Venezuela - I have had a rare and
have looked down upon the settlements of wild
wild men - savages who are neither in contact
with or influenced by what we laughingly call
'civilization' - are almost extinct. Nearly
everywhere the white man's gun has overwhelmed
them. The white man's greed for trade has
sought them out in their wilderness and dragged
them to the market place.
white man's zeal for reform, for proselyting
his faith, for forcing the world to conform
to his concepts of decency and conduct has
dug the wild man out of the jungle, the desert
and the tundra, put him in pants and his women
in Mother Hubbards, and hailed him into Sunday
in a few spots on earth has the wild man maintained
himself. Mostly he has done so by the remoteness
of his home. The dense jungles on the upper
Congo hide pygmy tribes that explorers have
never found. In the steaming Amazon empire
thousands of Indians along the sluggish and
unimportant tributaries have never been sought
out by trader, scientist or clergyman. The
inaccessible swamps guarding the Darien country
of south Panama have kept a segment of the
San Blas tribe proudly isolated.
the most remarkable wild men on earth today
are probably the Motilone Indians of western
Venezuela and eastern Colombia. For here are
Indians who are neither neglected nor remote.
Some of their settlements lie within 125 miles
of Maracaibo's quarter of a million people.
Many attempts have been made to trade with
them and to missionize them. All overtures
have been rebuffed, often bloodily.
Motilone has no firearms, but he is an expert
bow-man. His six-foot arrows, often many-pronged,
are designed to break in the wound and leave
the barbs to fester.
few years ago a Capuchin priest established
a mission on the headwaters of the Tucuco
river west of Lake Maracaibo. He was determined
to make friends with the Motilones. As a result
of his persuasion, planes belonging both to
the Venezuelan government and the Creole Petroleum
Corp, flew him low over the jungle huts of
the tribe. He dropped fishhooks, bolts of
cloth, needles-useful things - and with them
he dropped his own picture in the belief that
when he would visit them they would recognize
him as a benefactor.
he tried to persuade the fliers to drop him
by parachute into a Motilone clearing. They
refused to be a party to his death. At last
one of his assistants, attempting to penetrate
A jungle trall, was ambushed and killed. The
airlift brought no evidence that the Motilones
appreciated or even understood the gesture.
Today the missionary is gone and the little
mission on the edge of the great green jungle
MAGAZINE LAST MONTH described how two
Motilone youths had recently been captured
over on the Colombian side of the boundary
mountains. They snarl and spit at their captors,
although they are treated with kindness. Language
experts, eavesdropping on their whispered
conversations, are trying to piece together
some idea of the language.
was at the suggestion of the dynamic Dr. Guillermo
Zuloaga, director of Creole, that we went
calling on the Motilones. The Creole DC-3
was baking on the kilometer-long airstrip
at Lagunillas in the oilfields on the east
shore of Lake Maracaibo. It seemed like a
fine afternoon for a joyride, for we had an
ace flight crew and the Creole executives
- light-hearted guys like Ev Bauman, Zeb Mayhew,
Shorty Hegglund and Herb Pinilla - were eager
for the adventure.
headed out over the lake, across 65 miles
of water. At last, against a backdrop of tall
afternoon thunderheads, the shore moved toward
us with green plains and grazing cattle behind
it. Slowly the settlements thinned out and
green mat of jungle flowed under us - flat
jungle without hills or breaks. Above the
carpet of vine-choked trees, tall coconut
palms and an occasional stately ceiba tree
appeared. Here and there a milk chocolate
stream or river twisted across the featureless
length a narrow dirt road cut down through
the wilderness from the northwest and suddenly
below us was a large clearing and an oil derrick.
built that road and that's our wildcat',”
Dr. Zuloaga told us. 'It wasn't a successful
well, but it showed promise. This was the
first well on the Venezuelan side of the mountains
that was built in what had always been regarded
as Motilone territory.'”
trail continued south and we followed it a
few miles to a clearing, equally large.
where we spudded in our second wildcat this
week,' the doctor said. 'We've got that clearing
as wide in radius as the average bowshot and
the night engineer is protected by screening.
There's been no trouble yet, but we're leary
of the night of the new moon. If the Motilones
attack it will be then when the light is dimmest.'”
minutes flying time south of the second well
we picked up the first Motilone hut. It was
a giant bamboo structure about 100 feet long
and 40 feet high set in a clearing from which
eight paths radiated like spokes of a wheel
into the jungle.
OF BOWSHOT - This clearing around
this Creole Petroleum Corp. wildcat
well on the outer edge of the Motilone
country has a slightly greater radius
than an Indian bowshot. Drillers fear
the night of the new moon when Indians
like to strike. The night engineer
is protected by steel gratings.”
mile away was another clearing - apparently
a communal farm. We could see corn, bananas
and platina plants growing. A species of yucca
was being cultivated. The great house in the
first clearing seemed to accommodate a whole
village. Why the field was cleared so far
away we could no understand. No one could
guess where the geometrical paths led after
the jungle gulped them.
rose in the air like a hungry buzzard seeking
new quarry. Twenty miles away we spotted another
clearing. The great house in the center was
a duplicate of the first.
big plane shook the bamboo rafters as it roared
150 feet above the ridge pole. We banked sharply,
crowding the windows with our cameras, and
dragged the hut again. Not a single Motilone
WELCOME MAT- Our DC-3 drags a bamboo
communal house of Venezuela's wild
Motilone Indians at near tree-top
level. The Indians remain hidden inside.
Paths radiate like wheel spokes through
the clearing and into the thick jungle.
Puzzle: Why are the round cleared
fields of these mysterious people
always from one to three miles from
was the same for the next hour. We sought
out and buzzed five of the great communal
houses at heart-stopping altitudes. We dragged
the field clearings. We carefully examined
the rivers hoping for the sight of a fisherman
or a dugout canoe.
“There was no doubt that the houses were
inhabited. The fields were planted, the paths
well-trodden. Were the strange inhabitants
cowering in their great dark pavilions, or
were they cursing? Did they think the plane
was a visitation from an angry god, or did
they know it contained men - hateful, busybody
white men, too curious to leave them alone
and too cowardly to face their arrows?
the sun dipped low Into the mountains that
mark the boundary of Colombia we picked up
the turbid Rio Tocuco and followed it northwest
until the jungle began to break against the
foothills. We passed over the ill-fated mission
and into the lush and open cattle country
beyond. This cattle country has great promise
for Venezuela, for there are hundreds of thousands
of acres of high rich grassland to be had
almost for the asking.
thought of this potential Hereford Heaven
and of the oil wildcats crowding hard upon
the stronghold of the resentful Motilones.
will the cattlemen to the northwest and the
hardy wildcatters to the northeast cut through
the jealous isolation of these authentic wildmen?
It probably won't be long.
month ago in Louisiana some oil man gave the
restless Dr. Zuloaga a ride in a helicopter.
The doctor's enthusiasm for helicopters now
knows no bounds and he is laying siege to
the Creole board to purchase a couple. How
convenient they would be to carry men back
and forth between Maracaibo and the big camps,
or to whisk geologists and engineers to the
remote discovery wells!
the doctor ever gets his helicopters we'll
bet our bottom Bolivar that hardly a month
will pass before he organizes an expedition
to the Motilones. Until now there has been
no way to reach these clearings without a
suicidal trek along the jungle paths or a
one-way drop by parachute.
the helicopter win change all this. Take a
couple of flying bananas (a
type of helicopter). One could plunk
down at the front door of a Motilone mansion,
disgorge an anthropologist, a language expert,
two bales of glass beads, and half a dozen
tommygun-wielding Venezuelan soldiers as moral
support. The second helicopter could hover
over the whole scene to scare off any possible
counter attack from the surroundng jungle.
“What an adventure! What a story!
When the great helicopter expedition against
the Motilones comes off, I want to go along
- in the one that hovers.”
of a Motilone bamboo communal hut
being overflown taken during the same
flight that was not published with