Down the San Francisco


IT was Sunday, May the 27th, and just at nightfall the mail courier arrived at Januaria from Ouro Preto, bringing the news that on the 13th the act of the absolute and unconditional abolition of slavery had been signed by the Princess Isabel at Rio de Janeiro, who was on the throne during the temporary absence in Europe of her father, the Emperor.

A procession was at once organized, and the crowd marched through the streets with an old band of music, sending off fireworks and shouting at a great rate. The slaves about the place were hearing of their liberation fourteen days after it had been secured by imperial sanction. The people in even so remote a section from the court as this were not surprised to learn of this, for a law of gradual emancipation had been in force for several years, and the growing abolition party was strong and active in the government. A few had already freed their slaves, and many were thinking and planning for the new adjustment; but as men never seem fully prepared for such changes it is not to be wondered at that the whole social order of the country was disturbed by it, especially through the agricultural sections. Many rejoiced, others quietly acquiesced, and some murmured, but no one offered resistance. There can be no doubt that the act has had a most beneficent effect upon the social and economic life of the nation; but it is questionable if the condition of the blacks in general has been much improved; they have drifted largely to the towns and villages, and are rapidly dying from the use and abuse of rum. Since the colour line or race distinction is made little or nothing of in Brazil, there is no reason why these blacks and their children might not become the beneficiaries of whatever wholesome social influences and educational advantages the country affords for the poorer classes. A few are being absorbed into the new social order, but the mass of them seem destined to extermination through indolence and rum.

As we journeyed down the river for several days after the announcement of this emancipation act, we saw numbers of the ex-slaves with little bundles of clothes on their arms leaving the homes of their former masters and wandering about as if in search of shelter and food. They were in a poor condition to begin the struggle of life for themselves, and there was no provision made to help them. Those who were disposed to work, however, soon found employment on other farms, and only a faithful few remained to work for their former masters.

The next stage of our journey was to Carinhanhas, a distance of 100 miles. This is a town of about 1,500 inhabitants in the State of Bahia just across the dividing line from Minas Geraes. The entire district or county of which this is the principal town has a population of more than 10,000. We stopped at several very small villages and a few country settlements along the banks of the river, whose inhabitants were living in great poverty and ignorance. Their mud huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs were of the crudest and most inferior quality. We occasionally found a man who could read and generally succeeded in leaving a copy of the Scriptures with him.

About sixty miles from Januaria we visited the almost deserted village of Morrinhos and the ruins of a very large Catholic church, whose two massive towers, like those in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, are fairly well preserved and may be seen from a distance.

The village once numbered thirty or more houses, but most are now in decay and ruins while the street leading up from the river bank to the old church is given up to weeds and grass, as indeed is the entire village. One wonders why and how and when this massive old church and its dependencies were built. It is generally believed that it owes it origin to the piety of one Mathias Cardozo who, in the early history of Minas Geraes, came from the city of São Paulo and settled in the wilds. He is supposed to have begun the work of construction and his son Januario, who sent to Bahia for carpenters and masons, completed it. Much of the work was done by the Indians. Below the altar is a broken slab of slate with the inscription "Here lies Januario Cardoso de Almeida." There is no date. About forty years ago a man died in the village at the age of 113 years, who said the tomb was there when he was born.

A few miles down the river from this deserted village we came to a section where there was considerable cultivation and on an elevation was a large, white, new two-story house, the first of the kind we had seen in that part of the valley.

On reaching the town of Carinhanhas we first visited the chief of police and other authorities of the town council and obtained permission to sell our books through the streets. The priest of the town was the most violent in his denunciations of us and our Bibles of any we had met on the river, and we were surprised that many of the people showed some spirit of liberality and some desire to hear the preaching of the Gospel. During the canvass of the town I found that there were two Bibles already in the place, left there more than twenty years before by the Spanish colporteur above referred to and these Bibles had been read by a number of persons. We obtained a house, a large number responded to our invitation and we had a most interesting time preaching to them Jesus and his salvation. There were few who could read and we sold only eight copies of the Scriptures in the town, but the missionaries at the Bahia Station have lately had interesting communications from that place and very earnest calls to go there and establish work. It seems that quite a number of persons have continued the reading of the Scriptures and are seeking to follow Christ.

From this point the course of the river is quite straight so that a canoe will float down at night with little difficulty. We spent a number of nights in this way, occasionally bumping against the bank, but seldom having sleep much disturbed. The river also abounds in fish and we feasted on them purchasing from the fishermen at very insignificant prices.

In April, when the dry season sets in, the people from the hill-sides and mountains move down to plant their corn, rice, beans, potatoes, mandioca, etc., along the flat banks of the river where there is a deposit of white sand. There is no breaking up of the ground needed; it is quite sufficient to make a hole with a sharp pointed stick, drop the seed in and cover it. The soil underneath the deposit of sand is very fertile and furnishes sufficient moisture for the growth of a crop with the aid of comparatively little rain.

Many of them build booths or shelters of palm and other branches of trees; some make no shelter at all, but simply take up their abode for four or five months under the spreading Gamilleira or other trees. They generally sleep on a kind of mat made of coarse reeds woven together, have very few cooking utensils, no tables or chairs, eat from a tin pan or gourd with the hands, knives and forks and spoons being of little use to them and their clothing is reduced to a few simple articles. While the crops are growing they engage in fishing, cutting the fish in thin slices, salting and hanging it on poles in the sun to dry. At the beginning of this season the traders come up the river in canoes with supplies of salt, dry goods, etc., which they barter to the planters for the beans, rice, dried fish, hides, etc., that they may have ready a few months later. Just before the rains set in the traders begin to collect their pay and load their vessels for the homeward voyage and are ready to be borne down the stream by the first freshet. The planters gather up a portion of their crops, dried fish, and other things, and at the beginning of the rainy season, about October, return to theIr huts in the hills and mountains, where they spend the time in comparative ease and idleness until the next planting season, doing little except as they kill a few wild animals and have the hides dried for the river trade.

These very fertile lands some day will be made to yield more abundantly for man's comfort and to enrich their owners. I saw stalks of cotton growing without cultivation to the height of seven or eight feet, from which I gathered beautiful white boils which I submitted to a competent person in Rio de Janeiro who pronounced it a very excellent quality of raw cotton. The possibilities of this valley are really unknown, and doubtless it holds much wealth and comfort yet to be developed by man.

The next stage of our journey from Carinhanhas was about eighty miles to the famous Bom Jesus da Lapa (Good Jesus of the Grotto). As we came near the village we had a splendid view of what is popularly known as the "crouching lion," but which one writer has termed "a headless sphinx." It is a great stone about six or eight hundred feet long, about two hundred and fifty feet wide and two hundred feet high, lying upon a dead level. It is remarkable for perpendicular lines resembling pinnacles, and the sides jagged, like the flying buttresses of a Gothic temple, are cut up into angles sharpened by the weather. Deep black cracks, at altitudes varying from ten to thirty feet, run horizontally, forming gigantic courses of masonry. The south-western end is a vertical precipice, with a long broad, yellow stripe, where the stone has been removed. The colour of the mass generally is grey slate, with fine crystals of the whitest limestone. In the southwest end is a natural grotto about eighty to one hundred feet in length and varying in width from twenty-five to fifty feet.

The entrance has been closed with a strong wooden door which is fastened with a ponderous lock. Six stone steps lead up to this door and just inside there is an apartment like a kind of vestibule and ten steps built of brick, lead up into the Holy Grotto. Near the entrance the ceiling is flat and over the altar it is somewhat arched, though it is irregular throughout, and in many places there are numbers of stalactites, also several stalagmites, one near the door being of considerable size. The altar is at the farther end of the cave on a raised platform. The image of Bom Jesus da Lapa, not more than two feet in height, is incased in a gaudy shrine. There are said to be a number of graves under the rickety and decaying wooden floor covering the part round about the altar. The irregular walls are thickly hung with figures of hands, feet and other parts, as well as some of the whole body, representing cures of wounds, bites of snakes and poisonous insects, all manner of diseases and deformities performed by this miracle-working image. There are also figures of animals that were likewise supposed to have been cured of poisonous bites. The devotees made vows that if healed they would make such figures of hands or the body and present them to the image. These figures hang as so many testimonials of the faithfully performed vows.

It was a Saturday afternoon when we called on the priest to ask permission to visit this remarkable shrine. He was reported as not feeling well and was asleep; but some one told us that he did not care to have us profane the place. We finally found the sexton who kindly showed us through the temple. He pointed out a recess to one side where it is said the hermit was buried. Many pilgrims and worshippers at the shrine have carried away the dust, until a great hole has been dug in the floor; they say this holy dirt will cure all manner of wounds and sores. At one point the water drips almost constantly from the ceiling and the devotees call it miraculous water, and carry it away in bottles to the sick for healing and for restoring strength.There are two stories on record as to the origin of this image. One, that it was brought from Spain by a rich Spaniard, who took up his abode in the grotto, in penance for his sins; another that it appeared to a monk who inhabited the grotto with some tigers.

One priest affirms that the crucifix is about 400 years old, which dates back to the discovery of Brazil, and that it was worshipped by the red men before it was discovered by the Roman Catholics.

Pilgrimages to the temple were not large or very frequent until about 1860; from that date they began to increase, and it is estimated that as many as 25,000 persons have gone annually to worship at this shrine. It is believed to possess extraordinary healing power, which accounts for the almost incredible statement, that in a region so sparsely settled 25,000 pilgrims come annually to worship. These poor devotees have contributed from $8,000 to $10,000 a year in votive offerings to the image; the iron box at its feet is ever ready to receive all contributions.

Bom Jesus da Lapa in the year 1874 owned three farms well stocked with cattle and horses, a number of slaves and had $50,000 in cash. Before the emancipation act of 1888 it had freed all the slaves, but is still in possession of the farms, and always has plenty of ready cash on hand. The annual election of the board of administration for the brotherhood is an occasion of much contention and political wire pulling, since it is generally believed that each member fills his pockets during the year. A project was on foot a few years ago to build a hospital in the village to cost not less than $40,000. The priest in charge is the chief administrator of the whole affair; at the annual festival in August he invites his special friends, priests, to take part with him in the ceremonies and always sends them away with a full purse.

On our arrival in the town which has from 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants, we asked of the chief of police permission to sell our books in the streets and to preach if we could make suitable arrangements; he kindly gave permission to do the former, but said we could not preach without the vicar's permission. We very soon made a canvass of the community, and to a very few who could read we sold nine copies of the Scriptures. As we stood very near the famous image asking questions of the sexton, he discovered the two books I had in hand, and when told what they were he bought a Bible, and after reading a few verses he carefully put it in the drawer of a small table just under the shrine.

We have heard several times since from the place and have learned that our efforts were not in vain; several persons have read the Scriptures and are anxious to have the missionaries open work there.

The next section of our voyage was a distance of about 185 miles to Cidade de Barra. One night we went ashore and pitched our tent on a spot where the undergrowth had been cut away. Mosquitoes and miasma were abundant, but the men made up a good fire to frighten away the wild animals and snakes; we were so tired that when we had contrived protection from the mosquitoes we slept so soundly that no one remembered to keep up the fire. By and by we were awakened by the noise of some seemingly gigantic animal, breaking through the bushes. Soon his huge body was discovered and as we fired at him he bounded away with a yell. The boatmen built up the fire again and we slept, though not very soundly. Presently a howling wolf appeared on the opposite bank of the river, hungry for human flesh, but the broad waters were our protection. We had many interesting experiences along the way where we stopped to offer the Scriptures and to talk to the people about Jesus. I was astonished at the absence of all progress in these western out-stations of the Great Bahia Province, whose chief city was once the metropolis of the country, and whose seaboard is now one of the most prosperous and populous portions of the empire. Every thing that we see denotes poverty and neglect.

Some of the seed sown has already sprung up; a missionary, hearing of some who were reading the Bible, and who desired to learn more of the way has planned to follow up the work. We shall expect to hear by and by that the charge of ignorance, poverty and neglect, and the absence of all progress, can no longer be made against the inhabitants of that section; but instead enlightenment, holiness and prosperity will characterize the valley of the San Francisco.

The Cidade de Barra has a population of about 6,000 and shows more signs of life, enterprise and learning than any place visited since we left Januaria, about 400 miles up the river. This is destined to become some day an important place, located as it is in the centre of a district with large possibilities for agriculture and stock raising, where the Rio Grande empties into the San Francisco. It is distant from the city of Bahia about 460 miles, and has the honour of being the birthplace of the Baron of Cotegipe, who was for some time prime minister during the latter years of the empire.

On entering the town we first visited the chief of police to obtain permission to sell our books and to preach. His reply was you have the pleasure of talking to one of the same belief. I have for several years desired to see a minister of the Gospel, and thank God he has come at last.

He soon furnished us rooms for lodging, secured to us ample protection and opportunities to carry on our work, and sent a soldier to accompany us through the streets. This was a new experience, going through the streets as a Bible colporteur attended by a soldier in imperial uniform; quite a contrast to the incident recorded of my arrest in Santa Luzia, when the same uniform was present to conduct me away as a prisoner. The soldier seemed really to be a hindrance rather than a help so far as sales were concerned. As the people knew we intended preaching at night, they declined to buy that day, saying they preferred to first hear the preaching and what we would have to say publicly about the Bible. A large audience assembled and filled the room to overflowing, with still a large crowd in the streets. Being under the police protection everything was quiet and orderly and many persons remained to talk after the service. We had a most interesting time during the few days spent there, and sold in all twenty-nine copies of the Word of God.

Upon further inquiry I found that the chief of police had obtained his Bible seven years before from a brother of his living quite a distance in the country, who had bought it from the colporteur passing through that valley some twenty years before. He gave good evidence of having read and studied the Word to good purpose. The brother likewise, from all we could learn, had been truly converted through reading the written Word.

One day, as I passed along the outskirts of the town where a crazy man was chained like some mad beast to the limb of a great tree, I came to a little mud hut where the rickety door stood ajar. A feeble voice invited me to come in. There lay an aged man in a hammock. I at once began to tell him about the book and the precious Saviour therein revealed. 'With feeble and trembling hand he took from a little old box at his side a small copy of the New Testament and handed it to me, saying, "I know all about it; for nineteen years I have been reading it, and trying to follow its teachings." He told me how he had been so wonderfully led into the light and joy of salvation through the reading and prayer. He said, "I am an old man, sick, and will soon die, but I thank God I have learned that my soul does not have to go to purgatory, where my release must depend upon the good fortune of having money or friends to pay for mass to secure my deliverance; I have the assurance from this book and the witness in my heart that my spirit will go immediately into the presence of my blessed Saviour."

By this time our stock of books was running low, so we decided not to make long delays at any of the places to be visited in the remaining nearly 700 miles that lay between us and the sea. The most important villages and towns visited were Porto Alegre, Pilão Arcado, Remanso, Santa Sé, Casa Nova and Santa Anna. We sold in these places forty-three copies of the Scriptures, conversed with a number of persons and preached a few times.

At Santa Anna a government commission was just finishing a channel through the Sobradinho rapids. The little steamer, Presidente Dantas, was going down the river to Boa Vista a distance of 135 miles and the chief invited us to a free ride, which we gratefully accepted.

The town of Joazeiro is well situated on a bank about twenty-five feet above low water level where the river has seldom been known to overflow its banks. The river at this point is about 2,500 feet wide, and quite deep, thus affording abundant room for the many boats that are destined some day to ply its waters. As a commercial centre it will be perhaps the St. Louis of the San Francisco. It is already connected with Bahia by railway, a distance of about 370 miles; the distance from the city of Pernambuco is about 550, one-third of which is covered already by the San Francisco railway and there are seventy-five miles of easy navigation down stream, open to vessels of light draft.

This will become some day an important centre for the evangelization of the thousands that inhabit this great valley and its water sheds. Our time and supply of Scriptures were limited, so we sold only a few copies of the Word and talked with a number of persons about the Gospel. During the last ten years our colporteurs have visited the place several times and numbers of Scriptures have been sold which are bringing forth gracious results.

We went down the river seventy-five miles by boat to the village of Boa Vista, where we sold eighteen copies of the Scriptures. There we engaged a large canoe to carry us over the rapids, a distance of about 155 miles to Jatobá, just above the Paulo Affonso falls. This was by far the most exciting and dangerous part of the voyage. At times the curves were so sharp that the turn could only be made in the rushing waters by men standing in the bow of the boat with long poles which they thrust against the rocks, and with a strenuous effort would keep us in the curving stream. Finally one of the men failed to manipulate his pole at the right minute and the mad waters drove us with a crash against the jutting stones. It was with the greatest difficulty that we managed to get safely to land. We patched up our boat and reached the village of Cobrobó by constantly bailing out the water. There we secured another bark and went on our way down the wild and dangerous rapids to Jatobá.

In the region between Joazeiro and Jatobá there are many islands, upon which the Jesuits years ago erected a number of large churches, some of which are now in ruins. Burton writes of this section, "We now enter the headquarters of the extinct Jesuit missions, a land of ruins, strange in a country so young; and we see with astonishment that more than a century ago the neighbourhood was much more advanced than it is at present. The Jesuits certainly taught their converts the civilization of labour, and now the village Indians have allowed their chapels to fall, and are fast relapsing into decay." The images from many of these ruins have been removed to the Church at Boa Vista, which now boasts the largest collection of these objects of worship to be found in any church in all that section. I was specially impressed with the magnificent proportions of four of those temples, dedicated respectively to Santa Maria, Santo Antonio, São Miguel, and São Felix. Bats, lizards, pigeons, spiders and other insects are the only inhabitants of three of them. When we came to the last one, our boatmen all went into the old church to pray and cast their money in the box. This image is said to preside over that section of the dangerous rapids, and only those obtain a safe passage who pay and pray. They took great interest in showing us the richly incased image, hoping that we might be induced to follow their example. They were much alarmed, and for awhile it seemed as if they would refuse to attempt a further journey with us unless we contributed something to the image. They gave a sigh of relief when we had landed safely below the last rapids.

We landed safely at Jatobá and secured lodging for the night at the principal hotel in the place. Our beds were hammocks in a long room that accommodated about a dozen men. From Jatobá to Piranhas below the Paulo Affonso falls, a distance of about seventy miles was made by rail, and from there by boat to Pão de Assucar, about twenty-five miles. Saturday night, late, we landed at the town of Traipu. My presence in the town was soon noised abroad; the priest spoke at mass against me and a mob was organized to kill or drive me out of the place. It was with difficulty that I made my escape Sunday afternoon, and took shelter under a great spreading tree some distance down the river on the opposite shore from the town. The voyage from Penedo to Aracajú was made at night in a great tempest and for several hours our small vessel without a cargo was blown about upon the raging waves almost as if it had been an empty gourd. I felt that it was a kind Providence that saved us from a watery grave.

At that time two colporteurs were working in Aracajú and those from the State of Bahia had extended their work into this region. So much interest resulted from this labour that a station of the Presbyterian mission had already been opened at Larangeiras, a city of about 5,000 inhabitants, which became afterwards a centre of our Bible work. There was the usual opposition on the part of the priesthood and one priest made special efforts to gather up and destroy every Bible that he could lay hands on. He collected quite a box of books and one day invited all the town to witness the burning. He made a bonfire in front of a great wooden cross standing on a hill overlooking the town, and threw the books in one at a time, naming one Wickliff, another John Knox, Luther, Wesley and so on until he had gone through the list of prominent Protestant leaders and reformers. The first effect of this was to make a deep impression upon the people of the priest's authority and power. Some, however, were disgusted and there followed a reaction, from which time the cause of truth has prospered. In every case Bible burning, which has been frequent throughout Brazil, has done much to advertise the sacred Scriptures and thus many have read and examined the book which was said by the priests to be so pernicious.

The voyage down the coast from Bahia to Rio on one of Her British Majesty's Royal Mail steamers was a marvelous contrast to the voyage in the dug-out "Good News" on the San Francisco. This entire journey occupied four months, from March 27th to July 26th. We travelled the first 680 miles by rail, then about 400 miles on horseback to reach the point where the real Bible work of the journey began, though many copies of the Scriptures were distributed as we passed over these highlands. Then came about 1,590 miles in canoes, save a short run by steamer, and when we reached the seacoast we were about 900 miles from Rio, making the total for the four months 3,570 miles.

We visited about fifty towns and villages, besides numerous intervening country settlements, many of which had never before been visited by missionary or Bible colporteur. We preached to hundreds of persons who had never before heard the Gospel and put into circulation about one thousand two hundred copies of the Scripture. The experiences and observations of the journey have enabled us to plan and carry forward for twelve years aggressive colportage work through the great interior of Bahia, Minas Geraes, Goyaz, Pernambuco and other States.