AMAZON, the great river of South America. Before the conquest of South America, the Rio de las Amazonas had no general name; for, according to a common custom, each savage tribe gave a name only to the section of the river which it occupied - such as Paranaguazu, Guyerma, Sclimoes and others. In the year 1500, Vicente Yanez Pinzon, in command of a Spanish expedition, discovered and ascended the Amazon to a point about 50 m. from the sea. He called it the Rio Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce, which soon became abbreviated to Mar Dulce, and for some years, after 1502, it was known as the Rio Grande. The principal companions of Pinzon, in giving evidence in 1513, mention it as El Ryo Haranon. There is much controversy about the origin of the word Maranon. Peter Martyr in a letter to Lope Hurtado de Mendoza in 1513 is the first to state that it is of native origin. Ten years after the death of Pinzon, his friend Oviedo calls it the Maranon. Many writers believe that this was its Indian name. We are disposed to agree with the Brazilian historian Constancio that Maranon is derived from the Spanish word marana, a tangle, a snarl, which well represents the bewildering difficulties which the earlier explorers met in navigating not only the entrance to the Amazon, but the whole island-bordered, river-cut and indented coast of the now Brazilian province of Maranhao.
The first descent of the mighty artery from the Andes to the sea was made by Orellana in 1541, and the name Amazonas arises from the battle which he had with a tribe of Tapuya savages where the women of the tribe fought alongside the men, as was the custom among all of the Tapuyas. Orellana, no doubt, derived the name Amazonas from the ancient Amazons (q.v.) of Asia and Africa described by Herodotusand Diodorus.
The first ascent of the river was made in 1638 by Pedro Texiera, a Portuguese, who reversed the route of Orellana and reached Quito by way of the Rio Napo. He returned in 1639 with the Jesuit fathers Acuna and Artieda, delegated by the viceroy of Peru to accompany him.
The river Amazon has a drainage area of 2,722,000 sq. m., if the Tocantins be included in its basin. It drains four-tenths of South America, and it gathers its waters from 5 deg. N. to 20 deg. S. latitude. Its most remote sources are found on the inter-Andean plateau, but a short distance from the Pacific Ocean; and, after a course of about 4000 m. through the interior of Peru and across Brazil, it enters the Atlantic Ocean on the equator. It is generally accepted by geographers that the Maranon, or Upper Amazon, rises in the little lake, Lauricocha, in 10 deg. 30' S. latitude, and 100 m. N.N.E. of Lima. They appear to have followed the account given by Padre Fritz which has since been found incorrect. According to Antonio Raimondi, it is the Rio de Nupe branch of the small stream which issues from the lake that has the longer course and the greater volume of water. The Nupe rises in the Cordillera de Huayhuath and is the true source of the Maranon. There is a difference among geographers as to where the Maranon ends and the Amazon begins, or whether both names apply to the same river. The Pongo de Manseriche, at the base of the Andes and the head of useful navigation, seems to be the natural terminus of the Maranon; and an examination of the hydrographic conditions of the great valley makes the convenience and accuracy of this apparent. Raimondi terminates the Maranon at the mouth of the Ucayali, Reclus the same, both following the missionary fathers of the colonial period. C. M. de la Condamine uses "Amazon" and "Maranon" indiscriminately and considers them one and the same. Smyth and Lowe give the mouth of the Javary as the eastern limit, as does d'Orbigny. Wolf, apparently uncertain, carries the "Maranon or Amazon" to the Peruvian frontier of Brazil at Tabatinga. Other travellers and explorers contribute to the confusion. This probably arises from the rivalry of the Spaniards and Portuguese. The former accepted the name Maranon in Peru, and as the missionaries penetrated the valley they extended the name until they reached the mouth of the Ucayali; while, as the Portuguese ascended the Amazon, they carried this name to the extent of their explorations. Beginning with the lower river we propose to notice, first, the great affluents which go to swell the volume of the main stream.
The TOCANTINS is not really a branch of the Amazon, although usually so considered. It is the central fluvial artery of Brazil, running from south to north for a distance of about 1500 m. It rises in the mountainous district known as the Pyreneos; but its more ambitious western affluent, the Araguay, has its extreme southern headwaters on the slopes of the Serra Cayapo, and flows a distance of 1080 m. before its junction with the parent stream, which it appears almost to equal in volume. Besides its main tributary, the Rio das Mortes, it has twenty smaller branches, offering many miles of canoe navigation. In finding its way to the lowlands, it breaks frequently into falls and rapids, or winds violently through rocky gorges, until, at a point about 100 m. above its junction with the Tocantins, it saws its way across a rocky dyke for 12 m. in roaring cataracts. The tributaries of the Tocantins, called the Maranhao and Parana-tinga, collect an immense volume of water from the highlands which surround them, especially on the south and south-east. Between the latter and the confluence with the Araguay, the Tocantins is occasionally obstructed by rocky barriers which cross it almost at a right angle. Through these, the river carves its channel, broken into cataracts and rapids, or cachoeiras, as they are called throughout Brazil. Its lowest one, the Itaboca cataract, is about 130 m. above its estuarine port of Cameta, for which distance the river is navigable; but above that it is useless as a commercial avenue, except for laborious and very costly transportation.
The flat, broad valleys, composed of sand and clay, of both the Tocantins and its Araguay branch are overlooked by steep bluffs. They are the margins of the great sandstone plateaus, from 1000 to 2000 ft. elevation above sea-level, through which the rivers have eroded their deep beds. Around the estuary of the Tocantins the great plateau has disappeared, to give place to a part of the forest-covered, half submerged alluvial plain, which extends far to the north-east and west. The Para river, generally called one of the mouths of the Amazon, is only the lower reach of the Tocantins. If any portion of the waters of the Amazon runs round the southern side of the large island of Marajo into the river Para, it is only through tortuous, natural canals, which are in no sense outflow channels of the Amazon.
The XINGU, the next large river west of the Tocantins, is a true tributary of the Amazon. It was but little known until it was explored in 1884-1887 by Karl von den Steinen from Cuyaba. Travelling east, 240 m., he found the river Tamitatoaba, 180 ft. wide, flowing from a lake 25 m. in diameter. He descended this torrential stream to the river Romero, 1300 ft. wide, entering from the west, which receives the river Colisu. These three streams form the Xingu, or Parana-xingu, which, from 73 m. lower down, bounds along a succession of rapids for 400 m. A little above the head of navigation, 105 m. from its mouth, the river makes a bend to the east to find its way across a rocky barrier. Here is the great cataract of Itamaraca, which rushes down an inchned plane for 3 m. and then gives a final leap, called the fall of Itamaraca. Near its mouth, the Xingu expands into an immense lake, and its waters then mingle with those of the Amazon through a labyrinth of eanos (natural canals), winding in countless directions through a wooded archipelago.
The TAPAHOS, running through a humid, hot and unhealthy valley, pours into the Amazon 500 m. above Para and is about 1200 m. long. It rises on the lofty Brazilian plateau near Diamantino in 14 deg. 25' S. lat. Near this place a number of streams unite to form the river Arinos, which at latitude 10 deg. 25' joins the Juruena to form the Alto Tapajos, so called as low down as the Rio Manoel, entering from the east. Thence to Santarem the stream is known as the Tapajos. The lower Arinos, the Alto Tapajos and the Tapajos to the last rapid, the Maranhao Grande, is a continuous series of formidable cataracts and rapids; but from the Maranhao Grande to its mouth, about 188 m., the river can be navigated by largevessels. For its last 100 mi. it is from 4 to 9 m. wide and much of it very deep. The valley of the Tapajos is bordered on both sides by bluffs. They are from 300 to 400 ft. high along the lower river; but, a few miles above Santarem, they retire from the eastern side and only approach the Amazon flood-plain some miles below Santarem.
The MADEIRA has its junction with the Amazon 870 mi. by river above Para, and almost rivals it in the volume of its waters. It rises more than 50 ft. during the rainy season, and the largest ocean steamers may ascend it to the Fall of San Antonio, 663 m. above its mouth; but in the dry months, from June to November, it is only navigable for the same distance for craft drawing from 5 to 6 ft. of water. According to the treaty of San Ildefonso, the Madeira begins at the confluence of the Guapore with the Mamore. Both of these streams have their headwaters almost in contact with those of the river Paraguay. The idea of a connecting canal is based on ignorance of local conditions. San Antonio is the first of a formidable series of cataracts and rapids, nineteen in number, which, for a river distance of 263 m., obstruct the upper course of the Madeira until the last rapid called Guajara Merim (or Small Pebble), is reached, a little below the union of the Guapore with the Mamore. The junction of the great river Beni with the Madeira is at the Madeira Fall, a vast and grand display ofreefs, whirlpools and boiling torrents. Between Guajara-Merim and this fall, inclusive, the Madeira receives the drainage of the northeastern slopes of the Andes, from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Cuzco, the whole of the south-western slope of Brazilian Matto (irosso and the northern one of the Chiquitos sierras, an area about
equal to that of France and Spain. The waters find their way to the falls of the Madeira by many great rivers, the principal of which, if we enumerate them from east to west, are the Guapore or Itenez, the Baures and Blanco, the Itonama or San Miguel, the Mamore, Beni, and Mayutata or Madre de Dios, all of which are reinforced by numerous secondary but powerful affluents. The Guapore presents many difficulties to continuous navigation; the Baures and Itonama offer hundreds of miles of navigable waters through beautiful plains; the Mamore has been sounded by the writer in the driest month of the year for a distance of 500 m. above Guajara-Merim, who found never less than from 10 to 30 ft. of water, with a current of from 1 to 3 m. an hour. Its Rio Grande branch, explored under the writer's instructions, was found navigable for craft drawing 3 ft. of water to within 30 m. of Santa Cruz de la Sierra - a level sandy plain intervening. The Grande is a river of enormous length, rising in a great valley of the Andes between the important cities of Sucre and Cochabamba, and having its upper waters in close touch with those of the Pilcomayo branch of the river Paraguay. It makes a long curve through the mountains, and, after a course of about 800 m., joins the Mamore near 15 deg. S. lat. The Chapare, Secure and Chimore, tributaries of the Mamore, are navigable for launches up to the base of the mountains, to within 130 m. of Cochabamba. The Beni has a 12-ft. fall 18 m. above its mouth called "La Esperanza"; beyond this, it is navigable for 217 m. to the port of Reyes for launches in the dry season and larger craft in the wet one. The extreme source of the Beni is the little river La Paz, which rises in the inter-Andean region, a few miles south-east of Lake Titicaca, and flows as a rivulet through the Bolivian city of La Paz. From this point to Reyes the river is a torrent. The principal affluent of the Beni, and one which exceeds it in volume, enters it 120 m. above its mouth, and is known to the Indians along its banks as the Mayutata, but the Peruvians
call it the Madre de Dios. Its ramifications drain the slopes of the Andes between 12 deg. and 15 deg. of latitude. It is navigable in the wet season to within 180 m. of Cuzco. Its upper waters are separated by only a short transitable canoe portage of 7 m. in a straight line from those of the Ucayali. The portage on the eastern side terminates at the Cashpajah river 22 m. above its junction with the Manu. For the first 13 m. it is navigable all the year for craft drawing 18 in. of water, but the remaining 9 m. present many obstacles to navigation. At the Manu junction the elevation above sea-level is 1070 ft., the river width 300 ft., depth 8 ft., current 1 1/4 m. per hour. The general direction of the Manu is south-east for 158 m. as far as the Pilcopata river, where under the name of Madre de Dios it continues with a flow of 22,000 cubic metres per minute. Here its elevation is 718 ft. above the sea and its width 500 ft. During the above course of 158 m. the Manu receives 135 large and small affluents. Although the inclination of its bed is not great, the obstacles to free navigation are abundant, and consist of enormous trees and masses of tree-trunks which have filled the river during the period of freshets.
From the time it receives the Manu, the Madre de Dios carries its immense volume of waters 485 m. to the Beni over the extremely easy slope of a vast and fertile plain. Its banks are low, its bottom pebbly. A greater part of its course is filled with large and small islands some 63 in number. Its average width is about 1500 ft. Below the mouth of the Tambopata, the flow is estimated at 191,250 cubic metres per minute. The average current is 2 1/2 m. per hour. There are two important rapids and one cataract on the lower 300 m. of the river.
The Mayutata receives three principal tributaries from the south - the Tambopata, Inambari and Pilcopata.
The Peruvian government has sought to open a trade route between the Rio Ucayali and the rich rubber districts of the Mayutata. All of the upper branches of the river Madeira find their way to the falls across the open, almost level Mojos and Beni plains, 35,000 sq. m. of which are yearly flooded to an average depth of about 3 ft. for a period of from three to four months. They rival if they do not exceed in fertility the valley of the Nile, and are the healthiest and most inviting agricultural and grazing region of the basin of the Amazon.
The PURUS, a very sluggish river, enters the Amazon west of the Madeira, which it parallels as far south as the falls of the latter stream. It runs through a continuous forest at the bottom of the great depression lying between the Madeira river, which skirts the edge of the Brazilian sandstone plateau, and the Ucayali which hugs the base of the Andes. One of its marked features is the five parallel furos1 which from the north-west at almost regular intervals the Amazon sends to the Purus; the most south-westerly one being about 150 m. above the mouth of the latter river. They cut a great area of very low-lying country into five islands. Farther down the Purfis to the right three smaller furos also connect it with the Amazon. Chandless found its elevation above sea-level to be only 107 ft. 590 m. from its mouth. It is one of the most crooked streams in the world, and its length in a straight line is less than half that by its curves. It is practically only a drainage ditch for the half-submerged, lake-flooded district it traverses. Its width is very uniform for 1000 m. up, and for 800 m. its depth is never less than 45 ft. It is navigable by steamers for 1648 m. as far as the little stream, the Curumaha, but only by light-draft craft. Chandless ascended it 1866 m. At 1792 m. it forks into two small streams. Occasionally a cliff touches the river, but in general the lands are subject to yearly inundations throughout its course, the river rising at times above 50 ft., the numerous lakes to the right and left serving as reservoirs. Its main tributary, the Aquiry or Acre, enters from the right about 1104 m. from the Amazon. Its sources are near those of the Mayutata. It is navigable for a period of about five months of the year, when the Purus valley is inundated; and, for the remaining seven months, only canoes can ascend it sufficiently high to communicate overland with the settlements in the great india-rubber districts of the Mayutata and lower Beni; thus these regions are forced to seek a canoe outlet for their rich products by the very dangerous, costly and laborious route of the falls of the Madeira.
The JURUA is the next great southern affluent of the Amazon west of the Purus, sharing with this the bottom of the immense inland Amazon depression, and having all the characteristics of the Purus as regards curvature, sluggishness and general features of the low, half-flooded forest country it traverses. It rises among the Ucayali highlands, and is navigable and unobstructed for a distance of 1133 m. above its junction with the Amazon.
The Javary, the boundary line between Brazil and Peru, is another Amazon tributary of importance. It is supposed to be navigable by canoe for 900 m. above its mouth to its sources among the Ucayali highlands, but only 260 have been found suitable for steam navigation. The Brazilian Boundary Commission ascended it in 1866 to the junction of the Shino with its Jaquirana branch. The country it traverses in its extremely sinuous course is very level, similar in character to that of the Jurua, and is a fostered wilderness occupied by a few savage hordes.
The UCAYALI, which rises only about 70 m. north of Lake Titicaca, is the most interesting branch of the Amazon next to the Madeira. The Ucayali was first called the San Miguel, then the Ucayali, Ucayare, Poro, Apu-Poro, Cocama and Rio de Cuzco. Peru has fitted out many costly and ably-conducted expeditions to explore it. One of them (1867) claimed to have reached within 240 m. of Lima, and the little steamer "Napo" forced its way up the violent currents for 77 m. above the junction with the Pachitea river as far as the river Tambo, 770 m. from the confluence of the Ucayali with the Amazon. The "Napo" then succeeded in ascending the Urubamba branch of the Ucayali 35 m. above its union with the Tambo, to a point 200 m. north of Cuzco. The remainder of the Urubamba, as shown by Bosquet in 1806 and Castelnau in 1846, is interrupted by cascades, reefs and numberless other obstacles to navigation. Senor Torres, who explored the Alto Ucayali for the Peruvian government, gives it a length of 186 m., counting from the mouth of the Pachitea to the junction of the Tambo and Urubamba. Its width varies from 1300 to 4000 ft., due to the great number of islands. The current runs from 3 to 4 m. an hour, and a channel from 60 to 150 ft. wide can always be found with a minimum depth of 5 ft. There are five bad passes, due to the accumulation of trees and rafts of timber. Sometimes enormous rocks have fallen from the mountains and spread over the river-bed causing huge whirlpools. "No greater difficulties present themselves to navigation by 10-knot steamers drawing 4 ft. of water."
The TAMBO, which rises in the Vilcanota knot of mountains south of Cuzco, is a torrential stream valueless for commercial purposes. The banks of the Ucayali for 500 m. up are low, and in the rainy season extensively inundated.
The HUALLAGA (also known as the Guallaga and Rio de los Motilones), which joins the Amazon to the west of the Ucayali, rises high among the mountains, in about 10 deg. 40' S. lat., on the northern slopes of the celebrated Cerro de Pasco. For nearly its entire length it is an impetuous torrent running through a succession of gorges. It has forty-two rapids, its last obstruction being the Pongo de Aguirre, so called from the traitor Aguirre who passed there. To this point, 140 m. from the Amazon, the Huallaga can be ascended by large river steamers. Between the Huallaga and the Ucayali lies the famous "Pampa del Sacramento," a level region of stoneless alluvial lands covered with thick, dark forests, first entered by the missionaries in 1726. It is about 300 m. long, from north to south, and varies in width from 40 to 100 m. Many streams, navigable for canoes, penetrate this region from the Ucayali and the Huallaga. It is still occupied by savage tribes.
The river MARANON rises about 100 m. to the north-east of Lima. It flows through a deeply-eroded Andean valley in a north-west direction, along the eastern base of the Cordillera of the Andes, as far as 5 deg. 36' S. lat.; then it makes a great bend to the north-east, and with irresistible power cuts through the inland Andes, until at the Pongo de Manseriche2 it victoriously breaks away from the mountains to flow onwards through the plains under the name of the Amazon. Barred by reefs, and full of rapids and impetuous currents, it cannot become a commercial avenue. At the point where it makes its great bend the river Chinchipe pours into it from southern Ecuador. Just below this the mountains close in on either side of the Marapon, forming narrows or pongos for a length of 35 m., where, besides numerous whirlpools, there are no less than thirty-five formidable rapids, the series concluding with three cataracts just before reaching the river Imasa or Chunchunga, near the mouth of which La Condamine embarked in the 18th century to descend the Amazon. Here the general level of the country begins to decrease in elevation, with only a few mountain spurs, which from time to time push as far as the river and form pongos of minor importance and less dangerous to descend. Finally, after passing the narrows of Guaracayo, the cerros gradually disappear, and for a distance of about 20 m. the river is full of islands, and there is nothing visible from its low banks but an immense forest-covered plain. But the last barrier has yet to be passed, the Pongo de Manseriche, 3 m. long, just below the mouth of the Rio Santiago, and between it and the old abandoned missionary station of Borja, in 38 deg. 30' S. lat. and 77 deg. 30' 40" W. long. According to Captain Carbajal, who descended it in the little steamer "Napo,' in 1868, it is a vast rent in the Andes about 2000 ft. deep, narrowing in places to a width of only 100 ft., the precipices "seeming to close in at the top." Through this dark canon the Maranon leaps along, at times, at the rate of 12 m. an hour3. The Pongo de Manseriche was first discovered by the Adelantado Joan de Salinas. He fitted out an expedition at Loxa in Ecuador, descended the Rio Santiago to the Maranon, passed through the perilous Pongo in 1557 and invaded the country of the Maynas Indians. Later, the missionaries of Cuenca and Quito established many missions in the Pais de los Maynas, and made extensive use of the Pongo de Manseriche as an avenue of communication with their several convents on the Andean plateau. According to their accounts, the huge rent in the Andes, the Pongo, is about five or six m. long, and in places not more than 80 ft. wide, and is a frightful series of torrents and whirlpools interspersed with rocks. There is an ancient tradition of the savages of the vicinity that one of their gods descending the Maranon and another ascending the Amazon to communicate with him, they opened the pass called the Pongo de Manseriche. From the northern slope of its basin the Amazon receives many tributaries, but their combined volume of water is not nearly so great as that contributed to the parent stream by its affluents from the south. That part of Brazil lying between the Amazon and French, Dutch and British Guiana, and bounded on the west by the Rio Negro, is known as Brazilian Guiana. It is the southern watershed of a tortuous, low chain of mountains running, roughly, east and west. Their northern slope, which is occupied by the three Guianas first named, is saturated and river-torn; but their southern one, Brazilian Guiana, is in general thirsty and semi-barren, and the driest region of the Amazon valley. It is an area which has been left almost in the undisturbed possession of nomadic Indian tribes, whose scanty numbers find it difficult to solve the food problem. From the divortium aquarum between French Guiana and Brazil, known as the Tumuc-humac range of highlands, two minor streams, the Yary and the Parou, reach the Amazon across the intervening broken and barren tableland. They are full of rapids and reefs.
The TROMBETAS is the first river of importance we meet on the northern side as we ascend the Amazon. Its confluence with this is just above the town of Obidos. It has its sources in the Guiana highlands, but its long course is frequently interrupted by violent currents, rocky barriers, and rapids. The inferior zone of the river, as far up as the first fall, the Porteira, has but little broken water and is low and swampy; but above the long series of cataracts and rapids the character and aspect of the valley completely change, and the climate is much better. The river is navigable for 135 m. above its mouth.
The NEGRO, the great northern tributary of the Amazon, has its sources along the watershed between the Orinoco and the Amazon basins, and also connects with the Orinoco by way of the Casiquiare canal. Its main affluent is the Uaupes, which disputes with the headwaters of the Guaviari branch of the Orinoco the drainage of the eastern slope of the "Oriental', Andes of Colombia. The Negro is navigable for 450 m. above its mouth for 4 ft. of water in the dry season, but it has many sandbanks and minor difficulties. In the wet season, it overflows the country far and wide, sometimes to a breadth of 20 m., for long distances, and for 400 m. up, as far as Santa Isabella, is a succession of lagoons, full of long islands and intricate channels, and the slope of the country is so gentle that the river has almost no current. But just before reaching the Uaupes there is a long series of reefs, over which it violently flows in cataracts, rapids and whirlpools. The Uaupes is full of similar obstacles, some fifty rapids barring its navigation, although a long stretch of its upper course is said to be free from them, and to flow gently through a forested country. Despite the impediments, canoes ascend this stream to the Andes.
The Branco is the principal affluent of the Negro from the north; it is enriched by many streams from the sierras which separate Venezuela and British Guiana from Brazil. Its two upper main tributaries are the Urariquira and the Takutu. The latter almost links its sources with those of the Essequibo. The Branco flows nearly south, and finds its way into the Negro through several channels and a chain of lagoons similar to those of the latter river. It is 350 m. long, up to its Urariquira confluence. It has numerous islands, and, 235 m. above its mouth, it is broken by a bad series of rapids.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)