Ubajara? The Tunnel of the Phoenicians in Brazil

Text by Pablo Villarrubia Mauso

Some places of the Brazilian North and Northeast show signs that, according to some scholars, can prove the presence of the Phoenicians in our country around 1.100 B.C.

Could it be that the Phoenicians had been in South America, more specifically, in the North of Brazil? What would seem for orthodox archaeologists to be a remote hypothesis was not so for the Austrian explorer Ludwig Schwennhagen. Ludwig believed that the Seven Cities, in the state of Piauí, was a stronghold of the Phoenicians some aboriginal confederations.

I decided to follow in the steps of the Austrian scholar through the sands of the desert of Ceará. There a great oasis, stuck in the mountain range called Sierra Ibiapaba, 330 kilometers from the city of Fortaleza. It is the location of the National Park of Ubajara, the last area of native Atlantic forest in the northeast of the country. I arrived at the town of Ubajara in a bus, out of the city of Teresina, state of Piauí, over some 300 kilometers of distance.

When I got down off the bus, I saw myself encircled by a multitude of goats that grazed calmly through the streets of the city. A few meters away, the large statue of an indian was erected inside of a canoe with his paddle.

Later, I found out about a legend from the 16th century which spoke of a very powerful, old Chief of the Tupi-Guarani tribe who lived in a grotto in the Mountain range of the Ibiapaba. The first Portuguese who had arrived there would see the chieftain sailing along rivers and streams of rare beauty. His name was Ubajara, which meant “lord of the canoes.”  

Less than five kilometers from the town, one finds the entrance of the National Park (the smallest one in Brazil, only 563 Brazilian hectares large). From a lookout point, the flattened sierras replete with vegetation may be observed, contrasting with the dryness of the plains regions. Right near the edge of the abyss, there is a teleferic cable that goes down some 420 meters and leads the passengers to the entrance of a great cave.  

I looked for another way to get to the cave, a little more difficult but more interesting- I hiked five kilometers through a jungle short cut and observed monkeys, great rodents and some snakes along the way.There, I found the Waterfall of the Caipora, that probably takes this name due to the supposed appearances of the mythical being, the protector of the animals, who has the peculiar physical characteristic of having its feet turned backwards, just like its Northeast Argentine counterpart of similar legend.  

The entrance to the underground world was discovered by the Bandeirantes expedition in 1738; they had confused the brightness of the stalagtites with veins of silver. Embedded in the wall, a few yards from the entrance, there is an image of Our Lady of Lourdes. Until the 1950s, it was there that a sacred walk which simulated the Calvary of Christ ended, tradition that today has been lost. The cave is about  1,120 meters long and 70 deep, but even nowadays some tunnel ways exist that have not been explored nor mapped.  

In an article by Schwennhagen, published in September of 1925, in the periodical called The Press of Sobral, in Ceará state, the scholar placed objections to a natural origin of the grotto, attributing its artificial nature to the old Tupi indians. In the article, he said that, in the high Mountain range of the Ibiapaba, there was an ample cut in form of an amphitheater, with symmetrical hillsides some 500 high. In one place, a kind of fissure opens up and runs along until, further up, it finds the entrance of the great cave. “Later on,” he wrote, the priests decided to cut out a cavern of bigger dimensions. Thus the great project started, whose execution took two hundred or three hundred years.  

The mountain range of Ubatuba, next to Ubajara, was another place chosen by the Phoenicians to explore wealth mineral, according to the theory of Ludwig Schwennhagen. “... there is also a mineral with the brightness of the silver which is up there, that could be lead or tin. Some distance from the town of Ubatuba there is the city of Viçosa (Viçosa of Ceará state) which is 30 kilometers away; the great copper deposits start at around halfway... copper and tin were, for the Phoenicians, as important a wealth as gold”wrote Schwennhagen in his book Ancient History of Brazil: 1.100 B.C. to 1,500 A.C. (1928).  

Even now, according to the author, from Viçosa on South, there extends an ample mineral zone inside of the Mountain range of the Ibiapaba, which has dozens of hills, tunnels and grottos. “... the most interesting point of interest being the immense cavern system of Ubajara, with twelve great halls and more than a thousand meters of underground corridors, and beyond part which is so far unexplored. A huge controversy came up in relation to this cavern system between the author of this paper and the adherents to the erosion theory, who declare the cavern to be a work of nature. There is no doubt that the  grotto of Ubajara was a salitre plant, whose mineral was extracted by means of an artificial filtering still in use today in Syria and Asia Minor.  

Schwennhagen remembered that there used to be a legend according to which an underground river used to leave the grotto of Ubajara in the direction of the state of Piauí, that, during droughts, would form a passageway which the people could use for walking many leagues.  

Nowadays, the artificial nature of the cave is contested by geologists.

Still, though, the belief survives that a great underground river exists that connects the grotto with the formations of Seven Cities. It is through this underground passage that the treasure hunters and other curiosity seekers that had tried, without success, disappeared forever, failing to make passage of 140 kilometers in a straight line. Another mystery: Years ago, in the entire region, UFOs were observed, some of them being huge, almost always floating over the mountain ranges.

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