Chief Raoni, Honorary President

Iconic figure of the fight for the survival of the First People

Raoni Raoni is the leader of the Indian Kayapo people. He lives in his Amazon Reserve. The Association for the Virgin Forest is at the origin of the world tour of Chief Raoni in 1989 and his coming to France in 2000, 2001, 2010 and 2011. During his travels, the Cacique Raoni met the greats of this world. Everywhere, when he appeared in the media he marked peoples spirits.

His biography

Young RaoniRaoni : his name alone evokes all the mystery and power of the Kayapo people of which he is one of the guides. Stubborn and rebellious, this charismatic leader has been pursuing a crusade for four decades trying to save the Amazon rainforest that gave birth to him. Father founder of the movement for the preservation of the last rainforests, an inestimable heritage for all humanity, he has risked his life many times for this noble cause.

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.

No one knows exactly what year or what day Raoni was born. It was probably in the early 1940s, perhaps in 1942. 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.

At the end of the 1950s, Raoni met the Brothers Villas Boas, famous Brazilian indigenists, as well as his first President of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek.

Le jeune indien Kayapo RaoniIn 1962 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.

The film Raoni is presented in Cannes in 1977. This had a good review and was presented at the 1977 Cannes Festival. It became a real success when Jean-Pierre 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.

Le jeune Raoni, photo Jean-Pierre DutilleuxIn 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 2010 and 2011, Raoni decided to start new campaigns with the Association for the Virgin Forest to seek support in Europe and revive the Raoni Institute, with the support of his faithful friend Jacques Chirac.

In 2011, Raoni was named Citizen of Honor of the City of Paris by Bertrand Delanoë.

In 2019, the Association for the Virgin Forest is organizing, at the request of Chef Raoni, a new international tour to raise public awareness of the imminent dangers threatening the Amazon today.