Monday, 18 May 2015

circe or the call of the wild

Intrepid explorer Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett first became enamoured with South America and the allure of the dense, uncharted jungles when as a surveyor was invited to help resolve a border dispute between Brazil and Bolivia. Some twenty years after the initial encounter (with World War I intervening), Fawcett resolved to return, ostensibly, to seek out a mid-eighteenth-century anecdote he’d learned of: a slave-trader who’d come across a mysterious city deep in the jungles. Braving the elements, predation and potentially hostile tribes, Fawcett assembled a small expedition and embarked to find this place he called the Lost City of Z.

The colonel, who had the imagination of colleagues and contemporaries like Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and JM Barrie (Peter Pan), was setting out in search of El Dorado, many thought and considered reason enough, but his actual goal may have been far more elusive in reality and far harder to locate. As Fawcett himself reflected, Englishmen have quite the penchant for going native, which is usually a very positive attribute since it tends to cast a humanising light on the lands England has colonised—with some glaring exceptions, and must have felt himself too led onward. The expedition vanished without a trace and despite many rescue parties who themselves suffered not insignificant losses but all those who came after may have all been following a red-herring in the mysterious, lost city. Private correspondence and supposed membership instead suggest that Fawcett’s objective was to establish a utopian commune in the jungle, wiled by the ageless charms of a female spirit guide—a sith, a supernatural harbinger, messenger in the folk-tradition of his native Scotland, the colonel was going to establish a society based on his own religious beliefs, including deification of his own son (who happened to be in that original party) and the neo-theosophy, receiving the wisdom of God through the occult, which was popular, parlour interest at the time. Whatever the objective, no one knows the fate of Fawcett and company.  Reportedly, Fawcett’s family have tried to mask these supposed cult accounts by emphasising the hidden city. It is possible that Fawcett did not care to be found and surely didn’t want pursuers to come to a bad end while on a wild goose-chase, and he himself may have understood the city as metaphorical or at least incidental (like Camelot or the Grail quests) to his real aim and might have discovered Z after all.