Linking culture and conservation in the Caura River Basin

We Will Miss You, Old Friend

Thursday, May 26, 2011

He was a small man with a caved-in chest, calves like sticks, broad feet, and a furrowed brow. He was shy and also one of the most impressive men I've ever met. Many times I saw him chase through the forest understory after white-lipped peccaries. When the boys goaded him, he would carry the 80-kg outboard on his shoulder down a steep dirt ramp. But we enlisted his help to record birds and to identify them, at which he developed impressive expertise. I met him in 1998, during a building project in the community of Edowinña. He cut poles and vines and palms for roofing along with everyone else, and bantered in Ye'kwana, not his mother tongue. He was a Sanema, and that is why his name will not be written here.

We knew that he knew birds the first time we quizzed him. That knowledge grew over the three years we worked together on the bird knowledge project. He learned his numbers and to write - badly - often producing a mirror image of a word on the page of his notebook. It took such courage and concentration for him to do that. The jungle is no place for those sensitive to teasing. Out in the forest he made some beautiful recordings of bird songs, sometimes starting to walk at 3 am.

He moved his residence and handed in his recording equipment and notebook a year before he died this week, suddenly, of an abdominal infection. We lost a brother who had knowledge and skills that are draining out of this world.

-Tarek Milleron