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The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality

The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern Brazil

Stanley E. Blake
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    The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality
    Book Description:

    The Vigorous Core of Our Nationalityexplores conceptualizations of regional identity and a distinct population group known as nordestinos in northeastern Brazil during a crucial historical period. Beginning with the abolition of slavery and ending with the demise of the Estado Novo under Getúlio Vargas, Stanley E. Blake offers original perspectives on the paradoxical concept of thenordestinoand the importance of these debates to the process of state and nation building.Since colonial times, the Northeast has been an agricultural region based primarily on sugar production. The area's population was composed of former slaves and free men of African descent, indigenous Indians, European whites, and mulattos. The image of thenordestinowas, for many years, linked with the predominant ethnic group in the region, the Afro-Brazilian. For political reasons, however, the conception of thenordestinolater changed to more closely resemble white Europeans.Blake delves deeply into local archives and determines that politicians, intellectuals, and other urban professionals formulated identities based on theories of science, biomedicine, race, and social Darwinism. While these ideas served political, social, and economic agendas, they also inspired debates over social justice and led to reforms for both the region and the people. Additionally, Blake shows how debates over northeastern identity and the concept of thenordestinoshaped similar arguments about Brazilian national identity and "true" Brazilian people.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7770-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction: Nordeste and Nation
    (pp. 1-19)

    In 1921, a future Brazilian bureaucrat named Agamemnon Magalhães asserted in a thesis written for an academic appointment that the northeastern region of Brazil was “a distinct ‘habitat,’ characterized by the rigor of its ecological conditions. Nature is reflected in man, imprinting his features, sculpting his form, forming his spirit.”¹ Magalhães wrote about the Northeast andnordestinos, as peoples of the region were called, as if they had long been thought of as a distinct political and geographic region and people. This was most certainly not the case. Just six years before, in 1915, Brazilian geographers had gathered in Recife,...

  2. 2 The Nineteenth-Century Origins of the Nordestino, 1850–1870
    (pp. 20-48)

    At the 1878 Agricultural Congress of Recife, convened by the Pernambucan provincial government in response to the imperial government’s exclusion of northern Brazilian states from an agricultural congress held in Rio de Janeiro in the same year, members of the Sociedade Auxiliadora da Agricultura de Pernambuco (SAAP) and representatives from five other northern states debated whether planters should rely on free native workers,ingênuos(children of slave mothers), or European immigrants to solve Pernambuco’s impending labor crisis.¹ Henrique Augusto Milet, a French civil engineer who came to Pernambuco in 1840 to oversee the construction of public works, argued vehemently for...

  3. 3 Racial Science in Pernambuco, 1870–1910
    (pp. 49-81)

    The social, economic, and political pressures that resulted in the abolition of slavery in 1888, the end of the Brazilian Empire, and the establishment of the republic in 1889 prompted a reexamination of nineteenth-century understandings of citizenship and Brazilian national identity. In addition, the gradual decline of the institution of slavery, which culminated in 1888 with the granting of unconditional freedom to 750,000 slaves (of which 40,000 were Pernambucan) necessitated a reexamination of understandings of race.¹ The military coup d’état that in 1889 brought down the Bragança imperial dynasty led by Pedro II produced a federal republic that introduced a...

  4. 4 The Medicalization of Nordestinos, 1910–1925
    (pp. 82-113)

    In his annual report to the Pernambucan legislature in 1927, the state’s governor, Estácio de Albuquerque Coimbra, wrote that “the economic, intellectual, moral, and civic value of the Nation and the State is shaped, with the expression of human activity, in the excellence of physical and moral robustness of its population.” He argued that “man, healthy or sick, … ought to fall under the knowing gaze of the Governments, preserving or restoring him to health, to benefit the Nation.”¹ Under Coimbra, who served as governor of Pernambuco from 1926 to 1930, the state government inaugurated new public health, assistance, and...

  5. 5 Social Hygiene: The Science of Reform, 1925–1940
    (pp. 114-149)

    In a lecture to Recife’s Rotary Club in 1935, José Octávio de Freitas, who had served as Pernambuco’s chief public health officer and as the director of Recife’s Faculdade de Medicina, asserted that in order “to resolve the immense problem of the Healthy Man—the right to a long and normal life,” it was necessary “not only to avoid the diseases that encircle Man from all sides and in all stages of life; not only to remove all the various factors of degeneracy, of decadence, and of weakening; but, above all, to seek to elevate him, to perfect him by...

  6. 6 Mental Hygiene: The Science of Character, 1925–1940
    (pp. 150-184)

    In the mid-1920s, reformers and politicians in Pernambuco began to take an interest in Pernambucans’ psychological characteristics.¹ The state government’s rapidly expanding Department of Health and Assistance took over the operation of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia’s Hospício de Alienados (Lunatic Hospice) in 1924, and, by the early 1930s, the state had created additional services for the mentally ill and mentally deficient, including the Assistance for Psychopaths Service, the Mental Hygiene Service, and the Institute of Psychology. Public health officials and reformers embraced mental hygiene both as a means of diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental diseases and as a means...

  7. 7 Inventing the Homem do Nordeste: Race, Region, and the State, 1925–1940
    (pp. 185-226)

    In a 1941 newspaper article, Agamemnon Magalhães, the federalinterventorof Pernambuco, wrote that “southerners who do not know the Northeast are surprised with the ambience of combat and work that they observe when coming to the region. Here man is better than geography. Better than the natural factors that he has to defeat with his mind and with his arms. Man, in the Northeast, is in an agitated state when working. He is always moving. He is always doing something. He has initiative, or is seeking to possess it.”¹ This characterization ofnordestinoscontrasted sharply with assessments of the...