What we did for rubber: The Putumayo Affair


by Adam Courtenay

BLOOD RUBBER - HOW THE AMAZON DIED tells the extraordinary story of one of the blackest episodes in Amazonian history, known as the Putumayo Affair. In 1907, Walter Hardenburg, a young American explorer and engineer, was canoeing slowly down a meandering tributary of the great river, in deepest Amazonia, in search of adventure. The realm of Captain Kurtz’s Apocalypse Now seems tame by comparison with what he found through the mist up ahead.

Hardenburg had entered the rubber domain of Julio César Arana, a rubber fiefdom gone mad – where the only law that counted was the ‘Winchester constitution’: the rifle made all the rules. The native people were routinely enslaved to work the rubber plantations, and flogged, raped and tortured to death if they resisted.

Something snapped inside the young, idealistic Hardenburg when he witnessed these scenes: thousands of native people were being slaughtered to satisfy the West’s insatiable demand for rubber. The rubber extraction methods that produced car tyres, rubber hoses and countless other products relied on an entrenched system of utter barbarism. Hardenburg vowed to seek justice for thousands of victims of the Putumayo atrocities, and to publicise the destruction of their lives and culture across the world.

This is the story of how he did it. Blood Rubber is about the power of one versus the power of the machine … of utter evil versus improbable goodness.


Adam Courtenay


Adam Courtenay is an Australian adventurer and writer who canoed up the Amazon as part of his research for this book. He has trekked some of the world’s most enthralling and difficult trails: retraced Hannibal’s footsteps over the Alps; slogged over the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea; and walked the Aboriginal Larapinta ‘Dreamtime’ in the central Australian desert. As a journalist and writer, he has worked for the Financial Times and as Sydney-based correspondent for the UK’s Sunday Times. He currently writes for The Sydney Morning Herald/Age and is the Australian correspondent for the online finance platform TradingFloor.com. His interest in Amazonian history goes back five years – he has explored the Amazon twice and written one ebook, Grand Mistresses of the Amazon. He is currently writing a larger non-fiction work on the entire history of the Amazon basin, which he plans to publish soon as Amazon Men.