Henry C. (Henry Clemens) Pearson.

The rubber country of the Amazon : a detailed description of the great rubber industry of the Amazon valley, which comprises the Brazilian states of Pará, Amazonas and Matto Grosso, the territory of the Acre, the Montana of Peru and Bolivia, and the southern portions of Colombia and Venezuela online

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Online LibraryHenry C. (Henry Clemens) PearsonThe rubber country of the Amazon : a detailed description of the great rubber industry of the Amazon valley, which comprises the Brazilian states of Pará, Amazonas and Matto Grosso, the territory of the Acre, the Montana of Peru and Bolivia, and the southern portions of Colombia and Venezuela → online text (page 5 of 12)
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draught. Until recently these cones were made of earthenware and were
heavy and rather fragile. To-day the aviadores supply them in sheet
iron with handles on the side. These are much more portable and not
breakable, but the seringueiros, that is, the old expert ones, detest them.
They complain that the iron throws off so much heat that their work is
much more disagreeable that when they used clay cones.

When the smoke is coming thick and hot from the funnel, the
seringueiro winds a bit of freshly coagulated rubber about a piece of
wood, shaped something like a canoe paddle, and thoroughly dries it in
the smoke. Then he dips this in the latex and holds it again over the
smoke until that film is dried. Over and over again he repeats this
process, the ball growing in size with every dipping. Where large balls
are to be made that cannot easily be handled, a rest is made by driving
two forked sticks into the ground with a cross piece connecting them.
In the middle of this cross piece is a loop of bush rope into which om
end of the pole holding the rubber ball is thrust. The seringueiro, grasj
ing the other end, swings the ball over the smoke and turns it easily.
a further assistance a loop of bush rope coming down from the roof o1
the hut helps the laborer to hold his end of the smoking pole.

Quite a variety of palm nuts may be used in smoking. The best an
said to be the "iuaja" (Masumileuo regno) but they are hard to find. Tht




urucuri (Attala excelsa) is what is commonly used. What is known as
the "uanassee" is also used but is said not to give as good a result, although^
these nuts are very abundant and easily obtained. The palm nuts used


(The nuts of which are used in smoking Para rubber.)


a help in locating the camps of the rubber gatherers. Just what the smoke
of the palm nut does that other smokes will not accomplisl the Indian does
not know. He explains that it is o pungimento (the strength) which
is a good explanation as far as it goes.

A part of the process of coagulation that is not generally described
and indeed that many say does not exist is heating the latex before
applying it to the paddle that it may coagulate more readily. Many
have stated that the latex of the Hevea produces l /2 of its weight in
rubber. Actually it is about 1/3 for an average. Careful workmen
rub the paddle with clay to keep the rubber from clinging too closely to


the wood. They also warm the paddle thoroughly in the hot smoke
fore they begin.

As the rubber is coagulated, the color of the pelle is first a silvei
grey, then yellow, and finally almost black.

The smoked biscuit is very soft when it is first formed and sweats
a great deal of water. It is laid with the paddle still in it on a board t(
dry out over night. The next morning it is cut off and there is still
so much water that the rubber cuts like cheese.

Much of the latex coagulates in the air. This is in the form oi
thin films on the sides of the vessels, drippings in various parts of the
camp, and latex that started to coagulate before there was time to smokt
it. This forms the grade known as coarse Para.


Day after day until Saturday, the seringueiro pursues his monotonous
task. On that day, he, with half a dozen others or more, whose estradas
join his, take their balls of rubber to the seringal, where they are credited
with the number of pounds gathered, at say 50 per cent, of the market
value as they know it. The other 50 per cent, is to indemnify the owner
of the seringal for shrinkage, freight, and so on. The rubber ball is then
branded with the mark of the aviador and stored awaiting shipment.
Often times too it is sunned with the result that the outer surface becomes
very dense preventing the moisture that is on the inside from escaping.

His week's work finished, the seringueiro goes to the store, gets
supplies of provisions for the next week, not forgetting plenty of cachaca,
which are debited to him at about 100 per cent, above the cost price.

The owner of the seringal makes his profit almost entirely out of
what he sells to the seringueiro. The latter is obliged to buy goods only
at the store, or else hunt some other seringal, the owner of which must
assume his debt, which always exists, with a 20 per cent, increase for
the transfer.

The grade or rubber known as Cameta is a sernamb\ that is not
smoked but coagulates in the cups on the trees. The seringueiros like to
gather rubber in this way as it avoids the trouble of smoking. Beside
this, if perhaps they can tap 150 trees if they are working for fine they can
tap 250 if they are after Cameta. This rubber is much inferior to fine
and brings less in the rubber market. Therefore the state revenues are
much less. In order to force the rubber gatherers to produce more fine
and less Cameta the state of Para seriously considered putting a tax of
10 cents a pound on Cameta.

A native rubber gatherer, knowing nothing of botany, in fact ignorant
of almost everything except his own particular craft, can pick out a Hevea
Brasiliensis from any other Hevea at sight. Something that he detects
in the texture of the bark, in the way the tree grows, enables him to
decide at once and he is always right. The expert botanist, however, is
obliged to see the flowers and even then the differences between the
various Hevea blossoms are so slight that he may be in error.

Years ago it is said that the rubber gatherers were in the habit of
taking a length of bush rope, looping it about the foot of the rubber tree,
close to the ground, then twisting it tourniquet fashion, after which
tl.ey tapped the tree. This was said to exhaust the tree and was prohibited
by law.

The size of Para rubber trees has been variously stated. Cross



measured many in the lower islands, particularly on Marajo, and found
them to be from 3 feet to 6 feet 10 inches in circumference 3 feet from
the ground. He saw no trees that were more than 60 feet in. height,
although the forest there affords other trees that are 80 to 100 feet
in height. Wickham exploring the plateau lying between the Madeira
and Tapajos rivers, land that is never inundated, found mature trees 10
to 12 feet in circumference and 70 and 80 feet in height.

The native method of smoking may not always be followed in
Brazilian forests. Numbers of other processes have been experimented
with. It will be remembered that Brazil exhibited at the World's Fair
in Chicago, 1893, samples of Para rubber which had been coagulated by


adding sulphate of alumina to the latex. It was believed that this
would revolutionize the smoking process, and be much quicker and
cheaper. The rubber, however, was found to be quite brittle and rather
short lived and the process never came into general use.

Various processes for preserving the latex so that it should not
coagulate before the gatherer had an opportunity to smoke it have also
been invented by Brazilians. There was, for example, the Torres system,
by which a liquid added to the latex preserved it for more than twenty
hours. This preservation was said to be made of a combination of the
juices of a number of vines, the names of which were kept secret. This
was invented in 1894, but never was adopted by the rubber gatherers.


Ten years later Pozelina appeared. This was also a secret compound
and it was claimed for it that it added to the value of the rubber ^gj)er
cent, but the scringueiros would have none of it.

In 1908 Seringuina appeared and the inventor received many
assurances of interest on the part of the Brazilian government. Bottles
cf latex preserved by it, were sent to the writer in New York and the
rubber milk is still sweet and uncoagulated. So far as is known, how-
ever, none of the large operators in crude rubber have made it useful at
their Scringacs.

Years ago appeared a machine for smoking latex known as
Coutinho's. Ten years later, improved, it again appeared as Danin's. Both
inventors were Brazilians who were perfectly familiar with the native
methods of curing rubber and their manifest inadequacy. The improved
machine has a hollow cylinder into which both smoke and latex are
admitted. As the cylinder is rotated the latex spreads over the inner
surface, is brought in contact with the smoke, coagulates in thin films,
and is cut off in sheets when the process is finished.

A recent instance of Brazilian alertness was the invention of the
DaCosta Smoking Coagulator which is used not only in Brazil but on
the great rubber plantations in Ceylon and the Federated Malay States.
The apparatus is a simple arrangement of steam-boilers and smoke
furnace whereby steam and smoke together are forced into cans of
latex until coagulation is effected.

The proportion of coarse or scrnamby varies with different localities.
In 1903-04, 50 per cent, of the rubber exported from Para was sernamby
while of that exported from Manaos the proportion was only 20 per cent.

It is a question how much real Para rubber, that is, rubber made
wholly from Hcvca milk, appears in the market. Dr. Huber long ago
called attention to the fact that rubber gatherers were in the habit of
tapping S a plums that were near the estradas and mixing that latex with
that of Hcvca. Wherever in the Amazon basin the Hevca Brasilicnsis
is found there also flourishes great variety of Sapiums, many Mimusops
and other trees that are abundant latex producers. Left to themselves
the scringueiros are sure to mix in any milks that will coagulate. Indeed,
as the learned Doctor observes, perhaps they get a tougher and better
product for so doing. However this may be, it is certain that for some
reason or other, the rubber made from the pure Hcvca milk in the Far
East has not yet shown the nerve that is characteristic of upriver fine.

The tree tappers are not careful of the trees. Naturally improvident


they would destroy them in one year if it meant more rubber, but
fortunately more rubber cannot be gotten in this way from the Hevea,
and so the trees survive and continue to produce year after year. There


are stories of rubber gatherers on the upper reaches of the river who
build fires about the bases of the great trees to stimulate the flow of
latex, but no one seems able to verify such tales.


The tapping season may last from three to six months. This_dr
pends on location, and on the size and condition of the trees. Sometimes
the trees are tapped daily, sometimes every other day. Often they are
given a rest for a year. The amount of rubber secured per tree is difficult
to estimate, but it probably does not exceed two or three pounds, and in
some districts that have been constantly worked for a number of years
even less than that. Old rubber men tell stories of estradas of a hundred
trees that would turn in 20 to 30 pounds of rubber a day, but they agree
that the time of such production is long past.

The age at which Para rubber trees are big enough to tap depends
largely upon their surroundings. Cultivated trees may be tapped when
they are four to five years old, that is if the tapping be done carefully.
These that grow in the partially cleared forest will take from 10 to
15 years to arrive at the tappable size. Para trees, selfplante:!, that
manage to struggle up in the dense forest, probably take 25 to 30 years
to attain to the proper size for tapping.

The actual extent of the rubber forest in the Amazon country is
unknown, but according to those who have done a good deal of exploring
only the fringe has been touched. The seringaes and temporary rubber
camps are all located along the waterways.

This means working the territory about a mile inland. The rest
of the forest, comprising thousands of square miles, is as yet untouched.
This is true not only in Amazonas and the other great interior states,
but of the state of Para as well. With labor and proper exploitation
four times as much rubber could come out of the Amazon as is obtained
at present.

The securing of laborers is the most difficult part of the undertaking.
To get a rubber estate in the Amazon valley is easy. Millions of acres
of land with rubber trees are without owners. The land costs nothing,
the government exacting a fee only when it is registered.



FAR up on the eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes is a tiny lake-
let of ice-cold water from which flows a little brook. As this
increases in size and gets large enough to be worth naming, it is
called Tunquragua ; further down it becomes the Maranon, the Solimoes,
and the Amazon. Indeed, it is the Amazon from the little Peruvian pond
to the great 158 mile wide delta, thousands of miles to the east. The
great river takes its name from a tradition that its shores were peopled
with bands of warlike females, whose fierceness appalled even the early
Spanish adventurers. Perhaps there were such. Their descendants,
however, have changed, for no quieter, more peaceful, unobtrusive
women exist anywhere to-day, than in the basin of the Amazon, whether
Brazilian, half breed or Indian.

Many picturesque stories come down to us from the hardy and
adventurous pioneers of the past. There was Sir Walter Raleigh's
narrative of a race "with eyes in their shoulders and a huge mouth
situated just below the clavicle." Then, too, there were those who saw
in the cow-faced manatee, suckling its progeny from a pair of leathery
breasts, a beautiful water woman or mermaid. Of the great river
itself, however, they saw only what was so, and early described its
great delta with a current felt more than a hundred miles out at sea.
They knew, too, of the northward sweep of the Amazon and of how
it had built and was building the fertile lowlands of Dutch and British
Guiana by its vast deposits of Amazonian mud.

Every one asserts that there is no need of mosquito bars going
up or down the Amazon, but I had mine adjusted in spite of the
pitying smile on the face of my companion, who didn't unpack his. I
had an extremely self-satisfied feeling when I awoke about midnight and
heard him at work hastily getting his protector into position. Not that
the mosquitos were bad or numerous, but they were aboard. I was




up at light and, after a bath in the alluvial soup the river furnishes,
went on deck. The boat was ploughing through a lakelike expanse
of water, with islands in all directions. It is difficult for one who has
not studied this subject particularly to appreciate how many thousands
of islands, big and little, are crowded into the lower Amazon.

As the river was rising we passed through and by acres of floating
grasses, weeds, and logs, the larger masses being easily avoided. About
10 o'clock we entered the Narrows, our channel being perhaps 300
yards wide. On either side the low lying alluvial shores were thick


with palms of various kinds, together with Spanish cedars, rubber trees,
acacias, and a great variety of hard woods, over which ran a riot of
vines, big and little, every inch of land far out into the water being
crowded with luxuriant vegetation.

At close range the forest is so dense and covers such an area
that one does not easily appreciate how huge some of the trees are.
When one measures, however, a silk cotton tree that is from 30 to 40
feet in circumference, and they are not uncommon, one's ideas are
modified. Many of the vines and trees were masses of beautiful
flowers, and while the epyhites and orchids that clung to and clustered
on trunks and branches did not show many blooms, they added to the
decorative effect wonderfully. We looked here for the manatee, or



sea cow, which lives out: its quiet uneventful life in these waters,
shyly avoiding everything animate everything but its own kin. But
we had no luck.

Every now and then we passed a seringueiro's hut, or barracao,
close to the water's edge, built on posts above the rise of the river, while
in front of it were tethered one or more canoes, the only means of trans-
port, and indeed of refuge, when the water is very high. These huts
were simple in construction, made of poles lashed together with bush
rope, the sloping roofs covered with broad palm leaves. The floors


were of rough hewn logs, with a pile of clay or earth for a fireplace, and
no chimney. Oftentimes the whole front of a hut was open. So close
did we run to the shore that we could see the owners idling in their
hammocks and many times surprised coveys of naked children, who
promptly fled to cover, only to venture out when we got by. Some of
the older ones, to be sure, would jump into canoes and paddle toward
us, coming close to the stern as we passed so that the wash of the
steamer tossed their frail craft up and down most perilously, which ad-
venture they hailed with shrill squeals of delight.

We saw many such huts, and it is from them that the impression
often is gained that tVe whole population of the Amazon valley is made


up of hut dwellers. Such is far from being the fact. On the rising
ground, away from the river bank, are some magnificent estates; e^
fazendas, with fine buildings, great herds of cattle and horses, and very
considerable plantations. Vast areas of the country are, of course,
not only unsettled but unexplored. And these fazendas, widely scat-
tered as they are, do not make the showing they deserve-
As we ran close to the shores we were constantly flushing flocks
of birds that looked like short tailed pheasants. They were very
striking in their brown and red plumage, and as they flew along the


margin of the stream, alighting often and balancing themselves on sway-
ing branches near at hand, it looked as if sportsmen were few. We
put them down as Brazilian partridges, but learned later that they
were a sort of gilded buzzard, unfit for food, and altogether despicable.
It was a disappointment, for all the way to Manaos they persisted,
sometimes in flocks of a hundred or more. Of alligators we saw riot
one. Not that this saurian had disappeared permanently, but the high



water had driven it into the smaller waterways somewhat removed from
the river proper.

In the afternoon of the first day, the ship's doctor, net in hand,
came to our deck and talked very interestingly of his ambitions as a
butterfly hunter. It was his first visit to the tropics and he was gather-
ing everything in the insect line that he could catch. Like a wise man, he
had secured the help of the crew, and it was an object lesson, to those
who venture up river without mosquito bars, to review a night's accu-


initiation. There were enormous bettles, moths, gigantic praying mantis,
ichneumon flies, and bugs unclassified by the score. Then in the daytime
came the shy, quick moving butterflies in blue, yellow, and green, and thin
waisted wasps and hornets, all of which kept him busy.

The course for many years was by Breves, the principal settlement
on the island of Marajo, at one time the center of the rubber trade.
There the channel was so narrow that an anchor was let go and the
boat swung around before it could head right to go on. One of the
river pilots, however, once asked permission to take a boat through
another channel that he had discovered the one we were in and since
then the old passage had been abandoned.


Breves is also noted as the first cable station after one leaves
Para. The cable was laid by the Amazon Telegraph Co., Limited, Eng-
lish, under a concession from the Brazilian government granted in iSgSr
A survey of the river at low water was at once made and the cable laid
early in 1896. Between Para and Manaos there are the following cable
stations : Breves, Gurupa, Monte Alegre, Santarem, Obidos, Parantins,
and Iticoatiara. There are also some short branch lines, making 16 sta-
tions in all. Soon after the installation of the cable some changes in the
river bed broke it and for nearly a year it was practically useless. It was,
however, repaired and in 1900, 20,000 messages were sent over it, and a


year later just double that number. The service as yet cannot be said to
be perfect, but interruptions are becoming less and less frequent.

If rubber is high, there are some who claim that the cable is pur-
posely cut to keep the news from reaching Manaos, until certain trades
are effected. I only met one man who would acknowledge that he had
actually seen the cut ends, and he was not an expert on cable matters,
and might not have been able to tell a plain fracture from axe work.
My own idea is that the river itself is perfectly competent to supply
enough interruptions to suit anybody. Certain it is that one steamer is
kept busy nearly all of the time attending to the thousand mile strand
that binds the two rubber cities together.

There is also the wireless that proudly lifts its head to heaven at
Para and Santarem. Its brief history is this :


In 1894 certain enterprising Americans organized a company to con-
nect Para and Manaos by means of a wireless system. According to
English papers, secret experiments had been carried on prior to this
between Manaos and Iquitos and were most successful. When the con-
cession for its installation was granted, and the equipment began to
arrive, what profound thankfulness filled the hearts of the many who were
marooned in Manaos, often for a week at a time, hungering and thirst-
ing for news of the outside world. Their hope for freedom, however,
from the vexatious tyranny of the great river has so far borne no fruit.
Messages were dispatched from either end, but failed to be received.
The official explanation, I believe, was that the precipitation was so
great a3 to interrupt them; or was it that there was too much air in
the atmosphere? A more probable reason is that the messages sent in
the daytime over the rubber forests were gummed up by the flowing latex
and fell short of their destination. Nor were night messages any more
successful. The big Brazilian fire flies, which are sporty things anyway,
got in the habit of racing with the electric sparks and often times beating
them. It will be evident to the most shallow thinker that an operator
standing on a tower in mosquito ridden Santarem, with a butterfly net
in one hand and a receiver in the other, sorting fireflies from flashes,
would at times be slightly inaccurate. And accuracy in matters wire-
less is a prime necessity. So Manaos did not get its relief, and the
cable company have an extension of their contract and are laying a
second cable in the river bed.



FROM the start we secured the use of a pair of powerful glasses,
the property of the Captain, which gave us glimpses into the
jungle that were fascinating. We could pick out rubber trees
nearly every time, particularly where they had been tapped. I had long
been wondering why it was that the Hevea was able to withstand the
inundations and still be thrifty. A very cursory examination of the
Amazonian soil tells the whole story. It is an almost impervious, water-
proof clay, which would take months to saturate, and then would not
be waterlogged.

That afternoon we ran through an extremely heavy shower and
looked back on the biggest, most gorgeous, double rainbow I have
ever seen. With nightfall came the great frog concert, varied by the
screaming of nightbirds and the chirping of innumerable insects. Sitting
on deck, pajama clad, enjoying the gentle breeze caused by the boat's
progress, with the dusky loom of the jungle on either side and the
"gorgeous Southern Cross" above us, the scene was, in tourists' phrase,
"one to inspire sentiments of awe." I always admired this last phrase
until I actually saw the Southern Cross. I had read of it as a "blazing

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Online LibraryHenry C. (Henry Clemens) PearsonThe rubber country of the Amazon : a detailed description of the great rubber industry of the Amazon valley, which comprises the Brazilian states of Pará, Amazonas and Matto Grosso, the territory of the Acre, the Montana of Peru and Bolivia, and the southern portions of Colombia and Venezuela → online text (page 5 of 12)