Alternative medicine and Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest.

Alternative Medicine in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

The diversity of plant species in the Amazon Rainforest is the greatest on earth. At least 120 prescription drugs come from rainforest plants. It is hardly surprising then that there is a great deal of knowledge locked away in the brains of the Shaman regarding the plants they use to cure a multitude of illnesses. Knowledge that has been passed down over many generations.
Alternative medicine is used by both forest dwellers and townies in the Amazon. Local shaman make up potions and creams from animal fats and plants. They are preferred by many people to conventional medicines and used for diseases and injuries.
Most locals prefer to go to a shaman then make the arduous, often long, journey to a doctor or hospital.
During a stay at a hotel situated halfway between Manaus and Manacapuru, I saw this reliance and trust in the shaman at work. One of the women staff had slipped over. Her ankle had swollen badly. So she limped off to the forest and returned the next day with the heavily bandaged leg smelling strongly of camphor and other indistinctive scents. She had been to the local shaman who had applied several ointments to the swelling. With the knowledgeable use of natural remedies, the shaman assured her that her ankle would be fine and a week later, she was back to normal. The peoples confidence in the shamans powers, I think, has a lot to do with recovery.
Having been to a shaman I can see why. They have a hands on approach, something conventional doctors seem to have abandoned. They are caring and soothing and will not be rushed. Surrounded by their potions and lotions and balms of uncertain origins, they will make up something special for each individual patient.
I bought several of these balms and used them on bites and bruises. They were made up, I was told, of jaguar and caiman fat and plant extracts. The perfumes emitted were either sweet and pleasant or antiseptic and balmy.
Natural remedies were freely on sale in stalls close to the harbour in Manaus, where row upon row of little bottles were stacked on shelves filled with assorted liquids. Balms and creams were put in small, plastic pots.
The shaman fills empty seed cases with his concoctions, which oddly I prefer. He will slice the top of a hard shell and reattach it with a piece of thin string to make a lid for the little container.

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The knowledge of the shaman passed down often through families should, I think, be something to be explored. Sadly, we in the West have lost much of the knowledge we had by pushing the keepers, mostly women, to the fringes of society, or by burning or drowning them centuries ago. And even nowadays alternative medicine is seen by many as taboo unless backed up by science.

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Scrapping the bark of many of the trees will emit an aromatic smell.

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See here for information on plants used in the amazon Rainforest for medical purposes.

Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over River Negro-Amazon(also called Ponte Negro Bridge)

The Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over the River Negro, from Manaus to Manacapuru. (also called the Ponte Rio Negro Bridge)

The River Negro meets the River Solimoes at Manaus to become in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon. The ‘Meeting of the waters’, is a tourist attraction, because the two rivers flow side by side and the difference in colour between them can be clearly seen for some distance until they blend into the Amazon proper. The River Negro is a black water river and the River Solimoes is the colour of milky coffee.

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Above this spectacle has just been built a massive bridge, 3,595 m long, joining the Amazonian capital of Manaus to the opposite shore. The building of this bridge has been a sightseeing must for both locals and visitors, as the massive pillars emerged from the water to stand like ghostly giants. At night it was particularly spectacular, emerging from the blackness, enormous and powerful and humbling to the small boats that crept beneath it.
The building of this bridge has been controversial. I often heard people ask ‘Why?’ A professional I spoke to said, ‘What we need is good education for our children, good health care, improved infra-structure etc. Why do we need this bridge? Who is it for?’
It does seem odd to spend $400 million, on a bridge that seems to be going nowhere and I have had many a discussion with people from all walks of life who although impressed by its grandeur are bewildered by it.
The usual way of travelling from shore to shore and to the towns situated on the opposite shore to Manaus, was by small fast boat or slow ferry, with buses and taxis available for further transportation on either side. It took an hour or so, but was cheap, free for walk-on passengers and an enjoyable break in the day. I never heard anyone complain about this method of travelling.
So why? That’s what everyone I met asked. ‘Why?’ It’s a lot of money to spend to cut a half hour from a trip across the river.

During discussions I’ve heard said it could be that the towns on the opposite shore ie Manacapuru, are needed to mop up the surplus of people from Manaus. It could be because of the gas-line that has been built below the River Manacapuru and the potential for further development. It could be that the forest is to be opened up for farming.
That is bad for the forest, of course. In the years I spent too-ing and fro-ing I have seen a gradual clearing of the forest along the road leading from the ferry to Manacapuru. Thick tree lined roads have made way for vast plains of nothing, often with a solitary, towering Brazil nut tree in the middle, as its forbidden to cut them down. The sight of that lone tree saddens me. It looks ominous.
The smell of burning timber and brush also adds to the feeling of foreboding. Out for a barbecue one day, some friends and I went for a dip in a small stream and barely made it back to safety when someone lit a fire in the surrounding forest that was lapping at the pathway we had taken. It’s frightening how quickly a fire can take hold, especially in the dry season and how much damage, intended or not, it can do in a short time.
The forest surrounding Manacapuru is full of extraordinary wildlife, remarkable birds, magnificent jaguars, enormous trees, tiny rare orchids and so much more. It is loved by most of the locals, who have a connection to it by birth and don’t want to see its destruction.
I will watch what happens with interest and, no doubt, sadness.

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Childrens stories…Ananias and the Dolphin….An Amazon boys adventures.

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I have written this story and others about a small boy, Ananias and his life in the Amazon Rainforest …
I wish to enlighten young people about one child’s life in the rainforest and give them some idea of the importance of the forest to him and us.
I hope you enjoy reading the story and those that follow, with your child.

Comments/questions welcomed.

Manacapuru, the harbour of the town in the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The Harbour of the town of Manacapuru, Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The harbour area is a bustling community of shops, offices, workshops and people’s homes, perched on top of misshapen wooden decking. Sometimes the connection between one area of the decking to the other is a single, bouncy plank of wood. Locals balance on this small bridge without a second thought, they just stroll across. Visitors, looking into the murky waters below, tremble.
All day ferries, boats and canoes, jostle for a place to stop and tie up. People loaded with supplies, children with lunch boxes and satchels, travellers with back packs and office and shop workers eager to get going, can be seen disembarking or, in the evenings, trudging back up the gang planks.
The smartly dressed children clutching their lunch boxes and bags are taken into town for several days of schooling. They are the lucky ones, whose parents see the importance of education. Most children get only a few years of basic education.

Counters overlooking the wooden decks are elbowed by young people competing for potential passengers for the ferries. Willing to give travel advice and tickets between intense conversations with their colleagues.
Harbour shops are varied, either barely making a living or a delightful Aladdin’s cave, filled with stacks of dried food and bottles of water or soft drinks; gaudy coloured, plastic household goods and shiny, metal pots; hammocks and flip-flops and ice….. in blocks or cubes for fridge boxes…with no, or little, electricity in the forest, its the only way to keep food fresh for a few days. Shopkeepers sit outside their shops daring you to disturb them, but if you do they couldn’t be nicer.
Fresh fish from the rivers are on sale here too, but most of the produce from people’s small plantations or local rivers will be hauled up to town, where people will sit on street corners to sell their goods.
Beautifully made canoes can be bought at the harbour complete with hand carved oars. They are taken straight from the decking and pulled onto a canoe or boat for delivery.
Also vying for attention are the little cafes. Places where a coffee or cold drink can be had. Somewhere to slump before the boat trip out.

I like the harbour. I like the hustle and bustle and anticipation of travel and I like the sense of community amongst the people who live and work there.
Due to a viral infection my sense of smell is not strong, apparently a good thing I have been told, when by the harbour. This enables me to sit without hindrance and enjoy a coffee and relax and people watch……a favourite pastime.

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Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil.

Manacapuru. Jungle Town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil.
A personal view based on experience. Part One.

The small city of Manacapuru is reached from Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, by car or bus across the huge new bridge over the River Negro or by the traditional ferry and taxi route. It lies on the River Manacapuru off the River Solimoes.
The River Solimoes joins the River Negro close to Manaus to become, in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon.
Manacapuru itself is unlike the city of Manaus. It is designated a city, but is more like a large, sprawling jungle town with a population of 86,000 people. There are no high rise blocks of apartments or offices. Houses and shops are usually just one or two levels at most. It is closer to the forest which lies all around it and is relatively unmodernised.
The new main road leads to the market area and church, which holds a prominent position in the town and in the lives of many of the people. Improvements have been made to this road which is fairly smooth and, when it passes through town, lined with attractive trees. Local town roads are tarmacked, but often potholed. Those further out are dirt roads.
The principal mode of transport for locals are small motorbikes. I have seen whole families loaded on to them: pregnant mums with toddlers, babies and children on laps of driver and passenger, elderly grandmas riding side saddle with bags and produce. I’ve even seen toddlers standing on the seats holding on to dads shoulders!
While the road has been freshly tarmacked for cars, the pavements for walkers still require attention. They are often cracked, broken or missing. Care has to be taken not to trip or fall into holes.
Houses are either painted brick, or wooden shacks and often unfinished and not well constructed. The better houses are tucked away behind high security fences, the poorer homes are open doored. With little of value they have no need for precautions.

Manacapuru is noisy, very noisy. Coming in from the forest it is a shock to the ears. Cars and bikes hoot constantly. The taxi bikes are the main culprits trying to catch the attention of potential clients as they race up and down the road.
If you are unlucky enough to visit during one of the many elections, the noise is horrendous. Huge loud speakers on the back of small pick-up trucks, blast out propaganda and music at ear splitting levels. It’s constant. Up and down the road they drive all day. One car I saw plastered in election stickers had bullet holes in its front window. Opponents? Or someone looking for a bit of peace and quiet……
At night the noise is even greater, if that’s possible. The stadium at weekends often has pop concerts. The music vibrates through the floors of houses and hotels close by until the early morning. Great if you’re a teen, not so great if you’re trying to sleep.
I prefer the outskirts of the town. Picnicking, barbecuing and bathing in the forest and rivers surrounding the town with locals make up some of my favourite memories.
People in Manacapuru are generally friendly and helpful. I walked around alone at night on occasion and was never worried or harassed. But I did keep to lit areas and main roads as I would anywhere in the world.
Open eating areas are fairly easy to find and the food is good. I have a fairly sensitive stomach, but in Brazil have never suffered from problems usually associated with eating out.
For shopping the area near the old Town Hall holds a market place where all sorts of things can be bought: music and film CDs, ‘designer’ sun-glasses, plastic kitchen utensils, mobile accessories, plastic toys, food and drinks and more. The salesmen are often Peruvians, many speak English. There are also, close by, supermarkets, chemists, banks and clothes and shoe shops. Brazilians love shoes.

The River Manacapuru, as always, is the lifeblood of the town bringing in produce and people and providing transport to outer areas and work.
Ferries and boats and canoes gather in the harbour, a bustling area of shops and offices and peoples homes, built on wooden decking over a dubious looking dark coloured liquid derived from the river.
The walk downhill towards the harbour can be precarious. Either down an appropriately named concrete slipway or uneven wooden steps.
Be warned: The bridge from the ferry dock to the concrete slipway, at certain times of the year, is a large tree trunk, which moves alarmingly. Luckily, a frightened expression is usually enough to bring a kind local to your aid.

I have fond memories of Manacapuru. It’s a very noisy, but very welcoming town. I have some very dear friends there who showed me great kindness and generosity, who translated and explained to authorities on my behalf and who comforted and fed me. A mention for the hotel I always stayed in, the Maranata. The staff took care of my belongings and me and provided me with a safe base when in town.

Questions welcome…..

First photo..the main road with Stadium. Second photo..view towards town centre. Third photo..Town centre, shopping area and church. Fourth photo..watching football at local pizza restaurant. Fifth photo..the Harbour. Sixth photo..the wooden steps down towards ferry and boats.

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Amazon Rainforest plants and flowers. ‘What colour is the rainforest?’

What colour is the rainforest? Flowers and plants of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

This question led someone to my blog. My answer illustrated by photos and text below:

The rainforest is naturally predominantly green. Every single shade of green imaginable, forever changing as the sun seeps and moves through branches and leaves to lighten and darken the forest. Because the forest trees are constantly in a state of regeneration and leaf shedding, colours we associate with autumn and winter, with death and decay: yellow, bronze, gold, orange, red, lay within the mix.
But there are other colours too, these belong to the flowers and plants. The Amazon Rainforest has over 55,000 plant species.
Some of the rainforest flowers have tissue paper thin petals. Amongst these Convolvulus, known as Bindweed, in shades of sky-blue and white. Their delicate beauty a wonder in the tough conditions of the forest.
Many plants have thicker, more robust leaves. The Caladium bicolor amongst them. As their name suggests their leaves consist of two colours, an inner pink and an outer green. These plants with large, heart shaped leaves can be found in abundance in the forest growing in bright clumps.
I had to negotiate a clearing teeming with hundreds of small, chirping grass hoppers to dig up these plants for my verandah. As well as being beautiful they served as a shelter for geckos and small lizards.
The Lobster Claw Heliconia is typically Brazilian, loud and brash. The flowers hang down, a vibrant orange and yellow. There are other varieties of Heliconia not quite so brazen, but always with a red, orange and yellow flower. The more delicate Heliconia, I planted close to the lodge, came from a shady part of the forest.
Coleus grow almost everywhere too. The large plant in the photo taking root in a log. The velvety leaves have a rose-pink inner and a dark, rich, velvety maroon-red outer.
And, scattered amongst the bushes and trees, struggling for existence and almost invisible are apparently insignificant, but vitally important, small flowers of lemon yellow, soft pink, sky blue and ivory white. Little beacons of pollen and nectar for the butterflies and hummingbirds, bees and bats.
The river too holds a flower, the Victoria Water Lily, the largest water lily in the world. The huge, flat green leaves with a deep pink underside lay on the water, strong enough to hold a human in its middle. The flower is a showy, creamy white on the first night and a pale pink on the second night.
These are just a few of the many flowers and plants of the rainforest. They give the forest small bursts of either vibrant, or gentle, contrasting colour. Their struggle to find a home, sunlight and water, under the often thick canopy of trees, a testament to natures survival strategy.

Photos:
Convolvulus, Caladium, Heliconia – Lobster-claw, Heliconia, Coleus, Victoria WaterLily (Victoria Amazónica), Miscellaneous.

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Caboclos/Amazonian people of the Brazilian Rainforest. (Brazilian pronunciation Caboco)

Mr.Monduco. A Caboclo/Amazonian local of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

I haven’t written much about my neighbours in the forest. Neighbour, in this case, being a relative term, as most lived miles away and I saw them rarely.
However there was one man I saw regularly when I was at home, Mr Monduco.
I believe his name was Raimundo, but as it was the same name as the son of his wife, he became fondly known as Monduco. He was an elderly Caboclo who had lived his whole life on, or by, the river. He was thin, but his muscles were hard and defined, due to a lifetime of physical work, and he was surprisingly strong.
He had a large canoe for a home, covered with bright blue tarpaulin. Inside he had hung a hammock, which he used frequently during the day for ‘siestas’.
He was grandfather to the children of the previous owner, having married the previous owners mother. When the family moved on to live in town, he asked me if he could stay in the river on his boat, and I was happy for him to do that. Letting him use the kitchen to cook his meals and grow some food on the small plantation behind the lodge.
He was a quiet, wise and thoughtful man. We communicated with gestures and facial expressions and, as I learnt a little Brazilian Portuguese, limited language. He was patient and kind, a true gent and we shared a silly sense of humour.
Somewhere a couple of children called him father, I believed them to be adults living some way away. Otherwise he was alone and appeared to like it that way.
He spent most days fishing in the coffee coloured river, bringing back a variety of fish for dinner. Peacock bass was a favourite. Large piranhas too made tasty meals, cooked over an open fire.
He wore on his head for these fishing trips a child’s knitted hat. The child’s hat kept off the heat from the intense sun and had a small brim that covered his eyes from the glare.
The modern caps I got him he wore in town or gave away. I think the inside band made his head sweat.
When my rations from town were running out, he would disappear into the forest and come back with armfuls of juicy mangos, creamy brazil nuts in their hard shells and occasionally a pineapple, minus the black tarantulas that favoured these fruits.
Sundays, he would hang his best white, lace trimmed, hammock, between two trees and lie in it with a large Bible, occasionally glancing at the open pages with a solemn look on his face. I don’t know if he could read, many fishermen and even their children can’t read, but he seemed to get some comfort from the book. He kept it carefully packed away when not in use in its original box wrapped in a cloth.
He had good friends living in the neighbouring forest areas and visited them often. A couple of his best friends lived across the wide river. An old blind man and his middle-aged nephew. How a man can live in the Amazon forest without sight is beyond me, I needed all my wits especially the ones attached to my eyes to stay alive.
The blind man had lost his sight as a teenager. He had dived into the river and came up unable to see. Whether he had dislodged something or caught an infection was not made clear to me. I thought him a brave man to continue living in the forest, especially as he and his nephew never wore shoes. An invitation for a bite, you might think.
He often came with his nephew to visit around meal times or when he had an injury that needed attention. My first aid box always held something to make him feel better and so did my cooking pot.

Caboclos are people of mixed Indigenous and European heritage.
Mr Monduco in the first two photos fishing and preparing nets. In the third photo sitting on a bench he made for me as a surprise, so I could birdwatch comfortably.

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