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Journey to Juigalpa--Description of Libertad—The priest and the
bell—Migratory butterflies and moths—Indian graves-Ancient names-Dry river-beds—Monkeys and wasps—Reach JuigalpaRide in neighbourhood-Abundance of small birds—A poor cripple -The “Toledo”—Trogons — Waterfall - Sepulchral moundsBroken statues—The sign of the cross-Contrast between the ancient and the present inhabitants—Night life.
TOWARDS the end of June, in 1872, I had to go to Juigalpa, one of the principal towns of the province of Chontales, on business connected with a lawsuit brought against the mining company by a litigious native. I started early in the morning, taking with me my native boy, Rito, who carried on his mule behind him my blankets and a change of clothes. I carried in my hand a light fowling-piece. The roads through the forest were excessively muddy, and it took us four hours to get over the seven miles to Pital; the poor mules struggling all the way through mud nearly three feet deep. Shortly after leaving Pital, we passed the river Mico; and two miles further on, across some grassy hills, reached the small town of Libertad. It is the principal mining centre of Chontales. There are a great number of gold mines in its vicinity, several of which are worked by intelligent Frenchmen. The gold and silver mines of Libertad are richer than those of Santo
THE CHURCH BELLS.
Domingo, and many of the owners of them have extracted great quantities of the precious metals.
The town is situated near to the edge of the forest, being separated by the Rio Mico, across which it is proposed to build a wooden bridge, as during floods the river is impassable. Whether the bridge will ever be built or not I cannot tell. Several times rates have been levied, and money collected to build it, but the funds have always melted away in the hands of the officials. There is an alcalde and a judge at Libertad. Every one worth two hundred dollars is liable to be elected to the latter office. Only unimportant cases are tried by him, and his decisions depend generally on the private influence that is brought to bear upon him. He is often a tool in the hands of some unprincipled lawyer. The church at Libertad is a great barn-like edifice, with tiled roof. At one side is a detached small bell-tower, in which hang two bells, one sound and whole, the other cracked and patched. The latter was a present from one of the mining companies, and had excited a great scandal. The mining company had a fine large bell, with which they called together their workmen. The priest of Libertad, thinking it might be much better employed in the service of the church, made an application for it. The superintendent of the mine could not part with it, but having an old broken bell, he had it patched up, and sent it out with a letter, explaining that he could not let them have the other, but that if this one was of any use, they were welcome to it. The priest heard that the bell was on the road, and thinking it was the one he had coveted, got up a procession to go and meet it, to take it to its place with befitting ceremony. But when he saw the old battered and broken article that had been sent, his satisfaction was changed to rage, instead of blessing he cursed it, threw it to the ground, and even kicked and spat upon it. His rage for a time knew no bounds, as he thought that he had been mocked by the heretical foreigners, and his indignation was at first shared by some of the principal inhabitants of the town, but when the explanatory letter had been interpreted to them, their feelings changed, and the poor bell was put up to do what duty it could. There are some good stores in Libertad, the best being branches of Granada houses that buy the produce of the country-hides, india-rubber, and gold—for export, and import European manufactured goods.
Captain Velasquez joined me at Libertad, and, after getting breakfast, we started. The road passes over grassy hills, on which cattle and mules were feeding. The edge of the forest is not far distant to the right, and all the way along it, there have been clearings made and maize planted. As we rode along, great numbers of a brown, tailed butterfly (Timetes chiron) were flying over to the south-east. They occurred, as it were, in columns. The air would be comparatively clear of them for a few hundred yards, then we would pass through a band perhaps fifty yards in width, where hundreds were always in sight, and all travelling one way. I took the direction several times with a pocket compass, and it was always south-east. Amongst them were a few yellow butterflies, but these were not so numerous as in former years. In some seasons these migratory swarms of butterflies continue passing over to the south-east for three to five weeks, and must consist of millions upon
MIGRATIONS OF BUTTERFLIES.
millions of individuals, comprising many different species and genera. The beautiful tailed green and gilded dayflying moth (Urania leilus) also joins in this annual movement. When in Brazil, I observed similar flights of butterflies at Pernambuco and Maranham, all travelling south-east. Mr. R. Spruce describes a migration which he witnessed on the Amazon, in November 1849, of the common white and yellow butterflies. They were all passing to the south-south-east.* Darwin mentions that several times when off the shores of Northern Patagonia, and at other times when some miles off the mouth of the Plata, the ship was surrounded by butterflies; so numerous were they on one occasion, that it was not possible to see a space free from them, and the seamen cried out that it was “snowing butterflies.” + These butterflies must also come from the westward. I know of no satisfactory explanation of these immense migrations. They occurred every year whilst I was in Chontales, and always in the same direction. I thought that some of the earlier flights in April might be caused by the vegetation of the Pacific side of the continent being still parched up, whilst on the Atlantic slope the forests were green and moist. But in June there had been abundant rains on the Pacific side, and vegetation was everywhere growing luxuriantly. Neither would their direction from the north-west bring them from the Pacific, but from the interior of Honduras and Guatemala. The difficulty is that there are no return swarms. If they travelled in one direction at one season of the year, and in an opposite at another, we might suppose
* " Journal of the Linnean Society,” vol. ix. “Naturalist’s Voyage,” p. 158.
that the vegetation on which the caterpillars feed was at one time more abundant in the north-west, at another in the south-east; but during the five years I was in Central America, I was always on the look-out for them, and never saw any return swarms of butterflies. Their migration every year in one definite direction is quite unintelligible to me.
We gradually ascended the range that separates the water-shed of the Lake of Nicaragua from that of the Blewfields river, passing over grassy savannahs. About two leagues from Libertad there are many old Indian graves, covered with mounds of earth and stones. A well-educated Englishman, Mr. Fairbairn, has taken up his abode at this place, and is growing maize and rearing cattle. There are many evidences of a large Indian population having lived at this spot, and their pottery and fragments of their stones for bruising maize have been found in some graves that have been opened. Mr. Fairbairn got me several of these curiosities, amongst them are imitations of the heads of armadillos, and other animals. Some of these had formed the feet of urns, others were rattles, containing small balls of baked clay. The old Indians used these rattles in their solemn religious dances, and the custom is probably not yet quite obsolete, for as late as 1823 Mr. W. Bullock saw, in Mexico, Indian women dancing in a masque representing the court of Montezuma, and holding rattles in their right hands, to the noise of which they accompanied their motions. Several stone axes have been found, which are called “thunderbolts” by the natives, who have no idea that they are artificial, although it is less than four hundred years ago since their forefathers used them. Like