The Naturalist on the Amazons

Chapter I


Arrival — Aspect of the Country — The Pará River — First Walk in the Suburbs of Pará — Birds, Lizards, and Insects of the Suburbs — Leaf-carrying Ant — Sketch of the Climate, History, and present Condition of Pará.

I embarked at Liverpool, with Mr. Wallace, in a small trading vessel, on the 26th of April, 1848; and, after a swift passage from the Irish Channel to the equator, arrived, on the 26th of May, off Salinas. This is the pilot-station for vessels bound to Pará, the only port of entry to the vast region watered by the Amazons. It is a small village, formerly a missionary settlement of the Jesuits, situated a few miles to the eastward of the Pará River. Here the ship anchored in the open sea at a distance of six miles from the shore, the shallowness of the water far out around the mouth of the great river not permitting, in safety, a nearer approach; and, the signal was hoisted for a pilot. It was with deep interest that my companion and myself, both now about to see and examine the beauties of a tropical country for the first time, gazed on the land where I, at least, eventually spent eleven of the best years of my life. To the eastward the country was not remarkable in appearance, being slightly undulating, with bare sand-hills and scattered trees; but to the westward, stretching towards the mouth of the river, we could see through the captain’s glass a long line of forest, rising apparently out of the water; a densely-packed mass of tall trees, broken into groups, and finally into single trees, as it dwindled away in the distance. This was the frontier, in this direction, of the great primaeval forest characteristic of this region, which contains so many wonders in its recesses, and clothes the whole surface of the country for two thousand miles from this point to the foot of the Andes.

On the following day and night we sailed, with a light wind, partly aided by the tide, up the Pará river. Towards evening we passed Vigia and Colares, two fishing villages, and saw many native canoes, which seemed like toys beneath the lofty walls of dark forest. The air was excessively close, the sky overcast, and sheet lightning played almost incessantly around the horizon—an appropriate greeting on the threshold of a country lying close under the equator! The evening was calm, this being the season when the winds are not strong, so we glided along in a noiseless manner, which contrasted pleasantly with the unceasing turmoil to which we had been lately accustomed on the Atlantic. The immensity of the river struck us greatly, for although sailing sometimes at a distance of eight or nine miles from the eastern bank, the opposite shore was at no time visible. Indeed, the Pará river is thirty-six miles in breadth at its mouth; and at the city of Pará, nearly seventy miles from the sea, it is twenty miles wide; but at that point, a series of islands commences which contracts the riverview in front of the port.

On the morning of the 28th of May, we arrived at our destination. The appearance of the city at sunrise was pleasing in the highest degree. It is built on a low tract of land, having only one small rocky elevation at its southern extremity; it, therefore, affords no amphitheatral view from the river; but the white buildings roofed with red tiles, the numerous towers and cupolas of churches and convents, the crowns of palm-trees reared above the buildings, all sharply defined against the clear blue sky, give an appearance of lightness and cheerfulness which is most exhilarating. The perpetual forest hems the city in on all sides landwards; and towards the suburbs, picturesque country houses are seen scattered about, half buried in luxuriant foliage. The port was full of native canoes and other vessels, large and small; and the ringing of bells and firing of rockets, announcing the dawn of some Roman Catholic festival day, showed that the population was astir at that early hour.

We went ashore in due time, and were kindly received by Mr. Miller, the consignee of the vessel, who invited us to make his house our home until we could obtain a suitable residence. On landing, the hot moist mouldy air, which seemed to strike from the ground and walls, reminded me of the atmosphere of tropical stoves at Kew. In the course of the afternoon a heavy shower fell, and in the evening, the atmosphere having been cooled by the rain, we walked about a mile out of town to the residence of an American gentleman to whom our host wished to introduce us.

The impressions received during this first walk can never wholly fade from my mind. After traversing the few streets of tall, gloomy, convent-looking buildings near the port, inhabited chiefly by merchants and shopkeepers, along which idle soldiers, dressed in shabby uniforms carrying their muskets carelessly over their arms, priests, negresses with red water-jars on their heads, sad-looking Indian women carrying their naked children astride on their hips, and other samples of the motley life of the place, we passed down a long narrow street leading to the suburbs. Beyond this, our road lay across a grassy common into a picturesque lane leading to the virgin forest. The long street was inhabited by the poorer class of the population. The houses were of one story only, and had an irregular and mean appearance. The windows were without glass, having, instead, projecting lattice casements. The street was unpaved, and inches deep in loose sand. Groups of people were cooling themselves outside their doors—people of all shades in colour of skin, European, Negro and Indian, but chiefly an uncertain mixture of the three. Amongst them were several handsome women dressed in a slovenly manner, barefoot or shod in loose slippers, but wearing richly-decorated earrings, and around their necks strings of very large gold beads. They had dark expressive eyes, and remarkably rich heads of hair. It was a mere fancy, but I thought the mingled squalor, luxuriance and beauty of these women were pointedly in harmony with the rest of the scene—so striking, in the view, was the mixture of natural riches and human poverty. The houses were mostly in a dilapidated condition, and signs of indolence and neglect were visible everywhere. The wooden palings which surrounded the weed-grown gardens were strewn about and broken; hogs, goats, and ill-fed poultry wandered in and out through the gaps. But amidst all, and compensating every defect, rose the overpowering beauty of the vegetation. The massive dark crowns of shady mangos were seen everywhere amongst the dwellings, amidst fragrant blossoming orange, lemon, and many other tropical fruit trees, some in flower, others in fruit, at varying stages of ripeness. Here and there, shooting above the more dome-like and sombre trees, were the smooth columnar stems of palms, bearing aloft their magnificent crowns of finely-cut fronds. Amongst the latter the slim assai-palm was especially noticeable, growing in groups of four or five; its smooth, gently-curving stem, twenty to thirty feet high, terminating in a head of feathery foliage, inexpressibly light and elegant in outline. On the boughs of the taller and more ordinary-looking trees sat tufts of curiously- leaved parasites. Slender, woody lianas hung in festoons from the branches, or were suspended in the form of cords and ribbons; whilst luxuriant creeping plants overran alike tree-trunks, roofs and walls, or toppled over palings in a copious profusion of foliage. The superb banana (Musa paradisiaca), of which I had always read as forming one of the charms of tropical vegetation, grew here with great luxuriance—its glossy velvety-green leaves, twelve feet in length, curving over the roofs of verandahs in the rear of every house. The shape of the leaves, the varying shades of green which they present when lightly moved by the wind, and especially the contrast they afford in colour and form to the more sombre hues and more rounded outline of the other trees, are quite sufficient to account for the charm of this glorious tree. Strange forms of vegetation drew our attention at almost every step. Amongst them were the different kinds of Bromelia, or pine-apple plants, with their long, rigid, sword-shaped leaves, in some species jagged or toothed along their edges. Then there was the bread-fruit tree—an importation, it is true; but remarkable from its large, glossy, dark green, strongly digitated foliage, and its interesting history. Many other trees and plants, curious in leaf, stem, or manner of growth, grew on the borders of the thickets along which lay our road; they were all attractive to newcomers, whose last country ramble of quite recent date was over the bleak moors of Derbyshire on a sleety morning in April.

As we continued our walk the brief twilight commenced, and the sounds of multifarious life came from the vegetation around. The whirring of cicadas; the shrill stridulation of a vast number and variety of field crickets and grasshoppers, each species sounding its peculiar note; the plaintive hooting of tree frogs—all blended together in one continuous ringing sound—the audible expression of the teeming profusion of Nature. As night came on, many species of frogs and toads in the marshy places joined in the chorus—their croaking and drumming, far louder than anything I had before heard in the same line, being added to the other noises, created an almost deafening din. This uproar of life, I afterwards found, never wholly ceased, night or day. In the course of time I became, like other residents, accustomed to it. It is, however, one of the peculiarities of a tropical—at least, a Brazilian—climate which is most likely to surprise a stranger. After my return to England, the deathlike stillness of summer days in the country appeared to me as strange as the ringing uproar did on my first arrival at Pará. The object of our visit being accomplished, we returned to the city. The fire-flies were then out in great numbers, flitting about the sombre woods, and even the frequented streets. We turned into our hammocks, well pleased with what we had seen, and full of anticipation with regard to the wealth of natural objects we had come to explore.

During the first few days, we were employed in landing our baggage and arranging our extensive apparatus. We then accepted the invitation of Mr. Miller to make use of his rocinha, or country-house in the suburbs, until we finally decided on a residence. Upon this, we made our first essay in housekeeping. We bought cotton hammocks, the universal substitute for beds in this country, cooking utensils and crockery, and engaged a free negro, named Isidoro, as cook and servant-of-all-work. Our first walks were in the immediate suburbs of Pará. The city lies on a corner of land formed by the junction of the river Guam&a with the Pará. As I have said before, the forest, which covers the whole country, extends close up to the city streets; indeed, the town is built on a tract of cleared land, and is kept free from the jungle only by the constant care of the Government. The surface, though everywhere low, is slightly undulating, so that areas of dry land alternate throughout with areas of swampy ground, the vegetation and animal tenants of the two being widely different. Our residence lay on the side of the city nearest the Guamá, on the borders of one of the low and swampy areas which here extends over a portion of the suburbs. The tract of land is intersected by well-macadamised suburban roads, the chief of which, the Estrada das Mongubeiras (the Monguba road), about a mile long, is a magnificent avenue of silk-cotton trees (Bombax monguba and B. ceiba), huge trees whose trunks taper rapidly from the ground upwards, and whose flowers before opening look like red balls studding the branches. This fine road was constructed under the governorship of the Count dos Arcos, about the year 1812. At right angles to it run a number of narrow green lanes, and the whole district is drained by a system of small canals or trenches through which the tide ebbs and flows, showing the lowness of the site. Before I left the country, other enterprising presidents had formed a number of avenues lined with cocoa-nut palms, almond and other trees, in continuation of the Monguba road, over the more elevated and drier ground to the north-east of the city. On the high ground the vegetation has an aspect quite different from that which it presents in the swampy parts. Indeed, with the exception of the palm-trees, the suburbs here have an aspect like that of a village green at home. The soil is sandy, and the open commons are covered with a short grassy and shrubby vegetation. Beyond this, the land again descends to a marshy tract, where, at the bottom of the moist hollows, the public wells are situated. Here all the linen of the city is washed by hosts of noisy negresses, and here also the water-carts are filled—painted hogsheads on wheels, drawn by bullocks. In early morning, when the sun sometimes shines through a light mist, and everything is dripping with moisture, this part of the city is full of life; vociferous negroes and wrangling Gallegos,1 the proprietors of the water-carts, are gathered about, jabbering continually, and taking their morning drams in dirty wine-shops at the street corners.

Along these beautiful roads we found much to interest us during the first few days. Suburbs of towns, and open, sunny cultivated places in Brazil, are tenanted by species of animals and plants which are mostly different from those of the dense primaeval forests. I will, therefore, give an account of what we observed of the animal world during our explorations in the immediate neighbourhood of Pará.

The number and beauty of the birds and insects did not at first equal our expectations. The majority of the birds we saw were small and obscurely coloured; they were indeed similar, in general appearance, to such as are met with in country places in England. Occasionally a flock of small parroquets, green, with a patch of yellow on the forehead, would come at early morning to the trees near the Estrada. They would feed quietly, sometimes chattering in subdued tones, but setting up a harsh scream, and flying off, on being disturbed. Humming-birds we did not see at this time, although I afterwards found them by hundreds when certain trees were in flower. Vultures we only saw at a distance, sweeping round at a great height, over the public slaughter-houses. Several flycatchers, finches, ant-thrushes, a tribe of plainly-coloured birds, intermediate in structure between flycatchers and thrushes, some of which startle the new-comer by their extraordinary notes emitted from their places of concealment in the dense thickets; and also tanagers, and other small birds, inhabited the neighbourhood. None of these had a pleasing song, except a little brown wren (Troglodytes furvus), whose voice and melody resemble those of our English robin. It is often seen hopping and climbing about the walls and roofs of houses and on trees in their vicinity. Its song is more frequently heard in the rainy season, when the Monguba trees shed their leaves. At those times the Estrada das Mongubeiras has an appearance quite unusual in a tropical country. The tree is one of the few in the Amazon region which sheds all its foliage before any of the new leaf-buds expand. The naked branches, the sodden ground matted with dead leaves, the grey mist veiling the surrounding vegetation, and the cool atmosphere soon after sunrise, all combine to remind one of autumnal mornings in England. Whilst loitering about at such times in a half-oblivious mood, thinking of home, the song of this bird would create for the moment a perfect illusion. Numbers of tanagers frequented the fruit and other trees in our garden. The two principal kinds which attracted our attention were the Rhamphocoelus Jacapa and the Tanagra Episcopus. The females of both are dull in colour, but the male of Jacapa has a beautiful velvety purple and black plumage, the beak being partly white, whilst the same sex in Episcopus is of a pale blue colour, with white spots on the wings. In their habits they both resemble the common house- sparrow of Europe, which does not exist in South America, its place being in some measure filled by these familiar tanagers. They are just as lively, restless, bold, and wary; their notes are very similar, chirping and inharmonious, and they seem to be almost as fond of the neighbourhood of man. They do not, however, build their nests on houses.

Another interesting and common bird was the Japim, a species of Cassicus (C. icteronotus). It belongs to the same family of birds as our starling, magpie, and rook—it has a rich yellow and black plumage, remarkably compact and velvety in texture. The shape of its head and its physiognomy are very similar to those of the magpie; it has light grey eyes, which give it the same knowing expression. It is social in its habits, and builds its nest, like the English rook, on trees in the neighbourhood of habitations. But the nests are quite differently constructed, being shaped like purses, two feet in length, and suspended from the slender branches all around the tree, some of them very near the ground. The entrance is on the side near the bottom of the nest. The bird is a great favourite with the Brazilians of Pará—it is a noisy, stirring, babbling creature, passing constantly to and fro, chattering to its comrades, and is very ready at imitating other birds, especially the domestic poultry of the vicinity. There was at one time a weekly newspaper published at Pará, called The Japim; the name being chosen, I suppose, on account of the babbling propensities of the bird. Its eggs are nearly round, and of a bluish-white colour, speckled with brown.

Of other vertebrate animals we saw very little, except of the lizards. These are sure to attract the attention of the newcomer from Northern Europe, by reason of their strange appearance, great numbers, and variety. The species which are seen crawling over the walls of buildings in the city are different from those found in the forest or in the interior of houses. They are unpleasant- looking animals, with colours assimilated to those of the dilapidated stone and mud walls on which they are seen. The house lizards belong to a peculiar family, the Geckos, and are found even in the best-kept chambers, most frequently on the walls and ceilings, to which they cling motionless by day, being active only at night. They are of speckled grey or ashy colours. The structure of their feet is beautifully adapted for clinging to and running over smooth surfaces; the underside of their toes being expanded into cushions, beneath which folds of skin form a series of flexible plates. By means of this apparatus they can walk or run across a smooth ceiling with their backs downwards; the plated soles, by quick muscular action, exhausting and admitting air alternately. The Geckos are very repulsive in appearance. The Brazilians give them the name of Osgas, and firmly believe them to be poisonous; they are, however, harmless creatures. Those found in houses are small; but I have seen others of great size, in crevices of tree trunks in the forest. Sometimes Geckos are found with forked tails; this results from the budding of a rudimentary tail at the side, from an injury done to the member. A slight rap will cause their tails to snap off; the loss being afterwards partially repaired by a new growth. The tails of lizards seem to be almost useless appendages to these animals. I used often to amuse myself in the suburbs, whilst resting in the verandah of our house during the heat of mid-day, by watching the variegated green, brown, and yellow ground-lizards. They would come nimbly forward, and commence grubbing with their forefeet and snouts around the roots of herbage, searching for insect larvae. On the slightest alarm, they would scamper off, their tails cocked up in the air as they waddled awkwardly away, evidently an incumbrance to them in their flight.

Next to the birds and lizards, the insects of the suburbs of Pará deserve a few remarks. The species observed in the weedy and open places, as already remarked, were generally different from those which dwell in the shades of the forest. In the gardens, numbers of fine showy butterflies were seen. There were two swallow-tailed species, similar in colours to the English Papilio Machaon; a white Pieris (P. Monuste), and two or three species of brimstone and orange coloured butterflies, which do not belong, however, to the same genus as our English species. In weedy places a beautiful butterfly, with eye-like spots on its wings was common, the Junonia Lavinia, the only Amazonian species which is at all nearly related to our Vanessas, the Admiral and Peacock Butterflies. One day, we made our first acquaintance with two of the most beautiful productions of nature in this department—namely, the Helicopis Cupido and Endymion. A little beyond our house, one of the narrow green lanes which I have already mentioned diverged from the Monguba avenue, and led, between enclosures overrun with a profusion of creeping plants and glorious flowers, down to a moist hollow, where there was a public well in a picturesque nook, buried in a grove of Mucajá palm-trees. On the tree trunks, walls, and palings, grew a great quantity of climbing Pothos plants, with large glossy heart-shaped leaves. These plants were the resort of these two exquisite species, and we captured a great number of specimens. They are of extremely delicate texture. The wings are cream-coloured, the hind pair have several tail-like appendages, and are spangled beneath as if with silver. Their flight is very slow and feeble; they seek the protected under-surface of the leaves, and in repose close their wings over the back, so as to expose the brilliantly spotted under-surface.

I will pass over the many other orders and families of insects, and proceed at once to the ants. These were in great numbers everywhere, but I will mention here only two kinds. We were amazed at seeing ants an inch and a quarter in length, and stout in proportion, marching in single file through the thickets. These belonged to the species called Dinoponera grandis. Its colonies consist of a small number of individuals, and are established about the roots of slender trees. It is a stinging species, but the sting is not so severe as in many of the smaller kinds. There was nothing peculiar or attractive in the habits of this giant amongst the ants. Another far more interesting species was the Saüba (Œcodoma cephalotes). This ant is seen everywhere about the suburbs, marching to and fro in broad columns. From its habit of despoiling the most valuable cultivated trees of their foliage, it is a great scourge to the Brazilians. In some districts it is so abundant that agriculture is almost impossible, and everywhere complaints are heard of the terrible pest.

Saüba or Leaf-carrying ant.—1. Worker-minor; 2. Worker-major; 3. Subterranean worker.

The workers of this species are of three orders, and vary in size from two to seven lines; some idea of them may be obtained from the accompanying woodcut. The true working-class of a colony is formed by the small-sized order of workers, the worker-minors as they are called (Fig. 1). The two other kinds, whose functions, as we shall see, are not yet properly understood, have enormously swollen and massive heads; in one (Fig. 2), the head is highly polished; in the other (Fig. 3), it is opaque and hairy. The worker-minors vary greatly in size, some being double the bulk of others. The entire body is of very solid consistency, and of a pale reddish-brown colour. The thorax or middle segment is armed with three pairs of sharp spines; the head, also, has a pair of similar spines proceeding from the cheeks behind.

In our first walks we were puzzled to account for large mounds of earth, of a different colour from the surrounding soil, which were thrown up in the plantations and woods. Some of them were very extensive, being forty yards in circumference, but not more than two feet in height. We soon ascertained that these were the work of the Saübas, being the outworks, or domes, which overlie and protect the entrances to their vast subterranean galleries. On close examination, I found the earth of which they are composed to consist of very minute granules, agglomerated without cement, and forming many rows of little ridges and turrets. The difference in colour from the superficial soil of the vicinity is owing to their being formed of the undersoil, brought up from a considerable depth. It is very rarely that the ants are seen at work on these mounds; the entrances seem to be generally closed; only now and then, when some particular work is going on, are the galleries opened. The entrances are small and numerous; in the larger hillocks it would require a great amount of excavation to get at the main galleries; but, I succeeded in removing portions of the dome in smaller hillocks, and then I found that the minor entrances converged, at the depth of about two feet, into one broad, elaborately-worked gallery or mine, which was four or five inches in diameter.

This habit of the Saüba ant, of clipping and carrying away immense quantities of leaves, has long been recorded in books on natural history. When employed on this work, their processions look like a multitude of animated leaves on the march. In some places I found an accumulation of such leaves, all circular pieces, about the size of a sixpence, lying on the pathway, unattended by ants, and at some distance from any colony. Such heaps are always found to be removed when the place is revisited the next day. In course of time I had plenty of opportunities of seeing them at work. They mount the tree in multitudes, the individuals being all worker-minors. Each one places itself on the surface of a leaf, and cuts, with its sharp scissor-like jaws, a nearly semicircular incision on the upper side; it then takes the edge between its jaws, and by a sharp jerk detaches the piece. Sometimes they let the leaf drop to the ground, where a little heap accumulates, until carried off by another relay of workers; but, generally, each marches off with the piece it has operated upon, and as all take the same road to their colony, the path they follow becomes in a short time smooth and bare, looking like the impression of a cartwheel through the herbage.

It is a most interesting sight to see the vast host of busy diminutive labourers occupied on this work. Unfortunately, they choose cultivated trees for their purpose. This ant is quite peculiar to Tropical America, as is the entire genus to which it belongs; it sometimes despoils the young trees of species growing wild in its native forests, but seems to prefer, when within reach, plants imported from other countries, such as the coffee and orange trees. It has not hitherto been shown satisfactorily to what use it applies the leaves. I discovered this only after much time spent in investigation. The leaves are used to thatch the domes which cover the entrances to their subterranean dwellings, thereby protecting from the deluging rains the young broods in the nests beneath. The larger mounds, already described, are so extensive that few persons would attempt to remove them for the purpose of examining their interior; but smaller hillocks, covering other entrances to the same system of tunnels and chambers, may be found in sheltered places, and these are always thatched with leaves, mingled with granules of earth. The heavily- laden workers, each carrying its segment of leaf vertically, the lower edge secured in its mandibles, troop up and cast their burdens on the hillock; another relay of labourers place the leaves in position, covering them with a layer of earthy granules, which are brought one by one from the soil beneath.

The underground abodes of this wonderful ant are known to be very extensive. The Rev. Hamlet Clark has related that the Saüba of Rio de Janeiro, a species closely allied to ours, has excavated a tunnel under the bed of the river Paráhyba, at a place where it is broad as the Thames at London Bridge. At the Magoary Rice Mills, near Pará, these ants once pierced the embankment of a large reservoir; the great body of water which it contained escaped before the damage could be repaired. In the Botanic Gardens, at Pará, an enterprising French gardener tried all he could think of to extirpate the Saüba. With this object, he made fires over some of the main entrances to their colonies, and blew the fumes of sulphur down the galleries by means of bellows. I saw the smoke issue from a great number of outlets, one of which was seventy yards distant from the place where the bellows were used. This shows how extensively the underground galleries are ramified.

Besides injuring and destroying young trees by despoiling them of their foliage, the Saüba ant is troublesome to the inhabitants from its habit of plundering the stores of provisions in houses at night, for it is even more active by night than in the day-time. At first I was inclined to discredit the stories of their entering habitations and carrying off grain by grain the farinha or mandioca meal, the bread of the poorer classes of Brazil. At length, whilst residing at an Indian village on the Tapajos, I had ample proof of the fact. One night my servant woke me three or four hours before sunrise, by calling out that the rats were robbing the farinha baskets—the article at that time being scarce and dear. I got up, listened, and found the noise was very unlike that made by rats. So, I took the light and went into the store- room, which was close to my sleeping-place. I there found a broad column of Sauba ants, consisting of thousands of individuals, as busy as possible, passing to and fro between the door and my precious baskets. Most of those passing outwards were laden each with a grain of farinha, which was, in some cases, larger and many times heavier than the bodies of the carriers. Farinha consists of grains of similar size and appearance to the tapioca of our shops; both are products of the same root, tapioca being the pure starch, and farinha the starch mixed with woody fibre, the latter ingredient giving it a yellowish colour. It was amusing to see some of the dwarfs, the smallest members of their family, staggering along, completely hidden under their load. The baskets, which were on a high table, were entirely covered with ants, many hundreds of whom were employed in snipping the dry leaves which served as lining. This produced the rustling sound which had at first disturbed us. My servant told me that they would carry off the whole contents of the two baskets (about two bushels) in the course of the night, if they were not driven off; so we tried to exterminate them by killing them with our wooden clogs. It was impossible, however, to prevent fresh hosts coming in as fast as we killed their companions. They returned the next night; and I was then obliged to lay trains of gunpowder along their line, and blow them up. This, repeated many times, at last seemed to intimidate them, for we were free from their visits during the remainder of my residence at the place. What they did with the hard dry grains of mandioca I was never able to ascertain, and cannot even conjecture. The meal contains no gluten, and therefore would be useless as cement. It contains only a small relative portion of starch, and, when mixed with water, it separates and falls away like so much earthy matter. It may serve as food for the subterranean workers. But the young or larvae of ants are usually fed by juices secreted by the worker nurses.

Ants, it is scarcely necessary to observe, consist, in each species, of three sets of individuals, or, as some express it, of three sexes—namely, males, females, and workers; the last- mentioned being undeveloped females. The perfect sexes are winged on their first attaining the adult state; they alone propagate their kind, flying away, previous to the act of reproduction, from the nest in which they have been reared. This winged state of the perfect males and females, and the habit of flying abroad before pairing, are very important points in the economy of ants; for they are thus enabled to intercross with members of distant colonies which swarm at the same time, and thereby increase the vigour of the race, a proceeding essential to the prosperity of any species. In many ants, especially those of tropical climates, the workers, again, are of two classes, whose structure and functions are widely different. In some species they are wonderfully unlike each other, and constitute two well-defined forms of workers. In others, there is a gradation of individuals between the two extremes. The curious differences in structure and habits between these two classes form an interesting, but very difficult, study. It is one of the great peculiarities of the Saüba ant to possess three classes of workers. My investigations regarding them were far from complete; I will relate, however, what I have observed on the subject.

When engaged in leaf-cutting, plundering farinha, and other operations, two classes of workers are always seen (Figs. 1 and 2). They are not, it is true, very sharply defined in structure, for individuals of intermediate grades occur. All the work, however, is done by the individuals which have small heads (Fig. 1), whilst those which have enormously large heads, the worker-majors (Fig. 2), are observed to be simply walking about. I could never satisfy myself as to the function of these worker-majors. They are not the soldiers or defenders of the working portion of the community, like the armed class in the termites, or white ants, for they never fight. The species has no sting, and does not display active resistance when interfered with. I once imagined they exercised a sort of superintendence over the others; but this function is entirely unnecessary in a community where all work with a precision and regularity resembling the subordinate parts of a piece of machinery. I came to the conclusion, at last, that they have no very precisely defined function. They cannot, however, be entirely useless to the community, for the sustenance of an idle class of such bulky individuals would be too heavy a charge for the species to sustain. I think they serve, in some sort, as passive instruments of protection to the real workers. Their enormously large, hard, and indestructible heads may be of use in protecting them against the attacks of insectivorous animals. They would be, on this view, a kind of “pieces de resistance,” serving as a foil against onslaughts made on the main body of workers.

Sauba Ant.—Female.

The third order of workers is the most curious of all. If the top of a small, fresh hillock, one in which the thatching process is going on, is taken off, a broad cylindrical shaft is disclosed at a depth of about two feet from the surface. If this is probed with a stick, which may be done to the extent of three or four feet without touching bottom, a small number of colossal fellows (Fig. 3) will slowly begin to make their way up the smooth sides of the mine. Their heads are of the same size as those of the class Fig. 2, but the front is clothed with hairs, instead of being polished, and they have in the middle of the forehead a twin, ocellus, or simple eye, of quite different structure from the ordinary compound eyes, on the sides of the head. This frontal eye is totally wanting in the other workers, and is not known in any other kind of ant. The apparition of these strange creatures from the cavernous depths of the mine reminded me, when I first observed them, of the Cyclopes of Homeric fable. They were not very pugnacious, as I feared they would be, and I had no difficulty in securing a few with my fingers. I never saw them under any other circumstances than those here related, and what their special functions may be I cannot divine.

The whole arrangement of a Formicarium, or ant-colony, and all the varied activity of ant-life, are directed to one main purpose—the perpetuation and dissemination of the species. Most of the labour which we see performed by the workers has for its end the sustenance and welfare of the young brood, which are helpless grubs. The true females are incapable of attending to the wants of their offspring; and it is on the poor sterile workers, who are denied all the other pleasures of maternity, that the entire care devolves. The workers are also the chief agents in carrying out the different migrations of the colonies, which are of vast importance to the dispersal and consequent prosperity of the species. The successful but of the winged males and females depends likewise on the workers. It is amusing to see the activity and excitement which reigns in an ant’s nest when the exodus of the winged individuals is taking place. The workers clear the roads of exit, and show the most lively interest in their departure, although it is highly improbable that any of them will return to the same colony. The swarming or exodus of the winged males and females of the Saüba ant takes place in January and February, that is, at the commencement of the rainy season. They come out in the evening in vast numbers, causing quite a commotion in the streets and lanes. They are of very large size, the female measuring no less than two-and-a-quarter inches in expanse of wing; the male is not much more than half this size. They are so eagerly preyed upon by insectivorous animals that on the morning after their flight not an individual is to be seen, a few impregnated females alone escaping the slaughter to found new colonies.

At the time of our arrival, Pará had not quite recovered from the effects of a series of revolutions, brought about by the hatred which existed between the native Brazilians and the Portuguese; the former, in the end, calling to their aid the Indian and mixed coloured population. The number of inhabitants of the city had decreased, in consequence of these disorders, from 24,500 in 1819, to 15,000 in 1848. Although the public peace had not been broken for twelve years before the date of our visit, confidence was not yet completely restored, and the Portuguese merchants and tradesmen would not trust themselves to live at their beautiful country-houses or rocinhas, which lie embosomed in the luxuriant shady gardens around the city. No progress had been made in clearing the second-growth forest which had grown over the once cultivated grounds, and now reached the end of all the suburban streets. The place had the aspect of one which had seen better days; the public buildings, including the palaces of the President and Bishop, the cathedral, the principal churches and convents, all seemed constructed on a scale of grandeur far beyond the present requirements of the city. Streets full of extensive private residences, built in the Italian style of architecture, were in a neglected condition, weeds and flourishing young trees growing from large cracks in the masonry. The large public squares were overgrown with weeds and impassable, on account of the swampy places which occupied portions of their areas. Commerce, however, was now beginning to revive, and before I left the country I saw great improvements, as I shall have to relate towards the conclusion of this narrative.

The province of which Pará is the capital, was at the time I allude to, the most extensive in the Brazilian empire, being about 1560 miles in length from east to west, and about 600 in breadth. Since that date—namely in 1853—it has been divided into two by the separation of the Upper Amazons as a distinct province. It formerly constituted a section, capitania, or governorship of the Portuguese colony. Originally it was well peopled by Indians, varying much in social condition according to their tribe, but all exhibiting the same general physical characters, which are those of the American red man, somewhat modified by long residence in an equatorial forest country. Most of the tribes are now extinct or forgotten, at least those which originally peopled the banks of the main river, their descendants having amalgamated with the white and negro immigrants:2 many still exist, however, in their original state on the Upper Amazons and most of the branch rivers. On this account, Indians in this province are far more numerous than elsewhere in Brazil, and the Indian element may be said to prevail in the mongrel population—the negro proportion being much smaller than in South Brazil.

The city is built on the best available site for a port of entry to the Amazons region, and must in time become a vast emporium; the northern shore of the main river, where alone a rival capital could be founded, is much more difficult of access to vessels, and is besides extremely unhealthy. Although lying so near the equator (1° 28' S. lat.) the climate is not excessively hot. The temperature during three years only once reached 95° Fahrenheit. The greatest heat of the day, about 2 p.m., ranges generally between 89° and 94°; but on the other hand, the air is never cooler than 73°, so that a uniformly high temperature exists, and the mean of the year is 81°. North American residents say that the heat is not so oppressive as it is in summer in New York and Philadelphia. The humidity is, of course, excessive, but the rains are not so heavy and continuous in the wet season as in many other tropical climates. The country had for a long time a reputation for extreme salubrity. Since the small-pox in 1819, which attacked chiefly the Indians, no serious epidemic had visited the province. We were agreeably surprised to find no danger from exposure to the night air or residence in the low swampy lands. A few English residents, who had been established here for twenty or thirty years, looked almost as fresh in colour as if they had never left their native country. The native women, too, seemed to preserve their good looks and plump condition until late in life. I nowhere observed that early decay of appearance in Brazilian ladies, which is said to be so general in the women of North America. Up to 1848 the salubrity of Pará was quite remarkable for a city lying in the delta of a great river, in the middle of the tropics and half surrounded by swamps. It did not much longer enjoy its immunity from epidemics. In 1850 the yellow fever visited the province for the first time, and carried off in a few weeks more than four per cent of the population. One disease after another succeeded, until in 1855 cholera swept through the country and caused fearful havoc. Since then, the healthfulness of the climate has been gradually restored, and it is now fast recovering its former good reputation. Pará is free from serious endemic disorders, and was once a resort of invalids from New York and Massachusetts. The equable temperature, the perpetual verdure, the coolness of the dry season when the sun’s heat is tempered by the strong sea- breezes and the moderation of the periodical rains, make the climate one of the most enjoyable on the face of the earth.

The province is governed, like all others in the empire, by a President, as chief civil authority. At the time of our arrival he also held, exceptionally, the chief military command. This functionary, together with the head of the police administration and the judges, is nominated by the central Government at Rio Janeiro. The municipal and internal affairs are managed by a provincial assembly elected by the people. Every villa or borough throughout the province also possesses its municipal council, and in thinly-populated districts the inhabitants choose every four years a justice of the peace, who adjudicates in small disputes between neighbours. A system of popular education exists, and every village has its school of first letters, the master being paid by the government, the salary amounting to about £70, or the same sum as the priests receive. Besides common schools, a well-endowed classical seminary is maintained at Pará, to which the sons of most of the planters and traders in the interior are sent to complete their education. The province returns its quota of members every four years to the lower and upper houses of the imperial parliament. Every householder has a vote. Trial by jury has been established, the jurymen being selected from householders, no matter what their race or colour; and I have seen the white merchant, the negro husbandman, the mameluco, the mulatto, and the Indian, all sitting side by side on the same bench. Altogether the constitution of government in Brazil seems to combine happily the principles of local self-government and centralisation, and only requires a proper degree of virtue and intelligence in the people to lead the nation to great prosperity.

The province of Pará, or, as we may now say, the two provinces of Pará and the Amazons, contain an area of 800,000 square miles, the population of which is only about 230,000, or in the ratio of one person to four square miles! The country is covered with forests, and the soil is fertile in the extreme, even for a tropical country. It is intersected throughout by broad and deep navigable rivers. It is the pride of the Paráenses to call the Amazons the Mediterranean of South America. The colossal stream perhaps deserves the name, for not only have the main river and its principal tributaries an immense expanse of water bathing the shores of extensive and varied regions, but there is also throughout a system of back channels, connected with the main rivers by narrow outlets and linking together a series of lakes, some of which are fifteen, twenty, and thirty miles in length. The whole Amazons valley is thus covered by a network of navigable waters, forming a vast inland freshwater sea with endless ramifications—rather than a river.

The city of Pará was founded in 1615, and was a place of considerable importance towards the latter half of the eighteenth century, under the government of the brother of Pombal, the famous Portuguese statesman. The province was the last in Brazil to declare its independence of the mother-country and acknowledge the authority of the first emperor, Don Pedro. This was owing to the great numbers and influence of the Portuguese, and the rage of the native party was so great in consequence, that immediately after independence was proclaimed in 1823, a counter revolution broke out, during which many hundred lives were lost and much hatred engendered. The antagonism continued for many years, partial insurrections taking place when the populace thought that the immigrants from Portugal were favoured by the governors sent from the capital of the empire. At length, in 1835, a serious revolt took place which in a short time involved the entire province. It began by the assassination of the President and the leading members of the government; the struggle was severe, and the native party in an evil hour called to their aid the ignorant and fanatic part of the mongrel and Indian population. The cry of death to the Portuguese was soon changed to death to the freemasons, then a powerfully organised society embracing the greater part of the male white inhabitants. The victorious native party endeavoured to establish a government of their own. After this state of things had endured six months, they accepted a new President sent from Rio Janeiro, who, however, again irritated them by imprisoning their favourite leader, Vinagre. The revenge which followed was frightful. A vast host of half- savage coloured people assembled in the retired creeks behind Pará, and on a day fixed, after Vinagre’s brother had sent a message three times to the President demanding, in vain, the release of their leader, the whole body poured into the city through the gloomy pathways of the forest which encircles it. A cruel battle, lasting nine days, was fought in the streets; an English, French, and Portuguese man-of-war, from the side of the river, assisting the legal authorities. All the latter, however, together with every friend of peace and order, were finally obliged to retire to an island a few miles distant. The city and province were given up to anarchy; the coloured people, elated with victory, proclaimed the slaughter of all whites, except the English, French, and American residents. The mistaken principals who had first aroused all this hatred of races were obliged now to make their escape. In the interior, the supporters of lawful authority including, it must be stated, whole tribes of friendly Indians and numbers of the better disposed negroes and mulattos, concentrated themselves in certain strong positions and defended themselves, until the reconquest of the capital and large towns of the interior in 1836 by a force sent from Rio Janeiro—after ten months of anarchy.

Years of conciliatory government, the lesson learned by the native party and the moderation of the Portuguese, aided by the indolence and passive goodness of the Paráenses of all classes and colours, were only beginning to produce their good effects about the time I am speaking of. Life, however, was now and had been for some time quite safe throughout the country. Some few of the worst characters had been transported or imprisoned, and the remainder, after being pardoned, were converted once more into quiet and peaceable citizens.

I resided at Pará nearly a year and a half altogether, returning thither and making a stay of a few months after each of my shorter excursions into the interior, until the 6th of November, 1851, when I started on my long voyage to the Tapajos and the Upper Amazons, which occupied me seven years and a half. I became during this time tolerably familiar with the capital of the Amazons region, and its inhabitants. Compared with other Brazilian seaport towns, I was always told, Pará shone to great advantage. It was cleaner, the suburbs were fresher, more rural and much pleasanter on account of their verdure, shade, and magnificent vegetation. The people were simpler, more peaceable and friendly in their manners and dispositions; and assassinations, which give the southern provinces so ill a reputation, were almost unknown. At the same time the Pará people were much inferior to Southern Brazilians in energy and industry. Provisions and house rents being cheap and the wants of the people few—for they were content with food and lodging of a quality which would be spurned by paupers in England—they spent the greater part of their time in sensual indulgences and in amusements which the government and wealthier citizens provided for them gratis. The trade, wholesale and retail, was in the hands of the Portuguese, of whom there were about 2500 in the place. Many handicrafts were exercised by coloured people, mulattos, mamelucos, free negroes, and Indians. The better sort of Brazilians dislike the petty details of shop-keeping, and if they cannot be wholesale merchants, prefer the life of planters in the country, however small may be the estate and the gains. The negroes constituted the class of field-labourers and porters; Indians were universally the watermen, and formed the crews of the numberless canoes of all sizes and shapes which traded between Pará and the interior. The educated Brazilians, not many of whom are of pure Caucasian descent—for the immigration of Portuguese, for many years, has been almost exclusively of the male sex—are courteous, lively, and intelligent people. They were gradually weaning themselves of the ignorant, bigoted notions which they inherited from their Portuguese ancestors, especially those entertained with regard to the treatment of women. Formerly, the Portuguese would not allow their wives to go into society, or their daughters to learn reading and writing. In 1848, Brazilian ladies were only just beginning to emerge from this inferior position, and Brazilian fathers were opening their eyes to the advantages of education for their daughters. Reforms of this kind are slow. It is, perhaps, in part owing to the degrading position always held by women, that the relations between the sexes were, and are still, on so unsatisfactory a footing, and private morality at so low an ebb, in Brazil. In Pará, I believe that an improvement is now taking place, but formerly promiscuous intercourse seemed to be the general rule amongst all classes, and intrigues and love-making the serious business of the greater part of the population. That this state of things is a necessity depending on the climate and institutions I do not believe, as I have resided at small towns in the interior, where the habits, and the general standard of morality of the inhabitants, were as pure as they are in similar places in England.

1. Natives of Galicia, in Spain, who follow this occupation in Lisbon and Oporto, as well as at Pará.
2. The mixed breeds which now form, probably, the greater part of the population, each have a distinguishing name. Mameluco denotes the offspring of White with Indian; Mulatto, that of White with Negro; Cafuzo, the mixture of the Indian and Negro; Curiboco, the cross between the Cafuzo and the Indian; Xibaro, that between the Cafuzo and Negro. These are seldom, however, well-demarcated, and all shades of colour exist; the names are generally applied only approximatively. The term Creole is confined to negroes born in the country. The civilised Indian is called Tapuyo or Caboclo.

Title | Contents | Chapter II | Map 1 | Map 2 | Map 3