National Geographic : 2014 Jan
52 national geographic • january 2014 secure a future for his people. In the Xingu Val- ley there had hardly ever been a more able pair of hands. But in the realm that required pen- manship, the great chief was like a child. Six months later, 26 eastern Kayapo leaders met in Tucumã and signed a letter rejecting fur- ther money from the dambuilding consortium: “We, the Mebengôkre Kayapo people, have de- cided that we do not want a single penny of your dirty money. We do not accept Belo Monte or any other dam on the Xingu. Our river does not have a price, our fish that we eat does not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price. We will never stop fight- ing ... The Xingu is our home and you are not welcome here.” SOMEHOW WORD had gotten out. The paleface with no holes in his ears was heading up Kend- jam Mountain. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and before our hiking group was halfway down the airstrip, we’d picked up a tail of kids, 15 or so, a cluster of teen and preteen girls and boys with painted faces carrying water in old soda bottles, and even one ebullient little fellow who couldn’t have been more than four: bare- foot and unsupervised with no parent hovering about to make sure he didn’t get lost or eaten by a jaguar or poisoned by a pit viper or pierced by the thorns and spines on every other plant. He was wearing just a pair of shorts—in con- trast to me, in boots, hat, shirt, long pants, sun- glasses, SPF three million sunblock, and three bandannas to mop up biblical torrents of sweat. We walked single file for a while, and then the kids rushed past, swarming around some tall shrubs; they pulled the branches down and chopped off seedpods of the wild inga fruit. After 45 minutes the trail began to rise. The gray stone of the mountain loomed above: verti- cal walls, no fissures or obvious cracks. North, south, and west, its sides were seemingly un- climbable, but the eastern end sloped into the forest. The teenagers laughed and chattered up the steep grade, vaulting logs and swinging on vines. A narrow trail zigzagged up the side and cut through a cleft where you had to haul your- self with sweaty hands over a large boulder. A long ramp led up to the summit dome. All the kids were sitting on the summit, backlit by a milky blue sky. I wheezed up after them. Brown-gray lizards scuttled around. The chil- dren scuttled around too, fearlessly flirting with the void where the rock fell precipitously for five or six hundred feet, maybe more. No handrails. No liability advisories. No adult supervision.