Darcy Ribeiro said that she was not afraid of death: “Death is turning off, like turning off the light. Life is building and destroying. What is left behind with the past is death. What is alive goes ahead ”. Darcy's legacy lives on.
Much is heard about the importance of preserving the Amazon, the largest tropical forest in the world. But how much is known about the forest and its occupation? In this essay, the anthropologist and educator Darcy Ribeiro gives us a brief dimension and historical view of the Amazon, its people and devastation.
This is the essay by Darcy Ribeiro. Good reading!
The Amazon and its people
One of my greatest joys in recent years has been to see my old fear for the fate of the Amazon spread to millions of people. Fortunately, with the fear, a beginning of hope also spread for the salvation of the garden of the Earth. The fact is that the media, so commercialized in our time, almost always incapable of embracing any generous cause, in this case it was sensitized and mobilized the world public opinion for the defense of the forest and the forest peoples.
The cause of the Amazon and that of its Indians and Caboclos has, for me, a biographical flavor. I have lived for years in indigenous villages in the Amazon and my memory background is full of images of the splendor of the virgin forest, the singularities of the original Indianity and the tragedy of the peoples of the forest.
The Amazon is the largest living being ever seen. A huge amount of living mass, rising and dying continuously, nourishing itself with air, water and land. But, above all, of itself, in an autophagy in which it is undone and remade, while multiplying and diversifying into myriads of plants and animals. During the day, it sucks in carbon and exhales oxygen. At night, it reverses the cycle. Day and night, its and exudes, it extracts the nitrogen it feeds the atmosphere, in a continuous interaction of its leaf with the air and with the sun.
Seen above, the forest is a tree-sea-ocean lying on the ground. Seen the inside, it is a cathedral, with millions of thick and thin columns rising the earth to the sky, closing the horizon. Looking up, she is an immense canopy of green fronds whipped by the wind, covering the sky. Felt, inside, is a dark, silent world. Only at dawn and at dusk does it roar, howl, sing, scream, squeak, scream, with the mouths and beaks of the animal, in the dread of the night that comes down, in the joy of the day that comes back.
the forest allows itself to be seen in great extensions, it is an immense carpet of all shades of green. Here and there, dotted with yellow, white, black, blue, red, scarlet, lilac, gray trees. A splendor.
The Amazon is, in fact, a world of full waters, very varied. There are the transparent ones, like a mirror, are those of black waters. There are the turbids, due to the dissolved white clay. There are the copper ones, the yellow ones. Its size is its current, that the Amazon contributes with a fifth of the fresh waters poured into the seas. In one block of the year, the Amazon is mainly rain that rains weeks, day and night non-stop. It floods the entire land, thickening streams that turn into rivers, exorbitating lakes and lagoons, in a larger than many oceans. This immense rain moistens the air so much that the world becomes a kind of aquarium, people and animals travel.
The most extraordinary thing about this book, almost always still, in calm, is when it rises in rough waters with the tidal waves of the pororocas. It then carries immense pieces of the shore, forming floating islands that sail to the sea.
It is the waters that rule the Amazon. I discovered this by living there, ten years, when I realized that she is, at one time, the Green Hell and the Earthly Paradise. So it is, because, after the rainy season, when the flood comes, the stream is so immense, that you cannot fish or hunt. The Indians with whom I lived depend, during this period, exclusively on the meager product of their gardens to eat. They visibly lose weight. It's Green Hell. On the contrary, in the low water season, there are fish to be caught by hand. Delicious, varied fruits, in prodigious quantities. Hunting, too, is as much as you want. It is Earthly Paradise. So prodigious that I suppose that, in the future, one of the highest forms of rich tourism will not be going to see the Sistine Chapel. It will be taking your girlfriend by the hand and entering the Amazon Forest with her, to live a month of Indian life in that wonderful garden.
But the Amazon is not one, it is a thousand. Its greatest characteristic is perhaps this diversity. Both the result of its ecological adaptation to low and high lands, fresh and dry, fertile and arid, and the result of the infinite variety of species in which it unfolds. It is assumed that more than 2 million arthropods are added. Sixty thousand, only the plants. Two thousand, the known fish varieties. Three hundred are mammals. There are still reptiles, birds and I don't know how many more animals.
The people of the forest
Like the forest, the original humanity of the Amazon is also extremely varied. Its indigenous peoples were structured in about a thousand tribes, with p calculable opulation of 2 to 3 million people, mainly concentrated in the floodplains. These peoples spoke more than 500 languages, classified into 20 trunks. It was a Tower of Babel.
Over many millennia of occupation of the Amazon, indigenous peoples have accumulated a thorough knowledge of the forest and the beings it shelters. They created different forms of human adaptation, not destructive, through advanced forms of management that allow enriching the forest instead of degrading it.
Based on this indigenous wisdom, combined with some Portuguese contribution and with a little African spice, the caboclos generated by mestizaje created their own kind of life, very well adapted to the forest. They live in houses made of straw, sleep in hammocks, carry their loads on their backs in woven jamaxins. They have a genuine and exquisite cuisine, with an extraordinary variation of tastes, which they achieve by combining and contrasting bitter, sour, salty and sweet. I think that the day the world will discover the taste of Amazonian spices, such as tucupi and its 100 ice creams made fruits, will be a party.
Unlike the indigenous, the civilized occupation of the Amazon is essentially destructive. Especially when cutting down and burning extensions of hundreds of thousands, up to 1 million hectares, to convert the forest into grasslands. Equally harmful is the burning of forest trees to produce coal for energy purposes or for the production of pig iron. Worse, perhaps, is the water pollution by mercury used in gold mining; it kills everything.
European civilization fell on the Amazon like a plague 1600 onwards. It first caused immense depopulation by the contamination of white man's diseases, such as smallpox, mumps, lung diseases, and dental caries, previously unknown. Greater catastrophe was caused, later, by catechesis, which lured Indians, iron and fire, concentrating them in the missions, they lost their original language and became destribalized, becoming a people people.
For the missionaries, the Indians were a mass of pagans, who had to be saved, destabilizing them and reorganizing them in pious societies. For the colonizer, they were the indispensable labor force for their own prosperity, because they seemed totally useless until they entered the production of goods.
The missionary action of destribalization promoted mainly by the Jesuits, in addition to miscegenation, produced a new human race: the caboclos. They spoke Tupi - an indigenous language adopted by the missionaries - better than Portuguese, and had no identity of their own, because they lost the tribal, without ing themselves in any human community that accepted them as members.
Parallel to the drama of indigenous peoples run over and overwhelmed by civilization, a human tragedy of equal dimensions has unfolded and still continues. It is that of the cabocla population in the Amazon, generated in the same civilizing process that decimated the Indians and made them ecologically succeed in the same space by the caboclos.
Over the course of five centuries, a vast population of destribalized, decultured and mixed-race people emerged and multiplied, which is the fruit and the main victim of the European invasion. Today there are more than 3 million people who preserve their original adaptive culture of forest peoples. They originated mainly Jesuit missions that, confining Indians drawn different tribes, made their cultures of origin unfeasible and imposed on them a lingua franca, Tupi, taken the first indigenous groups that they catechized a century earlier in remote regions. Thus, an indigenous language was converted by the priests into the language of civilization, which became the speech of the mass of catechumens. In the course of an ethnic transfiguration process, they became generic Indians, without their own language or culture, and without a specific cultural identity. They were later joined by large masses of mestizos, gestated by whites in indigenous women, who were also neither Indians nor Europeans, and speaking Tupi, dissolved as caboclos.
The dual function of this cabocla mass was that of labor the extractive exploitation of drugs the forest exported to Europe, which made the region's poor economy viable. It was also an instrument for the capture and decimation of autonomous indigenous populations, against whom they developed an aggression equal to or worse than that of Europeans. So tremendous, however, was the civilizing oppression that weighed on them, that they ended up in an ethnic war, the Cabanagem (1835-40), the bloodiest in American history, that cost more than 100 thousand lives of the caboclos in it involved. In this fight, they lived the paradoxical situation of who can win a thousand battles but cannot lose any. In fact, they won many times and took over the main cities in the Amazon, including Belém and Manaus, but ended up dominated, suffering u m terrible genocide.
Two waves of violence fell on these vanquished caboclos. The first came with the extraordinary appreciation of rubber on the world market that recruited and overwhelmed them, simultaneously launching people all over to explore the new wealth. In this instance, they lost their own language, adopting Portuguese, but maintained awareness of their differentiated identity and their way of life as people of the forest. The second wave occurs today with the new invasion of the Amazon by Brazilian society, in its expansion over that forest frontier. Its greatest effect has been the eviction of caboclos the lands they occupied, expelling more than half of them to the familial urban life of Belém and Manaus. The Indians who survived have already learned to resist the devastation. Caboclos are not.
The devastation of the Amazon
the second half of the last century until 1913, the world ran on rubber tires the Amazon. The whole valley was dynamized in progress, the forests were invaded by a huge mass of people, coming mainly the arid Northeast. Poor people who were worn out in their learning in a brutal and fruitless way of occupation, ignoring all the indigenous wisdom about what the forest could give, only paying attention to the sparse trees that gave latex, eating preserves and canning, in fact dying of hunger and beriberi.
In the course of World War II, when the allies lost access to the planted rubber plantations in the East, the native rubber plantations in the Amazon were once again put into production. Other crowds of Northeasterners were thrown there to suffer and die of the same misery. But also to exterminate the indigenous tribes that survived at the top of the rivers, now reached by civilization, which enslaved men, stole women and children and plundered the fields. In this, as in everything, civilization for the Amazon is always a plague - the more it grows, the more it destroys and kills.
The Brazilian Amazon, covering 40% of our territory, has more than 3 million square kilometers, but only retains 8% of the Brazilian population, that is, some 12 million caboclos and new immigrants. Half of this population is found mainly in Belém and Manaus. The Indians were reduced to 5% of what they were and today they barely reach 100 thousand. These few Indians and a few counted caboclos who remain in the forest keep part of the copious adaptive wisdom of the peoples of the Amazon rainforest. It is based on it that it will be possible, tomorrow, to implement ecologically balanced forms of human occupation that will allow, in the future, those populations to live in the forest, letting it live. The distinctive feature of indigenous forms of adaptation and their incompatibility with the way of life of mercantile civilization. The essential incompatibility of the entrepreneurial forms of occupation of the Amazon and its inability to live with the forest without killing it.
Examples of this are the ore explorations of Amapá, the great capitalist project on the Jari River, and, lately, the Carajás complex. In each of them, many millions of dollars were invested, which gave rise to miserable communities, which could be any on the planet, uprooted that belong to the forest and its ecologically sustainable forms of occupation.
The military dictatorship, which dominated Brazil for 20 years 1964, with the obsession of opposing the agrarian reform proposed by the government that overthrew it, plotted the Amazon on immense farms of 100 thousand, 500 thousand and 1 million hectares data to large subsidized companies to cut down the forest and transform it into grasslands, or whatever they wanted. The other dictatorial assault was to cut the Amazon east to west on huge and improvised roadways. The farms resulted in a disaster because the land, bare and burned, exposed to the sun and rain, became a stony sand, in desertification. The roads were readily consumed by the forest.
This ecological madness had the unexpected merit of drawing the world's attention, with the huge fires that ignited, for the destruction of the Amazon and for the merciless genocide of the indigenous populations that resulted it. Public opinion found ways to express its horror at that hecatomb, contributing decisively to the Brazilian government to calm the incendiary furor. It is not true that those fires endangered the life of the planet, because they contributed less than 5% of the CO² released into the atmosphere. They were serious, however, because they were destroying the most beautiful and portentous garden on planet Earth.
But let no one doubt this destructive capacity. In the first centuries, Brazil managed to settle with the Atlantic Forest, which covered more than 8 thousand kilometers in length along the coast. And in the first 50 years of this century, it razed the most vigorous forest known, that of the Vale do Rio Doce. These destructions were carried out by poor people, who cut down the forest with axes and burned with matches, in exchange for the right to plant corn and beans in them for three years, until the owner-farmer appeared to sow grass. Today, with defoliating drugs, with mechanical saws, with large tractors tied with nautical chains, forests can be felled 50 to 100 times more ferociously. It is, therefore, perfectly possible to end the immense world of greenery that is the Amazon Forest.
Among the forms of deforestation and destruction that are underway, there are the fires to produce charcoal, with which pig iron can be melted. This is all the more regrettable, because a sensible exploration of the Amazon Forest, even to produce energy biomass, could coexist with the forest and occupy many people. That is if we learned to exploit it, without destroying it, as Scandinavians have done for centuries.
Another catastrophe is the damming of water for hydroelectric dams in the Amazonian Plain. The most disastrous of these, Balbina, flooded 3 thousand square kilometers of forest to produce less than 200 MW of energy, which could be obtained with 5% of the flooded and lost wood, which added up to 3 million cubic meters.
Another aggression against the Amazon is the mining of gold, which occupies and makes miserable, perhaps, half a million people. Extractivism started in Serra Pelada two decades ago, and soon it was the largest open-air manual exploration ever seen.
There, more than 100 thousand gold miners produced ten tons of gold annually. When the accessible mineral was exhausted, when the hole reached such depth that it was impossible to fetch it, there, by hand, that crowd of prospectors spread through Madeira, through the Tapajós, going to Roraima, invading the lands of the Yanomami.
These Indians are the last forest group that survived the brutality of European expansion. They were also, with their 15 thousand Indians, the largest of them. Their wear and tear began when the president of the Brazilian indigenous protection agency, Funai, decided to give each of the 14 subgroups of Yanomami small reserves, leaving all the remaining land available for invasion by farmers and prospectors. These entered and quickly made a devastation, both rotting the waters with the mercury they use in the mining, as well as invading the villages, prostituting the Indians, stealing children and transmitting the most virulent forms of malaria and onchocerciasis.
What is serious is that these destructive forms of action on the forest correspond to the economy of civilization. She has no other way to profit the forest, but this one. However, there are other, ecologically satisfactory, forms of human occupation of the Amazon for the Indians and Caboclos. These were never put into practice, because in Brazil, Indians and Caboclos never had and are not entitled to anything. Their reasons for being weak have never been heard and there is little hope that they are.
This was the case of the rubber tapper Chico Mendes, who was murdered because he wanted to enrich the native rubber plantations with rubber trees planted to provide better living conditions for the rubber tappers. Another was the plan of its assassins, who wanted those lands of the old rubber plantations in Acre just to use them in the form of companies that Amazonian capitalism and civilization are capable of creating, that is, killing the forest to set up large farms.
The greatest threat to the Amazon is that it offers itself to growing Brazilian populations as an open frontier, over which it tends to expand. This means that many millions of people, displaced by the latifundium and the smallholdings of their regions of origin, will advance into the Amazon. If they enter there, without any prior preparation, without any carefully tried plan to revive the forest, only the destructive work will have a future.
Lately, we have all become aware that the world is a single interactive ecosystem. In it, lands and seas, islands and continents, forests and deserts, with their flora and fauna, are integrated in a symbiotic interdependence in which each and every one depends on each and every one. In this vital complex, the immense Amazon stands out, notably, as a large and precious piece of our niche, the planet Earth, the birthplace of all men.
As a result, people all latitudes became interested and gave opinions on the Amazon. First, blaming deforestation and fires for the greenhouse effect, which is dangerously heating the Earth. What is not true. Some daring ones even propose guardianship in the Amazonian countries, as if some nation in the world had preserved the original nature of their provinces. Others, more sensible, speak of the need for international cooperation to help preserve this Earth garden.
Despite being severely eroded by five centuries of civilization, the Amazon still holds about 1.5 million square kilometers of original untouched forest, which constitutes the largest planetary core of biodi versity. It houses half of the living beings, distributed in millions of species, which represent a third of the genetic stock with which humanity counts. Thus, it constitutes an immense germplasm bank, on which we will depend, more and more, here to the future, both for the production of essential drugs, as well as food, wood and much more.
We do not have another reserve of life to remake life tomorrow, if it suffers any fatal threat those that are predictable, such as the atomic and the greenhouse effect, or the unpredictable, and even many today unthinkable, that can survive. Different institutions have been measuring the dimensions of the devastation of the Amazon for decades. Some speak of 8%, others speak of 12% of the strip already destroyed. Within the most moderate assessments, however, they admit that a forest Italy is being destroyed every year.
The destructive capacity of modern technology, which grows more and more, can and even tends to lead us to this disaster. The main weapon against him, the main lifeline on which we count, is nothing less than world public opinion. Already awake to the garden of the Earth, she complains, sometimes, based on erroneous arguments, but her complaints the strip already destroyed. Within the most moderate assessments, however, they admit that a forest Italy is being destroyed every year.
The destructive capacity of modern technology, which grows more and more, can and even tends to lead us to this disaster. The main weapon against him, the main lifeline on which we count, is nothing less than world public opinion. Already awake to the garden of Earth, she complains, sometimes, based on erroneous arguments, but her complaints tend to resonate in the world of the rich, indifferent to the voices of the world of the poor.
- Darcy Ribeiro, in the book “Brazil as a problem”. São Paulo: Global Editora, 2016.