Rainforest Cowboys: The Rise of Ranching and Cattle Culture in Western Amazonia

    
     The opening of the Amazon to colonization in the 1970s brought cattle, land conflict, and widespread deforestation. In the remote state of Acre, Brazil, rubber tappers fought against migrant ranchers to preserve the forest they relied on, and in the process, these “forest guardians” showed the world that it was possible to unite forest livelihoods and environmental preservation. Nowadays, many rubber tappers and their children are turning away from the forest-based lifestyle they once sought to protect and are becoming cattle-raisers or even caubois (cowboys). Rainforest Cowboys is the first book to examine the social and cultural forces driving the expansion of Amazonian cattle raising in all of their complexity.
     Drawing on eighteen months of fieldwork, Jeffrey Hoelle shows how cattle raising is about much more than beef production or deforestation in Acre, even among “carnivorous” environmentalists, vilified ranchers, and urbanites with no land or cattle. He contextualizes the rise of ranching in relation to political economic structures and broader meanings to understand the spread of “cattle culture.” This cattle- centered vision of rural life builds on local experiences and influences from across the Americas and even resembles East African cultural practices. Written in a broadly accessible and interdisciplinary style, Rainforest Cowboys is essential reading for a global audience interested in understanding the economic and cultural features of cattle raising, deforestation, and the continuing tensions between conservation and development in the Amazon.
 

Winner of the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association's Best Book Award

 

Reviews

“Much is written about the livestock sector in Amazonia, and most of this is expressed in the dry language of statistics and graphs of this sector that has exploded in the last decades. This is the first study we have that explores the livestock sector as a cultural system in a very complex rural sociology—the state of Acre, the place best known for the rubber tappers movement. This careful analysis of social identities and local political ecologies helps explain why cattle production now pervades all livelihoods and lifeways in the politically ‘greenest’ comer of Amazonia. This book isn’t just about rural but also city influence, and thus captures new dynamics that now shape forest frontiers.” 
Susanna B. Hecht, Professor in the Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Institute of Environment and Sustainability, UCLA; author of The Scramble for the Amazon and the “Lost Paradise” of Euclides da Cunha; coauthor of The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers, and Defenders of the Amazon

Rainforest Cowboys illuminates one of the most salient yet least-explored dimensions of society and environment in Amazonia: the rise of cattle culture among smallholders, forest peoples, and large ranchers. While other studies have explored the economy of cattle ranching and its widespread adoption in the Amazon, Hoelle's book is the first to look closely at the cultural dimensions behind cattle raising’s ever-growing presence there. Historically informed, ethnographically rich, and enjoyable to read, it unravels the region’s emerging tangle of social identities, individual expectations, global markets, and economic development. Filling a major gap in Amazonian ethnography and human ecological studies, Rainforest Cowboys will no doubt become required reading for anyone aiming to understand the Amazon today.”
Eduardo S. Brondizio, Professor of Anthropology; Co-Director, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT); and Chair, Advisory Council, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University Bloomington

“I think that this is a valuable book—indeed, fascinating.”
David G. Campbell, Professor of Biology and Henry R. Luce Professor of Nations and the Global Environment, Chair of Environmental Studies Concentration, Grinnell College, and author of A Land of Ghosts: The Braided Lives of People and the Forest in Far Western Amazonia and The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica

This complex, multivalenced historical ethnography of Acre state in the western Amazon unexpectedly portrays the rise of a Western-influenced cattle culture.  Rubber-tappers and subsistence farmers have contested the invasion of the cattle complex, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of legendary rubber tapper and activist Chico Mendez, who was assassinated in 1988 after internationalizing the plight of the rain forest.  Now, more and more residents not only accept but to some extent even valorize the "cattle-centric vision" of their rural society. Examining the cattle paradigm as a whole, Hoelle (anthropology, UCSB) notes how the perceptions and activities of the entire population have shifted, due not only to strong political and economic structures but also to powerful cultural factors involving issues of identity, social relationships, and cultural meaning.  The growing cattle complex has generated a Wild West atmosphere with the rise of cowboy culture, "country" music, rodeos, and beef barbecues across the population.  The author asserts that an understanding of the many perspectives within Amazonian Brazil is the crucial underlying factor in any viable move for forest protection.  The cattle culture presents itself as the best option- regionally, nationally, and internationally-for the pan-Brazilian quest for reconciliation of rural and urban and other critical issues.
Cattle culture now *is* Acrean culture.*Summing Up:* Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above
- P. Passariello, Centre College. Choice Reviews Online

"Hoelle’s insightful depiction of Amazonian transformations offers solid ground over which others may critically advance some of his key arguments. . . . arguably the book’s most important contribution: it bridges the research agendas of scholars who often talk past one another. . . . Rainforest Cowboys’s heterodox approach may be useful for a wide range of projects, from science and technology studies on emerging socio-natural entanglements to quantitative modeling of cultural beliefs. Rainforest Cowboys will inspire anthropologists working in a range of fields to critically engage with Amazonia’s shifting ecologies."
Current Anthropology

"For scholars and students of the amazon region and cattle cultures, Rainforest Cowboys offers a compelling account of the cultural importance of cattle and beef. . . . his in-depth focus on the Brazilian state of Acre can illuminate similar or contrasting cultural changes in other areas undergoing environmental change.”
Agricultural History

Andrew Revkin, New York Times Dot.earth and author of
The Burning Season: The Murder of Chico Mendes and the Fight for the Amazon Rain Forest.

 

Rainforest Cowboys illuminates one of the most salient yet least-explored dimensions of society and environment in Amazonia: the rise of cattle culture among smallholders, forest peoples, and large ranchers. While other studies have explored the economy of cattle ranching and its widespread adoption in the Amazon, Hoelle's book is the first to look closely at the cultural dimensions behind cattle raising’s ever-growing presence there. Historically informed, ethnographically rich, and enjoyable to read, it unravels the region’s emerging tangle of social identities, individual expectations, global markets, and economic development. Filling a major gap in Amazonian ethnography and human ecological studies, Rainforest Cowboys will no doubt become required reading for anyone aiming to understand the Amazon today.”
—Eduardo S. Brondizio, Professor of Anthropology; Co-Director, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT); and Chair, Advisory Council, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University Bloomington - See more at: http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/hoelle-rainforest-cowboys#stha...