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The People of the River

Nature and Identity in Black Amazonia, 1835–1945

By Oscar de la Torre

242 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, 2 maps, 5 graphs, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4324-3
    Published: October 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4323-6
    Published: October 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4325-0
    Published: August 2018

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In this history of the black peasants of Amazonia, Oscar de la Torre focuses on the experience of African-descended people navigating the transition from slavery to freedom. He draws on social and environmental history to connect them intimately to the natural landscape and to Indigenous peoples. Relying on this world as a repository for traditions, discourses, and strategies that they retrieved especially in moments of conflict, Afro-Brazilians fought for autonomous communities and developed a vibrant ethnic identity that supported their struggles over labor, land, and citizenship.

Prior to abolition, enslaved and escaped blacks found in the tropical forest a source for tools, weapons, and trade--but it was also a cultural storehouse within which they shaped their stories and records of confrontations with slaveowners and state authorities. After abolition, the black peasants' knowledge of local environments continued to be key to their aspirations, allowing them to maintain relationships with powerful patrons and to participate in the protest cycle that led Getúlio Vargas to the presidency of Brazil in 1930. In commonly referring to themselves by such names as "sons of the river," black Amazonians melded their agro-ecological traditions with their emergent identity as political stakeholders.

About the Author

Oscar de la Torre is associate professor of history and Africana and Latin American studies at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
For more information about Oscar de la Torre, visit the Author Page.


“This fabulous book draws on a vast array of sources. . . . Using a variety of analytical methods and narrative strategies, de la Torre meticulously reconstructs complex land transactions, kinship structures, local folk stories, and shared memories.”--E.I.A.L (Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe)

“Offering important theoretical interventions and a compelling narrative, de la Torre demonstrates the fascinating range of ways that black Amazonians related to their environments at both physical and discursive levels. This book reveals how their gradual acquisition of prized environmental knowledge played into economic relationships and served a key role in their search of autonomy, identity, and citizenship.”—Thomas D. Rogers, Emory University

“This book provides a nuanced description and analysis of the roles played by the enslaved and their descendants in ‘humanizing’ Brazil’s Amazon region long before the wave of immigrants and government-sponsored infrastructure projects of the 1960s and 1970s. De la Torre sheds light on the vexing question of the relationship between material and natural environments and socio-cultural identities.”—John Soluri, Carnegie Mellon University