Further reflections on amazonian environmental history transformations of rivers and strams


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Further reflections on amazonian environmental history transformations of rivers and strams

  1. 1. Further Reflections on Amazonian Environmental History: Transformations of Rivers andStreamsAuthor(s): Hugh Raffles and Antoinette M. G. A. Winkler PrinsSource: Latin American Research Review, Vol. 38, No. 3 (2003), pp. 165-187Published by: The Latin American Studies AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1555454 .Accessed: 06/06/2011 22:19Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=lamer. .Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.The Latin American Studies Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toLatin American Research Review.http://www.jstor.org
  2. 2. FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY:Transformationsof Riversand Streams*Hugh Raffles, Universityof California,SantaCruzAntoinetteM.G.A. WinklerPrins,MichiganStateUniversityAbstract:Despitetheincreasingsensitivityofresearcherstohistoricalandcon-temporarylandscapemanipulationsintheAmazonbasin,thereisstillapowerfulconsensusin bothpopularandscholarlyliteraturesthat,withtheexceptionofpredatorydeforestation,thephysicalenvironmentof theregionis largelyun-modifiedbyhumanintervention.AnemergingbodyofscholarshiphaschallengedthisviewbydescribingwaysthatAmazonianpopulationshavemanagedterres-trialecosystemsona varietyofspatialandtemporalscales.Inthisresearchre-port,wepresentbothnewandpreviouslypublisheddatashowingthatAmazoniansalsointerveneinfluvialsystems,manipulatingriversandstreamstomodifythelandscape.Wearguethatthesepractices,occurringinmanydifferentforms,arewidespreadandcommonplacethroughouttheregion,andthat,takentogetherwiththeemergingevidenceforterrestrialmanipulation,providecompellingrea-sonforafundamentalreassessmentofconventionalviewsofAmazoniannature.INTRODUCTIONIn an important recent article in LARR (36:2), David Cleary (2001)surveyed a grand sweep of what he termed Amazonian "environmen-tal history." The significance of Cleary situating his discussion withinthis subdisciplinary rubric should not be overlooked. In the context of aseries of high-profile popular accounts that have called attention to thesophistication and transformative impacts of the resource management*Oursincerethanksto the residentsof IgarapeGuaribaandIlhaItuqui.Inaddition,forinsightfulcommentsonanearlierversionofthispaper,we aregratefultoBillDenevanandtothethreereviewersfromthisjournal.ThanksalsotoDavidCleary,SusannaHecht,Joe McCann,ChristinePadoch, Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez,FernandoRabelo,MichaelReynolds,BillWoodsand Dan Zarin.Writingof this paperwas facilitatedby facultyresearchfundsgrantedby theUniversityof California,SantaCruz(toRaffles)andfromthe generoussupportof the NationalScienceFoundation,theAssociationof AmericanGeographers,the AmericanAssociationof UniversityWomen,IPAM/ ProjetoVarzea(Santarem)andITC-InternationalInstituteforAerospaceSurveyandEarthSciences(toWinklerPrins).LatinAmerican ResearchReview,Vol. 38, No. 3, October 2003? 2003 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819
  3. 3. 166 LatinAmericanResearchReviewpractices of regional populations (see Associacqo Brasil 500 Anos ArtesVisuais 2000; McEwan, Barreto, and Neves 2001; Mann 2002), Clearyscontribution marks a growing willingness on the part of Amazonianistscholars to historicize a landscape long regarded as inimical to humanintervention, and to do so by emphasizing the agency of the regionsinhabitants.This is a decisive shift. For almost a half century, the influential workof the North American anthropologist Julian Steward and his follow-ers-in particular that of Smithsonian archaeologist Betty Meggers-established Amazonia as the principal ethnographic proving-ground forcultural ecological theories of adaptation that stressed the limits placedon social and cultural "development" by ecological constraint (Meggers1954, [1971] 1996; Steward 1946-50; Steward and Faron 1959; Hamesand Vickers 1983;cf. Balee 1989;Nugent 1981;Roosevelt 1980, 1991).Aswe describe below, although important data that contradicted this posi-tion were long present in the ethnographic and archaeological litera-tures, it is only in the past two decades that researchers have explicitlybegun to theorize alternative histories for the region, and only todaythat this revisionist scholarship is gaining popular currency.In this researchreport,we present both new and previously publishedmaterial on the manipulation of Amazonian landscapes by local popu-lations. We understand these data as contributing to an emergent bodyof work in Amazonianist social scientific scholarship that rejects thenotion of a pristine rain forest and the associated ineffectuality of localpopulations, and instead proposes a more hybrid conception of a "natu-ral-cultural" regional landscape (e.g., Balee 1989, 1998; Denevan 1992,2001, n.d.; Hecht and Posey 1989; Raffles 1999, 2002; Roosevelt 1980,1991;Smith 1995;cf. Demerritt 1994;Haraway 1997; Latour 1993). Partof this argument is the claim that nature is socially constructed as a dis-cursive practice and that the contemporary opposition between natureand culture is historically and culturally specific to post-EnlightenmentEuropean thought (Latour 1993; Strathem 1981; Williams 1980). Morespecifically, however, this body of research insists on the biophysicalmateriality of Amazonian nature, arguing for the recognition of theselandscapes as cultural in an older sense of embodying social labor, ofbeing worked and transformed by humans (cf. Sauer [1925] 1963;Will-iams 1973; Doolittle 1984). It is this realist aspect of the argument thatwe build on and expand in this paper.Recent empirical research suggests that the forests of the Amazonbasin have undergone substantial manipulation and management sincelong before modern development of the region and, indeed, prior to thearrival of Europeans in the New World. Researchers have documentedin detail the long-term manipulation of forest composition and speciesdensity (e.g., Balee 1994;Moran 1996;Roosevelt 1999, 2000), with Balee,
  4. 4. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORY 167for example, estimating that 12percent of Amazonian forest is currentlyof "biocultural"origin (Balee 1989,14). Inbuilding a convincing accountof region-wide, landscape-scale manipulation and transformation, schol-ars point to anthropogenic forests managed for the extraction of par-ticular tree crops (Balee 1994), to trails planted with useful foods bytraveling or semi-nomadic people (Hecht and Posey 1989;Posey 1985),to managed forest islands amidst a dominant savannah landscape (Posey1985, 1992), and to the long-term use of what were once thought to beabandoned swiddens (Denevan and Padoch 1987;Irvine 1989). In addi-tion, studies of the anthropogenic origins of the extensive areas of blackor dark earth soils known as terrapretado indiohave revealed a signifi-cant human contribution to pedogenesis (Smith 1980; Woods andMcCann 1999; McCann, Woods, and Meyer 2001; Glaser et al. 2001;Petersen, Neves, and Heckenberger 2001)and researchershave also iden-tified other types of soil management, including concentric ring agri-culture and in-field burning (Hecht and Posey 1989), sediment trappingin the floodplain (Padoch and Pinedo-Vasquez 1999), and organic mat-ter harvesting (WinklerPrins 1994).So far,this literature has focused almost exclusively on the terrestriallandscape. Apart from the substantial body of research carried out onthe raised and ridged fields of the Venezuelan and Bolivian savannas(Denevan 1966, 1970; Denevan and Zucchi 1978; Erickson 1980, 2000;Erickson, Winkler,and Chandler 1997) that we discuss below, reports ofthe manipulation of rivers and streams in the Amazonianist literaturehave been scattered, limited, and in general expressed without atten-tion to their potential significance. Inwhat follows, we provide evidencethat Amazonians routinely intervene in fluvial systems and that thesechanges modify landscapes at a wide variety of scales. Indeed, we ar-gue that such practices have contributed to dramatic changes to regionallandscapes, ecologies, and social organization in a manner consistentwith what we know of terrestrial interventions.In trying to understand why landscape manipulations of both typeshave for so long remained marginal to the Amazonian literature, it helpsto recognize the particular valence of such practices in a region bur-dened with overdetermining discursive histories of primal nature. Fun-damental to discourse on northern South America since the arrival ofEuropeans in the sixteenth century and the circulation of accounts ofexploration, has been a narrative of local subjection to tropical nature.Notwithstanding the ambivalence and instability of travelers accountsof transoceanic voyaging, the writings of the sixteenth and seventeenthcenturies show Europeans determined to locate native Amazonians inwhat we might call a society of nature (for commentary, see Greenblatt1991;Hulme 1992;Pagden 1993;Slater 1996).Striking continuities acrossthe centuries have prevailed: nineteenth-century theories that explain a
  5. 5. i68 LatinAmericanResearchReviewperceived agricultural backwardness by reference to the indolence-in-ducing effect on race of a too fertile nature correspond closely to thecultural ecological narratives of the late twentieth century that describethe apparently identical social effects of a rather different environment,one now seen as a harsh setting of nutrient-poor soils and inadequateprotein. This is a long and stubborn genealogy in which influential sci-entific and popular narratives construct native Amazonians asboth closeto and subordinate to nature, and explicitly represent the region as aspace of nature, ratherthan of society (Gondim 1994;Nugent 1981,1993;Raffles 2002).A governing trope of such constructions has been the representationof localAmazonians as profoundly passive. Nature-society relationshaveconsistently been cast so as to deny the agency of the local populationsof the region, both indigenous Amazonians and caboclos.lIn this con-text, data on human-induced environmental change are of considerablesignificance and underscore the need for a re-evaluation of standardnarratives of Amazonian social and natural histories.In the remainder of this report, we present evidence of the humanmanipulation of fluvial processes on the floodplain of the Amazon Riverand its tributaries. Though covering only 2 percent of the basin, theAmazon floodplain is about twice the aerial extent of The Netherlands(Eden 1990;Sternberg 1975, 17). As an area of relatively rich plant andanimal resources, it has been of pre-eminent significance to regionalpopulations for centuries, and both the varzea,as the floodplain of theAmazon and its whitewater tributaries is known, and the igap6,flood-plain formed fromblackwater rivers with lower nutrient loads, continueto be characterized by settlement, agriculture, and diverse regimes ofresource extraction (Chernela 1989;Coomes 1992;Padoch et al. 1999).We begin with a description of Raffles research in the Amazon estu-ary where residents of one community have substantially changed thecourse, dynamics, volume, and significance of local rivers and streams.In the section that follows, we describe new data collected byWinklerPrins near Santarem in the Lower Amazon, a site where localpeople take advantage of natural sedimentation processes to create landin the difficult conditions of the floodplain. We then present a generalsurvey of the breadth and variation of Amazonian fluvial manipulationdrawn from additional data of our own as well as from our review of abody of generally poorly known published sources. In the final sectionof the paper we reflect on the broader significance of our findings.1. Caboclos,a local term that refers to Amazonians of rural origin-glossed as "peas-ants" in an earlier literature-is complex and contested. For discussions, see Harris 1998;Nugent 1997.
  6. 6. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORYFigure1 MapofAmazoniaIndicatingLocationsMentionedin theText(CartographybyEllenWhite,MichiganStateUniversity).LARGE-SCALEESTUARINETRANSFORMATIONS:IGARAPtGUARIBA,AMAPA2Research along the northern channel of the Amazon estuary has pro-duced evidence of substantialrecenthumaninterventionsin localflu-viallandscapes.InthecommunityofIgarapeGuariba,locatedfourhoursby motor-launchnortheastfromthe cityof Macapa,residentshave sig-nificantlyenlargedthe main channelof the RioGuariba-a riverthatflows directlyinto the northernchannelof the Amazon estuary-andhave dug a networkof canalsleadingfromit intofloodplainforest.Settlershave carriedout fluvial interventionshere since soon aftertheyfirstarrivedinthelate1950s.3Long-termresidentsdescribetheRioGuaribaof thattimeas a shortandnarrowriver,about15-25m wide atits mouthwhereit met theAmazon;shallow and safeenough forchil-drentowade orswim atlow tide.About2kmfromitsjunctionwith theAmazon,the rivercascadedover a low waterfall.Hunterswould haultheircanoesover oraroundthe rocksof thesefallsto arrivein an openlandscapeof seasonallyflooded grasslanddominatedby the papyrus-like pirf(Cyperusgiganteus).Here, above the falls, thepiriformed a densebarrier,a pirizal,in association with aninga (Montrichardiaarborescens),awoody aroidthatcommonlygrows to a heightof 2 m ormore.ResidentsofIgarapeGuaribadismantledthewaterfallandcutachan-nel throughthe grasslandto reacheconomicallyvaluableforestprod-ucts, game, and agricultural land visible several kilometers to thenorthwestin densevarzeaforest.Workingin teamsof men overseveraldry seasons, they used axes, machetes,and hoes to createan openingabout2 m wide and 1 m deep which they securedand maintainedby2. "Igarap6 Guariba" is a pseudonym.3. For complete accounts, see Raffles 2002.169
  7. 7. 170 LatinAmericanResearchReviewFigure2 RioGuariba(upperriver),1976.Infraredaerialphotograph.CourtesyDanielZarin.repeatedly driving water buffalo through the opening, encouraging theanimals both to compact the soil by trampling and to graze the grassand sapling regrowth.Once the headwaters had been breached and the channel opened, thehuge volumes of water that enter the northern channel of the Amazonestuary with the twice-daily tides rapidly swept soil and vegetation outinto the main river. Without a definable watershed and surrounded byland too flat for effective drainage, the Rio Guariba functioned as a long,narrow inlet, repeatedly washed by the erosive tidal action of the Ama-zon. With the barrier of the waterfall removed and a channel openedinto the low-lying grasslands, the flood of the Amazon poured into theupstream basin, excavating and widening the main channel and enablingtransport to the upstream forest by sail- and motor-boat as well as bycanoe. From this moment on, residents could plant and harvest cropssuch as banana, corn, and watermelon, and collect a range of forest prod-ucts in this upstream area.
  8. 8. AMAZONIAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY 171Figure3 RioGuariba(upperriver),1991.LandSatTMcompositeimage.CourtesyDanielZarin.The landscape within which these activities took place was radicallytransformed. The once narrow mouth of the river is today over 600 mwide and can capsize motor-boats on a windy day. The swampy pirizalhas become a sweeping expanse of water, a "lake"nearly 2 km in diam-eter.The closed upstream forest is now threaded with a traceryof creeks,streams, and broad channels.This transformation is visible in figures 2 and 3. Figure 2, taken in1976, well over a decade after engineering work first began, is the earli-est aerial image available of this area. Rio Guariba (the upper river) isstill relatively narrow and the area upstream where the river fragmentsinto smaller channels is poorly-defined. Compare this to figure 3, a com-posite Landsat TM image on the same scale from 1991.4 Not only is the4. These images are directly comparable. Seasonal variation has been eliminated byusing images from the same months of different years (October/November). Diurnaltidal variation has been controlled for by the reading of exposed mud-flats as water.::..,,... ....".*e ?,, ?~: . .:.~, ..~~~,.~...,,..? ....: ....~,~~~,.:~i~.L-.~,~f-"~~ :;~"......~:... . . . ":.:~? d.,,.f~ .. ;....: .,.;~?j*..~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"tidal variation has been controlled for by the reading of exposed mud-flats as water
  9. 9. 172 LatinAmericanResearchReviewexpansion of the main river channel clearly apparent, but significantchanges are also visible upstream where the river ramifies into the for-est. In this area, channels initially 2 m wide now stretch up to 50 m attheir widest points, and this width can persist for up to 2 km.Some of the streams in this area areentirely new channels. Others aredried or overgrown streambeds reopened by work-teams. Still otherswere once narrow, seasonally impassable passages that have been engi-neered for year-round canoe or motor-launch access. Most, if not all, arethe result of a combination of human labor and the erosive energy of theriver.As with the Rio Guariba itself, such channels were initially managedfor the extraction of high-value timber and oil-seeds but are currentlymore important as access routes to agricultural fields, game and fishinggrounds, and to stands of managed and unmanaged apai(Euterpeoleracea)palms-a resource that has become increasingly valuable in recent years(Brondizio and Siqueira 1997).MAKINGLANDIN THELOWERAMAZON:ITUQUIISLAND,PARAResearch on the floodplain of the Amazon River in the Municipalityof Santarem is demonstrating other types of interventions in the fluviallandscape. On Ituqui, a 21,000 hectare floodplain island 30 km down-stream from the city of Santarem,residents have been manipulating sedi-mentation processes for decades, if not longer. InJanuary,when the riveris rising, people dig channels, called cavados(from the Portuguese verbcavar,to dig), to allow floodwaters to enter backswamp areas locatedbehind the levees that surround the island. The purpose of these activi-ties is to "make land" (aterrar)out of otherwise swampy (and unusable)backswamp areas.People live along the narrow levee that surrounds the island. This isthe highest part of the available land, and on an island in which theannual river flood regime covers most land for several months every 2-3 years, such high levee land is prized (WinklerPrins 1999). The detailsof the flood cycle, such as its height, duration, and the exact timing of itsarrival and recession are variable and unpredictable but can limit thecropping season to 5-6 months. Manioc (Manihotesculenta),the staplecrop, requires a six-month growing season, leaving it vulnerable to fail-ure any year the flood recesses too late or arrives too early. Residentsuse the highest available land for this critical staple, and such land isthereforeatapremium. Thefilling in of backswamp areasis consequentlyof considerable importance.(Daniel Zarin, personal communication). For a comprehensive analysis of Landsat im-ages from this region, see Pereira 1998.
  10. 10. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORY 173Figure4 Mendiggingcavado on ItuquiIsland,January1996(photographbyA.WinklerPrins).People on Ituqui utilize the process of slackwater sedimentation.Flood-waters slow down considerably in the slackwater environmentfound in the backswamp areas. The whitewater Amazon River carriesheavy loads of Andean sediment that fall out of suspension as the flood-waters slow, filling in the area behind the levee over time (Sioli 1951).Researchers estimate that annual sediment deposition could be about 3cm/day along the Amazon River, producing a potentially significantsedimentation of up to 2 m in any flood season (Mertes 1994;171). Mostof these sediments are fine grain silts important for the maintenance ofsoil fertility (Irion 1984).Most anthropogenic channels start out as no more than a trench sev-eral meters across and about 1 m deep. In January,at the onset of theflood season and before the river overtops the levees, work parties typi-cally composed of male family members will open orreopen the entranceto a cavadoby digging a small trench about 1 m deep and 2 to 3 m across(figure 4). The work is done using only hand tools such as shovels andspades. Over a period of decades these channels are enlarged throughthe combined erosive actions of the river and the annual reopening of thechannel entrance by teams of workers. Channels started 40 to 50 yearsago are now as much as 20 m across in places and 2 to 5 m deep.One channel in the community of Sao Benedito on Ituqui Island servesas an example. It was initially dug about fifty years ago at a width of 2 m
  11. 11. 174 LatinAmericanResearchReviewand a depth of 1 m. It was subsequently extended far enough to reach abackswamp areaabout 100m behind thelevee and now reachesbackabout150to 250 m. The areathat startedout as a backswamp is now a relativelyflat open space used for agricultural purposes, especially cropping andpastureland,but alsoas asoccerfield.Suchchannelsarecommon on Ituqui.Another type of channel is also found in the Ituqui area. These chan-nels are shortcuts or navigation channels that provide easy canoe accessbetween the island and the nearby upland bluff area.As the river rises,work parties cut through the maze of lakes and levees in the area tocreate direct and therefore easier access to nearby upland bluff areas.This shortens travel time as well as making the journey safer for canoes,the usual mode of transport.Access to bluffs is becoming ever more important in the Ituqui areaas greater numbers of inhabitants migrate to these sites as a result ofchanges in the regional economy. Jute, a fiber crop used to make sack-ing, was the economic mainstay from about the mid 1930s until the mid1980s. However, with changes in the packaging and transportation ofcoffee and other commodities as well as the elimination of tariffs, theindustry collapsed (Gentil 1988; Homma 1998). Jute grew during theflood season, complementing dry season agriculture and fishing, and itpermitted residents to live and work on the floodplain year-round (Gentil1988;McGrath et al. 1993;Poetzscher 1940). The collapse of the jute in-dustry has left smallholders of Ituqui searching for a new winter activ-ity and one of the main choices is seasonal migration to nearby uplandbluff areas (WinklerPrins 1999, 2002). Interestingly, this activity may bethe return to a pattern of resource use and occupancy that dates frompre-Columbian times (Denevan 1996).THEENVIRONMENTALHISTORYOFAMAZONIANWATERWAYSThe two cases discussed above are illustrative of a set of heteroge-neous but commonplace and widespread practices. In our view, Ama-zonian rivers and streams have long been and continue to be importantsites of interventions at a wide range of scales. As yet, however, there isno systematic survey of anthropogenic landscapes-fluvial or terres-trial-in Amazonia. Nor do we foresee one being undertaken, given theimpracticalities of carrying out an ethno-ecological project of this typeover such a vast area.References in the scholarly literature to fluvial manipulation remaindispersed and rarely substantive, and hence have attracted little atten-tion.5In this section, we offer a partial and preliminary corrective to this5. For the most comprehensive extant account, see Denevan 2001. Balee 1989 providesthe broadest synopsis of data on anthropogenic forests.
  12. 12. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORY 175situation by drawing on bibliographic research, on personal communi-cation with colleagues, and on additional fieldwork of our own to presenta range of examples that indicates the scope and variety of these inter-ventions. In so doing, we hope to sensitize other scholars to such activi-ties and encourage more attention to the transformative practices ofAmazonian populations.Fluvial manipulations occur throughout Amazonia. At the far east-ern edge of the region, on the Rio Preguica in Maranhao, fishermen havedescribed the cutting of afuro (stream) in the 1950s to reduce the dis-tance from the coast to the market town of Barreirinhas (MichaelReynolds, personal communication, May 2000). Not far from here, onMarajo Island in the Amazon estuary, cattle and buffalo ranchers digdrainage trenches and canals, and for centuries have used barragens(bar-rages) and other forms of damming to control the hydrology of this low-lying tidal area(Palmatary 1949,265-266; Roosevelt 1991:24,photographC;Jaime Rabelo, personal communication, September 1996).At the other end of the basin, along the Rio M6a, a tributary of the RioJuruaclose to the Peruvian border with the Brazilianstate ofAcre,cabocloshave cut a series of passages called valas that slice through meanderloops and shorten travel time on a tightly winding river (David Cleary,personal communication, April 2000).Similar shortcuts through the necks of river meanders are a feature ofthe Arapiuns basin near Santarem. There, residents cut passages alongupland streams and rivers by dragging their canoes overland and byclearing earth and vegetation with hoes, scythes, and machetes. Theseare often high-water routes only and may not exist in summer whencanoeists have to follow the rivers meander.Inaddition, residents of the Arapiuns basin cut through above-groundigapovegetation to reduce travel distance for water craftof various types.These routes allow people to enter an area to fish or to reach a house orsettlement, and are maintained by people with machetes as they passthrough. In the summer months, these same routes may function as drytrails (estradas)used for transport by foot and bicycle between villages,and between villages and upland agricultural settlements. The dry sea-son compaction caused by human and animal traffic-particularly thatof cattle-helps maintain the trails (McCann 2001;William Woods, per-sonal communication, March 2000).Upstream of the Arapiuns, on Careiro Island near Manaus, farmersmanage rivers in ways similar to those described above for Ituqui Is-land. Inhis detailed human and physical geography of Careiro,Sternbergdescribes "camposqueforamformadosgrapasa colaboracaoda agua e dohomen" ("fields formed through the collaboration of water andpeople")(Stemberg 1998, 98). Sediment-rich water from the main riverchannel is guided through artificial conduits into backswamp areas in
  13. 13. 176 LatinAmericanResearchRevieworder to fill these with sediments. According to Stemberg, these con-duits (brechas)are about 2 m wide and cut across the levee "imitatingnature" (Stemberg 1998, 98,103).6Raffles (2002) reports anecdotal evidence of widespread small-scalecanal-making along the lower Rio Negro, also near Manaus. Artificialaccess streams in this area are apparently named in acknowledgment ofthe people who created them.Considerable research on fluvial engineering has been carried out inthe Llanos de Mojos of Bolivia, an areaof tropical lowland savanna com-monly included in hydrographic and biogeographical mappings of theAmazon Basin. Recently, for example, the work of archaeologist ClarkErickson and colleagues has provided dramatic evidence of large-scalepre-Columbian water management, specifically raised fields and fishweirs (Erickson 1980, 2000; Erickson, Winkler, and Chandler 1997).Ericksons findings follow the now-classic geographical account ofWilliam Denevan (1966), who draws on both archaeological andethnohistorical sources to document fluvial interventions in this area.Denevan identifies cuts (locally termed cortes)through river meanderloops as well as canals that run adjacent to raised causeways. AlfredMetraux, writing in Julian Stewards HandbookofSouthAmericanIndians(1948, 414-16), also drew attention to these features:Some of the wide causeways connectingthe Mojovillages remainedabovewaterlevel duringtheannualfloods.Inthedryseason,theditchesfromwhichthe soil had been takento makethe embankmentsformedcanalsthatthe na-tives navigatedin canoes,especiallyatharvesttimewhen theybroughthometheircrops.One of these canals,2 km. long and 6 to 7 m. wide, connectstheMamoreRiverwith the UrupuruRiver.Anothercanal5 km. long and 2 m.wide, unitestheChumanoandSanJuanRiver,fromwhichanothercanalleadsto the ItonamaRiver.Denevan points out thatthe channels seen by modem researchersmayhave been createdby native Amazonians on their own account or,duringthe seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, under the authority of the Jesuitmissions (1966,74-6). ErlandNordenskiold, aSwedish anthropologistwhofirstdrew attention to the canals in eastern Bolivia in the early years of thelast century, argues that the practice of canal-making was passed fromindigenous Amazonians to theirJesuit administrators (1916, 144-7).6. Using similar techniques, farmers on the Orinoco floodplain in Venezuela plant adouble-layer tree and grass barrieraround agricultural plots on levees to createslackwaterenvironments that force the deposition of river sediments in the same way as residentsof Ituqui and Careiro Islands. During the annual flooding of the Orinoco, fine-texturedsediments are deposited in the slackwater environment behind the barriers after thecoarse textured material falls out of suspension (Barrios et al. 1994; Barrios 1996). Thetree/grass barrier acts as a filter, preventing the coarsest particles from being depositedon these plots.
  14. 14. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORY 177Like Metraux, Denevan identifies "river-connecting canals" that "fa-cilitate water travel by joining different river systems or lakes orby con-necting areas of settlement with navigable streams" (1966, 74, Plates 9aand 10;n.d.). These canals vary in length from just a few meters to oneof 120 km (Pinto Parada 1987, 233, 269). Canals of this type have beendocumented atvarious locations inAmazonia. Nordenskiold (1916,153-55), for example, cites correspondence from his colleague Teodor Koch-Griinberg suggesting that the lower reaches of the famous CasiquiareCanal linking the Amazon (via the Rio Negro) and Orinoco river-sys-tems may have been opened by Arawak labor. "In regard to theCasiquiare," wrote Koch-Griinberg:Itis possiblethatthebeginningof thiscanalis man-madefromtheOrinocofora shortstretch,perhapsto Carip6ora littlefurtherdown stream.TheentrytotheCasiquiarewas earlierverynarrow.Severalyearsagoonecouldstillsee thesteepbarranca[highbank]wheretherightbankis brokenthrough.7A further river-connecting canal is perhaps the best documented ofall. From 1821-23 a local landowner in the small town of Igarape-Miri,south of the city of Belem, organized a team of slaves to dig a channellinking the Rio Igarape-Miri and the Rio Moju. The canal was activelyused as a sheltered route for trade between Belem and the rubber andBrazil nut groves on the Rio Tocantins, and a number of nineteenth-century travelers-including the BritishnaturalistsAlfred Russel Wallaceand Henry WalterBates-recorded their passage (Bates [1863] 1892, 58;Wallace [1853] 1911,37). Despite enduring periods of neglect, the canalis today a relatively busy waterway. A recent history of the municipalityof Igarape-Miri reveals that during the digging of the canal, the barrierbetween the two rivers collapsed prematurely and the flood swept eigh-teen slaves to their deaths (Lobato 1985, 132-33).Although the Canal de Igarape-Miri was the most important artifi-cial waterway in eastern Para, it was only one of several such officiallysponsored projects. Eladio Lobato shows that local and provincial gov-ernment officials were preoccupied with maintaining free access througha significant number of canals and streams in this area during the sec-ond half of the nineteenth century. Relatively large-scale works werefinanced throughout this period. In 1849, along with funds for the canalat Igarape-Miri, money to maintain canals was provided to the town ofSalinas; in 1899 funds were set aside to clear not only the Canal deIgarape-Miri, but streams at Suruu and at Soure on Maraj6 Island, andto drain a swamp close to the town of Porto de Moz near the mouth ofthe Rio Xingu. Lobato details ten such projects in the municipality ofIgarape-Miri alone between 1841 and 1899 (Lobato 1985, 126-33).87. Our thanks to William Denevan for this translation.8. For a more recent state-sponsored canal project, see the description of the impor-
  15. 15. 178 LatinAmericanResearchReviewWhile these formal engineering projectsundertaken in Paramay seemdistinct fromthe "non-state"(Scott1998)practices thatwe have describedelsewhere in Amazonia, they point to the familiarity of fluvial interven-tion, that is, its status as normal, rather than exceptional practice in theregion.9As Nordenskiold claimed was the case with the canals built byJesuits in Bolivia, these relatively highly capitalized undertakings drewon the long-standing example of indigenous management. Indeed, incertain circumstances state agencies have explicitly sought to mimic in-digenous and caboclofluvial management while attempting to increaseits scale.Forexample, in 1950,the Instituto Agronomico do Norte (AgronomicInstitute of the North) initiated a project that sought to utilize naturalsedimentation processes such as those used today on Ituqui (Sioli 1951).The goal was to "forcethe Amazon to deposit part of its load of erodedsoils and fertilizing elements midway on its path to the sea to createmade land of high fertility" (Camargo 1958, 15). Through the enlarge-ment and creation of several channels cut through the river levee, thestate agency aimed to increase the area of cultivable land by filling inLago Grande, a large floodplain lake on the left bank of the AmazonRiver across from Ituqui Island. By 1953 several of the channels betweenthe Amazon River and Lago Grande had been dug out and straight-ened. The largest measured about 30 m across, 6 m deep, and 4 km inlength (Sternberg 1995a, 117, 143). As Sternberg observed, the Institutewas attempting to achieve "what vdrzeafarmers ... accomplish on theirproperty: the diversion of silt-laden floodwaters into low-lying tracts"(Sternberg 1995a, 143). Unlike on Ituqui and Careiro, however, the op-eration was unsuccessful. Due to the much larger scale of the project,instead of sedimentation occurring, the powerful inflow of water fromthe Amazon caused accelerated erosion and the unforeseen expansionof the lake. Despite this unintended outcome, the channels today servefor transportation between the Amazon River and the communities onthe bluff side of Lago Grande, significantly shortening the voyage to thetown of Monte Alegre from upstream locations (see figure 5).In the lower reaches of the Amazon, it has been extractive loggingratherthan agriculture that has driven such larger-scale fluvial manage-ment. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Dutch company BRUMASA(Bruynzeel Madeiras S/A) exercised a powerful hold over the estuarinetant route opened by government mechanical diggers at Anajas on Maraj6 in Luxardo(1977), 65-67.9. We intend the term "non-state" to be understood as suggestive rather than rigor-ously analytic. We do not wish to imply that the localities in which these activities tookplace are outside the domain of national or local states; only that the projects themselveshave been undertaken without direct state sponsorship or direction.
  16. 16. AMAZONIANENVIRONMENTALHISTORY 179AmazonRiver*..j_.;W:. :7Figure5 LagoGrandechannelfromtheair,January2000 (photographbyA. Winkler-Prins).timber industry. BRUMASA operated through concession, contract pur-chase, and also by carrying out logging operations of their own. Usingmechanical diggers and dredgers, they cut many kilometers of accesschannels in the municipality of Breves on Maraj6,and they also encour-aged similar activities on the parts of suppliers (Raffles 2002). One inde-pendent supplier on the nIhade Gurupa, for example, opened a 3 kmlong, 2.5 m wide logging canal by hand in the mid 1980s.10The most spectacular interventions have-perhaps thankfully-not asyet progressed beyond the planning stage." Weknow of two examples ofAmazon fluvial engineering projects that appear to have sprung fullyformed from the technocrats drawing-board, geopolitical schemes withlittle reference to Amazonian knowledges or rural ways of life. The firstwas proposed by Franklin Roosevelts Industrial Mission to Brazil10.As we have alreadyseen in IgarapeGuariba,accessto timberon the estuaryhasalso been a motive for canal-makingby cabocloand landownerextractivistsactingassuppliers to local and regionalmarkets(Raffles1999;also see Anderson et al. 1999;MacedoandAnderson1993).11.Wehave chosen not to include large-scaledam projectsin our review.Thoughtheseareundoubtedlyaparticularlydramaticformof fluvialtransformation-and onethathas been imposed with baleful resultsin the region-we have restrictedour ac-countto the less familiaractivitiesof canal-diggingand channelmanipulation.Foraneffectiveintroductionto the historyof statedam projectsin the BrazilianAmazon,seeCummings1990.
  17. 17. 180 LatinAmericanResearchReviewduring WorldWarII.This Inland Waterways Projectwas to be a series oflocks and canals linking the Amazon with the Oficina oilfields of the Ven-ezuelan Orinoco by a route sheltered from the German Atlantic subma-rine fleet. The projectwon the support of Nelson Rockefellers Office ofthe Coordinator of Inter-AmericanAffairs but was shelved once the Bra-zilian navy established control of the coastal shipping routes (Colby andDennett 1995, 138, 154).Even grander,and still apparently on the table inthe context of the MERCOSULeconomic zone and the current soybeanboom, is the persistent scheme to build a continuous waterway linkingtheCaribbeanto the Riode laPlatavia the OrinocoandAmazon-a projectfantastic enough to have led engineers to dream of using nuclear explo-sions to blast trenches through the forest (Stemberg 1995b, 107-8).CONCLUSIONSWe would not want to gloss the important distinctions between thevalas of Acre and these grand schemes for a transregional internal wa-terway. The differences are not simply of scale, but of institutional con-text, social relations, and ecological impact. Inconception, however, theseand the other fluvial interventions described in this paper share astraightforward and familiar instrumentalism-a quality well describedby Nordenskiold (1916, 147-48):Itis very easy to understandhow people cameupon theidea of digging thesecanals.Theriversthemselvescutnew courses,theso-called"cortes."In 1908Itraveledon theRioChimore(atributaryof theRioChaparein Bolivia).Inoneplaceonlyafewmeterswerelackingfortherivertotakeanentirelynew course,therebyshorteninga canoetripby a fullday.Forthosewho liveby theriverandmustoftentravelon it,andwho con-stantlyexperience,asexertingasitis,paddlinguparapidlyflowingstream,theriverin such a placemaybe helped to breakthrough.If one travelson a riverhere,forexamplethe RioGuapore,greatdiscussionsalwaysoccur"underthehelm"on whetherone couldbreaka shorterpassage,whetherthereis enoughwaterpresenton this orthatplaceto go through.Sometimesthisis attemptedon corteswhere thereis not enough water,and then one must pull the canoeacross.Suchanactivityis thestartof a canaltrench.Inthis and similarpassages, Nordenskiold effectively captures a varzeahabitusthat resonates with findings from our own research. The inti-mate everyday relationship with rivers that Nordenskiold points to isassociated with both a complex symbolic universe (see, for example,Descola 1994;Motta-Maues 1993;Slater 1994) and a notably instrumen-tal attitude to landscape management. It is the latter in which we areinterested here. Wehave been strongly impressed during our fieldworkwith the quotidian character of fluvial interventions. In our experience,Amazonians consider the logic of these interventions-the practice ofaltering the course of a river or stream or of building a canal-to be a
  18. 18. AMAZONIAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY 181question of technical pragmatics. As we have seen repeatedly, and asothers have argued in relation to terrestrial landscapes, the putativelyconstraining environmental conditions of Steward and Meggers "tropi-cal forest culture area" are not only uneven and heterogeneous but areroutinely subject to human intervention and transformation (Balee 1989;Roosevelt 1980;Viveiros de Castro 1996).Yet even Nordenskiold, convinced as he was of this pervasive an-thropogenic pragmatism, was willing to state categorically that "exca-vated canals occur in no other place except Mojos" (1916, 153). And ahalf century later, Denevan could still write that "no one has verifiedthe existence of artificial canals or cortes anywhere in the Orinoco andAmazon basins other than in Mojos" (1966, 77).Fortunately, this is no longer the case. The corollary,of course, is thatit should also no longer be viable to conceive of Amazonia as primarilya space of nature. Nevertheless, the debates around biodiversity thatdominate international discussion of the regions future conventionallyimagine nature as a domain ontologically independent of the human,erasing Amazonians role in making the rain forest nature that is nowsuch a potent transnational object of desire. In a contemporary contextin which regional politics is conducted under the sign of a global envi-ronmental emergency, the invisibility of the anthropogenic landscapesof Amazonia has important material effects. Inpolicy circles and in muchassociated scientific research, Amazonian people are seen as a periph-eral and largely negative component of a natural landscape, a landscapevalued precisely for its non-human nature (Nugent 1993). In these con-texts and in a great deal of popular analysis, Amazonia is often imag-ined as a wilderness-a culturally empty natural space-an identity thatnecessarily casts people as invasive and contaminant (Cronon 1996;Slater1996).As a result, it has been difficult for local activists and sympatheticscholars to draw attention to critical social questions-such as chronicinequalities of land distribution and endemic political violence-thathave often driven environmental degradation. While a small number ofindigenous groups have been able to successfully, if ambivalently, posi-tion themselves as environmentalists at one with the wilderness (Conklinand Graham 1995), this framing of Amazonian politics has simulta-neously marginalized other regional populations, most notably caboclosand colonists. In this light, Candace Slater, tracing ways in which par-ticular naturalizing tropes have been tied to the region across the centu-ries, argues that "the tendency to see the Amazon-or Amazoniannature-as a kind of Eden fosters a skewed and largely static approachtoward a multi-layered and decidedly fluid reality" (1996, 114).More precisely, we would argue that the evidence for human ma-nipulation of landscapes in the past and today requires a reconsidera-tion of key aspects of the politics of Amazonian conservation, beginning
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