"THE WATER IS OUR LAND":
PEASANTS OF THE RIVER TOCANTINS, BRAZILIAN AMAZONIA
PENNIE L. MAGEE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKN OW LEDGM EN TS...................................................................................... ii
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
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
6 AFFIRMING THE COMMUNITY:
FESTIVA LS A N D FUN ERA LS ............................................................ 105
The Cirio...................................................................................................... 108
Esm ola do Santo......................................................................................... 112
The H oly Spirit and Politics..................................................................... 113
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
"THE WATER IS OUR LAND":
PEASANTS OF THE RIVER TOCANTINS, BRAZILIAN AMAZONIA
Pennie L. Magee
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 WATER IS OUR LAND: INTRODUCTION
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
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 ) and his student and colleague Galvio (1976 , 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
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).
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
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).
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 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-
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
HARVESTING WATER AND LAND
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
THE TIDES OF CHANGE
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
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
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
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
WORK, RESOURCES AND WELLBEING
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
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
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
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
Selected Measures of Household Assets Regressed on Location
and Age of Household Head.
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.
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
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
Labor inputs4 8.3 .011 .101*
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