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CENTRAL AMERICA

region is comparatively small, and its limits conventional, there are comparatively few species that it can claim as peculiarly its own. It is almost entirely free from the presence of animals dangerous to man. Of felines it possesses the jaguar (Felis onza), popularly called the tiger; the cuguar (Felis concolor), popularly called the lion; the tigrillo (Felis tigrina), which is sometimes kept tame; and other species. Several species of monkeys (Mycetes and Ateles) are numerous in the warm coast region. The Mexican deer (Cervus mexicanus) has a wide range both in the lowlands and highlands. Besides the tapir there are several varieties of wild pig, such as the marrano de monte (Sus torquatus) and the jabali or javali (Sus labiatus javali). The Edentata are represented by a species of armadillo, the honey-bear (Myrmecophaga tomandua), and the Myrmecophaga didactyla; and among the rodents may be mentioned, besides rats, hares and rabbits, the fruit-eating cotorra and tepes-cuinte (Dasyprocta aguti and Coelogenys paca), and the troublesome Geomys mexicana. The manatee is common in all the larger streams. Much annoyance is caused to the agriculturist by the little marsupial called the tacuacine, or the Didelphys carcinora, its allied species. The bats are so numerous that villages have sometimes had to be left to their undisputed occupancy. In the south-east of Costa Rica the inhabitants are at times compelled to withdraw, with all their live-stock, before the swarms of large migratory vampires which in a single night can bleed the strongest animal to death. Most of the domestic animals—the horse, ox, goat, sheep, pig, dog, rabbit, common fowl, peacock and pigeon—are of European origin, and are popularly grouped together as animales de Castilla. For the bird collector there is a rich harvest. The catalogue of the National Museum at Washington shows that Costa Rica alone possesses more than twice as many species of birds as the whole of Europe. Among birds of prey it is sufficient to mention Corogyps atratus, the commonest of the vultures, which acts as a universal scavenger, the Cathartes aura, the beautiful Polyborus vulgaris, and the king of the vultures (Sarcorhamphus papa). Neither the condor of the southern continent nor the great eagles of the northern are known. The parrot, macaw and toucan are found in all parts; the crow, blackbird, Mexican jay, ricebird, swallow, rainbird, wood-pecker, humming-bird and trogon are also widely distributed. A bird of the last-named genus, the quetzal, quijal or quesal (Trogon resplendens) is of special note, not only from the fact that its yellow tail-feathers. 2 or 3 ft. long, were formerly worn as insignia by the Indian princes, but because it has been adopted as the emblematical figure on the national arms of Guatemala. The gallinaceous order is well represented, and comprises several peculiar species, as the pavo de cacho, and the Peten turkey (Meleagris ocellata), which has a bronze sheen on its plumage; and aquatic birds, it is almost needless to add, are unusually numerous in a region so richly furnished with lagoons, rivers and lakes.

Besides the alligator, which swarms in many rivers, the almost endless varieties of Central American reptiles include the harmless boba or chicken-snake, python and black snake; the venomous corali, taboba, culebra de sangre and rattlesnake; iguanas of great size, scorpions, edible lizards and other lizards said to be poisonous. In the rivers and lakes, as in both seas, fish of many kinds abound; turtles and tortoises are exported; and there are valuable pearl and oyster fisheries. Insect life is even richer and more varied. Of the Coleoptera, the Camelicorns, the Longicorns, the Curculionids, and the Chrysomelines are said to be best represented, and of the Lepidoptera the prevalent genera are—Ageronia, Papilio, Heliconia, Sphinx and Bombyx. There are five species of bees, and the European honey-bee, known as aveja de Castilla or “bee of Castile,” has been naturalized. Ants are common, and may sometimes be seen marching in a column 3 or 4 m. long. The mosquito, wood-tick, flea and locust are unfortunately no less plentiful in certain districts, but their distribution varies greatly, the mosquito being almost unknown in parts of Honduras. A curious species of butterfly is the Timetes Chiron, which migrates in countless multitudes from the forests of Honduras to the Mosquito Coast, but is never known to return.

Flora.—The flora of Central America ranges from the alpine to the tropical, with the transition from one climatic zone to another. Although its forest growths are, on the whole, inferior in size to those of corresponding latitudes in the eastern hemisphere, it is unsurpassed for beauty, luxuriance and variety. In the volcanic districts, the soil is extremely fertile, yielding, where cultivated and irrigated, magnificent crops of sugar, cotton, rice, tobacco, coffee, cocoa and maize. Indigo is produced in small quantities; sugar yields two or three crops, and maize as many as four, this cereal supplying a chief staple of food. Plantains, bananas, beans, tomatoes, yams, arrowroot, pine-apples, guavas, citrons and many other tropical fruits are also cultivated, while the extensive primeval forests abound in mahogany, cedars, rosewood, ironwood, rubber, gum copal, vanilla, sarsaparilla, logwood and many other dye-woods, medicinal plants, and valuable timbers. Conspicuous amongst the forest trees are the giant ceiba, or pyramidal bombax, and the splendid Coyal palm (Cocos butyracea, L.), with feathery leaves 15 to 20 ft. long, golden flowers 3 ft. high, and a sap which when fermented produces the intoxicating chicha or vino de Coyol. In Guatemala occurs the remarkable Herrania purpurea, a “Chocolate tree,” whose seeds yield a finer flavoured chocolate than the cocoa itself. The same country is famous for its magnificent orchids, huge arborescent thistles, and a remarkable plant called by the Spaniards Flor de la Calentura, “fever flower,” from the heat which it is said to emit at the moment of fertilization. Salvador produces an abundance of medicinal plants, notably the so-called Peruvian balsam (Myrospermum salvatorense); in Honduras there are immense forests of conifers, resembling those of the Landes in France; in Nicaragua a characteristic tree is the cortes (Tecoma sideroxylori) yielding timber as hard as ebony, and noteworthy for the golden blossom with which it is entirely covered after the leaves have fallen.

Inhabitants—In 1905 the population of Central America numbered about 4,750,000, and this total tends to increase, despite the unhealthy climate of many districts, the terribly high average of infant mortality, and the slow progress of immigration. Some authorities estimate it at 5,500,000. The vast majority of the inhabitants are of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, but the Indian element predominates everywhere except in Costa Rica, where the whites are exceptionally numerous. The Indian races have not shown the same power to adapt themselves to modern civilization as the Mexicans; in some regions there are tribes remaining in a state of complete savagery although before the Spanish conquest their ancestors attained a high level of culture (see below under Archaeology). The density of population throughout Central America is little more than 25 per sq. m.; and it is clear that several large areas now thinly peopled once maintained a far greater number of inhabitants. Such are parts of the Nicaraguan lake district, where the flora consists in great measure of plants that were formerly cultivated by the Indians. The depopulation of these areas was effected partly by tribal wars, partly by the harsh rule of the Spaniards. Apart from the German agricultural settlements in Guatemala and elsewhere, the foreign population is chiefly confined to the seaports and other centres of commerce, Great Britain, Germany and the United States being largely represented among the wealthier classes of residents; while the foreign labourers are mostly Italians or negroes, with a few Chinese on the Pacific coast.

History.—Central America was discovered by Columbus in August 1502; and part of the territory which is now Costa Rica was conquered by the Spaniards under Pedro Arias de Avila after 1513. Between 1522 and 1525, the authority of Avila was superseded, and his work of conquest completed by Hernando Cortes, who had already subjugated Mexico. Panama formed part of a distinct Spanish government, “New Granada”; British Honduras was colonized, though not formally annexed, in the 18th century; and over the Mosquito Coast the British government exercised a nominal protectorate after 1665. Otherwise the rest of Central America remained a Spanish dependency bearing the general name of “Guatemala,” until 1821. It ranked as a captaincy-general under the rule of a military governor, and was organized in five departments, corresponding in area with the modern republics of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. For three centuries it was administered by Spanish officials, who almost invariably devoted their whole energy to enriching themselves and the home authorities. The old Indian civilization was swept away; the native races were enslaved, maltreated and, for a time, demoralized. But their history offers no parallel to that of the West Indian Caribs, who failed to survive, and were replaced by hordes of African slaves. In Central America the Indians not only survived, thus leaving no room for any large negro population, but quickly acquired the language, religion and habits of their masters, with whom they intermarried. By the close of the 18th century, the majority had attained something like uniformity of life and thought. Racial distinctions had been obscured by intermarriage; even the term Ladino, or “Latin,” came to mean an educated man, whether of Spanish or Indian blood. Nowhere, except in Mexico, has a mixed or coloured race more completely absorbed the civilization of its white rulers; but so gradual and silent was the process that it passed almost unnoticed. Its result, the successful revolt of the Spanish colonies—colonies mainly peopled by Indians or half-castes—was no more a conflict of rival races or civilizations than the rebellion of the British colonies in North America.

“New Granada” attained its independence in 1819; and in 1821 “Guatemala” declared itself free. That the subsequent