This volume results from the Twenty-third Annual Latin American Conference held at the University of Florida in Gainesville in February 1973. It is a welcome addition to the literature on the Brazilian Amazon, a region which has long intrigued scholars and laymen alike. A critically important region, the Amazon has provided both optimist and pessimist with ample opportunity to reflect on the implications of its development for Brazil and for the world at large. The present volume, ably edited by Charles Wagley, whose expertise on the area is well known to all, tends to be optimistic.
The editor’s orientation is cultural-ecological. His intent is an objective appraisal of the effects of development on human and natural resources in the Brazilian Amazon. The fifteen papers, written by highly regarded Brazilian and other scholars, offer a broad range of background materials with which to better understand present undertakings there. The volume is divided into four sections: The Background, which includes Wagley’s Introduction, has articles by Leandro Tocantins (“The World of the Amazon Region”), Arthur Reis (“Economic History of the Brazilian Amazon”), and Lewis Tambs (“Geopolitics of the Amazon”); The People and Their Culture, with articles by Betty Meggars (“Environment and Culture in Amazonia”), Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira (“Indigenous Peoples and Sociocultural Change in the Amazon”), Emilio Moran (“The Adaptive System of the Amazonian Caboclo”), John Saunders (“The Population of the Brazilian Amazon Today”), and Richard Preto-Rodas (“Amazonia in Literature”); The Conditions for Man, with essays by Italo Falesi (“Soils of the Brazilian Amazon”), José María Pinheiro Conduru (“Agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon”), Stahis Panagides and Vande Lage Magalhães (“Amazon Economic Policy and Prospects”), and Ottis and Calista Causey (“Transmissable Disease in the Brazilian Amazon”); Change and Development, with articles by Wenceslau Wozniewicz (“The Amazonian Highway System”) and Paulo de Almeida Machado (“The Role of Education and Research in the Development of the Amazon”). A few very good bibliographies accompany some of the individual essays. Unfortunately, there is no general bibliography. The book is also hampered by the lack of an index.
For the most part, the authors tend to be optimistic in their views of Amazonian development, although only one, Roberto Cardoso examines critically the effects of specific economic projects on human populations. His “conclusions,” too, are moderately hopeful insofar as he wishes that the “developmental sectors will be enlightened” about the nature of indigenous systems and their tolerance to sociocultural change. The particular exception is Betty Meggars who views current development in the Amazon as terribly maladaptive. Wagley, in his Introduction, also worries about the “. . . haphazard borrowing of modern temperate zone technology and its application to the Amazon region” (page 14), and condemns a “predatory extractive, and colonial’ commerce” for its disruptive effects on Amazonian ecology. He hopes that the volume will contribute to an understanding of the special place held by man in the tropics and, hence, to the direction that Amazonian development will take. Of course, the great fear is that if the lessons of the past are not learned well, the acceleration of extractive and predatory processes might well render the Amazon useless even for the life forms which have, with difficulty, adapted themselves to the area.