Up The Coast Of Brazil
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PECULIAR FEATURES of LIFE ON A BRAZILIAN STEAMER-THE CITY OF PERNAMBUCO AND ITS WONDERFUL REEF-A GREAT COTTON COUNTRY-BRAZIL'S NEW COTTON FACTORIES, AND THEIR ENORMOUS PROFITS-A VISIT To CEARA AND ITS CAPITAL, FORTALEZA-TERRIBLE FAMINES-THE CARNAUBA PALM, WHICH HOUSES, FEEDS, AND LIGHTS THE PEOPLE.
I AM on the steamship Manaos approaching the city of Para, at the mouth of the Amazon. Twelve days ago I left Bahia, and since then have been travelling along the coast. The Manaos is one of the Lloyd Brazilian steamship line which has the monopoly of the coast trade of Brazil. It has steamers on the chief rivers, and its principal ships ply regularly between Rio de Janeiro and Manaos, a thousand miles up the Amazon. The distance from Rio to the Amazon's mouth is 2,900 miles, so that it is almost as far from the capital of Brazil to the Amazon as it is from the mouth of the Amazon to New York.
The Manaos was built in England. It is a steamer of about 3,000 tons, and has all the modern improvements. It has incandescent electric lights, its cabins are large, and the dining-room is finished in marble and gold. It has a bath-room, which appears to be used by no one but myself, but which supplied by the warm salt waters of the equatorial seas is delightful. This is the rosy side of a picture which has its dark side as well. A part of the latter is our passengers. Those who travel on the regular steamers have no idea of the human beings who swarm in the coasting-vessels of the country. My companions are of all colours and conditions of men. Let me begin at the top deck; this is filled with emigrants, who are on their way to work in the rub-ber forests of the Amazon. There are at least I, 000 of them, all more or less coloured. Most of the men have their families with them, and there are at least 50 babies and many small children. The babies, in most cases, are stark-naked, as are all the children under four years of age. The nude little ones sprawl over the deck in all sorts of attitudes. They play games, now and then wrestling together. One four-year-old boy plays horse, riding a knotty stick between his naked legs. As he trotted over the deck yesterday another naked boy saw the horse and coveted it. He grabbed it and there was straightway a fight, which ended in both children being captured by their parents and carried squalling to opposite sides of the ship.
On the lower gangway, where everyone has to pass, a woman has slung her hammock. She lies most of the time stretched out in it, with a baby about a week old in her arms. Yesterday afternoon as I went by she was giving the infant a bath. She had placed a large gourd on the deck, stood the little one in it, and was pouring the water over it and scrubbing it vigorously. The baby cried lustily, looking, in its nakedness, the personification of grief.
Speaking of hammocks, they are swung everywhere on the decks of the ship. They are tied to the rigging, one above the other, like the bunks in an Atlantic liner. Every hammock has two or three persons in it; sometimes it contains a man and his wife, sometimes a mother and her children. The poorest of the deck passengers sleep on the floor. They have no seats, and men, women, and children sprawl about the decks in all sorts of positions, both by day and by night. They eat on the deck, squatting at their meals more like animals than men. Each family has a round tin bowl, the size of a sieve ; this is filled with a mixture of rice, mandioca, and meat. As a general thing they eat with their fingers, although sometimes a family has one or two spoons and a knife and fork.
And what do we first-class passengers eat and how do we eat it ? Well, we have plenty of food, and if the marble and gold walls of the dining-room salon could make it delicious, there would be no lack of appetite. I am, however, something of an old maid in my tastes. Perhaps I am becoming a snob;. I don't know. At any rate, I cannot get used to the table-ways of the middle-class Brazilians. It disturbs me when the negro lady who sits beside me at dinner goes fishing in the mixed-pickle bottle for little onions, with the fork she has just been using, and having caught several and eaten them, passes the bottle across the table to her fat Brazilian grandma, who acts in the same way.
As to the meals themselves, we have four a day. The first, at 6 A. M., consists of tea or coffee and a cracker. At 9.30 there is breakfast, which is much like dinner in the. number of its courses, and at 4.30 comes the dinner proper. At 8 o'clock tea is served. The breakfast begins with a soup, then follows fish or meat-fritters, after which braised beef and vegetables. There is always a bowl of farina or roasted mandioca flour on the table. This is sprinkled over the meat by the guests. The Brazilians like it, but to me it tastes like sawdust. There is also a mixture of dried beef and black beans, cooked in a stew, and tongue served in different ways. The dessert is usually guava jelly, Edam cheese, oranges, and bananas. The dinner bill is about the same as that of the mid-day breakfast, the courses being almost entirely of meats.
After leaving Bahia we stopped at several coast towns before we came to Pernambuco, or as I should say Recife. Pernambuco is the name of the State, of which Recife is the capital and principal port; but foreigners have so mixed up city and state that they call both Pernambuco, and Recife often bears the name Pernambuco on our maps. The word "Recife " means reef, the city getting its name from a wonderful reef which here runs from the shore a distance of several miles out into the sea, enclosing a body of deep water half a mile wide and several miles long, forming an excellent harbour.
The reef is a wall of natural rock rising almost straight up out of the ocean, on the top of which a low wall of stone has been built, so that at ebb tide there is from ten to twenty feet of it above water. At high tide the wall is still large enough to keep out the sea, which dashes itself against it in vain. I shall never forget my ride into the harbour. There was a heavy swell and the waves gnashed their teeth as they threw themselves against the stones, spitting out, as it seemed, masses of snow-white foam in their anger. The spray was thrown thirty feet into the air. It fell over into the quiet waters of the harbour; and as we lay there and looked at it, the sun came out from behind a cloud and made countless rainbows with every wave. It was in fact a geyser, two miles long, spouting up foam of all colours, shades, and tints.
Recife is one of the busiest ports in Brazil. It has about 200,000 inhabitants. It lies right on the sea, being so cut up by the arms of the ocean that its people call it the South American Venice. It is a busy port, about 1,000 ships coming to it every year. It is the first place at which the steamers stop on their way to South America from Europe, and it has a vast trade, especially in cotton and in sugar.
The State of Pernambuco is about as large as New York. It is a cotton State. the cotton being raised on small plantations, few farmers growing more than two or three bales annually. Still the output collectively is large. The lands are cultivated chiefly with the axe, the bowie knife, and the hoe. The trees are first cut down and burned, to clear the land. Then holes are dug and the cotton seeds planted. After this little more is done save to keep down the weeds until the cotton is ready for picking. There is no ploughing or farming in our sense of the term. Lands are cheap, and I do not doubt that cotton-growing, if conducted on modern methods, would pay.
It is curious to see the cotton as it is brought here to the warehouses. Much of it comes upon the backs of horses, two zoo-pound bales being slung to the sides of the saddle. Much is brought in on ox-carts and some on low waggons. The cotton is bound with rough sacking. It is often tied up with vines, being repacked after it reaches the seaports. It is interesting to watch the loading and unloading at the presses. The negroes carry the bales on their heads, often taking two or three hundred pounds for a block or more in this way.
I am surprised at the increase in cotton-planting in Brazil. The amount raised is steadily growing, and the day may come when cotton will be king here as it is in our Southern States. It is raised north of Rio de Janeiro all along the coast to some dis-tance above Pernambuco, and I have seen it loaded at nearly all the ports. The government has now a tariff on cotton goods, which enables the Brazilian cotton mills to make money. Within the past ten years 155 cotton factories have been established, and most of these are paying considerable dividends. One factory paid 6o per cent the first year, and 10 per cent a year for five years thereafter, at the same time greatly enlarging its plant. In the State of Alagoas, below Pernambuco, there is a mill which produces 125,000 pieces of cloth per annum. It gives employment to 480 workmen. The first year it was established it paid a dividend of 48 per cent. The second year it paid 50 per cent and the third year 40 per cent. In the State of Bahia there are 15 cotton mills; there is also one at Rio, and they are to be found as far south as São Paulo. The southern mills get most of their cotton by ships from the north. In the State of Minas Geraes 46 factories are now in operation, 200,000 workmen are employed, and thousands of tons of cotton are annually consumed. I am told that these factories have something like $150,000 capital. There is a single manufacturing company in Bahia which has $1,000,000 capital: it operates six mills, running 440 looms and 21,000 spindles; and produces about 58,000,000 yards of cotton cloth annually. One of the big factories of Rio de Janeiro imports its thread; it belongs to an Italian company and is doing well.
Wages are much lower here than in the cotton factories at the North. They range from 20 cts. to $1 per day. There are no strikes, and the hours are long. Many of the factories make goods only to order, weaving the mark and the naine of the merchant in the goods. Most of the cotton manufactured is cheap. The width which the people of the interior prefer is 26 inches, but the higher grades are made in 24, 32, and 36-inch widths.
This is also a sugar country. Pernambuco produces about 100,000,000 pounds of cane-sugar a year. It has large sugar factories and many in which the sugar is made into the native rum, for which there is an active demand.
Recife is an interesting place. Its buildings are of bright colours, those of the business section being of two and three stories. Many of them have walls of porcelain tiles, and some have ridge roofs that recall the houses of Holland. The town was once inhabited by the Dutch, but the Portuguese drove the Dutch out, and long ago the city became entirely Brazilian. Its people pride themselves on being among the most enterprising in Brazil. The town is equipped with newspapers, a public library, telephones, electric lights, street-cars, and public schools. It has several colleges, a gymnasium, and a geographical institute.
The street-cars are hauled by mules. The fare is only one-half of our money, and even at this rate the lines pay. Every-one patronizes the cars, whites, blacks, and yellows sitting side by side, as they do everywhere in Brazil. I recently rode down town with a black girl of fifteen beside me. I thought she was a servant, until I saw in her lap some books which showed me that she must be a teacher, or possibly a pupil in the high school. One book was La Fontaine's ( Fables' in French, another was an algebra, and the third a geography in Portuguese.
During my stay I visited the market. It is as fine as that of any American city, and meats are sold very cheaply. I saw excellent beefsteaks offered at eight cents a pound, and mutton at similar rates. Speaking of mutton, they have very good sheep and goats in this part of the world. The goats are raised for their skins, which are shipped in great quantities to the United States to be made into shoes. Hides are also exported. One variety of sheep is used by the children for riding, and it is a common thing in the country for each child to have its riding sheep. The wool makes a soft seat, and the little ones gallop about without danger of being much hurt when they fall.
The next long stop after leaving Pernambuco was at Fortaleza, a town of about 50,000, the capital of the State of Ceará. Cearâ is as large as Ohio; it is situated about 200 miles south of the equator, just below the Amazonian forests and at the be-ginning of the highlands of Brazil. It consists largely of mountains and high plains. Some of its peaks are from 3,000 to 6,000 feet high, and its more elevated lands are at times as dry and bare as Sahara. It is a land of frequent famines and droughts, and many thousands of its people die from such causes.
The city of Forteleza is not unlike those of central and southern Brazil. It has the same one-story houses, built close to the streets, the same open windows, out of which girls and women are hanging and gazing at the passers by, and the same naked babies who sprawl about in all conditions of dirtiness. In this hot region few of the children up to the age of four wear clothes. It is so hot at midday that you feel it would be a pleasure if you could «get out of your skin and sit in your bones."
Cearâ is noted for its beautiful lace, its talking parrots, and the carnauba palm. The latter is one of the most valuable of trees, and can be used for more things perhaps than any other. It houses, feeds, and lights the people. Its roots, when made into a tea, will clear your blood like sarsaparilla. Its trunk can be used for building material, or when ground up can be made into paper or cloth. The palmetto of the carnauba is eaten as a vegetable. From it wine and vinegar are extracted, and out of it comes a saccharine substance as well as a sago which is very nutritious. In times of famine the carnauba forms a large part of the food of the people; its fruit is used for feeding cattle, and its nuts, which are rather oily, make a good substitute for coffee. The stem has a pith which can be used for cork, and of its wood musical instruments, pumps, and tubes are made. Out of the stem also comes a white liquid or sap, much like the milk of the cocoanut, and when ground it forms a flour somewhat like maize. Of the straw on the stem, hats, baskets, brooms, and mats are made. In addition to these things the leaves of the carnauba furnish a wax, which makes excellent candles. This wax is sold in the markets of Forteleza and much of it is shipped abroad. Some years ago the export of carnauba wax from Ceara amounted to more than 3,000,000 pounds yearly, while the home consumption was estimated at almost 2,000,000 pounds. These figures I take from the reports of one of our consuls.