“This land is where we know where to find all that it provides for us–foodfrom hunting and fishing, and farms, building and tool materials,medicines. This land keeps us together within its mountains; we come tounderstand that we are not just a few people or separate villages, but onepeople belonging to a homeland” (Colins 32). The “homeland” is the UpperMazaruni District of Guyana, a region in the Amazon rain forest where theAkawaio Indians make their home (32). The vast rain forest, oftenregarded as just a mass of trees and exotic species, is to many indigenouspeople a home.
This home is being destroyed as miners, loggers, anddevelopers move in on the cultures of these people to strip away theirresources and complicate the peaceful, simple lives of these primitivetribes. However, the tribes are not the only ones who lose in thissitutation. If rain forest invasion continues, mankind as a whole will lose avaluable treasure: the knowledge of these people in utilizing the resourcesand plants of the forest for food, building, and medicine.
To prevent thisloss, the governments of the countries housing the rain forests shouldprovide some protection for the forest and its inhabitants throughlegislation, programs. Also, environmentalists should pursue educatingthe tribes in managing thier resources for pragmatic, long-term profitthrough conservation.
Although hard to believe, the environmental problems of todaystarted a long time before electricty was invented, before automobilieslittered the highways, and before industries dotted the countryside. From ancient times to the Industrial Revolution, humans began to change theface of the earth. As populations increased and technology improved andexpanded, more significant and widespread problems arose. “Today,unprecedented demands on the environment from a rapidly expandinghuman population and from advancing technology are causing a continuingand acelerating decline in the quality of the environment and its ability tosustain life” (Ehrlich 98). Increasing numbers of humans are intruding onremaining wild land-even in those areas once considered relatively safefrom exploitation. Tropical forests, especially in southest Asia and theAmazon River Basin, are being destroyed at an alarming rate for timber,conversion to crop and grazing lands, pine plantations, and settlements. According to researcher Howard Facklam, “It was estimated at one point inthe 1980s that such forest lands were being cleared at the rate of 20(nearly 50 acres) a minute; another estimate put the rate at more than200,000 sq km (more than 78,000 sq mi) a year. In 1993, satellite dataprovided the rate of deforestation could result in the extinction of as manyas 750,000 speices, which would mean the loss of a muliplicity ofproducts: food, fibers, medical drungs, dyes, gums, and resins” (53). Sowhat kind of condition will the forests be in in the year 2050? If this rate ofdeforestation continues, there will be no tropical rain forest in the year2050. Therefore, preservation need to occur now in order stop the terribleloss of the rain forests and all that it can provide. Rain forest destruction has two deadly causes: loggers and miners. For example, imagine loggers on bulldozers rolling into the forest, tearingdown not only trees, but the invisible barrier between the modern,materialistic world and the serene paradise under the forest canopy. Forest locals told Scholastic Update that “…so much forest has vanishedthat the weather has changed delaying rains and increasing heat….” (Leo19). Along with the loggers come miners seeking the gold and otherminerals found in the forest. The article “My Trip to the Rain Forest” pointsout that the rivers of the rain forests become poisoned by the mercuryleaked in gold-mining. This exposes the tribes to diseases which they haveno immunity to, such as malaria, tuberculsis, and the flu. The miners alsobring in violence, which has killed over 1,500 members of one tribe in theAmazon. Many of the tribes leave their ancestoral homes to flee the noiseand disruption of the miners (Smith 66). Certainly, these loggers andminers must not think of the areas they invade and destroy as a home. Conseuently, invading the rain forest is no different than bullsdozersleveling out a suburb in the United States. The lifestyles in rain forestvillages and American towns are vastly different, but the two share one veryimportant similarity: in these settlements live human beings with minds,families, and feelings. In fact, there is a way to limit deforestation of the rain forest: through forest conservation. The conservation of forest trees involvesthree fundamental principles. The first is protection of the growing treecrop from fire, insects, and disease. However, fire, once regarded as adestroyer of forests, is now recognized as a management tool whencarefully employed. Some important timber trees actually require fire forsuccessful regeneration. The second principle concerns proper harvestingmethods, ranging from removal of all trees (clear-cutting) to removal ofselected mature trees (selection cutting), and provision for reproduction,either naturally from seed trees or artificially by planting. The rate andfrequency of any cutting should aim for sustained production over anindeifinite period. The third principle of conservation is complete use ofall trees harvested. Technological advances, such as particleboard andgluing, have created such uses for branches, defective logs, trees too smallto be milled into boards, and so-called inferior trees (Cappon 89). Through forest conservation, the lives and health of the rain forestinhabitants can be preserved along with wildlife and their habitat. However, the lives and health of the tribes are not the only treasurebeing lost by rain forest destruction. The people of the forests possessamazing knowledge in using the plants, trees, and other forest resources. The tribes utilize their resources to sustain all aspects of their lives fromeating to healing. For example, journalist Anne Hornaday got toexperience some of methods used by the tries when she visted the Amazon. By striking a tree with his machete, Anne’s guide was able to predict theweather, “When many birds answer, that means rain is coming” (Hornaday28). As the natives examined the trees of the forest, her guide expalinedthat the men check to see if fruit has been eaten off the trees. They candetermine which direction to continue their hunt simply by following thetracks of whichever animal ate the fruit. Native fisherman use the barkfrom hairari trees to drag the rivers and stun the fish they need to catch(28).
Also, the native people have a natural sense of direction. The tribeschart vast distances of the pacific Ocean using only “…their knowledge ofcurrents and the feel of intermittent waves that bounce off distance islands(Hornaday 29). Their methods may seem primitve, but the ways of the rainforest people have come to be respected and valued by scientists andconservationists. In addition, The farming methods of the people areexcellent in preservation of the land and abudnant in production. Theyfarm without irrigation and have developed an in-depth understanding ofplant life (29). Furthermore, this knowledge of plants if not only used incultivating, but also in one of the most fascinatign aspects of the tribes’wisdom: their natural healing methods. Tribal healers, called shamans,are able to treat illnesses from colds to wounds. The treatments, such asusing termites and poisonous plants to heal wounds, may seem exotic orunlikely, but are amazing in their results. Remarkably, medical proffesionals are turing to the healers in theirreseach. The knowledge of the healers is regarded as a valueable researchsource to both medical researchers and doctors. Leading the way, reportsBusiness Week, is a San Carlos, California-based company called ShamanPharmaceuticals, Incorporated. This small, successful operation hasdeveloped a method researchers describe as “ethnobotany”, in which thecompany sends their scientists into the forests to meet with tribal healersabout medicinal properties of plants. The scientist show the shamansmedical cases and photos to see how they would treat the problem. According to Business Week, this method bring about “…an initial hitabout half the time, versus a miniscule fraction of that inrandom-screening programs done by large-scale research companies”(53). The article continues by saying that Shaman Pharmaceuticals’program is also beneficial to the people of the forest. The company beganfoundation to help save the homes of the tribes that help them in theirresearch by employing them to harvest the plants that the company uses(52).
Unfortunately, with each advance by those who destroy the forestand disrupt the cultures within, this knowledge becomes increasinglythreatened. There are several reasons why. Sadly, the tribal healers areeither forced out of their homes along with their tribes or die from illnessesor violence brought in by outsiders. Eugene Linden, a journalist of Time,points out a more disturbing reason: the young tribe members areashamed of their culture. They have seen the technologies and novelties ofcivilization outside the forest and are embarassed by their simple lifestyle. “Students who leave villages for schooling…learn that people, not thespirits of their ancestors, created the machines, dams, and other so-calledcargo of the modern world. Once absorbed, this realization underminesthe credibility and authority of elders” (Linden 50). Therefore, since someof their former teachings or beliefs were proved wrong, they make no effortto learn or carry on the useful traditions of their cultures.
Ironically, the tribes are at times responsible for the damage done totheir homeland. According to Scholastic Update, some of the tribeslooking for a short-term profits and quick relief from poverty “…cut theirown deals with miners, developers, and loggers”(Leo 20). G.T. Miller,author of Living in the Rain Forest says this is to be expected:When an economically struggling country has a choice beweenlogging a forest to sell timber for high profits and leaving theforest intact without monetary compensation, the nationusuallychooses the profitable alternative. Because immediateeconomic gains…are more important than futureenvironmentalcosts….(Miller, 59).
Obviously, the tribes are confused. They are being pulled in all differentdiections by teems of environmentalists offering contradticing solutionsand they are being mesmerized by the promise of financial gain made bydevelopers and businessmen who want the forest for their own use.
Therefore, a specialized environmental group needs to step in. Agroup with the goal to save the homes, cultures, and knowledge of theindigenous people, which the rain forest rightfully belongs to. A group thatwill not use the situation as an opportunity to launch fund-raising schemesfor their benefit. If the National Arbor Day Foundation would focus its RainForest Rescue program to educating these tribes in the most beneficialways to use their forest resources, the people would be fortified to resistthe temptation to sell off their forest land in hopes of quick money. In thearticle, “Paradise Lost?”, a study showed that “…an acre in the PeruvianAmazon would be worth $148 if used for cattle pasture, $1000 if cut fortimber, and $6820 if selectively combed for fruits, rubber, and otherprofits….” (Linden 51). Tribal leaders need to be shown this information,they need to be shown the evidence of benefiting from conversation.
In addition, the governments of the countries where rain forests arelocated can also play a part. Through legislation and programs, thegovernments need to regulate the infusion of developers, miners, andloggers into the forests. They can do this in a way similar to the way theNCAA regulates the recruiting of athletes. By closely restricting “recruitingtactics” made to convince the tribes to surrender their land, the natives willbe less bombarded by fast-talking, money-hungary cooporations. Also,there should be less outsiders allowed into the forests to destroy itssimplicity. This will also keep the cultures from being overshadowed bythose of the outside world, which will help to preserve pride of the tribemembers in their traditions and knowledge. In fact, some governments have started to make an effort inpreservation of the rain forests. For example, in June 1992, the UnitedNations Conference on Environment and Development, commonly knownas the Earth Summit, convened for 12 days on the outskirts of Rio deJaneiro, Brazil. The Earth Summit devleoped and legitimized a broadagenda for environmental, economic and political change. The purposes ofthe conference were to identify long-term enviromental reforms and toinitiate processes for their international implementation and supervision. Conventions were held to discuss and adopt documents on theenvironment. The major topics covered by these conventions includedclimate change, biodiviersity, forest protections, Agenda 21 (a 900-pageblueprint for environmental development), and the Rio Declaration (asix-page statement that called for integrating the environment witheconomic development). The Earth Summit was a historic event of greatsignificance. Not only did it make the environment a priority on theworld’s agenda, but delegates from 179 countries attended, making it thelargest conference ever held (“Environment”).
However, depsite great interest in the environment, enviornmentaleducation still needs more focus. According to conservationist RaymondDasmann:To reduce environmental degradation and for humanity tosave its habitat, societies must recognize that theenvironment is finite. Environmentalaists believe that, aspopulations and theirdemands increase, the idea of continuous growth must giveway to a more rational use of the environment, but that thiscanbe accomplised only by a dramatic change in the attitude ofthehuman species. The human attack on the environment hasbeen compared to the dramatic upheavals of the earth in thegeologic past; whatever a society’s attitude may be towardcontinuous growth, humanity should recognize that this attackthreatens human survival (12).
The serenity of the rain forest is worth preserving both for sake of thetribes who call it home and for the human population that can benefit fromthe rain forests’ inhabitants invaluable expertiese in hunting, building,conservation, and natural healing. Why must miners, loggers, anddevelopers invade this uncomplicated society? Why not let these peoplelive confidently in their traditions and peacefully in their paradise insteadof destroying their homes or deceiving them into destroying themselves? The rain forest is their home, and as one tribal leader told Time, “If we die,we die in the forest. There is no other place for us to go” (Linden 51).
Works CitedCappon, Daniel. Health and the Environment. Pergamon, 1990.
Colins, Mark. The Last Rainforest. Oxford, 1991.
Dasmann, Raymond. Environmental Conservation. 5th ed. Wiley, 1988.
Echrlich, Anne et al. Earth. Watts, 1987.
“Enchanted Canopy, The.” Business Week. 5 Sept. 1989: 52-53.
“Environment.” Microsoft Encarta ’95: The Complete Interactive MultimediaEncyclopedia. 1995 edition. CD-Rom. Microsoft Corporation, 1992-1994.
Facklam, Howard. Plants: Extinction or Survival?. Enslow, 1990.
Hornaday, Anne. “Earth’s Threatened Resources.” Congressional Quarterly.
2 Sept. 1993: 28-29.
Linden, Eugene. “Paradise Lost?” Time. 19 July 1990: 50-51.
Leo, Robert. “The Changing Forest.” Scholastic Update. 2 Sept. 1992: 20.
Miller, G.T. Living in the Environment. Wadsworth, 1987.
Smith, Duane A. “My Trip to the Rain Forest.” Mining America: TheIndustry and the Environment. 3 Sept. 1991: 66.
Category: Social Issues
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