In his rousing book The Unconquered, veteran National Geographic journalist Scott Wallace joins Brazilian explorer and activist Sydney Possuelo on a mission to locate the Flecheiros, tribes of Brazilian Indians who have never made contact with the outside world.
Who is Sydney Possuelo? What's he like?
He is an incredible personality who engineered a sea change in Brazil's policy toward its uncontacted Indians. He's passionate, unpredictable, with an explosive temper. He's a wilderness explorer, Indian-rights activist, ethnographer--he's amazing.
It's interesting that Possuelo isn't actually trying to contact the tribe. He wants to avoid them.
Possuelo saw that every time contact happened, the Indians would die off from introduced epidemics. Their lands would be stolen from them outright, or if not, they'd be corralled into small pockets of land. So rather than making contact, he identifies where their lands are and then demarcates them to keep outsiders from entering. The only way you can do that is by mounting an expedition on the ground.
What did the journey do to you physically?
It was more difficult than anything I'd ever attempted to endure before. We crossed over into completely wild Amazon, leaving the last small outpost of so-called civilization behind. The area that we traversed was extremely rugged--a constant up and down on very slick, steep hills. Every footstep you took, you could find yourself tumbling headlong. It was very humid, [and we were] assaulted by bugs, with the dangers of snakes at every turn and fire ants in the branches. There was literally a hazard at every step.
The expedition was about keeping some of the last uncontacted tribes on the planet safe. What do we lose when we lose one of these tribes?
I think we lose a part of our humanity. They are a reminder that there is another, more sustainable way to live, that humankind hasn't always lived as we do now.