National Geographic : 1966 Jan
Innocence of Eden lights the painted faces of a young Waura family. Despite the dry season's nighttime cold, the Indians wear no clothing. The Brazilian Government seeks to protect the peoples of the Xingu region and preserve their ancient way of life. Even limited contact with civilization has had a harmful effect upon all the Xingu tribes; an epidemic of measles a few years ago killed many Waura. ashes of a campfire left by the wild Indians. Then my friends freeze in their tracks. Seated upon three poles, blocking the path, are crude human figurines made of dried leaves tied together with thin vines. Each of the dolls holds a tiny bow. In each bow is a tiny arrow aimed at our hearts. The effect of this sign of warning is grotesque, almost frightening. I walk closer for a better look. But I stop immediately when a loud warning cry sounds out: "Kukoi! No farther!" The earth opens at my feet. It is a trap! I stand on the brink of a pit. Ten feet below me, the tips of eight large spears are visible in the dark hole. Each one is capped by a point of needle-sharp jaguar bone. A hideous death awaits the unwary who falls into such a trap. We pull the spears out and place in the pit an arrow pointing straight up. As a present, some feathers used in mak 152 ing arrows are hung over the shaft; I tie a little steel knife to it-signs of wishing peace. "If the Tshikao discover us here, they will crush our skulls. They attack before dawn. We must set up a watch." The night's sleep is broken not by the feared attack but by a torrential downpour. The long dry season has ended. We huddle over a hissing fire until dawn. Chief Offers a Farewell Gift As we return, the streams are swelling. In the parched forest, fires ignited by lightning or Indians are going out. Nature is renewing itself. My visit has come to an end. Malakiyaua says a sad farewell. "Here, Kukoi, this is for you." He hands me a simple wooden spatula that he himself has carved. Coming from this good man and his generous people, it is a gift I shall always treasure-a reminder of the dig nity, simplicity, and tradition of their ancient way of life.