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The last survivor

 Hecho en Buenos Aires (Argentina) 13 December 2019

The Man of the Hole is the last of his kind. He is thought to be a survivor of the massacres perpetrated when forest clearing arrived in the Rondinia jungle and the Amazon rainforest became prairies for raising cattle and growing soy. (1363 Words) - By Elina Malamud

Hecho_agujero 4 - para recuadro

The Akuntsu tribe has only five surviving members, living in a protected area of the Brazilian rainforest. Photo: Survival International/ Fiona Watson

He is the last link to an unknown group. We do not know his identity, his name, the nation to which he belongs.  He is the last of his people and he is known simply as "The Man of the Hole."  Like his name, his story has a hole in it:  an empty space that we may not have time to fill.

Fiona Watson is an anthropologist and Research Director at Survival International - the UK's only organization  dedicated to supporting indigenous peoples around the world - told us what she saw and heard of this lonely Amazonian inhabitant.

I did not search, I found

Watson was not searching for The Man of the Hole when she first found him.  She had traveled to Brazil's Rondonia state - named after General Rondón, the military man who set his protected the lives and rights of the Amazonian indigenous people- to meet the Akuntsu.  This tribe has, it is thought, only five survivors.

They will doubtlessly have gods and a belief system, make love in their way and have their own rules to receive newborns and say goodbye to their dead.  They have a way of adorning themselves and a unique language.  It was as Watson getting to know the Akuntsu life that she heard about the existence of a lone man - an individual who did not accept any contact with the outside world, Hombre do Buraco, as he is known by the members of Brazil's National Foundation for Native Peoples (FUNAI.)

An complete way of life

"The Man of the Hole lives in Tanarú, 40 kilometres north west of the Akuntsu, in an 8000 hectare restricted use and preservation zone.  People are not allowed to go inside without permission from FUNAI.  Every two or three years these restricted use permits must be renewed", the anthropologist explains.  FUNAI granted the renewal in October of 2009, in spite of the wishes five landowners' whose properties surround this small portion of the jungle. They want the Man of the Hole to relocate so they can get their hands on the remaining territory.  Soon after the renewal, at the end of 2009, the Man of the Hole was attacked and his small "farm" broken into, according to Watson.

At the time Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International said: "His tribe was massacred and now the Man of the Hole faces the same fate.  The landowners must allow this man to live his last days in peace, on his own land, and the authorities must do everything possible to protect him."

The solitary man digs holes many metres deep which he uses to hide when intruders endanger his life, and places pointed sticks in them to trap animals.   He cultivates manioc, fruits and vegetables and collects wood, water, fruit peals to make fire, and resins from tree barks.  "We think he lives alone.  It is difficult to be sure, but his house is small and this is all FUNAI has seen", Watson explains.

Only once

Only one image of the Man of the Hole exists.   It was taken by film maker, Vincent Carelli while he was shooting "Corumbiara", a documentary about the massacres in the Amazon.   In an attempt to contact him, part of his face was revealed in the foliage.  The camera closes in quickly to show a dark-skinned face, barely visible through a gap in the leaves.   After an expression of either fear or curious anticipation, he pushed his spear through the leaves to the camera, waved it about threateningly, backed up into the darkness of the jungle and disappeared.

It is clear he wants nothing to do with this side of the border, and FUNAI must respect his rights to no contact, according to the policy initiated by Sydney Possuelo, Director of the Isolated Natives Department of this Brazilian institution until his devotion for his work clashed with government decisions and he was considered to be detrimental to the communities' future.

Where does he come from? Where does he go?

It is thought that both the Akuntsu and the Man of the Hole survived the loss of their homelands when the rainforest was cleared for beef and soy farming. The trees fell; the undergrowth burned; and the toads, butterflies, snakes, birds and tapirs retreated into the shadows that could still protect them. Humans who tried to protect the jungle and preserve their traditional way of life were hit by bullets before they could claim their rights.

Today FUNAI is in charge of protecting the communities, preserving their lands and monitoring their lives in order to ensure their survival, even when they do not wish to be in contact with the "whites". FUNAI has delineated a portion of the jungle for their protection; but the Man of the Hole is completely surrounded by landowners.

He will rise tomorrow, probably with the sun. He will weed his garden, peal maniocs and cook them. He will fish according to his artisan traditions, gather water in the river and pick up thick branches he finds on the road. In the afternoon he will sit on the edge of the clearing where he built his shelter and patiently carve his tools, spears and arrows. He will tense the more flexible and resistant branches to build a bow to keep him company on his ever- alert barefoot marches.

In the evening he will peek through the borders to spy on that troublesome world of horned animals and soy plants which threatens him. No one names him and perhaps he does not name himself. I wonder what he saw at the moment his people disappeared. With what terror must he have hidden? In between which spasms and shakes did he escape the massacre? What agonies must have kept him company? Did he survive because he was afraid, or because he was wise?


The Akuntsu: an endangered group?

Five members and no flowers

The Kanoê tribe informed FUNAI about gardens and living quarters belonging to another nearby isolated group that they knew as Akuntsu. When the researchers from FUNAI discovered the Akuntsu in 1995 the group had seven individuals. A young woman died in 2000 after a tree fell on a house during a storm, and Ururu, the oldest woman, died in October 2009. Five members are now left.

The construction of a prestigious highway had brought with it a wave of livestock farmers, lumber companies, financial speculators and settlers who began occupying the state. As more and more forest was destroyed, the isolated groups like the Akuntsu were forced to escape the excavating machines and find shelter. Even though FUNAI had evidence from the 1970s that there were still survivors of isolated ethnic groups, the landowners argued that no indigenous people remained.

In 1984, arrows hit a lumber tractor. Communal houses and abandoned gardens were found. The indigenous people had escaped. Meanwhile, there were rumours of a massacre of natives by gunmen hired by livestock farmers. The following year FUNAI found evidence of the massacre: a demolished native long house buried by the landowners in an attempt to conceal the attack. Pieces of clay and arrows were excavated and confirmed as belonging to the Akuntsu.

Linguists are now working with the surviving Akuntsu to record and understand their language. It is hoped that one day this people have the opportunity to tell their entire story to the rest of the world.

Translated from Spanish to English by Adriana Nodal-Tarafa

Originally published by Hecho en Buenos Aires ©

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