Death Without Weeping: O Nordeste

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CHAPTER 1 "O Nordeste"

This chapter is traces the colonial history of the local plantation economy of the Brazilian Northeast and sugar, its cultivation on plantations. The setting "600,000 square miles of suffering" as describe by Josué de Casto (1969) which specifies to the face of the Brazilian Northeast. Land of sugar and sweetness but also of leather and darkness, O Nordeste, a terra de contrastes as noted by Roger Bastide (1964), A land of sugarcane fields amid hunger and disease, of droughts and floods, of authoritarian landowners and primitive rebels, penitential Christianity, ecstatic messianic movements, and liberation theology coexisting with Afro-Brazilian spirit possession. It also describes illiteracy rate of the region, 47.2 percent of the population 40 million people, and the child mortality rate, ten in every twenty childhood deaths in Latin America 5 are Nordestrinos. It also talks about the diseases that claim the lives of many and how poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and malnutrition may be the possible catalyst for these epidemics.

But the main point of this chapter is to show how the O Nordeste had been conquered by a single crop, which is sugar. The social, political, agrarian and health problems of the Northeast extend back to the earliest days of colonization. The consolidations of land-holdings into large plantations were dominated by a single export crop at the expense of subsistence farming and the cultivation in exploited rural workers. Sugarcane being a predatory crop pre-empts more land, consumes the humus in the soil, annihilates other crops, and feeds on the human capital. This resulted into the decimation of other vegetation. These changes in the production are understood by some elders as curse or as a castigo, a punishment from God.

In the monograph of Sidney Mintz (1985), Sweetness and Power, He narrated a history of...