• Brazil, the World Cup, and Development: Connecting Soccer, Politics, and Economics

The Rubber Capital

Today was our first full day in Manaus or in Portuguese “the Mother of the Gods”. Manaus was created under the rubber industry that brought people from all over the world and jobs to the civilians (mostly the indigenous population) already living there. Now it remains an industrial hub for primarily electronics. This extensive industrial culture of Manaus created our initial surprise of the city - a lot of people spoke English. Since there were so many industries coming here, English is a language that many people used to understand each
other. It was interesting that this city out of the way in the North had more English speakers that we experienced than the other larger cities we’ve been to. When we spoke to people about Manaus before we got here they all asked, “Why would you want to go there?” or stated that they knew nothing about it. They don’t tend to visit Manaus because it is tucked away in the North (a four hour plane ride from Rio) and people who can afford to spend money on plane tickets would rather travel somewhere else. You may ask, “Why would they not want to see the Amazon Rainforest?” and it’s because the Brazilians don’t really care much about it other than it being an important entity of Brazil. Also, since Manaus is located in the North, it is home to a more indigenous and “uncivilized” type of people. Unfortunately, this underlying racism of “purity of blood” causes the indigenous population to be discriminated against for not having any Portuguese blood in them (which is considered the purest) and is still present in Brazil, therefore many people do not want to visit a place with these conditions (Montero 12).

Today on our tour, we went to see the Rio Negro Palace, which is now a cultural center. When it was built, it was home to two German people with twenty working servants. They demonstrated the extravagant culture that the leaders in the rubber industry had. Next, we ventured into a huge market. Here you could buy fruit by the bulk, hundreds of different fish, and handmade crafts. The fish market was a whole warehouse of people selling fish. Luckily, due to the high humidity, the abundance of fish did not create the foul smell we were expecting or attract flies. We also found out that the fruit in our favorite drink here, Guaraná, is an Amazonian native. It also provides higher levels of caffeine than coffee that has been thankfully keeping us going on these long excursions. Outside, the market has a unique little road that for 6 months of the year allows cars to travel on it and for the other six months, when the river rises, allows boats to pass through and sell their merchandise. Since flying is so expensive, many people here travel on their boats with all of their cargo for trade. They can spend up to a month sleeping on a hammock with dozens of animals as their company.

Lastly, we went to the first building built in Manaus, which was the Amazon opera house built from 1880-1896. There, we learned from our guide that it was built on the highest land so it would not flood during the plentiful rainfall. It was built with materials from all
over the world making it a global centerpiece in the city and again portrayed the decadence of people during the rubber boom. When people came to cash in on the rubber industry, they brought many materials to help create the opera house. The front entrance alone represents materials from France, England, Italy, and Portugal. The rubber also served an innovative purpose when it came to the cobble stone outside of the
theatre. The carriages on the cobblestone were too loud and echoed during the performances so they infused rubber in with brick in order to absorb the sound of the carriages.  The opera house is outside of a square that is centered with a statue built in 1967 that celebrates the passage of other countries coming into Manaus with their
industries after the rubber boom had ended (due the continued price raises on the material). We were familiar with the tile covering the square with its black and white waving patterns. We had seen it as a popular symbol of Copacabana Beach while we were in Rio and so wondered why it would be here as well. The architect who built the monument and the square made the tile to represent the coming together of the two rivers, Negro and Solimoes, in Manaus. The architect was from Rio so he brought the same design to them. Again, since many Brazilians don’t know much about Manaus, they see it as an only Rio artwork.

We are excited to continue our exploration of Manaus. Tomorrow we are going into the Amazon and be able to experience the “green lung” of our world and an ecological wonder. We are all excited!

Fun Fact: the Amazonian military trains pumas and cheetahs as we do dogs, so basically they beat us by a score in style points.