Remember the Rainforest 1
handle their dangerous weapons is extraordinary(1). An experienced shooter, in fifty to sixty shots, does not miss the mark; and the strength with which he propels the arrow, is so admirable,
how lightly he wields the long and heavy Zarabatana, in the midst of the thickness of the virgin forest. Small mammals and birds are more often slaughtered in this way; meanwhile, the Indian also uses his Zarabatana against the tapir or the oncas. Tribes that fight with poisoned arrows
Carving Zarabatana, the blowgun
(I) the poison of the Urari arrow (so we have heard it called in the course of our entire voyage, as in Raleigh, in the Orinoco, and not “curare”, as in Spanish Guiana, nor woorara, wuara, wurali, as in Surinam) is an important article of trade for the Indians. It is sold in small pots of uncooked clay, hemispherical (rarely in gourds). It is very well known that it only contains a few ounces of the black extract, at first thick, after all hardened; these vessels are wrapped in palm leaves or cloth-like pieces from the Turiri shell. By exchange, this deadly substance passes from Brazil and Manaus, from hand to hand, to the remotest tribes of the Quixo and Macas, through the Napo and Pastaza springs, and beyond the Andes, the provinces of Esmeralda, Barbacoa, and, to the east, the nations of the lower Rio Negro. It is common also in the Orinoco, from the Emerald Mission onwards, where Mr. von Humboldt assisted in the preparation.
von Humboldt-Bonpland expedition
The plants which provide the main ingredient of the deadly extract, although diffused over a large area, do not appear to be equally distributed but are sporadic; That is the reason why only some tribes or hordes prepare the urari. Without going into the details of a more rigorous investigation of these species of plants and poisons, I would just like to point out that this same weapon for war and hunting is made in great portion from these South American indigenous plants.
The savages of Guyana, a large part of northern Brazil, New Granada and Peru, use this extraordinary plant poison; and also in La Plata it is known. An arrow poison prepared there, however, must be much weaker, since it only takes effect after three days, and only kills in 28 days. The region within whose boundaries where these dangerous weapons are employed, if it does not demonstrate better civilization, nevertheless shows distinctive traces of one of the many cultures that are found in the tribes that are extinct. Undoubtedly, the once scattered and powerful race of the Tupi preceded the civilization of the savages who prepare the Urari or who use it;
the various systems of well-prepared flour with the root of cassava and other foods also reveal perhaps even greater knowledge of coarse chemistry; in spite of this, the Tupis, like many others, despise guns, of which even the incompetent can serve themselves: They prefer those which require rough and courageous energy in their handling. We bought a large quantity of Zarabatanas, made from
Zarabatanas, the blowgun
several logs (esgaravatanas, sarbacanas, in Peru, czarbanas, pucunas, in Manaus), which are deposited in the Munich Ethnography collection. They differ in length between eight and ten feet, and the thickness varies between two and a half and one and a half inches at the lower end. We only find Zarabatanas made with the thin palm-tree stem, which probably belonged to a species of the genera Geonoma (Ubirana) or perhaps to a Kunthia. The first one exists in the upper Rio Negro, in the Uaupes and in the Japura, to the one of the cataracts and sometimes, brought down by the river by the other tribes. We bought these palm stems in Barra do Rio Negro. The interior, full of the tender cellular web, interlaced by filaments along the rod, is emptied by fire, and the cavity varnished; for this purpose the Indians generally split the rod into two equal halves in the lengthwise direction. Think of the lack of proper tools, and all the work done with a cane knife or with a river shell, the polishing of the cavity is as prodigious as the precision of the weapon, which almost always lasts for more than a human life. Once both sides are accurately wedged, they are cemented with resin, and the entire surface is gently rolled up with a black bark cut into ribbon. After that, the Indian artist applies at the lower end a heavy glossy red straw. The arrows, blown by this straw, are at most one foot long,
made of palm wood, white, light, rarely of the black heavy quality, and with more or less pointed end. At the extremity, the deadly poison occupies the length of an inch. The higher the degree of accuracy, the finer the layer. Among the tribes which prepare the urari themselves, whole bundles of small arrows are dipped at once into the still fresh liquid extract and are dried in the sun; On the other hand, the Indians who receive the poison from afar, soften it with water and sour lemon juice (of the small ones), and with a feather they apply thin layers to the arrows. The arrows are then wrapped in wicker and covered with fish oil or varnish, or a beautiful red wood, made with extreme patience, with such a delicate sheen, that one could say it was the work of a turning artist.
These arrows are one of the characteristics that distinguish the different tribes. It is rare for the Indian to bring with him a large supply of poisoned arrows; but prepares, before the hunt, the presumed point, wrapping the lower end with some plush of the Samaumeira or the cotton flowers. This is to fill the blowgun, so that the arrow is expelled with all the energy of the hunter. The weight of the arrow, evaluated each time at the moment of employment, is increased with some humid clay, which the Indian has stored in a frontal bone of a small mammal, and which is applied to the lower part of the arrow at the time of the shot. This part of the hunter's paraphernalia, a pack made of the fibers of tauiri hangs from the hunter, which they suspend from the neck