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Modern History Sourcebook:
Pierre Denis:
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 Sa 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 Sa 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.


Source:

From: 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
halsall@murray.fordham.edu