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Parenting in Amazonian Riverside Context

Written By

Simone Souza da Silva Costa, Tatiana Afonso, Thamyris Maués dos Santos and Fernando Augusto Ramos

Submitted: May 15th, 2012 Published: December 18th, 2013

DOI: 10.5772/57056

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1. Introduction

Parenthood is known for its importance in the development of children in different parts of the world. Parental relationships consist of routine actions of care that are necessary for the survival and well-being of the young, including beliefs, values, and expectations in a given culture [1- 6].

Through the journey of daily care, parents and caretakers gradually prepare children with education that is considered important to be inserted into various social contexts, in addition to taking care of the physical and emotional needs of children [4]. Therefore, parenthood involves social practices performed by those who take care of or are responsible for the education of children, serving as examples of values and beliefs. Culture and history also participate in this process [5,6].

What is considered adequate, as well as practices that promote what is considered appropriate in the development of children vary from culture to culture, even within the same country over time history [4]. According to the authors [6] this understanding reflects the contextualist paradigm that challenges the neo-positivist view of the data collected in a given society may be relevant in another, as well as data collected in a particular historical moment are necessarily significant in a period later [6]. In this sense, it is necessary to examine parenting in many social groups.

According to reference [7], the differences observed in beliefs and care practices in different cultures can be described by cultural models that express different methods of parenthood. Parents with high levels of education who live in a city have socialization techniques that are different from those of families with low levels of education who live in the country [7,6].

In this perspective, the author [3] that made extensive transcultural research, tell us about the differences between the parental practices in terms of cultural prototypes, as being those which can valorize the autonomy within the caring practices, such as situation of the American families, and others that reforce the obedience and the sense of belonging to the group, such as the case of the rural communities. The same way, significant differences are found between the practices of the Minority World (typically represented by the white middle class from North America and Western Europe) and Majority (countries with low human development index) [8]. Such differences take in consideration aspects of the point of view economic and cultural and are evidenced from points such as: the attachment mother-baby, the shared responsibility, the probability of mortality, the size of the family, the roles played by the members of the family and the surrounding community [8, 3].

Noteworthy is the fact that studies that compared educational practices between the Minoritary World and poor rural communities in the Majoritary World led to a consensus that parental practices in those countries are a shortcoming [8,3,4].Therefore, parental practices in countries of the Minoritary World are considered more adequate, and such a trend is emphasized by the use of measurement scales and tools for psychological investigation that advocate universal practices [5].

An important topic to evidence is the fact that the studies interested in comparing the educational practices observed between the Minority World and the impoverished rural communities of the Majority World have conducted in a mistaken way to the consensus that the parental practices in those countries are presented as deficient [8, 3, 4]. In this sense, the parental practices present in the countries of the Minority World are taken as more adequate which trend is to reinforce by the use of measure scales and psychological investigation instruments that profess them as universal practices [5].

According to the author [5], more important than the use of such tools is the observation of daily activities and interactions in a given cultural context, which are full of meaning and express the concepts of parental care and how families are connected with the surrounding community [3, 9, 10]. In this sense, the studies by [1,2,5,3,7] are notable. In the case of Brazil, [11, 12, 13] contribute to the understanding of parenthood in different social groups.

The main interest in studying different cultural communities would, however, focus on the involvement of people in their communities, examining the nature and dynamics of generating individual lives and social practices of the community [3]. In other words, recognize what cultural practices familiar to every social group that permits examining and recognizing the organization, values​​, visions and social practices that are common and persistent in a given place, at a given social class or social group [3,4]

Considering that the roles performed by families are distinct in different cultural communities and in daily care practices, the objective of the present study was to describe the routines of two families who lived in Amazon river regions in the state of Pará, Brazil. These communities are inserted in the Amazonia forest, in which living activities are linked to nature with different degrees of isolation from urban centers.The figure 1 demonstrates this rich and distinctive ecological context.

Figure 1.

The Amazonian context: the florest and housing typically riverine Amazon (collection of Laboratory Ecology of Human Development)

The Amazon river region consists of a forest rich in biodiversity, possessing 20% of the freshwater on the planet. Additionally, it represents 50% of the Brazilian territory and has approximately 11 million people, in which 62.4% live in the cities and 37.6% live in the country [14].The riverine area still has energetic resources and wealth and is rich with lush flora and fauna, but it is still considered an economically poor region compared with its natural richness because of its historical lack of infrastructure investment [15].

The riverine communities arranged in the Amazon forest are considered traditional, with occupations associated with waterways, cultures with riverine roots, and small-scale agriculture [16]. Although sharing a way of life and traditional cultures, significant differences are found among these communities in terms of access to public policies and economic development. Thus, riverine communities that live in geographic isolation have more financial stringency and depend more on forest resources and less on commercial interchange. However, in riverine communities near urban centers, people have more accessibility to foreign goods and knowledge, thus incorporating values found in urban areas [17].

With regard to the way of life on the Amazon river, [18] indicated that these populations have an intense relationship with the cycles and dynamics of nature. Residents build their day-to-day activities and identities based on the river and forest surroundings, with a depth of knowledge about natural dynamics that reflects elaborate strategies for the use and management of natural resources.

Knowledge is orally transferred from generation to generation. From a practical perspective, this is characteristic of such populations, who use symbols and rituals linked to hunting, fishing, and extractive activities. In addition to the practical sense, living with cyclical and repetitive periods and guided by the dynamics of nature, distinct senses and meanings are generated in these populations, in which their routine tasks and social relationships develop more slowly [18].

Based on interest in recognizing parenthood within the context such different development, the objective of the present study was to understand parental practices based on the descriptions of the routines of two riverine families and provide evidence of the relationships between cultural activities and the Amazonian context. We highlight the social activities during weekdays and weekends, with parenthood considered based on the daily activities that reflect these families’ beliefs.


2. Method

This study comprised two periods of data collection, between 2006 and 2010, when visits and interviews were performed in two Amazonia riverine communities that have different geographies and social dynamics. The Araraiana community is located in Ponta de Pedras city in the Marajó archipelago, and the Piriquitaquara community is on Combu Island and belongs to the insular area of Belém. The data form the database of the Laboratory of Ecology of Human Development, which has been conducting scientific studies on the development of Amazonia riverine families.


3. Sociodemographic contexts

3.1. Araraiana community

The first phase of research was performed in the Araraiana community that belongs to the county of Ponta de Pedras, Marajó Island, PA. The county area is approximately 3,365.30 km², with a population of 20,067 inhabitants. Araraiana is a community geographically isolated from urban centers, with an absence of medical and social assistance see [19].

The Araraiana community, during data collection, consisted of 22 families with 125 inhabitants who lived in stilt houses on the margins of the river. Overall, the houses had three rooms (e.g., living room, bedroom, and kitchen) and were made of wood and straw collected from the forest adjacent to the houses. The houses were distributed along the river with an approximate minimum distance of 300 m from each other. The houses had no furniture, such as sofas, chairs, wardrobes, or beds. In several houses, it was common to sit and have guests sit on the floor made of wood boards or on benches made of wood close to the walls, typically in the living room and kitchen. The few appliances were wood-burning stoves, radios, and televisions. Because of the absence of local electricity, televisions and radios functioned with batteries for limited periods of time, mainly at night. The houses were essentially occupied by the family, in which the number varied as a function of family type (i.e., nuclear families with one to six residents or extended families with six to 10 residents), whereas multigenerational families were characterized by a higher density (i.e., eight to 12 residents).

The principal occupation of the men was extraction activities, followed by fishing. Women were housewives or artisans. The river and forest provided food and products for local extraction activities, such as fish, shrimp, game animals, and açaí.

With regard to the availability of health services, no assistance was provided by the state, in addition to the lack of treated water, trash and sewer services, and complex health problems of the population (e.g., stomach and intestinal problems and malnutrition). Similar to the lack of health services, no investments were made in education. The only school in the community was located in the house of a local resident who provided only first-year elementary school education.

3.2. Piriquitaquara community

This community belongs to Combu Island, Belém county, Pará state. It has an approximate territorial size of 15 km² and is approximately 1.5 km from the capital Belém via waterway. It is characterized by floodplain forest with diversified flower composition in addition to enormous tourist and commercial attractions.

Considered the fourth largest island of Belém county, Combu Island is located at the margins of Guamá River. In this area, approximately 375 families or 1,700 residents live in and are clustered in four communities: Igarapé of the Combu, Igarapé of the Piriquitaquara, “Furo da Paciência,” and the margin of Guamá River. The houses are predominantly made of wood and distributed along the margins of the waterways. The social and production structure is organized as a function of local natural resources, such as açaí and cacau harvesting, palm heart extraction, shrimping, fishing, and raising chickens, ducks, and pigs, which constituted the principal local activities.

Access to Combu Island is via waterway on boats that leave daily from different Belém harbors. Such waterways play a strategic role in the transportation of goods and people. Work is performed with activities in the riverine area. Other services, including the marketing of plant and gathering products, health services, schools, shops, and amenities, occur in the urban context.

The houses were made of wood and covered with clay tiles or asbestos. They were built on stilts and located approximately 30 m from each other. Electricity was not available during data collection, but it became available in July 2011. Treated water was not yet available. Drinking water was obtained from a public tap in Belém and carried in bulk or plastic bottles to the community.

With regard to infrastructure, the community had a health center that was having difficulty with functioning because it was closed for some months due to a lack of physicians, equipment, and medicine. Aside from this health center, a municipal school was located in the igarapé itself, characterized by a typical Amazonia riverine style and made of wood on stilts. The school had two classrooms, a courtyard, a pantry, restrooms, a coordination room, and an external area available for recreation when the river level was low. In this community, almost all of the residents received benefits from the federal program “Bolsa Família” (family grant), a program that directly provides income to families depending on health conditions and school attendance.

In the present study, we used two representative families, one from each context (focal families), and the choice was made by considering accessibility and availability.


4. Inventories

4.1. Sociodemographic inventory (SDI)

We used an inventory prepared by the research group LEDH that presents the following items: identification (name, age, gender, parenthood, and marital status), family income, and house characterization (whether the house was owned, construction type, number of rooms, appliances and furniture, electricity, availability of treated water, and sewage and trash services).

4.2. Questionnaire of Family Routine (QFR)

The QFR [20] was used to ascertain the family routine. The QFR consisted of a sheet on which the periods of the day (i.e., dawn, morning, afternoon, and night) were listed in rows and referred to developed activities. The location where the activities took place and the people who were present at the time of the activity were entered in columns, with additional space for other observations. This tool was applied for all participating family members by asking them to describe the activities they performed in a normal day before the interview. Subsequently, we asked the participants to describe their routine on the last Sunday, which was a typical weekend day. The QFR was adapted to the riverine context, which allowed better compatibility with local characteristics [20].


5. Procedures for data collection and analysis

The process of insertion of the research team on the islands first involved systematic access to the spaces shared by the family. During the approach of the places frequented by the residents, such as the school, residents’ association, and houses themselves, we took care to become part of the population day-by-day by sharing time and activities.

After familiarization with the families, we were able to access their homes with the help of local boaters because of a lack of an address system similar to the ones used in cities given that igarapés are constituted by rivers that intersect, which can cause confusion for those who do not live in the region. After mapping the participants’ houses, we began visiting the houses. The observations, talks, and activities were reported in a field diary immediately after the visits.

A statement of consent warranted the rights of the participants, and the ethical committee of the Federal University of Pará approved the study (CAEE – 0016.0.073.000-09).

The inventories were applied with the parents on previously scheduled days. During the interviews, we asked questions, and the participants were free to respond. The responses were recorded and transcribed. The tabulation of responses into categories of activities was based on discussions and agreement of two of the three researchers who collected the data. In case of discordance, we consulted the project mentors.


6. Data compilation

We divided the activities into eight categorical clusters: Economic Subsistence (ES; which refers to all activities that are aimed at obtaining financial resources), Food subsistence (FS; which includes all activities involved in food acquisition and preparation), Domestic tasks (DT; which refers to tasks performed in the house, excluding the kitchen; e.g., sweeping, dish washing, gathering firewood, and fixing the house), Physical care (PC; which refers to tasks related to other people, typically the children; e.g., feeding, bathing, and putting them to sleep), Leisure (L; which refers to activities performed in their free time, including activities for having fun, entertainment, or distraction; e.g., social interaction/talking, watching television, and playing soccer), Play (which represents playful activities with children), and Study (which comprises learning activities in addition to formal teaching).

To facilitate data visualization, we made Diagrams of Family Activities (DFAs) that consisted of forms that allowed descriptions of intrafamilial subsystems in activity performance. The DFAs were composed of a genealogy tree of the groups who shared a house, and the activity subsystems in which the family members were inserted were delineated with lines of different thicknesses, which allowed distinguishing activity categories. Such categories were identified by complementary descriptions around the figure. The DFA allowed knowledge of the tasks and who performed them, the time of the meeting, whether there was close interaction or isolation, and useful reflections on the nature and characteristics of family gatherings [20].


7. Results and discussion

7.1. Contextual characteristics

The contexts investigated here had similarities and differences that represented peculiar lifestyles in the Amazon river region. Both presented forest vegetation and delimitations from regional rivers, contextual aspects that characterize the disposition of the houses where lands are flooded and promote isolation although they are close to each other.

The authors [21, 22, 23]indicated that this disposition of geographic isolation, marked by the presence of rivers, reveals an important contextual characteristic that is necessary to understand the composition of relationships established in the Amazon river communities. To reach out to neighbors, one must go through natural barriers that restrict exiting from the domestic environment. Therefore, the groups of river families turn to themselves, intensely sharing moments of interaction and developing strong affective bonds. Another important aspect is the fact that the families live together in the same community for generations; therefore, relatives mostly comprise the neighborhood. This composition is indicated in figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2.

Neighboring houses in the Amazon river context (collection of Laboratory Ecology of Human Development)

Figure 3.

Canoe used to transport families around the house (collection of Laboratory Ecology of Human Development)

With regard to contextual differences, the Araraiana community presented higher isolation and exclusion compared with populations with the same profile. The isolation can be justified based on the following factors: lack of systematic transportation in the region, difficulty contacting river residents, and difficulty accessing media [20]. However, in the Piriquitaquara community, the residents had more access to goods and services, healthcare, and public policies, such as the “Bolsa Família,” aspects that softened extreme local poverty.

The contexts also presented similarities in terms of housing characteristics. They were made of wood gathered from the forest, covered with clay tiles or asbestos, and built on stilts. Electricity was nonexistent in the Araraiana community, whereas electricity became available in July 2011 on Combu Island. Therefore, at the time of the study, both communities had no electricity. With regard to basic sanitation, in both contexts, 90% of the houses had their bathroom in the backyard in a small wooden cubicle with an open bottom where waste was directly dumped on the muddy substrate. During high tide, the river carried the waste away.

In the Araraiana community, only one house had a water well; all of the other residents consumed water directly from the river. Water treatment basically consisted of straining the water with a cloth; thus, the incidence of stomach ailments was epidemic in the locale. On Combu Island, drinking water was obtained from a public tap. In Belém, it was carried in buckets and plastic bottles to the community. Therefore, we observed from the daily field records that the community of Combu worried more about water quality compared with the Araraiana community.

With regard to the families’ routine, the following examples describe representative families in the riverine contexts studied to help understand parenthood in the context of the Amazon river.


8. Routine of the Eduardo and Márcia Family, Araraiana Community, Ilha do Marajó, PA

This is an extended family composed of the couple and their nine children, with the oldest child living in Ponta de Pedras, Ilha do Marajó, PA, with the maternal grandmother. Hence, in the house lived Beto (30), Márcia (age unknown), and the children Paulo (15), Raissa (13), Tamiris (12), Célia (10), Geisa (6), Inaiara (5), Nanci (3), and Ana Paula (1). These are fictitious names, and the ages refer to the time of data collection. The family’s living came from gathering açaí, fishing, and extracting other products from the forest.

Eduardo, the father, would wake up early, leave with his boat just after breakfast, and work by hauling and transporting goods. He would return at the end of the morning and afternoon. Overall, except in leisure times, which mainly involved playing soccer with his friends, his daily activities were spent alone. Márcia spent her day engaged in domestic tasks and physical care of the eight children with the help of her older daughters. Her routine was restricted to the house and surroundings.

The daughters, Raissa, Célia, Tamiris, Geisa, and Inaiara, went to school early, which was located in the house of one resident of the community (with only one room where all of the children from the community studied). In addition to studying in the same place, the people ate meals and shared several activities together. In the afternoon, they played in the surroundings of their uncle’s house, which was next to the school. In addition to helping the mother with DT and FS, the oldest daughters were in charge of taking care of the youngest. At the end of the afternoon, it was common to see them bathe in the river in front of their house.

The oldest son, Paulo, performed activities isolated from his siblings. In the morning, he engaged in ES and SF activities. In the afternoon, he went to school and on his way back he either played soccer with his friends or performed FS activities.

Family gatherings occurred at night when they had dinner together and shared leisure activities. The sleeping place depicted the organization of the family subgroups. The girls slept with the mother in the bedroom. The father slept in the living room, and Paulo, the oldest son, slept in the kitchen. Fig. 4 illustrates the family’s routine.

Figure 4.

Activities/tasks performed and subsystems involved in the B/M family during weekdays.

The collected data revealed little sharing of activities between the couple because the division of activities was done by gender. The brothers formed different subsystems (Fig. 1). The oldest brother performed his food subsistence, economic, school, and leisure activities basically alone. Because of similarities in the school schedule with the five sisters (Raissa, Tamiris, Célia, Geisa, and Inaiara), this constituted a subsystem in the school and play time. Because of her important role in activities with her mother, Raissa was isolated from the group of sisters. Geisa, Inaiara, Nanci, and Ana Paula formed an affinity and playing activity subgroup, with Geisa, the oldest sister, playing the role of caretaker. On the weekends, the dynamics of the family changed, with the exception of Márcia who maintained her routine of domestic tasks. The father and son would visit friends in the community, the activities of which often involved eating lunch and having Sunday occupied by leisure activities. The girls played and bathed in the river but did not stop performing the DT, FS, and PC activities to support their mother.

8.1. The parenting in the family inhabitant of the Araraiana community

The routine or care practices in this family were strongly linked by gender. The division of tasks and roles between men and women consisted of distinct status occupied by the spouses. The mother’s role was to maintain the family through domestic tasks, such as taking care of the children and the family environment, cooking, plant cultivation, and raising animals. The father had the role of provider, taking care of economic activities and food subsistence. Thus, we did not see a time when the father performed activities that were directed at taking care of the children or living with his daughters. The division by gender allowed and encouraged the closeness of the father with the older son and almost totally restricted a closer relationship with the daughters.

Another important aspect related to parenthood concerns the fact that this community presented high incidences of extended families, which is consistent with a survival strategy of families in the rural context that has been present in Amazonia for centuries [16]. This occurs when the source of income is linked to extractive work. It is expected that several children would help with ES activities.

Consistent with this contextual characteristic, in the traditional model adopted, the oldest daughters were encouraged to learn, beginning at early ages, to perform FS and DT activities, stay with their mother all the time, and restrict their relationship networks to the domestic environment. Therefore, they precociously developed roles in which they were allowed to take care of the young and guide them in education and insertion to the surrounding community. This type of brotherly relation, marked by the care common in this community, differs from urban contexts where brotherly relations are more often conflicting, given that the cultural prototypes emphasize individuality and low obedience [3,5,6].

Being prepared since childhood for domestic tasks, the traditional riverine women get married during adolescence, as opposed to the current urban perspective. Academic education does not appear to be important. Instead, education that ensures marriage and family maintenance is viewed as more important. In fact, in traditional societies, marriage is necessary for survival, and the woman’s social role is to be mother and wife, such as in some communities in Oriental Africa [9,3].

In addition to the gender patterns that structure social organization and parental practices, the isolation status of the riverine families is also taken into consideration. The distance and poor access to services impose relationship barriers that make bond formation with other parts of the community difficult; thus, the daily routine has been maintained in a traditional way for centuries.

For comparison purposes, below we present data on the family who resided on Combu Island, an Amazon river region that is close to the capital Belém and not considered a typically traditional community, although it maintains characteristics of the Amazon river region.


9. Family Routine João and Vânia – Piriquitaquara community – Combu Island

This remarried family was composed of João, the father (41), Vânia, the mother (32), the adolescents Maura (14) and Alexandre (17), and the children Laís (8) and Amanda (3). These are fictitious names, and the ages refer to the time of data collection. The couple has lived together for 9 years. Laís and Amanda are the biological children of the couple, the latter of whom has Down syndrome. The others are Vânia’s children.

The family lived with a fix income composed of João’s salary. He worked as a boater hired by Belém city to transport students and teachers of the school located a few meters from his house and from “Benefício Assistencial de Prestação Continuada BPC – LOAS” because of the daughter with a deficiency. Additionally, the children relied on the benefits of “Bolsa Família” (i.e., a program that involves the direct transfer of income to benefit poor families) because they met the health and education requirements that are necessary for this federal program.

All of them would wake up early. João, Vânia, and Alexandre left to gather açaí (ES). Upon returning from the forest, João went to his boating job. Maura prepared breakfast (FS), along with the younger sisters. Alexandre went to “Porto da Palha” to negotiate the selling of açaí. Maura remained at home to help with DTs, and Laís went to the school located next to their house. However, because of the terrain flooded by the river, the shortest route was by boat.

Vânia typically was found at home with the youngest daughter performing DT and PC activities. However, twice per week, the husband took her by boat to the capital to go to the hospital for therapeutic care of her deficiency, which was sometimes done with the help of Maura. Thus, the family organization was adequate for the routine to address the needs of the daughter with Down syndrome.

Vânia concomitantly performed the SF, DT, and PC activities of Amanda. Around noon, the other family members returned home for lunch. Before eating, Maura took a bath in the river with Amanda during moments of PC and L. After lunch, Alexandre and Maura went by boat to the capital to study in a state school. At the beginning of the afternoon, João transported the students of the afternoon period. Vânia took care of the PC activities of Amanda and Laís, the principal partner of the youngest daughter. At night, everybody performed activities linked to L.

The distribution of the members during sleep followed a similar distribution as the family of the Araraiana community, in which all of the daughters slept in the only bedroom, and the parents and oldest son slept in the living room.

Figure 5.

Activities/task performed and subsystems involved in the J/V family during weekdays.

During the weekends, the family went on a boat trip to Vânia’s mother’s house, a place in the metropolitan region of Belém where most of the relatives lived.

9.1. Parenthood in the family who lived in the Combu community

In this community, the participating family presented a way of life with some characteristics common to traditionally isolated families, such as a strong familial bond, which is considered a survival strategy among families who live in the forest [16]. However, because they were directly influenced by the urban environment, we found different characteristics compared with traditional families, which is reflected by the speech of the matriarch (Vânia) who, although she is responsible for the house organization and care of the children, presented herself as the family leader who was responsible for day-to-day decisions. Thus, the father, despite being the provider, was not considered the family leader. This posture highlights the flexibility of gender division in traditional communities.

Another important aspect to be emphasized is the fact that the children were able to finish their education in the capital because only up to the fifth year of elementary school (Cycle II) is provided on the island. Thus, we observed from the collected data that significant changes were introduced with regard to the children’s beliefs about work, the future, and family. The daughters were allowed to study in the capital. Although they continued to perform routine domestic tasks, they spent more time in school and were encouraged to study and be prepared for paid work in the cities. Thus, marriage was no longer the main goal of the teenagers.

Another important point concerns the detachment of the father from the domestic environment. [3] indicated that the occupational roles marked by gender specify that men be engaged in activities that require physical strength and detachment from the home. In the case of riverine families, separating activities and social relationships between boys and girls is common. A boy’s job is to help gather açaí (an Amazonian fruit base of their diet), process it, prepare it, and sell it, in addition to hunting and fishing. The girls should stay around home, and their learning is directed to domestic tasks that do not require high physical effort and do not put them in situations of risk, such as falling and snake bites.

With regard to fraternal subgroups, we observed the same pattern as in traditional Amazonian river families. Siblings of the same sex spent most the time together. The oldest, the majority of which were girls, were responsible for taking care of the young. The oldest, when not at school, helped the adults with domestic tasks, açaí gathering, and fishing. They were also seen at different times playing or bathing in the river.

Thus, the Piriquitaquara community consists of intermediate characteristics between two well-defined contexts: urban and traditional Amazonia riverine. The incorporated family inherited the traditional way of life, combined with influences from the capital. They even relied on a set of services made available by the state and city, such as education, healthcare, and work.

However, although Combu Island is considered a peculiar region from a cultural standpoint, it was composed of a peripheral scenario of strong local economic impoverishment, a common characteristic of all Amazonia riverine communities. Thus, the families studied herein were representative of hundreds of Amazonia riverine communities that survive by gathering forest products within the context of poverty.


10. Final considerations

The present study found that the participating families were similar because they shared the same culture, based on knowledge and familiarity with the Amazon forest, and could be distinguished based on gender social roles. Both the father and mother had their roles previously defined in the familial environment and surrounding community. Thus, the parental practices were different from those in urban centers and were more similar to rural communities because they were based on cultural prototypes aimed at the division of daily activities between parents and children and obedience in fulfilling domestic tasks, see [3].

The children spent most of their time engaged in activities performed with siblings, and the presence of the parents was not common during these times. The time shared between the father, mother, and children only occurred through daily activities that were directed at the learning necessary to fulfill domestic tasks (e.g., SF, ES, and DT). The parents did not stay busy with the children. The mothers, despite always being present in the domestic environment, kept away from the children, and this trend increased as the children aged. The older children, normally girls, delegated the responsibilities of taking care of the young (i.e., CT).

The fact that the parents did not directly take care of the children does not mean that they were not concerned about the children’s well-being or development. However, the concerns were more linked to obtaining food from the river and forest to ensure family survival. The paper of [6] indicated that what the parents do or do not do only makes sense if the specificity of the context where they are inserted is understood.

Living in the middle of the Amazon forest requires that the Amazonia riverine parents’ actions are linked to subsistence and the practical direction of daily activities that certainly are unknown in urban contexts. Thus, although parental behavior is considered a task of universal development, the nature of this development is cultural [3,7]. Therefore, any kind of judgment about the best practices for children’s’ development can only be made by considering the values and beliefs of each specific group [6]. No parental practice should be evaluated in isolation, and there is no cultural standard that is better or worse for human development [5,6].

With the central objective of providing visibility of riverine communities, the present study sought to understand parenthood in such contexts, challenging assumptions that are considered universal with regard to parental care. Moreover, our goal was to compare families in transition communities. According to [3], this helps to better understand how communities are transformed over time based on contextual changes and parental needs to provide essential care for children in an ever-transforming world.

The Piriquitaquara community on Combu Island can be considered a community in transition [3]. For many years, it stopped living exclusively in a traditional way. The closeness with urban centers located on the other side of the river influences the way of life of its residents who participate in social institutions that are present in the cities, sharing commercial exchanges and absorbing typically urban values and beliefs.

The parental practices also adapted to these changes, but this does not mean that they became practices toward autonomy, which is common for parents in urban contexts. However, they no longer reflect the totally prototypical interdependence of rural communities. Something is changing. Some indicators of this transformation have arisen from the flexibility of the maternal role because the mother in the family studied herein was the leader who made the family’s decisions. Even the children, including the girls, were encouraged to continue their education in the urban context.

We conclude that the status of social exclusion in riverine people and the difficulties of their routine are related to the fact that they have stayed in the Amazon forest for such a long period of time. Their routine expresses a way of thinking about parenthood in a specific way, which can cause a series of difficulties linked to health, education, and development, which can and should be remedied by federal and local public policies. Therefore, the present study also sought to make Amazonia riverine communities more visible. The lack of public policies directed toward riverine citizens impedes the quality of life in their particular environment.

Notable is the relevance of the present study and several other previous studies developed by the Laboratory of Ecology of Human Development, which provided information about Amazon riverine communities that are separated by rivers from the urban centers of the cities to which they belong. Therefore, we seek to contribute to the development of public policies that are compatible with the social organization and symbols of their social groups to improve the quality of life of these populations that are isolated and impoverished.


We thank CNPq National Council for Technological and Scientific Development for the provided funding. In addition, we thank to all the members of Laboratory of Ecology Development (LED) that collaborated at different moments, but intensely collecting the data presented here. Our thanks go to Leila Assef Mendes, Daniela Castro Reis, Sara Danielle Baia da Silva, Lorena Santos, Daiane Gasparetto, Eline Monteiro, Katia Carvalho, Viviam Rafaela Barbosa Pinheiro Freire, Júlia de Almeida Roffé Borges, Leandro Cavalcante Lima, Maria Elizabeth Costa Araújo, Suzane Santana Lima dos Santos and external collaborators Julia Bucher-Maluschke and Silvia Helena Koller.


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Written By

Simone Souza da Silva Costa, Tatiana Afonso, Thamyris Maués dos Santos and Fernando Augusto Ramos

Submitted: May 15th, 2012 Published: December 18th, 2013