Down the Araguaya

Archie Macintyre - published 1934 London Tract Society

Evangelical Union of South America


In the absence of Bessie's field notes, I turned to other sources that would have seen the world she encountered at the same time.

This book is an account of a Missionary, Archie Macintyre, who traveled up the Aragaya in hopes of taking the gospel to the Tapirape. Because of this his journey parallels Bessie's and in many respects he saw the same sights she did on her 1930 trip.


Santa Isabel

A deserted Caraja village on the Ilha do Bananal, in front of the River of the Deaths, was chosen for our camping-place, and getting an early start next morning, we breakfasted at an early start next morning, we breakfasted at the foot of the Morro do Santa Isabel, the last resting-place of the Carajas. A steep climb of not more than 300 feet in the hot, grey sand brings one to the top, from which a fine view of the surrounding flat country is obtained.

Santa Isabel itself is a most weird and dismal spot. A few graves of recent date a number of flat eathenware pans, containing human bones and bits of arrows, etc. all in the greatest disorder, is about all there is to see. The older graves are overgrown with shrub and scattered with Caraja rubbish.

The carajas bury their dead in a sitting posture along with some of their belongings. Instead of filling up the grave with earth, they cover it with sticks, palm leaves and earth while the process of disintegration is at work. Later, the bones are taken out and cleaned before being carried to Santa Isabel in the new pans that await them.

It is clear that the Carajas believe in the future existence beyond the grave. One of them told me of the things he had heard and seen while on a visit to the Carajas in the other world. On my pointing out that he was still in the land of the living and that it must have been a dream or a fancy of his, and that I could not believe him, he proceeded with his experience. Truly he had not been all dead, only dead from the middle down to the feet, but that he really left the body and paid a visit to the Carajas beyond he was quite sure. Moreover, were not the olther Carajas there when he came back? Did they not hear him tell of the things he saw and heard in the other world, and are they not still living to testify to the same? Truly, there was nothing left for me but to be convinced, and I was. He had had some kind of an attack, been dead from the middle down, been away somewhere, came back again, was still with us, and quite serious at that. We did our best to conserve our gravity, but did not succeed; the man dead from the middle down worked strangly on our emotions.


p. 74

The Tapirape Indians--An Appeal

The country is dead level on both sides, and since leaving Santa Isbel four days ago we had seen no land above twenty feet high. Now two tiny hills, guarding the entrance to the Rio Tapirape, became visible in the distance, and the river itself was reached before noon.

The rio Tapirape takes its name from Indians who live near its source in three large villages, only one of which has been visited by white men. They live in a state of complete nudity, but are industrious, having large plantations of cotton, bananas, yams, etc.

All who have visited them speak highly of their generosity, and simplicity. They are highly skilled in basket-work and the weaving of hammocks, and I was agreeably surprised at the beauty of their handiwork. Their numbers are said to be about 1,500, but so far they have kept strangers on the threshold of their territory, not allowing them to pass beyond their first village.

Macintyre recounts the story Bessie reported about why the Carajas and the Tapirape are enemies.


Some years ago, when the rubber boom was at its height, the Carajas visited this village, with presents in their hands and treachery in their hearts. On returning to their canoes by the river, they led the accompanying and unsuspecting Tapirapes into an ambus, in which most of the men were killed. The treacherous Carajas then carried off the women and girls and sold them to the rubber adventurers for axes and knives. The Carajas are ashamed of their part in this adventure, and try to cover up their treachery, but the row of graves on the path from the river to the Tapirape village, a day's journey inland, keeps the sore open, and is both a reminder and a warning.

Here is an open door to Indian work, which if not entered soon, will be closed for ever. This tribe cannot be reached through their traditional enemies, the Carajas, but only by direct occupation. The Jesuits, regarding their work among the Cayapos, father down the river, as a failure, are turning their eyes to this forgotten people--in fact, they have paid a visit to this first village, and will certianly push their advantage.

The adventurer has penetrated these wildernesses, and sown wild seed amongst these generous Indians, but the sower of the true seed of the kingdom is forced to look on from afar and pass them by with sorrow in his heart, and then go back and interest nice people in comfortable drawing-room meetings in the romance of Indian work when he knows nothing about it. Oh yes, the Indians are a romantic race, and a recital of their ways and customs never fails to interest Christian people and bring a collection, but if the Indian is left to go on as before in the darkness--what then? Romantic! Yes, tragically romantic, this rubbing up against the problem of Indian evangelization and passing by on the other side--the wrong side.

p. 78

At the Rio Tapirape the Araguaya divides, and my two Joaos were just as divided as tot which was the better channel to take. We solved the problem by going down one a little way, then turning back and going down the other, and at night reached a Caraja village in a rainstorm that almost finished us, and lasted more than an hour.

The indians just turn their canoe over and hold it up enough to provide shelter--Macintyre tried erecting a tent--in which effort--he largely failed due to the wind. After the storm--he is quite chilled and goes to the river to warm himself allowing the tepid water of the Araguaya to return some of the body heat lost in the storm--he describes this event as one which "cheered his drooping spirit---returning warmth to his "sun-bake body that the cold rain had pierced." the natives returned to stoke the fires that had been quenched by the rain--and soon they were all enjoying a fine repaste of fish.

p. 79

The first pangs of hunger having passed, the conversation became general, the spirit of comradeship pervading the whole. The fires burned brightly, throwing their gleams on the bodies of the naked diners, discussing the politics of their own little world on the Araguaya, and perhaps, the stranger in their midst. Drowsiness threw its spell over the little company as the fires burned low, and man, the last of all God's creatures, sought his repose. The Indians made for their huts, while we crept into our tent, and into our clothes, for dressing for bed is quite in order on the Araguaya where nights are cold.

He tells a story somehwere about the fine mats that the Caraja weave and how at night they curl up next ot the fire folding themseleves into the mat entirely and how sometimes a spark will ignite the mat and awaken the Caraja--who simply extinguishes the flames and points out the damage to the mat and his foot or other appendage in the morning.

He describes at another point dining with a highly painted Indian woman. "She was all rings from her ankles to her neck, black and red as usual," but very motherly. The roasted fish and yams were especially delicious. He also mentions how the Indians now the weakness of the europeans for salt, and how they crushed some up for him to add to his fish. (they in turn were hoping for some of the sugar bricks that he had brought along and which the Indians were very fond of.) He describes being fed by a Caraja Indian:

p. 61

At Close Quarters

A shower of rain fell, and my young Indian friend insisted on my running for shelter to his hut a good way off. Dinner was waiting our arrival, and of course I was quite willing. With an entire absence of ceremony, a large piece of boiled fish (pirarucu) on a wooden platter was placed on the sand floor of the hut. The little group, sitting cross-legged around it, fell to in fine style, tearing off huge pieces with nature's forks, and of course I, as an honoured guest, followed suit. what a picture! I used to read of such a scene in story-books, but here again, was the real thing, someone remembered the Christian's weakness for salt, and a little was quickly crused and put into my hand. Large, think white cakes appeared next, from which we broke off pieces as required.

Absorbed in the novelty of the scene, I was at a disadvantage and was falling dreadfully behind, when an old wrinkled dame, of I don't know how many summers and winters, came to the rescue and in a most motherly fashion took me in hand. She saw that owing to my inexperience I was not getting my full share, and that sometimes I picked a poor piece. With the tenerest solicitude she selected the choicest bits, which I duly swallowed from her greasy fingers--not, I must confess, over-grateful for her kind attention. In the intervals the aforesaid fingers went into her own mouth (as they had every right to do) and also crused ever so many mosquitoes to death on her shiny, chocolate-coloured body, in the most approved Caraja style; but of course I could not complain, since she obviously meant so well. Truly the simple life; no knieves, forks, plates, tables or chairs; no stiffness, formality or show, and withal a dignified naturalness and absence of vulgarity that set one awishing -- but what's the good of wishing when one has the mistfortune not to be born a Caraja?"

After dinner had disappeared, I gave and received a few presents, before leaving for a near-by sandbank for the night--we were not anxious to get mixed up in their little war. We took the precaution to put up our tent and make an extra big fire, so that the attacking party should not take us for Carajas in the dark if they came our way. However, not a sound was heard except the shriek of a night bird occasionally piercing the surrounding darkness, and stretching ourselves on the sand, we slept the sleep of the just in the care of Him Who nigther slumbers nor sleeps.

This next section is revealing beacuse it show us what he saw with his eyes and how tainted his vision was by his experience---war paint--an assumption based on his experience and knowledge of North American Indians; being eaten by cannibals--also an invention of American experience.

Two in a dugout

With our indian paddlers gone, Joao and I made slow progress during the following days. In addition to steering I now gave a hand at paddling as well; this being possible by tying the tiller to my waist, thus leaving my hands free.

The river was now very wide, but extremely shollow, so much so, that great care was necessary in order to keep from grounding many times during the course of the day. We missed our Carajas and paddled on in silence for about four hours before Joao, at the lookout, sighted the attacking Carajas. They met us in mid-stream in their big Ubas, and pressed us to do them the honour of visiting their village, which we could see in the distance. They were in full war-paint, and showed their deisre for friendship by climging inot our little boat in such numbers that we feared for our safety. We were entirely in their power, only two against fifty or so, so we yielded to their entreaties adn went with them to their village, towards which we had been drifting. OUr decision gave them great pleasure and those on board with us wielded their long punting-poles in fine style and sent our old boat through the water at racing-speed; while the main group, in their ubas formed a kind of guard of honour round us, laughing and shouting, till we reached the shore.

Here another and larger group, composed mostly of women and childrne, awaited us and drowded round, commenting on us all the time in their savage tongue. Only my great fiath in the Carajas kept me from believing that they were going to roast us alive, and have a cannibal feast on their two helpless captives.

This account gives a glimpse of the stories that Bessie would have heard about the Kayapo and it gives a glimpse into the heart of Archie Mcintyre. He seems to vascillate between envy of hte natives for their natural state and a sense that Western "civiliation" and Christianity are superior.


At the time of the rubber boom, thousands of adventurers penetrated the great forest in search of the precious liquid, driving the Indians before them with their modern 44 American riffles, raiding their villages, destroying and killing with the greatest cruelty. The Cayapos retaliated wit all the treachery and cunning of their nautres, and the milk-white fluid of the rubber-tree was often intermingled with the bright red blood of the dying rubber gatherer and became red rubber.

The full story has never been told, but the narration of the terrible happeneings in these great gloomy forests, the lust for white rubber and red blood, the fights to the death between the savage civilized adn the civilized savage, would reveal a great blot on our boasted superiority, and shock the Christian conscience, if ever it were written. It is known that many tame Indians from the villages near the Araguaya joined in the frays, the Friars being helpless or unable to hinder them.

The grat villages of these Indians in the heart of the forest have never been reached except by the women taken captive. One of these who managed to escape tells of great stores of rifles and ammunition (stolen from the rubber gatherers) being hid in their forest fastnesses(sic), and the fear of a general uprising of this great tribe and some of their allies is very real among the civilized folks. Infanticide is practised by the Cayapos. How can these savages be reached? I feel it is so much easier to do the answering than to do the reaching, so pass on to tell of my first and only experience with a Cayapo.


Such is his name -- written in a big, bold hand in my note-book, and now before me. I had entered a small carpenter's shop in a town in Matto Grosso State to see if the owner would buy a copy of the Scriptures. To my surprise adn delight he was a believer, and in a short time we were singing together his favourite hymn, "Oh, take me as I am," which he knew by heart.

Noticing a violin lying on his bench, I picked it up, and finding it perfectly tuned, began to play it for the carpenter's benefit. I received his compliments and felt I had done well. On laying down the instrument I asked him who played it, and on his answering that he sometimes did, I persuaded him to let me hear him play. Very modestly he took up the instrument and began to play; very slowly at first, but the greatest astonishment; his raven black hair hung in disorderly fashion over his ears and neck, in his eyes a strange light sone, and as he played with ever increasing rapidity and skill, I felt rooted to the spot. It seemed to me that the weird strains that came from his bow such as I had never heard before, had something uncanny about them. The spirit of the great forest seemed to hold him, and those eyes!

When he laid down the violin and turned to me with a smile, the spell was broken, and I felt humbled to the dust. He, the Master Muscician, had listened to my poor playing, had even expressed his approval. I vowed I would never play again. Then came his story.

This Master Musciain was born in the great forest, a Cayapo Indian. One day a stranger was found in the wilderness, having lost his way, and was brought to his village. He made a favourable impression on the savages, who touched by his pleadings, after he had been with them for some time, gave him his liberty. He asked the chief to give him one fo the boys in order to educate him in the distant city. From the bunch presented, little Uaquidi was chosen.

The stranger carried Uaquidi off, kicking and struggling, and in the far off city, taught him not only how to play, but also how to make and tune instruments. He taught him more: being a believer, he taught him the Way of Salvation and Uaquidi became a Christian. The he told me of his master's death, of his subsequent wanderings, and finally of his great desire to return to his people in the great forest, to teach them the way of Life. "In the morning," he said, "as the sun rises, my people stretch out their hands to it and say, 'Oh sun, I worship thee; but if thou art not God, I worship Him Who made thee.'"

Think of it. They still stretch out their hands to the sun because no one has gone to tell them of the Son of God. He was never indifferent to hands outstretched to Him, but alas! No man careth for their souls.

One of the hardships Bessie faced was navigating the river when the water levels had fallen. Just below Santa Anna there are stretches across the river where jagged rocks form a barrier to travel. They are called Travessao. When Bessie encountered this she would bet out ot the canoe and guide it through the passage as the rushing water threatened to sweep her away. Another difficulty in navigating the river was the Banzeira, a sudden wind that comes up without warning. This storm can quickly swamp a frail boat.

p. 96




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