Amazonia: Man & Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise
Drawing upon more than 20 years of study and field research, the author examines in detail the patterns of cultural adaptation among the peoples of ... Show synopsis Drawing upon more than 20 years of study and field research, the author examines in detail the patterns of cultural adaptation among the peoples of the two main ecological zones of the Amazon: the terra firme (Amazon basin) and the varzea (floodplain). The book shows clearly how human societies develop and survive in what appears to be a luxuriant Garden of Eden but is really a "counterfeit paradise." The author analyzes adaptations in technology, social institutions, and ideologies, and the theoretical basis for this analysis is provided in a lucid and provocative statement of evolutionary theory applied to culture. On the terra firme, which comprises ninety-eight percent of the area, climatic and soil deficiencies are mitigated only by the protective cover of the vegetation, and when this is removed, fertility rapidly declines. Food resources are varied and adequate under proper use but tend to be scattered and readily depleted. Successful adaptation to the terra firme involves developing an annual subsistence round that incorporates essential nutrients and assures an adequate amount of food while causing minimal irreversible damage to the environment. In contrast, on the varzea, an annual deposit of fertile silt counteracts the detrimental effects of local conditions. This book shows how these environmental constraints result in the cooperative utilization of resources, control of population size, and other socioeconomic aspects of the life of the Amazonian inhabitants. Analyzed in the framework of environmental imperatives, practices such as infanticide, sorcery, headhunting, warfare, and polygyny can be understood as devices for maintaining population size and density at levelscompatible with long-term productivity of the environment. Patterns of community mobility and sexual division of labor are other aspects of culture with adaptive significance.