Study Guide

Vajuvi in The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann


The Bone Collector

You can't believe everything you read on the Internet (unless you read it here), and you can't believe that any bones found in the jungle belong to Col. Percy Fawcett. But hindsight sure is 20/20.

Grann learns that the Kalapalo tribe turned in the bones of Col. Fawcett in exchange for money and tools. Mystery solved, right? Yeah, well, modern technology is here to tell us that those bones didn't belong to Fawcett, after all. So whose were they?

Enter Vajuvi, the Kalapalo chief, who reveals the bone scam to Grann—but not until after he tries to extort $5,000 from him. Or a car. Vajuvi's reasoning? "I've seen pictures of your cities. You have too many cars. You should give us a car" (23.5). Grann, not being Bob Barker, isn't able to just hand out cars, so they bargain down to about a thousand bucks' worth of tools.

Anyway, in the village, Vajuvi reveals that the bones belonged to his grandfather. He swears his tribe didn't kill Fawcett; on the contrary: "We tried to save them" (23.57). Vajuvi also says, "I would like to get the bones back and bury them where they belong" (23.54). Um, then give back the money, dude?

In addition to revealing this scam, Grann's visit to the Kalapalo leads him to develop a new vision of the Amazon. The Kalapalo way of life is now a mixtures of traditional and not so traditional. For example, these people dance in traditional tribal ways, but they also have TVs. By observing the Kalapalo, Grann sees how adaptable and malleable these jungle tribes are. They move, and they change, and it's highly possible they may once have been residents of a grand city like Z. Or at least X or Y. Close enough.