Alexander von Humboldt.

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clay, which filled the path and rendered it excessively
slippery, was produced by layers of sandstone and slate-
clay which cross the calcareous strata. At length, after
a fatiguing march, they reached the town of Cariaco, on Cariaco.
the coast, where they found a great part of the inhabi-
tants confined to their beds with intermittent fever
The low situation of the place as well as of tlie sur-
rounding district, the great heat and moisture, and the
stagnant marshes generated during the rainy season, are
supposed to be the causes of this disease, which often
assumes a malignant character, and is accompanied with



of Caiiaco.

CMAT. viiL dysentery. Men of colour, and especially Creole ne-
FcverT" groes, resist the influence of the climate much better
than any other race. It is generally observed, however,
that the mortality is less than might be supposed ; for
although intermittent fevers, when they attack the
same individual several years in succession, alter and
weaken the constitution, they do not usually cause
death. It is remarkable that the natives believe the air
to have become more vitiated in proportion as a larger
extent of land has been cultivated ; but the miasmata
from the marshes, and the exhalations from the man-
groves, avicenniae, and other astringent plants growing
on the borders of the sea, are probably the real causes
of the unhealthiness of the coasts.

In 1800 the town of Cariaco contained more than
6000 inhabitants, who were actively employed in the
cultivation of cotton, the produce of which exceeded
10,000 quintals (90.57 cwts. avoirdupois). The capsules,
after the separation of the wool, were carefully burnt,
as they were thought to occasion noxious exhalations
when thrown into the river. Cacao and sugar were also
raised to a considera])le extent.

As our travellers were not sufficiently inured to the
climate, they considered it prudent to leave Cariaco as
expeditiously as possible on account of the fever. Em-
barking early in the morning, they proceeded westward
along the river of Carenicuar, which flows through a
deep marshy soil covered with gardens and plantations
of cotton. The Indian women Avere washing their linen
with the fruit of the parapara (^Sapindus saponaria).
Contraiy winds, accompanied Avith heavy rain and
thunder, rertdercd the voyage disagreeable ; more espe-
cially as the canoe w\is narrow and overloaded with rav,-
sugar, plantains, cocoa-nuts, and passengers. Swarms of
flamingoes, egrets, and cormorants, were flying toward
the shore, while the alcatras, a large species of pelican,
less affx'cted l)y the weatlier, continued fishing in the
])ay. The general depth of the sea is from 288 to 820
feet ; but at the eastern extremity of the gulf it is only

t'.dii on tlie


from nineteen to twenty-five feet for an extent of seven- chap, vm

teen miles, and there is a sandbank, which at low water —

resembles a small island. They crossed the part where the sea.

the hot springs rush from the bottom of the ocean ; but

it being high water the change of temperature was not

very perceptible. The contrary winds continuing, they

were forced to land at Pericantral, a small farm on tiie

south side of the gulf. The coast, although covered by

a beautiful vegetation, was almost destitute of human

labour, and scarcely possessed seven hundred inhabitants.

The cocoa-tree is the principal object of cultivation, p^^^,^ ^^^

This palm thrives best in the neighbourhood of the sea,

and like the sugar-cane, the plantain, the mammee-apple,

and the alligator-pear, may be watered either with fresh

or salt water. In other parts of America it is generally

nourished around farm-houses ; but along the Gulf of

Cariaco it forms real plantations ; and at Cumana they

talk of a hacienda de coco, as they do of a hacienda de

canna, or de cacao. In moist and fertile ground it begins

to bear abundantly the fourth year ; but in dry soils it

does not produce fruit until the tenth. Its duration

does not generally exceed eighty or a hundred years ; at

which period its mean height is about eighty feet.

Throughout this coast a cocoa-tree supplies annually

about a hundred nuts, which yield eight fiascos of oil.

The fiasco is sold for about sixteenpence. . A great

quantity is made at Cumana, and Humboldt frequently

witnessed the arrival thei-e of canoes containing 3000

nuts. The oil, which is clear and destitute of smell, is

well adapted for burning.

After sunset they left the farm of Pericantral, and at .Arontu of the
three in the morning reached the mouth of the Manza- Manzauarts.
nares, after passing a very indifferent night in a narrow
and deeply laden canoe. Having been for several weeks
accustomed to mountain-scenery, gloomy forests, and
rainy weather, they were struck by the bareness of the
soil, the clearness of the sky, and the mass of reflected
light by which the neighbourhood of Cumana is charac-
terized. At sunrise they saw the zamuro vultures

96 RETun>; to cumaxa.

CHAP. VIII. (^Vultur aura) perched on the cocoa-trees in large flocka.
Hookof Tliese birds go to roost long before night, and do not
ruituros. quit their place of repose until after the heat of the solar
rays is felt. The same idleness, as it were, is indulged
by the trees with pinnate leaves, such as the mimosas
and tamarinds, which close these organs half an hour
before the sun goes down, and unfold them in the
morning only after he has been some time visible. In
our climates the leguminous plants open their leaves
during the morning twilight. Humboldt seems to think
that the liumidity deposited upon the parenchyma by
the refrigeration of the foliage, which is the effect of the
nocturnal radiation, prevents the action of the first rays
of the sun upon them.



Indians of New Andalusia.

Physical Constitution and JSIanners of the Chaymas — Their Lan-
guages — American Races.

It is the custom of Humboldt, in liis " Journey to tlie chap. ix.
Equinoctial Regions," to stand still after an excursion, —
i-eflect, and present to his readers the result of his in- wi-itmg.
quiries on any subject that has fixed his attention. For
example, on concluding the narrative of his visit to the
Chayma missions, he gives a general account of the
aborigines of New Andalusia, of which an abridgment is
here offered.

The north-eastern part of Equinoctial America, Terra Aborigines
Firma, and the shores of the Orinoco, resemble, in the of New
multiplicity of the tribes by which they are inhabited,
the defiles of Caucasus, the mountains of Hindoo-kho,
and the northern extremity of Asia, beyond the Tun-
gooses and the Tartars of the mouth of the Lena. The
barbarism which prevails in these various regions is
perhaps less owing to an original absence of civilisation
than to the effects of a long debasement ; and if every
thing connected with the first population of a continent
were known, we should probably find that savages are
merely tribes banished from society and driven into the
forests. At the commencement of the conquest of
America, the natives were collected into large bodies
only on the ridge of the Cordilleras and the coast opposite
to Asia, where the vast savannahs, and the great plains




Number of


cilAP. IX. covered by forests and intersected by rivers, presented
Avandering tribes, separated by differences .of language
and manners.

In Cumana and New Barcelona, the aborigines still
form fully one-half of the scanty population. Their
number may be about 60,000, of which 24,000 inhabit
New Andalusia. This amount appears large when we
refer to the hunting- tribes of North America, but seems
the reverse when we look to those districts of New
Spain where agriculture has been followed for more than
eight centuries. Thus, the intendancy of Oaxaca, which
forms part of tlie old Mexican empire, and which is one-
third smaller than the two provinces of Cumana and
Barcelona, contains more than 400,000 of the original
race. The Indians of Cumana do not all live assembled
in the missions, some being found dispersed in the neigh-
bourhood of towns along the coasts. The stations of the
Arragonese Capuchins contain 15,000, almost all of the
Chayma tribe. The villages, however, are less crowded
than in the province of Barcelona, their indigenous
population being only between five and six hundred ;
whereas, more to the west, in the establishments of the
Franciscans of Piritoo, there are towns of 2000 or 3000
inhabitants. Besides the G0,000 natives of the provinces
of Cunuina and Barcelona, there are some thousands of
Guaraunos wlio have preserved their independence in
the islands at the mouth of the Orinoco. Excepting a few
families, there are no wild Indians in New Andalusia.

The term wild or savage, Humboldt says he uses with
regret, because it implies a difference of cultivation wliich
does not always exist between the reduced or civilized
Indian, living in the missions, and the free or independ-
ent Indian. In tlie forests of South America there are
tribes which dwell in villages, rear plantains, cassava,
and cotton, and are scarcely more barbarous than those
in the religious establishments, who have been taught to
make the sign of tlie cross. It is an error to consider all
the free natives as wandering hunters ; fur agriculture
existed on the contineut lont? before the arrival of the

araontr ttic

Tn diarx


Europeans, and still exists between the Orinoco and the cHAP. ix.
Amazons, in districts to whicli they have never pene- p 7^^ <■
trated. The system of the missions has produced an agncuituia
attacliment to landed property, a fixed residence, and a
taste for quiet life ; but the baptized Indian is often as
little a Christian as his heathen brother is an idolater, —
both discovering a marked indifference for religious
opinions, and a tendency to w^orship nature.

There is no reason to believe, that in the Spanish increase of
colonies the number of Indians has diminished since the ti^e nativef.
conquest. There are still more than six millions of the
copper-coloured race in both Americas ; and although
tribes and languages have been destroyed or blended in
those colonies, the natives have in fact continued to in-
crease. In the temperate zone the contact of Europeans
with the indigenous population becomes fatal to the
latter ; but in South America the result is different, ana
there they do not dread the approach of the whites. In
the former case a vast extent of country is required by
the Indians, because they live by hunting ; but in the
latter a small piece of ground suffices to afford subsistence
for a family.

In these provinces the Europeans advance slowly ; Relipinns
and the religious orders have founded establishments estcbUsU-
between the regions inhabited by them and those pos-
sessed by the independent Indians, The missions have
no doubt encroached on the liberty of the natives, but
they have generally been favourable to the increase of
the population. As the preachers advance into the in-
terior the planters invade their territory ; the whites
and the castes of mixed breed settle among the Indians ;
the missions become Spanish villages ; and finally, the
old inhabitants lose their original manners and language.
In this way civilisation advances from the coasts towards
the centre of the continent.

New Andalusia and Barcelona contain more than Indian tribes
fourteen tribes of Indians. Those of the former are the
Chaymas, Guayquerias, Pariagotos, Quaquas, Aruacas,
Caribs, and Guaraunos ; and those of the latter, the



of tribes

CHAP. IX. Cumanagotos, Palenkas, Caribs, Piritoos, Tomoozas,
Topocuares, Cliacoiiatas, and Guarivas. The precise
Hutson trees, number of the Guaraunos, who live in huts elevated on
trees at the mouth of the Orinoco, is not known. There
are two thousand Guayquerias in the suburbs of Cumana
and the peninsula of Araya. Of the other tribes the
Cliaymas of the mountains of Caripe, the Caribs of New-
Barcelona, and the Cumanagotos of the missions of
Piritoo, are the most numerous. The language of the
Guaraunos, and that of the Caribs, Cumanagotos, and
Chaymas, arc the most general, and seem to belong to
the same stock.

Althougli the Indians attached to the missions are all
agriculturists, cultivate the same plants, build their huts
in the same manner, and lead the same kind of life, yet
the shades by which the several tribes are distinguished
remain unchanged. There are few of these villages in
whicli tlie families belong to different tribes, and speak
different languages. The missionaries have indeed pro-
hibited the use of various practices and ceremonies, and
have destroyed many superstitions ; but they have not
been able to alter the essential character common to all
the American races from Hudson's Bay to the Straits of
Magellan. The instructed Indian, more secure of sub-
sistence than the untamed native, and less exposed to
the fury of hostile neighbours or of the elements, leads
a more monotonous life, possesses the mildness of char-
acter which arises from the love of repose, and assumes
a sedate and mysterious air ; but the sphere of his ideas
has received little enlargement, and tiie expression of
melanclioly wliicli his countenance exhibits is merely
the result of indolence.

The Chaymas, of whom more than fifteen thousand
inhabit the Spanish villages, and who border on the
Cuniaiiagotos toward the west, the Guaraunos toward
the east, and the Caribs toward tlie south, occupy part
of the elevated mountains of the CocoUar and Guacharo,
as also tlie banks of the Guarapiclie, Rio Colorado, Areo,
and the Cano of Caripe. The first attemi>t to reduce

Mildness of

The Chu7-


them to subjection was made in the middle of the CHAP, ix,
seventeentli century by Father Francisco of Pamplona,
a person of great zeal and intrepidity. The missions
subsequently formed among these people suffered greatly
in 1681, 1697, and 1720, from the invasion of the Caribs ;
while during six years subsequently to 1730 the popula-
tion was diminished by the ravages of the small-pox.

The Chaymas are generally of low stature, their Fijirure and
ordinary height being about five feet two inches ; but stature
their figures are broad and muscular. The colour of the
skin is a dull brown inclining to red. The expression
of the countenance is sedate and somewhat gloomy ; the
forehead is small and retiring ; the eyes sunk, very long
and black, but not so small or oblique as in the Mon-
golian race ; the eyebrows slender, nearly straight, and ^ipieasion.
black or dark-brown, and the eyelids furnished with
very long lashes ; the cheekbones are usually high ; the
hair straight ; the beard almost entirely wanting, as in
the same people, from whom, however, they differ es-
sentially in having the nose pretty long. The mouth is
wide, the lips broad but not prominent, the chin ex-
tremely short and round, and the jaws remarkable for
their strength. The teeth are white and sound, the
toothach being a disease with which they are seldom
afflicted. The hands are small and slender, while the
feet are large, and the toes possessed of an extraordinary
mobility. They have so strong a family look, that on Family
entering a hut it is often difficult, among grown-up per- li^^^ncss.
sons, to distinguish the father from the son. This is
attributable to the circumstance of their only marrying
in their own tribe, as well as to their inferior degree of
intellectual improvement : the differences between un-
civilized and cultivated man being similar to those
between wild and domesticated animals of the same

As they live in a very warm country they are exces- Aversion to
sively averse to clothing. In spite of the remonstrances clotliing.
of the monks, men and women remain naked while
within their houses ; and, when they go out, wear only


CHAP. IX. fi kind of cotton gown scarcely reaching to the knees.
. — The dress of tlie men lias sleeves, while that of the
women and hoys has none, the arms, shoulders, and
upper part of the breast l)eing uncovered. Till the age
of nine the twirls are allowed to go to church naked.
The missionaries complain that the feeling of modesty is
very little known to the vounger of the sex. The women
are not handsome ; but the maidens have a kind of plea-
sant melancholy in their looks. No instances of natural
deformity occurred to the travellers. Humboldt re-
Customs and iiiarks, that deviations from nature are exceedingly rare
habits of life, among certain races of men, especially such as have the
skin highly coloured, — an effect which he does not ascribe
solely to a luxurious life or the corruption of morals
but lather imagines that the immunity enjoyed by the
American Indians arises from hereditary organization.
The custom of marrying at a very early age, which
depends upon the same circumstance, is stated to be no
way detrimental to population. It occurs in the most
northern parts of the continent <as well as in the warmest,
and therefore is not dependent upon climate.

They have naturally very little hair on the chin, and
the little that appears is carefully plucked out. This
thinness of the beard is common to the American race,
although there are tribes, such as tlie Chipeways and
the Patagonians, in which it assumes respectable di-
Koffularity of '^''"'' Chaymas lead a very regular and uniform life,
life. They go to bed at seven and rise at half after four.

The inside of their huts is kept very clean, and theii
hammocks, utensils, and weapons, are arranged in the
greatest order. They bathe every day, and, being gene-
rally naked, are thus exempted from the filth principally
caused by clothing. Besides their cabin in the village,
they usually,have a smaller one, covered with palm or
j)lantain leaves, in some solitary place in tlie woods, to
which they retire as often as they can ; and so strong is
the desire among them of enjoying the pleasures of
savage life, that the children sometimes wander entire


days in the fonsts. In fact the towns are often almost chap. tx.
wholly deserted. As in all scini-barbarous nations, the
women are subjected to privation and suffering, the
hardest laljour falling to their share.

The Indians learn Spanish with extreme difficulty ; KnowledRo
and, even when they perfectly understand the meaning o^Spaaish.
of the words, are unable to express the most simple
ideas in that language without embarrassment. They
seem to have as little capacity for comprehending any
thing belonging to numbers ; the more intelligent count-
ing in Spanisli with the appearance of great effort only
as far as thirty, or perhaps fifty, while in their own
tongue they cannot proceed beyond five or six. The Native
construction of the American dialects is so different from dialects,
that of the several classes of speech derived from the
Latin, that the Jesuits employed some of the more per-
fect among the former instead of their own ; and had
this system been generally followed the greatest benefit
would have resulted from it. The Chayma appeared
to Humboldt less agreeable to the ear than that of the
other South American tribes.

The Pariagotos, or Farias, formerly occupied the p^^^^
coasts of Berl)ice and Essequibo, the peninsula of Paria,
and the plains of Piritoo and Parima. Little informa-
tion, however, is furnished respecting them.

The Guaraunos are dispersed in the delta of the gj^araunos.
Orinoco, and owe their independence to the nature of
their country. In order to raise their houses above the
inundations of the river, they support them on the
trunks of the mangrove and mauritia palm. They
make bread of the flour obtained from the pith of the
latter tree. Tlieir excellent qualities as seamen, their
perfect knowledge of the mouths and inosculations of
that magnificent stream, and their great number, give
them a certain degree of political importance. They
run with great address on marshy ground, v>here the
whites, the negroes, or other Indian tribes, will not
venture ; and this circumstance has given rise to the









Katives of

idea of tlieir being specifically lighter than the rest of
the natives.

The Guayqucrias are the most interpid fishermen of
these countries, and are the only persons well acquainted
with the great bank that surrounds the islands of Coche,
Margarita, Sola, and Testigos. They inhabit Margarita,
the peninsula of Araya, and a suburb of Cumana.

The Quaquas, formerly a very warlike tribe, are now
mingled witli the Cliaymas attached to the missions of
Cumana, although their original abode was on the banks
of the Assivcru.

The Cumanagotos, to the number of more than
twenty-six thousand, subject to the Christian stations of
Piritoo, live westward of Cumana, where they cultivate
the ground. At the beginning of the sixteenth century
they inhabited the mountains of the Brigantine and

The Caribbees of these countries are part of the rem-
nant of the great Carib nation.

The natives of America may be divided into two great
classes. To the first belong the Esquimaux of Green-
land, Labrador, and Hudson's Ba}', and the inhabitants
of Behring's Straits, Alaska, and Prince William's
Sound. Tlie eastern and western brandies of this great
family, the Esquimaux proper and the Tchougazcs, are
united by the most intimate similarity of language,
altiiough separated to the immense distance of eight
hundred leagues. The inhabitants of the north-east of
Asia are evidently of the same stock. Like the Malays,
tliis hyperborean nation resides only on the scacoast.
They are lively and loquacious, and of smaller stature
than the other Americans. Their liair is straight and
black ; but their skin is originally white, in which
respect they essentially differ from the other class.

The second race is dispersed over the various regions
of the continent, from the northern jiarts to the south-
ern extremity. They are of larger size, more warlike,
and more taciturn, and differ in the colour of their skin.



At the earliest age it has more or less of a coppery tinge chap. ix.
in most of the tribes, while in others the childeni are ,,.«■

' , 1 /-. UifferenccE

fair, or nearly so ; and certain tribes on the Orinoco in colour.

preserve the same complexion during their whole life.

Humboldt is of opinion that these differences in colour

are but slightly influenced by climate or other external

circumstances, and endeavours to impress the idea that

they depend on the original constitution.


Hesidence at

Residence at Cumana.

Residence at Cumana — Attack of a Zambo — Eclipse of the Sun —
Extraordinary' Atmospherical Phenomena — Shocks of an Earth-
quake — Luminous Meteors.

Our travellers remained a month longer at Cumana.
As they had determined to make a voyage on the
CumajaX "" Orinoco and Rio Negro, preparations of various kinds
were necessary ; and tlie astronomical determination of
places being the most important object of this under-
taking, it was of essential advantage to observe an eclipse
of the sun wliich was to happen in the end of October.
As<:auU on ^^ the 27th, the day before the obscuration, they

lioupiaud. went out in the evening, as usual, to take the air.
Crossing tlie beach which separates the suburb of the
Guayquerias from the landing-place, they heard the
sound of footsteps beliind, and on turning saw a tall
Zambo, who, coming up, flourished a great palm-tree-
bludgeon over Humboldt's head. He avoided the stroke
by leaping aside ; but Bonpland was less fortunate, for,
receiving a blow above the temple he was felled to the
ground. The former assisted his companion to rise,
and both now pursued the ruffian, wlio had run off with
one of their hats, and on being seized, drew a long knife
Arrest oi the f^oui his trousers. In the mean time some Biscayan
7-imba merchants, wlio were walking on the shore, came to
tlicir assistance ; wlien the Zambo, seeing himself sur-
rounded, took to his heels and sought refuge in a

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 8 of 35)