Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Sixteen

16. Question. How swift was the current in the River Sidon? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

16. Answer. The Book of Mormon describes a high flow, low current river which means gentle slope gradients.
16. Exhibit. We have previously established that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva has a relatively high slope gradient along its entire course, while the Usumacinta has a much smaller slope gradient. See the article "Dividing the Rivers" in this blog. We will let Excel show us graphically the relative difference between the two rivers.
Slope gradient of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva
compared with the Usumacinta.
A steeper slope causes faster current in a river. The current in the Mezcalapa-Grijalva in general flows much faster than the current in the Usumacinta. This is shown by the hydroelectric potential of the two rivers. The number of hydroelectric installations on the Usumactinta is 0, even though it carries a higher volume of water. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva has four hydro plants listed in upstream-downstream order:
  • La Angostura
  • Chicoasen
  • Malpaso
  • Penitas
These 4 dams on the Mezcalapa-Grijalva produce more hydroelectricity than all of the other dams in Mexico combined.
Early Spanish writers have left us many lively accounts of crossing the raging Mezcalapa-Grijalva River. They use terms such as "furioso" (furious) and "espantoso" (terrifying) to describe the experience. Friar Alonso Ponce wrote of an experience he had with native canoe men crossing the Mezcalapa-Grijalva in 1586 near the present day city of Tuxtla Gutierrez: "the river was in flood stage and was a large quarter of a league wide." (A Spanish league was the distance a man or horse could walk in one hour - about 4.2 kilometers or 2.6 miles. The river was about 1 kilometer or 2/3 of a mile wide at this point.) Father Ponce continued: "and in order to come out by canoe at the landing on the other side they took it a great stretch upriver and afterwards the furious current passed it across." Relacion breve y verdadera de algunas cosas de las muchas que sucedieron al Padre Fray Alonso Ponce en las provincias de la Nueva Espana, siendo Comisario General de aquellas partes, first published in Madrid in 1873. In other words, in order to cross the big, fast Mezcalapa-Grijalva River and end up at the desired point on the far bank, the native boatmen first had to portage or drag their craft a long distance upstream because the current would take them downstream much faster than they could pole or paddle laterally across it. Anyone who has spent time canoeing or kayaking on a swift river understands the challenge. In a fast current, it is easy to overshoot your destination.
Then there is the element of mortal danger. We established previously that the natives in Chiapas were afraid of and assiduously avoided a 75-kilometer stretch of the river and its environs from Cahuare to Quechula. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Fifteen" in this blog. Even downstream from Quechula, though, many people lost their lives in the rapids. At one point, the colonial government in Guatemala (Chiapas then belonged to Guatemala) closed the Mezcalapa-Grijalva downstream from Quechula (today the Malpaso Reservoir area) to all river traffic to avoid further loss of life. Fernando Castanon Gamboa, "Panorama historico de las comunicaciones en Chiapas," in Ateneo, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Ano 1, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1951.
16. Conclusion. The Book of Mormon describes people interacting with the River Sidon in predictable, non-threatening ways. They travel upstream and downstream. They cross in either direction without incident and sometimes on the spur of the moment without much preparation. The languid Usumacinta fits the text very well. The turbulent Mezcalapa-Grijalva, though, was a very different kind of river in Book of Mormon times (before modern dams tamed vast stretches of it). Travel upstream in large areas at certain times of the year was not feasible. Travel in certain areas was simply not done at any time. Travel under the best of circumstances was often frightening and could be deadly. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva does not fit The Book of Mormon text. Advantage Usumacinta.
16. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 16.
Editor's asynchronous note: See the article "Observations from a River Runner" in this blog for another confirmatory viewpoint.