Photojournalist Scott Wallace ’77 stood before a crowd of 25 laughing members of the Yale community Thursday as he projected a picture of an Amazon tribesman holding a six-foot long fish that happened to be endangered.
“The Indians are actually allowed to catch the fish for their own consumption, so they caught it and invited us to share it with them,” Wallace said.
During his three-month exploration of the Amazon in search of the Flecheiro indigenous tribe, Wallace and 33 other explorers encountered countless dangers, adventures, six-foot fish and monkey meat. Wallace recounted these experiences in a Thursday afternoon talk at La Casa Cultural, where discussed the Flecheiro tribe, which has had little contact with modern civilization and is known to shoot poisonous arrows at intruders.
A journalist, photographer and television producer, Wallace attributed his interest in South America to Yale. While at Yale, he researched in Peru and won a trip to Brazil after graduation — experiences that he said led him to his current field.
“My time in South America that was born of Yale led me into journalism,” Wallace said.
After being introduced by Portugese Director of Undergraduate Studies David Jackson, Wallace launched into a slide presentation, which featured photos of the Amazon and various indigenous tribes. Afterwards, he discussed the piece he wrote in the National Geographic Magazine about his run-in with the Flecheiros.
He began his experience four days after National Geographic called him last June. Working with Sydney Possuelo — a renowned researcher, explorer and an expert in the field of indigenous Brazilian tribes — they attempted to determine the boundaries of the tribal land in order to prevent future development in those areas.
“Possuelo came to the conclusion that contact inevitably leads to the cultural destruction of the groups involved, no matter what the good intentions are,” Wallace said.
Their team of 34 men trekked through the jungle, fearing possible run-ins with the indigenous tribes. Wallace spoke of the rugged terrain and the 80 to 90 pounds that each guide, who often walked barefoot, carried on his back. The audience responded with nods and murmurs.
“It was an extraordinary experience to be in a primeval, untouched area for three months in an area where probably no one but the Flecheiros have been,” Wallace said.
The group of explorers first caught sight of two naked members of the Flecheiro tribe and decided to follow their path. At one point, they came upon a sapling blocking their path, which Possuelo interpreted as a sign that the group should turn around. But some other members of their expedition did not agree, Wallace said.
The group turned in another direction, but when they tried to regroup, Wallace said they realized two of the porters were missing. Search party after search party went out and eventually found the footprints of the two missing porters. But mysteriously, those footprints stopped after passing through the Flecheiro village. The group, which feared an imminent attack, had assumed the Flecheiros killed the two men, Wallace said.
Luckily, the porters eventually found their way back to the group, he said. The men, fearing the Flecheiros, had decided to dive off the path and into bushes.
At the talk’s conclusion, he fielded questions about his experiences, from the plants that he saw to the reason there were no women on the trip.
Angela Trevino ’07 said Wallace delivered more in the talk than she had expected.
“It was definitely more informative that I thought it would be,” Trevino said. “It was surprising to hear about the unlikely adventures that he had. It reminded me of being an explorer in the 1800s.”