The Story Continues; 15th June 2007

UPDATED: Click here: www.ipcst.org/River to go to a slideshow of images relevant to this post. To return, simply close the slideshow window. The slideshow may take some time to load, especially if you have a slow internet connection.

….And So the Story Goes

A few days ago, FUNAI officials arrived in Metuktire from Kremoro with more detailed information about the situation there.

It now seems that the presence in the village of a large group of previously uncontacted Kayapo was an embellishment. In fact, the maximum possible number is three.

Near Metuktire village. A machete left by the team trying to establish contact with the group of uncontacted Kayapo.The only people to have claimed to have seen them are the two brothers, Beprytire and Bepro, who repeatedly pleaded for the rest of the village to keep away from the house where the group were supposedly staying. Eventually they said that the three had fled back to the forest because they were disturbed by the arrival of an aircraft, leaving no incontrovertible evidence of their visit.

There remains the evidence of their voices, recorded between the 27th and 31st May. The recordings have now been taken to FUNAI Brasilia for analysis, and should ultimately establish exactly how many there were, stripping away any exaggerations added by the two young men.

If this is a hoax, it will have been a huge waste of the lamentably restricted resources allocated to the agency by the government. But a FUNAI source has said that they believe that a contact did occur, though not on the scale previously stated.

The Xingu River is unbelievably beautiful in this isolated stretch.We left Metuktire the day before yesterday. We negotiated the two most difficult sets of rapids, the von Martius and the Pedras. The previously placid river has given way to a series of rocky stretches, each of which is especially perilous at this time of year. In the dry season, the channels are easily seen; in the wet season the whole of the river is deep enough to navigate. But at this time of year the water covers the whole width, with many treacherous rocks lurking just below the surface.

The water bubbles and ripples over the rocks, sounding happy and strangely relaxing despite the dangers it hides. The rapids look deceptively mild, but the currents they generate and the rocks they hide are unpredictable.

One of these rocks caught our propeller and took off the tip of one blade, throwing it out of balance. We carry a spare, but there are many more rocky stretches and we risk being left with only a paddle to continue the expedition.

Xingu River. Rounded rocks tower over the banks of the river.The river here is breathtakingly beautiful. Yesterday we passed many islands, interspersed with huge rounded boulders, the broken remains of rocky outcrops and occasional sandy beaches. I am continuously humbled by this wonderful experience. Here, right in the centre of a thriving modern country, we spent the entire day yesterday travelling along one of its largest rivers, in an area of outstanding natural beauty – and we did not encounter a single person the whole day.

Tucunare Fish ready to cook.As I write this, I am sitting on a small sandy island early in the morning. To left and right the morning mist lies like a blanket over the slow-moving water, with green walls of forest gradually appearing on the other side, their tops still hidden. Our boatman Paulo, a Juruna Indian, has already been at work and has caught a large Tucunare fish for our meal. This is now grilling over an open fire. We look forward to the feast; yesterday’s fish was piranha, which is full of bones and much less appetising.

Last night we were woken occasionally by the sound of our neighbour, a medium-sized caiman, as he hurled himself into the water after some unsuspecting prey. This morning we investigated his movements; his footprints showed that he never ventured further than the edge of the beach.

The night before, our camp was visited by a pair of tapirs, which arrived on the island from the bank of the river, stayed briefly, then swam away again. We didn’t see them, though there were occasional noises, but we identified their footprints the following morning just twenty metres from the tent.

As we move along the river we encounter frequent river turtles, and we see the splash of jumping fish. Sometimes a large bird accompanies us for a stretch, gliding effortlessly alongside before diving into the water to feed on the plentiful fish of the river.

One of our island campsites.Sitting here I feel incongruous, laptop on my knee, typing diligently, though bites from the pium which infest the rocky areas continuously remind me of where I am. The pepperpot of tiny wounds which started on my feet in Metuktire now reach up my legs to my thighs, and the itching is becoming intolerable. When we are travelling along the river the wind of our speed gives us a welcome respite, but as soon as we stop the insects begin to feast on our blood. We have to decide either to cover ourselves with long trousers and shirts with sleeves, or to put up with the bites; here, our repellent is largely ineffective; probably the advertising of the manufacturers has not reached the insects in these parts.

© Patrick Cunningham


⇒Next: Jurunas and Kayapos

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