THE MYSTERY OF MATTO GROSSO
STUDENTS of H. P. Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine are familiar with the theosophical teaching about the racial and national evolution of the human family on this globe, and her prediction that in the twentieth century discoveries will be made that will upset the notions of many a man of science. Of particular interest, therefore, is an article that appeared in the January 1933 issue of Blackwood's Magazine, "The Lost City of My Quest," by Colonel P. H. Fawcett, with the following editorial note by the publisher:
When Colonel Fawcett set out in 1925 on the expedition into the unexplored interior of Brazil from which he has failed to return, he hoped to find a large ruined city of the remote past. In this article, written not long before his departure, he describes the original discovery of that city.
While twenty years later, in 1953, Colonel Fawcett is still missing, his letters, manuscripts, and other records have been collected and published by his son, Brian Fawcett, in a volume replete with stories of adventure, of ghosts, magic and voodooism, and of the customs and practices generally of the aboriginal tribes of South America.
The story related in both article and book concerns the history and fate of primeval races that peopled the high plateau regions of Matto Grosso, in Brazil. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, goes the legend, one Moribeca, half-Portuguese, half-Indian, who lived most of his life with the natives, displayed before the world such a wealth of gold, silver and precious stones, as to fill with envy the greedy Europeans. As the Portuguese authorities failed to obtain by trickery the secret of this wealth from either Moribeca or his son, numerous expeditions, some numbering as many as 1400 men, set out, only to disappear forever, as though they had been swallowed up by the wilderness.
In the year 1743, however, a native of Minas Geraes was fired to make a search for the lost mines of Moribeca. His party consisted of a few Portuguese, Indians, and Negro slaves. After ten years of hardship and wandering, whiLe seeking a way out of the wilderness, the party discovered, quite by accident, what seemed to be the long-sought object of their labors. While scouting for food, they were led by a deer through a deep crevice in a precipice. Gaining the summit, they stood dumb at the view that spread before them.
In the immediate foreground lay extensive plains brilliantly green, with patches here and there of silver water, changing to yellowish brown and dull greens as they drew near the foothills. On this was a sight that made the adventurers gasp and hastily draw back behind the crest-line. For, at a distance of some three or four miles, and so clear that buildings could be distinctly made out, was a huge city ... Nothing could have been more unexpected than this extraordinary sight ... The sun was well up, for it was scarcely past mid-day, and it was decided that two Portuguese and two Negroes, all well armed, should reconnoiter as near the city as possible and discover what sort of people dwelt in this mysterious place ... The scouts returned. They had not ventured too near the city, but from a distant point of vantage had observed neither inhabitant nor smoke.
To the Indians it was just as mysterious as to their more civilized companions. They had vague traditions and very definite superstitions regarding this part of the country which had kept it 'tabu,' and they were fearful of they knew not what. One man was found, however, who volunteered to go alone and discover what there was. He started early next morning and returned about noon, obviously frightened, but asserting that there existed not a trace of living man.
On the following morning the whole party set off cautiously along the trail, an advance guard of four scouts preceding them by about half a mile. Drawing near the city the scouts rejoined the main body, corroborating the Indian's account that there was no sign of human life. The whole party thereupon came into the open, and, disposed in strategic order, approached the wall
The trail led directly to an entrance through three lofty arches built of gigantic stones, the middle arch towering above the others. The stupendous masonry was black with age, and the grandeur of the architecture tied every man's tongue ... The overwhelming dignity of the design, the awesome silence and mystery of an old abandoned city possessed them, rough men as they were. High above the crown of the central arch, and deeply engraved into the weathered stone, were characters of some sort.
They knew enough to realize that this was no familiar script. The arches were in a good state of preservation, but a few huge blocks had fallen from the summit, and portions had slipped somewhat out of plumb. Passing through the archway they found themselves in a wide street, littered with fallen masonry and broken pillars. They gazed in amazement. There was not a sign of human occupation. It was all incredibly old, and yet in its age amazingly perfect. Here were two-storied houses on either side, all built up of carefully squared blocks carved in elaborate time-worn designs. In many cases roofs had fallen in, in others great stone slabs still covered the dark interiors, and he who had the temerity to enter the windowless chambers through the narrow doorways and to raise his voice, fled at the echoes hurled at him by the vaulted ceilings and solid walls. Fallen stones and an accumulation of bat droppings covered any vestiges of human occupation, had there been such.
Dumb with amazement, the party, huddled together like a flock of scared sheep, passed down the street into a vast square or plaza. Here they must have "looked at each other with a wild surmise," for in the center of the plaza, dominating its surroundings in sublime majesty, was a gigantic black stone column set upon a plinth of the same rock, and upon it the statue of a man, one hand on his hip, the other arm extended with the index finger pointing towards the north -- magnificent in design, perfect in preservation. In each corner of the plaza had been great obelisks of black stone covered with carvings. Three of them had been broken off short, the upper parts lying on the ground prominent amidst the litter of stone.
The whole of the right hand side of the plaza was occupied by a building so magnificent in its design as to have been obviously a palace, its square columns intact, but walls and roof partly demolished. A vast entrance hall was approached by a broad flight of steps, much of which was displaced. The interior of this hall was rich in exquisite carving, and still showed signs of a brilliance of colouring comparable with some of the finest relics of Egypt. The interior exit from this hall was blocked by fallen masonry ... At the junction of the street with the plaza, above what appeared to be the principal entrance, was carved in semi-relief the figure of a youth in excellent preservation. The figure was naked from the waist up, had shield in hand and a band across the shoulder. The face was clean-shaven and the head crowned with a wreath of laurel ...
In the plaza opposite the palace was the ruin of another huge edifice, evidently a temple by its magnificent façade and general appearance. It was entirely unroofed, but on the weather-worn walls were still to be traced figures and designs of animals and birds ... Beyond the street and plaza the city seemed to be entirely in ruin, and much of it was buried. Gaping chasms in the ground, into whose fathomless depths a stone dropped without sound, left no doubt as to the agency of destruction. Around these dreadful gulfs great blocks of stone elaborately carved, slabs of rock, portions of stone and broken columns were piled in awful confusion. The explorers could imagine something of the ghastly tragedy of this unknown cataclysm, whose resistless force had displaced and thrown down monolithic stones of fifty tons and upwards and destroyed in less perhaps than one fearful minute the civilization of a thousand years.
On the far side of the plaza the city was open to a river some thirty yards or so in width ... Evidently there had been a highly decorative terrace to this river, but most of it had been swallowed up or lay beneath the waters ... About a quarter of a mile outside the city and standing by itself was a palatial building with a front of 250 paces, approached by a broad flight of steps of many-coloured stones. It was heavily columned all round, and the noble portico opened upon a vast hall, whose mural decorations and gorgeous colouring still remained more or less intact. From this hall opened fifteen smaller chambers, in each of which was the carved head of a serpent from whose opened jaws poured a small stream of water ...
It was long before they could tear themselves away from these awesome ruins, for whose existence they could imagine no explanation. The grandeur and opulence of the place astounded them, but this feeling soon gave place to an intense lust for treasure, inevitable amongst ignorant men. If they could have filled their pockets with gold, they would willingly have destroyed every stone of this priceless relic of a lost civilisation. Their report reeks of this impulse. It is the buried wealth which attracts them, not the mystery ... The leader of the expedition was anxious to return better equipped for this purpose.
Having no notion where he was, but with every confidence that those Indians who remained with him would remember the country, the leader decided to follow the river down on a chance of striking some civilised settlement ... Soon after the departure of this party he found to the east of the fall unmistakable signs of mining. Shafts whose depths he had no means of plumbing excited his curiosity. On the surface of the ground were specimens of silver ore of great richness, presumably brought up from these shafts, encouraging him to believe that he had really discovered the lost mines of Moribeca. Further investigation revealed other features of interest. There were caverns hewn out of the solid rock, one of them sealed with a grey slab of stone ... No effort, however, could move the slab. Others were similarly closed ... Possibly they were the tombs of the priests and kings of the city. The party pictured themselves as rich men. They agreed that, excepting to the Viceroy, to whom their leader owed a debt of gratitude, they would say nothing, but return reconstituted, unearth the treasures and work the mines ...
In the meantime the scouting section, after following the lower river for nine days without result, caught sight in a backwater of a canoe paddled by two white people with long black hair and dressed in clothing of some sort. But on firing a shot to attract attention, the canoe spurted ahead and disappeared. People of this appearance were reported again and again by Portuguese explorers up to about half a century ago, but no explanation has ever been vouchsafed ... The leader then decided to march eastward through the forest and leave it to chance what part of the Atlantic coast settlements he eventually struck. Where he ultimately came out he does not say ...
Whether the Indians deserted him from fear of the tabu and he lost himself, as so many did in these vast solitudes, or whether the insatiable greed of these early explorers ended in quarrels and tragedy, is unknown. Neither he nor a single member of his party were heard of again ...
Meanwhile the Viceroy pigeon-holed the report, which never saw light again for upwards of half a century. The Government made some half-hearted attempts to find the place about the middle of the nineteenth century, but they failed to discover anything, and, truth to tell, the search was not conducted very intelligently ...
Is the investigation worth while from a scientific point of view? Assuredly, yes. It must be doubtful if there is any archaeological and ethnological research more important today than the study of these ruins and the relics contained therein ... What is the significance of the hundreds of inscriptions scattered throughout the forests in characters resembling some of those contained amongst the oldest scripts known to us elsewhere, themselves as yet a mystery? May there not be somewhere another Rosetta stone? Who can estimate the value of such a discovery of ruins compared with which those in Egypt are modern?
Were the legend of Matto Grosso the only one of its kind, the whole affair might be brushed aside as a fancy, but similar traditions prevail in other parts of the world. Readers of THEOSOPHY will recall, for example, the North American Indian tradition of the "mountain of mystery" in Arizona, as related in an article titled "The Spirits of Superstition Mountain (THEOSOPHY 24: 504-8). Also, the story of a mysterious city in the Cordilleras was told to Stephens by a Spanish Padre in 1838-9, which the priest swore that he had seen with his own eyes, and which the traveller firmly believed to be true:
The Padre of the little village near the ruins of Santa Cruz del Quiche, had heard of the unknown city at the village of Chajul ... He was then young, and climbed with much labor to the naked summit of the topmost ridge of the sierra of the Cordillera. When arrived at a height of ten or twelve thousand feet, he looked over an immense plain extending to Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and saw, at a great distance, a large city spread over a great space, and with turrets white and glittering in the sun. Tradition says that no white man has ever reached this city; that the inhabitants speak the Maya language, know that strangers have conquered their whole land, and murder any white man who attempts to enter their territory....
A story almost identical with the above was told to H. P. Blavatsky by an old native priest of Peru, whom she met there. Ostensibly a converted native missionary, the priest assured her that he was at heart as much a sun-worshipper as ever, and kept up his friendly relations with the conquerors and the Catholic religion for the sake of his people. He solemnly affirmed that he had been at Santa Cruz, and had visited the mysterious city, which he entered by a "subterranean passage" unknown to the world at large.
Relics of ancient civilizations have been unearthed in every part of the globe, and more, doubtless, await the day when some open-minded and intuitive archaeologist will come upon their meaning. Meantime, words written by H. P. Blavatsky, in 1880, may provide food for thought for students:
...all along the coast of Peru, all over the Isthmus of North America, in the canyons of the Cordilleras, in the impassable gorges of the Andes, and, especially beyond the valley of Mexico, lie, ruined and desolate, hundreds of once mighty cities, lost to the memory of men, and having themselves lost even a name. Buried in dense forests, entombed in inaccessible valleys, sometimes sixty feet underground, from the day of their discovery until now they have ever remained a riddle to science, baffling all inquiry, and they have been muter than the Egyptian Sphinx herself ... Of the long generations of people who built them, history knows nothing, and even tradition is silent. As a matter of course, most of these lithic remains are covered with a dense vegetation. Whole forests have grown out of the broken hearts of the cities, and, with few exceptions, every thing is in ruin. But one may judge of what once was by that which yet remains.
Having well defined ideas as to the periodicity of cycles, for the world as well as for nations, empires, and tribes, we are convinced that our present modern civilization is but the latest dawn of that which already has been seen an innumerable number of times upon this planet.
"Who knows, then," wrote Dr. Heath, of Kansas City, in his Peruvian Antiquities, "but that Jules Verne's fanciful idea regarding the lost continent Atlanta may be near the truth? Who can say that, where now is the Atlantic Ocean, formerly did not exist a continent, with its dense population, advanced in the arts and sciences, who, as they found their land sinking beneath the waters, retired part east and part west, populating thus the two hemispheres?"
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