1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maranhão

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MARANHÃO, or Maranham (Span. Marañon, the name given to the upper Amazon), a northern state of Brazil, bounded N. by the Atlantic, E. and S.E. by Piauhy, S.W. and W. by Goyaz and Pará. Area, 177,569 sq. m.; pop. (1890), 430,854; (1900), 499,308. The coastal zone and the north-west corner of the state belong to the Amazon valley region, being a heavily forested plain traversed by numerous rivers. The eastern and southern parts, however, belong to the lower terraces of the great Brazilian plateau, broken by eroded river-courses between which are high open plains. There are no true mountain ranges in Maranhão, those indicated on the maps being only plateau escarpments marking either its northern margin or the outlines of river valleys. The climate is hot, and the year is divided into a wet and dry season, extreme humidity being characteristic of the former. The heat, however, is greatly modified on the coast by the south-east trade winds, and the climate is generally considered healthy, though beri-beri and eruptive diseases are common on the coast. The coast itself is broken and dangerous, there being many small indentations, which are usually masked by islands or shoals. The largest of these are the Bay of Tury-assú, facing which is the island of São João, and several others of small size, and the contiguous bays of São Marcos and São José, between which is the large island of Maranhão. The rivers of the state all flow northward to the Atlantic and a majority of them have navigable channels. The Parnahyba forms the eastern boundary of Maranhão, but it has one large tributary, the Balsas, entirely within the state. A part of the western boundary is formed by the Tocantins, and another part by the Gurupy, which separates the state from Pará. The principal rivers of the state are the Maracassumé and Tury-assú, the Mearim and its larger tributaries (the Pindaré, Grajahú, Flôres and Corda) which discharge into the Bay of São Marcos, and the Itapicurú and Monim which discharge into the Bay of São José. Like the Amazon, the Mearim has a pororoca or bore in its lower channel, which greatly interferes with navigation. There are a number of small lakes in the state, some of which are, apparently, merely reservoirs for the annual floods of the rainy season.

The principal industries of Maranhão are agricultural, the river valleys and coastal zone being highly fertile and being devoted to the cultivation of sugar-cane, cotton, rice, coffee, tobacco, mandioca and a great variety of fruits. The southern highlands, however, are devoted to stock-raising, which was once an important industry. Troublesome insects, vampire bats, and the failure to introduce new blood into the degenerated herds, are responsible for its decline. Agriculture has also greatly declined, the state producing for export only a comparatively small quantity of cotton, rice, sugar and aguardiente. Besides São Luiz, the capital of the state, the principal towns, with the population of their municipal districts in 1890, are: Caxias (19,443), Alcantara (4730), Carolina (7266), Grajahú (11,704), Tury-assú (8983) and Viana (9965).

The coast of Maranhão was first discovered by Pinzon in 1500, but it was included in the Portuguese grant of captaincies in 1534. The first European settlement, however, was made by a French trading expedition under Jacques Riffault, of Dieppe, in 1594, who lost two of his three vessels in the vicinity of the island of Maranhão, and left a part of his men on that island when he returned home. Subsequently Daniel de la Rivardière was sent to report on the place, and was then commissioned by the French crown to found a colony on the island; this was done in 1612. The French were expelled by the Portuguese in 1615, and the Dutch held the island from 1641 to 1644. In 1621 Ceará, Maranhão and Pará were united and called the “Estado do Maranhão,” which was made independent of the southern captaincies. Ceará was subsequently detached, but the “state” of Maranhão remained independent until 1774, when it again became subject to the colonial administration of Brazil. Maranhão did not join in the declaration of independence of 1822, but in the following year the Portuguese were driven out by Admiral Lord Cochrane and the province became a part of the new empire of Brazil.