Emigration from the Nordic Countries to Brazil 1880-1914

By Retsö, Dag | Ibero-americana, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Emigration from the Nordic Countries to Brazil 1880-1914


Retsö, Dag, Ibero-americana


Introduction

Emigration from the Nordic countries to Brazil during the epoch of global mass migration has been the subject of a few scholarly studies in the past, mainly concerning Swedes (Stenbeck 1973, Eriksson and Falk 1971, Klasson and Olander 1987, Carlsson 1991), apart from a number of anecdotal accounts (Hanno 1976/1977, Carlsson 1991, Isaksson 1996, Flodell 2000, Anderzén 2000). General studies on Nordic emigration to the Americas include some observations on the topic (Nilsson 1970, Hvidt 1975, Stang 1976, Mörner 1985).

These studies have mainly been based on documentary sources in the migrants' home countries which entail some problems. For example, demographical, social and economic characteristics are rarely visible in sources of the sending country. Furthermore, it entails problems for calculating accurate total numbers. Official emigration statistics in Finland began as late as 1905 and draw on passport issuances which only reveals the intentions of emigration, not actual emigration. In addition, for overseas emigration Finnish sources do not give any specification as to which non-European country the emigrant intended to go (Nordic Emigration 1970: 14). In Denmark, systematic emigration statistics began already in 1868, but also here, all overseas destinations are included in the same general 'overseas' category ("a//e oversoiske Land') and registering with the authorities was not compulsory (Hvidt 1975: 160, 403; Bender 2011: 9). In Sweden, the country of destination of emigrants to South America is not specified until 1909 (Retsö 1996: 3; Jensen 1931: 283-285).

A survey of the available documentation in Brazil, the receiving country, should be able to shed some light on all of these aspects. No such study has hitherto been carried out. The present article therefore attempts to make an assessment of total numbers of Nordic emigration to Brazil in the period of mass migration between 1880 and 1914. A new method combining passenger statistics from the emigration ports in Europe and immigration data from Brazil will be used, thus bypassing what Frank Thistlethwaite (1960) called 'the salt-water curtain'. In addition, it will give a demographical, social and economic profile of these Nordic migrants based on Brazilian documentary sources. The result will also be related to the pattern of other immigrant groups in Brazil. No analysis of push factors, drivers or assimilation processes in the new country will be made here.

The outline of the article is as follows. First, the relevant sources are presented and a general overview of the historical context is given. Next, a comparative quantitative analysis of emigration and immigration statistics will be carried out in order to reach a more accurate number of total migrations. Thereafter, an analysis of demographical, social and economic characteristics will be made in order to characterize Nordic migration against the background of the Brazilian agrarian structure and in relation to other immigrant groups in Brazil.

The sources

The main source for immigration research in Brazil is the register books kept at the main immigrant hostel on Ilha das Flores in Rio de Janeiro, today available at the National Archives (Arquivo Nacional). As Sao Paulo with time became the most important destination for immigrants an immigration station was built outside the city at Bom Retiro in 1881, and subsequently in Santos (1891) and in Campinas (1894) (Holloway 1977: 157-8, Holloway 1980: 35-36, Segawa 1989:27). Registers were also kept at the Pinheiros station in Rio. Three of the books kept there are found in the National Archives today and cover the period between November 1891 and September 1896. No Nordic immigrants have been registered at Pinheiros. In 1887 the Bom Retiro station in Sao Paulo was deemed insufficient and from February 1897 a new, larger immigrant hostel administered by the immigration society Sociedade Promotora de Imigraçao, with a capacity of 4,000 persons, began to function in Brás, a railway junction for the Santos-Rio de Janeiro track (see Petri 2010). …

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