Preparations for Voyage — First Day’s Sail — Loss of Boat — Altar de Chao — Modes of Obtaining Fish — Difficulties with Crew — Arrival at Aveyros — Excursions in the Neighbourhood — White Cebus, and Habits and Dispositions of Cebi Monkeys — Tame Parrot — Missionary Settlement — Entering the River Cuparí — Adventure with Anaconda — Smoke-dried Monkey — Boa-constrictor — Village of Mundurucú Indians, and Incursion of a Wild Tribe — Falls of the Cuparí — Hyacinthine Macaw — Re-emerge into the broad Tapajos — Descent of River to Santarem.
June, 1852.—I will now proceed to relate the incidents of my principal excursion up the Tapajos, which I began to prepare for, after residing about six months at Santarem.
I was obliged, this time, to travel in a vessel of my own; partly because trading canoes large enough to accommodate a Naturalist very seldom pass between Santarem and the thinly-peopled settlements on the river, and partly because I wished to explore districts at my ease, far out of the ordinary track of traders. I soon found a suitable canoe; a two-masted cuberta, of about six tons’ burthen, strongly built of Itauba or stonewood, a timber of which all the best vessels in the Amazons country are constructed, and said to be more durable than teak. This I hired of a merchant at the cheap rate of 500 reis, or about one shilling and twopence per day. I fitted up the cabin, which, as usual in canoes of this class, was a square structure with its floor above the waterline, as my sleeping and working apartment. My chests, filled with store-boxes and trays for specimens, were arranged on each side, and above them were shelves and pegs to hold my little stock of useful books, guns, and game bags, boards and materials for skinning and preserving animals, botanical press and papers, drying cages for insects. and birds and so forth. A rush mat was spread on the floor, and my rolled-up hammock, to be used only when sleeping ashore, served for a pillow. The arched covering over the hold in the fore part of the vessel contained, besides a sleeping place for the crew, my heavy chests, stock of salt provisions and groceries, and an assortment of goods wherewith to pay my way amongst the half-civilised or savage inhabitants of the interior. The goods consisted of cashaca, powder and shot, a few pieces of coarse, checked cotton cloth and prints, fish-hooks, axes, large knives, harpoons, arrowheads, looking-glasses, beads, and other small wares. José and myself were busy for many days arranging these matters. We had to salt the meat and grind a supply of coffee ourselves. Cooking utensils, crockery, water-jars, a set of useful carpenter’s tools, and many other things had to be provided. We put all the groceries and other perishable articles in tin canisters and boxes, having found that this was the only way of preserving them from dampness and insects in this climate. When all was done, our canoe looked like a little floating workshop.
I could get little information about the river, except vague accounts of the difficulty of the navigation, and the famito or hunger which reigned on its banks. As I have before mentioned, it is about 1000 miles in length, and flows from south to north; in magnitude it stands the sixth amongst the tributaries of the Amazons. It is navigable, however, by sailing vessels only for about 160 miles above Santarem. The hiring of men to navigate the vessel was our greatest trouble. José was to be my helmsman, and we thought three other hands would be the fewest with which we could venture. But all our endeavours to procure these were fruitless. Santarem is worse provided with Indian canoemen than any other town on the river. I found on applying to the tradesmen to whom I had brought letters of introduction and to the Brazilian authorities, that almost any favour would be sooner granted than the loan of hands. A stranger, however, is obliged to depend on them; for it is impossible to find an Indian or half-caste whom someone or other of the head-men do not claim as owing him money or labour. I was afraid at one time I should have been forced to abandon my project on this account. At length, after many rebuffs and disappointments, José contrived to engage one man, a mulatto, named Pinto, a native of the mining country of Interior Brazil, who knew the river well; and with these two I resolved to start, hoping to meet with others at the first village on the road.
We left Santarem on the 8th of June. The waters were then at their highest point, and my canoe had been anchored close to the back door of our house. The morning was cool and a brisk wind blew, with which we sped rapidly past the white-washed houses and thatched Indian huts of the suburbs. The charming little bay of Mapirí was soon left behind; we then doubled Point Maria Josepha, a headland formed of high cliffs of Tabatinga clay, capped with forest. This forms the limit of the river view from Santarem, and here we had our last glimpse, at a distance of seven or eight miles, of the city, a bright line of tiny white buildings resting on the dark water. A stretch of wild, rocky, uninhabited coast was before us, and we were fairly within the Tapajos.
Our course lay due west for about twenty miles. The wind increased as we neared Point Cururú, where the river bends from its northern course. A vast expanse of water here stretches to the west and south, and the waves, with a strong breeze, run very high. As we were doubling the Point, the cable which held our montaria in tow astern, parted, and in endeavouring to recover the boat, without which we knew it would be difficult to get ashore on many parts of the coast, we were very near capsizing. We tried to tack down the river; a vain attempt with a strong breeze and no current. Our ropes snapped, the sails flew to rags, and the vessel, which we now found was deficient in ballast, heeled over frightfully. Contrary to José’s advice, I ran the cuberta into a little bay, thinking to cast anchor there and wait for the boat coming up with the wind; but the anchor dragged on the smooth sandy bottom, and the vessel went broadside on to the rocky beach. With a little dexterous management, but not until after we had sustained some severe bumps, we managed to get out of this difficulty, clearing the rocky point at a close shave with our jib-sail. Soon after, we drifted into the smooth water of a sheltered bay which leads to the charmingly situated village of Altar do Chao; and we were obliged to give up our attempt to recover the montaria.
The little settlement, Altar de Chao (altar of the ground, or Earth altar), owes its singular name to the existence at the entrance to the harbour of one of those strange flat-topped hills which are so common in this part of the Amazons country, shaped like the high altar in Roman Catholic churches. It is an isolated one, and much lower in height than the similarly truncated hills and ridges near Almeyrim, being elevated probably not more than 300 feet above the level of the river. It is bare of trees, but covered in places with a species of fern. At the head of the bay is an inner harbour, which communicates by a channel with a series of lakes lying in the valleys between hills, and stretching far into the interior of the land. The village is peopled almost entirely by semi-civilised Indians, to the number of sixty or seventy families; and the scattered houses are arranged in broad streets on a strip of greensward, at the foot of a high, gloriously-wooded ridge.
I was so much pleased with the situation of this settlement, and the number of rare birds and insects which tenanted the forest, that I revisited it in the following year, and spent four months making collections. The village itself is a neglected, poverty- stricken place: the governor (Captain of Trabalhadores, or Indian workmen) being an old, apathetic, half-breed, who had spent all his life here. The priest was a most profligate character; I seldom saw him sober; he was a white, however, and a man of good ability. I may as well mention here, that a moral and zealous priest is a great rarity in this province: the only ministers of religion in the whole country who appeared sincere in their calling being the Bishop of Para and the Vicars of Ega on the Upper Amazons and Obydos. The houses in the village swarmed with vermin; bats in the thatch, fire-ants (formiga de fogo) under the floors; cockroaches and spiders on the walls. Very few of them had wooden doors and locks. Altar de Chao was originally a settlement of the aborigines, and was called Burarí. The Indians were always hostile to the Portuguese, and during the disorders of 1835-6 joined the rebels in their attack on Santarem. Few of them escaped the subsequent slaughter, and for this reason there is now scarcely an old or middle-aged man in the place. As in all the semi-civilised villages, where the original orderly and industrious habits of the Indian have been lost without anything being learned from the whites to make amends, the inhabitants live in the greatest poverty. The scarcity of fish in the clear waters and rocky bays of the neighbourhood is no doubt partly the cause of the poverty and perennial hunger which reign here. When we arrived in the port, our canoe was crowded with the half-naked villagers—men, women, and children, who came to beg each a piece of salt pirarucu “for the love of God.” They are not quite so badly off in the dry season. The shallow lakes and bays then contain plenty of fish, and the boys and women go out at night to spear them by torchlight; the torches being made of thin strips of green bark from the leaf-stalks of palms, tied in bundles. Many excellent kinds of fish are thus obtained; amongst them the Pescada, whose white and flaky flesh, when boiled, has the appearance and flavour of cod-fish; and the Tucunaré (Cichla temensis), a handsome species, with a large prettily-coloured, eye-like spot on its tail. Many small Salmonidæ are also met with, and a kind of sole, called Aramassá, which moves along the clear sandy bottom of the bay. At these times a species of sting-ray is common on the sloping beach, and bathers are frequently stung most severely by it. The weapon of this fish is a strong blade with jagged edges, about three inches long, growing from the side of the long fleshy tail. I once saw a woman wounded by it whilst bathing; she shrieked frightfully, and was obliged to be carried to her hammock, where she lay for a week in great pain; I have known strong men to be lamed for many months by the sting.
There was a mode of taking fish here which I had not before seen employed, but found afterwards to be very common on the Tapajos. This is by using a poisonous liana called Timbó (Paullinia pinnata). It will act only in the still waters of creeks and pools. A few rods, a yard in length, are mashed and soaked in the water, which quickly becomes discoloured with the milky deleterious juice of the plant. In about half an hour all the smaller fishes over a rather wide space around the spot, rise to the surface floating on their sides, and with the gills wide open. The poison acts evidently by suffocating the fishes; it spreads slowly in the water, and a very slight mixture seems sufficient to stupefy them. I was surprised, upon beating the water in places where no fishes were visible in the clear depths for many yards round, to find, sooner or later, sometimes twenty-four hours afterwards, a considerable number floating dead on the surface.
The people occupy themselves the greater part of the year with their small plantations of mandioca. All the heavy work, such as felling and burning the timber, planting and weeding, is done in the plantation of each family by a congregation of neighbours, which they call a “pucherum:”—a similar custom to the “bee” in the backwood settlements of North America. They make quite a holiday of each pucherum. When the invitation is issued, the family prepares a great quantity of fermented drink, called in this part Tarobá, made from soaked mandioca cakes, and porridge of Manicueira. This latter is a kind of sweet mandioca, very different from the Yuca of the Peruvians and Macasheira of the Brazilians (Manihot Aypi), having oblong juicy roots, which become very sweet a few days after they are gathered. With these simple provisions they regale their helpers. The work is certainly done, but after a very rude fashion; all become soddened with Tarobá, and the day finishes often in a drunken brawl.
The climate is rather more humid than that of Santarem. I suppose this is to be attributed to the neighbouring country being densely wooded instead of an open campo. In no part of the country did I enjoy more the moonlit nights than here, in the dry season. After the day’s work was done, I used to go down to the shores of the bay, and lie at full length on the cool sand for two or three hours before bedtime. The soft pale light, resting on broad sandy beaches and palm-thatched huts, reproduced the effect of a mid-winter scene in the cold north when a coating of snow lies on the landscape. A heavy shower falls about once a week, and the shrubby vegetation never becomes parched as at Santarem. Between the rains, the heat and dryness increase from day to day: the weather on the first day after the rain is gleamy, with intervals of melting sunshine and passing clouds; the next day is rather drier, and the east wind begins to blow; then follow days of cloudless sky, with gradually increasing strength of breeze. When this has continued about a week, a light mistiness begins to gather about the horizon; clouds are formed; grumbling thunder is heard; and then, generally in the night-time, down falls the refreshing rain. The sudden chill caused by the rains produces colds, which are accompanied by the same symptoms as in our own climate; with this exception, the place is very healthy.
June 17th.—The two young men returned without meeting with my montaria, and I found it impossible here to buy a new one. Captain Thomás could find me only one hand. This was a blunt- spoken but willing young Indian, named Manoel. He came on board this morning at eight o’clock, and we then got up our anchor and resumed our voyage.
The wind was light and variable all day, and we made only about fifteen miles by seven o’clock in the evening. The coast formed a succession of long, shallow bays with sandy beaches, upon which the waves broke in a long line of surf. Ten miles above Altar de Chao is a conspicuous headland, called Point Cajetúba. During a lull of the wind, towards midday, we ran the cuberta aground in shallow water and waded ashore; but the woods were scarcely penetrable, and not a bird was to be seen. The only thing observed worthy of note was the quantity of drowned winged ants along the beach; they were all of one species, the terrible formiga de fogo (Myrmica sævissima); the dead, or half-dead bodies of which were heaped up in a line an inch or two in height and breadth, the line continuing without interruption for miles at the edge of the water. The countless thousands had been doubtless cast into the river whilst flying during a sudden squall the night before, and afterwards, cast ashore by the waves. We found ourselves at seven o’clock near the mouth of a creek leading to a small lake, called Aramána-í, and the wind having died away, we anchored, guided by the lights ashore, near the house of a settler named Jeronymo, whom I knew, and who, soon after, showed us a snug little harbour where we could remain in safety for the night. The river here cannot be less than ten miles broad; it is quite clear of islands and free from shoals at this season of the year. The opposite coast appeared in the daytime as a long thin line of forest, with dim grey hills in the background.
To-day (19th) we had a good wind, which carried us to the mouth of a creek, culled Paquiatúba, where the “inspector” of the district lived, Senhor Cypriano, for whom I had brought an order from Captain Thomás to supply me with another hand. We had great difficulty in finding a place to land. The coast in this part was a tract of level, densely-wooded country, through which flowed the winding rivulet, or creek, which gives its name to a small scattered settlement hidden in the wilderness; the hills here receding two or three miles towards the interior. A large portion of the forest was flooded, the trunks of the very high trees near the mouth of the creek standing eighteen feet deep in water. We lost two hours working our way with poles through the inundated woods in search of the port. Every inlet we tried ended in a labyrinth choked up with bushes, but we were at length guided to the right place by the crowing of cocks. On shouting for a montaria, an Indian boy made his appearance, guiding one through the gloomy thickets; but he was so alarmed, I suppose at the apparition of a strange-looking white man in spectacles bawling from the brow of the vessel, that he shot back quickly into the bushes. He returned when Manoel spoke, and we went ashore: the montaria winding along a gloomy overshadowed water-path made by cutting away the lower branches and underwood. The foot-road to the houses was a narrow, sandy alley, bordered by trees of stupendous height, overrun with creepers, and having an unusual number of long air-roots dangling from the epiphytes on their branches.
After passing one low smoky little hut half-buried in foliage, the path branched off in various directions, and the boy having left us, we took the wrong turn. We were brought to a stand soon after by the barking of dogs; and on shouting, as is customary on approaching a dwelling, “O da casa!” (Oh of the house!) a dark- skinned native, a Cafuzo, with a most unpleasant expression of countenance, came forth through the tangled maze of bushes, armed with a long knife, with which he pretended to be whittling a stick. He directed us to the house of Cypriano, which was about a mile distant along another forest road. The circumstance of the Cafuzo coming out armed to receive visitors very much astonished my companions, who talked it over at every place we visited for several days afterwards, the freest and most unsuspecting welcome in these retired places being always counted upon by strangers. But, as Manoel remarked, the fellow may have been one of the unpardoned rebel leaders who had settled here after the recapture of Santarem in 1836, and lived in fear of being inquired for by the authorities of Santarem. After all our troubles we found Cypriano absent from home. His house was a large one, and full of people, old and young, women and children, all of whom were Indians or mamelucos. Several smaller huts surrounded the large dwelling, besides extensive open sheds containing mandioca ovens and rude wooden mills for grinding sugar-cane to make molasses. All the buildings were embosomed in trees: it would be scarcely possible to find a more retired nook, and an air of contentment was spread over the whole establishment. Cypriano’s wife, a good- looking mameluco girl, was superintending the packing of farina. Two or three old women, seated on mats, were making baskets with narrow strips of bark from the leaf-stalks of palms, whilst others were occupied lining them with the broad leaves of a species of maranta, and filling them afterwards with farina, which was previously measured in a rude square vessel. It appeared that Senhor Cypriano was a large producer of the article, selling 300 baskets (sixty pounds’ weight each) annually to Santarem traders. I was sorry we were unable to see him, but it was useless waiting, as we were told all the men were at present occupied in “pucherums,” and he would be unable to give me the assistance I required. We returned to the canoe in the evening, and, after moving out into the river, anchored and slept.
June 20th.—We had a light, baffling wind off shore all day on the 20th, and made but fourteen or fifteen miles by six p.m.; when, the wind failing us, we anchored at the mouth of a narrow channel, called Tapaiúna, which runs between a large island and the mainland. About three o’clock we passed in front of Boim, a village on the opposite (western) coast. The breadth of the river here is six or seven miles: a confused patch of white on the high land opposite was all we saw of the village, the separate houses being undistinguishable on account of the distance. The coast along which we sailed today is a continuation of the low and flooded land of Paquiatúba.
June 21st.—The next morning we sailed along the Tapaiúna channel, which is from 400 to 600 yards in breadth. We advanced but slowly, as the wind was generally dead against us, and stopped frequently to ramble ashore. Wherever the landing-place was sandy, it was impossible to walk about on account of the swarms of the terrible fire-ant, whose sting is likened by the Brazilians to the puncture of a red-hot needle. There was scarcely a square inch of ground free from them. About three p.m. we glided into a quiet, shady creek, on whose banks an industrious white settler had located himself. I resolved to pass the rest of the day and night here, and endeavour to obtain a fresh supply of provisions, our stock of salt beef being now nearly exhausted. The situation of the house was beautiful; the little harbour being gay with water plants, Pontederiæ, now full of purple blossom, from which flocks of stilt-legged water-fowl started up screaming as we entered. The owner sent a boy with my men to show them the best place for fish up the creek, and in the course of the evening sold me a number of fowls, besides baskets of beans and farina. The result of the fishing was a good supply of Jandiá, a handsome spotted Siluride fish, and Piránha, a kind of Salmon. Piránhas are of several kinds, many of which abound in the waters of the Tapajos. They are caught with almost any kind of bait, for their taste is indiscriminate and their appetite most ravenous. They often attack the legs of bathers near the shore, inflicting severe wounds with their strong triangular teeth. At Paquiatúba and this place, I added about twenty species of small fishes to my collection; caught by hook and line, or with the hand in shallow pools under the shade of the forest.
My men slept ashore, and upon the coming aboard in the morning, Pinto was drunk and insolent. According to José, who had kept himself sober, and was alarmed at the other’s violent conduct, the owner of the house and Pinto had spent the greater part of the night together, drinking aguardente de beijú,—a spirit distilled from the mandioca root. We knew nothing of the antecedents of this man, who was a tall, strong, self-willed fellow, and it began to dawn on us that this was not a very safe travelling companion in a wild country like this. I thought it better now to make the best of our way to the next settlement, Aveyros, and get rid of him. Our course to-day lay along a high rocky coast, which extended without a break for about eight miles. The height of the perpendicular rocks was from 100 to 150 feet; ferns and flowering shrubs grew in the crevices, and the summit supported a luxuriant growth of forest, like the rest of the river banks. The waves beat with a loud roar at the foot of these inhospitable barriers. At two p.m. we passed the mouth of a small picturesque harbour, formed by a gap in the precipitous coast. Several families have here settled; the place is called Itá-puáma, or “standing rock,” from a remarkable isolated cliff, which stands erect at the entrance to the little haven. A short distance beyond Itá-puáma we found ourselves opposite to the village of Pinhel, which is perched, like Boim, on high ground, on the western side of the river. The stream is here from six to seven miles wide. A line of low islets extends in front of Pinhel, and a little further to the south is a larger island, called Capitarí, which lies nearly in the middle of the river.
June 23rd.—The wind freshened at ten o’clock in the morning of the 23rd. A thick black cloud then began to spread itself over the sky a long way down the river; the storm which it portended, however, did not reach us, as the dark threatening mass crossed from east to west, and the only effect it had was to impel a column of cold air up river, creating a breeze with which we bounded rapidly forward. The wind in the afternoon strengthened to a gale; we carried on with one foresail only, two of the men holding on to the boom to prevent the whole thing from flying to pieces. The rocky coast continued for about twelve miles above Itá-puáma, then succeeded a tract of low marshy land, which had evidently been once an island whose channel of separation from the mainland had become silted up. The island of Capitarí and another group of islets succeeding it, called Jacaré, on the opposite side, helped also to contract at this point the breadth of the river, which was now not more than about three miles. The little cuberta almost flew along this coast, there being no perceptible current, past extensive swamps, margined with thick floating grasses. At length, on rounding a low point, higher land again appeared on the right bank of the river, and the village of Aveyros hove in sight, in the port of which we cast anchor late in the afternoon.
Aveyros is a small settlement, containing only fourteen or fifteen houses besides the church; but it is the place of residence of the authorities of a large district; the priest, Juiz de Paz, the subdelegado of police, and the Captain of the Trabalhadores. The district includes Pinhel, which we passed about twenty miles lower down on the left bank of the river. Five miles beyond Aveyros, and also on the left bank, is the missionary village of Santa Cruz, comprising thirty or forty families of baptised Mundurucú Indians, who are at present under the management of a Capuchin Friar, and are independent of the Captain of Trabalhadores of Aveyros. The river view from this point towards the south was very grand; the stream is from two to three miles broad, with green islets resting on its surface, and on each side a chain of hills stretches away in long perspective. I resolved to stay here for a few weeks to make collections. On landing, my first care was to obtain a house or room, that I might live ashore. This was soon arranged; the head man of the place, Captain Antonio, having received notice of my coming, so that before night all the chests and apparatus I required were housed and put in order for working.
I here dismissed Pinto, who again got drunk and quarrelsome a few hours after he came ashore. He left the next day, to my great relief, in a small trading canoe that touched at the place on its way to Santarem. The Indian Manoel took his leave at the same time, having engaged to accompany me only as far as Aveyros; I was then dependent on Captain Antonio for fresh hands. The captains of Trabalhadores are appointed by the Brazilian Government to embody the scattered Indian labourers and canoe-men of their respective districts, to the end that they may supply passing travellers with men when required. A semi-military organisation is given to the bodies; some of the steadiest amongst the Indians themselves being nominated as sergeants, and all the members mustered at the principal village of their district twice a-year. The captains, however, universally abuse their authority, monopolising the service of the men for their own purposes, so that it is only by favour that the loan of a canoe-hand can be wrung from them. I was treated by Captain Antonio with great consideration, and promised two good Indians when I should be ready to continue my voyage.
Little happened worth narrating during my forty days’ stay at Aveyros. The time was spent in the quiet, regular pursuit of Natural History: every morning I had my long ramble in the forest, which extended to the back-doors of the houses, and the afternoons were occupied in preserving and studying the objects collected. The priest was a lively old man, but rather a bore from being able to talk of scarcely anything except homoeopathy, having been smitten with the mania during a recent visit to Santarem. He had a Portuguese Homoeopathic Dictionary, and a little leather case containing glass tubes filled with globules, with which he was doctoring the whole village. A bitter enmity seemed to exist between the female members of the priest’s family, and those of the captain’s; the only white women in the settlement. It was amusing to notice how they flaunted past each other, when going to church on Sundays, in their starched muslin dresses. I found an intelligent young man living here, a native of the province of Goyaz, who was exploring the neighbourhood for gold and diamonds. He had made one journey up a branch river, and declared to me that he had found one diamond, but was unable to continue his researches, because the Indians who accompanied him refused to remain any longer; he was now waiting for Captain Antonio to assist him with fresh men, having offered him in return a share in the results of the enterprise. There appeared to be no doubt that gold is occasionally found within two or three days’ journey of Aveyros; but all lengthened search is made impossible by the scarcity of food and the impatience of the Indians, who see no value in the precious metal, and abhor the tediousness of the gold-searcher’s occupation. It is impossible to do without them, as they are required to paddle the canoes.
The weather, during the month of July, was uninterruptedly fine; not a drop of rain fell, and the river sank rapidly. The mornings, for two hours after sunrise, were very cold; we were glad to wrap ourselves in blankets on turning out of our hammocks, and walk about at a quick pace in the early sunshine. But in the afternoons, the heat was sickening, for the glowing sun then shone full on the front of the row of whitewashed houses, and there was seldom any wind to moderate its effects. I began now to understand why the branch rivers of the Amazons were so unhealthy, whilst the main stream was pretty nearly free from diseases arising from malaria. The cause lies, without doubt, in the slack currents of the tributaries in the dry season, and the absence of the cooling Amazonian trade-wind, which purifies the air along the banks of the main river. The trade-wind does not deviate from its nearly straight westerly course, so that the branch streams, which run generally at right angles to the Amazons, and, have a slack current for a long distance from their mouths, are left to the horrors of nearly stagnant air and water.
Aveyros may be called the head-quarters of the fire-ant, which might be fittingly termed the scourge of this fine river. The Tapajos is nearly free from the insect pests of other parts, mosquitoes, sand-flies, Motúcas and piums; but the formiga de fogo is perhaps a greater plague than all the others put together. It is found only on sandy soils in open places, and seems to thrive most in the neighbourhood of houses and weedy villages, such as Aveyros; it does not occur at all in the shades of the forest. I noticed it in most places on the banks of the Amazons but the species is not very common on the main river, and its presence is there scarcely noticed, because it does not attack man, and the sting is not so virulent as it is in the same species on the banks of the Tapajos. Aveyros was deserted a few years before my visit on account of this little tormentor, and the inhabitants had only recently returned to their houses, thinking its numbers had decreased. It is a small species, of a shining reddish colour not greatly differing from the common red stinging ant of our own country (Myrmica rubra), except that the pain and irritation caused by its sting are much greater. The soil of the whole village is undermined by it; the ground is perforated with the entrances to their subterranean galleries, and a little sandy dome occurs here and there, where the insects bring their young to receive warmth near the surface. The houses are overrun with them; they dispute every fragment of food with the inhabitants, and destroy clothing for the sake of the starch. All eatables are obliged to be suspended in baskets from the rafters, and the cords well soaked with copauba balsam, which is the only means known of preventing them from climbing. They seem to attack persons out of sheer malice; if we stood for a few moments in the street, even at a distance from their nests, we were sure to be overrun and severely punished, for the moment an ant touched the flesh, he secured himself with his jaws, doubled in his tail, and stung with all his might. When we were seated on chairs in the evenings in front of the house to enjoy a chat with our neighbours, we had stools to support our feet, the legs of which, as well as those of the chairs, were well anointed with the balsam. The cords of hammocks are obliged to be smeared in the same way to prevent the ants from paying sleepers a visit.
The inhabitants declare that the fire-ant was unknown on the Tapajos before the disorders of 1835-6, and believe that the hosts sprang up from the blood of the slaughtered Cabanas or rebels. They have doubtless increased since that time, but the cause lies in the depopulation of the villages and the rank growth of weeds in the previously cleared, well-kept spaces. I have already described the line of sediment formed on the sandy shores lower down the river by the dead bodies of the winged individuals of this species. The exodus from their nests of the males and females takes place at the end of the rainy season (June), when the swarms are blown into the river by squalls of wind, and subsequently cast ashore by the waves; I was told that this wholesale destruction of ant-life takes place annually, and that the same compact heap of dead bodies which I saw only in part, extends along the banks of the river for twelve or fifteen miles.
The forest behind Aveyros yielded me little except insects, but in these it was very rich. It is not too dense, and broad sunny paths skirted by luxuriant beds of Lycopodiums, which form attractive sporting places for insects, extend from the village to a swampy hollow or ygapó, which lies about a mile inland. Of butterflies alone I enumerated fully 300 species, captured or seen in the course of forty days within a half-hour’s walk of the village. This is a greater number than is found in the whole of Europe. The only monkey I observed was the Callithrix moloch—one of the kinds called by the Indians “Whaiápu-saí”. It is a moderate-sized species, clothed with long brown hair, and having hands of a whitish hue. Although nearly allied to the Cebi, it has none of their restless vivacity, but is a dull listless animal. It goes in small flocks of five or six individuals, running along the main boughs of the trees. One of the specimens which I obtained here was caught on a low fruit-tree at the back of our house at sunrise one morning. This was the only instance of a monkey being captured in such a position that I ever heard of. As the tree was isolated, it must have descended to the ground from the neighbouring forest and walked some distance to get at it. The species is sometimes kept in a tame state by the natives: it does not make a very amusing pet, and survives captivity only a short time.
I heard that the white Cebus, the Caiarára branca, a kind of monkey I had not yet seen, and wished very much to obtain, inhabited the forests on the opposite side of the river; so one day, on an opportunity being afforded by our host going over in a large boat, I crossed to go in search of it. We were about twenty persons in all, and the boat was an old rickety affair with the gaping seams rudely stuffed with tow and pitch. In addition to the human freight we took three sheep with us, which Captain Antonio had just received from Santarem and was going to add to his new cattle farm on the other side. Ten Indian paddlers carried us quickly across. The breadth of the river could not be less than three miles, and the current was scarcely perceptible. When a boat has to cross the main Amazons, it is obliged to ascend along the banks for half a mile or more to allow for drifting by the current; in this lower part of the Tapajos this is not necessary. When about halfway, the sheep, in moving about, kicked a hole in the bottom of the boat. The passengers took the matter very coolly, although the water spouted up alarmingly, and I thought we should inevitably be swamped. Captain Antonio took off his socks to stop the leak, inviting me and the Juiz de Paz, who was one of the party, to do the same, whilst two Indians baled out the water with large cuyas. We thus managed to keep afloat until we reached our destination, when the men patched up the leak for our return journey.
The landing-place lay a short distance within the mouth of a shady inlet, on whose banks, hidden amongst the dense woods, were the houses of a few Indian and mameluco settlers. The path to the cattle farm led first through a tract of swampy forest; it then ascended a slope and emerged on a fine sweep of prairie, varied with patches of timber. The wooded portion occupied the hollows where the soil was of a rich chocolate-brown colour, and of a peaty nature. The higher grassy, undulating parts of the campo had a lighter and more sandy soil. Leaving our friends, José and I took our guns and dived into the woods in search of the monkeys. As we walked rapidly along I was very near treading on a rattlesnake, which lay stretched out nearly in a straight line on the bare sandy pathway. It made no movement to get out of the way, and I escaped the danger by a timely and sudden leap, being unable to check my steps in the hurried walk. We tried to excite the sluggish reptile by throwing handsfull of sand and sticks at it, but the only notice it took was to raise its ugly horny tail and shake its rattle. At length it began to move rather nimbly, when we despatched it by a blow on the head with a pole, not wishing to fire on account of alarming our game.
We saw nothing of the white Caiarára; we met, however, with a flock of the common light-brown allied species (Cebus albifrons?), and killed one as a specimen. A resident on this side of the river told us that the white kind was found further to the south, beyond Santa Cruz. The light-brown Caiarára is pretty generally distributed over the forests of the level country. I saw it very frequently on the banks of the Upper Amazons, where it was always a treat to watch a flock leaping amongst the trees, for it is the most wonderful performer in this line of the whole tribe. The troops consist of thirty or more individuals, which travel in single file. When the foremost of the flock reaches the outermost branch of an unusually lofty tree, he springs forth into the air without a moment’s hesitation and alights on the dome of yielding foliage belonging to the neighbouring tree, maybe fifty feet beneath; all the rest following the example. They grasp, upon falling, with hands and tail, right themselves in a moment, and then away they go along branch and bough to the next tree. The Caiarára owes its name in the Tupí language, macaw or large-headed (Acain, head, and Arára macaw), to the disproportionate size of the head compared with the rest of the body. It is very frequently kept as a pet in houses of natives. I kept one myself for about a year, which accompanied me in my voyages and became very familiar, coming to me always on wet nights to share my blanket. It is a most restless creature, but is not playful like most of the American monkeys; the restlessness of its disposition seeming to arise from great nervous irritability and discontent. The anxious, painful, and changeable expression of its countenance, and the want of purpose in its movements, betray this. Its actions are like those of a wayward child; it does not seem happy even when it has plenty of its favourite food, bananas; but will leave its own meal to snatch the morsels out of the hands of its companions. It differs in these mental traits from its nearest kindred, for another common Cebus, found in the same parts of the forest, the Prego monkey (Cebus cirrhifer?), is a much quieter and better-tempered animal; it is full of tricks, but these are generally of a playful character.
The Caiarára keeps the house in a perpetual uproar where it is kept: when alarmed, or hungry, or excited by envy, it screams piteously; it is always, however, making some noise or other, often screwing up its mouth and uttering a succession of loud notes resembling a whistle. My little pet, when loose, used to run after me, supporting itself for some distance on its hind legs, without, however, having been taught to do it. He offended me greatly one day, by killing, in one of his jealous fits, another and much choicer pet—the nocturnal owl-faced monkey (Nyctipithecus trivirgatus). Someone had given this a fruit, which the other coveted, so the two got to quarrelling. The Nyctipithecus fought only with its paws, clawing out and hissing like a cat; the other soon obtained the mastery, and before I could interfere, finished his rival by cracking its skull with his teeth. Upon this, I got rid of him.
On recrossing the river to Aveyros in the evening, a pretty little parrot fell from a great height headlong into the water near the boat, having dropped from a flock which seemed to be fighting in the air. One of the Indians secured it for me, and I was surprised to find the bird uninjured. There had probably been a quarrel about mates, resulting in our little stranger being temporarily stunned by a blow on the head from the beak of a jealous comrade. The species was the Conurus guianensis, called by the natives Maracaná; the plumage green, with a patch of scarlet under the wings. I wished to keep the bird alive and tame it, but all our efforts to reconcile it to captivity were vain; it refused food, bit everyone who went near it, and damaged its plumage in its exertions to free itself. My friends in Aveyros said that this kind of parrot never became domesticated. After trying nearly a week I was recommended to lend the intractable creature to an old Indian woman, living in the village, who was said to be a skilful bird-tamer. In two days she brought it back almost as tame as the familiar love-birds of our aviaries. I kept my little pet for upwards of two years; it learned to talk pretty well, and was considered quite a wonder as being a bird usually so difficult of domestication. I do not know what arts the old woman used: Captain Antonio said she fed it with her saliva. The chief reason why almost all animals become so wonderfully tame in the houses of the natives is, I believe, their being treated with uniform gentleness, and allowed to run at large about the rooms. Our Maracaná used to accompany us sometimes in our rambles, one of the lads carrying it on his head. One day, in the middle of a long forest road, it was missed, having clung probably to an overhanging bough and escaped into the thicket without the boy perceiving it. Three hours afterwards, on our return by the same path, a voice greeted using a colloquial tone as we passed “Maracaná!” We looked about for some time, but could not see anything, until the word was repeated with emphasis “Maracaná-á!” When we espied the little truant half concealed in the foliage of a tree, he came down and delivered himself up, evidently as much rejoiced at the meeting as we were.
After I had obtained the two men promised, stout young Indians, seventeen or eighteen years of age, one named Ricardo and the other Alberto, I paid a second visit to the western side of the river in my own canoe; being determined, if possible, to obtain specimens of the White Cebus. We crossed over first to the mission village, Santa Cruz, which consists of thirty or forty wretched-looking mud huts, closely built together in three straight ugly rows on a high gravelly bank. The place was deserted, with the exception of two or three old men and women and a few children. A narrow belt of wood runs behind the village; beyond this is an elevated, barren campo with a clayey and gravelly soil. To the south, the coast country is of a similar description; a succession of scantily-wooded hills, bare grassy spaces, and richly-timbered hollows. We traversed forest and campo in various directions during three days without meeting with monkeys, or indeed with anything that repaid us the time and trouble. The soil of the district appeared too dry; at this season of the year I had noticed, in other parts of the country, that mammals and birds resorted to the more humid areas of forest; we therefore proceeded to explore carefully the low and partly swampy tract along the coast to the north of Santa Cruz. We spent two days in this way landing at many places, and penetrating a good distance in the interior. Although unsuccessful with regard to the White Cebus, the time was not wholly lost, as I added several small birds of species new to my collection. On the second evening we surprised a large flock, composed of about fifty individuals, of a curious eagle with a very long and slender hooked beak, the Rostrhamus hamatus. They were perched on the bushes which surrounded a shallow lagoon, separated from the river by a belt of floating grass; my men said they fed on toads and lizards found at the margins of pools. They formed a beautiful sight as they flew up and wheeled about at a great height in the air. We obtained only one specimen.
Before returning to Aveyros, we paid another visit to the Jacaré inlet, leading to Captain Antonio’s cattle farm, for the sake of securing further specimens of the many rare and handsome insects found there; landing at the port of one of the settlers. The owner of the house was not at home, and the wife, a buxom young woman, a dark mameluca, with clear though dark complexion and fine rosy cheeks, was preparing, in company with another stout-built Amazon, her rod and lines to go out fishing for the day’s dinner. It was now the season for Tucunarés, and Senora Joaquina showed us the fly baits used to take this kind of fish, which she had made with her own hands of parrots’ feathers. The rods used are slender bamboos, and the lines made from the fibres of pine-apple leaves. It is not very common for the Indian and half-caste women to provide for themselves in the way these spirited dames were doing, although they are all expert paddlers, and very frequently cross wide rivers in their frail boats without the aid of men. It is possible that parties of Indian women, seen travelling alone in this manner, may have given rise to the fable of a nation of Amazons, invented by the first Spanish explorers of the country. Senhora Joaquina invited me and José to a Tucunaré dinner for the afternoon, and then shouldering their paddles and tucking up their skirts, the two dusky fisherwomen marched down to their canoe. We sent the two Indians into the woods to cut palm-leaves to mend the thatch of our cuberta, whilst José and I rambled through the woods which skirted the campo. On our return, we found a most bountiful spread in the house of our hostess. A spotless white cloth was laid on the mat, with a plate for each guest and a pile of fragrant, newly-made farinha by the side of it. The boiled Tucunarés were soon taken from the kettles and set before us. I thought the men must be happy husbands who owned such wives as these. The Indian and mameluco women certainly do make excellent managers; they are more industrious than the men, and most of them manufacture farinha for sale on their own account, their credit always standing higher with the traders on the river than that of their male connections. I was quite surprised at the quantity of fish they had taken; there being sufficient for the whole party, including several children, two old men from a neighbouring hut, and my Indians. I made our good-natured entertainers a small present of needles and sewing-cotton, articles very much prized, and soon after we re-embarked, and again crossed the river to Aveyros.
August 2nd.—Left Aveyros; having resolved to ascend a branch river, the Cuparí, which enters the Tapajos about eight miles above this village, instead of going forward along the main stream. I should have liked to visit the settlements of the Mundurucú tribe which lie beyond the first cataract of the Tapajos, if it had been compatible with the other objects I had in view. But to perform this journey a lighter canoe than mine would have been necessary, and six or eight Indian paddlers, which in my case it was utterly impossible to obtain. There would be, however, an opportunity of seeing this fine race of people on the Cuparí, as a horde was located towards the head waters of this stream. The distance from Aveyros to the last civilised settlement on the Tapajos, Itaituba, is about forty miles. The falls commence a short distance beyond this place. Ten formidable cataracts or rapids then succeed each other at intervals of a few miles, the chief of which are the Coaitá, the Buburé, the Salto Grande (about thirty feet high), and the Montanha. The canoes of Cuyabá tradesmen which descend annually to Santarem are obliged to be unloaded at each of these, and the cargoes carried by land on the backs of Indians, whilst the empty vessels are dragged by ropes over the obstruction. The Cuparí was described to me as flowing through a rich, moist clayey valley covered with forests and abounding in game; whilst the banks of the Tapajos beyond Aveyros were barren sandy campos, with ranges of naked or scantily-wooded hills, forming a kind of country which I had always found very unproductive in Natural History objects in the dry season, which had now set in.
We entered the mouth of the Cuparí on the evening of the following day (August 3rd). It was not more than a hundred yards wide, but very deep: we found no bottom in the middle with a line of eight fathoms. The banks were gloriously wooded, the familiar foliage of the cacao growing abundantly amongst the mass of other trees, reminding me of the forests of the main Amazons. We rowed for five or six miles, generally in a south-easterly direction, although the river had many abrupt bends, and stopped for the night at a settler’s house, situated on a high bank, accessible only by a flight of rude wooden steps fixed in the clayey slope. The owners were two brothers, half-breeds, who, with their families, shared the large roomy dwelling; one of them was a blacksmith, and we found him working with two Indian lads at his forge in an open shed under the shade of mango trees. They were the sons of a Portuguese immigrant who had settled here forty years previously, and married a Mundurucú woman. He must have been a far more industrious man than the majority of his countrymen who emigrate to Brazil nowadays, for there were signs of former extensive cultivation at the back of the house in groves of orange, lemon, and coffee trees, and a large plantation of cacao occupied the lower grounds.
The next morning one of the brothers brought me a beautiful opossum, which had been caught in the fowl-house a little before sunrise. It was not so large as a rat, and had soft brown fur, paler beneath and on the face, with a black stripe on each cheek. This made the third species of marsupial rat I had so far obtained: but the number of these animals is very considerable in Brazil, where they take the place of the shrews of Europe; shrew mice and, indeed, the whole of the insectivorous order of mammals, being entirely absent from Tropical America. One kind of these rat-like opossums is aquatic, and has webbed feet. The terrestrial species are nocturnal in their habits, sleeping during the day in hollow trees, and coming forth at night to prey on birds in their roosting places. It is very difficult to rear poultry in this country on account of these small opossums, scarcely a night passing, in some parts, in which the fowls are not attacked by them.
August 5th.—The river reminds me of some parts of the Jaburú channel, being hemmed in by two walls of forest rising to the height of at least a hundred feet, and the outlines of the trees being concealed throughout by a dense curtain of leafy creepers. The impression of vegetable profusion and overwhelming luxuriance increases at every step. The deep and narrow valley of the Cuparí has a moister climate than the banks of the Tapajos. We have now frequent showers, whereas we left everything parched up by the sun at Aveyros.
After leaving the last sitio we advanced about eight miles, and then stopped at the house of Senhor Antonio Malagueita, a mameluco settler, whom we had been recommended to visit. His house and outbuildings were extensive, the grounds well weeded, and the whole wore an air of comfort and well-being which is very uncommon in this country. A bank of indurated white clay sloped gently up from the tree-shaded port to the house, and beds of kitchen-herbs extended on each side, with (rare sight!) rose and jasmine trees in full bloom. Senhor Antonio, a rather tall middle-aged man, with a countenance beaming with good nature, came down to the port as soon as we anchored. I was quite a stranger to him, but he had heard of my coming, and seemed to have made preparations. I never met with a heartier welcome. On entering the house, the wife, who had more of the Indian tint and features than her husband, was equally warm and frank in her greeting. Senhor Antonio had spent his younger days at Pará, and had acquired a profound respect for Englishmen. I stayed here two days. My host accompanied me in my excursions; in fact, his attentions, with those of his wife, and the host of relatives of all degrees who constituted his household, were quite troublesome, as they left me not a moment’s privacy from morning till night.
We had, together, several long and successful rambles along a narrow pathway which extended several miles into the forest. I here met with a new insect pest, one which the natives may be thankful is not spread more widely over the country: it was a large brown fly of the Tabanidæ family (genus Pangonia), with a proboscis half an inch long and sharper than the finest needle. It settled on our backs by twos and threes at a time, and pricked us through our thick cotton shirts, making us start and cry out with the sudden pain. I secured a dozen or two as specimens. As an instance of the extremely confined ranges of certain species, it may be mentioned that I did not find this insect in any other part of the country except along half a mile or so of this gloomy forest road.
We were amused at the excessive and almost absurd tameness of a fine Mutum or Curassow turkey, that ran about the house. It was a large glossy-black species (the Mitu tuberosa), having an orange- coloured beak, surmounted by a bean-shaped excrescence of the same hue. It seemed to consider itself as one of the family: attended all the meals, passing from one person to another round the mat to be fed, and rubbing the sides of its head in a coaxing way against their cheeks or shoulders. At night it went to roost on a chest in a sleeping-room beside the hammock of one of the little girls to whom it seemed particularly attached, regularly following her wherever she went about the grounds. I found this kind of Curassow bird was very common in the forest of the Cuparí; but it is rare on the Upper Amazons, where an allied species, which has a round instead of a bean-shaped waxen excrescence on the beak (Crax globicera), is the prevailing kind. These birds in their natural state never descend from the tops of the loftiest trees, where they live in small flocks and build their nests. The Mitu tuberosa lays two rough-shelled, white eggs; it is fully as large a bird as the common turkey, but the flesh when cooked is drier and not so well flavoured. It is difficult to find the reason why these superb birds have not been reduced to domestication by the Indians, seeing that they so readily become tame. The obstacle offered by their not breeding in confinement, which is probably owing to their arboreal habits, might perhaps be overcome by repeated experiment; but for this the Indians probably had not sufficient patience or intelligence. The reason cannot lie in their insensibility to the value of such birds, for the common turkey, which has been introduced into the country, is much prized by them.
We had an unwelcome visitor whilst at anchor in the port of Antonio Malagueita. I was awakened a little after midnight, as I lay in my little cabin, by a heavy blow struck at the sides of the canoe close to my head, which was succeeded by the sound of a weighty body plunging into the water. I got up; but all was again quiet, except the cackle of fowls in our hen-coop, which hung over the side of the vessel about three feet from the cabin door. I could find no explanation of the circumstance, and, my men being all ashore, I turned in again and slept until morning. I then found my poultry loose about the canoe, and a large rent in the bottom of the hen-coop, which was about two feet from the surface of the water: a couple of fowls were missing. Senhor Antonio said the depredator was a Sucurujú (the Indian name for the Anaconda, or great water serpent—Eunectes murinus), which had for months past been haunting this part of the river, and had carried off many ducks and fowls from the ports of various houses. I was inclined to doubt the fact of a serpent striking at its prey from the water, and thought an alligator more likely to be the culprit, although we had not yet met with alligators in the river. Some days afterwards, the young men belonging to the different sitios agreed together to go in search of the serpent. They began in a systematic manner, forming two parties, each embarked in three or four canoes, and starting from points several miles apart, whence they gradually approximated, searching all the little inlets on both sides the river. The reptile was found at last, sunning itself on a log at the mouth of a muddy rivulet, and despatched with harpoons. I saw it the day after it was killed; it was not a very large specimen, measuring only eighteen feet nine inches in length, and sixteen inches in circumference at the widest part of the body. I measured skins of the Anaconda afterwards, twenty-one feet in length and two feet in girth. The reptile has a most hideous appearance, owing to its being very broad in the middle and tapering abruptly at both ends. It is very abundant in some parts of the country; nowhere more so than in the Lago Grande, near Santarem, where it is often seen coiled up in the corners of farm-yards, and is detested for its habit of carrying off poultry, young calves, or whatever animal it can get within reach of.
At Ega, a large Anaconda was once near making a meal of a young lad about ten years of age, belonging to one of my neighbours. The father and his son went, as was their custom, a few miles up the Teffé to gather wild fruit, landing on a sloping sandy shore, where the boy was left to mind the canoe whilst the man entered the forest. The beaches of the Teffé form groves of wild guava and myrtle trees, and during most months of the year are partly overflown by the river. Whilst the boy was playing in the water under the shade of these trees, a huge reptile of this species stealthily wound its coils around him, unperceived until it was too late to escape. His cries brought the father quickly to the rescue, who rushed forward, and seizing the Anaconda boldly by the head, tore his jaws asunder. There appears to be no doubt that this formidable serpent grows to an enormous bulk, and lives to a great age, for I heard of specimens having been killed which measured forty-two feet in length, or double the size of the largest I had an opportunity to examine. The natives of the Amazons country universally believe in the existence of a monster water-serpent, said to be many score fathoms in length and which appears successively in different parts of the river. They call it the Mai d’agoa—the mother, or spirit, of the water. This fable, which was doubtless suggested by the occasional appearance of Sucurujus of unusually large size, takes a great variety of forms, and the wild legends form the subject of conversation amongst old and young, over the wood fires in lonely settlements.
August 6th and 7th.—On leaving the sitio of Antonio Malagueita we continued our way along the windings of the river, generally in a south-east and south-south-east direction, but sometimes due north, for about fifteen miles, when we stopped at the house of one Paulo Christo, a mameluco whose acquaintance I had made at Aveyros. Here we spent the night and part of the next day, doing in the morning a good five hours’ work in the forest, accompanied by the owner of the place. In the afternoon of the 7th, we were again under way; the river makes a bend to the east-north-east for a short distance above Paulo Christo’s establishment, and then turns abruptly to the south-west, running from that direction about four miles. The hilly country of the interior then commences, the first token of it being a magnificently-wooded bluff, rising nearly straight from the water to a height of about 250 feet. The breadth of the stream hereabout was not more than sixty yards, and the forest assumed a new appearance from the abundance of the Urucuri palm, a species which has a noble crown of broad fronds with symmetrical rigid leaflets.
We reached, in the evening, the house of the last civilised settler on the river, Senhor Joao (John) Aracú, a wiry, active fellow and capital hunter, whom I wished to make a friend of and persuade to accompany me to the Mundurucú village and the falls of the Cuparí, some forty miles further up the river.
I stayed at the sitio of John Aracú until the 19th, and again, in descending, spent fourteen days at the same place. The situation was most favourable for collecting the natural products of the district. The forest was not crowded with underwood, and pathways led through it for many miles and in various directions. I could make no use here of our two men as hunters, so, to keep them employed whilst José and I worked daily in the woods, I set them to make a montaria under John Aracú’s directions. The first day a suitable tree was found for the shell of the boat, of the kind called Itaüba amarello, the yellow variety of the stonewood. They felled it, and shaped out of the trunk a log nineteen feet in length; this they dragged from the forest, with the help of my host’s men, over a road they had previously made with cylindrical pieces of wood acting as rollers. The distance was about half a mile, and the ropes used for drawing the heavy load were tough lianas cut from the surrounding trees. This part of the work occupied about a week: the log had then to be hollowed out, which was done with strong chisels through a slit made down the whole length. The heavy portion of the task being then completed, nothing remained but to widen the opening, fit two planks for the sides and the same number of semicircular boards for the ends, make the benches, and caulk the seams.
The expanding of the log thus hollowed out is a critical operation, and not always successful, many a good shell being spoiled from splitting or expanding irregularly. It is first reared on tressels, with the slit downwards, over a large fire, which is kept up for seven or eight hours, the process requiring unremitting attention to avoid cracks and make the plank bend with the proper dip at the two ends. Wooden straddlers, made by cleaving pieces of tough elastic wood and fixing them with wedges, are inserted into the opening, their compass being altered gradually as the work goes on, but in different degrees according to the part of the boat operated upon. Our casca turned out a good one: it took a long time to cool, and was kept in shape whilst it did so by means of wooden cross-pieces. When the boat was finished, it was launched with great merriment by the men, who hoisted coloured handkerchiefs for flags, and paddled it up and down the stream to try its capabilities. My people had suffered as much inconvenience from the want of a montaria as myself, so this was a day of rejoicing to all of us.
I was very successful at this place with regard to the objects of my journey. About twenty new species of fishes and a considerable number of small reptiles were added to my collection; but very few birds were met with worth preserving. A great number of the most conspicuous insects of the locality were new to me, and turned out to be species peculiar to this part of the Amazons valley. The most interesting acquisition was a large and handsome monkey, of a species I had not before met with—the white-whiskered Coaitá, or spider-monkey (Ateles marginatus). I saw a pair one day in the forest moving slowly along the branches of a lofty tree, and shot one of them; the next day John Aracu brought down another, possibly the companion. The species is of about the same size as the common black kind, of which I have given an account in a former chapter, and has a similar lean body, with limbs clothed with coarse black hair; but it differs in having the whiskers and a triangular patch on the crown of the head of a white colour. I thought the meat the best flavoured I had ever tasted. It resembled beef, but had a richer and sweeter taste. During the time of our stay in this part of the Cuparí, we could get scarcely anything but fish to eat, and as this diet disagreed with me, three successive days of it reducing me to a state of great weakness, I was obliged to make the most of our Coaitá meat. We smoke-dried the joints instead of salting them, placing them for several hours upon a framework of sticks arranged over a fire, a plan adopted by the natives to preserve fish when they have no salt, and which they call “muquiar.” Meat putrefies in this climate in less than twenty-four hours, and salting is of no use, unless the pieces are cut in thin slices and dried immediately in the sun. My monkeys lasted me about a fortnight, the last joint being an arm with the clenched fist, which I used with great economy, hanging it in the intervals, between my frugal meals, on a nail in the cabin. Nothing but the hardest necessity could have driven me so near to cannibalism as this, but we had the greatest difficulty in obtaining here a sufficient supply of animal food. About every three days the work on the montaria had to be suspended, and all hands turned out for the day to hunt and fish, in which they were often unsuccessful, for although there was plenty of game in the forest, it was too widely scattered to be available. Ricardo, and Alberto occasionally brought in a tortoise or ant-eater, which served us for one day’s consumption. We made acquaintance here with many strange dishes, amongst them Iguana eggs; these are of oblong form, about an inch in length, and covered with a flexible shell. The lizard lays about two score of them in the hollows of trees. They have an oily taste; the men ate them raw, beaten up with farinha, mixing a pinch of salt in the mess; I could only do with them when mixed with Tucupí sauce, of which we had a large jar full always ready to temper unsavoury morsels.
One day as I was entomologising alone and unarmed, in a dry Ygapó, where the trees were rather wide apart and the ground coated to the depth of eight or ten inches with dead leaves, I was near coming into collision with a boa constrictor. I had just entered a little thicket to capture an insect, and whilst pinning it was rather startled by a rushing noise in the vicinity. I looked up to the sky, thinking a squall was coming on, but not a breath of wind stirred in the tree-tops. On stepping out of the bushes I met face to face a huge serpent coming down a slope, making the dry twigs crack and fly with his weight as he moved over them. I had very frequently met with a smaller boa, the Cutim-boia, in a similar way, and knew from the habits of the family that there was no danger, so I stood my ground. On seeing me the reptile suddenly turned and glided at an accelerated pace down the path. Wishing to take a note of his probable size and the colours and markings of his skin, I set off after him; but he increased his speed, and I was unable to get near enough for the purpose. There was very little of the serpentine movement in his course. The rapidly moving and shining body looked like a stream of brown liquid flowing over the thick bed of fallen leaves, rather than a serpent with skin of varied colours. He descended towards the lower and moister parts of the Ygapó. The huge trunk of an uprooted tree here lay across the road; this he glided over in his undeviating course and soon after penetrated a dense swampy thicket, where of course I did not choose to follow him.
I suffered terribly from heat and mosquitoes as the river sank with the increasing dryness of the season, although I made an awning of the sails to work under, and slept at night in the open air with my hammock slung between the masts. But there was no rest in any part; the canoe descended deeper and deeper into the gulley through which the river flows between high clayey banks; as the water subsided, and with the glowing sun overhead we felt at midday as if in a furnace. I could bear scarcely any clothes in the daytime between eleven in the morning and five in the afternoon, wearing nothing but loose and thin cotton trousers and a light straw hat, and could not be accommodated in John Aracu’s house, as it was a small one and full of noisy children. One night we had a terrific storm. The heat in the afternoon had been greater than ever, and at sunset the sky had a brassy glare, the black patches of cloud which floated in it being lighted up now and then by flashes of sheet lightning. The mosquitoes at night were more than usually troublesome, and I had just sunk exhausted into a doze towards the early hours of morning when the storm began; a complete deluge of rain, with incessant lightning and rattling explosions of thunder. It lasted for eight hours; the grey dawn opening amidst the crash of the tempest. The rain trickled through the seams of the cabin roof on to my collections, the late hot weather having warped the boards, and it gave me immense trouble to secure them in the midst of the confusion. Altogether I had a bad night of it; but what with storms, heat, mosquitoes, hunger, and, towards the last, ill health, I seldom had a good night’s rest on the Cuparí.
A small creek traversed the forest behind John Aracu’s house, and entered the river a few yards from our anchoring place; I used to cross it twice a day, on going and returning from my hunting ground. One day early in September, I noticed that the water was two or three inches higher in the afternoon than it had been in the morning. This phenomenon was repeated the next day, and in fact daily, until the creek became dry with the continued subsidence of the Cuparí, the time of rising shifting a little from day to day. I pointed out the circumstance to John Aracú, who had not noticed it before (it was only his second year of residence in the locality), but agreed with me that it must be the “maré”; yes, the tide! the throb of the great oceanic pulse felt in this remote corner, 530 miles distant from the place where it first strikes the body of fresh water at the mouth of the Amazons. I hesitated at first at this conclusion, but in reflecting that the tide was known to be perceptible at Obydos, more than 400 miles from the sea, that at high water in the dry season a large flood from the Amazons enters the mouth of the Tapajos, and that there is but a very small difference of level between that point and the Cuparí, a fact shown by the absence of current in the dry season. I could have no doubt that this conclusion was a correct one.
The fact of the tide being felt 530 miles up the Amazons, passing from the main stream to one of its affluents 380 miles from its mouth, and thence to a branch in the third degree, is a proof of the extreme flatness of the land which forms the lower part of the Amazonian valley. This uniformity of level is shown also in the broad lake-like expanses of water formed near their mouths by the principal affluents which cross the valley to join the main river.
August 21st.—John Aracú consented to accompany me to the falls with one of his men to hunt and fish for me. One of my objects was to obtain specimens of the hyacinthine macaw, whose range commences on all the branch rivers of the Amazons which flow from the south through the interior of Brazil, with the first cataracts. We started on the 19th; our direction on that day being generally southwest. On the 20th, our course was southerly and southeasterly. This morning (August 21st) we arrived at the Indian settlement, the first house of which lies about thirty-one miles above the sitio of John Aracú. The river at this place is from sixty to seventy yards wide, and runs in a zigzag course between steep clayey banks, twenty to fifty feet in height. The houses of the Mundurucús, to the number of about thirty, are scattered along the banks for a distance of six or seven miles. The owners appear to have chosen all the most picturesque sites—tracts of level ground at the foot of wooded heights, or little havens with bits of white sandy beach—as if they had an appreciation of natural beauty. Most of the dwellings are conical huts, with walls of framework filled in with mud and thatched with palm leaves, the broad eaves reaching halfway to the ground. Some are quadrangular, and do not differ in structure from those of the semi-civilised settlers in other parts; others are open sheds or ranchos. They seem generally to contain not more than one or two families each.
At the first house, we learnt that all the fighting men had this morning returned from a two days’ pursuit of a wandering horde of savages of the Parárauáte tribe, who had strayed this way from the interior lands and robbed the plantations. A little further on we came to the house of the Tushaúa, or chief, situated on the top of a high bank, which we had to ascend by wooden steps. There were four other houses in the neighbourhood, all filled with people. A fine old fellow, with face, shoulders, and breast tattooed all over in a cross-bar pattern, was the first strange object that caught my eye. Most of the men lay lounging or sleeping in their hammocks. The women were employed in an adjoining shed making farinha, many of them being quite naked, and rushing off to the huts to slip on their petticoats when they caught sight of us. Our entrance aroused the Tushaúa from a nap; after rubbing his eyes he came forward and bade us welcome with the most formal politeness, and in very good Portuguese. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, well-made man, apparently about thirty years of age, with handsome regular features, not tattooed, and a quiet good-humoured expression of countenance. He had been several times to Santarem and once to Pará, learning the Portuguese language during these journeys. He was dressed in shirt and trousers made of blue-checked cotton cloth, and there was not the slightest trace of the savage in his appearance or demeanour. I was told that he had come into the chieftainship by inheritance, and that the Cuparí horde of Mundurucús, over which his fathers had ruled before him, was formerly much more numerous, furnishing 300 bows in time of war. They could now scarcely muster forty; but the horde has no longer a close political connection with the main body of the tribe, which inhabits the banks of the Tapajos, six days’ journey from the Cuparí settlement.
I spent the remainder of the day here, sending Aracú and the men to fish, whilst I amused myself with the Tushaúa and his people. A few words served to explain my errand on the river; he comprehended at once why white men should admire and travel to collect the beautiful birds and animals of his country, and neither he nor his people spoke a single word about trading, or gave us any trouble by coveting the things we had brought. He related to me the events of the preceding three days. The Parárauátes were a tribe of intractable savages, with whom the Mundurucús have been always at war. They had no fixed abode, and of course made no plantations, but passed their lives like the wild beasts, roaming through the forest, guided by the sun; wherever they found themselves at night-time there they slept, slinging their bast hammocks, which are carried by the women, to the trees. They cross the streams which lie in their course in bark canoes, which they make on reaching the water, and cast away after landing on the opposite side. The tribe is very numerous, but the different hordes obey only their own chieftains. The Mundurucús of the upper Tapajos have an expedition on foot against them at the present time, and the Tushaúa supposed that the horde which had just been chased from his maloca were fugitives from that direction. There were about a hundred of them—including men, women, and children. Before they were discovered, the hungry savages had uprooted all the macasheira, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane, which the industrious Mundurucús had planted for the season, on the east side of the river. As soon as they were seen they made off, but the Tashaúa quickly got together all the young men of the settlement, about thirty in number, who armed themselves with guns, bows and arrows, and javelins, and started in pursuit. They tracked them, as before related, for two days through the forest, but lost their traces on the further bank of the Cuparitinga, a branch stream flowing from the northeast. The pursuers thought, at one time, they were close upon them, having found the inextinguished fire of their last encampment. The footmarks of the chief could be distinguished from the rest by their great size and the length of the stride. A small necklace made of scarlet beans was the only trophy of the expedition, and this the Tashaúa gave to me.
I saw very little of the other male Indians, as they were asleep in their huts all the afternoon. There were two other tattooed men lying under an open shed, besides the old man already mentioned. One of them presented a strange appearance, having a semicircular black patch in the middle of his face, covering the bottom of the nose and mouth, crossed lines on his back and breast, and stripes down his arms and legs. It is singular that the graceful curved patterns used by the South Sea Islanders are quite unknown amongst the Brazilian red men; they being all tattooed either in simple lines or patches. The nearest approach to elegance of design which I saw was amongst the Tucunas of the Upper Amazons, some of whom have a scroll-like mark on each cheek, proceeding from the corner of the mouth. The taste, as far as form is concerned, of the American Indian, would seem to be far less refined than that of the Tahitian and New Zealander.
To amuse the Tashaúa, I fetched from the canoe the two volumes of Knight’s Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature. The engravings quite took his fancy, and he called his wives, of whom, as I afterwards learned from Aracú, he had three or four, to look at them; one of them was a handsome girl, decorated with necklace and bracelets of blue beads. In a short time, others left their work, and I then had a crowd of women and children around me, who all displayed unusual curiosity for Indians. It was no light task to go through the whole of the illustrations, but they would not allow me to miss a page, making me turn back when I tried to skip. The pictures of the elephant, camels, orang-otangs, and tigers, seemed most to astonish them; but they were interested in almost everything, down even to the shells and insects. They recognised the portraits of the most striking birds and mammals which are found in their own country; the jaguar, howling monkeys, parrots, trogons, and toucans. The elephant was settled to be a large kind of Tapir; but they made but few remarks, and those in the Mundurucú language, of which I understood only two or three words. Their way of expressing surprise was a clicking sound made with the teeth, similar to the one we ourselves use, or a subdued exclamation, Hm! hm! Before I finished, from fifty to sixty had assembled; there was no pushing or rudeness, the grown-up women letting the young girls and children stand before them, and all behaved in the most quiet and orderly manner possible.
The Mundurucús are perhaps the most numerous and formidable tribe of Indians now surviving in the Amazons region. They inhabit the shores of the Tapajos (chiefly the right bank), from 3° to 7° south latitude, and the interior of the country between that part of the river and the Madeira. On the Tapajos alone they can muster, I was told, 2000 fighting men; the total population of the tribe may be about 20,000. They were not heard of until about ninety years ago, when they made war on the Portuguese settlements, their hosts crossing the interior of the country eastward of the Tapajos, and attacking the establishments of the whites in the province of Maranham. The Portuguese made peace with them in the beginning of the present century, the event being brought about by the common cause of quarrel entertained by the two peoples against the hated Múras. They have ever since been firm friends of the whites. It is remarkable how faithfully this friendly feeling has been handed down amongst the Mundurucús, and spread to the remotest of the scattered hordes. Wherever a white man meets a family, or even an individual of the tribe, he is almost sure to be reminded of this alliance. They are the most warlike of the Brazilian tribes, and are considered also the most settled and industrious; they are not, however, superior in this latter respect to the Jurís and Passés on the Upper Amazons, or the Uapés Indians near the headwaters of the Rio Negro. They make very large plantations of mandioca, and sell the surplus produce, which amounts to, on the Tapajos, from 3000 to 5000 baskets (60 lbs. each) annually, to traders who ascend the river from Santarem between the months of August and January. They also gather large quantities of sarsaparilla, India-rubber, and Tonka beans, in the forests. The traders, on their arrival at the Campinas (the scantily wooded region inhabited by the main body of Mundurucús beyond the cataracts) have first to distribute their wares—cheap cotton cloths, iron hatchets, cutlery, small wares, and cashaça—amongst the minor chiefs, and then wait three or four months for repayment in produce.
A rapid change is taking place in the habits of these Indians through frequent intercourse with the whites, and those who dwell on the banks of the Tapajos now seldom tattoo their children. The principal Tashaúa of the whole tribe or nation, named Joaquim, was rewarded with a commission in the Brazilian army, in acknowledgment of the assistance he gave to the legal authorities during the rebellion of 1835-6. It would be a misnomer to call the Mundurucús of the Cuparí and many parts of the Tapajos savages; their regular mode of life, agricultural habits, loyalty to their chiefs, fidelity to treaties, and gentleness of demeanour, give them a right to a better title. Yet they show no aptitude for the civilised life of towns, and, like the rest of the Brazilian tribes, seem incapable of any further advance in culture. In their former wars they exterminated two of the neighbouring peoples, the Júmas and the Jacarés, and make now an annual expedition against the Parárauátes, and one or two other similar wild tribes who inhabit the interior of the land. Additionally they are sometimes driven by hunger towards the banks of the great rivers to rob the plantations of the agricultural Indians. These campaigns begin in July, and last throughout the dry months; the women generally accompanying the warriors to carry their arrows and javelins. They had the diabolical custom, in former days, of cutting off the heads of their slain enemies, and preserving them as trophies around their houses. I believe this, together with other savage practices, has been relinquished in those parts where they have had long intercourse with the Brazilians, for I could neither see nor hear anything of these preserved heads. They used to sever the head with knives made of broad bamboo, and then, after taking out the brain and fleshy parts, soak it in bitter vegetable oil (andiroba), and expose it for several days over the smoke of a fire or in the sun. In the tract of country between the Tapajos and the Madeira, a deadly war has been for many years carried on between the Mundurucús and the Aráras. I was told by a Frenchman at Santarem, who had visited that part, that all the settlements there have a military organisation. A separate shed is built outside each village, where the fighting men sleep at night, sentinels being stationed to give the alarm with blasts of the Turé on the approach of the Aráras, who choose the night for their onslaughts.
Each horde of Mundurucús has its pajé or medicine man, who is the priest and doctor; he fixes upon the time most propitious for attacking the enemy; exorcises evil spirits, and professes to cure the sick. All illness whose origin is not very apparent is supposed to be caused by a worm in the part affected. This the pajé pretends to extract; he blows on the seat of pain the smoke from a large cigar, made with an air of great mystery by rolling tobacco in folds of Tauarí, and then sucks the place, drawing from his mouth, when he has finished, what he pretends to be the worm. It is a piece of very clumsy conjuring. One of these pajés was sent for by a woman in John Aracu’s family, to operate on a child who suffered much from pains in the head. Senhor John contrived to get possession of the supposed worm after the trick was performed in our presence, and it turned out to be a long white air-root of some plant. The pajé was with difficulty persuaded to operate whilst Senhor John and I were present. I cannot help thinking that he, as well as all others of the same profession, are conscious impostors, handing down the shallow secret of their divinations and tricks from generation to generation. The institution seems to be common to all tribes of Indians, and to be held to more tenaciously than any other.
I bought of the Tashaúa two beautiful feather sceptres, with their bamboo cases. These are of cylindrical shape, about three feet in length and three inches in diameter, and are made by gluing with wax the fine white and yellow feathers from the breast of the toucan on stout rods, the tops being ornamented with long plumes from the tails of parrots, trogons, and other birds. The Mundurucús are considered to be the most expert workers in feathers of all the South American tribes. It is very difficult, however, to get them to part with the articles, as they seem to have a sort of superstitious regard for them. They manufacture head-dresses, sashes, and tunics, besides sceptres; the feathers being assorted with a good eye to the proper contrast of colours, and the quills worked into strong cotton webs, woven with knitting sticks in the required shape. The dresses are worn only during their festivals, which are celebrated, not at stated times, but whenever the Tashaúa thinks fit. Dancing, singing, sports, and drinking, appear to be the sole objects of these occasional holidays. When a day is fixed upon, the women prepare a great quantity of tarobá, and the monotonous jingle is kept up, with little intermission, night and day, until the stimulating beverage is finished.
We left the Tashaúa’s house early the next morning. The impression made upon me by the glimpse of Indian life in its natural state obtained here, and at another cluster of houses visited higher up, was a pleasant one, notwithstanding the disagreeable incident of the Parárauáte visit. The Indians are here seen to the best advantage; having relinquished many of their most barbarous practices, without being corrupted by too close contact with the inferior whites and half-breeds of the civilised settlements. The manners are simpler, the demeanour more gentle, cheerful, and frank, than amongst the Indians who live near the towns. I could not help contrasting their well-fed condition, and the signs of orderly, industrious habits, with the poverty and laziness of the semi-civilised people of Altar do Chao. I do not think that the introduction of liquors has been the cause of much harm to the Brazilian Indian. He has his drinking bout now and then, like the common working people of other countries. It was his habit in his original state, before Europeans visited his country, but he is always ashamed of it afterwards, and remains sober during the pretty long intervals. The harsh, slave-driving practices of the Portuguese and their descendants have been the greatest curses to the Indians; the Mundurucús of the Cuparí, however, have been now for many years protected against ill-treatment. This is one of the good services rendered by the missionaries, who take care that the Brazilian laws in favour of the aborigines shall be respected by the brutal and unprincipled traders who go amongst them. I think no Indians could be in a happier position than these simple, peaceful, and friendly people on the banks of the Cuparí. The members of each family live together, and seem to be much attached to each other; and the authority of the chief is exercised in the mildest manner. Perpetual summer reigns around them; the land is of the highest fertility, and a moderate amount of light work produces them all the necessaries of their simple life. It is difficult to get at their notions on subjects that require a little abstract thought; but the mind of the Indian is in a very primitive condition. I believe he thinks of nothing except the matters that immediately concern his daily material wants. There is an almost total absence of curiosity in his mental disposition, consequently, he troubles himself very little concerning the causes of the natural phenomena around him. He has no idea of a Supreme Being; but, at the same time, he is free from revolting superstitions—his religious notions going no farther than the belief in an evil spirit, regarded merely as a kind of hobgoblin, who is at the bottom of all his little failures, troubles in fishing, hunting, and so forth. With so little mental activity, and with feelings and passions slow of excitement, the life of these people is naturally monotonous and dull, and their virtues are, properly speaking, only negative; but the picture of harmless, homely contentment they exhibit is very pleasing, compared with the state of savage races in many other parts of the world.
The men awoke me at four o’clock with the sound of their oars on leaving the port of the Tashaúa. I was surprised to find a dense fog veiling all surrounding objects, and the air quite cold. The lofty wall of forest, with the beautiful crowns of Assai palms standing out from it on their slender, arching stems, looked dim and strange through the misty curtain. The sudden change a little after sunrise had quite a magical effect, for the mist rose up like the gauze veil before the transformation scene at a pantomime, and showed the glorious foliage in the bright glow of morning, glittering with dew drops. We arrived at the falls about ten o’clock. The river here is not more than forty yards broad, and falls over a low ledge of rock stretching in a nearly straight line across.
We had now arrived at the end of the navigation for large vessels—a distance from the mouth of the river, according to our rough calculation, of a little over seventy miles. I found it the better course now to send José and one of the men forward in the montaria with John Aracú, and remain myself with the cuberta and our other man to collect in the neighbouring forest. We stayed here four days, one of the boats returning each evening from the upper river with the produce of the day’s chase of my huntsmen. I obtained six good specimens of the hyacinthine macaw, besides a number of smaller birds, a species new to me of Guaríba, or howling monkey, and two large lizards. The Guaríba was an old male, with the hair much worn from his rump and breast, and his body disfigured with large tumours made by the grubs of a gad-fly (Œstrus). The back and tail were of a ruddy-brown colour, the limbs, and underside of the body, black. The men ascended to the second falls, which form a cataract several feet in height, about fifteen miles beyond our anchorage. The macaws were found feeding in small flocks on the fruit of the Tucumá palm (Astryocaryum Tucumá), the excessively hard nut of which is crushed into pulp by the powerful beak of the bird. I found the craws of all the specimens filled with the sour paste to which the stone-like fruit had been reduced. Each bird took me three hours to skin, and I was occupied with these and my other specimens every evening until midnight, after my own laborious day’s hunt; working on the roof of my cabin by the light of a lamp.
The place where the cuberta was anchored formed a little rocky haven, with a sandy beach sloping to the forest, within which were the ruins of an Indian Maloca, and a large weed-grown plantation. The port swarmed with fishes, whose movements it was amusing to watch in the deep, clear water. The most abundant were the Piránhas. One species, which varied in length, according to age, from two to six inches, but was recognisable by a black spot at the root of the tail, was always the quickest to seize any fragment of meat thrown into the water. When nothing was being given to them, a few only were seen scattered about, their heads all turned one way in an attitude of expectation; but as soon as any offal fell from the canoe, the water was blackened with the shoals that rushed instantaneously to the spot. Those who did not succeed in securing a fragment, fought with those who had been more successful, and many contrived to steal the coveted morsels from their mouths. When a bee or fly passed through the air near the water, they all simultaneously darted towards it as if roused by an electric shock. Sometimes a larger fish approached, and then the host of Piránhas took the alarm and flashed out of sight. The population of the water varied from day to day. Once a small shoal of a handsome black-banded fish, called by the natives Acará bandeira (Mesonauta insignis, of Günther), came gliding through at a slow pace, forming a very pretty sight. At another time, little troops of needle-fish, eel-like animals with excessively long and slender toothed jaws, sailed through the field, scattering before them the hosts of smaller fry; and at the rear of the needle-fishes, a strangely-shaped kind called Sarapó came wriggling along, one by one, with a slow movement. We caught with hook and line, baited with pieces of banana, several Curimatá (Anodus Amazonum), a most delicious fish, which, next to the Tucunare and the Pescada, is most esteemed by the natives. The Curimatá seemed to prefer the middle of the stream, where the waters were agitated beneath the little cascade.
The weather was now settled and dry, and the river sank rapidly— six inches in twenty-four hours. In this remote and solitary spot I can say that I heard for the first and almost the only time the uproar of life at sunset, which Humboldt describes as having witnessed towards the sources of the Orinoco, but which is unknown on the banks of the larger rivers. The noises of animals began just as the sun sank behind the trees after a sweltering afternoon, leaving the sky above of the intensest shade of blue. Two flocks of howling monkeys, one close to our canoe, the other about a furlong distant, filled the echoing forests with their dismal roaring. Troops of parrots, including the hyacinthine macaw we were in search of, began then to pass over; the different styles of cawing and screaming of the various species making a terrible discord. Added to these noises were the songs of strange Cicadas, one large kind perched high on the trees around our little haven setting up a most piercing chirp; it began with the usual harsh jarring tone of its tribe, but this gradually and rapidly became shriller, until it ended in a long and loud note resembling the steam-whistle of a locomotive engine. Half-a-dozen of these wonderful performers made a considerable item in the evening concert. I had heard the same species before at Pará, but it was there very uncommon: we obtained one of them here for my collection by a lucky blow with a stone. The uproar of beasts, birds, and insects lasted but a short time: the sky quickly lost its intense hue, and the night set in. Then began the tree-frogs—quack-quack, drum-drum, hoo-hoo; these, accompanied by a melancholy night-jar, kept up their monotonous cries until very late.
My men encountered on the banks of the stream a Jaguar and a black Tiger, and were very much afraid of falling in with the Parárauátes, so that I could not, after their return on the fourth day, induce them to undertake another journey. We began our descent of the river in the evening of the 26th of August. At night forest and river were again enveloped in mist, and the air before sunrise was quite cold. There is a considerable current from the falls to the house of John Aracú, and we accomplished the distance, with its aid and by rowing, in seventeen hours.
September 21st.—At five o’clock in the afternoon we emerged from the confined and stifling gully through which the Cuparí flows, into the broad Tapajos, and breathed freely again. How I enjoyed the extensive view after being so long pent up: the mountainous coasts, the grey distance, the dark waters tossed by a refreshing breeze! Heat, mosquitoes, insufficient and bad food, hard work and anxiety, had brought me to a very low state of health; and I was now anxious to make all speed back to Santarem.
We touched at Aveyros, to embark some chests I had left there and to settle accounts with Captain Antonio, and found nearly all the people sick with fever and vomit, against which the Padre’s homoeopathic globules were of no avail. The Tapajos had been pretty free from epidemics for some years past, although it was formerly a very unhealthy river. A sickly time appeared to be now returning; in fact, the year following my visit (1853) was the most fatal one ever experienced in this part of the country. A kind of putrid fever broke out, which attacked people of all races alike. The accounts we received at Santarem were most distressing: my Cuparí friends especially suffered very severely. John Aracú and his family all fell victims, with the exception of his wife; my kind friend Antonio Malagueita also died, and a great number of people in the Mundurucú village.
The descent of the Tapajos in the height of the dry season, which was now close at hand, is very hazardous on account of the strong winds, absence of current, and shoaly water far away from the coasts. The river towards the end of September is about thirty feet shallower than in June; and in many places, ledges of rock are laid bare, or covered with only a small depth of water. I had been warned of these circumstances by my Cuparí friends, but did not form an adequate idea of what we should have to undergo. Canoes, in descending, only travel at night, when the terral, or light land-breeze, blows off the eastern shore. In the day-time a strong wind rages from down river, against which it is impossible to contend as there is no current, and the swell raised by its sweeping over scores of miles of shallow water is dangerous to small vessels. The coast for the greater part of the distance affords no shelter; there are, however, a number of little harbours, called esperas, which the canoemen calculate upon, carefully arranging each night-voyage so as to reach one of them before the wind begins the next morning.
We left Aveyros in the evening of the 21st, and sailed gently down with the soft land-breeze, keeping about a mile from the eastern shore. It was a brilliant moonlit night, and the men worked cheerfully at the oars when the wind was slack, the terral wafting from the forest a pleasant perfume like that of mignonette. At midnight we made a fire and got a cup of coffee, and at three o’clock in the morning reached the sitio of Ricardo’s father, an Indian named André, where we anchored and slept.
September 22nd.—Old André with his squaw came aboard this morning. They brought three Tracajás, a turtle, and a basketful of Tracajá eggs, to exchange with me for cotton cloth and cashaça. Ricardo, who had been for some time very discontented, having now satisfied his longing to see his parents, cheerfully agreed to accompany me to Santarem. The loss of a man at this juncture would have been very annoying, with Captain Antonio ill at Aveyros, and not a hand to be had anywhere in the neighbourhood; but, if we had not called at André’s sitio, we should not have been able to have kept Ricardo from running away at the first landing-place. He was a lively, restless lad, and although impudent and troublesome at first, had made a very good servant. His companion, Alberto, was of quite a different disposition, being extremely taciturn, and going through all his duties with the quietest regularity.
We left at 11 a.m., and progressed a little before the wind began to blow from down river, when we were obliged again to cast anchor. The terral began at six o’clock in the evening, and we sailed with it past the long line of rock-bound coast near Itapuáma. At ten o’clock a furious blast of wind came from a cleft between the hills, catching us with the sails close-hauled, and throwing the canoe nearly on its beam-ends, when we were about a mile from the shore. José had the presence of mind to slacken the sheet of the mainsail, whilst I leapt forward and lowered the sprit of the foresail, the two Indians standing stupefied in the prow. It was what the canoe-men call a trovoada secca or white squall. The river in a few minutes became a sheet of foam; the wind ceased in about half an hour, but the terral was over for the night, so we pulled towards the shore to find an anchoring place.
We reached Tapaiuna by midnight on the 23rd, and on the morning of the 24th arrived at the Retiro, where we met a shrewd Santarem trader, whom I knew, Senhor Chico Honorio, who had a larger and much better provided canoe than our own. The wind was strong from below all day, so we remained at this place in his company. He had his wife with him, and a number of Indians, male and female. We slung our hammocks under the trees, and breakfasted and dined together, our cloth being spread on the sandy beach in the shade after killing a large quantity of fish with timbó, of which we had obtained a supply at Itapuáma. At night we were again under way with the land breeze. The water was shoaly to a great distance off the coast, and our canoe having the lighter draught went ahead, our leadsman crying out the soundings to our companion: the depth was only one fathom, half a mile from the coast. We spent the next day (25th) at the mouth of a creek called Pini, which is exactly opposite the village of Boim, and on the following night advanced about twelve miles. Every point of land had a long spit of sand stretching one or two miles towards the middle of the river, which it was necessary to double by a wide circuit. The terral failed us at midnight when we were near an espera, called Maraï, the mouth of a shallow creek.
September 26th.—I did not like the prospect of spending the whole dreary day at Maraï, where it was impossible to ramble ashore, the forest being utterly impervious, and the land still partly under water. Besides, we had used up our last stick of firewood to boil our coffee at sunrise, and could not get a fresh supply at this place. So there being a dead calm on the river in the morning, I gave orders at ten o’clock to move out of the harbour, and try with the oars to reach Paquiatúba, which was only five miles distant. We had doubled the shoaly point which stretches from the mouth of the creek, and were making way merrily across the bay, at the head of which was the port of the little settlement, when we beheld to our dismay, a few miles down the river, the signs of the violent day breeze coming down upon us—a long, rapidly advancing line of foam with the darkened water behind it. Our men strove in vain to gain the harbour; the wind overtook us, and we cast anchor in three fathoms, with two miles of shoaly water between us and the land on our lee. It came with the force of a squall: the heavy billows washing over the vessel and drenching us with the spray. I did not expect that our anchor would hold; I gave out, however, plenty of cable and watched the result at the prow, José placing himself at the helm, and the men standing by the jib and foresail, so as to be ready if we dragged to attempt the passage of the Maraï spit, which was now almost dead to leeward. Our little bit of iron, however, held its place; the bottom being fortunately not so sandy as in most other parts of the coast; but our weak cable then began to cause us anxiety. We remained in this position all day without food, for everything was tossing about in the hold; provision-chests, baskets, kettles, and crockery. The breeze increased in strength towards the evening, when the sun set fiery red behind the misty hills on the western shore, and the gloom of the scene was heightened by the strange contrasts of colour; the inky water and the lurid gleam of the sky. Heavy seas beat now and then against the prow of our vessel with a force that made her shiver. If we had gone ashore in this place, all my precious collections would have been inevitably lost; but we ourselves could have scrambled easily to land, and re-embarked with Senhor Honorio, who had remained behind in the Piní, and would pass in the course of two or three days. When night came I lay down exhausted with watching and fatigue, and fell asleep, as my men had done sometime before. About nine o’clock, I was awakened by the montaria bumping against the sides of the vessel, which had veered suddenly round, and the full moon, previously astern, then shone full in the cabin. The wind had abruptly ceased, giving place to light puffs from the eastern shore, and leaving a long swell rolling into the shoaly bay.
After this I resolved not to move a step beyond Paquiatúba without an additional man, and one who understood the navigation of the river at this season. We reached the landing-place at ten o’clock, and anchored within the mouth of the creek. In the morning I walked through the beautiful shady alleys of the forest, which were water-paths in June when we touched here in ascending the river to the house of Inspector Cypriano. After an infinite deal of trouble, I succeeded in persuading him to furnish me with another Indian. There are about thirty families established in this place, but the able-bodied men had been nearly all drafted off within the last few weeks by the Government, to accompany a military expedition against runaway negroes, settled in villages in the interior. Senhor Cypriano was a pleasant-looking and extremely civil young Mameluco. He accompanied us, on the night of the 28th, five miles down the river to Point Jaguararí, where the man lived whom he intended to send with me. I was glad to find my new hand a steady, middle-aged and married Indian; his name was of very good promise, Angelo Custodio (Guardian Angel).
Point Jaguararí forms at this season of the year a high sandbank, which is prolonged as a narrow spit, stretching about three miles towards the middle of the river. We rounded this with great difficulty on the night of the 29th, reaching before daylight a good shelter behind a similar sandbank at Point Acarátingari, a headland situated not more than five miles in a straight line from our last anchoring place. We remained here all day; the men beating timbó in a quiet pool between the sandbank and the mainland, and obtaining a great quantity of fish, from which I selected six species new to my collection. We made rather better progress the two following nights, but the terral now always blew strongly from the north-north-east after midnight, and thus limited the hours during which we could navigate, forcing us to seek the nearest shelter to avoid being driven back faster than we came.
On the 2nd of October, we reached Point Cajetúba and had a pleasant day ashore. The river scenery in this neighbourhood is of the greatest beauty. A few houses of settlers are seen at the bottom of the broad bay of Aramána-í at the foot of a range of richly-timbered hills, the high beach of snow-white sand stretching in a bold curve from point to point. The opposite shores of the river are ten or eleven miles distant, but towards the north is a clear horizon of water and sky. The country near Point Cajetúba is similar to the neighbourhood of Santarem: namely, campos with scattered trees. We gathered a large quantity of wild fruit: Cajú, Umirí, and Aápiránga. The Umirí berry (Humirium floribundum) is a black drupe similar in appearance to the Damascene plum, and not greatly unlike it in taste. The Aápiránga is a bright vermilion-coloured berry, with a hard skin and a sweet viscid pulp enclosing the seeds. Between the point and Altar do Chao was a long stretch of sandy beach with moderately deep water; our men, therefore, took a rope ashore and towed the cuberta at merry speed until we reached the village. A long, deeply laden canoe with miners from the interior provinces passed us here. It was manned by ten Indians, who propelled the boat by poles; the men, five on each side, trotting one after the other along a plank arranged for the purpose from stem to stern.
It took us two nights to double Point Cururú, where, as already mentioned, the river bends from its northerly course beyond Altar do Chao. A confused pile of rocks, on which many a vessel heavily laden with farinha has been wrecked, extends at the season of low water from the foot of a high bluff far into the stream. We were driven back on the first night (October 3rd) by a squall. The light terral was carrying us pleasantly round the spit, when a small black cloud which lay near the rising moon suddenly spread over the sky to the northward; the land breeze then ceased, and furious blasts began to blow across the river. We regained, with great difficulty, the shelter of the point. It blew almost a hurricane for two hours, during the whole of which time the sky over our heads was beautifully clear and starlit. Our shelter at first was not very secure, for the wind blew away the lashings of our sails, and caused our anchor to drag. Angelo Custodio, however, seized a rope which was attached to the foremast, and leapt ashore; had he not done so, we should probably have been driven many miles backwards up the storm-tossed river. After the cloud had passed, the regular east wind began to blow, and our further progress was effectually stopped for the night. The next day we all went ashore, after securing well the canoe, and slept from eleven o’clock till five under the shade of trees.
The distance between Point Cururú and Santarem was accomplished in three days, against the same difficulties of contrary and furious winds, shoaly water, and rocky coasts. I was thankful at length to be safely housed, with the whole of my collections, made under so many privations and perils, landed without the loss or damage of a specimen. The men, after unloading the canoe and delivering it to its owner, came to receive their payment. They took part in goods and part in money, and after a good supper, on the night of the 7th October, shouldered their bundles and set off to walk by land some eighty miles to their homes. I was rather surprised at the good feeling exhibited by these poor Indians at parting. Angelo Custodio said that whenever I should wish to make another voyage up the Tapajos, he would be always ready to serve me as pilot. Alberto was undemonstrative as usual; but Ricardo, with whom I had had many sharp quarrels, actually shed tears when he shook hands and bid me the final “adios.”