The Amazon Expedition

By: Wm. Curtis Farabee

Originally Published in 1917

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The Tapajos

Our next long journey was made up the Tapajos River, to the state of Matto Grosso, where the Sao Manoel and the Juruena unite to form the Tapajos. Here we visited the last remnant of the Apiacas, once a large and ferocious tribe, speaking a dialect of the Tupi language. At the time of the Brazilian war with Paraguay, 1866-71, the state of Matto Grosso was cut off from trade to the southward, and for a few years the people were obliged to get their supplies from the Amazon valley by way of the Tapajos and the Juruena rivers. At that time the Apiacas were numerous and were used as canoemen on these rapid rivers, where the white men and their negro companions would have been helpless without their assistance. From their physical appearance at present, it would seem that considerable mingling of blood took place at that time. They resent the suggestion, but the short curly hair of some individuals and other physical features so foreign in appearance can best be accounted for in that way. From their own account they were formerly nude cannibals, eating the bodies of enemies killed in warfare. Today, while the flesh eating trait has disappeared, they wear clothing only when they go among the rubber gatherers. Their chief is the captain of a large motor boat, which carries rubber down the 400 or 500 miles of rapids to the large steam launches in the quiet water below. He has that quiet self command common in the Indian and so lacking in the Brazilian laborer. This self command is very necessary for navigating the dangerous rapids. To the Indian there are no dangers, because he steers his bark easily and safely without accident. He never losses his self possession, is never nervous, and always does the right thing at the right time. His canoe shoots by within an inch of the rock which might have dashed it to pieces, but he knew the inch was all the room he needed and had his canoe and men in such perfect control that there was no danger. At such times the slightest nervousness on the part of any of the crew would prove fatal, but no one is ever nervous. The traveler with such companions soon develops a confidence which allows him to enjoy the thrills of the passage. What I have said of this fellow applies equally well to all the canoe Indians. Their absolute absence of “nerves,” and their complete self possession under all circumstances must be admired by every one. This self mastery which enables them to prevent showing surprise, delight or appreciation, has often been called stupidity by the superficial observer. Two of the boys with us for five months on our journey through the new territory of North Brazil and down the Corentyne had never before left their homes in the savannahs, and had never worn clothing. At the end of our long canoe journey we put them aboard the steam launch; then a motor boat; then in an automobile for a rapid night ride; then aboard a train, and upon arriving in the city of Georgetown they were dressed like white men; but through all these experiences no one could tell from their outward expression that everything was not as customary to them as it was to us. They did not look unnatural in clothes, nor appear uncomfortable or awkward. When we were with Indians who had never before seen white men they showed no nervousness, with but two exceptions. Even when we fired a twelve gauge shot gun, expecting to see them jump, they never twitched a muscle—and they never heard the report of a gun before. I am aware that persons of a different temperament will think such self mastery an impossibility and attribute the facts to a low state of nervous susceptibility.

View of the river and two men paddling a canoe with another boat further out
Fig. 46. — Our canoe on the Tapajos with five tons of rubber onboard.
Image Number: 18045

The Tapajos is the most beautiful of the Amazon tributaries. A short distance above its mouth it broadens into a bay so large that one is able to get a natural horizon for astronomical observations. The water is perfectly clear and its great depth gives it the color of the sea. For more than a hundred miles of its lower course to the first rapids it is bordered by a high forested plateau. There are mountains every now and then, rising to a height of several hundred feet. The upper river, for a distance of five or six hundred miles, flows between steep mountains, in a series of rapids, with short stretches of quiet water between. The most difficult parts of the river to navigate in the dry season are the shallow places; the river spreads out to a width of three miles and flows over ledges of rock, with no deep channels. The most rapid places are not so dangerous when one is acquainted with the river, because the water is very deep. Although it runs at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour, the channel between the large rocks is practically straight and ends in quieter water.

The best rubber from the whole of the Amazon basin comes from this region. It must be transported down through the rapids in large canoes, carrying five or six tons each. Some of these canoes have motors attached at the stern. These are of great assistance in quiet water, but it is necessary to carry a crew of men because the motors are often broken and the canoes caught among the rocks in the rapids. Our canoe was on the rocks many times. Twice we were forced to run ashore, unload, and repair the canoe. When a canoe hits a rock in the rapids, there is great danger of its breaking, not only because of its weight and the force of the current, but also because of the necessity of running the motor, or paddles, at full speed. This must be done in order to guide the canoe among the rocks. A drifting canoe cannot be guided. The journey to Matto Grosso, which requires from four to six weeks in a loaded canoe with paddles, can be made in twelve days by the aid of a motor.


The banks of the Tapajos were formerly occupied by the notorious “head hunters” or Mundurucu Indians, but since the coming of the rubber gatherers, the Indians have, for the most part, retired to the highlands about the heads of the small streams to the eastward. They occupy about half the region between the Tapajos and Xingu rivers north of the Saô Manoel and south of the Itavira. This interior region was supposed to be a great grassy plain extending from near the Amazon to the great campo geral of Central Brazil. One is told in Santarem that he can ride on horseback from there south to Cuyaba, the capital of Matto Grosso, and that a railroad could be built with little difficulty to connect these two towns, but no one has ever been through the country. Ten miles from Santarem the dense forest begins and continues to Itavira where it gives place to a semidesert area which continues at least to eight degrees south latitude. This latter area west of the divide is occupied by the Mundurucus. No one has been across to the Xingu River and nothing is known of the eastern area. We had hoped to go, but the Indians have never crossed the divide and they say that no one lives to the eastward. They hunt to the mountain tops, but never go beyond. As the country was very rough and mountainous, and there were no trails leading to other tribes, we returned to the Tapajos. We went to the last village which was farther than whites had gone before. The land is semidesert because of poor soil not because of lack of rainfall. The Indians clear fields on the sides of the forested mountains and near the streams, but live in the open a long way from their water supply. Some grass grows in the lowlands and a few cattle might find pasturage. Along the Tapajos lower down there are a number of grass covered hilltops, but not of great extent. We found tracks in the sand made by the emu, the South American ostrich. The Indians see it occasionally. This is the farthest north the emu has been observed and may prove that there is open country all the way to the campo geral. Forests grow along the larger streams but not on the high land. A railroad would be difficult and expensive to build and would find little along the way to support it.

The Indians live in large communal houses with several families together. Each house has two doors, one for the men and one for the women on opposite sides of the house. In front of the men’s door, at a short distance, is the visitor’s house, or men’s house, where the men do all their work and where the unmarried men sleep. Visiting women are taken into the large house. Each family has a section of the house for its own use, including a fireplace. There is a head man for each house, and a chief over the whole tribe, which now numbers 500 or 600.

Portrait of the Apiaca Chief shirtless
Fig. 47. — Apiaca Chief.
Image Number: 28236

Each house has a medicine man, and there is also a chief medicine man, who ranks next to the chief of the tribe. According to the Indian belief, diseases are caused by an evil genius, “bokaid-pot,” in the village. The medicine man knows who this person is, and if many deaths occur or there is much sickness, he tells the chief. Thereupon the chief has the man killed. While we were there a boy about fifteen years of age was killed by two men of his own village (August 7, 1915) by order of the chief and upon the recommendation of a medicine man. He was strangled by means of a cord pulled tightly around his neck. The next morning the body was cremated after the chief had gone down to see it. All other persons, when they die or are killed by accident, are buried. They kill about one person a year in this manner. Our informant had helped to kill a man the year before. The man accused knows he is to be killed and offers little resistance. The chief appoints two men to do the deed at the first opportunity. They may select their time but cannot escape the duty. In the recent case the boy knew that he was blamed for the continued sickness at his village and was expecting to be killed, but he did not know who had been appointed by the chief to do it. The two men got their orders on August 4th, but e favorable opportunity did not present itself until the seventh, when they found the boy at the river side eating turtles’ eggs. They asked him for some eggs, which he gave them. After they had eaten them one of the men asked him for more and when he turned to get them the man seized him from behind, threw him on the ground and held him until his companion brought a cord with which they strangled him. Then they went to the village and told the chief. The medicine men know who these “bokaidpots” are even before anyone is sick, but do not tell who they are. One of them told us there were two in his village, but said he would not tell who they were unless much sickness occurred and many deaths. He does not tell the person himself, but the other people, and they shun the individual and will have nothing to do with him. Thus he knows his doom.

Origin of the People

In the beginning, the Creator, Karusakaibŭ, who then lived on the earth, made the animals, plants and mountains, but did not make the first men. He had a son who never had a mother. He also had a companion, Daiiru, who assisted him and looked after the son. Daiiru offended his superior, so he ran away and hid in a hole down in the depths of the earth. After some time, Karusa-kaibŭ found the hole, blew into it and stamped his foot on the ground. Daiiru came out with the rush of air. He told Karma-kaibŭ that there were many people down in the earth. So they made a rope of wild cotton and dropped the end down into the hole. The people at once began to climb up the rope, but when half were up, the rope broke and left the others below where they continue to live. The sun passes through their country from west to east, and gives them day when we have night. The moon also goes through their country, while we have dark nights.

Human Sacrifice

The people had no foods except wild fruits. The Creator told them to make a field and burn it clean. When it was ready, he took an old woman and buried her alive in the middle of the field. In a short time peppers grew above her body, and all kinds of food plants sprang up in the different parts of the field. Now they make no sacrifices in the new fields nor at planting time.

Destruction of the People

For some unknown reason, the people were all destroyed, not by a flood, as among the Wapisiana, but by fire, which came down from the sun and burnt up everything. Even the water evaporated. (Their traditional home was in this semidesert region.) After five days, the Creator, who had previously gone up above, sent a vulture from the sky to see if the earth was cold, but he found the burnt bodies of men and remained to eat them. The Creator after waiting four days sent a blackbird but he found the charred buds of the trees, and did not return. After another four days, the Creator sent down the dove, who carried back some earth between his toes and thus the Creator knew that the fire was out. Then the Creator came down and made men and animals of white clay, the kind which is used in making pottery.

Animal Stories

The Indians have many animal stories, some of which are similar in the main idea to our own. The one that pleases them most is the following: A man crossing a field saw a tapir standing with one foot on a toad. The toad’s eyes were bulging out from the weight of the tapir. The man said, “What are you doing there, Mr. Toad? Those are fine looking eyes you have.” The toad was angry and said, “They are my eyes, not yours; go along about your own business.” The tapir finally stepped off, but a hawk, flying over, saw the toad and gathered him up. The hawk then happened to fly over the man, who, hearing the noise of his wings, looked up, saw the toad in the hawk’s claws and called, “Hello, toad, where are you going now?” The toad replied, “I am not going anywhere, I am being taken.” “When are you coming back?” asked the man. The toad replied,” I may come back some time, but I don’t know when I’ll get there.”

The Fox and the Vulture

One day a fox found a vulture feeding on some decaying flesh and said to him, “That smells so bad it cannot be fit to eat; I will make you some good food.” So he went home and made a mingau, a thick soup of cooked ripe bananas, and took it to the top of a rock and called the vulture to dine with him. He poured the soup out on the rock and asked the vulture to eat. The vulture began to pick but could get nothing, while the fox licked it up eagerly. “Why don’t you eat?” said the fox. The vulture said, “You lick it all up with your tongue, while I can only batter my bill against the rock. I will get even with you some time for this.” At another time the vulture met the fox and said to him, “Come up into the sky with me and see around all over the country.” The fox said, “I cannot; I have no wings, I cannot fly.” “Well,” said the vulture, “I will fix you up so you can go, but we shall have to start very early in the morning.” “All right, I will go,” said the fox. The vulture went away and got some wax from a tree. In the morning he smeared it all over the fox while it was warm and soft. He then stuck feathers into the wax until the fox was so light that he floated away to the sky with the vulture. He enjoyed it greatly and went up very high so that he could see more of the savannah. After a while the sun came up, the wax melted, the feathers came out and the fox fell to the earth, where he was crushed to death on the rocks.

The Turtle and the Deer

A jaguar saw a turtle and tried to catch him. As the turtle ran into a hole among some roots the jaguar caught him by the hind leg. The turtle laughed and said, “You caught a root of the tree.” The jaguar let go and then caught a root, while the turtle pulled his legs into the hole. The jaguar waited but the turtle would not come out. After a while the jaguar was so weak he could not go away and finally the turtle came out and found him dead. He made a barbecue and while he was roasting him a deer came along and asked him how he caught the jaguar. He said, “By running after him.” The deer didn’t believe it and said, “Can you catch me?” “Yes,” said the turtle, and started for him. The deer ran for a long time, thinking the turtle was after him, and when nearly exhausted he called, “Turtle, are you near?” Another turtle who happened to be there said, “Yes, I am.” Whereupon the deer fell down dead near the turtle.

Games and Dances

They have many games and mimetic dances which take place on moonlight nights. At the full moon in the month of May they have the “feast of the pigs.” The peccaries are born in April and when a month old are regarded as great delicacies. The day before the feast and dance the men go hunting for the first time since the pigs were born. The women make the drink in time so that it may be ripe for the occasion. Visitors often come from other villages to take part in the feast. After the meal is over, which consists largely of roast pig and farinha, they all take part in the dances. The first one is the jaguar following the herd of peccaries. Two men lead blowing trumpets alternately, keeping time to the march. Behind them come the group of people scattered like a herd of peccaries feeding. The children run about among the older ones like pigs in the herd. They all make the characteristic sounds of the animals when feeding. Bringing up the rear is the old boar, who continually champs his teeth and rushes about to prevent the jaguar from gathering up any chance stragglers. The jaguar skulks behind catching a pig whenever opportunity offers. He goes about on three legs, holding the other out as a tail. He and the boar have frequent encounters. They are often rival athletes and give a good exhibition of wrestling.

Another is the “pig trap.” The dogs chase the ring-necked peccaries into holes in the ground. Then the hunters make a trap by driving a series of cross stakes so that the peccary must run between them. The hunters shoot him as he goes or kill him with a club at the end of the line. The players, men and women, line up with legs wide apart behind the two musicians who are supposed to stand nearest the hole where the peccaries are confined. Then the ones taking the part of peccaries rush out, crawl between the lines of legs and are killed with a club at the end. They have similar dances for other animals and all are so well performed that the stranger can understand them without an interpreter.

They have several of our children’s games in which they catch hands and crack the whip, run the figure eight, wind the line around two persons who hold fast at one end, start at one end of the line and turn it wrong side out by passing under the arms of the next pair, then catch ends and turn half the line heels over head backwards, etc. All take part and have great fun. When all is over, their perspiring naked bodies are covered with dust and they rush to the river for a bath.


Some of the women accompany the men when they go to war and carry their packs, cook their food, and care for the wounded, but do not fight. No declaration of war is made, because they are always in a state of war with certain tribes. Their method is to make a surprise attack at daybreak. They take no men prisoners, but kill them, cut off their heads, carry them home and preserve them as trophies. The teeth are taken out and suspended from a cotton belt, which they wear with great pride. Captured women may be taken as wives or servants, while children taken are made members of the tribe. A chief always fights with a chief. Some years ago a Mundurucu chief killed a Parintintin chief, took his head and captured his small son, whom he took home and adopted into the tribe as his own son. When the chief died this boy became the chief and carried on the warfare against his people. The Mundurucus and Parintintins are traditional enemies and from time immemorial have made war upon each other. The last encounter took place about twenty years ago, when a hundred Mundurucus made a campaign in which they burned a village, killed a chief and captured his son. They brought back four heads. Some of their own men were killed and nearly half died from hunger and sickness on the way home. The four heads were preserved and the teeth made into belts as is their custom. We secured these four belts for the Museum. They are particularly valuable because there are no more among them and they will not make any more. The two enemy tribes have been pushed far apart by Brazilian rubber gatherers.

View of shrubland
Fig. 48. — High land between the Tapajos and the Xingu
Image Number: 217902

The custom of preserving the head as a trophy is found among other tribes in the Amazon valley. The Jiveros on the Pastassa River in Peru cut off the head of the enemy, remove all the bones by cutting through the skin from the crown of the head to the neck and shrink the fleshy part to the size of a man’s fist. The form of the face is preserved as much as possible. It requires some skill to treat the head. Boys are taught the process by using sloth’s heads. The idea in thus preserving the head appears to be the same here as among the Mundurucus. It is a great honor to have taken the head of one of the national enemy. The successful warrior preserves the head in order that he may have it present at a great feast which he will give later when he can make provision for it. After the feast is over the head is of no great importance, and may be disposed of to the trader. The Huitotes on the Putumayo River cut off the head and eat it after it has been boiled. While the chief, medicine man and a few old men eat the head, the younger men take part in a war dance outside. The skull is kept and sometimes set up on a pole in front of the great house. The Andokes on the same river cut off the forearm, eat the flesh and use the bones for flutes. In all these cases, one of the main ideas is to terrorize the enemy.

In former times among the Mundurucus warfare occupied a very important place. The war chiefs were more influential than the civil chiefs. They formed the first class and the civil chiefs the second class. The sons and daughters of these chiefs intermarry and the inheritance is in the male line. If a woman of the first class should marry a man of the second class, their children would be second class. Today most of the people belong to one class or the other. A daughter may be given in marriage at six or eight years of age, but she remains with her parents until after puberty. She may be given to a man of fifty, she has no voice in the matter, but she always remains faithful.

The Universe

Their cosmology is simple and interesting. They start with a world readymade and very much as it is today with the exception of some mountains which were made to protect the people. The earth has an end, but no one has ever gone there. The sky also has an end, but no one has ever seen it. The earth and sky remain stationary while the sun and moon move. The creator transformed a young man with red eyes and long white hair into the sun and sent him up above. A young virgin with very white skin was transformed into the moon. The milky way is a man suspended in his hammock. The mother of the rain makes it thunder by rolling her pestle in the mortar. Her husband makes the rain. One man flashes the lightning after it has been prepared by another. The constellations are animals and men out in a great savannah. The eclipse of the sun is due to a great fire that sweeps over its surface. One time a great medicine man called all the people together and told them to watch while he ascended to the sun and put out the fire. They were all watching, but did not see him ascend. He was gone a long time. He found the people who made the fire, killed them and extinguished the fire. No one saw him descend, although they had been watching all the time since he disappeared. He suddenly landed on his feet in their midst. He told them that he had put out the fire, but they would see the smoke until the next day. Since then the medicine man sends his yakpu to clear the sun and it falls as a ball of fire. When it is cool he gets it and guards it until another eclipse. The yakpu is, no doubt, a piece of meteoric iron. We were not allowed to see it.

A large building with an organic roof and an entrance in the middle
Fig. 49. — Mundurucu village. Kapikpi, showing men’s door and men’s house.
Image Number: 18259

Three years ago a Catholic mission was established at one of the Mundurucu villages on the Cururu River. One Father and three Sisters spent six weeks in canoes from the end of navigation on the Purus to reach the place where they founded the mission. They now have twenty-six children under their care, about half of whom are Indians. The others belong to the rubber gatherers on the Tapajos. It is no discredit to the whites to say that the Indian children are doing the best work in the school. The Indians are stronger and naturally do better industrial work in doors and out. They lead also in literary work. A little girl about nine years of age, who three years before had never seen a white man, was leading the responsive Bible reading in Portuguese. These children are the interpreters for their parents and the missionaries. It is very important to teach them the language, because the whites will not learn Mundurucu. This school is doing good work and with proper support ought to be of great value to the Indians.

This tribe is no doubt the largest left in northern Brazil. They are honest, upright, good laborers and with careful treatment will become of inestimable value to this region, where workmen are scarce and the conditions of life are difficult for the foreigner. They are just beginning to work rubber and are doing remarkably well at adapting themselves to the regular daily labor required for that occupation. Their wants are increasing from their association with the whites. Their food supply is being interfered with by the rubber gatherers, who also depend largely upon hunting and fishing for their food. It is just at this time that the Indians need guidance to meet the new conditions and protection from the unprincipled trader. We have recommended among other things a law to protect them from the credit system which gives the trader an opportunity of robbing them. They are accustomed to equal exchanges and cannot keep accounts. We have suggested also that the state give them some cattle and stock their lakes and quiet rivers with piraricu, a large Amazon fish which does not pass the rapids of the Tapajos.

The Paikipiranga

While doing some archaeological work along the Maraca River, a northern tributary of the lower Amazon, we heard stories of a strange tribe of Indians who had recently come down to the first rubber gatherers’ place on the upper river. No one knew their name or anything of their language. We took the first opportunity to visit them. After traveling as far as possible by launch and canoe, we went on foot seven days through the downpours of the rainy season.

When they came to the rubber camp they gave the whites to understand that they were fleeing from some dreadful disease which had carried off all the rest of their tribe, which had been a very large one. The rubber men said some of the Indians were suffering from catarrh when they arrived and they said it was the same disease which had taken so many of their people. There were nine in the party, the chief, a man about thirty, six women from fifteen to thirty and two boys about three and ten. One of the women has since died, but the others are now in perfect health, even if not contented and happy. On January 11, 1916, they were all taken down river to Central to meet a Padre from Santarem, who baptized them and married two of the women to two Brazilian rubber men. Neither the foolish priest nor any Brazilian knew a word of the Indian language. At the time the Indians must have wondered what it was all about, as they had not yet learned Portuguese or Latin, but they had a rude awakening when the women were carried off by their new-found husbands. One woman was allowed to take her three-year-old son with her. The chief, his wife and a relative are remaining together and living with a rubber gatherer, where they are making themselves useful and agreeable.

We were unable to get any information about their culture other than what we could observe. We got a short vocabulary, but sufficient to identify their language as a dialect of Tupi. We tried to use one of the happy husbands in getting terms of relationship, but he failed to make his wife understand the simple terms, father, mother, son, wife, husband, brother, sister, etc. Language is unnecessary in the religion, love and servitude of the Amazon. In physical appearance, they are well developed, but short of stature. The man has considerable hair on his face and body. The bridge of the nose is very low, which gives them the appearance of being very wide between the eyes. The men wear the loin cloth and the women short skirts woven of native cotton. Their hammocks are also made of cotton.

A group of seven Mundurucu hunters in the woods standing and holding spears, wearing nothing but loinclothes
Fig. 50. — Mundurucu Hunters.
Image Number: 18260

This was our first journey through a real castaña or Brazil nut region. This tree grows only on the fertile high land, where we counted as many as a dozen, from two and a half to six feet in diameter and seventy-five feet high without a limb, on an acre of ground. A tree yields from one to two barrels of hulled nuts each year. About a million bushels are shipped annually from Para, half to America and half to the different countries of Europe. They are used entirely to eat and not for making oil as generally supposed; they are too expensive for that purpose, as they retail from twenty to thirty cents a pound. The present output could be increased ten fold with better facilities for transportation. The shell, which contains about fifteen of the nuts, is so hard that it does not break when it falls and the animals are unable to eat the nuts. The sabacaia nut is more valuable, but it has a cap which falls off when ripe and allows the nuts to scatter on the ground, where the animals eat them. It is so dangerous, when the Brazil nuts are falling, that men will not travel through the forest at that time.

Difficulties of Travel

Much has been said about the annoyances, difficulties and dangers of Amazon jungle travel. For the most part there has been exaggeration, but at best there are many drawbacks to the pleasure of the traveler and to the development of the country.

The greatest danger to the foreigner is the climate. The depressing effect of heat and moisture. The stranger is always advised to keep out of the sun, to do no manual labor and to take stimulants regularly. We kept in perfect health by neglecting all this advice. We paddled our canoes, carried our packs and dug in the mounds every day with our own hand and felt just as well as when doing the same kind of things in cooler climates. With regular exercise, regular bathing, and regular sleeping a temperate man can keep well in the tropics for a short period. Malaria is the one disease he can scarcely hope to escape, but by taking small doses of quinine he can prevent the fever from rising. We soon learned that six grains twice a week was sufficient to keep it down.

From the Indians we had little to fear, yet we took the precaution to carry with us the chief from the last village to the next. When we arrived at the clearing that always surrounds a village, we stopped and allowed him to go in alone and announce our coming. This prevented their running away and secured a favorable reception. We were always treated as visiting chiefs among the tribes who had not before seen white men and we tried to act the part with our best ability. At least we avoided giving offence.

There is practically no danger from the puma, jaguar, alligator or large serpents. They seldom if ever attack man unprovoked in this region. The only real danger is from the smaller poisonous reptiles—the rattler, jararaca, and bush master. When on foot we wore leggins and when traveling through the forests followed an Indian. Not that his eyes were any better than ours, but because he was more accustomed to seeing them and knew their haunts. In all our experience we saw many snakes, but had only one man struck. We gave him white man’s treatment at once and later his chief gave him their treatment, which consisted in singing songs, blowing on all his joints and spitting on the wound. Unfortunately we had to leave him on the trail and never were able to learn whether or not he recovered.

Mr. Roosevelt has called attention to the danger from the piranha, the man-eating fish which is common in many of the rivers. It is undoubtedly the most ferocious fish in the world and will attack anything. Fortunately for the canoemen, he is not found in rapids or very shallow water. He always makes his presence known; hence there is little danger from him. The annoyances one notices most at the time, but soon forgets them. Of these it is difficult to make a choice. The mosquitoes, flies, ants, and small crawlers too numerous to mention, do make life rather miserable at times. They are never all present at any one time nor any of them at all times. Many places we wore gloves and headnets during the day and slept in nets at night. When we were doing archæological work in the forests, the mosquitoes were so bad in daytime that we had to wear gloves and nets and have a boy with a brush to keep them off our bodies. The sharp sting from the bite of the mosquito is soon over and nothing comes of it at once, but the bite of the small fly leaves a blood clot which continues to itch for days. If one scratches he is sure to have blood poison—he must simply let it hurt. The worst of the lot of nuisances are the small crawlers, because one cannot protect himself from them. After a time one remembers only the pleasant days and nights of the dry season in the open country where for four months at a time he can travel and sleep out of doors without protection of any kind.

If one adapts himself to the conditions, customs and food of the country he will soon be able to travel and work in comparative comfort. However, he will have great difficulty in applying himself with his accustomed zeal. It goes without saying that one should not remain a long time in such an environment. Our stay of three years was too long. One not only gets out of touch with the world, but he also gets out of harmony with it.

To summarize, our expedition accomplished much more than the making of a large collection for the Museum exhibits. From our extended travel we came into touch with many things of interest and secured much information which will be of service to others in a material way. We brought back collections from some thirty tribes which will be valuable in comparative ethnological study. The varied archæological material will be of service in determining the relationship between the ancient culture and that of the present peoples. Besides these things of material culture, we secured a vast amount of somatological, linguistic and ethnological data which will be invaluable in the study of the complicated questions of migrations and mingled cultures. An article relating to the archæological work will be found in a future number of the JOURNAL.

A group of men standing on the shore of the river watching boats go navigate it
Fig. 51. — Running the Coatquara Rapids, Tapajos River.
Image Number: 18043


A word about equipment may be of interest to other travelers in this region. The photographic outfit is of most importance on any kind of expedition. For nearby work, we used a 5 x 7 Century camera fitted with a Voightlaender lens and carried kits for 12 x 18 mm. plates for single portraits and small objects. Our most used and most convenient outfit was an Eastman 4¼ x 6½ kodak fitted with a No. III Goerz lens and a volute shutter. We carried also an extra plate attachment and case. Along the rivers we used plates, but when on foot traveling across country where plates could not well be carried on account of the weight, we used roll films. After expensive experimenting we found that Ensign films, Wratten & Wainwright and Hammer plates stood the heat and moisture best. Some of our very best photographs were taken with films which had been a year in the tropics. Hammer plates three years old proved better than some other makes which were only three months from the factory. It was necessary to carry chemicals and to develop our negatives at once. The Agfa fixing bath put up in glass tubes is convenient and satisfactory. Fixing baths put up in tins will not keep in the tropics. When we returned to our base we made prints of all important negatives and sent them home at once. After they had arrived safely we sent the negatives. Ansco paper three years old proved better than some other papers fresh from the factory. It is a shame that workers must thus experiment in the field and lose invaluable photographs simply because manufacturers and dealers will not take the trouble to find out what is suitable for tropical use and are willing to recommend anything to make a sale. Such dealers should be widely advertised. It is difficult to refrain from using names in this connection, but instead of doing so we shall take more pleasure in recommending the Hammer plate, the Ensign film and the Ansco paper for continued work in the Amazon country.

For guns we used the Remington 30-30 rifles and the 12 gauge repeating shotgun. These were most satisfactory to us and they so recommended themselves to other people that we had to supply them with some fourteen guns. In spite of their fine mechanism they were easy to clean and to keep in perfect condition even when traveling on the trail in the rainy season.

In our geographical work we used the Hicks sextant, aneroid and artificial horizon. We did not need the wind shield because we worked with the stars only and there is very little wind at night. The sun was too high for meridian observations. We carried a Waltham pocket chronometer and Elgin watches for time and a Brunton compass for traverse work.

Baggage is very difficult to arrange for all kinds of travel. We used some Silver airtight metal trunks which were always safe in the rains on the trails and on the bottoms of leaky canoes. The lightest and for all purposes probably the best are the heavy duffle bags with a native made caucho bag inside. In canoes among the rapids we carried our notes, cameras and photographic materials in such bags, together with small life preservers. These would float and were not fastened to the canoes. A few most necessary heavy things were always made fast. The Abercrombie oil silk fly is indispensable. One weighing seven pounds will protect six men and their packs and will last a year or more. My personal outfit was made up of a Wapisiana Indian hammock, a mosquito net and a five pound army blanket which I used every night when sleeping out of doors. The best clothing is the two piece suit of the country, a Stetson hat and strong boots. I know of nothing so absolutely uncomfortable as to have the rain soaking through one’s hat and running down about his neck and ears. My Stetson after nearly three years wear needs only new bands for another year of tropical rains. Waterproof boots are not fit for tropical wear. When one is walking in the rain it is impossible to keep the water from running into his boots and it is likewise impossible for it to get out. His feet steam the first day, he is lame the second and laid up by the third. Porous boots with strong soles are best and coolest.

When traveling and working in difficult places it is a much better policy to carry as few things as practicable, and to take exceptional care of these, than it is to burden oneself with duplicates expecting to lose something. Acting on this policy during our six years in tropical work, we never lost a man, a canoe, a notebook, a camera or instrument of any kind, and not even a drop of mercury. Yes, we were fortunate; the painstaking usually are.


Cite This Article

Farabee, Wm. Curtis. "The Amazon Expedition." The Museum Journal VIII, no. 2 (June, 1917): 126-144. 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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