14 July 2014
By Jeff Tollefson
The queen of the forest stands strong. Blood was shed, but there she is, buttressed by tall and narrow root walls that extend outward in six directions, mirroring her canopy some 100 feet above. In between is a sun-speckled chamber of moist air abuzz with the sound of crickets and other forest denizens.
"They killed a lot of people," says Antonio "Duda" Teixeira Mendes, generating a hollow boom as he thumps his fist on one of the samaúma tree's roots. "But for me, it was worth the fight."
"They" are the ranchers who began moving into the state of Acre ("pronounced AH-kray") in the 1970s, bringing a slash-and-burn agriculture to a remote region of the western Amazon that had previously sustained itself, if barely and often unjustly, on the harvesting of rubber and other forest resources. In the 1980s, the old rubber tapper families, many with roots in a bygone rubber era that dates back to the turn of the 20th century, began to stand up for their rights and resist the ranchers who sought to clear them, and the trees, away.
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