If you play a bowed instrument, you may already have discovered that there’s a big problem:
Professional violin bows are made from wild pernambuco, also known as pau brasil, which grows only in Brazil’s Atlantic Coastal Forest. Once an abundant and fundamental resource to both native and colonial peoples (the country was named after the tree), today pau brasil is nearly extinct due to many ecological pressures, similar to those impacting the nearby Amazon.
Bow makers have made valiant efforts to use the resource responsibly and find alternatives, yet professional players continue to insist on expensive — and ecologically destructive — pernambuco bows.
From “Global Warming, Climate Change, And Music” – draft document from ecomusicology.info (Link)
Pau Brasil, in fact, gave the country its name. Exploitation of the wood has been going on for centuries, but demand had not outpaced supply until comparatively recently. Now these trees are harder and harder to find.
Of course, Brazil, like the rest of the world, is getting whacked by climate change — more on that in a Saturday post sometime soon. Right now, let’s just look at bows.
Today, some sites where pernambuco wood occurs naturally are legally protected. The Pau-Brasil Ecological Station in state of Bahia covers 1,145 hectares in the municipality of Porto Seguro. The main objectives of this conservation unit are species protection and research on the vegetation where this species is found. Although there are no natural populations in protected areas of the state of Pernambuco, the Tapacurá Ecological reserve contains a plantation of around 20,000 trees. The Camaratuba Ecological Station, in Paraiba, and the Morro Branco Reserve, in Rio Grande do Norte, have very small pernambuco wood populations. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the protection of 38 hectares of Boca da Barra and the recently created Pau-Brasil Reserve in the municipality of Cabo Frio are the only legally protected areas. Protection is not guaranteed since man continues his activities in these areas. Therefore, new reserves must be created by the governments and surveys undertaken to locate remnant populations, which must be evaluated as to their genetic diversity and survival mechanisms.
Given the present state of knowledge about pernambuco wood, effective methods are urgently needed to develop short-term strategies for obtaining the necessary information to preserve this species. The following action plan is meant to help put this strategy into practice and direct efforts to where they are most needed. It is hoped that this plan will be useful to administrators and local community organizations by producing a solid foundation to unite these entities in the conservation of the remaining natural areas of pernambuco wood. LINK
The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that the problem is real. It’s important that musicians who are enjoying the perquisites of economic privilege and a robust cultural infrastructure ensure that they don’t take their advantages for granted.