Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon
Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon
Brazilian Explorer, Military Colonel, and Engineer
Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon was one of the foremost explorers of South America. A colonel and engineer in the Brazilian army, he mapped much of Brazil's unexplored interior. Among his most well-known expeditions was one he shared with former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1914. The men took a perilous trip down the River of Doubt, mapping the course of this previously unknown waterway, and providing information about the insects and other animals of the river basin.
Rondon was born on May 5, 1865, in Cuiabá, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. In his youth, he lost both parents and went to live with an uncle. After high school, Rondon spent two years as a primary school teacher before joining the Brazilian army in 1881. He went on to the military academy in 1883, and a year after he graduated with honors in 1888, he was involved in the overthrow of the Emperor of Brazil. He also attended post-graduate school, and followed it by taking a position as substitute professor of mathematics in Rio de Janeiro's Praia Vermelha Military School. He cut short that appointment when in 1890 he joined the effort to wire Brazil's interior for telegraph communications. In this new position, he held the title of army engineer.
His post with the Telegraph Commission continued until 1895 when the telegraph wire finally spanned Mato Grasso. For the next 11 years, Rondon helped to build the only road from Rio de Janeiro to Cuiabá, an expanse that was previously traversed only via river, and to install telegraph lines through what was mostly uncharted lands throughout Brazil. Often, Rondon ran across native people who had never met a "civilized" human. Repeatedly he found himself in the position of liaison between Brazilian authorities and the native populations, and he worked hard to instill peace and cooperation into the delicate proceedings. These interactions gave him an extensive understanding of and compassion for the indigenous peoples. The understanding he gained was critical to his success during later explorations into Brazil's interior. Through the years, he became an activist in preserving the many cultures of the region. For example, he helped to encourage the Brazilian government to form the National Service for the Protection of the Indians, which was designed to help the native populations retain their cultures and avoid exploitation from outside influences, particularly businesspeople who would profit financially at the expense of the native people.
While learning about the indigenous bands of people, Rondon's work also allowed him to acquire considerable knowledge about the animals and plants of the region, and he spent many hours collecting specimens for the National Museum.
Rondon continued his explorations of Brazil's interior, and in 1909 discovered a large river he named the River of Doubt. In 1914 Roosevelt joined him to investigate the waterway. The expedition, which lasted more than three months, yielded the first map of the river, along with numerous animal specimens. Roosevelt chronicled the expedition in his book Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914). This arduous journey left many men, including Roosevelt and his son, in poor health due to injuries and disease suffered during the trip. Before they completed their journey, Rondon renamed the river Roosevelt in the former president's honor. Roosevelt died less than five years after the journey, apparently from the lingering effects of his ordeal on the expedition.
Rondon went on to do further exploration of Mato Grasso until 1919 when he became chief of the army's engineering corps and head of the Telegraph Commission. In 1927, he went back to his exploratory work, and in later years began writing, helped mediate political disputes over land boundaries, continued to work on behalf of the indigenous people of Brazil, and established a national park on the Xingu River. Rondon was 93 when he died in Rio de Janeiro in 1958.
LESLIE A. MERTZ