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BOHN'S SCIENTIFIC LIBRARY.


HUMBOLDT'S PERSONAL NARRATIVE

VOLUME 3.

PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF TRAVELS TO THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF AMERICA
DURING THE YEARS 1799-1804

BY

ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT AND AIME BONPLAND.

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF
ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT
AND EDITED BY
THOMASINA ROSS.

IN THREE VOLUMES

VOLUME 3.


LONDON.

GEORGE BELL & SONS.
1908.
LONDON: PORTUGAL STREET, LINCOLN'S INN.
CAMBRIDGE: DEIGHTON, BELL AND CO.
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO.
BOMBAY: A.H. WHEELER AND CO.


***

The longitudes mentioned in the text refer always to the meridian of
the Observatory of Paris.

The real is about 6 1/2 English pence.

The agrarian measure, called caballeria, is eighteen cordels, (each
cordel includes twenty-four varas) or 432 square varas; consequently,
as 1 vara = 0.835m., according to Rodriguez, a caballeria is 186,624
square varas, or 130,118 square metres, or thirty-two and two-tenths
English acres.

20 leagues to a degree.

5000 varas = 4150 metres.

3403 square toises = 1.29 hectare.

An acre = 4044 square metres.

Five hundred acres = fifteen and a half caballerias.

Sugar-houses are thought to be very considerable that yield 2000 cases
annually, or 32,000 arrobas (nearly 368,000 kilogrammes.)

An arroba of 25 Spanish pounds = 11.49 kilogrammes.

A quintal = 45.97 kilogrammes.

A tarea of wood = one hundred and sixty cubic feet.




VOLUME 3.


CONTENTS.


CHAPTER 3.25.

SPANISH GUIANA. - ANGOSTURA. - PALM-INHABITING TRIBES. - MISSIONS OF THE
CAPUCHINS. - THE LAGUNA PARIME. - EL DORADO. - LEGENDARY TALES OF THE
EARLY VOYAGERS.


CHAPTER 3.26.

THE LLANOS DEL PAO, OR EASTERN PART OF THE PLAINS OF
VENEZUELA. - MISSIONS OF THE CARIBS. - LAST VISIT TO THE COAST OF NUEVA
BARCELONA, CUMANA, AND ARAYA.


CHAPTER 3.27.

POLITICAL STATE OF THE PROVINCES OF VENEZUELA. - EXTENT OF
TERRITORY. - POPULATION. - NATURAL PRODUCTIONS. - EXTERNAL
TRADE. - COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT PROVINCES COMPRISING THE
REPUBLIC OF COLUMBIA.


CHAPTER 3.28.

PASSAGE FROM THE COAST OF VENEZUELA TO THE HAVANA. - GENERAL VIEW OF
THE POPULATION OF THE WEST INDIA ISLANDS, COMPARED WITH THE POPULATION
OF THE NEW CONTINENT, WITH RESPECT TO DIVERSITY OF RACES, PERSONAL
LIBERTY, LANGUAGE, AND WORSHIP.


CHAPTER 3.29.

POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE ISLAND OF CUBA. - THE HAVANNAH. - HILLS OF
GUANAVACOA, CONSIDERED IN THEIR GEOLOGICAL RELATIONS. - VALLEY OF LOS
GUINES, BATABANO, AND PORT OF TRINIDAD. - THE KING AND QUEEN'S GARDENS.


CHAPTER 3.30.

PASSAGE FROM TRINIDAD DE CUBA TO RIO SINU. - CARTHAGENA. - AIR VOLCANOES
OF TURBACO. - CANAL OF MAHATES.


CHAPTER 3.31.

CUBA AND THE SLAVE TRADE.


CHAPTER 3.32.

GEOGNOSTIC DESCRIPTION OF SOUTH AMERICA, NORTH OF THE RIVER AMAZON,
AND EAST OF THE MERIDIAN OF THE SIERRA NEVADA DE MERIDA.


INDEX.


***



PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY TO THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF THE NEW
CONTINENT.

VOLUME 3.


CHAPTER 3.25.

SPANISH GUIANA.
ANGOSTURA.
PALM-INHABITING TRIBES.
MISSIONS OF THE CAPUCHINS.
THE LAGUNA PARIME.
EL DORADO.
LEGENDARY TALES OF THE EARLY VOYAGERS.

I shall commence this chapter by a description of Spanish Guiana
(Provincia de la Guyana), which is a part of the ancient Capitania
general of Caracas. Since the end of the sixteenth century three towns
have successively borne the name of St. Thomas of Guiana. The first
was situated opposite to the island of Faxardo, at the confluence of
the Carony and the Orinoco, and was destroyed* by the Dutch, under the
command of Captain Adrian Janson, in 1579. (* The first of the voyages
undertaken at Raleigh's expense was in 1595; the second, that of
Laurence Keymis, in 1596; the third, described by Thomas Masham, in
1597; and the fourth, in 1617. The first and last only were performed
by Raleigh in person. This celebrated man was beheaded on October the
29th, 1618. It is therefore the second town of Santo Tomas, now called
Vieja Guyana, which existed in the time of Raleigh.) The second,
founded by Antonio de Berrio in 1591, near twelve leagues east of the
mouth of the Carony, made a courageous resistance to Sir Walter
Raleigh, whom the Spanish writers of the conquest know only by the
name of the pirate Reali. The third town, now the capital of the
province, is fifty leagues west of the confluence of the Carony. It
was begun in 1764, under the Governor Don Joacquin Moreno de Mendoza,
and is distinguished in the public documents from the second town,
vulgarly called the fortress (el castillo, las fortalezas), or Old
Guayana (Vieja Guayana), by the name of Santo Thome de la Nueva
Guayana. This name being very long, that of Angostura* (the strait)
has been commonly substituted for it. (* Europe has learnt the
existence of the town of Angostura by the trade carried on by the
Catalonians in the Carony bark, which is the beneficial bark of the
Bonplanda trifoliata. This bark, coming from Nueva Guiana, was called
corteza or cascarilla del Angostura (Cortex Angosturae). Botanists so
little guessed the origin of this geographical denomination that they
began by writing Augustura, and then Augusta.)

Angostura, the longitude and latitude of which I have already
indicated from astronomical observations, stands at the foot of a hill
of amphibolic schist* bare of vegetation. (* Hornblendschiefer.) The
streets are regular, and for the most part parallel with the course of
the river. Several of the houses are built on the bare rock; and here,
as at Carichana, and in many other parts of the missions, the action
of black and strong strata, when strongly heated by the rays of the
sun upon the atmosphere, is considered injurious to health. I think
the small pools of stagnant water (lagunas y anegadizos), which extend
behind the town in the direction of south-east, are more to be feared.
The houses of Angostura are lofty and convenient; they are for the
most part built of stone; which proves that the inhabitants have but
little dread of earthquakes. But unhappily this security is not
founded on induction from any precise data. It is true that the shore
of Nueva Andalusia sometimes undergoes very violent shocks, without
the commotion being propagated across the Llanos. The fatal
catastrophe of Cumana, on the 4th of February, 1797, was not felt at
Angostura; but in the great earthquake of 1766, which destroyed the
same city, the granitic soil of the two banks of the Orinoco was
agitated as far as the Raudales of Atures and Maypures. South of these
Raudales shocks are sometimes felt, which are confined to the basin of
the Upper Orinoco and the Rio Negro. They appear to depend on a
volcanic focus distant from that of the Caribbee Islands. We were told
by the missionaries at Javita and San Fernando de Atabapo that in 1798
violent earthquakes took place between the Guaviare and the Rio Negro,
which were not propagated on the north towards Maypures. We cannot be
sufficiently attentive to whatever relates to the simultaneity of the
oscillations, and to the independence of the movements in contiguous
ground. Everything seems to prove that the propagation of the
commotion is not superficial, but depends on very deep crevices that
terminate in different centres of action.

The scenery around the town of Angostura is little varied; but the
view of the river, which forms a vast canal, stretching from
south-west to north-east, is singularly majestic.

When the waters are high, the river inundates the quays; and it
sometimes happens that, even in the town, imprudent persons become the
prey of crocodiles. I shall transcribe from my journal a fact that
took place during M. Bonpland's illness. A Guaykeri Indian, from the
island of La Margareta, was anchoring his canoe in a cove where there
were not three feet of water. A very fierce crocodile, which
habitually haunted that spot, seized him by the leg, and withdrew from
the shore, remaining on the surface of the water. The cries of the
Indian drew together a crowd of spectators. This unfortunate man was
first seen seeking, with astonishing presence of mind, for a knife
which he had in his pocket. Not being able to find it, he seized the
head of the crocodile and thrust his fingers into its eyes. No man in
the hot regions of America is ignorant that this carnivorous reptile,
covered with a buckler of hard and dry scales, is extremely sensitive
in the only parts of his body which are soft and unprotected, such as
the eyes, the hollow underneath the shoulders, the nostrils, and
beneath the lower jaw, where there are two glands of musk. The
Guaykeri Indian was less fortunate than the negro of Mungo Park, and
the girl of Uritucu, whom I mentioned in a former part of this work,
for the crocodile did not open its jaws and lose hold of its prey. The
animal, overcome by pain, plunged to the bottom of the river, and,
after having drowned the Indian, came up to the surface of the water,
dragging the dead body to an island opposite the port. A great number
of the inhabitants of Angostura witnessed this melancholy spectacle.

The crocodile, owing to the structure of its larynx, of the hyoidal
bone, and of the folds of its tongue, can seize, though not swallow,
its prey under water; thus when a man disappears, the animal is
usually perceived some hours after devouring its prey on a
neighbouring beach. The number of individuals who perish annually, the
victims of their own imprudence and of the ferocity of these reptiles,
is much greater than is believed in Europe. It is particularly so in
villages where the neighbouring grounds are often inundated. The same
crocodiles remain long in the same places. They become from year to
year more daring, especially, as the Indians assert, if they have once
tasted of human flesh. These animals are so wary, that they are killed
with difficulty. A ball does not pierce their skin; and the shot is
only mortal when it penetrates the throat or a part beneath the
shoulder. The Indians, who know little of the use of fire-arms, attack
the crocodile with lances, after the animal has been caught with large
pointed iron hooks, baited with pieces of meat, and fastened by a
chain to the trunk of a tree. They do not approach the animal till it
has struggled a long time to disengage itself from the iron fixed in
the upper jaw. There is little probability that a country in which a
labyrinth of rivers without number brings every day new bands of
crocodiles from the eastern back of the Andes, by the Meta and the
Apure, toward the coast of Spanish Guiana, should ever be delivered
from these reptiles. All that will be gained by civilization will be
to render them more timid and more easily put to flight.

Affecting instances are related of African slaves, who have exposed
their lives to save those of their masters, who had fallen into the
jaws of a crocodile. A few years ago, between Uritucu and the Mission
de Abaxo, a negro, hearing the cries of his master, flew to the spot,
armed with a long knife (machete), and plunged into the river. He
forced the crocodile, by putting out his eyes, to let go his prey and
to plunge under the water. The slave bore his expiring master to the
shore; but all succour was unavailing to restore him to life. He had
died of suffocation, for his wounds were not deep. The crocodile, like
the dog, appears not to close its jaws firmly while swimming.

The inhabitants of the banks of the Orinoco and its tributary streams
discourse continually on the dangers to which they are exposed. They
have marked the manners of the crocodile, as the torero has studied
the manners of the bull. When they are assailed, they put in practice,
with that presence of mind and that resignation which characterize the
Indians, the Zamboes, and copper-coloured men in general, the counsels
they have heard from their infancy. In countries where nature is so
powerful and so terrible, man is constantly prepared for danger. We
have mentioned before the answer of the young Indian girl, who
delivered herself from the jaws of the crocodile: "I knew he would let
me go if I thrust my fingers into his eyes." This girl belonged to the
indigent class of the people, in whom the habits of physical want
augment energy of character; but how can we avoid being surprised to
observe in the countries convulsed by terrible earthquakes, on the
table-land of the province of Quito, women belonging to the highest
classes of society display in the moment of peril, the same calm, the
same reflecting intrepidity? I shall mention one example only in
support of this assertion. On the 4th of February, 1797, when 35,000
Indians perished in the space of a few minutes, a young mother saved
herself and her children, crying out to them to extend their arms at
the moment when the cracked ground was ready to swallow them up. When
this courageous woman heard the astonishment that was expressed at a
presence of mind so extraordinary, she answered, with great
simplicity, "I had been told in my infancy: if the earthquake surprise
you in a house, place yourself under a doorway that communicates from
one apartment to another; if you be in the open air and feel the
ground opening beneath you, extend both your arms, and try to support
yourself on the edge of the crevice." Thus, in savage regions or in
countries exposed to frequent convulsions, man is prepared to struggle
with the beasts of the forest, to deliver himself from the jaws of the
crocodile, and to escape from the conflict of the elements.

The town of Angostura, in the early years of its foundation, had no
direct communication with the mother-country. The inhabitants were
contented with carrying on a trifling contraband trade in dried meat
and tobacco with the West India Islands, and with the Dutch colony of
Essequibo, by the Rio Carony. Neither wine, oil, nor flour, three
articles of importation the most sought after, was received directly
from Spain. Some merchants, in 1771, sent the first schooner to Cadiz;
and since that period a direct exchange of commodities with the ports
of Andalusia and Catalonia has become extremely active. The population
of Angostura,* after having been a long time languishing, has much
increased since 1785. (* Angostura, or Santo Thome de la Nueva
Guayana, in 1768, had only 500 inhabitants. Caulin page 63. They were
numbered in 1780 and the result was 1513 (455 Whites, 449 Blacks, 363
Mulattoes and Zamboes, and 246 Indians). The population in the year
1789 rose to 4590; and in 1800 to 6600 souls. Official Lists
manuscript. The capital of the English colony of Demerara, the town of
Stabroek, the name of which is scarcely known in Europe, is only fifty
leagues distant, south-east of the mouths of the Orinoco. It contains,
according to Bolingbroke, nearly 10,000 inhabitants.) At the time of
my abode in Guiana, however, it was far from being equal to that of
Stabroek, the nearest English town. The mouths of the Orinoco have an
advantage over every other part in Terra Firma. They afford the most
prompt communications with the Peninsula. The voyage from Cadiz to
Punta Barima is performed sometimes in eighteen or twenty days. The
return to Europe takes from thirty to thirty-five days. These mouths
being placed to windward of all the islands, the vessels of Angostura
can maintain a more advantageous commerce with the West Indies than La
Guayra and Porto Cabello. The merchants of Caracas, therefore, have
been always jealous of the progress of industry in Spanish Guiana; and
Caracas having been hitherto the seat of the supreme government, the
port of Angostura has been treated with still less favour than the
ports of Cumana and Nueva Barcelona. With respect to the inland trade,
the most active is that of the province of Varinas, which sends mules,
cacao, indigo, cotton, and sugar to Angostura; and in return receives
generos, that is, the products of the manufacturing industry of
Europe. I have seen long boats (lanchas) set off, the cargoes of which
were valued at eight or ten thousand piastres. These boats went first
up the Orinoco to Cabruta; then along the Apure to San Vicente; and
finally, on the Rio Santo Domingo, as far as Torunos, which is the
port of Varinas Nuevas. The little town of San Fernando de Apure, of
which I have already given a description, is the magazine of this
river-trade, which might become more considerable by the introduction
of steamboats.

I have now described the country through which we passed during a
voyage of five hundred leagues; it remains for me to make known the
small space of three degrees fifty-two minutes of longitude, that
separates the present capital from the mouth of the Orinoco. Exact
knowledge of the delta and the course of the Rio Carony is at once
interesting to hydrography and to European commerce.

When a vessel coming from sea would enter the principal mouth of the
Orinoco, the Boca de Navios, it should make the land at the Punta
Barima. The right or southern bank is the highest: the granitic rock
pierces the marshy soil at a small distance in the interior, between
the Cano Barima, the Aquire, and the Cuyuni. The left, or northern
bank of the Orinoco, which stretches along the delta towards the Boca
de Mariusas and the Punta Baxa, is very low, and is distinguishable at
a distance only by the clumps of moriche palm-trees which embellish
the passage. This is the sago-tree* of the country (* The nutritious
fecula or medullary flour of the sago-trees is found principally in a
group of palms which M. Kunth has distinguished by the name of
calameae. It is collected, however, in the Indian Archipelago, as an
article of trade, from the trunks of the Cycas revoluta, the Phoenix
farinifera, the Corypha umbraculifera, and the Caryota urens.
(Ainslie, Materia Medica of Hindostan, Madras 1813.)) The quantity of
nutritious matter which the real sago-tree of Asia affords (Sagus
Rumphii, or Metroxylon sagu, Roxb.) exceeds that which is furnished by
any other plant useful to man. One trunk of a tree in its fifteenth
year sometimes yields six hundred pounds weight of sago, or meal (for
the word sago signifies meal in the dialect of Amboyna). Mr. Crawfurd,
who resided a long time in the Indian Archipelago, calculates that an
English acre could contain four hundred and thirty-five sago-trees,
which would yield one hundred and twenty thousand five hundred pounds
avoirdupois of fecula, or more than eight thousand pounds yearly.
History of the Indian Archipelago volume 1 pages 387 and 393. This
produce is triple that of corn, and double that of potatoes in France.
But the plantain produces, on the same surface of land, still more
alimentary substance than the sago-tree.); it yields the flour of
which the yuruma bread is made; and far from being a palm-tree of the
shore, like the Chamaerops humilis, the common cocoa-tree, and the
lodoicea of Commerson, is found as a palm-tree of the marshes as far
as the sources of the Orinoco.* (* I dwell much on these divisions of
the great and fine families of palms according to the distribution of
the species: first, in dry places, or inland plains, Corypha tectorum;
second, on the sea-coast, Chamaerops humilis, Cocos nucifera, Corypha
maritima, Lodoicea seychellarum, Labill.; third, in the fresh-water
marshes, Sagus Rumphii, Mauritia flexuosa; and 4th, in the alpine
regions, between seven and fifteen hundred toises high, Ceroxylon
andicola, Oreodoxa frigida, Kunthia montana. This last group of palmae
montanae, which rises in the Andes of Guanacas nearly to the limit of
perpetual snow, was, I believe, entirely unknown before our travels in
America. (Nov. Gen. volume 1 page 317; Semanario de Santa Fe de Bogota
1819 Number 21 page 163.) In the season of inundations these clumps of
mauritia, with their leaves in the form of a fan, have the appearance
of a forest rising from the bosom of the waters. The navigator, in
proceeding along the channels of the delta of the Orinoco at night,
sees with surprise the summit of the palm-trees illumined by large
fires. These are the habitations of the Guaraons (Tivitivas and
Waraweties of Raleigh* (* The Indian name of the tribe of Uaraus
(Guaraunos of the Spaniards) may be recognized in the Warawety
(Ouarauoty) of Raleigh, one of the branches of the Tivitivas. See
Discovery of Guiana, 1576 page 90 and the sketch of the habitations of
the Guaraons, in Raleghi brevis Descrip. Guianae, 1594 tab 4.)), which
are suspended from the trunks of trees. These tribes hang up mats in
the air, which they fill with earth, and kindle, on a layer of moist
clay, the fire necessary for their household wants. They have owed
their liberty and their political independence for ages to the quaking
and swampy soil, which they pass over in the time of drought, and on
which they alone know how to walk in security to their solitude in the
delta of the Orinoco; to their abode on the trees where religious
enthusiasm will probably never lead any American stylites.* (* This
sect was founded by Simeon Sisanites, a native of Syria. He passed
thirty-seven years in mystic contemplation, on five pillars, the last
of which was thirty-six cubits high. The sancti columnares attempted
to establish their aerial cloisters in the country of Treves, in
Germany; but the bishops opposed these extravagant and perilous
enterprises. Mosheim, Instit. Hist. Eccles page 192. See Humboldt's
Views of Nature (Bohn) pages 13 and 136.) I have already mentioned in
another place that the mauritia palm-tree, the tree of life of the
missionaries, not only affords the Guaraons a safe dwelling during the
risings of the Orinoco, but that its shelly fruit, its farinaceous
pith, its juice, abounding in saccharine matter, and the fibres of its
petioles, furnish them with food, wine,* and thread proper for making
cords and weaving hammocks. (* The use of this moriche wine however is
not very common. The Guaraons prefer in general a beverage of
fermented honey.) These customs of the Indians of the delta of the
Orinoco were found formerly in the Gulf of Darien (Uraba), and in the
greater part of the inundated lands between the Guarapiche and the
mouths of the Amazon. It is curious to observe in the lowest degree of
human civilization the existence of a whole tribe depending on one
single species of palm-tree, similar to those insects which feed on
one and the same flower, or on one and the same part of a plant.

The navigation of the river, whether vessels arrive by the Boca de
Navios, or risk entering the labyrinth of the bocas chicas, requires
various precautions, according as the waters are high or low. The
regularity of these periodical risings of the Orinoco has been long an
object of admiration to travellers, as the overflowings of the Nile
furnished the philosophers of antiquity with a problem difficult to
solve. The Orinoco and the Nile, contrary to the direction of the
Ganges, the Indus, the Rio de la Plata, and the Euphrates, flow alike
from the south toward the north; but the sources of the Orinoco are
five or six degrees nearer to the equator than those of the Nile.
Observing every day the accidental variations of the atmosphere, we
find it difficult to persuade ourselves that in a great space of time
the effects of these variations mutually compensate each other: that
in a long succession of years the averages of the temperature of the
humidity, and of the barometric pressure, differ so little from month
to month; and that nature, notwithstanding the multitude of partial
perturbations, follows a constant type in the series of meteorological
phenomena. Great rivers unite in one receptacle the waters which a
surface of several thousand square leagues receives. However unequal
may be the quantity of rain that falls during several successive
years, in such or such a valley, the swellings of rivers that have a
very long course are little affected by these local variations. The
swellings represent the average of the humidity that reigns in the
whole basin; they follow annually the same progression because their
commencement and their duration depend also on the mean of the
periods, apparently extremely variable, of the beginning and end of
the rains in the different latitudes through which the principal trunk
and its various tributary streams flow. Hence it follows that the
periodical oscillations of rivers are, like the equality of
temperature of caverns and springs, a sensible indication of the
regular distribution of humidity and heat, which takes place from year
to year on a considerable extent of land. They strike the imagination
of the vulgar; as order everywhere astonishes, when we cannot easily



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