In April of 2008, the expedition team crossed from Peru into Brazil. Even though the landscape didn’t change very much between the two countries, they noticed several changes in the way that people lived. Most noticeably is the difference between houses in Peru and houses in Brazil. Houses in Peru were almost always made of materials gathered straight from the rainforest. Roofs were made of woven palms in Peru. Only in larger villages did a few houses have metal roofs. Walls of Peruvian houses were built from wood taken right from the forest. All of the houses were open-air, meaning they didn’t have any windows. The walls were only a few feet tall to let the breeze flow through. It was extremely rare for a community to have electricity while we were in Peru.
A typical house found in the Peruvian Amazon. Note that it’s constructed from materials all found from the rainforest.
Many traditional houses along the Amazon River are built on rafts. The houses then rise and fall with the water levels that change from seasonal flooding.
Look at the difference between this floating house in Brazil, and the Peruvian house above. What differences do you seen between the materials the houses are made from?
Along the Amazon, nearly every house in Brazil has a metal roof. Many houses along the Brazilian Amazon are made of plaster and look very different than the traditional rainforest homes of Peru. In addition to having more modern-looking houses, most Brazilian communities regularly have electricity, but usually only for a few hours each evening.
Brazilian communities consist of houses made from materials bought in cities, like plaster, bricks, and metal. Also note the electrical pole. Most communities have electricity for a few hours each day.
The towns and cities that line the Amazon River are also much more developed than those of Peru or Colombia. In Peru, most families have a small farm located away from their communtiy. These small family farms are called, chakras (CHA-kras). On a typical chakra, famlies grow bananas, yucca, mango, rice, melons, and other fruits and vegetables. The family eats most of what they grow. Some people have food left over, so they’re able to sell it at small markets.
Cities and larger communities are becoming more common along the Amazon as we draw closer to the Atlantic Ocean.
In Brazil, small family farms have been replaced by large cattle ranches. Cattle ranches line the river bank. Nearly all trees have been cut down close to the river. About 1 kilometer back from the river bank, the rainforest is full and has many trees. There is a law in Brazil that says farmers can only deforest 30% of their land. However, most of that land they clear is near the Amazon River.
From talking with older people who have lived along the Amazon for many years, things have changed. People no longer grow the majority of their food, and they rely on buying things from cities to build houses and boats.
What impact do you think these differences in building materials has on the rainforest? Do you think that there is an impact on the small communites if people start buying materials from outside their community? Do you think that the changes between Brazilian and Peruvian lifestyles and uses of the rainforest have an impact on the rainforest, society, or the planet? What would happen if people in Peru started having large cattle ranches like in Brazil?