While the hustle-bustle of capitalism was going on, deep in the Brazilian rain forest, a lone man quietly readied himself for death recently. He climbed into his hand-made dried grass hammock, covered himself with feathers and leaves, and made his peaceful transition from the physical world. The man was the last of his indigenous Amazon tribe. His tribe made a conscious refusal never to have contact with the outside world, choosing total isolation instead. As the last man standing, he remained true to his tribe’s ancient code to his last dying breath.
Outsiders had given the man unflattering names, like “Man in the Hole.” I respect his anonymity but for the sake of this article, I decided to temporarily name him Msitu. Msitu means forest in Swahili. He was a man of the forest who lived in harmony with nature.
There’s a part of me that says of the indigenous peoples, good for them - not wanting any interaction with the hostile and uncivilized world around them. There’s another part of me that wonders what stories, what wisdom about life was buried with them as they went they way of the dinosaur. The extinction of a human species is an unforgiving thing.
Msitu was part of an “uncontacted” tribe, meaning he chose to avoid contact with the outside world. With no historic documentation, the origin and life of Msitu’s tribe is not nearly as apparent as their demise. The massacre of indigenous tribes has been well-documented over time by company thugs to make room for logging, ranching and mining. These three industries will be the death of the Amazon rainforest and whoever else is in the way of big profits.
The Amazon rainforest covers nine countries in South America. The vast majority of the rainforest is in Brazil. That means Brazil has a special obligation to show the other eight countries how to protect and nurture an ecosystem central to the well-being of the entire planet. The Brazilian government is failing miserably in that responsibility.
FUNAI was created in 1967 with the sole purpose of monitoring tribes and protecting their lands from unscrupulous developers. The agency - intentionally understaffed and underfunded - has identified at least 114 such tribes but only 28 have been officially documented. This means those not on FUNAI’s list are not eligible for government protection. In reality, no tribe seems to be protected.
Over the last forty years, the Brazilian government has sanctioned highways through parts of the Amazon. It has opened the forest doors to mining companies to exploit the country’s natural resources such as silver, gold and diamonds. Oil extraction has decimated the habitat with pipelines and roads while creating pollution. Since 2019, thousands of wildfires caused by irresponsible logging techniques have destroyed human, animal and plant lives. Companies are being given access to the half billion trees in the Amazon for the lucrative timber industry and for clearing the land for agribusiness’ cash crop of cattle.
Current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has taken greed to new highs and the disrespect of indigenous people and their habitat to new lows. Since coming into office, deforestation has increased by 50%. The destruction of indigenous tribal territories by miners and ranchers has dramatically increased by 135%. The situation is so bad under Bolsonaro’s regime that last year indigenous leaders and human rights groups demanded that the president be criminally prosecuted in the international court. A brazen partner to the exploitative agribusiness, mining and lumber industries, Bolsonaro has no shame in his open-door policy to destroy the rain forest and any living creatures in it. He is a criminal.
Msitu and his people lived a simple life. He had no knowledge of the ferociousness of men who put profit over people. He didn’t know that people were starving and unhoused in the face of abundant natural resources. Although he lived among them, Msitu didn’t know the rain forest still has not revealed its many unknown species of plants and animals. He didn’t know that Brazilians are killing one another because of who they support in the upcoming presidential elections.
The last man standing from a tribe unknown did not have a mind cluttered with the foolishness of the day. He took with him the profound love of his people and their sacred environment. The rest of us must bear witness to the corporate vultures swallowing the land, and the people who inhabit it. We must wage a merciless battle against the ecological destroyers because the future of our planet depends on it.