William Henry Edwards.

A voyage up the river Amazon: including a residence at Pará online

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or if convenient in again visiting the forest The dinner hour
was between six and seven, and that meal was substantially
the same as breakfast

We found at the house, upon our arrival, two gentlemen
who had lately came from Venezuela, forty days' distance up
the Rio Negro. One of them was a young German, William
Berchenbrinck, who had come down merely as passenger, and
who had been in the employment of a Spanish naturalist The
other was a regular trader, Senhor Antonio Dias, from San
Carlos, and he had brought down a cargo of rope, made from
the fibres of the Piass4ba palm, and a quantity of grass ham-
mocks. The piassaba rope is in great demand throughout the
province, and is remarkable for its strength and elasticity,
which qualities render it admirable for cables. The only ob-
jection to it is its roughness, for the palm fibres are. unavoid-
ably, of large size.

The hammocks were, in general, of cheap manufacture, va-
lued at half a milree each. The grass of which they were
made is yellow in color, and of a strength and durability supe-
rior to Manilla hemp. It grows in very great abundance
throughout the country of the Rio Negro, and could be supplied
to an unlimited extent. Senhor Antonio was a genius in his
way, and some of his hammocks were exquisitely ornamented,
by himself, with feather work. One, in particular, was com-
posed of cord, twisted by hand, scarcely larger than linen
thread ; and in its manufacture, a family of four persons had
been employed more than a year. Its borders, at the sides,
were one foot in width, and completely covered with embroid-
ery in the most gaudy feathers. Upon one side were the arms
of Brazil, upon the other, those of Portugal, and the remaining
space was occupied by flowers, and devices ingenious as
ever seen in needle-work. The feathers were attached to the
frame of the borders by a resinous gum. Such hammocks



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176 A VOYAGE tTP THE RIVER AMAZOlT.

are rather for ornament than use, and they are sought with
avidity at Rio Janeiro, by the curiosity collectors of foreign
courts. This one was valued at thirty silver dollars, which, in
the country of the Rio Negro, is equal to one hundred, in other
parts of the empire.

Sr. Antonio was sometliing of a wag as well as a genius;
and as the blacks came to him, at sunset, for the customary
blessing, making the sign of the cross upon their foreheads, his
usual benediction was, " Grod make you white."

Berchenbrinck could speak English fluently, and was a
very agreeable companion to us, besides being enabled, from
his own experience, to contribute much to our information re-
garding the natural curiosities of the country. He had crossed
from the Orinoco to the Rio Negro, by the Casiquiari, and in
coming down with Sr. Antonio, had been well nigh drowned
in descending one of the many rapids that obstruct this
latter river. Their cargo had been sent round by land, but
through some carelessness, the vessel had been overturned,
and both our friends precipitated into the whirling flood, whence
they were, some time after, drawn out, almost insensible, by
their crew, who from the shore had watched the catastrophe.
Mr. B. informed us, that in the highlands between the two
rivers, the Gallo de Serra, or Cock of the Rock, was abundant,
and frequently seen domesticated. This bird is the size of a
large dove, and wholly of a deep orange color. Upon its head,
is a vertical crest of the same. The Indians shoot the Cocks
of the Rock with poisoned arrows, and stripping off the skins,
sell them to travellers, or traders, who purchase them for
feather work. We obtained a number of them at Barra, and
had we arrived a short time sooner, could have seen a living
specimen, which was in the garden of Sr. Henriquez.

The Indians, who accompanied Sr. Antonio, were of a dif-
ferent race from any we had seen, and looked very oddly, from
the manner in which they suffered their hair to grow ; shaving
it close, except just above the forehead, from which, long locks
hung about their cheeks.

One day, an old Spaniard arrived, with a cargo of Chili
hats. He was from Grenada, and had come down the River



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A VOYAGE UP THB RIVER AMAZON. 17T

IVapo, and the Solemoen. Beside his hats, which he was in*
tending to take to the United States, he brought a quantity of
pictures, or rather, caricatures of saints, as small change for
his river expenses. Chill hats are a great article of trade at
Barra. They are made of small strips of a species of palm,
twisted more or less finely. This palm was growing in the
garden of Sr. Henriquez, and he gave us a bundle of the raw
material. The leaf was of the palmetto form, and looked
much like the leaf of which Chinese fans are made. The
value of the hats varies greatly, some being worth, even at the
Barra, from fiAeen to twenty dollars. But the average price
is from two to three dollars. We saw one of remarkable
fineness, which was sent to Doctor Costa in a letter.

The old Spaniard told us that much of the country upon
the Napo was still wild, and that, in repeated instances, the
Indians there brought him beautiful birds for sale, which they
had shot with poisoned arrows. Two hundred years ago, Acuiia
described the Tucuna tribe as remarkable for their similar habit.
The woods in the vicinity of Barra were a delightful resort
to us, and more attractive than we had seen upon the Amazon.
The land was not one dead level, swampy, or intersected by
impassable igarip^s; but there were gentle hills, and tiny
brooks of clearest water, and here, when weary of rambling,
we could recline ourselves in the delicious shade, unmolested
by carapands, or the scarcely less vexatious wood-flies. The
ground was often covered by evergreens of different varieties,
and exquisite forms, and many species of ferns were growing
in the valleys. There were no sepaws, or other climbing ob-
structions to our free passage, but a thousand lesser vines
draped the low tree tops with myriads of flowers, new and at-
tractive. Every where were paths, some made by the inhab-
itants, in their fVequent rambles, others, by wild animals that
come to the water ; and along these, we could pass quietly, to
the feeding trees of beautiful birds.

Here were wont to haunt many varieties of Trogons, un-
known to us ; and, at any hour, their pleuntive tones could be
heard from the lofty limb, upon which they sat concealed.
Cuckoos of several species, their plumage glancing red in



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178 A VOYAGE UP THE RIVER AMAZON.

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the light, flitted noiselessly through the branches, busied in
searching for the worms, which were their favorite food.

Purple Jays, Garrulus Cayanus, in large flocks, like their
blue cousins of North America, would be alighted on some
fruit tree, chattering and gesticulating ; but shy, ready to start
at the breaking of a twig.

M otmots, and Chatterers, were abundant as at Para ; the
latter, in greater variety, and still, most gaudy of all.

Goatsuckers, in plumage more exquisitely blended, thaa
any of the species we had ever seen, would start from some
shade where they had been dozing the day hours, and flying
a little distance, were an easy prey.

Manikins were in great variety, and in every bush ; Tana- i
gers whistled, and Warblers faintly lisped their notes in the
trees.

Flycatchers, in endless variety, were moving nimbly over
the branches, or sallying out from their sentry stations, upon
their passing prey.

Pigeons, some of varieties common at Para ; others, new
to us, were cooing in the thicket, or flying aflrighted off".

Tinami, of ail sizes, were feeding along the path, or sport-
ing in parties of half a dozen, among the dry leaves.

Curassows moved on with stately step, like our Wild
Turkey, picking here and there some delicate morsel, and
uttering a loud, peeping note ; or ran, with outstretched neck,
and rapid strides, as they detected approaching danger.

Guans were stripping the fruits from the low trees, in
parties of two and three ; and constantly repeating a loud,
harsh note, that proved their betrayal.

Of all these birds, the most beautiful, after the Chatterers,
were the Trogons. There were half a dozen varieties, differ-
ing in size, from the T. viridis, a small species, whose body <
was scarcely larger than many of our Sparrows, to the Cu-
ruqua grande, Calurus auriceps (Gould), twice the si2e of a
Jay. All have long, spreading tails ; and their dense plumage
makes them appear of greater size than the reality. They
are solitary birds, and, early in thie morning, or late in the
afternoon, may bh ob^ei^v'ed sittibg, singly oY in pairs ; some



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A VOYAGE UP THE RIVER AMAZOIf. 179

species, upon the tallest trees, and others, but a few feet
above the ground, with tails outspread and drooping, watch-
ing for passing insects. Their appetites appeased, they
spend the- remainder of the day in the shade, uttering, at m-
tervals, a mournful note, well imitated by their common name,
Curnqua, This would serve to betray them to the hunter;
but they are great ventriloquists, and it is often impossible to
discover them, although they are directly above one's head.
The species vary in coloring, as in size ; but the backs of all
are of a lustrous green, or blue, and bellies of red, or pink, or
yellow. The Curuqua grande is occasionally seen at Barra ;
but frequenting the tallest forest, it is exceedingly difficult to
be obtained. We offered a high price for a specimen, and
employed half the garrison for this single bird, without suc-
cess. They reported, that they, every day, saw them, and
frequently shot at them; but that they never would come
down. We were fortunate in obtaining a skin of this bird,
preserved by an Indian. The other species were the Red-
bellied, T. 9urucui; Cinerous, T. strigilatus; T. melanop-
terus ; and one other species, much resembling the last, except
that the outer tail-feathers, instead of being merely tipped
with white, as in the Melanopterus, were crossed by numerous
white bars.

Their feathers were so loose, that, in falling, when shot,
they, almost invariably, lost many ; and this, together with the
tenderness of their skins, made them the most difficult of birds
to preserve.

Of the Chatterers, besides the Cardinal, and other Par^
varieties, which were beginnir^g to be abundant, were the
Pompadour, Ampelis pompadwa,. whose wings were white,-
and body of * a lustrous carmine; and another variety, the
Silky, A. Maynana, whose bddy was of a sky-blue. At this
season, all these birds were in perfect plumage ; and seemed
fo be just returning fh5lin their migration, perhaps towiards
Para, as they were there during the month of May.
• Of Curassows) or Mutuns, we never shot but one variety,
liie Crested, of which we had found the nests, near Serpa. But
Other ^ecies were common about the forests, and these, with



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160 A VOYAGE UP THB RIVBR AMAZON.

others still, brought from the upper country, were frequently
seen domesticated. They are all familiar birds, and readily al-
low themselves to be caressed. At night, they often come into
the house to roost, seeming to like the company of the parrots
and other birds. They might easily be bred, when thus do-
mesticated, but the facility with which their nests are found,
renders this no object at Barra. They feed upon ^eeds and
fruits, and are considered superior, for the table, to any game
of the country. For one patac, or sixteen cents, each, we pur-
chased a pair of the Razor-billed Curassow, Ourax mitu, one of
which we succeeded in bringing safely home ; a pair of ( judg-
ing from recollection) the Red-knobbed Curassow, Crax Yar-
rellii; and a male of the Red Curassow, (Crax rubra), said to
have been brought from Peru. This- variety was called tJru-
mutun. The second species is the most common, and is found
throughout the country, towards Par^ The Parraqua Guan,
Phasianus parraqua, was common, but not domesticated. It
resembled the Mutuns -in its habits, but in form, had a larger
neck and tail, in proportion. A specimen which we shot, ex-
hibited a very curious formation of the wind-pipe, that organ
passing beneath the skin, upon the outside of the body, to the
extremity of the breast-bone, where it was attached by a liga-
ment Then re-curving, it passed back, and entered the body
as in other birds. Probably, the loud trumpet note of this bird
is owing to this formation.

Of Parrots and Toucans there were many new varieties, be-
sides some of those common at Pard. One species of Parro-
quet was i^carcely larger than a canary bird.

Of Hawks there were many varieties, not known at Pard,
and a large long-eared Owl, the first owl we had met, was
brought in by our hunters.

Humming birds were abundant as elsewhere, but mostly of
species observed at Pard. The Amethystine, T. amethysti-
nus ; and the Black-breasted, T. gramineus, were all the new
varieties that we obtained.

Our hunters were mostly soldiers of the garrison, and for
their labor we paid them ten cents per diem, and found them
in powder and shot. WheQ, towards night, they made their



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A VOTAGE UP THE RIVER AMAZON. 181

appearance with the fruits of their excursions, our table was
richly loaded, and a long evening's work spread before us.

Sometimes, they would bring in animals, and upon one oc-
casion, we received a pair of small Tiger Cats, called Mira-
cajds.

Some varieties of Squirrels were also brought in, but as we
had no leisure to attend to animals, we gave no orders for pro-
curing them. The same animals found in other parts of the
province, were common in the vicinity, and we could learn of
nothing new, excepting Monkeys, who vary in species with
every degree of latitude or longitude.

Mr. McCulloch gave us the teeth of a Jaguar, which he had
shot at his mill \ and we heard of a singular meeting between
one of these animals and an Indian, upon the road towards the
mill. The Jaguar was standing in the road, as the Indian
came out of the bushes, not ten paces distant, and was looking,
doubtless, somewhat fiercely, as he waited the unknown comer.
The Indian was puzzled an instant, but summoning his pres-
ence of mind, he took off his broad brimmed hat, and made a
low bow, with " Muito bem dias, meu Senhor," or " a very
good morning, sir." Such profound respect was not lost upon
the Jaguar, who turned slowly, and marched down the road,
with proper dignity.

Several times, during the latter part of our stay, when our
names had acquired some celebrity, birds, and other curiosities
were brought in for sale ; and, upon one day in particular, such
a zeal for vintens actuated all the little blackies and Indians,
that our big bellied bottles speedily became crowded to refpie-
tion, with beetles, and lizards, and snakes, et id omne genus.

Three miles back of Barra,^ is the Casu6ris, a water fall, of
which Mr. McCulloch has taken advantage for his mill. The
water falls over a ledge of yellowish red sand rock, and,
during the dry season, has a descent of twelve feet But
during the wet season, the waters of the Rio Negro set back
to such an extent, that a fall is scarcely perceptible. These
changes have their conveniences, for as, when the water is low,
the wheel can be constantly turning, so, when it is high, the
supply of logs can be floated directly to the mill. The greater

9



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182 A VOYAGE CTP THE SIY£S AMAZOM.

part of the logs used, are of cedar, rafted tap from Ae
Solimoen. Coming from the head waters of the various
streams, they are precipitated over cataracts, and rolled and
crushed together, until their limbs are entirely broken off, and
their roots require b'\it little trimming. Logs of other woods
are cut upon the banks of the Rio Negro, and from low land,
during the dry season. When the waters rise, these logs are
floated out, bound together, and rafted down. We saw a
variety of beautiful woods ; some of the most valuable of
which for cabinet purposes, were the Saboyerana, reddish,
mottled with black, and varieties of Satin-wood. These are
scarcely known down the river, but through Mr. McCulloch's
enterprise, they are in a fair way to be made common. The 1
mill was a perfect Yankee mill, differing, in no respect,
excepting in the materials of its frame ; woods beautiful as
mahogany not being so accessible as hemlock, in the United
States.

Heretofore, all the boards used in the province of Par^
have been hewn in the forest, by the Indians, who are remark-
ably expert at this kind of work, using a small adze, like a
cooper's hammer, and making the boards as smooth as
with a plane. One log will make but two boards, and the
labor of reducing to the requisite thinness is so tedious, that
very few builders can afford to use wood for the flooring of
their houses. But these people are so proverbially slow in
adc^ting innovations, that some years must elapse, before this
expensive system is changed.

The Casu^ris being a delightful spot, shaded by densely
leaved trees, is the usual resort for Sunday pic-nic parties,
which meet there for the fresh, cool air, and the luxurious bath. I
The Senhora Henriquez made a little party of the kind for
our entertainment, which passed off delightfully, and much as
such a party would have done at home. It was something
novel, to meet such an evidence of refinement so far out of the
world, where we had expected to find nothing but wildness.
But there was one feature that distinguished it from any
pleasure party I ever participated in, amid civilivation
and refinement, and that was, the bathing, at the finale.



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A VOYAOB UP THE RITER AMA20N. 188

In this, there was little fastidiousness although perfect
decorum. While the gentlemen were in the water, the
ladies, upon the bank, were applauding, criticising, and
comparing styles, for there were almost as many nations of
us, as individuals ; and when, in their turns, they darted
through the water, or dove, like streaks of light, to the very
bottom, they were in nawise distressed that we scrupled not
at the same privilege. They were all practiced and graceful
swimmers, but the Senhora particularly, as she rose, with her
long hair, long enough tD sweep the ground when walking,
enshrouding her in its silken folds, might have been taken for
the living, new-world Venus.

For bathing purposes, we never saw water that could com-
pare with the Rio Negro. One came from its sparkling bosom,
with an exhilaration, as if it had been the water of a mineral
spring. In it, the whole town, men, women, and children,
performed daily ablutions, cleanliness being a part of the
Brazilian religion. The women were usually in before sun-
rise, and we never saw, as some have asserted is the case, both
sexes promiscuously in the water.

We crossed the river, one day, in a montaria, with three
Indians, to visit a large campo. Our last mile was through
woods, the low shrubbery of which was entirely overflowed,
and as far down as we could see, were trees in full leaf, look-
ing like a bed of green. Many creeping plants, bearing a
profusion of flowers, overhung our heads, and of the finest, a
Dendrobium, with its clusters of pink and purple, we
obtained a specimen, which we were fortunate enough
to bring safely to the United States. In this retreat,
we observed a great number of Trogons and Doves, as though
the water-side was their favorite resort. The trunks of the
trees were all marked by the waters of the last year, full five
feet above their ordinary rise. That unprecedented flood
poured over the low lands, and caused great deveuttation.

The campo was some miles in length, covered with grass
and low shrubs. The late dryness had deprived the grass of
all its green, and the whole resembled more a desert than a



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184 A V0TA6E UP THE RTVER AMAZON.

meadow. There were a number of lean cattle and horses
wandering about, looking for food, with microscopic eyes.

Cattle are rare at Barra, and we saw no milk during our
stay. There was said to be one horse, but he was altogether
beyond our ken ; and the honors of his genus were done by
three asses, who were outrageous vagabonds, and unfair
proxies.

A ball was got up, for our especial advantage and honor,
one evening. Six ladies, some well dressed, some so-so ; some
tolerably white and some as tolerably dark, composed the lively
part, and about a dozen gentlemen, an essential part, of the
gathering. One gentleman volunteefted to the guitar, another
to the violin ; one and another sent in refreshments, and an
old lady took in charge the coflfee. The ladies were very
agreeable, differing mightily from the ladies at Para dancing
parties, who do not go to talk. The dances were waltzes,
cotillions, and fandangoes, and some of the ladies danced with
extreme grace. Those who were deficient in grace, made up
in good will, and until a late hour, all went on merrily and
delightfully.



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CHAPTER XVI.

A new rive^-Rio Branco—TartAivood— Unexplored region— Tmdition»—Feixe boi or
Cow Fish — Turtles— Inflnences at Barra— Indians— Foreigners— Indian articles —
Poison Qsed upon arrows^Traffic — Balsam Copaivi — Salsa — Clninia.— Vanilla— Ton-
ga beans— Indigo — Gnarana- Pixiri or nntmeg— Seringa— Wild cotton— Rock salt—
The Amazon above the Rio Negro— The Rio Negro.

While we were at Barra, Senhor Gabriel, one of the dig-
nitaries of the place, and a very agreeable gentleman, returned
from an exploring expedition, up one of the smaller rivers,
which flow into the Rio Negro, between Barra and the Branco.
Nothing had previously been known of the region lying adja-
cent to this stream, for vague traditions of hostile Indians had
deterred even the adventurous frontiers-men, from attempting
its exploration. The Senhor described it as a beautiful, roll-
ing country, in many parts high, and covered by forests of
magnificent growth. It was uninfested by cdrapands, and
never visited by fevers ; nor were there troublesome Indians to
molest settlers.

The Senhor gave ue the skin of a large black monkey,
which he had killed during this excursion, and the nest and
eggs of a White-collared Hummer, the Trochiius melivorus.
The nest was composed of the light down growing upon the
exterior of a small berry, and surpassed any thing we had seen
in bird architecture. The eggs were tiny things, white, with
a few spots of red.

The Rio Branco is another interesting stream, which sends
its wealth to Barra. Its head waters are in the highlands,
towards Guiana, and it flows throi^h one of the loveliest and
most desirable regions of tropical America. There are many



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186 A VOYAGE UP THE RIVES AMAZON.

settlements upon its banks, and an extensive traffic is carried
on in cattle and produce. Far up among the mountains, at the
head of this river, is found the Mdr9,panima, or Turtle wood,
specimens of which may sometimes be seen made into canes.
This is the heart of a tree, and is never more than a few inches
in diameter. The only person who deals in it upon the Branco,
is a Friar, who obtains it from some Indian tribe, in the course
of his mission, and, a few sticks at a time, he sends it to Pard,
where it is in great demand for canes, and other light articles.
In the same district, are said to be valuable minerals, and we
obtained of a canoe which had just coj;Be down, a piece of red
jasper, susceptible of a fine polish, which was used as a flint
We saw, also, some large and beautiful crystals, from the same
highlands.

The whole region, north of the Amazon, is watered by
numberless rivers, very many of which are still unexplored.
It is a sort of bugbear country, where cannibal Indians and
ferocious animals abound to the destruction of travellers. This
portion of Brazil has always been Fancy's peculiar domain,
and, even now, all kinds of little El Dorados lie scattered far,
far through the forest, where the gold and the diamonds are
guarded by thrice horrible Cerberi. Upon the river banks are
Indians, watching the unwary stranger, with bended bow, and
poisoned arrow upon the string. Some tribes, most provident,
keep large pens akin to sheepfolds, where the late enthusiastic
traveller awaits his doom, as in the cave of Poljrphemus. As
if these obstructions were not enough, huge, nondescript ani-
mals add their terrors, and the tormented sufferer, makes costly
vows that if he ever escapes, he will not again venture into


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Online LibraryWilliam Henry EdwardsA voyage up the river Amazon: including a residence at Pará → online text (page 16 of 24)