The great object of my visit to the north of Brazil was to make a journey from the coast to the high lands which lie on the eastern side of the Rio Tocantins. This part of the country, which I was strongly recommended to visit by Von Martius and others, on account of its botanical riches, is distant from Pernambuco about 1,200 miles, and nearly directly west from it. Although I was desirous to begin this journey I was advised by persons well acquainted with the interior of the country not to undertake it towards the end of the rainy season, on account of the difficulty of finding grass and water for the horses after the period when every thing has been scorched up by the burning sun of the dry season. Nor is the period of the rains less exceptionable for the undertaking of a long journey, since, during the four months which it generally lasts, there are scarcely two consecutive dry days. It was now about the end of January, and as the period of my entering upon my proposed expedition would not be sooner than the end of June or beginning of July, to pass the intervening time I determined to visit Maceio, a small seaport town in the province of Alagoas, about half-way between Pernambuco and Bahia; and from thence to make an excursion to the Rio San Francisco, and, if possible, up that river to the great falls of Paulo Affonço. As no other conveyance was to be had for Maceio, I was obliged to take a passage in a canoe which was going down laden with goods.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon of the 30th of January, 1838, before I could obtain my passport, upon which I immediately embarked, and after undergoing the necessary examination at a custom-house boat, we got outside the reef, and ran down before the north-east trade-wind till seven o’clock p.m., when we came to an anchor for the night, in a small sandy bay about four leagues to the south of Pernambuco. During the passage, we several times ran foul of the stakes of fishing pens, which are common along the coast. I may here describe the nature and appearance of the craft in which I was embarked; it was about forty feet long and three feet broad, being the trunk of a large tree hollowed out; a few feet at each end of it were decked over, and the little cabins so formed were filled with parcels and provisions; when empty they served as sleeping berths for the crew, which consisted of the master and two men. It had a single, long, slender mast, to which a triangular sail was fixed, the lower part of which was stretched out by a long boom; a little below the gunwale on each side were lashed two logs of light buoyant wood, nearly as long as the canoe, of the same kind of which jangadas are made; while these enable her to carry more cargo, they serve also to prevent her from upsetting, and give a place to walk upon, as the cargo, in our vessel, rose two feet above the body of the canoe. It may well be imagined that there was but little comfort in such a conveyance, as I was obliged to sit constantly upon one of my trunks, with no other shelter from the sun and rain than that afforded by an umbrella. On the shore, close to where we anchored, two large fires were burning, by the light of which we saw several people and three or four huts. I was anxious to land here, to obtain, if possible, a place to sleep on, but the master said he would not go on shore, as he was not on good terms with some of the inhabitants, and did not choose to risk himself among them. After supping, therefore, with the crew on oranges, farinha, and boiled salt-fish, I wrapped myself in my poncho, and lay down on my trunks, and slept, but certainly not comfortably, till morning. At dawn of day we again got under way, and about eight a.m., passed Cape St. Augustino, a rocky point, behind which the land rises from one to two hundred feet above the level of the sea; this is eight leagues to the south of Pernambuco, the intervening country being one continued flat. During the whole of the day we ran down very close to the shore, always keeping between it and the reef. The country is of an undulating hilly nature, wooded with small verdant trees and shrubs, many of the latter covered with flowers. The beauty of the coast, although a little monotonous, was, notwithstanding, some recompense for a day of continued exposure to the sun. At eight o’clock in the evening we again came to an anchor, at a place where the master was well known; here we landed, and I found that my quarters for the night were to be a smith’s work-shop; next day, however, I ascertained that it was the best house in the place, being formed of wicker-work and mud, while the others were composed of stakes and cocoa-nut leaves. The following morning the master of the canoe took me to the house of a relation, about two miles further along the shore, where we met with a kind reception. As some of the cargo of the canoe had to be landed here, and more taken in, we remained here all day, which I did not regret, as it rained heavily till night; on this account I was prevented from making an excursion into the country, although I did not perhaps lose much, as, in one short walk, I found nearly the whole herbaceous vegetation burnt up. The land here rises higher than at any other place between Pernambuco and Maceio, the faces of several low hills, exhibiting a kind of coarse grained sandstone rock, exactly of the same nature as the reef which runs for several hundred miles along the coast both to the north and south of Pernambuco. This reef, which is covered with small shells and coralloid substances, Mr. Darwin supposes either to have been formed by a bar of sand and pebbles formerly existing below the water, which was first consolidated, and then elevated; or by a long spit of sand, running parallel to the coast, having had its central part consolidated, and afterwards, by a slight change in the set of currents, having the loose matter removed, so as only to leave the hard nucleus. Neither of these suppositions, I feel fully satisfied, accounts for the origin of the reef, because, at the place where we now were, I could trace, at low water, a rocky connection between the reef and the rocks of which the hills were composed. It is more probable that the reef owes its origin to the decay of the rock between it and the shore, but in what manner I will not attempt to explain. This sandstone, as I will hereafter show, belongs to the lower series of the chalk formation.
We slept at the house of the relation of the master of the canoe, who was a tailor by trade, and an acknowledged poet and wit: in the society of whom and his family, consisting of several sons and daughters, the time passed away most agreeably. Early in the morning of the following day we again pursued our voyage, keeping, as before, close along the shore, and at about two o’clock p.m., we arrived at Barra de S. Antonio Grande, a small village about nine leagues to the north of Maceio, consisting of about one hundred houses, the greater part of which are made of cocoa-nut leaves, and are mostly situated on a projecting point of flat land, bounded on one side by the sea, and on the other by a small river of the same name as the village, both deriving their appellation from a large bar of white sand which stretches across the mouth of the river at some distance from the shore. The inhabitants live principally by fishing, but I was informed on my arrival at Maceio, that it is a place much resorted to by slave vessels for the delivery of their cargoes, and it certainly appears to be well suited for such a purpose.
In the afternoon I took a walk a little way along the banks of the river, but did not find much to interest me; like all other sandy parts along the coast, the vegetation here consists of low shrubs mixed with a few small trees; Schinus terebinthifolius being by far the most common. One of the most striking vegetable productions near the village is a large wild fig-tree growing close to the river, beneath the shade of which four large canoes, larger than the one in which I arrived, were being constructed; this also forms a rendezvous for the gossips of the village, who assemble there in the afternoon, beneath its wide-spreading branches which reach nearly to the ground, thus shading them from the sun. The leaves of the tree are about six inches long and three broad, with fruit about the size of a large gooseberry. In the evening I strolled through the village, and found that nearly all the inhabitants had turned out of their houses to enjoy the beautiful moonlight and the delightfully cool evening breeze; many of them were squatted on the bare ground, some were lounging on mats, while others were stretched out on cocoa-nut leaves. In most of these groups, one or more of the individuals, generally young men, were amusing the others by playing lively airs on the guitar. As the master of the canoe belonged to the village, I was invited to sleep at his house, but as he could not afford me a bed, I was obliged to repose on a hide in the corner of a small room; scarcely, however, had I fallen asleep when I was awakened by legions of hungry bugs, that came pouring out from the cracks in the mud walls; unable to endure this torment I got up, and taking-the materials which formed my bed outside the house, I shook them well, and spreading them in the open air, I slept there comfortably till morning. This was the only time during the whole of my travels that I was annoyed to any extent by this insect, which is not nearly so common, or so abundant as the flea.
Next day, Feb. 4th, we left Barra de San Antonio Grande about mid-day, and reached Maceio at five o’clock in the evening. Shortly afterwards I delivered the letters of introduction I had brought with me from Pernambuco to Mr. Burnet, the only British merchant in the place, who kindly invited me to remain with him during my stay. The town of Maceio is of considerable size, containing about 5,000 inhabitants; previous to the independence of Brazil, when the Portuguese were expelled by the Brazilians, the population amounted to upwards of 7,000, and as these were the principal capitalists, the trade of the place has declined considerably ever since. The town itself stands on a platform about fifty or sixty feet above the level of the sea, and distant from it about a quarter of a mile; but at a little more than a mile to the north-east, there is a small village called Jaragua, close to the sea, where there are two wharfs for the loading and unloading of goods, and a custom-house. The bay of Maceio is of considerable size, forming a kind of semicircle, and offering good anchorage for shipping. Formerly much cotton and sugar were shipped from this port in British bottoms, but now scarcely more than two or three English vessels visit it in the course of the year, the greater part of this produce being sent either to Bahia or Pernambuco. The country round Maceio is not so monotonous and flat as that around Pernambuco; low undulating ridges of hills reaching close to the sea, covered with a vegetation of low trees and shrubs. During several walks which I took in the vicinity, in company with a young Scotchman who had been sometime resident there as a medical practitioner, I made many additions to my botanical collections, particularly on a flat sandy tract to the north-east of the town. Among these I may mention a fine Diospyros, a curious Eriocaulon, Marcetia taxifolia, an Eschweilera different from that found at Pernambuco, and a Melocactus. Maceio is considered more unhealthy than Pernambuco or Bahia, ague being of very frequent occurrence, particularly at the beginning of the rainy season.
The Rio San Francisco being only thirty-two leagues to the southward of Maceio, and learning that it was navigable, without interruption, for upwards of a hundred miles, I resolved to visit it. A Portuguese gentleman, however, to whom I was directed for information on the subject, having, a few years before, made the voyage up to the great falls (Cachoeira de Paulo Affonço), informed me that as it was then the season at which the river rises to its greatest height, the head waters being far to the south, he would not advise me to undertake the voyage, in consequence of the dangerous navigation at the period of the floods, as well as from the little chance there would be of my adding much to my collection, from the dried up state in which I should find the vegetation, owing to the long continued drought. Still I determined to go, as nothing better presented itself to pass the time, and hitherto, moreover, I had always found the difficulties of travelling much less than they were represented to be. I considered myself fortunate in being able to hire, as a servant, the black who accompanied the gentleman above alluded to.
Having made the necessary preparations for the voyage, I engaged a jangada to take me along the coast to the mouth of the river, and left Maceio at five o’clock a.m., on the morning of the 15th of February. I intended to leave at eleven o’clock the night before, at the rising of the moon, but when I reached the beach with my luggage, the owner of the jangada was nowhere to be found, although he had faithfully promised to be waiting for me. I immediately sent Pedro, my black servant, in search of him, who soon afterwards returned unsuccessful; and I had no resource but to walk backwards and forwards on the beach till shortly before five o’clock in the morning, when he made his appearance. On questioning him about his absence, he told me with the greatest coolness, that as I did not arrive exactly when the moon rose, he thought I should not come till morning, and that, in order to pass the time, he had gone out to fish. Having at length embarked, we soon lost sight of Maceio under the influence of a strong north-east wind, and, coasting along a flat shrubby shore, we arrived at night at the mouth of a small river, on the south bank of which, about a mile up, there is a little village called Batel. At this place, which is twenty leagues distant from Maceio, we remained for the night. I preferred sleeping in the jangada to one of the small cocoa-nut-leaf cottages that was offered to me, but I had reason to repent of having done so. It was full tide when we arrived at the village, and the jangada was brought close to the shore, so that when the tide ebbed it was left dry. I did not then recollect that all muddy shores covered with mangroves, particularly at the mouths of rivers, abound with mosquitos, but I was soon reminded of the fact by being awoke about midnight with my face and hands smarting and swollen from the bites of those annoying insects. As I slept in my clothes without any covering, I was obliged to shield my face with my pocket-handkerchief, and thrust my hands into my pockets. Although I was thus in some measure protected from their bites, it was long before I could again fall asleep, from the continued humming noise, almost as loud as that of bees, which they were making around me. When I got up at daybreak, after a restless night, I found that besides the mosquitos, I was surrounded by thousands of a small black sand-fly (Merohy), not much larger than a grain of fine gunpowder, but whose bites are no less irritating than those of their larger congeners. The morning tide, we found, did not rise so high as it did on the previous evening, and it was with some difficulty that the jangada was floated into deep water, which was not effected till nearly nine o’clock, a.m. In crossing the bar at the mouth of the river, we had to pass through a line of small breakers, three of which swept over the elevated platform on which I was sitting, and drenched me to the skin, thereby rendering the remainder of the voyage very uncomfortable. It was one o’clock, p.m., when we reached a little village called Peba, which is situated on the coast, about five leagues to the north of the mouth of the Rio San Francisco: this was the termination of my sea-voyage, as the heavy surf which breaks over the shallow bar of that river will not allow jangadas to enter it. The village is situated a little way inland, and is hidden from the sea by a high embankment of sand, which at this place is very much drifted by the wind; it is, however, recognised at a considerable distance, from the number of tall cocoa-nut trees which grow near the shore. I was here particularly struck with a fact which goes a great way to explain the phenomenon of the stem of a fossil tree being found passing through several strata of sandstone rock. Many of the cocoa-nut trees have their stems embedded to the depth of fifty feet and upwards in the embankment of sand which stretches along the shore, and in many places is several hundred feet broad; some of them, indeed, are so deeply embedded, that the nuts can be gathered without climbing the tree. Now as this sand has accumulated at different periods, particularly during the prevalence of the north-east trade-wind, it must present, if ever it becomes hardened, a vast number of irregularly horizontal beds, through which the stems of the palms will be found to pass.
From a fisherman, whom I met on the shore, I obtained permission to occupy an empty hut till the next day. While seated on the trunk of a tree, which was lying on the beach at high-water mark, I observed that on the shore here, as well as along the coast, crabs of various sizes abounded; and, as I had to wait until my luggage was landed and carried to the hut, I amused myself by watching the operations of a small species, belonging to the genus Gelasimus that was either making or enlarging its burrow in the sand. About once in every two minutes it came up to the surface with a quantity of sand enclosed in its left claw, which, by a sudden jerk, it ejected to the distance of about six inches, always taking care to vary the direction in which it was thrown, so as to prevent its accumulation in one place. Having a few small shells belonging to a species of Turbo in one of my jacket pockets, I endeavoured to throw one of these into its hole, in order to see whether it would bring it up again or not; of the four that were thus thrown, one only entered the hole, the others remaining within a few inches of it. It was about five minutes before the animal again made its appearance, bringing with it the shell which had gone down, and carrying it to the distance of about a foot from its burrow, it there deposited it. Seeing the others lying near the mouth of the hole, it immediately carried them, one by one, to the place where the first had been laid down, and then returned to its former labour of carrying up sand. It was impossible not to conclude that the actions of this little creature, which holds so low a station in the chain of beings, were the result of reason, rather than of blind instinct by which the actions of the inferior animals are generally thought to be guided, for man himself, under the same circumstances, could not have acted with more judgment.
On the day following our arrival at Peba, I made arrangements with the owner of an ox-cart to take me with my luggage to Piassabassú, a little village situated on the north bank of the Rio San Francisco, and about two leagues distant from its mouth. He promised to come early in the forenoon, but, much to my annoyance, did not make his appearance till five o’clock in the afternoon, shortly after which we started. We kept along the sandy shore for about two miles, then went a little inland and continued our route in a direction nearly parallel to the shore through a flat, sandy, bushy country, in which Mouriria Guianensis, Aubl., and several species of Lauraceæ, were very abundant. It was indeed dark during the greater part of the journey, but on my return I had ample opportunity of observing the nature of the vegetation. I was not at all sorry, after we had once started, that we had been thus delayed, as travelling in this country is far more pleasant in the evening than during the heat of the day. Our cart was of a very primitive construction, similar to that seen everywhere in the interior of Brazil, and little different from that used by the Romans. It consisted of a rude frame, supported on two wheels about five feet in diameter, constructed of solid plank; and was drawn by six oxen, yoked in pairs, goaded on by two drivers, each carrying a slender pole about ten feet long. One of the drivers goes before to lead the way, while the other urges on the oxen with his long pole. The axles are never greased, and the creaking noise they continually make, which we heard at a great distance, is most disagreeable; the reason given for not greasing them is, that the cattle are so accustomed to the noise that they would not go on without it. It was ten o’clock at night when we arrived at the end of our journey, and as there was no place where a stranger could put up, and being without introduction to any resident in the village, I was taken by our conductor to the house of one of his acquaintances, where the only accommodation to be obtained was in a small and very dirty apartment in the hut, which did not much signify, as I slept in my own hammock.
Piassabassú is a small village, where the greater part of the houses surround a large square with a church in its centre; these are nearly all of one story, and, being white-washed on the outside, they present a cleanly appearance. Many of those situated nearest to the river, were abandoned on account of its flooded state, being then higher than it had been since the year 1793, when the inundation reached to a still greater height. On the morning after our arrival at this place I hired a canoe to convey me to the Villa do Penêdo, seven leagues further up the river. We started at eleven o’clock, a.m., but the current was so strong that the canoe was obliged to keep close along shore to be able to make way against it; a small sail, by which we were propelled, was often barely sufficient to keep us from being carried downwards; at such times our two men were forced to use their paddles. At Piassabassú the river is about two leagues broad, but the opposite side cannot be seen on account of a large island which stands in the middle of the stream; it was only after we had proceeded upwards about half a league, that I first saw the whole breadth of this magnificent river. The country, for about three leagues, is flat on both sides, which the present flood had inundated to a considerable extent. We passed large fields of sugar-cane, where nothing was to be seen but the tops of the leaves, which, waving in the stream, gave them the appearance of verdant meadows; where trees existed, nothing but their upper branches were visible, and almost every house that we passed had only its roof appearing above the water. The river begins to rise in the month of October, which is the commencement of the rainy season in the southern provinces, the sources of its origin, and continues to do so until the end of March. At about five leagues from the coast, the country, on the south side of the river, slightly rises, and from thence to Penêdo it is of an undulating character, but the opposite side still continues flat. After pursuing our course upwards about two leagues on the north, we crossed over to the southern bank, in order to obtain advantage of the breeze. A few sugar plantations exist on both sides, but the vacancies in the forests made by the cultivated spots are scarcely apparent. By the force of the stream, particularly in certain turns of the river, the banks were greatly encroached upon by a continual process of undermining, and we saw great masses of earth falling in, the trees which grew thereon being floated down by the current. We did not come in sight of Penêdo till within a league of it, when, turning round a high rocky wooded point on the south side, the white houses were seen brightly lighted up by the rays of the sun, which was then just setting nearly opposite to the town. Shortly afterwards we distinguished Villa Nova, a small town situated about half a league below Penêdo, but on the south side of the river. As the Rio San Francisco divides the province of Alagoas from that of Sergipe, it will be seen that the Villa do Penêdo is in the former, while Villa Nova is in the latter.
It was too late when we landed, to deliver the letters of introduction which I brought from Maceio, and, as the boatmen would not remain till morning, I sent my man Pedro to look out for a house in which I might lodge for the night. After being away for more than an hour he returned, and told me that he had much difficulty in finding one, owing to almost every house being crowded by the many families driven out of their homes by the flooded state of the river. I should have preferred an empty house, but as this was not attainable, I caused my luggage to be taken up to the only one Pedro could procure, which I found belonged to a young girl, who lived alone in it, following a profession which is not considered so disreputable in Brazil as in most other countries. In a small apartment of this house we therefore passed the night in our hammocks, which were slung from one side of the room to the other. During the voyage up the river I saw several large reeds in flower, and great plenty of a large yellow-flowered Jussiæa. A little way below Penêdo, Machaonia spinosa grew abundantly, forming a good sized spiny shrub, having large panicles of small white flowers, called by the Brazilians, Espinha branea: of this I collected specimens, as well as of a species of Oxypetalum, bearing large umbels of sweet smelling flowers, not unlike those of Hoya carnosa.
On the following morning I delivered the letters of recommendation I had with me from Maceio. One of these was to the chief magistrate of the district (the Juiz de Direito), Dr. Manoel Bernardino de Souza de Figueiredo, by whom I was most cordially received, and invited to reside with him till an opportunity occurred for proceeding further up the river. I returned immediately to my lodging in quest of my luggage, but before this could be dispatched the Juiz returned my visit, and, on discovering my poor quarters, he expressed much regret that I had not proceeded directly to his house on my arrival. One of the greatest inconveniences that a traveller meets with in Brazil, is the difficulty of finding accommodation, for in none of the towns or villages throughout this vast empire, does there exist an inn of any kind except in the principalities of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and one or two others in the mining districts, and even these are kept by foreigners. It will be long before such conveniences come into general use, for the Brazilians when they travel, always carry with them their own servants, provisions, cooking apparatus, and beds; and it seldom happens that an empty house of some description or other is not to be had in any village during their journey: should they fail to do so, during the dry season they content themselves by encamping under some large trees, slinging their hammocks from one branch to another. It was in this manner that I afterwards was forced to travel, often being for months together without sleeping under a roof. The Brazilians are particularly attentive to any stranger recommended to them, and, during the whole of my wanderings, I seldom went from one place to another without letters, nor do I remember a single instance in which I was not courteously received by those to whom they were addressed.
The Villa do Penêdo, so called because it is situated upon an elevated rocky point, on the north bank of the river, is about thirty miles from its mouth. The rock on which it stands is a fine-grained yellowish-coloured sandstone, the strata of which incline from east to west. The streets are irregular but the houses are very substantial, the principal ones being of two stories, and are for the most part built of the same stone as that on which the town stands. It contains about 4,000 inhabitants, the greater part of whom are very poor. There are no less than six large and substantially built churches, to one of which is attached a convent of Franciscan Friars, called Nossa Senhora da Corrente, but it contains only three brethren. In the Comarco, or district of Penêdo, sugar and cotton are the principal articles cultivated, the greater part of the plantations being situated on the margin of the river, below the town. Mandiocca, french-beans, and rice are raised in sufficient quantities but only for consumption. Formerly cattle were reared to some extent in the more inland parts of the district, but this source of production has failed in consequence of the occasionally excessive drought, and also because of the abundance of a tick (Carrapato), which sometimes proves so great a plague that a farmer loses his whole stock in a single season. During the Portuguese dynasty, Penêdo was a flourishing place, but is now rapidly falling into decay. The following census of the whole Comarco, which was taken in the year 1837, I owe to the kindness of the Juiz de Direito, and I consider is worthy of being quoted, to show the proportion which the different races bear to each other in this part of the country.
Free Mulattos 32,694.
Mulatto Slaves 4,531.
Free Blacks 10,113.
Black Slaves 10,876.
Native Indians 2,331.
In all 82,590.
Three days after my arrival at Penêdo, we heard that an empty canoe was going up as far as the river was navigable, and accordingly I engaged a passage for a small sum. Having made all the requisite preparations for my voyage, I left Penêdo at one o’clock, p.m., on the 22nd of February, carrying with me letters to some of the principal inhabitants of the different places at which we were likely to stop. The canoe in which we embarked was a very large one, being about forty feet long and four broad. It is seldom that a single tree is of sufficient dimensions to form a canoe of this size, but when such is not the case, they hollow out the largest they can find, sawing it in two through the middle from stem to stern, and then give it the requisite breadth by the addition of one or more widths of planks between the two halves: in this same manner our canoe was constructed. One end of the bow, for the length of ten feet, was thatched over with cocoa-nut leaves like the roof of a house, which thus served both as a place of shelter from the sun during the day, and as a sleeping berth by night. It had only one mast, which carried two large triangular sails of a very coarse cotton cloth, manufactured in the country, and these were stretched out on each side by a long boom. The sea-breeze generally reaches Penêdo about mid-day, blowing right up the river, and, with the sails spread out in this wing-like fashion, we went up the stream with great rapidity, notwithstanding that the current against us was very strong. As it is dangerous for small canoes to navigate the river when it is flooded, two of them are lashed side by side, and thus united, they form what is called an Ajojo. At six o’clock in the evening we reached the village of Propiá, situated on the south side of the river, and seven leagues distant from Penêdo. It contains about 250 houses, mostly small, and built of wicker work and mud; many of those in the street parallel with the river were half full of water, and consequently abandoned; such, also, we observed to be the case with many houses which we passed during our voyage.
The most striking objects of vegetation which I observed on the banks of the river, were many trees of considerable size, belonging to the natural order Leguminosæ, bearing large spikes of light-purple flowers; abundance of a curious kind of Cactus, reaching to the height of from twenty to thirty feet, the great fleshy and naked arms of which, stand out like the branches of an enormous chandelier. A most striking difference was to be observed between the verdure of that part of the country which, for upwards of four months, had been under water, and the more elevated parts, on which no rain had fallen for nearly six months. The latter had more the appearance of the deciduous woods of Europe in winter, than such as grow within the tropics are generally supposed to present. It was only here and there, that a tree was to be seen covered with leaves, all the others having lost their foliage, owing to the excessive and long continued drought. In sailing up the river, the prospect would have been dreary, had it not been for the broad belt of arboreous vegetation that clothed its margins. The country between Penêdo and Propiá is of a low hilly character, but about two leagues above the former place, a rather high ridge of mountains is seen on the north side, about eight leagues from the river, called Serra de Priáca; and about four leagues further up, a high conical mountain called the Serra de Maraba is seen, rising from the surrounding flat country like a pyramid, in a N.N.W. direction, about six leagues distant. A market, or fair, is held at this village every Saturday, and as the owner of the canoe wished to make some purchases for his return cargo, I was detained here two days. On the morning after our arrival, I walked a little way into the country behind the town, but found the vegetation so completely scorched up, that not a green thing was to be seen. I then directed my steps to the bank of the river, and collected specimens of two species of Cæsalpinia, which were beautifully in flower, as well as a low shrubby species of Croton, which is very common, its wood, when broken, having a fragrant smell not unlike that of a Calycanthus.
The preparations for the fair created some bustle, as during the whole of the previous day, particularly towards evening, canoes continued to arrive from all quarters with articles for sale; and from the inland part of the country numbers of horses came into the village laden with merchandize. As I slept in the canoe, which was moored amidst a number of others, I was awoke early on the morning of the fair, by the noise of a motley multitude of men, women, and children of all colours, from the deep black African, to the scarcely white inhabitants of Brazil. The place where the market is usually held being then under water, the crowd had assembled on an elevated part of the river bank towards the west end of the town, opposite to which all the canoes were made fast alongside each other. As soon as I was dressed, I took a walk through the crowd to observe the kind of goods exposed for sale, and as might be expected I found them extremely various, consisting, principally, of articles of food and dress. Among others of inferior note may be particularized the following as being the most abundant:—Farinha de Mandiocca, dried beef, large fish, mostly sturgeon, from the river, dried in the sun, sugar in large loaves shaped like cheeses, or in smaller ones in the form of bricks, molasses in large leathern bottles, fresh beef, bananas, soap, shoes, English cotton, cloth and prints, ropes made from the fibre of native plants, tobacco, planks and posts for house building, earthen-ware cooking utensils, and water pitchers, brought by the Indians, leather, hides, rum, &c.
The great variety in the style of dress adopted by these people, is the first thing to strike the eye of a stranger. The better classes wear either light jackets and trowsers, or shirt and trowsers only, over which they put a long dressing-gown of printed cotton, to which is added during the cool of the morning and evening, a cloak of Scotch tartan. They seldom wear stockings, but have their bare feet thrust into a pair of brown leather slippers. The country people generally wear a broad brimmed hat made of leather, and sometimes a leathern jacket; but most commonly their only covering consists of a pair of thin cotton drawers, which reach a little below the knee, and a shirt of the same stuff hanging loose outside of them. The negroes usually dress in the same manner as the whites, but the women have much more taste than the men, many of whom appear literally in rags, though apparently as happy in this attire, as if they were of the best description. I observed here more of the aboriginal inhabitants of Brazil, than I had seen at one time before; many of them bore evident signs of having a mixture of white, and others of black blood in their veins, but not in sufficient quantity to destroy the peculiar obliquity of the eyes, and the lank black hair of the American race.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon before we could leave Propiá, and at eight we arrived at Traipú, another small village situated on the north bank of the river, about seven leagues further up. At half a league from Propiá we passed a small village called Collegio, and at a further distance of two leagues and a half a still smaller one, called San Bras, both situated on the north side of the stream. As far as the latter village, the appearance of the country on both sides of the river bears much the same appearance as that above Penêdo, but at a distance of a about a league above San Bras, it becomes much higher, the undulating ridges of hills reaching close to the water in many places, thus diminishing the breadth of the stream, and, consequently, increasing the rapidity of the current. The highest part of the country is a hill opposite Traipú, the termination of a range called the Serra de Tabangá. The effects of the drought on the vegetation were still greater here than further down; as far as the eye could reach, nothing like a forest was to be seen, both the hills and valleys being thinly covered with small trees and shrubs, and all, with a few solitary exceptions, denuded of their foliage. On the surface of the ground itself there was no herbaceous vegetation, the red coloured soil alone being seen through the withered bushes. Here and there along the banks a few houses exist, but none were to be observed inland. The only objects that relieved the eye in this desert-like region, were the green bushes which grew along the inundated banks, and the grotesque Cacti abounding in dry rocky places. The latter are the most conspicuous objects that meet the eye of a voyager; some of their trunks are of immense thickness, and their branching tops reach to a great height above the surrounding vegetation. These are certainly the most remarkable looking plants of the many which clothe the surface of our globe, their huge fleshy branches seeming more the work of art than of nature. It is only plants such as these, that are able to retain their verdure during the long droughts to which the country here is subjected. On the rocky places where these grow, there are also many Bromeliaceous plants, which in spite of the want of rain, not only grow luxuriantly but produce their large red clusters of flowers in the greatest perfection. The rocks on which these plants vegetate are of gneiss, in thin layers of a dark colour, full of small garnets, and cropping out at a very obtuse angle towards the south. We remained for the night at Traipú, and at nine o’clock next morning resumed our voyage, but as the wind was very high, we could make no way against the current; at about half a league from the place of our departure we were obliged to halt for some hours on the north bank of the river. This afforded me an opportunity of landing, when I made a few additions to my collections. Among these was a species of Azolla, which existed in the greatest abundance, in a flat muddy place that was slightly flooded. Here also I met with some of the largest Cacti I have ever seen; one in particular was of enormous size, the stem measuring upwards of three feet in circumference, and unbranched to the height of about ten feet; its entire height could not be less than between thirty and forty feet. This and other large kinds of Cactus are called by the inhabitants of this part of the country Sheeke-sheeke, and their fleshy stems and branches, after being stripped of their back and spines, are roasted and eaten in times of scarcity; under similar circumstances they are given raw to cattle. A little below this place on the south side of the river, we passed an old gold-working, situated on the side of a low hill through which a small ravine passes. It seemed to have been a long time since it had been worked, as the heaps of soil which had been thrown out, were covered with the low shrubby vegetation peculiar to the district. Continuing our voyage, towards sunset we came in sight of a small island, called Ilha dos Prazeres, on the top of which there is a church of the same name. Opposite this island, on the north side, we passed the mouth of a small river, called the Rio de Panêma, which takes its rise in the Sertão of the province of Alagoas. On the upper side of the mouth of this river there is a little hamlet, consisting only of a few houses, called Barra de Panêma. A little further up we crossed over to the south side, to land an old negro who had accompanied us from Propiá, and it was with much regret that we were obliged to come to an anchor for the night a little way above this place, for the river here takes a turn to the northward, and although there was a strong breeze, we could not succeed in getting our canoe into a position to enable us to avail ourselves of the favourable wind, notwithstanding the best efforts of our crew, which consisted of three men, assisted by myself and servant; an exposure of our vessel to a side wind would have upset her, and she was too unmanageable to attempt rowing.
On the following morning, before breakfast, I took a walk to a high ridge of gneiss rocks, which is at a little distance from the river, and found a variety of different kinds of Cacti. One of these was a great Melocactus much larger than the one which is so common near Pernambuco; it grows in fissures of the rock where scarcely any soil exists, and its tough roots penetrate to such a depth, that they can with difficulty be withdrawn; living specimens of this (Melocactus Hookerianus, Gardn.) which I sent home, now exist in the collections at Kew and Glasgow. While lying in the canoe, waiting for the breeze, I heard a splashing noise in the water as of heavy rain, but on looking over the side, I found it to be produced by hundreds of small fish; so abundant were they, that having no hook, I had recourse to a bent pin fixed to the end of a thread, and thus in a few minutes I caught above thirty of them. I found them to belong to the tribe Salmonidæ, of which they form a very diminutive species, measuring from two to three inches in length, and from an inch to an inch and a half in depth; they are called by the Indians Piába; the two lower thirds of their depth is of a silvery-white, while the upper third is of a pale lead colour, being in general appearance not unlike a herring in miniature; they are extremely voracious and abundant, especially in shallow water, where they are caught in numbers by children; they make an excellent dish when stewed. From a young man who was fishing in a shallow part of the river with a hand-net, I obtained a few other kinds of fish, and among them one which is very much dreaded by the inhabitants of the banks of nearly all the lakes and rivers in the northern provinces; it is called Piranha by the Brazilians, and is also one of the Salmonidæ, belonging to the genus Serasalmo. It is commonly about a foot in length, but sometimes is as much as two feet long, being very much compressed laterally, and very deep; the back is of a dark brownish colour, and the belly yellowish white, both being thinly marked with reddish spots; the lower jaw projects a little beyond the upper, and both are armed with about fourteen flattish triangular-shaped teeth, upwards of a quarter of an inch in length, and very short. It is most voracious, and is consequently caught with difficulty. Many people are often severely injured by them whilst bathing, and I have repeatedly been shown the scars left by their bites. It is said that ducks frequently lose their legs, in consequence of their voracity, and it is even asserted that where they abound, cattle have been known to perish from their attacks, when going into the water to cool themselves, or to drink.
We resumed our voyage again about eleven o’clock in the morning, and at once reached Lagoa Funda, a small village on the north side of the river, the distance being about two leagues. It contains but very few houses, and takes its name from a large deep lake which runs westward from it, in a direction parallel with the river. During this voyage we came in sight of a range of mountains called the Serra Pão de Assucar, bearing N.N.W. of us; it terminates abruptly towards the W.S.W., and slopes gradually thence to the E.N.E. and is by far the highest range in the district. The country around us was now beginning to assume a verdant appearance, several showers of rain having lately fallen. Shortly after our arrival at this place, owing to the loss of the wind, we were obliged to remain till five o’clock in the afternoon; when the sea breeze reached us, we again started, and were enabled by half past six o’clock to reach another small village called San Pedro. This is situated on an island of the same name, which is about half a league long by a quarter of a league broad, being flat, with a sandy soil; the upper end where the village stands, is open, while the opposite extremity is densely wooded with bushes and small trees.
I passed the night in the canoe, but could get little sleep owing to the mosquitos which were very abundant. Early in the morning, I took a walk over the island, and gathered a few plants; during the day the heat was most intolerable, the thermometer in the shade about noon, indicating 99½°, and as there was not the slightest breath of wind, the oppressive sensation amounted almost to suffocation, the air feeling as if it came from the mouth of an oven. Not a soul was to be seen out of doors, and the few goats and pigs on the island, as well as the dogs, sought the shade of a few trees of Zizyphus which grow by the side of the river near the village. Everything was as still as midnight, the songs of the small birds which I had listened to with delight during my morning’s walk, and the loud shrill cry of the Gavata, a large water bird, as well as the monotonous one of the Bem-te-ve, were now no longer heard, even the trees were motionless, and the mighty mass of yellow water in the river rolled slowly down unruffled by a breeze; all was indeed so still, that one could scarcely help thinking that life had ceased to exist. Having slung my hammock under a Zizyphus tree, I remained in it till the rays of the sun became less powerful. It was six o’clock in the evening before the sea breeze reached the island, and it being then too late to proceed on our voyage, we remained where we were for the night. The sun had no sooner set, and the breeze become more fresh, than the greater number of the inhabitants left their houses, and seated themselves either at their doors or by the side of the river, to enjoy the delicious coolness of the evening air; of course I followed their example, and it was near midnight before I retired to rest.
The number of families on the island amounts to about forty, and they are for the most part civilized Indians. On the evening of our arrival I was presented to their captain, an old man dressed in a leather hat, a pair of coarse cotton drawers, a shirt of the same material, and a pair of leather sandals on his feet, who was sitting under a Zizyphus tree repairing a fishing net. From him I learned that the Indians on the island are decreasing gradually in number, and he sighed when he told me that the day was not far distant when his race would become extinct, or at least be amalgamated with the other inhabitants. Those who still remain unmixed, are short in stature and of a stout make; in disposition they appeared gentle and obliging. I observed a church in the village, but during my visit the priest was absent on the main land.
On the morning of the 28th, the second since our arrival, I again took a walk over the island, and in the centre found a large tract covered with a very prickly species of Opuntia, covered with the Cochineal insect. I also collected several species of Viscum and Loranthus, growing on the branches of Mimosa and Zizyphus trees; while the sandy shores of the south side of the island yielded me abundance of Ehrenbergia tribuloides, Mart., and a Lupin-like kind of Zornia. The morning was comparatively cool, but the day was calm and sultry, the thermometer standing at 96° in the shade. As it was again six o’clock in the evening before the breeze set in, we were once more detained. The setting in of the breeze was accompanied with a curious appearance in the atmosphere; the sun was setting in the west with a fiery redness, surrounded by a mass of red coloured clouds, while from the eastward was seen approaching an immense body of vapour; this, from the distance at which it was seen, had more the appearance of smoke issuing from some great conflagration. This body came slowly on before the wind till at last it reached us, and we could see the small vesicles of which it was composed rolling past. The wind for about five minutes was so hot that every one was glad to take shelter from it, but it soon acquired its usual refreshing coolness. On inquiring of the old captain whether such a phenomenon was often observed, he told me that it was of frequent occurrence at the beginning of the rainy season, and added, that long experience had taught him it was always the forerunner of a great storm (hum temporal.)
On the following day, the first of March, we left the island, about half-past five o’clock in the evening, and had not been gone an hour before the sky towards the N.E. became darkened with a mass of black clouds, the sure harbinger of a coming storm. We were then nearly in the middle of the river, which was about a league broad; and as the storm was approaching with great rapidity, the master of the canoe gave instant orders to run her in to the north shore, but before we had reached the distance, we were overtaken by a gust of wind which laid her nearly on her broadside. A considerable quantity of water was shipped, and the crew lost all command of themselves, one crying to do this, and another that, without anything being done. The lower part of the sail on the lee side was in the water keeping the edge of the canoe down, and had it not been for my exertions and my man Pedro’s assistance, in seizing hold of the rope by which the extreme point of the long boom is drawn up to the mast head, and thus raising it out of the water, the canoe, to a certainty, would have filled, and we should all have been inevitably drowned. Still we were at some distance from the river bank, and the storm was setting in with all its fury, the waves were dashing over the weather gunnel, while the lee side was taking in great quantities of water. In the meantime the sails had been stowed away, and seeing the danger of keeping her broadside any longer to the wind, the master gave orders to run her over to the other side of the river before the wind. We thus steered in an oblique direction nearly three miles before we reached the south side, and during this fearful interval the wind, the rain, thunder and lightning were such as I had never before been exposed to. It was now quite dark, but the vivid flashes both of forked and sheet lightning gave a light, from time to time, as brilliant nearly as noon-day. The canoe ran aground among some small trees to two of which she was made fast; the rain continued to fall in torrents for nearly two hours, and from our unavoidable exposure to its influence we were all drenched to the skin. When the storm had entirely exhausted itself, we found that the wind had died away also, and as we could not resume our voyage, we determined to return with the current to the island of San Pedro. This we accordingly did, and had to remain in our wet clothes during the greater part of the night. In going down I observed a number of large meteors passing from the N.E. to the S.W. following the course of the storm.
The two following days were again calm, with heavy thunder-storms in the evening, so that we were compelled to remain all this time on the island. A more serious event, however, now occurred to detain me among the Indians. The day after the storm before mentioned, I found myself feverish and unwell, and two days after this I was severely attacked with dysentery, which is of frequent occurrence at this season, caused no doubt by the sudden transitions of temperature. In the meantime a favourable breeze had sprung up, and as I was far too ill to proceed, the canoe was obliged to sail without me; I was thus left behind in an old hut, the floor of which was still wet from having been a short time before overflowed by the river. In this place I was confined to my hammock for five days, during which time I was so ill that I never expected to recover; from being in robust health, I was in the course of a few days reduced to a mere shadow, with scarcely the power, when I did get out of my hammock, to drag one leg after the other. I felt severely the want of my medicine-chest, which I had left behind at Maceio, not wishing in this excursion to encumber myself with luggage; my only resource, therefore, was to trust to the remedial agents employed by the people themselves. This I found to consist in the use of castor oil, which is commonly made on the island, and afterwards a drink, ad libitum, of strong lemonades of vinegar and white sugar. There was only one venda in the village, in which the latter materials were to be obtained, but where, strange to say, the only other purchaseable article was rum. Nothing in the shape of provisions was to be had for any consideration, and as our long stay here had completely exhausted our stock, both Pedro and I were almost reduced to a state of starvation. Not even a particle of farinha was to be had, and had we not been supplied with a fowl or two by an old Indian woman, who attended very kindly upon me during my illness, we should have been miserably destitute. While still confined to my bed, I sent Pedro to another small village a few leagues further up the river, to purchase, if possible, some provisions, but he returned altogether unsuccessful. My chief regret was for this poor fellow, for he was well and felt the pangs of hunger far more keenly than I did. In the meantime a canoe fortunately arrived at the island with a little farinha for sale, of which I bought as much, at four times the usual price, as would suffice to take us back again to Penêdo, for I had now renounced all idea of going further up the river. The poor inhabitants of the island were themselves literally in a state of starvation, their principal food being the fruit of Geoffroya superba, the produce of a small tree growing rather abundantly on the south side of the island. It reaches to the height of nearly twenty feet, and produces a fleshy drupe about the size of a walnut; it is called umarí by the Indians. In almost every house, whether Indian or Brazilian, I observed a large pot of this fruit preparing, either indoors over a fire made on the floor, or on the ground under a tree in the neighbourhood of the house. As soon as they are nearly ready, groups of children in a state of nudity, and half naked men and women seat themselves around the pot, each furnished with two stones, a larger and a smaller one, for the purpose of breaking the nut after they have devoured the outward fleshy part; the taste of the kernel is not unlike that of boiled beans. Fish is in general the staple food of these people, but it is difficult to procure when the river is much flooded.
At the west end of the village there is a large wide-spreading Zizyphus tree standing alone, and as these trees retain their dense covering of leaves all the year round, their shade is sought after both by men and animals during the excessive heat of the day. Under that of which I now speak were to be seen a number of villagers of both sexes, the women squatting on mats spread on the ground, and occupied in spinning with a distaff a coarse kind of cotton yarn used principally as wicks for tapers, which they make of a brown coloured native wax. The men are much less industrious than the women, being generally to be seen standing about in a state of idleness, or swinging in their hammocks either in their houses or beneath the shade of a tree. Under the large Zizyphus tree several hammocks are hung up every morning, and they are seldom unoccupied. On Sundays the women lay aside their spinning apparatus, but immediately after mass, groups of them may be seen playing cards, at which they continue during the whole day; as they do not play for money, they use only french beans as counters. Until I gained sufficient strength to leave the island, I also spent much of my time under the shade of this tree, either listening to the conversation of these people, or answering the thousand and one questions put by them respecting my own and other distant countries. These questions were often sufficiently ridiculous, and I could often perceive that my answers were considered stretches of the long bow, although they were too polite to say so; nor was it only among the poor islanders of San Pedro, that I observed this to be the case, for the same often occurred among those who were considered well educated people. I remember once to have been conversing with the President of one of the inland provinces about Steam Navigation, and on telling him that many of the English Steam-boats were now entirely constructed of iron, he did not say he did not believe me, but simply remarked “that in Brazil, when iron was put into the water it always sank.”
On the twelfth of March I took leave of my Indian friends, and embarked in a canoe which I hired to take me down to Penêdo, having been exactly a fortnight on the island. We reached that place on the morning of the fourteenth, when I received a kind welcome from my friend the Juiz de Direito. I landed several times during the passage, for the purpose of making collections of living plants of the different kinds of Cacti, which grow in great abundance on the banks of the river, wherever they are rocky. At one of the places where we stopped, I observed several fine trees of Peltophorum Vogelianum, Benth. This tree, which belongs to the natural order Leguminosæ, reaches to the height of about forty feet, and has a great branching top: the leaves are large but very much subdivided, and very graceful, having more the appearance of the frond of a fern, than the leaf of a tree. The racemes of flowers which grow at the ends of the branches, are often more than a foot long, and the flowers are of a beautiful golden colour; at a distance it presents a more magnificent appearance, than almost any other tree I have seen. The canoe was carried down the stream by the force of the current, but in the afternoon, and during the greater part of the night, the sea breeze blew so strong as to impede our progress. The boatmen, however, adopted a plan to overcome this, which I have never seen elsewhere, nor even heard of, and I will therefore explain it in a few words. Landing at a place where the trees grew in abundance, the men set to work, and cut off a considerable number of branches, which were tied tightly together with cords, one end of a long rope was made fast round its middle, while the other end was secured to the canoe. They then steered for a part of the river where the current was strong, and threw the bundle overboard, which being heavy from its green state, floated just below the surface of the water, and in this manner being entirely out of the influence of the wind, it received the whole force of the current, by which means the canoe was dragged down at a rate little inferior to that by which we descended during the calm of the day.
I remained at Penêdo eight days, and, thanks to the very great kindness I received from the Juiz de Direito, my health rapidly improved, and I was enabled to make several little excursions in the neighbourhood. The Juiz is one of the few Brazilians I came in contact with, for whom I entertain feelings of esteem and respect. I found him to be a man of great intelligence, and well educated, having studied at the University of Coimbra. Even among the litigious Brazilians he was respected as a judge; and, indeed, both his opinions and actions were those of a mind deeply imbued with benevolence. At Coimbra he had paid some attention to the study of Botany, to which he was still partial, but more to the theoretical that to the practical department. He had made the acquaintance of M. Reidel and Dr. Natterer, both of whom had lived with him some years before, when he was residing in Pará. In the society of this excellent man, as well as in that of his brother, a priest who was then on a visit to him from Bahia, in the perusal of his books, and in visiting some families in the town, my time passed away very agreeably.
One day I went to Villa Nova, to visit a Colonel Bento Mello Pereira, the owner of a large sugar plantation. After receiving an invitation to return to dinner, I walked over to view his plantation, which was about two miles distant, but did not meet with much to reward my toil, for the sun was hot, and the country dry and sandy. I reached his house again a little before two o’clock, that being the dinner hour, where I found that two other persons, both belonging to the place, had been invited also. The dinner was both substantial and excellent, being served up with some degree of ostentation. We had a slave to wait upon each of us, and before beginning, a little black fellow supplied us with water from a large silver ewer in a silver basin to wash our hands, bearing round his shoulders a long towel with which to dry them. After dinner he took me to see a vessel he was building a little above the town; it was about one hundred and fifty tons burden, and nearly ready for launching. He intended her to trade along the coast, but principally to convey sugar to Bahia; the planking consisted of Pao Amarello and Oiti, said to be the two best woods for ship-building in the north of Brazil. I do not know to what genus the Pao Amarello belongs, but the Oiti is the Moquilea tomentosa of Bentham, first described from specimens which I forwarded to him from Pernambuco.
A proposal has recently been made to establish a communication by steam navigation, between the coast and the interior central provinces of Brazil, by means of the Rio de San Francisco. Upon a mere inspection of the map of this portion of the Empire, it would seem that every facility for this specious proposition has been offered by nature; an easy, cheap, although somewhat circuitous water conveyance leads directly from the sea on the confines of the province of Pernambuco into the heart of the inland, rich, and comparatively well-populated mining and diamond districts, which are separated from the great markets of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia by lofty mountain barriers, always difficult of access, and where the means of transport are tedious and costly. I have great doubts whether this plan will ever be carried into effect, in support of which opinion I will adduce three very substantial reasons.
In the first place, the bar at the mouth of the river is about two leagues broad, is always covered with a heavy surf, and has seldom more than four feet of water on it. In the second place, at the falls of Paulo Affonço there is a series of rapids and falls about sixty miles in length, forming a serious obstacle to the progress of any navigation. In the third place, there is a very limited population throughout the intervening country, which is not likely to increase, owing to the desert nature of the greater portion of the interior; from these causes the amount of produce likely to be taken to the coast must, consequently, be very small indeed, so that the enterprize would not be likely to succeed in a pecuniary point of view, even were it otherwise practicable. Were the interior of the middle portion of Brazil as fertile as is generally supposed to be by those who have never visited it, hopes might be entertained of its becoming hereafter a rich agricultural district, such as the belt of country along the coast is found to be; in that case some great national undertaking for rendering communication more easy, might be looked for; but while it exists as a dry arid tract scarcely fit for the rearing of cattle, it is not at all likely that any Brazilian at least will sink his money in attempting to render the San Francisco navigable. A company of Englishmen may probably be induced in periods of infectious speculation to venture upon this attempt, for some of the late ill-concerted schemes in Brazil have been far more absurd; in testimony of which we may instance that monument of folly, the Rio Doce Company.
The North Americans, particularly those of the back settlements, are celebrated for their inquisitiveness; but this seems to be a very general failing with all those who are shut out from frequent intercourse with strangers. A curious instance of this feeling occurred a few days after I returned to Penêdo. I had brought letters from Maceio to a gentleman who lived here with a married brother, they were among the most respectable people in the place. Although not yet eleven o’clock, I found the lady, a remarkably fine and good-looking woman, with her husband busily engaged at cards, she lying in a hammock, while he was seated on a chair beside her; she had recently been smoking, an almost universal accomplishment among the ladies of the interior, as a long pipe was lying near her, and the floor beneath bore strong indications of excessive expectoration. I was desired to be seated, and was immediately inundated with a flood of questions from the good lady who possessed great volubility of tongue. Among a host of others I may enumerate the following. What countryman are you? What is your name? How old are you? Are you a medical man? Are you married? Are your father and mother alive? What are their names? Have you any sisters? What are their names? Have you any brothers? What are their names? Have all your countrymen blue eyes? Have you churches and priests in your country? Do oranges and bananas grow there? &c., &c. If, however, she was inquisitive about my concerns, she was not less disposed to tell me much that related to herself. Thus she informed me that she was married when she was nineteen years of age, that she was now five years married, and in that time had presented her husband with a yearly gift, all of whom were alive with the exception of one. Her husband, she said, was thirty-six years of age, and she desired me to feel his pulse, as he was always complaining of bad health. I soon discovered his complaint to be indigestion, one of the most frequent ills that Brazilians are subject to, arising, no doubt, from the enormous quantities which they eat, and that generally not of the most digestive materials, as well as from the heavy late suppers which they indulge in. I had then to feel her pulse in turn, and she seemed much pleased when I told her it was an excellent one. I afterwards became very intimate with them, and spent many agreeable hours in their society; their brother to whom I brought the letters was a lawyer, and a well-educated and intelligent man.
On the afternoon of the 21st I bade adieu to the Juiz, and my other friends in Penêdo, and between eight and nine o’clock in the evening embarked in a canoe which I had hired to take me down to Piassabassú, which we reached after a sail of little more than four hours. As I knew of no house to go to, I was obliged to pass the remainder of the night in the canoe, tormented by mosquitos, which were in such abundance that long ere morning I was forced to go on shore, and walk up and down till daylight. The house in which I slept when I passed through the village before, was now empty, but I was allowed to occupy it, and as I could not get a cart to convey me to Peba before the following evening, I had to remain here a longer time than I intended. This interval I devoted to a few botanical excursions in the neighbourhood, and thereby added several new plants to my collections. On reaching Peba, I again had the use of the little hut which I formerly occupied, and was obliged to remain there two days before I could hire a jangada to take me to Maceio; that which I engaged was a fine large one that had never been to sea; and on the morning of the 26th, having got all my collections and luggage put on board, we began our voyage. Peba I found to be nearly, if not quite, as poor a place as the Ilha de San Pedro, and not a single article of provision could be purchased there. Its inhabitants are principally fishermen, and their chief food is fish and farinha; a want of success in the fishery and a bad crop of mandiocca had thrown them quite into a state of starvation. On the evening before we started, Pedro contrived somewhere to purchase a chicken; and when we embarked, our whole stock of provisions consisted of one of its wings, and a few green cocoa-nuts. Before we left, the owner of the canoe sent to Piassabassú to purchase farinha or French beans, as sea stock for his men, but neither were to be procured; the crew, therefore, consisting of three men, had to content themselves with only a few green cocoa-nuts. It rained the whole of the first day, but the elevated part of the jangada on which I lay, being well roofed over with cocoa-nut leaves, I suffered but little inconvenience in consequence. At night we did not put in to shore, as is usual with these crafts, the men being as anxious as myself to reach Maceio, but the wind being light, we could not make much progress. During the succeeding day the winds were again light, but having freshened towards evening we reached Maceio about 8 o’clock p.m.; the surf, however, running so high along the beach that I would not allow the jangada to run ashore, as by doing so my collections would have been completely spoiled. The crew wished me to remain on board till the tide went out, but I had suffered too much from hunger during the voyage, to think of staying any longer; so leaping into the water with Pedro, immediately after a large wave had passed us, we followed it, and reached the shore before another had time to overtake us, but not without being completely drenched. Leaving everything on board to be landed next day, I immediately set off for the house of Mr. Burnett, about a mile distant, and arrived just in time for tea, when, after changing my clothes I made a most comfortable meal, being the first I had enjoyed for two days.
Wishing to see the city of Alagoas, the capital of the province, I made arrangements for visiting it, and started from Maceio on the 31st of March. This city is situated on the south side of a large lake, which runs inland about forty miles, and is about twenty miles distant from Maceio. There is a narrow entrance to the lake from the sea, about two leagues to the south of the latter place; but still further to the southward, there is another inlet from the sea, which runs northward to within a mile of the town, and by means of a small canal which has been cut, canoes can now approach within a very short distance of the houses. Accompanied by a young countryman, I embarked in a light canoe about midnight, with the view of reaching Alagoas early in the morning, and thus escape exposure on the water during the heat of the day. My man Pedro was our only navigator, who used a long pole, the mode usually adopted for propelling canoes, as the lake is extremely shallow. As soon as we were fairly afloat on the canal, we laid down in the bottom of the canoe to sleep, but failed to do so, in consequence of the myriads of mosquitos and sand-flies that almost fill the atmosphere among the mangroves which abound along the muddy shores. At eight o’clock in the morning we came in sight of the city, which is built upon a somewhat elevated situation, and as the houses are rather large, and intermingled with numerous churches, and lofty mango trees, it has really an enchanting appearance when seen in the distance. In about an hour afterwards we landed, and as I had brought no letters of recommendation, I despatched Pedro to look out for a house where we could remain till morning, but he returned after being an hour absent, with the intelligence that none was to be obtained. This did not annoy me much, as we found an old house close to where we landed, where I proposed to remain, especially as the weather was fine, the only shelter we required being shade. Just, however, as we were about to remove our luggage thither, the owner of an adjoining house perceiving that we were strangers, invited us to take up our quarters with him, an invitation which we readily accepted, as it would be not only more comfortable, but would allow us greater freedom to walk about. Like most other Brazilian cities in which I have been, Alagoas looks better from a distance than on close inspection; and as in the instance of Penêdo, it has all the appearance of having once been a much more flourishing place than it now is, the expulsion of the Portuguese having given its industry a death blow, from which it is not soon likely to recover. The houses are for the most part built of stone, and many of them are what are called Sobrados, that is, consist of more stories than one, but many of them are falling into decay; even the principal streets are overgrown with grass and other weeds, and have a deserted appearance. The finest buildings are the churches and convents; of the former there are eight, and of the latter two in number. It being the seat of the provincial government, the President resides there, but as Maceio is the chief place of trade, there is also a government house in that town for his accommodation, when he visits it, as he frequently does, for the transaction of business. The population of Alagoas amounts to about 6000. On one or two occasions that I walked through the principal streets I saw very few people, and they for the most part were bare-footed, ragged mulatto and Indian soldiers, two of whom were keeping guard at the house of the President.
The chief productions of the country around Alagoas are sugar, cotton, and a little mandiocca. At the time of my visit great complaints were made of the scarcity of provisions, but it is impossible to feel much commiseration for the starving condition of the poor people, when it is known that it is entirely owing to their own want of industry that sufficient crops of mandiocca are not raised, not only for their own consumption, but for exportation to other parts of the country. There is abundance of ground around the city lying waste, which is well adapted for the growth of this plant, and but little labour suffices for its cultivation, but the indolent disposition of the people is such, that, with all the advantages which the country offers, they are contented to obtain just sufficient for immediate use and seldom look forward to the future. Towards the head of the lake, the country is said to be much richer than it is near the city, and it is in that direction that the largest and most productive sugar and cotton plantations are seen. The lake is not of sufficient depth to admit of vessels of any size, all traffic between the sea and the city is carried on in large canoes, and a small class of flat-bottomed sailing vessels called Lanchas. Opposite the city the lake is about a league broad, the water is quite fresh, and yields abundance of fine fish, which forms the chief part of the animal food of the inhabitants, to whom it is sold at a very cheap rate. Much fine timber is floated down the lake from the upper parts of the country for exportation along the coast; the two wooden bridges at Pernambuco are for the most part constructed of it.
During my rambles in this neighbourhood, I found several species of plants which I had not previously met with. In a small stream of beautifully clear water the curious Cabomba aquatica, Aubl., grows abundantly, which to the Botanist is a most interesting plant, as, both in habit and structure, it forms a transition link between the Ranunculus family and that of the water lilies. In the same stream I likewise collected specimens of a Marsilæa, a pale blue flowered Pontederia, and a large white flowered Nymphæa different from that which grows in the lake at Olinda. In brackish water a little above Maceio, a Potamogeton grows in vast quantities, which on comparison, does not seem to differ from the British P. pectinatus. We returned to Maceio by daylight, and I observed that the shores abound with Mangroves, principally Rhizophora Mangle, which reaches here to a much greater size than I have elsewhere seen it, some of the trees being, at least, thirty feet high, with stems proportionally thick; it presents a curious appearance, the large roots supporting the stems at the height of several feet above the water, and curving outwards and downwards; if the real top were not seen, we could almost fancy that the tree had been reversed; the long pendent radicles of the seeds are also remarkable, as they are thrown down to the ground while the fruit is yet attached to the parent plant. The wood of this tree is very much used as fuel, it burns extremely well in the green state; at Maranham little else is used for this purpose.
On the morning of the 20th of April I left Maceio, in a little vessel loaded with cotton, and arrived at Pernambuco on the evening of the 24th, taking Pedro with me, he having agreed to accompany me on my projected journey into the interior. The only thing which I observed worthy notice on the passage, was a mode of fishing that was new to me. Towards the evening of the third day, while running along between the reef and the shore, the vessel grounded on a sand bank, the tide being then about half ebb. Having laid down to sleep on the deck, I awoke about nine o’clock, and was surprised to see a great number of lights moving quickly between the shore and the reef, and extending as far as I could see. Our boatmen were at this time sound asleep, but as the tide was now out, and the ground around us dry, I made for the nearest lights, and found them to belong to a man and boy, both of whom were naked, each having a lighted torch in his left hand, a long sword-knife in the right, with a small basket suspended round the neck by a thick piece of cord. I soon discovered they were engaged in killing the small fish which the tide had left in the shallow pools of water inside the reef. They walked somewhat quickly along, holding the flaming torch pretty close to the water, by which means the fish, not above three inches long, were very distinctly perceived, and when seen, immediately struck with the sword, quickly picked up, and put into the basket. This man told me that all he expected to get, would scarcely suffice for the supper of the four individuals comprising his family. As the tide came in, the lights were seen receding towards the shore, and gradually becoming extinct. The material of which the torches are made, is the wood of a fine large arborescent species of Bignonia, to which the Brazilians give the name of Pao d’Arco, from the circumstance of its being used by the Indians to make their bows. They split this wood into thin splinters, a number of which are tied together, and when lighted, it burns with a very clear flame. Before castor oil was so much cultivated as it now is, this kind of light was extensively used by the country people, even in their sugar-houses and other works.