Abstract and Keywords
As the Túpac Amaru dropped into the jungles of Satipo Province, spectral foreigners appeared on the Amazonian stage. Most press accounts and local hearsay about mysterious foreigners concentrated on the role that gringos, especially Americans, allegedly played in the conflict. The Indians of Peru's tropical forests see Europeans through the lens of their own cultural experience. Asháninkas have perhaps the most elaborate ideas about gringos of any Amazonian tribe. The symbolic burden of the gringo is not all negative for Asháninkas. David Pent's whereabouts immediately after deportation remain a mystery. Even as Pent contributed to the enslavement of Asháninkas, he seems to have been angered by the abuses heaped on them by the hacienda lords of the Río Tambo. If Pent himself remains silent, the conflicting stories about him speak eloquently of the collective representations of his time.
As the Túpac Amaru dropped into the jungles of Satipo Province, spectral foreigners appeared on the Amazonian stage. The Huancayo newspaper Correo reported that Che Guevara was personally directing the guerrilla campaign of the Tupac Amaru.1 Fears of Che's participation in the struggle multiplied in October, when Fidel Castro announced that Guevara had left Cuba and gone underground to foment revolution elsewhere.2 The New York Times News Service and Reuters were both to carry unsubstantiated reports that Che led the MIR guerrillas and that he had been captured by the army near Mesa Pelada in the Department of Cuzco.3
Yet most press accounts and local hearsay about mysterious foreigners concentrated on the role that gringos, especially Americans, allegedly played in the conflict. Correo reported that the SOS radioed by the besieged Cubantia hacienda had been picked up by an American missionary pilot, who flew overhead to see if he could provide assistance.4 Widely circulated rumors held that missionaries of various (p.142) Denominations—especially American evangelicals—were helping to put down the insurgency. In a history of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), the largest American evangelical group operating in the Peruvian jungle, David Stoll suggests that the SIL may have been involved in the army's aerial loudspeaker campaign directed to Ashaninka villages.5 The Peruvian left was quick to identify these outsiders as agents of the CIA, whose power to sow the seeds of disorder was held to be nothing short of miraculous. Although the American advisors sent to train counterinsurgency troops in Mazamari kept a low profile, photographs of them surfaced in the Lima papers. La Crónica, for example, described them as battle-hardened veterans of guerrilla warfare in Vietnam; they have “an amazing ability to handle firearms, they are knowledgeable in judo, and during a lethal leap they can successfully shoot at a target.”6
Nowhere in Latin America is the symbolic resonance of the gringo deeper or more contradictory than in Peru. Long before Pizarro's scruffy expeditionary force appeared on the Peruvian coast, the Incas venerated the figure of Viracocha, a fair-haired wanderer who brought a luminous civilization to the Andes and then vanished in the Pacific Ocean with a promise of future return. It is difficult, of course, to reconstruct the subtleties of a religion whose most sacred objects were raffled off to Spanish officers within days of Pizarro's triumph. But some anthropologists identify Viracocha as the deity of the outer or unknown world. By extension, he ruled over the outer limits of time, that is, the Andean past and future. The fatal vacillation of the reigning emperor, Atahualpa, in the face of an invasion by foreigners from the West may have been nourished by the possibility that these pale outlanders represented the promised return of Viracocha.7
Spanish rule brought an end to the reign of the Sun, the major Inca deity, and began the epoch of the viracochas. To this day, people of the light-skinned landowning class are politely addressed as wiracocha by Quechua-speaking Indians. Yet beneath outward deference to the viracochas lies a dark (p.143) well of dread. Andean peasants believe themselves stalked by golden-haired phantoms, called pishtacos, who hunt travelers on wind-ripped highland trails. Pishtacos plunder their victims' corpses for blood or fat, substances that for Andean Indians embody the life force. A Peruvian scholar has argued that the colonial Spanish practice of using human fat to treat wounds gave birth to fears of pishtacos.8 Since then, the symbolic contours of the pishtaco myth have changed with shifts in technology: once used to make candles for the church, the stolen fat now lubricates the machinery of northern factories or carries American rockets to the moon. Pishtaco fear lives on today as a powerful metaphor for the experience of Andean people, whose lives have been twisted and foreshortened by what they see as the mysterious power emanating from the gringo world.9
The Indians of Peru's tropical forests see Europeans through the lens of their own cultural experience. The Aguaruna of northern Peru, for example, think of wíakuch, viracochas, as people of great wealth who move easily through the social chaos of the jungle's frontier towns, These beings are powerful sorcerers who bear lone travelers off to viracocha cities hidden in cliffs or trees.10
Asháninkas have perhaps the most elaborate ideas about gringos of any Amazonian tribe, undoubtedly because of their centuries of contact with Andean peasants, as well as with the non-Indians who fill the pishtaco role: rubbertappers, slavers, plantation owners, and foreign engineers.11 Asháninka elders say that the primordial whites were fished from a jungle lake by the disobedient son of Inca, a powerful shaman and the source of material wealth. “On the fishhook appeared a viracocha, who was thin and pale, with a very long beard,” explains one version of the myth. “After all the viracochas had emerged, their fathers came, those who are now Franciscans.” The viracochas dismembered the Inca and began to enslave Asháninkas, The story ends with the lament, “If it hadn't been for the disobedient son of Inca, we would now have axes, machetes, steel knives, firearms, and (p.144) clothing.” Asháninka shamans were finally able to contain the homicidal frenzy of the viracochas, but whites retain control over the production of the trade goods that make life in the jungle possible.12
The symbolic burden of the gringo is not all negative for Asháninkas, especially as the Indians have come to distinguish between different categories of viracochas. Missionaries from the United States and Europe have had more success in evangelizing Asháninka communities than their Roman Catholic counterparts, because the Indians identify the latter with the colonists and landowners who are the cause of their present poverty.13 The Indians now distinguish Spanish viracochas—who emerged from the water, which has a negative connotation—from other whites, especially evangelicals, who come to the jungle from the air, in airplanes, which links them to spiritual benefactors such as the tasórentsi.
Despite broad differences in language, culture, and historical contact, the symbolic archetype of the gringo—with its alternating guises of viracocha and predatory pishtaco—has made a transect of western South America, from the Pacific desert to the Amazon. For the people who inhabit these places, the gringo stands for power, danger, and an insatiable, ruthless hunger for life. The gringo's symbolic potency makes its presence felt in Peruvian elite culture as well. One sees it in the recurrent search for European immigrants to colonize the jungle, spawned by a hope that these gringos can lead Peru from the cul-de-sac of underdevelopment. As recently as 1963 the Peruvian government explored the feasibility of bringing five thousand French refugees from Algeria to colonize the Amazon, even as Peruvian peasants fought for lands that the government had ceded to the Peruvian Corporation, a British firm, in the nineteenth century.14
(p.145) The most persistent rumor of gringo involvement in the guerrilla struggle of 1965 centered on an American named David Livingstone Pent, variously misidentified in the press as David Penn, David Livingstone, or Miguel Pend. On July 8, 1965, soon after the Túpac Amaru insurgency was underway in the sierra, an article appeared in. La Prensa under the headline “In Pucallpa They Denounce Foreign Communist”:
The North American-Peruvian communist David Pent has again come to the area of the Urubamba River, where he is stirring things up, according to information provided by farmers of the locality where Pent has some property.
Police sources have no information that this communist has returned to the country, from which he was expelled some time ago after it was proven. that he had links to members of the extreme left, with whom he stirred up the situation. Pent is of North American origin but a naturalized Peruvian. He is married to a young woman from Loreto.
The informants, who are all responsible people, give assurances that Pent has secretly returned to the country, his arrival coinciding with a series of criminal acts committed by communist guerrillas in the central region of the country.
“Since this gringo returned to the country, one can observe a certain agitation among the peasantry of the Urubamba and the Upper Ucayali,” manifested the informants, who, however, did not specify the source of their information, though they provided assurances that the news is trustworthy.
The newspaper Correo developed this theme more fully on August 11 in an article with the headline “Miguel Pend is Leader of Rebel Campas”:
The loggers of the region of Masea [presumably Masisea] and Sepahua have denounced the collaboration of several hundred Campos with the guerrilla fighters. 10 arm the Campas, cases of rifles and ammunition may have been sent from the area of Inuya. (p.146) According to what is now known, the Campos are trained and led by Miguel Pend, “The White Angel,” a naturalized Peruvian of North American descent, who was deported from Peru for his extremist ideas.
Both of these news reports drew on hearsay about the insurgency that circulated widely at the time. These same tales led the American social scientist David Chaplin to state, in a scholarly appraisal of the 1965 guerrilla conflict, that “the original assistance of campas [sic] had been enlisted on behalf of the guerrillas through the efforts of a ‘renegade’ U. S. Protestant missionary.”15 Pent is most durably embroidered into the mythic tapestry of 1965 through his appearance in two works of fiction: Roger Rumrrill's short story “El viborero,” in which Pent is thinly disguised as the American “Penny David,” and, at much greater length, in Manuel Scorza's novel La danza inmóvil, where Pent appears under his own name as a guerrilla leader. Both writers portray Pent as a charismatic figure, a messiah, who had tapped a deep current of utopian thought. In these accounts, the gringo is seen through what Michael Taussig has called the “epistemic murk” of Amazonian violence.16 Can we give the stories any credence?
Though his current whereabouts are unknown, David Livingstone Pent is, or was, a real person. Born in 1931, Pent was the third of six children raised by Phillip and Rosine Pent, American evangelicals who settled in the Amazonian town of Iquitos. David and his siblings grew up in an austerely Christian household. They were educated at home and, to the extent possible, insulated from the relaxed standards of life in the tropics. Nevertheless, says David Pent's sister, Deborah Hudson, their parents worried that David and his brothers were “becoming too Peruvian, too influenced by Peruvian morality.” She remembers David as the sibling who spoke Spanish the best and who was “the most Peruvian of all of us.”17 Javier Davila Durand, a boyhood friend of Pent's, agrees. “He was the only one of them who denied his American (p.147) birth. ‘I'm not a North American,’ he would say to me, ‘I'm Amazonian.’”18
The Pent household was strict, and none of the children were spared corporal punishment. Deborah Hudson remembers:
There were too many don'ts in our household, and Dave was often in conflict with my father. It was a Christian home but perhaps not an understanding home. My father saw the boys falling into the morality of the Peruvians. Peruvian morality is different, you know, and they were becoming like that—especially Dave.
In his teens, David Pent was sent to the United States to renew his identity as an American and to complete his Christian education. By all accounts, David felt out of place in the United States. He was unable to settle down to his studies at the Philadelphia College of Bible, which he attended for a semester in 1948. “He had zeal but not discipline,” his sister recalls. Reflecting on their common experience as boarding students, Deborah Hudson says that it was hard to feel at home in America after an upbringing in the Amazon:
We were Americans but not Americans. Now they'd call what we experienced “culture shock.” My brothers went away to boarding school and hated it. The confusion of coming back to the United States tempted us to return to Peru as missionaries simply because there was nothing else we knew how to do.
Deborah Hudson did eventually return to Peru, where she has lived for many years with her husband at the Yarinacocha base camp of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the overseas branch of the Wycliffe Bible Translators.19 The Hudsons have dedicated their lives to the SIL's effort to translate Christian Scripture into all the languages of Peru's jungle tribes.
What were other distinguishing qualities of David Pent, this young man caught between cultures? Deborah Hudson remembers with fondness her brother's excellent memory. (p.148) “He would memorize scripture, then take me aside so that I could listen to him recite it-whole chapters by memory.” After so many years, she has little recollection of what David did immediately after leaving his American Bible college. Eventually, though, he returned to Peru with the idea of taking up missionary work himself. David's brother Joseph, who now works for a Christian service agency in Costa Rica, recalls that David was a man without fear as he undertook his evangelical travels in the jungle: “Dave was zealous in his preaching. Nothing frightened him. The power of the Catholic Church was extreme then, but he didn't hesitate to debate with priests.”20
Jeanne Grover served for many years as a missionary linguist with the SIL. She recalls meeting David Pent at Yarinacocha, the organization's base camp, in 1954:
I, along with a whole group of new missionaries, arrived in Yarinacocha and was attending a party for all of us. Dave was present, probably reluctantly. He was a tall handsome blond, quiet and very solemn, about twenty-one or twenty-two years old. We were all slightly older than he chronologically, but he was lots older than we in so many other ways. He always impressed me as being morose, very low key and certainly with an entirely different agenda than any of us.21
Kenneth Kensinger also served as an SIL linguist in the 1950s, though nearly a decade of living with the Cashinahua Indians later convinced him to give up evangelism for the more speculative doctrines of cultural anthropology. Kensinger cannot summon up an image of the morose Pent seen by Jeanne Grover. The David Pent of his memory is charming and intense, and evidently conscious of his physical appearance. He and Pent didn't discuss religion or politics, but Kensinger found no reason to think of Pent as a religious zealot or, for that matter, as someone who had a “different agenda” than other people working at Yarinacocha.22 He does recall him as a person who might have been able to use his charm to manipulate (p.149) people, a view that Deborah Hudson corroborates. “David,”she says, “could get people to do things for him.”
In the mid-1950s, Javier Dávila Durand had much more contact with Pent than did his family, from whom he was increasingly estranged. Although Dávila and Pent had known each other in Iquitos, their paths crossed again in Atalaya, on the Río Ucayali, in 1955. Pent worked a. farm on the Río Ene and asked Dávila to help him manage it. Dávila remembers Pent as having turned his prodigious memory for Scripture to a voracious hunger for poetry: “His vocabulary had been enriched by poetry and his conversation always began with a phrase or a verse of poetry.”
Pent and Dávila soon moved their base of operations to a place called Charahuaja on the Río Tambo. Róger Rumrrill's short story turns Charahuaja into a jungle Shangri-la:
He easily learned the Piro and Campa languages and, dressed in a cushma the color of red achiote and preceded by five native sorcerers, he went from village to village predicting the return of the millenarian gods who had left a world polluted by whites with their firearms, their syphilis, smallpox) and influenza, contaminated by the White Plague, to live in the pure kingdom of Axpikondia.
Transformed into a spokesman for the return of the gods, into a prophet and at times almost into a demigod himself, Penny David lived in a place that figured on no map, on no itinerary, in no guidebook,) but which was on the lips and in the memory of everyone: Charahuaja.23
Pent's actual activities at the Charahuaja farm, which he named “Fronda Alegre,” were more worldly than Rumrrill's whimsical story suggests. There he ripened a scheme to separate American investors from their money. Using bait-and-switch tactics, he persuaded a Texan named Dávis to put up approximately $40,000 for the exploitation of tropical hardwoods. Both Javier Dávila and Joseph Pent agree that Dávid's motive was that of a modern-day Robin Hood: he used the (p.150) Texan's money to buy hundreds of yards of cotton cloth, crates of shotguns, and innumerable household goods to distribute among the Asháninkas who worked his land. And he built a house of such stupendous proportions that it is still legendary in the Upper Ucayali.
Like the other hacienda owners of the region, Pent secured Asháninka workers in two ways. Some came voluntarily, attracted by the manufactured goods he offered in exchange for labor. The rest were children purchased from Asháninka slave-raiders or from their parents, who sold them into servitude rather than see them killed as sorcerers. Pent's main Asháninka intermediary in these transactions was a headman named Inganiteri, whom Javier Dávila describes as “a leader of leaders, an infamous criminal, a man with only one eye, but dominated by David's personality.” Inganiteri boasted a group of three hundred followers at the height of Fronda Alegre's prosperity.
Of the Asháninkas purchased by Pent, most seem to have been young girls, who formed what Javier Dávila describes as a harem. Dávila retains a vivid image of Pent's romantic life at Charahuaja:
David had patiently built up his harem of more or less twenty-eight Indian girls between twelve and fourteen years old; by fifteen they were too old. Among his favorites was an attractive brat with green eyes—an Asháninka with green eyes! David would take them all out in the afternoon to bathe in the creek, in Charahuaja Creek, which has crystalline waters. Right there he lathered them with soap. Then he took them to his room, where he rubbed them with talcum powder and delivered himself to his pleasures, as did all the hacienda lords on the Río Tambo.
But unlike these other landlords, claims Dávila, Pent genuinely loved his Indian mistresses: “He surrounded them with affection, with devotion, and he brought them ten thousand gifts.”
Pent accepts no gifts. He buys the little Indian girls to save them. They fall irredeemably in love with him. The slaves are not slaves: they are wives. … And the splendor of the feasts returns, the true life of David Pent; the life of pleasure, by pleasure, for pleasure. Each night he sleeps with different wives. The great celebration that was always his life, interrupted only by sudden and brief trips to the United States. Each return implies more money: capital from new investors in Boston, Chicago, in Cleveland, convinced by him of the fabulous possibilities of Amazonian Wood.24
It would be easy to dismiss these descriptions as male fantasies peopled by exotic and nubile adolescents. There is no shortage of hyperbole here, yet stories of sexual excess among local landlords are too sturdy to dismiss out of hand. The Tambo and Upper Ucayali had scarcely changed since 1900, when Pedro Portillo observed that “there are no laws, there are no authorities. … He who is strongest, who has the most rifles, is master of justice.”25 So Pent may well have been able to establish, at least for a time, his own amorous utopia at Charahuaja.
His utopian dream transcended the merely erotic. Like the Franciscans who preceded him on the Tambo, Pent's frequently stated goal was to deliver Asháninkas from poverty and ignorance, which were perpetuated by the draconian rule of mestizo landlords.26 Using the hard currency provided by his American backers, he lavished trade goods on his Asháninka followers to such an extent that Indians began to migrate to Fronda Alegre from the farms of more miserly landowners. Javier Dávila remembers the trouble this caused:
The headmen fled from other haciendas and came in search of this patrón who was so generous with payment. David Pent broke with the traditional system of wages, which was traumatic for the (p.152) other landlords of that time. The Campa villages escaped in search of Pent. Some landowners used force to prevent this flight, while sentencing to death David Pent and those who worked for him. So during this period we always went heavily armed. … It was like the Far West.
After nearly three decades, Asháninka memories of Pent and his utopia have been reshaped by the discourse of ethnic assertion. Miguel Saviri, a native leader of the Río Tambo area, remembers Fronda Alegre as a nightmare of exploitation:
Well, I know something of the history of David Pent. He made the natives work. He bought my people, natives, and made them work for him. Men, women—he bought them and made them work in his fields, building his house, fixing things. He paid them with little things—clothing, little houses. It was terrible exploitation.
You know how our grandparents were, no? When someone died, they looked for the sorcerer who'd done the killing, until they found the little boy or girl responsible. More often than not it was a little girl. Then they grabbed them and took them to trade for something. Long ago they killed them, but later they traded them for cloth, pots, machetes, shotguns. Well, Pent bought boys and girls} mostly girls. When they got older he made them his wives. He had a lot of them!27
Miguel and his brother were sold to Pent by a headman named Severo Quinchoquer:
Despite Miguel Saviri's dyspeptic vision of Pent—which is, after all, the memory of someone bought and sold as a (p.153) Child—it seems likely that at least some Asháninkas saw in the charismatic gringo qualities of the amachénga or tasótentsi, benevolent spirits associated with prosperity. Anyone who visited Fronda Alegre, Indian or mestizo, was awed by the quantity of goods kept in its storehouses. At the same time, the local headman, Inganiteri, used Pent's wealth and quasi-mythical status to increase his own influence in the region.
I and others tried to escape, but Severo's people pursued us and grabbed us. They beat us pretty good. One of my brothers died from the beating. It was slavery! They beat you if you tried to leave.28
By 1960, chilling rumors about David Pent began to circulate in Pucallpa, especially among the American missionaries at the SIL base in Yarinacocha. He was said to be a slave trader; he had set himself up as the “owner” of the Rio Tambo, controlling all the river traffic that passed his house; he had begun to import carbines and automatic weapons with which to arm the Asháninkas; he was providing Asháninkas with military uniforms. These stories edged him into the space of Amazonian legend.
The sinister tales did nothing to improve Pent's relations with other hacendados along the Tambo. He also had to weather legal action brought by his American investors. The Pent family recalls that David's father bailed him out by paying off one angry victim. David also cultivated the friendship of politicians in Pucallpa and Iquitos, who apparently helped him dodge prosecution. Among his contacts, according to Javier Dávila, was Fernando Belaúnde Terry, soon to be elected president. This involvement in Peruvian politics was to prove his undoing.
In 1962 David met and married a young Iquitos woman, Nelida Rojas, who was known among David's friends as “Sophia Loren” for her striking beauty. Like many women, she was captivated by his charm and good looks. “Pent was outgoing,” says Javier Dávila, “and when he met a girl he surrounded her with poetry. She was soon stuck on him.”
(p.154) Seated in a sparely furnished room in 1989, Nélida Rojas de Pent seems bewildered by her marriage to the romantic American twenty-seven years before. It is hard to see Sophia Loren in her ample figure and awkward attempts to find the right words to describe what happened so long ago. “We were married one Saturday, the fifth of May. I was nineteen years old. We woke up the next day, a Sunday, and they grabbed him. The police grabbed him. They accused him of being a communist.”29 After a marriage that lasted less than twenty-four hours, Nélida Rojas never saw David Pent again.
Scorza's novel and the oral accounts of family and friends hold that Nélida was the fiancée of a police officer when she met David. Nélida Rojas denies that a rejected suitor was involved in Pent's persecution, but the folklore of the region has elevated the conflict between the handsome gringo and the enraged policeman to an affair of honor in the Latin style. David had put up money so that his business partner, Mario Godeau Muñóz, could run for congress as a candidate for the leftist National Liberation Front (FLN). As a foreigner, Pent was barred from involvement in politics, and the discovery that he had paid for Godeau's legal registration as a candidate provided the pretext for his arrest. Deborah Hudson heard that the policeman and his friends savagely assaulted Pent as he and Nélida left the town hall after their civil wedding; Scorza's novel turns the contest into a fight to the death.
Even if the police had not intervened, Pent's strange empire at Charahuaja was foundering. “The situation on the Tambo was creating a climate of adversity,” says Javier Dávila.
The people in the town of Atalaya began to ostracize Pent, to be hostile toward him. It was a town made up of families involved one way or another with the hacienda owners—even the Catholic Church was involved with them. They rejected Pent for being a Protestant. There was a climate of violence.
(p.155) After his arrest, Pent was held incommunicado for several days and then unceremoniously deported to the United States. His wife, his considerable property, the utopian space of Fronda Alegre—all remained behind.
Pent's whereabouts immediately after deportation remain a mystery. He seems to have formulated a plan—one that eventually became an obsession—to return to Charahuaja and mete out vengeance to the enemies who had destroyed him. In 1963, Pent surfaced in Los Angeles, where a report about him appeared in the September 30 issue of The Militant, a Socialist Workers Party newspaper. The article describes the revolutionary activities of a “graceful young American” traveling under the alias McDonald:
McDonald worked with and speaks the dialect of the Campa Indians and fought on their side in a revolt against the landlords. The area McDonald comes from is just the other side of the mountains from the Concepción Valley where Hugo Blanco organized unions of peasants—for which he is now held in jail, facing death.
It is not clear whether the implied link between Pent and Hugo Blanco, the Trotskyite peasant organizer, was made by Pent or his interviewer, though as an experienced seeker of the main chance, Pent was good at telling people what they wanted to hear. In the interview, Pent pledged to return to Peru to join the struggle to end the exploitation of Peru's urban and rural poor: “‘When I get back,’ he said, ‘the first thing I will do is get my ranch back from the army and distribute it among the peasants.’”30
Although twenty-five years have passed since the interview appeared in The Militant, the article's author, Della (p.156) Rossa, carries with her vivid memories of this romantic revolutionary and his lonely struggle against the Peruvian ruling class. “Pent first introduced himself to Oscar Coover in the Los Angeles office of the Socialist Workers Party,”she recalls. “He wanted assistance in publicizing his cause, the struggle for land reform in Peru. He seemed sincere, so I decided to interview him.”31
Rossa's conversation with Pent took place in his apartment in Hollywood, which she recalls as unpretentious. She remembers him as “vibrant,” not so much good-looking in a classical sense as “charming and lively, someone who needed to gather people around him.” Her suspicion that he might be a Lothario was provoked by the feminine undergarments scattered about the apartment, which Pent identified as belonging to his companion, “someone who helped him with his work.” Yet he also described himself as married to a Peruvian, about whom he spoke with some affection.
Pent used a nom de guerre in the published interview, but Rossa does not recall him as being noticeably concerned about police surveillance or harassment. His knowledge of Marxism struck her as limited. He presented himself as sincerely committed to armed struggle but a trifle romantic in his notions of how it should be undertaken. Pent mentioned that he planned to have his Asháninka followers use poisoned arrows against the Peruvian army. Rossa later deleted this from the article “because it would have sounded too far out” for The Militant's Trotskyite readership. After this single encounter, Pent apparently dropped from sight of party members—though not from the surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which tracked Pent's movements on the grounds that he might be contemplating violations of the Neutrality Act.32
Pent's brother Joseph believes that David worked in Hollywood as a chauffeur for a movie actor. The Pent family also heard that David married a wealthy widow in New Orleans to extract from her the money he needed to return to Peru. During this period he had no direct contact with his family— (p.157) “David never kept in touch with us,” Joseph Pent says—but he did correspond with Javier Dávila:
I was arrested in Lima after being compromised by a letter that Pent mailed to me, in which he talked of directing the guerrilla movements in Latin America from a base in Shumahuani, where there were enough cattle to feed the guerrillas who would move into the region. David indicated that he would take vengeance on those who'd betrayed him and who'd made false accusations to get him out of the country, generally the hacienda owners on the Ucayali. … I understood the psychological crisis he was going through, the process of hallucinations.
In 1963 and 1964, Pent made at least two attempts to return to Peru. Nélida, his wife of one day, recalls being notified at work that David had been detained at Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima while trying to enter the country, She held a secretarial position with the Investigative Police (PIP) at the time, and a high-ranking officer warned her to keep clear of her husband, who was promptly deported. Joseph Pent learned that David was jailed in Ecuador for several months, apparently after attempting a clandestine border crossing into Peru. In June 1964, Peruvian authorities notified the U.S. consulate of its intention to deport Pent yet again. Curiously, the Peruvians stated that Pent was definitely not involved in subversive activity.33 James Haahr, who was the embassy's political officer at the time of the deportation, cannot recall being briefed on the Pent case, suggesting that it was treated as a purely consular matter of no political significance.34 One might have expected the case to be more memorable, since the initial press accounts of Pent's arrest identified him as Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi war criminal. These erroneous reports were followed by hasty denials from the Minister of the Interior.35
Despite these setbacks, by late 1964 or early 1965 Pent had accomplished a clandestine entry and made his way back to the Rio Tambo. But the world he returned to was not the lost (p.158) utopia of 1962. Former employees had sacked his house for raw materials, which were sold off to settlers in Atalaya and nearby villages. His Asháninka women were gone. After the 1963 guerrilla incident in Puerto Maldonado, rumors of subversion were widespread in the Department ·of Junín. Nowhere had the situation changed more than in the local Civil Guard, which was on full alert for signs of subversion from abroad.
Pent walked into this transfigured world making no secret of his desire for vengeance and his romantic plan to liberate the Asháninkas from their oppressors. And he had antecedents—political connections to the left, a record of deportations. He was known to have stockpiled weapons for distribution to the Indians. Javier Dávila contends that these consisted of perhaps a hundred primitive front-loading shotguns and a handful of breechloaders and pistols. The alchemy of hearsay quickly transformed them into automatic weapons.
Once Asháninkas joined the MIR guerrillas at Cubantía, Pent became a threat of the first order. He was a gringo, imbued in the popular imagination with a natural ascendancy over the Indians. With this he could engineer a massive revolt of savages—for, in the words Manuel Scorza attributes to a fictional Pent, “ten thousand bowmen would have risen with US!”36
Hence the news reports, appearing in July and August of 1965, that tied David Pent to a Marxist insurgency about which he probably knew little. After an initial flurry of newspaper stories, Pent disappeared from press accounts until early December, when a series of contradictory articles materialized in the Lima and Huancayo dailies. On December 1, La Crónica alleged that “Livingstone,” who directed guerrilla activities throughout Peru, was being sought by the FBI and Peruvian authorities:
Livingstone, who knows the southeastern Andean region well, has returned to Peru in a clandestine fashion. … He was (p.159) previously linked to an extensive contraband operation in arms that entered the country from Desaguadero, coming from Bolivia. He was also linked to the illegal importation of arms across the Brazilian frontier, though this has not been clearly established. Livingstone has been identified as the extremist responsible for bringing into Peru most of the arms of Czech manufacture.
Only two days later, the same daily implicated Pent in gunrunning on the Pacific coast, with the help of foreign submarines of unknown origin:
In this game, various hacienda owners are said to be involved, among them the North American Livigstone [sic], who is said to have encouraged the guerrilla fighters in the jungle
After placing Pent on the Peruvian coast for his rendezvous with foreign agents, the December 4 issue of La Prensa returned him to the jungle, where Ranger units “pursue fugitive guerrillas, among whom will be Lobatón Miller [sic] and the North American communist David Livingstone Penn [sic].” A December 3 article in the Correo of Huancayo mentioned that among the surviving Túpac Amaru guerrillas is “an unidentified North American.” The most bewildering contradiction appeared a day later in El Comercio:
Police of the Division of State Security and Foreign Affairs informed journalists last night that the Communist David Livingstone Pen [sic] is not being sought in the country for the simple reason that he is currently to be found working as a waiter in New York City.
By January 5, 1966, Pent had evidently forsaken Manhattan for Satipo: La Prensa claimed that “Livingstone” had been captured with Lobatón by the Forty-Third Infantry Brigade, but provided no further details. The New York Times published the same story under the headline “American Called Peru Bandit”:
(p.160) David Penn Livingstone [sic], the son of an American Protestant missionary and identified as a guerrilla leader in Central Peru, has been captured. … Livingstone, known to Indian tribesmen in the area, was deported from Peru in 1962 but had returned clandestinely.37
La Tribuna of January 7 noted that “with respect to the capture of the North American David Livingstone, who has been identified for some time as a dangerous agitator in the service of communism, there is no official information.” The same news item elevated Pent to the status of an “American, industrialist” who was expelled from the country several times.
Here Pent's trail vanishes, both in the Peruvian media and for members of his family. His name appears in none of the official army communiqués during the counterinsurgency, yet rumors circulated that he was killed by Rangers. The David Pent of Scorza's novel dies a victim of love and jealousy the love of the Iquitos woman who runs off with him, the jealousy of the police officer cuckolded by the handsome gringo. “The worst thing that I did in my thirty years of service,” confesses one of the policemen who kills Pent in Scorza's work, “was to pulverize the face, pulverize the body, convert into a sorry sight this gringo, who was, I swear. … made of God's own porcelain.”38
Javier Dávila was probably the last of Pent's friends to see him alive:
So the police sent a unit and captured Pent. They took him to Pucallpa, and I went to visit him. At that moment he was shaving, and he'd had them bring him a barber, so there he was with that face he had, pink and handsome. We hugged each other as we'd always done, and he asked me to tell Mario Godeau to sell his motorboat because he needed the money to buy his air ticket when they expelled him. … But he was never deported, because four or five months later, when there were guerrillas in(p.161) Chaupimayo [Department of Cuzco], I read a newspaper report that the American guerrilla David Pent was among the dead. Years later I discovered that this hadn't happened. They simply threw him out of an airplane because they considered him a threat to the Peruvian state.
Joseph Pent also heard tales of a violent end. The brother of a family friend claimed to have seen secret military records proving that David was thrown from a helicopter somewhere over the jungle. As he was hurled from the aircraft, the soldiers shouted to him: “If you love the Campas so much, you can have them.” Yet family members also dimly recall receiving phone messages from David months after the antiguerrilla campaign. Pent's sister Deborah believes that David may have turned his hand to diamond hunting or gold mining elsewhere in South America. An uncle said that he had seen an interview with David on NBC News sometime in the late 1960s.39
In the family's recollection of these scattered contacts there is an unsettling vagueness that one hardly expects of people determined to probe the disappearance of a missing brother. The years, of course, have dulled the memory of specific details and blunted the impact of the family's loss. But with David Pent's choice of a life so at odds with that of his siblings, the conclusion is inescapable that for them he was, in a profound sense, dead long before he vanished from the Rio Tambo. Deborah Hudson, a devout and reflective woman, sees the violence surrounding his life and disappearance as the result of his failure to come to terms with God:
A person can have knowledge about God but not know him personally. If you don't know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ personally, it is easy for Satan to take control. You either belong to Christ or to Satan, one or the other. Dave had bitterness in his heart about our family, and this bitterness gave Satan a foothold. A person who has known God, who has been brought up in a (p.162) Christian household, can fall deeper into sin than one who hasn't. My brother should have let himself be healed by scripture.
There is another view. One of the characters in Scorza's novel insists that Pent's actions be seen as heroic rather than as self-indulgent or sinful. Instead of an evil gringo, “exploitative and abusive to the point of caricature,” Pent “appeared as the North American who instead of exploitation brought civilization to the jungle.”40 He was, in other words, an amachénga—e—a helpful spirit-rather than a sinister pishtaco.
Without David Pent's own voice to guide us, we can only guess at his motives. One divines in Pent's story the contradictions of his upbringing. He rejected the strict fundamentalism of his parents' home for a life without boundaries—that of a white man uncoupled from white society, a Christian hidden from the sight of God. Even as Pent contributed to the enslavement of Asháninkas, he seems to have been angered by the abuses heaped on them by the hacienda lords of the Rio Tambo.41 Hence his attraction to the idea of redirecting American venture capital—the purest expression of the forces that would strip the land and the people of their resources—to the enrichment of the Indians and the defeat of the landlords. But at some point, Pent lost himself in the thicket of his own delusions, for arrows and poisoned darts cannot defeat carbines and napalm. His obsession with returning to what was for him the utopian space of Fronda Alegre blinded him to the intensifying struggle of other myths—the messianic dream of communism and the counterdiscourse of anticommunism—that loomed on the horizon.
If Pent himself remains silent, the conflicting stories about him speak eloquently of the collective representations of his time. Peruvian reporters and novelists assumed that Pent possessed (p.163) a natural ascendancy over the Indian and mestizo peoples of the Tambo. This ascendancy (was alternately political, economic, intellectual, or sexual; it was the destiny of the gringo, these narratives imply, to dominate the darker masses through the strength of intellect or passion. This domination took forms that were either sinister or heroic—more properly, an oscillation between the two in an orrery of Amazonian conquest—but they were always larger than life, just as the amachenga and the pishtaco are larger than life. Hence the persistence of discordant stories of Pent's end: dying for his Marxist creed at the hands of the counterinsurgency forces or finished off, with equal brutality, in a crime of passion. What we will never know is the extent to which David Pent himself shared in, and was a victim of: these fantasies of domination.
(1.) Correo, Huancayo, 19 June 1965, 20 June 1965.
(2.) Agee 1975: 449) reports that Che had dropped from sight about six months earlier and that one of the “pet projects” of the CIA was to determine his whereabouts. He further alleges that the agency released false and unfavorable publicity about Guevara “in the hope that he [would] reappear to end it.”
(p.235) (3.) New York Times News Service, 9 October 1965, supplement, p. 3., col. 1; New York Times, 11 October 1965, p. 14, col. 3.
(4.) Correo, Huancayo, 11 August 1965.
(6.) La Crónica, 17 August 1965.
(7.) Randall 1982: 72) analyzes the complex historical relationship between the dynastic struggle of Huascar and Atahualpa and the symbolic dualism of Inti (the Sun) and Viracocha (the Creator God). “The Spaniards,” Randall writes, “stepped into the middle of this transitional chaos. They had the amazing fortune to arrive from the Ecuadorian sea … the spot from which Viracocha walked out into the ocean. … ” This led Atahualpa to conclude that they were Viracocha's messengers. It should be noted that some anthropologists doubt the authenticity of the “white god” image of Viracocha and consider it an example of what Søren Hvalkov (personal communication) calls “eurocentric projection.”
(8.) See Oliver-Smith 1969: 364. Oliver-Smith obtains his information on the Spanish use of body fat from Morote Best 1952. Morote is now a prominent figure in the radical left of Peru and has been, in at least one published article (Shakespeare 1988), linked to the Shining Path.
(9.) Shakespeare 1988) and Degregori 1987) say that fear of pishtacos and the murder of suspected pishtacos have reached a veritable frenzy in Ayacucho today, an effect of the Shining Path insurgency and the government's brutal counterinsurgency efforts. A Lima daily recently carried a story about the capture of a band of pishtacos that allegedly operated-near Satipo, killing as many as thirty people and selling their fat to manufacturers of beauty products in the United States (Diario La República, 13 May 1990, p. 30). Although evoking skepticism, the report suggests how deeply the pishtaco myth has woven itself into the fabric of Peruvian popular culture.
(11.) Weiss 1975: 292) discusses the increasing penetration of pishtaco fears into the belief system of the riverine Asháninka, Søren Hvalkof (personal communication), who has undertaken extensive fieldwork among the Asháninka of the Gran Pajonal, finds that (p.236) “everyone talks about the pishtacos in the entire Asháninka territory. There are some very well known pishtacos in the Satipo-Chanchamayo region … The pishtaco myth is now also an Amazonian fact.”
(12.) The portions of the myth cited here are from Fernández 1984b: 207–208. For other versions of the myth see Amazonia Peruana 1976, Fernández 1987b and 1987c, Varese 1973: 285, Weiss 1975 and 1986.
(14.) El Expreso, Lima, 26 March 1963.
(17.) Interview, 21 July 1987. Aside from the interviewees mentioned in the following pages, our research on David Pent benefited from correspondence with and telephone interviews of Willard Kindberg and Mack Robertson, both of whom conducted missionary work among Asháninkas in the 1960s.
(18.) Interview, 27 May 1989.
(20.) Interview, 17 July 1989.
(21.) Letter, 7 July 1987.
(22.) Interview, September 1987.
(23.) This passage is from a book of Rumrrill's short stories entitled Vidas mágicas de tunchis y curanderos, published in Lima by the author in 1972, pp. 19–20, translation ours.
(25.) Portillo 1905: 506.
(26.) Letter from Willard Kindberg, 30 July 1986, and telephone interview, 12 August 1986. Kindberg's impressions were corroborated by Javier Davila Durand, Joseph Pent, and Deborah Pent Hudson.
(27.) Interview, 4 November 1988.
(28.) This account is echoed in Thomas Büttner's 1989: 284) description of Charahuaja: “They said that it belonged to a foreigner, Lucas Paine [clearly a corruption of Pent], who had his farm and enslaved the Indians so that they would work his lands. Some of the old people still remember the despot.”
(29.) Interview, 25 July 1989. Nélida Rojas recalls the year of her marriage to Pent as 1961, but a U.S. consular document states that the formal order for Pent's deportation was issued by the Peruvian police in 1962.
(30.) Rossa 1963.
(31.) Letter dated 5 January 1988; telephone interview, 23 January 1988. According to Macy and Kaplan (1980: 208), the Federal Bureau of Investigation “was regularly burglarizing the offices of the Socialist Workers Party” in 1960 and presumably thereafter.
(32.) Because conclusive proof of David Pent's death does not exist, Pent's confidential FBI files were denied to us under the terms of the Privacy Act. The FBI did provide us with what it classifies as “public source material,” mostly newspaper clippings about Pent's activities in 1964–1965. Although these documents are not in themselves especially informative, the heavily excised memoranda that accompany them establish that the FBI maintained a file on Pent (#105–110977) and that it suspected him of radical activities.
(33.) In telegram 1475, 12 June 1964, the U.s. Embassy notified Washington that “David Livingstone Pent to be deported basis illegal entry only not political grounds.” The telegram continues: “Peru police official informs subject not considered Communist though formerly involved general political activity. [Words excised] no concrete evidence available establish subject involved subversive political activities or that he communist … Lacking passport for entry Chile by June 25, subject will be deported U.S.” The telegram implies that the U.S. Embassy would have denied Pent a passport if the Peruvian police had wanted him deported directly to the United States.
(34.) Interview, 1 May 1989.
(35.) Information on the confusion of David Pent with Josef Mengele is contained in Pent's FBI file (#105–110977). The story was reported in the New York Herald Tribune, 7 June 1964, and in the 7 June 1964 edition of the Register, a newspaper published in Santa Ana, California.
(37.) New York Times, 6 January 1966, p. 11, col. 6. On 5 January, the U.S. Embassy cabled Washington the story of Pent's alleged capture. The cable concludes: “Embassy has no confirmation this report and inclined to doubt its accuracy,” after which approximately (p.238) one line is excised (telegram USCINCSO 170, 5 January 1966).
(39.) Letter, 10 October 1986. Our search of the episodes of NBC News that have been taped and indexed by Vanderbilt University turned up no segments that correspond to the Pent family recollection, though these records have only been kept since 1968.