BIOLOGICAL, INDIGENOUS, AND COLONIAL
The Amazon and its peoples remain a mystery to most outsiders, and the impressions that the
latter hold are often more fiction than fact (Slater 2002). Understanding the Amazon’s diversity
— geological, geographic, biological, historical, cultural, linguistic, and political— is a major
key for unlocking its secrets. Another is the philosophy, religion, science, technology, and
culture of the indigenous and other people who reside in this environment. Seldom are their
views considered, although anthropologists have tried to convey them to the outside world for
decades. What is more important, the peoples of the Amazon are increasingly speaking out for
themselves (Le Breton 1993, Slater 2002). Here the Amazon will be described successively in
terms of its biological, indigenous, and colonial ecologies. These three ecologies provide
different but complementary approaches for understanding the environment and nature of this
Tropical rain forests are the most ancient, diverse, complex, and productive ecosystems on the
terrestrial surface of the Earth. About one third of the world's forests are tropical rain forests.
Although they cover only about 6-8% of this planet's land surface, they contain about half of all
life, whether this is measured by the number of species (biological diversity) or organic weight
(biomass). Tropical rain forests form a discontinuous green belt around the equatorial regions of
the planet, concentrated within ten degrees latitude north and south of the equator, but in many
areas extending to about latitude 23.5 degrees north and south within the tropical zone.
About half of the world's tropical rain forest is in the Amazon region, the largest reservoir of
biological diversity in the world. Typically within just a few square miles of forest live more
than a thousand species of plants and hundreds of species each of birds, mammals, amphibians
The Amazon is a vast region comprising about 4% of the terrestrial surface of the planet. It is
about the size of the continental United States. The Amazon is bordered by the Andes mountains,
Guyana Highlands, Brazilian Highlands, and the Atlantic Ocean. Portions of the Amazon region
are included within the territories of nine South American countries: French Guiana, Surinam,
Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, about 80% of the
Amazon is in Brazil.
The Amazon River, the longest in the world (6,700km), drains about 40% of the continent of
South America, and carries 20% of all of the river water in the entire world. Distinctions are
made between the flood plain (fluvial zone) and the interior (inter-fluvial zone). The latter are
also referred to as terra firme. Some forests are permanently flooded, others only seasonally, and
still others not at all.
In general most of the Amazon region is some variant of tropical rain forest, but there is no