Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-xm8r8 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-25T00:19:02.996Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false
This chapter is part of a book that is no longer available to purchase from Cambridge Core

6 - A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The Cauchero of the Amazonian Rubber Groves

Felipe Martínez-Pinzón
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
Javier Uriarte
Affiliation:
Stony Brook University, State University of New York
Get access

Summary

Janus incarnated in the rubber boom

In the contemporary bibliography on the early twentieth-century Amazonian rubber boom, the rubber baron is a mystifying character. He is usually portrayed as a generous godfather, who is rich, strict, smart, but also indifferent, immoral, hypocritical, and, above all, dangerous. Some authors think of him as a sophisticated gentleman, others as a cold-blooded killer. Whichever characterization of the rubber baron one may encounter, none is more appropriate to understanding his modus operandi than that of the man who is always above the law. In fact, an authentic rubber baron was expected to write his own ‘laws’. To comprehend his psyche and behavior is to explore the depth of the soul and culture of the social environment that engendered him. My intention in this essay is thus to explore a set of cultural traits that are recurrent in descriptions of this figure.

We owe one the most enduring descriptions of the rubber baron to Euclides da Cunha, who early recognized the perverse Janus-like duplicity in the rubber baron: “The savagery is a mask that he puts on and takes off at will”. His characterization of this ethical type is extraordinarily precise. Not content with an abstract description, Euclides looks back in history to find someone who could embody the contradictory attributes of the archetypical rubber baron he scrutinizes in his essay “The caucheros”. And that person had to be Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, the Peruvian rubber baron who exploited rubber along the Madre de Dios River around 1892 (Figure 4).

Euclides's portrait of this rubber baron serves to confirm patterns of refinement, cynicism, duplicity, and brutality, all combined in Fitzcarrald. According to the Brazilian writer, in a brief encounter between Fitzcarrald and some members of the Mashco tribe, who the Peruvian rubber baron was attempting to capture, he made their chieftain see

the advantages of the alliance he was being offered, in contrast to the perils that would attend a disastrous battle. The Mashco's only response was to ask about the arrows Fitzcarrald brought with him. And Fitzcarrald, smiling, handed him a Winchester cartridge. The savage looked it over for a long while, absorbed with the smallness of the projectile. He tried in vain to wound himself, pushing the bullet hard against his chest. Not achieving what he desired, he took up one of his own arrows and plunged it dramatically into his other arm.

Type
Chapter
Information
Intimate Frontiers
A Literary Geography of the Amazon
, pp. 113 - 127
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×