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Ambiente & Sociedade

Print version ISSN 1414-753XOn-line version ISSN 1809-4422

Ambient. soc. vol.22  São Paulo  2019  Epub May 13, 2019 

Original Article






2PhD in Natural, Rural and Tourism Management by The University of Queensland (Australia). Professor in the Post-Graduation program in Ecotourism and Conservation of the Federal University of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - UNIRIO and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia). Email: and

3PhD in Mathematics by the City University of New York - CUNY. Full Professor at the Graduate School of Management of the School of Social Sciences of the University of Grande Rio - UNIGRANRIO. Email:

4PhD and Full Professor in Cultural Heritage Management. Director of the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia). Email:

5Master in Business Administration from the University of Grande Rio - UNIGRANRIO. Lecturer at the Post-Graduation in Service Management at the Fluminense Federal University - UFF, at the Graduate Program in University Management at the State University of Mato Grosso - UNEMAT and at the Technological Graduation in Hospitality at Senac RJ. Email:


For decades, conservation initiatives considered the protection of nature and human progress to be mutually exclusive. As a result of this paradigm, communities living within protected areas often were displaced or treated as invaders and criminals in their ancestral territories. Consequently, much cultural heritage, including traditional knowledge, has been lost. In part to prevent cultural loss, in the year 2000, Brazil legally acknowledged within Federal Act 9,985 the rights, knowledge and way of living of traditional people as integral for the conservation of nature. Based on the case of the traditional Caiçara community living at Martin de Sá (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), this study showcases fifteen years of cultural change influenced, among others, by the implementation of protected area policy and growth in tourism. Participatory observation between 2000 and 2015 identified changes to the community’s way of thinking, lifestyle and livelihoods. Strategies are proposed to increase cultural protection.

Key-Words: protected areas; traditional people; tourism; cultural change


Por mucho tiempo se creyó que la conservación de la naturaleza y el progreso humano eran excluyentes. Como resultado, muchas comunidades que vivían en áreas protegidas fueron desplazadas o tratadas como invasoras en sus territorios tradicionales. Consecuentemente, un enorme patrimonio cultural fue perdido. Para evitar la continuidad de ese proceso en Brasil, en 2000, por la Ley Federal 9.985, los derechos, el conocimiento y el modo de vida de los pueblos tradicionales fueron reconocidos como importantes para la conservación de la naturaleza. Con base en un estudio de caso con la comunidad Caiçara de Martin de Sá (Brasil), este trabajo describe quince años de cambios culturales influenciados, dentre otros, por un área protegida y por el turismo. Entrevistas y observación participante reaizadas entre los años 2000 y 2015 permitieron identificar cambios en el modo de pensar y en el estilo de vida de esa comunidad. En este trabajo se proponen estrategias para tornar efectiva la protección cultural.

Palabras clave: turismo; áreas protegidas; culturas tradicionales; mudanzas culturales


Durante muito tempo, as iniciativas de conservação consideraram a proteção da natureza e o progresso humano como sendo mutuamente excludentes. Como resultado, muitas comunidades foram deslocadas ou tratadas como criminosas e invasorasde seus territórios ancestrais. Consequentemente, um enorme patrimônio cultural foi perdido. Para evitar mais perdas culturais no Brasil, no ano 2000, os direitos, conhecimentos e modos de vida dos povos tradicionais foram legalmente reconhecidos pela Lei Federal 9.985 (SNUC) como sendo importantes para a conservação da natureza. Baseado em um estudo de caso - Martin de Sá (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil), local habitado por uma comunidade tradicional, e onde observação participante foi realizada de 2000 a 2015 -, este artigo descreve os quinze anos de mudança cultural que procederam o SNUC e que foram influenciadas por essa lei e pelo turismo, identificando estratégias para melhorar a proteção cultural.

Palavras-chave: Áreas protegidas;comunidades tradicionais;turismo;mudança cultural

1. Introduction

For many years, protected areas were based on the idea that since people destroy nature (Mello et al 2014), any community living within the area must be removed (Cunha and Coelho, 2003). This paradigm brought serious challenges for the protection of nature and culture, since most Brazilian pristine areas (and in many other parts of the world) are inhabited by traditional people, whose economy is based on subsistence activities practiced for millennia. As moving entire traditional communities was not possible, their presence was tolerated, but activities such as harvesting, hunting, and fishing were prohibited. This made the survival of traditional subsistent communities within protected areas difficult.

While, in the name of nature conservation, traditional cultures were being lost, international interest in their way of life and in pristine areas grew, which consequently increased the number of tourists visiting protected areas. Facing the risk of forced removal and of starvation, many traditional people migrated, commonly to the outskirts of cities. Those that remained often engaged in tourism activities as a new means of survival. Consequently, due to emigration, economic prohibitions and tourism, cultural loss has been dramatic (Prado et al., 2015, Sinay, 2008).

To address these concerns, the Brazilian Federal Act 9,985 of 2000, known as the National System of Protected Areas (SNUC), created a new category of protected areas focusing on the sustainable use of natural resources as the main strategy for nature conservation (cf. Pellizzaro, 2015). Since its implementation, traditional livelihoods of those inhabited sustainable-use protected areas had the potential for being legally recognized as important for nature conservation. That is, permanent occupation by traditional communities, undertaking customary practices, was potentially permitted in their ancestral territories.

The SNUC divided the two major protected area categories (no-take areas and sustainable use areas) into twelve sub-groups, depending on the objective of protection, land tenure, natural resources use, management approach and tourism. It also determined that protected areas created before this Act, with categories different from these twelve, should be reclassified by 18 July 2002.

It was believed that the SNUC would protect customs of traditional people living in protected areas and minimize imposed cultural change, especially change that could harm the community. Consequently, it would maintain traditions and the ecological processes that have included the influence of traditional people/communities. After fifteen years with this new approach to nature conservation and protected area management we consider whether cultural protection of traditional communities is being achieved in Brazil, using a case study of a traditional community living within a protected area.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, sheltering a large variety of ecosystems, landscapes, biodiversity and natural resources necessary for humanity. It also contains a multiethnic society that speaks approximately 200 languages (Silva 2003). With such diversity, and with the large number of globalization factors influencing cultures, it is likely that some Brazilian protected areas will succeed in cultural protection, while others will fail due to the multidimensional pressures acting upon communities and cultures.

Success, in this context, can be interpreted by the theory of social exchange, which postulates that a positive or good change brings more benefits than harm to the individual and community (see Madrigal, 1993; Pearce et al., 1996); and does not confront the social representations of the group: the concepts, statements, explanations, personal constructs and mental models common to a group (Farr and Moscovici, 1984). Failure, on the other hand, is when cultural change harms the sustainability of the community. The understanding of benefit or harm needs, of course, to be based on the traditional community’s perception (Sinay 2008).

Discovering the reasons for success and failure on cultural protection of traditional communities living within protected areas may help to improve the way SNUC is actioned and, consequently, the chances of successful protection of both nature and traditional communities. Yet, as Miller et al. (2014) highlight, changes brought to human and ‘natural’ communities inside a protected area system is not solely influenced by internal factors. External biotic and abiotic drivers and globalization forces also affect both nature and humanity, and indeed the management regime of the protected area. In this context, SNUC is just one pressure among many others, as tourism, television and climate change. Due to its complexity, managing change in human condition involves understanding more than what is changing and what are the causes, but also how much and how quickly, how important is the change to human aspirations, if the change can be managed and who decides how and what to manage (Carter & Beeton 2004; 2008).

This paper aims to describe how one Brazilian traditional community, living within a protected area, responded to modernization and the transformations of the management approach from 2000 to 2015. It identifies pressures inducing local cultural change and strategies to increase the chances of cultural protection.

2. Culture, change and traditional people

The word culture is used to describe the totality of mental and physical reactions and activities that characterize the behaviour of individuals in relation to their natural environment, to other groups, to members of the group itself, and to themselves (Boas, 1965). This includes all knowledge, beliefs, morals, laws, art, customs, other expressions and habits acquired by people as members of a society, as well as products of human activity and their role in the life of groups. It refers to the perceptions and standards by which people see cultural resources, traditions, and expressions. By inventions and discoveries, individuals are continually adding knowledge to culture. Hence, cultures are constantly changing (Levi-Strauss, 1958-1973).

While cultural change is an inherent characteristic of culture and inevitable, globalization forces are affecting multiple cultural expressions concurrently. The web of cultural expression (see Carter and Beeton, 2004) is under constant stress with no time to stabilize, and communities are not in control of the change process. Cultures tend to collapse and be absorbed into the dominant culture. Individuals are then dislocated spatially, socially and culturally. For traditional people under globalization pressures, few individuals have prospered, the majority, however, often suffer from land alienation, high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty, oppression and violence (Amnesty International, 2015).

3. Structure of this paper

This paper is divided in eight sections. The first section presented the context and the objective of this paper, the second section described cultural changes as understood in this work. The third section describes the structure of this paper with the fourth section defining the methodology. The fifth section presents the case study including a description of the Caiçara culture, as well as of the Caiçaras of Martin de Sá. Section six presents results, i.e. pressures influencing Cultural changes, this involved analysing the period of isolation and disruption of Martin de Sá, its protected areas, land conflicts and tourism; also how informants perceived of cultural and economic changes, as well as changes to the non-material culture. Section 7 focusses on the discussion of the results, identifying pressures and changes related to the protected area, and reasons for success and failure of cultural protection. The last section, section eight, presents conclusions.

4. Methodology

In regards to data collection and analysis, this research is based on Grounded Theory as it guides towards a social, psychological and logical understanding of the process of cultural change. Following this methodology, changes described in this research are based on informants’ constructions, not on existing theories of cultural change or changes observed elsewhere. For this to be possible, informants were asked if they observed cultural changes (no explanations were given regarding what cultural change is). Those that observed changes were asked to explain what changed, what caused the changes and the consequences of the observed changes.

The case study selection was based on five conditions: (1) only recently influenced by contemporary pressures; (2) inhabited by traditional people; (3) located within a protected area; (4) the indigenous population needed to be undergoing significant cultural change; and (5) accessible and familiar to the researcher so that available time could be used for maximum data collection. The case study selected was Martin de Sá (Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), as it meets these five conditions.

The study developed in three stages: 2000 - 2002, 2004-2008 and 2015. During these, Caiçaras, tourists and managers (i.e. representatives of the Environment Institute of Rio de Janeiro State (INEA)) and a local non-government organization (NGO) (Green Citizenship) were interviewed (Table 1). Interviews revealed the community’s history and the history of the place, expectations about the future, pressures influencing cultural change, tourism characteristics and possible management interventions.

Table 1: Number of Caiçaras, tourists, managers interviewed during each stage of the research. 

Research stages Observations Tourists (N) Caiçaras (N) Managers & NGO (N)
2000-2002 Data collection took place exclusively at Martin de Sá. 50 12 3
2004-2008 Data were collected at all the communities of the Juatinga Reserve. 12 81 13
2015 Data were collected online and at Martin de Sá. 225 13 1

During the 15-years of data collection, more than 400 interviews were conducted (Table 1). However, quantitative statistics were used only to describe tourists’ profiles; all other information was analysed qualitatively. This approach was necessary as the importance of issues and changes was not necessarily related to the number of informants who referred to them. For example, while migration was identified only by few informants, it is probably one of the most important factors affecting cultural sustainability at that place. All interviews and surveys were complemented with participant observation at the time of site visits, in the interest of validating assertions.

5. Case study

5.1 Caiçaras

Caiçara is one of the many traditional cultures of Brazil. They are an ethnic group formed by the mix heritage of Indigenous people, fugitive slaves (Africans), pirates and European colonizers, each contributing their traditional culture to those of the Caiçara (Sinay 2008). The main difference between the Caiçara people and the rest of the Brazilian society is that their isolation has led to the retention of traces of their Indigenous and African ancestral cultures. With this, before intense contact with Western societies, the environments in which they have lived for centuries were ecologically conserved (Sinay 2008). Before tourism, their livelihood was largely based on harvesting forest fruit, vegetation and animals, itinerant agriculture and fishing (Diegues & Arruda 2001). Overtime, some Caiçaras worked in the commercial fishing industry (Prado et al. 2015).

5.2 The Caiçaras of Martin de Sá

The Martin de Sá community is located in the southern region of Rio de Janeiro state (Figure 1), in the Paraty municipality; one of the most culturally diverse municipalities of the state (Ministry of Tourism of Brazil, 2018). Martin de Sá is part of one of the most well-preserved areas of Atlantic Forest (Borges and Peixoto, 2009) and shelters a small, but regionally important Caiçara community. Traditionally, Caiçaras periodically change their place of residence as a strategy to use natural resources sustainably. Hence, community boundaries are not only dependent on the place where the individuals live, but on their perceptions of belonging and their ancestral roots. While not permanent residents, about 30 Caiçaras identify themselves as part of the Martin de Sá community (Borges and Peixoto, 2009). They represent five generations of one family and frequently come and go, to and from Martin de Sá. Only the three eldest people permanently lived in Martin de Sá between the years 2000 and 2015.

Figure 1:  Martin de Sá and Caiçara communities within the Juatinga Ecological Reserve (Map source: Luana Rangel) 

6. Results: Pressures influencing Cultural changes

6.1 Isolation and disruption

A peculiarity of this Caiçara community is its isolation, which is a consequence of the geographical location of their homeland. As with other Caiçara’ communities, it is located by the sea. Yet, as the shore break is dangerous, arrival with traditional canoes was difficult and hazardous. Hence, access was restricted to a two-hour walking path from the nearest Caiçara community (Pouso da Cajaíba), which is also only accessible via walking tracks linking with other isolated traditional communities or by the sea, usually to or from Paraty. This part of the journey to Paraty City takes an additional two hours, when done in traditional canoes (Figure 1). Paraty was an isolated locality from the 19th century until the 1970s, when a national road (BR 101) (Figure 1) was constructed facilitating access from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, hence to Pouso da Cajaíba (Museu do Território, 2018).

With easier access, Martin de Sá started to receive tourists, who at that time visited the region mostly to hunt. One of the first tourists decided to establish a farm, bringing outsiders to work on the land and exploiting local community members. Years later, many Caiçaras of Martin de Sá moved to adjacent places, Cairuçú das Pedras and Saco das Anchovas (Figure 1). During the late 1980s, the farm was abandoned. In the early 1990s, some Caiçaras returned to their ancestral land, which was devastated, requiring them to re-establish their traditional way of life.

6.2 Protected areas

While Caiçaras were returning to Martin de Sá, the surrounding land and its natural resources became protected by the State Act 17,981, which, in 1992, created a protected area (Juatinga Ecological Reserve) over the Caiçaras’ customary land. This Act transferred, from Caiçaras to INEA, the responsibility of managing this land through the establishment of a top-down management approach that prohibited development. INEA is required under this Act to prepare specific programs for the sustainable use of natural resources, but this was never done. Instead, all Caiçaras’ traditional subsistence activities and tourism were prohibited, and traditional ownership of the land and resources were strongly contested. As a result, Caiçaras were viewed as criminals and intruders on their own territory. At the risk of losing everything, many Caiçaras ’voluntarily’ migrated; others were violently banished by land speculators and conflicts; only few remained to fight for their rights.

In the year 2000, of the twelve Caiçara communities within this Reserve, two were nearly extinct. One community was replaced with high-class tourists’ second homes, with Caiçaras working as labours (e.g. gardeners and cleaners). At the other, all except two Caiçaras were violently banished. In this context, Caiçaras who remained in the Reserve were terrified of INEA, of land speculation and of tourism impacts. This was the situation when the Federal Act 9,985/00 (SNUC) was declared and the rights of traditional people were acknowledged as possibly being legal.

Ecological Reserves are not recognized by the Federal Act 9,985/00. Under SNUC they were required to be reclassified by 18 July 2002, with resolution of problems regarding land tenure, natural resources use and visitation. The reclassification and planning processes, as legally defined, needed to be participatory. So, from 2000 to 2002, INEA frequently called community meetings to discuss which of the twelve categories of protected areas would be appropriate for the Reserve, publicly maintaining that the Reserve should be reclassified as a Park. The Caiçaras living within the Reserve wanted their rights to be recognized, land tenure to be secured, speculation to be controlled and tourism to be organized. Opposing perspectives, fuelled by a history of conflicts and the absence of appropriate mediation, transformed these meetings into open conflicts and no consensus was reached. Instead, during the following years, the list of restrictions increased.

As time passed, INEA’s ideas for the Reserve changed from one Park to a mosaic of protected areas with a central totally protected core and one discontinuous Sustainable Development Reserve, which would shelter the twelve Caiçara communities. In 2008, consultants were hired to formalize this plan. However, they also failed to reach consensus concerning the limits of the Sustainable Development Reserve and about general development rules to be followed by the communities.

One of the key problems with the establishment of the discontinuous Sustainable Development Reserve, as proposed by INEA, is that, according SNUC, lands within its limits may be privately owned. Hence, this would not solve the main concern of the Caiçaras facing problems related to land speculation and conflicts. The establishment of an Extractive Reserve over Caiçaras’ land was also not accepted by the Caiçaras, because this designation requires land to be owned by the government. As some Caiçaras held title over small household lots, they saw this option as an attack on their legitimate land ownership right.

Consequently, fifteen years after the establishment of the SNUC, there is still no consensus regarding the re-categorization of the Reserve, or about conservation and development rules. Management continues to follow a top down approach, traditional subsistence activities continue to be prohibited, construction permits still depend on a manager’s decision, and land tenure is still uncertain.

6.3 Land conflicts

The Caiçaras of Martin Sá struggled to remain in their ancestral lands not only because of preservationist environmental laws but also due to land disputes with the farmer’s family, who, years after abandoning the farm, reclaimed the land to transform it into a tourism resort. After nearly a decade of legal disputes, a committee formed by three judges arbitrated over the case.

During the ten days that preceded this audience, the locally formed NGO organized a manifest and 10,000 people signed an online petition asking that the traditional rights of the Caiçaras be respected. On 12 June 2012, while about two hundred people wearing traditional dress and playing traditional drums protested in front of the Rio de Janeiro City Forum, the committee denied the farmer’s claim over Martin de Sá, changing forever land tenure conflicts at Martin de Sá. Since then, land conflicts are between community members and between the community and INEA, which tolerates the Caiçaras in their ancestral territory if they do not use natural resources.

6.4 Other pressures of change

By the year 2000, 30 years after Martin de Sá isolation was first disrupted, additional pressures emerged to change traditional practices and traditions. Exposure to the modern world through television, decline in fish stock, Western educational and health systems and religion brought additional pressure for traditional culture to change. Yet, to this time, Caiçaras had little exposure to technology, (super) markets, electricity or telecommunications. By 2015, however, except for the oldest people, all community members had mobile phones or tablets (even though there was no mobile signal at Martin de Sá), and all adult men substituted their traditional canoes and fishing boats with modern speed boats that can berth directly at their beach, allowing easy and rapid access to markets and to tourists. From 2010, solar panels were installed and, in 2015, they were producing enough energy to maintain freezers and a couple of lamps per house.

6.5 Tourism

While rare hunter-tourists visited Martin de Sá during the 1970s, tourism flow halted during the farming period and slowly restarted during the 1990s, despite the complete absence of tourism infrastructure. Around 1995, the first Caiçara house was rebuilt and from then on, tourists could rely on the assistance of locals during their visits.

In 1999, Martin de Sá received about 150 tourists, the majority during the Carnival and New Year’s holidays. There were no predefined camping areas, so tourists had to clear the forest to pitch their tents. Caiçaras built two toilets for tourist use and started to cook for them, serving a plate with fish, rice and beans. In the same year, during Carnival, the community leader invited a dozen tourists for a chat and asked them for help, explaining that his community was at risk of being banished by outsiders and by INEA from their ancestral land, although still under claim. He also asked for help to organize and control tourism, since he thought the flow and its related impacts would continue growing. These tourists formed an NGO (Green Citizenship), which advocated for the Caiçara community and actively participated in the re-categorization process.

In 2004, INEA demanded the community to demolish the toilets and to rebuild them close to the river, and to prohibit tourists from camping at the beach. It also declared that the community’s cropping area be transformed into a camping ground. With no cropping area and prohibited from performing traditional subsistence activities, the only option for the Caiçaras was to adopt tourism as their means of survival, development and protection.

In 2015, Martin de Sá received about 6,000 tourists; 1,200 were at Martin de Sá for New Year’s Eve 2014/2015. Even with the significant growth in tourism flow, it continued to be a sporadic phenomenon in Martin de Sá. There was no plan for tourism development, no official marketing, accommodation or infrastructure, including waste and sewage management.

The tourist profile remained stable from 2000 to 2015, only the average age increased, but this was probably because most tourists who visit Martin de Sá were repeat visitors. Seventy percent of the tourists interviewed in 2015 had visited it at least twice; thirty percent had visited more than five times. Tourists were on average thirty years old, ten years older than they were in the 2000 study. Consequently, their education level was higher; most held a bachelor degree or higher. They were from Rio de Janeiro (75%) and São Paulo (20%). As there is no official marketing, ninety percent of tourists continue to discover Martin de Sá through word-of-mouth.

In 2015 (as in 2000), tourists visited Martin de Sá to enjoy nature (95%), the peaceful setting (83%) and the local culture (68%). On average, they travelled in groups of four or five people. Time spent at Martin Sá varied from a single weekend to one month, with one week being the average. During this time, tourists visit nearby places and communities and seventy-eight percent eat local food.

In 2015, fifty five percent of tourists indicated they separated and disposed of their garbage in bins provided by the Caiçaras, although the community thinks it was a much smaller proportion. Half of the informants believe tourists at Martin de Sá are well intentioned regarding conservation, yet the same percentage admitted that they do not know how to camp with minimum impact. A quarter of the tourists interviewed felt well informed about the local culture and ecosystem, but seventy five percent would like to know more about Martin de Sá.

In 2015, eighty five percent of informants believed the number of tourists must be restricted; all Caiçaras agreed. No informants believed that the community should be removed in the name of preservation.

6.6 Perceptions of cultural change

In 2015, twenty five percent of online informants thought that Martin de Sá was at risk. Only nine percent believed INEA was managing the area well, and eighty percent assumed the community leader was the key person for the protection of the place. Seventy percent of interviewed tourists thought culture should be the focus of management, while fifty five percent believed the focus should be on nature conservation.

While twenty five percent of online informants perceived cultural changes, and twenty percent observed environmental changes, community members asserted that culture had completely changed for the worse. Ninety percent of interviewed tourists thought it was important to protect local culture, which is supported by all community members. For cultural protection, tourists identified organizing tourism and legally recognizing Caiçaras’ rights over their ancestral land as the most effective responses. The community shared these views but thought gaining land rights was the higher priority.

In the 2004-2008 study, informants who perceived and described cultural changes identified seven indicators of cultural changes. Five of these were not mentioned during the 2015 interviews. These were:

  • diet, which was traditionally made of local ingredients, such as fish and fruits. In 2000, noodles and other industrialized foods (normally given by tourists) were being incorporated into the Caiçara diet; by 2015, only the elders ate mostly traditional food;

  • celebrations, including Ciranda and Folia dos Reis. During these celebrations, Caiçaras danced and sang. In 2000, these celebrations were already rare. Instead, Caiçaras were singing evangelic songs and were no longer dancing. This tradition did not recover over time;

  • dress. From 1990, Caiçaras adopted evangelic dress and beliefs. Men wore long pants and long sleeve shirts (even on hot days of 44oC), and women wore long skirts and did not cut their hair;

  • architecture (art), because of frequent migration, Caiçaras homes were traditionally built with mud and straw, but in 2000 these building materials were replaced with bricks and cement; in 2015, traditional houses were rare; and

  • sports, while the sea has traditionally been a male sacred place for subsistence, not for recreation, in 2005, three percent per cent of field informants observed that Caiçaras (males and females) had started to surf. By surfing, they challenged gender and religious taboos. By 2015, all children were surfing.

The other aspects observed by informants to have changed over time included migration, the traditional economy and non-material culture.

6.7 Economic change

For tourist informants, the most evident cultural change was in the Caiçaras’ economy. In 2000, when tourism was limited to 150 visitors, income was not sufficient to support the family, so Caiçaras continued to perform their traditional subsistence activities, especially cropping at the area that was later transformed into the camping ground. As tourism income grew and protected area restrictions were enforced, subsistence activities were gradually substituted. In 2015, with the income from about 6,000 tourists per year, Caiçaras rarely performed their traditional subsistence activities, with the exception of fishing, especially not in front of tourists. So, while they continued to farm, hunt and use other local forest products, they did it less frequently, out of sight and for tradition (leisure), not for economic or subsistence needs.

6.8 Changes to non-material culture

Caiçaras give little attention to economic and livelihood change, which they understand to be a necessary adaptation to contemporary society. For them, the important changes related to their non-material culture, that is, to their way of thinking, behaving and identifying themselves. In this regard, Caiçaras described four changes.

The first was identified as starting before the year 2000 and concerns the way they relate to the land, which traditionally was considered sacred. However, land speculation and conflicts put a price on nature, which became a commodity. In 2015, it seems that these understandings merged, and land and nature became sacred commodities.

The second change started with INEA’s imposition of official ambassadors to represent each community in the re-categorization process. Traditionally, and until the year 2000, the community leader was either the eldest or the person recognized by community members as the chief. While most of the traditional leaders were illiterate, ignoring the existence of these authentic representatives, INEA imposed that ambassadors had to be literate, so that they could write, read and sign accords. Generally, the literate Caiçaras were one generation younger than traditional leaders and had lived for long periods in cities, usually Paraty. They had attended school, but had relatively limited Caiçara knowledge. With no choice, and in conflict with traditional governance arrangements, Caiçaras reorganized their social structure. One of the daughters of the original leader, who lived at Paraty, became the official ambassador for Martin de Sá. This change lasted only a couple years, and in 2015, the traditional leader regained his chief status.

The third change also affected Caiçaras’ social structure, yet was influenced directly by tourism. Due to their historic isolation, most of the community initially did not interact with tourists. As soon as visitors arrived, Caiçaras would hide inside their homes. So, without any competition, the community leader organized tourism activities and centralized revenues. Women cooked and cleaned, but were not paid. This changed when the wife of the community leader asked for a divorce. She built, with the help of her sons, a house and started to use her porch as a restaurant. Following her example, some daughters and sons did the same; others negotiated other activities, such as selling fish and transporting tourists. In 2015, the community leader, while still controlling the majority of income, did not control it all.

The fourth change resulted from the previous adaptations. While isolated and living based on subsistence activities, Caiçaras needed to rely on each other; a bad year or a bad crop could mean starvation. Thus, altruism was the key to survival. As the economy changed, community disagreements intensified and with better access to markets, selfishness grew. Although this change was only identified by Caiçara informants in 2015, all who mentioned it explained that it caused a complete change in their culture.

7. Discussion

7.1 Pressures and changes related to the protected area

While this study was to explore cultural changes influenced by the Federal Act 9,985/00 (SNUC), when field and online informants were approached, they were not asked how the Act affected the Caiçaras but what cultural changes they had perceived. This indirect approach aimed to reduce biased attribution of causality to the SNUC. Hence, not all pressures and changes described by field informants relate to the restrictions imposed by management of the protected area. Also, many cultural changes are associated with modernization and choices made freely by the Caiçaras as individuals or as a group. So, not all pressures, changes and responses identified by informants are directly related to reserve management, except as a context for assessing the relative impact and importance of pressures on cultural change.

Religion, education, Western medicine, access to markets and technology, especially television, are independent of SNUC, yet have clearly altered individual and community dress, values, beliefs, rituals, behaviour, health, consumer patterns, aspirations and many other dimensions of the Caiçara culture. Because of broader societal values, these pressures on cultural change are largely immune from management, either for practical or ethical reasons, based on internationally accepted rights of the individual. While change in dress code can be traced to adopted religious dogma, and leisure activities (surfing) to the influence of television and tourist activity, these changes, as examples, are accepted by the Caiçaras community, integrated into the contemporary culture, and not considered by the interviewed Caiçaras to be a significant threat to their valued traditional culture and way of life. Management of these pressures can only come from within the community.

Of the pressures remaining, and identified by field informants, only tourism, land conflicts, natural resource usage (including fish stocks) are manageable from the protected area perspective. These are considered by the Caiçara community as major threats to their cultural system of thought, values, social structure, economy and arts.

7.2 Reasons for success and failure of cultural protection

Field and online informants had quite different perceptions about cultural change. Only twenty five percent of tourist informants observed change; hence, cultural protection for this group was largely considered a success. In contrast, all Caiçara informants believed their culture had changed for the worst, and that failure of protection measures was absolute. This perceived difference can be explained as the non-material elements of any culture (i.e. systems of thought, beliefs and values) are more difficult to observe by outsiders, especially tourists, who usually are not visiting tourism destinations to study different cultures, but, as they answered, to enjoy nature and peace. Thus, they just observed what is evident: the substitution of traditional economic activities with tourism, and of traditional houses by brick and cement.

Changes observed by tourist informants are much easier to manage than those perceived by Caiçaras. In a process called theatralization of culture (Balme 1998), managers of the protected area could define a new area for cropping close to where tourists congregate, and could define rules for construction so that traditional materials and styles could continue to be used. By doing so, it is highly probable that fewer tourists and outsiders would perceive changes to the economy or to the architecture, hence to culture. Yet, Caiçaras would probably perceive the forced maintenance of these cultural traits as important changes. Cropping would change from a subsistence activity to a tourism attraction, as would be the case of the mud and straw houses, which no longer would be built to facilitate migration but to satisfy tourists’ expectations to see a different culture.

Yet, focusing on maintaining the non-material elements of the Caiçara culture will not diminish tourists’ perception of change, as tourists did not mention these subliminal adaptations. Therefore, to lessen change, perceived or real, two approaches are needed, one to placate tourists perception of cultural change, the other to satisfy Caiçaras.

Caiçaras described three changes that directly relate to the SNUC, which could have been avoided if the protected area were implemented according to the Act and its principles. One of these changes relates to the concept of land and nature, which changed from sacred to commodity. This could have been avoided by re-categorizing the Reserve into a protected area in which land tenure is community owned and cannot be sold to non-Caiçara people (e.g. extractive reserves).

The second change regards the substitution of traditional leaders by literate ambassadors to discuss the re-categorization of the Reserve. While the traditional leaders are illiterate and not able to write, read and sign accords, by following their tradition, discussions and agreements could have been reached orally to satisfy Caiçaras’ needs and audibly-recorded to satisfy INEA’s demands. Yet not only did INEA substitute traditional leaders, but declared that those new leaders had to define one category of protected area to shelter 12 different communities that, from then on, should develop following one unique set of rules, predefined by SNUC. In doing so, INEA ignored that each appointed leader had no power to speak for all of the community members they represented, and even less so over the other 11 communities that were treated as one, even though their histories, cultures and needs varied considerably. To illustrate, the number of community members in each settlement within the Juatinga Reserve varies from a few to thousands; some communities are predominantly descendants of Africans and have dark skin and brown eyes, while others have a European pirate lineage, and are blond and blue-eyed. This error could have been avoided easily by respecting cultural differences and traditional leadership.

In practice, this means that each community should have been consulted and re-categorized according to its needs (cf. Mellinger, 2015). Thus, instead of forcing the creation of one discontinuous Sustainable Reserve, as proposed by INEA, the existing Reserve might have been re-categorized into smaller protected areas, all of them being managed as a mosaic, as foreseen in SNUC.

The third change relates to tourism conflicts. As defined by SNUC, protected area managers are responsible for tourism management, yet no tourism plans were ever developed. The result is inequitable distribution of tourism revenues; therefore, conflict eventuates. The only management response proposed by informants was to control tourist flow. This is unlikely to reduce the problem, because how profits are shared among community members is independent of tourist numbers. To perhaps alleviate the inequity, additional tourism products might be developed, such as guided tours or gardening practices to support visitor needs and expectations. However, these would need community agreement but ultimately the approval of the protected area managers.

8. Conclusion

Fifteen years after the establishment of the Federal Act 9,985/00 (SNUC), the protected area that shelters Martin de Sá has not been reclassified, land tenure conflict continues to encourage community member migration; tourism flow continues to rapidly increase and no tourism plans are in place; the distribution of tourism income is still inequitable in the eyes of many, accentuating community conflicts; culture has significantly changed; and, as a result, Martin de Sá is at greater risk than ever before.

Reserve management has delegated many operational tasks to the Caiçara community without consultation, discussion and agreement. For example, the collection of garbage during holidays was determined as a need by the State but left to the local community to organize within the camping fee charged. The State also failed in more complex tasks. It did not organize tourism. It paid consultants to plan, but no stakeholder consensus eventuated. Failure to re-classify the Reserve has resulted in accelerated cultural and environmental changes and intensified community conflict. No informant identified any benefits of the consultation process relating to reserve reclassification.

Previous studies conclude that this risk scenario could have been avoided if management interventions were put in place (Sinay 2002 and 2008). This study concludes that management interventions are fundamental for reducing cultural change risks at Martin de Sá, as reported in other protected areas inhabited by traditional communities and visited by tourists (Mendonça e Moraes 2016). The first step is to implement the SNUC and to re-categorize protected areas and recognize (1) the need to protect ancestral ownership of the land as well as social structures, (2) traditional rights over natural marine and terrestrial resources, and (3) the right to have a unique culture, which may differ from the culture of nearby communities and may demand tailor-made rules.


Since this research began, the world has become less colorful with the passing of Dona Capitulina, Dona Lorença and Daniel Sinay. Dona Capitulina was the oldest person of Martin de Sá (passed away when she was more than one hundred years old) and mother of the community leader. Dona Lorença was the wife of Mr. Maneco, the community leader. Both opened the doors to a world that was, until then, unknown to me. Without their support, this research would not have been possible.

Daniel Sinay is my brother and son of the 2nd author of this work. He was assassinated in Caraíva (Bahia) in a conflict similar to that of Martin de Sá. As in Martin de Sá, Caraíva also suffers from the consequences of disorganized tourism in the context of traditionally inhabited and legally protected lands. Daniel was one of the organizers of the protest that helped the Caiçaras de Martin de Sá win the judicial dispute regarding the Caiçaras’ lands. He was also one of the people who helped me the most in the field, reflecting on the information collected and giving me strength to continue my work, even when I was under threat.

I strongly hope that their memories will never be forgotten and that they continue to be a source of inspiration for people who work with protected areas and tourism so that, eventually, these become sustainable activities.

Finally, I would like to thank CAPES for funding the first two steps of this research.


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Received: November 04, 2015; Accepted: February 01, 2019

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