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

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

by Scott Wallace

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307462961
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 10/18/2011
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 9.36(w) x 6.44(h) x 1.61(d)

About the Author

SCOTT WALLACE is a journalist whose assignments have taken him from the Himalayas and the streets of Baghdad to the Alaskan Arctic and the Amazon. A former correspondent for the Guardian and Newsweek, he has written for National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, and Harper’s. His photography has appeared in Smithsonian, Outside, and Sports Afield. His television credits include CBS, CNN, and National Geographic Channel.

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In an age when there is little left in the world that can be said to be still "virgin," contemporary travel literature has come to seem increasingly derivative, even farcical. The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes is a rare exception, an original that works on several levels. Scott Wallace has sensitively documented the immensity, history, the terror, and the beauty of one of the world's last true wildernesses and the people who live within it. This is a wonderful book: deeply moving, riveting by turns, laced with finely wrought passages.

On the one hand, The Unconquered is the account of a nightmarish three-month expedition into the Amazon jungle in 2002 led by the irascible Brazilian wilderness explorer Sydney Possuelo, a legendary defender of the region's last uncontacted Indians. Rife through with moments of danger, loneliness, and hunger, as well as the testosterone-fuelled dramas that seem peculiar to groups of men undergoing hard times together, The Unconquered makes a spellbinding tale of real-life high-adventure.

This is also the account of an equally fascinating inward journey taken by its author, the American journalist Scott Wallace, who originally joined Possuelo on his trek in order to write about his journey for National Geographic. In this book, Wallace, who renders memorable portraits of his fellow expeditionaries (the cook, Mauro, haunted by nightmares about monkeys who castrate him; Soldado the backwoods scout, who refuses to return home and see his aging mother) is also brutally honest about himself. Recently divorced, Wallace sets off into the jungle just shy of his forty-eighth birthday; he is out-of-shape, guilt-ridden for not having said goodbye to his three young sons, and fretful about the implications of a prolonged separation with his new girlfriend.

The main character of The Unconquered, however, is Sydney Possuelo, a larger-than-life figure who emerges as a kind of Indian Jones- meets latter-day Bartolome de las Casas. Some years before Wallace met him, Possuelo, Brazil's best-known sertanista, or "agent of contact" with the Amazon's isolated indigenous people, had undergone a crisis of conscience about the destruction wrought by his life's work. He had become instead the main proponent of a no-contact policy for the Amazon's remaining "uncontacted" tribes. He had lobbied for and secured the designation of a vast Maine-sized tract of Amazonian wilderness called the Javari Valley Indigenous Land, to be closed off to all outsiders in perpetuity. It was the refuge of several uncontacted tribes hostile to outsiders, including the implacable flecheiros, the Arrow People, whose territory Possuelo planned to explore.

The motives behind Possuelo's 2002 expedition seemed nonetheless obscure, even contradictory. As Possuelo explained it to Wallace, he wished to gather vital information about the flecheiros and to ascertain their wellbeing, but could only do so by penetrating their sanctuary on foot and by dugout canoe with a band of armed men, while at the same time seeking to avoid contact with them. During the journey itself, the inescapable Catch-22 of Possuelo's logic became more and more apparent until the moment, retold dramatically by Wallace, when the expeditionaries blundered inevitably through a flecheiro settlement, spreading panic as they went.

In the end, The Unconquered is the unforgettable story of a troubled journey through a doomed landscape, its characters—the outsiders and the Indians—locked together in an ever-tightening fatal embrace by their respective needs and compulsions.

At one point in the book, Possuelo points to a path they have slashed out of the jungle with their machetes and tells Wallace: "Five years from now, you will never know we were here." But Wallace is unconvinced, and notes ruefully: "It was doubtful the Arrow People would forget us so easily."

—Jon Lee Anderson Guest Review: The Unconquered

Jon Lee Anderson is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine. His books include: "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life," "The Fall of Baghdad," and "The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan." Anderson began his reporting career in 1979, in Peru. In 2009, he won an Overseas Press Club Award for his reporting on Rio de Janeiro's gangland.

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Unconquered 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
ImnezH More than 1 year ago
This is going to be a good one. I read the National Geographic article that eventually led to this book, and it was fascinating. Can't wait for the full story. Profound philosophical questions about human culture and indigenous survival, interwoven with environmental investigation, and wrapped in a gripping adventure story.
LLBostick More than 1 year ago
Scott Wallace's "The Unconquered" is excellent. I generally read fiction, but Mr. Wallace somehow managed to sneak a wealth of information on a topic I knew nothing about (uncontacted tribes in the Amazon) into an emotional, real-life action adventure that left me both sad that I've never had such opportunities to explore the world, and thankful that someone else has and that he has the talent to bring it all back to me in words and pictures. Read it. You won't be disappointed; the story is rich, the photos are hauntingly beautiful, and you may just find yourself viewing the world a bit differently.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable informative adventure tale. Makes you question modern society.
debnance on LibraryThing 8 months ago
It¿s all here in this book. Anacondas. Alligators. Poisonous plants. Stinging insects. Heat. Rain. And, best of all, a tribe of natives known only for their skill at shooting to kill with poison arrows and their ability to disappear into the rainforest.Scott Wallace stepped out of modern life for a few months and headed off into the deepest, darkest parts of the Amazon rainforest with a half-mad guide, in search of the mysterious flecheiros, ¿People of the Arrow.¿Give this book a read. Fantastic.
dk_phoenix on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The premise of this piece of narrative non-fiction is a journalist from National Geographic goes on a journey down the Amazon with a renowned advocate for indigenous rights¿they¿re looking for a tribe of uncontacted people known as the Arrow People, but they¿re looking for them to make sure that they aren¿t seen and that they remain uncontacted through Brazil¿s protection of their land. The narrative starts slowly, and it took me two weeks to make it through the first two hundred pages. There¿s a lot of political discussion in terms of preservation, Amazon exploration & development, and native rights / clashes / integration and protection. It¿s interesting, but doesn¿t really clip along the way I¿d hoped... until the second half of the book. When the exploration team is off the boats and traveling on foot, getting closer and closer to Arrow People territory, the tension rises, the pace of the narrative increases, and for whatever reason, I zipped through those final 200 pages like water. There¿s still plenty of political discussion, but it integrates well with the action and makes for a great story.After reading a several books on historical exploration in the Amazon, it was fascinating to read this modern tale of exploration, preservation, and self-discovery. I was glad for the current perspective on the situation, and for an entertaining read to boot.
brendajanefrank on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Scott Wallace is a seasoned National Geographic journalist experienced in wars, revolutions, and the struggles of native tribes in the Amazon, the Arctic, and the Andes. "The Unconquered" tells of his 78-day journey in 2002 with Brazilian explorer and activist Sydney Possuelo working for the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (FUNAI) to establish the location of the uncontacted Flecheiros, the Arrow People, while NOT contacting them. The objective was to obtain information to protect these isolated, uncontacted native people from the encroachment of White Men and civilization, including diseases, illegal logging and gold mining, poaching and drug trafficking. The risk of contact also threatened the team in that the Flecheiros are known as skilled archers killing intruders with poison-tipped arrows.The team, led by Possuelo, contained 34 men, including Indians of the three tribes neighboring the Flecheiros and Brazilian frontiersmen. The Flecheiros' territory is a very remote area of Brazil, with no roads, only rivers and jungle. The explorers took motorboats as far as they could, then trekked through the jungle, covering 250 miles. They carried all their equipment through the jungle, some men with as much as 100 pounds on their backs, making trails with machetes. The isolation in the jungle was complete; the sky disappeared. If Wallace lost sight of the person before him, he immediately became lost. The dense canopy rendered useless the GPS, a two-way radio and the satellite phone. The explorers had no recourse in case of serious illness or injury; no medical personnel accompanied them. Risks included jaguars, ants with vise-like mandibles and toxic stingers, anacondas, caimans, deadly vipers, fire ants, swarms of wasps with stingers as big as darts, poisonous spiders, anacondas and bamboo sharp enough to impale a man. Wallace became so fearful that he said a "jungle prayer" for his safety each morning, although he hadn't prayed since childhood.Food was irregular and scarce, depending on what was available to shoot or catch in the rivers. Breakfast was sometimes a couple crackers. For days, dinner was chunks of monkey, boiled. "It was haunting, the sight of those monkeys piled one on top of the other, pink and naked, like a half dozen toddlers dismembered and set to boil." Pirana were easy to catch and made a tasty meal, if you didn't swallow the many tiny bones. A real treat was the massacre of a herd of peccaries. Wallace estimated that during the jungle trek they burned 6,000 calories per day but ate an average of only 800 calories. He lost 33 pounds during the journey. Some men were seriously ill with dysentery and malaria. Some lunch stops were without any food. The scarcity of supplies led to food hoarding and stealing. Possuelo, a martinet, fired a FUNAI employee for stealing a boiled chicken egg from the galley of the boat.Footprints, broken branches, and temporary encampments made clear that the Flecheiros were watching and following the explorers. The rules of conduct applied: carry rifles conspicuously at all times; always have two or three guards; travel in large numbers; never allow yourselves to be surrounded. When the team came upon an abandoned Flecheiro village, they deliberately changed directions to avoid encounter. Yet, as a gesture of friendship, they left gifts of cooking pots and a new machete. Incongruous? Yes.I was stunned to read that after trekking back through the jungle and returning to the river, the team's ability to get home wholly depended on the Indians building canoes for transportation, since the original motor boats had been sent back after the team reached the jungle. The Indians spent 15 days building two dugout canoes, one 40 feet and another 50 feet, including seats and paddles. They cut down tall trees, hollowed out the trunks with machetes and burned the interiors to widen them. Then, they had to make a path through the jungle to allow them to carry the canoes to the water and launc
bookmagic on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The author gets a chance to go on an expedition for National Geographic to search out one of the lost tribes of the Amazon, but not to come in contact with them as new policy has shown that it is better to monitor them but not interact and expose them to the spread of diseases for which they have no immunity. It was really interesting to learn about the fight to save to land for the indigenous people and the fight to hold off on developers who would just as soon destroy the land for their needs.I'm not always a fan of non-fiction but this was very well-written and not dry like some can be. I found the story fascinating and was happy to participate in the adventures from the safety of my couch. This definitely makes me want to read more about the Amazon and the indigenous people that live there.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Child-killing anacondas, ants that have pincers so strong they are used as a substitute for stitches in wounds, jaguars wanting a tasty snack, vampire bats ¿ are these going to be smaller dangers than the Arrow People? I'm sorry to say that I would never have had the courage to attempt the expedition that National Geographic author Scott Wallace undertook when he joined Sydney Possuelo's attempt to find and protect, but not meet, ¿the last uncontacted tribes¿ of the Amazon. The hardships and dangers are almost unimaginable to me. And to the degree that I can imagine them, that is where I want them to stay ¿ in my mind only.The Amazon basin is fascinating to me, perhaps because it is so different from my part of the world. Mr. Wallace did a great job of showing me the isolation of the country, the vulnerability of its inhabitants, both native and non-native, animal and human. Mr. Possuelo, an outspoken supporter of the indigenous tribes and critic of those who harm them, either intentionally or not, comes across as a bit of a Captain Queeg but even so, was not able to control the actions of some of his employees. Speaking of Possuelo's plans, the author writes ¿It was a grandiose vision, seeming to require an extraordinary combination of altruistic impulse and an ego of Amazonian proportions.¿ The author speaks of a caiman's ¿malicious smile,¿ and while that seems anthropomorphic, I wouldn't blame the caiman if it were malicious. The cruelty to animals, often unnecessary even through the men needed to eat, was horrifying. ¿He worked his machete like a sushi chef, excising the upper and lower jaws. The mouthless fish continued to flip-flop around the bottom of the boat, as though powered by some demonic force that refused to die.¿ And the monkeys ¿ awful!The writing was too drawn out for me, and some of what was intended as lyrical seemed just overwritten. ¿...exposed tree roots protruding hideously from its sandy declivity like the ganglia of some huge terrestrial jellyfish¿ and ¿his eyes were wet like the morning dew that dropped from the leaves.¿ The author, I thought, included a little too much about himself. The information about his relationships back home didn't add to the story for me. There was too much repetition. There were some funny bits, including the men's habit of calling the author ¿Scotchie¿ and later ¿Scotchie White Dick.¿I appreciate that the author recognized how different his life would be when he returned home compared to most of the men who were on the journey with him and the Indians left in the jungle. And I appreciate that there is no easy solution to protecting the lifestyles as well as the lives of the indigenous people in the Amazon basin. I learned from the book and I appreciated the story, just not always the way it was told.The quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof and may have changed in the published edition. Thank you to the publisher for giving me a copy for review.
agnesmack on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I received The Unconquered courtesy of the Goodreads First Reads program, and I will admit that I was immediately biased against it. The purpose of the expedition on which Scott Wallace tagged along is to locate 'lost savages'. Supposedly not to contact them, but as early as the Prologue, Mr. Wallace admits his real desires: "Any direct contact with the Arrow People could be disastrous. The tribe had no immunity to the germs we carried. We were not doctors and carried few medications . . .Yet, who among us - yes even the purist Possuelo - didn't secretly hope for a "first contact" . . . An experience for all time, a tale to recount to wide-eyed children and grandchildren . . . We'd bedazzle the world with images of the Stone Age savages, appear on the Today show, become celebrity journalists. Maybe I'd get a book contract."Well, looks like you got your fancy book contract! Though, quite frankly, I don't understand why. While I was very uncomfortable with these modern day men trying to mess with these tribespeople's way of life (and yes, I prefer terms like "tribespeople" or "indigenous people" versus the books use of "savages" and "Indians"), I also assumed that if the man had written a 450+ page book about it, something must have happened, right? Not so much.Basically, a group of 30 or so men set off into the Amazon, hike and camp for several months, and then turn around and come back. About half of the book is just straight up infighting and gossip regarding the group of men who were stuck with each other for months. The other half of the book was split between somewhat interesting tidbits and histories of the various people who lived in the Amazon, and descriptions of the landscape.Which brings up another point - Mr. Wallace is extremely heavy handed with his descriptions. If I were the type to skim, I certainly would have been skimming a lot of this book, as many of his descriptions went on for several paragraphs - and very unnecessarily. They read as though he wrote down a simple concept, oh, like, "The fog rolled in and surrounded our camp," and instead of adding a few descriptive words to help the reader visualize it, he grabbed a Thesaurus and just went to town. Something as simple as some fog could easily stretch for an entire page. If I didn't know better, I would have thought Mr. Wallace was being paid by the word.Overall, I was personally glad to see that the outcome wasn't what they'd hoped for, but as a reader the story was a bit dull and inevitably pointless. The interesting parts could have been whittled down to 150 pages or so, and the book would have been greatly improved if the author had managed to be more concise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rose-MarieRD More than 1 year ago
I was so excited when I got my hands on this book - for all the new history books, memoirs, biographies, etc., that I've been reading lately, this book's got it. Real life adventure. Substance. I had truly enjoyed the book "River of Darkness" about Orellana's voyage down the Amazon and a few others about South American history,  so this book resonated for the concerns about the indigenous tribes, esp the uncontacted, the environment and sheer excitement!!
kamas716 More than 1 year ago
Slightly disappointed by this tale of a FUNAI team exploring the Amazon jungle to determine the health and living boundaries of an uncontacted indian tribe. It was more the observations and fears of the writer than a true adventure story. The team leader seemed rather bipolar. While it is common for expeditions under adverse conditions to become rather fractious, it seemed like much of the problems were caused by Possuelo himself. FUNAI itself reminds me a lot of the UN Peacekeeping team that was in Rwanda; unable to do anything but try to talk people out of what they are doing. While the information in the book is good, I was underwhelmed by the book overall. For an Amazon adventure, I would instead recommend The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard or The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. The eBook was formatted well, with no spelling or grammar errors. There are a couple of maps in the front, and several photos in the pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unconquered is an important book. Wallace enters a world so foreign that its closest approximation come from a science fiction film referenced at the book's end. There were plenty of times when I wished I was in the hands of a better writer, but the sense of urgency is persistent. The book leaves me with a lot of questions--rightfullty so.
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