National Geographic : 1926 Apr
THE AMAZON, FATHER OF WATERS The Earth's Mightiest River Drains a Basin of More Than 2,700,000 Square Miles, from Which Came Originally the World's Finest Rubber BY W. L. SCHURZ, PH. D. COMMERCIAL ATTACHE, AMERICAN EMBASSY, RIO DE JANEIRO RECENTLY there returned to Para a party of six Americans who had completed the most comprehensive survey of the Amazon Valley ever made by any expedition. For nearly ten months these representatives of the United States Department of Commerce, sent out to in vestigate the crude-rubber industry in its original home, had traveled more than 20,000 miles on 37 rivers of the Amazon fluvial system. We had carried the American flag up the Amazon itself, through the Pongo de Manseriche, the western gateway of the great plain, where the river cuts its way athwart the last chain of the Andes, more than 2.500 miles from its mouth and less than 250 miles from the Pacific. To the north we ascended the Rio Branco to the open camipos country that reaches away to the borders of the Gui anas, and to the south, in the Madeira basin, we reached Sena, three (lays up the Madre de Dios above Riberalta, iolivia. TIIREI~ GOVERNMENTS COOPERATED The Brazilian Government supplied a fine steamer, the lAndird, for the use of the commission during its stay in Brazil, and in Bolivia and Peru similar facilities and courtesies were extended by their re spective governments. In Irazil we were accompanied by a special Brazilian Com mission of four members, who had had much experience in the far interior: Dr. Avelino de Oliveira, geologist; Dr. J. G. Kuhlmann, botanist; Dr. Fernando Sole dade, of the Federal Public I ealth Serv ice, and Colonel Raymundo .Ionteiro, the leading Brazilian authority on rubber. On rivers where these steamers could not navigate we traveled in launches, barges, or dugout canoes. We covered more than 400 miles on horse- and mule back and one long stretch on foot. The mightiest of the world's rivers owes its name to a fanciful yarn told by Francisco de Orellana, the first white man who ever descended the turbid waters of the Rio Mar, as later generations of Bra zilians have dubbed the stream that is more than a river. A FANCIFUL YARN GAVE NAME TO WORLD'S MIGHTIEST RIVER In 1541 Orellana was sent down the Napo by Gonzalo Pizarro in search of provisions for the forlorn expedition that had come over the mountains from Quito in search of El Dorado. Finding it easier to continue downstream than to return, and prolalbly driven on by curiosity and avarice, he took to the "flowing road" that months later carried him out onto the Atlantic. Among the adventures which Orellana related to his credulous contemporaries in Spain was one of an encounter with fe male warriors near the mouth of the river that is now called the Trombetas, or River of Trumpets. It was these long-haired savages-whether women or more prob ably men-who were responsible for the naming of what the Indians themselves, in the lingua geral of Brazil, called the Paranaiguassli,or "The Great River." Ever since the memorable voyage of Orellana the process of exploring and opening up the vast wilderness world of the Amazon basin has been going on, and much vet remains to le done. Some years after the Pizarros had been wiped out in the civil wars of Peru, the terrible Lope de Aguirre led out of the Amazon and around up the Venezuelan coast the remnants of an expedition whose leadership he had assumed by the assassi nation of two successive chiefs of the party. Adventurers in search of treasure cities in the jungle or devoted Catholic mission aries carried on the work from the Span ish side of the Andes.