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Additional Studies of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians

Additional Studies of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians

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Excerpt from Additional Studies of the Arts, Crafts, and Customs of the Guiana Indians: With Special Reference to Those of Southern British Guiana

Off early in the morning, we reached the edge of the forest about midday, when the placid savannah spread its green coverlet before me. Another few miles and I recognized at last the first of my old bearings that I had not seen for upward of 11 years - Mount Shiriri - notorious not only for the many legends connected with it, but also for the wild plantains said to be thriving at its sum mit, and for the salt deposits that are discoverable at its base. By midday we reached the Wapishana village of Sand Creek, but so changed that I hardly recognized it. I remembered a model garden city; I returned to find a miniature east-end slum. Instead of the houses being scattered over the savannah from 50 to a couple of hundred yards apart, an arrangement that afforded their occu pants opportunity for privacy in their ablutions, etc., and so encouraged modesty and decency, that allowed them to spend their lives in the normal Indian secluded manner, and so helped each to mind his own business and prevent wrangling the buildings are now all huddled together around a central modernized joss house, and form an excellent nidus for the dissemination of disease, filth, and scandal. What is worse, considering their position in life, everyone wears clothes; even the toddling infant has to be covered. And yet clothes are not worn for decency's sake, but for something akin to mimicry and swank, because underneath their European habiliments, the sexes sport the red-cloth lap and beaded apron, respectively. Talismans and charms continue to be employed and the filing of the incisor teeth is still in vogue. Arrangements were made here for carriers to fetch my cargo from Benjamin's landing and bring it to Wichabai, the balata depot, which I reached on the 21st of February. The carrying trade is a monopoly of the women here, and is at a fixed rate; so many yards of print for such and such a distance.

Wichabai is a comparatively new settlement about 4 miles north of Dadanawa, but on the opposite bank of the Rupununi. Mr. John Melville has a wonderful menagerie here. Leaving aside the dogs, pigs, and poultry, the number of tame pets certainly surprised me, and still more so, the unrestricted liberty they all enjoyed. The only exception was a specimen of the somewhat rare white-faced monkey that was still undergoing its probationary period on a waist cord. Other wise the marmosets, parrots, powis, mocking birds, trumpeters, and macaw were as free to come and go as I was. The last-mentioned, a lovely full-grown example of the red variety, is worthy of special mention. Though trained by Mr. Turner, of Dadanawa, the bird spends his time between both places; if his master goes the rounds of his station for a few days, Master Robert will ?y over to Wichaba and put in time there. The huge beak and claws made me fight somewhat shy of him at first, but in a couple of days we had become fast friends. I had only to call him and he would perch on my shoulder and accompany me for a bath in the lake; were I lying in my hammock, he would join me, turn on his back, and expect me to scratch his chest and armpits; were I taking a meal, he would want his share. When not eating, sleeping, or worrying me, his chief amuse ment seemed to consist in picking quarrels with the roosters, nipping the marmo sets' and other monkeys' tails, or ?ying in a circle among a crowd of carrion crows and scattering them in all directions. In his habits he was as clean as a house dog, and I learned that these had been inculcated at a very early age by gently kicking him along the ?oor whenever he was guilty of misconduct.

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