Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Lost City of Z (copy)

Dr. Livingston, I presume?” No, it is Lieutenant Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett whom is still lost in the jungles of South America.

Colonel Fawcett to his friends, although he was never awarded the higher rank, gave his life while exploring the Amazon region searching for a lost tribe with three story structures he called Z. It was Fawcett’s personal search for El Dorado of which early conquistadors claimed was a city filled with gold.

Fawcett had his doubts about the gold. As he traveled up the Amazon River to discover the source, each new tribe—who claimed him as the first white man ever encountered—did not wear or fashion anything out of the precious metal. They were in simple cotton loin if dressed at all. Ears might be pierced and plates might adorn their lips, but the material was either wood or bone.

Unlike his Victorian peers, he believed that prior to European’s first visit an advance tribe numbering in the thousands farmed and stored their food, built community buildings along with religious temples, and spoke a complicated language. He based these beliefs on stories he heard from various chiefs who spoke a native language mixed with Portuguese.

Even though Fawcett did his explorations after Queen Victoria’s death, he is considered the quintessential Victorian explorer. He took the daytime to survey all areas on his journey and drew maps while fighting fatal bugs and snakes under the night’s stars. Instead of combating or converting the natives, he study their culture and took detail notes that he used later to write articles for London Newspapers. “And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack the Royal Geographical Society’s hall to hear him speak.”

His success was based on two valuable skills. First, he was immune to the various threats in the jungle like flesh embedding maggots and malaria. He hardly ever got sick or struggled with the insatiable bugs that fatally attacked his other peers. Last and most important, he made friends with head shrinking, body clubbing, and cannibalistic natives who inhibited the region.

An engaging nonfiction, I spent hours reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann, and do not regret a second.