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Casiquiare Canal

CASIQUIARE CANAL. In 1744 the Jesuit Father Roman, while ascending the Orinoco river, met some Portuguese slave-traders from the settlements on the Rio Negro. He accompanied them on their return, by way of the Casiquiare canal, and afterwards retraced his route to the Orinoco. La Condamine, seven months later, was able to give to the French Academy an account of Father Roman's extraordinary voyage, and thus confirm the existence of this wonderful waterway first reported by Father Acuna in 1639. But little credence was given to Father Roman's statement until it was verified, in 1756, by the Spanish Boundary-line Commission of Yturriaga y Solano. The actual elevation of the canal above sea-level is not known, but is of primary importance to the study of the hydrography of South America. Travellers in general give it at from 400 to 900 ft., but, after much study of the question of altitudes throughout South America, the writer believes that it does not exceed 300 ft. The canal connects the upper Orinoco, 9 m. below the mission of Esmeraldas, with the Rio Negro affluent of the Amazon near the town of San Carlos. The general course is south-west, and its length, including windings, is about 200 m. Its width, at its bifurcation with the Orinoco, is approximately 300 ft., with a current towards the Negro of three-quarters of a mile an hour; but as it gains in volume from the very numerous tributary streams, large and small, which it receives en route, its velocity increases, and in the wet season reaches 5 and even 8 m. an hour in certain stretches. It broadens considerably as it approaches its mouth, where it is about 1750 ft. in width. It will thus be seen that the volume of water it captures from the Orinoco is small in comparison to what it accumulates in its course. In flood-time it is said to have a second connexion with the Rio Negro by a branch which it throws off to the westward called the Itinivini, which leaves it at a point about 50 m. above its mouth. In the dry season it has shallows, and is obstructed by sandbanks, a few rapids and granite rocks. Its shores are densely wooded, and the soil more fertile than that along the Rio Negro. The general slope of the plains through which the canal runs is south-west, but those of the Rio Negro slope south-east. The whole line of the Casiquiare is infested with myriads of tormenting insects. A few miserable groups of Indians and half-breeds have their small villages along its southern portion. It is thus seen that this marvellous freak of nature is not, as is generally supposed, a sluggish canal on a flat tableland, but a great, rapid river which, if its upper waters had not found contact with the Orinoco, perhaps by cutting back, would belong entirely to the Negro branch of the Amazon. To the west of the Casiquiare there is a much shorter and more facile connexion between the Orinoco and Amazon basins, called the isthmus of Pimichin, which is reached by ascending the Terni branch of the Atabapo affluent of the Orinoco. Although the Terni is somewhat obstructed, it is believed that it could easily be made navigable for small craft. The isthmus is 10 m. across, with undulating ground, nowhere over 50 ft. high, with swamps and marshes. It is much used for the transit of large canoes, which are hauled across it from the Terni river, and which reach the Negro by the little stream called the Pimichin.

The YAPURA. West of the Negro the Amazon receives three more imposing streams from the north-west - the Yapura, the Ica or Putumayo, and the Napo. The first was formerly known as the Hyapora, but its Brazilian part is now called the Yapura, and its Colombian portion the Caqueta. Barao de Marajo gives it 600 m. of navigable stretches. Jules Crevaux, who descended it, describes it as full of obstacles to navigation, the current very strong and the stream frequently interrupted by rapids and cataracts. It rises in the Colombian Andes, nearly in touch with the sources of the Magdalena, and augments its volume from many branches as it courses through Colombia. It was long supposed to have eight mouths; but Ribeiro de Sampaio, in his voyage of 1774, determined that there was but one real mouth, and that the supposed others are all furos or canos4 In 1864-1868 the Brazilian government made a somewhat careful examination of the Brazilian part of the river, as far up as the rapid of Cupaty. Several very easy and almost complete water-routes exist between the Yapura and Negro across the low, flat intervening country. Barao de Marajo says there are six of them, and one which connects the upper Yapura with the Uaupes branch of the Negro; thus the Indian tribes of the respective valleys have facile contact with each other.

The ICA or PUTUMAYO, west of and parallel to the Yapura, was found more agreeable to navigate by Crevaux. He ascended it in a steamer drawing 6 ft. of water, and running day and night. He reached Cuemby, 800 m. above its mouth, without finding a single rapid. Cuemby is only 200 m. from the Pacific Ocean, in a straight line, passing through the town of Pasto in southern Colombia. There was not a stone to be seen up to the base of the Andes; the river banks were of argillaceous earth and the bottom of fine sand.

The NAPO rises on the flanks of the volcanoes of Antisana, Sincholagua and Cotopaxi. Before it reaches the plains it receives a great number of small streams from impenetrable, saturated and much broken mountainous districts, where the dense and varied vegetation seems to fight for every square foot of ground. From the north it is joined by the river Coca, having its sources in the gorges of Cayambe on the equator, and also a powerful river, the Aguarico, having its headwaters between Cayambe and the Colombian frontier. From the west it receives a secondary tributary, the Curaray, from the Andean slopes, between Cotopaxi and the volcano of Tunguragua. From its Coca branch to the mouth of the Curaray the Napo is full of snags and shelving sandbanks, and throws out numerous canos among jungle-tangled islands, which in the wet season are flooded, giving the river an immense width. From the Coca to the Amazon it runs through a forested plain where not a hill is visible from the river - its uniformly level banks being only interrupted by swamps and lagoons. From the Amazon the Napo is navigable for river craft up to its Curaray branch, a distance of about 216 m., and perhaps a few miles farther; thence, by painful canoe navigation, its upper waters may be ascended as far as Santa Rosa, the usual point of embarkation for any venturesome traveller who descends from the Quito tableland. The Coca river may be penetrated as far up as its middle course, where it is jammed between two mountain walls, in a deep canyon, along which it dashes over high falls and numerous reefs. This is the stream made famous by the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro.

The NANAY is the next Amazon tributary of importance west of the Napo. It belongs entirely to the lowlands, and is very crooked, has a slow current and divides much into canos and strings of lagoons which flood the flat, low areas of country on either side. It is simply the drainage ditch of districts which are extensively overflowed in the rainy season. Captain Butt ascended it 195 m., to near its source.

The TIGRE is the next west of the Nanay, and is navigable for 125 m. from its confluence with the Amazon. Like the Nanay, it belongs wholly to the plains. Its mouth is 42 m. west of the junction of the Ucayali with the Amazon. Continuing west from the Tigre we have the Parinari, Chambira, and Nucuray, all short lowland streams, resembling the Nanay in character.

The PASTAZA (the ancient river Sumatara) is the next large river we meet. It rises on the Ecuadorian tableland, where a branch from the valley of Riobamba unites with one from the Latacunga basin and breaks through the inland range of the Andes; and joined, afterwards, by several important tributaries, finds its way south-east among the gorges; thence it turns southward into the plains, and enters the Amazon at a point about 60 m. west of the mouth of the Huallaga. So far as known, it is a stream of no value except for canoe navigation. Its rise and fall are rapid and uncertain, and it is shallow and full of sandbanks and snags. It is a terrible river when in flood.

The MORONA flows parallel to the Pastaza and immediately to the west of it, and is the last stream of any importance on the northern side of the Amazon before reaching the Pongo de Manseriche. It is formed from a multitude of water-courses which descend the slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes south of the gigantic volcano of Sangay; but it soon reaches the plain, which commences where it receives its Cusulima branch. The MORONA is navigable for small craft for about 300 m. above its mouth, but it is extremely tortuous. Canoes may ascend many of its branches, especially the Cusuhma and the Miazal, the latter almost to the base of Sangay. The Morona has been the scene of many rude explorations, with the hope of finding it serviceable as a commercial route between the inter-Andean tableland of Ecuador and the Amazon river. A river called the Paute dashes through the eastern Andes from the valley of Cuenca; and a second, the Zamora, has broken through the same range from the basin of Loja. Swollen by their many affluents, they reach the lowlands and unite their waters to form the Santiago, which flows into the Maranon at the head of the Pongo de Manseriche. There is but little known of a trustworthy character regarding this river, but Wolf says that it is probably navigable up to the junction of the Paute with the Zamora.

The Main River.

Physical characteristics.

The AMAZON MAIN RIVER is navigable for ocean steamers as far as Iquitos, 2300 m. from the sea, and 486 m. higher up for vessels drawing 14 ft. of water, as far as Achual Point. Beyond that, according to Tucker, confirmed by Wertheman, it is unsafe; but small steamers frequently ascend to the Pongo de Manseriche, just above Achual Point The average current of the Amazon is about 3 m. an hour; but, especially in flood, it dashes through some of its contracted channels at the rate of 5 m. The U.S. steamer "Wilmington" ascended it to Iquitos in 1899. Commander Todd reports that the average depth of the river in the height of the rainy season is 120 ft. It commences to rise in November, and increases in volume until June, and then falls until the end of October. The rise of the Negro branch is not synchronous; for the steady rains do not commence in its valley until February or March. By June it is full, and then it begins to fall with the Amazon. According to Bates, the Madeira "rises and sinks" two months earlier than the Amazon. The Amazon at times broadens to 4 and 6 m. Occasionally, for long distances, it divides into two main streams with inland, lateral channels, all connected by a complicated system of natural canals, cutting the low, flat igapo lands, which are never more than 15 ft. above low river, into almost numberless islands.5 At the narrows of Obidos, 400 m. from the sea, it is compressed into a single bed a mile wide and over 200 ft. deep, through which the water rushes at the rate of 4 to 5 m. an hour. In the rainy season it inundates the country throughout its course to the extent of several hundred thousand square miles, covering the flood-plain, called vargem. The flood-levels are in places from 40 to 50 ft. high above low river. Taking four roughly equidistant places, the rise at Iquitos is 20 ft., at Teffe 45, near Obidos 35, and at Para 12 ft.

The first high land met in ascending the river is on the north bank, opposite the mouth of the Xingu, and extends for about 150 m. up, as far as Monte Alegre. It is a series of steep, table-topped hills, cut down to a kind of terrace which lies between them and the river. Monte Alegre reaches an altitude of several hundred feet. On the south side, above the Xingu, a line of low bluffs extends, in a series of gentle curves with hardly any breaks nearly to Santarem, but a considerable distance inland, bordering the flood-plain, which is many miles wide. Then they bend to the south-west, and, abutting upon the lower Tapajos, merge into the bluffs which form the terrace margin of that river valley. The next high land on the north side is Obidos, a bluff, 56 ft. above the river, backed by low hills. From Serpa, nearly opposite the river Madeira, to near the mouth of the Rio Negro, the banks are low, until approaching Manaos, they are rolling hills; but from the Negro, for 600 m. as far up as the village of Canaria, at the great bend of the Amazon, only very low land is found, resembling that at the mouth of the river. Vast areas of it are submerged athigh water, above which only the upper part of the trees of the sombre forests appear. At Canaria, the high land commences and continues as far as Tabatinga, and thence up stream.

On the south side, from the Tapajos to the river Madeira, the banks are usually low, although two or three hills break the general monotony. From the latter river, however, to the Ucayali, a distance of nearly 1500 m., the forested banks are just out of water, and are inundated long before the river attains its maximum flood-line. Thence to the Huallaga the elevation of the land is somewhat greater; but not until this river is passed, and the Pongo de Manseriche approached, does the swelling ground of the Andean foot-hills raise the country above flood-level.

The Amazon is not a continuous incline, but probably consists of long, level stretches connected by short inclined planes of extremely little fall, sufficient, however, owing to its great depth, to give the gigantic volume of water a continuous impulse towards the ocean. The lower Amazon presents every evidence of having once been an ocean gulf, the upper waters of which washed the cliffs near Obidos. Only about 10% of the water discharged by the mighty stream enters it below Obidos, very little of which is from the northern slope of the valley. The drainage area of the Amazon basin above Obidos is about 1,945,000 sq. m., and, below, only about 423,000 sq. m., or say 20%, exclusive of the 554,000 sq. m. of the Tocantins basin.

The width of the mouth of the monarch river is usually measured from Cabo do Norte to Punto Patijoca, a distance of 207 statute m.; but this includes the ocean outlet, 40 m. wide, of the Para river, which should be deducted, as this stream is only the lower reach of the Tocantins. It also includes the ocean frontage of Marajo, an island about the size of the kingdom of Denmark lying in the mouth of the Amazon.

Following the coast, a little to the north of Cabo do Norte, and for 100 m. along its Guiana margin up the Amazon, is a belt of half-submerged islands and shallow sandbanks. Here the tidal phenomenon called the bore, or Pororoca, occurs, where the soundings are not over 4 fathoms. It commences with a roar, constantly increasing, and advances at the rate of from 10 to 15 m. an hour, with a breaking wall of water from 5 to 12 ft. high. Under such conditions of warfare between the ocean and the river, it is not surprising that the former is rapidly eating away the coast and that the vast volume of silt carried by the Amazon finds it impossible to build up a delta.

The Amazon is not so much a river as it is a gigantic reservoir, extending from the sea to the base of the Andes, and, in the wet season, varying in width from 5 to 400 m. Special attention has already been called to the fourteen great streams which discharge into this reservoir, but it receives a multitude of secondary rivers, which in any other part of the wodd would also be termed great.

Population, trace, etc.

For 350 years after the discovery of the Amazon, by Pinzon, the Portuguese portion of its basin remained almost an undisturbed wilderness, occupied by Indian tribes whom the food quest had split into countless fragments. It is doubtful if its indigenous inhabitants ever exceeded one to every 5 sq. m. of territory, this being the maximum it could support under the existing conditions of the period in question, and taking into account Indian methods of life. A few settlements on the banks of the main river and some of its tributaries, either for trade with the Indians or for evangelizing purposes, had been founded by the Portuguese pioneers of European civilization. The total population of the Brazilian portion of the Amazon basin in 1850 was perhaps 300,000, of whom about two-thirds were white and slaves, the latter numbering about 25,000. The principal commercial city, Para, had from 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants, including slaves. The town of Manaos, at the mouth of the Rio Negro, had from 1000 to 1500 population; but all the remaining villages, as far up as Tabatinga, on the Brazilian frontier of Peru, were wretched little groups of houses which appeared to have timidly effected a lodgment on the river bank, as if they feared to challenge the mysteries of the sombre and gigantic forests behind them. The value of the export and import trade of the whole valley in 1850 was but

On the 6th of September 1850 the emperor, Dom Pedro II., sanctioned a law authorizing steam navigation on the Amazon, and confided to an illustrious Brazilian, Barao Maua (Irineu Evangilista de Sousa), the task of carrying it into effect. He organized the "Compania de Navigacao e Commercio do Amazonas" at Rio de Janeiro in 1852; and in the following year it commenced operations with three small steamers, the "Monarch," the "Marajo" and "Rio Negro." At first the navigation was principally confined to the main river; and even in 1857 a modification of the government contract only obliged the company to a monthly service between Para and Manaos, with steamers of 200 tons cargo capacity, a second line to make six round voyages a year between Manaos and Tabatinga, and a third, two trips a month between Para and Cameta. The government paid the company a subvention of L. 3935 monthly. Thus the first impulse of modern progress was given to the dormant valley. The success of the venture called attention to the unoccupied field; a second company soon opened commerce on the Madeira, Purus and Negro; a third established a line between Para and Manaos; and a fourth found it profitable to navigate some of the smaller streams; while, in the interval, the Amazonas Company had largely increased its fine fleet. Meanwhile private individuals were building and running small steam craft of their own, not only upon the main river but upon many of its affluents. The government of Brazil, constantly pressed by the maritime powers and by the countries encircling the upper Amazon basin, decreed, on the 31st of July 1867, the opening of the Amazon to all flags; but limited this to certain defined points - Tabatinga, on the Amazon; Cameta, on the Tocantins; Santarem, on the Tapajos; Borba, on the Madeira; Manaos, on the Rio Negro; the decree to take effect on the 7th of September of the same year. Para, Manaos and Iquitos are now thriving commercial centres. The first direct foreign trade with Manaos was commenced about 1874.

The local trade of the river is carried on by the English successors to the Amazonas Company - the Amazon Steam Navigation Company. In addition to its excellent fleet there are numerous small river steamers, belonging to companies and firms engaged in the rubber trade, navigating the Negro, Madeira, Purfis and many other streams. The principal exports of the valley are india-rubber, cacao, Brazil nuts and a few other products of very minor importance. The finest quality of india-rubber comes from the Acre and Beni districts of Bolivia, especially from the valley of the Acre (or Aquiry) branch of the river Purus. Of the rubber production of the Amazon basin, the state of Para gives about 35%. The cacao tree is not cultivated, but grows wild in great abundance. There is but one railway in the whole valley; it is a short line from Para towards the coast. The cities of Para and Manaos have excellent tramways, many fine public buildings and private residences, gardens and public squares, all of which give evidence of artistic taste and great prosperity.

The number of inhabitants in the Brazilian Amazon basin (the states of Amazonas and Para) is purely a matter of rough estimate. There may be 500,000 or 600,000, or more; for the immigration during recent years from the other parts of Brazil has been large, due to the rubber excitement. The influx from the state of Ceara alone, from 1892 to 1899 inclusive, reached 98,348.

As Commander Todd, in his report to the United States government, says: "The crying need of the Amazon valley is food for the people. At the small towns along the river it is nearly impossible to obtain beef, vegetables, or fruit of any sort, and the inhabitants depend largely upon river fish, mandioc, and canned goods for their subsistence." Although more than four centuries have passed since the discovery of the Amazon river, there are probably not 25 sq. m. of its basin under cultivation, excluding the limited and rudely cultivated areas among the mountains at its extreme headwaters, which are inaccessible to commerce. The extensive exports of the mighty valley are almost entirely derived from the products of the forest. (G. E. C.)

1 A furo is a natural canal - sometimes merely a deviation from the main channel, which it ultimately rejoins, sometimes a connexion across low flat country between two entirely separate streams.

2 Pongo is a corruption of the Quichua puncu and the Aymara ponco, meaning a door. The Pongo de Manseriche was first named Maranon, then Santiago, and later Manseric, afterwards Mansariche and Manseriche, owing to the great numbers of parrakeets found on the rocks there.

3 One of the most daring deeds of exoloration ever known in South America was done by the engineer A. Wertheman. He fitted out three rafts, in August 1870, and descended this whole series of rapids and cascades from the Rio Chinchipe to Borja.

4 A cano, like furo, is a kind of natural canal; it forms a lateral discharge for surplus water from a river.

5 Igapo is thus the name given to the recent alluvial tracts along the margins of rivers, submerged by moderate floods, whereas vargem is the term used for land between the levels of moderate and high floods, while for land above this the people use the term terra firma.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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