Iriartella setigera (2)

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Figure 1. I. setigera

This small species has the stem from fifteen to twenty feet high, and varying from the thickness of a finger to that of the wrist, which it never exceeds. The stem is smooth and cylindrical, but distinctly ringed. The roots appear only a few inches above the ground. The leaves are pinnate, the leaflets elongate, triangular and cut at the ends. The colunto is short and cylindrical, and both it and the petioles are covered with short hairs or down. The spadices have long stalks and grow from beneath or from among the leaves; they are rather large and are simply branched. The spathes form sheaths at the bases of the spadices, and are persistent. The fruit is oval, of an orange-red colour, and about the size of the "hip" or wild rose fruit.

These trees grow on the Upper Amazon and Rio Negro in the dry virgin forest, where they occur in small scattered groves.

This species is of great importance to the Indian of the Rio Negro. With its stem he constructs his "gravatana" or blowing tube, which, with the little arrows before described as made from the spines of the Patawa, forms a most valuable weapon, enabling him to bring down monkeys, parrots and curassow birds from their favourite stations on the summits of the loftiest trees of the forest.


When he wishes to make a "gravatana" he searches in the forest till he finds two straight and tall stems of the "Pashiuba miri" of such proportionate thicknesses that one could be contained within the other. When he returns home he takes a long slender rod which he has prepared on purpose, generally made of the hard and elastic wood of the "Pashiuba barriguda," and with it pushes out the pith from both the stems, and then with a little bunch of the roots of a tree fern, cleans and polishes the inside till the bore becomes as hard and as smooth as polished ebony. He then carefully inserts the slenderer tube within the larger, placing it so that any curve in the one may counteract that in the other. Should it still be not quite correct, he binds it carefully to a post in his house till it is perfectly straight and dry. He then fits a mouth-piece of wood to the smaller end of the tube, so that the arrow may go out freely at the other; and when he wishes to finish his work neatly, winds spirally round it from end to end, the shining bark of a creeper. Near the lower extremity he forms a sight with the large curved cutting tooth of the Paca (Coelogenus paca), which he fixes on with pitch, and the gravatana is then fit for use. These tubes are never less than eight and are often ten or twelve feet long, and on looking through a good one, not the slightest irregularity can be detected from one end to the other. The bore is generally not large enough to admit the tip of the little finger, so that the breath more readily fills the whole tube and propels the arrow with great velocity. The vertical direction is that in which the surest aim can be taken, and for which the gravatana is best adapted. When birds are feeding at the top of a lofty tree where the result of a gun-shot would be doubtful, a skilful Indian will take his station beneath it, and with a puff from his powerful lungs, will send up his little poisoned arrows with unerring aim. The wounded birds sometimes turn giddy and drop in a few seconds, or fly away to a neighbouring tree and in a minute fall heavily to the ground, or try to pluck out the arrows with their beaks, which, however, invariably break in the wound. The hunter carefully marks the direction in which each one falls, and when his quiver is emptied of arrows or the tree of birds, walks round and gathers up the game. His weapon makes no noise, and he therefore often does more execution than the best European sportsman armed with his double-barrel Manton.

Extracted from:

Palm Trees of the Amazon, Alfred Russel Wallace Pub: John van Voorst; 1853


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