Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

. (page 20 of 35)
Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 20 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stitious aversion which the natives show towards dead
bodies, after they have given them burial, we carefully

Acntenessof covered the baskets with new mats. Unfortunately

tlie Indians, for us, the penetration of the Indians, and the extreme
delicacy of their organs of smell, rendered our precau-
tions useless. Wherever we stopped, — in tlie Carib inis-
sions, in the midst of the Llanos, between Angostura and
New Barcelona, — the natives collected around our
mules to admire the monkeys which we had brought
from the Orinoco. These good people had scarcely
touched our baggage when they predicted the approach-
ing death of the beast of burden ' that carried the dead.'
In vain we told them that they were deceived in their
conjectures, that the panniers contained bones of croco-
diles and lamantins ; they persisted in repeating, that
they smelt the resin which surrounded the skeletons,
and that ' they were some of their old relatives.'

" We departed in silence from the cave of Ataruipe.
It was one of those calm and serene nights which are so
common in the torrid zone. The stars shone with a
mild and planetary light ; their scintillation was


scarcely perceptible at the horizon, which seemed illu- chap, xix

minated by the great nebulie of tlie southern hemi- MghTsceiiu.

sphere. Multitudes of insects diffused a reddish light

over the air. The ground, profusely covered witli

plants, shone with those living and moving lights as if

the stars of the firmament had fallen upon the savannali.

On leaving the cave, we repeatedly stopped to admire

the beauty of this extraordinary place. The scented

vanilla and festoons of bignoniee decorated its entrance ;

while the summit of the overhanging hill was crowned

by arrowy palm-trees that waved murmuring in the air."

Similar caves are said to exist to the north of the Tombs of the
cataracts ; but the tombs of the Indians of the Orinoco ^°'^'^"^-
have not been sufficiently examined, because they do
not, like those of Peru, contain treasures.

The travellers staid at the mission of Atures only so rassape ( ,
long as was necessary for the passage of their canoe j'l'nsf"^"'
through the great falls. The priest, Bernardo Zea, who
had accompanied them to the Rio Negro, remained
behind. His ague had not been removed ; but its
attacks had become an habitual evil, to which he now
paid little attention. Fevers of a more destructive kind
prevailed in the establishment, insomuch that the
greater part of the inmates were confined to their
hammocks. Again embarked on the Orinoco the tra-
vellers ventured to descend the lower half of the rapids
of Atures, landing here and there to climb the rocks, Rapids of


among which the golden manakin (^Pipra rupicola), one
of the most beautiful birds of the tropics, builds its nest.
At the Raudalito of Carucari they entered some of the
caverns formed by the piling up of granite blocks, and
enjoyed the extraordinary spectacle of the river dashing
in a sheet of foam over their heads. The boat was to
coast the eastern bank of a narrow island, and take
them in after a long circuit ; but it did not make its
appearance, and night approaching, together with a
tremendous thunder-storm, M. Bonpland was desirous
of swimming across, in order to seek assistance at Atures
from Father Zea. Humboldt, and the other person



Mission of

CHAV.XIX. who was with thciii, dissuaded him with difficulty from
Crocodilea so hazardous an enterprise ; and shortly after two large
crocodiles made their appearance, attracted by the
plaintive cries of the monkeys. At length the Indians
arrived with the vessel, and the navigation was continued
during part of the night. At Carichana the missionary
received them with kindness. Here the travellers
remained some days to recruit their exhausted strength,
and M. Bonpland had the satisfaction of dissecting a

From Carichana they went in two days to the mission
of Uruana, the situation of which is extremely pictur-
esque, the village being placed at the foot of a lofty
granitic mountain, the columnar rocks appearing at
intervals above the trees. Here the river is more than
6530 yards broad, and runs in a straight line directly
east. The hamlet is inhabited by the Otomacs, one of
tlie rudest of the American tribes. These Indians
swallow quantities of eartli for the purpose of allaying
hunger. When the waters are low they live on fish and
turtles : but when tlie rivers swell, and it becomes dif-
ficult to procure that food, they eat daily a large portion
of clay. The travellers found in their huts heaps of it
in the form of balls, piled up in pyramids three or four
E(Lblcc]ay. feet high. This substance is fine and unctuous, of a
yellowish-gray colour, containing silica and alumina,
with three or four per cent, of lime. Being a restless
and turbulent people, with unbridled passions and
excessively given to intoxication, the little village of
Uruana is more difficult to govern than any of the other
missions. By inhaling at the nose the powder obtained
fnjhi the pods of the Acacia niopo they throw themselves
into a state of intoxication bordering on madness, that
lasts sjveral days, during which dreadful murders are
committed. The most vindictive cover the nail of the
thuml) with the curare poison, the slightest scratch being
tiius sufficient to produce death. When this crime is
perpetrated at night they throw the body into the river.
"Every time," said the monk, "that I see the women


fetch water from a part of the shore to which they do chap. xix.

not usually go for it, I suspect that a murder has been

committed in my mission."

On the 7th June the travellers took leave of Father Father
Ramon Bueno, whom Humboldt eulogizes as the only 'fi""™
one of ten missionaries of Guiana whom they had seen
who appeared to be attentive to any thing that regarded
the natives. The night was passed at the island of
Cucurupara, to the east of which is the mouth of the
Cano de la Tortuga. On its southern bank is the almost
deserted station of San Miguel de la Tortuga ; in the
neighbourhood of which, according to the Indians, are
otters with a very fine fur, and lizards witli two feet.

From the island of Cucurupara to Angostura, the Rate nf
capital of Guiana, a distance of little less than 328 miles, J""™^J-
the travellers were only nine days on the water. On
the 8th June they landed at a farm opposite the mouth
of the Apure, where Humboldt obtained some good ob-
servations of latitude and longitude ; and on the 9th
met a great number of boats laden with goods, on their
way to that river. Here Don Nicolas Soto, wlio had
accompanied them on their voyage to the Rio Negro,
took leave and returned to his family. As they ad- increasing
vanced, the population became more considerable, population,
consisting almost exclusively of whites, negroes, and
mulattoes. On the 11th they passed the mouth of the
Rio Caura, near which is a small lake formed in 1790
by the sinking of the ground in consequence of an earth-
quake. The Boca del Infierno and the Randal de
Camiseta, a series of whirlpools and rapids caused l)y a
chain of small rocks, were the only remarkable features
that occurred until they reached Angostura.

On ai-riving at the capital, they hastened to present Arrival at
tliemselves to Don Felipe de Ynciarte, the govej'uor of Angostura.
Guiana, who received them in the most obliging manner.
A painful circumstance forced them to remain a whole
month in this place. They were both, a few days after
their arrival, attacked by a disorder, which in M. Bon-



Attack of


CHAP. XIX pland assumed the diameter of a typhoid fever. A
mulatto servant, who had attended them from Cumana,
was simih\rly affected. His deatli was announced on
the ninth day ; but he had only fallen into a state of
insensibility which lasted several hours, and was fol-
lowed l)y a salutary crisis. Humboldt escaped with a
very violent attack, during which he was made to take
a mixture of honey and the extract of Cortex angosturce.
He recovered on the following da3% His fellow-travel-
ler remained in a very alarming state for several weeks,
but retained sufficient strength of mind to prescribe for
himself. His fever was incessant, and complicated with
dysentery ; but, in his case too, the issue was favour-
able. At this period no epidemic prevailed in the town,
and the air was salubrious ; so that the germ of the
disease had probably been caught in the damp forests ot
the Upper Orinoco.

Angostura, so named from its being placed on a nar-
row part of the river, stands at the foot of a hill of
hornblende-slate, destitute of vegetation. The street.s
are regular, and generally parallel to the course of the
stream. Tlic houses are high, agreeable, and built of
stone ; although the town is not exempt from earth-
quakes. At the period of this visit the population was
only 6000. There is little variety in the surrounding
scenery ; but the view of the river is singularly majestic.
When tiie waters are high they inundate the quays, and
it sometimes hap])ens that even in tlie streets impru-
dent persons fall a prey to the crocodiles, which are
very numerous.

Humboldt relates that, at the time of his stay at
Angostura, an Indian from the island of IMargarita
having gone to anchor his canoe in a cove where there
were not three feet of water, a very fierce crocodile that
frequented the spot seized him by the leg and carried
him off. With astonishing courage he searched for a
knife in his pocket, but not finding it, thrust his fingers
Into 'he animal's eyes. The monster, however, did not



let go his hold, hut plunged to the hottom of the river, chap. XIX
aad after drowning his victim, came to the surface and —
dragged the body to an island.

The number of individuals who perish annually in Great
this manner is very great, especially in villages where 'it-s^'uctiTo-
the neighbouring grounds are inundated. The same
crocodiles remain long in the same places, and become
more daring from year to year, especially, as the Indians
assert, if they have once tasted human flesh. They
are not easily killed, as their skin is impenetrable, —
the throat and the space beneath the shoulder being the
only parts where a ball or spear can enter. The natives
catch them with large iron hooks baited with meat, and
attached to a chain fastened to a tree. After the ani-
mal has struggled for a considerable time, they attack it
with lances.

Affecting examples are related of the intrepidity of intrepidity
African slaves in attempting to rescue their masters from of Africans
the jaws of these voracious reptiles. Not many years
ago, in the Llanos of Calabozo, a negro, attracted by the
cries of his owner, armed himself with a long knife, and
plunging into the river, forced the animal, by scooping
out its eyes, to leave its prey and take to flight. The
natives being daily exposed to similar dangers think
little of them. They observe the manners of the croco-
dile as the torero studies those of the bull ; and quietly
calculate the motions of the enemy, its means of attack,
and the degree of its audacity.

The general nature of the vast regions bordering on guramary.
the Orinoco may be sufficiently learned from the above
condensed narrative ; and we think it unnecessary to
follow our learned author through his description of
that portion of the river which extends from Angostura
to its mouths, especially as it is not founded on personal



Journey across the Llanos to New Barcelona.

Departure from Angostura — Villag;e of Cari — Natives — New Bar-
celona Hot Springs — Crocodiles — Passage to Cumana.

CiiAP.xx It was night when our travellers for the last time
De arture crossed the bed of the Orinoco. They intended to rest
from Angos- near the little fort of San Rafael, and in the morning
*^^ begin their journey over the Llanos of Venezuela, with

tlie view of proceeding to Cumana or New Barcelona,
whence they might sail to the island of Cuba and thence
again to Mexico. There they purposed to remain a
year, and to take a passage in the galleon from Acapulco
to Manilla.
Objects Tlie botanical and geological collections which they

coUectcd. Y\&i{ brought from Esmeralda and the Rio Negro had
greatly increased their baggage ; and, as it would have
been hazardous to lose sight of such stores, they
journeyed but slowly over the deserts, wliicli they crossed
in thirteen days. This eastern part of the Llanos, be-
tween Angostura and Barcelona, is similar to that
already described on the passage from the valley of
Aragua to San Fernando de Apure ; but tlie breeze is
felt with greater force, although at this period it had
ceased. They spent tlie iirst night at the house of a
Frenchman, a native of Lyons, who received them with
tlie kindest hospitality. He was employed in joining
wood by means of a kind of glue called guayca, which
resembles the best made from animal substances, and is


found between the bark and alburnum of the Combretum cilAT.xx.
(juayctty a kind of creeping plant. —

On the third day they arrived at the missions of Cari. ...
Some showers had recently revived the vegetation. A Citfl""*''
thick turf was formed of small grasses and herbaceous
sensitive plants, Avhile a few fan-palms, rhopalas, and
malphighias, rose at great distances from each other.
The humid spots were distinguishable by groups of
mauritias, which were loaded with enormous clusters of
red fruit. The plain undulated from the effect of mi-
rage, the heat was excessive, and the travellers found
temporary relief under the shade of the trees, which had,
however, attracted numerous birds and insects.

On the 13th July they arrived at the village of Cari, yjnagool
where, as usual, they lodged with the clergyman, wlio Cari.
could scarcely comprehend how natives of the north of
Europe should have arrived at his dwelling from the
frontiers of Brazil. They found more than 500 Caribs
in the hamlet, and saw many more at the surrounding
missions. They were of large stature, from five feet ten
inches to six feet two. Tlie men had the lower part of
the body wrapped in a piece of dark-blue cloth, while
the women had merely a narrow band. This race differs caribs.
from the other Indians, not only in being taller, but also
in the greater regularity of their features, in having tht
nose less flattened, and the cheekbones less prominent.
The hair of the head is partially shaven, only a circular
tuft being left on the top, — a custom that might be sup-
posed to have been borrowed from the monks, but which
is equally prevalent among those who have preserved
their independence. Both males and females are care-
ful to ornament their persons with paint. The Caribs,
once so powerful, now inhabit but a small part of the
country which they occupied at the time when America
was discovered. They have been exterminated in the
West India Islands and the coasts of Darien, but in the
provinces of New Barcelona and Spanish Guiana have
formed populous villages, under the government of the
missions. Humboldt estimates the number inhabiting



Number of



IVuit- trees.

the Llanos of Piritoo and tlie banks of the Caroni and
Cuyuni at more than 35,000, and the total amount of
the pure race at 40,000.

The missionary led the travellers into several huts,
where they found the greatest order and cleanliness, but
were shocked by the torments that the women inflicted
on tlicir infants, for the purpose of raising the flesh in
alternate bands from the ankle to the top of the thigh,
— a practice which the monks had in vain attempted to
abolish. This effect was produced by narrow ligatures,
which seemed to obstruct the circulation of the blood,
although it did not weaken the action of the muscles.
The foreliead, however, was not flattened, but left in its
natural form.

On leaving the mission the philosophers had some
difficulty in settling with their Indian muleteers, who
had discovered among the baggage the skeletons brought
from the cavern of Ataruijje, and were persuaded that
the animals which carried such a load would perish on
the journey. The Rio Cari was crossed in a boat, and
the Rio de Agua Clara by fording. The same objects
every where recurred ; huts constructed of reeds and
roofed with skins ; mounted men guarding the herds ;
cattle, horses, and mules, running half wild. No sheep
or goats were seen, these animals being unable to escape
from the jaguars.

On the 15th they arrived at the Villa del Pao, Avhere
they found some fruit-trees as well as cocoa-palms,
which properly belong to the coast. As they advanced
the sky became clearer, the soil more dusty, and the
atmosplierc more fiery. The intense heat, liowever, was
not entirely owing to the temperature of the air, but
arose jxirtly from the fine sand mingled with it. On
the night of the IGth they rested at the Indian village
of Santa Cruz de Cachipo. The warmth had increased
so jnuch that they would have preferred travelling by
night ; but the country was infested by roltbers, who
.nurdercd the whites that fell into their hands. These
were malefactors who had escaped from the prisons on


the coast and from the missions, and lived in the Llanos CHAP.XX.
in a manner similar to that of the Bedouin Arabs. ,. . —
Those vast i^lains, Humboldt thinks, can hardly ever be vohbln.
subjected to cultivation ; although he is persuaded that
in the lapse of ages, if placed under a government
favourable to industry, they will lose much of the wild
aspect which they have hitherto retained.

After travelling three days they began to perceive the Mountains
chain of the mountains of Cumana, which separates the """"'"■
Llanos from the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It ap-
peared at first like a fog-bank, which by degrees con-
densed, assumed a bluish tint, and became bounded by
sinuous outlines. Although the Llanos of Venezuela
are bordered on the south by granitic mountains exhib-
iting in their broken summits traces of violent convul-
sions, no blocks were found scattered upon them. The
same remark is to be made in regard to the other
great plains of South America. These circumstances,
as Humboldt remarks, seem to prove that the granitic
masses scattered over the sandy plains of the Baltic are
a local phenomenon, and must have originated in some
great convulsion which took place in the northern
regions of Europe.

On the 2.3d July they arrived at the town of New KewBarca-
Barcelona, less fatigued by the hetit to which they had '"^'^
been so long accustomed, than harassed by the sand-
wind, that causes painful chaps in the skin. They were
kindly received by a wealthy merchant of French ex-
traction, Don Pedro Lavie. This town was founded in
1(337, and in 1800 contained more than 1G,000 inhabi-
tants. The climate is not so hot as that of Cumana,
but very damp, and in the rainy season rather unhealthy.
M. Bonpland had by this time regained his strength and
activity, but his companion suffered more at Barcelona
than he had done at Angostura. One of those extra-
ordinary tropical rains, during which drops of enormous
size fall at sunset, had produced uneasy sensations that
seemed to threaten an attack of typhus, — a disease then
prevalent on the coast. They remained nearly a month




CHAP. XX. at Barcelona, where they found their friend Juan
— Gonzales, who, having resolved to go to Europe, meant
to accompany them as far as Cuba.

At the distance of seven miles to the south-east of
New Barcelona rises a chain of lofty mountains con-
ntcted with the Cerro del Bergantin, which is seen
from Cumana. When Humboldt's health was suffi-
ciently restored, the travellers made an excursion in
that direction, for the purpose of examining the hot
sja-ines in the neighbourhood. These are impregnated
with sulphuretted hydrogen, and issue from a quartzose
sandstone, lying on a compact limestone resembling that
of Jura. The temperature of the water was 109"8°.
Their host had lent them his finest saddle-horses, warn-
ing them at the same time not to ford the little river of
Narigual, which is infested with crocodiles. They
passed over by a kind of bridge formed of the trunks of
trees, and made their animals swim, liolding them by
the bridles. Humboldt's suddenly disappeared, and the
guides conjectured that it had been seized by the

The crocodiles of the Rio Neveri are numerous, but
less ferocious than those of the Orinoco. The people of
New Barcelona convey wood to market, by floating the
logs on the river, while the proprietors swim here and
there to set them loose when they are stopped by the
hanks. This could not be done in most of the South
American rivers infested by those animals. There is ni)
Indian suburb as at Cumana, and the few natives seen
lU the town are from the neighbouring missions, or
mliabitants of huts scattered in the plain. They are of
i mixed race, indolent, and addicted to drinking.

The packet-boats from Corunna to Havannah and
Mexico liad been due three months, so that they were
supposed to liave been taken by the English cruisers ;
when our travellers, anxious to reach Cumana, in order
to avail themselves of the first opportunity for Vera
Cruz, hired an oi)en vessel. It was laden with cacao,
and carried on a contraband trade with the island of

i:io Neven

I if packtt-


Trinidad; for which reason the proprietor thought he chap.x:;
had nothing to fear from the British ; but they had ^ ~ — .
scarcely reached the narrow channel between tlie con- privateer/ "
tinent and the islands of Boracha and the Chimanas,
when they met an armed boat which, hailing them at
a great distance, fired some musket-shot at them. It
belonged to a privateer of Halifax, and the travellers
wtre forthwith carried on board ; but while Humboldt
was negotiating in the cabin, a noise was heard upon
deck, and something was whispered to the master, who
instantly left him in consternation. An English sloop Recapture
of war, the Hawk, had come up, and made signals to and deliver
the latter to bring to ; which he not having promptly
obeyed, a gun was fired, and a midshipman sent to
demand the reason. Humboldt accompanied this officer
to the sloop, where Captain Garnier received him with
the greatest kindness. Next day they continued their
voyage, and at nine in the morning reached the Gulf of
Cariaco. The castle of San Antonio, the forest of
cactuses, the scattered huts of the Guayquerias, and all
the features of a landscape well known to them, roso
upon the view ; and on their landing at Cuniana they Landing ut
were greeted by their numerous friends, who were Cumana.
overjoyed to find untrue a report of their death on the
Orinoco, which had been current for several months.
The port was every day more strictly blockaded, and
thp vain expectation of Spanish packets detained them
two months and a half longer ; during which time they
occupied themselves in completing their investigation of
the plants of the country ; in examining the geology
of the eastern part of the peninsula of Araya ; and in
making astronomical observations, together with experi-
ments on refraction, evaporation, and atmosphoric elec-
tricity. They also sent off some of their more valuable
collections to France.

Having been informed that the Indians brought to Natiwoium.
the town considerable quantities of native alum found
in the mountains, they made an excursion for the pur-
pose of ascertaining its position. Disembarking near



Oia salt-pit.

Search for
tlic aU'.m




Cape Caney they inspected the old salt-pit, now con-
verted into a lake by an irruption of the sea ; the ruins
of the castle of Araya ; and the limestone-mountain of
Barigon, which contained fossil-shells in perfect preser-
vation. When they visited that peninsula the preceding
year, there was a dreadful scarcity of water. But
during their absence on the Orinoco it had rained
ahundantly on various parts along the coast ; and the
remembrance of these showers occupied the imagination

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 20 of 35)