University of São Paulo: Amazonian indigenous community succeeds with community tourism practices

A survey carried out at USP’s School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH) showed that the development of a new type of tourism, in an indigenous community in the Amazon, brought several benefits, such as greater participation of the population in the processes of organization and development , and the strengthening of the local economy. “But there is also the growth of the intercultural process, with greater exchanges between visitors and visitors, which results in tourism with a low negative impact”, describes tourismologist Ana Rosa Guimarães Bastos Proença, who analyzed tourism developed in the Nova Esperança Indigenous Community “ Pisasú Sarusawa” in Amazonas.

To carry out the study entitled Tourism in indigenous territories: development and sociocultural impact on the Nova Esperança Indigenous Community “Pisasú Sarusawa” (Amazonas – Brazil), Ana Rosa analyzed the aspects involving local tourism between 2010 and 2018. “We traced a history of those eight years and, in 2018, I remained in the community for two months”, tells the researcher to Jornal da USP. During that period, she interviewed 21 people, 14 of which were indigenous, three from non-governmental institutions (NGOs) and a representative from a travel agency. “One of the motivations for my research is that most studies on the issue of tourism, indigenous peoples and sociocultural impacts bring approaches that show the activity as being only harmful. However, we have a lot to learn from the case of Nova Esperança, where tourism, from the change in the way it occurs, was beneficial”, he emphasizes.

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There was a planning that involved everything from the reception of tourists to the determination of visiting routes at specific points in the community.

Nova Esperança is located on the Cuieiras River – a tributary of the Rio Negro – 80 kilometers (km) away from Manaus. The community is located within the Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) Puranga Conquista, managed by the government of the State of Amazonas, and is predominantly formed by the Baré ethnic group. “There is a demarcation of the Conservation Unit, but there is no demarcation as an indigenous land. In addition to Nova Esperança, there are other indigenous communities located in the RDS that work with tourism”, describes Ana Rosa.

With the experience of her temporary residence in Nova Esperança, interviews and the history of tourism in that community, Ana Rosa was able to draw a parallel and follow the process of transition from conventional tourism to what she calls community-based tourism. During conventional tourism activities, which lasted until the year 2010, cruise ships took visitors to the community. “In this modality, the visitor would disembark, enjoy indigenous dances, take a walk and buy some handicrafts”, says Ana Rosa. “In other words, they took a ready-made package to the tourist. There was little participation of the indigenous community in the organization of this tourism”, he highlights.

Planning and participation
As of 2010, the community began to experience “community tourism”. And it was based on a proposal presented by the Ecological Research Institute (IPE), an NGO based in São Paulo and operating in the Amazon, in partnership with the State Secretariat for the Environment of Amazonas, that community tourism was implemented in the community. “Incidentally, this type of tourism management was already recommended for the communities in the management plan of the Parque Setor Sul, the Conservation Unit prior to the current Puranga Conquista Sustainable Development Reserve”, recalls Ana Rosa.

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Unlike the tourism practiced before, the tourist activity of Nova Esperança is currently organized in a way that does not harm the daily routines of its residents.

With the new modality, all tourism activities now have collective community participation in planning and execution. “Visitation, the participation of more people from the community and activities such as handicraft became more organized, in work groups for example, and the focus was no longer on the ‘Indian’ stereotype in history books. People in the community stopped using their indigenous costumes and dances for this purpose, and focused on building a tourism based on the daily life of the community, on building closer relationships between visitors and visitors and highlighting the Baré culture in its cuisine , language and hospitality”, says the researcher. There was a planning that involved everything from the reception of tourists to the determination of visiting routes at specific points in the community.

This organization also takes place outside the territory of Nova Esperança, where people from the community participate in the deliberative council of the Sustainable Development Reserve and, among the issues discussed, tourism is one of them. “There are participants in this council from higher education institutions, from the State and from leaders of communities in the RDS”, highlights the researcher.

Rules and profitability
The population of the Nova Esperança community is made up of 27 families. With the increase in alternative tourism, the residents’ working conditions in general have improved. “Most work with handicrafts, tourism, fishing and family farming, among other activities”, recalls Ana Rosa. In handicrafts, for example, the products made can be purchased virtually on the Jirau da Amazônia website .

The online initiative, according to the researcher, is the result of a partnership between Lojas Americanas and the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS) . “With the resources obtained since the beginning of tourism, Nova Esperança currently has a health center and the main chapel of the community. There are also solar light panels from the partnership with the FAS”, highlights the researcher, noting that in the community there is the UKA library, an indigenous school that teaches Portuguese and Nheengatu , which is the language of the baré, and houses of flour that make up the visitation itinerary.

Unlike the tourism practiced before, the tourist activity of Nova Esperança is currently organized in a way that does not harm the daily routines of its residents. According to Ana Rosa, the best time to visit the site is during the flood of the river, which takes place between December and June, when boats manage to reach the community’s small port. “But there are limits to these visits”, warns the researcher. For a period of five years, there was a contract with a cruise ship, where around 150 tourists arrived in one visit, a number greater than the number of residents at the time. But since the beginning of community-based tourism, the community has signed contracts with three tourism companies, including one focused on positive social impact.

One of the benefits pointed out by the researcher is the feeling of valuing the community, based on exchanges with tourists who come from different places in Brazil and abroad. “A recurrent speech in the interviews was the pride in showing who the bars are, how they live, the culture, the cuisine and, above all, that they felt very happy that people came from far away to visit them”, emphasizes Ana Rosa.

According to her, there is the possibility of visitors staying in an indigenous residence. But this is limited to four people and for a period of four to six days, which can happen two or even three times a month. For larger groups, around 10 to 15 people, visitation is limited to quick walks. “In this type of visitation, there is even the possibility of playing football with people from the community in the evenings”, remembers Ana Rosa. All these activities are previously organized by the community with the tour operators. As the researcher informs, companies pay a fee per visit. This amount charged is transferred to the community fund for general needs”, he says.

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