The Mind of the Copaíba Tree: Notes on Extractivism, Animism, and Ontology from Southern Bahia
AbstractThis article analyzes ritualized prescriptions for harvesting oleoresin or “oil” from the copaíba tree in Brazil. These harvesting prescriptions involve increasingly complex attributions of mind to the copaíba tree itself. The copaíba tree is widespread throughout the Americas, and for centuries has been well-known for the medicinal oil that can be extracted from its trunk. In Brazil, contemporary knowledge of the copaíba tree is bound up with colonial history and what were often destructive extractivist economies. Whereas historical accounts of the copaíba tree are often limited to mechanistic descriptions for extracting oil, this article examines attributions of mind that harvesters make to the copaíba tree. These attributions can be read from procedures for extracting oil. Such procedures are concerned with moon cycles, tree marking, sexual activity, and gaze. The article shows that such prescriptions have a wide transregional and interethnic distribution, from the Amazon Basin in northern Brazil to the Atlantic Forest on Bahia’s southern coast. New evidence from southern Bahia also involves prescriptions concerning speech and naming, which presuppose that the copaíba tree is sensitive to intentionality and human language. These mind attributions are inferred through pragmatic analysis of the (ontological) presuppositions that are embedded by harvesting prescriptions. The contribution concludes with reflections on the implications of this presuppositional analytic approach for debates concerned with animism and the “ontological turn.”
Bates, H. W. 1863. The Naturalist on the River Amazons, vol. 2. John Murray, London, United Kingdom.
Bureau of the American Republics. 1901. United States of Brazil: A Geographical Sketch, with Special Reference to Economic Conditions and Prospects of Future Development. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
Burton, R. F. 1869. Explorations of the Highlands of the Brazil; with a Full Account of the Gold and Diamond Mines, vol. 2. Tinsley Brothers, London, United Kingdom.
Caldcleugh, A. 1825. Travels in South America, During the Years, 1819–20–21; Containing an Account of the Present State of Brazil, Buenos Ayres, and Chile, vol. 2. John Murray, London, United Kingdom.
Cleary, D. 2001. Towards an Environmental History of the Amazon: From Prehistory to the Nineteenth. Latin American Research Review 36:64–96.
Cohen, M. 1984. The Ethnomedicine of the Garífuna (Black Caribs) of Río Tinto, Honduras. Anthropological Quarterly 57:16–27.
Dean, W. 1995. With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Dodt, G. 1939. Descrição dos Rios Parnaíba e Gurupy. Companhia Editora Nacional, São Paulo.
Dwyer, J. D. 1951. The Central American, West Indian, and South American species of Copaifera (Caesalpiniaceae). Brittonia 7:143–172.
Grandtner, M. M., and J. Chevrette. 2014. Dictionary of Tree, vol. 2. South America Nomenclature, Taxonomy and Ecology. Academic Press, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Gomes, M. P. 1977. The Ethnic Survival of the Tenetehara Indians of Maranhão, Brazil. Doctoral Dissertation, Lowland South American Program, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
Keane, W. 2013. Ontologies, Anthropologists, and Ethical Life. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3:186–191.
Klauberg, C., E. Vidal, L. C. E. Rodriguez, and L. Diaz-Balteiro. 2014. Determining the Optimal Harvest Cycle for Copaíba (Copaifera spp.) Oleoresin Production. Agricultural Systems 131:116–122.
Kohn, E. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Leite, A., A. Alechandre, C. Rigamonte-Azevedo, C. A. Campos, and A. Oliveira. 2001. Recomendações Para o Manejo Sustentável do Óleo de Copaíba. Universidade Federal do Acre and Secretaria Executiva de Floresta e Extrativismo (SEFE), Rio Branco, Brazil.
Lévi-Strauss, C. 1952. The Use of Wild Plants in Tropical South America. Economic Botany 6:252–270.
Lewis, D. 1983. Scorekeeping in a Language Game. In Philosophical Papers, vol. 1. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Lisboa, B. da Silva. 1823. Memoria Topografica e Economica da Commarca dos Ilheos. Lisbon, Portugal.
Mannheim, B. 2016. The Social Imaginary, Unspoken in Verbal Art. In The Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, edited by N. Bonvillain, pp. 44–61. Routledge, New York, NY.
Maretto, L. C. 2013. Territorialidade na Terra Indígena Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau e Manejo da Copaíba. Master’s Thesis, Departamento de Geografia, Fundação Universidade Federal de Rondônia, Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil.
Medeiros, R. da Silva, and G. Vieira. 2008. Sustainability of Extraction and Production of Copaiba (Copaifera multijuga Hayne) Oleoresin in Manaus, AM, Brazil. Forest Ecology and Management 256:282–288.
Mendonça, F. A. C. de, K. F. S. da Silva, K. K. dos Santos, K. A. L. Ribeiro Júnior, and A. E. G. Sant’Ana. 2005. Activities of Some Brazilian Plants Against Larvae of the Mosquito Aedes aegypti. Fitoterapia 76:629–636.
Miller, S. W. 2000. Fruitless Trees: Portuguese Conservation and Brazil’s Colonial Timber. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
Newton, P., A. R. Watkinson, and C. A. Peres. 2011. Determinants of Yield in a Non-Timber Forest Product: Copaifera Oleoresin in Amazonian Extractive Reserves. Forest Ecology and Management 261:255–264.
Oliveira dos Santos, A., M. A. Costa, T. Ueda-Nakamura, B. P. Dias-Filho, V. F. da Veiga Júnior, M. M. de Souza Lima, and C. V. Nakamura. 2011. Leishmania amazonensis: Effects of Oral Treatment with Copaiba Oil in Mice. Experimental Parasitology 129:145–151.
Plowden, J. C. 2001. The Ecology, Management and Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products in the Alto Rio Guamá Indigenous Researve (Eastern Brazilian Amazon). Doctoral Dissertation, Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA.
Plowden, C. 2003. Production Ecology of Copaíba (Copaifera spp.) Oleoresin in the Eastern Brazilian Amazon. Economic Botany 57:491–501.
Plowden, C. 2004. The Ethnobotany of Copaíba (Copaifera) Oleoresin in the Amazon. Economic Botany 58:729–739.
Rival, L. 2012. Animism and the Meanings of Life: Reflections from Amazonia. In Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia, edited by M. Brightman, V. E. Grotti, and O. Ulturgasheva, pp. 69–81. Berghahn Books, London, United Kingdom.
Roller, H. F. 2010. Colonial Collecting Expeditions and the Pursuit of Opportunities in the Amazonian Sertão, c. 1750–1800. The Americas 66:435–467.
Santos-Granero, F. 2009. Introduction: Amerindian Constructional Views of the World. In The Occult Life of Things: Native Amazonian Theories of Materiality and Personhood, edited by F. Santos-Granero, pp. 1–29. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
Scheel-Ybert, R., M. Beauclair, and A. Buarque. 2013. The Forest People: Landscape and Firewood Use in the Araruama Region, Southeastern Brazil, During the Late Holocene. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23:97–111.
Shanley, P., M. Cymerys, and J. Galvão. 1998. Frutíferas da Mata na Vida Amazônica. Editora Supercores, Belém, Brazil.
Shanley, P. and N. A. Rosa. 2004. Eroding Knowledge: An Ethnobotanical Inventory in Eastern Amazonia's Logging Frontier. Economic Botany 58:135–160.
Stalnaker, R. 1999. Pragmatic Presupposition. In Context and Content: Essays on Intentionality in Speech and Thought, pp. 47–62. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Veiga Júnior, V. F. da, and A. C. Pinto. 2002. O Gênero Copaifera L. Química Nova 25:273–286.
Vigh, H. E., and D. B. Sausdal. 2014. From Essence Back to Existence: Anthropology Beyond the Ontological Turn. Anthropological Theory 14:49–73.
Viveiros de Castro, E. 1998. Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4:469–488.
Wagley, C., and E. Galvão. 1948. The Tenetehara. In Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 3, edited by J. H. Steward, pp. 137–148. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Wells, J. W. 1886. Exploring and Travelling Three Thousand Miles through Brazil, vol. 2. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, United Kingdom.
Wied-Neuwied, P. M. 1820. Travels in Brazil, in the Years 1815, 1816, 1817. Printed for H. Colburn, London, United Kingdom.
Copyright (c) 2017 Jonathan DeVore
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain ownership of the copyright for their content and grant Ethnobiology Letters (the “Journal”) and the Society of Ethnobiology right of first publication. Authors and the Journal agree that Ethnobiology Letters will publish the article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which permits others to use, distribute, and reproduce the work non-commercially, provided the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal are properly cited.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
For any reuse or redistribution of a work, users must make clear the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
In publishing with Ethnobiology Letters corresponding authors certify that they are authorized by their co-authors to enter into these arrangements. They warrant, on behalf of themselves and their co-authors, that the content is original, has not been formally published, is not under consideration, and does not infringe any existing copyright or any other third party rights. They further warrant that the material contains no matter that is scandalous, obscene, libelous, or otherwise contrary to the law.
Corresponding authors will be given an opportunity to read and correct edited proofs, but if they fail to return such corrections by the date set by the editors, production and publication may proceed without the authors’ approval of the edited proofs.