Now up on the Family History through the Alphabet challenge…
B is for Baptists and Brazil
Now, you may be wondering what Baptists have to do with Brazil, and what either have to do with Latvia. Quite a lot actually!
Towards the end of the 19th century, while there were still lots of people emigrating from Europe to Canada and the United States, many potential emigrants were beginning to look to other places instead, seeing North America as lacking the real opportunities and possibilities that it had presented a century or two earlier. Many instead started looking to South America, Brazil and Argentina in particular. It was sparsely populated, which meant more land could be available, though the conditions were much harder than anticipated.
Some early migrants from Latvia to Brazil arrived in the late 1800s, and their reports home about this “wild frontier” were favourable enough that later emigrants also considered migrating there. The biggest such movement was of much of the Latvian Baptist community.
While the dominant religions in Latvia at the time were Lutheranism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the Baptist faith began to make inroads in the late 1800s. The nonhierarchical, chaotic nature of Baptist organization at the time was attractive to people who felt their faiths were being dictated by hierarchical German or Russian organizations that had no room for Latvians in their power structure. The movement was strongest in Kurland and Livland.
After the First World War, while Latvia became an independent country, the infrastructure and the countryside had been devastated by years of war. Many people were optimistic, because after this war Latvians could rebuild on their own terms, rather than the terms of a foreign power. However, a number of Baptist congregations had been preaching a millenarian revivalist message, expecting the Second Coming of Christ to be imminent, with numerous visions and prophecies recommending resettlement outside of Latvia. Brazil was selected. The mass preparations being made for departure worried the Latvian Government and the main Latvian Baptist Association, who decried the revivalists as a splinter sect.
By the end of 1922, the government refused to approve passports for Baptists or for emigration to Brazil, but by that point, most of the revivalists had departed – almost 2000 in total. On November 1, 1922, the first group arrived at their destination in southern Brazil, under the guidance of Pastor Iņķis. This colony was to be named Vārpa. Many colonists became individual farmers, but the Christian commune Palma was also organized, many members being the elderly, single people, war widows and their children.
As with any organization, there were squabbles, factions and leadership disputes, but the colony prospered through the 1930s and 1940s. As time went on, many of the Latvian youth moved away to other parts of Brazil, but Vārpa still stands today, if with a smaller population. Signs are still visible in Latvian and Portuguese.
The Latvian population of Brazil was also given a boost after the Second World War, when approximately 1000 Latvian Displaced Persons settled in Brazil. Today there are approximately 20,000 Brazilians of Latvian origin.
Are you a Brazilian of Latvian origin? What is your family’s story? Please share in comments!