« AnteriorContinuar »
exterior, and their ornaments, as it is possible for men to be, who are naked and painted red. They attach great importance to certain forms of the body; and a mother would be accused of culpable indifference toward her children, if she did not employ artificial means, to shape the calf of the leg after the fashion of the country. As none of our Indians of Apure understood the Caribbee language, we could obtain no information from the Cacique of Panama respecting the encampments, that are made at this season in several islands of the Oroonoko for collecting turtles' eggs.'—p. 465.
The natives, it seems, have retained a belief that' at the time of the great waters, when their fathers were forced to have recourse to their boats to escape the general inundation, the waves of the sea beat against the rocks of Encaramada;' and this belief prevails among almost all the tribes of the Upper Oroonoko. The Tamariacks say, that in this great deluge,' a man and a woman saved themselves on a high mountain, called Tamanacu, situated on the banks of the Asiveru; and casting behind them, over their heads, the fruits of the mauritia palm-tree, they saw the seeds contained in those fruits produce men and women, who repeopled the earth.' This is an improvement of the tale so beautifully told by Ovid: but whence, it may be asked, did theTamanacks obtain a fable so analogous to that which the ancients have embellished with all the charms of imagination? This we shall not attempt to determine. M. de Humboldt contents himself with remarking that similar traditions exist among all the nations of the earth, and, ' like the relics of a vast shipwreck, are highly interesting in the philosophical study of our own species.' The following is something more than tradition.
'A few leagues from Encaramada, a rock, called Tepu-mereme, or "the painted rock," rises in the midst of the savannah. It displays resemblances of animals, and symbolic figures, resembling those we saw in going down the Oroonoko, at a small distance below Encaramada, near the town Caycara. Similar rocks in Africa are called by travellers Fetish Stones. I shall not make use of this term, because fetishism does not prevail among the natives of the Oroonoko; and the figures of stars, of the sun, of tigers, and of crocodiles, which we found traced upon the rocks in spots now uninhabited, appeared to me in no way to denote the objects of worship of those nations. Between the banks of the Cassiquiare and the Oroonoko; between Encaramada, the Capuchino, and Caycara, these hieroglyphic figures are often placed at great heights on the walls of rock, that could be accessible only by constructing very lofty scaffolds. When the natives are asked how those figures could have been sculptured, they answer with a smile, as relating a fact of which a stranger, a white man only, could be ignorant, that " at the period of the gteat waters, their fathers- went to that height in boats."—pp. 472, 473.
Our travellers landed on an island near the Boca de la Tortuga, celebrated for the turtle fishery, or the harvest of eggs. About three hundred Indians were living in huts of palm-leaves: each tribe was separately encamped, and distinguished by the painting of their skins. Here a missionary from the Uruana, a native of the country, came to meet them; he was particularly astonished to see Europeans, and thought the object of their voyage very mysterious; he could not conceive it possible, that they should have left their country to be devoured by mosquitoes, and to measure lands that were not their own. His business, he told them, was to celebrate mass during the harvest of eggs, to procure oil for the church, and to keep in order this ' repubhca de Indios y Castellanos.'
The turtle, which lays these eggs, is called the arrau, and weighs from forty to fifty pounds. In the month of January they issue in troops from the water to repose on the sands, and warm themselves in the sun, and they continue basking on the beach in the day-time during the month of February. In March they repair to the small islands to lay their eggs. With their hind feet, which are very long and furnished with claws, the animals dig a hole about three feet in diameter, and two feet deep. In these holes they deposit their eggs during the night. Sometimes day surprises them before the business is done. They are then pressed by the double necessity of depositing their eggs and closing the holes they have dug, that they may not be perceived by the tigers. The tortoises that thus remain too late are insensible to their own danger. They work in the presence of the Indians, who visit the beach at a very early hour, and who call them mad tortoises.
The gathering, under the guidance of the missionary, is conducted with the utmost regularity. The ground is measured out and distributed among the tribes. An area of 120 feet in length and 30 in breadth has been known to produce a hundred jars of oil, so clear and inodorous that the missionaries .compare it to the best olive oil. M. de Humboldt, however, gives it a different character, and says it has generally a putrid smell, owing to some of the eggs having little tortoises formed in them. Of this article it is estimated that five thousand botijas (each from 1000 to 1200 cubic inches) are collected annually.
'Now as two hundred eggs yield oil enough to fill a bottle, or limeta, it requires five thousand eggs for a jar or botija of oil. Estimating at one hundred, or one hundred and sixteen, the number of eggs, that one tortoise produces; and reckoning that one third of these is broken at the time of laying, particularly by the mad tortoises; we may presume, that, to obtain annually five thousand jars of oil, three hundred and thirty thousand arrau tortoises, the weight of which amounts to one hundred and sixty-five thousand quintals, must come and lay thirty. three three millions of eggs on the three shores appropriated to this harvest.'— p. 489.
The jaguar tiger is a great enemy of the tortoises; it follows them to the beach, and iu order to devour them at its ease, it turns them on their backs. In this position, the turtles are unable to rise, and the Indians avail themselves of the cunning of the jaguar. The crocodiles also feed on the turtles, and the herons and the galinazo vulture devour the young ones just after they are hatched, though they are said never to come out of the sand during the day, and are so sagacious that they at once take the shortest road to the water, appearing, says M. de Humboldt, to ' feel with extreme delicacy on what side the most humid air blows.'
The Oroonoko at the passage of Baraguan was 889 toises broad; a little lower down it measured 2674 toises, or nearly four nautical miles. The shores here were barren, and the temperature exceedingly high, which called forth the following striking observations from M. de Humboldt.
'We looked in vain for plants in the clefts of the rocks, which are as steep as walls, and furnish some traces of stratification. We found only an old trunk of aubletia, with large pomiform fruit, and a new species of the family of the apocyneae. All the stones were covered with an innumerable quantity of iguanas and geckoes with spreading and membranous fingers. These lizards, motionless, the head raised, and the mouth open, seemed to suck in the heated air. The thermometer placed against the rock rose to 50-2°. The soil appeared undulating, from the effect of mirage, without a breath of wind being felt. The sun was near the zenith, and its dazzling light, reflected by the surface of the river, contrasted with the reddish vapours that enveloped all the surrounding objects. How vivid is the impression produced by the calm of nature, at noon, in these burning climates! The beasts of the forests retire to the thickets; the birds hide themselves beneath the foliage of the trees, or in the crevices of the rocks. Yet, amid this apparent silence, when we lend an attentive ear to the most feeble sounds transmitted by the air, we hear a dull vibration, a continual murmur, a hum of insects, that fill, if we may use the expression, all the lower strata of the air. Nothing is better fitted to make man feel the extent and power of organic life. Myriads of insects creep upon the soil, and flutter round the plants parched by the ardour of the sun. A confused noise issues from every bush, from the decayed trunks of trees, from the clefts of the rock, and from the ground undermined by the lizards, millepedes, and cecilias. These are so many voices proclaiming to us, that all nature breathes; and that, under a thousand different forms, life is diffused throughout the cracked and dusty soil, as well as in the bosom of the waters, and in the air that circulates around us.
'The sensations, which I here recalled to mind, are not unknown to those who, without having advanced to the equator, have visited Italy, Spain, or Egypt. That contrast of motion and silence, that aspect of nature at once calm and animated, strikes the imagination of the traveller, when he enters the basin of the Mediterranean, within the zone of olives, dwarf palms, and date-trees.'-r-pp. 504—506.
At Pararuuia, where there is another turtle-harvest, the missionary monks of Carichana and the Cataracts were seated on the ground playing at cards and smoking tobacco in long pipes: from their ample blue garments, their shorn heads, and their long beards, they might (says M. de Humboldt) have been taken for natives of the East. From one of these missionaries they purchased a new canoe, and another offered to accompany them as far as the frontiers of Brazil. The canoe, like all Indian boats, was merely the trunk of a tree hollowed out by the double means of the hatchet and of fire; it was forty feet long and three broad; the inconveniences that must be suffered in such wretched vessels may easily be conceived. In the after part a low roof of branches was erected to keep off the burning rays of the sun, but it only admitted of those under it to lie down or sit double; and the legs reached far beyond it, so that when it rained half the body was drenched. The Indian rowers sit in the fore part, two by two, perfectly naked, and row with spoon-shaped paddles of three feet long, in sad and monotonous cadence, but with surprising uniformity. To all the inconveniences of the miserable canoe were joined the torments inflicted by the mosquitoes, and the heat that radiated from the leaves of the palm-tree covering: but, as M. de Humboldt good-humouredly observes, ' with some gaiety of temper, with dispositions of mutual benevolence, and with a vivid taste for the majestic nature of these great valleys of rivers, travellers easily support evils that become habitual.'
The assemblage of the various tribes of Indians at Pararuma leads our author into a long digression on the preparation of onoto, or the colouring matter extracted from the pulp of the bixa orellana, and of another pigment made from the leaves of the bigrionia chica macerated in water, with which they paint their naked bodies. Such is the avidity of the Indians for these pigments, that, according to our author, some of the missionaries speculate on their ' state of nudity'—that is, they prepare and store up these articles, and then sell them so dear to the thoughtless natives, that a tall stout fellow 'gains with difficulty enough by the labour of a fortnight to procure in exchange as much chica as is necessary to paint himself red. 'Seen at a distance,' says M.de Humboldt, 'these naked men appear to be dressed in laced clothes. If painted nations,' he adds, 'had been examined with the same attention as clothed nations, it would have been perceived, that the most fertile
imagination, imagination, and the most mutable caprice, have created the fashions of painting, as well as those of garments/
We have next a dissertation on manakins and monkeys, marimondes, titis, viuditas, and 'other quadrimanous animals,' which, to the naturalist, may be very interesting, but makes rather too large a break in the thread of the narrative where it is placed. This is succeeded by a dissertation on hail, which we pass over, and proceed to the mouth of the Paruasi, where the Oroonoko narrows. Near this place is a detached mountain, with a bare top, about 300 feet high, on which was once situated a fortress of the Jesuits —fortalza de San Francisco Xavier. The garrison which the good fathers maintained here was not intended merely to protect them against the incursions of the Indians; it was employed also in offensive warfare, or, as they say here, in the conquest of souls— conquesta de almas. The soldiers made military incursions into the lands of the independent Caribs, killed all those who dared to make any resistance, burnt their huts, destroyed their plantations, and carried away their old men, women, and children, as prisoners. M. de Humboldt says, that these spiritual conquests are not followed by the monks of St. Francis, St. Dominic, and St. Augustine, who now govern a vast portion of South America.
In proceeding upwards, our travellers passed several rapids, or small cascades, made by the granitic rocks rising out of the bed of the river. At the cataract of Cariven they were in some danger from those frequent eddies which occur in the Oroonoko, as well as in the Amazons. M. de la Condamine, we remember, was whirled round and round in the latter river for more than an hour by an eddy formed under an overhanging rock; and he mentions a poor missionary whose canoe, having got into one of these eddies, was whirled round incessantly for two days, and who was saved only from perishing of hunger by a sudden rise of the river, which sent his canoe into the middle of the stream.
Our travellers escaped a similar peril by the timely assistance of two Saliva Indians; but they lay all night on the shelf of a bare rock called Piedra de Carichana Vieja, which is one of those, M. de Humboldt says, where travellers on the Oroonoko have heard from time to time, toward sun-rise, subterraneous sounds, resembling those of the organ. Such stones are called by the missionaries laxas de musica. He, however, was not fortunate enough to hear any of this mysterious melody; but he believes in its existence, and ascribes the sounds to the difference of temperature between the subterraneous and external air, which attains its maximum about sun-rise, or at that moment which is at the same time farthest from the period of the maximum of the heat of the preceding day. The current of air issuing through the crevices