The Naturalist on the Amazons


Chapter V

CARAPÍ AND THE BAY OF MARAJÓ

River Pará and Bay of Marajó — Journey to Caripí — Negro Observance of Christmas — A German Family — Bats — Ant-eaters — Humming-birds — Excursion to the Murucupí — Domestic Life of the Inhabitants — Hunting Excursion with Indians — White Ants.


That part of the Pará river which lies in front of the city, as I have already explained, forms a narrow channel, being separated from the main waters of the estuary by a cluster of islands. This channel is about two miles broad, and constitutes part of the minor estuary of Goajará, into which the three rivers Guamá, Mojú, and Acará discharge their waters. The main channel of the Pará lies ten miles away from the city, directly across the river; at that point, after getting clear of the islands, a great expanse of water is beheld, ten to twelve miles in width; on the opposite shore the island of Marajó, being visible only in clear weather as a line of tree-tops dotting the horizon. A little further upwards, that is to the southwest, the mainland on the right or eastern shore appears, this is called Carnapijó; it is rocky, covered with the never-ending forest, and the coast, which is fringed with broad sandy beaches, describes a gentle curve inwards. The broad reach of the Pará in front of this coast is called the Bahia, or Bay of Marajó. The coast and the interior of the land are peopled by civilised Indians and Mamelucos, with a mixture of free negroes and mulattos. They are poor, for the waters are not abundant in fish, and they are dependent for a livelihood solely on their small plantations, and the scant supply of game found in the woods. The district was originally peopled by various tribes of Indians, of whom the principal were the Tupinambás and Nhengahíbas. Like all the coast tribes, whether inhabiting the banks of the Amazons or the seashore between Pará and Bahia, they were far more advanced in civilisation than the hordes scattered through the interior of the country, some of which still remain in the wild state, between the Amazons and the Plata. There are three villages on the coast of Carnapijó, and several planters’ houses, formerly the centres of flourishing estates, which have now relapsed into forest in consequence of the scarcity of labour and diminished enterprise. One of the largest of these establishments is called Caripí. At the time of which I am speaking, it belonged to a Scotch gentleman, Mr. Campbell, who had married the daughter of a large Brazilian proprietor. Most of the occasional English and American visitors to Pará had made some stay at Caripí, and it had obtained quite a reputation for the number and beauty of the birds and insects found there; I therefore applied for, and obtained permission, to spend two or three months at the place. The distance from Pará was about twenty-three miles, round by the northern end of the Ilha das oncas (Isle of Tigers), which faces the city. I bargained for a passage thither with the cabo of a small trading-vessel, which was going past the place, and started on the 7th of December, 1848.

We were thirteen persons aboard: the cabo, his pretty mulatto mistress, the pilot and five Indian canoemen, three young mamelucos (tailor-apprentices who were taking a holiday trip to Cametá), a heavily chained runaway slave, and myself. The young mamelucos were pleasant, gentle fellows; they could read and write, and amused themselves on the voyage with a book containing descriptions and statistics of foreign countries, in which they seemed to take great interest—one reading whilst the others listened. At Uirapiranga, a small island behind the Ilha das oncas, we had to stop a short time to embark several pipes of cashaça at a sugar estate. The cabo took the montaria and two men; the pipes were rolled into the water and floated to the canoe, the men passing cables round and towing them through a rough sea. Here we slept, and the following morning, continuing our voyage, entered a narrow channel which intersects the land of Carnapijó. At 2 p.m. we emerged from this channel, which is called the Aititúba, or Arrozal, into the broad Bahia, and then saw, two or three miles away to the left, the red-tiled mansion of Caripí, embosomed in woods on the shores of a charming little bay.

The water is very shallow near the shore, and when the wind blows there is a heavy ground swell. A few years previously, an English gentleman, Mr. Graham, an amateur naturalist, was capsized here and drowned with his wife and child, whilst passing in a heavily-laden montaria to his large canoe. Remembering their fate, I was rather alarmed to see that I should be obliged to take all my luggage ashore in one trip in a leaky little boat. The pile of chests with two Indians and myself sank the montaria almost to the level of the water. I was kept busy bailing all the way. The Indians manage canoes in this condition with admirable skill. They preserve the nicest equilibrium, and paddle so gently that not the slightest oscillation is perceptible. On landing, an old negress named Florinda, the feitora or manageress of the establishment (which was kept only as a poultry-farm and hospital for sick slaves), gave me the keys, and I forthwith took possession of the rooms I required.

I remained here nine weeks, or until the 12th of February, 1849. The house was very large and most substantially built, but consisted of only one story. I was told it was built by the Jesuits more than a century ago. The front had no veranda, the doors opening upon a slightly elevated terrace about a hundred yards distant from the broad sandy beach. Around the residence the ground had been cleared to the extent of two or three acres, and was planted with fruit trees. Well-trodden pathways through the forest led to little colonies of the natives on the banks of retired creeks and rivulets in the interior. I led here a solitary but not unpleasant life; for there was a great charm in the loneliness of the place. The swell of the river beating on the sloping beach caused an unceasing murmur, which lulled me to sleep at night, and seemed appropriate music in those midday hours when all nature was pausing breathless under the rays of a vertical sun. Here I spent my first Christmas Day in a foreign land. The festival was celebrated by the negroes of their own free will and in a very pleasing manner. The room next to the one I had chosen was the capella, or chapel. It had a little altar which was neatly arranged, and the room was furnished with a magnificent brass chandelier. Men, women, and children were busy in the chapel all day on the 24th of December decorating the altar with flowers and strewing the floor with orange-leaves. They invited some of their neighbours to the evening prayers, and when the simple ceremony began an hour before midnight, the chapel was crowded. They were obliged to dispense with the mass, for they had no priest; the service therefore consisted merely of a long litany and a few hymns. There was placed on the altar a small image of the infant Christ, the “Menino Deos” as they called it, or the child-god, which had a long ribbon depending from its waist. An old white-haired negro led off the litany, and the rest of the people joined in the responses. After the service was over they all went up to the altar, one by one, and kissed the end of the ribbon. The gravity and earnestness shown throughout the proceedings were remarkable. Some of the hymns were very simple and beautiful, especially one beginning “Virgem soberana,” a trace of whose melody springs to my recollection whenever I think on the dreamy solitude of Caripí.

The next day after I arrived, two blue-eyed and red-haired boys came up and spoke to me in English, and presently their father made his appearance. They proved to be a German family named Petzell, who were living in the woods, Indian fashion, about a mile from Caripí. Petzell explained to me how he came here. He said that thirteen years ago he came to Brazil with a number of other Germans under engagement to serve in the Brazilian army. When his time had expired he came to Pará to see the country, but after a few months’ rambling left the place to establish himself in the United States. There he married, went to Illinois, and settled as farmer near St. Louis. He remained on his farm seven or eight years, and had a family of five children. He could never forget, however, the free river-life and perpetual summer of the banks of the Amazons; so, he persuaded his wife to consent to break up their home in North America, and migrate to Pará. No one can imagine the difficulties the poor fellow had to go through before reaching the land of his choice. He first descended the Mississippi, feeling sure that a passage to Pará could be got at New Orleans. He was there told that the only port in North America he could start from was New York, so away he sailed for New York; but there was no chance of a vessel sailing thence to Pará, so he took a passage to Demerara, as bringing him, at any rate, near to the desired land. There is no communication whatever between Demerara and Pará, and he was forced to remain here with his family four or five months, during which they all caught the yellow fever, and one of his children died. At length, he heard of a small coasting vessel going to Cayenne, so he embarked, and thereby got another stage nearer the end of his journey. A short time after reaching Cayenne, he shipped in a schooner that was going to Pará, or rather the island of Marajó, for a cargo of cattle. He had now fixed himself, after all his wanderings, in a healthy and fertile little nook on the banks of a rivulet near Caripí, built himself a log-hut, and planted a large patch of mandioca and Indian corn. He seemed to be quite happy, but his wife complained much of the want of wholesome food, meat, and wheaten bread. I asked the children whether they liked the country; they shook their heads, and said they would rather be in Illinois. Petzell told me that his Indian neighbours treated him very kindly; one or other of them called almost every day to see how he was getting on, and they had helped him in many ways. He had a high opinion of the Tapuyos, and said, “If you treat them well, they will go through fire to serve you.”

Petzell and his family were expert insect-collectors, so I employed them at this work during my stay at Caripí. The daily occurrences here were after a uniform fashion. I rose with the dawn, took a cup of coffee, and then sallied forth after birds. At ten I breakfasted, and devoted the hours from ten until three to entomology. The evening was occupied in preserving and storing my captures. Petzell and I sometimes undertook long excursions, occupying the whole day. Our neighbours used to bring me all the quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, and shells they met with, and so altogether I was enabled to acquire a good collection of the productions of the district.

The first few nights I was much troubled by bats. The room where I slept had not been used for many months, and the roof was open to the tiles and rafters. The first night I slept soundly and did not perceive anything unusual, but on the next I was aroused about midnight by the rushing noise made by vast hosts of bats sweeping about the room. The air was alive with them; they had put out the lamp, and when I relighted it the place appeared blackened with the impish multitudes that were whirling round and round. After I had laid about well with a stick for a few minutes, they disappeared amongst the tiles, but when all was still again they returned, and once more extinguished the light. I took no further notice of them, and went to sleep. The next night several got into my hammock; I seized them as they were crawling over me, and dashed them against the wall. The next morning I found a wound, evidently caused by a bat, on my hip. This was rather unpleasant, so I set to work with the negroes, and tried to exterminate them. I shot a great many as they hung from the rafters, and the negroes having mounted with ladders to the roof outside, routed out from beneath the caves many hundreds of them, including young broods. There were altogether four species—two belonging to the genus Dysopes, one to Phyllostoma, and the fourth to Glossophaga. By far the greater number belonged to the Dysopes perotis, a species having very large ears, and measuring two feet from tip to tip of the wings. The Phyllostoma was a small kind, of a dark-grey colour, streaked with white down the back, and having a leaf-shaped fleshy expansion on the tip of the nose. I was never attacked by bats except on this occasion. The fact of their sucking the blood of persons sleeping, from wounds which they make in the toes, is now well established; but it is only a few persons who are subject to this blood-letting. According to the negroes, the Phyllostoma is the only kind which attacks man. Those which I caught crawling over me were Dysopes, and I am inclined to think many different kinds of bats have this propensity.

One day I was occupied searching for insects in the bark of a fallen tree, when I saw a large cat-like animal advancing towards the spot. It came within a dozen yards before perceiving me. I had no weapon with me but an old chisel, and was getting ready to defend myself if it should make a spring, when it turned around hastily and trotted off. I did not obtain a very distinct view of it, but I could see its colour was that of the Puma, or American Lion, although it was rather too small for that species. The Puma is not a common animal in the Amazons forests. I did not see altogether more than a dozen skins, in the possession of the natives. The fur is of a fawn colour. On account of its hue resembling that of a deer common in the forests, the natives call it the Sassú-arána,1 or the false deer; that is, an animal which deceives one at first sight by its superficial resemblance to a deer. The hunters are not at all afraid of it, and speak always in disparaging terms of its courage. Of the Jaguar, they give a very different account.

The only species of monkey I met with at Caripí was the same dark-coloured little Midas already mentioned as found near Pará. The great Ant-eater, Tamandua of the natives (Myrmecophaga jubata), was not uncommon here. After the first few weeks of residence, I ran short of fresh provisions. The people of the neighbourhood had sold me all the fowls they could spare; I had not yet learned to eat the stale and stringy salt-fish which is the staple food in these places, and for several days I had lived on rice-porridge, roasted bananas, and farinha. Florinda asked me whether I could eat Tamanduá. I told her almost anything in the shape of flesh would be acceptable; so the same day she went with an old negro named Antonio and the dogs, and in the evening brought one of the animals. The meat was stewed and turned out very good, something like goose in flavour. The people at Caripí would not touch a morsel, saying it was not considered fit to eat in these parts; I had read, however, that it was an article of food in other countries of South America. During the next two or three weeks, whenever we were short of fresh meat, Antonio was always ready, for a small reward, to get me a Tamanduá. But one day he came to me in great distress, with the news that his favourite dog, Atrevido, had been caught in the grip of an ant-eater, and was killed. We hastened to the place, and found the dog was not dead, but severely torn by the claws of the animal, which itself was mortally wounded, and was now relaxing its grasp.


Ant-eater grappling with dog.

The habits of the Myrmecophaga jubata are now pretty well known. It is not uncommon in the drier forests of the Amazons valley, but is not found, I believe, in the Ygapó, or flooded lands. The Brazilians call the species the Tamanduá bandeira, or the Banner Ant-eater, the term banner being applied in allusion to the curious colouration of the animal, each side of the body having a broad oblique stripe, half grey and half black, which gives it some resemblance to a heraldic banner. It has an excessively long slender muzzle, and a wormlike extensile tongue. Its jaws are destitute of teeth. The claws are much elongated, and its gait is very awkward. It lives on the ground, and feeds on termites, or white ants; the long claws being employed to pull in pieces the solid hillocks made by the insects, and the long flexible tongue to lick them up from the crevices. All the other species of this singular genus are arboreal. I met with four species altogether. One was the Myrmecophaga tetradactyla; the two others, more curious and less known, were very small kinds, called Tamanduá-i. Both are similar in size—ten inches in length, exclusive of the tail—and in the number of the claws, having two of unequal length to the anterior feet, and four to the hind feet. One species is clothed with greyish-yellow silky hair; this is of rare occurrence. The other has a fur of a dingy brown colour, without silky lustre. One was brought to me alive at Caripí, having been caught by an Indian, clinging motionless inside a hollow tree. I kept it in the house about twenty-four hours. It had a moderately long snout, curved downwards, and extremely small eyes. It remained nearly all the time without motion except when irritated, in which case it reared itself on its hind legs from the back of a chair to which it clung, and clawed out with its forepaws like a cat. Its manner of clinging with its claws, and the sluggishness of its motions, gave it a great resemblance to a sloth. It uttered no sound, and remained all night on the spot where I had placed it in the morning. The next day, I put it on a tree in the open air, and at night it escaped. These small Tamanduás are nocturnal in their habits, and feed on those species of termites which construct earthy nests that look like ugly excrescences on the trunks and branches of trees. The different kinds of ant-eaters are thus adapted to various modes of life, terrestrial and arboreal. Those which live on trees are again either diurnal or nocturnal, for Myrmecophaga tetradactyla is seen moving along the main branches in the daytime. The allied group of the Sloths, which are still more exclusively South American forms than ant-eaters are, at the present time furnish arboreal species only, but formerly terrestrial forms of sloths also existed, as the Megatherium, whose mode of life was a puzzle, seeing that it was of too colossal a size to live on trees, until Owen showed how it might have obtained its food from the ground.


Humming-bird and Humming-bird Hawk-moth.

In January the orange-trees became covered with blossom—at least to a greater extent than usual, for they flower more or less in this country all the year round—and attracting a great number of humming-birds. Every day, in the cooler hours of the morning, and in the evening from four o’clock until six, they were to be seen whirring about the trees by scores. Their motions are unlike those of all other birds. They dart to and fro so swiftly that the eye can scarcely follow them, and when they stop before a flower, it is only for a few moments. They poise themselves in an unsteady manner, their wings moving with inconceivable rapidity, probe the flower, and then shoot off to another part of the tree. They do not proceed in that methodical manner which bees follow, taking the flowers seriatim, but skip about from one part of the tree to another in the most capricious way. Sometimes two males close with each other and fight, mounting upwards in the struggle, as insects are often seen to do when similarly engaged, and then separating hastily and darting back to their work. Now and then they stop to rest, perching on leafless twigs, where they may be sometimes seen probing, from the places where they sit, the flowers within their reach. The brilliant colours with which they are adorned cannot be seen whilst they are fluttering about, nor can the different species be distinguished unless they have a deal of white hue in their plumage, such as Heliothrix auritus, which is wholly white underneath, although of a glittering green colour above, and the white-tailed Florisuga mellivora. There is not a great variety of humming-birds in the Amazons region, the number of species being far smaller in these uniform forest plains than in the diversified valleys of the Andes, under the same parallels of latitude. The family is divisible into two groups, contrasted in form and habits: one containing species which live entirely in the shade of the forest, and the other comprising those which prefer open sunny places. The forest species (Phaethorninæ) are seldom seen at flowers, flowers being, in the shady places where they abide, of rare occurrence; but they search for insects on leaves, threading the bushes and passing above and beneath each leaf with wonderful rapidity. The other group (Trochilinæ) are not quite confined to cleared places, as they come into the forest wherever a tree is in blossom, and descend into sunny openings where flowers are to be found. But it is only where the woods are less dense than usual that this is the case; in the lofty forests and twilight shades of the lowlands and islands, they are scarcely ever seen. I searched well at Caripí, expecting to find the Lophornis Gouldii, which I was told had been obtained in the locality. This is one of the most beautiful of all humming-birds, having round the neck a frill of long white feathers tipped with golden green. I was not, however, so fortunate as to meet with it. Several times I shot by mistake a humming-bird hawk-moth instead of a bird. This moth (Macroglossa Titan) is somewhat smaller than humming-birds generally are; but its manner of flight, and the way it poises itself before a flower whilst probing it with its proboscis, are precisely like the same actions of humming-birds. It was only after many days’ experience that I learned to distinguish one from the other when on the wing. This resemblance has attracted the notice of the natives, all of whom, even educated whites, firmly believe that one is transmutable into the other. They have observed the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, and think it not at all more wonderful that a moth should change into a humming-bird. The resemblance between this hawk-moth and a humming-bird is certainly very curious, and strikes one even when both are examined in the hand. Holding them sideways, the shape of the head and position of the eyes in the moth are seen to be nearly the same as in the bird, the extended proboscis representing the long beak. At the tip of the moth’s body there is a brush of long hair-scales resembling feathers, which, being expanded, looks very much like a bird’s tail. But, of course, all these points of resemblance are merely superficial. The negroes and Indians tried to convince me that the two were of the same species. “Look at their feathers,” they said; “their eyes are the same, and so are their tails.” This belief is so deeply rooted that it was useless to reason with them on the subject. The Macroglossa moths are found in most countries, and have everywhere the same habits; one well-known species is found in England. Mr. Gould relates that he once had a stormy altercation with an English gentleman, who affirmed that humming-birds were found in England, for he had seen one flying in Devonshire, meaning thereby the moth Macroglossa stellatarum. The analogy between the two creatures has been brought about, probably, by the similarity of their habits, there being no indication of the one having been adapted in outward appearance with reference to the other.

It has been observed that humming-birds are unlike other birds in their mental qualities, resembling in this respect insects rather than warm-blooded vertebrate animals. The want of expression in their eyes, the small degree of versatility in their actions, the quickness and precision of their movements, are all so many points of resemblance between them and insects. In walking along the alleys of the forest, a Phaethornis frequently crosses one’s path, often stopping suddenly and remaining poised in mid-air, a few feet distant from the face of the intruder. The Phaethorninæ are certainly more numerous in the Amazons region than the Trochilinæ. They build their nests, which are made of fine vegetable fibres and lichens; densely woven together and thickly lined with silk-cotton from the fruit of the samaüma tree (Eriodendron samauma); and on the inner sides lined with of the tips of palm-fronds. They are long and purse-shaped. The young when first hatched have very much shorter bills than their parents. The only species of Trochilinæ which I found at Caripí were the little brassy-green Polytmus viridissimus, the sapphire and emerald (Thalurania furcata), and the large falcate-winged Campylopterus obscurus.

Snakes were very numerous at Caripí; many harmless species were found near the house, and these sometimes came into the rooms. I was wandering one day amongst the green bushes of Guajará, a tree which yields a grape-like berry (Chrysobalanus Icaco) and grows along all these sandy shores, when I was startled by what appeared to be the flexuous stem of a creeping plant endowed with life and threading its way amongst the leaves and branches. This animated liana turned out to be a pale-green snake, the Dryophis fulgida. Its whole body is of the same green hue, and it is thus rendered undistinguishable amidst the foliage of the Guajará bushes, where it prowls in search of its prey, tree-frogs and lizards. The forepart of its head is prolonged into a slender pointed beak, and the total length of the reptile was six feet. There was another kind found amongst bushes on the borders of the forest closely allied to this, but much more slender, viz., the Dryophis acuminata. This grows to a length of four feet eight inches, the tail alone being twenty-two inches; but the diameter of the thickest part of the body is little more than a quarter of an inch. It is of light-brown colour, with iridescent shades variegated with obscurer markings, and looks like a piece of whipcord. One individual which I caught of this species had a protuberance near the middle of the body. Upon opening it, I found a half-digested lizard which was much more bulky than the snake itself. Another kind of serpent found here, a species of Helicops, was amphibious in its habits. I saw several of this in wet weather on the beach, which, on being approached, always made straightway for the water, where they swam with much grace and dexterity. Florinda one day caught a Helicops whilst angling for fish, it having swallowed the fishhook with the bait. She and others told me these water-snakes lived on small fishes, but I did not meet with any proof of the statement. In the woods, snakes were constantly occurring; it was not often, however, that I saw poisonous species. There were many arboreal kinds besides the two just mentioned; and it was rather alarming, in entomologising about the trunks of trees, to suddenly encounter, on turning round, as sometimes happened, a pair of glittering eyes and a forked tongue within a few inches of one’s head. The last kind I shall mention is the Coral-snake, which is a most beautiful object when seen coiled up on black soil in the woods. The one I saw here was banded with black and vermilion, the black bands having each two clear white rings. The state of specimens preserved in spirits can give no idea of the brilliant colours which adorn the Coral-snake in life.


Petzell and I, as already mentioned, made many excursions of long extent in the neighbouring forest. We sometimes went to Murucupí, a creek which passes through the forest, about four miles behind Caripí, the banks of which are inhabited by Indians and half-breeds who have lived there for many generations in perfect seclusion from the rest of the world, the place being little known or frequented. A path from Caripí leads to it through a gloomy tract of virgin forest, where the trees are so closely packed together that the ground beneath is thrown into the deepest shade, under which nothing but fetid fungi and rotting vegetable debris is to be seen. On emerging from this unfriendly solitude near the banks of the Murucupí, a charming contrast is presented. A glorious vegetation, piled up to an immense height, clothes the banks of the creek, which traverses a broad tract of semi-cultivated ground, and the varied masses of greenery are lighted up with the sunny glow. Open palm-thatched huts peep forth here and there from amidst groves of banana, mango, cotton, and papaw trees and palms. On our first excursion, we struck the banks of the river in front of a house of somewhat more substantial architecture than the rest, having finished mud walls that were plastered and whitewashed, and had a covering of red tiles. It seemed to be full of children, and the aspect of the household was improved by a number of good-looking mameluco women, who were busily employed washing, spinning, and making farinha. Two of them, seated on a mat in the open verandah, were engaged sewing dresses, for a festival was going to take place a few days hence at Balcarem, a village eight miles distant from Murucupí, and they intended to be present to hear mass and show their finery. One of the children, a naked boy about seven years of age, crossed over with the montaria to fetch us. We were made welcome at once, and asked to stay for dinner. On our accepting the invitation, a couple of fowls were killed, and a wholesome stew of seasoned rice and fowls soon put into preparation. It is not often that the female members of a family in these retired places are familiar with strangers; but, these people had lived a long time in the capital, and therefore, were more civilised than their neighbours. Their father had been a prosperous tradesman, and had given them the best education the place afforded. After his death the widow with several daughters, married and unmarried, retired to this secluded spot, which had been their sitio, farm or country-house, for many years. One of the daughters was married to a handsome young mulatto, who was present, and sang us some pretty songs, accompanying himself on the guitar.

After dinner I expressed a wish to see more of the creek; so a lively and polite old man, whom I took to be one of the neighbours, volunteered as guide. We embarked in a little montaria, and paddled some three or four miles up and down the stream. Although I had now become familiarised with beautiful vegetation, all the glow of fresh admiration came again to me in this place. The creek was about a hundred yards wide, but narrower in some places. Both banks were masked by lofty walls of green drapery, here and there a break occurring, through which, under overarching trees, glimpses were obtained of the palm-thatched huts of settlers. The projecting boughs of lofty trees, which in some places stretched half-way across the creek, were hung with natural garlands and festoons, and an endless variety of creeping plants clothed the water-frontage, some of which, especially the Bignonias, were ornamented with large gaily-coloured flowers. Art could not have assorted together beautiful vegetable forms so harmoniously as was here done by Nature. Palms, as usual, formed a large proportion of the lower trees; some of them, however, shot up their slim stems to a height of sixty feet or more, and waved their bunches of nodding plumes between us and the sky. One kind of palm, the Pashiúba (Iriartea exorhiza), which grows here in greater abundance than elsewhere, was especially attractive. It is not one of the tallest kinds, for when full-grown its height is not more, perhaps, than forty feet; the leaves are somewhat less drooping, and the leaflets much broader than in other species, so that they have not that feathery appearance which those of some palms have, but still they possess their own peculiar beauty. My guide put me ashore in one place to show me the roots of the Pashiúba. These grow above ground, radiating from the trunk many feet above the surface, so that the tree looks as if supported on stilts; and a person can, in old trees, stand upright amongst the roots with the perpendicular stem wholly above his head. It adds to the singularity of their appearance that these roots, which have the form of straight rods, are studded with stout thorns, whilst the trunk of the tree is quite smooth. The purpose of this curious arrangement is, perhaps, similar to that of the buttress roots already described—namely, to recompense the tree by root-growth above the soil for its inability, in consequence of the competition of neighbouring roots, to extend it underground. The great amount of moisture and nutriment contained in the atmosphere may also favour these growths.

On returning to the house, I found Petzell had been well occupied during the hot hours of the day collecting insects in a neighbouring clearing. Our kind hosts gave us a cup of coffee about five o’clock, and we then started for home. The last mile of our walk was performed in the dark. The forest in this part is obscure even in broad daylight, but I was scarcely prepared for the intense opacity of darkness which reigned here on this night, and which prevented us from seeing each other whilst walking side by side. Nothing occurred of a nature to alarm us, except that now and then a sudden rush was heard amongst the trees, and once a dismal shriek startled us. Petzell tripped at one place and fell all his length into the thicket. With this exception, we kept well to the pathway, and in due time arrived safely at Caripí.


One of my neighbours at Murucupí was a hunter of reputation in these parts. He was a civilised Indian, married and settled, named Raimundo, whose habit was to sally forth at intervals to certain productive hunting-grounds, the situation of which he kept secret, and procure fresh provisions for his family. I had found out by this time that animal food was as much a necessary of life in this exhausting climate as it is in the North of Europe. An attempt which I made to live on vegetable food was quite a failure, and I could not eat the execrable salt-fish which Brazilians use. I had been many days without meat of any kind, and nothing more was to be found near Caripí, so I asked as a favour of Senhor Raimundo permission to accompany him on one of his hunting-trips, and shoot a little game for my own use. He consented, and appointed a day on which I was to come over to his house to sleep, so as to be ready for starting with the ebb-tide shortly after midnight.

The locality we were to visit was situated near the extreme point of the land of Carnapijó, where it projects northwardly into the middle of the Pará estuary, and is broken into a number of islands. On the afternoon of January 11th, 1849, I walked through the woods to Raimundo’s house, taking nothing with me but a double-barrelled gun, a supply of ammunition, and a box for the reception of any insects I might capture. Raimundo was a carpenter, and seemed to be a very industrious, man; he had two apprentices, Indians like himself—one a young lad, and the other apparently about twenty years of age. His wife was of the same race. The Indian women are not always of a taciturn disposition like their husbands. Senhora Dominga was very talkative; there was another old squaw at the house on a visit, and the tongues of the two were going at a great rate the whole evening, using only the Tupí language. Raimundo and his apprentices were employed building a canoe. Notwithstanding his industry, he seemed to be very poor, and this was the condition of most of the residents on the banks of the Murucupí. They have, nevertheless, considerable plantations of mandioca and Indian corn, besides small plots of cotton, coffee, and sugarcane; the soil is very fertile, they have no rent to pay, and no direct taxes. There is, moreover, always a market in Pará, twenty miles distant, for their surplus produce, and a ready communication with it by water.

In the evening we had more visitors. The sounds of pipe and tabor were heard, and presently a procession of villagers emerged from a pathway through the mandioca fields. They were on a begging expedition for St. Thomé, the patron saint of Indians and Mamelucos. One carried a banner, on which was crudely painted the figure of St. Thomé with a glory round his head. The pipe and tabor were of the simplest description. The pipe was a reed pierced with four holes, by means of which a few unmusical notes were produced, and the tabor was a broad hoop with a skin stretched over each end. A deformed young man played both the instruments. Senhor Raimundo received them with the quiet politeness which comes so naturally to the Indian when occupying the position of host. The visitors, who had come from the Villa de Condé, five miles through the forest, were invited to rest. Raimundo then took the image of St. Thomé from one of the party, and placed it by the side of Nossa Senhora in his own oratorio, a little decorated box in which every family keeps its household gods, finally lighting a couple of wax candles before it. Shortly afterwards a cloth was laid on a mat, and all the guests were invited to supper. The fare was very scanty; a boiled fowl with rice, a slice of roasted pirarucú, farinha, and bananas. Each one partook very sparingly, some of the young men contenting themselves with a plateful of rice. One of the apprentices stood behind with a bowl of water and a towel, with which each guest washed his fingers and rinsed his mouth after the meal. They stayed all night: the large open shed was filled with hammocks, which were slung from pole to pole; and upon retiring, Raimundo gave orders for their breakfast in the morning.

Raimundo called me at two o’clock, when we embarked (he, his older apprentice Joaquim, and myself) in a shady place where it was so dark that I could see neither canoe nor water, taking with us five dogs. We glided down a winding creek where huge trunks of trees slanted across close overhead, and presently emerged into the Murucupí. A few yards further on we entered the broader channel of the Aititúba. This we crossed, and entered another narrow creek on the opposite side. Here the ebb-tide was against us, and we had great difficulty in making progress. After we had struggled against the powerful current a distance of two miles, we came to a part where the ebb-tide ran in the opposite direction, showing that we had crossed the watershed. The tide flows into this channel or creek at both ends simultaneously, and meets in the middle, although there is apparently no difference of level, and the breadth of the water is the same. The tides are extremely intricate throughout all the infinite channels and creeks which intersect the lands of the Amazons delta. The moon now broke forth and lighted up the trunks of colossal trees, the leaves of monstrous Jupatí palms which arched over the creek, and revealed groups of arborescent arums standing like rows of spectres on its banks. We had a glimpse now and then into the black depths of the forest, where all was silent except the shrill stridulation of wood-crickets. Now and then a sudden plunge in the water ahead would startle us, caused by heavy fruit or some nocturnal animal dropping from the trees. The two Indians here rested on their paddles and allowed the canoe to drift with the tide. A pleasant perfume came from the forest, which Raimundo said proceeded from a cane-field. He told me that all this land was owned by large proprietors at Pará, who had received grants from time to time from the Government for political services. Raimundo was quite in a talkative humour; he related to me many incidents of the time of the “Cabanagem,” as the revolutionary days of 1835-6 are popularly called. He said he had been much suspected himself of being a rebel, but declared that the suspicion was unfounded. The only complaint he had to make against the white man was that he monopolised the land without having any intention or prospect of cultivating it. He had been turned out of one place where he had squatted and cleared a large piece of forest. I believe the law of Brazil at this time was that the new lands should become the property of those who cleared and cultivated them, if their right was not disputed within a given term of years by some one who claimed the proprietorship. This land-law has since been repealed, and a new one adopted founded on that of the United States. Raimundo spoke of his race as the redskins, “pelle vermelho;” they meant well to the whites, and only begged to be let alone. “God,” he said, “had given room enough for us all.” It was pleasant to hear the shrewd good-natured fellow talk in this strain. Our companion, Joaquim, had fallen asleep; the night air was cool, and the moonlight lit up the features of Raimundo, revealing a more animated expression than is usually observable in Indian countenances. I always noticed that Indians were more cheerful on a voyage, especially in the cool hours of night and morning, than when ashore. There is something in their constitution of body which makes them feel excessively depressed in the hot hours of the day, especially inside their houses. Their skin is always hot to the touch. They certainly do not endure the heat of their own climate so well as the whites. The negroes are totally different in this respect; the heat of midday has very little effect on them, and they dislike the cold nights on the river.

We arrived at our hunting-ground about half-past four. The channel was broader here and presented several ramifications. It yet wanted an hour and a half to daybreak, so Raimundo recommended me to have a nap. We both stretched ourselves on the benches of the canoe and fell asleep, letting the boat drift with the tide, which was now slack. I slept well considering the hardness of our bed, and when I awoke in the middle of a dream about home-scenes, the day was beginning to dawn. My clothes were quite wet with the dew. The birds were astir, the cicadas had begun their music, and the Urania Leilus, a strange and beautiful tailed and gilded moth, whose habits are those of a butterfly, commenced to fly in flocks over the tree-tops. Raimundo exclaimed “Clareia o dia!”—“The day brightens!” The change was rapid: the sky in the east assumed suddenly the loveliest azure colour, across which streaks of thin white clouds were painted. It is at such moments as this when one feels how beautiful our earth truly is! The channel on whose waters our little boat was floating was about two hundred yards wide; others branched off right and left, surrounding the group of lonely islands which terminate the land of Carnapijó. The forest on all sides formed a lofty hedge without a break; below, it was fringed with mangrove bushes, whose small foliage contrasted with the large glossy leaves of the taller trees, or the feather and fan-shaped fronds of palms.

Being now arrived at our destination, Raimundo turned up his trousers and shirt-sleeves, took his long hunting-knife, and leapt ashore with the dogs. He had to cut a gap in order to enter the forest. We expected to find Pacas and Cutías; and the method adopted to secure them was this: at the present early hour they would be seen feeding on fallen fruits, but would quickly, on hearing a noise, betake themselves to their burrows; Raimundo was then to turn them out by means of the dogs, and Joaquim and I were to remain in the boat with our guns, ready to shoot all that came to the edge of the stream—the habits of both animals, when hard-pressed, being to take to the water. We had not long to wait. The first arrival was a Paca, a reddish, nearly tail-less rodent, spotted with white on the sides, and intermediate in size and appearance between a hog and a hare. My first shot did not take effect; the animal dived into the water and did not reappear. A second was brought down by my companion as it was rambling about under the mangrove bushes. A Cutía next appeared: this is also a rodent, about one-third the size of the Paca; it swims, but does not dive, and I was fortunate enough to shoot it. We obtained in this way two more Pacas and another Cutía. All the time the dogs were yelping in the forest. Shortly afterwards Raimundo made his appearance, and told us to paddle to the other side of the island. Arrived there, we landed and prepared for breakfast. It was a pretty spot—a clean, white, sandy beach beneath the shade of wide-spreading trees. Joaquim made a fire. He first scraped fine shavings from the midrib of a Bacaba palm-leaf; these he piled into a little heap in a dry place, and then struck a light in his bamboo tinderbox with a piece of an old file and a flint, the tinder being a felt-like substance manufactured by an ant (Polyrhachis bispinosus). By gentle blowing, the shavings ignited, dry sticks were piled on them, and a good fire soon resulted. He then singed and prepared the cutía, finishing by running a spit through the body and fixing one end in the ground in a slanting position over the fire. We had brought with us a bag of farinha and a cup containing a lemon, a dozen or two of fiery red peppers, and a few spoonsful of salt. We breakfasted heartily when our cutía was roasted, and washed the meal down with a calabash full of the pure water of the river.

After breakfast the dogs found another cutia, which was hidden in its burrow two or three feet beneath the roots of a large tree, and it took Raimundo nearly an hour to disinter it. Soon afterwards we left this place, crossed the channel, and, paddling past two islands, obtained a glimpse of the broad river between them, with a long sandy spit, on which stood several scarlet ibises and snow-white egrets. One of the islands was low and sandy, and half of it was covered with gigantic arum-trees, the often-mentioned Caladium arborescens, which presented a strange sight. Most people are acquainted with the little British species, Arum maculatum, which grows in hedge-bottoms, and many, doubtless, have admired the larger kinds grown in hothouses; they can therefore form some idea of a forest of arums. On this islet the woody stems of the plants near the bottom were eight to ten inches in diameter, and the trees were twelve to fifteen feet high; all growing together in such a manner that there was just room for a man to walk freely between them. There was a canoe inshore, with a man and a woman: the man, who was hooting with all his might, told us in passing that his son was lost in the “aningal” (arum-grove). He had strayed whilst walking ashore, and the father had now been an hour waiting for him in vain.

About one o’clock we again stopped at the mouth of a little creek. It was now intensely hot. Raimundo said deer were found here; so he borrowed my gun, as being a more effective weapon than the wretched arms called Lazarinos, which he, in common with all the native hunters, used, and which sell at Pará for seven or eight shillings apiece. Raimundo and Joaquim now stripped themselves quite naked, and started off in different directions through the forest, going naked in order to move with less noise over the carpet of dead leaves, amongst which they stepped so stealthily that not the slightest rustle could be heard. The dogs remained in the canoe, in the neighbourhood of which I employed myself two hours entomologising. At the end of that time my two companions returned, having met with no game whatever.

We now embarked on our return voyage. Raimundo cut two slender poles, one for a mast and the other for a sprit: to these he rigged a sail we had brought in the boat, for we were to return by the open river, and expected a good wind to carry us to Caripí. As soon as we got out of the channel we began to feel the wind—the sea-breeze, which here makes a clean sweep from the Atlantic. Our boat was very small and heavily laden; and when, after rounding a point, I saw the great breadth we had to traverse (seven miles), I thought the attempt to cross in such a slight vessel foolhardy in the extreme. The waves ran very high, there was no rudder, Raimundo steered with a paddle, and all we had to rely upon to save us from falling into the trough of the sea and being instantly swamped were his nerve and skill. There was just room in the boat for our three selves, the dogs, and the game we had killed, and when between the swelling ridges of waves in so frail a shell, our destruction seemed inevitable; as it was, we shipped a little water now and then. Joaquim assisted with his paddle to steady the boat: my time was fully occupied in bailing out the water and watching the dogs, which were crowded together in the prow, yelling with fear; one or other of them occasionally falling over the side and causing great commotion in scrambling in again. Off the point was a ridge of rocks, over which the surge raged furiously. Raimundo sat at the stern, rigid and silent, his eye steadily watching the prow of the boat. It was almost worth the risk and discomfort of the passage to witness the seamanlike ability displayed by Indians on the water. The little boat rode beautifully, rising well with each wave, and in the course of an hour and a half we arrived at Caripí, thoroughly tired and wet through to the skin.


1-8. Soldiers of different species of White Ants.—9. Ordinary shape of worker.—10. Winged class.

On the 16th of January, the dry season came abruptly to an end. The sea-breezes, which had been increasing in force for some days, suddenly ceased, and the atmosphere became misty; at length heavy clouds collected where a uniform blue sky had for many weeks prevailed, and down came a succession of heavy showers, the first of which lasted a whole day and night. This seemed to give a new stimulus to animal life. On the first night there was a tremendous uproar—tree-frogs, crickets, goat-suckers, and owls all joining to perform a deafening concert. One kind of goat-sucker kept repeating at intervals throughout the night a phrase similar to the Portuguese words, “Joao corta pao,”—“John, cut wood”—a phrase which forms the Brazilian name of the bird. An owl in one of the Genipapa trees muttered now and then a succession of syllables resembling the word “Murucututú.” Sometimes the croaking and hooting of frogs and toads were so loud that we could not hear one another’s voices within doors. Swarms of dragonflies appeared in the daytime about the pools of water created by the rain, and ants and termites came forth in the winged state in vast numbers. I noticed that the winged termites, or white ants, which came by hundreds to the lamps at night, when alighting on the table, often jerked off their wings by a voluntary movement. On examination I found that the wings were not shed by the roots, for a small portion of the stumps remained attached to the thorax. The edge of the fracture was in all cases straight, not ruptured; there is, in fact, a natural seam crossing the member towards its root, and at this point the long wing naturally drops or is jerked off when the insect has no further use for it. The white ant is endowed with wings simply for the purpose of flying away from the colony peopled by its wingless companions, to pair with individuals of the same or other colonies, and thus propagate and disseminate its kind. The winged individuals are males and females, whilst the great bulk of their wingless fraternity are of no sex, but are of two castes, soldiers and workers, which are restricted to the functions of building the nests, nursing, and defending the young brood. The two sexes mate whilst on the ground, after the wings are shed; and then the married couples, if they escape the numerous enemies which lie in wait for them, proceed to the task of founding new colonies. Ants and white ants have much that is analogous in their modes of life: they belong, however, to two widely different orders of insects, strongly contrasted in their structure and manner of growth.

I amassed at Caripí a very large collection of beautiful and curious insects, amounting altogether to about twelve hundred species. The number of Coleoptera was remarkable, seeing that this order is so poorly represented near Pará. I attributed their abundance to the number of new clearings made in the virgin forest by the native settlers. The felled timber attracts lignivorous insects, and these draw in their train the predaceous species of various families. As a general rule, the species were smaller and much less brilliant in colours than those of Mexico and South Brazil. The species too, although numerous, were not represented by great numbers of individuals; they were also extremely nimble, and therefore much less easy of capture than insects of the same order in temperate climates. The carnivorous beetles at Caripí were, like those of Pará, chiefly arboreal. Most of them exhibited a beautiful contrivance for enabling them to cling to and run over smooth or flexible surfaces, such as leaves. Their tarsi or feet are broad, and furnished beneath with a brush of short stiff hairs; whilst their claws are toothed in the form of a comb, adapting them for clinging to the smooth edges of leaves, the joint of the foot which precedes the claw being cleft so as to allow free play to the claw in grasping. The common dung-beetles at Caripí, which flew about in the evening like the Geotrupes, the familiar “shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hum” of our English lanes, were of colossal size and beautiful colours. One kind had a long spear-shaped horn projecting from the crown of its head (Phanæus lancifer). A blow from this fellow, as he came heavily flying along, was never very pleasant. All the tribes of beetles which feed on vegetable substances, fresh or decayed, were very numerous. The most beautiful of these, but not the most common, were the Longicornes; very graceful insects, having slender bodies and long antennæ, often ornamented with fringes and tufts of hair. They were found on flowers, on trunks of trees, or flying about the new clearings. One small species (Coremia hirtipes) has a tuft of hairs on its hind legs, whilst many of its sister species have a similar ornament on the antennæ. It suggests curious reflections when we see an ornament like the feather of a grenadier’s cap situated on one part of the body in one species, and in a totally different part in nearly allied ones. I tried in vain to discover the use of these curious brush-like decorations. On the trunk of a living leguminous tree, Petzell found a number of a very rare and handsome species, the Platysternus hebræus, which is of a broad shape, coloured ochreous, but spotted and striped with black, so as to resemble a domino. On the felled trunks of trees, swarms of gilded-green Longicornes occurred, of small size (Chrysoprasis), which looked like miniature musk-beetles, and, indeed, are closely allied to those well-known European insects.

At length, on the 12th of February, I left Caripí, my Negro and Indian neighbours bidding me a warm “adios.” I had passed a delightful time, notwithstanding the many privations undergone in the way of food. The wet season had now set in; the lowlands and islands would soon become flooded daily at high water, and the difficulty of obtaining fresh provisions would increase. I intended, therefore, to spend the next three months at Pará, in the neighbourhood of which there was still much to be done in the intervals of fine weather, and then start off on another excursion into the interior.

1. The old zoologist Marcgrave called the Puma the Cuguacuarana, probably (the c’s being soft) a misspelling of Sassú-arána; hence, the name Cougouar employed by French zoologists, and copied in most works on natural history.



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