Modern History Sourcebook:
from The Coffee Fazenda of Brazil, 1911
The houses of the colonists are not as a rule scattered among the coffee-shrubs; they
form, according to the importance of the fazenda, a hamlet or village of regular
construction, having nothing of the disorder of a European village. To be precise, it is
really only a small city of laborers, just as the colonist is only a rural proletariat.
The house is of bricks or mud, often white-washed, and only moderately comfortable, but
the climate of Saõ Paulo is extremely mild, and life is passed almost entirely in the
open air. As for diet, it is sufficient. Bread is rare, for neither wheat nor rye is a
usual crop, but they are replaced by meal prepared from boiled maize, polenta, manioc, and
black beans. Each fazenda constitutes a little isolated world, which is all but
self-sufficient and from which the colonists rarely issue; the life is laborious. The
coffee is planted in long regular lines in the red soil, abundantly watered by the rains,
on which a constant struggle must be maintained against the invasion of noxious weeds. The
weeding of the plantation is really the chief labor of the colonist. It is repeated six
times a year.When the coffee ripens, towards the end of June, the picking of the crop commences.
Sometimes, in a good year, the crop is not all picked until November. The great advantage
enjoyed by Saõ Paulo is that the whole crop arrives at maturity almost at the same
moment. The crop may thus be harvested in its entirety at one picking...This entails a
great reduction in the cost of production and of labor. At the time of picking the
colonists are gathered into gangs. They confine themselves to loading the berries on
carts, which other laborers drive to the fazenda; there the coffee is soaked, husked,
dried, and selected, and then dispatched to Santos, the great export market. All these
operations the colonists perform under the supervision of the manager of the fazenda. A
bell announces the hour for going to work; another the hour of rest; another the end of
the day; the laborers have no illusions of independence. What really enables the colonists to make both ends meet is the crops they have the
right to raise on their own account, sometimes on allotments reserved for the purpose set
apart from the coffee, and sometimes between the rows of the coffee-trees. They often
think more of the clauses in their contract which relate to these crops than to those
which determine their wages in currency. . .It even happens at times that the colonists
produce more maize than they consume. They can then sell a few sacks at the nearest
market, and add the price to their other resources. In this way crops which are in theory
destined solely for their nourishment take on a different aspect from their point of view,
yielding them a revenue which is not always to be despised.
Pierre Denis, Brazil (New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1911), passim. Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998