Rainforest Cowboys

Rainforest Cowboys: The Rise of Ranching and Cattle Culture in Western Amazonia

JEFFREY HOELLE
Copyright Date: 2015
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/761346
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  • Book Info
    Rainforest Cowboys
    Book Description:

    The opening of the Amazon to colonization in the 1970s brought cattle, land conflict, and widespread deforestation. In the remote state of Acre, Brazil, rubber tappers fought against migrant ranchers to preserve the forest they relied on, and in the process, these "forest guardians" showed the world that it was possible to unite forest livelihoods and environmental preservation. Nowadays, many rubber tappers and their children are turning away from the forest-based lifestyle they once sought to protect and are becoming cattle-raisers or even caubois (cowboys). Rainforest Cowboys is the first book to examine the social and cultural forces driving the expansion of Amazonian cattle raising in all of their complexity. Drawing on eighteen months of fieldwork, Jeffrey Hoelle shows how cattle raising is about much more than beef production or deforestation in Acre, even among "carnivorous" environmentalists, vilified ranchers, and urbanites with no land or cattle. He contextualizes the rise of ranching in relation to political economic structures and broader meanings to understand the spread of "cattle culture." This cattle-centered vision of rural life builds on local experiences and influences from across the Americas and even resembles East African cultural practices. Written in a broadly accessible and interdisciplinary style, Rainforest Cowboys is essential reading for a global audience interested in understanding the economic and cultural features of cattle raising, deforestation, and the continuing tensions between conservation and development in the Amazon.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76815-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 THE JOURNEY TO ACRE
    (pp. 1-20)

    Brazilians have colorful ways of describing the Amazonian state of Acre (fig. 1.1). Situated on the border with Peru and Bolivia in the far western corner of Brazil, Acre is so “out there” in the national imagination that it is referred to as the place “where the wind turns around” and “where Judas lost his boots.” In the megacities of São Paulo and Rio, they told me, “O Acre não existe” (Acre does not exist). Acreans sometimes even mumble this to themselves, with a sigh. Those who can imagine Acre see in their minds the primordial forest and Indios, but...

  7. CHAPTER 2 THE EXPANSION OF CATTLE RAISING IN ACRE
    (pp. 21-36)

    Prior to 1975, less than 1 percent of the Amazon region had been deforested (Moran 1993). This number has grown to 14.5 percent in recent years. The vast majority of the nearly seventy-five million hectares of deforested lands now serve as cattle pastures (IBGE 2008). The initial expansion of cattle into the Brazilian Amazon in the 1970s and 1980s was limited mostly to large-scale ranches in the eastern Amazon states of Pará and Mato Grosso, and was the result of land speculation and government credit and subsidies (Hecht 1993; Mahar 1989; Schmink and Wood 1992). In areas of forest extractivism,...

  8. CHAPTER 3 RUMINATIONS ON CATTLE ECONOMIES AND CATTLE CULTURES
    (pp. 37-53)

    Jatobá, luanna, and espimar rocha live amid the forests of São Cristovãoseringalin the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve. When I met them in 2007 they had no cattle, but the next year I visited they had a white bull. Over time I witnessed the growth of their affection for this bull, named “Tchoa.” The bull frequently stuck his head through the kitchen door looking for salt, which he licked out of their hands or from small heaps poured on the front step (fig. 3.1). Whenever he spotted one of them emerging from the forest, he lumbered over and stood...

  9. CHAPTER 4 IDEOLOGIES OF NATURE AND HUMAN–ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS
    (pp. 54-71)

    Two houses on Avenida Epaminondas in Rio Branco are separated by another. One belongs to Sorocaba, a dedicated urbancauboiwho embodies many of the fundamental features of cattle culture. His truck can often be seen parked on the sidewalk in front of the padlocked gate set in the walls that surround his house. The interior area is similar to others in the city: it is covered in tiles from the driveway to the courtyard, around the pool, and on the little, shaded bar and grill in the back corner. There is no form of vegetation in his yard, except...

  10. CHAPTER 5 THE RANCHERS: SMOOTH HANDS, PROGRESS, AND PRODUCTION
    (pp. 72-90)

    In the entryway of the Library of the Forest in Rio Branco, there is a dramatic wall display entitled “O Acre Como um Pasto de Boi” (Acre as a cattle pasture). It chronicles social confl ict and environmental destruction along the Acrean frontier in the 1970s and 1980s. In the middle of the exhibit is a near-life-size image of apistoleiro, who stands in front of a ranch gate with a machine gun in his hands (discussed in the first chapter). His eyes and the top of his face are shaded by the cowboy hat on his head. The hat...

  11. CHAPTER 6 THE CITY AND THE CONTRI
    (pp. 91-110)

    On most Sundays, and other days and times that follow no discernible pattern, my neighbor cranks up hissertanejamusic.¹

    One minute, stadium-fillingsertanejaduos strum their guitars and harmonize about falling in love, looking for love, losing love, and bull riding. The next minute, romantic ballads once heard by a generation through the radio waft over the walls of our street.

    He sprinkles in some music from the old days, folk songs about the simple joys of rural life coupled with sharp criticisms about the changing times.

    He even has a CD composed entirely of a cowboy blowing on...

  12. CHAPTER 7 HERE’S THE BEEF: SYMBOL, SUSTENANCE, AND HAMBURGER CONNECTIONS
    (pp. 111-127)

    It was midmorning on a Saturday in June in western Amazonia, and the mist had long since burned off the forest, the chickens had become sluggish, and the million little sounds of the rainforest morning had died down.¹ Jatobá, Luanna, their son, Espimar, and I closed up the house and headed out for thechurrasco, or barbecue.

    We left the clearing that surrounded Jatobá and Luanna’s house on a little path into the forest. It felt like it was suddenly evening, as the heat and light of the blazing sun were muted by the canopy overhead. Fifteen-foot-wide trees went straight...

  13. CHAPTER 8 RUBBER-TAPPER AND COLONIST TRANSITIONS: ENVIRONMENT, PRACTICE, AND IDENTITY
    (pp. 128-147)

    Political and economic factors have combined with social and cultural changes to encourage cattle raising in Acre. Does being a rubber tapper—a “forest guardian”—have some bearing on one’s decision to raise cattle? And as for the colonists, so integrally entwined with agriculture, how does their increasing reliance on cattle manifest itself in their perceptions of self? These are questions that young and old members of these groups are confronting as they shift to cattle raising.

    Here I analyze the implications that changing economic practices have for colonists’ and rubber tappers’ notions of identity. I contextualize these changes as...

  14. CHAPTER 9 THE APPROPRIATION OF CATTLE CULTURE: PERCEPTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
    (pp. 148-161)

    After a year of fieldwork I understood how the various pieces of cattle culture fit together into an overarching system of thought and action. What I wanted to know next was the extent to which aspects of cattle culture had been appropriated throughout Acrean society. For example, many ranchers and cowboys expressed the opinions that pastures were associated with hard work, and that leaving the forest intact was a sign of laziness. Was this belief widespread among the ranchers, or only among some of the more outspoken members of this diverse social group? I assumed that environmentalists would reject such...

  15. CHAPTER 10 THE FULL PICTURE
    (pp. 162-168)

    Cattle are visible over the course of human history, “from the first archeological records, dating back to the Lascaux caves, to the assassination of Chico Mendez [sic] in the Amazon rainforests” (Rifkin 1992:3). The cow is the subject of political and economic structures, the vehicle to a better life, a source of sustenance, a status symbol, and the “eater of the forest.” In this book I have “looked to the cow” in an attempt to better understand Amazonian cattle raising in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Whereas Evans-Pritchard found a depth of commitment to cattle pervading all aspects of...

  16. APPENDIX A: SOCIAL GROUPS AND RESEARCH AREA
    (pp. 169-170)
  17. APPENDIX B: METHODS AND DATA
    (pp. 171-174)
  18. APPENDIX C: LEVELS OF AGREEMENT AMONG SOCIAL GROUPS
    (pp. 175-180)
  19. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 181-192)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 193-196)