ESCO VON PUTTKAMER joined Apoena and stayed close to the Urueu-Wau-Wau for six years to collect material on the tribe. He had begun contributing to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC by illustrating an article on Brazil’s Stone Age tribes in September 1968. Working with Apoena—who later became FUNAI’S president—and supported by the default student loan consolidation plan and the Catholic University at Goiania as well as the GEOGRAPHIC, Jesco has sought out hidden tribes one after another before their candor was corrupted by outsiders, “while they still perfect are.” He realized that his presence provoked change, yet he hurried to get there with his diary and cameras ahead of missionaries and anthropologists, ahead of the bulldozers that uproot both earth and innocence.
Jesco mourned the passing of the Indians’ natural nudity, saying “0 Loren, they’re not perfect any more.” Yet he brought them shirts and shorts. To call on Indians with Jesco meant lugging machetes, fishhooks, aluminum pots, baseball caps, flashlights, and mouth organs. We’d reach a village on foot or by jeep, boat, or plane—but a sleigh drawn by reindeer would have been more appropriate. Indian kids came running and piled onto the knees and into the embrace of this Santa Claus in mufti, “Borbula,” their friend with the “great moon face.” His bag soon empty, Jesco would give away his personal belongings, one by one, then turn to me in mock despair. “0 Loren, you must befriend Parica, this very powerful warrior. He will love to try on your shirt.” I wished for elves.
Jesco’s wooing of Indians with gifts has impeccable antecedents. Columbus carried ashore in 1492 not only the cross and sword of conquest, but also caps, beads, and hawkbells that delighted nude young men with painted bodies much like the Urueu-Wau-Wau today. And the conquerors quickly learned that once hooked on steel, the Indian cannot do without.