The bowmaker and the music tree: A journey to save the Pernambuco from extinction.

RAIN’s new Trees of Music project works to support the sustainable harvest of the Pernambuco tree, also known as Pau-Brasilia or the music tree. By supporting one of Brazil’s artisan bow makers, Marco Raposo, RAIN gives farmers a chance to gain the support for sustainable agroforestry.

In talking to Marco, we uncover the way in which the traditional Pernambuco tree has become so popular, and how its popularity has also led to its decline. For centuries, the Pernambuco has been shipped to Europe and America to make bows for violins, violas, cellos and basses.

Having once been plentiful in the coastal forests of Brazil, it was harvested to make dye, furniture and houses. Now Marco works with that very wood to make bows, reclaiming Pernambuco from old fences and structures that are no longer used today. Reclaiming the wood is his way of ensuring that it is not taken from the forest, but this in itself does not meet global demands for musical bows.

 “I work with salvaged wood, a wood that was cut a long time ago that people used to make into houses. This use should be a very normal tree, especially in Espírito Santo, Bahia. Since 1986 I thought that if I could reforest Pernambuco, I would eventually supply it to the market. So, I brought a small property and it was my first plantation, which is now 20 years old.”

His mission has been to reforest the lost Pernambuco, ensuring that he has enough for his bow making, but also enough to save this endangered tree from being wiped out entirely. 

Marco goes on: “For at least 12 years I’ve been collecting seeds to make seedlings. I started planting 7,000 seedlings. Now I have about 1,200 Pernambuco trees.”

When asked what some of the biggest challenges in reforesting the Pernambuco is, Marco sites China’s illegal deforestation and exportation of the wood.

“China is the biggest producer of bows in the world, however the wood used to make these bows only grows in Brazil. How can they get this wood?” Marco asks me.

“It’s really difficult for the Brazilian government to separate them from us. There are also many Europeans participating in illicit harvest. It is illegal to buy unless it is salvaged wood and yet I see illegally harvested wood in international trade shows,” he tells me. 

To many musicians, Pernambuco bows are non-negotiable. Due to the wood’s characteristics and flexibility, the quality of the sound comes from the quality of the wood itself. I ask Marco whether musicians should take more responsibility for its decline. He tells me it’s everybody’s responsibility, for we all enjoy music.

“Every musician should have the consciousness to help reforest the type of wood that makes their music. That would be their part in this. Musicians make music, bowmakers make bows, and forests need reforesting. Yet we need the support not only of musicians, but also ordinary people who appreciate music. Music has been part of our history, our culture. Reforesting is needed in so many ways, it goes beyond even the need for Pernambuco. And this is everybody’s responsibility.”

RAIN is currently working with Marco to support him plant 50,000 new saplings, whilst also registering partner farmers to a programme that will protect trees that are growing natively to the forests.

“This is not just about growing plantations. It is about reforestation. We need help to protect these natural and endangered areas. Most importantly, we need to look after the mother trees.” says Marco.

For Marco, his work with RAIN will be the first time he can start to think about getting global support for his vision to replant Pernambuco and ensure its survival. His involvement with RAIN is the first time he’s been given support to help plant sustainable Pernambuco, which could help ensure the survival of this rare tree.

“I have been looking for someone like RAIN to help me develop projects because so far, I’ve been working alone with the Brazilian government. Most people in the EU and US aren’t familiar with the Pernambuco problem. I’m so glad I found RAIN because I’m sure you can spread the word out there. This is my first time in 23-years that I found an organisation that wants to help me with this project. I am very excited” says Marco, smiling hopefully. 

Written by Yasmin Dahnoun