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 6 of 12)
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aggregation of stars of the first magnitude, holding the center of the
Cerulean dome." The "intermediate" geography that I first studied had a
half page illuminated picture of it. When finally, after much search-
ing, I saw it, I was filled with awe at the imagination that could see
beauty in that little shrinking, out of plumb collection of blear eyed stars,
let alone making a constellation of it. It is an insult to Orion and all
of his family.

I do not feel that in the foregoing I have given a clear idea of our
course, or what we saw before we emerged into the Amazon. Let me
put it briefly.




We went north from Para, with Oncas island on the left, head-
ing for Point Musqueiro on the mainland, then west and south in the
Para river, passing Caprin light on the southwest. Next came Mandilhy,
which also has a light; then through Jaraca channel, with Muru-Muru
island on the left, where one out of every three steamers gets stuck iri
the mud ; by the village of Antonio Lemos, where is situated a cable
station; past the village of Gurupa by Baxio Grande island, and at last
we were in the Amazon.

The river was now three miles wide, instead of a few hundred


yards. The jungle was more open, the clearings larger, and off to th<
north the eye was delighted by the tree crowned heights of the Siern
Jutahy. One wondered why those broad mesas were not the site of
healthy, breeze swept city. We still kept close to the shore, sometimes
on one side, then on the other, to avoid great shoals that form and dis-
appear almost overnight. Occasionally there was a break in the forest
wall and we would see vast savannahs, grass covered, their light greei
surface standing out in bold relief against the dark green backgroun<
of the forest.


Speaking of floating debris, the bow of our boat caught a log which
jammed crosswise and held in that position, and we pushed it upstream.
It gathered everything that came its way, and the result was tha^ ia
a couple of hours the sturdy engines were not only forcing the boat
upstream, but a floating island a quarter of an acre in extent, made up
of logs, driftwood, grasses and floating wreckage of all sorts. After a
time it grew to be such a burden that the engines were reversed and
we ran backwards until clear of it to avoid making an island that might
dam the river.

The banks of the river were now strongly marked and from 6 to


10 feet high above the water level. On every tree that fringed the
edge, and indeed on the thick growing shrubs and vines, could be seen
the distinct highwater mark of the previous season in the shape of mud
stains. This line showed that the river had still 10 feet more of rise,
to reach last year's level, and by the way it was coming up it would un-
doubtedly do it. More and more we saw the work of the floods. Great
stretches of devastated forest, covered with rank reeds and grasses,
huge dead trees piled in picturesque confusion upon the river's edge.
On a small map the river looks straight and its channel is well defined.
In fact it pursues a sinuous course and is everywhere interrupted by



islands big and little, so much so that unless one refers to a chart
it is difficult to know when one is really passing the mainland.

We saw many large birds, water turkeys, blue herons, egrets, and
thousands of parrots. We passed the confluence of the Xingu river,
then the little settlement of Prainha, a town of some 300 inhabitants,
its houses painted blue and white with red tiled roofs, its fleet of canoes
and its excellent river walls, with buttresses for strength and steps
down at the water's edge at each end. Above the town were extensive
cornfields and pastures where many horses and cattle were grazing. The
current was decidedly swift along there, and we moved up stream slowly.
Once fairly by .the village we lost touch with mankind, the river



broadened to about eight miles, and except for the rounded peak of
Serra Urubucoara all that we could see was yellow water and great forest
covered plains. A great river like the Amazon, subject to floods, always
builds banks for itself even if it tears them down again. The larger
and heavier materials brought down by the floods are piled on the "near"
banks and promptly covered with verdure. For miles we passed banks
10 or 12 feet above the water level and the impression was that the land
sloped gently up from them. But when a break came in the forest
wall, great meadows would be shown a trifle lower than the river bank,
these meadows in turn sloping up into grass lands where cattle fed by
the thousands, shoulder deep in the luxuriant growth.

I had heard many say that the journey up the river, except as one


passed through the Narrows, was uninteresting and dreary. My mental
picture had been of an expanse of water so broad* that the shores dimly
seen offered nothing of interest. Perhaps I didn't question the TFgnT
men. I once knew a man in the gas stove business who visited England
in the summer time and all he could describe on his return were the
thousands of chimney pots on London dwellings. May be I had taken
the view of a chimney pot traveler. Actually, every waking minute
disclosed something worth seeing. The river is from 5 to 15 miles wide
and the scenery constantly changes. The stories that, for example, in one
place it is 900 feet deep, are exaggeration. I followed the charts closely
and the greatest depth recorded is 300 odd feet, which of course is good:


The third night out it was very dark and as we worked slowly up-
stream we saw a winking light far ahead. Soon we learned that the
speedy Hamburg-American boat, on which we so nearly took passage,
was fast in a mudbank. We solemnly took her mails and went on through
the darkness, promising to report her at Manaos. We got to bed late
that night because of the excitement, but were up at day light as
usual, and found the surface of the river even more thickly littered
with logs logs that were thickly crowded with passengers. There is a
little black and white river gull that exists by the million in the upper
river. They love to settle on these floating logs and sail and sail.
The way they crowd every available inch of space above the water
reminds one of a Hudson river boat on a holiday ; there is not room
for even one more.

9 o


During the night it came on very dark with thunder showers
but we did not stop, the pilot calmly steering by the flashes of lighting.
Very early in the morning we passed the Tapajos river and the town
of Santarem. Here is a settlemnet of some 2,500 people. Santarem is
noted, as far as Americans are concerned, as a place where a body of
Confederates from Tennessee established themselves after the civil
war. They believed in slavery and moved to a country where they could
own slaves. Somebody in Brazil must have heard of it, for not long
after their establishment slavery there was abolished. Somebody ob-


serving Santarem from the deck of a passing steamer, quizzing a captain
who approved of nothing outside of his far away northern home, wrote
of the American colony there as being in a "deplorable condition." That
descriptive phrase clung and was copied far and wide. The fact is the
descendants of the fighting Tennesseeans are a healthy, active, enter-
prising lot, who own saw mills and cattle ranches and who have the only
large rubber plantations on the Amazon. They already have some 80,000
trees and are putting in 40,000 more. They employ Indians and have
made a success of that type of labor.

More and more the character of the river bank changed. Often it
was a palisade of clay, 10 to 20 feet high, its face as smooth as if cut


with a spade. Near Obidos this was particularly marked. This town,
by the way, shows up very well from the water front. Its public
buildings, church, and dwelling houses many of them of the bungalow
type are all in view, as the town is built on a sloping ground. Above
the town the river bank is very high, and the clay strata, in lavender,
yellow, and red, is very striking. For the first time in the journey our
pilot seemed in doubt, and kept the lead going for many hours. Then
it was the Captain told us stories about running ashore. It is not par-
ticularly dangerous when the river is rising, as one is sure to get off in a
few days. He told of one tramp boat that ran aground five times on


the journey from Para to Manaos. His own boat was hung up on a
mud bank once for 13 days, and right in a mosquito colony at that. Then
there was a Booth boat in the upper river that was fast for six months
up on the bank where the floods had left it, and was about to be dis-
mantled when a huge section of the river bank caved in, depositing the
boat, right side up, far out in the deep water.

Did I mention that we had some hundreds of crickets aboard, and
that they gave nightly concerts ? Like the cockroach they ate soiled hand-
kerchiefs, starched collars, and book bindings, but they were not sordid
about it. They did stop to fiddle now and then. But the cockroach
thinks only of filling his little tin clad belly, and racing across the floor
to be stepped on when one is barefooted.

In the upper reaches of the river, at least along the banks, there


seemed to be few rubber trees. This in spite of the statement of the
ship's doctor that all of the large ones on the bank were rubber trees
some of the crew had told him so. We did not see the Parintins hills
above Obidos, which mark the boundary of the states of Para and
Amazonas, because the rain blotted out most of the landscape. When it
ceased we were close in shore opposite a great ranch where were cattle
and horses by the hundred. It was imported stock too. One huge
snow white Indian bull, standing like a statue in white marble, occupied
the foreground until we passed out of sight. More and more we saw
clayey palisades, riddled with holes like sand martin's nests, their tops
draped with blossoming vines, the body of the bluff often made up of
such brilliant colors that it looked like a petrified rainbow. In the little
lagoons and eddies were natives fishing, and often times a turtle hunter,
bow and arrow in hand, watching the water for a shot. It was growing
warmer all the time, for the breeze was with us, and the smoke of the
steamer showed it by drifting upstream a little faster than we could go.

We got to Serpa, or Itacoatiara, which is situated at the junction
of the -Madeira, just at nightfall. Here the engineers of the Madeira-
Mamore railroad have their headquarters, and the town is healthy, lively
and interesting. Here also is the home of an American named Stone.
He has thousands of acres under cultivation and is prosperous, capable,
and as much an American as he was when he settled here 40 years ago.

In due time we reached the junction of the Rio Negro and the
Amazon, or the Solimoes, as it is here called. The Solimoes, yellow,
muddy, sw r ift, comes resistlessly in from the south, and, meeting the slow,
densely black flood of the Rio Negro, holds it back, shoulders by it,
crowds what does escape downstream to the northern bank, where for a
time it shows a narrow ribbon of black water and then disappears.

Manaos is situated up the Rio Negro, and we therefore turned into
that stream. Crossing the water line it was startling to see how plain
the demarkation was. On one side a boiling coffee colored flood, on the
other a dead black lake. Occasionally an island of coffee colored water
appeared boiling and swirling on the inky surface of the Rio Negro, but
of blending there seemed to be none. Such is the contrast between the
quiet black Rio Negro and the swirling yellow Amazon that the In-
dians call the former the "dead river" and the latter the "living river."



LEAVING the muddy Amazon, we were soon forging through the
black waters of the Rio Negro. On the north were highbred, clay
banks, rather scantily clothed with vegetation that is, as compared
with the jungle lands below. Native houses began to multiply and soon
we saw the Manaos in the distance. A little later we anchored out in the
stream, as several ocean steamers which were discharging at the floating
docks took up all of the room. Hardly was the anchor down before friends
were aboard who attended to all of the customs formalities, and we
walked by the Federal and State customs men just as if they were non
existent, and, embarking upon a launch, were soon ashore.

The great Rubber Congress was in session, or soon to be, and the
Commercial Association paid me the compliment of making me its guest,
with the privilege of living at a hotel, or at the house of the local rep-
resentative of "Casa Alden." I chose the latter, for had I not met him
in Boston the year before, and was he not an American with an
American wife and Yankee baby born in Brazil?

There was much excitement in the rubber market the day of my
arrival. The first of the series of spectacular jumps that carried the
precious commodity up to $3 per pound had occurred, and then the river
had interrupted the cable. Fortunately there was little rubber in to quar-
rel over, but everybody was on the qui vive just the same.

We walked from the substantial quays that form the boat landing,
past the imposing custom house, to one of the rubber warehouses, and sat
there and chatted and smoked while we cooled off, for the day happened
to be hot. Then we visited several others in the same line and learned
the latest news, which was but a repetition of the story already told.
The rubber houses in Manaos were almost exact duplicates of those in
Para a huge warehouse on the ground floor for receiving, examining,
and boxing; offices on the floor above, always with a large staff of
assistants and clerks. As in Para, rubber was everywhere in evidence.




Open wagons loaded with it passed continually. One enterprising house
had a motor truck that crashed along the pavement with just the same
awkward energy it would display in New York or London.

Later we took a carriage and drove to the residence where I was to
be quartered; a fine modern house in the residential part of the city,
where I received royal entertainment and the home cooking for which
my soul had been yearning.

We might have taken the "bond" instead of a carriage, but the elec-
tricity was weak, and the cars were only crawling as they made their



rounds. In answer to the reader's unspoken question, an American was
the first man to build a stretch of mule tram cars in the capital of what
was then the Empire of Brazil, and had the privilege of issuing bonds on
the value of his franchise. He was also allowed to sell tickets for pas-
sages, wholesale, and these became so handy in commercial operations that
they soon formed a fair part of the circulating medium. To these
tickets, the name of "bonds" was given, and 'soon this term became the
recognized word for street cars of every tramway system throughout
the country.

The street subway line in Manaos was built by Americans in fact,.



financed by them and later sold to the government and for a time the
service was good. Then one noon the engineer and his helpers had their
siesta interrupted by the blowing out of a cylinder head on the great
engine. Unfortunately no one was hurt, the aforementioned public ser-
vants escaping. At the time of my arrival new equipment was going in,
competent engineers had been engaged and better service was in sight.

After dinner that evening a "Renault" car with a bright yellow
body and the muffler wide open drew up in front of the door. It was
garrisoned by an expert driver and a friendly young French Brazilian-
American interpreter, which car and appendages I learned had been


placed at my disposal during my stay in the city. One of the first uses
to which I put it was to tour the town.

The city itself is a counterpart of what a young, rich, North Ameri-
can city would be that had grown up overnight. Not architecturally, of
course, for the tropical world envolves a style of its own, and gorgeous
colorings come without bidding and are most fitting. The public build-
ings were beautiful; particularly the $2,000,000 theater situated on an
eminence in the middle of the city dominating all the rest. Palaces,
parks, libraries, hospitals, were very fine. Sandwiched in between them
were waste places, old fashioned tiled residences, and much that showed
the sudden growth of the city, but all this was being rapidly changed.

9 8


When one considers that this city is a thousand miles from the seacoast,
in the heart of a vast tropical jungle, with wild Indians within a hundred
miles of it, its presence seems incredible. In a way, it is as modern as
New York or Chicago. The latest Parisian fashions are there, and al-
most anything that civilized man desires obtainable. Prices are high, to be
sure, because both luxuries and necessities are imported and subject to a
duty of 100 per cent. But when something besides rubber is produced
by the magnificently fertile lands that surround it, Manaos will be one of
the great and beautiful cities of the world and living as reasonable as

Both the State and the Federal revenues naturally come very largely


from rubber. These taxes are assessed on the average price at which
rubber is sold for a certain period. The Amazonas State tax on rubber
is 19 per cent. There are minor taxes on rubber also for instance,
local improvement taxes of i to 2 per cent.

The state of Amazonas, in the '8o's, passed a law assessing an export
tax of $500 on every rubber plant exported and $100 on every kilogram of
rubber seed exported. It was also forbidden to tap any rubber tree that
was not 25 years old, the fine being $1,000. Furthermore a premium of
$1,000 was offered for each 1,000 rubber trees, planted and cultivated,
when they should arrive at the age of two years.

The city has naturally elements of the picturesque. It is built on
a group of hills, and while this has involved much cutting and filling, and



many retaining walls, it adds both to its sightliness and healthfulness.
Some in Manaos have the ambition, which may not be as wild as it seems
at first, to negotiate a short cut to the United States by way of British-
Guiana. All they would have to do would be to go up the Rio Branco,
cross to the Essequibo, and come out at Georgetown, Demerara.

Dominating vast fertile plains, drained by the Rio Negro, the
Solimoes, and the Madeira, with their mighty tributaries, the wealth that
is sure to flow into this center is incalculable. To-day the main export-


ing business, rubber and Brazil nuts, is handled by Portuguese, Brazilian,
German, English, and American firms, less than 20 in number.

The people of the city had an exceedingly alert carriage surprising-
ly so for those who dwelt on the equator. Laborers, whether busy
at the docks or in the warehouses, were really working. Perhaps they
ought to, for they received somewhere from 15 to 20 milreis a day.

I do not think I spoke of the magnificent spread of the river in front
of the city. It forms a great pool, four or five miles wide and deep



enough at low water to accommodate ocean steamers. During the
rainy season the river rises from 30 to 40 feet, and this was why the
company that had the concession to build docks passed so many sleepless
nights. They have finally anchored huge docks a little way off shore,
and when the river rises pay out the anchored cables so that the dock-
rises with it. Goods are sent ashore from these docks on long aerial
cables. I was told that it cost 38 cents to transfer each case of rubber
from the pier to the deck. Not a long journey, but expensive when one


considers that that is just about what it would cost to ship the same case
from New York to Australia.

The floating dock was built by the Manaos Harbor Co., Limited,
a company made up of Brazilian capitalists, English and Brazilian steam-
ship companies, a wealthy English rubber importing company, and others.
This company under contract with the Brazilian government built a fine
custom house and a quay with an earth backing, the length of the city's
water front. The land reclaimed by filling became their property. In
addition to this they received, for building the floating dock quays and
storehouses, the right to levy tolls for 60 years. The transfer of cargo




from the ship's hold to the warehouse is a long step in advance of the
ancient method in vogue in Manaos harbor, which involved anchoring in
midstream, transferring to barges, .loading into carts, unloading at the
warehouse, boxing, carting to the pier, loading again into barges and
finally into the steamer that took it down river.




I WAS pretty busy, for the Rubber Congress was on, and the meetings
were exceedingly interesting. As the detailed story of that great
convention has already been told, I am going to confine myself to
the more personal narrative. For example, the visit of four of us to the
Bosque the very extensive experiment station on the outskirts of the
city. We went in carriages as far as we could, then up to the broad
plateau where the planting was done. There were some thousands of
Hcvea trees planted in partial shade in paths cut through the jungle.
They were doing nicely, and although it will take them a trifle longer
to mature, I believe the planting will be most successful. We also ex-
amined a large planting of bananas. As this fruit brings 8 milreis a bunch
in the field, this experiment also should be successful.

Then we explored, walking through wonderfully beautiful forest
paths, down by the old waterworks with its big* cement tanks now aban-
doned, into the great forest park that one of the former governors had
projected. Other and more needed improvements had absorbed the city's
money, and the jungle was rapidly and effectually recovering its own.
Outside of the park we hunted for wild Heveas, but found only the Guyan-
ensis. There was also a vine which we could not identify, full of very
sticky, rubbery latex.

In Manaos the laborers are practically of the same type as in Para,
except that the Indian mixture seems a little more evident. One is nearer
the great wild tribes of the upper rivers, so that the blowgun with its
poisoned arrows, necklaces of human teeth, and feather headdresses are
often brought in. Occasionally, too, specimens of the real wild Indian
may be seen. A young Englishman whom I met had spent some
months up in the Putamayo district and brought down with him a nine,
year old boy as body servant who was a veritable little savage. Friendly







and smiling he was when all went right, a murderous little tiger if things
went wrong. He would accept reproof from his master but from no one
else. One day a man servant struck him and his master returned two
hours later to find the boy sitting in the courtyard, a. loaded Winchester
across his knees, and all the servants hidden in a hastily barricaded room
from which they dared not emerge. Had the offender shown himself
the boy would certainly have shot him.

The president of the Commercial Association, although he bore a
German name, was not phlegmatic. Indeed, he had abjured Teutonia
and was a Brazilian of the Brazilians. Athlete, sportsman, bon vivant,

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

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 6 of 12)