RaoniMetuktire is one of the great chiefs of the Kayapo people, who live in the heart of a protected natural area in Brazil.
RaoniMetuktire is one of the great chiefs of the Kayapo people, who live in the heart of a protected natural area in Brazil. He is an icon of the fight to preserve the Amazon rainforest and indigenous culture.
RaoniMetuktire was born in the state of MatoGrosso somewhere between 1930 and 1934, in the Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest. He was born into the Metuktire branch of the Kayapo, and is one of the sons of the ‘cacique’ (or leader) Umoro. As the Kayapo are nomadic, Raoni’s childhood featured a succession of endless moves and tribal wars. Mentored by his brother Motibau, Raoni began wearing a lip plate – a wooden disc painted with ceremonial designs that warriors from his tribe call ‘botoque’ and wear in their lower lip – when he was 15 years old.
Raoni and other members of the Metuktire tribe met Westerners for the first time in 1954, and he was quickly appointed his people’s ambassador, joining a delegation that met with President JuscelinoKubitschek. In 1958, he was a guide in an expedition tasked with pinpointing Brazil’s geographic centre. In 1964, he met former Belgian king Leopold III as he embarked on an expedition to the protected indigenous reserves of MatoGrosso.
Deforestation had already become a major concern for the Kayapo when, in 1977, Raoni’s life was turned into a French documentary by Jean-Pierre Dutilleux entitled Raoni and narrated by Jacques Perrin. The Brazilian media rushed to investigate the issue, turning him into an obvious symbol of the fight to save the Amazon rainforest, which was already severely compromised by rampant deforestation, ever-advancing soya-bean fields and hydroelectric dams.
However, it wasn’t until he met the singer Sting, who travelled to meet him in the Xingu River region in 1987, that he gained international acclaim. On 12 October 1988, he and Sting travelled to São Paulo (Brazil) to take part in a press conference for Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! campaign. Following the event, Sting, his wife TrudieStyler and Belgian director Jean-Pierre Dutilleux co-founded the Rainforest Foundation, set up to support Raoni’s projects. Back then, the priority was to establish the boundaries of the Kayapo territories threatened with invasion.
Today, through his Virgin Forest association, Raoni is leading one final campaign to try to safeguard this precious sanctuary for biodiversity. The Brazilian chief is now over 80 years old. In his book My Last Journey, he explains that he hopes to be paving the way for future action and protecting the indigenous populations who serve as the guardians of our planet’s last primary forests.
The Yves Rocher Foundation is committed to supporting indigenous populations, and has been doing so for the past 25 years, when it began planting trees with a community of Tapajós River residents.