Brazil > Pernambuco


Pernambuco is a state of Brazil, located in the Northeast region of the country. The state of Pernambuco also includes the archipelago Fernando de Noronha. With an estimated population of 9.2 million people in 2013, it is the seventh most populous state of Brazil, and is the sixth most densely populated and the 19th most extensive among the states and territories of the country. Its capital and largest city, Recife, is one of the most important economic and urban hubs in the country. As of 2013 estimates, Recife's metropolitan area is the fifth most populous in the country, and the largest urban agglomeration in Northeast Brazil.

In 1982 the city of Olinda, the second oldest city in Brazil, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Recife, the state capital and Olinda have one of the most traditional Brazilian Carnivals. Both have architecture of Portugal, with centuries-old casarões and churches, kilometers of beaches and much culture. The proximity of the equator guarantees sunshine throughout the year, with average temperatures of 26 °C.

Physical geography

Pernambuco comprises a comparatively narrow coastal zone, a high inland plateau, and an intermediate zone formed by the terraces and slopes between the two.

Its surface is much broken by the remains of the ancient plateau which has been worn down by erosion, leaving escarpments and ranges of flat-topped mountains, called chapadas, capped in places by horizontal layers of sandstone. Ranges of these chapadas form the boundary lines with three states–the Serra dos Irmãos and Serra Vermelha with Piauí, the Serra do Araripe with Ceará, and the Serra dos Cariris Velhos with Paraíba.

The coastal area is fertile, and was formerly covered by the humid Pernambuco coastal forests, the northern extension of the Atlantic Forests (Mata Atlântica) of eastern Brazil. It is now place to extensive sugar cane plantations. It has a hot, humid climate, relieved to some extent by the south-east trade winds.

The middle zone, called the agreste region, has a drier climate and lighter vegetation, including the semi-deciduous Pernambuco interior forests, where many trees lose their leaves in the dry season.

The inland region, called the sertão is high, stony, and dry, and frequently devastated by prolonged droughts (secas). The climate is characterized by hot days and cool nights. There are two clearly defined seasons, a rainy season from March to June, and a dry season for the remaining months. The interior of the state is covered mostly by the dry thorny scrub vegetation called caatinga. The Rio São Francisco is the main water source for this area.

The climate is more mild in the countryside of the state because of the Borborema Plateau ("Planalto da Borborema", popularly known as "Serra das Russas" or "Russians' Mountain"). Some towns are located more than 1000 meters above sea level, and temperatures there can descend to 10 °C (50 °F) and even 5 °C (41 °F) in some cities (i.e., Triunfo) during the winter.

The island of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean, 535 km northeast of Recife, has been part of Pernambuco since 1988.

The rivers of the state include a number of small plateau streams flowing southward to the São Francisco River, and several large streams in the eastern part flowing eastward to the Atlantic. The former are the Moxotó, Ema, Pajeú, Terra Nova, Brigida, Boa Vista and Pontai, and are dry channels the greater part of the year.

The largest of the coastal rivers are the Goiana River, which is formed by the confluence of the Tracunhaem and Capibaribe-mirim, and drains a rich agricultural region in the north-east part of the state; the Capibaribe, which has its source in the Serra de Jacarara and flows eastward to the Atlantic at Recife with a course of nearly 300 miles (480 km); the Ipojuca, which rises in the Serra de Aldeia Velha and reaches the coast south of Recife; the Serinhaen; and the Uná. A large tributary of the Uná, the Rio Jacuhipe, forms part of the boundary line with Alagoas.


Originally inhabited by numerous tribes of Tupi-Guarani speaking indigenous peoples, Pernambuco was first settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The French under Bertrand d'Ornesan tried to establish a French trading post at Pernambuco in 1531. Shortly after King John III of Portugal created the Hereditary Captaincies in 1534, Pernambuco was granted to Duarte Coelho, who arrived in Nova Lusitânia (or "New Lusitania") in 1535.

Duarte directed military actions against the French-allied Caetés Indians and upon their defeat in 1537 established a settlement at the site of a former Marin Indian village, henceforth known as Olinda, as well as another village at Igarassu.

Due to the cultivation of sugar and cotton, Pernambuco was one of the few prosperous captaincies (the other notable one being São Vicente). With the support of the Dutch West India Company, sugar mills (engenho) were built and a sugar-based economy developed. In 1612, Pernambuco produced 14,000 tons of sugar; in the 1640s, more than 24,000 tons of sugar were exported to Amsterdam alone. While the sugar industry relied at first on the labor of indigenous peoples, especially the Tupis and Tapuyas, high mortality and economic growth led to the importation of enslaved Africans from the late 17th century. Some of these slaves escaped the sugar-producing coastal regions and formed independent inland communities called mocambos, including Palmares.

In 1630, Pernambuco, as well as many Portuguese possessions in Brazil, was occupied by the Dutch. The occupation was strongly resisted and the Dutch conquest was only partially successful, it was finally repelled by the Spaniards. In the interim, thousands of the enslaved Africans had fled to Palmares, and soon the mocambos there had grown into two significant states. The Dutch Republic, who allowed sugar production to remain in Portuguese hands, regarded suppression of Palmares important, but they were unsuccessful. Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, count of Nassau, was appointed as ruler of the Nieuw Holland (Dutch colonization enterprise in Brazil).

Nassau's government built Vitória or The Victore (Recife) on delta islands, which have similarities to Salvador's topography. This moved the political focus from Olinda to Recife. Nassau's Dutch administration was noted for advancements in urbanism, culture, and science. The Dutch legacy is still recognizable in Pernambuco's people, accent and architecture.

The Portuguese reconquered Recife in 1654 and Olinda regained its status of political center. However, Recife remained the commercial /port city. If the Dutch were gone, however, the threat of the now unified quilombo of Palmares remained. In spite of a treaty negotiated in 1678 with its ruler Ganga Zumba, a war between the two remained. Zumbi who became ruler following the peace treaty and later repudiated it, fought the Portuguese government until 1694 when soldiers brought from the south eventually defeated him.

In 1710 the Mascate War took place in Pernambuco. This conflict set the mascates (traveling salesman) from Recife against the establishment hosted in Olinda and led by the Senhores de Engenho (owners of the sugar mills, literally: sugar mill lords).

Pernambuco was the site of the most important rebellions and insurrections in Brazilian history, especially in the 19th century.

1817 was the year of the Pernambucan Revolution, a republican separatist movement which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Pernambuco. The main cause of the revolution was dissatisfaction with the colonial administration. The republic was declared on 7 March 1817. After military intervention, the secession ended on 20 May 1817. The republic's flag is the current flag of Pernambuco.

As a reaction to the Emperor Dom Pedro I dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the Confederation of the Equator was set up on 2 July 1824. The Confederation was another separatist movement which encompassed the provinces of Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, and Ceará. On 29 November 1824, the Confederation's forces capitulated to the Imperial army.

Pernambuco was the site of the brief liberal republican Praieira revolt in 1848, which was Brazil's response to the European year of failed liberal revolutions. Deodoro da Fonseca, the marshal who crushed the revolt, much later overthrew Emperor Pedro II, and served as the first president of the Brazilian republic.

Dutch occupation

In the 17th century, the Netherlands was experiencing a surge of freedom and progress, and wanted to expand their colonies in the American continent. Its society, its economy and the arts (which included paintings of great beauty and high artistic level) experienced the benefits of modern capitalism, driven by the ambition of a powerful bourgeoisie. A symbolic expression of this new economy was a branch of the Dutch West India Company – that would be called a transnational corporation today – which had influence throughout the world and controlled much of the trade between East and West. A Board of nineteen members appointed Prince Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau, Governor of Pernambuco. It was an auspicious choice for Northeast, because he was a lover of the arts, a versatile and competent talent, with a deep interest in the New World. In 1637 he opened his government guidelines quite different from those of the Portuguese colonists, declaring "Freedom of Religion and Trade". His entourage contained traders, artists, planners, German and Dutch citizens. He was accompanied by six painters, including Jonh Post and Albert Eckhout. Nassau also created an environment of Dutch religious tolerance, new to Portuguese America and irritating to his Calvinist associates. Nassau was the first to replace sugar production monoculture with an economic polyculture.

Jewish immigration

Under Dutch rule, Jewish culture developed in Recife. Many Ocean Jews had sought refuge in the Netherlands. The Jewish community, especially the Sephardim, were established and would spread to the northern Americas. There are records that in 1636 a synagogue was being built in the city. Many Dutch Jews were linked to commercial activities of the East Islands Company, which naturally sent them to the New World. A Jewish scholar from Amsterdam, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, arrived in Recife in 1642, becoming the first rabbi on Brazilian soil and on the continent. In 1643, three years after the Portuguese regained the crown in the metropolis, Father António Vieira – frowned upon, persecuted by the Inquisition and admirer of Aboab – recommended the King of Portugal occupy the capital of the New Christian and Jewish immigrants to help the depressed Portuguese finances

In 1630, Indian West Islands Company once again turned its interest to the Captaincies of the Dutch colony in the Americas. Due to the Iberian Union (1580-1640), the Dutch Republic (which was dominated by Spain, but later became independent) saw in Pernambuco the opportunity to strike Spain and to compensate for the loss due to the failure of Dutch management. On 26 December 1629, a squad with 66 vessels and 7280 men left São Vicente, Cape Verde, heading to Pernambuco.

Nowadays, it is credited that the majority of the inhabitants of the pernambuco's agreste has some Dutch ancestry.



According to the IBGE of 2009, there were 8,745,000 people residing in the state. The population density was 89.6 inhabitants per square kilometre (232/sq mi).

Urbanization: 77% (2006); Population growth: 1.2% (1991–2000); Houses: 2,348,000 (2006).


The former Latin Catholic Territorial Prelature of Pernambuco became the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Olinda & Recife, with these suffragan dioceses in its ecclesiastical province (all in Pernambuco) : Diocese of Afogados da Ingazeira, Diocese of Caruaru, Diocese of Floresta, Diocese of Garanhuns, Diocese of Nazaré, Diocese of Palmares, Diocese of Pesqueira, Diocese of Petrolina and Diocese of Salgueiro.

Ethnic breakdown

The last PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles) census revealed the following numbers: 4,799,000 Brown (Multiracial) people (54.87%), 3,307,000 White people (37.81%), 561,000 Black people (6.42%), 41,000 Amerindian people (0.47%), 31,000 Asian people (0.36%).

Mixed-race (those of mixed African and Portuguese ancestry) are more common in the coast. Mamelucos (those of mixed Amerindian and Portuguese ancestry) are more common in the interior (Sertão). Whites of colonial Portuguese descent are present as well.

According to a genetic study from 2013, Brazilians in Pernambuco have 56.8% European, 27.9% African and 15.3% Amerindian ancestries, respectively.

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