Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe

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"Over 300 hundred years ago, the first European colonists landed in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to found permanent outposts of the great empires. This epic migration continued until after World War II, when some of these tropical colonies became independent black nations and the white colonials were forced - or chose - to return to the mother country. Among the descendants of the colonizing powers however, were some who had become outcasts in the poorest strata of society and, unable to afford the long journey home, were left behind, ignored ...
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"Over 300 hundred years ago, the first European colonists landed in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to found permanent outposts of the great empires. This epic migration continued until after World War II, when some of these tropical colonies became independent black nations and the white colonials were forced - or chose - to return to the mother country. Among the descendants of the colonizing powers however, were some who had become outcasts in the poorest strata of society and, unable to afford the long journey home, were left behind, ignored by both the former oppressed indigenous population and the modern privileged white immigrants." "At the dawn of the twenty-first century these lost white tribes still hold out, tucked away in remote valleys and hills or in the midst of burgeoning metropolises, living in poverty while tending the myths of their colonial ancestors. Forced to marry within their own group if they hope to retain their fair-skinned "purity," they are torn between the memory of past privileges and the extraordinary pressure to integrate. All are decreasing in number; some are on the verge of extinction and fighting to survive in countries that ostracize them because of the color of their skin and the traditions they represent. Though resident for generations, these people are permanently out of place, an awkward and embarrassing reminder of things past in newly redefined countries that are eager to forget both them and their historical homelands."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An Italian CNN journalist visits vestigial settlements of whites who have lingered in some of the world's most remote areas long after the colonial era ended. Near the end of this remarkable collection of essays, Orizio states what has become obvious: "Everyone clings to history, but no one admits to knowing exactly what history is." He was referring to a group of people on Guadeloupe called the Blancs Matignone—deeply impoverished remnants of some French colonialists during the Napoleonic era who decided to head for the hills instead of for home. And in the hills they remain, eking out a living and claiming kinship to the Bourbons and to Prince Rainier. The author found much the same everywhere he looked: people, for the most part, with no written histories but with deeply held convictions about their importance in the world and, in some cases, with ludicrous notions of racial superiority. He begins in Sri Lanka, where some sad descendants of Dutch burghers cling to memory as firmly as infants cleave to their mothers. Then it's off to Jamaica, where live some Germans, whose ancestors arrived in the mid-19th century. One of the most intriguing groups are the remains of some Confederates from the US Civil War who now live in Brazil. Called Confederados, they once numbered perhaps as many as 20,000. Their little church houses a life-size portrait of Robert E. Lee. "Their dream," writes Orizio, "was to reshape a Dixieland far from modern temptations." In Haiti, he finds what's left of some Polish settlers who arrived 200 years ago. Though they have intermarried with the black population, they keep themselves separate—and know the polka. Some, says Orizio, have arrestingblue eyes. In Namibia are some people called Basters, folks who descend from Dutch and Hottentot ancestry. They complain of Eden lost and dream of a homeland. A gripping work that startles, entertains, enlightens—and raises important questions about the nature of history, and of humanity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743211970
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/1901
  • Edition description: 1ST FREE P
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Journeys Among the Forgotten 1
1 Sri Lanka: Dutch Burghers of Ceylon 5
2 Jamaica: German Slaves 56
3 Brazil: Confederates in the Deepest South 96
4 Haiti: Papa Doc's Poles 124
5 Namibia: How the Basters Lost the Promised Land 180
6 Guadeloupe: Blancs Matignon, the Sugarcane Dukes 221
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First Chapter

Chapter 3: Brazil: Confederates in the Deepest South

It is understood that you have armed Bastards, Fingos and Baralongs against us -- in this you have committed an enormous act of wickedness...Reconsider the matter, even if it cost you the loss of Mafeking. Disarm your blacks and thereby act the part of a white man in a white man's war.
-- From a letter written in May 1900 by General Piet Cronje, leader of the Transvaal commandos during the Anglo-Boer War, to Colonel Robert Baden-Powell

In the recent battle of Port Hudson it is said that the black flag was raised defiantly by the Confederates. This was justifiable under the circumstances. Let it be understood that the black flag is to wave in every battle in which the negroes are made the tools of the cowardly Abolitionists.

-- The Spectator, American newspaper, 23 June 1863

We have been informed by a gentleman who has lately returned from Winchester that the Yankees are enrolling all the able-bodied negroes in Jefferson and Berkley. Poor deluded African, he leaves his kind Master and comfortable home to be placed in the front ranks of the Yankee army to save the lives of those who never had any sympathy for him and to murder those whose every thought and act was for his comfort.

-- The Vindicator, American newspaper, 29 January 1864

Estado de São Paulo, April 1999

"See all that land down there, right to the last hill on the horizon? That was once a single, big cotton plantation. The farm belonged to my family, the Daniels of Alabama. Before the famous murder, naturally."

Halfway along the dirt track Francisco has braked to a halt and wound down the window. The whole world outside is green. Sugarcanes sway in unison, as disciplined as an army ready for action in battle fatigues, commanded by the sun. The sky is clear at last after days of rain; warm air, eerily still and laden with vaguely tropical smells, permeates the car.

An old beaten-up bus stands lopsidedly at the roadside, two wheels in the ditch. Its passengers, twenty or so muscular blacks brought in to harvest the sugarcane, sit in the shade of the wheels, their legs spread wide, their straw hats beside them on the grass. They stare at us.

Throughout the drive from Sorocaba, Francisco was firing a barrage of impossible questions at me nonstop in a mocking, or perhaps merely ingenuous, tone. "Do you believe in God? Why?...If that strange war you're fighting in Europe is between Muslims and Christians, why are the Americans on the side of the Muslims?...If the war is on your territory, why do you Europeans leave it to the Americans?...When was the last time you sinned?...Why has Inter ruined our great Ronaldo, who no longer plays like he used to and you only have to look at his face to see he's unhappy? You Italians, you don't love Ronaldo enough. Why?...And -- forgive me for asking -- but what do you think of our famous poet who wrote, 'Deus es brasileiro,' 'God is Brazilian'? Do you agree with him?"

We were on one of the many three-lane highways that crisscross the state of São Paulo and are all identical whichever direction they go in: filling stations, 1960s motels with crumbling cement balconies, McDonald's, factories, small towns whose names you would have difficulty finding on a map but which are surrounded by heavily publicized shopping centers. And, naturally, kiosks selling freshly squeezed cane juice. You see them every sixteen hundred feet, preceded by hand-written placards promising cane juice that is "muy jelado," "very ice-cold." It isn't. But in Brazil, even on the humblest highways, it's never enough for a drink to be cold. It must be at least ice-cold, if not very ice-cold or super-ice-cold. It follows the Brazilian law of exaggeration, of expansion.

As you drive, even the horizon seems to expand at every bend. And while Francisco drove toward Santa Barbara d'Oeste asking impossible questions (which he expected his nephew Bruno to translate for me word for word), the territory that wavered before us seemed monotonous and inaccessible. This is what Brazilians refer to, with bored indifference, as the Interior Paulista. The term has come to indicate an attitude as much as a geographical location, because although the state of São Paulo has great natural diversity -- from mountains to plains, alpine firs to banana palms -- it is as if, beyond the skyscrapers of São Paulo's avenidas, beyond the illusion of this poor man's Manhattan, lay only a dreary wasteland, its towns and cities unworthy of being identified by name and hence anonymous. And they say that for a Brazilian anonymity is worse than prison.

The towns that are springing up along the highways are condemned by this anonymity despite having fifty thousand or one hundred thousand inhabitants apiece, and no one in nearby São Paulo even admits to having visited such conurbations as Sorocaba, Campinas, Piracicaba, Rio Claro, Itapetininga, Americana or Santa Barbara d'Oeste. They are lumped together as the Interior Paulista. And having said that, you've said it all.

"Santa Barbara d'Oeste?" My Brazilian friend had shrugged his shoulders when he heard where I was going. "Never met anyone who's been there...But what can you expect, it's the Interior Paulista."

Yet these phantom cities continue to grow and even flourish in a modest way beside the featureless highways. They form the industrial heart of a country that still hopes to achieve the goal of ordem e progresso embroidered by its founders on the Brazilian flag a century and a half ago.

Order and progress. Not God, country, family, victory, redemption and justice, the heraldic dreams formulated by other South American nations emerging from colonialism, but ordem, the fundamental cosmic order of things (the flag's blue, star-studded hemisphere), and progresso, the country's inexorable material progress rooted in its rich natural resources (a yellow rhombus symbolizing gold on a green ground symbolizing the luxuriant forests and fertile soil).

A motto of the Enlightenment, almost a progressive slogan. But then Dom Pedro, who succeeded his father John as prince regent in 1821 and became emperor of Brazil the following year, was not like other monarchs. From his father he had inherited not only the throne but also the position of grand master of a Masonic lodge in Rio de Janeiro, prosaically called Comércio e Artes, Commerce and Crafts. Because in Dom Pedro's Brazil everyone, even its monarchs, shared the American attitude to new frontiers, that conquest is not by divine right.

Dom Pedro came from a royal line with revolutionary instincts. Having dominated half the globe from the unlikely power-base of a tiny country on the edge of Europe, and after spending several centuries vainly attempting to convert the Indies to Christianity, the Portuguese House of Braganza had surprised the other European dynasties by announcing that it was emigrating to the other side of the Atlantic. The imperial court was transferred in 1808 from Lisbon to a small tropical city called Rio de Janeiro, River of January, surrounded by swamps and forests but with one of the loveliest bays in the world. By making this move, the Braganzas turned the customary roles on their heads. Portugal -- now weak and impoverished -- became the distant colony of a motherland called Brazil, where industry and agriculture were booming to the extent that twenty thousand slaves had to be imported annually from places like Mozambique. A new frontier whose resources seemed inexhaustible and whose confines, whether geographical or moral, were nonexistent.

Brazil became a kingdom in 1815 and then, in 1822, transformed itself into an Impèrio Autocràtico -- at a time when Autocracy was not a term of reproach. Finally, ignoring the apparent contradiction, it changed its name in 1831 to become an Impèrio Democràtico. This "democratic" empire was, moreover, entrusted to a child of six, Dom Pedro II, the same Dom Pedro who was still on the throne when the Daniel, MacKnight, Thomas and Steagall families began to arrive with all the other immigrants defeated by the Union forces and settle on the land surrounding Santa Barbara d'Oeste.

Today, parked on a dirt road in the Interior Paulista, Francisco Vieira Daniel, a cameraman who works for local television stations, still utters the name of the long-gone emperor of Brazil with fondness, as if recalling a favorite uncle recently deceased. In some ways, Dom Pedro was one of the family. On the walls of Francisco's tiny flat in Sorocaba -- in a drab block with parking spaces occupied by small Fiats -- hang five old sepia-colored photographs. In the middle of each one is a seated group of farm workers with wide-brimmed hats and bulldog jaws; their women stand around, gazing at them admiringly. These are the Daniels of Alabama -- not to be confused with the Daniels of Texas -- "Totally different stock and totally different story, as I shall tell you later" -- when they were still the proprietors of that famous farm visible from the lane in the hot, late-summer sun of February.

"When they arrived at Rio de Janeiro from America in 1865, the emperor himself was on the quay to meet them and he shook hands with the senior member of every family!" Gratitude is still evident in Francisco's voice. This surprising gesture on the part of a foreign monarch had gone a long way toward restoring the self-respect of the Confederate immigrants still smarting over their defeat by the Yankees, fellow Americans become mortal enemies.

Francisco climbs out of his car and stands looking at the hills covered with sugarcane plants all waving compactly at the same height. He has brought his film camera because he cannot bear to be without it, even on holiday, and every so often raises it and films anything that catches his eye. You never know, it might come in useful. He shows me his business card: Dakar Video, Sorocaba. This has nothing to do with Senegal. "DA are the first letters of my surname, KAR those of my partner's. About Africa I know absolutely nothing," he admits. The card has the same shape and colors as the Confederate flag, red with a blue cross and the thirteen stars of the Confederation. Francisco still claims the flag as his own even though there can be few drops of Confederate blood left in his veins and the only word of English he knows is "yes." All the fault of that wretched murder that caused his ancestor's expulsion from the American community and all that followed from it.

His nephew Bruno, a student at the University of São Paulo, whose almond-shaped eyes give him an Oriental look, whispers a warning that this is not the right moment to press for details of that unfortunate episode. He will tell me in his own good time, but Francisco isn't a man you can force. The whole family knows what he's like.

Bruno begins every phrase with the words, "Chico says that..." Francisco is known to his friends as Chico. "Chico says that the first Confederate immigrants were led by Colonel William H. Norris, the Alabama deputy, Civil War veteran and Masonic grand master. Dom Pedro offered them land in the state of Espirito Santo, and they went to inspect it. At twenty-two cents an acre, the land was a bargain, but the quality was not as good as the land they had left behind in the southern United States." So many of these southern Americans asked the emperor's permission to look elsewhere.

"They came to this plain and realized that it was similar to Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi. A few years later the forests had gone, replaced by cotton, which needs hot sun then rain then hot sun, alternately."

We've all left the car now and are looking at the fields. Buildings are exceedingly few and far between. Bruno has never been here before, but has come along to interpret as a favor to his uncle and because he's curious about the foreigner. But he fails to understand my interest in American immigrants to Brazil and occasionally voices a protest. "In this country everyone comes from somewhere else. There's nothing special in that. For instance, I'm a mixture of Italian, Spanish, American, German, even Japanese. And you've come just to write about a few North American emigrants? Don't tell Chico what I'm saying, but what's so special about these Confederados? In Brazil they're just Brazilians like everyone else; nothing out of the ordinary."

A few days later, walking through a shopping center in jeans, T-shirt and new Nikes, Bruno comes out with a statement -- in English with the flat vowels of an American accent -- that he has been polishing for days. It sounds like a political manifesto: "Riccardo, I must inform you that I and all my friends at USP -- the University of São Paulo -- are deeply opposed to the undue influence of American lifestyle and are determined to defend our Brazilian values, culture and language."

Standing here now, Francisco observes the farm that once belonged to his ancestors and lets his mind dwell on the famous murder before speaking of it in subdued tones, as if he were personally guilty. "It's our family secret. I only learned about it as an adult, reading the book written by one of us, Judith MacKnight Jones. It was still taboo in the family. I gather that Bob Daniel, my great-grandfather who was slightly mad, killed his partner, Zeke Baird, an American like him. They were co-owners of the facenda over there, at the foot of the hill. It was 1890. Bob had found out that Baird had gone out one night and harvested most of his millet crop to get even with him for buying some cattle from him that he never paid for."

They had been arguing about it for days, and he had threatened Baird in the presence of witnesses by saying, "If you cut my millet I'll kill you." One morning they found Baird's body in a ditch. He had been killed with an espingarda, a long-barreled hunting gun. "There was a scandal. My great-grandfather had to leave everything and emigrate to Itatui, far away from the other Americans. The Tribunal in Piracicaba found him not guilty. But as far as the Americans of Santa Barbara d'Oeste were concerned, he was guilty and they ostracized him. The Daniels, you know, were related to Colonel Norris, the community's founder. They were members of the elite. They had to set a good example. So we lost the farm. Years later, under my own roof, the family honor was tarnished yet again, perhaps more unpardonably than the first time. But I'll tell you about that some other day."

A century ago, all the farms in the triangle formed by the little towns of Santa Barbara d'Oeste, Americana and Nova Odessa were owned by American farmers.

The Confederates, or Confederados in Portuguese, arrived between 1865 and 1885 from the southern states of the U.S.A., mainly Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. In the aftermath of the war that had claimed 625,000 dead and destroyed the economy of the secessionist states, many families in the South found themselves facing extreme poverty, while many others were in a state of mental prostration. So the Confederates chose self-inflicted exile, rediscovering their pioneering instincts and setting out in search of a rural Eden even farther south than the South they knew, rather than become subject to those "damned Yankees."

A few eminent men of the South were entrusted with investigating the feasibility of living abroad. One of these was James McFadden Gaston, a doctor practicing in Chester, South Carolina. In 1865 he went to New Orleans to open negotiations with Brazilian emissaries who had come to America looking for prospective colonists. Invited to go and see the country for himself, Dr. Gaston went to Brazil that same September and returned to the United States two years later to give lectures and publish a book, Hunting a Home in Brazil, based on his experience of life in Xiririca, near Iguape.

As it happened, Dr. Gaston never realized his dream of owning a plantation in Brazil; back in Xiririca, events forced him to remain as a medical practitioner in the small immigrant community until, in 1883, any lingering hopes disappeared and he returned to the United States, settling in Atlanta, Georgia.

The seed of emigration had, however, been planted. And all the evidence suggested that Brazil was the perfect place for new beginnings. It was a land of abundance, of promise; it had cotton, sugarcane, coffee and slaves.

The voyage from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro took a month. The emigrants sailed with dollars issued by the mint of the Confederate States of America still in their pockets and with the iron plows that were as yet unknown in Brazil, eager to make a new start in a country where they were free to follow the traditions of the Deep South so humiliated by the war with the North. Their dream was to reshape a Dixieland far from modern temptations. Far from Abolitionism too, for in Brazil slavery was still allowed and would be for many years yet.

No one knows exactly how many Americans came to Brazil. Perhaps ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand. At least six separate communities were founded. In 1870 there were 350 American families living in the vicinity of Santa Barbara d'Oeste. But from the start there were many defections, many precipitate returns to base. The English explorer Richard Burton, a student of the Koran who had been the first European to visit Mecca and had then sought for the source of the Nile among the mythical Mountains of the Moon, eventually became His Majesty's Consul in Brazil (much against his will, having been refused a consulship in Africa or in the Arab world). Once in Rio, the temptation to explore what he christened the "highlands of Brazil" proved too great. In his diaries, Burton mentions having counted about 2,700 American immigrants in 1867, 800 of whom lived in the State of São Paulo, 400 in Espirito Santo, 200 in Parà, another 200 in Paranà, 200 in Rio, 100 in Minas, a further 100 in Bahia and 70 or so in Pernambuco. Ten years later many of these outposts had already failed. Only Americana and Santa Barbara d'Oeste continued to thrive.

And yet Brazil under Dom Pedro II was enjoying an economic boom and urgently needed skilled workers. One of the emigrants, Ilisa Shippey, wrote in her diary, published with the title of When Americans Were Emigrants:

On May 16 (1865) we began to see the outlines of misty mountains, which grew distinct by the next day, and the captain believed we would be inside the famous safe harbor of Rio de Janeiro before sunset. But we arrived just after the evening gun flashed and boomed across the entrance from the fort which guarded it. Therefore the "Marmion" anchored as close in as possible and we had a fine view of thousands of lights in rows and double rows, in semi-circles and scattered up and down the hilly city of Rio.

On board the Marmion anchored off Rio on 27 December 1865 and enjoying the pretty spectacle of the Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf) were about one hundred emigrants. Each had paid 130 dollars for the passage. They were rebels twice over, firstly because they had refused to be subject to the North, secondly because they had disobeyed General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army who, after its defeat, had refused those who wanted him to lead the great flight into exile and form a new Confederation in the virgin lands of South America. On the contrary, he had declared himself opposed to the exodus and implored them to stay and rebuild the South.

The Brazilian emperor had inspected the first contingent of immigrants like a general inspecting his own hand-picked body of men. It was part of his plan that these modern Americans, with their agricultural expertise and technological sophistication, should spearhead his country's economic progress.

Dr. John Keyes, a dentist from Montgomery in Alabama who decided to follow in the footsteps of the farmers and craftsmen who were founding a new southern, or sulista, colony, arrived two years later, in 1867, on one of the Marmion's later trips. The emperor was again on the quayside in Rio welcoming "his" Americans. Dr. Keyes regarded him with devotion and later wrote: "After the manner of all distinguished people, who are, likewise, good, his appearance was modest and unostentatious." Dom Pedro visited the kitchens of the camps where the Americans were provisionally held, tried the bread baked by the women, "complimenting them on the taste" and "pronouncing it well done." The inspection was a success. One of those involved later told Keyes that the emperor "expressed himself as being much pleased with the appearance of the Americans."

Keyes's objective and that of his companions was to join up with an adventurous former army officer from North Carolina, Colonel Charles Grandison Gunter, who had installed himself on an estate close to the Rio Doce two years earlier and had written to his friends describing the wonders of lands "more fertile than those of Alabama," cheap and furthermore "one could pay off the whole amount in four years." Gunter, who was called Coronel not only because of his military rank but also because that was the title assumed by all the great landowners in Brazil, had become a Brazilian deputy. Records show that he fought for the rights of women to own land in his adoptive country.

At the start everyone faced enormous difficulties. Many had been soldiers and had emerged from the war physically and mentally exhausted. Others had simply been victims of the economic crisis. For those who settled around Santa Barbara d'Oeste, Colonel Norris organized courses teaching the latest techniques for growing cotton. Some, utterly dejected, their hearts weighed down by the feeling that history itself had humiliated and betrayed them, ventured into the depths of the country, into the Brazilian rain forests. Those who survived became pioneers.

Lawrence Hill, who came to the banks of the Rio Doce from South Carolina searching for a new country where camellias, magnolias and jasmine would abound, wrote: "At present there is no way of transporting anything up the rivers and the lake, except in canoes. At first we thought this a terrible thing, but as it is the only mode of traveling as yet, we have become accustomed to it. We are assured that we shall have steam navigation at no very distant day."

Naturally, the Brazilian government's promise to provide steamboats on the rivers whose banks were now home to the Confederados -- as the American settlers were now beginning to be called to distinguish them from other immigrants who came from all over the world -- remained illusory. Many were discovering that wilderness, disease and nostalgia were more potent enemies than the Yankees.

Those who sought their fortunes in the gold and diamond mines failed almost immediately. Those who went to Iguape discovered that the climate was impossible and the soil poor, so after a while the survivors went to Campinas. The two hundred who settled beside the river Tapajòs, in the locality of Santarem in the state of Parà, held out and their descendants live there to this day. The brave souls like Lawrence Hill who finished up along the Rio Doce left the state of Espirito Santo. Those who had initially opted for Santos de Bahia eventually moved to the village of Campinas, arriving by train in 1875 only a few days after the railway was inaugurated.

The most stable group of all was that around Santa Barbara d'Oeste -- where a Masonic lodge had been founded and named after George Washington -- and its neighboring localities Nova Odessa, Piricicaba and Capivari.

The railway, however, did not reach as far as Santa Barbara d'Oeste. Passengers had to alight at a station some miles away. This place became the center of American trade. People went there to buy and sell cotton and it was there that the first textile factories were founded. At first it was known as Vila dos Americanos. Now called Americana, it is a city of 250,000 inhabitants and its coat of arms still shows the battle flag of the Confederate army.

Soldato descansa! Tua luta acabou.
Dorme o sono eterno, onde nao ha
dias de fadiga, ou noites de vigilia.

Soldier rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows no breaking,
Days of toil or nights of waking.

In the countryside around Santa Barbara, surrounded by fields of sugarcane, is a place where the Confederados come once a year to celebrate the epopèia norte americana, the epic adventure that brought them here from North America. For hours, three hundred Americans strum banjos and blow trumpets while the children play, the boys dressed in gray uniforms with yellow stripes, the girls in pink and blue frocks with bows of the same color in their hair, looking like prettily wrapped sweets. The lads march up and down in front of an "officer" who yells, "left, right, left, right." The atmosphere is that of a victory celebration.

On the day of the festival, in late April, the barbecue is lit at daybreak. Women cook toffee apples, men pour beer. People dance. Someone strikes up "Oh, Susanna," then "Oh, When the Saints Come Marching In." A man with a false beard, representing General Lee, reads in Portuguese and with the utmost solemnity the letter of surrender signed at Appomattox in 1865: "When men are divided there is no justice..." The speech ended, the "General" collapses, wounded perhaps. His men help him to his feet and he wraps a Confederate flag around his neck. The people applaud.

Then the dancing starts again. Beauty contestants parade in front of the obelisk engraved with the names of all the immigrant families. The compère shouts "Arkansas!" and a smiling blonde in a bathing costume steps forward. Then he shouts "Tennessee!" and a brunette makes her appearance.

Another General Lee, a life-size portrait in oils, watches the festa confederada from inside the little red-brick church overlooking the celebrations. This was the first non-Catholic church in Brazil. The building is empty apart from an altar and the portrait of Robert E. Lee bedecked with medals. Used as a store for plows and grass-cutters throughout the year, it is only cleaned for funerals, because wherever the Confederados live, the Campo is where they all want to be buried.

For these tears of nostalgia and drops of perspiration are shed on no ordinary field, warmed by the sun or drenched by the notorious storms of the Interior Paulista: the community's meeting place is a cemetery. They call it Cemeterio do Campo, and it is the spiritual focus of the Confederados, the stage on which they act out their determination to remain different from their fellow Brazilians. The choice of this place has surreal consequences. They are in the habit of saying, "See you next Sunday at the cemetery for the Fraternidade." Anyone who didn't know might think they were an association of necrophiliacs.

The graves are laid out side by side in a field behind the church, which is built on an artificial mound. Pines and palms grow in close proximity. The air is clear and shimmering. On the horizon you see only hills with gashes of bare earth the color of red clay: these are the roads separating one farm from another. A tall Brazilian fig tree, a figuera, throws splashes of shade. The inscriptions on the pioneers' tombstones are in English. Many display the Masonic triangle and compass.

James Anderson, born Franklin, Alabama, 23 August 1847: "He was esteemed by all who knew him as an honest man."

John Henry Wheelock, born 1898 in the U.S.A., died 1961 in Brazil: "Beautiful Souls are those that show the spirit of Christ wherever they go." Even thousands of miles from Dixie.

William Mills has the star of Texas engraved on the marble protecting him. The inscription simply says: "Texan in life."

Colonel W. H. Norris, founder of Santa Barbara, was born in Georgia in 1800, fought for Alabama and died on 13 July 1893 in a part of Brazil that reminded him of his beloved home in the South. His tombstone reads: "He was a Masonic Grand Master."

His son, Dr. Robert Norris, is buried not far away beneath a large marble compass and the inscription: "A Confederate Veteran."

Roberto Stell-Steagall, 3 September 1899, Brazil-31 January 1985, Brazil. He has everything summed up thus: "Once a rebel / Twice a rebel / And forever a rebel."

I met one of the younger generation of Steagalls among the skyscrapers of São Paulo. His ancestor Henry Farrar Steagall lived in Gonzales County, Texas, enrolled in a light cavalry regiment and was taken prisoner in 1863 by the Federal troops. Thomas, a computer programmer, is a man of stocky physique. Punctuating his phrases with a strangely metallic laugh, he explains the meaning of the words "forever a rebel" for the Steagall family thus: "The first time we rebelled was when we fought against the North, up there in the States. Then, when we emigrated to Brazil we rebelled for the second time by joining up with the Paulistas in the Brazilian civil war of 1932. The state of São Paulo refused to accept the dictatorship of President Getullio Vargas, thus breaking the Pacto Federativo. There was a revolution, for the same motives that caused the Confederate States to secede from the North. We've got nothing against anyone, not even the blacks. We're honest citizens. But we've got this history behind us and, in our hearts, we'll always be rebels."

Innovations introduced to Brazil by the Confederates:

The iron plow
Kerosene and kerosene lamps
Georgia peanuts
The concept of the model farm
Orders to the oxen drawing the plow: "Get up!" to start plowing, "Gee!" to turn left, "Haw!" to turn right
Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches
The first non-Catholic cemetery
The first blood transfusion
Modern dentistry

Daniel Carr de Muzio is forty-five and has the thin, refined face of an aristocrat in the habit of overseeing the plantation from a chair, sitting silently in a white-painted house. And he might have ended his days doing just that. But then came the accursed war. And the accursed surrender. And a ship to be boarded in New Orleans to escape from it all. Albert Carr enlisted as a simple private in the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers. Another Carr, who called himself George Washington, was a medical officer in the same regiment. When the war ended, both decided to leave the United States for a new life in Brazil. They were among the first to arrive, together with another veteran called Napoleon Bonaparte McAlpine -- in homage, perhaps, to another military man destined for defeat. The Carrs succeeded in buying lands and farms, becoming prominent members of the Confederate community like the Pyles, MacKnights, Steagalls and Norrises.

Daniel is now head of translations at the Berlitz School in São Paulo. He is responsible for setting up the website for the Fraternidade. His speech is still typical of the South, with drawled vowels and a cordial vocabulary. His mother, the famous Lucinda Carr, she of the melancholy expression and cutting repartee, lives in a small flat in Santa Barbara and maintains the style of bygone years. A stout black maid pretends to bustle around the kitchen, making strong coffee and providing extra cushions to make her easy chair more comfortable. In the afternoon there is a set time for a rest, in the morning she reads the papers, every now and then she visits relations on their sugar plantations. She has always insisted on speaking English and taught it to Daniel and her other two sons, one of whom is now a doctor and the other an agronomist in Mato Grosso. When I mentioned Daniel, her face lit up. "If you're going to São Paulo tomorrow, give him my love. I haven't seen him for quite a while."

"The Civil War, as the Yankees call it, or the War between the States as we call it, was not a crusade against freedom. We don't say that slavery was not an issue: it was not the issue. They, our forefathers from the Confederacy, came here just because they wanted to rebuild their lives, not because they could own slaves here. Do you know how many slaves were registered in Santa Barbara by the Americans? Only twenty-six. There was no money to buy slaves. They had to enslave themselves.

"It all comes from what the Yankees call the reconstruction. It was a tragedy, actually. At the end of the war the South was totally destroyed. Properties were confiscated, money grabbed, farms stolen or forced to be put on the market at a ridiculously low price. And this is still a dark chapter in American history, something seldom talked about. Do you know how many people died in the so-called Civil War? 625,000. Many, many more than in the Vietnam War. By the way, we take pride in saying that three out of four casualties were from the Federal side!

"The Civil War was our own internal Vietnam, but nobody recognizes it as such. So, when my forefathers came here to Brazil they were relatively poor. And here they died working. Never had any kind of leisure. Work, don't spend, don't spend, work: this was their life. All the rebel business? Yeah, you can say 'rebel.' But we never rebelled against anybody. It was the Yankees who called us rebels for their own purposes. And some of us have accepted the label. But be careful! My great-grandfather started as a farm foreman, then managed to buy a small farm. My grandfather was at one and the same time an attorney, a dentist, a farmer and a county sheriff. Never saw a show, never had a holiday. Owned the same Ford his entire life. These are spartan, disciplined habits, not rebellious ones. None of them became a colonel, as the landowners are called in Brazil. Why? Be careful: how many crimes do you have to commit to became a colonel?

"Yeah, the ghosts of the past are still here. For our fathers, the Yankees were still the damned Yankees. My grandmother did not allow anybody to mention the Lincoln name in the house. And when she referred to him, she referred to 'that man.' We were not friendly with those we didn't know. Because some families came late. Too late. Some were -- how can I put it? -- scallywags. Enemy collaborators. Some were even Yankees. We are different, we think different. When the American consul in São Paolo is a southerner, he comes to our meetings and festas. When he's from the North, relations are a bit -- may I say this? -- chilly.

"I don't feel really American and I don't feel as Brazilian as I should. The first time I went to the States, when I landed at Kennedy Airport in New York -- I had never been in America before -- everything was different: the wallpaper, the cars, the smells, the buildings, but I could hear those people, different people, speaking my language, American English. And I nearly went berserk. Because I was feeling really at home although I had never been there before. It took me five or six hours to recover. It was like a dream. I'm used to life in a country that I call Belindia rather than Brazil because it's a mix of Belgium and India, shaken well and served hot.

"So I gather you've heard the story of the Crisps. But maybe you haven't heard the real story. They told you that they were expelled from the community because there had been a black woman among them. Yes, a former slave. People were still sometimes ostracized in those days. But the problem with the Crisps was that they had a special building tucked away on one of their farms for the secret distillation of pinga, the illegal liquor very much in demand among the blacks. You see, with the Confederados things are always more complicated than they seem."

Daniel Carr de Muzio lives in São Paulo, a city with twelve million immigrants. You have to do more than be a Confederado to get noticed. The Berlitz School is at the back of Avenida Paulista, a canyon overshadowed by skyscrapers that go on and up for ever. Now and then Daniel patronizes a restaurant in the Avenida where he can eat fejoada and drink beer mixed with caiperinha. Most of the waiters take him for a foreigner. At the door and before sitting down to crispy pork and black beans, the largely Brazilian-Japanese clientele pick up a free copy of Nikkey Shimbun, a magazine that devotes its front page to Sumo wrestlers and the next to karaoke shows. The waiters don't regard these patrons as foreigners but as Brazilians with almond-shaped eyes.

Daniel's wife is part-Italian, like millions of other residents of São Paulo. Their daughter has just returned from the States, where Daniel sent her to meet the southerners of today hoping that she would rediscover her own roots. They showed her a good time, this young Carr de Muzio, with barbecues, dances and visits to shopping centers. It was like being back home in Brazil, the new Dixieland.

Daniel talks about his discovery of a direct descendant of General Lee in Rio de Janeiro. He is a nephew of William Lee, the American consul in Rio in the 1920s and second son of the general. The Second World War broke out just as his term of office ended and the Lee family decided to stay in the Tropics. If he were a true Lee, the Confederates would have found a figurehead. Daniel mulls over the importance of his discovery while sipping a liqueur glass of the greasy juice -- black as tar -- strained off the fejoada: a great delicacy for the initiated. The waiters, now hearing him speak Portuguese, have decided that he is not a foreigner.

Old Henrique Smith, by contrast, has never been to São Paulo or to Rio. They are part of a different world, too remote from his. He lives in a tiny house in Santa Barbara that he has transformed into a small tropical forest with jacaranda, bananas and purple and pink flowers as big as the palm of your hand overflowing into the pastel-colored living room. The furniture consists of two chairs, an old divan, the Confederate flag and a bedsheet separating the living room from the bedroom.

He is now eighty-seven, Henrique Smith, a son of the soil clinging to nature even in the heart of the city. His nails and teeth are the same yellow as the butterflies who find refuge in his garden. His spectacles in their heavy frames are always slipping askew, but he wears them more out of habit than anything else. He describes himself as a caipira, a country bumpkin, a man to whom words don't come that easily after a lifetime of doing nothing else but work on the land. "Can anyone tell me," he asks, "what the real Americans living in the southern U.S.A. think of us?"

This is his story:

"My father's family comes from South Carolina: they were considered rebels by the Yankees. Yessir! Rebels because they refused to bow down to the North. They were very proud people, people with fibra, as we call backbone here in Brazil. And that's why they came here, enlisting in Frank McMullan's expedition. A big man, six feet four inches tall, he became a naturalized Brazilian in 1866 then went back to the States to find settlers for his new country. Found 'em, too. But on the way back to Rio, they were shipwrecked off Cuba. Lost most of the stuff they had with them, but they were rescued by a good man, a rancher who got them ashore, took them home and gave them food and drink and somewhere to sleep. He was a good, generous chap; didn't mind slaughtering a bull a week so they could eat meat. They were there two months before another ship came to fetch them.

"Father's family has a strange history. It's in the books. Their real surname wasn't Smith but Ferrer. All started with a Robert Ferrer, a Frenchman who fled the persecutions and stowed away on a ship bound for the States, hiding in a barrel of flour. Or so the legend goes. Once in America he went to Georgia and started over, joining in the fight for Independence. He owned a lot of slaves. He wasn't cruel. Firm, yes. His son, Robert Smith, lost everything.

"My mother is a Thomas from Arkansas. Her father was the famous Robert Porter Thomas, a patriot of the American Revolution. He had bought a property for twelve thousand dollars, a lot of money in those days. Still is, as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, Robert Porter Thomas fought with the Confederates. After the defeat he went back home. Then in 1871 the North ordered a census and his property was valued at only four thousand dollars. One-third of what he'd paid for it, you understand? Life had been good before the war, but now it was time to move on and get out. The family were good Baptists, folks with strong morals. So he sold the land and went down to Brazil, where he started to look like a patriarch, with a big bushy beard. Always hoped to go back and die in Arkansas. Instead he died in Brazil. But his life here was not too unhappy because the Americans were treated very well by the Brazilians. Like gods, indeed, by the government. Do you know that Dom Pedro himself, the emperor, welcomed us with open arms? We never became Catholics, though.

"Slaves? A very complicated business, really and truly. I remember talking to men who had been slaves and they told me they were treated very badly. Oh yeah, very very badly, it's true. But let me ask you something. Does the United States have the right to tell us what to do with the Negroes? Here in Brazil, slaves got their freedom in stages. First the women, then the children, then those who had been brought over from Africa more recently. Eventually all of them. In the States three and a half million blacks were freed on the same day. They had nothing to do. They didn't know what to do. There was crime. A lot of rapes. And the Ku Klux Klan was a reaction. Can a country that allows this claim to be the number-one country in the world?

"My real name is not Henrique, but Henry Lee Smith. Lee in honor of General Lee, of course, who my father greatly respected. My brother was Horace Roosevelt Smith. I speak English because I learned it growing up in the countryside with Mother and Father. She only spoke English. He could manage Portuguese too. I was born and bred in Brazil, but my blood is American. Really and truly, the battle flag of the Confederacy is my flag."

Henrique heaves himself up from the divan and goes to fetch a smeary glass. Inside it is a little Confederate flag made of paper, given to him the last time he went to the Cemeterio do Campo. In a trembling voice, he says, "I know that I'm crying. Forgive me. I love Brazil. I've never been anywhere else. But the flag...well...if they cut me open they'd find these colors in my heart."

Only Charlotte Lucina is older than Henrique. She keeps her age a secret, but is undoubtedly the only living Confederada who can claim that both parents were born in the United States. Traveling to Brazil on separate ships, they married and had two sons, baptizing one Lee and the other Isaac out of respect for the Confederacy and the Bible (which amount, after all, to the same thing). Charlotte's wrinkles deepen as she smiles. "Yes," she laughs, "of course I'm American. I've never been anything else. They can get a hammer and an axe and beat me all they like, but they won't beat the American out of me!"

A friend of Lucina's, Mirela Cullen, answers simply when asked about her family: "My grandfather was an Ohioan, and we were ashamed of that. We tried to keep it, you know, hidden. A secret."

Ohio did not side with the Confederacy.

"My name is Judith MacKnight Jones. I'm a third-generation descendant of southerners who came to Brazil after the Civil War. They spoke English and to communicate with them the slaves had to learn English. When settlers of my parents' generation got together, they talked about things that were happening at that moment. They didn't want to talk about the past: it hurt too much. I remember when I was at school, at primary school, the head came to my classroom one day and asked each child what nationality they were. I didn't know what my nationality was, but I knew that my grandparents were American. And that's what I told him. 'And where were you born?' he asked. I said, 'Here in Brazil, in Campinas.' 'So you're Brazilian, you fool,' he said. I grew up thinking of the United States as a wonderful place. Then I went to see it for myself. We sailed to New Orleans and visited several states, meeting a lot of relatives we still have up there. After a while I started to get homesick. Home seemed very far away. When it was time to come back, we went to board the ship in New Orleans and as I put my foot on the gangplank, I looked up and saw the Brazilian flag...Ah, I knew then what I was!" Judith MacKnight Jones sighs in a resigned way. "Yeah, I'm Brazilian."

Nova Odessa lies midway between Santa Barbara d'Oeste and Americana, five miles from each. Motorcycles roar along the highway, ridden by the agro-boys, as Brazilians call the youths who sport the cowboy hats and studded belts that are all the rage in the Interior Paulista. The sun blazes down. Founded in 1906, Nova Odessa is laid out like a German village with a market place, farm co-operatives, two Lutheran churches, the Jacobitz cotton factory and little houses belonging to os lettos, descendants of Latvian immigrants. These people were brought here by Carlos Botelho, the Brazilian minister for agriculture, by means that became one of the most surreal episodes in the history of Brazilian immigration.

In actual fact, Dr. Botelho never wanted Latvians. He wanted Russians. The fertile lands north of Santa Barbara were ideal for growing cotton but labor was in short supply, so he decided to find a few hundred Europeans willing to colonize the area and had heard good things about the peasants of tsarist Russia.

Electing to go personally to Russia, the minister sailed to Odessa. On arrival, he liked the look of the city and even before signing any immigration contracts, decided that the new colony should be called after the Russian port on the Black Sea.

He failed to find any potential colonists in Odessa, however. The idea of emigrating to America aroused no enthusiasm in the more nationalist circles, and Odessa was in any case populated not by farm workers but by sailors, merchants and artists to whom the offer of cheap land in a hot and distant country held scant appeal.

The Russian authorities then suggested that he should take the train north, to Riga, stopping in Kiev on his way. In Kiev Botelho found several families of Ukrainian Jews whom he immediately despatched to Brazil as an advance party. But a few dozen immigrants were hardly sufficient to populate the territory Botelho had assigned to "the Russians," so he continued his journey to Riga. Once a city belonging to the Hanseatic League, Riga was a meeting place of three cultures and three languages, German, Latvian and Russian. Here the Brazilian emissary was finally able to persuade hundreds of farm workers to take ship for the New World.

Two hundred people still speak Latvian in Nova Odessa. Another four hundred have Latvian surnames and Latvian ancestry but no longer speak the language. The community is not unique as a colonia letta. The enlightened Brazilian government wanted more of them in the state of São Paulo, and they are still there.

Donalde Kliango is one of them, a big man with blue eyes, drooping cheeks and side-whiskers reaching down to his chin, as used to be fashionable in provincial Germany. "We've always had contacts with the Santa Barbara Americans," he says. "Marriages, even. It was quite usual for our farmers' daughters to marry into their farming families."

In the Lutheran church -- a stark, unadorned block of white cement -- services were conducted in Latvian until twenty years ago. They are now conducted in Portuguese. The newly arrived priest is tall and fair-haired, a German Brazilian with a square jaw and the physique of a pop singer. He looks more Latvian than the Latvians.

Despite the historical background, the Confederados of Santa Barbara and Americana are still convinced that the people of Nova Odessa are Russian. "The Russians of Nova Odessa have always been our friends," says Daniel Carr, commandant of the SCV Camp 1653, Os Confederados, the Brazilian branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "And during the Cold War most people were amazed to see how well we got on with them. They didn't realize they were White Russians, not Communists. And that we were Confederates, not Yankees."

A pillar in the shady marketplace of Nova Odessa pays homage to Dr. Carlos Botelho and celebrates the first fifty years of the Imigracao Letta. Silence now hangs over Nova Odessa. The cotton market has slumped, but a Germanic discipline remains.

By contrast, a shop in nearby Americana sells "religious and esoteric articles." A sign specifies that inside, among the aphrodisiacs and statuettes of saints holding olive branches, one may purchase "gnomes, angels, magic stones, incense, defumadores, devils and every personage of the candomblé religion."

Seen on the T-shirt of a boy in Santa Barbara: "A rebel. And proud of it."

Thomas Steagall, adjutant and treasurer of SCV Camp 1653: "To be a rebel is to have no fear. You can call it courage, I suppose."

Cicero Carr (many Confederados are called Cicero): "To be a rebel is a way of life. We're rebels when we go to the Cemetery for a festival, but not in everyday life. How can you have the heart to rebel when, as things are now, you need to have at least five thousand acres to get by in farming, and millet, maize and sheep have been reduced to a meza de poker, a gamble."

João Padovesi, seventeen, fifth-generation Confederado, just returned from a trip to the U.S.A. with his twin brother: "Rebel, rebelde in Portuguese, is someone who doesn't accept what is not good for him. So he's a good rebel, not a bad rebel."

Nancy Carr, married to one of the Padovesi and mother of João: "My father was a Carr, my mother a Crisp. Two old Confederate families who fought against the North and came back humiliated. Our whole history, why we came here, how we lived, who we are, can be summed up in an anecdote that was always being told in our house when I was a girl. They said that when an elderly member of one of the two families, I can't remember whether it was Carr or Crisp, arrived in Brazil and saw this lush, fertile, free land, he picked up a handful of soil and said, 'I'll be no hungry any more.' Much later I was told that the very same phrase occurs in Gone With the Wind, to symbolize the southerners' love of the land. Is that so?"

It's an obscure story involving old tales of illegitimate children, farms bought and sold, racial prejudice; a secret that the Santa Barbara Confederados prefer not to talk about because it is embarrassing for everyone.

Nancy Carr calls it "the tale of the negrina Damiana." Damiana was an esclava negra, a black slave, and hers is the story of a love that survived ostracism, separation, pain. "Study my face," Nancy said one day, sitting in the living room of her house in Santa Barbara, "and you'll see that I too share the African blood of that negrina, poor Damiana. I shouldn't be telling you these things, but if you insist...I've nothing to hide. But these are delicate matters."

So delicate that when John Crisp, then the only doctor the Americans of Santa Barbara had apart from Dr. Johns, heard what had happened, he considered closing his surgery and returning to the United States, even though he was doing relatively well, since many of his patients paid him in kind with parcels of land, which one day he hoped to bring together into a big facenda.

What had happened was that one of his sons, sixteen-year-old Richard, had fallen in love with a slave who worked in the house, the pretty Damiana. When their love for each other became an embarrassment to the family, Dr. Crisp decided to return to the United States and take his three sons with him.

"But he had reckoned without Richard's determination," Nancy continued. "At the age of twenty-four he got on a ship and returned to these parts, alone. And he met up again with his negrina. Eight years had passed, but they still loved each other. They went off to live together and had nine children. They in turn produced three hundred Crisps of mixed race, grandchildren of a slave. An unforgivable sin in those days, as it might be even today to some Confederados."

One of the nine children was Ernesto Crisp, father of Maria de Lourdes Crisp, Nancy's mother. She eventually married a Carr, but was never invited to the festivities at the Cemeterio do Campo because the genes she had visibly inherited from Damiana would have given offense.

"For many years do you know what happened? When I introduced myself as a Carr, I was welcome anywhere. But if I revealed that my mother was one of the Crisp family, people would be horrified and give me very strange looks. It happened. Then one day I said to myself: You're a Confederada, a Carr, you too have a right to go to the Cemetery. And no one said a thing. They have, at last, forgiven the negrina and her Richard."

The outlines of hills at the end of the dirt track have been softly rounded by the heat-haze. Francisco Vieira Daniel gazes at his grandparents' farm, which has passed through God knows how many hands yet without losing its identity. Not one white building interrupts the green sea of swaying canes. The black cane-cutters have got to their feet and are picking up their machetes. Francisco opens the car door. "I told you that the Daniels had another secret, another stain on the family honor, one that really did cause their exclusion from the community. Do you want to know what it is? It's worse than the murder of Zeke Baird. This was a crime of betrayal. Bob's son, that's my father, married a woman from outside the community. A black? No. Even less excusable from the Confederados' point of view. She was a native Indian. From a primitive tribe."

Copyright © 2001 by Riccardo Orizio

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Introduction: Journeys Among the Forgotten

He was a year or two older than me. About twenty, naked to the waist, long hair tied back in a ponytail. He was serving drinks and dishes of rice and dried fish in the restaurant of a small hotel on a nondescript road in Sri Lanka. Like nearly everyone else in the place, he wore a red or purple sarong tight around his hips. The trees outside dripped with warm humidity. Sitting at a table, the De Silva family were noisily giving me the latest gossip about the acquaintances we were on our way to visit in a small town at the end of the road.

The boy brought some tea and walked quickly away without a word. But I had felt the rapid look of curiosity he had shot in my direction. As a white foreigner in a tropical country you soon learn to recognize this special look. To begin with, it disturbs you. Then, realizing that you do the same when you come across anyone markedly different from yourself, you cease to notice it. But there was something strange about that glance. A young European or American spinning out a holiday by working in a restaurant in Sri Lanka was much more likely to be struck, if at all, by my Sinhalese friend, dressed as he was in immaculate cricket whites and looking as if he had just stepped out of a picture postcard of the colonial era.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"Him? A waiter," Dilsham replied.

But my curiosity was aroused. "What nationality, would you say? German? English?"

"Him?" he repeated. "I told you, he's a waiter. Local chap."

I was still mystified. "But he's white, Dilsham."

Ignoring me, Dilsham continued his account of a group of friends from the Lions Club who had recently thrown a memorable party where the arrack had flowed like water and only Subash Fernando, who never touched alcohol and was known as the "milk boy," had abstained.

I persisted: "He can't be local."

"He can and he is," said Dilsham at last. "He's a Sri Lankan like me. Hear how he speaks the language? He's only a Dutch Burgher. Don't bother your head about them. Strange people. Dutch, or something of the sort. Maybe Portuguese. Some of them live in crumbling old grand houses. Nothing to cook with, roof falling in, but that's where they like to live. As if this was still the eighteenth century. Perhaps, although they're trash, they think they're better than we are."

That was how I found my first White Tribe: by the side of a tropical road, more exotic than all the exotica around me. Like other tribes I would meet in the next few years, walking a thin line between privilege and discrimination. Poor. "Lost" because reduced to being a historical fossil, little more than a genetic anomaly for whom no one wants to claim paternity. Too white for some. Too native for others. Their society a closed, incestuous microcosm.

I am conscious of the fact that if, a couple of hundred years ago, an ancestor of mine had decided to join the Dutch East India Company -- as did many respectable Europeans in search of adventure, or simply intent on landing a good job as their counterparts today might opt for a British merchant bank -- today I could have been that white boy in a sarong, a white Sri Lankan. And when, years later, I saw a photograph in Tim Page's great book Sri Lanka of a house dating from the Dutch colonial period, a pathetically dilapidated old house, I couldn't help thinking of it as the waiter's home.

The Dutch Burghers are not alone in their predicament. In Windhoek, in Namibia, I lined up to use the public telephone with a group of Baster builders whose green eyes regarded me with the look I had come to recognize. Their great-great-great-grandfathers belonged to the same generation of colonists as those who conquered Ceylon. The ships that berthed in Cape Town were, after all, the same ships that sailed to Colombo.

Many countries have left lost tribes of their own nationals in one-time colonies, and have now forgotten them. Napoleon's Poles in Haiti, the Blancs Matignon in Guadeloupe, the fair-haired Norman fishermen in Les Saintes, the Germans of Seaford Town in Jamaica, the last Confederates in Brazil's sugarcane plantations. The list could go on. There are the Griquas of Griquatown in South Africa, to say nothing of the Souza, Theseriras, Alcantra and Monteiros families and a further forty-five hundred in Melaka, the Portuguese enclave in Malaysia formerly known as Malacca. There are the French in Pondicherry, in India, who cherish the memory of De Gaulle and have been French since 1664. I saw the German Mennonites in Belize, dressed like the Pennsylvanian Amish people but without the comforts of modern American life. The West, rightly concerned about the fate of Afghanistan, seldom remembers that the Gavurs, the last descendants of Alexander the Great and his armies, with Greek blood and white skin, still live there. And how could we forget, not least on account of their extreme geographical isolation, the Scottish and Genoese sailors who populated Tristan da Cunha, an island lying eighteen hundred nautical miles west by south of Cape Town. Or (even if too individualistic to constitute a tribe) the "insabbiati," the Italians who went native in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

In some cases the lost tribe is white not because of old ties with Europe but for some genetic reason. The White Indios living in the forest of Darien, Panama, aroused the curiosity of travelers in the nineteenth century. And only recently an indigenous white-skinned tribe that uses parrots to sound the alarm when strangers are about was discovered in Irian Jaya (Indonesia). The tribe's home is the Bird's Head Peninsula.

Anomalous cases? Irrelevant? Perhaps. But all of us, beneath our apparent normality, belong to a lost tribe. We can all become minorities. We are all potentially irrelevant. The whites living among Jamaican banana plantations are not basically different from the Jamaican immigrants living on the outskirts of Western cities. Both are frequently outcasts. Both have the "wrong" skin color. Different.

The places I normally visit in the course of my work are those where events make news, if not history. The journeys described here went in the opposite direction: to the forgotten places, forgotten people.

Copyright © 2001 by Riccardo Orizio

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2001

    Lost in a cultural limbo

    I found this book to be both informative and engaging. In reading about these 'lost white tribes' scattered around the world, I got the sense that many of these people were lost in a cultural limbo. On the one hand, they were part of the communities in which they lived, sporting the same accents and values as their neighbors. On the other hand, however, their physical traits often set them apart from the others. There is a sense of not belonging while also trying to blend in. In many cases, these are not the stories of descendants of white colonialists who retain massive fortunes as their inheritance from the original settlers. These are often tales of descendants who were also plunged into poverty and social rejection. The book, therefore, is not only a sociological study into these people, but also a look into what it means to 'belong' in a society in which you are physically marked as being different.

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