The opening of the Amazon to colonization in the 1970s brought cattle, land conflict, and widespread deforestation. In the remote state of Acre, Brazil, rubber tappers fought against migrant ranchers to preserve the forest they relied on, and in the process, these "forest guardians" showed the world that it was possible to unite forest livelihoods and environmental preservation. Nowadays, many rubber tappers and their children are turning away from the forest-based lifestyle they once sought to protect and are becoming cattle-raisers or even "caubois" (cowboys). Rainforest Cowboys is the first book to examine the social and cultural forces driving the expansion of Amazonian cattle raising in all of their complexity.
Drawing on eighteen months of fieldwork, Jeffrey Hoelle shows how cattle raising is about much more than beef production or deforestation in Acre, even among "carnivorous" environmentalists, vilified ranchers, and urbanites with no land or cattle. He contextualizes the rise of ranching in relation to political economic structures and broader meanings to understand the spread of "cattle culture." This cattle-centered vision of rural life builds on local experiences and influences from across the Americas and even resembles East African cultural practices. Written in a broadly accessible and interdisciplinary style, Rainforest Cowboys is essential reading for a global audience interested in understanding the economic and cultural features of cattle raising, deforestation, and the continuing tensions between conservation and development in the Amazon.
"Much is written about the livestock sector in Amazonia, and most of this is expressed in the dry language of statistics and graphs of this sector, which has exploded in the last decades. This is the first study we have that explores the livestock sector as a cultural system in a very complex rural sociology – the state of Acre, the place best known for the rubber tappers movement. This careful analysis of social identities and local political ecologies helps explain why cattle production now pervades all livelihoods and lifeways in the politically 'greenest' comer of Amazonia. This book is not about just rural but also city influence, and thus captures new dynamics that now shape forest frontiers."
– Susanna B. Hecht, Professor in the Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Institute of Environment and Sustainability, UCLA; author of The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha; coauthor of The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers, and Defenders of the Amazon; and coeditor of Development or Destruction: The Conversion of Tropical Forest to Pasture in Latin America
"I think that this is a valuable book – indeed, fascinating."
– David G. Campbell, Professor of Biology, Henry R. Luce Professor of Nations and the Global Environment, and Chair of Environmental Studies Concentration, Grinnell College; and author of A Land of Ghosts: The Braided Lives of People and the Forest in Far Western Amazonia and The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica
"Rainforest Cowboys illuminates one of the most salient yet least-explored dimensions of society and environment in Amazonia: the rise of cattle culture among smallholders, forest peoples, and large ranchers. While other studies have explored the economy of cattle ranching and its widespread adoption in the Amazon, Hoelle's book is the first to look closely at the cultural dimensions behind cattle raising's ever-growing presence there. Historically informed, ethnographically rich, and enjoyable to read, it unravels the region's emerging tangle of social identities, individual expectations, global markets, and economic development. Filling a major gap in Amazonian ethnography and human ecological studies, Rainforest Cowboys will no doubt become required reading for anyone aiming to understand the Amazon today."
– Eduardo S. Brondizio, Professor of Anthropology; Co-Director, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT); and Chair, Advisory Council, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University Bloomington
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. The Journey to Acre
2. The Expansion of Cattle Raising in Acre
3. Ruminations on Cattle Economies and Cattle Cultures
4. Ideologies of Nature and Human–Environment Interactions
5. The Ranchers: Smooth Hands, Progress, and Production
6. The City and the Contri
7. Here’s the Beef: Symbol, Sustenance, and Hamburger Connections
8. Rubber-Tapper and Colonist Transitions: Environment, Practice, and Identity
9. The Appropriation of Cattle Culture: Perceptions, Behaviors, and Methodological Considerations
10. The Full Picture
Appendix A. Social Groups and Research Area
Appendix B. Methods and Data
Appendix C. Levels of Agreement among Social Groups
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Jeffrey Hoelle is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.