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- Equinoctial Regions of America - 104/104 -

twice, slept three times, and made three meals in the twenty-four hours. The temperature of the water of the lake is rather warm, being from twenty-four to twenty-five degrees; but there is another cool and delicious bathing-place at Toma, under the shade of ceibas and large zamangs, in a torrent gushing from the granitic mountains of the Rincon del Diablo. In entering this bath, we had not to fear the sting of insects, but to guard against the little brown hairs which cover the pods of the Dolichos pruriens. When these small hairs, well characterised by the name of picapica, stick to the body, they excite a violent irritation on the skin; the dart is felt, but the cause is unperceived.

Near Cura we found all the people occupied in clearing the ground covered with mimosa, sterculia, and Coccoloba excoriata, for the purpose of extending the cultivation of cotton. This product, which partly supplies the place of indigo, has succeeded so well during some years, that the cotton-tree now grows wild on the borders of the lake of Valencia. We have found shrubs of eight or ten feet high entwined with bignonia and other ligneous creepers. The exportation of cotton from Caracas, however, is yet of small importance. It amounted at an average at La Guayra scarcely to three or four hundred thousand pounds in a year; but including all the ports of the Capitania-general, it arose, on account of the flourishing culture of Cariaco, Nueva Barcelona, and Maracaybo, to more than 22,000 quintals. The cotton of the valleys of Aragua is of fine quality, being inferior only to that of Brazil; for it is preferred to that of Carthagena, St. Domingo, and the Caribbee Islands. The cultivation of cotton extends on one side of the lake from Maracay to Valencia; and on the other from Guayca to Guigue. The large plantations yield from sixty to seventy thousand pounds a year.

During our stay at Cura we made numerous excursions to the rocky islands (which rise in the midst of the lake of Valencia,) to the warm springs of Mariara, and to the lofty granitic mountain called El Cucurucho de Coco. A dangerous and narrow path leads to the port of Turiamo and the celebrated cacao-plantations of the coast. In all these excursions we were agreeably surprised, not only at the progress of agriculture, but at the increase of a free laborious population, accustomed to toil, and too poor to rely on the assistance of slaves. White and mulatto farmers had everywhere small separate establishments. Our host, whose father had a revenue of 40,000 piastres, possessed more lands than he could clear; he distributed them in the valleys of Aragua among poor families who chose to apply themselves to the cultivation of cotton. He endeavoured to surround his ample plantations with freemen, who, working as they chose, either in their own land or in the neighbouring plantations, supplied him with day-labourers at the time of harvest. Nobly occupied on the means best adapted gradually to extinguish the slavery of the blacks in these provinces, Count Tovar flattered himself with the double hope of rendering slaves less necessary to the landholders, and furnishing the freedmen with opportunities of becoming farmers. On departing for Europe he had parcelled out and let a part of the lands of Cura, which extend towards the west at the foot of the rock of Las Viruelas. Four years after, at his return to America, he found on this spot, finely cultivated in cotton, a little hamlet of thirty or forty houses, which is called Punta Zamuro, and which we visited with him. The inhabitants of this hamlet are almost all mulattos, Zamboes, or free blacks. This example of letting out land has been happily followed by several other great proprietors. The rent is ten piastres for a fanega of ground, and is paid in money or in cotton. As the small farmers are often in want, they sell their cotton at a very moderate price. They dispose of it even before the harvest: and the advances, made by rich neighbours, place the debtor in a situation of dependence, which frequently obliges him to offer his services as a labourer. The price of labour is cheaper here than in France. A freeman, working as a day-labourer (peon), is paid in the valleys of Aragua and in the llanos four or five piastres per month, not including food, which is very cheap on account of the abundance of meat and vegetables. I love to dwell on these details of colonial industry, because they serve to prove to the inhabitants of Europe, a fact which to the enlightened inhabitants of the colonies has long ceased to be doubtful, namely, that the continent of Spanish America can produce sugar, cotton, and indigo by free hands, and that the unhappy slaves are capable of becoming peasants, farmers, and landholders.


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