The loneliest indigenous person in Brazil – the only survivor of the massacre of his tribe who chose to live the rest of his life without contact with others – was found dead a few days ago in the Tanaru indigenous land, in the state of Rondonia, in the Amazon . He lay in his hammock, covered in macaw feathers. Known as the Indian of the hole (indio do buraco, in Portuguese) because each of his huts always had a deep sinkhole, his semi-decomposed body was located last week by Altair Algayer, the indigenous official who for 26 years regularly monitored him on behalf of of the Brazilian state. His death also means the disappearance of his tribe, of unknown ethnicity because in all these years he never said a word to the whites. Authorities believe he died of natural causes.
The fact that he lived in solitude for a quarter of a century made the Indian in the hole one of the most well-known uncontacted Indians—those who reject relationships with the rest of society—in Brazil. The National Indian Foundation (Funai), the official body created to protect the natives, transferred his remains to Brasilia to be subjected to forensic analysis. The anonymous man lived in a territory of 80 square kilometers surrounded by cattle farms and in which a law that is renewed from time to time prevented strangers from entering to protect him. It is believed that he was in his 60s. The authorities intend to bury him on the land where he lived.
For the past 26 years, Algayer, a Funai employee, and his team have cared for the well-being of the indigenous person from a distance. Together they embody how the policy of no contact with natives who shun whites adopted by Brazil in the late 1980s works. Every three months, a Funai team approached him and placed a camera to follow his activities and see if the land he inhabited had been invaded. This is how they know that the shack in which he died was number 53 of those that he built over the years, “all with the same architectural pattern, with an entrance and exit door and always with a hole inside the door. house”, indicates the condolence note published by Funai.
A straw hut built by the man from the hole, in the Tanaru indigenous territory of the Brazilian state of Rondônia.J. Person (Survival International)
Marcelo dos Santos, from the team that protected him, explained to Amazonia Real that the indigenous man “was found in the hammock, covered in macaw feathers. He was waiting for death, he had no signs of violence”.
Few images exist of the anonymous indigenous. The clearest were recorded on video and released a few years ago by the body that watches over the aborigines. He appears naked, with a kind of cape, felling a tree without being aware that someone from a distance is zooming in and out of a camera.
In the delicate balance of the no-contact policy, the indigenous man never spoke in the presence of his caregivers —perhaps to avoid being identified by the language—, but he did come to accept some seeds and tools that were left him “to improve his quality of life”, as explained in a note from the OPI (Organization of Isolated Peoples, in Portuguese). Officials always avoided forcing contact with him.
The uncontacted Indians are the weakest link among the natives, although they are the ones who best preserve the jungle and biodiversity. Brazil has some 115 tribes counted. The Javari Valley, on the border with Colombia and Peru, is the place that most concentrates and the place where Bruno Pereira, a specialist in isolated natives, and the British journalist Dom Philips were killed last June by poachers.
The arrival of Jair Bolsonaro to power, almost four years ago, meant the growing weakening of the institutions that care for the environment, indigenous people and biodiversity.
A hole that man used to hide and trap animalsPhoto: J. Pessoa (Survival International) | Video: FUNAI
The Indian in the hole is known to have survived a massacre in 1995, when landowners in the region paid settlers to exterminate the entire tribe and destroy any trace of their existence. It was the way of appropriating jungle land to turn it into pasture. None of theirs survived. And he began a new stage in a chosen and almost absolute solitude. He fed on wild boars, turtles or birds that he hunted with arrows or traps. He also liked honey.
The OPI, an NGO, affirms that the solitary indigenous of the Tanaru land “was the victim of an atrocious process of extermination, as a result of the arrival of large estates sponsored by the State. He witnessed the death of his people, his land was turned into pasture and he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a small portion of the jungle intervened by justice and surrounded by large farms in the Corumbiara river region. , in Rondônia”. The NGO and other activists fear that, by losing its only inhabitant, the land to which he granted legal protection, it will be at the mercy of agricultural interests.