Solastalgia, Soliphilia and the Ecopsychology of our Changing Environment
Pelourinho is the historical and cultural drawcard for tourists visiting Salvador da Bahia in Brazil. A lively epicentre of music, dance and restaurants, the area merits its prized holiday destination status. Tourists who visit the Mercado Modelo in Pelourinho might venture beneath this popular market into the slave chambers below and become aware of the tragic history of slavery that haunts the region. What many tourists might not know, however, is that the Pelourinho district underwent massive restoration efforts under the government during the 1970s and the 1990s. The area had become home to the poor and they were offered no more than a month’s wages or nothing at all to vacate and relocate. Studies show that of the 1300 families living in Pelourinho in 1992, only about 200 were able to remain in the neighbourhood (Collins, 2004:212). Those who have seen the changes can tell you how much the tourist development of Pelourinho affected the lives of the people that lived there. But even without a mastery of Portuguese, you don’t have to wander far off the pretty streets of Pelourinho to see a community in disarray. In my own travels, I encountered pregnant women high on drugs, old drunken men wielding screwdrivers as weapons and seven year olds with pocket-knives and guns. You only have to look at the long queue of tourists that line up daily at the tourist-police bureau to understand the amount of crime that plagues the region. Tourists are not being robbed by poor people that hate them, the tourists are being robbed by people who are indifferent to them.
The local government has not stopped removing people from their homes in their bid to increase tourism. There are still attempts to forcefully move people out of the coast-dwelling shanty-towns in order to erect 5-star resorts and luxury wharfs. One of the communities that I worked with in the Alto da Sereia were actively involved in public actions to resist these attempts. There are people who care, but I have to admit that Brazil was the first place where I learnt that indifference really is the opposite of love. So many people have grown up learning to be indifferent to their situation as a psychological survival strategy against solastalgia. This culturally entrained indifference is the source of a lot of crime in Brazil. In my own country, Australia, I am starting to see the cultural entrainment of ‘indifference‘ taking place in another sphere of human concern that affects our homes and where we live.