NOTE: This book, The Amazonia That We Do Not Know, intended always for free distribution, was written originally in Brazilian Portuguese by Milton Claro for the Brazilian Servites and the Servite Order and is translated here by Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM
The sheer size of the Amazon region fools our senses. We are used to seeing her as an immense gift of nature, a tourist paradise, which is now threatened with dismemberment by means of fire and chainsaws. We talk about the level of deforestation, we watch with horror the smoke trails from the forest fires clearly registered on satellite photos, we calculate how many tons of carbon dioxide the forest absorbs each day to help alleviate the green house effect – and often it escapes us, that among this scenery walk people, of flesh and bone, who suffer for the sins from which the forest is a victim.
This year in which the Campaign for Brotherhood is promoting an effort to reach out to our brothers and sisters living in the Amazon region, it’s with great joy that I welcome the publication of this book which presents the problems of the rain forest from the point of view of its inhabitants. They are heroes, be they indigenous people, seringueiros (rubber-tappers), ribeirinhos (river dwellers), or settlers who show us the wounded Amazon as they make their quiet petitions for aid.
May the message of this book help contribute to a better understanding of the problems and concerns of these people, producing concrete initiatives which allow for the full exercise of their rights within a forest which is fully respected.
Salvador, 1 April 2007, Palm Sunday
Most Reverend Geraldo Majella Agnelo
Cardinal Archbishop of Salvador
President of the C.N.B.B.
This book presents in a singular, if rough, way the vision of the inhabitants of the forest, their aspirations, their desire to find the difficult point of equilibrium between their historical role as guardians of the forest – and of all the life that it contains – and the forces that bring to the amazonian the benefits of modern life and of a democratic state governed by the rule of law, principally in the form of better health care and education as well as a minimal level of material comfort. We share all the anxieties facing the amazonian inhabitants and we join them in their struggles.
The time has arrived for a great movement to radically change the paradigm used to develop the Amazon region over the last 40 years, which has already shown its limitations in not producing real benefits for the vast majority for the vast majority of its inhabitants even at an unsustainable environmental cost. Now is the time to create conditions for the birth of a new forest economy that gives economic value to the unique bio-diversity of the Amazon region.
This new model must be based on a better understanding of what is already known and of what still awaits discovery, in a careful intersection between traditional knowledge and the best that science and technology can offer. Brazilian society has to understand that it must massively invest in scientific study of the Amazon in order to translate the wealth present in its bio-diversity into economic opportunities for its people, who keep the forest standing, that is, search for alternatives that both invigorate the economy and are environmentally sustainable.
The eventual success of a new paradigm for the development of the Amazon region will not happen without a strong cultural revival of the values of the amazonian region’s inhabitants and their ties to the forest. This book makes an important contribution to the better understanding of these values.
Carlos A Nobre
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais – INPE
President of the Programa Internacional da Biosfera-Atmosfera (IGBP) and
the author of the Quarto Relatório de Avaliação do IPCC May, 2007
Why do we have to hate and despise each other? There’s enough space in this world for everyone. The earth, which is rich and beautiful, can provide for all our needs. The road of life can lead us to freedom and beauty or it can lead us estray...
Our experiences make us skeptics; our intelligence makes us callous and cruel. We think too much and feel too little. What we need more than knowledge is empathy and tenderness ... without these virtues, life will be violent and all will be lost.
– Charlie Chaplin
I am a descendent of the Yanomami people. I live in the forest where my ancestors lived and I don’t tell the whites that I discovered the forest. I don’t say, “I discovered this land because my eyes fell upon it, and so now it is mine.” It has existed since before time, and before me. I don’t say, “I discovered the heavens!” Neither do I say, “I discovered the fishes, I discovered game.”
These always been there since the beginning of time.
– Davi Kopenawa Yanomami
The Amazon is inhabited by people of great value about whom the rest of Brazil knows very little, and that which they do know about them, they do not know well. Its inhabitants, called amazonians, can be thought of as belonging to one of four principal groups: the indigenous people, the colonos (settlers), quilombolas (the descendants of escaped slaves), and migrants. The colonos can be divided into two subgroups: the seringueiros (rubber tappers) and ribierinhos (the people living along the rivers).
Despite this rich diversity in their origins, all these groups have one trait in common: their struggle to preserve the forest. And it’s not because the forest is beautiful, but rather because the life of everyone of them is tied to the forest, and the forest guarantees them an existence. They know that they need the forest in order to live well and find happiness in their lives.
The Brazilian Amazon region contains 23 million inhabitants in an area of 5.2 million km2
(2.0 million sq.miles), a little more than 4 people/km2 (1.6 people/sq.mile) and is the least inhabited part of Brazil. The world wishes only that every amazonian take care of 22 hectacres of forest in order to preserve the forest for the benefit of our planeet’s 6 ½ billion inhabitants.
A simple task? It would not be that difficult if, along with taking care of the forest, they did not need to defend it against the uncontrolled exploitation of the soil, the wood, the plants and other mineral resources.
Involved in this struggle are also the governments of the states that form the Amazon as well as innumerable federal government agencies and non-govermental agencies (NGOs). And it’s not enough. Amazonia needs every Brazilian to feel personally responsible for its preservation and that every Brazilian be willing to make his/her contribution, be they members of the legislature, government or judiciary, in their roles of legislating, governing and adjudicating, be they voters, using their ballots to force the issue with their elected officials.
Moreover, life in the Amazon has its stories, which paint a picture of a people which is happy, one which has a great love for nature and feels instinctively a duty to help protect the environment.
The stories that we present here are inspired by letters and interviews, all authentic in their essence, collected with the help of the Servants of Mary – missionaries who perform their marvelous work in Acre.
We hope that this work may contribute in some way to improve the reader’s understanding of these beloved brothers and sisters of ours.
With the odds stacked against them in their fight in defense of the forest, the inhabitants of the Amazon need all the help that that you can give. And that’s not all. Scientists from across the world have already alarmingly concluded that the fight to save Amazonia is but an item in a larger picture: life across the whole planet is being threatened by man’s abusive and indiscriminate exploitation of our natural resources – aggravating and violating a delicate ecological equilibrium, whose evolution Nature had wisely administered for hundreds of millions of years.
But why should one care?
Milton Claro, the Author