The Amazon Expedition of the University Museum

By: W. C. F.

Originally Published in 1916

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The Indians of South America are physically so similar to those of North America, and so unlike any other possible progenitors, that we must believe that their ancestors migrated across the Isthmus of Panama in very early times. That migration ceased so long ago that little resemblance remains in the languages or customs of the two continents. At the time of the Discovery a return migration was in progress. Indians from the Southern Continent were found passing over to the islands of the West Indies.

When Columbus landed in the West Indies the people whom he found were the Arawaks and the Caribs.

The Arawaks, who were found trading from Cuba to the mainland of North America, can be traced through Venezuela, the Guianas, across the Amazon and the highlands of Brazil, to the Paraguay river; from there westward to the very foot of the Andes mountains.

Savannah grasslands sparsely populated with trees
Fig. 180. — The Savannah country of British Guiana.
Image Number: 36675

The Caribs, at the same time were pressing the Arawaks and were also beginning to occupy some of the islands of the Antilles. They, too, by means of their language, can be traced southward to Central Brazil and westward about as far as the head waters of the Amazon.

The great Tupi stock, whose original home was in the very southern point of Brazil, pushed their way northwards through other tribes of the uplands and around the three thousand miles of coast into the Amazon valley, thus coming into contact with the two other great stocks, and so mingling customs and cultures.

To the complications due to these great prehistoric migrations of peoples are added others of more recent date.

The early explorers of the Pacific coast found rich stores of silver and gold in the hands of the natives. When this supply was exhausted the newcomers began to look about for the sources of this great wealth, and soon the whole continent was overrun by bold adventurers seeking their fortunes. The heavily forested lowlands of the Amazon valley contained no gold and remained unexplored. Two hundred years after the Spaniards had occupied the Andean region to the sea, only five parties had traveled down the Amazon. The Indians outside of this region were dispossessed and enslaved. Many individuals, families, and even whole tribes sought refuge and freedom in the dense forests of the interior where they were secure for a time.

When those unfortunate ones, doomed to slavery, had been forcibly Christianized, the zeal of the missionary carried him across the Andes into the jungles of the interior where even the slave hunter feared to venture. The first missions were established in 1638. During the next one hundred and fifty years the good brothers labored, with varying success, at their task of imposing their religion and civilization upon the simple inhabitants. The various tribes of natives were collected into large villages without regard to their languages or customs, then the heads of the missions would report that so many had become civilized. The natives often objected to these methods, rebellions took place and some of the priests were killed. But as time went on the civil authorities became strong enough to enforce obedience to the established regulations.

A man using a Macusi cane press
Fig. 181. — A Macusi cane press.
Image Number: 36687

The soldiers and traders who entered this region carried with them, in addition to their goods and common vices, various contagious diseases which spread rapidly among the closely confined Indians and caused the death of hundreds in every village. Finally, when no relief was offered to them, they, in desperation, killed the missionaries, deserted the villages, and returned to the forests and to their former barbarism. Today there is scarcely one native to be found where a hundred were reported to have been in the seventeenth century. More than a hundred tribes recorded have disappeared entirely, while those remaining, on account of their enforced contact with civilization and with tribes of other stocks, have lost many of their former customs and beliefs.

In the lower Amazon conditions were very different. On account of the need of laborers in Brazil and because of some difficulties the early occupants had with the native Indians, the Portuguese government, by royal decree legalized slave hunting and gave the proceeds of the enterprise to the officials and soldiers. As a result of this arrangement what had before been a mere pastime, now became a recognized business. The Jesuit Fathers who had previously established missions among many of the tribes, protested tested so vigorously against the outrages of the soldiers that they themselves were expelled from the country.

The Indians, thus left without friendly advice or assistance, attempted to defend themselves against their oppressors, but with the usual result when bows and arrows are matched against more modern implements of warfare. One example will suffice to show the bitterness and hopelessness of the unequal struggle. In 1664, an expedition under Favalla, sent against some Indians of the lower Amazon, burned three hundred villages, killed seven hundred men and carried away two hundred slaves. Thus at one blow a whole tribe was wiped out of existence. Unable to protect or defend themselves against such heartless marauders many tribes retreated farther into the interior among tribes of other stocks. For instance, a Tupi tribe from what is now the state of Maranhao, fled more than a thousand miles and established themselves on the large island of Tupinambarana in the Amazon river.

Many people sitting around in groups in a Wapisiana village
Fig. 182. — Resting at the last Wapisiana village.
Image Number: 171760

Thus the pressure of the Spaniard from the west and south, the Portuguese from the east and the French and Dutch from the north drove one tribe in upon another, or caused long migrations into new territory. No doubt the remnants of many tribes were absorbed and lost their identity while the cultures of others were greatly modified. At this time, however, a large part of the interior had not been greatly influenced by white man’s civilization.

The development of the rubber industry in the last two decades has brought new regions under the control of the white man and the primitive inhabitants into contact with a new kind of life and into close touch with some of the most undesirable representatives of a higher civilization. As a consequence of the attempt to bring the Indian population into the service of the white men, conditions developed in remote regions, in which blood feuds and reprisals on both sides rendered life insecure for all parties concerned. These things together with the capture of women and children and the importation of diseases have hastened the extermination of the natives until today there are very few living in the rubber regions along the banks of the Amazon and its principal tributaries. On account of reports of bad treatment by the whites, many tribes living outside of these regions are either suspicious and afraid, or unfriendly and difficult of approach. This prejudice must first be overcome and their confidence secured before any attempt can be made to study their customs and beliefs. One is forced to make long journeys to out-of-the-way places to find tribes which have been least under the influence of civilization and even then one must exercise great care to obtain their confidence. In some places it is necessary to send friendly Indians in advance to prevent the others from running away into the forests before they can be seen.

This statement of the former migrations with their consequent mingling of cultures and the present condition of remaining tribes will give some idea of the difficulties and of the importance of the work undertaken by the University Museum’s expedition.

Two men sitting side by side, both wearing beaded necklaces
Fig. 183. — Our “captain”, an Ataori, and a Wapisiana head man.
Image Number: 17700

The Work of the Expedition.

The members of our expedition, Dr. Franklin H. Church and myself, reached Para at the mouth of the Amazon river, June 23, 1913, and upon the invitation of the Honorable George H. Pickerell, American Consul, established headquarters at his office. A month was spent in passing customs, getting acquainted with government officials, transportation companies and owners of concessions up river. Before leaving the United States complete arrangements had been made through the Brazilian Embassador, Dr. D. da Gama, to have the scientific equipment and supplies enter without examination and free from duty. The local federal authorities were directed by the Department of State at Rio de Janeiro to render us every possible assistance and these directions were carried out with sympathetic interest. The Governor of the State of Para, Dr. Eneas Martins, invited us to the Palace and offered every possible assistance. He had an intimate knowledge of all the ethnological work that had been done in the valley and fully appreciated the value of scientific investigations. He made many valuable suggestions and gave us letters to officials and individuals in different parts of the state. Without such letters of recommendation one is often unable to obtain assistance.

The Consul, who has resided in Para for many years and is personally acquainted with all the influential people and is greatly respected by them, was of inestimable value to us in presenting us and our cause to those who could give us information and assistance.

In Para and Manaos one meets many Brazilians who have been educated in Europe or America. The Governor speaks French and English as fluently as he does Portuguese. Quite naturally young men go to Europe and particularly to France, rather than to America, yet there are a number of graduates from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and Cornell. These and the other educated men from Brazilian colleges appreciated the work we were trying to do and it was a pleasure to associate with them.

A group of people ascending the rapids, some pulling the boat, others pushing it
Fig. 184. — Ascending the Essiquibo rapids.
Image Number: 28097

At the Goeldi Museum we found co-laborers who welcomed us to share in the scientific investigations of the country. There was no evidence of jealousy or any desire to protect the region for their own studies. They are all doing most excellent work. Dr. Huber, the curator, whose untimely death occurred during our stay, had an international reputation; his successor, Dr. Snethlage, is a noted zoologist and explorer. Dr. Ducke also has an enviable reputation as a botanist.

The steamboat companies carried our collections and baggage free, some of the companies gave us free passage also, while others reduced the rates. The A.S.N. Co., an English concern, which operates ships on all the large rivers was of greatest assistance to us. The Booth Steamship Company carried all our collections free from Para, Manaos and Iquitos to New York and took a particular interest in the work of the expedition.

We had expected to make our station at Manaos, some nine hundred miles up stream in a more central location, but upon our arrival we learned that Para was the business center of the valley and that there was a strict quarantine regulation against Manaos on account of yellow fever. For this reason we changed our plans. We found Para a healthy well regulated city of 125,000 inhabitants, with all the modern conveniences and comforts of life and travel; such as excellent docks, tramways, parks, hotels and open air restaurants. Many things necessary for our outfit might better have been purchased in Para. One must always carry his own scientific instruments with him, but other supplies, such as canoes, clothing and food can always be obtained as needed. One sooner or later adopts the customs of the country and the sooner the better for his convenience.

From Para we made several journeys to the Indians in the interior, traveling first by steam launch, then by canoe to the villages. Often it was necessary to make long trips on foot, across country, from one village to another.

Rio Branco

Tow men standing side by side, wearing necklaces and loinclothes
Fig. 185. — The old chief of the Tarumas and his son-in-law, who will be the next chief.
Image Number: 17712

The first journey was made to the tribes living in the great grassy plains of Northern Brazil and Southern British Guiana, an area of 30,000 square miles occupied by the two largest tribes of the whole region, the Macusi and the Wapisiana, representatives of the Carib and the Arawak linguistic families. To reach these tribes we traveled by English ship to Manaos, from there we took a small cattle boat and went up the Negro and Branco rivers to Boa Vista, formerly a mission station, then a penal settlement, and now the center of the cattle industry and the site of an agricultural experiment station. We first attempted to reach the Macu Indians at the head of the Uraracu era river on the Venezuelan border but we were prevented from doing so because of rapids and low water. After reaching a point three days by canoe farther up stream than white men had previously gone, we were forced to return. Our time was well spent, however, as we had an opportunity to study some representatives of the Azumara, Porokoto and Zapara tribes. There are but two full blood Zaparas remaining—two sisters. Thus the tribe dies with them. When we asked why no men were left they told us that some years ago a white man accompanied by a soldier came to carry away some of their children for servants and when they objected a fight ensued. The white man seized a girl, one of the two sisters remaining, and he was shot through the body with an arrow. He was defending himself with a knife and cut the girl’s arm as she broke away from his grasp. The soldier fled but was followed and killed. The other succeeded in getting to his canoe. He pushed off and floated down the river. As he was unable to pull out the arrow, he cut it off on both sides of his body. The next day he reached his brother’s house but soon died. When the event was reported to the government, soldiers were sent to the place and captured all the men who were taken down river for trial and punishment. None of them ever returned.

The two Azumara men said they were brought there when small boys but they had no idea from whence they came. Curiously enough they have remembered their language which seems to be a dialect of Carib.

One day while waiting for the Indians to find a way around the rapids I noticed three large spiders on the rocks near the water’s edge and wondered what they could be doing in that particular place. They seemed to be waiting for something in or on the water. After watching them for two hours we saw one of them catch a fish an inch and a half long and devour it. They made many attempts before the fish was finally landed.

At the point where the Uraracuera and the Takutu unite to form the Rio Branco, there is seen the ruins of the ancient stone fort, St. Joaquim, erected in 1775 by the Portuguese to protect north Brazil from invasions by the Spaniards or the Dutch. At that time the Government sent up a few cattle which were taken care of by the occupants of the fort until the great revolution when they were allowed to run wild for some years. They increased very rapidly during this time. Later on a large number were brought together on the Government ranch but many were taken possession of by private persons and thus the foundations were laid for the great ranches of the present.

British Guiana

Our first visit to Guiana was made from Boa Vista across country on horseback four days to Melville’s ranch at Dada Nawa, on the Rupununi river. The Brazilians ride on a slow trot. From morning to night, day after day one jolts along until he feels that his shoulders will surely bounce off. On the way we crossed many streams and two rivers. The Takutu was so deep that we took off our clothes and saddles and carried them on our heads to keep them dry while the water went over our horses’ backs.

A few years ago, a mission was established on the British side of the Takutu, among the Macusi Indians. Father Mayo received us kindly and recommended us to the Indians. He also gave us one of his boys, a little fellow about twelve years of age, to accompany us and act as an interpreter. He was glad to go because we would pass through his village where he could see his parents. We attended Mass in the morning before leaving and were surprised to hear the boys reciting Latin and all singing English. The Macusis are the best musicians of all the tribes and soon learn to sing hymns and to pick up any songs they chance to hear.

A group of villagers standing on or by their boats on the river
Fig. 186. — Landing place of the first Waiwai village. British Guiana.
Image Number: 17717

We spent three weeks visiting the various villages about the foothills of the Kanuku and Pakaraima mountains. Their houses are built out in the open savannah where they have the advantage of the cool winds and are away from the mosquitoes and other forest insects. They make their fields in the forests where the soil is more fertile. On our way we crossed Lake Amucu and visited the fabled city of gold, the El Dorado of the Spaniards and Sir Walter Raleigh. During the wet season there is a broad shallow lake but when the rains cease it becomes a great meadow with numerous small streams lined with magnificent Eta palms. No doubt the “city whose temples and houses were overlaid with plates of beaten gold” was then, as now, mudwalled and unimportant.

Among the rocks of the nearby mountains, we discovered numerous urn burials. The Macusis today bury the dead and have no traditions of other forms of disposition of the dead. This is a puzzle because glass beads were found with some of the bodies thus proving the burials comparatively recent.

In marriage the Macusis are for the most part, monogamous. The Chief, or head man, may have two or even more wives but other men have but one. A man must marry a woman in another village and must live in her village. Descent then is in the female line. They practice that curious custom of the couvade. When a child is born, the father takes his bed for a month and refrains from eating anything except the most delicate foods. The mother meanwhile takes care of both the child and its father. It is a strange custom which is common among all the tribes in this region and seems based upon some fancied mysterious connection between the child and its father. They say that it would injure the child if the father ate coarse foods just as much as though the child ate them himself. They have another custom which is difficult for us to appreciate, and that is, shaving off their eyebrows. Some say they can see better without them while others think them unbecoming. Some paint a heavy black line on the brows.

Three men standing together in front of a building made of leaves
Fig. 187. — Ogilvie and the two chiefs, last Waiwai village — Brazil.
Image Number: 17748

The nearest neighbors of the Macusis are the Wapisianas who are Arawaks and belong to an entirely different linguistic group. These two tribes, while not necessarily enemies, regard each other with aversion, and have very little in common. By those who know both tribes, the Wapisianas are considered to be more industrious and less inclined to adopt the vices of white men. Under the guidance of British officials they are learning to work for wages and to appreciate the value of money and labor. No one is allowed to trade with the Indians or to employ them without permission from the government. Thus protected and guided they will soon be able to take care of themselves and to assist in the development of the country. They are collecting rubber and selling it for cash. In 1914 they received $25,000 gold for labor and rubber. They are honest, faithful in the performance of contracts, and are rapidly developing into desirable citizens. They owe their success to the care exercised over them by Mr. Melville, the Magistrate and Protector of Indians for this district. He has lived among them for twenty years and appreciates their worth. He is ably seconded by Mr. Ogilvie under whose guidance they have learned to work rubber and to improve their fields. Each year he takes some of them with him to Georgetown, where they come in contact with the outside world and learn prices and values for themselves.

Their social system is interesting because they are required to marry those of blood relationship. A man must marry his cousin of another village and take her to live with him in his village. He thus marries either his father’s sister’s or his mother’s brother’s daughter. He may and often does marry two sisters, or he may marry two cousins, or he may marry outside of the family if there are no cousins. The first wife is master of the household but each has her own fireplace and furnishes a part of the food for their husband. They too practice couvade but the period of careful eating for the father continues another year after leaving his bed. Some of our men had great difficulty in securing sufficient unforbidden food on the trails. They could not eat anything shot with a gun or an arrow so they were confined to a diet of fish and fruit.
They do not worship the Creator and make no offerings nor petitions because they say he knows what they need and there is no use disturbing him all the time about it.1

Trip to the Interior

At Dada Nawa we were fortunate enough to persuade Mr. Ogilvie with some of his Indians to undertake a journey with us to visit the tribes to the eastward living in the untraveled forests of Brazil. He had previously been over the divide and was acquainted with the first part of the trail.

On November 19, 1913, we left Melville’s ranch with a pack train numbering sixty-two men, women and children, to carry across the savannah five days to a point on the Cuduwini river, where Ogilvie had two canoes which he had been using in his rubber explorations. Many whole families went with us to the river. As there was no one left behind to care for them, the small children, young dogs, chickens and other pets had to be carried along. Five babies rode on their mothers’ shoulders above the packs and held the mothers’ hair to prevent falling off. On the way we passed through their traditional home where every mountain was sacred. We sacrificed tufts of grass at many shrines and stepped high over the trails of evil spirits. At the landing place we spent a day arranging our canoes and saying good-bye to each one of our numerous friends. The water in the river was so very low and the passage so difficult that we decided to take fifteen men with us instead of the ten as originally planned. Besides the many sand bars over which the large canoe must be dragged, there were hundreds of fallen trees which had to be cut in two to open a passage way. When a log was cut nearly through all the boys would walk out on it and break it down ; thus all would be plunged into the deep water. It was great fun for them and made up in a measure for the hard labor of hauling the canoe through the shallow water or over the sands. The banks were lined with thorny palms, many of which had fallen into the river and become embedded in the sand. These gave great trouble to the men in their bare feet. In the shallow water there was always danger from the sting ray and in the deeper water from the electric eel. When either of these was discovered a man went ahead with a pole to clear the way. The Indians fear these much more than they do the alligators and big snakes.

A group of Waiwais dancing
Fig. 188. — A Waiwai dance.
Image Number: 17755

There were no Indians living along the river so there was plenty of game. Dr. Church, with two boys in the small canoe, went before to hunt and killed many ducks, monkeys and pigs. The pigs often go in large droves. In one place we got seven of them and feasted on fresh pork until all the men were sick. Fish also were very plentiful in the deep pools. The best of these was the aimara, a vicious fellow weighing twenty pounds or more and having large sharp teeth. The Indians never fish for him from their small bark canoes but from the land or a sloping rock where they pull him out and kill him with a club. He takes the hook and follows in without a struggle but when near enough jumps for the hand pulling him.

After twelve days of hard labor we reached the Essiquibo, a broad rapid river, and ascended it to the first Waiwai village near the Brazilian boundary. The river is a series of rushing rapids with long quiet pools between. The going was either very good or very bad. Where it was possible we used a long bush rope, or vine, to pull from one rock to another or to track along the bank. Where the water was not too deep we used long poles to push the canoe. The deep pools were thought to contain great spirits which would come up and catch men as they passed. The particular places were all known and every day we made long detours to avoid them. Some places it was necessary to pass at certain times of day. The Indians said that when Schomburgk went up the river (in 1839) his men would not pass one place until he made an image of a young woman and offered it in sacrifice to the spirit. The place was pointed out and we passed in safety because of this offering.

On the Essiquibo, there are two villages of the Tarumas. When we arrived, we found a bunch of leaves hanging on a tree at the landing place to announce the death of a member of the tribe; just as we hang crape on the door for the same purpose. According to their myth men were not created. There were two brothers in the beginning, the elder of whom made the animals, plants, mountains, etc. These two went fishing in one of the deep pools and the younger brother caught a woman on his hook, took her home with him and made her his wife. From this pair descended the whole human race. She was the daughter of a great serpent, the anaconda, hence they revere the snake today and do not kill it. When they see one they speak to him and call him uncle but do not disturb him. All sickness comes from evil spirits called Kenaimas which reside in a mountain near by and no one would dare to venture near the place. These spirits take the form of little men and go about at night. No one travels alone. The spirit will not attack two persons; even a small child is sufficient to keep him away.

One of the Taruma chiefs and five men joined us for the trip to the Waiwais and supplied us with more food. Here we met the chief of the first Waiwai village, who had come down to get cassava cuttings for a new field he was making. He said he would go to the next village with us but the field would have to be planted first, as the cuttings would dry up. So we, twenty-four in all, went to work and in one day, working with sharp digging sticks, planted the whole field of three acres. They understand how to improve their crops by changing the seed and the location of their fields.

A man with his face painted, linear drawings on each cheek and a triangle pattern on his forehead connecting the area between the eyebrows
Fig. 189. — The Characteristic Face Painting of the Waiwes.
Image Number: 28195

A half day above the village we built a shelter and cached food for the return trip. The crooked trail which no one unacquainted with the country could possibly follow, led first along a small river, which we crossed and recrossed many times and then over a high hill and down to the river again where we camped for the night. The following day we came to a large lake where an evil spirit resided. It killed so many people that they finally threw a young woman into the lake alive. She is still living there with the spirit and he is satisfied. There had been a great forest fire about the lake which had killed the trees for miles. The dead trees had fallen across our path until it was very difficult to travel. That night we slept at the foot of the Acarai mountains that form the boundary between Brazil and the Guianas. During the night the temperature went down to 68° and we built fires under our hammocks to keep warm. In the morning we crossed the divide at an elevation of 1,600 feet in Lat. 10 11′ N. and Long. 58° 30′ W. From the top we got a good view of the low mountains extending from southwest to northeast at an angle of about 35°. While resting here some large black monkeys appeared and Ogilvie shot one. As often happens with them, the prehensile tail held fast for a time after the monkey was to all appearances quite dead. We sat down to wait for him to fall but an eagle happened along just at that moment and carried him off. At another time I shot a powis, a turkey-like bird, and when it fell a jaguar gathered it up and ran away before I could get him.

The day after crossing the divide we arrived at the last Waiwai village and found them in the midst of festivities on account of the visit of a Parikutu chief and his family. As we approached our chief went before blowing his whistle as is the custom among all the tribes. Each tribe has its own signals. He was unable to tell them anything more than who he was and they were surprised to. see such a large party and in it three white men. Some of them had seen Ogilvie before and were not afraid. The two chiefs talked for some time about us, then messengers were sent to the different houses, to the workers in the fields and to the hunters in the forest. In a few minutes the women brought food which the chief gave to our chief and he to us. As our party of twenty-eight was too large for the men’s house they sent men to clear a camping place for us nearby on a small stream. They should have danced all the afternoon but for our coming. As it was they postponed it until dark and then danced until midnight. The men and women dance at the same time but not together. The women sing and the men blow flutes. Each leader carries a rattle to mark the time. After dancing for some time they stop and take a drink without breaking line. The women dance forward and back moving at the same time around a small circle; while the men dance in a large circle around the outside of the women. Our men did not know the dance so could not take part in it. Afterwards they gave an exhibition dance of their own, explaining that it was impossible to do it well without their own women to sing. It was an enjoyable occasion for everybody. We enjoyed it because it was Christmas eve and reminded us of somewhat similar entertainments at home. Christmas day we celebrated by working hard in getting photographs, measurements and collections because our party was too large to feed and must return with the collections the following day. One can not appreciate Christmas with the thermometer at 94°.

Some of their own people went fishing and others hunting to get food. To catch fish they poison the water and kill the fish. The poison is put in the shallow water above a deep pool and within ten minutes the fish are floating on the surface. Everybody plunges in and gets all the fish he can gather up in his small net. The poison does not affect the flesh. The fish, a mile below, are unharmed. It is often reported that there is great danger to travelers in drinking river water because of this fish poison, but there is little or no danger because the water is safe a mile below and safe enough, by the time the Indians get away, at the place itself. There are streams which are poisoned by certain fruits and are dangerous, but they are known and indicated by the Indians. One soon learns to profit by the wisdom of his companions.

Two older men sitting side by side, both wearing necklaces and armbands and topless
Fig. 190. — Two Chiefs. Arawak and Carib.
Image Number: 177922

Trading time brings everybody to see the new things and soon sends them scurrying to find something to exchange. The chief often does the trading for all, passing out whatever they wish to see until the trader wonders what will become of all his wares, but nothing is ever lost, each object comes back with the particular thing to be traded for it. It is very difficult to get two things for one regardless of values. In paying for labor the length of time makes little difference. If you give one man a knife for packing five days another will accept the same pay for eight days without complaint. Time is of little consideration. When trading the observer has his best opportunity to study the real character of the people. He sees the polite consideration of one for the other: the parents for their children and for each other and all for the chief. If a wife has made something for her husband he will not exchange it without her consent and then get something for her. They vie with each other in getting things for the children. These people have no punishments for crime because no one ever does wrong. There is no punishment for theft because no one ever took anything that belonged to another. “No one allows his feet to stray from the trait of his ancestors.”

The Parikutus who were visiting here had knives which had undoubtedly come from French Guiana. They told us of their villages and others to the eastward and we decided to visit them. As there were no trails and we should have to make canoes and live on the country by hunting and fishing when away from the Indians, we were compelled to reduce our party to the smallest number possible. Dr. Church with our Brazilian boy, Joaquim, and all the Indians, except the four that Ogilvie had selected to take with us, returned to Dada Nawa taking the collections, photographs and note books. After six weeks of hard work, sick from fever and exhaustion, he arrived at Melville’s ranch where he recuperated for several days and returned to Para.

Ogilvie, the four Indians and I moved over to the Mapuerwau river on January 9th and made three woodskins, or bark canoes, for our journey down stream. The canoe is made of one piece of bark taken from a large tree. It was not always desirable to fell the trees because there are so many vines running from tree to tree that it is often necessary to cut three or four trees to get one down and then it may fall against another tree and split the bark. A section of bark twenty or more feet in length, extending two-thirds around the trunk, is taken off and pointed at the ends. About three feet from either end a groove is cut through the coarse outer bark around the sides but not across the bottom. Then a fire is built inside to soften the inner bark and the ends lifted up. The softened bark folds inside and makes a waterproof joint. The ends are held up by small poles, which are tied along the sides from one end to the other. Short poles are tied across to hold the sides apart and pieces of heavy bark or poles are bent across the bottom to prevent it from folding up in the middle. This makes a serviceable but a very cranky craft which rolls over with the slightest provocation.

Ogilvie and the captain of our men went first because they carried the shot gun, my boy and I second and our other two behind. On the larger rivers Ogilvie and I traveled along different sides to hunt and the third canoe spent the time fishing. In the rapids we kept as close together as possible to aid each other in case of accident. Along the smaller rivers there was hard work in the rapids but little danger except that of splitting the canoe against the rocks and logs.

Three children with their faces painted
Fig. 191. — Parikutu girls.

We traveled five days down the Mapuerwau and up the Bonawau to a landing place where we sank our canoes to prevent their cracking in the sun and started across country to the first Parikutu village which was reached in four days over an easy trail. The old chief here told us that the knives and beads they had were made by the Diaus who lived a long way to the eastward. He had spent four moons in an attempt to reach them but had failed on account of the great distance and the difficulties of travel. The chief and one of our men had known each other as boys. At their last meeting, probably twenty-five years before, one had bought a dog from the other but had not since had an opportunity to pay for it. Settlement was made as soon as formal greetings were over.

Another day’s journey took us to the Mapidian village. Here we learned more about the Diaus who still had the credit for making knives and beads. The chief’s son had two Diau wives but they had been brought when small girls to a neighboring tribe and knew nothing of their own people. Everything new or strange was attributed to them, so we determined to visit them if possible. The language of the Mapidians sounded very familiar and proved to be a dialect of Arawak. All the others in the region speak dialects of Carib. They have a tradition that they came from east of the Essiquibo. The Atarois have a tradition that a part of their tribe went over the mountains to the southeast in ancient times and disappeared. As their language is more like Ataroi than Taruma or Wapisiana, they are no doubt the lost Atarois. Although they had not seen whites before, they showed no nervousness whatever and treated us with the greatest hospitality. Every morning the chief came for us to eat with him. He was too old to go with us himself, but provided men and food to take us to the next tribe. We gave him some presents which he greatly appreciated. In parting he said, “I am an old man, I shall soon go up above, and when I get there, I will watch for you, and when I see you coming, I will tell Tumincar (the Creator) how good you have been to me.” The World calls him “a naked savage” and the Church, “a heathen”

No one had been across to the Waiwĕ village for several years and there was no trail, but some of the men knew the direction. When there is no trail it is difficult to travel in the lowlands because of the thick growth which requires cutting before one can pass. Hence our guides led us the longer way around and over rough rocky hills where there was little cutting but much climbing to do. One day and night were spent on a mountain without water. When we reached the village after several days climbing we found only the chief and his wife at home. The others had gone down the river that morning to fish and would not return for three or four days. The next forenoon one of them came back, saying he had dreamed that strangers were in the village and had come to see if it were true. When he saw us he was afraid to come up until the chief went for him. He at once returned for the others. None of these tribes had ever seen guns and were very much impressed by them. They would point out game for us to shoot but .no one would eat the game we killed. There were not enough Waiwĕs to carry our packs so a part of the Mapidians continued with us to the next Parikutu village. When the others were ready to return four of them came to me and requested that I remove my clothing. Not knowing what they had in mind I complied with their wish. Then, I discovered that each man had in his hand a bunch of wet raw cotton which he proceeded to rub over my body from head to foot. At the time, I had not the slightest idea what it was all about but later learned that they had baby boys at home whom they would rub with the same cotton so they might grow to be big strong men. As I am six feet one inch and they but five feet four, I appreciated the compliment.

Our way to the next village led for two days along a river too deep to ford. The guides knew of a place where two trees had fallen from opposite banks of the river and met in the middle thus forming a passage way across. Of all our log crossings this was the most difficult. The river was deep and very rapid. The logs were waist deep in the water. One had to feel with his feet, climb over the limbs and change logs in mid stream without being able to see a solitary thing. The second day out one of our Waiwĕ boys was struck by a very poisonous snake, the Jararaca. We at once administered white man’s remedies. Later the chief gave him their own treatment which consisted in spitting at the wound, blowing on the different joints of the body and singing songs. This appeared to be more soothing than our treatment but I imagine our lance and hypodermic were more effective. We built a shelter for him and left him there, with his wife who happened to be along, until the chief would return two weeks later. We never learned how he found him.

A girl with her face painted and wearing many necklaces and tassels
Fig. 192. — Diau girl. The lines at the corners of her Mouth indicate that she is the one who chews the Cassava root for the manufacture of the Intoxicating Drink.
Image Number: 28211

At the Parikutu village we were delighted to find the chief spoke Taruma. His father had been with Schomburgk in 1843 on the Corentyne but had not returned to the Essiquibo with his companions. He had gone south and married the daughter of a Parikutu chief. The son had learned to speak Taruma with his father but had forgotten much of it since his death. When the Mapidians returned he acted as interpreter and accompanied us to the next three villages. He told us more stories of the Diaus but would not agree to go with us to visit them because he said he would die of old age before he would get back from such a long journey.

The Chikenas of the next village had been driven up the Kichuau river by their enemies who had burned their village and killed most of their people because they were blamed for sending sickness to their neighbors. Here we found the oldest looking man that any of us had ever seen. His dry skin hung in folds from his stooping frame. His teeth had long since disappeared. Yet his hair was as thick and black as ever. He could do no work but was cared for by his friends. Every day he brought sweet potatoes which he and I ate with salt. He had never tasted salt before but liked it exceedingly well.

Here we made three more canoes and started down river thinking we should go to the Apiniwau, but after four days the Indians would go no farther because their enemies were below. As usual, we sank our canoes and started across country without a trail to another river which flowed into the Apiniwau higher up stream. This walking trip was the most disagreeable of all. A part of every day, it would rain and then the sun would come out, but the forest was so thick it could not reach us. Thus we would steam from day to day. Continuous rain would have been much more comfortable. When we reached the Ponoma river we built three more canoes and made new paddles. One tree made two canoes. At the mouth of the river we found evidence of Indians but could not tell which way they had been traveling. We decided to try up river first. At the first rapids we learned that they had gone up river and had not returned. They always unload on the rocks and carry the canoe up first, then return for their baggage. Some refuse is usually left behind and this gives the clue to the direction they were traveling. If they had been going down stream this evidence would have been found on the upper side of the rapids. The morning of -the third day we reached a Kumayena village but no one was at home. After helping ourselves to sugar cane and potatoes we continued up stream. In the middle of the afternoon, the chief who was traveling in front made signals that he saw a canoe and we hid ourselves from view while he went on to the village. He told the people some white men were coming and returned for us. When we entered the village all the men were lined up with bows and arrows ready to shoot. The chief with a long knife motioned us to a seat on a log. Instead of coming to greet us as was the custom, he sent his daughters to speak to us while the men stood guard. As usual when entering a strange village, we had left our guns in the canoe. They soon realize that unarmed men do not mean to do them harm.

Our reception in all the other villages was practically the same. We stopped at the edge of the clearing that always surrounds a village and allowed the chief from the last village to go in alone. When all was ready he returned for us and led us in. We marched in single file and lined up in front of the men’s door in the large communal house where we remained standing with our packs on our backs until the chief came out bringing with him two stools, one for himself and one for me. We then sat down and entered into conversation. He talked without interruption for ten minutes or more and then gave me an opportunity. Neither of us knew a word the other said yet we understood each other perfectly. He then moved along to speak to Ogilvie and the others. After all the men and boys had offered greeting the women came in line led by the chief’s wives and each in turn said a word of welcome and passed on without waiting for a reply. The men engaged in general conversation until the women brought out great bowls of soup and meat and bread. Upon invitation by the chief we squatted on our heels around the bowls. Each took a great piece of hard coarse bread and soaked it in the soup until it was soft enough to eat. Then we moved back without rising to give others an opportunity. When we had eaten the moistened part we moved up again. If we cared for meat—bird, pig or monkey—we fished it out of the soup with our fingers. We were expected to carry away any bread left over, and we soon learned that it was considered bad manners not to do so. Our men often helped us over such difficulties by calling attention to them before it was too late. We did not like some of their drinks yet when the chief brought them we had to drink all he offered. If some one else brought it we might take a little and pass it along, but the vessel must return by the same route to the one who first took it. One who is careful at home soon learns the proper etiquette abroad. The meal being over we were taken to the men’s house where our hammocks were arranged for the night. Ogilvie and I were everywhere treated with the courtesy and the consideration due to visiting chiefs.

At this last village we met a member of the tribe we had heard so much about, a Diau. It was his canoe we had followed up river. He told us a dance was in progress at one of their villages and that a chief who lived far to the eastward was present. He said they did not make the knives and beads but this man from the east got these things from black men who made them. When his visit was over, he went with us eleven days to his own home and sent us with other men to the dance where we met the old trader. On the way we found a great deal of very good fruit, the abiu. It grows on tall trees. The Indians would climb up and cut off the branches so we could get it.

Their dances take place at night and they could not be induced to give them in daylight to be photographed. The occasion seems to be more of a drinking bout than a dance. Before the dance some interesting wrestling matches took place. Two young men each with a good strong whip would come out into the dancing place and at a given signal would whip each other about the bare legs making their whips crack like pistols until they could stand the punishment no longer, when they would drop their whips and rush at each other like mad. It was a regular catch-as-catch-can contest but instead of trying to throw each other down they tried to lift each other up. When one succeeded in getting both the other’s feet clear of the ground he was the winner.

Two men fishing in the river with spears
Fig. 193. — Two of our Indians fishing in the Corentyne River,
Image Number: 28159

The dance lasted until all the food of the village was consumed. The old trader said he lived twenty-eight days to the northeast from this village. He knew a few words of negro English, a few of Portuguese and a few of French. He had never seen whites before but had traded with Negroes and had learned these words from them. He invited us to accompany him to his home. We started with him and the second day crossed the low divide between Brazil and the Guianas, here only seven hundred feet above the sea in Lat. 1º 55′ N. and Long. 56° 45′ W. He had told us of a great open space in the forest on this high ground and we thought he meant a lake but when we reached the place we discovered an outcrop of granite a quarter of a mile across. This is on top of the divide and will be one of the most prominent points in the line when the boundary between the countries is finally fixed. As we were the first whites to cross the divide at this point we named it “Farogle.”

The following morning when we were ready to start the chief refused to go, saying that we had traveled so fast the day before that his soul had not been able to keep up and he would have to wait for it. At eleven o’clock his lazy soul came in and we got under way again but his tired soul traveled very slowly. The fifth day out his wife took fever and he decided to camp for a time until she recovered. We could not afford to remain because our stock of quinine was exhausted and we were all having fever. Our ammunition was also getting low. So we ‘determined to take the shortest way out to civilization. We were camping on a small stream which was flowing north. When we asked the chief about it he said it went on in that direction and never came back. That it emptied into a river so large that the parrots and eagles could not fly across it and that its water was so thick that a canoe could not be paddled through it until the sun was very high. We asked him if he had ever seen this river and he said, “No, all the rivers I ever saw had another side to them but this one has no other side.”

We built two large woodskins and started for the great river. We were not certain what river we were on but knew it must be a very rapid one because our elevation was nearly six hundred feet. From the location of rapids and of mouths of entering rivers we soon decided that we were following Schomburgk down the Corentyne. He had crossed the divide in 1843 by another trail and embarked on the river at an Indian village farther down stream. Today there are no Indians in the region.

While we were among the Indians they supplied us with food but now there were no more Indians and we were destined to depend entirely upon hunting and fishing for our living. This we could do easily enough as long as we cared to remain in one place but we experienced great difficulty in securing sufficient food while traveling. On rainy days we could get no game and in the rapids we could catch no fish. Our food question became a very serious one indeed. It was always all of one thing or the other or nothing. Either all pig, or monkey, or beegrubs, or parrots, or lizards, or nuts, or fruit, or the head of the palm. All perfectly good eating but the better of a little mixing.

On the whole journey to this river we carried a pan and washed the sands of all the streams for gold, but without finding a single color. This experience may be of value to others because it had been supposed that this region contained gold.

Where we embarked for our lonely journey the river was very narrow but fortunately there were no logs to cut or sand bars to drag across. We paddled down the short turns with a current running at the rate of four miles an hour for three days before we came to the first rapids, where we were to learn a very important lesson. Where there are rapids the river spreads out and breaks up into numerous branches thus forming islands of various sizes in midst of the rapids. This makes it impossible to see the foot of the falls or to determine which is the safest way to go. We started down among the islands, making our way from one to the other until we were far away and out of sight of either bank. We had to pass the night on an island. Then we learned that there were no animals or birds on the island and that we could catch no fish in the rapid water. So we began to realize how helpless we would be if our canoes should go to pieces on the rocks of an island. It would be impossible to get food or to reach the mainland. We decided henceforth to remain near one bank or the other. When we heard the noise of falls below, we stopped on the first islands at the top of the rapids and from the noise of the water decided which bank to follow. It was best to take the longer way around and thus avoid the greater falls. Often the rapids were very long and it was impossible to tell which way to go. The branch we followed would continue to break up until it might disappear among the rocks when we would cut a trail across an island or a point of the mainland for a long distance to another branch and try it again. Scores of times we carried our canoes across long level stretches or over high rocks and steep banks. The forests were so dense that we could cut only very narrow trails. On this account we turned our canoes upside down and carried them over our heads. Some one was always sick with fever and at such times he would remain in his hammock until the trail was ready. Then he would get up and take his place in the line because it required all of our combined strength to carry the water-soaked canoes. One might be too sick to paddle but he could not be too sick to pack. Not one of us will ever forget these trying times.

Between the rapids the banks of the upper river are high and lined with heavy forests of hard wood. There is nothing of the jungle one gets in the lowlands. While hunting, we could walk through the open forests without cutting a trail. The country is not as hilly as it is on the Brazilian side. Occasionally at a turn of the river we would get a glimpse of a low bill in the distance.

There is nothing like a chain of mountains until the region of the mouth of the New river is reached. This tipper country would be a delightful place to colonize if there were railway transportation.

For twenty-six days we worked our way down this difficult and dangerous river without seeing a single human being. As in the days of Schomburgk there are no Indians living along the banks of the river. When we reached the last, or the Wanotobo Falls, we attempted to go down on the British side but were unable to do so and spent four days working our way across the falls to the Dutch mainland. The last two days we were without food. In the evening Ogilvie shot an alligator and we went into camp on what later proved to be the bank of the river. We were so hungry that we ate too much and in the night all were sick. I was restless and sat up in my hammock. Ogilvie laughed and asked what was wrong. I said I was sitting up to keep my alligator down. He replied that he had just been down to the river to throw his up.

Next morning we discovered a trail and followed it to the bottom of the falls where we were overjoyed to find two boats with oars. Thus we knew there were no more serious rapids for such boats could not be handled in rapid water. They belonged to men who had gone deep into the forest to gather rubber. I attempted to find them and get permission to use one of the boats but after following their trail for two days, I returned. The men had not been able to find suitable trees for woodskins. There was nothing else to do. We took the boat hoping to return it before the owners might need it. Next to murder, taking a canoe is the most serious crime one can commit and is punished accordingly by the Dutch authorities.

About noon we met some negroes going up to the foot of the falls to work rubber. They told us that a government launch was expected within a few days at the Dutch station a short distance down river. We hired them to take us down to the station and to return the boat. We did not like the idea of falling into the hands of the authorities with the boat still in our possession. By traveling two days and the intervening night we reached the station in time to hear the whistle of the approaching launch.

Here we had time to take stock of our possessions and condition. Our reserve food supply consisted of the fore leg and a part of the tail of our old alligator. This the good negro host immediately threw into the river, saying that no man would be allowed to eat such food as long as he had rice and beans—a sentiment that one cannot fully appreciate until he has lived on alligator steak alone for several days. Physically we were all in a rather bad condition. For two months we had had chills and fever continually. This together with poor food had reduced us to skeletons. I was forty-eight pounds lighter than when I left home. One of the Indians had dysentery and all were suffering from sore feet. Ogilvie had “Bush jaws” which kept him in the doctor’s care for many months. While I had “Beri-Beri,” according to the diagnosis of the natives. They pressed their fingers into my swollen feet and legs making deep dimples which would remain for a long time. They said I would get to Georgetown all right but no one ever recovered. I was not alarmed because I knew I was suffering from cold feet only. I had not been accustomed to work in the water barefooted. Eight months afterward, I was able to lace my shoes again.

When we arrived at Nickerie, at the mouth of the river, we were taken in charge by two policemen carrying rifles who marched us through the city in a downpour of rain, to the police station where we were detained for three hours while the court examined our papers and the curious populace observed our ragged clothes and bare feet. The amount of our letter of credit impressed the judge favorably and we were allowed to cross over to the British side of the river. We arrived in Georgetown just eight months after leaving postal touch with the outside world at Rio Branco. For five months we had not seen another white man. Here we were very kindly received and entertained by the Governor of the Colony and other friends of Ogilvie and Melville. After ten days rest and much needed medical treatment, Ogilvie and our four faithful Indians set out for the long month of upriver canoe travel to reach their homes in the savannah country. Whatever success we attained was due to the perfectly harmonious labors of the entire party.

From Georgetown, I went by way of Trinidad to Barbados, where I had the great pleasure of spending a day with Colonel Roosevelt and learning from him the story of his explorations in Brazil. After remaining in Barbados twenty-five days and gaining twenty-three pounds of good solid civilized flesh, I returned to Para for another journey.


[To be continued.]

1 For the story of creation see Vol. VI, No. 1 of the Journal.

Cite This Article

F., W. C.. "The Amazon Expedition of the University Museum." The Museum Journal VII, no. 4 (December, 1916): 209-244. Accessed February 21, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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