Out of the silence and gloom of the forest the traveller will emerge
into the full light of a clearing. Though it is the site of a tribal
headquarters there is no village, no cluster of huts, except among some
of the tribes on the lower Apaporis. There is but one great house,
thatched and ridge-roofed like a gigantic hay-rick, standing four-square
in the open. This is the home of some three score Indians.
The immediate signs of their occupancy are but few. There is hardly any
litter cumbering the homestead; whatever of refuse there be is cleared
more speedily by the ants than it would be by the most up-to-date
sanitary authority of London. Back here in the untouched districts, away
from the Rubber Belt and the commerce-bearing rivers, there are none
of the leavings of civilisation: no broken bottles, no battered tins,
no torn and dirty scraps of paper–indeed if bottle or tin ever found
its way to these wilds it would be esteemed a most rare and valuable
treasure. No village dogs bark their challenge at the stranger’s
approach, no domestic fowls clutter away to safety. A naked child or a
startled old woman may scurry into the saving murk of the _maloka_,
otherwise the silence and solitude appear little less profound than in
That is the picture as the artist or camera would reproduce it. The
details, the essentials, must be sought within.
[Illustration: FIG. 1.]
First of all characteristics is the fact that nothing makes for
permanence. The house and its contents at the best are but for temporary
use. The possession of a central tribal house does not presuppose that
these Indians remain for any length of time in one locality. After about
two or three years the house falls into a state of disrepair, but the
tribesmen will not patch and mend it. They will simply discard it like
all useless things. The women will be loaded up with the few tribal
possessions–not forgetting the inevitable burden of their infants–the
house will be burnt, and the whole of this _grosse famille_ departs to
seek a new site on which to build another habitation.
Building material is easily come by, and though to clear the land for
agricultural purposes from the virgin forest entails considerable hard
work, it is periodically a necessary task. However rich it may have been
in the first instance successive crops rob the soil of its fertility,
as the Indian is only too well aware, and fresh ground must perforce be
broken up every few years. Then again, paths converging on the homestead
in time are worn through the forest undergrowth, dense though it may
be, circuitous though the trail of the Indian is invariably. Secrecy is
security. A track-way is as good as an invitation, a sign-post, to the
enemy. To move becomes a precautionary measure, even if the food supply
be not exhausted–another reason that makes for unsettled conditions in
The site chosen is never near a river, for these are the highways for a
possible enemy, and streams for ordinary purposes abound. Also–but this
is an insignificant reason in comparison with the first–insect pests are
not so abundant at a distance from the river-bank. With an eye to defence
from hostile visitors, the Indian habitation is sedulously hidden,
and the paths that lead to it are concealed also in every possible
way. The track from the river especially may run more or less directly
for, say, a third of a mile; then it is absolutely stopped by a fallen
tree. No cleared pathway apparently runs beyond this, but the Indian,
creeping through the thicket by devious ways, eventually reaches another
comparatively cleared track. This will in turn be stopped in the same
fashion, and thence lead more directly housewards. The river-path may be
broken twice or even three times in little more than a mile.
At the same time that the ground is cleared on which the house is to be
built, a plot immediately in front is also cleared for use as a dancing
ground. This is customary, but not invariable, for some tribes are
content with the dancing space inside the house. The outside dancing
floor once cleared is quickly trodden down, and though no special
preparation is attempted will soon be baked comparatively hard in the sun.
The construction of the great house is not complicated, but the
workmanship is dexterous, and will bear the closest inspection. Four
great poles, 20 to 30 feet high, form the main supports of the roof,
which slopes down on either side tentwise almost to the ground from the
central ridge-pole. More posts and cross-beams support it, and the whole
is most adroitly lashed together. The forest supplies all the needed
material. It is there ready to hand, growing where the house is to be
erected. The straightest tree-trunks provide the posts and cross-beams;
the creeping lianas serve to splice and bind the framework together;
Bussu palm-leaves make the thatch, which, as the actual wall is but
some three feet in height, is practically roof and wall in one. The
_bejucos_, or lianas, used to tie the beams and poles are first soaked in
water to render them supple enough.
[Illustration: FIG. 2.]
To make the thatch the Indians slit bamboos and insert the palm-leaves
doubled backwards. The strips are then laid on the framework of
the house, one above another, so that the uppermost strips shall hang
half over those below. They are piled on to a thickness of from a foot
to eighteen inches, and when completed this shingling is absolutely
waterproof. When it ceases to be so the house will be abandoned. The
leaves are not plaited, or intertwined in any manner, so the roof
consists only of loose fronds, row upon row, and these have more the
appearance of tobacco plants hung in an open drying-barn than a reed or
[Illustration: PLATE VI.
FLOWERS AND SECTION OF LEAF OF THE BUSSU PALM
THE LEAF IS USED FOR THATCHING]
All the native houses are made after much the same manner. They vary only
in unimportant details. The shape, as a rule, is a rough parallelogram
or square with rounded angles, but on the lower Apaporis the houses are
circular. On the Napo River also they are hemispherical, but the section
of a Witoto or Boro house usually would be a triangle some 30 feet high,
with a 60-feet base. Witoto houses sometimes are more circular as to
ground-plan, but always have the pointed roof, not a cone (see Fig. 4).
The house is not always roofed and thatched to the ground, the last two
or three feet occasionally being made of a closely set palisade, lined
with matting or thatch. This is even more noticeable in a Nonuya house,
and a Makuna house is invariably so fortified and is lighter than a Boro
dwelling. As a general rule it may be noted that the Issa-Japura houses
are not strengthened in this way. Wallace gives the dimensions of a house
at Jaurité as 115 feet long, by 75 broad, and 30 high. A Witoto or a
Boro house is usually about 60 to 70 feet in diameter. In both cases the
size depends on the numbers of the tribe.
[Illustration: FIG. 3.
ELEVATION OF SMALL BORO HOUSE]
These houses have no windows, and the entrance is merely an opening in
the palm-thatch eaves of some three feet by two. This most frequently is
closed with a removable section of the thatch, which must be lifted out
when any one enters, and replaced behind them; or it may be, as among the
Orahone and Nonuya, covered by a curtain of thatch, which is hung on a
cross-piece of the eaves by a strip of liana, and simply is pushed aside
and swung back into place. In a Nonuya house the door is marked outside
by bundles of rods neatly tied and set against the side posts.
Whatever the “door” may be, the opening is invariably kept closed, and it
is the duty of any persons coming in to fasten up the entrance as soon
as they have entered. The consequence of this absence of any opening
is that the interiors of the _malokas_ are nearly as dark by day as by
night. But this deep gloom keeps out insects–no small consideration in a
land so infested with them.
[Illustration: FIG. 4.–Section of houses.]
[Illustration: PLATE VII.
SELF, WITH NONUYA TRIBE (Note Doorway behind me)
The interior with its pointed roof resembles, as Robuchon remarked, a
circus at a country fair. The central space is usually kept clear, and is
used by the children as a playing-ground what time it is not required for
more serious tribal business, such as dancing or a tobacco palaver. The
far end of the house–where there is usually another small entrance–is
the portion reserved for the chief and his family. As a rule it is open,
but I have seen it matted off in some Witoto houses. Neither the Boro
nor the Witoto indulge in the cubicles of palm-leaf thatch mentioned by
Wallace in Uaupes houses, nor are their habitations divided into
two, with a small chamber at the end, as described by Koch-Grünberg in
Tuyuka houses. Each family has its own fire, but that is the only
distinction, though on the lower Apaporis mats of beaten palm-leaf are
used to form a sort of booth for each family. Such mats, _duriei_ as the
Witoto call them, are also employed in some houses for the protective
purpose of securing the entrance.
[Illustration: FIG. 5.
A A A, posts. B, fire. C C C, hammocks. D D, Wall.]
The Apaporis Indians also make shelves or platforms on which they
sleep, but all the other Issa-Japura tribes use the hammock slung
about 2½ feet from the ground. One is hung for every man adjacent to
his family fire–almost over it in fact. A second, placed rather less
advantageously, in local opinion, belongs to his wife; while a third may
be set between the two, close under the sloping thatch, for the children,
when they are not asleep on the rough floor of uncovered earth. The
family possessions are stored in places on the rafters overhead along
with the hammocks, cooking-pots, and baskets with dried fish or smoked
meat, the cassava-squeezer and personal treasures.
The chief has no other house, but any tribesman with a wish for one can
build a small house for himself and his family in the bush, though he
still retains his right to a corner in the common dwelling of the tribe.
A temporary shelter is easily contrived by lashing poles to four trees,
some seven or eight feet above the ground. On this frame-work branches
for rafters and palm-leaves for thatch are quickly adjustable. This is
the ordinary way of preparing a sleeping-place in the forest, and is
known among the rubber-gatherers as a _rancho_, but the Indians’ private
houses are constructed more securely, and more like miniature editions of
the central tribal house, although in this case no wall whatever supports
the sloping roof as a rule. These may be called their country homes, and
they may be perhaps as much as two days’ journey from the great house of
At ordinary times there will be possibly from fifty to sixty people in
the tribal house, but on the occasion of any festivity as many as two
hundred will crowd in, all as by right entitled. What the atmosphere
is like on those occasions may better be imagined than described. I
invariably slept in native houses, and never found them other than very
dark, very hot at night, and full of smoke, for which there is no outlet,
chimneys being unknown luxuries with most of the tribes. Some of the
Indians on the Apaporis contrive an arrangement that permits the smoke to
disappear, and the Kuretu make what is almost a chimney-cowl by means of
an overhanging portion of the topmost thatch above a small opening;
but in the ordinary Boro or Witoto house there is nothing to disperse
the smoke from the wood fires that, it must be remembered, are never
extinguished. These tribes have no means of making fire. It is therefore
a matter of vital importance that it should never be permitted to die
out. Did such an untoward accident occur the household would be fireless
till live embers were obtained from some friendly neighbour.
Fire-making is unknown to the tribes on the south of the Japura, but on
the north of that river fire is obtained by friction in a groove.
I never saw it done, but was told that ants’ nests were often used
for tinder. On one occasion I made a fire by firing cartridges into a
mass of leaves and wood chips, having first extracted the bullets and
replaced them with cotton wool. The leaves flamed up after fourteen
rounds. Matches are sheer magic in the Indian’s eyes, and a box is a
most valuable gift. He may blaze one, just to be certain that the white
man has passed on some of his own magical powers along with the wonderful
little box of sticks, but never more than one is sacrificed at a time.
[Illustration: FIG. 6.]
What with the heavy dews and the incessant rain the bush is always in a
condition of reeking damp, so bush fires are impossible. Therefore, when
they cannot make fire, the Indians must keep the family fire burning
night and day, and its preservation is the very serious business of
every member of the tribe. Not only do they depend on it for warmth and
cooking, but the fitful glow of the smouldering fires is on ordinary
occasions the only light in the Indian house. Torches of resinous wood
are used at dances and such-like festivals only. When the tribesmen go
into the bush they always carry fire over their shoulders. This is done
by means of a strip of some resinous bark, about two feet long, which
they hold in their hands. The bark smoulders slowly, and can at any time
be blown into a flame.
The fire is always arranged after a definite pattern. Three young trees
are placed together on the ground endways, in the form of a triskeles.
The fire is kindled in the centre, and once alight it will last for as
long as a week at a time. All day when people pass, even the little
children, they will give a kick to a log to keep the fire together, and
during the night it is fed continually in the same fashion.
The natives sleep with no more covering than they have worn in the
daytime. The hammocks of the father, the mother, and the children are
slung, as has been said, in a triangle, with the fire between them. As
the fire dies down one or other will rise and push the wood more closely
together, blow a little at the hot embers, and then return to rest, till
about the hour before sunrise, when it is coldest. Then every one gets
up, and when the fire has been blown into a blaze they wait for dawn.
Dawn is the signal for all to repair to the river for the first bath of
the day. The girls come back with big jars full of water on their heads,
held in position by their uplifted hands. The women go to work in the
plantations, the men may hunt and fish. As day advances into evening the
women return again from the plantation, the mothers, naked and shining
from the evening bath, with their children seated astride their left
hips; while those not encumbered carry up the pine-apples, the plantains,
and the manioc, packed in baskets that are slung from their foreheads.
Those who have sought provision in the forest bring back lizards and
snakes–it may be a frog, for nothing seems amiss for the hot-pot of the
Indian. The hunters come in from the bush with a capybara, a curassow,
or a monkey; the men who preferred the river bring fish. Soon there is a
savoury smell from the cooking of cassava cakes, the boiling of meat, and
the pungent odour of _yarakue_. There is not much talk, and none of the
homely clatter of dishes, for leaves serve as plates and napkins, fingers
for eating utensils. The naked women crouch on their heels about the
fires; the men stretch languidly in their hammocks; and so the Indian day
passes by imperceptible degrees again to night.
So much for the human inhabitants of the tribal household. There are
others of less pleasing character. Spiders are there, some of an
extraordinary size, not forgetting the deadly tarantula. One day I placed
my hand carelessly on one of the posts in an Indian house, and only just
withdrew it in time, for it had been within an inch or two of a large
_mygale_. Scorpions also lurk in crannies of the thatch, but they never
bothered me in the least, and although the swelling was considerable in
the one or two cases of bite I noted, there were no after-consequences.
The Menimehe, whose houses are more open, make hives of hollow trees for
bees to swarm in, and these are placed in their _maloka_, so that a store
of honey and wax is always at hand.
The smoke and darkness keep off the pium and mosquito, but outside the
dwelling ants abound, though their value as scavengers does in a measure
detract from their general undesirability; for it is thanks mainly to
them that there are no bad smells in the vicinity of a Witoto home,
as cleanliness is not a virtue of the Witoto. The daily rain, also,
prevents any accumulation of filth, for everything of that description is
continually washed away.
Jiggers are found in Indian houses, though never in the bush. There need
be no trouble with these tiresome creatures if prompt attention be paid
to the part affected. It is a common practice among the Indians for
the women to examine the men’s feet directly they come in, to see that
they are all right, and if a jigger is detected to dig it out with a
palm-spine, care being taken that a non-poisonous spine is selected.
A very much more serious injury is inflicted by the blood-sucking bat.
Not only the forest but the dark and lofty roof of the native house
will often harbour bats of several kinds, and occasionally some of the
_Phyllostoma_. Vampires, however, are more frequently met with on the
main river than on the Issa or Japura. They undoubtedly attack
sleepers, and the subsequent loss of blood may be serious, especially in
the case of a child. The point made for is always the big toe, and the
wound is so slight that the victim does not waken, or if awake is hardly
conscious of the hurt. It is possible that the loss of blood induces a
comatose state. I never actually saw a case, though I have talked to
persons who had been bitten. But the vampire is rare in these districts,
whereas other bats are common enough in the forest.
As a general rule the Indians have no pets; but on one occasion, near a
Boro settlement on the north of the Japura, I saw some children of the
Menimehe tribes with tame monkeys. These were the only Indians I ever met
who kept any pet. Animal food is too scarce in the forest. Bates asserts
that “the Indians are very fond of them [monkeys] as pets, and the women
often suckle them when young at their breasts.” I never heard of such
a case as this, but certainly the monkey must be caught extremely young
to be tamable at all; and, I repeat, food is scarce.
Although the Amazons have been known to Europe for fully four hundred
years, exploration has been confined almost entirely to the main
river and its great tributaries. Little addition has been made to
the information possessed by Sir Walter Raleigh in the three hundred
years that have elapsed since his death. The rivers certainly are
known and charted, yet the land beyond their banks is almost as much
a land of mystery in the twentieth century as it was in the days of
Queen Elizabeth. It is possible to spend a lifetime in navigating the
Amazon, and to know nothing more of its 2,722,000 square miles of
basin than can be peered at through the curtain of vegetation which
drapes the main streams. Behind that veil lies the fascination of
We are not here concerned with the scanty records history offers of
these vast regions, nor, for our immediate purposes, is it needful to
inquire into the conditions and features of the Amazon watershed as a
whole, except in so far as they differ from or resemble those of my field
of exploration, the tracts between the middle Issa and Japura Rivers,
and in their vicinity. Roughly speaking, this lies in that debatable
land where the frontiers of Brazil meet those of Peru, Colombia,
and–perhaps–Ecuador, a country claimed in part by the three latter,
but administered by none. Here the dead level of the lower Amazonian
plains imperceptibly acquires a more decided tilt, the trend of the
land from the great Andean water-parting on the west and north-west
being south-east to the mighty river on the south, consequently these
north-western affluents of the Amazon flow in more or less parallel lines
from the north-west to the south-east. It is the rivers that dominate
this country, the mountains, those primal determinants, are only distant
influences, snow-topped mysteries but dimly imagined on the far horizon
from some upstanding outcrop, a savannah where momentarily a perspective
may be gained over and beyond the illimitable forest.
On the south of the tracks here dealt with the Amazon slowly sweeps its
muddy yellow waters, 500,000 cubic feet per second, towards the ocean.
On the north the Uaupes River flows to join the Rio Negro. Between the
Uaupes and the Amazon the Rio Caqueta, or Japura River, runs south-east,
due east, and south to the main stream, and almost parallel with it the
Putumayo, or Issa, gathers the waters of the Kara Parana and the Igara
Parana, both on its northern, that is to say its left bank, and joins the
Amazon where the main river turns sharply south 471 miles below Iquitos.
West again, the Napo drains down to join the great water-way 2300 miles
from the sea. Of the Napo much has been written since Orellano sailed
down it from Peru, homeward bound to Spain in 1521, and it may be left
outside the bounds of our inquiry. With the Issa and Japura we must deal
in some detail, but of the Uaupes and Rio Negro a few words will suffice.
Rapids and cataracts bar the navigation of the Uaupes, the chief
tributary if not, as some would have it, the main stream of the Negro,
until it is, according to Wallace, “perhaps unsurpassed for the
difficulties and dangers of its navigation.”
[Illustration: PLATE III.
TYPICAL RIVER VIEW BELOW THE MOUTH OF THE NEGRO RIVER
BANK OF MAIN AMAZON STREAM IN THE VICINITY OF THE MOUTH OF THE JAPURA
Wallace estimated the country to be not more than 1000 feet above
sea-level. I should judge it to be considerably less, by the trend of
the country to the south of it. But even here I may be mistaken, as my
aneroid was useless, for undiscovered reasons, and my opinion is based
simply on the force of the currents of the rivers, the number and depth
of the rapids, and the distances to the main river and thence to the sea.
The height above sea-level cannot be great, for the tides are felt at
Obydos, more than half-way from the ocean to the mouth of the Rio Negro,
and there is no abrupt rise from the Obydos levels; indeed the slope of
the land is so slight that in the middle reaches of the main river during
wet seasons the floods spread for twenty miles, and there is no visible
The Uaupes, though lighter than the majority of southern tributaries
of the Negro, is what is known as a black water river, while most of
the rivers flowing in on the northern bank are white water rivers. This
peculiarity, which may be as marked as the difference between ink and
milk, is due apparently to the variety of soil in the country drained
by the rivers. The chief tributaries of the Uaupes, the Itiya and the
Uniya, are both white water streams. Spruce notes that fish are scarcer
in black than in white water streams, and attributes it to the absence
of vegetation. This may be true in part of the Negro, but it is not true,
I think, of other rivers. Certainly these have some sort of fish, for I
have seen them rise. One species is known to feed on a variety of laurel
berry very plentiful on some of the river-banks.
The Rio Negro itself, the waters of which are dead black, is navigable
for more than a third of its course to vessels of a 4 feet draught even
in the dry season, and communication is possible from its upper waters
with the great northern artery of the Orinoco, through the Casiquiari,
the most important of the natural canals that abound throughout the
The Issa, or Putumayo–the Peruvian name is perhaps better known than
the Brazilian, the true geographical one–is the first tributary of
importance to join the Amazon after it has entered Brazilian territory.
Of its 1028 miles only 93, according to the _Brazilian Year-Book_,
are not navigable by steamers. This exceeds the truth, for there is
practically no communication with Colombia or Ecuador by this route, as
the statement would imply. In the upper reaches of the Issa rock and
shingle are to be found, while 300 miles down stream hardly a stone is to
be seen. The water is very muddy, and the current variable as the depth.
Now it will be a swirling storm-fed torrent, the turbid water burdened
with a wild flotsam of forest trees and matted vegetation, cutting into
the soft layers of vegetable mould that form its banks, and rise above it
as much as 25 feet in places; anon it is a sluggish stream that spreads
oilily nowhither, with scarce a ripple over the deep alluvial deposits
of its bed. This river is at its lowest in February and March. At its
juncture with the Amazon looking upstream from the main water-way, the
Issa is the more imposing of the two, for its course lies wide and fully
exposed, while the Amazon bends sharply, and gives the impression that
it and not its affluent is the tributary stream. Robuchon calculated
that its breadth there was 600 metres, the depth 8, and the current 2½
miles an hour. He states very truly that landslides often occur on the
banks of these rivers, and that such destruction of the bank, together
with the quick rise and fall of the streams, may so alter the appearance
of any stretch as to render it quite unrecognisable, even within a few
hours. Special mention is made by him of the Papunya River, that enters
on the left bank of the Issa. Forty miles from the Papunya is the Parana
Miri, a river with very black water and a large group of islands at
its mouth. Many of the islands in these rivers are not stationary, they
are floating masses of soil and vegetation, torn away from the banks when
the river is in spate. They may be as much as a hundred yards from bank
to bank, and birds are to be found living upon them.
[Illustration: PLATE IV.
1. RIVER VIEW ON MAIN STREAM NEAR ISSA RIVER
2. LANDSCAPE ON UPPER AMAZON MAIN STREAM]
The Igara Parana runs into the Issa where that river makes a horse-shoe
bend, the junction being on the inner side of the horse-shoe. The
breadth of the stream at its mouth is 161 metres. The water is clearer
than that of the Issa, and the current slower, never more than 3 miles an
hour. Some 220 miles upstream there is an important waterfall, known as
La Chorrera, or the Big Falls. The Igara Parana becomes vary narrow and
most tortuous as it nears them, and is only 30 metres wide at its exit
from Big Falls Bay. This is a huge pool almost as wide as it is long,
with a narrow exit at one end, and a succession of cascades at the other.
These falls are impassable in boats, and traffic with the upper river can
only be carried on by land portage. Much debris of rocks and river-borne
tree-trunks obstructs the narrow passage above the falls, which are given
by Robuchon as having a total length of 120 metres and a width of 18
metres. The waters descend over a series of wide rocky steps, worn flat
and smooth by the ceaseless friction. Masses of stone line the right
bank, and rise perpendicularly from the water. This is the only part of
the country where I have seen rocks and stones in any quantity.
The upper reaches of the river are distinctly more picturesque than its
lower waters. The almost level banks, with their monotonous succession of
forest trees, grow gradually steeper, till the sandstone cliffs rise like
a fortification above the fringe of vegetation that encroaches on the
high-water mark. Presently the river winds in and out between shelving
hills, tree-clad to the very margin of the water. Between the Igara
Parana and the Kara Parana the country is a perfect switchback of hills
and ridges, with a stream in every gully. The steepness of these valleys,
with a pitch perhaps of 25° or 30°, does not permit the surface water to
lodge and form swamp or morass, in contrast to the waterlogged plains of
the lower rivers. Immediately on the left bank of the Igara Parana, and
in the vicinity of the Big Falls, the country continues to be hilly,
but to the north-east it is more open, and the bush is less obstructive,
though its density varies immensely. Similar diversified scenery is to be
found on the upper waters of the Japura.
The Kahuanari, a considerable tributary on the south bank of the
Japura, drains the divide that intervenes between that river and the
Igara Parana. It is subject to sudden floods, which wash down large
quantities of forest debris. I have seen it rise twenty feet in a day,
and afterwards subside as quickly.
The floods are not to be wondered at when the tremendous rainfall of
these regions is considered. The question is never if it will rain, but
when and for how long it will be fine. Rain is certain in a land which
has but a few days clear of it in every twelve months. Five days, a
fortnight, that, all told, is the extent of dry weather to be looked
for in this country. The dry season is but a name. It is dry only in
comparison with the wetter months from March to August. The upper valley
of the Amazon has a three-day winter at our midsummer–June 24, 25,
26–so it is said, and certainly I noted a very decided drop in the
temperature of these days in 1908. Snow is unknown, and hail not common.
Despite the daily rain the turquoise blue of the sky is seldom long
hidden, though from March to June leaden skies portend rain, and seldom
fail to make good their portent. During the dry season the rain if it be
frequent is never continuous. Almost every day, between three and four
in the afternoon and two and five in the morning, heavy clouds will roll
up, a preliminary breeze rustle through the leaves, shake the trees, and
increase till suddenly there comes a deluge of big drops. Such storms
last but half an hour, yet the rain will soak through everything, and
the wet bushes drench the passer-by for hours afterwards. Nothing is
ever really dry, things are in a constant state of saturation, and it is
possible at all times to wring moisture out of any of one’s belongings.
So great and incessant is the evaporation that at night the dew is as
heavy as rain, while the marshy low-lying lands and the rivers are
shrouded by mist both morning and evening. With such humid air lichens
and Hepaticæ flourish on all the tree-trunks, though I have never seen
them, as described by Spruce, covering the very leaves of the trees.
Electric disturbances are numerous, and a sharp and sudden thunder-shower
often occurs about three in the afternoon, or in the night, though rain
at night without thunder is common. These storms come up in the dry
season especially, and the worst storms may be expected in February,
at the breaking of the dry weather. Sometimes the electric storm will
consist of an uninterrupted display of lightning with little or no
thunder, and the sizzle of light makes the landscape appear as in a
cinematograph picture. This continued on one occasion all through the
night, and from the amount of interest the Indians evinced I judged it to
be an unusual occurrence.
It is always possible to tell when rain will come because of the
preliminary breeze, hardly felt below the tree-tops, followed by a dead
calm that precedes the downpour. The prevailing wind for nine months of
the year will be from the east or south-east, from June to August it
will be north and north-west. In January the prevailing wind is from the
Atlantic, north-east, veering to south-west; in July from the Pacific,
south-west, round to north-east. Fitful and uncertain local whirlwinds
will, without warning, swoop down on the clearings round the houses, play
havoc in forest and plantation, uproot trees, and destroy habitations.
In spite of the continual rain, of the universal humidity; the climate
is not unhealthy. The heat, though a damp heat, is never excessive, the
enormously great evaporation brings in a succession of fresh breezes
to moderate the temperature; and so, despite apparently trying
conditions, the climate is not injurious. The low watersheds between
the large rivers appear to be quite healthy, and if there be fever
its prevalence varies locally to an extraordinary degree. It has been
observed that where the soil is first turned up fever not infrequently
follows, a fact noted in other parts of the world, and by no means a
condition peculiar to the Amazons.
The soil of the vast Amazonian basin is mainly the alluvial deposit of
decomposed vegetable life for centuries past. This sea of Pampean mud
stretches from the ocean marshes up to the very heels of the mountains
that stand outpost to hold the southern continent from the Pacific. Black
and rich it lies in layer after layer twenty, thirty, forty feet beneath
the great pall of vegetation that flourishes above during its little day,
to die and drop for successive generations of arboreal life to thrive
upon in their turn. And in all this vastness is never a stone. Vegetable
mould and water-borne mud, but stone does not exist for thousands upon
thousands of miles. Only in the upper waters of the Amazonian system are
rock formations reached; in the particular district under consideration
nothing is to be found harder than a soft, friable sandstone. On parts
of the Issa, as on the Napo, the deep banks show strata of shingle,
with perhaps red or white clay, that alternate with the dark humus and
It is the ceaseless activity of all vegetable life that renders these
regions fit for human habitation at all. There is no period, as with
us, of bare branches overhead and decaying matter below. Decomposition
is there, but for every dead leaf a virent successor is ready to absorb
the gases engendered by decay. The soil may be water-logged, but
evaporation, combined with the constant rain, the frequent inundations,
and the endless operations of an immeasurable insect world, militate
against stagnation. Dank it may be, but there is no iridescent scum upon
the water, no fœtid smells to warn of lurking poisons. These natural
danger-signals are unneeded, for the poisons are self-destructive.
Processes of corruption are coexistent with those of purification. So
extraordinary is this that I never hesitated to drink any water, nor is
any evil resultant from water-drinking within my knowledge.
In this struggle it is the weak who go under, the feeble who support the
strong. This holds good for vegetable and animal kingdom alike, and even
with man there is no place for the helpless. Those who fail by the way,
who cannot fulfil their functions in the toiling world, and have ceased
to be of practical utility, must make way for the more capable. Altruism
is not bred of the forest, it is a virtue born in cities. Here it would
be suicide. The growing leaf must push off the fading leaf, or the latter
will stunt and imperil its growth. In fact it does so, and growth is thus
continual. There are no seasons to correspond with our spring nor with
our fall of the leaf. From the lower Amazon’s maze of water-ways up to
the foothills of the western mountains reigns perpetual summer; the same
leafy veil hides the mysteries of the great expanse, eternally dying,
As one passes onwards, however, nearer where the great cloud-banks
gather over the mountain giants of the west, a perceptible change is to
be noted, the scenery of the upper Amazon differs in certain essential
particulars. It is not only that the great river thoroughfare, first
spread on either side beyond the farthest horizon, becomes a thin
black line that grows nearer and deeper. Other features besides the
river-surface contract. The majestic forest trees give way to timber not
so towering. Plant life is not less prolific, but it is on a smaller
scale. The bush has the air of being younger. It suggests that it has
been dwarfed by perpetual inundations. Nor is the stunted growth limited
to the vegetable world; the animals themselves, as if Nature insisted
that all be in keeping, are on a lesser scale than their congeners of the
eastern plains. No alligators of immense size lurk in the upper waters,
even the fish and the turtles are smaller, as though their inches were
limited in proportion to the streams.
It is not easy to convey any true notion of the scenery of the Montaña,
the vast forest regions spreading eastwards, down from the lower Andean
slopes. Here and there the dense forest gives place to an open savannah,
an outcrop of rock with but a shallow stratum of soil. These have none of
the deep vegetable mould of the lower-lying forests, and the poorer and
thinner soil harbours flora of many totally distinct varieties. Often the
great fan leaves of the Aeta are matted into a dense roof over the black
swamp of the valleys. Sometimes these water-loving palms are seen by the
river-side, interlopers in the fringe of fern and thickets of feathery
bamboo; or, again, they will grow in a regular belt with little or no
Life is more evident on the rivers than in the forest. Fish are there
in plenty–eighteen hundred species are known in the Amazonian waters.
Birds, often conspicuous by their apparent absence in the bush, flock on
the sand-banks and marshes of the bank. Herons and ducks abound. Egrets
haunt the sandy spits that rise from the water, and in the marshy swamps
numbers of these beautiful creatures may commonly be seen hunting for
the tiny fish, animals, and insects on which they feed. Another enemy of
the small denizens of the stream and marsh is the kingfisher. More than
one variety abound on all the Amazon water-ways, but none of them can
compare with the English bird in brilliancy of colour. Probably this is
an instance of protective colouring, one of Nature’s methods of defence,
for on these dark waters the gorgeous blue of our _Alcedo ispida_ would
be even more conspicuous than it is on our clearer streams.
One pictures this tropical garden, this paradise of the naturalist, as
a blaze of gorgeous colour, a profusion of exquisite forms. But, in
proportion to one’s imaginative anticipation, I have never seen such a
monotonous, flowerless wilderness as this bush appears. Still there are
flowers, and flowers of showy colouring, the pinks and yellows of the
bignonias, the white and crimson of the chocolate-tree, the crimson of
the hibiscus, the scarlet blaze of the passion-flower, the snowy beauty
of the inga; all these and a thousand more are there, with the rarest
blue and all the myriad shades of mauve and orange, yellow, pink, brown,
violet of uncounted orchids. But orchids, though common, grow at the very
top of the trees, and unless they are searched for they are not seen,
except such varieties as are found on the savannahs.
The whole is on a scale so gigantic, the immense forest, the great
rivers, that details are lost in the vast expanse, and the total effect
is one of absolute sameness. Yet the individual variety is enormous.
Though uniform in the mass, twenty-two thousand species of plants have
been differentiated; thousands more remain undescribed. Only a botanist
could attempt to deal with these even superficially. The uninitiated,
like myself, can but look and wonder.
Many of the units of this mighty aggregate are of a surpassing
loveliness; flowers unequalled for beauty, birds and insects that are
living jewels, outrivalling inanimate gems. Such palms and ferns as would
be rare treasures in a Kew Gardens hothouse riot unheeded in tangled
profusion above the dark marshy soil, over a screen of parasites and
epiphytes. Forest giants, those immense monarchs of the woods Californian
advertisements depict for the edification of the populace, are not there;
certainly they are never to be found in the Montaña. Nor, perhaps, in
consequence of the lower growth, is there that intense gloom mentioned
by writers on more easterly districts. The idea that you look up but can
never see the sky is fiction to me. The foliage is certainly too dense
for the sunlight to penetrate down to the damp soil and matted underbush,
but patches of the sky are always more or less visible through the
interlocked branches overhead. Light and air are to be had freely only
on the tree-tops, and it is there that birds, insects, and flowers mass
their glories out of human ken. Even the animals are climbers, and most
of them spend more than half of their existence on the trees.
There are no long dark avenues beneath this leafy canopy that hides all
the life and colour of the forest world from the traveller, painfully
cutting his path through the intricate confusion of roots and creepers
below. These parasitic creepers are of many kinds, rooting down to the
dark soil, intertwining with themselves, pushing boldly to the tree-tops,
strong as withes, in wild festoons, knotted, tangled, of every thickness
from a giant cable to a narrow thread. I have seen parasite on parasite.
They loop from tree to tree, bind the underwood into impenetrable
thickets, and trail over the track-way, ready to strangle or trip the
heedless passer-by. But track-way is a misnomer. The only thoroughfares,
where water is as abundant as dry land, are the water-ways. The bed of a
stream is the only track. No other line of communication is intelligible
to the Indian. Even in the vicinity of civilised centres, hundreds of
miles away from these wild fastnesses of Nature, the exuberant vegetation
rapidly encroaches upon a roadway. Paths in the forest there are none. A
forest track consists in following the line of least resistance. If this
should be stopped by any obstacle, a fallen tree, a sudden inundation,
it would never be removed or surmounted. There is no choice but to climb
over or go round. The ordinary Indian wayfarer would go round; and so the
road deviates increasingly; it becomes inconceivably twisted, until the
actual ground covered is enormous compared with the distance from point
[Illustration: PLATE V.
THE BULGE-STEMMED PALM, _IRIARTEA VENTICOSA_, SHOWING PORTION OF LEAF AND
Where a stream has to be crossed there is rarely any bridge more stable
than a small tree cut down and thrown across just when and where it
may be wanted. Frequently such impromptu bridges are under water. They
are invariably of the slightest; a branch no thicker than a man’s hand
suffices to span a deep chasm, and over this an Indian will pass more
unconcernedly than an Englishman over London Bridge. The worst penance of
all in forest journeyings is to cross a river or a gully full of great
fallen trees, on such flimsy foothold. The drop at times may be 40 to
50 feet, and there will be but the one tree across without any attempt
at a hand-rail to steady the traveller. Nor can you grasp an Indian’s
shoulder for aid in the perilous transit, for to do so is to lose once
for all every trace of prestige and authority. The man who cannot get
over a river unaided, the man who is not man enough to walk and must be
carried in a hammock, is but a poor creature in the eyes of the South
American Indian. Still it is more than a test of nerve. In the middle of
such a bridge you feel yourself swaying, and it is only with a fearful
concentration of will-power and a bitten lip that you arrive safely on
the other side, having leapt the last three feet. In the first month of
forest journeying I bit my lip through time and again. It is not the
torrent below that frightens, it is the rotten trees in the gully. A fall
may possibly be a broken neck, more probably it would be a broken leg. Of
the two in country of this description a broken neck is preferable.
Where a stream has to be crossed that is too deep to be forded and cannot
be bridged over in this elementary fashion, there is little difficulty in
the construction of a raft or a temporary canoe. The bulging-stemmed palm
furnishes an almost ready-made one. This palm, _Iriartea ventricosa_, is
readily known by the peculiar swelling on the upper part of the trunk. It
will attain the height of 100 feet, and the swollen portion is big enough
to form the body of an improvised canoe.
Forest bridges are not the only terrors to confront the traveller;
lurking dangers are many, and imagination is but too quick to multiply
the risks. Peril from wild beasts does not loom largely in the picture,
though the jaguar is a savage brute, and the experienced traveller
will never sleep without a weapon at hand in case one of these daring
creatures should venture to attack. But of animals more anon. There is
one danger by no means imaginary, the danger of falling trees. A sudden
crack, startlingly noisy in the all-pervading stillness, will give
warning of a fall, but there is nothing to guide to safety. It may be
the nearest tree that is coming down, or one at some distance; yet the
deceptive noise will not determine which may be the doomed one, beyond
the fact that a palm gives the sharpest crack. Indians when they hear
such a sound are invariably frightened, and often will run backwards and
forwards in terrified uncertainty, to try and discover whence came the
Then there are plants that injure more directly. One palm, an
_Astrocaryum_, has spines six inches in length up its stem. These spines,
black in colour, hard, unbreakable, fall in the bush and spike the foot
of the unfortunate who may tread on them. On the palm-stem itself they
will wound the unwary hand incautiously or involuntarily thrust in the
thicket. Many of the climbing plants have thorns or hook-like prickles,
and perhaps the worst are the many kinds of twining river-side palms,
whose barbed leaves will tear both flesh and clothing. But trying
as these vegetable torments may be, they are outclassed in the eyes of
the tyro by the more active evil of perils from snakes and insects.
Creeping through dense bush is an agony at first. Poisonous reptiles may
lie concealed all about one, virulent insects surround in their myriads.
If imagination has painted a floral paradise it has also run riot over
a profusion of deadly snakes, an uninterrupted purgatory from creeping
things innumerable, and winged pests before which the plague of flies
in ancient Egypt sinks to insignificance. And there is some excuse for
imagination if it be fed on travellers’ tales. As a matter of fact,
if these were true life would in all verity be insupportable. But the
fear of snakes passes in two weeks, never to return, and mercifully the
most pestilent creatures exist only in limited spheres, and seldom or
never in the same. Places that are troubled with the pium will be found
free of mosquitoes at night; in a belt of country where the mosquito
abounds the pium will be absent, and in any case the two are never active
together. The pium, a most vile little fly, comes out at sunrise. It is
an intolerable pest, will attack any exposed part of the body, and draws
blood every time. The traveller is forced, when journeying through a
pium-infested country, to don guarded boots, gauntlets, and a veil. It
is impossible to eat, drink, or smoke, till sunset puts a period to the
troubling. Fortunately, piums are only found within a few hundred yards
of the rivers. This is also the case as a rule with mosquitoes. There
is a bad belt of pium country on the Issa, at the Brazilian frontier. It
takes two days to get through on a steamer, and during the forty-eight
hours life is a long-drawn torture. But once through you are rid of them.
Robuchon noted that the _Culex_ mosquito disappears on entering this
river: but there are others; one, a kind of _Tabano_ in miniature, is
called the _Maringunios_. I found piums on the Kahuanari at low river,
but a light breeze would suffice to sweep them away, and both mosquitoes
and piums are practically non-existent in the middle Issa-Japura valley,
though mosquitoes are found in certain parts of tracts of flatter
country, but are not bad enough to make a net a necessary adjunct for
comfort. There is also a tiny sand-fly that occasionally appears at
sunset, when the river is low, and though minute in size, causes a very
painful wound. It is known in Brazil as the _Maruim_.
A most annoying little insect that is very common in the bush is a kind
of harvest bug. This almost invisible “red tick” must not be confused
with another parasite that is only obtained from contact with Indians.
The forest tick lives on the leaves of plants and bushes, and when shaken
off creeps everywhere, and will burrow under the skin, which gives rise
to maddening irritation.
Wasps and wild bees–the bee of these regions is a waspish creature–are
frequently a nuisance. Often in a forest path I have come upon a huge
black overhanging nest pendant from a tree. It looks like a tarred
lobster-pot full of black pitch, and it is necessary to rush past to
avoid the stings of the easily-roused inhabitants. Some of the wasps are
exceedingly handsome fellows, noticeable even among Amazonian winged
beauties, unsurpassed in any other land for gorgeous colouring. Among
other fine insects of the Montaña are the huge _Morphos_, a dazzling
blue butterfly many sizes bigger than a humming-bird; dragonflies
with iridescent wings and jewelled bodies, fireflies and glow-worms
with their living lights, so brilliant that I have often in a moment
of forgetfulness mistaken them for distant lights from some human
dwelling-place. But the butterflies, the most resplendent of all,
frequently illustrate the proverb that beauty is but skin deep.
Exquisitely graceful in flight, marvellous in subtle colourings, I
have found them to be the dirtiest possible feeders. The sight of one
now fills me with repugnance, for it calls to mind pictures of these
so apparently dainty and aerial beings fluttering about some mass of
offal, actually eating manure. They will congregate in thousands
round a spot of blood, so absolutely fearless that it is not possible
to drive them away. They will actually smother the kill during the
disembowelling process after hunting. The contrast of their ethereal
loveliness and their gross habits is revolting–Psyche and putrid filth,
an inconceivably horrible combination.
Butterflies and moths exist in great numbers and varieties. The most
ordinary kind is a large bright sky-blue; other common ones are
tiger-marked and yellow, like our sulphur butterfly but larger. Most of
them are strong fliers. If the perfect insects themselves inflict no
injury, the same cannot always be said of them in the caterpillar stage,
for very many have hair that stings quite painfully.
Ants are the greatest curse. They are everywhere, of all kinds, of
varied colours, and almost invariable viciousness. They drop from the
overhanging foliage. They may come singly or in battalions–army corps
rather. The traveller pushing through the thicket will knock them off the
bushes, and they will proceed to crawl down the neck or up the sleeves.
They swarm over the bare feet. And then they sting. The worst kind is a
small stinging ant not more than the size of a pin’s head. In many places
the earth is broken up and transformed into irregular heaps, the late
habitations of some gregarious ant, such as the _Ecodema cophelotos_, or
it may be built into cones to the height of 4 or 5 feet by the termites.
It needs but short experience of the bush to endorse very heartily
Spruce’s comment that they “deserve to be considered the actual owners
of the Amazon valley.” On more than one occasion stinging ants
drove me from dry land to water. In inundated country these insects
forced me to take refuge off the higher points of land, which, turned
into temporary islands, form the natural resting-place for the traveller
exhausted by the wading, the swimming, and the stumbling through the
unseen undergrowth. Unfortunately the ants, too, are driven to take the
same refuge. The traveller may find that choice lies between torture on
land or again seeking the comparative peace of the water in perhaps an
exhausted condition. Happily ants, like the pium, keep in belts, and of
these it can only be said that discreet avoidance is better than valour.
With regard to the reptiles, though these abound, they seek rather to
avoid than to court notice, and are by no means the danger to life that
the ignorant imagine. Naturally the naked Indian is more exposed to any
peril there may be than the better protected white man, and if a snake
be trodden on it will promptly turn and bite the unshod foot of the
aggressor. But no snake, so far as I have observed, will attack a human
being unmolested, not even the boa constrictor; nor would the anaconda,
the great water snake, though all Indians are very afraid of it. I do
not think that even the venomous labarria ever bites a man unless first
Alligators in the Issa and the Japura are small, rarely seen, and never
formidable. The dangerous _jacare_, that huge monster of the lower
rivers, is unknown here. But of fierce and poisonous fish I shall have
somewhat to say later. Curiously enough, despite the swampy nature of
the ground, I never met with any leeches, though Bates mentions a red,
four-angled species he found to be abundant in the marshy pools at the
juncture of the Japura and the Amazon. Frogs and toads are the most
abundant reptiles. They exist in thousands and are of all sizes, though
I have never seen any of dimensions that Spruce speaks of–“as big as a
man’s head.” At night near any stream huge frogs keep up a constant
and fearful noise, and even at midday, when a silence that may be felt
enfolds the tropical woodland, their chorus is only subdued, not stayed.
This silence of the forest is a very real thing, a quality that does
not lessen by acquaintance. On the contrary it grows more real and more
oppressive. A strange gloom and a strange stillness hold the bush. They
give the impression that there is nothing animate in all the vastness, no
life other than that of the overwhelming, all-triumphant vegetation. It
is possible to journey for days and never see a human being. A sound, be
it but the cracking of a twig, startles in the forest. Then, suddenly,
the vibrant quiet will be broken by a shrill scream. Some creature has
been done to death. The cry dies to a moan, and the low murmur that is
hardly sound, the drone of the unseen but abundant life, once more makes
up the silence that pulses tormentingly on ear and brain, till night
again wakens the birds and the beasts of the wild, and the murmur grows
and deepens to the full volume of confused sound made by the forest’s
At the break of day, and again at the going down of the sun, the howling
monkeys, if they be in the neighbourhood, startle the echoes with their
raucous yelps. Sunrise is, indeed, the signal for absolute pandemonium.
Toucans start an endless chattering that rises now and again to a
far-reaching scream. The trumpeter birds make extraordinary noises. With
them may be joined in a chorus of discord the macaws and the parrots of
the district, and the chorus is punctuated at night by the mournful cry
of a large night-jar.
But, for the most part, the birds and the beasts go about their business
silently. They seek neither to disturb their victims nor to advertise
their own doings and so attract those with sinister designs against
themselves. In the bush silence is a better policy than honesty.
Picture all this, and try to understand the bush life in Amazonia.
It will explain much of the unwritten and unwritable story of the
inhabitants of these wilds. For the traveller the day is easily
summarised: the awakening at sunrise, followed by a bath in the nearest
stream, and a meal of what was left over-night; the trail, the worst in
the world; the slow progress that jars on the nerves; the never-ending,
impenetrable forest; the narrow path that has to be widened; the
stumbles, the falls, the whipping of the face and arms by innumerable
twigs; the ever-ready liana that catches the foot of the careless walker;
the stinging ants that shower down on face and neck when a tree is
accidentally shaken; the greenheart and other rods that pierce the feet
and legs; the thorns innumerable, and the fine palm-spines on which a
hand is transfixed when put out to save a fall; the end of the trek, a
bath to get rid of the litter of mud and vegetable filth; dinner, of
sorts; and a hammock under a shelter so poor that it will not prevent
the driving and inevitable rain from chilling the sleeper to the bone.
Imagine the state of fatigue to mind and body when one cries, “Thank God,
I have got so far to-day. I could not repeat to-day’s labours. I could
not go back on my own open trail, or go through the same to-morrow.” And
so crying one knows that to-morrow and the trail must come. Even in fancy
you will feel the pressure on your chest, the pressure behind you. It
There is a gruesome depression that is almost physical, produced by
solitude on a small island, when all other land is out of sight. The bush
to me is worse. The oppression is as of some great weight. A light heart
is impossible in an atmosphere which the sunshine never enlivens, that
is beaten daily back to earth by rain, where the air is heavy with the
fumes of fallen vegetation slowly steaming to decay. The effect of the
impenetrable thickets around, the stifling of the breath, is all mental,
doubtless; but it must react physically on the neurotic subject.
This depression, this despondency, may seem incredible to those who
have never experienced anything similar, who are ignorant of the
innate malevolence of the High Woods. But in truth there is nothing in
Nature more cruel than the unconquered vegetation of a tropical South
American forest. The Amazonian bush brings no consolation. It is silent,
inhospitable, cynical. It has overcome the mastodon and the megatherium,
the prehistoric camel and the rhinoceros. It has reduced its rivals of
the animal kingdom to slimy alligators and unsightly armadilloes, to
sloths and ant-bears. The most powerful tenant of its shades is the boa
constrictor, the most majestic the jaguar. Man is a very puny feature in
the Amazonian cosmos.
The sense of one’s insignificance is the first lesson of travel in the
bush. In the beginning the discovery amuses the adventurer. Later, he
resents the implied superiority of the fixed and nerveless plants which
barricade his progress. In the end, he hates the bush as though it were
a sentient being. Yet the component parts of the bush are familiar to
all at home: we coddle them in our gardens, and nurse them tenderly in
our glass-houses. But in the Amazons they unite to form a horrible, a
most evil-disposed enemy. They obscure the sun from the earth, condemn
one to existence in a gloomy, stifling half-light. They constrict the
world to a path laboriously hacked through jealous undergrowth. They stab
with hidden snags, and strangle with deftly poised lianas. In their most
hurtful mood they poison with a touch.
The Amazonian forest is no glorified botanic garden. Its units are not
intelligently isolated and labelled. There is but a monotonous tangle
of vegetation through which the traveller cuts his way to daylight
and perspective in a river-channel. One rarely sees a blossom or a
fruit. Within that tangle, however, is the whole varied life of the
tropical jungle. It may be difficult to distinguish specimens through
the superimposed mass of extraneous vegetation; it may be impossible to
catch a glimpse of a living creature throughout a day’s march; but the
flowers are there in their thousands, and a myriad of eyes have noted
each blundering movement of the wayfarer. It is no part of the philosophy
of the bush to force even the most reckless of animals into needless
It is simple for the traveller to pull the canoe to the bank of one of
the upper tributaries of the great river, to land, to part the screen
of bushes, and to pass beyond–into the obscurity of barbarism. It
is a simple feat, yet eventful. A thousand yards away from the safe
thoroughfare of the main stream the explorer is lost, overwhelmed in the
extravagance of vegetation. Denied a pathway, a landmark, a horizon,
or a sky, he has less to guide him than the castaway on the ocean or
the wanderer in the Sahara. His most definite course can only be from
river-bed to river-bed. To direct him on his way the trees offer no aid
to help him, the forest provides but little sustenance.
Every traveller in the bush lives in the constant dread of being lost.
Desertion, unexpected, unforeseen, is common with the Indians. They
leave without ascertainable cause at the cost of their pay, at the risk
of their lives. In a watch of the night they depart, and although the
country be swarming with their blood-enemies, they vanish into the forest
and are no more seen.
In time the civilised man, with no other than such barbaric companions,
turns at the thought of them, is nauseated by their bestiality, longs
for relief from their presence. Then he wanders away, ever so little
a distance into the bush, to be alone and to think. He happens upon a
stream–that is so simple a by-path, so obvious a guide. He wanders
light-footedly up its bed in search of that ego which had begun to
elude him. The surroundings interest him. The water comforts his feet.
The silence casts him back upon himself. He thinks, computes, and the
solitude assists his introspection. He recovers his perspective, replaces
the comrades of his bush-life in their proper places–the glass-fronted
cupboards of an anthropological museum. His self-respect regained, he
pauses to admire his new-found horizon.
Trees hem him in on every side. A little way up the stream is a narrow
slit of sunlight, a little way down a narrow canopy of sky. All else
is vegetation. The solitude no longer tempts him, but mocks as he
contemplates his surroundings. Yet to doubt is to be ridiculous. It is
all so simple; it took so long to come here up the stream; the same
number of hours or minutes will take him back again to the spot he
marked, and so to the camp.
The difficulties begin with the return journey. He questions the hour
of leaving the bearers, the rate of march, the time spent in lazy
consideration. One tree is so like another tree, one river vista but
the duplicate of the last. Reeds, weeds, and bush now offer nothing
distinctive; their former individuality appears to be lost. The trail
must have been passed. He shouts, diffidently at first, eventually with
hysteria. He fires a rifle, and the bush but re-echoes the sound. The
hundreds of miles of forest on every side press together, and the signal
is shuttlecocked between. The very echoes seem to him muffled, like the
drums at a soldier’s funeral. The traveller is lost.
The realisation is a strange psychological phenomenon. It forces the
self-reliant European on his knees to pray; drags him to his feet to
blaspheme; throws him on his face to weep. This admission may come
strangely to the well-housed British ratepayer. It may sound like a
confession of unfathomable cowardice. It is far easier for the arm-chair
philosopher to imagine the stoicism of the Indians than to reproduce the
neuroticism of his European counterpart. Things are so different when the
conception of the Amazonian bush is the memory of the tropical houses in
One day I was lost alone. When I realised it I shouted, then fired
half-a-dozen rounds from my rifle, and laughed. It was the laugh that
brought me to my senses–that way lay madness. The reaction to calm
was stupendous. Life was dependent upon self-control and clarity of
judgment. I counted my rounds, remembered all I had eaten that day, and
settled myself to think. We had crossed a stream, and my boys had been
left quenching their thirst. I took the lie of the land, and found a
path leading downwards. It must go to water. It did in fact take me to a
stream, and I trudged wearily in the bed of it; then, after two fruitless
hours of growing despondency, turned and went down, to find, as darkness
was closing in, Brown and his party. That night I had fever, and talked
in my sleep. And John Brown was lost for five and a half months. Good God!
There is one last experience of the bush–starvation. The man who has
not starved can never enter into the feelings of his brother who, with
blood-shot eyes and shaking fingers, has groped about the fallen leaves
for a lizard or a frog. I can answer for it that those who have starved
never again may express the sensation. It has become the memory of a
In the spring of 1908, having been among the Unemployed on the Active
List for nearly two years on account of ill-health, and wearying not only
of enforced inactivity but also perhaps of civilisation, I decided to go
somewhere and see something of a comparatively unknown and unrecorded
corner of the world. My mind reverted to pleasant days spent in the
lesser known parts of East Africa, and at this moment I happened to come
across Dr. Russel Wallace’s delightful _Travels on the Amazon and Rio
Negro_. His spirited adventures, and the unique character of the country
through which he passed and the peoples he met, fascinated me. I thought
of attempting to complete his unfinished journey up the Uaupes River, and
imagined I would be able to secure in South America all the instruments
and materials such an expedition required. There lay my initial error.
My inability to obtain anything of the sort hampered me in scientific
research, so that these chapters must simply be regarded as impressions
and studies of native ways and doings, noted by a temporary dweller in
Difference of technique, industry, ability, and scientific knowledge may
in the light of future investigations reveal errors or misapprehensions
that must bring me into conflict with those who may go there better
equipped and with greater understanding. But in any critical appraisement
it must be remembered that these tribes are changing day by day, and
every year that passes will increase the difference between the Amazonian
native as I knew him and as he may be when studied by my successors. So
far as in me lies, I have here set forth an account of what he was when
I travelled in his forest solitudes and fastnesses.
I left England towards the end of April 1908 and arrived at Manaos on the
Negro River on May 27. Incidentally I arrived again at Manaos homeward
bound on the same day and almost at the same hour the following year.
It may be taken, therefore, that my entire journey covered exactly twelve
On arrival at Manaos, I made inquiries as to the facilities for
proceeding to S. Gabriel near the junction of the Negro and Uaupes
Rivers, and thence up the latter stream. My theory at the time was
that it would be possible to ascend this river to its source, and from
the vicinity to make a way across country _via_ the Apaporis, Japura,
Issa, and Napo Rivers to Iquitos. I soon found that the difficulty of
obtaining the necessary men would be immense, and the ascent, in local
opinion, impracticable without an expedition on a scale for which I
possessed neither the influence nor the pecuniary resources. Persuaded
that my line of least resistance, so far as the Uaupes was concerned,
would be to reverse the contemplated journey and work from Iquitos to
a point on the Uaupes and then descend to Manaos, I proceeded by the
Navigation Company’s steamboat to the former town, where I arrived the
second week in June.
[Illustration: APPROXIMATE PLAN OF ROUTE]
In company with Mr. David Cazes, the British Consul, to whom I am
indebted for many kindnesses, I made a trip up the Napo River. It was
soon apparent, however, that it would be practically impossible to cross
from that river to the Issa. This was not due to the difficulty of
porterage, because there is a “recognised route” from a point some way
above the mouth of the Curaray to Puerto Barros, but to the impossibility
of obtaining men. Rumours were rife at this time of fighting between the
Colombian and Peruvian rubber-gatherers on the Issa River, and the Napo
Indians would not go in that direction on account of a not unnatural
dread lest they be treated as enemies by whichever party of combatants
they might happen to meet.
Eventually, through the good offices of the British Consulate, I sailed
from Iquitos by way of the main Amazon River and the Issa or Putumayo
River to Encanto at the mouth of the Kara Parana, which I reached in the
middle of August. It is from this point that my notes on the manners and
customs of the Indians really commence.
I saw at once that it would be impossible to gain any insight into the
ways and customs of the various tribes unless I spent some considerable
time in what one might call a roving commission among them. I had with me
at this time John Brown, a Barbadian negro. He had been for some three
years previously in the Issa district in the employ of a Rubber Company,
and I enlisted him as my personal servant at Iquitos. He had “married”
a Witoto woman some two years before, and through this attachment I was
able to derive much valuable information. In fact, he was invaluable
throughout the whole expedition, and was more loyal and more devoted than
a traveller with some experience of the African boy in his native haunts
had reason to anticipate of any black servant.
On the 18th of August we started for the Igara Parana, having collected
eight Indian carriers, two half-castes, and eight “rationales,” or
semi-civilised Indians, armed with Winchesters, together with three
Indian women, wives of three of the rationales.
It may here be mentioned that these armed Indians were to be obtained in
the Rubber Belt by arrangement with their employers. It is the practice
of the rubber-gatherers to train Indian boys and utilise them as escort,
and to obtain rubber from the tribes hostile to those to which the boys
belong. This is perhaps necessary to avoid collusion. In my experience
there was never any question of fixed charge or price when hiring
carriers. They expected to be given, at the conclusion of their service,
a present of cloth, beads, a shot gun, or such other item of trade as
their heart coveted. The line of argument was simple: “You do what I tell
you, and when we part I will make you a rich man.” Wealth was represented
by cloth, beads, and a knife. A boy I called Jim promised to go to the
end of the earth if I would give him a shot gun. This was his sole
ambition. He was one of my escort, and although carrying a Winchester, I
do not think it ever entered into his head to make off with it. Such is
the simple Indian nature. I do not mean that he would not have run away
if such a plan suited him, but he would not have done so for the sake and
value of the Winchester.
The two half-breeds were rubber-collectors. They were bound for the Igara
Parana, and were only with me until we reached Chorrera.
The semi-civilised Indians are fairly trustworthy, although discipline
must be strongly enforced to prevent looting if only because of the
danger of reprisals on the part of the indigenous natives. During my
wanderings the carriers were often changed, especially while passing
through the Rubber Belt. Those men will always run if they get the
chance, even if they are in the midst of hostile tribes, when to desert
is more often death than not. In number the party remained approximately
the same throughout my journey.
The carriers must be incessantly shepherded, kept from lagging behind or
going ahead too quickly. They must not be allowed to stop for any length
of time or a forced camp will be a necessity. It is the custom of all
Indians to bathe whenever possible, however heated they may be, and this
will have to be tolerated; but if progress is to be made they must not
stop to eat. It was my custom to eat at daybreak and again at the end of
the day’s march.
[Illustration: PLATE I.
HOUSES IN THE RUBBER BELT OF THE ISSA VALLEY]
Treachery on the part of the native Indians it is always necessary to
guard against–in the Rubber Belt because of the treatment they have
received in the past; farther afield partly on account of the rumours of
such treatment, and partly on the principle that it’s the nervous dog
that bites. They ask but one question: “Why is the white man here?” They
accord it but one answer: “We know not. It is best to kill.” And it is
not, as is noted elsewhere, the custom of the Indian to attack openly,
but when he has the chance of succeeding with little or no danger to
We reached Chorrera, or Big Falls, on the 22nd of August, and thence
wended our way by land up the Igara Parana, arriving without much
incident in the Andoke country on the 19th of September. Here, by
arrangement with an Andoke chief, I managed to get a young Karahone
lad, a slave who had been captured some years previously by the Andoke
and who said he would take me to his own people across the great river.
While we were encamped near the banks of the Japura River, and searching
for the bulge-stemmed palm tree with which to make a canoe, we observed
three canoes of Karahone on their way down the river, possibly after some
warlike expedition. We tried to stop them, but in vain. When, eventually,
we crossed the river, we found the occupants of the canoes had given
the alarm. Every house we visited was abandoned, four in all, and the
path was peppered with poisoned stakes sharpened to the finest point and
exposed above ground for perhaps half to three-quarters of an inch. A
carrier who trod on one had to be carried back as he was quite disabled
for the march.
Returning to the Japura River, we made our way to the upper reaches
of the Kahuinari River, visiting different tribes and collecting
information. I was anxious at this time to descend this river and find
out, if possible, the fate of Eugene Robuchon, the French explorer, who
had been missing for some two years.
It may be pertinent here to give in full the story of Robuchon’s
disappearance and my search for traces of his last expedition.
Eugene Robuchon, the adventurous French explorer whose notes on the
Indians of the Putumayo are known to every investigator, left the Great
Falls on the Igara Parana in November 1905. It was his intention to make
for the head waters of the Japura and to explore that river on behalf of
the Peruvian Government throughout its length for traces of rubber. He
started with a party consisting of three negroes, one half-breed, and
five Indians with one Indian woman. He carried supplies barely sufficient
for two months. I carefully examined all the survivors of the expedition
that I encountered, and from them gathered the following account of the
Having left the Great Falls, Robuchon proceeded by canoe up the Igara
Parana to a point some ten miles above the mouth of the Fue stream. He
left the river there, struck northward through the Chepei country, and
reached the Japura approximately at 74° W., some thirty miles above
the Kuemani River. The Indians encountered at this spot belonged to a
Witoto-speaking tribe, the Taikene. They were friendly, but either could
not or would not provide Robuchon with a canoe. Three valuable weeks were
spent in the search for a suitable tree and in the construction of a
When at length this was finished, the party started down-stream, and for
a time progressed without incident. No natives were seen for several
days. At last Robuchon’s Indians called his attention to a narrow path
that led up from the river-bank on the right. Anxious about his food
supply, he landed and followed the path until he came upon a clearing and
an Indian house. Eventually Robuchon arranged with the inhabitants that
four of them should come down to the canoe with food and receive presents
in exchange. But when a larger number than he expected appeared upon
the bank, the explorer feared treachery and at once pushed off without
waiting for the much-needed provisions. The Indians thereupon manned
their canoes and started in pursuit, shouting the while to him to stop.
But with his small party Robuchon dared take no chances. He pushed on
until the pursuers had been satisfactorily outdistanced.
The boy who told me the tale was convinced that these Indians were
perfectly friendly in intention, and the incident appeared to be proof of
the nervous state of the party. Some time after this, while shooting the
rapids at the Igarape Falls, the canoe was upset and the greater part of
the remaining stores was swept away.
The details of this misadventure I was never able to extract in a
coherent fashion from the followers I interviewed, but they agreed that
very little food of any kind was left, and what was rescued had been
almost entirely destroyed by water.
Short of food, and without a canoe, the boys became mutinous. The three
negroes and the half-breed deserted, and sought to cut a way through the
bush backward in the direction whence they had come. This task was beyond
them, and, a few days later, weary, disheartened, and starving, they
returned to beg Robuchon’s forgiveness. The reunited party improvised
a raft, and, after undergoing the customary hardships of an unequipped
expedition in this hostile country, reached the mouth of the Kahuinari.
The whole party was weak with hunger and fever, Robuchon himself
prostrate and incapable of going farther. He determined to remain where
he was with the Indian woman and the Great Dane hound, Othello. He
ordered the negroes and the half-breed to push on up the Kahuanari to a
rubber-gatherer’s house which he believed was situated somewhere between
the Igara Parana and the Avio Parana. They were to send back relief at
the earliest possible moment. The boys left Robuchon on February 3, 1906.
He was never again seen by any one in touch with civilisation.
The boys had journeyed for but a few hours when they came across a herd
of peccary. They killed more than they could possibly use, but made no
attempt whatever to carry any meat back to the starving and abandoned
Frenchman. Instead they wasted two valuable days in gorging themselves
and smoking the flesh for their own journey.
For days they followed the course of the Kahuinari, hugging its right
bank, and in this way happened across a Colombian half-breed, from whom
they sought assistance. The Colombian took them to his house near the
Avio Parana but would not grant them even food until they paid for it
with the rifles they carried. The idea of succouring Robuchon was far
removed from his philosophy. The boys, then, having surrendered their
rifles in return for the stores they so much needed, made the narrow
crossing from the Avio Parana to the Papunya River, and followed that
stream without deviation to its junction with the river Issa. Turning
backward up the left bank of the Issa, they reached the military station
at the mouth of the Igara Parana and there told their tale.
When at last a Relief Expedition was made up, it consisted of three
negroes–John Brown and his comrades–and seventeen half-breeds. The
party left on its search for Robuchon thirty-seven days after he had been
abandoned at the mouth of the Kahuinari. It took ten days to reach the
junction of the Avio Parana and the Kahuinari, and twenty-one days more
to arrive at the camp on the Japura. It had taken ten weeks to bring
help. The relief party found some tools, some clothes, a few tins of
coffee, a little salt, and a camera. There was no trace of Robuchon, of
the Indian woman, or of the dog. On a tree was nailed a paper, but the
written message had been washed by the rain and bleached by the sun till
it was illegible. Robuchon’s last message can never be known.
The relief party divided into two companies for the journey back–one
section of twelve, the other of eight men. The larger party arrived in
the rubber district six weeks later. The smaller party, with the three
blacks, was lost in the bush. Five months and a half afterwards five
survivors attained safety. The story of their misery is a chapter in the
history of Amazonian travel that may never be written.
Two and a half years afterwards I was returning from a disappointing trip
to the Karahone country. There were persistent rumours that Robuchon was
held a prisoner by the Indians north of the Japura. I determined to see
if any evidence could be found to settle his fate. I had in my party one
of the negroes who had accompanied the French explorer. We journeyed
overland southward through the Muenane-Resigero country till we reached
the Kahuinari, thence by canoe to the Japura River. The Japura at this
point is about a rifle-shot in width–2500 to 3000 yards across. Some
three miles below this point on the right bank, a little way back from
the river, was a small clearing. In it were three poles marking the site
of a deserted shelter. John Brown, my servant and formerly Robuchon’s,
said it was the last camp of Eugene Robuchon.
We made camp in the clearing. A little way inland I found an abandoned
Indian house, but all indications pointed to its having been deserted
many years before. Half buried in the clearing I discovered eight broken
photograph plates in a packet, and the eye-piece of a sextant. Other
evidence of civilised occupation there was none. At some little distance
my Indians detected traces of a path, and though to me it seemed only an
old animal track, they maintained it was a man-made road. Cutting along
the line of this path, at the end of a hard day’s work we emerged upon
a second clearing and the ruins of a shelter. After careful searching
we unearthed a rusty and much-hacked machete or trade knife. There our
discoveries ended. The path went no farther.
We encountered no Indians in our search. On further investigation it
appeared that there are none in the vicinity, and the nearest to the
deserted camp on the south of the river are the Boro living on the Pama
River, forty or fifty miles away.
Believing that the most probable route of escape was down the Japura, I
journeyed slowly eastward almost to the mouth of the Apaporis. We then
turned and came back, searching the right bank. Throughout this time we
found no Indians and no signs of Indians. On the bank, about a mile and
a half below Robuchon’s last camp, we found the remains of a broken and
battered raft. It had evidently been carried down in full river, and left
stranded on the fall of the waters. Brown recognised the wreck as that
of the raft which the Frenchman’s party had built after the loss of the
canoe. But it afforded no clue.
Much as I should have liked at this time to pursue my investigations
among the Indians of the left, or north, bank of the river, I had
perforce to give up further progress for the time being on account of
the mutinous hostility of my boys. Nothing would persuade them that they
would not be eaten up if they crossed the great river at this point.
Foiled, therefore, in my attempts to learn anything on the scene of
Robuchon’s disappearance, I determined to prosecute inquiries among the
Boro scattered about the peninsula bounded by the Pama, the Kahuinari,
and the Japura. But here also no amount of examination could elicit any
information as to the explorer, the woman, or the dog. I was particularly
impressed by the fact that the existence of the Great Dane–an object
of awe to the Indians–had left no legend among the natives. Robuchon
himself wrote of his hound: “My dog, as always, entered the house first.
The great size of Othello, his flashing teeth, and close inspection of
strangers, his blood-shot eyes and bristling hair invariably inspired
fear and respect among the Indians.” Had such an animal fallen into the
hands of the Boro, I feel certain its fame would have outlived that of
any chance European who might have become their prisoner, however much
they desired to conceal their participation in his murder. My own Boro
boys could find no record among their compatriots of the presence of
Othello or his master.
After this we proceeded in a northerly direction, and, crossing the
Japura, visited the Boro tribe located on the north bank of the river,
between the Wama and the Ira tributaries. The chief of this tribe had
married a Menimehe woman who, curiously enough, remained on terms of
friendship with her parent tribe. The chief informed me that in the
Long, Long Before–from reference to the size of his son at the time,
I calculated about three years previously–the Menimehe had captured a
white man with face hairy as a monkey’s. As Robuchon was wearing a beard
at the time of his disappearance this seemed to present a clue, but as
the Menimehe refused to confirm the statement, and there was no mention
of the woman or of the dog, it added but little to the evidence of his
[Illustration: Spot where Eugene Robuchon was last seen]
The testimony was further weakened by the knowledge that about that
time either the Menimehe or the Yahuna destroyed a Colombian settlement
near the mouth of the Apaporis River, and made prisoners of white men.
Whatever the truth of the bearded white man, there was certainly no
memory remaining of the Indian woman nor of Othello, the Great Dane.
On my return to the Rubber Belt I learned that Robuchon had been lost on
a previous expedition for a considerable period, and had lived during
that time with Indians. Although this had occurred in the regions south
of the Amazon on the Peru-Brazil-Bolivian frontier, somewhere in the
neighbourhood of the Acre River, the general haziness of natives with
respect to place and time may have accounted for the rumours of captivity
among the semi-civilised Indians of the Rubber Belt, which set me on a
fruitless search among the Indians of the Kahuinari-Japura.
To sum up the evidence with respect to the fate of Robuchon, it seems
to me that he did not die of starvation at the mouth of the Kahuinari,
because a certain amount of food-stuff was found by the first Relief
Expedition at the site of the camp, but no signs of human remains. The
illegible message nailed to the tree suggests that he vacated the spot
and endeavoured to leave information as to his route for those who might
come to his relief.
Robuchon had five courses open to him once he decided on abandoning the
1. He could retrace his steps up the Japura. With respect to this means
of escape, I consider it extremely improbable that he would attempt to
return against stream over the route which he had already traversed with
such difficulty when aided by the current and the full strength of his
2. He could proceed across the Japura to the country of the Menimehe. He
was unlikely, however, to cross that river, owing to the bad name enjoyed
by the Menimehe. He could not count upon a relief expedition following
3. He could journey up the Kahuinari. He could hardly negotiate the
difficulties of the upstream journey though with the inadequate
assistance of a single woman. He was aware of the existence of unfriendly
tribes on the banks. My inquiries among the Pama Boro yielded no trace of
his ever having been seen upon the river. If he had made his way along
the right bank of that river, probably some evidence of him would have
been found by the relief party.
4. He could have voyaged down the Japura in a canoe or upon a raft. It
would have been very hazardous to have attempted this alone–practically
hopeless. In any event, if he did make the attempt, he failed to reach
the nearest rubber settlement.
5. There remains one means of escape–by an overland march. It would
appear that he adopted this method, but only without any idea of
permanent relief, in desperate search of temporary assistance. The line
of the Kahuinari was the obvious route for a rescue party. Robuchon,
however, was starving, and the native track promised a path to a native
house and food.
I presume he was located by a band of visiting Indians, captured, and
either murdered or carried away in captivity to their haunts on the north
bank of the Japura. I suggest the probability of the Indians coming
from the north bank up the Japura, because, so far as I could learn,
it was not the custom of the Pama Boro to journey to the mouth of the
Kahuinari, since they could obtain all they needed from the river at
points more easily and more speedily accessible to them. There were no
Indians resident in the vicinity, but Indians from across the Japura made
excursions at low river in search of game or of turtles and their eggs.
It is upon one of those chance bands that reluctantly I am forced to lay
the responsibility for the death of Eugene Robuchon in March or April
This was little enough to add to the ascertained fact of Robuchon’s end,
but such as it was it brushed aside some of the mystery, and proved of
interest to the members of the French Geographical Society and to the
relatives of the lost explorer.
After concluding my investigations among the Boro in the vicinity of the
Pama River, I again crossed the Japura River near the Boro settlement
on the north of that river, and proceeded eastward into the country of
the Menimehe. This country appears more sparsely populated than the
Kahuinari districts, and the manners and customs of these people vary
considerably from the tribes inhabiting the country to the south.
From the most easterly point I decided to proceed in a north-westerly
direction with a view to striking the upper waters of the Uaupes River
eventually. It was in this neighbourhood that I developed beriberi; and,
owing to the swelling of my legs, which were covered with wounds and
sores, I was only able to walk with difficulty, although I had no pain.
My brain was numbed as well as my legs. I slept at every opportunity,
did not want to eat, and seemed to be under the effect of some delusive
narcotic. Yet I never failed to take all necessary precautions–it was
mechanical, a mere habit. Stores were running short, owing to their bad
condition, and my boys and carriers were becoming mutinous. Game was
scarce, and the few native houses we encountered were for the most part
deserted; what Indians we came across were surly and sullen, and appeared
I decided to return, overcome by the argument of Brown that if I did not
do so the boys would go, so we turned back to the east and south of the
original line, and proceeded overland by way of the Kuhuinari River to
the Igara Parana, and thence to the Kara Parana by river. Arriving at
the latter river at the end of February, and finding that the steamer
for Iquitos would not start for some time, I made a short trip among the
tribes of this river.
By reference to the sketch-map it will be seen that from the time I left
Encanto on my arrival from Iquitos to my arrival at the same place, bound
for Iquitos, was approximately seven months.
The difficulties in the way of obtaining information are such that
it is only those who sink for the nonce all inherited and acquired
ideas of superiority, manners, and customs who can be successful. As a
consequence, the stranger will have to journey with savages, eat with
savages, sleep with savages, from the moment he seeks to penetrate their
land. Watchfulness night and day must be the price of any desire to
understand the native in his home. The field-worker must subordinate
every previous and personal conception. Native justice must be his
justice. Almost necessarily native ethics must be his ethics. He is
no missionary seeking to convert those he meets to ideas of his own;
rather is he a learner, an inquirer, eager to understand the thoughts
that inspire them, to analyse the beliefs they themselves have gathered.
Then there is no common medium of language. Sometimes a native speaking
a tongue with which the traveller has a passing acquaintance can make
himself understood in another tribal language whereof the white man is
blankly ignorant, and then some approximation of the truth sought to be
conveyed is arrived at tortuously. For example, I had a Witoto Indian who
understood a little Andoke, and by way of Brown the Barbadian carried to
me much information of these little-known Indians. John Brown was here
invaluable as he knew Witoto well and Boro to some purpose. But much
of the appended vocabularies had to be gathered by the crude method of
pointing to an object. Having noted the word phonetically, one had to get
it confirmed by trial.
Travelling in the bush is a dreary monotony of discomfort and
ever-present danger. There are weary stretches of inundated country,
sweating swamp. You pass with an unexpected plunge from ankle-deep mire
to unbottomed main stream. The eternal sludge, sludge of travel without
a stone or honest yard of solid ground makes one long for the lesser
strain of more definite dangers or of more obtrusive horrors. The horror
of Amazonian travel is the horror of the unseen. It is not the presence
of unfriendly natives that wears one down, it is the absence of all sign
of human life. One happens upon an Indian house or settlement, but it is
deserted, empty, in ruins. The natives have vanished, and it is only the
silent message of a poisoned arrow or a leaf-roofed pitfall that tells of
their existence somewhere in the tangled undergrowth of the neighbourhood.
On the trail one speedily learns the significance of the phrase “Indian
file.” Here are none of the advance guards, flank guards, and rear guards
that are needed to penetrate unfriendly country in other lands. The first
man hacks a way for those who follow, and the bush is left as a wall on
either side that is as inscrutable to the possible enemy on the flank
as to the advancing party. On account of such conditions I should say,
from my experience of bush travel in these regions, that the whole party
should rarely if ever exceed twenty-five in number. On this principle it
will be seen that the smaller the quantity of baggage carried the greater
will be the number of rifles available for the security of the expedition.
The difficulty of an efficient food supply is very great. Game is
always hard to shoot on account of the density of the bush, and in many
parts appears to be non-existent. Preserved goods in sealed cases, of
convenient size for porterage, should be taken from Europe. My failure
to carry out my original intentions was due more than anything else to
the fact that my supplies were purchased in the country, and 50 per
cent proved unfit for consumption. The country where supplies must be
husbanded has little enough of food that is appetising to offer. Fish,
if plentiful, are hard to catch for the uninitiated. One hungers for the
occasional tapir or peccary, the joys of monkey-meat, and an incautious,
though unpalatable, parrot, and in the days of real distress may be
glad to fall back on frogs, snakes, and palm-heart. The real fear of
starvation, after perhaps the ghastly dread of being lost, is the great
cause of anxiety to the traveller in the Amazons.
As for shelter,–a tent is an encumbrance,–an open screen of rough palm
thatch can be erected in a very short time, and is all that is necessary,
although not all that is to be desired. The shelter is a poor one that
does not prevent the dews and the inevitable rain from chilling one to
Clothes for the Amazons are not designed with a view to fashion or
appearance. In the past, continental explorers have introduced some
interesting fashions in ducks and khaki, but travelling through a
country where one’s life is passed in a bath of perspiration, their
distinction of appearance yields to the simple comfort of the native’s
nudity. In search of a compromise, I have found that a thin flannel suit
of pyjamas with the trouser-legs tucked into the socks, and a pair of
carpet slippers laced over the instep, best meet the requirements of the
region. Ordinary boots are a positive danger on account of the narrow and
sometimes slippery tree-trunks over which one clambers uneasily. A small
towel round the neck to wipe away the perspiration is a great comfort.
For head-gear a cloth cap or “smasher” hat suffices.
A long knife or cutlass must be carried, and, personally, I invariably
carried a revolver, while the gun-bearer should always be at hand with
a rifle or scatter-gun. A blanket, sleeping-bag, and waterproof sheet
of course must be taken, with the other comforts, medical and hygienic,
common to all expeditions.
The drawings that appear in this volume are either taken from photographs
or from actual trophies and articles in my possession. The photographs
are a record of industry and patience. Films I found useless in this
climate, and plates alone materialised. It must be remembered, also, that
every time plates have to be changed it is necessary to build a small
house, and double thatch and treble thatch to prevent the entrance of any
light. Even then the experienced do their work at night.
The difficulty of posing and overcoming the objection of the native
subject will be at once realised. Too many groups have been draped by
explorers in the unaccustomed decencies of camp equipment, though it has
become an essential of the country–climatic and psychological–that
the women walk abroad naked and the men unembarrassed by more than a
The maps cannot pretend to be more than the roughest approximate
sketch-maps. When absence of a horizon and the density of the bush are
realised, it will be obvious that they can be nothing more. It is hoped
that they will suffice to give some idea of the general trend of the
country and the location of the various language-groups.
In the meanwhile Kyr Themistocli had dragged his straw chair outside
his door, where, as the house faced west, there was shade for some
hours in the morning, and sat waiting. In his hand, he held a piece of
bread, but he was not eating it. Not because it was dry, there being
no coffee to drink with it; but because for the first time Aleko had
not come when he had said he would.
It was long past the hour for morning newspapers. Other boys had
cried them up and down the street, but now they had ceased.
Two or three times the old man muttered to himself:–
“He is a child! May he not forget sometimes?” but in a moment he would
rise from his chair, and feeling with one hand for the wall of the
houses, he would advance slowly down the narrow street and listen to
the noises that came from the wider one and the square beyond.
Fish was being cried, fresh from Phalerum, and summer vegetables of
all kinds, greens for salad, and fruit.
“Cool, cool mulberries!” cried a man with a good tenor voice,
making a song of the words. “Black are the mulberries! Sweet are
the mulberries! Buy mulberries! Cool, cool mulberries!” Then an old
voice quavered out, “Pitchers from Ægina! Pitchers for cold water! Big
pitchers! Little pitchers!”
But no one cried newspapers. The hour for them was long past, and
slowly, and stumblingly, Kyr Themistocli found his way back to his
straw chair. The sun was gaining on the shade.
“He will not come now before the afternoon,” muttered the old man;
but still he did not go indoors.
Suddenly, a voice hailed him close at hand.
“Good day to you, Kyr Themistocli!” It was not Aleko’s voice. It was
a man’s voice; a voice he knew.
“How is it that you are sitting outside at this hour? The sun will
be on your head in a moment.”
The old man stretched out a groping hand in the direction of the voice.
“Is it you, Nico? You are welcome. Yes, I will go indoors just
now. But you? How come you here at this time? How is it you are not
at the Bank?”
“I have no head for business this morning, Kyr Themistocli; I saw you
sitting here as I passed by the end of the street and I came to wish
you good morning.”
“Are you not well, Nico?”
“I am well; but from early morning I cannot rest. Perhaps it will seem
a small thing to you–but to me it is a great one–I have lost my dog!”
“The little white one? The one you call ‘Solon’?”
“Yes. Twice this week he has been lost and found. Those who believe
in such things are right it seems when they tell you to beware of
the third time. I am a fool, Kyr Themistocli, about this dog. I … I
love him as I would a man. Some tell me it is a sin to care so much
for an animal. But when I think how she….”
“It is no sin,” said the old schoolmaster, “there are dogs that
understand one better than men, and when old memories are mixed up
with the caring …” he broke off suddenly. “But do not vex your
heart! You will find him.”
Nico Spinotti shook his head.
“The ‘boya’ took him. He was out with my cook, and while she was
in a shop the dog was picked up. She ran after the cart in vain;
and then she returned weeping to the house to tell me. It was well
she had that much sense at least.”
“But why are you staying here?” asked Kyr Themistocli excitedly. “Why
do you not run to the Police Station? They will give him back to
you. Even should there be any difficulty, if the dog was not muzzled,
as it writes in the newspapers that they must be now, you can always
pay the fine, and as much more as the ‘boya’ wants….”
“My secretary went at once; and the man-servant also–if only they
are in time! I could not go myself; I dared not! If I were to see
the man who caught the dog in that net, and threw him into that vile
cart … I … I could have killed him! I know myself; when I think of
anyone ill-treating Solon or indeed any animal, I lose consciousness
of what I do. Why, only last night I gave the boy who had tried to
steal him such a beating that it will be days before he forgets it.”
“A boy stole him?”
“Yes, a newspaper boy with fair hair; and those shoeblacks and
newspaper boys are generally so honest; but this one it seems came to
my house regularly with newspapers, and knew the dog; and someone,
I suppose, must have paid him well to steal it. I found him just
preparing to carry it off under his arm. Well, he got his year’s
beating from me any way, and I forbade him to show his face in this
neighbourhood again. I told him I would give him to the police if
The old man had risen from his chair and his blind eyes were wide
open and staring.
“You…. You … hurt the lad!” he burst out wildly. “You drove him
away! You…. You….”
But his sentence was never finished.
At that moment there was a patter of running feet at the entrance
of the narrow street, a sudden flash of something white in the sun,
and Solon, taking a flying leap from Aleko’s arms, made a bee line
for his master.
There was a bewildered cry of,–“Solon!” and then a mingling of shrill
barks of joy and of broken words:–
“Why, the poor little dog! Why, Solon! My poor one!”
In the meantime Aleko went straight up to the old schoolmaster.
“Kyr Themistocli,” he began, “your coffee is all spilt. It fell from
my hand and the bag burst, but this afternoon….”
But the blind man did not wait to hear what was to happen that
afternoon, his arms groped for the boy and finding him, clung about
his neck, and the old head fell forward on Aleko’s shoulder.
“I thought I had lost you…. I thought that you would never come
back! My boy!… My son!…”
The banker looked from the old man to the boy, with bewildered eyes.
“Why?” he gasped, “I never knew…. Is he yours?”
“Mine? Makari!” exclaimed Kyr Themistocli.
Now when a real Greek says “Makari,” it means so many things that no
single word in any other language can translate it. It means, “If only
it could be so!” it means, “I could wish for nothing better!” it means,
“It is too good to come true!” it means, “Such a thing would be perfect
happiness!” It means all this and much more. Some think the word a
corruption of “makarios,” meaning blessed, some believe it was taken
from old Italian. It is not a dictionary word, but it expresses so
much that the old schoolmaster dropped into common speech and said
“Makari,” with all his heart.
“But then …” said Nico Spinotti looking from one to the other,
“I do not understand. How came the dog here? Is this the boy…?”
Kyr Themistocli left his hand on Aleko’s shoulder, and drew himself
up to his full height.
“Yes,” he said, “this is the boy you ill-treated, whom you called a
thief; and it is he, I am sure, who has saved your dog and brought
him back to you. Tell us, Aleko–what happened?”
“I saw the ‘boya,'” related Aleko, “pick up the dog. It was while
Anneza, who never knows what is being done around her, was in the shop;
I ran after him but he drove me off with his big whip; so I took the
street car to make more haste, and went down to the Central Police
Station; there, a boy told me where the ‘boya’ takes all the dogs after
they are counted, far down the Piræus Road, to a ‘room that kills.’ So
I went there and found the place and waited for the cart. When it
came I told the man that the dog was his …” pointing to Spinotti,
“and that he would pay him well, but he would not listen. I asked
him to bring it up himself if he did not believe me, or, to wait till
noon or even for an hour … and he … he … jeered at me.”
“And did you not call some one of the police?” asked Kyr Themistocli.
“No,” said Aleko, and he laughed a little, “I remembered what the
gentleman at the Parnassos told us: that if you have the science and
the other has not, you need not fear one twice your size, so I gave
him the straight blow from the shoulder under the chin, the one that
makes you see stars.”
Nico Spinotti laughed out delightedly.
“Bravo! And did he see them?”
“Yes,” said Aleko quietly, “because afterwards, he lay in the dust
and saw nothing.”
“Then I opened the cart and let all the dogs out.”
“What … all?”
“Of course. Since it had happened that I was there, it was for the
good luck of all the poor creatures. The boys who were there helped
me; we held open the door at the top of the cage; the big dogs jumped
out alone, and we lifted the little ones. I took Solon, and if the
‘boya’ wants the rest again, he will have another day’s run for them!”
“And what became of the man?”
“Do I know?” said Aleko with sublime indifference.
Then the banker came a step nearer to Aleko.
“If I were to speak till to-morrow, my boy, I could not tell you how
indebted I am to you; and I am terribly ashamed to think that you,
whom I accused of being a thief, and ill treated only last night,
should have saved my dog for me to-day.”
“It was not for you that I did it,” answered the boy shortly,
“it was the dog for whom I was sorry.”
“I understand that. Still you knew that he was mine, and another boy
might have let the dog be killed, to be revenged on me.”
“What you did,” said Aleko, averting his eyes, “was not the dog’s
fault. Why should he suffer?”
“You have saved me also from great suffering; greater, perhaps,
than the dog’s would have been. I thank you with all my heart, also
I … I ask your forgiveness.” And he held out his hand.
Aleko frowned. At that moment for some inexplicable reason, Solon
sat up on his hind legs and began energetically sawing the air with
his forepaws as though pleading for his master.
Aleko looked at him and his face relaxed a little. Then he wiped
his hand carefully on his clothes and laid it in the banker’s,
“You are forgiven.”
“And now, will you tell me what I may do for you to show my gratitude?”
“May I bring the newspapers to your house again?” asked Aleko, his
The banker laughed.
“Do you like to sell newspapers?”
“It is my work,” answered Aleko.
“Is there nothing else you would prefer to do?”
“He wants to study, Nico,” cried the old man, “he wants it as none
of you, my old pupils, ever wished it, and he cannot, because he
must work all day to keep himself, and to help his mother and his
The banker gathered his eyebrows together thoughtfully.
“What are your earnings, a year, do you know?” he asked Aleko.
“The ‘big one’ sends one hundred and fifty drachmæ to my mother;
he feeds me, and I give him all I earn.”
“What would you do if you were free?”
“I want to learn.”
“To learn what?”
“To learn many things.”
“And out of the many,” said the old schoolmaster, “will grow the
one; the one that fills the life of a man. It is well. Let him learn
“If,” said the banker slowly, “if I were to send three hundred drachmæ
every year to your family, and if you were to go to school all day and
live with Kyr Themistocli here, who should have three hundred more
to keep you and help you with your lessons when you returned from
school in the evenings, would you be pleased for the present? Later
on we shall see again.”
But it was the old man who thanked and blessed Nico Spinotti, who
stretched out tremulous hands to him, while tears of joy filled his
Aleko stood still with wide open eyes. His wildest day dreams were
coming true, and the magnitude of the joy suddenly made him feel
faint. His heart seemed to be beating up in his throat, and he felt
as though the throbs would choke him. His hands grew moist, his knees
trembled and speech failed him utterly.
To the hard work that lay before him, he gave never a thought; the
daily discipline to which his free and untrammeled boyhood must bend
seemed a necessary trifle. Nothing mattered any more! He only knew
that the smiling faces of the two men beside him seemed quivering
in a golden mist, he only knew that the words he had just heard were
making music in his brain; for the lad in whose veins ran the blood
of the old scholars of Greece, had come into his inheritance.
Next morning, when he got up, part of the bodily soreness had
disappeared, but his indignation was, if anything, greater.
“Just let him wait and see!” he kept muttering to himself as, carrying
his morning newspapers, he waited in a little grocer’s shop while
Kyr Themistocli’s coffee was being weighed. “Just let him wait! The
next time I find his dog straying–and that will be to-morrow or the
day after, unless he turns Anneza away–I will take it and give it to
someone else, to someone who lives very far away, where he will never
find it again. May they never call me Aleko again if I do not!” As
he was leaving the shop with the bag of coffee in his hand, he found
outside the door an empty petroleum tin which he kicked viciously right
out into the middle of the square. It fell bounding and rebounding with
tremendous clatter against the curbstone, and the noise did him good.
However, he was not to wait even until to-morrow for his revenge,
though it did not happen exactly as he had planned it.
Before the clang of the falling tin had ceased, he saw at the end
of the square, just where the street car tracks come into it, a
little flash of something white tearing along at full speed. In hot
pursuit, but very far behind, came Anneza, with a packet of macaroni
in one hand and two cucumbers in the other. At first Aleko could
not understand why she seemed in such terrible haste, but in another
second he had understood.
From behind the corner of a chemist’s shop a man darted out, a man
armed with an open bag of thin knotted rope mounted on a long stick,
something which looked like a monstrous butterfly net; and this net
came down with a dexterous swoop, born of long practice, and rose
again into the air, carrying with it the little white, squealing,
wriggling bundle which was Solon.
Anneza, in the distance, gave a loud shriek, and one of her cucumbers
fell unheeded to the ground. On she rushed, her apron strings flying
behind her; but the man was quicker.
The iron cage on wheels, with its load of barking, snarling prisoners,
stood behind him; with one hand, he lifted up the little spring
door at the top of it, and with a twist of the other he emptied poor
Solon on top of the other dogs. Then he dropped the lid and whipped
up the horse.
“Stop!” panted Anneza, waving her arms wildly, “stop I tell you!”
She was close to the cart by this time; but just at that moment,
the street car which was going up towards the Maraslion met the one
which was coming down, at the corner, and for a moment there was a
block. Anneza, trying to squeeze herself between the two, was pushed
here and there by mounting and descending passengers, and by the time
she got clear the man with the iron cage was out of sight.
But Aleko had been quicker. He had wheeled round as soon as he saw
the dog caught, and running down a short cut had met the cart as it
came out on the street below. He stood right in its way and signaled
to the man.
“The little dog you have just taken,” he cried, “is not a stray
dog. He belongs….”
“Stand out of my way,” shouted the man savagely, “or I will bring my
whip down on your head!” and he brandished a heavy whip dangerously
near the boy.
Aleko jumped aside only just in time, and the cart went rattling down
the steep incline with a clatter of its iron laths which drowned the
barking of its occupants.
Instinctively Aleko ran back to the square.
Anneza was gone.
“Do you know,” he asked of a woman who was weighing some purple figs
at the door of a fruit shop, “where the serving maid has gone who
was here just now?”
“Anneza, from the Spinotti’s, you mean?” answered the woman. “The
‘boya’ took her dog away in his cart, and she has run back to the
house to tell her master.”
“By the time she finds him,” said Aleko, “it will be too late.” And
he tore across the square and down the street leading to Academy
Road. A street car was passing. He leaped on the platform dragging
his box after him. The conductor looked at him angrily.
“Do you not know that you cannot sell your newspapers while the car
is in motion?”
“I am not selling anything,” answered Aleko with dignity; “I am
riding.” And he produced ten lepta from a pocket inside his tunic.
He got off the street car at Patissia Road and turned to his
right. When he came to a large house, standing somewhat back from
the road, he stopped short. An older boy, also with a shoeblack’s
box beside him, was leaning against the railings of the enclosure.
“Is this the Central Police Station?” inquired Aleko.
“Does the Chief of the Police live here?”
The older boy stared at him.
“He does not live here, he has a fine house of his own near the Palace,
but he comes here every day. I know, because this is my stand, and
I see him when he comes and goes.”
Then Aleko asked another question.
“Does the ‘boya’ bring the dogs he catches here?”
“He brings them here first, to be counted, and then he takes them
down there.” And the strange shoeblack jerked with his thumb over
his shoulder towards the Homonoia Square.
“Far down the Piræus Road.”
“What does he do with them there?”
“Puts them into a room which kills them.”
“How can it kill them–a room?”
“Do I know?”
“When does the cart come here?”
The elder boy looked up at the sun.
“Now, any minute.”
“Listen,” said Aleko, “the ‘boya’ has taken just now up at the Kolonaki
a dog that is not a stray one. It is a very good dog, and it belongs
to someone who counts for something. If I wait here, and show the
Chief of the Police which it is, will he give it to me?”
“Are you mad?” asked the strange boy contemptuously. “Do you think
the Chief himself sees the dogs, or that he will listen to you?”
“Then what shall I do?”
“If you want the dog, go down to the place in the Piræus Road, and find
the ‘boya’ alone. Now, these hot days, they are afraid of mad dogs,
and they pay him one drachma for every dog he catches: so, perhaps,
if you were to give him more….”
“Where is the place?”
“I have never been there. Go down the Piræus Road and ask.”
Aleko started off towards the square at a good pace. The heat of the
day had begun and he had eaten nothing yet. But he wiped his forehead
with the back of his sleeve and plunged into the Piræus Road. The
strange boy had told him that the place was “far down,” therefore it
was no good inquiring before he reached the Gas Works. It was a long
way; if the “boya’s” cart only stopped a few moments at the Police
Station, it might almost be there before him; so he hurried on,
quickening his pace, and now and then breaking into a little run.
He must get there in time! He must! Poor little Solon! Poor little
warm, white creature, so full of life! “As clever as a Christian,”
as he had told Kyr Themistocli the other day. At this point, he looked
at the paper bag of coffee still unconsciously clutched in one hand.
“The old man will eat his bread dry this morning after all; well,
what is to be done? It is a small evil.”
After passing the Gas Works he began to ask his way; but most of the
passers-by seemed vague.
“Somewhere down there,” they said. A carter told him the place was
after Phalerum, but a second man contradicted him.
“What are you saying, brother? It is far closer than that!”
Aleko remembered that his father used to say:–
“By asking one can find the way to Constantinople.” And as it was
not to Constantinople that he wanted to go, but only to the “boya’s”
place, to the “room that killed” he went on asking.
At last an old woman directed him.
“Go over those fields there, where the goats are; and behind that
wall you will find a small house with an iron door; that is the place.”
Aleko ran across the dreary, stony fields which were neither town
nor country, and climbed over the wall.
A small house stood alone on a bare plot of ground, with two closely
shuttered windows, and an iron door. Aleko tried the door and found
it locked. There was no sign of life anywhere about; the cart had
evidently not arrived yet. He was in time!
As he stood there, on the coarse down-trodden grass, he gave a little
gasp of dismay and felt in his pocket.
The boy had said, “They pay him a drachma for each dog–perhaps if
you were to give him more….”
And Aleko, thinking of the dog’s master who would willingly, gladly,
pay so very much more, had raced off confidently, not remembering
that he himself had no more than three five-lepta pieces on him at
Just then he heard the clatter of the iron cage rattling in the
distance, and the deep bark of a big dog. The “boya” was coming.
Well, he must promise him the money, that was all. Surely, if he
told him that the master of the dog would pay him well, the man would
bring it up to the house himself, even if he did not trust Aleko to
take it away.
The clatter came nearer and nearer, and now Aleko could distinguish
the two-wheeled cart with its monster iron cage, between whose flat
bars dogs’ heads and paws of all shapes and sizes were thrust out.
Behind the cart ran the usual following of ragged urchins who always
seem to spring up about the “boya’s” route.
Aleko was grasping the bars of the cart before it came to a
stand-still. He thought he had seen something small and white at the
farthest end of the cage. And as he got round to the back there was
a shrill bark which rose above the rest, and the something small and
white sat up inside the cart and begged very piteously.
Aleko suddenly felt a wave of fury go over him.
He forgot all his pre-arranged plans; all the promises he was to
The man had stopped the cart, and was raising his arms in a prodigious
yawn. Aleko caught hold of his sleeve, and pulled him towards the
rear of the cart.
“Open it!” he cried. “Open it this minute! I want that dog! That
little white one there, with the black patch over the eye. You took
it from the Kolonaki, and it was not a stray dog. You took it while
the woman who had it was in a shop! You had no right to touch it! Give
it to me! Give it to me quickly!” and the more Solon inside the cage
heard the familiar voice, the more vigorously his little paws shook
up and down.
The man, a short, sickly-looking man, with an evil, lowering face,
dragged his sleeve away from the boy’s grasp.
“Give it to you, indeed!” he shouted, “and from where have you sprung
to be giving me orders? Now clear off!”
“I tell you,” persisted the boy, seeing that he had angered the man,
“I tell you it will benefit you to give that dog to me; it belongs
to a rich man, and he is so fond of it he will pay you much money
to have it returned to him; more than you can get for all your other
“I do not listen to such lies! You cannot cheat me!”
“I am not cheating you. Give me the dog and you will see! Or if you
do not believe me, bring him yourself! I will show you the house.”
“And have I no other work to do than to be running to people’s
houses?” snarled the “boya.” “Those who want their dogs safe can keep
“I tell you,” said Aleko flushing very red, “that if you do not give me
that dog you will find trouble. It belongs to Kyrios Spinotti and….”
“If it belonged to the King I would not give it!” shouted the
man. “What goes into the cart stops there!”
“Keep the dog somewhere safe, then,” pleaded Aleko, “and I will bring
his master down here to pay you!”
“No,” said the man, unlocking the iron door. “The dogs are going in
here; and,” he added with an ugly laugh, “yours shall go in first
Aleko seized hold of his arm.
“Keep him till noon!”
“He shall go in first, I tell you. Now, leave go!”
“Keep him just one hour!”
“You, with your hours! Clear off this minute unless you want your
But these last words were the man’s undoing. If he had not talked of
smashing faces, Aleko might not have thought of it, but as he stood
there, his head thrown back, his blue eyes glittering with rage,
some familiar words flashed across his mind.
“Straight out from the shoulder, Aleko! Follow your blow! Come
All encumbrances were flung aside; newspapers were carried away by the
breeze, a shower of coffee fell on the ground from a burst paper bag,
and straight as a dart, and steady, and strong, the boy’s fist flew
out from his shoulder with all the weight of the sturdy little body
behind it, and landed with crashing force on the man’s chin.
The man staggered back, striking his head against the iron bars of
the cart, and went down like a tree that is felled.