Since the beginning of Brazilian colonization, Portugal sought to use the experience obtained in the production of sugar in the islands of Madeira and the Azores to implement white gold, as sugar was then known, in the vast Brazilian lands, due to its high value in the European market.
The official installation of sugar manufacturing in Brazil took place after the division of the colony into hereditary captaincies, in 1535.
Pernambuco was the most prosperous captaincy, having in a few years a rapid development with the production of sugar, cotton and tobacco for export.
Its rapid development is due to the commitment and entrepreneurial character of its grantee, Duarte Coelho, as well as to natural factors favorable to the cultivation of sugarcane: fertile soil, regular rainfall, hot humid climate and strategic geographic location, being the captaincy closest to the European market.
It was up to the donatário to bear the expenses necessary for the colonization of the captaincy, assist in the defense of the territory and pay tribute to the crown. In turn, the donee, within his captaincy, was the legal and administrative authority and exercised the right to donate land (sesmarias) to anyone who had the resources to install sugar mills.
“It was the private initiative that, competing for sesmarias, was willing to come (to Brazil) to populate and defend militarily, as was a real requirement, the many leagues of raw land that black work would fecundate” (FREYRE, 2006, p. 80)
The colonists who received sesmarias were subject to the authority of the crown and the donee, however, in the domains of their lands, they enjoyed full powers over their relatives and slaves.
In the colonial period “[…] being a rural owner and also a sugar plantation owner meant much more than having a certain source of reasonable income.
It meant a title that in Brazil came to be valid as a certificate of nobility.” (GOMES, 2006, p. 53).
The sugar mill lord was the owner of land, holder of prestige, riches and power.
The lands where these wealthy men built their sugar mills were donated to them in exchange for loyalty to the Portuguese crown, tax payments and military support.
In addition to serving economic interests, sugar mills played an important role in the defense and dominance of Brazilian territory.
In the first two centuries of colonization, most of the mills were built with defense towers, which underscores their importance
For the cultivation of their lands the lord of ingenuity it relied on the work of farmers, free men without the resources to set up their own mill, who rented small or large portions of land from the mill owners for planting and harvesting sugarcane.
Most of the sugar cane ground in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, it was supplied to the mills by farmers who initially had a share in the profits, but who over the centuries lost that privilege.
A property usually contains much more land than the owner can manage or work […]. These leftover lands give way to housing for free people, for the poor classes who live off the meager result of their labor. […]
No document is written, but the owner of the land verbally authorizes the inhabitant to build his little house on a piece of land, inhabiting it, […] and allowing him to cultivate […] (KOSTER, 1942, p.440)
The slave labor It was also widely used on the sugar mills for the cultivation of non-leased land, sugar production and household chores.
In the first decades of the colonial period, plantation owners did not have the resources to import African slaves, so the solution found to overcome the shortage of labor was the enslavement of Indians.
“The percentage of Indian slaves involved in sugar production decreased as the planters became richer and were able to import African slaves, less 'lazy' than the Indians.” (GOMES, 2006, p. 58)
Black slaves were, therefore, gradually introduced into the sugar civilization, only to become the main available labor force in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.
Colonial society in Brazil, mainly in Pernambuco and the Recôncavo da Bahia, developed patriarchally and aristocratically in the shadow of the great sugar plantations [...] (FREYRE, 2006, p. 79).
In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the socio-cultural model of colonial Brazil, focused on sugar production, had the sugar mills as the basic cell of its socio-economic structure, units that produced sugar, but also culture.
“And it was around and within this colonizing unit that the identity of Portuguese-American social; an identity of original character, based on mutual learning between whites, slaves, masters and captives.” (TEIXERA, undated, p. 2).
Anyone who has had the opportunity to experience Northeastern culture and, above all, that of Pernambuco, still observes the strong presence of values derived from colonial culture, marked by the slave, elitist and patriarchal system.
Patronage, coronelismo, prejudice against people of color, female submission, hospitality, mixing spices in cooking and religious festivals are some examples of this heritage.
But, in addition to the customs and traditions strongly rooted in the local culture, the sugar civilization left in Pernambuco material records of exceptional historical, artistic and landscape value, the sugar mill being the most emblematic example.
The former sugar mills consisted of: the owner's residence, usually called the big house; chapel for religious activities; housing for slaves, called senzala; and factory for the production of sugar also called thickets and sugarcane fields.
Most of the time, they also had a vegetable garden, orchard, flour mill and animal husbandry to ensure the subsistence of their residents.
The mill was, therefore, an agro-industrial unit which, despite having its production geared towards European trade, had a physical structure which minimized the need for exchanges with urban centers as much as possible, so that its residents were geared towards within their sociocultural universe.
The sugar mill, in addition to being a production unit, was also a structuring element of Pernambuco's landscape and culture.
The physical structure of the mill […] is made up of different elements, which can change according to the region and social conditions to which it belongs. In this regard, Juliano CARVALHO (2005) draws attention to the fact that “Such an architectural complex reflects, in its complexity, a series of aspects of the society that generated it: social stratification, production relations, technology, the role of religion, constituting a microcosm of its time.” (FERREIRA, 2010, p.65)
Since the beginning of the implantation of the sugar agroindustry in Pernambuco, the sugar mills were installed, mainly, in the region of Wood zone.
The preference, still current, for this region for planting sugarcane is due to the following factors: its proximity to the port of Recife; presence of several watercourses in the region, which allow the rainwater transport of sugar production and the use of hydraulic energy for sugarcane milling; and for being a region with medium and large trees, which were used as firewood in the furnaces of the mills.
With the continuous construction of new sugar mills, throughout the XNUMXth century, Brazilian sugar production only grew, stimulated by the incentive of the Crown and the popularization of the product, reaching the point of supplying almost the entire European market.
However, in 1580, with the Spanish rule over the Portuguese crown, there was an increase in the tax rate on Brazilian sugar from 10% to 20%, in order to benefit the commercialization of sugar produced in the Madeira island, already explored by the Spaniards for several decades, which did not stop the growth of the sugar agro-industry in Brazil.
Portugal delegated the distribution of Brazilian sugar in the European market to the Dutch, who obtained large profits from this commercial agreement.
In 1605, still under Spanish rule, Lisbon had its port closed to the Dutch, who suffered great commercial losses.
In response, the company of Dutch merchants, West India Company, tried to occupy Bahia and, without success, they left for the captaincy of Pernambuco.
In 1630, the Dutch dominated the city of Olinda. However, the interior of the captaincy was conquered little by little, during seven years of battles, resulting in the destruction of mills and sugarcane plantations.
In 1637, the earl Mauritius of Nassau he was sent to Pernambuco with the mission of restoring sugar production.
To that end he granted tax favors, forgave debts and imported slaves.
Maurício de Nassau also spent large sums for the construction of the “mauritius city” (current neighborhoods of Santo Antonio and São José) including exquisite constructions such as bridges, theaters and palaces.
Maurício de Nassau also hired the Dutch painters Frans Post, Albert Eckhout and Zacharis Wagener to record the fauna, flora and architecture of the “exotic” conquered land, and it is thanks to these artists that today we have a graphic record of the Pernambuco landscape of the XNUMXth century. XVII.
Based on paintings by Frans Post it can be deduced that there was not, in the XNUMXth century, a very rigid layout for the layout of the buildings that made up a mill, however, some layouts were always repeated: the main house located on a half slope with the facade facing the factory, the factory on a lower level and the chapel on a level equal to or higher than the main house, reinforcing its symbolic importance.
There is no record of slave quarters in these paintings, which raises two possible possibilities: the slaves inhabiting the ground floor or the attic of the main house, or being allowed to build hovels for their housing. (Gomes, 1994)
Despite his numerous accomplishments, Maurício de Nassau could only govern Pernambuco for seven years.
Dissatisfied with the delay in a financial return, the West India Company dismissed Maurício de Nassau from command of the Captaincy of PernambucoIn 1644.
“In the same year, the “War of Restoration” began, whose objective was the definitive expulsion of the Dutch, which only took place 10 years later, in 1654.” (PIRES, 1994, p. 19).
After so many years of war, sugar production in Pernambuco was compromised with the destruction or abandonment of mills and cane fields and the transfer of a large part of the mill owners, along with their slaves and capital, to other calmer and safer captaincies, such as Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.
In addition to the damage caused by the Dutch occupation, there were other factors that in the XNUMXth century also contributed negatively to sugar production: shortage of firewood to feed the mill's furnaces, competition with sugar production in the Antilles, smallpox outbreak, floods and prolonged droughts.
At the end of the XNUMXth century, the Portuguese crown, now free of Spanish domination, encouraged the development of new economic activities in Brazil that could become more profitable, such as tobacco, in Bahia, and mining, in Minas Gerais.
This fact resulted in an increase in sugar production costs in Pernambuco, since financial resources and black labor were attracted to other regions of the colony.
However, “from 1750 onwards, a succession of events in Europe and Brazil would reverse the chain of crisis, announcing a new and resplendent stage of prosperity for the Brazilian economy.” (PIRES, 1994, p. 22).
England and France went to war and, as a consequence, the commercialization of Andilian sugar, at the time the biggest competitor of Brazilian sugar, was hampered.
In Brazil, the extraction of minerals declined, leading former miners to invest in agriculture.
In the XNUMXth century, the occupation of Portugal by Napoleon's troops and the transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil leading to the opening of Brazilian ports, in 1808, also positively influenced the commercialization of Brazilian sugar.
In 1817, the steam engine arrived in Pernambuco, already used in the Antilles to increase the speed of sugarcane milling, bringing benefits to productivity, but also increasing the costs of obtaining machinery for sugar production, which determined the gradual merger of various mills and the concentration of profits from sugar production.
During the XNUMXth century, new large houses were built. in the countryside and in exquisite townhouses in the cities to provide comfort to the plantation owner and his family.
It once again enjoys the prestige, pomp and power it enjoyed in the XNUMXth century.
The halls of the main houses are the stage for parties, balls and banquets. It was the heyday of the large and influential rural families in Pernambuco.
The vast majority of architectural examples, which made up the traditional sugar mill, still existing today, were built precisely in the XNUMXth century, with the revitalization of the sugar agroindustry.
According to the texts of the French engineer Vauthier, who lived in Pernambuco between 1840 and 1846, the Pernambucan mills of this period had their buildings distributed on the land in such a way as to limit, in a discontinuous way, a rectangular inner courtyard.
There is, therefore, a difference in the pattern of occupancy of the sugar mill buildings portrayed by the Dutch in the XNUMXth century from those described by Vauthier. The latter being deployed on the ground in a more rational and orderly manner.
With regard to the typology of buildings and their materials and construction techniques, they differ according to their uses.
The factory was almost always built in brick masonry with a roof in wood and ceramic tile and had its volumetric composition, generally rectangular, determined by functional issues.
The slave quarters, from the XNUMXth century, were generally built with materials and construction techniques that were not very durable, such as wattle and daub and adobe, resulting in their rapid deterioration and, consequently, the scarcity of remaining examples today.
It was always on the ground floor and its extremely simple plan consisted of several cubicles without windows, which rarely exceeded 12m², placed side by side and connected by a door to the only circulation corridor.
The chapel was the building with the greatest aesthetic care, being built with noble building materials, such as brick or stone masonry.
Its plan was very simple, consisting of a central nave, main altar, sacristy and, on the second floor, the choir.
In addition to these four basic elements, the chapel could also have a porch, side corridors, pulpit, balconies and tribunes. Its interior was richly decorated with paintings, gilding, carved wood, sacred images, chandeliers, etc.
“However, this decoration should not be understood as an ostentation by the mill owners. It should be remembered that, in the countryside, social life was limited to religious services and religious festivals.” (PIRES, 1994, p. 37).
The manor house, on the other hand, could be sumptuous, built with noble materials, or modest, using materials that were not very durable, depending, normally, on the proximity of the mill to the city. Since it was close to an urban center, the manor house only served to house the mill owner during the milling period.
The rest of the year, together with his family, he resided in the city. However, when the plantation was far from the city, the casagrande took on the appearance of a small palace and was the main, or only, residence of the plantation owner and his family.
The manor houses built during the XNUMXth century can be, according to architect Geraldo Gomes, classified into three types: bungalow, neoclassical townhouse and chalet.
The bungalow is a medium-sized, one-story building that may have a semi-underground basement, covered with hipped roofs, and its main feature is the “U”-shaped porch that accompanies three of the building's facades.
The neoclassical townhouse is a large two-story building, rectangular in plan, with a gabled roof.
The medium-sized chalet is similar to the bungalow, except that its roof is gabled with a ridge perpendicular to the main façade and may have some ornamentation in the eclectic taste, as it appeared in rural areas only at the end of the XNUMXth century.
In this period, the sugar agroindustry went through a new decline as a result of the following factors: competition with beet sugar that began to be produced in Europe, the beginning of a new economic cycle focused on coffee production, the abolition of slavery in 1888, the beginning of the country's industrialization and the drop in the price of cane sugar on the international market.
In order to modernize sugar production in Pernambuco, the imperial government installed four central mills in the province in 1884.
These, larger than the factories of traditional mills, had modern machinery, powered by steam, capable of producing crystal sugar.
The central mills had the capacity to produce a greater amount of sugar at a lower cost, but they did not cultivate the sugar cane they needed.
This continued to be provided by the (traditional) banguês mills.
From the point of view of the organization of space and landscape, Engenho Central is the first – and fatal – step in the disruption of the sugar universe.
With the transfer of industrial activity (and a significant part of profit) to industry, not only did the mills' factories lose their raison d'être, but each productive unit weakened.
If, before, the existence of a micro village for each mill was essential, given the large amount of tasks to be carried out, now the factories, and with them the potteries, could be dismantled; there would be no more need for specialized labor; the owner needs to spend less time in the countryside, and with him, his family, so that the main house building remains more symbolic than useful; and the decrease in population diminishes the meaning of even the chapel. (CARVALHO, 2009, p. 37).
A few years after the installation of the Engenhos Centrais, the mills emerged, on the initiative of private individuals, which, in addition to concentrating the production of sugar and using industrial techniques, were also in charge of planting and harvesting sugarcane, thus adding to their domain lands of old mills or, in some cases, converting mills into mere suppliers of raw materials. The mills were gradually replacing the central mills, which is due, in part, to the irregular supply of sugarcane for milling.
The planters preferred to produce brandy, brown sugar or even sugar using the old methods rather than supplying cane to the central mills.
The First Republic in the Northeast (1889-1930) can be globally characterized as a transitional period characterized by the progressive replacement of sugar mills by mills.
In other words, this period witnessed in the Northeast the progressive decay of the old sugar cane aristocracy and the birth of new sectors or social groups, based on the development of industrial and financial capital. (PERRUCI, 1978, p. 105).
However, I understand the installation of the central mills and later of the mills as a process of modifying the sugar universe, and not of its destruction.
Culture is in constant transformation and everything that is intimately connected to it too, therefore, denying these alterations that the cultural landscape undergoes would be denying its very essence.
However, these changes led to the abandonment of the buildings of the old mills and cultural practices (such as religious festivals, songs and circle dances), alteration of the subdivision of the land in rural areas and alteration in the work relations in the field, which went from a relationship informal lease and housing for a temporary salaried employment contract.
This change in labor relations in the countryside, which originated in the 1940s, reflects capitalist and industrial principles in rural production, where the worker loses possession of the means of production, leaving only his workforce.
Small farmers and rural workers are expelled from the countryside, where they only return at the time of the sugarcane harvest, becoming known as bóias-frias.
These changes have repercussions both in rural and urban areas: rural exodus; gain in areas for planting sugarcane, previously occupied by houses and fields; insecurity for rural workers who no longer have a stable employment relationship; emergence of the Landless movement.
Throughout the XNUMXth century, the process of expelling small farmers from the countryside and concentrating sugar production in increasingly larger factories continued, in the same proportion as the production of sugar in the Northeast grew.
In 1975, this process was accentuated by the Pró-Álcool program or Programa Nacional do Álcool, which was created due to the sudden increase in the price of a barrel of oil in 1973 and 1979, to stimulate the production and consumption of alcohol to replace gasoline. .
To this end, the government encouraged the expansion of sugarcane planting areas, the modernization and expansion of existing distilleries and the installation of new production and storage units, in addition to providing subsidies to mill owners for the production of alcohol instead of sugar.
“The stages in the production of sugar and alcohol differ only from obtaining the juice, which can be fermented to produce alcohol or treated for sugar.”
It is up to the mill owner to consider, at each new harvest, which of the two products derived from sugarcane offers the greatest economic advantage, based on their prices in international trade and government incentives.
At the time of the implementation of Pró-Álcool, the price of sugar was low in the market, thus facilitating the adaptation of plants for the manufacture of alcohol.
The Brazilian fleet of gasoline-powered cars was quickly replaced by alcohol-powered cars; Alcohol production in the country peaked at 12,3 billion liters between 1986 and 1987.
However, from 1986 onwards, the price of a barrel of oil dropped significantly and remained stable, making alcohol an unprofitable fuel both
for both the consumer and the producer.
Added to this factor, in the same period the price of sugar rose considerably in the international market, making the mill owners prioritize the production of sugar.
Another factor, which also contributed strongly to the weakening of Pró-Álcool, was the supply crisis that the country went through in the 1989-90 off-season, discrediting the program before car manufacturers and consumers.
Despite being ephemeral, the crisis, together with the reduction of government incentives for the use of alcohol, caused, in the following years, a significant decrease in demand and, consequently, in sales of cars powered by this fuel, reaching the point where automakers no longer
sell new alcohol-powered models.
However, currently, alcohol production has gained new impetus thanks to the technology of flex fuel engines, which run on alcohol or gasoline, or any mixture of the two fuels.
This technology was developed in the United States and introduced in Brazil in 2003, with rapid market acceptance.
Today almost all car models are offered by automakers with flex-fuel technology.
Unlike thirty-five years ago, when Pró-Ácool started, it is the private initiative that is currently betting on the construction of new plants and on increasing the sugarcane planting area, based on the growing demand of the consumer market. and encouraging estimates that point to an additional demand for 2010 of 10 billion liters of alcohol, in addition to 7 million tons of sugar (according to a study by Única).
“The prospects for an increase in alcohol consumption add to a favorable moment for the increase in sugar exports, and the result is the beginning of an unprecedented wave of growth for the sugar and alcohol sector.” (PROALCOHOL).
After eight decades of implantation of sugar mills in Pernambuco, the profile of its sugar agroindustry has been greatly altered.
The modernization of sugar production in the state allowed the maintenance of this economic activity, but it contributed significantly to the degradation of its material heritage linked to the sugar civilization.
Rare are the banguês sugar mills that remain standing. Most of them were demolished by the mills to increase the sugarcane planting area or were simply abandoned and deteriorated over time until they reached a state of ruin.
The change in the socio-economic structure transformed the mills into farms: from sugar producers they became suppliers of cane for the mills.
With the consequent disappearance of the figure of the “master of the mill” and the appearance of the administrator, modifications were introduced in the buildings of the mills.
The change in usage inevitably led to other changes. The mill is no longer an agro-industrial center and the loss of importance that this condition conferred on it contributed decisively to its abandonment by the former owners.
The main house is uninhabited or, in some cases, occupied by residents who contribute to its de-characterization.
For the same reasons, the chapel, when it exists, no longer functions as a religious temple and the “bush” […] became a stable or warehouse.
Rare are the large houses that still remain well preserved. Very rare are the bushes that still conserve their typical machinery. Alongside the change in use, lack of interest, partly due to misinformation about the value of these historic sites, as well as the financial difficulties of the current owners, are responsible for the decaying appearance of most mills.
Not to mention the large number of those that were absorbed by the mills, transformed into brandy distilleries or divided into small properties and/or simply no longer exist. (PERNAMBUCO, 1982, p.10).