Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/The Brazilians of the interior

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Thanks to Senhor Bento Soares and Mr. W. D. Christie, our acquaintance with the coast population and the governing classes of Brazil has quickly ripened of late into intimacy. Haughty as were their Portuguese ancestors, the civic Brazilians are also similarly quick in their resentments—indeed, a people not to be reckoned amongst the most placable races of mankind. In addition to the influence of this original groundwork of character, the Brazilians of the cities and alluvial provinces regard their empire as standing on the threshold of an unexampled national progress; and hence, there may be some excuse for them putting on, what to us may appear as, a somewhat defiant front. Setting aside the difficult task of estimating the moral capacities of this high-mettled race, there are natural advantages of every kind in favour of Brazilian prosperity. A territory extending over thirty-six degrees of latitude and thirty-four of longitude—including within its borders some of the finest rivers of the globe,—possessing a soil all but universally fertile, and a climate whose tropical heats are tempered by Atlantic breezes: such a region, of which not one-hundredth part is yet cultivated, presents a splendid field for material progress and future national greatness.

Turning from these anticipations, and glancing beyond the Brazilian life which is already familiar to us, we catch glimpses of another population connected with the Eastern Brazilians only by the necessities of commerce and production. In this inland society are mingled—under some strange and many picturesque aspects—several distinct varieties, of which the early creole, the aboriginal, and the negro races are the original types. Any rapid material progress will bring changes into this strange society, and already is it entering on a transition stage. Yet all the races of Brazil now contribute towards the exports of the empire; even the dejected Indios mansos—the unhappy Botocudo, brings his collection of vanilla, caoutchouc, and sarsaparilla to exchange for knives or cotton goods.

The creole planter forms the link between the subject and ruling races of Brazil. His habits and style of living present a combination of patriarchal simplicity, with the luxury of the modern slaveholder. His fazenda is always open to the passing traveller, who freely avails himself of this hospitality, it being one of the established customs of the country. Thus the planter constantly finds at his table guests unknown to him by name, who represent the various classes of the moving population of the provinces. A brief description will suffice to introduce some of these, and may serve to illustrate the manners of the free races. Frequently these guests are of the planters’ own class, who may be present in his fazenda either as hunters or visitors. This last, though a general term, has a special significance. A Brazilian senhor whenever he pays a visit, does so with the intention of indulging in the sole dissipation of the provincial creole—that is, cards or games of chance. Ordinarily temperate and regular in his habits, the planter when once absorbed in lansquenet, forgets the changes of day and night, and all his usual occupations.

Here may be named a character peculiar to the inland provinces of Brazil—the bilheteiro. He is the administrator of the system of lotteries, and posts rapidly through the provinces to dispose of the tickets. He cannot accept the hospitalities of the fazenda, the feverish anxiety of his clients forbids his resting, and his frame is early worn out by fatigue and exposure to torrid heat or the humid atmosphere of the forests. This taste for gambling is inherited from the early Portuguese conquistadores; and to such an extent does it prevail that a recent traveller, M. D’Assier, says, that this practice absorbs all the spare revenues of the creoles, and consumes those funds which might otherwise provide the much-needed roads and railways into the interior.

Perhaps the most striking physiognomy which appears at the fazenda is that of the muleteer, or rather the mule-dealer. He is of mulatto race, though his swarthy sunburnt countenance often displays hints of Indian blood, and his tall stature and long flowing hair give an aspect of wildness to his figure. Coming from a distant province at the head of two or three hundred mules, he pastures them on the plantation until they are sold or reared. The planter, having little use for his extensive pastures, expects no return from the muleteer, except occasional assistance in the training of the horses and mules on the farm; and whilst he stays in the neighbourhood, he comes and goes as he pleases at the table of the planter. The mule-dealer, being at little charge for his stock, often amasses a fortune; he then buys a plantation, and often gives to his son a professional education in one of the eastern cities, where men of mulatto race frequently rise to positions of eminence.

The mule-train is the only means of communication between the distant provinces of Brazil and the cities or river-ports. The guardian of these caravans, called an arreador, is always a mulatto. His position is one of considerable responsibility: he is the treasurer, captain, and veterinary surgeon all in one, and he has to control his negro assistants as well as the mules. On his care the planters depend for the transmission of their sugar, coffee, and cotton to the cities, and for their supplies of salt and carna seca (dried meat), for the negroes, as well as wine and European luxuries for themselves. From a lower class of mulattoes the planter generally chooses his overseer, or feitor, as he is called. These men, often of huge stature and coarse in manners, are said to combine in their character the ferocity of the early invaders with the sensuality of the negro race.

Let us return to the free table of the fazenda. There is often found the mascata, a superior class of pedlars, who, for the sake of profits (which have often exceeded two thousand per cent.) are content to brave the perils of the forest and mountain torrent. These men are generally Europeans—either Jews from the Rhenish provinces, who carry jewellery and trinkets; or Parisians, who bring perfumery and light silks; or Swiss or Italians, who are vendors of plaster saints and figures of the Virgin. The mascata has abused the hospitality of the generous planter, and has all but ruined his own craft by his anxiety to maintain his splendid rate of profit. These wandering merchants all speak French, but it is only the true Parisian garçon whose address enables him to stay without offence week after week at the fazenda.

The padre (priest) and the doutor (surgeon) are often seen at the table of the planter, but more as regular visitants than as guests. A glance at the position of these two professional classes will incidentally throw light on the social economics of the Brazilian planter. The priest of to-day believes himself to have fallen on an evil time—that of political independence; and he sighs when he recalls the days of King John VI., for then more masses were required than time sufficed to perform. Now, in order to live, the padre must include many farms in his curacy; and he is often obliged to eke out his stipend by such secular devices as dealing in cattle or mules, or even that of keeping a venda, or store. He performs low-mass every Sunday and fête-day; generally the ceremony is conducted in a warehouse or barn, with a table for an altar, a muleteer as sacristan, and a choir of negroes who contribute some indescribable music. These rustic services, together with the task of baptising the infant negroes, are all the duty that the planter requires the padre to undertake on behalf of his slaves. The priest, although always ready to attend on the freeman for a fee, does not trouble himself with ministrations to the dying negro, nor with any post-mortem services on his behalf. This apparent indifference is not to be attributed to want of feeling, but, on the contrary, may be traced to the mild temper and loose theology of the Brazilian priest. He thinks that the negro having been admitted within the pale of the Church by baptism, his sins may be expiated by his life of hardship and toil, so that for the black, confession and penance are unnecessary. The Brazilian padre is generally married; perhaps to this happy circumstance may be attributed some of the tenderness of his sentiments. Unlike his brethren of Europe, he is not habited like an inquisitor, but dresses like the rest of the Creoles; and his presence must often be an acquisition to the society of the fazenda, for he converses, smokes his pipe, or even dances like the rest of the world.

The medical profession has of late years risen considerably in the estimation of the Brazilian planter, and that owing to very practical reasons. Since the stoppage of the foreign slave-trade the price of negroes has reached a ruinous rate, and in proportion the preservation of their strength, and the prolongation of their lives has become to the planter an object of great solicitude. On every plantation stands an infirmary, with negress nurses and a dispenser of drugs always in readiness. Some of the larger fazendas have a resident doctor, but generally two or three neighbouring planters maintain one conjointly. The proficiency of the surgeons has risen with the increased demand for their services, and new chairs of medicine have been established in the universities of the eastern cities. Epidemics frequently rage in the provinces of Brazil, and at those times the planter spares neither trouble nor expense in his efforts to meet the emergency. The hospital staff is then doubled, a caravan of negroes is sent off into the forest to gather medicinal herbs, and frequently the planter sends for a more skilled doctor from Rio or Bahia. Nor are the efforts of the planter confined to his own dependants. The hospital is opened to all in the neighbourhood, bond or free, who happen to be sick; and should the senhor hear of some poor, proud freeman dying in his roncho (hut), the doctor is sent off on horseback to try to save him.

This solicitude on the part of the planter cannot be attributed solely to his self-interest; his zeal bears evidence of a deeper motive than that. So it is due to the Brazilian Creole to accord to him not only praise for his hospitality, but also the merit which is due to his sincere though impulsive philanthropy. For the rest, he does not forget that he is a slaveholder, and he insists on prompt obedience, and exacts all the labour from the slave which his frame can support, or that his listless will can be induced to perform. Only the needful physical wants of the negro are supplied, and in all minor matters of treatment the slave and his family are at the mercy of a brutal overseer.

Nothing has yet been said here of the senhoras of the Brazilian provinces. To leave them without description illustrates their social position. In deference to a sentiment of excessive jealousy, which the senhor inherits from his early Portuguese predecessors, the women of the fazenda are generally kept in something like Eastern seclusion. They necessarily suffer through their continuous exclusion from the proper position of woman; and in some cases the intellectual faculties of the senhoras are reduced nearly to the mental level of the negresses, who are their sole attendants.

This sketch of the provincial Brazilians has so far referred principally to the semi-civilised and agricultural portion of the population. It has included two of the original races from which that population has sprung,—the Creole of European origin, and the negro of direct African descent, together with the product of both—the mulatto, who now forms a distinct class. There is a third group, however, an original stock of the Brazilians of the interior, which must not be forgotten,—that is, the aboriginal Indian; and with him should be named the hybrid race of mamelucos, or guachos, who chiefly inhabit the south-western provinces of Brazil. This half-wild but energetic people sprang at first from unions between the native women and the early Portuguese invaders, after the Indian warriors of the coast and on the larger rivers had been exterminated. The mameluco is perhaps the most skilful horseman in the world; and with his terrible lasso he is master of the buffalo, the jaguar, and the wild horse of the pampas. His skin is naturally dark, and his countenance sunburnt with constant exposure—his eye glistens as if with an untameable light; but he is not cruel in nature, and his habits and manners are far above those of the savage. Gradually the mameluco has become an important producer, and ultimately he may be gained to the side of civilisation. Formerly, he only hunted the wild cattle for sake of the hides; later, he learned to cure and preserve the flesh, which, under the name of carna seca, is sold as a regular article of provision throughout South America; still more lately, he has begun to melt and sell the tallow. Some mameluci become men of substance, owning herds of cattle and troops of half-tamed horses. In some districts they own flocks of sheep; but as the sentimental occupation of a shepherd does not suit their restless temperament, the guardianship of the flock is entirely entrusted to dogs, which they train with remarkable success.

Thus the Brazilians of the interior consist of three original races,—the creole, the negro, and the Indian; and of two hybrid races,—the mulatto and the mameluco, making altogether five distinct reproducing classes. There is also a third hybrid variety, the cabocles. These have arisen from unions between negroes and Indian women; and though at present they form a recognisable variety, they will probably be absorbed in the ranks of the natives and share their fate.