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Tarapoto-Pongo of Chasuta-Chasuta—Yurimaguas-Sta. Cruz-Antonio, the
Paragua Laguna-Mouth of the Huallaga.
August 19.—We started in company with a man who, with his peons, was carrying fish that he had taken and salted below Chasuta to Tarapoto. A smart walk of five hours (the latter part of it very quick, to avoid the rain that threatened us) brought us to the town. The road crossed a range of hills in the forest for about half the distance. The ascent and descent of these hills were tedious, because light showers of rain had moistened the surface of the hard-baked earth and made it as slippery as soap.
For the other half of the distance the road ran over a plain covered with high, reedy grass, and some bushes ; there was a short clump-grass underneath that would afford capital pasturage. The distance between Shapaja and Tarapoto, I judge to be fifteen miles, and the direction westerly, although I could not tell exactly, on account of the winding of the road.
Tarapoto—which is situated upon a moderate eminence near the western edge of the plain before spoken of, and surrounded by hills, which are mountains in the west—is by far the largest town I have seen since leaving Huanuco. The district-comprising the towns of Tarapoto, (which has three thousand five hundred inhabitants,) Chasuta, (which has twelve hundred,) Cumbasa, Morales, Shapaja, Juan Guerra, and Juan Comas-numbers six thousand inhabitants.
The principal productions are rice, cotton, and tobacco, all of which are articles of export, particularly the cloth called tocuyo, woven by the women from cotton. Nearly all the course of the river as far as Egas is supplied from Tarapoto with this article. As much as thirty-five thousand varas is said to be made in this place annually. It is valued here at twelve' and a half cents the vara,* and increases in price as it floats down the river, until at Egas it is exchanged for the value of fifty cents in foreign articles from Pará. It also goes inland as far as Moyobamba, where it is exchanged for straw hats and English prints.
* This is its value in barter. It may be bought for six and a quarter cents money. The same is the case with the wax and the balls of thread, which are held at double the price for what they may be bought with coin.
There is little or no money in this country. Tocuyo, wax from the Ucayali, and balls of cotton thread, are used in its place. The English goods that come from the interior sell in Tarapoto for four times their cost in Lima: for example, a yard of printed calico, which cost in Lima twelve and a half cents, sells in this place for either a pound of wax, four yards of tocuyo, or two pounds of cotton thread. (It is worth twenty-five cents, money.)
I suppose there is a little money obtained for these articles in Huanuco and Chachapoyas, or left here by travelling strangers. But if so, it falls into the hands of the traders and is hoarded away. These traders are either Moyobambinos, (inhabitants of Moyobamba,) or foreigners of Spain, France, and Portugal. The Moyobambinos are the Jews of the country, and will compass sea and land to make a dollar. I met with them everywhere on the river; and I think that I did not enter an Indian village without finding a Moyobambino domiciliated and trading with the inhabitants. They are a thin, spare, sickly-looking people, of a very dark complexion, but seem capable of undergoing great hardship and fatigue, for they carry their cargoes to marts hundreds of leagues distant by roads or rivers that present innumerable difficulties.
They bear a bad character on the river, and are said to cheat and oppress the Indians; so that when I could not get a yucca for
my supper without paying for it in advance, I vented my spleen by abusing a Moyobambino, who had treated the people so badly that they distrusted every body. But I have had reason, once or twice, for abusing other people besides Moyobambinos on this account; for the governor of Tarapoto hesitated about trusting me with a canoe to descend the river because a person representing himself as a countryman of mine had run off with one some years before. I imagine this is the same honest German who "did" Colonel Lucar at Huanuco.
I met at this place my countryman Hacket, whom I had heard spoken so highly of in Cerro Pasco and Huanuco. He is employed in making copper kettles (called pailas) for distilling, and in all kinds of blacksmith and foundry work. He seems settled in this country for life, and has adopted the habits and manners of the people. Poor fellow-how rejoiced he was to see the face and hear the speech of a countryman! I am indebted to him for the following statistics concerning Tarapoto:
“ The population of Tarapoto, with its annexed ports of Shapaja, and Juan Guerra, is five thousand three hundred and fifty souls. The births annually are from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty; deaths, from thirty to fifty. “ The principal occupation of the people is the manufacture of cotton cloth, of which they make from thirty-five to forty thousand varas annually. This article is sold in Chachapoyas at twelve and a half cents the vara. This, tocuyo, and white wax, make the exchange of the place. Gold and silver are almost unknown, but they are articles which the people most desire to have. The white wax of Mainas is worth four yards of tocuyo the pound. A bull or cow of good size is sold for one hundred varas of tocuyo; a fat hog of ordinary size, for sixty; a large sheep, twelve; twenty-five pounds of salt fish of the vaca marina, or paishi, (equal in quality to cod-fish,) for twelve varas; twenty-five pounds of manteca (oil or lard) of vaca marina, twelve varas; twentyfive pounds of coffee, six varas; twenty pounds of rum--of thirty degrees, twenty-four varas; of sixteen degrees, twelve varas; twenty-five pounds of cotton in the seed, eight ounces of wax; a laying-hen, four ounces; a chicken, two ounces; twenty-five pounds of rice in the husk, half a pound; twenty-five pounds of Indian corn, two ounces; twentyfive pounds of beans, four ounces; a basket of yuccas, which weighs from fifty to sixty pounds, two ounces; a head of plantains, which will weigh from forty to fifty pounds, for three needles; or six heads, delivered in the house, four ounces of wax.
"A plantain-grove will give in full vigor for fifty or sixty years, without more attention than to clean it occasionally of weeds ; cotton gives a crop in six months; rice in five; indigo is indigenous; cattle of all kinds augment with much rapidity.
"All transportation of cargoes by land is made upon the backs of Indians, for want of roads. The customary weight of a cargo is seventyfive pounds; the cost of its transportation to Moyobamba, (seventy miles,) is six varas of tocuyo; to Huanuco, (three hundred and ninety miles,) thirty-two varas, by water and by land ; that is to say, eight Indians will receive in Tarapoto eight packages, of whatsoever goods, and carry them on their shoulders to the port of Juan Guerra, where they embark and carry them in a canoe to the port of Tingo Maria ; there they shoulder them again, and carry them to lluanuco, (eighty miles.) It is to be understood that the owner of the cargo is to support the
peons. “The ascent of the Huallaga from Juan Guerra to Tingo Maria takes thirty days; the descent, eight. It has dangerous passes. It is easy to obtain, in the term of six or eight days, fitty or sixty peons for the transportation of cargoes, getting the order of the governor and paying the above prices.
“This town is, without dispute, the most important in Mainas, on account of its neighborhood to navigable rivers, united with an extension of
land free from inundations. Its inhabitants are numerous, civilized, and docile.”
The people have no idea of comfort in their domestic relations; the houses are of mud, thatched with palm, and have uneven dirt floors. The furniture consists of a grass hammock, a standing bed-place, a coarse table, and a stool or two. The governor of this populous district wore no shoes, and appeared to live pretty much like the rest of them.
August 20 we spent at Tarapoto waiting for the peons. The governor preferred that I should pay them in money, which I much doubt if the peons ever saw. He will probably keep the money and give them tocuyo and wax. I paid one dollar and fifty cents for the canoe to carry me as far as Chasuta, a distance of about six hours down, with probably twenty-four to return, (that is, twenty-four working hours ;) fifty cents to each peon; and a dollar to pay people to haul the canoe up the bank and place it under the shed at Shapaja on its return.
The men who carried us from Tocache to Sion preferred half their pay in money; in all other cases I have paid in cotton cloth, valued at twenty-five cents the yard; (its cost in Lima was twelve and a half cents.) The amount of pay, generally fixed by the governor, is a yard per man per day, and about the same for the canoe.
An American circus company passed through Tarapoto a few months ago; they had come from the Pacific coast, and were bound down the Amazon. This beats the Moyobambinos for determined energy in making dollars. I imagine that the adventure did not pay, for I encountered traces of them, in broken-down horses, at several of the villages on the river. They floated their horses down on rafts.
I spoke with an active and intelligent young Spanish trader, named Morey, about the feasibility of a steamboat enterprise upon these rivers, bringing American goods and taking return-cargoes of coffee, tobacco, straw-hats, hammocks, and sarsaparilla to the ports of Brazil on the river. He thought that it could not fail to enrich any one who would attempt it; but that the difficulty lay in the fact that my proposed steamer would never get as far as this, for that my goods would be bought up and paid for in return-cargoes long before she reached Peru. He thought, too, that the Brazilians along the river had money which they would be glad to exchange for comforts and luxuries. Were I to engage in any scheme of colonization for the
of evolving the resources of the Valley of the Amazon, I think I should direct the attention of settlers to this district of Tarapoto. It combines more advantages than any other I know; it is healthy, fertile, and free from the torment of musquitoes and sand-flies. Wheat
from the high lands above it; cattle thrive well; and its coffee, tobacco, sugar-cane, rice, and maize are of fine quality. It is true that vessels cannot come up to Shapaja, the port of the town of Tarapoto; but a good road may be made from this town eighteen miles to Chasuta, to which vessels of five feet draught may come at the lowest stage of the river, and any draught at high water. Tarapoto is situated on an elevated plain twenty miles in diameter; is seventy miles from Moyobamba, the capital of the province, a city of seven thousand inhabitants; and has close around it the villages of Lamas, Tabalosas, Juan Guerra, and Shapaja.
The Ucayali is navigable higher up than this point, and the quality of cotton and coffee seems better, within certain limits, further from the equator. But the settler at the head-waters of the Ucayali has to place himself in a profound wilderness, with the forest and the savage to subdue, and entirely dependent upon his own resources. I think he would be better placed near where he can get provisions and assistance whilst he is clearing the forest and planting his fields. I am told that the governors of the districts in all the province of Mainas have authority to give titles to land to any one who desires to cultivate it.
I saw here very fine fields of Indian corn. The stalk grows quite as high as on our best bottom-lands in Virginia, and the ears were full, and of good grain. It may be planted at any time, and it yields in three months, thus giving four crops a year. A considerable quantity of tobacco is also cultivated in the neighborhood of Tarapoto. The tobacco seed is planted in carefully-prepared ground in October. At this time the forest is cleared to make the plantation. In January the seedlings are ready to transplant, when the wood that has been cut down is set fire to, and the plantation cleared up ready to receive the plants. When the plant is about two feet high, the top is cut off, and the lower leaves, which are generally injured by the dirt, pulled off, so that the force of the plant may be thrown into the middle leaves. The crop is gathered, as the leaves ripen, in July and August. They are put under shelter for a few days to turn yellow, and are then exposed for three or four days to the sun and dew. After this, they are sometimes sprinkled with a little molasses and water, and rolled out flat with a wooden roller; the larger stems are taken out, and they are then put up in long masses of about one and a half pound weight, and wrapped tightly and closely with some running vine of the forest. This is the common method; and the common tobacco of Tarapoto is worth twelve and a half cents (money) the mass there. A superior kind, made with more care, and put up in short, thick masses, called andullo, is also