The Seringueiros: Citizens of the Amazon
When we talk about the amazon and its people, we all immediately think about the indigenous communities that live in the area whose livelihood, resources and culture are under constant threat by modern society and western-styled intensive development. But very few think about other native communities of the area.
The rural dwellers that inhabit the Northern Brazilian Amazon have lived there for several generations. Some of these families from the grandparent to the baby have not seen any other place. For them, the lush green forest of the Amazon is HOME. And they obtain their livelihood from these forests by extracting rubber (seringa) from the rubber trees, manually as you can see in the picture. Hence the name of Seringueiros, known in English as rubber tappers.
Many of them moved to the area to take advantage of the rubber boom at the end of the 1800s beginning of the 1900s. But the story turned sour when the rubber extraction ceased to be profitable in the region.
Ironically, although the rubber tree (Hevea brasilensis) is native to the Amazon, this is THE place in the world where the species has not taken well to grow in plantations (due to a native fungal disease). However, plantations of the rubber tree have thrived elsewhere, namely Asia and other southern estates of Brazil. So the rubber production from these places, arguably killed the golden dream of the Seringueiros of the Amazon.
It almost feels like one of mother’s nature tricks to ensure that the biggest tropical forest of the planet does not get destroyed by mono-culture plantation of its own species. So, in the Amazon the rubber tree only grows in very old forests, as it is one of the highest trees, around 50 m tall.
The truth is that the Seringueiros in the Brazilian Amazon have not had it easy. Since the failed attempts of Henry Ford to grow the rubber plantation in the Amazon (in an area known to this day as Fordilandia); and the success of the rubber coming from the ex-British colonies Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The Seringueiros from the Amazon have found it very hard to earn their living. Despite that, they are kind and happy people.
They stole my heart in my last trip to the Amazon. As the rubber tree in the area only grows in a healthy primary forest, the Seringueiros do depend on healthy and old forests to produce their rubber. For them the forest is life, as one of them told me “if the forests do well, we’d do well”.
I could not help thinking: “Boy do we need people like this in the world, people that can see the real benefits of forests alive… how much we need the Seringueiros!!!” I left the Amazon SOOO inspired to help these people. And they don’t’ want much. All they want is their forest to remain standing, for them and their children to make a sustainable living.
If you want to be part of a global movement to protect Tropical Forests and its people. Join us!! Take our internships, volunteering opportunities or a Forest holiday, whatever of these you do. We will all be helping to keep the forests alive.
Travel for the Forest!!