Saturday, 26 April 2014
In Unknown British Guiana. Part 2
British Guiana. Part 2
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From The Wide World magazine, Oct. 1918. Digitized by Doug Frizzle April 2014.
Illustrated from photographs.
It is no exaggeration to say that British Guiana, a vast stretch of territory on the shoulders of the South American Continent, is one of the least-known portions of the globe Here are great primeval forests, mighty rivers, huge waterfalls, extensive plateaus and great mountain ranges, where dwell strange Indian tribes and quaint animal life of which virtually nothing is known. The Author, who has made it his business to penetrate into the unknown interior of this land, has specially written for “The Wide World Magazine” an account of his journeys and adventures, which will be found of absorbing interest. He discovered large rivers and mountains whose existence was unknown, and stumbled across primitive races who had never seen a white man before. His striking photographs give an added value to a fascinating narrative.
IN last month’s WIDE WORLD MAGAZINE I described how at our camp in the forest below Kounara Hole far up the Mazarumi River, right in the heart of the country, we were surprised at the arrival of a party of Patamonas on a hunting and fishing trip. Presents were exchanged, and soon my native boatmen were on the best of terms with the strangers.
Whenever two Indians meet it is an invariable custom for them to tell each other all the news from the time they last parted. No detail is omitted, the most trivial event being related exactly in the order of their occurrence. Their memories are simply marvellous and are almost phonographic in their accuracy. Not until the first has completely finished his story does the other speak or question, but sits silently drinking in every word—that he may be able to repeat it later—until it is his turn to tell what he knows.
On this occasion there was so much to be told—for the events of several months had to be gone over—that I fell asleep with the droning, monotonous voices of the Patamonas in my ears. Twice that night I was aroused to find the men continuing their tales, for these people have a curious habit of awakening from a sound sleep and resuming a story at the point where they ceased as they fell asleep, and exactly as if the tale had never been interrupted.
Our visitors were up betimes preparing for a hunt on the following morning, but before they left I induced one of them to demonstrate the use of his blowgun and poisoned arrows. In the hands of an Indian the blowpipe is a terrible weapon, for the slightest scratch with a Wurali-tipped arrow will kill any bird or animal in a few seconds.
The blowpipe is a very cleverly and carefully made affair and consists of two tubes, one within the other, and separated by wrappings of fibre or cotton cemented in place with Karamani (a mixture of bees’wax and gums). Near one end one or two agouti teeth are attached to serve as a sight, and in some cases a mouthpiece is fitted to one end of the tube.
These weapons are made only by the Myankongs and Arekunas living on the Venezuelan border, for it is only in their territory that the necessary hollow reeds and palms occur, and hence the blowpipes are highly prized and are very valuable. In addition to the pipe there is a small basket containing the fluffy down of the silk cotton tree, which is wrapped round one end of the dart so it fits snugly in the tube; and finally, there is the quiver with its darts and a small quantity of the terrible Wurali contained in a small gourd or hollow tooth.
While the manufacture of blowpipes is confined to one or two tribes in a very restricted area, the Wurali poison is made by many tribes, especially by the Makushies and Akawoias. Its preparation is surrounded by a vast amount of mystery, and various ingredients, apart from the virulent poison, enter into its composition. Among these are snakes' fangs, frogs, ants, centipedes, scorpions, etc., none of which have any real effect; while gums, bulbs, and the juices of plants are added to give the mixture the proper consistency and body and to render the Wurali soluble. The most important and most probably the only essential ingredient is the juice of climbing vines of the strychnine family. The exact method of making Wurali is, however, a carefully-guarded secret handed down from father to son and known to but few individuals, who are regarded with a peculiar superstitious reverence and are often Piamen or witch-doctors. Dances and celebrations are held when the Wurali is being made and the simmering mixture is agitated with a wooden stirrer shaped and carved like a miniature Kenaima club—the emblem of death, and which must be burnt in the flames of the fire under the pot or the Wurali loses its power, according to Indian belief.
The darts consist of sharpened slivers of palm- leaf midrib, about the size of steel knitting-needles, and are used both plain and poisoned, the plain darts being employed for killing small birds and the poisoned arrows for larger game.
The poisoned darts are secured in a roll around a central stick, so they may be handled safely, while the non-poisonous darts are merely dropped loosely in the quiver. Attached to the quiver is the jaw of a Perai fish, which is a very necessary part of the equipment. Before using a poisoned dart it is inserted between the knife-like edges of the Perai’s teeth and is twirled rapidly round. This girdles the dart just beyond the area covered by the Wurali and causes the tip to snap off and remain in the wound when it strikes a bird or animal. The purpose of this is twofold, for it not only insures the poison entering the blood, but prevents the poisoned dart from being shaken loose by the wounded creatures and thus becoming a deadly menace to every barefooted passer-by.
My Patamona visitor soon proved the value of his primitive weapon by killing several birds from the topmost branches of near-by trees, and then, to exhibit his marksmanship and the accuracy of the blowpipe, fired five darts in rapid succession through a visiting card fifty paces distant.
The next day was but a repetition of those which had gone before; innumerable falls and rapids being passed, but the monotony was somewhat relieved by our first glimpse of the distant mountains—a towering, magnificently-symmetrical cone looming like a deep-purple cloud against the turquoise sky. This peak, the first mountain seen when going up the Mazarui, is a well-known landmark, and yet its identity and location are unknown. It is visible for many miles up and down the river and from the
Potaro as well,
but no one has ever yet penetrated the unexplored forest area above which it
Several bad falls were passed the following morning, and as we paddled through a stretch of still water an approaching boat was sighted between the verdured islands ahead. As it drew closer it proved to be a gold-boat—a large ten-ton craft manned by a score or more of husky, rough-looking black pork-knockers and captained by a picturesque half-breed. They were bound to Bartica from the places up river, and each man carried his little hoard of gold so hardly won and which would soon be transferred to the pockets of the Portuguese dive-keepers in the frontier town.
We drew alongside, exchanged bits of news and gossip, and having entrusted our mail to the captain, bade them farewell and were once more alone upon the deserted, silent river.
Early in the forenoon we passed the broad mouth of the Puruni, with the abandoned Government gold-station just below, and in the next seven hours pulled through as many falls.
In this part of the river many of the rocks are worn into grotesque forms by the water. Such is the Crapo or Frog Rock, an enormous monolith that from certain view-points strongly resembles a gigantic toad. Near by are the
so called from a curiously worn ledge whereon a vein of harder rock has been left
in sharp relief. The form and colour of this seam are so strikingly like an
enormous kamudi or anaconda that it is difficult to believe that it is merely
inanimate stone. Kamudi Falls
Just before sundown we sighted the frowning Turesi mountains, clear-cut against a sinister bank of lurid clouds, and soon after making camp, a terrific thunderstorm broke over us. Never have I seen such vivid, blinding lightning, nor heard such deafening, continuous peals of thunder. The rain fell in a solid wall of water, completely blotting out every object more than a score of feet away, while the wind blew with hurricane force, lashing the river into foam and whipping branches and foliage from the trees. It seemed impossible that our tarpaulin could withstand the blast, but it was partly sheltered by the surrounding forest and held fast. But the very trees which protected us were our greatest menace, for many were partly dead and rotten, or had been weakened by the ravages of wood ants, and were constantly crashing to earth. Bound together as they were by cable-like lianas or “bush-ropes,” one stricken giant would drag half-a-dozen of its fellows to destruction as it fell, and each moment we expected to be crushed like egg-shells beneath tons of heavy timber. But there was nothing we could do, it was as dangerous in one spot as in another, and huddling in the centre of the camp to escape the water driving under the tarpaulin, we waited for the storm to pass. Once a blinding flash and an ear-splitting detonation told us the lightning had struck close at hand and, ere the thunder had died away, a huge Mora tree fell within a dozen paces of our refuge, shaking the earth as it struck and sweeping one side of the tarpaulin with its descending branches.
Gradually the storm spent its fury, and though throughout the night the thunder growled and rolled and incessant lightning lit up the drenched forest, all danger had passed and the morning dawned fresh and clear.
Two hours after leaving camp we reached
, which are
considered one of the most dangerous on the Mazarui. Only a few weeks
previously a boat had been lost and thirty-five men had been drowned at this
spot, but we passed through with little trouble. Turesi
A short distance above here we nearly came to grief, however. Here the main river is divided by a chain of small rocky islands. On one hand is an impassable mass of broken water and jagged rocks; on the other, the river tears through a narrow channel in swirling eddies, treacherous cross-currents, and ominous whirlpools bordered by sheer jagged ledges. There is no foothold to enable the men to haul a boat through and the passage must be accomplished by paddling alone.
Holding the boat in a backwater, the men gathered all their strength for the attempt, and then, with a savage shout, dug their paddles into the stream, fairly lifting the craft from the water. But once in the terrific grip of the current the speed slackened, and in a moment the boat was motionless, swinging from side to side, rising and falling, trembling from stem to stern to the frantic strokes of the six paddles, but making not an inch of headway.
Shouting encouragement to his men, the bowman wielded his own enormous paddle, while the captain spurred the crew to redoubled efforts, cursing, urging, and coaxing by turns. But all to no avail, and, grasping spare paddles, Sam and myself added our efforts to those of the straining crew. For an instant more the boat hung stationary and then slowly, imperceptibly it forged ahead. Inch by inch, foot by foot, we forced the craft forward, putting every ounce of our strength into the work, sweating, panting, straining, for our lives depended on our efforts. If once the boat made sternway, if once it swung broadside to the current, capsize and death were inevitable. And as we fought and struggled to conquer the angry flood one fear was uppermost in every mind and every ear was strained to catch a dreaded sound, the sound of snapping wood that meant a broken paddle. But the paddles held, the passage was won, and with deep-drawn breaths of relief we swung the boat into calm water, and at that instant, with the raging, sweeping current scarce a fathom astern, two paddles snapped short off. Our lives had been saved by less than five seconds!
Beyond the river stretched smooth and tranquil as a lake, and throughout the afternoon we paddled easily along through still water, with the lofty
towering ever nearer above the walls of forest. We had now passed the worst
falls and only one large rapid, Tiboku, broke the surface of the river for
nearly one hundred miles ahead. It was a great relief to feel that for several
days we should not be compelled to haul and struggle through falls, and all
were in high spirits when we went into camp near the mouth of Merume Mountains
after a day’s run of nearly fifty miles. Warapa River
Shortly after midnight I was aroused by one of the Indians.
"Me been report sick, Chief,” he announced, and extended his right hand.
That it was something serious could be seen at a glance, for the hand was puffed up to twice its natural size, the forearm was badly swollen and dark, livid streaks showing upon the brown skin.
“How you makeum so?” I asked, as I examined the hand; but before he could reply I had discovered the cause: two tiny inflamed wounds on the middle finger, unmistakable evidences of a snake’s bite.
There was no time to lose, and without hesitation I cut a deep incision in the injured finger and rubbed permanganate of potash into the open wound. The hand and arm were then poulticed, and as I wrapped the bandage, Theophilus explained that he had been awakened from sleep by the pain in his arm, but knew nothing as to how he had been bitten.
As his hammock was slung very low, and as he invariably slept with his hands hanging over the hammock’s edge, the only explanation was that his hand had come into contact with a prowling labaria (Fer de Lance). Luckily the snake was a small one, and the worst symptoms of poisoning passed off in a few hours, although it was several days before Theophilus could again handle a paddle.
A few miles above camp we passed an enormous tree-trunk poised on the summit of a rock some fifteen feet above the water—a striking demonstration of the tremendous rise of the river during the rainy season, often twenty feet or more in a few hours. The following day we reached the mouth of the Karanang River, and several miles upstream we ran the boat ashore, for I planned to make a trip inland to a village of primitive, uncivilized Indians which was supposed to exist somewhere in the Merume Mountains. My informant, one of my Arekuna boatmen, had no definite information, and all he knew had been told him by other bucks. He “thought” a trail led to the village at the point where we had landed, but he had no idea of the direction or distance, although he averred it was not “too far,” and added that he believed it was not more than a day’s walk.
Scarcely had we stepped ashore ere we found unmistakable evidences of the presence of Indians. A broken rotting woodskin, a canoe made from the bark of a tree, rested, half-buried, in the mud of the creek; charred sticks told of camp-fires; a discarded “suriana,” or pack-basket, was discovered in the underbrush, and presently one of my men called out that he had located a trail.
Apparently we had struck the right spot, and, packing the necessary provisions, hammocks, and trade goods in bags and surianas, and leaving two men in charge of the boat, we shouldered our loads and, in Indian file, plunged into the forest.
Only the trained eye of an Indian could have followed that trail, and time and again my bucks were obliged to halt and search about until the faint, indistinct, all but invisible, signs of a pathway were again discovered. And yet it was a trail beyond a doubt, and had been travelled recently, for the dead leaves and moss were pressed together in a narrow winding path and, where it crossed the muddy beds of forest streams, the imprints of bare feet could be distinguished. Around and about it wound, as erratic and uncertain as though made by some wandering animal, and I could not but think that the man who first made the trail had been following an agouti or other game when he blazed the way for others to follow.
Soon the ground commenced to rise; we toiled laboriously up the foothills, and ere long we were climbing with panting breaths up a precipitous mountain side, a mass of rugged loose boulders and sharp stones and seemingly without end. But eventually the summit was reached, and having stopped to recover our spent breath and cool our sweltering, aching bodies, we again resumed the weary journey through the semi-twilight of the interminable forest.
Now that we were on the high tableland or plateau of the range the way was less fatiguing and the air cooler and for hour after hour we marched on. Macaws screamed angrily at our approach; birds of brilliant plumage flashed through the foliage; great marvellous blue, scarlet, and emerald butterflies flitted in the dim shadows; toucans barked and clattered in the tree-tops, and when the Indians slipped for a few yards into the jungle and reappeared with agoutis, deer, and tinamous I realized how unfrequented, how seldom traversed was this district through which our way led.
Several times the trail forked and the Indians were at a loss, but trusting to luck, and keeping always to the right, we pressed on. At last we passed the remains of a crude shelter; near at hand my Indian hunter pointed to a flimsy platform in a tree from which Indians shoot agoutis, and soon, through the maze of trunks and vines, we saw sunlight and blue sky and knew a clearing was close ahead.
Very promptly at the sight the leading Indian Abraham halted. “You makeum walk first, Chief,” he remarked, in low tones. “Mebbe Patamonas no sabby me fren’ an’ been make for shoot.”
I was greatly surprised at this, for the Guiana Indians are ever peaceful and hospitable, and while I knew that the Arekunas and Patamonas had once been inveterate enemies, yet I did not dream there was any ill feeling between the tribes nowadays.
But a glance at the clearing was enough to assure me that no Indians were there. The provision fields had grown up to brush; the remains of deserted “benabs,” or huts, were rotting among the reeds, and the spot had evidently been deserted for several years. It looked as if we were on a wild-goose chase and our arduous tramp had been for nothing; but in an instant Abraham called out that he had found a trail leading onward, and we were soon hurrying along the dim pathway towards whatever might lie beyond.
Fully twenty miles had been covered since we left the river, we were on high land and in unmapped, unexplored country, and I had commenced to think the trail endless, or else that it led through to Venezuela, when I caught sight of light ahead, and a moment later stepped from the forest into the brilliant sunshine of a large clearing. And instantly I knew that my long journey had not been in vain, for before me were half-a-dozen benabs and, standing about, resting in their hammocks and gazing curiously towards us, were Indians by the score—men, women, and children, naked save for laps or bead-aprons; their limbs wrapped in bands of beads, strings of seeds and teeth about their necks, and with their bronze skins wonderfully painted. I had found the “wild” Indians at last.
Despite their reputation the Patamonas received us hospitably and Abraham’s fears proved groundless, and he and his fellows were soon chatting and laughing in most friendly fashion with the villagers.
A large benab was allotted to us, the owner and his wife moving bag and baggage to a smaller hut, and our dunnage was scarcely placed in our new home before a young girl arrived bringing huge calabashes of cassiri for our refreshment.
Cassiri is the common and favourite beverage of all the Guiana Indians, and is made by grating the roots of sweet cassava, or sweet potatoes, boiling them to a syrupy consistency and fermenting the liquor, which is coloured pink with anotta or the juice of red yams.
As it is never thoroughly strained it is far from appetizing in appearance, especially if one knows how fermentation is brought about—by the women expectorating masticated cassava bread into the brew; but it is very refreshing, with a slightly sour and not unpleasant taste. Moreover, to refuse to partake of the proffered cassiri is tantamount to an insult to one’s hosts, for drinking the liquor when entering a camp or village is a ceremony almost sacred in the Indians’ eyes and is the invariable form of welcome, analogous to smoking the peace pipe.
Although intoxicating, yet it is so mildly alcoholic that an enormous amount, a gallon at least, must be imbibed before an Indian feels any effects, and no white man could possibly drink enough at one sitting to befuddle his mind in the least. Indeed, I found it quite beyond my powers to swallow more than a small portion of the liquor presented to me, and was, I presume, looked upon with secret contempt for my limited capacity, for my men gulped down the entire contents of their calabashes at a single draught.
Quite a crowd gathered about our benab gazing at me and my belongings with the most intense wonder; evidently consumed with curiosity as to the contents of our bags and the object of our visit, and chatting and laughing among themselves at a great rate. Much to my surprise the Patamonas paid no heed to my camera and allowed me to photograph them without the least hesitation. Indeed, they behaved as if they were totally ignorant of my purpose, for the
aborigines, as a rule, have a strong and deep-seated objection to being
photographed. When I made inquiries I learned that no white men had ever before
visited the village and that many of the Indians had never seen a man of
another race, although some of them had been to the gold diggings, a few had
visited Bartica, and one or two had even travelled as far as Georgetown. No
wonder I appeared a very strange being to their eyes.
When the bags containing my trade-goods were opened and the contents spread on the floor of the benab, the Patamonas pressed close about, examining every article with the greatest interest and gabbling with delight like a flock of parrots. The chief now arrived on the scene, a lean, sharp-featured, old man with no distinctive regalia and as simply clad as his subjects.
Presents were then handed around, and much to my amusement the chief appropriated a full box of fish-hooks as his due, taking possession so calmly and innocently that I could not object, although it left me woefully short of this useful medium of barter.
Like all the Guiana Indians, the Patamonas are short and stocky, with deep, broad chests and powerful necks and backs, but with disproportionately small legs and very small hands and feet. Indeed, many of the women had feet which would have been the envy of the daintiest of their white sisters.
Their faces were broad and round, with none of the aquiline features of the North American Indians. In fact, all were strongly Mongolian, and if clad in Oriental garments would have passed anywhere for Chinese or Japanese. Their expressions, however, were far more pleasant and vivacious than any Mongolian’s, and the women were constantly laughing, smiling, and joking; but not by any stretch of the imagination could they have been considered good-looking, while the tattoo marks and painted decorations made their faces even uglier than Nature intended.
These tattoo markings are not merely ornamental, but serve as beenas, or charms, and many of the painted designs are worn for the same purpose. It is seldom that the men are tattooed, as their beenas consist of the juices of certain plants rubbed into incisions in the skin. The Guiana Indians have absolute faith in the power of their beenas, and even the civilized tribes have an implicit belief in their effectiveness. Some of the charms employed are most peculiar, and among these is the “ant beena.” This consists of a frame of parallel strips of bamboo or palm, through the interstices of which living ants are thrust, with their heads exposed on one side, and this array of biting jaws is then pressed here and there upon the skin. To the mind of the Indian the excruciating pain caused by this operation is proof of the beena’s potency, for the worse the pain the more powerful is the beena. Even more barbarous in some ways is the “nose beena.” This consists of a long braid of fibre, tapering from a point to a diameter of half an inch or more. At the tip a biting ant is attached by means of a bit of gum and is then inserted in the Indian’s nostrils. The ant, biting as he goes, climbs up the nose and emerges in the mouth, and the Indian, grasping the tip of the beena, pulls the entire affair through the nasal passage.
As the novelty of our presence wore off the Patamonas resumed their usual life and went about their various tasks. Reclining in my hammock beneath my benab, I watched my Indian hosts with interest as they prepared their evening meals and busied themselves at their various occupations all in full view, for the benabs are merely thatched roofs of palm supported on upright posts and housekeeping is of the simplest description.
Of furnishings there are none worthy of the name, for the indispensable hammock serves as bed, couch, and chair and a log of wood, or a stool more or less elaborately carved, provides a lowlier seat. On the rafters are stored the bows and arrows, the blowguns, and perhaps a gun. From rafters and posts are hung baskets of raw cotton for spinning, festive ornaments and decorations, bunches of bird-peppers, and any odds and ends of household treasures. Here and there, in the underside of the thatch are tucked knives or machetes, bundles of feathers for arrows, cotton spindles, and other small articles. Somewhere about the premises will be a supply of cassava bread, a metapee, and numerous baskets, mats, and other articles used in cooking, as well as several surianas, or pack-baskets for carrying loads. In the centre of the earth floor a fire is kept burning day and night, and over this all cooking is done, the ordinary utensils being great black earthen pots. The pungent smoke which fills the huts seems a great nuisance to the visitor, but to the occupants of the benabs it is of vital importance, for it prevents wood-ants and other vermin from living in the thatch and aids in preserving meat-skins, etc., hung on the rafters.
The daily life of these aborigines is as simple as their costume, and yet their every want is satisfied and they are perfectly and supremely happy. For three hundred and sixty-five days in the year their menu consists of cassava, with the addition of game when it can readily be obtained, the purple “buck yams,” sweet potatoes, and occasionally plantains or bananas.
To them cassava is the staff of life, and most of their time is devoted to its cultivation and preparation. The prime requisite in selecting a village site is land suitable for growing the manioc or cassava plant, and every camp or village has its “fields"— a waste of fallen, charred trees and enormous stumps with the spaces between filled with a jungle of ten-foot cassava bushes.
Once the fields are cleared and planted the men s duties are over and all cultivation and harvesting is left to the women and children, the men spending their time in hunting and fishing, making bows and arrows, cutting timber and thatch for benabs, building woodskins or corials, or weaving baskets, for despite popular ideas to the contrary, the buck is seldom idle, and even when indolently lolling in his hammock, is frequently employed making arrows or other small articles.The roots of the cassava are first washed and pared and are then grated on a slab of wood roughened with chips of quartz set in cement-like gum, a utensil made only by one or two tribes of the far distant interior. The grated roots are next inserted in a long cylindrical wickerwork affair, known as a “metapee.” This is suspended from a beam or rafter, a stick or lever is inserted through the other end of the metapee, a bowl or calabash is placed below it, and one or two women seat themselves on the lever. Their weight causes the metapee to stretch lengthwise and to compress the contents with tremendous force, and thus squeeze the juice from the grated cassava through the interstices of the metapee, leaving the pulp dry and pressed in the form of a solid cylinder, which is removed piecemeal from the metapee.
These hard cores are then pounded in a wooden mortar and the resultant meal is sifted through a wicker sieve. The fine meal is then spread, by means of a wooden trowel, upon a hot stone or sheet of iron over a small fire. The meal quickly coalesces to form a firm cake, which is lifted and turned by means of woven mats or fans until thoroughly baked. Finally, the cakes are dried in the sun and are stored in baskets or in bales wrapped in plantain leaves. The baking is not, as is often supposed, for the sole purpose of cooking the meal, but is done mainly to insure perfect freedom from the poisonous juice, which contains prussic acid and which is driven off by heat. The juice itself, as squeezed from the meal by the metapee, is carefully preserved and is boiled to the consistency of thick syrup or molasses, thus evaporating all the poisonous acid it contains. In this form it is known as “cassareep,” and forms the basis of the famous
But cassava-making was not the only occupation of the Patamonas. For hours at a time the girls and women would recline in their hammock, spinning the raw cotton into thread, and the skill they exhibited in this art was astounding. The only implement used is a slender stick of hard wood, with a tiny hook at one end and a disc of shell or bone near the other end. Wrapping a band of raw cotton round the left wrist, the spinner hooks one end of the fibre to the primitive spindle, gives the latter a quick whirl and, raising the left hand, spins out a thin thread of cotton, the smoothness and size of which is regulated by running the thumb and finger of the right hand up and down the strand as it is drawn out by the revolving spindle. As soon as the motion of the spindle becomes much reduced, the spun-thread is wound upon it, a new hold is secured with the hook, and additional thread spun as before until the spindle is quite filled with thread. From the strands thus produced the Indians make various articles and ornaments as well as hammocks. To spin a ball of twine sufficient to make a hammock requires about three months’ work, and weaving the hammock itself requires from three weeks to two months according to size and mesh, but time is of no value, and a hammock may be in the works for months. Although the hammocks are beautifully made, yet less dexterity is required in their manufacture than in weaving the bead “queyus,” or aprons, worn by the women. Originally these were made of seeds, but nowadays even the most remote tribes use beads arranged in beautiful and elaborate designs.
They are a good-natured, honest, hospitable lot, kindhearted and wonderfully fond of their children and of their numerous pets. Despite their shortcomings, I found them a most likeable race, and it was with real regret that I packed up my belongings and prepared to return to the river and our boat. We had obtained a large stock of provisions from the Indians, and these, with the collections I had made, were too much of a load for my own men to carry, and I hired three of the villagers to help transport the luggage through the forest. The individual loads were packed in surianas, which are carried on the back and supported by a band of bark around the forehead, and averaged over a hundred pounds each. As we were preparing to start one of the girls, the wife of one of the carriers, requested permission to accompany us to the boat, stating she would also carry a load. It seemed a physical impossibility for this young girl, less than five feet in height, and with tiny hands and feet, to lift the heavy pack, much less carry it over mountains for twenty miles. But, as I looked on with absolute amazement, two men lifted the loaded suriana to her back and, adjusting the brow-band, she trotted off, grinning with undisguised amusement at my surprise.
How she ever negotiated that fearful trail, or clambered down those precipitous slopes with her load, I shall never know, for she travelled so rapidly I was left hopelessly behind. When, tired out, I arrived at the waterside she was seated beside her buck and chatting and laughing as unconcernedly as possible. She had made the trip of her own free will and expected no payment, and when I allowed her to select what she chose from the trade goods, she decided upon a small pocket-mirror and a paper of pins and seemed to think it a great joke to be paid so liberally for such trivial work as carrying a one-hundred-pound load a mere matter of twenty miles.
(To be continued.)
- ► 2016 (74)
- ► 2015 (35)
- ▼ April (9)
- ► 2013 (41)
- ► 2012 (88)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ► 2009 (40)
- ► 2008 (48)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.