Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

vince of Varenas, which terminated their journey over the Llanos. The breadth of the Apure on which they were about to embark was found to be 200 toises. This river, like the Meta and the Oroonoko, has its periodical swellings, when the horses that wander in the savannah and have not time to reach the rising grounds of the Llanos, perish by thousands. The mares, followed by their colts, may be seen swimming about, and feeding on the grass of which the top alone waves above the waters. In this state they are pursued by the crocodiles; and their thighs, should they be fortunate enough to escape, frequently bear the prints of the teeth of these carnivorous reptiles. The carcasses of such as perish attract innumerable vultures, which have the mien of Pharaoh's chicken, and render the same service to the inhabitants of the Llanos as the vultur percnopterus to the inhabitants of Egypt.'

• We cannot reflect on the effects of these inundations without admiring the prodigious pliability of the organization of the animals that man has subjected to his sway. In Greenland the dog eats the refuse of the fisheries; and, when fish are wanting, feeds on seaweed. The ass and the horse, originally natives of the cold and barren plains of Upper Asia, follow man to the New World, return to the savage state, and lead a restless and painful life in the burning climate of the tropics. Pressed alternately by excess of drought and of humidity, they sometimes seek a pool in the midst of a bare and dusty soil to quench their thirst; and at other times flee from water, and the overflowing rivers, as menaced by an enemy that threatens them on all sides. Harassed during the day by gadties and moschettoes, the horses, mules and cows find themselves attacked at night by enormous bats, that fasten on their backs, and cause wounds that become dangerous, because they are filled with acaridæ and other hurtful insects. In the time of great drought the mules gnaw even the thorny melocactus, melon thistle, in order to drink its cooling juice, and draw it forth as from a vegetable fountain. During the great inundations these same animals lead an amphibious life, surrounded by crocodiles, water-serpents, and manatees. Yet, such are the immutable laws of nature, their races are preserved in the struggle with the elements, and amid so many sufferings and dangers. When the waters retire, and the rivers return again into their beds, the savannah is spread over with a fine odoriferous grass; and the animals of Europe and Upper Asia seem to enjoy, as in their native climate, the renewed vegetation of spring.'-pp. 394-396.

An old farmer of the name of Don Francisco Sanchez obligingly offered to conduct our travellers overland to the Oroonoko. His dress denoted the great simplicity of manners that prevails in these distant regions. He had acquired a fortune of more than 100,000 piastres, and yet he mounted his horse bare-legged and bare-footed, though armed with large silver spurs. They preferred however the longer road by the Rio Apure, and hired a large canoe, called by

the

the Spaniards lancha, managed by a pilot and four Indians. A sort of cabin was constructed in the stern, covered with the leaves of the corypha; and some ox hides stretched on frames of brazilwood served for a table and benches. They laid in a month's provisions. The Apure abounds in fish, manatees, and turtles ; its banks are frequented by an innumerable quantity of birds, among which are the pauri and the guacharaca, which may be called the turkies and pheasants of these countries.

The Yaruroes inhabit the left bank of the Apure below the Apurito. They live by hunting and fishing, and supply the European markets chiefly with the skins of the jaguar, kuown generally as those of the tiger. M. de Humboldt thinks they have some features which belong to the Mongul species,—a stern look, an elongated eye, high cheek-bones—but the nose prominent throughout its whole length. The missionaries praise their intellectual cha

racter.

Having passed the sugar plantation called Diamante, they entered a land inhabited only by tigers, crocodiles and chiguires, the latter being a large species of the genus cavia of Linnæus: flights of birds were crowded so closely together as to appear like a dark cloud. The banks of the river were generally covered with a forest, the trees of which were singularly disposed. First, bushes of sauso (hermesia castuneifolia), forming a kind of hedge four feet high, appeared as if they had been clipped by the hand of man. Behind these, copses of cedars, brazillettoes, and lignum vitæ reared their heads; with here and there a palm tree, and a few scattered trunks of the thorny piritu and corozo. In this scene of untamed and savage nature, the traveller at one moment is delighted with the sight of the jaguar, the beautiful panther of America, at another with the peacock, pheasant, or cashew bird with its black plumage and its tufted head, moving slowly along the sausos. Gliding down the stream, animals of the most different classes succeed each other. Esse como en el Paradiso,'— it is just as it was in Paradise,' said the old Indian pilot of the missions to our travellers; and M. de Humboldt observes, that every thing indeed here recals to mind that state of the primitive world, the innocence and felicity of which ancient and venerable traditions have transmitted to all nations; but in carefully observing the manners of animals among themselves, we see that they punctually avoid each other. The golden age has ceased; and in this paradise of American forests, as well as every where else, sad and long experience has taught all beings, that benignity is seldom found in alliance with strength!

Crocodiles to the number of eight or ten were frequently seen stretched motionless on the sand, and with jaws open at right angles, reposing by each other, along the whole course of the river; yet the

Y 4

swelling

[ocr errors]

swelling of the Apure having scarcely begun, thousands still remained buried in the sands of the savannahs. The species is precisely that of the Nile. Our travellers learned at San Fernando that scarcely a year passes without several persons, particularly women, being drowned by them. The following anecdote is analogous to one which cannot fail to be familiar to most of our readers.

• They related to us the history of a young girl of Uritucu, who by singular intrepidity and presence of mind saved herself from the jaws of a crocodile. When she felt herself seized, she sought the eyes of the animal, and plunged her fingers into them with such violence, that the pain forced the crocodile to let her loose, after having bitten off the lower part of her left arm. The girl, notwithstanding the enormous quantity of blood she lost, happily reached the shore, swimming with the hand she had still left. In those desert countries, where man is ever wrestling with nature, discourse daily turns on the means, that may be employed to escape from a tiger, a boa or traga venado, or a crocodile; every one prepares himself in some sort for the dangers that await him. I knew, said the young girl of Uritucu coolly," that the cayman lets go his hold, if you push your fingers into his eyes.” Long after my return to Europe I learned, that in the interior of Africa the Negroes know and practise the same means. Who does not recollect with a lively interest Isaaco, the guide of the unfortunate Mungo Park, seized twice, near Boulinkombou, by a crocodile, and twice escaping from the jaws of the monster, having succeeded in placing his fingers under water in both his eyes? The African Isaaco, and the young American, owed their safety to the same presence of mind, and the same combination of ideas.'— pp. 423, 424.

Near the Vuelta del Joval a jaguar was seen, surpassing in size all the tigers which M. de Humboldt had ever seen in the collections of Europe. It held, in its paw, a chiguire, which it had just killed, and focks of the zamuroes were waiting to devour the remains of its repast. They every now and then advanced within a few feet of the jaguar, but drew back on the least movement made by him. Our travellers got into their little boat to observe more closely the manners of these animals; but the jaguar, disturbed by the noise of the oars, retired slowly behind the sauso bushes; the vultures, profiting by his absence, soused upon the chiguire; but the animal, leaping into the midst of them, seized on the carcass and carried off his prey. Large herds of chiguires every where appeared. Its flesh has the smell of musk, but hams are made of it which the monks do not scruple to eat during Lent, placing it, in their zoological classification, with the armadillo, and the manatee, near the tortoises, and these next to the fish family.

At this place the travellers passed the night, as usual, in the open air, though in a plantation, the proprietor of which employed himself in hunting tigers. Nearly naked, and with a complexion

as

as brown as a Zambo, Signior Don Ignacio (for so he was styled) considered himself as a white. His wife and daughter, as naked as himself, were called Donna Isabella and Donna Manuela. This man, proud of his nobility and the colour of his skin, had not taken the trouble to construct himself even a hut of palm leaves, but swung his hammock between two trees. The night was stormy; and Donna Isabella's cat, which had taken up its lodging in a tamarind tree, fell into the hammock of one of the travellers, who, conceiving himself attacked by some wild beast, raised a terrible outcry which not a little discomposed the rest of the party. It rained in torrents all night, and their host congratulated the drenched and shivering travellers next morning on their good fortune in not sleeping on the strand, but entre gente blanca y de trato, among whites and persons of rank! Don Ignacio piqued himself on his valour against the Indians, and the services which he had rendered to God and the king, in carrying away children from their parents to distribute them in the missions. How singular a spectacle,' says M.de Humboldt,' to find in that vast solitude a man who believes himself of European race, and knows no other shelter than the shade of a tree, with all the vain pretensions, all the hereditary prejudices, all the errors of long civilization !'

Proceeding down the river which glided through vast forests, our travellers slept the following night on the margin by suspending their hammocks between two oars stuck in the ground. Towards midnight a terrific noise commenced in the neighbouring forest, sufficient to appal the stoutest heart; it proceeded from the wild beasts, who, according to the report of the native Indians,' were keeping the feast of the full moon.' Amidst all this clamour, M. de Humboldt says, the Indians could discriminate the soft cries of the sapajous, the moans of the alouates, the howlings of the tiger, the couguar, or American lion, the pecari, and the sloth, and the voices of the curassoa, the parraka, and other gallinaceous birds.

Here they caught a fish known by the name of caribe, or caribito, from its delight in blood : it is the dread of the Indians, several of whom shewed the scars of deep wounds in the calf of the leg and thigh made by this little animal. They live at the bottom of rivers; but if a few drops of blood be shed in the water, they arrive by thousands at the surface.' As no one ventures to bathe where the caribe is found, it becomes as great a scourge in the water as the mosquito is in the air. M. de Humboldt however had nearly encountered a more potent and dangerous enemy than the caribeit was a huge jaguar, lying under the thick foliage of a ceiba, which he bad approached inadvertently within eighty steps. . There are accidents in life, against which we might seek in vain to

fortify

fortify our reason. I was extremely frightened, yet sufficiently master of myself, and of my motions, to enable me to follow the advice which the Indians had so often given us, how to act in such cases. I continued to walk on without running; avoided moving my arms; and thought I observed that the jaguar's attention was fixed on a herd of capybaras, which were crossing the river. I then began to return, making a large circuit toward the edge of the water. As the distance increased, I thought I might accelerate my pace. How often was I tempted to look back, in order to assure myself that I was not pursued! Happily I yielded very tardily to this desire. The jaguar had remained motionless. These enormous cats with spotted robes are so well fed in countries abounding in capybaras, pecaris, and deer, that they rarely attack men. I arrived at the boat out of breath, and related my adventure to the Indians. They appeared very little moved by it; yet, after having loaded our firelocks, they accompanied us to the ceiba, beneath which the jaguar had lain. He was there no longer, and it would have been imprudent to have pursued him into the forest, where we must have dispersed, or marched in file, amid intertwining lianas.' --Pp. 446, 447.

In the evening of the 3d of April, the travellers passed the mouth of the Cano del Manati, thus named on account of the immense quantity of manatees caught there every year. This herbivorous animal of the cetaceous tribe attains the length of ten or twelve feet, and the weight of six or eight hundred pounds. Its flesh is savoury, and resembles pork. When salted and dried in the sun, it will keep a whole year; and as it is cousidered by the monks as a fish, it is much sought for during Lent. The fat is used for preparing food, and for lamps in the churches ; the hide, of an inch and a half in thickness, is cut into slips and serves in the Llanos for cordage, and for whips to punish the slaves and the Indians of the inissions.

The next day our travellers reached the mouth of the Apure where it unites its waters with those of the Oroonoko. The aspect of the country was now totally changed.

• An immense plain of water stretched before us like a lake, as far as we could see. White-topped waves rose to the height of several feet, from the conflict of the breeze and the current. The air resounded no longer with the piercing cries of the herons, the famingoes, and the spoonbills, crossing in long files from one shore to the other. Our eyes sought in vain those water fowls, the inventive shares of which vary in each tribe. All nature appears less animated. Scarcely could we discover in the hollows of the waves a few large crocodiles, cutting obliquely, by the help of their long tails, the surface of the agitated waters. The horizon was bounded by a zone of forests, but these forests no where reached so far as the bed of the river. A vast beach constantly parched by the heat of the sun, desert and bare as the shores of the sea, resembled at a distance, from the effect of the mirage, pools

« AnteriorContinuar »