The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha

The Scramble for the Amazon and the "Lost Paradise" of Euclides da Cunha

Susanna B. Hecht

Language: English

Pages: 632

ISBN: 0226322815

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The fortunes of the late nineteenth century’s imperial and industrial powers depended on a single raw material—rubber—with only one source: the Amazon basin. And so began the scramble for the Amazon—a decades-long conflict that found Britain, France, Belgium, and the United States fighting with and against the new nations of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil for the forest’s riches. In the midst of this struggle, Euclides da Cunha, engineer, journalist, geographer, political theorist, and one of Brazil’s most celebrated writers, led a survey expedition to the farthest reaches of the river, among the world’s most valuable, dangerous, and little-known landscapes.
The Scramble for the Amazon tells the story of da Cunha’s terrifying journey, the unfinished novel born from it, and the global strife that formed the backdrop for both. Haunted by his broken marriage, da Cunha trekked through a beautiful region thrown into chaos by guerrilla warfare, starving migrants, and native slavery. All the while, he worked on his masterpiece, a nationalist synthesis of geography, philosophy, biology, and journalism he named the Lost Paradise. Da Cunha intended his epic to unveil the Amazon’s explorers, spies, natives, and brutal geopolitics, but, as Susanna B. Hecht recounts, he never completed it—his wife’s lover shot him dead upon his return.
At once the biography of an extraordinary writer, a masterly chronicle of the social, political, and environmental history of the Amazon, and a superb translation of the remaining pieces of da Cunha’s project, The Scramble for the Amazon is a work of thrilling intellectual ambition.

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where it took charge, on and off, for much of the twentieth century. Precarious Times Da Cunha’s world began in the twilight of the Bragança imperial monarchy, an empire buckling under internal stresses and the distracted indifference of Emperor Pedro II, who had come to power at the age of fifteen. His grandfather, Dom João VI, a royal fugitive, had abandoned Portugal after Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in . Dom João packed up his entire court and loaded them on thirty-three galleons

themselves marooned. Even the ruling magistrate of the Amazon, In the Times of Scrambles in the Land of the Amazons  Francisco Mendonça Furtado (brother to the crown’s foreign minister the Marquis of Pombal), was once ditched, along with the rest of his entourage, by his rowers off the coast of Marajó. By the mid and late nineteenth century, better survey and steamships were transforming the possibilities of travel. Steamers could carry much more cargo and bypassed the need for the

confusion. A casual shift in a river course or a place-name by a cartographer meant that tens of thousands of hectares could change nationality with the flick of a pen, and often did. The discovery of a valuable resource or an emerging strategic position could stir up dormant resentments and animate conflicts on the sleepy frontiers of ultra-peripheries, suddenly subjecting them to the scrutiny and meddling of global powers. The confusing and inventive features of cartographies was reflected in

the equatorial Atlantic. Choiseul and his agents were maintaining a useful network of spies throughout the region, and his interests in colonization were both military and economic. Choiseul and Pombal were both interested in white colonization for strategic reasons, due to the requirements of uti possedetis that inhered in the Madrid Treaty (whites would have a “reliable” nationality, unlike Indians or slaves) and concern whether slaves (who were chattel, not citizens) would be suitably loyal

of land and life, his attention to history, folklore, and landscape—are all present in his Amazonian work. As a man of letters and part of the rebellious literary coterie of Brazil’s Belle Époque, he was interested in national themes rather than the artistic possibilities of the transposed French genre of the novel of manners or the imitations of Alexander von Humboldt’s extravagant style. Euclides felt the “lexicon of science” was most evocative of the region because most exact. Of the prose of

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