Ritual of vengeance

The armoury of the Indian contains, for the most part, weapons designed
for primitive hand-to-hand encounter with either man or beast. The sixty
or more feet a blow-pipe dart will carry; the two hundred feet, which is
the outside range of an arrow from the most powerful of his bows, would
be futile in any country less enclosed than these dense woodlands. Even
here success in intertribal conflict is a matter of personal dexterity
rather than mechanical accomplishment. It is true that the Witoto near
the rubber districts have ordinary muzzle-loading scatter-guns. Other
tribes have a few, a very few rifles, and some Brummagem fowling-pieces,
usually with single barrels. But the rifle cannot be said to have won its
way into unchallenged favour. When an Indian does possess a gun he is
exceedingly chary of using it; his chief idea is to save his powder and
shot. The Menimehe have neither rifles nor scatter-guns; they consider
that firearms frighten the game, and prefer their own throwing-javelins,
their bows, and their arrows.

The Indian weapons of offence may be said then to consist of the sword,
the bow, and the spear. There is no difference between war spears and
arrows and those used against the larger wild animals. For defence the
Menimehe carry a small club, or life-preserver, and the Jivaro and
some of the tribes near the Napo river, use a circular shield covered
with tapir hide like the Uaupes river Indians.[148] The Menimehe also
have large round shields made with tapir skins. From two to five hides
are superimposed one on the other to make a shield, and when finished
these will turn any arrow or spear, and are impenetrable to other than
a nickel-cased bullet of high velocity. The Yahuna on the other side of
the Apaporis do not use a shield, nor do any of the tribes south of the

The Indian’s club is like a quarter-staff made of hard red-wood–which is
the heaviest kind known to them–and is used simply as a personal weapon
of offence or defence. It is not a war weapon. The Indian sword is made
of red-wood or black iron-wood, and is from thirty to thirty-six inches
long, polished quite plainly. It is used by the attacker to aim blows at
the thighs of his antagonist, the object being so to hit him as to bring
him to the ground. Once this is done his head can be easily smashed. As a
weapon of defence the Indian uses it to protect himself from the throwing
of javelins. Holding the handle in one hand and the point in the other,
he can ward off such missiles with the greatest dexterity, thus in a way
obviating the necessity of carrying a shield.

A diversity of spears, or javelins, is constructed by all these tribes.
_Chonta_ wood is universally employed for spears and arrow-heads, the
weapon differing in accordance with its purport, the _chonta_ spear for
tapir, the blunt arrow for birds, and so forth. These wooden weapons are
scraped smooth with the file-like jaw of the _pirai_ fish, and a final
polish is put on with the leaves of the _Cecropia peltata_, which are
rough enough to be effective substitutes for sand-paper. The spears are
thickest at the head, and taper nearly to a point at the butt. The head
is made of a separate piece of _chonta_ some three inches long, bound
into the grooved end. A poisoned palm spine is always fixed in the point
of a spear, as in the lighter throwing-javelin. About two or three inches
down, the head is filed nearly through, in order that it shall break off
in the wound, and so be the more difficult to extract. The poisoned
point is protected with a reed sheath.

[Illustration: PLATE XXX.

1. Water Jar, Menimehe (a) Witoto

2. Drums (Witoto)

3. Pan pipes (Witoto) (a) Boro

4. Stone Axe (Andoke)

5. Paddle used on main Amazon Stream

6. Paddle used on Issa and Japura rivers

7. Menimehe Hand Club

8. Wooden Sword (Boro)

9. Pestle–Coca, etc. (Boro)]

Arrow-heads also are half filed through. This is done with the fish-jaw
attached to the quiver immediately before use. The tips are made of
_chonta_ and are poisoned.[149] The bows are of various kinds of wood,
and of many sizes, strung with fibre made thicker and stronger as
desired. The arrow shaft is without feathers, and has no nock for the
bowstring. The arrows are carried in quivers of wicker or of wood. The
Menimehe, the most skilful bowmen of these regions, are famous for
their quivers as well as for their pottery. They make the quivers out
of bamboo, the elementary ones being merely scraped-out sections cut so
that there shall be a joint or a knot for the end; the more elaborate
specimens are made of strips of bamboo bound together. The arrow poison
is carried in a small pot or calabash. The vegetable poisons that are
used for birds and small game give place to a mixture of strychnos and
poison obtained from decomposed animal or human matter when the weapon is
employed against men or the bigger beasts. Its effect on a human being is
said to be almost instantaneous.

Indian strategy makes for concealment both in attack and defence. A
tribe will never rush precipitately into open and aggressive war with a
neighbour. Plans for the campaign are no affairs of a hurried minute;
no impulse of uncontrolled anger. They are, on the contrary, well
matured and much deliberated. After many a tobacco palaver, when war is
determined on for any good and sufficient reason–usually revenge for
some real or fancied wrong–the tribal warriors muster, and it may be
that a friendly tribe will assemble with them. Attack will be stealthy,
silent, and never by any chance frontal. These are the true tactics
of the forest denizen. A noiseless flank approach, a sudden rush, and
then, if the foe be taken unawares, a furious onslaught. But surprise
is essential to success. With the utmost caution they approach the
enemy’s head-quarters, the big tribal house, probably when a dance is
taking place and the hostile warriors are occupied with matters other
than possible war. The invaders wait for night; creep in under cover of
darkness; and if possible cut up the unprepared revellers when asleep
after the feast. Should the victorious attackers be in a blood-thirsty
mood, every soul will be killed and the house burnt. But the Indian is
no Berserker when fighting. He is as careful of his own skin as he is
anxious to destroy his foe–possibly even more so; a living enemy may be
slain in the future, but if he be killed himself ultimate vengeance is no
longer for him.

As regards defence, the Indian never attempts any effective fortification
of his home. The only defensive action taken by the tribes is to prepare
a series of pitfalls in the forest avenues, after the fashion described
for game, with poisoned stakes to impale any foe who may unwittingly
stray into them. Death in such a trap comes very speedily. These pits, as
I have already noted, are always dug by the Karahone.

It appeared to me that the Indians depended mainly on the secrecy of the
tribal dwelling, ensured by the absence of direct footways; for though
their houses are not built on defensive–or even defendable–lines, the
hostility between various language-groups is rampant, as has been already
shown, and internecine strife is unending. The Indian has been called
docile and gentle. He may be, if to fear an enemy as much as he is hated
be docility. “Do not wait for the first blow but deal it: if you cannot
deal it with impunity now wait till you can–but wait securely hidden”:
there is the whole text-book of the Indian’s science of war.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXI.


If it can be done with due regard to personal safety the Indian warriors
like to take prisoners. A prisoner is tangible evidence of successful
achievement and personal valour. There is, as a rule, no mutilation
of the dead, or of a prisoner; whatever does occur is due to personal
brutality on the part of some individual. Prisoners are bound with
palm-fibre, and so long as they walk quickly enough, when the victorious
band returns from the fray, they are not ill-treated. But there must be
no delay. Every moment adds to the dangers that threaten the marauders.
Vengeance accomplished, they must hurry back to the comparative safety of
their own locality. If a prisoner lag he endangers his captors, and in
self-defence they would slay him. Prisoners are sometimes sold, but as a
rule they are killed and eaten at the big feast arranged to commemorate
the event, unless they are young enough to be kept as slaves without
risk of their running away to tell tribal enemies of the secret roads
through the bush. The consumption of a dead foe at least guarantees his
harmlessness–as a warrior, if not as a comestible.

Prisoners are never kept for any length of time, on account of the danger
that would follow should they manage to escape. They get no food nor
drink, and if never actually tortured, are treated very casually until
killed with a heavy wooden sword, not with poisoned javelins, as Robuchon
imagined was the ceremonial method of killing for culinary purposes.
The captor knocks his prisoner down with blows on the shins and the
thigh, and then hacks off the head with his broadsword. Robuchon is also
responsible for the statement that the prisoners consider that to be
thus killed and eaten is a great distinction and honour. It is true that
they make no complaints, but that is simply on account of the fatalistic
nature of the Indian.

If killed in war a chief’s body is carried off by his tribe if possible,
though the ordinary warriors, dead or wounded, of the beaten faction
are left to their fate, for fear of delay and possible surprise during
retreat; although that fate be known to be consumption by the enemy.

Among the Boro and other cannibal tribes anthropophagous orgies follow
hard on the heels of tribal strife. If it happens to be possible, that is
to say if the fight has taken place as an attack on their own house, the
corpses of the enemy are eaten; but no Indian ever risks the chance of
reprisals being taken by remaining in the vicinity of a hostile house to
eat the dead, nor will he ever burden himself with food when returning
to his own habitation. The cannibal feast thus becomes the prerogative of
the conqueror.

Unlike the better-known tribes of Guiana, most, if not all, of the
Indians of the upper rivers are indisputably cannibals, especially the
Boro, Andoke, and Resigero groups. It has even been asserted by some
writers that sundry tribes belong to the lowest grade of cannibals in
that they will “eat their own dead children, friends and relatives.”[150]
This, however, is incorrect, and why it must be so is very obvious when
the main causation of extra-tribal cannibalism is understood.

There are three reasons why these Indians are anthropophagous.

In the first place, and it is not only the first but the most general
and important, anthropophagy is looked upon as a system of vengeance, a
method of inflicting the supreme insult upon an enemy.[151] It will be
seen that the Indian has very definite opinions as to the inferiority
of the brute creation. To resemble animals in any way is a matter to be
avoided at all costs. Body hair is an animal characteristic, so man must
depilate. The birth of twins is a disgrace because it is a descent to
bestial levels. What a crowning disgrace then must it be for the dead to
share no better fate than that of slaughtered animals. No more absolute
vengeance on the dead could be devised. The primary cause therefore is

Secondly, there is a desire to make use of what would otherwise be
waste material. Animal food is scarce in the forest. But these tribes
do not, as has been asserted of the Cobeu and Arekaine,[152] make war
simply with a view to obtaining provision of human flesh. Anthropophagy
is the effect, not the cause, of war. But then there remains the fact
that meat is hard to come by, and is continually required. The slain and
the prisoners provide meat, and at the same time the degradation, the
ignominy of supplying the place of beasts makes vengeance most definite.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXII.

WITOTO WAR GATHERING (Some Brummagen Goods)]

Finally, and in a still more subsidiary degree, there is the reason most
commonly advanced, the supposition that there exists a measure of belief
in the assumption of the characteristics of the eaten by the eater; a
belief that must give sardonic impulse to the primary reason of all, the
desire to degrade the dead. Though this third reason has least weight
of any with the Indian, it cannot be entirely absent when the food tabu
connected with childbirth is remembered. But I know of no such actually
admitted reasons as give rise to anthropophagous feasts elsewhere, as
among the Aro, who are said to eat human sacrifices because “those who
ate their flesh ate gods, and thus assimilated something of the divine
attributes and power.”[153]

The subsidiary reason, that of necessary anthropophagy, has been advanced
by some apologists,[154] and with a certain amount of truth. But this
reason may be looked upon as very secondary, in my opinion, though, were
the food-quest of little importance, there might be less cannibalism. The
Indian would, in fact, only eat human flesh ceremonially, as a ritual

From all this it follows that intra-tribal cannibalism would be a
criminal outrage by the tribe _on itself_, and therefore it could never
occur that a member of the tribe was eaten, nor would his teeth be
extracted even to show an accomplished revenge. This disposes of any such
thing as the eating of dead relatives as a sign of respect. These and
similar statements are due to misapprehension of facts by the writer, or
a too hasty judgment on the part of the explorer.

One other cannibal custom noted by Wallace and recently confirmed by
Koch-Grünberg, is unknown to me, that of exhuming the bones of the dead,
which are then burnt and the calcined remains made into broth.[155]
No such custom ever came under my notice, nor did any of the tribes
refer to such practices in any way in my hearing. The dried human heads
prepared by the Jivaro[156] are also unknown in the regions here dealt
with. No heads are mummified in this district. But among some of the
tribes south of the main Amazon river this repulsive art is carried on,
and specimens of these heads, not more than one-fifth their natural
size, have been obtained and brought to Europe.[157] Their exportation
is now forbidden by the South American governments, as the supply not
unnaturally was apt to coincide with the demand.

Though these reduced heads are unknown to the Issa-Japura tribes, the
head is not ignored as a trophy. The fleshy parts, the hair and the
teeth are removed, and the skull is hung in the plantation patch to be
cleaned by ants and other insect scavengers. These will pick one bare in
half an hour. Cleaned, and dried in the sun, this memorial of victory
is eventually suspended outside, or on the rafters in the house, over
the string that carries the top part of the drums. Bates records how the
Mandurucu soaked the heads “in bitter vegetable oil,” and then smoked or
sun-dried them,[158] but the Issa-Japura tribes subject their dreadful
trophies to no other process than the action of the insects, air, and
sun in the plantations. These ghastly evidences of Indian vengeance I
have often seen in the houses, and in the plantations, the bare skulls
gleaming white like so many gourds on a string. Robuchon also mentions
that he found skulls hanging from the ceiling of _malokas_, which the
natives were quite ready to barter for a large handful of beads, but this
does not tally with my experience.

When a feast is to take place the prisoners are knocked down and
despatched, their heads removed to be danced with and eventually dried
as trophies. The body is then divided and shared among the feasters.
Only the legs and arms, and the fleshy parts of the head, are eaten
ceremonially, anything like the intestines, brains, and so forth, is
regarded as filthy and never touched, nor is the trunk eaten. The male
genital organs, however, are given to the wife of the chief, the only
woman who has any share in the feast. The hands and feet are regarded as
delicacies, for the same reason that civilised man has a preference for
calves’ feet, on account of their gelatinous character.

Each portion of flesh is tied to a stick, and every man, according to
Robuchon’s account, drops his share in the pot, and places the stick
to which it is tied on the ground beside it whilst he watches till the
meat is cooked. I was told that the culinary processes were attended to
by the old women of the tribe. The flesh, with the required seasoning
of peppers, is boiled over a slow fire, while drums are beaten, and the
assembled tribe–adorned with full panoply of paint, necklaces, and
feathers, and with the gory heads fixed upon their dancing staves–dance
round singing a wild song of victory.

The savage orgy will continue for hours, with outbursts of drum-beating,
gratulatory orations, and much drinking. I was told that the festival of
drink and dance will go on without intermission for eight days.[159]

Only men eat ceremonially, the women, with the exception of the chief’s
wife, having no share in the revolting feast, except on occasions, when
perhaps the necessity for animal food–the secondary reason–is the
cause of the indulgence. What portions of the bodies are not eaten are
thrown into the river. I do not know if this is ceremonial, but it is
curious to note that the Indian paradise is up river, not down, where, of
course, the refuse is carried by the stream. With some tribes the trunk
is buried, or it may be merely thrown into the bush to be devoured by the
wild dogs. This latter is not infrequent. These methods of disposal are
ceremonial in so much as that they are carried out amid organised tribal
jeers and insults.

Flutes are made out of the arm-bones of eaten prisoners, the humerus. The
radius and the ulna, fleshless and dry, with the fingers of the hand
contracted, are fastened to wooden handles and used to stir the _kawana_.
I have seen these, but they are jealously guarded by their owners, and
probably no white man has succeeded in obtaining a specimen.

Among the tribes of the Japura and the Issa the teeth are always
carefully retained by the slayer, to be made into a necklace, a visible
and abiding token of his completed revenge. This removal of the teeth may
be held synonymous with the curse of many savage tribes in reference to
their enemies–“Let their teeth be broken.” David himself called upon God
to “break the teeth” of his foes. Possibly the reason is a reversion in
thought to the time when the teeth were man’s only weapon.

It is certainly worth noting in connection with the anthropophagous
practices of these tribes that they have almost no salt. In its natural
state it is non-existent throughout the Issa-Japura regions, and can
only be obtained with difficulty. It is possible that the salt in human
blood may be one of the unrealised attractions that lead these peoples
to anthropophagous practices. A craving that can be so dominant as to
influence race migration, as the salt-craving may do,[160] can hardly
be ignored when dealing with the inhabitants of a country where local
conditions offer little or nothing to satisfy it.

Another vice which may very possibly have origin in the same lack of a
necessary condiment, and to which these Indians are very prone, is the
eating of clay.[161] It is not impossible that the clay may have saline
properties; in any case among all these tribes geophagy is very common,
especially with the non-cocainists, the women and children. As a rule
it occurs among the very poorest–the slave clan,–those who are least
able to obtain such a luxury as salt, and it is found among the female
children most of all. The latter fact is perhaps because the male child,
the potential warrior, is the more carefully guarded, and would be the
more severely beaten if discovered eating dirt. I never came across any
man who eat clay, though I know of a boy who suffered from this neurotic
appetite. The clay, if it cannot be otherwise obtained, will be scraped
from under the fireplace, and it is always eaten secretly.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXIII.



The Indians look upon geophagy as injurious, but it appears to be
ineradicable. I cannot help thinking it must be due to some great
“want” in Indian diet, a physical craving that the ordinary food of the
tribes does not satisfy. It is instinctive. In the manufacture of coca
they add clay. This suggests that if taken in small quantities it may
have a neutralising and therefore a beneficial effect on some more or
less injurious article of daily food. But it rapidly, and invariably,
degenerates into a vice; and the habit appears to have a weakening and
wasting effect on the whole body.

In some parts of the Amazons, though not with these tribes, the clay is
regularly prepared for use,[162] and the vice is shared by other races
than the Indian.[163] Children who suffer from this extraordinary craving
will swallow anything of a similar character, earth, wax, and Bates even
mentions pitch,[164] but they prefer the clay that is scraped from under
the spot where the fire has been burning, probably because the chemical
processes induced by the heat render it more soluble, easily pulverised,
and hence more actually digestive in its action.

It has been suggested that this disease was introduced into America
by negro slaves, and is not indigenous. This is a question for the
bacteriological expert rather than the traveller to decide, but as it
indubitably exists among tribes that have not come in any contact with
negroes or negro-influenced natives it would seem to argue on the face
of things that the similarity of vicious tastes was due to similarity
of causation, rather than to contamination by evil example, unless the
ubiquitous microbe is to be held responsible for this ill also.

Continue Reading

Tree-climbing methods

Apart from the industries already dealt with, the occupations of the
South American Indians of these parts consist in agricultural pursuits,
hunting, fishing, making war, and holding festival. They are not a
pastoral people and have no cattle; even the domestic pig is unknown,
fowls are never seen, and dogs only exist in their wild state in the
forest. There they are numerous enough, dun in colour, with ears erect.
These Indians do not keep or train them, though some of the tribes away
from this district have hunting dogs.[117]

[Illustration: PLATE XXVI.



The greater part of the agricultural work falls, as has been seen, to the
lot of the women, though the preliminaries–the heavier work of clearing,
cutting, and breaking up the untouched soil–are undertaken by the men.
Each tribal house stands in the midst of a small clearing. In front
is the big dancing ground, for though the dancing proper takes place
inside the _maloka_, this outer dance clearing is used for the purpose
of assembly, and for effective entries. Near by are the cultivated plots
that belong to the chief. The Indian with his own private lodging in the
bush, or any married Indian,–and all marry when they come to man’s
estate–has his special plantation patch by his country-house, if he has
one, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the tribal house if he is content
with only his quarters therein. But no plantations are made actually
surrounding the _maloka_; they are perhaps half a mile away, for, as a
rule, the house stands alone. Sometimes a man’s plantation will be two
days’ journey from the house of assembly, in which case a “country-house”
is a necessity. The tribal plantations belong to the chief, as he, having
all the unattached women, is better able to cultivate them.

To prepare the plots of ground the smaller trees are felled, the
larger ones are burnt. The stumps of trees, cut about four feet above
the ground, decay with some rapidity, and, directly the branches are
dry enough to burn, fire is brought out and the clearing made into a
gigantic bonfire, or rather series of bonfires, for the always damp wood
will never do more than smoulder, but it is sufficient to destroy the
brushwood and the tangle of creeping plants. There is then a savannah, a
clearing such as is shown in the illustration (Plate XXVI.), a wilderness
of charred posts and vegetable ashes which make most excellent manure.
The ground is then broken up with wooden clubs, and therewith the men’s
labour is at an end.[118] Henceforward their women take charge of the
plantation–_ike_ the Witoto call it before it is planted; it is _akpho_
after planting.

The Indian plantation is no orderly market-garden. To begin with, the
women have nothing but the roughest wooden implement, a wedge-shaped
stake, with which to dig, and rake, and hoe. The ground is always uneven
and broken; the charred remnants of the original vegetation are left to
crumble beside the young growth, and the cultivated seedlings have to
struggle for space and air with quick-growing wild things, forest growths
and creepers that encroach on every side, and would speedily reclaim any
cleared portions of the unconquerable bush were it not for the incessant
diligence of the women. They go there daily straight from the morning
bath, and keep up a constant chattering as they plant the cuttings of
manioc, or tend to the pine-apples and the sugar-cane, while the men take
to their canoes, or go a-hunting in the bush in company. I have never
seen single Indians hunting or walking in the forest. For obvious reasons
they never venture far afield by themselves, or even in very small

Sowing is done during the rainy season, but beyond the fact that things
then grow faster than when it is comparatively drier, there is no
especial harvest time. Crops grow and ripen all the year round. The
Indians are not grain-growing people. Rice is unknown,[119] and the
only grain that is sown at all is maize. This, though much cultivated
by the Kuretu, and by tribes on the Tikie, is not grown in any quantity
by Indians south of the Japura. What there may be is very small. Coca,
manioc, and tobacco are the most universally cultivated. The Witoto grow
a little sugar-cane and it is occasionally found growing wild, but in
very few places. Originally, I imagine, it was imported. The Indians do
not use it for sugar, as sweet things do not seem to appeal to their
palates, and “beer” is unknown. Half-wild pumpkins and plantains are to
be found in most plantations; pines,[120] bananas, yams, papaws, sweet
potatoes, and mangoes are found cultivated more or less. The yellow fruit
of the guaraná is prized by these Indians, especially the Boro, and is
used here by them in the preparation of a stimulating drink[121] similar
to that in use on the Rio Negro.[122] The wild cacao,[123] though not
common, is seen about here, but the tribes do not cultivate it. Manioc,
which is also known as cassava,[124] is a plant that grows throughout the
tropical regions of America, and in the West Indies. It is known also in
Africa, and has been introduced by the white man into some of the Pacific

The manioc is planted by the women about July or August, and according to
Indian belief manioc can only be propagated by replanting slips of the
old growth after it has been lifted up and the tuberous root removed. As
it cannot reproduce itself in this fashion in its wild state, presumably
it will grow from young tubers, or seed, but, according to Bates, it is
not found wild in the Amazon basin.[125] The ground is hoed by the women,
and scraped into rough furrows. Cuttings of the manioc plant are set in
these in little holes. Eight months after planting the root is ready
for use. It is large, fleshy, and very heavy for its bulk, each tuber
weighing from half a pound to two or three pounds, and even more. It has
been said of the variety known as the great manioc that a root will weigh
as much as forty-eight pounds.[126] The ground will only carry two crops,
so a fresh patch must be broken up after the second harvest. Indians
will, however, always return to plantations no longer in use, on account
of the different palm fruits which continue to grow wild there after they
have once been cultivated; but the disused plots will never be tilled
again for plantation, they are only visited for this purpose of securing
the fruit.

Throughout the forest peppers are very common and plentiful. Some of the
bushes grow to a height of ten feet. There are many varieties,[127] and
peppers are grown, or allowed to grow, in patches on all the plantations.

I have said that the women are the agriculturalists and the cooks; nor
do I know of any exception to this rule, for though coca and tobacco are
tabu to all women, and their preparation is forbidden to the sex, yet the
women grow the tobacco in the plantations, gather the leaf, and dry it
in the sun. But the actual making of the black liquid is done by the men
alone, and only men prepare the coca for use. Tobacco is not an article
of barter among these tribes, as all grow it, and its preparation is
no secret to any of the tribesmen. Cultivated coca is sown when the
rains begin. The young seedlings need both care and attention.[128] It
is eighteen months before the slender shrub will yield any harvest,
though once grown the supply will continue for three or four decades.
The shrub grows to some five or six feet high, into small trees in fact,
with lichen-encrusted trunks. Both the common kind and a smaller-leaved
variety[129] grow wild in these regions.

Men also must climb the trees to gather such fruits as the papaw and
the seeds of the cokerite or the peach palms. Indians climb in what is
practically a universal method, with a circling rope and a ring.[130]
Their usual way is to secure the legs together about the ankles with a
strip of the inner bark of a tree, and then, with arms and feet free,
to use a bigger loop adjusted round the tree and hips of the climber
for purchase power. For short climbs they will dispense with the bigger
loop. Sometimes palm-frond is made into a ring for the toes, but with
the forest Indians these are oftener left free to allow of prehensile
action. With this simple attachment, made perhaps only of twisted liana,
the native will work his way to a perilous height up the barest of tree

[Illustration: PLATE XXVII.


As a woodsman the Indian is so far in advance of the European traveller
as to make all comparison futile.[132] An Indian in the bush is
wonderful. From his earliest days he has been taught to watch and note.
I have known an Indian stop and tell me that when the sun was in a
certain position, that is to say half an hour previously, seven Indians
passed that way carrying a tapir, which had been killed when the sun was
there–indicating another position. It was killed a long distance away,
and the bag must have been a tapir on account of the evident weight. He
took up a leaf on which was a spot of blood, coagulated. He pointed to
tracks on the ground, to prove the question of numbers and distance. The
men who passed were weary, he knew it by the way their toes had dropped
on the ground. The breaking of a twig, the exudation of sap, is enough of
a guide for the Indian to judge when the last passer-by came that way.
I have been told it was within ten minutes, and shown a leaf. It had
begun to rain ten minutes before, and the leaf, overturned by a passing
foot, was wet upon both sides. A glance will suffice for an estimate of
what animals passed, and when. By some intuitive perception, moreover,
he will deduce in a moment whither the game has gone, and will make, not
along its trail, but more directly for it. Yet close and accurate as
his observation invariably is, when the Indian sportsman begins a tale
of the chase it is exaggerated beyond the wildest dreams and liveliest
imaginings of the most gifted sporting Munchausen among ourselves.

When an Indian is path-finding he judges both time and distance by the
sun. If not attacked by an enemy, he will win his way home from anywhere,
always at a jog-trot, and will probably do his fifty miles on nothing
more sustaining than coca. A sense of locality is born in him, and from
childhood upwards this is trained and developed by continued and varied
experiences. To be able to judge by the sky, by the weathered side of
trees, by the flight of birds, or the run of animals–above all to have a
sense that is greater than all judgment–is a matter of life or death not
once but continually. The inept are the unfit, and the forest will show
them no mercy.

This minuteness and accuracy of observation comes into play again when
the Indian is hunting. Death to his quarry from the tiny poisoned dart of
the blow-pipe is certain, but not absolutely instantaneous. He also will
shoot birds with a blunt-headed arrow that stuns but does no damage to
the plumage. The shock appears to kill the bird. Hit with dart or arrow
they may flutter a little distance before they fall. I have watched an
Indian scores of times when hunting game shoot bird after bird in a tree,
mark down where each fell, and eventually never fail to account for every
one despite the density of the surrounding bush. Hardly a traveller but
has noted and wondered at the same thing.

[Illustration: PLATE XXVIII.

1 & 2.–Andoke bamboo cases with darts and cotton

3. Dart with cotton attached

4. Blowpipe with dart

5. Javelins

6. Fishing trident

7. Spears in bamboo case

8. Dance Staff]

Blow-pipes are only carried by the Indians when hunting. They are weapons
of the chase, not of war. Most of the tribes manufacture their own, but
the Bara, who neither hunt nor fish, get theirs solely by barter from
other tribes. The blow-pipe–_obidiake_ of the Witoto, _dodike_ of the
Boro–made by these tribes is a heavier weapon than those made by tribes
farther north.[133] It is constructed, like those of all tribes south of
the Japura, in two sections, bound together with great nicety, and has
invariably a mouthpiece made of vegetable ivory or a similar wood that
fits round inside the mouth. These blow-pipes are from eight to fourteen
feet long, with a quarter-inch tube, the outer mouthpiece being an inch
and a half. They are sometimes made from reeds[134] by the Boro and
Andoke, and I have seen small Boro boys with a hollow reed pipe, about
half the ordinary length. This was merely a plaything. These are the
simplest form of blow-pipe, and would appear to be the original type.
Though I imagine reeds are always obtainable, for the flora did not
seem to vary, as a rule the wood of the chonta palm is employed.[135]
On the north of the Japura, the tribes, I believe, mostly make their
blow-pipes of palm stems.[136] Two long strips of this wood are slit
off by notching and levering with a stone axe, as already described. The
chonta poles are trimmed, rubbed, and grooved with sand and a paca-tooth
tool till they form the corresponding halves of a tube, which must fit
most exactly. All this entails very careful and tedious work, so it is
fortunate that time to an Indian is of no account. These half tubes are
then fastened together and the bore polished with what is practically
sand-paper. A string is dipped in some gummy substance, and then covered
with sand. When dry, a fine polish is secured with this by friction. The
blow-pipe is next bound from end to end with fibre-string, or narrow
strips of pliant bark.[137] The whole pipe is then coated with some
resinous gum, or wax.[138] A small bone is fixed about twelve inches from
the mouthpiece, and this acts as a sight. Such a tube will send an arrow
a distance of from forty to one hundred and fifty feet, and an expert
hunter shoots the smallest birds at twenty yards. The chonta-wood pipe is
the heaviest and most lasting, but I do not know if it carries farthest.
The Indians’ accuracy of aim is extraordinary. The arrows, or darts, are
about nine inches long, no thicker than a small match, and are tufted
with fluffy down from the seed vessels of the silk-cotton tree,[139]
the tuft being of a size to fit exactly into the bore of the pipe. The
arrows are made of the leaf-stem spines of the Patawa palm.[140] They are
carried in a quiver of bamboo lined with dried grass or fine rushes that
protect the delicate darts. The poisoned points are partly cut through
so that they break off in the wound. Once a bird or animal is hit the
poison kills them very speedily. The silk-cotton for tipping the arrow is
carried in a gourd that is attached to the arrow quiver with strips of
cane, and to it is also tied the jawbone of the pirai fish, which is used
as a file for the points of the darts. When the arrow is ejected from the
blow-pipe there is a slight noise, like a child’s pop-gun, but it is not
enough to scare the game.[141]

Indians are no more provident as hunters than as housekeepers. When
game is plentiful they will kill and eat, kill recklessly, and eat to
repletion. But game is not always plentiful. It may abound to-day and all
be gone to-morrow. Even parrots and peccary will fail at times. Birds and
beasts wander, and though the hunter can often judge of direction through
knowledge of their habits, and–what in this instance probably governs
them–which fruits are ripest and where most abundantly to be found, this
will not altogether account for the fluctuations in the supply of game.
It must also be remembered that in this respect the bush varies greatly,
and even where animal life is not scarce it is apt to become so on the
advent of man. Even apart from the disturbance caused by the hunter, game
in the vicinity of any human settlement tends to disappear. The hunter
must go farther and farther afield.

The Indian is an expert trapper. His traps though simple are ingeniously
contrived, and seldom fail to act. An empty bag is due more frequently
to absence of game than to the inadequate plan of the trap. Monkeys are
caught with a running-noose loop snare made of liana, which is adjusted
carefully along a fruit-bearing branch of a tree. Any monkey attempting
to reach the fruit strangles itself in the noose, exactly as a rabbit
does in the wire of an English poacher.

[Illustration: PLATE XXIX.


A shallow pan of water is the Indian bait for ground vermin. Round it
they dig a ring of holes, about a foot across, on which are lightly
spread grass and leaves. Rats, mice, frogs, and small snakes venturing
to drink fall through into the holes that are deep enough to hold them
captive till the trapper comes round and secures his catch. For larger
animals the hunters dig a line of pits, with a sharpened stake fixed
upright at the bottom of each. The game, corralled and driven over these,
falls in through the sticks and leaves that hide the opening, and is
impaled on the stake. The Karahone arm their pits with poisoned arrows,
and dig a succession of these death-traps down a forest avenue.[142]
A more complex contrivance is made with carefully poised logs. This
description of trap is set in a forest run, the brushwood on either side
is twisted and plaited into a rough fence, and the trap erected in the
opening. The slightest pressure on the footboard releases the weight, and
brings the heavy trunk down with a crash on the intruder. A trap of this
kind will catch anything from a squirrel to a jaguar.

A tapir is sometimes killed with a throwing javelin, which the Indians
use with much dexterity, though when they throw anything they do it
with an over-arm action, with a jerk as a girl would. Their skill with
these javelins is not surprising when one remembers that they hunt two
or three days a week from boyhood, and so are continually throwing them
at animals. The javelin is a light spear with a poisoned palm spine at
the point. A man carries seven of these in his hand, and seven more in
reserve in a bamboo case–fourteen in all. These javelins are about
six feet long, and an Indian can throw one a distance of thirty yards.
Sometimes only five are carried in the hand, but seven is the more usual
number. Though long they are very thin and light. The haft is usually
made of chonta, or similar hard straight-grained woods. A spine is always
fixed in the point, which is filed almost through so that it will break
off in the body of the wounded animal. These spines are poisoned with
animal putrefying poison. Of the heavier spears more anon.

Koch-Grünberg noted that tribes on the Tikie have well-defined and
recognised hunting and fishing rights, but that when travelling any such
rights are avoided. This is common to all Indians. They will even erect
barriers in the bush and on the rivers, and they keep strictly to their
own localities, otherwise quarrels would arise and war be the upshot.

The sporting proclivities of the tribes vary considerably. The Tukana
are fishers, but not hunters. The Boro, on the other hand, though great
hunters do not fish, at least I do not remember ever having been given
fish in a Boro house. Certainly they are not such fishermen as the Witoto
or the Okaina, who are the most skilful of all the fishing tribes.

Fish are taken with hook and line, in nets and traps, by poisoning
the water, by spearing, and by shooting with bows and arrows. For
fish-hooks these tribes have hardly anything but those that they contrive
for themselves from wood, bone, or spines, and civilised metal hooks
are greatly sought after by all of them. Napo Indians make hooks of
bone.[143] The Witoto _fakwasi_ is a fish-hook made of wood or palm
spine. A spine is fastened to a fine stick, and this is baited with
grubs, and used with a fibre line, or with a _pihekoa_, a rod and a line.
Fish are caught to some extent with bait and laid lines.

Hand nets are made of _chambiri_ palm-fibre in the same way that
hammocks are made, but with a finer mesh; larger ones are constructed
by fixing fences of wattle across the stream before the rivers rise. In
the dry season the Witoto use nets to drag the pools in the river-bed.
They also catch fish with baited nets, the bait being larvæ, or some
fruit attractive to fish, such as that of the _setico_, or the drupes
of certain laurels. In the dry season they bale out the water from the
shallower pools with gourds till the fish can be captured by hand.

Some of the fish traps are most cleverly designed. There is one known on
the Uaupes as the _matapi_, which is simply a basket open at one end,
but without sufficient space for fish of any size to turn round in.
As fish are not able to swim backwards without the room to turn they
cannot escape once in the trap. On the Napo the Indians spear fish most
expertly, but other Indians depend largely on these and similar traps for
their supply.

Fish are speared with a wooden trident or, rather, caught between its
prongs, or stabbed with a bamboo spear that has a double-edged blade.
Some of the civilised Indians of the lower Amazons have harpoons with
detachable heads that they use for hunting the manatee, or river dolphin,
but, in these upper waters, dolphins, if seen,–and that is rarely–are
speared with tridents; the Indians have no harpoons, and the only thing
that resembles a detachable head is the partly filed-through javelin. The
Menimehe shoot fish with the bow and arrow.

By far the most wholesale and general way in which fish are obtained is
through the use of poison.[144] The Indians procure this from the root
of an evergreen bush, the _babasco_,[145] which they pound very fine.
They dam the stream with a wattle fencing and then throw the mashed
_babasco_ in above this fish weir. The fish frequently jump out of the
water, gasping as though they were being strangled, and the Indians
secure those distressed fish in outspread palm leaves. Sometimes the
dead fish drop down into a net, spread beside the dam to catch them; or
the Indian fisherman will simply spear them when they are sufficiently
narcotised. Dead fish will be found floating in the vicinity many hours
afterwards. The Napo Indians put the crushed _babasco_ in a basket and
stir the water with this below the dam–so that the fish cannot escape
upstream.[146] Witoto and other Issa-Japura tribes merely throw the roots
into the stream, and the dam is made more to prevent the dead fish being
washed away than to stop the live ones escaping. The poison works almost
instantaneously on the smaller fish. The Indians on the Tapajos make use
of a poisonous liana called _timbo_.[147] Its action is similar though
not so immediate as that of the _babasco_ root, and consequently it is of
little use in quick-flowing waters. Neither _babasco_ nor _timbo_ affect
the fish injuriously for human food.

Continue Reading

Cassava-squeezer and grater

Life in Amazonia to the man is occasionally strenuous, frequently a
veritable _dolce far niente_; to the woman it is a ceaseless round of
toilsome duties, broken only by the excitement of preparation for, and
participation in, a tribal dance. The division of occupations between
the sexes is possibly uneven, but very certainly strict. In many cases
it amounts to a tabu,[90] and as a rule the reason for this division is
either apparent or confessed. It is absolutely a question of sex. To men
appertain defensive measures, all that calls for physical strength and
skill, war, the chase, the manufacture of weapons, the preparation of
certain poisons and drinks, especially those that are used ceremonially.
Men paddle the canoes, except in extreme cases, when a sufficiency of men
is not forthcoming, and women perforce must lend their aid. They cut the
wood and build the houses. They climb the trees to gather fruit, clear
the plantations, and turn the soil. Woman is the housewife, the mother,
and the cook, but she is also the agriculturalist and the maker of all
purely domestic implements. She manufactures the hammocks, the rough
pottery, and most of the baskets, although it would not be considered
derogatory on the part of the man to lend a hand if necessary.

[Illustration: PLATE XXII.


Besides this sexual differentiation various tribes have their special
manufactures in which they excel their neighbours. The Menimehe are
known as great pottery workers. The Karahone are renowned for their
poisons. The Boro specialise on mat-making, plaiting, the manufacture
of ligatures, and the preparation of blow-pipes. The Witoto hammocks
are better than those of other tribes. Trade in any organised form is
non-existent, it is true, but articles pass, as I have already described,
irregularly by personal barter and exchange of gifts to other tribes;
and in this fashion the poison of the Karahone reaches tribes unknown
to the makers, and beads made in Birmingham filter down by many and
devious routes even to these isolated wilds. Over fifty years ago Wallace
estimated that some thousands of pounds’ worth of trade goods passed
up the Uaupes yearly,[91] and this accounts for the fact that tribes
north of the Japura are better supplied than those of the south. The
best articles for barter I found were axes, knives, combs–especially
scurf-combs–and Brummagem beads. Cloth and fowling-pieces are not valued
except in the Rubber Belt; the less sophisticated Indian of the backwoods
has no manner of use for them: cloth is less ornamental than paint, and
the scatter-gun only frightens the game and lessens the kill.

Indian arts and crafts are neither numerous nor particularly complex;
indeed arts–with the exception of music and dancing–are almost unknown.
There are no rock pictures in the Issa-Japura valleys, such as those
executed by the Indians in so many other parts of the Americas, but then
there are no rocks. I have occasionally among the Andoke and the Boro
seen pictures of a rude type on the supports of the houses, and on the
four large central posts of the big _maloka_; or these may be roughly
carved. There is carving also on some of the dancing staves. But these
people have no great use for colour and line beyond the ornamentation
of their bodies, and in a lesser degree of their pottery. They make no
attempt to use drawing for informative purposes. Elsewhere Indians have
shown themselves skilful map-makers,[92] but none of these tribes could
so much as draw a rough chart of their own district. Yet this district
to them represents the whole world. They do not realise that there can
be any other people but themselves and the half-dozen tribes or so who
happen to be in their immediate vicinity, and always regarded it as a
huge joke on my part when I talked of the sea and the vast countries

[Illustration: PLATE XXIII.



One tribe of Witoto do possess a drawing on bark-cloth that is their
equivalent of a map of the world. This tribe when I visited them were
located near the source of the Karaparana, and the “map” was so very
exceptional an acquisition that it was known and talked about by far
distant tribes who had never seen either it or its possessors. In fact,
it was one of the wonders of the universe, to be bragged about to any
stranger who was ignorantly unaware of its existence. Nothing I could
offer would persuade these Witoto to part with their treasure, and
unfortunately I was unable to obtain a photograph of it. My too evident
interest aroused suspicion, and on this account I was unable to study it
clearly, as I saw it but for a moment, and that in a dark house before my
eyes were accustomed to the gloom. It was almost immediately hidden for
fear I should seize it. This map was made on beaten bark about two feet
square. The centre was divided into about a dozen squares. In each square
very crude human figures were represented fighting, planting, or hunting
in their own tribal territory. These were the “nations” of the world. The
dividing lines were of red vegetable pigment. The “nations,” so far as I
could see, were fighting amongst themselves. In the margin were the sun,
a moon, and many stars. I saw nothing to designate spirits or _Taife_.
So ancient was this map, handed down from generation to generation, that
divine origin or use was assumed. It was said to be the world in the
days when the Good Spirit appeared to man.[93]

Slight carvings, such as can be seen in the accompanying illustration,
are done at times on the teeth that they string for a necklace; and among
the Witoto I twice met with examples of figures carved in wood. The two
figures in the first instance, a nude man and woman, were life-size.
They were painted white with designs in black and red to represent the
paintings done for a dance. These figures were placed on either side of
the door jambs outside, and were the only two of the kind I ever saw or
heard of in the country. They were greatly prized by their owners, and
spoken of by neighbours as notable achievements. No one had any idea who
made them, or when they were made, and if questioned simply said they
always had been.

In the second instance the figure was a small female doll. It was in
the possession of the daughter of a chief of the Itoma Gurra tribe of
Witoto, a young girl, but who had arrived at maturity. The Indians said
the doll was for the children to play with, but such toys are extremely
scarce. This one was about eight inches high, and was made of some very
light wood, painted white, with the organs that denoted the sex marked in
red.[94] The toy was not regarded in any way as an idol, nor was there
any suggestion of magical powers attaching to it. To secure such a toy
is almost impossible, but this doll I did obtain. Unfortunately I showed
it to an Indian afterwards, who told me that his tribe made such things,
and that he could get me a pair to it. I gave him the toy, but never saw
him or the doll again. This was unusual. As a rule when an Indian says he
will do anything he keeps his word.

Smelting, or any description of metallurgy, cannot be looked for among
the inhabitants of a country so singularly devoid of all metalliferous
deposit or formation. Metal there is practically none in the aboriginal
homes of the natives, and whatever of it is received, be it but a
trousers-button, becomes at once an heirloom and a treasure. Their only
method of working metal when obtained is to heat and hammer it into
various forms and shapes for ornaments. Weapons and implements alike must
be contrived of other materials. In normal conditions man, without the
knowledge to work ore, turns to stone for substitute, but conditions in
Amazonia are, as has already been shown, abnormal. If there is no metal
neither is there any stone. It is so rare that it is looked upon as
almost sacred,[95] and implements fashioned of it are not made nowadays
by the tribes, but those in use are handed down from one generation
to another. North of the Japura, where quartz can be obtained, at
least by barter, it is used for knives, arrow-heads, spear-points, and
cassava-graters; but these Issa-Japura Indians have to content themselves
with wood and palm-spines, and have only their ancestral stone axes.[96]
These are constructed in true “prehistoric” manner; the stones have been
and are fastened to their wooden hafts with fibre lashings fixed by
vegetable pitch.[97] The Indian cannot say from whence they came, there
is no memory of their makers; they are, in fact, looked upon as veritable
gifts from the gods.

Wooden knives are constructed from such hardwood trees as the black
ironwood. These knives and stone axes will be used by Indians even more
in touch with civilisation than these tribes, possibly because the
Brummagem trade-goods knife and hatchet has been proved useless for
practical wear.

For boring purposes the Indians make an instrument like a bradawl T with
a capybara’s tooth, and a paca tooth is used for scraping. With these
simple implements the labour involved in producing such a weapon as the
blow-pipe is enormous. But these are all the tools the Indian craftsmen

Manufactures among the Issa-Japura tribes are not numerous. These Indians
have no textile fabrics; they neither spin nor weave; everything is done
by finger-work, and the local substitutes for woven goods are beaten
bark-cloth and netted or plaited palm-fibre. This, as a rule, is in its
natural colour, as very little dye is ever employed. There is no leather
working. The only use made of the skins of animals, I ever discovered,
was that some Menimehe tribes had large round shields of tapir hides,
two to five hides superimposed one on another;[98] the medicine-men make
garments of the same leather; while the medicine-pouch is often made of
the unshorn skin of the jaguar. Leather thongs are sometimes employed for
tying purposes, such as securing an axe-haft, and on the north of the
Japura to string a bow, but the ubiquitous fibre and liana are in more
general use.

Glass is unknown to the Indian, but every tribe makes its own pottery.
Earthenware pots are used by all Indians for cooking. The best are
manufactured by the Menimehe women, and are distinguished by the red and
black colouring. This is obtained by the use of certain juices extracted
from the bark of a tree. These handsome, well-finished pots are a great
article of barter, and are exchanged for other products of friendly
tribes. Thus they are to be found at far distances from where they are
made on the northern bank of the Japura. It amounts to a trade, distinct
if unorganised.

Pottery-making is the sole province of the women in any tribe,
earthenware appertaining to the culinary department which is their
special sphere. The pots, entirely made and shaped by hand, when finished
are beautifully symmetrical, though the Indian potters possess nothing
approximating to a wheel.[99] Squatting on the ground the women work
and mould the clay, and rub it between their hands into long cylinders
very much like plug tobacco. These are coiled round and round and kneaded
into a previously constructed shape; or the women will prepare a circular
hole in the ground and mould the clay into that. The plastic coils are
then worked round with any hard thing that is handy–a bone or a piece of
wood. When the vessel is built up to the size intended it is carefully
rubbed before it is set out to dry in the sun. Finally, hot ashes are
heaped over the pots, which are baked slowly and polished afterwards.

The clay used is commonly to be found on the river-banks, and with
it the Indians mix wood ashes, either to stiffen it or, as Crevaux
suggests,[100] to render the finished article more porous, so that its
contents are kept cool by evaporation. This pottery is known as caraipé
ware, from the fact that the ashes of the caraipé bark are preferred for
its manufacture.[101] In some districts vessels of even a very large size
are made of it,[102] but I never saw any big pots either imported or made
locally in the Issa-Japura valleys. The large vessels used for making
kawana by these tribes consist merely of huge strips of the inner bark of
the tree, riveted together with thorns or spines, and set upright on a
hard earthen surface; or else a section of a great tree trunk is hollowed
out to make a trough. Large flat plates to bake the cassava cakes on are
made of earthenware, but very often only wooden platters are used.

[Illustration: PLATE XXIV.


(_a_) LOOP AT END]

Women are not the tribal potters alone; they are also the chief
basket-makers, though on occasions the men will make baskets. Both
Karahone and Boro Indians excel in basket-making, though all tribes are
skilful enough at it. If you give an Indian anything to carry he never
dreams of holding it in his hands if it will allow of other carriage.
He either winds a strip of bark-fibre round his head to make a sling in
which to place it, or, if it were anything that did not admit of easy
adjustment–as, for instance, fruit–he gathers some green palm leaves,
and in about five minutes has plaited them, on a foundation of two
rods, into a long and deep square basket, which is thrown away at the
end of the march. Such quickly made baskets are continually in use, but
the tribes also construct more elaborate ones that can be utilised for
more than immediate purposes. In every _maloka_ may be seen baskets of
plaited bark-fibre and of plaited cane,[103] usually white, but sometimes
with an interwoven and regular pattern in black cane. The Resigero make
bottle-shaped baskets as receptacles for edible ants. A large basket is
carried on the back, slung from the forehead with the customary band of

Quite as important as the pottery is the manufacture of hammocks.[104]
This again is done by the women of the tribes. It is woman’s, that is
to say light, work. All these tribes make them on the same principle
and in the same way, the only difference in the hammocks of different
tribes is the spacing of the cross-threads. This, according to Hamilton
Rice, is a tribal distinction, each group of tribes having an individual
spacing.[105] The material used is curana string or palm-fibre. To
prepare this the women take the pinnate leaflets of the Chambiri
palm[106] and fold over each strip at its broadest part. They grip it
tightly and shred it down with the thumb and forefinger. The fibre thus
procured is then twisted into a cord by rolling it tightly and hard
against the naked thigh.

To make a hammock a woman takes a length of this fibre string and turns
it round, backwards and forwards between two posts set in the earthen
floor of the _maloka_. Cross strings of the same material are then tied
at the regulation intervals and knotted across, from string to string, to
the opposite side. No implement of any kind is used; the two posts are
the only framework, and the whole construction is carried out entirely by
the women’s fingers without any artificial aid.

The cassava-squeezer, that essential complement to an Indian household,
is another plaited or basket-work article. The squeezer, which is common
to the Boro and all the tribes north or south, except the Witoto, the
Muenane, and the Nonuya, consists of a long cylinder with a loop at
both ends. One is attached to a rafter, and the other to a stout stick,
on which a woman sits, and thereby pulls upon the cylinder. The manioc
is inserted through the open end before the weight is applied, and the
elastic structure widens out to permit the soaked and grated roots to be
packed in, till it resembles nothing so much as a well-filled Christmas
stocking; but when pressure is brought to bear on the lower end the
cylinder gradually elongates, and thereby contracts, crushing the roots
to a pulp, from which the poisonous juice drains away.

The material used to make these squeezers appears to be a species of
cane, but is said to be the bark of a palm tree.[107] It is cut into
narrow strips and closely plaited into an elastic bottle some seven to
ten feet long, and not more than about six inches wide when open. Instead
of this cylinder the Witoto use a long web, a rectangular strip about ten
inches wide of plaited bark-fibre, about an inch wide. This they wind
round the grated manioc after the manner that putties are adjusted on
the leg. The tighter they twist the pliable web the greater the pressure
upon the crushed roots, and the juice is thus wrung out of them.

The grater that is used to scrape the manioc roots, before they are
placed in the squeezer, is a wooden implement made by the Indian women
themselves.[108] It is a flat oval. The one in the illustration measures
16½ inches by 5¾ inches. The wood is of a bamboo type set with short
black palm-spines about an eighth of an inch apart, thicker at one
end than the other, but arranged in no regular pattern. These spines
are fixed into the wood and project about an eighth of an inch above
it. Those in which quartz stones are inserted instead of spines are a
valuable commercial commodity north of the Japura.

[Illustration: PLATE XXV.


Note Coca pestle and mortar.


I never saw manioc crushed, as Robuchon described, with a pestle and
mortar; but these articles are in frequent use, especially for the
preparation of coca and tobacco, so they are items of importance in an
Indian inventory. A mortar is easily improvised from the hollowed trunk
of a tree, and such a small mortar, with a long heavy pounder, is shown
on the right of the photograph of a group of Okaina Indians. It is being
used to pound coca (Plate XXV.). The pestles are made of some heavy wood,
such as red wood or mahogany, and the lower trunk of the peach palm,[109]
or a block of ironwood makes a very solid mortar. The peach-palm trunk
is hollow, that is to say, it has a very hard shell filled with soft
pith that can be scraped out with little difficulty.[110] Some of these
mortars are of great size. Spruce gives the measurements as five to six
feet high, but none I saw were more than four feet.

Not only are mortars and troughs made from the tree trunks, but bark is
cut into long strips to make smaller vessels, shallow concave trays not
unlike the Arunta hardwood _pitchi_.[111] The method is ingenious by
which the bark is stripped from the trunk, or the tree is felled, for
the principle in each case is the same. Round the trunk of the selected
tree a number of small holes are made, or, if only a portion is to be
removed, the trunk is notched at the required distances. The edge of the
stone axe is inserted in the notch, and the slip of wood is levered up
with it until it splits away at the lower notch; or, if the tree is to be
felled, the holes are widened into grooves that are deepened round the
trunk till it gives way–a somewhat slow process, but a sure one.

In this fashion the Indians cut down the trees from which their boats are
to be made. A tree is felled, preferably a cedar,[112] and the trunk is
hollowed out for the length required, which varies, but may be as much
as 20 feet, though the breadth will not exceed 18 inches. To hollow the
trunk the Indians bore holes in the wood in order to secure the proper
thickness, and then slit off pieces with their stone axes. These are
kindled into a fire to which logs of wood are added. This burns out
the required cavity, and when the trunk is very hot the burning embers
are scraped away and the burnt trunk is forced apart, which is done by
gradually inserting longer logs that are hammered into place. This is
a job that needs to be done deftly and quickly, or the cooling wood
will soon either contract too much or break at the strain. The heat
also causes the ends to curve upwards, so that the bow and the stern of
the boat will rise higher than the centre. Such a “dug-out” is a heavy
concern, often with a specific gravity greater than that of water.

These boats belong to the community, and are not many in number. They are
never left on the bank, nor are they kept in the _maloka_, but are hidden
in the bush near the river-banks. The paddles, however, are kept in the
house, stored overhead on the rafters.

All the tribes of the Issa and Japura valleys make these rather clumsy
craft, but it is possible that the original idea is not indigenous, and
that the autochthonic boat is the temporary canoe made from the hollowed
trunk of the bulge-stemmed palm.[113] These canoes can be fashioned in
an hour or two. The soft pulp is removed easily with a knife, or even
may be crushed up with the fingers, but the bark is very hard, and the
bulging portion of the trunk is shaped already for the craft. The ends
are stiffened with clay, and the improvised canoe is ready for use, and
is quite sufficient for casual purposes–to cross a river when too deep
to ford or too wide to bridge,–and being of no permanent value it may be
left to drift away down-stream when used.[114]

Spruce mentions tribes who cannot make canoes, and have to construct
rafts to cross any main river;[115] but rafts are not used on the Issa
or Japura streams except by the rubber-workers. They make them of trunks
of light wood lashed with liana or withes, with a rail at the side, but
such a construction is unknown to those Indians who have not met with
the “civilized” invaders from the Rubber Belts. The Catanixi, so Wallace
states, make canoes of the bark of trees stripped off in one sheet,[116]
but I never saw anything approaching the “birch-bark” canoe, though
some of the “civilized” Indians use a _montaria_, a built boat that is
certainly not indigenous.

The canoes are propelled with paddles from four to five feet long, cut
from the solid block of wood, elongated in the blade, not rounded, as is
universal on the main Amazon river. They may be decorated with roughly
painted designs. Indians always paddle in unison, sometimes on alternate
sides, sometimes three together on one side and three on the other. They
face the way they are going, as one would in a “Canadian” or “Rob Roy,”
and the man in the bow steers. When two men paddle a large canoe both
will sit forward and paddle from the bow.

Continue Reading

Dress and ornament

Judged by some of the pictures in books purporting to give accounts
of the South American Indians, the photograph adjoining (Plate VIII.)
would represent an Indian chieftain decked in his best to welcome the
newly-arrived traveller, instead of what it is–merely a group of my
escort and carriers tricked out in the rag, tag, and bobtail array they
deemed due to my dignity and their own. Far different is the actual scene
when the Indian homestead is approached and one meets these sons of the
forest–be they Boro, Witoto, or others–in their native haunts and
natural garb, unaffected by “civilised” influences. From the shadow of
the interior will stalk the chief, accompanied by his escort of warriors,
all naked, but for a strip of bark-cloth about the loins. Round the neck
of the chief is a necklace of jaguar teeth, in his hand a broadsword of
iron-wood; the men with him are destitute of feathers or ornaments, but
each holds poised in his left hand a bunch of throwing javelins.

It is regrettable that returning explorers[61] have deemed it a necessary
concession to unscientific prejudice to illustrate the natives of the
Amazons in clothing or drapery that is wholly foreign to their custom and
to their thought. The hypocrisy was more common before the uncompromising
days of photography, but the effect of the old woodcuts and engravings is
to give an entirely wrong impression of the appearance of the Indian in
his own haunts. Even so accurate an observer as Crevaux discounts much of
the value of his illustration by clothing his figures in a manner that
could only be possible within the Rubber Belt, or in the case of his
personal servants. Since the introduction of photography, non-existent
clothing has ceased to appear in pictures of the Amazonian tribes, but
still much misconstruction has been occasioned by grouping sets of
natives in such a fashion as to make it appear that they are ashamed of
their nakedness. As a fact, they are totally unaware of it. Therefore
it cannot be too strongly emphasised that the Indians of these tropical
regions are no more alive to any idea of indecency in their lack of
apparel than are the people of England conscious of immodesty in their
conventional attire at a Lord Mayor’s banquet or a function of the Court.
It is as impossible to comprehend the true psychology of the Amazonian
from the pedestal of the prude as from the pulpit of the priest.
Difficult as it may be for either to understand, it is none the less true
that to some peoples dress appears to be more indelicate than nudity.[62]
He who would see truly must divest the mind of inherited and instilled
prejudices in favour of much that to the natives has no meaning or reason
for existence. Moreover, he might do well to remember that clothes are
not always worn from motives of decency. Then he will understand that the
naked Indian in his forest is no more unchaste than is the statue of a
Greek god in the galleries of the British Museum.

[Illustration: PLATE IX.


It may be laid down as a generalisation for the regions under
investigation that the women are wholly destitute of clothing, and the
men wear little or nothing but what the Witoto call a _moh-hen_, that is,
a strip of beaten bark-cloth carried from front to rear between the legs
and tucked in at either end over a string or strap of bark-cloth bound
about the waist. As the temperature varies hardly at all with the season
of the year, there is no periodical deviation from this rule. Farther
south the tribes make blankets, but here, though they were interested in
mine, they have nothing of that description, and the native sleeps at
night without covering, exactly as he, or she, walks abroad throughout
the day.

There is practically no scope for originality, no choice of costume.
Even the chief is undistinguished from his tribesmen by the character
of his attire, although as a rule he wears a necklace of tiger teeth,
which is the outward evidence of his rank. His wife does not wear
any special ornaments, but of necessity she possesses the greater
number. The only member of the tribe who varies from his fellows is
the medicine-man, and he will adopt any idea that appeals to him as an
addition to the eccentricity of his appearance. One Andoke medicine-man,
whom I photographed, was wearing a turban of bark-cloth dyed a brilliant
scarlet; but his taste in this particular was purely individual, and
denoted neither professional nor tribal distinction. The large bag shown
in the adjoining illustration should be noted, for it was greatly admired
by the tribe. It appeared to be made in the same way as the ligatures,
with threads of red and undyed palm-fibre. It was not manufactured by the
Andoke, but had been obtained by barter; however, it was of indigenous
make, and probably came from the north of the Japura. Among the Orahone
the medicine-men fashion for themselves vestments of tapir hide, the only
instance in these parts of skins being utilised for clothing that came to
my knowledge.

The Amazonian boy is first provided with a breech-cloth when he is five
years old. His earliest lesson is in its manufacture, for every Indian
fashions his own clothing, is his own tailor and cloth manufacturer. He
goes to the bush and selects a tree,[63] on which he marks a space 6 feet
long by 9 inches in width, and strips from it both the outer and inner
barks. He separates the two layers, cuts the strip of inner bark in two,
and carries the pieces to the river, where the material is thoroughly
soaked. Afterwards this is beaten with a small wooden mallet until it
forms a yard length of bark-cloth 9 inches in width. Nothing further is
needed, for this makes the breech-cloth, and it is sufficient to pass
between the legs and tuck securely over the waist-band in front and
behind. There is no variation from the type or method of manufacture,[64]
and this simplest form of clothing is common to all tribes inhabiting the
wide stretch of country between the rivers Issa and Japura.

The breech-cloth is never discarded by the male Indian, nor, in the sight
of man or woman, would he ever remove it. When bathing he wades into a
sufficient depth before he interferes with its adjustment. Even when a
man dies his breech-cloth is buried with him.

[Illustration: PLATE X.


South and west of the Issa, in the country of the Orahone, the men
wear, like other Napo tribes, long shirts of bark-fibre, on which are
traced circular designs painted in red, while north of the Japura the
Karahone wear stiff stays of bark, like strait-waistcoats, above their
breech-cloths. These garments are tightly plaited on to the body, and end
in a plaited fringe. They must be cut off to permit of removal. The same
uncomfortable costume extends northward from the Karahone country into
that of the Umaua and the tribes of the Apaporis district.

The Menimehe who, it will be remembered, occupy the left bank of the
Japura to the south and east of the Karahone, wear a loin-cloth with an
apron, which extends to the knees, of loose palm-fibre suspended over
it. This apron is 18 inches long and 6 inches in width, and is taken
off in the house. It is worn ceremonially, and always donned for war
and for dances. The men of the Opaina, who succeed the Menimehe on the
east between the Miriti and Apaporis Rivers, wear aprons after the same
fashion as their neighbours. The women wear nothing.

The Makuna, who dwell to the north of the Kuretu on the other side of
the Apaporis, affect a small belt of beaten bark, from which depends in
front a long apron of bast. The Kuretu group, who inhabit both sides of
the Japura to the east of the Menimehe, improve upon the habit of their
neighbours. Over the loin-cloth the men wear a bast kilt, or petticoat,
which dangles as low as the ankles. When walking, this garment is tucked
up between the legs, something after the manner of a Malay sarang. The
loin-cloth is retained below.

All the tribes on the right or south bank of the Japura follow the
fashion of the Boro; the men wear only breech-cloths, the women go
absolutely naked.

Thus it will be observed that the fashion of dress falls into a definite
geographical progression,[65] and there is no sudden change in passing
from one neighbouring tribe to another, although the tribal distinctions
are very marked.

The natives wear no head-covering as a protection. In a heavy rain an
Indian on the trail will tear down a palm-leaf and carry it over his head
as we should an umbrella, and he will adopt the same rough-and-ready
though effective means to shield himself from the sun.

No gloves are worn nor coverings for the feet. Boots of any sort, in
fact, would be impossible wear; even Europeans dispense with them.
Still, it is not possible for the white man to go through the forest
bare-footed. Personally, I used carpet slippers, which were washed every
evening after the day’s trek, and dried during the night.[66]

If for ordinary everyday life the attire of the Indian is of the
slightest, on the occasion of a festival or a dance the most elaborate
sartorial preparations have to be made. Wallace has enumerated no less
than “twenty distinct articles forming the feather head-dress,” which is
worn by the Menimehe and the Nonuya, as well as by the Uaupes Indians
of whom he wrote.[67] Then there are the feather armlets–ruffles of
bright-tinted plumage worn on the arm,[68]–wooden combs decorated
with tufts of feathers, and curassow down for the women, anklets and
strings of rattles hung round the legs, aprons of painted bark or belts
of beads, earrings, and necklaces, and, supreme vanity, there are the
elaborately-painted designs on the skin that are to the Indian belle what
the latest Paris “creation” is to her civilised sister.

According to Sir Everard im Thurn every tribe makes its own feather
head-dress after a special colour scheme.[69] I did not find this to be
the case with the Issa-Japura tribes. Instead of making them according
to rule, rather do they make them according to luck. Whatever they can
get in the way of gay plumage, feathers of the parrot, the macaw, or the
toucan, especially the macaw, because its feathers are the longest, be
the colour what it may, is employed indiscriminately. The effects are
very brilliant, but there is nothing made in these districts of such
elaborate description as the gorgeous feather-cloaks manufactured by the
Napo Indians, which are veritable works of art. The Issa-Japura tribes
content themselves with a coronet of the gayest breast-feathers, plumed
with tufts of the long feathers from the tail, all tied together with
fibre thread.[70] The Boro men on festive occasions also stick these long
macaw feathers into their arm-ligatures. The chief’s head-dress is more
lavish than those of his warriors. The only boy I ever saw wearing one
was the young son of a chief. Women do not wear the feather head-dress,
but they attach the white down of the curassow duck by means of some
resinous substance–such as rubber latex, or the milky secretion of
the cow-tree–for decorative purposes round their legs, between the
ligatures. The result of this is to make the calves look enormous. The
men do not decorate with down. The Indians are invariably most careful
of their feather ornaments. At the end of a dance an old man, so
Koch-Grünberg noted, will come round and knock the dust off the feathers
with a long cane. I have myself observed Indians, when overheated by
their violent exertions at a dance, take off their feather ornaments to
preserve them from sweat. They will never part with them, as they are
communal, not personal, possessions, and I found they objected extremely
to any attempt I made to photograph them when wearing their dancing

[Illustration: PLATE XI.


The outer one is made on dark fibre, the inner on cotton yarn, which
would appear to have been obtained extra-tribally.]

Combs for festive occasions are made of palm wood, with spines of the
Bacába palm[71] for teeth, fixed in with pitch, and are ornamented
with feathers. These tribes do not bind up their hair with _coroá_
string as do some of the Uaupes Indians.[72] As may be judged from the
illustrations, hair-dressing fashions are not very varied. They range for
the men from quite short, as among the Muenane, to the long hair fancied
by some of the Boro. The majority wear their hair slightly shorter
than the women’s, as a rule divided down the middle, but occasionally
cut straight across the forehead in a shock fringe, reminiscent of the
coster’s. The only variation among the women is a band, a strip of beaten
bark-cloth, occasionally seen among the Resigero (see Plate XII.).[73]
The Makuna wear their hair in pigtails. The Karahone women keep their
hair cropped short. In the Boro comb of the illustration the black spines
are set between two pieces of cane, bound over with fibre, and finished
with basket-work of narrow cane strips, light and dark, plaited into a
regular pattern. The spines are 3¼ inches long, and project to within a
quarter of an inch of the ends for about 1⅜ inch on either side of the
basket-work back. This is 3¾ inches long and about half an inch thick.
The spines are neatly pointed at either end, and the whole resembles
very nearly–but for the uncommon effect of the basket-work–a European
comb of rather large and coarse make.

The Andoke comb is also made with two pieces of cane, slightly decorated
with chevron incisions. It is a quarter of an inch shorter than the Boro
comb, and has spines on one side only. These are set in pitchy matter
between the cane, and project seven-eighths of an inch. From the hardened
centre at one end depends a short tuft of fibre string, to which feathers
may be attached, and a longer string from the other end is fastened to
half a nutshell cut as a cup, very similar to the tobacco pot, and made
from the same kind of nut. This is 2⅛ inches long by 1⅛ deep in the
centre, and 1½ across. It is black and highly polished. This small cup is
used to hold the latex employed for depilatory purposes.

[Illustration: FIG. 7.]

The Witoto comb is of much rougher construction, with a thicker back. As
with the Boro, the spines are set right through, but instead of a section
of cane, two sticks, round bits of bamboo or reed are employed, and the
whole coated with pitch and tied with fibre string. The length of the
spines is a quarter of an inch longer than in the Boro comb, but owing to
the more clumsy back they project a quarter of an inch less.

[Illustration: PLATE XII.


[Illustration: PLATE XIII.


Inset.–Chief’s son wearing feather head-dress]

Having laid down the rough generalisation that all the women of these
tribes wear nothing, one has to begin the list of various exceptions
that go to prove this rule. It is true that they are nude to the extent
of wearing no garment of any description, but though naked they do not
appear to be so; and it is a qualified nakedness after all, qualified
with a variety of ornament, and, above all, of paint.

The Indian woman’s ideas on the subject of clothing are well illustrated
by the behaviour of those women who were of my own party. I gave them
djibbehs, but, unless I happened to be present and they feared my
anger, they never would wear them. For this attitude they advanced five
excellent reasons. If the sun shone the bright light would damage the
garment by causing the colour to fade.[74] If it rained the djibbeh would
get wet. If they were out in the bush the thorns caught and tore the
material. If they were dancing the useless encumbrance of a dress would
hide all their carefully-executed adornments of paint. If they were in
the house a covering of any sort would be merely ridiculous. There were
obviously, then, few or no opportunities left to wear their new, but
cumbersome and useless, finery. Not that the Indian man or woman has no
desire for finery, quite the contrary, their ornaments are more important
than their dress, in fact their ornaments are their dress.

The women of the Issa-Japura tribes wear a broad girdle for a dance.[75]
It is worn on no other occasions, and removed immediately the dance is at
an end. These dancing girdles are made by the women of seeds or Brummagem
beads if such can be had. These are strung in about two-foot lengths,
and so arranged that when two or three dozen strings are fastened into
a broad flat band the varying colours make a bold and definite design.
Like all these Indian ornaments, they evince a fine artistic sense of
colouring and pattern. Beads are passed inwards from the Rubber Belt
from tribe to tribe. On account of the isolation of these peoples, they
cannot aspire to have fashions direct from Birmingham, and novel patterns
hardly seem to occur to them. Designs must be symmetrical, and they are
quite content to copy the old-established ones. The colours vary, but
dark beads are the most sought after, dark blue being more favoured than
red. Black and white ones are the most prized, but red and white is the
combination usually seen. Any woman may possess a girdle, and it is
an individual, not a tribal, possession, the reverse of the custom as
regards the men’s feather head-dresses. These girdles are exceedingly
handsome and wonderfully well constructed.

Beads are especially treasured by the Karahone women, and they will wear
chain upon chain, amounting in the aggregate to a considerable weight.
The number worn by a Boro woman may be judged from the illustration (p.
154), where the white appendage round the woman’s neck is made simply by
stringing a few pounds of white beads together. Both men and women wear
necklaces. Besides those made only of beads, they are made of tiger–that
is to say jaguar–teeth, and pig, tapir, marmoset, and cat provide
ivories that may be strung on _curána_ thread, besides the necklace of
accomplished vengeance, the string of human teeth. With the exception of
the latter, the teeth are bored through the fang, and threaded at regular
intervals, interspersed with beads, bone, or Brummagem, tiny discs of
bone or shell, or brightly-coloured seeds. The pendants on the necklaces
seen in the illustrations are mostly coins, depreciated Chilian dollars
as a rule.[76] Those shown in the various photographs were either given
to the wearers by me or had filtered through from the Rubber Belt; a few
may have reached these primitive folk through the medium of intertribal
barter. In any case, they are always most rare and cherished possessions.
The pendants generally worn are thin, flat, triangular pieces of beaten
metal, obtained either from coins or old brass cartridge cases. The
rarity of metal in these parts is marked by the small quantity allowed
for any one ornament, which is invariably of extreme thinness, and hardly
more than a featherweight. They are not grooved, incised, or beaten into
any design, but have merely a smoothed surface. The edge is rounded, not
sharp. They are hung by a small beaded fibre string to the necklet or
more generally to the ear-plug.

[Illustration: PLATE XIV.


[Illustration: PLATE XV.



The necklaces are matters of importance, for they disclose the status
of the wearers. The skill of a warrior as a hunter, his bravery in war,
is proved by the character of the teeth that circle his neck: the more
successful the hunter the finer the teeth he wears, the more numerous
the adornments of his family. Most to be envied in Indian opinion is a
string of human teeth, in that it is the witness of revenge; the teeth
are from the head of an enemy, for a man wears only the teeth of foes or
game that he himself has killed, and at his death they will be buried
with him, unless he fall at the hands of a foe, and his string of teeth
go to swell the spoils of the victor. Human teeth are never bored, they
are carefully bound into the necklace with fine fibre string. The very
insignificance of the small, worn, discoloured teeth is in itself a
sinister characteristic, presupposes an object other than ornamental,
adds a horrible touch to the bizarre effect of all this barbaric bravery.

Necklaces of human teeth are frequently finished, if the teeth are not
sufficient in number for the required length, with rounded bits of bone.
Other teeth are spaced out with discs, some made of bone, others of shell
obtained from river mussels, or even with knots in the fibre thread.
The Boro necklace of human teeth in the accompanying illustration is
made on cotton twist, an imported article very seldom found among these
tribes,[77] though one of the Okaina beaded garlands figured on Plate
XIV. is also made on cotton string, not palm-fibre as is customary. The
handsome jaguar tooth necklace loses some of its artistic values in a
black-and-white reproduction, which inevitably cannot do justice to the
creamy ivory, shading to rich browns, of the teeth, making effective
show against the red and blue of the beads, the dull colourlessness of
the pieces of bone. Some of the teeth have a very primitive criss-cross
grooving scratched on the fang end, others have a more elaborate attempt
at a carved design. Each design differs, but the same idea of involuted
curves is traceable in all.

In cases where Indians are too poor or too isolated to secure a
sufficient supply of the Brummagem article, chains are still made of the
bright red and black seeds of a bush plant, as they were before beads
were obtainable; or bits of bone are employed, short lengths of cane or
reed, or even red berries, gay enough when fresh, but dull and crinkled
when they wither and fade. Beetles also are utilised for ornament, and
the fondness of the Indian for black is shown in his rejection of such
beetles as the gaudy-coloured Longicornes and his preference for the
shiny breastplate of a fat squat beetle in black armour.[78] These strung
on fibre string look like irregularly carved jet beads, but are far
lighter, and make a soft and hollow rattle when shaken.

Besides these chains and necklaces the natives are very partial to a
tight-fitting necklet of white beads bordering either side of a row of
small, flat, diamond-shaped pieces of black wood, or the black shell of
a nut, or gourd. These necklets vary a trifle in width: some have the
diamond almost squared, they may have one, two, or three white beads
between the black points, but there is no greater divergence than this
from the stereotyped pattern. The polished bits of wood, like the beetle
cases, resemble jet; and the sharp distinction of black and white sets
off the native beauty, as a band of black velvet is supposed to put the
finishing touch to her fairer sisters.

[Illustration: PLATE XVI.


[Illustration: PLATE XVII.


A favourite ornament among the Boro and Witoto, and also with some of
the Napo tribes, is a bracelet of iguana skin. To make these, a circular
piece is cut off the creature’s tail, the ring of skin, varying in width
from half to three inches wide, is removed and drawn over the hand when
fresh and damp. This band dries tightly to the skin of the arm, and will
remain there in spite of frequent washings for years. These lizard-skin
bracelets can hardly be seen in any of the photographs reproduced in
these pages. They are supposed to have certain magical properties, and to
endow the wearer with special strength and vigour. For the same purpose
children wear a black ring cut from a nut. The diameter of the ring–1½
inch outside and quite a quarter of an inch less within–does not permit
it to be worn when the child grows up; the arm always swells round it,
and obviously it must eventually be cut off, but I cannot speak with any
certainty as to how or when this is done. The women’s bracelets are made
of beads when they can be obtained, or of gay-coloured seeds. Those worn
by the Resigero woman in the illustration by page 80 are made of threaded
seeds, or of beads, wound round and round the forearm with a turn or two
of white beads at either end. The central beads are usually dark red.

Rattles and feather ornaments are festooned on the legs for a dance,
but only the women wear the tight ligatures that swell out the calf.
Both men and women among all these tribes wear ligatures, the men on the
upper arm, just below the shoulder, the women on the leg, below the knee
and again above the ankle. These ligatures are worn extremely tight,
and result not in atrophy of the limb, as might be expected,[79] but
in an enormous swelling of the muscles above or below them. The ankle
ligatures sometimes reach half-way up the leg. They all vary greatly
in breadth, but this I consider to be a matter of personal taste–or
possibly personal skill–and not a tribal fashion or distinction, except
in so far as that the Witoto knee ligatures are narrower than those of
other tribes, and are never so well made. But this confirms the idea
of personal skill deciding the pattern, for all Witoto work is cruder
than Boro or Okaina. Even the roughest of these ligatures, however, is
a marvellously neat piece of workmanship, the more surprising when one
discovers that only the fingers are used in its manufacture. A ligature
band is made of a very fine fibre thread, and on the reverse side has the
appearance of a knitted or crochetted fabric; on the right side it looks
rather like a woven tapestry ribbon, with a slightly raised pattern.
But so far as I could ever see no implement of any kind is employed
in the making of these bands.[80] The fibre string is interworked
and knotted with extraordinarily skilled finger-work only. Sometimes
the band is decorated by a pattern of coloured lines, diagonals, and
diamonds slightly raised. In nearly every one that I saw closely enough
to examine the edge was corded, and the end finished with a kind of
buttonhole looping. The ligatures shown in the illustration are Witoto
and Boro-made ones.[81] The ends are finished with a line of open-work
stitches and a buttonholed or twisted edge. Through the open spaces
twisted fibre cords are run, and these pull the band together exactly on
the principle of a lady’s silk purse. They are tied in two knots. A tuft
of cords, or occasionally a bone or wooden disc, finishes off the man’s
ligature, which is knotted in front. The women lace their ligatures on,
and fasten them very securely. I had to cut those shown in Plate XIV. to
get them off the wearer’s legs. The Yahabana and other Kuretu-speaking
tribes wear their armlets very tight, and the skin underneath is lighter
in shade than it is on the exposed portion of the limb, according to
Koch-Grünberg. This lighter skin will blister in the sun if unprotected.

The leg rattles are made of polished nutshells, and garters with beaded
tassels and nutshells are fastened below the knee. The nutshells vary
in size and shape, though all are approximately bell-like when cut and
strung, with or without beads, on fibre thread. They give a tinkling
sound if shaken, and for this reason, as they play a distinct part in the
native dances, they are dealt with in a later chapter among the musical
instruments. In addition to these rattles strings of feather-tufted
reeds or bits of bone are also worn. The reeds, cane, or bones, are about
three inches long, with a small bunch of feathers secured to one end by
means of pitch. The other end is pierced, fibre thread strung through,
and the intervals between the reeds are kept by means of knots.

Similar little bits of cane are worn in the ears, which are bored by all
these tribes at the age of puberty. These ear ornaments are frequently
decorated at one end with a tuft of gay feathers. These are very neatly
arranged in some cases; a ring of fine blue feathers may surround a red
tip. They are fixed to the cane with latex or pitch. Orahone, which
simply means Big Ears,[82] is a name given nowadays to many distinctly
different tribes who follow the fashion of the Indians on the Uaupes and
the Napo and insert large wooden plugs into the lobes of their ears. The
Orahone and some Issa-Japura tribes–especially among the Boro-speaking
group–use a disc of cabbage wood. The Orahone smear this with a red
vegetable colouring matter, the Boro fix an ornamented shell into the

These wooden plugs are extremely light, about two and five-eighth inches
long, and three inches across at the widest point, that is the front
rim. This end is hollowed like a shallow egg-cup, and the shell set in
it is decorated with a fine pattern done in black-and-white. In one
earring in my possession the shell, so far as I can judge, is a portion
of some hard, dark nutshell. The pattern is grooved, or scratched on the
shell, and filled in with a fine white clay. This gives the effect of
an elaborate black-and-white inlay. The shell is secured in the hollow
with pitch. The back part of the plug that fits behind the ear is not
decorated in any manner.

Very effective earrings are made with round discs of a pearl-coated
river-shell fastened to a short piece of bamboo with pitch. The
mother-of-pearl is of a deep blue colour, and of a good quality. In shape
these earrings are not unlike certain kinds of toadstool with a thin stem
and an inverted cone head.

With the Boro and other Indians near the Japura the lip also is
perforated for the insertion of an ornament, except among the Witoto, who
do not use the labret. This, as a rule, is made of metal, if it is in
any way possible to secure some. Silver is occasionally seen, and brass
is obtained from old cartridge cases, that are beaten flat and rubbed to

Nose-pins are another fashionable adornment of the forest Indians. The
Makuna wear a long black pin, a palm-spine, through the cartilage of
the nose. The Yakuna also wear a long pin, and the Muenane and Witoto
women wear nasal ornaments. The nose-pins of the Kuretu-speaking tribes,
Yahabana and others, must be somewhat of an obstruction to the wearer,
owing to their exaggerated length, 30 centimetres. In the central Igara
Parana district the Boro, especially the women, insert feathers into
small holes made in the wing of the nose. Boring the algæ is peculiar
to the Boro-speaking group of tribes, and to the Resigero. The women
bore holes in the top of the nostril, into which they insert bits of
quill to keep them open till such times as a dance is held, when the
quills are removed and small ornaments with feathers are put in their
place. No other tribes have this fashion. The Saka, who are of the same
language-group as the Karahone, wear the bones of birds instead of a palm
nose-pin through the septum. Robuchon confirms my observation that the
septum of the nose only is perforated by the Witoto in the upper Igara
Parana districts, and that a goose feather is then worn. He also mentions
the use of the labret, and the elongation of the lobe of the ear. There
are many varieties of ear ornaments, but most of them are big and enlarge
the lobes.

[Illustration: PLATE XX.


Note contrast of texture]

Among the Tuyuka the boys at the age of puberty burn scars on their arms,
but I have never seen scarification among the Issa-Japura tribes;[83]
nor is there much tattooing. The Menimehe, both men and women, tattoo
the face and breast. The designs show little artistic skill, and are all
done in straight lines. The patterns on the cheeks are simply tribal
marks.[84] The breast patterns vary. On the arms of these people I have
seen rough representations of a lizard tattooed as here illustrated. The
incision is done with the spine of a palm, and the black residue from
burnt rubber is rubbed into the puncture. This results in a blue mark.
None of these tribes have such a practice as that described by Crevaux
of making chevron marks on a woman’s thighs to record the number of her
male children.[85] I know nothing of this or any similar custom, but some
of the Boro living on the north of the Japura have borrowed the idea of
tattooing from the Menimehe, and wear–both men and women–a tribal mark
below the cheek-bone, and sometimes a pattern on the breast. These are
the only two groups of tribes among whom I ever saw any people tattooed.

[Illustration: FIG. 8.]

But, if very few tattoo, all paint. The Karahone women are as fond of
paint as they are of beads, and use more colours than other tribes. Their
particular colour is purple. As a rule the colours are red, yellow,
black–a bluish black–and white. The latter is secured from certain
fruits. A bright red, the commonest paint of all, is made from a prickly
burr, or nut, that is full of seeds and red matter.[86] Black paint is
obtained by using charcoal, or the juice of a fruit,[87] and a species of
_Cissus_ has a fruit from which the Indians get their blue paints. Ochre
gives them yellow, but the source of the purple paint I was unable to

Red is a favourite colour with all the tribes, and many women daub
their whole faces over with scarlet. This will quite content them, and
no further attempt at a design will be made. A blue-black is also very
often seen smeared on in the same fashion, the juicy stain apparently
being merely squeezed over the skin. Robuchon mentions a custom among
some Witoto tribes of covering the body with latex and then sprinkling
it with black ashes. Hardenburg also mentions the use of a resinous
matter which is daubed on by the Witoto.[88] The reason for the former
Robuchon declared he could not divine. It was one of the secrets of the
dressing-table of the Kinene girls that he was not prepared to fathom.
Sometimes black ashes are so used, and at other times yellow clay. The
secret is not so profound as the French traveller seems to have imagined.
It is evidently done for protective purposes, as babies in arms are
invariably treated in this fashion, women but seldom. Occasionally a
black juice is smeared over the face and neck, under the jawbones. This I
never thought was meant to be decorative paint, but always concluded it
was some manner of skin tonic.

Among the Orahone, and also some of the Issa and Japura Indians, the
women cover their teeth and their finger-nails with a black pigment.

The paint is never allowed to work off entirely; fresh designs are
superimposed before the original has quite disappeared. The women always
paint themselves for a dance, and dances are so frequent that before
the coat of paint is worn away another festivity will be in prospect,
and fresh decorations have to be considered. They also paint on other
occasions than a dance.

With regard to the designs the photographs give a truer notion than
any possible description of the variations and tribal fashions. The
independent Andoke have no fixed pattern, but their lines appear to be
more flowing. A good example is the fourth figure in Plate XXI. The body
in this case was coated with a purple paint, leaving only a broad seam
down the middle unpainted. This design is not seen elsewhere; it is
peculiar to the Andoke. In one dance I saw they painted themselves with
what were intended to be representations of their Witoto neighbours. I
saw also the Andoke got up for a dance covered with weapons painted in
my honour, boots, trousers, and dresses all suggested. Purple paint
predominated, and the effect was a rough copy of my own apparel in paint.

[Illustration: PLATE XXI.


The patterns are regular; the most highly finished ones are executed with
an eye to the lines of the figure, and some, as for example those shown
in the accompanying group of Okaina women, are of complicated if crude
design. The Okaina designs are certainly the most elaborate that I met
with, but it is to be noted that in no case do the women attempt to hide,
disguise, or paint that portion of the body which most peoples are the
first to cover, and which even among these tribes is never exposed by the

The effect of paint on the legs of women wearing tight ligatures is,
as Robuchon very aptly remarked, to give them the semblance of small
balcony pillars. Among the less particular–the Witoto especially being
the more lax in this as in all other matters–the regular designs are
not attempted, and paint is daubed crudely on the body in smears and
splotches, with a result that is bizarre in the extreme.

The men are painted by their women before a dance, but never in the
intricate patterns and variety of colour used by the ladies of the
community themselves.

On one occasion among the Okaina three of the old women of the tribe were
sent to me with purple paint, to paint me for the festivity. The Andoke
men seem more given to painting themselves than the men of other tribes,
and always use purple paint. A common device is a lizard, some nine
inches long, painted on the back and in front on the middle of the chest.
But painting is not a universal custom among the men as with the women. I
do not remember, for instance, to have seen a Witoto man painted.

Continue Reading

Marriage system

Given equal conditions, similar environment, the human race, wheresoever
on this globe its lot be cast, shows a marked sameness in its traits and
habits. This need not, in fact does not, argue a unity of origin. There
is no reason why a custom may not be indigenous in many parts of the
world, among peoples labouring under like conditions; and if the same
customs be evolved the same cultural types will also be found to exist.
Thus it is easy to find even striking resemblances between these Indians
of Amazonia and such distant peoples as the Arunta of Central Australia,
the cannibal tribes of pagan Malay, or, to go even wider afield, the
Basque people of Southern Europe. This does not for a moment suggest
that such common beliefs, customs, or cultures have been introduced from
one to the other, or even borrowed from a common stock. The human mind
seems to work broadly on certain definite planes of thought, and there is
less mental difference between the low-type illiterate of a London slum
and the denizens of a tropical forest than there is between him and the
learned occupant of a University Chair, though both be nominally of the
same nation.

Attempts are continually made to evolve some working classification of
the South American Indians. The main difficulty, the sparsity of common
factors, despite general similarity, is due in a measure at least to the
absence of any standard, any fixity of language, or any confederation
between the units of these races. The only rule is that there is no
rule. What was a common word yesterday is possibly forgotten to-day;
the custom shared a generation ago may vary now past recognition,
and to-morrow will see further changes that increase the diversity.
These people are in a state of flux. Disintegration is the determinant
influence; nothing makes for amalgamation. A section of a tribe isolated
from the remainder, surrounded by neighbours whose speech, whose physical
features, are entirely different, may develop into a distinct tribe with
dialect and customs as variant from the parent tribe as from those in
its new vicinage.[36] But extinction rather than such increase is the
more probable fate. These tribes are hardly embryos of nations to be, nor
can they be entirely classified as the decadent remnants of perishing
races. Rather did it seem to me that, despite the awful handicap of their
environment, they were gradually evolving a higher culture. Their origin
is a problem of no small interest, but one on which recorded history
throws exceedingly little light. Whether they be the autochthonous
sons of American soil, or the stranded vanguard of successive waves
of Mongoloid immigrants pushed southwards to be swallowed up in the
Amazonian forests,[37] or–which is most probable–a combination of
both, can only be in part determined by the study of their physical
traits, their habits, customs, speech, morals, and beliefs. It is for the
comparative anthropologist, the comparative folklorist, to find an answer.

As an instance of the difficulty of classification, and the confusion
that has resulted in much of the literature on this subject, the
statements given in the Contemporary Science Series volume, _The
Races of Man_, may be examined. Deniker orders the Indians in four
divisions–Carib, Arawak, Miranha, and Pano; and classifies the Witoto
in the first, taking the determinative ethnic distinction to be “their
acquaintance with the hammock, a plaited (not woven) texture, and
a particular kind of cassava-squeezer.”[38] If this is correct and
sufficient, all the Indians of the middle Issa-Japura regions are
Caribs. But I do not think the arguments are conclusive. For example,
“the practice of the ‘couvade’” is given as racially distinctive of
the Carib.[39] But couvade is by no means peculiar to the Carib. In
this region it is a common custom of the Witoto and the Boro, who are
linguistically and physically diverse.[40] Then, as regards the hammock,
it has been pointed out by Sir Everard im Thurn, who holds that the
Carib did not migrate to British Guiana from the interior but from
the islands,[41] that the Caribs of Guiana, the “stranger tribes,” as
he calls them, that is, tribes who have migrated thither, “make their
hammocks of cotton,” while the native tribes use palm-fibre.[42] None
of the Issa-Japura tribes make use of cotton yam for their hammocks; it
is, in fact, almost unknown to them, and what little they may possess is
presumably obtained by barter, for to the best of my knowledge they do
not prepare it, or know how to prepare it; palm-fibre only is used by
them. The explanation probably is that Deniker apparently confuses the
Karahone and the Witoto, as he speaks of “the _Uitotos_ or _Carijonas_,”
as though they were the same, instead of a totally distinct group of
tribes. He also gives Crevaux as his authority, when he states that
the Witoto–according to him a Carib group–“live side by side with
the Miranhas,” Miranha being differentiated as a distinct branch. But
Dr. Crevaux speaks of “_Ouitotos_ ou _Miranhas_,”[43] and remarks that
“Les Miranhas du Yapurá sont appelés par leurs voisins ‘Ouitotos.’”[44]
It would seem, then, that the French traveller considered that the
Witoto language-group belongs to the same racial division as the Miranha
language-group, though, as Dr. Koch-Grünberg remarks, the languages of
these groups “ne présentent aucun signe de parenté entre elles.”[45] In
fact, he is of the opinion that “on serait sans doubte plus près de la
vérité si on rattachait les différents dialectes parlés dans la région
des Ouitotos à un groupe linguistique nouveau.” This he designates the
_groupe Ouitoto_.[46] Miranha or Miranya is the name given to the Boro by
the tribes on the north, and is the lingoa-geral name for the Boro and
other groups. The word means a wanderer, a gratuitous distinction where
all tribes have nomadic tendencies, and this may be the reason why it has
apparently been applied to several groups.

It is not surprising that there should be confusion over any attempted
classification of these peoples, for not only are there many
language-groups, each with numerous tribes, but in addition to this a
group or a tribe will have not one distinct name by which it may be known
and classed, but a number of names, so that inevitably the writer without
personal knowledge of a group will be easily misled in dealing with it
and its divisions.

So far as the Indians are concerned no language-group and no tribe use
the esoteric name. They talk simply of “our speech” or “our own people,”
and they are named, and frequently named differently, by the surrounding
tribes. The Boro, for example, are known as Boro to the tribes from the
west and south, as Miranya to some of those of the east and the north;
the same tribe would therefore be Boro to the Witoto and Miranya to
the Yuri or the Menimehe. The Dukaiya are called Okaina–which means
“capybara”–by the Witoto, though they are also called Dukaiya, which is
the extra-tribal name of their most powerful tribe or section. Muenane
and Nonuya are also Witoto names.[47] Witoto is the esoteric name for
mosquito, but the Witoto tribes were thus named by the tribes on the
south either because the name has the same meaning in their language or
because they had learned the Witoto word for this insect. In this case
the esoteric name is the same as the exoteric. Crevaux gives _ouitoto_
as the word for “enemy” among the Karahone and the Roucouyennes,[48] and
Martius has a similar word for that meaning among other tribes.[49] All
this adds to the difficulties of nomenclature. It must be understood,
also, that if you ask a Witoto, “_O Memeka bu?_” (What tribe do you
belong to?) he would not tell you, but he would answer in the affirmative
if the question be put as to whether he belongs to a certain tribe or to
a certain group, though he will not himself use the tribal or group name.
This applies to all Indians. Moreover, there is the very thorny question
of spelling. I have throughout adopted the rule laid down by the Royal
Geographical Society, and spelt words with English consonants–that is to
say, with their equivalent values–and Italian vowels. This is the most
generally accepted method, but even with this peculiarities of ear must
result in sundry variants.

Another source of confusion in writing about these peoples has been the
indiscriminate use of the words _nation_, _tribe_, _clan_, _family_.
To avoid possibility of mistake it may be explained at the outset that
_tribe_ is here used in the sense ruled by the new editions of both the
Anthropological and the Folklore Handbooks, that is to say, “a group with
a common language, code of law, some rude form of government, and capable
of uniting for common action.” These tribes I would further classify
into language-groups, such as the Witoto language-group, the Boro
language-group, and so forth. The group name–Witoto, Boro, Andoke, or
whatever the case may be–applies to all the tribes of these groups, in
addition to their individual names. The variations between these tribes
of a group are mainly dialectic and local, but the variance between
tribes of alien groups is more than a difference of speech and custom.
The Boro, for instance, are distinctly Chinese in appearance; their
neighbours the Witoto resemble rather the Dyaks of Borneo.



The two groups with which we are mainly concerned, and the only two with
which it is possible in this book to deal seriously in detail, are the
Witoto and the Boro. They occupy roughly the lands between the Japura and
the Igara Parana, and the Igara Parana and the Issa, though there are no
actual boundaries. The Boro country lies north-west of the Futahi Hills,
in the watersheds of the Pupuna and the Kahuanari rivers. The Boro also
occupy a stretch of country north of the Japura, where that river bends
south and east below its junction with the Wama, and including part of
the Ira watershed. On this, the north-east border, they meet the country
of the Menimehe, while on the north they touch the Karahone country.
The Resigero and Nonuya districts lie between them and the Muenane. The
country by the Futahi Hills west of the Igara Parana, that is to say,
the basins of the Esperanza and Sabalo Yacu rivers, is very sparsely
populated, and the Dukaiya country on the west of the Nonuya practically
separates the Witoto and the Boro on the north-west. From the mouth of an
unnamed tributary of the Japura–below the Tauauru and on the opposite
bank–the Andoke country runs south of the Japura to the junction of the
Kuemani, where the Japura becomes the boundary between the Andoke and
the Witoto. On the west the Orahone country lies on the farther side of
the Issa from the Witoto, the Issa being the dividing line from the west
and south-west of the Witoto group. The name Orahone is given to all
tribes indiscriminately if they elongate the lobes of their ears,[50] so
the Orahone, or Long-ears, may possibly be many distinct tribes. Thus,
one writer notes of the Napo tribes, the “Cotos” and the “Tutapishcos,”
that they “are sometimes called ‘Orejones,’” but are not so known
locally.[51] The Orahone are of a low type. To the east of the Menimehe
and the Boro districts the Kuretu language-group of tribes occupy the
country north and south of the Japura. To the north the Opaina, Makuna,
and Tukana groups interpose between them and the Bara and Maku groups.
The Maku are found from the Rio Negro to the Apaporis, and again above
the Bara group north of the Arara Hills about the Kaouri river, a
tributary of the Uaupes. Though the Bara group live to the north of the
Apaporis they have nothing in common with the Uaupes Indians. Both their
language and customs resemble more those of the Japura, and they have no
intercourse with the surrounding tribes. They are a dark-skinned people,
of a low type, and consequently looked down on by their lighter-skinned
neighbours. The Maku, also of a low type and dark, are a very nomadic
group; in fact all these peoples are wanderers, and the districts here
given for their localities must be taken as merely approximate. That
they were there when I was in the country is no guarantee that they will
be found there now, or a few years hence. The locality of a tribe, or a
language-group, is mainly dependent on the locality of its neighbours,
especially of any powerful or warlike body. The tribes of the upper
Issa districts are semi-civilised Colombian, those of the lower waters
semi-civilised Brazilian Indians. Only in the middle district have the
tribes been free, until recently, from the influence of the white man.

It is almost impossible to give the populations of these districts even
in round figures. My own estimate for the nine language-groups of the
Issa-Japura region, based roughly on the number of houses and the extent
of country, is as follows: but, I repeat, these figures must be taken as
very approximate, and are probably overestimated in some cases:–

Witoto group of tribes 15,000
Boro group 15,000
Dukaiya or Okaina group 2,000
Muenane group 2,000
Nonuya group 1,000
Resigero group 1,000
Andoke group 10,000
Menimehe group 15,000
Karahone group 25,000

making a total of eighty-six thousand, or well under a hundred thousand.
Koch-Grünberg estimates the Witoto-language group as comprising at
least twenty thousand souls,[52] and a Peruvian official estimate gives
thirty thousand as the supposed total, reduced within the last decade
to some ten thousand.[53] It is practically impossible to obtain any
reliable figure. Koch-Grünberg gives six thousand as his estimate of the
number of the Miranha. I am inclined to think in this case the number is
insufficient, and should place it at from fifteen to twenty thousand.

All the tribes north of the Japura have a mortal antipathy to all those
south of that river, and think they are savages. The light-coloured
tribes, as I have mentioned, invariably despise the darker races, and
consider them of a lower grade than themselves, as, it will be seen,
is actually the case. The Maku, a tribe of small dark people, are
universally regarded and treated as slaves; the Witoto, smaller and
darker than the adjacent Boro, are physically inferior, and far less
particular in their ways and in the observance of tribal customs. The
Andoke, sometimes called the white Indians on account of their fairer
skins,[54] are the tyrants and bullies of all their neighbours; and it
has been suggested that the warlike Awashiri, who are the terror of the
Napo Piohe and Orahone tribes, are nomad Andoke or Miranha. Certainly
both these people wander far from their usual districts. So feared are
the Andoke that Boro carriers will refuse to go into the bush in the
Andoke country.

Wallace credits the Kuretu with peaceable habits,[55] but for the most
part all these peoples live in a constant state of internecine strife.
Some friendship, or perhaps–as tribes never make friendships outside
their own language area–it would be more correct to call it intertribal
commerce, takes place between certain of these groups; and a mutual
hatred of one group will occasionally form a vague tie between others.
For instance, the Boro, Resigero, and Okaina may not love each other,
but they agree in their detestation of the Witoto. The Okaina and the
Andoke are practically at ceaseless war with all their neighbours, but
the Andoke have some traffic with the Muenane and with the wandering
Karahone, who serve to link up the tribes of the north with those of the
south of the Japura, though they are separate from all other tribes. The
Boro on the left bank of the Japura, where they migrated into territory
trenching on that of the Menimehe, are on fairly amicable terms with the
latter, and I have even seen a Boro man with the Menimehe tribal mark,
though _menimehe_ means “pig” in Boro. Possibly he had married a Menimehe
woman. The Boro and Resigero also intermarry–at least cases of such
marriages are known. The Tukana and Bara tribes on the Tikie will not
marry into any other tribe, except the Maku, who will intermarry with any.

This state of endless warfare is based not on avarice but on fear. They
fight because they are afraid of each other, and see no protection but
in the extermination of their neighbours. Every ill that befalls a man
they set down to the evil intent of an enemy. Death, from whatsoever
cause, is invariably considered to be murder, and as murder it has to
be revenged on some suspected person or persons. Hence it follows that
blood-feuds innumerable are carried on relentlessly. Any and every excuse
serves for a fight. If a thunderstorm should wreck a house it is more
than sufficient reason for that household to attack another in reprisal
of the damage done; for it is to them quite evident that the catastrophe
was caused by the magic of some malicious dweller in the vicinity.

This state of abject apprehension influences the tribesmen in other ways.
It will be found as root cause of many a tribal custom, and must not be
forgotten in judging of native character and morals.

One result is that there are no recognised native trade routes or trade
centres, to the best of my knowledge, nor are there any markets where
the tribes of any language-group may meet and exchange their wares.
Even local markets are non-existent. Trade is individual. Articles of
commerce are handed from the maker to the purchaser, from the owner to
the buyer, from tribe to tribe. If a tribe be renowned for pottery, as
are the Menimehe, such pottery could only be obtained from a Menimehe,
or bought “second-hand” from tribes living in the neighbourhood of the
pottery workers, and from them traded to others, third, fourth, and even
fifth hand. That articles are bought and passed on indefinitely in this
fashion is proved by the fact that I found a Price’s candle-box among
the Boro tribes on the Pama river, who had had no relations with the
white man before my advent. After all, the wants of the Indian are few
and simple, and he can supply most of them for himself, or at least a
community can furnish its own; extra-tribal goods are distinctly luxuries.

It would be futile to attempt to give any localities for the many tribes
into which the language-groups are divided; for if the group as a whole
is to be regarded as a roving quantity, the tribes and their component
units are far more uncertain, in view of their migratory habits. I have
therefore not done more than make lists of the tribes met with in the
middle Issa-Japura districts, without reference to the exact spot they
might have temporarily inhabited when I met them.[56] These lists, which
do not pretend to be exhaustive, contain the names of 136 Witoto tribes,
41 Boro, and 15 Okaina.

The “Maynanes,” “Recegaros,” and “Yabuyanos” mentioned by Hardenburg[57]
as Witoto “sub-tribes, or _naciones_,” are not Witoto at all, and
_nacione_ is not a recognised name for these divisions, but merely
adopted from the loose jargon of the rubber-gatherer. Nor is the same
writer correct in considering the Witoto to be “the largest and most
important tribe,” as the Karahone outnumber them considerably, and many
other language-groups are decidedly more important in both the social and
the scientific scale.

There is nothing to show any affinity among the tribes, and there is none
of the intricate relationship of the Australian systems. The social
unit of the tribes is the undivided household community of some sixty
to two hundred individuals, with a common house, under the rule of a
chief. Some tribes have but one central tribal house, others may have
two or three; but each house would have its absolutely independent chief
and would be exogamous. There is no head chief or central organisation
to bind these households in the tribe, any more than there is to unite
the tribes of any language-group. Intertribal fighting is continual, and
only some great common danger, some threatened calamity of the gravest,
might serve to combine the tribes in a supreme effort for self-defence. A
man with an unusual magnetic influence might so dominate his neighbours
as to weld tribe and tribe for extra-tribal struggle. At the most some
half-dozen tribes under spur of most hazardous peril, urged to superhuman
effort by imminent torture and death, ever unite even for war. On the
rare occasions when this may be done the exceptional individual would be
but the greatest among equals, not a recognised commander-in-chief.[58]
I only know of one instance in point. Nonugamue, a Nonuya, was paramount
chief of the entire Nonuya-speaking area, a large tract of country that
lies between the Boro and the Okaina, and south of the Muenane and
Resigero tribes. It was quite a recent usurpation on the part of this
chief, and I never discovered any other case of one man influencing so
large a district. It is true that a Boro chief named Katenere did get
together a band of men numbering from thirty to forty to make war to the
death against the white rubber-gatherers; but in this instance, though
he was of notable personality, he could not combine the tribes. His band
were all Boro, simply men of his own type, the boldest spirits of various
tribes. A Resigero chief also made himself notorious by collecting a
body of warriors to make war not on the white men but on those Indians
who gave way to the pressure put upon them by these whites and agreed
to work rubber. He warred, therefore, against his own tribe, against
members of his own language-group, and he did so lest worse should befall
his people. He knew of no other remedy than to make the punishment for
yielding equal to that for refusing to yield. Nothing less in his opinion
could save the tribes. Once I came upon a habitation with the dead bodies
of thirty-eight men, women and children–for he spared none who had any
dealing with the whites. They had been slain, and the house partly burnt,
by this chief. In consequence of these drastic measures he was feared
by whites and Indians alike, and both when walking through the bush
within possible distance of his district would start at a sound every few
minutes and imagine it was this redoubtable warrior on the warpath again.

But these cases were abnormal, due to the presence of new and evil
factors that threatened the tribes with a fate to which death itself
were preferable. It was the instance of the approach of an unparalleled
danger, the signal for supreme exertion, and for unexampled negligence of
customs that are stronger than all law.

In normal conditions the chief has no influence beyond his own household,
and the extent of that influence would depend largely on the man’s
personal character, and also the character of the rival authority,
the tribal medicine-man. Whichever happens to possess the strongest
personality would be the dominant spirit of their little community.
Other things being equal, the odds are decidedly in favour of the
medicine-man–death comes speedily to those who rebel against the
magic-worker–and a weak chief would be entirely subservient to him.

The chief has a special portion of the house assigned to him and his
family, a larger share than would be allotted to any other man; but this
privilege is necessary, as all prisoners belong to the chief, and he
takes all the unattached women. As he thus has more women to work for
him the big tribal plantations become his. He leads the tribe in war,
presides over the tobacco palaver, and has the last word in the tribal
councils. The chief has no special name, for there are no titles of
courtesy, except among the Andoke, who call a chief _Posoa_. The ordinary
warrior will talk to the chief with no outward sign of respect; still,
the chief’s word carries a great amount of weight.

On the death of a chief his successor must be elected by the tribe, and
though the son as a rule is appointed, he does not become chief as a
matter of course, but only after tribal selection. If due cause should
be shown against him, and the tribe be of accord on the point when
the matter has been discussed in tobacco palaver, another man would
be chosen, and the honour conferred on him in accordance with tribal
decision independent of relationship.

There is but one law among the tribes, and that law is paramount and
infrangible–_Pia_, it is our custom. Custom, more binding than any
legal code, shepherds the Indian from the cradle to the grave. And _Pia_
is not only the law, it is the reason for all things. So it has always
been. Neither the chief, the medicine-man, nor the tribal council makes
the law, though it is the business of all three to enforce it, and it
can only be set aside, on the rare instances when such liberty would be
tolerated, with the consent of the tribesmen given in formal conclave.

The tribal council consists of all the males of the household who have
attained to man’s estate, under the presidency of the chief; and the
Indian parliament, the Indian court of law, is the tobacco palaver.

This tobacco drinking–the _chupe del tabac_, as Robuchon calls it–of
which so much has been written, must not be confounded with the _kawana_
drinking at a dance. When word has gone round that it is desired to hold
a council the warriors and elders of the tribe foregather, and squat
on their haunches round the tobacco-pot, which is placed by one of the
assembly on the ground in their midst. One of the group will start the
subject to be brought under discussion, usually the Indian whose advice
or suggestion has influenced the chief to call the council, or the one
who has a cause to lay before the tribe. It may be a matter of war,
some question of hunting, or the wrong-doing of a fellow-tribesman
that has to be discussed and judged. The speaker is doubtless under the
influence of coca, and will talk on and on. He may take hours to deliver
his oration, given with endless repetitions, while those who agree with
him will grunt “Heu!” to show approval from time to time throughout the
performance. When his final word is uttered the spokesman will reach
forward and take the pot, dip in a short stick, and wipe some of the
black liquid on his tongue. He will then pass the pot round to his
companions, and every man who has agreed with him will take tobacco,
whilst any one who passes the pot by–to signify he disagrees–will
be bound to give his reason for being of an opposite opinion. This is
continued until all in disagreement with the original speaker have put
forth their views. The question at issue is then settled by whichever
side may have the majority, the chief having the casting vote. There is
no appeal against such settlement. It is absolutely final.

The passing of tobacco is also used as a binding promise on every verbal
agreement between individuals. In this case they will dip a small stick
like a match into the liquid and pass it over the tongue, or put their
forefingers into each other’s tobacco pots, made from the hollowed
husks of nuts, and which are usually carried suspended round the neck
by a string. The tobacco pot comes into requisition again at a friendly
meeting, and serves to emphasise the binding nature of the friendship.

Though these Indians now all hold to patrilineal and patrilocal law,
there are traces that point to possibly original matrilocal customs
among them, such as still obtain among some of the tribes of British
Guiana.[59] We find survivals of marriage by capture; but in no tribe
are the girls sold, nor have they any dowry. The husband, once he has
obtained his wife, is entirely responsible for her maintenance.

Both endogamy and exogamy, with a preference for the former, exist so
far as the tribe is concerned; but with regard to the social unit of the
tribe, the community that shares a common house of assembly, the rule
of exogamy is very strictly enforced. The reason for this is that all
within a household are held to be kin. The one exception for this law
among the tribes is also the one exception to their patrilocal customs.
In the possible instance of a chief having a daughter but no sons to
succeed him, the daughter may marry a man of the same household, who
would probably be an adopted son. Any other exception would be most
unusual, and could only be attempted with the permission of the tribe
after thorough consideration of the case in tribal council. Otherwise
any son and any daughter of a household, no matter though they be of
different parentage, are barred from marriage by the blood-tie; yet what
we should look upon as an equally close relationship on the spindle side
is regarded by the Indians as no such thing, only the most intimate
relations of the mother ever being so much as counted kin.[60] A man may
marry into the household from which his mother came without transgressing
any recognised law, because the mother, having left her original
household to join that of her husband, has become one of his household
on marriage, and has ceased to belong to her own. In all probability
she will have had little or no intercourse with it. Marriage between
two individuals does not establish any admitted affinity between their
respective households. It follows that the children of two sisters might
possibly intermarry, but the children of two brothers never could.

Woman’s lot among all the tribes of the Amazon is commonly regarded as
a hard one. It is true that the steady grind of the day’s work falls to
her share. Men work intermittently, but the work that falls to the women
to do is incessant. In addition to the natural functions of the mother
and the housekeeper, the duties of an Indian wife include the bulk of all
agricultural labour. The husband’s energies cease when he has cleared and
broken up a patch of land, reclaimed a field from the surrounding forest,
an arduous task that needs more physical strength than women possess. The
ground once freed of trees and undergrowth, and roughly dug, the husband
considers that his share in the toil is at an end, and he will lie in
his hammock, eat, and sleep, while his wife, the baby slung behind her,
tills the field and harvests the crops. It is for her to plant the slips
and in due season dig the manioc. She must attend to the growing plant,
and eventually prepare the roots for use. But it would be wrong to infer
that the Indian husband is a lazy slave-driver. If his work is occasional
it must be confessed that he does undertake all the heaviest labour.
Each sex has its own pursuits. The man is the hunter and the warrior,
the woman is helpmate, agriculturalist, and staple food-provider. The
differentiation of work is very clear, bounded by the law of _Pia_–it
is our custom, which is like unto that of the Medes and Persians. A man
will on no account plant manioc, but he has a reason for this rule: he
says that women, being able to produce children, can produce manioc;
production is her province, not his.

The subjection of wives, if subjection it can be called, is due to
economic conditions. The woman holds a recognised, if subordinate,
position. She rarely quarrels with her husband, though she is certainly
not afraid of contradicting him when necessary; in fact I have met such
anomalies as hen-pecked husbands.

There are, as will be seen in detail subsequently, certain definite
restrictions imposed upon the women of the tribes, food they may not
eat, ceremonials they may not share, sacred objects they may not even
see. Coca and tobacco they may neither prepare not partake of, a law as
rigid as that which debars men from planting or preparing manioc. In some
tribes women are not permitted to see or be seen by strangers, but, as a
rule, the married women are remarkably free in this matter, though young
girls are more restricted.

Taken as a whole, women are well treated among all the tribes. A woman is
so far respected that her husband will consult her, but there is nothing
approaching to chivalry on the part of the man. The Indian does not
idealise. He weaves no romantic dreams about the Sex, but looks upon a
woman from the most material standpoint, pays her no small attentions,
never thinks of saving her trouble or any exertion, and in no way
attempts to lighten her lot in life. Yet everywhere, owing to conditions
of existence, women’s influence is very great. The tribal reputation of
a man rests largely in the hands of his wife; she can so easily leave
him if badly treated, and once the forest is gained she is lost to him,
and may without difficulty secure the protection of another tribe, or,
should public opinion be strong enough to drive the guilty husband
away, of another man in his household. The onus of her disappearance
will lie heavy upon the husband who has forced her to such–in Indian
opinion–extraordinary action. But cruelty on the part of a husband is
rare, as rare as infidelity on the part of a wife. A man who ventured to
ill-treat his wife would soon be the scorn of the tribe, for the other
women would promptly make a song about him, and the ridicule to which he
was exposed would be an effectual deterrent from further ill-doing in a
country where adverse public opinion is more efficient than any police
force in the prevention of recognised wrong.

The right of women to personal possession appears to be allowed. At death
her domestic implements are buried with her, and I have often wanted to
buy some article of adornment from a woman, but when I asked the husband
what he would like in exchange, have invariably been referred back again
to his wife, and had to conduct the barter with her. Also, though the
children belong absolutely to the father, it would be the mother and not
the father who would negotiate the exchange of any ornament worn by a

Finally we come to the last and lowest section of a tribe, the slaves.
Slavery among the Indians themselves is little more than a name, for a
slave belongs to the chief, and soon becomes identified with his family.
Though slaves have frequently a chance to run away they seldom do so,
for they are usually treated with kindness, and probably are nearly as
well off in the house of their victors as in their own. Captives of both
sexes under the age of seven years, or thereabouts, are kept as slaves
by the conquering tribe; above that age they are destroyed, as they
possess intelligence enough presumably to betray their new tribe to their
old one. When a slave reaches man’s estate he is permitted to identify
himself with the warriors as any other boy would be; and thereafter is
looked upon as free; but the chief would consider that he had a lien of
sorts on such a man, and this would be commuted by payment of perhaps
half his shooting bag, probably until the time that he married. If the
chief dies, the slaves become the property of the new chief, but a man,
if already a warrior, would no longer feel himself bound to a new chief,
except in so far as tribal discipline might enforce on all the warriors.
A woman slave may be purchased from the chief by the gift of some small
present to his wife. After this the girl is free.

Maku slaves have little huts of their own in the forest, where they live
apart, and are never in any way familiar with their masters. They are
permitted to keep their own women. These slaves are generally despised.
They act the part of the “proverbial cat,” and are held to blame when
anything goes wrong. A medicine-man may accuse a Maku if a death takes
place, or any crime is committed, and the wretched slave is then
destroyed unhesitatingly. There are no Maku south of the Japura.

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