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ascending or descending. About two we reached a clearing and hacienda, belonging to an enterprising German, named Melzer, near a brook called Las Lajas, who was cultivating plantains and vegetables, and had also commenced brick and tile making, besides planting some thousands of coffee trees. His large clearings were a pleasant change from the forest through which we had been toiling, and we stayed a few minutes at his house. After riding over another league of forestcovered ranges, we reached Pavon, one of the mines of the Chontales Company, and passing the Javali mine soon arrived at Santo Domingo, the headquarters of the gold-mining company whose operations I had come out to superintend.
Geographical position of Santo Domingo-Physical geography—The in
habitants-Mixed races-Negroes and Indians compared— Women
-Establishment of the Chontales Gold-Mining Company-My house and garden-Fruits-Plantains and bananas-Probably not indigenous to America-Propagated from shoots—Do not generally mature their seeds-Fig-trees–Granadillos and PapawsVegetables-Dependence of flowers on insects for their fertilisation -Insect plagues—Leaf-cutting ants—Their method of defoliating trees—Their nests—Some trees are not touched by the antsForeign trees are very subject to their attack-Method of destroying the ants-Migration of the ants from a nest attacked-Corrosive sublimate causes a sort of madness amongst them-Indian plan of preventing their ascending young trees-Leaf-cutting ants are fungus growers and eaters—The sagacity of the ants.
THE gold-mining village of Santo Domingo is situated in the province of Chontales, Nicaragua, in lat. 12° 16' N. and long. 84° 59' W., nearly midway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, where Central America begins to widen out northward of the narrow isthmus of Panama and Costa Rica. It is in the midst of the great forest that covers most of the Atlantic slope of Central America, and which continues unbroken from where we had entered it, at Pital, eastward to the Atlantic; westward it terminates in a sinuous margin about seven miles from the village, and there commence the lightly timbered and grassy plains and savannahs stretching to the Lake of Nicaragua. The surface of the land in the
forest region forms a succession of ranges and steep valleys, covered with magnificent timber and much undergrowth, Santo Domingo lies about 2000 feet above the level of the sea, and the hills around it rise from 500 to 1000 feet higher. It is built in the bend of a small stream, the head waters of a branch of the Blewfields river, on a level, low piece of ground, with the brook winding almost round it, and, beyond that, encircled by an amphitheatre of low hills in the hollow of which it lies. The road to the mines runs through it, and forms the main street, having on each side thatched stores and irregularly built houses. The inhabitants, about three hundred in number, are entirely dependent on the mines around, there being no cultivation or any other employment in the immediate neighbourhood. The people are of a mixed descent, in which Indian blood predominates, then Spanish with a slight admixture of the Negro element, whilst amongst the rising generation many fairhaired children can claim paternity amongst the numerous German and English workmen that have been employed at the mines. The storekeepers form the aristocracy of the village. They are indolent; lounging about, or lying smoking in their hammocks the greater part of the day, but generally civil and polite. They are particular in their dress, and may often be seen in faultless European costume, silk umbrella in hand, in twos or threes, taking a short quiet walk up the valley. The lower class of miners are scantily and badly clothed, especially when they come first to the mines. They are bare-footed, with poor ragged cotton trousers and a thin jacket of the same material. Generally, after being a year or two at the mines, they begin to wear better clothing, and may often
be seen with a new shirt, which to show off is worn hanging down outside, like a surtout coat. Amongst these are many pure Indians, short sturdy men, who make the steadiest workmen, patient and industrious, but with little appreciation of the value of money, and spending the whole of their wages at the end of the month, before they resume work. At these times the commandant comes in from the town of Libertad, about nine miles distant, with half-a-dozen bare-footed soldiers carrying old muskets on their shoulders, and levies black mail upon the poor patient “Mosas,” as they are called, in the shape of a fine for drunkenness. But the “ aguardiente," a native-made rum, is nevertheless always kept on hand, being a government monopoly, and ever ready, so that the Mosas may have no excuse to be sober and escape being fined.
Even in their drink the poor Indians are not very violent, and get intoxicated with surprising stolidity and quietness. Amongst the half-breeds, especially where the Negro element exists, there are often quarrellings and rows, when they slash away at each other with their long knives or “machetes," and get ugly cuts, which, however, heal again quickly.
Both the Negroes and Indians are decidedly inferior to the whites in intellect; but they do not differ so much from the Europeans as they do from each other. The Negro will work hard for a short while, on rare occasions, or when compelled by another, but is innately lazy. The Indian is industrious by nature, and works steadily and well for himself; but if compelled to work for another, loses all heart, and pines away and dies. The Negro is talkative, vivacious, vain, and sensual; the Indian taciturn, stolid, dignified, and moderate. As freemen, regularly though poorly paid and kindly treated, the Indians work well and laboriously in the mines; but the Negro seldom engages either in that or any other settled employment, unless compelled as a slave, in which condition he is happy and thoughtless. I do not defend slavery, but I believe it to be a greater curse to the masters than to the slaves, more deteriorating to the former than to the latter. The Spaniards at first enslaved the Indians, but they died away so rapidly that in a very short time the indigenes of the whole of the oncepopulous islands of the West Indies were exterminated, and large numbers of Indians were carried off from the mainland to supply their places, but died with equal rapidity; so that the Spaniards found it more profitable to bring negroes from Africa, who thrived and multiplied in captivity as readily as the enslaved Indians pined away and died. In Central America there never were many black slaves ; since the States threw off the yoke of Spain there have been none; and this comparative scarcity of the Negro element makes these countries much more pleasant and safer to dwell in than the West Indies, where it is much larger. The Indian seldom or never molests the whites, excepting in retaliation for some great injury; whilst amongst the free Negroes, robbery, violence, and murder need no other incentives than their own evil passions and lust.