It was a young Indian who approached us cautiously when Jerome spoke in a tongue I did not understand, and evidently told him that we were friends on the way back to our homes by the river. He was an unusually fine specimen of a savage, well built, beautifully proportioned, and with a flawless skin like polished bronze. His clothing was limited to a bark girdle, and a feather head-dress not unlike that worn by some North American Indians.
He was armed with bow and arrows and a blow-gun; and he had a small rubber pouch filled with a brownish substance, the remarkable wourahli poison. He explained to Jerome that his tribe lived in their maloca, or tribal house, about 24 hours' march from this place, and that he had been chasing a tapir all day, but had lost its track, and was now returning to his home. He pointed in a north-western direction with his blow-gun, signifying thereby the general route he was going to follow in order to reach his destination. We sat down on the ground and looked at each other for quite a while, and thus I had my first chance of studying a blow-gun and the poisoned arrows, outside a museum, and in a place where it was part of a man's life. At the time I did not know that I was to have a little later a more thorough opportunity of examining this weapon. I asked the Indian, Jerome acting as interpreter, to demonstrate the use of the gun, to which he consented with a grin. We soon heard the chattering of monkeys in the tree-tops, and deftly inserting one of the thin poisoned arrows in the ten-foot tube he pointed the weapon at a swiftly moving body among the branches, and filling his lungs with air, let go. With a slight noise, hardly perceptible, the arrow flew out and pierced the left thigh of a little monkey. Quick as lightning he inserted another arrow and caught one of the other monkeys as it was taking a tremendous leap through the air to a lower branch. The arrow struck this one in the shoulder, but it was a glancing shot and the shaft dropped to the ground. In the meantime the Indian ran after the first monkey and carried it up to me. It seemed fast asleep, suffering no agony whatever; and after five or six minutes its heart ceased beating. The other monkey landed on the branch it was aiming for in its leap, but after a short while it seemed uneasy and sniffed at everything. Finally, its hold on the branch relaxed, it dropped to the ground and was dead in a few minutes. It was a marvellous thing to behold these animals wounded but slightly, the last one only scratched, and yet dying after a few minutes as if they were falling asleep. It was then explained to me that the meat was still good to eat and that the presence of poison would not affect the consumer's stomach in the least; in fact, most of the game these Indians get is procured in this manner. I was lucky enough to secure a snap-shot of this man in the act of using his blow-gun. It proved to be the last photograph I took in the Brazilian jungles. Accidents and sickness subsequently set in, and the fight for life became too hard and all-absorbing even to think of photographing. He left us after an hour's conversation, and we resumed our journey homewards.
We had a slight advantage in retracing our former path. Although the reedy undergrowth had already choked it, we were travelling over ground that we knew, and it was also no longer necessary to delay for the building of tambos; we used the old ones again.
Jerome had complained for some time of a numbness in his fingers and toes, and also of an increasing weakness of the heart that made every step a torment. The Chief and I tried our best to cheer him up, although I felt certain that the brave fellow himself knew what dreadful disease had laid its spell upon him. However, we kept on walking without any words that might tend to lower our already depressed spirits.
But our march was no longer the animated travel it had been on the way out; we talked like automatons rather than like human, thinking beings. Suffering, hunger, and drugs had dulled our senses. Only the will to escape somehow, the instinct of self-preservation, was fully awake in us. A sweep of the machete to cut a barrier bushrope or climber, one foot placed before the other, meant that much nearer to home and safety. Such was now the simple operation of our stupefied and tired brains, brains that could not hold one complex thought to its end; too tired—tired!
At nightfall we stumbled into our old tambo No. 7. There was no thought of securing food, no possibility of getting any; we had been too tired to even attempt to shoot game during the day. The two monkeys which the Indian had killed with his blow-gun were the only food we had and these we now broiled over the camp-fire and devoured fiercely. After this meal, none too good, we slung our hammocks with difficulty and dropped in. Jerome's numbness increased during the night. We were up and on the trail again with the dawn.
In the afternoon we descended a hill to find ourselves confronted by a swamp of unusual extent. The Chief was in the lead as we crossed the swamp and we lost him from our sight for a few minutes. While crossing this wide, slimy-bottomed place, I noticed a peculiar movement in the water near me, and soon made out the slender bodies of swamp-snakes as they whipped past among the branches and reeds. These snakes are called by the Brazilians jararacas and are very poisonous; however, I had no fear for myself as I wore heavy buffalo-hide boots, but the men walked barefooted, and were in great danger. I cried out a warning to Jerome, who took care to thrash about him. We supposed that we had passed this snake-hole without mishap when we rejoined the Chief on "terra firma." He was leaning over, as we approached him, and he turned a face to us that was stricken with fear. He pointed to the instep of his right foot and there on the skin were two tiny spots, marked by the fangs of the snake. Without a word we sank to the ground beside him in despair. The unfortunate man, with dilated eyes fixed upon the ground, crouched waiting for the coming of the pain that would indicate that the poison was working its deadly course, and that the end was near if something was not done immediately.
Losing no more time, I cried to Jerome to pour out some gunpowder while I sucked the wound. While doing this I fumbled in the spacious pockets of my khaki hunting-coat and secured the bistoury with which I made a deep incision in the flesh over the wound, causing the blood to flow freely. In the meantime, Jerome had filled a measure with black powder and this was now emptied into the bleeding wound and a burning match applied at once. The object of this was to cauterise the wound, a method that has been used with success in the outskirts of the world where poisonous reptiles abound and where proper antidotes cannot be had.
The Chief stood the ordeal without a murmur, never flinching even at the explosion of the gunpowder. Jerome and I made him as comfortable as possible, and sat sadly by his side watching him suffer and die by inches.
It is no easy thing to see a man meet death, but under these circumstances it was particularly distressing. The Chief had been a man of a strong constitution particularly adapted to the health-racking work of a rubber-hunter. He it was who with his forest-wisdom had planned all our moves, and had mapped our course through the blind forest, where a man could be lost as easily as on the open sea. He had proved himself a good leader, save for the fatal mistake in delaying our return, over-anxious as he was to render his employer, Coronel da Silva, full and faithful service. He was extremely capable, kind, and human, and a good friend to us all.
We had looked to him for advice in all our needs. He knew the language of the wild beasts of the forest, he knew a way out of everything, and at home he was a most devoted father. Now, this splendid fellow, the sole reliance, in this vast and intricate maze, of Jerome and myself, succumbed before our eyes to one of the dangers of the merciless wilderness. He was beyond all hope. Nothing in our power could to any extent add to the prolongation of his life which slowly ebbed away. About four o'clock in the afternoon his respirations grew difficult, and a few moments later he drew his last painful breath. He died three hours after being bitten by the jararaca. For the second time during that ill-fated journey I went to work digging a grave with my machete, Jerome lending me whatever assistance he could in his enfeebled state. My own condition was such that I had to rest and recover my breath with every few stabs of the machete.
We completed that day's journey late in the afternoon, arriving at tambo No. 6 after taking almost an hour for the last half mile. Jerome could now scarcely stand without my assistance. There was no longer any attempt to disguise the nature of his sickness. He had beri-beri, and that meant in our situation not the slightest chance of recovery. Even with the best of care and nursing his case would be hopeless, for in these regions the disease is absolutely fatal.
We built a fire and managed to get our hammocks fastened in some fashion, but there was not a scrap of food to be had. The heart-leaves from a young palm were chewed in a mood of hopeless desperation.
The next morning it was a task of several minutes for me to get out of the hammock and on my feet. Jerome made several painful efforts and, finally, solved his problem by dropping to the ground. He could not rise until I came to his assistance. Then we two tottering wrecks attempted to carry our heavy loads, but Jerome could not make it; he cast from him everything he owned, even the smallest personal belongings so dear to his simple, pure soul. It was heartrending to see this young man, who in health would have been able to handle three or four of his own size, now reduced to such a pitiful state.
And in my own case, the fever which I had fought off by constant use of the hypodermic needle, now swept over me with renewed violence. The drug did not have the same effect as when I was new to the ravages of the fever.
At this point my recollections became almost inextricably confused. I know that at times I raved wildly as I staggered on, for occasionally I came to myself with strange phrases on my lips addressed to no one in particular. When these lucid moments brought coherent thought, it was the jungle, the endless, all-embracing, fearful jungle, that overwhelmed my mind. No shipwrecked mariner driven to madness by long tossing on a raft at sea ever conceived such hatred and horror of his surroundings as that which now came upon me for the fresh, perpetual, monotonous green of the interminable forest.
About noon the weight on my back became unbearable and I resolved to sacrifice my precious cargo. I threw away my camera, my unexposed plates, all utensils, and four of the boxes of gold dust. This left me with one box of gold, a few boxes of exposed plates (which I eventually succeeded in carrying all the way back to New York), and fifty-six bullets, the automatic revolver, and the machete. Last, but not least, I kept the hypodermic needle and a few more ampules.
We had walked scarcely a quarter of a mile when Jerome collapsed. The poor fellow declared that he was beaten; it was no use to fight any more; he begged me to hurry the inevitable and send a bullet through his brain. The prospect of another visitation of Death aroused me from my stupor. I got him to a dry spot and found some dry leaves and branches with which I started a fire. Jerome was beyond recognising me. He lay by the fire, drawing long, wheezing breaths, and his face was horribly distorted, like that of a man in a violent fit. He babbled incessantly to himself and occasionally stared at me and broke out into shrill, dreadful laughter, that made my flesh creep.
All this overwhelmed me and sapped the little energy I had left. I threw myself on the ground some little distance from the fire, not caring if I ever rose again.
How long it was before a penetrating, weird cry aroused me from this stupor, I do not know, but when I raised my head I saw that the forest was growing dark and the fire burning low. I saw too that Jerome was trying to get on his feet, his eyes bulging from their sockets, his face crimson in colour. He was on one knee, when the thread of life snapped, and he fell headlong into the fire. I saw this as through a hazy veil and almost instantly my senses left me again.
I have no clear knowledge of what happened after this. Throughout the rest of the night, my madness mercifully left me insensible to the full appreciation of the situation and my future prospects. It was night again before I was able to arouse myself from my collapse. The fire was out, the forest dark and still, except for the weird cry of the owl, the uncanny "Mother of the Moon." Poor Jerome lay quiet among the embers. I did not have the courage, even if I had had the strength, to pull the body away, for there could be nothing left of his face by now. I looked at him once more, shuddering, and because I could not walk, I crept on all fours through the brush, without any object in mind,—just kept moving—just crept on like a sick, worthless dog.
One definite incident of the night I remember quite distinctly. It occurred during one of those moments when my senses returned for a while; when I could realise where I was and how I got there. I was crawling through the thicket making small, miserable progress, my insensible face and hands torn and scratched by spines and thorns which I did not heed, when something bumped against my thigh; I clutched at it and my hand closed around the butt of my automatic pistol. The weapon came out of its holster unconsciously, but as I felt my finger rest in the curve of the trigger, I knew that some numbed and exhausted corner of my brain had prompted me to do this thing; indeed, as I weighed the matter with what coolness I could bring to bear, it did not seem particularly wicked. With the pistol in my hand and with the safety released, I believed that the rest would have been easy and even pleasant. What did I have in my favour? What prospect did I have of escaping the jungle? None whatever—none!
There was no shadow of hope for me, and I had long ago given up believing in miracles. For eight days I had scarcely had a mouthful to eat, excepting the broiled monkey at tambo No. 7, shot by the young Indian. The fever had me completely in its grasp. I was left alone more than one hundred miles from human beings in absolute wilderness. I measured cynically the tenaciousness of life, measured the thread that yet held me among the number of the living, and I realised now what the fight between life and death meant to a man brought to bay. I had not the slightest doubt in my mind that this was the last of me. Surely, no man could have been brought lower or to greater extremity and live; no man ever faced a more hopeless proposition. Yet I could or would not yield, but put the pistol back where it belonged.
All night long I crawled on and on and ever on, through the underbrush, with no sense of direction whatever, and still I am sure that I did not crawl in a circle but that I covered a considerable distance. For hours I moved along at the absolute mercy of any beast of the forest that might meet me.
The damp chill of the approaching morning usual in these regions came to me with a cooling touch and restored once more to some extent my sanity. My clothes were almost stripped from my body, and smeared with mud, my hands and face were torn and my knees were a mass of bruises.
AMONG THE CANNIBAL MANGEROMAS
I have a vague recollection of hearing the barking of dogs, of changing my crawling direction to head for the sound, and then, suddenly, seeing in front of me a sight which had the same effect as a rescuing steamer on the shipwrecked.
To my confused vision it seemed that I saw many men and women and children, and a large, round house; I saw parrots fly across the open space in brilliant, flashing plumage and heard their shrill screaming. I cried aloud and fell forward when a little curly-haired dog jumped up and commenced licking my face, and then I knew no more.
When I came to I was lying in a comfortable hammock in a large, dark room. I heard the murmur of many voices and presently a man came over and looked at me. I did not understand where I was, but thought that I, finally, had gone mad. I fell asleep again. The next time I woke up I saw an old woman leaning over me and holding in her hand a gourd containing some chicken-broth which I swallowed slowly, not feeling the cravings of hunger, in fact not knowing whether I was dead or alive. The old woman had a peculiar piece of wood through her lip and looked very unreal to me, and I soon fell asleep again.
On the fifth day, so I learned later, I began to feel my senses return, my fever commenced to abate, and I was able to grasp the fact that I had crawled into the maloca, or communal village, of the Mangeromas. I was as weak as a kitten, and, indeed, it has been a marvel to me ever since that I succeeded at all in coming out of the Shadow. The savages, by tender care, with strengthening drinks prepared in their own primitive method, wrought the miracle, and returned to life a man who was as near death as any one could be, and not complete the transition. They fed me at regular intervals, thus checking my sickness, and when I could make out their meaning, I understood that I could stay with them as long as I desired.
Luckily I had kept my spectacles on my nose (they were the kind that fasten back of the ears) during the previous hardships, and I found these sticking in their position when I awoke. My khaki coat was on the ground under my hammock, and the first thing was to ascertain if the precious contents of its large pockets had been disturbed, but I found everything safe. The exposed plates were there in their closed boxes, the gold dust was also there and mocked me with its yellow glare, and my hypodermic outfit was intact and was used without delay, much to the astonishment of some of the men, standing around my hammock.
When my head was clear and strong enough to raise, I turned and began my first visual exploration of my immediate surroundings. The big room I found to be a colossal house, forty feet high and one hundred and fifty feet in diameter, thatched with palm-leaves and with sides formed of the stems of the pachiuba tree. It was the communal residence of this entire tribe, consisting, as I learned later, of two hundred and fifty-eight souls. A single door and a circular opening in the roof were the only apertures of this enormous structure. The door was very low, not more than four feet, so that it was necessary to creep on one's knees to enter the place, and this opening was closed at night, that is to say, about six o'clock, by a sliding door which fitted so snugly that I never noticed any mosquitoes or piums in the dark, cool room.
The next day I could get out of my hammock, though I could not stand or walk without the aid of two women, who took me over to a man I later found to be the chief of the tribe. He was well-fed, and by his elaborate dress was distinguished from the rest of the men. He had a very pleasant, good-natured smile, and almost constantly displayed a row of white, sharp-filed teeth. This smile gave me some confidence, but I very well knew that I was now living among cannibal Indians, whose reputation in this part of the Amazon is anything but flattering. I prepared for the new ordeal without any special fear—my feelings seemed by this time to have been pretty well exhausted and any appreciation of actual danger was considerably reduced as a result of the gamut of the terrors which I had run.
I addressed the Chief in the Portuguese language, which I had learned during my stay at Floresta headquarters, and also in Spanish but he only shook his head; all my efforts were useless. He let me know in a friendly manner that my hammock was to be my resting-place and that I would not be molested. His tribe was one that occupied an almost unknown region and had no connection with white men or Brazilians or people near the river. I tried in the course of the mimical conversation to make him understand that, with six companions from a big Chief's maloca (meaning Coronel da Silva and the Floresta headquarters), I had penetrated into the woods near this mighty Chief's maloca,—here I pointed at the Chief—that the men had died from fever and I was left alone and that luckily, I had found my way to the free men of the forest (here I made a sweeping movement with my hands). He nodded and the audience was over. I was led back to my hammock to dream and eat, and dream again.
Although the Chief and his men presented an appearance wholly unknown to me, yet it did not seem to distract me at the first glance, but as my faculties slowly returned to their former activity, I looked at them and found them very strange figures, indeed. Every man had two feathers inserted in the cartilage of his nose; at some distance it appeared as if they wore moustaches. Besides this, the Chief had a sort of feather-dress reaching half way down to his knees; this was simply a quantity of mutum feathers tied together as a girdle by means of plant-fibres. The women wore no clothing whatever, their only ornamentation being the oval wooden piece in the lower lip and fancifully arranged designs on face, arms, and body. The colours which they preferred were scarlet and black, and they procured these dyes from two plants that grew in the forest near by. They would squeeze the pulp of the fruits and apply the rich-coloured juice with their fingers, forming one scarlet ring around each eye, outside of this a black and larger ring, and, finally, two scarlet bands reaching from the temples to the chin.
There were probably sixty-five families in this communal hut, all having their little households scattered throughout the place without any separating partitions whatever. The many poles which supported the roof formed the only way of distinguishing the individual households. The men strung their hammocks between the poles in such a way that they formed a triangle, and in the middle of this a fire was always going. Here the women were doing the cooking of game that the men brought in at all times of the day. The men slept in the hammocks, while the women were treated less cavalierly; they slept with their children on the ground under the hammocks around the little family triangle. As a rule they had woven mats made of grass-fibre and coloured with the juices of the urucu plant and the genipapa, but in many instances they had skins of jaguars, and, which was more frequent, the furs of the three-toed sloths. These were placed around the family fire, directly under the hammocks occupied by the men. In these hammocks the men did most of the repair work on their bows and arrows when necessary, here they fitted the arrow heads to the shafts, in fact, they spent all their time in them when not actually hunting in the forests.
The hospitality of my friends proved unbounded. The Chief appointed two young girls to care for me, and though they were not startling from any point of view, especially when remembering their labial ornaments and their early developed abdominal hypertrophies, they were as kind as any one could have been, watching me when I tried to walk and supporting me when I became too weak. There was a certain broth they prepared, which was delicious, but there were others which were nauseating and which I had to force myself to eat. I soon learned that it was impolite to refuse any dish that was put in front of me, no matter how repugnant. One day the Chief ordered me to come over to his family triangle and have dinner with him. The meal consisted of some very tender fried fish which were really delicious; then followed three broiled parrots with fried bananas which were equally good; but then came a soup which I could not swallow. The first mouthful almost choked me,—the meat which was one of the ingredients tasted and smelled as if it had been kept for weeks, the herbs which were used were so bitter and gave out such a rank odour that my mouth puckered and the muscles of my throat refused to swallow. The Chief looked at me and frowned, and then I remembered the forest from which I had lately arrived and the starvation and the terrors; I closed my eyes and swallowed the dish, seeking what mental relief I could find in the so-called auto-suggestion.
But I had the greatest respect for the impulsive, unreasoning nature of these sons of the forest. Easily insulted, they are well-nigh implacable. This incident shows upon what a slender thread my life hung. The friends of one moment might become vindictive foes of the next.
Besides the head-Chief there were two sub-Chiefs, so that in case of sickness or death there would be always one regent. They were plainly distinguished by their dress, which consisted mainly of fancifully arranged feather belts of arara, mutum, and trumpeter plumes covering the shoulders and abdomen. These articles of dress were made by young women of the tribe: women who wanted to become favourites of the Chief and sub-Chiefs. They often worked for months on a feather dress and when finished presented it to the particular Chief whose favour they desired.
The Chiefs had several wives, but the tribesmen were never allowed to take more than one. Whenever a particularly pretty girl desired to join the household of the Great Chief or of a sub-Chief, she set to work and for months and months she made necklaces of alligator teeth, peccary teeth, and finely carved ivory nuts and coloured pieces of wood. She also would weave some elaborate hammock and fringe this with the bushy tails of the squirrels and the forest-cats, and when these articles were done, she would present them to the Chief, who, in return for these favours, would bestow upon her the great honour of accepting her as a wife.
There seemed to be few maladies among these people; in fact, during the five weeks I spent with them, I never saw a case of fever nor of anything else. When a person died the body was carried far into the woods, where a fire was built, and it was cremated. The party would then leave in a hurry and never return to the same spot; they were afraid of the Spirit of the Dead. They told me that they could hear the Spirit far off in the forests at night when the moon was shining.
The men were good hunters and were experts in the use of bow and arrow and also the blow-gun, and never failed to bring home a fresh supply of game for the village. This supply was always divided equally, so that no one should receive more than he needed for the day. At first glance the men might appear lazy, but why should they hurry and worry when they have no landlord, and no grocer's bills to pay; in fact, the value of money is entirely unknown to them.
I was allowed to walk around as I pleased, everybody showing me a kindness for which I shall ever gratefully remember these "savages." I frequently spent my forenoons on a tree trunk outside the maloca with the Chief, who took a particular interest in my welfare. We would sit for hours and talk, he sometimes pointing at an object and giving its Indian name, which I would repeat until I got the right pronunciation. Thus, gradually instructed, and by watching the men and women as they came and went, day after day, I was able to understand some of their language and learned to answer questions fairly well. They never laughed at my mistakes, but repeated a word until I had it right.
The word of the Chief was law and no one dared appeal from the decisions of this man. In fact, there would have been nobody to appeal to, for the natives believed him vested with mysterious power which made him the ruler of men. I once had occasion to see him use the power which had been given him.
I had accompanied two young Indians, one of whom was the man we had met in the forest on our return trip not far from that fatal tambo No. 3. His name, at least as it sounded to me, was Rere. They carried bows and arrows and I my automatic pistol, although I had no great intention of using it. What little ammunition I had left I desired to keep for an emergency and, besides, I reasoned that I might, at some future time, be able to use the power and noise of the weapon to good advantage if I kept the Indians ignorant of them for the present.
We had scarcely gone a mile, when we discovered on the opposite side of a creek, about one hundred and fifty yards away, a wild hog rooting for food. We were on a slight elevation ourselves and under cover of the brush, while the hog was exposed to view on the next knoll. Almost simultaneously my companions fitted arrows to their bow-strings. Instead of shooting point blank, manipulating the bows with their hands and arms, they placed their great and second toes on the cords on the ground, and with their left arms gave the proper tension and inclination to the bows which were at least eight feet long. With a whirr the poisoned arrows shot forth and, while the cords still twanged, sailed gracefully through the air, describing a hyperbola, fell with a speed that made them almost invisible, and plunged into the animal on each side of his neck a little back from the base of the brain.
The hog dropped in his tracks, and I doubt if he could have lived even though the arrows had not been poisoned. Tying his feet together with plant-fibres we slung the body over a heavy pole and carried it to the maloca. All the way the two fellows disputed as to who was the owner of the hog, and from time to time they put the carcass on the ground to gesticulate and argue. I thought they would come to blows. When they appealed to me I declared that the arrows had sped so rapidly that my eyes could not follow them and therefore could not tell which arrow had found its mark first.
A few yards from the house my friends fell to arguing again, and a crowd collected about them, cheering first the one then the other. My suggestion that the game be divided was rejected as showing very poor judgment. Finally, the dispute grew to such proportions that the Chief sent a messenger to learn the cause of the trouble and report it to him.
The emissary retired and the crowd immediately began to disperse and the combatants quieted. The messenger soon returned saying that the Great Chief would judge the case and ordered the men to enter the maloca. With some difficulty the hog was dragged through the door opening and all the inhabitants crawled in after. The Chief was decked out in a new and splendid feather dress, his face had received a fresh coat of paint (in fact, the shells of the urucu plant with which he coloured his face and body scarlet were still lying under his hammock), and his nose was supplied with a new set of mutum feathers. He was sitting in his hammock which was made of fine, braided, multi-coloured grass-fibres and was fringed with numerous squirrel tails. The whole picture was one which impressed me as being weirdly fantastic and extremely picturesque, the reddish, flickering light from the fires adding a mystic colour to the scene. On the opposite side of the fire from where the Chief was sitting lay the body of the hog, and at each end of the carcass stood the two hunters, straight as saplings, gazing stolidly ahead. In a semi-circle, facing the Chief and surrounding the disputants, was the tribe, squatting on the ground. The Chief motioned to me to seat myself on the ground alongside of the hammock where he was sitting. The men told their story, now and then looking to me for an affirmative nod of the head. After having listened to the argument of the hunters for a considerable time without uttering a syllable, and regarding the crowd with a steady, unblinking expression, with a trace of a satirical smile around the corners of his mouth, which suited him admirably, the Chief finally spoke. He said, "The hog is mine.—Go!"
The matter was ended with this wise judgment, and there seemed to be no disposition to grumble or re-appeal to the great authority.
My life among the Mangeromas was, for the greater part, free from adventure, at least as compared with former experiences, and yet I was more than once within an inch of meeting death. In fact, I think that I looked more squarely in the eyes of death in that peaceful little community than ever I did out in the wilds of the jungle or in my most perilous adventures. The creek that ran near the maloca supplied the Indians with what water they needed for drinking purposes. Besides this the creek gave them an abundant supply of fish, a dish that made its appearance at every meal. Whatever washing was to be done—the natives took a bath at least twice a day—was done at some distance down the creek so as not to spoil the water for drinking and culinary purposes. Whenever I was thirsty I was in the habit of stooping down at the water's edge to scoop the fluid up in my curved hands. One morning I had been tramping through the jungle with two companions who were in search of game, and I was very tired and hot when we came to a little stream which I took to be the same that ran past the maloca. My friends were at a short distance from me, beating their way through the underbrush, when I stooped to quench my thirst. The cool water looked to me like the very Elixir of Life. At that moment, literally speaking, I was only two inches from death. Hearing a sharp cry behind me I turned slightly to feel a rough hand upon my shoulders and found myself flung backwards on the ground.
"Poison," was the reply to my angry question. Then my friend explained, and as he talked my knees wobbled and I turned pale. It seems that the Mangeromas often poison the streams below the drinking places in order to get rid of their enemies. In the present case there had been a rumour that a party of Peruvian rubber-workers might be coming up the creek, and this is always a signal of trouble among these Indians. Although you cannot induce a Brazilian to go into the Indian settlements or malocas, the Peruvians are more than willing to go there, because of the chance of abducting girls. To accomplish this, a few Peruvians sneak close to the maloca at night, force the door, which is always bolted to keep out the Evil Spirit, but which without difficulty can be cut open, and fire a volley of shots into the hut. The Indians sleep with the blow-guns and arrows suspended from the rafters, and before they can collect their sleepy senses and procure the weapons the Peruvians, in the general confusion, have carried off some of the girls. The Mangeromas, therefore, hate the Peruvians and will go to any extreme to compass their death. The poisoning of the rivers is effected by the root of a plant that is found throughout the Amazon valley; the plant belongs to the genus Lonchocarpus and bears a small cluster of bluish blossoms which produce a pod about two inches in length. It is only the yellow roots that are used for poisoning the water. This is done by crushing the roots and throwing the pulp into the stream, when all animal life will be killed or driven away.
It seems strange that during my stay among the Mangeromas, who were heathens and even cannibals, I saw no signs of idolatry. They believed implicitly in a good and an evil spirit. The good spirit was too good to do them any harm and consequently they did not bother with him; but the evil spirit was more active and could be heard in the dark nights, howling and wailing far off in the forest as he searched for lonely wanderers, whom he was said to devour.
Thinking to amuse some of my friends, I one day kindled a flame by means of my magnifying glass and a few dry twigs. A group of ten or twelve Indians had gathered squatting in a circle about me, to see the wonder that I was to exhibit, but at the sight of smoke followed by flame they were badly scared and ran for the house, where they called the Chief. He arrived on the scene with his usual smile.
He asked me to show him what I had done. I applied the focussed rays of the sun to some more dry leaves and twigs and, finally, the flames broke out again. The Chief was delighted and begged me to make him a present of the magnifier. As I did not dare to refuse, I showed him how to use it and then presented it with as good grace as I could.
Some time after this, I learned that two Peruvians had been caught in a trap set for the purpose. The unfortunate men had spent a whole night in a pit, nine feet deep, and were discovered the next forenoon by a party of hunters, who immediately killed them with unpoisoned, big-game arrows. In contrast to the North-American Indians they never torture captives, but kill them as quickly as possible.
I had plenty of opportunity to investigate the different kinds of traps used by the Mangeromas for catching Peruvian caboclos or half-breeds. First of all in importance is the pit-trap, into which the aforesaid men had fallen. It is simple but ingenious in its arrangement. A hole about nine feet deep and eight feet wide is dug in the ground at a place where the caboclos are liable to come. A cover is laid across this and cleverly disguised with dead leaves and branches so as to exactly resemble the surrounding soil. This cover is constructed of branches placed parallel, and is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pit. It is balanced on a stick, tied across the middle in such a manner that the slightest weight on any part will cause it to turn over and precipitate the object into the pit whence egress is impossible. Besides this, the walls of the pit are inclined, the widest part being at the bottom, and they gradually slope inward till the level of the ground is reached. When the victim is discovered he is quickly killed, as in the case noted above.
The second trap, which I had an opportunity to investigate, is the so-called araya trap. It is merely a small piece of ground thickly set with the barbed bones of the sting-ray. These bones are slightly touched with wourahli poison and, concealed as they are under dead leaves, they inflict severe wounds on the bare feet of the caboclos, and death follows within a short period.
The third trap, and the most ingenious of all, is the blow-gun trap. One day the sub-Chief, a tall, gloomy-looking fellow, took me to one of these traps and explained everything, till I had obtained a thorough knowledge of the complicated apparatus. The blow-gun of these Indians is supplied with a wide mouth-piece and requires but slight air pressure to shoot the arrow at a considerable speed. In the trap one is placed horizontally so as to point at a right angle to the path leading to the maloca. At the "breech" of the gun is a young sapling, severed five feet above the ground. To this is tied a broad and straight bark-strip which, when the sapling is in its normal vertical position, completely covers the mouth-piece. The gun was not loaded on this occasion, as it had been accidentally discharged the day before. To set the trap, a long, thin, and pliable climber, which in these forests is so plentiful, is attached to the end of the severed sapling, when this is bent to its extreme position and is then led over branches, serving as pulleys, right across the path and directly in front of the mouth of the blow-gun and is tied to some small root covered with leaves. When the caboclo passes along this path at night to raid the Indian maloca, he must sever this thin bushrope or climber, thereby releasing suddenly the tension of the sapling. The bark-flap is drawn quickly up against the mouth-piece with a slap that forces sufficient air into the gun to eject the arrow. All this takes place in a fraction of a second; a slight flapping sound is heard and the arrow lodges in the skin of the unfortunate caboclo. He can never walk more than twenty yards, for the poison rapidly paralyses his limbs. Death follows in less than ten minutes.
The bodies of these captured caboclos are soon found by the "police warriors" of the tribe and carried to the maloca. On such occasions a day of feasting always follows and an obscure religious rite is performed.
It is true that the Mangeromas are cannibals, but at the same time their habits and morals are otherwise remarkably clean. Without their good care and excellent treatment, I have no doubt I would now be with my brave companions out in that dark, green jungle.
But to return to my story of the two Peruvians caught in the pit-trap: the warriors cut off the hands and feet of both corpses, pulled the big game arrows out of the bodies, and had an audience with the Chief. He seemed to be well satisfied, but spoke little, just nodding his head and smiling. Shortly after the village prepared for a grand feast. The fires were rebuilt, the pots and jars were cleaned, and a scene followed which to me was frightful. Had it not happened, I should always have believed this little world out in the wild forest an ideal, pure, and morally clean community. But now I could only hasten to my hammock and simulate sleep, for I well knew, from previous experience, that otherwise I would have to partake of the meal in preparation: a horrible meal of human flesh! It was enough for me to see them strip the flesh from the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet and fry these delicacies in the lard of tapir I hoped to see no more.
An awful thought coursed through my brain when I beheld the men bend eagerly over the pans to see if the meat were done. How long would it be, I said to myself, before they would forget themselves and place my own extremities in the same pots and pans. Such a possibility was not pleasant to contemplate, but as I had found the word of these Indians to be always good, I believed I was safe. They were never false and they hated falsehood. True, they were cunning, but once their friend always their friend, through thick and thin. And the Chief had promised that I should not be eaten, either fried or stewed! Therefore I slept in peace.
I had long desired to see the hunters prepare the mysterious wourahli poison, which acts so quickly and painlessly, and which allows the game killed by it to be eaten without interfering with the nutritive qualities. Only three men in this village understood the proper mixing of the ingredients, although everybody knew the two plants from which the poisonous juices were obtained. One of these is a vine that grows close to the creeks. The stem is about two inches in diameter and covered with a rough greyish bark. It yields several round fruits, shaped like an apple, containing seeds imbedded in a very bitter pulp. The other is also a vine and bears small bluish flowers, but it is only the roots of this that are used. These are crushed and steeped in water for several days. The three men in our village who understood the concoction of this poison collected the plants themselves once a month. When they returned from their expedition they set to work at once scraping the first named vine into fine shavings and mixing these in an earthen jar with the crushed pulp of the roots of the second plant. The pot is then placed over a fire and kept simmering for several hours. At this stage the shavings are removed and thrown away as useless and several large black ants, the Tucandeiras, are added. This is the ant whose bite is not only painful but absolutely dangerous to man. The concoction is kept boiling slowly until the next morning, when it has assumed a thick consistency of a brown colour and very bitter to the taste. The poison is then tried on some arrows and if it comes up to the standard it is placed in a small earthen jar which is covered with a piece of animal skin and it is ready for use. The arrows, which are from ten to twelve inches long, are made from the stalks of a certain palm-leaf, the Jacy palm. They are absolutely straight and true; in fact, they resemble very much a lady's hat-pin. When the gun is to be used, a piece of cotton is wound around the end of an arrow and the other end or point inserted first in the barrel, the cotton acting as a piston by means of which the air forces the shaft through the tube.
The men always carry a small rubber-pouch containing a few drams of the poison; the pouch was worn strapped to the waist on the left side, when on their hunting excursions, and they were extremely careful in handling it and the arrows. The slightest scratch with the poison would cause a quick and sure death.
I was so far recuperated by this time that I thought of returning to civilisation, and I, accordingly, broached the subject to the Chief, who answered me very kindly, promising that he would send me by the next full-moon, with some of the wourahli men, down to the Branco River, and from there they would guide me within a safe distance of the rubber-estate, situated at the junction with the Itecoahy.
One day I was informed that a friendly call on a neighbouring tribe was being contemplated and that I could accompany the Chief and his men.
At last the time arrived and the expedition was organised. I was not absolutely sure how I would be treated by these up-stream Indians, and I am almost ashamed to confess that, in spite of all the faithful, unswerving friendship which the Mangeromas had shown me, I had it in my mind that these other Indians might harm me, so black was the name that people down at the settlements had given them.
Until this time, as related above, I had thought best not to exhibit the character of my automatic pistol, and I had never used it here, but before I started on this journey I decided to give them an example of its power, and possibly awe them. Inviting the Chief and all the tribe to witness my experiment, I explained to them that this little weapon would make a great noise and bore a hole through a thick tree. The Chief examined it gingerly after I had locked the trigger mechanism. He had heard of such arms, he said, but thought that they were much larger and heavier. This one, he thought, must be a baby and he was inclined to doubt its power.
Selecting an "assai" palm of about nine inches diameter, across the creek, I took steady aim and fired four bullets. Three of the bullets went through the same hole and the fourth pierced the trunk of the palm about two inches higher. The Chief and his men hurried across the creek and examined the holes which caused then to discuss the affair for more than an hour. The empty shells which had been ejected from the magazine were picked up by two young girls who fastened them in their ears with wire-like fibres, whereupon a dozen other women surrounded me, beseeching me to give them also cartridge-shells. I discharged more than a dozen bullets, to please these children of the forest, who were as completely the slaves of fashion as are their sisters of more civilised lands.
Early the next morning we started up the river. In one canoe the Chief and I sat on jaguar skins, while two men paddled. In another canoe were four men armed with bows and arrows and blow-guns, and a fifth who acted in the capacity of "Wireless Operator." The system of signalling which he employed was by far the most ingenious device I saw while in Brazil, and considering their resources and their low state of culture the affair was little short of marvellous.
Before the canoes were launched, a man fastened two upright forked sticks on each side of one, near the middle. About three and a half feet astern of these a cross-piece was laid on the bottom of the craft. To this was attached two shorter forked sticks. Between each pair of upright forked sticks was placed another cross-piece, thus forming two horizontal bars, parallel to each other, one only a few inches from the bottom of the boat and the other about a foot and a half above the gunwales. Next, four slabs of Caripari wood of varying thickness, about three feet long and eight inches wide, were suspended from these horizontal bars, so as to hang length-wise of the canoe and at an angle of forty-five degrees. Each pair of slabs was perforated by a longitudinal slit and they were joined firmly at their extremities by finely carved and richly painted end-pieces.
The operator strikes the slabs with a wooden mallet or hammer, the head of which is wrapped with an inch layer of caoutchouc and then with a cover of thick tapir-skin. Each section of the wooden slabs gives forth a different note when struck, a penetrating, xylophonic, tone but devoid of the disagreeably metallic, disharmonic bysounds of that instrument. The slabs of wood were suspended by means of thin fibre-cords from the crosspieces, and in this manner all absorption by the adjacent material was done away with.
By means of many different combinations of the four notes obtained which, as far as I could ascertain, were Do—Re—Mi—Fa, the operator was able to send any message to a person who understood this code. The operator seized one mallet with each hand and gave the thickest section, the Do slat, a blow, followed by a blow with the left hand mallet on the Re slat; a blow on the Mi slat and on the Fa slat followed in quick succession. These four notes, given rapidly and repeated several times, represented the tuning up of the "wireless," calculated to catch the attention of the operator at the maloca up-creek. The sound was very powerful, but rather pleasant, and made the still forest resound with a musical echo. He repeated this tuning process several times, but received no answer and we proceeded for a mile. Then we stopped and signalled again. Very faintly came a reply from some invisible source. I learned afterwards that at this time we were at least five miles from the answering station. As soon as communication was thus established the first message was sent through the air, and it was a moment of extreme suspense for me when the powerful notes vibrated through the depth of the forest. I shall never forget this message, not only because it was ethnographically interesting, but because so much of my happiness depended upon a favourable reply. I made the operator repeat it for my benefit when we later returned to our village, and I learned it by heart by whistling it. When printed it looks like this:
After each message the operator explained its meaning. The purport of this first message was so important to me that I awaited the translation with much the same feelings that a prisoner listens for the verdict of the jury when it files back into the court-room.
Questions and answers now came in rapid succession. "A white man is coming with us; he seems to have a good heart, and to be of good character."
Whereupon the deciding answer was translated: "You are all welcome provided you place your arms in the bottom of the canoe."
Next message: "We ask you to place your arms in the maloca; we are friends."
After the last message we paddled briskly ahead, and at the end of one hour's work we made a turn of the creek and saw a large open space where probably five hundred Indians had assembled outside of two round malocas, constructed like ours. How much I now regretted leaving my precious camera out in the forest, but that was a thing of the past and the loss could not be repaired. The view that presented itself to my eyes was a splendid and rare one for a civilised man to see. The crowd standing on the banks had never seen a white man before; how would they greet me?
Little dogs barked, large scarlet araras screamed in the tree-tops, and the little children hid themselves behind their equally fearful mothers. The tribal Chief, a big fellow, decorated with squirrel tails and feathers of the mutum bird around, his waist and with the tail feathers of the scarlet and blue arara-parrot adorning his handsome head, stood in front with his arms folded.
We landed and the operator dismantled his musical apparatus and laid it carefully in the bottom of the canoe. The two Chiefs embraced each other, at the same time uttering their welcome greeting "He—He." I was greeted in the same cordial manner and we all entered the Chief's maloca in a long procession. Here in the village of the kindred tribe we stayed for two days, enjoying unlimited hospitality and kindness. Most of the time was spent eating, walking around the malocas, looking at dugouts, and at the farinha plants.
On the third day we went back to our maloca where I prepared for my return trip to civilisation. It was now the beginning of October.
I would, finally, have recorded many words of the Mangeroma language had not my pencil given out after I had been there a month. The pencil was an "ink-pencil," that is, a pencil with a solid "lead" of bluish colour, very soft, sometimes called "indelible pencil." This lead became brittle from the moisture of the air and broke into fragments so that I could do nothing with it, and my recording was at an end. Fortunately I had made memoranda covering the life and customs before this.
THE FIGHT BETWEEN THE MANGEROMAS AND THE PERUVIANS
I was sitting outside the maloca writing my observations in the note-book which I always carried in my hunting-coat, when two young hunters hurried toward the Chief, who was reclining in the shade of a banana-tree near the other end of the large house. It was early afternoon, when most of the men of the Mangeromas were off hunting in the near-by forests, while the women and children attended to various duties around the village. Probably not more than eight or ten men remained about the maloca.
I had recovered from my sickness and was not entirely devoid of a desire for excitement—the best tonic of the explorer. The two young hunters with bows and arrows halted before the Chief. They were gesticulating wildly; and although I could not understand what they were talking about, I judged from the frown of the Chief that something serious was the matter.
He arose with unusual agility for a man of his size, and shouted something toward the opening of the maloca, whence the men were soon seen coming with leaps and bounds. Anticipating trouble, I also ran over to the Chief, and, in my defective Mangeroma lingo, inquired the cause of the excitement. He did not answer me, but, in a greater state of agitation than I had previously observed in him, he gave orders to his men. He called the "wireless" operator and commanded him to bring out his precious apparatus. This was soon fastened to the gunwales of the canoe where I had seen it used before, on my trip to the neighbouring tribe, and soon the same powerful, xylophonic sounds vibrated through the forest. It was his intention to summon the hunters that were still roaming around the vicinity, by this "C.Q.D." message. The message I could not interpret nor repeat, although it was not nearly as complex as the one I had learned before. After a while, the men came streaming into the maloca from all directions, with anxiety darkening their faces. I had now my first inkling of what was the cause of the commotion, and it did not take me long to understand that we were in danger from some Peruvian caboclos. The two young men who had brought the news to the Chief had spied a detachment of Peruvian half-breeds as they were camping in our old tambo No. 6, the one we had built on our sixth day out from Floresta. There were about a score of them, all ugly caboclos, or half-breed caucheros, hunting rubber and no doubt out also for prey in the shape of young Mangeroma girls, as was their custom. The traps set by the Indians, as described in a previous chapter, would be of no avail in this case, as the number of Peruvians was greater than in any previous experience.
The enemy had been observed more than ten miles off, in an easterly direction, when our two hunters were on the trail of a large herd of peccaries, or wild boars, they had sighted in the early morning. The Peruvians were believed to be heading for the maloca of the Mangeromas, as there were no other settlements in this region excepting the up-creek tribe, but this numbered at least five hundred souls, and would be no easy prey for them.
I now had a remarkable opportunity to watch the war preparations of these savage, cannibal people, my friends, the Mangeromas. Their army consisted of twelve able-bodied men, all fine muscular fellows, about five feet ten in height, and bearing an array of vicious-looking weapons such as few white men have seen. First of all were three club-men, armed with strong, slender clubs, of hard and extremely tough Caripari wood. The handle, which was very slim, was provided with a knob at the end to prevent the club from slipping out of the hand when in action. The heavy end was furnished with six bicuspid teeth of the black jaguar, embedded in the wood and projecting about two inches beyond the surface. The club had a total length of five feet and weighed about eight pounds. The second division of the wild-looking band consisted of three spear-men, each provided with the three-pronged spears, a horrible weapon which always proves fatal in the hands of these savages. It is a long straight shaft of Caripari wood, about one inch in thickness, divided into three parts at the end, each division being tipped with a barbed bone of the sting-ray. These bones, about three and a half inches long, were smeared with wourahli poison, and thus rendered absolutely fatal even when inflicting only a superficial wound. Each man carried two of these spears, the points being protected by grass-sheaths. The third division was composed of three bow-and-arrow men, the youngest men in the tribe, boys of sixteen and seventeen. They were armed with bows of great length, from six to seven feet, and each bore, at his left side, a quiver, containing a dozen big-game arrows fully five feet long. These arrows, as far as I could ascertain, were not poisoned, but their shock-giving and rending powers were extraordinary. The arrow-heads were all made of the bones of the sting-ray, in themselves formidable weapons, because of the many jagged barbs that prevent extraction from a wound except by the use of great force, resulting in ugly laceration.
The fourth and last division consisted of three blow-gun men, the most effective and cunning of this deadly and imposing array. As so much depended upon the success of a first attack on the Peruvians, who not only outnumbered us, but also were armed with Winchesters, the blow-guns were in the hands of the older and more experienced men. All, except the club-men, wore, around the waist, girdles fringed with mutum plumes, and the captains added, to their uniforms multi-coloured fringes of squirrel tails. Their faces all had the usual scarlet and black stripes. The Chief, and his principal aide, or sub-Chief, had on their gayest feathers, including head ornaments of arara plumes and egrets. The club-men were naked, except for their head-gear, which consisted simply of a band of mutum plumes. When the warriors stood together in their costumes, ready for battle, they presented an awe-inspiring sight.
The Chief gave the order for the bow-and-arrow men to start in single file, the others to follow after, in close succession. The Chief and I fell in at the rear. In the meantime I had examined my Luger automatic pistol to make sure of the smooth action of the mechanism, and found besides that I had in all thirty-seven soft-nose bullets. This was my only weapon, but previous narrow escapes from death and many close contacts with danger had hardened me, so I was willing to depend entirely upon my pistol. The women and children of the maloca stood around, as we disappeared in the jungle, and, while they showed some interest in the proceeding, they displayed little or no emotion. A couple of sweethearts exchanged kisses as composedly as if they had been bluecoats parting with the ladies of their choice before going to the annual parade.
Soon we were in the dark, dense jungle that I was now so well acquainted with, and, strange to say, the green and tangled mass of vegetation contained more terrors for me than the bloody combat that was to follow.
For an hour we travelled in a straight line, pushing our way as noiselessly as possible through the thick mass of creepers and lianas. About three o'clock, one of the scouts sighted the Peruvians, and our Chief decided that an attack should be made as soon as possible, before darkness could set in. We stopped and sent out two bow-and-arrow men to reconnoitre. An anxious half hour passed before one of them returned with the report that the Peruvians were now coming towards us and would probably reach our position in a few minutes. I could almost hear my heart thump; my knees grew weak, and for a moment I almost wished that I had stayed in the maloca.
The Chief immediately directed certain strategic movements which, in ingenuity and foresight, would have been worthy of a Napoleon.
We were between two low hills, covered with the usual dense vegetation, which made it impossible to see an advancing enemy at a distance of more than five yards. The three blow-gun men were now ordered to ascend the hills on each side of the valley and conceal themselves about half-way up the slopes, and towards the enemy. They were to insert the poisoned arrows in their guns and draw a bead on the Peruvians as they came on cutting their way through the underbrush. The bow-and-arrow men posted themselves farther on about five yards behind the blow-gun men, with big-game arrows fitted to the bowstrings, ready to shoot when the first volley of the deadly and silent poisoned arrows had been fired. Farther back were the spear-men with spears unsheathed, and finally came the three brave and ferocious club-men. Of these last warriors, a tall athlete was visibly nervous, not from fear but from anticipation. The veins of his forehead stood out, pulsating with every throb of his heart. He clutched the heavy club and continually gritted his white, sharp-filed teeth in concentrated rage. It was wisely calculated that the Peruvians would unconsciously wedge themselves into this trap, and by the time they could realise their danger their return would be cut off by our bow-and-arrow men in their rear.
After a pause that seemed an eternity to most of us no doubt, for the savage heart beats as the white man's in time of danger and action, we heard the talking and shouting of the enemy as they advanced, following the natural and easiest route between the hills and cutting their way through the brush. I stood near the Chief and the young club-man Arara, who, on account of his bravery and great ability in handling his club, had been detailed to remain near us.
Before I could see any of the approaching foe, I heard great shouts of anger and pain from them. It was easy for me to understand their cries as they spoke Spanish and their cursings sounded loud through the forest.
The blow-gun men, perceiving the Peruvians at the foot of the hill only some twenty feet away, had prudently waited until at least half a dozen were visible, before they fired a volley of poisoned arrows. The three arrows fired in this first volley all hit their mark. Hardly had they gone forth, when other arrows were dexterously inserted in the tubes. The work of the blow-gun men was soon restricted to the picking out of any stray enemy, their long, delicate, and cumbersome blow-guns preventing them from taking an active part in the melee. Now the conflict was at its height and it was a most remarkable one, on account of its swiftness and fierceness. The bow-and-arrow men charging with their sting-ray arrows poisoned with the wourahli took the place of the cautiously retreating blow-gun men. At the same instant the spear-men rushed down, dashing through the underbrush at the foot of the hill, like breakers on a stormy night.
The rear-guard of the Peruvians now came into action, having had a chance to view the situation. Several of them filed to the right and managed to fire their large-calibre bullets into the backs of our charging bow-and-arrow men, but, in their turn, they were picked off by the blow-gun men, who kept firing their poisoned darts from a safe distance. The fearful yells of our men, mingled with the cursing of the Peruvians, and the sharp reports of their heavy rifles, so plainly heard, proved that the centre of battle was not many yards from the spot where I was standing.
The club-men now broke into action; they could not be kept back any longer. The tension had already been too painful for these brave fellows, and with fierce war-cries of "Yob—Hee—Hee" they launched themselves into the fight, swinging their strong clubs above their heads and crashing skulls from left to right. By this time the Peruvians had lost many men, but the slaughter went on. The huge black clubs of the Mangeromas fell again and again, with sickening thuds, piercing the heads and brains of the enemy with the pointed jaguar teeth.
Suddenly two Peruvians came into view not more than twelve feet from where the Chief, Arara the big club-man, and I were standing. One of these was a Spaniard, evidently the captain of this band of marauders (or, to use their correct name, caucheros). His face was of a sickly, yellowish hue, and a big, black moustache hid the lower part of his cruel and narrow chin. He took a quick aim as he saw us in his path, but before he could pull the trigger, Arara, with a mighty side-swing of his club literally tore the Spaniard's head off. Now, at last, the bonds of restraint were broken for this handsome devil Arara, and yelling himself hoarse, and with his strong but cruel face contracted to a fiendish grin, he charged the enemy; I saw him crush the life out of three.
The Chief took no active part in the fight whatever, but added to the excitement by bellowing with all his might an encouraging "Aa—Oo—Ah." No doubt, this had a highly beneficial effect upon the tribesmen, for they never for an instant ceased their furious fighting until the last Peruvian was killed. During the final moments of the battle, several bullets whirred by me at close range, but during the whole affair I had had neither opportunity nor necessity for using my pistol. Now, however, a caboclo, with a large, bloody machete in his hand, sprang from behind a tree and made straight for me. I dodged behind another tree and saw how the branches were swept aside as he rushed towards me.
Then I fired point-blank, sending three bullets into his head. He fell on his face at my feet. As I bent over him, I saw that he had a blow-gun arrow in his left thigh; he was therefore a doomed man before he attacked me. This was my first and only victim, during this brief but horrible slaughter. As I was already thoroughly sick from the noise of cracking rifles and the thumping of clubs smashing their way into the brains of the Peruvians, I rushed toward the centre of the valley where the first attack on the advance guard of the enemy had taken place, but even more revolting was the sight that revealed itself. Here and there bushes were shaking as some caboclo crawled along on all fours in his death agony. Those who were struck by the blow-gun arrows seemed simply to fall asleep without much pain or struggle, but the victims of the club-men and the bow-and-arrow men had a terrible death. They could not die by the merciful wourahli poison, like those shot by the blow-gun, but expired from hemorrhages caused by the injuries of the ruder weapons. One poor fellow was groaning most pitifully. He had received a well-directed big-game arrow in the upper part of the abdomen, the arrow having been shot with such terrible force that about a foot of the shaft projected from the man's back. The arrow-head had been broken off by striking a vertebra.
The battle was over. Soon the urubus, or vultures, were hanging over the tree-tops waiting for their share of the spoils. The men assembled in front of the Chief for roll-call. Four of our men were killed outright by rifle-bullets, and it was typical of these brave men that none were killed by machete stabs. The entire marauding expedition of twenty Peruvians was completely wiped out, not a single one escaping the deadly aim of the Mangeromas. Thus was avoided the danger of being attacked in the near future by a greater force of Peruvians, called to this place from the distant frontier by some returning survivor.
It is true that the Mangeromas lay in ambush for their enemy and killed them, for the greater part, with poisoned arrows and spears, but the odds were against the Indians, not only because the caboclos were attacking them in larger numbers, but because they came with modern, repeating fire-arms against the hand weapons of the Mangeromas. These marauders, too, came with murder and girl-robbery in their black hearts, while the Mangeromas were defending their homes and families. But it is true that after the battle, so bravely fought, the Indians cut off the hands and feet of their enemies, dead or dying, and carried them home.
The fight lasted only some twenty minutes, but it was after sunset when we reached the maloca. The women and children received us with great demonstrations of joy. Soon the pots and pans were boiling inside the great house. I have previously observed how the Mangeromas would partake of parts of the human body as a sort of religious rite, whenever they had been successful with their man-traps; now they feasted upon the hands and feet of the slain, these parts having been distributed among the different families.
I crept into my hammock and lit my pipe, watching the great mass of naked humanity. All the men had laid aside their feather-dresses and squirrel tails, and were moving around among the many fires on the floor of the hut. Some were sitting in groups discussing the battle, while women bent over the pots to examine the ghastly contents. Here, a woman was engaged in stripping the flesh from the palm of a hand and the sole of a foot, which operation finished, she threw both into a large earthen pot to boil; there, another woman was applying an herb-poultice to her husband's wounds.
Over it all hung a thick, odoriferous smoke, gradually finding its way out through the central opening in the roof.
This was a feast, indeed, such as few white men, I believe, have witnessed.
That night and the next day, and the following four days, great quantities of chicha were drunk and much meat was consumed to celebrate the great victory, the greatest in the annals of the Mangeromas of Rio Branco.
Earthen vessels and jars were used in the cooking of food. The red clay (Tabatinga clay) found abundantly in these regions formed a superior material for these utensils. They were always decorated symbolically with juices of the scarlet urucu and the black genipapa. Even when not burned into the clay, these were permanent colours.
Men and women wore their hair long and untrimmed as far as I could observe. The older and more experienced of the tribesmen would have quite elaborate head-gear, consisting of a band of mutum plumes, interspersed with parrot-tail feathers, while the younger hunters wore nothing but a band of the mutum plumes. The body was uncovered, save by a narrow strip of bark encircling the waist. A broad piece, woven of several bark-strips into a sort of mat, protected the lower anterior part of the abdomen. The women wore no clothing whatever.
Their colour was remarkably light. Probably nothing can designate this better than the statement that if a Mangeroma were placed alongside of an Italian, no difference would be noticeable. Their cheek-bones were not as high as is usual with tribes found on the Amazon; they seemed to come from a different race. Their eyes were set straight without any tendency to the Mongolian slanting that characterises the Peruvian caboclos and the tribes of the northern affluents. The women had unusually large feet, while those of the men were small and well-shaped. The general appearance of a young Mangeroma was that of a well-proportioned athlete, standing about five feet ten in his bare feet. No moccasins, nor any other protection for the feet, were worn.
The supply of wourahli poison had run low and three wourahli men were to go out in the forest to collect poison plants, a journey which would require several days to complete. This occasion was set as the time of my departure.
It was a rainy morning when I wrapped my few belongings in a leaf, tied some grass-fibres around them, and inserted them in the large pocket of my khaki-coat. The box with the gold dust was there, also the boxes with the exposed photographic plates. Most of the gold had filtered out of the box, but a neat quantity still remained. One of my servants—a handsome girl—who, excepting for the labial ornaments, could have been transformed into an individual of quite a civilised appearance by opportunity, gave me a beautiful black necklace as a souvenir. It was composed of several hundred pieces, all carved out of ebony nuts. It had cost her three weeks of constant work. I embraced and was embraced by almost everybody in the maloca, after which ceremony we went in procession to the canoe that was to take me down to the Branco River. The Chief bade me a fond farewell, that forever shall be implanted in my heart. I had lived here weeks among these cannibal Indians, had enjoyed their kindness and generosity without charge; I could give them nothing in return and they asked nothing. I could have stayed here for the rest of my natural life if I had so desired, but now I was to say good-bye forever. How wonderful was this farewell! It was my opportunity for acknowledging that the savage heart is by no means devoid of the feelings and sentiments that characterise more elevated, so-called civilised individuals.
For the last time I heard the little dog bark, the same that had licked my face when I fainted in front of the maloca upon my first arrival; and the large arara screamed in the tree-tops as I turned once more towards the world of the white man.
The journey was without incident. The wourahli men set me off near the mouth of the Branco River, at a distance which I covered in less than five hours by following the banks. I was greeted by Coronel Maya of the Compagnie Transatlantique de Caoutchouc, who sent me by canoe down the old Itecoahy, until we reached the Floresta headquarters.
Here I gave Coronel da Silva an account of the death of Chief Marques, and the brave Jerome, which made a deep impression upon this noble man.
The three men, Magellaes, Anisette, and Freitas, had returned in safety after they separated from us.
I met the wife of Chief Marques. She was the woman whose arm I had amputated. When I saw her she was carrying, with the arm left to her, a pail of water from the little creek behind headquarters. She was a different woman, and I was pleased to know that my desperate surgical operation had resulted so well. Her cheeks were full and almost rosy. Her health, I was told, excepting for occasional attacks of ague, was very good.
Soon after, the launch arrived from Remate de Males and I put my baggage on board. The Coronel accompanied me down river for about forty-eight hours and then, reaching the northern extremity of his estate, he bade me a fond good-bye with the words: "Sempre, illustrissimo Senhor, minha casa e a suas ordenes," "My house, most illustrious Sir, is always at your disposal."
When I arrived at Remate de Males I had another attack of malaria, which almost severed the slender thread by which my life hung; my physical resistance was gone. But I managed to develop my plates before breaking down completely, and after having disposed of my small quantity of gold dust, for which I realised some three hundred and forty dollars, I was taken down to the mouth of the Javary River, where I had landed almost a year previous, now a physical and, I might almost say, mental wreck. I stayed in the house of Coronel Monteiro, the frontier official at Esperanca, for five long days, fighting with death, until one afternoon I saw the white hull of the R.M.S. Napo appear at a bend of the Amazon, only five hundred yards away.
Closer she came—this rescuing instrument of Providence. She was none too soon, for I had now reached the last notch of human endurance. She dropped anchor; a small gasoline launch was lowered into the water; three white-coated officers stepped into it—they came ashore—they climbed the stairs. The captain, a stout, kind-looking Englishman, approached my hammock and found therein a very sick white man. I was carried aboard and placed in the hands of the ship's physician. At last those black forests of the Amazon were left behind. After twenty-two days' sail, Sandy Hook lighthouse loomed on our port side, and soon after, I could rest—rest, and live again!