The wealthiest of all Brazil’s states, Paraná is both an agricultural and industrial powerhouse whose development was spurred on by the many immigrants it lured to its territory during the late 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, European cultural and culinary traditions are quite pronounced, especially in the small, isolated agricultural settlements of the interior.
Although Paraná was part of Portugal’s Brazilian colony, aside from a few coastal outposts and the tiny settlement of Curitiba (founded in 1693 as a gold mining camp), the territory was pretty much neglected. A scant population of adventurous Portuguese farmers commingled with the seminomadic population of native Guarani Indians. Things began to change in 1853, when the Paraná separated from the state of São Paulo. At this time, the economy was based on two activities: timber extraction (Paraná was once covered with araucárias, an umbrella-shaped pine tree that is now very scarce) and the cultivation of erva maté (a bush whose leaves are used to make a pungent tea popular with Gaúchos).
However, the new provincial government started a massive campaign to lure immigrants to the region in order to develop the economy and open up the interior. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Germans, Italians, and Poles planted coffee and, later, soybeans. The efficiency of their small-scale farms contrasted with the vast slave-driven plantations that were the norm in other parts of Brazil. They also opened up businesses in and around the new capital of Curitiba, which—having emerged from its isolation due to the newly constructed railroad—grew in leaps and bounds.
Today, Paraná’s prosperity is based on state-of-the-art agro-businesses and highly modern industries, while Curitiba has blossomed into a dynamic and eco-friendly city of 1.7 million that has become a model for other urban centers throughout Latin America.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition