Nicaragua: An Exploration From Ocean to Ocean.* (Indigoa koskeva osa)

* Concluded from the October number.Harper's New Monthly Magazine 66, (marraskuu) 1855

By E. G. Squier


Indigo constitutes another of the staples of Nicaragua, and the product of this State formerly commanded a higher price in the European markets than that of any other country in the world. Its production has very much declined of late years, and only a few estates, of traditional celebrity, are kept up. There is one of these, which belonged to Don José Leon Sandoval, in the immediate vicinity of Granada. It is well known to visitors as commanding far the finest view of the lake and adjacent scenery that can be obtained in the neighborhood of that city. It is, therefore, the favorite limit of every evening paseo, or ride. Of course we all went there, not once but often.

The house stands upon the brow of a high plain, overlooking the rich alluvial grounds which lie between it and the lake, and which afford a charming variety of meadow, plantation, and forest. Beyond these alluvions, the lake spreads away to the high, distant shores of Choutales, and to the peaks of Ometepec on the southward. Looking inland, there rises the purple mass of Mombacho, flanked by the golden
colored cones of scoria, of which I have already spoken.

The indigo of Nicaragua is obtained from an indigenous triennial plant (Indigofera disperma), which is found scattered profusely all over the country. Although it attains its highest perfection in the richest soils, yet it will grow upon any soil, and is very little affected either by droughts or superabundant rains. In planting it, the ground is perfectly cleared, usually burnt over, and divided, by an instrument resembling a hoe, into little trenches, two or three inches in depth, and a foot or fourteen inches apart, at the bottom of which the seeds are sown by hand. A bushel of seed answers for four or five acres of land. In Nicaragua, it is usually planted at the close of the dry season in April or May, and attains its perfection, for the purpose of manufacture, in from two and a half to three months. During this time it requires to lie carefully weeded, to prevent any mixture of plants that might detract front the quality of the indigo. When green, the plant, which grows to the height of from two to three and a half feet, closely resembles what, in the United States, is familiarly known as "sweet clover," or the young and tender sprouts of the locus-tree.

When the plants become covered with a kind of greenish farina, they are in a fit state to be cut. This is done with knives, at a little distance above the roots, so as to leave static of the branches, called in the West Indies "ratoons," for a second growth, which produce a second crop, ready to be cut six or eight weeks after the first. The crop of the first year is rather small, that of the second is esteemed the best; although that of the third is scarcely inferior. It is said that some fields have been cut for ten consecutive years without being replanted.

After the plants are cut, they are bound into little bundles, and placed to soak in a large vat of masonry, called the "steeper" (mojadora). This vat holds from one thousand to ten thousand gallons, according to the requirements of the estate. Boards, loaded with weights, are then placed upon the plants, and enough water let on to cover the whole, which is now left to steep or ferment. The rapidity of the process depends much upon the state of the weather and the condition of the plant. Sometimes it is completed in six or eight hours, but not generally under fifteen or twenty hours. The proper length of time is determined hy the color of the saturated water; but the great secret of the whole operation is to check fermentation at the proper points, for upon this depends mainly the quality of the product. Without disturbing the plant, the water drawn off into a lower vat, or "beater" (golpeadoro), when it is strongly and incessantly beaten, on the smaller estates with paddles by hand, on time larger by wheels turned by horse or water power. This is continued until it changes from the green color, which it at first displays, to a blue, and until the coloring matter, or floculæ, shows a disposition to curdle or subside. This is sometimes hastened by the infusion of certain herbs. It is then allowed to settle, and the water is carefully drawn off. The pulp granulates, at which time it resembles a fine soft blue clay. It is afterward put in bags to drain, and then spread in the sun to dry. When dry, it is assorted and packed in hide cases containing l50 pounds each, called ceroons. The quality has not leas than nine gradations, the best being of the highest figure. From 6 to 9 are called flores, and are best; 3 to 6 cortes; and from 1 to 3 inclusive, cobres. The two poorer qualities do not pay expenses. A mansana, of one hundred yards square, produces, on an average, about one ceroon at each cutting. After the plant has passed through the vat, it is required by law to be burnt, because, in decomposing, it generates millions of an annoying insect, called the "indigo fly."

The indigo plant requires constant attention during its growth, and must be cut at a particular period or it is valueless. The subsequent processes nre delicate, and require the utmost care. It will be readily understood, therefore, that the production of this staple would suffer most from revolutions and diaturbances of the country, when it is impossible to obtain labor, or when the laborers are liable, at any moment, to be impressed for the army. As a consequence, it has greatly declined; many fine estates have been entirely abandoned, and the export of the article reduced to less than a fifth of what it once was. Its production is now chiefly contined to San Salvador, where industry is better organized than in any of the other States.


Ei kommentteja :