El Dorado in the Amazon: A Deluded German and Three Dead Bodies
Part 3: 'Do You Want to Go to El Dorado? It's No Legend.'
We meet Tatunca again the next morning, this time without Anita, at the Manaus fish market, next to the black waters of the Rio Negro. "Do you want to go to El Dorado?" he asks. "It's no legend. I found walls like those at Machu Picchu. I can take you there." Without hesitation, he takes a pen and a pad of paper and starts drawing the path to El Dorado. It is somewhere on a plateau between the Rio Araçá and the Rio Demini.
His tales are endless and convoluted, and before long a suspicion arises: The lost city of Tatunca Nara isn't in the rainforest at all. It's along the Füllbach, a stream in Upper Franconia, in Grub am Forst, a place Günther Hauck once fled. He took himself as far away from it as possible, into the most remote tributaries of the Amazon, and into a new existence that could have nothing in common with his old life.
According to Brazilian investigative files, there was once an apparently confused German named Günther Hauck who never returned from shore leave. I psychiatrist diagnosed him as schizophrenic, and the German Embassy sent him back to Germany.
Does Tatunca know this Günther Hauck? Not personally, he says. He traveled to Germany once, he adds, and they addressed him as Günther Hauck when he was there. There was also a woman, and to avoid trouble he went to bed with her. But all of that was completely wrong, he says. "I am Tatunca. Period."
"Günther Hauck" is merely a skin that was shed long ago. As if to prove his point, Tatunca pulls out a Brazilian ID card, which identifies him as an "Indian" and contains a stamp from the Brazil agency in charge of Indian affairs. He must have been very convincing as an Indian.
If this man had simply been allowed to talk, it's likely that nothing would have happened. But his stories caught up to him. They attracted people to the region, people who wanted more than to listen to stories. They wanted to be guided up the river and to see the underground city with their own eyes and actually enter it.
Worlds that he had managed to keep apart had suddenly come together. Perhaps he felt cornered by all the admirers and treasure hunters, and by the curious. Rüdiger Nehberg was the worst of them all. He arrived with files and old photos in hand, and he wanted to know exactly who Tatunca really was. "He's schizophrenic, that Nehberg. A liar."
And then there was that yoga teacher who claimed to be his real wife.
'I Didn't Kill Those Three'
Perhaps, when all his excuses, warnings and incantations no longer worked, he decided to leave them alone with their expectations, to simply let them keep walking into thickets of poison and thorns. Without experience, a person can't survive for long in the forest, not even with the "Chronicle of Akakor" in his or her luggage.
When asked about the disappeared, Tatunca says: "I live with my conscience. I've killed many people, but I was a soldier and they were carrying weapons. I'm not innocent. But I didn't kill those three, as they've accused me of doing."
The story of what happened to John Reed and the others will likely remain a mystery. The German case against Günther Hauck, aka Tatunca Nara, has been dropped, due to the absence of the accused. This leaves nothing but suspicions.
But then there is something he says in passing at the Manaus fish market, as tilapia is being deboned at surrounding fish stalls. "My name, Tatunca, means Big Water Snake. It has a habit of only attacking its victims when there is nothing to disturb its activities far and wide."
So what's left other than the suspicion that the man is a daydreamer, an imposter and a gifted self-invented man, a person who sees the existence of his birth certificate as nothing more than a mere possibility?
One morning in Barcelos, a blue-and-white striped riverboat is docked at a pier next to the ice factory. It is carrying bales of piaçaba, a palm fiber material used to make brooms. A few Indians are dozing on the boat, until they are roused by an enormous, sunburned man and begin hoisting the bales onto the shore.
The boat's owner is Tatunca's son Seder Heldio, 36, who no longer speaks German. The town of Grub am Forst means nothing to him. But he does remember growing up among the Indians. "My father may have told you a lot of tall tales, but he is my father. None of the murder accusations have ever been proven. All that happened was that his tourist business was ruined."
And that, says Heldio, is unfair. "I saw the Indiana Jones film," says Heldio, the son of Tatunca. "It sounds a lot like my father's story about Akakor. He never got a cent for it. Maybe he concocted some of the stories. But he paid for it with his life."
Heldio also has stories to tell about Indians. His are about the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which seeks to protect the indigenous people by barring them from working for wages and instead provides them with welfare checks. Heldio says that his company is in fact illegal, because he doesn't offer his employees working conditions mandated by the unions, including housing and fixed working hours. The problem, Heldio explains, is that Indians don't like sleeping in shipping containers and only come to work when there is nothing to hunt or gather. "They want to keep the Yanomami as if they were in a zoo. I give them money so they can buy things."
The son of a dreamer from Franconia, who wanted to be an Indian and not Günther Hauck, didn't become a chief himself. Instead, he works as foreman, someone who is leading an aboriginal people away from their natural state and into the monetary economy. And because his methods are fair, the Yanomami respect and perhaps even worship him. And, in his case, without the involvement of extraterrestrial beings, ancient fathers or an El Dorado.
With additional reporting by Jens Glüsing
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2014
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Click on the links below for more information about DER SPIEGEL's history, how to subscribe or purchase the latest issue of the German-language edition in print or digital form or how to obtain rights to reprint SPIEGEL articles.
- Frequently Asked Questions: Everything You Need to Know about DER SPIEGEL
- Six Decades of Quality Journalism: The History of DER SPIEGEL
- A New Home in HafenCity: SPIEGEL's New Hamburg HQ
- Reprints: How To License SPIEGEL Articles