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Crossing over: nations and naturalists in El Orinoco Ilustrado. Reading and writing the book of Orinoco secrets.

This essay examines crossings over of scientific and religious discourse between and within the Old World and the New. In his mid-eighteenth-century natural history, Spanish-born Jesuit Joseph Gumilla inquired into modern ideas about magnetism, blood circulation, sound waves and acoustics along the Orinoco River and demonstrated his own "crossing over" between Spanish imperial agent and protector and defender of Orinoco region tribal nations. Writing only a few decades before the Jesuit expulsion from Spain's colonies, Gumilla's book of Orinoco secrets underscored the importance of Jesuit missions for realizing the great potential of the emerging nation-state of New Granada.


Este ensayo examina el cruce entre discursos cientificos y religiosos, tanto entre el Viejo Mundo y el Nuevo, como dentro de cada uno. La historia natural del jesuita espanol Jose Gumilla, publicada en 1741/45, explora conceptos modernos sobre el magnetismo, la circulacion sanguinea, y la acustica, a lo largo del Orinoco; demuestra asimismo el movimiento de Gumilla entre los papeles de agente imperial y defensor de las naciones indigenas orinoquenas. Escrito poco antes de la expulsion de los jesuitas, este libro de secretos del Orinoco subraya la importancia de las misiones jesuiticas en la realizacion del potencial del naciente estado novogranadino.

Recent scholarship on Jesuit natural histories has emphasized their role in Latin American nation-building. Among others, D.A. Brading, Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Canizares-Esguerra have discussed how expelled Creole Jesuits' texts from the last few decades of the eighteenth century and the first few decades of the nineteenth century reveal these authors' roles as mediators in the articulation of emergent national characters. (1) However, less attention has been paid to Jesuit contributions in the origins of national consciousness before their 1767 expulsion from Spanish territories. In fact many texts appeared in Europe about the Americas long before the boom of publications by exiled Jesuits in Italy and elsewhere. The patriotic voices that denounced injustices incurred by the Crown and clamored for independence from the mother country in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries evolved from mid-century textual articulations of regional pride germinated within Spain's viceroyalties but often printed abroad. Jesuit missionaries and naturalists documented the vast potential of previously unexplored regions in Spanish America with primary sources that nourished the roots of nationalism. These men served both as translators and mediators between American nature and cultures and European philosophical and political interests. (2)

As has been well-established in writings about Jesuit missionary culture and science, ever since its founding, the Society of Jesus' unique spirit of inquiry often allowed for a "crossing over" between cultures. Even though Jesuit mediation predominantly benefited European colonial agendas, its focus on autochthonous cultures was sometimes used to defend them. (3) This study introduces a particularly interesting yet neglected case of transnational reading and intercultural discourse that, while ostensibly serving the purposes of the Spanish monarchy, sometimes went beyond the Crown's goals. Scholarship on Latin American literature has identified Creole and Jesuit mediation and transculturation in late-eighteenth century texts. However, a closer examination of mediation in the mid-eighteenth-century natural history and narration of experiments and conversions written by Joseph Gumilla, a Spanish-born Jesuit missionary who spent most of his life with the indigenous inhabitants of the Orinoco region (present-day Colombia and Venezuela), has much to offer current eighteenth-century cultural studies.

The immediate popularity of Gumilla's El Orinoco ilustrado y defendido: historia natural, civil y geografica de este gran rio y de sus caudalosas vertientes. (1741/45), first published by Manuel Fernandez in Madrid, is notable. Gumilla's account was read from the Viceroyalty of New Granada (recently established in 1739) to Madrid, Parts and Rome, from the Spanish Caribbean to Barcelona. It was favorably reviewed in, among other periodicals, the Memoires pour l'Histoire des Sciences & Beaux-Arts (1748), the Journal Etranger (1756), translated into French and then this edition reviewed in L'Annee Litteraire (1758). (4) It is not surprising that several years after Gumilla's death, exiled Jesuits would still praise El Orinoco ilustrado--as Mario Cicala did in his own historical-topographical relation published in Italy (1771). Perhaps more significantly, El Orinoco ilustrado made its way into a number of entries on Spanish America in late-eighteenth century diccionarios, or encyclopedias. (5) Both the French translation and a Spanish version of El Orinoco ilustrado were found in the personal library of enlightened polymath and United States president, Thomas Jefferson. Also notable was a third Spanish edition published in Barcelona twenty-four years after the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish territories. (6) Still, despite the continued popularity of the text as evidenced in a nineteenth-century edition and eight twentieth-century editions of Gumilla's natural history, it has received little critical attention. (7)

Writing at the height of South American evangelization, Father Gumilla's natural, civil and geographic history underscores the complex role of Jesuit missions in the spiritual and physical conquest and eventual liberation of the Spanish colonies. With always vivid and sometimes scientific description, Gumilla presents an Orinoco region filled with vast economic potential. However, he carefully frames all the word-images he paints and his natural philosophy investigations in God's glory: human curiosity should result in soul-winning; knowledge of the nature and inhabitants of the Orinoco should aid missionary efforts. The concept of "divine intellect" comes into play here and is tied to the primary title of Gumilla's work, El Orinoco ilustrado y defendido. Gumilla believes that God chooses which secrets of nature man will encounter. There exists a divine light to illuminate or enlighten any area that God lets man understand, and man's investigation of nature is meant to contribute to his understanding of and devotion to God. For his part, this Jesuit missionary and naturalist mediates natural knowledge to piously enlighten both Amerindian charges and European readers of El Orinoco ilustrado by shining light on that which God has allowed him to observe and come to understand. Gumilla's moral use of modern physics shares the ancient Roman natural philosopher, Lucretius's desire to free man's mind from blind superstition. In El Orinoco ilustrado (387), Gumilla refers to Lucretius's De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), which explains the Greek atomic theory revealed by Democritus and suggests that "dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of day, but only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature" (Lucretius 69). Gumilla and other Christians appropriated these ancient concepts, rejecting ancient Greek and Roman's ideas on the mortality of the soul and dental of after-life while at the same time rejecting out-dated explanations and generalizations about natural phenomena (physics). Gumilla wanted to enlighten God's works for Amerindians and "dispel their dread and darkness" by bringing them to the light of Christianity. By publishing El Orinoco ilustrado he would also enlighten Europeans about Jesuit evangelical exploits and stress the importance of his own and fellow Jesuits' missionary discoveries for the colonization of Spanish territories.

Gumilla's enlightenment embraced experiments and first-hand observation of particulars in order to know God's workings better. The conservative Spanish monarchy discouraged Jesuit scientific inquiry, but Gumilla justifies this pursuit of "certain science/knowledge" with its higher purpose and ennobles it by recalling "los mas insignes heroes en los siglos pasados, a que dan realce los del presente"--that is, Spanish discoverers and conquistadores who add luster to contemporary "heroes"--that is, missionaries, explorers and investigators of nature (Gumilla 313). Gumilla, like his contemporary, the Spanish Benedictine Father Benito Feijoo, echoes the sentiments expressed by Francis Bacon in Book 1, aphorism 92 of the Novum Organum. (8) Here Bacon mines a heroic metaphor by comparing his "conjectures ... set out and made known" to Columbus's "wonderful voyage ... when [Columbus] gave the reasons for his confidence that he could find new lands and continents beyond those known already; reasons which, although rejected at first, were later proved by experiment" (103). According to this aphorism, once Bacon's confident reasons were "proved by experiment," these new lands "became the causes and starting points of very great things" (103). (9)

While the Baconian innovations to the investigation of nature openly endorsed by Feijoo commenced much earlier than Gumilla's years along the Orinoco, approbations to Gumilla's publication continued to emphasize the importance of first-hand experience and observation. In the second edition of El Orinoco ilustrado (1745), Jose Mateo Moreno and Jose Borrul (both religious men) comment on Gumilla's modern natural philosophy. The former praises his "exacta experimental diligencia" (Gumilla 24), and the latter promises that natural philosophers will find "muchos fenomenos de la naturaleza explicados con nueva claridad, y con probables razones, que es lo unico que se puede conseguir en esta oscura indagacion de la Naturaleza" (Gumilla 26). In order to downplay veneration of his own heroic inquiries and to acknowledge the limits of human understanding, Gumilla continually expresses rhetorical commonplaces of Christian humility. For example, he quotes Scripture in Latin to underline the pious decree against discovering God's works from begining to end (Gumilla 311). For this reason, writes Gumilla, no mortal can brag of revealing all of "los arcanos secretos de la maravillosa maquina de este mundo" (311). Gumilla intends his heroic "hunt" for knowledge to direct European and Orinoco native's wonder properly at God while at the same time acknowledging that sometimes humans are meant just to "stand in awe before" the incomprehensible works of the Creator. (10) Even though Gumilla employs this discourse of accepting that there will always be secrets of nature which cannot be read or written in any book of secrets, however, he promises to reveal plenty in El Orinoco ilustrado. Gumilla sets himself up as a mediator between God and man, and in effect, a mediator between God and the Spanish Crown. On the one hand he reveals secrets meant to humble man and which the Monarchs would do well to admire piously. On the other, he reveals secrets meant to benefit their colonial enterprise.

In keeping with Gumilla's dual role as inspirer of wonder and agent of imperial interests, El Orinoco ilustrado treats both God's marvelous works (flora, fauna and men) and man's evil artificial works fashioned from nature (curare and war drums). Jesuit physico-theological discourse often opened the door to the revelation of not only the beauty of God's wonderful works, but also to the more terrible wonders discovered by missionaries in the course of carrying out God's works among strange and new men. When evoking wonder in European readers by relaying secrets gleaned from his specific American experience, Father Gumilla consciously mines wonder's duality of dread and delight. (11) This strategy, alongside a discourse of humility, actually heightens the readers' anticipation for those arcane secrets which God has allowed him to illustrate. By the time Gumilla evangelized along the Orinoco river, Jesuit use of wonder to capture the minds and souls of Amerindians and Asians was by now a standard missionary strategy. This appropriation of wonder for conversion has been well-documented. (12) But Gumilla's "rhetoric of wonder" makes use of strategies that both shock and delight to persuade Europeans, and these were actually more exceptional than his use of wonder to convert Orinoco tribes.

Of course in all cases, Gumilla's discourse carefully directs wonder resulting from the advancement of knowledge about nature (physics) to God, Author/Artificer of nature (metaphysics). Because it can advance human knowledge about God, Gumilla refuses to frame natural curiosity as a vice. The renowned sixteenth-century Jesuit, Jose de Acosta had defined curiosity as "a desire to know new things" (Natural and Moral History 99). This in itself was not a vice, but Acosta warns against negative curiosity caused by "the low quality of many tastes [that] usually stops with the least useful," reminding readers of his Historia natural y moral de las Indias that "good philosophy" is practiced by those "whose thought rises higher and contemplates the Highest and Supreme Artificer of all these marvels" (Natural and Moral History 99). Acosta's "good philosophy" is tied to "excellent theology," and "the description of natural things can serve many good ends" (Natural and Moral History 99). Gumilla anticipates any arguments against man's intellectual curiosity by affirming that "Puso Dios el mundo a vista de los hombres, y lo entrego en manos de sus disputas, discursos y averiguaciones" (311). He has moved far beyond Erasmus's pious curiosity that would admire the works of God in gratitude and wonder, without seeking to discover unknown causes. (13) As Gumilla had learned from reading Acosta, "anyone who goes further, and comes to understand the natural causes of effects, will be exercising good philosophy" (Natural and Moral History 99). For Jesuits, and for many others, natural philosophy had a serious religious purpose that could heighten both man's understanding of natural phenomena and man's humility and wonder at the works of God.

Making Contact, Making Knowledge Reciprocal

During the eighteenth century the international flow of scientific discourse increased within and between Europe and the Americas, thanks to communication among naturalists, the extensive network of academic societies, and the court's publication of natural histories and chorographic texts. Particularly interesting are the conversations documented in Jesuit texts between missionary and indigenous naturalists, between Jesuit and Amerindian healers, and between Catholic priests and new Christians civilized into mission settlements. In his commentary on Acosta's Natural and Moral History, Walter Mignolo sustains that Jesuit conversion of Amerindians into "exotic objects of description" ignores their knowledge and contributes "to building an epistemic imaginary in which Amerindian knowledge did not count as sustainable" (467). However, Gumilla's text displays intercultural discourse that moves beyond "erasure" of Amerindian knowledge to mediation with European data. By illuminating modern ideas about magnetism, blood circulation, sound waves and acoustics, El Orinoco ilustrado documents both Old World science arriving in the New World and New World scientific contributions to the Old.

The case of this Jesuit missionary, who spent "over thirty years eating American bread," reveals the sometimes contradictory nature of the European-born, American-bred naturalist. (14) Gumilla presents himself as more than a European scientist who dialogues with his peers and teaches his Amerindian charges. He is also a mediator who vindicates the neglected Orinoco region from European disdain. Both El Orinoco ilustrado and Gumilla's separate reports to politicians and the King demonstrate Gumilla's rote in nation-building. Like many other Jesuits, Gumilla actively intervenes in politics. In his Informe que hace a S.M. en su Real y Supremo Consejo de Indias, Gumilla stresses the need to protect the Orinoco region from Dutch and Carib incursions. Gumilla's plans include popularizing European colonization in the emerging nation-state of New Granada. (15) Thus Father Gumilla's colonial agenda not only supports Jesuit endeavors and encourages novitiates to become missionaries inland along the Orinoco but also encourages soldiers' intercultural dialogue to help make peace near the coast and build alliances with warring tribes by weakening Carib cooperation with Dutch pirates.

Founding and re-establishing neglected missions with tribesmen from the Betoyas, Mapoyes, Otomacos, Yaruros, Salivas and Paos, Gumilla learns much about nature during interactions with different Orinoco nations. (16) They open an exotic book of secrets that Gumilla reads and translates for his European readers both in the Old and New Worlds. Gumilla's readers include not only Jesuit superiors such as Tomas Nieto Polo, solicitor general in Quito, but also key figures of the Spanish-American and European Enlightenment. One of these figures was Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera, governor of the province of Quito and father of the author of the Diccionario geografico historico de las Indias Occidentales o America. Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera penned a dictum which underscored the authority granted by Gumilla's experience and his virtuous examples. In his approbation Alsedo y Herrera states clearly that Gumilla "con los ejemplos persuade a la imitacion, y con la verdadera puntualidad de las noticias averiguadas: con la experiencia desata dudas, y desengana errores ..." (Gumilla 19). Even more striking figures include the most important enlightened European travelers to the Orinoco region. Charles Marie de la Condamine and the great Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt cited and admired Gumilla's discoveries. Although in his Viaje a la America Meridional por el rio de las Amazonas (1745) La Condamine decries Gumilla's mistaken assertion that there is no connection between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers, he finds much to celebrate in the 1741 edition of El Orinoco ilustrado. (17) Both La Condamine and Humboldt relied on Gumilla's text for botanical information about, for example, hallucinogenic yopo snuff (Anadenanthera peregrina). Apart from benefiting from Gumilla's descriptions of both medicinal and poisonous plants and fabulous fauna such as the anaconda, caimans, crocodiles and piranhas, Baron von Humboldt cites Gumilla on an inexplicable instinct of the Orinoco tortoise. (18)

The significance of La Condamine and von Humboldt reading El Orinoco ilustrado cannot be overstated. Ever since their travels these botanists have been repeatedly recognized for the dissemination of knowledge about South America within the Americas and to Europe. (19) La Condamine traveled with famed Spanish explorers of South American geography, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, whose writings reveal additional evidence of reciprocal discourse and transnational reading. These scientific travelers served as mediators of Gumilla's knowledge of perhaps the most important secret in his Orinoco book: curare. Juan and Ulloa were the first to absorb Gumilla's report on the Cavarre tribe's production of the lethal curare poison into their Relacion historica del viage a la America Meridional ... con otras varias Observaciones Astronomicas, y Phisicas (1748) and later in the Noticias secretas y publicas de America. (20) The process of elaborating this Orinoco poison, one of the greatest wonders in El Orinoco ilustrado, would be commented on in every review of Gumilla's natural history. Botanical citations since von Humboldt's 1808 Ansichten der Natur (Tableaux de la nature/Views of Nature) underline the importance of Gumilla's revealing report. Gumilla shared the lucrative secrets of the Caverres: "sola esta nacion se tiene el secreto y lo fabrica y logra la renta pingue del resto de todas aquellas naciones que por si o por terceras personas concurren a la compra del curare" (360). Still, when describing the extraction and distillation of the liana root (bejuco maracure) used to poison the tips of arrows, Gumilla relays his own experiments blending both useful secrets about this New World plant and well-established Old World knowledge about the circulation of the blood.

Gumilla explicitly acknowledges that he, himself, contributes to a transatlantic, cross-cultural flow of knowledge. On the one hand, he brings to his New World experiments with the curare poison an understanding of the theories on the circulatory system of the famous anatomist William Harvey. (21) On the other, he also suggests that he has stolen away from the Orinoco region forbidden knowledge that God had previously never intended mere mortals to receive. Earning his status as mediator between God and man, between Europeans and Americans, Gumilla crosses over the Atlantic as well as crosses over from Spanish into Orinoco culture and language. El Orinoco ilustrado's curare narration serves as an example of this Jesuit's success in obtaining remarkable secrets of a valuable and sometimes horrifying Amerindian exploitation of nature. The instantaneous effects of the curare entering a victim's bloodstream are quite literally blood-curdling. As Gumilla exclaims: "Es maravilla el ver que ... se le cuaja toda la sangre y muere tan instantaneamente que apenas puede decir tres veces Jesus" (361). This must be why God hid this root in the "festering swamps": "para esconderse mas busco o le senalo el Autor de Ia Naturaleza, no la tierra comun al resto de las plantas, sino el cieno podrido y corrupto ..." (Gumilla 364). While man is well able to observe the effect of the curare poison, the Jesuit restricts full understanding of the primary cause to God. As his narration concedes, Gumilla first heard of its mortal properties from another "great observer of nature"; however, he "suspended judgment" about any causes of its terrible effects until he could perform his own first-hand experiment: "Francisco Masias, hombre de brio y valor, grande observador de la naturaleza, propiedades de las plantas y animales y hasta de los insectos, fue el primero que me dio la noticia de la instantanea actividad del curare. Suspendi mi juicio y lo remiti a la experiencia. Presto ocurrio ..." (361). Gumilla's own experiments on several animals serve only to fill him with "great wonder at the hidden causes he could never reveal": "!Oh prodigio grande de las causas ocultas que ignoramos!" he exclaims after experimenting with a monkey and then cutting him open to see the congealed, instantly cold blood (361). (22)

Reading Gumilla's discussion of curare clarifies diverse functions of the Jesuit's mediation. For at the same time that Gumilla introduces European science to indigenous knowledge, he also functions as a spy, revealing to his readers their potentially devastating military secrets. Gumilla also scouts out Dutch commerce with Orinoco nations, revealing the economic value of not only curare but also an autochthonous purgative and panacea. Further examples from Gumilla's description of Orinoco region nature reveal various and sometimes conflicting mediating functions. First, Gumilla appropriates and improves upon indigenous medical practices by dispelling superstition and revealing useful remedies against sting rays and ringworm. Next, Gumilla illustrates appropriate European female moral conduct through a discussion of and American plant: the chaste and virtuous "bashful plant." Finally, Gumilla's mediation provides both moral and philosophical lessons for Europeans when he reveals the insufficiency of Aristotelian physics to explain the propagation of sound waves produced by the singular Orinoco war drum and then attempts to bridge a gap in European-Amerindian cultural understanding.

After demonstrating the mysterious horrors of curare, or "este inaudito y fatal veneno" and the "tan instantanea operacion de la Naturaleza," Gumilla provides his readers with some striking images of curare concoction. (23) Perhaps only as a rhetorical strategy in deference to Jesuit authorities and to God, Gumilla claims he did not personally witness the production of this poison. Instead, he cites an extremely reliable, well-known Jesuit missionary (Jose Cavarte) whose almost forty years in the Orinoco region missions has granted him indisputable authority. (24) These authority-granting details would be notable to any reader aware that Father Gumilla has been there only a few years less. Whether Gumilla was eyewitness or not, he brings before his readers eyes a narration of the "maniobra singularisima" involved in fabricating curare that is extremely dramatic and vivid (364). (25) Caverre tradition calls for curare distillation by "la vieja mas inutil de la poblacion, y cuando esta cae muerta a violencias del vaho de las ollas, como de ordinario acontece, luego sustituyen otra vieja del mismo calibre en su lugar" (364). Because of their seemingly diabolical role in man's manipulation of nature, Gumilla does not seem surprised that nobody laments the sacrifice of the tribe's old women. Indeed, Gumilla explains, even these women understand that death by curare vapors is to be their final destiny: "saben que este es el paradero de las viejas" (365). Still, he heightens the drama by repeating the image of the old hag squeezing out the last few minutes of her life while squeezing out the last essence of curare. When she drops dead, another who may or may not survive takes her place: "entra la segunda, que a veces escapa y a veces no" (365). Suspense at this hag's possibility of cheating death grows when the natives test the concoction by approaching an open wound with a tainted stick. If the blood withdraws from its contrary (natural antipathy) the curare is ready, lf blood continues to flow out of the cut, the curare must boil down longer, and if so: "le mandan a la triste anciana que prosiga su peligro proximo de muerte, hasta que, hechas despues las pruebas necesarias, aquella natural antipatia con que la sangre se retira violentamente de su contrario les manifiesta que ya el curare subio a su debida y suma actividad" (365).

Through this horrendous display, Gumilla suggests that the devil directs the Caverre nation's manipulation of God's work. Human, not divine, an has revealed a secret of nature that was never meant to be disclosed. Here again he sets himself up as mediator between God and man. Meanwhile, Gumilla cannot "contenerme sin exclamar alabando la sabia providencia del Altisimo" that, despite also having gained such dangerous knowledge, the Amerindians remain "unaware" of the military power they possess: "en medio de lo que saben y hacen muchos danos no sepan bien aquellos barbaros las invencibles armas que tienen en su curare" (363-64). lndeed if fully realized, this "invincible weapon" would stop the flow of missionaries, Spanish settlers, and soldiers. One reason Gumilla gives for revealing in his book of secrets something that European readers might find hard to believe is to forewarn there of curare's grave danger. Deploying a careful use of rhetoric, Gumilla first acknowledges that European readers might find his curare narration fantastic. He suggests that the devil must have put the idea in the mind of the Caverre nation; otherwise why would any human alter God's wondrous works to fabricate such evil? From the discovery of the well-hidden root through the production of the lethal cash crop, Gumilla asks rhetorically, who could believe this unless it were diabolically dictated?: "?quien lo creera, sino confesando que todo ello, desde el hallazgo de la raiz hasta el fin, fue dictado por el demonio? Yo asi me lo persuado" (365-66). For the second edition of El Orinoco ilustrado (1745), Gumilla adds a section that responds to his earliest readers' horror at this American poison: "Quiero concluir este capitulo borrando o amortiguando la admiracion y espanto que habra causado la noticia de la malignidad del curare, con relacion de otro veneno a su vez mucho peor" (367-68). It seems that the negative wonder of the evil curare can best be mediated by adding information about an even more diabolic poison from the Philippines, where the natives make arrow-head poison with resins from a tree trunk that constantly emanates poisonous vapors without even the need for distillation.

To conclude just one amazing section of El Orinoco ilustrado, Gumilla writes: "dejo otras ilaciones que hice de la actividad del curare para los curiosos, y voy a otra admiracion" (363). One of the wonders of curare was its lack of practical antidote. However, Gumilla relays plenty of contraries to curare when he discusses the valuable remedies and panaceas available amongst the flora along the banks of the Orinoco. While the textual information mediating medical knowledge is by default directed at European readers, the content of his narration reveals mediation directed at both Europeans and Americans. At one point Gumilla laments the "barbarous, cruel and foolish" erroneous cures for snake bites employed by Amerindians and states that one purpose of "this book" is to reveal missionaries' antidotes to "those poor ignorant Indians." (26) Still the intended audience of El Orinoco ilustrado evidences more examples of particularly prized secrets "crossing over" from America to Europe. To create his Orinoco book of secrets, Gumilla investigates non-erroneous pre-existing Amerindian homespun remedies. (27) For example, powders concocted from snakes can heal instead of poison. On this note, Gumilla shares medically and economically useful secrets gathered by the "repetidas experiencias" of "el hermano Juan de Agullon, boticario, medico y excelente quimico del colegio maximo de mi provincia de Santa Fe" (399). In fact several anecdotes in El Orinoco ilustrado narrate experiments (experiencias) that demonstrate a preference for first-hand observation and scientific reasoning over popular myths in a manner much like Father Feijoo. (28) Gumilla laments that the Orinoco has no "real doctors": "Vino a visitarme una vieja mestiza, quiero decir que era medio india y medio mulata; ella se preciaba de medica ..." (410). Although she shares with Gumilla her experience, Gumilla notes how he has improved upon her complicated cure for the tropical ringworm rash. His own experiments reveal that simple warm lemon will suffice (410).

In another dramatic anecdote, a poor boy who faces certain death reveals Gumilla's dual function as doctor to Amerindians and modern scientific investigator. Before Gumilla's arrival, anyone bitten by a sting ray died. When the boy is brought before him, Gumilla notices that no blood comes out of the sting ray's bite. He first wonders whether the poison coagulates the blood or the blood runs away from its contrary (poison). Careful observation of the activity of blood around the wound inspires Gumilla to carry out two experiments and thin the blood, thus preventing the coagulation that normally kills sting ray bite victims. (29) Gumilla narrates his experiments with garlic and a ground nut, all the while adding drama to his anecdote by expressing his intense desire to save the Indian child. Thankfully, the first experiment heals the victim within three days. This encourages Gumilla to carry out a second experiment and, based on its equal outcome, to make a general hypothesis based on his observations. Generalizations drawn from particulars like these do not demonstrate, for example, true Baconian induction. However, they do exemplify what Spaniards in Gumilla's time thought of as Baconian: the deduction of maxims from experience, or the study of particular, empirical truths.

In his role as mediator of secrets and cures, Gumilla not only takes knowledge from the Amerindians. Like Feijoo among the Spaniards, he also shares European secrets to dispel popular superstitions among the indigenous. With the ringworm rash and the sting ray bite, Gumilla discovers and reveals remedies that challenge what Gumilla contends is unfounded wisdom handed down from generation to generation in the Orinoco region. Sometimes he discovers new cures; other times he improves upon native remedies with his knowledge and experiments, turning there into "science." However, in another example, popular wisdom shared by Amerindians whom Gumilla calls "ignorant" contains a germ of truth. Gumilla corrects ignorants of all classes, not just commoners, who believe that a tiny live animal causes an intestinal flu. As he puts it, "afirma el vulgo y comun de aquellas gentes, y muchos que no son parte del vulgo lo creen, que un mal muy comun ... que se llama bicho, es un animalejo vivo, nacido en los intestinos o entremetido en ellos.... A mi no me han dado prueba ni razon que me haya inclinado a creer que este tal bicho sea animalejo viviente" (411). Citing lack of proof or personal experience, Gumilla rejects what might have been Amerindian awareness of bacteria. In this section, Gumilla once again laments the "inevitable death" (this time "precediendo notables convulsiones") of any misdiagnosed native (411). For in his experience, what is popularly known as a bicho is not an animal, but rather a fever from which anyone can recover if he is properly treated. (30)

Valuable Science (Valuing Science)

While incapable of performing the kind of "border thinking" Walter Mignolo prescribes to twenty-first century scholars for resurrecting "subaltern knowledge," Gumilla does learn from his Amerindian charges. Naturally, imperial economics motivate Gumilla's appropriation of Amerindian knowledge more frequently when it transmits potentially profitable botanical secrets. For their medicinal and economic value, for example, Orinoco region products like the healing panacea renamed aceite de Maria, the cure-all "Virgin's oil," or the extremely effective purgative, frailecillo (little friar), were the type of medically useful discoveries that gained governmental support for well-funded scientific expeditions later in the century, both foreign and domestic. (31) Gumilla's exploration of popular healing is especially pleasing to European readers of El Orinoco ilustrado when secret Amerindian successes with plants offer there several new plant species with great economic potential. This kind of pharmaceutical survey of curious yet useful and marketable flora anticipates the late eighteenth-century "applied economic botany" and institutionalization of science. (32) Even discussion of the curare poison advises the Crown on ways to exploit the existing commerce with the Dutch. Gumilla also mentions Dutch merchants when suggesting the economic potential of aceite de Maria:</p> <pre> La codicia que tienen los holandeses de comprar estos aceites de mano de los caribes es la causa principal de su amistad y de los danos que han padecido y padecen nuestras Misiones. Y el anhelo con que lo buscan los extranjeros es prueba eficaz de las grandes virtudes que en dicho aceite han reconocido (219). </pre> <p>An entire section of Gumilla's book of Orinoco secrets enumerates healing resins, balms, fruits and roots which would be profitable to Old World medicine (212-219). Thus, secrets that Gumilla gleans from Amerindian tribes and then displays in El Orinoco ilustrado communicate not only up-to-the-minute knowledge, but also immediate value. (33)

Like most Jesuits, despite his firsthand knowledge, Gumilla also makes ample use of European sources to learn about America. By citing European sources, Gumilla fulfills his perceived role as "diligent historian" and not only clarifies nature's secrets, but also anticipates claims against superstition. (34) One example of Gumilla taking advantage of European to American "crossing over" occurs when he mixes natural philosophy and moral philosophy to describe the morally useful Mimosa pudica, or "the sensitive plant" (Allaby 258). Other naturalists had described a similar sensitiva "virgin plant," but Father Gumilla cites only Noel Regnault, French author of a recent treatise proposing a "new system of physics," as well as "monsieur Salmon." (35) A similar mediatory function (among European and American knowledge) continues later in the century when the Italian Jesuit Mario Cicala mentions Gumilla by name and repeats surprising information about the vergonzosa (bashful) plant also known as virgen to missionaries in the Philippines such as Salmon, yet "taken as fable" by most Europeans: "aquella maravillosa planta llamada por los americanos la vergonzosa (sic) y por los europeos la Pudica (sic) cuya singular propiedad ni nosotros ni en Europa es tenida por cierta sino por fabula, esto es, de recogerse y cerrar sus hojas ante el simple tacto de la mano" (Cicala 93). Gumilla's efforts to remove the mystery of the plant include citing Jesuit physicist Regnault to explain the physical cause of how this most modest of plants provides a "'mirror" of moral conduct, not only pulling away from being touched by "curious hands," but even fleeing from the "careful examination" of naturalists' gaze (445). The natural reason for the personified vergonzosa's modesty entails a rush of fluid towards the roots of the plant that causes its prudent retraction of leaves. But Gumilla finds a natural moral and he commands his readers to "mirense en el espejo de esta vergonzosa hierba," especially "madres de familia y las maestras" who "pueden y deben exhortar a sus hijas y discipulos, diciendolas: 'Venid, observad, atended y aprended de esta hierba vergonzosa; reparad que en cuanto la tocan, se da por muerta, desfallece, se desmaya y se marchita'" (444-45).

Gumilla carefully weaves another important moral into his discourse on yet another Caverre weapon of wonder: the war drums illustrated in one of only three images Gumilla drew for El Orinoco ilustrado apart from his detailed map. The rhetorical effect of Gumilla's description of this next example of human instead of divine art helps remove and prevent negative European wonder. Gumilla's mediation in this section helps his readers cross over from initial horror, through modern ideas about acoustics, and finally arrive at an understanding that vindicates seemingly evil aspects of Amerindian culture. First he hooks his readers with two rhetorical questions meant to underscore the Orinoco war drum as something to marvel at: "quien los podra ponderar? Y ya ponderados, ?quien en Europa lo querra creer?" (344). Gumilla's description of his own negative wonder at the terrible sounds of the war drum are tied to an explanation of how thunderous noises and terrible echoes stun, then fill with dread, all recent arrivals to the Orinoco. Gumilla grounds his investigations into the amplifying echo effect of the war drums in modern physics and frames them as consolations for outsiders. What they think is a great storm, Gumilla writes, is actually the confusion of war drum echoes bouncing off, in and around hills, boulders, mountain valleys, and trees.

Gumilla provides a series of comparisons by similitude suggesting that Europeans refrain from negating knowledge of New World nations and cultures without an understanding of the region. Obviously some readers of the first edition of El Orinoco ilustrado chose not to believe. For this reason, just as he did with his description of Caverre curare production, Gumilla adds a section to his second edition to both mitigate the horror of Caverre war drums and answer the "echo" of European critics who assume that the New World war drums should sound just like Old World tambores. It is a grave mistake, warns Gumilla, to doubt notices from the Orinoco. That way of arguing, he maintains, is flawed: "porque aquel es mal modo de arguir, y si el valiera, no hubiera noticia forastera cierta, si no se hallaba por aca [Europa] alguna cosa semejante con que verificarla: de que se inferia volverse inutiles las historias" (347). Instead, Europeans should follow Gumilla's lead and bring their scientific knowledge to play in specifically American situations.

According to Gumilla, his new section "tratase seriamente" the propagation of sound by adding external proofs to his internal experience and stating that Aristotelian "formalidades metafisicas" will not suffice. Gumilla "confesses" to a much more scientific "apparatus" and insists that his are not "speculative ideas" or scholastic generalizations about invisible sound waves: "esta no es idea especulativa, ni argumento fundado en formalidades metafisicas, sino una serie de experiencias que concurren a evidenciar la certidumbre de mi experimento" (351). Gumilla's conclusions allow several claims about sound production and propagation through air by expanding circular waves that demonstrate an atomistic understanding of hearing and sound. To support them he narrates experiments with water and sunlight, describing a movement of atoms that compares with sound vibration in air. Thus, his disquisition on the strange war drum (tambor raro) enters into the field of modern physics. (36) By incorporating seventeenth and early eighteenth-century natural philosophy, Gumilla improves upon his Jesuit forefather, Acosta's concept of "good philosophy" to understand the causes of the "Highest and Supreme Artificer's" marvels. When Gumilla announces how he will reveal the certainty of his findings on the tambor by using "'good philosophy," he means a more serious philosophy of sound deduced from individual physical experiments instead of merely Aristotelian common experience. As he affirms:</p> <pre> voy a evidenciar la certidumbre del sonido del tambor caverre de Orinoco por buena filosofia, deducida de experimentos fisicos, cuya solidez conocera el que tuviere alguna tintura de filosofo, y el que no la tuviere no se disgustara de ver los fundamentos y los experimentos con que pruebo y confirmo mi proposicion. (348). </pre> <p>Next, Gumilla divides his lengthy discussion of the frightening sounds of the war drums into production, dissemination, reflection and amplification. His treatment addresses the interaction of matter and energy, of vibrations and their movement in waves through the air to create sound. (37) Gumilla's pious endorsement of the idea that the human intellect should never fully comprehend all the secrets of God's book of nature does not weaken his reliance on experiments and knowledge of studies by physicists (fisicos). (38) Thus, Gumilla confirms his infernal proofs with external proofs as he cites "a series of experiments" by modern fisicos. Father Regnault's "repetidos experimentos" and "el experimento del Padre Grimaldi" supplement Gumilla's own experience and experiments (349). (39) Later Gumilla refers to Father Mersenne, a natural philosopher who studied sound and with whom various new philosophers (including Descartes) corresponded. (40) Gumilla's scientific methodology blends his own direct observation and information gleaned from both Catholic and non-Catholic authorities rehearsing emerging laws of physics. Gumilla brings Old World science into the New World: seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French and Italian natural philosophers such as Mersenne, Regnault, Grimaldi, and Tosca, who were conversant with the new philosophies of Descartes, Malebranche and Newton, are cited in El Orinoco ilustrado. Gumilla mentions the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and its current president, successor to Newton, Sir Hans Sloane, as well as the Paris Science Academy's Journal des Savants. (41) At the same time such diversity indicates Gumilla's quest for truth instead of a particular system of physics, this section of El Orinoco ilustrado demonstrates his mediation of modern physical knowledge.

As an example of intercultural discourse flowing in the opposite direction, Gumilla relays his personal experience regarding the horror that Amerindian nations suffer when a missionary first enters their land. Just as the sound of war drums initially cause European men to tremble with fear ("los hace temblar de miedo"), the sight of Europeans inspires native fear (352). As Gumilla explains, the first encounter is often the first time Amerindians realize that men wear clothing. Therefore, if a missionary has neglected to send native messengers ahead, he can expect to see what Gumilla has seen himself "many times": expressions of extremely negative wonder as the whole "rabble" flees into the woods, screaming and wailing in their amazement: "toda la chusma de hijos y mujeres, atonitos de ver gente vestida, huyen a los bosques, dando gritos y alaridos (refiero lo que he visto muchas veces)" (115). It can take quite awhile to coax them back out. Furthermore, when Gumilla has given clothing to the women, they have refused saying, "'Durraba ajaduca."' 'No nos tapamos, porque nos da verguenza'" (115). Gumilla's recreation of these scenes and translations of Amerindian phrases allows him to marvel at the "fuerza de la costumbre," before reassuring his readers that this refusal to wear clothing passes when "percibiendo los misterios de nuestra santa fe, se les van aclarando los ojos interiores; [y] caen en la cuenta de su desnudez" (115-16). As Caroline Walker-Bynum articulated in her 1996 Presidential Address to the American Historical Association (AHA), wonder "'is a reaction of a particular 'us' to an 'other' that is 'other' only relative to the particular 'us'" (14). While undoubtedly participating in an arrogant Christian mission, Gumilla does take advantage of his readers' curiosity at his intercultural discourse with Orinoco nations to actually defend Amerindian cultures from European contempt. By demonstrating to his readers that Amerindian horror at European culture swiftly turns to love and Christian understanding, Gumilla pleads for European love and understanding of Amerindians whose culture can seem shocking. Thus, while Gumilla's disquisition on war drums brings European physics into America, equally important are the previously unheard of Orinoco information provided to Europe by Gumilla's book of secrets and the useful morals regarding perceptions of "us" and "them."

In conclusion, the purpose of this essay is to explore transnational and intercultural readings of Joseph Gumilla's Orinoco book of nature. Gumilla composed El Orinoco ilustrado at Court (Madrid and Rome) during the last years of his life. He wrote to recall his literal and spiritual journeys up the River Orinoco and to encourage his readers to embark upon similar paths. In general, Father Gumilla crossed from Europe to America on a heroic Jesuit mission to convert Orinoco nations to Christianity. Like other missionary naturalists, he often inspired conversion through conversations about natural phenomena that enlightened Amerindians with European scientific knowledge. Despite the general disdain for subaltern knowledge, Gumilla did facilitate crossings over from America to Europe and between American nations which greatly influenced the study and explanation of plants, animals, and natural phenomena in the Orinoco region. Therefore, interrogating Gumilla's role in the transnational transfer of secrets has implications for understanding both the European influence on Spanish American production and dissemination of knowledge and the Jesuit role in translating New World particularities for Europeans.

This eighteenth-century Jesuit text sheds light on the reciprocal discourse of Enlightenment natural philosophy. Gumilla's writing constructs various discourses and contributes valuable information towards understanding the complex mediations between Amerindian and European knowledge. El Orinoco ilustrado is neither entirely pro-European nor pro-American, Instead, Gumilla's book of secrets imagines the Orinoco as a confluence of European, Indigenous and even Creole interests, identities and knowledge. (42) Gumilla crosses over between various nations and his functions as mediator prove favorable to many. While a Christian agenda takes precedence, studying the slippage that Father Gumilla demonstrates in regards to on whose behalf he wrote can be especially interesting for studying the development of national identities through literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gumilla engages both intercultural communication and, within the discourse of natural philosophy, concepts of modern physics. El Orinoco ilustrado serves as a book of secrets that crosses back and forth the Atlantic to vindicate Orinoco nature and nations and reveal the importance of New World flora and fauna to Old World physics. (43)


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Wake Forest University


(1.) Meanwhile scholars like Mary Louise Pratt and Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel have focused primarily on non-Jesuit "Creole Patriots." Martinez-San Miguel discusses the mediatory role of Creoles who "facilitated the diffusion of American knowledge" (217).

(2.) For a broad treatment of imperial appropriation of knowledge see Walter Mignolo's 2000 reflections on Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Mignolo proposes that twenty-first century critics resist "border thinking from a territorial perspective," which functions as a "machine of appropriation" and instead adopt "border thinking from the perspective of subalternity," which can function as a machine for intellectual decolonization (45).

(3.) While this mediation included extensive contact with Asia, this article focuses on that between European and Amerindian cultures. For more recent treatments of the "Jesuit way of proceeding," see the excellent anthology edited by John W. O'Malley, S.J. et. al.

(4.) Two years before the French translation was published, Monsieur Freron wrote favorably of Gumilla's El Orinoco ilustrado, noting his "pure, simple and natural style" that "so distinguishes him from other writers of his nation," (translation mine 46). Freron also reviewed the 1758 French translation of El Orinoco ilustrado in L'Annee Litteraire. Here he emphasized Gumilla's portrayal of indigenous customs, which "would interest philosophers and non-philosophers alike" (350). In fact, the Abbe Raynal, in his Histoire du commerce des Europeens dans les deux Indies (1770) "borrowed some of his most effective passages from the work of Gumilla" (

(5.) For example, in the entry, "Orinoco" in Antonio de Alcedo's renowned 1786-89 Diccionario geografico historico de las Indias Occidentales o America. Es a saber: de los Revnos del Peru, Nueva Espana, Tierra Firme, Chile, y Nuevo Reyno de Granada Gumilla is mentioned by name. After listing many of the Orinoco tribes the Jesuits worked with along the banks of the Orinoco, Alcedo recalls the fate of the Society of Jesus's "flourishing missions" passing to the Capuchine Order after the Jesuit expulsion (63).

(6.) This 1791 edition published by Carlos Bigert y Tuto, changed the original title, dropping El Orinoco ilustrado and emphasizing the nations along the Orinoco with: Historia natural, civil y geographica de las naciones situadas en las riberas del Rio Orinoco.

(7.) The only nineteenth-century edition was published with this same rifle in Barcelona in 1882 as part of the collection, La Verdadera Ciencia Espanola. Of the eight modern editions, Father Jose Rafael Arboleda has introduced two based on the 1741 edition of El Orinoco ilustrado. Father Constantino Bayle based his edition on the 1745 publication (El Orinoco ilustrado y defendido). Three dates are cited for this Madrid: Aguilar, Espana Misionera edition (1944, 1945 and 1946). The copies themselves are not dated, but I have chosen the bicentennial of Gumilla's publication. This definitive Bayle edition was reproduced for the Venezuelan National Academy of History edition published in 1963. All quotes in this article are from the 1963 edition.

(8.) To establish anything more than probable affinities between Gumilla and Bacon is difficult. We will see below, however, that there were direct connections between Gumilla and Feijoo.

(9.) Russell Sebold cites compelling evidence that Father Feijoo was inspired by Bacon when comparing his efforts to share new "paises intelectuales" with the efforts of early discoverers, Columbus and Vasco de Gama. See "Colon, Bacon y la metafora heroica," especially pages 348-351.

(10.) Gumilla refers his readers to Ecclesiastes 3:14, "God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him" (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Eccles. 3.14). With "heroic hunt" I mean to echo Bacon's "venatio," or, the hunt for knowledge.

(11.) For an in-depth treatment of wonder and the rhetorical strategies employed to evoke it, see my chapter, "Father Gumilla, Crocodile Hunter? The Function of Wonder in El Orinoco ilustrado" in El saber de los jesuitas, historias naturales y el Nuevo Mundo/Jesuit Knowledge, Natural Histories and the New World.

(12.) See, for example, Dominique Deslandres' contribution to O'Malley's The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773 or Michael Adas' Machines as the Measure of Men: science, technology and ideologies of Western dominance.

(13.) See Daston and Park 306. Despite participating in its discourse, Gumilla did not subscribe to the Hermetic view of arcana naturae, where "nature's secrets were so unfathomable that they could be known only by a divine revelation" (Eamon 352). See also Paula Findlen.

(14.) Between finishing his Jesuit novitiate education in Santa Fe de Bogota and his time as an Orinoco missionary, Gumilla spent 32 years in America before returning to Europe.

(15.) Gumilla suggested that the King divide the region amongst poor Spaniards from Catalonia, Galicia and the Canary Islands so that they may reap the "great treasure" of the region. See the section entitled, "Infierase el gran tesoro que se sacara si se poblase bien el tal reino" in El Orinoco ilustrado (264). Gumilla lays out his enlightened immigration plans in separate petition to the King. See Escritos varios, Jose del Rey's compilation of Gumilla's official correspondence: letters, memorials, biographies and reports (57-69).

(16.) Especially with the Saliva tribe. For more information, see Farber Daniel Restrepo, Compendio historial y galeria de ilustres varones, La Compania de Jesus en Colombia and Father Manuel Aguirre Elorriaga, La Compania de Jesus en Venezuela, who lists the missions Gumilla founded between 1732-39: San Jose de los Mapoyes, Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Santa Teresa de Tabaje, San Ignacio de Var y Paos (67).

(17.) A letter from La Condamine repeating this plaint was quoted in the preface of the 1758 French edition of El Orinoco ilustrado by its translator. Gumilla acknowledged his error and would have corrected it if he had lived long enough to publish a third edition.

(18.) Gumilla had investigated the observable phenomenon of the turtle's innate sense of direction that always lead it directly to water. This wonder stupefied him: "lo que me causo mas admiracion" (Gumilla 232). Unable to explain this secret of nature, Gumilla instead deduces a moral statement about man's path towards God.

(19.) These two travelers are key scientific figures cited for information about America in the eighteenth, nineteenth and even twentieth-century. Before Humboldt, the French naturalist, La Condamine was the last foreigner given free reign to explore Spanish colonies (1735-45). While at the Court in Madrid, Humboldt convinced Charles IV to grant him unencumbered access for exploration. As Humboldt bragged in his Personal Narrative of A Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of The New Continent, "Never had such concessions been granted to a traveller, and never had the Spanish government shown such confidence in a foreigner" (1995, 18). See Mary Louise Pratt for the importance of Humboldt's vivid descriptions to the foundational myths of the new Spanish American Republics and for Simon Bolivar's estimation of him.

(20.) The Noticias secretas de America was not published until 1826 due to its subtle criticism of Spanish Colonial administration.

(21.) Gumilla's understanding of British scientist, Harvey's knowledge of the circulation of the blood was likely mediated by a reading of a text published in Peru by Federico Bottoni, Evidencia de la Circulacion de la Sangre (1723).

(22.) Gumilla observes the effect of curare poison first on monkeys, then on other animals: "El mismo instantaneo efecto reconoci despues en los tigres, antes, leones y otras muchas fieras y aves" (Gumilla 363). He also expresses his amazement that by eating the flesh of animals felled by curare-laden arrows, man is not harmed.

(23.) So striking are his images that French reviews of the 1741 edition of El Orinoco ilustrado relay verbatim almost all of the details of the native production of curare.

(24.) Gumilla judges "el venerable Padre Jose Cabarte [sic]" so reliable that he affirms: "tengo su individual noticia por tan seguros conductos que no me dan lugar a la menor duda o sospecha" (306).

(25.) Interestingly enough, Gumilla allies himself with European science when he suggests that such a singular fabrication would deserve even greater praise "si esta maniobra se ejecutara por uno de nuestros cientificos, con las vasijas competentes y con las reglas de la facultad" (366).

(26.) The entire passage my translations are from is worth quoting: "Ya dije arriba el modo barbaro, cruel y necio, con que los indios, en su ciega gentilidad, curaban; erre, no curaban a los mordidos de culebra. Ahora sera muy del caso, porque este libro tambien se ordena al bien de aquellas pobres gentes, apuntar aqui brevemente los remedios usuales que los Padres misioneros tienen prontos ... para bien de aquellos pobres ignorantes indios, a cuya noticia no habia llegado especie de tales antidotos" (Gumilla 400, emphasis mine).

(27.) This is the kind of popular "subjugated" knowledge that Michel Foucault would designate the savoir des gens, or, "naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition and scientificity" (82). In El Orinoco ilustrado, Gumilla reveals specific popular knowledge this is, in Foucault words, "a particular, local, regional knowledge" (82).

(28.) Although Gumilla does not directly acknowledge Feijoo's essay on natural history, given their affinities, it seems very likely that Gumilla was familiar with the Benedictine Father Feijoo's article, "Historia Natural," published in the second volume of his Teatro critico universal (1728). In order to reinforce his own scientific authority Gumilla does refer readers of the second edition of El Orinoco ilustrado (1745) to Feijoo's Cartas eruditas (1742). Feijoo's writings are widely recognized for bringing Enlightened ideas about science and philosophy to the New World. Given Feijoo's importance in the Hispanic Enlightenment, it is no surprise that Gumilla refers his readers to the Benedictine's writings. More striking, however, are Feijoo's references to Gumilla at least four times between 1750 and 1753 in his Cartas eruditas y curiosas. Feijoo quotes from El Orinoco ilustrado in Cartas eruditas vol. 3, Letter 15. He also mentions Gumilla in vol. 3, Letter 17 and vol. 4, Letters 6 and 9.

(29.) "Este pensamiento [that blood has coagulated] me excito a hacer dos experimentos, que son los que hoy se practican ya en todas aquellas Misiones contra las cotidianas heridas de rayas, contra las cuales los indios [previously] no habian hallado otro remedio que morir despues de encancerada la herida" (414). Gumilla's experiments here certainly bring to mind William Harvey's Anatomical Exercises on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals (1628), which are mentioned in Federico Bottoni, Evidencia de la Circulacion de la Sangre (1723): "Gulilemo Harveo, celebre Medico Yngles, fue el primero, que claramente hablo, y escribio de este Movimiento, en el Ano 1628" (n. pag.).

(30.) Despite eighteenth-century developments in germ theory (by Leeuwenhoek, Joblot, Bradley and Vallisnieri among others), Gumilla appears unaware of bacterial causes for intestinal distress. He seems not have imagined that sickness could, in fact, be caused by a tiny "live animal" even though the renowned Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher had postulated invisible living bodies as contagion nearly one-hundred years earlier.

(31.) Foreign and domestic examples who read Gumilla include La Condamine, Humboldt, Jose Celestino Mutis, Jorge Juan and Antionio de Ulloa. Though he never traveled to the New World, in Feijoo's "Pidio un amigo al Autor su dictamen en orden a los Polvos Purgantes del Doctor Ailhaud, Medico de Aix en la Provenza; y fue respondido en esta" (1753), the Benedictine reveals his reading of Gumilla when he refers readers to Gumilla's treatment of purgative in "el Tom. 1. del Orinoco Ilustrado, pag 311" (Feijoo, Cartas eruditas y curiosas. vol. 4, Letter 9, 117).

(32.) For more on this, see James E. McClellan, "Missionary Naturalists" and Antonio Barrera, "Local Herbs, Global Medicine: Commerce, Knowledge, and Commodities in Spanish America."

(33.) For example, curare became invaluable to medicine. Soon enough, Europeans civilized use of the root to create an anesthesia instead of a mortal poison. See Jose Rafael Fortique's Aspectos medicos en la obra de Gumilla.

(34.) See Gumilla's comments on the "diligente historiador, citando a otros" (446). Some citations were added while Gumilla was in Europe. For example when in Rome after the publication of the first edition, Gumilla must have read the Italian version of Jesuit Father Salmon's missionary relations, because he added several quotes about the Philippines to the second edition of El Orinoco ilustrado.

(35.) Gumilla seems to be referencing the French Jesuit, Regnault's Entriens physiques d'Ariste et d'Eudoxe, ou, Physique nouvelle en dialogues. I consulted the Philosophical Conversations, or a New System of Physics by way of Dialogue (1731) translation by professional scientific translator, Dr. Thomas Dale. Another example of the virgin plant "as symbol of purity" appears in a seventeenth-century text by Spanish Jesuit, Manuel Rodriguez that Gumilla mentions by name when discussing snakes (Gumilla 444, Rodriguez 376). In addition to other Jesuit mentions of this "bashful plant," the Dominican Friar, Jean-Baptiste Labat extols the healing virtues of this plant found in Martinique on page 200 of his Nouveau vovages aux isles de l'Amerique (1722).

(36.) Gumilla's statements are concordant with early eighteenth-century natural philosophy (and what was considered "modern physics" in his day). Of course twenty-first century physics understands sound waves to be longitudinal, whose particles oscillate around a center, their movement back and forth but in a line with direction. Gumilla's experimental philosophy did, however, confirm that compressions and expansions of air create amplitude, decibel, intensity, pitch in both the human voice and musical instruments.

(37.) Gumilla's interest in acoustics and the "impulso y ondulacion" of air was inspired by his affinity for music (348). When building up his philosophy of sound, he refers to musical instruments and the human voice.

(38.) Jose del Rey noted that the "scientific study of Gumilla's book is wide open" and that "in El Orinoco ilustrado" many "virgin" sciences resonate (18; translation mine).

(39.) Seventeenth-century Jesuit, Francesco Grimaldi studied both sound and light waves.

(40.) Mersenne first published his Harmonie universelle eleven years after his 1625 La verite des sciences: Contre les sceptiques ou pyrrhoniens. "In 1628 Descartes settled in Holland, where he devoted himself to his research. From there he maintained a steady correspondence with scholars everywhere, and especially with Father Marin Mersenne in Paris, whose monastic cell acted as a central clearing house for the European scientists of the period" (Debus 106).

(41.) For example, Gumilla cites "Tom. XXXVIII, en cuarto, del ano de 1738" of "las Memorias Filosoficas de la Regia Sociedad de Londres" (378) and "los fisicos modernos" of "el Diario de los sabios de Paris" (384).

(42.) Gumilla's "proto-Creole" and "proto-nationalistic" status provides an interesting consideration for a different study. For example, Guillermo Moron mentions El Orinoco ilustrado as the "genesis of national consciousness" and names Spanish-born Gumilla "the voice of Venezuelan-ness." His comments point to late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century appropriations of Gumilla in Colombia and Venezuela as the national took precedence over the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada. This transatlantic formation of "Creole subjectivity" points to alternate and conflicting understandings of the politics and economics of Spain and America.

(43.) Thank you to Kathryn Mayers for her feedback on drafts of this article. I would like to express my appreciation to the participants of the 2003 International Seminar on the Eighteenth Centure at the University of California, Los Angeles, for their comments on an early version of this article. Special thanks go to Liam Chambers, Fiona Clark, Doris Garraway, Ana Hontanilla, and the directors, Philip Stewart and Byron Wells.
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Title Annotation:work by Jesuit naturalist Jose Gumilla
Author:Ewalt, Margaret R.
Publication:Dieciocho: Hispanic Enlightenment
Article Type:Ensayo critico
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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