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Home » Biology Articles » Ethnobiology » The ethnoecology of Caiçara metapopulations (Atlantic Forest, Brazil): ecological concepts and questions » The inhabitants of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest coast

The inhabitants of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest coast
- The ethnoecology of Caiçara metapopulations (Atlantic Forest, Brazil): ecological concepts and questions

The rural native inhabitants of the SE Atlantic Forest coast, descendants of Native Indians and Portuguese, are named 'Caiçaras'. Caiçaras descend from Tupinambá Indians, the first inhabitants of the Brazilian coast. Since the fifties, anthropologists and geographers have studied the life of the Caiçaras, such as their history and the economy in the region of São Sebastião Island [7] and Búzios Island [8], among other areas. Other authors have studied Caiçara communities in a variety of other aspects, such as their ethnology, economy, demography, technology, folk music and dance [9-11].

The ecology of the Caiçaras, such as their diet, food taboos, fishing, ethnoichthyology, and ethnobotany, as well as sea territoriality, has been published elsewhere [2,12-24]. The Caiçara diet is based on fish, rice and beans, manioc flour, and whenever possible, spaghetti. Just as for other Brazilians, rice and beans are an everyday food. Marine resources account for 40 to 70% of the animal items found in Caiçara meals.

Fishing, especially on the coastal sea, is usually performed in paddled or motorized canoes, and the gear used varies per locality. For example, at Búzios Island and at the Grande bay area, hook and line (including ripper jig) and set gillnets predominate; at Sepetiba bay, encircling nets for shrimp and fish are gear used. Fish traps are also employed, such as the two different cercos (fish traps) used on the southern Brazilian coast. The first, brought by the Japanese migrants in the thirties (Japanese kaku-ami), is made of chambers of nets; the second is a local trap made with bamboo, used especially for mullets and snooks [25]. Information on these fisheries has been already published [12-16,27-31].

Since the fifties, a general trend among the Caiçaras has occurred. They have shifted their source of cash from agricultural products (especially manioc flour, Manihot esculenta) to fishing, probably due to a general price decrease for agricultural products [29]. In addition, the processing of manioc, producing manioc flour, is labor-intensive, yielding lower returns compared to fishing. Its production involves peeling, grinding, pressing (to remove the cyanidric acid) and toasting [17]. Currently, there are especially two cash related economic activities in the communities studied: fish commercialization and tourist-related activities. The latter activity include housekeeping, house renting to tourists, sight-seeing trips, fishing conducted by local fishers, and handicraft that is locally sold. Fish, mostly landed locally, are usually sold to buyers from local markets. A fisher's earning is usually difficult to calculate due to a high variation in catches, but estimates are given for Búzios Island in 1987, where a fisher's average monthly earning ranged from 75 to 125 dollars (about two minimum wages) when the minimum salary in Brazil was 52 dollars. Another example is Ilha Comprida in 1999, where average earnings of fishers comprehended 212 dollars, also equivalent to roughly two minimum wages at that time [20].

Caiçaras live in areas relatively close to urban sites, such as Santos, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but they live in areas designated for conservation, such as State and National Parks, or even the more legally restrict Biological or Ecological Reserves. Compared to the relatively isolated Amazonian rubber-tappers, Caiçaras have a low level of local organization in the management of resources [13]. Certainly, restrictions imposed by the Governmental Environmental Agencies have held a great impact on their subsistence and economy, since manioc cultivation is forbidden in many sites along with the prohibition of fishing in several rivers of the forest. An example of a decrease in the local capacity to maintain the internal control of the system, decreasing the social and ecological resilience of a community, influenced by legislation pressures, is ironically given by the relative unsuccessful management of Picinguaba, located inside the State Park of Serra do Mar, compared to the locally managed (community based management) beach of Almada and Engenho (Ponta do Almada), located outside the State Park boundaries [15].

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