This is part of my series of interesting newspaper articles that I find in the old Latvian newspapers available through Periodika. Most of the articles I post are in some way related to migration, wars or other events that are of particular genealogical note.
This article is a harrowing account of the lives of Latvian Baptists in the new colonies in Brazil in the 1920s. How much is truth and how much is fiction, I do not know. What I do know is that the conditions in the nascent colonies were very harsh, and many people did die in the unfamiliar climate and land. I also know that the leaders were considered somewhat authoritarian by some, and that the government authorities in newly independent Latvia were quite alarmed at the growing exodus to Brazil, eventually refusing to issue passports to anyone who declared an intent to head there. Baptists were looked upon with suspicion in Latvia. Other newspaper articles note that a number of Latvians in Brazil applied for assistance in returning to Latvia, but thousands did choose to stay, living in more established Latvian colonies such as Nova Odessa and Rio Novo, or ended up building communities such as Vārpa. These communities then in turn welcomed a new wave of Latvians migrating to Brazil after the Second World War.
Source: Latvis, January 17, 1923
“Swindled Latvian Baptists in Brazil”
Missionary Vītols has arrived in Rīga, where he gave our correspondent the following news about the horrors that awaited the Latvian Baptists that were tricked into going to Brazil.
Immigrants are met in Sao Paulo by Matvejs, the son-in-law of preacher Iņķis, under whose absolute authority they now stand. Letters sent to Latvia don’t get sent without passing through his censors. Immigrants are immediately assigned barracks, and they are treated more like slaves than like free citizens. Everyone is under the watch of Inķis’ and Matvejs’ agents, among whom are a Petrolevics and Andermanis. Immigrants are fed terribly, some days given only sliced beets, of the kind that would be given to pigs back in Latvia. Only now do they begin to understand, that which they did not want to believe, that they have been horribly swindled by the Baptist preachers and Brazilian colonial agents, who get a commission for each person they swindle. Anyone who considers speaking against Matvejs or his agents and asks to be returned to Latvia, is called a “reckless soul” and worked on with all sorts of tools and threats.
Many colonists from Brazil’s Nova Odessa colony, who had arrived in Sao Paulo, said that Iņķis had been expelled from their colony for land speculation, becasue he sold land that had cost him 30 million reals for 100 million reals to his “poor brothers”, as he called them.
All of the new arrivals were sent by Iņķis, Matvejs and company to the newly founded colonies in Brazil’s “eternal forests”, 850km from Sao Paulo, where no people hav elived, far from towns and roads. The land there consists of yellow sand and swamps, almost useless for farming. The land has to be worked by hand, because there are no horses. All of the good land is already in the hands of sugar plantation owners.
The heat is terrible and only in January and February is there rain, unceasing rain, after which there is swamp fever, dysentry and other diseases. Immigrants are taken to the forest and left completely in fate’s hands.
The colonists are also threatened by deadly snakes and wild animals, because the new arrivals have to live in sand pits until they build living barracks, which is also a hard job, because the wood is so hard that saws are breaking and axes have little effect. At first, the colonists live in communes, which are mostly repulsive, in groups of 10 to 18 families. Many are close to despondency and with tears in their eyes turn towards their homelands, which they left so flippantly, listening to the lies of the preachers.
Besides the abovementioned tortures, the colonists in Brazil are also threatened by scorpions and all sorts of insects, the stings of which cause worms to grow under the skin of the victims, causing unbelievable pain.
By the month of September, Iņķis had already tricked approximately 2000 people into going to Brazil, and with every arriving ship that number grows.