Although the majority of people in the Amazon live in the cities and towns, there are still many indigenous groups living in the forest, some who have no contact with the ‘outside’ world and live in a harmonic environment. Rainforests are the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, as well as being the home to an estimated 50 million indigenous forest people. These people depend on the rainforest for their way of life. It provides them nearly everything from shelter and food to tools and medicine. The people living in the forest make practical and sustainable use of the forest. It also plays an important role in their spiritual and cultural life.
Other than hunting, gathering wild fruits and nuts and fishing, each family usually has two gardens. One is a small house garden which consists of a variety of plants and the second is a large plantation planted with bananas, manioc or rice. They use a sustainable farming method called shifting cultivation. First they clear a small area of land and burn it (slash and burn). Then they plant different types of plants, to be used for food and medicines. After a few years, the soil has become too poor to allow for more crops to grow and weeds start to take over. They then move to a nearby un-cleared area.
This land is traditionally allowed to re-grow for 10-50 years before it is farmed again. Shifting cultivation is still practiced by those indigenous groups who have access to a large amount of land. However, with the growing number of non-indigenous farmers and the shrinking rainforest, other groups, especially in Indonesia and Africa, are now forced to remain in one area. The land becomes a wasteland after a few years of overuse, and cannot be used for future agriculture.
Indigenous people respect the forest that, until the present, has protected them from outsiders and given them everything they need. They live in a sustainable existence. This means that they use the land without harming the plants and animals that also call the rainforest their home.
Indigenous people get all their resources primarily from the forest. Other than their food they get their clothing, tools, medicines and shelter form there. This is part of their culture and way of life, as their ancestors also lived in this way.
Children do not go to school however they learn about the forest through their parents and other members of the community. They are taught how to survive in the forest. This usually includes how to hunt and fish. They are also taught which plants are useful as medicines or food. Some of these children know more about the rainforests than scientists who have been studying rainforests for many years.
There are many different groups. But one example is the ‘Maku’ group. A daily life of someone in the ‘Maku’ village:
The women wake up at sunrise and prepare the men’s breakfast. Each meal is communal and is eaten at the leader’s house. After the men have eaten breakfast they depart either alone or in pair’s depending on what prey they saw the day before. After they have left the women and children eat and soon after go to the swiddens to harvest and replant manioc. They return around midday and prepare manioc flour, bread and porridges. At about three in the afternoon the men return with what they have caught and hand it over to their wives. Each woman cooks at her own fireplace but the meal is communal and held in the leaders house. The men eat first and then the women and children. After this three or four meals follow until they sleep, this is at around 9p.m.
Indigenous people have a very strong culture and still practice it. One of the rituals are when a young boy or girl go into adulthood the hair on their head is plucked out by other people. Even though they are given a medicine to make them unconscious it is still very painful. Anybody can take part in this ritual.
Each group has the same basic believes but then differs when it comes to rituals and culture. In the ‘Karaja’ group the role of men and women are very important. The men are responsible for defending the territory, clearing swiddens, domestic and collective fishing trips and formalized discussions in the men’s plaza. Women are responsible for the education of the children until the age of initiation for the boys but permanently responsible for the girls. They also do the domestic tasks such as cooking, collecting swiddens products and arranging the marriage of the children (usually done by the grandmothers) and also the painting and decoration of the children during rituals and the manufacture of ceramic dolls.
When a baby is born the baby is washed with warm water and it face is painted with red dye. During the infancy the baby spends most of its time with its mother or grandmothers. However when a boy reaches the age of seven or eight his lower lip is pierced. When he reaches the age of ten to twelve years- the boy takes part in a large male ritual called Big House or Hetohoky. The boys are painted with blue/black genipap and remain confined for seven days in a ritual house called the Big House. The hair is cut off and the boy is called giant river otter or jyre.
During the first menstrual period of a girl, the maternal grandmother looks after her and she is confined in isolation. Her public re-appearance is when she is elaborately decorated with painted body designs and feather adornments in order to dance with the Aruanas. This is highly rated by the men. The marriage is ideally arranged by the grandmother-preferably from the same village. Once married the couple life at the girls mothers house. When the family number becomes numerous the couple makes their own house.
They also have many myths. For example the ‘Canela’ believe that the origin of fire and corn came about like this: a boy brought fire for his people by stealing it from the hearth of a female jaguar. Star woman fell in love with a Canela and so came down to live for awhile among his family members. During her stay she told them that corn would grow fin the forest and she taught them that it was good to eat. This is the origin of the gardens. She then returned to the sky with her mate and they transformed into twin starts which we know as Castor and Pollux. These are just one of the myths which have now become the background of these people.
Nutrient cycling is an important part of the ecosystem. It is added into the ecosystems in many ways:
Leaching- the nutrients are removed by the movement of the water.
Harvesting- when the trees get harvested the nutrients they contained get removed. The amount of nutrients removes depends on how the harvesting is done.
Atmosphere- nutrients contained in precipitation and dusts are deposited on the forest site.
Weathering of parent material- the slow process of breaking down rock and mineral gets nutrients released in the soil.
Due to human activity the life of these people are being altered. There are also a lot of environmental issues which affect the rainforest and the people living in it. This includes forest fires, diseases and landslides. The changes of environment are depending on the region and the climate. Due to all of this the lives are being changed and more recently in a major way. The cultures they had a long time ago are being lost. Before they lived depending on their surroundings and what they had and also they enjoyed it. But now they are slowly depending on tourists for some of their income and will most probably become completely dependant on tourists.
Spear fishing- it is used when setting a net would be impractical, such as near trees. The spearhead is three pointed and barbed. A string is attached at the end of the spear so the fisherman can get the fish after a successful throw.
Sugar cane pressers- sugar cane is grown primarily for the juice and then fermented to make a type of rum called ‘aguardiente’.
Courtney from Study Moose
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