Imagine living on your own, in complete silence, always on the run, always fearful, invisible to the world. This is daily life for one solitary man in the Amazon. He’s the sole survivor of his tribe. We don’t know who he is, the name of his tribe or what language he speaks. His people were probably massacred by cattle ranchers who are invading the region at break neck speed.
It’s eery walking through the tiny patch of forest where he lives. His presence is everywhere and I can sense him watching our every move. Mario and Pedro, our Indian guides, point to one of his hunting shelters made of leaves, and a palm tree which he has chopped down to extract the palm heart.
He’s known simply as the ‘Last of his Tribe’ because of the huge holes he builds, either to trap animals or to hide in. Here is the hole (over six feet deep) in a tiny maloca (house) he abandoned, built of straw and thatch. Get too near and he will fire an arrow in warning. Last year he hit Tunio, who works for FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department. Fortunately, Tunio quickly recovered.Walking into somebody’s home uninvited feels like trespassing. Here are carved arrow heads, calabashes for storing water, dried nuts and a torch he has made from resin. His garden is brimming with produce – paw paw, manioc and corn. He will probably come under cover of night to gather the fruits when they are ripe. It must have taken him days to chop down the trees, single handed, to make the clearing.
We are not however voyeuristic interlopers. There’s a serious point to our visit. FUNAI wants to establish whether he is still alive, and if possible make friendly contact because they fear for his safety. Some of the ranchers have their eye on his land and there are plenty of trigger happy gun men who would think nothing of bumping him off for the cost of a night on the town. Not for nothing do many Brazilians call Rondônia the ‘bang bang’ state.
I am here because I want to tell his story as part of Survival’s ‘Uncontacted Tribes’ campaign, for the rights of isolated peoples around the world.
Some months after my visit I receive a rare piece of good news: FUNAI has decided not to contact the ‘Man of the Hole’, but to enlarge his tiny territory by 3,000 hectares to give him more space and more game to hunt. I hope that now he will have the chance to live out his life in peace.