Paths of Excellence

Paths of Excellence

Vale do Ribeira – Brazil

Caiçara and Quilombola cultures

The Valley do Ribeira embraces the whole catchment area of the Ribeira river and the Iguape estuary lagoon complex of Iguape-Cananéia-Paranaguá that is located between the cities of Sao Paulo and Curitiba, two of the richest capitals in Brazil. Considered one of the richest ecosystems on the planet, the Atlantic Forest is today only 7% of its original area, which is approximately 100,000 square kilometers. Of these, 23% is located in Vale do Ribeira. In 1999, UNESCO declared the Valley a World Natural Heritage Site.

The quilombolas (an ethnic group of African descent), and the Caiçaras (an ethnic group from the Southern Coast of Brazil) have constituted a Conservation Unit that represents one of the main ecological corridors in the country. Despite the Valley’s socio-environmental wealth, it has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in Southeastern Brazil. In the valley there is a history of socio-environmental conflict that has developed due to contradictory development models. Moreover, there is a lack of recognition regarding the historic role of traditional communities in the protection of this socio-biodiversity, and future prospects of the communities themselves. Due to the mutual sharing of territorial boundaries between the Conservation Unit and other communities, the quilombola territories are part of a system that contributes to the maintenance of the Atlantic Forest of the state of Sao Paulo.


The origin of the quilombola community of the Valley do Ribeira dates back to the era when gold mining extraction was prominent on the river Ribeira de Iguape in the middle of the seventeenth century. Early in the nineteenth century, the business declined due to the discovery of other minerals in the region of Minas Gerais. Many of the landowners and extractors of gold in the region abandoned their lands, some already inhabited by ex-slaves, who gathered together and thus consolidated the emergence of black communities, which came to settle on the banks of the river Ribeira, where they live today between the municipalities of Iporanga and Eldorado. According to official data of the Itesp (Instituto de Terras do Estado de São Paulo), there are currently 54 quilombola communities in the State of Sao Paulo. Given the immense socio-diversity of the region, cultural diversity is extremely rich and creates a universe of cultural goods, which are expressed through traditional dances, food, peasant activities and traditional knowledge. The processing of agricultural products such as maize, sugar cane and rice, are a living expression of the amount of knowledge the population benefits from, which then translates into food, condiments and products used in the preparation of typical dishes.

Food security and the survival of traditional agricultural practices are now at risk due to several factors. Despite difficulties, quilombola families are committed to valorizing traditional products, agricultural varieties and forest species, and for the fifth consecutive year they have organized the Exchange of Traditional Seeds and Plants exhibition of the quilombos from the Valley do Ribeira that contributes to the maintenance and valorization of the traditional culture. The quilombola are also organizing touristic circuits, following the principles of community-based tourism.

Products of Vale do Ribeira – Brazil

The rice couscous

“Grind the rice in a mortar and sieve. When it has passed through the sieve the rice goes back in the mortat to be crushed again. This is repeated until all the rice is passed through the sieve. Season with salt. You can add coconut and peanuts. In a saucepan, boil water, then put the rice in the cuscusiera, covering it with a cotton cloth so that it does not fall into the water. The side of cuscusiera has to touch the edge of the pot. It cooks very quickly, just 10 minutes from when it starts to boil. There are those who eat it right away, very hot, seasoned only with a little margarine. If you want to eat it cold, you must toast it in the oven before “(Lalita Moraes Rodrigues Souza, 57, Quilombo do Abobral, 2011).

Firstly the rice is crushed, then it is put in water, and taken off eventually to let it dry and then sieve to recover the paste. It is also crushes with cassava, so that it binds better. When there were peanuts, they put them too. Then it is placed to cook in a cuscusiera placed on water “(Benedita Ursulina Conceição, 55, Quilombo de Bombas, 2010).

Procedures for preparing couscous are very similar among all quilombos, with small variations in the secondary ingredients or condiments. “I work in the rice fields. Once ripe, the rice is cut, you put in the bags and you bring it home. Then it must dry out, you have to beat it, cook and then it is given to the chicks. The husk, however, are eaten by the pig. I make waffles of biju and even couscous. I have learned by watching others, my grandparents, my grandmothers, right here, since I was 10 years old.  It is part of our traditions. I’m doing well. If I could get everything from the field, I would, but now I am old” (Jardelina Pedrosa da Silva, 71, Quilombo Ivaporunduva, 2011).


Arroz couscous – Vale do Ribeira – Brasil

After the economic era of gold, which lasted until the end of the eighteenth century, the Vale do Ribeira become a major center for rice production in the colony. From 1800 to 1860, rice production was the main economic activity of the region, reaching its apogee in the 40’s and 50’s of the nineteenth century. In this period, the rice that was exported form the port of Iguape was second, in quantity and volume, only to sugar cane. Slave labor was used in the cultivation of rice and other agricultural products that supplied local inhabitants. In the Quilombos culture the cultivation and processing of rice is considered a cultural good. Before the construction of the roads, which took place in the 70’s, rice and beans produced in the fields were the staple food of all quilombola households.

Some decades ago, production was sufficient for local consumption and surpluses were brought to the city for sale. But the ease with which one could buy rice at the market and social organization problems in rural areas contributed to the reduction of production which have been influenced by the diminishment of field sizes and due to the lower number of families who are engaged in the cultivation. Even though more limited, rice production survives today in many communities of the Valley of Ribeira, alongside the processing and storage of this cereal.

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