On the River

Prostitution is a big word, to describe what goes on on the straights of the great Amazon River of Brazil in a region privy to years of conquest and exploitation. The life of the river people or “Ribeirinhas”as they are known has always been about little more than survival, a daily hunt to put food on the table. Out of this necessity was born a practice of sexual exchange which began with the many passing ships and the young women who chase after them, rowing furiously in their small canoes, only to hook on and offer fruits, shrimp, and inevitably themselves. Yet money is not their currency, rather it is diesel oil, the most coveted commodity along the river for those who live in small communities like Sao Francisco de Jararaca, that still have not received electricity lines and lack important basic services such as a hospital and medicine. The village of Jararaca was once home to the great port of cajuba and revolved around a large wood cutting factory that was shut down after strict deforestation laws in the Amazon came into place. As the factory fell, many moved away to the bigger cities for opportunity yet those who stayed were left with difficult circumstances, as there was no more electricity that had been provided by the company and very little viable work. Nowadays those who can afford it have personal generators, which run through 2 to 4 liters of oil a day, just for a few pleasurable hours of evening soap operas. The once simple river life has been increasingly influenced by the neighboring cities such as Belem, which offer more opportunities for education, recreation, and comfort. Boats passing through the straight on a constant basis are viewed by many young women as an escape from the stagnant life on the river and the men who sail them as a prince charming of sorts.