“He looks healthy, which is very encouraging. He has survived this long in a very violent frontier region of the Amazon.”
If the man being described was a cast member on a popular reality show, this would not be news. However, this is the sad story of a real survivor -- the last member of a lost Amazon tribe who has lived alone for the last 22 years in a real-life “Truman Show” world under the surveillance of Brazilian officials who have stopped trying to make contact after being shot at with arrows.
“This man, who is a mystery to us, has lost everything, his people, a series of cultural practices. Yet, he has proven that, despite being all alone in the jungle, it’s possible to survive and resist joining mainstream society.”
In a press release by FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation of the Brazilian government which helps protect that country’s indigenous peoples, Altair Algayer, an agency coordinator, announced it had recently reconfirmed the presence of the so-called “Indian of the Hole” (because of his living quarters) who has been monitored in Rondinia state (in northwest Brazil on the border with Bolivia) since 1996 shortly after the rest of his people were massacred by farmers, loggers and developers.
“We don’t know who he belongs to.”
Algayer says FUNAI members believe the man was around 35 when they discovered him, so he’s now between 55 and 60 and appears to be in good health. Because they’ve never contacted him, they don’t know anything about the small tribe he once was a member of. FUNAI rules dictate no contact with such isolated indigenous peoples, but they tried occasionally up until 2005 because it appeared he was alone and in danger. After the man attacked them with an arrow, they quit trying to meet him and instead left him tools and seeds for corn, potatoes, papayas and bananas. Subsequent monitoring showed the seeds were planted and harvested. He was last seen in May 2016 and footprints and a newly cut tree were found in 2018. A video of him taken in 2011 can be seen here.
“I believe he is much better off than if, way back, he had made contact.”
Is he? FUNAI protects over 100 isolated communities of indigenous peoples in remote parts of Brazil – well, they appear to be remote from the air. However, José Carlos Meirelles, a former Funai official who has been working with isolated tribes since 1971, told The New York Times:
“The problem is that there are no empty spaces in the Amazon. You fly over it and see all that forest, but down there, it’s full of people — drug dealers, illegal loggers and others.”
It’s a credit to this unnamed last member of a lost tribe that he has managed to survive and it’s a credit to the members of FUNAI that he’s been protected … but for how long will this resistance against progress and big money be able to continue? FUNAI reports that post used for monitoring the man was attacked in 2009. Fiona Watson, the research and advocacy director at Survival International, a group that advocates for the protection of isolated communities, told The New York Times that, while this real survivor is a symbol of resilience and resistance, that resistance is futile.
“But we are witnessing genocide in real time. Once he’s gone, his people will have disappeared forever, along with all their history and knowledge. To me, that’s a huge loss, and one that can and must be stopped.”
Can we? Must we? Is it already too late?