Amazon tribal chief’s SOS: the white man is destroying everything

Leader who enlisted Sting to save rainforest tells Tom Bawden the problem is as bad as ever

Environment correspondent

A A A

The Brazilian tribal leader who enlisted Sting to help save the Amazon rainforest has accused the developed world of being intent on “destroying everything” and urged its citizens to fundamentally change the way they think.

Twenty-five years ago, Chief Raoni Metuktire, of the indigenous Kayapo population, shot to international prominence as his campaign against hydroelectric dams on the Xingu river galvanized The Police’s frontman.

With the help of Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, Chief Raoni generated so much publicity he was able to defeat a series of proposed dams along the Xingu, a major tributary of the Amazon where this tribe lives, in the early 1990s.

But the threat has resurfaced, and at a far greater magnitude, with proposals to build up to 60 hydroelectric dams now at various stages of development across the Amazon, including at least six on the Xingu.

Speaking to The Independent through a translator, Chief Raoni, said: “The white man seems to be destroying everything. Try to change the way you think and tell your children while they’re growing up that it’s very important to respect nature, to respect indigenous peoples, and not to destroy everything, not to finish everything.

“All over the world indigenous people are having problems with the destruction of their land and forest. Everywhere I look there is occupation and destruction of the natural balance.

 “We should be finding a solution together to preserve the forest for the future of our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. What’s going to happen when it’s all gone, when it’s all destroyed and there’s nothing left?”

The Kayapo population numbers about 8,500, most of them living in a handful of villages in the eastern part of the rainforest.

However, the bulk of the population has been coming increasingly into contact with the outside world since the 1950s, as the rainforest is increasingly used to grow soya and rear cattle, for gold mining and logging – and now for hydroelectric dams.

The speed of deforestation had been declining in recent years in the face of growing international pressure, but the rate of tree destruction rose again last year, by 28 per cent, according to the research institute Imazon.

Chief Raoni, with his nephew Chief Megaron Txucarramae, returned to London this week for the first time since being there with Sting in 1989. They have sent England manager Roy Hodgson a letter inviting his team to come to the Kayapo territory straight after the World Cup to play his team. “It would be a very good thing if the England team see the Indians as they are in the forest,” Chief Raoni said. He has yet to hear back from Hodgson.

Chief Raoni said: “Before contact with white people everything was normal, everything was beautiful. I went with my father into the forest hunting, now everything has changed. Around our area everything is destroyed and small towns have become bigger, so that things have expanded and are getting worse.”

The “white man’s” influence is also taking its toll on Kayapo culture, he says. “Young people go up to the town. It takes them a long time, but they go because they want to see what white people are doing. And they could lose their culture through all these interactions with white people.

“Instead of looking for a plant in the forest, they will go and look for an aspirin. Instead of doing our traditional dances, they will go to town and listen to other types of music,” he said.

And for some of his tribe, development could not only threaten their culture, but annihilate them. “The dam would be even worse for isolated communities that still live in our area. In the river there’s a place for isolated people, so they don’t have contact with others. If you close off the river and the flooding starts, they will die and it will never be known,” he said.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...