He was found by chance on 24 August in the Brazilian state of Rondônia during a routine patrol by agents responsible for the protection of indigenous people. In the heart of this forest where he has always lived: lying in a hammock outside his thatched huts, his decaying body covered in brightly colored parrot feathers, “as if preparing for death“said Marcelo dos Santos, a retired explorer who followed his welfare for Funai, Brazil’s national indigenous foundation. His death, considered natural, dates back more than a month.
Known as the “man in the hole”, the latest member of an indigenous group was found dead this month in Brazil, marking the first recorded disappearance of an isolated tribe in the country. https://t.co/ep4jasih8m
– The New York Times (@nytimes) August 30, 2022
Spotted in 1996 near the border between Brazil and Bolivia, the man resisted all attempts at prolonged contact for 26 years. Only rarely does it he accepted the few seeds and tools left for him to improve their quality of lifebut twice he shot arrows at Funai agents who got too close to him.
In 2008, a Franco-Brazilian anthropologist, Vincent Carelli, grabbed his face in the leaves. We see it in his film “Corumbiara”. But the latest footage dates back to 2018, shot on the sly by officials from the government’s indigenous affairs department. The man, of good build, is almost naked. He cuts a tree trunk with some kind of ax. No one has seen him since.
‘Man of the Hole’: Last known member of uncontacted Amazonian tribe dies https://t.co/7NtkeV12AV pic.twitter.com/p3PqeYitMZ
– New York Post (@nypost) August 30, 2022
He was famous and yet he had no name … He was simply called “Índio do Buraco”, “the native of the hole”, because he systematically dug holes three meters deep in his huts to hide or shelter (Funai had listed 53 different thatched houses since 1996), others in the jungle to catch animals. He died without ever revealing which ethnicity he belonged to. No one has ever heard of him.
We know, despite everything, that he was the last survivor of his tribe, decimated over the years by anarchist colonization and illegal logging in Rondônia. In the 1980s, farmers looking for land to expand distribute rat poison as an offering, there are only a handful of survivors. Fifteen years later, in 1995, other individuals attacked the camp and massacred what remained of the tribe. “The man in the hole” is the only one to survive. Living in complete isolation away from strangers, running away from men was his best chance of survival.
In 1998, to protect it, the Funai created a huge fenced reserve of 8,000 hectares known as the indigenous territory of Tanaru – according to the Brazilian constitution, indigenous people have a right to their traditional lands.
Access is restricted, agents patrol regularly … But several times his farm plots and huts are destroyed. In 2009, farmers damaged a Funai observation post and fired shots. Indigenous rights groups have demanded that even after his death, the Tanaru reservation receive permanent protection. For the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Publica, it was the “Symbol of the resistance of isolated indigenous peoples” in Brazil.
The man in the hole is not the last isolated Indian in the Amazon: there are still about thirty groups deep in the jungle, of which we know almost nothing about their language or culture.
But Brazil has a total of around 240 tribes, which have been increasingly threatened since Jair Bolsonaro came to power from raids by miners, loggers or farmers. The Head of State – who in October puts his mandate back on the line – does not hide his contempt for the Indians. He also said that his country had “I made a mistake“not decimating them, as the United States had done. Jair Bolsonaro loosened regulations to expand logging, farming and mining in the Amazon and reduced protections for indigenous groups and protected lands, and cut the federal funds and personnel, undermining agencies responsible for enforcing indigenous and environmental laws.
The risks facing indigenous peoples in Brazil were highlighted recently when activist Txai Suruí received death threats after delivering a passionate speech at the opening ceremony of the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow.