Communities of rubber tappers forgotten on the banks of the Gregorio River, have new perspectives about public policies with the creation of the most recent reserve of the Amazon.
Photos and text by Luiz Maudonnet
The Extractive Reserve of the Gregorio River is one of the most recent reserves created in the state of Amazonas. Characterized as being one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the Amazon, the region still has the marks of “coronelismo” (authoritarianism by large landowners) practiced in the isolated Gregorio River, as a consequence of the old rubber economy, responsible for the colonization process of the area.
The settlement of the region began in the late 19th century, with the first rubber cycle in the Amazon, followed by the period known as the rubber war during World War II. To meet the growing demand from the Allied forces, more than 100,000 rural workers, the "rubber soldiers", were sent to the Amazon forest to work with the lucrative syringe, under false promises of land titles distribution, financial opportunities and a return to their homelands as national heroes.
Titles and heroism never came. Of those 100,000 who dreamed of returning home, very few actually succeeded. Those who did not die of disease or the dangers of the forest, found themselves immersed in a semi-slave labor system, with no return. With the new devaluation of the rubber, the colonels slowly disappeared, and the rubber tappers remained scattered across the rivers.
Mr. Raimundo Euler, a resident and a former rubber tapper, reports that his family came from the Northeast in search of a better life, and ended up as rubber tappers. It was hard work and for a long time, they took a lot of rubber from the forest. The "Regatão", a type of boat in the colonel's service, came and took all the rubber in exchange for supplies. They remained with the little food that was left and the rubber smoke.
Until a few years ago, the communities along the Gregorio River Reserve lived in limbo. The great distances of the nearest cities, 350km from Eirunepé (Amazonas) and 250km from Cruzeiro do Sul (Acre), added to the difficulty of access to the area, made the residents have very rare access to public policies.
Without the support of the government, the region has experienced successive models of disorderly exploitation of natural resources such as hunting, fishing and the exploitation of fine woods. This fact aggravated the already precarious social situation of the locals.
In 2009, the reserve was created. This encouraged the locals to organize themselves in communities, leaving the distribution system imposed at the time of the syringe. After a long time of economic instability, the creation of the reserve was decisive for the inclusion of the residents in a fairer process of income generation. The reserve is giving citizenship access to a group of people who, for a long time, were forgotten.
In addition, there was an increase in community participation in the definition of public policies. Today, members of the Executive and Legislative of Municipalities in the region are seeking greater involvement with the Rio Gregório residents' association and community leaders. Now they exist.
Reserve objectives prioritize economic and social benefits. This is the second year with more than 100 school days in the year, and after the implementation of the reservation, the number of schools has grown from 3 to 16.
Many generations were lost, without access to studies or other possibilities than hard rural work. The creation of the reserve was the first step in allowing, for the first time, a generation of children and adolescents not to have a hoe handle or syringe knife as their only option.
These photos depict the days of the meeting of all Gregorio River Reserve communities to elect the new president of the residents' association, “AMARGE”. Community members celebrated with games, theater performances, and fireworks the choice of who would take care of ex-rubber tappers of the Gregorio river, a recently acquired right, after decades of scarcity in a paradoxically abundant forest.
Photographer Luiz Maudonnet is currently conducting a fundraising campaign for the Gregorio River Residents Association, (CNPJ 10,982,260 / 0001-63) through the sale of his work. Part of the sale value of each work will be directed to the Association for the purchase of school materials, machinery and investments in local initiatives.
If you are interested in contributing, get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org with email title RIO GREGORIO CAMPAIGN.
To find out more about Luiz Maudonnet's work: