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The legend of Akakor

In the fourth Indiana Jones movie, our archaeologist-adventurer goes in search of a lost “kingdom of the crystal skull”. It appears that this is none other than the legendary Akakor (referred to as Akator in the movie), which became famous in the 1970s. But is the legend too good to be true?

Philip Coppens


Karl Brugger

In 1973, Erich von Däniken, at the height of his fame, claimed in his book “The Gold of the Gods” that he had found a gigantic subterranean tunnel system in Southern America. It was a major claim – and one that seriously would tarnish his profile, for his source would soon deny he had said no such thing. For many, the incident proved that von Däniken was a fabricator of lies.
The story that brought von Däniken to South America partly began in the Brazilian town of Manaus. There, on March 3, 1972, a German journalist Karl Brugger met a local Amazonian Indian, Tatunca Nara, in the backstreet tavern Gracas a Deus. The meeting would result in Brugger’s book “The Chronicle of Akakor”, published in 1976, which saw a number of foreign editions and created the legend of Akakor, a mythical town somewhere deep within the Amazonian jungle, still left to be discovered.

The title of the book was supposedly the same title as the chronicle that the Amazonian Ugha Mogulala tribe (which also makes an appearance in the Indiana Jones movie) held sacred – or at least central – to their mythology and philosophy. Indeed, Tatunca Nara claimed to be a member of this unknown Amazonian tribe, the son of a native and the daughter of a German missionary – which was supposed to account for his impeccable German.
The mere notion that an Amazonian tribe had a written chronicle itself was remarkable, as the Amazon population is largely believed not to have a written language. A second bombshell was that Tatunca claimed that the Year Zero of the Chronicle was 10,481 BC – very much outside accepted archaeological dates for human occupation of the Amazon, but perfectly fitting in the “Atlantis and Deluge” theory that many alternative researchers favoured as the anti-thesis to the science-wrought framework and which was, at the time, already made popular due to Edgar Cayce. The third bombshell was that the Gods came from a solar system known as “Schwerta”, and built an underground tunnel system in South America. Each element on its own and all together even more so made for a stunning “revelation” – or lie. But it is clear that von Däniken could do only one thing: come to South America and see what was what.

Tatunca Nara had made a series of tall claims and they definitely require the calibre of an Indiana Jones to test them to reality. The best evidence in favour of them would be to discover any of the several cities in the Amazon jungle, including any of the thirteen underground cities, which this civilisation had allegedly left behind. Their most important ancient towns were said to be known as Akakor, Akanis and Akahim, as well as Cuczo and Macchu Picchu. The first, Akanis, was built “on a narrow isthmus in the country that is called Mexico”, at a place where the two oceans meet (Panama?). The second was Akakor (apparently derived from Aka, i.e. fort, and kor, i.e., two – Fort Two) and lay far up the Purus River, in a high valley in the mountains of the border between Brazil and Peru: “The whole city is surrounded by a high stone wall with thirteen gates. They are so narrow that they give access only to one person a time.” Tatunca added that the city had a Great Temple of the Sun, that it contained documents, such as maps and drawings telling the history of the Earth. “One of the maps shows that our moon is not the first and not the only one in the history of the earth. The moon that we know began to approach the earth and to circle around it thousands of years ago.”
The third fortress was Akahim, which was apparently not mentioned in the chronicle before the year 7315 BC, was linked with Akakor, and was situated on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela. Finally, Cuczo and Macchu Picchu were known to be genuine towns, but the latter’s history definitely did not stretch anywhere as far back as even 1000 BC and seemed void of any ancient astronauts that Tatunca attached to them.

Tatunca Nara concluded that 26 stone cities were built around Akakor, including Humbaya and Paititi in Bolivia, Emin, Cadira in Venezuela, etc. As stone is rare in these locations, it merely underlined that, if genuine, these were indeed extraordinary finds. Alas, Tatunca added, “all these were completely destroyed in the first Great Catastrophe thirteen years after the departure of the Gods.” It meant that there was very little left to check on the ground. It also meant that Tatunca’s claims seemed to be unverifiable.
Was Tatunca telling the truth or was he a con artist? It was a very tall tale he told, and with the stakes being very high, Brugger decided to investigate and see where the rabbit – or Tatunca – would take him. The two decided to go on an expedition in search of Akahim, setting off on September 25, 1972, on a trip that would last six weeks. Akahim, however, was not discovered.

That was Act One. In 1976, The Chronicle of Akakor was published and the controversy was reignited. Part of the core message of the chronicle was the statement that there was a network of tunnels, some of it still in existence today and used by the Indians. On his part, during the summer of 1977, von Däniken travelled for a third time to Manaus, to meet with Tatunca Nara, in the hope that via Tatunca, he could produce evidence and vindicate himself.
Apart from von Däniken and Brugger, a third European entered the scene: a former Swissair pilot Ferdinand Schmid, who was living in Brazil, and who contacted Tatunca Nara in 1975. In 1977 and 1978, the pair made several attempts to penetrate into the jungle, in search of Akahim. The 1978 expedition was joined by an archaeologist, Roldao Pires Brandao, added to the team by the Brazilian government. He was also the reason why the mission had to be abandoned: Brandao apparently shot himself in the arm, for unknown reasons. But once recovered, he got the Brazilian authorities sufficiently interested to set up an expedition of their own and he eventually set off with six men.
In its August 1, 1979 edition, Veja, a Brazilian magazine, reported the discovery of Akahim, including a number of photographs. That same year, Tatunca and Schmid claimed to have found Akahim too – sort of. Early on, Tatunca had stated that Akahim had three large pyramids and they claimed to have found these. Still, though seen, they had not visited the site itself and Schmid lost – or claimed to have lost – his camera and film.

Maps drawn in the 1970s, supposedly showing the two parts of Akakor, on the left above ground, on the right, below ground.

Then began Act Two for real. It was the timeframe when the story of Juan Moricz, the man who had taken von Däniken to see subterranean tunnels in Ecuador, and Tatunca merged: Tatunca stated that he knew Moricz, when he was staying in Venezuela in 1967. So two separate stories of underground tunnels were now possibly linked. When Stan Hall – who knew Moricz well – was asked to comment, he noted that Moricz did spend time in Venezuela, a fact that is not often reported or known. As Moricz was also quite a high-profile visitor to the country (he befriended the president), that Tatunca met Moricz is therefore not an impossibility. But whether it is significant, is an entirely different matter.
The legend of Akakor unexpectedly received an entirely new dimension when Karl Brugger was murdered leaving a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro on January 1, 1984. Though a life does not cost much in Brazil and armed robbery is even more violent there than in the rest of Southern America, some have queried whether his murder had anything to do with his book and/or knowledge of Akakor. So far, no-one has been able to show a link. At the time, Tatunca Nara was apparently questioned, but was able to provide an alibi for his whereabouts.

Then came Act Three – which is an act that few people have seen or known about. Since the 1970s, the Amazon has become much more open to the world and parts where Brugger had great difficulty in getting to, are now less so. Akakor, however, remains undiscovered. At the same time, the question needs to be posed whether Tatunca merely drove Brugger into the jungle, knowing that they would at some point hit an obstacle, which would necessitate their return home…
After Brugger, Tatunca Nara took several others into the jungle, apparently all enthralled by the legend of Akakor, and trying to be the discoverer – or at least co-discoverer – of this mythical city.
In 1980, Tatunca left with the American John Reed on such an expedition, but only Tatunca Nara returned; what happened to John Reed is unknown, but it is assumed he died in the rain forest. In 1983, Tatunca left with the Swiss explorer Herbert Wanner, and he didn’t return either. A few years later, a group of tourists came across a human skull, which was later identified as Wanner’s. In 1987, the Swedish Christine Heuser also left with Nara on an expedition, and disappeared as well. Tatunca Nara later denied he travelled with any of these into the jungle, but the site where Wanner’s skull was found, left no doubt whatsoever that he had left on an expedition – Nara being the only logical guide that accompanied him.
Rumours of Tatunca’s own death circulated on a number of occasions, but it is known that he is still alive and lives in Barcelos, along the Rio Negro. In 2003, he had himself declared as mentally instable, but he nevertheless continues to offer his services as a tour guide for any willing parties.

"Tatunca"

What is less known – the Final Act – is that – alas – the story of Akakor turned out to be a fraud. The story was unravelled when Tatunca Nara was exposed as being in truth one Günther Hauck, a German ex-pat. The discovery was made by the German adventurer Rüdiger Nehberg and film director Wolfgang Brög. Brög tricked Tatunca to take him onto an expedition, during which his story began to unravel. It then became clear that Tatunca had left Germany in 1967, which explained why he spoke perfect German, yet broken Portuguese. Apparently, he left Germany as he was trying to escape imprisonment due to unpaid alimony after a divorce in 1966. Since, his ex-wife has confirmed that Hauck is indeed the “Tatunca Nara” on Brugger’s photos and there are also pre-1968 German court proceedings that mention Hauck preferred to go by a nickname Tatunge Nare.

That, alas, is the unfortunate story of the legend of Akakor, which killed at least three people and which was, in origin, the story of a man who was able to con the world. It is a story of our human nature and our desire for adventure and a larger than life reality. It is, however, mostly a story of how we can be blinded by appeal, despite all the evidence or logic against.
No-one doubts that there are still undiscovered settlements and tribes in the Amazon and since the 1970s, when this story started, several have been discovered. But tunnels or stone cities in the heartland of the Amazon are unlikely for anyone who has been in the rainforest. To find a written chronicle here is unlikely, but not impossible. But an Amazonian chronicle that would “prove” dates of 10,481 BC – a very Western, Cayce-ite date – should ring clear alarm bells in the minds of most, if not all. Finally, for the men who knew and met Tatunca Nara, the fact that he spoke better German than Portuguese, and the local knowledge that Tatunca was the only gringo who tried to get himself passed off as an Indian, should have made all of them extremely wary. But the appeal of his story was such that it sent men on a quest for Akakor, which very much became to them their private Grail Quest. Alas, for some, the fact that they did not ask the proper question about Tatunca before setting off, didn’t result in them waking up in an empty castle in the morning, but that they never woke up ever again…