Base Camp Life in Madagascar

Mouse lemur - Taken by Lewis Kramer

After a much needed 10 hours sleep, I awoke to the sounds of the ever-loud and excited base camp. I decided to spend the morning out in the forest doing a forest survey. What surprised me the most about the forest was that it didn’t feel totally different to other forests I’ve been to around Europe. Sure it was hot and dry which obviously marred my ability to make any comparison between this forest and the UK, but the trees of dry, deciduous forests have to be experts at retaining water and are therefore limited in the size that they can grow. This resulted in the trees being relatively short and quite thin. It was a shame that very few of the plants were in flower at this time of year, making the majority-endemic tree species even harder to identify.

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Tree in Mahamavo forest – Taken by Hannah Williams.

I love forest surveys because they give you the opportunity to get to know a forest more intimately than other surveys allow. You go off-trail into the forest, stomping around in the undergrowth and tripping over logs just as you should be. Also, trees don’t run away from you and hide. They just sit there waiting to greet you. You can study them as closely as you want and, as I said before, I enjoy the natural obstacle course that it takes to get to them.

A forest plot in this instance consisted of going to a predetermined site and marking out a 20mX20m transect. Every tree within that transect would then have their circumference measured at breast height and their height estimated. The canopy cover would also be recorded and a separate 2mX2m transect would be laid out in order to take a sapling count.

Back at base camp I had my very first jungle shower; a bucket and cup in a sectioned off area of camp. It was awesome actually. When you get back from a survey all dusty and sweaty with the contents of the entire forest in your hair, as I often did, it was so refreshing to pour a bucket of water over yourself. On my way back to the tent I had my first encounter with lemurs. There is a colony of Coquerel’s Sifaka’s that passed over camp almost every day. Their main aim seemed to be to steal bait from the lemur researchers but they seemed almost as interested in us as we were in them. One of my friends had a dream that the lemurs were conducting a human behaviour survey on us from the trees. Sounded about right. It was brilliant to watch the way they moved, jumping between the trees like a gang of extremely agile babies.

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Lemur colony
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Agile babies
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look at them fly!
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SO climby
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Lemur Love <3

I also had a stab at doing my laundry, this too was a bucket based system (one which umpteen visiting sixth former’s would complain about). The Malagasy staff had it on point, the western staff did not. I just chucked everything in a bucket with some soap and swooshed it around a bit until it didn’t smell quite so bad anymore. I later found out from my friend Rindra (spelt Reindra throughout my journal, thank goodness for facebook), a botanist from the capital city Antananarivo in Madagascar, that it was normal for the vast majority of people all over Madagascar to hand wash clothes. She found it strange that most people, even the poorer people in England, have washing machines. She’d also never heard of a dishwasher before which was fun to explain. (You put all your dirty dishes in a machine, close the door, press start and go shopping. When you get back, it’s done). She thought that English people must be very lazy, and I couldn’t really argue with that.

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Staff members Ali, Michael and Jenni demonstrating beautifully.

I also took time out of my busy first day to take part in one of the most important activities in Madagascar; lying in a hammock. Hammocks are man’s gift to the world and I would like to thank Dr. Hammock for bringing such a glorious invention into being. I napped in hammocks, I chatted to friends in hammocks, I read in hammocks, I stared at the lemurs passing overhead from hammocks and I recovered from hangovers and stomach bugs in hammocks. Since returning to England, I am now the proud owner of a hammock. But it’s basically winter now so will have to wait another year for that one week of summer.

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Fun game – how many people can you fit in a hammock without it falling down? Answer: not four. L-R Georgie, Emily, Jen and me, all dissertation students.

Lunch was rice and beans. I don’t just mean on this day, I mean every day. There were small beans, big beans, medium beans, large beans… Everyone had a favourite bean. What started out as ‘hmm, this is actually quite nice, healthy too, maybe I should make this sort of thing for lunch back in England’ quickly became ‘If anyone so much as shows me another bowl of rice and beans I will drown their face in it’. Our saviour came in the form of Grazella who was at base camp making and selling the most delicious samosas I have ever put in my face. They were often my substitute for lunch, and when she started selling bread it was samosa sandwiches all round. Grazella was making and selling samosas to save money for a master’s in agriculture, so I thought the right thing to do was to buy as many as humanly possible, for Grazella of course. The sacrifices I make for my friends.

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Grazella

Late in the afternoon it was finally time to meet with my supervisors to discuss my dissertation. I was pretty confident that I had a well thought through and feasible proposal which just needed a tweak here and a smoothing out there. One of the supervisors emphatically disagreed and it was back to the drawing board for me. That was a bit of a downer, I have an enormous fear of being found out as a fraud, of people going ‘hang on, she’s actually really stupid and crap at science’. I know I’m not alone in this, and I’m not just talking about science. It was a bit of a setback and I spent the rest of the day (and night) in my tent fretting about what to do, reading over the limited number of papers I’d been able to download before arriving on camp where there was no internet.

I’m a classic case in that I constantly have to battle through the feeling of ‘I am finding this task difficult, therefore if I don’t try at all then I can still convince myself that I am good at this thing’. I think writers especially are notoriously bad for this. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve given up on a story or novel because I found the first draft too difficult to get through, it’s taken me years to get past that. At the end of the day, failure is good. If you don’t try hard at something you are allowing your fear of failure to outweigh your determination for success. It’s best to just view your failures as the foundations on which to build your successes.

The following day, after a lot more reading and conversations with my other supervisor Joe, I managed to come up with something that had a bit more structure and a bit more focus. For day two I was quite pleased with that, and now that I could relax a little I was actually pretty happy with how seriously our projects were being taken, and how quickly the scientists were working with us to make sure we developed a clear structure for ourselves over the next six weeks.

I spent the rest of the day recovering from the trauma that is interpreting strings of scientific papers for hours. This recovery was mostly hammock based, see below.

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This is the worst photo I have ever seen of myself, and that includes the ones taken of me whilst going through puberty.

In the evening I went out on my first invertebrate night survey. I’m not a night time person and all of my research was conducted during the day so I often spent the evenings working on my project or fannying around with other staff and students. (Sidenote: I’m also not a morning person. I’m really more of a 10am-3pm kind of person. Modern life is a struggle for me.) This survey was easily my favourite night survey that I did whilst in Madagascar due to the amount that I saw, and the excitement I felt with it being my first time out at night. There is something magic about the forest at night time (unless you’re somewhere like Luton of course, then it’s just scary and you should leave). The moonlight hits the leaves and branches of trees overhead creating ethereal shadows as you stumble through, trying to make out the outlines of any creatures around. What I’m trying to say is, my headtorch didn’t work very well and I fell over a lot.­

I saw oustalets and Angels chameleon’s as well as mouse lemurs, spiders and a praying mantis. We were actually collecting moths which I was pretty terrible at, but the place was just teaming with wildlife. I’m pretty bad at keeping my camera on me for these kinds of things. I do love photography but I sometimes find if I carry my camera around I have this niggling feeling in my chest that I need to be documenting everything, and honestly I’d rather just enjoy the moment and write thousands of words about it later. So instead, here are a load of photos that I’ve stolen from my friends:

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Oustalet’s Chameleon-taken by Dave Andrews
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Angel’s Chameleon – Taken by Dave Andrews
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Mouse lemur – Taken by Lewis Kramer

When we returned to base camp, we played one of many, many hundreds of games of bananagrams (speed scrabble) that took place during the expedition. We also played ‘dirty words only’ bananagrams and I’m still pretty proud of myself that I managed to get ‘rimjob’.

The next morning saw me go on the first of many hundreds of botany plots. This was where the bulk of my data was coming from, and also where I first properly met my friends Rindra, Liantsoa (whose name I have spelt as ‘Leanne-Sue’ throughout my journal), and Harison (I managed to get his name right, give or take an ‘r’ here or an ‘s’ there). They were the funniest group of people ever to work with. They are all Malagasy botanists and knew a lot more than I did about literally everything. It was an honour to work with them, not to mention an enormous amount of fun. We definitely didn’t always understand each other, it is a pity but I can currently only declare myself fluent in English (though I’m coming for you, Spanish!), so I’m not much use when it comes to communicating in a foreign language, other than cracking out the occasional ‘Ou est la bibliotheque?’ or ‘Je suis on sort au cinema’. The Malagasy staff however nearly always had at least three languages on the go; Malagasy, French and English, as well as some knowledge of other Malagasy dialects. Wow. They would apologize to me for not getting a word exactly right in English or not understanding the fast-talking nonsense that comes out of my mouth. I’d say you definitely can’t apologise to me when my Malagasy is non-existent, and unless you want to listen to me talk about my cat for five minutes my French isn’t much more use.

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Only picture on my computer right now with all three of us… I’ll explain later. L-R Liantsoa, me and Rindra. Above is Laurence, another staff member and amazing singer!

 I did eventually pluck up the courage to learn a little bit of Malagasy from them, but I certainly did not do as much as I should have. It is a privilege to be able to communicate with people all over the world in all kinds of different cultures, and it’s sad that it is not inherent in us, mostly English-speaking people, to make the effort to learn other languages. For instance, we had an amazing guide from the local village called Theo who did nearly all of the plant identification for us. As there are so many different ecosystems in Madagascar containing so many different kinds of trees, not to mention that none of them were flowering, they were incredibly difficult to identify and tell apart. If we had had to go around with books there is simply no way I or anyone else would’ve been able to do their botany research, but because we had Theo it was possible. But I couldn’t communicate with Theo. Here was this awesome person with a mind full of ethnobotany and I couldn’t discuss anything with him. There was some translation through the others of English to Malagasy to a different dialect and back again, but it was difficult.

The way I see it, is that every one of us holds an entire library that only we have access to, and if you want to hear these other stories then you have to talk to people. But if you don’t study languages, you are missing out on the stories that are least similar to your own, and I do love a story.

That is why I now have French and Spanish duolingo.

More next week on botany research and camp life!

click on the link to catch up on last weeks post detailing my jouney fron London to Mahamavo: https://lifeforaforest.com/2016/08/29/travel-in-madagascar/

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Mahamavo Region – Madagascar

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Madagascar

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Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Madagascar is an island off the southeast coast of Africa, well-known for its spectacular biodiversity.  Over half of all known chameleon species can be found here, as well as tenrecs, lemurs and baobabs.

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Tenrec – By Frank VassenFlickr: Lowland Streaked Tenrec, Mantadia, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0
Coquerels Sifaka - photo by Dave Andrews.
Coquerel’s Sifaka – photo by Dave Andrews.

Many of the species found in Madagascar are endemic, meaning that they are not found anywhere else in the world.  This makes the region even more important, as medicines and other such uses may be sourced from plants here and nowhere else.  The unique beauty of the area is important to conserve, as we will never have a replica.

By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium - Lowland rainforest, Masoala National Park, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45133077
By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium – Lowland rainforest, Masoala National Park, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45133077

Mahamavo

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Mahamavo is located in the Northwest of Madagascar, and consists of dry forests, wooded grassland-bush land mosaic and several large mangrove areas on the coast.  It is located in the region of Mahajanga at an average elevation of 469 feet above sea level.  Mahamavo is sparsely populated at 23 people per mile and the greatest natural threats to the area are droughts and cyclones.  The warmest month is October, with an average temperature of 33.9˚C at midday and coolest is July with an average of 16.9˚C at night.  The temperature is relatively constant all year round, though it does decrease significantly at night.  August has on average the greatest amount of sunshine, peak rainfall occurs during the wet season in January and dry season occurs around June.  The climate in Mahamavo is humid and classified as a tropical savanna with a tropical dry forest biozone.

Photo by Frank Vassen - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo by Frank Vassen – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

These forests and wetlands hold incredible diversity, Diurnal lemurs such as Coquerel’s Sifaka and the Common Brown lemur are present in this area, as well as 5-6 nocturnal lemurs.

Common Brown Lemur By David Dennis - originally posted to Flickr as Brown Lemur in Andasibe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9002868
Common Brown Lemur By David Dennis – originally posted to Flickr as Brown Lemur in Andasibe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9002868

Two notable species found in the Mahamavo region are Oustalet’s and Angel’s chameleon.

Oustalet's Chameleon by Dave Andrews
Oustalet’s Chameleon by Dave Andrews

  The wetlands in the region are home to the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle and the endangered Humbolt’s heron.

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Madagascar Fish-Eagle

Fossa are carnivorous cat’s endemic to Madagascar, found in the Mahamavo region, as are Uroplatus geckos.

By Chad Teer - originally posted to Flickr as [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4436196
Fossa By Chad Teer – originally posted to Flickr as [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4436196
Uroplatus ebenaui - Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko by Dave Andrews
Uroplatus ebenaui – Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko by Dave Andrews

The Madagascar flying fox and the Nile crocodile are also found in the Mahamavo region.

Madagascar Flying Fox - By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Madagascar Flying Fox – By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Crocodile in Madagascar.
Crocodile in Madagascar.

Vegetation found in Mahamavo forests include Commiphora, Dalvergia, Hildegardia, Fernandoa madagascariensis, Croton elaeagni, Alchornea perrieri, Dalbergia spp., Euphorbia stenoclada  and Delonix spp.  Biogeographically the Mahamavo region is located between Northern and Western species pools, this results in a wealth of incredible species being present, but as always there is still so much more to be discovered.

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Euphorbia stenoclada

Threats to Mahamavo

Threats to Mahamavo, including the Mariarano and Matsedroy forests, include fire, climate change, coal production and the expansion of agriculture.

Logging in Madagascar
Logging in Madagascar

Human activity is present in the Mahamavo region, particularly the Mariarano forest where communities rely on the forest for food, fuel, building materials and medicine.  The wetlands are used for fishing, which is the main resource for the coastal communities present.

Slash & Burn in Madagascar - By Diorit - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12470773
Slash & Burn in Madagascar – By Diorit – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12470773

Human populations in the Mahamavo region are found in the Dry forests, such as Mariarano, where several thousand people reside.  Subsistence farming is common here, where rice, maize and manioc is grown, and Zebu is kept.  Sources of income include mat-weaving, raffia palm harvesting, charcoal production and forest resource extraction.

Rice Paddies in Mariarano - By Jenni Lucy
Rice Paddies in Mariarano – By Jenni Lucy

The most common fuel in Madagascar is wood and charcoal.  This means that charcoal production is in high demand, which has caused large scale deforestation.  Although forest fires are illegal, there is little official enforcement.  Many local villagers may value the natural forest highly, but outsiders are known to come to the forests to produce charcoal.  Local people have little power or incentive to prevent this, and a fear of conflict acts as a deterrent. In order to produce charcoal a license is required.  However most people involved in charcoal production in these areas are unaware of the need for licensing, and as there is little official presence it is of no concern.  There are no charcoal plantations in the Mahamavo region, meaning that it all comes from the burnt forest itself. The current production of charcoal is not sustainable in Mahamavo, particularly as dry forests regenerate very slowly.

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Timber extraction also causes huge problems for the conservation of forests. The wood is sold as construction materials.  Yam is often grown in burnt forest clearings, preventing forest regeneration.  Slash-and-burn techniques are used to clear pastures for Zebu as well as crops.  Agriculture and Livestock contribute 60-80% of the income for the local population.

Zebu in Madagascar
Zebu in Madagascar

As there are no land rights in Madagascar, if a farmer’s land becomes drained of nutrients and is therefore no longer fertile, then the farmer has permission to clear an adjacent piece of land, usually done through the slash and burn technique, wherein vegetation is first cut and then burned before planting begins.  The same applies for zebu grazing.

Slash & Burn in Madagascar - By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium - originally posted to Flickr as Slash and Burn Agriculture, Morondava, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14616879
Slash & Burn in Madagascar – By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium – originally posted to Flickr as Slash and Burn Agriculture, Morondava, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14616879

As well as the obvious habitat loss caused by the slash and burn technique, it can also result in the death of animals which are unable to outrun the fires.  The knock on effects of slash and burn include soil erosion and decreased land fertility.

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Slash & Burn shifting cultivation in Madagascar – By Leonora Enking from West Sussex, England (Slash and burn agriculture) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Lemur hunting occurs in the forests, with the most common target being the common brown lemurCoquerel’s sifakas are not hunted as local populations believe it to be fady (taboo) to do so as they have some very human-like features.  However immigrants to the area rarely follow this rule and hunting still occurs.  Lemur traps are used for hunting, and are indiscriminate as to which species they capture.

Coquerels Sifaka by Dave Andrews
Coquerel’s Sifaka by Dave Andrews

Darts and blowpipes are used to hunt birds such as Helmeted Guinea fowl.  Madagascar fish eagles are hunted by stealing the young and using them as bait to lure the adult into a trap.  The African Darter and Nile crocodile are also hunted in the wetlands around Mariarano.  Feral cats and dogs may be involved in competition with endemic species, resulting in the over-predation of smaller mammal species found in the forests.

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Helmeted Guinea Fowl By Steve from washington, dc, usa – did you call me??, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3975076

Any species that causes damage to a farmer’s crops is seen as a pest, this includes lemurs which eat from fruit trees.  This can result in traps being set out, as most farming in the Mahamavo region is subsistence farming, therefore there is a thin line between having enough food for the whole family and having to go without.

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Mouse Lemur – By Arjan Haverkamp – originally posted to Flickr as 2007-07-15-12h53m31.IMG_1008e, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9617158

How do we Protect an Area such as the Forests of Mahamavo?

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  • Provide educational facilities focusing on sustainable agriculture and use of forest resources.
  • Develop alternative livelihoods, for example sustainable charcoal production which would protect the forest, improve soil in degraded areas and provide a stable income for locals.
  • Reduce the consumption of charcoal through the introduction of cleaner and fuel-efficient cooking stoves. This would also reduce the incidence of disease arisen from fuel, reduce the destruction of forests and decrease the cost of living.
  • Introduce alternative energy sources such as solar power.
  • Establish research stations to implement and maintain management efforts.
  • Develop small-scale ecotourism to provide constant employment in the area, as well as increase the incentive for locals to protect the forests.
  • Utilise local culture to benefit conservation. Fady (taboo) differs between villages;  in some areas, when the head of the village dies they are buried in the village grounds, then the entire community ups sticks and settles in a new area.  The area where the former monarch is buried then becomes sacred, and no one may enter it.  In this way, various regions on Mahamavo are protected through Fady. 

Barriers to Implementing a Conservation Plan

Many locals simply are not aware of the international value of many of their native species.  Over 70% of Madagascar’s population reside in rural areas, and only 3% have access to electricity, thus resulting in biomass being their main source of fuel.

Rural Mariarano - by Jenni Lucy.
Rural Mariarano – by Jenni Lucy.

Education on the importance of species found in the region is very much needed, because if the global significance of Madagascar’s ecosystems and their inhabitants are unknown to the locals, it is difficult for them to take pride in protecting their native regions, or to feel the urgent need of this protection to happen.  Many locals, being unaware of the protected status of certain species, do not know that they are committing a crime when certain animals are hunted.  It is important for the region to have educated citizens on the status of their immediate environment, protecting the area.

Research staff and assistants visiting the local school in Mariarano.
Research staff and assistants visiting the local school in Mariarano.

I will be travelling to the Mahamavo region in June 2016 in order to aid with this important research.  I will be investigating the abundance of important endemic plant species in the area, and how their proximity to local populations, soil pH and climate impacts their growth.  In this way my research will help to advise which areas are of most value to conserve in the region.  I will also be using this research for my third year Bioscience undergraduate dissertation, as I hope to go into a tropical forest ecology research career in the future, with a key focus on botany.

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Me

If you would like to read more about what I will be doing, or are interested in supporting my project, then please visit one of the link below.

www.gofundme.com/gomadagascar

http://lifeforaforest.com/2015/11/15/tropical-botany-and-ecology-dissertation/

Below is a video from Operation Wallacea, who I will be undertaking my research with.

References

https://opwall.com/wp-content/uploads/Mahamavo-2010-2012-report.pdf

http://www.bath.ac.uk/bio-sci/biodiversity-lab/mahamavo/Reports/Mahamavo%202009%20Final%20report.pdf

http://www.academia.edu/5698650/The_carnivores_of_Mariarano_forest_Madagascar_first_insights

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267923955_Patterns_of_diversity_among_reptiles_and_amphibians_of_the_Mahamavo_region_western_Madagascar

http://www.cifor.org/publications/corporate/cd-roms/bonn-proc/pdfs/papers/T1_FINAL_Ackermann.pdf

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My Life For a Forest

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Now that I have a fairly large readership, I have decided to write a series of blog posts focusing on the more personal aspects of my writing.  This post is introducing the story of how my blog came about, and what writing means to me.   it will probably be very long, because I love writing and tonight is a beautiful night for it.

TL;DR: I wrote lots, I got depression, I stopped writing, I started getting better, I started writing again, I started this blog, Voila!

The name ‘Life for a Forest’ actually came about meaning something very different to how it most likely comes across.

I have felt throughout my whole life thus far through one manifestation or another, that my main purpose on Planet Earth involves two things: Forests and writing.  I can’t tell you why, it just always seemed as obvious and as logical as any other fact of life.  All I can say is that writing gives me a happiness and a peace that I generally struggle to find.  And when I am standing in a forest, I have a feeling of completion and wholeness that no other situation has ever given me and I doubt ever will.

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So when I chose the name ‘Life for a Forest’ what I meant was ‘I am dedicating my life to forests’ in other words ‘MY life for a forests’.  I want my life to be all about forests, forever, I’d risk my life to live in and protect any forest, and that’s how the title came about.

It occurred to me days later that ‘Life For a Forest’ actually sounds a lot more like ‘This is what life is like in forests’ and I was relieved, as it made me sound a lot more sane, and a lot less obsessive about plants than I really am.

I started this blog at a bit of a strange crossroads in my life.  I had just dropped out of an Ecology and Conservation degree at James Cook University in Australia (I will come to this later) and had moved back home to my parents in Hertfordshire, England.  I had no idea what to do, I still had an unceasingly strong passion for nature that had done nothing but flourish amongst the beautiful and wild environment of Queensland, and I was scared, terrified even, but I wasn’t sure what of.  I was in the midst of a very intense battle against depression, and it was a battle I very much felt I was losing.

I had been suffering from depression since I was 11, caused when one of the key rules a lot of lucky children, including myself, learn early on: ‘adults can be trusted’, was completely broken.  I was embroiled in a court case as a witness.  I wrote a lot at this time, and everything I had written I handed over to the police in complete faith, including the event I had documented first hand, being assured it would help the victim and I truly believed it would.  In court, my writing was unceremoniously manipulated and deliberately misinterpreted, I was questioned with an unrelenting nastiness.  I can still picture the defence lawyer’s face sneering at me.  My writing was completely used against me, and managed to successfully convince a jury that I was lying; I was not.  The consequences of this situation were absolutely devastating, and as an eleven year old I shouldered the blame and subsequent guilt completely, and silently.  I stopped writing for myself at that point, no more stories no more diaries, nothing.  Just school work, and barely that to be honest.

Because depression seeps into every aspect of your life, and into everything that you are as a person.  My depression only worsened over the next year, as I moved schools after the event, from a mixed state school to an all-girls private school where I absolutely did not fit in.  Making friends in my emotional state was pretty impossible and I barely uttered a word to anyone for 6 months.  My very best friend in the world had gone and gotten a brain tumour, and I really thought that she might die (she didn’t, she’s alive and wonderful).  I needed a friend more than anything at this time, but instead I was an alien in a new school, and my best friend was in no fit state to comprehend my situation, plus she needed me more.

I went from being a loud, friendly, talkative, hardworking and intelligent child to a super withdrawn, angry and rebellious person.  I didn’t trust or respect adults one bit, barring my family (thank God for that), so as far as I was concerned teachers could go do one if they thought I was going to do any stupid work for THEM.  I think this kind of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot rebellion is quite common in kids, the consequences for me of that decision have been pretty dire.  I sailed through GCSE’s with excellent grades by cramming the night before and getting by on intelligence alone; A-levels and my first attempt at a degree did not fare so well at all.  It is only now, in the last three years, that I have been able to actually work.

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Perpetual apathy rules!

So I was miserable, I was resentful, I wasn’t writing.  In order to prevent you from having to read about my entire life story (though it’s getting close), let’s skip ahead to 6th form.  I moved from the private school to an excellent mixed state school 6th form and I loved it.  It was totally different.  I had loads of friends, I went to parties every weekend, and adventures were rife… Did I work? Nope.  And not because I didn’t want to, but because I’d spent so many years deliberately not doing so that I simply didn’t know how to.  I don’t think anyone could’ve shown me how either, my brain needed a complete overhaul and I was too busy experiencing this new form of happiness to figure that out.

I had an amazing group of friends at the time, they encouraged me a lot, even if they didn’t know it.  They noticed my creativity and enjoyed it.  A pivotal moment for me was when a few of us went on a camping trip to Wales when I was 17.  Someone had brought along a notebook and we were writing about everything that was going on together.  I basically commandeered said notebook and scribbled away the whole time, and my friends read it, they laughed at it, they loved it.  So I started keeping a journal again, because this was a very different reaction to the last time my writing was shared.

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Taking ownership over the notebook in Wales.

A very proud moment for me was when my friends and I went on holiday to a villa in Spain a year or so later.  I was up to my 4th journal.  I still hadn’t been able to write just for myself though, I had a niggling fear, almost fully subconscious, that something awful would happen if I did.  So everything I wrote, I wrote as a watered down ‘safe’ version of myself, assuming it would be read.  Whilst on this holiday, we would all be sitting around the pool, and my friends would be passing around my journal like it was a novel, they’d be fully engrossed one after the other.  That was a wonderful moment for me.

In reality it was a load of crappy writing, and they were almost certainly only reading it to see what I’d written about them, but they’d laugh and they’d say unprompted that they enjoyed it, and that meant a lot more than they could’ve known.

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Writing in my very public journal in Spain.

Despite having this new found happiness in 6th form, I was still totally and utterly depressed.  Contradictory right?  Actually no, there is this complete misconception with depression that all it is, is feeling sad.  Having a bad day, crying a bit and the like.

No.  No no no no no.  I cannot emphasise enough the amount of no that kind of thinking requires.  The most literal and apt description for it, the way I experienced it, is that I had this thick, black, dark river flowing nonstop inside of me, and all this happiness, this was just surface debris getting mixed up in it.  It may sound a bit dramatic, but I’ve never thought of a simpler way to explain my depression to anyone.

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Enjoying myself? Yes. Crippled with depression? Yes. Looking hella fly? Also a resounding yes.

After school I worked full time in Boots for a year.  It was the single most boring decision I have ever made, but it was to save money to go to university in Australia.

Saving money didn’t work out.  As my dad likes to point out, he can tell if I’m feeling down because suddenly a mountain of ASOS parcels will appear at the door.  However, due to savings, and a recent inheritance (all now gone of course, thanks in part to depression) I was able to afford to go to university in Australia.

Why Australia?  Actually the real question is why university, because I was in no position at all to be trying to study.  I was still crippled by a depression that I just refused to acknowledge.  One of the things that, upon hearing, I am almost guaranteed to lose my temper over these days, is somebody trying to dismiss depression as anything less than the serious and potentially fatal illness that it is.  One of the reasons it took me 8 years to seek help was due to all the nonsense I heard from various people putting forward totally dangerous, let alone wrong, ideas about people with depression being weak, attention-seeking, pathetic.  I was NOT going to be a pathetic attention seeker, I, Stephanie Martin, was tough.

I have since learnt that asking for help when you need it is not weak.  Seeking treatment for an illness is not pathetic.  Opening up to someone about a mental illness is one of the bravest and most difficult things a person can do, because I would say 30-40% of people will respond with scorn, and still do.

One of the reasons I am happy to write this blog post is because I spent so long ashamed, hiding what I was going through, or underplaying the effects it had on me.  But over the last two years I decided that you know what?  I am so proud of me.  I am so incredibly proud of myself for getting through such a horrible and degrading illness, and I honestly couldn’t care less if anyone gave me crap about  my openness.  If by being open, just one person reads or hears me talking openly and candidly about depression, and decides they can seek help or chooses to stop feeling guilty for being sick, then I will gladly take any level of nastiness or inconvenience that could ever come my way.

Despite all the talk though, the honest truth is that even as I write this I am feeling anxious about posting it, to the point where I am not even sure that I will.  What will my new friends think?  Will it embarrass or upset anyone?  What if current or future employers see this?  But then I picture me, age 11, 12 , 13 and so on for years, crying my eyes out in a variety of toilet cubicles, scared to death and not understanding these horrible feelings and frightening thoughts, and suddenly I don’t give a damn how this comes across.  I want everyone out there to know that it’s not shameful to be depressed, the same way it’s not shameful to have cancer, diabetes or any other illness, it just is what it is, and you can survive it.

For as long as I can remember I felt trapped in England.  I’d look out the front window of my parents’ house and see road, and houses and pavement and know that it stretched unrelenting all over England except for little pockets of preserved, yet constantly threatened nature.  I’d look out the back window at our lovely garden, and see the fences surrounding it, and the fences surrounding all the other lovely little gardens, and I hated it.  I hated how nature was stomped all over, then tiny patches protected and manicured, when in my opinion nothing could be more beautiful than total unmanaged wilderness.  I wanted to be running wild in nature, risking my life around snakes and scorpions, climbing trees, scratching up my legs and getting lost, like Gerald Durrell in ‘My Family and Other Animals’.  So I spent years trying to think of ways in which I could go to one of these incredible things I’d seen on the TV called rainforests.  I used to watch a TV show where a bunch of kids went to the Amazon and got to do survival skills there, and I’d feel so jealous I’d just cry (I did a lot of crying when I was younger), I was desperate to go.

30
I wanted LOTS more of this (note my older brother standing next to me pretending that he would even possibly consider touching a snake, there is just no way).  Also, and I don’t know if you can tell, but I used to choose my own outfits.
12
10 years on my dreams remained unchanged.

So I decided that the only logical route would be education, but not something sensible like get a degree in England with the help of student loans, build a career, study abroad etc etc as my dad suggested.  No, I decided there was no time at all for that, I might die tomorrow, I must go now!  Screw the system!  So I packed off by myself, having just turned 19, and turned up in Australia with a suitcase, not knowing anyone in the country… with the hefty baggage of depression.

I could write essay after essay on my time in Australia (and I’m sure you believe me if you’ve read this far!) But I will try to keep it to the basics.  It was amazing.  I hate the word amazing because it’s so underwhelming, so undescriptive, but unless you can spare several hours of your life reading detailed prose it will have to do.

No longer was I a person trapped in an outskirts-of-London county, I was free, FREE!  And boy did I make the most of it.  Forget about uni, I certainly did, I was far too busy hiking in rainforests, reading about the tropical plants, swimming in waterfalls, exploring mangroves and a million other things. I had no time to be sitting in a dark windowless lecture hall, listening to a person tell me things that I was supposed to memorise, however interesting I most likely would’ve found them if only I had listened.

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Two things happened in Australia: 1) I accepted I had depression and started getting treatment, 2) I started keeping journals for myself.

I went to counselling sessions, they taught me extremely basic things through CBT.  I would recommend Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to anyone as a starting point.  I also went on medication, the pills enabled me, for the first time since I was a young child, to think clearly.  To understand which of my thoughts were real and my own, and which were fake.  To calm my emotions and feelings of fear and guilt enough to think straight and begin to sort myself out.

I also found that writing helped me in a way I could never have imagined.  When I wrote I could think clearly.  When I wrote in my journal, it was a huge brain dump that enabled me to sort the important thoughts from the pointless muddle, it was incredibly therapeutic.

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One of my favourite places to write – Crystal Cascades.
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Another of my favourite places to write – Trinity Beach

Obviously, my non-attendance, non-working state at university would have consequences.  Despite treatment, and despite my magical Australian best friend and her equally magical mother giving me oodles of totally undeserved support, I fell deeper in depression than I ever had been.  I was homesick, Australian culture was a lot more different to English culture than I had expected.  I had some very negative experiences and I missed my family like nothing else.  I spent a pretty solid month lying on a mattress of my friend’s mother’s dining room floor, which must’ve been super annoying but they were so amazingly supportive, then I got on a plane and came back home to England.

I worked odd jobs, I don’t recall most of them, I do remember deciding at one point that acting was easy money and I should just be an actress then buy a rainforest and protect it.  Unsurprisingly that didn’t work out for me.  So instead, I decided to start this blog, not for money but because I needed a way to discover and express all the things that I am passionate about, now that I couldn’t go frolicking around rainforests anymore.

I continued to receive treatment, a key turning point was seeing a psychiatrist called Stuart at the Mind network.  I have to name him because he was absolutely incredible, and I owe him so much.  For the first time, age 21, 10 years after the fact, I sat down and talked about what had happened to me all those years ago, and how I truly felt now.  He spent weeks helping me piece together how my experiences as a child affected my behaviour, and consequential mental state.  He completely validated the way I’d felt for 10 years, he apologised on behalf of all the adults who had wronged me, and he was the perfect amount of sympathetic and pragmatic, he really cared, and didn’t make me feel daft at all.

And he encouraged me to keep writing.  My family encouraged me to keep writing.  My friends encouraged me to keep writing.  The endorphins that get released every time I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard encouraged me to keep writing.  So I keep writing and I will never stop again.

I’d like to leave my post there, but take this as an epilogue.  Once I’d found my feet mentally, I went back to a new college and I retook my A levels.

4
Learning how to learn for the first time, with dyslexia, was no easy task. Though I did have my older brother for company.

I applied to study Natural Sciences at University (I even got an offer at Cambridge! I will never not be proud of that) and I ended up at the perfect university for me, Canterbury Christ Church in Kent.  I am in my second year now, I got a First at the end of my first year and am working hard to make sure this trend continues.  I have two jobs, one as an usher at a theatre and one as a snail care assistant.  I love them both.  I spent last summer doing a molecular biology internship with tarantulas, and this summer will hopefully be going to Madagascar to do a tropical botany dissertation (find out more here:  http://lifeforaforest.com/2015/11/15/tropical-botany-and-ecology-dissertation/ ).  I have fallen in love with the person of my dreams (I had literal lists of criteria a future partner must have and I was set that I would not date unless somebody met them, they were extensive, he surpassed them, I’m impressed), and we live together in the perfect little house.  I write my blog, I’m writing a fiction novel, I’m setting up the new science magazine for my university and writing a thousand other things, which I will soon be collating onto a separate blog page.

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Me and George

I am aiming to go into tropical botany as a researcher, to one day live abroad in a rainforest permanently, to champion the conservation of forest environments and to work as a science journalist and fiction writer.  Watch this space 😉

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Myself and Dr Carol Trim, presenting my research findings from the internship I undertook, which she supervised.
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Albino Plants

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albino_redwood.jpg

What is Albinism?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/18301693364/in/photostream/
Albino Milkweed

Albinism is the hereditary absence of pigmentation in a plant or animal.  The genetic traits for albinism are recessive.

Biological pigments are produced by living organisms.  The wavelengths of light which are not absorbed by a particular pigment, therefore reflected instead, are what we observe as colour.

The main function of biological pigments in plants is photosynthesis.  In this process a green pigment, chlorophyll, and several other red and yellow pigments are used to produce energy for the plant.

It is thought that albino seedlings result from a genetic mutation, whereas albinism in just the stems or leaves of a plant is thought to form through the mutation of a single or group of cells.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Periwinkle_(Vinca_major).JPG
Periwinkle (Vinca major) with albino leaves and a normal flower on a variegated variety of the species.

How to Identify Albino Plants

Visually, albino plants can be identified as the white forms of normally coloured plants.  Albino plants have slower growth rates than their non-albino counterparts.

 Albinism in plants can be identified at a molecular level by the incomplete differentiation of chloroplast membranes, and by the complete or partial loss of chlorophyll.  This results in the plants ability to use light to photosynthesise, thereby produce energy, being compromised.  This reduces its likelihood of survival.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albino_Avocado.JPG
Albino Avocado tree

Plants which are not albino

  • Plants that have white parts such as flowers, which have some chlorophyll present, are not albino.
  • Etiolated plants; plants that are pale from existing in dark conditions.
  • Plants where the green colour is masked by a wax, for example some spruce trees.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White-flowers-azalea-bloom-spring_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg
White Azalea Flowers – Not Albino.

How do Albino Plants Survive?

Albino plants can only survive if they are able to ‘steal’ nutrition from neighbouring plants, thereby becoming parasitic to that plant.  For this reason the majority of albino plants can only take in a small amount of nutrients before dying.  Most albino plants only last for several days, and are only able to survive this long by using the energy originally stored in the seedcase.

Albino plants cannot survive in direct sunlight as they do not have the pigmentation required to protect them from direct rays.

https://kiza.eu/art/image/975
Albino Parsley

Chimeras

White variegation on part of a plant is due to that individual’s inability to produce chlorophyll in a particular area, this is a type of albinism.  These types of plants are known as chimaeras due to their tissues having more than one type of genetic makeup.

https://gl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quimera_(xen%C3%A9tica)#/media/File:Aesculus-hippocastanum-sectorial-chimera.JPG
Example of a Chimera – Aescullus hippocastanum

Albino Redwoods – A Special Case

Albino redwoods have white needles, but despite this lack of chlorophyll they can grow to a large size as a parasitic plant at the base of an ordinary redwood tree.  Albino redwoods are extremely rare, only approximately 60 examples are known of.  There are even fewer examples of chimeric redwoods, meaning that they have both ordinary and white pine needles.  As they are able to photosynthesise to some extent, chimera’s can grow to a larger size than albinos.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humboldt_Redwoods_%27albino%27_2.jpg
Albino Redwood

Redwoods are particularly successful as albino plants due to the way that they grow.  Although redwoods are able to grow in various ways (from seeds, cuttings or stumps) the way that allows albino plants to survive, is through the growth of redwoods from the roots of a ‘mother’ tree.  The trees grown in this way are thereby connected to one another via a shared root system.  This allows any albino redwoods to take nutrition from other trees which have been able to photosynthesise.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humboldt_Redwoods_%27albino%27.jpg
Albino Redwood

Albino redwoods have been known to live up to 100 years, with the tallest observed specimen growing over 20 metres tall.  The needles of an albino redwood not only differ in colour, they are also thinner, softer, more malleable and less waxy.

By studying albino redwoods, scientists are able to learn about the genetics of normal redwood trees.  In chimera’s they can study how the absence of a gene affects a particular function of the plant.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albino_redwood.jpg
Albino Redwood Needles

Other Common Albino Plants

Albinism is observed fairly frequently in sweet cherry varieties, such as Hedelfingen, Bing and Black Tartarian.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1369913
Albino Poppy

References

http://researchonline.nd.edu.au/sci__article/29/

http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/17/3/397.full.pdf

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The Yanomami Tribe

Christian Caron
Yanomami girl, 1997, Brazil.
Yanomami girl, 1997, Brazil

Location
The Yanomami tribe consists of approximately 26,000-35,000 indigenous people living in 200-300 villages within the Amazon rainforest. Their territory is located around the border of Brazil and Venezuela, between the Mavaca and Orinoco rivers. Sustained contact between the Yanomami people and the rest of the world began in the 1950’s due to the arrival of religious missionaries.

Map showing general territory occupied by the Yanomami peoples - By Javierfv1212 (Own work Muturzikin.com Servindi.org) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Map showing general territory occupied by the Yanomami peoples

It is believed that the Yanomami would have migrated across the Bering Straits (between Asia and America) approximately 15,000 years ago, before making their way down to South America.

Bering Strait
Bering Strait

The Yanomami territory in Brazil spreads over 9.6 million hectares. In Venezuela, they live in the 8.3 million hectare Alto Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve.

Yanomami Land
Yanomami Land

Society and Culture
The Yanomami have four major dialects: Yanam, Sanumá, Yanomámi and Yanomamö. Local variations and dialects also exist. The origins of the Yanomami language are obscure and as such, it is considered to be unrelated to any other South American indigenous languages; a language isolate.

Yanomami Languages in Venezuela
Yanomami Languages in Venezuela

A tuxawa (headman) acts as the leader of each village, but there is no single leader for the entire Yanomami tribe, as they do not identify themselves as being one entire group. Headmen gain their position through demonstrating being skilled peacekeepers and brave warriors. As women are not considered to possess the force and violence to enact these skills in Yanomami culture, they are never considered as headmen. Decisions are made by consensus following debates within the community.

Brazilian Yanomami Indian
Brazilian Yanomami Indian

Each village tends to consist of extended family groups of 50-400 people. The villages are largely communal and live under a roof known as a shabono, which is divided into individual houses and spaces by support posts. Shabonos are made of rainforest plant and tree materials and receive damage through heavy rains, winds and insect infestation and are therefore rebuilt every 4-6 years. There is open ground in the centre measuring approximately 91 metres. Each family unit has its own section with a hearth, where they prepare and cook food. At night the fire is stoked so that whilst sleeping in their hammocks they can stay warm.

Yanomomi Shabono
Yanomomi Shabono

It takes the Yanomami approximately four hours or less to hunt and gather all the food they need, leaving an abundance of time for leisure and socialising. The Yanomami use slash-and-burn horticulture, grow crops such as bananas, sugarcane, mangoes and papaya and hunt animals and fish. They grow plantains and cassava as their main crops; they also cut down palms to facilitate the growth of grubs for consumption. The crops that are grown in their gardens account for approximately 80% of their food source. Yanomami move frequently when resources such as soil nutrients have declined too greatly; this is known as shifting cultivation. As their diet is very low in salt, their blood pressure is extremely low. The men go out to hunt for peccary, monkey and tapir amongst others. When a hunter is successful he does not eat the meat himself, instead it is shared amongst his family and friends who in return will thank him with their own catch. Often a plant extract known as curare is used as a poison for their prey.

Christian Caron
Yanomami Hunter

A bark of a woody vine called timbó contains a poison which is used for fishing by both men and women alike. The vines are floated out into the river and the poison stuns the fish, which then rise to the surface where they can easily be scooped up into baskets.

Yanomami Fishing Method
Yanomami Fishing Method

The unions in Yanomami society can be either true polygamous or monogamous. The majority of child-rearing is done by the women.

Yanomami woman and her child at Homoxi, Brazil, June 1997
Yanomami woman and her child at Homoxi, Brazil, June 1997

The Yanomami have many rituals, such as celebrating a good harvest with nearby villages, where bodies are decorated with feathers and flowers. The Yanomami eat a lot during the feast and the woman sing and dance as festivities continue late into the night. The spirit world plays a huge part in Yanomami life. They believe that everything; rock, tree, mountain or creature, has its own spirit, good or bad. They believe that bad spirits can attack people and cause sickness.

By No machine readable author provided. Ambar~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Yanomami, Venezuela

Shamans conduct healing rituals for the sick using hallucinogenic drugs, also known as yakoana or ebene.  These drugs allow the consumer to communicate with spirits known as hekura, who are believed to be in charge of many aspects of this world.  This practice is known as shapuri and women do not take part, nor can they be shaman.    Through the inhalation of yakoana, the Yanomami men are able to meet spirits known as xapiripë.  They are very small, bright and decorated; wearing parrot feathers and painted with urucum (red), some also have earrings and wear black dye.  Their dance is very beautiful and their song is unique.

Yanomami male
Yanomami male

When a member of the community dies, their body is wrapped in foliage and placed away from the shabono.  Once all the soft tissue has been consumed in a little over a month by a variety of living organisms in the forest, the Yanomami cremate the bones, mix the ashes with bananas into a soup and consume them.  This occurs annually on the ‘day of remembrance’ by the entire community until the ashes run out, and is known as endocannibalism.  The ‘day of remembrance’ is the only time each year where the community openly talks about the dead.  They recall their loved ones in order to keep the spirit of the deceased alive and to strengthen the community.

Jon Rawlinson
The forest consumes the soft tissue.

 Domestic chores, gardening, foraging and harvesting are carried out by the women, hunting is carried out by the men.  Early in the morning the men will leave to hunt, and the women and young children will search for termite nests, frogs, land crabs, nuts, shellfish and insect larvae for roasting.  They also search for vines to weave into baskets and go fishing.    The women take responsibility for the children, until age 8 when the boys become the responsibility of the male members, but mothers continue to rely on assistance from their daughters.

Cmacauley [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Yanomami woman weaves a basket at the maloca de Eduardo in Brazil, 1999.

Menstruation announces the beginning of womanhood for girls, usually aged between 10 and 12, so they are married off.  It is believed that menstrual blood is dangerous and poisonous; therefore the girls are hidden in a small tented structure screened with foliage.  They squat over a deep hole within and wait for the blood to pass.  Female members of the community then replace the girl’s old cotton garments with new ones to symbolise her womanhood and availability for marriage.  During this first menstrual period, the girl is fed with a stick and may not touch the food directly.  She may only whisper, and only then through contact with close family members.  Until menstruation girls are treated as children, afterwards they are expected to take on adulthood and all of the responsibilities of an adult Yanomami female.  Puberty is not considered a significant time for male Yanomami children, only female.

Christian Caron
Yanomami Women

Sexuality is not repressed with the Yanomami, but it is discreet and limited.  It is forbidden for women to have sexual relations with another woman, but men may interact sexually with other men.  If a woman is found to be breaking this rule, then she may be severely injured, or even killed.  Incest between close family is not acceptable in Yanomami society, and anyone found to be participating in such will be shunned and not cremated at death.  However, inter-cousin marriages are common.

Christian Caron
Yanomami

The older a women, the more respect she garners in Yanomami culture, particularly once they have married and had children.  Elderly women are highly respected, and tend to be immune to violence during raids and warfare.  As such, they are able to safely travel between villages, and therefore tend to be the ones who recover any bodies of the dead after a raid.  In Yanomami culture women have an incredibly tough time towards the start, if they make it to old age then respect as well as power in politics and decision-making awaits them.

Sam Valadi
Yanomami Mother and Baby

Invasion, Violence and Death

The Yanomami culture has a history of violence, both with other tribes and within their own.  Although it is difficult to determine exactly how violent the tribe is historically, perhaps the most reliable source of information comes from the anthropologist Jacques Lizot who, having lived among the Yanomami for over twenty years, in 1985 wrote that

“The Yanomami are warriors; they can be brutal and cruel, but they can also be delicate, sensitive, and loving.  Violence is only sporadic; it never dominates social life for any length of time, and long peaceful moments can separate two explosions.”

Amazon, Brazil
Amazon, Brazil

Various anthropologists such as Chagnon and Marvin Harris have insisted there is a culture of violence amongst the Yanomami due to competition for resources.  However, in 1995 R. Brian Ferguson argued that the violence that was present in Yanomami culture was “The product of specific historical situations: The Yanomami make war not because Western culture is absent, but because it is present, and present in certain specific forms.”  He states that Yanomami are in “An extensive area beyond state administrative control, inhabited by nonstate people who must react to the far flung effects of the state presence.”

"Campo12Foto 2" by Jorge.kike.medina - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campo12Foto_2.JPG#/media/File:Campo12Foto_2.JPG

Despite these assertions, up to half of all deaths of Yanomami males are caused by violence, almost always due to conflicts between other communities over resources.  Women are often victims of these violent clashes.  If a raid occurs in a village, the women are usually raped and beaten, before being kidnapped and integrated into the rapist’s community.  Inter-village warfare does not tend to affect women in the same way, although women are frequently beaten, with both sharp and blunt objects, as it is viewed that this is the best way to make them faithful and agreeable.  Males tend to brand their wives in order to symbolise dominance over her. However, if a Yanomami woman finds the violence of her husband becomes too much to bear, she can leave and live with her brothers.

Christian Caron
Yanomami Woman

Sustained contact between the Yanomami and the outside world began in the 1940’s, when the Brazilian government entered their land in order to define the borders of Brazil with Venezuela.  The Government’s Indian Protection Service, as well as many religious missionaries quickly followed, leading to mass Yanomami death due to the introduction of new diseases such as the measles and flu, to which they had no immunity.  From this point onwards there have been many deaths of the Yanomami, due to murder and conflict as a result of the continued invasion of people from the outside world for rainforest resources.

In the 1970’s miners would settle and kill Yanomami members over land conflicts.  Initial efforts to allocate reservations for Yanomami were badly done, and were based solely on the location of mineral deposits, with no consideration for current Yanomami trading routes and trails.  From 1987 to 1990, the Yanomami population declined severely due to malaria, mercury poisoning, malnourishment and violence.  Many of these factors were as a result of the increasing numbers of miners and mining practises in the area.  In 1992 these reservations were revised to take into account the Yanomami lifestyle, and with the aid of anthropologists and Survival International, they were able to assign more suitable reservations.  However, outsiders continue to enter Yanomami land and in 1993 the infamous Haximu massacre occurred, resulting in the deaths of many Yanomami, and subsequently several gold miners.

"SlashandburninBrazil" by United States Forest Service - http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/environment/From_Forest_to_Field.htmlTransferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by User:Quadell using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SlashandburninBrazil.jpg#/media/File:SlashandburninBrazil.jpg
Slash and Burn Forest Removal

Threats

One of the main threats to the Yanomami people is gold mining.  There are more than 1000 people illegally mining on Yanomami land.  As well as the obvious, negative environmental impacts such as pollutions of forests and rivers with mercury, the presence of the miners allows the transmission of deadly diseases such as malaria throughout the tribe, due to them not having developed resistance to diseases that are common for the outside world.  Urgent medical care is very difficult for the Yanomami people to obtain, and as health increasingly suffers due to intruders, this becomes an increasingly dangerous situation for the Yanomami.

Pollution in the Amazon
Pollution in the Amazon

Cattle ranching is also causing devastation to the forests on the Eastern edge of Yanomami land.  The Brazilian army have now placed barracks in Yanomami land, thereby increasing tensions greatly.  The soldiers have used Yanomami women as prostitutes, infecting some of the women with STI’s.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Cattle Ranching in Brazil

The Brazilian congress is also debating a bill to approve large-scale mining in Yanomami territories.  The Yanomami rarely have their voice heard and it is difficult for them to gain access to knowledge about the ways in which mining will affect them.  Brazilian authorities have not removed illegal gold miners from Yanomami land, nor contributed to any solution for the Yanomami health crisis, despite many requests for help from the Yanomami people themselves.  The situation is the same in Venezuela.  The Yanomami in Brazil do not have true legal ownership over their land, as the government refuses to recognise it, despite signing ILO Convention 169 which guaranteed the recognition of their ownership.

By Created by User:Maziotis. Transferred to Commons by User:Danmichaelo 2012-02-04 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Countries that have signed and ratified the ILO convention 169.

Yanomami Supporters

Various institutions such as ‘Survival’ and ‘Pro Yanomami Commission’ (CCPY) have worked for decades with the Yanomami in order to support their claim on their land.  Due to this combined effort, in 1992 a protected area known as ‘Yanomami Park’ was marked out and miners were removed from the area.

Ron Mader
Survival International Logo

The Yanomami and CCPY have also set up a Yanomami education project.  The aim of this project is to educate the Yanomami on their rights, as well as to teach reading, writing and maths.

Christian Caron
Yanomami

Initially, the healthcare NGO Urihi was training Yanomami people to become health agents.  However, in 2004 the National Health Foundation of the Brazilian government (FUNASA) took over Yanomami healthcare.   Since then it has been denounced by the Yanomami as a chaotic mess, with corruption ever-present, contributing to the serious problem of vital healthcare and equipment not reaching the Yanomami in time, resulting in many deaths.

Senado Federal
Yanomami attending a meeting.

Yanomami from eleven different regions in Brazil formed their own organisation in 2004 known as Hutukara, which means ‘the part of the sky from which the earth was born’.  The purpose of this organisation is to defend their rights and create projects that can be run by the Yanomami themselves.  In 2011, Yanomami in Venezuela also formed a similar organisation, known as Horonami.

"Yanomami en el Estado Amazonas (21)". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yanomami_en_el_Estado_Amazonas_(21).jpg#/media/File:Yanomami_en_el_Estado_Amazonas_(21).jpg

How You Can Help the Yanomami

The Yanomami need support in order to hold on to their culture and land for the foreseeable future.  You can offer this support in a number of ways:

Other Sources of Information

Davi Kopenawa
Davi Kopenawa

“It is not that the Yanomami do not want progress, do not want many things that non-indigenous people have.  They want to be able to choose, and not have change thrust upon them, whether they want it or not.  We want progress without destruction.” – Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami Shaman.

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