Human Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 35–45 | Cite as

Tropical forest mimicry in Swiddens: A reassessment of Geertz's Model with Amazonian data

  • William T. Vickers


Geertz's famous hypothesis that horticulturalists practicing shifting cultivation intercrop their plots to mimic the protective structure of the tropical forest is evaluated in view of data on the structural ecology of the tropical forest and swidden plots in Amazonian Ecuador. The cultivation practices of the Siona-Secoya Indians reveal a three-fold typology of cropping patterns (high-diversity intercropping, low-diversity intercropping, and monocropping), with variation among the types in terms of plot size and distribution, cultigen inventory, structural complexity, and function. These gardens and the tropical forest are compared and analyzed in terms of morphology, ecological characteristics, and human manipulation and utilization. Gardens with high-diversity intercropping show certain similarities to the tropical forest, as Geertz's model predicts, but their highly transient structure does not function as a mature ecosystem. Furthermore, plots with low-diversity intercropping and monocropping show few similarities to the forest. Garden structure is best understood in terms of the economic utilization of tropical cultigens displaying specific habits, rather than by analogy to tropical forest physiognomy and function.

Key Words

Shifting cultivation tropical forest ecology Amazon 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • William T. Vickers
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyFlorida International UniversityMiami

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