« EelmineJätka »
on every fight, and much money is lost and won over the sport.
Like most of the Nicaraguan towns, Acoyapo appears to have been an Indian city before the Spanish conquest. The name is Indian, and in the plaza Señor Bermudez pointed out to me some flat bared rock surfaces, on which were engraved circles and various straight and curved characters, covering the whole face of the rock. Some rude portions of stone statues that have been found in the neighbourhood are also preserved in the town. The Spaniards called the town San Sebastian; but the more ancient name is likely to prevail, notwithstanding that in all official documents the Spanish one is used. Acoyapo is a grazing district, and there are some large cattle haciendas, especially towards the lake. The town suffers from fever owing to the neighbouring swamp. Much of the land around is very fertile; but little of it is cultivated, as the people are indolent, and content if they make a bare livelihood. We left Acoyapo about three o'clock : our road lay up the river, which we crossed three times. Excepting near the river, the country was very thinly timbered; and it was pleasant, after riding across the open plains, exposed to the hot rays of the sun, to reach the shady banks of the stream, by which grew many high thick-foliaged trees, with lianas hanging from them, and bromelias, orchids, ferns, and many other epiphytes perched on their branches. At these spots, too, were various beautiful birds, amongst which the Sisitote, a fine black and orange songster, and a trogon (Trogon melanocephalus, Gould), were the most conspicuous.
We reached and crossed a high range, from the
summit of which we had a splendid view over the plains and savannahs we had crossed, to the great lake, with its islands and peaked hills, and beyond the dark dim mountains of Costa Rica, amongst which dwell the Indians of the Rio Frio and other littleknown tribes. Before us were spread out well-grassed savannahs, thinly timbered, excepting where dark winding lines of trees or light green thickets of bamboos marked the course of rivers or mountain brooks. Here and there were dotted thatched huts, in which dwelt the owners of the cattle, mules, and horses feeding on the meadows. Far in the distance the view was bounded by a line of dark, nearly black-looking forest, which, there commencing, extends unbroken to the Atlantic. Near its edge, a seven-peaked range marked the neighbourhood of Libertad—the beginning of the gold-mining district. Descending the slope of the range, we found the savannahs on its eastern side much more moist than those to the westward of it; and as we proceeded, the humidity of the ground increased, and the crossings of some of the valleys and swamps were difficult for the mules. The dry season had set in, and these places were rapidly drying up; but in many it had just reached that stage when the mud was most tenacious; at one very bad crossing, called an “ estero," my mule fell, with my leg underneath him, pinning me in the mud. The poor beast was exhausted, and would not move. Night had set in—it was quite dark, and I had lagged some distance behind my companions : fortunately they heard my shouts, and, soon returning, extricated me from my awkward predicament. Without further mishap we reached Esquipula, a village inhabited mostly by half-breeds, and slung our hammocks for the night in a small thatched house belonging to the mining company, who kept many of their draught bullocks at this place on account of the excellent pasture around. The village of Esquipula is built near the river Mico, which, rising in the forest-clad ranges to the eastward, runs for several miles through the savannahs, then again enters the forest and flows into the Atlantic at Blewfields, a broad and deep river. This river must have had at one time a large Indian population dwelling in settled towns near its banks. Their burial-places, marked with great heaps of stones, are frequent, and pieces of pottery, broken stone statues and pedestals are often met with. Near Esquipula there are some artificial-looking mounds, with great stones set round them ; in fact, this and another village, a few miles to the south, called San Tomas, are, I believe, both built on the sites of old Indian towns. The Indians of the Rio Mico gave the Spaniards some trouble on their first settlement of the countıy. About two leagues from Acoyapo, the site of a small town was pointed out to me, now covered with low trees and brushwood. Here the Spaniards were attacked in the night-time by the Rio Mico Indians, and all of them killed, excepting the young women, who were carried off into captivity, and the place has ever since lain desolate.
Many extravagant stories have been told of the great statues that are said to have been seen on the banks of the Mico, much lower down the river than where we crossed it; but M. Etienne, of Libertad, who descended it to Blewfields, and some Ulleros of San Thomas,
Ch. IV.] SAVANNAHS AND FOREST.
53 who had frequently been down it after india-rubber, assured me that the reported statues were merely rude carvings of faces and animals on the rocks. They appear to be similar to what are found on many rivers running into the Caribbean Sea, and to those which were examined by Schomburgk on the rocks of the Orinoco and Essequibo. As others like them, of undoubted Carib workmanship, have been found in the Virgin Islands, it is possible that they are all the work of that once-powerful race, and not of the settled agricultural and statue-making Indians of the western part of the continent.
We started from Esquipula early next morning, and crossed low thinly-timbered hills and savannahs to Pital, a scattered settlement of many small thatched houses, close to the borders of the great forest; on the edge of which were clearings, made for growing maize, which is cultivated entirely on burnt forest land. At some parts they had already commenced cutting down trees for fresh clearings; these would be burnt in April, and the maize sown the following month, in the usual primitive way, just as it was in Mexico before and at the Spanish conquest. In commencing a clearing, the brushwood is first cut close to the ground, as it would be difficult to do so after the large trees are felled. The big timber is then cut down, and in April it is set fire to. All the small wood and leaves burn well; but most of the large trunks are left, and many of the branches. Most of the latter are cut up to form a fence round the clearing, this at Pital and Esquipula being made very close and high to keep out deer. In May, the maize is sown; the sower makes little holes with
a pointed stick, a few feet apart, into each of which he drops two or three grains, and covers them with his foot. In a few days the green leaves shoot up, and grow very quickly. Numerous wild plants also spring up, and in June these are weeded out; the success of the crop greatly depending upon the thoroughness with which this is done. In July each plant has produced two or three ears; and before the grain is set these are pulled off, excepting one, as if more are left they do not mature well. The young ears are boiled whole, and make a tender and much-esteemed vegetable. They are called at this stage “ chilote,” from the Aztec xilotl ; and the ancient Mexicans in their eighth month, which began on the 16th July, made a great festival, called the feast of Xilonen. The poor Indians now have often reason to rejoice when this stage is reached, as their stores of corn are generally exhausted before then, and the “chilote” is the first fruits of the new crop. In the beginning of August the grains are fully formed, though still tender and white; and it is eaten as green corn, now called “elote.” In September the maize is ripe, and is gathered when dry, and stowed away, generally over the rooms of the natives. A second crop is often sown in December.
Maize is very prolific, bearing a hundredfold, and ripening in April. From the most ancient times, maize has been the principal food of the inhabitants of the western side of tropical America. On the coast of Peru, Darwin found heads of it,* along with eighteen recent species of marine shells, in a raised beach eighty-five feet
* “Geological Observations in South America, 1846,” p. 49; and “ Animals and Plants under Domestication,” vol. i. p. 320.