In 1884, a young German ethnologist was the first non-Indian to navigate the length of the Xingu. He started on the Batovi, one of the smaller tributaries, which he named after the Baron of Batovi, then governor of the area.
The Heart of Brazil expedition will follow most of the same route, starting from the point where the Batovi meets the Ronuro and the Culuene to form the Xingu. Our starting point is on the Culuene, the longest of the tributaries which make up the headwaters.
Von den Steinen was a remarkable man. In the stiff, formal days when Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, he struck out with two German colleagues, his cousin Wilhelm von den Steinen and Dr Otto Clauss accompanied by a small detachment of Brazilian soldiers, to discover a route from Cuiaba to the mouth of the Xingu. Along the way, he visited several Indian tribes, many of whom had never before seen a white man. His account of the journey is full of a young man’s passion and vitality, and betrays a deep love of adventure and respect for the indigenous people he met. It is fascinating how, in so many repects, his observations remain as true today as they were then.
© Patrick Cunningham