TRAVELS IN GUYANA 1840-1844
- We all attended the Sunday service which must have proved a trying ordeal for the brave missionary, for he held this first of all for us in English, then for the Macusi Indians in their own language, and lastly in Creole Dutch for the benefit of the Brazilians and colored people. A horn instead of a bell called the congregation to church, where split trunk-stems formed the benches, and neither glass nor shutter closed the window-spaces, and I must admit that it formed a strange spectacle when this small band of worshippers in diverse coloured costume, or only half covered, took their seats in this simple edifice. Only a few were entirely, the greater number hardly half, clothed. Without altering their countenances in the slightest degree, they all sat in the little chapel like statues, with their eyes directed steadfastly on the missionary. As there is but little singing, according to the ritual of the English Established Church, the frequent pauses in the liturgy were filled by the help of a barrel-organ that played several choral melodies, until the soft and melodious strains of the devout gathering again chimed in. The chieftain of the village, the Carib Irai-i, the last descendant of the once notorious Kazike of the tribe, Mahanarva, sat dressed in blue on a seat in the middle of the church. Irai-i still possessed the gold half-moon shaped sign of sovereignity of his dreaded ancestors. Curiosity had also attracted our Waikas and Warraus from the Barima and Waini into the building. Every thing that they saw and heard here was new: they watched the preacher’s movement with the most strained attention and were visibly affected by the sounds of the barrel-organ and the singing, yet when Mr. Youd commenced his sermon, which to me seemed somewhat too prolonged, their interest flagged, and they started turning their impatient looks towards the door. As we sat immediately behind the pulpit, we were able to survey and accurately observe the whole gathering. The first to show signs of restlessness was one of the Waikas from Manari: he seemed unable to stand it any longer. When Mr. Youd turned his gaze from off the spot where he was standing, he also cast his towards the door, though the large number of people in between and an innate feeling of propriety must have convinced him that it was impossible to gain freedom by that way without occasioning plenty of disturbance. The open window offered an easier and surer means of escape, so quickly making up his mind and without taking his eyes off Mr. Youd he commenced moving sideways in its direction almost unnoticed. Whenever during the harangue the preacher looked his way, the wily Indian suddenly stood stock still. He finally reached the longed-for goal, the window raised some six feet from the ground, at a favourable moment, on Mr. Youd turning to the side opposite, made a bound for liberty. His movements were carried out so slyly, and the jump through the window so rapidly effected that Mr. Youd did not have the slightest idea of his escape. It can be easily understood that we could hardly refrain from laughing and only felt all the more stimulated to do so, when the rest of the Waikas and Warraus followed their leader with equal cunning, and Mr. Youd at last noticed our excitement. The remainder of the congregation however showed no signs of disturbance, but watched the proceedings without a change of countenance. When, after the conclusion of the service, we informed the brave missionary of the cause of our restlessness, he assured us that he had not noticed the disappearance of his hearers at all, and yet seven of them had made their exit through the window.
- After church, we visited the pleasant and extensive fields surrounding the village. Each house had its own piece of arable land which the family worked for their exclusive benefit. A large area was cultivated by them collectively as common property, the profits of which went to defray the expenses of the Mission. The soil must be unusually fertile. I had never yet seen cassava in so flourishing a condition. The ground consisted of a rich layer of clay in which granite rocks made their appearance everywhere.
- On returning from our stroll, a dog belonging to the chieftain Irai-i that had been bitten in the forest by a labaria (trigonocephalus atrox) under the right eye occupied our whole attention. The poor creature must have suffered terribly judging from the piteous way it whined. Shortly after, it could hardly be recognized, the pointed head of the greyhound having swollen into the downright massive one of a lion. Proximity to the fire seemed to alleviate its sufferings, the tormented creature regularly raking up the ashes with its snout.
- Next morning, we took a corial to visit the Great Waraputa Fall which is of considerable interest not only on account of its grandeur, but also for the large number of hieroglyphics and sculptures hewn in its rocks, since one can recognise in them traces of a by-gone age which unmistakeably indicate a higher degree of culture of the aborigines in previous times, a view that is held by the most competent anthorities. It is shown historically that the Spaniards on their discovery of America found this new continent occupied by a race of men who, both as regards physical features as well as intellectual faculties, differed from all other nations of the world as it was then known, while on the other hand, it showed within itself such a general racial correspondence in bodily frame, manners and customs, that it must have been consequently all the more surprising to see the great family split up again into innumerable tribes with lan- guages differing completely from one another. How then, one might at all events ask, amidst this general racial similarity, did the change of language, the medium of mutual understanding, come about? According to the erudite researches of a certain Wilhelm von Humboldt Sr. and others, at least 500 different languages are distinguishable in America. Humboldt ascribes this alteration of language partly to the very variable surface conformation of the country, partly to the dividing barriers of vegetation. Of course, so long as all the many peculiarities of expression are limited to verbal transmission, and are accordingly subject to corruption, nothing definite can be decided about their structure and, as to how closely or distantly they may be related. Nevertheless, there is fairly good reason, for believing that in spite of the verbal transmission, there exists in all these languages, a certain grammatical analogy and resemblance of structure which gives all the more probability to the assumption, that notwithstanding all the extraordinary differences of dialect, they have all had a common origin. Whether now the occupants of America are really autochthonous and of the same age as the surface conformation of their portion of the earth, or whether they are of Asiatic origin as has been claimed, certainly cannot be proved with certainty in the complete absence of historical data. The belts of hieroglyphics that we find extending through the whole of South America and North America as far as Behring’s Straits into Northern Siberia, the characters of which so unmistakeably correspond with one another, might at all events make the peopling of America through Asiatic hordes more than probable, especially if we further take into account, the resemblance of the whole physical features of the Indians to that of the Mongolian tribes of northern Asia. These fugitive suggestions may suffice to draw attention to the importance underlying these old inscriptions which we found in the course of our travels along the most different degrees of latitude, not only in the river valleys but also on considerable heights. Upon enquiring from the natives as to who had made them, we everywhere received the reply: “Our forefathers when the immense waters still covered the earth and they navigated the mountains in their corials.”