Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

Brazil of Today

While the people of South America have been slow to bring the interior of the continent under subjugation, as has been long since done in North America, they have built great cities along the sea-coast rivaling those of Europe and North America. They have developed the coastal country, erected schools, built railroads, cultivated the land, and established stable governments. All this shows what may be done in South America. But even yet there is enough land uncultivated and enough natural resources untouched to support the entire population of Europe and America. The climate is such in a continent that extends from the Equator to the Antarctic Ocean as to afford any temperature desired. The land is fertile; the forests have been barely touched, and the mineral resources are unsurpassed.

What has been said of South America as a whole is particularly true of Brazil. The population of Brazil barely equals that of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, although its area is larger than that of the entire United States. Suppose the inhabitants of the four above-mentioned states were spread unequally over the whole United States, with a rather dense population along the coast. This will give the reader some idea as to the distribution of people in Brazil.

The southern states of Brazil, including Rid de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catharina, and Rio Grande do Sul, which are farthest from the equator, have the best climate. In the extreme south frost and snow appear. There also the white races predominate because these southern states have been settled chiefly by Europeans. Their civilization, therefore, is farther advanced than that of the northern states.

In the central and northern portions of Brazil the mixed races predominate. Negroes are to be found in far larger numbers than white inhabitants. At one time, generations ago, the negroes set up a small state of their own near Pernambuco and maintained it for over half a century. They were finally conquered and enslaved. The hinterland, or interior, in the northern states is still inhabited by a backward type of people. They have few educational advantages and lead a life of adventure that has tended to perpetuate the clannishness of a primitive race.

On the other hand, the strip along the coast has been built up, and large cities, with fine harbors and an extensive commerce, have been developed. Much of the back country is still in a state of nature, especially that which lies near Pernambuco and Natal. The country is mountainous in some parts, and few railroads have been built. This makes it impossible to travel with ease and rapidity. It is difficult for people to overcome primitive conditions when they cannot communicate with the outside world.

Students of United States history may recall that one hundred years ago, before the railroads connected the Atlantic seaboard with the Mississippi valley, the principal method by which settlers in the valley traded with the cities along the coast was by riding horseback across the mountains carrying their produce or by driving hogs and cattle on foot. The old highway from Baltimore to Pittsburgh was famous. At first long lines of pack-horses came over it; and then a wagon road was built, along which caravans traveled, keeping up the commerce between the coast and the Mississippi valley. In similar manner, the inhabitants in this Brazilian back country today communicate with the commercial cities along the coast.

Visitors in Pernambuco or Natal see a long line of caravans, divided into four or five groups of fifty or one hundred mules or horses each, passing through the streets on their way to the big warehouses. On each horse or mule are two large packages containing cotton or other produce. Along side the pack-animals rides a rough-looking, swarthy Brazilian of the lower order, shouting at his mules and whipping them up. The mules carry bells that tinkle as they proceed. The shouts of the drivers and .the ringing of the bells create much confusion in the narrow streets. When the caravans come from the interior, their drivers, like the cowboys of the western United States a generation ago, are heavily armed for protection against the highway robbers who lurk in the mountains. Schoolboys in the United States like to read of the great stagecoach robberies of a half century' ago in the Far West. These scenes are repeated in Brazil today wherever railroads have not opened the country.

The population of this section of Brazil consists largely of negroes, Indians, and half breeds. Many of the inhabitants are very ignorant and superstitious and wear few clothes. In fact, they go half naked all the year. In Amazonas, which embraces a large part of the valley of the upper Amazon, the Indians are numerous. Many Indians of the valley have become civilized and have adopted European customs. A traveler a few years ago passing along the river heard a graphophone in an Indian hut, hidden by trees, playing "Suwannee River." Many prosperous towns have taken the place of forts and trading-posts, and Indian belles may be seen in the streets attired in the styles of Paris or New York.

The western part of Brazil is undeveloped. Much of it is still unexplored. Along the Amazon and some of its tributaries great plantations are found, here and there, on which almost every variety of food and fiber that the soil yields is produced. This promises to become a cotton country, and travelers predict that it will be the center of a vast production in the future. Cotton plantations and ranches, with attractive homes lighted by electricity, may be seen where a few years ago the forests yielded only quantities of rubber. In many places the farmers do not even have to replant the cotton every year, as in America. They simply cut it down, and it sprouts out anew the next spring. So fertile is the soil of the Amazon valley that, it is said, for every bushel of maize, rice or beans planted eight hundred bushels are harvested. Cacao, from which cocoa and chocolate are derived, is one of the oldest products of the valley, and people are cultivating it on an extensive scale. North America and Europe derive the greater part of their cocoa and chocolate from Brazil and Ecuador.

The large plateau north of the Amazon, known as Brazilian Guiana, is to a great extent a stony desert. But in some parts it is well-forested or has broad areas of grassy plains. To the south of the Amazon, in the interior but far removed from the coast, is another large semi-arid plateau that yet has some resources.

The heat on the coast is not more oppressive than it is in the mid-summer months in certain parts of the United States. The evenings, as a rule, are delightful. Travelers say that they suffer more from cold than from heat, because the houses, as a rule, have no stoves or fireplaces, except in the south and in the higher altitudes. The summer temperature at Rio de Janeiro averages 75 degrees and the winter temperature 65 degrees.

Santarem is a great industrial center and Para a prosperous city of over 100,000 population. Far back of these cities are areas of forest containing a variety of nut-bearing trees, but only a small percentage of their products can be saved. This is, perhaps, the greatest timber country on earth. The forests of the Amazon valley have hardly been touched. They can supply the entire world with lumber for a long period of time.

British, Italian, French, German, Scandinavian, and North American explorers have been making extensive investigations since the European war, and it is believed by many that the Amazon valley is on the eve of a great industrial activity. All signs point to a prosperity such as it has never before known.

Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Brazilians have a legend that the Creator sought to make an ideal location for a great city, and when he completed the bay of Rio de Janeiro, he was so well pleased with his work that he erected a monument to mark the place. This is a granite peak, 2,200 feet high, known as "Sugar Loaf," which rises almost perpendicularly near the entrance to the harbor.

Rio de Janeiro


The development of Rio de Janeiro was hindered for a century or more by the deadly plague of yellow fever. When the United States took charge of Cuba in 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Havana, like Rio de Janeiro, was frequently visited by the deadly plague. However, the wonderful results of General Gorgas's methods soon became known throughout the world. They were applied in the United States, in Panama, and in Central and South America.

One of the most notable and effective applications of General Gorgas's methods was in Rio de Janeiro. The president of Brazil appointed a commission of engineers and medical experts. The government appropriated large sums of money: over $100,000,000 was spent. The streets were widened. Beautiful avenues were opened. The water was made pure and wholesome, and today there are no flies or mosquitoes in Rio de Janeiro. If anyone sees a fly or mosquito, he must report it at once to health officials, who send a man immediately to destroy its breeding-place. The people, as a, rule, do not use mosquito screens in their homes. They have no need for them anymore. It seems almost impossible that this city, once the lurking place of tropical fevers, should be so scrupulously clean and healthy; but it is true. These diseases have disappeared, and the mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world.

The city has many new marble buildings. One of these is Monroe Palace, erected as a testimony of the regard of the nation for the Monroe Doctrine. Parks have been laid off, made beautiful with birds and flowers and palms, and the streets are so well cared for that a torn-up pavement is a rarity. Other cities of Brazil have followed the example of Rio de Janeiro: Santos and Sao Paulo in the state of Sao Paulo have been made over. Ravines have been transformed into handsome boulevards. Pest-holes have been turned into parks; magnificent hotels for tourists have been erected; and through Santos thousands of immigrants pass almost daily on their way to the interior to seek land or to hunt the gold and silver that abound in the mountains. Other cities along the coast are under process of reconstruction. Factories are being built, and magnificent buildings of architectural beauty are springing up like Aladdin palaces.

The greatest cattle ranches in the world are in Matto Grosso. This is one of the largest states in Brazil and lies far from the seacoast. For this reason it is very thinly populated. Santa Catharina, in the southeastern part of the republic, was settled by Germans and is almost a German colony. Its capital, Florianopolis, is one of the prettiest spots in all Brazil, and has been described as a "garden of beauty."

Immigrants continue to flow into Brazil in large numbers. For many years the Portuguese outnumbered all others, but since the abolition of slavery the Italians have been more numerous. The white races of southern Brazil engage in industry, and the large cities have manufacturing plants of cotton, wool, cigars, cigarettes, boots, and shoes.

The educational system in the south is good. Children attend the public schools, as a rule. Brazilians love art, music, and literature, and the schools are well provided for. But in the northern and western states, where the dark races predominate, the schools are poor and there is much illiteracy. Speaking generally, an educated Brazilian can use two or more languages, for the young people in the schools and colleges are taught not only to read foreign languages but to speak them. How does this compare with the training of college men and women of the United States?

The Brazilian is generous and kind-hearted and very loyal to his friends. He is intensely patriotic: Brazil is the dearest land in the world to him. He is ambitious for his boys to have the best education possible. As a result, the wealthier people send their sons to European or North American universities. However, they are not so ambitious for their girls, and in the education of its women, Brazil has not kept pace with North America or Europe. Yet the women are eager to learn; and of recent years they have been given more liberties, and their opportunities are broadening. A quarter century ago the women did not appear in the presence of strangers in the homes. But when President Roosevelt visited the country this custom had changed, and women sat at table with him and mingled freely with the guests.

Most people of the United States have a notion that Brazil, because it lies partly within the tropics, is uninhabitable except for savages and inferior races. This is a great mistake. It is not a land of dark, swampy forests, where the air is laden with deadly fevers and the dense tropical growth and noisome streams are infested by crawling reptiles, prowling beasts, and treacherous alligators, as North Americans think. It is very different in fact. The people of the United States know so little of this wonderful country that they have imagined much that is not true.

Many Europeans still think that the United States is a dangerous country in which to live. Wild stories have led them to imagine that even New York and Boston are in peril from Indian raids, that grizzly bears eat children for breakfast, and that negro babies in our Southland are fed to alligators by way of amusement.

These stories are, of course, untrue, and their prevalence is due to a lack of interest which people of one nation usually show for people of other nations. North America should study the countries of South America, in order to learn of the blossoming civilization to the south of us. When nations understand one another, as a rule they become friendly. North and South America have every reason to be the best of friends.