CEARÁ, a northern maritime state of Brazil, bounded N. by the Atlantic, E. by the Atlantic and the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Parahyba, S. by Pernambuco, and W. by Piauhy; and having an area of 40,253 sq. m. It lies partly upon the north-east slope of the great Brazilian plateau, and partly upon the sandy coastal plain. Its surface is a succession of great terraces, facing north and north-east, formed by the denudation of the ancient sandstone plateau which once covered this part of the continent; the terraces are seamed by watercourses, and their valleys are broken by hills and ranges of highlands. The latter are usually described as mountain ranges, but they are, in fact, only the remains of the ancient plateau, capped with horizontal strata of sandstone, and having a remarkably uniform altitude of 2000 to 2400 ft. The flat top of such a range is called a chapada or taboleira, and its width in places is from 32 to 56 m. The boundary line with Piauhy follows one of these ranges, the Serra de Ibiapaba, which unites with another range on the southern boundary of the state, known as the Serra do Araripe. Another range, or escarpment, crosses the state from east to west, but is broken into two principal divisions, each having several local names. These ranges are not continuous, the breaking down of the ancient plateau having been irregular and uneven. The higher ranges intercept considerable moisture from the prevailing trade winds, and their flanks and valleys are covered with forest, but the plateaus are either thinly wooded or open campo. These upland forests are of a scrubby character and are called catingas.
The sandy, coastal plain, with a width of 12 to 18 m., is nearly bare of vegetation. The rivers of the state are small and, with one or two exceptions, become completely dry in the dry season. The largest is the Jaguaribe, which flows entirely across the state in a north-east direction with an estimated length of 210 to 465 m. The year is divided into a rainy and dry season, the rains beginning in January to March and lasting until June. The dry season, July to December, is sometimes broken by slight showers in September and October, but these are of very slight importance. The soil is thin and porous and does not retain moisture, consequently the long, dry season turns the country into a barren desert, relieved only by vegetation along the river courses and mountain ranges, and by the hardy, widely-distributed carnahuba palm (Copernicia cerifera), which in places forms groves of considerable extent. Sometimes the rains fail altogether, and then a drought (sêcca) ensues, causing famine and pestilence throughout the entire region. The most destructive droughts recorded are those of 1711, 1723, 1777–1778, 1790, 1825, 1844–1845, and 1877–1878, the last-mentioned destroying nearly all the live-stock in the state, and causing the death through starvation and pestilence of nearly half-a-million people, or over half the population. The climate, which is generally described as healthful, is hot and humid on the coast, tempered by the cool trade winds; but in the more elevated regions it is very hot and dry, although the nights are cool. The sandy zone along the coast is nearly barren, but behind this is a more elevated region with broken surfaces and sandy soil which is amenable to cultivation and produces fruit and most tropical products when conditions are favourable.
The higher plateau is devoted almost exclusively to cattle-raising, once the principal industry of the state, though recurring sêccas have been an insuperable obstacle to its profitable development. There is still a considerable export of cattle, hides and skins, but no effort is made to develop the production of jerked beef on a large scale. Horses are raised to a limited extent; also goats, sheep and swine. The principal agricultural products are cotton, coffee, sugar, mandioca and tropical fruits. The production of cotton has increased largely since the development of cotton manufactures in Brazil. The natural vegetable productions are important, and include maniçoba or Ceará rubber, carnahuba wax and fibre, cajú wine and ipecacuanha.
There are two lines of railway running inland from the coast: the Baturité line from Fortaleza to Senador Pompeu, 179 m., and the Sobral line from Camocim (a small port) to Ipú, 134 m. These railways were built by the national government after the drought of 1877–1878 to give work to the starving refugees, and are now operated under leases. Great dams were also begun for irrigation purposes.
The misfortunes and poverty of the people have hindered their material development to a large extent, but another obstacle is to be found in their racial and social composition. Only a very small percentage of the population which numbered 805,687 in 1890, and 849,127 in 1900, is of pure European origin, the great majority being of the coloured races and their mixtures with the whites. The number of landed proprietors, professional men, merchants, &c., is comparatively small (about one-sixth), and a part of these are of mixed blood; the remaining five-sixths own no property, pay no taxes, and derive no benefits from the social and political institutions about them beyond the protection of the proprietors upon whose estates they live, the nominal protection of the state, and an occasional day’s wage. Education has made no impression upon such people, and is confined almost exclusively to the upper classes, from which some of the most prominent men in Brazilian politics and literature have come. The state of Ceará has formed a bishopric of the Roman Catholic Church since 1853, the bishop having his residence at Fortaleza. The state is represented in the national congress by three senators and ten deputies. Its local government is vested in a president and legislative assembly of one chamber elected for a period of four years. Three vice-presidents are elected at the same time who succeed to the presidency in case of a vacancy according to the number of votes received. The judicial organization consists of the tribunal da Relaçãó at the state capital and subordinate courts in the comarcas and termos. The judges of the higher courts are appointed for life. The capital of the state is Fortaleza, sometimes called Ceará, which is also the principal commercial centre and shipping port. The principal towns are Aracaty, Baturité, Acarahú, Crato, Maranguape and Sobral.
The territory of Ceará includes three of the capitanias originally granted by the Portuguese crown in 1534. The first attempts to settle the territory failed, and the earliest Portuguese settlement was made near the mouth of the Rio Camocim in 1604. The French were already established on the coast, with their headquarters at Saint Louis, now Maranhão. Ceará was occupied by the Dutch from 1637 to 1654, and became a dependency of Pernambuco in 1680; this relationship lasted until 1799, when the capitania of Ceará was made independent. The capitania became a province in 1822 under Dom Pedro I. A revolution followed in 1824, the president of the province was deposed fifteen days after his arrival, and a republic was proclaimed. Internal dissensions immediately broke out, the new president was assassinated, and after a brief reign of terror the province resumed its allegiance to the empire. Ceará was one of the first provinces of Brazil to abolish slavery.
See Rodolpho Theophilo, Historia da Secca do Ceará, 1877 a 1880 (Fortaleza, 1883); Professor and Mrs Louis Agassiz, A Journey in Brazil (Boston, 1869); George Gardiner, Travels in the Interior of Brazil (London, 1846); C. F. Hartt, Geology and Physical Geography of Brazil (Boston, 1870); and H. H. Smith, Brazil: the Amazon and the Coast (New York, 1879).