Large-scale deforestation, or forest clearing, has been understood for years to cause great loss in biodiversity (Foley et. al 2007). Within the Amazon Rainforest specifically, deforestation is a huge issue that has many hidden ramifications often overlooked by policymakers. According to the authors of “Amazonia revealed: forest degradation and loss of ecosystem goods and services in the Amazon Basin”, “rainforests in the Amazon sequester carbon from the global atmosphere, regulate the water balance and flow of the entire Amazon River system, influence the patterns of climate and air chemistry over much of the continent, and may even ameliorate the spread of infectious diseases” (Foley et.
al 2007). In addition to these devastating effects, deforestation within the Amazon Rainforest takes a large toll on the Indigenous Amazonians local to the area, dependent upon the rainforest for cultural, traditional and medicinal purposes. Deforestation is cited to challenge the access to and ownership of traditional lands within the Amazon, and also introduce, spread and encourage the re-emergence of various temperature and precipitation dependent infectious illnesses and diseases (Hofmeijer et.
al 2013). Amongst Indigenous Amazonians, traditional approaches to health, tradition and social life are being “placed under increasing stress in the context of local social and economic changes” due to external influences such as deforestation (Hofmeijer et. al 2013). Profit-driven Western-style environmental degradation has historically placed additional amounts of pressure on Indigenous peoples around the world. Such external pressures can be determined as acts of environmental injustice. Biodiversity loss through deforestation specifically, may be linked to shifts in Indigenous culture and knowledge.
This research project seeks to investigate how the loss of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest caused by deforestation may be connected to degradation in Indigenous culture and knowledge.
The Amazon Rainforest is regarded as one of the world’s greatest collections of biological diversity (Foley et. al 2007). However, through mass deforestation for economic gain, this area is at risk, and so are the Indigenous Amazonians living throughout the entire region, who depend greatly on the Amazon’s biodiversity. The following literature review explores how the loss of biodiversity in the Bolivian Amazon rainforest caused by deforestation is connected to degradation in Tsimane’ Amerindians culture and knowledge. The following literature review thus contains an overview of the existing research including (1) cultural change amongst Tsimane’ Amerindians (2) traditional ecological knowledge loss amongst Tsimane’ Amerindians.
Cultural Change Amongst Tsimane’ Amerindians
The Tsimane’ Amerindians were never successfully settled in Christian missions, but the creation of roads in the region in 1975 led to a stark increase in the number of loggers and cattle ranchers inhabiting their region (Gurven et. al 2010). As the number of colonists increased, the Tsimane’ began to call for their own form of independence. Fortunately, in the 1990s, the Tsimane’ joined a pan-Indigenous organization called Central de Pueblos Indigenas del Beni and acquired legal acceptance of their remaining lands from the Bolivian government (Gurven et. al 2010). However, Tsimane’ Indigenous culture has remained under external pressure and risk of cultural disturbance. Much of this risk of cultural disturbance stems from the continually high rates of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Bolivian Amazon. According to an article detailing the carbon emissions and deforestation rates in the Amazon Basin between 2000 and 2010, “Following Brazil, Bolivia contributed the second most deforestation in the last decade, which accounted for 12% of the basin total, more than the sum of the Peruvian Amazon and the Colombian Amazon” (Song et. al 2015). Additional studies show a relation between Tsimane’ cultural shift and these dramatic rates of biodiversity loss through deforestation.
In a study that sought to understand how Indigenous culture relates to forest tree diversity, researchers hypothesized that “cultural change would be negatively associated with tree diversity in the forests managed by villages” (Guèze et. al 2015). The study, which was comprised of interviewing 86 informants from 6 Tsimane’ villages, collected information regarding the Tsimane’ people’s attachment to their own culture and their partiality to change (Guèze et. al 2015). The authors of this study note that their “proxy of biodiversity is based on trees because they are the most important structural organisms of forests and provide a reliable estimation of overall biodiversity” (Guèze et. al 2015). Although they do not reject the notion that there may be alternative ways in which tree diversity and cultural change are associated, the study found that the Tsimane’ Amerindian’s attachment to their traditional/ cultural values relates to tree diversity in the surrounding areas in which they live, “independently of other socio-economic factors such as population density or frequency of travel to market towns” (Guèze et. al 2015). The researchers also found that three components of Tsimane’ culture studied, including knowledge, practices, and beliefs, might each relate to forest biodiversity (Guèze et. al 2015).
Knowledge, practices, and beliefs integral to the Tsimane’ people’s culture may be modified through cultural change (Geuze et. al 2015; Reyes-García et. al 2014). Additionally, the researchers state that “culturally exposed people may lose the knowledge of which species to manage or how to manage the species, having an impact on tree diversity in the forest” (Geuze et. al 2015). In more acculturated, or exposed villages, biodiversity loss through anthropogenic disturbance is associated “with cultural change, suggesting that the management becomes closer to a Western-type management, possibly through the adoption of practices such as cash-crop production and commercial logging by the Tsimane’” (Guèze et. al 2015). It is important to note that tree diversity and forest structure are not synonymous. Changes in tree diversity related to cultural shift were significant; however, the researchers found that forest structure was not also associated with cultural change (Guèze et. al 2015). Ultimately, these researchers concluded that while cultural change does not always lead to biodiversity loss, in the case of the Tsimane’ Amerindians, tree diversity loss seems to have a causal relation to cultural shift (Guèze et. al 2015).