XII Southern Provinces A FAITHFUL COLPORTEURA COASTING STEAMERBY WAGON AND HORSEBACKTHE BIBLE OR THE ALMANAC.
THE territory embraced in the journeys now to be described includes the southern provinces of Paraná, Santa Catharina, and Rio Grande do Sul, and the great interior province of Matto Grosso. This latter forms the extensive highlands or table lands of Brazil, reaching towards the Andes: it is drained on the one side by the Amazon and on the other by the La Plata rivers.
It was on a Sunday morning in Nov. 1888 when I sailed out of Rio bay on board a national coasting steamer, bound for the Provinces of Santa Catharina and Paraná. Our voyage was one of the stormiest that I have ever made. Our passengers were all dreadfully sea-sick, as Brazilians generally are, in which misery I took an active part, as I generally do. We called at Santos, of which port we have already spoken, and at Paranagua, to which reference will be made later on. The storm continued for three days, and so did the sea-sickness. I made some effort to offer the Scriptures to all on board, but no one was in the humour for buying, and I was really too much taken up with internal disturbances to enter heartily into the work. I think about the only passage of Scripture that could have been fully appreciated just at that time was, 'and there was no more sea;" I am confident that many longed for such a land.
The distance from Rio to Desterro, the capital of Santa Catharina, is 485 miles. This city, now called Florianopolis, has a population of about 25,000 inhabitants, and is located on a large island, distant from the mainland about two miles. The channel between the island and the mainland furnishes a safe harbour for vessels, unless in case of a storm sweeping along the coast.
Our colporteur, Sr. Pedro Di-Giovanni, who had been at work there for a time, came on board to take me ashore and gave me a warm welcome to his bachelor's quarters in a small rented house near the shore. He has worked in several districts, and is well known and highly esteemed by many of the missionaries and native Christians. He has been longer in the service than any other man that we now have, has never demanded a large salary, has all the time been very economical, and often has paid his own travelling expenses out of his small earnings. I adapted myself to his style of living and travelling while with him. We spent several days together in the city, and sold a good many Scriptures, being for the most part kindly received, while a number of persons showed much interest in the Gospel. The President of the Province at that time was known to be a warm friend to the Protestant cause and had frequently heard the Gospel in the Presbyterian Church in Rio de Janeiro. He received me cordially, and we had a most interesting conversation on the religion of Jesus Christ and the circulation of the Bible. I found that he hesitated to declare publicly his faith because of social and political interests. After recent experiences of opposition and persecution in other parts it was quite refreshing to find the people generally so kindly disposed toward us and our work. There was not a missionary at that time in the State, and only one or two had by chance visited Desterro in passing up and down the coast. Upon a further study of the spirit of the people I found that German Protestant influence had done much to remove prejudices and enlighten many; the fact also that no active and aggressive missionary work up to that time had been attempted in the Province was a consideration. I met one of the seven German Lutheran pastors, who were serving the colonists located in different sections of the Province and learned that they were making no special evangelistic efforts to reach the Brazilians, but were confining their work exclusively to the German colonists. Very little had been done in the way of circulating the Scriptures among these colonists and their children, who are growing up in large numbers and settling in the country. Here was work that we must evidently undertake sooner or later.
The interest manifested by many in the city to know more of the Gospel led me to hire a suitable room where I preached twice to large and attentive audiences, the only disturbance being that made by a few bad boys in the street. I was impressed that this was a favourable place to locate a mission station. The Presbyterians who have since opened work in the city have been very successful, although their efforts have provoked some opposition, as might be expected when the Romanists see that the Protestants mean to carry on continued and aggressive work.
A few towns and settlements along the coast and near the rivers may be reached by small vessels, and there is one railroad sixty-five miles long from the town of Laguna on the coast, but apart from these the Bible must be carried by pack mule to the 285,000 souls scattered over the State.
The colporteur and I decided to try first a journey along the coast. As a matter of economy our colporteurs always travel second class on the trains, and second or steerage on the steamers. I have made it a rule when travelling and working along with them to take the same fare that they do, though sometimes it is hard to the flesh, and perhaps in a measure prejudicial to the health. In the present instance we embarked on a small coasting vessel one afternoon, and there being no second class we took the steerage. As soon as our vessel was fairly under headway we were called to dinner: each man was given a tin plate or pan, a cup and spoon; the fejuada, (black beans and dried salt beef seasoned with a bit of fat bacon) sprinkled over with mandioca meal, was dished out plentifully. All sat around on deck with pans in hand eating, and finished up the meal with a cup of black coffee. We made a canvass of the ship and sold a few copies of the Scriptures. Some showed interest in the Gospel, and we had occasion to explain to them more about the book and the way of salvation. When the hour for retiring came I went below to view the prospect: the sight was repulsive and the odours unbearable. It would be difficult to describe fully the rooms, or rather the one large apartment, with a few bunks, and hammocks, the filthy bedding, the sea-sick passengers, the heat and the odours. I quickly returned to the deck and began looking around for some sheltered spot where I could rest for the night. Drawing on my mackintosh to shield me from the cold and drizzling rain, making my pillow a coil of rope, I soon fell asleep and but for the cold wind and rain might have passed a fairly comfortable night. Fresh air with wind and rain
was preferable by far to filth, heat and bad smells. The next morning we had a cup of coffee and a bit of coarse stale bread just before we reached the town of San Francisco on an island of the same name, and with a population of about 3,000. There we disembarked and secured lodging in a second rate hotel. We had a most interesting time offering the Scriptures and talking with the people. Quite a number bought copies, and many expressed a desire to have us remain longer with them: but after finishing the canvass we continued our journey to other parts. The Presbyterian mission has now a most interesting group of believers in the town. From that point we took a small launch up the bay and along a small river to the town of Joinville, a German colony founded about 1851. There were at the time of my visit more than 10,000 persons in the district, of whom one-third were Romanists and the remaining two-thirds Lutherans. I found among them churches, schools, a printing press and weekly paper, shops, factories, etc. This colony has proven a great success. I found that they were poorly supplied with Bibles, and as our stock in the German language was small we had to leave the work to be done at a later date. When a colporteur with a good supply did visit them he had large sales. I spent a Sunday there, a day never to be forgotten. It was painful to note early in the morning that this was the great market day: the colonists began coming in large numbers with the produce from their farms and gardens: buying and selling went on at a lively rate all through the village. At ten o'clock few gathered in the church for the usual weekly worship: I counted nine men and boys and thirty-four women and girls. I was not sufficiently acquainted with the language to understand the sermon, but the whole service seemed rather a perfunctory performance, in which there was little evidence of the Spirit's presence. Doubtless these German settlers are models of industry and thrift for the Brazilians, but I fear they have done but little to give them a true conception of the real character of the religion of Jesus Christ, as set forth in the Bible.
Another of the famous and most successful of the ten or more German colonies located in this State is farther south and in the valley of the Itajahy river. This colony bears the name of Dr. Blummenau, who founded it a half a century ago. The colonists have prospered in many ways: their agricultural school and their libraries have proven great blessings to them; they have many saw mills, sugar and other factories, have constructed a number of bridges and have built many miles of road. This colony was awarded a prize of 10,000 francs at the Paris Exposition of 1867 as being one of the institutions of most benefit to humanity. We have shipped supplies of Scriptures direct from Rio, which have been distributed among the colonists who comprise about three-fourths of the population of the district.
From Joinville we went inland a distance of about forty miles to the village of Oxford. We travelled in a covered wagon drawn by five horses; the road was macadamized; the houses along the way were well built, and fenced in, having nicely cultivated flower gardens; there were occasional stores, blacksmith shops, school houses, churches, etc., by the roadside and the whole aspect of the country was more German than Brazilian. At different places along the way I made such entries in my note book as the following, "here we sold one Bible and two New Testaments," "there we sold fourteen copies of the Scriptures," and so on. From Oxford we walked two and a half miles to the village of São Bento, and carried as many Scriptures as we could: the way was dusty and the sun hot, and our burdens seemed to increase in weight all the time. But we had good sales, and felt amply paid for the toilsome effort. The German pastor bought three Bibles and gave me an order for a number to be sent him from Rio.
At Oxford we found another wagon that took us quite a distance further interior. At the terminus of this stage we secured animals and started out on a route that led us to the borders of a section inhabited by wild Indians. The trading station where we stopped was owned by a Russian. A number of Indians were about the place. We sold two copies of the Scriptures: the Russian at my request kindly interpreted passages of the Word to several Indians present. They seemed very much interested, and desired him to continue. From that point our journey was in the direction of the Province of Paraná: we had to cross Indian territory. As we journeyed along two settlers met us and warned us to turn aside and go into Paraná by another route, as the Indians were very angry with the whites at that time. A party of white men in an encounter with them had killed about twenty or thirty, including a number of women and children. We were told that some of the Indian women knelt before the armed men, pleading to be spared, but they were most brutally murdered. We hastened a retreat and took another road, though a somewhat longer one: distance and travel were preferable to the prospect of falling into the hands of the enraged red men. There was little or no opportunity for Bible work through this section, and in order to save time our guide had prepared food before hand, so that we would not have to stop to cook anything. The food generally prepared for such occasions consists of dried beef or chicken cooked and mixed with a good quantity of farinha, (the dry mandioca meal) and sometimes black beans are included. This is put into a sack and may last for several days. The second or third day out I called the guide's attention to the fact that the meat was no longer good. He remarked, "I am surprised, this has been cooked only five days, and I was calculating that it would be good for at least eight." For my part I suffered hunger that day: we fortunately arrived early the following day where we obtained fresh food.
After crossing into Paraná the first place visited was Rio Negro, a village of a few hundred inhabitants, surrounded by quite a large agricultural population. There we sold Scriptures in several different languages, colonists of several nationalities having settled in that district. Among them was quite a colony of Polish emigrants. A small Catholic church on one side of the village had been given up entirely to them, and an Italian priest, who was reported to be seeking gain, had compromised with them on a form of worship and the mass. He of course mumbled his ceremonies in Latin, and they nearly all with books in hand insisted on singing wierd and dirge-like music with words in their own language. The scene was a striking one as I stood at the door and looked in that Sunday morning. There was the priest in all his robes with his acolytes dressed in white and black, all bowing and bending around the brilliantly ornamented altar and images: through the centre of the church, running more than half way back, was a tier of low benches without backs upon which were seated all the women and children: each woman and large girl was dressed in a white waist, a gay and varied coloured skirt, with a fancy coloured handkerchief tied over the head. The men were dressed in white shirts, with pants stuck in their big boot tops, a broad leather belt about the waist from which hung a pistol or a big knife, and a satchel swung over the shoulder; they stood in the spaces on each side and in the rear of the church encircling the women, as if they were on guard or were there for protection: they as well as the women took an active part in the weird and mournful singing. There were very few Brazilians present, and they stood on the outside. We met an occasional German Protestant in that section, and were impressed with the liberalizing influence their presence was having in the community.
From that village our journey was northward to the town of Lapa, and thence onward to Curitiba. We spent a number of days along the way, travelling on foot, on horse-back, and in a wagon. We arrived at a river which had overflown its banks and swept away the bridge, leaving only the large cross beams, which had been fastened more securely to the abutments. We had to crawl over on these, carrying on our backs our baggage, saddles, and books, and our animals were made to swim across the angry stream. We stopped that night at a small hut near the river where a family was living in great poverty: they seemed to take much delight in giving us shelter, though we had to furnish our own food and do the cooking: we took occasion to divide with them as they apparently had little or nothing to eat. How they manage to live I could not discern. The only thing I saw them take, save what we gave them, was the mate, usually denominated the Paraguay tea, which all sipped through a quill from the same gourd, passing it around as the Indians do the pipe. Our room was small, with a rough board floor, mud walls, and a wooden roof: our light was a tallow candle moulded in a piece of bamboo, or large cane: one side was split down for a few inches, broken to a right angle and stuck in the wall, thus serving for candle-stick: as the candle was consumed the bamboo was broken away a little at a time: our beds were a few poles strapped together and resting on cross pieces of wood, supported by a fork on one side, and by being driven into the mud wall on the other. We read to the man and his family passages of the Scriptures and talked to them of Jesus and His salvation. When I asked him if he would not like to have a Bible, he went to his room, brought an Ayers' Almanac, which is printed in Portuguese and distributed gratuitously through Brazil, and said that he had some months previously made a trip to the seacoast, that a merchant had very generously given him the book, that he had not yet finished reading it and it would be useless to have another book until he had read all that was in this one. He wanted to know if I considered the almanac a good book. I was much taken back, and really had nothing to say against the pamphlet, for I remembered how fondly, when a boy, I read the jokes in Ayer's Almanac. He had been kind in giving us shelter and mate and I left with them a Bible as we bade them good-bye the next day. This journey led us through a region from which is gathered large quantities of the mate. This Paraguayan tea is simply the leaves of a forest tree or shrub which grows without cultivation, gathered while green, dried over a hot fire, and then broken or ground up in mills. It makes a refreshing drink whose tonic influences extend over several hours. It is taken freely the first thing in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon, and in the evening after dinner. The mode of drinking it is from a little egg-shaped gourd usually about three or four inches in depth and about three in diameter. This is filled with the dry leaves from an opening at the smaller end, then boiling water is added as much as it will contain, a long tube about the size of a lead pencil with a kind of perforated bulb serving as a strainer is inserted in the gourd and the tea is imbibed through this. It may be the section of a cane or reed, while some are made of metal, and the finer ones of silver. These gourds and tubes are many times beautifully and artistically ornamented for the wealthier people. The gourd holds only a few swallows, and after being emptied is again refilled and handed in turn to each person composing the company. The host always samples it before passing it to the guests. The mate is pretty generally used by all classes in Southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the Argentine Republic, and it is exported to many other ports of South America. Some efforts have been made to introduce it into other countries.
At the town of Lapa, in a number of villages and country settlements on the way to Curitiba we sold many copies of the Scriptures in several different languages, precious seed that must bring forth its fruits some day: indeed the missionaries have already extended their work along that line and are gathering in numbers of believers.
Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná, a city of 20,000 inhabitants, situated on a plain more than 2,500 feet above the level of the sea, and about seventy-five miles from the coast, is a comparatively modern and well built city. A railroad from Paranagna, with several short branches, has now nearly 200 miles open to traffic. At the time of my visit there was a well established Presbyterian mission in the city, with a successful school. We spent several days in the city and were very successful in our sales of Bibles. The field was so large and inviting that I left the colporteur to carry on the work. In consultation with the workers there plans were formed for extending the distribution through the State, which plans have been largely carried out, and different colporteurs have from time to time gone to almost every section of the State scattering the seed. The missionaries and native preachers have all the time most heartily co-operated in these efforts, and we have distributed the Scriptures through the State in the Portuguese, German, Italian, Polish, English, Arabic, and other languages. This field has been the scene of much active Gospel work and of gratifying results during the last ten or twelve years.
In the city of Curitiba I was admiring the vast proportions of an unfinished Roman Catholic Church on a prominent site, and inquired of a gentleman near by why the church had not been completed. His reply was that once the stone and material for finishing it were all on the ground and the money largely in hand; but just at that time the Emperor proposed to visit the city: they decided to use the stone and the money to complete a portion of the macadamized road from the sea coast for the occasion, and since that time they had not been able to secure the funds necessary for the work. This appreciation of the Emperor's visit stood in striking contrast to the sentiments I heard in a Republican speech one night in the city about two months after the overthrow of the Monarchy. The young statesman was most unkind and unjust in his remarks about the Emperor and the Imperial family: and what was more surprising was that a number of his auditors approved of the ingratitude and the unjust criticisms.
The railroad through the serro from Curitiba to Paranagua is a clever feat of engineering skill. The road winds around and up mountain sides, over deep chasms and through tunnels, and is said to have been the scene of many horrible deaths during the naval revolt of 1893-4, when revolutionists were carried in numbers on the train to the higher points and hurled alive into the depths below.