Page images

Ch. XII.]



to keep it; for the first ants that came up were only pioneers, and by knocking these off it prevented them from returning and scenting the trail to communicate the intelligence to others.

Before leaving this subject, I may remark that just as in plants, some glands secrete honey that attracts insects, others a resinous liquid that repels them, so the secretions of different genera of the homopterous division of the hemiptera are curiously modified for strikingly different useful purposes. We have seen that by many species of plant-lice, scale-insects, and leaf-hoppers, a honey-like fluid is secreted that attracts ants to attend upon them. Other species of aphides (Eriosoma) that have no honeytubes, and many of the coccidæ, secrete a white, flocculent, waxy cotton, under which they lie concealed. In many of the Homoptera, this secretion only amounts to a white powder covering the body, as in some of the Fulgoridæ. In others it is more abundant, and it reaches its extreme limit in a species of Phenax that I found at Santo Domingo. The insect is about an inch in length, but the waxy secretion forms a long thick tail of cotton-like fibres, two inches in length, that gives the insect a most curious appearance when flying. This flocculent mass is so loosely connected with the body that it is difficult to catch the insect without breaking the greater part of it off. Mr. Bates has suggested that the large brittle wings of the metallic Morphos may often save them from being caught by birds, who are likely to seize some portion of the wide expanse of wing, and this, breaking off, frees the butterfly. Probably the long cumbersome tail of the Phenax has a similar use. When flying, it is the only portion of the insect seen; and birds trying to capture it on the wing are likely to get only a mouthful of the flocculent wax. The large Homoptera are much preyed upon by birds. In April, when the cicadæ are piping their shrill cry from morning until night, individuals are often seen whose bulky bodies have been bitten off from the thorax by some bird ; and the large and graceful swallow-tailed kite at that time feeds on nothing else. I have seen these kites sweeping round in circles over the tree-tops, and every now and then catching insects off the leaves, so that on shooting them I have found their crops filled with cicada.

The frog-hoppers, besides exuding honey in some genera and wax in others, in a third division emit, when in the larvæ state, a great quantity of froth, in which they lie concealed, as in the common “cuckoo-spit” of our meadows.


Matagalpa-Aguardiente--Fermented liquors of the Indians--The

wine-palm-Idleness of the Nicaraguans-Pine and oak forests -Mountain gorge-Jinotega-Native plough-Descendants of the buccaneers San Rafael-A mountain hut.

At noon we arrived at Matagalpa, the capital of the province of the same name. The town contains about three thousand inhabitants; the province, or department, about thirty thousand. Matagalpa is built close to the river, on a rocky surface, with stony knolls rising up in some parts amongst the houses. It contains three churches, and the usual large square or plaza. Around, the country appeared very dry and barren, and there is scarcely any cultivation in the immediate neighbourhood. We put up at one of the best houses in the town. The family consisted of a stout lady, about fifty, and her husband, their daughter and her husband, and an unmarried son. The two younger men appeared to do nothing; the elder one had a contract with the government to manufacture aguardiente for three towns, and spent nearly all his time at a small hacienda, a league distant, where he grew sugar-cane and maize, and distilled the spirit.

There is a great deal of aguardiente, an inferior kind of rum, sold throughout Nicaragua, and most of the Indians make it a point in their religion to get drunk on their


feast-days, but at other times are a sober race. They do not owe the introduction of intemperance to the Spaniards, though they can now obtain stronger liquor than in the old times, as the ancient Indians do not appear to have known how to distil; but they made several kinds of fermented liquors. In Mexico the chief drink was the

pulque,” the fermented juice of the agave or maguey plant. In Nicaragua “chicha,” a kind of light beer, made from maize, is still the favourite Indian beverage. On the warmer plains, the wine-palm (Cocos butyracea) is grown.

I saw many of them near San Ubaldo. The wine is very simply prepared. The tree is felled, and an oblong hole cut into it, just below the crown of leaves. This hole is eight inches deep, passing nearly through the trunk. It is about a foot long and four inches broad; and in this hollow the juice of the tree immediately begins to collect, scarcely any running out at the butt where it has been cut off. This tendency of the sap to ascend is well shown in another plant, the water liana. To get the water from this it must be cut first as high as one can reach ; then about a foot from the ground, and out of a length of about seven feet, a pint of fine cool water will run ; but if cut at the bottom first, the sap will ascend so rapidly that very little will be obtained. In three days after cutting the wine-palm the hollow will be filled with a clear yellowish wine, the fermented juice of the tree ; and this will continue to secrete daily for twenty days, during which the tree will have yielded some gallons of wine. I was told that a very large grove of these trees were cut down by the Government near Granada, on account of the excesses of the Indians, who used to assemble there on their festivals, and get drunk

Ch. XIII.]



on the palm wine. The Indians of Nicaragua, when the Spaniards first came amongst them, objected to the preaching of the padres against intemperance. They said "getting drunk did no man any harm.”

The manufacture of aguardiente is a government monopoly, which is farmed out to contractors. The contracts are always given to the political supporters of the party in power.

There are many private illegal stills in the mountains. They are generally amongst thick forest, near a small brook, with some dense brushwood close at hand, for the distiller to slip into if any government officers should come up. One day, when rambling in the woods near

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

Santo Domingo, I came across one of these “

sly grog” manufactories. The apparatus was very simple.

It consisted of two of the common earthenware pots of the country, one on the top of the other, the top one having

« EelmineJätka »