José Maria

I shall continue by anchoring my discussion of the floodplain peasantry of Amazon by looking at one man - José Maria. Through an outline of this man's life I shall introduce variousdata and concepts that are necessary to understand the context in which he lives.

José Maria lives in a community of floodplain dwellers, totalling about 800 people, in the middle to lower reaches of river Amazon, known as Parú. Urbanites and elites call these rural-living people caboclos. The term is not usually one of self-ascription, but as José Maria once wrily commented, 'people call us caboclos, so we must be'. People like José Maria might more often refer to themselveswith any number of labels, mostly ones which derive from where they live to and the work they do: floodplain dwellers (varzeiros), Parúaros (i.e. people from where they live), fisherpeople (pescadores), agriculturalists (lavradores), hunters (caÁadores) raisers of cattle (criadores), and sometimes more politically, rural workers, (trabaladores rurais) and poor people (os pobres). In a collective sense, they are all these things, since they have a diverse economy, live in marginal areas and form part of the great mass of the rural poor in Brazil (see riverine peasantries)

In the picture above you can see José Maria. This was taken in front of the house I stayed in at the beginning of the flood in 1993. I got to know José Maria well, spending much time with him fishing, hunting, mending nets and eating. He had a vicious sense of humour, often satirising his neighbours and kinspeople. He was very much his 'own man', refusing to be interested in the commodities that attracted the young, which according to him made them into shoals of fish. The nails on his hands and feet had been eaten away by a life time spent in the water and mud - as you can see above. He once told me that he felt proud that hehad never to sell his own force of work; that is he never had to enter into paid employment with a boss in town. Instead he had made his life from the floodplain based activities and managed to survive.