Trader of the Amazon

Julian Lesser
Production Date: 
Air date October 14, 1957
Julian Lesser
Herman Jesson; Host, John Stephenson
Run Time: 
(Bold Journey Season 2, Episode 7) on ABC

Establishing shot:
John Stephenson looking directly into the camera and explaining the events in the episode to come.


Named locations: Maroni River (0:29 and throughout); Saint-Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana (2:22); Tumucumaque (Tumuc Humac) Mountains (3:27 and throughout);  Assisi, French Guiana (5:55); Maripasoula, French Guiana (8:14); “Aloique” (13:13); Yanamale? (14:50).
Major themes covered:
trader interacts with Indians he meets along the border between French Guiana and Surinam—as seen on the TV series, Bold Journey.  An Amazon trader, Herman Jesson, travels up the Maroni River in the Amazon of French Guiana and encounters various indigenous tribes, with whom he attempts to trade things like beets and fish hooks for baskets and crafts.

Individuals Named:  Herman Jesson, John Stephenson, “Tutu”, Chief Comontifu?, “Lipo Lipo”


Native language spoken: none

Native activities shown: 

Unidentified indigenous peoples’ activities depicted in the film: young boy with necklace playing with chewing gum (3:50); man identified as Wayana chief appearing dressed in French Naval officer’s uniform with woman identified as his wife dressed in shawl and skirt (5:04); young man crouched beneath palm fronds carving a wooden oar (5:13); young woman winnowing rice with her hands (5:19); woman combing out hair of another woman, identified as a “lady chief of the village,” while man carrying child stands in background and watches (5:25); baby having hair braided by man wearing white tank top (5:31); woman bringing tray of what appears to be fruit to shores where canoes are docked to trade for “empty oil can” (5:43);  group performing dance ritual identified as having African origins, involving instrumental anklets and throwing arms out toward the ground (6:54 – 7:42); infant with two white boys, ostensibly children of doctor in Maripasoula (8:31);

Unidentified indigenous peoples’ activities implied or alluded to in the film: considering blue and red beets an important trading commodity (2:00); using canoes to travel down the Maroni (2:35); trading mirrors, fish hooks, flashlights, beets, tobacco, salt, and sugar with Herman Jesson (2:45); bringing gifts, rice, eggs to Herman Jesson when he arrived in the villages (6:26); not knowing hate, envy, or jealousy (6:43); being transported to French Guiana from Africa, sold into slavery, and then making other indigenous peoples of region into their slaves (7:25); giving up a child for adoption to a doctor in exchange for medical service (8:40);


Wayana activities depicted in the film: two women rowing a canoe in open water toward the camera (9:31); group of Wayana men and women on shore looking at approaching part of Herman Jesson (9:53); (presumably) children swimming near canoes (9:57); young man crouched weaving straw in patterns (10:11); young boy holding a live toucan in his hands (10:16); young child with long hair and headdress holding branch on which is perched a small bird (10:23); group of people ostensibly trading with Herman Jesson’s crew, sitting around barrels and bags of trade goods (10:38, 10:57); woman ostensibly trading with Tutu, of Herman Jesson’s crew, examining something (10:49); same woman crouched down holding what appears to be a plate, eating something (10:58); medium close-up of young man wearing necklace identified as “Lipo-Lipo,” one of Herman Jesson’s guides, rowing in the water (11:04); people of “Aloique” village watching from riverbank as Herman Jesson’s party

approaches (13:00); flying French flag in Aloique (13:13); woman chopping wood (13:21); brewing masato (chicha) (13:28 – 13:44); group of people sitting around Herman Jesson, appearing to be listening to him talk, watching him drink masato out of a bowl (13:44); line of people in elaborate straw costumes marching out of hut toward camera, led by naked woman carrying bouquet of flowers (13:55); proceeding to dance in a circle (14:03); group of people in full, elaborate feather and straw costumes dancing back and forth (14:10); young boy facing away from camera, watching dancers, attempting to imitate (14:27); woman carrying child on her back, offering a bowl (presumably of masato) to a dancer (14:32); dancer drinking masato, facing camera (14:36); woman carrying child taking large pan, presumably containing bread, off of thatched roof (14:40); group of children with Herman Jesson gathered around pan of bread, examining (14:45); children getting water from stream (14:54); woman giving Herman Jesson a woven carrying tray, ostensibly in exchange for beets (14:58); “Lipo-Lipo” hunting and killing an iguana, holding it up (17:28); old woman walking out on river rocks to greet Herman Jesson’s party (18:09); same woman dangling string in river (18:24); young girl sitting in water, smiling at camera (18:32); eating with Herman Jesson (18:40); “Lipo-Lipo” holding up Adventurer’s Club sign with Herman Jesson (20:17);


Wayana activities implied or alluded to in the film: trading anything for beets, using beets as markers of distinction (10:14); being dissatisfied with Herman Jesson’s trades (10:50); being the only people familiar with the river in that region (11:07); accepting beets as payment (12:01); diluting masticated corn to make masato drink (13:30); drinking masato during dance rituals/festivals (13:41); believing that gods live in Tumucumaque Mountains (15:40); trading fish for fish hooks with Herman Jesson (18:38).

Print resources:


Chapuis, Jean, and Hervé Rivière. Wayana Eitoponpë: (une) Histoire (orale) Des

          Indiens Wayana. Petit-Bourg: Ibis rouge, 2003.

French- and Wayana-language book includes Wayana oral histories.


Darbois, Dominique. Yanamale: Village of the Amazon. London: Collins, 1956.

          This anthropological study, roughly contemporaneous with Herman Jesson’s film, builds on the Tumuc-Humac expedition’s findings, and presents life in a Wayana village called Yanamale.  Whether the village is the one seen in Herman Jesson’s film, whose chief is identified as Yanamale, is debatable.  In any case, this volume can provide a historical background for Jesson’s film.


Fréry, N, R Maury-Brachet, E Maillot, M Deheeger, Mérona B. de, and Alain Boudou.

          "Gold-mining Activities and Mercury Contamination of Native Amerindian


Communities in French Guiana: Key Role of Fish in Dietary Uptake."

          Environmental Health Perspectives. 109.5 (2001): 449-456.

Article explores the effects of gold-mining and mercury contamination in the waters and aquatic life of French Guiana.  Presents data on mercury contamination in diets of indigenous peoples and effects thereof.


Hough, Karen. The Expression & Perception of Space in Wayana.  Leiden, The

          Netherlands : Sidestone Press, 2008.

Recent study affords insights into Wayana perceptions of space as evidence by linguistic structures. 


Lapointe, Jean. Residence Patterns and Wayaná Social Organization. Columbia: New

          York, 1970.

Columbia University dissertation discusses organization of Wayana society, family, etc.


Mazière, Francis. Expedition Tumuc-Humac. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1955.

          Details 1951-52 expedition led by Francis Maziere into Tumuc Humac mountains in search of Wayana legends.


Whitehead, Neil L, and Stephanie W. Alemán. Anthropologies of Guayana: Cultural

          Spaces in Northeastern Amazonia. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.

Recent publication focuses on effects of gold and diamond mining in Guiana on indigenous peoples and ecosystems.  Features histories of a variety of indigenous tribes living in Guiana.  From the book jacket:  “The essays extend the anthropological agenda beyond the conventional focus on the ‘indigenous’ even as contributors describe how Guayanese languages, mythologies, and social structures have remained resilient in the face of intense outside pressures.”


Online resources:

Povos Indigenas no Brasil page on Wayana:

Interactive page includes information on social and political organization, cosmology, history of inter-ethnic interactions, and history of association with missionaries.  Also provides extensive bibliography, although most of the works cited are Brazilian.


PDF from University of Missouri’s Database for Indigenous Cultural Evolution

Extensive and academic outline discusses kinship, endogamy and exogamy, mating and marriage data, economy, crafts, river ecology, political and social organization, and religious rituals.


YouTube video of traditional Wayana dance:

Variety of dances featured, including some similar to the ones depicted in the film.


Fédération des Organisations Autochtones de Guyane Site:

French-language site is ostensibly the official political organization of the indigenous peoples of French Guiana.  Defends rights of indigenous peoples in French Guiana.


Ethnologue site on Wayana:

 Includes statistical information on Wayana peoples, including language usage and regional population.


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh blog post on masato:

Includes pictures and instructions on how to make masato.


Language Archives database of Wayana stories, songs, and oral histories:

Provides a wealth of resources on Wayana language, songs, and legends.


--Adam Iddings, 2013