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

. (page 8 of 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 8 of 12)
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had also drilled wells for water, and was making every effort to keep
the men well. In spite of that, there were sometimes nearly 300 men in
the hospital and seven to ten doctors and eight male nurses were constantly
employed. The experiment of having female nurses was tried, but
they were married and carried away so constantly that it was voted a
failure.

The camp was under military discipline, and liquor was taboo.
In spite of this the native laborers smuggled in ^nore or less; cachaca*
The most troublesome diseases were beriberi, blackwater fever, and dys-



126



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



entery. Quinine, of course, was the remedy generally used and most
potent. It was bought by the ton, and three laboratory men were
kept busy from morning until night making it up into pills.

The town was noted as publishing the only English paper on the
Amazon, called The Porto Velho Times. The first issue appeared on
typewritten sheets. Then the company sent in a font of type and a print-
ing press, and the paper appeared with more or less regularity. It was a
remarkable looking sheet typographically. There were no "\v*s" in the
font, and two "v's" placed close together were the alternative. The




TRACK LAID, MADEIRA-MAMORE RAILWAY.



paper was full of camp news and genuine fun, and everybody sub-
scribed. Under the general announcements of the paper's scope and
policy appeared the subscription price, which was

Six months, nothing.
Three months, half price.

The name of the paper has since been changed to The Porto Velho
Marconigram.

The railroad workers were only in this camp at stated seasons. Some
of them were far ahead with the preliminary party of engineers, who
were deciding upon the location, or they might be nearer the camp on



OF THE AMAZON



127




MAKING QUININE CAPSULES IN THE HOSPITAL.




CONSTRUCTION TRAIN, MADEIRA-MA MORE RAILWAY.



128



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



construction. The company paid the men on the loth of every month,
and five men were in the employ of the pay office to prepare the
$175,000 that the paymaster carried in person to the various camps.

All of the men were obliged to sign a contract to pay no court to the




CARIPUNA INDIANS AND BARK BOAT.



Caripuna Indian women, nor sell firearms to the men. If this con-
tract was violated they were discharged without pay. The result of
this wise policy was that the Indians were very friendly, and furnished
the camps with many turtles and lots of fish.






CHAPTER XVII.

RUBBER MANUFACTURE BY INDIANS HEAD HUNTERS REBELLION OF CONTRACT
LABORERS INSECTS IN THE RAILROAD CAMPS EARLY ATTEMPTS AT RAILROAD
BUILDING THE MAMORE, BENI AND THE MADRE DE DIGS CANNIBAL INDIANS.

IT would be strange in a rubber country if there were not some
rubber manufacture. And there is much. Nearly all of the In-
dian tribes make rubber ponchos, kit bags, and some very curious
toys. In making a rubber bag, they first make a bag of fabric, some-
times of prettily flowered calico, which they stretch over a frame un** 1
the surfaces are smooth and taut. Then they take caucho milk, never
using Hevea, and stir into it powdered sulphur, the proportion be-
ing a tablespoon ful of sulphur to each liter of latex. After stirring the
liquid thoroughly, they apply it to the cloth with a feather and give it a
sun cure. If sulphur is not obtainable they use gunpowder. When the
sulphur compound is spread over flowered calico the colors show through
and the bags are extremely pretty. The gunpowder mixture, of course,
is black and not transparent.

These bags will outlast a dozen made of vulcanized rubber and are
eagerly purchased by engineers and prospectors.

A great many other useful articles are made, such as cigar cases,
tobacco pouches, and ammunition bags, and even rubber shoes. Of
course the latter are not made for export. Occasionally a native makes
a clay last, puts thirty or forty coats of latex over it, with additional
coats for the sole and heel. Then a couple of days later he draws or-
namental designs with a knife or a piece of wire, allows the shoes to
stand a week to dry out and then they are finished.

Some of the Indians on the upper Amazon made wonderful feather
ornaments. Notably headdresses of the most brilliant feathers, and
although the height of, the crown was 3^2 feet it was exceedingly light
and was as easy to wear as a pith helmet. If made at all at the present
time it is only by tribes far in the interior of the Upriver country. A
lost art among the Indians far up the Amazon is the preparation of
human heads in miniature. These heads, of which numbers are still

129



130



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



to be found in museums, are about the size of an orange, with the fea-
tures almost perfectly preserved, and the long black hair intact. The
process consisted in carefully extracting the bones of the skull, bit by bit,
tanning and shrinkage the cartilage and finally the wearing of the head
at the waist by means of a cord threaded through the lips, in the fashion
that the North American Indians wore scalps.

The railroad company shipped in beef on its own steamers from



m m




>





INDIAN COATING CALICO BAG WITH RUBBER MILK.



Manaos, and furnished such delicacies as Boston baked beans and rice
ad libitum.

The day laborers were a mixed lot gathered from all parts of the
world. An unfortunate experiment on the part of a German contractor
took place while I was there. He brought in 600 laborers from Ger-
many, mostly Polish Jews, and agreed to pay them 60 cents per cubic
yard for digging dirt. He was to get $i a yard for it, and pocket the



OF THE AMAZON , 131

difference. The workmen in a few days after they were located dis-
covered that other gangs were getting $i. They promptly struck and
walked 80 kilometers back to camp. The camp manager, when he heard
the whole story, promised to cancel the contract and give them $i per
yard. This they refused. He then offered to put them at work on




RUBBER ARTICLES MADE BY INDIANS ON UPPER RIVERS.



buildings and other jobs. This they also refused. He then offered
them free transportation back to Manaos, but again met stubborn re-
fusal. He was finally forced to disarm them and drive them from camp.
They then built rafts and started to float down to Manaos. Many of
them died and the residue were picked up by a river steamer and taken
to Manaos and placed in charge of the German consul. As I was leaving.



132



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



the German government was getting busy with the idea of seeking re-
dress.

Perhaps the greatest curse in this upper country is insects. There
were flies innumerable, together with moyaquils (called ''bachoburna"
there), chiggers, ticks, flies, and mosquitos by the million.




INDIAN HEAD DRESSES.



The railroad company established wireless stations at Manaos and
Porto Velho, which worked perfectly from the start. Later they
planned to have another station at Villa Bella, at the farther end of the



OF THE AMAZON



133



road. It is quite possible, once these are installed, that they can com-
municate with Bolivian wireless stations, which would give Manaos an-
other means of sending messages to the outside world.

The engineers go with the company under contract for a period of




HUMAN HEADS, SHRUNKEN, USED AS INDIAN WAR TROPHIES.



two years, with a three months' vacation, which they usually spend in a
trip to the United States. They are very well paid, as a class, and those
who are suited to the life really enjoy it. I met two whom I had pre-
viously known in Panama. They were on their way to the States for



134



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



their vacation. One was in perfect health; the other had chills and
fever at regular intervals, but was rilling up on quinine, and had no
thought but to return when his vacation was over. They had many
interesting and unusual stories to tell of happenings up in 1^he wilderness.
One of them told of the possessor of an honored English name who was
compelled to drop it and take another. It came about in this way.
Whenever a companion called him by his surname, it was greeted with
shrieks of laughter on the part of the natives. Not only that, but if
he met a native on the trail, the latter would speak his name and then








AN INDIAN SLING SHOT.



go into convulsions of merriment. When he learned that his patronymic
was a native word which meant the concrete and ultimate result of a
strong cathartic pill, he promptly called himself "Smith."

The story of the earlier efforts to build railroads around the Falls
of the Madeira is wonderfully interesting and singularly romantic.
The first real attempt was made some forty years ago, under a con-
cession to the Bolivian Steam Navigation Co., the contractors being
an American concern. The whole scheme originated in the enterprise of
Colonel George Earl Church, a noted American civil engineer, who
proved to both the Bolivian and Brazilian governments the necessity



OF THE AMAZON 135

for such a road. The Collins company made a survey, sent in much
equipment, and had laid about five miles of track when the English
bondholders got frightened, put an injunction on the funds of the com-
pany, and after much litigation got the money and the Collins company
got nothing. The American loss was something like $500,000. The
Brazilian government later put through a new survey, but were not
ready to finance the proposition at that time. Then came the Acre dis-




MOSQUITO PROOF HEADGEAR USED BY ENGINEERS IN BRAZILIAN FORESTS.



pute and the cession of that rich rubber territory to Brazil, with the
agreement that the railroad should be built at once.

According to common gossip in Brazil, the American engineering
company who are putting it through agree to have it completed in three
years' time. The Brazilian government pays all of the bills and the con-
struction company gets 10 per cent, of the money expended for its
trouble. The road is narrow guage and many of the bridges now of
timber construction will be replaced later with solid masonry.

Except in the towns very few traces of the Collins enterprise remain.



136



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



The roadbed, rails, and all had absolutely disappeared, and only im-
penetrable jungle was to be found where once ran the pioneer Madeira-
Mamore railroad.

The Madeira river, above the falls, is fed by several great rivers
that drain an immense territory which is rich in rubber. There is, for
example, the Guapore that drains both Bolivia and Brazil, rising far up
in Matto Grosso ; the Mamore, the Beni, and the Madre de Dios all
great rivers, together with hundreds of lesser. This upper country
has many thousands of miles of navigable streams at the time of high
water, and V>nce the Railroad is finished, hides, cinchona, and a great




STEAMER AT PORTO VELHO, MADEIRA-MA MORE RAILWAY.



variety of other products, as well as rubber, will find their way out
through the Amazon.

Pioneers in the upper Amazon country whether they were explorers,
railroad surveyors or rubber gatherers, have in the past been very much
harassed by some of the wild Indian tribes. For example: "The can-
nibal Tauapery Indians often attacked, killed and ate rubber gatherers,
saving the right leg as a trophy." Then too, the Acarinus Indians, on the
Rio Pauhiny, were said to attack rubber collectors, carrying away their
heads as trophies. From the upper Tocantins came often reports of Ita-
cayuna Indians, a very primitive tribe, unacquainted with the use of iron,
who made huts of woven twigs and branches, "broken with their teeth."



OF THE AMAZON



137



Whether they killed the rubber gatherers with the same weapons, does
not appear.

There are many small and exceedingly warlike tribes scattered
through the Amazon basin that have at times wiped out settlements of
rubber gatherers. That any of them are cannibals, however, is yet to be
proved. Furthermore the owners of the seringaes exact a heavy penalty
for massacres and the reports of killing are becoming less and less fre-




RELIC OF THE FIRST ATTEMPT AT RAILROAD BUILDING ON THE MADEIRA.



quent. To-day there are really no unmixed wild tribes of Indians on the
lower Amazon or its navigable branches. There were many such but
they have become extinct. It must be remembered that there are great
tracts of land in the Amazon country where there are no Indians at all.
The remaining wild tribes, as a rule, live back in the forests above the
limits of navigation. It is claimed that there are about 250,000 Indians
in the Amazon basin, and whether wild or Christianized, they have the
same civil rights as the whites.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE BOLIVIAN MONTANA DISCOVERY OF RUBBER THERE "OURO VEGETAL"
ESTABLISHING "SERINGAES" CARTROADS LIBERAL LAWS PASSED "BORDER RUF-
FIANS" How BOLIVIAN RUBBER is GATHERED' RIVER NAVIGATION BY "BALSA" AND
"CALLAPO" A RICH RUBBER CHIEFTAIN.

TO-DAY one third of the world's supply from South America of fine
Para rubber comes from Bolivia and the Acre. The discovery
of rubber in the Bolivian Montana dates back to 1869, when two
Bolivians obtained specimens and sent them to Europe, the report being
that the gum was of the best quality. As a result of this a few started
gathering at Cavinas, 100 to 150 pounds at a time, rowing up stream 200
miles, then transporting it across country 60 miles and sending it down
over the Falls of Madeira. Bolivian rubber did not appear on the mar-
ket, however, until 1893, when the grade known as "Mollendo" began to
be shipped from the Pacific port of that name.

Dating back to 1827 there had been the report of cannibals on the
Beni river, and the region was so dangerous that it was considered fatal
to any one penetrating its murky forests. Political criminals were
therefore sent there in lieu of sentence of death. In 1880 an American
traveled overland from the Pacific with a few rubber gatherers in his
train. He failed to locate any cannibals, and in four months had 600
gatherers at work. An adventurous French baron, accompanied by lead-
ing American importers, further explored the river in 1893. As a result
of this, a company was formed for exploiting the resources of the Beni,
but nothing was accomplished. In the meantime it became widely known
that the Beni country was rich in rubber, cinchona, and precious metals.
It was also proved that the Indian residents were not only harmless
but very friendly.

Interest in rubber continued to increase, steam launches were put
on the Beni, Madre de Dios and Mamore, and transportation either toward
the Falls of Madeira or up the Purus toward the mountains was made
much easier. For example, in 1891, 35,000 quintals of rubber, carried
by donkeys, mules and llamas, went over the Andes. It was then planned

'33



OF THE AMAZON



139



NAVIGATION ON THE UPPER RIVERS.



to avoid the Falls of Madeira by a canal connecting the Beni and the
Pur us.

At this time the population, exclusive of wild Indians, was re-
corded as 22,000. Bolivian rubber was considered so valuable that it was
called ouro vegetal (plant of gold).




SORATA, BOLIVIA.



140



THE RUBBER* COUNTRY




BRIDGE BUILT OF RAILROAD RAILS.



The ubiquitous Hebrew peddler early penetrated to this part of the
world and got full value for his wares. One of them, supposing that
the natives would be great gamblers, took in many packs of playing cards,
but found no sale for them until he segregated the face cards and sold
them at a high price as likenesses of the saints.

Numbers of great scringacs were early formed one for example,








A LEVEL STRETCH OX THE MADEIRA.



OF THE AMAZON



141




A "BALSA" TRANSPORTING RUBBER.



on the Orton river, with 1,000 rubber gatherers and equipped with every-
thing to do the business comfortably and economically.

The Bolivian rubber was acknowledged to be of the very highest




\\KIGHING CAUCHO. BOLIVIA.



142



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



grade and ran 86 per cent. fine. The government export tax upon it
is 14 per cent.

The Bolivian government acted very wisely in dealing with
concessionaires, foreign and native, and in guarding their rights and
rights of laborers. It passed laws regulating the concessions, allowing
anyone to explore for rubber trees.

Concessions were granted by estradas ; no individual being allowed
to own more than 500, and no corporation more than 1,000, a tax of
one boliviano (96^/2 cents gold) for each estrada being the annual rental




STRAW BOATS ON LAKE TITICACA.



for fifteen years. A heavy penalty was imposed upon persons holding
rubber trees not legally obtained. For the protection of laborers it was
decreed that they need not accept food or clothing in lieu of wages ; that
there should be no corporal punishment ; no depriviation of personal
liberty, and, if diseased or ill, they were entitled to free medical at-
tendance.

Under these laws some great colonization schemes were projected
and hundreds of miles of good cart roads built. One very ambitious at-
tempt to get an outlet into the Amazon was the building of a cart road



OF THE AMAZON 143

around the Falls of the Madeira, 112 miles of which was completed.
The project was abandoned, however, as it was impossible to get laborers
to complete it.

It is interesting to remember that the history of Bolivia con-
tains no instance of diplomatic claim against that country for any vi-
olence, damage, or injury to foreigners. Foreign capital and particularly
alert promoters were quick to appreciate not only the richness for op-
portunity but also the safeguards she extended to them. In July, 1900,




TAPPING PARA RUBBER TREE, BOLIVIA.



concessions were taken out to the number of 17,345 estradas. Numbers
of the concessionaires were willing to pay one boliviano, per estrada for
one year, and then float the concession, as the contract did not require
development. The Bolivian government, beginning to appreciate that,
in spite of the tremendous numbers of concessions granted, the amount of
rubber was not increasing as it should, made a new law, restricting the
area granted to individuals and companies, and putting a value on the
land of 10 reis per square meter. Two years later it was found that



144



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



110,000 estradas had been abandoned; presumably they were taken up
by promoters who had no intention of developing them.

The great seringaes were not established without much trouble. For
example, one company floated in Europe started some 500 people for
the Amazon, reaching Para in flood time. They went on and, trying
to reach their river by a short cut, had many accidents and many of the
adventurers died. The remainder got there finally, but most of their




SMOKING PARA RUBBER, BOLIVIA.



troubles could have been avoided by a little knowledge of conditions in
the Amazon basin.

Had it not been for the tremendous cost of transportation the con-
cessionaires and trading companies would have made millions. For in
1882 they were paying gatherers $9.65 per 100 pounds of rubber. In
1900, however, the price had been increased to five times that amount.

One of the greatest companies administered by Americans had much
trouble in getting the natives to work. They, therefore, imported a few
Italians and secretly paid them high wages to act as pace makers. The



OF THE AMAZON 145

result was that the natives got in a perfect frenzy of accomplishment
which they have lived up to ever since.

Recurring to the transportation problem, it will be remembered
that, for the cession of the Acre territory to Brazil, Bolivia received
$10,000,000, which she pledged herself to spend upon railroads. To
carry this out the Bolivian Railways Co. was incorporated, to expend
$35,000,000 in railroads that should improve the outlet of Bolivia to the
Pacific, and also by stretches of roads around cataracts to open up
transportation through the Montana.

Most of the great rubber estates both on the upper and lower Amazon




CUTTING RUBBER FROM PADDLES, BOLIVIA.



are to-day owned by wealthy individuals or companies. Their first
titles came to them through discovery and occupation. Later surveys
were made and legal titles were granted particularly where the first oc-
cupant got in financial difficulties and a creditor took the property over.
There are still properties for which the owner has no real title and which
he holds because of his expertness in handling a rifle.

These are the men who in the past were preyed upon by bands
of "border ruffians" called capangas, who descended on them and gath-
ered in their rubber in swift night attacks. These "border ruffians" were



146



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



said to be employed by negociantes or traders and the different bands
were in a state of constant warfare with each other. These battles
were not very sanguinary. An eye witness relates a pitched battle be-
tween two armed bands where 2,000 shots were fired, the total execution
being one bullet hole through the shirt of the leader of the attacking
party. Appalled by such a happening, he promptly put a white cloth on
a pole, raised from behind a stump where he was crouching, while he
led the charge and promptly surrendered.

The tree that produces Bolivian rubber is undoubtedly a Hevea and
is said by some to be the Hevea lutea. It grows on the uplands to an




FIRE BRANDING RUBBER, BOLIVIA.



altitude of 3,000 feet, and on sloping, well drained ground, and not in
swamps or where it would be subject to inundations. The trees are
tapped for about three months each year, and then are allowed to rest.
The rubber when carried up the rivers, by muleback over the mountains,
by boat across Lake Titicaca, and by railroad to Mollendo, is said to cost,
exclusive of the export duties charged in Bolivia, about 40 cents a
pound.

Bolivian rubber is gathered somewhat differently from that down
river. There is used a mango literally a handle to which is attached
a flat disk 6 to 8 inches in diameter. This is used as the ordinary paddle



OF THE AMAZON 147

is. Where much smoking is to be done a disk to which two handles are
attached to opposite sides is substituted. These handles are supported
by cross pieces which allow the disk to revolve rapidly over the buyon,




SUAREZ, BOLIVIA'S RUBBER BARON.

(Sketched at his home in Bolivia for the Author.)



or smoking pot. Indeed, to facilitate matters there are sometimes
three or four of these pots in a row.

Two methods of branding rubber are in use. One which is known
as "fire'' branding consists in heating a die and pressing it into the out-
side surface of the rubber. The other way is to have the name of the



148



THE RUBBER COUNTRY



seringa! cut on the surface of the paddle ; then when the pelle is cut
open the rubber is found to have taken an exact replica of the brand.

In the upper rivers, where the water is very shallow, the rubber
takes its first journey on balsas, or small rafts. If they are to pass over
rough water, the logs of which they are made are hollowed out. These
recesses are filled with rubber and the whole is floored over, so even if the
crew is upset or lost the rubber survives. Two or more balsas joined
together form a callapo, which is used when the river broadens to admit
larger craft. Still further down the rivers the bateldo commonly pro-
nounced "batalone" is used as freight carrier.




BOLIVIAN TAPPING AXE.

(The first view shows the full size of the "machadine." The second shows an outline, with
the eye for a handle 2 feet long.)

The dry season in the Bolivian rubber country is from June to
November and the rainy season from December to May. The climate
is hot and exceedingly humid. There is a decided drop in the tempera-
ture at night, much more pronounced than in the lower Amazon, and
the consequent danger from chills. The disease most prevalent is
tertian fever, called terciana, and a large percentage of mortality is
due to it. It is claimed that there is not much danger from this if one
avoids freshly plucked fruit and alcoholic beverages.

One of the most romantic figures in the Amazon basin, who is
established above the Falls of Madeira, is Nicolas Suarez. Of Bolivian
birth and speaking only Spanish, he has for years practically controlled



O.F THE AMAZON 149

the carrying trade up and down the Madeira, as well as the gathering
and collecting of the rubber along many of the great waterways above
the falls.

If Suarez's life history could be written it would prove a very
stirring tale. He began as a trader for rubber, dealing with savages
whom none other had dared to even communicate with. Soon he and


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 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 8 of 12)