According to new reports, the last member of his tribe, commonly called the Indigenous Man of the Hole, has been found dead in the Amazon by a Funai official.
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The death in the Brazilian Amazon of a charismatic Indigenous man believed to be the last of his tribe has alarmed activists mourning the loss of a different ethnic language and culture.
Due to the fact that he spent a large portion of his life hiding or finding shelter in pits he dug in the earth, the lone and enigmatic guy was only known as the “Indigenous man of the hole,” or “Índio do Buraco.”
He fought all attempts to contact him over a period of decades, during which his land was invaded and friends and family were slaughtered, by setting traps and shooting arrows at anyone who ventured too close.
“Having endured atrocious massacres and land invasions, rejecting contact with outsiders was his best chance of survival,” said Sarah Shenker, a campaigner at Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples.
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“He was the last of his tribe, and so that is one more tribe made extinct – not disappeared, as some people say, it’s much more active and genocidal a process than disappearing.”
Officials don’t know much about the individual, but his strong independence and obvious sense of comfort combined to create a mystique that drew activists and reporters from all over Brazil and the world to him.
Marcelo dos Santos, a former explorer who checked on him for Funai, Brazil’s national Indigenous foundation, claimed that “he didn’t trust anyone because he had many traumatising experiences with non-Indigenous people.”
Dos Santos claimed that he and other Funai officials left carefully arranged presents of gear, seeds, and food but that they were consistently ignored.
They think that in the 1980s, after leaving early presents of sugar, illegal ranchers gave the tribe rat poison, whereby all save the “man of the hole” died.
A Funai official who was keeping tabs on the man’s condition from a distance discovered his body in a decomposing state in a hammock. The official thinks the man had prepared for death since he had wrapped brightly coloured feathers around his torso. He estimated the man’s age to be around 60.
Indigenous organisations estimate that there are between 235 and 300 remaining tribes, however it is difficult to pinpoint a precise number because some tribes have had little interaction with settler society.
There are thought to be at least 30 communities living in the dense jungle, and little is known about their numbers, languages, or cultures.
“Because he resolutely resisted any attempts at contact, he died without revealing which ethnicity he belonged to, nor the motivations of the holes he dug inside his house,” the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recent Contact Indigenous Peoples (OPI) wrote on learning of the man’s death.
“[He] clearly expressed his option for distancing himself without ever saying a single word that would allow his identification with some known Indigenous language.”
The individual was allegedly spotted by Funai officials in the middle of the 1990s. Indigenous activists discovered the remnants of houses they say were trampled by tractors as well as small farming plots that had been destroyed by encroaching ranchers. There were also large hand-dug pits.
Ranchers, prospectors, and loggers who are after the region’s priceless natural resources have attacked it in the past and are now doing so along Brazil’s border with Bolivia.
Following the discovery, Funai formally established the Tanaru reserve in 1997 and fenced off a space where the man could reside without interference.
OPI demanded that the area be kept in its current condition and urged officials to conduct anthropological and archaeological research that would provide light on the man’s background and way of life.
Since Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right president, assumed office in 2018, the number of tribes whose territory is in danger has increased. According to the rights group Cimi, the number of incursions reported on Indigenous land increased from 109 in 2018 to 305 last year.
Bolsonaro has long demonstrated his disdain for Indigenous peoples, once accusing Brazil of making a mistake by not exterminating them as the US cavalry did. He promised not to provide Indigenous people one more square centimetre of land before taking office, and he has kept that promise.