THE wonders of the Paranâ river system grow upon me. I am now on the Paraguay, which flows 2,000 miles from its source in Brazil before it loses itself in the Paranâ.
The Paraguay has a network of tributaries, on which you can sail for thousands of miles, and on some of which you can go in canoes so close to the tributaries of the Amazon that by carrying your boat a short distance you could reach the Atlantic through that mighty stream. The Parana proper, which I left at the town of Corrientes, about 300 miles south, extends from that point more than I,000 miles farther north, bounding South Paraguay and running on into Brazil. It is navigable for small steamers during a part of its course, but it has 400 miles of rocky rapids and falls which in the future may be classed among the picturesque sights of the world. The waterfalls are said to surpass Niagara. They are on the borders of Paraguay and Brazil, and are known as the Salto Guayra. They are, I am told. far grander than the falls of Yguazu, sometimes called the Niagara Falls of South America.
I have already shown that I sailed in coming to Asuncion on large river steamers as far as from New York to Omaha. I can go just as much farther by steam into the heart of the southern continent, or farther than from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City. The limit of steam navigation is now Cuyaba, Brazil, the capital of the State of Matto Grosso, and the metropolis of a vast country of undeveloped resources.
The first man to penetrate this region by steam was an American, Captain Thomas J. Page ; he was commander of the steam launch Alpha of the United States Navy, and on this little ship, in 1859, he pushed his way inland 2,700 miles from the Atlantic. To-day Brazilian mail steamers go over the same route twice a month, the steamers leaving here fortnightly for Cuyaba. The Paraguay river for half the journey is everywhere twenty feet deep, while its average depth is said to be forty-five feet.
The trip from Asuncion to Cuyaba is most picturesque. Crossing the boundary of Paraguay, you enter the great province of Matto Grosso, which is an empire in itself. As you go north the Paraguay river narrows, the scenery becomes wild, and you steam in and out among mountains, at the bases of which grow fern trees and giant palms. The banks are covered with a wooded mass of vegetation. The trees are tall and bound together with vines and creepers. You could not make your way through them without an axe or a knife.
There are all kinds of wild birds, and you get many shots from the steamer. There are alligators everywhere, and if you rise early you may now and then see tigers swimming across the river. Farther north, if you throw a dynamite cartridge into the water, the dead fish will soon float up on all sides of you, and within a few minutes you can pick up enough to half fill your boat. Here and there you pass farmhouses cut out of the woods; at some of these the boat stops for fresh meat, taking the beeves on board and killing them there. There are frequent forests of palms scattered along the river.
About two days ride above Asuncion, just over the Brazilian line, a forest-covered island, 1,300 feet high, springs up ahead of you and apparently bars your progress. As you approach it, you see that there is a channel at the west side wide enough for the boat to go through. This island is known as the Mountain Gate. The land about it is said to be so unhealthy that, as one of the authorities states, even the trees are pot-bellied and dropsical; some of the human beings in the neighbourhood certainly are.
As you proceed farther the animal life increases. Deer are frequently seen, and among them are some almost pure white. The birds are of gorgeous plumage, that of the toucans resplendent in the brightest reds and blues. The alligators become more numerous, and you are frequently approached by Indians who have tiger skins for sale. A good skin will bring from five to ten dollars. In addition to this there is sometimes a bounty paid for such skins. There is a man on the river who has made quite a fortune by killing tigers; he is said to have killed 193, and has received in the neighbourhood of $3,000 for them. He got $10 apiece for the skins, and the cattle owners paid him a bounty of $5 per tiger.
Other bird and animal life offered for sale are parrots and monkeys. The prices are low, and you can have them almost for the asking. You can also buy bows and arrows, Indian baskets, and hammocks. The hammocks are expensive ; some are made of the brilliant feathers of tropical birds and cost as high as $200 apiece.
Matto Grosso is one of the largest provinces of Brazil. It is as large as one-sixth of the United States, not including our out-lying possessions. It forms the southern central half of the country. The greater part of it has never been explored, and it is as wild today as it was when Sebastian Cabot made his way up the Paraguay river only a few years after America was discovered. It is a land of gold and diamonds, of vast pastures, of impenetrable forests, of rubber and cacao, and, in fact, in its possibilities, is one of the richest lands in the world.
The territory is to be reached only by the Parana and Paraguay river systems. It has no railroads connecting it with the rest of Brazil, and its people rely for their supplies upon the steamers of the Parana system. Every bit of its imports is brought more than 2,700 miles by river boats, and its federal officials, who as a rule come from Rio Janeiro, must travel I,000 miles farther to reach it.
Leaving Asuncion on the way to Matto Grosso, you first pass Villa Concepcion, the largest city of northern Paraguay. There is a white customhouse on the banks, and back of this is the town. Concepcion contains about 5,000 people. It is made up of stuccoed buildings and thatched huts. It is a business centre, exporting large quantities of « maté ” or Paraguayan tea and hides. There are more Indians and negroes than in Asuncion, and you find that the Indians and negroes increase as you go north.
At Coimbra, Brazil, 1,810 miles from Buenos Aires, you see on the west bank of the Paraguay the first village of any size for a distance of 700 miles on that side of the river. So far, all the settlements have been on the east bank of the river, the country to the west being almost entirely wild. At Coimbra there is a Brazilian fort. Farther on you some to the little village of Albuquerque, with low wooded mountains behind it, and about 175 miles farther the steamer stops at Corumba.
You are now over 2,200 miles from the ocean, almost as far inland by water as Salt Lake City is from New York by rail. Corumba is the chief port of Matto Grosso, where is located the only customhouse of the province, and where the officers come on board and open your baggage. The steamer stops long enough to enable one to get a view of the city. It is situated in the woods, on a hill, commanding the country for miles. It has the usual Spanish buildings of stucco and tiles, with palm trees growing here and there in the gardens. It has a beautiful plaza, about which are some large stores. The merchants are thrifty, and they do a large business, most of which is managed by Frenchmen, Italians, and Strasburg Jews.
Goods are sent out from Corumba to different parts of the interior. There is a mule route to Bolivia, the nearest town being San Jose de Chuquito, which is 280 miles away. The journey takes 14 days and is very expensive. Mules are costly; indeed, you cannot get a good one for less than $100 in gold. You must lay in an ample supply of canned goods, for those who try to live off the country fare poorly. There are few horses; they are subject, it seems, to a peculiar disease, which affects their hind quarters, and their places have been largely taken by cows and bulls. Bullocks are used for carts and also for riding, riding-bullocks bringing good prices. The bullock is not a bad saddle animal. Its gait, it is true, is a shambling trot or pace; but after you become used to it, it is not at all unpleasant. The animals are directed by reins which are tied to their horns. They are often used to pack goods from one town to another, and, indeed, take the places that horses have taken in our country.
It is shortly after you leave Corumba that you pass out of the Paraguay river and enter the San Lorenzo. The San Lorenzo is not so big as the Paraguay. In the Paraguay, steamers draw as much as nine feet, while those to which you change at Corumba do not draw over five. It takes about twelve hours to reach the San Lorenzo river from Corumba, and you sail a day and a-half on it before you enter the Cuyaba river, on which you steam to the city.
The boats here are always crowded, 200 passengers often being taken at one time. The whole journey from Corumba to Cuyaba requires six days, and the fare is $7.00 in gold. It is one of the cheapest of steamship trips, for the price includes mealscoffee in the morning, breakfast at 10 A. M., and dinner in the evening.
The scenery of the San Lorenzo and Cuyaba rivers is very tropical. There are many palms; there are cotton trees which have balls of cotton upon them as big as oranges; others have blossoms of a silky fibre which hang down in great cones of white ; this stuff is used by the people for making pillows.
Cuyaba has about 20,000 inhabitants. It is a surprisingly good city for its location and very much up-to-date. It has water-works, a street car line, and a cathedral. In its college French, English, and Portuguese are taught, and in its orphan asylum there are 200 boys. The town was founded in 1722, being laid out in Portuguese style with a very pretty plaza and park.
It is situated about two miles from the river, and you can ride to it on one of the tame cows or you may go on a street-car drawn by mules.
In going to Matto Grosso you skirt one of the least-known parts of South America. This is the vast region known as the Chaco, which lies west of the Paraguay river and south of Bolivia. The northern part of it belongs to Paraguay, and the remainder to the Argentine Republic. The part belonging to the Argentine lies south of the Pilcomayo river, and comprises a territory larger than California and Massachusetts combined, enough, in fact, to make three States as big as Ohio.
The only settlements in this vast region are upon the Paraguay river. They consist of an occasional “estancia” or farm, and a few scattered villages. The chief town in the Paraguayan Chaco is Villa Hayes, which is in sight from Asuncion and has now about 91 families of foreigners. They are chiefly Swiss, French, and Italians, who are engaged in raising sugar cane and sweet potatoes, and in manufacturing brandy.
There are two large rivers which run through the Chaco. The Pilcomayo winds about like a corkscrew from the Bolivian Andes to the Paraguay river. It has many rapids, and can never be navigable. The Vermejo or the Vermilion river, enters the Paraguay farther south; it is at just about the bottom of the country. Its waters are so red that they discolour those of the Paraguay for some miles. The Vermejo is about 1,200 miles long, but it is navigable only for a short distance.
Just what the Chaco contains in the way of resources has yet to be discovered. I have met men who have travelled over parts of it and they tell me that the forests have much fine timber, and that there are good pastures scattered among the woods. The land will hardly be developed before railroads are built, and today there are not, I venture to say, 50,000 white people in the whole territory.
The inhabitants of the Chaco are almost altogether Indians. There are said to be more than 100,000 of them. They are among the most curious Indians in the world, some of the tribes being practically unknown to our ethnologists. There are Indians in the Chaco, for instance, who go naked from one year’s end to the other, and some are so opposed to any covering that they will not even allow their hair to grow. They pull out every hair on their bodies except those on the head. Their faces, arms, bosoms, and legs are kept as hairless as when they were born. I have heard it stated that the people of one tribe are naturally hairless. It is said that they are born so, and that the hair never grows except on their heads. This has often been reported, but until I see an Indian grown to order to test the matter I shall continue to doubt the statement.
Some of these Indians are quite handsome. Take the Tobas, for example, whom I saw on my travels on the Paraguay river. They are as fine looking as any of the Indians of North America, and are as straight and as proud in their bearing as the bravest chiefs of the West. They have high cheek bones, copper-coloured skins, and straight black hair.
The Tobas commonly wear no clothes save when they come into the presence of white people, or cross over to Paraguay to trade. At such times the women wear white sheets draped about their bodies; at home they wear nothing except a blanket about the waist, that is, when they are in full dress. The men are satisfied with a band tied about the head.
The younger women among the Chaco Indians are fine looking, and the young braves are the noblest of their race. Both sexes age early, and after thirty the women look old. In most of the tribes polygamy is common, but I am told the women get along peaceably, and that a young wife is always welcomed into the family because the women do all the work, and the more women the less work. It is the woman who plants the crops, cooks the meals, makes the fishing nets, and weaves the blankets.
The men devote themselves to hunting, fishing, and fighting. They are skilled in the use of the bow, and are, it is said, brave in battle. They do not scalp, but cut off the heads of their dead and cure them in such a way that they can use the skulls for drinking-cups. They usually kill the grown-up members of the tribes they conquer, but save the children to become braves and wives.
The marriage customs of the Chaco Indians are strange. Giovanni Pelleschi, an Italian, from whose diary I got some of my information, says that when one of the Tobas wants to marry he paints his cheeks, his lips, and the hollows of his eyes red. He then struts about the tent of his sweetheart, and later on brings all the sheep, chickens, skins, and other property he possesses to the young lady and offers them to her as a present. If she accept them the marriage is on, and he can come in and live with her family, shortly afterward removing to a hut of his own. If she refuse, he goes elsewhere. I am told that such marriages are happy, that the women are faithful, and that they make good mothers.
These Indians are not very intelligent. They cannot count more than four. They have no money, and their trading is al-together by barter. A community of interests seems to prevail, and if one of the women gets a piece of finery from a foreigner she has to divide it with her sisters, her cousins, and her aunts.
The wigwams of the Chaco are different from those of our savages. A village often has its huts built together, so that one thatch can cover a number of dwellings. One of the common houses looks much like a great hay waggon, several families living in the different apartments under it. One part of each hut is used for cooking and another for sleeping. The people sleep on skins when they have them, otherwise they pass the night on the bare ground. The huts are so well made that they do not leak. They are built by the women, and when completed one of the braves crawls on the roof and stamps about to see if he can make the thatch break through. If he cannot the hut is all right, but if the roof give, he tells his wife to go to work and make it over again.
The Indian women are said to be good cooks. They use pots and spits for cooking, and I am told they always wash their pots after using them. They use shells or gourds for spoons, but forks are unknown, and the person is considered happy who owns a knife.