2020 is the year we all became familiar with the concept of “social distancing.” Deep within the rainforest of the Amazon is a man who may not have heard those words, but he has been putting it into practice better than anyone on the planet. Meet the Man of the Hole — the last surviving member of an unknown and tribe.
There are an estimated 100 communities around the world of indigenous people who exist without contact with the rest of the world. The members of these communities are known as “uncontacted peoples.” Roughly half of all uncontacted tribes reside in the Amazon rainforest.
One of those tribes consists entirely of one man.
In 1996, rumors began to spread about a wild man living alone in the western Brazilian state of Rondônia. Occasionally spotted by loggers, this man avoided all contact with anyone and would shoot warning arrows at any person who persisted in approaching him.
Government officials who specialize in contact with isolated tribes went looking for the man. They found signs of his presence in the form of tiny shelters of palm thatch, each one with a large hole dug in the center of the floor. No other tribes were known to live in shelters like this, leading them to discount theories that he was a castaway from a documented tribe.
When the man was finally located, officials documented him as appearing to be in his mid-30s and always armed with a bow and arrow. All attempts to establish rapport with him ended in failure. In one situation, the man sent a “do not disturb” message in the form of an arrow into the chest of one of the officials.
Further investigation revealed a jungle clearing, where officials discovered the bulldozed ruins of several huts of the same design as the ones built by the elusive recluse. Each of the fourteen huts featured the same kind of hole. They concluded they had found the remains of the man’s village that had been wiped out by cattle ranchers or settlers in early 1996. With no other evidence of survivors, they concluded that the man they had been researching was the lone survivor of the devastated tribe.
The BBC has described him as “the loneliest man on earth.” More commonly, he is known as “The Man of the Hole,” in reference to his habit of digging the 6-foot-deep holes. The nickname is necessary since he is apparently the only person on the planet who knows his language. Efforts to communicate with him have been fruitless.
The Brazilian government’s Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) declared a 31-square-mile (8,029 hectares) area around him off-limits to trespassing and development. This territory was later expanded by 11.5 square miles (3,000 hectares) to provide him with protection and to give him more opportunities for hunting and agriculture.
The Man in the Hole is an avid gardener. He appears to tend to his garden in the protection of the dark of the night. Observers have documented his small crop of corn, manioc, and pawpaw.
Authorities also take active measures to offer him needed protection. Although the Brazilian constitution safeguards the land of indigenous tribes, some unscrupulous ranchers and land developers continually try to chase indigenous people away from their territories so the land can be declared as abandoned and available for the taking. In 2009, gunmen opened fire on the Man in the Hole, but he managed to escape, unharmed.
All attempts by FUNAI to formalize contact with the Man in the Hole have been in vain. Even so, they have succeeded in establishing what they describe as “a certain level of trust.” They will occasionally leave gifts of tools and seeds for him. In return, the Man in the Hole has been known to signal to observers, warning them about holes he dug for defense or hunting purposes.
In 2018, FUNAI release a video of the Man in the Hole to raise awareness of the need to protect uncontacted peoples. The video shows the man to be in apparent good health and approximately 50 years of age. See footage from the video below:
Unless the Man in the Hole has a change of heart and becomes more open to interaction with outsiders, he will likely die, taking with him all knowledge of his tribe’s history, culture, and language. He is, for now, a living reminder of the need to protect the indigenous tribes of the earth. Failure to do so will send precious pieces of human history into holes deeper and more perilous than those dug by our friend in Rondônia.