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Ch. IV.]

DIFFICULT MARCI.

61

summit of which we had a splendid view: behind, 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, amo gst which dwell the Indians of the Rio Frio and other little-known tribes. Before us

were spread out well-grassed savannahs, thickly 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 sparingly 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

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inhabited mostly by half-breeds, at about eight o'clock, and securing 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 is 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 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 country. 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

Ch. IV.

SAVANNAHS AND FOREST.

53

Tomas, who had frequently been down it after Indian 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 sown 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; but before the grain is set these are pulled off, excepting onc, 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 “clote.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 hundred fold, 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.

Ch. 11.]

MAIZE AND MANDIOCA EATERS.

55

above the level of the sea; and in the same country it has been found in tombs apparently more ancient than the times of the Incas.* In Mexico it was known from the earliest times of which we have any record, in the picture writings of the Toltecs ; and that ancient people carried it with them in all their wanderings. In Central America the stone grinders, with which they bruised it down, are almost invariably found in the ancient graves, having been buried with the ashes of the dead, as an indispensable article for their outfit to another world. When Florida and Louisiana were first discovered, the native Indian tribes all cultivated maize as their staple food; and throughout Yucatan, Mexico, and all the western side of Central America, and through Peru to Chili, it was, and still is, the main sustenance of the Indians. The people that cultivated it were all more or less advanced in civilization; they were settled in towns; their traders travelled from one country to another with their wares; they were of a docile and tractable disposition, easily frightened into submission. It is likely that these maize-eating peoples belonged to closely affiliated races. In the West India Islands they occupied most of Cuba and Hayti; but from Porto Rico southwards the islands were peopled by the warlike Caribs, who harassed the more civilised tribes to the north. From Cape Gracias a Dios southward, the eastern coast of America was peopled on its first discovery by much ruder tribes, who did not grow maize, but made bread from the roots of the mandioca (Manihot aipim); and still in British Guiana, on the Lower Amazon, and in north-eastern Brazil, farina made from the roots of the

* Von Tschudi, “Travels in Peru,” English edition, p. 177.

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