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The Deepest Wounds

The Deepest Wounds: A Labor and Environmental History of Sugar in Northeast Brazil

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  • Book Info
    The Deepest Wounds
    Book Description:

    InThe Deepest Wounds, Thomas D. Rogers traces social and environmental changes over four centuries in Pernambuco, Brazil's key northeastern sugar-growing state. Focusing particularly on the period from the end of slavery in 1888 to the late twentieth century, when human impact on the environment reached critical new levels, Rogers confronts the day-to-day world of farming--the complex, fraught, and occasionally poetic business of making sugarcane grow.Renowned Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, whose home state was Pernambuco, observed, "Monoculture, slavery, and latifundia--but principally monoculture--they opened here, in the life, the landscape, and the character of our people, the deepest wounds." Inspired by Freyre's insight, Rogers tells the story of Pernambuco's wounds, describing the connections among changing agricultural technologies, landscapes and human perceptions of them, labor practices, and agricultural and economic policy. This web of interrelated factors, Rogers argues, both shaped economic progress and left extensive environmental and human damage.Combining a study of workers with analysis of their landscape, Rogers offers new interpretations of crucial moments of labor struggle, casts new light on the role of the state in agricultural change, and illuminates a legacy that influences Brazil's development even today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0390-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Wounds of a People and a Landscape Labor and Agro-Environmental History
    (pp. 1-18)

    “Monoculture, slavery, and latifundia, but principally monoculture; they opened here, in the life, the landscape, and the character of our people, the deepest wounds.”¹ Early in an extended 1937 essay on the Brazilian Northeast, the Pernambucan writer Gilberto Freyre sketches this melodramatic summary of the Pernambuco sugar region’s historical inheritance. Freyre indicts the brutal, race-based system of bondage and the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a powerful and avaricious few as destructive forces in his region’s past. But he felt that the ills of monoculture—the extensive cultivation of a single crop—exceeded either of these. Sugar,...


    • ONE An Eternal Verdure: The Longue Durée of the Zona da Mata
      (pp. 21-44)

      Gazing around the forest on an excursion to a sugar plantation in the 1810s, the French cotton buyer L. F. Tollenare described the surrounding forest as “an eternal verdure, an active vegetation that knows no rest, fruits and flowers one on top of the other without end, adorning the hills to their peaks.” The trees appeared to him so massive, and the undergrowth so thick, that he found Pernambuco’s “sublime and virgin nature” to be almost mystical.¹ By the time of Tollenare’s visit, the area of Pernambuco’s coastal lowlands he saw had been a site of sugarcane cultivation for more...

    • TWO A Laboring Landscape: The Environmental Discourse of the Northeast’s Sugar Elite, from Nabuco to Freyre
      (pp. 45-70)

      “The greatness of the land was his greatness. . . . There went the cattle to pasture and they were his; there went the ox carts groaning under the weight of the sacks of wool or sacks of sugar, and it was all his; there were the negresses of the kitchen, the little urchins of the stable, the field workers, and everything was his. The sun rose, the waters fell from the sky to the earth, the river ran, and everything was his.”¹ So José Lins do Rego described his sugar planter grandfather, with whom the writer grew up in...

    • THREE A Landscape of Captivity: Power and the Definition of Work and Space
      (pp. 71-96)

      Manoel do Ó, born in Pernambuco’s cane-growing region in 1869, began working in the fields at the age of twelve. Interviewed almost a hundred years later for a book about his life, he said that “the green horizons of the Salgado Mill lands were the limits of the world.” He desperately sought to break free of those limits, working thirty-six different jobs in fifteen years before finally achieving a kind of freedom with a railroad job that he secured at the end of the 1890s.¹ Ó’s memories poignantly evoke a widespread sense among workers of planters’ suffocating power, visibly represented...


    • FOUR Modernizing the Sugar Industry: Cane Expansion and the Path toward Rationalization
      (pp. 99-124)

      In July 1963 the state’s broadly circulating newspaper, theDiário de Pernambuco, reported on workers striking at the Usina Roçadinho, in the far southwestern corner of the cane zone. The workers demanded that the mill pay for work by the “count”—a unit measured out by a foreman that was supposed to approximate one day’s work. Instead of the count, Roçadinho had begun using thetarefa(task), which took two or three days to complete. The conflict received statewide attention because Roçadinho was owned by Cid Sampaio, who had just stepped down as governor the year before and remained a...

    • FIVE The Zona da Mata Aflame: Political Upheaval, Strikes, and Fire
      (pp. 125-154)

      In January 1962 a public security investigator hurried to anengenhoin São Lourenço, northwest of Recife, to look into reports that an airplane had dropped a red object into a field and set canes on fire.¹ Investigator Oliveira stayed in São Lourenço for days, visiting twelveengenhos, interviewing “the greatest possible number of rural workers, for greater clarity,” and soliciting the opinions ofsenhores de engenhobefore writing an exhaustive report. Though Oliveira eventually concluded that the story had no basis in fact, local and national newspapers wrote that an apparent firebombing had taken place.² This nonevent provides a...


    • SIX The Only Game in Town: Workers, Planters, and the Dictatorship
      (pp. 157-178)

      In late March 1964 rumors flew that the military planned to overthrow President João Goulart and Pernambuco Governor Miguel Arraes. The Communist union leader Gregório Bezerra went into hiding after learning that he was the quarry of an armed band assembled by the murderoususineiroJosé Lopes de Siqueira Santos. The military did seize power on April 1, and several days later an army unit found Bezerra before Siqueira Santos could. Transported to a military barracks in Recife, Bezerra was stripped to his underwear and paraded around city streets, led by a rope tied around his neck. In full public...

    • SEVEN An Agricultural Boom and Its Unexpected Consequences
      (pp. 179-202)

      Although they had begun earlier, the state’s attempts to intervene in thezona da mataaccelerated once the military took command. The state interacted with producers and workers through representatives both familiar (technicians from the Instituto do Açúcar e do Álcool [IAA, Sugar and Alcohol Institute], the police) and new (labor court judges, economic planners). Though they had separate briefs, these actors contributed to a common state thrust toward bureaucratic solutions to problems at multiple scales, both natural and social. The modernist ideology guiding state action privileged the power of science, planning, and technocracy to rationalize social relations and industry.¹...

  9. CONCLUSION: Power, Labor, and the Agro-Environment of Pernambuco’s Sugarcane Fields
    (pp. 203-218)

    Thezona da matais approaching five hundred years of sugarcane cultivation. Remarkably, the most dramatic environmental change in the region during the twentieth century was the expansion of cane. Remarkable considering that this was likely the case for the three preceding centuries as well. Cane occupies over a third of the region’s land, and clearing for the crop has destroyed all but the smallest fragments of the native Atlantic Forest and eaten into former food crop land and pasturage. The expansion of railroads and the rise of theusinasstarting in the 1880s brought a new level of environmental...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 219-268)
    (pp. 269-296)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 297-302)