Life with the community of Xixuaú… Part 2
September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
The community in Xixuaú consists of 12 families, approximately 100 people, the largest part being made up of children with typically four or five per household. The children can always be seen hanging around, playing, running, sometimes falling over, sometimes crying over a bruised knee, in this respect the small community here is like any other in the world. Watching this community go about their everyday lives, fishing, cooking, sweeping away the leaves, gossiping, makes you believe that these people could be happily existing together in any other place in the world. However we are not just anywhere, from my perspective we are in the middle of nowhere, Xixuaú is located close to the centre of one of the largest forests in the world; the Brazilian Amazon. What I would consider as civilization is hundreds of kilometers away in the nearest city of Manaus, 2 days travel by a combination of fast and slow boats! However the truth is that civilization exists throughout the Amazon rainforest, there are communities like Xixuaú of caboclos (Native Brazilian people who are of mixed descendants of Indian and Portuguese origin) as well as indigenous Indian tribes dotted all over the Amazon. Most communities tend be located next to the rivers, depending on a fresh water source for survival. The Amazon river is the largest in the world by a long way and contains over a fifth of all the fresh water in the world. It goes without saying the important role the rainforest plays in water cycle that feeds this vast river. Access to clean drinking water from the river and plenty of fish to eat are life essentials here. We have been drinking water straight from the river untreated, though for foreigners like us they kindly filter the water to remove the bits making it slightly clearer, though admittedly it does still taste a little earthy.
Living anywhere in the rainforest is tough enough, but living deeper into the forest away from a river is much tougher, despite this there are very remote tribes that exist this way, mostly as a choice to remain in isolation from the outside world. It is these remote and isolated communities living day to day which are the true guardians of the forest, whose very presence acts to protect the forest from outsiders – the likes of the logging companies and commercial fishing industries that sees only the opportunity to extract its valuable resources and turn them into profits for their shareholders. The Indians have existed here for thousands of years living in harmony with the forest, only taking what they need to survive and the few Indian tribes that still remain are considered to live a sustainable existence in balance with their environment.
On the whole caboclos communities live sustainably within their forest lands, creating a relatively small demand upon forest resources. However as the rainforests increasingly disappear due to development the pressures of limited resources are becoming ever greater. Populations grow and require more space for agriculture and become dependant on bigger catches from the rivers. Also there is the pressure brought by development driven by a degree of consumerism, with every family wanting their own TV and the many other common electrical appliances found in the modern home. TVs with their big satellite dishes and everything else which has to be imported into the community are expensive and the easiest way to be able to pay for these things is to extract something of value from the forest. This is an inevitable trend that leads to the deforestation and degradation of the rainforest (I make the point of mentioning degradation of the rainforest as despite the fact that approximately 80% of the Amazon has not yet been deforested, yet the reality on the ground is that somewhere around only 30% remains in pristine condition without being degraded). The Xixuaú reserve is part of this pristine rainforest that remains a biodiversity hotspot. The community is an example to other villages in the area that it is possible to find ways to make money that doesn’t diminish the local environment. The people of Xixuaú have set up a Cooperative with the help of the Amazon Association(AA) that creates alternative income generation such as eco-tourism and the selling indigenous craftwork. The model is set up to ensure that the people have a reasonable standard of living with access to education and healthcare while keeping their virgin rainforest intact for their future generations.
I was told that everyone wants to live in Xixuaú and after living there for only a week I can see many reasons why this is true. For me the first reason would be for the simple beauty of living in a forest. Late one evening I found myself out on the water in a canoe with Maneul, one of the older generation at Xixuaú, he had offered to show me some of the local night life, so off we went to explore what is essentially his backyard, a stretch of water where it is possible to paddle endlessly in all directions for as long as you wish. I think our intention was to go in search of animals, but I only saw the odd pair of eyes staring back at us in the darkness, mainly birds, monkeys and resident jacarés (crocodiles). Though for me what I really enjoy most is looking upwards towards the night sky, as I tend to spend the majority of my time in places with such bad light pollution, it always feels a privilege to see the stars against a clear black night sky. For me this should be an essential quality for living, like breathing fresh air. As we silently drifted across the water I could see in the distance the electric lights of the community, as families crowded around the TV sets in their wooden houses. It left me with the impression that this is definitely one of the more peaceful and tranquil places where I have experienced people living and yet for the locals there are many other more important factors to attract them to live in Xixuaú. Almost everyone in the surrounding area at some point or another has requested to the Cooperative to live in the community, despite almost all of the requests ending up being rejected. Xixuaú has a school with a full time teacher, they have electricity between 3pm – 11pm powered by a generator (with somne solar power also), they have access to health care and an internet connection to the outside world. All of these facilities (which we would really consider as basic essentials for living) are made possible by the money generated through alternative income generation such as eco-tourism. The community has to be very selective about who lives in Xixuaú as the Cooperative can only support a limited number of people, this creates some resentment from people in surrounding communities that have been rejected and end up with a lower standard of living with fewer opportunities. For this reason it is the intention of the Amazon Association to help expand upon and replicate the model created here in Xixuaú by providing the funding and assistance for the all the local communities to set up sustainable income generation that will ensure the forest is protected long-term.
For the younger children school in Xixuaú is Monday to Friday beginning at 7am until 11am. An early start avoids the hottest part of the day, which would be unbearable for concentrating and make learning anything next to impossible. Currently the older children have to travel to move to Manaus to continue their education, though the community would like to build a secondary school to give the children the opportunity to continue their education in Xixuaú. The image below shows inside the school, the teacher is teaching them to write some ‘typical’ sentences in Portuguese, translating some of the sentences on the chalk board are as followed…
The spotted jaguar caught the dear.
The alligator caught the fish.
The rat chewed the clothes.
The monkey jumps on the branch.
The tucan is very pretty.
The community has motor boats for travelling longer distances to and from Xixuaú, though much of the getting about is done in traditional canoes. If they are going to collect some fresh water from one of the creeks (igarapés) or do a spot of fishing close by then gliding along in a canoe is the preferred way to travel. The canoes are long and narrow and require a good sense of balance otherwise can quickly fill with water and sink, which is not a good idea when there are crocodiles lurking around. Below is a picture of my first time in one of the canoes, I noticed the crocodile in this image passed maybe just 10 feet from me. There are around 7 or 8 crocodiles that hang around the banks of the community scavenging scraps of fish when people go down to the river to prepare food. Apparently as adults we are fairly safe though the children are taught to be extremely weary. The communities numerous dogs and cats on the other hand are not so cautious and routinely get caught out from time to time. I did go swimming in this bit of river a few times when the heat from the sun became too much for me and made sure I kept a keen eye out for crocs, fortunately though I only encountered botos (fresh water dolphins). There was one evening I came strolling out of the water and a local casually informed me it would be better if I took a torch next time I went swimming at night, stupidly asking why, the response was “that crocodile over there (literally meters away!!) will think you are a fish if he can’t see you”. Funnily enough I didn’t return to night swimming to test the torch theory.
Below are just a few images of the comings and goings at the river bank in Xixuaú.