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Brazil '98: Introduction
Brazil '98: Participants
Brazil '98: Map of Brazil
Brazil '98: Itinerary
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Introduction
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rondonio
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Roads to hell
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Deforestation
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The working day of a Rubber Tapper in Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Chico Mendes story
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Manaus
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Para
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Dam Busters
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Gold Rush and bombing of air strips
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Brasilia D.F.
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro and the return
Brazil '98: Debates
Brazil '98: Sponsors
Brazil '98: Brazil Facts

The working day of a Rubber Tapper in Acre

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 tapper’s 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 coffee.
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 day’s 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.