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Syrians and Lebanese in Brazil

According to researchers, the first immigrants from the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) that arrived in Brazil came in order to flee from the politics, the Ottoman prepotency, the religious oppression and tax abuses from Turks. When the immigrants arrived in Brazil, they were called Turks.

The first immigrant to arrive wrote to their relatives telling them about the freedom and the working opportunities that they had here. Many others were attracted by those letters and also came to Brazil. Therefore, groups of “Turks” were formed in Rio de Janeiro, in São Paulo and in Santos. Some years later, the Turks were recognized as the “hardworking Syrian colony” comprising Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians.

In the last years (approximately 1949), due to political treaties from the post-war period, which were fair or unilateral, negotiated or imposed, and to the convenience of international documentation, such as passports, records, among others, great part of the numerous and “hardworking Syrian colony” was established as an important political group. In that group, Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians distinguished. The political division, however, does not necessarily mean a division of race, language and religion, because the language of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine is the Arabic and the religions of these countries are Judaism, Christianity and Islamism.

Causes of Immigration: Why Did Syrians and Lebanese Immigrate?

They immigrated moved by the spirit of adventure, which seems to be an instinct of race inherited both from Phoenicians and Arabs. Trade was another element that made Syrians and Lebanese leave their countries with the idea that business would give them the opportunity of making fortune and returning to their countries of origin.

The continuous growth of the population was another reason for Syrians and Lebanese to leave their countries. Essentially agricultural States with a climate that was mostly arid such as Lebanon and Syria cannot maintain more than a limited number of inhabitants.

A third reason for immigration was the political and religious oppression and the Turk absolutism. The 19th century was the century of freedom and democracy. Therefore, the opposition between freedom and oppression made the Turk absolutism even darker.

To the reasons mentioned above, we may mention the fact that there were Syrians and Lebanese in the Americas, in the south of Africa, in Australia and in Egypt. That was reason enough to make a great number of young men, many of them already graduated in the university, immigrate to the locations where their relatives lived.

The immigration of Syrians and Lebanese headed to all countries and by their own initiative, different from other people that did not have official help to do that. No government paid their trip. No government put them in immigration houses. No employee of colonization companies brought them to the country of destination. Each immigrant decided to look for a country of destination. Each immigrant bought their ticket with his own money. Therefore, the immigrants started to work on their own in the occupation of their relatives: peddler.

Syrian and Lebanese peddlers did not work in the farm as settlers, but they contributed to develop the communities in the countryside of the State of São Paulo.

For a better understanding, we tell the story of a trader from São Paulo. He says: “My father was making a farm in Jahú. On the second year, he ran out of money and had to wait two more years to have his first harvest. One day, a peddler (I don’t know if he was Syrian or Lebanese) appeared in the farm, and he was called Antonio Mussi. He offered his goods, textiles and haberdashery products. My father said definitely that he could not buy his goods. But the peddler is not so soft to give up in the first “no” he receives. He insisted. Dad told him the reason: He could not buy because he didn’t have the money. Antonio answered: You don’t have to pay now. But, replied dad, not even later I could pay you, because the first harvest will be only in two years. Mussi, with his love to working and passionate desire to produce, said: “Sir, you pay me when you can”. The fight between the peddler and the farmer ended with the victory of the peddler; dad bought the goods and called all the other settlers because Antonio insisted. The farm was full with many different things, including a sewing machine, something not very common at that time. Antonio Mussi came back to the farm every four months not to charge my father, but to see what he needed. Now, do you know when that bill was paid? Two years later, after the first harvest was sold. My friend, it was not the American who invented the sale by very comfortable installments. The American sells assuring his control on the market and with short-term consecutive installments. But Antonio Mussi and his colleagues had sales to be paid two years later and with no market assurance. How many farms had their ANTONIO MUSSI just like my father did!”

The peddler did not walk into the countryside without a goal. In his roaming, he dreamt with a big warehouse with varied shelves and counters with several busy employees to serve his clients - maybe a complete office too, from where he could manage his business. Many of these peddlers could make their dream come true due to much sacrifice and stubbornness.

The spirit of adventure made many traders establish plants of different types, such as spinning and weaving of cotton and silk after they achieved the necessary money. Traders in the countryside started to work with agriculture, buying formed farms and developing new farms.

The fact that those peddlers could not speak Portuguese was a great disadvantage. Many of them were illiterate, but they did not lack culture. “The Syrian or Lebanese illiterate learned many things from listening; they learned arithmetic with mental calculation; studied history while listening to the narratives told in the busy soirées in winter evenings; acquired social know-how learning by heart and saying tens and in some cases hundreds of proverbs from a people with millennial traditions".

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