The Last of the Tribe

The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon, Monte Reel, Scribner.

“I wouldn’t [fill in the blank] if you were the last man on earth.” It’s a commonly voiced sentiment, yet it’s difficult to conceive of such a scenario. That is, until one begins reading “The Last of the Tribe,” in which former Washington Post South America correspondent Monte Reel relates the story of a lone Indian living in a remote part of Rondonia, a Brazilian state adjacent to the Bolivian border. While said individual isn’t the last man on earth, in his corner of the world, he may as well be.

In 1996, two members of a team of men charged with protecting indigenous interests heard a rumor about a solitary man living in a harsh, dangerous part of the Amazonian rainforest. After a Herculean effort, they managed to track down this individual and attempted to make contact. But after several tense standoffs—and non-lethal injuries inflicted by the Indian’s primitive weaponry—his pursuers opted to leave the man to his own devices. Ultimately, the Brazilian government instituted a no-contact policy, which is now official policy for all indigenous tribes in Brazil.

Today, the unnamed man has a 31-square-mile reserve all to himself, in spite of strong opposition by businessmen who wish to forest his land. It remains to be seen whether this no-contact approach will be successful, or whether this last-of-his-tribe Indian will be murdered by ranchers, as was likely the fate of his fellow tribesmen. Either way, Reel captures the essence of one of the few truly wild places in the world, and the impact of losses suffered in the wake of progress.