Human Inhabitants


July 31, 2012

Tropical rainforests have long been home to Indigenous peoples who have shaped civilizations and cultures based on the environment in which they live. Great civilizations like the Mayas, Incas, and Aztecs developed complex societies and made great contributions to science. Living from nature and lacking the technology to dominate their environment, native peoples have learned to watch their surroundings and understand the intricacies of the rainforest. Over generations these people have learned the importance of living within their environment and have come to rely on the countless renewable benefits that forests can provide.

Waura shaman in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Sue Wren.

Review questions:

  • Who lives in the rainforest?

Other versions of this page

spanish | french | portuguese | chinese | japanese]

Continued: African Forest People

More reading: News articles about rainforest peoples

Indigenous, protected lands in Amazon emit far less carbon than areas outside
- A new study calculates the gains and losses in carbon across the Amazon rainforest from deforestation as well as human-caused and naturally occurring degradation of the forest.
- The team found that around 70% of the total carbon emitted from the Amazon between 2003 and 2016 came from areas outside Indigenous-held lands and protected areas, despite the fact that these outside areas made up less than half of the total land area.
- The researchers argue that their findings make the case for supporting Indigenous communities with “political protection and financial support” to protect carbon stocks in the Amazon necessary to address climate change.

Indigenous lands hold 36% or more of remaining intact forest landscapes
More than one-third of the world’s remaining pristine forests, known as intact forest landscapes, exist within land that’s either managed or owned by Indigenous peoples, a new study has found. The study, published Jan. 6 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, builds on previous work by lead author John Fa and his […]
Forests and forest communities critical to climate change solutions
- A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the importance of land use in addressing climate change.
- The restoration and protection of forests could be a critical component in strategies to mitigate climate change, say experts, but governments must halt deforestation and forest degradation to make way for farms and ranches.
- The IPCC report also acknowledges the role that Indigenous communities could play.
- The forests under Indigenous management often have lower deforestation and emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Released: 1,000-page encyclopedia on land conflicts affecting Indigenous tribes
- Indonesia’s human rights commission published on Wednesday the results of its national inquiry into land conflicts affecting Indigenous peoples.
- As part of inquiry, the commission held eight hearings across the country at which dozens of Indigenous communities were invited to testify.
- Now, the commission wants the government to recognize Indigenous peoples’ rights, set up a task force to address their plight, and more.

To tackle climate change cheaply, first secure Indigenous forest rights
- Over 20 years, the secure forest rights of Indigenous groups in the Brazilian Amazon and communities in a Guatemalan reserve will prevent the release of 5.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to the emissions of more than a billion cars in a year – as a result of avoided deforestation, a new report shows.
- The report calculates that the economic benefits from those averted emissions as well as carbon capture in the secure forests will surpass $160 billion.
- A second report finds that the way local communities harvest timber on their concessions in the Guatemalan reserve represents state-of-the-art best practice for tropical forest management.

Indigenous territories play dual role as homelands and protected areas
Conservation conundrum: Indigenous territories or government protected areas Indigenous communities claim—and scientific evidence increasingly shows—that Indigenous forested territories are as well protected as, or better protected than, government-designated parks. In areas under pressure from roads or development projects, deforestation rates are sometimes even lower in Indigenous territories than in official protected areas. With such data […]
Using Google Earth to protect uncontacted tribes in the Amazon rainforest
Aerial photo of uncontacted tribe in Brazil. Photo courtesy of the Government of Brazil. In 2008, images of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil created ripples. With bodies painted in bright red war colors, members of the tribe aimed their arrows at a Brazilian government plane flying overhead, occupants of which were […]
In landmark ruling, Indonesia’s Indigenous people win right to millions of hectares of forest
Court ruling invalidates Indonesian govt’s claim to customary forest areas In a landmark ruling, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has invalidated the Indonesian government’s claim to millions of hectares of forest land, potentially giving Indigenous and local communities the right to manage their customary forests, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. In a review of a 1999 forestry law, Indonesia’s Constitutional […]
Parks, Indigenous territories are effectively reducing Amazon deforestation
Strict conservation areas and Indigenous reserves are more effective at reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon relative to “sustainble-use” areas set up for non-indigenous resource extraction, reports a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, which involved researchers from the University of Michigan, the Gordon and Betty […]