Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pimenta Jiquitaia - a Development Project by Brazil's Indigenous Amazonians

In the past few weeks media around the world have published photos of one of the last indigenous tribes in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil that remains "uncontacted" by modern society. It is estimated that there are up to 100 groups or tribes still remaining in the world's largest rain forest that have had no contact with the outside world. It is only in the Amazon and in western Papua New Guinea where there are still populations living as they always have - with non of the benefits, discomforts or dangers of the 21st century world.

There are, of course, many more tribes in those regions that have contact with the world outside their forest, but in Brazil, the amount and kind of that contact is often limited in an attempt to preserve traditional lifestyles and cultures. A governmental organization, FUNAI, is charged with protecting these people and their culture, which it has done with varying success. There are numerous NGOs as well who work with native groups to ensure the continued viability of traditional Indian cultures.

One of these NGOs, called the Instituto Socioambental (ISA), has a project to help the women of the Baniwa tribe in the upper reaches of the Rio Negro commercialize a traditional product called pimenta jiquitaia. It is a ground mixture of dried chile peppers and salt, something the tribe has used to season their food since before the arrival of Europeans to the Amazon. In traditional Indian cooking, spices and seasonings were never added during the cooking process - meats were grilled without seasoning, and broths and stews were similarly unseasoned. The Indians preferred to add seasoning directly to their food when it was in the mouth - tossing a bit of pimenta jiquitaia into their mouth as they chewed a piece of meat.

The Baniwa live in one of the most isolated parts of Brazil, a region known as São Gabriel da Cachoeira
Exibir mapa ampliado along the upper stretches of the Rio Negro - about 850 km. northwest of Manaus, where the Rio Negro joins the Amazon. Working with ISA coordinator Adeilson Lopes da Silva, the Baniwa women have begun to commercially produce pimenta jiquitaia using traditional techniques and ingredients (mostly pimenta malagueta, but also other varities of hot peppers.) It is hoped that sales of pimenta jiquitaia will provide needed income to the producers while at the same time introducing a traditional aboriginal food product to the larger world outside the rain forest of the Amazonian basin.

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