In the Amazon Jungle
Adventures in Remote Parts of the Upper Amazon River, Including a Sojourn Among Cannibal Indians
Edited in Part by J. Odell Hauser
With an Introduction by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh
The Memory of
When Mr. Algot Lange told me he was going to the headwaters of the Amazon, I was particularly interested because once, years ago, I had turned my own mind in that direction with considerable longing. I knew he would encounter many set-backs, but I never would have predicted the adventures he actually passed through alive.
He started in fine spirits: buoyant, strong, vigorous. When I saw him again in New York, a year or so later, on his return, he was an emaciated fever-wreck, placing one foot before the other only with much exertion and indeed barely able to hold himself erect. A few weeks in the hospital, followed by a daily diet of quinine, improved his condition, but after months he had scarcely arrived at his previous excellent physical state.
Many explorers have had experiences similar to those related in this volume, but, at least so far as the fever and the cannibals are concerned, they have seldom survived to tell of them. Their interviews with cannibals have been generally too painfully confined to internal affairs to be available in this world for authorship, whereas Mr. Lange, happily, avoided not only a calamitous intimacy, but was even permitted to view the culinary preparations relating to the absorption of less favoured individuals, and himself could have joined the feast, had he possessed the stomach for it.
These good friends of his, the Mangeromas, conserved his life when they found him almost dying, not, strange as it may appear, for selfish banqueting purposes, but merely that he might return to his own people. It seems rather paradoxical that they should have loved one stranger so well as to spare him with suspicious kindness, and love others to the extent of making them into table delicacies. The explanation probably is that these Mangeromas were the reverse of a certain foreign youth with only a small stock of English, who, on being offered in New York a fruit he had never seen before, replied, "Thank you, I eat only my acquaintances"—the Mangeromas eat only their enemies.
Mr. Lange's account of his stay with these people, of their weapons, habits, form of battle, and method of cooking the human captives, etc., forms one of the specially interesting parts of the book, and is at the same time a valuable contribution to the ethnology of the western Amazon (or Maranon) region, where dwell numerous similar tribes little known to the white man. Particularly notable is his description of the wonderful wourahli (urari) poison, its extraordinary effect, and the modus operandi of its making; a poison used extensively by Amazonian tribes but not made by all. He describes also the bows and arrows, the war-clubs, and the very scientific weapon, the blow-gun. He was fortunate in securing a photograph of a Mangeroma in the act of shooting this gun. Special skill, of course, is necessary for the effective use of this simple but terrible arm, and, like that required for the boomerang or lasso, practice begins with childhood.
The region of Mr. Lange's almost fatal experiences, the region of the Javary River (the boundary between Brazil and Peru), is one of the most formidable and least known portions of the South American continent. It abounds with obstacles to exploration of the most overwhelming kind. Low, swampy, with a heavy rainfall, it is inundated annually, like most of the Amazon basin, and at time of high water the rivers know no limits. Lying, as it does, so near the equator, the heat is intense and constant, oppressive even to the native. The forest-growth—and it is forest wherever it is not river—is forced as in a huge hothouse, and is so dense as to render progress through it extremely difficult. Not only are there obstructions in the way of tree trunks, underbrush, and trailing vines and creepers like ropes, but the footing is nothing more than a mat of interlaced roots. The forest is also sombre and gloomy. To take a photograph required an exposure of from three to five minutes. Not a stone, not even a pebble, is anywhere to be found.
Disease is rampant, especially on the smaller branches of the rivers. The incurable beri-beri and a large assortment of fevers claim first place as death dealers, smiting the traveller with fearful facility. Next come a myriad of insects and reptiles—alligators, huge bird-eating spiders, and snakes of many varieties. Snakes, both the poisonous and non-poisonous kinds, find here conditions precisely to their liking. The bush-master is met with in the more open places, and there are many that are venomous, but the most terrifying, though not a biting reptile is the water-boa, the sucuruju (Eunectes murinus) or anaconda. It lives to a great age and reaches a size almost beyond belief. Feeding, as generally it does at night, it escapes common observation, and white men, heretofore, have not seen the largest specimens reported, though more than thirty feet is an accepted length, and Bates, the English naturalist, mentions one he heard of, forty-two feet long. It is not surprising that Mr. Lange should have met with one in the far wilderness he visited, of even greater proportions, a hideous monster, ranking in its huge bulk with the giant beasts of antediluvian times. The sucuruju is said to be able to swallow whole animals as large as a goat or a donkey, or even larger, and the naturalist referred to tells of a ten-year-old boy, son of his neighbour, who, left to mind a canoe while his father went into the forest, was, in broad day, playing in the shade of the trees, stealthily enwrapped by one of the monsters. His cries brought his father to the rescue just in time.
As the Javary heads near the eastern slopes and spurs of the great Peruvian Cordillera, where once lived the powerful and wealthy Inca race with their great stores of pure gold obtained from prolific mines known to them, it is again not surprising that Mr. Lange should have stumbled upon a marvellously rich deposit of the precious metal in a singular form. The geology of the region is unknown and the origin of the gold Mr. Lange found cannot at present even be surmised.
Because of the immense value of the rubber product, gold attracts less attention than it would in some other country. The rubber industry is extensive and thousands of the wild rubber trees are located and tapped. The trees usually are found near streams and the search for them leads the rubber-hunter farther and farther into the unbroken wilderness. Expeditions from time to time are sent out by rich owners of rubber "estates" to explore for fresh trees, and after his sojourn at Remate de Males and Floresta, so full of interest, Mr. Lange accompanied one of these parties into the unknown, with the extraordinary results described so simply yet dramatically in the following pages, which I commend most cordially, both to the experienced explorer and to the stay-by-the-fire, as an unusual and exciting story of adventure.
FREDERICK S. DELLENBAUGH.
NEW YORK, November 24, 1911.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a more hospitable and generous nation than the Brazilian. The recollection of my trip through the wilds of Amazonas lingers in all its details, and although my experiences were not always of a pleasant character, yet the good treatment and warm reception accorded me make me feel the deepest sense of gratitude to the Brazilians, whose generosity will always abide in my memory.
There is in the Brazilian language a word that better than any other describes the feeling with which one remembers a sojourn in Brazil. This word, saudades, is charged with an abundance of sentiment, and, though a literal translation of it is difficult to arrive at, its meaning approaches "sweet memories of bygone days."
Although a limitation of space forbids my expressing in full my obligation to all those who treated me kindly, I must not omit to state my special indebtedness to three persons, without whose invaluable assistance and co-operation I would not have been able to complete this book.
First of all, my thanks are due to the worthy Colonel Rosendo da Silva, owner of the rubber estate Floresta on the Itecoahy River. Through his generosity and his interest, I was enabled to study the work and the life conditions of the rubber workers, the employees on his estate.
The equally generous but slightly less civilised Benjamin, high potentate of the tribe of Mangeroma cannibals, is the second to whom I wish to express my extreme gratitude, although my obligations to him are of a slightly different character: in the first place, because he did not order me to be killed and served up, well or medium done, to suit his fancy (which he had a perfect right to do); and, in the second place, because he took a great deal of interest in my personal welfare and bestowed all the strange favours upon me that are recorded in this book. He opened my eyes to things which, at the time and under the circumstances, did not impress me much, but which, nevertheless, convinced me that, even at this late period of the world's history, our earth has not been reduced to a dead level of drab and commonplace existence, and that somewhere in the remote parts of the world are still to be found people who have never seen or heard of white men.
Last, but not least, I wish to express my deep obligation to my valued friend, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, who, through his helpful suggestions, made prior to my departure, contributed essentially to the final success of this enterprise, and whose friendly assistance has been called into requisition and unstintingly given in the course of the preparation of this volume.
NEW YORK, January, 1912.
I Remate de Males, or "Culmination of Evils" II The Social and Political Life of Remate de Males III Other Incidents During My Stay in Remate de Males IV The Journey up the Itecoahy River V Floresta: Life Among the Rubber-Workers VI The Fatal March Through the Forest VII The Fatal "Tambo No. 9" VIII What Happened in the Forest IX Among the Cannibal Mangeromas X The Fight Between the Mangeromas and the Peruvians Index
A Little Village Built on Poles The Javary River The Mouth of the Itecoahy River Nazareth Trader's Store Remate de Males or "Culmination of Evils" The Street in Remate de Males General View of Remate de Males Sunset on the Itecoahy River An Ant Nest in a Tree The Launch "Carolina" The Banks of the Itecoahy The Mouth of the Ituhy River The Toucan The Banks of the Itecoahy River Clearing the Jungle Urubus "Nova Aurora" "Defumador" or Smoking Hut Matamata Tree The Urucu Plant The Author in the Jungle The Mouth of the Branco Branding Rubber on the Sand-Bar The Landing at Floresta The Banks at Floresta A General View of Floresta Morning Coronel Rosendo da Silva Chief Marques Interior of A Rubber-Worker's Hut Joao The Murumuru Palm A "Seringueiro" Tapping a Rubber Tree Smoking the Rubber-Milk Forest Interior A Fig-Tree Completely Overgrown with Orchids Chico, The Monkey Turtle Eggs on the Sand-Bank The Pirarucu The Last Resting-Place of the Rubber-Workers "Seringueiros" Joao Floresta Creek Lake Innocence Alligator from Lake Innocence Another Alligator from Lake Innocence Rubber-Workers' Home near Lake Innocence Harpooning a Large Sting-Ray Shooting Fish on Lake Innocence The Pirarucu Amazonian Game-Fish The Track of the Anaconda—The Sucuruju The Paca Rubber-Worker Perreira and Wife in their Sunday Clothes A "New Home" Sewing-Machine in an Indian Hut The Remarkable Pachiuba Palm-Tree Kitchen Interior The Beginning of the Fatal Expedition A Halt in the Forest Jungle Scenery Forest Creek Top of Hill Page Marsh-Deer and Mutum-Bird Jungle Darkness Creek in the Unknown Eating our Broiled Monkey at Tambo No. 5 Hunting The Fatal Tambo No. 9 A Photograph of the Author The Front View of Tambo No. 9 Caoutchouc Process No. 1 Caoutchouc Process No. 2 Caoutchouc Process No. 3 Creek Near Tambo No. 9 The Author's Working Table at Tambo No. 9 Forest Scenery Near Tambo No. 9 Our Parting Breakfast Mangeroma Vase 399
REMATE DE MALES, OR "CULMINATION OF EVILS"
My eyes rested long upon the graceful white-painted hull of the R.M.S. Manco as she disappeared behind a bend of the Amazon River, more than 2200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. After 47 days of continuous travel aboard of her, I was at last standing on the Brazilian frontier, watching the steamer's plume of smoke still hanging lazily over the immense, brooding forests. More than a plume of smoke it was to me then; it was the final link that bound me to the outside world of civilisation. At last it disappeared. I turned and waded through the mud up to a small wooden hut built on poles.
It was the end of January, 1910, that saw me approaching this house, built on Brazilian terra firma—or rather terra aqua, for water was inundating the entire land. I had behind me the Amazon itself, and to the right the Javary River, while the little house that I was heading for was Esperanca, the official frontier station of Brazil. The opposite shore was Peru and presented an unbroken range of dense, swampy forest, grand but desolate to look upon.
A middle-aged man in uniform came towards me and greeted me cordially, in fact embraced me, and, ordering a servant to pull my baggage out of the water, led me up a ladder into the house. I told him that I intended to go up the Javary River, to a place called Remate de Males, where I would live with a medical friend of mine, whereupon he informed me that a launch was due this same night, which would immediately proceed to my proposed destination. Later in the evening the launch came and I embarked after being once more embraced by the courteous Cor. Monteiro, the frontier official. The captain of this small trading launch was an equally hospitable and courteous man; he invited me into his cabin and tried to explain that this river, and the town in particular, where we were going, was a most unhealthy and forbidding place, especially for a foreigner, but he added cheerfully that he knew of one white man, an Englishman, who had succeeded in living for several years on the Javary without being killed by the fever, but incidentally had drank himself to death.
The night was very dark and damp, and I did not see much of the passing scenery; a towering black wall of trees was my total impression during the journey. However, I managed at length to fall asleep on some coffee-bags near the engine and did not wake till the launch was exhausting its steam supply through its whistle.
My next impression was that of a low river bank fringed with dirty houses lighted by candles. People were sitting in hammocks smoking cigarettes, dogs were barking incessantly, and frogs and crickets were making a deafening noise when I walked up the main and only street of this little town, which was to be my headquarters for many months to come.
After some inquiry, I finally found my friend, Dr. M——, sitting in a dark, dismal room in the so-called Hotel Agosto. With a graceful motion of his hand he pointed to a chair of ancient structure, indicating that having now travelled so many thousand miles to reach this glorious place, I was entitled to sit down and let repose overtake me. Indeed, I was in Remate de Males.
Never shall I forget that first night's experience with mosquitoes and ants. Besides this my debut in a hammock for a bed was a pronounced failure, until a merciful sleep temporarily took me from the sad realities.
Remate de Males lies just where a step farther would plunge one into an unmapped country. It is a little village built on poles; the last "blaze" of civilisation on the trail of the upper river. When the rainy winter season drives out of the forests every living creature that can not take refuge in the trees, the rubber-workers abandon the crude stages of the manufacture that they carry on there and gather in the village to make the best of what life has to offer them in this region. At such times the population rises to the number of some 500 souls, for the most part Brazilians and domesticated Indians or caboclos.
Nothing could better summarise the attractions (!) of the place than the name which has become fixed upon it. Translated into English this means "Culmination of Evils," Remate de Males.
Some thirty years ago, a prospector with his family and servants, in all about a score, arrived at this spot near the junction of the Javary and the Itecoahy rivers, close to the equator. They came by the only possible highway, the river, and decided to settle. Soon the infinite variety of destroyers of human life that abound on the upper Amazon began their work on the little household, reducing its number to four and threatening to wipe it out altogether. But the prospector stuck to it and eventually succeeded in giving mankind a firm hold on this wilderness. In memory of what he and succeeding settlers went through, the village received its cynically descriptive name.
Remate de Males, separated by weeks and weeks of journey by boat from the nearest spot of comparative civilisation down the river, has grown wonderfully since its pioneer days. Dismal as one finds it to be, if I can give an adequate description in these pages, it will be pronounced a monument to man's nature-conquering instincts, and ability. Surely no pioneers ever had a harder battle than these Brazilians, standing with one foot in "the white man's grave," as the Javary region is called in South America, while they faced innumerable dangers. The markets of the world need rubber, and the supplying of this gives them each year a few months' work in the forests at very high wages. I always try to remember these facts when I am tempted to harshly judge Remate de Males according to our standards; moreover, I can never look upon the place quite as an outsider. I formed pleasant friendships there and entered into the lives of many of its people, so I shall always think of it with affection. The village is placed where the Itecoahy runs at right angles into the Javary, the right-hand bank of the Itecoahy forming at once its main and its only street. The houses stand facing this street, all very primitive and all elevated on palm-trunk poles as far as possible above the usual high-water mark of the river. Everything, from the little sheet-iron church to the pig-sty, is built on poles. Indeed, if there is anything in the theory of evolution, it will not be many generations before the inhabitants and domestic animals are born equipped with stilts.
Opposite Remate de Males, across the Itecoahy, is a collection of some ten huts that form the village of Sao Francisco, while across the Javary is the somewhat larger village of Nazareth. Like every real metropolis, you see, Remate de Males has its suburbs. Nazareth is in Peruvian territory, the Javary forming the boundary between Brazil and Peru throughout its length of some 700 miles. This same boundary line is a source of amusing punctiliousness between the officials of each country. To cross it is an affair requiring the exercise of the limits of statesmanship. I well remember an incident that occurred during my stay in the village. A sojourner in our town, an Indian rubber-worker from the Ituhy River, had murdered a woman by strangling her. He escaped in a canoe to Nazareth before the Brazilian officials could capture him, and calmly took refuge on the porch of a house there, where he sat down in a hammock and commenced to smoke cigarettes, feeling confident that his pursuers would not invade Peruvian soil. But local diplomacy was equal to the emergency. Our officials went to the shore opposite Nazareth, and, hiding behind the trees, endeavoured to pick off their man with their .44 Winchesters, reasoning that though their crossing would be an international incident, no one could object to a bullet's crossing. Their poor aim was the weak spot in the plan. After a few vain shots had rattled against the sheet-iron walls of the house where the fugitive was sitting, he got up from among his friends and lost himself in the jungle, never to be heard of again.
About sixty-five houses, lining the bank of the Itecoahy River over a distance of what would be perhaps six blocks in New York City, make up Remate de Males. They are close together and each has a ladder reaching from the street to the main and only floor. At the bottom of every ladder appears a rudimentary pavement, probably five square feet in area and consisting of fifty or sixty whiskey and gin bottles placed with their necks downwards. Thus in the rainy season when the water covers the street to a height of seven feet, the ladders always have a solid foundation. The floors consist of split palm logs laid with the round side up. Palm leaves form the roofs, and rusty corrugated sheet-iron, for the most part, the walls. Each house has a sort of backyard and kitchen, also on stilts and reached by a bridge.
Through the roofs and rafters gambol all sorts of wretched pests. Underneath the houses roam pigs, goats, and other domestic animals, which sometimes appear in closer proximity than might be wished, owing to the spaces between the logs of the floor. That is in the dry season. In the winter, or the wet season, these animals are moved into the houses with you, and their places underneath are occupied by river creatures, alligators, water-snakes, and malignant, repulsive fish, of which persons outside South America know nothing.
Near the centre of the village is the "sky-scraper," the Hotel de Augusto, which boasts a story and a quarter in height. Farther along are the Intendencia, or Government building, painted blue, the post-office yellow, the Recreio Popular pink; beyond, the residence of Mons. Danon, the plutocrat of the village, and farther "downtown" the church, unpainted. Do not try to picture any of these places from familiar structures. They are all most unpretentious; their main point of difference architecturally from the rest of the village consists in more utterly neglected facades.
The post-office and the meteorological observatory, in one dilapidated house, presided over by a single self-important official, deserve description here. The postmaster himself is a pajama-clad gentleman, whose appearance is calculated to strike terror to the souls of humble seringueiros, or rubber-workers, who apply for letters only at long intervals. On each of these occasions I would see this important gentleman, who had the word coronel prefixed to his name, Joao Silva de Costa Cabral, throw up his hands, in utter despair at being disturbed, and slowly proceed to his desk from which he would produce the letters. With great pride this "Pooh-Bah" had a large sign painted over the door. The post-office over which he presides is by no means overworked, as only one steamer arrives every five weeks, or so, but still he has the appearance of being "driven." But when he fusses around his "Observatorio meteorologico," which consists of a maximum and minimum thermometer and a pluviometer, in a tightly closed box, raised above the ground on a tall pole, then indeed, his air would impress even the most blase town-sport. I was in the village when this observatory was installed, and after it had been running about a week, the mighty official called on me and asked me confidentially if I would not look the observatory over and see if it was all right.
My examination showed that the thermometers were screwed on tight, which accounted for the amazingly uniform readings shown on his chart. The pluviometer was inside the box, and therefore it would have been difficult to convince scientists that the clouds had not entirely skipped Remate de Males during the rainy season, unless the postmaster were to put the whole observatory under water by main force. He also had a chart showing the distribution of clouds on each day of the year. I noticed that the letter "N" occupied a suspiciously large percentage of the space on the chart, and when I asked him for the meaning of this he said that "N"—which in meteorological abbreviation means Nimbus—stood for "None" (in Portuguese Nao). And he thought that he must be right because it was the rainy season.
The hotel, in which I passed several months as a guest, until I finally decided to rent a hut for myself, had points about it which outdid anything that I have ever seen or heard of in comic papers about "summer boarding." The most noticeable feature was the quarter-of-a-story higher than any other house in the village. While this meant a lead as to quantity I could never see that it represented anything in actual quality. I would not have ventured up the ladder which gave access to the extra story without my Winchester in hand, and during the time I was there I never saw anyone else do so. The place was nominally a store-house, but having gone undisturbed for long periods it was an ideal sanctuary for hordes of vermin—and these the vermin of the Amazon, dangerous, poisonous, not merely the annoying species we know. Rats were there in abundance, also deadly scolopendra and centipedes; and large bird-eating spiders were daily seen promenading up and down the sheet-iron walls.
On the main floor the building had two large rooms across the centre, one on the front and one on the rear. At each side were four small rooms. The large front-room was used as a dining-room and had two broad tables of planed palm trunks. The side-rooms were bedrooms, generally speaking, though most of the time I was there some were used for stabling the pigs and goats, which had to be taken in owing to the rainy season.
It is a simple matter to keep a hotel on the upper Amazon. Each room in the Hotel de Augusto was neatly and chastely furnished with a pair of iron hooks from which to hang the hammock, an article one had to provide himself. There was nothing in the room besides the hooks. No complete privacy was possible because the corrugated sheet-iron partitions forming the walls did not extend to the roof. The floors were sections of palm trees, with the flat side down, making a succession of ridges with open spaces of about an inch between, through which the ground or the water, according to the season, was visible. The meals were of the usual monotonous fare typical of the region. Food is imported at an enormous cost to this remote place, since there is absolutely no local agriculture. Even sugar and rice, for instance, which are among the important products of Brazil, can be had in New York for about one-tenth of what the natives pay for them in Remate de Males. A can of condensed milk, made to sell in America for eight or nine cents, brings sixty cents on the upper Amazon, and preserved butter costs $1.20 a pound.
The following prices which I have had to pay during the wet season in this town will, doubtless, be of interest:
One box of sardines $ 1.20 One pound of unrefined sugar .30 One roll of tobacco (16 pounds) 21.30 One basket of farinha retails in Para for $4.50 13.30 One bottle of ginger ale .60 One pound of potatoes .60 Calico with stamped pattern, pr. yd. .90 One Collins machete, N.Y. price, $1.00 12.00 One pair of men's shoes 11.00 One bottle of very plain port wine, 22,000 reis or 7.30
Under such circumstances, of course, the food supply is very poor. Except for a few dried cereals and staples, nothing is used but canned goods; the instances where small domestic animals are slaughtered are so few as to be negligible. Furthermore, as a rule, these very animals are converted into jerked meat to be kept for months and months. Some fish are taken from the river, but the Amazon fish are none too palatable generally speaking, with a few exceptions; besides, the natives are not skilful enough to prepare them to suit a civilised palate.
A typical, well provided table on the Amazon would afford dry farinha in the first place. This is the granulated root of the Macacheira plant, the Jatropha manihot, which to our palates would seem like desiccated sawdust, although it appears to be a necessity for the Brazilian. He pours it on his meat, into his soup, and even into his wine and jams. Next you would have a black bean, which for us lacks flavour even as much as the farinha. With this there would probably be rice, and on special occasions jerked beef, a product as tender and succulent as the sole of a riding boot. Great quantities of coffee are drunk, made very thick and prepared without milk or sugar. All these dishes are served at once, so that they promptly get cold and are even more tasteless before their turn comes to be devoured.
For five months I experienced this torturing menu at the hotel with never-ceasing regularity. The only change I ever noticed was on Sundays or days of feast when beans might occupy the other end of the table.
But what can the Brazilians do? The cost of living is about ten times as high as in New York. Agriculture is impossible in the regions where the land is flooded annually, and the difficulties of shipping are enormous. When I left the hotel and started housekeeping on my own account, I found that I could not do a great deal better. By specialising on one thing at a time I avoided monotony to some extent, but then it was probably only because I was a "new broom" at the business.
As illustrating the community life that we enjoyed at the hotel, I will relate a happening that I have set down in my notes as an instance of the great mortality of this region. One afternoon a woman's three-months-old child was suddenly taken ill. The child grew worse rapidly and the mother finally decided that it was going to die. Her husband was up the river on the rubber estates and she did not want to be left alone. So she came to the hotel with the child and besought them to let her in. The infant was placed in a hammock where it lay crying pitifully. At last the wailings of the poor little creature became less frequent and the child died.
Before the body was quite cold the mother and the landlady commenced clearing a table in the dining-room. I looked at this performance in astonishment because it was now evident that they were going to prepare a "lit de parade" there, close to the tables where our meals were served. The body was then brought in, dressed in a white robe adorned with pink, yellow, and sky-blue silk ribbons. Loose leaves and branches were scattered over the little emaciated body, care being taken not to conceal any of the fancy silk ribbons. Empty whiskey and gin bottles were placed around the bier, a candle stuck in the mouth of each bottle, and then the whole thing was lighted up.
It was now getting dark fast, and as the doors were wide open, a great crowd was soon attracted by the brilliant display. All the "400" of the little rubber town seemed to pour in a steady stream into the dining-room. It was a new experience, even in this hotel where I had eaten with water up to my knees, to take a meal with a funeral going on three feet away. We had to partake of our food with the body close by and the candle smoke blowing in our faces, adding more local colour to our jerked beef and beans than was desirable. More and more people came in to pay their respects to the child that hardly any one had known while it was alive. Through it all the mother sat on a trunk in a corner peacefully smoking her pipe, evidently proud of the celebration that was going on in honour of her deceased offspring.
The kitchen boy brought in a large tray with cups of steaming coffee; biscuits also were carried around to the spectators who sat against the wall on wooden boxes. The women seemed to get the most enjoyment out of the mourning; drinking black coffee, smoking their pipes, and paying little attention to the cause of their being there, only too happy to have an official occasion to show off their finest skirts. The men had assembled around the other table, which had been cleared in the meantime, and they soon sent the boy out for whiskey and beer, passing away the time playing cards.
I modestly inquired how long this feast was going to last, because my room adjoined the dining-room and was separated only by a thin sheet-iron partition open at the top. The landlady, with a happy smile, informed me that the mourning would continue till the early hours, when a launch would arrive to transport the deceased and the guests to the cemetery. This was about four miles down the Javary River and was a lonely, half-submerged spot.
There was nothing for me to do but submit and make the best of it. All night the mourners went on, the women drinking black coffee, while the men gambled and drank whiskey in great quantities, the empty bottles being employed immediately as additional candlesticks. Towards morning, due to their heroic efforts, a multitude of bottles totally obliterated the "lit de parade" from view. I managed to fall asleep completely exhausted when the guests finally went off at nine o'clock. The doctor diagnosed the case of the dead child as chronic indigestion, the result of the mother's feeding a three-months-old infant on jerked beef and black beans.
Life in the hotel during the rainy season is variegated. I have spoken of having eaten a meal with water up to my knees. That happened often during the weeks when the river was at its highest level. Once when we were having our noon-day meal during the extreme high-water period a man came paddling his canoe in at the open door, sailed past us, splashing a little water on the table as he did so, and navigated through to the back room where he delivered some supplies.
During this feat everybody displayed the cheerful and courteous disposition usual to the Brazilians. At this season you must wear wading boots to eat a meal or do anything else about the house. Sleeping is somewhat easier as the hammocks are suspended about three feet above the level of the water, but an involuntary plunge is a thing not entirely unknown to an amateur sleeping in a hammock; I know this from personal experience.
Every morning the butcher comes to the village between five and six o'clock and sharpens his knife while he awaits calls for his ministrations. He is an undersized man with very broad shoulders and a face remarkable for its cunning, cruel expression. His olive-brown complexion, slanting eyes, high cheek-bones, and sharp-filed teeth are all signs of his coming from the great unknown interior. His business here is to slaughter the cattle of the town. He does this deftly by thrusting a long-bladed knife into the neck of the animal at the base of the brain, until it severs the medulla, whereupon the animal collapses without any visible sign of suffering. It is then skinned and the intestines thrown into the water where they are immediately devoured by a small but voracious fish called the candiroo-escrivao. This whole operation is carried on inside the house, in the back-room, as long as the land is flooded.
It must be remembered that during the rainy season an area equal in size to about a third of the United States is entirely submerged. There is a network of rivers that eventually find their way into the Amazon and the land between is completely inundated. In all this immense territory there are only a few spots of sufficient elevation to be left high and dry. Remate de Males, as I have explained, is at the junction of the Itecoahy and the Javary rivers, the latter 700 miles in length, and thirty miles or so below the village the Javary joins the Amazon proper, or Solimoes as it is called here. Thus we are in the heart of the submerged region. When I first arrived in February, 1910, I found the river still confined to its channel, with the water about ten feet below the level of the street. A few weeks later it was impossible to take a single step on dry land anywhere.
The water that drives the rubber-workers out of the forests also drives all animal life to safety. Some of the creatures seek refuge in the village. I remember that we once had a huge alligator take temporary lodgings in the backyard of the hotel after he had travelled no one knows how many miles through the inundated forest. At all hours we could hear him making excursions under the house to snatch refuse thrown from the kitchen, but we always knew he would have welcomed more eagerly a member of the household who might drop his way.
And now a few words about the people who lived under the conditions I have described, and who keep up the struggle even though, as they themselves have put it, "each ton of rubber costs a human life."
In the first place I must correct any erroneous impression as to neatness that may have been formed by my remarks about the animals being kept in the dwellings during the rainy season. The Brazilians are scrupulous about their personal cleanliness, and in fact, go through difficulties to secure a bath which might well discourage more civilised folk.
No one would dream, for an instant, of immersing himself in the rivers. In nine cases out of ten it would amount to suicide to do so, and the natives have bathhouses along the shores; more literally bathhouses than ours, for their baths are actually taken in them. They are just as careful about clothing being aired and clean. Indeed, the main item of the Brazilian woman's housekeeping is the washing. The cooking is rather happy-go-lucky; and there is no use cleaning and polishing iron walls; they get rusty anyhow.
The people are all occupied with the rubber industry and the town owes its existence to the economic necessity of having here a shipping and trading point for the product. The rubber is gathered farther up along the shores of the Javary and the Itecoahy and is transported by launch and canoe to Remate de Males. Here it is shipped directly or sold to travelling dealers who send it down to Manaos or Para via the boat of the Amazon Steam Navigation Co., which comes up during the rainy season. Thence it goes to the ports of the world.
The rubber-worker is a well paid labourer even though he belongs to the unskilled class. The tapping of the rubber trees and the smoking of the milk pays from eight to ten dollars a day in American gold. This, to him, of course, is riches and the men labour here in order that they may go back to their own province as wealthy men. Nothing else will yield this return; the land is not used for other products. It is hard to see how agriculture or cattle-raising could be carried on in this region, and, if they could, they would certainly not return more than one fourth or one fifth of what the rubber industry does. The owners of the great rubber estates, or seringales, are enormously wealthy men.
There are fewer women than men in Remate de Males, and none of the former is beautiful. They are for the most part Indians or Brazilians from the province of Ceara, with very dark skin, hair, and eyes, and teeth filed like shark's teeth. They go barefooted, as a rule. Here you will find all the incongruities typical of a race taking the first step in civilisation. The women show in their dress how the well-paid men lavish on them the extravagances that appeal to the lingering savage left in their simple natures.
Women, who have spent most of their isolated lives in utterly uncivilised surroundings, will suddenly be brought into a community where other women are found, and immediately the instinct of self-adornment is brought into full play. Each of them falls under the sway of "Dame Fashion"—for there are the latest things, even on the upper Amazon. Screaming colours are favoured; a red skirt with green stars was considered at one time the height of fashion, until an inventive woman discovered that yellow dots could also be worked in. In addition to these dresses, the women will squander money on elegant patent-leather French slippers (with which they generally neglect to wear stockings), and use silk handkerchiefs perfumed with the finest Parisian eau de Cologne, bought at a cost of from fourteen to fifteen dollars a bottle. Arrayed in all her glory on some gala occasion, the whole effect enhanced by the use of a short pipe from which she blows volumes of smoke, the woman of Remate de Males is a unique sight.
THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LIFE OF REMATE DE MALES
The social life of the town is in about the same stage of development as it must have been during the Stone Age. When darkness falls over the village, as it does at six o'clock all the year round, life practically stops, and a few hours afterwards everyone is in his hammock.
There is one resort where the town-sports come to spend their evenings, the so-called Recreio Popular. Its principal patrons are seringueiros, or rubber-workers, who have large rolls of money that they are anxious to spend with the least possible effort, and generally get their desire over the gaming boards. The place is furnished with a billiard table and a gramophone with three badly worn records. The billiard table is in constant use by a certain element up to midnight, and so are the three eternal records of the gramophone. It will take me years surrounded by the comforts of civilisation to get those three frightful tunes out of my head, and I do not see how they could fail to drive even the hardened seringueiros to an early grave.
Another resort close by, where the native cachassa is sold, is patronised principally by negroes and half-breeds. Here they play the guitar, in combination with a home-made instrument resembling a mandolin, as accompaniment to a monotonous native song, which is kept up for hours. With the exception of these two places, the village does not furnish any life or local colour after nightfall, the natives spending their time around the mis-treated gramophones, which are found in almost every hut.
The men of the village, unlike the women, are not picturesque in appearance. The officials are well paid, so is everyone else, yet they never think of spending money to improve the looks of the village or even their own. Most of them are ragged. A few exhibit an inadequate elegance, dressed in white suits, derby hats, and very high collars. But in spite of the seeming poverty, there is not a seringueiro who could not at a moment's notice produce a handful of bills that would strike envy to the heart of many prosperous business men of civilisation. The amount will often run into millions of reis; a sum that may take away the breath of a stranger who does not know that one thousand of these Brazilian reis make but thirty cents in our money.
The people of the Amazon love to gamble. One night three merchants and a village official came to the hotel to play cards. They gathered around the dining-room table at eight o'clock, ordered a case of Pabst beer, which sells, by the way, at four dollars and sixty cents a bottle in American gold, and several boxes of our National Biscuit Company's products, and then began on a game, which resembles our poker. They played till midnight, when they took a recess of half an hour, during which large quantities of the warm beer and many crackers were consumed. Then, properly nourished, they resumed the game, which lasted until six o'clock the next morning. This was a fair example of the gambling that went on.
The stakes were high enough to do honours to the fashionable gamblers of New York, but there was never the slightest sign of excitement. At first I used to expect that surely the card table would bring forth all sorts of flashes of tropic temperament—even a shooting or stabbing affair. But the composure was always perfect. I have seen a loser pay, without so much as a regretful remark, the sum of three million and a half reis, which, though only $1050 in our money, is still a considerable sum for a labourer to lose.
Once a month a launch comes down from Iquitos in Peru, about five days' journey up the Amazon. This launch is sent out by Iquitos merchants, to supply the wants of settlers of the rubber estates on the various affluents. It is hard to estimate what suffering would result if these launches should be prevented from reaching their destinations, for the people are absolutely dependent upon them, the region being non-producing, as I have said, and the supplies very closely calculated. In Remate de Males, the superintendent, or the mayor of the town, generally owns a few head of cattle brought by steamer, and when these are consumed no meat can be had in the region but Swift's canned "Corned Beef."
Then there are the steamers from the outer world. During the rainy season, the Mauretania could get up to Remate de Males from the Atlantic Ocean without difficulty, though there is no heavy navigation on the upper Javary River. But steamers go up the Amazon proper several days' journey farther. You can at the present get a through steamer from Iquitos in Peru down the Amazon to New York.
These boats occasionally bring immigrants from the eastern portions of Brazil, where they have heard of the fortunes to be made in working the rubber, and who have come, just as our prospectors came into the West, hoping to take gold and their lives back with them. Besides passengers, these boats carry cattle and merchandise and transport the precious rubber back to Para and Manaos. They are welcomed enthusiastically. As soon as they are sighted, every man in town takes his Winchester down from the wall and runs into the street to empty the magazine as many times as he feels that he can afford in his exuberance of feeling at the prospect of getting mail from home and fresh food supplies.
On some occasions, marked with a red letter on the calendar, canoes may be seen coming down the Itecoahy River, decorated with leaves and burning candles galore. They are filled with enthusiasts who are setting off fireworks and shouting with delight. They are devotees of some up-river saint, who are taking this conventional way of paying the headquarters a visit.
The priest, who occupies himself with saving the hardened souls of the rubber-workers, is a worthy-looking man, who wears a dark-brown cassock, confined at the waist with a rope. He is considered the champion drinker of Remate de Males. The church is one of the neatest buildings in the town, though this may be because it is so small as to hold only about twenty-five people. It is devoid of any article of decoration, but outside is a white-washed wooden cross on whose foundation candles are burned, when there is illness in some family, or the local patron saint's influence is sought on such a problem as getting a job. The religion is, of course, Catholic, but, as in every case where isolation from the source occurs, the natives have grafted local influences into their faith, until the result is a Catholicism different from the one we know.
The administration of the town is in the hands of the superintendent, who is a Federal officer not elected by the villagers. His power is practically absolute as far as this community is concerned. Under him are a number of Government officials, all of whom are extremely well paid and whose duty seems to consist in being on hand promptly when the salaries are paid.
The chief of police is a man of very prepossessing appearance, but with a slightly discoloured nose. His appointment reminded me of that of Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., in Pinafore, who was made "ruler of the Queen's navee" in spite of a very slight acquaintance with things nautical. Our chief of police had been chef d' orchestre of the military band of Manaos. They found there that his bibulous habits were causing his nose to blush more and more, so he was given the position of Chief of Police of Remate de Males. It must be admitted that in his new position he has gone on developing the virtue that secured it for him, so there is no telling how high he may rise.
The police force consists of one man, and a very versatile one, as will be seen, for he is also the rank and file of the military force. I saw this remarkable official only once. At that time he was in a sad condition from over-indulgence in alcoholic beverages. There are exact statistics of comparison available for the police and military forces. The former is just two-thirds of the latter in number. Expressed in the most easily understood terms, we can put it that our versatile friend has a chief to command him when a policeman, and a coronel and lieutenant when he is a soldier. Whether there is any graft in it or not, I do not know, but money is saved by the police-military force being one man with interchangeable uniforms, and the money must go into somebody's pocket. It might be thought that when the versatile one had to appear in both capacities at once, he might be at a loss. But not a bit of it. The landing of one of the down-river steamers offers such an occasion. As soon as the gangplank is out, the policeman goes aboard with the official papers. He is welcomed, receives his fee, and disappears. Not two minutes afterwards, the military force in full uniform is seen to emerge from the same hut into which the policeman went. He appears on the scene with entire unconcern, and the rough and ready diplomacy of Remate de Males has again triumphed.
One of the reasons for the flattering (!) name of the town, "Culmination of Evils," is the great mortality of the community, which it has as a part of the great Javary district. Its inhabitants suffer from all the functional diseases found in other parts of the world, and, in addition, maladies which are typical of the region. Among the most important of these are the paludismus, or malarial swamp-fever, the yellow-fever, popularly recognised as the black vomit, and last but not least the beri-beri, the mysterious disease which science does not yet fully understand. The paludismus is so common that it is looked upon as an unavoidable incident of the daily life. It is generally caused by the infectious bite of a mosquito, the Anopheles, which is characterised by its attacking with its body almost perpendicular to the surface it has selected. It is only the female mosquito that bites. There are always fever patients on the Amazon, and the Anopheles, stinging indiscriminately, transfers the malarial microbes from a fever patient to the blood of well persons. The latter are sure to be laid up within ten days with the sezoes, as the fever is called here, unless a heavy dose of quinine is taken in time to check it.
The yellow fever mosquito, the Stygoma faciata, seems to prefer other down-river localities, but is frequent enough to cause anxiety. They call the yellow fever the black vomit, because of this unmistakable symptom of the disease, which, when once it sets in, always means a fatal termination. The beri-beri still remains a puzzling malady from which no recoveries have yet been reported, at least not on the Amazon. On certain rivers, in the Matto Grosso province of Brazil, or in Bolivian territory, the beri-beri patients have some chance of recovery. By immediately leaving the infested district they can descend the rivers until they reach a more favourable climate near the sea-coast, or they can go to more elevated regions. But here on the Amazon, where the only avenue of escape is the river itself, throughout its length a hot-bed of disease where no change of climate occurs, the time consumed in reaching the sea-coast is too long. The cause of this disease, and its cure, are unknown. It manifests itself through paralysis of the limbs, which begins at the finger-tips and gradually extends through the system until the heart-muscles become paralysed and death occurs.
The only precautionary measures available are doses of quinine and the use of the mosquito-net, or mosquitero. The latter's value as a preventive is problematical, however, for during each night one is bound to be bitten frequently, yes, hundreds of times, by the ever-present insects in spite of all.
But if we curse the mosquito, what are we to say of certain other pests that add to the miseries of life in that out-of-the-way corner of the globe, and are more persistent in their attentions than even the mosquito? In the first place, there are the ants. They are everywhere. They build their nests under the houses, in the tables, and in the cracks of the floors, and lie in ambush waiting the arrival of a victim, whom they attack from all sides. They fasten themselves on one and sometimes it takes hours of labour to extract them. Many are the breakfasts I have delayed on awaking and finding myself to be the object of their attention. It proved necessary to tie wads of cotton covered with vaseline to the fastenings of the hammock, to keep the intruders off. But they even got around this plan. As soon as the bodies of the first arrivals covered the vaseline, the rest of the troops marched across them in safety and gained access to the hammock, causing a quick evacuation on my part. Articles of food were completely destroyed by these carnivorous creatures, within a few minutes after I had placed them on the table.
I present here a list of the various species of ants known to the natives, together with the peculiarities by which they distinguish them. I collected the information from Indians on the Seringal "Floresta" on the Itecoahy River.
Aracara—the dreaded fire-ant whose sting is felt for hours.
Auhiqui—lives in the houses where it devours everything edible.
Chicitaya—its bite gives a transient fever.
Monyuarah—clears a large space in the forest for its nest.
Sauba—carries a green leaf over its head.
Tachee—a black ant whose bite gives a transient fever.
Tanajura—one inch long and edible when fried in lard.
Taxyrana—enters the houses like the auhiqui.
Termita—builds a typical cone-shaped nest in the dry part of the forests.
Tracoa—its bite gives no fever, but the effect is of long duration.
Tucandeira—black and an inch and a half long, with a bite not only painful but absolutely dangerous.
Tucushee—gives a transient fever.
Uca—builds large nests in the trees.
While convalescing from my first attack of swamp-fever, I had occasion to study a most remarkable species of spider which was a fellow lodger in the hut I then occupied. In size, the specimen was very respectable, being able to cover a circle of nearly six inches in diameter. This spider subsists on large insects and at times on the smaller varieties of birds, like finches, etc. Its scientific name is Mygale avicularia. The natives dread it for its poisonous bite and on account of its great size and hairy body. The first time I saw the one in my hut was when it was climbing the wall in close proximity to my hammock. I got up and tried to crush it with my fist, but the spider made a lightning-quick move and stopped about five or six inches from where I hit the wall.
Several times I repeated the attack without success, the spider always succeeding in moving before it could be touched. Somewhat out of temper, I procured a hammer of large size and continued the chase until I was exhausted. When my hand grew steady again, I took my automatic pistol, used for big game, and, taking a steady aim on the fat body of the spider, I fired. But with another of the remarkably quick movements the spider landed the usual safe distance from destruction. Then I gave it up. For all I know, that animal, I can scarcely call it an insect after using a big game pistol on it, is still occupying the hut. About nine months later I was telling Captain Barnett, of the R.M.S. Napo which picked me up on the Amazon on my way home, about my ill success in hunting the spider. "Lange," he asked, "why didn't you try for him with a frying-pan?"
OTHER INCIDENTS DURING MY STAY IN REMATE DE MALES
Remate De Males, with Nazareth and Sao Francisco, is set down in the midst of absolute wilderness. Directly behind the village is the almost impenetrable maze of tropical jungle. If with the aid of a machete one gets a minute's walk into it, he cannot find his way out except by the cackling of the hens around the houses. A dense wall of vegetation shuts in the settlement on every side. Tall palms stand above the rest of the trees; lower down is a mass of smaller but more luxuriant plants, while everywhere is the twining, tangled lianas, making the forest a dark labyrinth of devious ways. Here and there are patches of tropical blossoms, towering ferns, fungoid growths, or some rare and beautiful orchid whose parasitical roots have attached themselves to a tree trunk. And there is always the subdued confusion that betokens the teeming animal life.
Looking up the Itecoahy River, one can see nothing but endless forest and jungle. And the same scene continues for a distance of some eight or nine hundred miles until reaching the headwaters of the river somewhere far up in Bolivian territory. No settlements are to be found up there; a few seringales from seventy-five to a hundred miles apart constitute the only human habitations in this large area. So wild and desolate is this river that its length and course are only vaguely indicated even on the best Brazilian maps. It is popularly supposed that the Itecoahy takes its actual rise about two weeks' journey from its nominal head in an absolutely unexplored region.
I found the life very monotonous in Remate de Males, especially when the river began to go down. This meant the almost complete ending of communication with the outer world; news from home reached me seldom and there was no relief from the isolation. In addition, the various torments of the region are worse at this season. Sitting beside the muddy banks of the Itecoahy at sunset, when the vapours arose from the immense swamps and the sky was coloured in fantastical designs across the western horizon, was the only relief from the sweltering heat of the day, for a brief time before the night and its tortures began. Soon the chorus of a million frogs would start. At first is heard only the croaking of a few; then gradually more and more add their music until a loud penetrating throb makes the still, vapour-laden atmosphere vibrate. The sound reminded me strikingly of that which is heard when pneumatic hammers are driving home rivets through steel beams. There were other frogs whose louder and deeper-pitched tones could be distinguished through the main nocturnal song. These seemed always to be grumbling something about "Rubberboots—Rubberboots."
By-and-bye one would get used to the sound and it would lose attention. The water in the river floated slowly on its long journey towards the ocean, almost 2500 miles away. Large dolphins sometimes came to the surface, saluting the calm evening with a loud snort, and disappeared again with a slow, graceful movement. Almost every evening I could hear issuing from the forest a horrible roar. It came from the farthest depths and seemed as if it might well represent the mingled cries of some huge bull and a prowling jaguar that had attacked him unawares. Yet it all came, I found, from one throat, that of the howling monkey. He will sit alone for hours in a tree-top and pour forth these dreadful sounds which are well calculated to make the lonely wanderer stop and light a camp-fire for protection.
On the other hand, is heard the noise of the domestic animals of the village. Cows, calves, goats, and pigs seemed to make a habit of exercising their vocal organs thoroughly before retiring. Dogs bark at the moon; cats chase rats through openings of the palm-leaf roofs, threatening every moment to fall, pursued and pursuers, down upon the hammocks. Vampires flutter around from room to room, occasionally resting on the tops of the iron partitions, and when they halt, continuing to chirp for a while like hoarse sparrows. Occasionally there will come out of the darkness of the river a disagreeable sound as if some huge animal were gasping for its last breath before suffocating in the mud. The sound has its effect, even upon animals, coming as it does out of the black mysterious night, warning them not to venture far for fear some uncanny force may drag them to death in the dismal waters. It is the night call of the alligator.
The sweet plaintive note of a little partridge, called inamboo, would sometimes tremble through the air and compel me to forget the spell of unholy sounds arising from the beasts of the jungle and river. Throughout the evening this amorous bird would call to its mate, and somewhere there would be an answering call back in the woods. Many were the nights when, weak with fever, I awoke and listened to their calling and answering. Yet never did they seem to achieve the bliss of meeting, for after a brief lull the calling and answering voices would again take up their pretty song.
Slowly the days went by and, with their passing, the river fell lower and lower until the waters receded from the land itself and were confined once more to their old course in the river-bed. As the ground began to dry, the time came when the mosquitoes were particularly vicious. They multiplied by the million. Soon the village was filled with malaria, and the hypodermic needle was in full activity.
A crowd of about fifty Indians from the Curuca River had been brought to Remate de Males by launch. They belonged to the territory owned by Mons. Danon and slept outside the store-rooms of this plutocrat. Men, women, and children arranged their quarters in the soft mud until they could be taken to his rubber estate some hundred miles up the Javary River. They were still waiting to be equipped with rubber-workers' outfits when the malaria began its work among them. The poor mistreated Indians seemed to have been literally saturated with the germs, as they always slept without any protection whatever; consequently their systems offered less resistance to the disease than the ordinary Brazilian's. In four days there were only twelve persons left out of fifty-two.
During the last weeks of my stay in Remate de Males, I received an invitation to take lunch with the local Department Secretary, Professor Silveiro, an extremely hospitable and well educated Brazilian. The importance of such an invitation meant for me a radical change in appearance—an extensive alteration that could not be wrought without considerable pains. I had to have a five-months' beard shaved off, and then get into my best New York shirt, not to forget a high collar. I also considered that the occasion necessitated the impressiveness of a frock-coat, which I produced at the end of a long search among my baggage and proceeded to don after extracting a tarantula and some stray scolopendra from the sleeves and pockets. The sensation of wearing a stiff collar was novel, and not altogether welcome, since the temperature was near the 100 deg. mark. The reward for my discomfort came, however, in the shape of the best meal I ever had in the Amazon region.
During these dull days I was made happy by finding a copy of Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad in a store over in Nazareth on the Peruvian side of the Javary River. I took it with me to my hammock, hailing with joy the opportunity of receiving in the wilderness something that promised a word from "God's Own Country." But before I could begin the book I had an attack of swamp-fever that laid me up four days. During one of the intermissions, when I was barely able to move around, I commenced reading Mark Twain. It did not take more than two pages of the book to make me forget all about my fever. When I got to the ninth page, I laughed as I had not laughed for months, and page 14 made me roar so athletically that I lost my balance and fell out of my hammock on the floor. I soon recovered and crept back into the hammock, but out I went when I reached page 16, and repeated the performance at pages 19, 21, and 24 until the supplementary excitement became monotonous. Whereupon I procured some rags and excelsior, made a bed underneath the hammock, and proceeded to enjoy our eminent humourist's experience in peace.
THE JOURNEY UP THE ITECOAHY RIVER
With the subsiding of the waters came my long-desired opportunity to travel the course of the unmapped Itecoahy. In the month of June a local trader issued a notice that he was to send a launch up the river for trading purposes and to take the workers who had been sojourning in Remate de Males back to their places of employment, to commence the annual extraction of rubber. The launch was scheduled to sail on a Monday and would ascend the Itecoahy to its headwaters, or nearly so, thus passing the mouths of the Ituhy, the Branco, and Las Pedras rivers, affluents of considerable size which are nevertheless unrecorded on maps. The total length of the Branco River is over three hundred miles, and it has on its shores several large and productive seringales.
When on my way up the Amazon to the Brazilian frontier, I had stopped at Manaos, the capital of the State of Amazonas. There I had occasion to consult an Englishman about the Javary region. In answer to one of my inquiries, I received the following letter, which speaks for itself:
Referring to our conversation of recent date, I should wish once more to impress upon your mind the perilous nature of your journey, and I am not basing this information upon hearsay, but upon personal experience, having traversed the region in question quite recently.
Owing to certain absolutely untrue articles written by one H——, claiming to be your countryman, I am convinced that you can not rely upon the protection of the employees of this company, as having been so badly libelled by one, they are apt to forget that such articles were not at your instigation, and as is often the case the innocent may suffer for the guilty.
On the other hand, without this protection you will find yourself absolutely at the mercy of savage and cannibal Indians.
I have this day spoken to the consul here at Manaos and explained to him that, although I have no wish to deter you from your voyage, you must be considered as the only one responsible in any way for any ill that may befall you.
Finally, I hope that before disregarding this advice (which I offer you in a perfectly friendly spirit) you will carefully consider the consequences which such a voyage might produce, and, frankly speaking, I consider that your chance of bringing it to a successful termination is Nil.
Believe me to be, etc.,
During the time of my journey up the river and of my stay in Remate de Males, I had seen nothing of the particular dangers mentioned in this letter. The only Indians I had seen were such as smoked long black cigars and wore pink or blue pajamas. The letter further developed an interest, started by the hints of life in the interior, which had come to me in the civilisation of Remate de Males. I was, of course, particularly desirous of finding out all I could about the wild people of the inland regions, since I could not recall that much had been written about them.
Henry W. Bates, the famous explorer who ascended the Amazon as far as Teffe, came within 120 miles of the mouth of the Javary River in the year 1858, and makes the following statement about the indigenous tribes of this region:
The only other tribe of this neighbourhood concerning which I obtained any information was the Mangeromas, whose territory embraces several hundred miles of the western banks of the river Javary, an affluent of the Solimoes, a hundred and twenty miles beyond Sao Paolo da Olivenca. These are fierce and indomitable and hostile people, like the Araras of the Madeira River. They are also cannibals. The navigation of the Javary River is rendered impossible on account of the Mangeromas lying in wait on its banks to intercept and murder all travellers.
Now to return to the letter; I thought that perhaps my English friend had overdrawn things a little in a laudable endeavour to make me more cautious. In other words, it was for me the old story over again, of learning at the cost of experience—the story of disregarded advice, and so I went on in my confidence.
When the announcement of the launch's sailing came, I went immediately for an interview with the owner, a Brazilian named Pedro Smith, whose kindness I shall never forget. He offered me the chance of making the entire trip on his boat, but would accept no remuneration, saying that I would find conditions on the little overcrowded vessel very uncomfortable, and that the trip would not be free from actual bodily risk. When even he tried to dissuade me, I began to think more seriously of the Englishman's letter, but I told him that I had fully made up my mind to penetrate the mystery of those little known regions. I use the term "little known" in the sense that while they are well enough known to the handful of Indians and rubber-workers yet they are "terra incognita" to the outside world. The white man has not as yet traversed this Itecoahy and its affluents, although it would be a system of no little importance if located in some other country—for instance, in the United States.
My object was to study the rubber-worker at his labour, to find out the true length of the Itecoahy River, and to photograph everything worth while. I had with me all the materials and instruments necessary—at least so I thought.
The photographic outfit consisted of a Graflex camera with a shutter of high speed, which would come handy when taking animals in motion, and a large-view camera with ten dozen photographic plates and a corresponding amount of prepared paper. In view of the difficulties of travel, I had decided to develop my plates as I went along and make prints in the field, rather than run the risk of ruining them by some unlucky accident. Perhaps at the very end of the trip a quantity of undeveloped plates might be lost, and such a calamity would mean the failure of the whole journey in one of its most important particulars. Such a disastrous result was foreshadowed when a porter, loaded with my effects, clambering down the sixty-foot incline extreme low water made at Remate de Males, lost his balance in the last few feet of the descent and dropped into the water, completely ruining a whole pack of photographic supplies whose arrival from New York I had been awaiting for months. Luckily this was at the beginning of this trip and I could replace them from my general stock.
A hypodermic outfit, quinine, and a few bistouries completed my primitive medical department. Later on these proved of the greatest value. I would never think of omitting such supplies even in a case where a few pounds of extra weight are not rashly to be considered. It turned out that in the regions I penetrated, medical assistance was a thing unheard of within a radius of several hundred miles.
A Luger automatic pistol of a calibre of nine millimetres, and several hundred cartridges, were my armament, and for weeks this pistol became my only means of providing a scant food supply.
Thus equipped I was on hand early in the morning of the day of starting, anxious to see what sort of shipmates I was to have. They proved all to be seringueiros, bound for the upper river. Our craft was a forty-foot launch called the Carolina. There was a large crowd of the passengers assembled when I arrived, and they kept coming. To my amazement, it developed that one hundred and twenty souls were expected to find room on board, together with several tons of merchandise. The mystery of how the load was to be accommodated was somewhat solved, when I saw them attach a lighter to each side of the launch, and again, when some of the helpers brought up a fleet of dugouts which they proceeded to make fast by a stern hawser. But the mystery was again increased, when I was told that none of the passengers intended to occupy permanent quarters on the auxiliary fleet. As I was already taken care of, I resolved that if the problem was to worry anybody, it would be the seringueiros, though I realised that I would be travelling by "slow steamer" when the little old-fashioned Carolina should at length begin the task of fighting the five-mile current with this tagging fleet to challenge its claim to a twelve-horse-power engine.
The seringueiros and their families occupied every foot of space that was not reserved for merchandise. Hammocks were strung over and under each other in every direction, secured to the posts which supported the roof. Between them the rubber-coated knapsacks were suspended. On the roof was an indiscriminate mass of chicken-coops with feathered occupants; and humanity.
About midships on each lighter was a store-room, one of which was occupied by the clerk who accompanied the launch. In this they generously offered me the opportunity of making my headquarters during the trip. The room was about six feet by eight and contained a multitude of luxuries and necessities for the rubber-workers. There were .44 Winchester rifles in large numbers, the usual, indispensable Collins machete, and tobacco in six-feet-long, spindle-shaped rolls. There was also the "***" Hennessy cognac, selling at 40,000 reis ($14.00 gold) a bottle; and every variety of canned edible from California pears to Horlick's malted milk, from Armour's corned beef to Heinz's sweet pickles.
Every one was anxious to get started; I, who had more to look forward to than months of monotonous labour in the forests, not the least. At last the owner of the boat arrived, it being then two o'clock in the afternoon. He came aboard to shake hands with everyone and after a long period of talking pulled the cord leading to the steam-whistle, giving the official signal for departure. It then developed that one of the firemen was missing. Without him we could not start on our journey. The whistling was continued for fully forty minutes without any answer. Finally, the longed-for gentleman was seen emerging unsteadily from the local gin-shop with no sign of haste. He managed to crawl on board and we were off, amid much noise and firing of guns.
After a two-hours' run we stopped at a place consisting of two houses and a banana patch. Evidently the owner of this property made a side-business of supplying palm-wood as fuel for the launch. A load was carried on board and stowed beside the boiler, and we went once more on our way. I cannot say that the immediate surroundings were comfortable. There were people everywhere. They were lounging in the hammocks, or lying on the deck itself; and some were even sprawling uncomfortably on their trunks or knapsacks. A cat would have had difficulty in squeezing itself through this compact mass of men, chattering women, and crying children. But I had no sooner begun to reflect adversely on the situation, than the old charm of the Amazon asserted itself again and made me oblivious to anything so trivial as personal comfort surroundings. I became lost to myself in the enjoyment of the river.
That old fig-tree on the bank is worth looking at. The mass of its branches, once so high-reaching and ornamental, now lie on the ground in a confused huddle, shattered and covered with parasites and orchids, while millions of ants are in full activity destroying the last clusters of foliage. It is only a question of weeks, perhaps days, before some blast of wind will throw this humbled forest-monarch over the steep bank of the river. When the water rises again, the trunk with a few skeleton branches will be carried away with the current to begin a slow but relentless drift to old Father Amazon. Here and there will be a little pause, while the river gods decide, and then it will move on, to be caught somewhere along the course and contribute to the formation of some new island or complete its last long journey to the Atlantic Ocean.
As the launch rounds bend after bend in the river, the same magnificent forest scenery is repeated over and over again. Sometimes a tall matamata tree stands in a little accidental clearing, entirely covered with a luxuriant growth of vegetation. But these are borrowed plumes. Bushropes, climbers, and vines have clothed it from root to topmost branch, but they are only examples of the legion of beautiful parasites that seem to abound in the tropics. They will sap the vitality of this masterpiece of Nature, until in its turn it will fall before some stormy night's blow. All along the shore there is a myriad life among the trees and beautifully coloured birds flash in and out of the branches. You can hear a nervous chattering and discern little brown bodies swinging from branch to branch, or hanging suspended for fractions of a second from the network of climbers and aerial roots. They are monkeys. They follow the launch along the trees on the banks for a while and then disappear.
The sun is glaring down on the little craft and its human freight. The temperature is 112 degrees (F.) in the shade and the only place for possible relief is on a box of cognac alongside the commandant's hammock. He has fastened this directly behind the wheel so that he can watch the steersman, an Indian with filed teeth and a machete stuck in his belt.
Would anyone think that these trees, lining the shore for miles and miles and looking so beautiful and harmless by day, have a miasmatic breath or exhalation at night that produces a severe fever in one who is subjected for any length of time to their influence. It would be impossible for even the most fantastical scenic artist to exaggerate the picturesque combinations of colour and form ever changing like a kaleidoscope to exhibit new delights. A tall and slender palm can be seen in its simple beauty alongside the white trunk of the embauba tree, with umbrella-shaped crown, covered and gracefully draped with vines and hanging plants, whose roots drop down until they reach the water, or join and twist themselves until they form a leaf-portiere. And for thousands of square miles this ever changing display of floral splendour is repeated and repeated. And it would be a treat for an ornithologist to pass up the river. A hundred times a day flocks of small paroquets fly screaming over our heads and settle behind the trees. Large, green, blue, and scarlet parrots, the araras, fly in pairs, uttering penetrating, harsh cries, and sometimes an egret with her precious snow-white plumage would keep just ahead of us with graceful wing-motion, until she chose a spot to alight among the low bushes close to the water-front.
The dark blue toucan, with its enormous scarlet and yellow beak, would suddenly appear and fly up with peculiar jerky swoops, at the same time uttering its yelping cry. Several times I saw light green lizards of from three to four feet in length stretched out on branches of dead trees and staring at us as we passed.
Night came and drew its sombre curtain over the splendours. I was now shown a place of unpretentious dimensions where I could suspend my hammock, but, unluckily, things were so crowded that there was no room for a mosquito-net around me. Under ordinary circumstances, neglect of this would have been an inexcusable lack of prudence, but I lay down trusting that the draft created by the passage of the boat would keep the insect pests away, as they told me it would. I found that experience had taught them rightly.
To the post where I tied the foot-end of my hammock there were fastened six other hammocks. Consequently seven pairs of feet were bound to come into pretty close contact with each other. While I was lucky enough to have the hammock closest to the rail, I was unlucky enough to have as my next neighbour a woman; she was part Brazilian negro and part Indian. She had her teeth filed sharp like shark's teeth, wore brass rings in her ears, large enough to suspend portieres from, and smoked a pipe continually. I found later that it was a habit to take the pipe to bed with her, so that she could begin smoking the first thing in the morning. She used a very expensive Parisian perfume, whether to mitigate the effects of the pipe or not, I do not know.
Under the conditions I have described I lay down in my hammock, but found that sleep was impossible. There was nothing to do but resign myself to Fate and find amusement, with all the philosophy possible, by staring at the sky. I counted the stars over and over again and tried to identify old friends among the constellations. Among them the Southern Cross was a stranger to me, but the Great Dipper, one end of which was almost hidden behind the trees, I recognised with all the freedom of years of acquaintance. My mind went back to the last time I had seen it; across the house-tops of old Manhattan it was, and under what widely different conditions!
At last a merciful Providence closed my eyes and I was soon transported by the arms of Morpheus to the little lake in Central Park that I had liked so well. I dreamed of gliding slowly over the waters of that placid lake, and awoke to find myself being energetically kicked in the shins by my female neighbour. There was nothing to do but indulge in a few appropriate thoughts on this community-sleeping-apartment life, and then I got up to wander forward, as best I could in the dark, across the sleeping forms and take refuge on top of my case of cognac.
We seemed to be down in a pool of vast darkness, of whose walls no one could guess the limits. I listened to the gurgling of water at the bow and wondered how it was possible for the man at the wheel to guide our course without colliding with the many tree trunks that were scattered everywhere about us. The river wound back and forth, hardly ever running straight for more than half a mile, and the pilot continually had to steer the boat almost to the opposite bank to keep the trailing canoes from stranding on the sand-bars at the turns. Now and then a lightning flash would illuminate the wild banks, proving that we were not on the bosom of some Cimmerian lake, but following a continuous stream that stretched far ahead, and I could get a glimpse of the dark, doubly-mysterious forests on either hand; and now and then a huge tree-trunk would slip swiftly and silently past us.
The only interruption of the perfect quiet that prevailed was the occasional outburst of roars from the throat of the howling monkey, which I had come to know as making the night hideous in Remate de Males. But the present environment added just the proper atmosphere to make one think for a second that he was participating in some phantasm of Dante's.
There was no particular incident to record on the trip, till June the 16th, in the night-time, when we arrived at Porto Alegre, the glad harbour, which consisted of one hut. This hut belonged to the proprietor of a seringale. I followed the captain and the clerk ashore and, with them, was warmly received by the owner, when we had clambered up the ladder in front of the hut. He had not heard from civilisation for seven months, and was very glad to see people from the outside world, especially as they were bringing a consignment of merchandise that would enable him to commence the annual tapping of the rubber trees.
About a dozen seringueiros and their families disembarked here and went without ceremony to their quarters, where they had a fire going in less than no time.
It is the custom in this section of Brazil to make visitors welcome in a rather complicated manner. You first place your arm around the other man's waist, resting the palm of your hand on his back. Then with the other hand you pat him on the shoulder, or as near that point as you can reach. Whether it recalled my wrestling practice or not, I do not know, but the first time I ever tried this, I nearly succeeded in throwing down the man I was seeking to honour.
After the proprietor had greeted each of us in this cordial way, we sat down. A large negress made her appearance, smoking a pipe and carrying a tray full of tiny cups, filled with the usual unsweetened jet-black coffee. After a brief stay, during which business was discussed and an account given of the manner of death of all the friends who had departed this life during the season in Remate de Males, we took our leave and were off again, in the middle of the night, amid a general discharging of rifles and much blowing of the steam-whistle.
The night was intensely dark, what moon there was being hidden behind clouds most of the time, and an occasional flash of lightning would show us that we were running very close to the shores. I decided to go on the roof of the right-hand lighter, where I thought I would get better air and feel more comfortable than in the close quarters below. On the roof I found some old rags and a rubber coated knapsack. Taking these to the stern, I lay down upon them and went to sleep. I imagine that I must have been asleep about two hours, when I was aroused by a crashing sound that came from the forepart of the boat. Luckily, I had fallen asleep with my eyeglasses on, otherwise, as I am near-sighted, I should not have been able to grasp the situation as quickly as proved necessary.
We were so close to the shore that the branches of a low-hanging tree swept across the top of the lighter, and it was this branch that caused the turmoil as the craft passed through it, causing everything to be torn from the roof; trunks, bags, and chicken-coops, in a disordered mass. I had received no warning and hardly had collected my senses before this avalanche was upon me. Seizing the branches as they came, I held on for dear life. I tried to scramble over them to the other part of the roof, but having fallen asleep on the stern there was no chance.
I felt myself being lifted off the boat, and as I blindly held on I had time to wonder whether the tree would keep me out of the water, or lower me into the waiting jaws of some late alligator. But it did better than that for me. The branches sagged under my weight, and I soon saw that they were going to lower me upon the trailing canoes. I did not wait to choose any particular canoe, but, as the first one came beneath me, I dropped off, landing directly on top of a sleeping rubber-worker and giving him probably as bad a scare as I had had. For the remainder of the night I considered the case of cognac, previously referred to, a marvellously comfortable and safe place to stay.
During the next day we made two stops, and at the second took on board eighteen more passengers. It seemed to me that they would have to sleep in a vertical position, since, as far as I could discover, the places where it could be done horizontally were all occupied. At five in the afternoon of this day, we arrived at a small rubber estate called Boa Vista, where the owner kept cut palm-wood to be used for the launch, besides bananas, pineapples and a small patch of cocoa-plants. The firemen of our launch were busily engaged in carrying the wood, when one of them suddenly threw off his load and came running down the bank. The others scattered like frightened sheep, and only with difficulty could be brought to explain that they had seen a snake of a poisonous variety. We crept slowly up to the place under the wood-pile which they had pointed out, and there about a foot of the tail of a beautifully decorated snake was projecting. I jammed my twenty-four-inch machete through it longitudinally, at the same time jumping back, since it was impossible to judge accurately where the head might come from. It emerged suddenly about where we expected, the thin tongue working in and out with lightning speed and the reptile evidently in a state of great rage, for which I could hardly blame it, as its tail was pinned down and perforated with a machete. We dispatched it with a blow on the head and on measuring it found the length to be nearly nine feet. The interrupted loading of wood continued without much additional excitement and we were soon on our way again.
That night I passed very badly. My female neighbour insisted on using the edge of my hammock for a foot-rest, and, to add to my general discomfort, my hammock persisted in assuming a convex shape rather than a more conventional and convenient concave, which put me in constant danger of being thrown headlong into the river, only a few inches away. Finally, I took my hammock down from its fastenings and went aft where I found a vacant canoe among those still trailing behind. I threw my hammock in the bottom and with this for a bed managed to fall asleep, now and then receiving a blow from some unusually low branch which threatened to upset my floating couch.
The next morning it was found that we had lost two canoes, evidently torn loose during the night without anybody noticing the accident. Luckily, I had not chosen either of these to sleep in, nor had anyone else. I cannot help thinking what my feelings would have been if I had found myself adrift far behind the launch.
For several days more we continued going up the seemingly endless river. Human habitations were far apart, the last ones we had seen as much as eighty-five miles below. We expected soon to be in the territory owned by Coronel da Silva, the richest rubber proprietor in the Javary region. I found the level of this land we were passing through to be slightly higher than any I had traversed as yet, although even here we were passing through an entirely submerged stretch of forest. There were high inland spaces that had already begun to dry up, as we could see, and this was the main indication of higher altitude than had been found lower down the river. Another indication was that big game was more in evidence. The animals find here a good feeding place without the necessity of migrating to distant locations when the water begins to come through the forest.