The Amazon


OCTOBER 15th I embarked on the U. S. steamship "Allianca" at Maranhão for Pará. On board I met General H. Clay Armstrong, of Auburn, Ala., who had been United States Consul at Rio de Janeiro for four years, during which time he had been a hearty supporter of the English-speaking congregation at the Methodist Church in Rio: indeed he was a warm friend of all the missionaries and their work. By his deportment, fidelity to business, and upright walk he won the esteem of all who knew him. A title of high honor was conferred upon him and upon the United States Minister for the same period, Hon. Thomas J. Jarvis, of North Carolina, by the Emperor of Brazil. Mr. Jarvis was also a hearty supporter of the work in Rio, and a friend to mission work, giving liberally and encouraging the work of the Gospel.

The city of Pará, or properly speaking, Belem, is the most northerly city of Brazil, and is located on the eastern bank of the Guajarabay, or as many say on the south side of the Pará river, about eighty miles from the ocean, so that only in a general way can it be described as at the mouth of the Amazon.

The population at the time of my first visit was about 80,000, but it has since grown to about 100,000. The central streets are narrow but well paved with stone and lighted with gas. It is humid and warm during the day, though the nights and mornings are pleasant. During the summer it rains almost every afternoon, and in the winter at all hours of the day. Once while I was there it did not rain for two successive days and the people began to complain of the heat and to remark how dry it was getting. In the suburbs there are many beautiful and commodious residences, and the city is fairly well served with a system of street cars. There is but one railroad from the city, with an extension of less than fifty miles, but the facilities for steamboat navigation are almost unlimited. The main stream of the Amazon alone is navigable for 2,500 miles and the territory drained by this wonderful system is about 4,200,000 square kilometers, or half the entire territory of Brazil.

After a careful study of the situation I estimated that less than 750,000 of the inhabitants of the two Provinces of Para and Amazonas could easily be reached by the colporteurs from this point. These are found largely in cities, villages, and settlements along the banks of the rivers and at the most liberal estimate not more than 200,000 of them can read and write.

To get a further insight into the conditions for Bible work I made an excursion over the railroad above referred to, which extends mostly through the dense forest, with here and there a settlement or village. The town of Bragança, the terminus of the road, which gives the name to the line, has a population of about 10,000 inhabitants. I sold on this short trip twenty-five copies of the Word and preached once at the station of Benevedes to a good congregation gathered in the house of a believer, who had recently moved out from the city of Pará.

Here I had my first experience of the great Pará forest with its trees, many of them one hundred feet in height, with trunks four or five feet in diameter; the vast quantity and quality of plant-life, struggling in a dense mass upward for light, sun and air; the orchids, lichens, and vines, many of them sending their roots down a hundred feet to the ground, at the bases of the trees upon which they thrive; the parasitic plants whose foliage towers above and is greater than that of the trees which they have scaled, the luxuriant lianos continually reminding one of the rigging of a great ship; while the surface of the ground was covered with a tangle of creepers and trunks, and decaying vegetation of all kinds. "The tropical forest is not only grand and solemn, it is also graceful and beautiful."

The well-known American botanist, Mr. E. S. Rand, at the time of my visit had been living for a number of years in Pará, gathering his notable collection of orchids, with more than 20,000 specimens of 800 species, and almost endless varieties, said to be the third largest collection then known to botanists.

Pará is the commercial centre of the rubber traffic, the chief industry of the Amazon valley. The yearly exportation of the crude material from this section amounts to some 40,000,000 pounds. Since the city of Manáos, a thousand miles up the river in the State of Amazonas has been made a port of entry, ocean steamers load the rubber from that point and this has lessened the exports from Pará. Other products that figure in the exports are Brazil nuts and cacao, the bean from which chocolate is made.

This commercial intercourse of Pará, with the outer world, the presence of foreign merchants, traders, bankers, the coming of foreign vessels, has had in some measure a liberalizing influence over the people, though the efforts to circulate the Bible and to preach the Gospel have met with the opposition and persecution so common in other parts of the country. Besides the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo there is perhaps no other in Brazil in which so large a number of Bibles has been distributed in proportion to the population. Frequent consignments have been made direct from New York, and we have shipped large quantities there from Rio, and occasionally supplies have gone direct from London. Colporteurs have in part done the work of distribution, and the missionaries residing there have also been very active in circulating the Word. The oldest of the missions is that of the Methodist Episcopal Church, established and still served by the Rev. Justus H. Nelson. An independent Baptist missionary, the Rev. E. A. Nelson, has also been very active in Bible distribution and in evangelistic work; indeed there is no missionary in Brazil who, in the same length of time, has put into circulation so many copies of the Holy Scriptures. At one time he wrote direct to New York, "Mr. Tucker sent us from Rio de Janeiro about 500 Bibles, but they are all about gone, and I am writing to ask for more. A Brazilian brother who has been working for us has succeeded splendidly. I went up the river to Santarem and in thirty days sold all the volumes of Scriptures I took with me, 539 copies." One notable feature of his work has been the number of Hebrew Bibles sold, and latterly a number of Hebrew New Testaments. About the city of Pará and on the Xingú river quite a number of Jews have gathered, who have been the purchasers of these Scriptures. Each of the missionaries above referred to have extended their work to Manáos and other points in this great valley.

After having studied the field and the conditions as best I could in Pará for some days, I started on a journey up the Amazon as far as Manáos. The ride on one of the steamers of the Amazon Navigation company through the channels and among the islands until we entered the Amazon proper was very interesting and the scenery at times picturesque, with its small round islands of green; the tall trees and thick undergrowth; with its network of vines and parasites; the border of lilies and other aquatic plants; the monkeys playing among the branches and vines, and occasionally a huge snake exposed to view on the limb of a tree, while many birds of brilliant plumage were flying from island to island. Now and then we saw a few huts and small spots of land under cultivation; again we saw the rubber gatherers with ax and tins making their way into the forest to tap the trees and gather the milk to be boiled for transportation. Turning from the scenery to my Bible work I made a canvass of the boat's passengers and crew, with the result of the sale of a number of copies of the Scriptures. There was considerable reading and discussion on board that day, and the next day some who had refused copies were induced to buy, as they saw how deeply interested and delighted others were with what they had read. The second day out we were on the broad Amazon, seemingly at times a real sea of fresh water. As we steamed up the river we called at an occasional village or country settlement. Each opportunity was improved to offer the Scriptures, and a number of copies were disposed of along the way. When near the banks of the river the large turtles and alligators attracted much attention. After three days we reached the town of Santarem, at the mouth of the Tapajoz river, about 500 miles from Pará. There I found a number of American settlers, who had come to this country several years ago from the United States and was given a warm welcome to the hospitable home of the Rev. R. T. Hennington. One of the first to visit me was Dr. J. Pitts, son of the Rev. F. E. Pitts, formerly of the Methodist Church in Tennessee, who made a missionary exploration tour to this country in the year 1836. Another with whom I had most delightful conversation and fellowship was the son of a Presbyterian minister in the State of Pennsylvania, and still another was the brother of Rev. F. E. P. Jennings of Arkansas. All these and still others among them showed a deep interest in my Bible work. Dr. Pitts offered his house for preaching, and for seven successive nights I spoke to large and attentive audiences, composed largely of Brazilians. The interest grew from day to day, and I sold many copies of the Word. When the Roman Catholic priest of the town knew that I was about ready to leave he waked up and began most vigorously to warn the people against reading the false Bibles; told them that they must burn many fireworks to drive away the devil and purify the air of the lies that I had preached. He urged them to make confession and do penance for having attended the preaching. When I was safely on board the steamer that was to take me about another 500 miles up the river, and the whistle blew for us to steam away, he and a few of his followers came out in front of the church, which occupied a prominent site overlooking the river, and sent up over my head such a volume of fireworks as I have never seen and heard on so insignificant an occasion in the daytime. On my return a few weeks later I was told that he remarked to the people, after it was all over, that then they could all go home in peace; the devil was gone and the lies he preached had been burned up, and that they must destroy all those false Bibles. Scarcely any who had attended the preaching and bought Bibles took part in this send-off that he gave me. Many gave evidence of having been deeply impressed by the truth preached, and I left with them thirty-four copies of the Scripture.

From Santarem to Manáos we had a very pleasant voyage. To the passengers and crew, and at the ports where we called, I availed myself of the opportunities to offer the Scriptures, and a number of persons bought copies. One of the engineers of the vessel was a Wesleyan local preacher from Trinidad, West Indies. He became much interested in our work, and kindly offered to take some copies with him for distribution on their journey of more than fifteen hundred miles up the Madeira river. The forty copies sent by him may prove the beginning of a good work reaching towards the Andes. This brother had been for seven months in the employ of the navigation company. On this trip I was thus enabled to send a few copies of the Scriptures many hundreds of miles up three of the large tributaries of the Amazon.

The time on board passed very pleasantly; when not engaged in conversation and efforts to induce some person to buy the Scriptures I was reading or enjoying a rest in my hammock on the deck, interested in the wonders of nature that abound along the banks of the river. At Santarem one day my attention was attracted by the screams of a number of boys in the river who were running for the shore. A large alligator had attacked them while they were in bathing. The men ran down and finally succeeded in shooting his eyes out, and then harpooning him, brought him to shore. He was thirteen feet two inches long, and measured four feet four inches around the body; his mouth was one foot four inches in length and one foot in width.

At night I usually slept in a hammock on the deck. During the three months spent in northern Brazil and on the Amazon I slept very few nights on a bed. In many houses there were no beds, the hammock being in general use.

I spent a week in and about the city of Manáos, which is located at the mouth of the Rio Negro. It had then a population of about 14,000 inhabitants, but there were then many signs of coming prosperity and the population has since grown to more than 40,000.

A study of the situation convinced me that Bible distribution in the State of Amazonas must be mainly along the rivers. I had good sales in the city, preached a number of times, and had profitable interviews about the work and the prospects with a missionary, who was at that time one of the Bishop Taylor self-supporting men. This city has since been visited several times by our colporteurs and others who have sold many copies of the Word. The missionaries have followed up the work in a measure, which has given good results, especially in the city.

One of the chief sections of the country inhabited by the wild Indians is the great interior highlands and the valleys of the Amazon and its tributaries. Much of this territory has never been explored and no one knows how many souls there are waiting yet to be Christianized and civilized. Persons who have been among some of the tribes and over parts of the country, estimate them at from four hundred thousand to two millions. Judging from the extent of the territory and some facts given recently by German explorers, a reasonable estimate of the number of Indians throughout all Brazil would be nearly a million and a half. These explorers reported the discovery of seven new tribes of peaceable and industrious Indians in the hitherto unexplored valley of the Xingú River. If all the unknown regions were carefully explored it might be revealed that we have even more than a million of "dusky relatives" in these wilds who have never yet seen the light or felt the influences of Christianity and modern civilization.

The Government of Brazil through the Roman Catholic Church has made some effort to civilize and catechize some of the tribes on the borders of civilization. Such are the systems and methods, however, that it remains a question with many whether more harm than real good has not been done from a moral and religious standpoint. Certainly many of the vices and immoralities of the coast cities and towns have been introduced among these tribes along with the efforts at catechizing and civilizing them. Be this as it may, it is a fact that the greater part of these people know nothing of the true God and His Son Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. They never use the word Father in connection with their deities, but always Mother—Mother of the living, Mother of vegetable life, Mother of reproduction and thus the Mariolatry of Rome, Mother of God, found an easy introduction. They seem to have no conception of Satan; their gods may be displeased and consequently punish them. There are evidences that they believe in immortality. When a corpse is buried they deposit pots Containing food; the arms of the dead also accompany him (the bow and arrow and such like) that he may provide himself with game. In the valley of the Amazon some tribes bury their dead in their huts, with the hope that while they are asleep they may be visited by the spirits of those who loved them. These facts and others go to prove that they have some faint ideas of a future life; but far from the Christian's knowledge and hope of a blessed immortality. I was told that many of those who had been taught to work were bought and sold by the rubber-gatherers and others negotiating in that country just as the African slaves used to be. One man said to me that he had seven Indian boys employed on a small boat on a trip up one of the rivers and was offered about $150 apiece for them.

The thought of continuing my journey on up the Amazon into the wilds among these red men was enticing. I was now about 1,000 miles from the seacoast, and another 1,500 miles and more of navigation was possible, but my supply of books was nearly exhausted, and besides it was time for me to start on my return voyage of 3,253 miles to Rio de Janeiro, where the monthly reports of colportage work were to be made out and forwarded to New York, supplies of money and books to be sent to the colporteurs, supplies ordered from abroad, and other correspondence attended to. The voyage down stream to Pará was made in much less time than the one up to Manáos. Just as I was ready in Pará to embark for Rio de Janeiro a telegram was received announcing the overthrow of the Monarchy, the banishment of the Imperial family, and the establishment of a provisional form of Republican Government. I witnessed the entrance of the Provisional Governor into the state palace and the going out of the Monarchical President of the Province. There was considerable excitement, but no violence. The change was made with some ceremony as though it had all been prearranged and agreed to by both parties. We took the ex-President of the Province and gathered up others along the coast together with their families, servants, monkeys, parrots, etc. on board our ship bound for Rio. One of these ex-Presidents remarked to me that he had been sent by the Emperor as President of the Province, and that he was a Monarchist at that time, but when the telegram came announcing the Republic he became at once a Republican, (fiquei republicano). There were many who thus easily and quickly changed from the position of loyal monarchists to that of staunch republicans. It was the boast of all that the overthrow was accomplished without the shedding of blood.

I left thus several hundreds of copies of the Scriptures scattered through the north of Brazil, picked up twenty-two letters awaiting me at Pará and started to Rio with a purpose and plan to push forward the circulation of the Scriptures along the lines mapped out in my study of the situation. Something has been done in the twelve years since that time, but by no means all that I have desired.