« PreviousContinue »
and sometimes even lengthen that period, without taking any other sustenance than a handful of parched maize ; but every three hours he makes a pause for the purpose of chewing Coca. He would work ill, and reluctantly, if the overseers deprived him of his favourite herb, and he exerts himself fourfold if he is allowed to take brandy with it, thus heightening, as he says, its pleasant taste. The same is the case with the Indian, who, as a porter, messenger, or vendor of his own productions, travels the Andes on foot. Merely chewing Coca from time to time, he travels with a load weighing a hundred-weight on his back, over indescribably rough roads, and frequently accomplishes ten leagues in eight hours. During the revolutionary war, the undisciplined patriot troops, consisting of Indians from the Sierra, by dint of ample supplies of Coca and brandy, travelled long distances in a short time, and thus rendered themselves very dangerous to the Spaniards. When Europeans would have halted and bivouacked, the ill clad, bare-footed Indians merely paused for a short time to chew their Coca ; and even now, the traveller who would keep his guide and companion in good humour, whether proceeding by boat or by mules, must, four times a day, consent to these tantalizing pauses. It has never answered to debar a Coquero (as they are called) from the enjoyment of this vice, for it is universally declared that he would sooner forego the use of every thing than this.
A workman of the common class, particularly if he be a real Indian, daily consumes from an ounce to an ounce and a half of Coca ; the more extravagant chewers double this allowance, and sometimes even raise it to five ounces.
Strangers are amazed at beholding such an infatuated passion for a leaf, which, whether fresh or dry, is only distinguishable by a slight scent, which possesses no balsamic properties, and when taken in small quantities has merely a grassy or at most a bitterish taste. The surprise, however, ceases upon the observation of its effects upon others or by one's own personal experience. We are then convinced that the Coca, by its property of stimulating the nervous system, possesses a power much akin to that of opium.
Rude nations have ever sought for artificial excitement. Under the effect of Coca the habitual dejection of the Peruvian leaves him, and his excited
imagination presents images to his mind which would never occur to him in his usual condition. If the Coca is less violent in its first effects than opium, it is perhaps the more dangerous from their longer continuance.
A series of observations can alone convince the novice of this fact, as without it, the long train of ills which attack the Peruvian can never be traced to their real source. The sight of an inveterate Coquero, gives the desired explanation. Useless for every active pursuit in life, and the slave of his passions even more than the drunkard, he exposes himself to the greatest dangers for the sake of satisfying this degrading propensity. As the stimulus of the Coca is most felt when the body is exhausted by toil and fatigue, or the mind with conversation, the poor victim of this sinful indulgence then hastens to some retreat in the gloomy native woods, and, throwing himself under a tree, remains stretched out there, heedless of night or of storms, unprotected by covering or by fire, unconscious of the flood of rain, or of the tremendous winds which
After having yielded for two or three entire days to the occupation of chewing Coca, he returns home with trembling limbs and a pallid countenance, the miserable spectacle of unnatural enjoyment.
Whosoever meets with the Coquero under such circumstances, and, by speaking, interrupts the effect of this intoxication, is sure to draw upon himself the hatred of the half maddened creature.
The man who is once seized with the passion for this practice, if placed in circumstances which favour its indulgence, is a ruined being. Many instances were related in Peru, in which young people of the best families, by occasionally visiting the forests, have begun to use Coca for the sake of passing away the time; and acquiring a relish for it, have from that period been lost to civilization. And, as if possessed by some evil being, refuse to return to their homes, and, resisting the entreaties of their friends, who occasionally discover the haunts of these unhappy fugitives, either retire to some more distant solitude, or take the first opportunity of escaping, when they have been brought back to the town.
Indeed, the lives of such wretched beings are embittered by the presence of civilized society, where the white Coquero is shunned as the most dissolute drunkard, and, soon sinking into a semibarbarous state, he dies a premature death from his excessive use of this intoxicating leaf. An example of this kind fell under the Doctor's notice in an individual who lived with him in the solitary Pampayaco, and unworthily bore the honoured name of Calderone.
He was of the fairest colour, and of very good descent, but for twenty years had resided in the mountains, where from compassion he was permitted to inhabit a hut, hardly fit for a human being
Although scarcely forty years of age, he was more decrepid than most persons of sixty, and utterly useless for any common purpose of life, as no one could depend on his word. Priding himself excessively on his white colour, yet utterly averse to any exertions, the mere idea of a city life with its accompanying restraints was hateful to him. As he was a decided Coquero, he could only be of service when it was possible to keep this intoxicating herb from him. But when once