Matchmaking: Wanted: Young Man Single and Free

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1994

Matchmaking: Wanted: Young Man Single and Free
By Joseph Hooper

It sounded like a bad idea for a Keanu Reeves vehicle called Forest Guy. According to an Associated Press story that ran in papers around the United States, the Juma Indians, a tribe in the remote rainforest of western Brazil, had lost their last eligible male to a panther attack. Now the seven survivors were actively searching for a "young white" to raise a family with the eldest of only three marriageable Juma women.

As it turns out, the tale was a myth wrapped around some unfortunate truth. The AP story rehashed an article that had appeared in Rio's Jornal do Brasil, which itself garbled an account by Adolpho Kesselring, a Brazilian government Indian expert who visited the Juma last summer. Jornal reported that the Juma--whose ranks, Brazilian officials say, have been thinned over the years by massacres at the hands of loggers--were looking for a curumim to marry into the tribe. In Tupi, the Juma language, that means "young boy," but Jornal took it to mean "outside the tribe" and, by odd extrapolation, "white."

In the real world, all is not lost: The Brazilian government is helping the Juma broker a marriage with a young man from a tribe in the same language group. As for the false story, Allen Johnson, an anthropology professor at UCLA, says it may survive as urban folklore because it addresses real emotional needs. "In the West," he says, "there's a deep fantasy that true sexual fulfillment is waiting for us in the forest's wilds."

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