Through the 1960’s Cornell Capa began working with a group of Christian Missionaries who were dedicated to living with and studying the language of indigenous communities, some without any written language, in order to make translations of the bible. The Missionary was founded by “Uncle Cam” or W. Cameron Townsend and the linguist project extended to two branches: Wycliffe Bible Translators and The Summer Institute of Linguistics. In 1963 and 1964 Capa traveled with these groups, mainly visiting tribes located in Peru, Mexico and other Latin American countries. Capa photographed the Missionaries and the locals and these photographs produced two very different books: Who Brought the Word published by the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics in order to promote their work, and William Huxley and Cornell Capa’s more traditional photobook, Farewell to Eden. Unlike Who Brought the Word, Farwell to Eden illustrates, documents and attempts to preserve the lifestyle and customs of the Amahuaca tribe, located on the border of Peru and Brazil and makes no mention of the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Capa’s “Missionary” or “Linguist” stories are deserving of multiple blog posts, he met with Peruvian students, corresponded with other missionaries and linguists and interviewed tribes people. However, I came across two fascinating snapshots to share with you. First, some background: occurring in parallel with his projects photographing the Missionary groups and the different tribes’ men and women, a proposal was sent by the Wycliffe Bible Translators to the 1964/1965 World’s Fair to host the Pavilion of 2000 Tribes in Flushing, Queens.
This pavilion contained photographs and billed events and tours hosted by missionaries and tribespeople. The proposal was accepted, and became one of the permanent pavilions installed on the fairgrounds. On July 28th 1965, the fair announced that it was to be Wycliffe Bible Translators Day, and a celebration was to include Tariri, Shapra Chief of Peru as the honored guest at The Pavilion of 2000 Tribes.
Tariri was a popular figure for the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and was featured in several tracts and bulletins. In the program for the World’s Fair event, The Missionaries describe Tariri as a “former headhunter” and declare that he is now a converted Christian.
In August of 1963, while photographing in Yarinacocha, Peru Cornell received a letter containing a number of loose 3 ¼” negatives, with the following description:
“..The other chief with Uncle Cam is Tariri of the Shapra (Candoshi) tribe. Tariri is also in the dental chair, but his perfect teeth got only an inspection. The dentist is Robert Wildrick. The other patient is an Aguaruna – Also with excellent teeth.”
Although Cornell was working closely with these missionary groups, he questioned and voiced some concern about the Worlds Fair Project in correspondence with the organizers. It seems that Capa’s involvement with the project did not go beyond updates and invitations to attend from other Missionaries and Uncle Cam, but some records show he may have photographed Tariri’s journeys across the United States.
In a report issued by the Wycliffe Bible Translators titled “ON CHIEF TARIRI’S TRIP TO THE USA AUGUST 1965” missionary Don Burns details Tariri’s trip in New York, and his travels to countries across the United States.
“…Often standing before large audiences he would be inspired to give a real sermon but would fail to pause to let the girls interpret. When they would have difficulty in rending his long sentences he would get a bit impatient. One evening, before a crowd of some 3,000 people he said. ‘Tonight I am going to talk in short, short sentences. My sister Monchanki is just a woman and it frightens her to be in front of so many people like this. Her hear is going pitter pat, pitter pat, and she’ll forget what I have said!’ When the crowd had finished a hearty laugh he added, “Well, I guess she is doing pretty well because you understood my words and laughed!” He then promptly launched into six paragraph phrases that kept Lorrie jumping.
Sometimes he would address the crowd and say, ‘Are there any headhunters or killers in this crowd? Hold up your hand!’ When no one would respond he added, ‘Well, a headhunter has just come among you and your had better listen carefully what he has to say!'”