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The name Raoni is associated with the mystery, and the power of the Kayapo people. This charismatic leader has been crusading for four decades to save his homeland, the Amazon forest. This stubborn and untamed man initiated a cause for the last rainforests preservation, and he risked his life many times for this priceless world heritage.
Beyond the Amazonia, Raoni is a living symbol of the last tribes fight to protect their millenary culture which is directly connected to nature itself… ‘a fight for life’. There are hundreds of generations between the lifestyle of those threatened people and ours. Raoni breached this immense gap of human life scale managing to keep his dignity and subjected himself to a personal abnegation. He has met world leaders but he still lives in a hut owning nothing.
Which specific year or day Raoni was born is unclear. It is believed though to have been in the early 30’s, possibly in 1932. What we know for certain is that Raoni was born in a village called Krajmopyjakare today known as Kapôt, in the heart of the Mato Grosso.
His people are nomadic, and as a Kapayo child, he was continually moving from place to place. When he was 15 Raoni started wearing a labret, an ornamental disk which warriors wear on their lower lip when they want to show they are ready to die for their land. The size of the disk is gradually extended to reach its final size after 4 months.
In 1954 Raoni met the Villas Boas brothers, and he stayed with these famous Brazilian indigenists for a year where he learnt Portuguese and started to gain knowledge of the outside world, the ‘Kuben’s’ –whites-world.
In the late 50’s Raoni met a Brazilian President for the first time: Juscelino Kubitschek. In 1964 he also met King Leopold III of Belgium while he was travelling in the area. This was a sign of destiny as another Belgian would change his life a few years later.
A young film maker called Jean Pierre Dutilleux became fascinated by Raoni’s personality and charisma when they first met in 1973. Dutilleux returned a few years later with a documentary film project entitled ‘Raoni’.
This had a good review and was presented at the 1977 Cannes Festival. It became a real success when Dutilleux managed to get Marlon Brando involved for the English version. Raoni was nominated for Academy Awards and screened at Los Angeles Mann’s Chinese Theatre. It was a hit in Brazil and Raoni then became the most famous native Indian of the continent- country. He then became aware of the power Kritako (the knife-blade man-, Dutilleux’s Indian nickname) and his camera gave him. He could now share the Kayapo people’s concerns about the threat of deforestation on their environment.
In 1989 Raoni left Brazil for the first time and together with singer Sting (who was introduced to Raoni by Jean-Pierre Dutilleux) to make a plea for help. Most television stations broadcasted the message which was intended as a wake up call… namely deforestation does not only destroy the last Indian tribes, it jeopardizes everyone’s future.
12 Foundations’ Rainforest were then created to raise funds and help create a 180,000Km2 national park in the Xingu area.
Further to Raoni’s campaign, the aim was reached in 1993: one of the largest tropical forest reservations was created in the Mato Grosso and Para states. The G7 budget financed the setup of all of the Amazon tribe demarcation in Brazil.
French President Mitterand’s support to Raoni’s actions gave a great boost to this crusade everyone remembers. French President Chirac, Spanish Kind Juan Carlos, Prince Charles and His Holiness Pope John Paul II later also gave their support.
In 2000, as the world was wondering about the new millennium challenges, Raoni came back to France after 11 years. At that time Brazil was celebrating the 500th anniversary of its discovery while announcing the country would officially continue deforesting to respond to precious hardwood demand. He got President Chirac support on his Raoni Institute project which would allow the creation of a wide tropical forest reservation in the heart of the Brazilian Amazonia. Despite the feasibility study which was financially supported by France and with great expectations, the project was unfortunately put on hold due to the 9-11 events.
In 2009 Raoni came out of his reservation again. The territories he fought hard for were threatened again by Monte Bello giant Dam project. Raoni decided to launch a last campaign to get some help from Europe and give a start to the Raoni Institute with the support of faithful friend Jacques Chirac.