Chapter IV: MEXIANA AND MARAJÓ.

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Visit to Olería—Habits of Birds—Voyage to Mexiana—Arrival—Birds—Description of the Island—Population—Slaves, their Treatment and Habits—Journey to the Lake—Beautiful Stream—Fish and Birds at the Lake—Catching Alligators—Strange Sounds, and Abundance of Animal Life—Walk back—Jaguar Meat—Visit to Jungcal in Marajó—Embarking Cattle—Ilha das Frechas.

Soon after our return to Pará, my hand became so much inflamed, that I was obliged to put my arm in a sling, and go to a doctor, under whose treatment I remained a fortnight, unable to do anything, not even pin an insect, and consequently rather miserable. As I intended, as soon as possible, going to the great island of Marajó, in search of some of the curious and rare water-birds which abound there, I obtained permission from Mr. C., an English gentleman, to visit his cattle estates; but as there was no canoe going there for some weeks, I spent the interim at Olería, where M. Borlaz kindly offered me a room and a place at his table.

I found plenty of occupation in procuring specimens of the various small birds, and making myself acquainted with their habits. None were more abundant, both in species and individuals, than the bush-shrikes, which are all remarkable for the same kind of falling note I have already alluded to, though each one has some slight peculiarity by which it may be distinguished. They generally hide themselves in the very thickest and most impenetrable bushes, where it is impossible to see them except by creeping up within a distance of two yards, when it is difficult to shoot without blowing them to pieces. They are small birds with very loose, long, silky feathers, prettily banded or spotted with black and white, and are constantly hopping about the bushes and twigs, picking off whatever small insects they fall in with.

The ant-thrushes are another closely allied group, which are equally abundant. They have stronger legs and very short tails, and walk more on the ground, picking up insects, especially ants, very much after the manner of poultry. When one is shot, it is often a dangerous matter to go and fetch it, for the ground generally swarms with ants, which attack an intruder most unmercifully both with stings and jaws. Many times, after a fruitless attempt, have I been obliged to leave the dead body on the field, and beat an inglorious retreat.

In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvellous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found. But naturalists are now beginning to look beyond this, and to see that there must be some other principle regulating the infinitely varied forms of animal life. It must strike every one, that the numbers of birds and insects of different groups, having scarcely any resemblance to each other, which yet feed on the same food and inhabit the same localities, cannot have been so differently constructed and adorned for that purpose alone. Thus the goat-suckers, the swallows, the tyrant fly-catchers, and the jacamars, all use the same kind of food, and procure it in the same manner: they all capture insects on the wing, yet how entirely different is the structure and the whole appearance of these birds! The swallows, with their powerful wings, are almost entirely inhabitants of the air; the goat-suckers, nearly allied to them, but of a much weaker structure, and with largely developed eyes, are semi-nocturnal birds, sometimes flying in the evening in company with the swallows, but most frequently settling on the ground, seizing their prey by short flights from it, and then returning to the same spot. The fly-catchers are strong-legged, but short-winged birds, which can perch, but cannot fly with the ease of the swallows: they generally seat themselves on a bare tree, and from it watch for any insects which may come within reach of a short swoop, and which their broad bills and wide gape enable them to seize. But with the jacamars this is not the case: their bills are long and pointed—in fact, a weak kingfisher’s bill—yet they have similar habits to the preceding: they sit on branches in open parts of the forest, from thence flying after insects, which they catch on the wing, and then return to their former station to devour them. Then there are the trogons, with a strong serrated bill, which have similar habits; and the little humming-birds, though they generally procure insects from the flowers, often take them on the wing, like any other fissirostral bird.

What birds can have their bills more peculiarly formed than the ibis, the spoonbill, and the heron? Yet they may be seen side by side, picking up the same food from the shallow water on the beach; and on opening their stomachs, we find the same little crustacea and shell-fish in them all. Then among the fruit-eating birds, there are pigeons, parrots, toucans, and chatterers,—families as distinct and widely separated as possible,—which yet may be often seen feeding all together on the same tree; for in the forests of South America, certain fruits are favourites with almost every kind of fruit-eating bird. It has been assumed by some writers on Natural History, that every wild fruit is the food of some bird or animal, and that the varied forms and structure of their mouths may be necessitated by the peculiar character of the fruits they are to feed on; but there is more of imagination than fact in this statement: the number of wild fruits furnishing food for birds is very limited, and birds of the most varied structure and of every size will be found visiting the same tree.

Insects were now more abundant than ever, and new kinds were met with almost every day. Lovely little butterflies, spangled with gold, or glittering with the most splendid metallic tints, hid themselves under leaves or expanded their wings in the morning sun; while the larger and more majestic kinds flew lazily along the shaded forest paths. The more sombre Hesperidæ were the most abundant, and it would often happen that, of a dozen specimens taken in a day’s excursion, no two were alike.

At length the canoe, for which I had been waiting, was ready to sail; and on the 3rd of November we left Pará for the island of Mexiana, situated in the main stream of the Amazon, between the great island of Marajó and the northern shore. We had to go down the Pará river, and round the eastern point of Marajó, where we were quite exposed to the ocean; and, though most of the time in fresh water, I was very sea-sick all the voyage, which lasted four days. The canoe was intended for the conveyance of cattle, and therefore had no particular accommodation for human passengers. There was certainly a little cabin, with two berths just five feet long, but not at all suitable for me (I am six feet two inches high), so I preferred the hold. Our crew consisted of eight young Tapuyas,—fine active fellows, from fifteen to twenty years of age. Each wore a tight-fitting pair of trousers and a very short shirt, so that six inches of red skin appeared between the two garments. The shrouds of the canoe consisted of the stay-ropes only, without any rattlins or cross-steps, yet up these they would run like monkeys, holding on with their toes.

The island of Mexiana is about twenty-five miles long by twelve broad, of a regular oval shape, and is situated exactly on the equator. It is quite flat, and is all campo, or open ground, but dotted with scattered trees and bushes, and with a little forest at the water’s edge. It is celebrated for its birds, alligators, and onças, and is used as a cattle estate by the proprietor. The alligators abound in a lake in the centre of the island, where they are killed in great numbers for their fat, which is made into oil.

I was accompanied by Mr. Yates, a collector of Orchids, who, after a few weeks’ stay, not finding much variety of those plants, returned to Pará. On our arrival we were received by Senhor Leonardo, a German, who is the overseer, to whom we presented our letter from Mr. C. We were then shown the rooms we were to occupy in the house, which is spacious and has an upper story; and having got our luggage on shore, we soon made ourselves at home. Round the house are a good many orange and mango trees, behind which is a row of cottages, where reside the vaqueiros or herdsmen, who are mostly Negroes and slaves; and beyond, as far as the eye can reach, is the flat campo, dotted over with cattle and horses.

On inquiring about the best localities for insects, birds, and plants, we were rather alarmed by being told that onças were very numerous, even near the house, and that it was dangerous to walk out alone or unarmed. We soon found, however, that no one had been actually attacked by them; though they, poor animals, are by no means unmolested, as numerous handsome skins drying in the sun, and teeth and skulls lying about, sufficiently proved. There is no doubt but they are unpleasant animals to encounter, and their teeth and claws are so fearfully adapted to destroy whatever may come within their reach, that it is much better to be a little cautious, than to run any risk: I therefore put half-a-dozen bullets in my game-bag, in case of an encounter.

Some of the horses and cattle were miserable-looking objects, from wounds inflicted by the bats, which cause them to lose much blood, and sometimes, by successive attacks, kill them. Senhor Leonardo informed us that they particularly abounded in some parts of the island, and that he often has bat-hunts, when several thousands are killed. It is a large species, of coffee-brown colour, probably the Phyllostoma hastatum.

The morning after my arrival I took my gun, and walked out to see what sport the island afforded. First going to a tree near the house, which Senhor Leonardo pointed out to me, I found numerous humming-birds fluttering about the leaves (which were still wet with dew), and seeming to wash and cool themselves with the moisture: they were of a blue and green colour, with a long forked tail (Campylopterus hirundinaceus). Walking on in the campo, I found abundance of Bemteví fly-catchers, cuckoos, and tanagers, and also shot a buzzard and a black eagle different from any I had seen at Pará. Insects were very scarce, owing to the dryness of the season and the absence of forest; so I soon gave up collecting them, and attended entirely to birds, which were rather plentiful, though not very rare or handsome. In ten days I obtained seventy specimens, among which were fourteen hawks and eagles, several herons, egrets, paroquets, woodpeckers, and one of the large yellow-billed toucans (Rhamphastos Toco), which are not found at Pará.

Having made several excursions for some miles into the interior of the island and along the coast, I obtained a tolerable idea of its geography. It is everywhere a perfect flat, the greatest elevations being a very few feet. Along the shore in most places, and extending along the banks of the creeks inland, is a belt of forest, varying in width from a hundred yards to half a mile, containing a few palms and lofty trees, and abundance of bamboos and climbers, rendering it almost impassable. The whole of the interior is campo, or open plain, covered with a coarse herbage, and in places sprinkled with round-headed palms, and with low branching trees bearing a profusion of yellow flowers. Scattered about, at intervals of a few miles, are clumps of trees and bushes, some very small, but others sufficiently extensive to form little forests. These are generally known as “ilhas,” or islands, and many of them have separate names, as, “Ilha do São Pedro,” “Ilha dos Urubus.” In the wet season a great part of the island appears to be flooded, and dead crabs and fresh-water shells are found a long way inland: these groves are then probably real islands, though not perceptibly above the general level.

A phenomenon, which is seen on the banks of the Mississippi and most other rivers which overflow their banks, also occurs here. The land is highest near the water’s edge, and gradually falls inland, caused by the heavier sediment being deposited during floods at the shortest distance, while the lighter matter only is carried inland, and spread over a larger area. The surface of the campos is very uneven for walking, being in little clumps or hillocks, so that it is equally tiresome and fatiguing to walk on their summits or between them. The stems of the palms were all covered with orchideous plants, but they had now generally neither leaves nor flowers, and seemed to be of very little variety of species. In the marshy places shrubby convolvuli are abundant, and in others are large beds of cassias and mimosas, while scattered among them are many delicate little flowers.

Long-tailed, light-coloured cuckoos were continually flying about from tree to tree, uttering their peculiar note, not at all like that of our cuckoo, but more like the creaking of a rusty hinge, which the name given to them, Carerú, is intended to resemble. Equally abundant are the black hornbill cuckoos, called Anús; and on almost every tree may be seen sitting a hawk or buzzard, the variety of which is very great, as in a few weeks I obtained eight different kinds. Pretty paroquets, with white and orange bands on their wings, and others with an orange-coloured crown, were very plentiful, and it was amusing to watch the activity with which they climbed about over the trees, and how suddenly and simultaneously they flew away when alarmed. Their plumage is so near the colour of the foliage, that it is sometimes impossible to see them, though you may have watched a whole flock enter a tree, and can hear them twittering overhead, when, after gazing until your patience is exhausted they will suddenly fly off with a scream of triumph.

Then among the bushes there were flocks of the beautiful red-breasted oriole, Icterus militaris; but they were unfortunately not in good plumage at the time of my visit. The common black vulture is generally to be seen sailing overhead, or seated on some dead tree; and great Muscovy ducks fly past with a rushing sound, like some great aërial machine beating the air violently to support its ponderous body, and offering a striking contrast to the great wood-ibis, which sails along with noiseless wings in flocks of ten or a dozen. In the skirts of forest and in the larger “ilhas,” black and spotted jaguars are often found, while pacas, cotias, tatus or armadillos, deer, and other small game are plentiful.

The whole population of the island consists of about forty persons, of whom twenty are slaves, and the remainder free Indians and Negroes in the employ of the proprietors. These are all engaged in attending to the cattle and horses on the island, which vary in number, and were much more numerous three or four years ago; the horses in particular having been almost exterminated by a disease which suddenly appeared among them. There were now about fifteen hundred head of cattle, besides a great number of wild ones, which keep in the remote parts of the island, and four hundred horses. The slaves and labourers are allowed farinha only; but they can cultivate Indian corn and vegetables for themselves, and have powder and shot given them for hunting, so that they do not fare so badly. They also have tobacco allowed them, and most of them earn money by making baskets or other trifles, or by killing onças, the skin being worth from five to ten shillings. Besides attending to the cattle and horses, they have to build houses and corrals, to hunt alligators for oil, and kill bats, which do great injury to the cattle by sucking their blood night after night. The bats live in holes in trees, where they are killed in considerable numbers, Senhor Leonardo informing me that they had destroyed about seven thousand during the last six months. Many hundreds of cattle are said to have been killed by them in a few years.

The slaves appeared contented and happy, as slaves generally do. Every evening at sunset they came to bid good-night to Senhor Leonardo and myself, a similar salutation taking place when they first met us in the morning. If a negro goes out for the day to any distance, he bids adieu to all he may meet, as if he were parting from his dearest friends on the eve of a long journey; contrasting strongly with the apathy of the Indian, who scarcely ever exhibits any feelings of regret on parting, or of pleasure on his return. In the evening they play and sing in their own houses: their instrument is a home-made guitar, from which they obtain three or four notes, which are repeated for hours with the most wearisome monotony. To this music they join an extempore song, generally relating to some events of the day; and the doings of the “brancos,” or white people, have often a considerable share in it. Many of them keep fowls and ducks, which they sell, to buy any little luxuries they may require, and they often go fishing to supply the house, when they have a share for themselves.

Every Saturday evening they meet for Divine service, which is performed in a room fitted up as a chapel, with an altar gaily decorated with figures of the Virgin and Child, and several saints painted and gilt in a most brilliant manner. Some of these figures are the work of Senhor Leonardo, who is an excellent self-taught carver; and when the candles are lit, and all is in order, the effect is equal to that of many village churches. Two of the oldest Negroes conduct the service, kneeling at the altar; the rest kneel or stand about the room. What they chant is, I believe, part of the vesper service of the Roman Catholic Church, and all join in the responses with much fervour, though without understanding a word. Sunday is their own day, for working in their gardens, hunting, or idleness, as they choose; and in the evening they often assemble in the verandah to dance, and sometimes keep it up all night.

While I was on the island a child of a few weeks old was to be baptized. This they consider a most important ceremony; so the father and mother, with godfathers and godmothers, set out in a canoe for Chaves, on the island of Marajó, the nearest place where there is a priest. They were absent three days, and then returned with the news that the Padre was ill, and could not perform the ceremony; so they were obliged to bring back the poor little unsanctified creature, liable, according to their ideas, should it die, to eternal perdition. The same evening they sang for three hours to their usual music the whole history of their journey, judging from the portions which were here and there intelligible. They made every fact into a verse, which was several times repeated. Thus one would suddenly burst out,—

“The Padre was ill, and could not come,
The Padre was ill, and could not come.”
CHORUS.
“The Padre was ill, and could not come.”

Then for a time the music continued without the voices, while they were trying to find another fact to found a verse upon. At length some one continued the subject:—

“He told us to come the next day,
To see if he was better.”
CHORUS.
“He told us to come the next day,
To see if he was better.”

And so on to the end of the history, which struck me as being probably very similar to the unwritten lays of the ancient bards, who could thus make well-known facts interesting by being sung to music in an appropriate and enthusiastic manner. In a warlike nation, what more would at first be necessary than to relate the bold deeds of the warriors, the discomfiture of the enemy, and the trophies of victory, in order to raise the enthusiasm of the audience to the highest pitch? Some of these would be handed down from generation to generation, the language improved, and when they came to be reduced to writing, rhyme would be added, and a regular poem constructed.

Having now arrived at the height of the dry season, and the waters of the lake before mentioned being sufficiently low, the German steward informed me that he should make an excursion there to kill alligators, and I determined to accompany him. There are two ways to reach the place—overland in nearly a direct line, or round to the other side of the island in a boat and up a stream, which can be ascended to within a few miles of the lake, with which indeed in the wet season it communicates. The tide served for the boat to start about midnight, and I decided on going in it, as I thought I should thus see more of the island. The overseer was to go by land in the morning. Being roused up at midnight, I got into the canoe with three Negroes, and tried to compose myself for a nap as well as I could upon the baskets of farinha and salt with which it was loaded. It was a large clumsy canoe, and with a sail and the tide we went on pretty well; but as morning dawned we got out rather far from land into the ocean-like river, and the swell beginning to be disagreeable, I arose from my uneven couch very qualmish and uncomfortable.

However, about ten o’clock we reached the mouth of the igaripé, or small stream we were to ascend, and I was very glad to get into still water. We stayed for breakfast in a little clear space under a fine tree, and I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a little biscuit, while the men luxuriated on fish and farinha. We then proceeded up the stream, which was at its commencement about two hundred yards wide, but soon narrowed to fifty or eighty. I was much delighted with the beauty of the vegetation, which surpassed anything I had seen before: at every bend of the stream some new object presented itself,—now a huge cedar hanging over the water, or a great silk-cotton-tree standing like a giant above the rest of the forest. The graceful assaí palms occurred continually, in clumps of various sizes, sometimes raising their stems a hundred feet into the air, or bending in graceful curves till they almost met from the opposite banks. The majestic murutí palm was also abundant, its straight and cylindrical stems like Grecian columns, and with its immense fan-shaped leaves and gigantic bunches of fruit, produced an imposing spectacle. Some of these bunches were larger than any I had before seen, being eight or ten feet in length, weighing probably two or three hundredweight: each consisted of several bushels of a large reticulated fruit. These palms were often clothed with creepers, which ran up to the summits, and there put forth their blossoms. Lower down, on the water’s edge, were numerous flowering shrubs, often completely covered with convolvuluses, passion-flowers, or bignonias. Every dead or half-rotten tree was clothed with parasites of singular forms or bearing beautiful flowers, while smaller palms, curiously-shaped stems, and twisting climbers, formed a background in the interior of the forest.

Nor were there wanting animated figures to complete the picture. Brilliant scarlet and yellow macaws flew continually overhead, while screaming parrots and paroquets were passing from tree to tree in search of food. Sometimes from a branch over the water were suspended the hanging nests of the black and yellow troupial (Cassicus icteronotus), into which those handsome birds were continually entering. The effect of the scene was much heightened by the river often curving to one side or the other, so as to bring to view a constant variety of objects. At every bend we would see before us a flock of the elegant white heron, seated on some dead tree overhanging the water; but as soon as we came in sight of them, they would take flight, and on passing another bend we would find them again perched in front of us, and so on for a considerable distance. On many of the flowering shrubs gay butterflies were settled, and sometimes on a muddy bank a young alligator would be seen comfortably reposing in the sun.

We continued our journey thus for several hours, the men rowing vigorously for fear of the tide turning against us before we reached our destination: this, however, happened just as we entered a narrower part of the stream. The scenery was now much more gloomy; the tall trees closed overhead so as to keep out every sunbeam. The palms twisted and bent in various contortions, so that we sometimes could hardly pass beneath, and sunken logs often lay across from bank to bank, compelling us to get out of the canoe, and use all our exertions to force it over. Our progress was therefore very slow, and the stream was every minute running stronger against us. Here was a building-place for various aquatic birds: the wood-ibis and numerous cranes and herons had their nests on the summits of the lofty trees over the water, while lower down was the station chosen by the boat-bill. There was a continual rustle and flapping of wings as these long-legged, clumsy birds flew about, startled at our approach; and when I shot one of the large wood-ibises, the confusion was at its height. Numerous kingfishers were continually passing up and down, or darting from some dead stick into the water to seize their prey.

After about two hours of very hard and disagreeable work, we reached the landing-place, where there was an old deserted cottage, and the overseer and several Negroes with horses were waiting to convey the provisions we had brought to the Lake. We immediately set off on foot over an extensive plain, which was in places completely bare, and in others thinly clothed with low trees. There could not be a greater contrast than between the scene we had just left, and that which we now entered upon. The one was all luxuriance and verdure, the other as brown and barren as could be,—a dreary waste of marsh, now parched up by the burning sun, and covered with tufts of a wiry grass, with here and there rushes and prickly sensitive plants, and a few pretty little flowers occasionally growing up among them. The trees, which in some places were abundant, did not much diminish the general dreariness of the prospect, for many of the leaves had fallen off owing to the continued drought, and those that were left were brown and half-shrivelled. The ground was very disagreeable for walking, being composed of numerous little clumps and ridges, placed so closely together that you could neither step securely upon nor between them: they appeared to be caused by the rains and floods in the wet season washing away the earth from between the roots of the grass-tufts, the whole being afterwards hardened by the excessive heat of the sun, and the grass almost entirely burnt away.

After walking over four or five miles of such ground, we arrived at the Lake just as it was getting dark. The only building there was a small shed without any walls, under which we hung our hammocks, while the Negroes used the neighbouring trees and bushes for the same purpose. A large fire was blazing, and round it were numerous wooden spits, containing pieces of fresh fish and alligator’s tail for our supper. While it was getting ready, we went to look at some fish which had just been caught, and lay ready for salting and drying the next day: they were the pirarucú (Sudis gigas), a splendid species, five or six feet long, with large scales of more than an inch in diameter, and beautifully marked and spotted with red. The Lake contains great quantities of them, and they are salted and dried for the Pará market. It is a very fine-flavoured fish, the belly in particular being so fat and rich that it cannot be cured, and is therefore generally eaten fresh. This, with farinha and some coffee, made us an excellent supper, and the alligator’s tail, which I now tasted for the first time, was by no means to be despised. We soon turned into our hammocks, and slept soundly after the fatigue of the day. Jaguars were abundant, and had carried off some fish a night or two before; the alligators too were plunging and snorting within twenty yards of us: but we did not suffer such trifles to disturb our slumbers.

Before daybreak I had my gun upon my shoulder, eager to make an attack upon the ducks and other aquatic birds which swarmed about the lake. I soon found plenty of them, and, my gun being loaded with small shot, I killed seven or eight at the first fire. They were very pretty little birds, with metallic-green and white wings, and besides forming good specimens, provided us with an excellent breakfast. After the first discharge, however, they became remarkably shy, so I went after the roseate spoonbills, white herons, and long-legged plovers, which I saw on the other side: they also seemed to have taken warning by the fate of their companions, for I could not get near enough for a shot, as there was no means of concealing my approach.

What is called the Lake is a long, winding piece of water, from thirty to fifty yards wide and of little depth. It is bordered with aquatic plants and shrubs, and in some parts is thickly covered with floating grass and duckweed. It is inhabited by immense numbers of the fish already mentioned, and alligators, which are so thick that there is scarcely any place where you may not stir one up. There are also great quantities of very small fish about two inches long, which I suppose serve as food for the larger ones, which in their turn are probably sometimes devoured by the alligators; though it appears almost a mystery how so many large animals can find a subsistence, crowded together in such a small space.

After breakfast the overseer commenced the alligator-hunt. A number of Negroes went into the water with long poles, driving the animals to the side, where others awaited them with harpoons and lassos.

Sometimes the lasso was at once thrown over their heads, or, if first harpooned, a lasso was then secured to them, either over the head or the tail; and they were easily dragged to the shore by the united force of ten or twelve men. Another lasso was fixed, if necessary, so as to fasten them at both ends, and on being pulled out of the water a Negro cautiously approached with an axe, and cut a deep gash across the root of the tail, rendering that formidable weapon useless; another blow across the neck disabled the head, and the animal was then left, and pursuit of another commenced, which was speedily reduced to the same condition. Sometimes the cord would break, or the harpoon get loose, and the Negroes had often to wade into the water among the ferocious animals in a very hazardous manner. They were from ten to eighteen feet long, sometimes even twenty, with enormous mis-shapen heads, and fearful rows of long sharp teeth. When a number were out on the land, dead or dying, they were cut open, and the fat which accumulates in considerable quantities about the intestines was taken out, and made up into packets in the skins of the smaller ones, taken off for the purpose. There is another smaller kind, here called Jacaré-tinga, which is the one eaten, the flesh being more delicate than in the larger species. After killing twelve or fifteen, the overseer and his party went off to another lake at a short distance, where the alligators were more plentiful, and by night had killed near fifty. The next day they killed twenty or thirty more, and got out the fat from the others.

I amused myself very well with my gun, creeping among the long grass, to get a shot at the shy aquatic birds, and sometimes wandering about the campo, where a woodpecker or a macaw rewarded my perseverance. I was much pleased when I first brought down a splendid blue and yellow macaw, but it gave me some hours of hard work to skin and prepare it, for the head is so fleshy and muscular, that it is no trifling matter to clean it thoroughly. The great tuyuyú (Mycteria Americana) was often seen stalking about; but, with every precaution, I could not get within gunshot of it. The large and small white herons were abundant, as well as black and grey ibises, boat-bills, blue storks, and ducks of several species; there were also many black and yellow orioles, and a glossy starling,—of all of which I procured specimens.

I had an opportunity of seeing the manner of curing fish practised here. They are partially skinned, and a large piece of meat cut out from each side, leaving the backbone with the head and skin attached. Each piece of meat is then cut lengthways, so as to unfold into a large flat slab, which is then slightly sprinkled with salt and laid upon a board. Other slices are laid on this, and, when the salt has penetrated sufficiently, they are hung upon poles or laid upon the ground in the sun to dry, which does not occupy more than two or three days. They are then packed up in bundles of about a hundred pounds each, and are ready for market. The bones and heads furnish a fine feast for the vultures, and sometimes a jaguar will carry them away in the night, but he prefers an entire fish if one is left in his way.

Immediately on the fish being cut up, every part of it is blackened by thousand of flies, which keep up a continual hum the whole day. In fact, the sound of animal life never ceases. Directly after sunset, the herons, bitterns, and cranes begin their discordant cries, and the boat-bills and frogs set up a dismal croaking. The note of one frog deserves a better name: it is an agreeable whistle, and, could it be brought into civilised society, would doubtless have as many admirers as the singing mouse, or the still more marvellous whistling oyster described by Punch. All night long, the alligators and fish keep up a continual plunging; but, with the grey of morning, commence the most extraordinary noises. All of a sudden ten thousand white-winged paroquets begin their morning song with such a confusion of piercing shrieks as it is quite impossible to describe: a hundred knife-grinders at full work would give but a faint idea of it. A little later, and another noise is heard: the flies, which had weighed down every blade of grass, now wake up, and, with a sounding hum, commence their attack upon the fish: every piece that has lain a few hours upon the ground has deposited around it masses of their eggs as large as walnuts. In fact, the abundance of every kind of animal life crowded into a small space was here very striking, compared with the sparing manner in which it is scattered in the virgin forests. It seems to force us to the conclusion, that the luxuriance of tropical vegetation is not favourable to the production and support of animal life. The plains are always more thickly peopled than the forest; and a temperate zone, as has been pointed out by Mr. Darwin, seems better adapted to the support of large land-animals than the tropics.

In this lake the overseer informed me he had killed as many as a hundred alligators in a few days, whereas in the Amazon or Pará rivers it would be difficult to procure as many in a year. Geologists, judging from the number of large reptiles, the remains of which are found in considerable quantities in certain strata, tell us of a time when the whole world was peopled by such animals, before a sufficient quantity of dry land had been formed to support land quadrupeds. But, as it is evident that the remains of these alligators would be found accumulated together should any revolution of the earth cause their death, it would appear that such descriptions are founded upon insufficient data, and that considerable portions of the earth might have been as much elevated as they are at present, notwithstanding the numerous remains of aquatic reptiles, which would seem to indicate a great extent of shallow water for their abode.

The alligator fat and a quantity of fish were now ready, so we prepared to return home. I determined this time to walk overland, so as to see the character of the interior of the island. I returned with the two Negroes to the ruined cottage before mentioned, so as to be ready to start the next morning for a walk of some ten or twelve miles across the campo. On our way to the hut we passed over a part which was burning, and saw the curious phenomenon of the fire proceeding in two opposite directions at once. The wind carried the fire rapidly in a westerly direction, while, at the same time, by causing the tall grass to bend over into the flames, they progressed, though at a slower rate, towards the east. The campos are set on fire purposely every summer, as the coarse grass being burnt down, leaves room for a fine crop to spring up afresh with the first rains. Near the hut I shot a large grey heron, which made us a very good supper; and we then hung up our hammocks for the night in the little dirty ruined hut, from which a short time before a jaguar had carried away a large bundle of fish.

In the morning the canoe was loaded to return, and I proceeded along a faint track homewards. The scene was generally very desolate and barren. Sometimes there was not a blade of grass for miles. Then would come a wide bed of gigantic rushes, which extends across the island nearly from one side to the other. In other places were large beds of prickly mimosas, and, at intervals, considerable tracts covered with leafless trees about which numbers of woodpeckers were busily at work. Hawks and vultures were also seen, and the great red-billed toucan (Rhamphastos Toco) flew by in an undulating course in parties of three or four. It was cloudy, and there was a good deal of wind; but at this time of the year no rain ever falls here, so I did not hurry myself on that account, and, early in the afternoon, reached the house, rather tired, but much interested with my walk. I forgot to mention that in the evening, after the alligator-hunt, the Negroes sang several hymns, as a thanksgiving for having escaped their jaws.

The next day all were busily employed boiling the fat into oil, which supplies the lamps on all Mr. C.’s estates. It has rather a disagreeable smell, but not worse than train-oil. I now went out every day with my gun about the campo, or to the clumps of wood called islands, on the banks of the small streams. The principal birds I procured were toucans, parrots, hawks, and buzzards, the red-headed manakin, and numerous small finches and fly-catchers. The mango-trees were loaded with ripe fruit, and attracted many small tanagers and paroquets. I now ate the mango for the first time, and soon got to like it very much. It is not generally eaten in Pará except by the Negroes, who seem very fond of it, to judge by the certainty with which every fruit disappeared the moment it became ripe. There seems to be scarcely an animal that is not fond of it,—cattle, sheep, pigs, ducks, and fowls, all rush to secure every fruit that falls.

Soon after Christmas we had a few showers at intervals, and the grass began to grow more greenly—a sign that the summer was nearly at an end. Some butterflies and moths now made their appearance, and the skirts of the forest were covered with passion-flowers, convolvuluses, and many other flowers. Bees and wasps also began to abound, and several aquatic birds I had not before seen made their appearance. In January, Mr. C. and his family and some visitors arrived to spend a few weeks on the island, and the time passed more pleasantly. Several of the Negroes were sent hunting, and wild ducks of various species, deer, armadillos, and fish, with beef and mutton, gave us plenty for our table. Several jaguars were killed, as Mr. C. pays about eight shillings each for their skins: one day we had some steaks at the table, and found the meat very white, and without any bad taste.

It appears evident to me that the common idea of the food of an animal determining the quality of its meat is quite erroneous. Domestic poultry and pigs are the most unclean animals in their food, yet their flesh is very highly esteemed, while rats and squirrels, which eat only vegetable food, are in general disrepute. Carnivorous fish are not less delicate eating than herbivorous ones, and there appears no reason why some carnivorous animals should not furnish wholesome and palatable food. Venison, so highly esteemed at home, is here the most dry and tasteless meat that can be had, as it must be cooked within twelve hours after it is killed.

A great deal more rain now fell, and small pools were formed in some parts of the campos. About these, plovers and other birds were to be seen wading, and a small flock of the elegant long-legged plover (Himantopus). After much difficulty I succeeded in killing three or four of them. The curious razor-bill was also often seen skimming over the water, and the great tuyuyú occasionally approached near the house, but always kept out of gunshot, and although I crawled along prostrate to get within reach of him, he always found me out in time for his own safety.

As I was getting scarcely any insects here, and the birds were not very valuable, I determined to return to Pará with Mr. C, who was going to pass a week at his other estate on the island of Marajó by the way.

The journey across in Mr. C.’s schooner occupied but a few hours, and we then entered a river which leads up to the estate called Jungcal. On arriving we found a mud-walled house not quite finished, which was to be our abode while we stayed. At the back of the house stretched out, as far as the eye could reach, a perfectly flat plain or campo, on which fed numerous herds of cattle. Round about were “corrals” fenced in for collecting the cattle, and huts for the “vaqueiros,” or cowherds; and along the banks of the river were patches of wood, and thickets of a great prickly bamboo. About the campo were numerous marshes and narrow streams or ditches, which contained many curious and pretty aquatic plants. Mosquitoes were plentiful, and annoyed us much in the evenings, when we wished to enjoy the cool air in the verandah.

The Negroes and Mulattoes employed about the estate were mostly fine young men, and led a life of alternate idleness and excitement, which they seemed to enjoy very much. All their work is done on horseback, where they showed to great advantage, only wearing a pair of trousers and a cap with a tassel, displaying the fine symmetry of their bodies. We were much amused by seeing them bring in the cattle, driving them into the corral, or using the lasso when one was to be slaughtered. For this purpose they generally get two lassos on the head or legs of the animal, the end of each of which is held by a horseman. The “matador” then goes up and hamstrings the poor animal with a cutlass. This quite disables him: in vain he tries to rise on his legs and run at his merciless assailants, till the cutlass is thrust into his neck and deep down into his chest. He is hardly dead when he is skinned and cut up, and the dogs and vultures rush to feast upon the pool of blood and entrails which mark the spot. The sight was a sickening one, and I did not care to witness it more than once.

There were few birds or insects worth catching, and it was not the time of the year for the spoonbills and ibises, which have a building-place near, and arrive in immense numbers in the month of June.