South America: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

Portuguese South America

Thanks to fine weather, the comfortable accommodation provided on a Booth Line steamer, and a daily round of sports and social festivities, the three weeks since we left Liverpool have slipped by all too quickly.

Look over the side of the boat. The big brown patches you see amidst the green waves consist of muddy water from the Amazon, which is only just beginning to mingle with the clear water of the sea. And you will notice as we go along that the boundary line between brown and green becomes more and more sharply defined. Our fascinating surroundings of water patchwork mean that we are getting near the mouth of the famous river. They remind me, also, that I must hasten to tell you a little about the history and geography of Brazil, the country in which we shall soon be setting foot to begin our tour of South America.

Both Spain and Portugal claim the honour of having discovered Brazil. The Spaniards say that their great navigator, Vicente Pinzon, landed somewhere near Pernambuco during a voyage begun in December, 149*, and took possession of the neighbouring country in the name of the Spanish Crown. Pinzon returned home early in 1500, but the good news he is said to have carried with him does not seem to have been followed up by any attempt at sending out a colonizing expedition.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, maintain that Brazil was discovered in 1500 by one of their enterprising seamen, Pedro Alvarez Cabral; and it is certain that Portugal lost no time, after hearing of Cabral's adventures on strange shores, in taking active steps for further exploring and for colonizing the newly found country. That famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, soon set sail for Brazil; he sighted the coast at a spot not far from where the town of Bahia now stands, but landed farther to the south. Vasco da Gama stayed on shore long enough to make the acquaintance of the neighbouring Indians, and get such information as was possible from them. When he went away he followed Cabral's example of leaving two sailors behind to test the temper and, if they were allowed to live long enough, observe the habits of the wild-looking natives, who went about naked, painted their bodies, and slit their ears, nose, and lips to wear big bones as ornaments. In 1503 a small party of Portuguese went to Brazil to establish a colony, and more of their countrymen soon followed with a similar purpose. There was so much bloodshed owing to quarrels between these early settlers and the natives that Portugal put a temporary stop to the emigration of private individuals to Brazil.

The first national attempt on a large scale to colonize Brazil was made in 1530, under the direction of Martin Affonso de Souza. De Souza and his men, who landed in the neighbourhood of the Bay of Bahia, had the good-fortune to fall in with Correia, one of the Portuguese sailors who had been marooned by Cabral. Correia had managed to win the admiration and respect of the Indians, who regarded this white man as a very superior being; as a result, De Souza and his followers were left in peace to carry out their plans. Bahia, one of the earliest of the Portuguese settlements, soon became a town of considerable importance.

Sugar Loaf, Rio Harbor


Henceforth, as regards Brazil, Portugal had far more to fear from French and Dutch rivalry than from Indian enmity. The French took possession of the mountain-girt Bay of Rio de Janeiro. Their flourishing colony was broken up by the Portuguese in 1560; but a little later the scattered French settlers managed to join forces and recapture Rio, after which it took the Portuguese seven years of hard fighting on land and sea to drive the French from their stronghold. During the seventeenth century the Dutch firmly established themselves in Northern Brazil, with headquarters at the town or Recife, now known as Pernambuco; after a long and fierce war the Portuguese only succeeded in getting the Dutch to let go their hold on Brazil by paying them a very large sum of money.

Portuguese rule in Brazil was carried on under the authority of a Governor-General. But the Portuguese Crown's interest in Brazil was largely concerned with the Colony's possibilities of providing it with funds. During the long period of warfare resulting from the ambitions of other nations as empire-builders, and Portugal's selfish policy of forbidding other nations to trade with Brazil, it was, of course, extremely difficult for anyone to devote attention to colonization schemes; further, the troublous conditions favoured the growth of local jealousies, mismanagement and tyranny, and encouraged the misdoings of lawless adventurers, who recklessly despoiled Brazil in order easily and quickly to make a fortune for themselves. Negro slaves were imported, and the slave-trade became a more and more flourishing one as the continuous discovery of natural treasure raised the demand for labour. The valuable timber abounding in the forests was the first natural source of wealth to be exploited, and Brazil wood soon became famous in Europe. The first great discovery of gold was made in 1699; a few years later came the still more exciting and alluring discovery of particularly fine diamonds.

Neglect and plunder had brought Brazil to a sorry state by the beginning of the nineteenth century; the lower classes were filthy in person and habits, the rich were lazy and luxury-loving, and among all classes murder was a common way of settling quarrels. In 1807 however, circumstances suddenly gave the Colony more promising conditions. Napoleon's armies were overrunning Western Europe, and when the French troops were about to enter Lisbon, the Portuguese Royal Family hastily left on a Portuguese man-of-war for Brazil. The royal party landed at Bahia, the old capital of the colony, and the Prince Regent celebrated his visit by declaring all the Brazilian ports open to general commerce. The royal refugees proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, which soon became the headquarters of the whole Portuguese Empire. There followed a period of very healthy reform, leading to a great increase of population and trade; export and import duties were abolished, schools and hospitals were founded, foreign settlers were invited, and special inducements were held out to foreign manufacturers, engineers, and all kinds of skilled labourers.

In 1815 Brazil was raised to the dignity of a kingdom.

When, after the downfall of Napoleon, the Portuguese Court was moved back to Lisbon, there arose considerable dissatisfaction in Brazil owing to plans for reducing the newly-made kingdom to the condition of a province. In 1822 Brazil proclaimed its independence and elected an Emperor. Three years later Portugal, after vain attempts to reassert her authority, recognized the independence of Brazil.

Portuguese South America had now become the Empire of Brazil. By this time, too, Brazilian-born people had become a new race, distinct from the Portuguese. The new race had sprung from a mixed stock of Portuguese, Indians, negroes, and white settlers of various nationalities. The growing spirit of independence in this race gave birth to a revolutionary party, which succeeded, in 1889, in establishing a Republican Government.

The Republic of Brazil covers an area of nearly three and a quarter million square miles; in other words, it is a country which is more than fifteen times the size of France, and larger than the United States of North America (excluding Alaska). By the way, the simple term "United States" signifies in Brazil the United States of Brazil.

Nearly all this vast country has a "perpetual summer" climate, being situated, for the most part, within the Tropics. Dense forests occupy a large portion of the country, particularly in the Amazon Valley and on the Atlantic Coast between Espirito Santo and Rio Grande do Sul, but there are some broad stretches of prairie-lands and some fine mountain ranges; and last, but of the highest importance, there are the enormous clearings that have been made for agricultural purposes.

Rubber and coffee are the principal exports of present-day Brazil. Sugar, cotton, cocoa, and tobacco, are also very important industries. Pineapples, oranges, limes, lemons, bananas, sweet potatoes and all kinds of tropical fruit and vegetables grow in luxuriance. Cattle are reared on a large scale, particularly in the States of Rio Grande do Sul, Sao Paulo, Minas Geraes, Ceara, Piauhy, Goyaz, and Matto Grosso. There are some splendid opportunities for developing this branch of farming. Gold, diamonds and other precious stones are a considerable source of wealth, but it is believed that only a very small portion of the mineral treasures of Brazil has yet been brought to light. Valuable timber abounds in the forests, but this source of wealth, which originally made Brazil famous, has of late years been much neglected; there are, however, many big schemes on foot for extending the industry.

A Fruit stall in Mollenda


Before we run down to our cabins to change our clothes for the farewell dinner on board the good ship that has brought us into Brazilian waters, let me give you one very necessary hint. You would like to get to know the Brazilians, who are very kind and hospitable people, as well as to see their wonderfully beautiful country? And you understand that no one has a right to express any opinion about people he does not know intimately—people he can never get to know intimately, because he treads on their toes directly he meets them? Well, we are about to land in a country where black folk and coloured folk have been put on a social equality with white folk; so remember the old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."