Chapter III of: The Naturalist on the River Amazons, A Record of Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian Life, and Aspects of Nature Under the Equator, During Eleven Years of Travel
    Henry Walter Bates

Before leaving the subject of Para, where I resided, as already stated, in all eighteen months, it will be necessary to give a more detailed account of several matters connected with the customs of the people and the Natural History of the neighbourhood, which have hitherto been only briefly mentioned. I reserve an account of the trade and improved condition of Para in 1859 for the end of this narrative.

During the first few weeks of our stay, many of those religious festivals took place, which occupied so large a share of the time and thoughts of the people. These were splendid affairs, wherein artistically-arranged processions through the streets, accompanied by thousands of people, military displays, the clatter of fireworks, and the clang of military music, were superadded to pompous religious services in the churches. To those who had witnessed similar ceremonies in the Southern countries of Europe, there would be nothing remarkable perhaps in these doings, except their taking place amidst the splendours of tropical nature; but to me they were full of novelty, and were besides interesting as exhibiting much that was peculiar in the manners of the people.

. . . At night, when festivals are going on in the grassy squares around the suburban churches, there is really much to admire. A great deal that is peculiar in the land and the life of its inhabitants can be seen best at those times. The cheerful white church is brilliantly lighted up, and the music, not of a very solemn description, peals forth from the open windows and doors. Numbers of young gaudily-dressed negresses line the path to the church doors with stands of liqueurs, sweetmeats, and cigarettes, which they sell to the outsiders. A short distance off is heard the rattle of dice-boxes and roulette at the open-air gambling- stalls. When the festival happens on moonlit nights, the whole scene is very striking to a newcomer. Around the square are groups of tall palm trees, and beyond it, over the illuminated houses, appear the thick groves of mangoes near the suburban avenues, from which comes the perpetual ringing din of insect life. The soft tropical moonlight lends a wonderful charm to the whole.

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The grandest of all these festivals is that held in honour of Our Lady of Nazareth: it is, I believe, peculiar to Para. As I have said before, it falls in the second quarter of the moon, about the middle of the dry season--that is, in October or November-- and lasts, like the others, nine days. On the first day, a very extensive procession takes place, starting from the Cathedral, whither the image of the saint had been conveyed some days previous, and terminating at the chapel or hermitage, as it is called, of the saint at Nazareth--a distance of more than two miles. The whole population turns out on this occasion. All the soldiers, both of the line and the National Guard, take part in it, each battalion accompanied by its band of music. The civil authorities, also, with the President at their head, and the principal citizens, including many of the foreign residents, join in the line. The boat of the shipwrecked Portuguese vessel is carried after the saint on the shoulders of officers or men of the Brazilian navy, and along with it are borne the other symbols of the miracles which Our Lady is supposed to have performed. The procession starts soon after the sun's heat begins to moderate-- that is, about half-past four o'clock in the afternoon. When the image is deposited in the chapel the festival is considered to be inaugurated, and the village every evening becomes the resort of the pleasure-loving population, the holiday portion of the programme being preceded, of course, by a religious service in the chapel. The aspect of the place is then that of a fair, without the humour and fun, but, at the same time, without the noise and coarseness of similar holidays in England. Large rooms are set apart for panoramic and other exhibitions, to which the public is admitted gratis. In the course of each evening, large displays of fireworks take place, all arranged according to a published programme of the festival.

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I will now add a few more notes which I have accumulated on the subject of the natural history, and then we shall have done, for the present, with Para and its neighbourhood.

I have already mentioned that monkeys were rare in the immediate vicinity of Para. I met with only three species in the forest near the city; they are shy animals, and avoid the neighbourhood of towns, where they are subject to much persecution by the inhabitants, who kill them for food. The only kind which I saw frequently was the little Midas ursulus, one of the Marmosets, a family peculiar to tropical America, and differing in many essential points of structure and habits from all other apes. They are small in size, and more like squirrels than true monkeys in their manner of climbing. The nails, except those of the hind thumbs, are long and claw-shaped like those of squirrels, and the thumbs of the fore extremities, or hands, are not opposable to the other fingers. I do not mean to imply that they have a near relationship to squirrels, which belong to the Rodents, an inferior order of mammals; their resemblance to those animals is merely a superficial one. They have two molar teeth less in each jaw than the Cebidae, the other family of American monkeys; they agree with them, however, in the sideway position of the nostrils, a character which distinguishes both from all the monkeys of the old world. The body is long and slender, clothed with soft hairs, and the tail, which is nearly twice the length of the trunk, is not prehensile. The hind limbs are much larger in volume than the anterior pair. The Midas ursulus is never seen in large flocks; three or four is the greatest number observed together. It seems to be less afraid of the neighbourhood of man than any other monkey. I sometimes saw it in the woods which border the suburban streets, and once I espied two individuals in a thicket behind the English consul's house at Nazareth. Its mode of progression along the main boughs of the lofty trees is like that of the squirrel; it does not ascend to the slender branches, or take those wonderful flying leaps which the Cebidae do, whose prehensile tails and flexible hands fit them for such headlong traveling. It confines itself to the larger boughs and trunks of trees, the long nails being of great assistance to the creature, enabling it to cling securely to the bark, and it is often seen passing rapidly around the perpendicular cylindrical trunks. It is a quick, restless, timid little creature, and has a great share of curiosity, for when a person passes by under the trees along which a flock is running, they always stop for a few moments to have a stare at the intruder.

In Para, Midas ursulus is often seen in a tame state in the houses of the inhabitants. When full grown it is about nine inches long, independently of the tail, which measures fifteen inches. The fur is thick, and black in colour, with the exception of a reddish-brown streak down the middle of the back. When first taken, or when kept tied up, it is very timid and irritable. It will not allow itself to be approached, but keeps retreating backwards when any one attempts to coax it. It is always in a querulous humour, uttering a twittering, complaining noise; its dark, watchful eyes are expressive of distrust, and observant of every movement which takes place near it. When treated kindly, however, as it generally is in the houses of the natives, it becomes very tame and familiar. I once saw one as playful as a kitten, running about the house after the negro children, who fondled it to their hearts' content. It acted somewhat differently towards strangers, and seemed not to like them to sit in the hammock which was slung in the room, leaping up, trying to bite, and otherwise annoying them. It is generally fed sweet fruits, such as the banana; but it is also fond of insects, especially soft-bodied spiders and grasshoppers, which it will snap up with eagerness when within reach. The expression of countenance in these small monkeys is intelligent and pleasing. This is partly owing to the open facial angle, which is given as one of 60; but the quick movements of the head, and the way they have of inclining it to one side when their curiosity is excited, contribute very much to give them a knowing expression.

On the Upper Amazons I once saw a tame individual of the Midas leoninus, a species first described by Humboldt, which was still more playful and intelligent than the one just described. This rare and beautiful little monkey is only seven inches in length, exclusive of the tail. It is named leoninus on account of the long brown mane which depends from the neck, and which gives it very much the appearance of a diminutive lion. In the house where it was kept, it was familiar with everyone; its greatest pleasure seeming to be to climb about the bodies of different persons who entered. The first time I went in, it ran across the room straightway to the chair on which I had sat down, and climbed up to my shoulder; having arrived there, it turned round and looked into my face, showing its little teeth and chattering, as though it would say, "Well, and how do you do?" It showed more affection towards its master than towards strangers, and would climb up to his head a dozen times in the course of an hour, making a great show every time of searching there for certain animalcula. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire relates of a species of this genus, that it distinguished between different objects depicted on an engraving. M. Audouin showed it the portraits of a cat and a wasp; at these it became much terrified; whereas, at the sight of a figure of a grasshopper or beetle, it precipitated itself on the picture, as if to seize the objects there represented.

Although monkeys are now rare in a wild state near Para, a great number may be seen semi-domesticated in the city. The Brazilians are fond of pet animals. Monkeys, however, have not been known to breed in captivity in this country. I counted, in a short time, thirteen different species, whilst walking about the Para streets, either at the doors or windows of houses, or in the native canoes. Two of them I did not meet with afterwards in any other part of the country. One of these was the well-known Hapale Jacchus, a little creature resembling a kitten, banded with black and grey all over the body and tail, and having a fringe of long white hairs surrounding the ears. It was seated on the shoulder of a young mulatto girl, as she was walking along the street, and I was told had been captured in the island of Marajo. The other was a species of Cebus, with a remarkably large head. It had ruddy-brown fur, paler on the face, but presenting a blackish tuft on the top of the forehead.


The neighbourhood of Para is rich in insects. I do not speak of the number of individuals, which is probably less than one meets with, excepting ants and termites, in summer days in temperate latitudes; but the variety, or in other words, the number of species, is very great. It will convey some idea of the diversity of butterflies when I mention that about 700 species of that tribe are found within an hour's walk of the town; while the total number found in the British Islands does not exceed 66, and the whole of Europe supports only 321. Some of the most showy species, such as the swallow-tailed kinds, Papilio Polycaon, Thoas, Torquatus, and others, are seen flying about the streets and gardens; sometimes they come through the open windows, attracted by flowers in the apartments. Those species of Papilio which are most characteristic of the country, so conspicuous in their velvety-black, green, and rose-coloured hues, which Linnaeus, in pursuance of his elegant system of nomenclature-- naming the different kinds after the heroes of Greek mythology-- called Trojans, never leave the shades of the forest. The splendid metallic blue Morphos, some of which measure seven inches in expanse, are generally confined to the shady alleys of the forest. They sometimes come forth into the broad sunlight.

When we first went to look at our new residence in Nazareth, a Morpho Menelaus, one of the most beautiful kinds, was seen flapping its huge wings like a bird along the verandah. This species, however, although much admired, looks dull in colour by the side of its congener, the Morpho Rhetenor, whose wings, on the upper face, are of quite a dazzling lustre. Rhetenor usually prefers the broad sunny roads in the forest, and is an almost unattainable prize, on account of its lofty flight, for it very rarely descends nearer the ground than about twenty feet. When it comes sailing along, it occasionally flaps its wings, and then the blue surface flashes in the sunlight, so that it is visible a quarter of a mile off. There is another species of this genus, of a satiny-white hue, the Morpho Uraneis; this is equally difficult to obtain; the male only has the satiny lustre, the female being of a pale-lavender colour. It is in the height of the dry season that the greatest number and variety of butterflies are found in the woods; especially when a shower falls at intervals of a few days. An infinite number of curious and rare species may then be taken, most diversified in habits, mode of flight, colours, and markings: some yellow, others bright red, green, purple, and blue, and many bordered or spangled with metallic lines and spots of a silvery or golden lustre. Some have wings transparent as glass-- one of these clear wings is especially beautiful, namely, the Hetaira Esmeralda. It has one spot only of opaque colouring on its wings, which is of a violet and rose hue; this is the only part visible when the insect is flying low over dead leaves in the gloomy shades where alone it is found, and it then looks like a wandering petal of a flower.

Henry Walter Bates A naturalist, Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892) left England in 1842 to spend the next eleven years exploring and categorizing insects and animals of the Amazon basin. His scientific papers, valued for insight into the nature of evolution, as well as for discoveries and classifications of new species, also serve as a bench mark of clarity and precision in scientific writing. The subtitles of The Naturalist on the River Amazons illustrate his interest in all aspects of life and nature.


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