The next day, Bruce and
I waded through streams and squished along muddy jungle trails. Exotic
vines dangled in out path, with thousands of varieties of orchids and flowers
painting a serene beauty.
Yet in the midst of this
beauty came the loud cries of tropical birds and screeching monkeys.
Each of these creatures seemed to protest harshly our invasion of its turf.
As we plunged deeper into
the Motilones' traditional land, I couldn't help but reflect on how much
like the birds and animals of the jungle these indigenous people are.
Living in amazing harmony with their tropical environment, they have been
for four hundred and fifty years a territorial people. Following
the laws of the jungle, they have done all in their power to keep foreigners
off their turf.
dreaming of fabulous gold mines, made a mule trail through Motilone territory
and established a settlement as a local power base. The ruins of
a sixteenth century Spanish chapel are still extant -- a silent witness
to how the cross accompanied the sword into the New World. (European
churches are still filled with gold objects sacked from the indigenous
peoples of Latin America.)
That the Motilones refused
to be plundered is a testimony to their own feelings of self worth.
The Spaniards who settled in the Catatumbo River valley -- which funnels
water from the Andes down to oil rich Lake Maracaibo -- never made it back
to Spain. They were massacred as they caravaned back to the coast.
The gold bullion which they dropped has been swallowed by centuries of
The lesson of the Spanish
invaders was never forgotten by the Motilones. They began killing
everyone from the murderous and stealing "white" race who invaded their
Until Bruce Olsson.
It still isn't clear to
them why they spared the life of this young Minnesotan who felt so called
of God to bring them the message of Christ. Indeed, they shot him
in the leg with an arrow when he first ventured onto their lands.
But as a tall, gangly, blond youth, he didn't look much like a normal oil
prospector or a Colombian land poacher. And he had a strong body
which didn't succumb to the fever and infection which set in his leg.
Perhaps it was all part
of God's providential care for the Motilone. Perhaps God knew that
the tribe was reaching the end of its ability to fend of the invader.
Their homeland was being surrounded by Western oil companies, mineral prospectors,
land developers. People in the area remember how planes from the
"outside world" firebombed the traditional Motilone long houses, trying
to force the Motilones to move off their oil rich land. Remaining
isolated and protected from the greedy outside world was no longer possible.
The Motilones, despite their
cannibalistic reputation, are a people who, at least in their exotic jungle
environment, largely live at peace with each other. During his [thirty-eight]
years with the tribe, Bruce has seen little homicide, drunkenness, prostitution,
or physical violence. Not only do they have a true sense of belonging
to one another in community, but they also immensely enjoy life together
in their habitat. Everything they do is made into a sport.
Hunting, weaving, fishing, grinding, collecting the earth's produce --
all of these become part of their happy modus vivendi.
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That first morning, for
example, Bruce and I joined a group of Motilone on a nearby river.
The early birds had enclosed a U-section of the river with a stone dam
reinforced with broad leaves that looked like banana leaves, but much stronger.
This gradually dropped the water level in the U, exposing the fish.
The fish were speared with long, thin shafts which the Motilones sharpened
after each thrust with knives held in their teeth. After a couple
of hours, some men had fifty or sixty fish strung on their vines which
they trailed in the cool water.
The day took on the feeling
of a Fourth of July picnic. Children happily grubbed crabs under
the rocks along the mud banks. Women collected and wrapped the fish
in broad leaves for carrying home. And the men competed fiercely.
The celebration fervor seemed
complete when the men decided to line up along the jungle trail -- old
men at the front on a handicap basis//for a foot race home. (Chieftains
in the tribe usually are the best hunters, fishers, and runners!)
During the dry season, these
fishing expeditions occur three or four times a week. During the
rainy season, the Motilones hunt with the same intensity. Incredible
to think that every day is made into such a lark!
That day's fishing expedition,
however, was marred somewhat, when a nine-year-old boy got to close to
someone wielding a knife and was gashed in the leg. A sturdy young
warrior carried the by piggyback to the clinic at Iquiacarora, where Bruce
deftly put nine stitches in his leg.
"How do you account for
all the skills you've managed to acquire without standard credentials?"
I asked. "You've hardly even been to a university."
"The Motilones were willing
to accept me and knew I was here to help", said Bruce. "And because
I was the only one with any contact with the outside world, I felt obligated
to read and observe and ask questions whenever and wherever I could so
that I could provide the necessary services. Of course, it has been
God who has helped me guided me and taught me."