“This land is where we know where to find all that it provides for us–food
from hunting and fishing, and farms, building and tool materials,
medicines. This land keeps us together within its mountains; we come to
understand that we are not just a few people or separate villages, but one
people belonging to a homeland” (Colins 32). The “homeland” is the Upper
Mazaruni District of Guyana, a region in the Amazon rain forest where the
Akawaio Indians make their home (32). The vast rain forest, often
regarded as just a mass of trees and exotic species, is to many indigenous
people a home. This home is being destroyed as miners, loggers, and
developers move in on the cultures of these people to strip away their
resources and complicate the peaceful, simple lives of these primitive
tribes. However, the tribes are not the only ones who lose in this
situtation. If rain forest invasion continues, mankind as a whole will lose a
valuable treasure: the knowledge of these people in utilizing the resources
and plants of the forest for food, building, and medicine. To prevent this
loss, the governments of the countries housing the rain forests should
provide some protection for the forest and its inhabitants through
legislation, programs. Also, environmentalists should pursue educating
the tribes in managing thier resources for pragmatic, long-term profit
Although hard to believe, the environmental problems of today
started a long time before electricty was invented, before automobilies
littered the highways, and before industries dotted the countryside. From
ancient times to the Industrial Revolution, humans began to change the
face of the earth. As populations increased and technology improved and
expanded, more significant and widespread problems arose. “Today,
unprecedented demands on the environment from a rapidly expanding
human population and from advancing technology are causing a continuing
and acelerating decline in the quality of the environment and its ability to
sustain life” (Ehrlich 98). Increasing numbers of humans are intruding on
remaining wild land-even in those areas once considered relatively safe
from exploitation. Tropical forests, especially in southest Asia and the
Amazon River Basin, are being destroyed at an alarming rate for timber,
conversion to crop and grazing lands, pine plantations, and settlements.
According to researcher Howard Facklam, “It was estimated at one point in
the 1980s that such forest lands were being cleared at the rate of 20
(nearly 50 acres) a minute; another estimate put the rate at more than
200,000 sq km (more than 78,000 sq mi) a year. In 1993, satellite data
provided the rate of deforestation could result in the extinction of as many
as 750,000 speices, which would mean the loss of a muliplicity of
products: food, fibers, medical drungs, dyes, gums, and resins” (53). So
what kind of condition will the forests be in in the year 2050? If this rate of
deforestation continues, there will be no tropical rain forest in the year
2050. Therefore, preservation need to occur now in order stop the terrible
loss of the rain forests and all that it can provide.
Rain forest destruction has two deadly causes: loggers and miners.
For example, imagine loggers on bulldozers rolling into the forest, tearing
down not only trees, but the invisible barrier between the modern,
materialistic world and the serene paradise under the forest canopy.
Forest locals told Scholastic Update that “…so much forest has vanished
that the weather has changed delaying rains and increasing heat….” (Leo
19). Along with the loggers come miners seeking the gold and other
minerals found in the forest. The article “My Trip to the Rain Forest” points
out that the rivers of the rain forests become poisoned by the mercury
leaked in gold-mining. This exposes the tribes to diseases which they have
no immunity to, such as malaria, tuberculsis, and the flu. The miners also
bring in violence, which has killed over 1,500 members of one tribe in the
Amazon. Many of the tribes leave their ancestoral homes to flee the noise
and disruption of the miners (Smith 66). Certainly, these loggers and
miners must not think of the areas they invade and destroy as a home.
Conseuently, invading the rain forest is no different than bullsdozers
leveling out a suburb in the United States. The lifestyles in rain forest
villages and American towns are vastly different, but the two share one very
important similarity: in these settlements live human beings with minds,
families, and feelings.
In fact, there is a way to limit deforestation of the rain forest:
through forest conservation. The conservation of forest trees involves
three fundamental principles. The first is protection of the growing tree
crop from fire, insects, and disease. However, fire, once regarded as a
destroyer of forests, is now recognized as a management tool when
carefully employed. Some important timber trees actually require fire for
successful regeneration. The second principle concerns proper harvesting
methods, ranging from removal of all trees (clear-cutting) to removal of
selected mature trees (selection cutting), and provision for reproduction,
either naturally from seed trees or artificially by planting. The rate and
frequency of any cutting should aim for sustained production over an
indeifinite period. The third principle of conservation is complete use of
all trees harvested. Technological advances, such as particleboard and
gluing, have created such uses for branches, defective logs, trees too small
to be milled into boards, and so-called inferior trees (Cappon 89).
Through forest conservation, the lives and health of the rain forest
inhabitants can be preserved along with wildlife and their habitat.
However, the lives and health of the tribes are not the only treasure
being lost by rain forest destruction. The people of the forests possess
amazing knowledge in using the plants, trees, and other forest resources.
The tribes utilize their resources to sustain all aspects of their lives from
eating to healing. For example, journalist Anne Hornaday got to
experience some of methods used by the tries when she visted the Amazon.
By striking a tree with his machete, Anne’s guide was able to predict the
weather, “When many birds answer, that means rain is coming” (Hornaday
28). As the natives examined the trees of the forest, her guide expalined
that the men check to see if fruit has been eaten off the trees. They can
determine which direction to continue their hunt simply by following the
tracks of whichever animal ate the fruit. Native fisherman use the bark
from hairari trees to drag the rivers and stun the fish they need to catch
Also, the native people have a natural sense of direction. The tribes
chart vast distances of the pacific Ocean using only “…their knowledge of
currents and the feel of intermittent waves that bounce off distance islands
(Hornaday 29). Their methods may seem primitve, but the ways of the rain
forest people have come to be respected and valued by scientists and
conservationists. In addition, The farming methods of the people are
excellent in preservation of the land and abudnant in production. They
farm without irrigation and have developed an in-depth understanding of
plant life (29). Furthermore, this knowledge of plants if not only used in
cultivating, but also in one of the most fascinatign aspects of the tribes’
wisdom: their natural healing methods. Tribal healers, called shamans,
are able to treat illnesses from colds to wounds. The treatments, such as
using termites and poisonous plants to heal wounds, may seem exotic or
unlikely, but are amazing in their results.
Remarkably, medical proffesionals are turing to the healers in their
reseach. The knowledge of the healers is regarded as a valueable research
source to both medical researchers and doctors. Leading the way, reports
Business Week, is a San Carlos, California-based company called Shaman
Pharmaceuticals, Incorporated. This small, successful operation has
developed a method researchers describe as “ethnobotany”, in which the
company sends their scientists into the forests to meet with tribal healers
about medicinal properties of plants. The scientist show the shamans
medical cases and photos to see how they would treat the problem.
According to Business Week, this method bring about “…an initial hit
about half the time, versus a miniscule fraction of that in
random-screening programs done by large-scale research companies”
(53). The article continues by saying that Shaman Pharmaceuticals’
program is also beneficial to the people of the forest. The company began
foundation to help save the homes of the tribes that help them in their
research by employing them to harvest the plants that the company uses
Unfortunately, with each advance by those who destroy the forest
and disrupt the cultures within, this knowledge becomes increasingly
threatened. There are several reasons why. Sadly, the tribal healers are
either forced out of their homes along with their tribes or die from illnesses
or violence brought in by outsiders. Eugene Linden, a journalist of Time,
points out a more disturbing reason: the young tribe members are
ashamed of their culture. They have seen the technologies and novelties of
civilization outside the forest and are embarassed by their simple lifestyle.
“Students who leave villages for schooling…learn that people, not the
spirits of their ancestors, created the machines, dams, and other so-called
cargo of the modern world. Once absorbed, this realization undermines
the credibility and authority of elders” (Linden 50). Therefore, since some
of their former teachings or beliefs were proved wrong, they make no effort
to learn or carry on the useful traditions of their cultures.
Ironically, the tribes are at times responsible for the damage done to
their homeland. According to Scholastic Update, some of the tribes
looking for a short-term profits and quick relief from poverty “…cut their
own deals with miners, developers, and loggers”(Leo 20). G.T. Miller,
author of Living in the Rain Forest says this is to be expected:
When an economically struggling country has a choice beween
logging a forest to sell timber for high profits and leaving the
forest intact without monetary compensation, the nation
chooses the profitable alternative. Because immediate
economic gains…are more important than future
Obviously, the tribes are confused. They are being pulled in all different
diections by teems of environmentalists offering contradticing solutions
and they are being mesmerized by the promise of financial gain made by
developers and businessmen who want the forest for their own use.
Therefore, a specialized environmental group needs to step in. A
group with the goal to save the homes, cultures, and knowledge of the
indigenous people, which the rain forest rightfully belongs to. A group that
will not use the situation as an opportunity to launch fund-raising schemes
for their benefit. If the National Arbor Day Foundation would focus its Rain
Forest Rescue program to educating these tribes in the most beneficial
ways to use their forest resources, the people would be fortified to resist
the temptation to sell off their forest land in hopes of quick money. In the
article, “Paradise Lost?”, a study showed that “…an acre in the Peruvian
Amazon would be worth $148 if used for cattle pasture, $1000 if cut for
timber, and $6820 if selectively combed for fruits, rubber, and other
profits….” (Linden 51). Tribal leaders need to be shown this information,
they need to be shown the evidence of benefiting from conversation.
In addition, the governments of the countries where rain forests are
located can also play a part. Through legislation and programs, the
governments need to regulate the infusion of developers, miners, and
loggers into the forests. They can do this in a way similar to the way the
NCAA regulates the recruiting of athletes. By closely restricting “recruiting
tactics” made to convince the tribes to surrender their land, the natives will
be less bombarded by fast-talking, money-hungary cooporations. Also,
there should be less outsiders allowed into the forests to destroy its
simplicity. This will also keep the cultures from being overshadowed by
those of the outside world, which will help to preserve pride of the tribe
members in their traditions and knowledge.
In fact, some governments have started to make an effort in
preservation of the rain forests. For example, in June 1992, the United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development, commonly known
as the Earth Summit, convened for 12 days on the outskirts of Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil. The Earth Summit devleoped and legitimized a broad
agenda for environmental, economic and political change. The purposes of
the conference were to identify long-term enviromental reforms and to
initiate processes for their international implementation and supervision.
Conventions were held to discuss and adopt documents on the
environment. The major topics covered by these conventions included
climate change, biodiviersity, forest protections, Agenda 21 (a 900-page
blueprint for environmental development), and the Rio Declaration (a
six-page statement that called for integrating the environment with
economic development). The Earth Summit was a historic event of great
significance. Not only did it make the environment a priority on the
world’s agenda, but delegates from 179 countries attended, making it the
largest conference ever held (“Environment”).
However, depsite great interest in the environment, enviornmental
education still needs more focus. According to conservationist Raymond
To reduce environmental degradation and for humanity to
save its habitat, societies must recognize that the
environment is finite. Environmentalaists believe that, as
populations and their
demands increase, the idea of continuous growth must give
way to a more rational use of the environment, but that this
be accomplised only by a dramatic change in the attitude of
human species. The human attack on the environment has
been compared to the dramatic upheavals of the earth in the
geologic past; whatever a society’s attitude may be toward
continuous growth, humanity should recognize that this attack
threatens human survival (12).
The serenity of the rain forest is worth preserving both for sake of the
tribes who call it home and for the human population that can benefit from
the rain forests’ inhabitants invaluable expertiese in hunting, building,
conservation, and natural healing. Why must miners, loggers, and
developers invade this uncomplicated society? Why not let these people
live confidently in their traditions and peacefully in their paradise instead
of destroying their homes or deceiving them into destroying themselves?
The rain forest is their home, and as one tribal leader told Time, “If we die,
we die in the forest. There is no other place for us to go” (Linden 51).
Cappon, Daniel. Health and the Environment. Pergamon, 1990.
Colins, Mark. The Last Rainforest. Oxford, 1991.
Dasmann, Raymond. Environmental Conservation. 5th ed. Wiley, 1988.
Echrlich, Anne et al. Earth. Watts, 1987.
“Enchanted Canopy, The.” Business Week. 5 Sept. 1989: 52-53.
“Environment.” Microsoft Encarta ’95: The Complete Interactive Multimedia
Encyclopedia. 1995 edition. CD-Rom. Microsoft Corporation, 1992-
Facklam, Howard. Plants: Extinction or Survival?. Enslow, 1990.
Hornaday, Anne. “Earth’s Threatened Resources.” Congressional Quarterly.
2 Sept. 1993: 28-29.
Linden, Eugene. “Paradise Lost?” Time. 19 July 1990: 50-51.
Leo, Robert. “The Changing Forest.” Scholastic Update. 2 Sept. 1992: 20.
Miller, G.T. Living in the Environment. Wadsworth, 1987.
Smith, Duane A. “My Trip to the Rain Forest.” Mining America: The
Industry and the Environment. 3 Sept. 1991: 66.
Category: Social Issues