Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/April 1904/The Caucasian in Brazil




CONTROL of trade routes and mineral supplies have been the two chief factors in determining the industrial and political supremacy of races and nations. It is evident that a third—the control of the food supplies from the tropics—will soon be equally vital to civilized man. The tropical zone is a great laboratory where nature's forces are manufacturing food on a tremendous scale. There the sun's vivifying rays fall in the greatest abundance, building up with a rapidity impossible in the temperate parts of the globe the elements of the air, water and soil in those complex compounds which are the essential basis of life. Leaving out of consideration the dream that inventive genius may some day devise artificial methods of employing the sun's chemical forces in directly producing food, it is certain that if he continues to multiply in his present geometrical ratio, the European must utilize the tropics.

India and the east already contain a dense population; but the negroes who inhabit tropical Africa do not begin to exhaust its potential resources, and South America, the queen of the continents from an economic standpoint, is virtually untouched. How and by whom shall these regions be occupied and developed? Three solutions are possible:

1. Races predominantly black or yellow, who shall have developed among themselves or acquired from the whites economic and political efficiency, may be the future masters of the now unoccupied parts of the tropical zone. Southern China is a proof that such an outcome is possible.

2. Colored people under the direction and government of northern nations may cultivate the soil and export the surplus. This would be something parallel to the present condition of India.

3. The whites of European descent may themselves emigrate to the tropics, crowd out or absorb the colored races, and either pure, or predominating in the resulting mixture, constitute the bulk of the population.

The last alternative is rarely taken into consideration, because it is an accepted commonplace of popular belief and scientific discussion that the white man is not fitted to the tropics—that the European races can not live and multiply in the fertile regions near the equator. It is assumed as a self-evident truism that the blacks or colored races can better resist the climatic conditions. The statescraft of to-day, acting upon this assumption, is bending its energies to laying the foundations of an external dominion over the hot regions of the earth. Spheres of influence, not fields for emigration, are the subjects of the preoccupation of European cabinets; trade and political control are more sought than opportunities for colonization.

The popular impression as to the suitability of the tropics for white settlement rests upon two commonly observed phenomena: The places most visited by travelers, and therefore best known, are inhabited principally by colored races; the white man loses vigor when suddenly transported into winterless regions from the more vigorous climates where his ancestors have been living for unnumbered generations. Besides, the white emigrant usually dislikes the social, industrial and political surroundings, becomes discouraged, and in most cases returns strongly prepossessed against the tropics.

As to permanent powers of reproduction and survival, the existing predominance of colored races and the ill health and dissatisfaction of newly arrived whites only create a presumption—they do not conclusively prove anything. The negroes may predominate in Jamaica, because black immigration to that island was vastly more numerous than white, and not because the whites that did go there died out. The Caucasian newly arrived in Rio de Janeiro is susceptible to yellow fever, but his children born in Brazil may not be less immune than the offspring of black slaves.

Many things I have seen during a long residence in tropical Brazil and in journeys through the states of that republic and of neighboring countries have led me to doubt the correctness of the general impression. Personal observations unaided by adequate statistics are notoriously untrustworthy, and one should be slow in drawing conclusions from them. However, no one can long travel and reside in Brazil without noticing that white families are large and their children healthy. A large proportion can trace their descent to colonial times. Whites are preferred to negroes, mulattoes or Indians as laborers on the railroads and coffee plantations, not only because they are more intelligent, but because they are stronger, healthier and more energetic. The white may be more susceptible to certain climatic diseases, but the negro is less able to resist others, and is decimated by such communicable maladies as smallpox and consumption. The white eats more and better food, lives more hygienically and protects himself more effectually against the weather.

A study of the population statistics of Brazil leads to some surprising conclusions. The returns of marriages and births show that the whites are more fecund, and the successive censuses appear to prove that during the three and a half centuries which have elapsed since the settlement of the country, the comparatively few white immigrants have multiplied at a far more rapid ratio than the multitudes of negroes brought over from Africa, or the Indian aborigines.

In 1890 an enumeration was made of the married couples in the city of Rio de Janeiro; the race and color of each partner was ascertained and reported, and also the number of children born of each marriage. The average number of children in families where both parents were white is given as 3.507, while the black families produced only 2.987, and the intermarriages of blacks and mulattoes, 2.908. Of all the children 75.2 per cent, were the offspring of parents who were both white, leaving 24.8 per cent, for children of mixed or colored blood. The total white population was returned as 62.7 per cent, and of the other races at 37.3. Taking the four races separately, the whites, numbering 62.7 per cent, of the total population, took part in only 6.9 per cent, of the marriages and only 6.1 per cent, of the children had one or both parents black. The Indians were 3.4 of the population and furnished 2.4 per cent, of the marriages and children. Those reported as mulattoes composed 21.6 per cent, of the population, but took part in only 13.9 per cent, of the marriages, which produced 13.2 per cent, of the children. Irregular unions producing children are reported as marriages, and therefore the differences indicated above can not be explained by assuming that negroes, mulattoes and Indians live in concubinage more than the whites. A considerable number of those reported as 'white' have a small amount of negro or Indian blood in their veins, but this fact does not affect the conclusion that fecundity increases with the predominance of white descent.

Leaving out the mixed marriages, the superior fecundity of the whites is still more apparent. Of the children of unions where both parties belonged to the same race, 81.6 were white; 11, mulatto; 5.3, negro, and 2.1, Indian, while the respective percentages of total population were: white, 62.7; mulatto, 21.6; negro, 12.3, and Indian, 3.4.

It is therefore clear that even in Rio, a seacoast city whose climate is reputed particularly fatal to Europeans, whites now show a greater propensity to marriage than the black or mixed races, and that their unions are more prolific. Comparative mortality statistics are not available, but it is probable that the acclimatized whites are longer lived than the other components of the population, and that this has cooperated with their superior fecundity in bringing about a more rapid increase as compared with other races. The various censuses of the city of Rio de Janeiro taken in the last hundred years show the result that was to be expected from the above figures. The percentage of whites increased from 45 per cent, in 1799 to 55 per cent, in 1872, and 62.7 in 1890. That of the negroes fell from 54 to 14.5 and then to 12.3 per cent, in spite of the excess of negro over white immigration, which continued until the suppression of the slave trade in 1854. Since that date European immigration has been great. However, the proportion of whites of foreign birth decreased from 34 per cent, in 1872 to 30 per cent, in 1890. Native whites numbered 34 per cent, in 1872 and 51.6 in 1890, while the blacks fell from 21.7 to 16.3.

The movement of population from Rio to and from the surrounding country undoubtedly affects the relative proportions of whites and blacks. This element of uncertainty does not exist when the population of the country as a whole is studied, and the successive general, censuses of Brazil afford a better basis for calculation.

Brazil was settled in the middle of the sixteenth century by the Portuguese—a people formed of the mixture of many nations, all of them, however, of pure Caucasian descent and the vast majority belonging to the Mediterranean race. The country was found inhabited by red Indians, who closely resembled the North American aborigines, and who readily submitted to white domination. The reports of the Jesuit missionaries and parish returns show that the process of incorporating them with the religious, political and industrial framework of the colony was begun immediately and continued for nearly a century and a half. About five thousand Indians were so civilized and incorporated.

Almost simultaneously with the original white settlement the importation of negro slaves from the near-by African continent began, and it was continued on a large and increasing scale for three centuries. By the end of the eighteenth century the arrivals had reached twenty thousand yearly. It is estimated that about two millions of negroes were imported into Brazil during the colonial period.

White immigration was surprisingly small. Portuguese policy did not aim at erecting a new Portugal across the sea, but at making a profit out of the region by the labor of Indian and negro slaves. No foreign whites were allowed to enter Brazil, and it was difficult even for a Portuguese citizen to obtain the required passport. About twenty thousand emigrated to central Brazil with the early expeditions by the colonial proprietors and the government. In the beginning of the eighteenth century several thousand Azoreans went to northern Brazil. A century later the discovery of gold in Minas Geraes stimulated a rush estimated at twenty or thirty thousand. In the middle of the eighteenth century there was a considerable influx of Azoreans into extreme southern Brazil. With these exceptions whites came singly or in small bodies, being mostly officials, soldiers, proprietors coming to take possession of huge land-grants from the crown, merchants and a few convicts. The total white immigration for the whole colonial period was about two hundred thousand.

No census was taken in 1807, but partial enumerations made shortly before indicate that the population of Brazil was then composed approximately of 900,000 whites or very light mulattoes; 3,000,000 negroes; 400,000 mulattoes, and 260,000 civilized Indians. In 1808 the mother country was overrun by Napoleon's armies, and the Portuguese king fled for refuge to Brazil, accompanied by thousands of officeholders and soldiers and most of the court. Fifteen thousand persons crowded the ships which carried John VI. out of the Tagus. His first act on arriving in Brazil was to open its commerce to all the world, and thenceforward immigration was unrestricted. White arrivals from 1808 to 1817 were 40,000, and those of negroes, 200,000.

The census taken in the latter year gives the white population at 1,043,000; negroes, 2,350,000; mulattoes, 426,500, and Indians, 259,500. The whites had constituted only 8 per cent, of the original components of the population, but now numbered 28 per cent., while the negroes had fallen from 74 to 62 per cent, and the Indians from 18 to 7.

In the fifty-five succeeding years until 1872, 813,000 blacks were imported and 432,000 white immigrants arrived from Europe. The census taken in the latter year gives the white population as 3,787,289, and that of negroes as 1,959,452. Therefore the 672,000 whites who had come to Brazil up to that date had increased 562 per cent., while the 3,013,000 negroes had decreased to 65 per cent, of their original numbers. The civilized Indians surviving were only half as numerous as their ancestors.

In making a calculation of the total proportions of the three races in the total population of the country there are two uncertain elements which must be taken into consideration. In the census of 1872, 3,750,000 persons were returned as mulattoes or 'caboclos' (white and Indian, or negro and Indian), and no data is given as to what proportion of the three bloods entered into the mixture. Some of those returned as 'whites' were in fact light mulattoes or 'caboclos.' The latter fact would certainly tend to increase the apparent ratio, and it is also probable that the proportion of white blood in those returned as mulattoes is smaller than the proportion of negro and Indian blood. Personal observations indicate that the non-Caucasian element in those returned as 'white' is less than one fourth, and that about two thirds of the ancestors of the mulattoes are negroes or Indian—principally the former. Assuming these ratios in default of statistics on the subject, the population of Brazil in 1872 was 42 per cent, white, 53 per cent, negro and 5 per cent. Indian, while the percentages in the original immigrants were, respectively, 16, 72 and 12.

European immigration from 1872 to 1889 inclusive amounted to 611,000, while the negro arrivals had ceased almost entirely with the abolition of the slave trade. The census of 1890 does not give race numbers as to many localities, but estimating these on the basis of the sections where the relative proportions were ascertained, the percentage of whites is 44; of negroes, 18; of mulattoes, 35, and of Indians, 3. Dividing the total population into its race elements according to the principle already used with the figures for 1872, after making an allowance for the lessening proportion of dark blood among the reported 'whites,' we find that in 1890 there was 49 per cent, of white blood, 47 black and 4 Indian.

The tendency of the pure negroes to decrease in numbers is conclusively shown by the accurate statistics of the slave population kept during the existence of that institution in Brazil. In 1818 the slaves numbered 2,350,000; in 1872, 1,510,806; in 1887, adding their children born free under the gradual emancipation law of 1873, 1,183,250.

The immense extent of Brazil, the wide variations in climate, soil and altitude, the predominance of sugar culture with the employment of great gangs of slaves on large plantations in some localities, and of the cattle industry which the whites are fond of in others, and the fact that sometimes the Indians were collected into villages of their own and sometimes were enslaved and almost exterminated, have caused great differences between the various states in the relative numbers of the three races. The limits of this article do not permit a discussion of each state separately, but it would confirm the conclusions already indicated.

Even in the parts of Brazil which are the most tropical and least attractive to Europeans, and where white immigration during the last century was inappreciable, such as the non-coffee and sugar states of the central and northern coast, and the wild and remote interior included in the states of Goyaz, Minas and Matto Grosso, the whites have increased more rapidly than pure negroes or Indians. The latter tend to disappear into the mass of mixed bloods who constitute the bulk of the population. A large proportion of the Caucasians have, however, maintained themselves in direct, prolific and unmixed lines for three hundred and seventy years, and their commercial and intellectual dominance has never been threatened.

In the favored regions of the south the preponderance of the whites is enormous and is rapidly increasing. On the coffee plantations of Sao Paulo, where the negro slave formerly did all the work, he has been completely displaced by the immigrant from Europe. The negroes and mulattoes have little chance of intermarrying with the whites; their unions among themselves produce a small number of children, and they show little providence in forming and taking care of families. They do not have, as do their contemporaries in the United States, the stimulus of a comparatively rigorous climate, and the examples of white neighbors organized into a complex and highly competitive industrial civilization. The reserve of foresight, energy and ambition which the white Brazilian has inherited from his ancestors stands him in good stead in the easy and enervating surroundings, while the negro will only work when he is obliged to.

The race which will inherit the fertile and salubrious plains and plateaux stretching north from the Argentine border to the lowlands of the Amazon will probably be of Caucasian origin and descent, although its characteristics may have become much modified in fitting its new surroundings. The Azorean hoes his little patch of ground with the painstaking industry of the Norman peasant, but his gaucho descendant in Rio Grande neglects agriculture for riding after cattle. A capacity for indolence may perhaps be one of the conditions of survival in tropical climates, and the future master of these regions will possibly possess oriental characteristics, and may lose some qualities he inherits from his immediate ancestors, the restless Latins, Celts and Teutons of western Europe.

So far as it has gone, Brazil's experience tends to prove that the white man has the adaptability, vitality and fecundity to ensure his preponderance in the tropics as well as in the temperate zone, and that the other races will exist there upon his sufferance.