We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Cultural Forests of the Amazon

A Historical Ecology of People and Their Landscapes

William Balée

Publication Year: 2013

Cultural Forests of the Amazon is a comprehensive and diverse account of how indigenous people transformed landscapes and managed resources in the most extensive region of tropical forests in the world.
Until recently, most scholars and scientists, as well as the general public, thought indigenous people had a minimal impact on Amazon forests, once considered to be total wildernesses. William Balée’s research, conducted over a span of three decades, shows a more complicated truth. In Cultural Forests of the Amazon, he argues that indigenous people, past and present, have time and time again profoundly transformed nature into culture. Moreover, they have done so using their traditional knowledge and technology developed over thousands of years. Balée demonstrates the inestimable value of indigenous knowledge in providing guideposts for a potentially less destructive future for environments and biota in the Amazon. He shows that we can no longer think about species and landscape diversity in any tropical forest without taking into account the intricacies of human history and the impact of all forms of knowledge and technology.
Balée describes the development of his historical ecology approach in Amazonia, along with important material on little-known forest dwellers and their habitats, current thinking in Amazonian historical ecology, and a narrative of his own dialogue with the Amazon and its people.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-xvi

The point of this book is to share certain insights I have had in researching and thinking about Amazonian forests during the past quarter century. I use the term Amazon as the English name of the river that has the greatest water volume in the world, as well as to label the entire land surface it drains and the adjoining hinterlands. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. xvii-xviii

This book came together in part because of a colleague’s advice some years back. She suggested my papers were scattered and hard to find and that it would be useful for those who might be interested in reading them if they were reprinted in a single volume. ...

read more

Part I. Landscape Transformations

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-6

The following three chapters contain background data on the emergence of anthropogenic forests in the Amazon region, before these and natural (or high) forests were subjected to the ravages of modern industrial agriculture, commercial logging, and conversion to bovine pasturelands. ...

read more

1. Villages of Vines and Trees

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 7-31

The Ka’apor cultural consultants whom I considered to be the most knowledgeable on the subject of forest types and vegetative associations told me our destination, the old growth forest, looked like a true forest, but that it was in reality an old village, long abandoned by any human occupants. ...

read more

2. An Estimate of Anthropogenesis

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 32-52

Scientists and laymen alike most often perceive Amazonia as being one of the primordial cores of earthly nature. Remarkably few studies by scientists in any field have embraced the possibility that large portions of Amazonian forests manifest cultural histories. ...

read more

3. Comparison of High and Fallow Forests

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 53-70

A scheme that pigeonholes Amazonian forests as being somehow pristine—the “wilderness” or selvas—has dominated the Western scientific as well as popular imagination since at least the nineteenth century. Most theories in cultural ecology tend to evade whether indigenous societies and technologies, in fact, might have transformed the Amazonian wilderness permanently. ...

read more

Part II. Contact and Attrition

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 71-74

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, a definitive picture was beginning to emerge of indigenous occupations of diverse landscapes in Amazonia. It was becoming clear that the concept of forests that had been altered in terms of their soils and biota by indigenous peoples over hundreds of years was not only plausible, but even likely. ...

read more

4. People of the Fallow Forest

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 75-88

Ecological studies often presume that the habitats of lowland South American foragers are somehow “natural” or pristine. Modern foragers (hunter-gatherers) are etched in anthropological minds as being the few remaining people of the earth who use no agriculture. ...

read more

5. Vanishing Plant Names

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 89-102

Although a transition from horticultural to foraging society may be seen as far less common than the development of horticulture in a slow process that began with foraging as the exclusive means of human subsistence (Clastres 1989, 201; Gellner 1988), an increasing amount of empirical work is suggesting that such a transition has occurred repeatedly in the forested lowlands of South America. ...

read more

6. Conquest and Migration

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 103-111

Amazonian environments present human languages with a formidable job: symbolic representations of a vast domain of visible, organismic minutiae. If languages adapt to people and their environments—if languages resemble viruses in their relationship to people through time (Deacon 1997, 112)—the biological richness of the environment in which they occur should be partly evident in vocabulary. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 112-118

read more

Part III. Indigenous Savoir Faire

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 119-122

Traditional knowledge is a fragile phenomenon, as we have seen, in which loss of agriculture, attrition in knowledge about plants and animals, disappearance of terms for biota and resources, and even the ability to make fire have occurred among native peoples over time as a result of external contacts and forces. ...

read more

7. From Their Point of View

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 123-131

Amazonia is that region drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries together with adjacent lowlands. It represents about 4 percent of the earth’s land surface. It is roughly the size of the contiguous forty-eight U.S. states or the island continent of Australia. ...

read more

8. Retention of Traditional Knowledge

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 132-143

In defining traditional knowledge of any sort, one of the components is age: tradition implies antiquity. Traditional ethnobiological knowledge (TEK) in Amazonia, for the present purpose, denotes specifically pre-Columbian objects of understanding that have survived to be documented ethnographically. ...

read more

9. Confection, Inflection

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 144-158

Historical ecology is a perspective on relations between people and the environment that, in principle, envisions how historical phenomena transform landscapes and how such transformations become conditioned and understood through local knowledge, behavior, and culture over time. ...

read more

Part IV. Dimensions of Diversity

In these two final chapters, I engage the question of biological and ecological diversity, where it comes from in specific Amazonian contexts, and how traditional technologies of the past and present can account for it, via an initial premise of human-mediated disturbance of natural habitats. ...

read more

10. Discernment of Environmental Variation

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 161-173

This chapter concerns how systems of traditional knowledge (TK) encode and classify the accumulated impacts of the human species on the formation and transformation of Amazonian landscapes over time. The most significant of these impacts resulted from agrarian technologies. Humans have lived in the Amazon region for thousands of years. ...

read more

11. Rethinking the Landscape

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 174-184

The preceding pages of this book have made a case for recognition of cultural forests in the Amazon Basin. Cultural forests exist, though they have not tended to be categorized by their particular human signature in ecological and biological science. To ignore the human factor in the formation of these forests is not only to discard history, and environmental history in particular, ...

Appendix I. Guajá Generic Plant Names

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 185-202

Appendix II. Trees of the Anthropogenic Forest (taper)

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 203-206


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 207-212

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 213-247


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 248-269


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 249-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386559
E-ISBN-10: 0817386556
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317867
Print-ISBN-10: 0817317864

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 14 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 855969739
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cultural Forests of the Amazon

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Urubu Kaapor Indians -- Ethnobotany.
  • Urubu Kaapor Indians -- Philosophy.
  • Urubu Kaapor Indians -- Social conditions.
  • Indigenous peoples -- Ecology -- Amazon River Region.
  • Traditional ecological knowledge -- Amazon River Region.
  • Cultural landscapes -- Amazon River Region.
  • Rain forest ecology -- Amazon River Region.
  • Amazon River Region -- Social conditions.
  • Amazon River Region -- Environmental conditions.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access