'With his death the genocide of his people is complete'

Survival International
Human rights groups call for urgent protection of Indigenous land after death of last remaining member of an Amazonian tribe.

We can only imagine what horrors he had witnessed in his life, and the loneliness of his existence after the rest of his tribe was killed.

The sole survivor of an Amazonian tribe who had lived for decades in isolation as the only inhabitant of Tanaru Indigenous Territory in Rondonia state, in the western Brazilian Amazon, has died.

'Indigenous Man of the Hole’, as he was known, was found on 23 August 2022 in a hammock outside his straw hut. 

He was thought to have died of natural causes at the estimated age of 60, having lived alone following the massacre of his tribe decades earlier. There were no reported signs of violence or struggle. 

Safety 

Altair José Algayer, a patroller with Funai, discovered the body during a routine visit and said Indigenous Man of the Hole had covered himself in Macaw feathers, which is thought to be because "he was waiting for death".

Most of his tribe had been killed in a series of attacks from the 1970s onwards. In 1995, only six members of his tribe remained - and they were killed in an attack by illegal miners, making 'Indigenous Man of the Hole' the last surviving member. 

Little is known about him or his people - such as his language - since he resisted attempts to contact him.

Brazil's Indigenous Affairs Agency (Funai) had become aware of his survival in 1966 when they began monitoring the territory for his safety.  

Funai had a policy of avoiding contact with isolated groups and has protected his area since the 1990s. A campaign had fought to enlarge his tiny territory by 3,000 hectares to give him more space and more game to hunt. 

Protected 

He was known to outsiders as the 'Indigenous man of the hole' for his habit of constructing deep holes - some with sharpened stakes in them, possibly to trap animals, and others to hide in. He was filmed by a government team in 2018 during a chance encounter.

Tanaru territory stands as a small island of forest in a sea of vast cattle ranches, in one of the most violent regions in Brazil. Survival International, together with organisations inside Brazil, campaigned for many years for his land to be protected.

Fiona Watson, the research and advocacy director at Survival International, visited the territory in 2004 with a government monitoring team and wrote an account of her visit. She described his tiny patch of forest as "eery" since she could "sense him watching our every move”.

Alone

She said at the news 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.

“He symbolised both the appalling violence and cruelty inflicted on Indigenous peoples worldwide in the name of colonisation and profit, but also their resistance.

We can only imagine what horrors he had witnessed in his life, and the loneliness of his existence after the rest of his tribe was killed.

"We can only imagine what horrors he had witnessed in his life, and the loneliness of his existence after the rest of his tribe was killed, but he determinedly resisted all attempts at contact and made clear he just wanted to be left alone.”

She added: “If president [Jair] Bolsonaro and his agribusiness allies get their way, this story will be repeated over and over again until all the country’s Indigenous peoples are wiped out. The Indigenous movement in Brazil, and Survival, will do everything possible to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Abolish 

The Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and recently-contacted Peoples (OPI), has called for the Tanaru reserve to be permanently protected as a memorial to Indigenous genocide - which has been backed by Survival International. 

The 8,000-hectare Tanaru Indigenous Territory is one of seven territories in Brazil protected by Land Protection Orders

Bolsonaro has long campaigned to abolish these protections. In the first part of his presidency, deforestation reached record levels in the first half of 2022 - by encouraging mining and farming activities to take part in the Amazon. 

Funai believes there are around 113 uncontacted tribes living in the Brazilian Amazon. After Indigenous Man of the Hole’s death, human rights groups, such as Survival International, are calling for permanent protection of Indigenous territory to ensure the survival of some of the world's last remaining tribes.

This Author 

Yasmin Dahnoun is the assistant editor of The Ecologist. This story is based on a Survival International press release.

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