But what a hand was this hand of the ant-eater! When it has got hold of anything you have to cut it off to make it let go! It is of this hand that the traveler, Emile Carrey, has so justly observed: "The tiger himself would perish in its grasp."
On the 2d of July, in the morning, the jangada arrived at the foot of San Pablo d'Olivenša, after having floated through the midst of numerous islands which in all seasons are clad with verdure and shaded with magnificent trees, and the chief of which bear the names of Jurupari, Rita, Maracanatena, and Cururu Sapo. Many times they passed by the mouths of iguarapes, or little affluents, with black waters.
The coloration of these waters is a very curious phenomenon. It is peculiar to a certain number of these tributaries of the Amazon, which differ greatly in importance.
Manoel remarked how thick the cloudiness was, for it could be clearly seen on the surface of the whitish waters of the river.
"They have tried to explain this coloring in many ways," said he, "but I do not think the most learned have yet arrived at a satisfactory explanation."
"The waters are really black with a magnificent reflection of gold," replied Minha, showing a light, reddish-brown cloth, which was floating level with the jangada.
"Yes," said Manoel, "and Humboldt has already observed the curious reflection that you have; but on looking at it attentively you will see that it is rather the color of sepia which pervades the whole."
"Good!" exclaimed Benito. "Another phenomenon on which the _savants_ are not agreed."
"Perhaps," said Fragoso, "they might ask the opinions of the caymans, dolphins, and manatees, for they certainly prefer the black waters to the others to enjoy themselves in."
"They are particularly attractive to those animals," replied Manoel, "but why it is rather embarrassing to say. For instance, is the coloration due to the hydrocarbons which the waters hold in solution, or is it because they flow through districts of peat, coal, and anthracite; or should we not rather attribute it to the enormous quantity of minute plants which they bear along? There is nothing certain in the matter. Under any circumstances, they are excellent to drink, of a freshness quite enviable for the climate, and without after-taste, and perfectly harmless. Take a little of the water, Minha, and drink it; you will find it all right."
The water is in truth limpid and fresh, and would advantageously replace many of the table-waters used in Europe. They drew several frasques for kitchen use.
It has been said that in the morning of the 2d of July the jangada had arrived at San Pablo d'Olivenša, where they turn out in thousands those long strings of beads which are made from the scales of the _"coco de piassaba."_ This trade is here extensively followed. It may, perhaps, seem singular that the ancient lords of the country, Tupinambas and Tupiniquis, should find their principal occupation in making objects for the Catholic religion. But, after all, why not? These Indians are no longer the Indians of days gone by. Instead of being clothed in the national fashion, with a frontlet of macaw feathers, bow, and blow-tube, have they not adopted the American costume of white cotton trousers, and a cotton poncho woven by their wives, who have become thorough adepts in its manufacture?
San Pablo d'Olivenša, a town of some importance, has not less than two thousand inhabitants, derived from all the neighboring tribes. At present the capital of the Upper Amazon, it began as a simple Mission, founded by the Portuguese Carmelites about 1692, and afterward acquired by the Jesuit missionaries.
From the beginning it has been the country of the Omaguas, whose name means "flat-heads," and is derived from the barbarous custom of the native mothers of squeezing the heads of their newborn children between two plates, so as to give them an oblong skull, which was then the fashion. Like everything else, that has changed; heads have re-taken their natural form, and there is not the slightest trace of the ancient deformity in the skulls of the chaplet-makers.