For generations rumours have swirled of a King Kong-like City of the Monkey God in the jungles of Honduras, and earlier this year it was revealed that its ruins had been found. The discovery was actually made in 2012 during an aerial survey of a valley in the region of La Mosquitia, one of the world’s last scientifically unexplored areas, but the findings have only now been made public. The site’s exact location remains secret to prevent looting.
Fifty-two pieces have so far been discovered protruding from the fabled land — already famed for nearby Maya — with many more resting beneath the dirt. The site, thought to include significant burial grounds, lies at the base of a pyramid, with pieces such as ceremonial seats and intricately carved vessels decorated with animals. “The undisturbed context is unique,” Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican archaeologist from Colorado State University, tells National Geographic. “This is a powerful ritual display, to take wealth objects like this out of circulation.”
There are some ‘Lost Worlds’ still home to souls with highly unusual rituals, and rituals which aren’t always friendly.
There are some ‘Lost Worlds’ still home to souls with highly unusual rituals, and rituals which aren’t always friendly. Richard Mason holds the unfortunate title of being the last Briton to be slaughtered by one such tribe. However, his death, as one might expect, didn’t occur during the height of his nation’s empire’s vast rule, rather at the turn of the swinging sixties. In 1961, the 26-year-old adventurer led an expedition through what was supposed to be an uninhabited — and unexplored — area of the Brazilian rainforest. One day, alone in a clearing, he was ambushed and his body found around a week later surrounded by 15 clubs and 40 poison arrows. “Richard was a tremendous man,” Mason’s best friend and fellow expedition member Dr John Hemming tells the Daily Mail. “He was very charming and good-looking, and delightfully enthusiastic about lots of things, but especially cars, modern art and travel.”
Eighty-year-old Hemming is a revered explorer, a former director at the Royal Geographical Society and the author of 12 books, the most recent of which, Naturalists In Paradise, was published earlier this year. He has spent his life developing a deep understanding of the Amazon basin and the people who inhabit it and his work has been recognised by both the British and Brazilian governments. After the body of Mason had been recovered, Hemming returned with a member of the Brazilian Indian Protection Service to leave machetes and fishing tools upon the spot where his friend was slain. “This was a moment of very conflicting emotions,” he says. “Any Indians which may have been watching us in that eerily quiet stretch of forest would find that ‘civilised man’ had replied to their aggression by an attempt to return good for evil.”
The tribe in question are known as the Panara. Nearly 40 years later, Heming had the chance to meet one of them. Teseya, by then a tribe elder, recalled “the swish, swish of trousers,” which alerted his people to the solitary British explorer, who, deemed a threat, was killed and, as was their custom, left surrounded by the offending weapons. Putting his arm around Hemming’s shoulder he said, “That was in the old days when we did not know white men. We did not know there are good white men and bad white men.”
As recently as 2006 a pair of fishermen were murdered by the Sentinelese, the world’s last pre-Neolithic tribe, who live on an Indian Ocean island and are said to number somewhere between 50 and 200. The tribe, thought to have perished in the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami, have since made headlines for showering arrows at anyone who dares come within range. The fishermen in question, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari, believed to have been drinking, fell asleep in their boat and drifted to their deaths. The Indian Coastguard did make an attempt to rescue their bodies but were greeted by the usual bows and arrows. Andaman Island police chief Dharmendra Kumar told the Telegraph at the time: “Right now, there will be causalities on both sides. The tribesmen are out in large numbers. We shall let things cool down and once these tribes move to the island’s other end we will sneak in and bring the bodies back.”
Survival International is the only organisation dedicated to the welfare of the world’s last tribes — of which they estimate there to be around 70 — offering them education, aid and a voice to the United Nations. “Perhaps no people on Earth remain more genuinely isolated,” say the charity of the Sentinelese, who they believe to be directly descended from the first human populations to emerge from Africa and have probably lived in the Andaman Islands for 60,000 years: “The fact that their language is so different even from other Andaman Islanders suggests that they have had little contact with other people for thousands of years.” Unlike other ancient groups that have embraced certain tenets of the West, the Sentinelese, they say, remain “extremely healthy, alert and thriving.”
Back in the bowels of Brazil, last year saw the release of the strangely fascinating documentary, David Beckham: Into the Unknown, which followed the world’s most famous sportsman and three pals motorcycle in search of South America’s largest tribe, the Yanomami, who migrated from Asia around 15,000 years ago. Children of the tribe thought Beckham was “painted” and touchingly tried to rub off his tattoos, but what really brought home the scale of the jungle population’s isolation was not that they’d never even heard of David Beckham (or his pop star wife), but the fact that they had absolutely no concept of what football, or even sport, was, causing Becks to quip, “It’s the first time I have ever had to explain what soccer is to anybody apart from Victoria.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces