Here it is – an old-fashioned adventure story – one with chapters titled “Hunting with Poisoned Arrows” and “The Land of Naked Women.” It’s filled with Dangerous Jungles! Man-Eating Crocodiles! Secret Initiations! and Lost Civilizations!
In 1925, tired from earlier expeditions, anthropologist William McGovern was attempting to lead a routine life in London when a friend asked him to journey up the Amazon in Brazil and on to Inca Ruins in Peru. But the friend withdrew, and McGovern found himself, accompanied by only a cameraman, on his way to Brazil.
McGovern was an enthusiastic “participant-observer,” but his affable personality was his passport.
I had long been puzzled by the fact that the natives were able to eat with perfect impunity the flesh of animals shot with poisoned darts and arrows. Seeing my hesitation to eat a piece of flesh that had obviously been pierced by a poisoned arrow, one of the natives sought to reassure me by picking up with his fingers a small portion of his stock of curari poison, rolling it into a ball, and swallowing it.
McGovern drank kaapi, a narcotic drink, but “the effect on me was not particularly striking,” he says. Among the Indians, however,
…kaapi seemed to work in two quite different ways … In certain cases it appeared to have an erotic action. The world and its inhabitants grew more and more beautiful. Some of the imbibers even had elaborate visions in which lovely forms floated before their eyes.
In other cases certain of the Indians fell into a particularly deep state of trance, in which they possessed what appeared to be telepathic powers.…
On this particular evening, the local medicine-man told me that the chief of a certain tribe on the far-away Pira Parana had suddenly died. I entered this statement in my diary, and many weeks later, when we came to the tribe in question, I found that the witch-doctor’s statement had been true in every detail.
Charming, erudite, and refreshingly free of condescension, Jungle Paths and Inca Ruins is one of the classic natural history adventures of all time.
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