The loneliest man on the planet: Face of a man who has lived alone in the Amazon for 22 years after the rest of his tribe was slaughtered is revealed
- He was captured on camera swinging a home made axe at a tree in the Amazon
- Man in his 50s is last of a tribe known as the Flecheiros, or ‘People of the Arrow’
- The solo Amazon tribesman has been dubbed the ‘loneliest man in the world’
As we walked through dense jungle, the stillness was broken only by the zing of the trailblazers’ machetes ahead of us and the occasional chatter of monkeys, swinging like trapeze artists through the treetops.
It was 2002 and I was only part way through a three-month expedition into the depths of the Javari Valley Indigenous Land in far-western Brazil, a sprawling reserve that harbours the largest concentration of uncontacted and isolated tribes in the world.
I was accompanying officials from Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI), as well as 30 tribal scouts and backwoodsmen. Our mission was to gather information about a mysterious tribe known only as the Flecheiros, or ‘People of the Arrow’.
Exploring the reserve’s southern reaches, first by boat and then on foot, we were also on the lookout for timber or wildlife poachers whose presence represented a threat to the tribesmen’s very existence.
When we left the boats behind to begin the gruelling overland trek, we entered a silent world of permanent twilight, where only a mere fraction of sunlight manages to filter down through the jungle canopy to the forest floor.
Everywhere we were finding ample evidence that the Brazilian government’s policy of looking after the tribes by protecting their land was working.
Lone survivor in the Amazon, Brazil. The man who is thought to be now in his 50s is the last of a tribe known as the Flecheiros, or ‘People of the Arrow’
Good enough to eat! 106-year-old fruitcake is found…
The Last Avatars: Mystical Hindu sect who turn their body…
Share this article
Towering trees dripped with huge, woody vines and crystal-clear streams teemed with fish. We saw fresh jaguar prints and stampeding herds of wild boar.
Most striking was the overwhelming feeling of peace and security that the Flecheiros must have been enjoying — a feeling we may have interrupted, if only momentarily, by our fleeting presence.
A week into the overland journey, we stumbled on the first signs that we were sharing this pristine wilderness with other human beings.
We came upon abandoned shelters, discarded earthen pots, and cages for small animals or birds fashioned from sticks lashed together with vines.
It was two weeks later that we found fresh footprints pressed into the mud. It was a sure sign the Arrow People were nearby. Undoubtedly, they’d seen us and taken off, running.
The next day, they left a clear signal — the broken bough of a sapling hanging across a footpath.
It was a sign that the expedition leader, Sydney Possuelo, instantly recognised. ‘This is universal language in the jungle,’ he said, in a grave whisper. ‘It means: ‘Stay back. Come no further.’ ‘
We obeyed the warning and changed direction. Our mission was only to gather information, not to make contact with the hidden tribe living deep in the rainforest. But, in the days that followed, we had the sense of being under constant observation by an invisible presence.
The Arrow People were reputed to be staunch defenders of their rainforest redoubt and we feared the possibility of attack. After all, we were intruders in their land.
And, other than the occasional peace offerings we left them — a machete here, a pair of aluminium pots there — they had no way of knowing we meant them no harm.
I thought back to my near-contact with the Flecheiros recently, when a video of an indigenous man chopping a tree in the Brazilian rainforest came to global attention.
By itself, the footage of the scantily clad man was unremarkable. The astonishing part was the context: he is the lone survivor of an unknown tribe and he has been living by himself for the past 22 years, in near-complete isolation from the rest of the world. The video was taken surreptitiously by a FUNAI agent assigned to protect him and the 30-square mile patch of forest he roams as a tribal nomad.
Survival International worker, Fiona Watson, caught a glimpse of his way of life, from a make-shift home, to a hunting hole. The man has been dubbed ‘the loneliest man in the world’
The area was sealed off by Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency several years ago, to shield the man from ranchers and loggers who covet the land and its resources and who are believed to have massacred his tribe in violent episodes during the Eighties and Nineties.
The man, who appears to be in his mid-50s, shuns all contact with outsiders.
He flees from the officials who monitor his movements, leave him gifts of seeds and tools and protect the reserve’s perimeter.
In the few instances where FUNAI agents have drawn near in attempted friendly contact, he has fled or remained inside one of his thatched huts, refusing to utter a word.
Once cornered in a hut in 2005, he fired an arrow at an approaching member of a FUNAI contact team, puncturing his lung.
After that near-fatal incident, officials decided that the man would be better off living out his days alone in the forest, where he digs traps to catch wild animals, hunts with bamboo arrows, gathers fruits and wild honey and plants small garden plots.
Among the many mysteries of his life is his habit of digging narrow, 6 ft-deep holes inside the single-room, palm-roofed huts he builds for himself. FUNAI workers have discovered dozens of such dwellings and each of them has a pit in the centre. No one knows the exact purpose of the holes, but they may be used for self-defence or as part of some kind of ritual.
With no knowledge of the man’s tribe, officials refer to him simply as o índio do buraco, or ‘the Man of the Hole’.
Since 1987, it has been government policy to avoid forcing contact on isolated tribal populations, though exceptions can be made if a tribe faces imminent peril, when peaceful contact appears to be the only way to assure its survival.
In the Nineties, officials made contact with the remnants of a couple of other tribes in the nearby forests, the Kanoê and Akuntsu.
Both had been reduced to a mere handful of people. At the time they were contacted, they had only four and seven members respectively. Now, only two Kanoê and four Akuntsu are left. The members of the Akuntsu share straw houses, called malocas, and survive by hunting, farming and fishing.
They also make music with flutes carved from wood and wear jewellery made of palm fibre, shells and — in a depressing sign of how plastic has polluted nearly every corner of our planet — brightly coloured pieces cut from containers left behind by ranchers.
The Kanoê make similar use of found objects. When government workers made contact with them in 1995, the women were wearing necklaces made from bits of plastic and skirts fashioned from burlap sacks discarded by agricultural ranch hands.
They were the only survivors who managed to flee massacres that wiped out the rest of their people. Like the Man of the Hole whose images were recently released, the Kanoê and Akuntsu are bereft of both past and future.
With such a scarce population, their entire culture and heritage risk soon dying out.
But the future is not uniformly bleak for the remaining so-called ‘uncontacted’, isolated tribes who are scattered throughout the Amazon rainforest.
An ‘uncontacted’ indigenous man amid the forest in Rondonia, Brazil. Frame from 2011 video
The fact is that Brazil is home to the largest number of such tribes, with 27 groups confirmed by officials. It is thought that there may be as many as 100.
In neighbouring Peru, there are 15 isolated tribes, mostly inhabiting the remote Amazonian woodlands that sit astride the Brazilian border. The jungles of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela are home to further indigenous groups living in isolation.
Nearly without exception, tribes that still remain apart from the modern world do so by choice. In many instances, they are the remnants of much larger societies that were devastated by slaving raids, disease and massacres dating back to the 19th century.
The people living today are the descendants of the survivors of these calamities, who fled to the most impenetrable redoubts of the rainforest.
In that sense, it would be a mistake to suppose these are ‘pristine’ populations who live exactly as their ancestors did millennia ago.
The most untouched tribes certainly continue to inhabit their world of vibrant cultural traditions much as their forebears did.
Shamans have developed an extensive knowledge of psychotropic plants (such as the fruit of the yopo tree and a tea called ayahuasca brewed from vines that affect the brain and mental states), which they believe assist them in contacting forest spirits.
But many have adopted survival tactics that include abandoning agricultural settlements for a more mobile, nomadic way of life, which allows them to outrun the dangers of an ever-encroaching outside world. Tragically, they are not always successful.
The fate of the Man of the Hole’s tribe provides an illustration of the threats facing these communities.
The protected area in which he roams — called the Tanaru Indigenous Land — amounts to a small island of intact forest, surrounded by hundreds of square miles of ranchlands.
It’s located in Rondônia, a state along Brazil’s western border with Bolivia, which has gained a reputation over the past four decades for lawlessness and wholesale rainforest devastation.
The dramatic transformation of this once-remote hinterland began in the Sixties when the federal government cut a road through the primal forests, linking Brazil’s Far West with São Paulo.
Little forethought was given to the social and environmental impacts of this major new road and it sparked a frenzied land rush, which accelerated in the Eighties.
Soon, the single highway had myriad new roads branching off it, cutting deep through the jungle. The resulting patterns of deforestation are referred to by scientists as the ‘fishbone effect’ and are so significant, they can be observed by satellites from outer space.
As the forests were toppled, the early settlers were displaced deeper and deeper into the jungle, as powerful cliques of ranchers, loggers and speculators moved in to consolidate large landholdings.
The ‘loneliest man on earth’s’ makeshift home in the Amazon. He is believed to be in his 50s
But by far and away the biggest losers were the region’s native inhabitants. Tribes that had had no previous contact with the outside world suddenly found themselves hemmed in by devastation and facing gun-toting thugs who drove them off their land.
Even those tribal members who survive initial contact with outsiders can quickly succumb to disease from the outside world.
No one can know for sure how many native lives were lost, nor how many tribes have been wiped out altogether.
The fact is that roads have brought migrant settlers en masse into the hinterlands.
Even communities holding out in the most remote, roadless stretches of the Amazon are under threat from criminal profiteers, illegal loggers, gold prospectors, drug-traffickers and wildlife poachers. Their protection is becoming weaker with law enforcement underfunded and strained to the limit.
While the situation of the remaining uncontacted tribes is perilous, there is some cause for hope.
Agencies such as FUNAI have proved adept at protecting the forest homelands of isolated tribes. Foot patrols, who do not seek to make contact, venture deep into the jungle to gauge the tribes’ wellbeing and devise effective strategies to protect them.
Control-posts placed at the entrances to indigenous territory along major waterways have successfully thwarted large- scale intrusions.
To protect the isolated tribes, the Brazilian government has declared 50,000 square miles of virgin rainforest, scattered in a dozen reserves across the Amazon, out of bounds for development.
That’s an area approximately equivalent to the size of England of intact, primal forest, serving all of us in its role in helping to regulate the global climate, considering that its destruction results in more greenhouse gas emissions.
Crucially, Brazil’s constitution explicitly recognises the rights of indigenous people to pursue their traditional ways of life on their aboriginal lands.
While pressure groups lobby to undo these measures, the government is duty-bound to protect those lands from destructive industries, such as commercial logging, mechanised agriculture and mining.
Neighbouring countries also take their obligations seriously and are adopting similar strategies.
Isolated tribes, such as the one to which the Man of the Hole belonged, adhere to an age-old way of life that has all but disappeared from our planet.
If we allow the last of them to vanish, we will have lost a vital link to our own human history and a way of life that was once the norm.
These people live in near-complete independence from the global economy, thriving in one of Earth’s harshest climates without the benefit of our industrial goods.
In the process, they have managed something that we in the West have not: living in harmony with the natural world, in a manner that leaves the environment unspoiled for future generations.
Perhaps they have something to teach us.
Preserving their way of life is an ongoing battle — one to which the governments concerned must dedicate sufficient manpower and resources.
If they fail to do so, more tribes will go the way of so many others, vanishing without a trace.
The tragedy of the lone survivor, the Man of the Hole, offers a grim reminder of the consequences of failing to protect the rights of the world’s most vulnerable and precious inhabitants.
n Scott Wallace is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and author of The Unconquered: In Search Of The Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes.
Source: Read Full Article