Video released for this first time this week by Brazil’s Indian Foundation shows rare images of a so-called uncontacted indigenous man who is believed to be the last surviving member of his tribe. The footage was shot in 2011, though a team that tracks him says it last saw evidence he was alive in May.
The shaky images taken from a distance through foliage show a man chopping down a tree. The sound of his ax hitting the trunk and bird calls can be heard.
The video’s release followed a press report that noted there existed only one image of the man, captured by a documentary filmmaker in the 1990s in which the man’s face was hidden behind foliage.
Altair Algayer, coordinator of the team that monitors the man, said the foundation was reluctant to release the video because it could not ask for the man’s consent. But he also noted that such images help to draw attention to the plight of people who are struggling to maintain their distance from the outside world.
“Lots of people are seeking out (this video). They want to know what is he like, how can he be seen, is he still alive,” Algayer said in a phone interview. “I think this ends up helping to protect the territory.”
Brazil is home to several “uncontacted” peoples whose lands, like those of many indigenous groups, are increasingly under threat as the scramble for the resources of the Amazon intensifies. Last year, 71 people were killed in conflicts over land, the most since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission, which tracks the violence.
The Indian Foundation has been monitoring the man since 1996, when it found him already living alone in the forest in Rondonia state. It believes encroachment and attacks by farmers and loggers that began in the 1980s decimated the man’s tribe. The last of his fellow tribesmen appeared to have been killed in an attack in 1995 or 1996. In recent years, though, no one has tried to enter the protected area where he lives, the foundation said.
The team that tracks him calls him “the Indian of the hole” because of an unusual hole that he dug, Algayer said.
“We don’t know who he belongs to,” Algayer said, who adds that the man appears to be in good health and between 55 and 60.
The foundation’s policy is to allow such people to live their lives in isolation, but members of the foundation tried initially to make contact with the man since he was alone and they believed him at risk. The man made clear he wanted no contact, and the foundation has not tried again since 2005.
About every other month, a team enters his territory to look for signs that he is still alive and well. They don’t always see him — the last time they did was in 2016 — but they are able to tell he is still alive by traces he leaves behind. A mission in May found fresh footprints and a newly cut tree.
They have left tools and seeds for the man, and they have seen that he has planted corn, potatoes, papayas and bananas.
“This man, who is unknown to us, even after losing everything, including his people and a series of cultural practices, proved that, even like that, alone in the forest, it is possible to survive and resist joining mainstream society,” Algayer said in a statement distributed by the foundation. “I believe he is much better off than if, way back, he had made contact.”