Wednesday, 30 April 2014
A very dated post, Paul Brodie, who used to research whales, might enjoy this news story from almost a hundred years ago. Kyukuot is a community on Vancouver Island in British Columbia province in Canada./drf
Whale Flesh as Human Food.
From The Wide World magazine, 1918. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2014.
AT a banquet given recently in
Toronto, Canada, at which some of the city’s most
prominent men were seated, there was served, for the first time in Eastern Canada, whale steak. It was part of an active
campaign now being carried on throughout Canada
and the United States
to popularize the flesh of this great sea mammal, for the whale, although an
inhabitant of the ocean, is not a fish, but a red and warm-blooded animal.
Contrary to their general expectation, both Canadians and Americans have found the flesh of the whale palatable and appetizing. It tastes very much like good beef, though it is coarser in fibre and darker in colour than this meat. This coarseness, however, is not accompanied by toughness—whale meat, properly cooked, is as tender as good beef, and when put on the table without a label has frequently been mistaken and consumed as beef.
The campaign to make whale flesh a common dish is not only based upon economy—for its flesh is now sold in the butchers’ shops in Vancouver, San Francisco, and in other Pacific cities at fivepence a pound—but is a patriotic movement to relieve the food problem. By inducing the masses to eat whale flesh, both
Canada and the United States will be enabled to
send larger supplies of food to the European Allies, so the whale is to play an
important part in helping us to win the war.
There are many important whaling stations on the coast of
British Columbia, and in the waters here the
following species of whale—the finback, humpback, sperm, and sulphur-bottom—are
regularly hunted and killed. Only the very choicest portions of the two
first-named varieties have, so far, been taken for human consumption. On an
average a single specimen has yielded ten tons of magnificent meat, or the
equivalent of that obtained from thirty head of cattle. But experts say that
fifteen tons of good meat, or even more, could be obtained from a single
To cope with the demand for fresh whale meat, all the more important whaling stations on the Pacific coast of
have erected special cold-storage plants. On Vancouver
Island there are now several such buildings where the huge
carcasses can be stored and kept fresh until wanted. The newest phase of the
industry, however, is the establishment on this island, at Kyukuot, of a
canning factory. Here the meat is being canned, just as salmon is preserved.
The company state that their output during the coming season will be thirty
thousand cases, each containing twenty-four one-pound tins of whale meat.
Tinned whale meat is even expected to reach Europe
by the autumn.
Hitherto the whale has been regarded as valuable chiefly for its yield of oil and whalebone. True, the Eskimo and more recently the Japanese have eaten its flesh, but generally speaking the huge carcass was regarded as so much waste. If we now eat its flesh, extract the oil from its blubber, grind up the bones and waste parts into a fertilizer, and convert its skin into leather, not an ounce of these monsters of the deep, scaling anywhere from twenty to eighty tons apiece, need be wasted. Recent experiments have shown that three thousand square yards of the finest and toughest leather can be made from the hide of one of these creatures. In fact, the war has opened our eyes to the wonderful possibilities of the whale in supplying man with food and leather, in addition to oil and a fertilizer for his crops.
Surprising Facts About Savages
by A. Hyatt Verrill
Condensed from the book Strange Customs, Manners, and Beliefs*
From Science Digest magazine, January 1946. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April, 2014.
*Published by L. C. Page & Co.,
$3.75. This book will not appear until January, 1946. Copyright 1946 by L. C.
Page & Co.
Settlers Beat Indians at Scalping
AMERICAN settlers took more Indian scalps, all told, than the Indians ever lifted from heads of the whites, for the white men were determined and allowed by law to exterminate the whole Indian race.
Although histories seldom mention the fact, scalp-hunting was a regular and quite remunerative industry of the early American settlers, especially in
As one white man put it: “Injun scalps is wuth more’n prime beaver and a sight easier to get. So what’s the sense in trappin’ beaver when they’s Injuns to be killed?”
authorities placed a bounty of seventy-five dollars upon every Indian scalp. A
little later the reward was raised to four hundred dollars. The governing body
was not at all particular whether the scalps were those of Indians or of
Frenchmen. Under date of August 22, 1722, Jeremiah Bustead of Boston
recorded: “This day twenty-eight Indian scalps brought to Boston, one of which was Friar Rasle’s.”
Whether the scalps were those of men, women, or children made no difference, either, except a warrior’s scalp brought a slightly higher price.
Popular heroes like Daniel Boone, Dave Crockett, and other pioneers invariably scalped the Indians whom they killed.
Moreover, it was the white man who started the custom of scalping among many of the Eastern Indians of
North America. Before the palefaces
arrived, the only North American tribes that took scalps were the Iroquois,
Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Muskohegans.
Neither the Eastern Woodland Indians nor the Western Plains Indians of North America took scalps of their foes before the white man began to inflict this particular practice upon them.
Primitive Drums That Really Talk
NUMEROUS truth worthy and reliable travelers have declared that the Kaffirs and other African tribes have drums that talk in more than code. When beaten by their owners, they emit clearly pronounced and recognizable words.
Of course only certain words are possible. The sentences or messages to be communicated are made up of a limited number of syllables and sounds, adapted to the possibilities of the drums. Also the words of many primitive races are especially well suited for reproduction by a drumbeat.
Hence it is not difficult to understand that by the selection of words having resonant, guttural sounds, and by constant practice and by endless experiments with drums of various types, a savage may be able to make his drum really talk.
Even North American Indians succeed in doing this to a certain extent. Several tribes, including the Sioux, have water drums. These drums are made of wood, pottery, or metal, which are partly filled with water. They emit notes startlingly like the human voice.
The Sioux Indians use threelegged iron pots for their water drums, and by using several of different sizes and containing varying quantities of water, they imitate the calls of wild animals and produce words and sentences in their own tongue.
During some of their most secret and sacred ceremonies, especially the Peyote ceremony, these talking drums play a very important part, the “spirit” of the Indian supposedly talking or chanting through the medium of his drum.
Redskins Play Rough
I KNOW a lumberman whose hands, arms, and face are covered with scars from knife cuts, bludgeons, and other weapons. When asked if he received the wounds in war, he replied, “Shucks, no, I just got them a-playing in
Georgia, when I was a kid.”
Then, as an afterthought, he added, “Them doggone
Georgia boys sure play rough.”
The same might truthfully be said of most savages—they sure play rough. Football and hockey combined do not equal the hazards in the game of lacrosse when it comes to rough play, and lacrosse is an Indian game.
A still rougher Indian play in some respects is the stick dance of the Guaymi tribes of
most essential requirements are stuffed animal skins and stout sticks about six
to seven feet in length, two to three inches in diameter, and with one pointed
end. The stuffed skins are worn on the men’s backs to protect their spines from
Lots are drawn, and those who are to be the first victims begin to dance about to the beating of drums and the shrilling of reed flutes. As they dance, with arms akimbo and looking back over their shoulders, the throwers hurl their clubs at the dancers, the object being to bowl them over. If a dancer succeeds in dodging the sticks for a time, it is his turn to throw; and the thrower who missed must take the other’s place.
Sticks thud on stuffed skins, crack against shins, or plunge harmlessly into the earth. Dancers stumble and fall, some writhe in pain and struggle vainly to rise. When three or four hundred Indians are all at it at once and sticks are flying thick and fast, it seems incredible that any players should survive without broken bones. Yet fatal injuries are rare.
The most remarkable feature of the game is the amazing skill of the participants in dodging the flying clubs. Although to an observer every thrower appears to be striving to kill or cripple his oponent, an experienced Indian never attempts to strike a dancer’s body directly with his stick. The trick is to throw the staff in such a way that the pointed tip strikes the ground and the pole swings in an arc, knocking the dancer’s legs from under him.
Earliest Printing—On Human Skin
TATTOOING is indelible; it cannot be changed at the whim of the wearer or to suit various ceremonies and conditions. Painting, however, can be put on and taken off again. Among many primitive races only the eldest members are ornamented with tattooed designs, the others contenting themselves with painting.
Since it is rather difficult to copy these over and over again by painting, many races conceived the idea of duplicating designs by means of stamping.
The ancient Mayas, Aztecs, Incans, pre-Incans and other early tribes as well as some that are living today made stamps out of pottery clay. Sometimes these were designed to be pressed against the skin, in the same way as a modern rubber stamp would be.
Others were made in the form of engraved cylinders which could be rolled over the skin. In fact, these were the original cylinder printing presses.
Indian War Paint Was Camouflage
ALTHOUGH most persons think that Indians donned war paint in order to make themselves hideous and to terrify their foes, that was not at all its original purpose. War paint, as used by the majority of North American Indians, was a form of camouflage.
A warrior who was painted with stripes and spots in various colors easily blended with the lights and shadows of brush, weeds, and trees. A painted torso was far less conspicuous than a naked bronze body. The Indians followed the example set by Nature when she gave the tiger its stripes, the leopard its spots, and the fawn a white-spotted coat.
Moneyless Race Was Rich
WE THINK that money is an absolute necessity, and there is not a civilized race upon the earth which does not have money of some sort. Yet the citizens of one vast empire, a civilized, highly cultured race of more than twenty million people, never heard of money and did not know that such a thing existed.
These people never had or used money, and they did not even have a word for money in their language.
They were the Inca Indians of Peru.
Yet the Incas possessed vast quantities of silver and gold, and the Incan Empire was the richest community in the whole world at the time of the Spanish conquest of the
Strangest of all, the riches in gold stolen from the Incas by the Spaniards enabled
institute the gold standard, which since has been followed by nearly all
Proud to be Crippled
BRACELETS worn by the leaders among the Suka men of Africa on the Abyssinian border, are purposely made so tight that they almost stop the circulation of the blood, and the hands of some of the men become atrophied, shrunken, and almost useless.
Incredible as it may seem, these high-ranking fellows are very proud of their withered, useless hands, and the more useless they are, the greater the pride of the owner.
The custom of wearing very tight arm bands or leg bands is quite common in various parts of the world among numerous races, although no other race carries the practice to the same extreme as do the Suk tribes.
When a man’s hands become so useless that he cannot even feed himself, he feels that he really is somebody, and lords it over his fellows who are only partially crippled. Naturally, with such hands it is impossible for the men to do any work, so that all labor falls upon the women who do not wear tight bracelets and have normally capable hands.
The women are as proud of the useless hands of their men as are the men themselves.
What’s the Price—In Beavers?
AMERICANS have used many objects other than minted coins and printed bank notes for money. Wooden money has been used in many parts of the
United States, and in the early
days an almost endless number of things were used as standard currency in place
When New England and
were first settled the common money in use was wampum, or Indian beads.
White men learned how to make wampum by machinery far faster than the Indians could make it by hand.
Then beaver skins became the standard of exchange. They were the most highly prized of the
New England furs and could not be produced artificially.
The skins were exchanged for goods at the trading posts and were eventually
shipped to Europe. In a short time nearly
every New England commodity was priced at “so
many beaver skins.”
But it was not at all convenient for a person to carry a supply of beaver pelts when going on a shopping trip. The traders solved this problem by issuing roughly stamped metal disks bearing the name of the trader on one side and the crude figure of a beaver on the other. These tokens were called “beavers,” and each had the trade or currency value of a beaver skin.
The beaver tokens were still in use for many years after live beavers had become almost extinct in
New England. Many a time when I was
a small boy in Maine
my grandmother gave me a copper “beaver” with which to buy candy at the village
store. Of course, by that time they were not worth the price of a beaver skin;
but they were still accepted by shopkeepers as real money.
Connecticut, when beaver
skins finally became too scarce to be used as currency, the colonists had what
they called “country money.” This consisted of numerous products which were
standardized and had fixed trade values.
According to the old schedule of standards, one pound of buckskin was worth one and one half pounds of oxhide. One pound of oxhide equalled two pounds of old iron. Four pounds of iron were equal to one pound of brass. One bushel of wheat was equal to two buckskins. One thousand bricks were equal to one ox, and so on.
For many years tobacco was the legal tender of several of the Southern Colonies of the
The Virginia Assembly even passed a law declaring that taxes should be paid in
At one period in
Connecticut’s history onions were legal
tender in the ports of the West Indies and South America.
Connecticut River vessels sailing on trading
voyages to these tropical lands carried onion money in the form of strings of
the vegetables. These were of various lengths, each size having its standard
Imagine a chin-whiskered Yankee skipper dickering with the swarthy tradesmen of some South American port, and when the bargain was made, paying for sugar, spices, dyewoods, and indigo with long strings of
Connecticut onions and making change with smaller strings!
Sunday, 27 April 2014
I just purchased a copy of The Wide World, 1918, Vol.2. Just at the beginning I came across this interesting true story. A little research has inclined me to reproduce it in this blog. John Shiwag is also described in Wikipedia.
The author is named William Lacey Amy, and may also be known as Luke Allan—he may be Canadian. He is not included in Wiki—I will do more research./drf
The Empire’s Only Eskimo Soldier.
By Lacey Amy.
ILLUSTRATED BY ERNEST PRATER, AND FROM PHOTOGRAPHS.
From The Wide World magazine, July 1918. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April, 2014.
Many strange races are to be found fighting under the Union Jack to-day, but the British, Army possesses, or rather it did possess until the other month, only a single Eskimo fighting man, John Shiwak. In the following narrative the writer tells how he met John whilst travelling to
Labrador. For an Eskimo he proved to be a
man of remarkable character and of some scholastic attainments, for he kept
diaries, wrote poetry and books, and was a clever artist, photographer, and
musician. When war broke out John heard the call, became a soldier of the King,
and died fighting for the flag in . His life-story forms a
remarkable human document. France
IT was in the summer of 1911 that I first met John Shiwak. But to have met him once was to remember him always. Seeking new out-of-the-world places in and around
Canada, I had picked on the bleak coast of Labrador. At St John’s, the quaint capital of
Newfoundland, I boarded a little mail steamer that ran twice a month—seldom
more than five times a year—“down” the semi-settled coast of Newfoundland for
five hundred miles, and then another five hundred far off to the North, into
the birthplace of the iceberg, along the uncharted, barren, rugged shores of a
country God never intended man to live in—Labrador.
Yet it was a pleasant trip, one to look back upon with no shuddering memories, but with a dreamy halo of unreality dimming its thousand unwonted sights and events, a composite picture that frays off round the edges, and centres about one lone figure—John Shiwak, the Eskimo.
We were a motley crowd on board. The transient passenger-list consisted of the Woman-who-worries and myself, three professional world-vagrants who travelled as most people work, a mysterious newly-married couple whom none knew better at the end than at the beginning. And below decks bunked a score of
Newfoundland fishermen and fish merchants on their way to
the great cod grounds along the Labrador.
And there was John.
I was aware of him first as he sat at the Newfoundlanders’ table in the dining saloon, never uttering a word, watching with both eyes every movement at the table of the “foreigners.” He was the nattiest man on board. Evidently he had invested in a new wardrobe in
and his muscular, short, straight-standing figure did each garment fullest
justice. Twice a day he appeared in different array—in the mornings usually in
knickers and sealskin moccasins.
Not a word did I ever hear him speak to another. He would appear on deck for half an hour twice a day, lean over the railing where he could hear us talk on the after-deck, and disappear as silently as he came. I set myself the task of intruding on his reticence, of breaking his silence. In truth it was a task! Observing him one day watching the unloading of salt into the small boats that play the part of wharves on the
coast, I leaned on the railing beside him and made some trivial inquiry about
the scene of the bustle. His reply was three words, and then silence. To my
second inquiry after several minutes the reply was two words. And then he
turned away. I was almost discouraged.
Then one night we stopped in the sudden darkness that falls in that quarter long after ten of an August evening to pick up a missionary and his family and household goods. Suddenly there broke from the outer darkness the shuddering howl of a wolf, followed by a chorus of howls. I raised myself to listen, peering into the darkness of the sea where were only scores of tiny islands, and, beyond, scores of towering icebergs.
“The Labrador Band,” explained a quiet voice beside me, modest to the verge of self-depreciation but with a twinkle in it somewhere.
It was John Shiwak. And the ice was broken. “The Labrador Band” is the term applied to the howling huskies, most of whom are set down on islands during their summer months of uselessness, where they can do no harm and are out of the way.
Far into the morning John and I sat then in the dirty, deserted bow, as the ship felt its way through the islands on its northward crawl. By the pitch of the boat we knew when the islands ceased to screen us from the swell outside. Now and then an icy breath registered an iceberg somewhere about; and once a disturbing crackling far outside, and a great plunge, told of a
monster that had yielded at last to the wear of sun and wave. Not a sound of
life broke the northern silence save the quiet voice of the captain on the
bridge above, and the weird howls of hungry or disturbed huskies, only one
stage removed from their wolf-life of past generations. And in those hours I
learned much of John Shiwak’s immediate history.
He was a hunter in the far interior by winter, a handy-man in his district by summer. The past winter had been a good one for him—a silver fox-skin, for instance, which he had disposed of to the Hudson’s Bay Company for four hundred and sixty-nine dollars, or just over ninety pounds sterling. And on the strength of such unusual profits he had gone down to St. John’s, Newfoundland, whence all good and bad things come to Labrador—and whither all good and bad things from Labrador go—and had plunged himself into the one great time of his life. His memory of that two weeks of civilization had congealed into a determination to repeat the visit each summer. And I knew that the dissipations of a great and strange city had had nothing to do with its attractions.
In his conversation there was the solemnity of a man who does much thinking in vast silences. Everything was presented to me in the vivid succinctness, that delights the heart of an editor. John’s life had been filled with the essentials. So was his comment on life. When we parted for our berths I was conscious of a series of pictures that lacked no necessary touch of a master hand, but repetition in the stilted language and phrasing of civilization was impossible. The wonderful gift of nature was John’s, and the marvel of it grew on me through the night hours.
Next morning I smiled at him from our table, and when we few wanderers collected as usual on the after-deck, there was John a few yards away leaning on the rail. I went to him, taking the Woman-who-worries, but after a few monosyllabic words he took advantage of our interest in some scene on shore to glide away. But an hour later he was there again, and thereafter he adopted us as his friends. For the next two days we separated only for meals and sleep. And on the night of the second day as we swung a little into the open to make the
Inlet, a storm arose. And through the storm a tiny row-boat bobbed
up to us in the moonlight, poised for minutes in the flush of a great danger as
it struggled to reach us without crushing against our sides, and then quietly
dropped aboard us two Moravian missionaries. And it was John who seemed to know
just what to do to make the boarding possible. The missionaries recognized him
and rewarded him with a smile and thanks, but John appeared unmoved. A moment
later he was standing beside me in silence, held by the same strange affinity
that had been working on me.
Early the next morning we cast anchor far within the inlet before Rigolet. And as we glided into position John and I were talking. In his manner was a greater solemnity than ever. I believe now it was the knowledge that in an hour or so his new friend would pass from his life.
“Can you read?” he inquired. And the unusual embarrassment of his manner impressed me. Then, “Can you write?” And when I modestly admitted both accomplishments, he hesitated. I did not try to draw him out. In a moment he explained. “I can, too.” There was pride in his tone. I recognized it quickly enough to introduce my commendations with the proper spirit. “And I write much,” he went on. “I write books.”
Having received my cue, I succeeded in finding out that his “books” were diaries filled through the winter months of his long season in the interior.
“Will you read my books?” he asked me, anxiously.
We climbed over the side together and sat in the little row-boat that was to take us to the
Hudson Bay quay. As soon as we landed,
John led me off, past the white buildings of the Company, past several
ramshackle huts that looked as if a mild wind would make loose lumber of them,
and stopped before one, a shack more solid-looking than the others. He paused
before entering. It was but one of his expressive movements that meant more
than words. I was not to follow farther; he did not wish me to see within. I
read into it that it was not shame, but a fear that I might not understand his
methods of life. Inside, a few half-hearty words were uttered, and John’s voice
replied quietly; and presently he appeared with two common exercise books in
his hand. These he handed to me and together we repaired to an ancient Eskimo
burying-ground where we need fear no interruption. It would be a couple of
hours before the boat would leave.
But someone shouted. The missionary who had boarded our boat two days before wanted help to unload his household goods, and John, the always ready, supplied the want. And that was the last word I had with John Shiwak.
I seated myself on the steps to the factor’s house and opened one of the books. The first thing I saw was a crude but marvellously lively drawing of a deer. With only a few uncommon lines he had set down a deer in full flight. Therein were none of the rules of drawing, but in his untrained way John had accomplished what better-known artists miss. “This is a deer,” underneath, was but the expression of first principles. And on the second page was a stanza of poetry. Unfortunately, it is not at hand, but this dusky son of Nature had caught from his mother what he had never read in books. There were rhythm and metre and rhyme, and there was unconscious submission to something working within. I began to read.
It was all about his past winter back there in a frozen world alone. I read on, until I heard shouts from the direction of the pier. There are more attractive dangers than being marooned on the coast of
so with the diaries I started for the steamer, thinking to meet John there. But
on the way we passed his row-boat returning to the shore with its last load. I
could only shout that I had his books; and his reply was a slow nodding of the
head; and then a shipping of his oars for a brief moment as he turned and
watched us drift apart.
I never saw him again. During the six years that followed I received from him a half-dozen letters a year or less, all there was time for in the short two months of navigation along the
Labrador. I wrote him
regularly, sending him such luxuries as I thought would please him—a camera and
supplies, heavy sweater-coats and other comforts, books, writing paper,
pencils, and a dictionary. From him there came mementoes of his life—a
beautiful fox-skin for a rug, with head and claws complete; a pair of wooden
dolls made entirely by the Eskimo and dressed in exact replica of the seal-skin
suits of the farthest North; a pair of elk-skin moccasins; a pair of seal
gloves. It was significant of John’s gallantry that most of these gifts were specifically
for the Woman-who-worries. For me he was ever on the look-out for a Polar
bear-skin, and had planned a trip farther North to get one, when other events
But, best of all, each summer there came out to me his diaries. Diaries have small prospect of breaking through my prejudices, but John’s invariably inaugurated a period of seclusion and idleness until I had read to the last word. They were wonderful examples of unstilted, inspired writing. They started with his hunting expedition in the late fall (September, in Labrador) into the interior by the still open waterways; and through all the succeeding eight months, until the threat of breaking ice drove him back to civilization with his fur-laden sleigh, they recorded his daily life, not as a barren round of uneventfulness, but as a teeming time of throbbing experience. He felt everything, from the leap of a running deer to a sunset, from a week’s crippling storm to the capture of the much-prized silver fox, from the destruction of his tent by fire to the misfortune of pilfering mice. And he had the faculty of making his reader feel with him. In a thumbnail dash he could take one straight into the clutches of the silent
Now and then he broke into verse, although in his later diaries this
disappeared, perhaps under the goad of more careful register. Breathlessly I
would read of the terrible Arctic storms that fell on him all alone, hundreds
of miles from the nearest human being. And the joys and disappointments of his
traps bore almost equally for the moment on the one to whom he was telling his
And John had taught himself to read and write from the scraps of paper that reach the coast of
From his diaries I gathered bits of his life. He had left home when only ten years of age to carve his own fortune, but his father and beloved little sisters were still to him his home, although he never saw them now. He was everyone’s friend, grateful for their kindnesses, always ready to help, contemptuous of the lazy Indian, whom he hated. In the summer he fished, or worked for a Grenfell doctor—all a mere fill-up until the hunting season returned. But always there was a note or incomplete existence in his writings, of falling short of his ambitions, of something bigger within the range of his vision. Even before I waved farewell to him that day, I had him in my mind as the subject for a sketch, “John, the Dissatisfied.”
Throughout his diaries were many gratifying references to the place I had strangely attained in his affections—communings with himself in the silent nights of the far North. And each summer his letters almost plaintively inquired when I was coming to Labrador that he might take me up the
Hamilton River to the Grand Falls
where Hubbard lost his life. Even in his last letter, written from a far
distant field, he reintroduced our ancient plans. Once he informed me in the
simplest language that he had in mind a liveyere,
or native girl for his future home, and asked me to send her a white silk
handkerchief with “F” in the corner. John was growing up. During his last
summer in Labrador he was much absorbed in an ambition, to set up as a Labrador merchant, but he had not the money.
During the first three years of our friendship he embarrassed me much by proposing each summer to come out to visit me; and in one letter he had almost made up his mind to come to me in
and throw himself into competition for the future with the white man. I funked
the issue each time. I had no fear of his ability to hold his own in work of
brain or hand, but the Eskimo in civilization seemed too large a responsibility
for one man to assume. At every landing-place in Labrador
was, at the time of my visit, a notice threatening with a fine of a hundred
pounds anyone inducing an Eskimo to leave the country. It was a result of the
dire consequences of the Eskimo encampment at the Chicago World's Fair, in
1893. And I could not rid myself of the solemn warning of an Indian chief
friend of mine against the risk.
Once a letter arrived from John in midwinter.
The familiar handwriting on the outside was weirdly unnatural at that season of the year, for I knew the
Labrador was frozen in
impenetrable ice. Inside I learned that a courier was coming out on snowshoes
overland, through those hundreds of miles of untracked snow wastes of Quebec. I replied
immediately. And his diary the next summer told of his joy at the receipt in
midwinter of a letter from his friend. A pair of hunters, on their way in to
their grounds somewhere beyond John, had carried his letter from the little
village on the river and left it in one of his huts.
During the fall of 1914 my letters to him were going astray. His arrived regularly, always bemoaning my negligence. A dozen times I wrote on alternate days. The summer of 1915 opened with his diaries and more letters of lonesome plaint. Through June and July they continued. Not a letter of mine was he receiving, although his reached me as usual. Then one day came his despairing effort. On the outside he had written in his most careful hand: “If anyone gets this and knows where Mr. Amy is, please send it to him.” Thereupon I wrote to friends in
St. John’s to get in
touch with John at any cost.
In a couple of his letters he had mentioned his desire to be a soldier, but I had dismissed it as one of his ambitions blocked by his race. In the one my acquaintances were to forward to me he announced that he had enlisted and was going to
I ask you to consider that. An Eskimo, a thousand miles from the nearest newspaper—no outside life but the Newfoundland fisherman and for only seven or eight weeks of the year, no industry but hunting and fishing, eight months in the snowbound silences of the most desolate country on earth! And John Shiwak, the swarthy little Eskimo, was going to fight for his country whose tangible benefits could mean nothing to him! Young men in the heart of things cannot read this without blushing—surely! Within the little Eskimo was burning that which puts conscription, and strikes, and shirking beyond the pale.
In the early spring of 1915 I came to
Within a week I had found where the Newfoundland Regiment was in training.
John’s reply to my letter is too sacred to publish. There was joy in every line
of it. “I have nothing to write about,” he said, in his simple way. And then he
proceeded to impress me with a mission in life I had scarcely appreciated. But
he was in Scotland, and I
was in London.
And travel in England
was discouraged. Within a very few weeks he was on his way to France, full of
ardour. And just before he went he sent me a picture of himself in khaki, on
the back the message, “This is for you.”
Almost every week, and sometimes twice a week, I heard from him. He was not liking the life. There was something about it he did not understand—this killing of men week after week—and his modesty and reticence, I fear, made him a prey to more assertive fellow-soldiers. He wrote me that his comforts were stolen when he was in the line, not complainingly but sadly. I sent him duplicates which never reached him. I wrote to him to appeal to his commanding officer. And thereafter, for months, for some strange reason, no letter of mine was received by him. His petitions for news of me drove me to measures that put me once more in touch with him. Once he was sick in hospital "with his neck", but apart from that he was in the lines every time his battalion was on duty. And after eleven months without leave he suddenly reached Blighty.
It was characteristic of our merely spiritual propinquity that I had left for Devon on a holiday trip only two days before his joyful announcement arrived, and when his wire reached me on a Friday night there was no train to bring him to me and return him before Monday night ; and he was due in
Scotland on Monday. I hastened back
from Devon to catch him on his way through to France, but the letter he sent me
from somewhere in London neglected to include his address, and I could not find
him before his leave was up that night.
His letter of regret, written from Folkestone, as he waited for the boat to
France, is by
me. “I hope we will meet again somewhere,” he said, and I imagined a tone of
hopelessness rang in it.
Upon his return to
sorrow came to him. He had induced two other Eskimos to join up with him, but
they had not been able to stand the life, and were sent home. But his real
grief was the death in action of his hunting mate who had often shared his
winters in Labrador, a white man. “I am the
only one left from Labrador,” he moaned. And
the longing to get back to his old life peeped out from every line. But to my
sympathy and an effort to brighten him, he replied: “ I am hanging on all right. The only thing to do is to
stick it till it’s over.”
It is through misty eyes I read his letters of those last three months. The duration of the war was wearing on him. He had no close friends, none to keep warm the link with his distant home. In September he lamented: “ I have had no letters from home since July. There will be no more now till the ice breaks.” And in his last he longed again for the old hunting days.
that had never satisfied his ambitions, looked warm and attractive to him now.
He wondered what the fur would be for the coming winter, what his old friends
and his people were doing, how the Grenfell doctor had managed without him.
I had been sending him books and writing paper, small luxuries in food and soldiers comforts. “It is good to know I have two friends,” he thanked me. (The other was a woman near his training camp in
“I don’t think a man could be better off.”
Simple, grateful John! He complained of the cold; and I dispatched a warm sweater-coat and a pair of wool gloves.
That was in mid-November. A month later an official envelope came to me. Inside was my last letter. On its face was the soulless stamp, “Deceased.” More sympathetic hands had added: “Dead,” “Killed,” “Verified.”
It was a damp-eyed sergeant who told me of his end, this native of
the only Eskimo to lay down his life for the Empire.
“He was a white man.” he whispered. Would that John could have heard it! It happened in the Cambrai tank drive. The tanks were held up by the canal before Masnieres, and John's company was ordered to rush a narrow bridge that had unaccountably been left standing. John, chief sniper for the battalion, lately promoted to lance-corporal, the muscular man of the wilds, outpaced his comrades. The battalion still argue which was the first to reach the bridge, John or another. But John reached the height of the little arch and turned to wave his companions on.
It was a deadly corner of the battle front. The Germans, granted a breathing space by the obstacle of the canal, were rallying. Big shells were dropping everywhere, scores of machine-guns were barking across the narrow line of protecting water. And just beyond the bridge-head, in among the trees, the enemy had erected platforms in tiers, bearing machine-guns. As John stood, his helmet awry, his mouth open in shouts of encouragement unheard amid the din, the deadly group of guns broke loose. That was why the bridge had been left.
The Eskimo swayed, bent a little, then slowly sank. But even as he lay they saw his hand point ahead. And then he lay still. And they .passed him on the bridge, lying straight and peaceful, gone to a better hunting-ground than he had ever anticipated.
And my thoughts of John Shiwak, the Eskimo, are that he must be satisfied at last.
A reproduction of a portion of John Shiwak’s letter from the Front to the Author. Although only an Eskimo. John was a writer of poetry, an artist, and a photographer—probably the most educated of all Eskimos.
The battalion still argue which wag the first to reach the bridge, John or another. But John reached the height of the little arch and turned to wave his companions on.
Saturday, 26 April 2014
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.)
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Know Your Indians
True Fact Feature
by A. Hyatt Verrill
From Double Action Western, May 1953, Vol. 20, No. 5. Digitized by Doug Frizzle; April 2014.
This title is a construction just to enable differentiations between subjects in this periodical's column. This particular column had no special title, unlike most of them so far./drf
BEFORE the coming of the white men, the only North American Indians who took scalps were the Iroquois, Muskohegans, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks. None of the eastern Algonquin tribes, or the plains tribes, scalped their slain enemies. But when the white men began offering high bounties for Indians’ scalps, the Indians reasoned that—if the white men prized the scalps so highly—scalps must possess some magic or “medicine”, or must hold or control the spirits of the dead. For this reason they regarded scalps as valuable prizes and surrounded them with ceremonials and mystic rites.
Among the plains tribes, it was not essential that the warrior who killed an enemy should take the scalp. As long as the trophy fell to the victors it was sufficient. The main personal honor was the “coup”, or first to strike an enemy or to touch his body with the “coup stick”. Few tribes took the entire scalp. As a rule, each tribe took a certain part of the scalp—such as the crown, a strip over one ear, the forepart of the head, a strip along the center, etc.
Many white men who were scalped survived, and lived to a good old age. One of my own uncles, who pretended death when his party was wiped out by the Utes, was scalped by the Indians and lived until five years ago. Custer was not scalped. According to the Indian chiefs who took part in the
of the Little Bighorn, Custer committed suicide, and a suicide’s scalp was
taboo to the Indians.
FEW PERSONS realize how many words of our language are Indian. Tuxedo, caucus, pow-wow, squash, skunk, moose, potato, tomato, chile, tabacco, cigar, maize, muskeg, cayuse, and many familiar words in daily use were borrowed from the Indians.
The Indian greeting. “How” is not—as is generally supposed—the white man’s “How”, but is an Indian word: “Hau” or “Haoh” meaning “it is well”, “all right”, or “good”. “Tomahawk” is not an Indian word, but is a corruption of “Tommy-axe”—the old English term for a small axe or hatchet. The word “Squaw” is a corruption of the Indian “An-a-es— achuah” or “Companion of man”.
THE CONSTITUTION of the
States, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was
modeled after the Constitution of the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
MANY OF the most famous leaders of the Indians were not chiefs. Osceola was never a chief and was half-white; Sitting Bull was not a chief, but a Shaman or Medicine man. Many, such as Iron Tail, Rain-in-the-Face, Lone Man, and others, were war-chiefs but had no political or tribal powers.
THE ONLY North American Indians who have a written language are the Cherokees, whose 86- letter alphabet was invented by Sequoya, an Indian who could neither read nor write.
ALTHOUGH we refer to the Pueblo Indians as if they were all of one tribe, this is not the case. There are four separate races among the
Pueblos. The Hopis are of Shoshonean lineage;
the Zunis are of the Zunean group: the people of Taos are Tanoan: while the
pueblos of San Felipe, Santa Ana, Acoma, Cichiti, Santo Domingo, and Laguna are
inhabited by Indians of Keresan stock.
THERE WAS no Apache tribe. the so-called Apaches being a number of distinct tribes and ancestral stocks, who often fought one another. Strangely enough, these Indians spoke a dialect of the Athabascan tongue of our Northeastern Indians. Among the many tribes commonly referred to as “Apaches”, were the Mescaleros, Jicarillas, Chricahuas, Kiowas, Mohaves, Walapais, Maricopas,
Havasupais, Cocopas, and others.
THE SIOUX Indians—or Dakotahs, as they called themselves—were a confederation of several tribes: The Oglalas, Brules, Tetons, Yunkipapas, Arikaras,
and Yanktons. who often fought one another. The Lakotahs—or true Siouxs—were
originally Indians of the Carolinas and Georgia, where a number of the
race—the Catawbas—still remain.
IT WAS VERY seldom that Indians killed or tortured their prisoners of war. Many white men and women, captured by the Indians, refused to be freed, and preferred living with the Indians to life with their fellow whites. A Mrs. Malloy, who was captured by the Mohawks, married and buried three Indian husbands—and insisted that Indians made much better husbands than did the white men. Another white woman, Eunice Williams of
Deerfield, Mass., who was captured by the Indians and taken to Canada,
married an Indian. Although she occasionally paid short visits to friends and
relatives in Deerfield, bringing with her a number of her adopted tribesmen,
nothing would induce her to remain among the white people of Massachusetts.
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- 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.