25 May

Welcome to the Jungle…

“Welcome to the jungle

We take it day by day

If you want it you’re gonna bleed

But it’s the price you pay”

If Guns N’ Roses wrote the lyrics above referring to the hell it is to live in a large city, with its dangers and adventures, the song also applies to the combination of the American Way of Life and the desires of Henry Ford in Belterra in the early twentieth century in Brazil. At that time, when the Rubber Cycle was starting to decline in the Amazon region, and Malaysia’s domain was emerging in rubber plantation worldwide, there appeared a megalomaniac idea led by American Ford Company tycoon: to plant rubber trees in the Amazon region to meet US market needs, and the instrument to achieve such objective was the creation of its so-called Company Town, in State of Pará. That contradictory experience involved capitalistic needs to explore the rich Amazon region not only to make profit, but also sought to improve the lives of thousands of people who lived isolated in the forest surrendered to “whatever God wishes”.

workers cleaning the forest( Imagem from Greg Grandin's book)

The concession terms exempted Ford Company from paying any export taxes on rubber, latex, fur, leather, petroleum, seeds, wood or any other product made in that tract of land. Negotiations were conducted by Brazilian Jorge Dumont Villares, representative of Governor Dionísio Bentes, who visited Henry Ford in the US. Ford representatives to receive the area were O. Z. Ide and W. L. Reeves Blakeley (Grandin, Greg 2009).

Company Town, as its name suggests, is a Business Company in the form of a town or village. And as already mentioned in another text of the “The Green Club”, several companies were installed in the north of Brazil for the same purpose: Carajás, Jarí Celulose, Serra do Navio, among others. The main idea was to meet the need of combining production increase and profit, in addition to workforce.

The tools to meet those objectives were a large structural organization involving: construction of hospitals, schools, homes, supermarkets, socializing spaces for workers, transportation systems and even some luxuries of large cities for those remote locations. In the case of the Amazon region, the Company Town was almost always related to extraction companies. This article discusses serial plantation of rubber trees and urban structure.

It is also known that the desire to build new-model societies is based on the experiences of Robert Owen (1771-1858), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and its phalanstère, William Morries, Ebenezer Howard: each one of them with their own ideological principles and sense of space organization. In the year of 1927, Henry Ford hired the word’s most important experts to work in his forest project; he had the moral support of friends such as Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone.

Ford’s dreams of uniting an industrial and agricultural community were frustrating, because the Amazon region soils are acid and infertile, and the lack of familiarity with the region by the hired experts brought a number of frustrations. With time, they found out that rubber trees could not be planted in series. To extract latex it was necessary to follow the centennial techniques of penetrating the forest, because when the rubber trees were planted close to one another they were contaminated by pests, which made their marketing impossible. One of those pests consisted of microorganisms of the Microcyclus gender that destroyed the plantations.

The people living in the region were simples and illiterate, and depended on extraction activities. “Ford hoped that chemicals turned minerals, oils and plants found in his property into lubricants, fuels, paints, soaps, ropes, fertilizers and insecticides” (Grandin, Greg 2009). Brazilian authorities had a lot of insecurity for having “all those Americans” in the region and also contributed to the project’s failure, instigating the population against the gringos.

In 1927, there were only homes on stilts in the region, covered with tree leaves, with dirt floors; dwellers slept in hammocks or on the floor. Homes were built, as well as the whole urban infra-structure, roads were paved, schools and hospitals were built that till today are used by the local population.

The bungalow for a new town (Image from Greg Grandin's book)

According to Lucchese “in five years, the project gained an uncommon magnitude for the region at the time: athletic fields, stores, recreation buildings, a snooker club, a movie theater”. In his book Professor Greg Grandin shows fascinating photos of the period including a golf course used by the population. To Ford, “golf encouraged participation of viewers not as part of a team, but rather as individuals “.

Golf(Image from Greg Grandin's book)

“From 1938 to 1940, Belterra experienced its golden period and was considered the world’s largest individual rubber producer. The city is divided into several nuclei. As the purpose was to explore rubber, small home groups were surrounded by rubber tree plantations and the larger group, now considered the downtown area, is nucleus 5 that concentrates small commercial establishments in the city and where the best preserved homes are located, with fruit trees (such as wonderful jambo trees) and flowered and tidy gardens ” (Lucchese, Cecília).

Belterra today(Source:http://theurbanearth.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/belterra-a-company-town-de-henry-ford-na-amazonia/)

Experiencing the transformation of the Amazon space through Company Towns is something that has already been developed by many scholars; the largest the number of researchers interested in the matter the better the possibility of a safe and rich dialog on the region. We actually need planned cities, but how can we prevent large economic projects from failing? How can we respect the local culture and prevent vain competition between foreign and Brazilian insecure entrepreneurs?

belterra-nucleo-5-cas(Source:http://theurbanearth.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/belterra-a-company-town-de-henry-ford-na-amazonia/)

Although Brazil is seen as an open and multicultural country, a short time ago there was a xenophobic slogan that “the best of Brazil is the Brazilian,” which leads us to question if the best of Brazil is the citizen who helps build a great nation, regardless of having been born here, because new generations need to overcome excessive nationalism and adjust to our global reality by respecting important principles such as tolerance among peoples and cultural diversity.

Bibliographical Reference

Grandin, Greg. Fordlândia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. New York,  Picador,2009.

Web References

Website of professor Cecília Luccehese, accessed on Abril 24, 2011:  http://theurbanearth.wordpress.com/author/cissie55/page/2/

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