Pará (Grão Pará)

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Pará (Grão Pará)

Pará (Grão Pará), Brazil's second largest state. South of the Amazon Delta, Pará has an area of 482,000 square miles. Based on 2000 census data, Pará has a total population of 6,970,586. The region was densely populated by Native Americans when explored by Europeans in the sixteenth century. Although it was claimed by the Spanish and Portuguese, it was first settled by British, Irish, and Dutch immigrants in the early seventeenth century, as an alternative and rival to colonies in North America.

In the 1620s the Portuguese attacked and drove out the European colonists and used Belém to control access to the Amazon River. From 1626 until 1775, the entire northern region of Brazil was governed as the captaincy of Grão Pará, Maranhão, e Rio Negro, with its capital at São Luís. By the late seventeenth century, however, Belém was de facto capital of the Amazon region and is the state capital today.

Between 1755 and 1778 the Amazon underwent an intensive development effort by a monopoly trading company called the Companhia Geral do Grão Pará e Maranhão. Created by Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marques de Pombal, the company imported tens of thousands of slaves and exported forest products and cotton. It was dismantled shortly after Pombal's fall from power.

During the late nineteenth century, Belém was the transfer point for rubber exports, one of the great commodity booms in Brazil. The rubber cycle lasted a short time. Seeds of rubber trees were sent to the Far East (Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and other countries), where they adapted well and had the advantage of being cultivated on farms (saving the effort of struggling through the jungle to extract the rubber). The prices of rubber, which reached peaks at the beginning of the twentieth century, saw a sharp drop after the end of World War I. The crash of the New York Stock Exchange affected the entire country.

By 1930, Pará was entering a period of economic stagnation, and attempts to recover the rubber market failed. The economy turned to the exploration of other natural resources. In the 1960s Belém was connected with the highway system of the rest of Brazil and with the Transamazon Highway to the west. The roads were meant to facilitate the movement of people and goods between Belém and other large centers; actual results, however, were far from what had been expected. The small market of the cities, the long distances, the lack of credit, among other factors, prevented the economic development of the region. Over time, roads were abandoned and large parts were reclaimed by the jungle.

In 1966 the federal government created SUDAM (Superintendência para Desenvolvimento da Amazônia), an institution aimed at funding economic projects in the north of Brazil. After several instances of corruption, SUDAM was closed down in 2002.

See alsoBelém; Brazil, Organizations: Superintendency for the Development of Amazonia (SUDAM); Rubber Industry; Transamazon Highway.


Antônio Carreira, A Companhia Geral do Grão-Pará e Maranhão (1988).

Joyce Lorimer, ed., English and Irish Settlement on the River Amazon, 1550–1646 (1989).

Marianne Schmink and Charles Wood, Contested Frontiers in Amazonia (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Cardoso, Eliana, Ricardo Barros, and André Urani. Inflation and Unemployment as Determinants of Inequality in Brazil. Brasilia, D.F.: Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, 1993.

Moguillansky, Graciela. Factores determinantes de las exportaciones industriales Brasileñas durante la década de 1980. Brazil: Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe, 1993.

Nimuendajú, Curt, and Marco Antonio Gonçalves. Ethnografía e indigenismo: Sobre os Kaingang, os Ofaié-Xavante e os índios do Pará. Campinas, Brazil: Editora da Unicamp, 1993.

Scholz, Imme. Overexploitation or Sustainable Management: Action Patterns of the Tropical Timber Industry: The Case of Pará (Brazil), 1960–1997. London; Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2001.

                                     Michael L. Conniff