Our Passage cross the Continent of America, to go to the South-Sea.
By Raveneau de Lussan
Sunday the first of March, ourselves to the Almighty's Protection, we set out under the Command of Captain Rose, Captain Picard, and Captain Desmarais, with two Indian Guides, and about forty more of that Nation, whom we took along with us for the ease of those who were most burden'd amongst us.
We could now travel above three Leagues that day, and encamped by a River-side, after we had passed through a Country that presently discovered a terrible Aspect to us and then proved very difficult to travel in, because of the Mountains, Precipices and impenetrable Forest whereof it is full: And the Difficulty of our Journey was still the more increased by the great Rains that fell all the next Day. To say nothing, that in our ascending these Mountains which are of a prodigious height, we were clogged with the weight of our Ammunition, Arms, and other Iron-Tools we carried with us.
Upon our coming down from these Mountains we got into a Plain, which though it were without any Tracts or Ways, yet appeared very easy unto us, but that we were obliged no less than four and forty times in the space but of two Leagues to cross the same River, which because it ran between very slippery Rocks, gave us a great deal of trouble to over it, being always in danger of falling.
On the Fourth we lay in an Indian Carbet, which is a spacious sort of a Lodging, built almost like Barn, wherein the People are wont to meet together there we stayed next Day to go a Hunting, where we found great numbers of Deer, and all sorts of Birds:
Amongst others we saw a kind of Animal which the Indians call Manipouryes, and we Trefoil because, as they go along, each of their Feet leaves the print of this Simple in the Ground. This Animal is as big as a small Bullock, but his Hair is not so long, and more slick, his Legs are short, he has the head of an Mule, but a sharper Nose, and walks in the bottom of the Water as well as on dry Land. They have here also a sort of Hogs, which they call Vents, because of an opening place they have in the form of a Navel upon their Backs. We may farther take notice of those Beasts they call Agoutills and Ovistitills, which both the one and the other of them are very like those Creatures we call Indian Pigs in France, but much bigger.
The Monkeys of this Country are almost as big as Sheep, live in Forests, and seldom come down from the Trees, where they always find their Food. They are so hardy, that though you shoot them with a Fusil in the Head, or through both Shoulders, they shall not fall to the Ground, and many times for all you can do, they have so much cunning in their fall, as to twist their Tails, which are very long about a Branch of a Tree, where they hang and wast away, without any possibility of coming at them, because they generally make choice of the tallest Trees for the places of their Retreat.
I cannot without smiling call to mind what I have done to one of these Animals, which after I had made several shots at him with my Fusil, that carried off part of his Belly, insomuch that his Guts came out, held himself by one of his Paws, or hands (if you will) to the Branch of a Tree, while he put his Entrails with the other into that part of his Belly that still remained whole.
There was another of them whom I shot with a small Bullet cross his Nose, and who finding himself blinded with the Blood that gushed out, had so much industry as to wipe it off with the Leaves of the Tree thereon he stood. Here also we found Harats, which are a sort of Birds as big again as Parrots to whom they are very like, even to the note they have: but their Feathers are infinitely more fine, for their Wings and Tail, which is very long, are of so lively and bright-flaming colour, that you cannot for some time your Eye upon them without being dazzled.
Here we saw those Fowls called Oecos, which are pretty like unto our Indian Turkey-Hens, but with this difference, that they have a small tuft of Feathers upon their Heads that resembles a Cockscomb, and a round of yellow about their Eyes; they differ from one another in Colour; the Male's Feathers being inclinable to red, whereas the Female's are blackish, but they are never found a-sunder.
Their Partridges are larger than our Europeans, and their Flesh is whiter but not so good, and their Note is different from ours. As to their Pheasants they are smaller than those in Europe, and their Flesh nothing near so pallatable, but their Note is much the same.
Besides these, there are in this Country a multitude of other Birds, with whose Names I think it needless to swell this Journal; because as the Islands of America are full of them, there is already an exact account given of them in those Relations that have been made of these Countries, and it's enough that I give a Description of such as are not to be found in these Islands, or of another kind: Yet I shall say this farther, that Lizards breed here in abundance, and there are different Sizes of them. They are Animals that resemble pretty nearly those whom we call Cayements, of whom I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. Their Flesh is good to eat, and their Eggs, which are as big as Pigeon Eggs, have an excellent taste and are much better than our Hens Eggs. This hunting bout was a great Relief to us, against that hunger we had endured, because it was the first repast we had met with since our Journey; but this I reckon nothing in comparison of the miseries which we were to suffer in a vast number of other Adventures.
At last, after six Days painfull and wearisom travelling, even beyond all that can well be imagined we got to the River which the Indians and Spaniard call Boca del Chica, that discharges it self into the South Sea.
On the seventh the Indians of that place carried to see Trees that were proper to make our Canoes of, in order to get down that River into the South Sea; we presently fell to work upon them with utensils and with us, after we had agreed with the Captains of these Indians for furnishing us in the mean time with Victuals, which consisted in Maes, Potatoes, Bananas and Magniot-Roots, till we had done our work, upon condition that we gave them Cloth, Knives, Thread, Needles, Pins, Cissors, Hatchets, Bills, Combs, and such like small Wares, which are in great esteem with them: Though the Savages are not ignorant of the advantage that doth arise to them from these things.
It was partly with these Toys that we lived, and kept a good Correspondence with them during our Passage through their Country; but what made the Conjuncture still more favourable unto us, was the Resentment they had at that time of the ill usage they had received at the hands of the Spaniards, against whom they were so incensed, that they begged our Assistance to be revenged on them. And had it not been for this, it would have been a very difficult task for us, if not impossible, to cross their Country against their will, not only because of their Numbers, which made them infallibly much stronger than we, but also by reason of the many Forests, and difficult Passages their Country's encombred with, which we could not have gone through without we had some of themselves for our Guides.
But for all this, we did not think ourselves so safe amongst these Men, but that we kept continually upon our Guard, because we were well assured they were such Wretches, as were at the Service always of those that gave them most; and that though they appeared one minute to be our Friends, they might become the next the Spaniards, who are nearer Neighbours to them.
Their treacherous Dealings have proved fatal to some Free-Booters, who have put too much confidence in them, when a small number of them passing through their Country, these People gave notice thereof to the Spaniards, and that they might give an exact account of their Number, they took them in a defile, and as they marched along, they put a Corn of Maes into a Callabass for every man that passed by, and when they had done, carried the Callabass to the Enemy, who thereupon took their Measures accordingly.
There is no sign of Religion, or of the Knowledge of God amongst them; they holding that they have Communion with the Devil, and in short, when they would know any thing, they spend the Night in the Woods in order to consult him; and they sometimes foretold as some things, that have been true in the event in every particular Circumstance of the relation they had given us. They lead a wandring and vagabond Life, and fix their aboad in no certain place. They generally erect their Ajoupas or Barracks upon a River-side, where they continue till they have spend what Sustenance they find thereabouts; and when that is done, they go and do the same thing upon another River, and in this manner spend the term their miserable Lives.
They go naked, except it be that they cover a part of their Privities with a bit Silver or Gold that is made like a Candle-Extinguisher, and were I but satisfied that they had even seen such a thing, I should think they took their model from it.
When they feast, or hold other solemn Meetings they put on a Cotton-Robe all of one Piece, and usual with them, in a vaunting manner, to have bit of Gold or Caracoly of an Oval Form, hanging their Nose, which is bored through, and with that they think themselves as fine as any in the World. As for the Women-kind, they cover themselves from the Waist downwards with an Herb or Cotton Cloth which they make themselves, and that they may appear finer, they colour their Faces with Rocou, which is a small Grain that dyes a brown-red.
On the twenty third, as we had finished the building of our Canoes, we had News brought us by an Indian, who was returned from conducting the one hundred and fifteen English afore spoken of to the South Sea, whither they were gone before us; that they had taken, under the Command of Townsley their Captain, two Ships laden with Provision, coming from He brought along with him a Man of Captain Groignict's Crew, who was lost in the Woods a hunting, while his Comrades were making their Canoes in the same River where we were building ours.
On the twenty eighth we received News again by an Indian Captain, who had conducted Captain Groigniet, and Captain Esurier into the South-Sea, in a Letter which they sent us, that they would stay for us at Kings-Islands, and desired us to lose no time, but to come and have our share in taking of the Fleet of Peru, which they waited for But for all the Expedition we could use, our Canoes could not be finished before the last of March, when we drew them into the River.
April the first we parted with fourteen Canoes carrying about twenty Oars apiece, guided by twenty Indians, who made use of this opportunity in order to participate of the Booty which they thought we were about to take from the Spaniards, as soon as ever we got into the South-Sea.
We rested on the fourth to tarry for our Men, who were behind, and to mend our Canoes that were damnified by the Rocks and Flats we met with all along that River. It cannot be believed what pains we had to bring them to the great Water (as I may call it) for we met with places where they rested dry, so that we were in a manner forced to carry them. This day died one of our Men of the Bloody Flux, which was very rife amongst us, because we were forced to fast so long, and by reason of the hard Feeding we had, and our continual dabling in the Water.
On the fifth we put on, and about Evening found the River deeper, but so full of, and encumbred with Trees, which the Floods had carried thither, that our Canoes were in danger every Minute to be lost; and this day died two of our Men.
On the sixth we got to the great Water, where the River is wider and deeper, and that day we spent on the Banks of it to dry our Sacks, which were wet through with the great Rains that fell the day before; another of our Men died this day.
From hence to the eleventh we did all we could to get quickly to the Mouth (that stands at the Mouth of that River) some Corn for our Refreshment, when we should get down thither; for they could gather very well by themselves, who had been so strained there for Provision, whereabouts we must be, and indeed we had so little, that we were reduced to an handfull of Raw Maes for each Man a day.
The same Day we received farther News, and by other Indians, who gave our Guides notice to tell us that a thousand Spaniards being informed of our Descent, mounted up along this River by Land with a design to lay an Ambuscade for us: Hereupon we resolved not to stir, but in the night-time, and that without noise, that so we might shun them, and this succeeded accordingly.
But we fell into another encumbrance; and that was, we being Strangers in this Country, and knowing no more than our Guides how high the Tide flowed in this River, we were surprised with the coming in of it, and drove our Canoes and us very far, so that one of them was overset with of the River, small Vessel to meet us, the English and French Free-Booters had sent a shore in a little Bay called Boca del Chica where we were informed by an Indian, that was come in, a great Tree that had fallen into the River, and upon which the swiftness of the current threw it, but it luckily fell out that no one was drowned; they quitted it for the Arms and Ammunition that were lost; which could not but who cause some trouble in us, to see our Men disarmed in Country, where we could not go, but must have much occasion to use them; but to deliver us this Inquietude, God was pleased to dispose of some of us, who left their Arms to those that had lost their own.
When we were got clear of these Dangers, our Guides advised us to row gently, us and who lay in wait to attack us, some Leagues their side the Mouth of the River, in a place called Lestocads. We took their Council and when we were got over against the said place, where the River is very broad we disposed of our Canoes in such a manner, that by the favour of the night they appeared to be much less than they really were. Now these Indian- Spaniards having some Glimpse of us, asked who was there, and our Guides having answered, That what they saw, was for fear the Indian-Spaniards, who were our Enemies, should hear nought but a few Boats belonging to them, with which they were going to them, with which they were going to fetch Salt into the South-Sea; by this while we were spared the labour of engaging with those Rascals.
On the twelfth in the Morning we cast Anchor, because the Tide came in, and was against us, and about ten made ready, but towards Noon the Heavens were overcast to that degree, that you could scarce see a Man from one end of a Canoe to the other, and this was followed with such excessive Rains, that we were afraid every Minute of being sunk, though we employed two men in each Canoe continually to throw out the Water; and during that time one of our Men died.
The same Day at Midnight we got to the Mouth of the River, and entered from whence we made directly for the Bay of Boca del into the South-Sea, to see for the Provision which we were told was there, and which we found accordingly; but before this, we met with a Canoe of Captain Grogniet that waited for us, and two Barks at Anchor. They had been purposely sent by the English, both to tow our Canoes to the place where the Fleet of Free-booters were, and to bring us more Provision.
On the thirteenth in the Morning we carried our Sick on board them two Barks for their better Accommodation, and then weighed Anchor, in order to sail altogether to an Island four Leagues distant from the Mouth of that River, where we refreshed ourselves for two days with the Provision the English had sent us, which was a mighty comfort to us.
On the sixteenth we went off in order to find out the English and French Fleet, whose Rendezvous was to cruise either before Panama, or at the Kings Islands which were not far from this River.
We arrived at those Islands on the eighteenth, which stand thirty Leagues to the East of Panama, where we found the largest of them, to look more like the Continent than an Island, so spacious and mountainous it is: The same is inhabited by those Negroes whom they call Marons or Fugitives from the Spaniards, who upon making their escapes from their Masters at Panama.
Walking among the supernatural beasts of the Darien Gap
For many years the Darien Gap had been considered one of the most dangerous areas on earth. When we were preparing our expedition, some experts were estimating that for anyone attempting to cross this overland route from Panama to Colombia, the chances of survival were less than 50 percent. Others said it was nothing short of suicidal. Our path followed a little-known Caribbean-to-Pacific trail across the top edge of the Darien. Apart from the “everyday” threats from guerrillas, bandits and cocaine traffickers (and the indigenous population who – though normally hospitable and friendly – are all-too-often intimidated into collaborating with them), the local people seem to have populated this area with countless bizarre otherworldly dangers.
A Kuna shaman with the unlikely name of Teddy Cooper (pictured above) was spiritual leader of our expedition. Many of the Kuna people of Teddy’s island in the San Blas archipelago found work in the American Canal Zone and it seems that they started a trend of adopting whatever names caught their imagination. Our other porters were the brothers Mellington and Rommelin Merry. Back in San Blas when we were preparing the expedition I had, on one memorable evening, drank beer with Bill Clinton and a young lady called John F Kennedy. (Apparently elsewhere in the islands you can find a Kuna Madonna, a Silvester Stalone and even an Osama bin Laden.)
Before entering the remote mountain slopes at the edge of Kuna territory Teddy Cooper insisted on painting all our faces with bright red achote juice.
“Now the spirits will know that we come in peace,” he explained, “and that we’re here to treat the jungle with respect.” Teddy made a point always to ask permission of the jai spirits before hunting or even before picking plants.
Many of the jungle tribes of the Darien also paint their babies entirely blue when they are about three weeks old. The blue stain of the jagua plant lasts a few weeks and is said to protect the baby from curses. It probably also provides some protection against insect bites. The people of the Embera and Wounaan tribes also use this jagua body-paint on ceremonial occasions and girls are entirely painted again at puberty and before marriage.
For some reason it seems that the indigenous people of Darien have seen fit to populate what is already said to be the most dangerous jungle in the world with all sorts of supernatural beasts. They talk of the madre de agua who lives under whirlpools where she can drown passers-by, and of the arripada, a monster with one hand shaped like a hook for tearing the heart out of its victims. The most bizarre is the old witch known as tuluvieja whose sieve-like face is so ugly that she wears her long hair over her face in shame. She also has a single sagging, distended breast that hangs down in front of her. The local people say that she steals children and, when their fathers come to rescue them, she sprays the rocks with slippery milk from this unsightly appendage to make them impassable.
The Guna, in the language itself spelled Kuna prior to a 2010 orthographic reform, are an Indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. The Congreso General de la Nación Gunadule since 2010 has promoted the spelling Guna. In the Guna language, they call themselves Dule or Tule, meaning "people", and the name of the language is Dulegaya, literally "people-mouth".
Nobody knows for sure when they arrived in Panama. Modern theories suggest they probably arrived from South America and other contradicting theories mention they did it from the Caribbean Lesser Antilles. By the 16th century, they had already occupied the 365 islands known today as the San Blas Archipelago or “Guna Yala” in ther native language. Pushed from mainland towards the Caribbean coast by enemy Native American tribes and the Spanish conquistadors. Today, The Gunas are mainly found on the islands of San Blas, but also in the jungle of Chucunaque and Bayano.
The Gunas have struggled for centuries to keep its culture and traditions alive. During the colonial period, they joined European corsairs and pirates in a number of successful attacks against the Spanish, who had vowed to eliminate them. As the Spanish empire dwindled, they became entrenched in the regions of present-day Darién and San Blas, in Panama, and western Colombia, which granted them lands and legal recognition towards the end of the 19th century. Panama, which back then was a Colombian province, declared independence in 1903 and ignored the agreements. Although most of The Guna population was on the Panamanian side of the border, a fact that made many inhabitants of San Blas side with the Colombian government just as Panamanian authorities sought to “civilize” the Guna.
The Guna women wear skirts and hand sewn blouses known as “Mola”, they paint their faces with rouge annatto seed and usually wear a gold nose ring. Men generally wear a traditional shirt and less traditional pants or shorts. The Molas have their origins in body painting, but after the contact with the Spanish conquerors, the Gunas started to transfer their traditional designs on cotton. After the attempt of the Panamanian government to “westernize” the Gunas in the beginning of the 20th century by forbidding their customs, their language and their traditional dress, a huge wave of resistance arose. This resistance arose. This resistance movement culminated in the Guna revolution of 1925 where, after heavy battles, the Panamanian government had to make the concession of giving the Guna people the right to govern their own territory autonomously.
The resentment started after the Panamanian military incursion established to force The Gunas to adopt Hispanic culture. A peace treaty was signed after, and agreed to recognize to the Gunas Panamanian sovereignty only after the “wagas” (non-guna) grant them a good deal of autonomy. Today, the Panamanian authorities rarely interfere with Guna government and created three special “regions” for them.
The Gunas have the most advanced political system than any other indigenous group in Latin America.