When you look at the Amazonian RainForest, all you see is dense jungle. In reality, however, it is full of people. These people include drug dealers, illegal loggers, and at least one survivor of an isolated Amazonian tribe.
Sadly, these tribes are under significant threat as industrial farming encroaches further and further on their traditional territory. One of these tribes was almost completely wiped out in the nineties. Today, only one member of that tribe remains. Rare footage of him from 2018 highlights the plight of indigenous tribes in Brazil.
The Last Survivor
FUNAI is the Brazilian government protection agency for the interests and culture of the country’s indigenous peoples. In 2018, they released footage of “the most isolated man in the world”. The video was actually filmed in 2011, deep in the rainforest of the western Brazillian state of Rondônia.
The long-haired man appears to be in his fifties and is by all accounts quite healthy. FUNAI learned of his existence in 1996 after local loggers reported seeing a lone tribesman stalking the rainforest. Since then, the agency has been keeping track of him.
They released the video footage of the man in 2018 in an effort to highlight the ongoing struggle between isolated Amazonian tribes and the continuing growth of agribusiness .
But why is this man so alone, and where are his fellow tribespeople?
In the 1970s and 80s, Ranchers in the area hired gunmen to eliminate the tribe and many others in a series of massacres. By the mid-1990s, this man was the last remaining member of his tribe.
He has strongly resisted making any contact with members of the outside world, so we know very little about him. Most of what we know comes studying the campsites he has abandoned. He builds large holes with spikes in the bottom to trap animals for food, and he grows his own produce. His gardens are often full of paw paw, manioc, and corn. He builds his own tiny house out of straw and thatch, and carves his own arrowheads for protection .
The Plight of Isolated Amazonian Tribes
In the 2000s, the government gave the man a small area of land that is off-limits to people and development. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped him from being a target. In 2009, for example, a gunman shot at him. Authorities believe that this had connections to agribusiness, who want to get rid of him so they can have his land .
Stephen Corry is the director of the organization, Survival International. He points out that while we often think about them as part of the past, these isolated tribes are very much a part of the present.
“Uncontacted tribes aren’t primitive relics of a remote past,” he said. “They live in the here and now. They are our contemporaries and a vital part of humankind’s diversity, but face catastrophe unless their land is protected.” 
Sadly, this man’s tribe is not the only group that has been under attack over the last several decades. In 2017, illegal gold miners reportedly killed up to ten members of the isolated Amazonian tribe, the Fleicheros- the “ones who throw arrows” .
Davi Kopenawa Yanomami is the president of the Yanomami association, Hutukara. He says that as the indigenous tribes of the Amazon get closer and closer to miners, they are increasingly at risk.
“There are more garimpeiros (illegal miners) every year. They do not respect our territory. The government must do more to prevent them from invading our land.” 
According to Survival International, the Moxihatetema people live on government-protected land. Despite this, five thousand gold miners have infiltrated the area.
“They are like termites,” said Davi, “they keep coming back and they don’t leave us in peace.” 
Isolated Amazonian Tribes and Disease
Not only are these isolated Amazonian tribes under constant threat of attack, they are also extremely susceptible to disease. The experts at Survival International say that it is not unusual for half of an entire tribe to die from foreign diseases within the first year of contact with outsiders.
John Hemming is an English explorer and co-author of “The Tribes of the Amazon Basin“. He has witnessed several Amazonian tribes through his work.
“Every single tribe in Brazil, sooner or later, has been hit by a disease they are not able to withstand,” he said .
Thousands of the country’s indigenous people have already died because of diseases like the influenza and measles. Experts are now concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic could further decimate their populations.
Leila Salazar-López is the executive director of the advocacy group Amazon Watch. She says that the COVID-19 threat to the isolated Amazonian tribes is “a very real threat of possible ethnocide”.
“There are no adequate hospitals and resources available to treat the people or even provide emergency canoes or helicopters,” she said .
Activities such as illegal logging and mining bring many invaders into indigenous territories. These people could act as vectors for the novel coronavirus, and thus the isolated Amazonian tribes could suffer disproportionately in this pandemic.
A Symbol of Resilience
Fiona Watson is a research and advocacy director at Survival International. She calls this last survivor a symbol of resilience and resistance.
“But we are witnessing genocide in real time,” she said. “Once he’s gone, his people will have disappeared forever, along with all their history and knowledge.” 
Gradually, the world is losing all of its isolated Amazonian tribes, along with much of the rainforest itself. The hope is that by sharing this man’s story, we can raise awareness of the plight of the indigenous peoples of the Amazonas. Protecting them will, in turn, protect the Amazonian rainforest.
- “Índio Isolado da TI Tanaru – O sobrevivente que a Funai acompanha há 22 anos.” Funai. July 18, 2018.
- “The Last of his Tribe.” Survival International. Fiona Watson. 2015.
- ” Man in the Hole: lone survivor of Amazon tribe hunted by Brazilian ranchers.” The Telegraph. December 11, 2009.
- “Amazing new footage of last survivor of Amazon tribe.” Survival International. July 20, 2018.
- “Uncontacted Tribe in The Amazon Reportedly Massacred by Illegal Gold Miners.” Science Alert. Peter Dockrill. September, 2017.
- “New photos of uncontacted Brazilian tribe mark first sighting in over a year.” The Guardian. Jonathan Watts. November 17, 2016.
- “Incredible new photos of uncontacted Amazon tribe – that could be wiped out.” Survival International. November 17, 2016.
- “Isolated indigenous tribes risk extinction from coronavirus, experts say.” NBC News. Willem Marx. April 22, 2020.
- “Tribe’s Lone Survivor Glimpsed in Amazon Jungle, Healthy and at Work.” NY Times. Ernesto Londoño. July 20, 2018.