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  • 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.

  • The Amazon River in between the City of Belem and Muana on the island of Marajo in the state of Para, Brazil.
  • A mural of the infamous Amazonian legend “O Boto”, a story in which a dolphin-like fish becomes a suavely dressed man with a white hat, seducing young women into the river, impregnating them and then returning them back home. It has traditionally been a way to justify children born out of wedlock and holds an ironic meaning for the woman who work to sell their goods on the cargo ships of the Amazon.
  • Renata Coutinho, 10 years exhausted on her sofa at the end of the day. Her mother Rosangela sells goods on the passing cargo ships. Rosangela recently quit working the rivers as she began dating the church pastor’s brother who is a boat mechanic and provides for the family as well as the fact that he did not approve of her work on the boats.
  • Lorena, 15 does her hair and make up in the candle light of her house. Her mother Juana works to sell goods on the passing cargo ships while her father trades oil yet the family had to sell their generator for lack of money and oil. She sometimes accompanies her mother on the ships.
  • Ezekuel Tecera Lopes (right) with his step-father Dez in his mother’s Maria’s (also known as Preita) house. Ezekuel is 30 and was born with severe mental disorders. He spends most of his day in the house waiting for his mother to return from the cargo ships each day where she sells her goods. Quotes: Preita “I’ve been doing this job for 15 years and God willing one I’m going to get out.”
  • Pamela Barbosa Coutinho, 13 fans her son Paulo Enrique, 4 months from the heat. Pamela was raped by her uncle because her mother often left her in his care while she was out selling her goods on the cargo ships. She became preganant and bore the child after which she had to drop out of school and care for not only her own child but her 3 sisters as well as her mother is always out on the ships working.
  • Children play at low tied along the Jararacá Straight.
  • Rosyane, 18 breastfeeding her son Robert, 2 and 1/2 in their home. She had her son at 15 years old with Robico, her boyfriend and dropped out of school. Her family sells shrimp to the passing cargo ships.
  • Sassa coming back from a days worth of trading oil. His wife Claudia works selling goods on the Cargo ships and his three children often spend the whole day in the river or at friends and families houses while their mother is out selling goods on the cargo ships . His wife, who has been sited by social services for leaving her children unattended left the family on a balsa and never came back. She sent for the children from Belem.
  • Friends and family at Taimara Belém’s 15 year birthday party, a female right of passage in Brazil. Her family sells the Acai, a fruit found only in the Brazilian Amazon. Her mother had to take a job cooking and cleaning at the local school as her father was recently diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment. The family manages not to send any of their 4 children out to the cargo ships to sell good because their extended family often offers monetary support.
  • Marie Clara jumps into the river at dusk. She often spends the entire day in the water or wandering the boardwalk with her sister while her mother is out selling goods on the cargo ships and her father is trading oil. Her mother, who has been sited by social services for leaving her children unattended left the family on a balsa and never came back. She sent for the children from Belem.
  • Mauricia Batita picks lice from her granddaughter Riesa’s hair in her home. Mauricia who comes from Breves and has 9 children is 5 months pregnant. She is raising her granddaughter as well who’s mother died at birth. She was not permitted by her father to attend school and has been working since she can remember as a child, at various jobs such as picking Acai and cutting wood in the jungle. She came to Jararaca and began working, selling goods on the cargo ships 10 years ago. She is 48.
  • The Amazon river just before a torrential rain storm on the Jararacá straight.
  • Patricia,11 cries out of frustration with her nephew Paulo Enrique in her home. Paulo Enrique’s mother, Patricia’s sister Pamela is washing the clothes as her son cries to be fed. Pamela and her sister Patricia take on most of the responsibility of carrying for their sisters as well as their mother, Raimunda is constantly out selling her goods on cargo ships. Raimunda has been selling goods on the cargo ships for as long as anyone can remember. She has 4 daughters aged 13, 11, 4, and 3. One of her children died at 3 months because of malnourishment. As a result of Raimounda’s negligence of her children, her eldest daughter Pamela was raped by her brother and her daughter Patricia, 11 is often unable to attend her classes because she must stay home and help take care of her sisters.
  • A ferry boat passes along the great Amazon River. Many of the passenger boats do not allow canoes to hook on and sell goods.
  • Ezekuel Santos plays in his house while his mother prepares dinner by candle light. Despite his mothers work selling goods on the cargo ships and his father’s trading diesel oil, the family cannot afford a generator and lives day by day to provide food for their two children.
  • Olinda De Matos Miranda with her parrot in the back of her house. A devout catholic her family has been in the Jararaca area for generations. She and her husband pick the Acai fruit which only grows in the Amazon for a living along with shrimping and a small market in the front of their house. They have forbid their 3 daughters to sell goods on the passing cargo ships for fear that they may get involved in prostitution.
  • Raimunda Do S. Gomez C., 31 and her daughter Priciane, 3 who fell off of the bed and broke her back leaving her crippled, and unable to walk. She scrapes around on the floor of the house and soils herself. Raimunda has been selling goods on the cargo ships for as long as anyone can remember. She has 4 daughters aged 13, 11, 4, and 3. One of her children died at 3 months because of malnourishment. As a result of Raimunda’s negligence of her children, her eldest daughter Pamela was raped by her brother and her daughter Patricia, 11 is often unable to attend her classes because she must stay home and help take care of her sisters.
  • Raimundinha Coutinho, 63 fishing on the boardwalk. She is from Jararaca and spent years selling goods to the cargo ships until she recently became ill with a stomach problem and underwent surgery. She as 6 children, 3 from the same father who is no longer with her and the other three from unknown men. Her 20 year old daughter Jessica recounted “My mother never explained to me who my father was or where he came from.”
  • Milena plays in a oil passing through the river in Ponta Negra. Once a thriving area of prostitution among cargo ships the recent arrival of electricity has slowed down the practice.