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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Third Journey, 1820.
Chapter 2
Chapter 2 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5

⮞⯈ Chapter 1 ⮞⯈ Chapter 3 ⮞⯈ Chapter 4

THIRD JOURNEY in Waterton's own words ...continued ...

▼ Chapter 2, p.1.

In some parts of these forests I saw the vanilla growing luxuriantly. It creeps up the trees to the height of thirty or forty feet. I found it difficult to get a ripe pod, as the monkeys are very fond of it, and generally took care to get there before me. The pod hangs from the tree in the shape of a little scabbard. Vayna is the Spanish for a scabbard, and vanilla for a little scabbard. Hence the name.

In Mibiri Creek there was a cayman of the small species, measuring about five feet in length; I saw it in the same place for months, but could never get a shot at it, for, the moment I thought I was sure of it, it dived under the water before I could pull the trigger. At last I got an Indian with his bow and arrow: he stood up in the canoe with his bow ready bent, and as we drifted past the place he sent his arrow into the cayman's eye, and killed it dead. The skin of this little species is much harder and stronger than that of the large kind; it is good food, and tastes like veal.

My friend Mr. Edmonstone had very kindly let me have one of his old negroes, and he constantly attended me: his name was Daddy Quashi. He had a brave stomach for heterogeneous food; it could digest and relish, too, caymen, monkeys, hawks and grubs. The Daddy made three or four meals on this cayman while it was not absolutely putrid, and salted the rest. I could never get him to face a snake; the horror he betrayed on seeing one was beyond description. I asked him why he was so terribly alarmed. He said it was by seeing so many dogs from time to time killed by them.

Here I had a fine opportunity of examining several species of the caprimulgus. I am fully persuaded that these innocent little birds never suck the herds, for when they approach them, and jump up at their udders, it is to catch the flies and insects there. When the moon shone bright I would frequently go and stand within three yards of a cow, and distinctly see the caprimulgus catch the flies on its udder. On looking for them in the forest during the day, I either found them on the ground, or else invariably sitting longitudinally on the branch of a tree, not crosswise, like all other birds.

The wasps, or maribuntas, are great plagues in these forests, and require the naturalist to be cautious as he wanders up and down. Some make their nests pendent from the branches; others have them fixed to the underside of a leaf. Now, in passing on, if you happen to disturb one of these, they sally forth and punish you severely. The largest kind is blue: it brings blood where its sting enters, and causes pain and inflammation enough to create a fever. The Indians make a fire under the nest, and, after killing or driving away the old ones, they roast the young grubs in the comb and eat them. I tried them once by way of dessert after dinner, but my stomach was offended at their intrusion; probably it was more the idea than the taste that caused the stomach to rebel.

Time and experience have convinced me that there is not much danger in roving amongst snakes and wild beasts, provided only that you have self- command. You must never approach them abruptly; if so, you are sure to pay for your rashness, because the idea of self-defence is predominant in every animal, and thus the snake, to defend himself from what he considers an attack upon him, makes the intruder feel the deadly effect of his poisonous fangs. The jaguar flies at you, and knocks you senseless with a stroke of his paw; whereas, if you had not come upon him too suddenly, it is ten to one but that he had retired in lieu of disputing the path with you. The labarri-snake is very poisonous, and I have often approached within two yards of him without fear. I took care to move very softly and gently, without moving my arms, and he always allowed me to have a fine view of him without showing the least inclination to make a spring at me. He would appear to keep his eye fixed on me as though suspicious, but that was all. Sometimes I have taken a stick ten feet long and placed it on the labarri's back. He would then glide away without offering resistance. But when I put the end of the stick abruptly to his head, he immediately opened his mouth, flew at it, and bit it.

One day, wishful to see how the poison comes out of the fang of the snake, I caught a labarri alive. He was about eight feet long. I held him by the neck, and my hand was so near his jaw that he had not room to move his head to bite it. This was the only position I could have held him in with safety and effect. To do so it only required a little resolution and coolness. I then took a small piece of stick in the other hand and pressed it against the fang, which is invariably in the upper jaw. Towards the point of the fang there is a little oblong aperture on the convex side of it. Through this there is a communication down the fang to the root, at which lies a little bag containing the poison. Now, when the point of the fang is pressed, the root of the fang also presses against the bag, and sends up a portion of the poison therein contained. Thus, when I applied a piece of stick to the point of the fang, there came out of the hole a liquor thick and yellow, like strong camomile-tea. This was the poison which is so dreadful in its effects as to render the labarri-snake one of the most poisonous in the forests of Guiana. I once caught a fine labarri and made it bite itself. I forced the poisonous fang into its belly. In a few minutes I thought it was going to die, for it appeared dull and heavy. However, in half an hour's time he was as brisk and vigorous as ever, and in the course of the day showed no symptoms of being affected. Is then the life of the snake proof against its own poison? This subject is not unworthy of the consideration of the naturalist.

In Guiana there is a little insect in the grass and on the shrubs which the French call bête-rouge. It is of a beautiful scarlet colour, and so minute that you must bring your eye close to it before you can perceive it. It is most numerous in the rainy season. Its bite causes an intolerable itching. The best way to get rid of it is to rub the part affected with oil or rum. You must be careful not to scratch it. If you do so, and break the skin, you expose yourself to a sore. The first year I was in Guiana the bête- rouge and my own want of knowledge, and, I may add, the little attention I paid to it, created an ulcer above the ankle which annoyed me for six months, and if I hobbled out into the grass a number of bête-rouge would settle on the edges of the sore and increase the inflammation.

▲ Chapter 2, p.1.

▼ Chapter 2, p.2.

Still more inconvenient, painful and annoying is another little pest called the chegoe. It looks exactly like a very small flea, and a stranger would take it for one. However, in about four and twenty hours he would have several broad hints that he had made a mistake in his ideas of the animal. It attacks different parts of the body, but chiefly the feet, betwixt the toe-nails and the flesh. There it buries itself, and at first causes an itching not unpleasant. In a day or so, after examining the part, you perceive a place about the size of a pea, somewhat discoloured, rather of a blue appearance. Sometimes it happens that the itching is so trivial, you are not aware that the miner is at work. Time, they say, makes great discoveries. The discoloured part turns out to be the nest of the chegoe, containing hundreds of eggs, which, if allowed to hatch there, the young ones will soon begin to form other nests, and in time cause a spreading ulcer. As soon as you perceive that you have got the chegoe in your flesh, you must take a needle or a sharp-pointed knife and take it out. If the nest be formed, great care must be taken not to break it, otherwise some of the eggs remain in the flesh, and then you will soon be annoyed with more chegoes. After removing the nest it is well to drop spirit of turpentine into the hole: that will most effectually destroy any chegoe that may be lurking there. Sometimes I have taken four nests out of my feet in the course of the day.

Every evening, before sundown, it was part of my toilette to examine my feet and see that they were clear of chegoes. Now and then a nest would escape the scrutiny, and then I had to smart for it a day or two after. A chegoe once lit upon the back of my hand; wishful to see how he worked, I allowed him to take possession. He immediately set to work, head foremost, and in about half an hour he had completely buried himself in the skin. I then let him feel the point of my knife, and exterminated him.

More than once, after sitting down upon a rotten stump, I have found myself covered with ticks. There is a short and easy way to get quit of these unwelcome adherents. Make a large fire and stand close to it, and if you be covered with ticks they will all fall off.

[Native Indians]
Let us now forget for awhile the quadrupeds, serpents and insects, and take a transitory view of the native Indians of these forests.

There are five principal nations or tribes of Indians in ci-devant Dutch Guiana, commonly known by the name of Warow, Arowack, Acoway, Carib and Macoushi. They live in small hamlets, which consist of a few huts, never exceeding twelve in number. These huts are always in the forest, near a river or some creek. They are open on all sides (except those of the Macoushi), and covered with a species of palm-leaf.

Their principal furniture is the hammock. It serves them both for chair and bed. It is commonly made of cotton; though those of the Warows are formed from the æta-tree. At night they always make a fire close to it. The heat keeps them warm, and the smoke drives away the mosquitos and sand-flies. You sometimes find a table in the hut; but it was not made by the Indians, but by some negro or mulatto carpenter.

They cut down about an acre or two of the trees which surround the huts, and there plant pepper, papaws, sweet and bitter cassava, plantains, sweet potatoes, yams, pine-apples and silk-grass. Besides these, they generally have a few acres in some fertile part of the forest for their cassava, which is as bread to them. They make earthen pots to boil their provisions in; and they get from the white men flat circular plates of iron on which they bake their cassava. They have to grate the cassava before it is pressed preparatory to baking; and those Indians who are too far in the wilds to procure graters from the white men make use of a flat piece of wood studded with sharp stones. They have no cows, horses, mules, goats, sheep or asses. The men hunt and fish, and the women work in the provision- ground and cook their victuals.

In each hamlet there is the trunk of a large tree hollowed out like a trough. In this, from their cassava, they make an abominable ill-tasted and sour kind of fermented liquor called piwarri. They are very fond of it, and never fail to get drunk after every brewing. The frequency of the brewing depends upon the superabundance of cassava.

Both men and women go without clothes. The men have a cotton wrapper, and the women a bead-ornamented square piece of cotton about the size of your hand for the fig-leaf. Those far away in the interior use the bark of a tree for this purpose. They are a very clean people, and wash in the river or creek at least twice every day. They paint themselves with the roucou, sweetly perfumed with hayawa or accaiari. Their hair is black and lank, and never curled. The women braid it up fancifully, something in the shape of Diana's head-dress in ancient pictures. They have very few diseases. Old age and pulmonary complaints seem to be the chief agents for removing them to another world. The pulmonary complaints are generally brought on by a severe cold, which they do not know how to arrest in its progress by the use of the lancet. I never saw an idiot amongst them, nor could I perceive any that were deformed from their birth. Their women never perish in childbed, owing, no doubt, to their never wearing stays.

They have no public religious ceremony. They acknowledge two superior beings--a good one and a bad one. They pray to the latter not to hurt them, and they are of opinion that the former is too good to do the man injury. I suspect, if the truth were known, the individuals of the village never offer up a single prayer or ejaculation. They have a kind of a priest called a Pee-ay-man, who is an enchanter. He finds out things lost. He mutters prayers to the evil spirit over them and their children when they are sick. If a fever be in the village, the Pee-ay-man goes about all night long howling and making dreadful noises, and begs the bad spirit to depart. But he has very seldom to perform this part of his duty, as fevers seldom visit the Indian hamlets. However, when a fever does come, and his incantations are of no avail, which I imagine is most commonly the case, they abandon the place for ever and make a new settlement elsewhere. They consider the owl and the goat-sucker as familiars of the evil spirit, and never destroy them.

▲ Chapter 2, p.2.

▼ Chapter 2, p.3.

I could find no monuments or marks of antiquity amongst these Indians; so that, after penetrating to the Rio Branco from the shores of the Western Ocean, had anybody questioned me on this subject I should have answered, I have seen nothing amongst these Indians which tells me that they have existed here for a century; though, for aught I know to the contrary, they may have been here before the Redemption, but their total want of civilisation has assimilated them to the forests in which they wander. Thus an aged tree falls and moulders into dust and you cannot tell what was its appearance, its beauties, or its diseases amongst the neighbouring trees; another has shot up in its place, and after Nature has had her course it will make way for a successor in its turn. So it is with the Indian of Guiana. He is now laid low in the dust; he has left no record behind him, either on parchment or on a stone or in earthenware to say what he has done. Perhaps the place where his buried ruins lie was unhealthy, and the survivors have left it long ago and gone far away into the wilds. All that you can say is, the trees where I stand appear lower and smaller than the rest, and from this I conjecture that some Indians may have had a settlement here formerly. Were I by chance to meet the son of the father who moulders here, he could tell me that his father was famous for slaying tigers and serpents and caymen, and noted in the chase of the tapir and wild boar, but that he remembers little or nothing of his grandfather.

They are very jealous of their liberty, and much attached to their own mode of living. Though those in the neighbourhood of the European settlements have constant communication with the whites, they have no inclination to become civilised. Some Indians who have accompanied white men to Europe, on returning to their own land have thrown off their clothes and gone back into the forests.

In Georgetown, the capital of Demerara, there is a large shed, open on all sides, built for them by order of Government. Hither the Indians come with monkeys, parrots, bows and arrows, and pegalls. They sell these to the white men for money, and too often purchase rum with it, to which they are wonderfully addicted.

Government allows them annual presents in order to have their services when the colony deems it necessary to scour the forests in quest of runaway negroes. Formerly these expeditions were headed by Charles Edmonstone, Esq., now of Cardross Park, near Dumbarton. This brave colonist never returned from the woods without being victorious. Once, in an attack upon the rebel-negroes' camp, he led the way and received two balls in his body; at the same moment that he was wounded two of his Indians fell dead by his side; he recovered, after his life was despaired of, but the balls could never be extracted.

Since the above appeared in print I have had the account of this engagement with the negroes in the forest from Mr. Edmonstone's own mouth.

He received four slugs in his body, as will be seen in the sequel. The plantations of Demerara and Essequibo are bounded by an almost interminable extent of forest. Hither the runaway negroes repair, and form settlements from whence they issue to annoy the colonists, as occasion may offer.

In 1801 the runaway slaves had increased to an alarming extent. The Governor gave orders that an expedition should be immediately organised and proceed to the woods under the command of Charles Edmonstone, Esq. General Hislop sent him a corporal, a sergeant and eleven men, and he was joined by a part of the colonial militia and by sixty Indians. With this force Mr. Edmonstone entered the forest and proceeded in a direction towards Mahaica.

He marched for eight days through swamps and over places obstructed by fallen trees and the bush-rope; tormented by myriads of mosquitos, and ever in fear of treading on the poisonous snakes which can scarcely be distinguished from the fallen leaves.

At last he reached a wooded sandhill, where the Maroons had entrenched themselves in great force. Not expecting to come so soon upon them, Mr. Edmonstone, his faithful man Coffee and two Indian chiefs found themselves considerably ahead of their own party. As yet they were unperceived by the enemy, but unfortunately one of the Indian chiefs fired a random shot at a distant Maroon. Immediately the whole negro camp turned out and formed themselves in a crescent in front of Mr. Edmonstone. Their chief was an uncommonly fine negro, above six feet in height; and his head-dress was that of an African warrior, ornamented with a profusion of small shells. He advanced undauntedly with his gun in his hand, and, in insulting language, called out to Mr. Edmonstone to come on and fight him.

Mr. Edmonstone approached him slowly in order to give his own men time to come up; but they were yet too far off for him to profit by this manoeuvre. Coffee, who carried his master's gun, now stepped up behind him, and put the gun into his hand, which Mr. Edmonstone received without advancing it to his shoulder.

He was now within a few yards of the Maroon chief, who seemed to betray some symptoms of uncertainty, for, instead of firing directly at Mr. Edmonstone, he took a step sideways, and rested his gun against a tree; no doubt with the intention of taking a surer aim. Mr. Edmonstone, on perceiving this, immediately cocked his gun and fired it off, still holding it in the position in which he had received it from Coffee. The whole of the contents entered the negro's body, and he dropped dead on his face.

▲Chapter 2, p.3.


▼ Chapter 2, p.4.

The negroes, who had formed in a crescent, now in their turn fired a volley, which brought Mr. Edmonstone and his two Indian chiefs to the ground. The Maroons did not stand to reload, but, on Mr. Edmonstone's party coming up, they fled precipitately into the surrounding forest.

Four slugs had entered Mr. Edmonstone's body. After coming to himself, on looking around he saw one of the fallen Indian chiefs bleeding by his side. He accosted him by name and said he hoped he was not much hurt. The dying Indian had just strength enough to answer, "Oh no,"--and then expired. The other chief was lying quite dead. He must have received his mortal wound just as he was in the act of cocking his gun to fire on the negroes; for it appeared that the ball which gave him his death-wound had carried off the first joint of his thumb and passed through his forehead. By this time his wife, who had accompanied the expedition, came up. She was a fine young woman, and had her long black hair fancifully braided in a knot on the top of her head, fastened with a silver ornament. She unloosed it, and, falling on her husband's body, covered it with her hair, bewailing his untimely end with the most heart-rending cries.

The blood was now running out of Mr. Edmonstone's shoes. On being raised up, he ordered his men to pursue the flying Maroons, requesting at the same time that he might be left where he had fallen, as he felt that he was mortally wounded. They gently placed him on the ground, and, after the pursuit of the Maroons had ended, the corporal and sergeant returned to their commander and formed their men. On his asking what this meant, the sergeant replied, "I had the General's orders, on setting out from town, not to leave you in the forest, happen what might." By slow and careful marches, as much as the obstructions in the woods would admit of, the party reached Plantation Alliance, on the bank of the Demerara, and from thence it crossed the river to Plantation Vredestein.

The news of the rencounter had been spread far and wide by the Indians, and had already reached town. The General, Captains Macrai and Johnstone and Doctor Dunkin proceeded to Vredestein. On examining Mr. Edmonstone's wounds, four slugs were found to have entered the body: one was extracted, the rest remained there till the year 1824, when another was cut out by a professional gentleman of Port Glasgow. The other two still remain in the body; and it is supposed that either one or both have touched a nerve, as they cause almost continual pain. Mr. Edmonstone has commanded fifteen different expeditions in the forest in quest of the Maroons. The Colonial Government has requited his services by freeing his property from all taxes and presenting him a handsome sword and a silver urn, bearing the following inscription:

Presented to CHARLES EDMONSTONE, Esq., by the Governor and Court of Policy of the Colony of Demerara, as a token of their esteem and the deep sense they entertain of the very great activity and spirit manifested by him, on various occasions, in his successful exertions for the internal security of the Colony. --January 1st, 1809.

I do not believe that there is a single Indian in ci-devant Dutch Guiana who can read or write, nor am I aware that any white man has reduced their language to the rules of grammar; some may have made a short manuscript vocabulary of the few necessary words, but that is all. Here and there a white man, and some few people of colour, talk the language well. The temper of the Indian of Guiana is mild and gentle, and he is very fond of his children.

Some ignorant travellers and colonists call these Indians a lazy race. Man in general will not be active without an object. Now when the Indian has caught plenty of fish, and killed game enough to last him for a week, what need has he to range the forest? He has no idea of making pleasure-grounds. Money is of no use to him, for in these wilds there are no markets for him to frequent, nor milliners' shops for his wife and daughters; he has no taxes to pay, no highways to keep up, no poor to maintain, nor army nor navy to supply; he lies in his hammock both night and day (for he has no chair or bed, neither does he want them), and in it he forms his bow and makes his arrows and repairs his fishing-tackle. But as soon as he has consumed his provisions, he then rouses himself and, like the lion, scours the forest in quest of food. He plunges into the river after the deer and tapir, and swims across it; passes through swamps and quagmires, and never fails to obtain a sufficient supply of food. Should the approach of night stop his career while he is hunting the wild boar, he stops for the night and continues the chase the next morning. In my way through the wilds to the Portuguese frontier I had a proof of this: we were eight in number, six Indians, a negro and myself. About ten o'clock in the morning we observed the feet-mark of the wild boars; we judged by the freshness of the marks that they had passed that way early the same morning. As we were not gifted, like the hound, with scent, and as we had no dog with us, we followed their track by the eye. The Indian after game is as sure with his eye as the dog is with his nose. We followed the herd till three in the afternoon, then gave up the chase for the present, made our fires close to a creek where there was plenty of fish, and then arranged the hammocks. In an hour the Indians shot more fish with their arrows than we could consume. The night was beautifully serene and clear, and the moon shone as bright as day. Next morn we rose at dawn, got breakfast, packed up, each took his burden, and then we put ourselves on the track of the wild boars which we had been following the day before. We supposed that they too would sleep that night in the forest, as we had done; and thus the delay on our part would be no disadvantage to us. This was just the case, for about nine o'clock their feet-marks became fresher and fresher: we now doubled, our pace, but did not give mouth like hounds. We pushed on in silence, and soon came up with them: there were above one hundred of them. We killed six and the rest took off in different directions. But to the point.

▲ Chapter 2, p.4.

▼ Chapter 2, p.5.

Amongst us the needy man works from light to dark for a maintenance. Should this man chance to acquire a fortune, he soon changes his habits. No longer under "strong necessity's supreme command," he contrives to get out of bed betwixt nine and ten in the morning. His servant helps him to dress, he walks on a soft carpet to his breakfast-table, his wife pours out his tea, and his servant hands him his toast. After breakfast the doctor advises a little gentle exercise in the carriage for an hour or so. At dinner-time he sits down to a table groaning beneath the weight of heterogeneous luxury: there he rests upon a chair for three or four hours, eats, drinks and talks (often unmeaningly) till tea is announced. He proceeds slowly to the drawing-room, and there spends best part of his time in sitting, till his wife tempts him with something warm for supper. After supper he still remains on his chair at rest till he retires to rest for the night. He mounts leisurely upstairs upon a carpet, and enters his bedroom: there, one would hope that at least he mutters a prayer or two, though perhaps not on bended knee. He then lets himself drop in to a soft and downy bed, over which has just passed the comely Jenny's warming-pan. Now, could the Indian in his turn see this, he would call the white men a lazy, indolent set.

Perhaps, then, upon due reflection you would draw this conclusion: that men will always be indolent where there is no object to rouse them.

As the Indian of Guiana has no idea whatever of communicating his intentions by writing, he has fallen upon a plan of communication sure and simple. When two or three families have determined to come down the river and pay you a visit, they send an Indian beforehand with a string of beads. You take one bead off every day, and on the day that the string is beadless they arrive at your house.

In finding their way through these pathless wilds the sun is to them what Ariadne's clue was to Theseus. When he is on the meridian they generally sit down, and rove onwards again as soon as he has sufficiently declined to the west; they require no other compass. When in chase, they break a twig on the bushes as they pass by, every three or four hundred paces, and this often prevents them from losing their way on their return.

You will not be long in the forests of Guiana before you perceive how very thinly they are inhabited. You may wander for a week together without seeing a hut. The wild beasts, snakes, the swamps, the trees, the uncurbed luxuriance of everything around you conspire to inform you that man has no habitation here--man has seldom passed this way.


▲Chapter 2, p.5.


Chapter 2 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5

⮞⯈ Chapter 1 ⮞⯈ Chapter 3 ⮞⯈ Chapter 4

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