People of the Amazon

Background - 28 April, 2003
The Brazilian Amazon alone is home to 20 million people including 400 different indigenous groups and the future of the Amazon depends on the future of those that call the forest home.

22 April 2000 People of the Amazon

Deni woman and children sitting in the Tapaua river.

The rich and complex natural tapestry of forest life is interwoven with the people living in the forest. Although the majority of people in the Amazon live in cities and towns, there are still many indigenous groups living in the jungle, some who have had no contact with our "outside" world.

These people rely on the forest for their way of life. It provides almost everything from food and shelter to tools and medicines, as well as playing a crucial role in people's spiritual and cultural life. The people living in the forest make practical and sustainable use of the forest, and live within the constraints of this harsh environment. We have much to learn from their unique and valuable perceptions.

For instance, the Waimiri Atroari of the Brazilian Amazon use 32 plant species in the construction of hunting equipment alone. Each plant has a specific role according to its physical and chemical properties.

Yet the traditional way of life for indigenous Amazon cultures is being threatened.

As logging companies move in, indigenous people are losing their traditional territory. Some indigenous people, such as the Deni living in a remote area of Brazil's Amazonas state, are working not only to protect their culture, but the forest and the diversity of life upon which they depend.

The Amazon represents a last remote and pristine forest on our distressed and overcrowded planet. In addition to the remarkable intrinsic beauty and its myriad plant and animal species, it is clear that this diversity also represents a natural medicine chest.

Forest plants form the basis of primary healthcare for all forest-dwelling people. Dozens of species used by traditional medical practitioners now form the basis of pharmaceuticals used in modern medicine. Many powerful Amazon-sourced medicines have already been discovered and still more plants that hold out real hope for natural cures to life threatening diseases are left unexplored

The Amazon is an irreplaceable resource for all of humankind.

Facts and Figures

  • As many as 150 million indigenous people live in ancient forests worldwide.
  • The Brazilian Amazon is home to between 280,000 and 350,000 indigenous people, of which 180,000 live traditionally, heavily dependent on the ancient forest for their sustenance and spiritual and cultural life.
  • In the Brazilian Amazon the last census determined that there are 20,998,731 people: 14,346,450 in villages, towns and cities, and 6,652,281 in rural areas.
  • Caboclos, traditional forest dwellers of Amerindian and Portuguese descent, are also dependent on the jungle for food, shelter, tools and medicines.
  • According to the anthropologist Darcy Riberio, 55 indigenous populations vanished in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Manaus is the commercial centre of the Amazon region with a population of almost two million.