THE TWO AMERICAS

Condamine reached on the 27th the mission station of the Omaguas, formerly a powerful nation, whose dwelling extended along the banks of the Amazon for a distance of 200 leagues below the Napo. Originally strangers in the land, they are supposed to have come down some river rising in Granada, and to have fled from the Spanish yoke. The word Omagua means flat-head in Peruvian, and these people have the singular custom of squeezing the foreheads of new-born babies between two flat pieces of wood, to make them, as they say, resemble the full moon. They also use two curious plants, the floripondio and the curupa, which makes them drunk for twenty-four hours, and causes very wonderful dreams. So that opium and hatchich have their counterparts in Peru.

Omagua Indians
Omagua Indians.

Cinchona, ipecacuanha, simaruba, sarsaparilla, guaiacum, cocoa, and vanilla grow on the banks of the Marañon, as does also a kind of india-rubber, of which the natives make bottles, boots, and syringes, which, according to Condamine, require no piston. They are of the shape of hollow pears, and are pierced at the end with a little hole, into which a pipe is fitted. This contrivance is much used by the Omaguas; and when a fête is given, the host, as a matter of politeness, always presents one to each of his guests, who use them before any ceremonial banquet.

Changing boats at San Joaquin, Condamine arrived at the mouth of Napo in time to witness, during the night of the 31st July or the 1st August, the emersion of the first satellite of Jupiter, so that he was able to determine exactly the latitude and longitude of the spot—a valuable observation, from which all other positions on the journey could be calculated.

Pevas, which was reached the next day, is the last of the Spanish missions on the Marañon. The Indians collected there were neither all of the same race nor all converts to Christianity. They still wore bone ornaments in the nostrils and the lips, and had their cheeks riddled with holes, in which were fixed the feathers of birds of every colour.

St. Paul is the first Portuguese mission. There the river is no less than 900 fathoms wide, and often rises in violent storms. The traveller was agreeably surprised to find the Indian women possessed of pet birds, locks, iron keys, needles, looking-glasses, and other European utensils, procured at Para in exchange for cocoa. The native canoes are much more convenient than those used by the Indians of the Spanish possessions. They are in fact regular little brigantines, sixty feet long by seven wide, manned by forty oarsmen.

Between St. Paul and Coari several large and beautiful rivers flow into the Amazon. On the south the Yutay, Yuruca, Tefé, and Coari; on the north the Putumayo and Yupura. On the shores of the last-named river lives a cannibal race. Here Texeira set up a barrier, on the 26th June, 1639, which was to mark the frontier between the district in which the Brazilian and Peruvian languages respectively were to be used in dealing with the Indians.

Purus River and the Rio Negro, connecting the Orinoco with the Amazon, the banks dotted with Portuguese missions under the direction of the monks of Mount Carmel, were successively surveyed. The first reliable information on the important geographical fact of the communication between the two great rivers, is to be found in the works of Condamine, and his sagacious comments on the journeys of the missionaries who preceded him. It was in these latitudes that the golden lake of Parimé and the fabulous town of Manoa del Dorado are said to have been situated. Here, too, lived the Manaos Indians, who so long resisted the Portuguese.

Now were passed successively the mouth of the Madera River—so called on account of the quantity of timber which drifts down from it, the port of Pauxis—beyond which the Marañon takes the name of the Amazon, and where the tide begins to be felt, although the sea is more than 200 miles distant—and the fortress of Topayos, at the mouth of a river coming down from the mines of Brazil, on the borders of which live the Tupinambas.

Not until September did the mountains come in sight on the north—quite a novel spectacle, since for two months Condamine had not seen a single hill. They were the first buttresses of the Guiana chain.

On the 6th September, opposite Fort Paru, Condamine left the Amazon, and passed by a natural canal to the Xingu River, called by Father D'Acunha the Paramaribo. The port of Curupa was then reached, and lastly Para, a large town, with regular streets and houses of rough or hewn stone. To complete his map, the explorer was obliged to visit the mouth of the Amazon, where he embarked for Cayenne, arriving there on the 20th February, 1774.

This long voyage had the most important results. For the first time the course of the Amazon had been laid down in a thoroughly scientific manner, and the connexion between it and the Orinoco ascertained. Moreover Condamine had collected a vast number of interesting observations on natural history, physical geography, astronomy, and the new science of anthropology, then in its earliest infancy.

We have now to relate the travels of a man who recognized, better than any one else had done, the connexion between geography and the other physical sciences. We allude to Alexander von Humboldt. To him is due the credit of having opened to travellers this fertile source of knowledge.