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Urban Amazon reveals a composite of diversity and forms of resistance

Amazonian identity is strengthened in the fight against the dichotomy between human and nature

Fabrício Queiroz / Especial para O Liberal

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (UFPA/ ET-Multi)


According to estimates provided by Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) for the year 2021, a total of 29.6 million people live along over 5 million km² of the Legal Amazon extension. Compared to the year 1972, when the number of inhabitants of the region was 8.2 million, the observed increase was 260% in a period of about 50 years. Although the population in the Amazon is constantly growing and is mostly concentrated in urban areas – around 75% in these areas -, this is not the prevailing image. The status of ‘largest tropical forest in the world’, ‘the luxurious biodiversity of fauna and flora’ or even scientifically wrong references such as ‘lungs of the world’, always seem to stand out when the region is at the center of the agenda. The discomfort with the prevalence of green over all other shades that make up the life of the Amazon has contours that raise a broad debate on the relationship between man and nature.

Rodrigo Peixoto, PhD in Sociology and Political Science and researcher at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), explains that since the 20th century, a vision of development related to aspects such as automobiles, highways and real estate projects has predominated. In other words, a dichotomy has been established between this development model and the dynamics that already exist in regions where nature plays an important role, such as the Amazon. “Man puts himself in confrontation with nature, stuck to this prevalent culture of opening clearings in the forest to dominate nature. Instead, we could work with it and not control or dominate it”, says the Professor. 

In his opinion, one of the effects observed is the division of the cities, with niches that have greater access to infrastructure and essential services, while mass occupations increase in favelas and lowlands, where most residents are already marginalized populations, especially black and brown-skinned people. Peixoto understands that this segregation is symptomatic of societies in which social and cultural differences are ignored as well as the peculiarities of groups based on other values.

“This denial of otherness is a feature of the coloniality of power that does not tolerate the other who differs from the homo economicus, conceived and universalized by the liberalism in each and every individual as someone whose nature is exclusively geared towards production and consumption. Anyone who deviates from this pattern, experiencing solidarity, generosity and reciprocity, as commonly occurs within popular life communities, won’t fit in the capitalist city. That is why this hegemonic logic of urbanization despises places of popular life and seeks to sweep from the maps the places where solidarity and reciprocity predominate”, argues Rodrigo Peixoto.

Black women from the Amazon

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Maria Luiza Nunes, Rede Fulanas' coordinator - Photo: André Oliveira

Against this process of invisibility, social segments that show their belonging to urban life, but do not despise their ties with nature, have been rising up and gaining space in the political and cultural scene of the region. The Rede Fulanas – Negras da Amazônia Brasileira movement is an example of this articulation that transits between these different spaces.

In its name, the organization already carries a commitment – the need to affirm the existence of people whose lives are constantly threatened by racism and gender violence. Rede Fulanas is associated with an ethnic group of African origin targeted by slavery and which had great representation in the Amazon. “Thinking about the ‘Fulas’ means assuming this nickname: 'I'm a Fula, I'm a Ms. So-and-so, I have a name'. It comes in this tone of indignation, but also of provocation because this invisibility does not only go along with women who are from the rural Amazon, but also with those from the urban Amazon”, says coordinator Maria Luiza Nunes.

According to Maria Luiza Nunes, acting in the social movement makes it possible to think about life from a collective perspective, although it also brings personal gains. She says, for example, that it was from her struggle at Centro de Estudos e Defesa do Negro do Pará (Cedenpa) [Center for Studies and Defense of the Negro of Pará], started in 1996, that she was able to understand the quilombola origins of her family from the municipality of Salvaterra, in Marajó Archipelago, as well as her identity as a black Amazonian woman.

Today, at 64 years old, the activist speaks calmly and maturely about the lessons she has learnt along this journey. “The Amazon is a black, indigenous woman who is not the heart or lungs of the world. “She” is a womb that conceives, raises, takes care of, and is completely connected to fertility. We have started a process of giving meaning and provoking other women to reflect that this knowledge, these experiences, these prayers, this way of speaking means culture and all this needs to be valued”, says Maria Luiza.

One of the aspects that draws attention in the positioning of the women, members of the Rede project, is the awareness that there are ancestral bonds, which become tools of resistance against violence and the supposed dichotomies between human and nature. “We are assuring not only our existence, but the legacy that we bring from these mothers, grandmothers, women who fought intensely and even died so that we could be here”, says museologist Angélica Silva, 33 years old, who also adds: “We want these women not to be forgotten and the continuity of the battles we've been fighting not to be left behind. Black women in the Amazon do exist, they have a legacy, one stems from science, from the forest, that is transformative and saves lives”.

For the sociology professor Letícia Gonçalves, 25 years old, looking back at the past is essential, as well as it is necessary to assume a leading role in the present so that the endogenous perspective is increasingly valued. “For me, the Amazon often speaks of autonomy, evokes our participation, as independent people, telling our own stories in a way that the rest of the country wants to do in our place. We are here to show that things were not quite like that and being from the Amazon involves protagonism and to affirm that we are agents as well”, she states.

Artistic and sustainable protest

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Gabriela Luz as her character Sarita Themônia - Photo: Allan Costa

Art has also been used as a resource to show that marginalized groups need and want to be in spaces of visibility in the local society. Adding to the analysis about the impacts of waste and the disposable manner that the life of transvestite, transsexual and transgender people is faced,  the actress Gabriela Luz uses what is considered trash to produce an artistic, social and environmental protest.

Gabriela is the performer artist who plays the role of Sarita Themônia, a character who draws attention in her performances for the innovative way of exploring the drag queen art. The word “queen” itself is used in a literal meaning, referring to monarchy as a criticism by the artist, who creates her own aesthetics based on the Amazon reality.  

 The first experience took place in 2016, when Sarita appeared wrapped in cling film in a proposal to criticize the plasticity of bodies. Then she used disposable cups, cigarette ends, crushed cans, plastic packaging and other objects that, instead of becoming waste, were used as a strange and provocative allegory.

“No doubt, my references for this work are the beverage street vendors who hang their objects, their bottles, their packaging to sell their products. At bus stops or at parties, when street vendors sell their products, they hang the item on their bodies and I noticed it: 'how interesting, they are allegorical people who hang things on their bodies, but even so, are not seen”, reflects the actress. “I figured it out  that people are also considered trash. It's not just about the pattern of consumption or consumerism, but the culture of accumulation and disposal, which accumulates and discards people as well,” she adds.

For Gabriela Luz, art has the potential to show that human actions which do not consider nature preservation are harmful to the populations of the Amazon and to the planet, and the perpetuation of beauty standards also affects those who do not adjust themselves into the frame of the so-called normativity. “The life experience of LGBTQIAP+ people is one of daily struggles and a wisdom forged by many challenges. I believe that all this fight only exists in the name of happiness, in the name of love, in the name of respect for differences. Thus, it is essential that this fight exists, that we continue to exist so that people learn to respect us”.