Excursão à região colonial antiga do Rio Grande do Sul


  • Orlando Valverde


Rio Grande do Sul;, Expedições Científicas;, Geografia Regional;, Colonização.


This article on the old colonial region of Rio Grande do Sul is the result of field observations which the author made during February and March of 1948, accompanied by a colleague of his, and under the scientific supervision of Professor Leo Waibel. The area that was studied is located to the north of Pôrto Alegre and comprises three distinct physiographic areas: the Lowland the Slope, and the Plateau. The first two were colonized by Germans and the last by Italians. These three regions were sub-divided into zones, in accordance with the different types of land use practiced by the inhabitants.

            The Lowland consists of the Industrial Zone and the Agriculture Zone. The first extends like a belt along the railroad line, from São Leopoldo to Sapiranga. It contains highly diversified industries, but with the major emphasis on the production of leather handicrafts. The agriculture is limited almost exclusively to forest culture (cultivation of eucalyptus and black acacia - "Acacia decurrens") and the production of manioc. This zone's principal urban centers are: São Leopoldo, Novo Hamburgo, Hamburgo Velho, and Campo Bom. São Leopoldo was established on the installations of a former government "latifundio", which contained forest lands for agriculture and grasslands for cattle raising-. The general location  as well as the actual site of São Leopoldo was chosen at the edge of the forest land. The city had a planned expansion following a checkerboard pattern. Hamburgo Velho was an old "strassendorf" and today is nothing more then a suburb of Novo Hamburgo. This. in turn. was established as a terminal point of a railroad under construction and which ended its activities near Hamburgo Velho. Both are highly. industrialized. Campo Bom was also an old "strassendorf" served by the railroad and a nearby port, on the Sinos River. It exists because of the shoe industry, for which there are eighteen factories.

            The Agricultural Zone extends from São Leopoldo to the city of Caí. The relief here is the same as that of the Industrial Zone: it is made up of low hills. formed by the Botucatu sandstone. Its soils are poor and easily attacked by erosion. It is occupied by large landholdings and by a relatively sparse population. There are large forests of eucalyptus. manioc, and a few poor pastures. Caí is a model city planned on a checkerboard pattern. It was at one time a port of considerable regional importance, now actually stagnating amid progress.

            The Slope is divided in to two parts: the lower and the upper. The first was studied in two important zones: that of Dois Irmãos. to the north of Novo Hamburgo. and that of Vila Feliz, to the north of Caí. Both of the zones are situated on structural terraces formed by basic extrusions known as "trapp" to geologists. The two zones "are prosperous and essentially agricultural. At Dois Irmãos, crop rotation is practiced, using the plow but not fertilizer. as the colonists own few cattle. To maintain the fertility of the soil, leguminous crops are planted and included in the rotation scheme. The town of Dois Irmãos is a typical "waldhufendorf'". Its properties are extremely long with narrow frontage, thus the laud is more extensively utilized in proportion to the distance from the house of the colonist. The zone of Vila Feliz is still richer than that of Dois Irmãos. There crop rotation is practiced in the classic European  manners fertilizer the plow are used; the aim o f production is dairy and. from that, the emphasis is on the raising of fodder crops for milk cattle. The landholdings have areas from six to seven hectares and the rural population is dense.

            The upper Slope was studied in two sections: from Morro Reuter to Galópolis and  from Alto Feliz to Emboaba. Generally speaking, the colonists there are in a lamentable condition of backwardness. The crops. among which corn predominates, are grown on structural terraces which are not very extensive. The size of the landholdings is insufficient to practice land rotation. which is done with short time intervals, wasting the soil. The families of the colonists are poor, and the young people generally emigrate. ,

            The Italians colonized the forest lands of the Plateau. They came from northern Italy during the 1870's and founded various colonies, Caxias becoming the most important center of these. The site of Caxias was chosen on an artificial clearing in the forest which had been made by Indians. on the highest point of a watershed. but which was. however. only slightly elevated. In spite of this, Caxias is in a poor position in the geographic sense of the word. Manufacturing is highly developed in that city. When compares with the German colonial area, Caxias has fewer industrial establishments. but these are on a larger scale. The most important of these are metal working, textiles, wine production. and the milling of wheat flour. The principal factors in the growth of industries in Caxias were: the enterprising spirit of some of the colonists, among which Abramo Eberle was noteworthy; and specialized labor. which is also abundant and cheap.

            The fundamental characteristic of the agriculture in the vicinity of Caxias is the cultivation of the grape. The variety which is grown here mostly is the Isabela grape, brought from California. But now a days there are also many vineyards of better quality grapes grafted on those of that type. The vineyards have greatly increased the value of the land and the wine factories are comparable to good European ones. The osier is also profusely planted in this area.

            The area designated as the Border of the Plateau, between Caxias and Emboaba. possesses a more advanced type of agriculture than the rest of the Highlands (except in the immediate neighborhood of Caxias) due to transportation facilities and market conditions. Here eucalyptus is heavily planted to supply firewood for the railroad. Wheat and rice are cultivated in the same fields, the first as a winter c1·op and the second as a summer crop. Rice is only grown up to an elevation of 750 meters. Orchards are also important. The agricultural system employed is an improved land rotation.

            In the remote areas of the municipality of Caxias, agriculture is as primitive as that of the upper Slope, although the colonists are not as backward. Here the following crop rotation system is followed: corn, one harvest; wheat, one harvest immediately afterwards (cycles which are completed in more or less one year's time); and. after that, second growth forest from six to eight years. The landholdings have an average of 25 hectares. Four hectares are used for pasture (not cultivated); two are occupied by the vineyard; and nineteen are used for cultivation in rotation of lands. Annually, only three of the nineteen hectares are under cultivation.

            Of the four population nuclei that were studied in the municipality of Caxias - that is: Galópolis. São Marcos, Ana Rech, and Sêca - two have evolved spontaneously (Ana Rech and Galópolis) and the other two (Sêca and São Marcos) evolved on a planned basis. The first three are "stranssendorfer" and the last is in the checkerboard pattern.

            The Plateau still has great possibilities in the fields o f tourism and orchards.

            In his conclusions, the author classifies the factors which affect the progress of the colonization as follows: 1) communications, 2) history, and 3) relief. The economic and historical elements are hence more important in the study of colonization than the purely geographic ones. These principles constitute a serious blow for the theory of determinism an<l are radically contrary to the ideas on spreading colonization throughout the interior of Brasil – vast, uninhabited, and without communications.