Created in 2006 by science journalist Paola Catapano, MINIDARWIN aims at taking groups of children on scientific expeditions coached by real scientists and science communication professionals.

On the occasion of International Year of Biodiversity 2010, theMiniDarwins are ready to leave on their third expedition, to the Amazon Forest, devoted to biodiversity and its socio-economic spin offs. The MiniDarwins will be coached by biodiversity scientists and an ecological socio-economist specialised in ethno-ecology to experience life with an Indigenous population in the Amazon Forest

During the trip, we will publish on this blog a diary of the expedition and some of the photos, videos, interviews and texts we are producing for later publication on our website, book, reportage and documentary film.

8 August 2010

A different week-end

Sat 7 – Sun 8 August  -  (by Maxine and Polina)

Flat  thin boats like canoes took us to Caburini, one of the four indigenous communities located within the borders of the Mamirauá Reserve. The people of the communities are involved in the preservation programs and in the ecotourism of Uakari-lodge. As we’re walking towards the village from the river shore where our boat has landed, Raimundo, the head of the community, comes walking towards us. He tells us his grandparents founded the community fifty-one years ago, when he was thirteen.

The people in the communities (the ribeirinhos as they are called here) descend from indigenous tribes, who inhabited the area along the river as early as 11,000 years ago, in isolated groups, and Brazilians from the North-East of the country, who were brought here by the government in the beginning of the twentieth century to work on the rubber plantations (as «seringueiros », ie rubber extractors).

After the decline of this industry, the people had nowhere and no money to go back to (they were almost enslavened). The catholic church organized them in communities. Caburini is home to 16 families which total 103 people. They live quite differently from us ! Their houses are on stilts, an adjustment to the seasonal flooding of the river and remarkable change in the water depth. Even the vegetable garden and chicken cages are in canoes suspended on the terrace of the houses, so that they can float on the water. Our guide shows us how the people of the community help to preserve the threatened turtles, by digging up the nests with eggs in unprotected areas and bringing them to sand beds near their house to incubate and hatch.

During the rainy season, which lasts from April to June, the water rises so high (the difference between high and low water can be 12 meters !), that people have to swim if they want to visit each other. The children of the village like this very much because they have their own big swimming pool just outside the house. But their parents don’t like it at all.  Indeed, working becomes practically impossible and anacondas (the big water snakes) come to the houses to steal the chickens. But they do not harm the children, and nor do the piranhas ! Actually, piranhas have a much worse reputation than they deserve. Although their teeth are impressively strong, they never attack humans.
We have met with some girls of our age and soon get absorbed by the village life. Tatiana, one of them, taught us how to feed the chickens with corn. She lets us pet her puppy dog, Tufi. And it doesn’t take long before we got real friends and chattered on the front porch of her house. Polina and I would like to live here, but not all the time.

Meanwhile Kai and Alberto have discovered another universal language: football. They’re giving it all they can in a match with the boys of the community. « They’re really good, » says Kai (who is Dutch…) later. « I can understand why Brazil got so far in the World Championship competition. »

Fishing Piranhas ! (from Kai’s diary)
I like week-ends at the Caburini village, they’re cool. Alberto and I spent the morning playing football and now in the afternoon, we’re joining the oldest boys and men of the village to go fishing for dinner, while the girls are playing with chickens and little dogs and the women are washing the clothes in the river. Moraes, our canoe driver, who is sitting in the back, makes the gesture of pulling a fish out of the water with his rod and smiles broadly. He is confident we will have a good catch. As bait we are using pieces of chicken meat. The six of us throw out our lines at the same time. Only a few seconds later one of us pulls the first silver-red piranha out of the water. But is has not bitten on the hook and falls back before it reaches the boat. They’re impressively fast !

Just one minute later, I am more lucky and catch the first one. All the kids on the boat are shouting with excitement, even if for the Caburini this is almost a daily activity and for us, well twice a year if we’re lucky ! Moraes hurries to take the fish from the hook and shows us the razor sharp teeth. The next hour we catch about ten piranhas which are big enough to eat. Smaller fish are being thrown back in the water.

 « Hey, why are you throwing back that one, » Alberto shouts upset, when quite a big, dangerously looking piranha is released. « Moraes explains to us that only the red-silver ones are good for consumption. The silver ones do not taste very well. Another funny looking fish we catch is the Carataki. It looks like the funny character from an animation movie, like little Nemo. But Moraes handles is very carefully. He shows us that the fish has sharp needles on both sides and explains that its stings are poisonous and painful. Proud of our catch we go back to the Caburini village, curious to taste our first piranha dinner.

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