Newly released video shows man believed to be last of tribe

In this 2011 video frame released by Brazil's National Indian Foundation, an uncontacted indigenous man is seen amid the forest, in Rondonia, Brazil. (AP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Newly released video shows man believed to be last of tribe

  • The foundation’s policy is to allow such people to live their lives in isolation
  • Brazil is home to several “uncontacted” peoples whose lands, like those of many indigenous groups, are increasingly under threat

SAO PAULO: No one knows his name. No one knows the name of the people he came from. And he appears to have lived alone in Brazil’s Amazon for 22 years.
Video released for this first time this week by Brazil’s Indian Foundation shows rare images of a so-called uncontacted indigenous man who is believed to be the last surviving member of his tribe. The footage was shot in 2011, though a team that tracks him says it last saw evidence he was alive in May.
The shaky images taken from a distance through foliage show a man chopping down a tree. The sound of his ax hitting the trunk and bird calls can be heard.
The video’s release followed a press report that noted there existed only one image of the man, captured by a documentary filmmaker in the 1990s in which the man’s face was hidden behind foliage.
Altair Algayer, coordinator of the team that monitors the man, said the foundation was reluctant to release the video because it could not ask for the man’s consent. But he also noted that such images help to draw attention to the plight of people who are struggling to maintain their distance from the outside world.
“Lots of people are seeking out (this video). They want to know what is he like, how can he be seen, is he still alive,” Algayer said in a phone interview. “I think this ends up helping to protect the territory.”
Brazil is home to several “uncontacted” peoples whose lands, like those of many indigenous groups, are increasingly under threat as the scramble for the resources of the Amazon intensifies. Last year, 71 people were killed in conflicts over land, the most since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission, which tracks the violence.
The Indian Foundation has been monitoring the man since 1996, when it found him already living alone in the forest in Rondonia state. It believes encroachment and attacks by farmers and loggers that began in the 1980s decimated the man’s tribe. The last of his fellow tribesmen appeared to have been killed in an attack in 1995 or 1996. In recent years, though, no one has tried to enter the protected area where lives, the foundation said.
The team that tracks him calls him “the Indian of the hole” because of an unusual hole that he dug, Algayer said.
“We don’t know who he belongs to,” Algayer said, who adds that the man appears to be in good health and between 55 and 60.
The foundation’s policy is to allow such people to live their lives in isolation, but members of the foundation tried initially to make contact with the man since he was alone and they believed him at risk. The man made clear he wanted no contact, and the foundation has not tried again since 2005.
About every other month, a team enters his territory to look for signs that he is still alive and well. They don’t always see him — the last time they did was in 2016 — but they are able to tell he is still alive by traces he leaves behind. A mission in May found fresh footprints and a newly cut tree.
They have left tools and seeds for the man, and they have seen that he has planted corn, potatoes, papayas and bananas.
“This man, who is unknown to us, even after losing everything, including his people and a series of cultural practices, proved that, even like that, alone in the forest, it is possible to survive and resist joining mainstream society,” Algayer said in a statement distributed by the foundation. “I believe he is much better off than if, way back, he had made contact.”


Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

Updated 21 March 2019
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Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

  • Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana

HAVANA: Cuba’s love affair with 1950s-era American cars is still intact, but the communist-run island also has a lingering attachment to a stalwart of Soviet-era leftovers, the motorcycle sidecar.
Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana.
The retro appeal gets a lot of attention from tourists “but here it’s common, normal,” says Enrique Oropesa Valdez.
Valdez should know. The 59-year old makes a living as an instructor teaching people how to handle the sidecar in Havana’s traffic, where riders seem able to squeeze the machines through the narrowest of gaps.
And they’ve built up an intense loyalty among the mend-and-make do Cubans.
“They’re very practical,” according to Alejandro Prohenza Hernandez, a restaurateur who says his pampered red 30-year-old Jawa 350 is like a second child.
Cheaper and more practical than the gas-guzzling, shark-finned US behemoths, the bikes are used for anything from the family runabout to trucking goods and workers’ materials.
“A lot of foreigners really like to take photos of it,” says Hernandez. “I don’t know, I think they see it as something from another time.”
Cuba lags several decades behind the rest of the world due to a crippling US embargo, so the makers’ badges on the ubiquitous sidecars speak of a bygone world.
Names like Jawa from the former Czechoslovakia and MZ from the former East Germany, as well as antiquated Russian Urals, Dniepers and Jupiters.
Havana’s military acquired them from big brother Moscow at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s, for use by state factories and farms. Over the years, they gradually filtered down to the general public.
That’s how Jose Antonio Ceoane Nunez, 46, found his bright red Jupiter 3.
“When the Cuban government bought sidecars from the Russians in 1981, it was for state-owned companies,” he said.
Later, the companies “sold them on to the most deserving employees,” he said. His father, who worked for a state body, passed the bike on to him.
“Even if the sidecar gets old. I’ll never sell it because it’s what I use to move around. It’s my means of transport in Cuba, and there aren’t many other options,” said Nunez.
Valdez himself has a cherished green 1977 Ural.
“I like it a lot, firstly because it’s the means of transport for my family, and secondly because it’s a source of income.”
And it costs less than a car, still out of reach of many Cubans.
Settled on the island with his Cuban wife, 38-year-old Frenchman Philippe Ruiz didn’t realize at first how ubiquitous the motorcycle sidecar was.
“When I began to be interested, I suddenly realized that I was seeing 50 to 100 a day!”
Renovating a house at the time, he saw that many sidecars were being used to transport building equipment.
Through an advert on the Internet, he bought a blue 1979 Ural a few months ago for 6,500 euros.
“It’s a year older than me and in worse shape,” he said. “Soon he had to strip the bike down and “start repairing everything.”
With few spare parts available in Cuba, “people have to bring them in from abroad,” which slows down repairs.
But he has no regrets. An experienced motorcyclist, he’s discovered a whole new side to his passion by riding the Russian machine.
“It’s very funny, it’s a big change from the bike because we cannot turn the same way, we can’t lean, so you have to relearn everything but it’s nice.”
“It’s especially nice with the family because you can put a child in the sidecar, my wife behind, and suitcases,” he said.
In future he hopes to take advantage of the interest in the old bikes to rent it out.
“I think it will be a bit of a change from all the convertibles here.”