The Huna bows were six feet in length, taller than the men who used them and so powerful that an arrow taken in the chest frequently penetrated the entire body, the head protruding from tbe back. They were usually tipped withpiranha teeth or razor-sharp bamboo.
A labourer pulled one out of one of the corpses and handed it to Figueiredo. He examined it briefly then snapped it in his two hands and threw the pieces away angrily.
“Animals!” he said. “They’ll be coming out of the jungle next.”
Which started the crowd off nicely. They wanted blood, that much was evident. The Huna were vermin and there was only one way to handle vermin. Extermination. The voices buzzed around me. I listened for a while, then turned, sick to the stomach, and walked away.
I was helping myself to a large Scotch from Hannah’s private stock when Mannie came in. “That bad?” he said calmly.
“Everywhere you go, the same story,” I said. “It’s always the Indians’ fault – never the whites.”
He lit one of those foul-smelling Braziliancigars he favoured and sat on the veranda rail. “You feel pretty strongly about all this. Most people would think that strange in some-one who was at Forte Tomas. Who came as dose to being butchered by Indians as a man can get.”
“If you reduce men to symbols, then killing them is easy,” I said. “An abstraction. Kill a Huna and you’re not killing an individual – you’re killing an Indian. Does that make any kind of sense to you?”
He was obviously deeply moved and at a distance of years knowing in detail what was even then happening to his people, I suppose the plain truth was that I was hitting close to home.
He said, “A profound discovery to make so early in life. May I ask how?”
There was no reason not to speak of it although the tightness was there in the chest the moment I began, the constricted breathing. An unutterable feeling of having lost something worth having.
“It’s simple,” I said. “In my first month on the Xingu I met the best man I’m ever likely to see if I live to be a hundred. If he’d been a Catholic, they’d have tossed a coin to decide be-tween burning or canonising him.”
“Who was he?”
“A Viennese named Karl Buber. He came out here as a young Lutheran pastor to join a mission on the Xingu. He threw it all up in disgust when he discovered the unpalatable fact that the Indians were suffering as much at the hands of the mission-aries as of anyone else.”
“What did he do?”
“Set up his own place up-river from Forte Tomas, Dedicated his life to working amongst the Civa and they could teach the Huna a thing or two, believe me. He even married one. I used to fly him stuff up from Belem without the company knowing. He was the best friend the Civa ever had.”
“And they killed him?”
I nodded. “His wife told him her father was desperately wounded and in urgent need of medical attention after the Forte Tomas attack. When Buber got there, they clubbed him to death.”
Mannie frowned slightly as if not quite understanding. “You mean his own wife betrayed him?”
“She did it for the tribe,” I said. “They admired Buber for his courage and wisdom. They killed him as Father Conte was killed at Santa Helena, that their chiefs might have his brains and heart.”
There was genuine horror on his face now. “And you can still think kindly of such people?”
“Karl Buber would have. If he were here now, he’d tell you that the Indian is as much a product of his environment as a jaguar. That he only survives in that green hell out there across the river by being willing to kill instinctually, without a mo-ment’s thought, several times a day. Killing is part of his nature.”
“Which includes killing his friends?”
“He doesn’t have any. He has his blood ties – family and tribe. Anyone else is outside and on borrowed time. Ripe for the block sooner or later as Buber discovered.”
I poured another whisky. Mannie said, “And what is your personal solution to the problem?”