And despite popular ideas to the contrary, it is neither a dangerous nor an unhealthy country. Back from the coastlands mosquitoes are almost unknown, and sand-flies, while abundant at times, are not unduly troublesome. Centipedes and scorpions there are, but one must search diligently to find them, while poisonous snakes are so rare that one may spend a year in the "bush” and never see one. Above the first rapids there are no swamps, and while many of the natives and some strangers suffer from “fever”—which is a mild form of malaria—yet such attacks are usually due to carelessness or to defying the simplest rules of health and hygiene.
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
By A. Hyatt Verrill
ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS.
From The Wide World magazine, September 1918, Vol. XLI, No. 245 (American Edition). Digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2014.
It is no exaggeration to say that
British Guiana, a
vast stretch of territory on the shoulders of the South American Continent, is
one of the least-known portions of the globe. Here are great primeval forests,
mighty rivers, huge waterfalls, extensive plateaus, and great mountain ranges,
where dwell strange Indian tribes and quaint animal life of which virtually
nothing is known. The Author, who has made it his business to penetrate into
the unknown interior of this land, has specially written for “The Wide World
Magazine” an account of his journeys and adventures, which will be found of
absorbing interest. He discovered large rivers and mountains whose existence
was unknown, and stumbled across primitive races who had never seen a white man
before. His striking photographs give an added value to a fascinating narrative.
WE are prone to form opinions of strange places from our first impressions, and, in the majority of cases, such opinions are unjustified. This is the case with
British Guiana, and the traveller whose experiences are
confined to the low-lying coasts and mud-flats has no conception of the country
as a whole.
Much of this wonderful country is inaccessible and vast areas are still unknown and unexplored; but much may be visited by anyone who is willing to rough it and who does not mind discomforts, hardships, and a modicum of danger. To such,
British Guiana offers attractions which cannot be found
in any other land. Here one may see the illimitable tropic jungle in its
natural, untouched state—the forests of Humboldt and Darwin; here the
naturalist may revel in the wonderful flora of the South American “bush”; here
the sportsman may hunt the stealthy jaguar, the clumsy tapir, the puma, the
peccary, and hosts of smaller game both furred and feathered, while the angler
will find ample opportunities for his skill with rod and line. The gamy
lukanani, tropical prototype of the muscallonge; the flashing leaping pacu ;
the giant haimara—often weighing upwards of two hundred pounds; the fierce
man-eating perai, and even the regal tarpon, all abound in the rivers and
streams. Here too the explorer will find a wide field and the mountain climber
will see many a towering peak whose summit has never been trodden by human
feet, while to others the strange primitive races with their savage weapons,
their weird dances, their beautiful bead and feather ornaments, and their
curious customs will prove a source of greatest interest. Finally, there are
the magnificent scenery, the luxuriant vegetation, the gorgeous colouring, and
the innumerable strange sights, which will prove a revelation to the most jaded
And despite popular ideas to the contrary, it is neither a dangerous nor an unhealthy country. Back from the coastlands mosquitoes are almost unknown, and sand-flies, while abundant at times, are not unduly troublesome. Centipedes and scorpions there are, but one must search diligently to find them, while poisonous snakes are so rare that one may spend a year in the "bush” and never see one. Above the first rapids there are no swamps, and while many of the natives and some strangers suffer from “fever”—which is a mild form of malaria—yet such attacks are usually due to carelessness or to defying the simplest rules of health and hygiene.
In a way, travelling through
Guiana is easy, for
journeying is largely by boat upon the rivers, and the dangerous rapids and
falls only add a thrill of adventure to the trip.
A brief journey into the
Guiana wilds served only to
whet my desire to see more of the country and to penetrate farther into its
fastnesses. At the first opportunity I returned, and although a year of almost
constant travel has been spent in the wilderness there is still much that I
have not seen and many ambitions are still unsatisfied. As on my first trip, I
set forth on my second expedition from Bartica, a tiny outpost of civilization
at the junction of the Essequibo and . Bartica is the
terminus of steamboat service from Mazaruni
and is the starting place for the gold diggers and diamond-field workers far up
the Cuyuni and , and otherwise is
of no importance and little interest. Mazaruni
Here I procured my boat and crew, the former a spoon-bottomed, heavily-built craft about twenty-five feet in length, and designed especially for breasting the cataracts and running the rock-filled rapids of the rivers and known locally as a “batteau.” The crew consisted of six Indians—representing four tribes—with a Boviander, or captain, and bowman, while last, but perhaps most important of all, was my black boy Sam, jack-of-all-trades and master of all, but whose chief duties were to look after my personal comfort and outfit and cook my meals.
And now a word as to outfit, for in travelling through the
hinterland one must carry everything required for the entire journey. First
there are the men’s rations, provided in accordance with the Government
regulations. Then the traveller’s personal provisions; the cooking utensils,
hammock bags, steel canisters containing clothing, waterproof bags, hammocks,
medicines, guns and ammunition, fishing tackle, trade goods for the Indians,
axes and machetes, and, finally, the huge tarpaulin used as a covering for the
load by day and as a tent at night.
It is no small matter to condense all these, and the thousand and one other essentials, so as to fit the capacity of a twenty-five-foot boat and yet leave space for ten men. Moreover, the outfit must be so arranged and packed that it is safe from the torrential tropical rains, and yet is readily accessible and can be transported piecemeal over the portages and around the rapids.
But at last all was in readiness; the officials inspected our craft and passed it—for no boat is permitted to start up the rivers until examined by a Government official and declared staunch and safe and branded with its load-line above the water-level—and with shouts of farewell from the assembled villagers the Indians dug their paddles into the river and we were off.
Swiftly the little town dropped astern. On our right the extensive buildings of the penal settlement gleamed upon their grassy hill, and ahead loomed Kartabo Point, with the Cuyuni mouth just beyond.
Kartabo Point is an interesting spot, historically, for here the sturdy Dutch had trading posts and a fort which was known as Kykoveral, the ruins of which still stand; but to-day the point is mainly of importance as the terminus of the Kartabo road, a trail leading for some seventy miles inland to the Peters gold mine, now abandoned.
Beyond Kartabo Point the scattered huts and cleared lands became fewer, and by sundown the last vestige of civilization had disappeared and our boat was run ashore just below
and camp was made in the primeval
forest that hemmed the river on either hand. It is an interesting sight to
watch the experienced river hands prepare camp. While one or two men rapidly
clear the brush and small growth from the selected site, the captain and two
helpers cut and trim small saplings. Placing the ridgepole on the ground
between two trees the tarpaulin is spread over it. Then one end is lifted,
placed in the forked end of another pole, and is quickly lifted and rested
against one of the trees. Marshall Falls
The process is next repeated at the other end of the ridge-pole; the tarpaulin is spread out and its edges tied to light poles set in the ground. A few lengths of saplings are laid to serve as a floor, and camp is complete. Meanwhile, one of the Indians has “caught” a fire, pots and pans are sizzling and boiling over the flames, and by the time the luxurious cotton hammocks are swung under the canvas shelter the meal is ready.
As with satisfied appetites we lit pipes and cigarettes and lolled in our hammocks the roar of the falls seemed close at hand. And here it may be well to explain that the so-called falls of the
Guiana rivers are
not true falls, but rapids; the real falls, no matter how small, being known
locally as cataracts. These rapids are both dangerous and treacherous.
In the first place, the foaming, cream-coloured, broken water marks the channels, while the smooth brown spots denote jagged reefs and hidden rocks. In the second place, the rivers rise and fall with marvellous rapidity, and to pass the rapids in safety one must know each rock and reef, each eddy and current, at every stage of water. Moreover, there are backwaters, eddies, cross-currents, and huge whirlpools both above and below the falls, which may easily spell disaster and death if the least mistake is made, if a paddle snaps, or if there is the slightest hesitation, the least error of judgment, on the part of captain or crew.
Long before daylight we were aroused by the reverberating roars of the howling monkeys, although, after a few days in the bush, one becomes accustomed to the weird, rolling, thunderous voices of the “baboons,” as they are called, and sleeps soundly through their uproar, which invariably heralds the approaching dawn.
It was still dark when camp was broken and tarpaulin and dunnage were stowed and the men took their places at the paddles. Through the soft, white river mist we slipped away from the shore and headed for the falls. Very soon we were in the grip of the current, and the men paddled lustily, breasting the foam-flecked waters diagonally until a rugged mass of rocks was gained and we disembarked preparatory to hauling through the rapids.
The sun had now risen above the walls of forest to the east, the last thin wisps of vapour were being whisked away by the cool morning breeze, the rushing brown river glimmered and sparkled in the sunlight, flocks of parrots winged screeching overhead, and all about us the tumbling, foaming falls roared, plunging, between the sharp black rocks. There is always a thrill, a bit of excitement, in hauling through the falls, and no matter how often it is accomplished—and it must be done a score of times a day oftentimes—I never tire of watching the bronze-skinned men as they strain and labour, fighting their way inch by inch against the angry waters, shouting and laughing, wading, swimming, holding their own on submerged rocks and, at last, winning their battle with the boat safely above the falls.
And wonderful skill and judgment are required to accomplish the feat successfully. Two men grasp the stern lines, four others seize the bowline, and, half-wading, half-swimming, gain a foothold a hundred feet or more up-stream. Then, at a cry from the captain, the bowman swings the boat into the current; the men on the bow rope haul with all their strength; the captain shouts orders; the bowman paddles furiously, the men on the rocks strain to their task, and slowly the boat forges ahead. With consummate skill captain and bowman swing the craft clear of rocks, the stern warps keep it headed into the racing waters, and little by little the boat creeps up the rapids. About its bow the waters foam and seethe and the hungry waves leap above its rails, but in a few moments the fight is won and the craft shoots from the torrent into the calm waters above the brink of the falls.
Often, too, the excitement has just begun when the boat has been hauled through the rapids, for in many places huge whirlpools form above the falls, and through these the men must paddle for their very lives. With every ounce of strength of their knotted muscles the Indians ply their heavy paddles, the boat hangs motionless for an instant, quivering and vibrating to the drag of water, and then with a lurch darts forward. High above the rails boils the swirling maelstrom, and as the centre of the pool is reached the boat seems actually to rear on end. Then, ere one can realize how it has been accomplished, the craft dashes beyond the danger-point and floats safely in the narrow, swift-flowing channel beyond.
Many a boat has been sunk, many a man has lost his life, in these treacherous rapids and whirlpools, but in nearly every case it has been due to incompetent or intoxicated captains or bowmen, to overloaded boats, or to ignorance of the river. I have travelled up and down nearly every river in the colony, have run many a prohibited rapid, and have never met with a serious accident, my only mishap being a washout when hauling through a supposedly impossible fall on the
Very often, however, the new-comer sits gripping the boat’s rails and gulping with mortal fear, for it seems as if no craft made by man could withstand the knocking about that the river boats receive. It is humanly impossible to avoid rocks at times, and with a sickening lurch and a crashing, grinding sound the boat will bank full upon some hidden boulder. Each second one expects it to fill and sink, for, perched upon the rock, it swings and tips perilously. But instantly the men slip overboard and, up to their necks in the water, tug and strain and lift it bodily from the reef, leaping nimbly in and grasping paddles once more when the craft floats free. It is to avoid sticking fast on rocks that the Guiana river boats are made spoon-bottomed and with no stem or stern posts, for modelled as they are they can be shoved forward, backwards, or sideways with equal ease.
It was a long hard tussle up
, for the tide was
out—the tide rises and falls to the first rapids in all these rivers and the
falls were at their worst. But at the end of two hours of herculean labours the
last of the rapids was passed, and resuming our seats we sped swiftly up the
still waters beyond. Marshall
These stretches of tranquil river are most welcome to the men, as they afford a respite from the terrible labour of hauling through the rapids. And they are so beautiful that one does not chafe at the loss of time, as with short lazy strokes the tired crew loiters along in the shadow of the verdured banks.
In a sheer two-hundred-foot wall the vast forests rise from the water’s edge in a thousand shades of green, so interwoven and dense that they seem draped in folds like a gigantic curtain of plush. Here and there blooming vines and flowering trees break the emerald ramparts with masses of scarlet, white, magenta, mauve, yellow, and blue, while fallen petals carpet the surface of the water with a multicoloured mosaic overhung by graceful palms and drooping festoons of foliage.
And such trees! Gigantic moras with huge, buttressed roots and gnarled trunks towering in massive four-foot columns; dark, brown-red purplehearts smooth and symmetrical as titanic iron pipes; scaly, pale-grey greenhearts;. balata and locusts, souris and letter-wood—a score of varieties of “ballis” and a hundred trees known only to the Indians and bush-men—spring upward and are lost to sight amid the canopy of foliage a hundred feet above the forest floor, like endless columns supporting a vast roof of green.
Swinging down from far-off branches, shooting upward from the earth, draping the mighty trees, crawling over the ground, clambering across rotting logs, knotted, twisted, inextricably tangled and interlaced, are the lianas, vines, and creepers, some delicate as silken threads; others great six-inch cables, and all binding and knotting the entire fabric of the forest into an impassable maze everywhere decked with strange orchids and weird air-plants. It is as if Nature had gone mad and, in a debauch of floral extravagance, had exhausted all her resources to produce this grotesquely beautiful, this impossibly unreal “bush,” so full of contradictions and surprises.
One sees huge trees with trunks ending a yard or more above the earth and supported only by scores of tiny, stilt-like roots no thicker than a lead pencil; soft, moss-grown palm trunks are armed with a myriad encircling rows of six-inch poisonous spikes; a gorgeously flowered trailer hides wicked recurved thorns beneath each bloom; a mass of maidenhair ferns forms a jungle higher than one’s head, with each fragile, delicate frond armed with needle-like spines; a dainty, fairylike flower gives off the stench of putrid flesh, and mosses upon the trees are so magnified that they appear as though viewed through a microscope; but everything is monstrous, gigantic, in this wonderland, and man seems puny, insignificant, and overwhelmed. And at every turn one meets with some new and amazing surprise, some dream-like, unbelievable condition. One brushes carelessly against a swinging tuft of grass and finds its innocent-looking blades shear through flesh and clothing like the keenest razor; one plucks a charming orchid and instantly, from hidden recesses, a horde of ants swarm forth and bite viciously at the offending hand; thoughtlessly, one strikes with machete at a six-inch shaft of silver-white, and the blade slices through it as through paper and, as the lofty top rips and crashes to earth, crimson blood oozes from the severed trunk; a moment later, the way is barred by a slender sapling, and one gapes dumbfounded when the keen-edged cutlass glances from it as though it were a bar of hardened steel.
To move about in this forest, even for a few yards, is well-nigh impossible, and only by forcing one’s way inch by inch, by hewing a passage and by constant exertion, can any progress be made. If the traveller covers a mile an hour he is doing well, for at every step he is tripped, bound, barred, torn, and scratched as if the vegetation were endowed with life and with devilish ingenuity were striving to keep back the intruder.
It is impossible to proceed quietly, and all living things take warning and become invisible, and one imagines the forest is barren of life; but in reality the bush teems with birds and beasts, and the native Indian, naked save for his scarlet lap, glides like a shadow through the labyrinth and finds game in plenty. Upon the wet and muddy ground his sharp eyes note the tracks of jaguar, deer, peccary, or tapir; a fragment of nibbled fruit or root tells him a shy agouti or a paca is close at hand; bits of seed or fruit drop from the lofty tree-tops, and his sharp vision discerns a troop of monkeys or a flock of curassows among the foliage. At times even the clumsy, blundering white man may stumble within sight of some strange bird or quadruped. It may be a huge ant-bear, so engrossed in tearing a dead tree to bits that he fails to hear your approach and continues his labours and laps up the swarming ants with his yard-long tongue while you watch him; or it may be a lithe and graceful ocelot, so intent on stalking an unsuspecting bush-turkey or a sleepy monkey that your proximity is unnoticed; or again, it may be a flock of trumpeters feeding or dancing in some tiny open glade.
And far overhead, unknown, unseen, forever out of reach of puny man, is another world, for in the dense roof of the jungle dwells a host of creatures who never descend to earth. Here is the home of the huge-billed toucans, the parrots, and the loud-voiced macaws; here troops of howlers and a score of smaller monkeys pass their lives; here myriads of bright-hued birds twitter and sing and fly from twig to twig and rear their young; here the slow-moving sloths spend their upside-down lives; and here the fierce Harpy eagles, the ocelots, the margay and the longtailed cats, the puma, and even the great spotted jaguar, find a happy hunting-ground.
But don’t expect to find the tropical bush as pictured in geographies of school days, or disappointment will be yours. Such forest, with its veritable menagerie, is a thing of the imagination, and one may travel for days in the
wilderness and never see a four-footed creature nor any feathered life save
parrots, toucans, and small birds.
At other times the traveller may be fortunate enough to see many denizens of the wilderness as he makes his way up the rivers by boat. Close to the banks, alligators and crocodiles rest like floating logs; otters swim and frolic in the stream and voice their resentment at the intruders by sharp dog-like yelps; monkeys may chatter from a vantage-point in the Mazetta trees along the shores; capybaras may be inquisitive enough to stand their ground until the boat is close at hand ere seeking refuge under water; deer, tapirs, or jaguars may be surprised in swimming from shore to shore, or if luck favours, huge twenty-foot anacondas may be seen as they lie coiled on the sun-warmed rocks or on weathered snags.
Even more wonderful than the bush and its inhabitants, and far more beautiful, are the reflections on these calm stretches of river. The water, stained a deep red-brown by the vegetation, mirrors the jungle-covered banks, the palms, and trees—each leaf and twig and detail, so perfectly that it is scarcely possible to say where water ends and land begins, and one has the strange sensation of travelling through air with forests above and beneath. Indeed, so polished and oil-like is the water that even the great dazzling blue butterflies flitting across the rivers have their cerulean counterparts in the waters over which they pass.
Amid such sights and through such scenery we paddled up the Mazaruni until, all too soon, the still waters were wrinkled with the current and lumps of creamy foam announced rapids ahead, and presently I was again standing on the rocks while the tireless men hauled their boat through the falls. A dozen times that day the boat was hauled through falls, and by ten in the morning we had passed Kwaipan, Mapituri, Espanol, and
Tarpi Falls, and ran ashore at
for breakfast. Sarpi Island
Guiana is not an early morning meal, but corresponds to
our midday repast, and, when travelling on the rivers, it is customarily taken
between ten and twelve.
While the meal was being prepared one of the Indians grasped bow and arrows and started over the rocks towards the nearest falls in search of fish, for shooting fish with bow and arrow is the common method of fishing with the Guiana Indians. They are wonderfully expert at this, and use a powerful seven-foot bow and six-foot arrow with a detachable, barbed, iron head. This tip is attached to the shaft by a strong line and thus forms a miniature harpoon shot from a bow. I never tired of watching the Bucks, as the aboriginal Indians are called, at this feat, and followed Joseph as he hurried towards the falls, stringing his bow as he went. To my eyes, there was nothing to be seen but a tumbling mass of foam and water, but the Indian evidently discerned a paku or a lukanani, for, crouching low, he slipped rapidly towards the cataract with weapons ready for instant use. Gaining a jutting spur of rock he suddenly rose, drew his bow to his ear, and drove the arrow half its length under water. Dropping his bow and extra arrows he sprang forward, plunged into the torrent, and seizing the bobbing shaft, scrambled back to land. Quickly he hauled in the line, and an instant later a ten-pound paku was flapping about on the rocks. In almost as many minutes he had shot five more fish, and grinned with well- merited pride at his success.
Breakfast over, we again resumed our journey, and all through the afternoon hauled through rapid after rapid. Sometimes these were small, and I remained in the shelter of the "tent” in the boat; but more often they were too swift and dangerous, and I was compelled to disembark and clamber over the rocks to the head of the falls. Strangely enough, these forbidding, water-worn rocks are by no means devoid of life. In the crevices, stunted wild guava trees find root; upon stranded logs and dead trees bright-flowered orchids grow in profusion, and every inch of surface, above the high-water mark, is covered with a miniature jungle and a number of large trees. Upon the bare, sun-baked rocks scores of nightjars roost and flit away a few feet at one’s approach; hummingbirds and tyrant flycatchers nest in the guavas, and parrots, parakeets, and red-headed finches are ever present in the denser growth.
And when the queer pink flowers, already mentioned, cover the rocks, immense flocks of yellow butterflies frequent them, transforming the ledges into sheets of gold and ever winging backwards and forwards across the river like clouds of wind blown autumn leaves.
Here we were in a wonderful timber country, and camp was made in a greenheart forest. From my hammock I counted no fewer than fifty-five greenheart trees, the hardest and densest of wood, every one of which would have squared to eighteen inches or more, and yet, owing to lack of transportation, not a single stick of timber is ever cut here. Throughout a large part of
it is the same. There are vast resources in timber, forest products, and
minerals, but between lack of transportation, the hopelessly inert Government,
and the total absence of progressive energy on the part of the inhabitants,
this marvellously rich land remains undeveloped, unproductive, and largely
unknown. A few “pork knockers,” or independent gold-diggers, eke out a
precarious livelihood by working the gold placers, a certain number of diamonds
are won from the claims up river, and balata bleeders range the forests
following their trade; but there is no organized, no extensive effort made to
develop the interior, no improvement or advance in existing conditions, no
incentives to induce either capital or labour to wrest wealth from the forests
or the mineral deposits of the vast area of untrodden country stretching for
hundreds o f miles away from Georgetown’s back door.
Early the next morning we reached Yamatuk Rapids; an hour later we were beyond
and we stopped for breakfast at . Here the river
was dotted with islands, varying in size from several miles in length to tiny
rocks, but all covered with a marvellously luxuriant vegetation and hiding the
shores from view, for at this point the river is nearly three miles wide. Kapasi
For several hours we paddled rapidly upstream through the long stretch of Tupeku Still Water, and then, having negotiated Tupeku and Mary’s Falls, made camp below Itaballi Rapids.
So far we had seen no game, and I went into camp at three o'clock in order to send two of my Indians on a hunt. Shortly after they had left the report of gunshots reached us, and I felt sure of fresh meat for dinner, for very rarely does an Indian miss his quarry. They feel heartily ashamed at wasting a charge of powder and shot, and to make sure of every shot invariably get very close to their game before firing. As a result, small creatures are usually blown to bits, and the largest game, such as tapir, peccary, and jaguar, are killed with B.B. shot.
My faith in the Indians proved well-founded, for just before sundown they stepped from the forest, one carrying a good-sized deer and a pair of curassows or “powis”; the other with a bush-hog or peccary across his bronze shoulders. We dined regally that night, the Indians gorging themselves in their customary way, and the meat left from our feast was prepared for future use by “babricotting.”
This is done by suspending the meat on a grid of sticks above a smoky fire for a few hours. Partly dried and smoked in this way the meat will keep fresh and tender for weeks, and is as nourishing and palatable as when first killed.
As the Indians squatted about the glowing fires, or lounged in their hammocks, while waiting for the meat to cure, they whiled away their time by telling stories. These Indian tales are usually of a highly imaginative character, age-old legends, myths, and folk-tales. Some are picturesque and weird, others symbolical, many are humorous and a few truly poetical, and all are extremely interesting. But in order fully to appreciate them one must understand the Indians’ dialect, with which I was fortunately acquainted and thus able to follow them. There were stories of “Kenaima”—the fearful, mysterious blood-avenger; tales of "Gungas,” Warracabra Tigers, and other fierce, supernatural man-eating beasts; yarns of Didoes and Hooris, of the awful two-toed, claw-handed monkey-men, and of many another weird creature and spirit. All of these were fascinatingly interesting and were so convincingly told that one felt decidedly “creepy,” and started involuntarily and glanced nervously about when some soft-winged night-bird uttered its plaintive call or a tree-toad croaked unexpectedly in the black forest that hemmed us in.
It was nearly midnight when the last of the babricotted meat had been hung out of reach of prowling beasts, and the fires having died to smouldering coals, the Indians wrapped themselves in their hammocks like gigantic caterpillars in their cocoons. No doubt the Indians’ habit of thus completely enshrouding themselves is partly due to superstitious fear, but it is mainly to protect themselves from vampire bats. These blood-sucking, repulsive creatures abound in the
Guiana bush, and passing up the river in the day one may
see them by hundreds as, alarmed at the boat’s approach, they flit from their
roosting-places and seek refuge a few yards ahead. Although greatly feared by
the Indians and black people, in reality there is little danger of being
bitten, for the bats will not enter a camp where a light is burning, and in all
my experience in tropical forests I have never been attacked by a vampire,
although on several occasions my men have had ears, toes, and fingers nipped by
Itaballi, Sapira, and
Koirimapa Falls form a long continuous chain of rapids, and for
four hours the next morning the men toiled like demons to cover the five miles
of tumbling broken water, the innumerable whirlpools, and the rushing
sluiceways that stretch from Tamanu Hole to the foot of . Farawakash Falls
Then, having rested and breakfasted, the difficult and dangerous haul through Farawakash was begun. Here an impassable cataract bars the river and the passage is made through a narrow channel or “itabu,” which tears like a mill-race through the forest around the cataract. So swift is the current that time and again the men were swept from their footholds and only saved themselves by grasping overhanging lianas or jutting tree-roots. Frequently, too, they were compelled to make the warps fast to trees and rest from their labours, while in many places it was impossible to make headway against the swirl of water without taking a turn of the bowline around a tree and hauling in the slack inch by inch. But after two hours of heartbreaking exertions the boat emerged safely from the forest-walled itabu and was run ashore in the small lake-like expanse of still water at the head of the falls. Ten minutes’ paddling carried us across this to the foot of Kaburi Cataract, a lovely cascade a score of feet in height and stretching across the river from shore to shore. Here a portage has been constructed by the Government—a graded concrete way into which semi-cylindrical iron cross-pieces are embedded. These are supposed to serve as rollers, but they have been neglected until they have worn and rusted through and their jagged edges make hauling about as difficult as over the bare rocks, and they cut and scar a boat’s bottom horribly.
At this portage every article in our outfit was unloaded and carried overland on the men’s heads, and all hands were required to lift the heavy boat from the water to the portage. But once on the run it was comparatively easy to keep the craft moving, and an hour later everything had been restowed and we once more headed up the river.
While camp was being made an Indian coorial, or light dug-out canoe, arrived with a party of Patamonas on a hunting and fishing trip. The frail and cranky craft was loaded to the gunwales with the two men, their wives, half-a-dozen children, several yelping, flea-bitten, emaciated dogs, bundles of cassava bread, hammocks, and cooking utensils, in addition to the weapons and fishing paraphernalia.
The men were short but finely-built fellows, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and small-limbed, like all the bush Indians; the women were as unprepossessing as usual and bore the blue tattooed "benna” lines about their mouths, which are typical of the Akawoia race, and, in addition, had designs painted in red upon foreheads and cheeks—potent charms to keep off evil spirits and safeguard the wearers when on a journey. All were as yet unspoiled by missionaries or civilization, and were garbed in their native costume, or lack of costume, consisting of scarlet laps or breech-clouts for the men, beautifully-wrought bead aprons or “queyus” for the women, and with innumerable strings of beads, teeth, and seeds about necks, arms, and legs; while the children were as innocent of clothing as so many brown monkeys.
The men were armed with bows and arrows, and, in addition, one bore an ancient muzzleloading gun and the other a twelve-foot blowpipe with a quiver of deadly poisoned arrows slung at his side.
With a low-voiced guttural “Howdy,” they made themselves at home with the confident freemasonry of the bush, while the women, ever silent and shy, erected a rude shelter of palm leaves, slung the hammocks, and prepared the evening meal. As usual, presents were exchanged, the Bucks giving us a haunch of labba (paca), a lukanani, and some cassava bread in exchange for black leaf tobacco, sugar, and salt, and, friendly relations having been thus established, the Patamonas cast aside their dignified reserve and were soon chatting and laughing with us on the best of terms.
(To be continued.)
The Mystery of the White Indians
A Second Article, Giving the Scientific Explanations That Have Been Suggested to Account for This Tribe of Blond Savages in
By Richard O. Marsh
From The World's Work, April 1925, Vol. XLIX, No. 6. Digitized March 2014 by Doug Frizzle
“A canoe came toward us, and in the bow stood a naked savage with a white body, whose yellow hair, falling to his shoulders, was held in order by a gold chaplet two inches wide encircling his head at the brow. He was of medium height, but magnificently developed about the chest and arms; and he stood as erect as a king. Behind him were a girl of ten and a boy of four, and in the stern his wife wielded a steering paddle. Not one of the four gave a start when they came suddenly upon us, and the man and woman did not vary a heart-beat in the rhythm of their strokes as they plied the canoe to pass directly by us. The man eyed us with a truly regal pride and disdain, and passed us by without troubling to turn his head to see whether or not we intended to follow. His whole manner said more plainly than words: ‘I am king here; what are you doing in my domain?’ ”
In his first article, which was published in the World’s Work last month, Mr. Marsh told of the discovery of this tribe of White Indians. His present article provides a more complete account of their physical and mental peculiarities and their significance to the science of human origins.
WHEN I brought my three specimen White Indians to the
States, they interested many scientists in the government
service at Washington
and leading scientists elsewhere, because they led to offer a hope of solving
several kinds of knotty problems.
First is the fascinating mystery of the ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere that disappeared under the impact with Europeans following the discovery of
America by Columbus.
Cortez found Mexico
flourishing under Montezuma, with a highly organized political life, well-developed
arts in precious stones and metals and in architecture, a literature of
historical records as advanced as that of the ancient Babylonians and
Assyrians, and an astronomical science comparable with that of the ancient Egyptians.
Pizarro found the Incas of Peru enjoying an equally high civilization, with the
additional blessing of a science of medicine as highly developed as any in Europe and in many respects superior for the Incas had
originated the use of quinine, a drug of more general value than any in the
Within a century after
arrival, these great civilizations had crumbled into dust. The Spaniards destroyed
the political unity of these countries, killed or dispersed the men of art and
learning, and enslaved the peoples in a servitude that made education impossible.
The palaces and monuments fell into decay, and in modern times it is doubtful
if a score of men exist who could, if they would, decipher the hieroglyphics left
by the Mayas of Central America, for example, which by their variety and
quantity undoubtedly hold the key to much lost history and science.
The White Indians may include some of these surviving repositories of the wisdom of the ancients, for the traditions of most of the brown Indian tribes on both continents contain the story of a miraculous white prophet who visited their ancestors, bringing with him knowledge of the arts and sciences, and who gave their people stable and wise government and all they know about nature’s laws. Cortez found White Indians in
City, worshipped as superior beings. The Incas were
doubtless partly of white blood. The Mayas may have been—it seems likely from
the evidence. Could my White Indians belong to one of these favored tribes?
NOT OF MONGOLIAN ORIGIN
THE first step toward finding out was, naturally, to study the language. Dr. John P. Harrington, ethnologist of the Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Paul Vogenitz, translator and language expert of the Post Office Department, undertook this task. The San Blas Indian interpreter, whom I brought also, was the first medium of communication. In a few weeks, the scientists had learned the language themselves. It early appeared that the language was phenomenal, because it was utterly unlike any other Indian tongue in the
Hemisphere. All other Indians, whatever their dialect, use an
agglutinative speech that suggests their Mongolian origin. But the San Blas
language—the White Indians and the San Blas use the same—is not Mongolian in
structure. On the contrary, it is pure Aryan, and most closely resembles
Sanskrit in its syntax.
Now Sanskrit, of course, is the mother of the Aryan tongues, including not only the Greek and Latin and their modern descendent languages such as French and Italian, but also the speech of the prehistoric tribes of northern
from which the Germanic and Scandinavian languages derive. The English
language, with its Saxon base and its Norman and Romance superstructure, is,
therefore, doubly descended from the Sanskrit. The White Indian tongue is thus
more nearly related to the speech of , than it is to the speech
of aboriginal Indians who have lived for thousands of years as their neighbors
in the Panamanian jungle. Topeka,
THE White Indians call their language Tule. It is described by Dr. Harrington as one of the most melodious and smooth sounding tongues in the world. This quality arises chiefly from the fact that no two consonants ever come together in Tule: the words are made up of an alternating flow of consonant and vowel, so that no harsh or guttural or staccato effects mar its melodious beauty. Besides the five vowel sounds and the two semi-vowels W and Y, the language contains only eleven consonant sounds, K, T, Ch, Sh, Ts, S, L, M, N, R, and P, making an alphabet of only eighteen characters in all.
Practically all other Indian languages are guttural, or “agglutinative,” and are consequently harsh by comparison. The Polynesian languages have “choky” or throaty sounds, that make them difficult for a Caucasian to speak. But Tule offers no such difficulties. It is, indeed, probably the easiest of all languages for a Caucasian to learn. The only “tricky” thing about it is this: every sound has two forms, one short and one long. In this way, the number of sounds available for the construction of words is doubled. This device, which is similar to one employed in Finnish, likewise provides the language with sufficient flexibility to furnish the necessary number of roots and affixes to give a rich vocabulary.
The other Indian tongues, of the agglutinative type, build complex words by putting together separate roots and word-elements. The Tule tongue proceeds quite differently: it follows the habit of other analytical languages and invents a distinct new word to express each new idea or to describe each new object.
Perhaps the most curious fact about Tule is that the men and women do not pronounce the language alike. The boys are taught a masculine pronunciation of each word, whereas the girls learn what the scientists have termed a “feminine lisp” for the same word. Thus, where Olo and Chepu, the boys under examination, use the sound Ch, Margarita, the girl, uses Ts. She uses the S sound where they use the masculine Sh, and Y and L where they use K and R. They describe the chieftain as “sakla,” while Margarita calls the word “sayla.” The boys say “chapu” when they mean “white." but Margarita says “tseppi.”
But an even more astonishing development awaited the scientists as they got deeper into the language. At least 2 dozen words turned up in the White Indian vocabulary that are identical in pronunciation and meaning with words that were used by the Norsemen at the time of the Battle of Hastings. Eleventh-century Norwegian in Central America prior to
The following is a list of these and other surprising words in the San Blas
MEANING TULE NORSE
IN ENGLISH WORD WORD
Work Arbaedi Norwegian Arbeide
Both Bogwá " Baade
Yes Eye Anglo-Saxon Yea
Music Kala Norwegian Kole-Kalla
Foot Naga Russian Noga
To Throw Mette " Metats
Colored Parbatti Indo-Germanic Parbh
Sack Sagi Norwegian Saek
Tree Sappi " Sappe
To Say Soge German- Icelandic Sagen (Saga)
Crab Suga Norwegian Suge
Hull) Ulu Anglo-Saxon Hulu
How did the Norse get into the San Blas vocabulary? These words “belong” in these Indians’ language—they are not borrowed nor out of place. They are not modern additions caused by contact with white men, for these Indians, alone all the American tribes, have been able until now to resist the invasions of outsiders and have fiercely maintained the integrity of their race and institutions. Two or three working hypotheses have been advanced to explain the phenomenon.
First of all, it may be that the White Indians are descendants of Norsemen. It is fairly certain that Norse navigators crossed the Atlantic from
to Greenland, and some scientists estimate that they led a migration of as many
as one hundred thousand Scandinavians, who settled on the mainland of America, perhaps as much as a thousand years before
Columbus. It may
ultimately be established that some of these Norse settlers migrated westward
along the northern coast of America
and became the ancestors of the Blond Eskimos discovered a few ago by Vilhjálmur
Stefansson. Others may have followed the Atlantic coastline southward, founding
the Mayan civilization of Yucatan (from which that of Mexico was probably
derived) and, continuing across the Isthmus of Panama, gone on down the Andes
and founded the Incan civilization of Peru.
Remnants of the stragglers from such a migration may be represented by the White Indians, who have lived for centuries in the mountains adjoining the Atlantic shore of the Isthmus, where they would naturally be if they had dropped out of the southward march. The affinity of their language, in syntax and vocabulary, with the Norse language, is one support to this theory. Another support is their assertion (yet to be verified by further explorations that are now in contemplation) that the untouched wilderness of inner
Darien contains the ruins of extensive stone
cities built by their ancestors and containing hieroglyphic records of their
history. If this assertion be true (and personally l have no doubt of it), it
may be that among the inhabitants of that region are White Indians who have
preserved the knowledge necessary to read these inscriptions. The importance of
such a discovery could hardly be overestimated, as it would rival in potential
scientific value the rich Mayan remains, which still await anything like
complete translation, though enough has been deciphered to assure the experts
in that field that these inscriptions contain priceless records of the history
and arts of early America.
There is another theory of the origin of the White Indians that holds no less fascinating possibilities before the student of mankind. This theory is that the White Indians are biological “mutations” from the original brown type with which the human race began. To make clear just what this means and how important it may be to science, it is necessary to make a very brief excursion into biology.
Scientists are now pretty well agreed that
theory of “the survival of the fittest” describes, not nature’s means for
evolving new and higher forms of life, but nature’s sieve, so to speak, to
strain out, from new and higher forms, those that can stand the competitive
struggle of life. Since Darwin’s
day, science has discovered what is probably nature’s method of creating new
forms. This method is called “mutation,” and the word describes a phenomenon,
frequently observed amongst plants and occasionally in the animal kingdom,
whereby an individual of a fixed species suddenly throws off descendants that
are strikingly different from the parent and which thereafter “breed true” to
their own new characteristics, instead of following the characteristics of
their ancestors. Numerous such mutations among garden plants have been observed
in the last fifty years, and their authenticity is beyond question. Once these
“mutants” appear, the law of survival operates upon them, and only those new
forms survive that are adapted to withstand the hardships of the life into
which they have been so suddenly and unexpectedly projected.
MANY scientists believe that the white race is such a mutation from the aboriginal brown species of homo sapiens. Here is where the second theory about the White Indians enters the field of scientific interest. Have we at last an opportunity to see, repeated before our own eyes, the emergence of white men as biological “sports” from a fundamental brown race, the San Blas Indians? Heretofore it has been assumed that the original mutation of this sort transpired in prehistoric times and might never be repeated. But of course what happened once could happen again—as, indeed, in botany it has been known to happen independently in quite remotely separated parts of the world, and more than twice at that. If the San Blas Indians are a segment of the brown race nearing the end of a “life cycle of a species,” it is scientifically quite tenable to believe that they may be throwing off mutated forms, and that the White Indians are the mutants.
Color is lent to this theory by the identity of language and institutions of the two tribes, and their similarity in high intellectual powers by comparison all of their neighbors. If this theory should prove to be correct, it would be of epochal importance to science, for it would demonstrate, in the instance most convincing to the human mind, the truth of evolution as a principle of universal application and of current, continuing force. Scientists, of course, have no doubt upon this point now; but the lay mind has an instinctive aversion to accepting it as applied to the human race. But if cases of its truth in this highest field can be demonstrated before our own eyes, it should convince even the Doubting Thomases.
A WHOLE RACE OF ALBINOES?
THE third theory concerning origin of the White Indians is startling, but it is by no means without great scientific value and interest. This theory holds that they are albinoes. The most striking support of this theory lies in a very curious trait that is manifested by albinoes of other races and is common to them all. This trait is a habit of rolling the eyes and is probably associated with nervous impulses set up in the body of the albino by reasons of the irritation caused to the eyes by the actinic rays which, in normally pigmented eyes, are toned down or strained out before they touch the optic nerves. The White Indians have this trait of rolling the eyes.
On the other hand, they have pigment in the retina and cornea, as most albinoes have not. Instead of the characteristic pink eyes of the usual albino, they have hazel eyes, that is to say, blue pigmentation overlaid with patches of brown. Nevertheless, Dr. James B. Davenport, who is one of the great biologists of our time, believes that the White Indians are albinoes. He finds them unique, however, in their numbers. Nowhere else, he says, has so high a percentage of a population been albino—in this case so numerous as to amount to a quasi-race. And if, as he believes, they are an albino side-line of the San Blas Indians, they indicate an extraordinarily interesting field of scientific study of that tribe itself, offering the most favorable opportunity to learn more about a phenomenon of biology that is extremely helpful to that science. Controlled study of albinism in rats and mice and rabbits has been one of the most useful instruments that science has had in working out the laws of heredity, for this characteristic lends itself to positive experimentation capable of easy mathematical analysis. Of how much greater interest and value would it be to follow the corresponding results working out among human beings in the normal course of everyday living.
A fourth explanation of the possible cause of the white color of these Indians been advanced by Major Cuthbert Christy, of England, a specialist in tropical diseases, who thinks it may arise from a pathological physiologic condition that prevents the normal processes of pigmentation from taking place within their bodies.
These four theories cover what seem to be all the possible solutions to the puzzle. Of course I make no pretensions to scientific knowledge, and would not expect my opinion to weigh with those of any of the men quoted above; but speaking purely as a layman whose only qualifications are many years of close contact with aboriginal peoples in many parts of the world, I have from the first felt strongly that the true explanation lies either in heredity from ancient whites who once settled in America, or in biological mutation of white offspring from brown parents. Whatever the final conclusion of the scientists may be, I shall feel that my work in tracing these people to their home land and bringing them to the attention of the world has been worthwhile, especially when a scientist of such distinction as Dr. Ales Hrdlicka says that “the phenomenon deserves a thorough investigation, and Mr. Marsh deserves the thanks of American and British anthropologists for having brought to their attention a subject of considerable scientific interest and importance.”
One curious misapprehension about the San Blas Indians early gained newspaper currency. Soon after I brought the three White children and the five brown San Blas to America, some of the anthropologists who examined them noticed that the children’s heads were larger and of a different shape from those of the dark adults. The anthropologists asked the Indians a question which the Indians misunderstood, and before the misunderstanding was cleared up and the correct answer given the story appeared in the papers that the brown San Blas Indians massage their children’s heads in infancy, with the result that they are relatively dwarfed and square when grown. A statement which I then gave to the papers corrects this misapprehension. In it I said:
(1) The difference in size and shape between the skulls of the blond Indians and those of the standard San Blas has been attributed to artificial deformation of those of the dark infants, while those of the white infants are natural. This is wholly untrue. The San Blas Indians do not massage nor in any way alter the heads of their children. The rounder, broader, and higher crania of the whites cannot be explained in that way.
(2) The timid demeanor of the children and the behavior of their eyes when under inspection by strangers is misleading. They are not mentally deficient or abnormal in any way. On the contrary, they are unusually alert and keen, with excellent memory. They are rapidly learning English.
(3) The blond Indians do not spring from the normal San Blas Indians but from the larger and more robust type, which occupy the hills back from the coast.
To make clearer the full force of this statement, I should perhaps repeat the exact facts about the eight Indians I brought to
Two were White Indian boys, aged ten and fourteen years. The other White Indian
was Margarita, a girl of fourteen. Two of the five brown San Blas were
Margarita's father and mother. This brown mother's mother (that is, Margarita’s
maternal grandmother) was a White Indian. Margarita is one of seven children of
the same parents, of whom five were white and two were dark—suggesting at once
to biologists that here was a typical example of Mendelian inheritance, in
which the “recessive” whiteness disappeared in Margarita’s mother but
reappeared in five of her children.
Margarita and her family are representatives of a type of larger frame, larger heads, and more vigorous bodies than are characteristic of the ordinary brown San Blas. I feel sure that the blond strain will be found limited to this type, which lives inland from the San Blas coast. These characteristics all relate the White Indians to the Caucasian type, and fit perfectly into the logic of the theory that they are examples of the mutation process by which the Caucasian gained his greater stature and bigger brain than his brown progenitors possessed. The larger brain is not merely a matter of physical bulk; it is the source of higher intellectual powers as well.
The superior intelligence of these Indians over their neighbors, their more complex and flexible language, their fuller vocabulary, their more humane social customs, their unique and very interesting music, their strict moral code, their well-developed system of law, and their highly organized structure of government, which is both feudal, federal, and constitutional, all evidence their exceptional intellectual capacity. These advanced powers and achievements are characteristic of the evolutionary progress of man.
If scientists finally agree that the White Indians are true examples of the process of mutation, we shall be able not only to see that biological evolution at work, but also to study the origins of our own civilization in the lives of people of our own day.
° ° °
As this article goes to press, an interesting cable has come from Mr. Marsh, who is now in Darien on his second expedition. His cable is dated at Colon, and says in part: “Dr. Harris now on San Blas coast, going into interior with us. Has already studied many White Indians. Harris says positively not albinoes. Offers two theories: first, most probable, Darien Indians formerly extensively mixed with unknown prehistoric white race; second, Darien Indians abnormally susceptible to frequent mutation from brown to white.” As Dr. Reginald Harris, referred to in this cable, is the director of the Long Island Biological Association at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, and a biologist of high repute, his opinion is an interesting and important contribution to the discussion of the origin of the White Indians.
Text from the illustrations:
SAN BLAS MOTHER AND CHILD
OLD AND NEW STYLES The girl at the right is clad in the conservative native costume of the San Blas women. The other girl wears the skirt that has come in with modern contacts with the world. The blouses are of native weave, while the skirt is made of cloth bought from the traders. The leg and arm bands and the arm rings are purely feminine adornments.
GEOMETRY IN VILLAGE PLANNING Both the San Blas and the White Indians lay out their villages upon a geometrical plan, evidencing a higher intelligence and civilization than other Indians, who build casually according to “the lay of the land.”
ALL STAGES OF SAN BLAS DRESS The woman’s skirt and the men’s hats and shirts are modern innovations. The traditional custom of San Blas attire is expressed in the old nursery rhyme, “Shoe the horse and shoe the mare, and let the little colt go bare.”
A "COMMUNITY HOUSE” IN
These tribal meeting places are frequently built on hillsides in tiers, so that
at a distance they give the effect of a three-story building.
PART OF THE SAN BLAS “NAVY” These very heavy but seaworthy canoes are hollowed out of single logs, and are perfectly adapted to navigation among the islands and keys of the San Blas Coast.
FEMININE FINERY The blouses worn by these San Blas girls are of ancient origin and of great scientific interest. Though the patterns are symmetrical in mass, close scrutiny reveals that they are in no two places alike in detail. They are hieroglyphics whose origin and meaning have been forgotten, though some archaeologists believe they are nursery legends like our own “Mother Goose".
A PARADISE FOR CHILDREN This old San Blas chieftain refused to pose for his photograph until his grandchildren could be summoned to stand beside him. Mr. Marsh declares he never saw a child or a woman on the San Blas Coast who did not look happy.
A "STILL" OF A "MOVIE" OPERATOR Mr. Charles Charlton, in a San Blas shelter. He made the motion pictures of the life of the brown and white Indians of the
region of Panama.
THE SAN BLAS COAST The mountains coming down to the sea, the numerous islands, and the heavy tropical growth have all fostered the Indians’ ambition to keep strangers out of their sanctuary.
A number of people have asked for these two Richard Marsh stories on the Blond (or White) Indians, so I have now collected them both for the blog.
I believe that in the final analysis these people do have a form of albinism similar two piebald deer—I could be wrong. Certainly from Richard Marsh's writing we can see why there was a lot of excitement at that time. His book is prohibitively expensive now.
Verrill was familiar with the White Kuna as he wrote in 'Hunting the White Indians' in 1925.
Rogers in South America
"I also believe I hold a record for speed for I wrote Folks Say of Will Rogers in seven days . . ." (Folks Say of Will Rogers-a Memorial Anecdotage by Payne and Lyons, editors!? Published Putnam, 1936) The quote above is from Never a Dull Moment, Hyatt Verrill autobiography. It is remarkable that AHV claims authorship to this collaboration of stories about Will Rogers; he is given penultimate acknowledgement, even after Payne and Lyons, but no editor status. His sole contribution appears below, less than a page. He obviously knew Will Rogers well; they overlap in subject materials on Indians, aircraft and exploration. Both were well recognized internationally known personalities.
by A. Hyatt Verrill
From 'Folks Say of Will Rogers' 1936 G. P. Putnam's Sons Publishers. Page 107. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2013.
Although we hear little of Will Rogers good-will around South America, and few if any anecdotes of his trip to our southern neighbors have ever appeared in print yet he probably did as much if not far more to cement friendly relations with the Latin Americans than all our other so-called good-will emissaries together.
Not only did he win the esteem and love of all American, British and other foreign residents of the countries he visited, but he won the hearts of the natives as well, despite his quips at their expense.
Although there is nothing which the Latin Americans hate more than ridicule, yet they invariably took
jokes as they were intended, and enjoyed them thoroughly.
Peru at the time when that country and Colombia were
in a state of war over the remote frontier outpost of Leticia, and wishing to
see the territory over which the two republics were fighting, Will had his
pilot fly over the district. Very largely it is wild, uninhabited jungle and Rogers could see no signs
of it town or settlement.
The next day, when he gave an impromptu talk in the Hotel Bolivar in
he remarked, “ Peru and Colombia are
the only countries that ever had a war over a place they can’t find.”
A large number of English residents were present, including the British Minister to
Peru, and Will drifted into reminiscences of his
visit to England.
“When I was over there,” he said, “I found they always took the King’s chair away after he had presided at a function. Those Britishers knew, if they left it, some American tourist would take it away as a souvenir."
“I went out to see an old Inca city,” he told the people. “There was a big mound there, about the size of the Capitol in
It was all filled with Inca mummies, they told me. I guess it must have been
the Incas’ House of Representatives.”
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Blond Indians of the
from The World's Work magazine, march 1925. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Feb. 2014.
A Legend of Centuries Brought to Reality by the Discovery of a Tribe of Indians as White as. Ourselves, and Speaking a Language Related to Ancient Sanskrit. They May Be Descendants of the Early Norwegians
BY R. O. MARSH
TWO years ago, in the jungle of
at a little frontier settlement named Yavisa. I was bargaining with the Negroid
Indian chief of the village for a crew to take me up t he Chucunaque River,
when I saw three Indian girls appear from behind a hut, cross the village
street, and disappear behind another hut on the other side. My sensations were
those that a scientist would have if he were melting some lead and saw it suddenly
change into gold, for I had as unexpectedly seen a legend of centuries become a
reality before my eyes. These girls had white skin and golden yellow hair!
That was my first view of the now famous White Indians. A year later, following a second expedition, I came out of the same jungle, having seen four hundred of them, and bringing back to civilization two boys and a girl as living specimens for the scientists to study. For the last six months they have lived part of the time at my camp in Canada and part of the time in a home in Washington, D. C. where government experts and scientists in anthropology, biology, and genetics have been trying. to decide whether they are biological "mutations” from brown Indians or are descendants of Norwegians who came to
America long before Columbus's voyage. When this article is
published, I shall be in that region again, with several of these scientists,
equipped to study these strange phenomena in their native land, and to explore
their country, where they promise me we shall find stone ruins of cities their ancestors
My astonishment at my first view of White Indians may be better imagined when I explain that Yavisa is at the head of navigation of the
River in Darien,
or Eastern Panama, and the farthest outpost of
anything like civilization. in an unexplored tropical wilderness. Yavisa is
peopled by Negroid Indian half-breeds, and is a trading post to which
"tame" jungle Indians come to barter. The only white men that ever
visit the place are a very occasional trader, or, as in my case, an engineer
looking for rubber. I had as little reason to expect to see a white woman in
Yavisa as David Livingstone would have had to meet Queen Victoria
in equatorial Africa. And I had seen three!
And savages, at that; for they wore only loin cloths, and stepped the jungle
path with the free, natural grace of the Indian.
They had come and gone so quickly that I had only the one glimpse of them. But that glimpse was enough to excite my eager interest, for the legend of the White Indians is as old as American history, and in twenty years as a civil engineer, practising my profession up and down both hemispheres. I had heard it on many occasions and in many lands from frontiersmen and natives. Columbus himself declared that he had seen them. Cortez found a hundred of them imprisoned in Montezuma's palace in
and venerated as "the children of the sun." Vancouver
saw them on Vancouver Island in 1792, and
Commander Stiles of our own Navy claimed to have seen the remnants of the same
group in 1848. Humboldt saw about a hundred White Indians in Colombia.
STRANGERS MAY NOT ENTER
BUT like every one else. I did not really believe in White Indians. I attributed the stories to hallucination, or to the mistaking of albinoes or half-breeds for really white people. But the girls I had seen were not, I was convinced, any of these. I have seen thousands of half-breeds, of many mixtures, and there is an unmistakable something about them that reveals their hybrid origin. These girls gave no such impression. I asked the village chief about them, and he told me they lived in a hut outside his village, with a man of the same appearance. They did not mingle with his people, and he explained that no one would dare molest them, for fear of the vengeance of their tribe. They came, he said, from far inland, up the
, where no Negro or
tame Indian dared to go, for the savages there had forbidden it and were
warriors of such prowess that their edict was respected. No white man, even,
had ever gone into that country and returned. A detachment of the Panamanian
army had tried it and had been exterminated. The White Indians were a numerous
tribe, he added, and were allies of the savage Wallas, Mortis, and Cunas
I resolved to call upon the strangers. I followed the path the chief indicated, and in half a mile came on a little clearing, in which was a pole-and-palm hut. with its floor several feet above the ground and its "doorsteps" a log with notches cut in it for a foothold in ascending to the entrance. After much calling in English and Spanish, the three girls appeared; and after many signs of my good intentions, they ventured to the ground and accepted the present of a handful of freshly minted ten-cent pieces. They let me look at their golden locks closely enough for me to be certain they were not dyed, and I was equally sure that the whiteness of their skin was not an artificial calcine. Their eyes were not black, but a light brown, proving that they were not the usual kind of Indian, nor, on the other hand, albinoes either. It was growing dusk, but I managed to get some snapshots of them. They spoke neither English nor Spanish.
Returning to the boat, in which I had come from
Panama to Yavisa, I told my two
comrades of my find, but found them unimpressed. I might think what I pleased,
but no White Indians for them. My invitation to join me in a visit to the
clearing after dinner, to call on the man of the family, was greeted with
emphatic refusal. I might go and get myself killed if I liked. And, indeed,
their judgment on that point was better than mine. I went to the hut in the
moonlight and called, and the man came out, not to greet me but to rush into
the jungle. A little reflection convinced me that he would probably circle
behind me and put an arrow into my back, so I lost no time in returning to the
boat, no wiser than I had left.
BEAUTY OF PHYSIQUE
THE next morning, we made a one-day journey up the river beyond Yavisa. By noon we had come into a region that promised to disclose just such a valley of rubber lands as I had dreamed was there. I urged my companions to go farther. But they had had enough of jungles, and we turned back.
And, then, rounding a bend in the Chucunaque, we came head-on upon the most startling apparition I have ever seen. A canoe came toward us, and in the bow stood a naked savage with a white body, whose yellow hair, falling to his shoulders, was held in order by a gold chaplet two inches wide encircling his head at the brow. He was of medium height, but magnificently developed about the chest and arms; and he stood as erect as a king. Behind him were a girl of ten and a boy of four, and in the stem his wife wielded a steering paddle. Not one of the four gave a start when they came suddenly upon us, and the man and woman did not vary a heart-beat in the rhythm of their strokes as they plied the canoe to pass directly by us. The man eyed us with a truly regal pride and disdain, and passed us by without troubling to turn his head to see whether or not we intended to follow. His whole manner said more plainly than words: "I am king here; what are you doing in my domain?"
This uncanny vision settled any doubts my companions had about exploring further. The tales of the Negroid chief, about the savages upstream, had been given a most startling confirmation. They had seen enough. "We are no jungle rats." they exclaimed, "and we didn't come down here to get ourselves struck in the back with a poisoned arrow. Our business is law and rubber. There's neither here, and we're going home—to-night!"
And homeward we headed. It was a bitter disappointment to me to have my
lands remain undiscovered, after such an incomplete exploration. And my
disappointment was doubled at my inability to follow the trail of the White
Indians who, I now felt sure, were no mirage of fanciful pioneers but a
I lingered in
Panama after my
companions had gone on to the States. I told my friends in the Canal Zone
Government about my White Indians, and I got the incredulous sympathy usually
paid to a respected citizen who has gone a little off his head. They all
believed that I honestly thought I had seen them, but they thought it was
cither "a touch o' sun" or that I had seen albinoes or half-breeds.
The only exception to the chorus of doubt was General Babbitt, of our Military
Service at the Zone. He said he was inclined to believe me, because one of his
aviators had brought back a similar story. Lost in a fog bank south of the Canal,
this flier had swung low to get his bearings and had come out of the cloud
right above a big village in the jungle, and had seen dozens of white savages
scurry to cover when this roaring monster from the skies had emerged into their
sight. The General had always doubted the aviator's story until be heard mine
A SCIENTIFIC SEARCH
RETURNING to the States, I interested new capital in a second expedition—the backers of my first one were polite but skeptical. I was now determined not only to prove that there were good rubber lands in
but also that there were White Indians there. I am not a scientist, and I did
not intend to have the credibility of this discovery rest upon my own
unscientific observations. I therefore made the following proposition in
identical terms to the University of Rochester, the American
Museum of Natural History, and the
Smithsonian Institution: "If you will detail a scientist to accompany me
on a thorough trip of exploration of interior Darien. I will deposit cash to your credit,
before I start, sufficient to pay his salary and expenses for the entire time
we are gone, and you will pay him yourselves from this fund. He will then be
solely responsible to you. Furthermore. I will guarantee that he may leave the
party at any moment that he feels the results of the trip do not justify him in
continuing, or if he feels that any deception is being practiced."
All three institutions declared that this was a proposal that could not be refined. Especially so, because
is a sort of "missing link" in the scientists' knowledge of American
fauna and flora. The animal and vegetable life of North and Central America is
sharply differentiated from the corresponding life of South America, and
scientists have long hoped that unexplored Darien would some day reveal the transitional
forms that would bridge this gap in natural history. The University
of Rochester, therefore, detailed
Prof. H. L. Fairchild, to study the geology and biology of this region; the of Natural History sent Dr. C. M.
Breeder, to study the snakes, fish, and invertebrates; and the Smithsonian
Institution sent Prof. J. U. Baer, to study the men and apes from the viewpoint
of the trained anthropologist. American Museum
I secured also the cooperation of the War Department and the Department of Commerce at Washington, the Canal Zone Administration, and the Panama Government. These connections added to my party Major Omer Malsbury, topographer; Major H. B. Johnson, naturalist; Lieutenants Townsend and Rosebaum; and Dr. Raoul Brin, botanist and soil expert, detailed by President Porras of
Panama. I took along also a
newspaperman, and Mr. Charles Charlton, representing the Pathé motion picture
people. Altogether, my party numbered eleven whites and thirteen Negro laborers
obtained at Panama.
The War Department placed at my disposal two airplanes, with which I made a reconnaissance flight from
Panama City, ascending the Bayano River
to its headwaters, and descending the
to a point near its mouth. In less than one day I covered in the air more
territory than the expedition later covered in four months through the jungle.
I traveled in the first plane as pathfinder, and the second plane followed
about half a mile in the rear. When I saw something I wished to base
photographed. I got my pilot to sweep low and circle over the spot, which was a
signal for the second plane, containing the photographer, to follow our example
and take the pictures. An army topographer, in my plane, made notes of the
geography of the country as we raced along. In this way we got a very fair
record of the mountain ranges and water systems of the whole region. Chucunaque River
The first fruit of this flight delighted me very much, for it proved my surmise about the nature of the interior to be correct. There were two mountain ranges, one paralleling the Atlantic coastline and the other the Pacific. Between them lay a level valley, twenty-five miles wide and nearly one hundred and fifty miles long.
But I was even more excited by the evidences of human habitations of a much higher type than those of any Indians I had ever seen before. Time after time we would see a village below us, not a few huts carelessly huddled together but many dwellings set in orderly rows upon a geometric pattern and dominated by a great communal house big enough to foregather all the hundreds of inhabitants of the village. Some of these tribal assembly places were built on hillsides, so that they were in effect three stories high. In several villages, the inhabitants appeared much fairer than Indians I had known; though we never got a close view of them, for when we swooped from a thousand feet to two hundred above ground, they disappeared like gophers into their holes, going doubtless into the jungle to escape this fearsome apparition from the skies. Months later. I talked to inhabitants of these villages, whose recollection of my aèrial visit was still a fresh memory of terror.
A HAZARDOUS JOURNEY
I SHALL only sketch the long, disheartening, toilsome journey that led at the very end to the White Indians. We made friends with the Chocoi Indians near Yavisa, and learned much about their customs. We also learned that our coming on this second expedition had been broadcast by word of mouth throughout the interior, and that we should be opposed at every step of the way. The reason for this antagonism is a high tribute to the character of the Indians. Except for the Chocois themselves, all the tribes of
are monogamous, and they have, besides, quite the highest standard of sexual
morality I have encountered anywhere in the world. When I say this, I do not
except the white men of the United
States. These savages rigidly apply the
"single standard" of morals, and the only punishment for infidelity
is death. Proof, or even reasonable circumstantial evidence of it, is invariably
followed by the punishment. The result is that the offense is very rarely
given. The story that had preceded us into the jungle was that we were coming
to kidnap their women; and the opposition that dogged us all the way through
the country was based on this report. After we left the friendly and polygamous
Chocoi, no member of our party saw a single native woman until after we had
reached the Atlantic Coast, and then only after all but three of us had gone on
back to Panama and I had proved to the head chief that I was genuinely
interested in the welfare of his people.
After we left Yavisa for our plunge into the jungle, we were subjected to continual surveillance of the most trying kinds. Every night our ears were filled with weird forest cries from upstream and below—whistlings that we mistook for bird-calls until we observed that they came in mathematical combinations which clearly proved their human origin and that they were signals between unseen observers. In the morning, we would find their footprints on the river banks, and we would also find wild turkey feathers stuck in patterns in the mud, as witchcraft magic to hinder our progress.
At the mouth of the
, we surprised a party of Cunas
Bravos who had camped there to ambush us, and of whom we had received warning
from a friendly Chocoi chief. Tuquesa River
DEATH IN THE EXPEDITION
THEN we had sickness to contend with, Dr. Brin got malaria and I sent him back to Yavisa with one canoe and its crew. He returned to
Panama and died the day after his
arrival. Farther upstream, Dr. Baer was infected by flies that bit his arm
after they had settled on a tumor in a monkey he was disecting. We were now too
far inland to send him back, and for weeks his sufferings were a drain on our
sympathies and his helpless weight an additional burden to be carried across
portages in the tropical heat. Often the shallow water and the fallen tree
trunks across the stream made travel so difficult that two miles was a hard
day's journey. Our difficulties daily increased. and our store of supplies fell
lower. When we pitched camp at the mouth of the Sucubti River, we decided that
we must strike across the mountains to the Atlantic Coast and end our travels
as soon as possible. We established relations with a native sub-chief, who
spoke English. His one anxiety was to get us out of the country. If we had not
been so heavily armed, we learned afterward. we should have been rushed and
massacred; but the natives knew every detail of our equipment, even to the
dynamite we carried, and were afraid to try it. He guaranteed safe conduct to
the coast if we would promise to leave. I sent a scouting party of three men
under native escort, to the coast to explore the trail and to telegraph Panama for
medical aid and supplies. One of these men deserted at the coast. The others
came back, and led us over the trail. Dr. Baer died soon after we sighted salt
water. The Government ordered the soldiers with me back to the Zone, and I was
left at with only Charlton
and Johnson. Not one White Indian had we seen, and we were regarded with
suspicion and hatred by the natives. Except that I had pretty well assured
myself that the interior was suitable for rubber plantations, and that Dr.
Baer's and Dr. Breeder’s researches had been productive, the expedition was a
pretty sad wreck. Caledonia
But from this point on, the luck turned. I had learned from the sub-chief of the Sucubti that all the tribes of
held allegiance to a head chief whose title, in their language, is Ina Paguina.
He is the latest of a long line of hereditary overlords who have ruled the
country as feudal chiefs for many centuries. His seat of government is at
Sasardi, an island on the San Blas coast. I got word to him that I wanted an
audience with him. This was arranged, and accompanied by Charlton and Johnson.
I sailed over to his island.
CONVINCING THE HEAD CHIEF
THROUGH an interpreter, he asked me why I had come to his country. I determined to drop all effort to be diplomatic and to try the effect of blunt frankness. I told him that I had come to look for rubber lands in the interior and that I had been opposed at every step. I told him I was the friend of his people and would treat them fairly, but that he was mistaken in trying to keep the white men out of his country, because when they got ready to come nothing could stop them.
I had learned to admire the high intelligence and character of his people, and if he would cooperate with me in the scientific work I wanted to do, I would do my best at
Panama and Washington
to have his country set apart as an inviolate home of the Indians, under the
protection of America and Panama. He
liked my frankness, and explained why I had been opposed. The Panama Government
had seized some of his islands nearest the Zone, and had instituted
"schools” and local "government.” under Negroid police supervision,
that were really cloaks to enslave the men and debauch the women. He resented
the degradation of his people, and he and they had resolved that all white and
black men were evil and to fight their coming to the death.
After long negotiations, he became convinced of my good faith, and called a congress of his chieftains to discuss my plan for an Indian sanctuary. The chieftains came from all parts of the Atlantic coast of
and I was astonished to learn of the high level of political organization they
had achieved. Not only did they have an hereditary feudal government, but
courts of law with a recognized code of precedents. Every tribe also sent at
least one young man forth to see the world, and these youths had traveled as
sailors to New York, San Francisco, London, and some of them, around the world.
The Ina Paguina even had a secret service in the City of Panama that kept him advised of the
intentions of the Panamanian Government toward his people. He knew all about
the progress of the white men in the arts of war and peace, and had foreseen
the approach of the day when his own domain would face exploitation and his
people the common fate of the Indian. The congress of chiefs approved my plan
to enlist aid for the preservation of their country.
Then I asked to see the White Indians. At first they denied their existence, but I proved to them that I knew better. I also explained their scientific importance, and their value in creating American interest in all the Indians, by their demonstration of the reality of the links connecting the Indian to the white man by the ties of blood. This argument won them, and word was sent out to bring them in.
OUT OF THEIR FASTNESSES
WHITE Indians now appeared, to see us by the score. They came from the mountains of the San Blas coast, from the interior, and some even from the islands themselves. Within a few weeks I had seen four hundred of them—men, women, and children. I talked to them through interpreters, photographed them with the motion picture camera, examined them carefully and assured myself that they were neither painted nor dyed, and learned a good deal about their customs, local status, and biological character. Like all the Indians of the San Blas coast, brown as well as white, they proved far superior in intelligence and character to any other Indians had ever encountered, either in North or South America, and not excepting the
of our own Southwest. Their civilization was far more advanced, and their
political practices, ethical standards, and practical arts more perfected.
Their treatment of women and children alone would set them apart. I never saw a
woman or child among them who did not look happy. They speak of their women as "flowers,"
and their manner toward them is as gentle and considerate as one would expect
from that poetical idea. When I persuaded an old chief to be photographed, he
insisted that I wait till his little granddaughter could be brought to stand
with him, and the picture of his affectionate pride in her and of her happiness
to be beside him would do credit to the heart of any people in the world.
The White Indians occupy a peculiar status among their brown kinsmen. They are as proud and war-like as the San Blas themselves, and they maintain their feudal independence with as savage fearlessness. Both races try hard to maintain the integrity of the racial strains. Where propinquity over-rides the racial barrier and a White Indian marries a Brown Indian, the children are light brown and the grandchildren sometimes are white and sometimes are brown—apparently following the Mendelian Law of inheritance in this respect, by which the normal expectation would be that one child in two of such a union would be white, if any occur at all. But at the age of puberty, the white children of these mixed unions are required to go to the tribe of their white parent and are there raised as White Indians, while the brown children are raised with the brown tribe. This practice explains why the White Indians have persisted down the ages as a homogeneous white race in the midst of the overwhelming preponderance of reds and yellows and browns that numerically dominated the
In the next article I shall deal more at length with the fact that the White Indians have always dominated the other Indians intellectually, and have created all the real civilizations that flourished in prehistoric times in Mexico,
Central America, Peru,
Incidentally, these Indians speak a language which, I am told, is closely
related to the ancient Sanskrit.
In appearance, the White Indians duplicate the characteristics of the three I first saw at Yavisa. Their skin is a true white, and shows the pink glow of the blood beneath, as no pigmented skin of any colored race does. Their hair is literally the yellow of yellow gold. It would give a wrong impression to describe it as red or as tow. It is the true blond of the northern Caucasian. Their eyes are hazel, which means that they show light brown on a blue ground.
These positive characteristics dispose of the old theory that they are albinoes. The eyes of albinoes are pink, because they have no pigment in the iris or retina, and consequently the blood in the capillaries of the retina shows through. The hair of albinoes is white, because here again all pigment is absent.
One characteristic of the White Indians does immediately suggest the albino. This is the squinting of the eyes. But any American who has traveled our own Western deserts knows how quickly he himself adopts this habit to protect his eyes from the glare of the unclouded sun. And in the tropics, the actinic rays, which provoke the irritation of the eye nerves that causes this habit, are much more intense than they are in
Even a black-eyed Caucasian finds them distressing, even when he wears a
helmet. It is no cause for surprise, then, that the hazel-eyed White Indians,
living near the Equator and going about bare-headed, should develop a drooped
head and a squint of the eyes to protect them from the sun. When I took my
three specimen White Indian children to Canada
last summer, they soon got rid of the habit and showed no more evidence of it
than do the natives of Canada.
VISITORS TO AMERICA
FOLLOWING the congress of Indian chiefs on my plan to help them form an Indian sanctuary, they provided me with three children to bring back to
scientific study. These are a girl of sixteen and two boys of ten and fourteen.
They provided also an adult couple of brown Indians to act as their guardians,
an English-speaking San Blas Indian to act as interpreter, and two leading
young chiefs. This is the party I brought back with me to Washington. The Ina Paguina himself planned
to come, but the Panamanian Government refused him a passport on the ground
that his resistance to the "pacification" of the San Blas islands
made him legally an outlaw.
Next month I shall have a second article in the WORLD'S WORK. In that I shall describe the language and traditions and music of the San Blas Indians, and the reasons for the two theories the scientists advance to explain their origin.
I shall also describe more fully my plan to persuade the American Government to acquire by purchase the territory occupied by the White Indians, the San Blas, the Cunas Bravos, the Mortis, and the Wallas, and to have it set aside as a permanent and inviolate sanctuary for these remnants of the most advanced aborigines of the Western Hemisphere. Their lands are of little industrial value, so that no loss to the economic progress of the world will be entailed by segregating them from exploitation. These Indians, on the other hand, offer the most promising field yet opened up for finding the answers to two of the most fascinating mysteries of science: first, how white men evolved from the primeval brown race, and second, what the facts are behind the still undeciphered remains of at least two great white-influenced civilizations that once flourished in our continents, the early Mayan of Central America and the Pre-Incan of Peru. It behooves us to keep intact these few tribes whose culture marks them as probably the only remaining inheritors of the traditions that can unravel the mystery. If, as now seems possible, we can work out the answer through a study of them, we shall be able largely to write the authentic story of those prehistoric Americans, who wrote hieroglyphics as complex as the Egyptian, who were astronomers of the first order, who built walled cities, practiced mummification, performed delicate surgical operations on the skull, had a systematic science of pharmacy, originated the use of quinine, cocaine, valerian, and a dozen other standard drugs, wrought gold into beautiful ornaments, cut and polished and wore diamonds and other precious stones, and altogether were a people of as high development as were the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians.
WHITE INDIANS with YELLOW HAIR
While he was bargaining with a native chief in the Darien jungle, R. O. Marsh had his first astounded glimpse of a white skinned girl with golden hair, an Indian girl. Half incredulous, yet hopeful, he headed an expedition to confirm the legend of centuries. In the following pages are his photographs.
Sorry about the quality of the images; it was the best I could do with my sources. There are more stories about the White Indians on this blog; use the search tools. I will be adding Marsh's second story about these Indians at a later date; it's on order!/drf
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.