Tarzan: king of the capitalists

  • 2001-02-15
  • Graham Anderson
The king may be dead, but Tarzan is alive and well and living far away from Africa in a remote forest in Lithuania. Just call him on his mobile phone at 2 238 13040 to find out.

And if you ever wondered how Tarzan made ends meet in his daily battles with Mother Nature, for a small fee heÕd tell you the secret to staying at the top of the food chain - become a media star.

In fact the king of the primates has a price to fit every pocket. For $5 you can take a photo of the 57-year-old apeman, $10 will get you his primeval call, $20 will see him strip down to his animal skins and club, and for $50 heÕll swing from the top of a tree into a lake with the accompanying primeval scream.

While it is widely known that Tarzan - alias 57 - year-old Lithuanian Algimantas Arcimavicius - has survived almost every possible life-threatening situation, for just $15 you can discover the lesser known fact that he is a hardcore capitalist who fought and overcame Russian communism as well. And all this while surviving on grasses and berries and battling his way through three marriages 15 meters up in his tree hut.

ItÕs not surprising then to learn that the Soviet navy was eager to recruit the young Tarzan, albeit compulsorily. After a rather humble beginning as a cook, he quickly became the most famous crew member on his ship becoming boxing champion, star athlete, and swimming champ in all strokes (all of which he learned from a book).

What language the book was in he doesnÕt say, but itÕs a waste of time asking the king of the apes for he mastered Russian in just two months, and time is money in this jungle. Just ask Tarzan.

In the confusion of feats and events that pepper his military career, such as pulling the shipÕs chain and anchor up, tightrope walking between ships, and then being recruited into a crack commando diving unit, I inadvertently remark that he is like Rambo, upon which Tarzan promptly pulls me back into line: ÒMe not Rambo, me Tarzan!Ó

Over a price-included breakfast of rice and grass with his 32-year-old third wife Danute, Tarzan takes a break from his morning weightlifting session next to the twin lakes of Diev Peda (GodÕs Feet) to explain how he came to live in the Ignalina Nature Reserve in central Lithuania, also home to the Ignalina nuclear power plant.

During the communist era he was a successful artist (as a jeans designer) and Òfree man,Ó who came to live in the forest in 1983 under the guidance of his friend and mentor Victalius, who lived in a tree for seven years.

ÒHe met a girl, fell in love, and went back to live in town,Ó says a reflective Tarzan. ÒHe left his tree for a woman. Perhaps he was looking for himself, but that is something Tarzan will never do, all of TarzanÕs women must live with him in the tree.Ó

It seems, however, that the jungle hero has softened and fallen victim to female charms in recent years without knowing it. Instead of spending the freezing winter months in the forest, he now retreats back to his hometown of Anyksciai, where a good supply of his staple diet of berries, nettles, mushrooms and grasses can hopefully be found.

ÒBananas,Ó he says leaning on his battered Russian-built Lada sedan, Òare not natural to this part of the world, so I never eat them.Ó Unfortunately, his apparently natural-to-this-part-of-the-world Lada proves to be less reliable than old-fashioned vines and ropes and needs a push start before it splutters into life. As we tear past a sign at the entrance to his revere I notice that neither drugs, alcohol nor dogs are considered native to this part of the world, and a little further up the track he shows sadly where his best friend in the forest, a deer, was recently found shot. His wife doesnÕt seem to notice this remark, so neither do I.

After an hour of roller blading on a remote country road dotted with ornate wooden farmersÕ houses, Tarzan feels the urge to return to the elements and once again engage in the eternal battle with the forces of nature. This is the stuff of dog eat dog, of eat or be eaten, a place where only the strongest survive. And besides, there could be a fee-paying journalist waiting.

Despite many run-ins with the police during the communist era who wanted to jail him because he had no home nor fixed employment, the man from the elements finally made the authorities understand that anywhere can be his home. The ministry responsible for national parks allowed him to build a tree house and made him an unofficial protector of the territory, or Òsanitary worker,Ó as Tarzan wryly comments.

Others may disagree with the cash-oriented jungle kingÕs self-description, but my time is up with the combat-clad forest cleaner and he lets me know that ÒTarzan not happy with pay.Ó Media interviews cost $50 and not $15. My translator had confused the numbers.

Luckily the primeval capitalist is temporarily distracted and must hurry away to charge some locals who are wandering around free-of-charge in his forest photo gallery, where he exhibits his newly discovered expertise as a photographer.

This is capitalism at its primeval best, and I use the chance to escape from the forces of nature back into the safer world of market forces. But not before Tarzan lets me know he is also available for an all-expenses paid exhibition of his photographs in Australia, which I have revealed is my home country. There he could teach people about nature and reconnect them to their surroundings, via his many photographs of young girls, all natural of course.

No doubt the profit-oriented primate could also teach businessmen a trick or two about survival in the capitalist jungle.