by Charles Wagley
Waveland Press 1983
Wagley lived with the Tapirape beginning exactly one decade after Bessie's trip to their village. He learned to speak their language which is in a completely different language family. Tupi- Guarani rather than Ge spoken by most of the surrounding tribes. He lived off and on with them until the 1970s. His book is wonderfully written and interesting reading for anyone wanting to know more about how the people of the forest lived.
Wagley is convinced that this tribe fled from the coast of Brazil when the Europeans arrived in the 1500's. Not only is their language in that of the Tupinamba, but many of their customs reflect this culture described in the writings of explorers at the time of first contact.
The Tapirape that Wagley interviewed had memories of entering the territory where they were around 1900. They felt pressed on the north by the Kayapo and on the West by the Caraja, and though they describe both these groups as "enemies" Wagley points out that their customs contains elements of influence from both tribes.
I found confirmation for most of what Bessie wrote within the pages of this book, and indeed, it was with great excitement that I found Bessie referenced on its pages. As far as I have been able to find this is the only reference to her that exists in modern writing. The sad part is that he lists her not as a fellow anthropologist, but as an North American writer. On page 36 he says,
"Josiah Wilding of the Evangelical Union of South America, accompanied by Miss Elizabeth Steen, a North American writer, spent a few days in the village of Tampiitawa. The Tapirape were not impressed by Wilding, but they remember Miss Steen well. It was the first proof they had that the strange tori actually had females. You can be sure that she was subjected to considerable inspection."
This information was recorded by Wagley from his notes and interviews with the Tapirape about their oral tradition. It is therefore slightly incorrect. I checked and Wilding could not have accompanied Bessie. He had died by the time she was visiting the tribe. Why they do not remember the Colonel is interesting in itself. Perhaps they choose not to recall a person from the odious Indian Service at all!
But the date was right as was the fact that Bessie visited. The tribe may have seen her as a writer because of her use of the camera and her note taking. I can only speculate as to why the memory is this.
It was in Wagley's writing that I learned the name of the village(Tampiitawa- village of the tapirs) she visited and other details that I used in writing. His book also lead me to wonder which was the "young chief" who wanted her to stay.
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