Return to Rio de Janeiro

Chapter V

Return to Rio de Janeiro

We immediately began to retrace our steps, and left St. Fidele[1] the same afternoon at four o’clock. The negro stationed at the ford of the Rio Negro had left his post, it being already dark when we arrived there, and we were obliged to swim the mules across. We were disappointed in our endeavours to reach Aboyas, owing to the darkness of the night and intricacy of the road; and after wandering about the woods for more than six hours, we were at length under the disagreeable necessity of returning to seek shelter at the inhospitable house of Captain Picardo, at the unseasonable hour of midnight: with some difficulty we procured admittance, and in the morning our reception was similar to what it had been the preceding day.

RJ-116 – Highway between Cachoeiras de Macacu and Nova Friburgo

September 16 – Sunday. – We recommenced our journey after breakfast, and arrived at Aldea da Pedra about two o’clock, too late to be present at the performance of mass, which, in such a place and before such a congregation, must have presented a very interesting spectacle. Father Thomas received us in the same friendly manner as before, and expressed great surprise at the mention of Captain Picardo’s incivility, attributing it at the same time wholly to the presence of my Swiss servant.

A great number of Indians of both sexes, dressed in the Portuguese costume, were assembled on the green before the chapel in a state of intoxication, and thus showed how slight had been the impression made upon their minds by the religious duties of the day I wished to witness an exhibition of their skill in archery, and offered to give a prize to be contended for; but drunkenness had taken away all inclination and power of exertion, and although some promised to go home and fetch their bows and arrows, they finally dispersed without remembering or paying any attention to the offer. They flocked round me, however, begging for money; and one was no sooner satisfied than another came up, each immediately spending the trifle he had received in cachaça or rum, the cheapness of which enabled them to indulge in the most absolute and unrestrained drunkenness. It was painful to observe that the women were most free and impudent on this occasion, and no quantity of liquor appeared sufficient to satisfy their depraved appetites.

Disgusted at such a scene, which not even its novelty had made tolerable, I gladly sought refuge in the house of Father Thomas, and partook of his simple meal, consisting, in true hermit fashion, of mandioc[2], beans, and water, – a diet upon which, he said, he had subsisted for a long course of years. He inquired with a vague interest concerning the great events which had agitated Europe during the last twenty years, and seemed to know that such a person as Napoleon Buonaparte had once existed; but of all historical particulars he was ignorant, and expressed little curiosity about the wars and massacres which had desolated the world. The only books in his possession were a Missal and Latin Bible; and the performance of regular devotional exercises, together with the necessary attention paid to his flock, and the cultivation of his little farm, constituted his only employment. There was altogether an air of sanctity about this Roman Catholic missionary, so accordant with his professional vows, and his character was so universally respected, that it became impossible to leave his roof without feeling regret, and devoting a share in the pages of this Journal to him, as well as to the Indian community over which he presided.

September 17. – We left Aldea da Pedra[3] at ten o’clock; and having travelled all day in a heavy rain, arrived about sunset, wet and weary, at the same farm-house where our reception had before been so inhospitable. We now stopped, as may be supposed, with great reluctance, and gladly proceeded on our journey the next day.

September 18. – The cottage of the poor Swiss widow at St. Erita was already prepared for our reception, and having there enjoyed the comfort of a short repose, we proceeded to Canta Gallo[14, and arrived at about four o’clock in the afternoon. My servant, who had remained behind at this place, had, I found, decamped with my clothes.

Having ascertained that Senhor Joachim das Lavrinhas had returned home, we made the best of our way to his plantation, and arrived a little before dark. On the road we met a cavalcade of ladies and gentlemen, on their return from a marriage feast at the house of the Capitano Mor. The men, dressed in long cloth cloaks, and well mounted on horses and mules richly caparisoned in the Portuguese fashion, made a fine appearance. The ladies rode in the midst of them. Their horse-furniture was in every way similar, with the exception only of pistols and holsters. They all rode astraddle, according to the prevailing custom in the country parts of Brazil. They wore white linen trowsers; and the delicate foot and ancle, in silk stockings and thin satin shoes, did honour to the small silver stirrup in which the point rested. The upper parts of their dress were, a muslin gown, falling of course over the mule’s back, as far round their legs as the position would admit of, and a large cotton shawl closely wrapped about the person. A round black cotton hat of Brazilian manufacture, and thick white veil which completely hid their faces, completed their equipment.

Senhor Joachim das Lavrinhas received me with great kindness, and regretted that his absence had obliged me to shorten my stay at Canta Gallo, the former visit. He was a young man, born and bred in Minas Geraes, which he had only quitted on his accession to his uncle’s property. He conversed on the subject of Portuguese and Brazilian politics with great readiness, and in a manner unusually bold. He held very liberal opinions, and inveighed against the system of Government which was recently pursued by the Court of Portugal, both in the mother-country and Brazil, as being not less corrupt and arbitrary, than unenlightened and impolitic. The lately adopted Portuguese Constitution he applauded much, and hoped that its promised adoption at Rio Janeiro might he immediate and permanent, so as to produce beneficial changes in the state of the country at large. To the separation of the colony and parent state he looked forward as to a probable event, but without wishing for it, unless those articles of the Constitution which related to Brazil should be hereafter altered in a way detrimental to its interests. This conversation appeared just and reasonable; and, however liberal he might be, there was nothing of the democrat or republican about him. A constitutional monarchy, hereditary as heretofore in the house of Braganza, was the form of government most agreeable to his own sentiments; and he said that similar sentiments generally prevailed among his countrymen, at Minas Geraes, and other places he had visited. He seemed a religious good Roman Catholic, without bigotry or blind superstition. In the evening, before supper, all the members of his household, consisting of five or six male and female slaves, met together in the principal apartment, which had a small portable altarpiece attached to the wall, and joined in the performance of Divine Service. There was something quite dignified and patriarchal in the appearance of this man kneeling among his bondsmen, and before the strangers within his gates, and praying, in the name of one common Saviour, that a common blessing might rest upon all their heads. Two or three other travellers, on their way to Rio from Minas Geraes, were present at this ceremony, and passed the evening with us. They were, however, silent and incommunicative, and cautiously abstained from committing themselves by hazarding any opinions on political subjects. They listened attentively to all that passed between Senhor Lavrinhas and me, but expressed neither approbation nor disapprobation. Their cautious manner evidently implied that doubts and fears were still entertained by them, or that at least they were not yet broken in to the habit of communicating their opinions freely, and allowing political subjects to form a part of common every-day conversation.

Senhor Lavrinhas pressed me to remain some days, offering to render my stay agreeable, by making hunting-parties, and riding round the sugar and coffee plantations in that neighbourhood, which, with great reluctance, I was obliged to decline. The Senhora, his sister, was not of course present, either at the supper-table, or during the performance of Divine Worship.

September 19. – We prepared to leave the farm of Lavrinhas at daybreak. The ringing of a bell had assembled the negroes, to the number of about thirty able men, who were regularly drawn out in a row, and counted by a mulatto overseer. After this necessary duty, they all fell on their knees and repeated their morning prayers, in the hurried and indistinct tone of voice usual among Roman Catholics, crossing themselves at the same time most devoutly. This ceremony lasted for about five or ten minutes, and they then proceeded to their respective labours on the coffee-grounds of the estate.

We travelled almost unceasingly during the day, through the same wooded and hilly country which we had before passed, and did not accomplish more than twenty miles. At a venda on the road we met a French settler, formerly one of Napoleon’s soldiers, who had been included in the Swiss settlement at Morro Quemado[5]. Not liking this situation, however, he had bought an estate in the neighbourhood of Canta Gallo, consisting of uncleared woodland, which was well adapted for a coffee-plantation. As yet he had not at tempted to bring his estate into cultivation, but amused himself in making a collection of preserved birds and insects, with the intention of selling them advantageously at Rio, where the demand for these things is great, and the price extravagantly high. He drew a deplorable picture of the state of morals, &c. among the Brazilian Creole population, and particularized gambling as a vice which he said is carried to a prodigious height among them. One idea of his was very diverting to an Englishman, – namely, that the British Government had bribed Mon Senhor Miranda, the chief superintendent of the Swiss settlement, to mismanage and ruin it, through fear lest any valuable arts and manufactures might thereby be eventually introduced into Brazil, and diminish the now rapidly increasing consumption of British goods.

We passed the night at the Fazenda or farm of Rozario, where the conflagration of the woods at midnight had on a former occasion much impeded our journey. A party of muleteers, on their way to Rio with a load of coffee, arrived about the same time with ourselves, and supped and passed the evening there. They were noisy, and talked much about play and debts of honour: cards and dice alternately succeeded each other, during the evening; nor did the party separate until a very late hour. Our host joined heart and soul in all the gambling, and was extravagantly elated by success. The others were not so well pleased; and, upon some dispute about the game, high words and angry looks, with corresponding gestures, were given and returned. The play of fierce passions upon the countenances of these men, unrestrained as they were by politeness or principle, was absolutely terrific: and one fellow in particular, putting his hand upon the scabbard of a large knife which he carried about his person, threatened to settle the dispute by an appeal to arms; but happily his violence went no farther.

September 20. – This day, about noon, we reached the Swiss settlement at Morro Quemado, where I was again hospitably welcomed by my former host. The place bore a still more deserted appearance than at the time of our former visit. Most of the houses were shut up, their owners having emigrated to Rio Janeiro, Canta Gallo, Aldea da Pedra, and other places; and Senhor Assis himself began to contemplate removal, his business ceasing to be profitable in the absence of his wonted customers. He said, however, that many who had now gone away, might after a time be forced to return, upon finding their situation changed for the worse instead of better; while the few families who remained there would always give the place some importance, however different from what it had been, and might have still been, under different circumstances.

September 21. – Having procured another servant, I put myself again en route this morning, an hour before daybreak, and with infinite toil and difficulty crossed the Serra dos Órgãos in a storm of rain and wind. We arrived, wet and hungry, at a venda near the farm of Colonel Ferrera, and there spent a comfortless night.

September 22. – We passed through Santa Anna, and stopped for the night, after a long day’s journey of twenty-eight miles, at the venda of Ponte da Rosa.

September 23. – This day we reached Villa Nova, one of the places on the banks of the river Macacou[6] for the shipment of produce, where our mules had been hired. We found a guard of soldiers stationed here, who had orders to take away all knives and arms from suspicious persons, on account of the many daring robberies which had been lately committed by a gang of desperadoes in the neighbourhood. Leaving the servant to take the baggage in a passage-boat to Rio, I made the best of my way on horseback, and in the evening of the same day reached Praya Grande, after an absence of three weeks, during which I had travelled upwards of three hundred miles.

Notes

  1. São Fidélis.
  2. manioc or manioca, from Tupi mandioca.
  3. Aldeia da Pedra, current Itaocara.
  4. Cantagalo.
  5. Morro Queimado.
  6. Rio Macacu.

Source

Map

Narrative of a visit to Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the Sandwich islands, during the years 1821 and 1822