Monday, 28 November 2011

Amazonas - South America's 'Heart of Darkness'

It's just over 6,800 miles (almost 11,000 kilometres), as the crow flies (not that a crow would ever fly this distance!) from Zanzibar to Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.  Covering an area that is more than 10 times the size of England and slightly bigger than Mongolia (or ten times the size of the US state of Georgia and slightly smaller than Queensland, Australia), Brazil's Amazonas has a population of 3.5 million people. 

More than half of Amazonas' inhabitants live in the state capital, Manaus, which is a mere 3 degrees south of the Equator and sits at the confluence of two of the Amazon's great tributaries, the rivers Negro and Solimões.  Manaus is almost 1800 miles (or 2900 kilometres) from Rio de Janeiro, which is like travelling from London to the other side of Europe. 

It feels like quite a big task, taking on Amazonas - not only because it encompasses the world's greatest river and largest rain forest, but also because this is my first time to blog about Brazil, a country that has gradually taken its rightful place on the global stage and a place that fascinates me, although I know very little about Brazil and its history. 

Flag of Venezuelan Amazonas
Of course, the Amazon isn't just about Brazil - Peru, Columbia and Venezuela, also have regions or districts called Amazonas.  Whilst I'll mostly be focusing on the Brazilian Amazonas for the purposes of this blog, I'll try to keep an eye to the other Amazonas regions in neighbouring countries. 

Something I fail to understand about Brazil is what happened there before Europeans turned up.  Whilst the western part of South America had the Incan empire and fabulous wealth, I've heard very little about the native tribes who lived in the eastern part of South America, on the Atlantic coast.  Whilst blogging about Paraguay, I learned a lot about the Jesuits and the history of South-Eastern Brazil, but the Amazon is a mystery to me that I'm hoping to make more sense of in the coming weeks.

From what little I've read so far, I can see that early European attitudes towards the native Amazonian tribes were full of racism, feelings of superiority and a belief that the native tribes were 'lazy' and had wasted a great natural gift that God had given to mankind.  The first Portuguese, Spanish and other Europeans who visited the Amazon region, believed that, with proper farming methods, the Amazon could be 'tamed' and made into a productive agricultural area.  Four centuries on and the Amazon rain forest remains untamed. Efforts at making the region economically productive have resulted in ecological devastation on a scale that is almost impossible to fathom. 

Flag of Columbian Amazonas
During the next few weeks, I want to further explore the impact of human activity on the Amazon rain forest.  I want to learn something about the native Amazonians and the history of European colonisation.  I'm also using the Amazon myth as an opportunity to explore themes around feminism.  As usual, I'd like to learn to cook a dish that is popular in the Amazon region or Brazil.  I've already started listening to Brazilian music and I have several books and movies lined up that deal specifically with the Amazon. 

Of course, typing Amazon into a Search Engine, will most likely bring you to the online book seller.  I've used Amazon (the book seller) a lot to find material for this blog and I'm a big fan of theirs, although I only really buy second-hand books, which you can get for as little as 1p (plus postage).  It's particularly useful for buying old editions of guidebooks (I usually buy the Insight guides). 

I used to think that the company was called Amazon, because of it's second-hand book section, ie. circulating already existing books, instead of cutting down trees to print new books.  I realise now that it was a bit naive to think this and that, actually, Amazon's founder just really liked the name.  Perhaps with their growing ebook market and the popularity of the Amazon Kindle, there is an opportunity for the company to adopt a Green agenda. 

Image credits:

All flags are taken from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

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