Skip to main content

The Amazon's Loneliest Man

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

More than 30 years ago, an Indian tribe in the Amazon jungle was wiped out except for one survivor. This man, thought to be in his fifties, has been rarely glimpsed. He appears to live alone and is a symbol of the land rights of Indigenous Brazilians. Recently, a video appeared that purportedly shows him cutting down a tree.

Last Man Standing

The story starts in 1995. A group of farmers attacked a small tribe of six Indians who were living in the rainforest in Rondonia state in western Brazil. The reason for the attack was most likely to get the tribe off the land so the farmers could expand their acreage.

There seems to have been one survivor and this is the man who is fleetingly glimpsed in his habitat.

Rondonia is in red.

Rondonia is in red.

He was first spotted in 1996 by staff from Funai, the Brazilian government agency tasked with administering the affairs of Indigenous people. They have kept an eye on him from a distance ever since. He is officially designated as “uncontacted.”

He is thought to be in good health and survives by hunting and gathering his food. He digs holes in the forest to trap wild pigs and is still at the bow-and-arrow stage of technology for killing birds and monkeys. He also tends plantings of corn and papaya.

However, as reported by The Guardian, “Axes, machetes, and seeds traditionally planted by Indigenous people have been left for the man to find . . . but he clearly wants nothing to do with mainstream society.”

The earth is our historian, our educator, the provider of food, medicine, clothing, and protection. She is the mother of our races.”

Amazon Indian quoted by Adventure Life

Defending Indigenous Rights

The man lives in a protected forest reserve that covers more than 8,000 hectares. The reserve is entirely surrounded by farms and ranches whose owners would like to clear the forest for more grazing.

However, under the Brazilian constitution, he has a right to the land he occupies. As long as Funai can prove he’s still living in the forest the neighbouring landowners cannot enter the reserve.

The video released in July 2018 seems to confirm the man is alive and well. However, skeptics suggest it could have been faked in order to keep those who want the land from seizing it.

The Yanomami number about 30,000 and live in northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

The Yanomami number about 30,000 and live in northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

A Long History of Oppression

Europeans first made contact with Amazonian Indians in 1500. This did not work out well for the Indians.

It’s estimated that 11 million Indians lived in what is now Brazil at first contact. Survival International notes that “Within the first century of contact, 90 percent were wiped out, mainly through diseases imported by the colonists, such as flu, measles, and smallpox. In the following centuries, thousands more died, enslaved in the rubber and sugar cane plantations.”

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

In 1967, a massive report on the plight of the Indigenous people of Amazonia was published. Federal prosecutor Jader Figueiredo catalogued thousands of cases of crimes committed against Indians.

Mostly, these atrocities were aimed at driving Indians off their traditional lands to make way for plantations, cattle ranches, or to harvest precious tropical timber. Other murders and land thefts were so that mining interests could profit from what lay beneath the ground.

The Cinta Larga people live in western Brazil. One of their villages was on land rubber companies wanted and that led to what has been called the “Massacre at Parallel 11.”

A plane flew over the village and dropped dynamite on the houses. Then, men went into the village wielding machetes and dealt with the few survivors. It was a scene of unspeakable violence.

The villain who organized this was Antonio Mascarenhas Junqueira, head of Arruda, Junqueira & Co rubber business. He was quoted by Survival International at the time of saying “These Indians are parasites, they are shameful. It’s time to finish them off; it’s time to eliminate these pests. Let’s liquidate these vagabonds.”

Two Indians escaped unharmed and were able to tell the story of what happened. The perpetrators received minimal consequences.

The Cinta Larga are still suffering at the hands of illegal diamond miners.

An indigenous person without land is an indigenous person without soul.”

— Cinta Larga spiritual leader, quoted by the BBC

The Uncontacted

It’s believed that several, as yet uncontacted, tribes have retreated deeper and deeper into the rainforest. Survival International says some of these isolated groups are the survivors of past barbarities. “These acts―massacres, disease epidemics, terrifying violence―are seared into their collective memory, and contact with the outside world is now to be avoided at all costs.”

The history of violent predations is thought to be one of the reasons the lone man of the jungle keeps himself to himself. Funai, which monitors the man, has a policy of not making contact with him. He has shot arrows at Funai representatives in the past, and who can blame him?

Fiona Watson, who is with Survival International has visited the region and has seen some of his abandoned camps. She says “He has undergone such a violent experience; he sees the world as a very dangerous place.”

Bonus Factoids

  • Experts with Funai say there are 113 tribes in the Brazilian Amazon that have not had contact with the outside world. The plan is to leave them alone.
  • In 1974, Hiroo Onoda emerged from the jungle on Lubang Island in the Philippines after hiding there for 29 years. He had been a Japanese soldier during World War II and did not believe his country had been defeated. As the BBC reported, “The young soldier had orders not to surrender―a command he obeyed for nearly three decades.” He was finally persuaded to come out of hiding by his former commanding officer.

Within the next few decades, the fate of the world’s remaining Indigenous peoples, the fragile environments they occupy, and the valuable knowledge that they embody could well be decided once and for all. A number of individuals, corporations, and states are already pursuing their own ‘final solutions.’ ”

— Jason W. Clay, World Wildlife Fund

Does he have a future that includes a traditional lifestyle?

Does he have a future that includes a traditional lifestyle?


  • “Footage of Sole Survivor of Amazon Tribe Emerges.” Dom Phillips, The Guardian, July 19, 2018.
  • “Brazilian Indians.” Survival International, undated.
  • “The Cinta Larga and the Curse of the Diamonds.” Fellipe Abreu and Luiz Felipe, BBC News, March 25, 2017.
  • “Why Do They Hide?” Survival International, undated.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

Related Articles