THE first weeks of our abode at Cumana were employed in testing our instruments, in herborizing in the neighbouring plains, and in examining the traces of the earthquake of the 14th of December, 1797. Overpowered at once by a great number of objects, we were somewhat embarrassed how to lay down a regular plan of study and observation. Whilst every surrounding object was fitted to inspire in us the most lively interest, our physical and astronomical instruments in their turns excited strongly the curiosity of the inhabitants. We had numerous visitors; and in our desire to satisfy persons who appeared so happy to see the spots of the moon through Dollond’s telescope, the absorption of two gases in a eudiometrical tube, or the effects of galvanism on the motions of a frog, we were obliged to answer questions often obscure, and to repeat for whole hours the same experiments. These scenes were renewed for the space of five years, whenever we took up our abode in a place where it was understood that we were in possession of microscopes, telescopes, and electrical apparatus.
I could not begin a regular course of astronomical observations before the 28th of July, though it was highly important for me to know the longitude given by Berthoud’s time-keeper; but it happened, that in a country where the sky is constantly clear and serene, no stars appeared for several nights. The whole series of the observations I made in 1799 and 1800 give for their results, that the latitude of the great square at Cumana is 10° 27′ 52″, and its longitude 66° 30′ 2″. This longitude is founded on the difference of time, on lunar distances, on the eclipse of the sun (on the 28th of October, 1799), and on ten immersions of Jupiter’s satellites, compared with observations made in Europe. The oldest chart we have of the continent, that of Don Diego Ribeiro, geographer to the emperor Charles the Fifth, places Cumana in latitude 9° 30′; which differs fifty-eight minutes from the real latitude, and half a degree from that marked by Jefferies in his American Pilot, published in 1794. During three centuries the whole of the coast of Terra Firma has been laid down too far to the south: this has been owing to the current near the island of Trinidad, which sets toward the north, and mariners are led by their dead-reckoning to think themselves farther south than they really are.
On the 17th of August a halo round the moon fixed the attention of the inhabitants of Cumana, who considered it as the presage of some violent earthquake; for, according to popular notions, all extraordinary phenomena are immediately connected with each other. Coloured circles around the moon are much more rare in northern countries than in Provence, Italy, and Spain. They are seen particularly (and this fact is singular enough) when the sky is clear, and the weather seems to be most fair and settled. Under the torrid zone beautiful prismatic colours appear almost every night, and even at the time of the greatest droughts; often in the space of a few minutes they disappear several times, because, doubtless, the superior currents change the state of the floating vapours, by which the light is refracted. I sometimes even observed, between the fifteenth degree of latitude and the equator, small halos around the planet Venus; the purple, orange, and violet, were distinctly perceived: but I never saw any colours around Sirius, Canopus, or Acherner.
While the halo was visible at Cumana, the hygrometer denoted great humidity; nevertheless the vapours appeared so perfectly in solution, or rather so elastic and uniformly disseminated, that they did not alter the transparency of the atmosphere. The moon arose after a storm of rain, behind the castle of San Antonio. As soon as she appeared on the horizon, we distinguished two circles: one large and whitish, forty-four degrees in diameter; the other a small circle of 1 degree 43 minutes, displaying all the colours of the rainbow. The space between the two circles was of the deepest azure. At four degrees height, they disappeared, while the meteorological instruments indicated not the slightest change in the lower regions of the air. This phenomenon had nothing extraordinary, except the great brilliancy of the colours, added to the circumstance, that, according to the measures taken with Ramsden’s sextant, the lunar disk was not exactly in the centre of the haloes. Without this actual measurement we might have thought that the excentricity was the effect of the projection of the circles on the apparent concavity of the sky.
If the situation of our house at Cumana was highly favourable for the observation of the stars and meteorological phenomena, it obliged us to be sometimes the witnesses of painful scenes during the day. A part of the great square is surrounded with arcades, above which is one of those long wooden galleries, common in warm countries. This was the place where slaves, brought from the coast of Africa, were sold. Of all the European governments Denmark was the first, and for a long time the only power, which abolished the traffic; yet notwithstanding that fact, the first negroes we saw exposed for sale had been landed from a Danish slave-ship. What are the duties of humanity, national honour, or the laws of their country, to men stimulated by the speculations of sordid interest?
The slaves exposed to sale were young men from fifteen to twenty years of age. Every morning cocoa-nut oil was distributed among them, with which they rubbed their bodies, to give their skin a black polish. The persons who came to purchase examined the teeth of these slaves, to judge of their age and health; forcing open their mouths as we do those of horses in a market. This odious custom dates from Africa, as is proved by the faithful pictures drawn by the inimitable Cervantes,* who after his long captivity among the Moors, described the sale of Christian slaves at Algiers. It is distressing to think that even at this day there exist European colonists in the West Indies who mark their slaves with a hot iron, to know them again if they escape. This is the treatment bestowed on those “who save other men the labour of sowing, tilling, and reaping.”*
[* El Trato de Argel. Jorn. 2 Viage al Parnasso 1784 page 316.]
[* La Bruyere Caracteres edition 1765 chapter 11 page 300. I will here cite a passage strongly characteristic of La Bruyere’s benevolent feeling for his fellow-creatures. “We find (under the torrid zone) certain wild animals, male and female, scattered through the country, black, livid, and all over scorched by the sun, bent to the earth which they dig and turn up with invincible perseverance. They have something like articulate utterance; and when they stand up on their feet, they exhibit a human face, and in fact these creatures are men.”]
In 1800 the number of slaves did not exceed six thousand in the two provinces of Cumana and Barcelona, when at the same period the whole population was estimated at one hundred and ten thousand inhabitants. The trade in African slaves, which the laws of the Spaniards have never favoured, is almost as nothing on these coasts where the trade in American slaves was carried on in the sixteenth century with desolating activity. Macarapan, anciently called Amaracapana, Cumana, Araya, and particularly New Cadiz, built on the islet of Cubagua, might then be considered as commercial establishments for facilitating the slave trade. Girolamo Benzoni of Milan, who at the age of twenty-two visited Terra Firma, took part in some expeditions in 1542 to the coasts of Bordones, Cariaco, and Paria, to carry off the unfortunate natives, he relates with simplicity, and often with a sensibility not common in the historians of that time, the examples of cruelty of which he was a witness. He saw the slaves dragged to New Cadiz, to be marked on the forehead and on the arms, and for the payment of the quint to the officers of the crown. From this port the Indians were sent to the island of Haiti or St. Domingo, after having often changed masters, not by way of sale, but because the soldiers played for them at dice.
The first excursion we made was to the peninsula of Araya, and those countries formerly celebrated for the slave-trade and the pearl-fishery. We embarked on the Rio Manzanares, near the Indian suburb, on the 19th of August, about two in the morning. The principal objects of this excursion were, to see the ruins of the castle of Araya, to examine the salt-works, and to make a few geological observations on the mountains forming the narrow peninsula of Maniquarez. The night was delightfully cool; swarms of phosphorescent insects* glistened in the air, and over a soil covered with sesuvium, and groves of mimosa which bordered the river. We know how common the glow-worm* is in Italy and in all the south of Europe, but the picturesque effect it produces cannot be compared to those innumerable, scattered, and moving lights, which embellish the nights of the torrid zone, and seem to repeat on the earth, along the vast extent of the savannahs, the brilliancy of the starry vault of heaven.
[* Elater noctilucus. ]
[* Lampyris italica, L. noctiluca.]
When, on descending the river, we drew near plantations, or charas, we saw bonfires kindled by the negroes. A light and undulating smoke rose to the tops of the palm-trees, and imparted a reddish hue to the disk of the moon. It was on a Sunday night, and the slaves were dancing to the music of the guitar. The people of Africa, of negro race, are endowed with an inexhaustible store of activity and gaiety. After having ended the labours of the week, the slaves, on festival days, prefer to listless sleep the recreations of music and dancing.
The bark in which we passed the gulf of Cariaco was very spacious. Large skins of the jaguar, or American tiger, were spread for our repose during the night. Though we had yet scarcely been two months in the torrid zone, we had already become so sensible to the smallest variation of temperature that the cold prevented us from sleeping; while, to our surprise, we saw that the centigrade thermometer was as high as 21.8°. This fact is familiar to those who have lived long in the Indies, and is worthy the attention of physiologists. Bouguer relates, that when he reached the summit of Montagne Pelee, in the island of Martinique, he and his companions shivered with cold, though the heat was above 21.5°. In reading the interesting narrative of captain Bligh, who, in consequence of a mutiny on board the Bounty, was forced to make a voyage of twelve hundred leagues in an open boat, we find that that navigator, in the tenth and twelfth degrees of south latitude, suffered much more from cold than from hunger. During our abode at Guayaquil, in the month of January 1803, we observed that the natives covered themselves, and complained of the cold, when the thermometer sank to 23.8°, whilst they felt the heat suffocating at 30.5°. Six or seven degrees were sufficient to cause the opposite sensations of cold and heat; because, on these coasts of South America, the ordinary temperature of the atmosphere is twenty-eight degrees. The humidity, which modifies the conducting power of the air for heat, contributes greatly to these impressions. In the port of Guayaquil, as everywhere else in the low regions of the torrid zone, the weather grows cool only after storms of rain: and I have observed that when the thermometer sinks to 23.8°, De Luc’s hygrometer keeps up to fifty and fifty-two degrees; it is, on the contrary, at thirty-seven degrees in a temperature of 30.5°. At Cumana, during very heavy showers, people in the streets are heard exclaiming, que hielo! estoy emparamado;* though the thermometer exposed to the rain sinks only to 21.5°. From these observations it follows, that between the tropics, in plains where the temperature of the air is in the day-time almost invariably above twenty-seven degrees, warmer clothing during the night is requisite, whenever in a damp air the thermometer sinks four or five degrees.
[* “What an icy cold! I shiver as if I was on the top of the mountains.” The provincial word emparamarse can be translated only by a very long periphrasis. Paramo, in Peruvian puna, is a denomination found on all the maps of Spanish America. In the colonies it signifies neither a desert nor a heath, but a mountainous place covered with stunted trees, exposed to the winds, and in which a damp cold perpetually reigns. In the torrid zone, the paramos are generally from one thousand six hundred to two thousand toises high. Snow often falls on them, but it remains only a few hours; for we must not confound, as geographers often do, the words paramo and puna with that of nevado, in Peruvian ritticapa, a mountain which enters into the limits of perpetual snow. These notions are highly interesting to geology and the geography of plants; because, in countries where no height has been measured, we may form an exact idea of the lowest height to which the Cordilleras rise, on looking into the map for the words paramo and nevado. As the paramos are almost continually enveloped in a cold and thick fog, the people say at Santa Fe and at Mexico, cae un paramito when a thick small rain falls, and the temperature of the air sinks considerably. From paramo has been made emparamarse, which signifies to be as cold as if we were on the ridge of the Andes.]
We landed about eight in the morning at the point of Araya, near the new salt-works. A solitary house, near a battery of three guns, the only defence of this coast, since the destruction of the fort of Santiago, is the abode of the inspector. It is surprising that these salt-works, which formerly excited the jealousy of the English, Dutch, and other maritime powers, have not created a village, or even a farm; a few huts only of poor Indian fishermen are found at the extremity of the point of Araya.
This spot commands a view of the islet of Cubagua, the lofty hills of Margareta, the ruins of the castle of Santiago, the Cerro de la Vela, and the calcareous chain of the Brigantine, which bounds the horizon towards the south. I availed myself of this view to take the angles between these different points, from a basis of four hundred toises, which I measured between the battery and the hill called the Pena. As the Cerro de la Vela, the Brigantine, and the castle of San Antonio at Cumana, are equally visible from the Punta Arenas, situated to the west of the village of Maniquarez, the same objects were available for an approximate determination of the respective positions of several points, which are laid down in the mineralogical chart of the peninsula of Araya.
The abundance of salt contained in the peninsula of Araya was known to Alonzo Nino, when, following the tracks of Columbus, Ojeda, and Amerigo Vespucci, he visited these countries in 1499. Though of all the people on the globe the natives of South America consume the least salt, because they scarcely eat anything but vegetables, it nevertheless appears, that at an early period the Guayquerias dug into the clayey and muriatiferous soil of Punta Arenas. Even the brine-pits, now called new, (la salina nueva,) situated at the extremity of Cape Araya, were worked in very remote times. The Spaniards, who settled at first at Cubagua, and soon after on the coasts of Cumana, worked, from the beginning of the sixteenth century, the salt marshes which stretch away like a lagoon to the north of Cerro de la Vela. As at that period the peninsula of Araya had no settled population, the Dutch availed themselves of the natural riches of a soil which appeared to be property common to all nations. In our days, each colony has its own salt-works, and navigation is so much improved, that the merchants of Cadiz can send, at a small expense, salt from Spain and Portugal to the southern hemisphere, a distance of 1900 leagues, to cure meat at Monte Video and Buenos Ayres. These advantages were unknown at the time of the conquest; colonial industry had then made so little progress, that the salt of Araya was carried, at great expense, to the West India Islands, Carthagena, and Portobello. In 1605, the court of Madrid sent armed ships to Punta Araya, with orders to expel the Dutch by force of arms. The Dutch, however, continued to carry on a contraband trade in salt till, in 1622, there was built near the salt-works a fort, which afterwards became celebrated under the name of the Castillo de Santiago, or the Real Fuerza de Araya. The great salt-marshes are laid down on the oldest Spanish maps, sometimes as a bay, and at other times as a lagoon. Laet, who wrote his Orbis Novus in 1633, and who had some excellent notions respecting these coasts, expressly states, that the lagoon was separated from the sea by an isthmus above the level of high water. In 1726, an impetuous hurricane destroyed the salt-works of Araya, and rendered the fort, the construction of which had cost more than a million of piastres, useless. This hurricane was a very rare phenomenon in these regions, where the sea is in general as calm as the water in our large rivers. The waves overflowed the land to a great extent; and by the effect of this eruption of the ocean the salt lake was converted into a gulf several miles in length. Since that period, artificial reservoirs, or pits, (vasets,) have been formed, to the north of the range of hills which separates the castle from the north coast of the peninsula.
The consumption of salt amounted, in 1799 and 1800, in the two provinces of Cumana* and Barcelona, to nine or ten thousand fanegas, each sixteen arrobas, or four hundredweight. This consumption is very considerable, and gives, if we deduct from the total population fifty thousand Indians, who eat very little salt, sixty pounds for each person. Salt beef, called tasajo, is the most important article of export from Barcelona. Of nine or ten thousand fanegas furnished by the two provinces conjointly, three thousand only are produced by the salt-works of Araya; the rest is extracted from the sea-water at the Morro of Barcelona, at Pozuelos, at Piritu, and in the Golfo Triste. In Mexico, the salt lake of Penon Blanco alone furnishes yearly more than two hundred and fifty thousand fanegas of unpurified salt.
[* At the period of my visit to that country the government of Cumana comprehended the two provinces of New Andalusia and New Barcelona. The words province and govierno, or government of Cumana, are consequently not synonymous. A Catalonian, Juan de Urpin, who had been by turns a canon, a doctor of laws, a counsellor in St. Domingo, and a private soldier in the castle of Araya, founded in 1636, the city of New Barcelona, and attempted to give the name of New Catalonia (Nueva Cathaluna) to the province of which this newly constructed city became the capital. This attempt was fruitless; and it is from the capital that the whole province took its name. Since my departure from America, it has been raised to the rank of a Govierno. In New Andalusia, the Indian name of Cumana has superseded the names Nueva Toledo and Nueva Cordoba, which we find on the maps of the seventeenth century.]
The province of Caracas possesses fine salt-works at Los Roques; those which formerly existed at the small island of Tortuga, where the soil is strongly impregnated with muriate of soda, were destroyed by order of the Spanish government. A canal was made by which the sea has free access to the salt-marshes. Foreign nations who have colonies in the West Indies frequented this uninhabited island; and the court of Madrid, from views of suspicious policy, was apprehensive that the salt-works of Tortuga would give rise to settlements, by means of which an illicit trade would be carried on with Terra Firma.
The royal administration of the salt-works of Araya dates only from the year 1792. Before that period they were in the hands of Indian fishermen, who manufactured salt at their pleasure, and sold it, paying the government the moderate sum of three hundred piastres. The price of the fanega was then four reals;* but the salt was extremely impure, grey, mixed with earthy particles, and surcharged with muriate and sulphate of magnesia. Since the province of Cumana has become dependent on the intendancia of Caracas, the sale of salt is under the control of the excise; and the fanega, which the Guayquerias sold at half a piastre, costs a piastre and a half.* This augmentation of price is slightly compensated by greater purity of the salt, and by the facility with which the fishermen and farmers can procure it in abundance during the whole year. The salt-works of Araya yielded to the treasury, in 1799, a clear income of eight thousand piastres.
[* In this narrative, as well as in the Political Essay on New Spain, all the prices are reckoned in piastres, and silver reals (reales de plata). Eight of these reals are equivalent to a piastre, or one hundred and five sous, French money (4 shillings 4 1/2 pence English). Nouv. Esp. volume 2 pages 519, 616 and 866.]
[* The fanega of salt is sold to those Indians and fishermen who do not pay the duties (derechos reales), at Punta Araya for six, at Cumana for eight reals. The prices to the other tribes are, at Araya ten, at Cumana twelve reals.]
Considered as a branch of industry the salt produced here is not of any great importance, but the nature of the soil which contains the salt-marshes is well worthy of attention. In order to obtain a clear idea of the geological connection existing between this muriatiferous soil and the rocks of more ancient formation, we shall take a general view of the neighbouring mountains of Cumana, and those of the peninsula of Araya, and the island of Margareta.
Three great parallel chains extend from east to west. The two most northerly chains are primitive, and contain the mica-slates of Macanao, and the San Juan Valley, of Maniquarez, and of Chuparipari. These we shall distinguish by the names of Cordillera of the island of Margareta, and Cordillera of Araya. The third chain, the most southerly of the whole, the Cordillera of the Brigantine and of the Cocollar, contains rocks only of secondary formation; and, what is remarkable enough, though analogous to the geological constitution of the Alps westward of St. Gothard, the primitive chain is much less elevated than that which was composed of secondary rocks.* The sea has separated the two northern Cordilleras, those of the island of Margareta and the peninsula of Araya; and the small islands of Coche and of Cubagua are remnants of the land that was submerged. Farther to the south, the vast gulf Cariaco stretches away, like a longitudinal valley formed by the irruption of the sea, between the two small chains of Araya and the Cocollar, between the mica-slate and the Alpine limestone. We shall soon see that the direction of the strata, very regular in the first of these rocks, is not quite parallel with the general direction of the gulf. In the high Alps of Europe, the great longitudinal valley of the Rhone also sometimes cuts at an oblique angle the calcareous banks in which it has been excavated.
[* In New Andalusia, the Cordillera of the Cocollar nowhere contains primitive rocks. If these rocks form the nucleus of this chain, and rise above the level of the neighbouring plains, which is scarcely probable, we must suppose that they are all covered with limestone and sandstone. In the Swiss Alps, on the contrary, the chain which is designated under the too vague denomination of lateral and calcareous, contains primitive rocks, which, according to the observations of Escher and Leopold von Buch, are often visible to the height of eight hundred or a thousand toises.]
The two parallel chains of Araya and the Cocollar were connected, to the east of the town of Cariaco, between the lakes of Campoma and Putaquao, by a kind of transverse dyke, which bears the name of Cerro de Meapire, and which in distant times, by resisting the impulse of the waves, has hindered the waters of the gulf of Cariaco from uniting with those of the gulf of Paria. Thus, in Switzerland, the central chain, that which passes by the Col de Ferrex, the Simplon, St. Gothard, and the Splugen, is connected on the north and the south with two lateral chains, by the mountains of Furca and Maloya. It is interesting to recall to mind those striking analogies exhibited in both continents by the external structure of the globe.
The primitive chain of Araya ends abruptly in the meridian of the village of Maniquarez; and the western slope of the peninsula, as well as the plains in the midst of which stands the castle of San Antonio, is covered with very recent formations of sandstone and clay mixed with gypsum. Near Maniquarez, breccia or sandstone with calcareous cement, which might easily be confounded with real limestone, lies immediately over the mica-slate; while on the opposite side, near Punta Delgada, this sandstone covers a compact bluish grey limestone, almost destitute of petrifactions, and traversed by small veins of calcareous spar. This last rock is analogous to the limestone of the high Alps.*
The very recent sandstone formation of the peninsula of Araya contains:— first, near Punta Arenas, a stratified sandstone, composed of very fine grains, united by a calcareous cement in small quantity; — secondly, at the Cerro de la Vela, a schistose sandstone,* without mica, and passing into slate-clay,* which accompanies coal; — thirdly, on the western side, between Punta Gorda and the ruins of the castle of Santiago, breccia composed of petrified sea-shells united by a calcareous cement, in which are mingled grains of quartz; — fourthly, near the point of Barigon, whence the stone employed for building at Cumana is obtained, banks of yellowish white shelly limestone, in which are found some scattered grains of quartz; — fifthly, at Penas Negras, at the top of the Cerro de la Vela, a bluish grey compact limestone, very tender, almost without petrifactions, and covering the schistose sandstone. However extraordinary this mixture of sandstone and compact limestone* may appear, we cannot doubt that these strata belong to one and the same formation. The very recent secondary rocks everywhere present analogous phenomena; the molasse of the Pays de Vaud contains a fetid shelly limestone, and the cerite limestone of the banks of the Seine is sometimes mixed with sandstone.
[* Dichter kalkstein.]
The strata of calcareous breccia are composed of an infinite number of sea-shells, from four to six inches in diameter, and in part well preserved. We find they contain not ammonites, but ampullaires, solens, and terebratulae. The greater part of these shells are mixed: the oysters and pectinites being sometimes arranged in families. The whole are easily detached, and their interior is filled with fossil madrepores and cellepores. We have now to speak of a fourth formation, which probably rests* on the calcareous sandstone of Araya, I mean the muriatiferous clay. This clay, hardened, impregnated with petroleum, and mixed with lamellar and lenticular gypsum, is analogous to the salzthon, which in Europe accompanies the sal-gem of Berchtesgaden, and in South America that of Zipaquira. It is generally of a smoke-grey colour, earthy, and friable; but it encloses more solid masses of a blackish brown, of a schistose, and sometimes conchoidal fracture. These fragments, from six to eight inches long, have an angular form. When they are very small, they give the clay a porphyroidal appearance. We find disseminated in it, as we have already observed, either in nests or in small veins, selenite, and sometimes, though seldom, fibrous gypsum. It is remarkable enough, that this stratum of clay, as well as the banks of pure sal-gem and the salzthon in Europe, scarcely ever contains shells, while the rocks adjacent exhibit them in great abundance.
[* It were to be wished that mineralogical travellers would examine more particularly the Cerro de la Vela. The limestone of the Penas Negras rests on a slate-clay, mixed with quartzose sand; but there is no proof of the muriatiferous clay of the salt-works being of more ancient formation than this slate-clay, or of its alternating with banks of sandstone. No well having been dug in these countries, we can have no information respecting the superposition of the strata. The banks of calcareous sandstone, which are found at the mouth of the salt lake, and near the fishermen’s huts on the coast opposite Cape Macano, appeared to me to lie beneath the muriatiferous clay.]
Although the muriate of soda is not found visible to the eye in the clay of Araya, we cannot doubt of its existence. It shows itself in large crystals, if we sprinkle the mass with rain-water and expose it to the sun. The lagoon to the east of the castle of Santiago exhibits all the phenomena which have been observed in the salt lakes of Siberia, described by Lepechin, Gmelin, and Pallas. This lagoon receives, however, only the rain-waters, which filter through the banks of clay, and unite at the lowest point of the peninsula. While the lagoon served as a salt-work to the Spaniards and the Dutch, it did not communicate with the sea; at present this communication has been interrupted anew, by faggots placed at the place where the waters of the ocean made an irruption in 1726. After great droughts, crystallized and very pure muriate of soda, in masses of three or four cubic feet, is still drawn from time to time from the bottom of the lagoon. The salt waters of the lake, exposed to the heat of the sun, evaporate at their surface; crusts of salt, formed in a saturated solution, fall to the bottom; and by the attraction between crystals of a similar nature and form, the crystallized masses daily augment. It is generally observed that the water is brackish wherever lagoons are formed in clayey ground. It is true, that for the new salt-work near the battery of Araya, the seawater is received into pits, as in the salt marshes of the south of France; but in the island of Margareta, near Pampatar, salt is manufactured by employing only fresh water, with which the muriatiferous clay has first been lixiviated.
We must not confound the salt disseminated in these clayey soils with that contained in the sands of the seashore, on the coasts of Normandy. These phenomena, considered in a geognostical point of view, have scarcely any properties in common. I have seen muriatiferous clay at the level of the ocean at Punta Araya, and at two thousand toises’ height in the Cordilleras of New Grenada. If in the former of these places it lies on very recent shelly breccia, it forms, on the contrary, in Austria near Ischel, a considerable stratum in the Alpine limestone, which, though equally posterior to the existence of organic life on the globe, is nevertheless of high antiquity, as is proved by the great number of rocks with which it is covered. We shall not question, that sal-gem, either pure or mixed with muriatiferous clay, may have been deposited by an ancient sea; but everything evinces that it was formed during an order of things bearing no resemblance to that in which the sea at present, by a slower operation, deposits a few particles of muriate of soda on the sands of our shores. In the same manner as sulphur and coal belong to periods of formation very remote from each other, the sal-gem is also found sometimes in transition gypsum,* sometimes in the Alpine limestone,* sometimes in a muriatiferous clay lying on a very recent sandstone,* and lastly, sometimes in a gypsum* posterior to the chalk.
[* Uebergangsgyps, in the transition slate of White Alley (l’Allee Blanche), and between the grauwacke and black transition limestone near Bex, below the Dent de Chamossaire, according to M. von Buch.]
[* At Halle in the Tyrol.]
[* At Punta Araya.]
[* Gypsum of the third formation among the secondary gypsums. The first formation contains the gypsum in which are found the brine-springs of Thuringia, and which is placed either in the Alpine limestone or zechstein, to which it essentially belongs (Freiesleben Geognost. Arbeiten tome 2 page 131), or between the zechstein and the limestone of the Jura, or between the zechstein and the new sandstone. It is the ancient gypsum of secondary formation of Werner’s school (alterer flozgyps), which we almost preferably call muriatiferous gypsum. The second formation is composed of fibrous gypsum, placed either in the molasse or new sandstone, or between this and the upper limestone. It abounds in common clay, which differs essentially from the salzthon or muriatiferous clay. The third formation of gypsum is more recent than chalk. To this belongs the bony gypsum of Paris; and, as appears from the researches of Mr. Steffens (Geogn. Aufsatsze 1810 page 142), the gypsum of Segeberg, in Holstein, in which sal-gem is sometimes disseminated in very small nests (Jenaische Litteratur–Zeitung 1813 page 100). The gypsum of Paris, lying between a cerite limestone, which covers chalk and a sandstone without shells, is distinguished by fossil bones of quadrupeds, while the Segeberg and Lunebourg gypsums, the position of which is more uncertain, are characterized by the boracits which they contain. Two other formations, far anterior to the three we have just mentioned, are the transition gypsum (ubergangsgyps) of Aigle, and the primitive gypsum (urgyps) of the valley of Canaria, near Airolo. I flatter myself that I may render some service to those geologists who prefer the knowledge of positive facts to speculation on the origin of things, by furnishing them with materials from which they may generalize their ideas on the formation of rocks in both hemispheres. The relative antiquity of the formations is the principal object of a science which is to render us acquainted with the structure of the globe; that is to say, the nature of the strata which constitute the crust of our planet.]
The new salt-works of Araya have five reservoirs, or pits, the largest of which have two thousand three hundred square toises surface. Their mean depth is eight inches. Use is made both of the rain-water, which by filtration collects at the lowest part of the plain, and of the water of the sea, which enters by canals, or martellieres, when the flood-tide is favoured by the winds. The situation of these new salt-works is less advantageous than that of the lagoon. The waters which fall into the latter pass over steeper slopes, washing a greater extent of ground.
The earth already lixiviated is never carried away here, as it is from time to time in the island of Margareta; nor have wells been dug in the muriatiferous clay, with the view of finding strata richer in muriate of soda. The salineros, or salt-workers generally complain of want of rain; and in the new salt-works, it appears to me difficult to determine what quantity of salt is derived solely from the waters of the sea. The natives estimate it at a sixth of the total produce. The evaporation is extremely strong, and favoured by the constant motion of the air; so that the salt is collected in eighteen or twenty days after the pits are filled.
Though the muriate of soda is manufactured with less care in the peninsula of Araya than at the salt-works of Europe, it is nevertheless purer, and contains less of earthy muriates and sulphates. We know not whether this purity may be attributed to that portion of the salt which is furnished by the sea; for though it is extremely probable, that the quantity of salt dissolved in the waters of the ocean is nearly the same under every zone, it is not less uncertain whether the proportion between the muriate of soda, the muriate and sulphate of magnesia, and the sulphate and carbonate of lime, be equally invariable.
Having examined the salt-works, and terminated our geodesical operations, we departed at the decline of day to sleep at an Indian hut, some miles distant, near the ruins of the castle of Araya. Directing our course southward, we traversed first the plain covered with muriatiferous clay, and stripped of vegetation; then two chains of hills of sandstone, between which the lagoon is situated. Night overtook us while we were in a narrow path, bordered on one side by the sea, and on the other by a range of perpendicular rocks. The tide was rising rapidly, and narrowed the road at every step. We at length arrived at the foot of the old castle of Araya, where we enjoyed a prospect that had in it something lugubrious and romantic. The ruins stand on a bare and arid mountain, crowned with agave, columnar cactus, and thorny mimosas: they bear less resemblance to the works of man, than to those masses of rock which were ruptured at the early revolutions of the globe.
We were desirous of stopping to admire this majestic spectacle, and to observe the setting of Venus, whose disk appeared at intervals between the yawning crannies of the castle; but the muleteer, who served as our guide, was parched with thirst, and pressed us earnestly to return. He had long perceived that we had lost our way; and as he hoped to work on our fears he continually warned us of the danger of tigers and rattlesnakes. Venomous reptiles are, indeed, very common near the castle of Araya; and two jaguars had been lately killed at the entrance of the village of Maniquarez. If we might judge from their skins, which were preserved, their size was not less than that of the Indian tiger. We vainly represented to our guide that those animals did not attack men where the goats furnished them with abundant prey; we were obliged to yield, and return. After having proceeded three quarters of an hour along a shore covered by the tide we were joined by the negro, who carried our provision. Uneasy at not seeing us arrive, he had come to meet us, and he led us through a wood of nopals to a hut inhabited by an Indian family. We were received with the cordial hospitality observed in this country among people of every tribe. The hut in which we slung our hammocks was very clean; and there we found fish, plantains, and what in the torrid zone is preferable to the most sumptuous food, excellent water.
The next day at sunrise we found that the hut in which we had passed the night formed part of a group of small dwellings on the borders of the salt lake, the remains of a considerable village which had formerly stood near the castle. The ruins of a church were seen partly buried in the sand, and covered with brushwood. When, in 1762, to save the expense of the garrison, the castle of Araya was totally dismantled, the Indians and Mulattoes who were settled in the neighbourhood emigrated by degrees to Maniquarez, to Cariaco, and in the suburb of the Guayquerias at Cumana. A small number, bound from affection to their native soil, remained in this wild and barren spot. These poor people live by catching fish, which are extremely abundant on the coast and the neighbouring shoals. They appear satisfied with their condition, and think it strange when they are asked why they have no gardens or culinary vegetables. Our gardens, they reply, are beyond the gulf; when we carry our fish to Cumana, we bring back plantains, cocoa-nuts, and cassava. This system of economy, which favours idleness, is followed at Maniquarez, and throughout the whole peninsula of Araya. The chief wealth of the inhabitants consists in goats, which are of a very large and very fine breed, and rove in the fields like those at the Peak of Teneriffe. They have become entirely wild, and are marked like the mules, because it would be difficult to recognize them from their colour or the arrangement of their spots. These wild goats are of a brownish yellow, and are not varied in colour like domestic animals. If in hunting, a colonist kills a goat which he does not consider as his own property, he carries it immediately to the neighbour to whom it belongs. During two days we heard it everywhere spoken of as a very extraordinary circumstance, that an inhabitant of Maniquarez had lost a goat, on which it was probable that a neighbouring family had regaled themselves.
Among the Mulattoes, whose huts surround the salt lake, we found it shoemaker of Castilian descent. He received us with the air of gravity and self-sufficiency which in those countries characterize almost all persons who are conscious of possessing some peculiar talent. He was employed in stretching the string of his bow, and sharpening his arrows to shoot birds. His trade of a shoemaker could not be very lucrative in a country where the greater part of the inhabitants go barefooted; and he only complained that, on account of the dearness of European gunpowder, a man of his quality was reduced to employ the same weapons as the Indians. He was the sage of the plain; he understood the formation of the salt by the influence of the sun and full moon, the symptoms of earthquakes, the marks by which mines of gold and silver are discovered, and the medicinal plants, which, like all the other colonists from Chile to California, he classified into hot and cold.* Having collected the traditions of the country, he gave us some curious accounts of the pearls of Cubagua, objects of luxury, which he treated with the utmost contempt. To show us how familiar to him were the sacred writings he took a pride in reminding us that Job preferred wisdom to all the pearls of the Indies. His philosophy was circumscribed to the narrow circle of the wants of life. The possession of a very strong ass, able to carry a heavy load of plantains to the embarcadero, was the consummation of all his wishes.
[* Exciting or debilitating, the sthenic and asthenic, of Brown’s system.]
After a long discourse on the emptiness of human greatness, he drew from a leathern pouch a few very small opaque pearls, which he forced us to accept, enjoining us at the same time to note on our tablets that a poor shoemaker of Araya, but a white man, and of noble Castilian race, had been enabled to give us something which, on the other side of the sea,* was sought for as very precious. I here acquit myself of the promise I made to this worthy man, who disinterestedly refused to accept of the slightest retribution. The Pearl Coast presents the same aspect of misery as the countries of gold and diamonds, Choco and Brazil; but misery is not there attended with that immoderate desire of gain which is excited by mineral wealth.
[* ‘Por alla,’ or, ‘del otro lado del charco,’ (properly ‘beyond,’ or ‘on the other side of the great lake’), a figurative expression, by which the people in the Spanish colonies denote Europe.]
The pearl-breeding oyster (Avicula margaritifera, Cuvier) abounds on the shoals which extend from Cape Paria to Cape la Vela. The islands of Margareta, Cubagua, Coche, Punta Araya, and the mouth of the Rio la Hacha, were, in the sixteenth century, as celebrated as were the Persian Gulf and the island of Taprobana among the ancients. It is incorrectly alleged by some historians that the natives of America were unacquainted with the luxury of pearls. The first Spaniards who landed in Terra Firma found the savages decked with pearl necklaces and bracelets; and among the civilized people of Mexico and Peru, pearls of a beautiful form were extremely sought after. I have published a dissertation on the statue of a Mexican priestess in basalt, whose head-dress, resembling the calantica of the heads of Isis, is ornamented with pearls. Las Casas and Benzoni have described, but not without some exaggeration, the cruelties which were exercised on the unhappy Indian slaves and negroes employed in the pearl fishery. At the beginning of the conquest the island of Coche alone furnished pearls amounting in value to fifteen hundred marks per month.
The quint which the king’s officers drew from the produce of pearls, amounted to fifteen thousand ducats; which, according to the value of the precious metals in those times, and the extensiveness of contraband trade, may be regarded as a very considerable sum. It appears that till 1530 the value of the pearls sent to Europe amounted yearly on an average to more than eight hundred thousand piastres. In order to judge of the importance of this branch of commerce to Seville, Toledo, Antwerp, and Genoa, we should recollect that at the same period the whole of the mines of America did not furnish two millions of piastres; and that the fleet of Ovando was thought to contain immense wealth, because it had on board nearly two thousand six hundred marks of silver. Pearls were the more sought after, as the luxury of Asia had been introduced into Europe by two ways diametrically opposite: that of Constantinople, where the Palaeologi wore garments covered with strings of pearls; and that of Grenada, the residence of the Moorish kings, who displayed at their court all the luxury of the East. The pearls of the East were preferred to those of the West; but the number of the latter which circulated in commerce was nevertheless considerable at the period immediately following the discovery of America. In Italy as well as in Spain, the islet of Cubagua became the object of numerous mercantile speculations.
Benzoni* relates the adventure of one Luigi Lampagnano, to whom Charles the Fifth granted the privilege of proceeding with five caravels to the coasts of Cumana to fish for pearls. The colonists sent him back with this bold message: “That the emperor was too liberal of what was not his own, and that he had no right to dispose of the oysters which live at the bottom of the sea.”
[* La Hist. del Mondo Nuovo page 34. Luigi Lampagnano, a relation of the assassin of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, could not pay the merchants of Seville who had advanced the money for his voyage; he remained five years at Cubagua, and died in a fit of insanity.]
The pearl fishery diminished rapidly about the end of the sixteenth century; and, according to Laet, it had long ceased in 1633.* The industry of the Venetians, who imitated fine pearls with great exactness, and the frequent use of cut diamonds,* rendered the fisheries of Cubagua less lucrative. At the same time, the oysters which yielded the pearls became scarcer, not, because, according to a popular tradition, they were frightened by the sound of the oars, and removed elsewhere; but because their propagation had been impeded by the imprudent destruction of the shells by thousands. The pearl-bearing oyster is of a more delicate nature than most of the other acephalous mollusca. At the island of Ceylon, where, in the bay of Condeatchy, the fishery employs six hundred divers, and where the annual produce is more than half a million of piastres, it has vainly been attempted to transplant the oysters to other parts of the coast. The government permits fishing there only during a single month; while at Cubagua the bank of shells was fished at all seasons. To form an idea of the destruction of the species caused by the divers, we must remember that a boat sometimes collects, in two or three weeks, more than thirty-five thousand oysters. The animal lives but nine or ten years; and it is only in its fourth year that the pearls begin to show themselves. In ten thousand shells there is often not a single pearl of value. Tradition records that on the bank of Margareta the fishermen opened the shells one by one: in the island of Ceylon the animals are thrown into heaps to rot in the air; and to separate the pearls which are not attached to the shell, the animal pulp is washed, as miners wash the sand which contains grains of gold, tin, or diamonds.
[* “Insularum Cubaguae et Coches quondam magna fuit dignitas, quum Unionum captura floreret: nunc, illa deficiente, obscura admodum fama.” Laet Nova Orbis page 669. This accurate compiler, speaking of Punta Araya, adds, this country is so forgotten, “ut vix ulla Americae meridionalis pars hodie obscurior sit.”]
[* The cutting of diamonds was invented by Lewis de Berquen, in 1456, but the art became common only in the following century.]
At present Spanish America furnishes no other pearls for trade than those of the gulf of Panama, and the mouth of the Rio de la Hacha. On the shoals which surround Cubagua, Coche, and the island of Margareta, the fishery is as much neglected as on the coasts of California.* It is believed at Cumana, that the pearl-oyster has greatly multiplied after two centuries of repose; and in 1812, some new attempts were made at Margareta for the fishing of pearls. It has been asked, why the pearls found at present in shells which become entangled in the fishermen’s nets are so small, and have so little brilliancy,* whilst, on the Spaniards’ arrival, they were extremely beautiful, though the Indians doubtless had not taken the trouble of diving to collect them. The problem is so much the more difficult to solve, as we know not whether earthquakes may have altered the nature of the bottom of the sea, or whether the changes of the submarine currents may have had an influence either on the temperature of the water, or on the abundance of certain mollusca on which the Aronde feeds.
[* I am astonished at never having heard, in the course of my travels, of pearls found in the fresh-water shells of South America, though several species of the Unio genus abound in the rivers of Peru.]
[* The inhabitants of Araya sometimes sell these small pearls to the retail dealers of Cumana. The ordinary price is one piastre per dozen.]
On the morning of the 20th our host’s son, a young and very robust Indian, conducted us by the way of Barigon and Caney to the village of Maniquarez, which was four hours’ walk. From the effect of the reverberation of the sands, the thermometer kept up to 31.3°. The cylindric cactus, which bordered the road, gave the landscape an appearance of verdure, without affording either coolness or shade. Before our guide had walked a league, he began to sit down every moment, and at length he wished to repose under the shade of a fine tamarind tree near Casas de la Vela, to await the approach of night. This characteristic trait, which we observed every time we travelled with Indians, has given rise to very erroneous ideas of the physical constitutions of the different races of men. The copper-coloured native, more accustomed to the burning heat of the climate, than the European traveller, complains more, because he is stimulated by no interest. Money is without attraction for him; and if he permits himself to be tempted by gain for a moment, he repents of his resolution as soon as he is on the road. The same Indian, who would complain, when in herborizing we loaded him with a box filled with plants, would row his canoe fourteen or fifteen hours together, against the strongest current, because he wished to return to his family. In order to form a true judgment of the muscular strength of the people, we should observe them in circumstances where their actions are determined by a necessity and a will equally energetic.
We examined the ruins of Santiago,* the structure of which is remarkable for its extreme solidity. The walls of freestone, five feet thick, have been blown up by mines; but we still found masses of seven or eight hundred feet square, which have scarcely a crack in them. Our guide showed us a cistern (aljibe) thirty feet deep, which, though much damaged, furnishes water to the inhabitants of the peninsula of Araya. This cistern was finished in 1681, by the governor Don Juan de Padilla Guardiola, the same who built at Cumana the small fort of Santa Maria. As the basin is covered with an arched vault, the water, which is of excellent quality, keeps very cool: the confervae, while they decompose the carburetted hydrogen, also shelter worms which hinder the propagation of small insects. It had been believed for ages, that the peninsula of Araya was entirely destitute of springs of fresh water; but in 1797, after many useless researches, the inhabitants of Maniquarez succeeded in discovering some.
[* On the map accompanying Robertson’s History of America, we find the name of this castle confounded with that of Nueva Cordoba. This latter denomination was formerly synonymous with Cumana. — Herrera, page 14.]
In crossing the arid hills of Cape Cirial, we perceived a strong smell of petroleum. The wind blew from the direction in which the springs of this substance are found, and which were mentioned by the first historians of these countries.* Near the village of Maniquarez, the mica-slate* comes out from below the secondary rock, forming a chain of mountains from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty toises in height. The direction of the primitive rock near Cape Sotto is from north-east to south-west; its strata incline fifty degrees to the north-west. The mica-slate is silvery white, of lamellar and undulated texture, and contains garnets. Strata of quartz, the thickness of which varies from three to four toises, traverse the mica-slate, as we may observe in several ravines hollowed out by the waters. We detached with difficulty a fragment of cyanite from a block of splintered and milky quartz, which was isolated on the shore. This was the only time we found this substance in South America.*
[* Oviedo terms it “A resinous, aromatic, and medicinal liquor.”]
[* The Piedra pelada of the Creoles.]
[* In New Spain, the cyanite has been discovered only in the province of Guatimala, at Estancia Grande, — Del Rio Tablas Min. 1804 page 27.]
The potteries of Maniquarez, celebrated from time immemorial, form a branch of industry which is exclusively in the hands of the Indian women. The manufacture is still carried on according to the method used before the conquest. It indicates both the infancy of the art, and that unchangeability of manners which is characteristic of all the natives of America. Three centuries have been insufficient to introduce the potter’s-wheel, on a coast which is not above thirty or forty days’ sail from Spain. The natives have some confused notions with respect to the existence of this machine, and they would no doubt make use of it if it were introduced among them. The quarries whence they obtain the clay are half a league to the east of Maniquarez. This clay is produced by natural decomposition of a mica-slate reddened by oxide of iron. The Indian women prefer the part most abounding in mica; and with great skill fashion vessels two or three feet in diameter, giving them a very regular curve. As they are not acquainted with the use of ovens, they place twigs of desmanthus, cassia, and the arborescent capparis, around the pots, and bake them in the open air. To the east of the quarry which furnishes the clay is the ravine of La Mina. It is asserted that, a short time after the conquest, some Venetians extracted gold from the mica-slate. It appears that this metal was not collected in veins of quartz, but was found disseminated in the rock, as it is sometimes in granite and gneiss.
At Maniquarez we met with some creoles, who had been hunting at Cubagua. Deer of a small breed are so common in this uninhabited islet, that a single individual may kill three or four in a day. I know not by what accident these animals have got thither, for Laet and other chroniclers of these countries, speaking of the foundation of New Cadiz, mention only the great abundance of rabbits. The venado of Cubagua belongs to one of those numerous species of small American deer, which zoologists have long confounded under the vague name of Cervus mexicanus. It does not appear to be the same as the hind of the savannahs of Cayenne, or the guazuti of Paraguay, which live also in herds. Its colour is a brownish red on the back, and white under the belly; and it is spotted like the axis. In the plains of Cari we were shown, as a thing very rare in these hot climates, a variety quite white. It was a female of the size of the roebuck of Europe, and of a very elegant shape. White varieties are found in the New Continent even among the tigers. Azara saw a jaguar, the skin of which was wholly white, with merely the shadow, as it might be termed, of a few circular spots.
Of all the productions on the coasts of Araya, that which the people consider as the most extraordinary, or we may say the most marvellous, is ‘the stone of the eyes,’ (piedra de los ojos.) This calcareous substance is a frequent subject of conversation: being, according to the natural philosophy of the natives, both a stone and an animal. It is found in the sand, where it is motionless; but if placed on a polished surface, for instance on a pewter or earthen plate, it moves when excited by lemon juice. If placed in the eye, the supposed animal turns on itself, and expels every other foreign substance that has been accidentally introduced. At the new salt-works, and at the village of Maniquarez, these stones of the eyes* were offered to us by hundreds, and the natives were anxious to show us the experiment of the lemon juice. They even wished to put sand into our eyes, in order that we might ourselves try the efficacy of the remedy. It was easy to see that the stones are thin and porous opercula, which have formed part of small univalve shells. Their diameter varies from one to four lines. One of their two surfaces is plane, and the other convex. These calcareous opercula effervesce with lemon juice, and put themselves in motion in proportion as the carbonic acid is disengaged. By the effect of a similar reaction, loaves placed in an oven move sometimes on a horizontal plane; a phenomenon that has given occasion, in Europe, to the popular prejudice of enchanted ovens. The piedras de los ojos, introduced into the eye, act like the small pearls, and different round grains employed by the American savages to increase the flowing of tears. These explanations were little to the taste of the inhabitants of Araya. Nature has the appearance of greatness to man in proportion as she is veiled in mystery; and the ignorant are prone to put faith in everything that borders on the marvellous.
[* They are found in the greatest abundance near the battery at the point of Cape Araya.]
Proceeding along the southern coast, to the east of Maniquarez, we find running out into the sea very near each other, three strips of land, bearing the names of Punta de Soto, Punta de la Brea, and Punta Guaratarito. In these parts the bottom of the sea is evidently formed of mica-slate, and from it near Cape de la Brea, but at eighty feet distant from the shore, there issues a spring of naphtha, the smell of which penetrates into the interior of the peninsula. It is necessary to wade into the sea up to the waist, to examine this interesting phenomenon. The waters are covered with zostera; and in the midst of a very extensive bank of weeds, we distinguish a free and circular spot of three feet in diameter, on which float a few scattered masses of Ulva lactuca. Here the springs are found. The bottom of the gulf is covered with sand; and the petroleum, which, from its transparency and its yellow colour, resembles naphtha, rises in jets, accompanied by air bubbles. On treading down the bottom with the foot, we perceive that these little springs change their place. The naphtha covers the surface of the sea to more than a thousand feet distant. If we suppose the dip of the strata to be regular, the mica-slate must be but a few toises below the sand.
We have already observed, that the muriatiferous clay of Araya contains solid and friable petroleum. This geological connection between the muriate of soda and the bitumens is evident wherever there are mines of sal-gem or salt springs: but a very remarkable fact is the existence of a fountain of naphtha in a primitive formation. All those hitherto known belong to secondary mountains;* a circumstance which has been supposed to favour the idea that all mineral bitumens are owing to the destruction of vegetables and animals, or to the burning of coal. In the peninsula of Araya, the naphtha flows from the primitive rock itself; and this phenomenon acquires new importance, when we recollect that the same primitive rocks contain the subterranean fires, that on the brink of burning craters the smell of petroleum is perceived from time to time, and that the greater part of the hot springs of America rise from gneiss and micaceous schist.
[* As at Pietra Mala; Fanano; Mont Zibio; and Amiano (in these places are found the springs that furnish the naphtha burned in lamps in Genoa) and also at Baikal.]
After having examined the environs of Maniquarez, we embarked at night in a fishing-boat for Cumana. The small crazy boats employed by the natives here, bear testimony to the extreme calmness of the sea in these regions. Our boat, though the best we could procure, was so leaky, that the pilot’s son was constantly employed in baling out the water with a tutuma, or shell of the Crescentia cujete (calabash). It often happens in the gulf of Cariaco, and especially to the north of the peninsula of Araya, that canoes laden with cocoa-nuts are upset in sailing too near the wind, and against the tide.
The inhabitants of Araya, whom we visited a second time on returning from the Orinoco, have not forgotten that their peninsula was one of the points first peopled by the Spaniards. They love to talk of the pearl fishery; of the ruins of the castle of Santiago, which they hope to see some day rebuilt; and of everything that recalls to mind the ancient splendour of those countries. In China and Japan those inventions are considered as recent, which have not been known above two thousand years; in the European colonies an event appears extremely old, if it dates back three centuries, or about the period of the discovery of America.
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