Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Vol.I/14
Town of Barra — Foreign residents — Population — Rio Negro — Connection with the Oronoco — River Purus — Rio Branco — Vegetable productions of the Amazon country.
The town of Barra, capital of the province of Amazonas, is built on elevated and broken ground, on the left bank of the river, and about seven miles from is mouth. Its height above the level of the sea is, by boiling point, one thousand four hundred and seventy-five feet. It is intersected by two or three ravines, containing more or less water, according to the state of the river, which are passed on tolerably constructed wooden bridges. The houses are generally of one story, though there are three or four of two, built of wood and adobe, and roofed with tiles. The floors are also of tiles, and the walls are plastered with the colored earth which abounds on the banks of the Amazon.
Every room has several hooks driven into the walls, for the purpose of hanging hammocks. People find it more comfortable, on account of the heat, to sleep in hammocks, though I always suffered from cold, and was obliged every night to wrap myself in a blanket. There are few musquitoes, these insects always avoiding black water.
I was surprised to find, before I left Barra, that provisions were getting very scarce. The supply of flour gave out, so that for some time there was no bread in the city; and beef was killed but once a fortnight. Even the staples of the country were difficult to procure; and I heard the President say that he was desirous of recruiting some fifty or sixty tapuios to work on the new government buildings, but that he really did not know where he should get a sufficient quantity of salt fish and farinha to feed them on. Just before I sailed, a boat-load of turtles came up from the Amazon for Henrique, and his house was besieged by the poorer part of the population, begging him to sell to them.
Soon after my arrival, the President did me the honor to ask me to dine with him, to meet the officers of the new government. There seemed then a great abundance of provisions. We had fish, beef, mutton, pig, turtle, and turkey. There are very fine fish taken about Barra; they come, however, from the Amazon, and, unless cooked immediately on their arrival, invariably spoil. The best fish is called pescado; it is very delicate, and quite equal, if not superior, to our striped bass, or
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rock-fish, as it is called in the Southern States. Cut into pieces, fried, and potted, with vinegar and spices, it makes capital provisions for a voyage of a week or two.
Williams is the only American resident in Barra. He was in partnership with an Irishman named Bradley, who died a few months ago of yellow fever, in Pará; he, however, had been very sick, but a short time before, of the tertiana of the Rio Negro, and had not fairly recovered when he went to Pará. There had been another American in Barra a year ago. This was a deaf mute, named Baker, who was travelling in this country for his amusement. He carried with him tablets and a raised alphabet, for the purpose of educating the deaf, dumb, and blind. He died on the 29th of April, 1850, at San Joachim, the frontier port of Brazil, on the Rio Branco.
I heard some muttered suspicions that the poor man had possibly met with foul play, if not in relation to his death, at least in relation to his property; and understanding that the soldier in whose house he died was then in prison in Barra, I directed a communication to the President, requesting an interview with this soldier. His Excellency did not think proper to grant that, but sent for the soldier, and himself examined him. He then replied to my communication, that he could find nothing suspicious in the matter of Mr. Baker’s death, but enough in regard to his property to induce him to send for the commandant of the port of San Joachim and bring the whole matter before a proper tribunal, which he should do at the earliest opportunity, and communicate the result to the American minister at Rio.
Henrique had told me that he saw in Mr. Baker’s possession a roulean of doubloons, which he judged amounted to two thousand dollars, besides a large bag of silver. A military gentleman whom I was in the habit of meeting at Henrique’s house, told me that he himself had heard the soldier say that he should be a rich man when he got back to San Joachim; all of which I communicated to the President. The soldier’s imprisonment at Barra was on account of some military offence, and had nothing to do with this case.
The President also sent me a list of the personal effects of Mr. Baker, which had been sent down by the commandant of San Joachim to Col. Albino, the Commandante Geral of the Comarca. Amongst them were some things that I thought might be valuable to his family — such as daguerreotypes, maps, and manuscripts; and I requested his Excellency to place them at my disposal, for transportation to the United States; but he replied that by a law of the empire the effects of all foreigners belonging to nations who have no special treaty upon the subject, who
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die in Brazil, are subject to the jurisdiction of the Juis de Orfaos y Difuntos; and that it was therefore out of his power to comply with my request. I am told (though this may be scandal) that if property once gets into this court, the heir, if he ever succeeds in getting a settlement, finds but a Flemish account of his inheritance.
Our intelligent and efficient consul at Pará, Henry L. Norris, has represented this matter to the government in strong terms, showing the effect that such a law has upon the credit and standing of large mercantile houses in Brazil. I am not aware of any other nation than the French being exempted from its operation. It is clear that the credit of a house whose property may be seized by such a court as this on the death of its resident principal will not be so good, ceteris paribus, as that of a house exempted from the operation of such a law. The Brazilian authorities are very rigid in its execution, and I was told that a file of soldiers was sent (I think in Maranham) to surround the house of a dying foreigner, to see that no abstraction of property was made, and that the whole might be taken possession of, according to law, on the decease of the moribund.
There were two English residents at Barra — Yates, a collector of shells and plants; and Hauxwell, a collector of bird-skins, which he prepares most beautifully. He used the finest kind of shot, and always carried in his pocket a white powder, to stop the bleeding of the birds when shot. In the preparation of the skins he employed dry arsenic in powder, which is much superior, in this humid climate, to arsenical soap. He admired some of my birds very much, and went with Williams up to Pebas, in Peru, where I procured most of them.
There were also two English botanists, whose names I have forgotten, then up the Rio Negro. One had been very sick with tertiana [maleria] History of malaria, but was recovering at latest accounts.
The chief engineer of the steamer was a hard-headed, hot-tempered old Scotchman, who abused the steamer in particular, and the service generally, in no measured terms. He desired to know if ever I saw such beef as was furnished to them; and if we would give such beef to the dogs in my country. I told him that I thought he was fortunate to get beef at all, for that I had not seen any for a fortnight, and that if he had made such a voyage as I had recently, he would find turtle and salt fish no such bad things. The steamer, though preserving a fair outside, is, I believe, very inefficient — the machinery wanting in power, and being much out of order; indeed, so much so that on her downward passage she fairly broke down, and had to be towed into Pará. She, however, made the trip up in eighteen days, which, considering that
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the distance is full a thousand miles; that this was the first trip ever made up by steam; that the wood prepared for her had not had time to dry; and that there is nearly three-miles-an-hour current against her for about one-third of the distance, I do not consider a very bad run. The officers did not call to see me or invite me on board their vessel, though I met some of them at the dinner and evening parties of the President.
Mr. Potter, a daguerreotypist and watchmaker, who came up in the steamer, and my good friend Enrique Antonii, the Italian, with his father-in-law, Senhor Brandão, a Portuguese, make up the list of the foreigners of Barra, as far as I know them. Senhor Brandão, however, has lived many years in the country; has identified himself with it; and all his interests are Brazilian. He is a very intelligent man; and I observe that he is consulted by the President and other officials in relation to the affairs of the new government.
Whilst speaking of persons, I should be derelict in the matter of gratitude if I failed to mention Donna Leocadia, the pretty, clever, and amiable wife of Enrique. She exhibited great interest in my mission, and was always personally kind to myself. When our sunrise meal of coffee and buttered toast gave out, she would always manage to send me a tapioca custard, a bowl of caldo, or something nice and comfortable for a tired invalid. Unlike most Brazilian ladies, whenever her household duties would permit, she always sat with the gentlemen and bore an intelligent part in the conversation, expressing her desire to speak foreign languages, and to visit foreign countries, that she might see and know what was in the world. A son was born to her whilst I was in the house, and we had become such friends that the young stranger was to be called Luis, and I was to be compadre, (godfather.) But the church, very properly, would not give its sanction to the assumption of the duties belonging to such a position by a heretic.
Ijurra left me here, and returned up stream with Williams. He laid out nearly all the money received for his services in such things as would best enable him to employ the Indians in the clearance of the forest, and the establishment of a plantation, which he proposed to “locate” at Caballo-cocha, saying to me that he would have a grand crop of cotton and coffee ready against the arrival of my steamer.
Ijurra has all the qualities necessary for a successful struggle with the world, save two — patience and judgment. He is brave, hardy, intelligent, and indefatigable. The river beach and a blanket are all that are necessary to him for a bed; and I believe that he could live on coffee and cigars. But his want of temper and discretion mars every scheme
for prosperity. He spent a noble fortune, dug by his father from the Mina del rey, at Cerro Pasco, in the political troubles of his country. He was appointed governor of the large and important province of Mainas, but, interfering with the elections, he was driven out. He then joined a party for the purpose of washing the sands of the Santiago for gold, but quarrels with his companions broke that up. With infinite labor he then collected an immense cargo of Peruvian bark; but, refusing eighty thousand dollars for it in Pará, he carried it to England, where it was pronounced worthless; and he lost the fruits of his enterprise and industry.
He gave me infinite concern and some apprehension in the management of the Indians; but I shall never forget the untiring energy, the buoyancy of spirits, and the faithful loyalty, that cheered my lonely journey, and made the little Peruvian as dear to me as a brother.
The official returns for the year 1848 gave the population of the town of Barra at three thousand six hundred and fourteen free persons, and two hundred and thirty-four slaves; the number of marriages, one hundred and fifteen; births, two hundred and fifty; and deaths, twenty-five; the number of inhabited houses, four hundred and seventy; and the number of foreigners, twenty-four. There are three or four large and commodious two-story houses that rent for two hundred and fifty dollars a year. The ordinary house of one story rents for fifty dollars. The town taxes are ten per cent. on the rent of houses, a dollar a year for a slave, and three dollars a year for a horse. There are no other taxes except the custom-house dues. The soil in the immediate neighborhood of Barra is poor, and I saw no cultivation except in the gardens of the town.
The rock in the neighborhood of Barra is peculiar; it is a red sandstone, covered with a thin layer of white clay. At a mill-seat about three miles from the town, a shallow stream, twenty yards broad, rushes over an inclined plane of this rock, and falls over the ledge of it in a pretty little cataract of about nine feet in height. The water is the same in color with that of the Rio Negro, when taken up in a tumbler, that is, a faint pink. It is impossible to resist the impression that there is a connection between the color of the rock and the color of the water. Whether the water, tinged with vegetable matter, gives its color to the rock, or the rock, cemented with mineral matter, has its effect upon the water, I am unable to say. The rock on which the mill stands, which is at the edge of the fall, is covered with very hard white clay, about the eighth of an inch in thickness.
The mill was built upon a platform of rock at the edge of the fall,
278 THE INDIANS OF BARRA.
and the wheel placed below. There was no necessity for dam or race or, at least, a log, placed diagonally across the stream, served for a dam. It was built by a Scotchman, in partnership with a Brazilian. The Brazilian dying, his widow would neither buy nor sell, and the mill was finally burned down. I judge that it was not a good speculation; there is no fine timber in the immediate neighborhood of Barra, and no roads in the country by which it may be brought to the mill.
The Indians of the neighborhood are called Muras; they lead an idle, vagabond life, and live by hunting and fishing. A few of them come in and take service with the whites; and nearly all bring their children in to be baptized. Their reason for this is, not that they care about the ceremony, but they can generally persuade some good-natured white man to stand as godfather, which secures the payment of the church fee, (a cruzado,) a bottle of spirits to the father, and a yard or two of cotton cloth to the mother. Antonii tells me he is compadre with half the tribe.
They are thorough savages, and kill a number of their children from indisposition to take care of them. My good hostess told me that her father, returning from a walk to his house in the country, heard a noise in the woods; and, going towards the spot, found a young Indian woman, a tapuia of his, digging a hole in the ground for the purpose of burying her infant just born. He interfered to prevent it, when she flew at him like a tiger. The old gentleman, however, cudgelled her into submission and obedience, and compelled her to take the child home, where he put it under the care of another woman.
The women suffer very little in parturition, and are able to perform all the offices of a midwife for themselves. I am told that sometimes, when a man and his wife are travelling together in a canoe, the woman will signify to her husband her desire to land; will retreat into the woods, and in a very short time return with a newly-born infant, which she will wash in the river, sling to her back, and resume her paddle again. Even the ladies of this country are confined a very short time. The mother of my little namesake was about her household avocations in seven days after his birth. This probably arises from three causes: the climate, the habit of wearing loose dresses, and the absence of dissipation.
The Rio Negro, opposite the town, is about a mile and a half wide, and very beautiful. The opposite shore is masked by low islands; and where glimpses of it can be had, it appears to be five or six miles distant. The river is navigable for almost any draught to the Rio Maraya, a distance of twenty-five days, or, according to the rate of travelling on these
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streams, about four hundred miles; there the rapids commence, and the further ascent must be made in boats. Though large vessels may not ascend these rapids, they descend without difficulty. Most of the vessels that ply both on the Rio Negro and Oronoco are built at or near San Carlos, the frontier port of Venezuela, situated above the rapids of the Negro, and are sent down those rapids, and also up the Cassiquiari and down the Oronoco to Angostura, passing the two great rapids of Atures and Maypures, where that river turns from its westerly course toward the north. They cannot again ascend these rapids. Antonii has a new vessel lying at Barra, built at San Carlos; it is one hundred tons burden, and is well constructed, except that the decks, being laid of green wood, have warped, and require to be renewed. It cost him one thousand dollars. Brazilians pay a tax of fifteen per cent. on prime cost on foreign-built vessels. Foreigners not naturalized cannot sail vessels in their own name upon the interior waters of the empire.
It takes fifty-one days to go from Barra, at the mouth of the Negro, to San Fernando, on the Oronoco. This is by ascending the Negro above the mouth of the Cassiquairi, taking the caño of Pimichim and a portage of six hours to the head-waters of a small stream called Atabapo, which empties into the Oronoco. A small boat may be dragged over this portage in a day; to go between the same places by the Cassiquairi requires ten days more at the most favorable season, and twenty when the Oronoco is full.
From the journal of a voyage made by Antonii in the months of April, May, and June, 1844, it appears that from Barra to Airao is five days; thence to the mouth of Rio Branco, four; to Barcellos, three; to Moreira, three; to Thomar, two; to San Isabel, five; to Rio Maraia, three; to Castanheiro, two; to Masarabi, one; to San Gabriel, six; to Santa Barbara, one; to Sta. Ana, one; to N. S. de Guia, one; to Mabé, one; to Sta. Marcellina, one; to Maribitano, one; to Marcellera, one; to San Carlos, two; to Tiriquim, one; to Tomo, two; to Marao, one; to Pimichim, one; to Javita, one; to Baltazar, one; to San Fernando, one.
A few hours above Barcellos is the mouth of the river Quiuni, which is known to run up to within a very short distance of the Japura; nearly opposite to San Isabel is the mouth of a river called Jurubashea, which also runs up nearly to the Japurá. Between these rivers is the great Puxiri country; it is covered with water when the rivers are full. There is a vagabond tribe of Indians living in this country called Magu. They use no canoes, and when they cannot travel on the land, for the depth of water, they are said to make astonishing progress from tree to
280 COMMUNICATION WITH THE ORONOCO.
tree, like monkeys; the men laden with their arms and the women with their children.
Just above San Isabel are found great quantities of the Brazil nut ; and a little further up is the mouth of the river Cababuri, where sarsaparilla, estimated at Pará as being better in quality than that of any other in the Valley of the Amazon, is gathered; still higher up, above San Carlos, is cocoa of very superior quality, and in great abundance.
I have estimated that the distance between Barra and San Carlos at the mouth of the Cassiquairi is about six hundred and sixty miles. A flat-bottomed iron steamer calculated to pass the rapids of the Rio Negro will make seventy-five miles a day against the current. This will take her to San Carlos in nine days. She will ascend the Cassiquairi one hundred and eighty miles in two and a half days. From the junction of the Cassiquairi and the Oronoco to Angostura is seven hundred and eighty miles. The steamer has the current with her, and, instead of seventy-five, will run one hundred and twenty-five miles a day. This. will bring her to Angostura in six days; thence to the ocean, two hundred and fifty miles, in two days. This allows the steamer abundance of time to take in fuel, and to discharge and take in cargo, at the many villages she finds on her route; with a canal cut over the portage of six hours at Pimichim, she will make the voyage in five days less. Thus by the natural canal of the Cassiquairi the voyage between Barra, at the mouth of the Negro, and the mouth of the Oronoco may be made by steam in nineteen and a half days; by the canal at Pimichim in fourteen and a half days. I shall have occasion hereafter to speak of the portage between the river Tapajos (one of the southern confluents of the Amazon) and the head-waters of the Rio de la Plata. This gives another immense inland navigation. The mind is confused with the great images presented to it by the contemplation of these things. We have here a continent divided into many islands, (for most of its great streams inosculate,) whose shores produce, or may be made to produce, all that the earth gives for the maintenance of more people than the earth now holds. We have also here a fluvial navigation for large vessels, by the Amazon and its great tributaries, of (in round numbers) about six thousand miles, which does not include the innumerable small streams that empty into the Amazon, and which would probably swell the amount to ten thousand; neither does it include the Oronoco, with its tributaries, on the one hand, nor the La Plata, with its tributaries, upon the other; the former of which communicates with the Valley of the Amazon by the Cassiquairi,
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and the latter merely requires a canal of six leagues in length, over very practicable ground, to do the same.
Let us now suppose the banks of these streams settled by an active and industrious population, desirous to exchange the rich products of their lands for the commodities and luxuries of foreign countries; let us suppose introduced into such a country the railroad and the steamboat, the plough, the axe, and the hoe; let us suppose the land divided into large estates, and cultivated by slave labor, so as to produce all that they are capable of producing: and with these considerations, we shall have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that no territory on the face of the globe is so favorably situated, and that, if trade there is once awakened, the power, and wealth, and grandeur of ancient Babylon and modern London must yield to that of the depots of this trade, that shall be established at the mouths of the Oronoco, the Amazon, and the La Plata.
Humboldt, by far the greatest cosmographer that the world has yet known, and one of the most learned men and profoundest thinkers of any time, in contemplating the connection between the valleys of the Oronoco and the Amazon by the Cassiquiari, speaks thus of its future importance:
“Since my departure from the banks of the Oronoco and the Amazon, a new era unfolds itself in the social state of the nations of the West. The fury of civil discussions will be succeeded by the blessings of peace and a freer development of the arts of industry. The bifurcation of the Oronoco,” (the Cassiquairi,) “the isthmus of Tuamini,” (my portage of Pimichirn) “so easy to pass over by an artificial canal, will fix the attention of commercial Europe. The Cassiquiari — as broad as the Rhine, and the course of which is one hundred and eighty miles in length — will no longer form in vain a navigable canal between two basins of rivers, which have a surface of one hundred and ninety thousand square leagues. The grain of New Grenada will be carried to the banks of the Rio Negro; boats will descend from the sources of the Napo and the Ucayali, from the Andes of Quito and upper Peru, to the mouths of the Oronoco — a distance which equals that from Timbuctoo to Marseilles. A country nine or ten times larger than Spain, and enriched with the most varied productions, is navigable in every direction by the medium of the natural canal of the Cassiquinri and the bifurcation of the rivers. This phenomenon, which one day will be so important for the political connexions of nations, unquestionably deserves to be carefully examined.”
If these things should, in the estimation of Humboldt, “fix the attention of commercial Europe,” much more should they occupy ours.
282 THE PURUS.
A glance at the map, and a reflection upon the course of the trade-winds, will show conclusively that no ships can sail from the mouths of the Amazon and Oronoco without passing close by our southern ports. Here, then, is the natural depot for the rich and varied productions of that vast region. Here, too, can be found all that the inhabitants of that region require for their support and comfort; and I have not the slightest doubt, if Brazil should pursue a manly policy, and throw open her great river to the trade of the world, that the United States would reap far the largest share of the benefits to be derived from it.
Whilst at Barra, I had conversations with a man who had made several trading voyages up the “Purus.” Ever since I had read the pamphlet of Father Bobo de Revello, in which he attempts to show that a navigable river which he saw to the eastward of Cuzco, and which he calls Madre de Dios, is identical with the Purus, this river has had for me a great interest. I sent Mr. Gibbon to look for its head-waters, and I determined, if possible, to ascend it from its mouth. I am not aware of the reasons which induced Gibbon to abandon the search for its sources, though I suspect they arose from the well-known fierce and hostile character of the savages who dwell on its upper banks. But, for myself, I am compelled to acknowledge that when I arrived at Barra, near the mouth of the Purus, I was broken down, and felt convinced that I could not stand the hardship and exposure necessary for a thorough examination of this river.
According to the statements of my informant — a very dark Brazilian, named Seraphim — the Purus commences to rise in October, and to fall in May. The best time to ascend it is when the river is quite. full and done rising — in May. The beaches are then covered, and slack water is found close in to the proper shores of the river.
Fifteen days, or about two hundred and fifty miles from the mouth, is the mouth of a stream called Parana-pishuna, which, by a succession of lakes and a portage of a day, connects the Purus with the Madeira. The connection is only passable when the river is full. About the mouth of this stream, the sezoens, or intermittent fevers, are said to be very fatal; but a few days of navigation takes the voyager above their locality and out of their influence. There are several large lakes between the mouth of the Purus and that of the Parana-pishuna.
Thirty days from the mouth of the Purus is the mouth of a river called the Mucuin, which also communicates with the Madeira above the rapids of that river. The banks of the Mucuin are low and level; the river is shallow, and the rocks make the passage up and down tedious
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and laborious in the dry season, which is from May to October. The ascent of the Mucuin takes thirty-five days to arrive at the “Furo,” which connects it with the Madera; and the navigation of the Furo takes ten more. I did not understand from Senhor Seraphim that there were any whites on the banks of the Mucuin; but he told me there were broad-tailed sheep there — such are called in Brazil sheep of five quarters, on account of the weight and value of the tail. If this be true, I suspect that the Mucin runs through a portion of the great department of Beni, belonging to Bolivia; that it communicates with the Madeira by means of the river Beni; and that these sheep have either been stolen by the Indians, or have strayed from whites who live about the little town of Cavanas, situated on a tributary of the Beni.
Four years ago Senhor Seraphim, in one of his voyages, encountered the wreck of a boat stranded on a beach of the Purus. He knew that it was not a Brazilian boat, on account of its construction and from the fact that he at that time was the only trader on the river. He also knew that it was not an Indian’s boat, from the iron ring in its bow; and the only conclusion that he could come to was that the boat had broken adrift from civilized people above, and been wrecked and broken in passing the rapids. The Indians who were with Seraphim told him that ten days higher up (though the river was broken by caxoeiras) would reach white people, who rode on horseback, and had flocks and herds. Seraphim was then probably about six hundred miles from the mouth of the Purus. His last voyage occupied eighteen months, and lie brought down two hundred and twenty-five pots of copaiba and one hundred and fifty arrobas of sarsaparilla.
The Catauxis and the Indians generally of the Purus build their houses exactly as I have described those of the Yaguas.(modern Yaguas)  There is rarely ever more than one house at a settlement; it is called Calocca, and ten or fifteen families reside in it. Children are contracted in marriage at birth, and are suffered to come together at ten or twelve years of age. The capacity of a boy to endure pain is always tested before he is permitted to take his place as a man in his tribe. The dead are buried in the same position as that used by the ancient Peruvians. The knees and elbows are tied together, and the body placed in a sitting position in a large earthern jar. This jar is placed in a hole dug in the floor of the rnalocea, and is filled in around the body with earth. Two smaller jars are then placed, with mouth downwards, over the large jar, and the whole is covered up with earth. The Indians of the Purus, as elsewhere in the Valley of the Amazon,
284 THE RIVER BRANCO.
are careless and lazy; most of them go naked. They cultivate a little maize and mandioc for sustenance, and make a little carajurú to paint their bodies and weapons with. Seraphim, however, had no difficulty in getting Indians to collect copaiba and sarsaparilla for him. He was not long from the Purus when I arrived at Barra; poor fellow! he was a martyr to the rheumatism, and his hands and legs were positively black from the marks left by the musquitoes. I sent him, from Pará, physic, which is highly esteemed upon the Amazon, called Ioduret of potassa, and “Le Roi,” in return for his information, and some presents of arms &c., from the Purus.
The Amazon at Barra ordinarily commences to rise about the fifteenth of November, and continues filling till the end of December. It falls through the month of January, when it again rises till June, about the end of which month it begins to fall.
I found the Rio Negro stationary during the month of January. It commenced rising about the first of February; it is full in June. I believe it follows the laws of the Amazon, and had risen through the month of December. These laws are subject to considerable fluctuations, depending upon the greater or less quantity of rain at the sources of the rivers.
The Rio Branco, the greatest tributary of the Negro, is low in January. This river is navigable for large craft for about three hundred miles from its mouth; thence it is broken into rapids, only passable for large flat-bottomed boats. It is very thickly wooded below the first rapids; above these the trees disappear, and the river is bordered by immense plains, which would afford pasturage to large numbers of cattle. Barra is supplied with beef from the Rio Branco, where it must cost very little, as it is sold in Barra at five cents the pound.
Strong northeasterly winds make the ascent of the river tedious. A boat will come down from San Joachim, near the sources of the river, to Barra, a distance of five hundred miles, and passing many rapids, in twelve days.
A portage of only two hours divides the head-waters of the Branco from those of the Essequibo. I saw fowling-pieces, of English manufacture, in Barra, that had been bought by the traders on the Rio Branco from Indians, who had purchased them from traders on the Essequibo. They were of very good quality, but bad generally been damaged, and were repaired by the blacksmiths of Barra. Beautiful specimens of rock crystal are brought from the highlands that divide the Branco and Essequibo. The tertianas are said to be very malignant on the Rio Branco.
There is scarcely any attempt at the regular cultivation of the earth in all the province of Amazonas; but the natural productions of its soil are most varied and valuable. In the forest are twenty-three well known varieties of palms, all more or less useful. From the piassaba bark (called by Humboldt the chiquichiqui palm) [] is obtained cordage which I think quite equal in quality to the Coir of India. From the leaves of the tucum are obtained the fibres of which all the hammocks of the country are made. Roofs of houses thatched with the giantic leaves of the bussu will last more than ten years. The seed of the urucuré and Inajá [], are found to make the best fires for smoking India-rubber; and most of the palms give fruit, which is edible in some shape or other.
Of trees fitted for nautical constructions, there are twenty-two kinds; for the construction of houses and boats, thirty-three; for cabinet-work, twelve, (some of which — such as the jacarandá the muirapinima, or tortoise-shell wood, and the macacauba — are very beautiful;) and for making charcoal, seven.
There are twelve kinds of trees that exude milk from their bark; the milk of some of these — such as the arvoeiro and assacú — is poisonous. One is the seringa, or India-rubber tree; and one the mururé, the milk of which is reported to possess extraordinary virtue in the cure of mercurialized patients, or those afflicted with syphilitic sores. Mr. Norris told me that a young American, dreadfullly afflicted with the effects of mercury, and despairing of cure, had come to Pará to linger out what was left of life in the enjoyment of a tropical climate. A few doses of the mulrmre sent him home a well man, though it is proper to say that he died suddenly a few years afterwards. Captain Littlefield, the master of the barque “Peerless,” told me that he had a seaman on board his vessel covered with sores from head to foot, who was radically cured with a few teaspoonfuls of mururé. Its operation is said to be very powerful, making the patient cold and rigid, and depriving him of sense for a short time. Mr. Norris has made several attempts to get it home but without success. A bottle which I brought had generated so fetid a gas that I was glad to toss it from my hand when I opened it at the Observatory Naval Observatory.
It is idle to give a list of the medicinal plants, for their name is legion. The Indians use nearly everything as a “remedio.” One, however, is peculiar — it is called manacá. (Carl Friedrich Philipp) von Martius, Von Martius a learned German, who spent several years in this country, thus describes it: “Omnis planta, magna radix potissimum, systema lymphaticum summa efficacia excitat, particulas morbificas liquescit, sudore et urina eliminat. Magni usus in
syphilitide, ideo mercurio vegetal a quibusdam dicitur. Cortex interior et omnes partes herbacere amaritudine nauseosa, fauces vellicante, pollent. Dosi parva resolvit, majore exturbat alvum et urinam ciet, abortum movet, venenum a morsu serpentumn excutit; nimia dosi tanquam venenum acre agit. De medo, quo hauriri solet, conferas Martium, in Buchner Repertor Pharm. XXXI, 379. Apud nonullas Indorum gentes in regione Amazonica habitantes ejus extractum in venenum sagittarum ingreditur.”
Its virtue in rheumatic affections was much extolled; and, as I was suffering from pains in the teeth and shoulders, I determined to try its efficacy; but, understanding that its effects were powerful, and made a man feel as if a bucket of cold water were suddenly poured down his back, I begged my kind hostess, Donna Leocadia, to make the decoction weak. Finding no effects from the first teacupful, I took another; but either I was a peculiar patient, or we had not got hold of the proper root. I felt nothing but a very sensible coldness of the teeth and tip of the tongue. Next morning I took a stronger decoction, but with no other effect. I think it operated upon the liver, causing an increased secretion of bile. I brought home the leaves and root.
The root of the murapuama, a bush destitute of leaves, is used as an analeptic remedy, giving force and tone to the nerves. A little plant called douradinha with a yellow flower something like our dandelion, that grows in the streets at Barra, is a powerful emetic. A clear and good-burning oil is made from the Brazil nut; also from the nut of the andiroba, which seems a sort of bastard Brazil nut, bearing the same relation to it that our horse-chestnut does to the edible chestnut. Both these oils, as also the oil made from turtle-eggs, are used to adulterate the copaiba. The trader has to be on the alert that he is not deceived by these adulterations. Another very pretty oil or resin is called tamacuaré; its virtues are much celebrated for the cure of cutaneous affections.
The banks of the rivers and inland lakes abound with wild rice, which feeds a vast number of water-fowl; it is said to be edible.
The Huimba of Peru — a sort of wild cotton, with a delicate and glossy fibre, like silk, and called in Brazil sumauma — abounds in the province. It grows in balls on a very large tree, which is nearly leafless; it is so light and delicate that it would be necessary to strip a number of these large trees to get an arroba of it. It is used in Guayaquil to stuff mattresses. I brought home several large baskets of it. Some silk manufacturers in France, to whom Mr. Clay, our charge d’affaires at Lima, sent specimens, thought that, mixed with silk, it would make a
cheap and pretty fabric; but they had not a sufficient quantity to test it.
Where cotton is cultivated in the province, it is sown in August, and commences to give in May; the bulk and best of the harvest is in June and July. The tree will give good cotton for three years.
Tobacco, of which that cultivated at Borba, on the Madeira, is the best in Brazil, is planted in beds during the month of February. When the plants are about half a foot high, which is in all the month of April, they are set out; the force of the crop is in September. The plant averages four feet in height. Good Borba tobacco is worth in Barra seven dollars the arroba, of thirty-two pounds; it does not keep well, and therefore the price in Pará varies very much.
The tree that gives the Brazil nut is not more than two or three feet in diameter, but very tall; the nuts, in number about twenty, are enclosed in a very hard, round shell, of about six inches in diameter. The crop is gathered in May and June. It is quite a dangerous operation to collect it; the nut, fully as large and nearly as heavy as a nine-pounder shot, falls from the top of the tree without warning, and would infallibly knock a man’s brains out if it struck him on the head.
Humboldt says, “I know nothing more fitted to seize the mind with admiration of the force of organic action in the equinoctial zone than the aspect of these great ligneous pericarps. In our climates the cucurbitacece only produce in the space of a few months fruits of an extraordinary size; but these fruits are pulpy and succulent. Between the tropics the bertholletia forms, in less than fifty or sixty days, a pericarp, the ligneous part of which is half an inch thick, and which it is difficult to saw with the sharpest instrument.” He speaks of them as being often eight or ten inches in diameter; I saw none so large.
There is a variety of this tree, called sapucaia, that grows on low lands subject to overflow. Ten or fifteen of the nuts, which are long, corrugated, and very irregular in shape, are contained in a large outer shell; the shell, unlike that of the castanha, does not fall entire from the tree, but when the nuts are ripe the bottom falls out, leaving the larger part of the shell, like the cup of an acorn, hanging to the tree. The nuts are scattered upon the water that at this season surrounds the trees, and are picked up in boats or by wading. The bark of the nut is fragile; easily broken by the teeth; and its substance is far superior in delicacy of flavor to that of the Brazil nut. This nut as yet must be scarce, or it would have been known to commerce. The tree is a very large one; the flowers yellow and pretty, but destitute of smell. The wood is one of those employed in nautical construction.
Shell lime, which is made in Pará, sells in Barra for one dollar and
288 RAIN AT BARRA.
twenty-five cents the alquier, of sixty-four pounds; stone lime is double in price.
Salt is worth one dollar and twenty-five cents the panero, of one hundred and eight pounds.
Rains at Barra commence in September; the force of the rain is in February and March, but there is scarcely ever a continuous rain of twenty-four hours — one day rainy and one day clear.
The Vigario Geral, an intelligent priest, named Joaquin Gonzales de Azevedo, told me that there was a sharp shock of an earthquake in this country in the year 1816. The ground opened at “Serpa,” a village below Barra, to the depth of a covado, (three-fourths of a yard.)