Indigenous communties need to be self-sufficient and independent for their cultures to remain strong.
In the past, when tribal communities existed completely isolated and separate from the dominant culture and its commercial activities it made sense for them to ignore many of the concepts inherent in our industrial-based way of life. However, with the passage of time many communities have developed intermittent or regular contact with commercial traders. This contact has often been exploited by third parties for commercial purposes.
Aerial View of Kayapo Village
In the extreme, this exploitation can amount to virtual slavery, but even in its milder form it can cause major cultural problems.
Indigenous cultures are inherently communitarian, in other words the whole community behaves together as a single entity. Its people are mutually supportive in physical, material and spiritual ways.
Money is a fundamentally individualistic concept - it has to belong to someone - and its introduction often leads to deep splits in indigenous communities. In the worst cases these schisms are exploited, for example by logging companies, to divide communities in order to weaken opposition to logging activities.
Babassu nuts in a Kayapo basket
At the request of a few communities, Tribes Alive has been helping to develop the infrastrucuture for producing and marketing products harvested sustainably from the forest.
We have been working with the communities to put in place a system which gives them financial access to the manufactured goods which have become part of their daily lives without undermining their social structures. In broad terms, this involves a system in line with Fair Trade ideals, where the community shares in the benefits of the activity while each individual is rewarded for her or his part.
We have built links with importers of raw materials and manufaturers of toiletries and cosmetics, and batches of rainforest oils are being imported into the UK.
Future Development of the Programme
The communities currently involved in this programme want to expand production, and other communities are keen to be involved. To allow this trade to grow as the communities would like, we need to establish a Brazil-based office staffed with people experienced in the commercial world but who have the necessary skills to negotiate the cultural interchange, as well as finding markets and suggesting new products based on market assessment.
The office will be responsible for locating markets in Brazil and in the rest of the world, liaising with the producer communities, identifying additional products, finding the necessary technical support and dealing with the administrative aspects of the business.
Ultimately this office will be self-supporting, gaining its income from a commission on sales, but for the first three years at least it will require our support as the business develops and grows.
We will continue to develop our customer base here in the UK.