Published on 9 Jun 2014

Tribe leader’s message to England team: help save our forest

Two weeks ago, with World Cup 2014 preparations in full swing, protesters from the Kayapo people of the Amazon joined other indigenous people in a clash with the Brazilian riot police.

Just now, two of them walked into the Channel 4 News studio to tell me why they’re on the streets.

Chief Raoni, who’s 84, spoke in his native language while Chief Megaron, 63, translated that into Portuguese, while yet another translator put it into English.

“I like football,” says Raoni, “and the children in our village play it well. But we also have our own sport, hitting coconuts with our war clubs. If the canopy of the forest disappears, and the sun is hot, and strong winds blow – our lifestyle will also disappear.”

I asked if they have a message for the English football team and fans. Raoni said: “Please tell those clearing the forest to stop. I am very worried about it.”

The Kayapo live in a protected area of the Amazon, but the two men showed me on the map how, right up to the borders of that area – which is the size of the UK – there has been massive deforestation. Megaron’s fingers traced the route of the river Xingu: from the soya plantations upstream into the waters where they drink and fish.

The water is now so polluted, they tell me, that “we cannot see the fish when we are trying to hunt them with bow and arrow”.

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The 8,000 people in the tribe depend on a fragile ecosystem supporting 250 food plants and more than 600 medicinal plants.

Campaigners have mounted a legal battle to prevent a massive dam at Belo Monte, which they claim will ruin the habitat of the indigenous people.  Each time an open court judgment goes against development of the Amazon, the Brazilian Supreme Court has set it aside in closed chambers.

Raoni has a three inch lip plate and some very impressive ear adornments. When I tried to thank the two men, the translator told me there is no word for thank-you in their language, because if you give a gift it’s up to you: instead the word “maycumbre” expresses wellbeing.

Interviewing Chief Raoni, albeit on a burning modern issue, was also like conversing with the deep past of the human race: the Kayapo were not contacted until 1965.

It’s one of the most amazing encounters I’ve ever had – and one that nobody in the world will be able to have again if we let development and resource speculation destroy what’s left of the world’s indigenous peoples.

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12 reader comments

  1. orla dowds roddy says:

    is there any way that we can get involved to help them? like donate money or even signing a petition of some sort?

    1. Anita Tuesley says:

      If you have a look at facebook pages or websites for Support Chief Raoni, Amazon Watch or Eye on Amazon Watch you will find petitions and further information there. These pages also contain some wonderful photos and articles on other issues.
      Other pages dealing with indigenous rights and issues are: Survival International, Earth Tribe, Uncontacted Tribes and Aboriginal and Tribal Nation News. There are lots more but you can find them through these pages already listed

  2. JOHN WETHERELL says:

    What a simple story for once, compared with the murky waters of Birmingham schools for example! You really get across the ‘feel’ of what it was like to meet these two men. Thank you!

  3. amy jade butcher says:

    Im just an ordinary teenage girl so this comment probably won’t be recognised, but the world we live in today is corrupt. Decisions are clearly being made by the higher power with a greedy thirst for wealth and resources. The new age is happening quicker each day, our earth is dying. Air, water and land pollution being a main factor in all of this. Species are becoming rare and even extinct, animals and plants that have flourished on our planet for hundreds of years.. Just gone.. And no ammount of money would ever bring them back. We need to take a step backwards, and the people of the amazon are a prime example. Society has changed unbelievably, where has human nature disappeard to? Its in our hearts and distractions prevent us from seeking it. Love is the answer, to all of the worlds issues, love for our planet. Natural disasters are happening more frequently every day, pollution, famine, war, poverty, disease, corrupt governments and GREED. This is the devil itself. We need to wake up, take a stand and change for the better before its too late, and it will be. Nothing can ever change until the people of the world unite against this pure wickedness often reffered to as ‘living the dream’ which oneday is all it will be. Wake up, theirs more to it than what meets the eye.

    1. Kingsley says:

      Amy , I really couldn’t have out it any better myself, you should maturity beyond your years, I have only recently within the last 5 years opened my eyes to the corruption of money, it’s disgusting how we treat this planet and have done for the last 500 years, exhausting finite resources left, right and centre for financial gain, humans are a scourge on this planet.

      We need to wake up !

      And government NEEDS to take the first step and lead by example. The only way I can see that happening is by voting Green Party, no other party takes this seriously. But the Greens are perceived as a minimal “for fun” party…. They need to get into power… Now.

    2. Anita Tuesley says:

      Amy you are far from ordinary. Hoping that more and more of your generation will stand with you and other activists and enlighten the majority out there who have not seen or do not care about our destruction of our own home and everything on it

  4. Vanessa Pierre says:

    let’s help them out

  5. Philip Edwards says:

    The “free market” will provide.

    Won’t it?

    1. Gus says:
  6. Susan Horth says:

    Well said Amy. I would just like to add that we are one of earth’s species and if we carry on as we are we will make ourselves extinct too. Nature will always redress the balance. I feel we are like a virus that is out of control or a parasite that is killing it’s host. I feel ultimately the world and nature will recover but whether the human race will survive is questionable. I know there are many aware young people like you and the future is yours to make the changes that are so badly needed. Allow that wisdom of yours to guide you.

  7. usna keating says:

    Rachel Carson once wrote “The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.” It is clear that the financial strength of western society, and the power of accumulated demands of individuals is waging relentless war on the planet. We are currently in what scientists call the ‘sixth mass extinction’ given that extinction rates today are increasing at an alarming rate, and a higher rate than at any other time in Earth’s history with the exception of the mass extinction events. Ecosystems that provide services, including cleaning of water, atmospheric regulation, soil accumulation, prevention erosion, provision of clean air are being destroyed. It is ironic that western society, and individuals with this society often have the very audacity to associate indigenous peoples as savages. Our own society, is savagely stripping away the remnants of indigenous peoples land, is viciously exploiting resources and wildlife and is ultimately depleting sustainable resources at such rates that we are jeopardising their very sustainability. Our society is far more savage than the vast majority of indegenous societies in many aspects. We live in a time of humanitarian crises, wildlife crises and environmental crises. Some argue that there are too many people, but the big issue is individual lifestyle choices and the amount of waste we generate. So much food we produce rots in fridges, or is cooked and never eaten. So much fish we catch is dumped at sea, or is managed ineffectively. We live on the only planet we know of with life, but also with ‘intelligent’ or ‘semi intelligent’ organisms, many of which are becoming extinct before our eyes. Not alone are these organisms special in their own right, but they also share a common origin. It is ironic that we invest so much looking for life on other planets when we are destroying life here. I think many of these issues, and many of the changes we need to be make can and need to be first made at an individual scale, then a local scale, followed by a community scale, regional scale and national scale. In my opinion people need to be informed before realistic political change could be achieved and this needs to be taught through education. It is not just children that need this education, but all members of society and I commend Chief Raoni and Chief Megaron, who are fantastic embassadors for the Amazon, activists, environmentalists, and indigenous people. Lets their words are heard and that individuals begin to listen and begin to get involved in these issues.

  8. Alicia says:

    http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam

    Here’s more information and links on where to take action and donate.
    Please spread the word and get involved.
    The dam is being partially launched this year but fully launched in 2019. We won’t be able to undo what has been done but we may be able to prevent the damage from here on.

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