Wednesday, 26 March 2014

In Unknown British Guiana -Part 1

In Unknown British Guiana . . . Part 1
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.
Georgetown, the capital, is by no means unattractive, and the belt of swampy level land that extends inland for forty or fifty miles holds much of interest and beauty. But beyond this—a terra incognita to the majority of visitors and to a large proportion of the residents as well—lies a marvellous country of vast forests, limitless plains, towering mountains, mighty rivers and stupendous cataracts, a veritable wonderland teeming with the bird, animal, and insect life of the equatorial jungles, inhabited by peaceful but primitive Indians, and hiding in its fastnesses inconceivable resources and immeasurable wealth.
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 globe-trotter.

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 Mazaruni Rivers. Bartica is the terminus of steamboat service from Georgetown, and is the starting place for the gold diggers and diamond-field workers far up the Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers, and otherwise is of no importance and little interest.
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 Guiana 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 Marshall Falls 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.
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 Potaro.
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 Marshall Falls, 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.
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 Guiana 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 Sarpi Island for breakfast.
Breakfast in 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.
Crab Falls, Mope, Okami, Maripa, and Popikai Falls were all safely overcome and, well satisfied with the day’s work, I let the weary men go into camp at Wasai Itabu shortly after four o'clock.
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 British Guiana 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 Tokaima Falls, and we stopped for breakfast at Kapasi Island. 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.
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 the creatures.
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.
Morawa Falls and Makasi were easily passed, and camp was made in the dense forest below Koimara Hole.
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.)















No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

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.