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Brazil

Day 71: Blumenau to Pomerode

 
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Hanna Lora in her kitchen.
Michael Palin - BrazilWhen everything is ready the local priest says grace and gives a short sermon at the same time. The excellent Sunday roasts are served up. There's jollity, encouraged by some very good beer, but it's quite contained within the family. Hanna Lora was born in Pomerode, one of fourteen children, to German-speaking parents. Her many children and grandchildren are all bilingual, but, unlike the majority of people in this country of immigrants, Hanna Lora remains wedded to the culture that her grandparents brought over with them. She is German first and Brazilian second. When I ask her how it is that the Germans, of all Brazil's millions of immigrants, have remained so homogeneous, she points to the fact that her forefathers who settled this part of Brazil knew exactly what they were doing. These were not chancers looking for a better life. They came in large numbers, were highly organized and motivated, had their own very strong culture and knew how they wanted to live. For them, rather like the Pilgrim Fathers, the New World was a place where the old world could be rebuilt the way they wanted it. Pomerode is very important to Hanna Lora. Though Santa Catarina State has always been a haven for German settlers, Pomerode remains the core, the heartland, of the German way of life. The schools are bilingual, the children learning subjects in both German and Portuguese. Other cities are changing, she says, becoming more integrated, less German, but the Pomerode city authorities are, like her, hardline and unwilling to compromise. It wasn't always like this. Hanna Lora can remember her father telling her of the days when it was very hard to keep their German identity. In the 1930s President Vargas's government pursued a vigorous policy of abrasileiramento, Brazilianization. The pleasant Itajaí Valley, where we are now, was described as a place of 'strange costumes, full of non-national Brazilians, a place of the disintegration of the national spirit'. She herself has met no discrimination and the German community is now free to live the way it wants to. There is a rather sad downside to all this, which I learn from my translator, Dayse. This well-kept, house-proud little city of Pomerode holds a melancholy record. It has the highest suicide rate in the country. (The suicide rate in Brazil, as in most other Latin American countries, is low, with 4.8 deaths for every 100,000 people. The homicide rate, by comparison, is very high, at 28.4 per 100,000.) It's hard to know why Pomerode should be particularly bad, but research suggests that hard-working Protestant, agricultural, conservative communities are the most at risk.

If the young people of the area are anything to go by, then the German-ness of Pomerode and its pretty rolling hills is unlikely to be abandoned any time soon. After lunch, at least thirty of them, in full national dress, stage some traditional dancing for us. We repair to the Carl Weege Museum, or the Casa do Imigrante, as it's called in Portuguese, where the history of the first settlers, Weege being foremost amongst them, is commemorated. It's well done, with rooms decorated in early settler style – simple and well-made furniture, embroidered bedspreads and portraits of formidable, extravagantly mustachioed founding fathers.
 
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Her family and friends help themselves to Sunday lunch.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 71: Blumenau to Pomerode
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Pomerode
  • Book page no: 296

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