Saturday, 7 January 2012

Amazonas - Pichocu rü iperütogü

I'm going to finish my blogging about Amazonas with a greeting from the Ticuna language, which is spoken by about 25,000 people in Brazil.  Pichocu rü iperütogü means 'welcome' and, despite the fact that this is my last blog post about the Brazilian state of Amazonas, I feel that I'm just at the beginning of my Amazon journey, as possible themes for the future branch out in all directions. 

A summary of the themes so far

In the month or so that I've been blogging about Amazonas, I've learned about the History of the Amazon region and the fight for survival faced by its indigenous peoples.  I've learned about Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female President and I've learned about the many tributaries of the Amazon, mighty rivers in their own right.  I learned about the music of Brazil and the importance of rubber in everyday items around the world.  This month I taught myself how to make Peixe Assado com Farofa - cooking a dish from the region is always one of my favourite forms of research! 

Other themes

Other themes that I would like to explore further, at a later date, are:

Paradise, or the Garden of Eden

A comparison of the world's biggest forests/jungles
Jiu Jitsu, which is incredibly popular in Amazonas!
The symbolism of the Southern Cross
The different Amazonian tribes and their languages
The Garden of Eden
The Tordesillas Treaty, dividing the world between Spain and Portugal
The myth of El Dorado
The Jaguar
The Madeira-Mamore Railway
The Amazon River dolphins
The story of Forlandia

Other research

As part of my research I read three books:

The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon was written by Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn.  It's a really interesting book, but quite heavy-going and academic with a wealth of information about the history of the Amazon region.  One of main themes that the book addresses is the danger of romanticising the Amazon and the natural world. 

Hecht and Cockburn argue that our ideal vision of places like the Amazon are as big, empty, pristine forests, protected from the environmental destruction of man.  Often in our attempts to save the environment, we don't really consider man as part of that environment and this is something, the book argues strongly, that we shouldn't lose sight of.  The Amazon has suffered terrible environmental damage from rubber extraction, gold mining etc., but there has also been a human price, with the loss of population and culture amongst the Amazon's tribes.  The ideal picture that many of us hold in our imaginations - a 'big, empty forest with no people' has major implication for the Amazon's indigenous tribes, who have been living there for hundreds of years. 

Book covers by me
I also read a travelogue called The River of Singing Fish by Polish-born writer and adventurer, Arkady Fiedler.  Despite the interesting title, the book itself was a bit dry, full of an affected personification of the Amazon's animals, it also had a thin veneer of racism that might have been acceptable when the book was first published in 1935.  It was mildly amusing, but I wouldn't really recommend it.

I also read a novel called At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen, which I would recommend.  It tells the story of a missionary couple and their child, who travel to a remote Amazon tributary in Peru, in an effort to convert the (fictional) Niaruna tribe to Christianity.  Another major character in the novel is a 'soldier of fortune' called Moon, an American adventurer of Native American heritage.  The novel explores the tensions between the missionaries and their misguided attempts at communicating with the Niaruna, but also shows a parallel spiritual journey of Moon, who goes native and ends up living with the Niaruna and adopting their customs.  It's a really interesting book and I wish I had more time to blog about it!  Apparently there is a movie version, but I couldn't get my hands on it.

As well as reading, I watched Bruce Parry's TV series Amazon, which was really interesting as an overview of the whole region.  I also watched John Boorman's The Emerald Forest starring his son, Charlie Boorman who plays a young man kidnapped, as a boy, by an indigenous tribe and brought up in their culture.  I thought it was a really interesting movie, although the depiction of the 'bad tribe' was a bit simplistic. 

Dinner Party Trivia

I've learned some interesting facts along the way, which I'll add to my growing repository of dinner party trivia!  I learned that:

- The Amazon contains 1/5 of the world's fresh water
- Uruguay used to be Brazil's most southernmost state, known as Cisplatina
- Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888
- the current native 'Indian' population in Brazil is around 300,000 people
- the term 'Rice Christian' is used, pejoratively, to describe people who convert to Christianity for economic or food gain
- Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug that is used ceremonially by Amazon tribes people
- Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, means 'Mother of the Gods'
Women dancing by Gustavo Morejon
- Amazonian tribes include the Kalopalo, Tembe, Timbira, Guajajara, Omagua, Mayoruna, Tapajos, Txukahamei, Suya, Mundurucu, Kayapo, Apinage, Craho, Yanomami and many others
- Roger Casement, the Irish patriot, exposed the barbaric enslavement of indigenous tribes people on the Putumayo River in 1912
- there are an estimated 5 million species living in the Amazon region
- palynology is the study of pollen, an important component in paleoecology
- some of the Amazon's tribes believe that fire was stolen from the Gods by the Jaguar, which is similar to the European Promethean myth
- an epiphyte is a plant that grows on top of another one (orchids often do this), without feeding off it
- successional vegetation refers to sun-loving plants that pop up in the places where trees are felled
- Brazilian laws which are referred to as pra ingles ver (for the Englishman to see) are laws which are made to please foreigners and which the government has no intention of enforcing

Image credits:

The reproduction of Paradise or the Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach the Elder is from Wikicommons and is in the public domain.

The wonderful image of the tribes women dancing is by flickr member Gustavo Morejon, who is a blogger and photographer from Ecuador.  You can find out more about Gustavo's work on his website. Thanks to Gustavo for sharing this image with us using the Creative Commons license. 

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