What did Brazil look like in 1822?



Brazil in 1822: people walked around with monkeys sloths on their shoulders (why is the monkey sloth holding a stick in his mouth like that?) and kids ran around squirting some kind of liquid on well-dressed women carrying overloaded fruit baskets on their head (what kind of fluid and why did they squirt it?). See more engravings from the same series at the always-wonderful BibliOdyssey. Link

Reader comments:

Jackson Pritt says:

Sloth, not Monkey! That's a sloth, not a monkey. Also the stick appears to be a truss being used to keep the sloth from clawing the man carrying. Given the way the other animals are presented in that engraving it seems pretty apparent that they're taking exotic animals to market for slaughter.

Bernardo Carvalho says:

The liquid the kid is squirting is water, and the tube is called a 'bisnaga'. It was a common carnival prank until the early 20th century. This PDF talks a little bit about it on the first paragraph, also about the works of Jean Baptiste Debret.

Grant Berger says:

These pictures are actually examples of traveler artists whose commissions from colonial governments sent them to Latin America in order to produce elaborate pictures depicting native life, flora, and fauna. Obviously, these were made before the advent of photography, and were the only way the colony's mother government would see the place. Most western stereotypes are derived from these paintings.

William Silva says:

The fluid is perfumed water, squirted for fun, in the carnival.

Axt von Feld says:

Well Jackson, you are right, that is a sloth in a truss. Those slim arms end with three very sharp, branch grasping talons (ouch!) hence the name 'three toed sloth'.

But the part about taking them for slaughter, I must disagree. The others are carrying exotic birds and butterflies, which were probably be sold as specimens. The print's description "Le retour des nègres d'un naturaliste" (The return of a naturalist's negroes) also corroborates that.

It wouldn't be kept alive if it were to be slaughtered.

About the other print: The well dressed woman is carrying various fruits in her basket, the only ones I can discern are a pumpkin and a pineapple (BTW not a Hawaiian fruit, it was discovered in Brazil). Her fancy clothing is part of a early "carnival" scene, take a look at the other figures, they are all masqueraded or painted! The kid is squirting a "bisnaga" which was probably full of scented water, a typical 1820´s Brazilian carnaval prank.
For a fascinating discovery of Imperial Brazil, please take a (very pleasant) read at Patrick Wilcken's Empire Adrift, about the mind boggling escapade of the whole of Portugal royalty to Brazil (my beloved country), driven from Europe by Napoleon's army in the 1808.

Irene Delse says:

Here's the translation from French in the pictures shown in that entry:

1) "Negro hunters coming back to town. A naturalist's Negros return."

The hunters are in fact the black servants of a naturalist bringing him rare animals and plants (birds, lizards, butterflies, a sloth…) to be studied and preserved or sometimes, like the sloth, kept alive in menageries.

2) "Scenes from the carnival" (above) "Cobblers. A seller of Atacaça" (below)

It's carnaval or mardi-gras. The prettily-dressed woman is selling fruit to the revellers (see the basket on her head). A man is caressing her face and taking off her mantle. The child squirting a liquid (probably water?) is playing tricks at the adults. Note that everybody has the face partly painted in yellow or white or is wearing a mask.