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B is for Baptists and Brazil

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!

6 comments to B is for Baptists and Brazil

  • Thanks for sharing this! Pastor Iņķis was my great uncle. His brother Gustav was my great grandfather – he immigrated to Pennsylvania, married a Latvian woman named Rosalie Purweet and they helped found the First Latvian Baptist Church of Philadelphia around 1900. Janis’ brother Rihard attended seminary in Boston, where he met his wife Sophia. They traveled between the US and Rio several times. The Iņķis family supposedly also has another brother Edward and a sister Natālija, but I don’t have any information about them.

    Pastor Iņķis wrote hymns, poetry, and a newsletter that was distributed in the US and Latvia among the Latvian Baptist churches. I am very interested in Pastor Iņķis, his father Jēkabs, and indeed the entire family. I can’t help but wonder if a biography of Jēkabs or Jānis exists somewhere. Any information you can provide is most welcome!

  • A wonderful post, so informative. Thank you :))

  • Jānis

    Thanks for interesting information about Latvian baptists in Brazil! I am born and now live in
    Daugavpils. I am interesting: are among emigrants also baptists from Latgale?
    In 2013 year Daugavpils baptist church “Baltā Baznīca” will celebrated 80. anniversary and we
    wants learn more about 1933 -1940. years church members// memoires, photos etc.
    Beforhand thanks!

  • Liga

    Hi, I am creating my family tree and was wondering whether someone has heard about Andermans or has contacts with any of them? As far as I know, some of them were Baptist priests.

  • Andris Lauberts

    To Liga: Possibly Andermans = Andermann from the Sigulda area. These Andermann is on a family tree (not related to me) since 1730. That tree leads to mother of Karlis Augstroze (*1863), married to Karline, sister to my vectevs Peteris. Descendants of K&K should know more about Andermann.

  • Edite zimmermann

    My mother’s uncle, Andrejs Garmosins, went to Brazil. Apparently there was a place of worship built on his parents’s property Sīški, near Tadaiki, at one time. It has been destroyed. It appears that the name Garmosins, “evolved” from Ermasins. Andrejs father, Klavs Ermasins, was an elder in the Baptist church and the pagasts vecakajs and was murdered in 1906. I cannot find anymore than I have written her about these 2 people anywhere, but am hoping that as it appears they were active, strong Baptists, that perhaps there are records somewhere that have recorded more of their history and activities.

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