Before starting on a hunting expedition of importance the Bororos usually indulged in a feast.
I took a great number of thumb-marks among them, some of which were remarkable for the precision of the spiral lines from the central point, all over the thumb point. Others in the longer thumbs showed a peculiar deviation in the curve at the end, near the point of the thumb. Where the lines began to deviate, the triangle formed was filled in by other lines joining those of the spiral at sharp angles.
The experiments with the dynamometer in order to measure their strength, the anthropometric measurements with a calliper, and the printing of the thumb-marks, caused the Bororos first of all great anxiety, then boisterous amusement. They looked upon it all as utter nonsense—in a way I did not blame them—and repeatedly asked why I did it. I told them that I did it to find out where they came from.
"We are not monkeys," said they; "we do not walk on our hands. If that is your object you should look at our foot-marks on the ground, not at the marks of our hands!"
With these words, from a tracker's point of view, the local wit set the entire company in shrieks of laughter at his quick repartee.
"Oh, yes!" said I; "but with the thumb-marks I may perhaps trace, not only where you come from, but also where your great-grandfather, who is now dead, came from."
That was too much for them. All had been anxious to make a smudge with smoke-black upon my note-book. Now they all refused to do any more thumb-marking, and walked away; but I had fortunately already finished the work I needed from them.
The Bororos—in fact, most Indian tribes of Central Brazil—knew nothing whatever of navigation. This was chiefly due to the fact that all the woods of Central Brazil had so high a specific gravity that not one of them would float. Hence the impossibility of making rafts, and the greatly increased difficulty in making boats. As for making dug-outs, the Indians had neither the patience nor the skill nor the tools to cut them out of solid trees. Moreover, there was really no reason why the Indians should take up navigation at all when they could do very well without it. They could easily get across the smaller streams without boats, and they were too timid to go and attack inimical tribes on the opposite banks of unfordable rivers. Besides, the Indians were so few and the territory at their entire disposal so great, that there was no temptation for them to take up exploring, particularly by water.
They were all good swimmers. When the river was too deep to ford they merely swam across; or else, if the river were too broad and swift, they improvised a kind of temporary raft with fascines or bundles of dried burity leaves, to which they clung, and which they propelled with their feet. These fascines were quite sufficient to keep them afloat for a short time, enabling them also to convey a certain amount of goods across the water.
In other countries, such as in Central Africa among the Shilucks and the Nuers of the Sobat River (Sudan), and the natives on Lake Tchad, I have seen a similar method adopted in a far more perfected fashion. The Shilucks, for instance, cleverly built big boats of fascines—large enough to carry a great number of warriors. Such was not the case with the bundles of burity of the Indians—which merely served for one or at the most two people at a time, and then only until the bundle became soaked, when it went to the bottom.
Bororo Superstitions—The Bororo Language—Bororo Music
THE Bororos were superstitious to a degree. They believed in evil spirits. Some of these, they said, inhabited the earth; others were invisible and lived "all over the air," to use their expression. The aerial ones were not so bad as those on earth. It was to the latter that their invocations were made—not directly, but through a special individual called the barih, a kind of medicine man, who, shouting at the top of his voice while gazing skyward, offered gifts of food, meat, fish and grain to the boppe or spirits invoked. There were two kinds of barih: a superior one with abnormal powers, and an inferior one. The barih eventually pretended that the spirit had entered his body. He then began to devour the food himself, in order to appease the hunger of his internal guest and become on friendly terms with him. The wife of the barih, who on those occasions stood by his side, was generally asked to partake of the meal, but only after the barih had half chewed the various viands, when he gracefully took them with his fingers from his own mouth and placed them between the expectant lips of his better half. She sometimes accepted them—sometimes not. All according to her appetite, I suppose, and perhaps to the temporary terms on which she was that day with her husband.
The Bororos, curiously enough, spoke constantly of the hippopotamus—ajie, as they called it—and even imitated to perfection the sounds made by that amphibious animal. This was indeed strange, because the hippopotamus did not exist in South America, nor has it ever been known to exist there. The women of the Bororos were in perfect terror of the ajie, which was supposed to appear sometimes breaking through the earth. Personally, I believed that the ajie was a clever ruse of the Bororo men, in order to keep their women at home when they went on hunting expeditions. Boys were trained to whirl round from the end of a long pole a rectangular, flat piece of wood attached to a long fibre or a string. Its violent rotation round the pole, with the revolutions of the tablet around itself at different speeds, reproduced to perfection the sounds of blowing and snorting of the hippopotamus. The whizzing of this device could be heard at astonishing distances. The credulous women were rendered absolutely miserable when they heard the unwelcome sounds of the ajie, and, truly believing in its approach, retired quickly to their huts, where, shivering with fright, they cried and implored to have their lives spared.
The boy who whirled the magic tablet was, of course, bound to keep the secret of the ajie from the women. Let me tell you that one of the chief virtues of the Bororo men, old and young, was the fidelity with which they could keep secrets. The youngest children were amazing at keeping secrets even from their own mothers. There were things that Bororo women were not allowed to know. Boys attended the tribal meetings of men, and had never been known to reveal the secrets there discussed either to their sisters or mothers.
When I said it was a virtue, I should have added that that virtue was a mere development of an inborn racial instinct. Young and old among the Bororo were extremely timid and secretive by nature. They feared everybody—they were afraid of each other. It was sufficient to watch their eyes—ever roaming, ever quickly attracted and pointing sharply at anything moving anywhere around—to be satisfied of the intense suspiciousness of these people.
The Bororos were restless nomads and could never settle anywhere. They were always on the move—hunting, fishing, and formerly on warlike expeditions with other tribes. They showed great skill with their arrows, which they threw with wonderful accuracy even under conditions of unusual difficulty. When fishing, for instance, they showed remarkable calculating powers when the line of vision became deviated by the surface of the water and made it difficult to judge the exact position of the fish at different depths, quite removed from where the eye saw it. Their long arrows had a double-barbed bone head, which was poisoned when fighting men.
The Bororos were not quarrelsome by nature; on the contrary, they were dignified and gentle. They always avoided fighting. It was only when driven to it, or when hunted down and attacked, that they naturally endeavoured to defend themselves. This has brought upon them the reputation of being barbarous and cruel savages. Even among themselves they seldom quarrelled; they never offended one another with words. They had great respect for their elders.
At night the men collected in the village. One of them spoke aloud to the crowd, delivering a regular lecture on the events of the day, their hunting or fishing adventures, or tribal affairs. The greatest attention was paid to the orator, and only after his speech was over a warm but orderly discussion followed.
When a Bororo man was angry with another he would not descend to vulgar language, but he generally armed himself with a bony spike of that deadly fish, the raja (Rhinobates batis) or mehro, as it was called in the Bororo language, which he fastened to a wristlet. With it he proceeded in search of his enemy, and on finding him, inflicted a deep scratch upon his arm. This was considered by the Bororos the greatest insult a man could offer.
Women, as in most other countries, quarrelled more than men. Not unlike their Western sisters, they always—under such circumstances—yelled at the top of their voices, and then resorted to the effective and universal scratching process with their long sharp nails.
It will be judged from this that it will not quite do to put down the Bororos as being as tame as lambs. Indeed, it was sufficient to look at their faces to be at once struck by the cruel expression upon them. They prided themselves greatly on having killed members of rival tribes, and more still upon doing away with Brazilians. In the latter case it was pardonable, because until quite recently the Brazilians have slaughtered the poor Indians of the near interior regions in a merciless way. Now, on the contrary, the Brazilian Government goes perhaps too far the other way in its endeavour to protect the few Indians who still remain within the Republic.
The more accessible tribes, such as the insignificant ones on the Araguaya, were having a good time—valuable presents of clothes they did not want, phonographs, sewing machines, fashionable hats, patent leather shoes, automatic pistols and rifles being showered upon them by expensive expeditions specially sent out to them. It no doubt pleased an enthusiastic section of the Brazilian public to see a photograph of cannibal Indians before they met the expedition, without a stitch of clothing upon their backs—or fronts to be accurate—and by its side another photograph taken half an hour later and labelled "Indians civilized and honoured citizens of the Republic," in which you saw the same Indians, five or six, all dressed up and, it may be added, looking perfectly miserable, in clothes of the latest fashion. It would have been interesting to have taken a third photograph an hour after the second picture had been taken, in order to show how soon civilization—if donning a pair of trousers and shoes and a collar and tie can be called being civilized—can be discarded.
The news had spread by word of mouth down the Araguaya many months ahead that a Brazilian expedition would be sent out with gifts, in order to befriend the Indians—supposed to be innumerable: only a few dozens, all counted, in reality. Seeing no expedition arrive, the Indians—five or six—proceeded to travel some hundreds of miles to go and find it. The expedition for lack of money had remained stuck in a certain town. It was in that town that the valuable photographs were taken. No sooner had they said good-bye to their generous donors than the Indians left the city, quickly removed their clothes, which they exchanged for a few drinks of aguardente (fire-water), and, as naked as before, returned to the shores of their beloved river.
Nevertheless the movement of the Brazilian Government was extremely praiseworthy and did it great credit. Like all movements of that kind it was bound to go to excesses in the beginning, especially in Brazil, where people were very generous when they were generous at all. So that so far the fault has been on the right side. It will undoubtedly prevent in the future much severe, even cruel treatment which has been bestowed on the Indians.
It was only a great pity—a very great pity—that this movement for the protection of the Indians had been started when there were few pure Indians—almost none—left to protect. According to Brazilian statements, the wild Indians of Central Brazil amounted to some fifteen or twenty millions or thereabouts! A few—very few—thousands, perhaps only hundreds, would be nearer the truth. There were no great tribes left in their absolutely wild state anywhere in Brazil. There were a few small tribes or families scattered here and there, but it was seldom that these tribes numbered more than twenty or thirty members. If the tribe numbered fifty individuals it was already a large tribe. Most of them contained merely six or eight members. So that really, in the population of Brazil, these tribes, instead of being the chief factor, were in fact a negligible quantity. It would be rash to make a statement as to the exact number of wild Indians in Brazil, for in a country so big—larger, as I have already stated, than the United States of America, Germany, Portugal, and a few other states taken together—and most of which was little known or absolutely unknown—it was not easy to produce an exact census.
During my journey, which crossed that immense country in a zigzag from one end to the other in its broader width, and covered all the most important regions of the Republic, I became assured that few indeed were the pure Indians to be found in Central Brazil. One went hundreds and hundreds of miles without meeting signs of them; and that in localities where they were supposed to be swarming. The Bororos—a few dozens of them, all counted, in two or three different subdivisions—were perhaps the strongest wild tribe in all the immense State of Matto Grosso.
As I have said, I was greatly impressed, from my first contact with the Bororos, by the strongly Polynesian appearance of some of them. The more specimens I saw of them the more I became convinced that they were of the same race. In fact, more: I began to speculate whether the people of Australia and Polynesia had migrated here or whether it was just the other way—which theory might also be plausibly upheld—viz. that the people of Central South America had migrated to the west, into Polynesia and Australia. Many theories have been expounded of how races always follow certain rules in their migrations, but in my own experience I do not invariably find that those theories are always correct. Again, it does not do to rely too much on the resemblance of words in establishing a relationship between two or more races. Nor, indeed, can one trust absolutely to the resemblance in the rudimentary ornamentation of articles of use. If you happen to be a student of languages, and have studied dozens of them, you will soon discover how far words will travel across entire continents. They can often be traced back to their origin by the knowledge of intermediate languages through which, with distortions, those words have passed. In Central Africa I actually heard words of Mongolian origin, and not only that, but even traced Mongolian characteristics in the type of the ruling classes of natives, as well as in the construction of their language.
It is easy to be occasionally misled. I remember on my journey across Africa how amazed I was at first at hearing some Tonkinese expressions used by the native cannibals. I really could not get over my amazement until I learnt that some years previously a number of Tonkinese convicts had been sent up the Congo and Ubanghi rivers by the French. Several of them had lived in that particular village of cannibals for some years. Hence the adoption of certain words which had remained in frequent use, whereas the Tonkinese individuals had disappeared.
I took special care in Brazil, when making a vocabulary of the Bororo and other Indian languages, to select words which I ascertained were purely Indian and had not been contaminated either by imported Portuguese words or words from any other language. I was much struck by the extraordinary resemblance of many words in the language of the Indians of Central Brazil to the Malay language and to languages of Malay origin which I had learnt in the Philippine Islands and the Sulu Archipelago.
For instance: the Sun, which is called in Malay mata-ari, usually abbreviated into 'ari, was in the Bororo language metiri, and in the language of the Apiacar Indians of the Arinos-Juruena river, ahra, which indeed closely resembles the Malay word. Moreover, the word ahri in the Bororo language indicated the moon—a most remarkable coincidence. It became slightly distorted into zahir in the Apiacar language.
Water, which is poba in Bororo and ueha in Apiacar, was curiously enough uehaig in the Bagobo language (Mindanao Island), po-heh or bo-heh in the Bajao language (Mindanao Island), ayer in Malay, and uhayeg in Tiruray (west coast of Mindanao Island, Philippine Archipelago).
Father was bapa in Malay, and pao in Bororo. Many were the words which bore a slight resemblance, as if they had been derived from the same root. Langan, arm, in Malay, was ankan-na or akkan-na. Ear, in the Ilocano language (Philippine Archipelago) was cabayag; aviyag in Bororo. Hair in Ilocano, bŏŏk, in Manguianes bohoc, and in Sulu (Sulu Archipelago) buhuc; in Bororo it was akkao, which might easily be a corruption of the two former words.
I was greatly interested, even surprised, to find that although those Indians lived thousands of miles on every side from the sea, and had never seen it, yet they talked of the pobbo mae re u—the immense water; (pobbo, water; mae, great; re, the; u, an expression of magnification such as our oh).
It was also interesting to note that they had specific words for water of streams—words which we do not possess in the English language, complete as our language is—such as down-stream, and up- or against-stream—like the French en aval and en amont. The Bororo used tche begki, down-stream, and tcheo bugkii, up-stream.
The Bororo language was rudimentary in a way, yet most complete—extremely laconic, with innumerable contractions. The construction of sentences and the position of the verb were not unlike those of Latin languages.
The chief wealth of the Bororo language consisted in its nouns. Like all savage languages, it was wonderfully rich in botanical and zoological terms. The gender was formed by a suffix, the masculine differing from the feminine.
There were in the Bororo language three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. The masculine was formed by adding the words chireu, curi, or curireu, to the noun; the feminine by the suffixes chireuda and curireuda. There were many words which were used unaltered for either gender. In the case of animals, the additional words medo, male, or aredo, female, clearly defined the sex in specific cases where the names would otherwise be ambiguous. Inanimate objects had no sex, and were therefore neuter.
Most nouns had a plural as well as a singular, but there were exceptions to this rule, such as names of certain plants and animals, the sky, the wind, etc.; not to count things which were generally taken collectively, such as flies—ruque; macaw or macaws, nabure, etc.
The plural was made by the suffixes doghe or maghe—the maghe being used principally in possessive cases, such as tori-doghe, stones; padje-maghe, our mothers. Exceptions to this rule were the words ending in bo, co, go, or mo, to which the suffix e was sufficient to form the plural; whereas in those terminating in do or no, ro, or other consonants, the o was suppressed and an e placed in its stead. Example: jomo, otter, jomoe, otters; cuno, parrot, cune, parrots; apodo, or tucan (a bird), apode, tucans, etc.
There were a number of irregular exceptions, such as aredo, wife; areme, wives; medo, man, ime, men. Perhaps the most curious of plurals was ore, sons, the singular of which was anareghedo (son).
The words ending in go generally formed the plural with an interchangeable ghe.
The pronouns were:
imi = I aki = thou ema = he or she sheghi or paghi = we taghi = you emaghi = they
When immediately before a verb these were abbreviated into I or it, a or ac, e or ei, pa or pag, ta or tag, e or et—I, thou, he or she, we, you, they, according to their preceding a vowel or a consonant. With words beginning with a consonant only the first syllable of the pronoun was used.
The verb itself did not vary in the various persons, but it did vary in its tenses by suffixes, sometimes after the pronoun, sometimes after the verb. In the present tense the Bororos generally used for the purpose the word nure, usually between the pronoun and the verb, with the pronoun occasionally repeated after the nure; but in general conversation, which was laconic, the pronoun was frequently suppressed altogether—similarly to the frequent omission of the pronoun in the English telegraphic language.
There were various other forms of pronouns, but I could not quite define their absolute use—such as the tched or tcheghi, which seemed to include everybody, corresponding to the English we in orations which includes the entire audience, or the whole nation, or even the entire human race.
The Bororo language was complete enough, the conjugation of verbs being clearly defined into past, present, imperative and future.
The past was formed by interpolating between the pronoun and verb the words re gurai, generally abbreviated into re. The imperative was made chiefly by the accentuation of the words, and was susceptible of inflexion in the second person singular and plural. The future was formed by adding, sometimes after the pronoun, sometimes after the verb, the words modde, uo, or ua.
At the end of the second volume, in the Appendix, will be found a vocabulary of useful words needed in daily conversation which I collected during my visit to the Bororos. I had made a much more complete dictionary of their language, in a book which I kept for the purpose, but unfortunately the book was lost with a great many other things in an accident I had some months later on the Arinos River.
* * * * *
It was not possible to say that the Bororos shone in intelligence. It was seldom one found an individual who could count beyond two. Everything in the Bororo country was reckoned in couples—with the aid of fingers, thumbs, and toes. The learned could thus reach up to twenty, or ten pair—but beyond twenty no Bororo dared venture in his calculations. They had no written language, no sculptures or paintings, no carved idols. Their artistic talent seemed limited to occasionally incising rudimentary representations of horns, footprints, and line figures on rocks.
They showed great skill in the manufacture of their arrows, which were indeed constructed on most scientific lines, and were turned out with wonderful workmanship. The arrows were from 4 to 5 ft. long, and were chiefly remarkable for the intelligent and highly scientific disposition of the two balancing parrot feathers, gently bent into a well-studied spiral curve, so as to produce a rotary movement, united with perfect balance, in the travelling weapon. The arrows were manufactured out of hard, beautifully polished black or white wood, and were provided with a point of bamboo one-third the length of the entire arrow. That bamboo point was tightly fastened to the rod by means of a careful and very precisely made contrivance of split cane fibre.
The Bororos used various-shaped arrow-heads, some triangular, others flattened on one side with a raised rib on the opposite side, others triangular in section with hollowed longitudinal grooves in each face of the triangle in the pyramid, making the wound inflicted a deadly one. Others, more uncommon, possessed a quadruple barbed point of bone.
The favourite style of arrows, however, seldom had a point broader in diameter than the stick of the arrow.
The music of the Bororos—purely vocal—had three different rhythms: one not unlike a slow waltz, most plaintive and melancholy; the second was rather of a loud warlike character, vivacious, with ululations and modulations. The third and most common was a sad melody, not too quick nor too slow, with temporary accelerations to suit words of a more slippery character in their pronunciation, or when sung in a pianissimo tone.
The songs of the Bororos could be divided into: hunting songs, war songs, love songs, and descriptive songs and recitatives.
They were fond of music in itself, and possessed fairly musical ears. They were able to retain and repeat melodies quite foreign to them. Their hearing was acute enough to discern, with a little practice, even small intervals, and they could fairly accurately hit a note which was sung to them. They had flexible voices, quite soft and musical, even in conversation.
In males, as far as I was able to judge, baritone voices were the most prevalent; in female voices, soprano. Their typical songs were chiefly performed in a chorus by men only, although once or twice I heard solos—which, nevertheless, always had a refrain for the chorus. The Bororos sang in fair harmony more than in unison, keeping regular time, and with occasional bass notes and noises by way of accompaniment. They possessed no musical instruments of any importance—a most primitive flute, and one or several gourds filled with seeds or pebbles, being, as far as I could trace, the only two musical instruments among them.
Their songs contained progressions in chromatic intervals. Those progressions were not only frequently repeated in the same melody, but some of the favourite ones recurred in several of their melodies. They frequently broke from one key into another, not gradually or with modulations, but very abruptly. There were constant and sudden changes in the tempo of their melodies, accelerations being frequently caused by excitement in the performers, by incidents occurring, by anger or other passions being aroused. They had no set rules—nor, of course, any written music. The melodies were sung according to the temporary feelings of the performers, who occasionally adorned their performances with variations. Practically they improvised, if led by a musical talent, as they went along. Still, mind you, even when they improvised, the character of the songs was the same, although they may have added so many variations and embellishments to the theme as to make it impossible to identify them. Furthermore, no two choruses ever sang the same songs alike, nor did the same chorus sing the same song twice alike. There were in their melodies great changes in the degree of loudness. Those changes were generally gradual, although often extremely rapid.
The Bororos seemed to be greatly carried away by music, which had upon them quite an intoxicating effect. There were certain high notes and chords in a minor key which had a great attraction for them, and which constantly recurred in their melodies and their lengthy ululations. Some of the notes had undoubtedly been suggested by the song of local birds and by sounds of wild animals. The Bororos were good imitators of sounds, which they could often reproduce to perfection. They were observant with their ears—much more so than with their eyes. Even in conversation the Bororos would often repeat, accurately enough, noises they heard around them, such as the crashing of falling trees, of rushing water, of distant thunder, or foreign words which caught their fancy. I was amazed at their excellent memory in that direction.
There were no professional musicians in the Bororo country in the strict sense of the word, the barih being the only person who might, at a stretch, be put down as one. Nor was anybody taught music. They were one and all musicians without knowing it—or at least thought they were—a belief not monopolized by the Bororos only. They all sang. They learned to sing gradually by hearing and imitating their elders.
I think that with the Bororos the steps of their dances had been suggested by the rhythm of the music, and not the other way round. They preferred music to dancing, for which latter exercise they showed little aptitude. Although their melodies would appear appallingly melancholy to European ears, it did not follow that they were so to them. On the contrary, some which had a most depressing effect on me—and I felt like throwing at them anything handy but heavy to interrupt the melody—seemed to send the performers into a state of absolute beatitude. They kept up those melodies interminably, repeating constantly the same short theme dozens of times—hundreds, in fact, if nothing happened to stop them. When once they had started on one of those songs it was difficult to switch them on to another. They loved to hear it again and again.
The time of their music was "common" time, slightly modified according to the wording of the song. It generally altered into a triple time when the words were of a liquid kind in their pronunciation, and a dual time when sung low and slowly.
When singing, especially during ululations, the Bororos swung their bodies forward and backward—not unlike the howling dervishes of Egypt—uttering occasional high and strident notes. This was generally done before starting en masse on a hunt, when a feast also took place.
The women never joined in the songs, but the boys did. Even if their voices were not powerful enough to produce lengthy ululations, they spiritedly took part in the violent undulations of the body.
The Bororos were great lovers of minute detail. So it was that, in their music, strange, weird effects were attempted, wonderfully complicated in detail.
Bororo singing occasionally took the form of a recitative, with the chorus joining in the refrain—this principally when chanting the merits of a deceased person, or during some calamity in the aldeja, or village.
The only musical instruments I was able to find in the various settlements of Bororos I visited consisted chiefly of single, double, or treble gourds, the latter with perforations at the two ends, used as wind instruments and producing deep bass notes. The single gourd had a cane attachment intended to emit shrill high notes. Then there were other dried gourds filled with pebbles which rattled as they were shaken at the end of a long handle to which the gourds were fastened.
The cane flutes were slightly more elaborate, with ornaments of rings of black feathers. There was only one rectangular slit in the centre of the flute, so that only one note could be produced—as was the case with most of their rudimentary musical instruments.
Bororo Legends—The Religion of the Bororos—Funeral Rites
THE Bororos believed in spirits of the mountains and the forest, which haunted special places in order to do harm to living beings. Those spirits came out at night. They stole, ill-treated, and killed. In rocks, said the Bororos, dwelt their ancestors in the shape of parrots. The Bororos were greatly affected by dreams and nightmares, which they regarded as events that had actually happened and which generally brought bad luck. They were often the communications of evil spirits, or of the souls of ancestors. The Bororos had many superstitions regarding animals, which they individualized in their legends, giving them human intelligence—especially the colibri (humming-bird), the macaw, the monkey, the deer, and the leopard.
The stars, according to these savages, were all Bororo boys. Let me give you a strange legend concerning them.
"The women of the aldeia had gone to pick Indian corn. The men were out hunting. Only the old women had remained in the aldeia with the children. With an old woman was her nephew, playing with a bow and arrow. The arrows had perforated sticks, which the boy filled with Indian corn. When the boy had arrived home he had asked his grandmother to make a kind of polenta with Indian corn. He had invited all the other boys of the aldeia to come and eat. While grandmother was cooking the children played, and among them decided to go to heaven. In the aldeia there lived an old woman and a red macaw. Both could speak. The boys, having eaten the polenta, cut off the woman's arms, cut out her tongue and eyes, and tore out the tongue of the speaking bird. Having done this, they went into the forest, where they found a liana twisted into innumerable steps (in the Bororo language, ippare, young; kugure, multitude; groiya, step). They could not speak for fear of drawing attention, nor ask any one for help. They had taken the precaution of setting free all the captive birds in the aldeia, and they had flown away, except the pio duddu (the colibri), which they took with them into the forest. The boys gave a long liana, like a rope, to the colibri, requesting him to fasten it to the top of the highest tree, and another long liana which he must tie to the sky where they all wished to ascend. The colibri tied the vegetable ropes as requested, and all the boys climbed up.
"The mothers, missing their children, went to the old woman and the speaking macaw.
"'Where are our children?' said they in a chorus.
"No answer. They were horrified when they perceived the mutilated woman and bird. They rushed out of the hut and saw the children—up—up—high, like tiny spots, climbing up the liana to heaven. The women went to the forest, to the spot where the boys had proceeded on their aerial trip, and showing the breasts that had milked them, entreated them to come down again. The appeal was in vain. The mothers, in despair, then proceeded to follow their children skyward up the liana.
"The youthful chieftain of the plot had gone up last. When he perceived the mothers gaining on them, he cut the liana. With a sonorous bump, the mothers dropped in a heap to the ground. That was why the Bororo women were resigned to see their sons in heaven, forming the stars, while they—the women themselves—remained the transmigrated souls of their mothers upon earth."
The Bororos also said that the stars were the houses of deceased children.
The Bororos believed that the sky vault, or heaven, formed part of the earth, and was inhabited. They proved this by saying that the vulture could be seen flying higher and higher until it disappeared. It went to perch and rest upon trees in heaven. The Milky Way in the sky—the kuyedje e 'redduddo (literally translated "stars they cinders")—consisted for them merely of the flying cinders from the burning stars.
The sun, they stated, was made up entirely of dead barih, or medicine-men, who rose daily with red-hot irons before their faces. The barihs prowled about the earth at night, and went to the east in the morning on their return to the sun. The hot irons held by the barihs were merely held in order to warm the people on earth. At sunset the orb of day "came down to the water" beyond the horizon, and from there marched back to the east. The Bororos maintained that the heavy and regular footsteps of the sun walking across the earth at night could be heard plainly.
The moon, which was masculine to the Bororos, was the brother of the sun, and was similarly the home of barihs of minor importance.
The legends of the Bororos were generally long and somewhat confused. They were the outcome of extremely imaginative and extraordinarily retentive minds. Their imagination frequently ran away with them, so that it was not always easy to transcribe the legends so as to render them intelligible to the average reader, unaccustomed to the peculiar way of thinking and reasoning of savages. Yet there was generally a certain amount of humorous vraisemblance in their most impossible stories. Their morals, it should be remembered, were not quite the same as ours. There were frequently interminable descriptive details which one could on no account reproduce in print, and without them much of the point of the legends would be lost. So that, with the confusion and disorder of ideas of the Bororos, their peculiar ways of expression, and the mutilation necessary so as not to shock the public, the legends were hardly worth reproducing. Still, I shall give here one or two of the more interesting legends, which can be reproduced almost in their entirety.
"The sun and moon (two brothers, according to the Bororos) while hunting together began to play with arrows with blunt heads, such as those used by Bororos for catching birds alive. They hit each other in fun, but at last the sun shot one arrow with too much force and the moon died from the effects of the wound. The sun, unconcerned, left his dying brother and continued hunting; but afterwards returned with medicinal leaves which he placed on the wound of the moon. According to Bororo fashion, he even covered the dying brother entirely with leaves, when he saw his approaching end. When he discovered that the moon was dead he became frightened and left. That is why the moon, which when alive was once as bright as the sun, is now of less splendour. It is because it is dead, and the sun is still alive."
The Bororos firmly believed that formerly the world was peopled by monkeys. This was rather an interesting legend, as it would point out that the Bororos, in any case, were aware that the world was once inhabited by a hairy race, which they called monkeys. It is quite remarkable that a similar legend was found among many of the tribes of the Philippine Islands and Sulu Archipelago, and along the coast of the Eastern Asiatic continent. The Bororos stated that they learnt from monkeys how to make a fire. Monkeys were their ancestors. The whole world was peopled by monkeys in those days. Monkeys made canoes, too.
"One day a monkey and a hare went fishing together in a canoe in which they had taken a good supply of Indian corn. While the monkey was paddling the hare was eating up all the corn. When the corn had been entirely disposed of, in its irresistible desire to use its incisors, the hare began to gnaw the sides of the canoe. The monkey reprimanded the hare, and warned it that the canoe would sink, and as the hare was not a good swimmer it would probably get drowned, or be eaten by fish which swarmed in the stream. The hare would not listen to the advice, and continued in its work of destruction. A hole was bored in the side of the canoe, which promptly sank. The hare being a slow swimmer—according to Bororo notions—was immediately surrounded by swarms of doviado (gold fish) and speedily devoured. The monkey—an excellent swimmer—not only was able to save its life, but, seizing a big fish, dragged it on shore.
"A jaguar came along and, licking its paws, asked whether the monkey had killed the fish for its (the jaguar's) dinner.
"'Yes,' said the monkey.
"'Where is the fire for cooking it?' replied the jaguar.
"The sun was just setting. The monkey suggested that the jaguar should go and collect some dried wood in order to make the fire. The sun was peeping through the branches and foliage of the forest. The jaguar went, and returned with nothing; but in the meantime the monkey, with two pieces of soft wood, had lighted a fire and eaten the fish, leaving a heap of bones. When the jaguar arrived the monkey leapt in a few jumps to the top of a tree.
"'Come down!' said the jaguar.
"'Certainly not!' said the monkey. Upon which the jaguar requested its friend the Wind to shake the tree with all its fury. The Wind did, and the monkey dropped into the jaguar's mouth, from which it immediately passed into the digestive organs. The monkey little by little moved its arms in the close quarters in which it found itself, and was able to seize the knife which it carried—in the most approved Bororo fashion—slung across its back. Armed with it, it split the jaguar's belly and resumed its daily occupation of jumping from tree to tree."
I was able to record yet another strange legend on the preservation of fire.
"An otter," said the legend, "in days long gone by, had with great difficulty lighted a fire on the bank of a river. The sun first came to warm itself by the fire, and while the otter had gone on one of its aquatic expeditions, the moon arrived too. The sun and moon together, feeling in a mischievous mood, put out the fire with water not extra clean. Then they ran for all they were worth. The otter, feeling cold, came out of the water and, to its amazement, found the fire had been extinguished.
"'Who did it?' cried the furious otter, wishing to kill whoever had put the fire out. While its anger was at its highest the otter perceived a toad, which was accused of extinguishing the fire because its legs were as red as fire.
"'Do not kill me!' appealed the toad. 'Put your feet on my belly.' The request was at once granted. The toad opened its mouth wide, and with the pressure of the otter's paws upon its body a burning coal was ejected from its interior anatomy. The otter spared the toad's life in recognition of its services in preserving the fire. That is why the otter and the toad have been friends ever since."
It was not easy to collect legends from the Bororos, as only few of them were inclined to speak. The same legend I found had many variations, according to the more or less imaginative mind of the narrator.
Here is an extraordinary explanation of the origin of lightning.
"A boy had violated his own mother. His father, discovering the misdeed and wishing to punish him severely—in fact, get rid of the boy altogether—sent him to several dangerous places to collect various things for him, such as wild fruit, etc. The son, fearing disaster, went to his grandmother for advice. She in turn called first one bird and then another for their advice. The father had sent his son to fetch some small gourds (bappo rogo), which grew floating on or suspended above the water of a lagoon. But the lagoon was filled with the souls of deceased Bororos and evil spirits. In the first instance the grandmother begged for the help of the pio duddo (or colibri). This obliging bird accompanied the boy to the lagoon and, flying over the water, with its beak cut the twigs of the small gourds, and one by one brought them to the boy, who had wisely remained on dry land in order not to be seized by the evil spirits which lay concealed in the water. When the bird was about to bring the dried gourds back, the seeds which were inside rattled and aroused the evil spirits of the lagoon. Up they all sprang—but the colibri was too swift for them, and the gourds were safely delivered to the boy. The boy brought them to his father, who, amazed at seeing his son still alive, sent him next to fetch some large gourds—such as those used by the barih at funerals and in high ceremonies.
"The boy went once more to his grandmother, and she this time recommended him to a dove (metugo). When the dove and the boy arrived at the lake the dove cut some large gourds, but, unfortunately, in so doing made a noise. The souls and evil spirits of the lake leapt out and dispatched numerous arrows to kill the dove, but, as luck would have it, dove and bappo (gourds) escaped unhurt. The boy handed the large gourds to his astounded father, who could not imagine how the boy had escaped death a second time.
"The Bororos used in their dances the nails of wild pigs, which they attached to their feet in order to produce a noise something like castanets. That ornament was called a buttori.
"The father next ordered his son to go and bring back a complete set to form a buttori. For some reason or other—according to the legend—the buttori was also found suspended over the lagoon swarming with souls and evil spirits. The grandmother on this occasion advised the son to accept the services of a large, beautifully coloured locust—called by the Bororos mannori. The mannori, however, made so much noise while on its errand that it became riddled with arrows from the angry spirits of the lake. To this day, say the Bororos, you can see a lot of white spots all over the body of the mannori. Each marks the spot of a former wound. But the mannori, too, faithfully delivered the foot ornaments to the youth. The youth brought them to his father, who, in amazement and vicious anger, ordered his son to go with him on the mountain to seize the nest of the cibae (vulture). According to the notions of the Bororos, the souls of their dead trans-migrate into the bodies of birds and other animals.
"The young fellow again paid a visit to his wise grandmother, who was this time greatly upset. She handed him a stick and requested him to insert it at once into the vulture's nest, when they had arrived in the hollow in the rock where the nest was. The boy departed with his father up the precipitous mountain side. When they had nearly reached the nest the father placed a long stick across a precipice and ordered his son to climb on it and seize the nest. The son duly climbed—carrying with him his grandmother's stick. When he had reached the top the father did all he could to shake the son down into the chasm, and even removed the long stick on which he had climbed. But the lucky boy had already inserted his grandmother's stick into the crevasse and remained suspended, while the father—really believing that he had at last succeeded in disposing of his son—gaily returned to the aldeia (village). The son, taking advantage of a liana festooned along the rock, was able to climb to the very summit of the mountain. There, tired and hungry, he improvised a bow and arrow with what materials he could find, and killed some lizards. He ate many, and hung the others to his belt. He went fast asleep. With the heat, the fast decomposing lizards began to smell. The odour attracted several vultures, which began to peck at him, especially in the softer parts behind (for he was sleeping lying on his chest and face, as Bororos generally do). The boy was too tired and worn to be awakened. The vultures then seized him by his belt and arms, and, taking to flight, soared down and deposited him at the foot of the mountain. There the boy woke up, famished. His supply of lizards had been eaten by the vultures. He searched for fruit and ate some, but he could not retain his food owing to injuries caused him by the vultures. (Here a good portion of the legend has to be suppressed.)
"As best he could, the boy went to look for the aldeia, but it had vanished. He walked for several days, unable to find traces of his tribe. At last he found the footmarks which they had left upon their passage. He followed them, and came to a fire freshly made, left by the Indians. He went on until he identified the footmarks showing where his grandmother had gone. He made sure they were hers by the extra mark of her stick on the ground. With the assistance of a lizard, then of a big bird, then of a rat, then of a butterfly, he discovered the whereabouts of the old lady. He was by then an old man. Upon perceiving his grandmother he again became a boy, and hurried on—making a noise so that she might know him again. She asked another nephew—'Look and see who is behind!'—The nephew turned round and recognized his eldest brother—who was also his father. The grandmother embraced him tenderly.
"The eldest fellow persuaded his grandmother and brother not to return to the aldeia where he had suffered so much from the hands of his father.
"'They have made me suffer,' he said, 'and I shall take my revenge. Come with me, and we shall all be happy together.'
"They went to a beautiful spot. He climbed a mountain, and from there proceeded to produce lightning, thunder and wind, which exterminated the rest of the tribe in the aldeia. That is why, when the Bororos see lightning, they say that it is someone's vengeance coming upon them."
In the Bororo language, lightning was called boeru goddo or "angry people"; thunder was bai gabe when near, and boya ruru—or deaf sound—when distant.
The Bororos related an interesting legend of a great flood or deluge.
"One night a Bororo went with his bow and arrows to the river in order to fish, at a spot where a cane snare or trap had been made in the stream. He killed a sacred fish. No sooner had he done this than the water immediately began to rise. He was scarcely able to get out of the water and run up the mountain side, lighting his way with the torch of resinous wood he had used in order to attract the fish while fishing. The water kept almost overtaking him, it rose so rapidly. He called out to the Bororos of his tribe to make their escape, as the water would soon drown them, but they did not believe him and consequently all except himself perished. When he reached the summit of the mountain he managed to light a big fire just before the rising water was wetting the soles of his feet. He was still shouting in vain to all the Bororos to run for their lives. The water was touching his feet, when he thought of a novel expedient. He began to remove the red-hot stones which had lain under the fire and threw them right and left into the water. By rapid evaporation at the contact of the hot missiles, it is to be presumed, as the legend does not say, the water ceased to rise. In fact, the water gradually retired, and the Bororo eventually returned to the spot where he had left the tribesmen. All were dead. He went one day into the forest and he found a doe—which had in some mysterious way escaped death—and he took her for his wife. From this strange union were born children who were hornless and quite human, except that they were very hairy. After a few generations the hair entirely disappeared. That was how the Bororo race was preserved."
That extraordinary legend was, to my mind, a very interesting one—not in itself, but from several facts which in its ignorant language it contained. First of all, the knowledge of the Bororos concerning a former hairy race—a hairy race referred to in legends found all over the Eastern Asiatic coast and on many of the islands in the Pacific from the Kuriles as far as Borneo. Then it would clearly suggest a great deluge and flood which most certainly took place in South America in days long gone by, and was indeed quelled by burning stones—not, of course, thrown by the hands of a Bororo, from the summit of a mountain, but by a great volcanic eruption spitting fire and molten rocks.
As I have stated elsewhere, there was every possible indication in Central Brazil that torrential rains on an inconceivable scale—naturally followed by unparalleled floods—had taken place, in the company of or followed by volcanic activity on a scale beyond all imagination. One had only to turn one's head round and gaze at the scenery almost anywhere in Central Brazil, but in Matto Grosso particularly, to notice to what extent erosion and volcanic activity had done their work.
Another curious belief of the Bororos was worth remembering. They claimed that men and women did not come from monkeys, but that once upon a time monkeys were human and could speak. They lived in huts and slept in hammocks.
The Bororos possessed no geographical knowledge. Beyond their immediate neighbourhood they knew of no other place, and did not in any way realize the shape or size of the earth.
They called themselves Orari nogu doghe—or people who lived where the pintado fish (orari in Bororo) was to be found. The Bororos spoke of only three other tribes: the Kaiamo doghe (the Chavantes Indians), their bitter enemies; the Ra rai doghe—the long-legged people—ancient cave-dwellers, once the neighbours of the Bororos, but now extinct; and the Baru gi raguddu doghe—a name better left untranslated—applied to a tribe living in grottoes.
In the way of religion the Bororos admitted of five different heavens, in the last of which dwelt a Superior Being—a deity called the Marebba. Marebba's origin was unknown to the Bororos. All they knew was that he had a mother and a powerful son. Marebba only looked after the men—but he was so occupied that when the barihs—through whose mediation it was possible to communicate with him—wished to be heard, they had to shout at the top of their voices in order to attract his attention. Only the higher barihs could communicate with him, the lower barihs being merely permitted to communicate with his son.
They also believed in the existence of a bad god—an evil spirit called Boppe. Boppe inhabited the mountains, the tree-tops and the "red heaven." There were many boppe, male and female, and to them were due all the misfortunes which had afflicted the Bororos. Some of the barihs maintained that they had actually seen both Marebba and some of the boppes. They gave wonderful descriptions of them, comparing them in their appearance to human beings. The Bororos believed that in any food it was possible to find a boppe—there established in order to do evil. Therefore, before partaking of meals, especially at festivals, they first presented the barih with fruit, grain, meat and fish in order to appease the anger of the evil spirits.
The Bororos believed in the transmigration of the soul into animals. They never ate deer, nor jaguar, nor vultures, because they thought that those animals contained the souls of their ancestors. The jaguar, as a rule, contained the soul of women. When a widower wished to marry a second time he must first kill a jaguar in order to free the soul of his first wife from suffering.
They also seemed to have an idea that the arue, or souls of the dead, might reappear in the world and could be seen by relatives. Men and women all became of one sex on leaving this world—all souls being feminine, according to the Bororos.
The apparition of the souls before their relatives was, of course, merely a clumsily arranged trick of the barihs. This is how it was done. They made a circle of branches of trees—in order to keep the audience at a distance—and then erected a large wooden gate, so arranged that when the souls appeared it fell down in order to give them free passage. The souls—generally not more than two together—upon being called by the barih, entered the ring with their faces covered and hopping with a special step of their own. They did not respond to prayers or tears, and kept on twirling about within the ring. The body was that of a woman, wearing from the waist down a gown of palm leaves. The face was covered by a mask of vegetable fibre which allowed its owner to see and not be seen. Upon the head was worn a cap of wax in which were stuck a great number of arrows, so that it looked just like the back of a disturbed porcupine.
Naturally those "souls" were merely special girls dressed up for the occasion. But credulous Bororo women believed they were actually seeing the souls of their dead relatives. They worked themselves into a great state of excitement.
The same implement which was employed by the Bororos to reproduce the sound of the aigi or ajie (hippopotamus)—a board some ten inches long and three inches wide attached to a string and revolved from a long pole—was also used by them to announce the departure of souls from this world to the next. The women were ordered to cover their faces or hide altogether inside their huts when these noises were produced. Should one be curious enough to inquire into their origin and look, she was generally condemned to death—frequently by starvation. The Bacururu—or the Coroado Indians—believed that, after such an indiscretion, nothing could save the life of a woman.
Before starting on a hunting or fishing expedition prayers were offered to the souls of the departed, so that they might not interfere with the success of the expedition, and if possible help instead.
The funeral rites of the Bororos were singular. On the death of a man, a chorus of moans began and tears were shed in profusion, while some one sang for several days the praises of the defunct in a melancholy monotone. The body was covered for two entire days, during which all articles that belonged to the deceased, such as bow and arrows, pots, and musical instruments, were smashed or destroyed. The debris was stored behind a screen in the hut, where subsequently was also kept the hearse in which the body was conveyed to the burial spot. The body, wrapped in a palm-leaf mat, was then interred in a shallow oval grave just outside his hut. A wooden beam was placed directly over the body, and then the hollow was covered over with some six or eight inches of earth. A few branches of trees and some thorns were thrown over it to indicate the spot.
For twenty days in the evening and night moans resounded through the air. More tears were shed by the relatives and by the barih, who frequently proceeded to the grave to pour water on it. On the twentieth day, while some one set at play the awe-inspiring revolving board, others proceeded to exhume the body—by then in a state of absolute decomposition. The remains were taken to the stream and the bones cleaned with great care. The skull was placed within two inverted hemispherical baskets, whereas all the other bones of the body were heaped into a third concave basket of a larger size.
It was on their return—with moans and chanting—to the bayto, or meeting-place in the aldeia, that the most touching scene ensued. The skull was decorated with a design of coloured feathers, while those present inflicted wounds upon their own bodies, shedding blood upon the basket of remains. The women, moreover, tore one by one each hair from their heads and bodies in sign of mourning.
After this the skull and bones were placed within another basket, and were either cremated or thrown to the bottom of a river. The property of the deceased was then set ablaze.
I noticed in a hut a skirt made of long palm leaves. It was donned at funerals. There were also several long rudimentary flutes, formed by a cane cylinder with a rounded mouthpiece inserted into another. These flutes, too, were used only on such mournful occasions.
The barih received a present from relatives at the death of individuals in the tribe. The family remained in mourning from five to six months. The widow, at the death of her husband, was expected to tear each hair off her scalp, one by one, until her head remained as bald as a billiard-ball. She generally did it.
The corpses of women were treated slightly differently. When a woman died she was buried pro tem. A feast was given to the tribe. The process of denudation having been given ample time to leave her skeleton clean, her bones were collected, and placed in a special basket and then cremated. The ashes were scattered to the winds, and so were all her clothes, ornaments, chattels, smashed to atoms, and articles of food. Even fowls, if she possessed any, were destroyed. Usually they were eaten by her friends.
The Bororos did not possess a sense of honour resembling ours. Theft was not considered dishonourable, and was not looked down upon nor condemned by them. If a Bororo liked anything belonging to any one else, they could see no reason why he should not appropriate it. That was their simple way of reasoning, and as no police existed among them such theories were easily followed.
Taking something belonging to a stranger was, in fact, rather encouraged, and in our experience we had to keep a sharp watch when Indians came to our camp, as things disappeared quickly. They seldom took the trouble to ask for anything; they just took it and ran away.
The measurements of Bororo heads in the table on page 261, taken, as an average, from several of the most characteristic types, will be found of interest, especially when compared with some from Papuan and Malay tribes of the Philippine and Sulu Archipelagoes with whom they have many points in common.
Due allowance must be made for the artificial deformation of the cranium in the case of the Bororos.
I had no end of trouble in obtaining these measurements, as the Bororos would not hear of being measured. They were frightened of the nickel-plated calliper I used for the purpose. It was quite beyond them to understand why any one should want to know the length of their noses. In fact, although many, after a lot of coaxing, submitted to have other measurements taken, few of them would let me measure the nose. None at all would permit me to measure the length of their eyes, as they feared I should intentionally blind them.
I met other tribes of Bororos as I went along, and I was able to add to the curious information already collected and given in previous chapters. It appeared that at the birth of a child the head, while the skull was still soft, was intentionally compressed and bandaged, especially at the forehead and back, so as to flatten it and produce an abnormal shape of the skull. In many cases only the back of the head was flattened by the application of artificial pressure. The elongation was both upwards and sideways. This deformation was particularly confined to male children.
Bororos. Bilan, Island of Mindanao Philippine Archipelago. Manobo. Mahommedans West coast of Mindanao I. Guiangas. Samal. Bagobos. Ilocanos. Mandayas (Gandia). Tirurays. Mansakas (of Panter). Yacanes. - - - - - - - - - - - Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. Metre. - - - - - - - - - - - Vertical maximum length of head 0.264 0.215 0.222 0.212 0.236 0.222 0.234 0.229 0.233 0.240 0.221 0.220 Bizygomatic breadth 0.1415 0.130 0.131 0.137 0.138 0.130 0.132 0.125 0.129 0.130 0.123 0.131 Maximum breadth of forehead 0.145 Minimum breadth of forehead at lower part of temples 0.130 0.133 0.124 0.131 0.126 0.126 0.136 0.131 0.127 0.128 0.130 0.131 Maximum length of cranium (from forehead to back of head) 0.199 0.215 0.193 0.181 0.183 0.173 0.183 0.199 0.192 0.184 0.185 Breadth of skull one inch above ear 0.1945 Maximum breadth of lower jaw 0.132 0.132 0.123 0.117 0.121 0.124 0.116 0.109 0.117 0.110 0.125 Length of nose 0.064 0.060 0.050 0.052 0.058 0.052 0.055 0.057 0.062 0.053 0.056 0.060 Breadth of nose at nostrils 0.0375 0.043 0.037 0.041 0.035 0.045 0.037 0.037 0.037 0.043 0.037 0.039 Distance between eyes 0.033 0.032 0.034 0.030 0.031 0.033 0.032 0.034 0.028 0.033 0.035 0.031 Length of ear 0.066 0.055 0.052 0.056 0.074 0.063 0.072 0.060 0.065 0.062 0.060 0.063 Length of mouth 0.057 0.065 0.050 0.050 0.056 0.055 0.050 0.052 0.057 0.055 Length of lower jaw from ear to centre of chin 0.1365 Breadth of upper lip 0.025 0.023 0.021 0.017 0.023 0.020 0.027 0.024 0.022 0.024 0.021 0.020 Breadth of lower lip 0.020 - - - - - - - - - - -
N.B.—For further particulars see "The Gems of the East," by A. H. Savage Landor.
When twins were born one was killed or else left to die in the sun, as they believed that the other could not live if both were left alive. Murder for them, in that instance, was a question of humanity.
The Bororos had a perfect horror of natural death. They were terrified at the sight of a person dying. Therefore when one of their people was about to expire they covered him up and placed him out of sight. If he or she under those circumstances delayed in departing this life, the departure was hastened by suffocation or strangulation. The Bororos were too restless, and could not wait too long for anything.
They were easily suggestionized. Many of them would make excellent subjects for hypnotic experiments. The women particularly were extraordinarily sensitive to animal magnetism. They were much given to hysterical displays. One of the reasons which was given me for hastening the death of moribund Bororos was a curious superstition that the sight of a dying person would cause the death of women, particularly if the dying person happened to look in the direction of one woman present. The women believed this so firmly that occasionally—the Bororos asserted—women actually became ill and died when they saw a dead person. This, no doubt, may have occurred merely by suggestion. Women were never allowed, under ordinary circumstances, to see dead people.
When dancing the Bororos sprang on one foot and then on the other, always hopping about in a circle.
Abnormalities and deformities were frequently noticeable among them, such as hare-lip, supernumerary toes and fingers, and hypertrophy of the limbs. Abnormalities of the genitals were general owing to tribal customs.
One of the evil spirits most feared by the Bororos was called aroi koddo—or "soul that falls." It was a spirit that came to earth solely for the purpose of punishing the Bororos. They said that this spirit was an extremely noisy one and its approach was announced by terrifying sounds.
The Bororos were frightened of comets and had about them superstitions similar to those of Europeans—that is to say, that their appearance caused illness, misfortune and death. Solar and lunar eclipses, the Bororos stated, were merely the result of anger on the part of evil spirits. "The sun or moon were making faces because they were angry," was their highly astronomical explanation of the phenomenon.
The Bororos had a firm belief that some of their ancestors lived in the sun, others in the moon; and they said the ancestors caused the sun to make faces when angry. In the sun also lived the head of all the barihs, or medicine-men, the intermediary between humans and spirits; whereas in the moon dwelt only those who could invoke the souls of the ancestors. The barih was only capable of communicating with a barih's ancestors.
The River Das Garcas—Majestic Scenery
I WENT to call on the Salesian Fathers. Between my camp and the river Das Garcas, on the right bank of which the colony stood, there was a great dome of red volcanic rock with many loose boulders such as we had seen for the last three days of our journey. The river was swift and deep. The colony was on the opposite side of the water. We shouted until an Indian appeared and took us across in a rickety canoe belonging to the friars, which he paddled with the stalk of a palm-leaf.
The Salesians were remarkable people, and should be an example to many other missionaries. Wherever they went they did not trouble much about making converts. They taught the natives instead how to work the soil and how to make all kinds of articles which might or might not be useful to them as they became more civilized. The chief effort of the monks was to teach the natives agriculture, from which—charity always begins at home—the friars themselves were naturally the first to reap the benefit. At the same time the natives learned, and earned, and were made happy. They improved their mode of living and were, with great softness and patience, not only drawn nearer to Catholicism but towards white people altogether. The Salesians had established on the Rio das Garcas—an enchanting spot—a beautiful farm on which they grew quantities of Indian corn, sugar-cane, wheat, and all kinds of vegetables.
Although I am not a Roman Catholic, the Salesians received me very politely and took the greatest delight in showing me all over the Mission. It was interesting to note that everybody was working hard. The Father Superior himself was busy shaping a big table from a huge plank of hard wood, and nothing could induce him to leave his sweating work—not even to go and have his meals. Father Colli Agostino was detailed to go round and explain everything to me.
The Salesians had no trouble with the Indians, whom they found quite gentle and docile. But they could never be relied upon. One day the entire tribe would come and help to work the soil with great vigour; the next day they would all disappear from the neighbourhood and no one knew where they had gone—sometimes for weeks. They invariably came back, sooner or later, and, what was more, they were always welcomed back.
Converting them to Christianity was a different matter. The Salesians had made little headway in that direction.
"We are patient people," said Father Colli; "it will come in time. Already the Bororos are beginning to join us in the church, where many enjoy singing with us. They are intelligent and soon learn to sing."
I purchased, at almost prohibitive prices, many things from the Salesians, principally food for my animals and men. Of course, in buying one had to realize where we were, which made all the difference in the price. I was glad to pay them the money and obtain the commodities.
The Salesians told me that while digging to make the foundations for one of their buildings they had found—only 3 ft. under ground—in the sandy soil several earthen pots of great antiquity, in excellent preservation, as well as a fireplace with ashes and charcoal. The sand had evidently accumulated in the valley below there owing to wind and not to water. The frail pottery, imperfectly baked, would have crumbled away quickly in moisture.
On May 20th (min. 58 deg. Fahr., max. 85 deg.) we were again off toward the west, travelling over great domes of red lava, the higher portions of which were covered by layers of ashes and red sand. We were at an elevation of 1,480 ft. in the deep basin of the Rio Barreiros and Rio das Garcas, but we soon went over three consecutive ridges, 1,550 ft. above the sea level, with delicious campos and a bosquet of trees here and there. In the arc of a circle extending from north-west to south-west we had in front of us a beautiful view. Previous to reaching the third ridge, that day, we also had behind us a wonderful panorama of the great plateau described in a previous chapter.
On travelling over a fourth elevation we found ourselves upon another immense dome of red volcanic rock, blackened on the surface, as if by fire, and with the peculiar striations we had noticed once or twice before. In this case there were cross striations as well, the direction of one set of parallel marks being from north-west to south-east, of the other set north-east to south-west, thus forming lozenges, each about 60 cm. across. All those lozenges were so regularly cut that the ensemble gave the appearance of a well-made pavement. Then I noticed some peculiar great cavities in the rock, like those formed by glacial action. In fact, on a superficial examination, it seemed almost as if that region had first gone through a period of great revolution while in a state of semi-liquefaction owing to intense heat from fire, after which a sudden and intense cooling had taken place and covered the country perhaps even with ice. Whether the immense deposits of ashes and sand had been formed before or after the glacial period—if any such period ever existed in that particular region—could be merely a matter of speculation. In many places the sand, ashes, and red earth had almost consolidated into easily friable rock.
Where the actual rock was not exposed we had campos, campos, campos, stretching as far as the eye could see. Far from being monotonous, one had—or at least I had—a delightful sensation in riding across those interminable prairies of beautiful green. One could breathe the pure air with fully expanded lungs, and in that silent, reposeful solitude one felt almost as if the whole world belonged to one. We were not much worried by insects on those great open places; it was only on getting near patches of vegetation and near streams that we suffered from the attacks of those pests.
We saw few trees—all stunted and weak—as the padding of earth over the rocky under-strata did not permit their roots to go deep down, and therefore they grew up with difficulty and anaemic.
Twelve kilometres from the Rio Barreiros we came to a stream (elev. 1,400 ft.). On our left, rising above the inclined campos, was a triple undulation much higher than its neighbours. To the west stood two twin, well-rounded mounds, that my men named at once "the woman's breasts," which they much resembled.
We were still marching on deep deposits of ashes, and, higher, upon semi-hardened sandstone. On the northern side the twin hills had a different shape. They ended in a sharply pointed spur.
After going over an ochre-coloured sandy region (elev. 1,530 ft. above the sea level) we were again on magnificent undulating campos, dotted here and there with dark green shrubs and bosquets to the north, north-west, and north-east.
Beyond, to the north-east, loomed again in the far distance our mysterious plateau, of a pure cobalt blue where in shadow. As one ran one's eye along its sky-line it was almost flat for more than half its length, then came a slight dip, followed by a terraced dome. Then again a straight line followed by a slightly higher and more undulating sky-line with three steps in it, and a conical end at its eastern terminus. The most easterly point of all—the highest—resembled a castle with vertical sides. But of this we have already spoken, at the terminal point of the great divided range we had passed some days previously. The vertical cliffs of the plateau, where lighted by the sun, were of a brilliant red colour.
As we approached the twin hills they appeared to be the remains of an ancient crater. They formed, in fact, a crescent with a broken rocky lower section—completing the circle of the crater. I had no time to go and examine carefully, as it would have meant a deviation from my route, but that is how it appeared to me. There were, in fact, extra deep deposits of volcanic ashes at the foot of the descent before we arrived at the river Agua Emeindada, where we made our camp that night, 15 kil. from the Rio Barreiros.
My men went after game that night. Alcides killed a veado (deer), and we all enjoyed the fresh meat for dinner.
The clouds (cirro-stratus) were, during the entire day, in horizontal lines and slight globular accumulations, the latter in a row and, taken en masse, giving also the impression of lines just above the horizon to the west. At sunset we once more saw the glorious effect of the radiation from the west, only instead of being straight lines there were, that time, feathery filaments which rose in graceful curves overhead, like so many immense ostrich feathers. They joined again in a common centre to the east.
My men were complaining all the time of the intense cold at night, and made me feel almost as if I had been responsible for it. They grumbled perpetually. During the early hours of the morning their moans were incessant. They never ceased crying, as hysterical young girls might do, but as one would not expect of men. Some of them had toothache—and no wonder, when one looked at their terrible teeth and the way they ate. They devoured pounds of sugar every day—our supply, which should have lasted a year or more, having already almost been exhausted. It was impossible for me alone, with all the astronomical, geological, botanical, geographical, meteorological, photographic, anthropometric, and artistic work—not to mention the writing-up of my copious daily notes—also to keep a constant watch on the supplies. I had handed over that responsibility to Alcides. Unfortunately, he was the greediest of the lot. Every time I warned him not to be so wasteful, as we should find ourselves dying of starvation, he and the others made me feel that I was meanness itself, and that I was only doing it to save money.
I never objected to their eating as much as they could—as I have always made it a point on all my expeditions to feed my men on the best food procurable, and give them as much as they could possibly devour. But it pained me to see quantities of good food thrown away daily, as I knew what it would mean to us later on.
"We are Brazilians," said they, "and like plenty to eat. When there is no more we will go without food. You do not know Brazilians, but Brazilians can go thirty or forty days without anything to eat!"
"All right," said I—"we shall see."
Forty minutes—and perhaps not so long—had been, so far, the longest time I had seen them cease munching something or other. Not satisfied with the lavish food they were supplied with—heaps of it were always thrown to the dogs, after they had positively gorged themselves—yet they would pick up anything on the way: a wild fruit, a scented leaf of a tree, a nut of some kind or other, a palmito, a chunk of tobacco—all was inserted in the mouth. It was fortunate that we took enough exercise, or surely they would have all perished of indigestion. In my entire experience I have never seen men eat larger quantities of food and more recklessly than my Brazilian followers did. In the morning they were almost paralyzed with rheumatism and internal pains all over the body. Frequently those pains inside were accentuated by the experiments they made in eating all kinds of fruit, some of which was poisonous. Many a time on our march did we have to halt because one man or another was suddenly taken violently ill. My remedy on those occasions was to shove down their throats the end of a leather strap, which caused immediate vomiting; then when we were in camp I gave them a powerful dose of castor oil. After a few hours they recovered enough to go on.
On May 21st the minimum temperature of the atmosphere was 55 deg. Fahr., the maximum 79 deg., the elevation 1,250 ft. at the stream Agua Emeindata. My men declared again they were half-frozen during the night and would not go on with me, as it was getting colder all the time and they would certainly die. When I told them that it was not cold at all—on the contrary, I considered that temperature quite high—they would not believe me.
With the temperature in the sun during the day at 98 deg., most of the aches of the men disappeared, and I had little trouble with them until after sunset, when there was generally a considerable drop in the temperature.
We went on. We had a volcanic mountain to the left of us—half the crater of a volcano formed of red lava and friable red-baked rock. In the northern and central part of the mountain were masses of lava which had been shot out of the mouth of the volcano and had solidified into all kinds of fantastic forms, some sharply pointed, some red, others black. On the east side of the crater was a dome covered with earth with an underlying flow of lava. Then could be observed a circular group of huge rocks, pear-shaped, with sharp points upward. While the volcano was active these rocks had evidently stood on the rim of the then cylindrical crater. The mountain behind those rocks was formed by high accumulations of red volcanic sand, which in time had gradually, by the action of rain and sun, consolidated into soft rock.
The plateau extending northward, which was disclosed in all its entirety before me from the elevation of 1,600 ft. which we had reached, also seemed to possess an extinct crater shaped like a crescent with steep slopes and two rounded promontories on its side.
The sky that day was partly covered by transparent feathery clouds and by dense mist near the horizon line to the east, but was quite clear to the west. As usual, that evening we were again treated to fairly handsome radiating white lines from the sun reaching half way up the sky vault, but this time they were flimsy and not to be compared to the magnificent displays we had observed before.
Our animals still sank in ochre-coloured sand, or stumbled on conglomerate rocks of spattered lava pellets embedded in sandstone. Capping the higher undulations we again found deposits of ashes.
We travelled for long distances on a ridge at an elevation of 1,650 ft. over a thick layer of sand and ashes mixed. Then campos spread before us, and upon them here and there grew stunted vegetation, the trees seldom reaching a greater height than 15 ft.
From our last high point of vantage the crater with fantastic rocks and its continuation we had observed appeared to form a great basin. A subsidiary vent was also noticeable. Farther on our march we found other immense deposits of grey ashes and sand alternately—one great stretch particularly, at an elevation of 1,600 ft. Water at that spot filtered through from underneath and rendered the slope a grassy meadow of the most refreshing green. We were rising all the time, first going north-west, then due north. At noon we had reached the highest point.
From the high point on which we were (1,920 ft.) we obtained a strange view to the west. Above the straight line of the plateau before us rose in the distance a pyramidal, steep-sided, sharply-pointed peak, standing in solitary grandeur upon that elevated plain. Why did it stand there alone? was the question one asked oneself—a question one had to ask oneself frequently as we proceeded farther and farther on our journey. We often came upon mountains standing alone, either on the top of table-lands or in the middle of extensive plains. Their presence seemed at first unaccountable.
Again as we journeyed onward the mules' hoofs were injured by treading over large expanses of lava pellets and sharp-edged, cutting, baked fragments of black rock, myriads of which also lay embedded in reddish half-formed rock or buried in layers of yellowish-red earth.
To the north was a majestic panorama of the most delicate tones of blue and green, with almost over-powering sweeping lines hardly interrupted by a slight indentation or a prominence rising above the sky-line. Only to the north-west in the middle distance was there the gentle undulating line of magnificent campos—most regular in its curves, which spread in a crescent toward the west. The line was interrupted somewhat abruptly by a higher and irregular three-terraced mass, but soon resumed its sweeping and regularly curved undulations beyond. This great crescent almost described a semicircle around the smaller undulations over which we were travelling.
We descended to 1,750 ft. On facing west we had curious scenery on our left (south). A huge basin had sunk in—evidently by a sudden subsidence which had left on its northern side high vertical cliffs supporting the hill-range that remained standing. The undulating centre and sides of the immense depression formed beautiful campos with an occasional bosquet of forest on the top of hills, and also on the lowest points of the undulations. Those bosquets were few and far apart, only to be found where moisture was plentiful. The remains of a high, flat plateau, which had escaped while the rest of the country had subsided, loomed alone in the distance.
One of the central hills was crowned by great black volcanic boulders of the same rock which was visible at the southern edge of this great basin, bounded by vertical cliffs—all of the same composition.
Directly south-west the evenness of the sky-line was again interrupted by two mountains—flat-topped, one not unlike the gabled roof of a house, the other like a cylindrical tower on the top of a high conical hill. We again rose to an elevation of 1,950 ft., still travelling on the summit of the plateau bordering the deep depression. We were compelled to describe a curve in our route, and had reached a height of 2,000 ft. We perceived to the north-east and east a long, uninterrupted—almost flat—sky-line. We had described a sweeping curve right round the irregular edge of the undulating plateau. We could now look back upon the southern aspect of the vertical black and brown rocky cliff, on the summit of which we had been travelling. The rocky cliffs were particularly precipitous and picturesque in the western portion. Interminable campos were still before us.
I occasionally picked up interesting plants and flowers for my botanical collection. Innumerable in this region were the plants with medicinal properties. The sentori (centaurea) for instance—plentiful there, with its sweetly pretty mauve flower—when boiled in water gave a bitter decoction good for fever.
We came upon a patch of landir or landirana trees, with luxuriant dark green foliage. They grew near the water, and were by far the tallest and handsomest, cleanest-looking trees I had so far seen in Matto Grosso. They attained a great height, with extraordinarily dense foliage, especially at the summit, but also lower down at the sides. Then burity palms were fairly abundant wherever one met landir trees in groups or tufts. We were now travelling at an elevation of 2,050 ft., then soon after at 2,100 ft. above the sea level. There was merely stunted vegetation growing upon the red earth and sand.
On descending from that high point we came upon extraordinary scenery. To our right (north) was another concave depression with a further subsidence in its central part. Due west and north-west, from the spot where we first observed the scene, appeared four curious hemispherical domes forming a quadrangle with three less important ones beyond. In the south-easterly portion of the depression was a great rocky mass, while due north another, and higher, conical mount, much higher than all the others, could be observed.
In the eastern part of the depression a wide circle of big volcanic boulders—undoubtedly an extinct crater—was to be seen, with huge masses of spattered yellow lava in large blocks as well as ferruginous rock. That great depression—taken in its entirety—was subdivided into three distinct terraces, counting as third the summit of the plateau. A mighty, deep, impressive chasm, smothered in vegetation, could be observed within the central crater—in the north-east side of the circle.
The summit of the plateau, varying in elevation from 2,000 ft. to 2,100 ft., on which we were travelling was entirely covered by sand and grey ashes.
The valley in the depression extended in lovely campos from south-west to north-east—in fact, as far as the giant table-land which stood majestic in the distance.
The scene, as we stood on the edge of the plateau, was impressive in its grandeur, in its silence. In the morning the sky was almost entirely covered with transparent clouds in scales like a fish. In the afternoon the sky above changed into horizontal layers of globular clouds, which stood as still as death. Leaden black globular accumulations covered one-third of the sky vault, great unshapen masses overhead rendering the air heavy.
We marched all that day on a deep layer of ashes. On descending from the plateau we had on our left great clean campos and plentiful burity palms in a slight depression where moisture filtered through. As the caravan was moving along gaily, a veado (deer) gracefully leapt in front and, turning its head back two or three times to look at us, ran before us. Filippe, the negro, in his excitement, gave wild yells which set the mules stampeding, while green parrots in couples, scared at the sudden disturbance, flew overhead, adding piercing shrieks to the rapid tinkling of the mules' bells, the rattling of the baggage on the pack-saddles, and the shouts of the men trying to stop the excited mules. All those sudden noises mingled together were quite a change for us, accustomed to a constant deathly silence.
Before us on the W.N.W.—as we still sank in grey ashes—were two conical hillocks. In the distance, to the west, two small flat-topped plateaux rose above the sky-line, and also two hills shaped not unlike the backs of two whales. On our left we had an immense crack or fissure extending from north-east to south-west between the hill-range on which we travelled and another on the south—both showing huge domes of eruptive rock, apparently extensive flows of red lava subsequently blackened on the surface by weathering. On the opposite side to ours the rock was exposed all along the fissure for a great height, except the surface padding on the summit, where beautiful fresh green grass was in contrast to the deep tones of the rock. On our side we were still struggling in ashes and sand, with striated and much indented boulders of lava showing through.