National Geographic : 1909 Oct
FISHING AND HUNTING TALES FROM BRAZIL BY DEWEY AUSTIN COBB BRAZIL is certainly the lazy fisher man's paradise. In common with many readers and travelers, I had heard a great deal about a way the natives of tropical America have of catching fish with poison which does not unfit them for food. It is one of the things that they do not explain to stran gers, however, perhaps because it is for bidden by law to use this method in the streams, and partly because the Tupuya Indians, among whom it is chiefly prac ticed, seldom tell white folks anything useful if they can help it; consequently it was only after two years' residence among this secretive people that I was reluctantly taken into their confidence sufficiently to be permitted to join them on one of their fishing excursions. Just as we were sitting down to din ner one day, a party of Indians, men, women, and children, straggled up to 'the house, every one carrying a bag or basket, in which some part of a week's outfit for camping in the woods was con tained. They had walked out that morn ing from Santarem, seven miles distant, and were going to spend a week in fish ing on the stream which operated my friends' sawmill. Every caller expects and gets a lunch among these people, and my host fed them according to custom. After some hesitation they consented to let me join them. We followed the stream for half a mile or so, to where it spread out into a pool, perhaps fifty feet across; there they hung their hammocks and built a fire. The men then divided into two parties, one going up and the other down the stream a few rods, then, stripping to the skin, entered the stream, and, thrashing the water with their feet and with sticks, returned to the pool driv ing all the fish before them to the pool. One man remained at the outlet and one at the inlet, while the others dressed and climbed out. Meantime one of the women had taken from one of their bags the dried tongue of a pira-rucu (red fish), which serves almost universally as the family grater for both whites and Indians, oeing thickly covered with minute, horny spines, turned backward to enable the fish to hold its prey. From another bag she produced the mysterious "bar basco" roots, which resembled rather stocky horseradish roots, and grated them into about two quarts of water. This mixture was thrown by dipper fuls into the pool at various points; then we all sat down to await results. In about two minutes we began to see minute fish come to the surface, belly up, remain a few seconds, then with a flirt disappear, to return again a moment later and remain longer. At the end of ten minutes all the small fry in the pond were on the surface, apparently dead, while larger and larger ones began to go through the same performance. After watching this fantastic perform ance for twenty minutes or so our leader rigged a long-handled scoop-net, and fishing began. By this time fish from eight to twelve inches long remained on the surface long enough to be easily cap tured with the net and were put in a bushel basket, which was nearly filled in half an hour. There were half a dozen varieties, but the greater part were a species of catfish. A few resembled bass, but were much lighter in color. Most of them were entirely new to north ern eyes. After some of them were broiled, the man who seemed to direct operations, noticing that I did not join in the feast and surmising the reason, took several spoonfuls of the poisoned water and, mixing it with a dipperful of water, drank it down. It had not the slightest effect upon him, and, fully reassured, I ate the fish heartily with the rest, and never did I enjoy broiled fish more.