This interesting Tulsa newspaper article, which is now over 50 years old, describes a flight over Motilone country on a CREOLE DC-3. It was generously contributed by Bernard “Bernie” Hegglund.

Bernie's father, Herbert B. “Shorty“ Hegglund, first arrived in Venezuela in the 1930's where he was employed by the CREOLE PETROLEUM CORPORATION. He stayed with the company for 31 years, during which time the Hegglunds lived all over Venezuela - with the exception of Amuay and La Salina - including Coro, Cumarebo, the oil camps of eastern Venezuela, Lagunillas, Tia Juana, Maracaibo, and Caracas. “Shorty” Hegglund was the Western Division Manager for CREOLE in Maracaibo for many years in the 1950's and '60's, and Bernie spent many of his teenage years there. Later, “Shorty” served on the CREOLE Board of Directors before he retired around 1967.

As the Tulsa Tribune newspaper has long since disappeared (having shut down in the early 1990's), this fascinating article, written long before today's attitudes of cultural and environmental preservation, could easily have been lost forever. I'm extremely grateful to Bernie not only for having preserved it, but for allowing me to share it here, along with a personal photograph, for all of us to enjoy.

 


 
Plane Takes Tribune Editor Over Primitive Area of the Motilone Indians
Deep in the Jungle, He Sees Haunts of Truly Wild Men
The Tulsa Tribune, July 21, 1952
Original article written by Jenkin Lloyd Jones
 

MARACAIBO, Venezuela - I have had a rare and exciting privilege.

“I have looked down upon the settlements of wild men.

“True 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.

The 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 school.

“Only 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.

“But 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.

“The 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.

“A 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.

“Bravely, 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 stands empty.

TIME 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.

“It 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.

“We 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 disappeared.

A 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 land.

“At 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.

“'We 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.'”

“The trail continued south and we followed it a few miles to a clearing, equally large.

“'There's 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.'”

“Three 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.

“OUT 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.”

“A 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.

“We 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.

The 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 appeared.

“NO 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 their houses?”

“It 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?

“As 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.

“We thought of this potential Hereford Heaven and of the oil wildcats crowding hard upon the stronghold of the resentful Motilones.

When 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.

“A 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!

If 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.

“But 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.


Another photograph of a Motilone bamboo communal hut being overflown taken during the same flight that was not published with the article.