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.
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.
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”.
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.