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by Arthur Panaro

He is a surveyor. His company expected he would need only two months to complete the assignment in the Amazon. But he had long since quit communicating with the corporate office. He got sidetracked. He was dismissed in a terse cable. It was not so much that the people had captured him, more like that he had invited himself to the ayahuasca ceremonies. He was viewed as a strange guest, but tolerated. He always showed up.

He lost his bearings, his sense of time, forgot his work, and began to languish or luxuriate, or whatever, in his digs. He lounged through the day, doing a lot of thinking, barely taking care of necessities. He went native.

For the people the ceremonies are a way of life. For him? For him, possession by Dionysus? For him the call of the wild? For him, the forces of raw instinct pulsing under the sheen of his rationality?

Besides their sacred tea, his hosts shared with him their disturbing epistemology, the way they think they know.They said they are unsure that the world actually exists when they are not looking. Hadn’t Bishop Berkeley said as much, he recalled? “To be means to be perceived, or esse est percipi,” Berkeley said. The language of the people has no verb “to be.” They think in terms of “to seem.” They doubt their own existence. This only added to his confusion as he attempted to clean up and detox.

Eventually he sobered up enough—more like he got bored to death, came to his senses, and then booked passage. By now a year had passed. He would take up the remains of his life, but in some sense maybe his mind was blown.

Maybe they had really held him kind of captive. They may have had an agenda. In any case, as the people bid him farewell, they asked that he would go out and bear witness to the fact (fact? wait, they did not have a word for “fact”) that they exist— that he would bear witness that they at least seemed to be there.


Inspired by Behavior: Lost Tribe of the Tasaday, TIME, Monday, Oct. 18, 1971, and by other sources.

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