Map showing the First and Third Journeys. (2)
Journey in Waterton's own words......
(Click image to enlarge).
Object of the Wanderings. Demerara River. Wild animals. A white recluse. Fort St. Joachim.
herba, nec latens in asperis
Radix fefellit me locis.
In the month of April 1812 I left the town of Stabroek to travel through the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo, a part of ci-devant Dutch Guiana, in South America. The chief objects in view were to collect a quantity of the strongest wourali* poison and to reach the inland frontier-fort of Portuguese Guiana (Brazil).
(*Wourali (curare) - a South American poison. Waterton introduced it into Europe where it was used in surgical operations as a muscle relaxant. The Indians used it to poison their arrows and blowpipe darts.
Curare is produced from plants of the genera Strychnos and Chondodendron.)
be a tedious journey for him who wishes to travel through these wilds
to set out from Stabroek [now part of Georgetown] on foot. The sun would exhaust him in his attempts
to wade through the swamps, and the mosquitos at night would deprive him
of every hour of sleep.
road for horses runs parallel to the river, but it extends a very little
way, and even ends before the cultivation of the plantations ceases.
mode then that remains is to proceed by water; and when you come to the
high-lands, you may make your way through the forest on foot or continue
your route on the river.
the third island in the River Demerara there are few plantations to be
seen, and those not joining on to one another, but separated by large
tracts of wood.
The Loo is
the last where the sugar-cane is growing. The greater part of its negroes
have just been ordered to another estate, and ere a few months shall have
elapsed all signs of cultivation will be lost in underwood.
stand the sugar-works of Amelia's Waard, solitary and abandoned; and after
passing these there is not a ruin to inform the traveller that either
coffee or sugar have ever been cultivated.
Waard an unbroken range of forest covers each bank of the river, saving
here and there where a hut discovers itself, inhabited by free people
of colour, with a rood or two of bared ground about it; or where the wood-cutter
has erected himself a dwelling and cleared a few acres for pasturage.
Sometimes you see level ground on each side of you for two or three hours
at a stretch; at other times a gently sloping hill presents itself; and
often, on turning a point, the eye is pleased with the contrast of an
almost perpendicular height jutting into the water. The trees put you
in mind of an eternal spring, with summer and autumn kindly blended into
may see a sloping extent of noble trees whose foliage displays a charming
variety of every shade, from the lightest to the darkest green and purple.
The tops of some are crowned with bloom of the loveliest hue, while the
boughs of others bend with a profusion of seeds and fruits.
heads have been bared by time or blasted by the thunderstorm strike the
eye, as a mournful sound does the ear in music, and seem to beckon to
the sentimental traveller to stop a moment or two and see that the forests
which surround him, like men and kingdoms, have their periods of misfortune
rocks of any considerable size that are observed on the side of the river
are at a place called Saba, from the Indian word which means a stone.
They appear sloping down to the water's edge, not shelvy, but smooth,
and their exuberances rounded off and, in some places, deeply furrowed,
as though they had been worn with continual floods of water.
patches of soil up and down, and the huge stones amongst them produce
a pleasing and novel effect. You see a few coffee-trees of a fine luxuriant
growth, and nearly on the top of Saba stands the house of the post-holder.
He is appointed by Government to give in his report to the protector of
the Indians of what is going on amongst them and to prevent suspicious
people from passing up the river.
Indians assemble here, the stranger may have an opportunity of seeing
the aborigines dancing to the sound of their country music and painted
in their native style. They will shoot their arrows for him with an unerring
aim and send the poisoned dart, from the blow-pipe, true to its destination:
and here he may often view all the different shades, from the red savage
to the white man; and from the white man to the sootiest son of Africa.
Beyond this post there are no more habitations of white men or free people
In a country
so extensively covered with wood as this is, having every advantage that
a tropical sun and the richest mould, in many places, can give to vegetation,
it is natural to look for trees of very large dimensions. But it is rare
to meet with them above six yards in circumference. If larger have ever
existed they have fallen a sacrifice either to the axe or to fire.
they disappoint you in size, they make ample amends in height. Heedless,
and bankrupt in all curiosity, must he be who can journey on without stopping
to take a view of the towering mora. Its topmost branch, when naked with
age or dried by accident, is the favourite resort of the toucan.
Many a time has this singular bird felt the shot faintly strike him from
the gun of the fowler beneath, and owed his life to the distance betwixt
trees which form these far-extending wilds are as useful as they are
ornamental. It would take a volume of itself to describe them.The
green-heart, famous for its hardness and durability; the hackea for
its toughness; the ducalabali surpassing mahogany; the ebony and letter-wood
vying with the choicest woods of the old world; the locust-tree yielding
copal; and the hayawa- and olou-trees furnishing a sweet-smelling
resin, are all to be met with in the forest betwixt the plantations
and the rock Saba.
of the rich variety of trees:
green-heart, famous for its hardness and durability
hackea for its toughness
ducalabali - surpassing mahogany
and letter-wood, vying with the choicest woods of the old world
locust-tree, yielding copal (copal is a more mature form of
resin, somewhere between resin and amber. The word copal comes
from the Spanish word copalli which means incense, a task for
which copal can be employed.)
hayowa and olou trees which produce a sweet-smelling resin.
rock the country has been little explored, but it is very probable that
these, and a vast collection of other kinds, and possibly many new species,
are scattered up and down, in all directions, through the swamps and hills
and savannas of ci-devant Dutch Guiana.
the stately trees around him, the naturalist will observe many of them
bearing leaves and blossoms and fruit not their own.
fig-tree, as large as a common English apple-tree, often rears itself
from one of the thick branches at the top of the mora, and when its fruit
is ripe, to it the birds resort for nourishment. It was to an undigested
seed passing through the body of the bird which had perched on the mora
that the fig-tree first owed its elevated station there. The sap of the
mora raised it into full bearing, but now, in its turn, it is doomed to
contribute a portion of its own sap and juices towards the growth of different
species of vines, the seeds of which also the birds deposited on its branches.
These soon vegetate, and bear fruit in great quantities; so what with
their usurpation of the resources of the fig-tree, and the fig- tree of
the mora, the mora, unable to support a charge which nature never intended
it should, languishes and dies under its burden; and then the fig- tree,
and its usurping progeny of vines, receiving no more succour from their
late foster-parent, droop and perish in their turn.
A vine called
the bush-rope by the wood-cutters, on account of its use in hauling out
the heaviest timber, has a singular appearance in the forests of Demerara.
Sometimes you see it nearly as thick as a man's body, twisted like a corkscrew
round the tallest trees and rearing its head high above their tops. At
other times three or four of them, like strands in a cable, join tree
and tree and branch and branch together. Others, descending from on high,
take root as soon as their extremity touches the ground, and appear like
shrouds and stays supporting the mainmast of a line-of-battle ship; while
others, sending out parallel, oblique, horizontal and perpendicular shoots
in all directions, put you in mind of what travellers call a matted forest.
Oftentimes a tree, above a hundred feet high, uprooted by the whirlwind,
is stopped in its fall by these amazing cables of nature, and hence it
is that you account for the phenomenon of seeing trees not only vegetating,
but sending forth vigorous shoots, though far from their perpendicular,
and their trunks inclined to every degree from the meridian to the horizon.
remain firmly supported by the bush-rope; many of their roots soon refix
themselves in the earth, and frequently a strong shoot will sprout out
perpendicularly from near the root of the reclined trunk, and in time
become a fine tree. No grass grows under the trees and few weeds, except
in the swamps.The high grounds are pretty clear of underwood, and with
a cutlass to sever
the small bush-ropes it is not difficult walking among the trees.
chiefly formed by the fallen leaves and decayed trees, is very rich and
fertile in the valleys. On the hills it is little better than sand. The
rains seem to have carried away and swept into the valleys every particle
which Nature intended to have formed a mould.
animals are scarce considering how very thinly these forests are inhabited
species of the animal commonly called tiger, though in reality
it approaches nearer to the leopard, are found here, and two of
their diminutives, named tiger-cats. The tapir, the lobba and
deer afford excellent food, and chiefly frequent the swamps and
low ground near the sides of the river and creeks.
stating that four-footed animals are scarce, the peccari
must be excepted. Three or four hundred of them herd together and traverse the wilds in all directions in quest of roots and
fallen seeds. The Indians mostly shoot them with poisoned arrows.
When wounded they run about one hundred and fifty paces; they
then drop, and make wholesome food.
The red [howler] monkey,
erroneously called the baboon, is heard oftener than it is seen,
while the common brown monkey, the the bisa
and the sacawinki rove from tree to tree, and amuse the stranger as he journeys on. [The Nondescript was formed from one of these monkeys.
Click image to see the Nondescript.
crickets chirp from sunset to sunrise, and often during the day
when the weather is cloudy. The bete-rouge is exceedingly numerous
in these extensive wilds, and not only man, but beasts and birds,
are tormented by it. Mosquitos are very rare after you pass the
third island in the Demerara, and sand-flies but seldom appear.
reader, here thou hast the outlines of an amazing landscape given
thee; thou wilt see that the principal parts of it are but faintly
traced, some of them scarcely visible at all, and that the shades
are wholly wanting. If thy soul partakes of the ardent flame which
the persevering Mungo Park's did, these outlines will be enough
for thee; they will give thee some idea of what a noble country
this is; and if thou hast but courage to set about giving the world
a finished picture of it, neither materials to work on nor colours
to paint it in its true shades will be wanting to thee. It may appear
a difficult task at a distance, but look close at it, and it is
nothing at all; provided thou hast but a quiet mind, little more
is necessary, and the genius which presides over these wilds will
kindly help thee through the rest. She will allow thee to slay the
fawn and to cut down the mountain-cabbage for thy support, and to
select from every part of her domain whatever may be necessary for
the work thou art about; but having killed a pair of doves in order
to enable thee to give mankind a true and proper description of
them, thou must not destroy a third through wantonness or to show
what a good marksman thou art: that would only blot the picture
thou art finishing, not colour it.
retired from the haunts of men, and even without a friend with thee,
thou wouldst not find it solitary. The crowing of the hannaquoi
will sound in thine ears like the daybreak town-clock; and the wren
and the thrush will join with thee in thy matin hymn to thy Creator,
to thank Him for thy night's rest.
noon the genius will lead thee to the troely, one leaf of which
will defend thee from both sun and rain. And if, in the cool of
the evening, thou hast been tempted to stray too far from thy place
of abode, and art deprived of light to write down the information
thou hast collected, the fire-fly, which thou wilt see in almost
every bush around thee, will be thy candle. Hold it over thy pocket-book,
in any position which thou knowest will not hurt it, and it will
afford thee ample light. And when thou hast done with it, put it
kindly back again on the next branch to thee. It will want no other
reward for its services.
in thy hammock, should the thought of thy little crosses and disappointments,
in thy ups and downs through life, break in upon thee and throw
thee into a pensive mood, the owl will bear thee company. She will
tell thee that hard has been her fate, too; and at intervals "Whip-poor-
will" and "Willy come go" will take up the tale of
sorrow. Ovid has told thee how the owl once boasted the human form
and lost it for a very small offence; and were the poet alive now
he would inform thee that "Whip-poor- will" and "Willy
come go" are the shades of those poor African and Indian slaves
who died worn out and broken-hearted. They wail and cry "Whip-poor-
will," "Willy come go," all night long; and often,
when the moon shines, you see them sitting on the green turf near
the houses of those whose ancestors tore them from the bosom of
their helpless families, which all probably perished through grief
and want after their support was gone.
an hour above the rock of Saba stands the habitation of an Indian
called Simon, on the top of a hill. The side next the river is almost
perpendicular, and you may easily throw a stone over to the opposite
bank. Here there was an opportunity of seeing man in his rudest
state. The Indians who frequented this habitation, though living
in the midst of woods, bore evident marks of attention to their
persons. Their hair was neatly collected and tied up in a knot;
their bodies fancifully painted red, and the paint was scented with
hayawa. This gave them a gay and animated appearance. Some of them
had on necklaces composed of the teeth of wild boars slain in the
chase; many wore rings, and others had an ornament on the left arm
midway betwixt the shoulder and the elbow. At the close of day they
regularly bathed in the river below, and the next morning seemed
busy in renewing the faded colours of their faces.
day there came into the hut a form which literally might be called
the wild man of the woods. On entering he laid down a ball of wax
which he had collected in the forest. His hammock was all ragged
and torn, and his bow, though of good wood, was without any ornament
or polish: "erubuit domino, cultior esse suo." His face
was meagre, his looks forbidding and his whole appearance neglected.
His long black hair hung from his head in matted confusion; nor
had his body, to all appearance, ever been painted. They gave him
some cassava bread and boiled fish, which he ate voraciously, and
soon after left the hut. As he went out you could observe no traces
in his countenance or demeanour which indicated that he was in the
least mindful of having been benefited by the society he was just
Indians said that he had neither wife nor child nor friend. They
had often tried to persuade him to come and live amongst them, but
all was of no avail. He went roving on, plundering the wild bees
of their honey and picking up the fallen nuts and fruits of the
forest. When he fell in with game he procured fire from two sticks
and cooked it on the spot. When a hut happened to be in his way
he stepped in and asked for something to eat, and then months elapsed
ere they saw him again. They did not know what had caused him to
be thus unsettled: he had been so for years; nor did they believe
that even old age itself would change the habits of this poor harmless,
Simon's the traveller may reach the large fall, with ease, in four
first falls that he meets are merely rapids, scarce a stone appearing
above the water in the rainy season; and those in the bed of the
river barely high enough to arrest the water's course, and by causing
a bubbling show that they are there.
this small change of appearance in the stream, the stranger observes
nothing new till he comes within eight or ten miles of the great
fall. Each side of the river presents an uninterrupted range of
wood, just as it did below. All the productions found betwixt the
plantations and the rock Saba are to be met with here.
Simon's to the great fall there are five habitations of the Indians:
two of them close to the river's side; the other three a little
way in the forest. These habitations consist of from four to eight
huts, situated on about an acre of ground which they have cleared
from the surrounding woods. A few pappaw, cotton and mountain-cabbage
trees are scattered round them.
one of these habitations a small quantity of the wourali poison
was procured. It was in a little gourd. The Indian who had it said
that he had killed a number of wild hogs with it, and two tapirs.
Appearances seemed to confirm what he said, for on one side it had
been nearly taken out to the bottom, at different times, which probably
would not have been the case had the first or second trial failed.
strength was proved on a middle-sized dog. He was wounded in the
thigh, in order that there might be no possibility of touching a
vital part. In three or four minutes he began to be affected, smelt
at every little thing on the ground around him, and looked wistfully
at the wounded part. Soon after this he staggered, laid himself
down, and never rose more. He barked once, though not as if in pain.
His voice was low and weak; and in a second attempt it quite failed
him. He now put his head betwixt his fore-legs, and raising it slowly
again he fell over on his side. His eye immediately became fixed,
and though his extremities every now and then shot convulsively,
he never showed the least desire to raise up his head. His heart
fluttered much from the time he laid down, and at intervals beat
very strong; then stopped for a moment or two, and then beat again;
and continued faintly beating several minutes after every other
part of his body seemed dead.
a quarter of an hour after he had received the poison he was quite
miles before you reach the great fall, and which indeed is the only
one which can be called a fall, large balls of froth come floating
past you. The river appears beautifully marked with streaks of foam,
and on your nearer approach the stream is whitened all over.
first you behold the fall rushing down a bed of rocks with a tremendous
noise, divided into two foamy streams which, at their junction again,
form a small island covered with wood. Above this island, for a
short space, there appears but one stream, all white with froth,
and fretting and boiling amongst the huge rocks which obstruct its
up it is seen dividing itself into a short channel or two, and trees
grow on the rocks which cause its separation. The torrent, in many
places, has eaten deep into the rocks, and split them into large
fragments by driving others against them. The trees on the rocks
are in bloom and vigour, though their roots are half bared and many
of them bruised and broken by the rushing waters.
is the general appearance of the fall from the level of the water
below to where the river is smooth and quiet above. It must be remembered
that this is during the periodical rains. Probably, in the dry season,
it puts on a very different appearance. There is no perpendicular
fall of water of any consequence throughout it, but the dreadful
roaring and rushing of the torrent, down a long rocky and moderately
sloping channel, has a fine effect; and the stranger returns well
pleased with what he has seen. No animal, nor craft of any kind,
could stem this downward flood. In a few moments the first would
be killed, the second dashed in pieces.
Indians have a path alongside of it, through the forest, where prodigious
crabwood trees grow. Up this path they drag their canoes and launch
them into the river above; and on their return bring them down the
two hours below this fall is the habitation of an Acoway chief called
Sinkerman. At night you hear the roaring of the fall from it. It
is pleasantly situated on the top of a sand-hill. At this place
you have the finest view the River Demerara affords: three tiers
of hills rise in slow gradation, one above the other, before you,
and present a grand and magnificent scene, especially to him who
has been accustomed to a level country.
a little after midnight, on the first of May, was heard a most strange
and unaccountable noise: it seemed as though several regiments were
engaged and musketry firing with great rapidity. The Indians, terrified
beyond description, left their hammocks and crowded all together
like sheep at the approach of the wolf. There were no soldiers within
three or four hundred miles. Conjecture was of no avail, and all
conversation next morning on the subject was as useless and unsatisfactory
as the dead silence which succeeded to the noise.
who wishes to reach the Macoushi country had better send his canoe
overland from Sinkerman's to the Essequibo.
is a pretty good path, and meeting a creek about three-quarters
of the way, it eases the labour, and twelve Indians will arrive
with it in the Essequibo in four days.
traveller need not attend his canoe; there is a shorter and a better
way. Half an hour below Sinkerman's he finds a little creek on the
western bank of the Demerara. After proceeding about a couple of
hundred yards up it, he leaves it, and pursues a west-north-west
direction by land for the Essequibo. The path is good, though somewhat
rugged with the roots of trees, and here and there obstructed by
fallen ones; it extends more over level ground than otherwise. There
are a few steep ascents and descents in it, with a little brook
running at the bottom of them, but they are easily passed over,
and the fallen trees serve for a bridge.
may reach the Essequibo with ease in a day and a half; and so matted
and interwoven are the tops of the trees above you that the sun
is not felt once all the way, saving where the space which a newly-fallen
tree occupied lets in his rays upon you. The forest contains an
abundance of wild hogs, lobbas, acouries, powisses, maams, maroudis
and waracabas for your nourishment, and there are plenty of leaves
to cover a shed whenever you are inclined to sleep.
soil has three-fourths of sand in it till you come within half an
hour's walk of the Essequibo, where you find a red gravel and rocks.
In this retired and solitary tract Nature's garb, to all appearance,
has not been injured by fire nor her productions broken in upon
by the exterminating hand of man.
the finest green-heart grows, and wallaba, purple-heart, siloabali,
sawari, buletre, tauronira and mora are met with in vast abundance,
far and near, towering up in majestic grandeur, straight as pillars,
sixty or seventy feet high, without a knot or branch.
forget for a little while the idea thou hast of wandering farther
on, and stop and look at this grand picture of vegetable nature:
it is a reflection of the crowd thou hast lately been in, and though
a silent monitor, it is not a less eloquent one on that account.
See that noble purple-heart before thee! Nature has been kind to
it. Not a hole, not the least oozing from its trunk, to show that
its best days are past. Vigorous in youthful blooming beauty, it
stands the ornament of these sequestered wilds and tacitly rebukes
those base ones of thine own species who have been hardy enough
to deny the existence of Him who ordered it to flourish here.
that one next to it! Hark how the hammerings of the red-headed woodpecker
resound through its distempered boughs! See what a quantity of holes
he has made in it, and how its bark is stained with the drops which
trickle down from them. The lightning, too, has blasted one side
of it. Nature looks pale and wan in its leaves, and her resources
are nearly dried up in its extremities: its sap is tainted; a mortal
sickness, slow as a consumption and as sure in its consequences,
has long since entered its frame, vitiating and destroying the wholesome
a few paces aside and cast thine eye on that remnant of a mora behind
it. Best part of its branches, once so high and ornamental, now
lie on the ground in sad confusion, one upon the other, all shattered
and fungus-grown and a prey to millions of insects which are busily
employed in destroying them. One branch of it still looks healthy!
Will it recover? No, it cannot; Nature has already run her course,
and that healthy-looking branch is only as a fallacious good symptom
in him who is just about to die of a mortification when he feels
no more pain, and fancies his distemper has left him; it is as the
momentary gleam of a wintry sun's ray close to the western horizon.
See! while we are speaking a gust of wind has brought the tree to
the ground and made room for its successor.
farther on and examine that apparently luxuriant tauronira on thy
right hand. It boasts a verdure not its own; they are false ornaments
it wears. The bush-rope and bird-vines have clothed it from the
root to its topmost branch. The succession of fruit which it hath
borne, like good cheer in the houses of the great, has invited the
birds to resort to it, and they have disseminated beautiful, though
destructive, plants on its branches which, like the distempers vice
brings into the human frame, rob it of all its health and vigour.
They have shortened its days, and probably in another year they
will finally kill it, long before Nature intended that it should
thou leavest this interesting scene, look on the ground around thee,
and see what everything here below must come to.
that newly-fallen wallaba! The whirlwind has uprooted it in its
prime, and it has brought down to the ground a dozen small ones
in its fall. Its bark has already begun to drop off! And that heart
of mora close by it is fast yielding, in spite of its firm, tough
tree which thou passedst but a little ago, and which perhaps has
laid over yonder brook for years, can now hardly support itself,
and in a few months more it will have fallen into the water.
thy foot on that large trunk thou seest to the left. It seems entire
amid the surrounding fragments. Mere outward appearance, delusive
phantom of what it once was! Tread on it and, like the fuss-ball,
it will break into dust.
and silent mementos to the giddy traveller as he wanders on! Prostrate
remnants of vegetable nature, how incontestably ye prove what we
must all at last come to, and how plain your mouldering ruins show
that the firmest texture avails us naught when Heaven wills that
we should cease to be!
cloud-capt towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the
great globe itself, Yea, all which it inhabit, shall dissolve, And,
like the baseless fabric of a vision, Leave not a wreck behind.
thine eye around thee and see the thousands of Nature's productions.
Take a view of them from the opening seed on the surface sending
a downward shoot, to the loftiest and the largest trees rising up
and blooming in wild luxuriance: some side by side, others separate;
some curved and knotty, others straight as lances; all, in beautiful
gradation, fulfilling the mandates they had received from Heaven
and, though condemned to die, still never failing to keep up their
species till time shall be no more.
canst thou not be induced to dedicate a few months to the good of
the public, and examine with thy scientific eye the productions
which the vast and well-stored colony of Demerara presents to thee?
an immense range of forest is there from the rock Saba to the great
fall! and what an uninterrupted extent before thee from it to the
banks of the Essequibo! No doubt there is many a balsam and many
a medicinal root yet to be discovered, and many a resin, gum and
oil yet unnoticed. Thy work would be a pleasing one, and thou mightest
make several useful observations in it.
it be thought impertinent in thee to hazard a conjecture that, with
the resources the Government of Demerara has, stones might be conveyed
from the rock Saba to Stabroek to stem the equinoctial tides which
are for ever sweeping away the expensive wooden piles round the
mounds of the fort? Or would the timber-merchant point at thee in
passing by and call thee a descendant of La Mancha's knight, because
thou maintainest that the stones which form the rapids might be
removed with little expense, and thus open the navigation to the
wood-cutter from Stabroek to the great fall? Or wouldst thou be
deemed enthusiastic or biassed because thou givest it as thy opinion
that the climate in these high-lands is exceedingly wholesome, and
the lands themselves capable of nourishing and maintaining any number
of settlers? In thy dissertation on the Indians thou mightest hint
that possibly they could be induced to help the new settlers a little;
and that, finding their labours well requited, it would be the means
of their keeping up a constant communication with us which probably
might be the means of laying the first stone towards their Christianity.
They are a poor harmless, inoffensive set of people, and their wandering
and ill-provided way of living seems more to ask for pity from us
than to fill our heads with thoughts that they would be hostile
a noble field, kind reader, for thy experimental philosophy and
speculations, for thy learning, for thy perseverance, for thy kindheartedness,
for everything that is great and good within thee!
accidental traveller who has journeyed on from Stabroek to the rock
Saba, and from thence to the banks of the Essequibo, in pursuit
of other things, as he told thee at the beginning, with but an indifferent
interpreter to talk to, no friend to converse with, and totally
unfit for that which he wishes thee to do, can merely mark the outlines
of the path he has trodden, or tell thee the sounds he has heard,
or faintly describe what he has seen in the environs of his resting-places;
but if this be enough to induce thee to undertake the journey, and
give the world a description of it, he will be amply satisfied.
will be two days and a half from the time of entering the path on
the western bank of the Demerara till all be ready and the canoe
fairly afloat on the Essequibo. The new rigging it, and putting
every little thing to rights and in its proper place, cannot well
be done in less than a day.
being night and day in the forest, impervious to the sun's and moon's
rays, the sudden transition to light has a fine heart-cheering effect.
Welcome as a lost friend, the solar beam makes the frame rejoice,
and with it a thousand enlivening thoughts rush at once on the soul
and disperse, as a vapour, every sad and sorrowful idea which the
deep gloom had helped to collect there. In coming out of the woods
you see the western bank of the Essequibo before you, low and flat.
Here the river is two-thirds as broad as the Demerara at Stabroek.
the northward there is a hill higher than any in the Demerara; and
in the south-south-west quarter a mountain. It is far away, and
appears like a bluish cloud in the horizon. There is not the least
opening on either side. Hills, valleys and low-lands are all linked
together by a chain of forest. Ascend the highest mountain, climb
the loftiest tree, as far as the eye can extend, whichever way it
directs itself, all is luxuriant and unbroken forest.
about nine or ten hours from this you get to an Indian habitation
of three huts, on the point of an island. It is said that a Dutch
post once stood here. But there is not the smallest vestige of it
remaining and, except that the trees appear younger than those on
the other islands, which shows that the place has been cleared some
time or other, there is no mark left by which you can conjecture
that ever this was a post.
many islands which you meet with in the way enliven and change the
scene, by the avenues which they make, which look like the mouths
of other rivers, and break that long-extended sameness which is
seen in the Demerara.
onwards you get to the falls and rapids. In the rainy season they
are very tedious to pass, and often stop your course. In the dry
season, by stepping from rock to rock, the Indians soon manage to
get a canoe over them. But when the river is swollen, as it was
in May 1812, it is then a difficult task, and often a dangerous
one, too. At that time many of the islands were over-flowed, the
rocks covered and the lower branches of the trees in the water.
Sometimes the Indians were obliged to take everything out of the
canoe, cut a passage through the branches which hung over into the
river, and then drag up the canoe by main force.
one place the falls form an oblique line quite across the river
impassable to the ascending canoe, and you are forced to have it
dragged four or five hundred yards by land.
will take you five days, from the Indian habitation on the point
of the island, to where these falls and rapids terminate.
are no huts in the way. You must bring your own cassava bread along
with you, hunt in the forest for your meat and make the night's
shelter for yourself.
is a noble range of hills, all covered with the finest trees rising
majestically one above the other, on the western bank, and presenting
as rich a scene as ever the eye would wish to look on. Nothing in
vegetable nature can be conceived more charming, grand and luxuriant.
the heart rejoices in viewing this beautiful landscape when the
sky is serene, the air cool and the sun just sunk behind the mountain's
hayawa-tree perfumes the woods around: pairs of scarlet aras are
continually crossing the river. The maam sends forth its plaintive
note, the wren chants its evening song. The caprimulgus wheels in
busy flight around the canoe, while "Whip-poor-will" sits
on the broken stump near the water's edge, complaining as the shades
of night set in.
before you pass the last of these rapids two immense rocks appear,
nearly on the summit of one of the many hills which form this far-extending
range where it begins to fall off gradually to the south.
look like two ancient stately towers of some Gothic potentate rearing
their heads above the surrounding trees. What with their situation
and their shape together, they strike the beholder with an idea
of antiquated grandeur which he will never forget. He may travel
far and near and see nothing like them. On looking at them through
a glass the summit of the southern one appeared crowned with bushes.
The one to the north was quite bare. The Indians have it from their
ancestors that they are the abode of an evil genius, and they pass
in the river below with a reverential awe.
about seven hours from these stupendous sons of the hill you leave
the Essequibo and enter the River Apoura-poura, which falls into
it from the south. The Apoura-poura is nearly one-third the size
of the Demerara at Stabroek. For two days you see nothing but level
ground richly clothed in timber. You leave the Siparouni to the
right hand, and on the third day come to a little hill. The Indians
have cleared about an acre of ground on it and erected a temporary
shed. If it be not intended for provision-ground alone, perhaps
the next white man who travels through these remote wilds will find
an Indian settlement here.
Not in Demerara but in another part of South America, an example of the type of blowpipe used to fire poison arrows
(Click image for bigger picture.)
(Click image to enlarge)
after leaving this you get to a rising ground on the western bank where
stands a single hut, and about half a mile in the forest there are a few
more: some of them square and some round, with spiral roofs.
fish called pacou is very plentiful: it is perhaps the fattest and most
delicious fish in Guiana. It does not take the hook, but the Indians decoy
it to the surface of the water by means of the seeds of the crab-wood
tree and then shoot it with an arrow.
You are now
within the borders of Macoushia, inhabited by a different tribe of people
called Macoushi Indians, uncommonly dexterous in the use of the blow-pipe
and famous for their skill in preparing the deadly vegetable- poison commonly
It is from
this country that those beautiful paroquets named kessi-kessi are procured.
Here the crystal mountains are found; and here the three different species
of the ara are seen in great abundance. Here too grows the tree from which
the gum-elastic is got: it is large and as tall as any in the forest.
The wood has much the appearance of sycamore. The gum is contained in
the bark: when that is cut through it oozes out very freely; it is quite
white and looks as rich as cream; it hardens almost immediately as it
issues from the tree, so that it is very easy to collect a ball by forming
the juice into a globular shape as fast as it comes out. It becomes nearly
black by being exposed to the air, and is real india-rubber without undergoing
any other process.
crested bird called cock-of-the-rock, admirably described by Buffon, is
a native of the woody mountains of Macoushia. In the daytime it retires
amongst the darkest rocks, and only comes out to feed a little before
sunrise and at sunset: he is of a gloomy disposition and, like the houtou,
never associates with the other birds of the forest.
in the just-mentioned settlement seemed to depend more on the wourali
poison for killing their game than upon anything else. They had only one
gun, and it appeared rusty and neglected, but their poisoned weapons were
in fine order. Their blow-pipes hung from the roof of the hut, carefully
suspended by a silk-grass cord, and on taking a nearer view of them no
dust seemed to have collected there, nor had the spider spun the smallest
web on them, which showed that they were in constant use. The quivers
were close by them, with the jaw-bone of the fish pirai tied by a string
to their brim and a small wicker-basket of wild cotton, which hung down
to the centre; they were nearly full of poisoned arrows. It was with difficulty
these Indians could be persuaded to part with any of the wourali poison,
though a good price was offered for it: they gave to understand that it
was powder and shot to them, and very difficult to be procured.
On the second
day after leaving this settlement, in passing along, the Indians show
you a place where once a white man lived. His retiring so far from those
of his own colour and acquaintance seemed to carry something extraordinary
along with it, and raised a desire to know what could have induced him
to do so. It seems he had been unsuccessful, and that his creditors had
treated him with as little mercy as the strong generally show to the weak.
Seeing his endeavours daily frustrated and his best intentions of no avail,
and fearing that when they had taken all he had they would probably take
his liberty too, he thought the world would not be hardhearted enough
to condemn him for retiring from the evils which pressed so heavily on
him, and which he had done all that an honest man could do to ward off.
He left his creditors to talk of him as they thought fit, and, bidding
adieu for ever to the place in which he had once seen better times, he
penetrated thus far into these remote and gloomy wilds and ended his days
to the new map of South America, Lake Parima, or the White Sea, ought
to be within three or four days' walk from this place. On asking the Indians
whether there was such a place or not, and describing that the water was
fresh and good to drink, an old Indian, who appeared to be about sixty,
said that there was such a place, and that he had been there. This information
would have been satisfactory in some degree had not the Indians carried
the point a little too far. It is very large, said another Indian, and
ships come to it. Now these unfortunate ships were the very things which
were not wanted: had he kept them out, it might have done, but his introducing
them was sadly against the lake. Thus you must either suppose that the
old savage and his companion had a confused idea of the thing, and that
probably the Lake Parima they talked of was the Amazons, not far from
the city of Para, or that it was their intention to deceive you. You ought
to be cautious in giving credit to their stories, otherwise you will be
apt to be led astray.
Many a ridiculous
thing concerning the interior of Guiana has been propagated and received
as true merely because six or seven Indians, questioned separately, have
agreed in their narrative.
who live high up in the Demerara, and they will, every one of them, tell
you that there is a nation of Indians with long tails; that they are very
malicious, cruel and ill-natured; and that the Portuguese have been obliged
to stop them off in a certain river to prevent their depredations. They
have also dreadful stories concerning a horrible beast called the water-mamma
which, when it happens to take a spite against a canoe, rises out of the
river and in the most unrelenting manner possible carries both canoe and
Indians down to the bottom with it, and there destroys them. Ludicrous
extravagances! pleasing to those fond of the marvellous, and excellent
matter for a distempered brain.
and timid court of policy in Demerara was made the dupe of a savage who
came down the Essequibo and gave himself out as king of a mighty tribe.
This naked wild man of the woods seemed to hold the said court in tolerable
contempt, and demanded immense supplies, all which he got; and moreover,
some time after, an invitation to come down the ensuing year for more,
which he took care not to forget.
chieftain boasted so much of his dynasty and domain that the Government
was induced to send up an expedition into his territories to see if he
had spoken the truth, and nothing but the truth. It appeared, however,
that his palace was nothing but a hut, the monarch a needy savage, the
heir-apparent nothing to inherit but his father's club and bow and arrows,
and his officers of state wild and uncultivated as the forests through
which they strayed.
nothing in the hut of this savage, saving the presents he had received
from Government, but what was barely sufficient to support existence;
nothing that indicated a power to collect a hostile force; nothing that
showed the least progress towards civilisation. All was rude and barbarous
in the extreme, expressive of the utmost poverty and a scanty population.
You may travel
six or seven days without seeing a hut, and when you reach a settlement
it seldom contains more than ten.
you advance into the interior, the more you are convinced that it is thinly
The day after
passing the place where the white man lived you see a creek on the left-hand,
and shortly after the path to the open country. Here you drag the canoe
up into the forest, and leave it there. Your baggage must now be carried
by the Indians. The creek you passed in the river intersects the path
to the next settlement; a large mora has fallen across it and makes an
excellent bridge. After walking an hour and a half you come to the edge
of the forest, and a savanna unfolds itself to the view.
park that England boasts falls far short of this delightful scene. There
are about two thousand acres of grass, with here and there a clump of
trees and a few bushes and single trees scattered up and down by the hand
of Nature. The ground is neither hilly nor level, but diversified with
moderate rises and falls, so gently running into one another that the
eye cannot distinguish where they begin nor where they end; while the
distant black rocks have the appearance of a herd at rest. Nearly in the
middle there is an eminence which falls off gradually on every side, and
on this the Indians have erected their huts.
To the northward
of them the forest forms a circle, as though it had been done by art;
to the eastward it hangs in festoons; and to the south and west it rushes
in abruptly, disclosing a new scene behind it at every step as you advance
park of Nature is quite surrounded by lofty hills, all arrayed in superbest
garb of trees: some in the form of pyramids, others like sugar-loaves,
towering one above the other, some rounded off, and others as though they
had lost their apex. Here two hills rise up in spiral summits, and the
wooded line of communication betwixt them sinks so gradually that it forms
a crescent; and there the ridges of others resemble the waves of an agitated
sea. Beyond these appear others, and others past them, and others still
farther on, till they can scarcely be distinguished from the clouds.
no sand-flies nor bete-rouge nor mosquitos in this pretty spot. The fire-flies,
during the night, vie in numbers and brightness with the stars in the
firmament above; the air is pure, and the north-east breeze blows a refreshing
gale throughout the day. Here the white-crested maroudi, which is never
found in the Demerara, is pretty plentiful; and here grows the
tree which produces the moran, sometimes called balsam-capivi.
lies south from this place; and at the extremity of the savanna you enter
the forest and journey along a winding path at the foot of a hill. There
is no habitation within this day's walk. The traveller, as usual, must
sleep in the forest; the path is not so good the following day. The hills
over which it lies are rocky, steep and rugged; and the spaces betwixt
them swampy and mostly knee-deep in water. After eight hours' walk you
find two or three Indian huts, surrounded by the forest; and in little
more than half an hour from these you come to ten or twelve others, where
you pass the night. They are prettily situated at the entrance into a
savanna. The eastern and western hills are still covered with wood; but
on looking to the south-west quarter you perceive it begins to die away.
In these forests you may find plenty of the trees which yield the sweet-
smelling resin called accaiari, and which, when pounded and burnt on charcoal,
gives a delightful fragrance.
you proceed, in a south-west direction, through a long swampy savanna.
Some of the hills which border on it have nothing but a thin coarse grass
and huge stones on them: others quite wooded; others with their summits
crowned and their base quite bare; and others again with their summits
bare and their base in thickest wood.
Half of this
day's march is in water nearly up to the knees. There are four creeks
to pass: one of them has a fallen tree across it. You must make your own
bridge across the other three. Probably, were the truth known, these apparently
four creeks are only the meanders of one.
the largest bird in Guiana, feeds in the marshy savanna through which
you have just passed. He is wary and shy, and will not allow you to get
within gunshot of him.
this night in the forest, and reach an Indian settlement about three o'clock
the next evening, after walking one-third of the way through wet and miry
But bad as
the walking is through it, it is easier than where you cross over the
bare hills, where you have to tread on sharp stones, most of them lying
gone over these two last days seems condemned to perpetual solitude and
silence. There was not one four-footed animal to be seen, nor even the
marks of one. It would have been as silent as midnight, and all as still
and unmoved as a monument, had not the jabiru in the marsh and a few vultures
soaring over the mountain's top shown that it was not quite deserted by
animated nature. There were no insects, except one kind of fly about one-fourth
the size of the common house-fly. It bit cruelly, and was much more tormenting
than the mosquito on the sea-coast.
to be the native country of the arrowroot. Wherever you passed through
a patch of wood in a low situation, there you found it growing luxuriantly.
place you are now at is not the proper place to have come to in order
to reach the Portuguese frontiers. You have advanced too much to the westward.
But there was no alternative. The ground betwixt you and another small
settlement (which was the right place to have gone to) was overflowed;
and thus, instead of proceeding southward, you were obliged to wind along
the foot of the western hills, quite out of your way.
But the grand
landscape this place affords makes you ample amends for the time you have
spent in reaching it. It would require great descriptive powers to give
a proper idea of the situation these people have chosen for their dwelling.
they are on is steep and high, and full of immense rocks. The huts are
not all in one place, but dispersed wherever they have found a place level
enough for a lodgment. Before you ascend the hill you see at intervals
an acre or two of wood, then an open space with a few huts on it; then
wood again, and then an open space, and so on, till the intervening of
the western hills, higher and steeper still, and crowded with trees of
the loveliest shades, closes the enchanting scene.
At the base
of this hill stretches an immense plain which appears to the eye, on this
elevated spot, as level as a bowling-green. The mountains on the other
side are piled one upon the other in romantic forms, and gradually retire,
till they are undiscernible from the clouds in which they are involved.
To the south-southwest this far-extending plain is lost in the horizon.
The trees on it, which look like islands on the ocean, add greatly to
the beauty of the landscape, while the rivulet's course is marked out
by the aeta-trees which follow its meanders.
able to pursue the direct course from hence to the next Indian habitation,
on account of the floods of water which fall at this time of the year,
you take a circuit westerly along the mountain's foot.
At last a
large and deep creek stops your progress: it is wide and rapid, and its
banks very steep. There is neither curial nor canoe nor purple- heart
tree in the neighbourhood to make a wood-skin to carry you over, so that
you are obliged to swim across; and by the time you have formed a kind
of raft composed of boughs of trees and coarse grass to ferry over your
baggage, the day will be too far spent to think of proceeding. You must
be very cautious before you venture to swim across this creek, for the
alligators are numerous and near twenty feet long. On the present occasion
the Indians took uncommon precautions lest they should be devoured by
this cruel and voracious reptile. They cut long sticks and examined closely
the side of the creek for half a mile above and below the place where
it was to be crossed; and as soon as the boldest had swum over he did
the same on the other side, and then all followed.
the night on the opposite bank, which is well wooded, it is a brisk walk
of nine hours before you reach four Indian huts, on a rising ground, a
few hundred paces from a little brook whose banks are covered over with
coucourite- and aeta-trees.
This is the
place you ought to have come to two days ago, had the water permitted
you. In crossing the plain at the most advantageous place you are above
ankle-deep in water for three hours; the remainder of the way is dry,
the ground gently rising. As the lower parts of this spacious plain put
on somewhat the appearance of a lake during the periodical rains, it is
not improbable but that this is the place which hath given rise to the
supposed existence of the famed Lake Parima, or El Dorado; but this is
A few deer
are feeding on the coarse, rough grass of this far-extending plain; they
keep at a distance from you, and are continually on the look- out.
plover and a species of the curlew, black with a white bar across the
wings, nearly as large again as the scarlet curlew on the sea- coast,
frequently rise before you. Here too the muscovy duck is numerous, and
large flocks of two other kinds wheel round you as you pass on, but keep
out of gunshot. The milk-white egrets and jabirus are distinguished at
a great distance, and in the aeta- and coucourite-trees you may observe
flocks of scarlet and blue aras feeding on the seeds.
It is to
these trees that the largest sort of toucan resorts. He is remarkable
by a large black spot on the point of his fine yellow bill. He is very
scarce in Demerara, and never seen except near the sea-coast.
nests have a singular appearance on this plain; they are in vast abundance
on those parts of it free from water, and are formed of an exceeding hard
yellow clay. They rise eight or ten feet from the ground, in a spiral
form, impenetrable to the rain and strong enough to defy the severest
poison procured in these last-mentioned huts seemed very good, and proved
afterwards to be very strong.
now no more Indian settlements betwixt you and the Portuguese frontiers.
If you wish to visit their fort, it would be advisable to send an Indian
with a letter from hence and wait his return. On the present occasion
a very fortunate circumstance occurred. The Portuguese commander had sent
some Indians and soldiers to build a canoe not far from this settlement;
they had just finished it, and those who did not stay with it had stopped
here on their return.
who commanded the rest said he durst not, upon any account, convey a stranger
to the fort: but he added, as there were two canoes, one of them might
be despatched with a letter, and then we could proceed slowly on in the
hours from this settlement there is a river called Pirarara, and here
the soldiers had left their canoes while they were making the new one.
From the Pirarara you get into the River Maou, and then into the Tacatou;
and just where the Tacatou falls into the Rio Branco there stands the
Portuguese frontier-fort called Fort St. Joachim. From the time of embarking
in the River Pirarara it takes you four days before you reach this fort.
nothing very remarkable in passing down these rivers. It is an open country,
producing a coarse grass and interspersed with clumps of trees. The banks
have some wood on them, but it appears stinted and crooked, like that
on the bleak hills in England.
frequently plunged into the river; he was by no means shy, and it was
easy to get a shot at him on land. The kessi-kessi paroquets were in great
abundance, and the fine scarlet aras innumerable in the coucourite- trees
at a distance from the river's bank. In the Tacatou was seen the troupiale.
It was charming to hear the sweet and plaintive notes of this pretty songster
of the wilds. The Portuguese call it the nightingale of Guiana.
close of the fourth evening the canoe which had been sent on with a letter
met us with the commander's answer. During its absence the nights had
been cold and stormy, the rain had fallen in torrents, the days cloudy,
and there was no sun to dry the wet hammocks. Exposed thus, day and night,
to the chilling blast and pelting shower, strength of constitution at
last failed and a severe fever came on. The commander's answer was very
polite. He remarked, he regretted much to say that he had received orders
to allow no stranger to enter the frontier, and this being the case he
hoped I would not consider him as uncivil: "however," continued
he, "I have ordered the soldier to land you at a certain distance
from the fort, where we can consult together."
We had now
arrived at the place, and the canoe which brought the letter returned
to the fort to tell the commander I had fallen sick.
The sun had
not risen above an hour the morning after when the Portuguese officer
came to the spot where we had landed the preceding evening. He was tall
and spare, and appeared to be from fifty to fifty-five years old; and
though thirty years of service under an equatorial sun had burnt and shrivelled
up his face, still there was something in it so inexpressibly affable
and kind that it set you immediately at your ease. He came close up to
the hammock, and taking hold of my wrist to feel the pulse, "I am
sorry, Sir," said he, "to see that the fever has taken such
hold of you. You shall go directly with me," continued he, "to
the fort; and though we have no doctor there, I trust," added he,
"we shall soon bring you about again. The orders I have received
forbidding the admission of strangers were never intended to be put in
force against a sick English gentleman."
As the canoe
was proceeding slowly down the river towards the fort, the commander asked
with much more interest than a question in ordinary conversation is asked,
where was I on the night of the first of May? On telling him that I was
at an Indian settlement a little below the great fall in the Demerara,
and that a strange and sudden noise had alarmed all the Indians, he said
the same astonishing noise had roused every man in Fort St. Joachim, and
that they remained under arms till morning. He observed that he had been
quite at a loss to form any idea what could have caused the noise; but
now learning that the same noise had been heard at the same time far away
from the Rio Branco, it struck him there must have been an earthquake
somewhere or other.
and rest, and the unwearied attention and kindness of the Portuguese commander,
stopped the progress of the fever and enabled me to walk about in six
Joachim was built about five and forty years ago under the apprehension,
it is said, that the Spaniards were coming from the Rio Negro to settle
there. It has been much neglected; the floods of water have carried away
the gate and destroyed the wall on each side of it, but the present commander
is putting it into thorough repair. When finished it will mount six nine-
and six twelve-pounders.
In a straight
line with the fort, and within a few yards of the river, stand the commander's
house, the barracks, the chapel, the father- confessor's house and two
others, all at little intervals from each other; and these are the only
buildings at Fort St. Joachim. The neighbouring extensive plains afford
good pasturage for a fine breed of cattle, and the Portuguese make enough
of butter and cheese for their own consumption.
the old officer if there were such a place as Lake Parima, or El Dorado,
he replied he looked upon it as imaginary altogether. "I have been
above forty years," added he, "in Portuguese Guiana, but have
never yet met with anybody who has seen the lake."
So much for
Lake Parima, or El Dorado, or the White Sea. Its existence at best seems
doubtful: some affirm that there is such a place and others deny it.
certant, et adhuc sub judice lis est.
Rev. J.G. Wood, Explanatory Index in Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles,
in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, & 1824.
With Original Instructions for the perfect preservation of Birds, Etc. for Cabinets of Natural History. Charles Waterton, Esq.,
Introduction by the Rev. J. G. Wood, Macmillan and Co., 1880, London.
2. Map contained in Wanderings in South America, Charles Waterton, with article by Sydney Smith. Hutchinson & Co., Paternoster Row, London, 1906. Go to map.