To the invaders the Awá tribe was nothing more than an obstacle to their territory's natural treasure trove; a primitive nuisance that they needed to fell
together with the trees.
So they started killing them.
Some were inventive in their killings: several Awá died after eating flour laced with ant poison; a "gift" from a local farmer. Others, like Karapiru, were
shot where they stood -- at home, in front of their families.
Karapiru believed that he was the only member of his family to survive one such massacre. The killers murdered his wife, son, daughter, mother, brothers
and sisters. Another son was wounded and captured.
Severely traumatized, Karapiru escaped into the forest, lead shot embedded in his lower back. "There was no way of healing the wound. I couldn't
put any medicine on my back, and I suffered a great deal," he told Fiona Watson, director of field and research at tribal rights organization Survival
International. "The lead was hot in my back, bleeding. I don't know how it didn't become full of insects. But I managed to escape from the whites ."
For the next 10 years, Karapiru was on the run. He walked for nearly 400 miles across the forested hills and plains of Maranhão state, crossing the sand
dunes of the restingas and the broad rivers that flow into the Atlantic.
He was terrified, hungry and alone. "It was very hard," he told Survival International. "I had no family to help me, and no one to talk to."
He survived by eating honey and small Amazonian birds: parakeet, dove and the red-bellied thrush. At night, when howler monkeys called from the canopy, he
slept high in the boughs of vast copaiba trees, among the orchids and rattan vines. When the grief and loneliness became too much, he would talk quietly to
himself or hum as he walked.
More than a decade after he had witnessed the murder of his family, Karapiru was spotted by a farmer on the outskirts of a town in the neighboring state of
Bahia. He was walking through a burned section of forest, carrying a machete, a few arrows, some water containers, and a chunk of smoked wild pig.
They greeted each other. The farmer gave him shelter in exchange for chores, and provided him with food he had never eaten before -- manioc, rice, flour
and coffee -- for which Karapiru developed a taste. He discovered a little about the ways of the karai, the white man, learning that his hosts
kept cattle and slept in a bed, which he found extremely uncomfortable.
He was a man who had spent ten years "fleeing from everything."
"It was very sad," he says. But just as Hawk could not have envisaged his long years of suffering, neither could he have predicted the joy that
was soon to come.
Once news spread that a solitary, unknown Indian had emerged from the forest, an anthropologist visited him. Karapiru tried to recount his story, telling
the anthropologist that he had seen his family brutally cut down; that he had spent a decade in silence and that he was now the only one left.