Rubber tappers of the Upper Juruá River, Brazil : the making of a forest peasant economy
This thesis studies the forest labour process of seringueiros (rubber tappers) in the contemporary Amazon. It investigates labour processes from a Marxist anthropological perspective, focusing on value and exploitation on the capitalist periphery. The analysis is supported by an ethnographic description of contemporary seringais (rubber estates) in the State of Acre, where I was born. This work is organised in three independent parts. Chapters 1 to 4 constitute a study of the local history of rubber estates and their interface with world and national history. They deal with the the cycle of expansion and decline of the rubber trade on the Upper Jurua region of Acre (1870-1943), the renewed prosperity of the extractive economy in the post-war period (1943-1980) and the conflicts between rubber patrons (patroes) and tappers during the last decade (1980-1990). I conclude that the contemporary rubber estate system was a product of regional Brazilian politics rather than a response to the imperatives of the world economy. It developed into its present form as a result of Brazilian State economic policies, which favoured and subsidised a technologically stagnant regional elite in an area marginal to the world market. Another conclusion holds that a forest peasantry with a highly-diversified local economy developed on the contemporary estates. This forest peasantry possesses its own stakes in the forest economy. It is not simply a proletariat forced to remain in the forest and supply the world or national market by virtue of debts. Chapters 5 and 6 describe in detail the trade-post system and the debt system on the basis of field work done on the Tejo River Valley. I describe the trade-post institution as based on the monopoly of natural resources and of trade, supported by state agencies, extracting rents and mercantile profits from a population of rubber tappers operating independent economic units in the heart of the forest. I argue that system is unable to control the forest labour process. I also interpret debt relations as a consequence of the extractive character of the forest economy and not as an imposition of trade-posts. Chapters 7 through 10 proposes the model of a forest house economy, including its social groups, its use of the natural resources, its labour process and its overall working. Far from specialised rubber producers, the rubber tappers' forest house economy is characterised in technical terms by the amplitude of forest niches they occupy (including hunting, collecting and cultivation). The technological and social patterns of this economy possesses ecological and technological characteristics that are essentially different from non-forest peasant economies ("settler" economies in the Amazon), and also from the large-scale productive units (fazendas). My argument favours the inclusion of the tappers' extensive economic strategies in the forest as part of a wider development policy.