Sunday, 24 June 2012
Up The Mazaruni For Diamonds -Part 1
Up The Mazaruni For Diamonds -Part 1
By W. Jean LaVarre
From The American Boy magazine, January, 1919. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, June 2012.
The Boy Scout Who Went Scouting in the Wilds
Editor’s Note—American boys are always doing interesting things. Occasionally one of them does something that is of extraordinary interest and value. Charlie Murphy did; his own story of his fourteen months in the Arctic appeared just a year ago in THE AMERICAN BOY. W. Jean LaVarre did; his own story of his remarkable adventures in the wilds of British Guiana starts on this page and will continue for several months, each installment taking him deeper into that strange land and revealing something of new interest. Jean LaVarre, a Virginian by birth, was 18 years old when he had the thrilling adventure which he describes so graphically. He was "prepared" for it. In 1911 he joined the Boy Scouts of America and helped to organize one of the first troops on Staten Island, New York. He became a First Class Scout, and earned sixteen merit badges and was appointed Patrol Leader of the first Honor Patrol in his city. Outdoor subjects have always been his hobby, especially mountain climbing and camping. He has been camping every year since he was ten years old, and says he intends to keep it up the rest of his life.
The voyage to South America and the trip into British Guiana wilds (several hundred miles farther inland than Colonel Roosevelt penetrated on his visit there) was the biggest of Jean LaVarre's many experiences in the open. He and his friend Edward P. Lewis, of Springfield, Mass., went hunting for diamonds, and for five months lived in the real "wilds” among uncivilized black men—an experience which few white men have had. Not only the adventures but the unfamiliar facts which LaVarre learned there, at first hand, make this a feature of unusual value.
“HERE'S A QUEER looking letter," I said to myself, one day early in the spring of 1917. I could hardly make out the postmark. It was something of a surprise to receive a letter from British Guiana, as I finally deciphered it, but the contents were even more surprising.
The letter was from my friend Edward P. Lewis. "I need a partner in a diamond mining venture," he wrote. "Are you game to try it out with me? It will be a long trip full of adventures and dangers, but there are diamonds here to be had for the digging."
He wrote much more. I became enthusiastic on the moment and was determined to go if possible. I had little trouble in arranging this and wrote him that I would come.
On the tenth of May I sailed from New York on the steamship Saga to Barbados where Lewis met me. He was delighted and quite as enthusiastic as I. He had been in Georgetown, British Guiana, for a while on other business and had learned about the diamond fields away up the famous, and treacherous, Mazaruni River. From Barbados we sailed away In South America on the steamer Parima. I was surprised in find Georgetown such a large city, 60,000 inhabitants, and, as the buildings were all one and two stories, one can imagine how it spread out.
"Can we start to-morrow?" I asked, after we had reached our hotel. Lewis laughed.
"Hardly," he said. "This isn't like a trip back home where you can toss some clothes and clean collars in a bag, buy your ticket, catch your train and be off."
I had not given much thought to exactly how we were to travel. But I soon learned that to journey up a great river for hundreds of miles with a score of natives, taking all the food for a six months' stay, was a matter that could not be arranged in a moment.
The starting out place for the trip was twenty miles from Georgetown at a town upriver called Bartica. But as Bartica has only twenty inhabitants we bought everything at Georgetown. There we busied ourselves with the preparations. It seemed as though there were a million details to look after, and I got an idea of what an explorer is up against, as we had to outfit ourselves about the same as an exploring party would.
"We must get lead guns, beads, mirrors and other trinkets," said Lewis.
"What's the big idea?" I asked. "Are we to open a five and ten cent store for the native Indians up there?"
"Not exactly," laughed Lewis, "but we must have something to trade with. What use is a silver or gold coin to a native back hundreds of miles in the jungle? He'd rather have a twenty-five cent kitchen knife than a fifty dollar gold piece."
The "lead guns" are not lead, as I learned, but the very cheapest sort of cheap guns, manufactured in England solely for trading with semi-civilized and uncivilized people. No live American boy would take one as a gift, but I found that the natives treasured them above everything else they possessed.
We were fortunate in finding a Dutch captain, a man who has navigated the turbulent waters of the Mazaruni for twenty years. And he picked out a skilled "bowman," a native who stands at the bow of your boat, with an immense paddle, and fends it off rocks, gives steering directions and acts generally as a sort of life preserver for the boat.
Then there was "Jimmy." He was a negro, rather undersized and as black as the inside of a lump of coal. He appointed himself our special guardian, a sort of valet, overseer and servant. He looked after our personal belongings, cooked our food, made our tea and devoted himself exclusively to us.
Twenty paddlemen were also engaged. Sixteen of them were quite as black as our Jimmy, and four of them were in varying shades from tobacco brown to light molasses candy tint. These were of mixed Dutch and Negro blood.
"They are 'Bovianders,'" said the captain.
"Queer tribal name," I commented.
The captain laughed. "Not exactly a tribal name," he explained. "They live up the river quite a distance and so it is said that they come from 'above yonder.' They have twisted that into 'Boviander,' so that the word always means people who live up the river."
While we were engaging our staff the captain was getting boats for us. He selected a great fifty-foot boat seemingly as heavy as a locomotive. It looked like a crude craft, made of great thick planks. I soon learned the necessity of such a heavy boat. We also had a small boat for emergency and for little side trips here and there.
Next came the "cats." We had to take enough food for ourselves, our twenty-two helpers and partly enough for the native Indians that we were to employ later. When the big boat was finally loaded properly under the skillful direction of the captain, we had five tons of food aboard and this included no meat at all except salt fish. There was no need to take meat, for game and fresh fish were so plentiful that we were never without them.
There was a queer, tent-shaped rig amidships of our big craft. Beneath this was room enough for us to stay sheltered during the heat of the day. White men can seldom stand the midday heat in British Guiana.
Packed all about us was the food. Jimmy climbed to the top of the pile. The captain took his position aft. The sturdy Boviander bowman took his place at the bow with his immense paddle, the twenty paddle men took their places in four groups of five, one group on each side, forward and aft of the cargo.
Then they shoved off and began their peculiar, noisy paddling.
The little town of Bartica fell away behind us as we slid out into the broad expanse of the old Mazaruni.
We were off at last, on our great diamond mining adventure!
EAGERLY I scanned the waters and either shore, determined that nothing should escape me, that I should see everything and enjoy every possible thing there was to be enjoyed.
The captain sat, complacently smoking, at the stern of the boat, the great steering paddle, tied to the stern with thongs, in his hands. He looked as bored as if crossing the street to buy an evening paper. How could he, when there was such glorious adventure, I wondered. But afterwards I realized that twenty years of navigating the river had somewhat dulled the novelty of it for him. With him it was work, and nothing more.
To a boy used to paddling our own style of light canoes, the paddling methods of those black men seemed the most awkward in the world. Yet they "got there," and I doubt if any crew of white men, without years of practice, could have propelled the heavy craft as easily as they. Their method was to bend forward, holding the paddle horizontally and sliding it along the gunwale with a loud scraping noise, then suddenly lean over sidewise and dig the paddle viciously into the water, giving a sturdy backward tug with it, still scraping the paddle against the gunwales. At the end of this stroke they returned the paddle to the horizontal position with a loud thumping noise, sat up straight, then leaned forward and repeated the stroke.
They kept perfect time. No varsity crew boys ever worked in unison at the oars any better, and they were forever singing. It didn't matter whether they were paddling twenty feet across a narrow inlet or making an all day pull upstream, they always had music with their paddling.
They were crude songs, partly English that was scarcely understandable, partly native dialect and partly something else that may have been handed down to them from their ancestors who were captured in Africa so many generations ago and brought over by the early Dutch and English slave traders.
If the water was smooth and open, with no current, our twenty paddle men would sing as softly as the whispering of a summer breeze. But if there was a current they would sing louder. And the more difficult the paddling, the louder they would sing. In boiling rapids where it took every ounce of their strength and they had to take quick, short strokes to keep going, their voices arose to an almost howling crescendo.
Soon Bartica was lost to view around a point of land. For nearly six months we were to see no more civilization than Indian villages here and there, hidden far back from the river bank. As we swung up into the broad river where the current became strong enough to cause the paddlers to use a little extra "elbow grease" they broke into a queer song which I heard so many times after that, that it still rings in my ears. I cannot translate it. I do not know what it means, but imagine that it is some sort of love song to some dusky "Lena." This is the way it sounds:
"San, Lena, chile, I do love yo';
Me know so, hear so, yes!
Le, le, le, le, le, le,
Blow, ma booly boy, blow Califo 'ge 'ole,
Splenty o'gol's for A've been tol'
T' th' lan' o' Mazaruni!"
We came in sight of another boat. On the Mazaruni every boat one sees that is going in the same direction is an "adversary" and every paddler believes that it is his duty to pass it. Then you see some fancy paddle strokes, so weird and unusual and grotesque that they are difficult to describe. One would think that they were trying more to awe each other with their paddle gesticulations than with speed. How they race upstream, each determined to get and keep the lead! The captain told me that many lives were lost at rapids because the racing paddlers would give thought only to getting into the narrow passes first and were frequently crashed upon the rocks and overturned.
Not far from the little town is Kalcoon, the biological station where at various times Professor Beebe and the other scientists take up their intimate studies of tropical life. This station is on a high hill where the Mazaruni and Essequibo Rivers join. It was at this place that Colonel Roosevelt stopped when he visited the colony.
From this point the vegetation on both sides of the river became so dense that it seemed almost like greenish-black solid walls. No huts or signs of human life were visible at first. But finally, with sharp eyes, we got so we could detect a slight opening, a log landing at the water's edge or a faint suggestion of a thatched hut in back of the shore row of trees.
It would have been fearfully monotonous but for the fact that Lewis and I devised a new sort of game— to see which one could detect the greater number of signs of human habitation. Our natives, with sharper eyes, would verify our discoveries. All this was in the Boviander section, where the natives come down from " 'Bove yonder." Just before nightfall we reached the foot of the first falls and landed to make camp for the night.
Before the big boat touched land Lewis and I had leaped ashore to stretch our legs. The blacks jumped out into the shoal water and swung the boat into place and made it fast. Jimmy began taking ashore our shelters. Suddenly he began a frantic search and in despair cried:
"You bet you 'cookum,' " I shouted, "I'm starved."
"No cookum! No cookum!" repeated the distracted black boy, mournfully.
Lewis investigated and came back with a long face.
"We did a bright thing," he growled.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Left all of our cooking outfit down at the village!"
"There's two things to do, go without them or go back and get them," I suggested.
"Can't go without 'em," said Lewis.
"Then there's one thing to do," I laughed. I was not to be filled with gloom. The prospects of a great adventure were far too joyous. Our landing was at the last settlement of the Bovianders. These half Dutch, half Negro natives speak fairly understandable English. I scouted around amongst them, found a good canoe, took three black men and set out downriver. The two paddlers were sturdy boys and, going down with the current, they fairly made that old canoe whizz.
IT WAS MIDNIGHT when we got back to the village. Everyone was asleep except the dogs. They greeted us with howls, and many of the men turned out. Perhaps they thought they were to be attacked by some enemy tribe. But we soon explained, got our cooking outfit, lashed it carefully to the canoe and started back. There was no speeding up against the current, although the light canoe made better progress than our heavy boats. And then I heard a sound that made me think I was back home. It was the "put—put—put" of a gasoline motor. I was amazed.
"Fire boat," grunted one of the black men.
I hailed it. A Dutchman answered and came over to us. It was an ordinary native boat to which he had attached one of those portable motors which may be put on any boat. He was going upstream and gladly took us in tow, much to my delight. Otherwise I would not have reached camp until daylight, and the tropical nights (as I afterward learned) are not the sort of nights for anyone, especially a white man, to be out in, because of the terrible dampness and mists as well as insect pests.
As we chugged along upriver, my three blacks sitting back and grinning at their luck because they would be paid just the same for the trip although they escaped all of the hard work, there suddenly came across the black water the most weird sounds imaginable.
There were shrieks and falsetto laughter, squeaks and tinkles and shrill pipings and heavy stamping. I couldn't imagine what it all meant.
"Wedding celebration," said the Dutchman. "Let's put in and see the fun."
I stared at the black bank of the river whence came the weird sounds, but could see nothing. Finally, as my eyes became accustomed, I caught faint glimmers of light that seemed far inland, miles and miles, I thought. In reality the natives were no more than a quarter of a mile inland, or perhaps less. We found a landing place and, guided by the fearful din and the flickering lights, made our way through the jungle to the higher, dry ground beyond. I had all sorts of visions of great snakes dropping on me and wild jungle beasts grabbing at my heels, but nothing worse than giant mosquitoes came near me.
We came to the opening and a group of huts. In front of one hut was an improvised porch or platform. The boards were rough, uneven and loosely laid across supports. At one end sat a wrinkled and grizzled old man playing a squeaky fiddle. Beside him squatted two younger natives playing flutes. Another pounded upon the platform with a cocoanut shell, beating time. We were welcomed with nods and smiles, but the natives could not pause in their festival to do more. They were dancing on that platform. Overalls and frayed shirts and rough brogans made up the evening dress of most of the blacks, but the women were decked out in gaudy skirts and waists. Up and down and back and forth over the rough boards, pouncing and scraping and stomping their feet, they danced and laughed.
Tallow candles, oil lanterns and here and there kerosene lamps were affixed to hut poles or trees, and by this light the dancers cast amazing shadows over everything, shadows that moved and swayed and intertwined in a most awesome manner.
And everyone was talking and laughing at the same time. Every fourth word was understandable but there were many dialects and vernaculars. There were cocoanuts to eat and a peculiar sort of cake or bread. We watched the merrymaking for quite a while. The newly weds were cheered by means of peculiar calls when they danced together. I suppose those black children of the jungle danced all night. We finally grew weary of it all and set out for camp.
Such food as could be eaten without cooking had been served and everyone was asleep except Jimmy, who awaited my coming, and tumbled me into a hammock beneath a canvas shelter. I suppose I had slept many hours but it seemed no more than five minutes before I was wakened and crawled out for breakfast. The camp kitchen had been set up, the blacks had already eaten and were getting the boats ready. Our breakfast consisted of boiled rice, salt fish and biscuits.
The second day up the river was uneventful. There were broad sweeps of water, grand, wide curves and the seemingly endless mile after mile of thick jungle vegetation growing down to the water's edge. That night I had an opportunity to see how such an outfit was handled. We landed in a rather likely spot, not far back from the shore, at five o'clock. Some of the blacks brought the kitchen outfit ashore, others cut long poles and put up the canvas shelters. It seems that we took our "hotel" along with us, merely a great canvas cover, and spread it anew at each night's camp.
A great pole was placed in the crotch of two trees, about twelve feet above ground, the canvas stretched across this and propped up with shorter poles and ropes. Beneath this were stretched two hammocks, one for Lewis and one for myself. Meanwhile Captain Peter and the bowman swung their hammocks under the awning of the large boat.
Our twenty paddlers put up three smaller shelters beneath which they swung their own hammocks.
The tropic sun was turning the great Mazaruni to a sheet of molten gold, deep blue dusk was falling, this turning to gray, and then the camp fires began to glimmer here and there.
The captain and bowman needed no camp fire, sleeping on the boat, but we had our own, and the natives had their own at each shelter. Jimmy presided over our fire, made coffee for us and prepared our supper. Captain Pete and the bowman had charge of the food for the natives. The English laws outline clearly to the last ounce and gramme just how much food you must give the natives that work for you, to live on.
It was interesting to watch Captain Peter, assisted by the bowman, with their scales, measuring out the rations to our paddlers. The Government standard of weekly rations for each man are: flour, 7 pints; salt fish, 1 pound; sugar, 1 pound; rice, three and one-fourth pints; salt pork, 1 pound; dried peas, one and three-quarters pints; biscuits, 1 pound. Frequently the men prefer the extra portion of sugar in place of the peas, as the sugar is a delicacy with them, desired above all else.
Captain Peter, through long years of experience, knew just how to divide this weekly allowance into daily portions and the blacks trusted him. In line they would march down to the boat, each with a tin plate, and receive his portion, carefully weighed on the scales, then he would march back to his camp fire and prepare his food as best suited himself. At the same time each one was given extra tea, sugar and crackers for the light morning meal, to save time in breaking camp. With their pint of flour they baked a cake beside the fire, using the salt from their fish for the seasoning. Sometimes boiled plantains were eaten with their supper but these they brought with them as they are not furnished by the Government. These plantains are much like bananas, but smaller and really considerably different in taste. Then there was game and fish to supply additional meat so that, with the foodstuffs we brought along, everyone fared quite well.
As soon as they had eaten and cleaned their tin plates they crawled into their hammocks and filled their short black clay pipes with tobacco. I must say that it was not a very attractive brand of tobacco, to judge from the odor. That night we gave cigarettes to those who did not have them and after that we sold them cigarette tobacco and papers from our stock at cost. They are extremely fond of them.
IT WAS at these times, as I soon learned, that there was much amusement to be had with these blacks. I learned of their many superstitions, their ambitions, likes and dislikes and much of the customs of that wild country that could never be learned in any other manner. This I learned both by means of questions and by listening carefully as they talked to each other. Their English was about as easy to understand as that of the Southern Georgia darkey, when they cared to talk it.
A "Dodo" they told me—and they believed it, too—is a sort of hairy bird-beast twenty feet high which either eats men alive or carries them off to its jungle nest and makes slaves of them. Then they would name this or that acquaintance and say, "Ah spec' he shuah was et by a Dodo, yes suh."
Caven, one of our paddlers, solemnly assured me that he had seen a Dodo. Caven looked much like a Dodo, or some sort of a missing link, himself. He said he was out hunting monkeys and saw one.
"He gi' me scar' fo' true," said Caven, and he must have seen some weird thing, or dreamed that he did, for his teeth chattered even at the telling of it. These blacks could talk fairly understandable English when it was necessary for them to make themselves clear to us. Otherwise they could profess almost absolute ignorance of the language, and among themselves they frequently talked a jargon that would defy any linguist to interpret.
Our men soon formed themselves into cliques and they stuck to these groupings throughout the long trip. The Bovianders kept by themselves; the Berbicans (negroes from Berbice) by themselves; and the Demeranans (who believed themselves to be the salt of the earth) likewise flocked together. We had one Barbadian negro. Now to a British Guiana darkey, a darkey from Barbados—one of the Leeward Islands—is the essence of laziness and good-for-nothingness. I think the British Guiana darkey is right. But I found that Caven and his brother Berbicans were really the best of the lot. In every test of strength, bravery, skill and endurance, they led the other blacks.
I really did not get my initiation into the mysteries of hammock sleeping in the tropics until the second night because on the first night I tumbled in about three in the morning too tired to know whether I was in a hammock or a feather bed. But on this second night I found myself doubled up like a crescent moon. I twisted and squirmed and wriggled about in my fantastic debut into the brotherhood of hammock sleepers before I discovered that the trick was simple enough, once you got on to it, that of sleeping diagonally across it from head to foot.
Having made this discovery I arose and got out the victrola we bought in Georgetown. It was a small, cheap one, but the best investment 1 ever made. I don't know what induced me to do this, but with a large assortment of records that machine drove away gloom and dull care through many and many a dreary evening.
The blacks enjoyed it immensely, and it seemed strange to be mingling the voices of our opera singers with the screech of monkeys and the howls of red baboons and piping of strange night birds in the tropical jungle.
The camp fire died low, at last. Fresh lanterns were lighted and the men prepared for sleep. This was no simple matter to them. To me it was the most astonishing sight I had witnessed. They made ready for bed by putting on all of the clothing they possessed. Then they wrapped cloths around their hands, feet and necks. Some even pulled bags down over their heads and tied them. The "wealthy" blacks had bags for each foot. Our empty flour bags became grand prizes to be used for this purpose, which we awarded to the best workers.
By the faint camp fire light and flicker of lanterns those natives certainly did look queer, like fantastic goblins, all muffled up. There was little that seemed human about them as they clambered into their hammocks and rolled themselves up, pulling over the flaps until quite lost to view.
"Does it get so cold at night that we have to wrap up like that?" I asked Jimmy.
"No suh, dey's feered o' vampire bats. That there is a part protection."
I couldn't get the "part protection" meaning of it, and all Jimmy would explain was that they had some sort of superstitious "voodoo" rigamarole performances to keep away the vampires.
I was quite excited about it. From early boyhood I had read about the deadly vampire bats that come upon you when you are sleeping and suck your life blood away. Secretly I hoped that I would be bitten by one so that I could boast of it when I got back home.
The blacks were asleep. By virtue of being a sort of aide-de-camp Jimmy was allowed to swing his hammock in a corner of our shelter. He insisted that the lantern be kept burning all night.
"No need of it," I told him.
"Yes suh, they is, Mister Laver," (which was the best he could do in the way of pronouncing my name). "Ef yo' don' bu'n a lantum all night yo' will shuah be annoyed."
"Annoyed?" I laughed.
"Uh, huh, annoyed by vampires," he answered, very solemnly.
But I couldn't sleep with the lantern light in my eyes and so blew out the light. Several times in the night, poor scared Jimmy tried to light it, but I yelled at him.
Neither Lewis nor myself were ever bitten by a vampire. Sometimes one would alight on my hammock, but fly away without trying to bite me. Yet, despite their great care, our blacks were frequently bitten. They would become restless in the night, kick off some of their wrappings and then the vampires would get at them.
I have heard that vampires are deadly. I never knew personally of a fatal case. I do know that they always pick out a blood vessel for their biting spot and that they never awaken the sleeper. The more blood they draw, the sounder is the sleep of the victim and the bite does not become painful until the next day.
I should say that our crew of blacks must have lost, among them, a couple of quarts of blood during the trip. Some of them were quite lame and sore and a bit weakened as a result, but that was all. As near as I can figure it out the vampires prefer the blood from gentlemen of color rather than from pale-faced Americans.
It was the stentorian shout of Captain Peter. He was a human alarm clock. He never failed to awaken at the first gleam of daylight. In the tropics it does not come on with a slow pink dawn as here, but seems to burst through the gray morning light in a flash.
There was a scramble everywhere and all tumbled out of the hammocks. Camp fires were lighted, tea was boiling and in a short time everyone was getting into the boat. The natives had our shelters down while we were drinking tea. They came down to the boat with their pots and pans jangling at their sides, and at the captain's cry, "In boats all!" we climbed in, the darkies took up their paddles and began their noisy paddling, singing at the same time. The sun was flaming over the top of the jungle from the distant shore of the river, three quarters of a mile away, and we set out on our journey.
Lewis and I took seats on top of the canvas where we could see everything. We passed through a wide part of the river full of islands and deep channels and treacherous currents and whirlpools. Only a skillful man like Captain Peter could have guided our boat through the right channels, as some of them contain whirlpools that look smooth enough on the surface but would have dragged even as heavy a craft as our own under without a struggle.
Some of the islands were a mile in area, some no bigger than a doormat. In and out amongst them we paddled and finally came to a smoother, more open part of the river.
"Eleven o'clock!" cried Captain Peter.
I looked at my watch. It was just eleven o'clock.
"Your watch is right, Captain," I called.
"I have no watch, sir," he replied. "I use God's time."
It was a fact, he told time by the sun, and seldom was a minute out of the way.
Eleven o'clock was always breakfast time. How those black men could paddle up against a strong current towing our smaller boat, from five o'clock to eleven with only a cup of tea was more than I could understand. Yet they did it, and worked well and never seemed hungry. At eleven we always went ashore and cooked breakfast, cakes, rice, boiled plantains, salt fish and tea. Then we would pile back into the boat again and keep on until just before sunset, trying to make a good landing in time to pitch camp before dark.
That long afternoon was tiresome to me. I scanned the deep foliage everywhere in hopes to see many wild beasts and reptiles. I recalled my geography, with its woodcuts of jungles showing great alligators on the shores, giant boa constrictors writhing in trees, monkeys hopping from branch to branch and queer, bright-colored birds flitting about. This was jungle, surely enough, with such thick vegetation that only crawling things could penetrate it, yet for hours I saw no signs of life there. There were wonderful orchids that would, if they could be brought to New York, sell for fabulous sums. There were queer looking trees, great fronded palms, hanging moss as thick as large hawsers and other growing things that I knew nothing about.
In Georgetown I had heard tales of giant forty-foot snakes. I never saw one. I did catch a glimpse of a small snake which they told me was deadly poison. He was hanging from a limb over the water. We were paddling close inshore to avoid a current. One of the blacks saw it and in a flash knocked it far away into the stream with a blow of his paddle and kept on paddling, because to him this was a common incident. His eyes were trained to see such things.
That night we camped at Topeka Falls, or just below them, and the roar lulled me to sleep.
I DISCOVERED that the first part of our trip up river was not as full of adventures as I had hoped. But adventure came in good time. The routine was the same, night after night, but there were many new things of interest to see, many narrow escapes and considerable trouble in one way and another. At this camping place I stripped and was about to take a swim.
"Hey, quit that," shouted Lewis.
"I won't hurt your old river," I laughed.
"You won't come out alive, sir," said the captain. "There isn't an alligator or crocodile or whatever you call 'em in sight," I insisted and started to dive. Jimmy restrained me.
"No go in. Fish eatum up," he said. I laughed at the idea of a fish eating me up. The captain tossed a salt fish into the water. There was a swish and a big fish came and grabbed it. I didn't get a very clear look at the fish but he looked bigger than a whale and his teeth seemed altogether too prominent for me to fool with.
I discovered that the river was full of "perai," a decidedly savage fish extremely fond of human beings.
One of them will devour a man in a short while.
I gave up my plan of having a swim and Lewis and I satisfied ourselves by sitting on the edge of the small boat and splashing water over each other.
Our fifth night was Saturday. We did not intend to travel or work on Sunday. We selected a splendid camp site. Heretofore the blacks had waited and given us the best camping place. But we had been treating them so well that they thought our kindness to them was not kindness at all, but fear of them. And so they started to make their shelter on the best spot.
"You can't have that place," I said.
"We got it," grinned one of the men. Most of the others stuck by him. One or two slunk off.
"Go down there," I commanded.
"We stay here," he declared and stood his ground. I was in an uncomfortable position. If I let them have their way this time there would be no living with them. If I got in a fight—they were, after all, twenty-two blacks to three whites—they could overpower us.
Suddenly I had a vision of how they would abuse us if I gave in. I could see them grinning at each other, believing that we were afraid of them. That situation would be unbearable. I turned on the black man and pointed with my left hand down the slope.
"Get down there and stay down!" I commanded.
"I won't —"
He didn't say any more. My fist shot out and took him under the ear and he went over like a stick of wood. Then I wheeled to face the others.
I REALLY EXPECTED a fight, but the blacks stared at their fallen companion who rolled down the slope, their eyes bulging, and before I had time to bark out a short command for them to get out they hastily snatched up their belongings and ran down the hill.
I stood there a moment, waiting to let my anger cool oft a little to make sure that I would not say things or do things unnecessarily severe or that I would regret. Then I strode down to where they were grouped and where the first black was dazedly rubbing his chin. When they saw me approach they again dropped their things and started to run away
"Don't run. You are all right there," I shouted. They paused and looked at me suspiciously.
“We are running this little outfit," I said to them, pointing to Lewis, and we are hiring you to work for us. You know your places. Keep them and you will get good treatment, otherwise you will be the sorriest niggers in British Guiana. For every wrong that you do, you shall be punished. For every good thing that you do you shall be rewarded. We are treating you kindly because it is the right thing to do, not because we are afraid of you. Your punishment for attempting to dispute our authority shall be to sleep to-night without your shelter cloth!"
Then I picked up their shelter cloth, turned my back on them and walked away. To be quite truthful, I was not a little frightened when I turned my back fearing treachery yet it was the only thing to do. I knew that I had to make them believe that I was without fear of them or of anything else, otherwise I would not win their respect or co-operation.
Meekly they arranged to hang their hammocks without the shelter cloth, seeming to take it for granted that they had this penalty coming to them for the way they had acted.
"You acted like a veteran explorer" said old Captain Peter to me. "You did just right, boy. If you had given in they would not have worked, they would have stolen everything and they would have abused you during all the trip."
Most of the white men that these native darkies knew had been of a rough sort, adventurous Dutchmen and others, who kicked them about and treated them without the least regard until the poor black boys—we call all blacks "boys"—thought that it was the white man's natural way. When we showed kindness to them and full regard for their comfort they mistook it for fear. And, thinking that we were afraid of them, they decided to run things themselves. It did not take them long to learn that American white men are not brutes and that when they worked hard and acted on the square they would be treated with kindness. And I am sure no group of native blacks, as a whole, ever worked more faithfully than this bunch after they had learned their lesson. There are always a few exceptions. One or two became lazy, one or two tried to steal diamonds, later, but we had our own methods of handling them.
For the first time in my life I learned by direct experience the value of superiority of intelligence. We white men, being mentally far superior to the blacks, could rule them. Had they known their own strength they could have overpowered us at any time. And I recalled that in all of my histories the same has held good. The mentally superior people have ruled the less intelligent.
This was our fifth night of camping on the banks of the Mazaruni. We were to be two nights here, as we did not intend to travel or work on Sunday.
By the time we had our shelters erected and this little mix-up with the blacks had been settled, Lewis suddenly looked up from his notebook in which he was keeping a sort of journal, and said, "Say!"
"Say it," I remarked, lazily, from my hammock where I was resting.
"Whoop-ee!" shouted Lewis, leaping to his feet.
"What's got you?" I demanded. "Is it a vampire down your neck or a crocodile up your trousers leg?"
"This, my beloved fellow American, happens to be the fourth day of July, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventeen, and the one hundred and forty-first year of our country's independence!" was his reply, whereupon I stared at him a moment and then I, too, leaped up and emitted a war whoop. Fourth of July in a far-away jungle! What to do? Well, we did it—did it up brown—but what we did, and how, I shall have to tell in the next chapter.
A weird Fourth of July celebration, baboon hunting, visits with the first native Indians encountered, and further hard progress up the Mazaruni—these are features of the second part of Jean LaVarre's story which will appear in the February number of The American Boy.
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- Verrill’s description from The Encyclopedia of Sci...
- Up The Mazaruni For Diamonds -Part 1
- An Obituary for A. Hyatt Verrill
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- The Story of Aluminum
- How the Reindeer Lost Their Tails
- Why the Crow is Black and the Loon Speckled
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- Doug Frizzle
- 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.