Concentration Camps in Northeast Brazil, 1915-1932

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Student Research Reports, Summer 2018

Remaining walls from the hospital facilities at Campo do Patú, Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo by Laura Belik.)
Remaining walls from the hospital facilities at Campo do Patú, Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo by Laura Belik.)

Concentration Camps in Northeast Brazil, 1915-1932
By Laura Belik

A series of seven Concentration Camps built between 1915 and 1932 housed refugees from the droughts in Northeast Brazil. Today only one remains partially standing, but the consequences of this state policy towards this population in despair reflects on and has consequences in the Brazilian society until today. My field research in Ceará tried to unveil the nuances and contradictions these spaces portray by visiting the areas of three former camps, portraying archival work and bibliographical research with local materials, and meeting researchers, scholars and professionals that have worked or are involved with investigations on the topic. Despite their importance both locally and nationally, the existence of the Camps is very little known amongst the Brazilian population, and materials on the topic are very scarce. Through this field experience the need for a reconstruction of the imaginary of these ephemeral spaces also became clear, which might be possible to be done through narratives and descriptions, newspaper articles and the few existing images. Today Campo do Patu’s constructions are in the process of being recognized as a local heritage site, both through its remaining materiality and its immaterial importance. Nevertheless, lack of sources and documentation has been delaying court’s decisions for years. It was interesting to see and reflect also on what the spaces are being used for today, after the camps got shut down in the 1930’s. Talking to local researchers and institutions has also emphasized the interdisciplinary importance of these historical sites. My goal in this first visit to Ceara was to understand the broad spectrum of what is available related to this topic, and some of the ways I could contribute to the research and propagation of knowledge around this theme. Not only that, I am also interested in the unfolding discussions that come both from the existence of the Camps in the early 20th Century and the erasure of the memories of this influential past. Although I felt I was well prepared to make the most of my time in Brazil by contacting key institutions and professionals beforehand and planning my schedule carefully, it also became clear during fieldwork that there is a need for flexibility. Timing doesn’t always work out as planned, and people are often unpredictable. Local conditions (world cup, problems with transportation, safety, etc.) also took me on certain “detours”- for better and for worse. Nevertheless, I have also experienced that by being on the site, I ended up having contact with more people and materials that I could ever imagine existed… and that’s when I realized I needed to start planning my return trip. I consider this my fist close contact with the topic, and I intend to continue on exploring this theme. I have collected a broad range of materials, such as articles, books, archival materials, photos, scholars’ thesis, as well as my own reflections. I have also started to create a circle of close contributors on site, and that is one of the most valuable things I could hope for. I believe research is always a collaborative work, and now my role is to reflect on what my contribution will be. 

Laura Belik inside of former train station at Campo do Patú, in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)
Laura Belik inside of former train station at Campo do Patú, in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)

Former Casa de luz (light/machine house) at the Campo do Patú in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo by Laura Belik.)
Former Casa de luz (light/machine house) at the Campo do Patú in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo by Laura Belik.)
 
Flyers for the 34th and 35th Caminhada da Seca Pilgrimage for the “souls of the dam” in 2016 and 2017. (Source: http://cddhac.blogspot.com/2016/10/34-caminhada-da-seca-em-memoria-das.html.)
Flyers for the 34th and 35th Caminhada da Seca Pilgrimage for the “souls of the dam” in 2016 and 2017. (Source: http://cddhac.blogspot.com/2016/10/34-caminhada-da-seca-em-memoria-das.html.)
Flyers for the 34th and 35th Caminhada da Seca Pilgrimage for the “souls of the dam” in 2016 and 2017. (Source: http://cddhac.blogspot.com/2016/10/34-caminhada-da-seca-em-memoria-das.html.)
 
Visit to the Archives at Secretaria de Cultura do Estado (Department of Culture of Ceará State). (Photo by Laura Belik.)
Visit to the Archives at Secretaria de Cultura do Estado (Department of Culture of Ceará State). (Photo by Laura Belik.) 
 

Laura Belik at the archives at Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional- IPHAN Ceará (National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage). (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)
Laura Belik at the archives at Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional- IPHAN Ceará (National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage). (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)

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