Will Future Ranchers Celebrate the Story of a Sacred Tree?

Written by Rane Cortez on . Posted in Learn

Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a new monthly column here on Planet Change by The Nature Conservancy’s Rane Cortez. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rane (pronounced “rainy”) is located in the Conservancy’s Belem office in Brazil where she is working with partners and local communities to advance forest conservation projects that fight carbon pollution while maintaining sustainable livelihoods for local people. Check out Rane’s latest thoughts, observations and experiences on Planet Change on the third Friday of each month. In addition to her below post, you can also check out a three-part Planet Change series that Rane did earlier this year, which was also featured on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog as well as Discovery’s Planet Green blog.

“It’s here! It’s here! The bull has arrived!” – a collective shout rolls through the jubilant crowd as the boat carrying the fabled bull comes within sight of the docks. The crowd presses forward against the railing, the drumbeats get louder and faster, and firecrackers burst into the air. I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement, and I find myself running in order to get a good spot, even though I have only a minimal idea of what the fuss is about. As the boat gets closer, I spot a blue, bedazzled bull manning the helm of a festooned boat carrying dozens of party-goers dancing to Carimbó – the typical music of the state of Pará, Brazil. The atmosphere could not possibly be more festive.

The bull arrives! (there he is in the front). Photo by: Oliverio Cortez

I am participating in a yearly ritual that makes up part of the Festas Juninas (June Festivals) here in Belem, Pará. It’s called Bumba-meu-boi (roughly translated as “beat my bull”) and it is a folkloric pantomime that reenacts a classic story of the death and resurrection of a bull. There are many versions of the folktale, but the basic storyline tells of a farmhand who kills a bull to satisfy his pregnant wife’s craving to eat its tongue. But the bull was not just any bull – it was a prized specimen that was rumored to even be able to dance. When the owner finds out his bull has been killed, he is enraged and he enlists the help of a shaman to bring it back to life. The shaman is successful and when the owner finds out the reason his revived bull had been killed, he forgives the farmhand and everyone breaks into celebration.

I pay my respects to the bull before he is swept up into the festivities (left); and try to get myself into the parade spirit (right). Photos by: Oliverio Cortez

Here on the banks of the Amazon, the reenactment is in full swing, as a man wearing the bull costume rushes off the boat and into the crowd. He is tailed by several cowboys who will attempt to control the bull throughout the parade as the crowd taunts it to charge at them. Now that the main attraction has arrived, the parade begins. The crowd forms up, the drummers give us a rhythm, people begin to chant (“The bull! The bull! The bull! The bull!”) and we all start to wind our merry way up through the streets.

Two cowboys in horse suits get ready to corral the charging bull. Photo by: Rane Cortez

As I am swept up in the festivities and have to dodge the charging bull, I am reminded that cattle ranching is integral part of life here, with deep roots both economically and culturally.

As I described in some of my earlier blog posts, landowners and ranch-hands depend upon the revenue produced by raising cows for their livelihoods. As pastures become degraded, people are driven to cut down more forest in order to provide enough grass to maintain the size of their herds. This is exacerbated by the low cost of land in the Amazon and lack of enforcement to limit expansion. This means that, for now, much of the economy is dependent upon increasing rates of deforestation.

And, deforestation is a major driver of carbon pollution (causing roughly 15 percent of annual carbon emissions globally – more than all the trains, planes, cars and trucks). However, there is potential for an exciting and more sustainable future. The Nature Conservancy and our partners are focused on forest conservation and management solutions to the deforestation challenge that also provide economic incentives and alternative livelihoods to local ranchers and their communities.

This type of work is receiving funding and technical assistance from a variety of sources, including government programs, private businesses, non-profit organizations, and other institutions. This assistance is needed to motivate landowners to make the changes needed to reduce deforestation while maintaining their livelihoods.

For example, we are working here in the Amazon to create models for how ranchers can implement improved practices such as pasture restoration and integrated agro-forestry systems that increase agricultural yield on existing pastures and reduce the need to expand into the forest.

Our pilot program in the municipality of São Félix do Xingu will provide an example to the state of Pará and to Brazil for how to count the carbon that is stored in the trees, generate revenue through payments for reducing carbon pollution, and create participatory processes to direct that revenue to places where it will have the most impact. It’s an effort that is just getting off the ground and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I am excited about its potential to really change the economic realities here on the ground and create a development model that provides livelihoods to local people without destroying the rainforest.

If we are successful, perhaps future generations will have a parade, like the bumba-meu-boi parade, that celebrates the story of a rancher’s prized tree — standing tall in the Amazon — that was once cut down but later restored.

Rane Cortez is a forest carbon development adviser at The Nature Conservancy. She has worked for the Conservancy for three and a half years on international policy frameworks for reducing tropical deforestation. She is now working in Northern Brazil on a large-scale pilot program aimed at reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and providing sustainable livelihoods for local people. Prior to joining the Conservancy, Rane was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, working on environmental education and protected area management.

Top photo by: Rane Cortez/The Nature Conservancy (Parade-goers eagerly await the arrival of the bull)

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Comments (2)

  • Denise K Johnsson


    Hi! Are you also involved with the Nature Conservancy’s project in the state of Tocantins?


  • Jamie Chesser


    Rane, I really enjoyed reading this blog post. It certainly connects people far away with the community in Para Brazil, and helps us to understand their challenges with economy, livelihood, and deforestation. I am so glad the Conservancy has a presence there, and specifically that you are there working on this large-scale pilot program. Take care and thanks for the posts.


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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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