Exception to patrilocal

At the beginning of my stay among the tribes, I thought, as many have
asserted, that polygamy was common among the Indians. The reason for
this belief is simply the fact that it is extremely hard to distinguish
at first between wives, concubines, and attached women–women under the
protection of a man, but not necessarily in intimate relation. Inquiries
do not immediately assist any conclusion. If, for example, you question
one of the attached women she would merely reply, “I am the chief’s
woman,” which answer would have been equally correct in either case.
But on better knowledge of their languages and customs the conviction
was forced on me that monogamy and not polygamy is the rule, with the
exception of the chiefs north of the Japura, who have, so far as I could
make out, more than one wife. Koch-Grünberg affirms, and other tribes
told me, that among the tribes on the Tikie a chief may have four wives.
This is not the case south of that river, where chiefs, like ordinary
members of the tribe, have only one.

But in addition to his wife or wives, all female prisoners and any
unattached women belong by right to the chief. He is their father,
mother, and husband, in so far that they receive his protection, though
the wife would not permit any intimacy, unless it were when she was
bearing or nursing a child. These women are not to be regarded, however,
as what the Witoto call _rinyo kachirete_, that is tribal prostitutes,
although other members of the tribe beside the chief are allowed to have
access to them when his consent has been gained. The prisoners certainly
would be used with his permission as women of convenience. So far as I
could gather the chief respects the chastity of his wards, and it is
therefore unlikely that he would claim any _droit de seigneur_ where the
other women of the tribe are concerned.[257] Letourneau is responsible
for the statement that “in America from the land of the Esquimaux to
Patagonia, the loan of a wife is not only lawful but praiseworthy.”[258]
I have never heard any suggestion of _jus utendi et abutendi_, and
consider it unlikely in view of the Indian’s character. He is not only a
jealous husband but the rights of the wife are tacitly recognised, and
I should conclude that such a custom would be entirely alien to Indian
nature. The same argument holds good in the case of a daughter.

To distinguish between wards and wives is so great a difficulty that
I even hesitated to accept without further confirmation the account
given by Wallace of polygamous practices among the Isanna and Uaenambeu
tribes,[259] careful as he was over all details of things about which
he had personal knowledge. But I also was told by all tribes north of
the Japura that it is permissible to have more than one wife, though
the first must retain the position of “mistress of the house.”[260] It
possibly resolves itself into the question of whether the women greatly
out-number the men at a particular period or not.

Marriage with these Indians is not a matter of any great or prolonged
ceremony or even of festival. A youth marries as a matter of course when
he reaches man’s estate. Till he has taken to himself a wife he must
remain in some degree dependent either on his parents or the chief;
for he cannot plant his own manioc or tobacco, nor can he cook his own
food. He has no one whose duty it is to see that there are no thorns
or jiggers in his feet, to paint him for a dance, to prepare him store
of drinks. Complete independence comes only when with his own woman he
can, if he so pleases, go his own way, and live in solitude out in the
forest or have his own fire in the shelter of the big _maloka_, just as
it suits his whim. To secure this independence, to get his woman, he
is required in the first place to show that he is a capable hunter and
warrior, that is to say he must demonstrate the fact that he can feed
and protect a wife and children.[261] But there is no scheme in any way
approximating to the customs of those African peoples who rule that a man
must have killed his man before he can be considered a proved warrior,
and qualified for matrimony. It is sufficient if he be a hunter by repute
in the generality of cases, though among the Uacarra and some other
tribes, as noted by Wallace, an exhibition of skill is demanded.[262] A
girl of these tribes will not marry a man who did not prove a good shot
in an archery trial held for the purpose of testing his prowess, the
reason alleged being that he cannot be sufficiently adept to maintain
a family. This is the underlying idea in all the ceremony attached to
the transaction of marriage among these Indians, of a piece with all
their doings and sentiments. There is no use for the unfit. It is the
philosophy of the forest in practical form.

Further, in view of his prospective position as husband and father,
there are certain preparations, elementary enough, to be made by the
bridegroom. From the surrounding forest a plot of land must be reclaimed,
the trees felled and uprooted, the soil broken and roughly tilled, for
the plantation. This is an absolute necessity, the agricultural is far
more vital than any housing problem, for that is a point easy enough to
settle, as the intending bridegroom need not build himself a house at
all, if he can obtain a corner in the great house of assembly. There is
nothing to prevent him from building one on his own account if he is
not content with the quarters there allotted to him, though the usual
arrangement is for a man to bring his wife to live with his family rather
than to start a separate establishment.

Betrothals are often made in childhood by arrangement between the
parents, and occasionally a small boy is married to a small girl. This
is not common, but I have seen it done in the case of a chief more than
once. On one occasion that I remember it was among the Andoke, another
time it was in a Boro house. The ceremony is the same as for adults,
but naturally only in form. Among some tribes of the Andoke such child
marriage is allowed if the boy has made a plantation and successfully
hunted an animal, and either his or, more rarely, the girl’s family will
admit them to joint life, and one Witoto man told me that he had been
married as quite a youngster. But the general disparity of age is from
five to fifteen years, for a man will choose an undeveloped girl, perhaps
only nine or ten years old, and hand her over to the women of his own
family.[263] The Andoke usually marry girls much younger than themselves,
and I have seen a man of twenty with a tiny girl-wife hurrying after him.
Undoubtedly the idea is the same as that underlying infant marriage in
India, the man seeks to gain affection by association. The girl lives
with him and his people, they become to all intents and purposes her
people; she is trained by custom to their habits of life, must naturally
imbibe their ideas, and will bring no foreign notions of manners or
morals to disturb the equanimity of the common household when, in due
time, she attains pubescence, and is made a wife _de facto_ as well as
_de jure_.[264]

In the ordinary run of events the woman invariably comes to live with
the man’s family, he never goes to hers. Only in rare cases have I heard
anything approaching the matrilocal customs noted among the Indians of
British Guiana.[265] These cases would be exclusively when a chief, who
has no son, marries his daughter to some man with a view to obtaining an
heir through her. The man might be selected from friendly neighbours,
or, with the approval of the tribe, an adopted son of the chief might
be chosen. If the former, the bridegroom would have to leave his own
people and live with his father-in-law. How exceptional this is may be
judged from the fact that it is the sole circumstance of which I am aware
where disregard is permitted to the prevailing rules of patrilocal and
exogamous customs. This is, however, hearsay only. I never met with a
case in point, though the Indians told me of it.

Individual preliminaries settled, it remains for sanction to be obtained
from the chief of the girl’s household–to whom, it must be remembered,
all unattached women belong–with which end in view the would-be
bridegroom presents him with a pot of tobacco and one of coca.[266] He
need ask no one’s consent of his own account, as in marriage the man has
an absolutely free hand, unless he goes against tribal law by marrying
a girl of any hostile tribe who might prove to be a danger to the
community. As proof that he is a man of substance and owns a house, or
has a recognised right to quarters in one, he will bring a piece of palm
shingle that has been left over after the thatching, to the father of the
selected damsel. He also brings a small tree cut through, to show that he
has cleared and made a plantation. In both cases the form would appear to
be accepted without the actuality. The father then produces some coca and
tobacco. North of the Japura they will chew _pataca_,[267] and they will
lick tobacco ceremonially together. There is no further ceremony, and a
fortnight later the marriage is consummated, the girl remaining with her
own people during the interval.[268]

Robuchon and Hardenburg, in dealing with this formality of presenting
wood, have taken the action to be that the suitor wishes to provide his
future parents-in-law with a supply of firewood. Though in other details
of marriage ceremonial they are exactly correct, both these authorities
seem to have mixed the idea of firewood–a matter it is never the
son-in-law’s business to prepare–with this symbolic offering, which is
intended to signify that his patch of ground for cultivation is prepared
and only waiting for the woman to plant and cultivate it.

If the information given me about tribes north of the Japura is correct,
a more primitive marriage custom still maintains among their neighbours.
The suitor, accompanied by his father and other relatives, visits the
father of the chosen lady. Notice of the arrival having duly been sent,
the object of such a formal visit is understood, though not definitely
stated beforehand. If the suggestion meets with favour the visitors are
welcomed with a feast. Two or three days later, in the middle of the
festivities, the bridegroom’s party suddenly kidnap the bride, without
any show of opposition on the part of her friends and family. She is
carried off to the visitors’ canoes, and the pair thenceforward may
consider themselves to be man and wife without further ceremony.[269]
Though I never met with this custom in the districts near the middle Issa
and Japura rivers, all the tribes told me of it, and among the Kuretu,
so I was informed, the ceremony is even more suggestive of marriage
by capture, as it is a point of honour for the bride to scream and
protest while the groom carries her off with mock assistance from his

In every marriage the contracting parties are allowed complete freedom
of choice. This is absolute on the part of the man, and, with the rare
exception of young girls adopted into a family with a view to marriage,
equally so on the part of the woman. The unmarried women are never
objects of barter. The man neither pays for his wife, nor does he receive
dowry with her. With marriage he assumes entire responsibility for
wife and family. Girls rarely refuse an offer made to them. They occupy
an inferior position in the family compared with that of the sons. By
education and custom they are subservient to the wishes of the elders. As
they grow older and have to take their share of the communal work they
lose what independence they had as irresponsible children. By marriage
alone can the native girl obtain a corner of her own in the _maloka_,
a desirable sleeping-place beside the fire. A man is not forced upon
her against her will. One bachelor is to all intents and purposes as
eligible as any other. Personal appearance, where all who attain puberty
are of necessity healthy and well formed, counts for little. The battle
of Eugenics is fought at birth not at marriage. Whereas a boy becomes
independent almost from the date of his first breech clout, the girl
has her freedom curtailed with each succeeding year. Food tabus have
schooled her appetite. She has suffered the restraints of the secret
lodge. Marriage is her destiny, she neither knows nor desires an
alternative. Such an upbringing does not make for capriciousness where
choice of a husband is concerned. She can always run away if her husband
prove displeasing, but in the majority of cases, unless subjected to
very decided ill-usage, it never enters into the head of any wife so to
behave. Peoples who will submit to the tyranny of a few blackguardly
oppressors, and make hardly an effort in self-defence, do not rebel
against the obvious in everyday life. _Pia_, “it is so,” makes as much
for demoralising inertia as _Kismet_. In short, there is no coercion
in an Indian girl’s wedding, and equally no opportunity for original

This question of personal acquiescence rules throughout their matrimonial
relations, for with these Indians the marriage contract is only binding
so long as husband and wife desire to be bound. Divorce is simple. For
good cause shown the husband can rid himself of his wife, and be free to
try for better fortune with another. He has only to bring the matter up
in tobacco palaver, and if he can make good his cause he need not trouble
further: he is free.[271] Infidelity, bad temper, disease, laziness,
disobedience, or childlessness, is deemed a sufficiently weighty
objection in a wife to warrant such action. Tribal opinion is in every
case the chief criterion in the business.

On the part of the wife the matter is simpler yet. She will run away. A
woman is never blamed for deserting her husband, on the presumption that
such unnatural procedure could alone be due to the fact that she had been
not only ill-treated but grossly ill-treated by him. For an independent
woman is unknown among the Indians: if she is not under the protection of
some man she is left in the lurch, and if she does not speedily find a
protector must very surely die. Moreover it is obvious that when a woman
runs away she must leave her children, and only gross cruelty will drive
her to that.

If, on the other hand, a man divorce his wife, that is to say if he
drives her away from him and so forces her out of the household, he lays
himself open to severe tribal censure should the consensus of opinion be
that no good cause has been shown. If upon inquiry he fails to establish
a satisfactory excuse, he promptly is held up to ridicule by his fellows;
he is the butt of all the women; and he will certainly find it a most
difficult thing to remarry, for no woman will ever consent to be his
wife. In fact, tribal censure results in the practical banishment of the
offender, for his life in the tribal family will be made unendurable
till such time as his offence be forgotten. The end of this persecution,
and his return to tribal rights and privileges, depends entirely on his
ability to prove and persuade his fellows that after all he was not the
one to be blamed.

When a woman quarrels with her man, or wishes to revenge any wrong she
may have suffered at his hands, real or imaginary, she will dart at the
loin-cloth of the offender in the presence of the tribe and attempt to
tear it away so as to expose him to his fellows. No insult could be
greater, for this is the worst disgrace that can happen to a man. Should
this occur, the victim must run into the forest and hide himself; nor
can he return until he has beaten out a new bark loin-cloth to replace
the one that was torn, and so, once more decently attired, he may come
back and apologise to the tribe. The pair will then go off together into
the bush, and, according to circumstances, the wrong-doer undergoes, or
perhaps they mutually undergo, a very painful penance. The wronged one
takes one or more of the big black stinging ants, and places them on the
most sensitive and private parts of the other’s body. The sting of the
virulent insects not only gives intense pain, but results in fever within
twenty-four hours, and there is much swelling of the parts affected.[272]
This is the recognised mode of punishment after any conjugal infidelity,
or any ordinary separation; and, repentance thus very practically
expressed by submission to torture, forgiveness follows and good
relations are again restored.

When a man dies the top ligatures of his widow are cut as a sign of
mourning, and are only replaced if she marries again. There is no
prohibition against remarriage, though this is not permitted till some
months after the husband’s death. As a rule, on a man’s death his widow
continues to live with his people, either under the protection of the
chief, or under that of her dead husband’s brother. If her own people are
not hostile to the tribe into which she married she may return to them,
but the probability is that the tribes will have drifted apart, even if
they have not become enemies. Very frequently widows become the tribal
prostitutes, a custom that is not recognised, but is tolerated, and is
never practised openly or immodestly.[273]

Continue Reading


Though so recognised an authority as Bates is responsible for the
statement that the fecundity of the Amazonian Indians is of a low
degree,[224] because as many as four children in one family are rarely
found, it is open to doubt whether he and his successors have not in
this instance confounded effect and cause. It is certainly true that the
normal number for a family is but two or three, yet that this is not a
question of fertility the high percentage of pregnant women would seem
to disprove.[225] The numbers are remarkable in view of the fact that
husbands abstain from any intercourse with their wives, not only during
pregnancy but also throughout the period of lactation–far more prolonged
with them than with Europeans. The result is that two and a half years
between each child is the minimum difference of age, and in the majority
of cases it is even greater.

The main reason why there are these limited families, is, in my opinion,
not a diminishing birth-rate, but an enormously high percentage of
infant mortality. The test of the survival of the fittest is applied
to the young Indian at the very moment of his birth, for the infant is
immediately submerged in the nearest stream, a custom that easily leads
to infanticide in the case of an unwanted child, or one with any apparent

Another accepted opinion with which I am not in agreement is that these
girls become mothers at a very early age, and that when only fourteen
years old themselves may have already had two children, as is said of
tribes on the Tikie. My experience has been that these peoples do not
arrive at the age of physical maturity even so early as white races,
probably owing to lack of nourishing food and perhaps in some degree to
the retarding and depressing effect of the forest environment.[226]

These Indians share the belief of many peoples of the lower cultures
that the food eaten by the parents–to some degree of both parents–will
have a definite influence upon the birth, appearance, or character of
the child.[227] Before the birth of an infant the mother has to submit
to certain definite food restrictions, which vary with different tribes
in some slight degree, but are all rooted in the same idea. Among some
tribes all animal food is forbidden to any woman throughout the entire
period of pregnancy, and this precludes her from share in the tribal or
family hot-pot. Among the tribes of the Tikie and elsewhere tapir flesh
is prohibited, not so much because it is considered unhealthy, which on
account of its richness it certainly would be,[228] but because if a
mother partook of any it would be looked upon as tantamount to allotting
the visible characteristics of the animal to the unborn child. From a
like cause these Indians imagine that the child would have the teeth of
a rodent did the mother eat capybara during the months of her pregnancy;
it would be spotted like a paca if she ate that beast; or, if she ate
bush-deer flesh, which is tabu to all women after marriage among the
Kuretu-language group, the venison would make the infant deformed.
Peccary is tabu among many tribes, and with the Witoto during the last
month of pregnancy the mother’s food is limited to one kind of small
fish, with cassava and fruits.

The belief that ill will befall the unborn infant if the mother do not
regularly adhere to dietary laws is strictly held by both men and women.
To give birth to a deformed or disfigured child is the most disgraceful
calamity that can happen to any woman, and therefore all possible
precautions must be taken, and any animals reputed to possess undesirable
characteristics are naturally forbidden, lest the unborn child should in
any way resemble the appearance or take the characteristics of the animal
concerned. The prohibitions are, therefore, definitely tabus, inasmuch as
they are believed to entail the penalty of deformed or malignant progeny
upon the transgressor, a belief very binding on people who hold that to
some extent the consumer absorbs the characteristics of aught that is

Nor do all these tabus concern the mother only, for the father also
among some of the tribes must abstain from meat a short time before, as
well as after, the child’s birth.[229] This recognition of a definite
connection between the father and the child, a more intimate connection
than civilised peoples recognise, is to be noted, and should be borne in
mind when considering the curious custom of the couvade, which must be
recorded anon.

Whatever the weather may be no accouchement ever takes place within the
house.[230] When birth is imminent the expectant mother will go out into
the forest with some trusted older woman, or alone, for the Indian wife
is quite willing to take full responsibility without any further aid.
Among some of the tribes north of the Japura the mother is accompanied to
the forest, and assisted while there by other matrons, who have their
faces painted red. But the Boro and the Witoto women go unattended or
with but one female attendant. Neither the husband nor any other man is
permitted to be present whatever the circumstances.

The shelter of the forest gained, the woman makes a small clearing, and
spreads a bed of leaves on which she sits down.[231] Her trouble is not
of long duration. When the child is born she ties the umbilical cord with
fibre-string, and then bites it through,[232] or cuts it with a wooden
knife. This done she at once proceeds to the nearest water and bathes,
after which she returns to the house. She wears no covering or bandage.

The infant is taken with her to the river and is washed and ducked. If it
survive this drastic treatment its body is covered with what the Witoto
call _hittagei_, that is, rubber latex, over which a brown or red clay is
smeared. Hardenburg relates that he was told this was done by the Witoto
“in order to keep it warm.”[233] I have often seen the process carried
out, but the warmth theory never occurred to me, and none of the Indians
suggested it as a possible reason or gave any explanation of the custom.

As I have said, with all these tribes infant mortality is very great. The
custom of submerging the new-born child undoubtedly causes an immense
increase in the number of deaths. This led me to inquire why they
persisted in such a fatal course, but one and all said that if the child
was not strong enough to survive it had better die. This is the Indian
attitude, and explains much of the seemingly ignorant or harsh treatment
to which young children are subjected.

Indians do not care to have large families. To support a number of
children would often be a matter of grave difficulty.[234] But fœticide
is not practised, and abortion is probably unknown except to the
medicine-men, who would only procure it for their own purposes or
protection. Should destruction for any reason be desired, the birth would
be allowed to take place, and the child afterwards killed “accidentally”
during the subsequent lustration. Bastard children are undoubtedly
destroyed, and the second of twins is left in the bush by the mother
before immersion; or, among some of the tribes of the Kuretu, if the
babies are of both sexes it is the girl that is killed, whichever may
have been born first. Otherwise they kill the second, because it is
obvious that the second is the transgressor, it had no right to come, and
it is a disgrace to bear twins, as these people hold the opinion that to
be delivered of more than one child at a birth is to lower themselves to
the level of the beasts. The act of killing is performed by the mother
secretly, at the parturition if possible, and the body would be concealed
by her in the bush.[235]

[Illustration: PLATE XXXVIII.



The act is not due merely to cruel or callous disregard of infant life.
If to be sickly and deformed is an undesirable state, the Indian sees
no reason why any unfortunate being should be condemned to live in such
a condition; and, moreover, the sufferer must handicap others as well
as itself in the strenuous race of life. Therefore deformed children
are never seen. A child that is discovered to be in any degree abnormal
or sickly at birth is allowed to die on immersion, by the very simple
method of holding it under water till life is extinct. If, however, the
deformity is not discovered till after the child has been brought to
the tribal house, the medicine-man is called in to deal with the case.
If the mischief be beyond his power to remedy, he declares that it was
caused by some evil spirit and may work ill to the tribe,[236] so as a
precautionary measure the wretched little creature is taken out and left
exposed in the forest, or some tribes go as far as to bury it alive.[237]
This is done with no intention to cause unnecessary suffering, but simply
that as it had to die it might as well die by suffocation as by any other

If there were an epidemic of deformed or sickly cases among the newly
born it would most probably lead to a tribal blood-feud, as it would
be most assuredly put down to the evil intention and craft of some
enemy. Who the latter might be it is the province of the medicine-man to

Except in the above instances intentional infanticide is not common.
Unintentionally it would seem to be very frequent. It might further be
resorted to in time of famine, if lactation should be difficult or if the
mother were to die.[238] I know of one case where a child on the death
of the mother was thrown to the dogs–wild dogs are the voracious beasts
of the forest. On another occasion the infant was buried with its dead
mother, though this would not have been done had any one been willing to
adopt it. Both these cases occurred among the Witoto.

Koch-Grünberg found that among the Tuyuka the houses have a small chamber
at the end where a man and his wife stay after the birth of a child.
There is no such thing among these tribes.

The day after her delivery the mother presents the infant to its father,
and then, as though nothing had happened, goes back to her work in the
plantation, and spends the day toiling in the fields as usual. She will
only return to feed the child at night. But the father remains in the
house with the baby, for he in his turn must submit to definite tabus,
the restrictions and prohibitions of that curious custom known as the
couvade, “a live growth of savage psychology,” as E. B. Tylor calls
it.[239] The baby lies in a hammock and the father lounges in his, and
there, with some tribes, he will remain for from three to six weeks.[240]
The Witoto are more casual in this observance than the Boro. Colour seems
to be given to the theory that couvade marks a stage of emergence from
matrilineal to patrilineal organisation, by the fact that among those
tribes where relationship is counted on the father’s side couvade is
apparently practised far less strictly, and only in a limited form, as
compared with the descriptions of couvade given by other writers among
tribes such as those Sir Everard im Thurn studied in British Guiana,
where definitely matrilocal customs are still extant.[241] But, however
limited the restrictions, in all cases the father abstains from hunting
until the child’s navel is healed. He must not touch his hunting weapons
even,[242] nor may he eat the flesh of any animal that has been hunted,
which, as regards animal food, is practically the same tabu as exists for
the mother before the child’s birth. Fish and cassava form his diet, but
coca is not tabu.

Yet, despite his enforced deprivations, the Indian father enjoys himself.
He has, in fact, a very easy time of it, which may go to confirm him in
his quite genuine belief that his actions are of substantial benefit to
the child.[243] Friends will assemble in numbers to express their joy
at the happy event; they will even come from great distances for this
purpose. There is much talk, and all exchange coca and lick tobacco.
In the midst of the congratulations the medicine-man will arrive to
deliver his opinion, given after due consideration, of the points
of the new-born. Congratulations will be interspersed with numerous
ventral grunts, as signs of assent and approval, with the decisions
enunciated, on the part of the proud parent or his visitors. The orations
will be interrupted by the ceremonial licking of tobacco between the
medicine-man, the father, and his visitors.

After eight days the child will be named by the medicine-man and the
assembled family. The name given among all these tribes is generally that
of the father’s father, if the child be a boy. With the exception of
further ceremonial tobacco-taking there is no ritual.

Boys are called as a rule by the names of animals or birds;[244] girls
are given the names of plants and flowers. For instance, among the
Boro a common masculine name is _Pimwe_, which is the name of a white
water-bird; or _Eifoike_ among the Witoto, _eifoike_ being their name for
the turkey-buzzard. My own name among the Witoto was _Itoma_, which means
the sun, that sound being the nearest to Thomas that they knew. The Boro
called me _Pimwe_, the white ibis, on account of my white bath-gown.

No Indian ever uses his name, nor is he called by it when spoken to by
his companions.[245] One will speak to another as _tanyabe_,[246] that
is to say, “brother,” or _Iero_,[246] _Moma_,[247] that is, “father”;
in the case of a woman it would be _Gwaro_,[246] _Rinyo_,[247] which
is “mother,” or _Tanyali_,[246] “sister.” They will never address each
other in more direct fashion, and if one of the speakers is not a member
of the household, and therefore no relationship exists between them,
they will make use of some expression equivalent to our “comrade,”
“man,” “girl,” or other generality. The Boro, when they wish to call the
attention of a man, cry _Mupe!_ of a woman, _Muije!_ As I obviously stood
in no relationship to any of my companions, the usual congenital term of
address could not be used in my case, and if I chose to run the risk of
giving my enemies power over me through knowledge of my name that was my
own affair.

This objection to divulging the name is too widespread to need
comment.[248] The Indian of the Upper Amazons is on this point not so far
removed from our own old-fashioned country-folk.[249] But at the same
time, though they would not divulge their own names they were invariably
most curious to get hold of mine, and made great efforts to pronounce it.
_Whiffena_ was the usual outcome of such attempts. I also found that the
Indians had no objection to making use of any name I might give to them,
presumably because, not being their true name, no magical dangers were
possibly incurred through its use, such as would be probable did I call
one of them by his or her own proper name.[250]

Among some tribes the name of a deceased person will be given to some
surviving relative.[251] This is looked upon as an honour to be bestowed
on the greatest friend of the deceased,[252] and thereafter this new name
is considered his private name, and the one originally his thenceforth
ceases to concern him in any way.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXIX.


With the naming of a child the formalities connected with its birth
are at an end, and once the navel is healed the father’s share in the
ceremonials is completed. With his return to ordinary life the infant
reverts to the charge of the mother. Day and night the child remains with
her. It is carried out into the fields when she sets forth on her day’s
toil among the manioc and pines, and is brought back to the fireside at
night when she returns to cook the evening meal. The Witoto women, in
common with other tribes in the vicinity, carry their infants in a sling
of beaten bark-cloth that is passed round the forehead and hung as a bag
behind. At a less tender age they will seat them on the hip, and small
girls may often be seen with a smaller brother or sister astraddle round
their waists.

The Indian mother will suckle her young for three years, or even longer,
and at least during the earlier nursing will have no connection with her
husband. This long period of lactation is certainly due in a measure
to the scarcity of food. There is no artificial supply or substitute
obtainable in place of the natural provision. If the mother cannot feed
it the child must starve. The child is fed wherever the mother’s duties
may take her. On many occasions I have seen a child that is running about
and playing, suddenly toddle up to the squatting mother intent on her
cassava making, and still standing suck for a few moments and then toddle
away. Not less remarkable is it to see the women milk themselves into a
palm-leaf, a very usual custom after the children’s teeth develop. The
leaf is rested on the palm of the hand, which gives it the necessary
cuplike form, and from this the child is fed.

The prohibitions with regard to certain foods that affected the parents
before and immediately subsequent to childbirth, continue in force
afterwards so far as the children are concerned. Such tabus are more
strictly enforced on the girls than on the boys; and their diet is
neither plentiful nor seemingly of the most nourishing description.
Cassava cakes and fruits are permitted them, and some of the smaller bony
kinds of fish among fish-eating tribes, but none of the better kinds of
fish, and no game, until they attain maturity.

There is no childhood as others know it for the little Indian. By this
I mean no innocent childhood. These forest children from birth see all
the life of their elders, hear all things openly discussed, and the very
games and jests of the babies are tainted with what we should consider

Children are primarily under the authority and protection of the father,
but any authority on the parent’s part is very slight, and ceases to
exist altogether where the boys are concerned once the age of puberty is
reached. Of course even a married son shows respect to a father if they
are living in the same house. Girls, as they are in the care of their
mothers or some responsible elderly matron of the tribe until their
marriage, must be more under authority; and virginity, as with us, is
strictly protected so far as is possible.[253] But in the main it may
be said that parental control is only a semblance, and filial piety,
so characteristic of the Inca and the Chinese, is practically unknown:
indeed, though the smaller children seem very fond of their parents,
after a few years it appears to be almost fashionable to disregard
parental authority entirely.

A child is not considered responsible for any damage it may contrive to
do. If it commit any mischief that entails loss to others compensation
is claimed from the parents, but no chastisement would in consequence be
meted out to the little offender. Children are never beaten, whatever
their offences, and rarely punished. They are looked upon as the
potential warriors and mothers of warriors, and treated very differently
to the old and worn, who may be left to forage for themselves. The
parents, in fact, show great affection for their children, despite the
stoical way in which infant lives are sacrificed. Often have I seen the
father, who would on no account carry food or any part of his woman’s
burden, however heavy, give his small son a lift over the bad ground.
Although he will never play games with his children as western folk do,
the Indian father will do his best to please the youngsters and make them
happy. He will make little javelins, a small blow-pipe, a toy sword for
the boys. They have their miniature weapons from the tenderest years,
and imitate their fathers in all that they do, just like the girls, who
go with their mothers to the plantations, and take a share in women’s
work as their form of play, and shoulder a share of women’s burdens when
hardly more than babies themselves. Their games, in short, are all
mimetic. They have no games with string or balls.

It follows naturally enough that there is little or no elaborate ritual
of initiation among most of these tribes, so far as I was able to
ascertain, for no part of a man’s life is kept secret from a child. The
elders simply take the young of each sex apart and teach them. Nor is
there much ceremony on the attainment of the young warrior to tribal
rank. He has been instructed by the elder men as to the ways of hunting;
he is allowed to join a tobacco palaver; he is presented by the chief
with a pouch of coca; he is permitted to lick tobacco, and he affirms as
he does so that he will bear himself bravely on all occasions. There is
no further formality, and thus he enters the ranks of the fighting men.
Among the Bara after a Jurupari dance all the youths of pubertal age are
whipped, which is considered to be initiation. The whipping instrument,
made from the hide of the tapir, is sacred. Women are excluded from this
ceremony, and they believe when the boys shout that it is the expulsion
of demons. The performance is regarded as strictly private, and if a man
or boy tells of his experience he is outcast.

For the girls there are some secret lodges in the bush. But how far
this is an Indian custom, how far a recent development for purposes of
defence, I was not able to ascertain. The matter is not one on which
the Indian is ever communicative. Certainly among all the tribes in the
vicinity of the much-feared and ever-raiding Andoke, the girls who are
bordering on puberty are segregated in the depths of the forest under
the protection of old and wise women of the tribe. This may not be
general, and I do not think it is a universal custom. It is done by these
tribes principally, I take it, for the protection of the flower of their
womanhood, to prevent the mothers of warriors-to-be from falling into
the hands of the restless thieving Andoke. At the same time the girls
are under instruction of their keepers, they are taught in these lodges
presumably the duties that will shortly fall to their lot. They learn to
dance, to sing, and to paint themselves for festivals. It is no unusual
sight to see a party of small girls painting each other, if by chance one
haps across a secret lodge. This is, I take it, in the way of practice,
the Indian girl’s version of her civilised sisters’ “dressing-up” games.

The girls’ isolation is not absolute. There is always communication
between the hidden lodge and the tribal house, but such communication
is made with due care, no path is ever cut or worn to the hiding-place,
and if one develops by usage it is speedily blocked the moment it is
noticeable. When no inimical raiders are about, and all is considered
safe, the girls repair to the tribal house, but no girl is allowed to
return to the tribe for good until such time as a marriage has been
arranged for her.

One writer on the Jivaro tribes mentions festivities held when a
four-year old child is first initiated into the art of smoking.[254] This
could never occur among any of the tribes on the Japura or the Issa,
where it has been seen tobacco is only licked. Boring the ears, nose,
and lips of the adolescent is done when they go to the lodges at the age
of puberty. It is very carefully carried out, and is probably done with
their ordinary boring instrument, the tooth of a capybara. Among the
Menimehe the tribal marks are tattooed on face and breast at this time.

I have not met with the custom mentioned by Sir Clement Markham as
existing among the Mariama, of a man cutting lines near the mouth of
his twelve-year-old son, nor has the scourging of the Omagua, and their
trial of the girls by hanging them in a net to smoke them, come under
my observation, any more than the cruel scourging of girl children
mentioned by Clough,[255] though boys on the Apaporis are thrashed, and
I have heard of the custom north of the Japura. The Jurupari dance as
described by so many authorities, and the girls’ whippings, as noted
by Wallace,[256] have been told me second-hand by these tribes. I have
never seen either, and south of the Japura I believe such customs to be

Continue Reading

Unfermented drinks

If the Indian eats but little during the day, he drinks to excess
whenever opportunity offers. In the early morning a beverage somewhat
akin to tea, but colourless, made from an infusion of bitter herbs, is
taken. It has some tonic properties, and when I drank it seemed always
to have a slight taste of peppermint. This herb infusion is the first
meal of the day. It is drunk out of half-gourds, after the morning bath,
before the members of the household disperse to their varied avocations.
I am under the impression that this decoction is made from a species of
grass, and not the _Ilex paraguayensis_ from which _mate_, or Paraguay
tea, is made. It is probably the lemon grass mentioned by Simson.[192]
The Indians also scrape the seeds of the _capana_, mix in some cassava
flour, and wrap up the mass in plantain leaves. This is left to ferment
in water, till it is the colour of saffron; then it is dried in the sun.
This is drunk as a bitter tea in the morning when diluted in water.

The Indian drinks enormous quantities of water, or unfermented liquor, at
times, and afterwards can abstain like a camel for a considerable period.
He never drinks when eating, but afterwards. At a feast or a dance when
he is unable to drink more he simply pokes his fingers down his throat,
with the result that room is made for renewed doses of his non-alcoholic

[Illustration: PLATE XXXVI.


The principal unfermented drinks made by these tribes are prepared from
manioc, and from various fruits. The first is made from the grated manioc
by merely squeezing out and boiling the water, and is thus a by-product
of cassava in the making. This leaves a sweet drink, which is certainly
insipid and is not considered to be healthy. The moisture squeezed out of
the “squeezer” is boiled and boiled again into a rather thick drink. This
is used more as a sauce into which cassava is dipped than as a “clean”
drink. It still contains, I believe, a minute percentage of hydrocyanic

Another beverage is prepared from roasted pines. The juice is squeezed
out, and this liquid extract is ready to drink without further process.
Plantains, bananas, and other fruits, grated and mixed with starch
obtained from the manioc tubers, are boiled and flavoured with local
spices to make another concoction. A thick yellow liquid prepared from
the _Patana_ palm is the national drink of all these Indians, except
the Menimehe and Kuretu, who make fermented drinks from pine fruit. The
_Patana_ fruit is boiled and broken with the hand in water, so as to mix
up the pulp and allow the heavy skins to fall to the bottom of the pot.
These and any fleshy remainder are strained away in a sieve, and cassava
flour is added to the liquid, which is drunk while warm. This drink is
known as _patana-yukise_ in lingoa-geral. There is a vegetable milk
that is consumed by the Indians, which I take to be the cow-tree milk
mentioned by other travellers.[193] I do not think it is very plentiful
in these regions, and for my own part never saw nor tasted it. It is a
creamy, sticky fluid, obtained by lacerating the bark, that can be drunk
when fresh. I am certain these tribes do not use it for any cooking
purposes, and do not think it is ever stored in their houses, but is only
drunk in the forest from the tree.

There are intoxicating drinks among the Menimehe and the tribes north
of the Japura, but among some of these northern tribes the men drink
_caapi_,[194] which is strongly erotic. I would suggest that _caapi_
is unknown to the tribes south of the Japura, except probably to their
medicine-men. It would account for the frenzy of the latter when
diagnosing disease, and so forth, which quite corresponds with the
descriptions given by Spruce of the effect of _caapi_.[195]

The plant from which _caapi_ is prepared is grown in plantations by
Indians on the Uaupes and Issanna rivers,[196] and by other Rio Negro
tribes. The drink is made from the stem, mixed in a mortar by the Uaupes
Indians with the roots of the painted caapi.[197] The pounded mass is
rubbed through a sieve, and water is then added. Women are not even
allowed to touch the vessel that contains the _caapi_. This intoxicating
liquor is unknown to me, but I heard that the Karahone and other tribes
had this strong drink. Though known on the Uaupes to all the tribes it is
said to have only a confined use on the Rio Negro.

Other drinks that are to be found north of the Japura are prepared from
fermented maize, and manioc.[198] _Caxiri_, or manioc beer, is used by
the Menimehe, the Ticano and Kuretu. Tribes on the Napo drink _masato_,
which is also made from manioc that has been partly masticated by the
women and then left to ferment.[199] They make another fermented drink
from bananas, but pines are principally employed as they contain more
sugar for fermenting purposes.

Before a dance the women of the Issa-Japura region prepare great store of
_kawana_, a drink made from the yellow pulp of a pear-shaped fruit,[200]
not unlike a mango, with a large black seed in the centre.[201] The
liquid is stored in the large vessels made by the primitive process of
stripping off a sheet of bark and setting it end up on the hard ground.
These are usually to be found at the chief’s end of the tribal house. One
of these impromptu vats will hold as much as thirty gallons.

By far the most important of the stimulants taken by these peoples are
the preparations made from the leaves of the common coca shrub.[202]
Coca is the mescal of the Indian,[203] and possibly a heritance from the
Inca invaders of bygone centuries.[204] The use of coca is habitual, not
intermittent. An Indian will take as much as two ounces a day.[205] All
Indians use it, the Bara in especial being heroic coca-takers.

To prepare coca for use the sage-green leaves are carefully picked and
fire-dried. They are then pounded with other ingredients in mortars made
from small tree-trunks. The pestle shown in the illustration is made of
mahogany. Beside the coca leaf the Indian pounds up lime that is procured
by reducing to ashes certain palm leaves,[206] baked clay that is scraped
from underneath the fire, and some powdered cassava flour. Whether these
leaf-ashes are a form of calcium I do not know. In the Sierra powdered
coca is mixed with pulverised unslaked lime, or with the ashes of the
_Chenopodium Quinoa_. As this latter is one of the distinctive Sierra
flora, I presume the Indians of the forest have found some substitute in
the bush. The drug is carried in a bag, or beaten-bark pouch, that is
worn suspended round the neck. The clay and palm-leaf ashes certainly
neutralise the bitterness of the pure leaf, and it is possible that in
these foreign ingredients the Indians have discovered an antidote, if
such there be, to the worst effects of the drug.

The Indian by means of a folded leaf shoots the powder into the cheeks on
one or both sides. This when moistened forms a hard ball, and with such
a wad stuffed between the cheek and the teeth he can go without sleep,
food, or drink, for several days. Coca is not swallowed, but gradually
absorbed and passed down with the saliva.[207]

As to cocainism, we know that the Indians are veritable cocaino-maniacs,
or rather coca-maniacs. It is a matter of great regret to me that I was
unable to make observations–may I say psycho-medical observations–on
Indians under the influence of this drug. Perhaps it would be more
correct to say that it was not possible to observe one not to some extent
under its influence, for it must be remembered that the use of the drug
is so continuous that it is difficult–one has hardly the opportunity–to
differentiate. Whether coca permanently injures the higher brain
centres, as has been suggested,[208] is unknown to me, as unknown as the
Indians themselves before they developed the heroic use of the drug.
The evidences of its effect are contradictory in the extreme, and vary
in individual cases. In my own case hunger and thirst were eliminated,
but I was unable to establish a tolerance for the drug, and after many
vain attempts gave it up, except when food was scarce and anything was
preferable to the pangs of hunger. I was certainly able to make greater
efforts without food, but its effects were evanescent in the extreme, and
were soon followed by acute vomiting and cramp in the stomach. The nausea
may have been due to the foreign substances with which the powdered
leaves are mixed and not to the coca, but on that point only a trained
opinion could be of value.

Even on the question of its influence on the appetite it is difficult to
give any clear ruling. My own experience was that it utterly destroyed
the appetite. Possibly the Indians’ “tolerance” accounted for the fact
that despite the use of the drug they invariably eat heartily when
opportunity permits.

The dilation of the pupil caused by the use of the drug is marked in the
Indian, and gives a curious expression to the eye. On account of the
darkness of the iris this is not so markedly noticeable as would be the
case with grey-eyed peoples.

The Tuyuka and other tribes north of the Japura use as a stimulant
_parica_ or _niopo_, a wonderful snuff which is a strong narcotic, and
very similar in its effects to coca.[209] It is made from the dried seeds
of a mimosa,[210] and, like coca, is mixed with quicklime,[211] and baked
clay.[212] The seeds are roasted, and then pounded in a shallow wooden
mortar, and the snuff when made is packed in snail-shells[213] and is
inhaled through hollow bird-bones inserted in both nostrils. It is used
for curative purposes by the Uaupes Indians.[214]

The Menimehe and Yahuna tribes take snuff, but they neither smoke nor
lick tobacco. The Uaupes Indians smoke enormous cigars,[215] but none of
the tribes south of the Japura smoke their tobacco; it is only licked.
After the tobacco leaves are gathered they are soaked, and then pounded
in a mortar by the men. Tobacco, it must not be forgotten, is tabu to
the women in any form, and it may be noted here that tabu on drink and
drugs is far stricter than any tabu on food. The latter are intermittent,
enforced only in special cases, or at certain times or ages; but the tabu
on coca, aya-huasca, caapi and tobacco is always binding on all women.
A little thickened cassava starch is added, which makes the mixture into
a stiff dark liquid, to be used either privately or ceremonially, as
already described. The tobacco-pot shown in the accompanying illustration
is made of a thick and hard nut-shell, with apparently natural holes that
are stopped with pitch.[216] Two artificial holes have been bored through
for the string. It is about two and a half inches long, by one and
five-eighths wide. The oval hole at the top is five-eighths of an inch
across, and through it the point of a stick is inserted when the tobacco
is to be taken.

The ingenuity with which the Indians prepare cassava flour, their
staple provender, from a poisonous root, though notable, is ordinary
in comparison with the intricate processes which the poor Indian’s
“untutored mind”[217] has elaborated for the preparation of various
poisons. Natural poisons abound in the forest. There is one tree known
as the poison-tree and credited with most deadly properties.[218] On the
Issa and Japura an arrow-poison is made from putrefying animal matter
mixed with strychnos. Good poison is very rare, and very much in demand.
The most potent preparation is made by the Karahone, who have great
knowledge of poisons and are by far the cleverest toxicologists. The
Menimehe understand poisons to some extent, but are not the equals of the
Karahone, from whom most of the tribes obtain their poisons by barter.
But poison of some sort is always manufactured by every medicine-man.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXVII.



2. ” ” (BORO)


4. ” (BORO)

5. ” (WITOTO)]

The most important poison is the _curare_.[219] It is made from two
plants, called by the Witoto _ramu_ and _pani_ respectively.[220] The
complicated recipe is a treasured hereditary possession.[221] The wood
of the _Strychnos toxifera_ is the most necessary ingredient in the
manufacture of _curare_. It is pounded in a mortar, and the sap, mixed
with water, is strained and boiled with peppers, ants, and a variety of
more or less noxious material.[222] When it is sufficiently inspissated
it is put into the small pots, about an inch and a half in diameter, in
which these Indians carry it round their necks, in readiness to smear on
the palm-spine points of their darts, arrows, and javelins.[223]

Continue Reading

Lack of salt

Food is the dominant problem of an Indian’s existence. The food quest is
to him no indefinite sociological issue of future “food control,” but
an affair of every day. Living, it would seem, in the midst of plenty,
starvation is a frequent visitant in an Amazonian household. They are
an improvident folk, as I have already stated, and if food be plentiful
give no thought to make provision for the morrow, when there may be
none to be had.[165] “None” to the man of the forest has a different
significance, a more inclusive meaning, than it has to the white man, for
it comprehends everything that by the widest stretch of the imagination
can be considered possible for human consumption. And it is well for the
Indians that they are omnivorous, for the uncertainty of food supply is
the most certain factor of life in the Amazonian bush.[166]

To run through the details of the possible provision of meat: there is,
to start with, the tapir,[167] though the Witoto consider much tapir is
bad, especially for women. The print of its three toes, with a fourth
on the forefeet, is very seldom not to be found in the damp soil by
stream and river. The tapir is in fact plentiful throughout these
regions, though, thanks to its protective colouring, it may often not
be obtrusively present. The young tapir is flecked and dotted with pale
yellow spots on its brown coat, an exact imitation of sunlight on the
earth through foliage. Gradually these stripes and spots fade to dull
greys, only the fully grown animal is entirely without them, and of a
uniform dead slaty colour. Young tapir flesh makes an excellent dish,
and is like pork in taste, but it must be eaten very fresh, for the meat
will not keep sweet many hours on account of its richness. Therefore if a
tapir is killed in the water and sinks,[168] it must be eaten immediately
it comes to the surface, that is after some hours, during which the gases
have generated in the animal’s stomach, and so caused it to rise. But
tapir is always considered unhealthy if eaten too frequently, and at
certain seasons of the year is said to be quite uneatable, and if taken
gives rise to sickness. An old tapir is tough and heavy eating at the
best of times. Tapir flesh dried over a smoky fire is excellent eating,
though I have never seen the Indians smoke meat for keeping, even when
they found I did so myself. Another meat that has been compared with pork
is that of the paca.[169] It is rich and fat, but it is eatable, and not
so strong in flavour as the flesh of the capybara,[170] a larger animal,
found usually in the vicinity of water. In appearance the capybara is not
unlike a long-nosed, crop-eared rabbit, while its cousin the agouti,[171]
chestnut-coloured and rough-haired, has a rat-like face on a rabbit’s
body, though the flesh has nothing in common with the rabbit’s. Both the
paca and the agouti are plentiful in the forest. Of the two the latter is
more of a forest-dweller, and seeks the streams only to drink.

A small species of ant-bear is fairly common, but the large ant-eater is
not often found. The latter does exist in the Issa-Japura watersheds,
according to Indian accounts; and ant-bear is eaten by the Boro, but has
too strong and pungent a taste for the white palate. Armadilloes, when
obtainable, are baked in the ashes of the fire, as hedgehogs are roasted
in England.

Monkey flesh, though usually tough and invariably insipid, is by no
means despised, nor must a traveller in these regions be squeamish over
it, horribly suggestive as the body of a cooked monkey very certainly
is in appearance, for monkey meat most frequently will be the only
_plat_ on the dinner menu. It is the most ordinary food of the Indian,
though monkey is not the easiest game to collect. The wounded or dying
animal is very apt to clutch at the boughs in its agony, and the hand
will contract in death and the body remain pendant. Even if it drop it
will frequently stick in a forked branch out of reach; so that for one
monkey eaten probably several are slain. Monkeys of all sorts, however,
abound throughout the forest, and also marmosets, pretty little creatures
with something of the squirrel about them.[172] Though I never saw the
big-bellied monkey mentioned by Spruce,[173] I noticed a large number of
spider-monkeys, with tails so prehensile that they serve as additional
hands to convey fruit to their mouths. The supply of monkey flesh depends
in the first instance on what provender there may be in the neighbourhood
for those animals. Monkeys are wanderers, and when they have cleared
one part of the forest of fruit and nuts, they migrate to another. The
migration of game is a serious matter for the Indian, for all animals
here are subject to periodical movements as noted in the previous
chapter. It may result in the abandonment of a homestead when scarcity of
animal life in a district drives the human inhabitants away.

When it can be obtained a deer, or a sloth, furnishes a variety for the
cooking-pot; and then there is the peccary, so dreaded by the Indian.
The peccary,[174] the wild pig of the forest, lives in small herds,
and the reason proffered by the Indians for their fear of the animal is
that when one is wounded it sets up a loud cry, and the rest of the herd
promptly come to its aid and join in attacking the aggressor. This story
is universal among the tribes. The peccary has a deceptively harmless
appearance. They have not all tusks, and in no case are the tusks very
prominent; yet, so sharp are they, that the fearless and pugnacious
creature can inflict a severe wound. The shoulder and leg are the parts
prized for eating. I know of no temporary tabu connected with this
animal, though it has been said that at times the flesh is unfit for food
on account of a gland in the back.[175] This may, however, be the reason
why the body is rarely eaten.

Of birds, parrots are the most plentiful, and the toughest. For a hard,
tasteless, and unappetising meal commend me to the carcase of that noisy
bird. They require to be stewed for quite twenty-four hours, and that
over a slow fire, or else the flesh is impossible to eat. Their chief use
is in soup. Macaw, curassow, _piuri_ and _panje_, mocking-bird, toucan,
and egrets all go to the family pepper-pot of the successful hunter, with
the turkey of these parts, pigeons, partridges, herons, ducks, and geese;
in fact quite a good assortment of feathered fowl.

The frogs that make night hideous with their croaking provide the Indian
epicure with one of his most esteemed dishes, for both frogs and snakes
are considered delicacies, so that the traveller who pitied tribes
like the Botocudo, because insects and reptiles formed a large part of
their diet,[176] would simply be wasting his sympathy. Even the white
man does not disdain the delicate flesh of the iguana, ugly though that
green-bellied, black-ridge-backed reptile is. Turtles are caught and
eaten during the dry season when the rivers are low. The native method of
capturing them is to turn the unwieldly creature over on its back when
asleep on the sand-banks. This renders the turtles perfectly helpless,
though a snap from their powerful jaws will do serious damage.[177] The
eggs also are eaten by these tribes, although none of the Issa-Japura
tribes will touch birds’ eggs, for they look upon them as fœtal, and
therefore unclean.[178] Further it is beast-like, in their opinion, to
eat the liver, kidneys, and other intestines of animals, though these may
be made into soup or hot-pot. For the same reason the Indian does not
touch carrion.[179] But such niceness is outbalanced by tastes that in
our eyes would be equally or even more filthy, for the Indian will eat
vermin, and head lice are looked upon as quite a _bon bouche_. Hence a
scurf-comb is a most important present, and to comb your neighbour’s hair
and eat the “bag” an honour and a luxury.[180] They will also eat the
grubs of wasps and bees, in fact any larvæ–nothing comes amiss to them.

All the Indians–except the Menimehe, who, as mentioned, keep hives in
their houses,–collect wild honey from the hollow trees and other places
where the bees nest in the bush. Sometimes these insects make nests of
a considerable size, that look like lobster pots full of black pitch
hanging on the tree-trunks. The large cells are full of a thin honey that
is used by the natives to mix with various drinks. The Indians are very
fond of honey, and smoke the bees out to secure it. Bees are more common
than wasps in these parts, and fortunately are less dangerous.

Fish abound in all the rivers, though like the plants and animals they
are smaller in the upper reaches than in the lower Amazon valleys.
Robuchon gave the following as found in the Issa: Silurios of all kinds,
that is to say _platysomas_, _planiceps_, _platyrhynchos_, _leopardus_,
and the little _caudirus_ (_Serasalmys_), _Pygo_, _Cebras_, _Piraga_
(_D. costatus et carinatus_); also many kinds of needle fish and
shark-toothed fish. There is any quantity of skate in the Issa, though
its power to inflict a nasty wound does not recommend it to the naked
Indian fisherman. Some of the fish are very good eating; none better than
the _uaracu_, which is said to feed on laurel berries.[181]

It is when one turns to the vegetable world that one finds the staple
food of the Amazonian native. The manioc is to the Indian the chief
necessary of life. The sweet manioc,[182] although known to these
Issa-Japura tribes, is never planted, because it is not appreciated by
them. They prefer the poisonous species which, as its botanical name
_Manihot utilissima_ implies, can be put to a multiplicity of uses. To
eliminate the poison and render it fit for food, the manioc is subjected
to several processes. So far as I could observe, or learn by leading
questions, these are roughly as follows:

The women bring the brown tubers of the manioc in baskets from the
plantation. On their way up they stop by the river and cleanse the soil
from the roots, which are like a small beet in appearance, but white when
peeled. The manioc after it has been washed and soaked for a short time
is next scraped by means of a sharp wooden knife in order to peel off
the thin adhesive skin, similar in substance to that of a potato, but if
anything thinner. Sometimes the women instead of using a wooden knife
simply scrape the skin off with their teeth. The peeled roots are washed
in the river again, and taken up to the house. Each root is then cut
longitudinally into three or four sections, which are put in a bowl near
the fire and left to soak for twenty-four hours. When, at the end of this
time, the manioc is sufficiently softened, they place a piece or two of
rotten manioc in the bowl with the fresh stuff. The object of this is to
promote fermentation and thus to extract the poison from the fresh root.

The next process is to mash the manioc, and for this purpose it is
all–both fresh and rotten–removed from the pan and grated into a large
wooden trough, with the special implement that has black palm-spines
inserted in the soft wood for teeth. The grated pulp is removed from the
trough and put into a cylindrical palm-cane wringer, the cassava-squeezer
which is used by the Boro, the Andoke, the Resigero, the Okaina, and all
tribes to the north. The Witoto and other tribes on the south use a long
rectangular palm-fibre wringer, which is twisted to form a cylinder in
the same way as a puttee is wound round the leg. In this elastic cylinder
it is compressed till all the poisonous juice has been drained away, when
the remainder, a coarse kind of flour, is placed in an open pan and left
to get thoroughly dry. Afterwards it is rubbed between the hands to make
it finer.[183]

The next operation is to sift this flour through a basket sieve. Any
coarse stuff that does not rub through the sieve is thrown away. The fine
residue is baked in a clay platter, and should be turned over with the
hands once during the process. No water is added to the flour before it
is baked.

This flour is kneaded with water, put in a pan and cooked over the
fire. The result, the cassava bread, is leathery and tough, and when
one speaks of “bread” unleavened bread must be understood. It is never
allowed to brown, the outer crust is merely hardened, and as a result the
cassava cake has always a raw uncooked taste. But I found that if one
of these native cakes were cut in small pieces and fried in animal fat
till crisply toasted, it was quite good eating, better if anything than
ordinary bread.

The Boro leave the starch in the cassava flour, so their bread is more
sustaining than Witoto bread, as Witoto women remove the starch and use
it for other purposes.[184] Boro bread is also thicker, and when pulled
apart is of a stringy consistency.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXIV.


Spruce mentions a manioc oven,[185] but this is quite unknown to me. All
the tribes I visited cooked their cassava on large earthenware plates
on an open fire. Nor could they prop their cooking utensils on stones,
for–as has been noted–stones there are none in these districts. The pot
is put simply on the three logs that compose the fire where their ends
meet. The hot embers in the centre give plenty of steady heat, and if
more be required the pot must be placed on a tripod of branches and the
embers fanned with a palm-leaf to a flame.

Among the Andoke manioc is peeled by the women with their teeth, and then
washed. The roots are pulped with a grater, and the starch is washed
out by adding water to them in a basket suspended on a tripod over a
calabash. The partially prepared manioc is left till required for use and
will keep in this state for a week at a time. When they wish to use it
the grated pulp is strained in a cassava-squeezer, then mixed with starch
and sifted through a sieve. The fine stuff is baked immediately, and the
water that was drained off in the wringer is boiled up at once to make a
sweet-tasting drink. The starch will keep for a month.

Among the Boro and Witoto the manioc water is boiled till it thickens,
and is then used as a sauce into which the cassava is dipped before it is
eaten. Another way of eating cassava is to dip it in soup. The Boro on
the Japura concoct a sauce of the consistency of paste by seasoning the
manioc water with peppers and fish.[186]

Though the tuber is the most valuable portion of the plant it is not the
only part used for food. The leaves may be eaten as a vegetable. They are
boiled till quite soft; pounded very fine with a pestle; fish, worms,
frogs, ants and peppers are added as seasoning, and this brew is eaten
with cassava bread and with meat. Another method of preparation is to
take the leaves and cook them in the water squeezed out of the roots in
the wringer. This sauce is boiled in an earthenware pot suspended from a
cross-beam, or placed like the earthenware pan on a triangle of sticks,
over a slow fire, until the leaves become a paste. This is carried in a
palm-leaf as an emergency ration by an Indian when going into the bush.

Cassava, then, is the Indian’s “staff of life.” Its complement is the
hot-pot, or pepper-pot, which is a “generous” soup supercharged with meat
that forms the staple, while the liver and so forth are added to enrich
the brew. It is a standing dish with the aborigines. Each family has a
big pot that simmers constantly over the special fires. Into this go
all things, and it is replenished daily from the proceeds of the kill.
Portions of animals that may not be eaten–blood, brains, intestines–can
be utilised in the stew; and everything is very highly qualified with
peppers, the chief stimulant in native diet.

Wallace has suggested that the excessive use of peppers is due to the
lack of salt.[187] This very serious need is not without considerable
influence on the Indian, and it is possible–as has been suggested–that
it is at the root of more than over-indulgence in pepper. Mineral salt is
not to be had,[188] except by barter, throughout the middle Issa-Japura
regions; and what little the tribes can obtain is chiefly secured by
burning certain plants with saline qualities.[189]

On account of its rarity salt is much sought after, and a present of salt
is always highly appreciated.

[Illustration: PLATE XXXV.



The Indian feeds at sunrise after he has had his drink of “tea” and his
first bath. This morning meal is an informal one of cold cassava cake,
and any meat that may have been left uneaten overnight, or a dip in the
hot-pot. He eats sparingly, and never takes much of a meal if a day’s
march or a hunt is in prospect. Nor does he carry food with him, unless
he be going on a journey. Coca, which of course is but a stimulant, is
sufficient sustenance in his opinion. Still, he will eat a little at any
time it may be possible, and there is usually no lack of fruit for the
taking in the bush.

The great meal of the day is towards sundown when the hunt is over, the
quarry killed and cooked.[190] Then all the men, squatting round their
private family fires in the big house, help themselves from their hot-pot
and eat to the limit of its contents. An Indian will not take a bite
at his food; he tears whatever he is eating into small pieces with his
fingers. Among the Issa-Japura tribes, as with the Tukana, men and women
do not eat together, and the children feed with the women. None of the
tribes have any special observances or purifications before or after
eating, so far as I am aware, nor are there any general restrictions,
except so far as carrion and the intestines are concerned. But even
these may at a pinch be made use of without prejudice, by resorting to
the simple expedient of blowing, or rubbing with a magic stone, the two
antidotes for all evils with the Indian. There are temporary food tabu
for women, and certain prohibitions for children. These will be dealt
with later.

The usual method of cooking is to rest the pot as described on the
fire-logs themselves. Sometimes the pot is placed, like the pan for
baking cassava, on lumps of clay, or on a triangle of sticks roughly
made for the occasion. The sticks must be long in comparison to the
height from the ground that is required, and are not tied, but merely so
adjusted that each supports and locks the others. Such a tripod makes a
firm seat, though never employed by the Indians for that purpose. I have
never seen pots hung. The pot is covered with a single leaf, and the soup
is stirred with any stick that comes to hand at the moment; there are no
special ones, nor are any fashioned for use as ladles. Meat is almost
invariably put in the hot-pot, but occasionally it is toasted over the

When the women have cooked the food the men help themselves from the pot;
they are not waited upon by their women. An Indian will help himself from
the hot-pot at any time the fancy may seize him, or, for that matter,
from any hot-pot, so long as the owner thereof is present. The tribal or
chief’s fire carries the tribal hot-pot, which is open to all, as all
contribute to it, at least all the unmarried warriors must do so. This is
the hot-pot which always remains, and the fire that never dies out. The
family hot-pot and fire is the concern of each individual family only.

Fruit is to be had in plenty, and throughout the year in this country of
endless summer. Not being a botanist, and aware that some of the most
tempting fruits held latent poison under an alluring exterior, I was
most chary of eating fruit unknown to me, and never touched any until
quite satisfied of its wholesomeness from its effects on the Indians;
nor, mindful of the fact that the Indian will, and apparently can, eat
anything, would I venture to eat many fruits the Indians partook of as a
matter of course. Sweet and ripened fruit is rarely eaten by them; they
prefer a bitter taste, and, as mentioned in connection with sugar-cane,
have no particular use for anything sweet. The Indian will gather fruit
and bring it to the house, though the usual custom is to pluck and eat it
in the bush. So far as I was concerned especially, it was brought in as a
present to denote good-will.

One fruit the Indians grow in the plantations resembles and tastes like
grapes.[191] It is very plentiful, particularly in the old plantations,
and the Indian will often return to one of these in order to obtain this
fruit. Another fruit, also found growing in old plantations, is the
colour of a lemon, and the size and shape of an orange. It is very good
eating, extremely sweet when ripe, with huge black pips, and the part
immediately under the skin is gummy, like rubber latex, and sticks to the

A fruit we knew as the mauve berry is found at the top of trees. In size
it approximates to a red currant, and it grows in large bunches. The
colour is a light pinky mauve. It is intensely sweet, and according to
popular report has an intoxicating effect upon the eater. It certainly
appears to have very heady properties.

Various palms furnish palatable fruits. There is a small edible palm from
which the Indians strip the bark after they have cut it down, and remove
the cylinder of hardened sap which is of the same consistency as a hard
woody apple. It is heavy but rich-flavoured and good eating. Then there
is the cabbage palm, not to mention the pupunha.

Nuts and seeds abound. There is a large oval seed in a fleshy envelope
that birds feed on freely, and another fruit with a large stone is the
wild alligator pear. The stone of this is more than one-half the size of
the whole fruit. It is delicious in taste, and is looked upon by both
whites and natives as a great delicacy. In shape it resembles a pear, and
in colour it varies from green to yellow or russet.

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