Biography of Raymond Maufrais Part 1

About the French journalist Raymond Maufrais, biography and history of the non-survivor.

THE COURAGEOUS NONSURVIVORS

RAYMOND MAUFRAIS

Raymond Maufrais was a French journalist and adventurer. He had been a paratrooper in Indochina and he received France's Croix de Guerre for valor while fighting with French guerrilla forces during the Nazi occupation of France.

On July 17, 1949, when he was 23, Maufrais left Paris for French Guiana, where he planned an expedition to penetrate the hitherto unexplored Tumuc-Humac Mountains, a low range on the border of French Guiana and Brazil.

One morning almost exactly a year later, Maufrais's father, Edgar, reporting as usual to his job at the Toulon Marine Arsenal, met a fellow employee who showed him a newspaper and asked, "Is this your son the paper is writing about?" From large front-page headlines, the elder Maufrais learned that Raymond had disappeared and was thought to be the victim of Indians of the Oyapock River area. His belongings, including a stained and greasy diary, had been found abandoned on a riverbank in the interior of French Guiana. Though an Indian had stumbled upon his empty campsite in February, 1950, news of his find was just reaching the outside world.

French Guiana was--and still is today--an undeveloped and largely uninhabited department of France. The rivers are the country's only source of communication. The area is literally soaked by rivers filled with rapids, by dark rain forests, and by a mildewing humidity that is almost always about 90%.

The forests are laced with long, tough vines called lianas that entwine the already impassable jungle growth. The marshes and bush teem with life: birds, fish, turtles, lizards, iguanas, alligators, snakes, mosquitoes, sand flies, grasshoppers, termites, ants, spiders, and bees in nuisance quantities. All but the insects provide food for hungry native hunters as well as explorers.

In the 1940s it was believed that several uncivilized Indian tribes still roamed the Tumuc-Humacs, which rise to a height of about 2,500 ft. above the jungle floor. Raymond Maufrais hoped to make contact with these mountain tribes and then continue on to the Amazon River in Brazil, thus opening communications between the Indians and the civilized peoples around them. To reach the Tumuc-Humacs, Maufrais could have navigated rivers along either the eastern or the western border of the country. Instead he chose an indirect route of rocks, falls, and shallow streams.

As he explained in his journal, "I chose to do it, after all--to have this preliminary test before meeting the Indians. . . .It would have been too easy to reach the Tumuc-Humacs either from the sources of the Itany or from those of the Oyapock. I'd made up my mind long ago to take this route, and I'll take it, no matter what the cost, because one must always push on and never yield to discouragement.

"When you really want something, you can always get it. Nothing should stop you. Nothing is impossible. . . ."

Maufrais could have added that he had little choice, for he had no money and very few supplies. He had to rely on the help and generosity of miners going in to work the country's few, poor gold mines, of French gendarmes making their rounds, and of native hunting parties searching for fish and game.

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