Educators recommended boarding school and physical punishment to “civilize” the Indians of the Amazon

Pedagogy of strength

Educators recommended boarding school and physical punishment to “civilize” the Indians of the Amazon

Irma Rizzini


  • In mid-1860, chiefs – Indian Chief – entered the Presidency of Pará Palace to ask for protection against the outrages that he said have been victim. Their two children were taken by force to be educated in the company of Apprentices Sailors. The father of the children was accompanied by his extended family and was the one that dominated the Portuguese language. José Vieira Couto de Magalhães (1837-1898), President of the province of Pará between 1864 and 1866, recorded the episode on the Business Report of the province of Pará, 1864. He says that children presented themselves in the Palace of the President dressed in the white uniform of the company, where they were subjected to a bitter life, compared to freedom with which they had been created. So we ordered immediately release the indiozinhos.
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  • The attitude of Magellan was not common at the time. The possibility of indigenous children and deprived be educated away from their families and communities was then fairly valued. The prosperity, progress and civilization had acquired strong symbolism in the Amazonian provinces. The aspiration to transform Woods in cultivated fields and locals in civilized beings was recurring theme in the speeches of the elites Belém and Manaus illustrated.
  • From the Additional Act of 1834, provincial governments have become responsible for primary, secondary and professional education. Were created during this period, educational institutions directed to population encyclopedia-like public schools, institutes, industrial education and agricultural colonies, as well as nursing homes for female education, with the aim of forming a working people and orderly. In the last two decades of the Empire, the concern with the preparation of workers intensified due to the crisis of the slave system, when it became necessary to find substitutes for the work performed by the slaves. Producers ‘ groups, especially farmers, complained about the low affection of poor freemen for regular work. It was hoped that workers undergo, without resistance or leakage, the long days of hard work and poorly remunerated.In the Amazon, the lack of arms for agriculture and independent way of life of its inhabitants made more urgent the yearning to instill in the population figures to regular and disciplined work. On the initiative of the State and the Church, Belém and Manaus have hosted training institutions with greater duration of the Empire. With the founding of institutes for education of children and also schools for the training of teachers, the region experienced an important growth in basic education. According to the Census of 1872, half of the population of Bethlehem was literate. The index is high by the standards of the time and in comparison to the schooling of the population of school age, demonstrating the importance of other forms of education, such as domestic.The formation of the citizen entailed not only knowledge of rights and duties by the population, as was advocated by educational agents from other parts of the Empire. Learning Portuguese and the sedentarisation of the population of the interior were also measures claimed by inspectors and directors of education in the region. Until the 1850, nheengatu was the General language. Formulated by the Jesuits, using indigenous tupi words and syntactical structure, facilitating communication between different ethnic Indians and missionaries. The nheengatu language spread by colonial Amazon from the 17th century with the missionary activities of the Jesuits. Although it has been banned after the expulsion of that religious order by the Marquis of Pombal, continued to be used in the region.

    Eradicate General language was the first task of the schools of the parishes and towns of the interior, as stressed Antônio Gonçalves Dias (1823-1864). The poet has analyzed these factors in the report that it presented to the Government of Amazonas after visits carried out in primary schools located along the Solimões River, in 1861, and commented: “the advantage of the frequency of the schools would be mainly to General language speaking desabituarem always, at home and on the streets, and everywhere. If little take on the schools, if they have such long breaks in four months and more per year, it is clear that keep many errors of pronunciation and even language, without that it should reverse in disfavor of the master. “

    The fact is that local culture hinder the plans of educators. In Amazonas and Pará, the population moved frequently, for the collection and manufacture of elastic rubber gum or in search of nuts or other marketable products. The students were abandoning lessons to accompany the families in these activities, because the participation of children was crucial to the survival of the community. Therefore, the school attendance was restricted to a half of the year. Without understanding the customs of Indians and caboclos, teachers complained about that the population lived always deep in the Woods, “away from the views of the Government and of its beneficial action”.

    The truth is that local families dominated the livelihoods in the Woods and rivers and independiam of government institutions to educate their children. Take them to the fishing and hunting was the real school, as can be seen from the testimonies given by residents of the villages of rio Negro to engineer Jacob Leovigild de Souza Coelho, in 1861. The governmental control over the population was thus very limited. Soon it was realized that only by educating the children away from the influence of the family is whether it could impose new habits, and the Governments of the region decided to create educational institutions, boarding for the “inoculation of love for the work” among students.

    In 1840, the province of Pará installed the first learners ‘ Tradesmen of the country House, with the purpose of educating the poor boys by manual labor. The students lived and studied at the institution, governed by disciplinary standards and rigorous. The following year, it was the turn of Maranhão State Government, who, inspired by the pioneering experience, installed their learners ‘ House. The first Director of the establishment, the Ensign, Hawk handed himself very hard to transform mission “raw wild in polished citizens”.

    The Amazons had their House founded in 1858. Indigenous and deprived children there were initiated in the mysteries of reading and writing and trained in manual trades such as tailoring, carpentry and shoe store. To indiozinho, after admission to the educational institution, was imposed a new identity: the apprentice, uniformed in uniform and in treatment. The students were registered officially as a number, and were given Christian names. Learning in workshops usually began at age 12, in which the young man was considered fit to assume activities requiring greater physical and mental capacity.

    The teaching was not limited to language and learning a craft. Stimulated-if, for example, the study of music, but at the same time suggesting to students with a craft that hardly would have chances to exercise outside of school. Not without reason, Indian families feared, despite the good intentions of the educators, the exploitation of their children. And, in fact, several types of abuse were reported in the capital, especially from 1880. The press and public authorities not ducked to compare the situation of many indigenous boys “re-educated” – but now working in Belém and Manaus families or employees in rubber plantations-to own slaves.

    Many of these educational institutions survived the change of political regime and continued to work in the early decades, Republican with new buildings and updated curricula. The question is whether, in fact, met its goal. The answer may be no. Doing the math, the boarding schools reached a tiny portion of the child population – no more than 100 or 150 boys per establishment –, bringing more benefits to the rulers, who have been able to propagate his feats for the sake of popular education, than to children deprived from Amazon.

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  • Irma Rizzini is Professor of history of education of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the author of the thesis: “the wild and rough-polished citizen: the education of underprivileged boys in Imperial Amazon”. (UFRJ/PPGHIS, 2004).Learn more-Bibliography:

    FIGUEIREDO, Aldrin Moura. Childhood memories in the Amazon. In: DEL PRIORI, Mary (Org.). History of children in Brazil. São Paulo: context, 1999, p. 317-346.

    José Ribamar Bessa FREIRE. Babel River: the story of the languages in the Amazon, Rio de Janeiro: Atlantic/ed., 2004

    SAMPAIO, Patrícia, EDITH, Regina (Orgs). Traces of memory: stories and trajectories of indigenous peoples in the Amazon. Manaus: EDUA/CNPq, 2006.

    Learn More-Document:

    DAYS, Antonio Gonçalves. Document No 1 (report of the inspection of the public schools of the rio Solimões, Amazonas, 3/26/1861), published as an annex to the report of the President of the province of Amazonas, in 5/3/1861. See at:


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