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(Explorer, Geographer, Peacemaker:  1865 - 1958)

by Fernando Correia da Silva

Translated by Valerie Blencowe


Cândido Randon



1865:  Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon is born in Mato Grosso, Brazil.  1881:  Attends the Military School in Rio de Janeiro.  1888:  Promoted to Second Lieutenant.  1889, 15 November:  Takes part in the founding of the Republic.  1890:  Bachelor of Science in Physical and Natural Sciences; promoted to Lieutenant; teaches Astronomy, Rational Mechanics and Superior Mathematics; gives up teaching to serve in the division of the Army dedicated to constructing telegraph lines throughout the vast Brazilian wilderness.  1892:  Marries Francisca Xavier.  1898:  Joins the (positivist) Church of the Religion of Humanity.  1901:  Pacifies the Bororo Indians.  1906:  Forges telegraphic links from Corumbá and Cuiabá to Paraguay and Bolivia.  1907:  Pacifies the Nambikuára Indians.  1910:  Becomes the first Director of the Indian Protection Service.  1911:  Pacification of the Botocudo Indians of the Rio Doce valley (between Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo states).  1912:  Pacification of the Kaingáng Indians of São Paulo state.  1913:  Accompanies and guides the ex-President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, on his expedition to the Amazon.  1914:  Pacification of the Xokleng Indians of Santa Catarina state; receives the Livingstone Prize from the American Geographical Society.  1918:  Pacification of the Umotina Indians of the Sepotuba and Paraguay rivers; he starts to survey the map of Mato Grosso.  1919:  Is made Director of Engineering of the Army.  1922:  Pacification of the Parintintim Indians of the Madeira river.  1927/30:  Inspects the entire Brazilian frontier from the Guianas to Argentina.  1928:  Pacification of the Urubu Indians of the Gurupi river valley, between Pará and Maranhão states.  1930:  Revolution in Brazil; Getúlio Vargas, the new President, opposes Rondon who, to avoid persecution of the Indian Protection Service, promptly resigns from his directorship.  1938:  He promotes peace between Colombia and Peru who are in dispute over the territory of Letícia.  1939:  He reassumes directorship of the Indian Protection Service.  1946:  Pacification of the Xavante Indians of the Rio das Mortes valley.  1952:  He proposes the foundation of the Xingu Indigenous Park.  1953:  Inaugurates the Museum of the Indian.  1955:  The Brazilian National Congress promotes him to Marshal and renames the Guaporé territory ‘Rondônia’.  1958:  Cândido Rondon dies.




He is a Brazilian Indian, well-educated, with a degree in Sociology.  Well-built, round-faced, brown, elongated eyes, copper complexion, straight hair, he must be about sixty years old.  Supported by the Greens and other ecological groups, as well as by S.O.S. Racism, Amnesty International and many human rights organisations, he has spent the last six months in European capitals trying to mobilise public opinion on the Old Continent against the extermination of indigenous peoples in Latin America.  He speaks perfect Portuguese but sometimes interrupts his talk with unexpected words in Tupi-Guarani which sweep  us into the immensity of the Amazon and Mato Grosso.  It is here that he introduces to us another 20th Century Ghandi who European arrogance always tried to ignore.  This is the second interview that Diaí Nambikuára grants us:

-         Mr Diaí, please enlighten me:  who was this Rondon you keep mentioning?

-         Aurora, have pity, not ‘Mr’ ...

-         But how should I address you?

-         Just by my first name, the way Brazilians address each other.

-         Alright, then!  In spite of the massacres, do you still consider yourself Brazilian?

-         Aurora, when the Portuguese and other Europeans arrived in Brazil, we had already been living there for many, many centuries.  The Indians are therefore more Brazilian than the Brazilians, as Rondon said.

-         So after all, who is, or was, this Rondon?

-         I can’t believe it – you really don’t know?  At least you know what Rondônia is?

-         It’s a Brazilian state, isn’t it?

-         Yes, it’s the old territory of Guaporé renamed Rondônia in homage to Rondon.  It is a tiny state, about the size of Italy.

-         I am none the wiser.

-         I can see that Curupira continues to cast the mists of oblivion, a new way of confusing travellers ... Not only in Portugal and Europe, but also in Brazil ...

Curupira?  What is that?



Cândido Rondon, in the backlands.




- Curupira is the evil spirit of the forest, the equivalent to your Devil.  A deformed being, with big ears, bald, back to front legs with his heels facing the front and his toes behind.  He walks steadily from the abyss to life, but because of his inverted footsteps, whoever tries to follow his trail ends up falling into the abyss or some other arapuca.

- What is an Arapuca?

- A trap.

- I’m beginning to see – indigenous mythology ...

- Not only indigenous ...

- Forgive me, but what has this to do with Europe?

Diaí Nambikuára opens his arms and smiles, enjoying himself:

- Can’t you see the connection?  Then tell me something:  was it not Curupira who led you away from “love thy neighbour as yourself” to the autos da fé of the Inquisition?  Was it not Curupira who lured you away from communism, the common good, towards the exile and carnage of Goulag?  Was it not that devil, Curupira, who invaded and overthrew your Paradise?  Who was it, if not him?

I smile as well and, as I don’t know how to reply, try to avoid answering the question:

- Don’t tell me that Rondon also followed Curupira’s footsteps? ...

- No, he didn’t fall for that one.  Curupira’s revenge now is to shroud him in the mists of oblivion.  Both him and his spiritual ancestors ...

- Who were ...

- Auguste Comte and Benjamin Constant.



Comte and Marx.


-  Two Frenchmen?

-  One French, Auguste Comte.  And one Brazilian, Benjamin Constant Botelho de Magalhães.

-   I know that Comte was the founder of positivism.  But I have to admit that I haven’t heard of Benjamin Constant Magalhães.

- He was the Brazilian soldier who, on 15 November 1889, promoted the pacific transition from Monarchy to Republic.  Before that date he had already paved the way to the abolition of slavery, which came about on 13 May 1888.

- Quite a character ...

- A convicted positivist.  While still young, he reads, studies and analyses Auguste Comte’s Course of Positive Philosophy.  He becomes an enthusiastic adherent of  positivism.  The ideal of this philosophy was to unite all cultures, until then separate, from the West and the East, without losing anything and uniting everything.  For Comte, each man is valued not for what he has but for what he is, merit is valued more than fortune.  He tried to reach Guajupiá through ...

- What?

- Paradise.

- Why do you sometimes use Tupi words?  They are Tupi, aren’t they?

- Yes, Tupi-Guarani.  It is just to show you that the Indians are not unaware of certain metaphysical concepts, we are not the ignorant savages we are portrayed to be.

- I see . . .  But Comte tried to reach Paradise through ...

- Through the progress of the human spirit, in three stages – the theological, the metaphysical and, finally, the positive.  In the latter, maxims would prevail such as, “act with affection and think before acting”, “induce to deduce, in order to construct”, “know, to foresee, in order to provide”.  Do you understand?

- More or less . . .  And Marx?  How did he think he would reach Paradise?

- Through class struggle; precisely to abolish it and end the exploitation of man by man once and for all.

- Hell is full of good intentions, isn’t it?

- If I were a positivist or a Marxist, I would say to you, “Aurora, forget metaphysics!”  But that is not important at the moment.  Take note:  curiously, it is in Brazil where positivism is most deeply entrenched.  Not in France, not even in the rest of Europe.  I have already told you that it was a Brazilian positivist who furthered the peaceful transition from Monarchy to Republic.  The positivist maxim, “Order and Progress”, is still inscribed on our national flag.  Aurora, do you know who Benjamin Constant’s right-hand man was during the political movements on 15 November 1889?

- I’ve no idea.

- It was Cândido Rondon, the Second Lieutenant from Mato Grosso.

- Rondon at last!  Not before time . . .



Cândido Rondon with the Pianocoti Indians.




- You are very impatient, Miss!  I will have to talk to your maracá 

- My what?

- Maracá,  guardian angel.  Calm down, pay attention, listen:  it was the gold of Cuiabá that lured the pioneers from São Paulo to Mato Grosso.  But later the reserves ran out and their descendants, who had already inter-bred with Indians and Africans, stayed, bewildered, in the Mimoso countryside – palm forests, rainforest, rivers, lakes and more lakes.  With no gold to mine, what were they to do in such an isolated region?  The alternative was to breed cattle since only cattle are able to find their way, without roads or footpaths, across thousands of kilometres to the coastal market-places.  Do you know how far Cuiabá is from the Atlantic coast, as the crow flies?

- About a thousand kilometres?

- More like two thousand.  About the same distance as Prague to Lisbon.

- Your Brazil is a universe . . .

- It is almost a continent.  It was in the Mimoso countryside, in the uncultivated lands of Monte Redondo, that Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon was born, on 5 May 1865.  From his father he inherited Portuguese, Spanish and Guaná Indian blood; from his mother Terena and Bororo Indian blood.  In him, everything is united, nothing is lost.

- A rich family?

- Poor folk.  And at two years old, he has already been orphaned by his parents.  A paternal uncle looks after him and takes him to Cuiabá.  There he grows up, studies, passes his secondary education with distinction and excels in mathematics.

- Was there a university in Cuiabá?

- No, there wasn’t, but Cândido wants to continue his studies – his ambition is Rio de Janeiro.  For a poor boy there are only two ways out:  Military School or Seminary.  He requests permission from his uncle and makes his choice:  rather murubixaba than pajé.

- I’m sorry, I don’t understand.

- Rather a warrior chief than a priest.



Cândido Rondon, explorer.



- Second Lieutenant Cândido Rondon is 23 years old when he helps Benjamin Constant to establish the Republican regime.  And in the following year, 1890, he receives his Science Degree and is promoted to Lieutenant.  At the request of his master, Benjamin Constant, he begins to teach Astronomy, Rational Mechanics and Superior Mathematics at the Military School.  However, soon after, on being invited to join the most arduous service in the Army, that of constructing telegraph lines throughout the interior of Brazil, he has no hesitation in abandoning his promising teaching career.  So there he goes, together with his troop, making clearings, cutting down trees, erecting telegraph poles, connecting wires, crossing forests from Goiás to his native Mato Grosso.  Surrounded by jungle, the frightened soldiers want to react violently to successive attacks by the bugres.

- Bugres?  What are they?

- Bugre is the so-called savage Indian, in the white man’s language.  And bugreiro is the hunter of Indians.  Usually this is someone of mixed blood who, by violent acts against his indigenous relations, tries to pander to the white man.  The Indians who opposed the advance of usurpers on their tribal lands were decimated and their tabas and malocas burned.  This is what the bugreiros were used for and many of them were paid by the state governors themselves.

- Tabas?

- Villages.  Rondon’s aim was to make peace with the Indians, not to kill them.

- A positivist principle?

- Exactly.

- Influenced by Benjamin Constant perhaps?

- You’ve got it.  In 1898, Rondon will join the Church of the Religion of Humanity.

- But is positivism a religion with a church?

- My child, the word “religion” comes from the verb “to religate”, to unite.  In this sense, positivism is a religion, because its aim is to unite mankind.  And its church is different from other churches.  In positivism, the belief in supernatural beings and phenomena is substituted by the adoration and understanding of a new Trinity – not the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but Humanity, Earth and Space.  Its sacred formula is “Love as Principle, Order as Foundation, Progress as Goal”.  And its moral formula is “Live for Others”.

- What about you?  Are you also a positivist?

- I didn’t come to Europe to speak about me.

- But how is it possible to pacify armed people, whose warriors, understandably, are indignant and furious?

- That is precisely why Rondon is so important.  He was always strict in the application of his maxim, “Die, if necessary, but never kill!”.  Tens of officers and more than 150 soldiers and civilians died because they refused to kill.  In other words, they let themselves be killed.  In them, the strength of an idea overcame their instinct for survival.  Humanism, when taken seriously, has a high cost.

- I understand the theoretical principle but how did Rondon apply it in practice?

- Aurora, first try to understand, as Rondon understood, that the Indians are living in the Neolithic age.  But we are men and, like all men, we hope to lead better lives.  Suddenly, marvellous metal tools are put at our disposition – knives, machetes, wedges, levers, fishing hooks, scissors, axes – they might be the decoy to put us on the path from pre-history to civilisation.  When surrounded and attacked by the Indians, Rondon leaves the gifts in a clearing and retreats with his troop.  A clear sign that he desires peace and, the next day, he returns.  Once, twice, three times, however many times are necessary until the Indians are ready to talk.

- And did they all accept dialogue?

- Not all of them, some of them are very resistant.  Rondon explains why:  “They avoid us; they don’t give us the opportunity to meet them, most likely due to the distrust caused by the first invaders who wrecked their homes.  Perhaps they also hate us because, from their point of view, we are all part of that great warrior tribe who, from time immemorial, has been the cause of so many disasters, the oldest of which are re-enacted in the traditions preserved by the elders.”  That’s why one of my ancestors from the Nambikuára tribe nearly kills him – one arrow shaves his face, the other embeds itself in his rifle belt.  

- What does he do?

- He just fires two shots into the air, so we, the Nambikuára, see that that particular warrior from the tribe of the white men does not intend to kill us.

- And the soldiers?

- They demand revenge.  An officer shouts that it is a disgrace if the Army does not set a corrective example to those savages.  Rondon interrupts him, “I represent the Army here and the Army did not come here to wage war.  The Nambikuára do not know that our mission is a peaceful one.  If this were your land and someone came to rob it and, moreover, started to shoot you, wouldn’t you forget your manners?”  A firm hand and words like these keep the troop under control.

- Did this happen during the first expedition from Goiás to Mato Grosso?

- No, this will happen much later, in 1907, if I remember correctly.  At about this time he also discovers the Juruena river; some used to doubt its existence and thought it only a legend ... During the first expeditions he pacifies other tribes.  But, if it is difficult to make peace, it is much more difficult to maintain it.



Rondon and the journey from pre-history to civilisation.





































The Botocudo Indians, an engraving by Debret


Diaí Nambikuára gets up and glides across the room like a cat.  He stops suddenly, stands still, stares at me and says:

- From pre-history to civilisation ...  A journey through time, towards the future, with Rondon taking care of the well-being of the travellers ... Can you imagine what it must be like to cross millennia in just one or two generations?  My child, imagine yourself running the Marathon.  At 5 kilometres you are already exhausted but there is still a long way to go before you reach the end ...  For us it is an exhausting but fascinating journey.  Amazed, perhaps even hypnotised, there we are at the front.  Without a guide to protect us, we would be easy prey for the bugreiros.  In 1916 Rondon will say, “Hinterlands where civilised man never set foot are already included in public registers as if they belong to citizen A or B; sooner or later, according to where their personal interests lie, these land-owners will expel all the Indians who, by a monstrous reversal of facts, reason and morals, will be thought of and treated as if they were the intruders and thieves.”

- Premonition ...

- I would prefer to call it realism!  For those and other reasons, Rondon demands that each pacified tribe is protected by the Army and, later, by the State.  He demarcates each tribal territory and tries to register it as the collective property of the tribe.  He goes about guaranteeing us the right to live our own lives, to profess our own beliefs and to develop at our own speed without us ever being subject to any ideological scourging.

- Not even Catholic catechism?

- Not any catechism.  Teachers, yes; preachers, no.  What are other pajés for?  To confuse us more, by cutting off our traditional roots?  See how the Jesuit missionaries, Anchieta and Nóbrega included, transformed the catechised Indians into the living-dead?  The poor things had lost their own civilisation without managing to become part of the one they wanted to take them to ...  Something similar is taking place today in Africa.  There, there is no shortage of living-dead, plunderers and bugreiros ...

- But Diaí, bugreiros, in Africa?

- Call them negreiros (slavers), if you like, whatever their colour.  There, it is greed which feeds inter-tribal struggles, deaths in prison, genocide.  Only the living-dead survive, wanderers cut off at the roots ...  Today, not only in Africa but in all continents, we need a handful of men with Rondon’s spirit – he constantly fought for peace, not only between Indians and white men, but also between Indians and other Indians.

- For example?

- You needn’t look any further than between the Paresi and my tribe the Nambikuára.

- I see ... But we were talking about Rondon’s programme ...

- Be patient, child, I was distracted.  Rondon’s whole programme is systemised in 1910 with the foundation of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), a department of the Ministry for Agriculture which ended up with 67 Indian assistance posts throughout the interior of Brazil.  The first Director is, obviously, Cândido Rondon.  Neither he nor the SPI force fixed ideas on us, they just provide us with the means to help us develop:  metal tools to facilitate our work in the forest; the skills of spinning, weaving, cutting and sewing to improve our clothing; salt and fat to better preserve our food; remedies, hygienic products and instructions; the art of building a mud and wattle house, etc.  Just the means for us to start living in a better way, not preconceived ideas.  Amongst us, only those who are anxious to know more are truly literate.

- Like you?

- Yes, like me.  And even though I have studied a lot, I still miss running naked through my forests and swimming in my igarapés (creeks) ... You don’t cross thousands of years in a single life unscathed ...

- How many tribes did Rondon pacify?

- Lots!  Not only Rondon but also members of the SPI.  I cannot remember all of them by heart.  I can only mention a few:  the Bororo, the Caiamo, the Guaicuru, the Uachiri, the Cavaleiros, the Ofaié, the Terena, the Quinquinau, the Paresi, the Kaingáng, the Xokleng, the Botocudo, the Umutina, the Nambikuára, the Tirió, the Pianocoti, the Kepkiriwát, the Parnawát, the Urumi, the Arikén, the Rama-Rama, the Urubu, the Parintintim and the last were the Xavante, in 1946. Of those, more than 57 were dedicated to the defence of the rights of Brazilian indigenous peoples.  Rondon died when he was 93 years old.  He never gave up trying to reach Yuí Marane’i.

- What is that?

- Yuí Marane’i, the Land without Evil ... These days, when I see the Amazon on fire, burning because of the greed of the timber merchants and rubber tappers and cattle breeders; when I see their bugreiros bent on butchering every last Indian, either with bullets, poison such as strychnine, contagious diseases such as smallpox which spread from maloca to maloca (longhouse), I ask myself where would we indigenous peoples be today, were it not for Rondon?  Although many of us have been and continue to be slaughtered, tens of thousands were saved by him.

- A great missionary!  A layman, but a great missionary...

My observation angers Diaí Nambikuára – he is furious.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he ripped off his shirt and trousers and, naked, began a war dance.  He points a flint-tipped spear at me:

Child, don’t speak such rubbish!  Forget that word!  In exchange for the sacrifices they suffer in serving God, missionaries believe they will go to Heaven.  Their reward is metaphysical, but it is a reward.  Rondon and the members of the Indian Protection Service are simply impelled by a civil, secular idea, to live for others.  No reward is promised to them, neither in this life nor in any other.  Who, then, are the most unselfish?


Portrait of Chiquinha Xavier.











































Cândido Rondon defends tens of thousands of Indians.











































Cândido Rondon, at the Iguaçu Falls.


I eat my words.  I have no opinion, he is the one being interviewed.  He continues:

- The construction of telegraph lines was the main reason for Rondon’s entry into the Brazilian backlands.

- And did he make many expeditions?

- Countless!  In 1891 he had already installed 1,574 kms of telegraph lines.  He finally installed about 7,000 kms ...

- I can see that he is the father of Brazilian communications.

- He is that as well!  But more importantly, he was the Father of the Brazilian Indians.

- Expedition after expedition, installation of telegraph lines, pacification and defender of the rights of the Indians ...  Always on the move ...  Did this man never stop?  What about lovers, did he have any?

- In 1892, Rondon marries Chiquinha Xavier in Rio de Janeiro.  In the same year, he leaves for Cuiabá with his wife.  Chiquinha will bear him one son and six daughters.

- A virile man!

- Each to his own, I don’t know more than that ...  Until 1898 Rondon is responsible for the maintenance of Mato Grosso’s telegraph lines.  In 1899 he heads the commission which extends the lines from Cuiabá to Corumbá and to Bolivia and Paraguay.  In 1906 he crosses 250 leagues of Mato Grosso’s North-Western backlands and 300 leagues of the Amazonian rainforest, to take the wires from Cuiabá to Acre Territory, thus closing the national telegraphic circuit.  And, during these expeditions, he always pacifies and integrates new tribes, protecting them against raiders and bugreiros.

- Another Ghandi ...

- Yes, you are right, they both lived at the same time.  But, with a distance of thousands of kilometres between them, they were unaware of each other.  As it happened, their mission was identical, to live for others, altruism.  One in South America and the other in Asia.

- But Ghandi was the better-known.

- Because he shook the British Crown.  Rondon only shook consciences.  That is why.

- Yes, Ghandi had enormous political influence ...

- ... whilst Rondon was merely an explorer, a humanist and a scientist.

- Scientist?  I didn’t know that ...

- It’s like I said – the mists of Curupira ...  On each expedition, Rondon took, apart from his troop, two teams.  One, of telegraph line constructors.  The other, of scientists:  geologists, botanists, zoologists, ethnographers, linguists.  Rondon himself was the geographer who surveyed thousands of linear kilometres of land and water, determined the co-ordinates (longitude and latitude) of more that 200 places, inscribed 12 previously undiscovered rivers on the map of Brazil and corrected gross errors about the courses of many others.  The other scientists in his teams collected more than 3,000 indigenous artefacts, more than 8,000 species of flora, more than 5,000 species of fauna and an infinite number of mineral samples.  The major contribution of all times to the National Museum ...

- Incredible!  But, tell me something:  if I am not mistaken, it was at the beginning of the century, before the World War, that Marconi invented wireless telegraphy.  Did this not interfere with Rondon’s work?

- The new technology took a while to reach Brazil.  On the other hand, the maintenance of telegraphic lines had become a pretext for continuing with the integration of the Indians.  Many of them were employed in the maintenance of the lines “by way of a fairer remuneration than the illusory benefits they receive in the service of individuals who exploit them inhumanely.”  Rondon himself said that.  I think that if wireless telegraphy had been invented 30 years earlier, Rondon would not have begun his humanitarian crusade in 1890.  As a consequence, a holocaust could have taken place and perhaps no Indians would exist in Brazil today.

- Well, every cloud has a silver lining ...   But you were talking about the contribution to the National Museum ...

- I’ll tell you something else:  in 1913, at the request of the Brazilian Government, Rondon organises an expedition for Theodore Roosevelt, the North-American ex-President, to the Amazon.  They set off from the border with Paraguay and, two years later, reach Belém, Pará.  Rondon takes the opportunity of inscribing on the map of Brazil a river more than 1,000 kms long, whose course until then had been a mystery and which was known as the River of Doubt.  Rondon renames it Roosevelt River.  On several occasions throughout the journey he has to insist that the Americans obey his rules for approaching the Indians.

- What were the Americans expecting?  A wild-west adventure?

- More or less ...  Roosevelt later recognises the correctness of Rondon’s attitude and declares:  “America can present to the world two cyclopean achievements:  to the North, the Panama Canal; to the South, the work of Rondon – scientific, practical, humanitarian.”

- At last, international recognition ...

- There is more:  in 1914 the American Geographical Society, New York, bestows on Rondon the Livingstone Prize, for being the explorer who ventured deepest into tropical terrain.  In 1913, at a meeting in London, the Race Congress had already enthusiastically applauded Rondon’s work, pointing it out as an example to be followed “for the glory of universal civilisation”.

Diaí Nambikuára stops speaking, shakes his head with scepticism.  At last he grumbles:

- For the glory of universal civilisation... Useless words... Two world wars...  And later, just look what is happening today in Brazil, in Africa and in Asia, even in Europe itself.   Useless words, useless words...

He composes himself:

- Let’s not dwell on that.  You want to know more about Rondon, don’t you?  In 1918 he outlines the map of Mato Grosso.  It would be better if you could look at a map of Brazil to understand everything I am going to say now.  In 1927, already Division General, he begins to direct the inspection of frontiers.  He advances to Oiapoque, on the border with French Guiana.  He continues to Rio Branco, Mahu and Tucutu to study the border with British Guiana (Guyana).  He goes up the Uraricoera river to reach the Venezuelan frontier.  There is a new expedition in 1928:  he travels up the Cuminá river to its sources, near Dutch Guiana (Suriname). 

- Forgive me for interrupting again.  When making such long journeys through virgin forests, how did they stock up their supplies?

-My child:  to go into the forest is to dive into greenness.  Little patches of blue only appear from time to time up there, above the canopy.  Birds fly around, whooping and warbling, the bellbird calls out with its clear, sharp clang.  Creatures are everywhere, they lurk, jump, leap, shriek, growl, then suddenly flee – has a snake disturbed them?.  The trees inhale water and exhale green, always dripping.  Then the rivers and igarapés.  You swim through the green, over the soft earth.  You might be afraid, but the forest yields up everything you need:  palm hearts, fern tea, honey, buriti-palm sugar, fish and game, tapir, agouti, armadillo, guan, snakes and monkeys.  The Indians have always known this.  Rondon and his soldiers have to learn and, luckily, they do learn!  Do you understand?

- Yes, I understand, it’s just that the thought of such a menu gives me the shivers ...  Did you say that Rondon reached the border with Dutch Guiana in 1928?

- And in 1929 he leaves Rio de Janeiro for Manaus through the interior of the country.  He crosses the Araguaia, the Tocantins and the Amazon, the Cucuï and the Tabatinga, to Iquitos in Peru.  He then goes to Acre, crosses the Xapuri and arrives at Boipedra and Cojiba.  He goes on to Guaporé to inspect the border with Bolivia.  Later he is in Paraná and Santa Catarina.  That is when the 1930 revolution breaks out and his march is interrupted.

- Which revolution was that?

- The Getúlio Vargas revolution.  Rondon does not join in, his philosophy does not allow him to take up arms against his brothers.  That is all it takes for the new authorities to start persecuting him.  In order to avoid a wave of bad-will against the Indian Protection Service, he hands in his resignation as director – the swings and roundabouts of politics ...  But you should know that an estimate of the paths trodden by Rondon was made.  His auxiliary, General Jaguaribe de Matos, calculates that he had travelled the equivalent of the perimeter of Earth.  In other words, approximately 40,000 kilometres.  Inside Brazil, he has been round the world.  Rondon is the last of the great explorers of our planet.

- I know about Amundsen, Peary, Charcot and Byrd, but I have never heard about Rondon as an explorer...

Neither as an explorer nor anything else.  Nevertheless, his name, in gold letters, is registered in the American Geographical Society alongside all those you have just mentioned.  It is truly extraordinary that such an important person, from the universe of the Portuguese language, should be almost unknown in Portugal.  Child, your ignorance is either a superiority complex left over from the dregs of colonialism, or Curupira really is blowing the mists of oblivion over you.



Portrait of Cândido Rondon.



















Rondon with Roosevelt in the Amazon





















Catete, the Chief of the Bororo Indians, with Rondon.


Touchée ...  I change the subject:

- What happened to the Indian Protection Service?

- It falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Employment.  The bureaucrats take it over, its budget is drastically cut, the Indian Protection Service starts to function with fits and starts, the bugreiros are once more able to continue with their plunder and massacre.

- What kind of mentality could incite the hunting of Indians?

-  Incited and continues to incite ...  But you should know that better than I, this civilisation is more yours than mine ...  However, I always tell you that the reasoning of the usurpers is very simple:  “We must take the land from the Indians because they do not know how to take advantage of its resources.  Leave it in their hands and we will regress to the beginning of the world.  And if they, because of this, want to kill us, we have to kill them first in legitimate defence.”

- There is always justification for the worst crimes ...

- And later that justification is radicalised against everything and against all those who could scratch at the privileges of the great land-owners, the so-called colonels.  Even today, the assassins of Chico Mendes and other leaders of the Landless Movement go unpunished.

- That I know, but let’s return to Rondon.  Away from the Indian Protection Service, what did he do?

- Wi his influence, he tries to minimise disasters, but achieves little.  However, his prestige throughout all of South America is so great that, in 1934, the Brazilian Government is compelled to appoint him for a thorny diplomatic mission:  to arbitrate the conflict between Peru and Colombia for possession of the territory of Letícia.  Rondon overcomes the obstacles one by one and in 1938, only in 1938, he manages to convince Peru and Colombia to sign a peace treaty.

- Four years!  What patience!

- What force of will, I would prefer to say.  He is 73 years old and suffers from glaucoma which eventually blinds him in one eye.  But he does not give up, nothing veers him from his determination, not even illness ...  Twenty years later, on the eve of his death, a secretary will say:  “Even today, without sight, he is busy editing his diaries which were written in pencil, in the field – dictating to me and I, sometimes, guiding his hand to turn the page.”

- What stamina!

- Indeed!  With peace in Letícia, his prestige is further reinforced and in 1939 the Government invite him to resume his directorship of the Indian Protection Service.  He accepts, weighs up the damages which have occurred during the ten years of his absence:  the closing down of most of the assistance posts, tribal territories taken over, Indians forced into reservations, always at the mercy of the same enemies, cunhatãs kidnapped ...

- Cunhatãs?

- Young girls kidnapped to serve as concubines for the colonels.  Curumins taken by force.

- Curumins?

- Young men taken by force to become servants in the colonels’ mansions.  Feeling betrayed, many Indians had fled and returned to the forests and to war with the white man.  Reconstruction is necessary and Rondon sets to work.  He is 74, but neither age nor illness hamper him.  The Indian Protection Service returns to the responsibility of the Ministry for Agriculture.  Rondon demands a budget which allows for the re-launching of a coherent indigenous policy.  All the SPI posts are re-opened and many others are established.  It is announced to the once pacified but now suspicious tribes that the murubixaba Rondon had come back as chief of the white men.  Thus the interrupted journey from the neolithic to the civilised begins again, with effective assistance and permanent vigilance in defence of the rights of the Indian.  In 1952, Rondon receives permission from the Presidency of the Republic to create the Xingu Indigenous Park, the  preservation of a vast natural region of Brazil, whose resources will belong to the Indians who live there.  And in 1953, following advances in ethnography, under Rondon’s charge the SPI Studies Commission founds and Rondon inaugurates the Museum of the Indian in Rio de Janeiro.

- In 1953?  He was 88 years old, if my sums are right.

- Exactly, 88 years old.  He will remain active until he dies.

- Which is when?

- When he is 93.  But before, at 90, the National Congress promotes him to Marshal and, in his honour, names the Guaporé territory “Rondônia”.

- A more than deserved homage ...

- He would have preferred something else ...

- What?

- On his last visit to Mato Grosso, Rondon insists on visiting the old Cadete, chief of the Bororo das Garças, one of the first tribes he had pacified.  The two old men shake hands, embrace each other, chat for a long time in the Bororo language – they have been friends for more than 60 years.  Smiling at those accompanying him, Rondon explains:  “Do you know what he is saying?  He advises me to come to die here because, as I am so old, I probably won’t last much longer, and only the Bororo know how to arrange my funeral.”  I think Rondon should have accepted the invitation.

- Diai, why do you say such a thing?

- Child:  there are things in your civilisation which do not appeal to me and so, not caring for them, I return to the neolithic.  Your indifference, or blindness, in excluding from your company more and more people, whole populations, does not appeal to me. 

- Are you talking about Indians and white men?

- Yes, but mainly about your society.

- I don’t understand.

- Aurora, you don’t want to understand.  Look at the favelas which you call shanty-towns.  Look at the multitudes who have nothing and who no longer know what to do, those for whom life has lost its bearings.  First, you excluded others.  Now, you are excluding those from your own tribe – mass suicide.

- Diai, I am aware that globalization, really ...

And there’s something else:  amongst the Indians, if a man like Rondon was consecrated at a funeral, no Curupira would ever be able to blow the mists of oblivion over him.  Have I explained myself?  I have spoken, so be it.


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