268 pages, tables
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.
"Here Balée emphasizes what he calls primary and secondary landscape transformations as terms that should replace primary and secondary succession in the scientific community. The new terms explicitly and implicitly include human agency, which is often not recognized or is willfully ignored by numerous disciplines that deal with Amazonian peoples, landscapes, and ecosystems. The terms are clearly supported by the previous ten chapters in this volume and are the essence of the historical ecology school of thought. Since this human agency is recognized in all other biomes where humans have lived and transformed landscapes since we became modern, it is high time to accept this view in Amazonia as well. This new book convincingly shows the way."
– Economic Botany
"Balée has opened up avenues for thinking about how matter can enter politics and history and how politics might emerge from the encounters between humans and nonhumans."
– American Anthropologist
"Cultural Forests of the Amazon is a masterful and moving book on Amazonian historical ecology. At once an intellectual biography, a tropical adventure story, and a rigorous analysis, Balée's engaging book makes a revolutionary case about Amazonian woodlands and a hopeful argument about humans and nature in the New World tropics."
– Susanna B. Hecht, coauthor of The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers, and Defenders of the Amazon
"Drawing on more than twenty-five years at the cutting edge of Amazonian anthropology, William Balée offers a series of key texts on the nature of neotropical cultural rainforests that outlines the development of a field that has fundamentally changed the way we think about ourselves as a species, away from reductionist adaptationism. A must read for anyone interested in anthropology and environment."
– Christian Isendahl, author of Common Knowledge: Lowland Maya Urban Farming at Xuch and coeditor of The Urban Mind: Cultural and Environmental Dynamics
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William Balée, a world-renowned expert on the cultural and historical ecology of the Amazon basin, is the author of Footprints of the Forest: Ka’apor Ethnobotany – The Historical Ecology of Plant Utilization by an Amazonian People. He is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University.