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Sergipe (formerly Sergipe Rei), one of Brazil's easternmost states, whose capital is Aracaju. With an area of 8,490 square miles, roughly half of which is classified as Caatinga, Sergipe is the smallest Brazilian state. According to the Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), approximately 75 percent of its 2004 population of 1,712,786 people are of mixed racial origin. About 50 percent of the total population are urban dwellers, but agricultural products (including tobacco, cotton, rice, sugar, beans, coconut, and livestock), nevertheless, dominate the economy. The state possesses some mineral and oil reserves.

Indigenous peoples occupied the region that is now Sergipe until well beyond the mid-1500s, but the Portuguese, plagued by a risky sea route and by a strong French presence along the Brazilian coast, needed a secure hold over the Rio São Francisco and the surrounding area. Portuguese conquest commenced in 1589 when the crown, temporarily abrogating a 1587 law forbidding attacks on Indian populations, granted permission to wage a "just" war. By early 1590, the Portuguese controlled most of the territory.

In the 1700s, Bahian cattle ranchers and sugar planters settled the region. Originally a dependency of Bahia, Sergipe became an independent captaincy in 1821, a province of the empire (provincial capital São Cristovão) in 1824, and a state of the republic in 1889. The state continues to fall under Bahia's influence politically and economically.

As with other states in the northeast, Sergipe was invaded numerous times by the Dutch and frequently raided by French buccaneers. During the 1600s the state was known throughout the Americas for its kingwood, a prized commodity that was the primary attraction in the buccaneer raids and probably a factor in Dutch military expeditions. By the 1700s the Portuguese military had driven off the pirates permanently.

In the 1930s Sergipe became infamous for its outlaws, one of whom was Virgolino Ferreira da Silva, better known as Lampião, the "King of Bandits." He terrorized Sergipe for nearly a decade before he was beheaded by the Brazilian police in 1938. Subsequently, his head was placed on a pole in a village square.

See alsoBrazil, Geography .


Luiz R. B. Mott, Sergipe del Rey: População, economia e sociedade (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Alves, Amy A. C. Faria. De gente a gente só tem o nome: A mulher no sistema penitenciário em Sergipe. São Cristóvão, Brazil: Editora Universidade Federal de Sergipe, 2001.

Dantas, José Ibarê Costa. História de Sergipe: República (1889–2000). Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 2004.

Jan Hoffman, French. "A Tale of Two Priests and Two Struggles: Liberation Theology from Dictatorship to Democracy in the Brazilian Northeast." The Americas 63, no.3 (January 2007): 409-443.

Milliet de Saint-Adolphe, J. C. R. Dicionário da província de Sergipe. São Cristóvão, Brazil: Editora UFS, 2001.

Monteiro, John M. Guia de fontes para a história indígena e do indigenismo em arquivos brasileiros: Acervos das capitais. São Paulo, Brazil: Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo, 1994.

Santos, Fábio Alves dos. Começo de mundo novo: Sofrimento, luta e vitória dos posseiros de Santana dos Frades, Sergipe. Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes, 1990.

                                              Cara Shelly

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