The history of açaí
Shrouded in mystery, the cradle of countless popular indigenous legends, home to many endemic plant and animal species, many of which still unknown to science, the Amazon is today one of the few remaining large wild areas on our planet. It’s survival, nevertheless, is far from a sure thing. Still the forest, it’s people and stories all have been bravely hanging on, relying on the Amazon’s generosity to those who try to coexist with the mighty rain-forest.
The original indigenous people who inhabited the area never used writing, so their culture and history both relied on the oral tradition of transmission from generation to generation. If on the one hand that appears to be a serious compromise on factual precision, on the other hand, it enriches enormously the cultural, mythical and social picture one can make out of these stories. They tell us of the soul of the Amazon. They tell us the history of açaí.
The açaí palm tree
One such legend is the one related to the origins of the Açaí Palm tree:
“Long, long ago, the population of the tribes of the region became so large that severe famine struck. The chief of the tribe, the Morubixaba or Cacique, decided that no one should have any more children and those which were born should be killed, in an attempt to control the population growth. So it was done, and every newborn was immediately killed right upon birth. That was until Iaçã, the Cacique’s daughter, gave birth to her own son. Not abusing any privilege the baby was also sacrificed and buried in the shade of the forest. The heartbroken mother lived in endless weeping and grieving. One night, Iaçã heard the cry of her baby and went into the dark wilderness looking for it. The following day, her body was found dead, embraced to a tree bearing the most nutritious fruits in the forest. The fruit was so good that finally, the cacique ended the slaughtering of children. The people’s supply of food was finally plentiful due to the açaí tree. Açaí standing for the Cacique’s daughter’s name, Iaçã, backward!”
Today once again, the Açaí tree – Euterpe oleracea – and other natural riches of the Amazon are coming to the rescue of its people. The survival of the Amazon, in a global economy, depends on the appeal of products the rain-forest can provide without being depleted. One great example is the Açaí palm tree. Their fruit yield is high, the culture is not damaging to the rainforest environment – on the contrary – and the nutritional value is surprisingly rich in fibers, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and caloric energy. The açaí berry is a staple in the region and is sold all around the country and the world in the form of frozen pulp, dry powder, and even its oil has a use for cosmetics and other industries. Much of the açaí harvest is controlled by local communities, helping the people of the forest stay in the forest where they have been for many generations.
Açaí from the Atlantic rainforest (Jussara palm)
The benefits even extrapolate the Amazonic boundaries, helping save other wild areas like the Atlantic Rain Forest. Açaí has become a viable substitute to the Jussara palm – Euterpe edulis – in the production of the Hearts-of-palm. The Jussara tree of the Atlantic forest has only one trunk per individual, takes decades to grow and is hopelessly dead when you crop it for Hearts-of-palm. It has virtually gone extinct in most of its natural habitats due to criminous overcropping; The açaí of the Amazon, on the other hand, sprouts various shoots which will become new trunks keeping the plant alive even when you pick a trunk or two for the Hearts-of-palm.
One of many different ecology friendly products of the Amazon, some of which we will be talking about soon, the açaí has a role to play in helping the locals and the rainforest thrive. Today just like in the age-old legend.
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For more info about importing açaí directly from Brazil, click here.
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