January 18, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Last Surviving Member of an Unknown Tribe in Brazil


The Man of the Hole

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The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, and a stunning destination that tops the bucket list for tourists traveling South America.

As beautiful as it may be, this massive jungle has some deep, dark secrets lurking among the wildlife, one in particular being The Man of the Hole—the last surviving member of an unknown indigenous tribe in Brazil.

Who is The Man of the Hole?

BrazilWikipedia

The Man of the Hole is also known as the Tanaru Indian. He was a Native American who lived alone in the Amazon Rainforest in the Brazilian state of Rondonia.

He was believed to have lived into his 50s, and had spent at least 22 years of his life completely alone in isolation, living off the land.

The man had done everything possible to remain uncontacted, so much so that there are countless unknowns about him, including his name, language, and the tribe he came from.

Where did he live?

BrazilBBC

It is said that The Man of the Hole was the sole inhabitant of the Tanaru Indigenous Territory, as he was the last surviving member of his tribe. 

The area he roamed spanned around 4,000 hectares and is surrounded by private farmland and deforested clearings—which eventually became protected after discovering his existence.

Why was he alone?

DeforestationGetty Images

The Man of the Hole was forced into isolation after his people were destroyed in the ongoing genocide of Native Americans in Brazil. Outsiders wanted their land, and took it with force. 

Most of his tribe are believed to have lost their lives by settlers in the 1970s.

Neighboring tribes suffered the same fate. Any remaining survivors, apart from The Man of the Hole, were attacked by illegal miners in 1995, and their existence was wiped out. 

When was he found?

Brazilian tribeSurvival International

The Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), Brazil's government agency for Indigenous interests, first became aware of the Man of the Hole's isolated existence in 1996.

While bulldozing the area, they came across remains of a village that had been completed unknown up until that point, so no one knows what they were called, what language they spoke, or who The Man of the Hole was.

At this point, the FUNAI actively worked to preserve his way of life.

How did he survive for so long on his own?

Brazilian tribeSurvival International

The Man of the Hole was nomadic—he periodically moved his home, building temporary straw huts as shelter.

He hunted wild game, collected fruits and honey, and also planted corn. He used handmade tools, such as resin torches and arrows to provide for himself.

Much of his way of life remains a mystery as he was very good at staying hidden.

Why do we call him The Man of the Hole?

Brazilian TribeJ Pessoa, Survival International

He earned the nickname "The Man of the Hole" because of the deep ditches he would dig. It is assumed he used these holes for either safety and shelter, or for trapping game. Some holes were found with sharp stakes inside.

Some observers have also suggested a possible spiritual significance.

These holes were found in all locations he was believed to have lived. There had been over 50 huts and holes found around his territory.

14 similar holes were found in the ruined village where his tribe was lost in 1995.

Was he in danger?

Brazilian TribeNew York Post

The Man of the Hole was in grave danger for quite some time. He likely lived in constant fear of the outside world after the attack on his village that left him completely alone in life.

However, after he was discovered, protection efforts were made.

How was he protected?

Brazilian tribeNew York Post

Under the Brazilian constitution, indigenous people have the rights to the lands they traditionally occupy.

According to Fiona Watson, the research and advocacy director of Survival International, a non-profit group dedicated to tribal peoples' rights, “they have to keep proving that this man exists” in order to protect his land.

So, of course, they continued to look for the man who so greatly desired to be left alone.

Did they make contact?

Brazilian tribeSurvival International

The man was considered “uncontacted” for his entire life as no outsider had ever spoken to him.

It wasn’t until 2007 that FUNAI officially defined 8,000 hectares of his land as a protected Indigenous Territory. After this, they monitored him from afar to prevent intrusions into his land.

But sadly, it wasn’t enough.

Threats to His Survival

Amazon rainforestThe Organization for World Peace

Not everyone was on his side. Most of his protected land was desired by mining and logging companies. The only way they would get access to this land was upon his demise.

In 2009, the Man of the Hole was attacked by gunmen and just barely survived. He abandoned his hut and was rarely seen after that.

Trusting the Outsiders

Brazilian tribeThe Sun

Although he avoided further contact as much as he could, it was impossible. He was constantly monitored by outsiders, and he was aware of it. FUNAI sometimes left gifts for him, like tools and seeds, in an attempt to build trust.

It worked. The man had been seen signaling trusted outsiders of traps he had dug as defense mechanisms when they got close to drop off the gifts. Though he would keep major distance and avoid being seen.

His Demise

Brazilian tribe New York Times

On 24 August 2022, the Man of the Hole was found unresponsive by a FUNAI agent. His body was found “lying down in a hammock, and ornamented with macaw feathers as if waiting for death”.

There were no signs of violence or disturbance in or around his living quarters, so it is said he passed due to natural causes.

It was estimated that he passed in July of 2022 and was around 60 years old at the time.

His Legacy

Brazil rainforestNew York Post

The Man of the Hole’s demise gained national attention and environmental activists called for his territory to be permanently preserved as a memorial to Indigenous genocide. 

The Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Peoples (OPI) also called for the man’s body to be respected and returned to the Indigenous territory.

The Fight Continues in his Honor

Amazon RainforestSurvival International

Activists continue to fight to the rights of the Indigenous community, stating on many accounts that we “do not need to know anything about them”, and that they should be left alone.

Fiona Watson from Survival International connects The Man of the Hole’s demise to government policies: "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."

According to Survival International, Brazil's Amazon rainforest is home to more uncontacted tribes than anywhere in the world. 


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