18 AUGUST 1877, Page 19


Em men Guiana, one of the five portions of territory which form the northern part of South America, lies within the torrid zone, and is generally known as Demerara, and comprises a beautiful region, with which the general reader has but little acquaintance, "The civilised and cultivated portion of the colony," says the author of an exceedingly interesting work upon the country, " lies only along a narrow strip of sea-coast. Behind this are swamps, then wooded rising ground, and finally, mountains and savannahs stretching southwards, all * Canoe and Camp Lire in British Guiana. By G. Barrington Brown, A.B.S.M., late Government Survoyor in British Guiana. London s Edward Stanford.

lying in a state of nature, the haunts of wild animals and various Indian tribes. This portion, between the rear of the sugar estates and the colony, is known as the 'Interior,' and with the exception of a few settlements on the banks of the lower. Berhice, Demerara, and Essequibo rivers, it remains to-day in the same state as iu the time of Raleigh." Nearly nine. years ago Mr. Brown commenced by a canoe-voyage on the Cuyuni River, the exploration of this unknown " Interior,' and the results are now before us, in a volume of striking and' varied interest,—which would, however, be more complete and useful did it possess an index. The river voyage presents a suc- cession of pictures of the wild beauty of cataracts and rapids, and the quiet loveliness of trees, plants, orchids, and smalh delicately scented flowers. The river swarms with curious fish with rows of teeth shaped like the incisors of mammals, which browse upon the aquatic plants, and are easily shot when feed- ing near the surface ; the banks swarm with iguanas and frogs,. and the night is melancholy-musical with the calls of owls and hawks, and the loud, shrill whistle of a bird called the " maam."' Day after day passes in swift canoeing up the beautiful river, by rapids and cataracts ;when these occur, the crew land,. and carry the long boat past the difficult bit of water ;— and all the time no animals of the larger kinds are ever• visible, though the forest bordering the river is peopled by tapir,. deer, wild hog, 'abbe, but they are warned off by the sound of the• paddles and the voices of the men. Canoes full of Indians pass the strangers with friendly greetings, and when they land and) visit the native villages, they find the Indians of British Guiana) very superior savages. They live in neat huts, their scanty clothing is skilfully woven and prettily decorated, they have no) distrust of strangers, and they treat their women well, regarding them as equals, and putting no hard work upon them. They aze,- however, singularly indifferent to the death of their relatives, and much addicted to the practice of secret poisoning. When the river. voyage is succeeded by a long tramp through primeval forest, the writer takes off the monotony by his lively descriptions of the- birds and the animals lie meets with, the heavy tropical storms to which the party were exposed, and the peaceful savages who- supplied them with cassava-bread and fowls. " It seems," says the author, " to be a passion with Indians to keep fowls and ours which, are quite useless to them. They never eat their fowls by any chance, and were it not for the depredations of vampire-bats and am& tiger-cats, they would increase rapidly." Tile Indians, however,. will sell the fowls for other people to eat, and the curs are not altogether useless, for the writer tells us that they follow the- women to the cassava-fields, unpleasantly frequented by jaguars,. which are satisfied to pounce upon a dog or two, and let the- women escape. Rich country, abundant animal life, beautiful) scenery, and harmless people form the sum of the experiences of the first river journey ; the second expedition, up the Essequibo and Rupununi rivers to the great Roraima mountain, promised: more variety and enjoyment. Sweeping up the broad river, with- its beautiful wooded shores and sand beaches, studded with. turtles' nests, the travellers came to a cataract, at whose foot they encamped, on a white-sand beach, to spend Christmas Day ; and) there, for the first time, came upon traces of the human history of the unknown region in which they found themselves:-

" Thorn, in the easterly channel, on large blocks of porphyritic groenstone, are inscribed rude markings and unintelligible characters,. I spent a portion of the day in copying the inscriptions, which I believe- were intended to record some striking events in the history of an. ancient people. The Indians residing in the districts where these- records aro found are a quiet, docile race, who worship neither idol nor unseen deity ; and although they acknowledge the existence of one great and good spirit, never appeal to him for aid in time of trouble.. Thoy can offer no explanation of the meaning of the picture- writings, nor conjecture by whom they wore made ; and one would suppose that bad they been the direct descendants of the picture-- writing people, they would have had some tradition respecting them. One man, however, in the Pacaraima mountains, who showed mo some- of these writings, said that the Great Spirit had made them."

The march inland to the l'acaraima mountains was hard work,. and involved much suffering from thirst, as the traveller toilet towards the long lines of ridges and peaks, gorgeously coloured in,- blue, yellow, and purple, with every detail of form defined iu the clear atmosphere, and a more distant range in the background,. showing a line cobalt-blue. The most exciting moment of the journey was when the first view of Roraima burst upon the narrator. Ile had been on foot long before daylight, lighted by the- moon and the morning star, and early in the forenoon roundest the end of a mountain ridge called Waetipu. Thus he describes the monarch of mountains in the unknown land

Turn in any direction I would, most wonderful soenory was pr) - seated to my view, from the pink-precipiced Roraima in the north-wJsk,

looking like a huge fortification surrounded by a gigantic glacis, to the great undulating plain, stretching southward as far as the eye could

reach, where at tho lrn•izon land melted into sky crossed to the foot of Roraima, and ascended its sloping por- tion to a height of 5,100 feet above the level of the sea. Between the highest point I reached and the foot of the great perpendicular portion which towered high above us, was a band of thick forest. Looking up at the great wall of rock, 2,000 foot in height, I could see that a forest covered its top, and that in places on its sides, where small trees or shrubs could gain a hold with their roots, there they clung. The great beds of white, pink, and red sandstone, of which it is composed, are interbedded with layers of yed shale, the whole rest- ing upon a great bed of diorite. No one can view this wonderful moun- tain and its surrounding similarly shaded neighbours without feeling convinced that they stood at one time as islands in the ocean, but at what period of the earth's history it is difficult to say. If any mammals then lived upon them, when the sea washed the bases of their cliffs, the descendants of those mammals may exist there still, for all communica- tion with their tops and the surrounding country has ever since been cut off effectually by their perpendicular Bides. It is interest- ing to speculate upon what sort of animals might be Sound there, but as a speculation it must remain ; for unless one ascended the mountain by means of a balloon, the question could never

be settled. The length of Roraima is about twelve miles, that of each of its two neighbours still more extensive, while all have perfectly level tops. The area of the surface of Roraima must be considerable, for Sir R.

Schomburgk, who visited its southern end, describes some beautiful waterfalls as leaping from its sides, forming the drainage of part of its top; and when viewing it from a mountain on the upper Ilanaruni, I distinctly saw an enormous waterfall on its north-east aide, of consider- able width and extraordinary height."

The author was obliged to leave this beautiful district half- explored, in consequence of the scarcity of food, from which, indeed, ho suffered pretty constantly during his land journeys, whenever he went far from the Carib villages. A continuous plague of insects also beset him, but he seems to have set courage and patience against every obstacle to his acquiring the fullest information concerning every district which be explored. We do not know any book of travel which so abounds in minute observation of the animal and insect life of the countries visited as this does, and though Mr. Brown is some-

times provokingly brief in his descriptions, passing on before he has afforded us more than a glimpse of the remote places to which he penetrated by watery ways, it must be acknowledged he omits nothing. The forest, the path, the men, the birds, beasts, fishes, and insects, all are reproduced for us, as are the mountains, the valleys, and the wide savannahs. Some pleasant hunting-stories diversify the details of travel, and the author's description of the falls of the Potaro river is really grand. One of them is nine hundred feet in height, and of extraordinary volume and beauty, and when the traveller described it on his return to Georgetown,

the inhabitants of that city received his statements with surprise, and even doubt. It astonished them that such a gigantic natural wonder—one of the grandest fella in the world—should exist in their colony unknown to them. The approach to this, the .Kaieteur or "Old Man" Fall is very difficult, and even

.dangerous, but the spectacle well repays the cost of it. The author gives a strange account of the flight of the swallows to their roosting-place in a great cave behind the enormous body of water, which falls quite perpen- dicularly for 741 feet of its total descent. "Myriads of millions" are the numbers of these birds, which are black,

with a white ring round the neck ; and they come sweeping down to the great seething, foaming, sun-streaked sheet of falling water

just at sun-down, seemingly close to the face of it. The travellers, approaching the edge of the precipice, waited to see bow the birds would manage to get behind the water :- "Down dropped a cloud of them over the edge for about one hundred feet ; then, with the rapidity of lightning, they changed their• downward course with a quick turn to one at right angles, and thus shot through the mist on either side into the gloomy cave. Just before dusk the greater portion descended in a continuous stream for a considerable time, but small flocks and single birds kept arriving until it was quite .dark. When a single bird shot down, its velocity was so great that it appeared to form a short, continuous black lino against the sky."

Numbers of smaller cataracts and falls occur in the Potaro river, which seems to be the most picturesque of all those which Mr.

Brown explored. Everywhere animal life abounded, and every- where the travellers experienced great difficulty in getting food. Their best chance was on the Corentyne river, where they made heavy hags among the bush-hogs. This river and its branches

teem with ferocious fish called hamaira and perai, the latter espe- cially dangerous. "They actually bit the steering-paddles," says the author, "as they were drawn through the water astern of the boats. A tapir which I shot swimming across the river had its nose eaten off by them whilst we were towing it to shore." The stingray, the alligator, and poisonous water-snakes also inhabit these rivers, whose banks are rich in fruit and forest trees, tenanted by innumerable birds and monkeys. A propos of the groves of Brazil-nut trees, the author says :— " The quatna, or largo black spider monkeys, spent a good deal of their timo in trying to open them by boating them against the branches of trees, or on bard logs upon the ground. When a single monkey was thus employed, the blows were most laughably few and far between,' the creature showing its true indolent character by the slow way in which it performed its work, resting for a few minutes between every blow. It else showed an mount of perseverance, however, that ono would not look for in a monkey, and a kno‘vludge that it would even- tually reap a reward for its hard labour. In a forest between the Burble° and Corentyno rivers the traveller came upon a curious tree, of which be apparently did not discover the name. It was a largo tree, with a whitish bark, and one of the mon notched its bark with a cut- lass. As the chips flew, the wound in the trop sent forth one of the most disagreeable and disgusting smells that over smote on mortal nose. The smell of boiling nitric acid was nothing to it; some of the men actually fled fromthe spot. We daubed some mud quickly over the notch, but without any effect, and as it was too late to move our camp, wo wore forced to spend the night in the polluted atmosphere."

We find some very amusing ant stories in this interesting book. One of the best describes a battle between tamrians (large ants, which do not build nests, but occupy old wasps' nests or hollow trees) and yackamans, which are nest.builders. The scene of the battle was a hollow tree, the home of a colony of tamrians, sur- rounded by a patch of white sand :- " A. band from a column of yackamane crossed the sand, and climb- ing the treo, entered the home of the tamrians, whore they wore met by the inhabitants, and the fight commenced ; but as the former poured in by thousands, the fight was carried on in the hollow tree, lasting for about a quarter-of-an-hour. During that time many jacks- mans were soon coming out of the hole carefully bearing their wounded comrades, some of whom were lifeless, and making off across the sand in the direction taken by the main column. Then soon all began to pourout again, but those carried the dead bodies of the unfortunate tamrians, of which probably not one had escaped. The band then marched off in a long line, and on their way had to ascend a steep rise in the sand, up which many of them, who had lost a leg or two, could not climb, but kept rolling down. Then it was that the collective number exhibited their wonderful sagacity. As a wounded one was struggling up, many of its unloaded and unwounded comrades massed themselves togothor below it, and as it gained inch by inch, they advanced slowly in a com- pact mass behind, so that when it lost its footing and rolled down, it did not go far before it was brought up against their bodies. Some- times they almost shoved it up, and getting it safely to the top, made off, and left it to plod along the level by itself. This was not an isolated instance, but was done repeatedly by separate gauge of ants."

The Berbice and Demerara rivers are favourite resorts of caymans and snakes, and the traveller incurred some danger from these creatures; but on the whole, his journeyings through the unknown background of British Guiana over its network of rivers was safe, and, for uncivilised travelling, easy. He en- countered Indian tribes, many and various, and it is worthy of remark that ho was never molested by them, but found them always well disposed and friendly. The character of the natives is a very hopeful point, in considering the possible future of a rich and beautiful region, which it ought not to be difficult to open up to the influences of civilisation.