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Concordia—Jinotega–Indian habits retained by the people—Indian names of towns—Security of travellers in Nicaragua—Native flour-mill—Uncomfortable lodgings—Tierrabona—Dust whirlwind—Initial form of a cyclone—The origin of cyclones.
SOME of the ranges were very craggy, and one was so 'steep and rocky that we had to dismount and lead our mules, and even then one of them fell several times. These craggy ranges were covered with the evergreen oaks, and we saw but few pine trees. Now and then we passed over the tracks of the leaf-cutting ants, who were hurrying along as usual, laden with pieces of foliage about the size of a sixpence. There were but few birds, and insects also were scarce, the bleak wet weather doubtless being unsuitable for them.
We now began to descend on the Matagalpa side of the elevated ranges we had been travelling over, and crossed many small valleys and streams, the latter everywhere cutting through boulder clay, with very few exposures of the bed rock. In the lower lands were many cultivated patches of maize and beans, but the country was very sparsely inhabited. At noon, we reached a small town called Concordia, where the houses were larger and better built than those in the Small towns of Segovia; but the chureh was an ugly barn-like
Ch. XVI.] INDIAN NAMES. 293
building, apparently much neglected. 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, and 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 a rule, whatever was new to the Spaniards when they invaded the country retains its Indian name; as for instance every stage of growth of the maize plant, “chilote,” elote, and maizorca. The stones for grinding the maize are exactly the same as those found in the old Indian graves, and they are 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, through every traveller having spelt them 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 Mayogalpa, Juigalpa, Totagalpa, and Matagalpa. Places apparently of less consequence in Segovia often end in the termination “lee” strongly accented, as Jamaily, Esterly, Daraily, &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 Samosomases. 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 estanca 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 the town, did not know all about it. That England was a
Ch. XVI.] DARING ROBBERIES UNKNOWN. 295
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 came to Jinotega, excepting occasionally a Government gazette, and only a few of the grownup people are able to read. News travels quickly from one 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 have themselves embezzled the money that they say they have lost. I myself 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 myself 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 follo 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.