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Brazil Travel

Ilhéus

ilhéus brazil
Hiking Tours / Brazil – Ilhéus is a popular travel destination in South Bahia, located at the so-called cacao coast, about half distance (300 km) between Salvador, in the north and Porto Seguro, in the south. The cities history began about three decades after the arrival of Pedro Álvares Cabrals squadron at Monte Pascoal, with the introduction of hereditary captaincies, by the Portuguese crown.

In 1534, the Captaincy of Ilhéus was donated to Jorge de Figueiredo Correa, who sent Francisco Romero in his place and who founded the captaincies headquarter at today´s Bahia do Pontal. Romero named the captaincy "São Jorge dos Ilhéus" as a tribute to the donee Jorge de Figueiredo Correa and Ilhéus, because the many islands in the region.

In 1754, the Portuguese government ended the hereditary captaincy system and the land returned to the government's hands. At the time, Brazil's many uncompetitive sugar estates, which had not followed the lead of other countries and introduced new production techniques to increase sugar output, were reeling from a drop in world sugar prices. Simultaneously, the slave system was finally coming to an end, with many slaves escaping and others being freed. With the sugar plantations in the doldrums, impoverished agricultural workers from the Northeast (black and white) came to the hills surrounding Ilhéus to farm the new boom crop: cacao, the ouro branco (white gold) of Brazil. It had been introduced into the region probably in 1746, by the french colonist Louis Frederic Warneaux, who brought the seed from the Amazon, where the cacao plant is native to.

It is told that the scramble for the white cacao fruit displayed all the characteristics of a gold rush. The land and power belonged to a few ruthless coronéis (rural landowners) and their hired gunmen. The landless were left to work, and usually lived on the fazendas, where they were subjected to a harsh and paternalistic labor system. This history is graphically told by Jorge Amado (Brazil's best-known novelist), who grew up on a cacao plantation, in his book Terras do Sem Fim (published in English as The Violent Land). Until today the lush tropical hills are covered with the skinny cacao trees with large, pod-shaped fruit dangling. (see Ilhéus 1)

Over the course of the next six decades, the economy grew significantly and by 1870 Ilhéus had become a monocultural agricultural area devoted to the production of cacao. By 1890 cacao was one of Bahia’s most important crops and one of Brazil’s most important exports, while Bahia was the second largest cacao producer in the world. In the process, cacao not only supplanted sugar and staples, it also allowed planters and farmers to retain valuable timber and it overcame coffee, arguably the crop enjoying the strongest international demand at the time. Ilhéus wealth and fortune during the twenties was outstanding and many beautiful buildings such as the São Sebastião Cathedral, the Paranaguá Palace, or the houses of the former cacao - coronéis Tavares and Berbet have been constructed at that time (see Ilhéus 2).

The "vassoura da bruxa" ("witch's broom disease") a fungus introduced from the Amazon in the eighties initiated the decline of cacao production in southern Bahia and the end of prosperity in Ilhéus. The vassoura da bruxa was responsable for one of the largest agricultural crises in Brazilian history. As the voracious fungus eats its way into the cacao plants, causing leaves to shrivel and the fruit to putrefy from within, many cash-strapped growers were forced to chop down and sell the tall-standing trees that granted them the necessary shade to grow the plants. Many farmers had been forced to abandon their land and to move to the cities. The despair was so deep that some of them committed suicide (see Ilhéus 3). Cacao production plummeted from 410,000 tons per year in the mid-1980s to about 100,000 tons per year, throwing the local economy into a tailspin and more than 25,000 growers into despair. Until today, Ilhéus and its region have never recovered from this crisis – Ecotravel & Tours / Brazil.

See also: Tour Porto Seguro - Salvador / Climate