CHAPTER IV. THE JOURNEY UP THE ITECOAHY RIVER
With the subsiding of the waters came my long-desired opportunity to travel the course of the unmapped Itecoahy. In the month of June a local trader issued a notice that he was to send a launch up the river for trading purposes and to take the workers who had been sojourning in Remate de Males back to their places of employment, to commence the annual extraction of rubber. The launch was scheduled to sail on a Monday and would ascend the Itecoahy to its headwaters, or nearly so, thus passing the mouths of the Ituhy, the Branco, and Las Pedras rivers, affluents of considerable size which are nevertheless unrecorded on maps. The total length of the Branco River is over three hundred miles, and it has on its shores several large and productive seringales.
When on my way up the Amazon to the Brazilian frontier, I had stopped at Manaos, the capital of the State of Amazonas. There I had occasion to consult an Englishman about the Javary region. In answer to one of my inquiries, I received the following letter, which speaks for itself:
Referring to our conversation of recent date, I should wish once more to impress upon your mind the perilous nature of your journey, and I am not basing this information upon hearsay, but upon personal experience, having traversed the region in question quite recently.
Owing to certain absolutely untrue articles written by one H - - , claiming to be your countryman, I am convinced that you can not rely upon the protection of the employees of this company, as having been so badly libelled by one, they are apt to forget that such articles were not at your instigation, and as is often the case the innocent may suffer for the guilty.
On the other hand, without this protection you will find yourself absolutely at the mercy of savage and cannibal Indians.
I have this day spoken to the consul here at Manaos and explained to him that, although I have no wish to deter you from your voyage, you must be considered as the only one responsible in any way for any ill that may befall you.
Finally, I hope that before disregarding this advice (which I offer you in a perfectly friendly spirit) you will carefully consider the consequences which such a voyage might produce, and, frankly speaking, I consider that your chance of bringing it to a successful termination is Nil.
Believe me to be, etc.,
During the time of my journey up the river and of my stay in Remate de Males, I had seen nothing of the particular dangers mentioned in this letter. The only Indians I had seen were such as smoked long black cigars and wore pink or blue pajamas. The letter further developed an interest, started by the hints of life in the interior, which had come to me in the civilisation of Remate de Males. I was, of course, particularly desirous of finding out all I could about the wild people of the inland regions, since I could not recall that much had been written about them.
Henry W. Bates, the famous explorer who ascended the Amazon as far as Teffe, came within 120 miles of the mouth of the Javary River in the year 1858, and makes the following statement about the indigenous tribes of this region:
The only other tribe of this neighbourhood concerning which I obtained any information was the Mangeromas, whose territory embraces several hundred miles of the western banks of the river Javary, an affluent of the Solimoes, a hundred and twenty miles beyond Sao Paolo da Olivenca. These are fierce and indomitable and hostile people, like the Araras of the Madeira River. They are also cannibals. The navigation of the Javary River is rendered impossible on account of the Mangeromas lying in wait on its banks to intercept and murder all travellers.
Now to return to the letter; I thought that perhaps my English friend had overdrawn things a little in a laudable endeavour to make me more cautious. In other words, it was for me the old story over again, of learning at the cost of experience - the story of disregarded advice, and so I went on in my confidence.
When the announcement of the launch's sailing came, I went immediately for an interview with the owner, a Brazilian named Pedro Smith, whose kindness I shall never forget. He offered me the chance of making the entire trip on his boat, but would accept no remuneration, saying that I would find conditions on the little overcrowded vessel very uncomfortable, and that the trip would not be free from actual bodily risk. When even he tried to dissuade me, I began to think more seriously of the Englishman's letter, but I told him that I had fully made up my mind to penetrate the mystery of those little known regions. I use the term "little known" in the sense that while they are well enough known to the handful of Indians and rubber-workers yet they are "terra incognita" to the outside world. The white man has not as yet traversed this Itecoahy and its affluents, although it would be a system of no little importance if located in some other country - for instance, in the United States.
My object was to study the rubber-worker at his labour, to find out the true length of the Itecoahy River, and to photograph everything worth while. I had with me all the materials and instruments necessary - at least so I thought.