Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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a sugared brandy a trifle more pronounced in taste than the national
As far as tobacco was concerned, there was none of that coarse kind
which usually contents the natives of the Amazonian basin. It all
came direct from Villa Bella da Imperatriz--or, in other words, fro
the district in which is grown the best tobacco in Central America.
The principal habitation, with its annexes--kitchen, offices, and
cellars--was placed in the rear--or, let us say, stern of the
craft--and formed a part reserved for the Garral family and their
In the center the huts for the Indians and the blacks had been
erected. The staff were thus placed under the same conditions as at
the fazenda of Iquitos, and would always be able to work under the
direction of the pilot.
To house the crew a good many huts were required, and these gave to
the jangada the appearance of a small village got adrift, and, to
tell the truth, it was a better built and better peopled village than
many of those on the Upper Amazon.
For the Indians Joam Garral had designed regular cabins--huts without
walls, with only light poles supporting the roof of foliage. The air
circulated freely throughout these open constructions and swung the
hammock suspended in the interior, and the natives, among whom were
three or four complete families, with women and children, were lodged
as if they were on shore.
The blacks here found their customary sheds. They differed from the
cabins by being closed in on their four faces, of which only one gave
access to the interior. The Indians, accustomed to live in the open
air, free and untrammeled, were not able to accustom themselves to
the imprisonment of the _ajoupas,_ which agreed better with the life
of the blacks.
In the bow regular warehouses had arisen, containing the goods which
Joam Garral was carrying to Belem at the same time as the products of
There, in vast storerooms, under the direction of Benito, the rich
cargo had been placed with as much order as if it had been carefully
stowed away in a ship's hold.
In the first place, seven thousand arrobas of caoutchouc, each of
about thirty pounds, composed the most precious part of the cargo,
for every pound of it was worth from three to four francs. The
jangada also took fifty hundredweight of sarsaparilla, a smilax which
forms an important branch of foreign trade throughout the Amazon
districts, and is getting rarer and rarer along the banks of the
river, so that the natives are very careful to spare the stems when
they gather them. Tonquin bans, known in Brazil under the name of
_"cumarus,"_ and used in the manufacture of certain essential oils;
sassafras, from which is extracted a precious balsam for wounds;
bales of dyeing plants, cases of several gums, and a quantity of
precious woods, completed a well-adapted cargo for lucrative and easy
sale in the provinces of Para.
Some may feel astonished that the number of Indians and negroes
embarked were only sufficient to work the raft, and that a larger
number were not taken in case of an attack by the riverside Indians.
Such would have been useless. The natives of Central America are not
to be feared in the least, and the times are quite changed since it
was necessary to provide against their aggressions. The Indians along
the river belong to peaceable tribes, and the fiercest of them have
retired before the advancing civilization, and drawn further and
further away from the river and its tributaries. Negro deserters,
escaped from the penal colonies of Brazil, England, Holland, or
France, are alone to be feared. But there are only a small number of
these fugitives, they only move in isolated groups across the
savannahs or the woods, and the jangada was, in a measure, secured
from any attack on the parts of the backwoodsmen.
On the other hand, there were a number of settlements on the
river--towns, villages, and missions. The immense stream no longer
traverses a desert, but a basin which is being colonized day by day.
Danger was not taken into consideration. There were no precautions
To conclude our description of the jangada, we have only to speak of
one or two erections of different kinds which gave it a very
In the bow was the cabin of the pilot--we say in the bow, and not at
the stern, where the helmsman is generally found. In navigating under
such circumstances a rudder is of no use. Long oars have no effect on
a raft of such dimensions, even when worked with a hundred sturdy
arms. It was from the sides, by means of long boathooks or props
thrust against the bed of the stream, that the jangada was kept in
the current, and had its direction altered when going astray. By this
means they could range alongside either bank, if they wished for any
reason to come to a halt. Three or four ubas, and two pirogues, with
the necessary rigging, were carried on board, and afforded easy
communications with the banks. The pilot had to look after the
channels of the river, the deviations of the current, the eddies
which it was necessary to avoid, the creeks or bays which afforded
favorable anchorage, and to do this he had to be in the bow.
If the pilot was the material director of this immense machine--for
can we not justly call it so?--another personage was its spiritual
director; this was Padre Passanha, who had charge of the mission at
A religious family, like that of Joam Garral's, had availed
themselves enthusiastically of this occasion of taking him with them.
Padre Passanha, then aged seventy, was a man of great worth, full of
evangelical fervor, charitable and good, and in countries where the
representatives of religion are not always examples of the virtues,
he stood out as the accomplished type of those great missionaries who
have done so much for civilization in the interior of the most savage
regions of the world.
For fifty years Padre Passanha had lived at Iquitos, in the mission
of which he was the chief. He was loved by all, and worthily so. The
Garral family held him in great esteem; it was he who had married the
daughter of Farmer MagalhaŽs to the clerk who had been received at
the fazenda. He had known the children from birth; he had baptized
them, educated them, and hoped to give each of them the nuptial
The age of the padre did not allow of his exercising his important
ministry any longer. The horn of retreat for him had sounded; he was
about to be replaced at Iquitos by a younger missionary, and he was
preparing to return to Para, to end his days in one of those convents
which are reserved for the old servants of God.
What better occasion could offer than that of descending the river
with the family which was as his own? They had proposed it to him,
and he had accepted, and when arrived at Belem he was to marry the
young couple, Minha and Manoel.
But if Padre Passanha during the course of the voyage was to take his
meals with the family, Joam Garral desired to build for him a
dwelling apart, and heaven knows what care Yaquita and her daughter
took to make him comfortable! Assuredly the good old priest had never
been so lodged in his modest parsonage!
The parsonage was not enough for Padre Passanha; he ought to have a
The chapel then was built in the center of the jangada, and a little
bell surmounted it.
It was small enough, undoubtedly, and it could not hold the whole of
the crew, but it was richly decorated, and if Joam Garral found his
own house on the raft, Padre Passanha had no cause to regret the
poverty-stricken church of Iquitos.
Such was the wonderful structure which was going down the Amazon. It
was then on the bank waiting till the flood came to carry it away.
From the observation and calculation of the rising it would seem as
though there was not much longer to wait.
All was ready to date, the 5th of June.
The pilot arrived the evening before. He was a man about fifty, well
up in his profession, but rather fond of drink. Such as he was, Joam
Garral in large matters at different times had employed him to take
his rafts to belem, and he had never had cause to repent it.
It is as well to add that Araujo--that was his name--never saw better
than when he had imbibed a few glasses of tafia; and he never did any
work at all without a certain demijohn of that liquor, to which he
paid frequent court.
The rise of the flood had clearly manifested itself for several days.
From minute to minute the level of the river rose, and during the
twenty-four hours which preceded the maximum the waters covered the
bank on which the raft rested, but did not lift the raft.
As soon as the movement was assured, and there could be no error as
to the height to which the flood would rise, all those interested in
the undertaking were seized with no little excitement. For if through
some inexplicable cause the waters of the Amazon did not rise
sufficiently to flood the jangada, it would all have to be built over
again. But as the fall of the river would be very rapid it would take
long months before similar conditions recurred.
On the 5th of June, toward the evening, the future passengers of the
jangada were collected on a plateau which was about a hundred feet
above the bank, and waited for the hour with an anxiety quite
There were Yaquita, her daughter, Manoel Valdez, Padre Passanha,
Benito, Lina, Fragoso, Cybele, and some of the servants, Indian or
negro, of the fazenda.
Fragoso could not keep himself still; he went and he came, he ran
down the bank and ran up the plateau, he noted the points of the
river gauge, and shouted "Hurrah!" as the water crept up.
"It will swim, it will swim!" he shouted. "the raft which is to take
us to Belem! It will float if all the cataracts of the sky have to
open to flood the Amazon!"
Joam Garral was on the raft with the pilot and some of the crew. It
was for him to take all the necessary measures at the critical