I will NEVER be able to do justice to the research Leighton Gage must have done to write his brilliant last novel. Neither will I be able to present the true inspiration for it, nor in any way present it with the brilliance of Leighton’s writing style. So, you may well ask, where do I get the nerve to try? My answer is that I have no idea. But I was curious, when I began reading The Ways of Evil Men, as to whether the threatened people in the story were based on a real tribe and where exactly in Brazil they live. The front matter of the book gave me a clue by mentioning the Ava-Canoeiro Indians. I looked them up.
For anyone who wants a peep at the realities behind Leighton’s riveting story, here is a brief history of a tribe that was part of his inspiration.
The Ava-Canoeiro Indians are the descendants of the Carijo, who were once a feared force in their area of Brazil, along the Tocantins river and the Island of Serra Negra, about six hours’ drive from Brazilia. In 1962, a massacre in their village killed all but four young children. Three girls and a boy somehow escaped the murderers and managed to survive by hiding in remote caves for over twenty years. They lived in mortal fear of discovery. They learned to silently kill rats and agouti for food. They were so terrified that they aborted their babies so that their cries would not betray their existence. One little girl, who never left the cave for her first six years, lived to grow up.
In 1983, when a nearby farmer finally found and befriended them, there was one woman still of child-bearing age. After they began living in contact with the larger society, she gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl. At that point, the only way to save the tribe from extinction was to try to find other Ava-Canoeiro hidden in the deep jungle for those children to marry. An Indian tracker began the search.
Then in 1993, the situation became more urgent. A hydro-electro dam built in the area meant that a large part of the territory where their tribes-people might be hiding was about to be wiped out by rising water.
As of the year 2000, search parties were still combing possible areas. They had found evidence of human habitation, but the people themselves had remained invisible.
After that report, there is only scant information available in any of the English-language sources I found. My understanding of written Portuguese is rudimentary, at best, and based only on the fact that I can read French and Italian and studied a lot of Latin in my antediluvian past.
Perhaps one of Leighton’s friends or fans who has access to better information will fill us in here. I hope. It would be wonderful to learn that some of the last human beings to escape captivity are still out there and surviving.
There is a 1999 film—hard to find, but probably available in university libraries—that documents the search for Ava-Canoeiro. I took the title of this blog from the title of the film.
Annamaria - Monday