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Missionary Hattie Kneeland arriving after first contact with the Matses

Like the previous image of Harriet Fields, this historic photograph of Hattie Kneeland was taken at Yarinacocha, Peru in 1966 by photographer Chuck Clark.  Hattie Kneeland was an ordinary American girl from Missouri who had no previous anthropological or linguistic training before becoming a missionary with SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics).  Kneeland teamed up with Harriet Fields to work on the SIL project to make contact with the then uncontacted tribe, the Matsés Indians of the Yaquerana and Yavari Rivers on the border of Peru with Brazil.  They needed to learn Matsés in order to make contact, but since no one spoke Matsés (other than the uncontacted Matsés themselves), they were in a seemingly impossible position.  Finally, they found out that a Peruvian woman (Sophia) escaped from the Matsés and was in Iquitos, Peru.  Kneeland and Fields worked with Sophia to learn the language of the Matsés.  They also had another language informant, "Mayoruna Joe," a Matsés man who mysteriously left the Matsés and wound up near Iquitos seeking medical aid.  Kneeland and Fields thought that Mayoruna Joe could lead them to the Matses. However Mayoruna Joe was not as cooperative as Sophia, and eventually abandoned Kneeland and Fields, returning to the Matsés tribe leaving the missionaries behind. Curiously, it seems that Mayoruna Joe may not even have been Mayoruna (another name for the Matsés tribe) at all, but rather from a neighboring tribe and had been kidnapped by the Matsés as a child.  Finally, after years of trying to learn the Matsés language and make contact with the Matsés people, Kneeland and Fields succeeded.  During an aerial reconnaissance, they finally located a large Matsés "maloka" (long house, where traditionally more than 100 people lived) on the banks of the Chobayacu Creek.  They landed their plane nearby and were soon accepted by the Matsés people and invited to live with them.  The Matsés were in awe of Hattie Kneeland because she was so big.  Typically, indigenous Amazonians are small people of slight build, rarely being overweight.  Kneeland and the Matsés got along famously and Kneeland, similar to Fields, devoted a large portion of her life for the benefit of the Matsés people.      


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Photograph © Copyright Chuck Clark, all rights reserved. Missionary Hattie Kneeland