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”.


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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