‘Man of the Hole’, Last Survivor of Amazonian Tribe In Brazil Has Died
A lone indigenous man living in the Brazilian Amazon forest who had avoided contact with the outside world for decades has died. The man who was known as the “Man of the Hole” was the last member of his tribe, the rest of whom were massacred from the 1970s onwards, leaving him as the only inhabitant of Tanaru Indigenous Territory in Rondonia state, in the western Brazilian Amazon, reports Survival International.
According to IflScience, National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) officials who had been monitoring him from a distance found his body in a hammock in his hut. They reported he had placed brightly colored feathers around his body, suggesting he had prepared for death. It is thought that he died from natural causes, and it is estimated that he was around 60 years old. There will be an autopsy to confirm cause of death.
Uncontacted Tribes in the Amazon
In 2018, a Brazilian indigenous affairs department, the National Indian Foundation, also known as FUNAI, released a remarkable video showing footage of the ‘man of the hole’ surviving in the Amazon rainforest completely alone. The video was filmed in 2011 and was used to help to preserve an area reserved for indigenous uncontacted people.
It was reported by Survival that ‘Brazil is home to the world's largest population of uncontacted people, and 80 of these tribes are thought to live in the Amazon’. They are small groups of nomadic hunter-gathers whose lands are threatened by development and especially by illegal loggers - and they shun outsiders. This is because these indigenous communities are often attacked by outsiders, and they are especially vulnerable to communicable diseases such as flu. These groups are in the main located in the Brazilian states of Rondonia and Mato Grosso.
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State of Rondônia, Brazil. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Last of his Tribe
The man belonged to a small group of indigenous who were wiped out. Illegal loggers and cattle ranchers invaded isolated territory in Rondônia in the 1980s and 1990s. Many indigenous tribes were driven from their land, killed by diseases or murdered. The man was the lone survivor of a small mysterious tribe, whose name and language are unknown.
Fiona Watson, Survival’s Research and Advocacy Director, visited the territory in 2004, said, following the report of his death:
“No outsider knew this man’s name, or even very much about his tribe – and with his death the genocide of his people is complete. For this was indeed a genocide – the deliberate wiping out of an entire people by cattle ranchers hungry for land and wealth”, quoted Survival International.
The video footage that was the first evidence of the man still living in the area showed him chopping down a tree, wearing just a loincloth. The video was shot in the remote Tanaru indigenous reserve, which was only established several years ago. It was shot in 2011 by a member of FUNAI and the organization has been monitoring him from afar to provide continued evidence that he was still alive.
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The man was well-known to FUNAI. They were aware of the existence of this lone survivor for over twenty years. The agency gave him the nickname of the ‘man of the hole’ because of the many holes he dug in the forest for various purposes. He would dig holes to trap animals and also to hide in them, possibly still wary of ranchers and loggers.
FUNAI tried to contact the man in the late 1990s, but he resisted their attempts and even shot arrows at those who came near him. Since 2005 the agency has only monitored him to make sure that he is not at risk from any intruders into the reservation and check on his well-being.
The Brazilian indigenous affairs department believed that the man was only able to survive, because the area where he lives, hunts and occasionally plants food, had been protected by the federal government. Whether that protection will now continue remains uncertain.
The reason FUNAI issued the video footage in 2018 was to show that the individual was still alive and that his territory still needed to be protected, as required by law. This allowed the Brazilian indigenous affairs department to keep ranchers and others out of the Tanaru indigenous reserve. The man’s death now changes that situation.
A local FUNAI worker stated that the man proved that even ‘alone in the middle of the bush, it is possible to survive and resist allying with society.' The existence of the man of the hole demonstrated that there is still the possibility of more isolated groups of uncontacted people surviving in the dense forests of the Amazon. This shows that the existing reservations need to be preserved to protect any remaining uncontacted tribes and individuals from the outside world.
Top image: Funai-Fundacao Nacional do Indio [Funai] captured this image of the Indigenous man believed to have been living alone for 26 years. Source: Funai-Fundacao Nacional do Indio
By Ed Whelan