Reviews for Unconquered : In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes

Booklist Reviews 2011 September #2
In 2002 Brazilian government official Sydney Possuelo, at the time well known as an advocate for indigenous tribes, led an expedition to the Amazon's upper tributaries. Reserved for Indians, the region was inhabited by a band Possuelo called the Arrow People, whom no white person had ever contacted. Possuelo's paradoxical purpose was to keep things that way by mounting an incursion into the tropical forest with 30 armed men, who were joined by Wallace as a National Geographic-assigned writer. Wallace's narrative of the arduous adventure of three months of traveling by riverboat in torridly wet discomfort builds through day-to-day incidents of slashing through jungle toward the climax of discovering a campsite of the Arrow People. Possuelo, having achieved his objective of locating without meeting the Arrow People, departs downstream on the corollary to his no-contact goal, ejecting squatters, miners, and other interlopers from the Indian reserve. With tactile descriptions of Amazonian foliage and fauna and minidramas of group dynamics under the imperious Possuelo, Wallace delivers a daunting vicarious experience to aficionados of extreme travel. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 September #1

A photographer, journalist and first-time author joins a celebrated Brazilian Indian rights activist on an expedition in search of an isolated Amazon tribe.

Brazil's dense forests are known to shelter some 400,000 Indians from 270 tribes. But there are reportedly many more indigenous people who have not made contact with modern civilization. As head of Brazil's Department of Isolated Indians, wilderness scout Sydney Possuelo, 62, had already confirmed the existence of 17 uncontacted tribes by 2002, when the author was assigned by National Geographic to cover Possuelo's attempt to find yet another group said to be living deep in the Amazon: the flecheiros, or "People of the Arrow." Wallace's book is a detailed, overlong account of the three-month land-and-water journey, in which Possuelo and his 34 men sought facts about the Arrow People's existence—but deliberately made no contact with the tribe. The "no-contact" policy, set by Possuelo, was intended to protect wild Indians from the diseases of white men. Unfortunately, it robs readers of the traditional payoff of a journey of discovery. Even the author yearned for the knowledge that contact would bring. But Possuelo's goal was to quietly observe that the Arrow People are thriving, then leave, preserving the tribe's isolation. "The best thing we can do is to stay out of their lives," he says. Only later, on a flight retracing the expedition's route, did Wallace glimpse members of the tribe, scurrying about like ants, then "staring up at us in a trance." Wallace provides a good sense of deep-jungle travel and dining (piranha stew, boiled monkey, etc.), and portrays Possuelo as a great explorer dedicated to saving Brazil's Indians. He notes that Possuelo was later fired after criticizing his boss's remark that Indians were claiming too much land. By then, Possuelo had protected 365,000 square miles of indigenous lands from logging, mining and other development.

A well-reported but somewhat disappointing adventure story.


Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2011 August #1

Writer and photographer Wallace had a dilemma: Should he spend the summer reconnecting with his three sons from an earlier marriage and foster a budding romance or head off to the Amazon for weeks of deprivation and hardship, tracking índios bravos (wild Indians)? He chose the latter and here relates his expedition. Traveling under the auspices of National Geographic, he and one other non-Brazilian in the group want to see tribes that have never been contacted, but the leader of the expedition, the head of Brazil's National Indian Foundation's Department of Isolated Indians, does not want this. He only wants to document the extent of their settlements and movement, to prove that the country's new policy of leaving the uncontacted Indians alone is working. Therein lies the tension. Will they see the people they seek? Will the trekkers mutiny? And who's hoarding the packets of Kool-Aid? VERDICT The book is slow at first (and perhaps could have been whittled down) but picks up. One gets a real sense of the raw jungle, Indian/white dynamics, and Wallace's own personal struggles. This compelling narrative is recommended for adventure travelers and those interested in Native American ethnography and rights.--Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #2

National Geographic writer Wallace recounts his grueling odyssey into the remotest stretches of the Amazon Basin as he tracks down the "Arrow People," one of the last "uncontacted" tribes left in the world. Wallace's 34-member expedition was led by Sydney Possuelo, a legendary sertanista (a Brazilian hybrid of woodsman, explorer, and anthropologist). On the three-month trek by riverboat, canoe, and foot, the expedition was threatened by pumas, starvation, disease, hostile natives, and tensions that develop between men in close quarters. The mercurial Possuelo's mission seems paradoxical--he wants to clearly identify the "Arrow People," but only so that in the future they will be left completely alone. The book is overlong, and in the early chapters, Wallace tends to repeat grand pronouncements about culture, history, and the environment. His best writing focuses on the details and daily grind of the expedition and, as the book progresses, on the simple struggle for survival. Wallace nicely captures the hostility and paranoia that threaten to tear the group apart. He's equally unsparing of his own insecurity and weakness, and the contrast between the threatened Amazon and the exhausted men brings the region's harsh beauties to life. (Oct.)

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