After spending 26 years in isolation, the last surviving member of the tribe that inhabited the Brazilian indigenous territory of Tanaru has died. He was known as “The Hole Man” because of the numerous holes he dug around his territory. Some of the holes had sharp spikes, probably used for hunting or defense. On August 23, his body was discovered by members of Funai – on National Indian Foundation in Brazil. He appears to have died of natural causes in a hammock outside his home. According to New York TimesIt is the first recorded extinction of the so-called uncontacted tribe.
According to Survival International, a series of massacres from cattle ranchers beginning in the 1970s, eventually left the Hole Man as the last surviving member of his tribe. He has since made it clear that he does not wish the outside world to be associated with him.
The man’s territory covered about 20,000 acres of forest. Now that it’s gone, the Observatory for Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted People (OPI) wants the territory to become a reserve to honor the memory of the lost tribe, according to Survival International. Six other known uncontacted tribes in Brazil, as well as many others around the world, facing threats due to violence, disease and climate change.
Threats to uncontacted tribes
Non-contact tribes are groups of indigenous peoples who have little or no contact with the outside world and prefer to keep it that way. Most are aware of the outside world but want to stay in their own communities. Organizations such as Survival International work to protect uncontacted tribes from threats such as deforestation, colonization and the spread of disease.
According to Survival International, uncontacted tribes are an obstacle to deforestation and climate change, especially in the Amazon rainforest. The man from the hole helped protect about 20,000 acres of vital trees, plants and other organisms. Other tribes do the same; on Yanomami, for example, live on 23.7 million acres in Brazil and 20.3 million acres in Venezuela. In addition to protecting territory, uncontacted tribes lead sustainable lifestyles and have a wealth of cultural knowledge that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Apart from threats and violence from herders and loggers, the most significant danger to uncontacted tribes is disease. Because they have little contact with the outside world, members of uncontacted tribes are more susceptible to diseases such as the common cold, flu, measles and chicken pox, according to Survival International.
The disease wiped out more than 50 percent of the previously uncontacted Nahua tribe in Peru after an oil expedition established contact in the 1980s. Members of the Murunahua tribe suffered the same fate after clashes with illegal loggers in the 1990s. In addition to loggers, ranchers, and miners, missionaries also connected with the tribe against their wishes, spreading deadly diseases.
“The disease came when the loggers contacted us, although we did not know what a cold was then. The disease killed us. Half of us died. My aunt died, my nephew died. Half my people died,” Jorge, a survivor of Murunahuasaid Survival International.
How can I help
The answer seems simple enough: Leave them alone. According to Survival International, one of the best ways to help uncontacted tribes is to raise awareness of how their survival and the survival of the rainforest and the planet coincide. Survival International lists ways to raise awareness on its website, such as organizing fundraisers or signing petitions.