The 'Man of the Hole,' Last of His Tribe in the Amazon, Has Died

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
lone man, Brazilian rainforest
The "Man of the Hole" lived alone in the Tanaru indigenous reserve in the Rondônia State of Brazil, which comprises just under 20,000 acres (8,070 hectares) of protected forest. Carlos Fabal/Getty Images

The "Man of the Hole," the last remaining member of an uncontacted native Brazilian tribe, has died, Brazil's indigenous protection agency, FUNAI, announced Aug. 27, 2022.

According to the non-profit organization Survival International, he had lived in total isolation for the past 26 years on the Tanaru indigenous land, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. His body was found in a hammock in a hut by officials from FUNAI Aug. 23. There were no signs of struggle or violence and no other people were found in the area.

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He died of natural causes, and his body will undergo a forensic examination by the Federal Police, according to FUNAI.

Sole Survivor

The man lived alone on just under 20,000 acres (8,070 hectares) of protected forest. Anthropologists believe him to have been in his mid-50s and he seemed to be in remarkable shape — probably because he spent all his time farming corn and papaya, cutting down trees with an ax and shooting monkeys, birds and wild pigs with his bow and arrow for food. He was called "The Man of the Hole" by members of FUNAI because he dug deep holes in the ground around the forest, perhaps to trap animals, but the 6-foot-deep (1.8 meter) hole inside one of his abandoned houses told a different story. He needed places to hide — you don't get to be the last of your kind without something unspeakable having happened to everybody you once knew.

As with most uncontacted Amazonian tribes, nobody knew much about the man or the people he came from. According to a July 2018 Facebook post by Survival International, which included a video of the man briskly chopping down a tree in 2011: "We don't know the name of his tribe or what language he speaks. His people were probably massacred by cattle ranchers who invaded the region. He survives because his territory is now, finally, being properly protected by the authorities."

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Secret Monitoring

It is difficult for governments to know how to protect members of uncontacted tribes. The Man of the Hole was human, after all, and deserved privacy — which is why the government held back the tree-cutting video for seven years until deciding its release would help bring awareness to the efforts to protect his way of life. The Man of the Hole had been monitored by FUNAI for over 20 years — his six companions are thought to have been slaughtered 1995, so his territory has been protected and he has been left entirely alone and monitored from a distance since he shot at and wounded a FUNAI worker in 2005. He received small presents like tools and seeds from his government voyeurs, who sometimes caught a glimpse of him and took short videos like the one released in 2018. (He rarely took the gifts, but who can blame him?) But it's ultimately for his protection that nobody ever tried to make contact with him.

Although mining, farming and logging industries are a dire threat to uncontacted peoples like the Man of the Hole, outside contact from do-gooders also has its dangers. Anthropologists and activists have never quite settled the question of whether it's a good idea to make contact with isolated peoples, even just to vaccinate them against common modern diseases. A single foreign virus could wipe out an entire tribe, and since the 1970s, the Brazilian government's stance has been that, unless a tribe is in real danger of coming up against people who might make them very sick, they should be left alone.

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But what does "alone" mean in a time when this planet straining under the burden of over 7.5 billion people?

"The problem is that there are no empty spaces in the Amazon," José Carlos Meirelles, a former FUNAI official told The New York Times. "You fly over it and see all that forest, but down there, it's full of people — drug dealers, illegal loggers and others."

In the meantime, FUNAI estimates as many as 113 uncontacted tribes go about their business in the Brazilian Amazon, although only 27 groups have been confirmed. A few other uncontacted tribes exist in the jungles of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.

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Originally Published: Jul 31, 2018

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