The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett. This logo is a trademark of "The Great Unknown, The Great Explorers" and "The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett" - All Rights Reserved

The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett. This logo is a trademark of "The Great Unknown, The Great Explorers" and "The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett" - All Rights Reserved


Claudio Villas Boas


The Villas-Boas Brothers

Indian's Old Dad


Celebrating the Dear Dead

Hugs and Tears


Orlando and Claudio lead an expedition descending the unknown River Reixoto Azevedo attempting to save the Stone Age tribes of the Amazon, including the Kreen - Akrore, largely in the Xingú River area, which is where Colonel Fawcett disappeared in the 1930's.      By Andrian Cowell


Claudio Villas Boas, protector of the Amazon Indians,

Died on March 1, 1998  at the age of 81


The following summary, photos and highlights are taken from the book "The Tribe that hides from Man" by Andrian Cowell  


He created the Xingu National Park as the home-land of the Indians. Together with his brothers helped spread the notion that Indians should not be acculturated and civilized, but they should be left alone and as isolated as possible from the rest of the Brazilians. The park by 1994 had 6,000 Indians living in 18 settlements from different tribes. He was called by the Indians 'The Father' and when he died, chief Raoni, from Kayapo tribe reacted:  "Now our father is gone. The Indians father is dead. He used to tell us that everybody in the city was crazy. He also taught us that the white man's life is not good for us." 

Because of its immense size, much of Amazonia remains unexplored even today. The area is still a dangerous and difficult place to travel leaving many plants and animals unknown to scientists. However, the twentieth century inventions have made a huge difference for modern explorers, the aeroplane and the radio. 

In the 1940s, during a 55 years period - 40 of them living inside the jungle - dedicated to the Brazilian Indians, Claudio Villas-Boas amassed some impressive numbers. He helped to build more than 30 airfields for the Brazilian Government in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, in the middle of the jungle. They did this by parachuting in with men and supplies, then worked to clear an area to build an airstrip and a small outpost. He also opened more than 1,000 miles of trails under the Amazon canopy. Claudio had also some 250 bouts of malaria, give or take a few fevers and an unknown number of reports on his first-hand experience with the indigenous people. 

They were three brothers (from a total of 11 siblings) devoted to the same cause. The Villas-Boas—Orlando, Leonardo and Claudio—became legendary in Brazil and around the world among environmentalists and human rights activists. Their names were constantly cited as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1973 they were even nominated for the award, but they never got it. The brothers developed a respect for and friendship with the local Indians, and became strong supporters for Indian rights.

Claudio Villas Boas (Chris Menges)

In 1961 they established the Xingu reserve, which is an area along the Xingu River where several tribes have been relocated. At the time that the reserve was set up, many of the Amazon Indians had lost their land to settlers and developers – sometimes resulting in bitter wars. The aim of the reserve is ensure that the Indians had their own territory where they could continue to live relatively undisturbed. The reserve has had many problems, such as getting formerly warring tribes to live together, fighting diseases such as tuberculosis often devastate newly contacted Indians tribes, and pressure from outside developers. But despite these problems, the reserve has had a significant role preserving Indian culture, and helping to teach Indians skills, which they need to survive in the modern world.

Diauarum: Claudio with Indian child (Jesco von Puttkamer)

Claudio, the sertanista (backland expert) died from a stroke in his apartment in Sao Paulo. According to Luciana Soares Santos, his secretary and caretaker for the last four years, his last words were: "Luciana, Luciana, call Orlando". He was suffering from severe depression for a year, according to Brother Orlando, due to his retirement and distance from his beloved Indians. "Since he was single, work was extremely important for him, " Orlando, who has two sons, Noel and Orlando, told the daily O Estado de S. Paulo. "I have a different temperament, I take care of my family and I am more agitated, holding conferences throughout Brazil.”

Taciturn among the white men, he loved to spend hours talking to his Indian friends. After a period of seven years in which he lived among the Indians without ever leaving, he lost all his documents. He was forced to get them all again when he decided to travel.

The former president of Funai, Sidney Possuelo, also an indigenist and a friend of his, recalled a story of a chicken coop that Claudio built in the jungle to protect the birds from the bats. The shelter was so nicely done and the sertanista loved it so much that instead of placing the chickens there, he moved himself to the new quarters and stayed there until his retirement. Claudio left unfinished A Arte dos Pajis (The Shamans' Art), a book he was writing. Orlando and Claudio wrote 13 books together besides documenting all their fieldwork.

Claudio was born on December 8, 1916 in Botucatu, in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo. He was 27 years old when in 1943 he joined his two brothers in the Roncador-Xingu expedition also known as Marcha para o Oeste (March to the West), his first taste of the adventures lying ahead. At the time, Indians were not commanding quite the same respect as they get nowadays. The adventure continued until the mid-sixties and was told in detail in the book Marcha para o Oeste. The expedition perfectly suited President Getϊlio Vargas' (1883-1954) desire to establish contacts with groups of Indians who were showing hostility against peasants trying to expand the agricultural frontier of the country as the incursions were presented at the time. In the wake of the Villas-Boas' effort, 34 cities and hundreds of villages were born.

Together with his brothers, Claudio contacted some of the most feared tribes like the Kalapalos, Kayabi, Kamaiuros, Meinacos, and Txucarramoes. In 1973 they were able to contact for the first time in the north of the state of Mato Grosso the Kreen-Akarore Indians also known as Panaros or the giant Indians. After his brother's death, Orlando talked about those heroic pioneer times: "At the beginning of the expedition we were admitted as manual workers because Flaviano de Mattos Vanique, the expedition chief, didn't hire but illiterate people. One day he found out we could read and Claudio became chief of staff, Leonardo began to take care of the warehouse, and I became the secretary."

Orlando Villas Boas (John Moore)

Orlando recalls several incidents with the Indians: "We started the expedition at Roncador do Xingu on the banks of the Araguaia River, marched to Rio das Mortes (River of Deaths) and from there on to Manaus. It was a hard walk. In the Xavante region alone we had 18 skirmishes with the Indians, and it took us 11 months to cross a 200-mile area. In the Xingu area we started to meet Indians who had never been in contact with white men. Some were very aggressive, but they are all our friends today. We found out that the Indians had an organized, stable, and peaceful society where everybody lived well."

Claudio helped spread the notion that Indians should not be acculturated and civilized, but that they should be left alone and as isolated as possible from the rest of the Brazilians. The creation of Parque Nacional do Xingu-reservation was the fruit of this vision. The same with Funai (Fundacio Nacional do Indio—National Foundation of the Indian), the organization that replaced the SPI (Servico de Protecto do Indio—Indian Protection Service).

He was the most intellectual of the three and the one who least liked to socialize, talk, and to give interviews. Orlando, much more talkative, is 84 years old. Leonardo died in 1961 at age 43, the same year when pressured by the Villas-Boas, president Junio Quadros—he stayed in power a mere seven months before an abrupt and never-explained resignation from the presidency—created the Parque Nacional do Xingu. By 1994, the Xingu Park dreamed by the Villas-Boas as a "society of nations" had 6,000 Indians living in 18 settlements from different tribes.

Claudio's last expedition in the jungle happened in 1976. At the time, he and Orlando tried without success to find an indigenous tribe. That same year he left his post a Diauarum, inside Parque do Xingu. He went then to Sao Paulo to live with his adopted son Tauarru, a 12-year-old Indian who would die ten years later in a car accident. In 1976 Claudio talked about his fear for the future of the Indians: "Who, like myself, lived more than 30 years among the Indians, feels that they represent another humankind, with complex values that we are not able to grasp." He used to say that the haste to conquer the Amazon was destroying the Indians. He also feared the encroachment of garimpeiros (gold prospectors) over Indian Territory and their diseases, bad habits like alcohol consumption and the poisoning of the waters with mercury.

In Almanaque do Serto. (Backlands Almanac) it is registered how in 1947 the Villas-Boas reported by telegraph the reaction of the Indians to a solar eclipse: In order to reignite the sun, 200 warriors threw their arrows towards the sun while the children cried and the women painted their own bodies. Told about Claudio's death, chief Raoni, from the Kayapo tribe, reacted: "Now our father is gone. The Indians' father is dead. He used to tell us that everybody in the cities was crazy. He also taught us that the white man's life is not good for us."

Quarup, Celebrating the Dear Dead   Back to top

Brazil September 1998 Indians

For Orlando Villas-Boas, Brazil's most renowned indianist alive, it was a time of high emotion. "My father, my father", repeated cacique Kanato, an old Indian who was still a young man when Orlando first met him at the end of the '40s. Orlando and Kanato embraced each other and cried.


The spirits of brothers Claudio and Alvaro Villas-Boas—the best friends the Brazilian Indians ever had among the white man—were finally freed from their earthly chains to rivers and forests and were able to get to the "stars village" high up in the skies. Their lives were celebrated in a Quarup, the highest homage paid by the Indians to their dead heroes. Orlando, 84, was there to see it all. He is the last survivor of the four Villas-Boas brothers, who in the '40s started contacting tribes on the border of the Xingu river—an Amazon tributary—in Central Brazil. For 32 years Orlando and Claudio lived with the Indians. The fourth Villas-Boas—Leonardo—died in 1961


At the Kamayura aldeia (village) in the Amazon High Xingu, Tacumu is the cacique (chief) and the host for the Quarup, the ritual party for the dead. Everybody else is guest: more than 1100 Indians from several tribes. The guests started to arrive on Friday, on the eve of the celebration. The Yawalapitis were the first to get there followed by the Wauras and then the Awetis. The Meynako, Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuo and Trumay tribes came in Saturday, July 25. The Quarup dances, which started Saturday morning, would last until the breaking of the next day.


Tacumu leads over a community of 300 Indians living in 15 malocas (collective huts). For 400 years his people have lived on the banks of the Ipavu lagoon. "Clαudio died in the city," he said, "but his spirit moved here, so we decided to do the Quarup, so he can rest in peace in the village of the stars."


Ulisses Capozoli, one of the reporters invited for the Quarup, mocked in his long piece published by daily O Estado de S. Paulo the government involvement in the ceremonies. "Justice Minister, Renan Calheiros, makes an empty speech, and heeding a request from Iris Rezende, his predecessor on the post, "warns" the Indians not to burn the forest. There is a refined irony here. The former minister owns a huge farm with large deforested areas just beside the park. In the lands of his brother, Orlando, the spectacle is even sadder. Black and smoldering tree trunks show the effects of a recent fire although there is a vague economic justification for all of this."


The mainstream media, which was drawn to the spectacle, seemed mesmerized by the bonfires, the mystery of the jungle, and the solemnity of the dances and chants. And at times the Indians seemed puzzled by the shoves, screams and lack of sportsmanship exhibited by photographers jockeying for a better shooting position.


Hugs and Tears   Back to top


Other white men like anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and indianist marshal Candido Rondon were celebrated in a Quarup, but nothing that compared to the show put on for brothers Claudio, who died March 1998 and Alvaro Villas-Boas dead in 1996, plus the Indian warrior Mariki. Experts believe this was the largest Quarup ever staged for white men.


Maynapu, an Yawalapiti warrior, described the role of Quarup as an integrator factor: "The dead must be remembered and grieved with respect, but after the pain it is time for the huka-huka (wrestling) joy. "


The tree trunks were placed in the center of the village. "For us they are all the same," explained Tacumu, even though Mariki's trunk is thinner in deference to the white men, and the one representing Claudio was placed in the center because he was the one of the two brothers who lived more among the Indians.


It was a time of high emotion and tears for Orlando, the sole survivor of the Villas-Boas. He reencountered Indians he hadn't seen for 30 years. Since 1984 the indianist had not visited the Xingu Park Indian Reservation, one of the better-known Villas-Boas accomplishments. "My father, my father", repeated cacique Kanato, an Indian who is in his '60s, but who was still a young man when Orlando first met him at the end of the '40s. Both men embraced each other and cried.


Not all participants came simply to mourn and celebrate the lives of dead heroes, though. Pegrati, 15, for example, was excited about the possibility of finding a wife. Said the Meynako warrior incapable of hiding a broad smile: "After one year in reclusion the virgins are being released and I didn't want to miss this opportunity. The Kamayurα girls are very pretty. I might get lucky and marry one."

Amid all the emotion, Orlando Villas-Boas talked about his concern for the future of the area. In an interview with Rio's daily Jornal do Brasil  he declared: "The High Xingu is a world reference for the preservation of indigenous culture. You need to have more resources to maintain this status. The biggest danger to the rivers that form the Xingu river basin is the pollution at the headwater of the tributaries. If the aggression to the springs is not prevented the Xingu will be jeopardized in the next millenium." And Orlando, who has already spelled out his wish to be buried in the Xingu reservation, continued talking about his brother: "Claudio was my other half. With his death I lost a piece of my heart. But tomorrow I will also die. The people from Xingu are the ones who cannot die. My brothers died believing that Brazil would not do to their Indians what the United States did. Some say that our names—mine and Claudio's—might be nominated for a Nobel Prize. If this happens the merit belongs to the Indians who taught us more than learned from us."

The Villas-Boas brothers' dreams might inspire a new generation of Villas-Boas. Chief Tacumu made an invitation to Noel, the youngest son of Orlando to live in the reservation and to continue his father work. The 23-year-old Philosophy (at PUC, the Sao Paulo catholic university) and Linguistics (at USP, Universidade de Sao Paulo) student is not against the idea but says that is too early for such a serious commitment and responsibility."

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