Screenshot from a 2011 video of a man believed to be the last survivor of an indigenous tanaroo in the Brazilian Amazon – Copyright National Indian Foundation/AFP –
For more than 20 years, he lived alone in the Brazilian Amazon, living on nuts, fruit and wild game, a symbol of the struggle of indigenous peoples living in isolation in the rainforest.
Now this man, whose name was not known, is dead and his demise made headlines around the world.
His life was marked by massacres that left him the only survivor of a small tribe attacked by militants apparently hired by ranchers seeking to exploit the pristine Amazon.
He was found dead in a hammock on 23 August in the Tanaroo Indigenous Territory. Authorities found no signs of violence and believe he died of natural causes.
According to local news reports, the man was covered in brightly colored feathers from a bird called guacamaya, a type of macaw.
The Tanaroo Indigenous Territory covers 8,000 hectares (30 sq mi) of protected rainforest in Brazil’s southwestern state of Rondonia, which borders Bolivia. The reserve is surrounded by extensive cattle ranches.
This region, rife with scammers and lumberjacks whose work is illegal, is one of the most dangerous regions in Brazil, according to Survival International NGP.
The land of Tanaroo “is like a green oasis in a sea of destruction,” said NGO director Fiona Watson.
– Arrow Shot –
The Burrow Man was first seen in 1996 by a film crew traveling with representatives of the National Indian Foundation, a government agency that was investigating a massacre committed against his tribe.
Evidence of the presence of indigenous people in the Tanaroo forest zone was necessary to grant legal protection to this area.
The footage was shown in the documentary Corumbiara in 2009.
It shows the eyes of a man looking out of a thatched hut. At one point, a spear sticks out, as if scaring away visitors. But no one says a word.
Years later, Funai teams returned with representatives of neighboring tribes to try to determine what language the man spoke and learn more about his people.
But he made it clear that he didn’t want to get involved with anyone. Feeling threatened, one day he fired an arrow, causing a member of the group who had come to him to be seriously injured.
“One can only imagine that this man thought what he was going through, lived on his own, could not talk to anyone and, I think, was very scared, because any outsider was a threat to him, given his terrible experience,” said Watson.
After that, the authorities simply tried to patrol his territory and look for signs that he was still alive.
In the last known footage of him alive—taken in 2011 but released only seven years later—he is seen half-naked, chopping wood with an axe.
In addition to the bows and arrows that indicated he hunted, there were gardens where he grew fruits and vegetables such as papaya and cassava.
“We saw one of his gardens and it was full of produce – very nicely kept,” said Watson, who visited the site in 2005.
But what most amazed the researchers were the numerous holes he dug – about two meters (seven feet) deep and with sharp spears at the bottom.
Funai said officials found 53 places that were his home in Tanaroo territory, always with the same structure: a small thatched hut with one door and a hole.
The holes were used to trap animals, but experts believe they could also be a place where he could hide from intruders or have some spiritual purpose.
The holes, according to Watson, are “a mystery that died with him,” as is the history of the Tanar people.
Funai has identified 114 indigenous groups that live in isolation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon.