A story can make space into place: despite the fact that Colonel Fawcett went missing and probably died a quite horribly death in 1927, his lingering presence humanizes one of the darkest corners of the Amazon. It may be rough and dangerous there in Xingu but explorers find solace in the idea that Fawcett went before them.
In 'The Heart of the Forest' (earlier) Adrian Cowell reports on what Indian tracker Orlando Villas-Boas learned about the murder of Colonel Fawcett from the Xingu-locals. Villas-Boas being after all the man who was told by the Kalapalo where the Fawcett skeleton (see above) could be found. The passage begins with Cowell encountering a young Kalapalo who on hearing that the visitor is English volunteers the story of three Englishman, one old / two young, walking into the village a long time ago and who now lay buried near the lake. Villas-Boas from his hammock recounts the story from Kalapalo perspective "in the language and style of the Indians." The story gives a good idea of social mores (the obligation to share food, little tolerance for unfriendliness towards children, etc) and the moral of the story is: Fawcett deserved to be killed but there is a twist.
The three Caraiba were one old and two young. They carried things on their backs, had guns and one was lame. They came from the West with Aloiqui, chief of the Nakukuas, and his son, who brought them from their own village on the Kuliseu river.
At that time, all the Kalapalos were in their fishing village to the east beyond the river Kuluene, except for Kavuquire and his son, who were in the main village. These two agreed to guide the Inglezes to the fishing settlement, so that they could pass beyond, into the country to the east.
Next day that set out at dawn, two Nakukuas, two Kalapalos, and three Inglezes. After travelling for a day and a half the old man of the Inglezes spoke roughly to Kavuquire, blaming him for saying that the journey would only take from the rise of the sun to the sun't height. He was fifty-eight and the heat is great.
Later the old man, whom the Indians took to be chief, shot a duck and Kavuquire ran to pick it up, fingering and looking until it was snatched from him as if he had been about to steal. Then, when they arrived at the small lagoon by the Kuluene, the chief of the Inglezes spoke harshly again, because the canoe Kavuquire had promised had been taken to the other side.
By this Kavuquire was angry. But he had heard the rattle of collar (beads) in the Inglezes packs and so kept silent, thinking in his head that he would get a reward: this is the Indian custom. When they reached the village he was given nothing, but kept silent again hoping that they would make presents at farewell on the following day.
During the night the colonel cup up his duck with a knife, and when a boy played with the handle, he brushed his arm roughly aside.Next day the village gathered to say goodbye on the bank of the of the little lagoon. No presents were given.
Kavuquire demanded death . Caiabi ,the chief, agreed. He was a cautious man and he said it must be beyond the lagoon where the Nahukuas would not see.
While Kavuquire, Kuluele and one other ran round to lay ambush, the boy, Tuendi, paddled the Inglezes across. At the other side there was a cliff, small but sheer, and the chief of the Inglezes climbed to the top first, leaving the two others to bring up the baggage.
As he got to his feet, he turned to look down on the young men below. Kavuquire came out from behind the tree with a club he had cut from a sapling. He struck his blow on the back of the neck. The old one cried, wheeled, clutched a tree and started to fall swivelling round it. Kavuquire hit again on the right shoulder, and the body collapsed, doubled up on the ground.
At the cry, the young Inglezes dropped their baggage and started to climb the cliff. Immediatly the two Kalapalos hidden in the bushes at the bottom leapt out and struck up at their necks and heads. The bodies toppled back into the water.
When Kavuquire, Kuluele and the others returned to the village Caiabi said they must burn the bodies. He was a cautious man and was frightened that the Nahukuas would tell Indians who were friends with the civilizados.Caiabi talked to Kavuquire on the first day, and he did nothing; he talked to him the second day and he did nothing; he talked with him the third day and he went with some others. Putting leaves in their nostrils, they scraped a shallow hole by the old man. Then they lifted his feet, and then his head so that he lay nearly as he fell. They took everything from the body except for the machete clutched in his hand.
The young ones were still below, swollen in the water. So they were towed by canoe and left in the centre of the lake. Then from fear, their equipment and clothing were thrown into the Kuluene.
It is a good story! The caveat is that the bones are too short to be Fawcett's so what is going on? Villas-Boas suggests that the real location of the grave was kept a secret (the given one a decoy). A more reasonable suggestion to my mind is that so many people kept coming into the area looking for a trace of Fawcett that the locals invented a story, perhaps with some connection to reality, perhaps misidentifying Fawcett with another group (or groups) of Civilizados who came later. The Kalapalo volunteered his story to Cowell because everybody in the village knows that those silly white people love to hear it. Call it hospitality.
This story is not mentioned in David Grann's 'The Lost City of Z', the recent best selling book on the case. Ellen Basso is usually credited for learning the truth about Fawcett's fate when she published her Kalapalo testimonial in 'The Last Cannibal' (1995). This is a fantastic resource on Amazonian narrative and myth, not at all easy to read but totally inspirational. An earlier version of Basso's Fawcett chapter is online and you can see for yourself that the story has recognizable features with the story above but that the end is completely different. In Villas-Boas version the murder is explained as justified, in Basso's version Fawcett party passed trough the village before entering the lands of 'the fierce people' against the good advice of the Kalapalo and to their own detriment. Who to believe?