Steamboat Travelling on the Amazons — Passengers — Tunantins — Caishána Indians — The Jutahí — The Sapó — Marauá Indians — Fonte Boa — Journey to St. Paulo — Tucúna Indians — Illness — Descent to Pará — Changes at Pará — Departure for England
November 7th, 1856.—Embarked on the Upper Amazons steamer, the Tabatinga, for an excursion to Tunantins, a small semi-Indian settlement, lying 240 miles beyond Ega. The Tabatinga is an iron boat of about 170 tons burthen, built at Rio de Janeiro, and fitted with engines of fifty horse-power. The saloon, with berths on each side for twenty passengers, is above deck, and open at both ends to admit a free current of air. The captain or “commandante,” was a lieutenant in the Brazilian navy, a man of polished, sailor-like address, and a rigid disciplinarian; his name, Senhor Nunes Mello Cardozo. I was obliged, as usual, to take with me a stock of all articles of food, except meat and fish, for the time I intended to be absent (three months); and the luggage, including hammocks, cooking utensils, crockery, and so forth, formed fifteen large packages. One bundle consisted of a mosquito tent, an article I had not yet had occasion to use on the river, but which was indispensable in all excursions beyond Ega, every person, man, woman and child, requiring one, as without it existence would be scarcely possible. My tent was about eight feet long and five feet broad, and was made of coarse calico in an oblong shape, with sleeves at each end through which to pass the cords of a hammock. Under this shelter, which is fixed up every evening before sundown, one can read and write, or swing in one’s hammock during the long hours which intervene before bedtime, and feel one’s sense of comfort increased by having cheated the thirsty swarms of mosquitoes which fill the chamber.
We were four days on the road. The pilot, a Mameluco of Ega, whom I knew very well, exhibited a knowledge of the river and powers of endurance which were quite remarkable. He stood all this time at his post, with the exception of three or four hours in the middle of each day, when he was relieved by a young man who served as apprentice, and he knew the breadth and windings of the channel, and the extent of all the yearly-shifting shoals from the Rio Negro to Loreto, a distance of more than a thousand miles. There was no slackening of speed at night, except during the brief but violent storms which occasionally broke upon us, and then the engines were stopped by the command of Lieutenant Nunes, sometimes against the wish of the pilot. The nights were often so dark that we passengers on the poop deck could not discern the hardy fellow on the bridge, but the steamer drove on at full speed, men being stationed on the look-out at the prow, to watch for floating logs, and one man placed to pass orders to the helmsman; the keel scraped against a sand-bank only once during the passage.
The passengers were chiefly Peruvians, mostly thin, anxious, Yankee-looking men, who were returning home to the cities of Moyobamba and Chachapoyas, on the Andes, after a trading trip to the Brazilian towns on the Atlantic seaboard, whither they had gone six months previously, with cargoes of Panama hats to exchange for European wares. These hats are made of the young leaflets of a palm tree, by the Indians and half-caste people who inhabit the eastern parts of Peru. They form almost the only article of export from Peru by way of the Amazons, but the money value is very great compared with the bulk of the goods, as the hats are generally of very fine quality, and cost from twelve shillings to six pounds sterling each; some traders bring down two or three thousand pounds’ worth, folded into small compass in their trunks. The return cargoes consist of hardware, crockery, glass, and other bulky or heavy goods, but not of cloth, which, being of light weight, can be carried across the Andes from the ports on the Pacific to the eastern parts of Peru. All kinds of European cloth can be obtained at a much cheaper rate by this route than by the more direct way of the Amazons, the import duties of Peru being, as I was told, lower than those of Brazil, and the difference not being counter-balanced by increased expense of transit, on account of weight, over the passes of the Andes.
There was a great lack of amusement on board. The table was very well served, professed cooks being employed in these Amazonian steamers, and fresh meat insured by keeping on deck a supply of live bullocks and fowls, which are purchased whenever there is an opportunity on the road. The river scenery was similar to that already described as presented between the Rio Negro and Ega: long reaches of similar aspect, with two long, low lines of forest, varied sometimes with cliffs of red clay, appearing one after the other; an horizon of water and sky on some days limiting the view both up stream and down. We travelled, however, always near the bank, and, for my part, I was never weary of admiring the picturesque grouping and variety of trees, and the varied mantles of creeping plants which clothed the green wall of forest every step of the way. With the exception of a small village called Fonte Boa, retired from the main river, where we stopped to take in firewood, and which I shall have to speak of presently, we saw no human habitation the whole of the distance. The mornings were delightfully cool; coffee was served at sunrise, and a bountiful breakfast at ten o’clock; after that hour the heat rapidly increased until it became almost unbearable. How the engine-drivers and firemen stood it without exhaustion I cannot tell; it diminished after four o’clock in the afternoon, about which time dinner-bell rung, and the evenings were always pleasant.
November 11th to 30th.—The Tunantins is a sluggish black-water stream, about sixty miles in length, and towards its mouth from 100 to 200 yards in breadth. The vegetation on its banks has a similar aspect to that of the Rio Negro, the trees having small foliage of a sombre hue, and the dark piles of greenery resting on the surface of the inky water. The village is situated on the left bank, about a mile from the mouth of the river, and contains twenty habitations, nearly all of which are merely hovels, built of lath-work and mud. The short streets, after rain, are almost impassable on account of the many puddles, and are choked up with weeds—leguminous shrubs, and scarlet-flowered asclepias. The atmosphere in such a place, hedged in as it is by the lofty forest, and surrounded by swamps, is always close, warm, and reeking; and the hum and chirp of insects and birds cause a continual din. The small patch of weedy ground around the village swarms with plovers, sandpipers, striped herons, and scissor-tailed fly-catchers; and alligators are always seen floating lazily on the surface of the river in front of the houses.
On landing, I presented myself to Senhor Paulo Bitancourt, a good-natured half-caste, director of Indians of the neighbouring river Issá, who quickly ordered a small house to be cleared for me. This exhilarating abode contained only one room, the walls of which were disfigured by large and ugly patches of mud, the work of white ants. The floor was the bare earth, dirty and damp, the wretched chamber was darkened by a sheet of calico being stretched over the windows, a plan adopted here to keep out the Pium-flies, which float about in all shady places like thin clouds of smoke, rendering all repose impossible in the daytime wherever they can effect an entrance. My baggage was soon landed, and before the steamer departed I had taken gun, insect-net, and game-bag, to make a preliminary exploration of my new locality.
I remained here nineteen days, and, considering the shortness of the time, made a very good collection of monkeys, birds, and insects. A considerable number of the species (especially of insects) were different from those of the four other stations, which I examined on the south side of the Solimoens, and as many of these were “representative forms”1 of others found on the opposite banks of the broad river, I concluded that there could have been no land connection between the two shores during, at least, the recent geological period. This conclusion is confirmed by the case of the Uakarí monkeys, described in the last chapter. All these strongly modified local races of insects confined to one side of the Solimoens (like the Uakarís), are such as have not been able to cross a wide treeless space such as a river. The acquisition which pleased me most, in this place, was a new species of butterfly (a Catagramma), which has since been named C. excelsior, owing to its surpassing in size and beauty all the previously-known species of its singularly beautiful genus. The upper surface of the wings is of the richest blue, varying in shade with the play of light, and on each side is a broad curved stripe of an orange colour. It is a bold flyer, and is not confined, as I afterwards found, to the northern side of the river, for I once saw a specimen amidst a number of richly-coloured butterflies, flying about the deck of the steamer when we were anchored off Fonte Boa, 200 miles, lower down the river.
With the exception of three Mameluco families and a stray Portuguese trader, all the inhabitants of the village and neighbourhood are semi-civilised Indians of the Shumána and Passé tribes. The forests of the Tunantins, however, are inhabited by a tribe of wild Indians called Caishánas, who resemble much, in their social condition and manners, the debased Murás of the Lower Amazons, and have, like them, shown no aptitude for civilised life in any shape. Their huts commence at the distance of an hour’s walk from the village, along gloomy and narrow forest paths. My first and only visit to a Caishána dwelling was accidental. One day, having extended my walk further than usual, and followed one of the forest-roads until it became a mere picada, or hunters’ track, I came suddenly upon a well-trodden pathway, bordered on each side with Lycopodia of the most elegant shapes, the tips of the fronds stretching almost like tendrils down the little earthy slopes which formed the edge of the path. The road, though smooth, was narrow and dark, and in many places blocked up by trunks of felled trees, which had been apparently thrown across by the timid Indians on purpose to obstruct the way to their habitations. Half-a-mile of this shady road brought me to a small open space on the banks of a brook or creek, on the skirts of which stood a conical hut with a very low doorway. There was also an open shed, with stages made of split palm-stems, and a number of large wooden troughs. Two or three dark-skinned children, with a man and woman, were in the shed; but, immediately on espying me, all of them ran to the hut, bolting through the little doorway like so many wild animals scared into their burrows. A few moments after, the man put his head out with a look of great distrust; but, on my making the most friendly gestures I could think of, he came forth with the children. They were all smeared with black mud and paint; the only clothing of the elders was a kind of apron made of the inner bark of the sapucaya-tree, and the savage aspect of the man was heightened by his hair hanging over his forehead to the eyes. I stayed about two hours in the neighbourhood, the children gaining sufficient confidence to come and help me to search for insects. The only weapon used by the Caishánas is the blow-gun, and this is employed only in shooting animals for food. They are not a warlike people, like most of the neighbouring tribes on the Japurá and Issá.
The whole tribe of Caishánas does not exceed 400 souls in number. None of them are baptised Indians, and they do not dwell in villages, like the more advanced sections of the Tupi stock; but each family has its own solitary hut. They are quite harmless, do not practise tattooing, or perforate their ears and noses in any way. Their social condition is of a low type, very little removed, indeed, from that of the brutes living in the same forests. They do not appear to obey any common chief, and I could not make out that they had Pajés, or medicine-men, those rudest beginnings of a priest class. Symbolical or masked dances, and ceremonies in honour of the Juruparí, or demon, customs which prevail amongst all the surrounding tribes, are unknown to the Caishánas. There is among them a trace of festival keeping; but the only ceremony used is the drinking of cashiri beer, and fermented liquors made of Indian-corn, bananas, and so forth. These affairs, however, are conducted in a degenerate style, for they do not drink to intoxication, or sustain the orgies for several days and nights in succession, like the Jurís Passés, and Tucúnas. The men play a musical instrument, made of pieces of stem of the arrow-grass cut in different lengths and arranged like Pan-pipes. With this they wile away whole hours, lolling in ragged, bast hammocks slung in their dark, smoky huts. The Tunantins people say that the Caishánas have persecuted the wild animals and birds to such an extent near their settlements that there is now quite a scarcity of animal food. If they kill a Toucan, it is considered an important event, and the bird is made to serve as a meal for a score or more persons. They boil the meat in earthenware kettles filled with Tucupi sauce, and eat it with beiju, or mandioca-cakes. The women are not allowed to taste of the meat, but forced to content themselves with sopping pieces of cake in the liquor.
November 30th.—I left Tunantins in a trading schooner of eighty tons burthen belonging to Senhor Batalha, a tradesman of Ega, which had been out all the summer collecting produce, and was commanded by a friend of mine, a young Paraense, named Francisco Raiol. We arrived, on the 3rd of December, at the mouth of the Jutahí, a considerable stream about half a mile broad, and flowing with a very sluggish current. This is one of the series of six rivers, from 400 to 1000 miles in length, which flow from the south-west through unknown lands lying between Bolivia and the Upper Amazons, and enter this latter river between the Madeira and the Ucayáli. We remained at anchor four days within the mouth of the Sapó, a small tributary of the Jutahí flowing from the south-east; Senhor Raiol having to send an igarité to the Cupatána, a large tributary some few miles farther up the river, to fetch a cargo of salt-fish. During this time we made several excursions in the montaria to various places in the neighbourhood. Our longest trip was to some Indian houses, a distance of fifteen or eighteen miles up the Sapó, a journey made with one Indian paddler, and occupying a whole day. The stream is not more than forty or fifty yards broad; its waters are darker in colour than those of the Jutahí, and flow, as in all these small rivers, partly under shade between two lofty walls of forest. We passed, in ascending, seven habitations, most of them hidden in the luxuriant foliage of the banks; their sites being known only by small openings in the compact wall of forest, and the presence of a canoe or two tied up in little shady ports. The inhabitants are chiefly Indians of the Marauá tribe, whose original territory comprised all the small by-streams lying between the Jutahí and the Juruá, near the mouths of both these great tributaries. They live in separate families or small hordes, have no common chief, and are considered as a tribe little disposed to adopt civilised customs or be friendly with the whites. One of the houses belonged to a Jurí family, and we saw the owner, an erect, noble-looking old fellow, tattooed, as customary with his tribe, in a large patch over the middle of his face, fishing under the shade of a colossal tree in his port with hook and line. He saluted us in the usual grave and courteous manner of the better sort of Indians as we passed by.
We reached the last house, or rather two houses, about ten o’clock, and spent several hours there during the great heat of midday. The houses, which stood on a high clayey bank, were of quadrangular shape, partly open like sheds, and partly enclosed with rude mud-walls, forming one or more chambers. The inhabitants, a few families of Marauás, comprising about thirty persons, received us in a frank, smiling manner: a reception which may have been due to Senhor Raiol being an old acquaintance and somewhat of a favourite. None of them were tattooed; but the men had great holes pierced in their ear-lobes, in which they insert plugs of wood, and their lips were drilled with smaller holes. One of the younger men, a fine strapping fellow nearly six feet high, with a large aquiline nose, who seemed to wish to be particularly friendly with me, showed me the use of these lip-holes, by fixing a number of little white sticks in them, and then twisting his mouth about and going through a pantomime to represent defiance in the presence of an enemy. Nearly all the people were disfigured by dark blotches on the skin, the effect of a cutaneous disease very prevalent in this part of the country. The face of one old man was completely blackened, and looked as though it had been smeared with black lead, the blotches having coalesced to form one large patch. Others were simply mottled; the black spots were hard and rough, but not scaly, and were margined with rings of a colour paler than the natural hue of the skin. I had seen many Indians and a few half-castes at Tunantins, and afterwards saw others at Fonte Boa, blotched in the same way. The disease would seem to be contagious, for I was told that a Portuguese trader became disfigured with it after cohabiting some years with an Indian woman. It is curious that, although prevalent in many places on the Solimoens, no resident of Ega exhibited signs of the disease: the early explorers of the country, on noticing spotted skins to be very frequent in certain localities, thought they were peculiar to a few tribes of Indians. The younger children in these houses on the Sapó were free from spots; but two or three of them, about ten years of age, showed signs of their commencement in rounded yellowish patches on the skin, and these appeared languid and sickly, although the blotched adults seemed not to be affected in their general health. A middle-aged half-caste at Fonte Boa told me he had cured himself of the disorder by strong doses of sarsaparilla; the black patches had caused the hair of his beard and eyebrows to fall off, but it had grown again since his cure.
When my tall friend saw me, after dinner, collecting insects along the paths near the houses, he approached, and, taking me by the arm, led me to a mandioca shed, making signs, as he could speak very little Tupi, that he had something to show. I was not a little surprised when, having mounted the girao, or stage of split palm-stems, and taken down an object transfixed to a post, he exhibited, with an air of great mystery, a large chrysalis suspended from a leaf, which he placed carefully in my hands, saying, “Pána-paná curí” (Tupí: butterfly by-and-by). Thus I found that the metamorphoses of insects were known to these savages; but being unable to talk with my new friend, I could not ascertain what ideas such a phenomenon had given rise to in his mind. The good fellow did not leave my side during the remainder of our stay; but, thinking apparently that I had come here for information, he put himself to considerable trouble to give me all he could. He made a quantity of Hypadú or Coca powder that I might see the process; going about the task with much action and ceremony, as though he were a conjuror performing some wonderful trick.
We left these friendly people about four o’clock in the afternoon, and in descending the umbrageous river, stopped, about half-way down, at another house, built in one of the most charming situations I had yet seen in this country. A clean, narrow, sandy pathway led from the shady port to the house, through a tract of forest of indescribable luxuriance. The buildings stood on an eminence in the middle of a level cleared space; the firm sandy soil, smooth as a floor, forming a broad terrace around them. The owner was a semi-civilised Indian, named Manoel; a dull, taciturn fellow, who, together with his wife and children, seemed by no means pleased at being intruded on in their solitude. The family must have been very industrious, for the plantations were very extensive, and included a little of almost all kinds of cultivated tropical productions: fruit trees, vegetables, and even flowers for ornament. The silent old man had surely a fine appreciation of the beauties of nature, for the site he had chosen commanded a view of surprising magnificence over the summits of the forest; and, to give finish to the prospect, he had planted a large quantity of banana trees in the foreground, thus concealing the charred and dead stumps which would otherwise have marred the effect of the rolling sea of greenery. The only information I could get out of Manoel was, that large flocks of richly-coloured birds came down in the fruit season and despoiled his trees. The sun set over the tree-tops before we left this little Eden, and the remainder of our journey was made slowly and pleasantly, under the chequered shades of the river banks, by the light of the moon.
December 7th.—Arrived at Fonte Boa; a wretched, muddy, and dilapidated village situated two or three miles within the mouth of a narrow by-stream called the Cayhiar-hy, which runs almost as straight as an artificial canal between the village and the main Amazons. The character of the vegetation and soil here was different from that of all other localities I had hitherto examined; I had planned, therefore, to devote six weeks to the place. Having written beforehand to one of the principal inhabitants, Senhor Venancio, a house was ready for me on landing. The only recommendation of the dwelling was its coolness. It was, in fact, rather damp; the plastered walls bore a crop of green mold, and a slimy moisture oozed through the black, dirty floor; the rooms were large, but lighted by miserable little holes in place of windows. The village is built on a clayey plateau, and the ruinous houses are arranged round a large square, which is so choked up with tangled bushes that it is quite impassable, the lazy inhabitants having allowed the fine open space to relapse into jungle. The stiff clayey eminence is worn into deep gullies which slope towards the river, and the ascent from the port in rainy weather is so slippery that one is obliged to crawl up to the streets on all fours. A large tract of ground behind the place is clear of forest, but this, as well as the streets and gardens, is covered with a dense, tough carpet of shrubs, having the same wiry nature as our common heath. Beneath its deceitful covering the soil is always moist and soft, and in the wet season the whole is converted into a glutinous mud swamp. There is a very pretty church in one corner of the square, but in the rainy months of the year (nine out of twelve) the place of worship is almost inaccessible to the inhabitants on account of the mud, the only means of getting to it being by hugging closely the walls and palings, and so advancing sideways step by step.
I remained in this delectable place until the 25th of January, 1857. Fonte Boa, in addition to its other amenities, has the reputation throughout the country of being the headquarters of mosquitoes, and it fully deserves the title. They are more annoying in the houses by day than by night, for they swarm in the dark and damp rooms, keeping, in the daytime, near the floor, and settling by half-dozens together on the legs. At night the calico tent is a sufficient protection; but this is obliged to be folded every morning, and in letting it down before sunset, great care is required to prevent even one or two of the tormentors from stealing in beneath, their insatiable thirst for blood, and pungent sting, making these enough to spoil all comfort. In the forest the plague is much worse; but the forest-mosquito belongs to a different species from that of the town, being much larger, and having transparent wings; it is a little cloud that one carries about one’s person every step on a woodland ramble, and their hum is so loud that it prevents one hearing well the notes of birds. The town-mosquito has opaque speckled wings, a less severe sting, and a silent way of going to work; the inhabitants ought to be thankful the big, noisy fellows never come out of the forest. In compensation for the abundance of mosquitoes, Fonte Boa has no piums; there was, therefore, some comfort outside one’s door in the daytime; the comfort, however, was lessened by their being scarcely any room in front of the house to sit down or walk about, for, on our side of the square, the causeway was only two feet broad, and to step over the boundary, formed by a line of slippery stems of palms, was to sink up to the knees in a sticky swamp.
Notwithstanding damp and mosquitoes, I had capital health, and enjoyed myself much at Fonte Boa; swampy and weedy places being generally more healthy than dry ones in the Amazons, probably owing to the absence of great radiation of heat from the ground. The forest was extremely rich and picturesque, although the soil was everywhere clayey and cold, and broad pathways threaded it for many a mile over hill and dale. In every hollow flowed a sparkling brook, with perennial and crystal waters. The margins of these streams were paradises of leafiness and verdure; the most striking feature being the variety of ferns, with immense leaves, some terrestrial, others climbing over trees, and two, at least, arborescent. I saw here some of the largest trees I had yet seen; there was one especially, a cedar, whose colossal trunk towered up for more than a hundred feet, straight as an arrow; I never saw its crown, which was lost to view, from below, beyond the crowd of lesser trees which surrounded it. Birds and monkeys in this glorious forest were very abundant; the bear-like Pithecia hirsuta being the most remarkable of the monkeys, and the Umbrella Chatterer and Curl-crested Toucans amongst the most beautiful of the birds. The Indians and half-castes of the village have made their little plantations, and built huts for summer residence on the banks of the rivulets, and my rambles generally terminated at one or other of these places. The people were always cheerful and friendly, and seemed to be glad when I proposed to join them at their meals, contributing the contents of my provision-bag to the dinner, and squatting down amongst them on the mat.
The village was formerly a place of more importance than it now is, a great number of Indians belonging to the most industrious tribes, Shumánas, Passés, and Cambévas, having settled on the site and adopted civilised habits, their industry being directed by a few whites, who seem to have been men of humane views as well as enterprising traders. One of these old employers, Senhor Guerreiro, a well-educated Paraense, was still trading on the Amazons when I left the country in 1859: he told me that forty years previously Fonte Boa was a delightful place to live in. The neighbourhood was then well cleared, and almost free from mosquitoes, and the Indians were orderly, industrious, and happy. What led to the ruin of the settlement was the arrival of several Portuguese and Brazilian traders of a low class, who in their eagerness for business taught the easy-going Indians all kinds of trickery and immorality. They enticed the men and women away from their old employers, and thus broke up the large establishments, compelling the principals to take their capital to other places. At the time of my visit there were few pure-blood Indians at Fonte Boa, and no true whites. The inhabitants seemed to be nearly all Mamelucos, and were a loose-living, rustic, plain-spoken and ignorant set of people. There was no priest or schoolmaster within 150 miles, and had not been any for many years: the people seemed to be almost without government of any kind, and yet crime and deeds of violence appeared to be of very rare occurrence. The principal man of the village, one Senhor Justo, was a big, coarse, energetic fellow, sub-delegado of police, and the only tradesman who owned a large vessel running directly between Fonte Boa and Pará. He had recently built a large house, in the style of middle-class dwellings of towns, namely, with brick floors and tiled roof, the bricks and tiles having been brought from Pará, 1500 miles distant, the nearest place where they are manufactured in surplus. When Senhor Justo visited me he was much struck with the engravings in a file of Illustrated London News, which lay on my table. It was impossible to resist his urgent entreaties to let him have some of them, “to look at,” so one day he carried off a portion of the papers on loan. A fortnight afterwards, on going to request him to return them, I found the engravings had been cut out, and stuck all over the newly whitewashed walls of his chamber, many of them upside down. He thought a room thus decorated with foreign views would increase his importance amongst his neighbours, and when I yielded to his wish to keep them, was boundless in demonstrations of gratitude, ending by shipping a boat-load of turtles for my use at Ega.
These neglected and rude villagers still retained many religious practices which former missionaries or priests had taught them. The ceremony which they observed at Christmas, like that described as practised by negroes in a former chapter, was very pleasing for its simplicity, and for the heartiness with which it was conducted. The church was opened, dried, and swept clean a few days before Christmas Eve, and on the morning all the women and children of the village were busy decorating it with festoons of leaves and wild flowers. Towards midnight it was illuminated inside and out with little oil lamps, made of clay, and the image of the “menino Deus,” or Child-God, in its cradle, was placed below the altar, which was lighted up with rows of wax candles, very lean ones, but the best the poor people could afford. All the villagers assembled soon afterwards, dressed in their best, the women with flowers in their hair, and a few simple hymns, totally irrelevant to the occasion, but probably the only ones known by them, were sung kneeling; an old half-caste, with black-spotted face, leading off the tunes. This finished, the congregation rose, and then marched in single file up one side of the church and down the other, singing together a very pretty marching chorus, and each one, on reaching the little image, stooping to kiss the end of a ribbon which was tied round its waist. Considering that the ceremony was got up of their own free will, and at considerable expense, I thought it spoke well for the good intentions and simplicity of heart of these poor, neglected villagers.
I left Fonte Boa, for Ega, on the 25th of January, making the passage by steamer, down the middle of the current, in sixteen hours. The sight of the clean and neat little town, with its open spaces, close-cropped grass, broad lake, and white sandy shores, had a most exhilarating effect, after my trip into the wilder parts of the country. The district between Ega and Loreto, the first Peruvian village on the river, is, indeed, the most remote, thinly-peopled, and barbarous of the whole line of the Amazons, from ocean to ocean. Beyond Loreto, signs of civilisation, from the side of the Pacific, begin to be numerous, and, from Ega downwards, the improvement is felt from the side of the Atlantic.
September 5th, 1857.—Again embarked on the Tabatinga, this time for a longer excursion than the last, namely to St. Paulo de Olivença, a village higher up than any I had yet visited, being 260 miles distant, in a straight line, from Ega, or about 400 miles following the bends of the river.
The waters were now nearly at their lowest point; but this made no difference to the rate of travelling, night or day. Several of the Paraná mirims, or by-channels, which the steamer threads in the season of full-water, to save a long circuit, were now dried up, their empty beds looking like deep sandy ravines in the midst of the thick forest. The large sand-islands, and miles of sandy beach, were also uncovered, and these, with the swarms of large aquatic birds; storks, herons, ducks, waders, and spoon-bills, which lined their margins in certain places, made the river view much more varied and animated than it is in the season of the flood. Alligators of large size were common near the shores, lazily floating, and heedless of the passing steamer. The passengers amused themselves by shooting at them from the deck with a double-barrelled rifle we had on board. The sign of a mortal hit was the monster turning suddenly over, and remaining floating, with its white belly upwards. Lieutenant Nunes wished to have one of the dead animals on board, for the purpose of opening the abdomen, and, if a male, extracting a part which is held in great estimation amongst Brazilians as a “remedio,” charm or medicine. The steamer was stopped, and a boat sent, with four strong men, to embark the beast; the body, however, was found too heavy to be lifted into the boat; so a rope was passed round it, and the hideous creature towed alongside, and hoisted on deck by means of the crane, which was rigged for the purpose. It had still some sparks of life, and when the knife was applied, lashed its tail, and opened its enormous jaws, sending the crowd of bystanders flying in all directions. A blow with a hatchet on the crown of the head gave him his quietus at last. The length of the animal was fifteen feet; but this statement can give but an imperfect idea of its immense bulk and weight. The numbers of turtles which were seen swimming in quiet shoaly bays passed on the road, also gave us much amusement. They were seen by dozens ahead, with their snouts peering above the surface of the water; and, on the steamer approaching, turning round to stare, but not losing confidence till the vessel had nearly passed, when they appeared to be suddenly smitten with distrust, diving like ducks under the stream.
We had on board, amongst our deck-passengers, a middle-aged Indian, of the Jurí tribe; a short, thickset man, with features resembling much those of the late Daniel O’Connell. His name was Caracára-í (Black Eagle), and his countenance seemed permanently twisted into a grim smile, the effect of which was heightened by the tattooed marks—a blue rim to the mouth, with a diagonal pointed streak from each corner towards the ear. He was dressed in European-style—black hat, coat, and trousers—looking very uncomfortable in the dreadful heat which, it is unnecessary to say, exists on board a steamer, under a vertical sun, during mid-day hours. This Indian was a man of steady resolution, ambitious and enterprising; very rare qualities in the race to which he belonged, weakness of resolution being one of the fundamental defects in the Indian character. He was now on his return home to the banks of the Issá from Pará, whither he had been to sell a large quantity of sarsaparilla that he had collected, with the help of a number of Indians, whom he induces, or forces, to work for him. One naturally feels inclined to know what ideas such a favourable specimen of the Indian race may have acquired after so much experience amongst civilised scenes. On conversing with our fellow-passenger, I was greatly disappointed in him; he had seen nothing, and thought of nothing, beyond what concerned his little trading speculation, his mind being, evidently, what it had been before, with regard to all higher subjects or general ideas, a blank. The dull, mean, practical way of thinking of the Amazonian Indians, and the absence of curiosity and speculative thought which seems to be organic or confirmed in their character, although they are improvable to a certain extent, make them, like commonplace people everywhere, most uninteresting companions. Caracá-í disembarked at Tunantins with his cargo, which consisted of a considerable number of packages of European wares.
The river scenery about the mouth of the Japurá is extremely grand, and was the subject of remark amongst the passengers. Lieutenant Nunes gave it as his opinion, that there was no diminution of width or grandeur in the mighty stream up to this point, a distance of 1500 miles from the Atlantic; and yet we did not here see the two shores of the river on both sides at once; lines of islands, or tracts of alluvial land, having by-channels in the rear, intercepting the view of the northern mainland, and sometimes also of the southern. Beyond the Issá, however, the river becomes evidently narrower, being reduced to an average width of about a mile; there were then no longer those magnificent reaches, with blank horizons, which occur lower down. We had a dark and rainy night after passing Tunantins, and the passengers were all very uneasy on account of the speed at which we were travelling, twelve miles an hour, with every plank vibrating with the force of the engines. Many of them could not sleep, myself amongst the number. At length, a little after midnight, a sudden shout startled us: “Back her!” (English terms being used in matters relating to steam-engines). The pilot instantly sprung to the helm, and in a few moments we felt our paddle-box brushing against the wall of forest into which we had nearly driven headlong. Fortunately, the water was deep close up to the bank. Early in the morning of the 10th of September we anchored in the port of St. Paulo, after five days’ quick travelling from Ega.
St. Paulo is built on a high hill, on the southern bank of the river. The hill is formed of the same Tabatinga clay, which occurs at intervals over the whole valley of the Amazons, but nowhere rises to so great an elevation as here, the height being about 100 feet above the mean level of the river. The ascent from the port is steep and slippery; steps and resting-places have been made to lighten the fatigue of mounting, otherwise the village would be almost inaccessible, especially to porters of luggage and cargo, for there are no means of making a circuitous road of more moderate slope, the hill being steep on all sides, and surrounded by dense forests and swamps. The place contains about 500 inhabitants, chiefly half-castes and Indians of the Tucúna and Collína tribes, who are very little improved from their primitive state. The streets are narrow, and in rainy weather inches deep in mud; many houses are of substantial structure, but in a ruinous condition, and the place altogether presents the appearance, like Fonte Boa, of having seen better days. Signs of commerce, such as meet the eye at Ega, could scarcely be expected in this remote spot, situate 1800 miles, or seven months’ round voyage by sailing-vessels, from Pará, the nearest market for produce. A very short experience showed that the inhabitants were utterly debased, the few Portuguese and other immigrants having, instead of promoting industry, adopted the lazy mode of life of the Indians, spiced with the practice of a few strong vices of their own introduction.
The head-man of the village, Senhor Antonio Ribeiro, half-white half-Tucúna, prepared a house for me on landing, and introduced me to the principal people. The summit of the hill is grassy table-land, of two or three hundred acres in extent. The soil is not wholly clay, but partly sand and gravel; the village itself, however, stands chiefly on clay, and the streets therefore after heavy rains, become filled with muddy puddles. On damp nights the chorus of frogs and toads which swarm in weedy back-yards creates such a bewildering uproar that it is impossible to carry on a conversation indoors except by shouting. My house was damper even than the one I occupied at Fonte Boa, and this made it extremely difficult to keep my collections from being spoilt by mould. But the general humidity of the atmosphere in this part of the river was evidently much greater than it is lower down; it appears to increase gradually in ascending from the Atlantic to the Andes. It was impossible at St. Paulo to keep salt for many days in a solid state, which was not the case at Ega, when the baskets in which it is contained were well wrapped in leaves. Six degrees further westward, namely, at the foot of the Andes, the dampness of the climate of the Amazonian forest region appears to reach its acme, for Poeppig found at Chinchao that the most refined sugar, in a few days, dissolved into syrup, and the best gunpowder became liquid, even when enclosed in canisters. At St. Paulo refined sugar kept pretty well in tin boxes, and I had no difficulty in keeping my gunpowder dry in canisters, although a gun loaded overnight could very seldom be fired off in the morning.
The principal residents at St. Paulo were the priest, a white from Pará, who spent his days and most of his nights in gambling and rum-drinking, corrupting the young fellows and setting the vilest example to the Indians; the sub-delegado, an upright, open-hearted, and loyal negro, whom I have before mentioned, Senhor José Patricio; the Juiz de Paz, a half-caste named Geraldo, and lastly, Senhor Antonio Ribeiro, who was Director of the Indians. Geraldo and Ribeiro were my near neighbours, but they took offence at me after the first few days, because I would not join them in their drinking bouts, which took place about every third day. They used to begin early in the morning with Cashaça mixed with grated ginger, a powerful drink, which used to excite them almost to madness. Neighbour Geraldo, after these morning potations, used to station himself opposite my house and rave about foreigners, gesticulating in a threatening manner towards me by the hour. After becoming sober in the evening, he usually came to offer me the humblest apologies, driven to it, I believe, by his wife, he himself being quite unconscious of this breach of good manners. The wives of the St. Paulo worthies, however, were generally as bad as their husbands; nearly all the women being hard drinkers, and corrupt to the last degree. Wife-beating naturally flourished under such a state of things. I found it always best to lock myself indoors after sunset, and take no notice of the thumps and screams which used to rouse the village in different quarters throughout the night, especially at festival times.
The only companionable man I found in the place, except José Patricio, who was absent most part of the time, was the negro tailor of the village, a tall, thin, grave young man, named Mestre Chico (Master Frank), whose acquaintance I had made at Pará several years previously. He was a free negro by birth, but had had the advantage of kind treatment in his younger days, having been brought up by a humane and sensible man, one Captain Basilio, of Pernambuco, his padrinho, or godfather. He neither drank, smoked, nor gambled, and was thoroughly disgusted at the depravity of all classes in this wretched little settlement, which he intended to quit as soon as possible. When he visited me at night he used to knock at my shutters in a manner we had agreed on, it being necessary to guard against admitting drunken neighbours, and we then spent the long evenings most pleasantly, working and conversing. His manners were courteous, and his talk well worth listening to, for the shrewdness and good sense of his remarks. I first met Mestre Chico at the house of an old negress of Pará, Tia Rufina (Aunt Rufina), who used to take charge of my goods when I was absent on a voyage, and this affords me an opportunity of giving a few further instances of the excellent qualities of free negroes in a country where they are not wholly condemned to a degrading position by the pride or selfishness of the white race. This old woman was born a slave, but, like many others in the large towns of Brazil, she had been allowed to trade on her own account, as market-woman, paying a fixed sum daily to her owner, and keeping for herself all her surplus gains. In a few years she had saved sufficient money to purchase her freedom, and that of her grown-up son. This done, the old lady continued to strive until she had earned enough to buy the house in which she lived, a considerable property situated in one of the principal streets. When I returned from the interior, after seven years’ absence from Pará, I found she was still advancing in prosperity, entirely through her own exertions (being a widow) and those of her son, who continued, with the most regular industry, his trade as blacksmith, and was now building a number of small houses on a piece of unoccupied land attached to her property. I found these and many other free negroes most trustworthy people, and admired the constancy of their friendships and the gentleness and cheerfulness of their manners towards each other. They showed great disinterestedness in their dealings with me, doing me many a piece of service without a hint at remuneration; but this may have been partly due to the name of Englishman, the knowledge of our national generosity towards the African race being spread far and wide amongst the Brazilian negroes.
I remained at St. Paulo five months; five years would not have been sufficient to exhaust the treasures of its neighbourhood in Zoology and Botany. Although now a forest-rambler of ten years’ experience, the beautiful forest which surrounds this settlement gave me as much enjoyment as if I had only just landed for the first time in a tropical country. The plateau on which the village is built extends on one side nearly a mile into the forest, but on the other side the descent into the lowland begins close to the streets; the hill sloping abruptly towards a boggy meadow surrounded by woods, through which a narrow winding path continues the slope down to a cool shady glen, with a brook of icy-cold water flowing at the bottom. At mid-day the vertical sun penetrates into the gloomy depths of this romantic spot, lighting up the leafy banks of the rivulet and its clean sandy margins, where numbers of scarlet, green, and black tanagers and brightly-coloured butterflies sport about in the stray beams. Sparkling brooks, large and small, traverse the glorious forest in almost every direction, and one is constantly meeting, whilst rambling through the thickets, with trickling rills and bubbling springs, so well-provided is the country with moisture. Some of the rivulets flow over a sandy and pebbly bed, and the banks of all are clothed with the most magnificent vegetation conceivable. I had the almost daily habit, in my solitary walks, of resting on the clean banks of these swift-flowing streams, and bathing for an hour at a time in their bracing waters; hours which now remain amongst my most pleasant memories. The broad forest roads continue, as I was told, a distance of several days’ journey into the interior, which is peopled by Tucúnas and other Indians, living in scattered houses and villages nearly in their primitive state, the nearest village lying about six miles from St. Paulo. The banks of all the streams are dotted with palm-thatched dwellings of Tucúnas, all half-buried in the leafy wilderness, the scattered families having chosen the coolest and shadiest nooks for their abodes.
I frequently heard in the neighbourhood of these huts, the “realejo” or organ bird (Cyphorhinus cantans), the most remarkable songster, by far, of the Amazonian forests. When its singular notes strike the ear for the first time, the impression cannot be resisted that they are produced by a human voice. Some musical boy must be gathering fruit in the thickets, and is singing a few notes to cheer himself. The tones become more fluty and plaintive; they are now those of a flageolet, and notwithstanding the utter impossibility of the thing, one is for the moment convinced that somebody is playing that instrument. No bird is to be seen, however closely the surrounding trees and bushes may be scanned, and yet the voice seems to come from the thicket close to one’s ears. The ending of the song is rather disappointing. It begins with a few very slow and mellow notes, following each other like the commencement of an air; one listens expecting to hear a complete strain, but an abrupt pause occurs, and then the song breaks down, finishing with a number of clicking unmusical sounds like a piping barrel organ out of wind and tune. I never heard the bird on the Lower Amazon, and very rarely heard it even at Ega; it is the only songster which makes an impression on the natives, who sometimes rest their paddles whilst travelling in their small canoes, along the shady by-streams, as if struck by the mysterious sounds.
The Tucúna Indians are a tribe resembling much the Shumánas, Passés, Jurís, and Mauhés in their physical appearance and customs. They lead, like those tribes, a settled agricultural life, each horde obeying a chief of more or less influence, according to his energy and ambition, and possessing its pajé or medicine-man who fosters its superstitions; but, they are much more idle and debauched than other Indians belonging to the superior tribes. They are not so warlike and loyal as the Mundurucús, although resembling them in many respects, nor have they the slender figures, dignified mien, and gentle disposition of the Passés; there are, however, no trenchant points of difference to distinguish them from these highest of all the tribes. Both men and women are tattooed, the pattern being sometimes a scroll on each cheek, but generally rows of short straight lines on the face. Most of the older people wear bracelets, anklets, and garters of tapir-hide or tough bark; in their homes they wear no other dress except on festival days, when they ornament themselves with feathers or masked cloaks made of the inner bark of a tree. They were very shy when I made my first visits to their habitations in the forest, all scampering off to the thicket when I approached, but on subsequent days they became more familiar, and I found them a harmless, good-natured people.
A great part of the horde living at the first Maloca or village dwell in a common habitation, a large oblong hut built and arranged inside with such a disregard of all symmetry that it appeared as though constructed by a number of hands, each working independently, stretching a rafter or fitting in a piece of thatch, without reference to what his fellow-labourers were doing. The walls as well as the roof are covered with thatch of palm leaves; each piece consisting of leaflets plaited and attached in a row to a lath many feet in length. Strong upright posts support the roof, hammocks being slung between them, leaving a free space for passage and for fires in the middle, and on one side is an elevated stage (girao) overhead, formed of split palm-stems. The Tucúnas excel over most of the other tribes in the manufacture of pottery. They make broad-mouthed jars for Tucupi sauce, caysúma or mandioca beer, capable of holding twenty or more gallons, ornamenting them outside with crossed diagonal streaks of various colours. These jars, with cooking-pots, smaller jars for holding water, blow-guns, quivers, matiri bags2 full of small articles, baskets, skins of animals, and so forth, form the principal part of the furniture of their huts both large and small. The dead bodies of their chiefs are interred, the knees doubled up, in large jars under the floors of their huts.
The semi-religious dances and drinking bouts usual amongst the settled tribes of Amazonian Indians are indulged in to greater excess by the Tucúnas than they are by most other tribes. The Juruparí or Demon is the only superior being they have any conception of, and his name is mixed up with all their ceremonies, but it is difficult to ascertain what they consider to be his attributes. He seems to be believed in simply as a mischievous imp, who is at the bottom of all those mishaps of their daily life, the causes of which are not very immediate or obvious to their dull understandings. It is vain to try to get information out of a Tucúna on this subject; they affect great mystery when the name is mentioned, and give very confused answers to questions: it was clear, however, that the idea of a spirit as a beneficent God or Creator had not entered the minds of these Indians. There is great similarity in all their ceremonies and mummeries, whether the object is a wedding, the celebration of the feast of fruits, the plucking of the hair from the heads of their children, or a holiday got up simply out of a love of dissipation. Some of the tribe on these occasions deck themselves with the bright-coloured feathers of parrots and macaws. The chief wears a headdress or cap made by fixing the breast-feathers of the Toucan on a web of Bromelia twine, with erect tail plumes of macaws rising from the crown. The cinctures of the arms and legs are also then ornamented with bunches of feathers. Others wear masked dresses; these are long cloaks reaching below the knee, and made of the thick whitish-coloured inner bark of a tree, the fibres of which are interlaced in so regular a manner that the material looks like artificial cloth. The cloak covers the head; two holes are cut out for the eyes, a large round piece of the cloth stretched on a rim of flexible wood is stitched on each side to represent ears, and the features are painted in exaggerated style with yellow, red, and black streaks. The dresses are sewn into the proper shapes with thread made of the inner bark of the Uaissíma tree. Sometimes grotesque head-dresses, representing monkeys’ busts or heads of other animals, made by stretching cloth or skin over a basketwork frame, are worn at these holidays. The biggest and ugliest mask represents the Juruparí. In these festival habiliments the Tucúnas go through their monotonous see-saw and stamping dances accompanied by singing and drumming, and keep up the sport often for three or four days and nights in succession, drinking enormous quantities of caysuma, smoking tobacco, and snuffing paricá powder.
I could not learn that there was any deep symbolical meaning in these masked dances, or that they commemorated any past event in the history of the tribe. Some of them seem vaguely intended as a propitiation of the Juruparí, but the masker who represents the demon sometimes gets drunk along with the rest, and is not treated with any reverence. From all I could make out, these Indians preserve no memory of events going beyond the times of their fathers or grandfathers. Almost every joyful event is made the occasion of a festiva: weddings amongst the best. A young man who wishes to wed a Tucúna girl has to demand her hand of her parents, who arrange the rest of the affair, and fix a day for the marriage ceremony. A wedding which took place in the Christmas week whilst I was at St. Paulo was kept up with great spirit for three or four days, flagging during the heats of mid-day, but renewing itself with increased vigour every evening. During the whole time the bride, decked out with feather ornaments, was under the charge of the older squaws whose business seemed to be, sedulously, to keep the bridegroom at a safe distance until the end of the dreary period of dancing and boosing. The Tucúnas have the singular custom, in common with the Collínas and Mauhés, of treating their young girls, on their showing the first signs of womanhood, as if they had committed some crime. They are sent up to the girao under the smoky and filthy roof, and kept there on very meagre diet, sometimes for a whole month. I heard of one poor girl dying under this treatment.
The only other tribe of this neighbourhood concerning which I obtained any information were the Majerónas, whose territory embraces several hundred miles of the western bank of the river Jauarí, an affluent of the Solimoens, 120 miles beyond St. Paulo. These are a fierce, indomitable, and hostile people, like the Aráras of the river Madeira; they are also cannibals. The navigation of the Jauaarí is rendered impossible on account of the Majerónas lying in wait on its banks to intercept and murder all travellers, especially whites.
Four months before my arrival at St. Paulo, two young half-castes (nearly white) of the village went to trade on the Jauaarí; the Majerónas having shown signs of abating their hostility for a year or two previously. They had not been long gone, when their canoe returned with the news that the two young fellows had been shot with arrows, roasted, and eaten by the savages. Jose Patricio, with his usual activity in the cause of law and order, despatched a party of armed men of the National Guard to the place to make inquiries, and, if the murder should appear to be unprovoked, to retaliate. When they reached the settlement of the horde who had eaten the two men, it was found evacuated, with the exception of one girl, who had been in the woods when the rest of her people had taken flight, and whom the guards brought with them to St. Paulo. It was gathered from her, and from other Indians on the Jauaarí, that the young men had brought their fate on themselves through improper conduct towards the Majeróna women. The girl, on arriving at St. Paulo, was taken care of by Senhor José Patricio, baptised under the name of Maria, and taught Portuguese. I saw a good deal of her, for my friend sent her daily to my house to fill the water-jars, make the fire, and so forth. I also gained her goodwill by extracting the grub of an Œstrus fly from her back, and thus cured her of a painful tumour. She was decidedly the best-humoured and, to all appearance, the kindest-hearted specimen of her race I had yet seen. She was tall and very stout; in colour much lighter than the ordinary Indian tint, and her ways altogether were more like those of a careless, laughing country wench, such as might be met with any day amongst the labouring class in villages in our own country, than a cannibal. I heard this artless maiden relate, in the coolest manner possible, how she ate a portion of the bodies of the young men whom her tribe had roasted. But what increased greatly the incongruity of this business, the young widow of one of the victims, a neighbour of mine, happened to be present during the narrative, and showed her interest in it by laughing at the broken Portuguese in which the girl related the horrible story.
In the fourth month of my sojourn at St. Paulo I had a serious illness, an attack of the “sizoens,” or ague of the country, which, as it left me with shattered health and damped enthusiasm, led to my abandoning the plan I had formed of proceeding to the Peruvian towns of Pebas and Moyobamba, 250 and 600 miles further west, and so completing the examination of the Natural History of the Amazonian plains up to the foot of the Andes. I made a very large collection at St. Paulo, and employed a collector at Tabatinga and on the banks of the Jauaarí for several months, so that I acquired a very fair knowledge altogether of the productions of the country bordering the Amazons to the end of the Brazilian territory, a distance of 1900 miles from the Atlantic at the mouth of the Pará; but beyond the Peruvian boundary I found now I should be unable to go. My ague seemed to be the culmination of a gradual deterioration of health, which had been going on for several years. I had exposed myself too much in the sun, working to the utmost of my strength six days a week, and had suffered much, besides, from bad and insufficient food. The ague did not exist at St. Paulo but the foul and humid state of the village was, perhaps, sufficient to produce ague in a person much weakened from other causes. The country bordering the shores of the Solimoens is healthy throughout; some endemic diseases certainly exist, but these are not of a fatal nature, and the epidemics which desolated the Lower Amazons from Pará to the Rio Negro, between the years 1850 and 1856, had never reached this favoured land. Ague is known only on the banks of those tributary streams which have dark-coloured water.
I always carried a stock of medicines with me; and a small phial of quinine, which I had bought at Pará in 1851, but never yet had use for, now came in very useful. I took for each dose as much as would lie on the tip of a penknife-blade, mixing it with warm camomile tea. The first few days after my first attack I could not stir, and was delirious during the paroxysms of fever; but the worst being over, I made an effort to rouse myself, knowing that incurable disorders of the liver and spleen follow ague in this country if the feeling of lassitude is too much indulged. So every morning I shouldered my gun or insect-net, and went my usual walk in the forest. The fit of shivering very often seized me before I got home, and I then used to stand still and brave it out. When the steamer ascended in January, 1858, Lieutenant Nunes was shocked to see me so much shattered, and recommended me strongly to return at once to Ega. I took his advice, and embarked with him, when he touched at St. Paulo on his downward voyage, on the 2nd of February. I still hoped to be able to turn my face westward again, to gather the yet unseen treasures of the marvellous countries lying between Tabatinga and the slopes of the Andes; but although, after a short rest in Ega, the ague left me, my general health remained in a state too weak to justify the undertaking of further journeys. At length I left Ega, on the 3rd of February, 1859, en route for England.
I arrived at Pará on the 17th of March, after an absence in the interior of seven years and a half. My old friends, English, American, and Brazilian, scarcely knew me again, but all gave me a very warm welcome, especially Mr. G. R. Brocklehurst (of the firm of R. Singlehurst and Co., the chief foreign merchants, who had been my correspondents), who received me into his house, and treated me with the utmost kindness. I was rather surprised at the warm appreciation shown by many of the principal people of my labours; but, in fact, the interior of the country is still the “sertao” (wilderness)—a terra incognita to most residents of the seaport—and a man who had spent seven years and a half in exploring it solely with scientific aims was somewhat of a curiosity. I found Pará greatly changed and improved. It was no longer the weedy, ruinous, village-looking place that it appeared to be when I first knew it in 1848. The population had been increased to 20,000 by an influx of Portuguese, Madeiran, and German immigrants, and for many years past the provincial government had spent their considerable surplus revenue in beautifying the city. The streets, formerly unpaved or strewn with loose stones and sand, were now laid with concrete in a most complete manner, all the projecting masonry of the irregularly-built houses had been cleared away, and the buildings made more uniform. Most of the dilapidated houses were replaced by handsome new edifices, having long and elegant balconies fronting the first floors, at an elevation of several feet above the roadway. The large, swampy squares had been drained, weeded, and planted with rows of almond and casuarina trees, so that they were now a great ornament to the city, instead of an eyesore as they formerly were. My old favourite road, the Monguba avenue, had been renovated and joined to many other magnificent rides lined with trees, which in a very few years had grown to a height sufficient to afford agreeable shade; one of these, the Estrada de Sao José, had been planted with cocoa-nut palms. Sixty public vehicles, light cabriolets (some of them built in Pará), now plied in the streets, increasing much the animation of the beautified squares, streets, and avenues.
I found also the habits of the people considerably changed. Many of the old religious holidays had declined in importance, and given way to secular amusements; social parties, balls, music, billiards, and so forth. There was quite as much pleasure seeking as formerly, but it was turned in a more rational direction, and the Paraenses seemed now to copy rather the customs of the northern nations of Europe than those of the mother country, Portugal. I was glad to see several new booksellers’ shops, and also a fine edifice devoted to a reading-room supplied with periodicals, globes, and maps, and a circulating library. There were now many printing-offices, and four daily newspapers. The health of the place had greatly improved since 1850, the year of the yellow fever, and Pará was now considered no longer dangerous to newcomers.
So much for the improvements visible in the place, and now for the dark side of the picture. The expenses of living had increased about fourfold, a natural consequence of the demand for labour and for native products of all kinds having augmented in greater ratio than the supply, through large arrivals of non-productive residents, and considerable importations of money on account of the steamboat company and foreign merchants. Pará, in 1848, was one of the cheapest places of residence on the American continent; it was now one of the dearest. Imported articles of food, clothing, and furniture were mostly cheaper, although charged with duties varying from 18 to 80 per cent, besides high freights and large profits, than those produced in the neighbourhood. Salt codfish was twopence per pound cheaper than the vile salt pirarucu of the country. Oranges, which could formerly be had almost gratis, were now sold in the streets at the rate of three for a penny; large bananas were a penny each; tomatoes were from two to three pence each, and all other fruits in this fruit-producing country had advanced in like proportion. Mandioca-meal, the bread of the country, had become so scarce and dear and bad that the poorer classes of natives suffered famine, and all who could afford it were obliged to eat wheaten bread at fourpence to fivepence per pound, made from American flour, 1200 barrels of which were consumed monthly; this was now, therefore, a very serious item of daily expense to all but the most wealthy. House rent was most exorbitant; a miserable little place of two rooms, without fixtures or conveniences of any kind, having simply blank walls’ cost at the rate of £18 sterling a year. Lastly, the hire of servants was beyond the means of all persons in moderate circumstances; a lazy cook or porter could not be had for less than three or four shillings a day, besides his board and what he could steal. It cost me half-a-crown for the hire of a small boat and one man to disembark from the steamer, a distance of 100 yards.
In rambling over my old ground in the forests of the neighbourhood, I found great changes had taken place—to me, changes for the worse. The mantle of shrubs, bushes, and creeping plants which formerly, when the suburbs were undisturbed by axe or spade, had been left free to arrange itself in rich, full, and smooth sheets and masses over the forest borders, had been nearly all cut away, and troops of labourers were still employed cutting ugly muddy roads for carts and cattle, through the once clean and lonely woods. Houses and mills had been erected on the borders of these new roads. The noble forest-trees had been cut down, and their naked, half-burnt stems remained in the midst of ashes, muddy puddles, and heaps of broken branches. I was obliged to hire a negro boy to show me the way to my favourite path near Una, which I have described in the second chapter of this narrative; the new clearings having quite obliterated the old forest roads. Only a few acres of the glorious forest near Una now remained in their natural state. On the other side of the city, near the old road to the rice mills, several scores of woodsmen were employed under Government, in cutting a broad carriage-road through the forest to Maranham, the capital of the neighbouring province, distant 250 miles from Pará, and this had entirely destroyed the solitude of the grand old forest path. In the course of a few years, however, a new growth of creepers will cover the naked tree-trunks on the borders of this new road, and luxuriant shrubs form a green fringe to the path: it will then become as beautiful a woodland road as the old one was. A naturalist will have, henceforward, to go farther from the city to find the glorious forest scenery which lay so near in 1848, and work much more laboriously than was formerly needed to make the large collections which Mr. Wallace and I succeeded in doing in the neighbourhood of Pará.
June 2, 1859.—At length, on the 2nd of June, I left Pará, probably forever; embarking in a North American trading-vessel, the Frederick Demming, for New York, the United States route being the quickest as well as the pleasantest way of reaching England. My extensive private collections were divided into three portions and sent by three separate ships, to lessen the risk of loss of the whole. On the evening of the 3rd of June, I took a last view of the glorious forest for which I had so much love, and to explore which I had devoted so many years. The saddest hours I ever recollect to have spent were those of the succeeding night when, the Mameluco pilot having left us free of the shoals and out of sight of land though within the mouth of the river at anchor waiting for the wind, I felt that the last link which connected me with the land of so many pleasing recollections was broken. The Paraenses, who are fully aware of the attractiveness of their country, have an alliterative proverb, “Quem vai para (o) Pará para,” “He who goes to Pará stops there,” and I had often thought I should myself have been added to the list of examples. The desire, however, of seeing again my parents and enjoying once more the rich pleasures of intellectual society, had succeeded in overcoming the attractions of a region which may be fittingly called a Naturalist’s Paradise. During this last night on the Pará river, a crowd of unusual thoughts occupied my mind. Recollections of English climate, scenery, and modes of life came to me with a vividness I had never before experienced, during the eleven years of my absence. Pictures of startling clearness rose up of the gloomy winters, the long grey twilights, murky atmosphere, elongated shadows, chilly springs, and sloppy summers; of factory chimneys and crowds of grimy operatives, rung to work in early morning by factory bells; of union workhouses, confined rooms, artificial cares, and slavish conventionalities. To live again amidst these dull scenes, I was quitting a country of perpetual summer, where my life had been spent like that of three-fourths of the people in gipsy fashion, on the endless streams or in the boundless forests. I was leaving the equator, where the well-balanced forces of Nature maintained a land-surface and climate that seemed to be typical of mundane order and beauty, to sail towards the North Pole, where lay my home under crepuscular skies somewhere about fifty-two degrees of latitude. It was natural to feel a little dismayed at the prospect of so great a change; but now, after three years of renewed experience of England, I find how incomparably superior is civilised life, where feelings, tastes, and intellect find abundant nourishment, to the spiritual sterility of half-savage existence, even though it be passed in the garden of Eden. What has struck me powerfully is the immeasurably greater diversity and interest of human character and social conditions in a single civilised nation, than in equatorial South America, where three distinct races of man live together. The superiority of the bleak north to tropical regions, however, is only in their social aspect, for I hold to the opinion that, although humanity can reach an advanced state of culture only by battling with the inclemencies of nature in high latitudes, it is under the equator alone that the perfect race of the future will attain to complete fruition of man’s beautiful heritage, the earth.
The following day, having no wind, we drifted out of the mouth of the Pará with the current of fresh water that is poured from the mouth of the river, and in twenty-four hours advanced in this way seventy miles on our road. On the 6th of June, when in 7° 55' N. lat. and 52° 30' W. long., and therefore about 400 miles from the mouth of the main Amazons, we passed numerous patches of floating grass mingled with tree-trunks and withered foliage. Amongst these masses I espied many fruits of that peculiarly Amazonian tree the Ubussú palm; this was the last I saw of the Great River.
1. Species or races which take the
place of other allied species or races.
2. These bags are formed of remarkably neat twine made of Bromelia fibres elaborately knitted, all in one piece, with sticks; a belt of the same material, but more closely woven, being attached to the top to suspend them by. They afford good examples of the mechanical ability of these Indians. The Tucúnas also possess the art of skinning and stuffing birds, the handsome kinds of which they sell in great numbers to passing travellers.
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