Of all the so-called musical instruments of the world, that known as the Juruparis, used by the Indians of the Rio Negro, seems to involve most misery to humanity in general. To women and girls the very sight of it means death in some form or other, usually by poison, and boys are strictly forbidden to see it until grown to manhood, and then only after a most severe preliminary course of fasting.
The Juruparis is kept concealed in the bed of some stream far away in the gloomy forest, and wherever that river may wander, or however brightly its waters may sparkle in the sunny glades, no mortal who values his life may cool his parching lips with its freshness, or bathe his aching limbs in its clear depths. Only for solemn festivals is the Juruparis brought out by night and blown outside the place of meeting, and it is restored to its forest home immediately afterwards.
The word Juruparis means 'demon,' and it is supposed that its mysteries date back to some pre-historic Indian tradition, as various tribes inhabiting the vast forests round the Amazon district practise weird ceremonies in honour of the demons.
The Juruparis in casing. The Juruparis in casing.
In form the Juruparis is a slender tube from four to five feet long, made from strips of palm wood. Close to the mouth is an oblong hole, and when the instrument is to be used a piece of curved Uaruma or Arrowroot wood is inserted into the opening, which is then nearly closed with wet clay.
The old Peruvians were great potters and thousands of their old water vessels and food dishes, which were buried with the dead, have been dug up. These had curious forms and were often adorned with colored patterns. Some of these jars were shaped like human faces, human figures, or animals. Sometimes they were “whistling jars,” which were so made that they whistled when water was poured in or out of them. The old Peruvians were skilled in working copper, silver, and gold, and made many ornaments and figures in these metals.
The botuto, which Gumilla saw used by some tribes near the river Orinoco (of which we engrave two examples), was evidently an ancient Indian contrivance, but appears to have fallen almost into oblivion during the last two centuries. It was made of baked clay and was commonly from three to four feet long: but some trumpets of this kind were of enormous size. The botuto with two bellies was usually made thicker than that with three bellies and emitted a deeper sound, which is described as having been really terrific. These trumpets were used on occasions of mourning and funeral dances. Alexander von Humboldt saw the botuto among some Indian tribes near the river Orinoco.
Trumpets are often mentioned by writers who have recorded the manners and customs of the Indians at the time of the discovery of America. There are, however, scarcely any illustrations to be relied on of these instruments transmitted to us. The Conch was frequently used as a trumpet for conveying signals in war.
The engraving represents a kind of trumpet made of wood, and nearly seven feet in length, which Gumilla found among the Indians in the vicinity of the Orinoco. It somewhat resembles the juruparis, a mysterious instrument of the Indians on the Rio Haupés, a tributary of the Rio Negro, south America.
The juruparis is regarded as an object of great veneration. Women are never permitted to see it. So stringent is this law that any woman obtaining a sight of it is put to death—usually by poison. No youths are allowed to see it until they have been subjected to a series of initiatory fastings and scourgings.
The juruparis is usually kept hidden in the bed of some stream, deep in the forest; and no one dares to drink out of that sanctified stream, or to bathe in its water. At feasts the juruparis is brought out during the night, and is blown outside the houses of entertainment. The inner portion of the instrument consists of a tube made of slips of the Paxiaba palm (Triartea exorrhiza). When the Indians are about to use the instrument they nearly close the upper end of the tube with clay, and also tie above the oblong square hole (shown in the engraving) a portion of the leaf of the Uaruma, one of the arrow-root family.
Round the tube are wrapped long strips of the tough bark of the Jébaru (Parivoa grandiflora). This covering descends in folds below the tube. The length of the instrument is from four to five feet. The illustration, which exhibits the juruparis with its cover and without it, has been taken from a specimen in the museum at Kew gardens. The mysteries connected with this trumpet are evidently founded 69on an old tradition from prehistoric Indian ancestors. Jurupari means “demon”; and with several Indian tribes on the Amazon customs and ceremonies still prevail in honour of Jurupari.
The British museum possesses a huayra-puhura consisting of fourteen reed pipes of a brownish colour, tied together in two rows by means of thread, so as to form a double set of seven reeds. Both sets are almost exactly of the same dimensions and are placed side by side. The shortest of these reeds measure three inches, and the longest six and a half. In one set they are open at the bottom, and in the other they are closed. Consequently, octaves are produced. The reader is probably aware that the closing of a pipe at the end raises its pitch an octave. Thus, in our organ, the so-called stopped diapason, a set of closed pipes, requires tubes of only half the length of those which constitute the open diapason, although both these stops produce tones in the same pitch; the only difference between them being the quality of sound, which in the former is less bright than in the latter.
M. de Castelnau in his “Expédition dans l’Amérique” gives among the illustrations of objects discovered in ancient Peruvian tombs a flute made of a human bone. It has four finger-holes at its upper surface and appears to have been blown into at one end. Two bone-flutes, in appearance similar to the engraving given by M. de Castelnau, which have been disinterred at Truxillo are deposited in the British museum. They are about six inches in length, and each is provided with five finger-holes. One of these has all the holes at its upper side, and one of the holes is considerably smaller than the rest. The specimen shown is ornamented with some simple designs in black.
The year 1768 opened for the adventurers in Fortescue Bay, below which is Port Galant, the plan of which had been taken with great exactitude by M. de Gennes. Detestable weather, of which the worst winter in Paris can give no idea, detained the French expedition for three weeks. It was visited by a band of Pecheians, the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, who boarded the ship.
"We made them sing," says the narrative, "dance, listen to instruments, and above all eat. Everything was pleasant to them, bread, salt meat, tallow, they devoured everything that was given them. "