I picked this book up for free at a bookstore last summer not realizing that it was a popular book among homeschoolers.
How would you like to live the opening years of your life in a South American village where only two people outside your family speak English and practically all there is to eat is green squash? Well, that’s how Ron Snell grew up. When his parents decided to evangelize to the Machichuenga Indians, they picked up and moved the whole family to a hut on the Uramba River. There, he and his brother Terry (and later, sister Sandy) lived a rip-roaring childhood while their parents learned the Machichuengan language and worked toward educating the tribe in the Scriptures.
Whether they’re riding logs down the mighty Uramba River, tromping off on wild hunts, or taunting piranhas, the Snells are always on an adventure. And now you can experience it, too!
None of the quotes in this section contain cautions – I am only including them to demonstate the hilarious tone with which Mr. Snell writes.
Most of the welcoming party wore long coarse reddish brown “cushmas,” robes made of homespun cotton. A couple had smudgy red paint on their faces. The men had what looked like headbands holding down neatly trimmed bangs that hung right down past their eyebrows, pretty much hiding their eyes in dark shadows. As it turned out the bangs were shiny black feathers that perfectly matched the Indians’ hair.
Beyond the brave men and boys who risked their lives to meet us, more cautious men, women and children hid in the bushes and trees high on the bank, waiting to see what sort of aliens would climb out of the bright yellow UFO. To be on the safe side, they were ready to run for their lives.
Expectations of a fabulous show ran high, and no one was disappointed. When Mom handed Terry and me out the door of the plane, covert giggles and murmurs of wonder rippled through the bushes.
We and our considerable baggage were dumped on the rocky beach in front of our new home. Once unloaded, it took a lot of help to get us up the 100 foot bank that first time. Dad, scrambling for a footing in the loose shale, carried me. Victor, the head man of the small group of Machiguengas living there, awkwardly carried Terry. Victor clearly would have been more comfortable running up the steep, slippery bank with a 15 gallon barrel of kerosene on his shoulder. Little boys were for women to carry.
Watching Mom climb the bank, everyone wondered just what was wrong with her. She couldn’t see obvious footholds, couldn’t make any progress even though she kept flopping around grabbing at things. It was pretty clear that if she didn’t get some help, she’d spend the rest of her life on the rocky beach. Unfortunately it was totally inappropriate for a Machiguenga man to help her and the women were still hidden high in the bushes.
The puzzled Machiguengas couldn’t figure out why we were there. Nor could they understand how we would survive if we couldn’t even get up the bank by ourselves or say anything intelligible. Oh well, for now it didn’t really matter. This was going to be a great show! [pgs. 49-51]
: ) I’ll bet it was a great show!
My parents, of course, had their own fears. Dad was never inclined to stay in one place for very long, so he made trips here and there during our stay in Timpia. When he left, Mom put our folding table across the doorless doorway to the bedroom and stood a shotgun by her mosquito net. Fortunately she was never threatened by wild animals or intruders. Given her total lack of experience with guns of any kind, she would undoubtedly have demolished all of our equipment, herself and both of her kids before she ever hit what was coming through the doorway. [pg. 68]
One chapter in It’s a Jungle Out There! is dedicated entirely to the tragedies that the Snells experienced with their pets. This was written upon the death of their monkey.
With a quiet little ceremony we buried Midnight in our back yard under a cross with his name on it. We grieved the loss of our monkey, but marked the spot so we could dig him up later and see what his bones looked like. [pg. 78]
They have such tender feelings toward their pets…
September 15 was my third birthday. For a birthday present, Mario and his friends made me my first real set of bow and arrows so I wouldn’t have to play with toy ones anymore. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Since Terry got a set too, we could hunt each other. [pgs. 97-98]
But then, they don’t seem very tender towards each other, either! This is what happened to Terry on one of his birthdays.
On June 29th, the day Terry turned nine, he turned yellow.
Since yellow wasn’t his normal color, his complexion worried Dad and Mom, even though it was kind of fun for us to stare at. [pg. 150]
This next bit occurs when Rani and Teri wish to accompany the Machiguengas on a peccary hunt.
Navidad, one of our closest neighbors and one of the village’s better hunters, wasn’t so sure we should go.
“It’s getting pretty dark and the pigs can be pretty dangerous when they stampede like this. Teri and Rani might get killed,” he told my dad. The possibility of us getting killed seemed to bother him more than it did us or Dad.
“None of the other kids are going,” Navidad continued. Presumably that was because their parents loved them and told them not to. Dangers aside, it was also obvious that Navidad didn’t think we’d be much help.
“Just get your shoes on and do what they tell you.” Dad knew the Machiguengas probably wouldn’t let the pigs run over us. Ever since we were tiny babies they had gone to great pains, sometimes literally, to make sure we survived our own stupidity.
It seemed unfair that we had to put shoes on when the Machiguengas got to go barefoot, but this was no time to argue. We backtracked to our house, grabbed dirty canvas tennis shoes and hopped off on alternate legs as we tied them on. We didn’t want to be left behind. [pgs. 134-135]
Rani and his brother were harum-scarum kids. He writes, “I reckon if you’ve never done anything worth getting spanked for, you haven’t lived.” [pg. 116] He and his siblings definitely put this philosophy to practice.
The Snell family worked amongst the newly evangelized Machiguenga Indians for the entirety of Rani’s childhood. This caused him to be exposed to superstition and accompanying practices. He says of the Machiguengas,
They were a fearful people who couldn’t enjoy a lot of the beauty around them. They didn’t dare look at stunning sunsets or double rainbows for fear of getting diarrhea or being bitten by a snake. Army ants would march off with their children’s souls, they feared. Eating deer would make them turn into one when they died. While we could sit on a mat and watch a lunar eclipse in a crystal clear sky, they erupted in total panic. After all, if the moon were to die, then the manioc the moon had supposedly given them would also disappear and they would starve to death.
The beautiful jungle that we loved and enjoyed was often dreadful to them, filled with spirits that were just waiting to make them sick or kill them. If an invisible being tricked them into having sexual intercourse with it, death was inevitable. They ran from things we never saw. [pg. 67-68]
Mr. Snell tells one story about a little boy who had tuberculosis. When his father heard that there was no hope of him recovering, he placed the little boy on a raft and sent it down the river. Apparently, this was because he believed that his son’s soul would come back looking for people to take with him, and the farther away they were from each other, the less likely it was that his son would catch him.
Rani later says that after a woman’s child died “she cut off all her hair so that her daughter’s soul couldn’t grab her and take her along to the place of the dead.” [pg. 63]
There were several instances of Machiguengas believing that souls did come back to the dead. One of them was a bit staggering. It involved four people all dying within the course of a month and a half. Each of the people did something ‘unlucky’ just before being struck, which caused the Machiguengas’ beliefs to be reinforced.
In perhaps the saddest incident of the book, two young villagers – ages sixteen and fourteen – fall in love with one another and elope. Two weeks later, the girl, Maria dies. From Maria’s sister they learn the truth that Maria was afraid to admit; she was pregnant with another man’s child. She tried to abort the baby by pinching her stomach, but it didn’t work, so she drank a poinsonous potion in the hopes of killing it and saving herself from shame. Instead, she killed herself and her secret became known. Rani writes that her husband of two weeks never really recovered from the blow this gave him.
Mr. Snell writes that the Machis enjoyed to torture ducks and chickens by plucking them of their feathers before killing them.
Mr. Snell writes that he asked Jesus into his heart when he was three.
It is mentioned that some of the villagers had more than one wife.
Mr. Snell describes himself as being conceived in the jungle sometime after their arrival there saying, “I can’t be more specific about the timing because they [his parents] won’t.” [pg. 29]
Conclusion. A fun, adventurous account of the missionary effort in the Amazonian rainforest, It’s a Jungle Out There! will provide a light-hearted counterpart to more serious missionary tales.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret