The equator passes near there!... The hammocks suspended lengthwise and crosswise, forming a gallery over the heads of the walkers, remind us of the overpowering heat of the sun in these regions, and the need for the human organism to give way to it and take refuge in a restorative rest: indeed, English Guiana extends between 8° and 3° north of the equatorial line only. It stretches along the Atlantic between Venezuela and Dutch Guiana and includes the whole region enclosed between the Corentine and Orinoco rivers.
The exhibition of this colony is remarkable for the combination of wild efforts and civilised products. Next to the long palm-wire shoe used to press the cqssave, next to the cane bags used as chests and boxes, to the bows, arrows and puzzles, to the assegais and the necklaces of peceari teeth, we stumble over the cotton bales. Next to the Indian caps of long red and blue macaw feathers, we see hanging the day bags, made of lianas, containing the precious sarsaparilla roots. This contrast is extremely striking.
We have here some remarkable woods, but they are not unknown to us, for this country, neighbouring our French colony, is no less well endowed than it is with precious woods destined one day to strike a severe blow at the old erring ways of building and cabinet making. Do we do more in England for American woods than we do in France? I do not know. Here we pay a lot of lip service to the forests of Guyana, but very little in action. Let us hope, however, that the admirable specimens which the penal colony has sent and which are exhibited in the great gallery of machines, will open the French eyes interested in timber! The thing is well worth the effort. There is a California to exploit.
Although less complete and less well presented in terms of samples, the exhibition in English Guiana does not fail to have a certain interest in this respect. Here is the wood which is said to give laurel oil! It is supposed to be the Oreodaphne opifera (Nees.). This oil is not only an admirable remedy for rheumatism in medicine, but is also a valuable principle for industry, as it dissolves rubber perfectly. On the banks of the Orinoco River, where this oil is collected, the tree is simply pierced to the heart and tanks are hung from it into which the oil flows. It is also known as Sassafras.
The Bushrope on the banks of the Deomerary looks like a huge bundle of roots twisted together: the Indians use it to fight rheumatism. We see it next to the Simarouba, with its yellow and black heart and its light wood like willow. Here, the woods follow one another and are not alike, and the medicinal barks are also dissimilar: the Locust-Bark, the bark of the Courbaril (Hymenea) and that of the Western Anacardium, which is called Cashew-Bark, are light as cork, while that of a Pisidiurn, the Wild-Guava, is heavy as lead. The Indians use all these barks against dysentery. How many precious remedies are still buried for years in these barks whose properties are known only to the savages near whom they grow! How much our scientists still have to learn! It is true that they do not care much about all this. At the moment chemistry is flourishing, and we are looking for - and of course we find! - everything we want.... Back to the simple things and those who advocate them!
However, here are the Indians of the Orinoco and Berbice - just like those of the Marani and Sinamary here - who tell us: the bark of the Serada cures smallpox; that of the Curuballi, that of the Sapotier mimusops are emetics; the Moraballi imprisons the fish: the Wallaia cures toothache (it is the Eperua falcata, which we call oily Wapa)-, the Yellow and Brown silverballi, the Comacoballi, the Simaruba, the Mess apple, the Blood wood, all these are tanning brambles; what resources, when we need the price of leather to decrease! For the productions of English Guiana and ours are similar, let us not lose sight of that. It is especially from this point of view that the study we are making is interesting!
A few words on the admirable woodwork that we see there, under the dust: Here is the fine-grained red Bibiru (Nectandra Rodœi Schnub), very resistant, admirable for furniture and constructions; the Wamara, black ebony with yellow sapwood, hard, stiff, susceptible of a magnificent polish; the Arrnata or Arunata, which is reminiscent of oak; the Wallaba, on the other hand, a real cabinet wood, dark red with black veins, magnificent; it is this Eperua falcata whose bark we quoted earlier for its singular properties. Let us not forget the Hackia, our tree of life, greenish-brown; the Tataboo, brown with spotted veins, of a very curious aspect; the Turanira (Humirium floribundum Mart.), pinkish-grey, plain and with a magnificent varnish; and ten or twenty other more remarkable species.
It is impossible to leave this colony without remarking on the care with which the English seek, at home, the conquest of textile and fibrous materials; it is difficult to see, anywhere, a more curious collection of these new conquests than that with which the long braids surround us. Cotton in the first line was, until 1820, the great production of English Guiana; but the prices having ceased to be remunerative, this trade was dead, when suddenly the American war came to give it a new life, and now this crop increases every year, competition being no longer to be feared. But what is more remarkable, we repeat, are the new conquests over the wilderness. Here is the fibre of the Winna, supplied by the inner bark of the Caracalli tree, or Lecythis ollaria (Lin.), the one we call, at home, the black Mahoy. This is the material in which the Indians wrap their cigars. Next to it hangs threads made from the fibre of the Wildochro or Urena: this textile, abundant throughout the colony, has an appearance as soft as that of linen; there is no doubt that it is destined for the brightest future since it is harvested in great abundance. The bark of the Wallaba also gives a thread; but the material that we wanted to point out in the first place is that which the English call mora hait, coming from the Tillandsia usneoïdes (Lin.), with slightly coarse fibres, raw, but very flexible and susceptible of immense applications as a substitute for hemp. The plant is an abundant epiphyte in most of the small bays of the colony: it is prepared simply by dipping it in water until the epidermis separates; the fibre has a somewhat horsehair-like appearance.
The Mahoe fibre is much more beautiful and finer: it comes from the Hibiscus elatus (Lin.), and has an admirable flexibility. We shall conclude this interesting foray into the new, by examining the textile fibres of the Plantain, a Banana tree, Musa Paradisius (Lin.). This is a true hemp, fine, supple, shiny, of the best quality. Finally a word about Silk-Grass pu fibre of the Corawa (Bromelia karatas, Lin.). It is a Pineapple; so we are not surprised to find in this yarn the admirable appearance that has long been known to fabrics woven in India from this material. The Indians use it for their fishing lines, their nets and all their fabrics; I cannot think them unhappy about it. They also have the fibre of the Tibisiri, the Mauritia flexuosa (Lin.), or palm tree which supplies palm wine and whose cloths are not afraid of anything but humidity. Let us mention another palm tree which they call Ita, then the Cucuril or Koquerit, and all these trees provide them with more or less fine, more or less delicate threads.
Let's get to work, then, researchers! who are afraid for the needs of the people by seeing for so long the cotton fibre becoming more and more expensive, let's get to work! It is up to industry to repair the ills of war by discovering the hidden resources of nature.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée