Thousands Once Spoke His Language in the Amazon. Now, He’s the Only One.

A Life of Isolation

When Amadeo, the youngest of the Taushiro, arrived with a girl named Margarita Machoa, declaring that she would be his wife, there was a sigh of relief in Aucayacu. The Taushiro line was continuing.

“She fell in love with me,” said Amadeo, recalling how he and Margarita had played with her toy dolls after meeting.

Amadeo was a grown man. Margarita was 12 years old.

Amadeo soon wound up in jail, arrested at the request of the girl’s father. He said Margarita was too young to give Amadeo her consent.

In the end, it was Ms. Alicea, the linguist, who brokered Amadeo’s release, arguing that Peruvian law allowed indigenous men to marry according to their customs. Converting the clan to Christianity was possible, Ms. Alicea felt, but the changes could go only so far.

“It was typical among natives; I had seen this with Candoshi, with the Sharpras people,” Ms. Alicea said. “They had such small girls with the oldest men. At least this was better.”

Within months, Margarita was pregnant with Amadeo’s first child, a girl they named Margarita. The baby was the first of five.

Amadeo and Ms. Alicea continued their work recording the Taushiro language, fighting pressure from the missionaries to move onto other groups. Amadeo had given Ms. Alicea a Taushiro name, ukuka, or sister, and she called him ukuañuka, or younger brother, in return.

During the birth of his last son, also named Amadeo, Ms. Alicea cut the umbilical cord by the side of the river. The two were becoming inseparable, working long hours to document Taushiro words.

“She would ask, ‘What is this called?’” Amadeo recalled. “‘How do you say nail? How do you say toe?’”

Amadeo taught his children the ways of the clan, particularly David, Daniel and Jonathan, who were becoming quick with blow guns and spears. On early mornings, he took them to gather the palm leaves they had left near termites’ nests the day before. The…

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