In the 1970s, the German explorer and foreign correspondent Karl Brugger was in the vast, uncharted region of the Amazon rainforest on a mission to Barcelos, Amazonas on the Rio Negro, in Brazil. He had come here to look into the story of a mysterious individual who had just one day wandered out of the wilds with a bizarre tale to tell. The story went that in the 1960s, a man calling himself Tatunca Nara had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the forbidding, isolated Amazon region of the Brazilian state of Acre, carrying nothing by a bow, a loincloth, and an outlandish story of a lost tribe, aliens, and an ancient lost underground city beneath the rainforest.
Tatunca Nara, which supposedly means “big water snake,” would claim to be a chief of a previously unknown tribe called the Ugha Mongulala, who lived in a vast and sprawling underground city of wonders called Akakor, located somewhere under the jungles between Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. He had become quite well known in the village for telling these weird stories, and also for his unusual appearance, looking nothing like a Indian, being white and speaking broken Portuguese with a decidedly German accent. People had mostly just considered him some crazy person who had been out living off the wild too long until Brugger came through to investigate it all with Germany's ARD television network. And so it came to pass that the German reporter would find himself sitting in a hut with none other than Tatunca Nara himself, who was more than happy to relate his bizarre odyssey.
Tatunca, possibly sensing Brugger’s apprehension at finally meeting him to see he was a white guy who spoke perfect German, wasted no time in explaining his unorthodox appearance and language abilities, saying that the city he had come from was populated with numerous German missionaries and Nazi Germans who had gone into hiding in the jungles, and that he had himself been born from a union between a German woman and a tribesman. He said that his tribe, the Ugha Mogulala people, had once thrived in the region, and were indeed chosen by the “gods,” who built their magnificent subterranean city of Akakor and gifted them with magical stones that granted them various mystical powers, such as the ability of seeing faraway places, divining the future, and others. Tatunca would say of these ancient benefactors:
And the Gods ruled from Akakor. They ruled over men and the earth. They had ships faster than birds' flight, ships that reached their goal without sails or oars and by night as well as by day. They had magic stones to look into the distance so that they could see cities, rivers, hills, and lakes. Whatever happened on earth or in the sky was reflected in the stones. But the underground dwellings were the most wonderful of all. And the gods gave them to their Chosen Servants as their last gift. For the Former Masters are of the same blood and have the same father.
The city itself was supposedly a grand, breathtaking spectacle to behold, surrounded by a high stone wall, 13 gates, and numerous soaring stone watchtowers. Past this were ornate temples carved from solid stone, sweeping towers, pyramids, opulent quarters, life-sized statues, libraries full of vast texts outlining secret knowledge and the history of the world and the universe, and lots and lots of things made of gold, all of it illuminated by shafts of light strategically placed, which brought sunlight down to the gloom from the surface through the use of enormous silver mirrors. This Akakor was according to him the last of 26 similar cities that once existed across the region, all of which had been destroyed “in the first great catastrophe 13 years before the departure of the Gods.” Tatunca often called these “gods” the “Former Masters,” claiming they were from another solar system, and he credited them and their vast technology with forging these cities. He was also able to explain the precise layout of the city to Brugger in meticulous detail, right down to the layout of the streets and all of the buildings. He also claimed that the tombs of some of these Former Masters still existed within the city, and that these tombs held their mummified remains.
Indeed, Tatunca described the culture of the people and their customs in extraordinary detail as well, and by the time the mysterious man was finished with his tale, the spellbound Brugger was convinced that he was telling the truth. He would take his notes and 12 audio tapes he had made of the conversation and used them to write a book on the mystical city of Akakor, titled The Chronicle of Akakor, which was published in 1976 to a good amount of fanfare, launching the story of this mysterious underground lost city into the public consciousness and also arousing the curiosity of other explorers. It was all very fascinating, this idea of a great subterranean city beneath the Amazon jungle, forged by mysterious aliens millennia ago, but the problem was that there was absolutely no record among other civilizations or tribes that made any mention whatsoever of Akakor or its enigmatic people, and so the sole source of the story was Tatunca Nara himself. Nevertheless, this did not stop many intrepid explorers from making their way to that forbidding land to find out if it was true of not.
The most famous of these was probably a series of expeditions carried out in 1977 and 1978 by former Swissair pilot Ferdinand Schmid, along with Brazilian archaeologist Roldao Pires Brandao, who penetrated into the jungles with Tatunca himself as their guide. They didn’t find any evidence of the city or the tunnels supposedly leading to them, and neither did a follow-up expedition organized by the Brazilian government. Undeterred, Schmid would return yet again in 1979 and claim to have found the city, although he would later claim that he had lost his camera and film. How convenient. Tatunca would continue to serve as a guide for other expeditions into the region, even guiding the legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in 1983, but at some point things began to get rather sinister when several of these explorers started to vanish without a trace.
In 1980, an American named John Reed made the trek out into the wilderness with Tatunca and never came back. In 1983, the guide headed out with Swiss explorer Herbert Wanner, who also did not make it back, and whose skull would be found out in the jungle by a group of tourists in 1984. Eerily, Brugger died this same year when he was gunned down in Rio de Janeiro after making the trip to the region in order to launch a renewed effort to find the city. Coincidence or not? In 1987, Swedish yoga instructor Christine Hauser was the next to vanish into the jungle on Tatunca’s watch, and he was steadily gathering interest from police, yet Tatunca would deny having anything to do with these disappearances and deaths. With no evidence to firmly link him to any crime, Tatunca was not ever officially prosecuted, and remained free to continue his jungle tours.
Whether Tatunca Nara was really responsible for these vanishings or not, his story would begin to unravel in 1990, when German adventurer Rüdiger Nehberg and film director Wolfgang Brög made their way to the region to meet up with the enigmatic guide for the purpose of making a documentary called The Mystery of Tatunca Nara. The crew found that the man calling himself “Tatunca Nara” was actually a German ex-pat by the name of Günther Hauck, who had fled to Brazil in 1967 in order to escape unpaid alimony that he owed. Hauck’s ex-wife was contacted and confirmed that Tatunca was him, and the whole story seemed to have been exposed as an outright fraud. It turns out that he had created the tale of Akakor in order to swindle tourists and adventure seekers, who he would take out on expeditions that would conveniently always have to turn back for some reason or other, or in some cases leading to unforeseen deaths, after which Hauck could keep the mystery alive and keep reeling them in. Amazingly, even when confronted with this, Tatunca claimed that he was not Hauck, denied the allegations against him, and insisted that his story was completely true.
Despite the fact that Tatunca Nara was exposed as a fraud has not done much to blunt the appeal of the idea of his underground city, and it has gone on to serve as the inspiration for several books and was the basis of the underground city of “Akator” in the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It is all quite the weird and complicated odyssey, and shows just what the allure of these far away wild places can have upon the imagination. It is interesting that right up to the present Tatunca has maintained that it is all real and there are plenty of people who think there is something to it all. Whatever the case may be, the Amazon has always and probably will always have tales of lost cities and civilizations orbiting it, and they will likely continue to capture the imagination for some time to come.