"The water is our land"


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"The water is our land" peasants of the river Tocantins, Brazilian Amazonia
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ix, 151 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Magee, Pennie L
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Subjects / Keywords:
Peasants -- Brazil -- Paruru   ( lcsh )
Social conditions -- Paruru (Brazil)   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1990.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 140-150).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Pennie L. Magee.
General Note:
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University of Florida
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oclc - 24917188
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The research for this dissertation was funded by a Fulbright-Hays

Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, the Amazon Research and

Training Program, and the Ford Foundation. While I wrote the dissertation I

was supported by the Florida/ Brazil Institute, the Amazon Research and

Training Program, the Tropical South America Program, and the Tropical

Conservation and Development Program, all of the Center for Latin American

Studies at the University of Florida.

Throughout my years of graduate study at the University of Florida, the

Center for Latin American Studies provided me with a study carrel. The

Amazon Research and Training Program supported me for most of those years

with graduate assistantships.

I could not have completed this dissertation without the institutional

and financial support of those mentioned above. But I also benefitted from the

intellectual guidance afforded me by my committee, consisting of Dr. Marianne

Schmink, Dr. Maxine Margolis, Dr. Kent H. Redford, Dr. Anthony Oliver-

Smith, and Dr. Leslie S. Lieberman.

I had the great fortune to be part of a group of fellow graduate students

who managed to mediate the terrors and indignities inherent in this effort,

with a good deal of laughter, good will and moral support. We parlayed our

inexperience and optimism into a concerted effort to understand the issues at

hand. The result was a study group, the Group for Advanced Amazonian

Studies, which provided a forum for our maturing ideas. Gay Biery-Hamilton,

Constance Campbell, Avecita Chicchon, Jon Dain, Karen Kainer, Cynthia

Lagueux, Richard Piland, and Gary Shaeff were charter members of this group.

Over the years, others joined the group and enriched our efforts with their

own perspectives on the issues we tackled. Among them were Chris Canaday,

Doris Capistrano, John Moon, Lisa Naughton, and Debbie Rose. I owe all of

them a debt of gratitude for their support.

During my year of field work, Dr. Anthony Anderson generously

provided me with office space, infrastructural support, and a field assistant.

He was instrumental in helping me shape certain portions of my research, as

were Suely Anderson and Edviges loris. Lyli Theodoro kept track of my mail

and my comings and goings from the field, and taught me valuable lessons in

patience and perseverance. In addition, I benefitted enormously from the

friendship and intellectual challenges offered me through the members of his

research project, especially Anna Fanzeres, Edviges loris, and Igor

Mousasticoshvily Jr. During the brief period that Rebecca Abers joined the

project, she was a delight--and whether she knows it or not, she was an

essential contributor towards my efforts to unravel the mystery of what

happened to the fish in the river.

I also owe many thanks to individuals within other institutions

including the Museu Goeldi of Belem, INPA in Manaus, Themag in Rio de

Janeiro, Engevix in Tucurui, Commissao Pastoral da Terra in CametA and

Bel6m, who took the trouble to share with me with their own experiences and

insights. In Belo Horizonte, Donald Sawyer offered me his hospitality and

access to his extraordinary collection of materials on Amazonia. At the

University of Florida, Bob Swett and Chris Canaday taught me how to

calculate an area on a map by using a planimeter, and Chris unraveled some

of my tables at the last critical moment. Indeed it is a privilege to have friends

with many talents.

I thank the members of my host family in Paruru for letting me and my

field assistant into their lives. I could not have done my research without their

steadfast support, feeding us, caring for us when we fell ill, introducing us to

the rest of the community, and teaching us about their lives. In keeping with

anthropological tradition, I do not mention their names here, nor those of the

many other people in Paruru who shared with us their perspective on the

world. Nonetheless, their names are forever etched in my heart, along with a

profound respect for the grace and dignity with which they carry out their


Still more individuals deserve many more thanks than I can possibly

convey. Among these are Pat Flaherty, Mario Jardim, David Kilcrease, Peggy

Lovell, Elizabeth Lowe-McCoy, Terry McCoy, Igor Mousasticoshvily Jr.,

Claudio and Suzana Padua, L6cio Flivio and Lenil Pinto, Cleusa Rancy, Steven

Sanderson, Marianne Schmink, Michael Whittington, and Charles Wood.

Charles Wagley has been my source of inspiration throughout my years

of graduate school. He encouraged my initial interest in Amazonia, provided

financial support at two important junctures, and moral support always. He

and Cecilia Wagley welcomed me into their lives and nurtured me in their

own special way. Their friendship is a gift that forever changed my life.

Marilia Carvalho Brasil accompanied me to the field as my assistant.

She proved to be the ideal intellectual ally as we set about carving a story out

of what we observed and measured. That in itself is a gift without measure.

But she also offered me a friendship of rare quality. It was a profound

pleasure to grow intellectually and personally alongside her. I dedicate this

dissertation to her.


ACKN OW LEDGM EN TS...................................................................................... ii

ABSTRACT............................................................................................................. viii


1 THE WATER IS OUR LAND: INTRODUCTION.............................. 1

From Amerindian to Caboclo:
the Formation of Contemporary Caboclo Society......................... 8
Research Setting......................................................................................... 25
Conceptual Fram ework............................................................................ 29
M ethods...................................................................................................... 31
Structure and Logic of the Dissertation................................................. 34

2 RIVERW ORLD........................................................................................... 38

Arriving in Paruru.................................................................................... 43
The Hom ogeneous Com m unity............................................................ 45
The H eterogeneous Com m unity........................................................... 47

3 HARVESTING WATER AND LAND.................................................. 50

W inter Season............................................................................................ 51
Sum m er Season......................................................................................... 59

4 THE TIDES OF CH AN GE......................................................................... 69

Virola and Andiroba................................................................................. 69
Rubber......................................................................................................... 71
Cacao............................................................................................................. 73
Aqai.............................................................................................................. 76
Fish................................................................................................................ 77

5 WORK, RESOURCES AND WELL-BEING.......................................... 81

Dom ingos Silva and Vicente dos Santos.............................................. 84
Determ inants of Resource Availability............................................... 87
Living Standards........................................................................................ 89
Resource Availability and the Deployment of Household Labor...... 92
W age Labor.................................................................................................. 97

FESTIVA LS A N D FUN ERA LS ............................................................ 105

The Cirio...................................................................................................... 108
Esm ola do Santo......................................................................................... 112
The H oly Spirit and Politics..................................................................... 113
Funeral......................................................................................................... 115

7 STEM M IN G TH E TID E............................................................................. 121

Local Im pacts of the Tucuruf D am ......................................................... 123
The Role of the Catholic Church and the Rural Workers' Union.... 126

8 RIVER VO ICES........................................................................................... 134

G LO SSARY.............................................................................................................. 137

REFEREN CES......................................................................................................... 140

BIO G RA PH ICA L SK ETCH ................................................................................... 151

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Pennie L. Magee

December 1990

Chair: Marianne Schmink
Major Department: Anthropology

This dissertation analyzes the socioeconomic and ecological changes

occurring in the island community of Paruru in the Tocantins River, Pard state,

Brazil. Islanders have traditionally made a living based on fishing and the

extraction of forest products, in an environment characterized by daily and

seasonal tides which flood the island.

Development policies promoted by the Brazilian government over the

past twenty five years shows that the policies have had an impact on islanders'

resource base. Among these policies are the incentives for commercial logging

and fishing, and the building of the Tucurui hydroelectric dam on the

Tocantins River. Key cash and subsistence resources have gradually been

depleted, leaving residents with increasingly fewer options for sustenance.

This study examines how islanders are responding to the


impoverishment of their resource base. The findings show that households use

different strategies to cope with the pressure on their resource base. Those

households with fewer resources put more people to work in activities on the

island, and are more likely to send members off the island to work in wage

labor. Households with more resources more frequently hire wage labor than

do those with few resources.

The process by which incipient socioeconomic differentiation is taking

place is captured in the community's annual celebration in honor of its saint.

The traditional date of the celebration was associated with the collection of

oleaginous fruits harvested as a cash crop. In 1985, the community changed

the date of the celebration to coincide with the peak season of the fruit of a

palm which has traditionally been harvested for subsistence. Islanders now sell

this palm fruit for cash, which indicates that islanders are left with increasingly

fewer strategies for making a living, and are ever closer to losing control over

their means of production.

The socioeconomic differentiation and incipient proletarianization

underway is the root of a new-found political awareness. Islanders are

mobilizing politically against the Tucurui hydroelectric dam, which has

become the symbol for the cause of their impoverished resource base.


The story which unfolds in these chapters takes place in the world of

rivers. In this world, people build their houses, feed their families, and

worship their saints according to the ebb and flow of the daily tides, and the

rise and fall of the seasonal high and low waters. The river provides the fish of

the daily meal, and nutrients to the crops; it is drawn into plastic buckets to

prepare the food, cleanse the body, and quench the thirst. The river meets

people at their front door every morning, and sometimes, during the high

waters of the winter season, moves univited into their houses.

We know very little about this world of rivers, at least in the case of

Amazonia. In part this is because of its sheer vastness. The Amazon Basin

drains about 1/3 of the land surface of South America. The main channel of

the Amazon river is about 6500 kilometers long, and has some 1000 tributaries

(Salati and Vose 1984). Scholars have dedicated considerable attention to

understanding certain ecological components of this basin, including Egler and

Schwassmann (1964), Goulding (1981), Richey, Nobre and Deser (1989), Salati

and Vose (1984), Salo et al (1986), Sioli (1967, 1968) O'Reilly Sternberg (1975).

Because of them, we understand some basic principles of the basin's

limnology, hydrological cycles, and fish ecology.

If some scholars have directed their attention to the biological aspects of

the basin, others have concentrated on the human aspects. In the 1970s, the

literature focused primarily on events taking place in the uplands, or terra

firme, and with good reason. The Brazilian government set in motion a series

of development policies which promised to change forever the face of the

Amazon region. One of the government's early projects was the Transamazon

highway, an ambitious project to link the eastern coast of Brazil to the

westernmost regions of Amazonia.

Of particular interest to social scientists was the colonization scheme

which accompanied the building of the highway. Over the past twenty years,

the fate of the colonization projects has been thoroughly documented (see, for

example, Bunker 1985, Butler 1985, Miller 1985, Moran 1979, 1981, Schmink

1985a, Schmink and Wood 1985, Smith 1982, Wesche 1985, Wilson 1985).

Scholars have also examined other activities which emerged in response to

government policies during the past two decades, such as cattle ranching

(Buschbacher et al. 1987, Hecht 1985), gold mining (Cleary 1990, Schmink

1985), and logging (Browder 1986).

The very wealth of literature on Amazonian development hides a

fundamental gap in the research about this cast of characters. As Parker

(1985b) notes, a survey of the recent literature shows that traditional

Amazonian peasants known as caboclos have been systematically overlooked as

research subjects. Most of the important books on Amazonia do not include

caboclos as a topic (see for example, Barbira-Scazzochio 1980, Hemming 1985,

Moran 1983, and Schmink and Wood 1984). Furthermore, some scholars (such

as Bunker 1985, Foweraker 1981) have incorrectly lumped small-scale farmers,

colonists, and migrants from other areas of Brazil, into the catch-all category of

caboclo. To be sure, these groups have their place in the drama unfolding in

the Amazon. However, as Parker (1985b) points out, it is a disservice to them

and to caboclo groups to obscure the very real differences between each of

these groups.

Migrants usually live in settlements or along roads on terra firme (the

interfluvial regions) which are tied to projects such as gold mines. If they are

able to gain access to land, they may practice small-scale agriculture;

otherwise, they sustain themselves primarily by selling their labor. In the state

of Para, where this study is situated, many come from the northeastern region

of Brazil. By contrast, caboclos tend to live in relative isolation along rivers

and make a living primarily by extracting forest products supplemented by

small-scale agriculture, hunting and fishing. They are semi-independent

producers who exchange their goods through a network of traders. They

engage in wage labor on a seasonal basis, but usually incorporate this sort of

activity as one of many sustenance strategies to employ throughout the course

of the year. Their cultural heritage comes from the interaction between

Amerindian populations and European (principally Portuguese) settlers

between the late 16th century and the early 19th century. In the 19th century,

migrants coming to Amazonia from the northeastern region of Brazil added

their African heritage to the emerging caboclo population.

The exceptions to scholarly neglect of the caboclos are first and foremost

Wagley (1976 [1956]) and his student and colleague Galvio (1976 [1956], who

were among the first to study Amazonian caboclos. In the years following,

several scholars examined other caboclo groups (Miller 1975, Moran 1974, 1975,

Pace 1986, Parker 1981, 1985a, Ross 1978, Schmink 1985b, Weinstein 1985).

Caboclos merit further attention because their culture is an important

human adaptation to the Amazonian environment (Moran 1974); they live in a

wider variety of macro and micro-environments than intact Amerindian

groups have since the mid-18th century (Parker 1985b). As Parker (1985b:xviii)

notes, "Caboclos, at the center stage in the human theatre of Amazonia,

constitute a vital storehouse of knowledge regarding adaptive strategies

employed in response to the complex and heterogeneous ecology of the region.

This is important not only because of the wide range of micro-environments

they exploit but also because they are often the only inhabitants of specific

types of environments (e.g., the vdrzea, or floodplain)".

Recent research shows that caboclo communities are undergoing changes

in the way they sustain themselves. Schmink (1985b) found that the caboclo

way of life was in the process of disappearing in the riverine community of

Sio Felix, Pard state. Although the impetus for change was the building of a

road, other activities (such as gold mining) were also associated with the

changing socioeconomic system. Over time, productive activities such as

agriculture and cattle ranching replaced the traditional extractive activities.

There was increased pressure on certain resources, such as the fish and timber,

especially mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).

Wesche (1985) found that when the town of Itacoatiara, Amazonas state,

was integrated into the network of roads built by the Brazilian government

between 1970 and 1980, caboclo society underwent significant transformation.

Residents of the town traditionally relied on resources available from the three

principal ecological zones: the river, the floodplain, and the terra firme (dry

land). The river was the means of transport; supplied nutrients to the

floodplain soil; and provided fish as the main source of protein for the diet.

The floodplain produced cash crops such as cacao and jute, and food crops

such as manioc, maize and beans. The terra firme was the source for most of

the extractive resources, such as Brazil nuts, rubber and lumber. Residents also

raised cattle, moving them on a seasonal basis between the floodplain and the

terra firme.

This system suffered changes when the town became integrated into the

road network. The rural-to-urban migration which accompanied the building

of the road helped shift the focus of livelihood from the river to the road zone.

Wesche found that over time, caboclos lost their ties to the resource base. Fish

stocks from the river were depleted because of increased commercial fishing

which supplied both the growing urban population and markets elsewhere

which were now linked by the road. The Brazil nuts and other extractive

products of terra firme were supplanted by pasture and agricultural enterprises.

Hence caboclos of Itacoatiara no longer have access to the resources once

available in the various ecological zones. The end result has been "a

progressive destabilization of the livelihood of caboclo society" (Wesche


As these studies indicate, a fundamental element of caboclo culture is

the close link to a heterogenous resource base which people can exploit in a

flexible manner. When that resource base is compromised, so is the caboclo

way of life.

My own study focuses on the recent changes experienced by a caboclo

community whose inhabitants exploit a specific type of environment. Paruru,

as the community is known, is situated on an island in the main channel of the

Tocantins River in Para state, Brazil. The island is part of the estuarine region

of the Amazon basin; as a consequence, the daily tides of the Atlantic ocean

control the level and direction of the water which flows past island dwellers'

houses. Water covers large portions of the island on a daily basis, thus limiting

the opportunities for activities such as small-scale agriculture. Local residents

make a living based primarily on the extraction of resources such as cacao

(Theobroma cacao), rubber (Hevea sp.), and fish.

An important feature of their sustenance strategies has been the flexible

approach to the exploitation of the available resources. Over the course of a

year, the principal activity of a given season is determined by what resources

are ready for harvest. Households supplement the livelihood they gain with

the principal resource by also exploiting other, lesser resources available

during the same period of the principal resource. Hence households operate on

the assumption that they will have several options from which to choose at

any given time; to do so, they count on having a fairly wide range of

resources-what I call the resource base.

My findings indicate that residents of Paruru are facing a critical

moment in their way of life because they are facing irreversible changes in the

resource base from which they make a living. Over the past twenty five years,

the islanders' resource base has become increasingly narrow as a consequence

of specific changes in markets, and islanders' responses to those demands. A

more recent impetus for change has been the building of the Tucurui

hydroelectric dam upstream from Paruru, completed in 1984.

Because islanders no longer have access to a diversity of resources, they

are not able to use the flexible strategies they have used in the past to sustain

themselves. They are losing the close ties to their resource base. Their

responses to the present situation take several forms. Islanders put an

increasing amount of pressure on the few resources they do have available.

They also now find that the socioeconomic ties (based on marriage, kinship, or

trade relations) on which they depended in the past cannot sustain the

demands put upon them. As islanders have come to the realization that they

can no longer find the solutions to their difficulties by relying on the

relationships within the community, they are turning to the outside world to

address their current situation: they are mobilizing politically in protest against

the Tucurui dam.

As Paruruenses respond to their current situation, they participate in

their own transformation into a society characterized by new socioeconomic

relations. Metaphorically speaking, they presently have one foot in the

traditional world of caboclos as independent producers who make a living

based on a wide range of economic activities oriented to the opportunities and

constraints of the environment. They have the other foot poised to take one

step closer to the world of proletarianized rural dwellers who make a living by

selling their labor and have, at best, limited access to a natural resource base.

Change is a gradual process, however. As we shall see from the

following section, caboclo culture itself is the outcome of a process of

socioeconomic transformation which has taken place over the past four


From Amerindian to Caboclo: the Formation of

Contemporary Caboclo Society

Fundamental change occurs when the established system of access to

land and control of labor by which a group of people makes a living, is no

longer viable. The changes take place as the result of the interaction between

different groups of actors, all of whom try in some fashion to gain (or retain)

access to and control over land and labor. In the process, people forge new

ways of making a living and with them new cultures.

Over the last four centuries, two central components of the

socioeconomic history of the Brazilian Amazon have undergone transformation

in a series of stages: labor and the market. In the process of the transformation,

a new culture has emerged: that of the caboclo.

I divide the history of the Brazilian Amazon into seven distinct phases:

the pre-Jesuit, the Jesuit, the Directorate, the post-Directorate, the rubber boom,

the post-rubber boom and the contemporary period.

Pre-lesuit period (pre-conquest to 1653)

Recent research indicates that prior to 1500, the socioeconomic

organization of Amazonia included a wide range of culturally diverse

communities. These ranged in size from small bands of hunters and gatherers,

to permanent settlements which supported tens of thousands of people living

in one place under complex sociopolitical organization. They labored only for

subsistence and trade with neighboring tribes (Denevan 1976, Roosevelt 1987).

Accounts of the discovery of Brazil establish that the Portuguese

mariner Pedro Alvares Cabral reached the eastern shore of central Brazil in

1500. However, Brazil actually was 'discovered' in stages; as Parker (1985c)

notes, the Amazon River was discovered for Europe by a Spanish explorer in

January, 1500, several months before Cabral landed on the Atlantic coast of

Brazil. It took the better part of the 16th century before Europeans came to

colonize the Brazilian Amazon. Until Brazil's independence in 1822, the

Amazon was a separate colony, known as the state of Grao Pard and


The Dutch and the English established trading posts in eastern

Amazonia: the Amerindians supplied the Europeans with fish and forest

products for export, in exchange for tools and trinkets. Gradually, settlements

grew around the trading posts. By 1615, the Dutch and English exercised

considerable control over the region (Parker 1985c).

During this same time, the Portuguese adopted a more aggressive policy

towards controlling their rights to the land occupied by the Dutch and English.

By 1634, all Dutch and English were expelled from the Brazilian Amazon. The

Portuguese then focused their attention on extracting forest products for

export, which included cloves, vanilla, annatto fruit, sarsaparilla, cacao, senna,

oleaginous seeds, woods, and barks (Sweet 1974, Parker 1985c). As Parker

notes, "Insofar as these extractive products formed the economic foundation of

the fledgling colony, the Amerindian became a critical factor in the economic

equation" (1985c:7). They knew the rainforest intimately, and could locate and

collect these forest products much more efficiently than any outsider.

So important did the Amerindians become as a source of labor, that the

Portuguese resorted to slave raids of the densely-populated river settlements to

capture more labor. Parker (1985c) notes that by 1630, few villages in the lower

Amazon valley had escaped the effects of slave raiding and the spread of

European diseases. Amerindians who did survive, moved deeper into the

forest, out of reach from slave raiders.

The Portuguese Crown encountered increasing difficulties in gaining

access to and control over labor supplies in the Amazon region. To resolve

these difficulties, the Crown sent Jesuit priests to the Amazon in 1653. Their

mandate was to assume control over all Amerindian populations under

Portuguese control and to thus gain access to their labor (Parker 1985c).

lesuit period (1653-1751)

When the Jesuits arrived in the Amazon region in 1653, they set up their

missions (aldeias) along tributaries of the Amazon River. They promoted a

lingua geral, a pidgin version of the Tupi-Guarani dialects. It was an effective

way to assume control over the Indians; the language was in essence a barrier

against the Portuguese-speaking settlers in the region. The language also

facilitated communication between tribes that up to then had been isolated

linguistically from each other. Through the lingua geral, the priests built up an

extensive trade network which proved to be a powerful force. The priests

became a significant presence in the region, so that by 1751 they controlled

12,000 Amerindians in 63 missions (Hemming 1978:455 cited in Schmink and

Wood forthcoming). It was they who decided when and how to allocate

Indian labor to settlers.

This period forever altered the patterns of labor and settlement that

existed before the Portuguese came to Amazonia. Under the direction of the

Jesuits, Amerindians now had to provide their labor to Royal authorities and

to colonists, which in many cases amounted to virtual slavery. Numerous

Amerindians now lived in the aldeias in high concentrations, and were

dependent upon the priests for goods and services (Parker 1985c).

Directorate (1751-1798)

The degree of control the Jesuits exercised over the large amounts of

land and labor in Amazonia became a point of increased tension between the

priests and colonists. Upon assuming office in 1751, the Marquis de Pombal

investigated settlers' complaints, and concluded that "...their monopoly over

export trade, colonial retail markets, food production (particularly meat and

fish), and labor markets was clearly insupportable" (Parker 1985c:23). The

Marquis appointed his brother, Francisco Xavier de Mendon
governor of the colony--Grao ParA e Maranh0o--and charged him with

expelling the priests.

The priests were expelled in 1759, and a new political and economic

order was implemented. Furtado published his Directorate (Diret6rio), which

laid out his plans for controlling Amerindian labor. The aldeias were

consolidated into larger settlements, and their control passed into the hands of

the Directors appointed by Furtado. The Directorate banned the lingua geral,

and declared Portuguese to be the official language. Names of villages were

changed to Portuguese; Indians were encouraged to wear European-style

clothing; and housing types were modeled on European peasant dwellings, to

discourage communal living and promote the European concept of family

(Parker 1985c).

The Directors were charged with allocating Indian labor to colonists and

authorities. In each village, the labor force was divided into two groups: one

group was allocated to agriculture and the collection of forest products for the

village, and the other group was allocated to the settlers. Those Indians

allocated to settlers were to work for no more than six months in such a

capacity, and were to receive a wage for their labor.

It was during this time that a new economic relationship began to

develop: Indians came into contact with river traders known as regat6es. These

traders became the principal connection between the scattered collectors of

forest products and the exporters who delivered the products to markets

elsewhere in the world. Still other traders provided an important intermediary

link in the trade network by setting up posts at the junction of rivers or in

small towns. Here is the beginning of an extensive system of credit and trade

middlemen which would come into its own during the rubber boom of 1850-

1910 (Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

Post-Directorate (1798-1850)

When the Directorate was abolished in 1798, populations which had

lived in the settlements became scattered along the rivers, streams and lakes of

the Amazon basin, living either in small settlements or as isolated households.

They made a living as independent producers who primarily collected forest

products. They were linked to the market by the complex network of small

traders (regat6es) with whom they had come to deal during the Directorate.

Two important events changed Brazil's system of access to land and

labor during this period. Just before Brazil became an independent country in

1822, the government changed the system from that of land grant (donatario)

to one of posse. Hence control over land changed from a system where the

right to own land was granted to individuals by the government, to one in

which individuals had the right to own land by virtue of one's occupation of

the land.

The second event was the Cabanagem revolt of 1835-36 in the state of

Para. Anderson (1985) interprets the revolt as a clash between the factions of

the urban elite of Belem. Accounts of the revolt are surprisingly scarce, and

hence it is difficult to explain the precise nature of the conflict. Nonetheless,

one thing is clear: the violence of the revolt depleted the labor supply of the

state. Nearly 1/4 of the population of the state was killed, and countless

survivors fled in the ensuing disorder. With the decimation of their work force,

the power enjoyed by plantation owners and ranchers was undermined and a

political and economic vacuum ensued (Anderson 1985, Schmink and Wood


Rubber boom 1850-1910

By the time the rubber boom began in 1850, all the elements were in

place for a new system of land and labor allocation. A new group took the

place of the plantation owners and ranchers: The merchants, traders and

exporters who had long plied the rivers for forest products obtained from

Indians and their descendants, rose to prominence when they took advantage

of their connections to supply rubber to the world market.

The French naturalist Charles Marie de La Condamine is credited for

taking to Europe latex from rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) in the Amazon. He

had seen Indians tapping the trees, coagulating the liquid, and making

syringes, boots, bottles and toys. In 1745 he took some of this latex to France,

published a major study on its properties, and actively undertook the

promotion of its many uses. By the late 18th century, Europeans had found

many new uses for the "rubber", as the English called it. Rubber syringes and

galoshes came into widespread use by the early 19th century, and the Amazon

exported the latex to Europe to meet the demand (Weinstein 1983).

It was not until after 1839, however, that there was a significant increase

in the demand for rubber. When Charles Goodyear discovered the process of

vulcanization in 1839, he overcame the major limitation of crude rubber: it

tended to become hard in the cold and sticky in the heat. With vulcanization,

however, rubber was resistant to both heat and cold, and was useful for a new

range of products such as belts, hoses, suspenders, shoes and raincoats

(Weinstein 1983). Rubber became an important component of industrial

expansion and economic growth in industrializing nations.

When steamships were introduced in 1853, this new mode of

transportation reduced the amount of time it took to transport the rubber from

the Amazon forest to the European port. In 1888, the pneumatic tire was

invented, and soon the demand for rubber skyrocketed, as people rode bicycles

and later, automobiles which used the tires.

Until the 1880s, the Amazon was virtually the only supplier of rubber. It

was only after 1912, when rubber plantations in Asia were successfully

established, that the Amazon lost the comer on the market (Weinstein 1983).

During this period, Amazonian caboclo society began to take on some

distinctive features. One such feature was the system of credit and exchange

known as aviamento. Over time, the system for extracting and marketing the

latex came to include up to six levels of middlemen, from the local rubber

tapper to the foreign manufacturer (Weinstein 1983). At the bottom of the

hierarchy were the rubber tappers; they exchanged the rubber at a local

trading post operated by a local landowner or an individual who worked on

commission. Trading post owners paid the rubber tappers in kind at inflated

prices, so that nearly all rubber tappers were in debt at the trading post. The

trading post owner was, in his turn, indebted to a local supplier in a nearby

town. The local supplier shipped the rubber to a merchant house in Belem.

The merchant house then sold the rubber to export houses, which in their turn

sold the product to manufacturers throughout the world.

The social relations of the aviamento system were characterized by

personalized patron-client relations. Wages were virtually known; instead, the

economy was based on exchange. The system provided some measure of

security to those involved in the network by ensuring, through a relationship

based on debt and obligation, an indirect contact with the world market

(Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

Within this system of aviamento, the rubber tappers were a class, in that

they shared a certain relation to the means of production. They produced a

commodity (rubber) for the external market and they combined this activity

with subsistence activities. They were semi-migratory, staying in one place for

the rubber tapping season, and perhaps moving elsewhere to hunt during the

rainy season. They organized their production around the individual, or the

family unit. They were dependent on a patron for certain economic resources,

but struggled to maintain some degree of autonomy (Weinstein 1985).

In the late 1800s, migrants from the northeastern region of Brazil

contributed a new element to Amazonian caboclo society. They were recruited

by rubber traders who needed more labor to supply to world demand for

rubber. The northeasterners were in most cases willing to come to the region

because their own region was being devastated by a drought between 1877

and 1900. After the rubber boom, many remained in the region and provided a

lasting northeastern component to Amazonian society.

In the Amazon, the rubber boom peaked and then crashed in 1910. The

aviamento system had been experiencing difficulties in keeping up with the

rapidly increasing demand for native rubber. When rubber plantations in Asia

began to produce in 1910, Brazil could not compete with the lower costs of

production, and so lost control of the market.

Post-rubber boom 1920-1964

In the years following the rubber boom, caboclos continued to make a

living in a fashion in much the same way as they had before. They hunted,

fished, cultivated small agricultural plots and extracted forest products for the

external market. Animal pelts and Brazil nuts became important extractive

commodities; the aviamento system was changed to accommodate these new

products, and money became a more important feature of the economy

(Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

The post-rubber period was a time of change elsewhere in Brazil. When

Getuilio Vargas assumed the presidency in the 1930s, he set about expanding

the country's industrial base. As the country industrialized, power once held

by the agricultural elite came under the control of the urban elite that was

investing in manufacturing (Dean 1969, Foweraker 1981, Schmink and Wood

forthcoming). The federal government assumed a strong role in determining

the direction the economy was to take.

World War II brought a brief resurgence of the rubber trade to the

Amazon, when the United States grew concerned over losing access to the

supply lanes for rubber in Asia. In 1942 the Brazilian and U.S. governments

signed the Washington Accords, a five-year agreement which promised, as a

principal focus, to boost rubber production in the Amazon. The U.S. provided

credit, production, transportation and financed the recruitment of workers

from Northeast Brazil to work in rubber tapping (Dean 1987, Martinelli 1988).

The U.S. government also sponsored public health care for the workers,

who suffered from poor working conditions and especially malaria (Schmink

and Wood forthcoming, Wagley 1976). It was during this time that

anthropologist Charles Wagley was charged with developing a public health

care system (SESP) for the rubber tappers. While he worked on this project, he

stayed in a small riverine community which was later to become the subject of

his classic study of an Amazonian community (Wagley 1976).

After World War II, the Brazilian government espoused import

substitution industrialization as the goal of development policy for the country.

Urban areas grew rapidly, while the agricultural sector continued to expand in

response to the new internal demand. These factors stimulated the beginning

of diversification away from rubber production in the Amazon region

(Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

President Vargas created the Superintendency for the Valorization of the

Amazon (SPVEA) in 1953 to finance development projects in accordance with

his directives. Although SPVEA did not achieve many of its stated objectives,

it did play an important role in two events which had a profound impact on

the Amazon region and set the stage for the development policies undertaken

by the military government beginning in 1964. The first event was the

building of the Belem-Brasilia highway, completed in 1960, that provided the

first ground link between the capital city of Para state and the southern region

of the country. The other event was the promise of new credit lines through

the Amazon Credit Bank. With this incentive, local elites were able to begin to

appropriate land and to invest in activities such as agriculture and ranching.

In some places, their new investments competed with the traditional extractive


These policies stimulated the beginnings of a fundamental change in the

political and socioeconomic organization of Amazonia. In some places,

merchants seized land owned by their clients as payment for outstanding

debts, then charged rent to the producer who wished to continue to use the

land or its products (Schmink and Wood forthcoming). High inflation rates in

the late 1950s and 1960s put many trading post owners (who had survived the

previous fluctuations in the price of rubber) out of business. Consumer goods

were introduced into the rural areas, which stimulated the use of cash; the

aviamento system was undermined. The stage was set for a market in land

and labor which began to function during the 1970s (Schmink and Wood


Contemporary change, 1964-1989

A new period of economic development began in 1964 when the

military seized control of the Brazilian government. In order to modernize the

economy, the military regime encouraged foreign investment and stimulated

capital investment in the domestic industrial sector. The regime did so with a

strategy that relied on political repression and on the centralization of power.

The model for development was successful for a period of time: the years

between 1968 and 1974 brought unprecedented economic growth (Bunker 1985,

Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

The Amazon region, with its wealth of natural resources and vast

expanses of land, was a central component of the military government's plan

for the country's development. The government encouraged investment in the

region through a series of fiscal incentives designed to attract (and capture) the

taxable incomes of entrepreneurs. The incentives were financed through the

Amazon Bank (BASA). SPVEA's successor-the Superintendency for the

Development of the Amazon (SUDAM)-administered the federal programs

beginning in 1966 (Mahar 1979).

Two activities which expanded rapidly during the 1970s in the state of

Pard under this set of policies were cattle ranching and logging (Browder 1986,

Hecht 1985, Schmink and Wood forthcoming). The impact of these two

activities in the terra firme region has been extensively documented (see, for

example, Browder 1986, Bunker 1980, 1981, 1985, Buschbacher et al. 1986,

Foweraker 1981, Hecht 1985, Pace 1987, Parker 1981, Schmink and Wood 1984,

1987). However, the growth of the logging sector in particular had a profound

impact even on the estuarine region of the state. Boats owned by logging

firms plied the rivers for Virola and other species to be used for urban

construction and for export. The intensive exploitation of these species over a

period of fifteen years contributed to the depletion not only of the trees

themselves, but to the depletion of the oleaginous fruits of the Virola which

had in previous periods played a central role in the extraction and trade-based

economy of the riverine region. In island communities such as Paruru, the

depletion contributed to the process of undermining the availability of cash-

earning resources.

In 1967, a huge deposit of iron was discovered in the Carajas region of

Para state. In 1970, the government entered into a joint venture with the state

company-Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce (CRVD)--to exploit the iron

deposit. Carajas became the most important region of mineral resources, with

enough iron ore to supply world markets for sixty years, and with deposits of

other minerals such as manganese, nickel, copper, aluminum, cassiterite,

wolframite and gold. The discovery of a four billion-ton deposit of bauxite at

Trombetas made Brazil the world's third largest supplier (Schmink and Wood


In 1973, a regional power company (ELETRONORTE) was created to

supply the demand for new sources of hydroelectric power to exploit these

mineral resources. In 1974, construction began on the Tucurui dam, the first in

a network of hydroelectric dams, on the Tocantins River of Pard state.

During the ten years it took to complete the first phase of the dam and

close the floodgates, the Brazilian political and economic context underwent

significant change. In 1974, the country was governed by a military regime

which accomplished astonishing economic development at the expense of

public political discourse. By 1984, the regime had given way to political

abertura (opening) and free elections, but the staggering national debt burdened

the economy.

This new political and economic context set the stage for an important

phase in caboclo society on the Tocantins River. The political climate

encouraged debate about the effectiveness of the previous government's

development policies, which had promoted temporary economic growth at the

expense of social equity (Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indians, rubber tappers, gold

miners and small-scale farmers had begun to resist the development policies

which wrested away from them the control over and access to land and

resources. In many cases, the Catholic Church played an active role in

organizing the resistance (Pace 1987, Schmink and Wood forthcoming). In the

Tocantins River region, the resistance centered around the expropriation and

resettlement efforts undertaken by ELETRONORTE in order to clear the

projected reservoir area for the Tucurui dam (Biery-Hamilton 1986). They

learned that an effective strategy to gain concessions from the government was

to undertake concerted resistance. If a group made its demands loudly enough,

the government would have to intervene in the conflict and, it was hoped, rule

in favor of the powerless (Schmink and Wood forthcoming).

Residents of the islands in the Tocantins River did not engage in

resistance until the floodgates dosed on the Tucurui dam in 1984. Since they

lived downstream from the dam, they were not affected by the resettlement

program implemented around the reservoir area. It was not until the

floodgates closed that they realized that their very livelihood was in jeopardy

just as surely as was their counterparts' above the dam. Island communities

traditionally relied on fish for the daily diet, as food for their pigs and

chickens, and as a medium of exchange for goods on the mainland. Santos et.

al. (1984) identified over 300 species of commercial fish in the Tocantins River

before the floodgates closed. Although islanders had witnessed a gradual

erosion of their resource base over the previous two decades, the dam struck

the final blow. Most fish species disappeared from the river, and islanders

found themselves without a central source of food and exchange. As a

consequence, traditional household and community strategies for making a

living were undermined. Island communities such as Paruru were unable to

solve their dilemma alone and hence began a concerted effort to resist the

attack on their way of life. It is too soon to predict the outcome of the

resistance, but one thing is certain: islanders of the Tocantins River are at a

critical moment in their history. If they resist successfully, they may be able to

continue making a living as caboclos. If they are not successful, they may very

well join the ranks of the wage workers on the mainland.

Research Setting

Paruru is one of nine communities settled on an island of the same

name, in the Tocantins River of Para, Brazil. It has a population of

approximately 400 people, while the island as a whole has some 3,500

residents. The entire island measures approximately 118 square kilometers,

and is one of many scattered along this easternmost tributary of the Amazon

River. In 1980, nearly 40,000 people lived on the islands between the Tucurui

hydroelectric dam and the mouth of the river near the capital city of Belem.

At first glance, the island community of Paruru appears to have been

bypassed by the political and economic forces which have shaped other places

in the Brazilian Amazon region. There are no gold mines, no sprawling cattle

ranches. There are no dusty roads, no trucks loaded with logs, no smoldering

forests. Families still live near their relatives, on land they inherited from their

parents. They hear their news from battery-operated radios instead of televisi-

on, and light their homes at night with small kerosene lamps instead of electric

light bulbs.

On closer inspection, we see evidence of dramatic changes in this

traditional riverine community. Fish traps called cacuris rot in place along the

channel banks, abandoned for good; fishing poles and cast nets gather dust

where they have been thrust high up into the rafters. Sometimes buying the

kerosene to light the one small lamparina at night means not being able to

afford the farinha (manioc flour) for the next day's meal. Some houses stand

empty, closed down while the families who live in them work as seasonal

wage laborers in the black pepper fields on the mainland. The screeching of

sawblades echoes over the water as sawmills cut the island's dwindling supply

of virola trees. These are all evidence of the crisis facing Paruru, which is the

focus of this study.

Residents of Paruru share the broad outlines of Parker's (1985b)

description of caboclo culture with many other communities in the Amazon.

Their Amerindian heritage is evident in their faces and their diet, and their

Portuguese ancestry in their language and religion. They live along the banks

of a channel which forms part of the Tocantins River and make a living based

primarily on fishing and the extraction of forest products.

Like many other residents of the Amazon, Paruru islanders organize

their subsistence activities around the seasons. As Wagley (1976) points out, to

the Amazonian inhabitant seasons are marked by the amount of rainfall rather

than by variation of temperature. The period extending roughly between the

months of January and June is the rainy or inverno (winter) season, while the

drier months between July and December form the verao (summer) season.

The winter season, with its heavy rainfall, makes fishing difficult as the river

waters swell and scatter fish over a wide area. Rubber tapping becomes

impractical, as the rain dilutes the latex collecting in the containers. Summer,

by contrast, is a time when fish are abundant and easily caught. Aqai palms

grow heavy with rich dark fruit; cacao trees bear their green oblong pods, and

latex from rubber trees tapped at the break of dawn collects undisturbed until

the next day's rounds.

Because Paruruenses live in the estuarine region of the Amazon basin,

the land on which they live is flooded twice daily according to the ocean tides.

Hence they cannot rely on horticulture to the extent that many other caboclo

communities do. Instead they rely heavily on the fish and shrimp they can

catch from the river which flows past their front door. Fish thus provide the

main component of the daily diet; it also serves as a medium of exchange for

the ever-important farinha (manioc flour) produced on the mainland, and for

other goods such as coffee, sugar and kerosene.

Paruruenses organize their subsistence activities around the twice-daily

fluctuation of the river tides, which rise and fall in accordance to the ocean

tides some 150 kilometers downstream. In the winter, these daily tides bring

schools of shrimp into channels and streams, where people can catch them

with a variety of traps. The tides also reach far into the island forest, and as

they recede, they bring out the ripe fruits of the ucuuba and the andiroba which

have fallen to the ground and which then float on the surface of the water for

everyone to collect. When Paruru residents cut down trees to build a room or

to sell to a marreteiro (middleman), they use the outgoing tide to float the logs

out of the forest and into the main channel. Sometimes they will then lash the

logs to the river bank and wait for the tide to flow past in the opposite

direction, to carry them to their final destination.

In the summer, the tides affect the types of subsistence activities

individual Paruru households may perform. On the lower side of the island,

the ilha baixa, most of the land continues to be flooded every day. As a result,

inhabitants of the low side are still limited to crops which tolerate high

amounts of water. Agai thrives in this type of area; cacao trees seem to survive,

as do rubber trees. However, any horticulture using the traditional caboclo

crops of rice, beans and maize is virtually excluded, because there simply are

not very many spots which do not become water-logged during at least part of

the day.

On the high side of the island, the ilha alta, the verdo tides do not

completely cover all available land. Hence, residents of the high side have an

increased opportunity to supplement their household diet and economy with

horticultural crops. In addition to the agai, cacao and rubber, they can plant

small quantities of squash, beans and vegetables. For those with a large

enough area of land, they can even plant rice and manioc, at least enough for

the household.

Conceptual Framework

I have written this dissertation in the tradition of cultural materialism

(see Harris 1979). This means that the logic that ties together the various ideas

I present is based on a set of general assumptions about how best to

understand social organization, as well as cultural and political change. As is

evident by the organization of the various chapters, priority is given to the

material conditions of life that characterize the community of people I have

studied. In contrast to idealist research strategies (in which culture is the

primary explanatory variable), my starting point for the collection and

interpretation of data is how people interact with their environment in order to

maintain themselves.

In the case of caboclos in Amazonia, the emphasis is on how people use

water and land. The basic assumption is that the way that caboclos organize

their households, the way they worship their saints, and the factors that

motivate them to take political action can be understood by analyzing the

economic activities that they perform. Furthermore, these activities are not

stable and unchanging features of the local economy. To the contrary, the

economic viability of different activities rises and falls in response to a wide

range of factors that include: the depletion of the natural resources; changes in

market prices; government subsidies; and the development policies that are

carried out by the state (for example, the building of hydroelectric dams). The

materialist line of reasoning further suggests that when these material


conditions change, then people change other aspects of their lives to adjust to

the new circumstances. In this study I focus on the changes in household

strategies for island caboclos' livelihood, changes in the kind of community

cohesion, and changes in political responses.

The study addresses a number of specific empirical and theoretical

issues that have concerned anthropologists and other social scientists. In

keeping with the many studies of Amazonia carried out in the 1970s, a major

objective is to document the individual and community-level effects of the

development policies implemented by the Brazilian government. If most of the

research along these lines has focused on small farmer colonists and caboclos in

upland areas, my goal in this dissertation is to focus on riverine peoples.

Despite the fact that such communities seem far-removed from the violence

and turmoil that has characterized many frontier areas, I will show that many

of the national-level economic and policy trends that have taken place in recent

years have had an equally profound impact in these riverine places.

Central to such an approach is the problem of bridging different levels

of analysis in order to situate my research site in the broader context of Brazil

(Roseberry 1988, Schmink and Wood, forthcoming). I will show that many of

the patterns and changes I have documented and measured in the field can be

explained by referring to national and regional-level economic and policy

issues. Thus, even though most of my data deals with one small community,

other information gathered from secondary sources play a critical role in this


Within the community, there are also differences that are analyzed in

this study. At the community level, divisions along ecological lines are coming

to have ever more socioeconomic importance. These divisions are evident in

looking at changes in economic strategies at the level of households. Long

(1984), Schmink (1979), Wood (1981) and others have demonstrated that

households are often basic units that mediate the flow of labor and other

resources. Contemporary research on this topic can trace its roots to the

seminal work done by Chayanov (1966) who described the household as a

dynamic unit of production that adjusts its strategies over time in response to

the household's internal characteristics (for example, life cycle, size,

consumption needs) and the demands of the external market.


The research for this study is based on field research which I undertook

between June 1988 and June 1989. During that time I lived with a family in the

island community of Paruru, accompanied by my field assistant, Marilia Brasil.

The field research focused on three groups: a) the community of Paruru and its

members organized in households, b) local religious and political organizations

and c) communities the length of the river downstream from the dam.

To collect the data, I used a combination of qualitative and ethnographic

analysis complemented with quantitative analysis. The qualitative data come

from particpant-observation, oral histories and informal interviews with

individuals both in the community of Paruru and other riverine communities.

The quantitative data are based on a questionnaire which I administered

in a random sample of 43 households, or 80 percent of the community to

obtain the sociodemographic and economic profile of the community. To

obtain the sample, I mapped the entire community. My original intention was

to administer the questionnaire in every household in the community. It was

not possible to do so, because not everyone was at home during the period in

which I administered the survey. However, the final sample of households is

distributed evenly over the community; no section was ignored. I visited each

household once, and applied a seven-page questionnaire which took

approximately forty-five minutes to complete. For each household, I recorded

basic socioeconomic data, such as housing materials and ownership of

consumer and producer goods. For each individual within the household, I

recorded demographic information (sex, age, relation to head of household,

number of children born to each female over the age of 14). I also recorded

information on each economic activity performed by every individual in the

household. My field assistant and I took turns administering the questionnaire.

While one asked the questions and recorded the answers on the form, the

other recorded in a separate notebook any qualitative information which

inevitably comes from asking people questions. The data from the survey

questionnaire generated a three-level data set with information about a) each

household, b) each individual within the household, and c) each economic

activity performed by the individual. I then used correlation and regression

analysis to test key relationships among and between the three levels.

To understand the religious and political context of the community, I

interviewed the leaders of key political and religious groups in Tucurui and

Cameta, notably those in the Rural Workers' Union and the Catholic Church.

To determine how representative Paruru's experiences were of the island

region, I travelled the length of the river between its mouth and the Tucurui

dam, where I conducted group interviews with members of the Catholic

Church and the Rural Worker's Union about their communities' experiences

with political mobilization.

I also needed to place the situation faced by islanders in a larger

political and ecological context. To that end, I visited the Tucurui dam twice,

touring the project and interviewing engineers. I interviewed icthiologists and

other scientists at the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi of Bel6m, Pard state, and

at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) of Manaus, Amazonas

state. Finally, I searched archives for accounts of the political mobilization

against the dam. Especially helpful were the archives of the Catholic Church in

Cameta and Bel6m. The private library of Donald Sawyer in Belo Horizonte,

Minas Gerais State, proved to be a rich source of publications about Amazonia

in general.

Structure and logic of the dissertation

The chapters in this dissertation are oriented to two levels of analysis:

household and community. Chapters Two through Five present household-

level data, based on both qualitative and quantitative methods of collection.

Chapters Six and Seven present community-level data, based primarily on

qualitative methods. Chapter Eight presents the conclusions.

Chapter Two describes the socioeconomic and ecological setting within

which the community of Paruru is situated. This chapter demonstrates that

community members as a whole share certain socioeconomic characteristics

and make a living within certain ecological parameters of seasons and daily


However, the community is not homogeneous. The island has a high

side and a low side, defined by the daily tides: the low side floods with

virtually every tide, while the high side floods only during the peak of the

rainy season. This division based on ecological factors is accompanied by a

division based on socioeconomic factors.

Chapter Three presents ethnographic data on how households in Paruru

make a living at present. Like caboclos elsewhere in the Amazon, people

perform specific activities according to the winter (dry season) and summer

(rainy season). Although these activities are still based on the traditional

extractive resources, people are finding it increasingly difficult to make a


Chapter Four explains why people in Paruru are experiencing difficulty

in sustaining their families. Over the past twenty five years, the Brazilian

government's policies to extract lumber, to increase production of cacao and

rubber, and to intensify the commercialization of fish in the Amazon basin,

have undermined the economic options for island communities such as Paruru.

In particular, oils, lumber and fish are being depleted. The net result has been

a decreased range of traditional local resources upon which islanders can rely

to sustain their families.

Chapter Five examines the strategies families adopted in response to

pressure on their resources. The data show that in response to the stress,

households on the low side of the island use different strategies than

households on the high side of the island. Households with fewer resources

put more people to work in activities on the island, and are more likely to

send members off the island to work in wage labor. Households with more

resources more frequently hire wage labor compared to households with fewer

resources. Finally, chapter five looks at how the strategies taken by households

in response to pressure on their resources affected the well-being of

households. Households that hire wage workers (a proxy for monetary

resources) live in better quality houses. Members of households that deploy

labor more intensely are also those that are more likely to have members who

are ill.

These findings show that access to natural resources is a primary

determinant of the way in which households deploy labor and in the living

standards of people in Paruru. We can see the process of change and incipient

socioeconomic differentiation within the community.

Chapter Six moves from the household level to the community level of

analysis. The most powerful symbol of the socioeconomic relationships in the

community is the Festival of the Holy Spirit. Before 1985, the community

celebrated its festival in May, at the end of winter. By that time in the season,

people had collected large quantities of certain oleaginous fruits as they floated

out of the forest on the surface of the water. They sold or exchanged these

fruits in arrangements with local traders, and thus had the means to

participate in the events surrounding the festival. As a consequence of the past

two decades of exploitation of the timber species from which the fruits come,

people can no longer count on collecting sufficient quantities for trade.

Since 1985, the community celebrates the festival in September, during

the summer. The principal resource associated with this period is the fruit of

the acai palm. The fruit traditionally has been collected only for the

household's daily consumption. In recent years, people have begun to sell acai

for cash in the market in the mainland town of CametA, when they need

money to buy food or to participate in an event such as the festival.

This change in the season of the celebration--and as a consequence a

change in the resources and socioeconomic relations associated with the

festival-supports what I have argued elsewhere in the dissertation. The

community is undergoing a fundamental change in its relationship to the

environment. With the erosion of the resource base, there has been a change

from selling traditional cash crops to selling traditional subsistence crops.

That the change in the month of the celebration took place one year

after the floodgates of the Tucurui dam closed is indicative of the catalytic role

the dam has played in the community. The dam served as a highly visible

symbol for the community's gradual but inexorable loss of control over its

resource base.

Chapter Seven documents the community's responses to the dam and

all that it symbolizes. Paruruenses find that they cannot find solutions to their

present situation solely within the community. They have chosen to seek

alternative solutions outside of the community, particularly by joining other

riverine communities in a political mobilization against the dam.

Chapter Eight, the concluding chapter, discusses the implications of the

findings presented in the previous chapters. The indirect effects of recent

government policies have begun to penetrate into seemingly stable and

cohesive caboclo communities. These communities have limited possibilities of

adapting to new pressures by using their traditional cultural repertoire. The

fundamental process of social differentiation and incipient proletarianization

underway is the root of the community's new-found political awareness.


As soon as you step off the boat in CametA, stretching your cramped

limbs after a short night wedged in a hammock between fellow passengers

traveling from the capital city of Bel6m, you know you are at the edge of

another world. Even in the pre-dawn darkness you can make out the shapes of

dozens of smaller boats clustered around the pilings of numerous ports. To

one side of the dock, behind the crowd of short, wiry, dark-haired people

peering into your boat, looking for returning friends and relatives, you can see

crates of canned goods and sacks of rice, cacao, and manioc flour stacked and

waiting to be loaded for the trip further upstream. As you sit on a hard

wooden bench and lean your head against the plank wall of a small dry-goods

store on the dock to wait for your own friends, you can see evidence of this

other world everywhere. It is in the well-muscled upper arms and backs of

men and women as they reach for small plastic cups of steaming coffee

dispensed out of a thermos at the dry-goods counter; it is in the ease with

which stevedores and passengers alike climb in and out of the boat, unloading

baskets and crates and children onto the dock. It is in the overheard

conversations about tides and moon phases; it is in the beautiful, lonely sound

of a horn blowing as yet another boat announces its arrival. This other world

is the world of rivers, where everyday reality is shaped by the rhythms and

the resources of water.

Dawn breaks, and soon people who live on islands in the main channel

of the river begin to arrive. Many share the sentiments of Sr. Vicente who,

although a seasoned pilot, never likes to travel across the river at night from

his island an hour and a half away. In the early gray light, one can spot the

outline of his small, wooden, 10hp diesel-engined boat making its way towards

the dock. It is Monday morning, and so his boat is filled with passengers,

neighbors who have come to sell a basket of fruit, a sack of charcoal, or a few

woven mats for a bit of cash. Several children, including two of his own

daughters and a son, also come this morning, back to school in town after a

weekend at home.

The tide is low this morning, so Sr. Vicente noses his boat through the

pilings under the dock and ties up by the wooden steps, while his passengers

busily prepare to face a morning in town. One woman runs a comb through

her hair and passes it to her neighbor. Another puts a pair of shorts on her

naked baby and counts the remaining ones in a small plastic bag to see if she

will make it through the next few hours with enough fresh clothes for him. A

couple of men pull on a pair of pants over their nylon shorts, and reach for

shirts hung on nails to guard against wrinkling. The schoolchildren put on

their black uniform shoes and search for notebooks and pencils among the

baskets filled with mangoes for sale in the market. A retired schoolteacher

checks her tan, battered vinyl pocketbook for her pension papers so she can be

sure to collect her check this morning. A man nervously fingers a carefully

folded, water-stained piece of paper with a Belem telephone number he will

call to learn of his wife's laboratory results. Sr. Vicente announces that he will

be leaving at 11:00 o'clock, and several murmur in agreement.

All the passengers disembark, except for a young boy who will remain

in the boat to watch over things. As they make their way from the dock to the

market, they walk through a narrow passage between two dry-goods shops.

The ever-present perfume of dried cacao and black pepper is particularly

powerful here this morning. Large sacks of each are piled high just inside the

merchants' doorways. Prices must be good right now.

A left turn onto the main street running parallel to the river puts people

squarely in the center of the open market. Young boys squat beside small piles

of palm fruits carefully arranged on the concrete. A thin, quiet man sits

behind a low table covered with cheap plastic watches. Next to him, an old

woman stands beside her wooden tray filled with long loaves of bread. A few

yards beyond her, the official market begins, where merchants pay rent on

their allotted slots. Four rows of stalls extend the length of the block. The

first two rows are set aside for food and produce. Small charcoal burners

smoke as women cook rice or manioc flour porridge, at the last minute adding

dark purple aafi juice made from a palm fruit and then pouring the steaming

brew into bowl-shaped gourds. Other women fry fish, boil spaghetti, and stew

tough meat with tomatoes and onions and ladle the food out onto chipped

white plates. Next come the produce stalls. Some are well-stocked, crowded

with braids of onions and garlic, piles of large brown potatoes, green peppers,

faded apples, huge mangoes, and open sacks of beans and rice. Others fare

less well, offering only a handful of wilted hot peppers, bruised tomatoes, and

several stalks of bananas.

Running parallel to the produce stalls, the clothes stalls offer just about

any kind of T-shirt imaginable, along with bottles of cheap nail polish, plastic

sandals, and mass-produced embroidered dresses. One constantly has to duck

to avoid colliding with the colorful masses of these items hung along the top

edges of the stalls. Vendors here hustle their wares aggressively, stepping out

in front of the potential customer as he or she approaches the next stall.

In a small clearing at the end of the rows of stalls, men preside over

little rickety wooden tables covered with dried alligator meat and pirarucu

(Arapaima gigas), known as the Amazonian codfish. On the concrete of the

street, in and around the tables, young boys tend to their handwoven baskets

filled with agai fruits. Next to them, old men place their kitchenware on

widths of plastic, arranging the aluminum flatware, basins, pans and cups in

careful patterns.

A sharp turn into an alleyway leads one into another small square,

where young and old men sit by their beige-colored plastic, 60-kilogram bags

of manioc flour. These are the wholesalers, the people who bring the manioc

flour they have produced from small patches of land scattered along the

unpaved highway which runs roughly parallel to the river for seventy

kilometers between CametA and Tucurui highway. Several trucks and a

passenger bus travel the length of the highway and will pick up passengers

who flag them down. Times are often hard, however, and those who cannot

afford the price of a ticket must transport their manioc flour to the market on

the back of a bicycle, or even on their shoulders.

The streets and alleyways are crowded with people like Sr. Vicente's

passengers, all trying to run as many errands as possible in the few hours

before they must return to their boats and home to their island. Popular

Brazilian music broadcast by a local radio station blares from loudspeakers

attached to lightpoles along the first two streets, adding to the general

confusion. Between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, the docks fill with people laden

with purchases. Boats are tied up three and four deep, so that nearly everyone

must climb down off the dock onto the roof of the nearest boat and wend a

path across the decks and roofs of neighboring boats until they reach their

own boat. People help each other along, passing small children and large

parcels over to the next boat, with an ease borne of long practice.

Finally all of Sr. Vicente's passengers are safely installed in the boat. Sr.

Vicente guides his boat through the maze of other boats with a long pole; his

son Jeremias makes subtle adjustments in the boat's progress with well-placed

shoves against the bows of neighboring boats. On the occasions when the

vessel gets stuck, passengers in other boats lend their own hands and feet to

the effort to free the boat.

As soon as the boat is free and out in the main channel, Sr. Vicente

gestures to his son Edson to crank the motor. The interior of the boat fills

with the unmuffled noise of the engine, and the passengers settle back for a

roughly ninety-minute trip.

The sun reflects in shimmering patterns off the water, and a brisk

breeze blows through the boat. The vast expanses of sky and water seem to

go on forever.

Arriving in Paruru

The scene changes as soon as Sr. Vicente pilots his boat across the final

stretch of the main river channel and enters a gap in the trees hugging the

banks of the island. The opening becomes a narrow, winding channel which is

part of a dense network of waterways through the island. A traveler's route is

determined by his or her type of transportation and planned length of trip. In

a canoe one can take innumerable shortcuts along shallow streams overhung

with lianas, while in a motorboat with its deeper hull, one is limited to the

deeper, wider channels. Today Vicente has selected a route which is

somewhat shorter, but also risky because it becomes very shallow when the

tide goes out. However, right now the tide is incoming, so he needn't worry

about being stranded for several hours while he waits with his disgruntled

passengers for the tide to rise again.

He wends his way through the channel, the throbbing of the boat's

motor echoing through the trees and coming back out a half-beat later. His 14-

year old son Edson is the throttle boy today. Edson knows this route nearly as

well as his father, so he adjusts the speed of the engine at critical sharp turns

without prompting. Since he is in the back of the boat, however, he cannot see

the newly fallen tree jutting out into the stream, and so his father shouts an

alert over the pounding noise of the motor. Edson leaps forward and slows

the pace down to a crawl, as Vicente eases the vessel over the hazard.

Although the passengers are all seasoned boat travelers, the event lends some

drama to the day. All crane forward or lean over the sides of the boat to

watch the progress. Some make a mental note to warn relatives whom they

know -will be traveling later that night over the same route.

Finally Vicente turns into the wide channel known as Rio Paruru, which

cuts the island in half lengthwise. Immediately a cooling breeze floats through

the boat. Here the water flows faster, feels fresher. The Paruru channel is a

happy compromise between the vastness of the main river channel and the

oppressiveness of the island channels. One can see the houses of friends and

family strung along either bank. Young children in the houses recognize the

particular sound of Vicente's boat, and lean out the windows to wave at their

aunts and cousins and grandparents. The passengers begin to collect their


Vicente eases up to his own house first. He steps gracefully along the

floating buriti log which serves as a sidewalk and clambers up the ladder

leading to the dock, carrying a newly filled canister of natural gas for the

stove. His married son follows behind, with a plastic mesh tote bag bulging

with other purchases. His younger son Edson pushes the boat away from the

buriti log and points the boat towards the rest of the community, where he

will deliver each passenger to his or her own dock.

The Homogenous Community

At first glance Paruru looks like a fairly homogenous community. There

is a pervasive feeling of continuity, as though people have lived here for a

long time. Heads of households have lived in Paruru for a mean of 36.8 years,

while their spouses have lived here for a mean of 28.9 years. Families have

lived on their current property for a mean of 19.3 years, and most own that


Because of the daily fluctuation of the water according to the tides,

houses are built up from the ground about five feet, and have a dock leading

up to the front door. The docks usually consist of a series of boards, or palm

trunks (buriti or aqai) sawn in half, and placed across a frame; rarely are they

nailed in place. At low tide, the dock is accessed by a ladder. The houses are

weathered a soft grayish brown by the frequent rains. One can see the water

marks of previous winters' high waters on the outside walls, sometimes as

high up as the window sill.

People use a narrow range of building materials for their houses,

roofing them with purchased tiles or palm thatch, and constructing the walls

with boards sawn from andiroba wood or buriti leaf petioles; the floors are

made from andiroba boards or from palm logs sawn in half lengthwise.

At night, people light their houses with kerosene-burning lamparinas or,

occasionally, with a gas lamp or diesel generator. They cook with wood- or

coal-burning homemade stoves, or with purchased natural gas stoves.

Most people draw their drinking and cooking water directly from the

river which flows past their front door, although a small handful of people

bring piped water from Cameta. Some people filter the drinking water in clay

filters, others strain it through several layers of cheesecloth, while still others

boil it. Some even just drink it straight, with no treatment.

The yard around the house is usually between 1.5 and 2.0 hectares in

size, and is filled with rich green vegetation. Graceful aqai palm trees caress

the sides of the house, growing especially thickly beside the kitchen where the

fruits, soaked and rubbed clean of their rich maroon flesh, are thrown out the

window three times a day. Aqai is important here, and people's yards boast

easily 700 of these palms packed into a small space. There may also be six or

seven columnar buriti palm trees rising above the rest of the vegetation.

Scattered like jewels among the palms are ten or eleven fruit trees the

fuschia-fruited jambo, the velvety brown ingd, the peach and rose colored

mango, the emerald green lime. A handful of tall andiroba and virola trees mix

in with patches of shorter cacao trees. The smooth white bark of young rubber

trees gleams whitely in the shadows. The older rubber trees present knobby,

swollen trunks, from years of people tapping the bark with a small axe and

collecting the latex in a snail shell affixed with clay.

One or two pigs root along the muddy riverbank for food, while up

near the kitchen a half a dozen chickens pick at the meager table scraps

thrown out the window. Two or three ducks paddle in front of the house.

The Heterogenous Community

On closer examination, Paruru is not such a homogenous community.

The sturdy wooden bench on Dona Celina's dock affords a view of most of the

community. As visitors sip from glasses of deep orange-colored tapereba juice

kept chilled in her kerosene refrigerator, they chat about the upcoming festival.

Dona Celina's house is certainly the best house on the island, a two-story

wooden structure set back on one of the highest pieces of land in Paruru. She

has screened windows, a flush toilet, a television, and store-bought furniture in

every room. At night, the lightposts outlining the front of the property along

the riverbank are powered by a diesel generator. Dona Celina lives on what

Paruru residents call the high side of the island.

By contrast, Marilda gestures with a wry grin at the bare floor of her

front room, inviting her guests to seat themselves. After a period of polite

conversation, she rises and prepares coffee over a charcoal fire in the kitchen,

which is essentially a small lean-to attached to the back of the house. When

she serves the hot brew, it quickly becomes clear that she has served the very

last of her coffee. The drink is thin-tasting, the result of watering it down to

stretch it out into three servings. She mentions her concern for her husband

who is working in the pepper fields on the mainland behind Cameta. He has

been ill with a bout of malaria and is too sick to even return home. Although

she doesn't say so, his illness means that he won't have earned any wages

recently to send her. Marilda's next glass of coffee, and the food for her five

children, won't be easy to find. Marilda lives on the low side of the island.

The rise and fall of the river shapes the world in which residents of

Paruru live. Daily tides flood the island according to the rhythms of the

Atlantic Ocean tides some 150 kilometers distant. Since the island is not all one

level, some portions of the land are completely covered with every tide, while

other portions are covered only during the high waters of the rainy season. A

channel splits the island roughly down the middle. Most of the land on one

side of the channel is flooded every day, and is called by residents the low

side of the island. Most of the land on the other side of the island is free from

flooding during at least a portion of the year, and is called the high side of the

island. The ecological differences affect people's access to key resources upon

which they rely and as a consequence, shape their sustenance strategies.


This chapter presents ethnographic data on how people in Paruru make

a living. They organize their subsistence activities around the seasons, which

in this part of the Amazon Basin are marked by the variation in the amount of

rainfall. The winter (or rainy) season extends from January to June, and the

summer (or dry) season lasts from July to December. Paruruenses take two

factors related to seasonality into account when they organize the way in

which they make a living. Certain resources can be exploited only during the

season in which they become ready for harvest, as is the case with cacao and

agai. Others are exploited during the season which makes their exploitation

most efficient. Such is the case with rubber, for example. The heavy rainfall of

the winter season dilutes the latex collecting in the containers; hence, islanders

tap rubber only during the dry months of the summer season. By contrast,

timber is most easily extracted during the rainy season, because people can

float out the logs on the high waters.

The following section describes the principal economic activities

performed by people in Paruru. The first group of activities-extraction of oil

from the fruit of the andiroba (Carapa guianensis) tree, collection of the fruits of

the ucuuba (Virola surinamensis) tree, shrimp trapping and timber extraction-

are those performed during the winter season. The second group of activities-

fishing, harvesting of the fruits of the aqaf (Euterpe oleracea) palm, harvesting of

cacao (Theobroma cacao), and tapping of rubber (Hevea sp.)-are those performed

during the summer season.

Winter Season


Tia Maria stirs the andiroba fruits boiling in a huge pan over a wood

fire. It took her a long time to collect the 200 kilograms of fruits. She

remembers the days when one could collect 10 kilograms a day, just walking

through the forest. Now the best she can hope for is 3 kilograms a day.

Luckily two other women in the community pooled their fruits in a

partnership arrangement they call 'de sociedade' with her; otherwise, she

wouldn't be able to make the azeite (oil) until much later in the season.

This batch will take two full days to cook. The rule of thumb is one

day per 100 kilograms of fruit. Then she will let the fruits sit in a container

undisturbed for 15 or 20 days before extracting the meat. When it is time, she

will call her partners and they will work for many hours over the fruit,

scooping the softened flesh out with special spoons.

They will leave the mounds in a basket or sieve for three to five days,

and then place it in the sun for another three to five days. Finally they will fill

a tipiti with the andiroba meat and squeeze the oil out. It will take four days to

do this. It takes two days to squeeze 100 kilograms of andiroba, producing 18

liters of oil which fills a large kerosene container.

The women will divide the oil among themselves, with Tia Maria

keeping a bit more because she provided the cooking pans and tipitis plus

more of the labor. They will be able to sell the oil for US$1.00 per liter, after

40 days of work.

Tia Maria thinks she probably won't make andiroba oil after this year. It

is not an easy task, and most people don't begin to produce the oil by

themselves until they are adults in their twenties. Tia Maria is old, 64 years

old, and her rheumatism gives her trouble these days. Besides, the price one

gets nowadays is not worth all the effort. She remembers the days when her

mother made azeite de andiroba. Then, people collected several hundreds of

kilos of the fruits and take them to her mother's house. Her mother boiled

them in the huge pans made specially for this purpose. Then people would

come in the evening, after they had finished the day's work, to scrape out the

flesh. Tia Maria's mother would serve pot after pot of hot coffee, and provide

coils of strong black tobacco for men to make cigarettes and women to smoke

in their small wooden pipes. It was a time for storytelling and joking.

Now, however, the amount of time it takes to produce one liter of the

azeite is not worth the price one gets at the market. Only a handful of women

make it any more; they know there will always be a small demand for it

locally for medicinal purposes, and so will be able to earn a small sum of cash.


Across the channel from Tia Maria, Dona Rosa glances out the window

as four of her young grandsons tie their canoe to her dock. It is eleven o'clock

on a February morning, and the children have just finished their classes for the

day at the county-run school across the channel.

The children are excited, because they have filled the bottom of the

canoe with small oval ucuuba fruits. The bright red arils around the fruits add

a cheerful dash of color to the bottom of the water-aged canoe. The fruits

drop off the trees during the winter months and are carried out into the

channels with the tides.

Each of Rosa's grandchildren carries a small cone-shaped basket woven

of guarumi leaves and attached to a short stick. Every time they set out in

their canoe on an errand or to school, they keep a sharp eye out for the fruits

floating on the surface of the water. Most mornings, the air is filled with

splashes and giggles as the children join their peers in the competition to see

who can amass the most in one trip.

The children put the fruits in a basket, and when the basket is full,

Dona Rosa will take it across the channel to Geraldo, the owner of a taberna

(small, dry-goods store). He will then either pay her cash or advance her

credit against items she needs from his stock.

Dona Rosa remembers that when she was a child, each family

constructed a trap out of a buriti log, so that the ucuuba fruits would collect

against it as the tide receded. There were plenty of the fruits, so that everyone

could take basketsful to the local small merchant to exchange for goods at his

store. It was an important part of people's winter livelihood, not just a

children's game.


The tide is rising this morning as Dona Rosa's son-in-law Vicente sets

out for an igarapd (stream) on his back property. On his last trip to his cacao

plots he noticed some shrimp skirting the banks of the stream, which means

that shrimp are starting to make their winter appearance.

Vicente collects the paris (homemade panels) which are stored in the

remains of an old house of his near the igarapd. He places them on the bank

while he drives five-foot stakes into the mud of the stream bed. The stakes

form a key-hole shaped pattern, so that the "arms" extend across the stream to

each bank. They face the direction of the incoming tide. Then Vicente lashes

the paris to the stakes.

About four hours later, the tide has receded completely. Vicente sees

that some shrimp are indeed caught in the trap. He first dismantles all the

paris and stakes except the heart-shaped one where the shrimp are. Then he

carefully opens it and throws them in handfuls into a basket. He will take

these home where his eldest daughter Elza will boil them in salt water. Then

she will place them back in the basket and hang it on a hook out of the way of

the cats and rats. The family will snack on them throughout the day, and eat

them with their agaf tonight.

Even though he has provided his family with the evening meal, he is

discouraged. Today he barely fills a third of the basket. Before the dam, he

could have easily filled two of these baskets with the same trap, and had

shrimp left over. This stream used to be famous for its abundance of shrimp.

He used to invite several friends and relatives to trap together. They always

caught enough to feed several households. Now the shrimp are scarce and


Wood Extraction

Carlos's sawmill sits in a clearing at the edge of the river. The main

building is simple, just a rough log frame covered with palm thatch and set

into ground thick with pale gold sawdust. Four men saw logs into boards,

placing one log a time on the carro de transmissdo. A ten-horsepower Yanmar

diesel engine powers a 40-inch circular saw via an eight-meter fan belt.

Carlos is proud of his sawmill, which he set up in 1988. His is one of

fourteen on the island, popularly known as rabo de foguete, or "firecracker's

tail", because they are small-scale and commonly experience only a relatively

brief period of high productivity. It took Carlos several years to set up the

mill. At first, he and his three sons rented equipment and cut and sawed the

trees off their own land. They took out enough money to feed themselves and

their families, and channeled the rest into the equipment. Carlos recalls that he

chose to save the money and build up the sawmill slowly, rather than risk

taking out a bank loan with its high interest rates.

The sawmill operates year round, but not every day. In the winter,

Carlos and his sons cut down trees bought from people on Paruru and nearby

islands, and float them out on the water. As Carlos says, "o nosso carro d a

dgua e facility tirar do mato" (our car is the water, which helps us take [the logs]

out of the forest). They tie 250-300 toras (boles) together into a jangada (raft)

and float them to the mill. If the logs come from fairly close by, Carlos need

only assign one of his sons to sit on the raft and float it on the appropriate

tide. Other times, he or a son may attach a slightly smaller raft of logs to the

back of a canoe, and pilot it that way. If the trees come from an island further

away, he sends a motorboat to pull the raft. He prefers not to use his

motorboat very often for this purpose, because it costs him extra diesel fuel.

Furthermore, since he has only the one motor to power both his circular saw

and his boat, he must temporarily shut down the mill when he uses the boat.

If the prices are good, Carlos and his sons saw the logs right away into

boards and ship them to Belem via a marreteiro (middleman) with whom they

have a verbal agreement. The window of opportunity is small, however; by

February much of the urban construction ceases because of the heavy rainfall

characteristic of the inverno. The price for boards plummets, and operators

such as Carlos who live a fair distance from Bel6m risk not breaking even after

they pay the diesel fuel and crew wages and food to transport the boards.

Carlos and his sons stockpile between 2,000 and 3,000 andiroba and virola

logs in the igarapd near the sawmill until the dry, or summer, season. They

saw most of the logs between the months of July and February. The most

common wood they use is the virola, which they process into 18" x 1" boards

for use as scaffolding. Andiroba can be made into a wider variety of products,

including boards, slats, rafters and beams. These days, no-one has timber of

first quality to sell; to qualify for that category, the bole must measure 5,2

meters in length. When it is available, the current price is $US15.00 per cubic

meter. However, the majority of trees in this group have already been logged

out of the area around Paruru. Nowadays, people sell the remaining shorter

and thinner logs, bring a price of US$3.00 per cubic meter.

In one day's labor of two four-hour shifts, Carlos and his three sons can

saw 12 cubic meters of wood, to produce one of the following:

Species Product Unit Dimensions Price/Dozen

Virola boards 40 dz 18" x 1" US$ 1.30

Andiroba boards 20 dz 18" x 1" US$ 1.30
pernamancas* 25 dz 11/2" x 3" US$ 3.50
frechais 20 dz 1.5" x 3" US$ 4.00
ripas 40 dz 3/4" x 2" US$ 1.50

various products used in construction for which there are
no precise English translations.

Carlos' wife and daughters-in-law make charcoal from the andiroba

scraps; the virola scraps are either burned or left out in the open air to rot.

Like most sawmill owners in the community of Paruru and others on

the island, Carlos' workers are relatives; in his case all four are his sons. Now

that the sawmill is fully equipped, each son is paid a daily wage and provided

with a mid-morning snack and a hot lunch. The tasks form a hierarchy of

responsibility. The most important job is that of the serrador, or sawyer; then

there is the cabeqoteiro, who unloads the boards and removes the scraps. The

other two workers are helpers who guide the carriage along the tracks.

Carlos is gloomy about the future of sawmills on the island. He

remembers how the islands used to be twenty years ago, before the serious

wood cutting began: "Tinha lugar aqui que se via madeira como se v0 aqai."

(There were places around here that one saw wood growing as thickly as acai

does.) Now, however, he says there are only three or four years' worth of

wood in the near vicinity; after that, people will have to travel to islands

further upstream, nearer the Tucurui dam, to find wood.

Summer Season


It is late September and Jos6 sits in his battered canoe in a channel just

in front of his brother's house. It is high noon, he has been out here for three

hours, and still he has not caught any fish. All week, Jose has spent the better

part of every day and some of each night trying to catch fish to feed his

family. Most of the time, he catches one or two, just enough to take the edge

off the children's hunger. His wife usually prepares the fish in a watery broth.

Each person is given a small piece of fish with plenty of the broth. Then they

pour a handful of farinha onto the plate, where it soaks up the liquid and

swells into a filling mass.

It hasn't always been so difficult to catch fish. Even though Jos6 is

young, only twenty five years old, he remembers eating his fill of fish at every

meal during the summer months. People caught fish in a variety of ways and

in several different types of environments. The tarrafa, a type of cast net, was

a good tool to use on the Paruru river channel. One could either stand out in


the water and cast it, or work from a canoe. Two men worked together in the

one paddling, and the other throwing the net.

Children and women often caught fish with a fishing pole. Jose

remembers spending many afternoons as a child playing with his brothers and

a cousin or two, throwing their lines into the small stream running behind his

house. They usually caught at least a couple of small fish. They would build

a small fire on the ground nearby and roast the fish for a snack. He also

remembers that when his father was away for a brief period, his mother would

sit out on the dock with her fishing pole to catch fish for dinner. She was

always successful.

Sometimes his father used a trotline, made of a series of heavy-duty fish

hooks knotted along a length of cotton twine. He tied one end of the trotline

to a stump on the river bank, and attached the other end to a stationary object

some distance away.

Jos6's favorite way to catch fish was with a fish weir called a cacuri. It

was done with several paris, which are panels made of lengths of split bamboo

woven together with vines. At low tide, he helped his father and his uncle,

who lived next door, sink tall stakes into the mud some ten meters parallel to

the river bank and curving in towards dry land at either end to form an

elongated "C". The three of them then unrolled each pari and lashed them to

the stakes with vines.

Over the next five or six hours, the tide would rise, bringing schools of

fish with it; as the tide began to recede, Jose, his father, and uncle would

paddle into the weir and scoop the fish into the bottom of the canoe. The next

few days would be consumed with the salting and drying of the fish. There

were always plenty of fish to give away to friends and relatives.

These days, Jose sees very few cacuris strung along the river banks. Just

last week, his neighbor Vicente set one up in front of his house, along with his

brother-in-law Jaime. The two of them worked for two hours late one

afternoon to install it. Then they had to get up in the middle of the night,

when the tide was flowing out, to intercept the fish. For their trouble, they

caught six small fish, which they divided between the two households. Jose

bet that lunchtime the next day in the Vicente household consisted of the

familiar watery fish broth thickened with farinha. Even better-off families like

Vicente's knew some hunger these days.


Late on Sunday afternoon, Vicente calls to two of his young sons and a

teenage daughter to help him collect aqaf for tomorrow's trip into town. It is

September, and most of his trees are in fruit. These days his family eats their

fill of thick, fresh vinho de aqaf (a thick drink made out from the palm's fruits)

three times a day and there is still plenty of fruit left to sell in town for some


The four set out by canoe across the channel to one of Vicente's

properties on the low side of the island. They only come over here twice a

week to collect aqaf for sale. There are plenty of aqaf trees near the house to

harvest for daily consumption.

Once on shore, Vicente's sons each choose a tree to climb. Holding a

machete in one hand, they slip their feet into slings made of strong leaves, and

climb up about eight feet on the slender, smooth trunk to the inflorescence

which bears the small, purple fruit. They slice off the inflorescence with one

stroke of the machete, and slide down the trunk with the prize in hand.

The boys move on to other trees, each time placing the inflorescence in

the pile near their sister Lucia and their father. Ldcia and Vicente sit on the

ground surrounded by large baskets into which they strip the clusters of fruit.

It takes the fruit of between four and six inflorescences to fill one of these

baskets. Each basket, or rasa, is equal to about 18 liters.

A few hundred yards away, Vicente's married son Jeremias harvests aqai

too. Vicente has let Jeremias collect and sell the aaif from a small piece of land

and keep the proceeds. Jeremias wants to plant rice on a small piece of land

his wife recently inherited and needs some cash to tide his family over while

he spends time in the field readying the land for the rice.

Vicente will make a good sum from his aqaf trees this year. He has

several thousand trees, spread out over four pieces of property. Each tree will,

over the summer, produce six to eight inflorescences. On one piece of

property, where his trees seem to thrive, he will harvest ten or twelve

inflorescences per tree over the harvest period.

When Vicente sets out for Cameta before dawn on Monday morning,

the rear third of his motorboat is filled with his baskets of again Each

passenger he picks up on his route through the channel also has apai for sale.

Some of them are not as fortunate as Vicente is. They have only the acaf trees

which surround their houses. However, they are strapped for cash, and so

must sell the aCaf they would normally consume that week at home.

When they arrive at the dock in CametA, each passenger selling aqai will

carry the rasas to the area of the market designated the feira do acaL. They will

join the dozens of other islanders who also are trying to obtain a little cash.

Vicente and his neighbors haven't always sold again in CametA. Most

recall beginning to do this after 1984, when the floodgates of the Tucurui dam

closed. They notice that the supply of acaf seems to be steadily decreasing.

Trees don't seem to produce as many fruits as they used to. In addition, the

fruits which do appear, dry up on the tree before they are fully ripe.


Vicente's wife Rosa cleans the six kilograms of the fish known as mapard

she bought this morning from the marreteiro, a man who buys fish from several

suppliers and sells them in nearby communities. Her seventeen-year old

daughter Zuleide is washing the noon meal dishes and pots and pans on the

platform attached to the back of the house. Zuleide draws water for the

washing with a plastic bucket attached to a length of blue nylon rope, from the

little stream which runs behind the house and under the platform. Today she

is paying special attention to the aluminum pots, polishing them with steel

wool pads. She wants them to look extra shiny for later this afternoon her

aunt, Rosa's sister, will arrive with her family from Belem for a visit.

As soon as Rosa and Zuleide finish their tasks, they each pick up

machetes from the corner behind the gas stove, and cross the backyard stream

to join Vicente and the boys in the cacao plot. Lucia, the nineteen-year old

daughter, will stay behind and prepare the evening meal for their guests. She

is the best and most imaginative cook in the family, and takes on the

responsibility with pleasure when she is home on weekends and vacations

from school in town.

After about a ten-minute walk, Rosa and Zuleide come upon the boys

sitting around a two-foot high pile of yellow and green cacao fruits already

picked by Vicente and the boys. Fourteen-year old Edson and eleven-year old

Nelson are splitting the fruits open with machetes, and handing them to eight-

year old Paulo. Paulo strips the seeds out of the pods, sometimes popping a

few of them in his mouth to suck the acid-sweet white flesh before dropping

them into the basket at his side.

When Rosa and Zuleide arrive, the work proceeds at a quicker pace. It

is a hot afternoon, but pleasant to sit in the shade of the cacao trees. The

youngest son Toninho hears his mother's voice and comes running to hug her.

He is torn between helping his mother and helping his father several hundred

yards away, so he alternates between the two. He collects as many cacao pods

as his five-year old arms can carry, and drops them at his mother's side.

In about three hours all the ripe cacao has been collected. Vicente has

made the rounds of his plots and is satisfied with the minor pruning and

weeding he did. In three months, when this harvest is done, he will hire four

workers to thoroughly weed all his plots. The whole family starts home

together, carrying the baskets full of fragrant cacao seeds.

The trip back proceeds at a leisurely pace. Members of the family stop

at intervals, where they had noticed a ripening fruit of one kind or another

during their walk to the cacao plot. By the time they arrive home, their arms

are laden with papaya, cupuagi, and bananas.

At home, everyone heads for the water for a cooling bath. The boys

and Vicente bathe in the river at the front of the house, wearing the nylon

shorts they put on this morning. Rosa and Zuleide prefer to bathe in the creek

behind the house where it is quieter and more private. Even so, they bathe

fully dressed, wearing the clothes they have worked in all day.

Soon everyone is freshly scrubbed and anxiously awaiting their guests'

arrival. When Justina and her family arrive, everyone talks at once. Justina

lives in Bel6m with her merchant husband, and does well financially. She still

returns to Paruru at least once a year to visit her brothers and sisters and


Everyone gravitates back to the kitchen. Immediately the papaya are

cut open and consumed, the cupuaOi flesh is made into a drink, and the

bananas are promised as a gift to Justina. Since this is a special occasion, the

adults decide to extract the juice from the cacao seeds from today's harvest.

Justina and Rosa fill the tipiti with seeds, and Vicente hooks the top loop over

a beam. Justina then inserts a length of wood through the bottom loop of the

tipiti; together with her teenage son, she exerts pressure on the bottom loop.

The juice oozes out into an aluminum basin placed below the tipiti.

When all the juice is squeezed out of a particular batch of seeds, the

seeds are dumped back into the baskets. The tipiti is then filled with fresh

seeds, and the process continues until all the seeds have been squeezed. The

juice is poured into a large aluminum pan with some water and sugar.

Everyone dips out glasses of this refreshing drink. The men spike theirs with

some cachaga (crude rum), and settle down to catch up on the news.

The seeds are left in the baskets to ferment for three days. After that

they will be spread out to dry for three or four days on tupis (mats) in the sun.

Vicente will then store them in a gunny sack for a few weeks, until he has

accumulated enough to sell to one of the merchants in CametA. He always

sells his to one merchant in particular.


Benedita rises before dawn on a Friday morning and prepares some

coffee. She drinks it down and sets out on her rubber tapping rounds, leaving

her newborn baby and six other children still asleep in their hammocks. She

carries her urud shells (from a type of snail), her machadinho (axe), and a 30

kilogram container of river clay.

When she arrives at the first rubber tree, she strikes a firm blow on the

trunk with her axe. She attaches an urud shell the size of a cupped hand to the

bark, just below where the white latex begins to trickle out, affixing the shell

with a dab of the clay. She attaches six more shells around the trunk in an

ascending semi-spiral pattern, and moves on to the next tree.

Tomorrow she will collect all the shells from all the trees she has tapped

every day this week. She will remove the coagulated latex "bricks" and store

them until they have dried out some. She will tie them into balls and take one

third of the total to Jovico, the local small merchant who supplies her with her

1500 urud shells each tapping season.

This month and next, she is tapping the rubber on her compare

Vicente's property, and he doesn't charge her for access to the trees. When the

latex stops flowing here, she will move on to her comadre Alice's trees, and

then to Jaime's. When she taps the rubber on their properties, they charge her

one third of her rubber. In the old days people usually charged half of the

total collection. Everyone is on hard times now, and those who own rubber

trees know that people who tap rubber need the cash badly. Nearly everyone

has reduced their access fee to one third of the total harvest.

Even so, Benedita nets precious little for all her efforts. The first month

she taps Vicente's trees, she collects about 15 kilograms of rubber per week, for

a total of 60 kilograms that month. The next month the flow of latex decreases

quickly, from 15 kilos a week to seven and then to three kilos. She figures that

the second month she collects a total of about 30 kilos of rubber.

The ethnographic description of the economic activities presented in this

chapter presents in greater detail how people in Paruru make a living.

Although they still exploit traditional resources, they are finding that some of

the resources no longer support them as well as they have in the past.

Andiroba oil and ucuuba fruits are scarce and no longer bring the prices they

used to command. Shrimp rarely appear in the channels and streams of the

island anymore, and when they do, they are few in number. Timber supplies

are dwindling, and most fish have disappeared from the river. Rubber no

longer commands the price it once did. People are beginning to have to sell

the fruits of the aqai palm, which is traditionally used only for subsistence.

The present state of affairs in Paruru has its roots in the larger political

and economic context of the country. Chapter Four examines the history of

this context.


Members of the community of Paruru live much according to the daily

routines carried out by Tia Maria, Dona Rosa, Jose, Vicente, Dalva and Raimunda,

and share the dilemmas they encounter. All speak as with one voice about their

present situation. Never before, they say, have they known such hunger nor found it

so difficult to put food on the table.

We can find an explanation for islanders' current situation by examining their

own accounts of changing resource uses, along with published data documenting key

shifts in local, regional or national policies regarding these resources.

We learn that andiroba and ucuuba trees and their fruits, cacao, rubber, aqai and

fish each have a particular history of use in the islands. These specific histories do

not unfold in isolation one from another, but rather interweave, so that a shift in the

direction of one history affects the others.

Virola and Andiroba

The period between 1970 and 1984 seems to have been a time of important

change in the degree of pressure on island resources, beginning with the virola trees.

Until the early 1970s, the fruits of the virola (known as ucuuba fruits) were important

in the oils and fats industries in Brazil. In the Amazon, ucuuba fruits were used for

fuel and candles by caboclos and Indians. In ParA state they were also used for

brickmaking and soap. The soap was considered to be far superior to other types.

In the 1940s and 1950s, ucuuba oil was second only to babasszi (Orbignya

martiana) in use for soap. It was commercialized within the state of Para, southern

Brazil, and the international market. The oil was also used in margarine, cosmetics

and perfume, because of its Tristimina, which is available only in ucuuba and nutmeg

(Myristica fragrans). The oil was so important that it was against the law to cut down

virola trees.

By 1975, the demand for ucuuba fruits began to be replaced by a rapidly-

growing demand for the wood of the virola tree itself. Between 1975 and 1980, the

state of ParA came to account for a major portion of the national timber market.

While on terra firme the principal timber species for export was mahogany (Swietenia

spp.), on the islands the Virola spp. came to be highly valued for veneer and particle


Paruruenses responded to the changing market demands by beginning to sell

their virola trees instead of the ucuuba fruits. During the mid to late 1970s, boats

representing large-scale logging firms plied the channels of the Tocantins River,

buying wood of first and second quality from islanders.

In 1988, there were fourteen sawmills on the island of Paruru, four of which

were in the community of Paruru itself (see Fig. 2). Many of the sawmills had been

installed beginning in the late 1970s. During those first years, the andiroba and virola

Paruruenses cut was of first quality; by 1988 all that was left were trees of third

quality. These local sawmills produced boards and other products, primarily for the

construction market in Beldm.

The once-abundant supply of andiroba and ucuuba fruits which had formerly

sustained the community during the winter season was exhausted as a consequence

of the rapid depletion of wood stocks on the island. One small-scale merchant in

1988 recounted that when his own father ran the business in the 1950s he took in

thirty to forty tons of andiroba fruits from clients every winter. These days, the son

never takes in more than 500 kilograms per season.

Other members of the community lend support to this merchant's statement.

In 1988, eighteen persons reported having stopped collecting ucuuba fruits in the past.

Of these, thirteen (72 percent) stopped between 1970 and 1988. Of the eighteen who

had stopped, nine (50 percent) listed 'resource exhaustion' as the reason for stopping.

People also stopped collecting andiroba fruits. Of the fifteen who reported stopping,

nearly half did so because of 'market prices' and 'resource exhaustion'. As with

ucuuba fruits, the principal period during which people stopped was between 1970

and 1988, accounting for eleven people (72 percent).


If the history of lumber is one of recent and intense commercialization, the

histories of rubber and cacao follow a different trajectory. Parurenses have long

produced these two of Amazonia's most researched and subsidized products. Yet

they have not benefitted from the knowledge and support extended to mainland

producers. In part, this is because they produce the two commodities in a manner

completely at variance with the accepted techniques, and hence do not qualify as

producers. They are, instead, mere "collectors", or "extractors".

Although rubber has been one of the most subsidized products of the Amazon

region, virtually none of the benefits or incentives have reached island communities

such as Paruru. There are two reasons for this.

During this century, the Brazilian government has invested vast amounts of

time and money addressing the pest and production problems characteristic of the

Hevea species. Although rubber yields fall far short of what many feel is a level

competitive on the international market, the fact still remains that researchers have

learned a tremendous amount about how to increase the flow of latex.

None of the information has benefitted island rubber production because all

research has been geared towards Hevea cultivated in plantations. Islanders produce

their rubber from 'wild' rubber trees, which are considered to have unacceptably low


Secondly, islanders tap their rubber differently than do other Amazonians.

Elsewhere, people collect the latex by cutting a series of slashes in the bark, collecting

the latex in small cups, and then smoking it. The most recent government program

requires that tappers further process the rubber into sheets before selling them.

In islands such as Paruru, people use entirely different techniques and tools.

For each tapping, they strike a crisp blow on seven or eight places on the trunk with

a small axe. Using clay from the riverbed, they affix a snail shell about the size of a

woman's hand under each of the openings in the bark. They collect the biscuit-

shaped masses of coagulated latex over a period of a few weeks, and then take the

balls to a merchant. They never smoke the latex, nor do they process it into sheets.

Over the past twenty years, rubber seems to have become a decreasingly

rewarding activity. Eleven people have stopped tapping rubber, citing market prices

and personal reasons for quitting. Of these, five (45.5 percent) quit between 1970 and

1980, and five (45.5 percent) quit between 1981 and 1988.


At the turn of the century the Brazilian government directed incentives to the

production of the coastal states of Bahia and Espirito Santo. Researchers developed a

hybrid which was well-suited to the higher elevations of Bahia, and soon plantation-

grown cacao became a highly-profitable enterprise.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, the government established guidelines to

encourage cacao production in the Amazon. However, CEPLAC will only provide

credit, seedlings and technical assistance to those who agree to cultivate cacao

according to their system.

Paruru islanders do not qualify, because from the CEPLAC perspective, they

extract wild cacao. Their trees are old (some islanders say they belonged to their

great-grandfathers). Until 1984, they could rely on the annual fluvial sediments for

nutrients. The system required very little in terms of input, yet produced enough

cacao to meet the requirements of islanders. The most problematic part of the

CEPLAC system, from the point of view of Paruru islanders, is the practice of clean

clearing a plot of land and planting only cacao on it.

In the islands, only a bare handful of people have enough land to plant this

way. Many useful trees grow interspersed with cacao trees in Paruru, including

rubber trees, trees suitable for timber, and wild fruit trees. If Paruruenses were to

clean clear their plots, they would in effect destroy their larder. The household would

be left with nothing with which to make a living during the three years it takes for

the first fruit to appear. Furthermore, the household would no longer have a cushion

to rely on should the cacao crop fail.

Since the floodgates of the Tucurui dam closed in 1984, Paruru islanders have

encountered a new problem. Their cacao trees look sickly, with drooping yellowed

canopies, and produce very few fruits'. Raimundo, one of the three principal cacao

cultivators on the island, concluded that they were suffering from a lack of nutrients,

and so performed a small experiment. He selected two plots of cacao trees of the

same age, treating one plot as he usually did with an occasional pruning and

weeding. In the other plot, he piled the pruning and weeding litter around the base

of the trees, and raked other leaf litter around as well.

He found that production in the first plot continued to decline; the canopies

drooped, the leaves turned light green and yellow, and the leaves and fruit were

more vulnerable to pests. The second plot, by contrast, began to thrive. The fruits

were vigorous, and resistant to pests. Now Raimundo hires four workers twice a

year to carefully weed (roqar) all of the land where he has cacao trees, and to pile the

litter around the base of each tree. He admits that he is an exceptional case in

Paruru, because he has been able to afford the new method. It is highly labor

intensive and requires either many family members or enough supplies of cash and

food to pay day workers. Raimundo has cash because he has several crops which

produce enough surplus. In addition, he has some money saved from when he

worked in the garimpo (gold mining) at Serra Pelada in 1985 and 1986.

Thus Paruru islanders suffer a double blow when it comes to cacao. They

have historically been overlooked by the government in terms of technical assistance.

Now to produce what cacao they do have, requires a shift in cultivation practices

which few households can muster either in terms of labor or capital.

It would seem that over the long-term, people might be helped to change their

system of cultivating cacao, given the appropriate financial and technical support.

After all, cacao lends itself extremely well to agroforestry systems, growing in

association with other important food and cash crops.

However, the problem of cacao cultivation touches directly upon a much more

basic dilemma. That is, cacao competes for space with the most important of all

island crops, the agai palm. If islanders wish to increase cacao production according

to CEPLAC standards, they will in nearly every case be required to remove some or

all of their agai palms, because their plots of land are so small.

Apai is the staff of life to islanders. Paruruenses do not consider a meal

complete without agai. Only those with 'surplus' land, beyond that necessary for agai

production, can consider changing their cacao cultivation practices to increase

production. And that is a problem which has no solution.

As we have seen in this chapter, over the past two decades Paruruenses have

witnessed, and participated in, the steady depletion of their key resources. People can

no longer rely on fish or ucuuba. They remain invisible to government and academic

institutions which might help them increase their production of rubber and cacao.


As a consequence of this depletion, islanders are forced to search for

alternatives to sustain their households. Since 1984, even the precious acai palm has

been assigned a new role in islanders' production system. Many households now sell

part or all of their apai fruits for cash in the CametA market instead of consuming

them at home.

Another factor has contributed to the changing role of aaf for islanders: the

commercialization of agaf fruits and heart (palmito) for the Belem market. The islands

(Maraj6 in particular) nearest Belem have traditionally supplied the urban demand

for agaf fruits (Pace 1987).

Beginning in the mid-1970s, these same islands became the site of an

aggressive commercialization of the palmito for export to the U.S., France and Japan.

These islands are not able to fully supply both demands, and so the 'apaf belt' which

comprises the supplier islands expands outwards accordingly.


Residents of some islands between Paruru and Belm note that they are experiencing

severe difficulties because members of the local elite of CametA and other mainland

towns have cut down virtually every aqai palm in sight for the palmito.

The community of Paruru is not so severely affected by the demand for

palmito--yet. At the moment, people sell palmito throughout the winter when they

need cash for food. During my period of fieldwork, some residents noted that they

would probably have to cut down more aqaf palms than they should, and hence

seriously jeopardize their summer harvests of the fruit. However, the time will soon

come when the palmito factories will travel even further afield to supply the export

market, and Paruru will become one more supplier island, until its stands of the

palm are gone.


In the case of Paruru, the history of fishing has carried more weight than the

history of any other resource in affecting the course of events over the past twenty

years. The catalyst for the process was the Decreto-Lei number 221, signed on 28

February 1967, which extended fiscal incentives to commercial fishing enterprises.

Over the next decade, Brazilian fishing companies based in the center-south joined

multinational companies in intensive export fishing in the Amazon river basin. The

fish species known in Portuguese as the piramutaba and dourada (belonging to the

Brachyplatostoma genus), were destined for the U.S. and European markets (de Mello

1984a, 1984b) 2

Commercial piramutaba fishermen located in the estuarine region, which

includes the mouth of the Tocantins River, won a major concession from the

government in 1976 with the expansion of the area within which they could ply their

nets (Loureiro 1985). Local stocks of fish were further depleted because of the wider

area of exploitation by these boats, equipped as they were with nets which caught all

fish indiscriminately.

During this same period (mid-1970s), construction began on the Tucurui

hydroelectric dam 300 kilometers upstream from Beldm. As workers migrated to the

small town of Tucurui, the population of the town increased significantly, with a

concomittant increase in the consumption of fish.

When islanders realized that fish supplies would continue to decrease, they

turned to a new technology themselves. They began to use small-gauge malhadeiras

(gill nets) to catch the smaller fish still left in the river. In the process, they helped

accelerate the depletion of the most basic component of their diet and their economy.

Over the past twenty five years, the Brazilian government's policies to extract

lumber, to increase the production of cacao and rubber, and to intensify the

commercialization of fish in the Amazon basin, have undermined the economic

options for island communities such as Paruru.

This chapter examines what has happened to andiroba, ucuuba trees and their

fruits, cacao, rubber, aqaf, and fish. In each case, there is a general pattern. That is, at

different times, in accordance with external demands, commercial concerns come

through the island region and take what will sell on the local and international

market. In the process, the resource is reduced. In order to catch or harvest what is

left of the resource, local residents adopt predatory technology or harvesting patterns.

Thus, for example, after the logging firms bought the best of the wood, residents set

up local sawmills to cut the remaining wood. After commercial fishing boats took

what they could with dragnets, islanders began to use small-gauge cast nets. The

overall effect has been to reduce the size and variety of the resource base on which

the islanders depend for sustenance.


' Paruru residents explain this by noting that before the dam, "vitamins" were
deposited every year in a layer of new soil during the high waters of winter. Since
the dam gates dosed, all the "vitamins" have been trapped behind the gates.

To date, no data are publicly available about sediments in the Tocantins River after
the closing of the dam. Studies of other dams demonstrate that sediments do indeed
become trapped behind dam floodgates. Before the Aswan Dam was built on the
Nile River, for example, the delta received 100 tons of silt per hctare per year. After
the dam, only a few tons of silt are deposited annually in delta (Goldsmith and
Hildyard 1984).

There is also evidence that the sediments in rivers provide important sources of
nutrients for crops. Before the damming of the Amu Daria River in the Soviet Union,
the 40 tons of silt per hectare deposited annually by the river provided 250 kilograms
of humus, 200 kilograms of nitrogen, 50 kilograms of available potassium oxide, and
50 kilograms of phosphoric oxide per hectare (Goldsmith and Hildyard 1984).

2 There is a significant body of literature which deals with the events leading up to
and following the government's incentives for increased commercialization of fishing
in the estuary. See, for example, Brabo (1981), Furtado (1984, 1987), Goulding (1981),
IDESP (1984), Lessa (1984), Loureiro (1984, 1985), Maneschy (unpublished), Mau&s
(1984), Penner (1984), Ribeiro Neto (1984), Sawaki (1984), Schnuettgen (1984), and
Smith (1981).


The idea that caboclo populations sustain themselves on the basis of a

flexible and complex set of productive activities is a persistent theme in the

literature on the Brazilian Amazon. Yet, despite this emphasis, there are very

few studies that have systematically analyzed caboclo sustenance strategies,

especially among those that live along the rivers. Moreover, the majority of

the studies that do exist are primarily descriptive analyses that do not attempt

to quantitatively depict and analyse the various activities that riverine dwellers


The purpose of this chapter is to address the relationship between

households, the labor they have at their disposal, and their access to resources.

The analysis is premised on the assumption that households are dynamic

units. In their interaction with the natural environment, and in response to

economic opportunities and constraints, the household allocates available labor

(family members) to various sustenance activities. The way in which

household members organize their efforts can be thought of as a function of its

internal characteristics (e.g. number of individuals, stage in the life cycle), and

its relationship to the resources at its disposal (broadly defined to include

water, land, and trees, as well as the opportunities for wage work).

The analysis of the economic activities carried out by members of

households in Paruru provides important insights into the way in which

riverine communities in Amazonia sustain themselves. The data permit an

analysis of quality of life on the island by addressing the relationship between

available resources and the standard of living that the household enjoys. When

I analyse the information according to selected measures of natural resources

(for example, the amount of land owned), the findings offer further

conclusions regarding the way in which people respond to economic stress.

This chapter addresses two questions. The first question is: Do

households with access to more resources on the island have a higher standard

of living in terms of such variables as the number of consumer goods, housing

quality, and the likelihood of being ill? The second question concerns the

relationship between resources, and the type and intensity of work

performed.Specifically, the question is: Compared to households with access to

greater resources (e.g., greater amounts of land), are people in resource-poor

households more likely to enter the wage labor market? Furthermore, are they

more likely to work "harder" (i.e., perform a greater number of activities)?

These questions can be answered using two different kinds of data. On

the one hand, there is the ethnographic information that I collected during the

year I lived in the community of Paruru. Information of this kind provides

insight into people's motivations, and offers a subjective understanding of

what people do. The ethnography draws on the collective memory of what

has happened in the past, and what exists in the present. The ethnographic

method yields rich descriptions of the rhythm of people's daily lives, and it

documents the subjective interpretations that people have of the changes that

they have experienced.

In addition to providing the basis for rich descriptions of household

dynamics, the ethnographic data can also be used in a more analytical sense.

For example, when I consider the questions posed above, two people come to

mind: Domingos and Vicente. In many respects, their households are similar.

At the same time, they differ in terms of resources available to them, and, as a

consequence, they deploy household labor in different ways, and experience

different levels of material well-being. A comparative ethnography of the two

cases thus provides a wide range of details about how people make a living,

and offers richly detailed answers to the questions posed in this chapter.

But the ethnographic data, and the use of deliberately selected case

studies, limits the ability to generalize to the island as a whole. I can compare

and contrast Domingos and Vicente to good effect, but two key issues then

arise. Are the ethnographically-derived conclusions representative of the

population from which the two cases are drawn? Furthermore, do the

conclusions from the ethnographic analysis hold true once other pertinent

variables are controlled?

To address these issues, I turn to the quantitative survey data that I

collected. Compared to the ethnographic material, the survey data are more

limited (at least in terms of the details of specific cases), yet they offer

quantitative measures of the key variables. Because the survey is based on a

random sample, the data are representative of the population as a whole. The

combination of ethnographic and quantitative data in this chapter reflects my

commitment to the idea that different types of methods and data can be

combined in a single analysis that produces more reliable findings than either

approach alone.

Domingos Silva and Vicente dos Santos

Domingos is 38 years old, and his wife Joana is 32. Domingos, Joana

and all nine children were born in Paruru, and in a few months the tenth child

will join the family. Domingos and Joana don't have much to fall back on even

in the best of times. They live in a house surrounded by a few square yards of

land which belongs to Domingos' mother. A few years ago, when they were

taking care of a brother-in-law's property, they managed to save enough

money to buy two hectares of land on the low island. During the same time

period, his brother-in-law Jos6 gave him one hectare of land on the high side

of the island. He has a few resources on the land: about 500 aqai trees, 50 buriti

trees, 85 native cacao trees, 750 planted cacao trees, 90 fruit trees, and perhaps

120 rubber trees. Still, these are not enough to support a family of 11 over the

course of the year.


For the Silva family, the major focus of daily life is to find enough food

to put on the table. The parents recall how they used to collect great quantities

of ucuuba and andiroba fruits in the winter. Although they still collect the fruits,

it has been ten years since they have been able to rely on them as a source of

income. They no longer have much to fall back on during the lean winter

months. When she can find a supply of buriti leaves, Joana weaves tupis (mats

used for drying cacao and black pepper) and tipitis (funnels used to squeeze

manioc dough and cacao seeds). The six oldest children, boys and one girl

ranging in age from eight to sixteen, help Joana make the mats to sell for

enough cash for a few grams of coffee and handfulls of manioc flour. The only

daughter, 12 year old Lily, helps her mother care for the four smaller children.

The 14 year old Lair and 16 year old Valdemar help their father chop down

one of the trees on his small patch of land to sell for lumber, or seek a local

day wage job when the family is truly strapped for cash.

During the summer months, the entire family participates in caring for

the cacao on their land. Domingos and his sons weed the plot and prune the

trees. When the fruits are ready to be harvested, all the children help collect

them into large piles, while the older ones split the pods and remove the

seeds. Domingos and Valdemar carry the large baskets full of seeds back to

the house, where they will ferment and dry them over a period of a few days.

The cacao usually brings a good price in the market in CametS, which eases

the burden a bit in the summer months.


From July to November, the family enjoys agai every day at their meals.

Usually the 8- and 10- year old sons collect the inflorescences, the 12-year old

daughter strips the fruit from the stalks and places them to soak in large

wooden basins, and Joana processes the softened fruit into the drink.

Across the channel which divides the community into high and low

island, lives Domingos' brother-in-law Vicente dos Santos. Vicente lives with

his wife Dalva and 6 of their children in a spacious four-room house. Four of

their children live elsewhere: one is married and lives in Paruru, and the other

three live in Belem, where they study and work. At the moment, a 10-year old

neighbor girl lives with them also, working for room and board so she can

continue with her studies at the local school while her parents work in the

pepper fields. All told, Vicente and Dalva support 13 people in their

immediate circle.

Over the years, the Santos' have accumulated land, so that at the

present, they own over 34 hectares of land on both high and low island. They

have several thousand agai trees, an uncounted number of buriti palms and

fruit trees, 20,000 native and planted cacao trees, 2,000 wood trees, and 1,000

rubber trees.

In the summer months, the Santos family keeps busy with cacao

cultivation and harvest, and with the collection of aqai. With the money they

earn from these two products, they are able to tide themselves over reasonably

well (by local standards) during the lean winter months.

Determinants of Resource Availability

Residents of Paruru make their living by fishing and by extraction of

forest products. As we saw in Chapter Two, and in the ethnographic sketch

presented in this chapter, there are significant differences in the availability of

those resources, based on ecological differences characteristic of the high and

low sides of the island. This ethnographic information was confirmed in

crosstabulations of the survey data. Households on the two sides of the island

differ in two key variables: total size of property, and number of native cacao

trees owned. At this level of analysis, other key resources--aiaf, planted cacao,

timber, and rubber--do not vary significantly by location of the household

(table not shown).

The use of crosstabs is not sufficient to explain the effects of other

potentially confounding variables. In this instance, a household's stage in the

life cycle should be taken into account, because it too might affect the type and

number of resources available to a household. As households move through

the stages of the life cycle, there is a tendency to accumulate material goods.

Hence, perhaps households who live on the high side of the island are better

off in certain regards because they are at a later stage in the life cycle than

those who live on the low side of the island. The age of the household head

can be used as a proxy measure of the stage in the life cycle. Table 1 shows

that, after controlling for the effects of the household being in a particular

stage in the life cycle, location on the island has a statistically significant effect

Table 1:

Selected Measures of Household Assets Regressed on Location
and Age of Household Head.

Dependent Variable

Independent Land Wood Cacao Rubber Acai
Variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Age 685.7 .170 26.61 4.07 6.74

Location -46415** -154 -1861** -225* 40.21

Constant 24797 159.6 786 147 545
R squared .210 .063 .141 .107 .018
N of cases 42 42 42 42 42

.05 < p < .10.
p < .05.


on the amount of land, and the total number of cacao and rubber trees owned

by a household. Households on the low side of the island own less land and

fewer cacao and rubber trees. Thus location on the island continues to be a

predictor for socioeconomic differentiation in the community. This

differentiation has its roots in the unequal distribution of key natural resources

on the island.

The socioeconomic differences between households observed on the

island can also be measured in other other ways. I have selected three: living

standards, deployment of labor, and involvement wage work. The next section

takes up the first of these in a comparison of the living standards of

households on both sides of the islands.

Living Standards

An indicator such as a household's standard of living is difficult to

measure in a community such as Paruru. Income is not a satisfactory measure,

because households rely so heavily on non-monetary resources for their


There are, however, some indicators that discriminate in terms of living

standards. One such indicator is the number of consumer goods present in the

household '. A second indicator is the housing quality index 2. A third

measure of living standards is the health status of the family 3.

The results are shown in Table 2. The first regression model uses the

Table 2:

Regression Coefficients for Selected Household Variables as
Predictors of Three Standard of Living Indices. (Standardized
Coefficients in Parentheses)

Standard of Living Indicator

No. of Housing
Independent Consumer Quality Illness
Variables Means Goods1 Index Index
(1) (2) (3)

Age of 46.6 .017* -.005 .039
household head (.266) (-.044) (.237)

Location of .54 -.277 -.905* .527
household2 (-.145) (-.308) (.113)

Land3 3.2 .064** -.017
(.346) (.062)

Labor inputs4 8.3 .011 .101*
(.051) (.287)

Whether the .12 1.418* .275
household hired (.310) (.038)

Water treatment6 2.2 -.050

Constant .278 8.94 2.44
R squared .270 .203 .137
Number of cases 42 42 43
Overall mean 1.1 85 5.3

.05 < p < .10, ** p < .05.
'Calculated by adding the scores for owning television, refrigerator, radio,
generator, furniture, motorboat
2Location of household is scored as follows: 0=high, 1=low.
3Measured in hectares.
4Total number of economic activities performed by household members
5Hiring of labor was scored as follows: 1 =yes, 0=no.
6Quality of water treatment, ranked 1-5 (Increasing with quality).

number of consumer goods as the dependent variable. In this case it is

important to control both for the location on the island and for the age of the

household head. These variables are necessary because of the relationship

between life cycle stage and the accumulation of assets and because of the

demonstrated relationship between location and access to resources. The

findings confirm that, after controlling for age of household head and location

on the island, the greater the size of landholdings, the greater the number of

consumer goods a household will own.

The regression model presented in the second column of Table 2 uses

the housing quality index as the second dependent variable. The results

indicate that people on the lower side of the island live in houses of poorer

quality than do people who live on the higher side of the island. The

coefficients further indicate the housing quality index is higher among those

households that hire wage workers. This result is consistent with later findings

showing that resource-rich households are the ones that employ others.

The final indicator of standard of living is the illness index. The

analysis in column 3 shows that the only statistically significant variable is the

number of labor inputs. A more detailed discussion of the meaning of this

variable follows in the next section. For the moment, however, the point is

that those households whose members engage in more productive activities are

also the ones whose members experience a greater number of reported

illnesses. Hence, the findings show that those households that are compelled