Amazon Culture The Forest supports many communities of indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on the sustainability of the forest. Millions of species of insects, animals, plants, and other organisms that inhabit this tropical wilderness are of extraordinary value to the indigenous communities and colonists that inhabit the region. Indigenous and other local people presently utilize many of these species, and some have been introduced to agriculture elsewhere in the tropics.
Some species possess specific advantages for cultivation, such as the ability to grow under harsh conditions with minimal care, or having superior content or quality of oils, proteins, drugs, insecticides, waxes, or other products of importance. The most famous among these plants is guarana. Known for its high caffeine content, the guarana beverage provides energy and helps to reduce hunger. Commercially bottled by large manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, guarana is a tremendously popular beverage in Brazil and in other parts of South America.
The carbonated beverage is sold under a variety of names, and is consumed at the rate of tens of millions of bottles per day. The traditional uses of guarana in the Amazon include as a powerful tonic for general well-being, an analgesic for pain, an aphrodisiac, a heart tonic, and as treatment for digestive disorders. Life in the Amazon Valley often begins with a hot cup of guarana in the morning. A key role in many indigenous cultures is played by the local shaman, or medicine man.
The Shamans, or Pajes (as they are known in Indian language), are not only the medicine men of the tribes and villages, but are also sorcerers and spiritual guides. Some of the spiritual awakenings and ceremonies are conducted with the usage of plants. The most famous of these are the ayuasca, from which the ayuasca hallucinogenic tea is made and given to the followers of the Santo Daime Tradition.
The hallucinations provoked by the tea are believed to give spiritual experiences to those who drink it. The Pajes are also renowned for their knowledge of the forest and its inhabitants’ ways. It is said that they can communicate not only with the animals and the plants but that they can also communicate with the spirits that rule nature and all animals’ spirits. Projects such as the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) and Shaman Apprentice programs help to preserve the traditional knowledge of indigenous cultures in relation to medicinal plants, as well as a host of other knowledge about people’s relationship with the forest.
Cultural reinforcement programs are designed to attend the necessities of each Indian nation, thereby helping indigenous communities to strengthen their traditional cultures, or at least save them from extinction. The music, dances, legends and myths of the Amazon can provide keen visitors with clear visions and sense of the region’s magic, and of the vibrant force of man’s cultural roots. Folklore groups perform traditional choreography using typical local garb.
The involving rhythms of the Carimbo, siria and lundu dances are very seductive, physically and spiritually. During the entire year, it is possible to attend and to participate in popular festivals, such as the Boi-bumba, Marujada and Çaire. From north to south the rhythms show new colors and steps in accordance with the History of each area. The people from this land carry in their blood the taste for lively dancing in the streets, and sensual hot rhythms.
Traveling though the interior of the Amazon, one can hear songs and rhythms from a distance. The dances are spontaneous and traditional and maintaining these local rhythms help to preserve the Amazonian peoples’ roots and to keep their culture alive. Dance festivals are a living form of preserving their origins and a way to pay respect to their ancestors. Among the most appreciated cultural manifestations of this incredible and unique land are the popular festivals, parties full of drama and happiness that traditionally occur on special dates.
The most famous festival in the Amazon region is the festival of Cirio de Nazare in the city of Belem, which lies at the mouth of the Amazon River. The Cirio de Nazare story tells of a mulatto hunter named Jose de Sousa, who found the image of Our Lady of Nazareth lying in the forest. Sousa felt the image brought him luck, and it was later placed in a chapel where it was said to bring miraculous cures for his ailing neighbors. The first procession displaying the image took place in 1763.