March 18, 2013

Happy Mon. Another nice day here and still cold at -6. High for yesterday was about +25 with wind.

Yokelly I finished two good books that I read simultaneously, one with the left eye and one with the right. Scott Wallace’s account of an Amazon trek in search of the territory of an uncontacted tribe of “Arrow People” was an outstanding read as an adventure story and as an examination of Brazilian government policy on indigenous tribes, most of which were wiped out since the first Europeans landed on the Brazil coast in 1500.

Archaeologists and anthropologists now believe the Native population of the Western Hemisphere was much larger than has been thought, and that not only guns and steel, but especially germs, wreaked havoc on Native peoples. Following Cortes’s conquest of Mexico, a smallpox epidemic killed off an estimated 90%+ of the Native population. The roots of the myth that the New World was largely unpopulated are in that devastation. Likely most died out of sight of the bringers of germs.

Anyway, the current government policy in Brazil is to leave uncontacted tribes alone to live in traditional ways in large reserves in the Amazon basin, which is huge, roughly the same size as the lower 48 and densely forested. Moreover, it’s close to the equator, hot, humid, and teeming with life forms that prey on one another and on humans who go there. The author of The Unconquered not only tells the tale of a three month trek through the jungle, about half of  it on foot, but frequently works in discussion of the loggers, gold miners, pet and drug smugglers who are picking away at all hours of the day and night at the vast mineral, timber, and fauna wealth of the region.

The police in the Amazon town of Juntia have five underpaid staff, one pickup truck, and no boat or plane with which to patrol. This is typical. Loggers and ranchers have political clout. Smugglers and other bandits have superior technology and bribe or coerce others to cooperate. It is easy to imagine what happens to indigenous peoples when they happen to live near extractable resources, because it has happened many times in the past. Anyway, a great read, interesting, often exciting, colorful, humorous in places, sad, informative. Interesting photo insert.

unconquered wallace

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