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with a pointed stick, a few feet apart, into each of which he drops two or three grains, and covers them with his foot. In a few days the green leaves shoot up, and grow very quickly. Numerous wild plants also spring up, and in June these are weeded out; the success of the crop greatly depending upon the thoroughness with which this is done. In July each plant has produced two or three ears; but before the grain is set these are pulled off, excepting one, as if more are left they do not mature well. The young ears are boiled whole, and make a tender and much-esteemed vegetable. They are called at this stage “chilote,” from the Aztec xilotl ; and the ancient Mexicans in their eighth month, which began on the 16th July, made a great festival, called the feast of Xilonen. The poor Indians Tow have often reason to rejoice when this stage is reached, as their stores of corn are generally exhausted before then, and the “chilote ” is the first fruits of the new crop. In the beginning of August the grains are fully formed, though still tender and white; and it is eaten as green corn, now called “elote.” In September the maize is ripe, and is gathered when dry, and stowed away, generally over the rooms of the natives. A second crop is often sown in December. Maize is very prolific, bearing a hundred fold, and ripening in April. From the most ancient times, maize has been the principal food of the inhabitants of the western side of tropical America. On the coast of Peru, Darwin found heads of it,” along with eighteen recent species of marine shells, in a raised beach eighty-five feet
* “Geological Observations in South America, 1846,” p. 49 ; and “Animals and Plants under Domestication,” vol. i. p. 320.
Ch. IV.] MAIZE AND MANDIOCA EATERS. 55.
above the level of the sea; and in the same country it has been found in tombs apparently more ancient than the times of the Incas.” In Mexico it was known from the earliest times of which we have any record, in the picture writings of the Toltecs; and that ancient people carried it with them in all their wanderings. In Central America the stone grinders, with which they bruised it down, are almost invariably found in the ancient graves, having been buried with the ashes of the dead, as an indispensable article for their outfit to another world. When Florida and Louisiana were first discovered, the native Indian tribes all cultivated maize as their staple food; and throughout Yucatan, Mexico, and all the western side of Central America, and through Peru to Chili, it was, and still is, the main sustenance of the Indians. The people that cultivated it were all more or less advanced in civilization; they were settled in towns; their traders travelled from one country to another with their wares; they were of a docile and tractable disposition, easily frightened into submission. It is likely that these maize-eating peoples belonged to closely affiliated races. In the West India Islands they occupied most of Cuba and Hayti; but from Porto Rico southwards the islands were peopled by the warlike Caribs, who harassed the more civilised tribes to the north. From Cape Gracias à Dios southward, the eastern coast of America was peopled on its first discovery by much ruder tribes, who did not grow maize, but made bread from the roots of the mandioca (Manihot aipim); and still in British Guiana, on the Lower Amazon, and in north-eastern Brazil, farina made from the roots of the * Won Tschudi, “Travels in Peru,” English edition, p. 177.
mandioca is the staple food. Maize has been introduced by the Portuguese, but it has no native name, and is used mostly for feeding cattle and fowls, scarcely at all for the food of the people. This fundamental difference in the food of the indigenes points to a very early separation between the peoples. In the West Indian Islands, Cuba and Hayti seem to have been peopled from Yucatan, and Florida, Porto Rico, and all the islands to the southwards, from Venezuela. In Central America, the bread made from the maize is prepared at the present day exactly as it was in ancient Mexico. The grain is first of all boiled along with wood ashes or a little lime: the alkali loosens the outer skin of the grain, and this is rubbed off with the hands in running water, a little of it at a time, placed upon a slightly concave stone, called a metlate, from the Aztec metlatl, on which it is rubbed with another stone shaped like a rolling-pin. A little water is thrown on it as it is bruised, and it is thus formed into paste. A ball of the paste is taken and flattened out between the hands into a cake about ten inches diameter and threesixteenths of an inch thick, which is baked on a slightly concave earthenware pan. The cakes so made are called tortillas, and are very nutritious. When travelling, I preferred them myself to bread made from wheaten flour. When well made and eaten warm, they are very palatable. $ . There are a few small sugar plantations near Pital. The juice is pressed out of the canes by rude wooden rollers set upright in threes, the centre one driving the one on each side of it by projecting cogs. The whole are set in motion by oxen travelling round the same as
Ch. IV.] THE GREAT FOREST, 57
in a thrashing-mill. The ungreased axles of the rollers, Squeaking and screeching like a score of tormented pigs, generally inform the traveller of their vicinity long before he reaches them. The juice is boiled, and an impure sugar made from it. I do not think that sugar-cane was known to the ancient inhabitants of this country: it is not mentioned by the historians of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, nor has it, like maize and cacao, any native Ila Islø. As soon as we passed Pital we entered the great forest, the black margin of which we had seen for many miles, that extends from this point to the Atlantic. At first the road lay through small trees and brushwood, a second growth that had sprung up where the original forest had been cut for maize plantations; but after passing a brook bordered by numerous plants of the pita, from which a fine fibre is obtained, and which gives its name to Pital, we entered the primeval forest. On each side of the road great trees towered up, carrying their crowns out of sight amongst a canopy of foliage, winding round everything, and with lianas hanging from nearly every bough, and passing from tree to tree, entangling the giants in a great network of coiling cables, like another Samson, the simile being strengthened by the fact that many of the trees are really strangled in the winding folds. Sometimes a tree appears covered with beautiful flowers, which do not belong to it, but to one of the lianas that twines through its branches and sends down great ropes like stems to the ground. Climbing ferns and vanilla cling to the trunks, and a thousand epiphytes perch themselves on the branches. Amongst these are large arums that send down aerial roots, tough and strong, and universally used instead of cordage by the natives. Amongst the undergrowth several small species of palms, varying.in height from two to fifteen feet, are common; and now and then magnificent tree ferns, sending off their feathery crowns twenty feet from the ground, delight the sight with their graceful elegance. Great broadleaved heliconiae, leathery melastomac, and succulentstemmed, lop-sided leaved, and flesh-coloured begonias are abundant, and typical of tropical American forests; but not less so are the cecropia trees, with their white stems and large palmated leaves standing up like great candelabra. Sometimes the ground is carpeted with large flowers, yellow, pink, or white, that have fallen from some invisible tree-top above, or the air is filled with a delicious perfume, the source of which one seeks around in vain, for the flowers that cause it are far overhead out of sight, lost in the great overshadowing crown of verdure. Numerous babbling brooks intersect the forest, with moss-covered stones and fern-clad nooks. One's thoughts are led away to the green dells in English denes, but are soon recalled; for the sparkling pools are the favourite haunts of the fairy humming-birds; like an arrow, one will dart up the brook, and poised on wings moving with almost invisible velocity, clothed in purple, golden, or emerald glory, hang suspended in the air; it is seen gazing with startled look at the intruder, then with a sudden jerk, turning round first one eye, then the other, it disappears like a flash of light. Unlike the plains and savannahs we crossed yesterday, where the ground was parched up in the dry season, the Atlantic forest, bathed in the rains distilled from the north-east trades, is ever verdant. Perennial moisture