Eyewitness Accounts during the Putumayo Rubber Boom

Manuel Antonio Mesones Muro—the “Madman of the Marañon River,” Cárlos Oyague y Calderón—the State Engineer, and Roger Casement—“Not of the Real World” Humanitarian

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Rupert J. M. Medd tallsilverfish@googlemail.com

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Abstract

Between 1870 and 1915 Peru experienced a rubber-boom, extending into the Putumayo River region in 1893. This huge region of Amazonian forests was controlled by the Peruvian Amazon Company (P. A. Co.). Although Peruvian, they had British company directors and a British-Barbadian workforce. Their methods of extraction generated unimaginable degrees of human and ecological violence. Roger Casement, a British diplomat, was sent on a harrowing mission to investigate these allegations made by travelers. His Amazon Journal1 takes precedence; however, Peruvians also responded to the situation, reporting to the Geographical Society of Lima. Included are two forgotten yet influential Peruvian explorers: the geographer Manuel Antonio Mesones Muro and the engineer Cárlos Oyague y Calderón. By highlighting some of the early debates that circulated between Europe and Latin America on the natural resources and people of the Amazon forests, the focus is to draw out textual examples of perceptions on race, environment, and early consumer responsibility. Supported by coloniality/modernity theories, it also asks whether this form of travel writing was functioning as a resistance literature to imperialism for the time. Thus, this study investigates alternative readings that might also inform twenty-first-century scholars and activists as they articulate environmentalist and even social and ecological positions.

Contributor Notes

Rupert Medd obtained a PhD in creative writing on the environment from the University of Bristol, England. He then studied under the United Nations University and is currently a consultant/editor for their Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In 2016 he wrote an unpublished monograph, titled “Conversations with Planet Ocean” and raised three original points: (1) plastic pollution may impact the climate more severely than the actual circulating concepts on climate change; (2) critical levels in the environment have been reached and this should, therefore, be a planetary boundary as it adversely affects the Earth's systems; and (3) language—a new education curriculum centered around an ecolinguistic would better inform our environmental relations and altruistic natures. Aside from writing, he loves to surf, travel, debate and is passionate about the world ocean. He is particularly inspired by the struggles of the people and the fight for nature in Latin America, the Arctic and South Pacific regions. He is planning to open his own creative writing school, offering professional skills classes on craft and technique, critical thinking, literary theory and terms, travel and songwriting, student mentoring as well as general advice for writers. For up to date information on this, please follow him on www.instagram.com/eyesotherwise. E-mail: tallsilverfish@googlemail.com

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