by government plans for colonization of the region, is the essential feature of low—extremely low—population density.


The Kayapo Indians of central Brazil live far to the south of the Yanomami in the watershed of the Xingu River, which is one of the major right-bank tributaries of the Amazon. Their territory is near the southern limit of the tropical forests of Amazonia and includes terra firme and gallery forests interspersed with areas of more or less open cerrado (similar to savannah). Their knowledge, management, and use of the floral and faunal resources of the forests in their territory are astonishingly subtle and complex. It is unlikely that the Kayapo are unique—they are simply, and by far, the best studied of the many Indian groups of Amazonia, with regard to this aspect of their way of life.

Like almost all the Indian groups in Amazonia, the Kayapo hunt, fish, and gather a great many species of the fauna and flora of the forests and practice shifting cultivation. They also concentrate native plants by growing them in resource islands, forest fields, forest openings, tuber gardens, agricultural plots, and old fields, and beside their trails through the forest. They select and transplant a number of semidomesticated native plants and manipulate some species of animals (birds, fish, bees, and mammals) used as food or food sources. The nests of two species of bees, for example, are brought from the forest and mounted on housetops until the honey is ready to be harvested. Forest patches (apete) are created from open cerrado in areas prepared with crumbled termite and ant nests and mulch (Posey, 1983, 1985; Posey et al., 1984).

The Kayapo Indians are probably not unique. More likely they are typical of indigenous societies in tropical forests. They not only live a healthy and well-fed life as the human component of a thriving tropical forest ecosystem but they also beneficially manage, manipulate, and modify the flora and fauna of their territory. As a result of their presence and remarkable way of life, the plant and animal resources of their area are more diverse, more locally concentrated, of greater population size and density, and more youthful and vigorous than would be found in a forest empty of these Indian resource managers.

Perhaps the most surprising and significant of their many resource management techniques is the creation of the apete forest patches. Posey became aware that these isolated patches of forest were man-made only in the seventh year of his research among the Kayapo (D.A.Posey, Museu Emilio Goeldi, , Brazil, personal communication, 1986). As he pointed out, “Perhaps the most exciting aspect of these new data is the implication for reforestation. The Indian example not only provides new ideas about how to build forests ‘from scratch,’ but also how to successfully manage what has been considered to be infertile campo/cerrado” (Posey, 1985, p. 144).

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