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9269 - The cosmology of plant use in two Quilombo communities in the Amazon Estuary, Amapá, Brazil

Recent research in the human-environment sciences has provided important insights into how humans have shaped landscapes and patterns of biodiversity throughout the tropics. We now recognize that Amazonia, far from being a pristine wilderness devoid from human influences, is a landscape embedded with social history—some of which is reflected in the natural world. Current diverse vegetation patterns are the outcome of swidden-agricultural systems of pre-colonial societies (Posey 1987 and Baleé 1994). This paper adds to the exciting discussion of the “antropogenic” Amazon, and seeks to enhance our understanding of plant-human interactions in African descended groups in Amazonia, communities rarely studied in the fields of ethnobiology and environmental anthropology.

In particular, the current research presents case studies from the southern region of the Amazonian state of Amapá. This region has a rich cultural history—where various Quilombo communities were formed beginning in the late 1700s by refugee and free slaves. The majority of these groups choose to settle in areas of flooded savana, campo alagado , a vegetation type unique to the Amazon estuary. Working in two Quilombo communities, this study broadly describes patterns of natural resource management in the flooded savanna, and to understand if the observed system of management is particular to this cultural group. Research is driven by the following questions: What is the cosmology of resource use in the communities? How does residents’ understanding of nature impact management strategies? How do farmers classify and manage resources in the environment? The proposed symposium presentation will specifically highlight local uses of plants and describe how these practices maintain and enhance diversity in different land-use types. To place this discussion in a larger context, a brief synthesis of the existing literature on natural resource use by African-descended groups in Amazonia will be provided.

Keywords: Amazonia, Quilombos, ethnobotany, plant diversity, cosmology of natural resource use

Author: Steward, Angela (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Ud States of Am / USA)

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