The Egyptian-born poet Claudius Claudianus proclaimed, around 1,600 years ago, “Death renders all equal.” And so it was when, shortly before the 10 days of pomp and ceremony of the funeral service for Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian ofﬁcials discovered a man covered in feathers in a hammock in a hut in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, just as dead as the British monarch but all alone.
And while there was a tradition-laden succession to the British throne and life has continued for the royal family and their millions of subjects, the man of the forest was the last of his tribe and, with his death, “an entire culture” ended, The New York Times noted. His name unknown, he was dubbed the “Man in the Hole” because of the holes around his hut which he may have dug as he prepared for death. He was no royalty but he belonged to the human race, a member of the world’s 476 million Indigenous peoples.
They live in about 5,000 tribes, 70 percent of them in Asia, speak 4,000 languages and comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, according to Amnesty International. They live among 80 percent of Earth’s biodiversity with natural resources aplenty, including oil, gas, timber and minerals, but are 15 percent of the world’s poorest people. Their lands “are routinely appropriated, sold, leased or simply plundered and polluted by governments and private companies,” Amnesty International said. The Man in the Hole’s tribe lived in a 19,700acre territory, in complete isolation for at least 26 years after ranchers killed the rest of his tribe in the ﬁrst such human extinction of its kind.
Experts believe that Indigenous peoples ﬁrst arrived in these parts around 11,500 years ago, based on a study of the remains of a baby girl in Alaska, The Los Angeles Times reported. Fast forward to the arrival of Christopher Columbus 7,500 years later when he lost his way looking for India.
The intense rivalry that followed among European powers seeking riches and territory to conquer eventually involved Britain, Denmark, France, Norway, Portugal, Russia Scotland, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and even the sovereign Knights of Malta. Their activities led to perhaps the world’s worst sustained atrocity, for which there has been no accountability, and they left a legacy which, ultimately, was to blame for the death of the Man in the Hole.
In the United States, for example, they were driven off their ancestral lands, symbolized by the “Trail of Tears,” 38 Dakota tribal members were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862 in the biggest mass execution in the country. Also, “Between 1492 and 1880, between two [million] and 5.5 million Native Americans were enslaved in the Americas, in addition to 12.5 million African slaves,” according to Linford D. Fisher, associate professor of history at Brown University. Their women have been sterilized and are still victims of murderous sexual predators. Children were forcibly sent to residential schools to become “white” in the U.S., Australia, Canada.
But it was in the wider Americas where the horror began. Diseases which the Europeans brought with them, such as typhoid, influenza, smallpox and measles, killed most of the Natives. The entire Taino population of Hispaniola – numbering 80,000 to eight million -died within 50 years of making contact with Columbus and his crew, researchers said. Central Mexico’s Native population declined from just under 15 million in 1519 to about 1.5 million a century later. Overall, areas most affected lost their entire populations, a typical society lost 90 percent of its people and even the regions least affected lost 80 percent of their people, according to historian and demographer Nobel David Cook.
In fact, the death of perhaps 50 million or 90 percent of the Native population of the Americas through wars and diseases contributed to a cooling of the planet. With fewer of them left to till the land, new growth sprung up and “soaked up enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to actually cool the planet, with the average temperature dropping by 0.15 degrees Centigrade in the late 1500s and early 1600s,” causing a “Little Ice Age,” the Guardian reported, citing University College London scientists.
Indeed, Indigenous peoples have had “a special relationship with the land on which they have lived for generations, sometimes for tens of thousands of years,” Amnesty International said. “They possess crucial knowledge about how to manage natural resources sustainably and act as guardians or custodians of the land for the next generation.”
All of this is putting the spotlight on the root cause of the genocide, which still persists: Columbus. While some still hail him for bringing the “white” race to the Americas, several countries and a few U.S, states have replaced Columbus Day as a national holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day, First People’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples Day, Indian Day (in Brazil) or Native American Day.
Last year, Joe Biden became the ﬁrst U.S. president to observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. He proclaimed that “Western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation, violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of Tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more.”
In 2000, the United Nations established a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to focus on topics such as economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. Seven years later, the U.N. adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, guaranteeing their ownership of their lands as a matter of international law. "There can be no development for Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent and without them being involved in every step,” U.N. SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon announced.
Such developments are putting Indigenous peoples in, for example, the U.S., in a position to challenge the supposed grievances of the Make America Great Again crowd who claim to be under existential threat. They can deploy social media – as the MAGA people are doing – to remind the world that they are the real “sons of the soil,” a term which political scientist Barbara F. Water frequently mentions in her book “How Civil Wars Start.” They can remind the world that the so-called “Great Replacement” has already taken place, starting more than 500 years ago. If they do so in alliance with the African American community, so much the better.
As for the Man in the Hole, if he could have had an epitaph, it probably would have been a message excerpted from the English poet Thomas Gray’s 1751 poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:”
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”