only the guajuco, or perizoma, in the form of a band. The men have the lower part of the body wrapped in a piece of blue cloth, so dark as to be almost black. This drapery is so ample that, on the lowering of the temperature towards evening, the Caribs throw it over their shoulders. Their bodies tinged with onoto,* their tall figures, of a reddish copper-colour, and their picturesque drapery, when seen from a distance, relieved against the sky as a background, resemble antique statues of bronze. The men cut their hair in a very peculiar manner, very much in the style of the monks. A part of the forehead is shaved, which makes it appear extremely high, and a circular tuft of hair is left near the crown of the head. This resemblance between the Caribs and the monks is not the result of mission life. It is not caused, as had been erroneously supposed, by the desire of the natives to imitate their masters, the Franciscan monks. The tribes that have preserved their wild independence, between the sources of the Carony and the Rio Branco, are distinguished by the same cerquillo de frailes,* which the early Spanish historians at the time of the discovery of America attributed to the nations of the Carib race. All the men of this race whom we saw either during our voyage on the Lower Orinoco, or in the missions of Piritu, differ from the other Indians not only in the tallness of their stature, but also in the regularity of their features. Their noses are smaller, and less flattened; the cheek-bones are not so high; and their physiognomy has less of the Mongol character. Their eyes, which are darker than those of the other hordes of Guiana, denote intelligence, and it may even be said, the habit of reflection. The Caribs have a gravity of manner, and a certain look of sadness which is observable among most of the primitive inhabitants of the New World. The expression of severity in their features is heightened by the practice of dyeing their eyebrows with the juice of caruto: they also lengthen their eyebrows, thereby giving them the appearance of being joined together; and they often mark their faces all over with black spots to give themselves a more fierce appearance. The Carib women are less robust and good-looking than the men, On them devolves almost the whole burden of domestic work, as well as much of the out-door labour. They asked us eagerly for pins, which they stuck under their lower lip, making the head of the pin penetrate deeply into the skin. The young girls are painted red, and are almost naked. Among the different nations of the old and the new worlds, the idea of nudity is altogether relative. A woman in some parts of Asia is not permitted to show the tips of her fingers; while an Indian of the Carib race is far from considering herself unclothed if she wear round her waist a guajuco two inches broad. Even this band is regarded as less essential than the pigment which covers the skin. To go out of the hut without being painted, would be to transgress all the rules of Carib decency.
[* Rocou, obtained from the Bixa orellana. This paint is called in the Carib tongue, bichet.]
[* Circular tonsure of the friars.]
The Indians of the missions of Piritu especially attracted our attention, because they belong to a nation which, by its daring, its warlike enterprises, and its mercantile spirit has exercised great influence over the vast country extending from the equator towards the northern coast. Everywhere on the Orinoco we beheld traces of the hostile incursions of the Caribs: incursions which heretofore extended from the sources of the Carony and the Erevato as far as the banks of the Ventuari, the Atacavi, and the Rio Negro. The Carib language is consequently the most general in this part of the world; it has even passed (like the language of the Lenni–Lenapes, or Algonkins, and the Natchez or Muskoghees, on the west of the Allegheny mountains) to tribes which have not a common origin.
When we survey that multitude of nations spread over North and South America, eastward of the Cordilleras of the Andes, we fix our attention particularly on those who, having long held dominion over their neighbours, have acted an important part on the stage of the world. It is the business of the historian to group facts, to distinguish masses, to ascend to the common sources of many migrations and popular movements. Great empires, the regular organization of a sacerdotal hierarchy, and the culture which that organization favours in the first ages of society, have existed only on the high mountains of the western world. In Mexico we see a vast monarchy enclosing small republics; at Cundinamarca and Peru we find pure theocracies. Fortified towns, highways and large edifices of stone, an extraordinary development of the feudal system, the separation of castes, convents of men and women, religious congregations regulated by discipline more or less severe, complicated divisions of time connected with the calendars, the zodiacs, and the astrology of the enlightened nations of Asia — all these phenomena in America belong to one region only, the long and narrow Alpine band extending from the thirtieth degree of north latitude to the twenty-fifth degree of south. The migration of nations in the ancient world was from east to west; the Basques or Iberians, the Celts, the Germans and the Pelasgi, appeared in succession. In the New World similar migrations flowed from north to south. Among the nations that inhabit the two hemispheres, the direction of this movement followed that of the mountains; but in the torrid zone the temperate table-lands of the Cordilleras had greater influence on the destiny of mankind, than the mountains of Asia and central Europe. As, properly speaking, only civilized nations have a history, the history of the Americans is necessarily no more than that of a small portion of the inhabitants of the mountains. Profound obscurity envelops the vast country which stretches from the eastern slope of the Cordilleras towards the Atlantic; and for this very reason, whatever in that country relates to the preponderance of one nation over others, to distant migrations, to the physiognomical features which denote a foreign race, excite our deepest interest.
Amidst the plains of North America, some powerful nation, which has disappeared, constructed circular, square, and octagonal fortifications; walls six thousand toises in length; tumuli from seven to eight hundred feet in diameter, and one hundred and forty feet in height, sometimes round, sometimes with several stories and containing thousands of skeletons. These skeletons are the remains of men less slender and more squat than the present inhabitants of those countries. Other bones wrapped in fabrics resembling those of the Sandwich and Feejee Islands are found in the natural grottoes of Kentucky. What is become of those nations of Louisiana anterior to the Lenni–Lenapes, the Shawanese, and perhaps even to the Sioux (Nadowesses, Nahcotas) of the Missouri, who are strongly mongolised; and who, it is believed, according to their own traditions, came from the coast of Asia? In the plains of South America we find only a very few hillocks of that kind called cerros hechos a mano;* and nowhere any works of fortification analogous to those of the Ohio. However, on a vast space of ground, at the Lower Orinoco, as well as on the banks of the Cassiquiare and between the sources of the Essequibo and the Rio Branco, there are rocks of granite covered with symbolic figures. These sculptures denote that the extinct generations belonged to nations different from those which now inhabit the same regions. There seems to be no connection between the history of Mexico and that of Cundinamarca and of Peru; but in the plains of the east a warlike and long-dominant nation betrays in its features and its physical constitution traces of a foreign origin. The Caribs preserve traditions that seem to indicate ancient communications between North and South America. Such a phenomenon deserves particular attention. If it be true that savages are for the most part degenerate races, remnants escaped from a common wreck, as their languages, their cosmogonic fables, and numerous other indications seem to prove, it becomes doubly important to examine the course by which these remnants have been driven from one hemisphere to the other.
[* Hills made by the hand, or artificial hills.]
That fine race of people, the Caribs, now occupy only a small part of the country which they inhabited at the time of the discovery of America. The cruelties exercised by Europeans have entirely exterminated them from the West Indian Islands and the coasts of Darien; while under the government of the missions they have formed populous villages in the provinces of New Barcelona and Spanish Guiana. The Caribs who inhabit the Llanos of Piritu and the banks of the Carony and the Cuyuni may be estimated at more than thirty-five thousand. If we add to this number the independent Caribs who live westward of the mountains of Cayenne and Pacaraymo, between the sources of the Essequibo and the Rio Branco, we shall no doubt obtain a total of forty thousand individuals of pure race, unmixed with any other tribes of natives. Prior to my travels, the Caribs were mentioned in many geographical works as an extinct race. Writers unacquainted with the interior of the Spanish colonies of the continent supposed that the small islands of Dominica, Guadaloupe, and St. Vincent had been the principal abodes of that nation of which the only vestiges now remaining throughout the whole of the eastern West India Islands are skeletons petrified, or rather enveloped in a limestone containing madrepores.*
[* These skeletons were discovered in 1805 by M. Cortez. They are encased in a formation of madrepore breccia, which the negroes call God’s masonry, and which, like the travertin of Italy, envelops fragments of vases and other objects created by human skill. M. Dauxion Lavaysse and Dr. Koenig first made known in Europe this phenomenon which has greatly interested geologists.]
The name of Caribs, which I find for the first time in a letter of Peter Martyr d’Anghiera is derived from Calina and Caripuna, the l and p being transferred into r and b. It is very remarkable that this name, which Columbus heard pronounced by the people of Hayti, was known to exist at the same time among the Caribs of the islands and those of the continent. From the word Carina, or Calina, has been formed Galibi (Caribi). This is the distinctive denomination of a tribe in French Guiana,* who are of much more diminutive stature than the inhabitants of Cari, but speaking one of the numerous dialects of the Carib tongue. The inhabitants of the islands are called Calinago in the language of the men; and in that of the women, Callipinan. The difference in the language of the two sexes is more striking among the people of the Carib race than among other American nations (the Omaguas, the Guaranis, and the Chiquitos) where it applies only to a limited number of ideas; for instance, the words mother and child. It may be conceived that women, from their separate way of life, frame particular terms which men do not adopt. Cicero observes* that old forms of language are best preserved by women because by their position in society they are less exposed to those vicissitudes of life, changes of place and occupation which tend to corrupt the primitive purity of language among men. But in the Carib nations the contrast between the dialect of the two sexes is so great that to explain it satisfactorily we must refer to another cause; and this may perhaps be found in the barbarous custom, practised by those nations, of killing their male prisoners, and carrying the wives of the vanquished into captivity. When the Caribs made an irruption into the archipelago of the West India Islands, they arrived there as a band of warriors, not as colonists accompanied by their families. The language of the female sex was formed by degrees, as the conquerors contracted alliances with the foreign women; it was composed of new elements, words distinct from the Carib words,* which in the interior of the gynaeceums were transmitted from generation to generation, but on which the structure, the combinations, the grammatical forms of the language of the men exercised an influence. There was then manifested in a small community the peculiarity which we now find in the whole group of the nations of the New Continent. The American languages, from Hudson’s Bay to the Straits of Magellan, are in general characterized by a total disparity of words combined with a great analogy in their structure. They are like different substances invested with analogous forms. If we recollect that this phenomenon extends over one-half of our planet, almost from pole to pole; if we consider the shades in the grammatical forms (the genders applied to the three persons of the verb, the reduplications, the frequentatives, the duals); it appears highly astonishing to find a uniform tendency in the development of intelligence and language among so considerable a portion of the human race.
[* The Galibis (Calibitis), the Palicours, and the Acoquouas, also cut their hair in the style of the monks; and apply bandages to the legs of their children for the purpose of swelling the muscles. They have the same predilection for green stones (saussurite) which we observed among the Carib nations of the Orinoco. There exist, besides, in French Guiana, twenty Indian tribes which are distinguished from the Galibis though their language proves that they have a common origin.]
[* Cicero, de Orat. lib. 3 cap. 12 paragraph 45 ed. Verburg. Facilius enim mulieres incorruptam antiquitatem conservant, quod multorum sermonis expertes ea tenent semper, quae prima didicerunt.]
[* The following are examples of the difference between the language of the men (m), and the women (w); isle, oubao (m), acaera (w); man, ouekelli (m), eyeri (w); but, irhen (m), atica (w).]
We have just seen that the dialect of the Carib women in the West India Islands contains the vestiges of a language that was extinct. Some writers have imagined that this extinct language might be that of the Ygneris, or primitive inhabitants of the Caribbee Islands; others have traced in it some resemblance to the ancient idiom of Cuba, or to those of the Arowaks, and the Apalachites in Florida: but these hypotheses are all founded on a very imperfect knowledge of the idioms which it has been attempted to compare one with another.
The Spanish writers of the sixteenth century inform us that the Carib nations then extended over eighteen or nineteen degrees of latitude, from the Virgin Islands east of Porto Rico, to the mouths of the Amazon. Another prolongation toward the west, along the coast-chain of Santa Marta and Venezuela, appears less certain. Gomara, however, and the most ancient historians, give the name of Caribana, not, as it has since been applied, to the country between the sources of the Orinoco and the mountains of French Guiana,* but to the marshy plains between the mouths of the Rio Atrato and the Rio Sinu. I have visited those coasts in going from the Havannah to Porto Bello; and I there learned that the cape which bounds the gulf of Darien or Uraba on the east, still bears the name of Punta Caribana. An opinion heretofore prevailed pretty generally that the Caribs of the West India Islands derived their origin, and even their name, from these warlike people of Darien. “From the eastern shore springs Cape Uraba, which the natives call Caribana, whence the Caribs of the island are said to have received their present name.”* Thus Anghiera expresses himself in his Oceanica. He had been told by a nephew of Amerigo Vespucci that thence, as far as the snowy mountains of St. Marta, all the natives were e genere Caribium, vel Canibalium. I do not deny that Caribs may have had a settlement near the gulf of Darien, and that they may have been driven thither by the easterly currents; but it also may have happened that the Spanish navigators, little attentive to languages, gave the names Carib and Cannibal to every race of people of tall stature and ferocious character. Still it is by no means probable that the Caribs of the islands and of Parima took to themselves the name of the region which they had originally inhabited. On the east of the Andes and wherever civilization has not yet penetrated, it is the people who have given names to the places where they have settled.* The words Caribs and Cannibals appear significant; they are epithets referring to valour, strength and even superior intelligence.* It is worthy of remark that, at the arrival of the Portuguese, the Brazilians gave to their magicians the name of caraibes. We know that the Caribs of Parima were the most wandering people of America; possibly some wily individuals of that nation played the same part as the Chaldeans of the ancient continent. The names of nations readily become affixed to particular professions; and when, in the time of the Caesars, the superstitions of the East were introduced into Italy, the Chaldeans no more came from the banks of the Euphrates than our Gypsies (Egyptians or Bohemians) came from the banks of the Nile or the Elbe.
[* This name is found in the map of Hondius, of 1599, which accompanies the Latin edition of the narrative of Raleigh’s voyage. In the Dutch edition Nieuwe Caerte van het goudrycke landt Guiana, the Llanos of Caracas, between the mountains of Merida and the Rio Pao, bear the name of Caribana. We may remark here, what we observe so often in the history of geography, that the same denomination has spread by degrees from west to east.]
[* Inde Vrabam ab orientali prehendit ora, quam appellant indigenae Caribana, unde Caribes insulares originem habere nomenque retinere dicuntur.]
[* These names of places can be perpetuated only where the nations succeed immediately to each other, and where the tradition is interrupted. Thus in the province of Quito many of the summits of the Andes bear names which belong neither to the Quichua (the language of Inca) nor to the ancient language of the Paruays, governed by the Conchocando of Lican.]
[* Vespucci says: Charaibi magnae sapientiae viri.]
When a continent and its adjacent islands are peopled by one and the same race, we may choose between two hypotheses; supposing the emigration to have taken place either from the islands to the continent, or from the continent to the islands. The Iberians (Basques) who were settled at the same time in Spain and in the islands of the Mediterranean, afford an instance of this problem; as do also the Malays who appear to be indigenous in the peninsula of Malacca, and in the district of Menangkabao in the island of Sumatra.* The archipelago of the large and small West India Islands forms a narrow and broken neck of land, parallel with the isthmus of Panama, and supposed by some geographers to join the peninsula of Florida to the north-east extremity of South America. It is the eastern shore of an inland sea which may be considered as a basin with several outlets. This peculiar configuration of the land has served to support the different systems of migration, by which it has been attempted to explain the settlement of the nations of the Carib race in the islands and on the neighbouring continent. The Caribs of the continent admit that the small West India Islands were anciently inhabited by the Arowaks,* a warlike nation, the great mass of which still inhabit the insalubrious shores of Surinam and Berbice. They assert that the Arowaks, with the exception of the women, were all exterminated by Caribs, who came from the mouths of the Orinoco. In support of this tradition they refer to the traces of analogy existing between the language of the Arowaks and that of the Carib women; but it must be recollected that the Arowaks, though the enemies of the Caribs, belonged to the same branch of people; and that the same analogy exists between the Arowak and Carib languages as between the Greek and the Persian, the German and the Sanscrit. According to another tradition, the Caribs of the islands came from the south, not as conquerors, but because they were expelled from Guiana by the Arowaks, who originally ruled over all the neighbouring nations. Finally, a third tradition, much more general and more probable, represents the Caribs as having come from Florida, in North America. Mr. Bristock, a traveller who has collected every particular relating to these migrations from north to south, asserts that a tribe of Confachites (Confachiqui*) had long waged war against the Apalachites; that the latter, having yielded to that tribe the fertile district of Amana, called their new confederates Caribes (that is, valiant strangers); but that, owing to a dispute respecting their religious rites, the Confachite–Caribs were driven from Florida. They went first to the Yucayas or Lucayes Islands (to Cigateo and the neighbouring islands); thence to Ayay (Hayhay, now Santa Cruz), and to the lesser Caribbee Islands; and lastly to the continent of South America.* It is supposed that this event took place toward the year 1100 of our era. In the course of this long migration the Caribs had not touched at the larger islands; the inhabitants of which however also believed that they came originally from Florida. The islanders of Cuba, Hayti, and Boriken (Porto Rico) were, according to the uniform testimony of the first conquistadores, entirely different from the Caribs; and at the period of the discovery of America, the latter had already abandoned the group of the lesser Lucayes Islands; an archipelago in which there prevailed that variety of languages always found in lands peopled by shipwrecked men and fugitives.*
[* Crawfurd, Indian Archipelago volume 2 page 371. I make use of the word indigenous (autocthoni) not to indicate a fact of creation, which does not belong to history, but simply to denote that we are ignorant of the autocthoni having been preceded by any other people.]
[* Arouaques. The missionary Quandt (Nachricht von Surinam, 1807 page 47) calls them Arawackes.]
[* The province of Confachiqui, which in 1541 became subject to a woman, is celebrated by the expedition of Hernando de Soto to Florida. Among the nations of the Huron tongue, and the Attakapas, the supreme authority was also often exercised by women.]
[* Rochefort, Hist. des Antilles volume 1 pages 326 to 353; Garcia page 322; Robertson book 3 note 69. The conjecture of Father Gili that the Caribs of the continent may have come from the islands at the time of the first conquest of the Spaniards (Saggio volume 3 page 204), is at variance with all the statements of the early historians.]
[* La gente de las islas Yucayas era (1492) mas blanca y de major policia que la de Cuba y Haiti. Havia mucha diversidad de lenguas. [The people of the Lucayes were (1492) of fairer complexion and of more civilized manners than those of Cuba and Hayti. They had a great diversity of languages.] Gomara, Hist. de Ind. fol. 22.]
The dominion so long exercised by the Caribs over a great part of the continent, joined to the remembrance of their ancient greatness, has inspired them with a sentiment of dignity and national superiority which is manifest in their manners and their discourse. “We alone are a nation,” say they proverbially; “the rest of mankind (oquili) are made to serve us.” This contempt of the Caribs for their enemies is so strong that I saw a child of ten years of age foam with rage on being called a Cabre or Cavere; though he had never in his life seen an individual of that unfortunate race of people who gave their name to the town of Cabruta (Cabritu); and who, after long resistance, were almost entirely exterminated by the Caribs. Thus we find among half savage hordes, as in the most civilized part of Europe, those inveterate animosities which have caused the names of hostile nations to pass into their respective languages as insulting appellations.
The missionary of the village of Cari led us into several Indian huts, where extreme neatness and order prevailed. We observed with pain the torments which the Carib mothers inflict on their infants for the purpose not only of enlarging the calf of the leg, but also of raising the flesh in alternate stripes from the ankle to the top of the thigh. Narrow ligatures, consisting of bands of leather, or of woven cotton, are fixed two or three inches apart from each other, and being tightened more and more, the muscles between the bands become swollen. The monks of the missions, though ignorant of the works or even of the name of Rousseau, attempt to oppose this ancient system of physical education: but in vain. Man when just issued from the woods and supposed to be so simple in his manners, is far from being tractable in his ideas of beauty and propriety. I observed, however, with surprise, that the manner in which these poor children are bound, and which seems to obstruct the circulation of the blood, does not operate injuriously on their muscular movements. There is no race of men more robust and swifter in running than the Caribs.
If the women labour to form the legs and thighs of their children so as to produce what painters call undulating outlines, they abstain (at least in the Llanos), from flattening the head by compressing it between cushions and planks from the most tender age. This practice, so common heretofore in the islands and among several tribes of the Caribs of Parima and French Guiana, is not observed in the missions which we visited. The men there have foreheads rounder than those of the Chaymas, the Otomacs, the Macos, the Maravitans and most of the inhabitants of the Orinoco. A systematizer would say that the form is such as their intellectual faculties require. We were so much the more struck by this fact as some of the skulls of Caribs engraved in Europe, for works on anatomy, are distinguished from all other human skulls by the extremely depressed forehead and acute facial angle. In some osteological collections skulls supposed to be those of Caribs of the island of St. Vincent are in fact skulls shaped by having been pressed between planks. They have belonged to Zambos (black Caribs) who are descended from Negroes and true Caribs.* The barbarous habit of flattening the forehead is practised by several nations,* of people not of the same race; and it has been observed recently in North America; but nothing is more vague than the conclusion that some degree of conformity in customs and manners proves identity of origin. On observing the spirit of order and submission which prevails in the Carib missions, the traveller can scarcely persuade himself that he is among cannibals. This American word, of somewhat doubtful signification, is probably derived from the language of Hayti, or that of Porto Rico; and it has passed into the languages of Europe, since the end of the fifteenth century, as synonymous with that of anthropophagi. “These newly discovered man-eaters, so greedy of human flesh, are called Caribes or Cannibals,”* says Anghiera, in the third decade of his Oceanica, dedicated to Pope Leo X. There can be little doubt that the Caribs of the islands, when a conquering people, exercised cruelties upon the Ygneris, or ancient inhabitants of the West Indies, who were weak and not very warlike; but we must also admit that these cruelties were exaggerated by the early travellers, who heard only the narratives of the old enemies of the Caribs. It is not always the vanquished solely, who are calumniated by their contemporaries; the insolence of the conquerors is punished by the catalogue of their crimes being augmented.
[* These unfortunate remnants of a nation heretofore powerful were banished in 1795 to the Island of Rattam in the Bay of Honduras because they were accused by the English Government of having connexions with the French. In 1760 an able minister, M. Lescallier, proposed to the Court of Versailles to invite the Red and Black Caribs from St. Vincent to Guiana and to employ them as free men in the cultivation of the land. I doubt whether their number at that period amounted to six thousand, as the island of St. Vincent contained in 1787 not more than fourteen thousand inhabitants of all colours.]
[* For instance the Tapoyranas of Guiana (Barrere page 239), the Solkeeks of Upper Louisiana (Walckenaer, Cosmos page 583). Los Indios de Cumana, says Gomara (Hist. de Ind.), aprietan a los ninos la cabeca muy blando, pero mucho, entre dos almohadillas de algodon para ensancharlos la cara, que lo tienen por hermosura. Las donzellas traen senogiles muy apretados par debaxo y encima de las rodillas, para que los muslos y pantorillas engorden mucho. [The Indians of Cumana press down the heads of young infants tightly between cushions stuffed with cotton for the purpose of giving width to their faces, which they regard as a beauty. The young girls wear very tight bandages round their knees in order to give thickness to the thighs and calves of the legs.]]
[* Edaces humanarum carnium novi helluones anthropophagi, Caribes alias Canibales appellati.]
All the missionaries of the Carony, the Lower Orinoco and the Llanos del Cari whom we had an opportunity of consulting assured us that the Caribs are perhaps the least anthropophagous nations of the New Continent. They extend this remark even to the independent hordes who wander on the east of the Esmeralda, between the sources of the Rio Branco and the Essequibo. It may be conceived that the fury and despair with which the unhappy Caribs defended themselves against the Spaniards, when in 1504 a royal decree declared them slaves, may have contributed to acquire for them a reputation for ferocity. The first idea of attacking this nation and depriving it of liberty and of its natural rights originated with Christopher Columbus, who was not in all instances so humane as he is represented to have been. Subsequently the licenciado Rodrigo de Figueroa was appointed by the court, in 1520, to determine the tribes of South America, who were to be regarded as of Carib race, or as cannibals; and those who were Guatiaos,* that is, Indians of peace, and friends of the Castilians. The ethnographic document called El Auto de Figueroa is one of the most curious records of the barbarism of the first conquistadores. Without any attention to the analogy of languages, every nation that could be accused of having devoured a prisoner after a battle was arbitrarily declared of Carib race. The inhabitants of Uriapari (on the peninsula of Paria) were named Caribs; the Urinacos (settled on the banks of the Lower Orinoco, or Urinucu), Guatiaos. All the tribes designated by Figueroa as Caribs were condemned to slavery; and might at will be sold, or exterminated by war. In these sanguinary struggles, the Carib women, after the death of their husbands, defended themselves with such desperation that Anghiera says they were taken for tribes of Amazons. But amidst the cruelties exercised on the Caribs, it is consolatory to find, that there existed some courageous men who raised the voice of humanity and justice. Some of the monks embraced an opinion different from that which they had at first adopted. In an age when there could be no hope of founding public liberty on civil institutions, an attempt was at least made to defend individual liberty. “That is a most holy law (ley sanctissima),” says Gomara, in 1551, “by which our emperor has prohibited the reducing of the Indians to slavery. It is just that men, who are all born free, should not become the slaves of one another.”
[* I had some trouble in discovering the origin of this denomination which has become so important from the fatal decrees of Figueroa. The Spanish historians often employ the word guatiao to designate a branch of nations. To become a guatiao of any one seems to have signified, in the language of Hayti, to conclude a treaty of friendship. In the West India Islands, as well as in the archipelago of the South Sea, names were exchanged in token of alliance. Juan de Esquivel (1502) se hice guatiao del cacique Cotubanama; el qual desde adelante se llamo Juan de Esquivel, porque era liga de perpetua amistad entre los Indios trocarse los nombres: y trocados quedaban guatiaos, que era tanto coma confederados y hermanos en armas. Ponce de Leon se hace guatiao con el poderoso cacique Agueinaha.” Herrera dec. 1 pages 129, 159 and 181. [Juan de Esquivel (1502) became the guatiao of the cacique Cotubanama; and thenceforth the latter called himself Juan de Esquivel, for among the Indians the exchange of names was a bond of perpetual friendship. Those who exchanged names became guaitaos, which meant the same as confederates or brethren-inarms. Ponce de Leon became guatiao with the powerful cacique Agueinaha.] One of the Lucayes Islands, inhabited by a mild and pacific people, was heretofore called Guatao; but we will not insist on the etymology of this word, because the languages of the Lucayes Islands differed from those of Hayti.]
During our abode in the Carib missions, we observed with surprise the facility with which young Indians of eighteen years of age, when appointed to the post of alguazil, would harangue the municipality for whole hours in succession. Their tone of voice, their gravity of deportment, the gestures which accompanied their speech, all denoted an intelligent people capable of a high degree of civilization. A Franciscan monk, who knew enough of the Carib language to preach in it occasionally, pointed out to us that the long and harmonious periods which occur in the discourses of the Indians are never confused or obscure. Particular inflexions of the verb indicate beforehand the nature of the object, whether it be animate or inanimate, singular or plural. Little annexed forms (suffixes) mark the gradations of sentiment; and here, as in every language formed by a free development, clearness is the result of that regulating instinct which characterises human intelligence in the various stages of barbarism and cultivation. On holidays, after the celebration of mass, all the inhabitants of the village assemble in front of the church. The young girls place at the feet of the missionary faggots of wood, bunches of plantains, and other provision of which he stands in need for his household. At the same time the governador, the alguazil, and other municipal officers, all of whom are Indians, exhort the natives to labour, proclaim the occupations of the ensuing week, reprimand the idle, and flog the untractable. Strokes of the cane are received with the same insensibility as that with which they are given. It were better if the priest did not impose these corporal punishments at the instant of quitting the altar, and if he were not, in his sacerdotal habits, the spectator of this chastisement of men and women; but this abuse is inherent in the principle on which the strange government of the missions is founded. The most arbitrary civil power is combined with the authority exercised by the priest over the little community; and, although the Caribs are not cannibals, and we would wish to see them treated with mildness and indulgence, it may be conceived that energetic measures are sometimes necessary to maintain tranquillity in this rising society.
The difficulty of fixing the Caribs to the soil is the greater, as they have been for ages in the habit of trading on the rivers. We have already described this active people, at once commercial and warlike, occupied in the traffic of slaves, and carrying merchandize from the coasts of Dutch Guiana to the basin of the Amazon. The travelling Caribs were the Bokharians of equinoctial America. The necessity of counting the objects of their little trade, and transmitting intelligence, led them to extend and improve the use of the quipos, or, as they are called in the missions, the cordoncillos con necos (cords with knots). These quipos or knotted cords are found in Canada, in Mexico (where Boturini procured some from the Tlascaltecs), in Peru, in the plains of Guiana, in central Asia, in China, and in India. As rosaries, they have become objects of devotion in the hands of the Christians of the East; as suampans, they have been employed in the operations of manual arithmetic by the Chinese, the Tartars, and the Russians. The independent Caribs who inhabit the little-known country situated between the sources of the Orinoco and those of the rivers Essequibo, Carony, and Parima, are divided into tribes; and, like the nations of the Missouri, of Chili, and of ancient Germany, form a political confederation. This system is most in accordance with the spirit of liberty prevailing amongst those warlike hordes who see no advantage in the ties of society but for common defence. The pride of the Caribs leads them to withdraw themselves from every other tribe; even from those to whom, by their language, they have some affinity.
They claim the same separation in the missions, which seldom prosper when any attempt is made to associate them with other mixed communities, that is, with villages where every hut is inhabited by a family belonging to another nation and speaking another language. The authority of the chiefs of the independent Caribs is hereditary in the male line only, the children of sisters being excluded from the succession. This law of succession which is founded on a system of mistrust, denoting no great purity of manners, prevails in India; among the Ashantees (in Africa); and among several tribes of the savages of North America.* The young chiefs and other youths who are desirous of marrying, are subject to the most extraordinary fasts and penances, and are required to take medicines prepared by the marirris or piaches, called in the transalleghenian countries, war-physic. The Carribbee marirris are at once priests, jugglers and physicians; they transmit to their successors their doctrine, their artifices, and the remedies they employ. The latter are accompanied by imposition of hands, and certain gestures and mysterious practices, apparently connected with the most anciently known processes of animal magnetism. Though I had opportunities of seeing many persons who had closely observed the confederated Caribs, I could not learn whether the marirris belong to a particular caste. It is observed in North America that, among the Shawanese,* divided into several tribes, the priests, who preside at the sacrifices, must be (as among the Hebrews) of one particular tribe, that of the Mequachakes. Any facts that may hereafter be discovered in America respecting the remains of a sacerdotal caste appears to me calculated to excite great interest, on account of those priest-kings of Peru, who styled themselves the children of the Sun; and of those sun-kings among the Natchez, who recall to mind the Heliades of the first eastern colony of Rhodes.
[* Among the Hurons (Wyandots) and the Natchez the succession to the magistracy is continued by the women: it is not the son who succeeds, but the son of the sister, or of the nearest relation in the female line. This mode of succession is said to be the most certain because the supreme power remains attached to the blood of the last chief; it is a practice that insures legitimacy. Ancient traces of this strange mode of succession, so common in Africa and in the East Indies, exist in the dynasty of the kings of the West India Islands.]
[* People that came from Florida, or from the south (shawaneu) to the north.]
On quitting the mission of Cari, we had some difficulties to settle with our Indian muleteers. They had discovered that we had brought skeletons with us from the cavern of Ataruipe; and they were fully persuaded that the beasts of burden which carried the bodies of their old relations would perish on the journey.* Every precaution we had taken was useless; nothing escapes a Carib’s penetration and keen sense of smell, and it required all the authority of the missionary to forward our passage. We had to cross the Rio Cari in a boat, and the Rio de agua clara, by fording, or, it may almost be said, by swimming. The quicksands of the bed of this river render the passage very difficult at the season when the waters are high. The strength of the current seems surprising in so flat a country; but the rivers of the plains are precipitated, to quote a correct observation of Pliny the younger,* “less by the declivity of their course than by their abundance, and as it were by their own weight.” We had two bad stations, one at Matagorda and the other at Los Riecetos, before we reached the little town of Pao. We beheld everywhere the same objects; small huts constructed of reeds, and roofed with leather; men on horseback armed with lances, guarding the herds; herds of cattle half wild, remarkable for their uniform colour, and disputing the pasturage with horses and mules. No sheep or goats are found on these immense plains. Sheep do not thrive well in equinoctial America, except on table-lands above a thousand toises high, where their fleece is long and sometimes very fine. In the burning climate of the plains, where the wolves give place to jaguars, these small ruminating animals, destitute of means of defence, and slow in their movements, cannot be preserved in any considerable numbers.
[* See volume 2.24.]
[* Epist. lib. 8 ep. 8. Clitumnus non loci devexitate, sed ipsa sui copia et quasi pondere impellitur.]
We arrived on the 15th of July at the Fundacion, or Villa, del Pao, founded in 1744, and situated very favourably for a commercial station between Nueva Barcelona and Angostura. Its real name is El Concepcion del Pao. Alcedo, La Cruz, Olmedilla, and many other geographers, have mistaken the situation of this small town of the Llanos of Barcelona, confounding it either with San Juan Bauptisto del Pao of the Llanos of Caracas, or with El Valle del Pao de Zarate. Though the weather was cloudy I succeeded in obtaining some heights of alpha Centauri, serving to determine the latitude of the place; which is 8° 37′ 57″. Some altitudes of the sun gave me 67° 8′ 12″ for the longitude, supposing Angostura to be 66° 15′ 21″. The astronomical determinations of Calabozo and Concepcion del Pao are very important to the geography of this country, where, in the midst of savannahs, fixed points are altogether wanting. Some fruit-trees grow in the vicinity of Pao: they are rarely seen in the Llanos. We even found some cocoa-trees, which appeared very vigorous, notwithstanding the great distance of the sea. I was the more struck with this fact because doubts have recently been started respecting the veracity of travellers, who assert that they have seen the cocoa-tree, which is a palm of the shore, at Timbuctoo, in the centre of Africa. We several times saw cocoa-trees amid the cultivated spots on the banks of the Rio Magdalena, more than a hundred leagues from the coast.
Five days, which to us appeared very tedious, brought us from Villa del Pao to the port of Nueva Barcelona. As we advanced the sky became more serene, the soil more dusty, and the atmosphere more hot. The heat from which we suffered is not entirely owing to the temperature of the air, but is produced by the fine sand mingled with it; this sand strikes against the face of the traveller, as it does against the ball of the thermometer. I never observed the mercury rise in America, amid a wind of sand, above 45.8° centigrade. Captain Lyon, with whom I had the pleasure of conversing on his return from Mourzouk, appeared to me also inclined to think that the temperature of fifty-two degrees, so often felt in Fezzan, is produced in great part by the grains of quartz suspended in the atmosphere. Between Pao and the village of Santa Cruz de Cachipo, founded in 1749, and inhabited by five hundred Caribs, we passed the western elongation of the little table-land, known by the name of Mesa de Amana. This table-land forms a point of partition between the Orinoco, the Guarapiche, and the coast of New Andalusia. Its height is so inconsiderable that it would scarcely be an obstacle to the establishment of inland navigation in this part of the Llanos. The Rio Mano however, which flows into the Orinoco above the confluence of the Carony, and which D’Anville (I know not on what authority) has marked in the first edition of his great map as issuing from the lake of Valencia, and receiving the waters of the Guayra, could never have served as a natural canal between two basins of rivers. No bifurcation of this kind exists in the Llano. A great number of Carib Indians, who now inhabit the missions of Piritu, were formerly on the north and east of the table-land of Amana, between Maturin, the mouth of the Rio Arco, and the Guarapiche. The incursions of Don Joseph Careno, one of the most enterprising governors of the province of Cumana, occasioned a general migration of independent Caribs toward the banks of the Lower Orinoco in 1720.
The whole of this vast plain consists of secondary formations which to the southward rest immediately on the granitic mountains of the Orinoco. On the north-west they are separated by a narrow band of transition-rocks from the primitive mountains of the shore of Caracas. This abundance of secondary rocks, covering without interruption a space of more than seven thousand square leagues,* is a phenomenon the more remarkable in that region of the globe, because in the whole of the Sierra da la Parima, between the right bank of the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, there is, as in Scandinavia, a total absence of secondary formations. The red sandstone, containing some vestiges of fossil wood (of the family of monocotyledons) is seen everywhere in the plains of Calabozo: farther east it is overlaid by calcareous and gypseous rocks which conceal it from the research of the geologist. The marly gypsum, of which we collected specimens near the Carib mission of Cachipo, appeared to me to belong to the same formation as the gypsum of Ortiz. To class it according to the type of European formations I would range it among the gypsums, often muriatiferous, that cover the Alpine limestone or zechstein. Farther north, in the direction of the mission of San Josef de Curataquiche, M. Bonpland picked up in the plain some fine pieces of riband jasper, or Egyptian pebbles. We did not see them in their native place enchased in the rock, and cannot determine whether they belong to a very recent conglomerate or to that limestone which we saw at the Morro of Nueva Barcelona, and which is not transition limestone though it contains beds of schistose jasper (kieselschiefer).
[* Reckoning only that part of the Llanos which is bounded by the Rio Apure on the south, and by the Sierra Nevada de Merida and the Parima de las Rosas on the west.]
We rested on the night of the 16th of July in the Indian village of Santa Cruz de Cachipo. This mission, founded in 1749 by several Carib families who inhabited the inundated and unhealthy banks of the Lagunetas de Auache, is opposite the confluence of the Zir Puruay with the Orinoco. We lodged at the house of the missionary, Fray Jose de las Piedras; and, on examining the registers of the parish, we saw how rapidly the prosperity of the community has been advanced by his zeal and intelligence. Since we had reached the middle of the plains, the heat had increased to such a degree that we should have preferred travelling no more during the day; but we were without arms and the Llanos were then infested by large numbers of robbers who attacked and murdered the whites who fell into their hands. Nothing can be worse than the administration of justice in these colonies. We everywhere found the prisons filled with malefactors on whom sentence is not passed till after the lapse of seven or eight years. Nearly a third of the prisoners succeed in making their escape; and the unpeopled plains, filled with herds, furnish them with booty. They commit their depredations on horseback in the manner of the Bedouins. The insalubrity of the prisons would be attended with fatal results but that these receptacles are cleared from time to time by the flight of the prisoners. It also frequently happens that sentences of death, tardily pronounced by the Audiencia of Caracas, cannot be executed for want of a hangman. In these cases the barbarous custom is observed of pardoning one criminal on condition of his hanging the others. Our guides related to us that, a short time before our arrival on the coast of Cumana, a Zambo, known for the great ferocity of his manners, determined to screen himself from punishment by turning executioner. The preparations for the execution however, shook his resolution; he felt a horror of himself, and preferring death to the disgrace of thus saving his life, he called again for his irons which had been struck off. He did not long remain in prison, and he underwent his sentence through the baseness of one of his accomplices. This awakening of a sentiment of honour in the soul of a murderer is a psychologic phenomenon worthy of reflection. The man who had so often shed the blood of travellers in the plains recoiled at the idea of becoming the passive instrument of justice in inflicting upon others a punishment which he felt that he himself deserved.
If, even in the peaceful times when M. Bonpland and myself had the good fortune to travel through North and South America, the Llanos were the refuge of malefactors who had committed crimes in the missions of the Orinoco, or who had escaped from the prisons on the coast, how much worse must that state of things have been rendered by discord during the continuance of that sanguinary struggle which has terminated in conferring freedom and independence on those vast regions! Our European wastes and heaths are but a feeble image of the savannahs of the New Continent which for the space of eight or ten thousand square leagues are smooth as the surface of the sea. The immensity of their extent insures impunity to robbers, who conceal themselves more effectually in the savannahs than in our mountains and forests; and it is easy to conceive that even a European police would not be very effective in regions where there are travellers and no roads, herds and no herdsmen, and farms so solitary that notwithstanding the powerful action of the mirage, a journey of several days may be made without seeing one appear within the horizon.
Whilst traversing the Llanos of Caracas, New Barcelona, and Cumana, which succeed each other from west to east, from the snowy mountains of Merida to the Delta of the Orinoco, we feel anxious to know whether these vast tracts of land are destined by nature to serve eternally for pasture or whether they will at some future time be subject to the plough and the spade. This question is the more important as the Llanos, situated at the two extremities of South America, are obstacles to the political union of the provinces they separate. They prevent the agriculture of the coast of Venezuela from extending towards Guiana and they impede that of Potosi from advancing in the direction of the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. The intermediate Llanos preserve, together with pastoral life, somewhat of a rude and wild character which separates and keeps them remote from the civilization of countries anciently cultivated. Thus it has happened that in the war of independence they have been the scene of struggle between the hostile parties; and that the inhabitants of Calabozo have almost seen the fate of the confederate provinces of Venezuela and Cundinamarca decided before their walls. In assigning limits to the new states and to their subdivisions, it is to be hoped there may not be cause hereafter to repent having lost sight of the importance of the Llanos, and the influence they may have on the disunion of communities which important common interests should bring together. These plains would serve as natural boundaries like the seas or the virgin forests of the tropics, were it not that armies can cross them with greater facility, as their innumerable troops of horses and mules and herds of oxen furnish every means of conveyance and subsistence.
What we have seen of the power of man struggling against the force of nature in Gaul, in Germany and recently (but still beyond the tropics) in the United States, scarcely affords any just measure of what we may expect from the progress of civilization in the torrid zone. Forests disappear but very slowly by fire and the axe when the trunks of trees are from eight to ten feet in diameter; when in falling they rest one upon another, and the wood, moistened by almost continual rains, is excessively hard. The planters who inhabit the Llanos or Pampas do not generally admit the possibility of subjecting the soil to cultivation; it is a problem not yet solved. Most of the savannahs of Venezuela have not the same advantage as those of North America. The latter are traversed longitudinally by three great rivers, the Missouri, the Arkansas, and the Red River of Nachitoches; the savannahs of Araura, Calabozo, and Pao are crossed in a transverse direction only by the tributary streams of the Orinoco, the most westerly of which (the Cari, the Pao, the Acaru, and the Manapire) have very little water in the season of drought. These streams scarcely flow at all toward the north; so that in the centre of the Llanos there remain vast tracts of land called bancos and mesas* frightfully parched. The eastern parts, fertilized by the Portuguesa, the Masparro, and the Orivante, and by the tributary streams of those three rivers, are most susceptible of cultivation. The soil is sand mixed with clay, covering a bed of quartz pebbles. The vegetable mould, the principal source of the nutrition of plants, is everywhere extremely thin. It is scarcely augmented by the fall of the leaves, which, in the forests of the torrid zone, is less periodically regular than in temperate climates. During thousands of years the Llanos have been destitute of trees and brushwood; a few scattered palms in the savannah add little to that hydruret of carbon, that extractive matter, which, according to the experiments of Saussure, Davy, and Braconnot, gives fertility to the soil. The social plants which almost exclusively predominate in the steppes, are monocotyledons; and it is known how much grasses impoverish the soil into which their fibrous roots penetrate. This action of the killingias, paspalums and cenchri, which form the turf, is everywhere the same; but where the rock is ready to pierce the earth this varies according as it rests on red sandstone, or on compact limestone and gypsum; it varies according as periodical inundations accumulate mud on the lower grounds or as the shock of the waters carries away from the small elevations the little soil that has covered them. Many solitary cultivated spots already exist in the midst of the pastures where running water and tufts of the mauritia palm have been found. These farms, sown with maize, and planted with cassava, will multiply considerably if trees and shrubs be augmented.
[* The Spanish words banco and mesa signify literally bench and table. In the Llanos of South America little elevations rising slightly above the general elevation of the plain are called bancos and mesas from their supposed resemblance to benches and tables.]
The aridity and excessive heat of the mesas do not depend solely on the nature of their surface and the local reverberation of the soil; their climate is modified by the adjacent regions; by the whole of the Llano of which they form a part. In the deserts of Africa or Arabia, in the Llanos of South America, in the vast heaths extending from the extremity of Jutland to the mouth of the Scheldt, the stability of the limits of the desert, the savannahs, and the downs, depends chiefly on their immense extent and the nakedness these plains have acquired from some revolution destructive of the ancient vegetation of our planet. By their extent, their continuity, and their mass they oppose the inroads of cultivation and preserve, like inland gulfs, the stability of their boundaries. I will not enter upon the great question, whether in the Sahara, that Mediterranean of moving sands, the germs of organic life are increased in our days. In proportion as our geographical knowledge has extended we have discovered in the eastern part of the desert islets of verdure; oases covered with date-trees crowd together in more numerous archipelagos, and open their ports to the caravans; but we are ignorant whether the form of the oases have not remained constantly the same since the time of Herodotus. Our annals are too incomplete to enable us to follow Nature in her slow and gradual progress. From these spaces entirely bare whence some violent catastrophe has swept away the vegetable covering and the mould; from those deserts of Syria and Africa which, by their petrified wood, attest the changes they have undergone; let us turn to the grass-covered Llanos and to the consideration of phenomena that come nearer the circle of our daily observations. Respecting the possibility of a more general cultivation of the steppes of America, the colonists settled there, concur in the opinions I have deduced from the climatic action of these steppes considered as surfaces, or continuous masses. They have observed that downs enclosed within cultivated and wooded land sooner yield to the labours of the husbandman than soils alike circumscribed, but forming part of a vast surface of the same nature. This observation is extremely just whether in reference to soil covered with heath, as in the north of Europe; with cistuses, mastic-trees, or palmettos, as in Spain; or with cactuses, argemones, or brathys, as in equinoctial America. The more space the association occupies the more resistance do the social plants oppose to the labourer. With this general cause others are combined in the Llanos of Venezuela; namely the action of the small grasses which impoverish the soil; the total absence of trees and brushwood; the sandy winds, the heat of which is increased by contact with a surface absorbing the rays of the sun during twelve hours, and unshaded except by the stalks of the aristides, chanchuses, and paspalums. The progress observable on the vegetation of large trees and the cultivation of dicotyledonous plants in the vicinity of towns, (for instance around Calabozo and Pao) prove what may be gained upon the Llano by attacking it in small portions, enclosing it by degrees, and dividing it by coppices and canals of irrigation. Possibly the influence of the winds which render the soil sterile might be diminished by sowing on a large scale, for example, over fifteen or twenty acres, the seeds of the psidium, the croton, the cassia, or the tamarind, which prefer dry, open spots. I am far from believing that the savannahs will ever disappear entirely; or that the Llanos, so useful for pasturage and the trade in cattle, will ever be cultivated like the valleys of Aragua or other parts near the coast of Caracas and Cumana: but I am persuaded that in the lapse of ages a considerable portion of these plains, under a government favourable to industry, will lose the wild aspect which has characterized them since the first conquest by Europeans.
After three days’ journey we began to perceive the chain of the mountains of Cumana, which separates the Llanos, or, as they are often called here, the great sea of verdure,* from the coast of the Caribbean Sea. If the Bergantin be more than eight hundred toises high, it may be seen supposing only an ordinary refraction of one fourteenth of the arch, at the distance of twenty-seven nautical leagues; but the state of the atmosphere long concealed from us the majestic view of this curtain of mountains. It appeared at first like a fog-bank which hid the stars near the pole at their rising and setting; gradually this body of vapour seemed to augment and condense, to assume a bluish tint, and become bounded by sinuous and fixed outlines. The same effects which the mariner observes on approaching a new land present themselves to the traveller on the borders of the Llano. The horizon began to enlarge in some part and the vault of heaven seemed no longer to rest at an equal distance on the grass-covered soil. A llanero, or inhabitant of the Llanos, is happy only when, as expressed in the simple phraseology of the country, he can see everywhere well around him. What appears to European eyes a covered country, slightly undulated by a few scattered hills, is to him a rugged region bristled with mountains. After having passed several months in the thick forests of the Orinoco, in places where one is accustomed, when at any distance from the river, to see the stars only in the zenith, as through the mouth of a well, a journey in the Llanos is peculiarly agreeable and attractive. The traveller experiences new sensations; and, like the Llanero, he enjoys the happiness of seeing well around him. But this enjoyment, as we ourselves experienced, is not of long duration. There is doubtless something solemn and imposing in the aspect of a boundless horizon, whether viewed from the summits of the Andes or the highest Alps, amid the expanse of the ocean or in the vast plains of Venezuela and Tucuman. Infinity of space, as poets in every language say, is reflected within ourselves; it is associated with ideas of a superior order; it elevates the mind which delights in the calm of solitary meditation. It is true, also, that every view of unbounded space bears a peculiar character. The prospect surveyed from a solitary peak varies according as the clouds reposing on the plain extend in layers, are conglomerated in groups, or present to the astonished eye, through broad openings, the habitations of man, the labour of agriculture, or the verdant tint of the aerial ocean. An immense sheet of water, animated by a thousand various beings even to its utmost depths, changing perpetually in colour and aspect, moveable at its surface like the element that agitates it, all charm the imagination during long voyages by sea; but the dusty and creviced Llano, throughout a great part of the year, has a depressing influence on the mind by its unchanging monotony. When, after eight or ten days’ journey, the traveller becomes accustomed to the mirage and the brilliant verdure of a few tufts of mauritia* scattered from league to league, he feels the want of more varied impressions. He loves again to behold the great tropical trees, the wild rush of torrents or hills and valleys cultivated by the hand of the labourer. If the deserts of Africa and of the Llanos or savannahs of the New Continent filled a still greater space than they actually occupy, nature would be deprived of many of the beautiful products peculiar to the torrid zone.* The heaths of the north, the steppes of the Volga and the Don, are scarcely poorer in species of plants and animals than are the twenty-eight thousand square leagues of savannahs extending in a semicircle from north-east to south-west, from the mouths of the Orinoco to the banks of the Caqueta and the Putumayo, beneath the finest sky in the world, and in the land of plantains and bread-fruit trees. The influence of the equinoctial climate, everywhere else so vivifying, is not felt in places where the great associations of gramina almost exclude every other plant. Judging from the aspect of the soil we might have believed ourselves to be in the temperate zone and even still farther northward but that a few scattered palms, and at nightfall the fine constellations of the southern sky (the Centaur, Canopus, and the innumerable nebulae with which the Ship is resplendent), reminded us that we were only eight degrees distant from the equator.
[* Los Llanos son como un mar de yerbas — The Llanos are like a vast sea of grass — is an observation often repeated in these regions.]
[* The fan-palm, or sago-tree of Guiana.]
[* In calculating from maps on a very large scale I found the Llanos of Cumana, Barcelona, and Caracas, from the delta of the Orinoco to the northern bank of the Apure, 7200 square leagues; the Llanos between the Apure and Putumayo, 21,000 leagues; the Pampas on the north-west of Buenos Ayres, 40,000 square leagues; the Pampas south of the parallel of Buenos Ayres, 37,000 square leagues. The total area of the Llanos of South America, covered with gramina, is consequently 105,200 square leagues, twenty leagues to an equatorial degree.]
A phenomenon which fixed the attention of De Luc and which in these latter years has furnished a subject of speculation to geologists, occupied us much during our journey across the Llanos. I allude not to those blocks of primitive rock which occur, as in the Jura, on the slope of limestone mountains, but to those enormous blocks of granite and syenite which, in limits very distinctly marked by nature, are found scattered on the north of Holland, Germany and the countries of the Baltic. It seems to be now proved that, distributed as in radii, they came at the time of the ancient revolutions of our globe from the Scandinavian peninsula southward; and that they did not primitively belong to the granitic chains of the Harz and Erzgeberg, which they approach without, however, reaching their foot.* I was surprised at not seeing one of these blocks in the Llanos of Venezuela, though these immense plains are bounded on the south by the Sierra Parima, a group of mountains entirely granitic and exhibiting in its denticulated and often columnar peaks traces of the most violent destruction. Northward the granitic chain of the Silla de Caracas and Porto Cabello are separated from the Llanos by a screen of mountains that are schistose between Villa de Cura and Parapara, and calcareous between the Bergantin and Caripe. I was no less struck by this absence of blocks on the banks of the Amazon. La Condamine affirms that from the Pongo de Manseriche to the Strait of Pauxis not the smallest stone is to be found. Now the basin of the Rio Negro and of the Amazon is also a Llano, a plain like those of Venezuela and Buenos Ayres. The difference consists only in the state of vegetation. The two Llanos situated at the northern and southern extremities of South America are covered with gramina; they are treeless savannahs; but the intermediate Llano, that of the Amazon, exposed to almost continual equatorial rains, is a thick forest. I do not remember having heard that the Pampas of Buenos Ayres or the savannahs of the Missouri* and New Mexico contain granitic blocks. The absence of this phenomenon appears general in the New World as it probably also is in Sahara, in Africa; for we must not confound the rocky masses that pierce the soil in the midst of the desert, and of which travellers often make mention, with mere scattered fragments. These facts seem to prove that the blocks of Scandinavian granite which cover the sandy countries on the south of the Baltic, and those of Westphalia and Holland, must be traced to some local revolution. The ancient conglomerate (red sandstone) which covers a great part of the Llanos of Venezuela and of the basin of the Amazon contains no doubt fragments of the same primitive rocks which constitute the neighbouring mountains; but the convulsions of which these mountains exhibit evident marks, do not appear to have been attended with circumstances favourable to the removal of great blocks. This geognostic phenomenon was to me the more unexpected since there exists nowhere in the world so smooth a plain entirely granitic. Before my departure from Europe I had observed with surprise that there were no primitive blocks in Lombardy and in the great plain of Bavaria which appears to be the bottom of an ancient lake, and which is situated two hundred and fifty toises above the level of the ocean. It is bounded on the north by the granites of the Upper Palatinate; and on the south by Alpine limestone, transition-thonschiefer, and the mica-slates of the Tyrol.
[* Leopold von Buch, Voyage en Norwege volume 1 page 30.]
[* Are there any isolated blocks in North America northward of the great lakes?]
We arrived, on the 23rd of July, at the town of Nueva Barcelona, less fatigued by the heat of the Llanos, to which we had been long accustomed, than annoyed by the winds of sand which occasion painful chaps in the skin. Seven months previously, in going from Cumana to Caracas, we had rested a few hours at the Morro de Barcelona, a fortified rock, which, near the village of Pozuelos, is joined to the continent only by a neck of land. We were received with the kindest hospitality in the house of Don Pedro Lavie, a wealthy merchant of French extraction. This gentleman, who was accused of having given refuge to the unfortunate Espana when a fugitive on these coasts in 1796, was arrested by order of the Audiencia, and conveyed as a prisoner to Caracas. The friendship of the governor of Cumana and the remembrance of the services he had rendered to the rising commerce of those countries contributed to procure his liberty. We had endeavoured to alleviate his captivity by visiting him in prison; and we had now the satisfaction of finding him in the midst of his family. Illness under which he was suffering had been aggravated by confinement; and he sank into the grave without seeing the dawn of those days of independence, which his friend Don Joseph Espana had predicted on the scaffold prior to his execution. “I die,” said that man, who was formed for the accomplishment of grand projects, “I die an ignominious death; but my fellow citizens will soon piously collect my ashes, and my name will reappear with glory.” These remarkable words were uttered in the public square of Caracas, on the 8th of May, 1799.
In 1790 Nueva Barcelona contained scarcely ten thousand inhabitants, and in 1800, its population was more than sixteen thousand. The town was founded in 1637 by a Catalonian conquistador, named Juan Urpin. A fruitless attempt was then made, to give the whole province the name of New Catalonia. As our maps often mark two towns, Barcelona and Cumanagoto, instead of one, and as the two names are considered as synonymous, it may be well to explain the cause of this error. Anciently, at the mouth of the Rio Neveri, there was an Indian town, built in 1588 by Lucas Faxardo, and named San Cristoval de los Cumanagotos. This town was peopled solely by natives who came from the saltworks of Apaicuare. In 1637 Urpin founded, two leagues farther inland, the Spanish town of Nueva Barcelona, which he peopled with some of the inhabitants of Cumanagoto, together with some Catalonians. For thirty-four years, disputes were incessantly arising between the two neighbouring communities till in 1671, the governor Angulo succeeded in persuading them to establish themselves on a third spot, where the town of Barcelona now stands. According to my observations it is situated in latitude 10° 6′ 52″.* The ancient town of Cumanagoto is celebrated in the country for a miraculous image of the Virgin,* which the Indians say was found in the hollow trunk of an old tutumo, or calabash-tree (Crescentia cujete). This image was carried in procession to Nueva Barcelona; but whenever the clergy were dissatisfied with the inhabitants of the new city, the Virgin fled at night, and returned to the trunk of the tree at the mouth of the river. This miracle did not cease till a fine convent (the college of the Propaganda) was built, to receive the Franciscans. In a similar case, the Bishop of Caracas caused the image of Our Lady de los Valencianos to be placed in the archives of the bishopric, where she remained thirty years under seal.
[* These observations were made on the Plaza Major. They are merely the result of six circum-meridian heights of Canopus, taken all in one night. In Las Memorias de Espinosa the latitude is stated to be 10° 9′ 6″. The result of M. Ferrer’s observations made it 10° 8′ 24″.]
[* La milagrosa imagen de Maria Santissima del Socorro, also called La Virgen del Tutumo.]
The climate of Barcelona is not so hot as that of Cumana but it is extremely damp and somewhat unhealthy in the rainy season. M. Bonpland had borne very well the irksome journey across the Llanos; and had recovered his strength and activity. With respect to myself, I suffered more at Barcelona than I did at Angostura, immediately after our passage on the rivers. One of those extraordinary tropical rains during which, at sunset, drops of enormous size fall at great distances from one another, caused me to experience sensations which seemed to threaten an attack of typhus, a disease then prevalent on that coast. We remained nearly a month at Barcelona where we found our friend Fray Juan Gonzales, of whom I have often spoken, and who had traversed the Upper Orinoco before us. He expressed regret that we had not been able to prolong our visit to that unknown country; and he examined our plants and animals with that interest which must be felt by even the most uninformed man for the productions of a region he has long since visited. Fray Juan had resolved to go to Europe and to accompany us as far as the island of Cuba. We were together for the space of seven months, and his society was most agreeable: he was cheerful, intelligent and obliging. How little did we anticipate the sad fate that awaited him. He took charge of a part of our collections; and a friend of his own confided to his care a child who was to be conveyed to Spain for its education. Alas! the collection, the child and the young ecclesiastic were all buried in the waves.
South-east of Nueva Barcelona, at the distance of two Leagues, there rises a lofty chain of mountains, abutting on the Cerro del Bergantin, which is visible at Cumana. This spot is known by the name of the hot waters, (aguas calientes). When I felt my health sufficiently restored, we made an excursion thither on a cool and misty morning. The waters, which are loaded with sulphuretted hydrogen, issue from a quartzose sandstone, lying on compact limestone, the same as that we had examined at the Morro. We again found in this limestone intercalated beds of black hornstein, passing into kieselschiefer. It is not, however, a transition rock; by its position, its division into small strata, its whiteness and its dull and conchoidal fractures (with very flattened cavities), it rather approximates to the limestone of Jura. The real kieselschiefer and Lydian-stone have not been observed hitherto except in the transition-slates and limestones. Is the sandstone whence the springs of the Bergantin issue of the same formation as the sandstone of the Imposible and the Tumiriquiri? The temperature of the thermal waters is only 43.2° centigrade (the atmosphere being 27). They flow first to the distance of forty toises over the rocky surface of the ground; then they rush down into a natural cavern; and finally they pierce through the limestone to issue out at the foot of the mountain on the left bank of the little river Narigual. The springs, while in contact with the oxygen of the atmosphere, deposit a good deal of sulphur. I did not collect, as I had done at Mariara, the bubbles of air that rise in jets from these thermal waters. They no doubt contain a large quantity of nitrogen because the sulphuretted hydrogen decomposes the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen dissolved in the spring. The sulphurous waters of San Juan which issue from calcareous rock, like those of the Bergantin, have also a low temperature (31.3°); while in the same region the temperature of the sulphurous waters of Mariara and Las Trincheras (near Porto Cabello), which gush immediately from gneiss-granite, is 58.9° the former, and 90.4° the latter. It would seem as if the heat which these springs acquire in the interior of the globe diminishes in proportion as they pass from primitive to secondary superposed rocks.
Our excursion to the Aguas Calientes of Bergantin ended with a vexatious accident. Our host had lent us one of his finest saddle-horses. We were warned at the same time not to ford the little river of Narigual. We passed over a sort of bridge, or rather some trunks of trees laid closely together, and we made our horses swim, holding their bridles. The horse I had ridden suddenly disappeared after struggling for some time under water: all our endeavours to discover the cause of this accident were fruitless. Our guides conjectured that the animal’s legs had been seized by the caymans which are very numerous in those parts. My perplexity was extreme: delicacy and the affluent circumstances of my host forbade me to think of repairing his loss; and M. Lavie, more considerate of our situation than sensible of his own misfortune, endeavoured to tranquillize us by exaggerating the facility with which fine horses were procurable from the neighbouring savannahs.
The crocodiles of the Rio Neveri are large and numerous, especially near the mouth of the river; but in general they are less fierce than the crocodiles of the Orinoco. These animals manifest in America the same contrasts of ferocity as in Egypt and Nubia: this fact is obvious when we compare with attention the narratives of Burckhardt and Belzoni. The state of cultivation in different countries and the amount of population in the proximity of rivers modify the habits of these large saurians: they are timid when on dry ground and they flee from man, even in the water, when they are not in want of food and when they perceive any danger in attacking. The Indians of Nueva Barcelona convey wood to market in a singular manner. Large logs of zygophyllum and caesalpinia* are thrown into the river and carried down by the stream, while the owners of the wood swim here and there to float the pieces that are stopped by the windings of the banks. This could not be done in the greater part of those American rivers in which crocodiles are found. The town of Barcelona has not, like Cumana, an Indian suburb; and the only natives who are seen there are inhabitants of the neighbouring missions or of huts scattered in the plain. Neither the one nor the other are of Carib race, but a mixture of the Cumanagotos, Palenkas and Piritus; short, stunted, indolent and addicted to drinking. Fermented cassava is here the favourite beverage; the wine of the palm-tree, which is used on the Orinoco, being almost unknown on the coast. It is curious to observe that men in different zones, to satisfy the passion of inebriety, employ not only all the families of monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants, but even the poisonous Agaric (Amanita muscaria) of which, with disgusting economy, the Coriacs have learnt to drink the same juice several times during five successive days.*
[* The Lecythis ollaria, in the vicinity of Nueva Barcelona, furnishes excellent timber. We saw trunks of this tree seventy feet high. Around the town, beyond that arid zone of cactus which separates Nueva Barcelona from the steppe, grow the Clerodendrum tenuifolium, the Ionidium itubu, which resembles the Viola, and the Allionia violacea.]
[* Mr. Langsdor (Wetterauisches Journal part 1 page 254) first made known this very extraordinary physiological phenomenon, which I prefer describing in Latin: Coriaecorum gens, in ora Asiae septentrioni opposita, potum sibi excogitavit ex succo inebriante agarici muscarii. Qui succus (aeque ut asparagorum), vel per humanum corpus transfusus, temulentiam nihilominus facit. Quare gens misera et inops, quo rarius mentis sit suae, propriam urinam bibit identidem: continuoque mingens rursusque hauriens eundem succum (dicas, ne ulla in parte mundi desit ebrietas), pauculis agaricis producere in diem quintum temulentiam potest.]
The packet boats (correos) from Corunna bound for the Havannah and Mexico had been due three months; and it was believed they had been taken by the English cruisers stationed on this coast. Anxious to reach Cumana, in order to avail ourselves of the first opportunity that might offer for our passage to Vera Cruz, we hired an open boat called a lancha, a sort of craft employed habitually in the latitudes east of Cape Codera where the sea is scarcely ever rough. Our lancha, which was laden with cacao, carried on a contraband trade with the island of Trinidad. For this reason the owner imagined we had nothing to fear from the enemy’s vessels, which then blockaded all the Spanish ports. We embarked our collection of plants, our instruments and our monkeys; and, the weather being delightful, we hoped to make a very short passage from the mouth of the Rio Neveri to Cumana: but we had scarcely reached the narrow channel between the continent and the rocky isles of Borracha and the Chimanas, when to our great surprise we came in sight of an armed boat, which, whilst hailing us from a great distance, fired some musket-shot at us. The boat belonged to a privateer of Halifax; and I recognized among the sailors a Prussian, a native of Memel. I had found no opportunity, since my arrival in America, of expressing myself in my native language, and I could have wished to have spoken it on a less unpleasant occasion. Our protestations were without effect: we were carried on board the privateer, and the captain, affecting not to recognize the passports delivered by the governor of Trinidad for the illicit trade, declared us to be a lawful prize. Being a little in the habit of speaking English, I entered into conversation with the captain, begging not to be taken to Nova Scotia, but to be put on shore on the neighbouring coast. While I endeavoured, in the cabin, to defend my own rights and those of the owner of the lancha, I heard a noise on deck. Something was whispered to the captain, who left us in consternation. Happily for us, an English sloop of war, the Hawk, was cruising in those parts, and had signalled the captain to bring to; but the signal not being promptly answered, a gun was fired from the sloop and a midshipman sent on board our vessel. He was a polite young man, and gave me hopes that the lancha, which was laden with cacao, would be given up, and that on the following day we might pursue our voyage. In the meantime he invited me to accompany him on board the sloop, assuring me that his commander, Captain Garnier, would furnish me with better accommodation for the night than I should find in the vessel from Halifax.
I accepted these obliging offers and was received with the utmost kindness by Captain Garnier, who had made the voyage to the north-west coast of America with Vancouver, and who appeared to be highly interested in all I related to him respecting the great cataracts of Atures and Maypures, the bifurcation of the Orinoco and its communication with the Amazon. He introduced to me several of his officers who had been with Lord Macartney in China. I had not, during the space of a year, enjoyed the society of so many well-informed persons. They had learned from the English newspapers the object of my enterprise. I was treated with great confidence and the commander gave me up his own state-room. They gave me at parting the astronomical Ephemerides for those years which I had not been able to procure in France or Spain. I am indebted to Captain Garnier for the observations I was enabled to make on the satellites beyond the equator and I feel it a duty to record here the gratitude I feel for his kindness. Coming from the forests of Cassiquiare, and having been confined during whole months to the narrow circle of missionary life, we felt a high gratification at meeting for the first time with men who had sailed round the world, and whose ideas were enlarged by so extensive and varied a course. I quitted the English vessel with impressions which are not yet effaced from my remembrance, and which rendered me more than ever satisfied with the career on which I had entered.
We continued our passage on the following day; and were surprised at the depth of the channels between the Caracas Islands, where the sloop worked her way through them almost touching the rocks. How much do these calcareous islets, of which the form and direction call to mind the great catastrophe that separated from them the mainland, differ in aspect from the volcanic archipelago on the north of Lanzerote where the hills of basalt seem to have been heaved up from the bottom of the sea! Numbers of pelicans and of flamingos, which fished in the nooks or harassed the pelicans in order to seize their prey, indicated our approach to the coast of Cumana. It is curious to observe at sunrise how the sea-birds suddenly appear and animate the scene, reminding us, in the most solitary regions, of the activity of our cities at the dawn of day. At nine in the morning we reached the gulf of Cariaco which serves as a roadstead to the town of Cumana. The hill, crowned by the castle of San Antonio, stood out, prominent from its whiteness, on the dark curtain of the inland mountains. We gazed with interest on the shore, where we first gathered plants in America, and where, some months later, M. Bonpland had been in such danger. Among the cactuses, that rise in columns twenty feet high, appear the Indian huts of the Guaykeries. Every part of the landscape was familiar to us; the forest of cactus, the scattered huts and that enormous ceiba, beneath which we loved to bathe at the approach of night. Our friends at Cumana came out to meet us: men of all castes, whom our frequent herborizations had brought into contact with us, expressed the greater joy at sight of us, as a report that we had perished on the banks of the Orinoco had been current for several months. These reports had their origin either in the severe illness of M. Bonpland, or in the fact of our boat having been nearly lost in a gale above the mission of Uruana.
We hastened to visit the governor, Don Vicente Emparan, whose recommendations and constant solicitude had been so useful to us during the long journey we had just terminated. He procured for us, in the centre of the town, a house which, though perhaps too lofty in a country exposed to violent earthquakes, was extremely useful for our instruments. We enjoyed from its terraces a majestic view of the sea, of the isthmus of Araya, and the archipelago of the islands of Caracas, Picuita and Borracha. The port of Cumana was every day more and more closely blockaded, and the vain expectation of the arrival of Spanish packets detained us two months and a half longer. We were often nearly tempted to go to the Danish islands which enjoyed a happy neutrality; but we feared that, if we left the Spanish colonies, we might find some obstacles to our return. With the ample freedom which in a moment of favour had been granted to us, we did not consider it prudent to hazard anything that might give umbrage to the local authorities. We employed our time in completing the Flora of Cumana, geologically examining the eastern part of the peninsula of Araya, and observing many eclipses of satellites, which confirmed the longitude of the place already obtained by other means. We also made experiments on the extraordinary refractions, on evaporation and on atmospheric electricity.
The living animals which we had brought from the Orinoco were objects of great curiosity to the inhabitants of Cumana. The capuchin of the Esmeralda (Simia chiropotes), which so much resembles man in the expression of its physiognomy; and the sleeping monkey (Simia trivirgata), which is the type of a new group; had never yet been seen on that coast. We destined them for the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes at Paris. The arrival of a French squadron which had failed in an attack upon Curacao furnished us, unexpectedly, with an excellent opportunity for sending them to Guadaloupe; and General Jeannet, together with the commissary Bresseau, agent of the executive power at the Antilles, promised to convey them. The monkeys and birds died at Guadaloupe but fortunately the skin of the Simia chiropotes, the only one in Europe, was sent a few years ago to the Jardin des Plantes, where the couxio (Simia satanas) and the stentor or alouate of the steppes of Caracas (Simia ursina) had been already received. The arrival of so great a number of French military officers and the manifestation of political and religious opinions not altogether conformable with the interests of the governments of Europe excited singular agitation in the population of Cumana. The governor treated the French authorities with the forms of civility consistent with the friendly relations subsisting at that period between France and Spain. In the streets the coloured people crowded round the agent of the French Directory, whose dress was rich and theatrical. White men, too, with indiscreet curiosity, whenever they could make themselves understood, made enquiries concerning the degree of influence granted by the republic to the colonists in the government of Guadaloupe. The king’s officers doubled their zeal in furnishing provision for the little squadron. Strangers, who boasted that they were free, appeared to these people troublesome guests; and in a country of which the growing prosperity depended on clandestine communication with the islands, and on a freedom of trade forced from the ministry, the European Spaniards extolled the wisdom of the old code of laws (leyes de Indias) which permitted the entrance of foreign vessels into their ports only in extreme cases of want or distress. These contrasts between the restless desires of the colonists and the distrustful apathy of the government, throw some light on the great political events which, after long preparation, have separated Spain from her colonies.
We again passed a few agreeable days, from the third to the fifth of November, at the peninsula of Araya, situated beyond the gulf of Cariaco, opposite to Cumana.* We were informed that the Indians carried to the town from time to time considerable quantities of native alum, found in the neighbouring mountains. The specimens shown to us sufficiently indicated that it was neither alunite, similar to the rock of Tolfa and Piombino, nor those capillary and silky salts of alkaline sulphate of alumina and magnesia that line the clefts and cavities of rocks, but real masses of native alum, with a conchoidal or imperfectly lamellar fracture. We were led to hope that we should find the mine of alum (mina de alun) in the slaty cordillera of Maniquarez, and so new a geological phenomenon was calculated to rivet our attention. The priest Juan Gonzales, and the treasurer, Don Manuel Navarete, who had been useful to us from our first arrival on this coast, accompanied us in our little excursion. We disembarked near Cape Caney and again visited the ancient salt-pit (which is converted into a lake by the irruption of the sea), the fine ruins of the castle of Araya and the calcareous mountain of the Barigon, which, from its steepness on the western side is somewhat difficult of access. Muriatiferous clay mixed with bitumen and lenticular gypsum and sometimes passing to a darkish brown clay, devoid of salt, is a formation widely spread through this peninsula, in the island of Margareta and on the opposite continent, near the castle of San Antonio de Cumana. Probably the existence of this formation has contributed to produce those ruptures and rents in the ground which strike the eye of the geologist when he stands on one of the eminences of the peninsula of Araya. The cordillera of this peninsula, composed of mica-slate and clay-slate, is separated on the north from the chain of mountains of the island of Margareta (which are of a similar composition) by the channel of Cubagua; and on the south it is separated from the lofty calcareous chain of the continent, by the gulf of Cariaco. The whole intermediate space appears to have been heretofore filled with muriatiferous clay; and no doubt the continual erosions of the ocean have removed this formation and converted the plain, first into lakes, then into gulfs, and finally into navigable channels. The account of what has passed in the most modern times at the foot of the castle of Araya, the irruption of the sea into the ancient salt-pit, the formation of the laguna de Chacopata and a lake, four leagues in length, which cuts the island of Margareta nearly into two parts, afford evident proofs of these successive erosions. In the singular configuration of the coasts in the Morro of Chacopata; in the little islands of the Caribbees, the Lobos and Tunal; in the great island of Coche, and the capes of Carnero and Mangliers there still seem to be apparent the remains of an isthmus which, stretching from north to south, formerly joined the peninsula of Araya to the island of Margareta. In that island a neck of very low land, three thousand toises long, and less than two hundred toises broad, conceals on the northern sides the two hilly groups, known by the names of La Vega de San Juan and the Macanao. The Laguna Grande of Margareta has a very narrow opening to the south and small boats pass by portage over the neck of land or northern dyke. Though the waters on these shores seem at present to recede from the continent it is nevertheless very probable that in the lapse of ages, either by an earthquake or by a sudden rising of the ocean, the long island of Margareta will be divided into two rocky islands of a trapezoidal form.
[* I have already described the pearls of Araya; its sulphurous deposits and submarine springs of liquid and colourless petroleum. See volume 1.5.]
The limestone of the Barigon, which is a part of the great formation of sandstone or calcareous breccia of Cumana, is filled with fossil shells in as perfect preservation as those of other tertiary limestones in France and Italy. We detached some blocks containing oysters eight inches in diameter, pectens, venuses, and lithophyte polypi. I recommend to naturalists better versed in the knowledge of fossils than I then was, to examine with care this mountainous coast (which is easy of access to European vessels) in their way to Cumana, Guayra or Curacao. It would be curious to discover whether any of these shells and these species of petrified zoophytes still inhabit the seas of the West Indies, as M. Bonpland conjectured, and as is the case in the island of Timor and perhaps in Guadaloupe.
We sailed on the 4th of November, at one o’clock in the morning, in search of the mine of native alum. I took with me the chronometer and my large Dollond telescope, intending to observe at the Laguna Chica (Small Lake), east of the village of Maniquarez, the immersion of the first satellite of Jupiter; this design, however, was not accomplished, contrary winds having prevented our arrival before daylight. The spectacle of the phosphorescence of the ocean and the sports of the porpoises which surrounded our canoe somewhat atoned for this disappointment. We again passed those spots where springs of petroleum gush from mica-slate at the bottom of the sea and the smell of which is perceptible from a considerable distance. When it is recollected that farther eastward, near Cariaco, the hot and submarine waters are sufficiently abundant to change the temperature of the gulf at its surface, we cannot doubt that the petroleum is the effect of distillation at an immense depth, issuing from those primitive rocks beneath which lies the focus of all volcanic commotion.
The Laguna Chica is a cove surrounded by perpendicular mountains, and connected with the gulf of Cariaco only by a narrow channel twenty-five fathoms deep. It seems, like the fine port of Acapulco, to owe its existence to the effect of an earthquake. A beach shows that the sea is here receding from the land, as on the opposite coast of Cumana. The peninsula of Araya, which narrows between Cape Mero and Cape las Minas to one thousand four hundred toises, is little more than four thousand toises in breadth near the Laguna Chica, reckoning from one sea to the other. We had to cross this distance in order to find the native alum and to reach the cape called the Punta de Chuparuparu. The road is difficult only because no path is traced; and between precipices of some depth we were obliged to step over ridges of bare rock, the strata of which are much inclined. The principal point is nearly two hundred and twenty toises high; but the mountains, as it often happens in a rocky isthmus, display very singular forms. The Paps (tetas) of Chacopata and Cariaco, midway between the Laguna Chica and the town of Cariaco, are peaks which appear isolated when viewed from the platform of the castle of Cumana. The vegetable earth in this country is only thirty toises above sea level. Sometimes there is no rain for the space of fifteen months; if, however, a few drops fall immediately after the flowering of the melons and gourds, they yield fruit weighing from sixty to seventy pounds, notwithstanding the apparent dryness of the air. I say apparent dryness, for my hygrometric observations prove that the atmosphere of Cumana and Araya contains nearly nine-tenths of the quantity of watery vapour necessary to its perfect saturation. It is this air, at once hot and humid, that nourishes those vegetable reservoirs, the cucurbitaceous plants, the agaves and melocactuses half-buried in the sand. When we visited the peninsula the preceding year there was a great scarcity of water; the goats for want of grass died by hundreds. During our stay at the Orinoco the order of the seasons seemed to be entirely changed. At Araya, Cochen, and even in the island of Margareta it had rained abundantly; and those showers were remembered by the inhabitants in the same way as a fall of aerolites would be noted in the recollection of the naturalists of Europe.
The Indian who was our guide scarcely knew in what direction we should find the alum; he was ignorant of its real position. This ignorance of localities characterises almost all the guides here, who are chosen from among the most indolent class of the people. We wandered for eight or nine hours among rocks totally bare of vegetation. The mica-slate passes sometimes to clay-slate of a darkish grey. I was again struck by the extreme regularity in the direction and inclination of the strata. They run north 50° east, inclining from 60 to 70° north-west. This is the general direction which I had observed in the gneiss-granite of Caracas and the Orinoco, in the hornblende-slates of Angostura, and even in the greater part of the secondary rocks we had just examined. The beds, over a vast extent of land, make the same angle with the meridian of the place; they present a parallelism, which may be considered as one of the great geologic laws capable of being verified by precise measures. Advancing toward Cape Chuparuparu, the veins of quartz that cross the mica-slate increase in size. We found some from one to two toises broad, full of small fasciculated crystals of rutile titanite. We sought in vain for cyanite, which we had discovered in some blocks near Maniquarez. Farther on the mica-state presents not veins, but little beds of graphite or carburetted iron. They are from two to three inches thick and have precisely the same direction and inclination as the rock. Graphite, in primitive soils, marks the first appearance of carbon on the globe — that of carbon uncombined with hydrogen. It is anterior to the period when the surface of the earth became covered with monocotyledonous plants. From the summit of those wild mountains there is a majestic view of the island of Margareta. Two groups of mountains already mentioned, those of Macanao and La Vega de San Juan, rise from the bosom of the waters. The capital of the island, La Asuncion, the port of Pampatar, and the villages of Pueblo de la Mar, Pueblo del Norte and San Juan belong to the second and most easterly of these groups. The western group, the Macanao, is almost entirely uninhabited. The isthmus that divides these large masses of mica-slate was scarcely visible; its form appeared changed by the effect of the mirage and we recognized the intermediate part, through which runs the Laguna Grande, only by two small hills of a sugarloaf form, in the meridian of the Punta de Piedras. Nearer we look down on the small desert archipelago of the four Morros del Tunal, the Caribbee and the Lobos Islands.
After much vain search we at length found, before we descended to the northern coast of the peninsula of Araya, in a ravine of very difficult access (Aroyo del Robalo), the mineral which had been shown to us at Cumana. The mica-slate changed suddenly into carburetted and shining clay-slate. It was an ampelite; and the waters (for there are small springs in those parts, and some have recently been discovered near the village of Maniquarez) were impregnated with yellow oxide of iron and had a styptic taste. We found the sides of the neighbouring rocks lined with capillary sulphate of alumina in effervescence; and real beds, two inches thick, full of native alum, extending as far as the eye could reach in the clay slate. The alum is greyish white, somewhat dull on the surface and of an almost glassy lustre internally. Its fracture is not fibrous but imperfectly conchoidal. It is slightly translucent when its fragments are thin; and has a sweetish and astringent taste without any bitter mixture. When on the spot, I proposed to myself the question whether this alum, so pure, and filling beds in the clay-slate without leaving the smallest void, be of a formation contemporary with the rock, or whether it be of a recent, and in some sort secondary, origin, like the muriate of soda, found sometimes in small veins, where strongly concentrated springs traverse beds of gypsum or clay. In these parts nothing seems to indicate a process of formation likely to be renewed in our days. The slaty rock exhibits no open cleft; and none is found parallel with the direction of the slates. It may also be inquired whether this aluminous slate be a transition-formation lying on the primitive mica-slate of Araya, or whether it owe its origin merely to a change of composition and texture in the beds of mica-slate. I lean to the latter proposition; for the transition is progressive, and the clay-slate (thonschiefer) and mica-slate appear to me to constitute here but one formation. The presence of cyanite, rutile-titanite, and garnets, and the absence of Lydian stone, and all fragmentary or arenaceous rocks, seem to characterise the formation we describe as primitive. It is asserted that even in Europe ampelite and green stone are found, though rarely, in slates anterior to transition-slate.
When, in 1785, after an earthquake, a great rocky mass was broken off in the Aroyo del Robalo, the Guaykeries of Los Serritos collected fragments of alum five or six inches in diameter, extremely pure and transparent. It was sold in my time at Cumana to the dyers and tanners, at the price of two reals* per pound, while alum from Spain cost twelve reals. This difference of price was more the result of prejudice and of the impediments to trade, than of the inferior quality of the alum of the country, which is fit for use without undergoing any purification. It is also found in the chain of mica-slate and clay-slate, on the north-west coast of the island of Trinidad, at Margareta and near Cape Chuparuparu, north of the Cerro del Distiladero.* The Indians, who are naturally addicted to concealment, are not inclined to make known the spots whence they obtain native alum; but it must be abundant, for I have seen very considerable quantities of it in their possession at a time.
[* The real is about 6 1/2 English pence.]
[* Another place was mentioned to us, west of Bordones, the Puerto Escondido. But that coast appeared to me to be wholly calcareous; and I cannot conceive where could be the situation of ampelite and native alum on this point. Was it in the beds of slaty clay that alternate with the alpine limestone of Cumanacoa? Fibrous alum is found in Europe only in formations posterior to those of transition, in lignites and other tertiary formations belonging to the lignites.]
South America at present receives its alum from Europe, as Europe in its turn received it from the natives of Asia previous to the fifteenth century. Mineralogists, before my travels, knew no substances which, without addition, calcined or not calcined, could directly yield alum (sulphate of alumina and potash), except rocks of trachytic formation, and small veins traversing beds of lignite and bituminous wood. Both these substances, so different in their origin, contain all that constitutes alum, that is to say, alumina, sulphuric acid and potash. The ores of Tolfa, Milo and Nipoligo; those of Montione, in which silica does not accompany the alumina; the siliceous breccia of Mont Dore, which contains sulphur in its cavities; the alumiferous rocks of Parad and Beregh in Hungary, which belong also to trachytic and pumice conglomerates, may no doubt be traced to the penetration of sulphurous acid vapours. They are the products of a feeble and prolonged volcanic action, as may be easily ascertained in the solfataras of Puzzuoli and the Peak of Teneriffe. The alumite of Tolfa, which, since my return to Europe, I have examined on the spot, conjointly with Gay–Lussac, has, by its oryctognostic characters and its chemical composition, a considerable affinity to compact feldspar, which constitutes the basis of so many trachytes and transition-porphyries. It is a siliciferous subsulphate of alumina and potash, a compact feldspar, with the addition of sulphuric acid completely formed in it. The waters circulating in these alumiferous rocks of volcanic origin do not, however, deposit masses of native alum, to yield which the rocks must be roasted. I know not of any deposits analogous to those I brought from Cumana; for the capillary and fibrous masses found in veins traversing beds of lignites (as on the banks of the Egra, between Saatz and Commothau in Bohemia), or efflorescing in cavities (as at Freienwalde in Brandenburg, and at Segario in Sardinia), are impure salts, often destitute of potash, and mixed with the sulphates of ammonia and magnesia. A slow decomposition of the pyrites, which probably act as so many little galvanic piles, renders the waters alumiferous, that circulate across the bituminous lignites and carburetted clays. These waters, in contact with carbonate of lime, even give rise to the deposits of subsulphate of alumina (destitute of potash), found near Halle, and formerly believed erroneously to be pure alumina belonging, like the porcelain earth (kaolin) of Morl, to porphyry of red sandstone. Analogous chemical actions may take place in primitive and transition slates as well as in tertiary formations. All slates, and this fact is very important, contain nearly five per cent of potash, sulphuret of iron, peroxide of iron, carbon, etc. The contact of so many moistened heterogeneous substances must necessarily lead them to a change of state and composition. The efflorescent salts that abundantly cover the aluminous slates of Robalo, show how much these chemical effects are favoured by the high temperature of the climate; but, I repeat, in a rock where there are no crevices, no vacuities parallel to the direction and inclination of the strata, native alum, semitransparent and of conchoidal fracture, completely filling its place (its beds), must be regarded as of the same age with the rock in which it is contained. The term contemporary formation is here taken in the sense attached to it by geologists, in speaking of beds of quartz in clay-slate, granular limestone in mica-slate or feldspar in gneiss.
After having for a long time wandered over barren scenes amidst rocks entirely devoid of vegetation, our eyes dwelt with pleasure on tufts of malpighia and croton, which we found in descending toward the coast. These arborescent crotons were of two new species,* very remarkable for their form, and peculiar to the peninsula of Araya. We arrived too late at the Laguna Chica to visit another rock situated farther east and celebrated by the name of the Laguna Grande, or the Laguna del Obispo.* We contented ourselves with admiring it from the height of the mountains that command the view; and, excepting the ports of Ferrol and Acapulco, there is perhaps none presenting a more extraordinary configuration. It is an inland gulf two miles and a half long from east to west, and one mile broad. The rocks of mica-slate that form the entrance of the port leave a free passage only two hundred and fifty toises broad. The water is everywhere from fifteen to twenty-five fathoms deep. Probably the government of Cumana will one day take advantage of the possession of this inland gulf and of that of Mochima,* eight leagues east of the bad road of Nueva Barcelona. The family of M. Navarete were waiting for us with impatience on the beach; and, though our boat carried a large sail, we did not arrive at Maniquarez before night.
[* Croton argyrophyllus and C. marginatus.]
[* Great Lake, or the Bishop’s Lake.]
[* This is a long narrow gulf, three miles from north to south, similar to the fiords of Norway.]
We prolonged our stay at Cumana only a fortnight. Having lost all hope of the arrival of a packet from Corunna, we availed ourselves of an American vessel, laden at Nueva Barcelona with salt provision for the island of Cuba. We had now passed sixteen months on this coast and in the interior of Venezuela, and on the 16th of November we parted from our friends at Cumana to make the passage for the third time across the gulf of Cariaco to Nueva Barcelona. The night was cool and delicious. It was not without emotion that we beheld for the last time the disc of the moon illuminating the summit of the cocoa-trees that surround the banks of the Manzanares. The breeze was strong and in less than six hours we anchored near the Morro of Nueva Barcelona, where the vessel which was to take us to the Havannah was ready to sail.
Last updated Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 23:03