Review: In Search of the Rain Forest

Article excerpt

Review: In Search of the Rain Forest By Candace Slater (Ed.) Reviewed by Elery Hamilton-Smith Charles Sturt University, Australia Candace Slater (Ed.). In Search of the Rain Forest. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 318 pp. ISBN 0-8223-3205-1 (cloth); 0-8223-3218-3 (paper). US$79.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

This book, which grew out of a six-month seminar that included a field visit to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, challenges most of the prevailing assumptions and discourses about the rain forest. The extent to which the Yucatan has come to be widely identified (not by the authors) as rain forest highlights the growing ambiguity of the very concept.

The first essay focuses upon the X-Caret mega-theme park of the Yucatan. This is a spectacular nature-based amusement park with a well-integrated blend of authenticity and carefully contrived and executed romanticized falsehood. It has had many positive effects upon the conservation of various aspects of the environment, widespread awareness of environmental values, and the socio-economic development of the region. Yet it also raises a number of ethical and other problems. Its overwhelming dominance of the regional tourism industry causes some deep concerns for more humble operators, many of whom have a sincere commitment to authenticity and genuine conservation. I certainly enjoyed and appreciated my personal experience of X-Caret, but I sympathize with those who express concern. Any serious examination of it will inevitably generate ambiguity and ambivalence.

Other essays deal respectively with wildfire in forested areas, apparently responsible oil extraction in Ecuador, the appropriation and industrialization of herbal medicine in the forests of Belize, a critical history of the Mayan rain forests, Indian preservation of tigers through protected areas, the generation and control of violence in the indigenous peoples of Kalimantan, and the viral forests of Africa as a horror spectacle.

Interestingly, several essays develop and discuss, as a sub-theme, the way in which protected forests often provide a splendid environment for crime. …

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