The rainy season is upon us and I am taking a break from my watercolours because it is so humid that my paints are dissolving in the pans and having applied a wash to the paper it takes forever to dry. So now’s a good time to get on with a post for the blog.
Some of the fishermen here have what are called Pescarias, an area of the sea recognised by the other fishermen as “belonging to” a particular person. These pescarias are basically artificial reefs which attract fish and act as breeding grounds. A well built and maintained pescaria enables the owner to have a greater certainty of a good catch and consequently they are a valuable asset, there are also two communal pescarias open to all to fish on. The “owner” creates the pescaria from timber, discarded tyres and in some cases larger items such as the casings of fridges and cookers or even the bodies of old cars, although these sorts of things are supposedly prohibited now. For some time in Prainha it has not been permitted for new pescarias to be created, although anyone who already had a pescaria could maintain it.
Neu’s brother, Kito Velho, has a pescaria that has not been maintained for some time and now needs to be completely rebuilt. Neu told me that he and his brother would go with their father and a friend out to an area of forest owned by another friend to cut some timber, as I never need much excuse to go out there, I went along with for the walk.
Looking for Pau Ferro.
We would normally go to the forest early in the morning to avoid the intense heat of midday but owing to the rains it can be considerably cooler at the moment and so we set off shortly after lunch. It was heavily overcast with high humidity, about half way to the forest the sun broke through the clouds and as we trekked across the sand dunes the heat was intense, I was glad I was well covered up and pulled up the hood of my sweat shirt to avoid the burning sun.
Neu was looking for Pau Ferro (Caesalpinia ferrea) also called the Brazilian Ironwood tree, or the Leopard tree owing to the markings on it’s trunk. As with most plants here, it has many other local names which can vary even from one community to another (see: A Divine tree puts on a glorious display). Pau Ferro is native to Brazil and Bolivia, there are more than 70 varieties of this large tree, which grows on average from 20 to 30 meters. A fast growing tree which, despite it’s size, is relatively shallow rooted making it a popular street tree for urban planners.
Pau Ferro produces a dense, heavy wood which is very durable and commercially valuable (it is not listed on CITES* and the IUCN* list it’s status as of least concern). The timber is commonly used for furniture and flooring, also for violins and guitars though apparently (according to the site of Suhr guitar makers) it’s tonal qualities make it particularly suited to electric guitars for rock and metal, which rather amused me – ironwood – metal – sorry bad joke!
Although Pau ferro has not been fully evaluated for it’s medicinal qualities, it is listed on the National List of Medicinal Plants of Interest to SUS* (the public health service in Brazil). The bark and leaves contain high levels of tannins and flavonoids and it could be these which provide it’s medicinal qualities. It is said to be good for diabetes, bronchitis and particularly for stomach ulcers, possibly due to its anti microbial properties being effective against the causative bacteria Helicobacter pylori.
We came down from the dunes into the cooler forest and as the trees are common and easily found, Neu quickly located a good specimen. Soon the sound of axes ringing on wood called out across the forest. The trees are coppiced and so only a small amount of timber is taken from each one, allowing the tree to regenerate. As the timber is heavy there is also a limit on how much could be cut at any one time, the mule had to be able to pull the cart over the soft sand in order to get the timber home.
Our trip was not without incident, I lost my sun glasses, probably pulled off my head as I tried to get through the tangle of undergrowth. Kito Velho got stung three times in the face by maribondos, which is very painful and when he came back to the mule he found it had backed up and turned the cart over on itself, Kito’s yells for help had us all running but thankfully the mule was fine, frankly it seemed a bit bemused by all the fuss.
Now all that remains is for the pescaria to be built and then taken to sea but that’s another story.
SUS: O Sistema Único de Saúde / The unique health system
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival
IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature.