How to Save Tropical Rainforests

Tropical rainforests have long been home to indigenous peoples who have shaped civilizations and cultures based on the environment in which they live. Great civilizations like the Mayas, Incas, and Aztecs developed complex societies and made great contributions to science. Living from nature and lacking the technology to dominate their environment, native peoples have learned to watch their surroundings and understand the intricacies of the rainforest. Over generations these people have learned the importance of living within their environment and have come to rely on the countless renewable benefits that forests can provide.


Pygmy house made with sticks and leaves in northern Republic of the Congo. (Photo courtesy of "Tornasole")

African Forest Peoples

Today the African rainforest is home to some of the most celebrated tribal people, the so-called "Pygmies" of the Ituri forest in northern Congo. The tallest of these people, known as the Mbuti, rarely exceed five feet (1.5 m). Besides the Mbuti, there are three other major rainforest peoples of Africa: the Aka (Central African Republic and northern Congo), the Baka (southern Cameroon), and the Twa (central Congo/Zaire river basin). Together these groups account for some 130,000 to 170,000 forest dwellers distributed over a large area of forest. The result is low population density; the Mbuti average fewer than one person for every one-and-a-half square miles (four square kilometers).

African forest people tend to be noticeably smaller than those from the savannas, the Pygmies being the most extreme example. Their small stature undoubtedly enables them to move about the forest more efficiently than taller peoples. Additionally, their smaller body mass allows pygmies to dissipate their body heat better.

These peoples live in bands that range in size from 15-70 people depending largely on outside factors—hunting, trading, disease, and forest area. These groups tend to be nomadic, moving to new parts of the forest several times during the year and carrying all their possessions on their backs. Their nomadic lifestyle is less damaging to the rainforest environment because it allows the group to move without over-exploiting the local game and forest resources.

When they establish a settlement, they clear any undergrowth, small trees, and saplings, leaving the canopy-forming trees intact. Under the cover of canopy, the pygmies are protected from the powerful tropical sun and can better harvest such things as honey and game. By leaving the canopy intact, when the group leaves, the area can quickly return to semi-primary forest. Their huts superficially resemble igloos, with a domed latticework formed with saplings and walls of shingled tree leaves.

Most African forest people spend much of the year near a village where they trade bush meat and honey for manioc, produce, and other goods. A forest family will almost always trade with the village family of its choosing, and once determined, usually continues to trade exclusively with the same family. Sometimes, the relationship between the forest family and the village family will be passed on to future generations. The forest people could stay in the village if they chose, but instead return to the better life of the forest where they have less disease, cleaner water, less work, more choices, less uncertainty, no need for money, and fewer disputes. Studies have revealed that African forest people have better health and dietary intake than other populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

The day-to-day life of the forest people is probably simpler than that of the villagers. The women do most of the gathering, using baskets they carry on their backs. Men concentrate on hunting and the collection of honey—perhaps the forest product most prized and highly sought after by the Mbuti and other forest peoples. The Mbuti will climb more than 100 feet (30 m) into the canopy to reach the honey-containing beehives. When they reach the nest, the climbers burn a type of wood which produces a smoke that stuns the bees and enables the Mbuti to break into the hive and collect the honey.

African forest peoples are excellent hunters and each forest group specializes in its own hunting method. For example, the Efe people almost hunt their prey (over 45 species of animal) almost exclusively with bows and arrows. Other groups use both bows and arrows and netting to capture their prey. Although in these groups, men do most of the hunting of arboreal animals using bows and arrows and crossbows, women play an important role in the capture of ground-dwelling animals. The men arrange the nets into a semi-circle and form a wall, up to one kilometer in length, of hunting nets. The women scare animals into the nets where the men use spears to kill the game.

Traditionally forest people have a great deal of respect for the animals they hunt and do not over-exploit the game. Even so, the bush-meat trade has increased beyond sustainable levels over the past few years to meet the growing demand of expanding village populations. Additionally, African forest peoples are being hired as trackers by ivory poachers to track down the endangered forest elephants, whose tusks are more valuable than those of savanna elephants.


The small number (in proportion to the sub-Saharan population) of forest people are highly threatened by destruction of their homelands and official government policies to end their forest traditions. No legal land titles have been granted to African forest peoples by Central African governments. During the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, according the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Africa lost the highest percentage of rainforest (10.5 percent) of any forested realm, resulting in a further decline of the forest peoples. Much of the deforestation is the result of the expansion of villages, due to population pressures, into forest areas, and commercial logging by multinational corporations. Logging is especially problematic because logging settlements and roads into the interior open huge tracts of previously inaccessible forest to rapid colonization. Logging camps not only bring unwanted colonists, but also bring disease to the forest people who lack immunity to outside diseases like malaria. In addition, the loggers usually do not bring manioc and produce to trade with the forest people, but instead introduce money, tobacco, and marijuana. Game is becoming scarce for the pygmies from poaching by loggers and the noise created by their heavy machinery and chainsaws.


Orang asli settlement in the Malaysian rainforest. (Photo by R. Butler)

Forest Peoples in Asia

Asia is by far the most populous region on earth, and population pressures have pushed people into forested lands where they interrupt the lives of the few remaining forest people. The original inhabitants of Southeast Asia were dark-skinned, frizzy-haired, broad-nosed Australoids, some of whom moved into Australia. They were hunters, not farmers, but nonetheless used a wide variety of plants for food, medicinal remedies, and other useful products. These people since have been pushed into the extreme reaches of the rainforest by waves of immigration. Today the original people of Asian rainforests are found only in remote parts of forests of the Malay peninsula, Borneo, the Andaman islands, the Philippines (Palawan island), and New Guinea.

The Australoids were pushed farther into the forest by the arrival (about 7,000 years ago) of better farmers, the Proto-Malays from India and Burma who had brown skin, wavy hair, and more Caucasoid facial features. These people were pioneers of the domestication of plants. From 5,000 to 3,000 years ago, the Deutero-Malays arrived from southern China. They have Mongoloid features and today are the dominant people of Southeast Asia; almost none are found in the rainforest.

Because of the tremendous population of Asia, very few rainforest peoples continue their fully traditional way of life. Even so, those that do follow their forest beliefs have rich traditions. Like forest peoples of other regions, many Asian forest dwellers believe in close spiritual ties between human and animals. In fact, many believe that their souls interchange into the bodies of animals during sleep or at death. Shamans, the so-called "witch-doctors" of tribal rainforest peoples, claim the ability to communicate with animal spirits through trances. Often shamans claim to take the form of a tiger, much as the shamans of the New World often take the form of a jaguar.


As mentioned earlier, the forest peoples of Asia are few, existing in a few traditional enclaves, because of historic migrations and encroachment on their lands due to overpopulation. Some of the few remaining groups are directly threatened by the Indonesian transmigration program, which is working to move millions from crowded Java, Bali, and Lombock to Sulawesi, Sumatra, Borneo [Borneo news], and Papua [New Guinea news]. The stated goal is to reduce population pressures from highly populated central islands and to develop outer islands through road, communication, and city construction. The people who suffer most from this program are the original inhabitants of these outer areas. The program has resulted in great deforestation for fuelwood and building materials for colonists' needs. In addition, the program has contributed to stirring up the anti-Indonesian feelings of those residents of the lands conquered by Indonesia during its aggressive expansion campaign of the late 1960s. In East Timor, for example, tensions between the Indonesian military and locals who desire independence led to violence and eventual UN intervention. Large-scale logging throughout Indonesia, especially in Borneo and New Guinea [New Guinea news], has displaced thousands of tribal peoples.

Indonesia's official transmigration program is now waning, but informal transmigration is still occurring through development schemes, especially in the plantation sector, where workers are brought from one part of Indonesia to another to work on timber plantations and oil palm estates. In fact, these projects sometimes generate animosity by using imported labor rather than employing local workers. These conflicts are especially apparent today in Indonesia New Guinea (mostly West Papua) and Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan).


Machu Picchu, Peru. (Photo by R. Butler)

American Forest Peoples

The American rainforests were once home to some of the world's most developed civilizations of antiquity including those of the Incas (Andes), Mayas (Central America), and Aztecs (Central America). These peoples created vast metropolises and made great developments in agriculture and the sciences. However all this changed with the arrival of Europeans in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

An estimated 7-10 million Amerindians (the term for American indigenous peoples) lived in American rainforests, half of them in Brazil, at the time of European arrival. When Pizarro arrived in Peru, more land was under cultivation and more food was being produced in the Andean region than today. The grandest civilizations with expansive cities, wealth of gold, and technological achievements, existed in the Andes, though many Amerindians also lived in the Amazon.

The Amazon has a long history of human settlement. Contrary to popular belief, sizable and sedentary societies of great complexity existed in the Amazon rainforest [Amazon Civilization Before Columbus]. These societies produced pottery, cleared sections of rainforest for agriculture, and managed forests to optimize the distribution of useful species. The notion of a virgin Amazon is largely the result of the population crash following the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century. Studies suggest that 11.8 percent of the Amazon's terra firme forests are anthropogenic in nature resulting from the careful management of biodiversity by indigenous people. However, unlike those using current cultivation techniques, these Amazonians were attuned to the ecological realities of their environment from five millennia of experimentation, and they understood how to sustainably manage the rainforest to suit their needs. They saw the importance of maintaining biodiversity through a mosaic of natural forests, open fields, and sections of forest managed so as to be dominated by species of special interest to humans.

Many of these populations existed along whitewater rivers where they had good means of transportation, excellent fishing, and fertile floodplain soils for agriculture. However, when Europeans arrived, these were the first settlements to be affected, since Europeans used the major rivers as highways to the interior. In the first century of European presence, the Amerindian population was reduced by 90 percent. Most of the remaining peoples lived in the interior of the forest: either pushed there by the Europeans or traditionally living there in smaller groups.

From Pizarro's conquest of the Incan empire until the end of the Brazilian rubber boom around the beginning of World War I, the Spanish and Portuguese, in the name of Catholicism with the blessing of popes, continued the long tradition of abuse against these people—one that would be continued by colonists, rubber tappers, loggers, ranchers, and land developers.


Today, despite the population decimation, natives peoples still live in American rainforests, although virtually all have been affected by the outside world. Instead of wearing traditional garb of loin cloths, most Amerindians wear western clothes, and many use metal pots, pans, and utensils for every day life. Some groups make handicrafts to sell to tourists, while others make routine trips to the city to bring foods and wares to market. Almost no native group obtains the majority of its food by traditional nomadic hunting and gathering. Nearly all cultivate crops, with hunting, gathering, and fishing serving as a secondary or supplementary food source. Usually a family has two gardens: a small house garden with a variety of plants, and a larger plantation which may be one hectare in area planted with bananas, manioc, or rice. These plantations are created through the traditional practice of slash and burn, a method of forest clearing that is not all that damaging to the forest if practice in the traditional manner where forest is used on a rotational basis and allowed to regenerate prior to re-clearing.

Today very few Amerindians live in their fully traditional ways, although there remain dozens of "uncontacted" groups living in remote parts of Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, and possibly Ecuador and Bolivia. Uncontacted tribes are generally small bands that have splintered off tribes that have contact with the outsider world. In Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, these groups are granted substantial territories to enable them to continue living in isolation should they choose. However, conflict is still known arise between outside parities and these groups. In Brazil, invasion of lands belonging to uncontacted tribes is generally illegal — trespassers are usually cattle ranchers, loggers, miners or drug traffickers. In Peru and Ecuador, there are allegations of incursions into indigenous territories by oil and gas developers that have won exploration licenses from the government.

Other tribes having varying degrees of interaction with Western/urban culture. Some operate cattle ranches and have larger farms, while others live somewhat traditionally on reservations.

Indian social mobilization of American indigenous peoples has attained the highest organization of any rainforest region. Forming ethnic organizations is one way indigenous groups have been better able to protect themselves, their culture, and their natural forest resources.


More than 500,000 Brazilians classify themselves as indigenous, according to a 2006 census by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). FUNAI, the country's indigenous affairs bureau, estimates there are 67 uncontacted indigenous groups in the country.

Brazil therefore has the largest number of indigenous forest people living in traditional ways. It also has what are perhaps the strongest protections for indigenous rights, which were enshrined under the country's 1988 constitution. These include rights to their traditional ways of life and possession of their "traditional lands", which are recognized through a legal demarcation process as "indigenous territories".

As of 2010, indigenous territories covered about 22 percent of the Brazilian Amazon or about one million square kilometers. Additional claims are pending approval, although in 2012, Brazilian Congress moved to give more control to mining and agroindustrial interests in determining whether demarcation of new indigenous territories would proceed.

Although demarcated lands are legally protected, in practice, they are sometimes not respected. There are numbers cases of indigenous territories being invaded by illegal loggers and ranchers. For example Marãiwatséde, a territory belonging to the Xavante in Mato Grosso, has been nearly entirely destroyed by outside ranchers and land speculators.


Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon long suffered deprivations at the hands of outsiders. First came the diseases brought by the European Conquest, then abuses under colonial rule. In modern times, some Amazonian communities were virtually enslaved by the debt-bondage system run by rubber traders: Indians could work their entire lives without ever escaping the cycle of debt. Later, periodic invasions by gold miners, oil companies, colonists, and illegal coca-growers took a heavy toll on remaining indigenous populations. Without title to their land, organization, or representation, indigenous Colombians in the Amazon seemed destined to be exploited and abused.

But new hope would emerge in the 1980s, thanks partly to the efforts of Martin von Hildebrand, an ethnologist who would help indigenous Colombians eventually win control over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest—an area larger than the United Kingdom.

Von Hildebrand first visited the Colombian Amazon in 1970, spending four months living amongst remote indigenous communities. He found them exploited by rubber traders and deprived of basic human rights. Indigenous communities were in decline as youths abandoned their homeland for towns and traditional knowledge was lost with each passing elder.

Living with tribes during the 1970s, von Hildebrand learned of the traditional land management practices of indigenous societies as well as their philosophies of co-existing with the rainforest. He helped free communities from the tyranny of rubber and started developing an education system for the indigenous. Inspired to help them win title to their territory and therefore greater autonomy, von Hildebrand joined the Colombian government in 1986, as Head of Indigenous Affairs and adviser to President Virgilio Barco Vargas. In government von Hildebrand helped push through legislation that would lead to the establishment of 20 million hectares of collective indigenous territory—a move that would become a fundamental part of the country's 1991 constitution.

Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela, the Guianas

Background information for the current status of forest tribes and indigenous groups is in development. In the meantime, some recent articles


Satellite view of Deforestation in Brazil (courtesy of DigitalEarth)

Forest People Today

Tropical rainforests have supported humans since ancient times. Although forest life cannot be described as easy, these peoples have built their lives around the surrounding forest and its systems. Consequently, they are a great storehouse of the knowledge about the forest. They know the medicinal properties of plants and understand the value of the forest as an intact ecosystem. As forests fall, these indigenous peoples lose their homes and culture. Conflicts with settlers, who also bring disease and domestic animals, has resulted in the decline of the native population in many areas.

In the past, commercial firms, settlers, and governments developed forest lands without the permission of the original indigenous inhabitants. Even today, in countries like Brazil and Bolivia, private interests illegally encroach on the lands of native peoples.

Sometimes, tribal groups are given the choice whether to allow their lands to be developed or left in a natural state. If developed, indigenous people generally expect that they will receive some of the benefits of "civilized" life, including better education for their children, access to health care, and infrastructure like roads and electricity. Other times, the group may choose to keep their more familiar, natural lifestyle in the forest by rejecting development. More often, an indigenous group is split between the two choices and a bitter rift forms within the community. Sometimes a development firm will sign an agreement with those who support development while ignoring the demands of those who want to keep the status quo.

For example, in Papua New Guinea, some Bahineimo tribesmen chose to sell off their land to logging firms in the 1990s. After the agreement was signed, it emerged that many of the signatures were forged and the government suspended the deal. Similarly, in Ecuador, oil companies have worked to influence high-ranking members of indigenous organizations to permit oil development on native lands while ignoring those who oppose development.

"Divide and conquer" tactics are frequently used to factionalize indigenous organizations, weakening their power and capitalizing on the traditional animosity between tribal groups. Indigenous groups end up battling one another instead of developers.

Sometimes indigenous elders are tricked into signing contracts that grant their lands as concessions to developers. For elders it can be difficult to understand the "sale" of land, since within their traditional community, land, along with other material objects, are considered communal property and responsibility. Likewise, children who lose a parent or are abandoned are usually adopted and raised by the group as a communal responsibility.

Historically the governments of tropical countries have sided with economic development over the interests of "marginal" native peoples. Thus, the government often encourages native peoples to yield to firms, emphasizing the incentives that development will bring over the potential costs. Though less frequent in today's increasingly democratized society, some governments still unilaterally grant indigenous lands to firms for development. Several countries still refuse to recognize indigenous land rights, no matter how small or legitimate their lands claims are.

Today many indigenous peoples choose to be slowly assimilated into the outside society. They seek the apparent conveniences of cotton T-shirts, metal pots, and Tupperware. They are impressed with the dugouts fitted with outboard motors and the wrap-around sunglasses that visiting tourists wear. As they turn towards this culture, elements of their own are lost. As youths increasingly leave the forest, native ways are forgotten and considerable knowledge about the interwoven fabric and complexity of the rainforest is lost forever. Gone is knowledge of medicinal plants. Gone are the unique methods of cultivation in the rainforest which could be useful today. Gone is the understanding of the ecological value of the rainforest along with the acknowledgement that forests can be sustained and used for human benefit. Gone are the unique cultures that have dwelled in the forest for thousands of generations.

Whether these indigenous people find what they are seeking when they leave the forest can only be known to them. Sadly it seems that many indigenous people harbor misconceptions about life outside the rainforest. As they move into cities or government agricultural projects, they enter an unfamiliar environment where they are often shunned. Lacking the skills valued by society and adequate Western education, indigenous peoples are often destined for a life of poverty as part of the lowest rung of the wage-earning class. Very few people leaving the forest for the city successfully make the transition on their own and many find themselves returning to their native lands in one capacity or another.

Increasingly, instead of being encouraged to migrate into cities or agricultural plots, native peoples are being incorporated into community management schemes and multiple-use reserves. Under this system, tribal groups can remain living in a traditional manner should they desire, but still earn an income. Several NGOs have initiated projects that encourage native peoples to keep some ties to their past so that their knowledge of the forest ecosystem does not die along with their culture.

It is important to note that conservation initiatives have not always benefitted forest people, whether they are traditional indigenous groups or settlers. People have been forcefully displaced from their traditional lands and communal forests for the purpose of establishing protected areas.

The new rainforest dwellers

Increasingly "rainforest people" describes colonists who have recently emigrated to rainforest areas. In the process, they have displaced indigenous forest people and conducted activities that are not in sync with the rainforest environment. Not knowing the best way to cultivate rainforest lands, they rely on slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture while introducing domesticated animals and foreign disease. While their presence is tough on indigenous groups and their surrounding ecosystem, these colonists also suffer at the hands of large-scale forest developers and land speculators.

Violence between small farmers and large landholders is commonplace in the Amazon. The Pastoral Land Commission, a nongovernmental group working in the Amazon Basin, found that in 2004 land battles in Brazil's countryside reached the highest level in at least 20 years. According to the annual report by the organization, documented conflicts over land among peasants, farmers, and land speculators rose to 1,801 in 2004 from 1,690 conflicts in 2003 and 925 recorded in 2002.

Such conflicts made international headlines in 2005 with the slaying of Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked to protect the rights and interests of small farmers in the Brazilian state of Para. Her murder sparked an international outcry to stop death-squad activities and deforestation in the Amazon, and moved the Brazilian government to establish new protected areas and send thousands of troops to the region. Stang's killers, allegedly hired by local landowners, were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in December 2005.

Arhauco indigenous leader in a former coca-producing area



Review questions - Part I

  • Who lives in the rainforest?

Review questions - Part II

  • Are pygmies real?
  • Why is the traditional lifestyle of African forest people threatened?

Review questions - Part III

  • Why is the traditional lifestyle of native forest dwellers threatened in Asia?

Review questions - Part IV

  • How has life changed for most forest dwellers over the past 50 years or so?
  • Who are the Yanomani?

Review questions - Part V

  • What is happening to traditional indigenous cultures of rainforest peoples?
  • Who are the new "people of the rainforest"?



Citations - Part II

  • Information on the African pygmies, including details about their hunting methods, population density, cultural practices, and trade relationships with Bantu farmers is provided in Turnbull, C.M. Ed., Mbuti Pygmies : Change and Adaptation, New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1997; Turnbull, C.M., The forest people, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961; and Kenrick, J., "People of the African Forests," Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth, ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993.
  • Current threats to the traditional way of life for pygmies are addressed in Kenrick, J., "People of the African Forests," Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth, ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993; Kristof, N.D., "Pygmies' Simple Way of Life in Congo Jungles is Threatened," New York Times, 6/16/97; and Strieker, G. "Rainforest Aborigines Crowded out by Newcomers, Loggers." Cable News Network, 3/11/97

Citations - Part III

  • Brief histories of colonization of Southeast Asia by three waves of immigrants are given in Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y. (In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995); and Wachtel, P.S., "People of the Asian Forests." Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth. ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993.
  • The historical relationships and conflicts (religious, cultural, economic) between coastal Malays and forest dwelling Dyaks are addressed by Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y., In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. Williams, L. ("1,200 go missing in ethnic warfare," The Sydney Morning Herald, 3/5/97) and Solomon, J. ("Indonesia seems unable to stop rampage," The Wall Street Journal, 1999) report on the current bloodshed between the two groups.

Citations - Part IV

  • The "Indigenous Population in Selected Latin American Countries" table comes from Commission of Development and Environment for Amazonia 1992, Amazonia Without Myths, Inter-American Development Bank and UN Development Programme, Washington, D.C. 1992.
  • In his One River {New York: Touchstone, 1996), Wade Davis provides an fascinating look into the genius of the Inca including their complex cultivation techniques and highly developed political bureaucracies. They managed the land to suit their needs and when When Pizarro arrived in Peru, more land was under cultivation and more food was being produced in the Andean region than is today. Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998) offers a further insightful look into Incan culture and the early history of their civilization.

Citations - Part V

  • Estimates for Amerindian population before the arrival of Europeans are found in A. Roosevelt, Parmana. New York: Academic Press, 1980; Smith, N.J.H. "Anthrosols and human carrying capacity in Amazônia," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70: 553-566, 1980; Dobyns, H., Their Numbers Became Thin, University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, 1983; MacDonald, T., "People of the Central and South American Forests," Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth. ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993; Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995; and Diamond, J., Guns, Germs, and Steel New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
  • The history of settlement in the Amazon, including the development of pottery and agriculture is discussed in A. Roosevelt, Parmana, New York: Academic Press, 1980; Roosevelt, A., "Resource management in Amazônia before the conquest: Beyond ethnographic projection," Advances in Economic Botany 7: 30-62, 1989; Bush, M. A., D. R. Piperno, and P. A. Colinvaux, "A 6,000 year history of Amazonian maize cultivation," Nature 340: 303-305, 1989; Roosevelt, A., Moundbuilders of the Amazon: Geophysical archaeology on Marajo Island, Brazil, San Diego: Academic Press, 1991; Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995; Nishizawa, T. and J. I. Uitto, eds., The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995; A.C. Roosevelt, et al., "Paleoindian cave dwellers i n the Amazon: The peopling of the Americas," Science 272:373-384, 1996; and Diamond, J., Guns, Germs, and Steel New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
  • Large-scale forest clearing and management by pre-Colombian populations is reviewed in Richards, P.W.," Tropical forests and woodlands: An overview," Agro-Ecosystems 3: 225-238, 1977; Dufour, D.L., "Use of tropical rainforests by native Amazonians," Bioscience 40: 652-659, 1990; Denevan, V.M., "The pristine myth: The landscape of the Americas in 1492," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82: 369-385, 1992; and Meggers, B.J., "Archaeological perspectives on the potential of Amazonia for intensive exploitation," in Nishizawa, T. and J. I. Uitto, eds., The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. At least 11.8% of terra firme forests are believed to be of an anthropogenic form according to Balée, W., "The culture of Amazonian forests," Advances in Economic Botany 7: 1-21, 1989; and Nishizawa, T. and J. I. Uitto, eds., The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995.
  • The notion of a sparsely populated Amazon is a testament to the best weapon possessed by Europeans in their conquering of the New World: their diseases. These diseases, especially smallpox, devastated unsuspecting native populations native populations, killing as much as 95%. The massive Amerindian die-off is described in innumerable works, but this book draws on the following sources: Prescott W.H., History of the Conquest of Peru, New York 1847; McNeill W.H., Plagues and Peoples, New York: History Book Club, 1976; H. Dobyns, Their Numbers Became Thin, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983; Caufield, C., In the Rainforest, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984; A.W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism-The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986; Nishizawa, T. and J. I. Uitto, eds., The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995; and Diamond, J., Guns, Germs, and Steel New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. A history of the Mayan civilization can be found in Sharer, R.J., The Ancient Maya, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. It has been suggested that deforestation may have been one of the causes behind the downfall of this great civilization.
  • An overview of forest people today is found in Moran, E.F. "Following the Amazon highways," In Julie S. Denslow and Christine Padoch (eds.), People of the tropical rain forest, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.
  • Wade Davis (One River, New York: Touchstone, 1996) describes research by Kaplan, J.E., et al., ("Infectious Disease Patterns in the Waorani, an Isolated Amerindian People," American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 29(2): 298-312, 1980), Larrick, J.W., et al., ("Snake Bite Among the Waorani Indians of Eastern Ecuador," Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygeine 72: 542-543, 1978), and Larrick, J.W., et al., ("Patterns of Health Among the Waorani Indians of Eastern Ecuador," Medical Anthropology 3: 147-91, 1979) which found remarkably good health among unacculturated indigenous people.
  • According to MacDonald, T., ("People of the Central and South American Forests," Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth. ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993) virtually no native group in the Amazon obtains the majority of their food by traditional nomadic hunting and gathering.
  • The brutal treatment of native people by the conquerors, religious leaders, and rubber barrons is depicted in Davis, W., One River, New York: Touchstone, 1996.
  • The sharp 1996 increase in land incursions by loggers and miners on indigenous territories was publicized by Schomberg, W., "Brazil's Indians Face Rising Land Invasions Report," Reuters, 12/5/97.
  • The Brazilian government plan to reduce the threat of garimpeiros to the Yanomani is reported in Schomberg, W., "Brazil Clears Miners in Bid to Save Yanomani," Reuters, 1/14/98 and Schomberg, W., "Brazil's Yanomani See Life After Gold Rush," Reuters, 2/28/98.
  • The Rainforest Action Network (1990-1996) reports on conflicts between miners and native Yanomani, while Clay, J.W. ("Indigenous Peoples: The Miner's Canary for the 20th Century," In Lessons of the Rainforest, Suzanne Head and Robert Heinzman, eds., Sierra Club Books) notes some of the techniques - such as distributing disease-infected blankets - employed by miners to clear lands of indigenous people.
  • Mercury pollution and disease among local residents resulting from gold mining in the Amazon is discussed in Hecht, S.B. and A. Cockburn, The fate of the forest: Developers, destroyers, and defenders of the Amazon. London: Verso, 1989; Malm, O., Pfeiffer, W.C., et al.: "Mercury Pollution Due to Gold Mining in the Madeira River Basin, Brazil," Ambio19(1):11-15 (1990); Thornton, l., D. Cleary, S. Worthington, and N. Brown, Mercury contamination in the Brazilian Amazon: A report for the Commission of the European Communitie (Directorate General l-K-2, Environment). Brussels, 1991; Lebel J., Mergler D., et al. "Evidence of early nervous system dysfunction in Amazonian populations exposed to low levels of methylmercury," Neurotoxicology, 17(1): 157-167, 1996; Pearce, F., "A nightmare revisited," The New Scientist, 2/6/99.
  • Official land demarcation for indigenous Brazilians is reported in Borges, B., "Brazil Legalizes Indigenous Land Titles," Environmental News Network 11/28/97 and Moffett, M. "Native empowerment and economic growth collide in rural Brazil,"The Wall Street Journal 8/19/99.
  • The botanical genius of native rainforest peoples is articulated in Caufield, C., In the Rainforest, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984; Cox, P.A. and Balick, M.J. "The Ethnobotanical Approach to Drug Discovery," Scientific American, June 1994; Davis, W., One River, New York: Touchstone, 1996; and
    Davis, W., Shadows in the Sun, Washington, D.C.: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 1998.
  • The internal conflict over development in the Bahineimo tribe of Papua New Guinea is described in Hanley, C.J., "Aboriginal Peoples Choosing Between Heritage, Money," Associated Press, 5/29/96.
  • The plight of the Ashanainka tribe in Peru is documented in Speer, L.J., "Amazon Tribe's Last Stand," San Francisco Chronicle Foreign Service, 1/9/95.
  • The battle between Occidental Oil and the U'wa of Colombia is discussed in Rainforest Action Network literature (1995-1999) and Waldman, G. "A rain-forest tribe brings its eco-battle to corporate America,"The Wall Street Journal, 6/7/99.