Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Vol.I/10
Senhor Cauper has four or five slaves in his house — blacks, which he brought from Brazil. This is contrary to the law, but it is winked at; and I heard the governor say that he would like much to have a pair. Mr. Cauper said they would be difficult to get, and would cost him five hundred dollars in money. A slave that is a mechanic is worth five hundred dollars in Brazil.
Arebalo gave us specimens of the woods of the country; they are called aguano, ishpingo, muena, capirona, cedro, palo de cruz, (our lignum-vitræ,) and palo de sangre — all good, whether for house or ship-building; and some of them very hard, heavy, and beautiful. The palo de sangre is of a rich red color, susceptible of a high polish; and a decoction of its bark is said to be good to stay bloody evacuations. I had no opportunity of testing it, but suspect it is given on the homeopathic principle, that like cures like, because it is red. I thought the same of the guaco, in the case of the snake-bite.
The temperature of Nauta is agreeable. The lowest thermometer I observed was 71° at 6 a.m., and the highest 89° at 3 p.m. We have had a great deal of cloudy weather and rain since we have been on the Amazon; and it is now near the commencement of the rainy season at this place. No one suffers from heat, though this is probably the hottest season of the year; the air is loaded with moisture; and heavy squalls of wind and rain sweep over the country almost every day. In the dry months — from the last of February to the first of September — a constant and heavy breeze blows, nearly all day, against the stream of the river; the wind, at all seasons, is generally easterly, but is at this time more fitful and liable to interruption; so that sail-boats bound up make, at this season, the longest passages. The river, which is three-fourths of a mile wide opposite Nauta, and has an imposing appearance, has risen four feet between the sixteenth and twenty-fifth of September.
The town is situated on a hill, with the forest well cleared away from around it, and is a healthy place. I saw only two cases of sickness during my stay of two weeks. They were acute cases of disease, to which people are liable everywhere. Both patients died; probably for
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want of medical attention. I gave the man who had the dysentery some doses of calomel and opium, (a prescription I had from Dr. Smith, of Lima;) but he died with the last dose. Though solicited, I would have nothing to do with the other case. It was a woman; and I had no confidence in my practice. I could only add my mite to a subscription raised by the whites for the benefit of her orphan children.
The Cocamas of Nauta are great fishermen and boatmen, and I think are bolder than most of the civilized tribes on the river. They make incursions, now and then, into the country of the Mayorunas — savages who inhabit the right banks of the Ucayali and Amazon — fight battles with them, and bring home prisoners, generally children. When travelling in small numbers, or engaged in their ordinary avocations on the river, they studiously avoid the country of their enemies, who retaliate whenever opportunity offers.
These Indians are jealous, and punish conjugal infidelity with severity, and also departure from the laws of chastity on the part of the unmarried female.
Arebalo thinks that the population of the Missions is increasing, and found by the census, taken carefully last year by himself, that the number of women exceeded that of the men by more than one thousand.
A boat came in from above on the eighteenth, and reported the loss of another belonging to Enrique, one of the traders we had met at Laguna. She was loaded with salt and cotton cloth; and, in passing the mouth of Tigre Yacu in the night, struck upon a “sawyer,” capsized, and went down. A boy was drowned. Macready would have envied the low, soft, sad tones and eloquent gestures, expressive of pity and horror, with which an Indian told us the disastrous story.
September 20. — We paid twelve rowers and a popero, and set them to work to fit up our boat with decks and coverings. I had purchased this boat from Mr. Cauper for sixty dollars, the price he paid for it when it was new. Most persons on the river held up their hands when I told them what I had paid for it; but I thought it was cheap, especially as I was obliged to have it on any terms. He had it repaired and calked for us.
The boat (called garretea) is thirty feet long, seven wide, in its widest part, and three deep. The after-part is decked for about ten feet in length with the bark of a palm-tree, which is stripped from the trunk and flattened out by force. The deck is covered over by small poles, bent in hoop-fashion over it, and well thatched with palm-leaves; making quite a snug little cabin. The pilot stands or sits on this roof to direct and steer, and sleeps upon it at night, to the manifest danger
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of rolling off. About twelve feet of the middle of the boat is covered and decked in like manner; but the covering is lower and narrower, giving room for the rowers to sit on each side of it to paddle. Most of the cargo is stowed under the decks, thus leaving a cabin for both Ijurra and myself. There is a space between the two coverings which is not decked over, that gives a chance for bailing the boat when she takes in water; and a sufficient space is left in the bow in which to place a large earthen vessel to make a fire in.
I bought from Senhor Cauper some Portuguese axes, some small fishhooks, (called by the Indians mishqui,) and some white beads, which are mostcoveted by the savages of the Ucayali.
We had several fishing picnics with the priest and governor, and altogether a pleasant time at Nauta.
September 25. — Having engaged a servant, a Tarapotino, named Lopez, and embarked our luggage and provisions, I hoisted a small American flag, given me from the frigate Raritan, and got under way for the Ucayali. We started with ten peons, but were joined by two others in a skiff (called montaria) next morning. In fifty-five minutes we arrived at the mouth of the Ucayali. It is a beautiful stream, with low, shelving, green banks at its mouth. But I was disappointed in its size; it was not more than half as wide as the Amazon. It is the longest known tributary above Brazil, and is therefore called by some the main trunk of the Amazon. We poled and paddled slowly up the left bank for four and a half miles, and stopped at a bluff where there were one or two huts of Nauta people. Threatening rain, we attempted to sleep in the boat; but our musquito curtains not being properly prepared, we passed a wretched night.
September 26. — Taking advantage of the eddies and still water near the shore, we paddled and poled along at about the rate of a mile and a half per hour. Our men work well. They commence paddling with a strong, slow stroke, of about fifteen or twenty to the minute, and gradually quicken them till they get to be half-second strokes. They keep this up for about half an hour, when, at a shout from the bowman, they toss their paddles in the air, change sides, and commence the slow stroke again. They, however, prefer poling to paddling, and will always make for a beach, where they can use their poles, which they do in a lazy, inefficient manner.
The shores of the river today, on the left bank, are abrupt, and about ten or fifteen feet high. They are of a light, loose earth, that is continually caving in by the action of the current, and carrying trees into the stream. On the other side the shores are low, green, and
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shelving. I think they are the shores of low, narrow islands. The trees are not very thick, and the country is more open than on the banks of the Huallaga. After breakfast we pulled nearly to the middle of the river, and, anchoring in thirty-three-feet water, we found the current, by the log, to be a mile and three-quarters the hour. We passed the mouth of a small stream called Chingana, up which there is a settlement of the Mayorunas. Our men are much afraid of this people, and always sleep on the left bank so long as they are in their country. All the peons on this river have their musquito curtains painted black, so that the Mayorunas may not see them in the night. The mode of attack of these savages is to wait till the travellers have fallen asleep, and then rush upon the musquito nets and plunge in their lances. None of the Indians that I have travelled with seem to have any idea of the propriety of posting a sentinel. At noon the river, which has been from its mouth less than a quarter of a mile wide, spreads out, and is divided by islands. We anchored in twelve-feet water, sixty yards from the shore, and slept without musquito netting. It was windy, and these troublesome insects did not come off. Rain nearly all night.
September 27. — Two of our turtles died yesterday, and the Indians are eating them today. Ijurra suspects that they killed them by putting tobacco in their mouths, knowing that we would not eat them, and that they consequently would get them. But Ijurra is of a suspicious nature, especially where Indians are concerned, whom he thinks to be the vilest and most worthless of mankind. We found the current today to be two miles the hour. A fish about two feet long, and sharp built, like a dolphin, jumped into the boat. It had two curved and very sharp teeth, like those of a squirrel, or the fangs of a serpent, in the lower jaw. It made us a very good mess. The river to-day is much divided by islands, the passages from one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards wide. When running between the main shore the river is about a quarter of a mile wide.
September 28. — Passed the outlet of a lake said to be a day distant. There are many lakes on each side of the river, where the Indians fish with barbasco. At this season most of the outlets are dry. Passed two balsas loaded with sarsaparilla, gathered in the river Aguaytia, above Sarayacu. One was in charge of a Brazilian negro, the other of a Portuguese; they were dependants of a trading establishment at Loreto. The crew were Conibos Indians of the Ucayali. They had a floating turtle-pen along, and gave us a turtle. When we stopped to breakfast our people hid their jars, which they had emptied of their masato, to pick up on the return. Banks of the river, as usual, about ten or
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fifteen feet high. Beaches few and small, running out in ridges; so that at one moment our men could not touch bottom with their long poles, and at the next the boat was aground.
September 29. — We passed a place in the river where there was a beach on each side, and a tree grounded in the middle. On the side which we passed, which was to the right of the tree, we had but four feet water sixty yards from the beach. I suspect the tree was grounded on a sand-flat at the upper end of an island, the lower end of which we had not noticed, and that the channel was on the other side, and close to the right bank of the river. Passed the mouth of the Caño Pucati, which communicates with the Marañon just below San Regis. It is now entirely dry, and appears a mere fissure in the bank between the cane and small trees growing near it. The sand, which is heaped up at its entrance, is four feet above the present level of the river.
Stopped and bought some turtle, salt, and salted curassows, (a large, black, game bird, nearly the size, and with something the appearance, of a turkey, called piuri,) from some San Regis people, who were salting fish, which they had taken in a lake nearby. Their ranchos were built upon a bluff on the right bank. I could not stay among them for the musquitoes, and had to retreat to the boat. Two large turtles, three salted birds, and half a peck of salt, cost us six strings of small beads.
September 30. — Passed the mouth of an arm of the river, which is said to leave the main river many miles above, and make the large island of Paynaco. It is navigable for canoes in the wet season; but, on account of its windings, it takes nearly as long to pass it as it does to pass the main river; and it is seldom navigated. We see many cranes and huananas, (the Egyptian goose before described,) but no animals except flesh-colored porpoises, of which there are a great many. Occasionally we hear “cotomonos,” or howling monkeys, in the woods. Dull work ascending the river; anchored near low sand islands with abrupt banks, which were continually tumbling into the stream.
October 1. — After daylight we landed and shot at cotomonos. One is not aware of the great height of the trees until he attempts to shoot a monkey or a bird out of the topmost branches. He is then surprised to find that the object is entirely out of reach of his fowling-piece, and that only a rifle will reach it. The trees throughout this country grow with great rapidity, and, being in a light, thin soil, with a substratum of sand, the roots are superficial, and the trees are continually falling dawn. Nature seems to have made a provision for their support; for, instead of coming down round to the ground, the trunk, about
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ten feet above it, divides into thick, wide tablets, which, widening as they come down, stand out like buttresses for the support of the tree; but even with this provision no day passes that we do not hear the crashing fall of some giant of the forest. Re-stowed the boat, and repaired Ijurra’s palace, making it narrower and higher.
October 3. — Many huananas, with their broods, upon the river. Shot a large brown bird called chansu, (cigana in Brazil;) it has a crest, erectile at pleasure, and looks like a pheasant. Large flocks frequent the cane on the banks of the river; they have a very game look, and are attractive to the sportsman; but the Indians call them a foul bird, and do not eat them; the crop of this was filled with green herbage.
October 4. — Clear all night, with heavy dew. The anchor, which is a sixty-four-pound weight, had sunk so deep in the thick dark sand of the bottom as to require the united exertions of all hands to get it. Met three canoes going down loaded with sarsaparilla; bought some yuccas and plantains at a settlement of five families of Conibos, on the left bank of the river. Got also specimens of the black wax of the country, and “lacre,” or sealing-wax, which is the gum of a tree, colored red with achote. The black wax is the production of a small bee very little larger than an ant, which builds its house in the ground. The white wax is deposited in the branches of a small tree, which are hollow, and divided into compartments like the joints of a cane. The wood is sufficiently soft to be perforated by the bee; the tree is called cetica, and looks, though larger, like our alder bush.
October 5. — Stopped at a Conibo rancho on the right bank. Three men and six women, with children, were living in the rancho; they were very poor, and could sell us nothing. The river rose six inches from eight last night to five this morning. Shores today low, with large sand beaches; only four feet of water fifty or sixty yards from them. Current two and a quarter miles.
October 6. — Passed a settlement of Conibos on left bank — four houses, eight men, and twenty-five women and children. It was quite a treat to see so familiar a flower as the convolvulus growing on the bank. It was not so large or so gay as in our gardens, but had a home look that was very pleasing. Passed a ravine, up which there is a settlement of Amajuacas Indians. These men are hunters, who live in the interior, and seldom come down upon the rivers. The Pirros and Conibos sometimes make war upon them, and bring away captives. Yesterday two men — one a Pano, from Sarayacu, and the other an Amajuaca — joined us to work their passage to Sarayacu. The Amajuaca was so good a
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fellow, and worked so well, that I paid him as the others. Current two and a quarter miles.
October 7. — River half a mile wide and rising fast. Trunks of trees begin to come down. Stopped at a settlement called Guanache. I saw only two houses, with four or five men and women; they said that the others were away gathering sarsaparilla. These people cannot count, and I can never get from them any accurate idea of numbers. They are very little removed above the “beasts that perish.” They are filthy, and covered with the sores and scars of sarna. The houses were very large, measuring between thirty and forty feet of length, and ten or fifteen of breadth. They consist of immense roofs of small poles and cane, thatched with palm, and supported by short stakes four feet high and three inches in diameter, planted in the ground three or four feet apart, and having the spaces, except between two in front, filled in with cane. Many persons “pig” together in one of these houses. Cotton was growing here. Current three and one-third miles.
October 9. — Stopped at the village of Sta. Maria, a Pirros settlement, on the left bank, of one hundred and fifty souls. The curaca, who seemed a more rational and respectable being than the rest, and whom I afterwards saw in Nauta, told me that there were thirty-three Matrimonios. These Indians ascend the Ucayali in their canoes to a point not very far from Cuzco, where they go to exchange rare birds and animals for beads, fish-hooks, and the little silver ornaments which they wear in their noses. They bury their dead in his canoe under the floor of his house. The curaca said that the Conibos buried the personal effects of the deceased with him, differing in this from his people, the Pirros. Their language is also different; but in all other things they are as like as peas. They have no idea of a future state, and worship nothing. In fact, I think they have no ideas at all, although they can make a bow or a canoe, and take a fish; and their women can weave a coarse cloth from cotton, and dye it. They asked us if we had not in our boxes some great and infectious disease, which we could take up and let loose among their enemies, the Cashibos of the Pachitea.
There were two Moyobambinos domiciliated in the village, purchasing salt fish from the Indians. One of them told me that an Indian would furnish eighty pieces of salt fish for eight yards of tocuyo; this man may have “let the cat out of the bag,” and showed me how they cheat the Indians. A yard of tocuyo is the general price of three pieces. A fish called payshi, which is the fish ordinarily salted, was brought in and cut up whilst we were here. It is a powerful fish, about six feet long and one and one-fourth in diameter. The head is fourteen inches long, with
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short jaws and rather small mouth. The tongue, when dried, is as hard as bone, and is commonly used as a rasp. The scales of the belly and tail are bordered with a bright red streak, which makes the fish appear to be nearly encircled with a number of scarlet rings, and gives it a very pretty appearance. (It is called pirarucu in Brazil.)
Just below Sta. Maria is the mouth of a creek, or small channel of the river, which, cutting across a narrow neck of land, connects two parts of a great bend of the river. These canals across an isthmus are called by the Indians tepishka. This one is only navigable when the river is full.
Two hours after leaving Sta. Maria we arrived at a beach where there was an establishment of Senhor Cauper’s, for salting fish. These establishments are called factorias. A nephew of the old man has been here for two months, attending to the business. Instead of employing the Infidels, he brings Indians of Nauta with him — people generally who are in Mr. Cauper’s debt. Twenty-five Indians collect and salt four thousand pieces of fish in six weeks.
Bought fifty pieces at six and a quarter cents for the support of my peons. From eight last night to six this morning, the river rose but two inches, and seems to be now falling.
The Indians on this river have in their houses, cotton, maize, ground peas, (mani,) sweet potatoes, yuccas, plantains, fowls and fish, bows and arrows, lances, clubs, paddles, and pretty baskets made of cane. The women weave their own clothes and those of their husbands, and manage to paint figures and devices on the cotton after it is woven. The Pirros and Conibos seem taller than they really are, on account of their costume, which is a long cotton gown. I have seen a fellow in one of these gowns, slowly striding over a beach, look, at a distance, like a Roman patrician in his “toga.”
October 10. — River fell last night four inches. Stopped on Puiri island to breakfast. There is a pretty little lake occupying nearly the whole centre of the island. We passed through a shallow and narrow arm of the river between Puiri island and the right bank. River a quarter of a mile wide above the island.
Met a Conibo, with his wife and two children, on the beach. This man was evidently the dandy of his tribe. He was painted with a broad stripe of red under each eye; three narrow stripes of blue were carried from one ear, across the upper lip, to the other -- the two lower stripes plain, and the upper one bordered with figures. The whole of the lower jaw and chin were painted with a blue chain-work of figures, something resembling Chinese figures. Around his neck was a broad tight necklace of black and white beads, with a breastplate of the
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same hanging from it, and partly concealed by the long gown, or cushma. His wrists were also adorned with wide bracelets of white beads, and above these a bracelet of lizard skins, set round with monkeys’ teeth. He wore a little silver shield hanging from his nose, and a narrow, thin plate of silver, shaped like a paddle, two and a half inches long, thrust through a hole in the lower lip, and hanging on the chin. He had been to Cuzco, where he got his silver ornaments, and said it was a journey of four moons. We anchored in thirty-six-feet water, and found a current of three miles the hour. Calm, clear night; much dew.
October 11. — Stopped to breakfast on a beach on the left bank, back of which, on the firm land, were two houses of Remos Indians. There were twenty-two of them — men, women, and children — with three men of the Shipebos tribe. There seemed to be no uniformity in their paint, each one consulting his own taste; though there was one man and a woman, whom I understood to be man and wife, painted exactly alike. The Remos were low and small; the Shipebos taller. They were dressed in the common costume of the Ucayali, (the cushma,) and had their hair cut straight across the forehead, just above the eyes, so as to show the face, set, as it were, in a frame of hair. They are all filthy, and some have sarna. As far as I have observed, more women have this disease than men. Passed more huts afterwards, and some Indians seeking the young of the turtle on a beach. These people eat anything. I have known them to eat the eggs of the turtle with the young in them, and also turtle that had died a natural death and had become offensive.
October 12. — Passed a settlement of Conibos on the right bank, numbering twenty-five or thirty. They said that the inhabitants of a village called Huamuco, which Smyth places near this place, had gone to the Pachitea.
October 13. — At breakfast we found a smaller kind of turtle called charapilla, better and more tender than the large turtle which is called charapa. Stopped at a little settlement of Shipebos on the right bank -- twenty-five all told. Met three negroes, with a crew of Conibos, who had been up the river for sarsaparilla. They gathered the principal part of what they had (about sixty arrobas) in the Aguaytia, but had been five days up the Pachitea, and six up the Ucayali, above the Pachitea. They say that the Cashibos of that river would come to the beach in hostile attitude; but when they found that the strangers were not Indians of the Ucayali, but wore trousers and had guns, they fled.
Passed two houses of Conibos, about fifteen in number. One of them, taking us for padres, insisted that Ijurra should baptize his child;
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which was accordingly done. He gave it the name of the officiating priest, writing it on a bit of paper and giving it to the mother, who put it away carefully. I believe my companion was upbraided by the priest at Sarayacu for doing so. The head of the infant had been bound in boards, front and rear, and was flattened and increased in height. I do not observe that the heads of the adults bear any trace of this custom.
October 15. — Arrived at the village of Tierra Blanca, belonging to the Mission, having passed yesterday several settlements of the Indians, and seen for the first time the hills in the neighborhood of Sarayacu. It is a clean little town, of two hundred inhabitants, situated on an eminence on the left bank about twenty-five feet above the present level of the river. In the full the water approaches within a few feet of the lower houses.
A priest from Sarayacu, “Father Juan de Dios Lorente,” has charge of the spiritual and pretty much of the temporal concerns of the village. He is here at this time, celebrating some feast, and is the only white man present. The Indians, as usual at a feast time, were nearly all drunk, and made my men drunk also. When I wished to start, I sent Ijurra to a large house where they were drinking, to bring our people to the boat; he soon came back foaming with rage, and demanded a gun, that he might bring them to obedience; I soothed him, however, and went up to the house, where, by taking a drink with them, and practising the arts that I have often practised before in getting off to the ship refractory sailors who were drinking on shore, I succeeded in getting off a sufficient number of them to work the boat, and shoved off with as drunken a boat’s crew as one could desire, leaving the small boat for the others to follow; this they are sure to do when they find that their clothes and bedding have been taken away. The padre said that if Ijurra had shot one, they would have murdered us all; but I doubt that, for we were well armed, and the Indians are afraid of guns.
Padre Lorente, when he joined the Mission, came down the Pachitea in nine days from Mayro to Sarayacu in the month of August; if so, there must have been an enormous current in the Pachitea and Ucayali above, for it takes thirty days to reach the mouth of the Pachitea from Sarayacu, which distance Padre Lorente descended in six; and Padre Plaza (who is said, however, to be a slow traveller) took eighteen to ascend the Pachitea from its mouth to Mayro, which Padre Lorente accomplished downwards in three. I judged from the short course of this river, and the great descent, that it had a powerful current. The padre said that, a day’s journey above the mouth of the Pachitea, his
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men had to get overboard and drag the canoe over the bottom for five hundred yards. He also said that the attempt to ascend at this season must result in failure; that it can only be done after Easter, when the current is not so rapid. The Aguaytia and Pishqui are also small streams, where the Indians have to wade and drag the canoes.
October 16. — Started at 6 a.m.; stopped at half-past five opposite the mouth of the river Catalina. It seemed thirty yards wide, and had a small island in front.
The ascent of the river is very tedious; we barely creep along against the force of the current, and day after day “wearies by” in the most monotonous routine. I frequently land, and with gun on shoulder, and clad only in shirt and drawers, walk for miles along the beaches. My greatest pleasure is to watch the boat: struggling up against the tide. This is always accompanied with emotions of pride, mingled with a curious and scarcely definable feeling of surprise. It was almost startling to see, at her mast-head, the beautiful and well-beloved flag of my country dancing merrily in the breeze on the waters of the strange river, and waving above the heads of the swarthy and grim figures below. I felt a proud affection for it; I had carried it where it had never been before; there was a bond between us; we were alone in a strange land; and it and I were brothers in the wilderness.
October 17. — Met ten canoes of Conibos — twenty-eight men, women, and children — who had been on an excursion, with no particular object, as far as the first stones in the Ucayali. This is about thirty-eight days above Sarayacu, at a place called in Quichua “Rumi Ccallarina,” or commencement of the rocks; river rising for the last two or three days; passed a village of Shipebos, called Cushmuruna; hills in sight, bearing south.
October 18. — At 11 a.m. we entered the Caño of Sarayacu; at this season this is not more than fifteen or eighteen feet wide, and nearly covered with a tall grass something like broom-corn, or a small species of cane. (This is the food for the vaca marina.) The caño has as much as six feet depth in the middle for two miles,but it soon contracts so as scarcely to allow room for my boat to pass, and becomes shallow and obstructed with the branches of small trees which bend over it. It also,about two miles from its mouth, changes its character of caño, or arm of the main river, and becomes the little river of Sarayacu, which retires and advances in accordance with the movements of its great neighbor.
We could not get our boat nearer than within a quarter of a mile of the town; so we took small canoes from the bank, and carried up our
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equipage in them. We were hospitably received by the padres, and lodgings were given us in the convento, a large house with several rooms in it.
We found Sarayacu a rather neat-looking Indian village, of about one thousand inhabitants including Belen, a small town of one hundred and fifty inhabitants, one and a half mile distant. It, or rather the missionary station — including the towns of Sta. Catalina and Tierra Blanca — is governed by four Franciscan friars, of the College of Ocopa. The principal and prefect, Padre Juan Chrisostomo Cimini, being now absent on a visit to Ocopa, the general direction is left in the hands of Father Vicente Calvo, assisted by the Fathers Bregati and Lorente, who have charge respectively of Sta. Catalina and Tierra Blanca.
Father Calvo, meek and humble in personal concerns, yet full of zeal and spirit for his office, clad in his long serge gown, belted with a cord, with bare feet and accurate tonsure, habitual stoop, and generally bearing upon his shoulder a beautiful and saucy bird of the parrot kind, called chiriclis, was my beau ideal of a missionary monk. He is an Aragonese, and had served as a priest in the army of Don Carlos. Bregati is a young and handsome Italian, whom Father Calvo sometimes calls St. John. Lorente was a tall, grave, and cold-looking Catalan. A lay-brother named Maquin, who did the cooking, and who was unwearied in his attentions to us, made up the establishment. I was sick here, and think that I shall ever remember with gratitude the affectionate kindness of these pious and devoted friars of St. Francis. The town is situated on a level plain elevated one hundred feet above the rivulet of the same name, which empties into the Ucayali at three miles distant.
The rivulet does not afford sufficient water for a canoe in the dry season; but at that time a fine road might be made through the forest to the banks of the Ucayali; this probably would be miry and deep in the rainy season, which is from the first of November to Easter. We had rain nearly every day that we were there, but it was in passing showers, alternating with a hot sun. The climate of Sarayacu is delightful; the maximum thermometer, at 3 p.m., being 84 ½°; the minimum, at 9 a.m., 74°. The average temperature of the day is 79°; the nights are sufficiently cool to allow one to sleep with comfort under a musquito curtain made of gingham. These insects are less troublesome here than might be expected, which may be seen from the fact that the priests are able to live without wearing stockings; but it is a continual penance, quite equal, I should think, to self-flagellation once a week.
The soil is very prolific, but thin and light; at half a foot below the
surface there is pure sand; and no Indian thinks of cultivating the same farm longer than three years; he then clears the forest and plants another. There is nothing but a little coffee produced for sale in the neighborhood of the town. The fathers extract about three hundred arrobas of sarsaparilla from the small streams above, and sell it to Senhor Cauper in Nauta. This gives them a profit of about five hundred dollars. The College at Ocopa allows them a dollar for every mass said or sung. The four padres are able to perform about seven hundred annually, (those for Sundays and feast-days are not paid for;) and this income of twelve hundred dollars is appropriated to the repairs of the churches and conventos, church furniture, the vestments of the priests, their table and chamber furniture, and some little luxuries — such as sugar, flour, vinegar, &c., bought of the Portuguese below.
The padres have recently obtained an order from the prefect of the department of Amazonas, giving them the exclusive right of collecting sarsaparilla on the Ucayali and its tributaries; but I doubt if this will benefit them much, for, there being no power to enforce the decree, the Portuguese will send their agents there as before.
Each padre has two Mitayos, appointed monthly — one a hunter, the other a fisherman — to supply his table with the products of the forest and the river. The Fiscales cultivate him a small farm for his yuccas and plantains, and he himself raises poultry and eggs; they also make him rum from the sugar-cane, of which he needs a large supply to give to the constables, (Varayos, from “vara,” a wand, each one carrying a cane,) the Fiscales, and the Mitayos.
The government is paternal. The Indians recognize in the padre the power to appoint and remove curacas, captains, and other officers; to inflict stripes; and to confine in the stocks. They obey the priest’s orders readily, and seem tractable and docile. They take advantage, however, of Father Calvo’s good nature, and are sometimes a little insolent. On an occasion of this kind, my friend Ijurra, who is always an advocate of strong measures, and says that in the government of the Indians there is nothing like the santo palo, (sacred cudgel,) asked Father Calvo why he did not put the impudent rascal in the stocks. But the good Father replied that he did not like to do it — that it was cruel, and hurt the poor fellow’s legs.
The Indians here, as elsewhere, are drunken and lazy. The women do most of the work: carry most of the burdens to and from the chacras and canoes; make the masato, and the earthern vessels out of which it is drunk; spin the cotton and weave the cloth; cook and take care of the children. And their reward is to be maltreated by their husbands, and,
in their drunken frolics, to be cruelly beaten, and sometimes badly wounded.
The town is very healthy, there being no endemics, but only acute attacks from great exposure or imprudence in eating and drinking. From the parish register it appears that in the year 1850 there were ten marriages, sixty-two births, and twenty-four deaths. This appears, from an examination of the other years, to be a pretty fair average; yet the population is constantly decreasing. Father Calvo attributes this to desertion. He says that many go down the Amazon with passengers and cargoes, and, finding the return difficult, they either settle in the villages upon the river or join the Ticunas, or other Infidel tribes, and never come back.
The Spaniards, from the Huallaga, also frequently buy the young Indians from their parents, and carry them off for domestic services at home. Father Calvo spoke with great indignation of this custom; and said if he could catch any person stealing his people he would hang him in the plaza. Our servant Lopez desired me to advance him nine hatchets, for the purpose of buying a young Indian which his father wished to sell. But I told Lopez of Father Calvo’s sentiments on the subject, and refused him. Two boys, however, put off in a canoe the day before we did on our return, and joined us below Tierra Blanca. I did not clearly understand who they were, or I should have sent them back.
We afterwards met with a boat’s crew of twelve, who had come off with a young Spaniard of Rioja, (a village between the Huallaga and Marañon,) who did not intend returning; and I fear that many of those that came down with me did not get back for years, if at all; though I did all I could to send them back.
Thus Sarayacu is becoming depopulated in spite of the paternal kindness and mild government of Father Calvo. My own impression as to the reason of their desertion is, not that it is on account of the difficulties of the return, or indifference, or a proclivity to fall back into savage life; but that the missionaries have civilized the Indians in some degree — have taught them the value of property, and awakened in their minds ambition and a desire to improve their condition. For this reason the Indian leaves Sarayacu and goes to Brazil. In Sarayacu there are comparatively none to employ him and pay for his services. In Brazil, the Portuguese “commerciante,” though he maltreats him, and does not give him enough to eat, pays him for his labor. Thus he accumulates, and becomes a man of property; and in the course of time possibly returns to his family in possession of a wooden trunk painted
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blue, with a lock and key to it, and filled with hatchets, knives, beads, fish-hooks, mirrors, &c. He has seen the world, and is an object of envy to his kinsmen and neighbors.
Not included among the deaths of 1850 are those of four men who died from poison. In one of their drunken frolics the Indians were discoursing of the properties of a small tree or shrub, called corrosive sublimate, of the forest, (“soliman del monte,”) and they determined to test it. They rasped a portion of the bark into their masato, and five men and two women partook of it. Four of the men died in three-quarters of an hour, in great agony, and the others were ill for a long time.
Growing in the padre’s garden was a small tree bearing a fruit about the size of our hickory nut, which contained within a small, oblong nut, called piñon. This has a soft shell; and the substance of the nut is a mild, safe, and efficient purgative. There was also a bush called “guayusa,” a decoction of the leaves of which is said to be good for colds and rheumatism. It is also believed to be a cure for barrenness.
The friars entertained us on Sunday evening with a dance of Indians. These were dressed in fiocks and trousers, but had head-dresses made of a bandeau or circlet of short and rich-colored feathers, surmounted with the long, tail-feathers of the scarlet macaw. They had strings of dried nut shells around their legs, which made an agreeable jingling in the dance. The half-bent knee, and graceful wave of the plumed hat towards the priest before the dance commenced, with the regularity of the figure, gave unmistakable evidence of the teaching of the Jesuits, who appear to have neglected nothing, however trivial, that might bind the affections of the proselytes, and gain themselves influence.
The inhabitants of Sarayacu are divided into three distinct tribes, called Panos, Omaguas, and Yameos. They dwell in different parts of the town. Each tribe has its peculiar dialect; but they generally communicate in the Pano language. These last are the whitest and best-looking Indians I have seen.
I was unable to gather much authentic information concerning the Infidels of the Ucayali. The padres had only been in Sarayacu a few years, and had never left their post to travel among the Indians.
The Campas are the most numerous and warlike tribe, and are resolute in forbidding strangers to enter their territory. They inhabit all the upper waters of the Ucayali; and I think it probable that they are the same who, under the name of Chunchos, are so hostile to the whites about Chanchamayo, and on the haciendas to the eastward of Cuzco. These are the people who, under Juan Santos Atahaullpa, in 1742, swept away all the Missions of the Cerro. de la Sal; and I have very
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little doubt that they are descendants of the Inca race. From the extent of their territory, one might judge them to be the most numerous body of savages in America; but no estimate can be formed of their numbers, as no one capable of making one ever ventures among them.
The Cashibos, or Callisecas, are found principally on the Pachitea. They also make war upon the invaders or visitors of their territory; but they only venture to attack the Indians who visit their river, and who often come to make war upon them and carry off their children. They rarely trust themselves within gun-shot of the white man; they are bearded, and are said to be cannibals. A small tribe called Lorenzos live above these on the head waters of the Pachitea and banks of the river of Pozuzu.
The Sencis occupy the country above Sarayacu, and on the opposite side of the river. They are said by Lieutenant Smyth, from information supplied by Father Plaza, (the missionary governor, succeeded in his office by my friends,) who had visited them, to be a numerous, bold, and warlike tribe. He said that some whom he saw at Sarayacu exhibited much interest in his astronomical observations. They had names for some of the fixed stars and planets, two of which struck me as peculiarly appropriate. They called the brilliant Canopus “Noteste,” or thing of the day, and the fiery Mars “Tapa,” (forward;) Jupiter they called Ishmawook; Capella was Cuchara, or spoon; and the Southern Cross Nebo, (dew-fall.) I saw some of these people at Sarayacu. They frequently come to the Mission to get their children baptized, to which ceremony most of the Indians seem to attach some virtue, (as they probably would to any other ceremony,) and to purchase the iron implements they may stand in need of; but I saw no difference in appearance between them and the other Indians of the Ucayali, and did not hear that there was anything peculiar about them.
Smyth also states (still quoting Father Plaza) that the Sencis are a very industrious people, who cultivate the land in common, and that they kill those who are idle and are indisposed to do their fair share of the work. If this be true, they are very different from the savages of the Ucayali whom I have met with, who are all drones, and who would be rather disposed to kill the industrious than the lazy, if they were disposed to kill at all, which I think they are not.
The Conibos, Shipebos, Setebos, Pirros, Remos, and Amajuacas are the vagabonds of the Ucayali, wandering about from place to place, and settling where they take a fancy. They are great boatmen and fishermen, and are the people employed by the traders to gather sarsaparilla and salt fish, and make oil or lard from the fat of the vaca
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marina, and turtles’ eggs. They have settlements on the banks of the river; but many of them live in their canoes, making huts of reeds and palms upon the beaches in bad weather. I could never ascertain that they worshipped anything, or had any ideas of a future state. Many have two or three wives; they marry young and have many children, but do not raise more than half of them. They seem docile and tractable, though lazy and faithless. They will not trust the white man, for which they have probably good cause; and the white man would not trust them if he could help it; but the Indian will do nothing unless he is paid in advance.
Finally, the Mayorunas occupy the right bank of the Ucayali, near its mouth, and extend along the southern borders of the Amazon as far as the Yavari. Very little is known of this tribe. They are said to be whiter than the other tribes, to wear their beards, and to go naked. They attack any person who comes into their territory; and our Nauta boatmen were careful not to camp on their side of the river.
When I left Nauta I intended to ascend the Ucayali, if possible, as far as Chanchamayo, and also to examine the Pachitea. On arriving at Sarayacu I consulted Father Calvo on the subject. He at first spoke discouragingly; said that the larger part of the population of his village were away fishing, and that I would have great difficulty in recruiting a sufficient number of men for the expedition; for that Padre Cimini, year before last, with a complement of one hundred and fifty men, had been beaten back by the Campas when within one day of Jesus Maria, at the confluence of the Pangoa and Perene, and had declared it was folly to attempt it with a less number, and these well armed. Father Calvo also said that, could he raise the men by contributions from Tierra Blanca and Sta. Catalina, he could not possibly furnish provisions for half that number. I told him I was ready to start with twenty-five men: fifteen for my own boat, and ten for a lighter canoe, to act as an advanced guard, and to depend upon the river itself for support; that I had no idea of invading the Infidel country, or forcing a passage; and that the moment I met with resistance, or want of provisions, I would return.
Upon this reasoning the padre said he would do his best, and sent off expresses to Fathers Bregati and Lorente with instructions to recruit men in Tierra Blanca and Sta. Catalina, and send them, with what provisions could be mustered, to Sarayacu. In the mean time we commenced beating up recruits, and gave orders to make farinha, gather barbasco for fishing on the route, and distil aguadiente.
We found, however, although I offered double pay, that we could not get more than eight men in Sarayacu who were willing to go at this
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season. Many of the Sarayacu people had been with Father Cimini on his expedition. They said that the current was so strong then, when the river was low, that they were forced to drag the canoes by ropes along the beaches; that now the current was stronger, and the river so full that there were no beaches, and consequently no places for sleeping, or on which to make fires for cooking. In short, they made a thousand excuses for not going; but I think the principal reason was, fear of the Campas.
Fathers Bregati and Lorente reported that they could not raise a man, so that I saw myself obliged to abandon the expedition upon which I had rather set my heart; for I thought it possible that I might gather great reputation with my Chanchamayo friends by joining them again from below, and showing them that their darling wish (a communication with the Atlantic by the Perene and Ucayali) might be accomplished.
I felt, in turning my boat’s head down stream, that the pleasure and excitement of the expedition were passed; that I was done, and had done nothing. I became ill and dispirited, and never fairly recovered the gayety of temper and elasticity of spirit which had animated me at the start until I received the congratulations of my friends at home.