1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amazon

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AMAZON, the great river of South America. Before the conquest of South America, the Rio de las Amazonas had no general name; for, according to a common custom, each savage tribe gave a name only to the section of the river which it occupied—such as Paranáguazú, Guyerma, Solimões and others. In the year 1500, Vicente Yañez Pinzon, in command of a Spanish expedition, discovered and ascended the Amazon to a point about 50 m. from the sea. He called it the Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce, which soon became abbreviated to Mar Dulce, and for some years, after 1502, it was known as the Rio Grande. The principal companions of Pinzon, in giving evidence in 1515, mention it as El Ryo Marañon. There is much controversy about the origin of the word Marañon. Peter Martyr in a letter to Lope Hurtado de Mendoza in 1513 is the first to state that it is of native origin. Ten years after the death of Pinzon, his friend Oviedo calls it the Marañon. Many writers believe that this was its Indian name. We are disposed to agree with the Brazilian historian Constancio that Marañon is derived from the Spanish word maraña, a tangle, a snarl, which well represents the bewildering difficulties which the earlier explorers met in navigating not only the entrance to the Amazon, but the whole island-bordered, river-cut and indented coast of the now Brazilian province of Maranhão.

The first descent of the mighty artery from the Andes to the sea was made by Orellana in 1541, and the name Amazonas arises from the battle which he had with a tribe of Tapuya savages where the women of the tribe fought alongside the men, as was the custom among all of the Tapuyas. Orellana, no doubt, derived the name Amazonas from the ancient Amazons (q.v.) of Asia and Africa described by Herodotus and Diodorus.

The first ascent of the river was made in 1638 by Pedro Texiera, a Portuguese, who reversed the route of Orellana and reached Quito by way of the Rio Napo. He returned in 1639 with the Jesuit fathers Acuña and Artieda, delegated by the viceroy of Peru to accompany him.

The river Amazon has a drainage area of 2,722,000 sq. m., if the Tocantins be included in its basin. It drains four-tenths of South America, and it gathers its waters from 5° N. to 20° S. latitude. Its most remote sources are found on the inter-Andean plateau, but a short distance from the Pacific Ocean; and, after a course of about 4000 m. through the interior of Peru and across Brazil, it enters the Atlantic Ocean on the equator. It is generally accepted by geographers that the Marañon, or Upper Amazon, rises in the little lake, Lauricocha, in 10° 30' S. latitude, and 100 m. N.N.E. of Lima. They appear to have followed the account given by Padre Fritz which has since been found incorrect. According to Antonio Raimondi, it is the Rio de Nupe branch of the small stream which issues from the lake that has the longer course and the greater volume of water. The Nupe rises in the Cordillera de Huayhuath and is the true source of the Marañon. There is a difference among geographers as to where the Marañon ends and the Amazon begins, or whether both names apply to the same river. The Pongo de Manseriche, at the base of the Andes and the head of useful navigation, seems to be the natural terminus of the Marañon; and an examination of the hydrographic conditions of the great valley makes the convenience and accuracy of this apparent. Raimondi terminates the Marañon at the mouth of the Ucayali, Reclus the same, both following the missionary fathers of the colonial period. C. M. de la Condamine uses “Amazon” and “Marañon” indiscriminately and considers them one and the same. Smyth and Lowe give the mouth of the Javary as the eastern limit, as does d'Orbigny. Wolf, apparently uncertain, carries the “Marañon or Amazon” to the Peruvian frontier of Brazil at Tabatinga. Other travellers and explorers contribute to the confusion. This probably arises from the rivalry of the Spaniards and Portuguese. The former accepted the name Marañon in Peru, and as the missionaries penetrated the valley they extended the name until they reached the mouth of the Ucayali; while, as the Portuguese ascended the Amazon, they carried this name to the extent of their explorations. Beginning with the lower river we propose to notice, first, the great affluents which go to swell the volume of the main stream.


The Tocantins is not really a branch of the Amazon, although usually so considered. It is the central fluvial artery of Brazil, running from south to north for a distance of about 1500 m. It rises in the mountainous district known as the Pyreneos; but its more ambitious western affluent, the Araguay, has its extreme southern headwaters on the slopes of the Serra Cayapó, and flows a distance of 1080 m. before its junction with the parent stream, which it appears almost to equal in volume. Besides its main tributary, the Rio das Mortes, it has twenty smaller branches, offering many miles of canoe navigation. In finding its way to the lowlands, it breaks frequently into falls and rapids, or winds violently through rocky gorges, until, at a point about 100 m. above its junction with the Tocantins, it saws its way across a rocky dyke for 12 m. in roaring cataracts. The tributaries of the Tocantins, called the Maranhão and Paraná-tinga, collect an immense volume of water from the highlands which surround them, especially on the south and south-east. Between the latter and the confluence with the Araguay, the Tocantins is occasionally obstructed by rocky barriers which cross it almost at a right angle. Through these, the river carves its channel, broken into cataracts and rapids, or cachoeiras, as they are called throughout Brazil. Its lowest one, the Itaboca cataract, is about 130 m. above its estuarine port of Cametá, for which distance the river is navigable; but above that it is useless as a commercial avenue, except for laborious and very costly transportation. The flat, broad valleys, composed of sand and clay, of both the Tocantins and its Araguay branch are overlooked by steep bluffs. They are the margins of the great sandstone plateaus, from 1000 to 2000 ft. elevation above sea-level, through which the rivers have eroded their deep beds. Around the estuary of the Tocantins the great plateau has disappeared, to give place to a part of the forest-covered, half submerged alluvial plain, which extends far to the north-east and west. The Pará river generally called one of the mouths of the Amazon, is only the lower reach of the Tocantins. If any portion of the waters of the Amazon runs round the southern side of the large island of Marajo into the river Pará, it is only through tortuous, natural canals, which are in no sense outflow channels of the Amazon.

The Xingú, the next large river west of the Tocantins, is a true tributary of the Amazon. It was but little known until it was explored in 1884-1887 by Karl von den Steinen from Cuyabá. Travelling east, 240 m., he found the river Tamitatoaba, 180 ft. wide, flowing from a lake 25 m. in diameter. He descended this torrential stream to the river Romero, 1300 ft. wide, entering from the west, which receives the river Colisú. These three streams form the Xingú, or Paraná-xingú, which, from 73 m. lower down, bounds along a succession of rapids for 400 m. A little above the head of navigation, 105 m. from its mouth, the river makes a bend to the east to find its way across a rocky barrier. Here is the great cataract of Itamaracá, which rushes down an inclined plane for 3 m. and then gives a final leap, called the fall of Itamaracá. Near its mouth, the Xingú expands into an immense lake, and its waters then mingle with those of the Amazon through a labyrinth of caños (natural canals), winding in countless directions through a wooded archipelago.

The Tapajos, running through a humid, hot and unhealthy valley, pours into the Amazon 500 m. above Pará and is about 1200 m. long. It rises on the lofty Brazilian plateau near Diamantino in 14° 25' S. lat. Near this place a number of streams unite to form the river Arinos, which at latitude 10° 25' joins the Juruena to form the Alto Tapajos, so called as low down as the Rio Manoel, entering from the east. Thence to Santarem the stream is known as the Tapajos. The lower Arinos, the Alto Tapajos and the Tapajos to the last rapid, the Maranhão Grande, is a continuous series of formidable cataracts and rapids; but from the Maranhão Grande to its mouth, about 188 m., the river can be navigated by large vessels. For its last 100 m. it is from 4 to 9 m. wide and much of it very deep. The valley of the Tapajos is bordered on both sides by bluffs. They are from 300 to 400 ft. high along the lower river; but, a few miles above Santarem, they retire from the eastern side and only approach the Amazon flood-plain some miles below Santarem.

The Madeira has its junction with the Amazon 870 m. by river above Pará, and almost rivals it in the volume of its waters. It rises more than 50 ft. during the rainy season, and the largest ocean steamers may ascend it to the Fall of San Antonio, 663 m. above its mouth; but in the dry months, from June to November, it is only navigable for the same distance for craft drawing from 5 to 6 ft. of water. According to the treaty of San Ildefonso, the Madeira begins at the confluence of the Guaporé with the Mamoré. Both of these streams have their headwaters almost in contact with those of the river Paraguay. The idea of a connecting canal is based on ignorance of local conditions. San Antonio is the first of a formidable series of cataracts and rapids, nineteen in number, which, for a river distance of 263 m., obstruct the upper course of the Madeira until the last rapid called Guajará Merim (or Small Pebble), is reached, a little below the union of the Guaporé with the Mamoré. The junction of the great river Beni with the Madeira is at the Madeira Fall, a vast and grand display of reefs, whirlpools and boiling torrents. Between Guajará-Merim and this fall, inclusive, the Madeira receives the drainage of the north-eastern slopes of the Andes, from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Cuzco, the whole of the south-western slope of Brazilian Matto Grosso, and the northern one of the Chiquitos sierras, an area about equal to that of France and Spain.


The waters find their way to the falls of the Madeira by many great rivers, the principal of which, if we enumerate them from east to west, are the Guaporé or Itenez, the Baures and Blanco, the Itonama or San Miguel, the Mamoré, Beni, and Mayutata or Madre de Dios, all of which are reinforced by numerous secondary but powerful affluents. The Guaporé presents many difficulties to continuous navigation; the Baures and Itonama offer hundreds of miles of navigable waters through beautiful plains; the Mamoré has been sounded by the writer in the driest month of the year for a distance of 500 m. above Guajará-Merim, who found never less than from 10 to 30 ft. of water, with a current of from 1 to 3 m. an hour. Its Rio Grande branch, explored under the writer's instructions, was found navigable for craft drawing 3 ft. of water to within 30 m. of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—a level sandy plain intervening. The Grande is a river of enormous length, rising in a great valley of the Andes between the important cities of Sucre and Cochabamba, and having its upper waters in close touch with those of the Pilcomayo branch of the river Paraguay. It makes a long curve through the mountains, and, after a course of about 800 m., joins the Mamoré near 15° S. lat. The Chaparé, Securé and Chimoré, tributaries of the Mamoré, are navigable for launches up to the base of the mountains, to within 130 m. of Cochabamba. The Beni has a 12-ft. fall 18 m. above its mouth called “La Esperanza”; beyond this, it is navigable for 217 m. to the port of Reyes for launches in the dry season and larger craft in the wet one. The extreme source of the Beni is the little river La Paz, which rises in the inter-Andean region, a few miles south-east of Lake Titicaca, and flows as a rivulet through the Bolivian city of La Paz. From this point to Reyes the river is a torrent. The principal affluent of the Beni, and one which exceeds it in volume, enters it 120 m. above its mouth, and is known to the Indians along its banks as the Mayutata, but the Peruvians call it the Madre de Dios. Its ramifications drain the slopes of the Andes between 12° and 15° of latitude. It is navigable in the wet season to within 180 m, of Cuzco. Its upper waters are separated by only a short transitable canoe portage of 7 m. in a straight line from those of the Ucayali. The portage on the eastern side terminates at the Cashpajali river 22 m. above its junction with the Manu. For the first 13 m. it is navigable all the year for craft drawing 18 in. of water, but the remaining 9 m. present many obstacles to navigation. At the Manu junction the elevation above sea-level is 1070 ft., the river width 300 ft., depth 8 ft., current 1¼ m. per hour. The general direction of the Manu is south-east for 158 m. as far as the Pilcopata river, where under the name of Madre de Dios it continues with a flow of 22,000 cubic metres per minute. Here its elevation is 718 ft. above the sea and its width 500 ft. During the above course of 158 m. the Manu receives 135 large and small affluents. Although the inclination of its bed is not great, the obstacles to free navigation are abundant, and consist of enormous trees and masses of tree-trunks which have filled the river during the period of freshets.

From the time it receives the Manu, the Madre de Dios carries its immense volume of waters 485 m. to the Beni over the extremely easy slope of a vast and fertile plain. Its banks are low, its bottom pebbly. A greater part of its course is filled with large and small islands some 63 in number. Its average width is about 1500 ft. Below the mouth of the Tambopata, the flow is estimated at 191,250 cubic metres per minute. The average current is 2½ m. per hour. There are two important rapids and one cataract on the lower 300 m. of the river.

The Mayutata receives three principal tributaries from the south—the Tambopata, Inambari and Pilcopata.

The Peruvian government has sought to open a trade route between the Rio Ucayali and the rich rubber districts of the Mayutata. All of the upper branches of the river Madeira find their way to the falls across the open, almost level Mojos and Beni plains, 35,000 sq. m. of which are yearly flooded to an average depth of about 3 ft. for a period of from three to four months. They rival if they do not exceed in fertility the valley of the Nile, and are the healthiest and most inviting agricultural and grazing region of the basin of the Amazon.

The Purús, a very sluggish river, enters the Amazon west of the Madeira, which it parallels as far south as the falls of the latter stream. It runs through a continuous forest at the bottom of the great depression lying between the Madeira river, which skirts the edge of the Brazilian sandstone plateau, and the Ucayali which hugs the base of the Andes. One of its marked features is the five parallel furos[1] which from the north-west at almost regular intervals the Amazon sends to the Purús; the most south-westerly one being about 150 m. above the mouth of the latter river. They cut a great area of very low-lying country into five islands. Farther down the Purús to the right three smaller furos also connect it with the Amazon. Chandless found its elevation above sea-level to be only 107 ft. 590 m. from its mouth. It is one of the most crooked streams in the world, and its length in a straight line is less than half that by its curves. It is practically only a drainage ditch for the half-submerged, lake-flooded district it traverses. Its width is very uniform for 1000 m. up, and for 800 m. its depth is never less than 45 ft. It is navigable by steamers for 1648 m. as far as the little stream, the Curumahá, but only by light-draft craft. Chandless ascended it 1866 m. At 1792 m. it forks into two small streams. Occasionally a cliff touches the river, but in general the lands are subject to yearly inundations throughout its course, the river rising at times above 50 ft., the numerous lakes to the right and left serving as reservoirs. Its main tributary, the Aquiry or Acre, enters from the right about 1104 m. from the Amazon. Its sources are near those of the Mayutata. It is navigable for a period of about five months of the year, when the Purús valley is inundated; and, for the remaining seven months, only canoes can ascend it sufficiently high to communicate overland with the settlements in the great india-rubber districts of the Mayutata and lower Beni; thus these regions are forced to seek a canoe outlet for their rich products by the very dangerous, costly and laborious route of the falls of the Madeira.

The Juruá is the next great southern affluent of the Amazon west of the Purús, sharing with this the bottom of the immense inland Amazon depression, and having all the characteristics of the Purús as regards curvature, sluggishness and general features of the low, half-flooded forest country it traverses. It rises among the Ucayali highlands, and is navigable and unobstructed for a distance of 1133 m. above its junction with the Amazon.

The Javary, the boundary line between Brazil and Peru, is another Amazon tributary of importance. It is supposed to be navigable by canoe for 900 m. above its mouth to its sources among the Ucayali highlands, but only 260 have been found suitable for steam navigation. The Brazilian Boundary Commission ascended it in 1866 to the junction of the Shino with its Jaquirana branch. The country it traverses in its extremely sinuous course is very level, similar in character to that of the Juruá, and is a fostered wilderness occupied by a few savage hordes.

The Ucayali, which rises only about 70 m. north of Lake Titicaca, is the most interesting branch of the Amazon next to the Madeira. The Ucayali was first called the San Miguel, then the Ucayali, Ucayare, Poro, Apu-Poro, Cocama and Rio de Cuzco. Peru has fitted out many costly and ably-conducted expeditions to explore it. One of them (1867) claimed to have reached within 240 m. of Lima, and the little steamer “Napo” forced its way up the violent currents for 77 m. above the junction with the Pachitea river as far as the river Tambo, 770 m. from the confluence of the Ucayali with the Amazon. The “Napo” then succeeded in ascending the Urubamba branch of the Ucayali 35 m. above its union with the Tambo, to a point 200 m. north of Cuzco. The remainder of the Urubamba, as shown by Bosquet in 1806 and Castelnau in 1846, is interrupted by cascades, reefs and numberless other obstacles to navigation. Señor Torres, who explored the Alto Ucayali for the Peruvian government, gives it a length of 186 m., counting from the mouth of the Pachitea to the junction of the Tambo and Urubamba. Its width varies from 1300 to 4000 ft., due to the great number of islands. The current runs from 3 to 4 m. an hour, and a channel from 60 to 150 ft. wide can always be found with a minimum depth of 5 ft. There are five bad passes, due to the accumulation of trees and rafts of timber. Sometimes enormous rocks have fallen from the mountains and spread over the river-bed causing huge whirlpools. “No greater difficulties present themselves to navigation by 10-knot steamers drawing 4 ft. of water.”

The Tambo, which rises in the Vilcanota knot of mountains south of Cuzco, is torrential stream valueless for commercial purposes. The banks of the Ucayali for 500 m. up are low, and in the rainy season extensively inundated.

The Huallaga (also known as the Guallaga and Rio de los Motilones), which joins the Amazon to the west of the Ucayali, rises high among the mountains, in about 10° 40' S. lat., on the northern slopes of the celebrated Cerro de Pasco. For nearly its entire length it is an impetuous torrent running through a succession of gorges. It has forty-two rapids, its last obstruction being the Pongo de Aguirre, so called from the traitor Aguirre who passed there. To this point, 140 m. from the Amazon, the Huallaga can be ascended by large river steamers. Between the Huallaga and the Ucayali lies the famous “Pampa del Sacramento,” a level region of stoneless alluvial lands covered with thick, dark forests, first entered by the missionaries in 1726. It is about 300 m. long, from north to south, and varies in width from 40 to 100 m. Many streams, navigable for canoes, penetrate this region from the Ucayali and the Huallaga. It is still occupied by savage tribes.

The river Marañon rises about 100 m. to the north-east of Lima. It flows through a deeply-eroded Andean valley in a north-west direction, along the eastern base of the Cordillera of the Andes, as far as 5° 36' S. lat.; then it makes a great bend to the north-east, and with irresistible power cuts through the inland Andes, until at the Pongo de Manseriche[2] it victoriously breaks away from the mountains to flow onwards through the plains under the name of the Amazon. Barred by reefs, and full of rapids and impetuous currents, it cannot become a commercial avenue. At the point where it makes its great bend the river Chinchipe pours into it from southern Ecuador. Just below this the mountains close in on either side of the Marañon, forming narrows or pongos for a length of 35 m., where, besides numerous whirlpools, there are no less than thirty-five formidable rapids, the series concluding with three cataracts just before reaching the river Imasa or Chunchunga, near the mouth of which La Condamine embarked in the 18th century to descend the Amazon. Here the general level of the country begins to decrease in elevation, with only a few mountain spurs, which from time to time push as far as the river and form pongos of minor importance and less dangerous to descend. Finally, after passing the narrows of Guaracayo, the cerros gradually disappear, and for a distance of about 20 m. the river is full of islands, and there is nothing visible from its low banks but an immense forest-covered plain. But the last barrier has yet to be passed, the Pongo de Manseriche, 3 m. long, just below the mouth of the Rio Santiago, and between it and the old abandoned missionary station of Borja, in 38° 30' S. lat. and 77° 30' 40” W. long. According to Captain Carbajal, who descended it in the little steamer “Napo” in 1868, it is a vast rent in the Andes about 2000 ft. deep, narrowing in places to a width of only 100 ft., the precipices “seeming to close in at the top.” Through this dark cañon the Marañon leaps along, at times, at the rate of 12 m. an hour.[3] The Pongo de Manseriche was first discovered by the Adelantado Joan de Salinas. He fitted out an expedition at Loxa in Ecuador, descended the Rio Santiago to the Marañon, passed through the perilous Pongo in 1557 and invaded the country of the Maynas Indians. Later, the missionaries of Cuenca and Quito established many missions in the Pais de los Maynas, and made extensive use of the Pongo de Manseriche as an avenue of communication with their several convents on the Andean plateau. According to their accounts, the huge rent in the Andes, the Pongo, is about five or six m. long, and in places not more than 80 ft. wide, and is a frightful series of torrents and whirlpools interspersed with rocks. There is an ancient tradition of the savages of the vicinity that one of their gods descending the Marañon and another ascending the Amazon to communicate with him, they opened the pass called the Pongo de Manseriche. From the northern slope of its basin the Amazon receives many tributaries, but their combined volume of water is not nearly so great as that contributed to the parent stream by its affluents from the south. That part of Brazil lying between the Amazon and French, Dutch and British Guiana, and bounded on the west by the Rio Negro, is known as Brazilian Guiana. It is the southern watershed of a tortuous, low chain of mountains running, roughly, east and west. Their northern slope, which is occupied by the three Guianas first named, is saturated and river-torn; but their southern one, Brazilian Guiana, is in general thirsty and semi-barren, and the driest region of the Amazon valley. It is an area which has been left almost in the undisturbed possession of nomadic Indian tribes, whose scanty numbers find it difficult to solve the food problem. From the divortium aquarum between French Guiana and Brazil, known as the Tumuc-humac range of highlands, two minor streams, the Yary and the Parou, reach the Amazon across the intervening broken and barren tableland. They are full of rapids and reefs.

The Trombetas is the first river of importance we meet on the northern side as we ascend the Amazon. Its confluence with this is just above the town of Obidos. It has its sources in the Guiana highlands, but its long course is frequently interrupted by violent currents, rocky barriers, and rapids. The inferior zone of the river, as far up as the first fall, the Porteira, has but little broken water and is low and swampy; but above the long series of cataracts and rapids the character and aspect of the valley completely change, and the climate is much better. The river is navigable for 135 m. above its mouth.

The Negro, the great northern tributary of the Amazon, has its sources along the watershed between the Orinoco and the Amazon basins, and also connects with the Orinoco by way of the Casiquiare canal. Its main affluent is the Uaupes, which disputes with the headwaters of the Guaviari branch of the Orinoco the drainage of the eastern slope of the “oriental” Andes of Colombia. The Negro is navigable for 450 m. above its mouth for 4 ft. of water in the dry season, but it has many sandbanks and minor difficulties. In the wet season, it overflows the country far and wide, sometimes to a breadth of 20 m., for long distances, and for 400 m. up, as far as Santa Isabella, is a succession of lagoons, full of long islands and intricate channels, and the slope of the country is so gentle that the river has almost no current. But just before reaching the Uaupes there is a long series of reefs, over which it violently flows in cataracts, rapids and whirlpools. The Uaupes is full of similar obstacles, some fifty rapids barring its navigation, although a long stretch of its upper course is said to be free from them, and to flow gently through a forested country. Despite the impediments, canoes ascend this stream to the Andes.

The Branco is the principal affluent of the Negro from the north; it is enriched by many streams from the sierras which separate Venezuela and British Guiana from Brazil. Its two upper main tributaries are the Urariquira and the Takutú. The latter almost links its sources with those of the Essequibo. The Branco flows nearly south, and finds its way into the Negro through several channels and a chain of lagoons similar to those of the latter river. It is 350 m. long, up to its Urariquira confluence. It has numerous islands, and, 235 m. above its mouth, it is broken by a bad series of rapids.

Casiquiare Canal. In 1744 the Jesuit Father Roman, while ascending the Orinoco river, met some Portuguese slave-traders from the settlements on the Rio Negro. He accompanied them on their return, by way of the Casiquiare canal, and afterwards retraced his route to the Orinoco. La Condamine, seven months later, was able to give to the French Academy an account of Father Roman's extraordinary voyage, and thus confirm the existence of this wonderful waterway first reported by Father Acuña in 1639. But little credence was given to Father Roman's statement until it was verified, in 1756, by the Spanish Boundary-line Commission of Yturriaga y Solano. The actual elevation of the canal above sea-level is not known, but is of primary importance to the study of the hydrography of South America. Travellers in general give it at from 400 to 900 ft., but, after much study of the question of altitudes throughout South America, the writer believes that it does not exceed 300 ft. The canal connects the upper Orinoco, 9 m. below the mission of Esmeraldas, with the Rio Negro affluent of the Amazon near the town of San Carlos. The general course is south-west, and its length, including windings, is about 200 m. Its width, at its bifurcation with the Orinoco, is approximately 300 ft., with a current towards the Negro of three-quarters of a mile an hour; but as it gains in volume from the very numerous tributary streams, large and small, which it receives en route, its velocity increases, and in the wet season reaches 5 and even 8 m. an hour in certain stretches. It broadens considerably as it approaches its mouth, where it is about 1750 ft. in width. It will thus be seen that the volume of water it captures from the Orinoco is small in comparison to what it accumulates in its course. In flood-time it is said to have a second connexion with the Rio Negro by a branch which it throws off to the westward called the Itinivini, which leaves it at a point about 50 m. above its mouth. In the dry season it has shallows, and is obstructed by sandbanks, a few rapids and granite rocks. Its shores are densely wooded, and the soil more fertile than that along the Rio Negro. The general slope of the plains through which the canal runs is south-west, but those of the Rio Negro slope south-east. The whole line of the Casiquiare is infested with myriads of tormenting insects. A few miserable groups of Indians and half-breeds have their small villages along its southern portion. It is thus seen that this marvellous freak of nature is not, as is generally supposed, a sluggish canal on a flat tableland, but a great, rapid river which, if its upper waters had not found contact with the Orinoco, perhaps by cutting back, would belong entirely to the Negro branch of the Amazon. To the west of the Casiquiare there is a much shorter and more facile connexion between the Orinoco and Amazon basins, called the isthmus of Pimichin, which is reached by ascending the Terni branch of the Atabapo affluent of the Orinoco. Although the Terni is somewhat obstructed, it is believed that it could easily be made navigable for small craft. The isthmus is 10 m. across, with undulating ground, nowhere over 50 ft. high, with swamps and marshes. It is much used for the transit of large canoes, which are hauled across it from the Terni river, and which reach the Negro by the little stream called the Pimichin.

The Yapurá. West of the Negro the Amazon receives three more imposing streams from the north-west—the Yapurá, the Iça or Putumayo, and the Napo. The first was formerly known as the Hyapora, but its Brazilian part is now called the Yapurá, and its Colombian portion the Caquetá. Barão de Marajo gives it 600 m. of navigable stretches. Jules Crevaux, who descended it, describes it as full of obstacles to navigation, the current very strong and the stream frequently interrupted by rapids and cataracts. It rises in the Colombian Andes, nearly in touch with the sources of the Magdalena, and augments its volume from many branches as it courses through Colombia. It was long supposed to have eight mouths; but Ribeiro de Sampaio, in his voyage of 1774, determined that there was but one real mouth, and that the supposed others are all furos or caños.[4] In 1864-1868 the Brazilian government made a somewhat careful examination of the Brazilian part of the river, as far up as the rapid of Cupaty. Several very easy and almost complete water-routes exist between the Yapurá and Negro across the low, flat intervening country. Barão de Marajo says there are six of them, and one which connects the upper Yapurá with the Uaupes branch of the Negro; thus the Indian tribes of the respective valleys have facile contact with each other.

The Iça or Putumayo, west of and parallel to the Yapurá, was found more agreeable to navigate by Crevaux. He ascended it in a steamer drawing 6 ft. of water, and running day and night. He reached Cuemby, 800 m. above its mouth, without finding a single rapid. Cuemby is only 200 m. from the Pacific Ocean, in a straight line, passing through the town of Pasto in southern Colombia. There was not a stone to be seen up to the base of the Andes; the river banks were of argillaceous earth and the bottom of fine sand.

The Napo rises on the flanks of the volcanoes of Antisana, Sincholagua and Cotopaxi. Before it reaches the plains it receives a great number of small streams from impenetrable, saturated and much broken mountainous districts, where the dense and varied vegetation seems to fight for every square foot of ground. From the north it is joined by the river Coca, having its sources in the gorges of Cayambé on the equator, and also a powerful river, the Aguarico, having its headwaters between Cayambé and the Colombian frontier. From the west it receives a secondary tributary, the Curaray, from the Andean slopes, between Cotopaxi and the volcano of Tunguragua. From its Coca branch to the mouth of the Curaray the Napo is full of snags and shelving sandbanks, and throws out numerous caños among jungle-tangled islands, which in the wet season are flooded, giving the river an immense width. From the Coca to the Amazon it runs through a forested plain where not a hill is visible from the river—its uniformly level banks being only interrupted by swamps and lagoons. From the Amazon the Napo is navigable for river craft up to its Curaray branch, a distance of about 216 m., and perhaps a few miles farther; thence, by painful canoe navigation, its upper waters may be ascended as far as Santa Rosa, the usual point of embarkation for any venturesome traveller who descends from the Quito tableland. The Coca river may be penetrated as far up as its middle course, where it is jammed between two mountain walls, in a deep canyon, along which it dashes over high falls and numerous reefs. This is the stream made famous by the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro.

The Nanay is the next Amazon tributary of importance west of the Napo. It belongs entirely to the lowlands, and is very crooked, has a slow current and divides much into caños and strings of lagoons which flood the flat, low areas of country on either side. It is simply the drainage ditch of districts which are extensively overflowed in the rainy season. Captain Butt ascended it 195 m., to near its source.

The Tigre is the next west of the Nanay, and is navigable for 125 m. from its confluence with the Amazon. Like the Nanay, it belongs wholly to the plains. Its mouth is 42 m. west of the junction of the Ucayali with the Amazon. Continuing west from the Tigre we have the Parinari, Chambira, and Nucuray, all short lowland streams, resembling the Nanay in character.

The Pastaza (the ancient river Sumatara) is the next large river we meet. It rises on the Ecuadorian tableland, where a branch from the valley of Riobamba unites with one from the Latacunga basin and breaks through the inland range of the Andes; and joined, afterwards, by several important tributaries, finds its way south-east among the gorges; thence it turns southward into the plains, and enters the Amazon at a point about 60 m. west of the mouth of the Huallaga. So far as known, it is a stream of no value except for canoe navigation. Its rise and fall are rapid and uncertain, and it is shallow and full of sandbanks and snags. It is a terrible river when in flood.

The Morona flows parallel to the Pastaza and immediately to the west of it, and is the last stream of any importance on the northern side of the Amazon before reaching the Pongo de Manseriche. It is formed from a multitude of water-courses which descend the slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes south of the gigantic volcano of Sangay; but it soon reaches the plain, which commences where it receives its Cusulima branch. The Morona is navigable for small craft for about 300 m. above its mouth, but it is extremely tortuous. Canoes may ascend many of its branches, especially the Cusulima and the Miazal, the latter almost to the base of Sangay. The Morona has been the scene of many rude explorations, with the hope of finding it serviceable as a commercial route between the inter-Andean tableland of Ecuador and the Amazon river. A river called the Paute dashes through the eastern Andes from the valley of Cuenca; and a second, the Zamora, has broken through the same range from the basin of Loja. Swollen by their many affluents, they reach the lowlands and unite their waters to form the Santiago, which flows into the Marañon at the head of the Pongo de Manseriche. There is but little known of a trustworthy character regarding this river, but Wolf says that it is probably navigable up to the junction of the Paute with the Zamora.

The Main River.

The Amazon Main River is navigable for ocean steamers as far as Iquitos, 2300 m. from the sea, and 486 m. higher up for vessels drawing 14 ft. of water, as far as Achual Point.Physical characteristics. Beyond that, according to Tucker, confirmed by Wertheman, it is unsafe; but small steamers frequently ascend to the Pongo de Manseriche, just above Achual Point. The average current of the Amazon is about 3 m. an hour; but, especially in flood, it dashes through some of its contracted channels at the rate of 5 m. The U.S. steamer “Wilmington” ascended it to Iquitos in 1899. Commander Todd reports that the average depth of the river in the height of the rainy season is 120 ft. It commences to rise in November, and increases in volume until June, and then falls until the end of October. The rise of the Negro branch is not synchronous; for the steady rains do not commence in its valley until February or March. By June it is full, and then it begins to fall with the Amazon. According to Bates, the Madeira “rises and sinks” two months earlier than the Amazon. The Amazon at times broadens to 4 and 6 m. Occasionally, for long distances, it divides into two main streams with inland, lateral channels, all connected by a complicated system of natural canals, cutting the low, flat igapo lands, which are never more than 15 ft. above low river, into almost numberless islands.[5] At the narrows of Obidos, 400 m. from the sea, it is compressed into a single bed a mile wide and over 200 ft. deep, through which the water rushes at the rate of 4 to 5 m. an hour. In the rainy season it inundates the country throughout its course to the extent of several hundred thousand square miles, covering the flood-plain, called vargem. The flood-levels are in places from 40 to 50 ft. high above low river. Taking four roughly equidistant places, the rise at Iquitos is 20 ft., at Teffé 45, near Obidos 35, and at Pará 12 ft.

The first high land met in ascending the river is on the north bank, opposite the mouth of the Xingú, and extends for about 150 m. up, as far as Monte Alegre. It is a series of steep, table-topped hills, cut down to a kind of terrace which lies between them and the river. Monte Alegre reaches an altitude of several hundred feet. On the south side, above the Xingú, a line of low bluffs extends, in a series of gentle curves with hardly any breaks nearly to Santarem, but a considerable distance inland, bordering the flood-plain, which is many miles wide. Then they bend to the south-west, and, abutting upon the lower Tapajos, merge into the bluffs which form the terrace margin of that river valley. The next high land on the north side is Obidos, a bluff, 56 ft. above the river, backed by low hills. From Serpa, nearly opposite the river Madeira, to near the mouth of the Rio Negro, the banks are low, until approaching Manãos, they are rolling hills; but from the Negro, for 600 m., as far up as the village of Canaria, at the great bend of the Amazon, only very low land is found, resembling that at the mouth of the river. Vast areas of it are submerged at high water, above which only the upper part of the trees of the sombre forests appear. At Canaria, the high land commences and continues as far as Tabatinga, and thence up stream.

On the south side, from the Tapajos to the river Madeira, the banks are usually low, although two or three hills break the general monotony. From the latter river, however, to the Ucayali, a distance of nearly 1500 m., the forested banks are just out of water, and are inundated long before the river attains its maximum flood-line. Thence to the Huallaga the elevation of the land is somewhat greater; but not until this river is passed, and the Pongo de Manseriche approached, does the swelling ground of the Andean foot-hills raise the country above flood-level.

The Amazon is not a continuous incline, but probably consists of long, level stretches connected by short inclined planes of extremely little fall, sufficient, however, owing to its great depth, to give the gigantic volume of water a continuous impulse towards the ocean. The lower Amazon presents every evidence of having once been an ocean gulf, the upper waters of which washed the cliffs near Obidos. Only about 10% of the water discharged by the mighty stream enters it below Obidos, very little of which is from the northern slope of the valley. The drainage area of the Amazon basin above Obidos is about 1,945,000 sq. m., and, below, only about 423,000 sq. m., or say 20%, exclusive of the 354,000 sq. m. of the Tocantins basin.

The width of the mouth of the monarch river is usually measured from Cabo do Norte to Punto Patijoca, a distance of 207 statute m.; but this includes the ocean outlet, 40 m. wide, of the Pará river, which should be deducted, as this stream is only the lower reach of the Tocantins. It also includes the ocean frontage of Marajo, an island about the size of the kingdom of Denmark lying in the mouth of the Amazon.

Following the coast, a little to the north of Cabo do Norte, and for 100 m. along its Guiana margin up the Amazon, is a belt of half-submerged islands and shallow sandbanks. Here the tidal phenomenon called the bore, or Pororoca, occurs, where the soundings are not over 4 fathoms. It commences with a roar, constantly increasing, and advances at the rate of from 10 to 15 m. an hour, with a breaking wall of water from 5 to 12 ft. high. Under such conditions of warfare between the ocean and the river, it is not surprising that the former is rapidly eating away the coast and that the vast volume of silt carried by the Amazon finds it impossible to build up a delta.

The Amazon is not so much a river as it is a gigantic reservoir, extending from the sea to the base of the Andes, and, in the wet season, varying in width from 5 to 400 m. Special attention has already been called to the fourteen great streams which discharge into this reservoir, but it receives a multitude of secondary rivers, which in any other part of the world would also be termed great.

For 350 years after the discovery of the Amazon, by Pinzon, the Portuguese portion of its basin remained almost an undisturbed wilderness, occupied by Indian tribes whom thePopulation, trade, &c. food quest had split into countless fragments. It is doubtful if its indigenous inhabitants ever exceeded one to every 5 sq. m. of territory, this being the maximum it could support under the existing conditions of the period in question, and taking into account Indian methods of life. A few settlements on the banks of the main river and some of its tributaries, either for trade with the Indians or for evangelizing purposes, had been founded by the Portuguese pioneers of European civilization. The total population of the Brazilian portion of the Amazon basin in 1850 was perhaps 300,000, of whom about two-thirds were white and slaves, the latter numbering about 25,000. The principal commercial city, Pará, had from 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants, including slaves. The town of Manãos, at the mouth of the Rio Negro, had from 1000 to 1500 population; but all the remaining villages, as far up as Tabatinga, on the Brazilian frontier of Peru, were wretched little groups of houses which appeared to have timidly effected a lodgment on the river bank, as if they feared to challenge the mysteries of the sombre and gigantic forests behind them. The value of the export and import trade of the whole valley in 1850 was but £500,000.

On the 6th of September 1850 the emperor, Dom Pedro II., sanctioned a law authorizing steam navigation on the Amazon, and confided to an illustrious Brazilian, Barão Mauá (Irineu Evangilista de Sousa), the task of carrying it into effect. He organized the “Compania de Navigação e Commercio do Amazonas” at Rio de Janeiro in 1852; and in the following year it commenced operations with three small steamers, the “Monarch,” the “Marajo” and “Rio Negro.” At first the navigation was principally confmed to the main river; and even in 1857 a modification of the government contract only obliged the company to a monthly service between Pará and Manãos, with steamers of 200 tons cargo capacity, a second line to make six round voyages a year between Manãos and Tabatinga, and a third, two trips a month between Pará and Cametá. The government paid the company a subvention of £3935 monthly. Thus the first impulse of modern progress was given to the dormant valley. The success of the venture called attention to the unoccupied field; a second company soon opened commerce on the Madeira, Purús and Negro; a third established a line between Pará and Manãos; and a fourth found it profitable to navigate some of the smaller streams; while, in the interval, the Amazonas Company had largely increased its fine fleet. Meanwhile private individuals were building and running small steam craft of their own, not only upon the main river but upon many of its affluents. The government of Brazil, constantly pressed by the maritime powers and by the countries encircling the upper Amazon basin, decreed, on the 31st of July 1867, the opening of the Amazon to all flags; but limited this to certain defined points—Tabatinga, on the Amazon; Cameta, on the Tocantins; Santarem, on the Tapajos; Borba, on the Madeira; Manãos, on the Rio Negro; the decree to take effect on the 7th of September of the same year. Pará, Manãos and Iquitos are now thriving commercial centres. The first direct foreign trade with Manãos was commenced about 1874.

The local trade of the river is carried on by the English successors to the Amazonas Company—the Amazon Steam Navigation Company. In addition to its excellent fleet there are numerous small river steamers, belonging to companies and firms engaged in the rubber trade, navigating the Negro, Madeira, Purús and many other streams. The principal exports of the valley are india-rubber, cacao, Brazil nuts and a few other products of very minor importance. The finest quality of india-rubber comes from the Acre and Beni districts of Bolivia, especially from the valley of the Acre (or Aquiry) branch of the river Purús. Of the rubber production of the Amazon basin, the state of Pará gives about 35%. The cacao tree is not cultivated, but grows wild in great abundance. There is but one railway in the whole valley; it is a short line from Pará towards the coast. The cities of Pará and Manãos have excellent tramways, many fine public buildings and private residences, gardens and public squares, all of which give evidence of artistic taste and great prosperity.

The number of inhabitants in the Brazilian Amazon basin (the states of Amazonas and Pará) is purely a matter of rough estimate. There may be 500,000 or 600,000, or more; for the immigration during recent years from the other parts of Brazil has been large, due to the rubber excitement. The influx from the state of Ceará alone, from 1892 to 1899 inclusive, reached 98,348.

As Commander Todd, in his report to the United States government, says: “The crying need of the Amazon valley is food for the people.... At the small towns along the river it is nearly impossible to obtain beef, vegetables, or fruit of any sort, and the inhabitants depend largely upon river fish, mandioc, and canned goods for their subsistence.” Although more than four centuries have passed since the discovery of the Amazon river, there are probably not 25 sq. m. of its basin under cultivation, excluding the limited and rudely cultivated areas among the mountains at its extreme headwaters, which are inaccessible to commerce. The extensive exports of the mighty valley are almost entirely derived from the products of the forest. (G. E. C.)

  1. A furo is a natural canal—sometimes merely a deviation from the main channel, which it ultimately rejoins, sometimes a connexion across low flat country between two entirely separate streams.
  2. Pongo is a corruption of the Quichua puncu and the Aymará ponco, meaning a door. The Pongo de Manseriche was first named Marañon, then Santiago, and later Manseric, afterwards Mansariche and Manseriche, owing to the great numbers of parrakeets found on the rocks there.
  3. One of the most daring deeds of exploration ever known in South America was done by the engineer A. Wertheman. He fitted out three rafts, in August 1870, and descended this whole series of rapids and cascades from the Rio Chinchipe to Borja.
  4. A caño, like furo, is a kind of natural canal; it forms a lateral discharge for surplus water from a river.
  5. Igapo is thus the name given to the recent alluvial tracts along the margins of rivers, submerged by moderate floods, whereas vargem is the term used for land between the levels of moderate and high floods, while for land above this the people use the term terra firma.