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The rocks were trachytes, and the soil seemed fertile, but there was very little of it cultivated. Many of the men we met wore long swords instead of the usual machetes. There is a school for learning fencing at Concordia, and the people of the district are celebrated for being expert swordsmen. They have often fencing matches. The best man is called the champion, and he is bound to try conclusions with every one that challenges him.
After leaving Concordia we had only one more range to cross, then began to descend towards the plains below Jinotega, and about dusk reached that town and were kindly received by our former entertainers. Doubtless much European blood runs in the veins of the inhabitants of Jinotega, but in their whole manner of living they follow the Indian ways, and it is the same throughout Nicaragua, excepting amongst the higher classes in the large towns. All their cooking vessels are Indian. Just as in the Indian huts, every pot or pan is of coarse pottery, and each dish is cooked on a separate little fire. The drinks in common use are Indian, and have Indian names; tiste, pinul, pinullo, and chicha, all made from maize, sugar, and chocolate. As before observed, whatever was new to the Spaniards when they invaded the country retained its Indian name. It is so with every stage of growth of the maize plant, chilote, elote, and maizorca. The stone for grinding the maize is exactly the same as those found in the old Indian graves, and it is still called the metlate. All the towns we passed through in Segovia retained their Indian names, though their present inhabitants know nothing of their meaning. The old names of many of the towns are probably remnants of a language earlier than that of the inhabitants at the time of the conquest, and their study might throw some light on the distribution of the ancient peoples. Unfortunately the names of places are very incorrectly given in the best maps of Central America, every traveller having spelt them phonetically according to the orthography of his own language. Throughout this book I have spelt proper names in accordance with the pronunciation of the Spanish letters.
Many of the names of towns in Nicaragua and Honduras end in “galpa,” as Muyogalpa, Juigalpa, Totagalpa, and Matagalpa. Places apparently of less consequence in Segovia often end in the termination “lee” strongly accented, as Jamailý, Esterlý, Darailý, &c., and in “ guina” pronounced “weena,” as in Palacaguina and Yalaguina. In Chontales many end in “apa,” or “apo,” as Cuapo, Comoapa, Comelapa, Acoyapo, and others.
The Spaniards, whenever they gave a name to a town, either named it after some city in Spain or after their Saints. There are dozens of Santo Rosas, San Juans, and San Tomases. Even some of the towns, which have well-known Indian names, are called officially after some Spanish saint, but the common people stick to the old names, and they are not to be thrust aside.
We had a long talk with our courteous host of the estanco at Jinotega. He had a small library of books, nearly all being missals and prayer-books. He had a little knowledge of geography and was wishful to learn about Europe, and at the same time most desirous that we should not think that he, one of the chief men of Ch, XVI.] DARING ROBBERIES UNKNOWN.
the town, did not know all about it. That England was a small island he admitted was new to him, as he thought it was part of the United States or at least joined to them. He asked if it was true that Rome was one of the four quarters of the globe. We explained that it was only a large city, to which he replied gravely. that he knew it was so, but wished to have our opinion to confirm his own.
No newspapers come to Jinotega, excepting occasionally a Government gazette, and only a few of the grown-up people are able to read. News travel quickly from one town to another, but every incident is greatly exaggerated; and many extravagant stories are set afloat with no other foundation than the inventive faculties of some idle brain. To appreciate what an immense aid a newspaper press is to the dissemination of truth one must travel in some such country as Nicaragua where newspapers do not circulate. It is impossible to get trustworthy intelligence about any event that has happened a hundred miles away, and stories of murders and robberies that were never committed are widely circulated amongst the credulous people. As far as my experience goes highway robbery is unknown in Nicaragua. Foreigners entrusted with money have stated they have been robbed, but there has always been suspicions that they themselves embezzled the money that they said they lost. Personally I never carried arms for defence in the country, and was never molested nor even insulted, though I often travelled alone. The only dangerous characters in the country are the lower class of foreigners, and these are not numerous. Petty thefts are common enough, and at
the mines we found that none of the labouring class were to be trusted; but robberies of a daring character or accompanied by violence were never committed by the natives to my knowledge.
In their drinking bouts they often quarrel among themselves, and slash about with their long heavy knives, inflicting ugly gashes and often maiming each other for life. One-armed men are not uncommon; and I knew of two cases where an arm was chopped off in these encounters. Nearly every pay-week our medical officer was sent for to sew up the wounds that had been received. Fortunately even at these times they do not interfere with foreigners, their quarrels being amongst themselves, and either faction fights or about their women, or gambling losses. Many of the worst cases of cutting with knives were by the Honduraneans employed at the mines, who generally got off through the mountains to their own country. One who was taken managed to escape by inducing the soldiers who had him in charge to take him up to the mines to bring out his tools. He went in at the level whilst they guarded the entrance. Hour after hour passed without his returning, and at last they learnt that he had got through some old workings to another opening into the mine and had started for Honduras. Once in the bush pursuit is hopeless, as the undergrowth is so dense that it is impossible to follow by sight.
We left Jinotega at seven in the morning, passed over the pine-clad ranges again, and at one o'clock came in sight of the town of Matagalpa. At the river a mill was at work grinding wheat. I went into the shed
that covered it and found it to be simple and ingenious. Below the floor was a small horizontal water-wheel driven by the stream striking against the inclined floats. The shaft of the wheel passed up through the floor and the lower stone, and was fixed to the upper one, which turned round with it without any gearing. The flour made is dark and full of impurities, as no care is taken to keep it clean.
We found the mules and horses we had left at Matagalpa in good condition, and after getting some dinner started again, taking the road towards Teustepe instead of that by which we had come, as we were told we should avoid the swamps by so doing, for more to the westward they had had no rain. We rode down the valley below the town and found it very dry and barren, the only industry worth naming being a small indigo plantation. Indigo seems to have been more cultivated formerly than now. In many parts I saw the deserted vats in which the plants were steeped to extract the dye. We ascended a high range to the left of the valley, on the top of which were a few pine trees. These we were told were the last we should see on the road to Chontales. On the other side of the range the descent was very steep, and the road was carried down the precipitous and rocky slope in a series of zigzags, so that we saw the mules a few score yards in advance directly under our feet.
From the hill we had seen a house in the valley, and as night was setting in we sought for it, but the whole district was so covered with low scrubby trees with many paths running in various directions that it was long before we found it. When at last we discovered it,