Whenever we talk about the history of the Amazon it is always described according to economic cycles that shaped its towns, villages, societies and environments. It’s hard to find a place in the Brazilian Amazon where only natives live today. Endless resources of the river and the rainforest have always attracted people from Northeastern Brazil, for example, states of Ceará and Maranhão – much more populated and lacking basic resources like water. Frenzies like the Rubber Boom, Gold Rush, Jute and Cocoa shuffled people to get to most of the places you’ll find them today. One of the natural resources of the jungle that created that kind of rush was the sorb tree. So, here comes the story of how chewing gum played a part in us meeting our most experienced fishing guide – Pedro.
Pedro was born in 1958 in Barcelos, a town upstream from Manaus (to the west) on the Rio Negro. Barcelos has seen its golden days during the Rubber boom at the turn of the 20th century. In the 60s, though, it was not the best place to live. It was surrounded by conflicts between the military government, environmental authorities, indigenous tribes, farmers, roadbuilders etc. So, when Pedro was 14, he took the opportunity to leave town and make a living by collecting the fruits of the sorb tree. Sorb tree, sorva, sorbus domestica are all names for the first plant you’d be looking for if you’re lost in the jungle. It grows in flooded forests and on the mainland. Tapping it like rubber will get you latex, that, dissolved in water is sweet and potable. The fruit has a very high nutrition value and fed seringueiros (rubber tappers) during the rubber boom as they had to go deep into the jungle chasing the “white gold”. When scientists found out sorb tree latex and fruits could be used to make chewing gum, resins, insulation materials, caulking and as a rich source of hydrogen cyanide. This last one was claimed by some as a reason to forbid the exportation of service tree fruits from the Amazon. In the words of Neto Silva’s father, Francisco, “They said the gum was heading to Saddam Hussein and to Iran to produce bioweapons, but I believe it was just an excuse to get us out of the market”. For Pedro that meant a whole life. He lived and worked on the Rio Branco, first attracted by the sorb tree and then living off any resources the rainforest had to offer – Brazil Nuts, Andiroba oil, latex, Amapa milk, palm leaves, fruits, wood, fish and animal skins. Pedro married a local woman and became a permanent resident of Terra Preta village in the 1970s.