To kick off his world tour a few months ago, Sting performed for 200,000 at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The next day, the singer was surprised to find an acquaintance, filmmaker-photographer Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, 38, in the lobby of his hotel. Dutilleux invited him to fly to a remote corner of the Amazon jungle to meet Raoni, a chief of the hostile Kayapó Indians, a wood-age people whose first recorded contact with civilization came only some 30 years ago. Sting jumped at the chance, and six days later—after acquiring 60 miles of fishing line, 1,000 hooks, 500 batteries, 30 machetes and 60 cans of tomato sauce as goodwill gifts—Dutilleux, Sting, his sweetheart, Trudie Styler, and his percussionist, Mino Cinelu, left for Brazil’s Xingu National Park, a 750-square-mile preserve that’s home to 16 Indian nations.
Dutilleux, whose 1979 film about the chief, Raoni, was nominated for an Oscar, works with a Boston-based group, Cultural Survival, to preserve the rights of indigenous peoples. Sting’s journey would bring welcome publicity. For Sting and company, the three-day trip provided a glimpse of a way of life seldom seen this side of National Geographic. Before it was over, the singer had seen a panther; shot a bow and arrow; sung his composition, Fragile, a cappella for an audience of 90 mostly-naked Indians; watched Dutilleux capture a tarantula in a Maxwell House coffee jar; been daubed with body paint, and been awakened by screams when Trudie found a poisonous Surucucu snake in their sleeping hut (some Kayapó warriors clubbed it to death). “It didn’t take long for the varnish of civilization to leave us,” Sting observed. “After 48 hours, we were naked, covered with paint and fighting snakes.” The highlight of the trip? “Meeting Tacuma,” says Sting, referring to a shaman who was recovering from being struck by lightning. “Talking to him was like going back in a time machine 4,000 years.”
Toward the adventure’s end, Raoni spoke of the Indians’ struggle to fend off civilization. “I have never seen such happy people,” Sting replied through Dutilleux. “I speak to a lot of people, and I will tell them what you said. And I am grateful to be here with you.”