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Pau-brasil and string instrument bows telecouple nature, art, and heritage

Silke Lichtenberg, Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT), TH-Köln - University of Applied Sciences, Köln, Germany; Department of Geography, University of Passau, Passau, Germany
Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald, Division of Environmental Sciences, Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Technológica, A.C. (IPICYT), San Luis Potosí­, SLP, Mexico
Juan Antonio Reyes-Agüero, Instituto de Investigación de Zonas Desérticas, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí, SLP, Mexico
Dieter Anhuf, Department of Geography, University of Passau, Passau, Germany
Udo Nehren, Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT), TH-Köln - University of Applied Sciences, Köln, Germany


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The wood of the pau-brasil tree (Paubrasilia echinata Lam., formerly Caesalpinia echinata Lam.) is used worldwide as raw material for the construction of high-quality bows for string instruments. Alternative tree species are rarely accepted by professional musicians, or by bow and violin makers. Historical overexploitation of this endemic species in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest biome (Mata Atlântica), a global biodiversity hotpot including UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites, and illegal trade have caused drastic declines in its natural abundance. Pau-brasil is now classified as an endangered species and listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Traditional bow-making craftsmanship, an intangible cultural heritage, depends heavily on the high-quality pau-brasil wood. This complex situation presents unprecedented cross-continental transdisciplinary challenges. In order to target the protection of this coupled natural/cultural heritage, this work frames and examines the pau-brasil/bow-making cultural-ecological system as a complex telecoupled system linked by cultural ecosystem services provided by the pau-brasil, as well as the relationships and cultural exchanges among key actors. Using historical trajectory analysis, we identify past, present, and potential future trigger events, key drivers, and key system variables that explain the dynamics, feedback, and resilience of this complex multi-dimensional system. Furthermore, with a cross-scale social and power relations analysis, we examine the level of dependencies and influences of contemporary key actors on the ecosystem services provided by the pau-brasil and their interconnections, in order to ultimately identify their level of disadvantage regarding the pau-brasil. Finally, we discuss the potential of this novel cultural-ecological system approach to (i) interlink science, nature, and art, (ii) reconcile the currently competing protection aims of natural and cultural heritage elements, and (iii) provide future trajectories regarding the resilience and sustainable development of this pau-brasil/bow-making cultural-ecological system. We advocate for this novel path forward toward sustainable transformation of complex cultural-ecological systems urgently needed to navigate our increasingly telecoupled world.

Key words

bow-making; brazilwood; cultural-ecological system; ecosystem services; intangible cultural heritage; Paubrasilia echinata Lam.; pernambuco wood; social-ecological system

Copyright © 2022 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087