Recommended travel guides on Brazil:
The Amazon's indigenous people
The Amazon has a long history of human settlement. Contrary to popular belief, sizeable and sedentary societies
of great complexity existed in the Amazon rainforest [2005 article | Amazon Civilization Before Columbus]. These societies produced pottery, cleared sections of rainforest
for agriculture, and managed forests to optimize the distribution of useful species. The notion of a virgin Amazon
is largely the result of the population crash following the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century.
Studies suggest that 11.8% of the Amazon's terra firme forests are anthropogenic in nature resulting from the careful
management of biodiversity by indigenous people. However, unlike current cultivation techniques, these Amazonians
were attuned to the ecological realities of their environment from five millennia of experimentation and understood
how to sustainably manage the rainforest to suit their needs. They saw the importance of maintaining biodiversity
through a mosaic of natural forest, open fields, and sections of forest managed so as to be dominated by species
of special interest to humans.
Many of these populations existed along whitewater rivers where they had good means of transportation, excellent
fishing, and fertile floodplain soils for agriculture. However, when Europeans arrived, these were the first settlements
to be affected since Europeans used the major rivers as highways to the interior. In the first century of European
presence, the Amerindian population was reduced by 90%. Most of the remaining peoples lived in the interior of
the forest: either pushed there by the Europeans, or traditionally living there in smaller groups.
The period of time from Pizarro's conquest of the Incan empire until the end of the Brazilian rubber boom around
the beginning of the first world war. The Spanish and Portuguese, in the name of the Catholic religion with blessing
from popes, started the bloodshed. For centuries, indigenous populations suffered greatly from gross brutality and atrocities.
AMERICAN FOREST PEOPLES TODAY
Today, despite the population decimation, natives peoples still live in American rainforests, although virtually
all have been affected by the outside world. Instead of wearing traditional garb of loin cloths, most Amerindians
wear western clothes and many use metal pots, pans, and utensils for everyday life. Some groups make handicrafts to sell to the boatloads of tourists that pass through, while others make a routine trip to the city to bring foods
and wares to market. Almost no native group obtains the majority of their food by traditional nomadic hunting and
gathering. Nearly all cultivate foods with hunting, gathering, and fishing serving as a secondary or supplementary
food sources. Usually a family has two gardens: a small house garden with a variety of plants, and a larger plantations
which may be one hectare in area planted with bananas, manioc, or rice. These plantations are created through the
traditional practice of slash and burn, a method of forest clearing that is not all that damaging to the forest
if conducted in the traditional manner.
Today almost no forest Amerindians live in their fully traditional ways. Perhaps only a few small groups in the
Amazon basin can still claim to do so.
Indian social mobilization of American indigenous peoples has attained the highest organization of any rainforest
region. Forming ethnic organizations is one way to protect themselves, their culture, and their precious natural
forest resources. Amerindians have faced a long, bitter battle against development of their land by outsiders and
today these organizations monitor these incursions on their lands.
Today Brazil is slowly taking steps to recognize indigenous land rights. 62% of all indigenous land claims, covering
11% of Brazil (100 million hectares-396,000 square miles) have been demarcated as permanent legal title for native
peoples. The process has been slow, but Brazil has plans to turn more land over to the indigenous population.