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Remember the Rainforest 1

 

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We went into the bush, where some Indians had preceded us, in order to surround with a ditch a channel filled with fish, that empties there into the greater Igarape.

In the latter, we found a characteristic species of Gamboas trapped in stakes,

Gamboa, the peacock Bass

made like the contours of a fiddle, which the Indians use everywhere in Brazil, to catch in the meandering the fish that go down the river. The small stream was stopped, as it dribbled into the largest, through a barrage of sand filtrations, and we could see, at the bottom, a lot of fish that swam around. As soon as the dam overflowed, the Indians cut a dense foliage on the bank and threw it a hundred paces above the mouth of the creek to block the fish's return, and poured the jars full of milky juice in various places, on the water. The mixture was made by stirring it with long sticks. After only about ten minutes had passed, all the fish, in an ever-increasing frenzy, came and went from one side to the other. They constantly flowed on the surface, sticking out of the water, tapping their tails, and some of the biggest and strongest jumped so high out of the stream that some of them fell on the bank, still others were happily safe, and surpassing the dam, they found themselves in the greater stream. These efforts, however, did not last long; everything settled down: the smaller ones appeared immobile in the flow of the water; the larger ones, however, were still agitating, and they were weakening. They had their gill membranes all open and seemed unconscious and inert, for they allowed themselves to be seized by the Indians, who entered the water.

Before they sank completely, they rolled dizzy, from one side to the other. We found it strange to see in all the captured fish, an extraordinary dilation of the pupils, a condition which, through the chemical content of the milk, made us realize that poisoning, perhaps creating a disturbance of the respiratory process, completely affects the nervous system . Still the fish, seem to be eaten without any ill effects. Indians are prone to prefer this way of fishing, which often causes great damage to ponds and streams. Therefore, the government has prohibited the poisoning of rivers, but this measure has been little observed. In Japura, I had occasion to watch other processes of catching fish, whose beginnings are the same. Instead of toxic milk, a few pieces of the thorn (Paullinia pinnata, or cururu, L.) are used there, as is customary in many other regions of Brazil. Great tufts of this creeping vine are crushed between stones, and then carried in several canoes, which cross the lake in many directions, and are thrown to the surface of the waters, whereupon

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