This is the first book-length publication dealing with a German Mennonite community in Brazil. It is an extensive description of Witmarsum, Paraná, a rural colony located forty miles west of Curitiba, the state capital. The book is part of a cooperative effort of the university’s arts and sciences faculty to study Parana’s plateau grasslands (Campos Gerais). The purposes of the long-term research project include the tracing of the social and economic structures and processes in the area since the nineteenth century. The Campos Gerais have been the scene of numerous attempts at colonization by European immigrants and most of the early efforts proved unsuccessful. Since 1910, however, various immigrant colonists have established thriving agricultural settlements in this area.
The book is a multidisciplinary effort. Chapters have been written by a geologist, a geographer, several historians, a sociologist, and graduate students of economics and education. Although most of the chapters are solo efforts, one (“Economic Structure”) involves four collaborators. In such an eclectic effort it is understandable that the quality of the chapters varies considerably. In addition, a certain amount of repetition results from the multiple authorship, and there is a pronounced tendency to neglect the more profound problems which some of the descriptive evidence suggests. For example, the role of internal conflict in the colony’s development is scarcely noted.
Methodologically the work is extremely unsophisticated. The book’s strength, however, is in its usefulness for comparisons with the Mennonites of Paraguay, ably analyzed in H. Hack’s Kolonisation der Mennoniten im paraguayischen Chaco. In spite of the excellent efforts of the senior authors, the book tends to be somewhat disjointed. Most of the data are presented in tabular form, though excellent maps and several ingenious graphic devices are employed.
The book examines the historical backgrounds of the social and economic development of the Campos Gerais. Detailed descriptive accounts are given of Witmarsum’s geographical and general ecological situation. Separate chapters are devoted to a brief history of the Mennonites since their arrival in Brazil as refugees from Russia in 1930, to the colony’s current demographic composition, and to major institutional structures and processes. Detailed statistical information is given about the colony school, cooperative, agro-industry, churches, and familial organization and behavior. In short, the book is an example of the general community study so popular in the United States several decades ago.
For the social scientist concerned about rural social problems Witmarsum serves as an example par excellence of agrarian reform in action. Less than twenty years ago, this land was a 20,000-acre ranch which supported one affluent family, plus a dozen poverty-stricken cowboys and their families. Today more than 120 families are practicing intensive farming on land that is admittedly inferior. Yet in 1965 this reviewer discovered that 18 percent of Witmarsum’s farmers had milking machines, 34 percent had tractors, and 30 percent had automobiles. To find in Brazil tillers of the soil who work bare footed in their fields and barns, yet own automobiles, is indeed a remarkable experience. These farmers are part of that very small group of rural, middle-class Brazilians who are laborers, managers, and capitalists. Here is an object lesson in nonviolent agrarian revolution which could transform much of Brazil’s landscape into properties of self-respecting farmers who have title to their lands and the skills to farm them profitably. Excellent summaries of the book are given in English, French, and German.