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Rondônia is a state in Brazil, located in the country’s northwest, sharing a border with Bolivia.  Covered mostly by rain forest (or, more commonly, deforested area which was once rain forest), Rondônia is the 13th largest Brazilian state (out of 26) by area, but only the 23rd by population.   It covers an area of just over 90,000 square miles, roughly the size of Michigan, Romania, or the United Kingdom, but has only 1.5 million inhabitants.

Five of those people — the only five anywhere — make up the Akuntsu tribe.

Indiginous to Brazil, the Akuntsu tribe was all but unknown to outsiders until 1995.   By the time government field workers made contact with tribe members that year, their population had dwindled to seven people: Konibu, their chief, a shaman currently believed to be roughly 70 years old; another male, Pupak (pictured right with Konibu), approximate age 40; Ururu, the female elder; and four other women in their 20s or 30s.   The Akuntsu population was likely much larger in the 1970s and 1980s, but as development in the rain forests grew, so did violent land-grabbing — leading, sadly, to the death of an unknown number of undocumented aborigines.

Today, the Akuntsu population numbers a mere five members.  In 2000, during a storm, a tree fell onto one of the Akuntsu’s two houses, killing one of the younger women.  Last October, Ururu, then likely in her 80s, passed away as well.

We’ll likely never know the tales the survivors tell, because the Akuntsu have their own language — one which no one outside their tribe fully understands. The little we do know: the tribe are hunter/gatherers and to a lesser degree, farmers, growing corn.  They believe in the supernatural, with Konibu known to use tobacco to communicate with the spirit world.   The stories of violence are real: the two surviving men have scars from bullets.  And, given the likely ages of the existing members, the extinction of the tribe is a near-certainty.

If you would like to see and hear Ururu and the five survivors since 2000, Survival International has a wonderful video of the final six Akuntsu.

Bonus fact: The flag of Brazil contains 27 stars, representing the 26 Brazilian states and the Federal district, similar to the American flag.  But instead of having a symmetrical field of stars, the stars are laid out to echo the placement of constellations.

Related: “The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon” by Monte Reel.  10 reviews; 5 stars.

Originally published

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