The taste of life: the management of brazil nut orchards, cooking knowledge and traditional biotechnologies of the Tenharin of Amazonia

By Karen Shiratori, Laura Pereira Furquim, Daniel Rocha Cangussu Alves, Daniel Eizirik | 12 August 2022

The Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) is a central food in the Tenharin cuisine, a Tupi Kagwahiva people from the south of Amazonas (Brazil). Present in several dishes, consumed in ritual and daily contexts, the nut is called the “chief of meals” and “what gives life a taste”. This project will document, following the seasonal cycle of the Brazil nut harvest intertwined with the cycle of the Mbotawa ritual, the different moments of management of these tree cultural forests (named “castanhais”), a practice that engages Indigenous peoples ecological knowledge of clearing paths, opening clearings to help young trees grow among other biotechnologies used in the management of cultural orchards in the forest, besides Brazil nut byproducts, and all the culinary paraphernalia.

Brazil nut orchards are areas of exclusive use by family groups in a way that informs kinship memory and traditional occupation. These orchards are present throughout the indigenous territory, especially near ancient villages and areas of Amazonian Dark Earths that attest to the traditionality of their secular management. There is a rich culinary universe including this nut, which will also be registered, anchored in an ancestral cooking knowledge system, that involves the ritual foods of the mbotawa, the main ritual of this indigenous people that unfolds at different moments of the year. The main dishes are the tapir meat cooked in Brazil nut milk and the “mbotawa”, a baked brazil nut cake with vegetal salt, but there are other ritual foods that will be documented, for instance: pokeka, fish flour, cassava flour, among others.

This project will document the management of the brazil nut orchards among the Tenharin of the Marmelos Indigenous Land, as well as the associated material culture and knowledge. These processes involve old and young, men and women, in the production of tools for harvesting and opening the Brazil nut shells, scaffolding for collecting the green nuts, specialized baskets for transport, pestles and strainers to prepare the nut milk and other byproducts.

The documentation methodology for this project brings together perspectives from anthropology, archaeology, and ecology. The mapping of the Brazil-nut groves will be done through on-site visits and satellite images. The first stage consists of making mental maps with the Tenharin, based on the registration of sites empirically known by different people, as well as those that are in the memory and history. From these maps it will be possible to identify the networks of paths that connect them, the relevant archaeological areas to which they are associated, other anthropic forests that may be related, as well as a history of the areas of use of each family. The second step consists of visiting the selected Brazil nut groves, which will be chosen during the mind mapping workshop based on criteria developed collaboratively with the participants, to verify their exact location (through the use of GPS) and the population and vegetation structure. The team will also document the Mbotawa ritual meals preparation, in order to unravel the connections between the ancestrality of the Brazil nut groves, forest management, kinship relations, food systems, cultural landscapes of meal, among other aspects of the material culture produced for this chief of the Tenharin cuisine.

 

PI:
Karen Gomes Shiratori

Collaborators:
Laura Pereira Furquim
Daniel Rocha Cangussu Alves
Daniel Eizirik

Location of Research:
Tenharin Marmelos Indigenous Land, Amazonas State, Brazil

Host Institution:
Centro de Estudos Ameríndios – Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas, Universidade de São Paulo.

 

 

Top Banner Image: Albertino’s brazil nut orchard (Photo: Rafael Veríssimo)