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

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2010
JournalHuman ecology
Journal number5
Volume38
Number of pages12
Pages651-662
Original languageEnglish

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 Manicore, 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.