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for the colonel is doing all he can to persuade the Indians to stop
their blood feuds. The rifles were short and light Winchester
carbines, of the kind so universally used by the rubber-gatherers and
other adventurous wanderers in the forest wilderness of Brazil. There
were a number of rubber-trees in the neighborhood, by the way.

We enjoyed a good bath in the Burity, although it was impossible to
make headway by swimming against the racing current. There were few
mosquitoes. On the other hand, various kinds of piums were a little
too abundant; they vary from things like small gnats to things like
black flies. The small stingless bees have no fear and can hardly be
frightened away when they light on the hands or face; but they never
bite, and merely cause a slight tickling as they crawl over the skin.
There were some big bees, however, which, although they crawled about
harmlessly after lighting if they were undisturbed, yet stung fiercely
if they were molested. The insects were not ordinarily a serious
bother, but there were occasional hours when they were too numerous
for comfort, and now and then I had to do my writing in a head-net and
gauntlets.

The night we reached the Burity it rained heavily, and next day the
rain continued. In the morning the mules were ferried over, while the
oxen were swum across. Half a dozen of our men - whites, Indians, and
negroes, all stark naked and uttering wild cries, drove the oxen into
the river and then, with powerful overhand strokes, swam behind and
alongside them as they crossed, half breasting the swift current. It
was a fine sight to see the big, long-horned, staring beasts swimming
strongly, while the sinewy naked men urged them forward, utterly at
ease in the rushing water. We made only a short day's journey, for,
owing to the lack of grass, the mules had to be driven off nearly
three miles from our line of march, in order to get them feed. We
camped at the headwaters of a little brook called Huatsui, which is
Parecis for "monkey."

Accompanying us on this march was a soldier bound for one of the
remoter posts. With him trudged his wife. They made the whole journey
on foot. There were two children. One was so young that it had to be
carried alternately by the father and mother. The other, a small boy
of eight, and much the best of the party, was already a competent
wilderness worker. He bore his share of the belongings on the march,
and when camp was reached sometimes himself put up the family shelter.
They were mainly of negro blood. Struck by the woman's uncomplaining
endurance of fatigue, we offered to take her and the baby in the
automobile, while it accompanied us. But, alas! this proved to be one
of those melancholy cases where the effort to relieve hardship well
endured results only in showing that those who endure the adversity
cannot stand even a slight prosperity. The woman proved a querulous
traveller in the auto, complaining that she was not made as
comfortable as apparently she had expected; and after one day the
husband declared he was not willing to have her go unless he went too;
and the family resumed their walk.

In this neighborhood there were multitudes of the big, gregarious,
crepuscular or nocturnal spiders which I have before mentioned. On
arriving in camp, at about four in the afternoon, I ran into a number
of remains of their webs, and saw a very few of the spiders themselves
sitting in the webs midway between trees. I then strolled a couple of
miles up the road ahead of us under the line of telegraph-poles. It
was still bright sunlight and no spiders were out; in fact, I did not
suspect their presence along the line of telegraph-poles, although I
ought to have done so, for I continually ran into long strings of
tough fine web, which got across my face or hands or rifle barrel. I
returned just at sunset and the spiders were out in force. I saw
dozens of colonies, each of scores or hundreds of individuals. Many
were among the small trees alongside the broad, cleared trail. But
most were dependent from the wire itself. Their webs had all been made
or repaired since I had passed. Each was sitting in the middle of his
own wheel, and all the wheels were joined to one another; and the
whole pendent fabric hung by fine ropes from the wire above, and was
in some cases steadied by guy-ropes, thrown thirty feet off to little
trees alongside. I watched them until nightfall, and evidently, to
them, after their day's rest, their day's work had just begun. Next
morning - owing to a desire to find out what the facts were as regards
the ox-carts, which were in difficulties - Cherrie, Miller, Kermit, and
I walked back to the Burity River, where Colonel Rondon had spent the
night. It was a misty, overcast morning, and the spiders in the webs
that hung from the telegraph-wire were just going to their day homes.
These were in and under the big white china insulators on the
telegraph-poles. Hundreds of spiders were already climbing up into
these. When, two or three hours later, we returned, the sun was out,
and not a spider was to be seen.

Here we had to cut down our baggage and rearrange the loads for the
mule-train. Cherrie and Miller had a most workmanlike equipment,
including a very light tent and two light flies. One fly they gave for
the kitchen use, one fly was allotted to Kermit and me, and they kept
only the tent for themselves. Colonel Rondon and Lyra went in one
tent, the doctor and Oliveira in another. Each of us got rid of
everything above the sheer necessities. This was necessary because of
the condition of the baggage-animals. The oxen were so weak that the
effort to bring on the carts had to be abandoned. Nine of the pack-
mules had already been left on the road during the three days' march
from Utiarity. In the first expeditions into this country all the
baggage animals had died; and even in our case the loss was becoming
very heavy. This state of affairs is due to the scarcity of forage and
the type of country. Good grass is scanty, and the endless leagues of
sparse, scrubby forest render it exceedingly difficult to find the
animals when they wander. They must be turned absolutely loose to roam
about and pick up their scanty subsistence, and must be given as long
a time as possible to feed and rest; even under these conditions most
of them grow weak when, as in our case, it is impossible to carry
corn. They cannot be found again until after daylight, and then hours
must be spent in gathering them; and this means that the march must be
made chiefly during the heat of the day, the most trying time. Often
some of the animals would not be brought in until so late that it was
well on in the forenoon, perhaps midday, before the bulk of the pack-
train started; and they reached the camping-place as often after night
fall as before it. Under such conditions many of the mules and oxen
grew constantly weaker and ultimately gave out; and it was imperative
to load them as lightly as possible, and discard all luxuries,
especially heavy or bulky luxuries. Travelling through a wild country
where there is little food for man or beast is beset with difficulties
almost inconceivable to the man who does not himself know this kind of
wilderness, and especially to the man who only knows the ease of
civilization. A scientific party of some size, with the equipment
necessary in order to do scientific work, can only go at all if the
men who actually handle the problems of food and transportation do
their work thoroughly.

Our march continued through the same type of high, nearly level
upland, covered with scanty, scrubby forest. It is the kind of country
known to the Brazilians as chapadao - pronounced almost as if it were a
French word and spelled shapadon. Our camp on the fourth night was in
a beautiful spot, an open grassy space, beside a clear, cool, rushing
little river. We ourselves reached this, and waded our beasts across
the deep, narrow stream in the late afternoon; and we then enjoyed a
bath and swim. The loose bullocks arrived at sunset, and with shrill
cries the mounted herdsmen urged them into and across the swift water.
The mule-train arrived long after night fall, and it was not deemed
wise to try to cross the laden animals. Accordingly the loads were
taken off and brought over on the heads of the men; it was fine to see
the sinewy, naked figures bearing their burdens through the broken
moonlit water to the hither bank. The night was cool and pleasant. We
kindled a fire and sat beside the blaze. Then, healthily hungry, we
gathered around the ox-hides to a delicious dinner of soup, beef,
beans, rice, and coffee.

Next day we made a short march, crossed a brook, and camped by another
clear, deep, rapid little river, swollen by the rains. All these
rivers that we were crossing run actually into the Juruena, and
therefore form part of the headwaters of the Tapajos; for the Tapajos
is a mighty river, and the basin which holds its headwaters covers an
immense extent of country. This country and the adjacent regions,
forming the high interior of western Brazil, will surely some day
support a large industrial population; of which the advent would be
hastened, although not necessarily in permanently better fashion, if
Colonel Rondon's anticipations about the development of mining,
especially gold mining, are realized. In any event the region will be
a healthy home for a considerable agricultural and pastoral
population. Above all, the many swift streams with their numerous
waterfalls, some of great height and volume, offer the chance for the
upgrowth of a number of big manufacturing communities, knit by rail-
roads to one another and to the Atlantic coast and the valleys of the
Paraguay, Madeira, and Amazon, and feeding and being fed by the
dwellers in the rich, hot, alluvial lowlands that surround this
elevated territory. The work of Colonel Rondon and his associates of
the Telegraphic Commission has been to open this great and virgin land
to the knowledge of the world and to the service of their nation. In
doing so they have incidentally founded the Brazilian school of
exploration. Before their day almost all the scientific and regular
exploration of Brazil was done by foreigners. But, of course, there
was much exploration and settlement by nameless Brazilians, who were
merely endeavoring to make new homes or advance their private
fortunes: in recent years by rubber-gatherers, for instance, and a
century ago by those bold and restless adventurers, partly of
Portuguese and partly of Indian blood, the Paolistas, from one of whom
Colonel Rondon is himself descended on his father's side.

The camp by this river was in some old and grown-up fields, once the
seat of a rather extensive maize and mandioc cultivation by the
Nhambiquaras. On this day Cherrie got a number of birds new to the
collection, and two or three of them probably new to science. We had
found the birds for the most part in worn plumage, for the breeding
season, the southern spring and northern fall, was over. But some
birds were still breeding. In the tropics the breeding season is more
irregular than in the north. Some birds breed at very different times
from that chosen by the majority of their fellows; some can hardly be
said to have any regular season; Cherrie had found one species of
honey-creeper breeding in every month of the year. Just before sunset
and just after sunrise big, noisy, blue-and-yellow macaws flew over
this camp. They were plentiful enough to form a loose flock, but each
pair kept to itself, the two individuals always close together and
always separated from the rest. Although not an abundant, it was an
interesting, fauna which the two naturalists found in this upland
country, where hitherto no collections of birds and mammals had been
made. Miller trapped several species of opossums, mice and rats which
were new to him. Cherrie got many birds which he did not recognize. At
this camp, among totally strange forms, he found an old and familiar
acquaintance. Before breakfast he brought in several birds; a dark
colored flycatcher, with white forehead and rump and two very long
tail-feathers; a black and slate-blue tanager; a black ant-thrush with
a concealed white spot on its back, at the base of the neck, and its
dull-colored mate; and other birds which he believed to be new to
science, but whose relationships with any of our birds are so remote
that it is hard to describe them save in technical language. Finally,
among these unfamiliar forms was a veery, and the sight of the rufous-
olive back and faintly spotted throat of this singer of our northern
Junes made us almost homesick.

Next day was brilliantly clear. The mules could not be brought in
until quite late in the morning, and we had to march twenty miles
under the burning tropical sun, right in the hottest part of the day.
From a rise of ground we looked back over the vast, sunlit landscape,
the endless rolling stretches of low forest. Midway on our journey we
crossed a brook. The dogs minded the heat much. They continually ran
off to one side, lay down in a shady place, waited until we were
several hundred yards ahead, and then raced after us, overtook us, and
repeated the performance. The pack-train came in about sunset; but we
ourselves reached the Juruena in the middle of the afternoon.

The Juruena is the name by which the Tapajos goes along its upper
course. Where we crossed, it was a deep, rapid stream, flowing in a
heavily wooded valley with rather steep sides. We were ferried across
on the usual balsa, a platform on three dugouts, running by the force
of the current on a wire trolley. There was a clearing on each side
with a few palms, and on the farther bank were the buildings of the
telegraph station. This is a wild country, and the station was guarded
by a few soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Marino, a native of
Rio Grande do Sul, a blond man who looked like an Englishman - an
agreeable companion, and a good and resolute officer, as all must be
who do their work in this wilderness. The Juruena was first followed
at the end of the eighteenth century by the Portuguese explorer
Franco, and not again until over a hundred years had elapsed, when the
Telegraphic Commission not only descended, but for the first time
accurately placed and mapped its course.

There were several houses on the rise of the farther bank, all with
thatched roofs, some of them with walls of upright tree-trunks, some
of them daub and wattle. Into one of the latter, with two rooms, we
took our belongings. The sand-flies were bothersome at night, coming
through the interstices in the ordinary mosquito-nets. The first night
they did this I got no sleep until morning, when it was cool enough
for me to roll myself in my blanket and put on a head-net. Afterward
we used fine nets of a kind of cheese-cloth. They were hot, but they
kept out all, or almost all, of the sand-flies and other small
tormentors.

Here we overtook the rearmost division of Captain Amilcar's bullock-
train. Our own route had diverged, in order to pass the great falls.
Captain Amilcar had come direct, overtaking the pack-oxen, which had
left Tapirapoan before we did, laden with material for the Duvida
trip. He had brought the oxen through in fine shape, losing only three
beasts with their loads, and had himself left the Juruena the morning
of the day we reached there. His weakest animals left that evening, to
make the march by moonlight; and as it was desirable to give them
thirty-six hours' start, we halted for a day on the banks of the
river. It was not a wasted day. In addition to bathing and washing our
clothes, the naturalists made some valuable additions to the
collection - including a boldly marked black, blue, and white jay - and
our photographs were developed and our writing brought abreast of the
date. Travelling through a tropical wilderness in the rainy season,
when the amount of baggage that can be taken is strictly limited,
entails not only a good deal of work, but also the exercise of
considerable ingenuity if the writing and photographing, and
especially the preservation, of the specimens are to be done in
satisfactory shape.

At the telegraph office we received news that the voyage of Lauriado
and Fiala down the Papagaio had opened with a misadventure. In some
bad rapids, not many miles below the falls, two of the canoes had been
upset, half of their provisions and all of Fiala's baggage lost, and
Fiala himself nearly drowned. The Papagaio is known both at the source
and the mouth; to descend it did not represent a plunge into the
unknown, as in the case of the Duvida or the Ananas; but the actual
water work, over the part that was unexplored, offered the same
possibilities of mischance and disaster. It is a hazardous thing to
descend a swift, unknown river rushing through an uninhabited
wilderness. To descend or ascend the ordinary great highway rivers of
South America, such as the Amazon, Paraguay, Tapajos, and, in its
lower course, the Orinoco, is now so safe and easy, whether by steam-
boat or big, native cargo-boat, that people are apt to forget the very
serious difficulties offered by the streams, often themselves great
rivers, which run into or form the upper courses of these same water
highways. Few things are easier than the former feat, and few more
difficult than the latter; and experience in ordinary travelling on
the lower courses of the rivers is of no benefit whatever in enabling
a man to form a judgement as to what can be done, and how to do it, on
the upper courses. Failure to remember this fact is one of the
obstacles in the way of securing a proper appreciation of the needs
and the results, of South American exploration.

At the Juruena we met a party of Nhambiquaras, very friendly and
sociable, and very glad to see Colonel Rondon. They were originally
exceedingly hostile and suspicious, but the colonel's unwearied
thoughtfulness and good temper, joined with his indomitable
resolution, enabled him to avoid war and to secure their friendship
and even their aid. He never killed one. Many of them are known to him
personally. He is on remarkably good terms with them, and they are
very fond of him - although this does not prevent them from now and
then yielding to temptation, even at his expense, and stealing a dog
or something else which strikes them as offering an irresistible
attraction. They cannot be employed at steady work; but they do
occasional odd jobs, and are excellent at hunting up strayed mules or
oxen; and a few of the men have begun to wear clothes, purely for
ornament. Their confidence and bold friendliness showed how well they
had been treated. Probably half of our visitors were men; several were
small boys; one was a woman with a baby; the others were young married
women and girls.

Nowhere in Africa did we come across wilder or more absolutely
primitive savages, although these Indians were pleasanter and better-
featured than any of the African tribes at the same stage of culture.
Both sexes were well-made and rather good-looking, with fairly good
teeth, although some of them seemed to have skin diseases. They were a
laughing, easy-tempered crew, and the women were as well-fed as the
men, and were obviously well-treated, from the savage standpoint;
there was no male brutality like that which forms such a revolting
feature in the life of the Australian black fellows and, although to a
somewhat less degree, in the life of so many negro and Indian tribes.
They were practically absolutely naked. In many savage tribes the men
go absolutely naked, but the women wear a breech-clout or loincloth.
In certain tribes we saw near Lake Victoria Nyanza, and on the upper
White Nile, both men and women were practically naked. Among these
Nhambiquaras the women were more completely naked than the men,
although the difference was not essential. The men wore a string
around the waist. Most of them wore nothing else, but a few had
loosely hanging from this string in front a scanty tuft of dried
grass, or a small piece of cloth, which, however, was of purely
symbolic use so far as either protection or modesty was concerned. The
women did not wear a stitch of any kind anywhere on their bodies. They
did not have on so much as a string, or a bead, or even an ornament in
their hair. They were all, men and women, boys and well-grown young
girls, as entirely at ease and unconscious as so many friendly
animals. All of them - men, women, and children, laughing and talking -
crowded around us, whether we were on horseback or on foot. They
flocked into the house, and when I sat down to write surrounded me so
closely that I had to push them gently away. The women and girls often
stood holding one another's hands, or with their arms over one
another's shoulders or around one another's waists, offering an
attractive picture. The men had holes pierced through the septum of
the nose and through the upper lip, and wore a straw through each
hole. The women were not marked or mutilated. It seems like a
contradiction in terms, but it is nevertheless a fact that the
behavior of these completely naked women and men was entirely modest.
There was never an indecent look or a consciously indecent gesture.
They had no blankets or hammocks, and when night came simply lay down
in the sand. Colonel Rondon stated that they never wore a covering by
night or by day, and if it was cool slept one on each side of a small
fire. Their huts were merely slight shelters against the rain.

The moon was nearly full, and after nightfall a few of the Indians
suddenly held an improvised dance for us in front of our house. There
were four men, a small boy, and two young women or grown girls. Two of
the men had been doing some work for the commission, and were dressed,
one completely and one partially, in ordinary clothes. Two of the men
and the boy were practically naked, and the two young women were
absolutely so. All of them danced in a circle, without a touch of
embarrassment or impropriety. The two girls kept hold of each other's
hands throughout, dancing among the men as modestly as possible, and
with the occasional interchange of a laugh or jest, in as good taste
and temper as in any dance in civilization. The dance consisted in
slowly going round in a circle, first one way then the other,
rhythmically beating time with the feet to the music of the song they
were chanting. The chants - there were three of them, all told - were
measured and rather slowly uttered melodies, varied with an occasional
half-subdued shrill cry. The women continually uttered a kind of long-
drawn wailing or droning; I am not enough of a musician to say whether
it was an overtone or the sustaining of the burden of the ballad. The
young boy sang better than any of the others. It was a strange and
interesting sight to see these utterly wild, friendly savages circling
in their slow dance, and chanting their immemorial melodies, in the
brilliant tropical moonlight, with the river rushing by in the
background, through the lonely heart of the wilderness.

The Indians stayed with us, feasting, dancing, and singing until the
early hours of the morning. They then suddenly and silently
disappeared in the darkness, and did not return. In the morning we
discovered that they had gone off with one of Colonel Rondon's dogs.
Probably the temptation had proved irresistible to one of their
number, and the others had been afraid to interfere, and also afraid
to stay in or return to our neighborhood. We had not time to go after
them; but Rondon remarked that as soon as he again came to the
neighborhood he would take some soldiers, hunt up the Indians, and
reclaim the dog. It has been his mixture of firmness, good nature, and
good judgment that has enabled him to control these bold, warlike
savages, and even to reduce the warfare between them and the Parecis.
In spite of their good nature and laughter, their fearlessness and
familiarity showed how necessary it was not to let them get the upper
hand. They are always required to leave all their arms a mile or two
away before they come into the encampment. They are much wilder and
more savage, and at a much lower cultural level, than the Parecis.

In the afternoon of the day following our arrival there was a heavy
rain-storm which drove into the unglazed windows, and here and there
came through the roof and walls of our daub-and-wattle house. The heat
was intense and there was much moisture in this valley. During the
downpour I looked out at the dreary little houses, showing through the
driving rain, while the sheets of muddy water slid past their door-


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Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThrough the Brazilian Wilderness → online text (page 15 of 27)