How Eco-Trends, Asia, 'J.R.,' End Up in an Amazon Town Globalization, Even TV's Dallas, Change Tiny Tarauaca in Odd Ways
Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
With a little knowledge about this river town deep in the Brazilian rain forest, one can understand why even busy weekday mornings here are marked by a refreshing calm - like something out of another century.
The population is young, so armies of children, some in uniform, march quietly off to school on foot. Incomes in the town of about 23,000 are generally modest at best, so bicycles, treads humming on what are often dirt streets, are a common form of transportation. Flocks of parrots squawk overhead, competing with an occasional rooster's crow as they sail off to the surrounding forest.
But the main reason for the tranquility is that for nine months of the year no road leads from the outside world to this riverport on the Tarauaca River. And even during the three-month dry season, the road from Rio Branco, capital of Acre State where Tarauaca sits, is unpaved. With the river the primary means of getting around and transporting goods, there's no great need for fleets of honking, coughing automobiles. Indian families bringing piles of green bananas to market from their upriver reserves glide quietly to the town's riverside market, while other locals patiently cast fishing nets upon the river's surface. But the quiet is deceiving. Tarauaca's relative remoteness doesn't mean it is isolated from the economic and social influences of the rest of Brazil, or even of the rest of the world. The town sits in the heart of Brazil's rubber-production region. The town's seal, which dates from its founding in 1913, carries the likeness of a rubber tapper, latex-collecting tools in hand, opposite one of a local Indian. But the collapse of the traditional rubber industry in the wake of synthetics and a more competitive, plantation-based rubber industry in Southeast Asia, forced many rubber tappers to turn to logging the rain forest's hardwoods. But now Brazil has declared a ban on mahogany harvesting - largely in response to pressure from international environmentalists. Even if poorly enforced, the ban is cutting into wood-related employment. Much of the deforested land forming a close ring around the town is in the hands of wealthy - and generally absent - landowners. Some of them plunk cattle down on their spreads that require the tending of a farmhand or two, but more job-intensive agricultural pursuits are absent. …