Head Hunters of the Amazon

F. W. Up de Graff

Head Hunters of the Amazon by F. W. Up de Graff
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IT is not given to many of us to wander through the waste places of the earth, and too often the explorer leaves no written record of his experiences. Mr. Up de Graff led an adventurous life in the region drained by the extreme head waters of the Amazon, and he was a keen observer of all that passed on around him. As he says, he is not a trained naturalist and the deductions he draws from some of his observations may be questioned by men whose life work is natural history, but any such criticisms do not detract from the value of the work. Anyone who has tried it out knows that three equally reliable men observing together a scene or incident, combining variety of action with rapidity of duration may make greatly varying independent reports of what took place.
To him who knows life in the Amazon jungles Mr. Up de Graff's narrative will bring back many a vivid scene. The layman may feel that he overemphasizes the hardships, but those who have been off the beaten path in the tropics will know that such is not the case. The only one of Mr. Up de Graff's companions whom I have met talked of this very matter of temperament. He said that when he looked back upon his life on the upper Amazon he remembered only the excitement, the interest and the glamour; but that when he came to really think it over of course he could recall very clearly the reverse of the medal. I must confess to somewhat the same tendency.
Mr. Up de Graff emphasizes the discomforts of the ant plague; and it was that which we found most disagreeable on the River of Doubt. One is apt to think of the Amazon basin in terms of snakes and mosquitoes, and I was interested in seeing that Mr. Up de Graff made the same observation that we did, and remarks that very few snakes are really to be encountered in the unsettled and unexplored territories. They do far more damage in the settled districts. The loss of life from snake bite is large in Brazil, for the field laborers go barefoot, and are therefore very vulnerable. Dr. Vital Brazil has done much to combat this mortality in developing serums on his snake farm in Sa? Paulo.
One point on which my own experience are at variance from those of Mr. Up de Graff was in the maximum length reached in an anaconda. I have often heard tell of snakes forty or fifty feet long but I have never encountered one, nor seen the skin of one. Many of our companions in Brazil told of meeting with snakes of great size, and when my Father offered five thousand dollars reward for the skin and vertebra (or either alone) of a snake of more than thirty feet, our comrades considered the money as good as in their pockets, for Father set no time limit on the offer and only required that the specimen be turned over to the nearest American Consul, who would then forward it to him. That snake is still at large! There may be snakes of more than thirty feet, no one can definitely deny their existence, but they must be exceedingly rare.
I have said it is easy for entirely trustworthy observers to make mistakes. How easy it is was once demonstrated to Father and myself in East Africa. There was a persistent legend of the existence of a giant water serpent in Lake Naivasha, and one day when we were out after hippopotamus I pointed out to Father something that certainly had every appearance of being a great snake swimming through the water. Had we not had field glasses we would probably in all sincerity have believed that we had seen the legendary serpent, but when we turned our powerful glasses upon the snake it proved to be a school of otters slipping along in single file. Since then I have been slow to discredit the sincerity of those recounting the most unusual sights.
Mr. Up de Graff's book should commend itself to a great variety of readers. Those in search of adventure can read it as they would a novel; those in search of a vivid picture of a great unknown stretch of country can learn a vast amount in a most attractive form. It is useless to attempt to record the numberless incidents that will stand out with photographic sharpness to those who know the jungle. How excellent is the description of the feeling of oppression brought on by being continually encompassed by the tall trees, with only an occasional slit of sky visible and never
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