Page images
PDF
EPUB

like fruit, prickly acacias, and thorny bromelias. This spiny character of vegetation seems to be characteristic of dry rocky places and tracts of country liable to great drought. Probably it is as a protection from herbivorous animals, to prevent them browsing upon the twigs and small branches when herbaceous vegetation is dried up. Small armadillos abound near these rocky knolls, and are said to feed on ants and other insects. We had a long chase after one, which we observed some distance from the rock, over the cracked and dried-up plain : though it could not run very fast, it doubled quickly, and the rough cracked ground made odds in its favour ; but it was ultimately secured. Pigeons, brown coloured, of various sizes, from that of a thrush to that of a common dove, were numerous and very tame. One of the smallest species alights and seeks about in the streets of small towns for seeds, like a sparrow, and more bold than that bird, for it is not molested by the children— rather, however, from indolence than from any lack of the element of cruelty in their dispositions. After crossing the plains we rode over undulating hills, here called savannahs, with patches of forest on the rising ground, and small plains on which grows the ternate-leaved jicara (pronounced hickory), a tree about as large as an apple-tree, with fruit of the size, shape, and appearance of a large green Orange, but growing on the trunk and branches, not amongst the leaves. The outside of the fruit is a hard thin shell, packed full of seeds in a kind of dry pulp, on which are fed fowls, and even horses and cattle in the dry season; the latter are said sometimes to choke themselves with the fruit, whilst trying to eat it. Of the bruised seeds is also made a cooling drink, much

Ch. IV.] FORMS OF INDIAN POTTERY. 47

used in Nicaragua. The jicara trees grow apart at equal distances, as if planted by man. The hard thin shell of the fruit, carved in various patterns on the outside, is made into cups and drinking-vessels by the natives, who also cultivate other species of jicara, with round fruits, as large as a man’s head, from which the larger drinking-bowls are made. In the smaller jicaras chocolate is always made and served in Central America, and, being rounded at the bottom, little stands are made to set them in ; these are sometimes shaped like egg-cups, Sometimes like toy washhand-stands. In making their earthenware vessels, the Indians up to this day follow this natural form, and their water-jars and bowls are made rounded at the bottom, requiring stands to keep them upright. The meals of Montezuma were served on thick cushions or pillows. This was probably on account of the rounded bases of the bowls and dishes used. The gourd forms of bowls probably often originated in the clay having been moulded over gourds which were burnt out in the baking process. It is said that in some of the Southern states the kilns in which the ancient pottery was baked have been found, and in some the half-baked ware remained, retaining the rinds of the gourds over which they had been moulded. Afterwards, when the potter learned to make bowls without the aid of gourds, he still retained the shape of his ancient pattern. The name, too, like the form, has had a wonderful vitality. It is the “xicalli” of the ancient Aztecs, changed to “jicara " by the Spaniards, by which they mean a chocolate-cup ; and even in Italy a modification of the same word may be heard, a tea-cup being called a chicchera. On the top of one of the hills we just got a glimpse of a small pack of wolves, or coyotes, as they are called, from the Aztec coyotl. They are smaller than the European wolf, and are cunning, like a fox, but hunt in packs. They looked down at us from the ridge of the hill for a few moments, then trotted off down the other side. Their howlings may often be heard in the early morning. Cattle, horses, and mules are bred on these plains. Male asses are kept at some of the haciendas. They are not allowed to mix with any of their own kind, and are well fed and in good condition; but they are only of small size, and the breed of mules might be greatly improved by the introduction of larger asses. The vegetation on the plains was rapidly drying up. Many of the trees shed their leaves in the dry season, just as they do with us in autumn. The barrenness of the landscape is relieved in March by several kinds of trees bursting into flower when they have shed their leaves, and presenting great domes of brilliant colour— some pink, others red, blue, yellow, or white, like great single-coloured bouquets. One looked like a gigantic rhododendron, with bunches of large pink flowers. The yellow-flowered ones belong to wild cotton-trees, from the pods of which the natives gather cotton to stuff pillows, &c. About one o'clock we reached rather a large river, and after crossing it came in sight of the town of Acoyapo, one of the principal towns of the province of Chontales. We stayed and had dinner with Senhor Don Dolores Bermudez, a Nicaraguan gentleman

Ch. IV.] COCK-FIGHTING. 49

who had been educated in the States, and spoke English fluently. He very kindly took me over the town, and I always found him ready to give me information respecting the antiquities and natural products of the country. Acoyapo and the district around it contains about two thousand inhabitants. The storekeepers, lawyers, and hacienderos are of Spanish and mixed descent. Amongst the lower classes there is much Indian and some negro blood; but there are many pure Indians scattered through the district, living near the rivers and brooks, and growing patches of maize and beans. In the centre of the town is a large square or plaza, with a stucco-fronted church occupying one side, and the principal stores and houses ranging around the other three sides. A couple of coco-palms grow in front of the church, but do not thrive like those near the sea-coast. It was Saturday, the 22nd of February, when we arrived; this was a great feast-day, or festa, at Acoyapo, and the town was full of country people, who were amusing themselves with horse-races, cock-fights, and drinking aguardiente. Their mode of cock-fighting is very cruel, as the cocks are armed with long sickleshaped lancets, tied on to their natural spurs, with which they give each other fearful gashes and wounds. All classes of Nicaraguans are fond of this amusement; in nearly every house a cock will be found, tied up in a corner by the leg, but treated otherwise like One of the family. The priests are generally great abettors of the practice, which forms the usual amusement of the towns on Sunday afternoons. I have heard many stories of the padres after service hurrying off to the

cock-pit with a cock under each arm. Bets are made E

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

« EelmineJätka »