16 OCTOBER 1841, Page 17


TRIED by the character of the publication and a strict reference to what scientific natural history requires, this volume of the Na- turalist's Library may not be ranked among the best of the series ; for Mr. SCHOMBDRGK'S objects in Guiana were not ichthyology, and his notes on fishes were merely made on such specimens as hap- pened to fall in his way. These notes, and the accompanying drawings, were of necessity wanting as regards the number of the fishes, and incomplete in the account of their habits ; though ex-

hibiting the accuracy and spirit which characterize an ardent lover of nature, permitting nothing to escape him in unknown regions,

even if foreign to the purpose of his tour. Nor is the description of the individual subjects and their general arrangement the work of SCHOMBURGII; but his notes and drawings seem to have been placed in the hands of an editor, who from the materials before him and from published sources arranged the work.

But though not so complete in a critical sense as some other parts of the series, it is one of the most popular and interesting

volumes that has been published in this popular and interesting work. The life of Sewomnuac x, or rather the notice of his different labours in natural history, from his childish love of botany, and his amateur survey of the Anegada island and reef when mercantile necessities took him to the West Indies, till he was selected by the Geocra- phical Society to explore British Guiana, possesses much interest, and conveys a sufficient idea of his travels. Many of the notes of SCHOMBURGH himself, descriptive of the habits of particular fishes, and of the scenes and incidents connected with their capture, are full of life and spirit. But his Introduction is the gem of the volume. Though nominally intended to give a view of the ichthy- ology of Guiana, it contains in reality the cream of his exploring experience ; a general picture of the country, conveying the im- pression which its waters, woods, and mountains left upon the mind of a naturalist, who unites exact science to a large perception ; a sketch of the Indians of Guiana, together with an ample descrip- tion of their canoes and implements for fishing ; several striking incidents of travel in a new country ; as well as a general account of the fishes of Guiana, the animals which prey upon them, and the commercial uses to which they might be turned. Necessity, we all know, is the mother of invention ; and it is a curious question, though difficult to settle, whether civilization and the advancement of the race do not spring from some natural or social necessity, however the latter may arise. At all events, it will be found that savages exhibit a high degree of skill in overcoming such obstacle as must be conquered ; displaying great aptitude in adapting their means to their objects, often exhibiting an excellence in their implements which European artisans can with difficulty attain with all their tools, whilst in pliability of muscle and manual dexterity they distance all but the very geniuses of posture-making. Even the nets of the Australians are described by Major MITCHELL as displaying mechanical excellence ; and the fishing-implements of the Indians of Guiana exhibit considerable variety, and, unless Mr. SCHOMBITEGK'S drawings have improved upon Nature, much neatness and finish. Their canoes, though having less of manufacture, seem not ill adapted for the nature of their waters. •


The canoes which were selected for that purpose [their journey] are ma- nufactured by the Indians, and consist of the trunk of a huge tree, which has been hollowed out, partly by the axe, partly by the fire. They are sometimes from thirty to forty feet long ; and are peculiarly qualified for these rivers, as they draw but little water, and are less subjected to leaking when drawn over cataracts or coming in contact with rocks, than if they were constructed of timbers. A covering of palm-leaves is substituted for an awning. As the largest of these canoes is seldom more than four feet wide, its load must be restricted ; and the baggage is generally placed in such a manner that, arrived where a cataract opposes obstacles to further progress, it may be unloaded and carried over-land. * • * •

The canoe is flat on the bow and stern; and in order to prevent the water from getting into it, two pieces of wood cut aczording to its shape are fitted in, which the Indian never fails to ornament according to his fashion. The corial narrows to a point towards the stern and bow. Like the canoes, they are scooped out from the trunk of a tree, and have no keel,—which in- deed would be quite a superfluous appendage, as it would be soon knocked off by coming in contact with sunken rocks, or a hen drawn over cataracts.

The pakasse, or wood-skin, is a boat merely constructed of the bark of a tree. It is generally made of a single piece of the tough bark of the muria- sutra tree, which grows to a very large size. An incision of the length the boat is to possess is made in the bark, which is removed from the trunk by driving in wedges : when loosened from the wood, it is kept open by cross sticks, and is supported at the extremities upon two beams, in order to raise those parts of the intended boat. Vertical incisions, at about two feet apart and a few inches in depth, are then made, and the parts secured afterwards by overlapping. It remains for several days exposed to the weather before it is fit for use. Though the pakasse is so crank that the slightest motion, when once in, renders it liable to upset, I have seen pakasses among the Tarumas, in the Cuyuwini, with five or six Indians in them. Their great advantage is, that being flat, they can float, where a common corial of the smallest description cannot pass ; and are so light, that in crossing cataracts, one man can easily carry his boat on his bead. When propelled by one man, he squats in the middle and paddles on either side. Great care is requisite in stepping in or out of them, as, if upset, they sink almost instantly, owing to the great specific gravity of the peculiar bark of which they are built.


When we ascended the river Berbice, two Waccawai boys belonged to our party, who navigated one of those pakasses. They were perhaps not more than eight years old; but we were highly delighted to see how ably they managed it. The boat seemed to fly through the water ; and the juvenile steersman directed its course with such judgment and precision that it never grounded, though it went over places where there was not more than eight or nine inches water.

They were equally expert in the use of the bow and arrow ; and wherever they observed one of the finny tribe, the pakasse was halted, the bow strung, off flew the pointed arrow ; and when taken out of the sand, which the water barely covered, we generally observed a fish struggling for liberty. In spite of these occasional detentions, they were always in the van when the hour approached for our stopping for breakfast or to encamp for the night.

Although they use the line and hook, a favourite mode of angling by the natives of Guiana is with bows and arrows ; in which, ac- cording to Mr. SCHOMBURGIC, they exhibit remarkable skill, and possess various implements according to the fish they intend to take. The efficiency of this method the Indians may judge of, but it seems a much more exciting sport than either angling or netting.


Partly to serve us for economical purposes, but more to satisfy oar curiosity of witnessing the Indian manner of hunting the arapaima, this giant of the fresh-water fishes, Irai-i, the Carib chieftain at Currassawaka, induced his men to afford us an opportunity. We selected a sunny day, when there was more chance that at the heat of noontide one of those fishes would rise to the sur- face. Our party was distributed in five small corials; and we proceeded towards the mouth of the small stream Currassawaka, where it enters the Ruptmuni. Here we remained stationary, one of the corials being put on the watch ; and no length of time had elapsed when the signal was given that an arapaima was in sight. All hands were hushed as death; Irai-i and his brother-in-law Da- baero, who were considered the strongest and best shots, went forward with their corial and approached the fish as nearly as possible, the rest following softly, to be within arrow-shot. There stood the sinewy Carib Dabaero, his foot firmly resting upon the bow of the corial, his left hand grasping the large bow of tough uaniara, his right the long arrow, upwards of six feet in length, and armed with a formidable iron point. His position, although forced to the unpractised, developed the symmetric forms of his figure, unadorned as it was by any art. Only those who have witnessed the Indian's eye when the bow is strung and he approaches his intended victim, can have any idea of that ex- pression and that fire by which it appears lighted. Irai-i had adopted a similar position, when the crack of the bowstring told us that Dabaero had discharged his arrow, and the chief followed his example, but missed, his arrow floating on the water, while the other disappeared with the monster. The corials pulled into the middle of the stream, the eyes of the Indians directed to all points to detect the arrow-feather appearing. Their quick eye saw it above the water, although it was only for a moment: away went all the corials in full chase ; and just as it appeared a second time, a second arrow was sent into the fish. All was now excitement ; and the sell of the Indian, the rushing of waters, harrowed up by the quick stroke of the paddles, was one of the most enliven- ing scenes I ever witnessed. Away we went where the experienced hunters expected to see the fish reappear ; and scarcely made the tops of the arrows their appearance, when others flew from their strings and pierced the arapaima. Down be went again ; but the period he remained below the surface was much shorter than previously,--a proof that he got fatigued; and when he reappeared, he allowed the first corial to come so near that one of the Indians was enabled to give him a stroke with a cutlass : a few more arrows were discharged at him, and he became an easy prey. The question was now, how to get him into a corial, as we estimated his length at least six to seven feet, and his weight not less than a hundred and fifty pounds. He was floated into comparatively shal- low water ; and when one of the corials was got under him, the Indians, who were wading in the water, shuffled the corial, with the fish and water in it, to and fro until the water had got mostly out and the craft commenced to float again ; the rest was baled out ; and under the huzza of our Indians we re- turned our prize to Currassawaka, highly delighted with our sport of hunting the arapaima.


The large alligators and caymans are the foremost among the inhabitants of the water which prey upon the fishes. There they lie, like dry logs of wood, at the foot of some cataract, their mouth half open, ready to snatch and swallow what the increased rapidity of the current should carry down the fall. How frequently have we seen them in that situation while ascending the upper river Berbice, which beyond all others seemed to swarm with these horrid monsters. I have already observed how often they tore the fish from our spring-hooks, and carried fish, hook, and line away ; and we naturally did not owe them good-will for their stealing propensities, which served as an additional proof to what extent their depredations must be carried on. And although abundance of fish during certain seasons prevails in the rivers of the interior, the cayman is nevertheless the most covetous of all animals, and envies every other suc- cessful fisher. This he gives to understand, particularly by angry growls, if the line with the captive is drawn in, and his attempts to intercept the captured fish before it be drawn on the land should have proved unsuccessful. While we were encamped at the mouth of the river Rewa, or Roiwa, during our last expedition, the afternoon of the 21st of October had passed under thunder and rain ; but at the approach of night Nature lulled herself to rest, and only the droppings from the leaves told of the former storm. I was lying sleepless in my hammock, and I watched two Indians who had their lines out to entrap some hungry fish. A kilbagre, lured away by the tempting bait, had snapped at it ; and the fisherman, acquainted by the stress on his line of his success, drew the unwilling fish towards the canoe, when the roar of a cayman awoke the echo of the woods; and rushing towards the course with all his might, he recap- tured the fish, as the astonished Indians were just on the point of drawing it in; and with it went the hook and a great part of the line. At our second night's camp, after we bad entered the river Rupununi, the Indians were likewise fishing; and whenever a fish was caught and drawn towards the canoe, the caymans commenced such a roar that it baffled description. We distinctly heard that there were three : first one commenced, when the fish tffatiras drawn in began to struggle; and another answered him, until the noise was so great that the Indians, as if in self-defence, and to intimidate the approaching monsters, set up a shout themselves. Indeed, the roaring of the cayman is so strong, that in the still hour of night it may be heard a mile off; and there is something awful and indescribable in it : it is not the tiger's growl, the bull's bellowing, the lion's roar; it is different from all, and really terrific when that sound bursts suddenly upon the ear. I might compare it to the snorting of a frightened horse, if the strength of that snort could be increased ten—no, twentyfold, in effect.

The plates of this volume have also a feature which distinguishes them from many others of the series ; as they are all from ori- ginal drawings, and possess that character and air of truth which always follows a copy from nature. They are moreover valuable from their novelty : other illustrations have been taken from actual publications or living specimens ; of some of ScuoaenuuGK's no other example, we believe, exists. Nor are many of the portraits less curious from the extraordinary anomaly of their forms ; most of them differing considerably from our notions of fishes, and leading one to infer, that if we had a complete collection of the living speci- mens of ichthyology, not only would they exhaust every variety of mechanical figure, but almost every variety of expression.