The sugar mill in colonial Brazil

Sugar mill in colonial Brazil
Sugar mill in colonial Brazil

“From 1500 to 1822, from discovery to independence, Brazil exported goods totaling 586 million pounds sterling.

In this total of values, which production does the largest contingent fit? To gold, one will answer. No: gold contributed only 170 million.

Coffee only started at the end, and, in our trade balance, it weighed less than rice, cotton, tobacco, wood, leather, and just a little more than coffee. cocoa.

Its exports, in the colonial period, did not exceed four million in total.

There was, from discovery to independence, a product that alone yielded more than all the others put together, including mining: sugar, from which we exported 800 million pounds sterling”. Luís Amaral, general history of Brazilian agriculture v. 1, p. 326, 1958.

The purpose of this text is to show how the sugar of sugar cane arrived in Brazil, how the sugarcane plantations were structured, the sugar mills, how sugar was made, as well as reporting a bit of Brazilian economic history in the colonial period, when sugar in the XNUMXth century became the colony's “white gold” Portuguese.

One of the best accounts of sugar production and the manufacture of sugar was written by the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Antonio (1649-1716), who, while living in Brazil, took the name of André João Antonil. In 1711 he published in Lisbon his book, Cultura e Opulência no Brasil for its drugs and mines.

In this book, he comments in detail on the reality of sugarcane cultivation, the structure of the mill and the manufacture of sugar, based on the Bahian mills at the end of the XNUMXth century and the XNUMXth century.

The original book has over 200 pages, although it also deals with tobacco production, gold mining, livestock, etc. The first part of the book is dedicated only to sugar. For those interested, I recommend reading this book, which has versions in current Portuguese.

Sugar from Asia the Americas

Originally there were six species of Saccarum, the scientific name for sugarcane. The first species to be domesticated was the saccharum officinarum, which over the centuries and the growing interest in the cultivation of this plant, led to hybridization between species, leading to the creation of hybrid species, which had better characteristics than the original plants.

The crossing between species in the cultivation of plants or in the creation of animals is something common and quite old, because the human being noticed that certain physical characteristics could be transmitted by the crossing. It is worth remembering that this idea emerged long before the conception of DNA, genetics, phenotype, etc.

Another curious fact is that sugarcane belongs to the Poaceae family, which includes corn, rice, sorghum, wheat, barley, rye, oats, bamboo, etc.

“Sugar cane does not reach the height of a tree, but that of corn and other canes, rising up in gullies of seven to eight feet, an inch thick. It is spongy, succulent and full of sweet white crumbs.

Its leaves are two cubits long, the flower is filamentous and the root is soft and not very woody. From this sprouts come out for the hope of a new crop. Likes moist soil, warm weather and warmer air. West India is very fierce with these canes, although the East also produces them”. (BARLEU, 1940, p. 74).

A sugar cane plantation
A sugar cane plantation

Sugarcane originates from the island of New Guinea, from where it spread across the Malay archipelago, Indonesia, until it migrated to the continent, settling in India and Southeast Asia in countries today such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and southern China.

In India we find mentions of the cultivation of this plant and its ritualistic use in some ancient texts, for example, in the Mahabharata, an important Hindu poem, there are mentions of sugar cane, including that the god of love Kama had a bow made of cane. Could this be the idea that love is sweet?

Sugarcane has been cultivated for centuries by different Asian peoples, however it is not clear when it migrated to West Asia. Amaral [1958] pointed out that the cane would have been taken to Persia in the time of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, as we know that Alexander carried out incursions into India. And from Persia the plant would have reached Syria. However, its distribution throughout the Middle East took place with the Arabs, centuries later, in the Middle Ages.

With the expansion of the Islamic empire of the descendants of the legacy of the prophet Mohammed (570-632), at the end of the XNUMXth century, Christian Europe came into conflict with the Arab world, the main reason being the conquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem.

The Islamic empire between 632 and 750. The Arabs were responsible for directly or indirectly taking sugar cane to Africa and Europe.
The Islamic empire between 632 and 750. The Arabs were responsible for directly or indirectly taking sugar cane to Africa and Europe.

With the unfolding of the Crusades, the Europeans had contact with new plants, animals, peoples and cultures, and one of these contacts was with sugarcane, which attracted the interest of some Italian traders, who took some seedlings to be planted in the Sicily and the island of Rhodes.

In addition, Arab expansion led these desert people to enter Egypt and spread across northern and eastern Africa.

In what is now Morocco, the Arabs crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered what is now southern Spain. In the following centuries they expanded their domains in the Iberian Peninsula, governing large parts of the current territories of Portugal and Spain, and with this colonization, they implanted the cultivation of new plants: oranges, lemons, tea, including sugar cane.

The Arabs who intermingled at that time with the Berber peoples of North Africa, came to be called by the Spanish and Portuguese Moors. In Italy, Greece and the Holy Land, Europeans also called Arabs Saracens.

Sugar for a long time was used in Europe as a medicine, in which case, doctors recited its pure consumption, or it was used as an ingredient in the manufacture of potions, pastes, drinks, etc. Although it does not have efficient healing properties, sugar with its high sucrose content is a natural energy source.

"It served as a medicine, as a plaster, as a currency and even as an agent for black magic, with witchcraft and palmistry." According to Thevet, “les Anciens estimerent for le sucre de l'Arabie, pour se qu'il estoit souverain… en médecines, more aujord'huy la volupté est increaseee jusques la that l'on ne saurait faire si petit banquet that toutes les saulces ne soyent sucrées, et aucune Pois les viandes”. (AMARAL, 1958, p. 327).

“The juice of the former is praised for its clarity and utility, and this utility is known to kitchens and pharmacies, the healthy and the sick, as it serves sugar as food and medicine. It's after butter, a treat for our food and a grateful stimulus for gluttony in sweets and desserts”. (BARLEU, 1940, p. 74).

There are still medications that use sugar in the recipe today, for example, homemade serum contains sugar and salt in its preparation.

But today it is known that in large quantities it is quite harmful to health, however, in the Middle Ages and in the Modern Age it was common to use what we now call alternative medicine, so we have a multitude of natural medicines that used the most diverse types of ingredients, reminiscent of the miraculous magic potions seen in literature, movies and cartoons.

With sugar it was no different. Barléu [1940] briefly recounts that sugar in ancient times was used as a remedy for problems in the stomach, intestines, liver and other ailments.

In addition to being used as a medicine, sugar was also used in the preparation of food and drinks, after all it was one of the spices of the Indies. Therefore, we see in some countries such as Portugal, the Hispanic Kingdoms (Spain was only unified at the end of the XNUMXth century), in the Italian city-states, in France and in England, nobles or rich merchants giving chests with sugar as a gift, something considered a luxury gift.

“In the past, a sugar loaf (each loaf weighed just over two kilos) was listed as a precious asset in royal treasures. Miraculous health benefits were attributed to the sugarcane product. Seven loaves of sugar (14 kilos), he leaves the wife of Charles V of France, in his will, among precious jewels.

And this king's successor gives another sovereign, as a royal gift, a few more kilos of the magical merchandise.” At the time of the discovery of Brazil, Europe took everything with sugar: meat, wine, fish”. (AMARAL, 1958, p. 327).

In Tudor England in the XNUMXth century, sugar was so expensive that only the rich bought it. A curious fact is that as people were not in the habit of brushing their teeth, or using any other means to clean them, from consuming so much sugar and sweets, their teeth ended up getting dark due to cavities. However, the nobility knew how to get around this fact.

Decayed teeth came to be synonymous with “wealth”, as it meant that to have teeth that are dark due to sugar, you would have to have a lot of money to buy sugar. Soon, there were cases of less wealthy people who used soot and other substances to darken their teeth. The lower classes have always wanted to imitate the elite's way of life.

Until the XNUMXth century in Europe, sugar would still remain a profitable product and for a long time accessible only by the elites, because in the cases of the lower classes, when they were able to access this product, they consumed very poor quality sugar, generally the called brown sugar, which was seen as inferior, and relegated to the less wealthy classes.

Infant Dom Henrique
Infant Dom Henrique

In the 1415th century, the Portuguese already had their cane fields in the south of Portugal, in the Algarve region, and with the beginning of the Age of Discovery in XNUMX with the conquest of the Moorish city of Ceuta in the Maghreb (today Morocco), the Portuguese began their journeys across the West African coast and into the deep ocean.

Around 1418, navigators João Gonçalvez Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira discovered the island of Porto Santo, and the following year, Zarco returned with Bartolomeu Perestrelo and discovered the island of Madeira, which he baptized the archipelago.

Infant D. Henrique (1394-1460), one of the main people responsible for the expansionist maritime policy of Portugal, was the one who issued the orders to start the cultivation of sugarcane in Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde and other locations. D. Henrique saw that sugar was a profitable product, and decided to expand the cane fields in Portuguese domains.

In Madeira Island, where the first Portuguese sugar mills appeared, in this case in 1452, Diogo Vaz de Teive, squire of Infante D. Henrique, built the first sugar mill on the island, in the Funchal Captaincy.

His engine was powered by water. In 1590, Gaspar Frutuoso, author of Saudades da Terra, pointed out the existence of more than 30 sugar mills in Madeira alone, although it should be noted that Madeira's sugar production was in decline due to the Brazilian production that had surpassed it.

“In 1440 an arroba was worth, in England, 18,30 grams of gold, which represents 1:120$000 in today's purchasing power, or 75$000 per kilogram. By 1470 this price had dropped to 45$000, and by 1501 it was worth only 8$500 a kilo. Portuguese production, mainly from Madeira Island, caused the destruction of Mediterranean cultures and an imbalance in trade”. (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 145).

To try to increase the price of the arroba of sugar bread, in 1496 the Portuguese king, D. Manuel I limited the sugar production in Madeira to 120 thousand arrobas per year, in order to control the availability of the product and therefore the sale prices. and buy. Decreasing the supply of the commodity, prices would rise.

Of these 120 thousand arrobas, according to a note by Furtado [2005], 40 thousand arrobas are destined for Flanders, 16 thousand for Venice, 13 thousand for Genoa, 15 thousand for Chios and 7 for England. These countries were the main consumers of Portuguese sugar.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) returned to the New World, to the Caribbean Sea or Caribbean Sea, where he had arrived a year before, believing that he was somewhere in the Indies, hence having called the natural inhabitants Indians.

Columbus had “discovered” the New World, the West Indies, the Americas on October 12, 1492, on this return voyage he was commissioned by the King of Spain to continue the exploration of other islands, for although in the previous year Columbus had arrived at an island in the Bahamas that he had named San Salvador, on this second trip, he sighted and visited other islands, but chose to dock on a large island that was named in 1493 Hispaniola ("little Spain") today the island of Santo Domingo, where he was locate the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the same island. It was in Hispaniola that Columbus founded the village of La Natividad and planted the first cane field in the Americas.

Highlights the island of São Domingos ancient Hispaniola. The island is divided into the territories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was here in 1493 that the first cane field in the Americas was planted.
Highlights the island of São Domingos ancient Hispaniola. The island is divided into the territories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was here in 1493 that the first cane field in the Americas was planted.

“There was the first serious attempt at colonization in the new Iberian possessions, in 1502, directed by Nicolás de Ovando; and the first American mill seems to have worked in the Spanish Antille in the year 1506.

Until 1520, 20 devices had been installed; in 1550 there were around 40 operating in Espaniola. After 1553, Mexico also began to export sugar to the metropolis.

Despite this good start, due to the exodus of populations from the Islands to Mexico and Peru, the shift in attention to the mining of precious metals, and the great struggles and revolutions that characterized the early days of the islands of the American Mediterranean, industry there cooled sugar factory, which only gained new impetus in the middle of the next century, when there was a great rise and considerable increase in demand for the article”. (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 146).

Sugar arrives in Brazil

On April 22, 1500, the fleet of twelve ships commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral (1467/1468-1520) spotted land, which he named Ilha de Vera Cruz. After making contact with the indigenous people, a few days later the “discovered” land was renamed to Terra de Santa Cruz, to be called Brazil decades later.

But anyway, from 1500 to 1532, Santa Cruz was not colonized, the Portuguese only occupied themselves with mapping the coast, making contact with the indigenous people, describing the fauna and flora, extracting pau-brasil, because gold and silver were not discovered at this time.

In addition, the spice trade in Asia was very profitable and concentrated the political and economic efforts of the Crown, after all Cabral started his journey with the initial mission to reach India again, using the route discovered by Vasco da Gama (1460/1469- 1520) in 1498.

In addition to this lucrative trade in oriental spices, Portugal also showed no interest in initially planting sugarcane in the New World, which the Spaniards did, as production in Madeira, Azores, Cape Verde and Algarves met consumer needs.

Normally in schools we see that the first seedlings arrived in 1531 in the expedition of Martim Afonso de Sousa, however there are indications that there were previous attempts to cultivate sugarcane in Brazil, and possibly they would have been successful.

Amaral [1958] points out that in 1516 Casa da India, a Portuguese trading company that took care of business in the Indies, considered sending some sugarcane producers to Santa Cruz, in order to study the land and the possibilities of if you plant sugarcane.

The Brazilian historian Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen (1816-1878) revealed an interesting opinion about the Casa da India proposal:

“We know that in 1516 he ordered, by means of a charter, the overseer and officials of the Casa da India to give axes and broths and every other tool to the people who went to populate Brazil”; and that, on the other hand, he ordered the same overseer and officers to “look for and elect a practical man capable of going to Brazil to start a sugar plantation; and that his allowance be given to him, as well as all the copper and iron and other things necessary” for the manufacture of the said device”. (VARNHAGEN, 1858, p. 95).

In 1526, customs records in Lisbon already included a tax on sugar produced in Santa Cruz. Amaral suggests that if there were sugarcane plantations at that time, they should probably be either in Ilhéus, as suggested by Gabriel Soares de Sousa, or in Itamaracá, where one of the most important trading posts in the colony was located.

For Amaral, the cane fields should be in Itamaracá, because there was the trading post of Cristóvão Jacques (ca. 1480 – ca. 1530), a Portuguese nobleman who arrived in Brazil in 1503. Jacques returned in 1516 and stayed for three years, leading maritime patrols. to fight the French pirates, going from the coast of Rio Grande do Norte to the mouth of the Rio de la Plata.

It is known that in his travels he had fought the French at times, and taken prisoners. In 1521 he returned and founded a factory in Itamaracá, which Amaral [1958] thought was the place where the sugar mentioned in the 1526 Lisbon customs registers came from, however, it is uncertain whether the sugar actually came from there, or if there was cane fields before 1532.

“Cane farming in the Northeast – one might add, in Brazil – seems to have started on the lands of Itamaraca, on the edge of fresh as well as salt water; of both waters at the same time. And when he later became regularized, with Duarte Coelho, it was to accompany the 'land neighboring the rivers'”. (FREYRE, 1967, p. 20).

In 1527, Cristóvão was in Portugal and suggested to King João III that he return to Brazil to begin colonization, but the king refused to accept such a request, and three years later he sent the expedition of Martim Afonso de Sousa with this intention.

It is important to mention that regular expeditions departed from Portugal to Brazil every year, in order to cut brazilwood, explore the coast and defend the lands, mainly from the French, although the Spaniards also passed through there at that time.

Martin Afonso de Sousa
Martin Afonso de Sousa

In 1530, the king of Portugal, D. João III, appointed the noble and military man Martim Afonso de Sousa (c. 1490/1500-1571) for an important mission in the Portuguese colony of Santa Cruz, as it would officially only be called Brazil, for a few years later, although unofficially some sailors already called the colony Brazil due to the pau-brasil trade.

Martim's mission was to protect the coast from French ships that were going to smuggle Brazilwood, in addition to carrying out new land explorations and even choosing a location to start a small urban nucleus, this was the antecedent of the hereditary captaincies.

“January 31, 1531 were before the Cape St. Augustine and already in Pernambuco coast; finding French ships, they hunted them, taking three, one burned, the other sent to the kingdom loaded with Brazil, the third incorporated into the armada, which was on its way to the Rio da Prata.

In Bahia, they were welcomed by Diogo Álvares, known as Caramurú, and Pero Lopes thought that the Bahian women “were very beautiful and there was no envy for those on Rua Nova, in Lisbon”. (Diário de Navegação, ed. by E. de Castro, Rio, 1927, p. 154). Then in Rio de Janeiro, (p. 174) where they stayed, they disembarked(14) and explored, inland: “the people of this river are like the people of All Saints Bay, if not the more kind people are”, says Pero Lopes”. (PEIXOTO, 1944, p. 86).

Martim and his men continued on to the Rio da Prata, but in 1532 they returned to the north and landed on the island of São Vicente (today on the coast of São Paulo), there he chose the site to found the colony's first village, Vila de São Vicente, at the time, sugarcane seedlings were also planted and a mill called “Engenho dos Erasmos” was built.

In the same year, Vila do Piratininga was founded with the support of João Ramalho, a Portuguese exiled in that region who ended up becoming the son-in-law of the chief Tibiriça.

The village of Piratininga was inland, already heading towards the plateau. Years later, Vila de Santos and Vila de Santo Amaro were founded.

Ruins of Engenho dos Erasmos. Thiagoavanci, 2009.
Ruins of Engenho dos Erasmos. Thiagoavanci, 2009.

“The sugar cane brought there from Madeira (Gabriel Soares says that it came first from Cape Verde to the Ilhéus) gave rise to the first sugar mill, which became prosperous, under the name of a company's “Erasmos” of wealthy men from Flanders, Erasmus Schetz, to whose taskmasters Anchieta refers. In the future village of Santos, next to S. Vicente, Braz Cubas established the first monjolo, or contraption, with a cereal pillar”. (PEIXOTO, 1944, p. 89).

Map of the island of São Vicente, Luiz Teixeira, 1586.
Map of the island of São Vicente, Luiz Teixeira, 1586.

Two years after the foundation of Vila de São Vicente, King João III decreed the creation of Hereditary Captaincies in Brazil, dividing the coast into 15 initial captaincies and donating them to their responsible donors to colonize the land and develop agriculture and livestock, as well as continuing to explore those forests in search of wealth.

“The grantees would be lords of their lands of interest and inheritance; they would have civil and criminal jurisdiction, with jurisdiction up to one hundred thousand kings in the first, with jurisdiction in crime until natural death for slaves, Indians, pawns and free men, for people of greater quality up to ten years of exile or a hundred crusaders; in heresy (if the heretic was handed over by the ecclesiastical), treason, sodomy, the prosecution would go to natural death, whatever the quality of the defendant, appellation or aggravo being given only if the penalty was not capital.

Grantees could found villas, with term, jurisdiction, insignias, along the coasts and navigable rivers; they would be lords of the adjacent islands within ten leagues of the coast; the ombudsmen, the public and judicial notaries would be appointed by the respective grantees, who could freely give land for sesmarias, except for the wife or heir son”. (ABREU, 1907, p. 36).

The fifteen original hereditary captaincies (1532-1534)
The fifteen original hereditary captaincies (1532-1534)

In 1535, the donee of Pernambuco, Duarte Coelho Pereira (ca. 1485-1554) founded the first mill in his captaincy, in the vicinity of Vila de Olinda (founded by Duarte in 1534), called Engenho Velho.

For Amaral [1958], the importance of Brazil as a new sugar hub was too clear, to the point that in 1535 in Vila de São Vicente there were already more than three mills, that is, three years after the foundation of the first.

“Since D. Manuel's permit and later, as João Lúcio de Azevedo observed, “the privilege, granted to the donee, of only he manufacturing and owning water mills and mills, denotes that the sugar plantation is the one to have especially in sight".

The regiments and laws referring to the colony were made in the same sense: that of Tomé de Sousa, excluding the planter from executions for debts; and of the governors of Pernambuco, assuring privileges to those who built or rebuilt mills; the half nobility granted to those who became planters”. (AMARAL, 1958, p. 328).

“In 1576, Pernambuco exported around 70 arrobas of sugar and in 1583 the figure rose to 200 arrobas. “At the beginning of the 200th century, says de Carli, with Brazil having 25 sugar mills, its production ranged from 35 to 35 sugar crates of 1958 arrobas each. It is the golden age of sugar in Brazil”. (AMARAL, 329, p. XNUMX).

In Europe from the end of the XNUMXth century until the late XNUMXth century, sugar would be very high. Drinks such as tea and coffee began to spread across European countries, drinks brought by the Arabs.

Therefore, as not everyone liked to drink tea or coffee straight, they preferred to use sugar or mix it with milk. Furthermore, chocolate was starting to be manufactured in Europe, and it required a lot of sugar to sweeten the bitter taste of cocoa. Remember that chocolate was a luxury item for a long time, and even tea and coffee only began to become popular in the late seventeenth century in some countries, but in others it was from the eighteenth.

“After the popularization of chocolate, it was coffee, whose use has spread since 1650, one of the products that most contributed to the expansion of sugar, known as the consumption of coffee forces the consumption of sugar in at least equal weight to that of that one” . (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 173).

The morning chocolate. Pietro Longhi, 1775–1780. Sugar became important to sweeten chocolate, tea, coffee and in the preparation of sweets consumed by the elite.
The morning chocolate. Pietro Longhi, 1775–1780. Sugar became important to sweeten chocolate, tea, coffee and in the preparation of sweets consumed by the elite.

To get an idea of ​​how valuable sugar became between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, as in the XNUMXth century it began to decline, I will give two examples of an international factor.

The first concerns the fact that in 1580, with the death of the king of Portugal, D. Henrique I (1512-1580), the throne was left without heirs, as the king was a cardinal and had no children, and his predecessor who was his nephew, D. Sebastião, died young and had no children, soon the throne was vacant and some candidates appeared to dispute it, one of them was the king of Spain, Filipe II (1527-1598).

Filipe managed to be elected King of Portugal, becoming Filipe I of Portugal, becoming the most powerful and richest king in Europe and the West. Filipe owned the thriving silver mines of Potosí in Upper Peru (present-day Bolivia) and now owned Brazil's lucrative sugar production. For 60 years Portugal and its colonies were under Spanish rule, this period being called the Iberian Union (1580-1640).

The second example, occurred in the 1621th century, sugar had become such a valuable commodity that this led the Dutch to create the West India Company (1624) to handle business in the Americas, and in XNUMX they attacked the capital city of Salvador. of Brazil in order to take it, although they were successful, failed after a year of occupation, however, they did not give up, and returned five years later.

From 1630 to 1654, that is, for 24 years, the Dutch occupied part of the Northeast of Brazil, controlling sugar production in Pernambuco, Paraíba, Itamaracá and Rio Grande, the main producers of this coveted “white gold”.

According to the report by the Dutchman Adriaen van der Dussen, completed in 1639 for the West India Company, Dussen pointed out that Pernambuco, Itamaraca, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte had at least 166 mills, although today it is known that there are uncertainties in the accuracy of his calculation, however, his report is still one of the best that exist from this period of Brazilian history.

In purple the Dutch Dominion or New Holland. For 24 years, the Dutch controlled the sugar production of six Brazilian captaincies, Pernambuco being the largest producer in the colony.
In purple the Dutch Dominion or New Holland. For 24 years, the Dutch controlled the sugar production of six Brazilian captaincies, Pernambuco being the largest producer in the colony.

“Brazilian sugar dominated the trade in the product between 1600 and 1700, as Barlaeus already recorded in the work he wrote, in 1660, and at a time when it was the most important article in international maritime barter. Large transport of cereals, fuels, manufactured and metallurgical items did not yet exist, the industrial revolution had not yet appeared”. (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 179).

The Land, Water and the Forest

Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987) and the Jesuit priest José de Anchieta (1534-1597) even said that one of the main factors that contributed to the development of sugarcane cultivation in Brazil was not exactly the tropical climate similar to that of South Asia , but the regularity of the rains and the fertile land of massape or massapé.

Massape soil is a dark, sticky soil (because it is rich in clay), rich in humus, which gives it its fertility. In geology, massape, as this type of soil is called in Brazil, is the second most fertile, behind the so-called “purple earth”, although in reality it is reddish in color, this soil is the result of millions of years of decomposition and sedimentation, mainly of basaltic origin.

“Terra roxa” and massapê are considered the most fertile soils in Brazil, and both have been explored; the first, mainly for sugar, and the second, mainly for coffee.

“The massape is accommodative. It's still a sweet land today. It doesn't have that creak of sand in the hinterlands that seems to repel the boot of the European and the foot of the African, the ox's foot and the case of the horse, the root of the Indian mango tree and the sprout of the cane, with the same nausea of whoever repelled an affront or an intrusion. The sweetness of the massape lands contrasts with the creaking of the terrible anger of the dry sands of the sertões”. (FREYRE, 1967, p. 7).

“The quality of the soil made the civilizing advance of sugarcane possible in several other lands in Brazil. But the stability of its culture in the extreme Northeast and in the Recôncavo is explained by particularly favorable conditions of soil, atmosphere and geographical situation”. (FREYRE, 1967, p. 8).

Cane fields planted in massape soil
Cane fields planted in massape soil

In addition to the excellent soil quality, there was the fact that the tropical climate was suitable for sugarcane cultivation, in addition, there was the availability of regular rainfall on the coast, as well as the existence of several rivers and streams that not only provided irrigation, the supply of men and animals, but also transport routes for cane, where boats and barges followed the rivers to or near the sea, where the sugar was taken to the ships waiting to take it to Europe.

“In the sugarcane Northeast, water was and is almost everything. Without it, from the 1967th to the 19th century, a crop so dependent on rivers, streams and rain would not have prospered; so friendly to the wet and fat lands and at the same time to the sun”. (FREYRE, XNUMX, p. XNUMX).

It is also important to mention that, in addition to the factors linked to water mentioned above, Brazilian sugar mills were powered by water or animal traction.

Although the Portuguese already knew about windmills, something brought by the Moors, centuries before, to Portugal and Spain; in Brazil, such mills were not applied to sugarcane fields. Soon, we see devices close to rivers, streams or canals built to carry water to move the water wheel.

“Thus, they entailed a large transport service for cane, firewood and the article produced. Given the mobility difficulties and the risk of attacks from the wild, the distance from the coast was avoided, and sugar mills were established preferably on the coastal strip, along the small rivers, where boats were used for transport services; however, the use of the ox cart and the appeal to the firing squad soon became necessary”. (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 149).

“Next to the branch of the river called Afogados, there are numerous sugar mills from which the Portuguese used to ship their sugar crates on boats along the river, or in carts, to Barreta, from there transporting them in barges to Recife and Olinda. ”. (NIEUHOF, 1682, p. 24).

Another factor was the order of distance. The Northeast was closer to Africa from where African slaves came to work in the fields, and at the same time, it was closer to Portugal.

Although there were sugarcane plantations in Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and São Vicente, these places were much further away from Portugal, and this hindered the sugar trade. Furthermore, the soil there was less fertile than the dark earth of massape on the northeast coast .

Soon, sugar production in the south was more focused on the domestic market, although also on the African market, as it was closer to go to Africa than to Europe. However, there were ships that, despite the distance, were still heading to Portugal, carrying sugar.

The availability of wood was also important for the development of crops, something ironic, since a large part of the Atlantic Forest was cut down or burned to make space for the sugarcane fields, but it was from these dense and verdant forests that the wood for the construction of houses came from. , of chapels, sugar mills, water wheels, mills, carts, tools, furniture, boats; in addition to serving as firewood for the ovens.

“The impoverishment of the soil, in so many parts of the Northeast, due to erosion, cannot be attributed to the rivers, to their eagerness to run to the sea, taking the fat of the land, but mainly to monoculture.

By devastating the m,atas and using the land for a unique culture, monoculture allowed other riches to dissolve in water, to be lost in rivers.

The fact is also linked to the destruction of forests by fire and the axe, in which monoculture was so much exceeded. That was how that astringent vegetation, on the banks of rivers, which resisted the waters, the rainy weather, did not allow them to take the marrow of the lands away: preserving the humus and the sap of the soil”. (FREYRE, 1967, p. 22).

In addition to the factor of burning coivara, the monoculture expansion of sugarcane fields, the advance of deforestation practiced in these centuries of occupation almost led to the extinction of the Atlantic Forest biome.
In addition to the factor of burning coivara, the monoculture expansion of sugarcane fields, the advance of deforestation practiced in these centuries of occupation almost led to the extinction of the Atlantic Forest biome.

“The drama that happened and is still happening in the Northeast did not come from the fact of the introduction of sugarcane, but from the brutal exclusivism in which, for profit greed, the Portuguese colonist slipped, stimulated by the Crown in its already parasitic phase.

Of this drama, one of the most cruel aspects was the destruction of the forest, resulting in the destruction of animal life and it is possible that changes in climate, temperature and certainly in the water regime”. (FREYRE, 1967, p. 46).

Sugarcane and Slavery

So far we have seen the trajectory of sugarcane crossing half of the world to reach Brazil, as this product was in evidence in modern Europe, hence being so demanded and profitable; how natural and geographical factors favored the development of sugarcane, driven by a monoculture economic policy (called plantation by the British), which aimed at large estates with slave labor.

However, as we will see later, not all the sugarcane fields were large latifundios, there were small and medium-sized properties that planted sugarcane and took it to the mills to be ground. There was a relationship between these small and medium producers and the planters, something that is usually not said in schools.

Black and white illustration of workers harvesting sugarcane.
Black and white illustration of workers harvesting sugarcane.

With the beginning of colonization, the grantees held the monarch's right to donate sesmarias (land titles) for settlers to settle in the lands of their captaincies.

“Donations were generally very large, with lots being measured for many leagues. Which is understandable: the land was left over, and the ambitions of those pioneers recruited at such cost would evidently not be content with small properties; it was not the position of modest peasants aspiring to the new world, but of great lords and landlords. Furthermore, and above all because of this, there is a material factor that determines this type of land ownership.

The cultivation of sugarcane only lend itself, economically, to large plantations. To clear the land conveniently (a costly task in this tropical and virgin environment so hostile to man) the combined effort of many workers was necessary; it was not a business for isolated smallholders.

This done, planting, harvesting and transporting the product to the mills where sugar was prepared, only became profitable when carried out in large volumes. Under these conditions, the small producer could not subsist”. (PRADO JR, 1981, p. 19).

Prado Jr [1981] and Furtado [2005] pointed out that salaried work in these latifundios was not a viable economic condition due to some factors:

  • First, the Portuguese population was small, and much of which could work in agriculture had to remain in the metropolis, or found itself on the islands, or was on duty in trade with Africa and Asia;
  • Second, it would be necessary to hire workers from other countries, but the wages would have to be very good to convince a farmer to leave his land, and move with his family to the other side of the ocean, to a region considered “wild” by Europeans;
  • Third, the large amount of labor needed added to the travel costs, wages, would make the project unfeasible, as building a mill was quite expensive at the time.
  • Bedroom, the settlers who went to Brazil, went in search of enrichment and glory, to return to their countries. Therefore, the final and most viable solution was to appeal to the use of slavery.
Slaves cutting cane. It is noted that both men and women performed this task, as it was erroneously thought that only men cut cane, although in most cases it was men who worked in the cane field.
Slaves cutting cane. It is noted that both men and women performed this task, as it was erroneously thought that only men cut cane, although in most cases it was men who worked in the cane field.

In order to work on these latifundios, the Portuguese initially enslaved the Indians, but these, realizing the true intention of the Portuguese, began to rebel.

The so-called “meek” ended up accepting to work for the Europeans, but in other tasks; on the other hand, the more remote preferred to flee to the woods, returning to their villages, and began to fight the Portuguese. Furthermore, there was the fact that religious orders began to intervene in the government protesting against the use of Indians in the cane fields, claiming that they should be catechized and used in other tasks.

Indigenous slavery in Brazil lasted until the XNUMXth century, when hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were killed. As the Indians began to be against forced labor in the fields, and besides, they had no experience with that type of work, the solution was to bring slaves from Africa.

“First of all, as more settlers came in, and therefore the requests for work, the Indians' interest in the insignificant objects with which they were previously paid for the service diminished. They gradually become more demanding, and the profit margin of the business was decreasing in proportion.

Weapons, including firearms, were even handed over to them, which was strictly prohibited, for understandable reasons. Furthermore, if the Indian, by nature nomadic, did more or less well with the sporadic and free work of the extraction of pau-brasil, the same was not happening with the discipline, method and rigor of an organized and sedentary activity. like agriculture.

It gradually became necessary to force him to work, to keep a close watch on him, and to prevent his escape and abandonment of the task at which he was occupied. From there to slavery pure and simple was just a step away. Thirty years had passed since the beginning of the effective occupation of Brazil and the establishment of agriculture, and the slavery of the Indians had already become widespread and firmly established everywhere”. (PRADO JR, 30, p. 1981).

Indians imprisoned to be sold as slaves. One of the objectives of the flags in the south of the colony was the capture of indigenous people into slavery.
Indians imprisoned to be sold as slaves. One of the objectives of the flags in the south of the colony was the capture of indigenous people into slavery.

Africans already had more experience with plantations, raising animals, and in addition, the slavery system on the continent was more developed than among the indigenous people of Brazil.

Another factor was that the Portuguese were already using Africans in the cane fields in Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and even in Madeira and the Azores. , therefore, it was not difficult for the Portuguese to find slaves in Africa, as slavery was already practiced, and it was already known, although dealing with slaves was different among African peoples; slavery imposed by Europeans became more abusive and aggressive.

However, although there was plenty to get captives in Africa, the transport of these men and women was not easy, and it made the journey expensive, dangerous, and adding up to all this, in the end, the price of a slave was greatly increased. Depending on age, physical size, appearance and location, the value of slaves varied.

Slaveship. Rugendas, c. 1830
Slaveship. Rugendas, c. 1830

“The process of replacing the Indian with the black will continue until the end of the colonial era. It will be done quickly in some regions: Pernambuco, Bahia. In others it will be very slow, and even imperceptible in certain poorer areas, such as the Far North (Amazon), and until the XNUMXth century. XIX in São Paulo.

Against the black slave there was a very strong argument: its cost. Not so much for the price paid in Africa; but in consequence of the great mortality on board the ships that carried out the transport.

Poorly fed, accumulated in such a way as to make the maximum use of space, withstanding long weeks of confinement and the worst hygienic conditions, only a part of the captives reached their destination. It is estimated that, on average, only 50% arrived in Brazil alive; and of these, many crippled and unusable.

The value of slaves was thus always very high, and only the richest and most flourishing regions could support it”. (PRADO JR, 1981, p. 23).

Just as Indians rebelled against slavery, so did Africans. The quilombos and mocambos, in addition to some revolts and rebellions, were the response of these men and women to the abusive and disastrous slavery imposed by modern Europeans. However, African slaves became the solution to the demand for labor in the colony.

Soon, African and indigenous slavery became the mainstay of the colonial economy for four centuries. Because we have to think that in lands far from the main ports where African slaves arrived, access to these was difficult, so the option was to use the Indians as slaves. In the Captaincy of São Vicente (currently the state of São Paulo), indigenous slavery was superior to African slavery.

Types of Sugar Mills

In this case I refer to type when dealing with the question of the motive force used to turn the gears of the mills, which crush the cane, and from it flows the so-called sugarcane juice, which in turn consists of the raw material for the manufacture of sugar, brandy and brown sugar (type of sweet), although the sugarcane juice can be consumed pure.

Basically, the Portuguese used three types of plantation throughout Brazilian colonial history, as the third type was only included in Brazil in the XNUMXth century, at the time of the Brazilian Empire.

– Clamp press or clamp press

Ingenuity powered by human power. Generally used in the so-called contraptions (small sugar mills), which made brown sugar or brandy for internal consumption. They could also make small amounts of sugar for home use.

– Almanjarra, trapiche, molinote, atafona or oxen

Machine driven by the force of animals, usually oxen, but there were cases where horses were used.

– Water or real

Power-driven watercraft using a waterwheel. They were considered the most efficient for long centuries.
Banguê: steam powered device. It began to be used in the XNUMXth century. The term was also used previously to refer to mills that produced garapa.

– Join

Small device powered by three sticks. Human strength was also used.

- Seesaw

Small manual wooden device with two cylinders. Human strength was also used.

– Dead fire

Term used to refer to an inoperative device.

It is important to note that the words almanjarra, warehouse and banguê have other meanings, hence they are written as: engenho de warehouse, engenho de almanjarra, or engenho-banguê, as a way of referring to the use of these words with the structure of sugar mills .

However, depending on the place, one can find other terms to refer to the motive force used in the engenhos. Here I used the most common names used in Brazil, Madeira and the Azores.

“Whoever called the workshops, where sugar is made, mills, was really right with the name. Because whoever sees them, and considers them with reflection, that they deserve it, is obliged to confess, that they are one of the main births, and inventions of human ingenuity, which, with a small portion of the Divine, always shows itself in their way of working, admirable. Some of the devices are called real, others inferior are commonly called devices.

The royals earned this nickname, for having all the parts of which they are composed, and all the perfect workshops, full of a great number of slaves, with many of their own cane fields, and others forced to mill; and mainly because they have the royalty to grind with water, unlike others, who grind with horses and oxen, and are less equipped and equipped; or at least with less perfection, and ampleness, of the necessary workshops, and with a small number of slaves, to make, as they say, the mill and current”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 13-14).

In the case of Brazil, water mills have proliferated due to the wide availability of rivers and streams, in addition to not having many cattle initially, although the use of oxen requires the existence of larger pastures and larger corrals to keep them. .

Sugar cane mill in Minas Gerais. Rugendas, 1835
Sugar cane mill in Minas Gerais. Rugendas, 1835

In Brazil it couldn't be like that; the expenses of the colonial installations, in its virgin lands and in a hostile environment, with all its necessary equipment for defense, culture, transport and embarkation, were so high that, in the early days, the assembly of the so-called small mills was not justified.

Hence the construction from the outset of medium-sized mills, producing over three thousand arrobas a year, which then were developed through the construction of facilities with a production of more than ten thousand arrobas”. (AMARAL, 1958, p. 329).

Structure of a Sugar Mill

In rural nomenclature, the word engenho came to refer both to the so-called Casa de Engenho, a place where sugarcane is milled and sugar, rapadura or brandy was produced; but it also started to refer to the entire farm itself, to the entire agro-industrial complex involved in the cultivation of sugarcane and in the preparation of sugar.

“Its central element is the ingenuity, that is, the factory itself, where the installations for the handling of cane and the preparation of sugar are gathered. The name of “engenho” extended after the factory to the whole of the property with its lands and crops: “engenho” and “property sugarcane” became synonymous”. (PRADO JR, 1981, p. 23).

“The plantation represented a real village, forcing the use not only of many branches, but also the necessary lands of sugarcane, bush, pasture and food.

In fact, in addition to the plantation house, housing, slave quarters and infirmaries, there were about a hundred colonists or slaves to work around 1.200 massape tasks (900 square fathoms), in addition to pastures, fences, containers, utensils. , iron, copper, yoke of oxen and other animals.” (SIMONSEN, 1937, p. 149).

What would a device be in the century of discovery? The same thing still described by Saint-Hilaire in the XNUMXth century. Fernão Cardim describes him:

Each of them is an amazing machine and factory; some are low-lying water, others are cup-bearing water, which grind more and with less expense; others are not made of water, but grind with oxen, and they are called trapiches; these have a much larger factory and expenses, although they grind less, they grind all the time of the year, which the water ones do not have, because sometimes they lack.

In each of them there are usually six, eight and more white fires and at least 60 slaves, who are required for ordinary service, but most of them have one hundred and two hundred slaves from Guinea and the land.

The warehouses require 60 oxen, which grind every 12 turns; the task is usually started at midnight and is finished the following day at three or four hours after noon. In each task, a boatload of firewood is used, which has 12 layers, and 12 molds of white sugar, brown, soft and tall, are poured. Each form has a little more than half arroba, although in Pernambuco they already use large arroba.” (AMARAL, 60, p. 1958).

Gilberto Freyre in his books Casa-grande & Senzala (1933), Nordeste (1937) and Açúcar (1939) had pointed out that the main structures of a mill (here in the sense of a farm) were the large house, the slave quarters, the mill, the chapel and the cane fields.

The large house was the home of the plantation owner and his family, the name “casa grande” was no small matter, as they really were real mansions, but these mansions only began to be luxurious from the end of the XNUMXth century onwards. throughout the XIX. In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, manor houses were not that luxurious, and were even made of mud, washed stone, lime, thatched or thatched roof. Freyre points out that in the XNUMXth century, we already noticed more expensive and more luxurious materials in the construction and decoration of these houses.

Painting of a big house. Initially, the large houses resembled vaults, fortified buildings, as the threat of attacks by indigenous people was occasional. In the XNUMXth century we already see large houses as small palaces, mainly in the coffee region.
Painting of a big house. Initially, the large houses resembled vaults, fortified buildings, as the threat of attacks by indigenous people was occasional. In the XNUMXth century we already see large houses as small palaces, mainly in the coffee region.

“Being a plantation owner is a title that many aspire to, because it brings with it the being served, obeyed and respected by many. And if it is, what must it be, a man of wealth, and government; In Brazil it is possible to estimate being the lord of a mill, as much as the titles among the noblemen of the kingdom are proportionately esteemed.

Because there are mills in Bahia, which give you four thousand loaves of sugar, and others a little less, with sugarcane forced to be milled, whose income the mill achieves at least half, like any other, which is freely ground in it; and in some parts even more than half”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 19).

Senzalas were the dwellings where black slaves resided. They were places with bad accommodations and unhealthy, in many cases, the slaves slept with their feet tied to avoid trying to escape or fight among themselves, as slaves were expensive goods.

The slave quarters were extensive, as they housed 20, 50 or more slaves, as it depended on the fortune of the mill owner to buy labor, but in general the large mills had between 50 and 60 slaves.

There was no division of rooms; men, women and children slept in the same place. In front of the slave quarters was the so-called trunk or pillory, a place used to punish or “educate” slaves in the XNUMXth century.

Nineteenth century photo showing some slaves in front of the slave quarters. Possibly this slave quarters belonged to a coffee farm.
Nineteenth century photo showing some slaves in front of the slave quarters. Possibly this slave quarters belonged to a coffee farm.

The chapel was a religious and governmental necessity, as Portugal was a Catholic nation, and its population was massively Catholic, as Indians and Africans were converted to Catholicism, it was necessary for Catholic Christians to attend Sunday masses, to go to confession with the priest, were they to carry out the baptism of their children, catechization, confirmation, marriage, participate in liturgical days, etc. As the farms were far from towns and cities, it was necessary to take the word of God to its faithful, hence the large farms have chapels and chaplains.

The chaplains, in addition to being the clerical representatives on these farms, were also responsible for educating the children of the mill owner.

In the case of the boy, when he reached adolescence he would be sent to another school in the town or city, or if that were the case, he would go to Portugal to study at universities in Lisbon or Coimbra, however, this practice of sending the boys to Portugal started to become more common in the XNUMXth century, before that, we have few planters sending their children to Europe, because for them, what their children should learn, they would learn right there, in order to manage the farm.

Facility with chapel. Frans Post, 1667.
Facility with chapel. Frans Post, 1667.

In addition to the sugarcane plantations that were the main plantations on the mill, there were other small plantations, as people do not live on sugar alone. We find in large farms and even in medium and small ones, plantations or swiddens, using a Brazilian term for that.

The swiddens or swiddens mainly cultivated cassava, from which flour was made (cassava, if consumed raw, poses the risk of poisoning, hence the need to make the flour to purge the poisonous substance).

Because for a long time there were no wheat plantations in the colony, only the rich could import wheat flour to be able to make bread, cakes, pasta, etc., but even the rich who didn't like the high prices of wheat flour, they had to make do with manioc flour. Cassava flour was the staple food for colonial society, and even slaves and animals were fed.

These swiddens were created to guarantee the slaves' food, as initially there were no swiddens on the plantations, therefore, the plantation owners depended on having to buy food in the villages, cities or other farms, however, over time, we have already noticed these cleared in large properties.

These crops that, in addition to planting manioc, planted other vegetable crops such as legumes, beans, rice, corn, potatoes, bananas, oranges, lemons, pineapples, mangoes, jackfruit, potatoes, etc., were taken care of by slaves or free people.

In addition to the plantation owner, his family and the chaplain, there were other free men and women, who performed various jobs, from jobs in the manufacture of sugar, as will be seen later on; they worked as foremen, supervising slaves; they worked as artisans, blacksmiths, boatmen, fishermen, cowboys, shepherds, potters, etc., they took care of the fields, acted as messengers, informal doctors, etc.

Black housing. Rugendas, 1822-1825. On some plantations we could find slaves with their own houses, although they were mediocre residences.
Black housing. Rugendas, 1822-1825. On some plantations we could find slaves with their own houses, although they were mediocre residences.

On the farms there were chicken coops, corrals, pigsties, stables, workshops, potteries, warehouses, houses for free dwellers or for slaves who had obtained the right to start a family; in the trapiche mills, the corrals were larger to house the oxen and cows used in the service of moving the mill, in addition there was a need for pasture to feed the cattle, because in the large sugarcane fields, it was problematic to dedicate land for pasture, in addition to having to keep vigil so that the cattle wouldn't eat the cane fields.

“Other than that, the engenho represents an autonomous economy; for slaves the cloth was woven there; the family's clothing was made in the middle of it; the diet consisted of fish caught on rafts or, in other words, oysters and shellfish caught on the beaches and mangroves, game caught in the bush, birds, goats, pigs to the south, mainly sheep to the north, home-grown — hence the facility to warm up unexpected guests, and hence the colonial hospitality, so characteristic even today of little frequented places.

There were dairy cows, few of them, because they didn't make cheese or butter; little beef was consumed, because of the difficulty of creating prayers in places unsuitable for its propagation, because of the inconveniences for farming resulting from its propagation, which reduced these cattle to what was strictly necessary for agricultural service”. (BRANDÃO, 1956, p. 6).

Representation of an ingenuity. Unfortunately I didn't find the legend of the numbers, but we can see that it is a device powered by water. 1) Large house, 2) Chapel, 3) Senzala, 9) Roçado, 11) Sugarcane.
Representation of an ingenuity. Unfortunately I didn't find the legend of the numbers, but we can see that it is a device powered by water. 1) Large house, 2) Chapel, 3) Senzala, 9) Roçado, 11) Sugarcane.

“Engenhos had been powered by water and by oxen; served by cars or boats; situated by the sea or further away, not far, as communication difficulties only allowed limited-radius arcs; there were enough to produce more than ten thousand arrobas of sugar and incapable of giving a third of that sum. Let's imagine a schematic engine for terms of comparison—from the scheme the existing engines diverged more or less, as is natural.

It must have had large cane fields, abundant and nearby firewood, numerous slaves, capable herds, various equipment, mills, copper, molds, purge houses, alembics; it must have trained personnel, as the raw material went through several processes before being delivered for consumption; hence a very imperfect division of labor, above all a division of production.

The product was directly shipped overseas; from overseas came the payment in cash or in objects given in exchange, and there were not many: fine farms, beverages, wheat flour, in short, previously luxury objects.

For luxury they could buy food from less wealthy farmers and this was usual in Pernambuco, so much so that among the grievances of Pernambuco against the Dutch was that they were forced to plant a number of cassava plots”. (BRANDÃO, 1956, p. 6).

A fact to mention before proceeding to the next part of this work, it is important to point out that the mill owners could give part of their land to tenants, as well as receive the production of smaller lavradores, to be ground on their mill.

“Although the owner, as a rule, explores his land directly (as was understood above), there are frequent cases in which he cedes parts of it to lavradores who occupy themselves with the culture and produce the cane on their own, forcing themselves, however, to grind their own land. production at the owner's mill.

These are called obligated farms; the farmer receives half of the sugar extracted from his cane, and still pays for the rent of the land that he uses a certain percentage, which varies according to time and place, ranging from 5 to 20%. There are also free farmers, owners of the lands they occupy, and who grind their cane on the plantation they choose; they then receive full share.

Lavradores, although they are socially inferior to the planters, are not small producers, in the category of peasants. These are slave masters, and their crops, whether on their own or leased land, form large units like plantations”. (PRADO JR, 1981, p. 23).

A mill in Pernambuco in the XNUMXth century
A mill in Pernambuco in the XNUMXth century

As Caio Prado Júnior had pointed out, the planters cooperated with some farmers who exploited part of their land for them, or if they were their own owners, they supplied sugarcane to be ground in their sugar mills.

This practice is old, because before the middle of the XNUMXth century, the Dutchman Adriaen van der Dussen mentions in his aforementioned report that many of the mills had business with tenants, with these free farmers. So in his report he uses the terms “farm party” and “task”.

The first term refers to the mill owner, while the second term refers to the farmers who supply cane to be ground on the mill. In exchange for giving up his inns to grind the cane of others, the lord of the mill got a percentage of these “tasks”. However, the farmers were responsible for transporting the cane to the mill and fetching the sugar.

National Sugar and Alcohol Museum

A significant part of the history of sugarcane processing, until today one of the pillars of Brazilian agribusiness, can be seen and learned in Pontal, in the region of Ribeirão Preto. It has been open to the public since December, and already attracts visitors, the first stage of the National Sugar and Alcohol Museum, maintained by the Instituto Engenho Central, owned by the Biagi family.

The collection is on display at the Engenho Central, built in 1906, a year before the city's emancipation.

The museum's collection includes machinery produced in Europe, between the years 1876 and 1888, such as seeders, supply pumps, barrels for processing and purifying sugar, containers for transporting brandy, identification stamp for sugar bags and the clock that was in the tower of the plant.

Engenho Central belonged to the farmer Francisco Schmidt, the King of Coffee, who produced sugar for export to the German company Theodor Wille, headquartered in Hamburg. Before belonging to the plant, the machines belonged to another farmer, Henrique Dumont, father of the aviator Santos Dumont. The Biagi family bought the farm in the 1960s and the mill continued to produce until 1974.

With the death of Maurílio Biagi, his son, Luiz Biagi, decided to keep the mill and create the Institute to give shape to the museum. The installation was supported by cultural incentive laws.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 16 pm, with free admission.[/box]

“Each task represents what a mill can grind in a day and a night, that is, in an oxen mill between 25 and 35 carts of sugarcane and in a water mill between 40 and 50 carts. The farmer undertakes to plant sugarcane, with or without the help of the planter, depending on the condition of the contract.

Once planted, sugarcane has the same duration as human existence and does not need to be replanted except here and there, where a ratoon dies, unless there is a fire during the summer or a river is dry. […]. In addition, the farmer has to look after his cane field and clean it 2, 3, 4 times a year, because if it is allowed to grow alongside the cane weeds, the entire plantation withers”. (DUSSEN, 1947, p. 93).

“The sugar produced is shared with the mill owner, depending on the case: farmers who have their own land and parties and who can grind their cane wherever it suits them best, the division of sugar is usually done half and half; those who plant on land belonging to the plantation owner, divide some in the proportion of 1/3 for the farmer and 2/3 for the plantation owner, when the land is fertile and close to the plantation and for this reason the farmer has little expense; for the majority, the division is on the basis of 2/5 for the farmer and 3/5 for the lord of the plantation”. (DUSSEN, 1947, p. 93).

The fact that not all of these farmers had mills was because such inns were expensive. Simonsen [1937] pointed out that an engenho would cost between 10 and 15 thousand contos de réis at the time, however Amaral [1958] disagreed with him, and pointed out that the engenhos would cost from 30 thousand contos de réis.

Other historians suggest that the engenhos cost in the range of 35 thousand contos de réis, just the structure, not counting the labor, because if you add that, the value rose to at least 50 thousand contos de réis, just to acquire the tens of slaves to work.

This fact is interesting, since most of the engenhos came from private capital, as only in some cases the state provided funds to build plantations in Brazil, so there is talk of a private enterprise.

Throughout Brazilian colonial history, we will see mills built with Spanish, Genoese, Venetian, Dutch, Flemish, Belgian, German, French, English, etc. capital. We will also notice Catholic, Protestant and Jewish plant owners. On the other hand, the planters had certain benefits, such as exemption from the collection of certain taxes, in addition to a certain autonomy in controlling their lands and their people.

Sugar Manufacturing

We usually study the macro context of sugar production, but the stages of sugar production are left out. So, in this topic, I dedicated to reporting how sugar was manufactured, as well as showing the sections of the sugar mill or mill house.

An interesting fact is that Antonil [1711] who reported the production of sugar in the XNUMXth century, tells us that many of the workers in the sugar mill were women, as will be seen later, one of the reasons is because women would have more attention and men they would do the heaviest work in the cane fields and transport.

Although it is necessary to mention that this was not homogeneous, as Antonil spoke from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, but the essential thing to know is that it was the slaves who did the bulk of this work, although there were free workers involved in sugar production.

Celso Furtado [2005] pointed out that one of the reasons for Portugal's success in the development of sugar agribusiness was the investment in the development of equipment and techniques for the manufacture of sugar.

He says that in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the manufacture of sugar was known throughout the Mediterranean, but in this case, the Genoese and Venetians were the main connoisseurs of these techniques and in the production of equipment, therefore, they had a certain monopoly on the techniques of sugar. manufacture of sugar.

It is also interesting to point out that in the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth centuries the Dutch, Flemish and Belgians specialized in sugar refinement, as the mills did not carry out this refinement. The elites didn't want to consume dense, dark, hard sugar; they wanted a white, fine, crystalline sugar, as soon as it needed to be refined.

“From the middle of the XNUMXth century onwards, Portuguese sugar production became more and more a joint venture with the Flemish, initially represented by the interests of Antwerp and then those of Amsterdam. The Flemish collected the product in Lisbon, refined it and distributed it throughout Europe, particularly the Baltic, France and England.

The contribution of the Flemings – particularly the Dutch – to the great expansion of the sugar market in the second half of the 2005th century was a fundamental factor in the success of the colonization of Brazil. Specialized in intra-European trade, a large part of which they financed, the Dutch were at that time the only people who had sufficient commercial organization to create a large market for a practically new product, such as sugar”. (FURTADO, 20, p. XNUMX).

The sugar mill was basically divided into three parts: the mill house, the boiler house and the purge house. Each of these stages represented the stages of sugar manufacture. In the case of the manufacture of cachaça and brown sugar, there are differences after the second stage, something that I will come back to briefly later on.

1) the mill house

In this room was the mill, a machine made of wood, in which it had presses that when moved by a gear mechanism moved by human, animal or hydraulic force, crushed the cane in order to squeeze it with force, thus forcing the broth or juice to come out. This broth was collected in pots and taken to the next stage. Antonil [1711] considers the mill house the most dangerous stage because there was a risk that a slave would get stuck with his hand and be pulled by the arm by the press, thus being crushed, possibly losing his arm or even dying.

Illustration of a mill and its parts and functioning.
Illustration of a mill and its parts and functioning.

The danger was doubled by the fact that the mill worked day and night as mentioned before, so the slaves tired due to the hard day could fall asleep, hence the need to always keep several people in the room to avoid tragedies like these.

"The most dangerous place on the mill is that of the mill, because if, unfortunately, the slave who puts the cane between the axles, or because of sleep, or because she is tired, or because of any other carelessness, she inadvertently put her hand more ahead of what it should, it runs the risk of passing ground between the axes, if they don't cut their hand or the caught arm right away, having a machete next to the mill, or if they aren't so quick to stop the mill, having fun with the the water that hurts the hubs of the wheel, so that they quickly give the person who suffers, in some way, the remedy.

And this danger is even greater at night, when they grind just as much as during the day, since those who put the cane for their equipment take turns, particularly if those who are in this occupation are stupid, or used to getting drunk. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 54).

Slaves at the mill. Debret, 1835. Here we can see a small mill for home use.
Slaves at the mill. Debret, 1835. Here we can see a small mill for home use.

As noted, the most efficient mills were those powered by hydraulic power, generated by the water wheels, although they were the most expensive. In the case of warehouse mills, several oxen were used to move the warehouse that rotated the mill.

Depending on the ingenuity, one could use eight, ten or twelve oxen at a time for each work cycle; Dussen [1947] and Amaral [1958] point out that the grinding of sugarcane sometimes took the whole day, going into the night and into the night, as a way to save wasted time.

"At least seven or eight of the slaves needed by the mill, namely: three to bring cane, one to put it, another to pass the bagasse, another to fix and light the lamps, which in the mill are five, and to clean the broth trough (which they call stable or calumbá) and the stings of the mill and refresh them with water so that they do not burn, using the water parol, which is under the rod, taken from the water that falls in the stinger, as well as to wash the muddy cane; and another, finally, to dispose of the bagasse, or in the river, or in the bagaceira, to burn itself in time.

And if it is necessary to put it in a more distant part, a single slave will not be enough, but there will be another need to help her, because otherwise there would not be an outlet in time and the mill would be embarrassed”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 54-55).

Grinding at Fazenda Cachoeira. Benedito Calixto, 1830.
Grinding at Fazenda Cachoeira. Benedito Calixto, 1830.

It is important to point out that depending on the season, the shape of the mills and their size varied. Therefore, we cannot speak of a homogeneous machine, as they were first made by hand, although they followed certain specifications in proportions.

2) the boiler house

This was probably the most dangerous place to work, due to the risks of getting a burn or starting a fire, although Antonil disagrees with this opinion as already presented here.

Gilberto Freyre went so far as to say that in this part of the plantation, slaves worked under heavy observation and could even be kept in chains, as they could try to sabotage the production, spill the pots or start a fire.

The boiler house or furnace house was compared to a “small volcano” in the words of Antonil, however it was really a very hot and stuffy place. Some scholars prefer to separate the boiler house from the furnace house as they point out that they were different places, but that depends on what period they are referring to.

In this wing of the mill were the copper boilers which were used to boil the broth. Dussen [1947] who wrote in the 4th century, mentions that the engenhos had 5, 6 or 3 large pots, and 4 to XNUMX smaller pots.

It was in the large pots that the broth was boiled, and in the smaller pots it was left to cool before proceeding to the next stage. Such pots were imported, came from the Metropolis, as there were no smithies capable of producing such equipment in the colony.

In the boiler house there were several pots as already mentioned, we went to see them, as they went step by step in the boiling of the sugarcane juice:

Clarifier boiler: in the first mills, the broth was mixed with lime, to help filter out impurities before going to boiling;

Broth boiler: pot where the broth coming from the mill house was received;

Middle boiler: pot that started to boil and removed the first and second foams, which contained impurities such as pieces of leaves, stem, sugarcane bagasse, etc;

Honeycomb boiler: the boiling continued and where the third foam was removed and taken to the foam parol. Here, too, the garapa was made;

Honeydew Parol: after being boiled and having the foams removed, the broth was put here to be strained;

Strain stop: receives the broth to be strained. The term tempering is also used in this step;

Receiving tack: after being strained, the broth was stirred, skimmed, boiled and decoated, where water with ashes was added to help filter the existing impurities;

Door tack: after the broth has its foams removed, has been strained and has been decayed, the broth continues to be boiled;

Baking tack: the broth continues to be boiled and here it reaches its "point". It consists of the last stage of boiling, as from here on, the so-called molasses will be used to start the rest and cooling stage;

hitting tack: the molasses is beaten with a mixer to reach the crystallization point, becoming more consistent and thicker;

Spreading basin: After being beaten, the molasses was released, a term used to refer to the act of transferring the molasses from the previous rate to this one, where it would be taken to a cooler where it would rest and cool;

Skimming Parol: place where the foam of the three foams was deposited to be reused.

Here I have explained the main steps, but depending on the time, we will notice new steps and pots used in the filtration of the juice, as the process has been receiving new techniques throughout history.

The sugarcane juice being boiled in copper pots in the artisanal way of making sugar since the XNUMXth century. This photo was taken at Engenho Mororó in Rio Grande do Norte, a mill that still produces sugar in a traditional way.
The sugarcane juice being boiled in copper pots in the artisanal way of making sugar since the XNUMXth century. This photo was taken at Engenho Mororó in Rio Grande do Norte, a mill that still produces sugar in a traditional way.

In the boiler house worked some free men called boilermakers, who were responsible for checking the “sugar point”, that is, the exact boiling temperature.

Antonil [1711] mentions that in this section of sugar manufacturing the majority of workers were men, but there was a slave called “heel” who was responsible for cleaning the room, lighting the lamps, collecting the second and third foam removed and put it back in a parol (a type of bowl), as this foam had other uses.

Interior of a sugar mill. Here you can see slaves moving the mill in the background of the image; to the left you can see a pot boiling sugarcane juice, and a slave depositing the molasses in earthenware containers.
Interior of a sugar mill. Here you can see slaves moving the mill in the background of the image; to the left you can see a pot boiling sugarcane juice, and a slave depositing the molasses in earthenware containers.

In addition to the pots, paroles and boilers, other tools and containers used in this stage were:

Food mixer: similar to the skimmer, but without the holes. It was used to beat molasses after it had finished boiling.

Mug: container used to pass the broth from one pot to another.

Ashtray: quadrangular tank where hot water was mixed with ashes to be used in the decodation, at the receiving rate.

To harvest: a large spoon with holes, used to stir the molasses after boiling.

Shell: a long-handled iron ladle used to taste the broth.

Skimmer: type of spoon with several holes, used to extract the foam.

Form: clay vase where the molasses was placed to start the purging.

Treadmill: large spoon used to transfer the boiling broth to the next pot.

Chopper: iron spear used to remove the remains of molasses that were stuck in pots, paroles and boilers.

Dove or reminis: Large spoon used to remove molasses from last rate. It was also used to add water to the decoadas.

Cooler: tank where the molasses rested and cooled to then be deposited in the molds.

Such equipment and containers were commonly used in the production of sugar, however, when we reach the XNUMXth century, we already find other utensils and machines such as centrifuges, filter filters, foamers, evaporators, etc., used in this process, reflecting the Industrial Revolution of the XNUMXth century.

After boiling, the juice before initially light green or yellowish in color, after being boiled it becomes what is called sugarcane honey, sugarcane honey, honeydew honey or molasses. A brownish substance rich in sucrose, carbohydrates, iron, etc.

Molasses, in addition to being used to make sugar, is also used to make cachaça, brown sugar, rum, broths, etc.

The sugarcane juice being boiled in copper pots in the artisanal way of making sugar since the XNUMXth century. This photo was taken at Engenho Mororó in Rio Grande do Norte, a mill that still produces sugar in a traditional way.
The sugarcane juice being boiled in copper pots in the artisanal way of making sugar since the XNUMXth century. This photo was taken at Engenho Mororó in Rio Grande do Norte, a mill that still produces sugar in a traditional way.

The clay pots, also called molds, sugar loaf and honey bells were conical or pyramidal shaped containers that had a hole at the end, where, in the purging stage, the remaining molasses came out through this hole and was deposited in the castella jar, a basin that collected this molasses to be reused.

"The shapes of sugar are clay vases burned in the furnace of the tiles, and they bear some resemblance to bells, three and a half palms tall, and proportionately wide, with greater circumference at the mouth, and tighter at the end, where they are pierced, to wash, and purge the sugar through this hole” (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 75).

Stages of boiling the sugarcane juice.
Stages of boiling the sugarcane juice.

“Within 24 hours they make 20 to 30 molds in an ox mill, 40, 50 or 60 in a water mill and 40, 50, 60 or 70 and more molds if the mill is capable of grinding a lot of cane and if it is it is rich in sugar, which depends, as has already been said, on the time and care taken in cultivation.

The mold holds an arroba of sugar if it is more or less good, if it is inferior, less. The best sugar weighs more and a pan can weigh 40 or more pounds up to 50 and 60”. (DUSSEN, 1947, p. 94).

The value of an at sign at the time that Dussen refers to, would currently be worth something around 14,688 kg, which is equivalent to approximately 25 pounds. Thus, a clay pot weighing 2 arrobas, that is, 50 pounds, would be equivalent to almost 30 kg of sugar.

3) purge house

Antonil, writing from the XNUMXth century, tells us that the house of purging (purging means removing impurities) was normally separated from the sugar mill, and sometimes it was the largest room, as it was there that the sugar was stored to be purged, as will be seen later. .

He tells us that in Bahia and Sergipe there were large purging houses made of stone, lime and maçaranduba wood. These houses would have more than 200 square meters in area, would be true sheds with several windows in order to allow good air circulation and the entry of light, which would help with the heat of the sun to dry the sugar more quickly.

In this large space stretched rows of scaffolding where the sugar loaves were deposited. This account is interesting, as unlike Dussen and Barléu who refer to Pernambuco, here we have an example from Bahia.

Painting of the interior of a purge house in Madeira Island.
Painting of the interior of a purge house in Madeira Island.

“In the purge house, there are shelves where the molds are adapted and rest. On each shelf there are 10 to 12 molds, 8 to 10 shelves next to each other, under each of which are the receptacles for the honey.

This set is called scaffolding. Thus, each scaffold holds about 100 molds and in a purge house there are 20, 25 and 30 scaffolds, allowing the deposit of 2.000 to 3.000 molds”. (DUSSEN, 1947, p. 94).

As stated earlier, depending on the size of the mill and the motive force used to move the mill, sugar production varied. The example given by Dussen comes from some Pernambuco plantation that he visited in the 1630s, a period in which the Dutch controlled the region.

These clay molds had a conical or pyramidal shape to facilitate the exit of the remaining molasses that remained inside the container, as this molasses gives a dark color to the sugar, something that is known as raw sugar, more commonly called brown sugar or sugar brown.

Brown sugar has a shade between caramel, light brown and dark yellow, in addition to having a different taste than white sugar.

Brown sugar. Without going through the purging stage, the sugar remains in that color.
Brown sugar. Without going through the purging stage, the sugar remains in that color.

Within the molds, Dussen says that the sugar rested for six to eight days, being beaten with a small hammer in order to compress it more and more, in order to squeeze the rest of the molasses so that it came out through the hole in the tip. under. Antonil [1711] mentions the period of 3 to 15 days to wait for the sugar to purge.

Antonil also says that sugar that hardened but did not become brittle was called "frowning", since what became brittle was called "broken face", therefore, more attention should be paid to crumbly sugar pots, as this meant that they did not dry properly.

“The holes in these molds, at first covered, keep the curdled sugar moist; opening afterwards, let the honey pass through to purge the sugar. Then the face of the mold is covered with clay, because it is believed that, repeating this operation several times, the impurities are expelled more completely, and the sugar clears more”. (BARLEU, 1940, p. 95).

In addition to this mechanical technique of compressing sugar, a thin layer of clay or clay was poured, which slowly mixed with the sugar, and the clay in turn absorbs the molasses. This step was performed in the purge counter and trough, place where the tent, space used for laying the shapes.

“Before the door of the House of Purging, a porch eighty-two palms in length and twenty-four in width is raised on six pillars, under which is the Chewing Balcony; and on the other side there is the Trough to knead the clay, which is put in the Forms, to purge the Sugar; and further on the Balcony to dry it, eighty spans long and fifty-six wide, supported by twenty-five brick pillars”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 78).

Antonil tells us that four women worked in the purging house, who were responsible for preparing the clay molds for sugar, as well as washing them.

“First, the four female purgadeiras slaves with iron diggers dig in the middle of the face of the mold (which is the upper part) for the already dry sugar, and then they make it equal and make it very well with mallets; They then put the first clay on it, removing it with a slurry from the pots, which came full of it from its trough, when it is already crushed in its bead, and with the palm of the hand, they spread it over the entire face of the mold, aloft two fingers .

On the second or third day, they put half a bowl of water or a bowl and a half of water in the same clay , which they place with their right equally over the entire surface, and then with the palm of their right hand they gently stir the clay, so that with their fingers they do not reach the sugar face”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 83-84).

Molds used to purge sugar. They were called sugar loaf, honey bell, etc. Note here the conical shape and the hole in the tip. You can also see the scaffolding and the holes where the shapes were embedded.
Molds used to purge sugar. They were called sugar loaf, honey bell, etc. Note here the conical shape and the hole in the tip. You can also see the scaffolding and the holes where the shapes were embedded.

Dussen mentions that depending on the case, two to three layers of clay were applied in order to make the sugar purer and whiter.

“The sugar free of its honey is brought out of the purge house and removed from the molds and put to dry in the sun on extended cloths, removing then the sugar that is still mixed with the honey. This is what the Portuguese call 'chewing', which means that they remove the gray mask from the sugar and hence also call the grayish sugar 'chewed'.” (DUSSEN, 1947, p. 95).

"At the chewing counter, two of the most experienced black women watch, who call mothers from the counter, and with others they chew it and separate the lower from the best, some blacks who bring and suggest the shapes, and take the sugar loaves from them, and the kneader of the clay for purging, which is also another black”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 79).

Painting of a chewing counter in a purge house on Madeira Island.
Painting of a chewing counter in a purge house on Madeira Island.

"At the foot of the counter, which they call chewing, the shapes are suggested on a leather, which is to slowly boil them with their mouths turned towards the said leather, so that the breads come out well, which are successively placed by a black on an awning, which is spread out on this balcony, by the hand of a black woman (whom they call the mother of the balcony), is taken from them with a machete, all that poorly purged and brown sugar they have on the bottom, and this is said to chew, and such sugar is called after brown sugar.

And, however, another of his companions, who is of the most practical, takes the wettest with an ax of the same chew, which they call the shape foot or cabochon, and this one returns to the house to purge in other shapes, until it finishes drying. ; and soon other black women break the clods of the brown with slabs on an awning, which will also go to the drying counter.” (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 87).

The sugar loaves were deformed in the aventador, a wooden shelf located on the chewing counter. As described by Antonil, the brown sugar was scraped and separated from the white sugar, which was then sent to a final drying step. The white sugar was taken to the area called the drying counter, where it would spend a few hours exposed to the sun.

Some of the tools used in this step, as described by Antonil were:

Digger: made of iron, it was used to excavate sugar in order to place clay or clay.

Machete: used to scrape off brown sugar after the purge stage.

Iron drill: used to pierce the tip of the sugar loaf through which the molasses would drain during the purging phase inside the jars.

Mallet: a kind of hammer used to pound and compress the sugar inside the jars.

Hatchet: used to scrape brown sugar.

Leather piece: piece of leather (usually cowhide) used to fit the sugar into the jars.

Squeegee: used to stir the sugar when it is put to dry on awnings.

Tolet: kind of hammer to break the sugar loaves. Due to the conical shape it had, this led to dividing the bread into parts called “faces”, starting from the top to the tip.

Each “face” had a different quality, the tapered tip being of inferior quality.

Steps to unmold the sugar after it has been purged.
Steps to unmold the sugar after it has been purged.

“On the drying counter, the same two mothers work with their companions, who are up to ten, spreading the awnings and breaking the splinters and large clods into smaller pieces with small pieces behind the bread breakers.

And in the box office, the necessary black and black women help the clerk in the weight and placement of sugar, as well as in the pillar, equalizing, nailing and marking”. (ANTONIL, 1711, p. 80).

In some cases, the sugar removed from the molds was placed in the so-called piles on wooden platforms where it dried. While part was left in the pile, another part was taken to be deposited in awnings on the ground, where it would be directly exposed to sunlight. This practice was also used to dry coffee and cocoa.

Slaves dispersed the sugar over these awnings, and used squeegees to spread and turn it so that it could dry as best as possible. Antonil points out that if there were “tasks” in that production, each farmer was responsible for taking his awnings and slaves to dry his part of the production.

He says that the plantation owner used to meet with his tenants or farmers to watch the sugar dry in the sun. The awnings were arranged in rows to indicate the production of the “farm party” and “tasks”.

Barléu in his book tells us another recipe to purge the sugar and make it more white. In this recipe he reveals the use of other agents in the boiling and purging process.

“Thus, a lye of quicklime and egg whites is poured into the most impure sugar, and, stirring constantly, the broth is skimmed, cleaning it of impurities, and when it is boiling, it threatens to spill. if so, this is prevented by pouring some butter on it.

Then strain it into a coarse cloth or burlap, with all the bleach not yet absorbed, to catch any faeces that may be left, letting it boil again until the bleach is consumed. Then they turn it, as if reborn, in the molds, cover the faces of these with purer clay, and, drying this as a crust, put another a few more times, with the same purpose as before, draining again a thicker and more impure honey”. (BARLEU, 1940, p. 74-75).

In this illustration we can see two slaves moving the pots in the boilers, and on the left side you can see the molasses being placed on the sugar loaves to start the purge.
In this illustration we can see two slaves moving the pots in the boilers, and on the left side you can see the molasses being placed on the sugar loaves to start the purge.

4) Sugar Weighing and Boxing

After this stage, while it was still drying, parts of the sugar are placed on a scale to be weighed, so that the planter, the farmer and the salesman can quantify their parts. Antonil [1711] tells us about some instruments used in this phase of weighing and storing sugar in boxes:

“In Peso, scales, two arrobas weights, and other smaller ones, such as the tara; Shovels, and panacûs. In the Caixaria, pestles, squeegees, bread to settle, which some call a kid to settle, and others a judge, adze, drills, hammers and nails.

Crowbar for taking nails out of boxes, and the chopping board that serves to gather the split or open boards, putting two wedges between the sides of the board, and the teeth, cabarets of the board that hugs from above, and goes down the sides, and the iron marks, with which it is branded, and declares the quality of the sugar, the number of arrobas, and the official of the Engenho”. (p. 80).

After being weighed, the sugar was loaded with shovels into the boxes that were lined with clay and on top of this, banana leaves were placed. If there were farmers involved in the process, they took their carts and slaves to collect their sugar after it was weighed by the clerk. In addition to white sugar being weighed and divided, brown sugar also went through this process. And in the midst of this division, there was also a third part, the Church tithe, where a specific employee called the tithe contractor would get the 10% of the production from both the “farm party” and the “tasks”.

Antonil [1711] draws attention to the fact that when the sugar was being deposited in the boxes, something called “box face”, that is, the sugar ready to be sold, the sugar was not beaten to compact it in the boxes, as this could be used as a bait, where you could put inferior quality sugar at the bottom of the box and cover yourself with good sugar, however the gross weight of the box face would be bad sugar.

After the boxes were filled, a club, called a “seat stick” or “seat brat” as already mentioned by Antonil, was used to pound the sugar so that it fits properly inside the box and the lid could be nailed. All lids were nailed shut. After the boxes were closed, they received the brand that designated the type of sugar, because as mentioned, in addition to white and brown sugar there were other variations, called “expensive” (I'll come back to that later on). About this Antonil left us details:

  • Male white sugar: a B was marked in the box.
  • Whipped white sugar: two BB were marked in the box.
  • Male brown sugar: an M was marked in the box.
  • Whipped brown sugar: one MB was marked on the box.

In addition to these marks to identify the type of sugar, there were three more marks that were written in hot iron or ink.

  • Mark of the arrobas: engraved on the lid with a hot iron, it identified the weight of the box.
  • Brand of ingenuity: it was stamped with a hot iron, and placed in the lower right corner of the lid. It designated the mill on which sugar was manufactured. In the case of any religious entity or mercantile organization, the seal or initials of that order or organization is taken.
  • Mark of the lord or the merchant: it could be hot ironed or painted. It was marked in the center of the lid if it was fired, and it would be marked on the side of the box if it was in ink, on which the name of the owner or buyer was written.

After being marked, all the boxes were taken to the port. The royal plantations had the rivers to transport the boxes on barges, but in general, ox carts were used to transport these boxes, which weighed up to six arrobas, or equivalent to 150 pounds, or 90 kilos.

However, Amaral [1958] reports that throughout colonial history there were variations in the weight of sugar boxes, with boxes weighing from six to fifty arrobas being found. Mello [2012] says that in the first half of the 30th century, the average weight of sugar boxes was between 35 and 450 arrobas (which was equivalent to 525 to XNUMX kilograms).

Salaried Workers Involved in Sugar Production

Although slaves carried out various activities, there were certain trades that were carried out by free people, some of which were already mentioned above, however, I will give attention to those specifically linked to sugar production:

Chief Overseer: he was responsible for managing the mill. It was incumbent on him to oversee the exercise of all activities on the mill, from cutting the cane to loading the sugar.

He checked how the mill's stocks were, he checked if all the slaves were doing their jobs correctly, and if that was the case, he relocated them to other activities.

In case a slave fell ill, he sent him to be treated and put another in his place, however, he had to communicate the fact to the plantation owner.

The main foreman also had to report everything that happened on the plantation to you. The other overseers were subordinate to him. Antonil [1711] had said that the chief overseer had a salary of sixty thousand réis a year, but it is worth remembering that this was a salary from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, it does not mean that the salary was the same over time.

Mill maker: he was responsible for overseeing the harvest, transport of sugarcane and its grinding. While the cane was being crushed, he should be careful that the female slaves do not get injured in the process, and he should also control the process to avoid having too much juice, as it could end up spoiling while waiting to start the boiling process.

Antonil [1711] had said that the mill worker had a salary that varied from forty to fifty thousand réis a year, but it is worth remembering that this was a salary from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, it does not mean that the salary was the same over time. .

Overseer or foreman: he was responsible for watching over and punishing the slaves, as well as protecting the plantation, the cane fields and the swiddens and maintaining control of the slaves, preventing them from fighting, fleeing, or becoming idle.

Sugar Master: he was responsible for checking the quality of the soil and the location for planting sugarcane, he had to know how to distinguish where the best quality and the lowest quality sugarcane sprouted, as there were variations depending on the soil and the amount of water received.

In the boiler house, he was responsible for keeping all employees working properly, and maintaining a quality control, as sometimes the broth would have to be boiled longer, or be strained or decoated again.

In the house of purgar, he was also responsible for evaluating the work of slaves and employees in that sector. In short, the sugar master controlled the administration of sugar making. In the large mills Antonil [1711] says that the sugar master's salary was around 130 thousand réis a year, but it could be around 100 thousand réis a year.

Banker or Soto-Master: was one of the sugar master's helpers. When the latter was absent, the banker was responsible for maintaining control and efficiency in the production of sugar in the boiler room.

His responsibility was quite great. The banker substituted the sugar master for the night shift, and was assisted by the banker-assistance or soto-banker. The banker could receive between 30 and 40 thousand réis a year.

Banker or Soto-Banker Help: he was the banker's assistant, he also had a great responsibility in the manufacturing process, as he would have to be vigilant at all times to avoid delays, loss of raw material and accidents.

Antonil tells us that such positions were not necessarily occupied by free people, but could be occupied by a slave or mestizo. He was also responsible for overseeing the shipment of sugar loaves to the purge house. In the case of the employee being a slave or a mestizo who also suffered from the status of being a slave, even though they had a white mother or father, they sometimes received no salary, but received some kind of reward.

Boiler and Tacher: they worked in boilers and pots, taking care to control the boiling temperature and the juice purification process. They were responsible for seeing the “spot”, the exact temperature at which the broth would be well boiled.

Trap: he worked on the purification of sugar in the purge house. He was responsible for verifying how the sugar purging process followed on the days he lived in the enclosure.

I also had to check the quality of the clay or clay that would be used in the purging process, helping to organize the bread on the scaffolding. It should ensure the organization and cleaning of the premises and order the collection of molasses in jars to be stored or reused. Antonil says that the steam trap's salary varied according to the amount of production. If 4 loaves were produced in one batch, he would receive 50 réis annually, but if the production were smaller, he would receive proportionally.

Plant Clerk: he was responsible for weighing the sugar before it was boxed and marked. He also took care of separating and accounting for the production of the plantation owner, the farmers and passing on the tithe to the Church.

They were also tasked with supervising the loading of sugar into the crates, and even assisting with loading, checking that all crates were properly marked, and even supervising transport to the port, such as checking the shipment of the product.

Antonil said that depending on the size of the mill and its production, the clerk could receive between 30 and 50 thousand réis a year.

City clerk: he differed from the plantation clerk, as he acted more as an accountant, contractor, attorney and depositary, taking care of the mill's finances, negotiations, contracting ships, contracting buyers, etc. He received an annual salary of around 40 to 50 thousand réis.

Types of Sugar

It has already been mentioned here that there were some types of sugar, because when the “faces” of the sugar loaf were divided, each “face” had a different quality, and besides, the brown sugar itself also had its types.

There are different nomenclatures to deal with this saccharine typology, however, I will expose here the terms used by the Portuguese, as the Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French, English, etc., use other terminology.

1) White sugar

Although it is similar to the current sugar we normally use, in the Modern Age there were some differences; Antonil [1711] said that white sugar had some classifications referring to its quality:

Thin: it was the whitest, closed and heavy, it came from the first “face” of the sugar loaf. It was considered the best quality.

Round: it was less closed and heavy, it usually came from the second “face”, and was also considered of second quality.

Low: it was a brownish color, coming from the third “face”, although the color was still considered to be of relative quality, but inferior.

Whipped white: it was made from molasses drained during the purging phase, where the molasses was boiled again and beaten. Antonil says that at times he turned white and full-bodied, hence being called “beaten white”.

White sugar of the fine, round and low type was called male sugar because it was well purged, pure and of excellent quality.

2) brown sugar

It was also called brown, feet and cabochon. It was considered to be of lower quality compared to white sugar. Brown sugar, as we have seen, is brownish in color, has a greater amount of honey, is neither purged nor refined. It was used in food preparation, and even in the manufacture of brown sugar, garapa, cachaça, rum, etc.

Male: resulting from the leftovers of the male sugar. When the sugar was removed from the pan, it had its crust scraped off, which separated it from the white sugar, and that crust was brown sugar.

Smoothie: resulting from the leftovers of the beaten white sugar.

Honey: brown sugar made from purge honey. It was also used to make beaten brown or to make garapa and cachaça.

Remel: resulting from the purge honey of the white smoothie. If beaten, it could turn into beaten brown, and it was also used to make garapa and cachaça.

3) scum sugar

It was made from the foams resulting from the boiling phase of the broth. It was dark in color, used to make garapa, as well as food for slaves and animals.

Grand daugther: made with the first foam.
Resume: made with the second foam.
Cream: made with the third foam. It was beaten and crystallized.

4) Sugar by region

Gaspar Barléu, writing in the XNUMXth century, pointed out that depending on where the sugar came from, it received certain names. Here we have another type of nomenclature.

Wood: from the island of Madeira.
Canary Islands: from the Canary Islands, an archipelago owned by the Spaniards.
Mel: from a small island off the west coast of India, under Portuguese control.
Saint Thomas: from the island of São Tomé, a Portuguese possession in Africa. Barléu tells us that this sugar was of inferior quality, and was used to make syrups, preserves, medicines, etc.
Antilles: from the Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. In this case, it was produced by the Spaniards, or the Dutch or the French, depending on which island it came from.
Azores: from the Azores.
Cape Green: from Cape Verde.

There were other places, but I will mention these more important. However, the nomenclature of Brazilian or Brazil sugar is not found in the books I used to write this text.

5) Other types of sugar

mixed sugar

It was formed from a mixture of different sugars that were transported in boxes improperly.

Sugar Panela

The broth that ran during the boiling process was collected in pots and not purged. It was of poor quality and dark in color. Because it was sold in pots, it got that name.

Candi or Cande Sugar

refined and crystallized white sugar, used to sweeten beverages, foods and prepare medicines.

Here I presented some types of sugar and their nomenclatures used between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries we see new nomenclatures, but as the focus here is on sugar production in the Brazilian colonial period, I will stick to these examples.

Products Derived from Sugarcane Juice

Throughout the text I mentioned some producers derived from sugarcane juice as well as sugar itself, which is the focus of this work, but now to close this text, I will briefly talk about some of these products.

1) Sugarcane juice

Sugarcane juice is the raw material for several types of substances, which includes sugar itself, as already seen, however, sugarcane juice can be consumed pure. Since ancient times, the juice was already consumed, it was enough to squeeze the cane and collect the juice in a container and drink it.

Ready-to-eat cane juice.
Ready-to-eat cane juice.

There is no need for filtering at the time, although it is recommended to strain it before consuming it. People who worked or work in the cane fields sometimes consume the juice straight from the source, cutting a cane, peeling it, then cutting the stalk and breaking it with the teeth to extract the juice.

The broth is rich in sucrose, so it is a pure energy drink. In addition to sucrose, we find glucose, fructose, starch, a small amount of proteins, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, etc. In Brazil, the broth can be easily found in large cities in some cafeterias and even in small cafeterias, because thanks to the versatility of the mechanical presses, the broth is ready in a matter of seconds.

In addition to Brazil, other Latin American countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, etc. such a product can be found, as well as in India, Indonesia and Southeast Asian countries. I mention here the fact of consuming the juice, because in other places where sugarcane is planted, there is no custom of drinking it.

2) garapa

The word garapa in Portuguese has several meanings, with some meanings recurrent in regionalism, that is, they only exist in a certain region or country. In some places, garapa is synonymous with sugarcane juice.

However, in the Modern Age, garapa was the term given to a low quality drink with a sweet taste and brownish color. As we saw in the sugar manufacturing process, generally the foams that were not reused could be used to make garapa.

Dussen [1639] points us to an interesting detail; he says that when the mill was milling, that is, the sugar manufacturing process was started, the garapa was made with foams, however, when the mill was not milling, the garapa was made with low quality sugar, be it brown sugar, molasses or pan sugar. But in both cases, the garapa was mixed with a little water and consumed anyway.

“Blacks sometimes make a detestable mixture of black sugar and water, without the slightest fermentation, which they call Garapa. A cheap drink, black people use it in their parties that last up to 24 hours between dances, songs and drinks. They only fight, on these occasions, out of jealousy. Sometimes they add cashew leaves to garapa which, given its hot nature, makes the drink stronger”. (NIEUHOF, 1682, p. 304).

Tank with garapa in a modern contraption.
Tank with garapa in a modern contraption.

Garapa was a sweetened drink as mentioned, and was generally consumed by slaves, although Dussen [1639] says that garapa was also given to horses, cows and pigs.

Gilberto Freyre even said that horses that consumed a lot of garapa were short and fat, but had a lot of stamina.

Therefore, garapa was a low-quality and cheap drink, consumed by slaves, Indians and the poor population who did not have the money to buy cachaça, as wine and beer were not produced in Brazil, so only the rich had money to import mainly wine, as beer was seen as a drink of the lower classes.

The pioneers in some cases took garapa on their trips, as it served as an energy drink.

3) rapadura

Molasses being boiled for the preparation of brown sugar in a contemporary production.
Molasses being boiled for the preparation of brown sugar in a contemporary production.

Rapadura is a brownish sweet with a flavor similar to brown sugar. It has a large amount of sucrose, carbohydrates and some minerals such as iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sodium, etc.

It is an energy food due to its large amount of sugars. It was invented in the XNUMXth century in the Canarian archipelago or in the Azores archipelago, although it became a popular sweet in Brazil, especially in the northeastern region where most sugar mills were concentrated.

Rapadura originated from the act of scraping molasses from boilers and pots, so that it could be reused, hence it was initially called scraping.

In this case, these zest were boiled again and beaten, so that the molasses became a thick mass, then placed in rectangular shapes and left to cool and harden.

This facilitated transport and conservation, as it could last for months. It was used as a complement to the food of the poorest, it was consumed by travelers, it was given as food to slaves and even consumed as dessert.

Brown sugar bars.
Brown sugar bars.

Depending on the country, this sweet receives other names, but in Brazil it is widely known as rapadura, as well as in Portugal.

Today we have rapadura with mixed flavors, such as brown sugar, brown sugar with peanut, with chestnut, with chocolate, etc.

4) Cachaça

Cachaça, also known in some places in Brazil as pinga, cana, canha, etc., is a brandy made from sugar cane, and in the same way as other brandies such as vodka, tequila, rum, gin, etc. , have a high alcohol content. Cachaça is now considered a Brazilian national drink, and emerged around the XNUMXth century.


There is no certainty about the origin of this word. Some researches suggest that the term was a reference to the wild pigs that were called “cachaço”, because to soften their tough meat, this brandy was used, soon this drink would have been called cachaça.

Another hypothesis suggests that it is a variation of the Spanish word “cachaza”, the name given to a low quality wine consumed in Portugal and Spain, due to the fact that initially this brandy was of low quality, they made this analogy. However, this word had other meanings.

Antonil [1711] mentions that even in the XNUMXth century the word cachaça was used to refer to the first foam in the cane juice boiling process. This first foam was generally given to animals as a food supplement, although a very low quality sugar was also made, as seen in this text.

The second foam also came to be called cachaça over time, and was given to animals and slaves.

However, when these second and third foams began to be picked up and started to ferment, an alcoholic beverage began to appear, called sour garapa by some, a term used by Barléu in the XNUMXth century, however, others called it aguardente. sugarcane, cagaça, sugarcane wine, local wine (reference to be made in Brazil).

Some historians suggest that the word cachaça came from a variation of the word cagaça that was also used to refer to the foam from the boiling of sugarcane juice.

The original cachaça was made either from foams or molasses, where after going through another boil, it was deposited in a container (the use of barrels was later, as initially there was no interest in the production of this drink) to ferment for some time, and thus acquiring its alcohol content, however, when the distillation technique was used, the quality of the drink improved and its alcohol content rose.

The cachaça is usually transparent, but some types have a white or yellowish color, and if it is an aged cachaça, the color darkens.

At the end of the XNUMXth century, alembics were introduced in Brazil, an old and easy-to-use distillation instrument, which initially made of clay or copper began to distil foam or molasses, where other ingredients were added to improve the distillation and the taste of the drink, the best stills are copper stills for artisanal production.

In the 1587th and XNUMXth century, Gabriel Soares de Sousa [XNUMX] mentions the expression “home to bake honey” to refer to the place where cachaça was produced. However, over time the word still came to be used to designate the place where cachaça was produced and stored, and this term is still used in both senses today.

A small copper still and a mechanical mill. Even today in Brazil, although there is industrial production of cachaça, some companies adopt artisanal production.
A small copper still and a mechanical mill. Even today in Brazil, although there is industrial production of cachaça, some companies adopt artisanal production.

In the XNUMXth century, cachaça began to attract the taste of the population, including the elites, at the same time it became a currency of exchange in some places in Africa such as Angola, Congo and Guinea and Costa da Mina, places where the Portuguese had business for several decades. .

The Portuguese noticing that some African peoples started to appreciate this drink, began to trade it in exchange for slaves, so we see the mention of cachaça being exchanged for slaves. However, some more scrupulous merchants sold adulterated cachaça.

5) Origin of Rum

Rum emerged in the Caribbean islands around the XNUMXth century, the exact location is still a matter of debate, some suggest Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, etc. Originally it was discarded, or fed to animals or slaves. After discovering its potential as an alcoholic beverage, investment began in its development.

Rum would have appeared in Barbados, although this is not entirely certain.
Rum would have appeared in Barbados, although this is not entirely certain.

The oldest words to refer to this drink come from the English and French languages. From English there was the expression “kill-devil”, because at the time rum was presented by some as a type of medicine, which supposedly could purge evil spirits.

This fact is interesting, because if the reader remembers that sugar itself has already been used as a medicine, then this aspect is nothing strange. The French already called him a “rumbullion”. Other terms were: guildive and tafia. The word rum started to become more common after the mid-1661th century when the drink became popular. The first official mention dates from a document from Jamaica from XNUMX, issued by the then governor of the island.

Like cachaça, rum came to be used also as a barter currency, being used to trade slaves in Africa, and even trade with the Amerindians, exchanging rum for food, animal skins, wood, etc.

Rum became not only a popular drink, and supposedly a medicine, but also a valuable bargaining chip throughout the XNUMXth century and into the XNUMXth century, to the point where there was smuggling of this drink. Pirates became famous for smuggling it, hence the pirates' association with this drink.

Pirates carrying rum to buy slaves as described in The Pirates Own Book by Charles Ellms.
Pirates carrying rum to buy slaves as described in The Pirates Own Book by Charles Ellms.

Rum was originally made from the fermentation of sugarcane juice, which after being fermented was distilled, giving its high alcohol content and a transparent color. A technique was later developed to produce rum from molasses. Pure rum is transparent to slightly yellowish or whitish in color.


The more yellow color, caramel and brown, comes from the aging of this drink, or from the addition of coloring. Today there are several types of rum, and it is used as a base to produce some types of drinks and there is even rum syrup, used to make cakes and sweets.

NOTE 1: Drinks made with sugarcane juice or molasses did not appear in the Modern Age, as there are reports of some types of drinks made in India and China, where sugarcane was based.

NOTE 2: In Brazil, cachaça is the base ingredient for the famous drink called “caipirinha”.

NOTE 3: Gaspar Barléus briefly mentions in his book that the Romans would have known about sugar cane in their travels to the Middle East, and already mentioned the medicinal use of this substance, although they were not interested in cultivating it.

NOTE 4: At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, cachaça and rum were banned in some countries and colonies, as they were surpassing the metropolis' wine production. However, due to smuggling, the ban was lifted.

NOTE 5: Another element that can be produced from sugarcane is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Mainly used in the automobile industry as a fuel.

NOTE 6: In Brazil, plantations lasted until the beginning of the XNUMXth century, when they began to be replaced by mills. However, even today there are modern mills, linked to the production of sugar, cachaça and brown sugar.

NOTE 7: In 1660, in Brazil, the Cachaça Revolt took place, where the planters protested against the abusive increase in taxes on the drink.

Bibliographic references

  1. ABREU, Capistrano de. Colonial History Chapters: 1500-1800. Rio de Janeiro, M. Orosco & C., 1907. (Chapter V).
  2. AMARAL, Luís. General history of Brazilian agriculture in the triple aspect: political-social-economic – vol. 1. 2nd ed, São Paulo, Companhia Editora Nacional, 1958.
  3. BARLÉU, Gaspar. History of feats recently practiced for eight years in Brazil and elsewhere under the government of the most illustrious João Maurício, Conde Nassau, etc. Translation and annotations by Cláudio Brandão. Rio de Janeiro, Ministry of Education, 1940. p. 73-75.
  4. ANTONIL, André João. Culture and Opulence in Brazil for its drugs, and mines. Lisbon, Royal Workshop of Slandesiana, 1711.
  5. BRANDÃO, Antônio Fernando. Dialogues of the Greatness of Brazil. [1618], commented edition by Capistrano de Abreu, Salvador, Progresso, 1956.
  6. DUSSEN, Adriaen van der. Report on the captaincies conquered in Brazil by the Dutch (1639): their economic and social conditions. Translated by José Antonio Gonsalves de Mello Neto, Rio de Janeiro, Instituto do Açúcar e do Álcool, 1947. (Série História III).
  7. FREYRE, Gilberto. Northeast: aspects of the influence of sugarcane on the life and landscape of Northeast Brazil. 4th ed, Rio de Janeiro, José Olympio, 1967.
  8. THEFT, Celso. Brazil's economic formation. 32nd ed, São Paulo, Companhia Editora Nacional, 2005.
  9. MELLO, Evaldo Cabral de. Sugarcane bagasse: sugar mills in Dutch Brazil. São Paulo: Penguin Classics & Companhia das Letras, 2012.
  10. NIEUHOF, Joan. Memorable sea and land trip to Brazil. [1682]. Translated by Moacir N. Vasconcelos, São Paulo, Livraria Martins, 1966
  11. PRADO JR, Gaius. Economic history of Brazil. 26th ed, São Paulo, Editora Brasiliense, 1981.
  12. PEIXOTO, Afranio. History of Brazil. 2nd ed, São Paulo, Companhia Editora Nacional, 2008. (Series 3: History and Biography), (Chapters 1 and 3).
  13. PITTA, Sebastião da Rocha. História da América Portugueza, from the year of one thousand and five hundred of its discovery, until the one of one thousand and seven hundred and twenty-four. Lisbon, Workshop of Joseph Antonio da Sylva, 1730. p. 17-22.
  14. SIMONSEN, Roberto C. Economic history of Brazil: 1500-1820. São Paulo, Companhia da Editora Nacional, 1937. (Series 5, vol. 100), (Chapter V).
  15. SOUSA, Gabriel Soares de. Descriptive treaty of Brazil in 1587. 2nd ed, Rio de Janeiro, Typographia de João Ignácio da Silva, 1879.
  16. VARNHAGEN, Adolfo de. General history of Brazil before its separation and independence from Portugal – volume I. 2nd ed, São Paulo, L & H. Lammert, 1866. (Chapters VIII to X).

Bahia, Salvador and Northeast Tourism and Travel Guide

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