Amazon activists mourn the ‘man of the hole’, the last of his tribe

An unidentified and charismatic indigenous man believed to be the last of his tribe has died in the Brazilian Amazon, sparking dismay among activists lamenting the loss of a different ethnic language and culture.

The lonely and mysterious man was known only as the Indio do Buracoor the “Indigenous Man of the Hole” because he spent much of his life hiding or seeking shelter in pits he dug in the ground.

Over a period of decades, with his country under attack and friends and family killed, he resisted all attempts at contact, setting traps and shooting arrows at anyone who came near.

Related: Record number of indigenous candidates contest elections in Brazil

“After enduring horrific massacres and land invasions, his best chance of survival was to refuse contact with outsiders,” said Sarah Shenker, an activist with Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples.

“He was the last of his tribe and that’s another tribe that went extinct – not disappeared like some people say, it’s a much more active and genocidal process than disappearance.”

Officials know very little about the man, but his determined independence and apparent solace helped create a mystique around him that drew the attention of activists and media across Brazil and around the world.

“He didn’t trust anyone because he had a lot of traumatizing experiences with non-indigenous people,” said Marcelo dos Santos, a retired explorer who oversaw his welfare for Funai, Brazil’s national indigenous foundation.

Dos Santos said he and other FUNAI officials left strategically placed gifts of tools, seeds and food but were always rebuffed.

They believe that sometime in the 1980s, after leaving initial offerings of sugar, illegal ranchers gave the tribe rat poison, which killed all but the “man of the hole.”

A FUNAI official who monitored the man’s well-being remotely found his decomposed body lying in a hammock. Because he had colorful feathers wrapped around his body, the officer believes the man was preparing to die. He estimated the man’s age at about 60 years.

Indigenous organizations estimate the number of remaining tribes at between 235 and 300, but an exact number is difficult to pinpoint as some tribes had very little contact with settler society.

At least 30 groups are believed to live deep in the jungle and little is known about their numbers, language or culture.

“Because he firmly resisted all attempts at contact, he died without disclosing his ethnicity or the reasons for the holes he dug in his home,” wrote the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recent Contact Indigenous Peoples (OPI). when he found out about the man’s death.

“[He] clearly expressed his option to distance himself without ever saying a single word that would allow his identification with a known indigenous language.”

OPI said Funai officials first noticed the man in the mid-1990s. Indigenous activists found small plots of cultivated land that had been destroyed by invading ranchers and the remains of dwellings that they believed had been swept away by tractors. Large hand-dug pits were also present.

The area along Brazil’s border with Bolivia has been and continues to be attacked by ranchers, prospectors and loggers who covet its valuable natural resources.

The discovery prompted the Funai to fence off an area where the man could live unhindered, and in 1997 the Tanaru Reservation was formally established.

The OPI called for the reserve to be preserved in its current state and urged officials to conduct archaeological and anthropological studies that could shed some light on the man’s background and way of life.

The number of tribes whose lands are under threat has skyrocketed since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took power in 2018. The number of recorded invasions on tribal land rose to 305 last year from 109 in 2018, according to rights group Cimi.

Bolsonaro has long made clear his disdain for tribal peoples, once saying that Brazil made a mistake by not decimating tribal peoples like US cavalry did. Before assuming the presidency, he vowed not to give any more land to the indigenous people, and he has kept that promise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.