A slow genocide is now complete, with the news that the so-called “Man of the Hole”, thought to be the last inhabitant of the Tanaru Indigenous Territory, Brazil, has died. The man, whose true name will never be known, was the only survivor of a series of massacres apparently intended to destroy his people so their land would become available for exploitation.
The Man of the Hole belonged to a tribe who lived in Rondonia State, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. They resisted all attempts at contact with them by outside societies. Loggers and cattle ranchers have long coveted this people’s land, and a string of massacres removed one major obstacle. However, no one has ever been convicted.
The Brazilian government Indigenous agency FUNAI observed the area. Since a massacre in the mid-1990s they have found evidence of only one survivor, who dug deep holes, sometimes to hide and shelter in, sometimes including sharpened stakes. Unsurprisingly, the atrocities to his fellow people did not make him any keener to respond to efforts to make contact.
Nevertheless, FUNAI left tools and traditional seeds where he could access them. FUNAI’s Altair Algayer kept the world aware of the man’s survival, and was able to get the territory legally reserved for him enlarged.
Now, however, the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (OPI) has reported his death.
The massacres that wiped out the Man’s relatives began in the 1970s, when Brazil was under military rule, and continued into the 1990s under various democratically elected governments. It's thought at some point, sugar laced with rat poison was left as a "gift" by illegal ranchers, killing all but the Man.
Democratically elected governments did make some efforts to stop such events from repeating, something Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has reversed while campaigning to remove protection for indigenous lands.
“He symbolized both the appalling violence and cruelty inflicted on Indigenous peoples worldwide in the name of colonization and profit, but also their resistance. We can only imagine what horrors he had witnessed in his life, and the loneliness of his existence after the rest of his tribe were killed, but he determinedly resisted all attempts at contact, and made clear he just wanted to be left alone,” Fiona Watson, of campaign group Survival International, said in a statement.
Watson visited Tanaru in 2004 with FUNAI’s monitoring team and wrote at the time “His presence is everywhere in the forest."
FUNAI officials who had been monitoring his well-being from a distance found his body in a hammock. He had placed brightly colored feathers around his body, possibly suggesting he had prepared for death. He was estimated to be around 60 years old.
Although it is too late for the Man of the Hole and his people, what comes next could prove crucial for other First Nations populations, particularly in Brazil. The owners of the cattle ranches that surround the Territory, including those responsible for the killing of the Man’s people, will likely argue his death makes his land available for economic exploitation. However, this would send a disastrous message to business interests elsewhere as to the consequences of further massacres.
“If President Bolsonaro and his agribusiness allies get their way, this story will be repeated over and over again until all the country’s Indigenous peoples are wiped out,” Watson said. For example, a campaign is underway to remove protection for Ituna Itatá, a larger indigenous territory. “The Indigenous movement in Brazil, and Survival, will do everything possible to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Watson said.
FUNAI has estimated there are 113 uncontacted tribes living in the Brazilian portion of Amazon alone, along with many more that have retained their lifestyles despite contact.