The Amazon rubber boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries may seem like ancient history, but its effects are still alive.
In relation with the extraction of the latex from the rubber tree and their commercialization to produce tires for bicycles, cars and all types of vehicles, the boom resulted in a large expansion of European colonization in the area, attracting immigrant workers, generating wealth but also causing cultural and social transformations, especially dramatic in the Amazon indigenous populations. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, in indigenous language, the latex tree is called ‘siringa’ which means ‘the crying tree’.
One of the most affected regions by the rubber boom was the Bolivian Amazon, at the north of the country. There, the traces can still be seen: a ghost town that in its splendour times bragged of all advances of a modern city, the last rubber tappers who continue to immerse themselves into the forest to collect rubber resin, cemeteries with names that evoke distant continents -fruit of the immigration of the time- or the remains of a train that transported the rubber production from Bolivia to Brazil reached the west.
However, the hardest vestiges are those that are not seen at first glance. According to calculations by the anthropologist and writer Wade Davis, for every ton of rubber produced, ten Indians were murdered and hundreds were marked for life by lashes, wounds and amputations. Nowadays, we can see Indigenous groups and languages that are on the verge of extinction, struggling to survive the effects of the massive latex extraction.
For this reason, the United Nations has declared 2019 ‘International Year of Indigenous Languages’. A distinction promoted by Bolivia that will mark the 140th anniversary of the rubber boom beginning. It is time to remember that the past has much to do with the present. It is time to draw attention to the loss and need for conservation of these languages and cultures that represent a particular, unique and different vision of the world.
How has this conflict affected the region and how has it evolved over the last century? How do the indigenous people of the Bolivian Amazon live? What problems do they face today? ‘Amazon tears’ is a documentary project that explains the consequences of the rubber boom in Bolivia and how they still remain alive in the present.
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