Orlando Villas Boas (1914-2002) and his brothers Cláudio (1916-1998) and Leonardo (1918-1961) devoted their lives to helping Indians. In 1961 they succeeded in getting the entire upper Xingu legally protected – the first huge indigenous area in all South America, and the prototype for dozens of similar reserves all over the continent. Two of the Villas Boas brothers, Orlando and Cláudio, were jointly awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, as much for their geographical explorations as for their humanitarian work and were indicated for the Nobel Prize of Peace.
The British historian John Hemming, wrote that the Villas Boas were pioneers in many ways. They were almost the first non-missionaries to live permanently with the Indians; and they treated them as their equals and friends. They persuaded tribes to end internecine feuds and unite to confront the encroaching settlement frontier. They were the first to empower indigenous people to run their own affairs. The Villas Boas were the first to appreciate the value of politics and the media in furthering the indigenous cause. They also devised a policy of “change, but only at the speed the Indians want”. (For more information, see HEMMING, John. Die if you must. London: Macmillan, 2003. For incormation about the Villas Bôas indian policy, see DAVIS, Shelton. Victims of the miracle: development and the indians of Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977)
Orlando Villas Boas died in 2002. When one of their major chief dies, the Xingu Indians hold a great funerary festival (the Kuarup) in his honour. They did this for Orlando even though he was white.