Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

The Brazilian Black Stone

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 6

Some of the most interesting chats I had with Father Francisco in the Nasca Valley, and subsequently aboard ship, had reference to the superstitions and beliefs of the Indians. Francisco had a rich store of information to impart, and he found in me an eager and willing listener. He was no less anxious to hear my experiences in connection with this absorbing subject. The one that he seemed to find most interesting occurred to me on the occasion of my first excursion to Sacambaja to try and locate the Caballo Cunco treasure.

About four hours’ ride from Palca, a little village on top of a hill which one passes through after crossing the river that runs down the other side of the Tunani Pass, I decided to give the cargo mules a rest while I had some lunch. Near by the stone on which I sat was a big rock. I was much surprised to notice that it bore the impress of a delicate female hand. As I pondered over this strange circumstance, an old Indian woman and three younger ones came down the path and stopped opposite the rock. From the old woman I learnt that about thirty years previously, as she was sitting outside her hut not far from this rock, the Virgin appeared to her. She was dressed in white apparel and had a halo round her head. The apparition lasted but a moment and as it disappeared stooped down and pressed one of her hands on the boulder. Next morning the impression was distinctly visible. One of the girls confirmed the old woman’s tale. She had heard it from her father who had witnessed the occurrence. All the Indians in the neighbourhood believed implicitly in the truth of the narrative, and the village priest also vouched for it.

I heard of an incident that was equally inexplicable in the Island of Trinidad, B.W.I., in 1915. Among my acquaintances I numbered one, Father Ambrose, the priest of Arouca and Tunapuna. I frequently visited him. One day he told me of a strange occurrence that had taken place the previous year. He said, “You have seen in our church the figure of the Blessed Virgin?” I assented. “Well,” the Father proceeded, “on the Friday before the Great War commenced, I was engaged in seeing that everything was seemly and in good order, when my attention was attracted to the sacred figure. I distinctly saw tears trickle down its cheeks. I was so astounded that I hurried from the church, jumped on my bicycle, and conveyed the extraordinary news to several members of my flock. They followed me back and witnessed the same amazing spectacle. The flow of tears continued for twelve hours, and then stopped.” Father Ambrose, although a man of the world, was not given to exaggerate. He told me this tale in all seriousness. I bought a photo of the sacred figure, taken at the time, and inspected a document, signed by eight or ten persons, in which the details of this mysterious occurrence were recorded. Arouca is not very far from Port of Spain, and Ambrose was cousin to the Abbot of Mount St. Bernard, a cleric who had migrated with his staff from Pernambuco. Ambrose was a very well-informed man, and I gleaned much information from him concerning various matters in which I felt an interest. He was able, for instance, to give me the history of the Brazilian Black Stone—better known, perhaps, as the Belgian Black Stone—an artificial product that is claimed to be a sure remedy for the bites of snakes, scorpions, etc.

Guavas and cauchus are plentiful in most parts of South America. A wine is made from cauchus much resembling champagne Cliquot. One day the Father was looking around for some of these fruits, when a poisonous snake stung his instep. An Indian immediately took a small quantity of black powder from a box that he carried, mixed it into a paste with his spittle and smeared it on the place. Much to Ambrose’s surprise, it proved entirely efficacious. Not unnaturally he tried hard to find out what the black powder was, but didn’t succeed for two years. Then he was told by a friendly Indian what the ingredients were. Ambrose soon procured a stock, and, after puzzling his brains, managed to fix them up into small stones about the size of a shilling. These he was able to dispose of readily at a dollar a time.

The stone was used in the following manner. When a person was bitten by anything poisonous the place was pricked until a drop of blood appeared. The stone was then applied to the puncture. Within about half an hour it would draw out all the poison. To restore the stone to its original condition, one had to place it in water for twenty-four hours. Soon the poison oozed out of the stone, and came bubbling up to the surface. A thorough soaking in milk was the next and final process. After this the stone was quite fit for use once more.

I can vouch for the efficacy of this stone when used for scorpion bite. Ambrose told me of many instances where it saved people from the evil effects of snake bite. He said all the ingredients were to be found near Arouca; so, being mindful of the main chance, he decided to see whether he could not introduce the stone to a larger clientele. His idea was to form a syndicate of three—himself, a chemist, and a Belgian doctor—and place the stone on the open market in considerable quantities. Half the profits were to go to the chemist. The residue Ambrose intended to divide between himself and the medico. I do not know what measure of success attended the venture. But some of the products got as far as England, for I came across one of the stones at St. Augustine’s College, Ramsgate, and I myself have two. One I applied to my leg when stung by a poisonous insect, with very satisfactory results, and a lady of my acquaintance succeeded in warding off the ill effects of a black scorpion’s bite with one of Ambrose’s products. In appearance the stones closely resemble pieces of blue-black coal, and are not at all like the blue stone sometimes used in agricultural districts for humoury legs.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

The Women of Tierra del Fuego

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 5

In Tierra del Fuego twenty years or more ago, the paramount Chief refused to permit foreigners to intermingle with his race. Any of his women who connived to break this law were banished. I remember three gold diggers getting into serious trouble, through making advances to some Tierra del Fuegian women. They had come over from Sandy Point. One was English, one Austrian, and the other French. How they came to go to Tierra del Fuego was on this wise. On one of the trading ships a captain named Beelindorf held sway. He had a friend and fellow-countryman named Landorf. This man had sailed with Beelindorf on several occasions. On the first trip he told Beelindorf he had been looking for gold seventeen years, and had struck it rich. Within the previous two years he claimed to have sent £17,000 home. (Landorf always paid for two cabins, one on either side of the passage, so that no one else should come near him.) Well, he went home, came out again, and banked other £15,000 The following year he stayed only five months in Tierra del Fuego, and intended to return with Beelindorf the next trip, having put by yet another £10,000. Then he meant going home for good.

“Where do you get all this red stuff?” inquired Beelindorf. “In the very wildest part of Tierra del Fuego,” Landorf replied. “It took me fifteen years to discover. It’s all alluvial.” Beelindorf asked him the whereabouts of this bonanza, but Landorf refused point-blank. “Find it yourself,” he snarled.

Now Landorf’s good luck got noised abroad, and came to the ears of the three diggers. Deciding to have a shot at it, they interviewed the paramount Chief. That worthy said, “Yes, it is quite true; a Gringo was here last year and found plenty of gold. You are at liberty to go and do likewise; only you must find out the place for yourselves, and you must not interfere in any shape or form with the Indian women. We do not want our blood mixed.”

Of course the diggers were delighted at being thus given practically a free hand, and at first regarded the cautionary advice of the chief respecting his womenfolk. But within a while they get careless, and began to approach some of the Fuegian girls. So soon as the diggers began to talk of love the girls ran away, and reported the matter to their head men. In due course it reached the Chief’s ear. He sent for the offenders and repeated his warning, adding that if they transgressed again it would be at their own risk. The diggers were foolish enough to repeat their offence, not once but twice. Retribution swiftly followed, but in what shape or form one can only surmise. Anyhow the Frenchman and Englishman were never seen again. I may say that the latter came from a place I visited some time after these occurrences took place, and his relatives told me they had never heard of him since. The Austrian was the only one of the three about whom anything definite was ever known. The Fuegians seemed to have put him through the mill pretty thoroughly, and wound up by shaving his head. All the hairs round his forehead they pulled out one by one, and then kicked him out of their country. At Sandy Point he laid a complaint with the gentleman who officiated as Consul for the three countries interested in the matter. But he got no sympathy from the Consul. “No,” said that gentleman, “I cannot interfere. The Chief may do as he likes in Tierra del Fuego. You knew what his regulations were with regard to native women. You were thrice warned not to break them, but disobeyed. Now you must put up with the consequences.”

Another incident affords additional evidence of the attitude the Indians took up in regard to sexual matters. At the foot of the Andes in old priest was pointed out to me as a man who had been engaged on missionary work up the Beni River. One day, much to everybody’s surprise, so said my informant, he arrived back escorted by a guard of Indians. It appears he had so far forgotten his sacred office as to make overtures to an Indian girl. She declined, saying it was against the law of her country, and reported the matter to her people. They took it up with the priest; but he said, “Oh, it is all right, I’m a holy man.” “Holy man or not,” they replied, “we do not tolerate that sort of thing”; and toted him off to his Archbishop. That dignitary reported the result of his inquiry to the head of his Church. His Holiness directed that the culprit should be imprisoned in a monastery for twenty or twenty-five years, I forget which. I saw the prisoner many times and had several chats with him. He was allowed to take exercise in a park that happened to be within a stone’s throw of my establishment.

As regards the Indian law relative to taking their women out of the country without permission, I have already quoted incidents. Another occurs to mind. The foreman of a gang of rubber pickers operating on the Beni district, married one of the local girls and brought her back to Oruro. He had only returned a few weeks, when some of the Indians employed about the place began to make reference to his escapade, and hinted he would be lucky if he escaped serious consequences. The foreman got so “ratted” at what was said that he approached Penny on the subject. Few men were better versed in native customs than M. M. P. He at once recognized the dangerous position in which the man had placed himself, and, accordingly, got him a situation in Chile. There I saw the man and his wife, and talked with them several times. They were both afraid to go back home, because of the penalties that attach to the breaking of the old Indian law.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

Missionary Man

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 4

During my stay on the banks of the Appurimac near the old Inca bridge, I enjoyed several talks with Father Francisco about the missionaries, and the large amount of good they had accomplished among the peoples of the Andes. Years ago only the Roman Church were tolerated, but now missionaries of every sect are made welcome, some coming from lands as far distant as Canada and New Zealand. Francisco thought this was only just and right.

There are now many missionaries located in South America who visit all the Indian tribes, including the Cunchos of the Savannah of the Andes and the so-called savages of the campos of Central Peru. All are made welcome. The Indians all worship one god, and look upon the priests as the representatives of God on earth. They call their Church the Church of Christ.

The missionaries work amicably together for the common good. But I think they would obtain even better results if they did not crowd so much together in the big towns. I should like to hear of them visiting the out-of-the-way places more frequently. I have been where the Indians have been crying out for a priest or missionary and haven’t seen one for years. The little village in the Challana country may be mentioned as an instance, and I know of many others. In this connection I call to mind the opinion of two prominent missionaries—a Presbyterian from New Zealand, and another from Canada. They confirmed what Francisco told me, and said the head missionaries only cared to go to such places as had a big church and plenty of priests. One of these big pots looked like getting into trouble, for his people at Head Quarters wrote to him saying, “You have been in Bolivia five years; now come home and give an account of your stewardship.”

This man had been in Cochabamba all that time and had never been far from it, or absent for more than about two days at a stretch. He came to me and asked my advice. I suggested he should write saying he could not very well return home just then, as he was busy helping translate the Scriptures into the Quichua tongue. This was no lie, but he could have been easily spared, for there were then located in that far-away town no fewer than nine missionaries besides those of the Roman Church. As a matter of fact, one would have sufficed.

I am much interested in missionary enterprise, and am filled with admiration of the wonderful work some of the missionaries have accomplished in various parts of the world; but I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that in South America, at least, the Gospel message seems to have had a disastrous effect on the morals of the Indians. This may, of course, be attributable to the fact that the trader with the rum bottle follows hot-foot after the Gospel messenger. Until the tenets of Christianity were preached to them, immorality was practically unknown among the Indians. Writing of these people a hundred years ago, a well-known authority said, “Chastity, especially in the married state, is a national virtue.” As a Christian I cannot but feel humiliated when I think of the change that came over some of the tribes after they had heard the Word and received it gladly.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

Cinchona Bark and Yerba Maté

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 3

The leaf of the wild banana is almost as fine a specific for boils and tumours as the castor oil plant. Another most valuable shrub is the papaw tree. It yields a succus, or milk, which is very useful in cases of diphtheria, ulcerated throat, etc. The leaves help to keep horses in good health. A solution of papiene, painted on a boil, or abscess, is better than a poultice. Natives all over South America use the milk as a remedy for rheumatism. In Zululand it is steadily relegating the old Zulu specific, viz. cow dung, to the background. The papaw fruit is beneficial to dyspeptics and folk who have kidney trouble. Natives of Trinidad say that the leaf, applied as a poultice, takes away lumbago, sciatica, or gouty pains in a single night. One of its virtues is much appreciated by housewives, for the leaf, rubbed into a piece of tough meat overnight, renders it quite nice and juicy by the next morning.

In the course of my wanderings in South America I came across two varieties of chuno. The black sort I have already described; the white is made as follows: put whole potatoes in a cobble-stone well, under the surface of some stream or pool. Cover with cobble stones and leave for six days; then proceed as when making black chuno. White chuno was what the Kaiser wanted to get at, in case he thought proper, one fine day, to send his soldiers to the Andes.

Father Francisco’s narrative of how quinine first began to be used by the educated classes, interested me not a little. It seemed that the wife of the Conde de Cinchoa (the first Viceroy of Peru) lay very sick of malarial fever at Lima. The news of her serious illness reached the ears of the Corregidor of Coja, a town in Ecuador, about 150 leagues from Quito. So he sent the Conde’s physician some of the bark of the cinchona tree. Part of the bark was reduced to powder, and part was intact.

It appears that the Corregidor, when riding through the forest near Pancarbamba (this signifies “a flowery plain” in the Quichua dialect), met Indians some leagues from Coja carrying pieces of bark in their water calabashes. He asked them why they did so. They replied, “Padrone, we always take it with us when working or walking in the forest. This bark wards off the fever occasioned by the damp atmosphere.” As a matter of fact I myself have often seen Indians carrying this stick and bottle arrangement, indeed, I rarely met any who failed to include it in their outfit.

Well, the Conde’s physician used the bark with satisfactory results. When the Countess was convalescent she went to Europe for a change. She didn’t forget to take with her a supply of the wonderful remedy. Its remarkable properties were soon recognized by the Court physicians, and they named it, after the country where it originated, Peruvian Bark. This disposes of the claim set up by a Jesuit missionary about eighty years later. He sent home some of the bark, making out that he had discovered it, in consequence it was for a long time called Jesuit Bark, almost as frequently as Peruvian. The Jesuits first came to Paraguay in 1620, and remained there till they were expelled in 1767. During that period they converted 140,000 heathens to Christianity.

Among the many customs they found prevalent with the Indians was that of drinking tea every morning. This concoction differs a lot in appearance and flavour from China or Indian teas. The liquor is lemon-coloured and has a slightly greasy, earthy taste, but it is more sustaining than ordinary tea. The Jesuits soon recognized the possibilities that were attached to it, and made a big business of the manufacture of what they called Jesuit Tea.

It is the product of a wild bush called Yerba, which is found growing up the Nasca valley and in many other parts of South America, though I believe it originated in Paraguay. Its full name is Yerba maté. The process of manufacture is as follows: the twigs of the bush are cut and placed on flat stones. Other flat stones are put on top. The twigs remain in this primitive press for three days; then they are exposed to the sun’s rays on mats, and after undergoing sufficient curing, are chopped up fine, packed in bales and sold at so much a kilo.

Yerba maté is infused like ordinary tea. I used to drink little else up in the Andes when it was procurable. Many folk esteem it more highly than ordinary tea or coffee. and there is no doubt it is more stimulating and invigorating than those popular beverages. The Indians all over the Atlantic side of the Andes swear by it. I have travelled on the snow line of the Andes for months at a stretch, in the Provinces of Mendoza, San Juan or Rioja, trading among Indians and accompanied by Indian muleteers, and I never once saw them without it. My old muleteer, Simon Cruz, used to take a pinch of maté out of his bag and put it in an infuser. This he placed in a bright copper bowl, adding sugar to taste. Boiling water was then poured over it. The tea was now ready for use, and the bowl was passed round so that each member of the company in turn could dip the infuser in and place it in his mouth. Of course the infuser was kept scrupulously clean—very often it was fashioned of silver.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

The Remarkable Castor Oil Plant

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 2

One of the most remarkable plants I met with is the castor oil plant. The Indians of South America, and also those of South Africa, use it as a sovereign remedy for tumours, abscesses, and boils. Four years after leaving the Nasca valley I had an accident, and put my shoulder out. I was bandaged up for six weeks. At the end of this period a large swelling made its appearance under my armpit; so I consulted Dr. Larea, who was accounted the most famous surgeon in Peru. After examining the place, he said, “An operation is necessary. I’ll come round to you in three days’ time, and put it through.” Said I to myself, “He shan’t stick a knife into me if I can avoid it.” Now on my way home I passed through a sugar estate, midway between Lima and Callao, and not far from the racecourse. There, in a valley, I saw bananas and castor oil plants growing wild, so I hopped out of my trap and secured some of the latter. That night, just before going to bed, I took my horse-lance and nicked the swelling, poulticed it with castor oil leaves (which I had previously steeped in tepid water), and a very few drops of lysol. I renewed the poultice three times during the night, and continued the applications frequently during the two following days. Then I drove over to Larea, and showed him the result. He was astonished, and exclaimed, “Why, what have you been doing to it? It is cured!” I told him what I had done, and, also, that the leaves grew within two miles of his office.

His next question was, “And how came you to hear of this wonderful remedy?” I said, “From a witch doctor in Africa, near Port Grosvenor in Pondoland, and also from a Ghilian half-breed who lived in the great Aconcagua valley.”

“Well,” he said, “you have taught me something. This remedy will revolutionize the use of the knife. I consider myself a king in my profession, as you are in yours, but we can all learn.” He wouldn’t rest content till I had driven him over to where I had gathered the leaves. On another occasion I was asked by a Barbadian lady if I could suggest a remedy for an abscess, or tumour, on her instep, that had made her life a misery. After carefully examining it I told her to bathe it with lukewarm water, prick it with a needle till a spot of blood appeared, apply some of the leaves, and, finally, bandage lightly with cotton wool. She followed my instructions to the letter, and was greatly delighted to find, at the end of four days, that all the poison had been drawn out of her foot, and the tumour was beginning to heal. Ten days later, as I was out riding, I met this good lady’s doctor, one of the cleverest in the West Indies. He said, “Get off your horse. I want a word with you. What have you been doing to Mrs. L.’s foot?” I explained; and he, like the Peruvian, insisted on my telling him all I knew about the remedy which, he said, was a most marvellous one. He had been fearful lest Mrs. L. might lose her foot; and because of that had tried to induce her husband to take her away to New York, for change of air.

Let me cite yet another example. The captain of the King of Siam’s yacht—a blood relation of Sir William Gordon Cumming—had a brother who owned a very valuable Norfolk trotting cob of which he was very fond. This animal had sustained an injury to its shoulder, which failed to respond to ordinary treatment. It got so bad that Cumming was afraid it would have to be shot. He sent it to me as a last resort. I happened to be running my horse hospital at the time. When it reached my establishment the poor thing was suffering agonies from a wound the size of a large saucer, occasioned by great quantities of matter forming at the point of its shoulder. I washed the bad place every day with lukewarm water and Lysol, cauterizing the edges wherever the veins looked angry, or the wound inclined to spread. Then I applied a castor oil leaf poultice. This I had to fix in place as best I could, for the wound was most awkwardly situated. By the end of a month the wound began to heal; within a couple it had disappeared altogether; ere another four had passed over our heads, the new skin had become strong enough to bear the weight of a collar.

As the cure was somewhat of an experiment, I charged my friend for the keep of his horse only, viz. 3s. a day. His vet. very much wanted to know how I had wangled the cure. “Ah,” said I, “that’s for others to find out.” Just as if——!

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 12

Bitter Seeds

Indian Poisons and Medicinal Plants, Part 1

In this same Nasca valley, where the Yungas ruins lay, I several times noted the vine which the Indians use in the concoction of their famous and most deadly poison called Wourahli. Practically all the Indian tribes of South America are well versed in its manufacture.

Various plants and insects enter into its composition. The vine, which furnishes the most important ingredient, has a grey-coloured stem that bears fruit something like an apple, containing bitter seeds. In 1903 I gathered some of the seeds intending to take them home, but on my way remembered the Father’s cautionary words, and so threw them away. I should add that this vine has a very pretty yellow flower. Another ingredient is supplied by a vine bearing a small blue flower. The root is crushed, and steeped in water four days, until it is all of a pulp. The crushed seed of the first vine, together with its roots, scraped fine, are then mixed up with the pulp, and the whole is boiled for five hours. The shavings are next removed and thrown away, and the residue allowed to cool. Now some crushed Tucandiras ants are added. The mixture is boiled for another twelve hours, and is then ready for use.

This is the poison into which the Indians dip their arrows. It is so deadly that its effect is almost instantaneous; yet it does not render the flesh of any animal at which it is aimed unfit for human consumption! The Manjeroma Indians of the Putumayo district use it against strangers, or Indians of other tribes, should they attempt to abduct their womenfolk.

Indian girls of the Putumayo River being painted in preparation for a tribal dance. Illustration from Adventures in Peru.

I did not notice any specimens of the second vine in the Nasca valley, nor any of the ants. (I scraped acquaintance with the latter at Sacambaja later on. They are about 1½ in. long, the males being black and the females brown.) But I often came across in the valley a fly that was a rotten nuisance. It simply delighted in laying its eggs in any clothes exposed to the air after being washed.

A species of wild dog was pretty common in this locality. I should say it was a cross between a wolverine, or lynx, and a native dog. Similar ferocious animals are found in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

As might be expected, fireflies existed in myriads, and there was a certain mysterious thing, whether insect or animal I cannot be quite sure, that emitted a very bright light, far greater than the light the fireflies produced. The Indians called it the electric rat. I tried hard to get a specimen, and deferred my departure for twenty days in order to do so (and to further examine the ruins), but I never touched lucky, although on several occasions I saw the mysterious light moving about after dark in the thick bush, or forest, and fired at it more than once.

Padre Francisco told me the Indians use a hair wash made of quassia bark and hard brush-wood growing on the lower slopes of the Andes. Mixed with scent, it is sold now by many barbers. I tried this concoction in combination with other ingredients, on a horse that had the itch, and it proved wonderfully efficacious. Once when I journeyed home to England, I called at Elvaston Castle, and found Lord Harrington’s nice retriever was suffering from scabby itch. I tried the hair wash on the dog, with such good results that it soon afterwards won first prize at a big show. A friend of Lord Harrington told me the following year that he had used it on his own head, and it made his hair grow splendidly.