Last known survivor of Amazon tribe, who escaped contact, dies

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Screenshot from a video file taken in March 2011 by the Indian National Foundation of Brazil

Brasília:

For more than 20 years, he lived alone in the Brazilian Amazon eating nuts, fruits and game – a symbol of the struggle of indigenous peoples who live isolated in the rainforest.

Now this man whose very name was unknown is dead and his passing has made headlines around the world.

His life was marked by massacres that left him as the sole survivor of a small tribe attacked by gunmen apparently hired by ranchers seeking to exploit the pristine Amazon.

He was found dead lying in a hammock on August 23 in the indigenous territory of Tanaru. Authorities found no signs of abuse and believe he died of natural causes.

The man was covered in the shiny feathers of a bird called a guacamaya, a type of macaw, local media reported.

The Tanaru Indigenous Territory covers 8,000 hectares (30 square miles) of protected rainforest in the state of Rondonia in southwestern Brazil, bordering Bolivia. The reserve is surrounded by extensive cattle ranches.

Plagued by rogue miners and loggers whose work is illegal, it is one of the most dangerous regions in Brazil, according to Survival International NGP.

The land of Tanaru “is like a green oasis in the sea of ​​destruction,” said NGO director Fiona Watson.

An arrow shot

“The Man in the Hole” was first spotted in 1996 by a documentary crew traveling with officials from the National Indian Foundation, a government agency investigating a massacre against his tribe.

Proving the presence of natives in the forest area of ​​Tanaru was necessary to grant legal protection to the area.

The footage was featured in a documentary titled “Corumbiara” in 2009.

We see the eyes of the man scrutinizing the interior of a straw hut. A spear comes out at some point, as if to frighten visitors. But no one says a word.

Over the years, Funai teams have returned with representatives from neighboring tribes to try to determine what language the man spoke and learn more about his people.

But he made it clear that he didn’t want to hire anyone. Feeling threatened, he once fired an arrow which seriously injured a member of the visiting team.

“You can only imagine what this man was thinking, going through, living alone, unable to talk to anyone and I think very scared because any stranger to him was a threat, given his terrible experience,” Watson said.

After that, the authorities simply tried to patrol his territory and look for signs that he was still alive.

In the last known footage of him alive – shot in 2011 but released only seven years later – he is seen half-naked chopping down a tree with an axe.

Besides the bows and arrows that showed he hunted, there were gardens where he grew fruits and vegetables, such as papaya and cassava.

“We saw one of his gardens and it was full of produce – very well kept,” said Watson, who visited the site in 2005.

But what has fascinated researchers the most are the many holes he dug – about two meters (seven feet) deep and with sharp spears at the bottom.

Funai said officials found 53 places that had been his home in Tanaru territory, always with the same structure: a small straw hut with a door and a hole.

The holes were used to trap animals, but experts believe they may also have been a place to hide from intruders or had some sort of spiritual purpose.

The holes, Watson said, are “a mystery that died with it,” as did the history of the Tanaru people.

Funai has identified 114 indigenous groups that live in isolation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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