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Casiquiare canal

The Casiquiare is a distributary of the upper Orinoco, which flows southward into the Rio Negro. As such, it forms a unique natural canal between the Orinoco and Amazon river systems; it is the only river on the planet that links two major river systems.


In 1744 the Jesuit Father Roman[?], while ascending the Orinoco river, met some Portuguese slave-traders from the settlements on the Rio Negro. He accompanied them on their return, by way of the Casiquiare canal, and afterwards retraced his route to the Orinoco. La Condamine[?], seven months later, was able to give to the French Academy an account of Father Roman's extraordinary voyage, and thus confirm the existence of this wonderful waterway first reported by Father Acuna[?] in 1639.

But little credence was given to Father Roman's statement until it was verified, in 1756, by the Spanish Boundary-line Commission of Yturriaga[?] and Solano[?]. In 1800 German scientist Alexander von Humboldt and French botanist Aimé Bonpland[?] explored the river.


The actual elevation of the canal above sea-level is not known, but is of primary importance to the study of the hydrography of South America. Travellers in general give it at from 400 to 900 feet, but, after much study of the question of altitudes throughout South America, the writer believes that it does not exceed 300 feet. The canal connects the upper Orinoco, 9 miles below the mission of Esmeraldas, with the Rio Negro affluent of the Amazon River near the town of San Carlos[?].

The general course is south-west, and its length, including windings, is about 200 miles. Its width, at its bifurcation with the Orinoco, is approximately 300 feet, with a current towards the Negro of three-quarters of a mile an hour; but as it gains in volume from the very numerous tributary streams, large and small, which it receives en route, its velocity increases, and in the wet season reaches 5 and even 8 miles an hour in certain stretches. It broadens considerably as it approaches its mouth, where it is about 1750 feet in width. It will thus be seen that the volume of water it captures from the Orinoco is small in comparison to what it accumulates in its course.

In flood-time it is said to have a second connexion with the Rio Negro by a branch which it throws off to the westward called the Itinivini[?], which leaves it at a point about 50 miles above its mouth. In the dry season it has shallows, and is obstructed by sandbanks, a few rapids and granite rocks. Its shores are densely wooded, and the soil more fertile than that along the Rio Negro. The general slope of the plains through which the canal runs is south-west, but those of the Rio Negro slope south-east. The whole line of the Casiquiare is infested with myriads of tormenting insects.

It is thus seen that this marvellous freak of nature is not, as is generally supposed, a sluggish canal on a flat tableland, but a great, rapid river which, if its upper waters had not found contact with the Orinoco, perhaps by cutting back, would belong entirely to the Negro branch of the Amazon.

To the west of the Casiquiare there is a much shorter and more facile connexion between the Orinoco and Amazon basins, called the isthmus of Pimichin[?], which is reached by ascending the Terni branch of the Atabapo[?] affluent of the Orinoco. Although the Terni is somewhat obstructed, it is believed that it could easily be made navigable for small craft. The isthmus is 10 miles across, with undulating ground, nowhere over 50 feet high, with swamps and marshes. It is much used for the transit of large canoes, which are hauled across it from the Terni river, and which reach the Negro by the little stream called the Pimichin.

Note: This page originally came from the public domain 1911 encyclopedia. The information is thus at several places heavily outdated.

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