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HABITS OF THE SANATE.
hour after dark, the owner and his sister returned on mules, and the gentleman seemed pleased at finding us at his house. I was about to offer a chair to the sister; but Velasquez told me it was not the custom to show any civilities to the ladies, as they would probably be misconstrued. After a while, the master had some chocolate
THE “SANATE,” OR QUIŚCALUS. brought to him by his sister, who waited upon him. The wife, the sister, and the daughter in the departments seldom sit down to their meals with the master of the house, but attend upon him like servants.
Whilst coffee was preparing next morning, I strolled about the outbuildings, and was much amused at the antics of the jet black Quiscalus, called “sanate” by the natives. They are about the size of a magpie, with much of the active movements of that bird. They are generally seen about cattle, sometimes picking the garrapatos off them, but more often one on each side, watching for the grasshoppers and other insects, that are frightened up as the cattle feed. On this morning, there were several of them on the top of a shed. Every now and then one would ruffle out its feathers, open its wings a little, give a step or two forward towards another, stretch out its neck, open its bill, and then give rather a long squeak-like whistle. As soon as it had done this, it would hurriedly close its feathers and wings, and hold its head straight up, with its bill pointing to the sky. All its movements were grotesque; and its sudden change in appearance after delivering its cry was ludicrous. It appeared as if it was ashamed of what it had done, and was trying to look as if it had not done it just as I have seen a schoolboy throw a snowball, and then stand rigidly looking another way. After a few moments, the "sanate" would lower its head, and, in a short time, go through the same performance again, repeating every movement automatically.
Bidding adieu to our host, we rode over grassy savannahs, with much cattle feeding on them, and in about five miles reached a small village called Muymuy, which means “very-very." I think it is a corruption of an old Indian word “Muyo,” met with in other Indian names of towns, as, for instance, in Muyogalpa. After riding all round the plaza, which formed three-fourths of the town, we at last found a house where they consented to make us some tortillas, on condition that we would buy some native cheese also.
The land around was fertile, but the people too lazy to cultivate it. Many of the houses were dilapidated huts. The place altogether had a most depressing aspect of poverty and idleness. I asked one man what the people worked at. He said, “Nada, nada, señor," that is, “Nothing, nothing, sir.” Some of them possess cattle ; and those that have none sometimes help those that have, and get enough to keep them alive. The principal subject of interest seemed to be the “caritos,” who had come up the river, and given them guns and iron pots for their black dogs; but no one had had the curiosity to ask what they wanted the dogs for. It was Sunday, and many of the country people from around had come into the village. All that had any money were at the estanco, drinking aguardiente. The men were dressed alike, with palm-tree hats, white calico jackets and trousers, the latter often rolled up to the thigh on one leg, as is the fashion in this part of the world. Nearly all were barefooted.
Having breakfasted off tortillas and cheese, we continued our journey, and crossed two rivers running to the eastward; then ascended a high and rocky range, along the top of which the path lay. We took this mountainpath to avoid some very bad swamps that we were told we should encounter if we went by the main road. The mountain range was bare and bleak, but we had a fine view over the surrounding country. Opposite to us, on the other side of a wide valley, was a similar range to that along which we were travelling, the sides partly wooded and partly cleared for planting maize. We passed several Indian huts with grass-thatched roofs, and met a party of Indians travelling down the mountain.
in single file, each man carrying his bow and arrows. They were going down to Huaco to buy corn, the maize crop having failed around Matagalpa the last season. The mountain road, though dry, was rocky, with steep ascents, and our mules got very tired. About five o'clock we descended from the hills into the valley of Ocalca, near to which there had been some gold workings, now abandoned. Here we came in sight, for the first time, of the pine forests, a high range a few miles to the north being covered with them.
About dusk, we reached an Indian hut, and proposed staying there for the night. The owners were pure Indians; the women, engaged as usual in grinding maize, were naked to the waist. There was an old man and his son, and some children. The old Indian looked distressed at our proposal to take up our quarters there for the night, but he made no objection. The accommodation was very poor, there being no hammocks or bedsteads; and I think all the inmates must have slept above on some bamboos that were laid across the beams. Learning from the old man that there was a larger and better house a little further on, we relieved him of our company, and crossing a river, reached a cattle hacienda owned by a very stout native named Blandon, who made us welcome. The house was a large one; and there were a number of mozos and women-servants about. We asked if we could buy anything to eat, and Señor Blandon said he would get supper prepared, at which we were much pleased, as we had had nothing all day excepting a drink of coffee at daylight, and some tortillas and cheese at Muy-muy. After waiting a long time, we were invited to our supper; and on going into an inner
room, found it consisted only of coffee and two small cakes called “roskears” for each of us; and we were told they had nothing else to offer us. So, munching our dry roskears, we mumbled over them as long as we could, and did not waste a crumb, wondering how our host got so fat on such fare. We were as hungry when we finished as when we began, and soon laid down on our hard couches to forget our hunger in sleep.
We started off early the next morning, as we were within a few leagues of the town of Matagalpa, and knew when we got there we should obtain plenty of provisions. About a league before arriving at Matagalpa there is a high range, with perpendicular cliffs near the summit. Rito told us that near the base of these cliffs there was a carving of a bull, and that the place was enchanted. I had heard in other parts stories of bulls being engraved or painted on rocks, but was very doubtful about their being true, as, up to the advent of the Spaniards, the Indians of Central America had never seen any cattle; and since the conquest they appear to have entirely given up their ancient practice of carving on stone, whilst the Spaniards and half-breeds have not learnt the art; so that I have never seen a single carving in the central departments that could be ascribed to a later period than the Spanish conquest.
Tired and hungry though we were, I was determined to put this story to the test ; so Velasquez and I climbed up to the cliffs, and searched all round them, but could find no carving. At one place there was a large black stain on the cliff, produced by the trickling down of water from above, and I afterwards learnt that this stain at a distance somewhat resembled a bull, and