The rubber tapper
wakes in a household called a colocação between 5am and
6.30am, when the sun begins to rise, unless he has been hunting in the
forest at night. He takes a walk into the forest–its the toilet!
He has a wash in the brook (garapé) and returns for breakfast.
His breakfast depends on how wealthy he is. If he is poor he will have
the strongest black coffee you have ever tasted, corn flower pudding with
the milk made from crushing Brazil nuts or castanha and maybe some chicken
stew or whatever game he shot the day before. If he is wealthy he has
coffee with sugar, rice and stew made from game and forest vegetables.
There is milk for the baby if he has a cow.
The rubber tappers
work depends on the time of the year. From October to March it is winter
in Acre. It rains a great deal and is hot. During this period the day
is spent planting and harvesting manjoca (a root crop), rice, corn and
bean crops. The season for tapping rubber is from April to early August.
This is the cold season or summer, when it rains less and
is colder. It is easier to get rubber from the trees at this time. Sometimes
it gets cold in January or February. Neighbouring rubber tappers can experience
vastly different weather conditions so there is no definite beginning
to a season. The work is shared by the family. Children learn to tap rubber
from an early age. Women remain mostly in the colocação.
They do agricultural work but their main responsibilities are cooking
and child rearing.
The rubber tapper
walks or runs around maybe three trails of up to 200 rubber trees each.
The trees are tapped where they naturally occur. At each tree (seringa)
he makes a diagonal incision in the bark to make the latex/rubber (the
sap of the tree) run which he calls leite or milk. A small metal cup made
from a baked bean can is placed at the end of the cut. He carries a rifle
and machete for protection against wild cats (jaguar) and snakes and also
for hunting. He returns to his hut for a meal. This could be game from
hunting in a stew, rice and flour made from manjoca (farinha) and black
He will return to
the trail to pick up the latex collected in the tins. Cutting and collecting
could take him up to 10 hours. Two more hours are spent processing the
rubber into a ball for sale. The rubber is poured over a revolving wooden
ball whilst being heated and smoked over a fire. Processed rubber is called
borracha. It is heavier and gets a better price. Prancha is untreated
rubber, it smells like rotten eggs, is lighter and has less value. As
evening arrives he enters the forest to hunt or fish for the next days
meals. He returns for the evening meal–the same as the midday meal.
He chats about the days work, smokes tobacco he has grown himself
and sings some songs by the light of a lamp, if he is inspired. There
is no electricity. He will go to bed by 8.30pm or off hunting in the forest.
His only day off is Sunday if the work load permits. On
this day the rubber tapper may go to a small religious service which often
doubles as a trade union meeting.