A photographer, journalist and first-time author joins a celebrated Brazilian Indian rights activist on an expedition in search of an isolated Amazon tribe.
Brazil’s dense forests are known to shelter some 400,000 Indians from 270 tribes. But there are reportedly many more indigenous people who have not made contact with modern civilization. As head of Brazil’s Department of Isolated Indians, wilderness scout Sydney Possuelo, 62, had already confirmed the existence of 17 uncontacted tribes by 2002, when the author was assigned by National Geographic to cover Possuelo’s attempt to find yet another group said to be living deep in the Amazon: the flecheiros, or “People of the Arrow.” Wallace’s book is a detailed, overlong account of the three-month land-and-water journey, in which Possuelo and his 34 men sought facts about the Arrow People’s existence—but deliberately made no contact with the tribe. The “no-contact” policy, set by Possuelo, was intended to protect wild Indians from the diseases of white men. Unfortunately, it robs readers of the traditional payoff of a journey of discovery. Even the author yearned for the knowledge that contact would bring. But Possuelo’s goal was to quietly observe that the Arrow People are thriving, then leave, preserving the tribe’s isolation. “The best thing we can do is to stay out of their lives,” he says. Only later, on a flight retracing the expedition’s route, did Wallace glimpse members of the tribe, scurrying about like ants, then “staring up at us in a trance.” Wallace provides a good sense of deep-jungle travel and dining (piranha stew, boiled monkey, etc.), and portrays Possuelo as a great explorer dedicated to saving Brazil’s Indians. He notes that Possuelo was later fired after criticizing his boss’s remark that Indians were claiming too much land. By then, Possuelo had protected 365,000 square miles of indigenous lands from logging, mining and other development.
A well-reported but somewhat disappointing adventure story.