My discovery began with a rumor from a gun merchant in Koalrak, the nearest populated city to the Bitu Desert. He told me that the Tlaktal tribe had developed a type of guerilla warfare to fend off the two warrior tribes that lived at the top of the canyons and in the desert, Filak and Tlanjo respectively. This shocked me somewhat, not because I did not believe the normally peaceful tribe was capable. They knew the terrain well, after all. Rather, I was surprised that the impoverished tribe was able to find the means and the weaponry to battle its brutal sister tribes. Tlaktal, after all, had been experiencing a sharp decline in population due to ethnic cleansing. The numbers aren’t exact, given the Tlaktal’s propensity for hiding away, but the death toll is irrefutable. Much has changed since I lived with one of their communities, studying their culture and customs. I decided to find out for myself the condition of the culture I so closely integrated myself into for four years.
When the Tlaktali do not want to be found, they are difficult to find. I began at the settlement in which I’d lived, seeing a few familiar faces, mostly some of the elders. I was afraid the rest had been killed, but they assured me that this was not so. Apparently, they had consolidated into one main tribe, the whereabouts of which were shrouded in secrecy. The elder there had been there when he was younger, and vaguely remembered its whereabouts. He said, however, that many of the elders were simply to old to make the journey. I stayed for dinner, spent the night, and helped with the farming. The father of the community drew me a map from his memory. I matched it with my own map I’d bought in the city and found some similarities. It was possible to find this hidden tribe.
After days of searching, I came across similar landmarkings from what the elder had pointed out in his map. It wasn’t long before I found myself being watched by men with rifles. Luckily, they did not believe that this lone traveler was a threat. However, I was eventually blocked from proceeding any further and warned at gunpoint to leave. My knowledge of their language earned me little sympathy, but I was permitted to enter their underground city on the condition that I would be killed if I was a spy. I complied.
The city was an enormous cave, half natural and half dug by man. Out of a few tunnels, there were men hauling out wagons of ore, the sound of metal on stone ringing through the halls. There was a mining operation here. A young man called out to me, though I did not recognize him. His name was Klto, and apparently I had played with him when he was a boy. He vouched for me, though my armed guards still seemed uncertain. They came to an agreement to lead me to the Grand Father of the tribe so that he could decide. The Grand Father, upon hearing the story from the young man, began to discuss the plight of their situation and the threat of extinction at the hands of Filak and Tlanjo. I explained to him that I was not a gunrunner. To say he was disappointed would be an understatement. He showed off his weapons to me to show off his considerable power. I expressed the appropriate ammount of humility and told him that I might be able to help if he explained how he obtained his power.
First, I was shown the top of their canyon, a heavily guarded nook in which men were carting over melted down metal into a funnel. The funnel, I was shown, narrowed down until it dripped into a great hall with a pool of cave water at the bottom. The drops of metal would rapidly cool on the way down from the hot desert sun to the cool air of the cave until the mostly-hardened pellet hit the water. The slant of the cave then caused it to roll down to a deeper area of the pool. At least, I was informed that it was very deep. I could not tell for their was a hill of metal pellets that rose almost to peak right out of the water. Originally, Klto said, they had divers that retrieved the bullets. Now, they simply scooped them out of the water and into their ammo pouches. I was stunned. The Tlaktal had developed an almost infinite source of ammo. The guns they had purchased from traders with their resources of metal and livestock at first and now were taking from the enemies they had killed. Never in my lifetime would I think to have seen a contraption, an operation so ingenious and destructive as this. Though my experience as an anthropologist begged me to remain uninvolved, my emotions compelled me to do otherwise. I told myself that I would need to study this tribe longer, especially at this moment in their history. In hindsight, I think perhaps I was only fooling myself.