The River Sea: The Amazon in history, myth and legend – A story of discovery, exploration and exploitation.
By Marshall De Bruhl (2010)
This title is long, but accurate. Mr. De Bruhl takes us through the history of the amazon via a series of exciting adventures, and not-always so exciting information. The book opens with geographic overview of the mighty river that begins in the Peruvian Andes (at Laguna McIntyre, named for Loren McIntyre who determined this to be the start because while water always flows from the pond, the stream that feeds said pond at times runs dry), joins with a variety of other streams and rives (some of which flow through sacred Inca land), and end far out in the Atlantic where the strength of the water pushes the fresh water miles and miles out into the salty ocean.
The river was “discovered” by Vincente Yanze Pinzon who had sailed with Columbus in 1492, but credit has been give in Pedro Cabal who came across the river mere months later. This discovery lead to an influx of Spanish who came to conquer the Incan empire and discover the lost city of gold (El Dorado). Little did they know:
“The name derived from the ceremony celebrating the anointed one’s ascension to the throne. First, the chief’s entire body was coated with a sticky substance, and then gold dust was applied until he was completely covered. He thus became, literally, El Dorado, the “Golden One” or the “Golden Man”…. In fairly short order, the credulous Spaniards had transmogrified the golden man first into a city; then, into a kingdom; and finally into an empire of fabulous wealth.”
There was certainly a dark side to this treasure hunt - it take a tough person to survive in the Amazon, and tales of extraordinary cruelty (such as Lope de Aguirre, who mutinied and turned an expedition into a blood bath), and tales with two sides (Was Francisco, who left Gonzalo Pizarro’s party up-river, treacherous, or merely hapless?) are included here. Along with violence and a thirst for adventure, the Europeans brought the smallpox, a particularly deadly disease which greatly aided Hernando Cortes victory over the Aztecs. “In August 1521, when the capital, Tenochtitlan, fell to the Spaniards, the victors were horrified by the thousands of Aztec corpses lying in the streets.” The death of all the Indians necessitated a new source of labor, and soon the the Portuguese began importing slaves, slavery would not be abolished until the late 1800′s.
Explores Sir Walter Raleigh, Charles-Marie de La Condamine brought tales of the forest and inspired future adventures (Humboldt, Wallace, Bates and Spruce), but changes in the rest of the world were felt in the Amazon, and once the value of rubber was realized, the Rubber Barron moved in.
The book ends with a consideration of the Amazon today as the role of the Amazon in the ecological system is discussed along with the efforts to both profit from the Amazon, and the efforts to conserve it.