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Alagoas - History
The oldest references to the area where today is Alagoas date back to 1501; an expedition commanded by Americo Vespucio, coming along the coast from north to south, mentioned the river São Francisco (which today makes borders between Alagoas and Sergipe).
On the following years, the French explored the area, bartering pau-brasil with the indians; until today, there are places in Alagoas like Port of the French or Beach of the French.
To protect the colony from invasions, the Portuguese instituted the Capitanies; Alagoas, then, was part of the Capitany of Pernambuco, one of few which prospered, thanks to the plantations of sugar cane. Around and after 1550, the Capitain of Pernambuco, Duarte Coelho, who had settled in the region of Olinda, sent expeditions to Alagoas, which founded villages and prepared the infrastructure for new cane plantations.
In 1556, a bishop called Pero Fernandes Sardinha was going from Bahia to Portugal when his ship sank near the Alagoas coast; in an episode which became historic, Sardinha was killed and eaten by the indians; the Portuguese sent an expedition to fight the caetés (the canibal tribe), and almost anihilated them.
In 1630, several engenhos (sugar cane processing farms) were already established, when the Dutch invaded Olinda and Recife and moved towards Alagoas; several villages were looted and burned down. In the fierce battles which followed against Brazilian and Portuguese, the Dutch had the help of a half-white-half-indian called Domingos Fernandes Calabar (the name Calabar, along with José Silvério dos Reis, who betrayed
Tiradentes, became forever known in Brazil as Betrayers).
Even with the help of Calabar, who had excellent knowledge of the terrain, the Dutch were defeated and retreated to Olinda; on the Brazilian side, an indian called Felipe Camarão (along with his wife, Clara Camarão), had important participation and became historic characters.
After the Dutch were expelled, a new war happened in Alagoas. The black slaves who escaped from the engenhos tried to live freely in communities known as quilombos; the quilombos were a State, organized in ways similar to the African tribes. The largest quilombo ever formed in Brazil was the Quilombo dos Palmares, chiefed for a long time by Zumbi dos Palmares (today the icon of Brazilian blacks); this Quilombo lasted more than one century, and at its peak occupied a large area, covering parts of Pernambuco and Alagoas.
The landlords financed several expeditions to try to kill Zumbi and destroy the Quilombo; the
bandeirantes, who had important role in gaining possessions to Brazil, were hired as mercenary forces against the Quilombos.
In 1694, after decades of failed attacks (which slowly degraded the defensive conditions of the blacks), the Quilombo was finally taken. A triple raid, whose armies were led by Domingos Jorge Velho (a bandeirante), Sebastião Dias and Bernardo Vieira de Melo, which had been hired by landlords and the governor of Pernambuco, completely dominated the Quilombo; Zumbi fled, but was killed - in battle - with some fellows on November 20th 1695 (the date is today, in Brazil, Day of the Black Conscience).
During the century 18th, the sugar cane plantations thrived; tobacco was also successfully introduced. The economy of Alagoas was heavily based on some plantations; several engenhos were established, and the region saw an economic boom, with materialized in roads, public buildings and infrastructure.
In 1817, Alagoas became a province, independent from Pernambuco. Sugar was not so valuable as it had once been, but it was still enough to keep Alagoas a prosperous province.
After the Brazilian independence, in 1822, until the Republic proclamation, in 1889, the governors of Alagoas were indicated by the Emperor. Often times, the govenors were outsiders, with not much interest in Alagoas; the preferencial attention of the central government, which earlier had shifted to the gold producer States, was now shifting towards the coffee producers.
After the Republic, not even the interesting fact that the first two Presidents (Deodoro da Fonseca and Floriano Peixoto) were from Alagoas prevented a decline of the State.
There was turbulence in the first decade of Republic; governors, either elected or indicated by the Central government, didn´t last long in office. In the first years of the 20th century, the family Malta inaugurated a tradition which still has visible traces in Alagoas and other States of northeast: the oligarchies; Euclides Malta was elected governor in 1900, he was succeeded by his brother Joaquim in 1903, and returned in 1906, to be re-elected in 1909.
The concentration of economic power in hands of the few farmers (sugar cane is a very extensive culture, requiring very large extensions of land), associated with the low educational levels of the masses, had as consequence the fact that the elections were easily controlled; it was not difficult to persuade the illiterate peasants (the economy was, until recently, predominantly rural), who depended on the good will of farmlords, to vote on whatever candidate the lords indicated. It was called oligarchy ("government of few") because the dominant families had agreement among themselves, so as to define who would win an election, and who would win the next one.
Even though the oligarchies existed in a few other States, Alagoas is one of the States where they were more noticeable. In 1950s, the oligarchs fought each other. In 1957, there was a process going on to impeach governor Muniz Falcão; during a session in the State Parliament, the father-in-law of the governor was killed by a rival politician; the atmosphere of tension created contributed to stop the development of the State.
In 1979, ex-governor Arnon de Mello convinced the militaries who ruled the country to nominate his son, Fernando Collor de Mello, governor of Alagoas (the Mello had connections with the Malta, as shown by the fact that Fernando was married to Rosane Malta). As governor, Fernando Collor passed a law giving tax breaks to the sugar cane farmers; the sharp decrease in tax revenues contributed to aggravate the fiscal crisis which Alagoas has been going through. Elected President of Republic in 1990, Fernando Collor was impeached, leaving the Presidency in 1992.
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