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Alexander von Humboldt: „War Poison of the Indians“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 05.02.2023].

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Titel War Poison of the Indians
Jahr 1821
Ort London
in: The Philosophical Magazine and Journal 58:281 (September 1821), S. 231–234. [Zuvor bereits in: „Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799–1804. By Alexander de Humboldt, and Aimé Bonpland, &c. &c. London, 1821, 8vo. 2 Vols. pp. 864“, in: The Literary Gazette; and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c. 229 (9. Juni 1821), S. 353–355; 230 (16. Juni 1821), S. 374–376; 231 (23. Juni 1821), S. 389–391; 232 (30. Juni 1821), S. 405–406; 234 (14. Juli 1821), S. 441–442; 242 (8. September 1821), S. 563–565; 243 (15. September 1821), S. 580–582; 245 (29. September 1821), S. 615–616; 248 (20. Oktober 1821), S. 662–663, hier 242 (8. September 1821), S. 563–564.]
Postumer Nachdruck
Alexander von Humboldt, Ueber die Urvölker von Amerika und die Denkmähler welche von ihnen übrig geblieben sind Anthropologische und ethnographische Schriften, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich, Hannover: Wehrhahn 2009, S. 45–48.
Entsprechungen in Buchwerken
Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, 7 Bände, übersetzt von Helen Maria Williams, London 1814–1829, Band 5, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown 1821, S. 514–517, 519–520, 522, 526.;

Alexander von Humboldt, Relation historique du Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent, 3 Bände, Paris: F. Schoell 1814[–1817], N. Maze 1819[–1821], J. Smith et Gide Fils 1825[–1831], Band 2, S. 547–550, 551, 553.
Sprache Englisch
Schriftart Antiqua
Textnummer Druckausgabe: IV.20
Dateiname: 1821-War_Poison_of-1
Seitenanzahl: 4
Zeichenanzahl: 7597


WAR POISON OF THE INDIANS.[From Humboldt’s Personal Narrative.]

Esmeralda is the most celebrated spot on the Oroonoko forthe fabrication of that active poison which is employed in war,in the chase, and, what is singular enough, as a remedy for gastricobstructions. The poison of the ficunas of the Amazon, the upas-tieute of Java, and the curare of Guyana, are the most deleterious |232| substances that are known. Raleigh, toward the end of the six-teenth century, had heard the name of curare pronounced asbeing a vegetable substance, with which arrows were envenomed;yet no fixed notions of this poison had reached Europe. Themissionaries Gumilla and Gili had not been able to penetrate in-to the country where the curare is manufactured. Gumilla as-serts that this preparable was enveloped in great mystery; thatits principal ingredient was furnished by a subterraneous plant,by a tuberose root, which never puts forth leaves, and which iscalled the root by way of eminence, raiz de si misma; that thevenomous exhalations, which arise from the pots, cause the oldwomen (the most useless) to perish who are chosen to watchover this operation; finally, that these vegetable juices neverappear sufficiently concentrated, till a few drops produce at adistance a repulsive action on the blood. An Indian wounds him-self slightly; and a dart dipped in the liquid curare is held nearthe wound. If it make the blood return to the vessels withouthaving been brought into contact with them, the poison is judgedto be sufficiently concentrated. I shall not stop to refute thesepopular tales collected by Father Gumilla. When we arrived at Esmeralda, the greater part of the In-dians were returning from an excursion which they had made tothe east beyond the Rio Padamo, to gather juvias, or the fruitof the Bertholletia, and the liana which yields the curare. Theirreturn was celebrated by a festival, which is called in the Mission la fiesta de las juvias, and which resembles our harvest homesand vintage feasts. The women had prepared a quantity of fer-mented liquor, and during two days the Indians were in a stateof intoxication. Among nations that attach great importanceto the fruits of the palm-trees and of some others useful for thenourishment of man, the period when these fruits are gatheredis marked by public rejoicings, and time is divided according tothese festivals, which succeed one another in a course invariablythe same. We were fortunate enough to find an old Indian lessdrunk than the rest, who was employed in preparing the curare poison from freshly gathered plants. He was the chemist ofthe place. We found at his dwelling large earthen pots forboiling vegetable juice, shallower vessels to favour the evaporationby a larger surface, and leaves of the plane-tree rolled up in theshape of our filters, and used to filtrate the liquors more or lessloaded with fibrous matter. The greatest order and neatnessprevailed in this hut, which was transformed into a chemical la-boratory. The Indian who was to instruct us, is known through-out the mission by the name of the master of poison (amo delcurare): he had that self-sufficient air and tone of pedantry, ofwhich the pharmacopolists of Europe were formerly accused; “ I |233| know,” said he, “that the whites have the secret of fabricatingsoap, and that black powder which has the effect of making anoise and killing animals, when they are wanted. The curare, which we prepare from father to son, is superior to any thing youcan make down yonder (beyond sea). It is the juice of an herbwhich kills silently (without any one knowing whence the strokecomes).” This chemical operation, to which the master of the curare attached so much importance, appears to us extremely simple.The liana (bujuco), which is used at Esmeralda for the prepara-tion of the poison, bears the same name as in the forest of Javita.It is the bejuco de mavacure, which is gathered in abundanceeast of the Mission, on the left bank of the Oroonoko, beyondthe Rio Amaguaca, in the mountains and granatic lands of Gua-naya and Yumariquin. The juice of the liana, when it has been recently gathered, isnot regarded as poisonous; perhaps it acts in a sensible manneronly when it is strongly concentrated. It is the bark, and a partof the alburnum, which contains this terrible poison. Branchesof the mavacure four or five lines in diameter, are scraped with aknife; and the bark that comes off is bruised, and reduced intovery thin filaments, on the stone employed for grinding cassava.The venomous juice being yellow, the whole fibrous mass takesthis colour. It is thrown into a funnel nine inches high, with anopening four inches wide. This funnel was, of all the instru-ments of the Indian laboratory, that of which the master of poi-son seemed to be most proud. He asked us repeatedly, of poralla (down yonder, that is in Europe) we had ever seen any thingto be compared to his empudo. It was a leaf of a plantain treerolled up in the form of a cone, and placed in another strongercone made of the leaves of the palm-tree. The whole of thisapparatus was supported by slight frame work made of the petioliand ribs of palm leaves. A cold infusion is first prepared bypouring water on the fibrous matter, which is the ground bark ofthe mavacure. A yellowish water filters during several hours,drop by drop, through the leafy funnel. This filtered water is thevenomous liquor, but it acquires strength only when it is concen-trated by evaporation, like molasses in a large earthen pot.The Indian from time to time invited us to taste the liquid; itstaste, more or less bitter, decides when the concentration by firehas been carried sufficiently far. There is no danger in this ope-ration, the curare being deleterious only when it comes into im-mediate contact with the blood. The vapours, therefore, thatare disengaged from the pans, are not hurtful, notwithstandingwhat has been asserted on this point by the Missionaries of theOroonoko. Fontana, in his fine experiments on the poison of the |234| ticunas of the river of Amazons, long ago proved, that the va-pours arising from this poison when thrown on burning charcoal,may be inhaled without apprehension; and that it is false, asM. de la Condamine has announced, that Indian women, when con-demned to death, have been killed by the vapours of the poisonof the ticunas. The juice is thickened with a glutinous substance to cause itto stick to the darts, which it renders mortal; but taken inter-nally, the Indians consider the curare to be an excellent stoma-chic. Scarcely a fowl is eaten (adds our author) on the banksof the Oroonoko, which has not been killed with a poisonedarrow. The Missionaries pretend, that the flesh of animals isnever so good as when these means are employed. Father Zea,who accompanied us, though ill of a tertian fever, caused everymorning the live fowl allotted for our repast to be brought to hishammock, together with an arrow. Notwithstanding his habi-tual state of weakness, he would not confide this operation, towhich he attached great importance, to any other person. Largebirds, a guan (pava de monte) for instance, or a curassoa (alse-tor,) when wounded in the thigh, perish in two or three minutes;but it is often ten or twelve before a pig or a pecari expires*.

* M. Humboldt does not seem to be acquainted with any certain antidote,if such exists, to this fatal poison. Sugar, garlic, the muriate of soda, &c.are mentioned doubtingly.