paraguay

The Search for the Lost City

"Strange symbols attract strange seekers." That was my conclusion as a child after taking many foreigners to visit the petroglyphs in the hills of Amambay. They all came in pursuit of clues to prove their own theories, driven by the desire to understand and explore the world. 

I think often about those earlier trips to the rock art sites, about following with my fingers the contours of the symbols left in the rock wall, hoping that maybe in that way I could unlock their secrets. I remember listening attentively to my father and the rest of the grownups speak, as they discussed the theories of the meaning behind the strange symbols. 

A campesino was sure that they were clues left to indicate where the treasure of Mariscal was buried. The treasure would vary from clay urns full of gold coins, to a buried golden piano. 

Paraguayan treasure hunters damage to the environment in search of the hidden gold. 

Paraguayan treasure hunters damage to the environment in search of the hidden gold. 

A man from the capital, who had trouble hiking,  insisted that they were made by intra-terrestrials. I never heard of them, but I assumed it was because I was only a kid,  and later I found that that they were like aliens, but instead of living in other planets they lived inside the earth. 

This is a mock up of one of the giant boulders we explored in search of petroglyphs that people believed were part of the intra-terrestrials conspiracy. 

This is a mock up of one of the giant boulders we explored in search of petroglyphs that people believed were part of the intra-terrestrials conspiracy. 

An old Pai Tavytera, dressed in hand me down army olive drab, stated that the symbols were left by their forefathers, but sadly the Paraguayans dismissed what he had to say.

As a child I already knew that they were not made by aliens, or even clues to the gold left during the war,  you could tell it was human made and they were messages. As I traced my fingers along the symbols I wondered, Only if there was a way to unlock the message, only if there was a way to understand what the symbols meant. 

The petroglyph that we refer to as "The Solar Map"

The petroglyph that we refer to as "The Solar Map"

This desire to know the unknown is an universal human feeling, as we all try to make sense of the world, but sometimes that desire can take hold of a person and drive them in pursuits that put one's life in danger, or have fatal consequences. 

Such is the case of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who explored the area of Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state adjacent to the Amambay Hills in search of a lost city. Fawcett followed clues left in petroglyphs in his search of his legendary lost civilization he called Z. 

I learned about Fawcett's journey on the book "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" by David Grann. Its interesting to see the search of a hidden lost city in the area whered I used to live in, and see the role the petroglyphs that we seek to protect and document in our movie have played in the exploration of the Amazon.

Fawcett's courage is admirable, specially to continue his exploration, while sacrificing so much of himself and his family, in pursuit of his lost city. Fawcett not only had to battle the deadly elements of the jungle, but many opposition and naysayers back home. 

Jackson on the far right in his lost city. 

Jackson on the far right in his lost city. 

This desire to seek a hidden lost city has bitten many people across time, and one of them is my own brother, Jackson Weaver, who spent many years scouring the hills of Amambay in some pretty gnarly adventures,  such as getting chased by angry indians when he was trespassing on a sacred site, to having to infiltrate caves full of bats, and carry a huge stone that contained the petroglyph that we call the solar map on his back to the protected Cerro Cora National Park, before it was taken by robbers or vandals. 

 Jackson has fought many naysayers himself, similar to those who Fawcett had to face,  and had to overcome many roadblocks in his exploration of the Amambay hills.

After many years searching, Jackson found what he believed to be a lost city in 2013. He received a lot of press attention in the Paraguayan newspaper and sites around the world.

I don't know what he has found in the jungle, if is a natural or human made structures,  as I have not visited the site myself, since it requires a police escort as the site is one of the most dangerous area in Amambay, because of local drug trade and local militias.

Perry Fawcet as despicted on the documentary Lost in the Amazon -Secrets of the Dead by PBS

Perry Fawcet as despicted on the documentary Lost in the Amazon -Secrets of the Dead by PBS

What drives people like my brother Jackson, or Fawcett?

National Geographic writes about the "wanderlust gene" the desire to explore that comes from:

A gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness. Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.

I think the desire to seek knowledge even if putting one's life in danger is about finding something greater than ourselves, and being redeemed by the quest. This pursuit can be noble, but also is what eventually made Percy Fawcett disappear on the jungle. So I hope my brother is safe as he continue his adventures and remember this wise words:

“The adventures may be mad, but the adventurer must be sane.”
— ― G.K. Chesterton

Giving the rock art to Aliens: Post inspired by Ted Chiang's "Story of your life" and the Arrival Film

arrival-amy-adams  

In Ted Chiang's "Story of your life" , soon to be the upcoming movie "Arrival", humanity is visited by mysterious aliens. The main character is a linguistic tasked with learning how to communicate with the aliens.

Slowly she is able to learn the alien language, and eventually is forced by the government to start trade negotiation between humanity and the aliens. The dilemma is, what to give to an alien civilization that might be infinite superior to us human in technology and resources? The scientist and members of the government decide to give the aliens images of the Lascaux cave paintings as the alien's first gift.

Lascaux_painting

To me, that highlights the value that rock art has in our human history, and most important the dire need to preserve it. We are in the Anthropocene age, where us humans, are irreversibly changing the world around us. We currently have the technology to stop this destruction, but not the will or the disciple. Future people might refer to our current time as the second dark age, as we are not enlightened enough to stop the depletion of our natural resources, and the destruction of our cultural heritage such as the rock art sites in Paraguay.

 

paw prints amambay

How do we set out to preserve the rock art for future generations? I think first we must learn more about the people that made it, and what the message of the rock art must be. We think about those who made the rock art, and the message they left in rock. They were people were just like us, able to come up with the same ideas and inventions, the only difference is that we now have the ability to draw resources from the millennia of people that came before us, and use the tools we created from the giant pile of experiences we have collected. Our Human knowledge is now being organized in a collaborative manner by all of us in different platforms such as wikipedia, creative commons and the noun project. This collaboration projects differ from old collaboration project, as it not centralized hierarchical knowledge, but by a collection of knowledge assembled by many people all over the world. We are happy to announce that we are able to upload a digital collection of the rock art of Paraguay in to the Noun Project.

noun project

The Noun Project is a website that aggregates and catalogs symbols that are created and uploaded by graphic designers around the world. Based in Los Angeles, the project functions both as a resource for people in search of typographic symbols and a design history of the genre.

We hope that we are able to diffuse the knowledge of Paraguayan rock art into a larger audience, and thus raise awareness of how rock art is part of shared humanity. The ancient humans who made left their imprint into the hills had to create tools from objects found on their surrounding such as using a softer rock on a harder rock to leave a motif. Now days we have more advance tools such as the Ipad Pro, and the Apple Pencil.

ipad-pro-laika With our current tools is easy to digitize that ancient knowledge and upload the images to the Noun Project. We copy the symbols, but we don't know the true meaning of this ancient rock art. Some historians believe that during the dark ages, the monks that were tasked to copy ancient books could have been illiterate themselves. They would make copies of book they did not understand. We have uploaded the images here, and hope that by our digitization efforts and making it available online we are able to preserve it for future generations.

Hopefully it will be humans in the future that will be able to decipher the message left in the hills thousands of years ago, and thus they can learn more about our shared humanity, and let it not be aliens , learning about a human race long gone, creatures that destroyed their own habitat planet.

Solar-Map-Project-Rocks2-Map

Making a Pai Tavytera altar in the Ita Guazu community in Amambay, Paraguay.

altar guarani indians

The wood altar is the central institution in the religious beliefs of the Pai Tavytera. The altar is considered a sacred sanctuary and a focal point of the community. The altars usually resides in the homes of the spiritual leaders of the Pai Tavytera Indians or important leaders. The altar is a place where the community gathers around for worship or to discuss matters that are important to the community.

altar anotated

The altar is 52" high and includes two 43" wooden rods (3) that represents deities or saints. From those rods hanges a gourd (1) that is utilized to baptize the children, and the shaman's gourd rattle (2), the most important item for the shaman to start his prayer that is a song and a dance to communicate with the spirits. Part of the altar is a 29" bamboo staff (4) that is used mostly by women to give rhythm to the rituals. The altar is marked by dots (5) on a similar motif of the rock art found in the area.

inspecting the altar pai tavytera indians guarani paraguay

This altar was made by Don Leonido and Na Silvia Arce, from the Ita Guazu community of Amambay in late 2013. The altar was made with money raised on a kickstarter campaign for the Solar Map Project with the intention to be donated to the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian.

prime materials

Here Don Leonido returns from the jungle with a tree he cut out to make the altar.

making the altar

Carving the base of the altar.

altar pai tavytera indians guarani paraguay

Don Leonido and his wife Na Silvia blessing the altar in from of traditional Pai Tavytera Hut in the Ita Guazu Community.

Pai Tavytera Indian house burned to the ground in Amambay, Paraguay

start-fire-panambi-house-guarani.jpg

start fire panambi house guarani Although normally politically peaceful, the area of Amambay has not been immune to the strife that has been rocking the area. This morning, the large traditional Pai Tavytera meeting house, the "Oga Yekutu" that had been built on the grounds of the governorship in the city of PJC, was burned to the ground amidst a political manifestation.

Oga JEKUTU is a traditional ceremonial thatch roof house of the Paí Tavyterá. This one was built in the property adjacent to the headquarters of the Governor, and served as meeting place for the various tribes in the city, and as an embassy of sorts for the Paí Tavyterá in their dealings with the Governor's office.

This incident, unprecedented in our area, comes after increasing turmoil on both sides of the Paraguayan/Brazilian border relating to the native indians. Although responsibility for this tragic event in disputed, and so far we are happy that there are no fatalities or injuries to lament, it demonstrates the fragility of the Pai Tavyetra culture in the larger Paraguayan society.

We are following the situation closely and await new developments, and instructed our photographers in the field to have caution, and avoid any type of behavior that could have negative repercussions to their safety, the safety of our Pai Tavytera collaborators, as well as the continuity of the Solar Map Project.

guarani indian paragauy fire house

paraguay indian house burned to ground

pai tavytera amambay house traditional guarani

http://www.pedrojuandigital.com/7387-v-locales1-u-.html

http://www.amambaynoticias.com/17024-v-Locales-u-con-sus-tradicionales-armas-guerreras-nativos-de-capit-n-bado-se-suman-a-la-protesta-ciudadana-frente-a-la-gobernaci-n.html

http://www.pedrojuanaldia.com/notas_leer.php?id=3914&cat=9

https://www.facebook.com/gobernaciondeamambay

 

Ka'aguy Póra Forest Spirit

rock-art-paragauy.jpg

amambay covered fog hill

Yesterday, I was out gathering footage in a remote area of the forest.  The shadows and fog shrouded the land in mystery. Suddenly, I heard a woman crying. I thought it was my imagination, but just to be sure, I set my camera down and strained my ears for any sounds. Then, in the distance, the crying echoed once again. Was it a wild dog? Was it a wolf? Was it a woman in distress? Or was it the wind?

Paraguay Amambay Mist explore

Our guide warned us to move carefully through the forest and to beware the treacherous Ka’aguy Póra, a forest spirit who harms those he believes will do evil to the forest. As we silently moved through the forest, I wanted to search for the sound’s source, but our guide insisted that we respect Ka’aguy Póra and leave the sound behind us.

hill amambay

Today, I told my story around the city. Many of the city’s inhabitants confirmed our guide’s story of the forest spirit. However, one local told me that the strange, spine-tingling cries had not come from a wild dog, a wolf, a woman, the wind, or a spirit that protects the forest. According to the local, this sound had no supernatural origin that it in fact was the call of a rare forest bird whose song mimics a woman’s cry. The bird in Guaraní is called guánguînguê, "old woman cry."

Guaiguĩngue

 

The guánguînguê is a nocturnal bird that hunts at night.  In the day it perches into wood branches, it's great camouflage make it look like a wood stump. The story goes that there was a boy who had a sick mom. One day his mother was very ill, but the boy decided to go to a party instead. The old woman called and called her child, she sent many others to fetch him from the party. The boy did not want to hear the people that came to get him, and he replied " I will have my entire life to cry about her, just let me party!"  and soon his mother died , and the boy was cursed by the gods, and turned into a bird that forever will cry from sunset to sunrise until the end of times.

YOU CAN HEAR IT HERE 

IMG_0454 (1)

While back in the office reviewing the shots from the day before, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd brought a piece of the forest back with me. It was then I came across an image that made me freeze and that haunting cry from the day was captured there in my camera lens. A paw print carved into the stone, in the same hills I visited. It made me think of the all the sound this people might have heard in their primordial forest whey they made that carving into the rock. And how the carved paw print, still resonates with people thousand years into the future.

In that moment I was privileged to share an experience with a people who once inhabitants this beautiful and mysterious land thousand of years ago.

rock art paraguay arte rupestre