Paddling My own Canoe -

(a bit long but worth the read!) Good Housekeeping, Sept. 1931, p. 46

Down the middle of the great river slipped the dugout canoe, looking small and lonely in that immensity of water and unending, green thick jungle. In the canoe were three persons. An old Negro huddled in the stern; an Indian boy scanned the water from the prow; in the straining to the paddle, was a white woman For three days they had traveled under the blistering sun, the woman struggling all day with the fierce river currents and sleeping fitfully at night in dread of the prowling presence of alligator or jaguar. I was the woman.

The Araguaya River has a wild, mysterious beauty, but in its depths are deadly fish and reptiles, and rocks lie in wait beneath its surface for the undoing of strangers who dare disturb its primeval solitude. About 1000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, in the heart, of Brazil, on the eastern edge of the sinister forests of Matto Grosso lies the great unexplored region between the Araguaya and the Xingu rivers. Somewhere between these two rivers roam the savage Chavaret Indians, the Tsuyas, the Bororos, the Tapirape, and no one knows how many others. Here the gallant explorer, Colonel Fawcett, disappeared.

Six months earlier I had been studying anthropology at the University of California; and in the busy security of university life the project of making an ethnological survey of the Caraja Indians and if possible of the Tapirape, seemed both desirable and feasible. I made all sorts of careful preparations, from rifle practice to tropical hygiene and sailed for Rio Janeiro. If I had been content to confine my studies to the Caraja, I would have encountered no more than the difficulties inevitable in traveling through the hinterland of South America. But I refused to be content until I found the Tapirape. I wanted a collection of their household utensils, photographs to take back with me, knowledge of their tribal customs.

Had I known what disappointments and delays confronted me, I might not have been so obstinate. The great difficulty was to find men who would go with me into the dangerous and unexplored countries of the Tapirape. The Brazilian Government and the Indian Service did all that was possible to help, but they could not possibly speed things up since volunteers simply were not available. As a consequence I was now paddling my own canoe down the river, alone except for an old colored man and a boy.

The canoe was a clumsy, heavy boat of the kind made by the Caraja Indians by hollowing out trunks of trees. Mine was at least twenty-five feet long and not much over two feet wide, old and inclined to leak. I was provided with beans and rice-the river food-camping equipment, and a rifle.

There was silence on the river and silence in the boat. The old man in the stern was sulking. After three days of it I was used to his grumbling and concentrated on paddling and watching the color of the water for the course of the current, the depth, hidden rocks and the hundred other uncertainties lurking ahead of us. Sometimes I tried to forget my aching back and arms and the painful sun glare on my eyes by thinking hard of the ethnological specimens I might procure from the Tapirape if I found them.

Bad luck had pursued me from the beginning of my trip with an insistence that was getting beyond a joke. A lone woman to go hunting for a wild and deadly tribe of Indians? Nonsense! Ridiculous! Impossible! The government post on the Island Bananal, the people at the little settlement near Lake Piedadie, had never heard of such a thing. For my own good of course, they refused to help me on the road to destruction. Rivers are the highways in Matto Grosso, and I must have river men to guide me through their treacheries. I stayed at Bananal studying the Caraja Indians whose pacification the Indian Service is attempting, hoping against hope that I could persuade some of them to set out with me. Unfortunately the Carajas and the Tapirapes are deadly enemies. Many years ago some Caraja ascended the Tapirape River and stole several Tapirape women. After a fierce battle a few of the Caraja escaped, bringing their prisoners back with them, and since that time no Caraja ever dared ascend that river.

I had had hopes of one family. Dohobari and his sister were more civilized than the rest. She had a dress, while he had a pair of trousers and an avowed desire to marry a Brazilian girl, live in a house, and wear clothes. Dohobari, I think would have gone with me, but his mother would have none of it, and the Caraja men obey their women-folk, the husbands, their wives, and the unmarried sons, their mothers. Though they may be and frequently still are bloodthirsty savages to their neighbors at home they are only henpecked, timid souls, who fish and tend the garden while the women sit leisurely by and give orders.

I was not the only person had had difficulties with an expedition of this nature. Some twenty years ago an anthropologist from Germany tried to visit the Tapirape, but after following the river for several days the men with him developed a severe attack of cold feet, and he was forced to turn back without finding the tribe. Since then an English missionary, and at other times several Brazilians, had ascended the Tapirape river for some distance, at last seeing some of the Indians and even one of their villages. This was encouraging, but later one of these men made a second trip only to find the huts burned and bones scattered about. The lush jungle was creeping over the little clearing, hiding the secret of the tragedy with its own greater mystery.

The Tapirape, entirely uninfluenced and untouched by civilization, are especially interesting from an ethnological point of view. Their language and some of their cultural traits are strikingly different from those of the various tribes surrounding them. Wife stealing, however, is one custom they hold in common with their neighbors-but of that I was to learn more later.

Meeting with nothing but discouragement at Bananal, I finally went back to Piedadie to try there again. I had less luck than ever. But my determination to reach my goal grew more set with every obstacle I encountered. Perhaps it was the spirit of pioneer forebears urging me on, perhaps it was sheer obstinacy, but at any rate here I was, three days along on the journey of two hundred miles back to the post at Bananal, with a lazy boy and a cross old man who didn't like the turtle eggs with which the boy had filled every available spot in the dugout.

Our canoe slipped along so noiselessly that we often surprised jungle creatures coming down to the water to drink. Two brown monkeys bustled down to the edge of the river. They looked up, nervously alert, drank, looked up, drank again, and then whirled and in a moment were leaping among the tree tops and out of sight. Here and there flocks of bright pink birds fed along the shore or flew down the river. Sometimes great storks with black heads and a touch of red on their throats went wadding with slow dignity across the beaches.

On the first day I had shot a bird rather like a wild turkey and very tough, but since then our only delicacy had been turtle eggs-round, white, soft-shelled eggs with no whites, only a mealy yolk with a strong taste. At night, when we camped, we heard the occasional hiccough of a jaguar back in the jungle, and once a tapir investigated us. Mosquitoes were faithful visitors, and I made a practice of eating with my gloves on, for some were anopheles who carry the malaria parasites, and others had the white stockings of the yellow-fever carriers. Quinine was a regular part of my diet. I felt that I was having troubles enough without a siege of fever.

This third day had been unlucky from the beginning. We had run into a storm-my second experience with the swift tropical wind called banziera. I had been stung by a hornet, a pailful of turtle eggs had upset and smashed over everything, and we could not find a place to camp for the night.

At last we saw a small, sandy island that looked promising. With sighs of relief we prepared to land, when I uttered a cry of fear and horror. There was a constant movement of huge bodies under the surface of the water, and the sinister gleam of dozens of eyes.

"Alligators," said the old man laconically. The place was infested with them. Darkness was falling and there was nowhere else to go. We decided to spend the night with these unpleasant bedfellows. I took the rifle and dropping on one knee, carefully sighted at what looked like a big fellow, and pulled the trigger. There was a roar from the river and an exclamation of admiration from my comarados. The monster was my first alligator, and I was pretty pleased with myself, for these things have such a tough hide that they must be shot either in the eye or through the softer hide in from or back of the foreleg. I picked out a second head and shot, but this time my luck was not so good. It took three shots to kill it, and by the time it was too dark to try for more. I thought that killing those two would probably drive the rest of them away.

We always kept a camp fire burning through the night. It gives a comforting feeling of domesticity in the midst of the wilderness and there is comfort, too, in the feeling that it helps to scare away prowling beasts. The alligators remained unaffected by it, however. The two I had killed were never missed. All night I could hear dozens of them splashing and catching fish and fighting. The thought of those hideous creatures, with their wicked eyes and gaping mouths, crawling around our camp site, here the men slept on the ground, kept me awake in spite of my weariness. I was certain I heard them coming closer....closer.

Suddenly I was roused by a bloodcurdling scream, like a human being in the throes of mortal anguish. I seized my rifle and rushed out of the tent, expecting to find-I don't know what.

The men were both safe. They told me an alligator had caught and carried of a large animal. I could hear the crunching of the terrible jaws, and I shuddered uncontrollably. The night seemed more than ever somber and full of menace.

Nine days after leaving Piedadie, we saw on the Matto Grasso side of the river a high hill which we recognized as the hill of Santa Isabel. Along its slopes the bones of several hundred Caraja, slain years ago by the Chavantes, lie bleaching in the sun, and three miles beyond was the Post. We were going to make it after all. We were too excited to be hungry for breakfast when we stopped. Even the old man showed a little life and animation. We straightened our baggage and combed our hair and tried to look our best.

As we came nearer, we kept calling out to one another joyfully as we saw the welcome evidences of at least comparative civilization. There were the neat little whitewashed buildings of the Post, and back of them the rows of thatched huts of the Caraja village. People were running about, and when we landed Mr. Bandeira, chief of the Service, greeted me heartily, though with unflattering surprise. The Indians had seen us while we were still far up the river. They had recognized me and had rushed to tell me the news that I was coming in a canoe with two civilizados, and that I was wearing a new hat and paddling very well.

That night I slept under a roof, without disturbing thoughts of alligators or slinking jaguars, of fever or disastrous storms. And for the first time in months I had hopes - real solid hopes-of reaching my objective. It seemed to me that the attitude of my friends at the Post had changed from a flat rejection of my plan to a sympathetic, if reluctant neutrality.

My luck had certainly changed. When Colonel Alencarlience de Costa of the Indian Service returned to the Post, he suddenly consented not only to help me get men and boats, but himself to escort me into the wilderness. This was better than I could have dared to hope. His experience with Indians would be valuable, both in getting us to the village we hoped to find-and in getting us out. His great knowledge of the natives would make impossible the trivial mistakes that might jeopardize all our lives, which is an important factor in choosing members of an expedition of this sort. A large party is both unsatisfactory and dangerous in hunting savage tribes, for great numbers arouse suspicion, and the Indians either hide or attack. Even if the expedition succeeds in establishing itself among the tribe, there may be one little slip by one person who does not understand the Indian mind, and the game is up.

Hurried preparations were made. One of the two cows at the Post was butchered and the meat dried in the sun for us. Three men were added to those brought by the Colonel; one to help chart the course, one a practical river man for pilot, and another, a Negro, Angelo, who was only a laborer but really an important member of the expedition. There was an elaborate system of "passing the buck" in operation. Any one receiving an order passed it on to the person next lower in the social scale, who promptly turned it over to some one else, and so on down to poor Angelo, who could find no one inferior and therefore was forced to do it himself.

There were eight of us altogether, as we set off down the Araguaya in a fine new river boat with a motor attached. Flags fluttered, and everyone was happy. The men were particularly pleased with this new method of transportation. Let the motor do the work, was their unspoken motto, and it was fine while it last.

Three days down the Araguaya we came to the mouth of the Tapirape river, and into this we turned. There were several days of smooth sailing before we met our first major obstacle. We came to a travassao -- a shelf of rock stretching across the river-which our motor boat could not pass. There was nothing we could do but abandon it and go on in the two canoes we had brought along tied to our stern.

Our baggage had to be reduced and repacked. The thing that worried me most was my medicine kit, which had been fitted out originally with specifics for every possible ailment, and was of generous proportions. Finally I selected a few of the simpler remedies for fever, colds, cuts, insect bites and snake bites, dysentery, and so on. And in place of surgical instruments I added a few needles, having learned from previous experience that thorns must be removed immediately from the feet of barefooted men. The Indian uses a thorn for a needle, but civilized man is not so skilled. For other minor operations the facao would do, for in good Brazilian fashion I always wore the big knife at my belt, and it was used many times a day and for many things.

The decision about clothes was simple. I had just one change. We took only what was necessary in the way of food, and added two shotguns, our revolvers, my cameras, presents for the Indians, and were or. The man left to guard the boat at Port de Luxo, as we had christened it, looked forlorn as we started, but he called out cheerfully enough.

"Passageiros segundo Classe, embora!" We were traveling second class indeed! Moreover, before the end of the day we found it necessary to get out, walk, pull and push the canoes along, and this was to be largely the method of procedure from then on. We decided that we were down to third class and began to wonder what the next reduction would be.

This wading in the river, pushing the canoes, was as risky as it was difficult, for the little cannibal fish frequented the deeper places while in the shady and muddy spots lurked the dangerous sting rays. We killed ninety-four of these poisonous creatures b impaling them on poles, paddles, or even by throwing a big knife through them. Large, flat spotted, and about the color of sand, they usually lie on the sand or buried in the mud. If merely disturbed they swim away, but if one is touched or stepped on, he stabs the intruder viciously with the bone saw at the end of his tail. The poison and the jagged wound have been known to cause death, and at the least there is terrible suffering for many hours. So when a shout arose, "Olha araia!" there was a wild scramble for the boats or the banks.

The river was low, and traveling became more and more difficult, but I was learning river ways by now and began to think that I could act as guide myself. It was simple. When we came to a fork in the river where one way was deep and wide and the other narrow and cluttered with fallen trees, we chose the apparently impassable stream. The other was probably one of the numerous blind lagoons so common on these rivers.

Once, as the big dugout canoe, which was usually in the lead, was going through a place in the river where there was really deep water, it struck a hidden rock and came so near to upsetting that we all caught our breath. The men could swim, and I could not, but the deep laces are so full of man-eating fish and alligators that our chances would have been almost equal. And with guns and food at the bottom of the river, even a miraculous escape from quick death would leave the prospect of almost certain starvation.

The farther we penetrated into the wilderness, the more uneasy the Colonel became about my safety. "Once some men were going through the Cayapo country, a little north of here," he said. "As they came near a village, a woman screamed and ran toward them. She was entirely naked. Thinking she was giving some signal to the tribe, they became panic stricken and shot her. She lived long enough to tell them her story. She was a Brazilian woman the Cayapos had captured several years before."

I was silent.

"Then there was a woman who was captured below the Island Bananal on a tributary of the Araguaya. She was traced by messages she cut on barked trees. But it was too late. She had been murdered before help reacher her."

He told me the story of the tribe on the Tocantins who wanted a white woman so badly they offered four of their women in exchange. And many others, some of which I had already read or hear.

But most of the time the Colonel evidently felt he must make the best of the bad job we had taken upon ourselves, and we turned our dangers and hardships into jokes. Looking back on it now, those jokes seem feeble, but many times the excellent tonic of laughter was perhaps the only thing that saved our sanity and strength.

The first evidence that we were nearing an Indian vicinity was a row of sticks placed close together across the river where the current was strongest. We had to remove several to let the canoes pass, but we replaced them carefully. We were taking no chances of incurring the displeasure of these people if we could prevent it. Later we came upon objects that looked like fish traps, and soon on the high bank at the right we saw paths leading down to the water. They may have been animal paths, but they bore unmistakable signs of having been used by humans as well. Here we stopped and made camp. There were no Indians to be seen, but we felt sure these trails led to a village somewhere inland. We planned to leave two men with the canoes and main supplies, while the rest of us went to hunt the village.

Again the Colonel spoke earnestly of his fears for my safety. There was a mere handful of us against no telling how many Indians. We would be absolutely at their mercy. I tried to reassure him. The risk was of my own taking and no one would lose but me-If I lost. But he continued to worry. He called us together and again reminded us of the fact, well known to those who have any dealings with savage people, that signs of either anger or fear on the part of a stranger place him in imminent danger of death. I remember the lonely nights on the banks of the Araguaya when the jaguars prowled and the alligators cavorted about my tent. It was evident that I had fear instincts, at least. I might control my anger, but if I trembled and turned pale, even a savage, ignorant of Dr. Watson's theories, would suspect that my behavior was motivated by terror.

But at the time we did not joke about it. We were up against the most difficult and most dangerous part of the trip.

We took only a few necessities that we could carry on our backs-canteens, condensed food, medicine, and a few presents. I insisted on taking my tent, for it was not only lightweight, cool, insect-proof, and clean, but it had a sewed-in canvas floor and closed with zipper fastenings, thus assuring me of some privacy and protection. I did not know then how wise I was....

We started at daybreak, though the Colonel still felt doubtful about the advisability of my going with them.

"Let us go ahead and find the village," he said. "Then if everything seems all right, I'll send for you. Anyway I can tell you all about the tribe."

"It wouldn't be the same thing," I said sadly. "I want to take photographs and try to get a collection of things to show their material culture. And I must find out as much as I can about their homes and gardens and handicrafts."

The Colonel was truly concerned. "And take a chance of never getting back with your information? Very well. But I warn you again, this is no place for a woman."

Walking in single file, we followed a trail that seemed to be going away from the river, and finally came out on an open country of tall dry grass where and there a few palm trees. Fresh from days in the damp shadows of the jungle, the glaring heat of the sun beating down on us without mercy was intensely painful. I tried hard to be intelligent about drinking from my canteen, but in spite of my precautions by the time we came to some woods and stopped to rest, I was miserably sick. However, I gritted my teeth and didn't say a word. I had assured the men that I could go wherever they did, and I was not going to give them an opportunity to say, "I told you so."

The rest of the afternoon was torture. My back was bruised from the knapsack, the straps cut the flesh on my shoulders, and my feet hurt. It was fortunate that the Colonel had short legs, or I never could have kept up with him. I stumbled along, concentrating on putting one aching foot before the other, or trying to distract my mind by counting the deer we could see occasionally, and the parrots, or even the palm trees and the number of steps to the next turn or tree.

This was the end of the dry season, and the little water holes and streams had all gone dry. Toward evening we camped near one of these dry rivers. Angelo dug a hole in the riverbed but found no water. He dug another deeper one and yet another, and gradually a little of the thick black water seeped into the last two holes. There was no sand for the water to filter through--only black earth. I added some condensed vegetable preparation to a pan of this and boiled it into a thick, dark soup. The boiling may have killed some of the bugs, but it did not change the color. But it was wet, and we ate it.

While I was fixing my tent for the night, we heard a dog barking, and coming through the trees we saw ten or twelve Indians, men women, and children, absolutely naked. The women did not even wear the bark loin cloth that the Caraja women wear.

They were frightened when they caught sight of us and were about to run away, but we kept smiling and holding up our hands to show that we were unarmed and friendly. We made no attempt to go toward them.

At last the beads we held out to them. Then they sat about, staring at us, while we tried to entertain them with much laughing and pantomime. When we asked how far it was to their village, they seemed to understand, and one made signs of sleeping and walking, ending with a shout,


This meant one night and a day, for the Indians measure distance in terms of time, a five-days journey being five "sleeps," and so on.

The next day one of them agreed to serve as guide to their village. They were out hunting, and we gathered their quest had been unsuccessful. The whole day is a haze in my memory. Thirst.....thirst.....thirst.. Eating was out of the question. We could not swallow.

From time to time we came to a water hole--dry. Twice a strange Indian appeared from nowhere, and each time we forgot the nice pantomime speech we had planned for such occasions and called for water, unmindful of everything else, as people are who are half crazed by thirst.

We did come to water finally--slightly milky-looking water in a hole dug from white clay. Angelo reached it first and plunging into it feet and all began to drink. His black feet did not matter to us. We rushed in and began to drink, too, not all we wanted, but all we dared. Nothing has ever tasted so good to me.

The village was not far away. Two Indians started us on the trail and then fell behind. They evidently were not going to take the responsibility of brining us there.

But before we reached the village, we were met by a delegation of about 50 men and two or three women. We stopped and tried to make a good impression. To our surprise we found that one of the women knew a few words of Portuguese and could speak Caraja. Years ago she had been stolen by the Caraja Indians and had lived with them on the Araguaya. I wish. I knew the story of how she had managed her escape and the return through all those miles of jungle.

They seemed willing to be friendly, at the same time keeping aloof from us and alert to every movement. Their curiosity about the first white woman they had ever seen as almost embarrassing. I was examined from head to foot. After a somewhat nerve-racking period we were brought into the village proper and taken to the home of the Head Chief of the tribe.

It was a large rectangular hut, thatched on the top and sides with palm leaves. Inside were several hammocks hanging between the posts overhead were baskets, pet macaws and parrots. Here and there little fires burned, and dogs lay sleepily under the hammocks. The Indians stood about us and surrounded the hut on the outside. We were asked to sit in the hammocks, and food was offered to us-roasted bananas, peanuts, and baked mandioca roots. The situation was tense, and we were too tired to feel much like eating, but we saw that we were expected at least to taste something of what was put before us.

They asked us our names and we really go along quite well in conversation, for we would tell one of our men who could speak Caraja something in Portuguese, he would tell it to the linguistic lady who would repeat it to the others in Tupy. Back would come the reply in Tupy to be translated into Caraja and then into Portuguese. They seemed to speak a corruption of the Tupy language, and as we had learned a few Tupy words hoping that they might be of use to us, we could grasp something of what was said.

This performance was repeated in each of the eight huts. Even the food was the same for I recognized the same bunch of bananas and two of the baskets of peanuts. there were a number of children, who were not at all afraid of me, but allowed me to pick them up and play with them, going into fits of laughter when I spoke English to them. Several related families lived in each hut, presided over by their own chief.

I was getting all sorts of attention, while the men were being decidedly neglected. They had nearly fallen asleep, and the Colonel had even kicked off his boots and was lying in a hammock. I must say I envied him. I told the Indians my name, which they repeated over and over, while one husky chap, one of the chiefs, kept saying,

"Elizabeth chicanto" (Elizabeth pretty), But I could not take this too seriously, as I felt his judgment was based on very little experience.

In fact, I am afraid the Colonel was rather annoyed by my frivolity. Perhaps the excitement of actually being with these people I had thought about so much and struggled to reach for so many months had gone to my head. As the Colonel began to distribute presents, I took my Kodak.

"Be careful," he warned me. "If they get the idea that there's a devil in the black box or that you're trying to imprison their souls there won't be a chance of our getting out alive."

There constant attention began to get on my nerves. I could not turn my head in any direction without encountering their strange wild eyes fixed alertly on me. From time to time one of them would say, in their corrupt Tupy language.

"Elizabeth nice. Elizabeth pretty. Elizabeth stay."

Then the big young chief would come close. Elizabeth stay," he would repeat. "We will kill the Colonel."

"No, no," I said trying, in my few words of Tupy and with pantomime I hoped was not too violent to show that the Colonel was good and liked the Tapirape.

Whereupon they all smiled and nodded at me amiably. I remembered that the Indian Service considered the friendly tribes more dangerous because of their treachery than those that are openly hostile.

"We will leave in the morning," said the Colonel as he smiled and laughed and distributed presents. "I don't trust these chaps. There's something going on I don't like."

As I entered my tent for the night and closed the zipper fastenings, I actually groaned aloud with fatigue and nervous strain. I fell asleep instantly.

It must have been several hours later that I awakened and lay still for a moment, wondering what was happening. There were small stealthy sounds all over my tent. I raised my head wide awake by this time.

There were shadowy forms moving about outside. The sound that had waked me was the sound of hands fumbling at my tent, feeling every seam, across the top, down the sides, around the bottom edge. The thin sides of the tent vibrated as dozens of hands searched for an opening.

I thought of calling out for help, but we had a mere handful of men against two hundred savages. I thought of my revolver, but I still had sense enough to realize that to use it would be the worst thing I could do. My throat was dust dry, and my eyes burned with staring at those ghostly shadows surrounding me. I kept saying to myself over and over:

"This is dangerous. Oh, this is dangerous. But if they will only go away and let me sleep!"

I wondered when they would discover that there was no opening in that tent and tear it down, and then.....My mind and body went numb at the thought of what might happen then.

Suddenly, and as quietly as they had come the savages went away.

In the morning I was in no mood to criticize the colonel's plan of leaving the Tapirape as quickly as possible. Their attitude toward us had changed subtly overnight. They were still friendly, but even more aloof and watchful, and busy getting ready to go to the river with us. They were going to hold the Colonel to his promise of more presents.

The Colonel told me then of his experience during the night. After leaving my tent, the Indians entered the hut where the men were sleeping, and when the Colonel awoke he found himself completely surrounded by savages armed with clubs and spears. Instantly he turned on his powerful flashlight, and when they sprang back in fright, he laughed and flashed it first in one face and then in another. The Indians disappeared one by one, evidently terrified by this display of supernatural powers.

The white woman whom they had tried to kidnap must be a spirit for not mortal could pass through solid substance and seep in a tent without an opening. And the Colonel held the sunlight in his hand and made it shine at his will. Superstition, so often fatal to the stranger among wild tribes, had by a lucky chance worked in our behalf.

Before we left, I took our two interpreters and went from house to house, picking out interesting baskets, bird cages, a sieve, and so forth, telling the owners that if they would let me have them and carry them to the river for me I would give them special presents. This might be asking for more trouble, but as some of them were going with us anyway, I thought a few extra wouldn't matter.

It was something of a shock, however, to discover that every man, woman and child in the village started out with us, carrying food gourds of water sealed with bee's wax stoppers, their pets, and the tiny tiny babies. One woman carried her two-day-old baby in a hammock tied over one shoulder. There were innumerable dogs and puppies that got under our feet, parrots and owls and wild turkeys and macaws. A girl led a wild hog on a rope. Once a little boy passed me on the trial with a small food carrier on top of which was a roasted monkey, with the hair burned off and its human looking little hands folded neatly.

It was a terrific march, twenty-five miles through blazing heat, but the slender, strong Tapirape did it with an ease that put us civilizados to shame. When we came to the larger water hole, everything took a bath. The Indians bathed their dogs in the little puddle, then their children, then they bathed themselves. When the water was thoroughly roiled, they drank, and finally sprinkled mouthfuls of water over the parrots and macaws. At night they kept little fires burning under their hammocks. No one attempted to molest us, and I managed to get a good deal of valuable information about their customs, but we were not altogether safe in spite of their awe of our supernatural powers. Their fear might suddenly change to suspicion and anger; there was no telling what was in their strange minds.

In the morning I left before the others hoping to reach camp ahead of the procession and take pictures of them coming in. The girl who carried my knapsack came with me and four or five Indians who happened to see me go ran to join us with firebrands to light the way. Before I reached camp, a number of Indians had caught up with me among them the young Chief.

"Elizabeth stay. We will kill the Colonel." he said earnestly.

I was very glad to see the river with the boats and men left in charge of them.

We finished our bartering, if it could be called that for the Indian makes his selections with a real bargain-hunter's acumen and early the next morning we started on our homeward trip.

The natives gathered on the bank to watch us depart. With the bare grown skin and matted hair, and their eyes like those of untamed animals, they made an unforgettable picture against the solid green of the jungle. We smiled and waved to them as the boat went slowly down the river, but they only looked after us silently, inscrutably.

And though I was carrying away with me evidences of their customs and their culture, though I had made photographs and movies of them and many notes, I realized with a queer little twinge of disappointment that the inner secrets of their way of life would be forever hidden.

Return to Elizabeth K. Steen