Narrative Paths to Empower the Amazon: Casa de Mensagens

May 24, 2023


Challenging Distorted Narratives and Empowering the Amazon

There are still many distorted stories about the Amazon that, from a colonizing perspective, have systematically built an imaginary narrative that this territory is just an abandoned place ready to be explored. Every time these stories are disseminated, they shape public opinion and have concrete consequences, such as deforestation, mining, and violence against communities.

If we want to protect this territory, we need to foster other narratives that refute and combat those that today generate devastation. This is how the idea of Casa de Mensagens started: a navigable online platform with messages that can inspire, engage and educate in defense of the Amazon and its people.

Speech becomes practice

A reference in Environmental Education, professor José Quintas says that “the key to understanding environmental problems lies in the world of culture, that is, in the sphere of the totality of life in society” (2006). This means that concrete and contemporary problems, such as deforestation in the Amazon, have their roots in a colonial way of thinking, where the region was seen as a demographic void, a land to be discovered, a space of resources to be exploited, and, finally, an exotified territory. Centuries have passed and today we can see that practice and speech feed back into themselves, a cycle that needs to be intentionally broken.

In 2022, Purpose Climate Lab commissioned research to identify the main narratives that guide the perceptions that the population has about the Amazon Forest of today and that, therefore, foster what they do or do not do in relation to that. As a result, four main narrative blocks were identified: the Amazon invented, the Amazon on the ground, the Amazon consumed, and the Amazon standing. 

  • The Amazon Invented is a historical construction of the colonizers, who present this territory as their” discovery”, contributing to two forms of relationship with the forest: the first is the need to develop it, and the second is to stereotype it. While development involves a notion of “backwardness ” and justifies projects such as road openings and hydroelectric plants without considering who lives there (see Trans-Amazonian Highway and Belo Monte, a hydroelectric dam complex), the stereotype of an enchanted and mysterious forest, far from large urban centers, contributes to the population understanding of the Amazon in a mythological and romantic way, without understanding its plurality and challenges. 
  • The Amazon on the ground is a manifesto of those who believe in profit above all else, promoting ideas of superiority and domination, responsible for choosing who is the most ‘prone to be sacrificed’ for development to happen. They disseminate narratives that defend colonization and development as a kind of “salvation” for a “primitive” Brazil and that the obstacles to this “progress” would be the people of the forest: “the poor” who are sitting on top of an unexplored wealth. Led by the state itself and the economic elites, this predatory exploitation of the territory has consequently a cycle of violence that includes deforestation, trafficking, extractivism, etc.
  • The Amazon standing aims to rescue ways of life that rebut utilitarian or even romanticized Western perspectives of nature. It is based on respect – for the land, for the forest, and for all living beings – and its implementation involves the autonomy of people. For several generations, from the elders to the young activists, the strategy has been a cycle of struggles led by those who persist to transform the present and future of the Amazon. The alliance of people, the demarcation of land, and the production autonomy, among others, are the grassroots struggles that contribute to this model of coexistence that has persisted since 1500.
  • The Amazon consumed is based on a false conciliation between exploiters and exploited. It arises from the dichotomy between the Amazon on the ground and the Amazon standing, placing itself as a third alternative. The objective is to find ways to continue exploring the territories and their people, however, with pseudo-responsibility. Based on green capitalism and technocracy, it has the support of private companies that seek to act in favor of sustainability, new leaders of capitalism and agribusiness, as well as part of the scientific community and civil society.

Revitalizing Indigenous Knowledge and Stories: Strengthening Existing Narratives

From this research, we conducted co-creation sessions with Amazon activists and organizations to discuss these results and create new messages that could strengthen the narratives that keep the Amazon standing, fighting those that are harmful. In this process, it became explicit that we do not need to invent narratives from scratch: within the territories, there are other stories about this region that, through memory, accumulated knowledge, and the struggle made until then, point out concrete ways to protect the forest and its populations. We systematized them into three blocks: 

Rescuing the memory of the people
As the saying goes, “Those who have no memory, have no history.” Since the European invasion, Brazil’s history has been forged by narratives that have abducted, silenced, and erased people’s subjectivities. Therefore, rescuing the memory of the people and strengthening their multiple identities is, finally, retelling the true history of Brazil. Disseminating and solidifying these narratives is a fundamental way for another Brazil to be possible.

Building coexistence policies
The destruction of the Amazon, both the biome and its people, has always been a political project. Guided by the notion of development, the system has always created loopholes for the country’s economic elites. Therefore, to claim a political project of coexistence with the many Amazons is to fight so that bills and public policies are respected and built in favor of those who inhabit and protect the territory, be it the forest, the river, the city or the countryside. So that, at last, the state becomes an ally and not an enemy of the Amazonian populations.

Reintegrating ancestral technologies
The promises of development led by capitalist technologies, such as the Green Revolution, did not deliver the benefits they promised: on the contrary, they only caused environmental destruction, social inequality, and the erasure of cultures. No wonder, green capitalism tries, at any cost, to play a lead role in the “sustainable future”. In addition to seeking new alternatives, it is necessary to reintegrate the innovation that came before into the system that exists today, valuing social technology and the wisdom of people. This is what will make our tomorrow, in fact, possible.

These narrative paths became pillars to, along with Cojovem, Comitê Chico Mendes, Instituto Mapinguari and Observatório do Marajó, develop a material that, without pretending to cover all the complexity of the subject, could contribute to the visibility of the Amazonian perspective on its own territory, serving as a guide for those who want to embrace the Amazon from a perspective of protection, without falling into outdated narratives about it. We call this material Casa de Mensagens because when we talk about the Amazon, we talk about a feeling that represents home, abode. Not only for those who live in it but for all human beings, who depend on it.

Explore Casa de Mensagens

The Casa de Mensagens was structured in three rooms, each based on a narrative path: in the Balcony those who arrive are faced with messages about rescuing the memory of the people; while the Interior keeps messages about building coexistence policies; and the Backyard shows us messages related to reintegrating ancestral technologies. 

For this material to fulfill its role of amplifying narratives that strengthen the Amazon and its people, we have listed three priority groups to access it: 

  • Applicators: high material usability, e.g., Amazonian organizations, which will draw on the narratives to present a proposal to the funders. 
  • Apprentices: high need for use, who are required to learn from this material. E.g., Federal agencies, which will use the learnings from the material to better communicate in the territory. 
  • Multipliers: high distribution capacity, which can support the dissemination of this material. E.g., Influencers, who can produce communication material about the Amazon in question-and-answer format.

Based on these audiences, we developed an online platform ( that allows navigation inside a riverside-style house, where the user can access the different rooms and browse through messages that strengthen the Amazon and its people. It is also possible to check out a gallery with illustrations and phrases by seven Amazonian artists from different states, who present what for them a “House of the Amazon” means, since these are multiple territories, and their identities are built on this plurality. 

Finally, we extended the Casa de Mensagens in two physical kits: one aimed at local civil society organizations, containing items such as booklets, stickers, and posters; and another with displays full of postcards destined for libraries, museums, and cultural spaces of different states of the Legal Amazon. In this way, we hope that those who encounter this content, feel at home and, whenever they need it, they can go through the rooms that will be the foundation to echo the Amazonian voices.

Nara Perobelli de Moraes Campaigner
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence