By Stephen Guild
April 29, 2007

It was Christopher Columbus who first brought sugar cane to the New World. Europeans quickly realized the potential of the production of sugar cane, especially in the Portuguese and Dutch colonies, and thus the economy and the society of Brazil were forever shaped by the plantation system, the slave trade and the sugar refining industry.

Sugar Comes to Brazil
Sugar cane is said to have been first planted in Brazil in 1516 by the Portuguese, and very early in the settlement process the colonial office requested a sugar technician. By 1518 the first plantation was in operation, but it was not until the 1530’s that sugar agriculture was firmly established in Brazil. The earliest large-scale production of sugar was in place in 1550, along the Atlantic coast from Bahia and Pernambuco.

Even if sugar was a profitable product, it was not grown in all parts of Brazil. Since the sugar plantations were mainly in the northeast, this part of Brazil became the center of the Brazilian economy during the period between 1550 and 1660. This hundred-year period significantly altered Brazil and its culture.

The Plantation System
The first sugar cane plantations adopted the production techniques the Portuguese had perfected in the Madeira and Canary Islands. The plantation system of Brazil and the Caribbean and the introduction of slavery combined to make sugar production one the drivers for European expansion, colonization and control in the New World.

The plantations were called engenhos (mills), but the term refers to the entire complex of sugar cane fields, the mill and the factory. The estates were large tracts, often granted by the crown or colonial governors, and only a part of them were cultivated in sugar cane. It was a hierarchical society from the slave at the bottom to the owner, the senhor de engenho, at the top. Part of the land was leased and cultivated by lavradors (tenants), and in return for their efforts, they received a certain percentage of the sugar from the cane they had grown.

By the middle of the seventeenth century the Brazilian sugar industry had expanded rapidly with support of the Dutch East India Company, which had seized Pernambuco from the Portuguese in 1630, and with the Dutch importation of slaves from equatorial Africa.

Producing Sugar
The actual processing of the sugar was accomplished by crushing, processing and refining the sugar through a system of mechanical and human labor. An innovation in sugar production, the roller mill, reduced the time and labor needed to prepare the sugar cane, thereby increasing the mill’s capacity. The invention of the three-roller mill was a breakthrough that provided the most efficient way of milling sugar in the early 1600’s. This technology, combined with the production process and a large labor force, made the system work.

It wasn’t long, however, before the early settlers realized they lacked sufficient manpower to plant, harvest and process the backbreaking crop.

The Slave Trade
Sugar became the base of Brazilian economy and society with the use of black slaves on large plantations to make sugar production for export to Europe. At first, settlers tried to enslave the Indians as labor to work the fields. However the Indians were found to be unsuitable as slaves, and so the Portuguese land owners turned to Africa

The first slave ships arrived in 1505 and continued for more than 300 years. Most came from western Africa, where Portuguese colonies had already established trading outposts. By the middle of the 19th century, more than 10 million Africans had been forcibly removed to the New World and distributed among the sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean. In fact, 40% of the slaves who were uprooted and transported to the New World came to Brazil.

The Decline of Sugar
In the 1660s, the focus of sugar production began to shift from Brazil to Barbados and other islands of the West Indies. The expulsion of the Dutch from Pernambuco in 1654 and the disruption in trade led the Dutch to focus their capital investments in the West Indies. Sugar production in these islands soon surpassed those in Brazil, and they became the largest sugar producers in the world. As a result, many farms in Brazil changed their product from sugar to tobacco or wine. Cotton also became a big industry that was nicknamed “White Gold,” and in João Pessoa there is a hotel called Ouro Branco. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, coffee took the place of sugar as Brazil’s most important product.

Sugar in Brazil Today
Brazil is among the world leaders in the production of sugarcane, sugar, and ethanol (fuel alcohol). It is among the most efficient of all major sugar producers and exports a diverse number of sugar products. Since Brazil can produce either sugar or ethanol from sugarcane, it is one of the few countries that can adjust rapidly to potential world sugar shortfalls and high international prices.

With a long tradition of high per capita sugar consumption, Brazil ranks fifth as a sugar-consuming nation. In 2000, a little less than half of its cane production was ground for sugar. Today more sugar is produced in Brazil than anywhere else in the world.

The Sugar Legacy
The Portuguese settlers frequently intermarried with both the Indians and the African slaves, and there were also mixed marriages between the Africans and Indians. As a result, Brazil’s population is intermingled to a degree that is unseen elsewhere. Most Brazilians possess some combination of European, African, Amerindian, Asian, and Middle Eastern lineage, and this multiplicity of cultural legacies is a notable feature of current Brazilian culture.

Many of the sugar plantation owners lived in Olinda, where they had fine homes and were part of urban life. Most often, the actual running of the plantation was done by the New Christians and other Jews. In some cases, they were owners and had political, economical, and social influence on Brazil. Sometimes, these Jews were given the titles of nobility, but these positions were not hereditary because the sugar industry was quite unstable.

Joaquim Nabuco, the first Brazilian ambassador to the United States, was the son of a wealthy plantation owner, so he was no stranger to the system and the plantation life. He was also one for the campaigners who eventually brought an end to slavery.

Some of the religious orders that were centered in Olinda were supported by income from the sugar industry. A small plot of land in Olinda was donated by a wealthy local woman, but her donation of a much larger tract of land sustained the Franciscan monastery and their missionary work. The monastery still stands and, one of its chapels is especially ornate because it was largely financed by money from the sugar merchants.

There is even a culinary link to the sugar cane industry. Feijoada, the Brazilian national dish, was originally created by slaves who used the leftover parts – ears, feet, tail – of beef or pork animals, the better parts having been consumed by the managers and owners of the engenhos. Today’s feijoada still is served, even in the finest restaurants, with a choice of these different animals parts, along with the traditional black beans and rice.

Stephen Guild is Executive Editor of Recife Guide. Republished with permission from Tiradentes: The Day of a National Hero

By Lucio Flavio Pinto
April 29, 2009

The most valuable natural resource in Amazonia is its rainforest, which represents one-third of all tropical rainforests on Earth. This is a fact that science has already confirmed. Yet, the most glaring characteristic of the growing human occupation of the Amazon is the destruction of its rainforest. In only half a century, 700,000 square kilometers of virgin rainforest has been lost, the equivalent of the state of São Paulo, the richest sate in the country which produces one-third of Brazil’s GDP, expanding its area three times over. This is without precedent in the history of Homo Sapiens. Whatever comes to be the final result of the economic incorporation of the greatest frontier of natural resources on the planet, one thing has already become definitively clear: never has there been such vast destruction of tropical rainforests.

When, during the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s, the Belem-Brasila highway connected by land, for the first time, the Amazon to the rest of Brazil (before this, people could only travel by water or air), the original forest had not yet lost 1% of its size. Man was limited to riverbanks of navigable rivers and the rare incursion into the interior. He lived off what the rivers offered and collected and extracted some valuable commodities, the most important of which would be rubber from the rubber trees.

In the second half of the 20th century the Amazon remained basically the same paradise that fascinated Euclides da Cunha 50 years earlier: a page out of Genesis that God did not allow himself to write, he transferred this ability to Man, still a secondary element in the dominant natural landscape. Man, however was not able to become a genuine author of this final page of creation: he was an intruder.

As the century passed, this intrusion only worsened. During the 80’s and the 90’s man destroyed 20 thousand square kilometers per year. The all-time record for destruction was broken in 1987: it was 80 thousand square kilometers of dense forest and more than 120,000 square kilometers of other plant life, according to a study by the INPE (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) during this period.

The conscience of regional, national and international communities now questions the sustainability of such an irrational attitude that has driven such destruction for a prolonged epoch (violent destruction beyond the capabilities of all previous human history). The agent in this process acts to exhaust the most valuable resource at its disposal. Not only does it destroy a sustainable resource that can produce valuable commodities. This practice also deals a death-blow to the capacity of the Amazon itself to survive and compromises the forests role in maintaining the Earth’s equilibrium.

Without the forest’s massive canopy the region would be exposed to changes in weather leading to lixiviation and soil compaction, and aggressive transformations, like a dramatic reduction of its exuberant volume of water (for example, resulting in last year’s drought), entering a cycle of consequences that are beyond catastrophic. Furthermore, also lost will be the beneficial service of the vast pan-Amazonian rainforest (the size of which is equivalent to the United States and Western Europe) to absorb massive amounts of the world’s pollution.

The economic and environmental functions that the Amazon can perform are not exclusive, in contrast to the distorted vision that some sectors of public opinion try to portray. Conversationism” cannot be presented as an impediment to market forces. Resolutions to protect the Earth, agreed by international protocols, have created a non-conventional market as huge as the conventional markets that circulate traditional products. The scale of transformation of a certain natural resource depends on the degree of information harnessed by he who has access to the resource. The nose of a snake can be used as a model for a missile that is guided by heat. One snake is worth “x”. One missile is worth one million “x”. He who knows only a little, kills the snake. He who knows more studies the snake and transforms it without destroying it.

The difference, therefore, is knowledge. Knowledge doesn’t fall readymade from trees, like in the system of a collector. Knowledge is a construction. The construction of knowledge in the Amazon is a work that has just begun. The accumulation of knowledge we have so far is insufficient, however impressive it may be, yet it still goes against the ‘model’ of those occupying the region. What science says, these pioneers ignore. They pretend not to hear or are misinformed, so they ignore all suggestions and recommendations.

Scientists are playing the role of a mourner at a funeral ceremony for the destruction of the noble assets of the Amazon, living to cry and lament their helplessness in the given situation, when if people had listened and done differently, all would have come out winners. In the long run, with the application of science, what has been done is a crime against humanity. But, in the short-term, without the wisdom of science, everyone will be killed, retorts the pioneer, imagining that he is god ex-machina of pragmatism, with the knowledge that fits on the head of a match.

What, then, is the solution? Produce more science. Not science circumscribed to science labs, nor to their books and their author, nor to their resumes. Science needs to go out to the frontlines where it is needed in order to plant good seeds (if the seeds do not grow, the science is worthless). Either a scientific revolution is promoted in the Amazon, or there will be no Amazon-not for science, Amazonians, or anyone else.

Investment in science needs to multiply in the region. But not only this. It is necessary to train qualified people in the region itself, to invert the flux of knowledge. There needs to be sufficient investment and infrastructure for centers of study within the region, so that there can be applied knowledge on the ground in the Amazon. These centers-biotechnology, genetic engineering, forestry, hydrobiology, commodities, etc- need to not be confined to a central campus. They need to be spread-out into the hands-on areas of study, in the natural habitat, where these sciences can be applied. Not only for specialization work for post-graduates: but also graduating students, whose courses will take place in contact with the target of their study.

This process cannot take place in precarious conditions: the ‘last frontier’ in science and technology will be in the Amazon, with equipment and personnel. All of this effort is to be oriented toward the construction and implantation of an ecological-economic zoning, not like a virtual game, manned by computers posted in the rearguard, but on the frontlines of history.

Utopia? Certainly. Because the Amazon is one of few places in the world where utopia can become a reality in a short period of time. Finally, it is where utopia is currently being destroyed during all seasons, between the tree-cutting and the burning. Isn’t this where the last page of Genesis is becoming debased by the careless graffiti of man? Alright then, get to work already!

Translated from Portuguese by James Denison and Cassia Leal.

Lucio Flavio Pinto is an independent journalist who has been reporting on the destruction of the Amazon for the past 43 years. He can be contacted at:

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By Marilyn Diggs
April 29, 2009

When guests arrive on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), guides adorn their necks with fresh flower garlands. At departure time, the host decorates them with shell necklaces. Polynesian cultures believe that this custom will insure the island visitors’ return. The spell must have worked because here I am again, two years later. My first trip was a whirlwind of digesting historical facts, visiting the signature moai (monolithic stone sculptures), and covering as much terrain as possible. I surveyed the island in a van, on horseback and on foot. This time my stay is more contemplative. I begin where I left off- quietly admiring the orange and violet sunset over the Tahai ceremonial site as a lone drummer beats cadence until the sun vanishes into the Pacific Ocean.

I chose Most tourists see the contest’s location from the Orongo ceremonial cliff. This time I travel to Motu Nui, where the birds still nest today. To get there, our boat slices through deep blue waves and bounces us in the open sea until we reach three islets that look like dots from the Orongo village above. The magnitude of the athletes’ challenge becomes real to me once I see the shore line: spray from the waves spews against the sheer rock of Motu Nui, while a giant, vertical cliff – the starting point for the race – forms the backdrop. The migratory sooty terns circle over us; their eggs safe since missionaries banned the contest in 1864. Still, the reminders of the contest are everywhere on the island – carved on rocks (500 petroglyphs in Orongo alone), painted in caves (See header photo) and even decorating the church faade in town.

An Afternoon on a Sacred Beach
Another high point is swimming at Anakena Beach, on the northern coast. The water is warm and welcoming. After a dip and photos, our guides prepare a banquet lunch under tents on ancient ceremonial grounds. According to legend, King Hotu Matau reached this shore with the initial settlers in a type of catamaran around 450 A.D. Later kings presided over public ceremonies here, during which sages recited from the ancient sacred ronga-ronga wooden tablets. The meaning of their script has been lost and remains one of Rapa Nui’s many mysteries. Anakena’s stone guardians are seven of the most enchanting moai on the island, complete with pukao (red “hats”) and detailed carvings on their backs.

Interviewing Locals Makes it Real
Turning my attention to more recent history, I seek out friendly locals to interview. From 1888 until the 1960s the Chilean government confined the Rapanui to one spot: Hanga Roa. The Chilean Navy held them as virtual prisoners and most lived a scant existence. The quality of life only improved after the islanders received Chilean citizenship in 1966. I hear stories about the hard years from the older residents. The oldest islander, Benedicto Riroroko, who is 90, tells me about his grandfather, the last king. (See photo) Simeón Riro Kainga was assassinated (poisoned) in Valparaiso in 1899 when he went to the mainland to complain about the cruel treatment of his people. In 2006, President Michelli Bachelet returned his ashes to the island and gave Benedicto a Chilean flag. He recalls this emotional event in the Rapanui language which his grandson translates for me. Today proud islanders talk freely about their culture and heritage. During summer festivals they paint their bodies and don straw and feather costumes to re-enact competitions and dances. Some talk about independence.

This time I leave Easter Island with a new, more mature appreciation for its open-air museum, mixture of blood lines, and unique culture. As I gaze at my shell necklace hanging in my study, I can only hope that its magic will work again, and allow me to return once more to the ever-mystifying Easter Island.

Freeway Brasil: Information and reservations office: 5088-0999;

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International , a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges. Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

April 23, 2009

Sweet Home São Paulo features the musicians Raul Lima, Rodrigo Veloso, Caetano Scatena, and Jason Bermingham. They are playing their regular montly gig tonight with classic rock tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

If you’re free, please join them this Thursday, April 23, at Finnegan’s Pub in the Pinheiros neighborhood. The show will start at 9pm. You can sip Guinness at the bar, enjoy the show over dinner out front, or play darts upstairs. Sweet Home São Paulo look forward to seeing many of their friends from around the world – friends who have made their home right here in São Paulo.

Finnegan’s Pub
Thursday, February 23, at 9pm
Rua Cristiano Viana, 358 (Pinheiros)
São Paulo, SP
R$10 cover charge
To reserve a table, call (11) 3062-3232