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Human Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 651–662 | Cite as

Caboclo Horticulture and Amazonian Dark Earths along the Middle Madeira River, Brazil

  • James A. FraserEmail author
Article

Abstract

This article examines the relationship between Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) and Caboclo horticultural knowledge and practice along the middle Madeira River (the biggest whitewater tributary of the Amazon) in the municipality of Manicoré, Amazonas State, Brazil. ADE are fertile anthropogenic (human-made) soils that are found in many areas of the Amazon region. The formation of ADE is a legacy of Amerindian settlement patterns, mostly during the late pre-Columbian period (2000–500 bp). The primary users of ADE in the Central Amazon today are Caboclos, traditional Amazonian people of heterogeneous origins. The multi-sited ethnography presented here demonstrates that Caboclos have developed a repertoire of local knowledge surrounding the cultivation of their staple crop, bitter manioc, in these soils. This revolves around a local theory of “weakness” and “strength” used to describe different sets of bitter manioc landrace traits and their responses to planting in different kinds of soil and fallow ages. This local theory has developed in the context of a regional historical ecology that has enabled the conservation and generation of such horticultural knowledge. I conclude that these notions of strength and weakness shape divergent loci of bitter manioc genetic traits and co-evolutionary dynamics between people and plants in the cultivation of bitter manioc in different soil types.

Keywords

Bitter manioc Swidden Shifting cultivation Historical ecology Brazil 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This paper draws on my doctoral research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (Grant F/00 230/W), under the auspices of a scientific expedition (EXC 022/05) granted by the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPQ). This paper has benefited from discussions with Charles R. Clement and André B. Junqueira. I thank Evan Killick, Roy Ellen, Nick Kawa, Phillip Compton and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism of previous drafts.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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