Civilized People in Uncivilized Places: Rubber, Race, and Civilization during the Amazonian Rubber Boom
Perhaps the most powerful characteristic of tropicality was its inherent ambivalence. The Amazon basin has been a particularly important source for the creation and maintenance of these stereotypes about the tropical world. Reinvented by Alexander von Humboldt as an exotic paradise at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Amazon basin continued throughout the century to inspire commentary, exploration, and exploitation from abroad. As contact with the Amazon increased, ideas about the tropics began to change. What once was thought of as a pristine paradise became perceived as sinister, diseased, and savage. By the end of the nineteenth century, the tropical world, its people and nature, was considered to be an obstacle to civilization, and its very ability to become civilized began to be questioned.
Rubber, an increasingly important and lucrative imperial resource at the end of the nineteenth century, brought people from around the world to the Amazon basin. This resulted in the creation of a contact zone of different peoples, cultures, and idea, which was important for the moulding and maintenance of tropical stereotypes and myths. This was especially the case in the Putumayo, a border zone between modern day Colombia and Peru, where the brutal treatment of workers and the promise of civilization clashed. Through an exploration of travel diaries, newspapers, parliamentary papers, and other works about the tropics and rubber, this thesis argues that the manner in which rubber and its environment were depicted legitimized its control and exploitation from the outside. Couched in the rhetoric of civilization, tropicality helped justify the exploitation of rubber, the environment in which it grew, and the peoples that lived there.
Advisor:Thorpe, Douglas; Kitzan, Laurence; Jordan, Pamela; Handy, Jim; Cunfer, Geoff
School:University of Saskatchewan
School Location:Canada - Saskatchewan
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:amazonia race civilization tropicality tropical representation the amazon rubber putumayo
Date of Publication:05/23/2006